Breeze-through-Bare-Branches’ small, red eyes burned from the smoke. The air of the courtyard was thick with incense that clouded the mind as well as the air. He wanted to close his eyes. To lie down where he stood and let sleep take him. But he knew that even a blink in this place would bring death. He twitched his antennae and felt for subtle shifts in the air around him.
An arrow whistled towards him, but he was ready. With a practiced flourish, Breeze-through-Bare-Branches batted the projectile out of the air with his chitinous horn and caught it in his claw. It was over now.
Well, not entirely over. But it was only a matter of time, because Breeze-through-Bare-Branches was armed now.
They came for him then, his clutchmates. His friends. Their jet-black shells catching the strange lights of the lanterns surrounding the courtyard, dazzling him with shifting patterns in the smoke. His vision swam and the ground felt soft beneath his feet. He took a slow, purposeful breath and prepared for his attackers. Breeze-through-Bare-Branches lowered his head to accept the charge and brandished the arrow in his claw like a small javelin.
Two of his three clutchmates, both older than he by a year or two, advanced on him in tandem. Working together was not strictly forbidden in the Grand Melee, but those who chose this route were often regarded as weak. It was worse than that. Both of his assailants carried weapons. How shameful. Still, Breeze-through-Bare-Branches admired their caution since they recognized there was no way they could take him on individually or unarmed. He saw one of the figures limp slightly, and instantly knew it was Snow-on-a-Fencepost. She was doing her best to hide a recent sparring injury by taking short, quick steps. The clumsy figure behind her must be Shout-of-Thunder, which meant they had either eliminated Sweetness-of-Summer already or
Breeze-through-Bare-Branches heard the bowstring thrum and a second later sparks erupted behind his eyes as the dulled arrow caught him in the back of the head. He bit back a scream and fought to stay on his feet but his clutchmates did not let his weakness go unexploited. Shout-of-Thunder brought his heavy cudgel down in a frighteningly fast arch and it was all Breeze-through-Bare-Branches could do to roll out of the way. Snow-on-a-Fencepost quickly closed the distance between them and focused a flurry of short spear thrusts at her prone clutchmate. Breeze-through-Bare-Branches absorbed the first three hits on his armored forearm before catching the spear with his horn and sweeping his clutchmate off his feet with a well-placed kick. A quick blow to the side of the neck and Snow-on-a-Fencepost was no longer a concern.
He rolled on instinct, letting muscle memory carry him out of the arrow’s path and away from Shout-of-Thunder’s club. Breeze-through-Bare-Branches sprang to his feet and strained his eyes, searching for some indication of where Sweetness-of-Summer was hiding. Shout-of-Thunder lumbered forward, interrupting Breeze-through-Bare-Branches’ investigation with sweeping, rib-crushing swipes of his great club. Breeze-through-Bare-Branches waited for the club to brush past him and rushed in past Shout-of-Thunder’s guard. He feinted to the left, crouching low to bury the dulled arrow in the soft gap between the chitin on Shout-of-Thunder’s left knee. Breeze-through-Bare-Branches shot up to his feet, catching Shout-of-Thunder under the chin with his horn and tossing the larger peer onto his back.
“I yield!” Shout-of-Thunder hissed, clutching feebly at the ichor-slick arrow in his leg.
Breeze-through-Bare-Branches nodded. “I’m sorry,” he managed. And it was only half a lie. He wasn’t sorry for injuring his clutchmate. The melee was dangerous and violence was expected. He was sorry that he might’ve injured Shout-of-Thunder permanently. The onlookers would take a dim view to that level of barbarity. No matter. What’s done is done, he thought. He was panting now, and his face and limbs felt number with every breath of incense.
“Do you yield, too, Breeze?” Sweetness-of-Summer’s voice echoed through the smoke. Breeze-through-Bare-Branches spun and searched the courtyard but saw nothing but hazy lamps, cobblestones, and the darkness that was increasingly pushing into his vision.
“No!” his voice sounded wrong. Slow. Too loud. His legs would not move. His lungs burned and his pulse boomed in his head like the crashing of waves.
The arrow arched through the air like a feather on the wind. Slowly. Gracefully. Breeze-through-Bare-Branches watched it but, more importantly, saw the smoke part for the briefest instant in its wake. His body was moving before his mind was aware of it, and someone was screaming. He was screaming.
Sweetness-of-Summer tried to fire another arrow at the charging Breeze-through-Bare-Branches but fumbled the arrow in her surprise. She swung the bow at his head but Breeze-through-Bare-Branches dropped to a knee and ripped her leg out form under her with a lightning-fast claw. Sweetness-of-Summer crashed to the cobblestones, her bow skittering across the courtyard. Breeze-through-Bare Branches raised his claw to deliver a finishing blow, staring at the dazed person below him.
A horn rang out and the flickering orange of the lamps turned a deep blue. The match was over. He had done it. Breeze-through-Bare-Branches smiled as the last of his strength left him and he collapsed next to his clutchmate.
His eyes closed and he took a deep breath of the smoke, willing the numbness into his injuries. Letting himself go. Breeze-through-Bare-Branches had earned it, and so much more. He wouldn’t have to live in the hatchling’s compound anymore with the rest of the Unchosen. Now, because of what he did today, a clan from a good cast would select him. Perhaps not as good of a clan as he would’ve had if he hadn’t potentially maimed Shout-of-Thunder, but there was little he could do about that now.
A bed. A family. And with years before he turned thirteen. Before the culling. He slept then, truly at peace for the first time in all of his ten years.
The beetle folk are often thought of as arrogant beyond reason, however those that spend any time with one of these dynastids quickly learns that the arrogance is not baseless. The young life of a dynastid is cruel by nearly any measure, allowing only the most capable to survive into adulthood. This high mortality rate keeps the dynastic population relatively small, though their small numbers do not make them worthwhile targets of war by any but the most foolish or desperate.
Discounting the foot-long horn (or horns, depending on the lineage), dynastids stand between six and seven-feet-tall and weigh between 250-300 lbs. Most of their weight comes from their inch-thick chitin which covers everything but their eyes and soft underbellies. Dynastids do not interfere with the affairs of outsiders which, along with their small population, makes a dynastid adventurer a rare sight in most lands. Still, if their clan or honor demands it, a dynastid will walk to the end of the world to achieve their goals.
Female dynastids lay their eggs in a communal pit on the outskirts of their settlements. Each female can lay up to fifty eggs at a time, though no more than one or two of these will reach adulthood at the age of 15. The children are not cared for or nurtured, though food is provided. Those too weak or small or timid to secure food for themselves will die soon after hatching. Mercy among hatchlings is unheard of, as that quality has long since been bred out of dynastids. This laissez faire upbringing continues until the age of five, where the survivors are given various aptitude tests and conscripted into their training houses to spend the next five to ten years mastering their assigned vocation. The winnowing does not stop at this point, however, as the instructors are tasked with separating those unfit to reach adulthood by any means they deem appropriate. Corporal punishment, sleep deprivation, and the withholding of food and water are all commonly employed to make sure no weaklings slip through the cracks.
If a hatchling reaches the age of ten, they may compete against their surviving clutchmates to prove themselves worthy of a clan. These competitions are held once every three months, and those that lose but survive can repeatedly enter the competition, however their chance of being chosen by a good clan decrease with every loss. The winners are bid on by various clans, with the highest bid winning the right to claim the hatchling as their own. If a hatchling reaches 15 years old without ever winning a competition, they are deemed unworthy and euthanized.
No matter what vocation a dynastid is given, they are expected to be capable warriors first. Even the most bookish academic is still a capable melee fighter if the situation demands it. After reaching adulthood, dynastids are still expected to stay physically fit and practice with their weapon of choice on a daily basis. It is not unusual for dynastid settlements to shut down for an hour or two at dusk or at dawn to practice their martial arts as a community.
Though dynastids are free to practice with whatever melee weapon they choose, most favor bludgeoning and piercing weapons over slashing weapons simply because their chitinous armor prevents swords and the like from being much use in combat. Hammers, however, can still do damage to the soft tissue underneath, and spears are always good for prodding the gabs between plates.
“A dynastid is never unarmed” is a popular saying for a reason, and that reason is the massive mace-like horn on the top of a dynastid’s head. These horns are most commonly used in ceremonial wrestling matches, especially during trials by combat, though they are capable weapons of war as well. Oftentimes, dynastid warriors will plate their horns in armor, sometimes going so far as to embellish them with spikes or a single large hammer. A charging dynastid, her head lowered and shoulders braced for impact, is enough to put fear into the stoutest heart.
Though it is rare, a dynastid’s horn can break during combat. It can also be removed as a form of punishment for acts of cowardice or dishonorable behavior. Regardless of the reason, when a dynastid loses its horn, it loses its name, social standing, and clan, and must leave the community forever. Still, being overprotective of one’s horn is seen as an act of weakness, and no right-living dynastid would ever shy away from risking themselves or their horn in battle.
Clans are Families…But Not
When a clan chooses a hatchling to join them, they must submit to another year of tutelage by the clan’s masters in order to learn how to think, speak, and act like an adult clan member and not like a half feral child. Once they have proven themselves capable, they are afforded all the rights and responsibilities of their peers. The heads of a clan are chosen by vote, with each full clan member able to cast and receive votes. The top three elected people form a council that oversees the activities of the clan and they serve in this capacity for a year.
Each clan has members from a variety of different vocations, however they generally specialize in one area over another. For example, the Black Claw clan has its fair share of priests, however it is primarily a clan of warriors and battlemages. Settlements, when comprised of more than one clan, are led by a council comprised of each family’s heads. This system works well as long as the clans are of equal size, otherwise the larger clan is often angered that the smaller clan has as much political clout despite representing a smaller population.
Dynastids are given names when they first take their aptitude tests at the age of five. The test givers assign then names based on some trait observed in the hatchling. Given that their first names can prove rather long, it is not unusual for close dynastids to address each other by only part of their full name. For example, Breeze instead of Breeze-through-Bare-Branches might be employed by close clan members. Surnames are clan names and rarely used unless the dynastid is introducing themselves to a non-clan member or a member of an outside race.
First Names: Breeze-through-Bare-Branches, Drone-of-Stirges, Glow-of-Embers-at-Dawn, Nagging-Pain-between-the-Eyes, Rain-after-a-Long-Drought, Shout-of-Thunder, Snow-on-a-Fencepost, Sweetness-of-Summer, View-of-Far-Mountains, Yawn-of-Eons-Silenced
Clan Names: Dull Axe, Black Claw, Fire Spitter, Horn Breaker, Jackal Tongue, Mind Mender, Plague Biter, Rough Back, Spear Child, Warring Oak
Dynastids are, like all people, a variety of skills, experiences, and tendencies. The information presented below is meant to reflect many dynastids, though not all or even most. Work with your DM to change the following information as you see fit. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything provides rules for swapping out features as needed.
Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2, and one other ability score of your choice increases by 1.
Age. Dynastids lives are short and brutal, with most dying before reaching adulthood at age 15. The oldest dynastids live to 150, though dying of old age is something hardly any dynastid achieves.
Alignment. Dynastids children are chaotic by nature and as a means of survival. In contrast, those that live to adulthood are rigid practitioners of the law. It is hard to argue that a society that treats its young as the dynastids do is not evil by nature.
Size. Dynastids are between six and seven feet tall and weigh between 250 and 300 pounds. Your size is medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Dynastid. Dynastid is mainly comprised of buzzing and clicks and, as such, is a language hardly spoken by other humanoids. Written dynastid is a crude, angular language meant to impart basic information and little else. It is not a language of flowery poetry…though you might be able to bang out a haiku or two, if pressed.
Chitin. 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. Further, you have resistance to all non-magical slashing weapons.
Dynastid Weapon Training. You have proficiency in one bludgeoning or piercing weapon of your choice.
Beetle Horn. Your horn is a natural weapon, which you can use to make unarmed strikes. If you hit with it, you deal bludgeoning damage equal to 1d6 + your Strength modifier, instead of the normal damage from an unarmed strike.
Charging Headbutt. If you move at least 15 feet straight toward a target and then hit it with a melee weapon attack on the same turn, you can immediately follow that attack with a bonus action, making one attack against the target with your horn. If this attack is successful, the target must succeed on an athletics saving throw or be knocked prone. The DC of this check equals 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Strength modifier.
Powerful Build. You count as one size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.