Soul Merchants (5e Race)
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|“||I may have lost a beloved pet out of the bargain, but look at this lovely scarf it sold me!||”|
The arrival of a group of soul merchants within a town or village is a momentous occasion. Villagers prepare their goods and count their coins frantically, for the merchants carry the finest quality items with them and are sure to give the best prices for anything the townsfolk might wish to sell. Once night falls, however, things change. The villagers lock their doors and pull their curtains shut. Should a farmer find one of his cows with tiny puncture wounds in its neck, he thanks the gods that it is still alive and thinks no more about it. If the town wakes to discover that the cemetery has been burgled, they ask no questions.
The creatures that cause this odd mix of excitement and terror, soul merchants, are an unusual race. They are small in stature and usually dress in thick robes that cover their whole body, shrouding themselves from the view of inquisitive humanoids. Over their faces, they wear masks carved out of ivory. The simple, emotionless expressions of these masks can be somewhat unnerving, but what is found beneath is even more so.
A soul merchant beneath its robes is a tiny, hunched and shrivelled humanoid, with blank white eyes and slits for a nose. In some ways, they resemble a miniature ghoul. Their wide mouths are filled with two rows of very small, very sharp teeth, like a shark. The withered arms of a merchant are of disproportionate length compared to their shorter legs, and they are unusually strong despite their small stature. When a soul merchant runs, it goes on all fours and can achieve considerably greater speeds than it looks capable of. Most of the time, however, merchants travel at walking speed, shrouded beneath their robes. Without the patience or the skill to maintain pack-beasts, merchants carry all of their wares themselves, within huge heavy backpacks or else strung about their body, on display for the potential buyer.
The list of things a soul merchant sells is all but endless. They are famed for peddling jewelry, trinkets and other delightful but ultimately useless items—luxurious carpets, silken scarves and ancient wall tapestries to name but a few. Soul merchants don't have a huge interest in making a profit from their transactions, so the things they sell often go for very low prices, allowing even a commoner to feel like royalty, once in a while. A barmaid arrayed in a jeweled necklace or a fishmonger sporting doe-skin gloves is a sure sign that soul merchants have been through an area.
The soul merchant is, in fact, an unusual type of undead. Unusual in the sense that they still require food, drink, air and sleep to survive. The food a soul merchant requires is blood—mostly they feed off small animals such as rats, mice and the occasional stray cat or dog if they can get their hands on it. When there are farm animals nearby, soul merchants live by draining small, harmless amounts of blood from these creatures. If some accident were to happen, the merchants are always sure to leave money for the farmer to make up for their loss. A truly desperate soul merchant might take to preying on humanoids if it can't find any other source of nourishment, but this is incredibly rare: humanoids are to be bargained with, not eaten.
Those who deal with soul merchants are often left with the impression that the creatures are morose, quiet and uncommunicative. This is because the merchants speak as little as possible and, while they frequently haggle over the price of the goods they buy, mostly communicate with gestures and muffled grunts from behind their masks. However, all this is only an act—soul merchants are shrewd deal makers, and know full well that other races find them unnerving, particularly their strange, guttural voices. It's for this reason that they speak as little as possible and wear heavy clothing and masks when in the company of other races. Meanwhile, when they're alone together, soul merchants break into excited babbling about the things they've bought and the prices they've managed to get for them.
Soul merchants are an incredibly old race. Some claim that they have existed since the beginning of time, but a large and mostly conflicting quantity of myths about their origin abound. One such, which is possibly the most widespread, concerns a cleric whose name is lost to the mists of time. This cleric had a particular hatred for those who cheated death using magic, and so used a ritual to create soul merchants. Tasking his creations with collecting the souls of spectres, wights and death knights, the cleric sent them out into the world. While this story is very popular, it's possible that it originated as a sort of joke or cautionary tale—in his quest to destroy the undead, the cleric created yet more undead himself, an irony that anyone who hears the story cannot help but notice.
Whatever their origin, soul merchants still sometimes hunt down more powerful undead and slay them. While an individual merchant is quite weak, when they band together and combine their abilities they form a surprisingly efficient and dangerous team. Their motivation for hunting down the undead is not an altruistic one, however: it is, unusually, a financial one. This reasoning is often incomprehensible to other races, but it makes perfect sense to a soul merchant. For them, souls are a form of currency just as much as material possessions. They have a value that allows merchants to buy and sell them among one another, and they can be converted into other forms of currency to be traded with other races. The value of a soul is derived from its finite nature—because the soul will eventually pass over thanks to the death of its owner, the soul is worth something. The existence of creatures like spectres, ghouls and other forms of undead devalues the soul—because their spirits last beyond death they no longer have a finite duration. As such soul merchants hunt down these forms of undead to stop them from depreciating the currency.
Soul merchants don't usually worship a god, though a few might pick up and imitate the religious traditions of a town or village they pass through. They do revere something that some other species might mistake for a deity but is really more of a concept that soul merchants try to encourage in the world around them. Soul merchants call this concept 'Divitiae': roughly translating to 'wealth' or 'commerce'. While it may seem cynical for a species to worship this idea, Divitiae usually embodies the good that trading and bargaining brings to people and the benefits of the soul merchant tradition.
'Selling your soul' often conjures up images of a grinning devil forcing a desperate mortal to sign a contract that damns them forever, but such a deal with a soul merchant is much less sinister. Soul merchants don't hold the souls that they purchase forever—they are allowed to depart to the next life and live out eternity there. When the soul merchant needs assistance, however, possibly because it's in danger or needs assistance with manual work of some sort, it will call back the spirit of one of its former debtors. The debtor will serve the soul merchant for a brief period, animating the shadows to take material form, before it is permitted to depart again.
A suitably powerful soul merchant often becomes a cleric. The leader of a group of soul merchants is often one such powerful being and is a member of a particular clerical domain known as the debt domain, a school almost entirely unique to soul merchants. These soul merchants work to enforce the soul standard wherever they go, along with the ordinary business of buying and selling items.
Soul merchants travel in groups known as 'families', peddling their wares as a collective. The word family is deceptive, as soul merchants are not natural creatures and cannot reproduce among themselves. When a family does feel the need to add to its number, usually because one of its members has died for some reason, they steal a corpse from the nearest cemetery and use an ancient and mysterious ritual to convert it into a new soul merchant. This merchant has its own unique soul and therefore has no memories of its body's former life. In a few rare cases soul merchants have been known to pick up a few of the mannerisms of the creature it used to be; if this happens the other merchants take it as a sign of some note and this merchant is usually elevated to a high position in the family.
As they are unable to reproduce, soul merchants don't have any concept of love or committed romantic relationships. A soul merchant does develop extremely strong bonds with the creatures that it considers its friends, however. Usually, this means its family, but a soul merchant without a family often finds other wandering creatures to make into its new travelling companions and follows them around. A soul merchant starved of company starts to go a little mad—as naturally sociable creatures they thrive on community and its absence can take a considerable psychic toll. When this does happen, a soul merchant becomes increasingly predatory and feral, giving in to the side of its character that thirsts for blood.
The market for souls is a rarefied one: a merchant might only trade a single soul in its whole lifetime. More often soul merchants engage in buying and selling material goods with other races. A family doesn't usually need much of the stuff that the villagers it bargains with can sell it, and almost all of the things a merchant buys are sold off later. Merchants live simple lives, they don't need much food, and most of it is hunted and scavenged or extracted harmlessly from local farm animals. Their buying and selling are mostly out of tradition, and out of boredom because a merchant loves nothing better than haggling and bargaining.
The one thing that soul merchants do keep for themselves is gold. They love shiny golden trinkets and objects, and their robes and carts are often adorned with strings of coins and other glittering baubles. Despite this love for gold, soul merchants don't work by the gold standard. Gold only has value because other races lust after it: their souls can be bought for gold, so gold has worth because those souls have worth. Soul merchants work by the 'Soul Standard', which bases the value of all currency on the value of the souls that a merchant can buy and sell.
When they do buy and sell souls, soul merchants treat the transaction very seriously. There is no haggling where souls are involved: they have a very specific value which every soul merchant knows well. It is a matter of pride for a soul merchant to have bought or sold a soul in its lifetime. The leader of a soul merchant family is usually the one who has done the most deals for souls: as immortal creatures, soul merchants don't have a concept of seniority.
While they are able to live forever, unless starved to death or killed with some other method, most merchants choose not to do so. Since soul merchants do themselves have souls and are also immortals, their existence devalues the worth of the soul. Furthermore, the older a soul merchant becomes the more tiresome and boring the material world is for them. Soul merchants believe in their own afterlife—a golden paradise filled with wondrous treasures and plentiful food. As such, a soul merchant often chooses to commit a form of ritual suicide at some point in its life, though the age at which soul merchants do this varies. The merchant's family don't usually mourn its passing at all, because they know it goes to a better place. Because soul merchants like company, however, the death of one family member usually heralds the creation of another, in order to keep numbers up.
Soul Merchant Names
Soul merchants don't have any gender, since they are unable to reproduce save by the magical ritual that creates more of them. However, they know that other races find it easier to think in terms of gender, and since they want to make relations with potential buyers as good as possible they often choose one for themselves and pick a gendered name. A few soul merchants can never decide and remain without one, while others might change gender on a whim, switching while they travel between towns just because it amuses them.
Since they've lived for such a long time and a large part of their culture involves dealing and intermingling with other races, soul merchants might use names common to any of the many different species they've dealt with. Other names they create for themselves come from a mish-mash of languages and usually have something to do with gold, silver or souls.
Soul merchants don't really have surnames, but most of them will take on an epithet at the end of their name—a status symbol among others of their own kind, indicating their past transactions and successes.
Male: Animus, Argentus, Aureus, Glister, Khrusus, Pretius, Psychus, Emporius, Commercius, Aeternus.
Female: Anima, Argenta, Aurea, Glitter, Khrusa, Pretia, Psycha, Emporia, Commercia, Aeterna.
Gender-less: Argur, Effulgence, Gylden, Luceo, Sesterce, Pluotos, Mercator, Athanatos.
Epithets: Many-deal, Gilded-one, Soul-taker, Price-hiker, Coin-gatherer, Blood-pricker, Spirit-seller, Silk-haggler, Golden-toothed, Death-cheater.
Soul Merchant Traits
Hunched, heavily cloaked travelers who love a good bargain.
Ability Score Increase. Your Wisdom score increases by 2, and your Constitution score increases by 1.
Age. Merchants do not age, grow or mature in their lifetimes: they are created in the shape in which they will always remain. You have the potential to live eternally, provided you keep yourself fed.
Alignment. A family's strict hierarchy, in which every soul merchant knows their place, means merchants are usually lawful even when separated from their fellow merchants. Since their species' one concern in life is trade, a merchant is unlikely to be good or evil.
Size. Merchants stand up to about 3 feet tall and might look even smaller due to their bent backs and stooping gait. Your size is Small.
Speed. Despite a small size, merchants have a surprising turn of speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Powerful Build. Merchants can often be seen carrying wares and trinkets that look far too heavy for them as if they were nothing. You count as one size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight that you can push, drag or lift.
Giving Alms. You can cast the cure wounds spell once with this trait, requiring no material components, and you regain the ability to cast it this way when you finish a long rest. Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for this spell.
Soul Debt. As part of a short rest, you can call forward a spirit with whom you have made a soul trade, binding it within a gold coin. The spirit takes the form of a sequestered soul. You control the soul as if it were a creature summoned with the find familiar spell. Once you use this trait, you regain the ability to use it this way when you finish a long rest.
Merchant's Eye. You are skilled in the various techniques of the successful merchant. You have advantage on Charisma (Persuasion) checks made to barter and haggle, Intelligence (Investigation) checks made to estimate the value of an object and Wisdom (Insight) checks made to identify what material goods another creature wants.
Supernatural Resistance. As a frequent enemy of the undead and an unliving creature yourself, you have the power to resist unholy magic. You have resistance to necrotic damage.
Unliving. Your creature type is both humanoid and undead.
Languages. Merchants travel far and have to learn to speak with many different cultures and peoples. You can speak, read, and write Common and two other languages of your choice.
Random Height and Weight
|2′ 7″||+2d4||35 lb.||× 1 lb.|
*Height = base height + height modifier
When creating a soul merchant character, you can use the following table of traits, ideals, bonds and flaws to help flesh out your character. Use these tables in addition to or in place of your background's characteristics.
|1||I'm wont to take shiny things I see on a whim; always leaving appropriate payment, of course.|
|2||I like to have the last word in any bargain or negotiation that I'm involved in.|
|3||I compulsively count things when I think nobody's watching, just to check their number.|
|4||I have an unusual mannerism picked up from my body's life before it was a merchant.|
|5||My gestured sign language used when bargaining can get very enthusiastic and incomprehensible.|
|6||I keep all of my possessions in excellent condition—so shiny I can see my face in them.|
|7||I'm a hoarder, and have a huge collection of apparently useless items I can't bear to part with.|
|8||I'm a bit of a blood connoisseur, and only drink from a certain kind of animal I like the taste of.|
|1||Family. The community you build around yourself is more important than wealth (Lawful).|
|2||Generosity. Giving alms to the needy is something anyone with wealth should do (Good).|
|3||Greed. I will make underhanded deals just to get my hands on the gold I crave (Evil).|
|4||Independence. My family only ever held me back—I want to live by my own rules (Chaotic).|
|5||Finance. Maintaining the soul standard allows everything to have its proper value (Lawful).|
|6||Ambition. I want to rise to a high position in the family hierarchy through my work (Neutral).|
|1||My first duty is always to my family. Even when I'm separated from them, everything I do is in their name.|
|2||I have a particularly treasured item that I must never lose and always carry with me.|
|3||For some reason one of the pets of my body's former self still loves me, and I can't bring myself to eat it.|
|4||Despite the fact that my species can't reproduce, I feel a strange love towards an entirely unsuitable other.|
|5||I once bungled a soul deal, and will do whatever it takes to set the record straight.|
|6||My best friend decided to die before I was ready for them to go, and I still grieve over it.|
|1||Once I see something that I want, I obsess over it until it is mine and will do absolutely anything to get it.|
|2||I treat the lives of other creatures as worthless—or as having a very specific worth, to be precise.|
|3||I'm completely oblivious to the effect that my unnerving presence can have on the people I interact with.|
|4||Once I own something I've always wanted, it loses any value it might have had in my eyes.|
|5||Once I've started draining an animal's blood, I find it hard to stop until the creature that I drink is dead.|
|6||I don't care how much pain I put the souls I acquire through before I send them off to the afterlife.|