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The appearance of yuan-ti varied greatly from nearly human-like to nearly snake-like, but all had some serpentine features. Scale colors were usually simple greens and browns, but more elaborate swirls, stripes, or diamond patterns were possible, even in blues and reds.
Yuan-ti gave off almost no scent that a human could detect, but animals could sense a dry, musty odor from their bodies.
Only the most human-like forms wore clothing, but all varieties wielded weapons if they had means to carry them.
- Major Subraces
- Purebloods appeared mostly human, with minor reptilian features, such as slit eyes, a forked tongue, or patches of scales on their skin.
- Also called malisons, halfbloods were humanoid in shape but had a wide variety of noticeable serpentine features, such as a snakelike tail in place of legs, a complete covering of scales, a hood like a cobra, a snake's head, or snakes in place of arms. Known subgroups of halfbloods included mind whisperers, pit masters, and nightmare speakers.
- Abominations were almost completely snakelike, with only a few human features, such as arms or a humanoid head.
- Minor Subraces
In addition to the three main breeds, other breeds have been described as well:
- By far the most powerful and loathsome of yuan-ti, anathemas were worshiped as divine incarnations of Merrshaulk. They were truly bizarre in appearance, with a body like a 25-foot-long serpent; a pair of humanoid arms with clawed, three-fingered hands; and six serpentine heads rising from its shoulders.
- Holy guardians
- A rare breed specifically bred as temple guards, holy guardians uniformly had a serpentine tail in place of legs and a snakelike head.
- Another rare type of yuan-ti, mageslayers were bred for the special purpose of battling or hunting down human magic-users, and most of their abilities are magical rather than psionic. They had a human-like head but a snakelike tail instead of legs.
- A volatile subspecies created by infusing yuan-ti with elemental energies.
Yuan-ti had superb intelligence compared to other races.
The yuan-ti took advantage of their great intelligence during battle, planning traps and making excellent use of their surroundings. They favored ambushes over direct attacks. If in groups, they sent their least valuable members forward first, meaning that purebloods advanced before halfbloods who advanced before abominations.
Yuan-ti favored bladed weapons. They used slow-acting poisons in their elaborate traps but not typically on their blades.
Yuan-ti call themselves vrael olo (which means "favored ones"). Daily use typically uses the shortened "vrael", and can be modified to "auvrael" (meaning friendly or known yuan-ti) and "duthrael" (unfriendly or unfamiliar yuan-ti).
In general, the more serpentine features a yuan-ti possesses the higher its status in yuan-ti society. Abominations are at the top of their society, followed by halfblood, and finally purebloods. Within their subraces, yuan-ti are ranked by achievements and the demonstrated favor of Sseth.
Yuan-ti culture centered around their temples, which often were found in ancient ruins or hidden deep underneath human cities. The locations of these were well-guarded secrets.
Outside their temples, they usually only appeared in small groups of less than five.
Yuan-ti found the body odor of humans repulsive, so much so that in areas controlled by yuan-ti, humans wore perfume to conceal their body odor.
The abominations ruled over the other breeds of yuan-ti, leading from the temples.
Purebloods, being the most human-like, were the caste involved in negotiations with outside races.
The yuan-ti were devout demon-worshipers. Their worship often involved bloody sacrifices. Most worshiped Sseth, with other serpentine deities that some have worshiped over the years either being masks worn by Sseth or a false deity of the Scaleless Ones. All yuan-ti must act in accordance with the Sacred Way of Sseth - that is, subtly. Whenever possible, yuan-ti choose manipulation over open confrontation, the whisper over the fang. Followers of the Sacred Way of Sseth know their foes, think ahead, and plan forward.
Yuan-ti had their own language, which used the Draconic alphabet, and most could also speak Common. Draconic and Abyssal were also typically known. Some sages reported that all yuan-ti could also communicate readily with any snake or snake-like creature.
Yuan-ti buildings were often circular. In place of staircases, they often had ramps or poles instead, since most of them could slither and many of them could climb.
Yuan-ti were consummate carnivores, eating any kind of warm-blooded flesh, including humans. Besides human meat, they also enjoyed birds and thus kept large herds of flightless birds captive for food.
Female yuan-ti lay eggs in brood chambers, marking each clutch with its parentage, then abandoning them to the care of broodguards. Yuan-ti hatchlings are hatched from these eggs, which are always curious and eager to explore, and will seek food immediately, even eating each other if sustenance is not at hand. Their initial training is provided by broodguards, which also monitor the hatchery. Young yuan-ti are trained in the use of their powers almost after being born. They will turn into tiny vipers and slither to the nearest cover when they see danger or hear a warning.
Yuan-ti in their prime will scheme, breed, and work on behalf of their tribes. Breeding is carefully controlled, seen as a holy act, in order to produce the "best" offspring. Prospective partners will coldly measure one another and if both agree that the match is promising, they usually mate, regardless of their personal affections towards each other.
Often elder yuan-ti grow lazy when they reach great age, sleeping or lying in torpor for longer and longer periods - first for days, then weeks, then seasons at a time, and finally years upon years. At last, they fail to wake at all.
The yuan-ti were once human. Long before humankind dominated the continent of Faerûn, the Creator Races ruled Toril. The reptilian Creator Race, the sarrukh, were foremost amongst these and built up great empires. They bred the first yuan-ti by magically experimenting with and breeding men with snakes, also creating nagas and, through a similar process, lizardmen. They eventually fell from power and the resourceful yuan-ti rose up to claim their Creators' power vacuum, even while sustaining the empire of Mhairshaulk. Of the fragmented World Serpent deity that the sarrukh had worshiped, the yuan-ti venerated the strongest aspect, a cruel and despotic deity, Merrshaulk, who grew distant and aloof.
As the yuan-ti's power became less visible on Faerûn, and they instead fell to infiltrating human and demihuman society through their organizations and long-sighted plots, Merrshaulk had sunk into a slumber, ignoring his followers. Eventually, around the time of the collapse of the human empire of Netheril, Merrshaulk himself was also reborn as a winged yuan-ti avatar named Sseth, who became the yuan-ti's new primary deity. In the end, though, Sseth too sank into somnolence.
At this point some sarrukh, long suffering a heavy war on other planes or sunken in hibernation in their ruins, began to return in some numbers. They crucially needed help from their deity, but Sseth was not answering prayers in his slumber. So for aid in their endeavors some of the sarrukh made a bargain with the Mulhorandi deity Set, that put Sseth into a deeper sleep but allowed Set to assume Sseth's mantle and grant the sarrukh their aid. Most yuan-ti do not even know of this transaction, though now Sseth struggles at his bonds some are being made aware of it.
- House Extaminos, the ruling family of Hlondeth.
- Nhyris D'Hothek, nephew of Zstulkk Ssarmn, and one time possessor of the Crown of Horns.
- Ras Nsi, a barae in Chult, featured in Tomb of Annihilation.
- Sibyl, whose body was used as Sseth's avatar during the Time of Troubles.
- Sisaspia, a yuan-ti pureblood druid and adventurer from the Chultan city of Omu.
- Zelia, powerful psion featured in the House of Serpents trilogy.
- Zstulkk Ssarmn, a member of the ruthless trade and slaving consortium the Iron Ring.
- Test of the Samurai • Hoard of the Dragon Queen • Mysteries of the Moonsea • Tomb of Annihilation • Rise of Tiamat • Polyhedron #41, "Wedding Party: An AD&D Oriental Game Adventure"
- Venom in Her Veins • House of Serpents
- Video Games
- Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn • Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone • Icewind Dale II • Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition • Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms • Neverwinter Nights • Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir
- Card Games
- AD&D Trading Cards
- Organized Play & Licensed Adventures
- When the Lights Went Out in Candlekeep
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- Robin D. Laws (March 2003). “The Ecology of...Venom and Coil: The Secret Life of the Yuan-Ti”. In Jesse Decker ed. Dragon #305 (Paizo Publishing, LLC), p. 54.
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- Warning: book within boxed set not specified for The Vilhon Reach
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- Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford, Christopher Perkins (2014-09-30). Monster Manual 5th edition. Edited by Scott Fitzgerald Gray. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 307–310. ISBN 978-0786965614.
- Mike Mearls, Stephen Schubert, James Wyatt (June 2008). Monster Manual 4th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 269–271. ISBN 978-0-7869-4852-9.
- Skip Williams, Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook (July 2003). Monster Manual v.3.5. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 262–265. ISBN 0-7869-2893-X.
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- Gary Gygax (August 1983). Monster Manual II 1st edition. (TSR, Inc), p. 130. ISBN 0-88038-031-4.
- Ed Greenwood, Sean K. Reynolds, Skip Williams, Rob Heinsoo (June 2001). Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting 3rd edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 103. ISBN 0-7869-1836-5.
- Ed Greenwood, Sean K. Reynolds, Skip Williams, Rob Heinsoo (June 2001). Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting 3rd edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 225. ISBN 0-7869-1836-5.
- Ed Greenwood, Sean K. Reynolds, Skip Williams, Rob Heinsoo (June 2001). Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting 3rd edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 290. ISBN 0-7869-1836-5.
- Frank Mentzer (January 1985). “Ay pronunseeAYshun gyd”. In Kim Mohan ed. Dragon #93 (TSR, Inc.), p. 30.
- Eric Cagle, Jesse Decker, James Jacobs, Erik Mona, Matthew Sernett, Chris Thomasson, and James Wyatt (April 2003). Fiend Folio. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 193–195. ISBN 0-7869-2780-1.
- Ed Greenwood, Eric L. Boyd, Darrin Drader (July 2004). Serpent Kingdoms. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 10. ISBN 0-7869-3277-5.
- Ed Greenwood, Eric L. Boyd, Darrin Drader (July 2004). Serpent Kingdoms. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 21. ISBN 0-7869-3277-5.
- Ed Greenwood, Eric L. Boyd, Darrin Drader (July 2004). Serpent Kingdoms. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 19–20. ISBN 0-7869-3277-5.
- James Wyatt (October 2001). Oriental Adventures (3rd edition). (Wizards of the Coast), p. 58. ISBN 0-7869-2015-7.
- Ed Greenwood, Eric L. Boyd, Darrin Drader (July 2004). Serpent Kingdoms. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 10–11. ISBN 0-7869-3277-5.
- Codename Entertainment (September 2017). Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms. Codename Entertainment.