This is one entry from One Page Lore: Fantasy Folk, which provides one page breakdowns for 21 different folk, highlighting what makes them unique. It releases June 8th, and is 50% for those interested. https://rexiconjesse.itch.io/one-page-lore-fantasy-folk. If you’re an essential or frontline worker of any kind, send me a DM and I’ll email you a copy on release day for free. My way to say thanks.
Merfolk don’t just live in the depths of the oceans and vacation on the beach. As amphibious folk with a innate talent for commanding water, they live in and around rivers, caves, and underground lakes within deep dungeons. Communities that live in landlocked lakes often have a network of underground waterways that connects to distant bodies of water, such as other lakes, rivers, or even the ocean.
Physically, they differ from land folk in more ways than their appearance. Evolving to live in water, many have astounding spatial awareness since they can move in any direction. The muscle required swim makes them astoundingly heavy compared to other folk of a similar size.
So here’s everything you need to know about merfolk to add them as player characters or NPCs in your game.
Merfolk communities stretch far beyond the original cities deep in the ocean. Freshwater merfolk can live inland with rivers large enough to support a community. Saltwater merfolk may have their own underwater cities near large coastal cities. Deepwater merfolk are often more isolated, but some have lively interactions or deadly grudges with ships that sail over their territory. With no unifying laws, each merfolk community has its own rules and cultural signifiers.
Commonly, merfolk refer to their figure in two parts: the body (from the waist up) and tail (from the waist down).
Some merfolk have bodies that appear almost fully human, and others appear more like a sea creature/humanoid hybrid. Most have some mixture of sea creature bodily features. This can include a variety of anterior, posterior, and caudal fins; as well as large eyes, patches of colorful scales, barbels, webbed hands, elongated teeth, crests, and much more.
Their body either has a flesh tone similar to humanoids or is an extension of the patterns and colors of their tails. Merfolk from the depths can have translucent bodies and bioluminescent appendages, such as a lure or the tips of their hair.
Their tail makes up the lower part of their body. It both propels them through the water and is their main source of mobility on land. The tail usually has the familiar form of other sea creatures, such as the colors and scales of fish. While most merfolk have long, split fin tails, some merfolk possess different tails, such as having eight flexible arms, much like an octopus.
Merfolk with ancestors from the deep ocean more closely resemble sea creatures, where merfolk with ancestors that frequent the land are more likely to have a more humanoid body.
Merfolk living in cramped coral communities or underwater caves may stop growing when they reach 3 ft. in length, while deep water merfolk with ample space may grow up to 20 ft. long. When on land, a merfolk’s eye level is roughly half their total length.
Mobility on Land
Traveling on land is easier for some merfolk, though there are generally three ways they use their tails to travel on land.
The most mobile of merfolk slither on their tails, much like naga.
Others lie flat, tuck their fins under their tails, and walk using a combination of their fins and arms, similar to how sea lions walk.
Merfolk who are less mobile on land lie on their belly and tail, hopping much like seals do.
If a merfolk has good mobility on land, it usually indicates an underdeveloped swim bladder and a less aquatic body structure. Thus, merfolk who move more easily on land tend to be less mobile in water.
Relationship to Water
Most merfolk are amphibious, breathing on land and in water through gills on both sides of their neck. Opercula protect their gills, though the length, size, and thickness of an operculum range dramatically among merfolk.
While merfolk can breathe in the water and on land, freshwater and ocean merfolk can only breathe fresh or saltwater respectively.
Merfolk skin dries quickly. Merfolk must completely soak themselves for a long stretch or periodically during the day, or suffer from exposure. Whether salt or freshwater, the rejuvenating effects are the same. However, soaking in polluted water can be harmful.
Merfolk lay 1-3 eggs. A child grows inside each, requiring protection during maturation. Once hatched, they mature at a rate similar to humans.
Children with only one merfolk parent will likely have prominent features of that parent. Even those not born with a tail usually have fins, crests, gills, and other features common among aquatic creatures.
- Excellent Swimmer – Movement in water comes naturally
- Sharp Scales – When something touches you wrong, it pays for it
- Heavy – Creatures of the deep are dense, making it hard to overpower you
- Piscine Clotting Factor – Even when gravely injured, you do not bleed
- Cold Resistance – The cold has little effect on you
- Amphibious – Few situations make merfolk uncomfortable
- Spatial Awareness – You’re aware of what’s around you
- Command the Tide – You have the innate ability to manipulate water
- Endurance – Constantly swimming requires astounding endurance
- Predict Weather – You read the weather like an old friend
- Excellent Swimmer – You are not as mobile on land as you are in the water
- Heavy – Tasks requiring holding your own weight are physically taxing
- Piscine Clotting Factor – Due to your anatomy, medicine for land folk may be ineffective
- Spatial Awareness – On land, the inability to move in all directions can be easy to forget
- Amphibious – You’re always moving, trying to keep air or water passing over your gills
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