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Herd Beasts and Ranches of the Far West

It takes a certain mindset to leave the world you know behind. Folk that weren’t raised in the west often have a difficult time of it before they find their place beyond the Last Horizon – if they aren’t careful their “place” ends up being a pyre. A body that keeps an open mind can find a meaningful life in the Far West, though likely one far from anything an Easterner would regard as “civilized”. Large settlements being rare in the west, most folks end up spending some time working on a farm or ranch of some sort as they figure out exactly how things “work” in the Far West and what they want from their new life.

Most farms in the Far West are family run, carved out of the wilderness with blood and sweat. While single family farms certainly exist, they are almost invariably closer to the Periphery where there is at least a possibility of assistance from natural disasters and bandits. The majority of farmsteads are owned by three to nine families, allowing them to work a greater area of land and provide more security against the myriad dangers of the frontier. Many such farms started near a small settlement of some sort that could provide services they lacked such as a smith, merchants, security, couriers, and so forth. Most farms have livestock, but generally only for use by the farm. After seeing to their own concerns, farmers will sell or barter their crops to other groups in the Far West, or if they are chartered, arrange to have them transported east to feed the teeming masses of the Empire.

Ranches in the Far West range anywhere from mobile small concerns colloquially known as “outfits” that roam over the vast swaths of unclaimed land in the west, to massive operations often closer to the Periphery that can take multiple days to ride across. Ranches typically exist to raise and bring livestock to market, though there are ranches that specialize in breeding horses and a rare few that dare to raise grep. Imperial charters are especially valuable to ranchers because the Empire’s hunger for meat is near endless and it pays well. While few ranchers are particularly fond of the Steam Barons, their trains have allowed far flung ranches to thrive as they can send their livestock to distant markets.

Cattle – There are various breeds of cattle throughout the Far West, including a few breeds that favor mountainous terrain, but the most common on ranches is the luron. Male luron are typically only fourteen to fifteen fists* tall, but can weigh upwards of 145 stone*, this combined with their relatively placid nature makes them exceedingly popular beef cattle. Luron have forward swept horns shaped like a U with dark red coats marked with long grey stripes that run along either side of their spine.

Thunderbirds – Named for the rumbling sound that echoes across the plains when a “court” of thunderbirds breaks into a run, thunderbirds are huge flightless avians good for both their meat and the enormous eggs they lay, which are typically an entire pace in circumference. Thunderbirds of both genders usually weigh around fifty stone, but the biggest can reach over seventy five. Counting their long, thick necks, the tallest thunderbirds stand thirty fists high. A thunderbird “bull” as their dominant males are called, can easily disembowel a human with their long running claws. Fortunately, thunderbirds molt regularly, a process that causes them a great deal of discomfort and they tend to become exceedingly fond of their human wranglers for helping to relieve them of the constant itching.

Bison – Truly massive beasts, Far Western bison dominate the Rolling Steppes and many herds of a slightly smaller breed wander the Sea of Spears north of the Eagles’ Claws. Bison are shaggy brutes, with massive heads and forequarters covered in thick black fur which tends to turn bright silver as they age. Males are frequently over eighteen fists tall, four wide paces long, and over 200 stone! While their sheer size makes them tempting for ranchers, they can be temperamental and are prone to charging when threatened with devastating results for anything unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of their horns backed by their hurtling bulk. Many western farms keep a small herd of (relatively) domesticated bison for their thick milk and the fact that the meat of a single adult bison can all but feed a large family (or two) for a winter.

Horses – Most beloved of all the herd beasts of the Far West, horses are wealth, status, and transportation rolled into one magnificent creature. There are multiple horse breeds in the Far West, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Two examples are the kasul, who are pleasant-demeanoured working horses popular throughout the west and the baldeysera, coppery hued steeds that legend holds can outpace the wind.

Grep – The most infamous herd beast of the Far West, grep are six to eight fists long lizards with rounded bodies and blunt snouts that carry an exceedingly potent poison in their blood. This wouldn’t be a problem except that they are terribly ornery and can accurately squirt their blood from the corners of their eyes some five paces or so. Long ago, some brave physician discovered that grep blood had amazing medicinal properties, the simplest being a powerful anesthetic, but many other uses have been researched over the years.

Grep wrangling first developed in the Thousand Mesas and the brave souls that do it are universally known by the Castalan name “groepero” – literally “grep gripper”. Groepero are deeply respected by the folk of the Far West, but also regarded with a bit of trepidation as the thinking goes that anyone willing to “milk” a dangerous venomous lizard is probably not entirely right in the head. Old groepero frequently have a “grep eye” – a milky orb lost to exposure to grep venom. The tradeoff is that long turn exposure to grep poison restructures their nerve endings in such a way that while they can register pressure and pleasure, they no longer feel pain – potentially making them deadly combatants and causing most ruffians to give groepero a wide berth.

 

 

 

* Fist – 4.25 inches, Stone – 14 lbs.

 

 

5 Comments

  1. Twila Price says:

    Very interesting indeed. I love the thunderbirds and the greps and the various horse and cattle varieties — definitely much more flavorful than the Real Old West.

    Just one note — do you have a copy editor for this site? I keep noticing typos and it’s making me crazy. (I work as a copy editor, so I notice these things.)

  2. Yuutousei says:

    This was an exciting update! I hope to see more animals of the Far West in the nar future! And I was also happy to see a different, more “Eastern” style to go along with it. Keep up the great work guys!

  3. Okay, I hearby patent this idea if it’s viable, as I would love to have a character that was a thunderbird rancher, married into a steamworks business, and won a “herd” of greps in a GO tournament. The greps poison would make the thunderbirds useless for meat, and probably for the eggs, too, but the steamworks augmentations would turn them into a killer fighting machine – that doesn’t experience pain. How much would the Empire be willing to pay for a score of these units on their front lines… or some eccentric and paranoid estate owner wanting the latest in “home security”? I just bumped myself up to “Grand Master of the Dust Road” over on Kickstarter partially in the hopes that THIS is what my character will be. *hint* *hint*

    You guys have done an EXCELLENT job with this world so far. My imagination juices runneth over. Keep up the great work!

    • T.S. Luikart says:

      There aren’t really any “steamworks businesses” per se – outside of the Imperial Engineering Corps there are only a few groups of engineers and some solitary geniuses capable of creating advanced cogwork limbs, much less successfully grafting them to a living host; however, marrying one of those engineers is fairly believable. The Empire would never sully itself with such creatures… but the shady types betting for and against your creations as they tear one another apart in the Enhanced Thunderbird Fighting Ring you set up would!

      Thanks for your kind words, we certainly hope to do so.

  4. Dude… that is that AWESOMEST idea ever! Thank you for expanding my mind even further. Of course, I could forgo the mechanized enhancement part (except on my own mount, of course), and just run a Thunderbird fighting ring, perhaps one grepped and one non-grepped, but after the crowd gazes on the gore that the former could reach, there would be very little interest in the latter.

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