The plainsrunners are a race of nomadic humans that has lived apart from the rest of humanity for hundreds of years, until their fiery home changed their culture and eventually even their physiology. They are quicker and tougher than their human counterparts, but less versatile. In battle, plainsrunners will often wear paint on their skin, eventually replaced by tattoos by those who have proven themselves in combat or otherwise. A plainsrunner with few or no tattoos is generally of lower status.
Plainsrunners live in heavily tribal clans, led by a single elder who chooses an heir from among the clan. This choice is supposedly guided by fire spirits who lead the clan to good fortune. These spirits are consulted for many important decisions by means of secret rituals that vary from clan to clan. There is some debate among outside scholars as to whether these rituals are actually magical in nature, although plainsrunners firmly assert that they are, even those exiled to the outside world. Either way, they seem to work, as even naturally occurring wildfires never seem to catch the plainsrunners unprepared. The society itself varies somewhat from clan to clan, some are more warlike or aggressive than others, and leaders can be either male or female depending on the clan.
Plainsrunners are the definition of insular, trusting first their clan, then allied clans, and never outsiders. Outsiders are usually warned to leave the Scorched Plains before the fires consume them, with the rare exception of a few traders who are friendly with the clans. These traders carry wares and news between the clans, and provide most of the plainsrunners' information on the outside world. Other travelers who venture into the Scorched Plains usually find the plainsrunner clans indifferent, if not passively hostile. Some daring travelers barter for the good will of the plainsrunners; this can go well or poorly depending on the clan the traveler in question attempts to approach. While most plainsrunners will not leave even an outsider to die by wildfire, some will, and rescued outsiders are treated with a significant level of disdain or even contempt by their saviors unless they are already in the clan's good graces (in which case it is simply pity).
Plainsrunners do not usually follow the standard deities, instead mostly following a sort of ancestor worship in which the honored dead join with the fire spirits of the clan. There is some evidence that this is the case, but it can be hard to tell how much is reality and how much is deliberate fabrication or wishful thinking on the part of the plainsrunners. Clans who violate their own traditions and fail to provide proper respect seem to encounter worse luck than others, however, so perhaps it is not wrong. The desert-dwelling dragons also have a place in plainsrunner religion, so half-dragons of the appropriate colors are at once both respected and feared for their influence. Other dragons are dealt with respectfully, but are not encountered often in the Scorched Plains. Divine magic is usually found in the form of druids, oracles, rangers, or shaman, and is not uncommon; those with a domain usually have the fire domain. Arcane magic is less prevalent but regarded in a similar manner, usually coming in the form of bards, skalds, or sorcerers. Clerics and wizards do exist, but the study involved in becoming one is often more time-consuming than the clans are willing to support. For the most part, a plainsrunner won't care where magic comes from, only how it is used and whether that use benefits the clan.
At the age of 15, plainsrunners undergo a harrowing rite of passage known as the Flaming Sprint, in which they must outrun a raging wildfire in a test of speed, endurance, and will to survive. While most succeed, there are some who are unable to successfully complete the Sprint, and fall to the fires chasing them. Those that fail and survive are few, and are exiled from the clan; such exiles are dishonored and few ever attempt to return, forever treated as akin to outsiders by their own kin. Rarely, a cowardly (or rather, sane) plainsrunner will leave the clan voluntarily rather than face their trial by fire. Even more rarely, a visitor to a clan will be invited to take part in an upcoming Sprint in order to formally join the clan. This offer is considered (by the clan) to be a great honor, usually only made to those who have helped the clan in some grand degree, whether by providing food during famine or by protecting the clan from some dire outsider threat. Word spreads quickly among the clans about such individuals, and pretending to be one can have lethal consequences. Inductees are usually given a tattoo for whatever they did to help the clan, should they attempt (and survive) the Flaming Sprint. To complete the Flaming Sprint, an individual must keep ahead of the wildfire for three minutes, which requires moving at a rate that matches or exceeds the wildfire's speed of 125 feet per round. Even plainsrunners have trouble with it, and train for years before attempting the Sprint; for this reason it is common for someone "honored" with the opportunity to join a clan to politely decline until they are ready, and there is no shame in doing this.
Occasionally, the plainsrunners will send out a few of their own, usually individually, to investigate some great disturbance in the outside world, gathering information and reporting back on what they have found when the time is right, either in person or by courier. These plainsrunners are not exiled (and are still members in full standing), but some of them find homes outside the Plains to their liking, and do not return. Most plainsrunner adventurers are either of this type, or are exiled for one reason or another.
The Scorched Plains
The Scorched Plains are a vast expanse of grasslands, plains, and desert terrain. They are home to raging wildfires, volcanic activity, and the suspicious clans of the plainsrunners. While much of the Plains are relatively safe from wildfires, the rest can be hazardous for the ill-advised traveler, and the wildlife is often less than friendly either.