The arkad and Druj champion pages cover what little is known by Imperial citizens about the elite Druj troops. This page deals with other information the Empire has accumulated over years of fightng on the eastern borders. Most of this information is not widely known across the Empire - but soldiers and commanders who have fought the Druj before, or those unfortunate enough to have been enslaved, might be familiar with it. Due to the nature of the Druj, it is possible that some of this information may be misleading or incorrect - so should be treated with a pinch of salt.
The Druj are a large tribe spread over the territories of the Mallum. Like the other great barbarian threats - the Jotun and the Grendel - they are split into many distinct clans. The Druj clans are large extended informal groups with loose family links who live together in a region or territory. They appear to compete with each other for prestige and wealth, but the buruk tepel ensure that they form a united front against external threats. In the same way the Jotun favour powerful beasts and the Grendel make use of the imagery of the sea and the seashore, the Druj use poisonous or cunning animals as their totems.
A clan is lead by a chieftain, generally chosen by the buruk tepel. Depending on the nature of the clan, the chieftain may be required to pass a series of gruelling tests, or might be required to assassinate the current chieftain to seize the role (although an assassin who does not have the support of the buruk tepel rarely keeps the position for long).
The most powerful clans each command one of the Druj armies, who march and fight under the clan's banner. Less powerful clans support the Druj armies with bands of warriors similar to the independent captains of the Empire.
The buruk tepel are the true rulers of Druj society. Each is a master of herb lore, heir to centuries of accumulated study and experimentation with herbs and potions. Their exact numbers are unknown, but it is believed that every major clan of the Druj is ultimately dominated by one of the buruk tepel. Scholars estimate their number at between a dozen and a score at any given time.
Little is known for sure of the buruk tepel; they are almost never encountered directly by Imperials and they do not appear on battlefields, preferring to exert their influence from behind the scenes. They appear to use the tepel as their agents and servants. These lesser apothecaries and physics are common place in Druj society and often fight alongside the armies, either to support the Druj forces or to watch over them, so they can report any failures back to the buruk tepel. The most powerful tepel appear to be apprenticed directly to the buruk tepel - receiving scraps of lore from them in return for carrying out the buruk tepel's orders.
It is apparent that the buruk tepel have extensive mastery of the arts of the apothecary and it is claimed that they know recipes unknown to Imperial lore - it is even possible that they have access to potent herbs that are not found in the Empire. The marshes of the Mallum are home to many strange plants and creatures; it is not impossible that there are things living there unknown to the Empire. The buruk tepel and their herb lore appears to be linked to deeper mysteries related to the Druj religious beliefs. There are some unsubstantiated claims that the masters of herb lore use secret techniques to travel a place called the "Farthest Shore" - apparently a reference to the Howling Abyss itself - where they agree the future of the Druj people. It is unclear if references to the Howling Abyss are literal or metaphorical in nature.
The ghulai are an oddity in Druj society - a caste of secretive ritual magicians who allegedly pay only lip service to the domination of the buruk tepel. Imperial scholars believe that the ghulai are a comparatively recent development, a response to the growing power of the sinister apothecaries who run Druj society. Each ghulai is believed to be a powerful ritualist, generally specializing in the lores of Spring and Night, although many wield Winter magic as a deadly weapon against their rivals. They are understood to collect magic items that can further enhance their ritual skills and casting abilities. Whilst their power is considerable, the Ghulai are rarely seen on battlefields or in areas close to Imperial forces.
Each ghulai is supported by a coven of apprentices, over whom they wield unquestioned authority. They keep a close eye on these apprentices, aware that the most likely people to challenge them and take their position are the magicians they have trained themselves. The ghulai do not view the realms in the same fashion as Imperial magicians. Instead, they speak in terms of six powerful "totem spirits" who embody the nature of the supernatural realms, and are served by lesser spirits (eternals) which are bound to them in some fashion. It is not clear how literally the ghulai take this belief, but there is some evidence that most eternals go along with this perception when dealing with the Druj.
The main magical tradition of ghulai magic involves the practice of bone-casting - using etched skulls of dead magicians and champions. The older the skull, and the more accomplished the individual it came from, the more potent it is deemed as a magical tool. While skulls appear to be favoured for use in ritual magic, other bones are also used by the Ghulai - it is believed that different bones have different specific meanings in their system of magic. Some arcane scholars have tentatively suggested that this bone-casting may have parallels with blood magic, though rarely in the presence of actual practitioners of this tradition.
The Druj make extensive use of herbs both magical and mundane. In addition to the traditional herbs and potions found in the Empire, their warriors and tepel often wield weapons that have been treated with mundane but effective venoms culled from the poisonous beats of the Mallum swamp. Warriors who take the field against the Druj often suffer deadly infections from wounds they receive, and these need treating by a skilled physic (OOC Note: often represented by traumatic wounds).
Their tepel are also skilled with ingested poisons - most tepel can create poisons that will induce symptoms from mild nausea through long-lasting weakness to slow agonising death. Poisoning their guest is a common way for the Druj to initiate treacherous hostilities - it is very unwise to break bread with them.
The herb lore of the buruk tepel is known to outshine even the mastery of the tepel - there is good evidence that they are using it to create disease and sickness that serve as weapons, as with the recent "Reikos Flux". They are also known to use narcotic drugs to enslave or destroy the will of their prisoners, warp their personalities, and even produce monstrous spirits to advance their wicked agenda, like the tortured souls seen in the recent Reikos campaign. It is almost certain that they are also responsible for the creation of the Druj miasma encountered at the same time.
The Druj seem intent on conquest of all their neighbours. In addition to countless invasions of the Empire over the centuries they are known to have subjugated the orcs of the Barrens and have been involved in military campaigns against Axos. According to their own lore, they claim to be the original occupiers of much of what is now modern day Dawn and Highguard. The details are unclear, but they seem to be driven by some religious zeal to retake these lands - there have been numerous ceasefires and peace treaties over the years but there has never been any suggestion that a permanent accommodation might be made with the marsh devils. It appears that the only thing they will accept is the eradication or conquest of all their neighbours.
The Druj dominion is a terrible thing to experience - they have a well-deserved reputation for barbaric cruelty, using public acts of execution and torture to break the will of those they conquer. Like all the barbarian orcs they take slaves - but even the other orcs seem to regard the Druj as unusually cruel masters. Those who submit can expect a short life toiling ceaselessly in chains to produce food for their Druj overlords. The slightest sign of resistance is swiftly, brutally crushed and the Druj are quite prepared to make a point of executing groups of random slaves for the actions of one rebel.
Acquiescence is not sufficient to ensure survival. In the years when Reikos was under the control of the Druj, individuals were often taken at random to the strongholds where the buruk tepel would perform sinister experiments on them with toxic herbs. There was no pattern to their choices - young and old, the healthy and the sick - all were subject to these culls. Some claim that the Druj had a twisted plan to weaken the Highborn bloodlines - the more prosaic interpretation is that they are simply incapable of ruling except through fear and terror.
The Druj hold many smaller tribes by the neck, sending them into battle ahead of their own forces. The Druj are apparently viewed with dread by these tribes, ever fearful of displeasing their masters and the ruthless cruelty that will descend should they betray their masters. Despite this, they can express unpredictable levels of magnanimity, rewarding members of smaller tribes who serve them well, or succeed in particular grueling missions; their very unpredictability helps to maintain their position of power. Many Imperial soldiers who think they have fought the Druj have actually fought members of a subject tribe, perhaps supported by a few small units of Druj warriors who seek to exploit the chaos of the battlefield to strike at their opponents before withdrawing.
In 379YE the subject tribes in the Barrens rebelled against their Druj overlords. Three entire armies rebelled and all Druj forces in the Barrens were crushed. Freed from the Druj oppression the orc tribes declared the Barrens to be their homeland and attempted to negotiate an alliance with the Empire but were unsuccessful. They were successful in destroying the Druj fortification in the east but failed to take the Towers of the Dawn. They were ultimately defeated by a combination of Imperial forces attacking from the west and Druj forces from the east. Some fled the Barrens to take up residence in Therunin - the others were returned to subjugation by the conquering Druj.
During the Reikos campaign the Druj utilised a previously unseen weapon - tormented Highborn prisoners transformed into unliving horrors. Never many in number, the creatures were destroyed during one of the climactic battles of the Reikos campaign, when Imperial heroes were able to lay their spirits to rest.
Imperial scholars have pieced together some of the details of how these tragic entities were created. They were originally Highborn citizens who had been captured and enslaved by the barbarians and then subjected to horrific torture and malice. Through the use of twisted ceremonies and powerful infusions of unknown herbs, the Druj twisted the very spirit of their victims and set them to stalk the battlefields spreading shadows of the despair and hatred that constantly wracked them. The Druj seem to have selected their victims for this grim transformation exclusively from among those strong willed, physically powerful cataphracts, guardians, and battle-priests who had fallen into their hands.
The resulting creatures were skilled warriors, but also possessed the ability to deliver withering spiritual injuries to their former Imperial fellows. They also proved extremely difficult to destroy, requiring a priest to exorcise them to prevent them rising again restored to full health. Even this exorcism did not permanently banish the creatures - the same entities were encountered several times through the course of the Reikos campaign.
On occasion the Druj may herd rabid beasts ahead of them in battle. These dangerous creatures are native to the Mallum, the Druj's marsh homeland. Fortunately, the Druj lack the skills of the Kraken's Jaws, the elite Grendel Moridun who lead littoral animals in battle they have trained from birth. Instead they are forced to use magical rituals and somnolent elixirs to calm these beasts to the point that they can be herded to battle.
Over centuries of engagements with the eastern tribes the Empire has encountered a veritable menagerie of Druj war beasts drawn from the depths of the Mallum. These have included dire insects, swamp dwelling drakes, catoblepas, the poisonous oduli, as well as the marshlings and large marshwalkers. Once a fight begins the Druj release the animals and drive them towards the enemy, forgoing any great control or direction over them and seemingly unconcerned should a beast be killed in battle. Although drugged, such creatures can still be deadly as they lash out at those they are herded towards.
The Poison Drop Arachnid is a horrific spindly spider that can be found in the trees of the eastern Empire from Feverwater to Holberg. They spin dens of silk and leaves under tree branches in which they then reside. They labour to craft small cocoons of silk into which they will extrude a foul and potent poison. These little vessels are then carefully carried to locations that the spider's quarry will frequent. The spider will often place their poison droplets on exposed branches or underneath edible leaves or fungi. When another animal comes into contact with the poison their are quickly subjected to a powerful paralytic effect that allows the arachnid to either feast upon their prey or, in the case of the female, lay her eggs under the skin.That the Druj revere this tiny monster as a powerful totem spirit should tell you everything you need to know about these despicable creatures.except from ''The Eastern Menace'' by Lady Elayne Rallison