Recently I came across these amazing photographs (by Perttu Saksa) of monkeys in Jakarta wearing doll masks. The images have been cropped down to make them fit this article, so the full effect of these images is best seen by going to his website and checking out the gallery for yourself.
These unnaturally intelligent simians make up a significant part of the merchant class in the city of GraniteSpire where they have worked together to corner the market on cloth and silver goods in the region. Most towns in the area have a few families of monkeys that trade in cloth or employ weavers, and they dominate the silver trade for leagues around.
While significantly more intelligent than a typical monkey (approaching human average on some occasions), they remain at heart monkeys. They enforce their trade dominance through swarmings, gang theft and beatings, and then return to business as usual within minutes, seemingly forgetting all about their previous behaviour and problems. This behaviour extends to how they trade – the accept no bartering and demand a (fair) price and will not budge from it. Extended attempts at barter produces the same loud, offensive behaviour as attempting to compete with them (and occasional flung feces).
Able to understand common but not speak it, they communicate mostly through simple signs and screams. They take great pride in wearing their masks, using them to show that they are better than their unmasked wild kin. However, since they don’t work in ceramics or wood (and don’t work in silver either – they have a monopoly on the trade, not the actual crafting), these masks are often abused and verge on being horrifying masquerades of human faces and dolls.
Monkeys who lose their masks are exiled from the merchant class and will be chased off and even beaten by the masked mob should they return without a mask. Others have had their masks removed and destroyed by their kin and will not be welcomed back even if they were to acquire a new one (most do eventually find a new mask anyways, because they are deeply uncomfortable interacting without one). These monkeys often become thieves, pickpockets and rogues in the undercity.
While wearing their masks, they believe that they are above the common monkey and fully on par with the humans and demihumans of Granitespire. Anyone referring to them as monkeys will arouse their ire and they will refuse to continue any trade with the offenders for 1d3 days afterwards.
Because of their monopoly over the silver trade, a few skilled and clever monkeys have become the city’s dentists. Creepy little hairy masked dentists. In addition to being fairly skilled at fillings and extractions, the dentist monkeys are also members of a secret cult who conduct midnight rituals with the teeth they have extracted from their clients to summon forth a sentient power from another realm to whom they exchange the teeth for fine porcelain doll masks and other strange favours.
(With thanks for input and ideas from Alec Henry, Peter Amthor, and Mark Van Vlack)