Reptiles first appeared on Earth some 300 million years ago, in the Carboniferous period. Through the rigors of evolution, some became larger, more intelligent, and eventually walked erect. Approximately 275 million years ago, in the Permian period, the first serpent people appeared. The Great Old One, Yig, is said to be the Father of all Serpents, and so the serpent people worshiped him from the first.
Legends say that these early serpent people formed their First Empire in Valusia, a fertile land near the center of the super-continent of Pangaea. This empire was based on sorcery and alchemy, and at its height it must have ruled much of the Paleozoic world. How many of these legends are true can not be said. Records of the Elder Things and Yithians who inhabited the Earth at the time say little of these early serpent people. In any case, when dinosaurs began to rise from their Eosuchian ancestors 225 million years ago, the First Empire collapsed.
Although the ancient civilization of Valusia was destroyed, many serpent people survived. They fled underground, hiding until the world became more hospitable once more. The greatest of the serpent people's underground civilizations was Yoth, located deep below what is now North America. For over two hundred million years, serpent people dwelled there. Their civilization rose and fell a hundred times.
Five million years ago, Yothic civilization was at its greatest height ever. The serpent people had become prodigious scientists, able to create other life forms at whim. Life was luxury, joyfully lived.
Then, Yoth's doom was uncovered, when curious explorers discovered the path to blackly litten N'kai. There they found great altars to Tsathoggua. The toad-god possessed tremendous power and wisdom and many serpent people turned away from Yig to worship him. Yig did not look kindly on his people abandoning him, and so he cursed them. The serpent people of Yoth devolved, losing their speech, their limbs, and their intelligence. They became the serpents that they had once been millennia before.
Only the faithful escaped Yig's curse. The high priest Sss'haa led Yig's true worshipers out of Yoth. They traveled to Hyperborea, a land in the north, where they dwelled deep below Mount Voormithadreth.
Under Voormithadreth, the serpent people's greatest scientific civilization continued to prosper. By this time, they had become pitiless creatures of near pure intellect. They had no morals, and their only law was that curiosity must always be satisfied. The serpent people of Hyperborea's greatest achievements continued to be in genetic engineering. It is believed that the voormis who ruled the surface of Hyperborea from approximately 3 million years ago were their creation. However, the voormis' special affiliation with Tsathoggua shows that even among the supposedly faithful, the taint of the toad-god remained.
The exact fate of the serpent people of Hyperborea is unknown. 1.7 million years ago, their voormis were swept aside by the cold of Ithaqua. The human Hyperboreans arrived 1 million years ago and formed a new civilization. 750,000 years ago, they too were gone. Today, the merest remnant of Hyperborea forms Greenland.
At the time of the serpent people migration, 5 million years ago, conditions were also changing upon the surface. The dinosaurs which had destroyed the First Empire were long gone. The mammals had begun to rise. In Africa, the first hominids were evolving; they were the first true ancestors of man.
After fleeing Hyperborea the Serpent People tried to form a kingdom upon the newly risen land of Lemuria. Unfortunately they found themselves in contention with the new-born human race. By 500,000 BC the Serpent People civilization of Lemuria had fallen. Fleeing even further south the Serpent People came to the Thurian Continent. Here they were finally able to reform their Empire. They named it the Second Empire, and it was centered in Valusia, a land named after a legend. Many wars were fought, but eventually the men of the Thurian Continent were consigned to thralldom. Some fled to less oppressive realms, but at the center of the world, the serpent people ruled.
Unfortunately, the Age of Reptiles was over, and the Age of Mammals had already begun. The serpent people could oppress the most primitive humans, but they were doomed by the relentless march of evolution. It took a million years or more, but the earliest human civilizations arose: Kamelia, Verulia, Grondor, Thule, Commoria, Atlantis, and Lemuria. After a hundred wars, the Second Empire of the serpent people was destroyed. Thereafter, Valusia was ruled by humans. Some serpent people fled to the south of the Thurian Continent to create a new kingdom, but most went underground, hibernated, or simply died.
The serpent people who remained were unwilling to give up their mastery of the world. Where strength had failed, they turned instead to deceit. Using their powers of disguise, they replaced humans of power and ruled in their stead. For aeons they were successful, but an Atlantean named Kull eventually brought their schemes to an end. The time was 18,000 BC.
Shortly after the rule of Kull, a great cataclysm shook the Thurian continent. It was the beginning of the end for the serpent people's southern kingdom. Fifteen hundred years later, Lemurian survivors, hardened by centuries of disaster and slavery, fell upon the serpent people cities that had been spared by the cataclysm. The serpent people's southern kingdom was destroyed. However, Stygia, the human country formed from its ashes, would carry forward many of their beliefs, including the worship of Yig.
The last remnants of the serpent people fled ever southward, stopping only when they reached the ocean. Here, they founded one last city, Yanyoga. It had none of the grandeur of its predecessors. It lasted for thousands of years, but in 10,000 BC it too was destroyed, by a Cimmerian descendant of Kull.
Since then, the history of the world has scarcely been touched by the serpent people. They still lurk, dwelling in the deepest caverns, sometimes even hiding among us, but their power has been broken.
Serpent People in the Modern World
Four major classes of serpent people may be found in the modern world. There are the degenerates, the lurkers, the dreamers, and the sleepers.
Degenerates have withdrawn underground and so have little effect on the modern world. Some have degenerated due to interbreeding with humans, while others have simply devolved. Various subspecies have lost their limbs, their intelligence, and even their ability to speak. The best known degenerates are the worms of the earth, which may still burrow beneath Wales and Scotland. The old ones of Lost Valley, in the American Southwest, and the slitherers of the Nameless City, in the Middle East, are also degenerate serpent people.
Lurkers tend to hide in human society, using their powers of disguise to appear as humans. Most lurkers are great sorcerers who have lived for millennia. Two powerful lurkers are the geneticist Ssruthaa and the high priest Ssathasaa.
Dreamers are serpent people who escaped long ago to the Dreamlands. They fled to that land through the Vaults of Zin when Yig cursed Yoth long ago. Accordingly, most serpent people of the Dreamlands still worship Tsathoggua.
Sleepers are serpent people who have hibernated for thousands of years and are just awakening now. They contend that the End Times are at hand, and that very soon they will found their third and final empire. Of all the serpent people, the sleepers are the most dangerous. They are extremely powerful, and do not remember the bitter defeats which swept their race so long ago.
Serpent people are the natural end result of reptilian evolution. They share many characteristics with snakes, particularly the cobra family, but with four improvements: They are intelligent, they have limbs, they walk erect, and they are warm-blooded. Although serpent people have poorly developed hearing, their other senses are very sharp. Their eye sight is very precise, and is particularly attuned to motion. Pits near the serpent people's nostrils provide a primitive infrared sense. It is the most keen among the underground degenerates. The serpent people's sense of smell is complemented by their Jacobson's organ. Using their forked tongues, serpent people can transfer odor chemicals to this highly sensitive organ.
Like many snakes, serpent people are venomous. Certain subspecies can even spit their venom, as the spitting cobra of Africa does. Some varieties of serpent people have hypnotic eyes. Most can hibernate for extended periods of time.
Many serpent people are sorcerers. The abilities to assume human shape, enslave the ghosts of the slain, and reanimate corpses are among the most common magical powers of the serpent people.
Most importantly, serpent people are either very long-lived or immortal. There are many still alive that have seen millennia pass.
At their height, the serpent people were great scientists. They are best known for their alchemical creation of toxic substances and for their genetic manipulation of many life forms. The voormis of Greenland and the gyaa-yothn of K'n-yan still bear the mark of serpentine manipulation. In the modern world, only scattered lurkers and sleepers remember their technology. Most have fallen back to bestiality or the practice of sorcery.
In the modern world, serpent people society is almost totally lost. Some degenerates and dreamers live in primitive clan-based societies, but most serpent people dwell among humans. At its height, it is said that serpent people society was nearly anarchistic, an independent society of individuals.
The serpent people's greatest god is Yig, their creator. He is called by many names, among them Damballah, Kukulcan, Quetzalcoatl, and Set. Yig usually appears as a serpentine human, but in some forms he is a huge snake. According to legends, Yig is imprisoned in the Pit of Ngoth, beneath K'n-yan.
In past times, humans have often learned the worship of Yig from serpent people. Among the converted were the Acherons and Stygians of the Hyborian Age, the Indians of the Americas, and the people of K'n-yan. Today, the Mother of Serpents, a human who is reborn from the skins of others, is one of the most powerful priests of Yig.
Some serpent people worship other ophidian gods, including Dark Han and serpent-bearded Byatis.
When they dwelled in Yoth, a number of serpent people turned to the worship of the toad-god Tsathoggua. Yig punished his people greatly for this, cursing them with devolution. Only a few of the worshipers of Tsathoggua escaped, fleeing through the Vaults of Zin into the Dreamlands.
CALL OF CTHULHU ADVENTURES
1. "That is not dead ...." - When a sleeper from the legendary first Valusia wakes, the serpent people believe that the End Time has truly come. This sleeper gathers together the most powerful of the lurkers and begins to move toward founding the Third Empire. An epic campaign full of paranoia could be established. Can the serpent people turn back the clock 275 million years?
2. Degenerations - Although the degenerate serpent people usually hide in their underground dwellings, anger, fear, or even simple hunger may bring them to the surface. Investigators looking into cattle mutilations may find that degenerates are the source. However, exploring their caverns could be deadly. Alternatively, if the degenerates have fled from their caverns in fear, what chased them out?
3. Blue Genes - Could the rapid advancements in genetics in recent years be the result of serpent people manipulations? They could be trying to weaken humanity's genetic code, or, even more sinisterly, they might be embedding ophidian genes into humans, so that we will all become serpent people when the stars are right.
4. The Devil That You Know - Adventurous keepers might allow a player to play a lurker. A serpent person that turned against his own people could make for many interesting scenarios.
Conan of Aquilonia, by L. Sprague de Camp & Lin Carter
Conan the Buccaneer, by L. Sprague de Camp & Lin Carter
"The Curse of Yig", by H. P. Lovecraft & Zealia Bishop
"The Hyborian Age", by Robert E. Howard
Keeper's Compendium, by Keith Herber
Legion from the Shadows, by Karl Edward Wagner
"The Mound", by H. P. Lovecraft & Zelia Bishop
"The Seven Geases", by Clark Ashton Smith
"The Shadow Kingdom", by Robert E. Howard
Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria, by Lin Carter
"The Vengeance of Yig", by Lin Carter
"Where a God Shall Tread", by Scott David Aniolowski
"Worms of the Earth", by Robert E. Howard
This article was drawn from Starry Wisdom V1 #3, Summer 1997. It has been slightly expanded in its current form to correctly account for the Serpent People's stay on Lemuria.