The aartuk have the general shape of a star. They are covered with thick, flexible bark, similar to spiked leather. Aartuk's move on their branches, the tip of which end in suction cups that they use to hold onto vertical or inverted surfaces. Each suction cup houses a cluster of three retractable pseudopods that can be used to handle small objects.
The head of an aartuk stands on a six-foot-tall, snake-like stalk that can coil in and out of the center of the star. The head is oblong in shape, with a hole on one end surrounded by three black lumps. These are the sensory organs of the aartuk, which enable it to detect movement via vibration, smell, and infrared vision. The aartuk cannot see visible light.
The aartuk are nomadic vegetables organized into small tribes. One elder leads each tribe. Constantly seeking worthy adversaries, they are religious fanatics that view war as the ultimate form of art.
Aartuk can be found anywhere in areas of wildspace or beyond, in the phlogiston. Tales and legends of their past indicate that their original world was destroyed by the Tyrant Race. Aartuk vow an ancestral hate toward beholders, and they go to great lengths to cause these creatures any kind of harm in their power.
Several individuals once managed to get aboard spelljamming ships and eventually took them over. There are now many tribes with flotillas of ships captured from fallen enemies. The elder of a tribe is the only aartuk in that tribe capable of piloting a spelljamming ship. Slaves are used to control other ships in a flotilla. Once they capture a ship, the aartuk proceed to modify to make it resemble their preferred environment. Depending on the tribes, ships can be made to look like rocky asteroids, suspended gardens, dusty wrecks, etc. Aartuk cannot make spelljamming devices of their own.
Aartuk do not value precious metals, other than as lures for potential victims. They appreciate gems (their currency), magical weapons, and art pieces related to the topic of war, which they keep as war trophies. Some rare aartuk magical items with various powers are worn as torques at the base of their head stalks, within the cavity at the center of their bodies. These items may improve Armor Class or grant special abilities common to magical rings (such as invisibility, mind shielding, regeneration, or telekinesis). They are typically reserved for the aartuk aristocracy and the elders (see the Elders description below for both). Humanoids can use aartuk magical torques, wearing them as arm bracers. Only one such item can be used at a time (wearing two prevents either from functioning). Aartuk cannot use any other type of magical items.
Aartuk live and die for war, which is linked to their religion and reproductive system (see Ecology). Aartuk are known to attack small colonies or isolated warships. When they encounter an obviously weaker opponent, aartuk find it more honorable to take prisoners and question them about the location of a more suitable opponent. They later release all these prisoners (except potential slave pilots) after taking away any gems or war trophies. Different aartuk tribes occasionally ally to attack larger targets, but they generally have no intertribal contact.
Warriors without an elder are likely to seek another tribe of the same breed; they will offer great war trophies to be accepted as tribe members by the new elder. lf warriors do not have a slave pilot, they drift in space, hoping for an unsuspecting vessel to board them. They either attempt to take over that ship – with its pilot alive – or give away part of their treasures to buy themselves safe passage. Aartuk usually are true to their word and will respect a reasonable agreement.
Aartuk are air breathers and are capable of speech. They need their ships to retain sufficient air, food, and water to travel long distances. They also rely on their elder leader, who can filter stale air to produce oxygen sufficient for 50 aartuk. Because of this limitation, aartuk are not known for not keeping prisoners very long. The are either set adrift on a raft, or unceremoniously dispatched to the storeroom.
Aartuk speak various dialects specific to their breeds (rustles, snaps, clicks, pops, and whistles). Aristocrats and elders are likely to speak another two or three more tongues among those languages commonly used in their region (or pick at random: Elven 01-20, Human Common 21-40, Beholder 41-70, Neogi 71-80, Dragon 81-90, the Arcane tongue 91-95, or Illithid 96-00).
The elder is a very old, wise aartuk warrior. It is clear when a warrior aartuk is becoming an elder because it blossoms. This normally happens when a warrior Aartuk reaches 70-90 years of age. Depending on its breed, the aartuk’s flowers may look like rocky outgrowths, very colorful mushrooms, or sweet-smelling, exuberant orchids.
During that period, the aartuk becomes the equivalent of the human aristocrat. Although the aristocrat is identical to a common warrior (in game terms), it is nevertheless treated with much deference by its fellow warriors, and it does not have to undertake menial duties. This increased respect is explained by the fact that an aartuk’s blooming signifies either its imminent death or its final transformation to elderhood. The flowers last for about one Earth year, after which they wither and fall off. At that point, the aartuk must roll a successful saving throw vs. death magic or shrivel and die as well.
lf it survives, the aartuk sheds its skin and regains a newer, stronger vitality. It is then hailed as a new elder, and it soon leaves with a small group of younger followers to start another tribe. A new elder lives another 41-60 years, after which it dies of old age. A new tribe is traditionally granted one spelljamming ship and, whenever possible, a few slave pilots and some treasure. If the mother tribe has only one ship, the two elders fight a traditional duel that ends in the death of one of them. The survivor takes over the tribe.
Aartuk can tell an elder from common aartuk by its smell. Other races that do not have a keen sense of smell cannot readily tell the difference. Elders are immune to those spells or magical effects that either control the physical movement of plants or alter their physical shapes.
Aartuk come in a variety of strains. There are tribes of grey specimens that favor sandy or very dusty environments. Some tribes look more like rough stones, ranging from light brown to dark grey. Other tribes let mosses, mushrooms, and other small plants grow on their limbs; these types generally prefer to live in dense foliage. In all cases, aartuk are capable of concealing themselves in their natural environment (80% chance of success if the viewer is 30 or more feet away).
Aartuk can ingest any kind of nourishment. They normally cook their food and can prepare sophisticated dishes. They absorb their food through an opening underneath their bodies.
An aartuk reproduces by infecting an unconscious victim with a virus that progressively turns the victim’s flesh to jelly in a few days. The victim loses 1d6 points of Constitution per day until death occurs or until a cure disease spell destroys the virus (a convalescent recovers 1 point of Constitution per day). A fully grown aartuk warrior – with the memories of the warrior who infected the victim – emerges from the jelly in one month.
Aartuk infect victims by leaving their tongues on a open wound for three rounds. Aartuk view the gift of birth as a sign of respect and honor toward a victim. The infection of a victim is a religious ritual that must be overseen by the elder of the tribe. There is no gender among the aartuk.
The bodies of aartuk, either dead or alive, provide no useful components for magic, though the slime on their tongue makes an effective glue when boiled to the appropriate concentration. The tongues may be hung and left to dry for several weeks, which produces an average quality rope. When properly fermented, the sap of elders makes a beverage greatly desired by beholders. An elder provides enough sap to brew a small keg of aartukia. A shrewd merchant could get several thousand gold pieces for the sale of a single keg.
Aartuk worship deities of various origins, though all of these are evil patrons of war. Some tribes have adopted the worship of human deities or those of other monstrous creatures. The elder provides the clerical guidance for one specific deity. Aartuk normally burn their dead and keep the ashes (and magical items, if any) within urns. These urns are taboo and no aartuk dares tamper with these for fear of waking the dead.