« Last post by Gatac on June 24, 2016, 01:25:42 PM »
From The Depths
It should come as little surprise that the deep seas hold many secrets, and that we know very little of what happens in the dark below. Even other aquatic races are most commonly found in the photic zone on continental shelfs, where sunlight still filters through the water and life is bountiful; more than sheer pragmatism, the adoptions a vertebrae species must possess to venture deeper become increasingly costly and specialized in evolutionary terms, and while some kinds of finfolk have adapted for deep sea survival, they remain exceptional.
The Soft, however, make their home across a far larger spectrum of the ocean, ranging far and deep in their usually solitary existence. To create a stable community of Soft requires a carefully negotiated detente; a resource-rich location, roughly equally matched interest groups, and certainty that cooperation remains in everyone's best interest. This places most Soft communities in the bathypelagic zone near oceanic vents that sustain life through warmth and plentiful building blocks for chemosynthesis. Yet even then, these locations are more prized as safe refuge, as they rarely offer a truly self-sustaining ecosystem large enough to feed the Soft community; consequently, much time and effort must be spent both to venture upward into more fertile hunting zones and to shepherd the environment close to the vent to maximize its utility to the community. One may be hard-pressed to call such communities villages or even cities - the Soft themselves seem to use the rather generic "community" almost exclusively, and by all accounts, even the largest communities do not number much more than a few hundred individual Soft. Yet there is considerable sophistication in their communal organization, and as Soft have ventured further and longer out of the dark into the higher regions, the sight of well-coordinated Soft hunting parties has become more common among finfolk and other ocean dwellers who are more forthcoming with such information than the Soft themselves.
In light of what we know about them, then, Soft development seems even more incredible, and many scholars suspect that the Soft were at one point uplifted into sentience and equipped with certain kinds of magic that allowed them to reshape themselves even more, though the purpose of such an experiment can hardly be fathomed. Even the oldest Soft encountered seem uncaring and ignorant of their origins, as notions of time and history appear difficult for them to grasp. The Soft just are, and while they may be able to recall the founding of communities or good hunting seasons, it is difficult to map such events to what a surface dweller would consider a concrete timeline. What is clear, however, is that there is a (relatively) recent event that has driven the Soft en masse to transform themselves into adapted dry-walker bodies and make landfall, gathering what knowledge and experience they can. Again, answers about the precise nature of this shift in Soft behaviour do not seem forthcoming. It's just what the Soft are doing now.
I Crush Everything
Much of Soft psychology must be understood through their evolution as predatory animals. The depths in which Soft dwell are not easy to survive in, and the Soft evolution to meet these challenges still colors much of their behaviour. The importance of touch among Soft cannot be understated; with many living in an environment that is cast in almost perpetual darkness, knowing one's surroundings and being able to assess what's around with a quick brush are both vital skills. Unfamiliar items can neither be feared not ignored, but must be evaluated for potential use. On the flipside, if an item is found to be useless at the moment, it need not be carried. Soft consider it perfectly natural to grab everything they can physically reach, examine it, then put it back down and move on unless their interest is piqued. Touch is also a popular way of social interaction with other races, as they lack the color-shifting abilities and agility that Soft can use to communicate with one another - at a distance. Soft, unless they are in large gatherings, are naturally fearful and suspicious of one another, and take great pains to demonstrate constant awareness of one another without appearing to make any aggressive moves. It is for this reason that, maybe paradoxically, Soft shy away from from holding onto other people too tightly or embracing them - in Soft culture, this is a naked sign of aggression, second only to openly displaying one's beak to someone, which essentially means "I'm gonna kill you and eat you, and I consider you so much of a chump I'm not even gonna bother trying to sneak up on you to do it". Apparently fearing that even a hand-/tentacle-shake might be misconstrued as predatory intent, many Soft have enthusiastically appropriated the human habit of "bumping" extremities, often with elaborate displays of physical dexterity tailored to each specific individual they greet in this way.
While the aforementioned difficulty of gathering information about Soft origins and agenda makes it hard to pin down the precise reasons why Soft have been making their presence known in recent years, observation yields that at least one important reason for their venturing into unknown territory is that Soft, in general, are incredibly curious and take very little at face value. Naturally free-spirited and unaccustomed to being close to many other people, Soft are perennial wanderers who go wherever their interests and fancy takes them. To them, the world is not a carefully constructed set of rules, but a large, ever-shifting place of discovery. Soft thrive on novelty and quickly pick up new skills and knowledge (until their interest disappears as suddenly as it came), but deal very poorly with monotony; it is said that more than one Soft traveler who found themselves stuck wintering in a small camp waiting for the mountain passes to reopen grew so despondent that they engaged in self-destructive behaviours, from compulsive autocannibalism to violent rage to wandering off into the cold to their deaths. Interestingly, this is a specific response to boredom, not just general stress; on the occasions that Soft have been observed in combat or otherwise under direct physical threat, they seemed to deal with it quite well, suggesting that their bodies and minds more readily deal with mortal danger than stasis.
One little-understood quirk of Soft psychology is that they often seem to be of literally two minds in a given situation, and it seems to be a crapshoot which mind wins out - even then, the answer sometimes is "both, and have fun figuring it out". Tentacle touches of the environment are almost automatic, but even more complex actions can be taken seemingly without conscious thought. Naturally, the Soft who venture onto land are those mature enough to practice a minimum of self-discipline, but beyond that lies an almost fatalistic acceptance that sometimes things are going to happen that they have no control over - all the more reason why Soft prefer not to be in situations with a predatory tint, as they can never be entirely sure that they won't do something rash. What some see as erratic behaviour and lack of consistency, others come to prize as thinking on a dime and frequently getting to act on Plan C before they even realized it was time to go to Plan B. It's not that Soft are naturally better thinkers than other species, but their often intimate awareness of things around them and their non-standard thought process let them gather the necessary information and navigate their way past some common cognitive biases to arrive at surprising insights. Sometimes, they're even correct.
Unsurprisingly, what little has been seen of Soft weaponry tends to be adapted from hunting tools; Soft use nets to great effect to immobilize their enemies and are also quite proficient with spears. Soft also frequently pick up large stones and use that mass at the end of a tentacle as a natural, improvised version of a flail. The smaller varieties of Soft can, given the practice, learn to handle just about any weapon wielded by the "solid" races, while the larger varieties tend more towards using their bodies as weapons. Some Soft have been encountered wearing special-made armor, generally in the form of mail over a semi-flexible "cage" of supporting ribs, which protects the Soft's "head" while being held in place by loops through which the tentacles are inserted. Hard armor is more often seen on the Shell-Walker type of Soft, who reinforce their natural exoskeletal growth with similar mail armor, adding metal plating and padding for even more protection.
Owing to the variation in body type, skills and temperament, it is difficult to write in any detail on how Soft fight, but in general, Soft conceive of battle as constant jostling for the superior position and stance, seeking to drive off their enemies first before expending the effort and taking the risks associated with actual physical fighting. Even the seemingly ponderous larger varieties prefer to keep moving in a fight, and rarely is force met with counterforce; instead, Soft prefer to let their opponent tire themselves out and prize one decisive blow over ten minor strikes. However, Soft instincts fall down when dealing with ranged weapons; they only learn the difference between concealment and cover (and the importance of the latter) with great effort, and even then Soft usually underestimate the danger of threats outside of their reach, relying on millions of years of evolution in an environment where things that want to hurt you have to get close to do so.
While there is no cultural taboo against eating defeated enemies - in fact, getting something to eat is a major cause of fights between Soft in their underwater habitat - it is considered unseemly to let others see you feed, and most Soft have learned that the "solid" races frown on eating sapient prey, even if it is already dead and not doing anyone any good if its just going to rot away in the ground.