|Images of deros
Source: Bestiary, pg(s). 84–85
From their homes in the Darklands, the insane dero1 race spreads fear and terror across the surface of Golarion.2 This makes them arguably the most well-known, although not the most numerous, of the races of Nar-Voth.3
Deros appear like some demented form of short folk standing three foot high, similar to a halfling or gnome twisted into a horrible new form. Their skin is a pale, sickly bluish color, while their hair and milky eyes are pure white. Their eyes bulge from their head, giving them a frantic appearance. Because of their height and small frame, deros tend to weigh around 70 pounds. A dero's hands have four fingers rather than the more common five fingers of other humanoid races. These hands often wield one of the race's unique weapons, most commonly the aklys.4
Deros dwell in the benighted depths of the Darklands, although only in the highest level of Nar-Voth, where they gather in insane communities dedicated to their race's eternal quest to walk in the world above. These enclaves are normally small and scattered across Nar-Voth, with notable exceptions in the Nar-Voth cities of Corgunbier, Krba, and Kmlin-Bru. Dero enclaves are always located beneath a large human surface settlement, and almost every city on the face of Golarion has a dero enclave hidden somewhere below it.3
Deros seem to be drawn to the heavily populated areas above as big cities are perfect hunting grounds. While the inhabitants of a large city can assist in its defense against an orc horde or other invading army, a large city's anonymity makes residents more vulnerable to the insidious threat of deros, who kidnap and abduct the unwitting without notice. Due to their incredibly secretive nature, most people do not know of the deros' existence, or simply believe them to be childish ghost stories.5
Deros have a very unique ecology that has developed from both their unique heritage (see History) and millennia of adapting to their harsh homes in Nar-Voth. Apart from their unusual appearance and psychopathic temperament, the deros' most unique feature is their intolerance of sunlight. While artificial light causes some discomfort—unsurprising for a subterranean species—exposure to actual sunlight can kill a dero. Within an hour of exposure their skin erupts in blisters, and within a couple of days they are nothing but a festering mass of bloody scabs, burnt flesh, and bones. Some have noticed how similar this is to the effects of radiation on surface races.6
The dero have a strange life cycle. Their consumption of a poisonous fungus called cytillesh means deros have an unusually high rate of stillbirths, although their surviving young reach full maturity within nine years. Dero females are fertile until late in their life, which helps offset their high infant mortality rate. Still, their noxious environment also unlocks some unknown mental and magical potential in a minority of deros; those who possess such a gift quickly rise to prominence in their communities.7
Dero society is obsessed with the world above, the so-called "Overburn". They wish to conquer its soft inhabitants and harvest their endless resources. Unfortunately, they are limited in this endeavor by their inability to tolerate sunlight and their racial insanity.8 The drive to overcome their weakness to sunlight drives much of dero society.6 Sadly, their madness often prevents them from gaining much new knowledge from the countless sadistic experiments they perform.8
Abduction of surface races
Small dero communities dot Nar-Voth, which allows them to harvest test subjects from across the world without drawing attention to themselves. Deros realize how few their numbers are in comparison to the Overburn's inhabitants and so are careful about whom they take. They harvest their subjects from the dregs of the largest surface cities, targeting people who won't be missed in a place too big to notice their abduction. Deros then subject these victims to all manner of horrific experiments while trying to deduce how the surface races survive beneath the sun. These experiments range from skin grafts to attempts to induce their sunlight allergies in surface dwellers.6 Some of these experiments have nothing to do with the race's goals, however, and are just an excuse for individual deros to vent their sadistic urges on sentient creatures.7
Once deros are done experimenting on their subjects, the survivors not driven utterly insane by the pain are often released back onto the surface after wiping their minds with memory-altering drugs. Unfortunately for their victims, this technique is far from perfect, and survivors often retain vague memories of their experiences: monstrous pale creatures, glowing blue tunnels, and unbelievable pain.7 Other strange phenomena can also be attributed to deros, particularly livestock mutilations resulting from deros gathering exotic surface meat or unleashing their cruel fury on a bestial victim.69
Relations with other Darklands races
Deros do not limit their experiments to Overburn inhabitants. They also abduct other Darklands denizens, such as xulgaths and hryngars.10 Darklands dwellers are more aware and wary of the creepy dero, however, and are more difficult to capture. Those whom deros do capture are subject to the same hideous experiments but are never released, instead typically ending up as an exotic dinner for their captors.
Compared to their fellow Darklanders, deros are isolationists, keeping away from larger and more fecund races like the hryngar and drow. Despite their isolationism, dero enclaves often contain other Darklands creatures, most commonly morlocks and mongrelmen, as deros find their flesh inedible.9
While not particularly religious creatures, when deros choose to worship, their gods are as unpleasant and sadistic as they are. Their pantheon includes the Mother of Monsters Lamashtu, the demon lord of knives and razors Andirifkhu, Cyth-V'sug the lord of fungus, the demon lord of necromancy Orcus, and the sadistic Shax.7
Ironically, the most sadistic and evil race of the Darklands' highest level were once the least evil dwellers of the deepest vaults of Orv. In ancient times, the race that would one day become the dero were known as the pech. These fey creatures had migrated from the mysterious First World but also had an incredibly strong connection with the Elemental Plane of Earth. The tiny pech were servants to the Vault Keepers, mysterious creators of the Orvian Vaults. Under the Vault Keepers, the pech helped to create and maintain the Vaults, but for some reason now lost to memory the Vault Keepers fled from their creations, leaving the pech to fend for themselves.5
Thus abandoned, the pech fought amongst themselves, their bloody infighting eventually driving some to seek a better life in the tunnels above. As they strayed from the deepest vaults, the pech began to lose their connection to the First World, much like the gnomes on the surface, and became more susceptible to starvation and thirst within the barren tunnels. The further they ventured into the barren caves above, the more their connections weakened, and many went insane from their slow starvation. They eventually encountered what would become their salvation and their damnation: a strange, blue, nutritious glowing fungus called cytillesh, more commonly known as brain mold.5 Ingestion or long-term exposure to cytillesh fungus spores can cause brain damage and a high rate of stillbirths.11 Nonetheless, Cytillesh became a central part of these refugees' society. The combination of their maddening exodus, lost connection to their home plane, and the mutating effects of cytillesh caused the pech to transform into something completely different.5 Deros grew in size compared to the pech, their limbs more elongated, their skin turning pale, grey, and leathery. In their now sadistic and insane minds, no trace of the benevolent pech remained.5
All this happened in the ancient past, as even the most ancient of orc carvings and dwarven texts mention deros. In fact, the completion of the dwarven Quest for Sky allowed deros to spread into the tunnels now abandoned by the warring orcs and dwarves.3
For additional as-yet unincorporated sources about this subject, see the Meta page.
- The plural of dero is deros. In Pathfinder First Edition, they were referred to as derro and derros.
- “Chapter 1: Characters” in Campaign Setting, 40. Paizo Inc., 2008 .
- “Nar-Voth” in Into the Darklands, 19. Paizo Inc., 2008 .
- “Monsters A to Z” in Bestiary, 70. Paizo Inc., 2009 .
- Classic Horrors Revisited, 5. Paizo Inc., 2010 .
- Classic Horrors Revisited, 6. Paizo Inc., 2010 .
- “Nar-Voth” in Into the Darklands, 20. Paizo Inc., 2008 .
- The Inner Sea World Guide, 304. Paizo Inc., 2011 .
- Classic Horrors Revisited, 7. Paizo Inc., 2010 .
- Paizo referred to hryngars as duergar until the publication of Highhelm and the Sky King's Tomb Pathfinder Adventure Path.
- “Exploring the Darklands” in Into the Darklands, 13. Paizo Inc., 2008 .