As a dark shape barrelling through the dripping undergrowth, or the unearthly, fearsome sonorous roar that echoes through the hills of Rimmerins in central Santharia, the Blackhog has a sinister air in the imagination of many people unfamiliar with it. However, as a domesticated animal, or a tenacious, seldom seen wild creature, this singular pig rarely fails to fascinate, with its combination of delicate movements, intelligence and constant murmuring grunting that marks it out as the most sociable of pigs. It is also arguably the most adaptable, within its highly variable homeland.
Image description. The smaller northern variety of the Rimmerings Blackhog, the so-called Runnerhog, with its typical long nose and clearly visible tusks. Picture drawn by Bard Judith.
A black, heavily built pig, not especially large but imposing in its bulk, the
blackhog is unusual looking - perhaps its most striking feature is its snout.
Instead of the short, flat ended nose of most wild pigs, its nose is long (up to
nearly a palmspan) with
soft, sensitive and slightly wrinkled skin, almost hairless but still coloured a
dusky black. This strange nose is held curled under the snout, but can uncurl
and stretch out, picking things up, tracing outlines and surfaces as delicately
as a child’s hand. The tip of the nose, rather than being flat ended, is shaped
into two slight protuberances that can work like an index finger and thumb to
pick up small objects, whilst also shielding the nostrils at the centre of the
“palm” of the nose from obstructions.
This unique nose gives the hog’s head a rather equine appearance, so that the face is curved from forehead to the end of the snout without obstruction. The head is large and strong looking, carried upright on a thick neck, which is crested by a short black mane of bristles, ending at the shoulders in a plume of longer hair.
The top of the head is crowned by a pair of large, rounded ears, somewhat like an elk’s, which can swivel independently to catch any slight sound that might herald a predator. Its eyes are very small, and it is clear from looking at them that they are not particularly important organs to the hog - it is possible for a hog blinded by predators or a rival animal, to still live a normal life by means of sound and smell. Although its jaw is strong and it has large teeth, there are no tusks to speak of, except in the northern subspecies, which will be detailed shortly.
Its fur is, not, on close inspection, black but a very dark, rich shade of brown, is thick and waterproof - standing on end like a Shendar carpet, and is eminently both water and windproof. As animals age, from reaching maturity until death, their coat will gradually turn silver-tinged around the shoulders, back and mane, until a male in his prime has a clean silver-white line down his back, fading to black-brown as it creeps further down his flanks. Females are slower to develop this colouring, and the young look entirely different, as they are born elken brown, to better aid camouflage should they stray from the group. Occasionally variants will show up - with lighter brown, grey and even albinistic animals having been recorded, especially in captivity.
The feet are like those of most pigs, with small, sharp three-toed hooves, except that they have a bony “spur” at the rear of the ankle, which is used for digging and occasionally for defence.
An adult hog will weigh up to a pygge, and would stand around two fores tall, up to a ped from nose to tail.
In the Northern reaches of the Rimmerins, the Blackhog is sufficiently different in appearance and behaviour to warrant being classified as a different subspecies. They are known colloquially as the "Runnerhog", because this is what they are invariably doing when seen by people. They differ in appearance from the standard blackhog in two respects – they are significantly smaller, in order to escape the multitude of predators in the northern mountains. A fully grown Runnerhog won’t exceed one and a half fores, and weighs usually between 8 and 13 hebs. Secondly, they have tusks. Straight, yellow and sharp, the tusks protrude up to a palmspan from the lower jaw of both males and females. Though these tusks are clearly primarily for defence against larger animals, they are also used in battles for dominance, resulting in frequent scarring.
Living, as it does, in the variable terrain of the Rimmerins Ring, the Blackhog
groups have developed an unusual form of long distance communication - low
frequency grunts, which allow them to contact other groups several
strals away, with the
equivalent of a wolf’s howling. These grunts are said to
sound “like a thunderclap, but not rising or falling, only stopping, and then
starting again, louder or quieter than before. You hear it as much through your
feet as your ears; it sounds like the dead people under the ground are
The Blackhog is also strong for its size, being heavily muscled – it has been used as a beast of burden, on occasion, as it can pull better through thick mud or marsh than cattle or horse, and even has been used by some of the Tenthrum dwarves, as it has less fear of mines and strange experiences than many other beasts of burden, and a team of three or four can pull as much as a mule or cow.
Essentially, for an animal that will frequently have to cross rivers and pools in its travels, the Blackhog is a great swimmer, and good at travelling over very muddy ground such as bogs and marshland, as its snout can work as a snorkel. They have been seen crossing large lakes as happily as if they were paddling across a burn.
This snout also fulfils a variety of other functions; it can pick up and handle small objects with remarkeable delicacy, and is also indisposable as an aid to digging and rooting around in the undergrowth. Coupled with an exceptional sense of smell it is thus used to hunt down underground insects and plants, such as truphulls and edible tubers. When curled under its chin, a Blackhog’s, and to a greater extent a Runnerhog’s snout helps to keep dust out of the throat and to warm air before it enters the animals head and body, thus increasing their ability to cope with harsh weather.
As a group these Hogs seem very intelligent, able to remember the hunting strategies of their predators, and co-ordinate their responses accordingly, with a variety of vocalisations that seem to hold quite complex meaning. They learn quickly and are almost fearless, especially the northern Runnerhogs, which can be very aggressive.
The unique dexterous snout and keen sense of smell make them excellent scavengers, plus a thick skull seems to give them protection against blows that might kill an orc. All in all, they are very tough animals, perfectly adapted to the challenges they face daily.
The Runnerhog also has the ability to run extremely quickly over treacherous terrain. Serving, as it does, as a potential meal for the many fierce predators in the northern reaches of the Ring, it has become adept at navigating the rocky precipices and barren, shelterless landscapes of its territory at high speeds, fast enough so even a swooping gryph would be hard pressed to catch it.
Territory. The main population of Blackhog is found in and around the valleys at the centre of the Rimmerins Ring in central Santharia. The separate, Runnerhog subspecies is isolated to a few scattered areas at the higher northern ranges, though it is possible they are more widespread within the area - it is very hard to tell, given the reclusive nature of the animal and the hazards inherent within the terrain. Frankly, as of yet, no researcher has thought the study of this diminuitive pig worth risking his or her neck for.
In the central ring, the Blackhogs show little fear of the local people, other than the healthy regard for their privacy you would expect from a wild animal. They range widely in their groups, tending to move higher up the valleys in warmer weather, probably to take advantage of the different foodplants that grow there. They have been domesticated in small numbers and are still fairly common in the wild.
Habitat/Behaviour. Blackhogs are highly sociable, but secretive in the wild, due to the high number of predators they share their habitat with. Nomadic throughout the day, they move through the undergrowth and in summer on more exposed mountain landscapes looking for seasonal food. Occasionally they will mingle with domestic animals such as cattle.
They seem to retain a collective mental map of the area, remembering where certain foods are found at which time of year, and acting on a kind of automatic consensual democracy, in that the group will head in whichever direction is chosen by the majority of individuals.
Both adults and young, of which there may be several in a group at any time, seem playful, chasing each other and bringing “presents” of grass or rocks, which tend to be quickly discarded, having purely symbolic value. If food is plentiful, and especially if mothers are suckling young, they will spend as much time as possibly sleeping in the sun, or relaxing in a mud wallow - water seems to hold great excitement for both wild and domestic Blackhog, and they will spend hours covering themselves in mud.
The groups keep a loose territory, overlapping with at least one other group’s area, though these are flexible and will change if the terrain is altered, for example by people moving in. Groups will rarely fight, but if they do this is usually a males only affair, with all other members retreating to a safe distance whilst the strongest males attack viciously.
Although wilful as a domestic animal, they can become very friendly, and being intelligent, hardy and relatively easy to look after, it is perhaps surprising they are not more popular as pets and companions.
They communicate constantly using a wide variety of grunts, squeals, growls and breathy “chortling”, which helps them to keep track of each other in thick undergrowth.
The Runnerhog subspecies is much less sociable, with smaller groups that act more aggressively towards each other and other groups. The vocalizations are quieter and lower pitched, and some would say it sounds almost like they are whispering. The majority of their time is spent in isolated, sheltered spots or moving between them at high speed - there are few animals that can rival the breathtaking combination of swiftness and agility displayed in a Runnerhog moving across a rocky mountainside. These Hogs keep larger territories with set dens where the group hides between feeding, which is done at dusk or dawn as a rule.
Diet. Blackhogs, like most pigs, are consummate omnivores, but predominantly eat vegetables. Mushrooms are devoured keenly when found, as are a variety of roots, nuts, berries, flowers, and leaves, though they cannot digest many kinds of leaf or grass in large quantities.
They have a reputation for being able to find food almost anywhere, eating insects such as beetle larvae as happily as the eggs of ground nesting birds or baby mice. In the winter they are able to sustain themselves on tree bark, moss and anything else they can find, though increasingly they are raiding human etc. habitations at night to steal food waste.
A wild Blackhog’s favourite food varies according to exactly where it lives, but most seem to relish cheerk worms above all else. Any one who keeps them domestically, on the other hand, can probably tell you that his or her Blackhog would do anything for a slice of milch cheese, or perhaps boast about their prowess as a truphull hunter, a skill highly prized among domestic Blackhogs.
Wild Runnerhogs are even less discerning in their tastes, using their keen noses to find anything edible in their unforgiving landscape - carrion forms a large part of their diet, and they have even been known to resort to cannibalism.
Mating. Breeding takes place shortly before winter, when food is still plentiful but young are nearing adulthood. It signals the point when young individuals leave their maternal group to seek others.
At this point the groups tend to merge, growing to double or triple their usual size, as they meet and travel to “leks” where males will compete and will display to females. These leks are specific areas, usually clearings in forest or other clear areas, on the borders between different groups’ territories.
Males are highly competitive, directly confronting each other in ritualized battles for dominance, which consist of two main stages - first they perform deafening “roars”: loud, long drawn out vocalizations which are widely described as sounding “like approaching thunder”.
Generally the loudest and longest roarer is accepted to be dominant, but if the two Hogs are closely matched, it will likely become a more physical battle, as the boars move on to the second stage of aggression - basically a glorified shoving contest. The Hogs will repeatedly charge each other, turning shoulder-on at the point of impact and trying to get their massive heads underneath the opponent in an attempt to turn him over on his back. These fights can become very hazardous for the participants, with deaths from exhaustion, broken bones or bite wounds not unknown.
The northern Runnerhogs take this even further, using their tusks and strong jaws to inflict vicious bite wounds, and many older boars bear grisly scars as testament of their battles. Females will also retaliate ferociously if they judge a male’s advances too eager.
The boar who proves himself dominant will then claim ownership of any females “belonging” to his opponent, in order to build up a harem of females who he can mate with. In reality, many young, subordinate males sneak in whilst he is otherwise occupied, and the females seem unconcerned to a large extent by which boar is supposed to own them, thus ensuring that no boar, however gallant a warrior, will have complete monopoly over breeding rights in one year.
Once the period of breeding is over, the groups reassemble, often with considerable changing of individual members, as young pigs move off into new groups, and old animals return to their original territory.
Usages. Blackhog are kept as all-purpose utility beasts by some humans and dwarves in the Rimmerins Ring. The primary resources they provide are their tough, waterproof hides, often used as clothing with the fur left on, especially that of silver backed individuals, sometimes purported to impart longevity to the wearer, though this is as likely as not a ploy to sell it for a better price than plain pig skin could fetch.
The meat is considered good, if slightly fatty. The bone is strong and surprisingly well suited for tools and ornaments such as buttons. Tusks from the Runnerhog especially are prized for use in buttons, as their cross-section is the perfect size and shape. The elusive nature of this animal makes these very hard to obtain, however, and so they command a high price. They are often stained in order to bring the characteristic grain to the fore, making their origins, and therefore their worth, more prominent, as it would otherwise be hard to tell if they truly were from a Runnerhog or just a domestic boar.
Although wilful as a domestic animal, they can become very friendly, and being intelligent, hardy and relatively easy to look after, it is perhaps surprising they are not more popular as pets and companions. They are sometimes used by dwarves as a beast of burden, especially useful in narrow work underground, as they are not easily spooked, and their small size allows them to turn where an ox or horse would be stuck.
A lucrative bonus to keeping Blackhogs is their excellent sense of smell - they can be trained to find the highly sought after truphull fungus, which can fetch a considerable sum, if it can be snatched from the eager jaws of the Hog before it’s too late.