Living Greyhawk Gazetteer Addendum: The Bitter North, Part III
|Posted on Thu, November 18, 2004 by Farcluun
|CruelSummerLord writes "The Rovers of the Barrens! The Kingdom of Schnai, the Snow Barbarians! Stonehold!
Living Greyhawk Gazetteer Addendum: The Bitter North, Part III
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THE ROVERS OF THE BARRENS
Calling themselves the People of the Plentiful Huntinglands, the Rovers of the Barrens had traveled the northern central Flanaess for longer than even the oldest elves could remember. Living in harmony with the Oerth, they fought all comers and invaders to their territory, both human and non-human. Living in an eternal cycle of hunting, celebrating, raiding and fighting, the Rovers were happy with their way of life. Though they were materially poor, they always had food to eat and lands to call their own.
With the time of the Great Migrations, the Rovers ably defended their territory against all invaders as they had done so many times. They found new enemies in the Bandit Kingdoms and the Wolf and Tiger Nomads, as well as their traditional orc, goblin and troll enemies. However, none of these foes would present so grave a threat as the wicked Horned Society. At the Battle of Opicm River in 515 CY, the Rovers gathered as a whole to wage war against the encroaching Horned Society, supported by some of the agents of Iuz. Sadly, the Rovers lost. They were scattered, defeated and lost, with but only three or four clans of a few tribes each remaining of a once-proud nation.
The Rovers fell into decline over the next few decades, as their enemies pressed them further and further still. By the time of the Greyhawk Wars, the Horned Empire had nearly destroyed them all. Devils and murderous humans, scarecely worse than their hellish companions, hunted Rovers for sport. Evil festered in the north, and the Rovers wre among the hardest hit.
Durishi Great Hound, the last Ataman of the Wardogs, suffered terrible wounds, both physical and mental, against the pit fiend that led the Horned attacks into the north. With their leader incapacitated, the Rovers seemed doomed, and so they would have been had it not been for the bravery of one young warrior and his erstwhile companion.
Tang the Horrific, a Paynim who had been once a servant of Iuz but then betrayed by the demigod and left for dead when the latter fled Dorakaa during the wars, had made his way north to join the Wolf Nomads who had raised him in his youth. With a mercenary band of nomads and cavalry, he helped rally the demoralized Rovers and led them to fight for their homelands, and they repelled the Horned troops from their land.
However, most of the Rovers were still without mounts. To acquire horses, Tang decided to raid into the Stonehold town of Vlekstaad for them. It had only token defenses, with most Fists fighting in Tenh or on the eastern tundra. The Rovers were easily able to penetrate what defenses existed, thanks to their natural talents for stealth. They found a trove of horseflesh, and would have escaped for them, but that they ran into a patrol of Fist warriors, being forced to fight for their lives.
And so the young Wardog, Nakanwa Daychaser, came to the rescue. A close friend of Tang, Daychaser had no intention of letting a man he considered his brother become slaughtered by the vile Fists. His force trapped the Fists, and helped Tang’s warriors defeat them. Tang was mortally wounded, but Nakanwa took control of the expedition. Ordering everything of value in the town seized, including the people, Nakanwa set fire to the town and fled, taking his plunder with him. Vlekstaad would then become the funeral pyre of Tang the Horrific.
Now, Nakanwa Daychaser is viewed as the savior of his people, and many are proclaiming him the new Ataman. He has brought horses and meat to the people, and also new members. The captive women were wed and the children adopted, many of them getting a better life than they could have ever expected in the brutal climate of Stonehold. They fear the vengeance of the Fists, and so do not reveal their rebirth. But, ever since the fateful Battle of Opicm River so long ago, they have something they have lacked for far too long:
Society and Culture: The rugged land of the Rovers has precluded them ever developing anything approaching civilization, and indeed Rover elders say they spurned even the ancient civilizations of their southern Flan kinsmen. Cities and technology hold no interest to them, and they view gold and gems as merely worthless rubble. To them, a man’s wealth is measured in his personal prestige and respect among his kin. They teach that truly blessed is the man who shares what he has, for the gods must have shown him favor by granting him so much wealth that he could not use it all himself.
While the Rovers are chaotic in alignment, this is not out of any tendance towards lunacy or anarchy on their part. They simply have little central hierarchy, with decisions being made rather on consensus and discussion. Leaders among the Rovers are not those who dominate those around them by force of arms or the hoarding of riches; they are those people who act as level-headed guides in debate, and encourage those who are normally silent to voice their opinions. Family is treated kindly and all those in the tribe are regarded as equals-slavery is nonexistent among the Rovers. Only in the matter of horses is there any social competiton-the stronger a man’s horse, the stronger his ability to fight and hunt. Horses can mean the difference between life and death in the harsh northlands for the Rovers.
The Rovers, for all their egalitarian social mores, still have a need for organization and rank. To this end, each clan elects a war chief, who has authority over his people in times of battle, though not in everyday life. These chiefs can lead their clans as a separate battle force, though they have no authority over the Wardogs. The Wardogs are a force made up of the greatest warriors of each clan, and remain outside the social hierarchy of any individual clan. They are charged with protecting the people and hunting down those invaders to their lands. When they are not needed, the Wardogs remain with their own clans, but they can assemble in a matter of days when the need arises.
The best warrior of the Wardogs could be considered the leader of the nation, though only in a very loose sense. The Ataman, or Chief of the Wardogs, as he is called, is the leader and director of the Wardogs. Through them, he wields very limited authority over all the clans, which in practice means that he mediates disputes and can discipline individual tribes who anger the rest of the people. He can also call the whole of the nation to war when necessary, though this is only done rarely; if the Ataman exceeds his authority, the Rovers will simply depose him and nominate a new leader from among the Wardogs.
Life as a Rover generally consists of a cycle of hunting and fishing in the warm seasons, before joining with one’s kin to raid the civilized peoples of the south. This annual routine is comfortable for the Rovers, who use it as a way to express their connection with the oerth and their harmony with nature. They view any disruption of the natural flow of life as a grave wrong. Hence, they reject civilized mores.
In addition to having no use for civilization, the Rovers view it as a thing of evil; all peoples to the south, some of them claim, are wicked and debased, having been corrupted by evil forces. To this end, the Rovers as a people do not get along with demihumans or outsiders, with the exception of the elves of the Forlorn Forest. Those few demihumans that share the Rover lands are subject to raids and harassment, and they have to defend themselves constantly as a result. Other humans who come into Rover lands are generally watched and tolerated, if they do not cause harm. If they attack a Rover, or in general begin desecrating the land, the Wardogs will be there within a matter of days to exact a terrible punishment on these defilers. Those who attempt to trade with the Rovers have found them stubborn and reticent, unwilling to accept anything that ‘civilized’ man has to offer. They will only offer hides and furs in exchange for metal weapons, and only because most of their enemies use weapons and armor of metal.
Military Structure: Individual Rover bands varied in professionalism and training, though they all held their own in skirmishes against individual bands of enemies. Each tribe’s forces are organized into loose warbands, commanded by the clan warchief. They all have light cavalry who are among the best in the Flanaess; Rover children often learn to ride horses before they learn to walk. This cavalry uses lance and javelin, though there are many fine archers among the Rovers as well. They also use lariats and ropes to hamstring enemy cavalry and formations. The riders of all surrounding nations have suffered at the hands of these forces, in whose hands rope acts as if it were alive.
The Wardogs have all of these units in their forces, but they also have strong foot soldiers that wield hatchets and hide shields. Blessed with extraordinary speed, endurance and agility, the Wardogs take great pleasure in wreaking havoc among enemy cavalry. They also are skilled at shaping the ebb and flow of battle to their own tastes, using their maneuverability and bravado to taunt the enemy into the shape and formation they want so the cavalry can slaughter them. This is particularly effective against the Fists.
Ruler: Kishwa Dogteeth was a typical Ataman for the Rovers of the Barrens. Short, compact and very fast, he was clever and witty, often using tales and parables to trick both his kinsmen and his enemies alike. He had a passion for the tales and wisdom of the elders, and used his influence to reinforce the old custom that every child would get the benefit of their knowledge before being considered full adults. In battle, he was brave and fearless, and he enjoyed using his wit and insolent personality to anger his enemies so they would stumble into a trap or leave themselves wide open to a devastating blow from his hatchet. Perhaps the only Rover to ever wield a magical weapon, Kishwa saw a use for sorcery that most of his kinsmen ignored, and encouraged its development among the few Rovers that had the gift.
Kishwa would eventually meet his end in a battle with ogres and Fists in 580 CY, unless chroniclers decide he died in some other manner. Brave and cunning to the end, he mocked and insulted his dim-witted foes into chasing him and his forces away from the camp they were raiding, allowing the women and children time to escape. As he died, hurled off a cliff after being skewered on a spear, he supposedly laughed at his killers, telling them how they were too much like ogres and Fists for their own good. What he meant by this, no one can say.
Durishi Great Hound was once a great man. Tall and thin, not physically powerful but with the speed of a cheetah and the endurance of a bear, Great Hound was a formidable warrior with any weapon, though he favored the halberd he had taken from a bandit he slew in his youth. A traditional leader, Great Hound made fiery, rousing speeches to his warriors before combat, and then led by example once battle was joined. He feared nothing and no man, and his courage was without peer among the Wardogs. Not overly smart, he lacked the wit of his predecessor Kishwa, but easily matched the latter in bravery and skill.
All this changed when Great Hound fought against the pit fiend that led the Horned advance into Rover lands. Giving it his all, there was nothing Great Hound could do to even harm the mighty beast, and it crushed him and left him for dead on the battlefield.
Great Hound survived, but he suffered grevious wounds, both to his body and soul. The knowledge that he failed when his people needed the most never left him, and it is this guilt that is even now driving him into the grave. Broken and prematurely grayed by the experience, he now awaits death at Dogwind Bay, the traditional meeting place of all the Rovers. Those who come to see him, including Nakanwa Daychaser, have found that his mind is no longer of this oerth. He has drifted into a world of dreams, where the spirits of the oerth and of his ancestors attempt to heal his wounds. He speaks in tongues, and has visions all the time, speaking out loud, though he cannot seem to hear anyone in the room with him. Some might say he has become delusional from his experiences and his failures, but the elders know better. They say that Great Hound’s heart and soul are now with his ancestors and has returned to the Oerth, and that his body will soon join them.
Nakanwa Daychaser looks much like a younger version of Durishi Great Hound, and is much like him in personality and demeanor, though much more intelligent. However, unlike Great Hound, the young Wardog has a genuinely kind and gentle personality when not in battle. While Great Hound was always curt and rough, Daychaser seems to have a split personality. Violent and merciless on the battlefield, Daychaser always acted like a saint towards other Rovers and even foreign traders and prisoners of war. He would never allow prisoners to be harmed or tortured, and would strike blows against any Rover who did so. Always able to defend himself, Daychaser never suffered punishment because of his bravery and tactical brilliance in battle.
Nakanwa Daychaser may perform morally ambiguous acts in war, but he always attempts to do so in a way that will cause the least possible harm to those who might suffer unnecessarily. When he seized the citizens of Vlekstaad after Tang the Horrific’s raid into Stonehold, he ensured that the women and children would be married to and adopted by good men and kindly families. He tried to ensure that their transition into Rover society would be as smooth and easy for them as possible.
Daychaser is now the de facto Ataman of the Rovers of the Barrens, though officially he cannot be named such until Great Hound dies. He leads warriors in battle and in peace, and has become the glue keeping Rover society together in these very troubled times. Seen as the savior of his people, Daychaser has taken every step he can to ensure he lives up to that title. He does so with honor and dignity, treating all as his equals. He also attempts to make his men behave in the same way. Disputes that would formerly lead to violence are now settled amiably, and any abuse of prisoners of war or innocent non-combatants by Rover warriors, especially Wardogs, is harshly punished.
Foreign Relations: Insular and withdrawn, the Rovers of the Barrens held close friendships only with the elves of the Fellreev and Forlorn Forests, and the centaurs who shared their land. These peoples shared their reverence for the land and its denizens, and similarly spurned civilization. Even the hateful grugach of the Fellreev regarded the Rovers with something less than loathing.
All other groups, including those gnomes and halflings who lived within the Rovers’ lands, were either regarded as enemies or simply ignored. Subject to raid and harassment, the short folk have similarly become suspicious and defensive towards all strangers, except those of their own race. As for humans from further south, only Individual traders are tolerated. These rare and very lucky few bring the Rovers metal weapons in exchange for furs, which can fetch very high prices in their own countries. They have become fabulously wealthy as a result, leading other southerners to contemplate seizing the furs for themselves. Any incursions of this nature will, of course, be harshly dealt with by the Wardogs.
THE SNOW BARBARIANS
The Snow Barbarians, or kingdom of Schnai, are the strongest and most powerful of the Suel barbarians in the northeastern Flanaess, having suffered very little from the tragedies of the Greyhawk Wars. While Stonehold ravaged all its other neighbors, the Schnai were able to emerge relatively unscathed, though they had to contend with several scattered warbands, which they defeated easily. The Snow Barbarians did suffer one tragic loss, however-old King Orvung was slain by frost giants who had allied with the Fists invading Schnai. This suited the gray-bearded king fine, for he had no wish to die of sickness in bed, though he was mourned by all his people. His eldest son Ingemar took control of the Schnai troops and routed the invaders, and in 584 CY he was officially crowned as the new king.
Ingemar is in a very interesting political situation. Of the three barbarian kingdoms, his is easily the strongest. King Lolgoff of the Ice Barbarians has been disgraced, and King Hundgred of the Frost Barbarians is already making bold proclamations of his kingdom’s independence from the Snow Barbarians. Orvung, the savage brute that he was, would happily have gone to war to deal with both of his weakened neighbors, but Ingemar prefers not to be so hasty. Both of his fellow barbarian kings suffer from restless populations, and he knows that the Scarlet Brotherhood is present throughout all the barbarian kingdoms. He believes that all these factions and factors can be manipulated to his advantage, and that he can outmaneuver them all. Of course, should he have to go to war, his powerful armies, who saw little action during the Wars, will be happy to do so…
Society and Culture: The Snow Barbarians, in a way, represent the middle ground between the Ice and Frost Barbarians. Neither as organized and cooperative as the Fruztii, nor as independent and individualistic as the Cruski, the Schnai are a rough, unforgiving people in a rough, unforgiving land. They discourage open conflict among themselves, but battles over everything from the rights to own slave women to simple matters of honor take place regularly among the barbarians. What passes for law in individual jarldoms and the kingdom as a whole are a mix of written agreements adhered to by blood oath, and whatever whims the jarls dictate over their own provinces. The jarls wield a great deal of authority, more than their counterparts in either kingdom, and use it to lord over their people as a whole. Slaves and weaker members of society are treated brutally-men wield the power of life and death over their wives, children and slaves, and act accordingly. There is no chance even for a slave or woman to improve their lot in life, as there is among the Ice Barbarians.
Allegiances constantly shift, duels and small-scale conflicts erupt, and clan intrigues occur regularly, making for a very fluid society. However, there remain a constant set of conventions related to a person’s role in society, which has its own expectations of everyone from the king down to the poorest halfling slave. The king is expected to respect the authority of his jarls in their areas of authority; jarls must avoid going too far in their conflicts and contests with each other; common men are required to set aside grudges when required; women and slaves are required to obey their masters, under penalty of death. Law enforcement is related to these conventions; men who steal, for instance, have a hand cut off, while men who commit murder (as opposed to killing a man in an acceptable duel) are themselves killed in public.
The king wields great but limited powers in his realm-he may declare war, treat with other nations, and pass laws as he sees fit, but he needs to have the approval of most of his jarls to carry out the most far-reaching actions. The provincial jarls are all very powerful in Schnai society, and can block the king’s action or even force him to act the way they want, if enough of them come to agree on a certain course of action for their monarch. Being an effective king of the Snow Babarians means being able to either manipulate the jarls and win their approval, or simply being so fierce and powerful that they dare not oppose you.
The jarls meet annually at the Assembly of Knudje, in the town of the same name. The king is not allowed to attend these meetings, and any spies he sends are brutally and mercilessly killed if they are caught. Here, the jarls discuss their course of action in their dealings with the king, settle various judicial disputes, and coordinate military action against humanoids or their neighbors. They also select delegates to speak to the king, to have him resolve disputes that the jarls themselves cannot agree on, and to discuss their desires for the nation and seek out compromise with the king. Whichever faction is more powerful usually carries the day-Orvung, for his part, was so fierce and dangerous that few of his jarls dared risk his wrath by openly opposing him.
The king also wields some tools to work his influence among his jarls. His own strength and charisma, and the amount of fear his jarls feel for him, are his greatest assets. He may censure the most troublesome jarls, and grant his favors to others, which leads to the positions of these nobles being weakened. He may refuse the services of his own private armies to those jarls who displease him, when the barbarians must take the field. And, he has a company of the fiercest berserkers in the country among his household, who he may dispatch as “emissaries” to harass jarls who have not responded to his less harsh ways of persuasion.
Military Structure: The best of the Frost Barbarians’ organization and the Ice Barbarians’ fierceness blend together in the excellent armies of the Snow Barbarians. Wielding sword and axe in battle, they carry round shields and wear chain mail coats. All of these barbarians combine into formidable units of light and medium infantry to match any of their neighbors. Berserkers are also common, and they are used as shock troops, to absorb the main attacks of their enemies, and can be counted on to take down many foes before they die.
Archers exist exclusively among the king’s own soldiers, which may not be commanded by the jarls under any circumstance. They are good, but cannot hope to compare to the men of places like Highfolk or Geoff. His cavalry, wielding long, scything axes, are also of rare quality in the far north, but they are few in number and have little field experience, except as the king’s own guard in the field.
The Schnai are fortunate to have the best navy of all the barbarians, and they are always the leaders when raiding season begins and the longships sail south. They gain rich plunder from the Solnor Coast, Lordship of the Isles, and Sea Barons, far more than their cousins, but things are taking a turn for the worse among the sailing Suel barbarians. The resistance of the Sea Barons has become much stronger in recent years, and the last two campaigning seasons have proven catastrophic to those barbarians who invade the Barons, with most fleets never coming home. Invading the Lendore Isles has also proven foolhardy-those barbarians often return mad, and are slain out of mercy to rescue them from their lunacy.
Ruler: Orvung was, literally, the size of a giant troll. Just over eight feet tall, with blondish-grey hair that flowed down to his chest, fists the size of iron gauntlets, and over a thousand scars from ten times as many battles, Orvung drove many people to fear and panic even when he was calm and in a jolly mood, which was unfortunately rare. His roaring, bellowing voice, brightly glowing blue eyes, and frightening leer of a grin made all around him, even his own fierce bodyguard, fear he would explode into a killing frenzy at any moment.
So fierce and deadly a fighter was Orvung, that it was believed that the only man in all the north-eastern Flanaess who could rival him in combat was Sevvord Redbeard himself. Wielding a magical two-handed battleaxe he won in a titanic wrestling match with a frost giant king, Orvung enjoyed plunging into the middle of a melee and swinging away with wild abandon, and was never happier than when he was in battle.
He was not, however, stupid; he knew the effect his frightful attitude had on people, and he exploited it with everyone around him. He could intimidate his jarls into following his own course of action; he could force his wives and slave girls to engage in sessions lasting literally days; and he could stop even vicious trolls cold with his glare. Never one for subtlety, Orvung exploited his legendary strength and hair-trigger temper to get what he wanted.
And yet, there was another side to him. He could act towards children and young people with incredible calm and almost gentleness; he could show profound affection to those men he recognized as brothers on the field of combat, and was inclined to flog those men whose abuse of their wives and slaves infuriated even him.
A man of strange contradictions and emotions, Orvung could also be exploited by those who knew how to play on his pride and his ego. King Ralff of the Fruztii did this the best. Manipulating his sovereign with praise and admiration, Ralff had managed to subtly convince Orvung to give more and more leeway to the Frost Barbarians, who the Snow Barbarians ostensibly controlled.
King Ingemar Hartensen is the eldest of his father’s many, many children. Much smaller than his brutish father, and also much more restrained and almost friendly, Ingemar is restrained, genial and even friendly to those who visit his court. He is a conciliator, where his father was an intimidator; he is a gentleman where his father was a beast. Many people are caught off guard when dealing with Ingemar, for they cannot expect the savage beast Orvung to have sired such a seemingly friendly and gentle man.
Of course, Ingemar knows this, and exploits it for all its worth. While is genuinely caring and friendly, treating his household in the manner of a Frost Barbarian, he is also a cunning politician who knows how to manipulate peoples’ perceptions of him for best effect. In this respect, he is not unlike his father, though he takes a completely opposite approach; using diplomacy instead of fear to get what he wants. He is altruistic enough in his own way, though he does not hesitate to act for the good of his nation.
He is currently mulling over whether to attack his weakened Fruztii and Cruski neighbors, to slowly assimilate the two nations, or indeed whether to do anything at all. He knows full well that neither the Frost nor Ice Barbarians would tolerate Snow encroachment on their lands, and would set their differences aside to chase the Schnai out of their lands. His jarls are also becoming more assertive and demanding, as he does not cow them into submission the way his father Orvung did.
The Scarlet Brotherhood is also a factor-Ingemar receives them at court, but feels growing alarm over what he perceives as their true agenda, and confesses-only to his closest confidantes-that he has no love or trust for them. What Ingemar will do is questionable. He has resorted to feting and rewaring the most influential jarls in order to gain their loyalty, a practice which he has extended to certain Frost Barbarian jarls. This is viewed as blatant bribery by some, especially the older Frost jarls, but so far it has won Ingemar praise from the jarls, but they demand more and more friom him, while also making greater and greater demands. He must step warily regarding his relations with both Hundgred and Lolgoff, for he cannot afford to openly antagonize either one, weakened as they are. And he must also carefully weigh his words when dealing with the Scarlet Brotherhood, for he knows full well what they did to the Ice Barbarians they can do to the Snow Barbarians. On the other hand, he does not want them to gain any sort of influence over his jarls.
Foreign Relations: Occasionally the ally and the enemy of Cruski and Fruztii, Schnai wields more influence than both of them put together by virtue of its power and wealth. Currently, both of the former nations are retrenching and trying to deal with looming political crises at home, even as the Schnai have problems of their own to deal with, even as they wield the balance of power in the Thillonrian Peninsula.
The Schnai are devoted and hated enemies of the peoples of the south. Every nation along the Solnor Coast, whether the Great Kingdom, Rel Astra, or Northern Aerdy, suffer from endless raids by the Snow Barbarians. The Sea Barons and Lordship of the Isles also have a fierce rivalry with their northern enemies, and the Schnai are the most jealous of all of the incredible vessels and skill of the two southern sea powers.
Ever since the Coltens Feodality was conquered by Vlek Col Vlekzed in the late 400s CY and turned into the Hold of Stonefist (now Stonehold), the Snow Barbarians have always been that nation’s enemy. The brutality and evil of the Fists and their rhelt, Sevvord Redbeard, appalled even the fierce old Orvung, and his people as a whole. The two countries clash on and off, though things never remain calm for long. Every spring, the Snow Barbarians expect another invasion from their savage neighbors, which they anticipate with relish, savoring the chance to slay some more of what they consider the vilest human people in the Flanaess.
STONEHOLD, KINGDOM OF (FORMERLY HOLD OF STONEFIST)
The Hold of Stonefist was among the most reviled and hated nations in the Flanaess, its evil reputation confirmed time and again in the vicious raids it carried out upon all its neighbors-Tenh, the Bandit Kingdoms, the Rovers of the Barrens, and the Suel barbarian kingdoms. The savagery of these attacks, the sadism of the people towards each other, and the appalling conditions of the Hold’s slaves further contributed to the disgust that even the hardened Aerdi and Bandits held for the Stoneholders.
The Hold’s reputation as a nation of cold-blooded killers remained intact during the Greyhawk Wars, when it invaded Tenh, Cruski, Fruztii, and the Barrens all at once. Briefly duped into these attacks by Iuz, the charm the Old One had cast over the Master of the Hold, Sevvord Redbeard, was broken just as the attacks had begun. He then proceeded to kill the servants of Iuz within his own realm as mercilessly as he sacked and burned his neighbors.
Redbeard’s campaigns had mixed results. Tenh was ravaged and looted, but the brave Tenhas finally claimed victory against the Holders, driving them away. The Frost Barbarians had suffered badly, and only drove the Stoneholders away after incredible bloodshed. The Rovers of the Barrens suffered greatly, but they also managed to plunder Vlekstaad for horses, food and citizens, resulting in a political black eye for the Master of the Hold. The Ice Barbarians suffered the worst-they lost control of the Taival Tundra, and every man, woman and child who were killed or taken prisoner that day were impaled and used as grisly milestones on a road that would be constructed back to Kelten in the Hold proper.
While conquest was not entirely successful, the Stoneholders had obtained rich plunder in both money and slaves, and greatly enjoyed the carnage they caused. Despite all this, there was a looming political crisis at home. Vlek Col Vlekzed, the founder of the Hold, had built his nation upon the ruins of an older one, the Coltens Feodality. The Coltens people who remained were in servitude, but they had their own battalions in the Hold’s armies. Unlike the brutal Rite of Battle Fitness that was used to determine political standing among the Stoneholders, the people of the Coltens used free elections to determine who their leaders would be.
The Rite of Battle Fitness had grown increasingly unpopular even among Stoneholders, for it had caused the death of so many promising leaders that its participants dwindled in number so seriously that it was feared the line of Vlekzed -who were the only ones allowed to participate in the Rite-would die out completely. In truth, this was as Sevvord Redbeard wanted it-he had arranged the deaths of many of his most dangerous rivals through manipulation of the Rite.
Stoneholders became bitterly divided-some wanted to extend the traditions of the Coltens to their own system of choosing leaders, while others disdained the pathetic Coltens folk and insisted upon retaining the Rite, for it distinguished them from the feeble weaklings whose land they had taken.
This conflict threatened to spiral dangerously out of control, but Sevvord Redbeard managed to defeat the issue with a simple but brilliant compromise, that ultimately benefited himself the most. He proposed that he would take the title of rhelt, or king, and his position would become hereditary, as would those of the atamans and the tribal nomad chiefs. He would allow warriors to elect their band leaders instead of being chosen by the Rite of Battle Fitness, and the Rite itself was made to be more physically survivable while remaining dangerous and challenging. Participation in the Rite was extended to all, and those who survived it were rewarded by being able to serve in the rhelt’s private army, where the wealth, plunder and prestige were the very best. Finally, the Hold of Stonefist was given a new name: The Kingdom of Stonehold.
With a newly re-energized political machine, a population rich with booty, and the cunning of a demon, Redbeard had made his nation into perhaps the most powerful in all the northeastern Flanaess, except perhaps for the Snow Barbarians. It bodes ill for his neighbors, as the Fists are eager, ready and willing to march once again…
Society and Culture: Stonehold, at any time, is one of the vilest and most despicable nations in the Flanaess, little better than the societies of the most depraved giants or orcs. Men will murder each other in death-duels to prove a point; women and demihumans, except for dwarfs who are as vile as their human neighbors, are treated as slaves; slaves themselves are subject to the most horrible treatment; the people openly treat with every kind of humanoid monster, from goblins to formorians; the forces of the rhelt or lesser leaders enforce the law in an arbitary manner; and the law itself is whatever the rhelt and his lesser leaders decide that day.
The base of society is a chaotic morass where only the strong survive. Those who prosper are almost exclusively human and male (half-elves and half-orcs are ceremonially killed), and everyone else must somehow attempt to survive, as they have little to no protection from the brutes that would mistreat them. Slaves must do whatever their masters tell them, or they will be subject to slow death. The Stoneholders take particular pleasure in making their human property perform the most degrading tasks known to man.
Above this are the atamans of the towns and the nomadic tribes. These eight clans divide the whole of Stonehold society, and rivalries and battles between then are frequent. Each one can do almost anything he wishes within his own territory, and can only be unseated by a challenger who succeeds at the Rite of Battle Fitness. Now that these positions are hereditary, the abuses of the atamans and chiefs have become even more gross and outrageous.
The Master of the Hold wielded absolute power, being able to do anything to anyone. As could be expected, most Masters wielded this authority freely, and could get away with outrages that would not be tolerated even in a place like Aerdy. This state of affairs has changed little with the master now being a rhelt.
The Rite of Battle Fitness was formerly a way to determine the political leaders of the Hold. Consisting of a variety of tests measuring the skill of participants in such areas as weapon skill, intelligence, and charisma, the Rite had a scoring system that ranked all those who participated. The overall winner was allowed to choose to challenge either the Master of the Hold, any of the atamen, or to simply become a war chief. Those who finished below the winner would be allowed some of these options, or would simply become warband leaders, depending on how well they did, with the higher-scoring competitors obviously getting first choice. However, only the top winner had the authority to challenge the Master of the Hold. The Rite was only open to the descendants of Vlek Col Vlekzed, founder of the Hold, and to no one else. Since the conversion of the Hold into a kingdom, the Rite is open to all warriors, those who serve in it being allowed to serve in the rhelt’s private army, where the plunder and action are greatest. The way of the warrior is deeply ingrained among the Stoneholders, and they take it to a level far beyond what would be expected of their brutish culture.
Isolated from all this are the people of the old Coltens Feodality, the nation conquered by Vlekzed and upon which was built the Hold. They are not allowed even the most basic rights that Stoneholders are given, and are segregated from the rest of society. However, they are somewhat fortunate in that they manage to avoid the worst abuses the Stoneholders inflict on each other. They form their own separate warbands in combat, and are more often used as scouts and rearguards, rather than seeing any heavy action.
Military Structure: Stonehold commands one of the most fearsome fighting forces in all the Flanaess. Its vicious warriors combine the worst aspects of Sueloise passion and Flan battle-lust, and often are little better than human wolverines who fly into a killing frenzy at the sight of the enemy, without any regard for strategy or tactics. They use no finesse whatsoever, but sometimes that is enough to break even the most brilliantly planned diversion or guerilla tactics.
The army is organized into three separate battalions of light cavalry, light infantry, and heavy infantry. They use any type of weapon, but prefer vicious ones such as morning stars, battleaxes, and flails. These battallions are further broken down into bands of 250 fighters all of the same type, and these bands are called “Fists”. They are all uniformly dangerous and horrible opponents for anyone, even the brave warriors of Tenh or the mighty warriors of the Cruski.
Those people in the Coltens Feodality are not as well-trained or as fierce as their Stoneholder bretheren. They are generally used as rearguards and scouts, and tend to be disdained by their fellows as a whole. Poorly trained and armed, they tend to be kept in reserve as a last resort in battle, or simply ignored by war leaders.
Ruler: Iuz is a sociopath bent on world domination, and Rhelt Sevvord Redbeard, Master of Stonehold, is a psychopath bent simply on satisfying his own twisted pleasures. A giant of a man to rival Orvung, with a flaming shock of red hair and beard, Redbeard dyes his face and hair with frightening patterns of war-paint in clashing colors, specifically tailored for every encounter to have the greatest effect possible upon those he meets. He will paint his whole body, wearing only a loincloth and boots, or dress in vicious black, spiked plate mail, depending on the mood that strikes him. His face is covered in spikes and studs, which do nothing to diminish his nightmarish appearance.
Redbeard is pure evil. A brilliant, calculating strategist, he can strike the perfect balance of keeping his forces loyal through the rewarding of plunder and slaves, and keeping them afraid of him by flying into random rages and breaking random victims in two. He takes great pleasure in controlling his moods and actions to keep those around him confused and off-balance, and even more so instilling a fear in them that only a dragon could hope to match.
Redbeard is likely the greatest human warrior in the Flanaess. None can match his skill with the sword, the axe, the spear, or any other weapon one can name. He is also an incredible tactician, being able to maximize the savage nature of his soldiers for best effect, and using the warbands of those who would disobey him as cannon fodder, to absorb the worst of an enemy attack.
Any who meet Redbeard must choose their words and actions carefully, for he has no compunctions about killing someone on the spot for insolence, disobedience, failure, or simply because he is in a bad mood. Even his most loyal commanders fear invoking his wrath. When he is drunk, he is totally unapproachable-even giant trolls and ettins have been beaten into submission by him when wine removes what few inhibitions keep him at all restrained.
Foreign Relations: Stonehold has no relations with any neighboring nation. It exists simply to ravage and plunder them, and they all hate it for its vile nature and the murderous raids it sends against them. Engaged in perpetual war with their enemies, the Fists are the only ambassadors Stonehold sends to other countries, and they bring only death.
||Average Score: 4