Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Thane Tribes - Barbarians of the Dragon's Claw Mountains

Deep in the Dragon's Claw Mountains are a race of men known as Thanes. These barbaric tribes are a savage lot, nearly as much as the orc they battle for dominance of the mountain expanses. Descended from the same folk that originally settled the region, the Thanes have reverted from their simple origins to a society of tribal warriors and superstitious folk bound by strict laws and codes of honor and taboo.

Central to any Thane village is its Sharl which is the principle shaman and political leader of the group. Sharl's are usually not the most physically able of their people but are without exception the pinnacle of cunningness and guile. Sharl's manifest their authority over their people through the subtle use of politics and the direct manipulation of spiritual and magical power. Most Sharls have a trusted band of servants who, though they may appear as simple functionaries, are usually quite adept in the ways of the warrior, the arts of deception and subterfuge. Such functionaries are known as the Sharl's Shrae.

Second and sometimes nearly equal to the Sharl is the most potent and respected warrior among a Thane village - its Thron. The Thron is a warrior of renown, selected by his people and then subjected to a lengthy process of trials directed by the Sharl. This "approval" process is known as the Kining and it is this process which ultimately decides if a village will get the Thron of its choice. Oddly, few prospective Throns seem to fail their trials. This is due in part to a very complexbit of politics which is know to go on in secret between the Thron, his proponents and the Sharl. It is generally accepted that allowing some other Thron to rise to power within the fringe-bound villages of the Thane would be potentially disastrous.

Thanes make few distinctions between men an women, with both genders fulfilling many of the same roles in their society. Though women are expected to bear children, this is done as a functional practice. Given the tough, physically demanding life of the Thanes, their womenfolk have little difficulty in preparing for the riggers of childbirth and then recovering into a strong, ready warrior mother. Children among the Thanes are considered the children of all adults in the village and take their education and upbringing from any and every adult without exception. So open is this fostering that there are no conventions of heredity in the Thane society with each adult swearing the inheritance of their worldly possessions on their death, a declaration held sacred. Every Thane village has a strong warrior core with the adults and children protected by them as prized treasures.

Though savage and considered vulgar by most civilized people, Thane daily life is designed to enforce the necessity of strength and cunning in the day to day life. Thane warriors are known to decorate themselves with their wealth, wearing precious metals in the form of jewelry and body decoration. Exploits and moments of note in a Thane's life are often recorded through the practices of tattooing and ritual scarring, marks worn with pride and no shame (some Thane are known to tattoo themselves in quite provocative places).

A Thane village is arranged in a radial arrangement with the Sharl's large central Domu hut at the center. The Domu is part council chamber, part temple. It is here that the Sharl meets with the village elders and practices the rites of his craft. Around the Domu are several stone longhouses, each housing from 10-20 Thanes. Each longhouse is an open common room with a private chamber divided off at one end for the headman of the longhouse. The headman is that longhouse's representative to the tribal council.

A Thane village also includes several structures for specific trades and crafts - tanning huts, smoke houses, smithies, drying sheds and storage huts for various dried goods (mostly berries and roots). Around the village, providing a barrier to marauders is a thick stone-faced, log palisade with several watch towers and a signal tower along its parameter. In times of need, the flare atop the signal tower is ignited to alert the Thane of that village and other nearby settlements of that need.

In all the western peaks of the Dragons Claw's there are known to be some two dozen or so Thane tribes totaling to 4000 or more barbarians. If not for the fractured nature of these tribes, the Thanes would surely be threat to any living near them. They are however unable to unite unless presented with a common threat. There is constant conflict on local levels between the Thane tribes and the local Unman tribes.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Wintermeet - Celebration of Winter Solstice

In the wilderness of the valley, the human people have found ways to keep themselves connected to their neighbors. Central to their Winter festivities is the celebration of Wintermeet. Originally just a mid-winter trade gathering, it has grown over time, into a holiday in its own rite. Marked by family and community gatherings, feasts and general festivities, the holiday of Wintermeet is celebrated on the Winter Solstice before travel becomes too perilous and most settlements are locked by snow, ice and cold-savaged beasts.

Wintermeet has been "glorified" further by the inclusion of the elves in its observance, adding a sense of magic, wonder and splendor. During the first night of the holiday's seven day observance, hopeful children waits by their windows, eager for a glimpse of the elves' midnight procession - a display of magic and pageantry specifically for the purpose of the holiday.

Though the festivities of Wintermeet are marked with feasting, games, stories and the exchange of goods and gifts, trade also occurs during these gatherings. It is not uncommon, however, for a certain generosity to be extended to those who may not be able to afford the asking price. The elves, who will have arrived during the dark hours will have set up a wonderful gift display for the community they are visiting,always seeming to include those things most needed by the folk of the settlement or township.

Festivities continue for a full three days and then the various families and groups part company in a final twilight feast, usually enjoyed in the brisk outdoor air, warmed by roaring fires and elven magic. It is not uncommon for some of the elves to escort their human friends through the cold winter wilderness to the safety of their homes.

Way Inns - The Travellers' Resting Place

In the sparsely populated Valley of Baryn, a traveler can often find himself cut off from any civilization for days, perhaps even weeks at a time. In answer to this, the people of Vale have established an institution known as the Way Inn. Way Inns are large inns, far beyond your local rest spot. Nearly a settlement in their own rite they offer accommodations beyond simple room and board, often keeping at least a blacksmith and often a tailor and/or outfitter or other services on hand. Though many of these Way Inns are family establishments, some are cooperative ventures between local craftsmen and traders.

Though each Way Inn is different and varies in size from a single large building, to several buildings standing in a cluster, and all the way to a full enclosed collection of building, protected by a defensive wall (mainly in troubled spots and near the mountains' edge), they all have a few things in common. Catering to weary travelers, they all make an attempt to satisfy the needs of travelers who may have been away from home for a long time. To this end, simple things such as baths, good food, comfortable beds, strong drink and friendly service are a must. Most Way Inns have a staff of dozens including many cooks, servants, a talented hunter (responsible for finding the finest game) and no small number of armed wardens.

As has been mentioned, other services are often available, either by specific intent by the inn's owner or as a proxy business or cooperative venture developed in partnership with the inn. One constant among these services is blacksmiths who know that such inns are a sure place to find work repairing wheels, armor, weapons and other common wares. Bower and fletching services are also commonly available as most way inns have a huntsman on hand or retainer who is glad to earn the extra coin. Less common but by no means infrequent are such services as healers, apothecaries, even scribes or map makers. Also available, mostly near the mountains, are assayers and money changers. In some cases a chapel will be attached to the Way Inn which may provide any of these services through the clergy there.

Way Inns can be vulnerable at times, due to their isolation and the small number of people living at their locations. Even the best defended Way Inn is no match for anything greater than a small raiding force. Most Way Inns greatly rely on hired help or the assistance of local wardens or wandering rangers, but such assistance is sporadic. As such, a Way Inn usually keeps a good network of informants and scouts on retainer to help them predict when a threat may be nearing and so take appropriate action. Such tasks are a good source of income for wandering warriors, sell-swords or adventurers between quests.

Way Inns are an institution in Vale and there are some that have reached a certain level of renown through reputation or in some cases, such as the Willow Brook Inn, through song and tale. Such inns are usually much more frequented than others due to their fame and can rely on more aid than others.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Whispers in the Trees - Elves in the Valley of Baryn

To the East of the Valley of Baryn, across the Dragon's Claws can be found the elven kingdom of Ilithenor. Though this land has little to do with Vale itself, its people do travel to the Valley of Baryn for a number of reasons and have for thousands of years, for the valley holds a very sacred place to the Elves - The Shrine of Imin Thiel.

Since the days when they left the valley, the elves have never tried to return to make a home. No living person can say for sure why this is and any elf asked will not share the secret. However, this is not to say that there are no elves in the valley and transient elves and small groups of local "residents" are common. These high folk are welcome guests among the humans of the valley, bringing luxurious trade goods, fare music and ancient tales of a time long gone.

Huntsmen and Rangers
The most commonly encountered elves in Vale are roving bands of warriors. These youthful (by elvish standards) and often brash warriors tend to be of noble blood and bearing. They venture across the Dragon's Claws tracking prey either for sport or to avenge some transgression in their homeland. Well-armed and equipped these elven warriors are welcome allies in times of trouble and often come to the rescue of Vale's simple, often vulnerable folk. More than once, one of these adventurers has found his way into the hearts of the men of Vale and even settled down to start a family, giving Vale its few Elfkin (half-elves).

The Willow Lodge
The only truly permanent elven settlement in the Valley of Baryn is a trading post known as the Willow Lodge. Here, nestled under the bows of a copse of ancient Moon Willows, an elvish merchant lord by the name of Celethaen has held court for three-hundred years, offering shelter to elven travelers in the valley and a place to stockpile those things the elves wish to take from the valley. A powerful soul, Celethaen commands a skilled band of warriors, hunters and a talented collection of skilled craftsmen. He is no overlord, however, and the halls of the Willow Lodge are always open to man and elf alike.

The Shrine of Imin Thiel
Thousands of years ago, before the coming of man and dwarf alike, a majestic temple to the elven gods was found at the heart of the Valley of Baryn, then known as the Bower of Iluthiel. This temple, called Imin Thiel or "Temple of Heart" was a center of elvish spirituality and even after the elves left the valley drew them in numbers for annual pilgrimages. Following the devastation of the temple at the hands of an enemy whom the elves refuse to speak of, the ruin has become a monument to the elves folly and the loss they suffered for it. Manned by a dozen or so priests at any time, the ruins of the once great temple now stand as an open-air shrine where elves come to pay respects and where any of the valley's fair folk can seek mercy and aid.

Elf and Man
As has been mentioned, elves have for some time visited and mingled with the people of the valley. This mingling sometimes turns into a desire to remain in the valley. Whether to be closer to their heritage, friends, a trade or a newfound loved one, the result is always a boon to the local community. This co-mingling of bloodlines and cultures has produced a lasting element in the valley - Elfkin.

Elfkin is the name given to the product of unions between elf and man. Though they are rare, Elfkin combine the best of both species into an often greater being. Elfkin are agile and sturdy, fair and well-built. They are not as rough as men, but do not suffer the frailties of the elves.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Harrowers of The Vale - Humanoids in the Valley of Baryn

The Valley of Baryn is surrounded on all sides save the South by the lofty peaks of the Dragon's Claw Mountains. These mighty, volcanic peaks are home to dwarves, trolls, giants and all manner of ill-blooded ilk. Most notable among these, however are what are known as the Unman Tribes - savage bands of orcs, goblins and bugbears who, though native to the region have been pushed to the fringes by men and dwarves alike.

The Unman Tribes once populated the entire valley, breaking themselves into territorial bands and tribes and squabbling and warring with one another. Nobody is sure if they are originally from the isolated valley, but it seems obvious they were the first to settle there and may have been in place for several thousand years before the coming of the dwarves. Now, the Unman Tribes are cut back and reduced from their once great mastery of the valley and the mountains that coddle it.

First to combat the Unman Tribes were the dwarves, who upon finding the Dragon's Claw Mountains rich in metals, precious stones and useful minerals, drove the orcs, goblins and others as far out of the mountains as possible. After the dwarves had finished with the work of evicting the Unman Tribes, the western peaks of the Dragon's Claw Mountains were nearly devoid of any major humanoid presence. All that remained were scattered, desperate, but particularly savage bands, the rest either having been eliminated or moving into the surrounding peaks and the valley itself.

Those that moved into the surrounding peaks become the most savage and desperate, having to eke out an existence on the windy, cold cliffs and crags of the Dragon's Claws. These went on to become such noted tribes as the Grim Skull and Mangled Hand orcs as well as the Goblins of Terror Peak. Those that joined their brethren in the eastern peaks of the Dragon's Claws were forced into conflict with those tribes and clans that already made those mountains their home and either were withered to shrunken bands or joined forces with the existing bands to make even stronger bands.

Those creatures that took refuge in the thick, dark forests of the valley itself were quite successful, taking advantage of plentiful food and changing to a new above-ground existence. Such creatures became bolder, less bothered by the rays of the sun, though they never became accustomed to direct sunlight. With more food and more room to move, they were less pressured by the limited resources of their mountain brethren and grew stronger with larger tribes. These large clans, mostly goblins, were the first contacts the early human settlers would face.

The initial conflicts between the humans and the goblins were much more in favor of the goblins. Their numbers, knowledge of the area and simple-minded cunning made the goblins of such clans as Broken Tusk, Wormwood, Toadstool, and Night Wolves and Dire Moon a daunting opponent to the human settlers. If not for a strong spirit and some late assistance from the dwarves and a traveling band of elves, visiting their ancient Shrine of Imin Thiel, the struggling settlers surely would have been put down by the vicious goblins and their allies.

But the humans did survive and once more the Unman Tribes of the Valley of Baryn were reduced to the fringes, scuttling back up into the mountains and into the tunnels of the eastern peaks of the Dragon's Claws and the dark parts of the valley's forests. They are not to be forgotten however.

To this day, the Unman Tribes of the valley and the mountains make their presence known, constantly raiding and predating the people of the region be they man, dwarf, or elf. Several of the tribes are still quite strong, especially in the fringe lands of the North on the borders of the Gully Downs. In that place the orcs of the Grim Skull and Mangled Hand clans still find their numbers swelling. In the valley proper, the Wormwood and Dire Moon goblins have bolstered into two large bands, carving out a crude nomadic lifestyle, always keeping themselves two steps ahead of any rangers and wardens who might seek their undoing.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Shire of Vale - The Holds of Men in The Valley of Baryn

It can be said that the people of Vale are a simple folk, but to do so would be to greatly under-sell them. When I first arrived in Vale, I was taken immediately by how closely its people choose to live with their environment. This is not to say that they do not exploit the resources of the region, but that they always have, in their mind, that which is the least damaging and more natural of ways to do so.

Vale is a complicated place, being void of a central government and reliant upon the civility of neighbors for any greater organization beyond the local township, one could imagine there to be a great deal of chaos. This is, of course, far from the truth. An unwritten but universally accepted rule is abided by almost every township, honoring the individual laws and rules of whatever town, village or settlement you are in. Breaking this covenant is a sorely frowned upon act and usually met with the level of disdain and reaction that such a treacherous betrayal of universal trust and kinship should. The rules and morals of these holdings is not completely random, however, as most of Vale's people come from the same original founding people who settled this place over a thousand years ago.

Ethnically speaking, the people of Vale are a dusky-skinned folk from an ancient race of seafolk who settled here during the Age of Lore. Skin tones run from an olive tone to a rich copper color with hair usually of a red or brown color, but going as dark as black. A thousand years of mingling with traders and immigrants from across the northern mountains has brought fairer skin and hair into the valley shire. The folk of Vale tend to run the middle when it comes to height averaging about 5' 8" for men and 5' 4" for women. Their build is a stocky one and though strong and powerful at their core, they always seem "well-fed" and softened. The language of Vale is known and Haelic and is a more guttural, rural derivative of that spoken in their native land of Haelden.

The Haelic people of Vale are a very equal society with men and women holding nearly equal positions in societies. This has stemmed from the stark nature of their existences and the need for everyone to be a fully functional part of their society. Though the day to day domestic duties usually fall to the mothers and wives and eldest daughters while men and sons take care of the more physical duties - hunting, fighting, farming, etc, these are not mutually exclusive by gender. For a son to help his mother with her household chores and a daughter to spend time in the woods with her father is encouraged and considered a sure way to foster well-rounded children who will more likely maintain happy marriages and foster stronger family bonds, an essential in this wilderness land.

The average family in Vale has anywhere from three to six children and most are spaced close together. The Haelic people of Vale believe in having all the children they are going to have quickly while things are good as you never know when things might take a turn for the worse and make for a risky pregnancy, birth, or both. Children are cherished members of communities and it is not uncommon for one or more younger ladies to take on the duties of caring for large collections of children from several families. Such groupings are known and Fosterings and are a central part of the Haelic child's early upbringing. Children are considered capable of adult responsibility at the age of 14 and it is at this time that they become a fully contributing member of their society.

As it has been mentioned before, Vale and the Valley of Baryn is a rich place. The people of Vale are farmers, woodsmen, hunters, miners, herders and craftsmen of all sorts. Haelic herders of Vale are known for the luxurious wool and goat hair knits that they make out of their local breeds. Haelic horses are a stout breed standing only slightly taller than a pony with a longer, bushier hair. Cattle is not well-known in Vale, the large beasts taking up far too much space to raise successfully, but there is a breed of local ox which is used for labor. The local dog breed, a half-wide crossbreed with local wolves is known as the Kopsehound and is renowned for its ability to track prey over great distances and through the thickest of underbrush.

At the southern end of the valley where it rolls down into Bethal Bay and the town of Bethalport, the men here are a stern breed, stoic and with a particularly gruff sense of humor. Brinefolk as they are known, called so because of the scent of salt and sea that seems to permeate every bit of them. Here the normal Haelic culture is tinged with that of a maritime tradition and the interaction that comes with the various tradesmen that make this rustic port a trading post as well as a fishing port. Brinefolk like to keep houses which are made more lavish than those found elsewhere in the valley. Much of this has to do with the profits to be earned through trade but also in that much of the life of a Brinefolk wife is spent at home, her luxuries the only solace during her husband's and sons' long absences at sea. This "upper scale" lifestyle has brought the term, "Brine Wife" into play, even in the northern parts of the valley where it is seen as a particularly nasty remark in reference to a lady.

The folk of Vale are what most would call rustic and prefer it that way. The simple lives they lead are full of richness and true character which has gone from most of the nations of men. They protect this freedom with a steadfastness that goes well beyond simple home defense. Outsiders are not shunned by these kind-hearted folk and it is often said that the people of Vale are far too trusting of strangers, but for them to have it any other way would be to turn their backs on the beliefs they have striven so hard to shape and maintain.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Valley of Baryn

The Valley of Baryn is an ancient glacial valley, deep and bowl-shaped and lush with ancient fertility. To the East and West the valley is flanked by the "talons" of the Dragon's Claw Mountains and to the South by Bethal Bay. The northern expanses of the valley roll into a pass over which can be found a great expanse of fertile land, known as The Gully Downs, that feeds into the wide plain.

The valley is covered in a bounty of trees both evergreen and deciduous. Pastures and fertile farmland are fed by dozens of streams, rivulets and rivers that wash down from the mountains and gather on their journey to the ocean in the form of the River Nor. Throughout the valley game are plentiful with deer, boar, geese, wild hens, bear and fox among others being found in most parts. On the mountainsides, goats, sheep as well as giant marmot and stone toads.

With the coastal winds blowing in from the South, the valley enjoys a very mild climate for being in the mountains. However, at the northern-most extreme of the valley's sloping hills and gullies, the temperature is markedly colder than on its coastal low point.

The Valley of Baryn is home the Shire of Vale, a nation of free-landed men who hold together for mutual protection and benefit. Dozens of towns, villages and settlements decorate the rolling countryside of the valley, each having its own form of government either centrally or in union with other nearby settlements. Trade between the holdings is common and mostly necessary and there is little in the way of hostility between townships and such.

All in all, the Valley of Baryn is near an idyllic place as you can find, though it does have its dangers. Though the dwarves of Har Hundir firmly control the interiors of the mountains to the West, the hillsides and rocky cliffs of both the eastern and western talons of the Dragon's Claw Mountains are home to savage tribes of orcs and goblins. Also in the eastern peaks can be found orgres and giants. The skies over the valley are also marked by the occasional wyvern, giant bird of prey. Wolves and great bears haunt the dark woods in the valley and mountains alike as do the mighty Irontusk Boars - gigantic, scyth-tusked boars with hides tough enough to turn blade and arrow alike.

Despite the dangers and isolation, the Valley of Baryn and the Shire of Vale have become a much-loved home for men and dwarves alike.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Homeland: There's No Place Like Home - For Adventure

Homeland is my new Dungeons and Dragons: 3rd Edition campaign that I'll be starting this Winter. The concept of Homeland is just what its name implies - a tale of the character's homeland and all the adventures that can occur close to home.

The idea was for a game that would center around a very detailed and fleshed out central location which the players would either be residents of natives of. In the game we would try to keep as much of the action as close to home as possible. This is not to say that the characters will never leave their home but I do want to keep things centralized as much as possible to enhance the grounded, emotional context of the game.

Hopefully all will go well. So sit back and enjoy the ride with me.
My hope is that the players will become invested in the setting as much as I, its creator, have become. If all goes well, the players and their characters will find themselves intertwined and eventually wound up in the trials and tribulations of the land they call home. Not only does this give them a chance for rich character development, but it also gives me a rare opportunity to develop a vast panoply of characters, settings and other features. World building on a micro scale.