The zif are an ancient species of mollusks who first evolved in the oceans, long before any beasts roamed the land. The zif were a parasitic creature capable of attaching itself to the nervous systems of other mollusks and assuming control over the host’s body.
In ages past, zifs preferred ammonites as hosts. With the ammonite forms, they built great cities. Over the eons, they built a thriving undersea civilization. They ruled their realm for ages, until a terrible and mysterious force from beyond threatened their existence. The peaceful world that the zifs created ended in a cataclysmic apocalypse of fire, ice, and lightning. The ammonites were wiped from the realm, and the zif civilization along with them. Some zif, however, retreated and survived.
A few scattered zif found refuge in the depths of the oceans, using giant squid as their hosts. This dark age lasted for many years, but eventually the zif pulled themselves together as a race and once again looked outwards.
The zif discovered through their spells and scouting that while the oceans still teemed with life, the major powers in the world were on the land. The zif decided, that in order to take part as a power in the world they would need to switch hosts to a form capable of surviving on land. After much discussion, the zif decided upon using a semi-intelligent race of semi-humanoid giant snails, the snillorg, as their new hosts. After a careful selective breeding program of their hosts, the zif once again burst into the world to reclaim their birthright as a major power.
Zifs have an unmistakably Lovecraftian quality, and may help to add these elements to the player side of your game. They are an acceptable counterbalance to aboleths, chuuls, and other strange creatures that were likely touched by the great beyond. With the zif’s expansive and mysterious history, it would be relatively easy to interweave any unspeakably ancient terror or dark eldritch aspect in with this race for added flavor.
Alternatively, one could play the zif similar to other parasitic creatures who once or still control a vast and advanced civilization, as has often been seen in science-fiction. They may portray themselves as gods to less advanced species on both land and in the seas, or they may be limited to just the seas until recently.
Playing a race without feet may provide some interesting challenges. While they can jump, run,
and move like most other races, they do not leave distinctive tracks
except perhaps a slime trail. Riding mounts may also pose some
questions; special equipment may be required. Their anatomy may preclude
them from wearing certain equipment. Alternatively, equipment can be
specially designed for them by the Gamemaster. Perhaps a similar race, or even an aberration, has equipment suitable for a zif PC as well.
Despite their prehistoric roots, zifs in this text are presented as a fairly fresh race to the world. While they do have ancient origins, this does not need to be entangled with your existing campaign history. After all, the zif spent nearly all of the recorded history of the other races as reclusive giant deep-sea squids. This allows them to be placed in virtually any campaign setting with little work. As is, they require almost no adjustment to your world to begin play immediately.
The zif race will make a welcome addition to any game as a the only player with a shell, an unusual option for a player seeking something entirely different, a challenge for the player who likes to play everything, or even a fun alternative for those thirsting for an eldritch edge.
Physical Description: Zifs as they are today are known by their snillorg. These odd creatures have all that one would expect from a semi-humanoid giant snail. Standing about 5 feet tall, they glide along on one muscular foot. This motion is powered by succeeding waves of muscular contraction which move down the ventral of the foot. A small, flat shell known as an operculum rests on top of this foot. They have a long, thin body with arms that are almost skeletal in width. These arms end in equally long and thin three-fingered hands. A larger four-foot diameter spiraled shell protrudes from their backs, much like a backpack. Their heads extend practically neckless from their torso and have wide and flat mouths filled with smooth, grinding teeth. Two bulbous antennas protrude from where their nose should be. Their heads are capped with two long eye stalks. Zif eyes are simple black orbs. The most remarkable aspect of the zif’s body is that it is entirely retractable, and fits snugly into the shell that they wear on their backs. When retracted into their shell, the foot shell fits neatly over the main shell’s opening providing maximum protection.
Zifs speak in gurgling voices and smell a bit musky, but not as terribly unpleasant as one might expect. Their yellowish brown skin is particularly slimy as it exudes purplish mucus that aids in movement and maintains the elasticity of their skin. Their shells vary in color and pattern, but are typically black, white, pink, brown, or yellow. Unlike the zif’s previous forms, the giant snail form is primarily terrestrial, and lacks the biology necessary for prolonged underwater life.
Ecology & Society: Zifs are mollusks, and like many of this category they are also functional hermaphrodites. Any two zifs can get together to create children. It is even possible for a zif to spontaneously create children without a mate, though this is generally reserved for times of very low population. Beyond this, zif biology is extremely complicated.
First, zif are actually two distinct organisms in one. The intelligent part, the actual zif species, starts life as a tiny squid-like mollusk that burrows into the base of another mollusk’s tail and effectively hijacks its nervous system. Once attached, it begins to root itself permanently into the other creature. In the matter of a decade, the zif matures and becomes an enduring feature of the host individual. The host’s original brain and the parasite’s internal organs both atrophy into oblivion and the two organisms effectively become one. The zif parasite (referred to as a larva by the zif) can only attach to other mollusks.
The current host species is the snillorg. A zif can be discerned from a common snillorg by the operculum feature; the zif brain resides under this smaller shell. Snillorgs, and most terrestrial snails in general, do not have an operculum. Snillorgs start life as shelless slugs, about the size of a large cat. They mature quickly, reaching adulthood at age five, at which point they are chosen as hosts for the zif larva. Snillorgs are very prolific, but do not typically care for their young. Naturally, many more snillorg children die than live to grow to maturity. They are voracious herbivores, and love the taste of cultivated food. Before the zif, however, the snillorgs lacked the intellect required for horticulture. Barring a violent death, which the pre-zif snillorgs were pretty much assured, snillorgs can live for about 80 years without signs of old age. Afterwards, their health declines sharply. The zif die with their host.
One might assume that zifs would choose a variety of host organisms. However, this has never been the case. Zifs often refer to a “collective intellect” that prevents this as an option. While they cannot read each other’s mind, they do have some uncanny sense of each other’s status, knowledge, and memories. When many zif die, the entire race feels it. Inborn knowledge comes to them through this bond, and they are often well-versed on matters that they never studied themselves. Apparently, if they choose hosts that are not similar, the connection that they share becomes interrupted. Therefore, it is customary for the vast majority of zif to all agree on a new host species before they decide to use it. Because of this, the zif have had only a handful of different species of hosts in their entire existence as a species, which spans hundreds of millions of years.
As a mollusk, they lack a skeleton, but do have several floating structures in their body made of hard, but flexible, cartilage. All of their extremities are designed to retract, fold, and generally diminish greatly in size in order to fit neatly into their shell. They exude slime through their pores regularly, and because of this zif generally require about twice as much water as a human of the same weight. The shell of a zif is extremely hard and resilient. It is designed to take a lot of damage and protect the soft parts within.
Zif are a mature race, and usually have a mellow and gentle demeanor. In many ways, they seem to have the attitude of a man in his golden years. This can be a deep wisdom and understanding mixed with childlike wonder, or even a crotchety disposition with a kind heart. While they are a race that is millions of years old, with a strong racial memory, this is their first foray on dry land. Many show great interest in things that are not useful in the sea; from finesse style weapons to ancient paper books.
However, zif do tend to have a few alien views. The most obvious is their disregard for sentient races that fail to rise above base instinct Most zif view these races as others view beasts; to be
respected as life forms, but also used or disposed of as needed. This
manifests as a prejudice against any individual member of these races,
regardless of their actions. Drow,
tieflings, and even half-orcs often feel the cold sting of condescension
and disregard from the zif. Zifs look upon the snillorg in the
same respect; seeing the race as cattle to be used for their own purposes. It
boils down to an indelible perceptual difference; the zif simply cannot
see their disregard for these races as any more evil than a farmer who
raises pigs for food, or a knight using a horse
for combat. Some translate the zif attitude as extremely arrogant,
though it seems absent when dealing with members of races who have
proven to be civilized.
Relations: Zifs find humans, elves, halflings, and gnomes both praiseworthy and fascinating. Unfortunately, they often hold half-orcs accountable for their orcish heritage and will often treat them with condescending prejudice. The core races often view the zif much like older members of their own race who have become set in their ways; superficial respect mixed with much disregard. Even the elves are in awe of the zifs vast understanding of history and collective wisdom, however, and realize that the zif can be very valuable allies despite their antiquated views.
Relations to Remarkable Races: Zif enjoy studying and interacting with all benevolent races. However, they do see some races as lesser than others. While they treat boggles, entobians, muses, numistians, and relluks as equals, they harbor either disrespect or contempt for the other races. The often speak down to mahrogs, mogogols, and anumi as if these races were young children. They treat the kval, squole, and xax with great suspicion based on these races' nefarious origins.
Alignment and Religion: As a race, zifs are generally good aligned. Zif do not see any wisdom in evil deeds, and many feel they are too sophisticated for “primitive” motivations such as greed, egotism, and vengeance.
Zif are usually very open-minded to the plethora of beliefs, customs, and ideas that the world has to offer. If a zif finds a cause, ideal, or force that he believes in, he will pursue it with hobby-like zeal. In this spirit, there are many zif clerics and druids. Of these classes, however, most zif avoid the darker applications.
Adventurers: Zif adventurers have a variety of motivations that drive them. Most often, they see a great imbalance in the world and wish to right it. Some feel a sort of responsibility to help out the younger races, and perhaps a tinge of guilt for not being there for them in their infancy. Other zif adventure for the sheer wonder of it, hungering for new sights, new knowledge, and new experiences. Still other zif adventure solely to catalogue worldly facts for future use. These zif almost seem like reporters that are searching for that perfect “scoop.”
Zif are not particularly strong, nor does armor work well for them. Therefore, most zif avoid martial classes. Zif fighters are very rare, and usually use light and ranged weapons. Zif rogues are slightly more common than warriors, and prefer to use their skills to explore ancient ruins, lost temples, and dangerous dungeons. Zifs are most often wizards, preferring to rely on arcane knowledge to get by.
Names: Bariarti, Conordrum, Fremestor, Grelesior, Julesti, Kelkestor, Qualestri, Reviarti, Timbledere, Umblebleme, Vevosum, Warsotrum, Zembleblam.
The Ancient Language: By all accounts, the zif were the first to use this language, which may have been the first language ever invented by a mortal race. Originally, the ancient tongue was scribed in a tactile-based writing that was meant to be read much like Braille. Later, the zif adopted the Draconic script. This was likely a measure to better interact with the newly emerging sentient races of their world. Outside of zif and mahrog settlements, Ancient would only be found inscribed in extremely aged ruins and easily mistaken for Draconic, but undecipherable in that language. Ancient was the common dialect of distant ages ago. If it were not for the return of the mahrogs and the emergence of the zif, Ancient would have been a language that has been dead for eons.
1 This category includes barbarians, oracles, rogues, and sorcerers.
The following feats are available to a zif character who meets the prerequisites.
The following classes, archetypes and/or prestige classes are available to a zif character who meets the prerequisites.