Zekke Ethnicity in The Sundered Worlds | World Anvil
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Zekke (ZECK-uh)

The cosmos are filled with forgotten gods barely hanging on to existence. The powers in this swamp may be all that's left of our creators, or they may be some other thing entirely. They might be the ghosts of those who swam these waters before us, they may be manifestations of the swamp's soul. But the Sodden Shrines were already here, letting them rot would be wasteful and dismantling them would disturb the ecosystems that developed around them. We can only hope that whatever we're honoring honors us back.
— Warden Trazzt grok Frollen Fyr in a letter to his clutchmate
When the Zekke people first appeared on the Prime Material plane, they found fulfillment in untamed wild, in the silt and murk of the swamp, in the power of scale and claw. If they had truly been made of mud and teeth, they would be authorities over both. Untethered from their creator's intentions, they had no concern for waste or balance.
The discovery of the first Sodden Shrine went unremarked among the Zekke as a result. At the time, it was nothing more than another piece of the swamp they sought to rule. But those who made their homes inside the shrines began to notice changes. If the swamp was healthy, they were hale and energized. But as the ecosystem became unbalanced and resources were depleted, they found themselves withering away.
The efforts began small: light fishing regulations, loose rules for keeping waterways unobstructed, and a reduction in timber use. As small gestures became habit, the Zekke became more aware of their environment. They found new ways to support the swamp that didn't significantly change their lifestyle and incorporated them over a generation or two. In these small steps, the Zekke became fully dedicated to living in perfect harmony with the world around them. They would have remained in this pattern of complacency and innovation if not for the shrines.
After more than four centuries of this careful growth, the {TITLE} could be found tending shrines throughout the swamp. When one particularly sensitive {TITLE} began having visions of cracked mud and dry earth, the Zekke believed it to be a premonition. In the midst of the panic and despair, a team of {MONITORS} left the swamp to study {A DRIED OUT PLACE}. On their return, they found soil deposits in the riverbed were congruent with soil from {THE DRIED OUT PLACE}. They established several dig sites throughout the Swamp, and ultimately found land mammal fossils beneath the water. The vision wasn't a premonition, it was the story of what once was.
Unable to discern the conditions that led to the region drying up pre-Sundering, the Zekke rededicated themselves to preserving the swamp's ecosystem, and the Zekken Preserve was founded.

Ideals & Values

The Hinterland Swamp is one of five known origin points for krokon mortals. Like krokons elsewhere, the people of the Zekken Preserve pay homage to a divinity presumed dead. In the case of the Zekke, however, their homeland hosts a quiet power that many hold to be proof of their creator's extant divinity.


Less-generous interpretations depict the Zekke as primitive and unfriendly, but those who trade with them most often—namely the Mythalenairra and the occasional Telsine settlement—describe them as resourceful and protective. If something needs fixed or salvaged, their Zekken neighbors will be able to do it most efficiently. The Zekke are wary of those they allow to enter the swamp, and will often provide very strict guidelines for where visitors can go, what they can do, and how long they can be there. Most Zekke will readily explain their reasonings for these guidelines, but visitors' reception varies.
The existence of the Sodden Shrine and the role they play in the swamp comprise the cornerstone of Zekken culture.
The magic of the shrines encourages environmentalism, balance, and harmony between civilization and the natural world. Consequently, the Zekke have only semi-permanent settlements that rarely last longer than a generation. When a Zek comes of age, they leave the village of their birth and set off in search of an untended shrine. Because the majority of Zekke are egg-laying krokons, clutchmates and friends close in age will often set off together to found a village with those they already trust. Eventually, the population of the original village ages, and no more clutches are laid. When the last Zek dies, the settlement is left to be reclaimed by the swamp until the next young Zekke come seeking their own home. They see
themselves as stewards of the swamp, and the core of this practice is to find regions within the swamp in need of tending. Zekken culture is not merely preserving what is, but creating space for growth. A pervasive philosphy among the Zekke states that the highest virtue is to know when to leave something be and when to interfere.


Resourcefulness and an awareness of one's surrounds are some of the most valued qualities to the Zekke; indeed, the former is absolutely necessary to survive among them. A virtuous Zek maintains their niche in society, including caring for themself to be ready at all times. They are adaptable and can craft what the community or environment needs when it is needed.


Wastefulness is unequivocally vile, and indulgence offensive to even the most liberal-minded Zek. The Zekke encourage small families, and it's not unheard of for a village to send their largest families away if it becomes over populated. Finally, the Zekke consider it the highest form of disrespect to be frivolous or irreverent with regard to the shrines.

Conventions & Customs

The Zekke are necessarily community-minded; individualism sees each person taking for just themselves and guarding against lean times. Collectivism allows for individuals to rely on the social safety net, reducing the resources each person must allocate to themself. Most supplies are shared, and excess is distributed as needed. Privacy concerns are low and personal property is minimal but

Houses & Property

The Zekke don't build homes on an individual or even family scale, but on a community one. Sharing a dwelling with the neighbors serves the dual purpose of using fewer resources in building and retaining heat during the freezing winters. Each settlement comprises a handful of communal houses surrounding the kilns, with a shrine generally in line with the constructed houses. Privacy varies by settlement, with some houses having entirely open plans, some with curtains or dividers, and still others with proper walls for rooms. Many Zekke have footlockers or chests inherited from family to keep their belongings separate from the shared space.
respected. The Zekke believe each person is but one part of a whole, and that individual diversity makes for a stronger whole.
Uniquely, the entire culture belongs to the Zekken Preserve; their civic practices are tied to their cultural ones and vice versa. They are a people dedicated to finding the joy in what they have, to progress with respect to preservation, and to thriving on only the bare minimum. The Zekke believe in the sublime delight of using a resource to its full capacity and the perfect harmony of organism and ecosystem.

Daily Life

Wherever possible, resources are shared through the community. While each settlement is built to support a Sodden Shrine, they are literally built around communal kilns and furnaces. The two inner shelves allow for crafting and cooking, while racks over the vents are used for drying pottery, fish, and herbs. Meals are taken together and are generally prepared at the same
time as the meal to reduce waste. While no specific ration or restriction guidelines are enforced, a Zekken chef takes pride in using as few resources as possible to make a dish.
When they're not maintaining, repairing, or monitoring the local environment, the Zekke spend a lot of time idling; sometimes doing nothing is the best way to let nature happen. Most of a village sitting around a smoking kiln may appear wasteful to outsiders, but industry has never been the goal of the Zekke. Storytelling, music, and performance are the most common pasttimes, followed by small space athletics like wrestling and sullei meditation (borrowed from their Mythalenairran neighbors).

Personal Identity

A Zek defines themself by the niche they fill in their community. A potter is foremost a potter, and everything else in their life is curated to support their ability to make pottery as needed.
Gender is largely irrelevant in Zekken society. Krokons are just barely sexually dimorphic, and egg-laying is a simple enough task. Caring for children and hatchlings is a much greater concern, and those who manage it require only a suitable temperment. To that end, family units are loosely defined and are generally more aligned with those who did the actually rearing than those who genetically contributed to the new life.

Language Groups & Dialects

Primarily, the Zekke speak a Primordial patois derived from both Terran and Aquan. Known as Drekkan, it is most commonly associated with the Plane of Ooze. Like other Primordial dialects, Drekkan speakers can understand and be understood by any Primoridal speaker. The prevalence of Drekkan among krokon origin points has led to certain speculation regarding the nature of the alleged creator deity, but like most other speculations regarding the krokon divinity, it remains unproven either way.
A combination of the wet environment and conservation doctrines related to writing implements has resulted in spotty literacy rates among the Zekke. When a Zek can read and write, it is most often in Common due to their affiliation with the Mythalenairran trade network. While charcoal is abundant, paper and other pulp-based materials are rare in the Swamp. Necessary records are carved into clay, dried in public kilns, and kept inside the shrines to reduce the resources needed to found a new village.

Naming Conventions

Before they were the Zekke, they had no names. They acknowledged one another in growls and grunts and snaps and hisses, wild even in their nascent civilization. The histories say they knew the language of primordial earth and water but reveled in a tongue even more primal than that. Zekken names harken back to those early days of mud and teeth.
Unlike most other cultures, Zekken given names have no inherent meanings. They are unique sounds to identify individuals not part of any language. Spellings vary wildly as a result, and there is absolutely no standardization even among {SHRINE NAMES}. Zekken names are not passed down through generations, nor are they particularly affected by pop culture or trends. A person might use a name they heard and liked, but it's chosen for the aesthetic of the sound.
By default, Zekke lack surnames. It's become more common in recent years to use professions or positions within the Preserve as personal identifiers, and Zekke who leave the swamp for trade or travel occasionally use their home Shrine as a title or surname.

Rites & Rituals

The Preserve—and consequently the Zekke—is reliant on a unique blend of tradition and progress. Maintaining a balanced ecosystem requires adhering to consistent observation of cycles, but also on adapting to the changes brought by outside forces. The theme of continuance through renewal is common through most traditions and observations of the Zekke.
Children are raised more or less communally, and there is little ceremony around a hatching. Live births typically involve the community tending more directly to the infant and person who just gave birth, but this is rooted in efficiency instead of tradition. The newborn is named quickly after birth by the parents or community caregivers, whoever intends to be more directly involved in the child's rearing.
Coming of Age
Children are encouraged to spend time with as many members of the community as possible to acquire an understanding of the skills and necessities they are naturally drawn to. Apprenticeships are standard, and community members encourage one another to find the labors that bring joy. Slogging through joyless work leads to poor work, and poor work leads to wasted resources.
More formally, {SENDOFFS} are accompanied by tradition and pageantry. Twice a year, during the week leading up to each equinox, the young people of a given village prepare to leave. To maintain ecological balance, reduce over-settling, and lessen the strain on any one source of raw materials, the Zekke only stay in a given settlement for one generation. When the first batch of children to be born reaches adulthood, they leave their home to find another shrine in need of tending. Once they discover one—or find another burgeoning settlement in need of more members—they set about building a small village around it. The next groups of young folk travel first to the new site, then off to find others once that one becomes full.
The {SENDOFF} itself involves community members gifting necessities to those preparing to leave, blessings from the skreinvekke, and recitations of {PROBABLY SPECIFC SAGAS}.
There is no custom of marriage among the Zekke. Monogamy is common and lifelong commitments still exist, Zekken custom merely discourages dedicating resources to acknowleding the unions or maintaining records thereof.
Rumors of cannibalistic death practices among the Zekke run rampant north of the Hinterlands, contributing to the already primitive view outsiders have. In truth, a deceased Zek is returned to the swamp.
First, the deceased's family or closest friends remove their effects—including any implants or prosthetics—and repurpose or reuse them. Next, the skreinvekke place the body in a ceramic vessel (called a todenvesch) mostly submerged in the swamp. For one day and one night, they stir swamp water over the body and speak primordial incantations. By the end of the ritual, the body has dissolved into a nutrient-rich liquid and the bones remain whole and clean. The liquid is poured into the swamp, and the bones are either dried and ground—also to be returned to the swamp—or made into tools or Shrine offerings.
Civic Duties
The most regulated and ceremonial {MOMENT} in Zekken culture is when a Zek chooses to become a warden of the Zekken Preserve. After a full cycle of seasons in apprenticeship to another warden, the warden hopeful is either sent back to their home or fully inducted into the ranks of the Preserve. The induction ceremony is small, attended only by other wardens that happen to be in the area. The senior warden makes a small cut in the root of an ancient tree, and the new warden makes a small cut on their left arm. The new warden drips their blood (or other bodily fluid that serves the same function) into the tree root, and their cut is closed with tree sap. The senior warden heals both wounds, and magic takes root in the new warden. Over time, wardens deepen this connection and develop stronger and more magical bonds with the Hinterland Swamp.

The Arts


Like most communities near water, the Zekken diet comprises fish, waterfowl, and aquatic plant life. The most unique aspect of Zekken cuisine is portion size. Dedicated as they are to leaving the smallest foot print possible, the average Zek eats much less than other mortals. What began as minor restrictions on fishing, farming, and hunting grew—over decades—into a collective effort to reduce the mortal draw on the environment. The small diet leaves room for more resources to be allocated to those who are pregnant, nursing, injured, or still growing without straining a settlement's supplies. Visitors to the Swamp are expected to bring their own food (without introducing foreign growths to the environment) or abide by hunting and gathering protocols. Even Torr, known for its lax regulations to help newcomers adapt, is not a city of restaurants and eateries. Locals manage communal kilns that account for foreigners' needs, but most of the actual food is imported along the Mythalenairran trade network.
None of this is to say that Zekken cuisine is bland or uninteresting. The Preserve discovered long ago that many edible herbs thrived in the life-giving mud of the Hinterland Swamp. It's virtually no strain on the environment to line a settlement with clay and ceramic planters filled with mud and cultivate dozens of varieties of herbs for seasoning and color. Zekken meals are filled with fresh, dried, and smoked herbs to create unique flavors in every dish.


No one would fault the Zekke for going through clothing quickly and eschewing adornment, living as close to the mud and water as they do. The Zekke, however, have taken their murky environment as a challenge. Reusing clothing doesn't simply mean wearing a dress for generations, it means wearing it until a sleeve disintigrates, turning it into a sleeveless tunic, and using the remaining sleeve as a belt or herb pouch. It means saving scraps to get creative with mending and patching, and it means redefining jewelry. Joy and personal expression are just as much a part of the environment as decomposers and consumers, and the Preserve has no compunction with allocating resources—particularly reused ones—to them.


The Zekke are a people of storytellers. Telling tales as a community serves to unite those living collectively, avoid materials used in other performance arts, pass the time on long winter nights, and preserve a history not written down. They have no theatre culture, in that costumes, makeup, sets, and props are rarely used, if ever. Magical illusions, traditional and modern dances, as well as a chorus or several musicians all might augment a performance. And indeed, music is the next most refined performance art among the Zekke. Singing fills nearly the same niche as storytelling, and well-made instruments are passed from master to apprentice for generations.
Zekken storytellers rely on the natural environment for a set and being physically close to their audience. Walking or dancing among them, pulling audience members into a tale, and physically incorporating any elements at hand are all common in Zekken tellings.


Between the watery environment and the restrictions on paper and vellum, the Zekke have virtually no written arts. Even imported literature is rare, the written word taking an altogether backseat to oral traditions.


The core philosphy behind most Zekken pastimes is simple: people need other people, and actively nurturing working relationships ensures everyone has the people they need. While organized activities are an integral part of Zekken life, regular socializing is a hobby in and of itself. Competition is infrequent and casual, and entertainment is intended to deepen the bonds of a community. Swimming when the water's amenable and ice skating when it's not, storytelling and music-making, sullei meditation, terrestrial and aquatic wrestling, hiking, and canoeing are some of the many ways the Zekke spend time together.
Even in their professions and crafts, the Zekke tend to work in open spaces with others nearby. They have embraced the notion of living and working together and don't simply endure it, but find joy in it.


Like with their food and fashion, the Zekke have risen to the challenge of crafting with as little as possible. Emphasizing resourcefulness as they do, no material is unusable. Tools and utensils are made of everything from upcycled wood scraps to bone to ceramic. Homes are made of mud-and-wattle walls and wooden floors. Stilts of wood or stone keep the building away from the water, and packed roofs provide a surface for growing things. Most structures degrade back into the swamp in the years between habitants, but the first step of any new settlement is to salvage every possible scrap of building material. All Zekke have some skill and knowledge of building to be able to contribute to founding a new settlement.
Unsurprisingly, metal is uncommon among the Zekke, and they do virtually no smithing themselves. They trade for the highest quality metal tools only when absolutely necessary, and repurpose them as shrine offerings when they can no longer repair them with their own limited smithing traditions. Notably, the first shrines were discovered with rusted offerings already within them.
When the Zekke must make something whole and new, it is made to last. Mundane musical instruments more than 150 years old are still in use by storytellers and chroniclers, and enchanted ones can date back to the founding of the Preserve. Bows, slings, shields, and spears are crafted to similar standards, but the nature of their purpose means the are less likely to last. Zekken-made instruments of both war and art are coveted across the world, but the Zekke only part with them in the direst circumstances.


The Zekke use magic freely and regularly. It's present in the Skreinvekke's communion with the shrines, the wardens' connection to the swamp, and in the stories and histories passed down through generations of Zekken storytellers. While magicians across the multiverse constantly seek ways to reduce, negate, or circumvent entirely the natural entropy of enchantments and illusions, the Zekke embrace it. An enchanted canoe may last hundreds of years, but eventually the magic binding it together will unravel fully and it too will return to the swamp. In fact, the Preserve monitors ancient, decaying magic to ensure any wild surges don't negatively impact the balance of the ecosystem, and that any raw materials can be safely recycled or left to rot. Even the most powerful spells fade, and the Zekke will be there when they do.
Zekken spellcasters tap into the magic of nature and mortality, focusing on the schools of enchantment, divination, evocation, and illusion.
A collage of images relating to mud, pottery, rust, alligator scales, swamps, and spices
by Athevra via Adobe Spark

Character Creation

Use the guide and statistics below to create a Zekken character. The Zekke view most outsiders with suspicion, if not outright hostility. However, "outsider" is determined more by an individual's awareness and understanding of ecology than any physical traits. Any person who can demonstrate being respectful of the environment is welcome among the Zekke.

A list of names to use directly or help generate ideas can be found here.


The Zekke are primarily the reptilian krokons, mud and water genasi, frogfolk, and ranschen. The least likely ancestries are often assumed to be outsiders unless or until obvious signs of Swamp familiarity are displayed.
Most Likely Ancestries
Krokon, genasi (mud, earth, water), frogfolk, ranschen, merfolk (freshwater), tortle, petallion, psilocybe
Least Likely Ancestries
Kangra, lapienne, yuan-ti, gith, couatl folk, devan, lothran, goliath, jotunn, behirborn, phoenixborn, salamandrite


Most Zekken adventurers are wardens of the Preserve seeking something to aid the Swamp. If a Zekken adventurer wields or wears metal, it is likely a prized possesion and kept free of rust and damage. There is little in the way of organized religion or divine connection, but dedication to the Shrines can manifest as divine magic.
Most Likely Classes
Barbarian (any), bard (creation, lore, valor), cleric (life, nature, order), druid (any), monk (astral self, four elements, open hand), paladin (ancients, devotion, watchers), ranger (any), rogue (scout), sorcerer (sodden spirit, wild magic), witch (familiar, herb)
Least Likely Classes
Alchemist (any), bard (eloquence, swords, whispers), cleric (forge, trickery, war), paladin (conquest, glory), rogue (mastermind, thief), sorcerer (clockwork soul), warlock (any), wizard (order of scribes)

Sodden Spirit

A Sodden Shrine is not the kind of magical thing that can provide power to a warlock, but a sorcerous origin has been connected to their existence.


The mandates of the Zekken Preserve mean that every Zek has a few skills in common. A Zekken character has the following traits:

Languages. You can speak and understand Primordial (Drekkan) and Common. You determine your literacy with each language.

Cunning Artisan. As part of a short rest, you can scavenge non- or once-living material from the immediate environment to create a small trinket or art piece, a simple melee weapon, or ammunition for a simple ranged weapon.

Efficient. You're accustomed to taking only what you need. You require only half the normal amount of food and water per day.


The Zekke are community-minded environmentalists, servants of the world they share. A Zekken character has strong opinions on the following values, regardless of whether or not those opinions align with their kin's.

Ecology. We are only as good as the environments we live in.

Resourcefulness. It is virtuous to craft ingenuity from what is already at hand.

Stewardship. Not every situation demands a guardian, but staying ready for those that do is vital.

Example Characters

Character | Aug 26, 2023
Character | Aug 26, 2023

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Cover image: by Athevra via Adobe Spark


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