Their name comes from the High Imperial word for "hunter," venator. The plural form in High Imperial is venatori, which is the official name for the order, but many common folk merely refer to them as "venators."
The Venatori have existed throughout recorded history, possibly fighting against the Shifters themselves in the long-forgotten Age of Wulfgard. When the Achaean Empire rose to power in the West, they immediately recruited the Venatori as an Imperial order and began funding their efforts to control the threat of beastfolk and other monsters. They have done this duty loyally ever since.
Despite their extremely long history, most Venatori are unlettered, passing along their knowledge verbally to the next generation of Venatori. Because of this, the group's knowledge of the days of the Shifter has been lost to time, passed down only as vague myths. They have an extensive library of bestiaries and other monster lorebooks in their headquaters at Castle Greywatch, although only a few Venators are educated enough to read them.
During the golden age of the Venatori, when monsters threatened Achaea on all sides, the young sons of Imperial nobles would join the Venatori for glory and honor. Today, with monsters so scarce that some comfortable Imperial citizens even doubt the truth of their existence, the order has declined considerably in respect. The Achaean kings send them precious little funding, their castles have fallen into decay, and most of their members are desperate men and women with nowhere else to turn for food and shelter. As a result, they are more open to hiring disgraced men and women, and elves and dwarves, than other organizations. Yet still they stick to their old ways and follow their ancient code.
The Venatori follow a code with several tenets:
- We hunt those who hunt the innocent. Our prey are the monsters who seek the blood of men.
- A man who is half beast is no longer a man. He is a monster and cannot be trusted.
- Listen to the wisdom of the elder Venatori, and pass it on.
- Be prepared for anything, but never hunt alone.
- Ask not for tribute from those we protect, but accept gifts when they are offered.
Their motto is "The hunt never ends."
Gear and Methods
The Venatori have no standard uniform except for a deep blue cloak, which is usually worn only during meetings and ceremonies. Their symbol - a silver arrowhead, sometimes engraved with a letter V or a wolf's head - is usually worn as a belt buckle or, more commonly, a brooch.
Other than these items, each venator equips himself or herself with whatever armor and weaponry they prefer. Most favor armor that is well-camouflaged and permits freedom of movement, for the best way to avoid being killed by a monster is to avoid being seen or hit. Some wealthier venators may be able to afford coats of deepsilver mail, which was standard equipment during the order's more prosperous days. Ranged weapons are always favored over melee, because most monsters are far stronger and faster than men, and it is best not to let them get close.
Venatori rely on specialized equipment for each hunt, depending on the monster they seek to kill. This equipment nearly always includes a variety of potions, and alchemy is a valuable skill among the Venatori. They may carry potions to improve their strength and their senses to be a better match for the monsters they hunt, potions to help heal wounds and cure poisons, and even rare potions that can help resist or prevent lycanthropy if they are imbibed quickly enough after infection. Since they frequently hunt beastfolk and werewolves, they typically carry a silver dagger at all times, and often silver-headed arrows as well.
Venatori are taught never to hunt alone, for a lone man is easy prey. Most patrol the Empire in pairs, sometimes traveling together for months at a time through remote territory before ever returning to one of their strongholds. When informed of a monster threat, it is their duty to investigate and respond. The Venatori sometimes refuse jobs, such as if the monster in question is not directly threatening a village or is easy enough for the villagers themselves to handle. Their code only requires them to respond to threats to Imperial lives, but if this seems to require venturing into the wilderness to destroy a den of monsters in force, they will organize a group hunt and see it done. However, Venatori do not actively seek monsters to hunt. They only respond when the monsters threaten innocent lives, and - more often than not - the Venatori do their best to seek some kind of peaceful solution, preferably one that benefits both the monsters and the humans in question. The Venatori have no desire to start a fight with one or more monsters if it can possibly be avoided.
Most jobs require no more than two Venatori, but if a Venator dies on the hunt, his brethren will travel to finish what he started and recover his body if possible. It is a hard life, and few would choose to lead it. Yet the Venatori never forcibly recruit or advertise; they wait for volunteers to join them. Because of this, their numbers are few. There are probably only a few hundred Venatori in the entire Empire.