I wrote this back when I was working on material for the Scorched Plateau…
The Moon Runner tribe of elves is the best known tribe in the Scorched Plateau, not least for their fair-mindedness and honesty when dealing with outsiders. Hunters and kank herders, they roam the eastern fringes of the Plateau, with periodic sojourns at the oasis known as Moon Runner’s Rest, a location they are wont to share with others when the tribe is not in residence. Woe to those who overstay their welcome, however, and linger when the tribe returns.
The Moon Runners follow an existence of simple pleasure in harmony with their insectile charges. The rhythms of their lives are laid out by the migratory patterns of the kanks they herd, as well as by the frequent seasonal festivals that dot the Moon Runner year. When one walks the night-time wastes of the Scorched Plateau and catches eerie, lilting voices drifting over the dunes, chances are that it is the Moon Runners that one hears, singing their age-old sacred songs to the twin moons above.
The Moon Runners, like most other elven tribes of the Tablelands, divide themselves into a number of clans. Rather than being hereditary, clan membership is determined by the celestial activity of the moons at the moment of birth. According to Moon Runner legend, the moons determine one’s fate and place in life and, over time, this has led to the Moon Runner clans filling certain roles within tribal life.
The Lightsharer clan is composed of those Moon Runner elves born when both Ral and Guthay are waxing together or both are full at the same time. They are reputed to be kind, open-hearted and giving and it is elves from this clan that are most often assigned the task of dealing with outsiders. The favoured class for Lightsharers is Cleric and Diplomacy is always a class skill for Lightsharer elves.
The Children of Ral are those born when Ral is waxing or full and Guthay is waning or new. As the children of the larger moon they are seen as strong, just and often called upon as protectors of their tribe. Fighter is favoured class for the Children of Ral and Intimidate is always a class skill for members of the clan.
The Children of Guthay , consequently, is a clan composed of those elves born when Guthay is waxing or full in the heavens and Ral is waning or new. Seen as circumspect and thoughtful, the Wizard is favoured class for this clan and they often fulfil this role in the tribe. Spellcraft is always a class skill for the Children of Guthay.
The Starfollowers are a clan composed of those elves born when both moons are either waning or new in the night sky. They are thought of as wise and insightful and are often keepers of ancient tales and sacred lore for the tribe. Their favoured class is Psion and Survival is always a class skill for this clan.
The four clanchiefs are all members of Jesiv Moonsong’s inner circle of advisors, assisting the tribal chief in the running of the tribe. The tribe usually has a preserver to attend to their more esoteric needs, but the last tribal wizard was slain in a raid by desert halflings (see below) and his young apprentice has some way to go before she can fill her dead master’s shoes. In addition, the tribe is blessed with its own druids, whose principal tasks revolve around caring for Moon Runner’s Rest.
Under the guidance of their chief (elected every five and a half years, at the mid-point and end of the Endlean cycle of the Athasian calendar) and his inner circle of advisors, the Moon Runners roam the Scorched Plateau region in accordance with an ancient pattern that is laid down by the passage of the moons through the astrological houses of the heavens.
Closer analysis of their movement has shown that their travels are also linked to the migratory patterns of the kanks that the tribe herds. This has led some observers to believe that kanks use the moons as part of their navigation system, led either by their nocturnal lights or perhaps by some other, unseen influence that our senses are unable to detect (a study of the influence of twin moons on Athas’ magnetic fields has yet to be carried out and is perhaps a subject for another day).
The Moon Runners are currently reeling from an experience that comes only rarely for them, and some are saying that their days as an open-minded, welcoming tribe are over. Jesiv Moonsong has ordered the Children of Guthay to be more vigilant than normal, for at the start of the year, the tribe was raided by halflings striking from Small Water in the Glowing Desert. Many blame the tribe’s trusting nature and say that Jesiv’s people have only now learned a lesson that the rest of Athas learned many moons ago – that the soft heart had best harden soon, lest misfortune come calling and find such softness wanting.
The Moon Runners paid dearly for their apparent complacency, losing their chief tribal wizard and many skilled warriors in the raid. They retreated to Moon Runner’s Rest to lick their wounds, staying for far longer than they ever have before, and are only now cautiously venturing forth into their ancestral herding ranges once more, wary eyes turned ever to the south and east, fearing a return of the Small Water marauders.
This raid proved to be a particularly harsh blow to the tribe, coming as it did on the heels of another tragedy that had already depleted the Moon Runner ranks considerably. Jesiv’s elder son, after having suffered a head injury, had started receiving visions of a lost elven king and announced that he would embark upon a quest to follow these signs. The charismatic young elf was able to win several families to his cause and with these in tow departed the tribe’s ancestral lands and headed south into the Hinterlands to seek his destiny. Nothing has been heard of him or his followers since, and all agree that this offshoot of the Moon Runners came to a bad end somewhere in the wilderness far from home.
Relations with Outsiders
The Moon Runners have always been known for their honesty and fair dealings with outsiders, although this tendency has abated somewhat in recent times. Of the other elven tribes of the Scorched Plateau, they are most friendly with the Shorefollowers, with whom they share grazing and hunting territories to the east along the shores of the Sea of Silt. The Shorefollowers are happy to allow the Moon Runners to herd their kanks through these lands and have extended limited hunting rights to the Moon Runners. In return, the Moon Runners trade fruit and other succulents from Moon Runner’s Rest with the Shorefollowers, and are thought to treat them as the de facto caretakers of the oasis when they are absent.
The tribe also has good relations with the Dreamwalkers tribe from the Dwimmerdeep Oasis, both tribes sharing tactics and techniques for the defence of their respective oases, each learning from the other. Many younger members of the Moon Runner tribe are also attracted to the esoterica that is the stock in trade of Dreamwalker tribe, but these interests do not enjoy the approval of Jesiv. Since the loss of his elder son, the chieftain has become introspective and suspicious of the magical world and it is possible that relations with the Dreamwalkers may suffer as a result.
Beyond these two other elven tribes, the Moon Runners enjoy the respect of a number of the Ssurran tribes common to this region and usually have a small caravan that runs between the tribe and the Ssurran settlement at Trade Nest. Ssurran and Moon Runner traders will also frequently meet at pre-arranged sites in the desert to deal in their respective goods, but both groups have learned to be extra cautious at such time. The regularity and predictability of these meetings make them tempting targets for raiders and predators, and both Ssurran and Moon Runner traders have found themselves the subject of this sort of unwelcome attention from time to time.
As for their enemies, a year ago the Moon Runners would have told you that they had none. Not so now. The elders of the tribe grumble that Jesiv must change the tribe’s ways and make a show of strength. They fear that, encouraged by their victory, the halflings of Small Water will return again and again, harrying the Moon Runners until they are naught but ragged refugees fleeing into the desert. These same elders are calling for a retributive strike against the desert halflings and it may be that, before the year is ended, the Moon Runners will go to war.
For the most part, the Moon Runners continue living as they have for centuries. They raise and herd their kanks, they follow them in their moon-led migrations and they supplement their diet and trade goods with frequent hunting parties into the surrounding deserts.
Joy has always been an important part of Moon Runner life and, in the face of recent tragedies, the tribe has turned to its long cultural history and its body of festivals for strength and reassurance. The rising and setting of each moon is often greeted with a simple prayer or song of thanks and the greater cycles of waxing and waning are likewise reason enough for celebration. Each clan boasts its own rites, depending on the phases of the moons, and the resulting competing festivities lend a furious verve to the tribe at such times.
The festival weeks that come between the great seasons of the Athasian year are likewise celebrated, but these festivals are not stationary events. Instead, the tribe spends a single night of chanting and singing, elevating itself into an ecstatic state, and then begins an elf run that lasts for the entire festival week. This monstrous, moveable feast cavorts the length of the Scorched Plateau, its members whirling, singing and dancing from dune to dune, passing like joyous thunder across the sands. At the end of the festival, the tribe repairs to the oasis at Moon Runner’s rest, there to recover their strength before venturing out into the world once more.
There is one plan, however, that may change their carefree reputation forever. Since the raid by the Small Water halflings, the elders of the tribe have been lobbying hard for vengeance. They say that Jesiv has allowed his tribe to become soft, languishing in the moonlight when they should instead be striking hard from the shadows. Without a firm display of strength, they say, the desert halflings will return, and doubtless in greater numbers. And when the other denizens of the Plateau see that the Moon Runners have lost their teeth, they too will begin to prowl at the limits of the tribe’s firelight, seeking the inevitable opportunities that come with weakness. These same elders speak in hushed tones to the warriors and hunters of their respective clans, building support for their demands for retribution. The time is fast approaching when Jesiv will need to decide how his people will proceed - or risk sundering his depleted tribe even further.
Area of Activity
The Moon Runners are primarily active in the eastern regions of the Scorched Plateau, seldom venturing further west than Dwimmerdeep oasis. In the east they will venture within sight of the Sea of Silt, but do so with the permission of the Shorefollowers, with whom they share territory and resources. The southern regions of the Plateau have become fearful places of late, however, and tribe members are on constant alert when travelling within striking distance of the Glowing Desert.
Rumours persist of an offshoot of the Moon Runners that ventured down into the Hinterlands to the west of the Ringing Mountains. Led by Jesiv’s elder son, this branch of the tribe is believed to eventually have made their way across the mountains into the Tablelands, but all accounts would suggest that they recently met their end in the area of the Lake of Golden Dreams at the hands of unknown assailants.
Moon Runner’s Rest
The oasis of Moon Runner’s Rest is the closest thing that the Moon Runner tribe has to a home. During the seasonal breaks in the kank breeding and migration cycles, the entire tribe will return to the oasis for a while, leaving their nomadic life for another season.
Moon Runner’s Rest is sacred to the tribe but the Moon Runners nevertheless have a standing agreement with the other nomads of the Scorched Plateau that all may make use of the oasis, so long as the Moon Runners are not currently in residence.
Should the Moon Runners return, however, to find guests who have stayed overlong, the agreement permits for them to evict these unwelcome visitors with force. There are any number of apocryphal tales that relate the grisly fates of traders and nomads who thought to flaunt the elves’ laws and paid with their lives for the indiscretion. Actual hard evidence of such practices, however, is harder to find and it is likely that the Moon Runner’s reputation for slaying interlopers on sight is likely a little exaggerated. Nevertheless, those who would make use of the oasis would be well served by learning the migratory patterns of the kanks or the passages of the moons, for it is by these signs that the tribe marks the seasons and their related sojourns at their home.
Beyond legends which tell of the sanctity of the oasis and the fate of those who first trespassed against its custodians, the Moon Runners have another reason for jealously guarding the watering hole and it is one that they guard with unwavering silence. Deep beneath the waters of the oasis, hidden in the murky depths is the entrance to a cavern system. Once a twin shrine to the elements of water and earth, this forgotten place extends into the bedrock beneath Moon Runner’s Rest and is a place of great importance to the tribe.
Discovered many centuries ago, the hidden caverns are a secret redoubt for the Moon Runners. With an air supply that is continually refreshed by the strange plants that dwell there, the caverns can only be reached by swimming to the depths of the oasis, through the submerged entrance and then out into the water-free cave itself. Much of the Moon Runners’ wealth and wisdom is stored here, along with the history of the tribe, engraved on the walls in a language and script that few today can comprehend. It is here that the tribe holds its most sacred rites – those of birth, death and betrothal. In a side vault are held the skulls of Moon Runners who have died, cleaned and placed there in veneration by their fellows and tended over by the eerie druids of the oasis. It is whispered amongst the younger elves of the tribe that the spirit of the tribe’s first druid - she who first discovered the caverns - lingers there still, watching over her descendants and defending the caverns from intruders when the tribe is absent.
Only members of the tribe may learn of the existence of the hidden cavern - all others who come to know of it are put to death. In this grim reality lies the truth of the Moon Runner’s reputation for fierce defence of their home. Those who have died at their hands are almost entirely those who lingered too long and showed too much interest in that which should remain hidden.
Further details on the oasis of Moon Runner’s Rest can be found under the section “Locations of the Scorched Plateau”.
Important Tribe Members
Jesiv Moonsong (Ftr 10)
Once a proud and capable chieftain, the loss of his son to madness and many of his best warriors to halfling blowpipes have left Jesiv a hollow and haunted soul. He must decide, and decide soon, how he will lead his tribe through this difficult time - or surrender his mantle to those who can.
Thalesse Ralsdaughter (Wiz 6)
The former student of the tribe’s onetime leading preserver, Thalesse is having to come to terms with the death of her mentor at the hands of the Small Water halflings. Although skilled and capable, she lacks the experience and ruthlessness that is required of a woman in her position and must learn fast or fall, as did her master before her.
Uttaa Lightfollower (Dr 12)
The principal druid of the Moon Runners, Uttaa holds many secrets and much influence over those nominally in her charge. Hearkening to the ancient wisdom of the spirit of the caverns, she knows that it may well fall to her to seize power from Jesiv, before one of his belligerent clan chiefs does so and plunges the entire tribe into war.
Other Elven Tribes of the Scorched Plateau
The Flamebringers live in regions of the Scorched Plateau closest to Lava Gorge (although not as close as the Ssurran are able). Constant exposure to the heat and fumes of the region have rendered many of the tribe slightly deranged in the eyes of the other nomads of the Plateau, and the Flamebringers are viewed with wariness and distrust.
This small tribe skirts up and down the shores of the Sea of Silt and plays the ways and shoals out to the closest islands. They share territory and hunting rights with the Moon Runners. Rumoured to have a hidden base in the ruins of the city of Ral, the Shorefollowers also make use of Moon Runner’s Rest from time to time. It is thought that they keep astrological lore, won from the vaults and libraries of ruined Ral, city of the night stars.
The most feared tribe of the Scorched Plateau, the Gloomchildren dwell in the Sombre Woods, guarding botanical secrets that allegedly date back to the Blue Age. Primitive and simple, but with frightening powers, this tribe are said to be one with the ancient spirits of Athas’ eldest forest and all folk give their lands a wide berth where possible.
The Stone Dancers roam the regions around the Scorched Plateau’s southern mountain range to the north of Foul Puddle. They are nomadic, similar to Earth’s ancient Mongolians, dwelling in the valleys and ridges of the mountains and shepherding their mountain carru from once grazing pasture to the next.
A tribe that has settled at the northern oasis of Dwimmerdeep due to the mystical properties of its waters, the Dreamwalkers practice esoteric rites, agreeing to teach their eldritch ways to those who will pass their tests. They welcome all comers, but few venture there willingly as those who fail the Dreamwalkers’ tests of sorcery do not leave Dwimmerdeep. Rumours persist that the oasis is defended by the undead spirits of those who came and were found wanting.