“So that’s it, huh?” Jek squinted at the impossibly tall, impossibly delicate crystal tower that stabbed a mile or more into the sky from the planes below. “It’s just a big building, Davian. Pretty, though. I guess. If you’re into that sort of thing. Anyway, what are we having for lunch? Do we have any more cabbage?”
Davian rubbed his temples and fought to control his rising temper. “I…I can’t believe it,” he managed.
“You!” Davian shouted. “Seriously? That’s all you have to say?” The tiefling shook his head in disbelief and adjusted the lute on his back. “I take you to see the Everglowing Spire, Jewel of the Kingdom of Sz’Haran, and to you it’s just a big, pretty building?”
Jek’s carapace clacked defensively. “I mean…yes?”
“It’s the Sword of Alar! The greatest arcane achievement in the history of the world! Wrought from pure energy by the famed Thousand Sons of Haran over a millennium ago! My gods, the songs and poems that have been written about this place would fill more books than you could ever read in your life!” Davian’s shouts echoed across the empty landscape, disturbing a nearby flock of crows.
Jek frowned at his friend. “I think you need to eat something. You’re getting very upset over an old building.” He hunched over his pack for a moment and pulled out a half-eaten, wilted cabbage. “Ah, found it. Also, I can’t read so that book thing isn’t all that impressive, honestly.”
Davian plopped down on the ground, defeated. “Are all shieldbugs like you?”
“How do you mean?” Jek said, his mouth full of old cabbage.
Davian sighed and picked at the dry grass near his boot. “Uncultured. Uneducated. Uncouth. It’s like…it’s like you don’t have an eye for beauty at all.” He ran a lithe hand through his red curls and looked up at the sky.
Jek sighed, reached into his bag, and tossed his friend a ripe pear. “My mother, she loved to dance.”
Davian laughed. “Really? Was she graceful? Did she glide across the floor?” He stood up, brushed the dust from his trousers, and launched into an intricate series of steps accompanied by an unheard melody.
“No, she was terrible. We are not, as a rule, an…agile…people. But she loved to dance, and when I was a boy I would watch her dance around the yard, humming and laughing. Sometimes she would lift me by the arms and spin me until we were both so dizzy we could hardly stand.”
His dance concluded, Davian sat next to his friend and took a bite from the pear. “So, you’re saying she had no artistic sensibilities either?”
Jek popped the stem of the cabbage into his mouth and crunched. “No, you misunderstand. You and I, we see beauty differently, I think. To you, that tall building is the most beautiful thing in the world. To me, in those moments when my mother spun me, and smiled, and knocked into the table, and laughed, and forgot all about the world outside our dance for a few moments…that was the most beautiful thing.”
Davian sat quietly, resting his head on his friend’s shoulder and feeling an ache in his heart like nostalgia for a thing he never had. “Jek, a bard could learn a lot from a person like you.”
“Yes. Now let’s go see this old building of yours.”
The isopodians, or shieldbugs, as they are commonly known, are relatively new arrivals to the material plane, having first appeared only a few centuries ago. Though they do not know how or why they arrived in the material plane, the isopodians are survivors above all and have quickly adapted to life in their new homes. Despite how quickly they acclimated to their surroundings, any isopodian will be sure to describe the absolute perfection of the world they lost. The oppressive heat, the stink of rotting vegetation, the perpetual twilight of a world in which the sun never set nor never rose. A veritable heaven, one must agree.
Physically, the shieldbugs stand roughly six and a half feet tall when fully upright, though they usually walk hunched over, which reduces their height to around five and a half feet. They are broad and stocky, thanks in part to their carapace, and weigh between 250-300 pounds. Their aforementioned carapace provides them ample natural armor from head to toe as well as the ability to roll into a nigh-impervious ball. Isopodians range in color from slate gray to blue, though earth tones are most common.
Prodigiously Proliferating Pillbugs
Though not of this world, the isopodians wasted no time in settling into their adopted home. Many found their way into the vast equatorial jungles where they thrived in the humid, fecund landscape. Others sought relief from the harsh sun and settled alongside the drow (no, not those drow – these drow) who were happy to have the sturdy newcomers as allies. Still others settled in cities and towns, living as mercenaries, laborers, or making their homes among the midden heaps if they were truly desperate.
Regardless of where they established themselves, the shieldbug population grew quickly, as did their reputation for being stalwart friends and good neighbors. They seldom complained about the difficulties they faced and seemed always on the lookout for a chance to help their communities. This work ethic and altruistic outlook is something common to nearly all isopodians, and these qualities helped them integrate with established cultures rapidly.
Simple but not Stupid
Isopodians do not value amassing wealth and treasure, nor do they see the purpose in possessing more than one needs. They are not great creators of art, though they are capable craftspeople who excel in the creation of practical items such as tools and weapons. Though their creations are simple and unadorned, they are incredibly well made and prized throughout the world. Unlike the gnomes, isopodians do not feel the need to tinker and experiment. Progress will occur when it should – there is no need to rush it. Besides, they know what works and what doesn’t and, as long as they have what they need, they are satisfied.
Many people confuse this willingly spartan lifestyle with an inability to grasp the concept of wealth and beauty. This is not the case – isopodians do understand the value of such things, they just do not crave possessing them. A richly upholstered wingback chair is the same, practically speaking, as a well-made wooden stool to a shieldbug. An isopodian with a full stomach, a healthy family, and a warm room to sleep in is as happy as the richest king, as the saying goes.
Rot, Muck, and Other Delicacies
Shieldbugs are vegetarians, though one won’t find them in the market searching for the freshest produce available. They much prefer their food spoiled, wilted, and moldy. This affinity for rotten and ruined food has made them highly resistant to disease and poisons. They are also cunning potion makers and herbalists, having ample experience with untold varieties of fungi and molds.
It is not unusual to see an isopodian family taking a leisurely stroll through a town’s garbage heaps, searching for discarded peels, bendy celery, and too-soft fruit for that evening’s dinner. While some communities have tried to stop this seemingly disgusting behavior, others have embraced it to the point where neighbors will gladly save their compostables for their hungry isopodian friends.
Shieldbugs go by a simple, usually monosyllabic first name. Surnames are not necessary, though in large groups an isopodian with a common name might have a descriptor tacked onto their first name. Jek with the Bent Antenna, for example.
First Names: Byk, Crug, Foat, Grud, Jek, Kark, Otik, Teg, Unp, Wygh
Isopodians are, like all people, a variety of skills, experiences, and tendencies. The information presented below is meant to reflect many isopodians, though not all or even most. Work with your DM to change the following information as you see fit. Tashas’s Cauldron of Everything provides rules for swapping out features as needed.
Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 2, and your Strength or Wisdom is increased by 1
Age. Isopodians reach adulthood by their tenth birthday and can live up to sixty years.
Alignment. Isopodians believe in following the laws of the land as a means of integrating into a community. Their charitable nature and willingness to help indicates the average isopodian leans heavily towards Good.
Size. Isopodians usually stand hunched over, averaging around five and a half feet tall. When fully upright, they stand nearly six and a half feet tall. Isopodians weigh between 250 and 300 pounds. Your size is medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Darkvision. Accustomed to life in perpetual twilight, you have excellent vision in the dark. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in Darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in Darkness, only shades of gray.
Armored Ball. During your turn, you can use a bonus action to roll into an armored ball. While in this form, you can take the disengage action for free on each of your turns, however you can only move at half your normal speed. If you roll through an occupied space you may forgo your normal attack to shove that creature. If you have multiple attacks you may attempt to shove a new creature with each attack if you have rolled through their space during this turn. You must adhere to the normal rules for making a shove attack, however while in armored ball form, all of your shove attacks are made with advantage. Further, while in this form you have resistance to slashing and piercing damage from nonmagical attacks.
The only actions you can take while in armored ball form are moving, disengaging, or attempting to shove an enemy. You cannot cast spells or otherwise attack in armored ball form.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and isopodian. Isopodian is a language of pheromones and subtle body language as much as it is a spoken language, and is thus nearly impossible for non-isopodians to master without magical assistance. Written isopodian is exceedingly complex given that it has to represent more than just sounds. Positioning of the marks, distance from one another, angle, etc. are all used to convey meaning.
Shieldbug. Your exoskeleton provides a manner of protection against physical attacks. When unarmored, your AC is 17. You can use your natural armor to determine your AC if the armor you wear would leave you with a lower AC. A shield’s benefits apply as normal while you use your natural armor.
Of Rot and Ruin. You have advantage on saving throws vs Poison and Disease, and you have resistance to poison damage.
Plantcunning. Whenever you make a Wisdom (Survival) check related to plants and fungi, you are considered proficient in the Survival skill and add double your Proficiency Bonus to the check, instead of your normal Proficiency Bonus.
Tool Proficiency. You gain proficiency with the herbalism kit and alchemist’s supplies