Title: The Maker's Races: The Praka
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The Praka were the first humanoid species created by Ruhollah Rushiadah, the mage later known as the Maker. There were largely an experiment, or rather 'practice' -- his goal was to transform his fox familiar into a humanoid, and the raccoons he chose as his first research subjects were close enough to foxes to be useful practice while still being expendible.
By the time he began his experiments, he had acquired two ancient scrolls -- Awaken Intelligence and Alter Beast . The first allowed him to give an animal human-like intellect, and the second allowed him to perform more or less any transformation he wished upon the beast. He could increase its size, make it humanoid, give it useful hands, and so on.
Many raccoons died in his early experiments. He soon learned that the shock of transformation could kill a subject outright. Since he did not at first plan out the final form he wanted the new species to take, he transformed some subjects multiple times. Roughly twenty percent of the raccoons died when transformed, a number later reduced to some five percent when be began fortifying the subjects with other spells prior to transforming them, and more than a hundred raccoons were lost in the first year. But raccoons were plentiful, and the local farmers were all too happy to trap more for his needs.
Eventually he settled on a form for this new race, one that minimized the changes the raccoons must undergo. This reduced fatalities, but resulted in a barely humanoid race.
With the lack of creativity that was to become his trademark, he named this new race 'the Praka', after the Latin name for their progenitors: Procyon Lotor. (He was mispronouncing the Latin, too. He thought it was 'Prak-yon' when it's more correctly 'Pro-c-yon'.) All of the changes he made to the raccoons -- the size increase, the increased intellect, longer lifespan and better hands -- breed true, and praka are now a species of their own. Since they are the oldest of the Maker's created races, they are by far the most numerous.
Praka are medium-sized humanoids who still greatly resemble the raccoons they sprang from. Males stand at four to four and a half feet, while females stand three to four feet at full adulthood. They have rounded bodies, thickly furred limbs, and short-furred, darkly pelted hands and feet. A ringed tail hangs down behind, and their heads are entirely raccoonish, with little trace of anything humanoid. Black bandit's mask, cup-shaped mobile ears, narrow muzzle, black nosepad, whiskers and fangs, it's all there, though their cranium is slightly rounded to accommodate a surprisingly large brain.
Fur ranges from nearly gray to a more common russet- or brown-gray. They blend in with bark and undergrowth and are naturally stealthy in wooded areas. When seen in such places they can be easily mistaken for normal raccoons -- though roughly four times as massive, they are proportioned almost identically.
Praka are equally comfortable on two or four feet, and rarely need (or want) clothing unless it has some utilitarian purpose: to keep the rain off or for use in extremely cold climates. Their fur makes them seem larger than they are (especially when they are frightened and bristling): they have a muscular though slight build, and even large males rarely exceed a hundred pounds. Small female adults can weigh as little as forty pounds. These numbers assume the praka isn't fat, of course.
Praka have sharp nail-like claws on hands and feet. With these they can climb trees and wooden structures as nimbly as any monkey. Both hands and feet are amazingly strong (considering their small size) and dextrous. Praka are very hand-oriented, and will toy endlessly with interesting objects until they figure out what they are and what they do. A combination of a natural coon's excellent manual dexterity and human-level intelligence means it's nearly impossible to keep a praka out of somewhere he wants to get into. They are naturally adept at picking locks, though they are not necessarily natural thieves.
Female praka have four teats, though they rarely have more than two young at a time. The average is one cub, and it is nearly as large and wel-developed as a human child. Male praka have an obvious sheath and scrotum that even winter-length fur can't entirely conceal.
Besides their barely humanoid build, the Maker's decision to minimize the changes to their original raccoon shapes has one major drawback: Praka can't speak any human language. They can manage some beastman tongues, and have evolved their own chittering language, but when communicating with humans or most other races they are reduced to passing notes (if someone in the opposite group can read), sign language, or as a last resort, pantomime (charades). All Praka understand the common human tongue and are adept at sign language, and many know other languages.
Praka are generally cheerful, playful and inquisitive. The exception to this is their mating season, during which the males can become surly and even violent. Praka have an almost uncontrollable need to feel things -- if they see something interesting, they are compelled to touch it and explore it with their hands. This has given them a reputation as pickpockets and thieves (which, admittedly, some are) but is simply the natural extension of their raccoonish nature.
Since they usually live among larger humanoids (with the exception of praka-halfling towns), most don't actually tend toward thievery. Being a thief tends to get you beaten up or worse, and they are far too clever not to see that coming. Since everyone expects it of them, they instead lean toward trades that take advantage of their extreme manual dexterity without requiring them to rifle through people's pockets. Locksmithing, jewelerysmithing, leatherworking (especially intricate and decorated items like harnesses and weapons scabbards), delicate forms of metalsmithing that don't require great strength, weaving, and cooking are all common praka trades. Thus they blend into society and have a generally good reputation despite the fact that everyone 'knows' they are thieves. This works to the advantage of the genuinely thiefish praka, of course.
Praka are very animalistic in appearance, and this extends to their mating habits. They growl, snarl, nip, and generally make a production of their lengthy coitus. Oftentimes they mate just like real raccoons, with the female on all fours and the male mounting her from behind. But they didn't stop with that simple, natural approach.
When new to sentience, they discovered that it was possible to mate (or rather have sex, since no cubs would result) outside the breeding season. Cheerful and outgoing people that they were, they thought this was absolutely wonderful and sank into a nearly racial orgy that would make a human teenager blush. Same-sex, group-sex, oral, anal, gul (when that race was created), volpa (likewise) and human lovers: the first few years were sweaty ones in the praka community.
The praka now alive are two generations removed from that time, but the philosophy -- if you can call it that -- that's developed would shock even most humans. They are at once completely innocent and completely sinful. Sex isn't a sin, it's just fun.
Married couples often sleep around (except during the mating season). Males and females both commonly seek out other-species lovers. They extend their innate love of touching things to every possible sexual contact. Many an other-species male has been shocked to find a praka-femme's (or praka-male's!) hand on his groin. Praka tend to view casual contact (being petted or brushed, for example) as a sexual advance -- at least, if the person doing the petting is alone with the praka.
Praka-males are surprisingly popular cross-species lovers. It helps that they are amazingly well endowed for their size -- you wouldn't think a four foot tall praka would be 'equipped' as well as a six foot tall human, but they often are. Their baculum (penis bone) makes it very easy for a male praka to 'keep it up', as it were, and even if 'limp' they can mount an interested female.
Female praka are often perceived to be prostitutes even if they aren't. They simply don't see any problem in dallying with other species. They also tend to be very cheap 'whores', since they don't view what they are doing as a 'job'.
Most male and female praka are curious enough to dally with either sex of off-species lover, though particularly large males (gul spring to mind) might have to eschew coitus in favor of raccoon-delivered manual or oral pleasure.
Their habits in this area have made them very popular with certain species (humans and Khardaki lion-people, among others), and many inns and bars will hire praka waitresses (or waiters) with the understanding that their hires are likely to vanish into the customer's rooms at odd moments. While there is no formal sort of prostitution going on, it does attract customers to the bar or inn, and the praka tend to be tipped very well.
On the other hand, people who try to force praka into sexual liasions find that the little coonies become veritable chainsaws of claw and fang. They aren't very durable fighters, the praka, but no one tries to force a praka twice. That's not to say that praka can't be made slaves of -- they are, in a few areas, and in those areas there are indeed praka slaves whose chief duties are sexual. Needless to say, once the praka settle into their positions they fit in well.
Even given all this, it's a mistake to think praka obsess about sex. They view it as just another part of life, to be enjoyed whenever possible, but they don't spend all their time thinking about it. Except during the mating season, that is.
Praka are extremely omnivorous. Not only will they eat anything a human will eat, but most other things as well. Bugs, worms, half-rotten food and many things humans consider garbage are all palatable as far as the coonies are concerned. Of course, they don't prefer garbage as food. Given a chance they will eat a varied diet of meat, vegetables and grains. They particularly like sweets, but then, who doesn't. Wealthy praka tend to eat more than they should and tend toward obesity. Praka rarely swallow intact lumps of food. Everything is carefully chewed and tasted.
On the other hand, a few Praka asked The Maker for the ability to swallow prey whole. The small size of the coonies limits their prey to creatures no larger than a medium-sized dog. Since dogs and praka don't tend to get on, canines do have a tendency to vanish if their's a 'gulper' praka in the community. Likewise, kobolds and other annoying and conveniently small humanoids have occasionally vanished down a coonie gullet. The 'gulper' trait does not breed true, and only praka modified by The Maker can do this.
Even praka without this modification have a surprisingly wide gape and throat, and can swallow an object up to the size of a large rat. Since they rarely swallow rats (see Diet, above). It is more useful for concealing stolen items or in certain sexual situations.
There's a rumor that an early experiment went awry and resulted in a praka who can swallow creatures much larger than she is is. This rumor is dismissed by most praka. After all, how would this mythical praka manage such a feat?
Strength: Though small, praka are quite strong. Pound for pound, they are half again to twice as strong as an athletic human. Their slight size keeps them from being particularly effective warriors (a hundred-pound male praka just doesn't have the mass to back up a sword swing), but they can and will fight to defend themselves. A broad sword is a two-handed weapon for a praka, but they can fight with small one-handed weapons: short sword and small shield, two daggers, etc. If unarmed, their claws can inflict nasty cuts. Their canine fangs are needle-sharp and intimidatingly long, and most praka just need to snarl to drive off a dog or rowdy human teenager.
Flexibility: Praka retain much of their ancestor's flexibility and can, for instance, curl into a ball to sleep. A praka can put his own chin on his navel, an extremely useful ability if you happen to be a lonely praka male. More to the point, it's practically impossible to grab a praka in such a way that it cant twist around to claw or bite you.
Speed: Praka on two feet move two thirds as fast as a human. On all fours they can out-sprint a human or lope for long distances at a human's running speed.
Intelligence: Praka are, on the average, slightly smarter than humans are. A large portion of their brain is devoted to manual dexterity, though, and there are nuances of human intellect they can't master. Mathematics, for instance, is not their strong suit.
Claws: Praka claws are about 3/4 of an inch long and very sharp.
Longevity: Praka live about 60 years if not killed by disease or injury.
Names: Usually simple names based on some physical characteristic or habit. Fish-snatcher, Runs at Sunset, Redfur, Quickpaw, etc.
Praka avoid combat, but if need be will fight with short bows, one-handed human-style spears (used two handed), short swords, darts, slings, or similar small weapons. Warrior praka (such as they are) usually practice biting in battle. Swing dagger-block-bite, that sort of thing. While most educated people know that praka don't carry rabies, less-educated people don't, and a praka will quite convincingly foam at the mouth if he thinks it will scare off his attacker. Most praka and praka-halfling villages survive via a combination of remote location, natural inaccessability (many are built in swamps) and cunningly designed defensive works (traps, etc).
They are excellent scouts, keen of hearing and hard to spot. A praka in a tree blends in so well that only an expert eye can pick one out -- and often not then. Scouting is their usual function when there serve in the Maker's fighting forces, though some are adept at healing or, of course, finessing locks or traps.
Notable praka characters:
Besides Ria the 'mythical' predatory praka, there are few praka of note. They tend to blend in too well to produce 'heroes'. Redfur was a noted praka warrior, now retired; Twofeather is a masterlocksmith living in Greyston; Quickpaw gained limited fame by being the first praka to seduce a halfling woman and ThreeToe was one of the first praka to live in a large city (and the first praka 'gigolo'.)
There are many small praka villages within a hundred miles of the Maker's castle. They are spreading to the east, taking advantage of the Elven Kingdom of Celene as a buffer against the nastier humanoids. Combined halfling-praka villages are increasingly common. Closer to the Maker's residence, combined towns of gul, volpa, praka and humans (and other species) are springing up.
A large number of praka still live in and around the Maker's castle, working as servants, maids, cooks, common laborers, and assistants. Some dwell there expressly to maintain relationships with off-species (gul or volpa) lovers.
Synopsis (2nd edition AD&D):
Ability scores: Str -1*, Int +1, Wis -1, Dex +2 for purposes of manual tasks only, Con -, Cha -1.
* Would be -2, but praka are disproportionately strong.
Languages: Understands Common and (50% chance) either Halfling, Gnomish or Elvish. 'Speaks' sign language. 90% of praka can read and write common. Speaks own 'prakaspeak' of animal-like chitters.
Natural Abilities: Claw/Claw/Bite: 1/1/1-4. Hide in Woodlands 75%. Move Silently in woodlands 75%. Climb trees 95%, wooden structures 90%. Innate 1 in 6 chance to pick locks.
Movement Rate: 8" on two feet, 15" on all fours for up to 3 rounds, 12" on all fours sustained.
Thief skills: PP -10%*, OL +15%, F/RT -, MS +5%, HS -**, DN +15%, CW -***, RL -
* Praka make poor pickpockets because they can't seem to resist the urge to feel around in the pouch (or whatever) rather than just grabbing something. ** +10% in natural terrain. *** +10% if wooden wall.