Races of the Mind: Xeph
Author: Josh Sjothun; Additional Design: Vladimir Rodriguez, Andreas Rönnqvist; Editing: Jeremy Smith; Proofreading: David Wickham, Michael Suttkus II; Design / Layout: Jeremy Smith; Illustrations: Rick Hershey, V. Shane; Cover Illustration: John Milner
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While many people know of the xephs few, even scholars, truly know them. Few know of the intimate care a xeph artist puts into every sculpture or piece of armor. Few know of their insatiable curiosity, their desire to be somewhere, learning something. And fewer know of their elegant mind dancers who turn the use of the mind blade, a creation for destruction, into an intricate ritual of beauty and grace. This lack of knowledge comes not from the fact that xephs are a secretive or reclusive race, but rather because they come from an area so far away and foreign to most races that it is all but unknown.
Deep in fissures of near-endless depths, the xephs live near their light-giving forests and only those who decide to take up the wanderer’s life bring any news or proof of their existence to the world at large at all.
Narevar concentrated and a long, thin beam of green, psionic energy emerged from his fist. He stared down his opponent, ready for whatever move might come first. It happened in a flash, his opponent charged, using her racial speed to leap across the open ground in an instant. Her first blow was aimed at his head, but he parried her mind blade away. Still, the orange glow from her blade was only inches away from his face. Continuing with his momentum, Narevar swung his own blade toward his opponent. He struck again and again, searching for an opening, but she wasn’t making it easy. Narevar began to doubt that he would even be able to land a blow when a sudden idea occurred to him. Lowering his body, Narevar concentrated all his energy into a sudden lunge. Using his own enhanced velocity he moved quicker than she could counter and brought his blade to a stop only a hair’s width away from her neck. The argument was settled; he was the winner.
Cyleh listened to the quiet rustling of the leaves as she sat beneath their glow, working on the task in front of her. It was to be a xeph woman, arms outstretched toward her surroundings in reverence, though right now it was still just a lump of fine clay. Her soft violet mind blade was in the form of a scoop, helping her to push and carve the clay into place. She wondered idly how the leaves rustled when she heard no wind and resolved to ask about that when she returned home. This was her favorite place to sculpt, the soft blue glow from the trees around her melded with her own purple mind blade to create a prismatic lightshow as she formed her art. It was only here, amongst the trees that she felt truly a part of nature and therefore truly inspired.
Behrdad kept his head down while carrying the tray so the other servants wouldn’t recognize his face. It was bad enough he was xeph and he certainly didn’t blend in amongst the humans. It would be worse if anyone noticed which xeph he was. It seemed like only a few short weeks ago that the human warlord had razed the village he was staying in. Only a few short weeks since he’d lost the one he loved. But he knew it had been longer. Behrdad had traveled for months, if not years now, tracking the army back to its source. Today he would finally see the face of the one responsible for his loss. He’d finally get justice and the careless human would meet his end. Behrdad chuckled under his hood. He couldn’t wait to see the warlord’s face when the “pitiful” servant carrying his breakfast suddenly manifested a mind blade.
Known primarily for their acrobatic prowess and speed, xephs are a race of generally happy, explorative people always ready for a good time. Whether spending time with friends and family or traveling toward their next adventure, they usually see the positive in life and are remarkable in their ability to find the humor in nearly any situation. Friendly to strangers and loyal to a fault, the xephs are a peaceful race eager to live, learn and laugh.
As a race born with a penchant for quick bursts of accelerated movement, it is little surprise that so much of their lives revolve around the idea of speed itself. Xephs put an emphasis on the time it takes to complete nearly any task. This does not mean the typical xeph rushes everything but, rather, she would like to know exactly how long an endeavor took and aim to complete it faster in the future. Under rare circumstances would she ever trade speed for quality. The need to go at the fastest possible pace is almost universally misunderstood. Among other races in the world, pace of life is usually proportional to the length of life. Therefore elves with their centuries move at a pondering rate compared to humans in their short but eventful years. The xephs do not use this excuse. Living almost half-again as long as adaptive and quick-paced humans, xephs still make them seem relaxed, and at ease. What, then, drives xephs to this epitome of speed? It is curiosity and a desire to know. Not just to have questions answered, but to know and experience as much as they can during their time. Whether curiosity is shown through the sage in a library, poring over text after text to fill her mind with as many facts as she can recall, or the traveling warrior, wishing to see the entirety of the lands around her, is irrelevant. All xephs feel a desire to learn and absorb whatever they can. The faster they move, the more time they have.
Xeph are a fun-loving race. As such, a prime social attribute is their proclivity for humor. Jokes, puns and humorous stories are shared at nearly every opportunity. And it seems no matter how dire a situation becomes; the xephs can find something to laugh about; if not the situation itself, then a joke, wisecrack, or story of another time. It is perhaps because of this humor that xephs are so remarkably lighthearted and peaceful. Living in a hostile, underground environment, many think the xephs would become dour or unseemly, as many other subterranean races. However, xephs have kept a cheerful, joking demeanor even during war or other hardships. It is through unique perspective on life that the strength of the xeph is truly exhibited. Despite the degree of difficulty, xephs always believe things could be worse and a joke can always lighten the mood.
Like many races, the xephs are devoted to helping friends and family to live better, happier lives. As with others, this often takes the form of support, whether it is friendly guidance, a helpful hand in chores, or simple camaraderie. However, unlike most races, this loyalty extends farther for the xephs. While almost any individual will willingly place herself in danger to aid those she calls friends, few aside from xeph will go to the extreme measures they can display. Traveling for days or weeks simply to get any form of revenge for a slight against a friend is simply the norm for xephs. This revenge can take the form of simple pranks (sometimes the dangerous kind) for lesser offenses or even injury or death for those who really incur a xephs wrath. Woe to any individual that kills a xeph. While many races feel justice needs to be served when their friends or loved ones have been injured, the xephs are not appeased until they see that justice was served in their eyes.
Nearly every xeph feels a need to go at some point. Whether it is a need to travel to a neighboring city and stay with distant relatives or to take life as it comes, going from land to land, is often the factor deciding the direction a xeph’s life takes. Those who only feel the call to trek mildly, every now and then, take trips of short duration to nearby and well-known places. These xephs spend much time at home and in their own cities and form the masses of the xeph race. There are a few, however, in which a desire to tread elsewhere is simply too great to be appeased by short jaunts on well-traveled roads. These xephs instead desire long journeys that return home rarely, if ever. Always eager to find some new, unexplored place, these form the most well-known portion of the xeph race, adventurers. While far from typical, adventuring xephs are still the norm for any race other than xephs. With their witty mien, exceptional acrobatics and skill with a mind blade, these wanderers show the world a small glimpse of what it means to be a xeph.
Duels are important to every xeph. From early ages, youth are taught the various techniques of swordplay in formal schools. When able, they begin to manifest mind blades and spar with each other to hone their skills. Older xephs use these duels as a way of settling disputes. Often, when one individual’s pranks have gone farther than appreciated, the xephs as a whole see a formal challenge and combat in a structured environment as a much better alternative to igniting prank “wars” that get out of control, possibly endangering innocent bystanders as well. In order for a duel to occur, the “insulted” issues challenges in the company of witnesses. The offender is honor-bound to accept or to issue apology. If the challenger accepts the apology (or agreement, if the challenge originates in some dispute) then the quarrel is done and soon forgotten. However, if apology is not enough or none is given, then a duel must be agreed upon. Always arranged by a third party, duels between xephs are not always swordplay. If one xeph has a distinct advantage in an area (such as with a mind blade) then an alternative contest must be found. Races are often a substitute, but any test of speed, be it physical, skilled or mental will do. As with most of xeph culture, duels are not always what they seem to others. The one thing that remains true amongst all duels, however, is that the winner of the duel is also the “winner” of the dispute.
CITIES AND SETTLEMENTS
Xephs live deep underground in large canyons where light from above rarely reaches. Making homes near forests of light-giving trees illuminated by psionic energy, the xeph adapt to subterranean life and see nothing strange or odd about it. A single family is composed of parents and their children. They rarely live with extended family unless an individual is ailing (usually physically or financially). Carving homes from the rock around them, xeph architecture tends to be cubical, though patterns “flow” from one building to another. Where possible, xephs carve into natural openings, attempting to preserve “growing” stalactites and stalagmites for future generations to see. With darkvision, a xeph city can be a wondrous thing with differences between buildings and natural caverns all but disappearing and seeming to be one huge structure simply existing within the natural surroundings.
SOCIETY AND CULTURE
Art of the Earth
Xeph art is known for exceptional craftsmanship and intricate attention to detail, mostly sculpture of some kind. Making their communities underground, materials needed for this art form are plentiful and easily obtained. Everything from pottery and structured forms, to more “outlandish” contemporary sculpture is common practice amongst xephs. The secret of xeph art lies in exceptional ability with the mind blade. Certain artisans train to manifest mind blades as tools of creation. Able to shift the flowing, psionic energies of their minds, these artisans create the perfect tool for any job at a moment’s notice. Seeing it as a branch of earth-sculpture, xephs are also wondrous smiths. Anything from armor to weapons is often practiced by xephs looking for an art with “practical” products. Usually second only to dwarves in craftsmanship, xephs still add artful flair to every piece. Therefore xeph armor and weapons are distinguished from others’ by both structure and simplistic beauty.
A secret practice among xeph, mind dancing is the art of reshaping a mind blade from moment to moment into a myriad of colorful, aesthetic forms. Blending this with acrobatic feats, the xeph mind dancers create a composite of alluring psionic energy coupled with movement and grace. While most mind blades are of a single color or shapeable only by experienced soulknives, trained mind dancers shift the color of their mind blades from one end of the spectrum to the other, creating hues found only rarely in nature and captivating to the eye. They are also able to alter the shape of a mind blade, with relative ease, from a dense, compact blade to long, ribbon-like wisps. All agree that seeing a mind dancer in action is a moving experience. While some say it is spiritual and brings them closer to god, others see it as just a weapon; its uses in combat are extraordinary. As always, xephs laugh at both.
Taking jokes one step farther, pranks are a common part of xeph life. Used in every occasion from simple fun to teaching lessons, pranks vary wildly in severity and form. Pranks are usually a way xephs choose to express themselves. From small, simple tricks meant to serve as entertainment to intricate and grandiose statements serving to instruct one too proud, pranks slip into many facets of life. While some (especially those meant to teach lessons) can be humiliating, nearly all are met with a smile and good laugh at oneself upon completion.
Not a particularly difficult language for a non-native to learn, xeph language is nonetheless complex in its own way. Full of double-meanings and twisting structures, it is a language bursting with riddled implication and rife with possible puns. To some it may seem the language was developed solely to tell a joke. For any that know any xephs personally there is little argument to be made. Living in an area of near-complete darkness most of the time, xephs gave little thought to the alphabet and written form of the language until contact with the surface races was made. It was at this point the xephs adopted the common alphabet for use in their writing as it seemed the most widespread and would aid in communication with multiple races. It is particularly common for xephs to learn the sylvan language. As fellow travelers the fey often ally themselves with, or at least visit with, Xephs are exceptional crafters with metals, fashioning armor and weapons prized for their quality the xephs on their travels and the two often share their experiences and languages. Even amongst themselves, the xephs often sprinkle their speech with sylvan sayings and expressions.
As lovers of adventure and seekers of the horizon, it comes as little surprise that xephs choose to worship deities of travel and safety. Not an exceptionally spiritual people, xephs still try to find time to give homage to greater beings that keep them safe and traveling, and to nature itself. Almost unanimously, xephs have a deep and profound love of nature and its splendor. Most are fairly relaxed in worship when compared to dogmatic races, however. A prayer here, a small donation there, and most xephs find spiritual happiness.
HISTORY AND FOLKLORE
The xephs as a whole care very little about how they came to be and more about where they are going. As a result, many of their legends have remarkably little to do with origins or great heroes of the past. More often they are meaningful tales making an attempt to explain how the world works or advise against acting certain ways.
The Fastest Xeph
Long ago there was a xeph by the name of Mehsim who desired above all to be the fastest xeph there ever was. From the time he could walk he constantly pushed himself to do everything faster. Eating, talking, running, all were things he zipped through as quickly as he could, letting nothing delay him. His family worried about him, they thought he was taking things too fast, even for a xeph. They attempted to warn him but each time he barely listened and left their side before they’d finished speaking. They simply weren’t talking fast enough for Mehsim to care to listen. Eventually, Mehsim noticed he was getting older. While everyone aged, Mehsim was doing so at an alarming rate. He was only five years old and already he had the appearance of an old man. Wondering if this was what his family had been trying to tell him all along, he finally decided it would be wise to follow the rest of the xeph race’s example and slow down. Unfortunately he found that he could not. For too long he’d moved so fast others could barely see him, and now he was too used to it. Moving any slower was simply impossible. While most xephs live long, fulfilled lives, Mehsim’s was short and quick. By the age of merely seven years he had lived his entire life and expired. His story is an example to other young xephs. While speed is fun and can get xephs going where they want, life should be enjoyed while it can.
• Also see the Xeph monster listing.
• +2 Dexterity, -2 Strength
• Medium: As Medium creatures, xephs have no special bonuses or penalties due to their size.
• Xeph base land speed is 30 feet.
• Darkvision out to 60 feet.
• +1 racial bonus on saving throws against powers, spells, and spell-like effects. Xephs have an innate resistance to psionics and magic.
• Naturally Psionic: Xephs gain 1 bonus power point at 1st level. This benefit does not grant them the ability to manifest powers unless they gain that ability through another source, such as levels in a psionic class.
• Burst (Su): Three times per day, a xeph can put on a burst of speed to increase her speed by 10 feet, plus 10 feet per four character levels beyond 1st, to a maximum increase of 30 feet at 9th character level and higher. These bursts of speed are considered a competence bonus to the xeph’s base speed. A burst of speed lasts 3 rounds.
• Automatic Languages: Common, Xeph. Bonus Languages: Draconic, Elven, Gnoll, Goblin, Halfling, Sylvan.
• Favored Class: Soulknife.
• Level Adjustment: +0