OSR: Antlings

Another race for my underground hexcrawl based on Veins of the Earth. They are my replacement for the Gnonmen.
Joshua Kubit

Major Features

-Human-sized ants.
-Centuar-like. Walking on 4 legs, manipulating things with two arms.
-Sighted, but with a vivid sense of smell and touch
-Secretive and clandestine
-On a mission

Antlings have a complex history.

On the surface, they were a sort of barbarian curiosity, like certain swamp-dwelling heathen tribes, until missionaries and merchants managed to wedge them into the feudal system. Each ant-hill became a "village" or "city", with a ruler paying tithes and sending armies in support of the larger feudal structure. Antlings became perfectly acceptable feudal citizens. Isolated, reclusive, and strange, but part of feudal society nonetheless. 

Inside, the Antlings have undergone a revolution.

Souls and Virtues

Before adapting to the feudal heirarchy, Antlings had a very simple religion. Their Queen, and certain favoured Princesses, had immortal souls. All other ants did not. The Queen therefore needed to live a virtuous life in accordance with the Authority's laws; all other ants were merely extensions of her will, with no need to worry about salvation or morality on an individual basis. The very idea of individual responsibility was unthinkable; Antlings existed only in relation to their Queen, in a state of obedient ignorance.

Prolonged contact with the outside world shattered this ideal state. Official visitors from the Church were pleased to find the Authority's laws were already practiced. They were baffled to find that most Antlings had no idea they had souls, and had taken no steps to ensure their own salvation. Furious ideological battles left martyrs on both sides, but most Antlings were convinced. They overthrew their former Queens, established new dynasties, and, in a few short years, moved from a fully collectivized to a semi-individualized society. The details of this bloody revolution were kept from the outside world. As long as taxes kept flowing, few Barons were inclined to look into the affairs of their Antling subjects.

The Philosophical Mine

Lobochello, the famous Antling philosopher and preacher, reasoned thus.
1. Many Antlings, before the Revolution, were deceived into acting against the Authority's laws.
2. Their punishment is damnation in the fires of Hell.
3. Since they were not instructed by the Church, they may never leave Hell or find Salvation.
4. It is therefore the responsibility of all living Antlings to rescue their damned ancestors.

The presence of Antlings in Hell has been confirmed by necromancers and the Church. Some villages have elected to try prayer and rituals to draw their unfortunate ancestors out of the flames. Some send specially prepared Antlings to Hell deliberately to guide lost souls on their proper path.

But some have chosen another, safer, more direct method. They are digging tunnels into Hell. It's not far. 

The Antlings reason that the task is their penance and holy duty. They will rescue their ancestors from Hell by force if necessary. The Authority cannot, they believe, prevent such a selfless and merciful mission. What could be more noble than rescuing those damned by accident and trickery rather than free choice?

Encountering the Antlings

A work crew with picks and buckets breaks into your tunnel. They mill around in confusion, feelers waving frantically. "Hello Ma'm,", one of them says nervously, "a fine morning."

Note: Antlings assume everyone is female until corrected. 

Or, you hear hymn-singing in the distance. A small group of Antlings is on the move, mapping the tunnels ahead or carrying a letter to some other part of the Veins.

Antlings can smell you before they see you, but they probably can't tell what you are by smell alone. Their eyesight is better than you'd expect. The old "wear a dead ant on your head" trick isn't going to fool anyone. They are new to the Veins. They are innocent but not idiotic. They will assume you mean what you say. If you openly blaspheme or curse they will start to mutter and might turn on you.


Surprisingly fluid and comprehensible. There's a slight buzz and they have trouble with "p"s, but if you ignore the ever-churning mouthparts it's just an accent. 

Antling workers are diligently educated. They speak clearly and carefully. Their diplomats are as sly and twisted as anyone else on the surface. All Antlings can read and write. 


Simple and direct. Names are relatively new to their culture.
Personal: Alice, Matilda, Agnes, Margaret, Joan, Isabella, Emma, Beatrice, Mabel, Cecilia.
Or virtues: Diligence, Prudence, Faith, Charity, Wisdom, Providence, Honesty.

Their warriors append the most impressive or personally significant battles to their names: Alice 14-Goblins-At-Black-Pass, Annie Basilisk-In-The-Upper-Galleries.

So A Giant Ant Is Talking To You...

It wants to figure out who you are and what you are doing and if you can be safely ignored. The Antlings are on a mission. Distractions are not helpful.

But Antlings are also curious and easily distracted. They know the Veins are a hostile environment and they want to learn more about them. They want maps and stories.

If thing seem to be escalating, the Antlings will retreat and call for a diplomat.

So A Giant Ant In A Silk Hat Is Talking To You...

Antling diplomats are polite and efficient. They believe everyone is either reasonable (like them) or insane (like... most of the people they've encountered in the Veins).

The diplomats negotiate trades and missions. They will offer rewards, sign contracts, and generally act like reasonable surface-dwellers negotiating with underground lunatics. They believe in imposing order by example. If they act properly, the rest of the world will fall into line.

If you prove useful or interesting, and you are capable of behaving like a civilized person, you may be invited into the Antling warrens.


Nervous/Angry Antling
1. Torso drawn up to full height. Arms slowly flexing, legs springing.
2. Lungs inflating and deflating rapidly. Faint whistling sound.
3. Rubbing claw fingers together, like they are sharpening a knife.
4. Short upward flicks of the antennae.

Happy Antling
1. Torso lowered, like they are slightly hunched.
2. Antennae folded flat.
3. Rhythmic mouthpart movements, like they are playing scales on a piano.
4. Ignoring your personal space to smell you better.

Comfortable/Curious Antling
1. Touching you idly with its antennae.
2. Half-sitting on its legs.
3. Antennae folded flat, but moving in little circles at the tips.
4. Full-torso wiggles.

The Hive

From the top down, it's a fortress. A buried castle protecting a buried city.Very few Antling cities have ever been conquered by surface-dwelling races without the aid of rival Antlings or a diverted river. Armies go around them.

Inside the fortress-gates and layers of false defenses, the Antlings have underground farms full of Myconids. They also farm on the surface and store grain and timber in vast halls. When famine strikes, desperate villagers sometimes raid Antlings nests. Thieves are more successful than invaders. Antlings don't like eating people but they will happily feed corpses to their fungus-piles.

Below the warehouses and barracks, the locked and guarded egg-rooms and treasure halls are kept in spotless order. Below them, the Queen and her court lead quiet, well-ordered lives. They have little time for decadence, but poetry and the trappings of feudal nobility still amuse them. Their position is maintained by common assent; the Queen is closer to the Doge of Venice than a true monarch. Not quite an elected monarchy, but definitely a nervous monarchy.

Deeper still are the iron mines and secret storehouses, and the prisons, where Royalists languish and strange things howl in the dark. There are egg-rooms and warehouses here too, but small ones, disposable ones.

The Front is below them, behind a second layer of fortress walls and thick gates. The Philosophical Mine. The tunnel into Hell.

You can't dig straight down. The Veins get in the way, but they also save time. Every step downwards is a step you don't have to carve. Unfortunately, everything virtually everything in the Veins wants to kill, devour, infect, or enslave the Antlings. Their mine is a warrior mine, an expedition into enemy territory.

Ant Caves

Militaristic. The Antlings have waged underground warfare for centuries. They know how to build a fort and fight for territory. They don't like mentioning this to surface-dwellers. Barons tend to get excited in all the wrong ways when they discover their subjects can fight.

A typical outpost contains three small soldier ants, a worker, and one siege ant. In the event of an attack the worker will flee to a larger fortress and bring reinforcements. The outpost is a small set of rooms carved into the rock with at least one hidden exit. All rooms have spear-holes. There will be a set of beds, a table, some food, a few trinkets, a shrine, and several weapons.

Larger fortresses are deliberately maze-like to trap and confuse invaders. Most have false keeps or command posts; invaders find themselves fighting to reach an empty room or a killing square. Conventional traps and plenty of secret murder-holes. False maps and false prisoners. There are chapels and priests and regular services too. Some priests aren't Antlings; the one respectable profession for an outsider in an Antling colony is preaching and religious labour.

Antlings advance cave by cave, chamber by chamber, building barricades and solid walls whenever possible. Large chambers are sometimes filled with poison gas and sealed; Antlings have no use for 50' ceilings. Their art is portable. Architecture isn't art.
Cory Trego-Erdner

Politics, Plots, and Plans

The PCs are unlikely to meet fairer or more focused people in the Veins. This doesn't mean Antlings are charitable or foolish, but they will cut a fair deal and they believe in virtues beyond the next meal. In the Veins, this is an anomaly.

Veins-adapted PCs are useful to the Antlings. They will try and hire the PCs as mercenaries, explorers, spies, or assassins. They will be paid. They might even get medals.

Current Plots

1. There are dragons somewhere nearby. Discuss. Find out how many and if they know about the Antlings. Reveal nothing.

2. There is something in the depths of the Fungid Valley. A creature living in a shell of swords and armour. We would very much like the swords and armour. Yes. Please kill it for us.

3. We sent a princess to visit the Olm on a diplomatic mission but she disappeared. Find her, or find out what happened to her.

4. They say the Mind Flayers come from an underground sea. Find out if they know how to get deeper in the Veins. We also hear they have machines that swim through rock. Find one for us.

5. Deliver this ultimatum to the King of the Ghouls of Illiam and then wait for a response.

6. We found a chasm. Map it for us.

7. This Ghoul-Baron has kidnapped several workers. Rescue them and kill him. Make it look like someone else did it. The more spectacular and intimidating the better.

8. Everyone seems to get very excited when we show them this rock (a piece of Dvergrite). Find out why.

9. Something (a Trogloraptor) keeps stealing our children. It is very, very stealthy. Track it and kill it.

10. We have heard rumours of strange creatures from deep underground (the Archaeans). Can you make an introduction? What do they want? Can we trade with them?

Weta Workshop

Ants and Gender

All the ants the PCs are likely to meet will be female. Feudal gender conventions fling up their hands in despair. Ants aren't bothered by this. Male ants are rare, weird, and dumb. They aren't really part of the colony. They're a sort of temporary genetic courier. They arrive from other colonies and cluster around the Queen, proving their worth in elaborate jousts and deadly contests. It's all very amusing to the spectators.

According to the Church, devout Antling workers and soldiers are blessed with the gift of perpetual virginity, an extra mark in their favour. Theologians, many of whom have never met an Antling or bothered to research their social structure, write long essays claiming Antling colonies are living exemplars of grace. In their minds, a colony is a working and peaceful nunnery. They miss the truth by a wide margin.

For a typical Antling, attracting a male is a sign of scandalous prestige, like owning a pet tiger or a rocket launcher. "Look at me," they say, "I'm like a Queen. I've got my own drone and he's very nice, even if he is a mammal." Having one is enough; physical difficulties aside, the Antlings have no reason to fool around with anyone. Some particularly bold Antlings in isolated fortresses have even purchased slaves from the Drow or memories of romance from the Illithids. It's a sin, but the Antlings are trying to go to Hell anyway...

How Do The Antlings See You?

To an Antling, a human is:
-tall but narrow
-covered in hair and long bendy squishy limbs
-squishy all over
-tiny teeth
-a weird fat face lump (nose) and two more on the side (ears)
Humans can stand very still if they want to. They are warm and very squishy. You have to be careful not to puncture them. They look like accident victims; no shell, just flesh and organs. Like Antlings, they have 3 body segments: a lower bit where they make smells, a middle squishy bit, and a head bit. They are all about the same size but the male ones have different lumps and more hair. They can't make smells on purpose but they make accidental smells all the time. Their jaws are tiny and they have to work really hard to eat things.

In human lands, every human female has a human male, and they are all Queens, but their colonies are very small because they only lay one egg at a time and their children are immensely stupid. The humans have to fight all the time to find out which Queen is in charge. She is called The King and she lives far away.
Melvyn Yeo. Surprisngly difficult to find art of ant spiders.

Ant Assassins

In the distant past, before Antlings learned how to think and use tools, there were creatures that preyed on them by mimicking their behaviors. The most famous and terrible were the Spider Ants, an ancient clan of predatory mimics. Rationality evolved faster than the mimics; they were trapped, hunted, and eventually domesticated.

Spider Ants are giant stick-limbed spiders with eyes like car headlights. From a distance they look just like Antlings. That's the point. They wear Antling uniforms and march in formation. If the column is ambushed, the mimic drops its disguise and behaves in ways the ambushers did not expect. It climbs, leaps, poisons, chases, and terrifies. It has dagger-fangs and active camouflage. It's also as smart as a person; after the Revolution, Spider Ants were also found to have souls, and are equal partners in the Philosophical Mine. They are widely feared and respected as instructors. By ancient law they cannot feed on living Antlings, so they feast on the fresh dead and unwanted prisoners. Particularly interesting prisoners might be used in training demonstrations.

Treasures and Trade Goods

1. Gold. The Antlings aren't rich but they will pay in good solid coin. They will also let you bank gold with them.

2. Food. The main draw. Everyone wants access to the fabled riches of the Antling storehouses and their stable farming complexes. Antlings will serve a proper meal, with real butter and everything, if they like you. Antling rations restore 1 additional HP.

3. Soldiers. Typically 4 soldier ants and 1 worker, armed and equipped for combat in the Veins. The price varies. Ants will accept suicide missions, but only if the result serves the Colony and their overall goal.

4. Magic. Antlings wizards are very dutiful and well-tutored. They can perform conventional magic from the surface and might be willing to sell or buy magic items.

5. Chitin Armour. Lighter than leather but as strong as chain. It also floats slightly.

6. Surface Comforts. They will never, ever allow you into the main colony. They can't take the risk. But they will carry a letter or an item to the surface for you and send it with a pilgrim or a trade caravan. They will even try to deliver a response.


  1. I'll be honest, your "animals-as-races" shtick makes so much sense... but I know my players just won't get it. Antlings are just so friendly and dutiful and excellent though. What an excellent contrast to - well, everything else!

    And of course they are digging all the way to hell. Of course.

    1. Why not just tell your players why? I told mine.

  2. Is there a post that explains your thoughts on animals-as-race? I love the concept, especially the Antlings!

    1. I don't think there's an official post, but basically it's that I don't think players "get" the conflict between your made-up not-Welsh and your made-up not-English in a setting, but they immediately "get" the froglings vs the toadlings, etc. It's a way to add medieval local feuds without overburdening the players with backstory and setting cruft.