Though known across the planes as skilled mercenaries, khaasta are risky individuals to work with. They hold little in esteem beyond power and might, choosing only to work with those they deem strong enough to be worthy, and looking for any opportunity to backstab their employer. They interact little with other peoples beyond temporary alliances or mercenary agreements, holding too little trust for non-khaasta to make permanent relationships. Indeed, they set themselves apart even from the other reptilian kinds, though their relationships with such kinds are usually at the least less aggressive and paranoid than their relationships with mammalian species. However, for those that can earn the trust and approval of a khaasta, they can be quite useful as both traders and information brokers, given their multiplanar nomadic lifestyle, innate curiosity, and past mercenary contracts with usually-powerful individuals or forces.
As nomads, khaasta can be found throughout the Outer Planes, but are most often found in the Outlands near the chaos-side, with a few prominent populations found in the more habitable chaotic planes - the Beastlands, Ysgard, and parts of Pazunia in the Abyss.
Khaasta were first created eons ago by Demogorgon, to serve as warriors in his demonic armies. Some believe that they were formed from nothingness, others claim they were a transformation of an existing reptilian kind, but whatever their origins, they were a staple of the demon lord's forces for many years. However, they were quite difficult to control, the recipient of numerous complaints by Demogorgon's generals despite their obvious skill in battle. Thus, after thousands of years of service, they were freed from his ranks. They quickly went on to solidify their independence, spreading out from the Abyss across the Outlands and the chaotic planes. Though they certainly made the occasional contract with other demonic forces, they were and are wholly mortal and contract themselves out just as often to non-fiends. Nowadays khaasta have no strong feelings for or against the tanar'ri. They remember their service to Demogorgon well in their racial histories, but despite his position as their creator, to them this is nothing more than a former arrangement since ended, simply one of many.
Khaasta society is almost wholly meritocratic, with an individual's worth determined by their capability both at the traditional racial challenges and in battle. Neither age (so long as a khaasta is considered adult) nor gender is considered above skill at these two pursuits, and a person's worth within the tribe is wholly predicated on how well they can perform these tasks. In the distant past, khaasta challenges were made up mostly of fights to the death, but this was eventually supplanted by their current process of ritual challenge. These challenges can take any number of forms, from nonlethal combat to battles of wits to simple tests of reflexes. Disagreements between khaasta tend to be settled not by law, but by an appropriately-deemed challenge befitting the situation.
Outside the very young, the sole exception to the culture of challenge is the position of Wise One. This individual is usually an aged and learned member of a khaasta tribe that serves as advisor to the current chieftain. Though the position of chieftain can change by challenge, the position of Wise One cannot, and in fact Wise Ones are considered to be excluded from the entire system of ritualistic challenge. Not every tribe has a Wise One, and the position is not granted easily. Further, no tribe may have more than one Wise One at a time; should a tribe already possess one, a new one can be appointed by the chieftain only upon the retirement or death of the current. The judgment of a Wise One is final, overruling all other concerns but that of the chieftain themselves.
Outside the framework of ritual challenges, when in true battle, khaasta are vicious fighters that spare no opportunity for victory. They have little consideration for honorable combat as most understand it; though many khaasta do have something equivalent to a code of honor, it tends to be extremely convoluted and difficult for others to understand, and is quite often only given lip service at that. Though khaasta usually wield weapons in favor of claws, they will often snap at their opponents during a fight, the scent and taste of blood spurring them on even further. They are certainly not dumb fighters, however; they will whenever possible attack only from a position of strength, following an ambush or other surprise strike, and they have no qualms on abandoning a battle when it begins to go badly. They remember losses well, however, and often seek to strike back against those that have driven them off at the soonest opportunity in order to regain their position in the eyes of their tribesmen.
Likely due to their strong independent streak as a people, there are few religious khaasta. Given that they were created not by a god but by a demon lord specifically for purpose of fighting, they lack even a creation myth to look to. What few khaasta do worship tend to follow Sess'innek, the majority of such serving in his legion of troops separate from the normal tribal lifestyle of the khaasta. Worship of Semuanya is also occasionally found amongst the khaasta, and other deities are sometimes found on a case by case basis, but these are even more rare amongst the khaasta. When a tribe does contain a priest of some deity, this priest is often appointed as a Wise One (see below), not necessarily directly due to their faith, but rather due to their access to the knowledge and wisdom of such a powerful entity.
Although they are almost entirely carnivorous, khaasta are rarely cannibalistic. If there are no alternatives, they will eat the meat of sentient beings, but they prefer other game whenever possible, even slaughtering their mounts before descending to such options. Khaasta rarely eat plant life, getting little nutritional value from it and generally finding it tasteless. Their caravans instead tend to migrate as necessary to track food sources, bringing them far and wide across the planes. They are certainly intelligent enough to understand the harm caused by overhunting a region, but occasionally if someone makes an enemy of a khaasta band, they will settle nearby specifically to devastate the local ecosystem in such a manner if it's determined this will actually impact their foe, weakening them before striking in battle.
Even within the khaasta, there is often a sense of paranoia when dealing with others. Khaasta will rarely trust anyone, even their family, giving unconditional approval only to their parents, and even then only grudgingly. Mates are chosen, as everything, by how capable of an individual a given mate is seen, and if a khaasta in a mated pair considers their mate no longer worthy of the relationship, they will end it without hesitance. Parent-child relationships tend to be closer, but not much. Unlike many reptiles, khaasta young are born live, raised by both parents or, if the relationship has ended, the parent deemed superior in the tribe. Children are carefully guarded until they come of age — usually between the age of 7 and 10 — but it is not unheard of for a father or mother to wade into battle with a child strapped to their back, fighting just as ferociously in order to get the child accustomed to battle. Once a child comes of age, they are immediately considered adults, and their position in the culture of challenge begins. There is little formal training or schooling amongst khaasta, but as a child determines their place in the tribe's pecking order, they learn both physical and mental disciplines quickly. Curiosity is valued highly amongst the khaasta, for the more curious a person is, the more they learn, and the better they can position themselves above others. The lifespan of a khaasta is usually 40-50 years, but many die violent deaths before this time.
Despite the uneasy relationship with others, khaasta often form strong bonds with animals, especially reptilian ones. Most khaasta bands keep large numbers of giant lizards or, more rarely, dinosaurs as mounts, with each mount belonging to a specific individual, having raised them since the animal's hatching. Khaasta will occasionally also keep pets, but again, always an animal raised from hatching or birth.
At first glance, khaasta have a strong resemblance to lizardfolk, but numerous differences make themselves apparent. They have the short snout of lizardfolk, as well as the long tail that aids in balance, but their hide is quite different. Khaasta tend to have smaller, tougher scales than lizardfolk, the base hues ranging from light orange to deep green but with intricate patterns that are unique from individual to individual. Eyes tend to range from bright yellow to a light yellowish-green. And by far the most blatant difference is the flaring crest on the back of the head of all khaasta. It varies in size, but it's well apparent on all khaasta. Many khaasta, both male and female, paint their crests in bright, attention-grabbing colors and patterns. As with most reptilian species, males and females can be difficult to tell apart by mammals used to more obvious distinctions. Female khaasta tend to be slightly shorter and broader-hipped, with small crests and scales closer to greens. Males tend to be taller and slimmer, with larger, more obvious crests.
Like most reptilians, khaasta tend to eschew all but the bare minimum of clothing for modesty in all but the most extreme colds, but unlike many reptiles, they do wear armor in battle. Many khaasta prefer bronze for a variety of reasons, to the point that khaasta-smithed bronze has a high reputation amongst many fighters. Khaasta often enter battle on lizardback, and many are trained in mounted combat to better hold advantage against their foes.
|Images of Khaasta|
- Fiend Folio (3rd Edition), pp.115-116
- Planescape Monstrous Compendium Appendix II, pp.58-59
- Serpent Kingdoms, pp.38-41