Reconsidering the role of place in the Ancient Lands

When it comes to working on the Ancient Lands, probably the most difficult thing about it has always been the subject of places. Cultures, Creatures, and Cosmology have always been my greatest strengths and I am totally in love with what I have created over the last four years. But places have never really worked out and after all this time I still have no real map for the whole setting.

I think a major part of that comes from the Ancient Lands being in many ways the synthesis of two different kinds of fiction: Fantasy RPG settings and space opera videogames. I always had in mind a reincarnation of Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect in the form of a bronze age Sword & Sorcery world. A concept I still fully believe in. Mass Effect is born directly out of Star Wars (so they could continue their game series unbound by a license) and Star Wars is a direct descendant of the John Carter novels with a bunch of old Samurai movies thrown in. And John Carter really is the granddaddy of both Space Opera and Sword & Sorcery. They are two divergent branches from the same root and at their very heart they tick the same and follow the same logic.

The cognitive dissonance I am struggling with is how these two main sources deal with maps. Fantasy roleplaying games are obsessed with maps of very high detail, while space opera doesn’t have any. And it doesn’t need to. Everyone travels by space ship and using hyperdrive. When distance doesn’t matter, relative position is meaningless as well. Now you are here and next you are there. That’s all there is. Somewhat paradoxically, even with a whole galaxy as the environment, the setting always only extends as far as the eye can see. These universes are so mind bogglingly huge that trying to write down everything is impossible, so nobody tries. Fantasy RPGs are different. They very often opperate by the unspoken logic that you can indeed catalogue every single major settlement and prominent landmark of an entire continent on a single page. Which is of course preposterous, but nobody really thinks about it or questions it. When creating a fantasy world, the instinct is very powerful to start with a map. But in this particula case it completely doesn’t work. The most important Space Opera element I want to capture is the sensation of vast emptiness of space. Having a satellite view map of the setting directly contradicts that and cancels it out. I think I now realize that a traditional RPG map can not work for the Ancient Lands.

When you look at Star Wars and Mass Effect, “worlds” really just consist of space ports and landing sites. And perhaps a short footmarch away from those. For a while that was an approach I tried to work with. But the bronze age setting focused on tribal society is meant to deal primarily with the villages in the wild, with the big cities being more like fancyful stories that most people never get to see, so I soon abandoned that. Of course, how would you make a map based world the size of a continent that consists only of small and mostly generic villages? That also is completely doomed to fail, but I guess I never really thought about it until now.

It seems that a completely different approach is required to tackle this. One source I will be going back to for this are the two great sandbox settings by Kevin Crawford, Red Tide and . I think that seems like a very viable approach to what I have in mind. Maybe I’ll also give Stars Without Number another more careful look. It is clear that I can not create an encyclopedia of all major and interesting settlements. Instead I think I should rathe concentrate of creating a good but overseeable number of towns and villages that serve as examples of how these usually look in the Ancient Lands. Not just as templates for making campaign specific locations, but also as completely functional sites to be used for adventures. But I think the main focus should really be on describing both cultures and environments in sufficient detail to give a good sense of their identities and dynamics. Within reason, of course. Something like a 120 page book for each culture would be nonsense. But say perhaps three or four pages for each of the 20 cultures? Add to that a section on different types of wilderness environments, a good number of full page settlements, and a bit about technologies and magic and you got a good size setting book that is both complete and not overwhelming. Some kind of map is of course still needed, but it can be a really crude one that only shows major land masses, main ports, and the largest mountain ranges. Like actual ancient and medieval maps did. Sadly I don’t remembe where, but a while ago I read a good post complaining about the wrong assumptions that are being evoked by most fantasy maps and how they put players and GM in the wrong frame of mind, assuming a world of extensive and complete geographic surveying. This might be a great opportunity to try out some different, more “oldschool” types of maps and seeing how they affect the experience.

AGE of High Adventure

I’ve been reading the Fantasy Age Basic Rulebook for the last week and I am really quite taken with it. It feels a lot like an expanded version of Barbarians of Lemuria in many ways, being somewhat more complex but using a very similar approach to how to design and run a game. Though the options for races, specializations, spells, and monsters are very generic, the rules and mechanics of the AGE system have really won me over. It’s a fantasy RPG like I would have done it myself, if I would attempt to create my own game. When someone in a forum thread pointed out that Fantasy Age is a game he’d run pretty much without houserules, I realized that this pretty much goes for me as well.

But to run a Sword & Sorcery game with Fantasy Age, there’s still a few tweaks I think work very well for it:

  • Normally in Fantasy Age, characters get training in a number of default weapon groups and that’s it. (Warriors get two additional groups later on.) For Sword & Sorcery I feel it’s entirely appropriate to allow rogues and even mages to become somewhat decent with bigger weapons. So when characters are able to take a new weapon group Focus for either the Accuracy or Fighting ability when gaining a new level, they can instead pick training for a new weapon group. All characters can get both training and the Focus for a weapon group this way (though obviously at different levels.
  • “Magic” weapons and armor of the Uncommon and Rare categories are not actually magic. They are simply made from superior materials and with advanced craftsmanship. Only items of the Legendary category are actually enchanted.
  • In a Bronze Age or Iron Age setting, the Black Powder, Dueling, and Lances weapon groups would not be available. In the Heavy Blades group, two-handed swords might be removed and the bastard sword replaced with a kopis or falcata.
  • When using experience points, the default way to award XP for an encounter is to judge how hard the player characters had to fight for their success. In a Sword & Sorcery campaign, the amount of XP can instead be based on how heroically, impressive, and flashy the players were fighting. This encourages the players to not play it safe but to constantly try to do things that are entertaining and impress the GM, even if they are reckless and foolhardy.
  • Since Sword & Sorcery characters generally have few possessions, are frequently broke, and there isn’t a lot of things to buy with money in Fantasy Age, you can easily run a campaign in which money plays no role at all. However, an exception can be made for unusually and extremely valuable treasures, such as a gold idol or a giant ruby. Since their monetary value has very little meaning to the players, you can still use this classic element of pulp adventures by rewarding them with experience points instead. Whenever the players manage to get their hands on such a special treasure and manage to sell it, award them 400 XP as if they had overcome a Hard (or Heroic) encounter. If they somehow lose it again before selling it, they get nothing. Finding such special treasures and successfully getting them to a town and sold can be thought of as an optional bonus objective that doesn’t have much to do with the main subject of the adventure. This encourages players to still look for valuable loot and break into well protected places to satisfy their greed, and also can make for great side-adventures if they somehow happen to lose one or having it stolen.

My approach to running Sword & Sorcery campaigns

Someone was asking me about advice for running a Sword & Sorcery themed campaign in an RPG. Since that’s a pretty open question regarding a rather wide topic, I thought this might be a good subject for a full length post.

I think the first thing here would be to establish what I specifically mean when I am talking about Sword & Sorcery. Unlike most names for fantasy sub-genres, Sword & Sorcery has an actual and pretty specific meaning. Not everyone is using it the same way, but in this case we know exactly who created the term and what his intention was by doing so, so we can actually say that some people are just using is wrong. In 1961, Michael Moorcock wrote in a letter printed in a magazine that it would be a good idea to somehow distinguish the kind of fantasy he and others were writing from works like The Lord of the Rings and Narnia. They are all “fantasy” but drastically different in many, and perhaps even most details. In reply to that, Fritz Leiber wrote that he thought a great name for the subgenre would be “Sword & Sorcery”. And later he somewhat elaborated by saying “The best pulp Sword and Sorcery writer was Robert E. Howard”. So the actual definition of Sword & Sorcery could be said to be “Howard, Leiber, and Moorcock and specifically not Tolkien”.

But that doesn’t actually tell us what makes Sword & Sorcery what it is, which is necessary when you want to capture the spirit of Howard, Leiber, and Moorcock either in writing or running a roleplaying game. Now I admit that there is some validity to statements like “Those are just lables, don’t blindy follow old conventions, be creative and don’t immitate”. But in reality you often see works that are cool and you’re able to tell that there are other cool works that are similar, but you can’t put your finger on it what it actually is that makes them both similar and cool. Saying that you want to “create Sword & Sorcery” is not creative bankrupcy or being a sellout. When you want to play Heavy Metal or Blues, there is a good deal of established conventions that make the genres what they are. You don’t have to follow every single one of those conventions, but you have to follow most of them or the result will be something completely different. Same thing with fiction. A really great attempt at a definition of Sword & Sorcery heroes does not come from me, but is actually from Joseph McCullough, and I think he really quite nails it. A Sword & Sorcery hero is someone who is a.) using decisive action to b.) to pursue self-motiavted goals while c.) standing outside the normal rules and conventions of society. And pretty much everything else about the genre follows from that. Continue reading “My approach to running Sword & Sorcery campaigns”

Ancient Lands: An attempt at outlining trade

I have been giving some thought to the trade relationships between the peoples of the Ancient Lands and how they would have an impact on their cultures and society and possible sources of conflict or exchange. Now I consider myself decently educated in these things, but I think there’s probably still a considerable load of blatant error in here. Still, I’d like to show to you what I have so far and if anyone finds any errors and could point them out, I would be really more than grateful.

As you might see I am currently, in fact, working on a first early draft of an Ancient Lands Campaign Sourcebook. And it is coming along very nicely. I expect the first, completely rules free, version to be about 40 pages long. I also have a B/X based monster book, which I think will be of comparable size. Don’t expect a kickstarter anytime soon, but I really enjoy it starting to take shape after four and a half years of dabbling.

Bronze

The main material for making weapons and armor in the Ancient Lands is bronze. Made from copper and tin it is quite easily produced and to work with and it doesn’t get damaged by rust. Weapons and tools made from bronze are made by melting the copper and tin until it becomes liquid and pouring it into a cast, and broken bronze objects can easily be molten down again in relatively small fires. If needed, this can even be done on the road without use of a propper forge. However, the scarcity of tin makes it quite expensive and only available in large quantities to people who have established trade with other lands. While copper can be found in many places, most tin in the Ancient Lands comes from the Erhait, the Vestanen Mountains, and the Highlands of the Mahiri Jungles. Much of the wealth of the skeyn and the Vandren comes from the mining and selling of tin, which in many places is as valuable as salt or gold.

Iron

Smelting iron ore into raw iron is more difficult than turning copper and tin into liquids and the resulting material requires many hours of hammering until it becomes a usable metal and even then the wrought iron doesn’t stand up to the toughness of bronze. It is also highly susceptible to rusting when not kept clean and dry and broken or rusted pieces can not simply be remade without use of a large foundry and a lot of labor. However, iron ore can be found almost anywhere and in much larger quantities, making it a much cheaper material when quality is not important, such as nails, arrowheads, or small plates for lamellar armor. The most important exception is chainmail armor, as wrought iron is much easier turned into rings than bronze. Both the Vashka and the Neshanen possess this skill and their armor often find their way into the hands of their neighboring tribes. The skeyn of both the Erhait and the Tavir Mountains also know the secret of turning iron into steel, which is a much more advanced process than simply making wrought iron and requires the use of large foundries and forges. Weapons and armor made from skeyn steel are almost as good as those made from bronze, but the much cheaper production of the metal allows them to create them in much larger numbers and the soldiers guarding Barregal and Falreig are the best equipped anywhere in the Ancient Lands. They also sell steel weapons to clans of other tribes, but most warriors anywhere would rather use weapons made from bronze.

Silver

Silver is not a good metal to make weapons with, but it is unique in it’s ability to harm spirits and many other other magical creatures. It has a unique connection to the Spiritworld, which not only makes it very valuable for withes and shamans in the creation of magical devices and amulets, but it can also cuts the flesh of creatures that are unharmed by bronze, iron, stone, or wood. Taken by itself, silver is far too soft to be made into blades, but when molten and coated on bronze, it will form an inseparable bond that can not be broken by any means. A bronze blade dipped into molten silver will gain a coating of silver that can harm magical creatures but retain it’s original strength and toughness. The silver edge of the blade needs to be frequently sharpened and blunts quickly when striking other metal, but for a small number against unarmored creatures it is a sharp as any other blade. Sharpening the edge will eventually wear down the silver to the bronze core, at which point it needs to get a new coating of silver. These weapons are very expensive and dull quickly when used against armored opponents or parrying the weapons of armed enemies, but they are invaluable to those who are fighting monsters and the creatures of the Spiritworld.

Tin

Tin is required for the making of bronze and a relatively rare material found in large quantities in only a few places in the Ancient Lands. Almost all tin comes from the Erhait, the Vestanen Mountains, or the highlands south of the Mahiri Jungles. Those clans who control the mines are among the richest and most powerful of their regions, since otherwise they have been conquered by their neighbors long ago. Copper just by itself is even less suited for weapons and tools than wrought iron and many wars in the Ancient Lands have been fought over the control of tin mines and the highly lucrative trade with the metal.

Salt

Salt is one of the most valuable resources in the Ancient Lands and the real source of the wealth of the Vandren. Nomadic hunters in the wild or the people in small fishing villages can do well enough without it, but for those people who live by farming and storing food for the winter it is both vital for their health and the preservation of meat. People in farming villages who live mostly on the plants they grow will soon become sick and eventually die when they have no access to salt and meat is almost impossible to store for later without it. Not only is salt necessary for survival in the civilized parts of the Ancient Lands, it is also demanded in huge amounts. When tin runs out people can keep using the weapons and armor they have and melt down broken pieces to make new ones, but when the trade with salt comes to a stop it becomes an immediate matter of life and death. Both the Tavir Mountains and the Vestanen Mountains have several large salt mines, and digging the salt out of the ground is backbreaking work that often falls to thousands of slaves who rarely survive for very long. Both the Vandren and some of the Neshanen cities in Senkand gain their wealth primarily from selling salt to Eldanen, Halond, and even the Mayaka kingdom. The Ruyaki also have some limited trade in salt with the Takari, but in the last hundred years the Vandren salt mines have given the Takari access to much more salt than ever before.

Cloth

Wool is found almost everywhere in the ancient lands and comes mostly from sheep and goats. Linen and cotton cloth is much finer and lighter but requires a lot of work to make and the flax and cotton plants don’t grow in many parts of the Ancient Lands, which makes both yarn and cloth highly desired goods. The most prized and valuable cloth is silk, which is only produced by the Takari on the coast of the Mahiri Jungles.

Furs

The largest and thickest pelts come from the winter coats of animals found in the coldest lands of the North, such as Venlad and Yakun. These fetch very high prices in the markets of Halond, Senkand, Eldanen, and even the Vestanen Mountains where they are highly desired over wool from local animals. They are one of the main reasons why people from other lands make the long journey to the Northern Sea.

Bone and Ivory

While bone can be found in any places in the Ancient Lands and there are several large beasts with big tusks and horns in the jungles of the South, they are nowhere found in such large numbers and sizes as in the Northern Sea. Walrus and whale hunters in Venland bring a bounty of tusks and whalebone to the markets every year that is greater than what most kings of the South will see in their entire lifetime. And which makes those merchants who successfully make the journey to the frozen lands and back very rich.

Ancient Lands: Lizardmen

The Lizardmen are the dominant race of the Mahiri Jungles, Kemesh, and Suvanea, with smaller isolated groups being found on islands and in marshes as far north as the Tavir Mountains. They are on average a head taller than humans or elves and often weight twice as much, but the clans of some regions are of much more slender build. While not particularly fast or agile on land, they are very good swimmers and divers and most often make their homes directly at the water. As the other races are concerned, lizardmen show few emotions or individual personalty and seem generally somewhat dull, but in reality they are not any less intelligent. Much of their culture seems very strange to other peoples, such as their apparent lack of families. Eggs and young children are cared fore collectively by the women of a village and most make very little difference between their own children and those of others. Men are often not aware which children of the village are their own and young lizardmen become mostly independent of their caretakers by the age of ten. Positions of authority are usually attained entirely be merit and not by right of birth. To people from other tribes lizardmen often appear as highly indifferent and uncaring towards their children and eggs are usually regarded as replaceable, but they protect their young just as committed as all other peoples.
The cultures of the lizardmen are among the oldest in the Ancient Land, with many of their realms predating even the earliest elven kingdoms. However, the people of most major cities consider the lizardmen to be stuck in the past and having reached the limit of their abilities. While many of the outlying tribes do indeed have no writing or barely any metal, the major cities hidden deeper in the jungles are just as advanced as any elven kingdoms.

Gandju

The tribe of the Gandju lives in the many islands of Suvanea on the eastern end of the Inner Sea, which they share with the much less numerous human Amakari. Though there have been a few old naga castles in Suvanea, the Gandju never were made slaves in large numbers and their culture is entirely their own. Like the Amakari, the Gandju use no metals except for a few knives and spear blades taken from elven ships that have been boarded or run aground in the region. Gandju villages are mostly found on the beaches or lakes found on some of the larger islands. Their boats are much smaller than the merchant ships of the Keyren, Neshanen, and Takari and not well suited to endure storms out on the open sea, but very fast and maneuverable and perfect for travel between the islands. Some clans are frequently visited by merchant ships buying fresh food for the long journeys across the Inner Sea, but others are pirates who simply steal whatever goods from foreign lands they find a taste for.

Kuraka

The Kuraka a group of highly diverse clans of lizardmen whose most common trait is that they never were slaves to the naga or part of the Mayaka kingdom. They have no cities and only a few towns of significant size and they don’t make bronze, but have long ago learned to work the metal taken from dead Mayaka and Suji soldiers and they have many bronze spears and daggers in addition to their own stone and obsidian weapons. The Kuraka are most numerous in the highlands west of Kemesh, but small clans can be found throughout the huge unclaimed territory that separates the lands of the two great powers of the region and on many stretches along the coast. Most clans don’t want anything to do with either the naga or the Mayaka and live in small villages in hard to reach places.

Mayaka

The Mayaka are the largest of the lizardmen tribes and one of the most advanced civilizations in the Ancient Lands. Enslaved by the naga lords who ruled over most of the Mahiri Jungles and Kemesh many hundreds of years ago, the lizardmen in the western cities rebelled when the power of the naga began to wane and over several generations gained control over a large territory. Shamans of the slaves had been worshiping the Sun in secret for centuries, and it was these shamans that eventually were able to overcome the naga sorcerers, allowing the warrior slaves to conquer the great city Nakat Sahri. The shamans chose one of the greatest warriors of the rebellion to take charge of the armies and made him the first king of the Mayaka. While the king has been the leaders of the Mayaka warriors and in control of most of the everyday business of the kingdom for almost a thousand years, each king is chosen by the high priests of the Temple of the Sun, who may even replace him if he ever becomes unworthy as the avatar of the Sun.
Having driven the naga from one of their greatest cities and making it the seat of their new kingdom, the Mayaka had access to large irrigated fields and mines of copper and tin from the very beginning, when most other tribes where still living in trees and caves with nothing but sharp stones for weapons. Even almost a thousand years later, only the Neshanen and the skeyn have achieved a sophistication of technology to rival theirs. Though only a relatively small number of Mayaka is living in the great cities of the kingdom, most villages are well connected to the bureaucracy of the kingdom and the army of the kingdom is well organized and has many fortresses and camps on the borders to the dark elves in the West and the remaining naga cities of Kemesh in the East. In addition, the king also commands the Guard of the Royal palace, which is one of the most well trained and organized forces in all of the Ancient Lands, being rivaled only by a few of the best companies of the Sakaya. Soldiers of the Royal Guard wear bronze lamellar armor and swords, which make them stand out clearly from the regular Mayaka soldiers, who are equipped with armor made from corded rope and iron spears. While Mayaka soldiers are rarely seen outside the borders of the kingdom when not on a campaign to destroy enemy troops, soldiers of the Royal Guard also have the duty of escorting dignitaries of the kingdom to other countries and are sometimes chosen send on special assignments that lead them to far away places. Within the great cities of the kingdom, children of women of the palaces are raised away from those of the common masses, creating a kind of aristocratic caste that is unknown to the other lizardmen tribes. Commoners can still rise to position of great power and might even be selected to become king, but the children of the palace are given much better education, which puts them at a great advantage.

Suji

The Suji are a unique tribe in the Ancient Lands, as they have no chiefs or shamans and are entirely under the rule of the naga of Kemesh. They are almost never seen outside the naga realms, except when crewing the rare occasional ships that transport their naga masters to other lands. The Suji perform almost all manual labor in Kemesh except for the casting of weapons and armor for the naga and their elite serpentmen guards, and they also make up the majority of the vast naga armies that are in a slow but almost constant war with the Mayaka, and occasionally come to clash with each other. According to the Priests of the Sun and the Mayaka king, they are continuing their rebellion to free all lizardmen from naga slavery, but to most Suji they are heretics who are refusing to bow to their divine masters. Fieldworkers from villages captured by the Mayaka are often brought to the kingdom and live pretty much as slaves, with their young being raised in Mayaka hatcheries. Suji soldiers often fight to the death rather than joining the heretics and it is rare that any are taken alive by victorious Mayaka armies.

Ancient Lands: Humans

Humans are one of the minor people who live in the Ancient Lands. They consist of four major tribes that are very different from each other and live separated by many hundreds of miles from one another. They have been few in numbers and of little importance in the history of the Ancient Lands for the most time, but in recent centuries Vandren from the Vestanen Mountains have been coming into the lands on the Inner Sea in increasing numbers and started to settle in some parts of the lowlands. There are still many Falden or Ruyaki who have never seen a human in their entire life, and with the exception of the Amakari in Sunvanea they are almost unknown to the lizardmen of the Mahiri Jungles and Kemesh. Humans are very similar in height and stature to elves, though usually somewhat bulkier build. By the age of 20 they are fully grown, but rarely live for more than 80 years and even that is very rare except for some powerful shamans and witches.
Even though humans are not as strong as kaas or lizardmen and lack the speed and agility of elves, they have an endurance toughness that beats that of all the other humanoid people. As long as they have sufficient water, humans can travel almost an entire day with very little rest, even in heat that brings the strongest kaas or elves down within an hour and they can keep doing so for many days with only little food. Humans who are traveling light can easily cover as much distance in a day as a horse, and even outdistance them on a hot day. Scouts and patrols of other people rarely attempt to pursue humans who have a good head start as the chances for catching them are slim. And outrunning human pursuers on foot is a situation in which even the most experienced and toughened never wish to find themselves. Skeyn may have a similar ability to keep up hard physical work for long time, but nobody outruns even a moderately healthy human over long distances. In addition to that, humans are also exceptionally hardy when it comes to dealing with malnutrition and the various diseases that often accompany it. They are able to survive on a wider range of food sources than almost anyone else and it’s often said that there is nothing sold as food in the markets of the Ancient Lands that humans couldn’t digest. Their bodies are also able to deal reasonably well with food that has been partly spoiled and become inedible to other people without becoming thick. In the centuries in which human mercenaries have been hired by elven warlords, it has become well known that they will almost always outlast nonhuman enemies in a siege, regardless of which side of the walls they are on. Unsurprisingly, this has made them highly valued as mercenaries for the wood elven tribes and Amakari slaves often bring the best prices for Takari slavers. In recent generations they have even started to be hired as sailors on Keyren ships.

Amakari

The Amakari are one of the two tribes that inhabit the countless islands of Suvanea in the eastern waters of the Inner Sea. They are taller and broader build than humans of the other tribes and have deep brown skin with dark earth and sand colored hair and beards. They are not very numerous, even in their home islands, which they are sharing with the Gandju lizardmen. Amakari technology is very similar to that of the Gandju and uses almost no metal except for a few small ornaments. They travel between islands and catch fish in small but very fast boats that can be both sailed and rowed. They have the fewest similarities to other human tribes and some think that they might actually be neither humans nor elves, but something else entirely.

Kaska

The Kaska are a small tribe that is very similar in appearance to the Vandren of the Vestanen Mountains and speaks a similar language, but as at home many hundreds of miles to the north in the Witchfens between the great Nareven forest and the Rayalka Moutains. They are of similar height to Vandren and wood elves and have straight black hair and light brown skin. The Kaska are very reclusive and usually hostile to people of any other tribes, but many of the neighboring people believe that they are fighting just as much among themselves. Not much is known about them by people from other lands, as the Witchfens are a highly inhospitable place and nobody is sure what drive the Kaska to make their homes there in the first place. Kaska warparties regularly creep through the hills of the Erhait to raid villages in the valley of the Kaldaven for weapons, grain, and slaves. Within the Witchfens, the true power over the Kaska clans lies in the hands of their witches. Most of them are women who have great power over the clan chiefs, but they also have their own hierarchies and rivalries of which even the common Kaska understand very little.

Mari

The cold northern land of Venlad on the coast of the Northern Sea is the home of the Mari, a small human tribe that has lived mostly in isolation from the rest of the Ancient Lands for countless centuries. Unlike other humans or elves they have relatively light skin and brown hair and they tend to be somewhat taller than most of these people, though not as big as the Amakari. Most Mari are reindeer herders or fishermen, since the cold land doesn’t lend itself well to growing crops. Villages are small and most houses built partly into the ground to be protected from the fierce winter storms, but there are also a few small towns of wooden houses on the coast where ships from the South come during the summer to trade for pelts, whalebone, and dried fish.

Vandren

The Vandren are the largest of the human tribes that live in the Ancient Lands and have their traditional homeland in the Vestanen Mountains between the forests of Nareven and the Red River. They are similar in height to most elves with black hair and light brown skin and make many of their clothes and armor from leather, as they keep many herds of goats, sheep, and mountain horses to survive in a land where growing crops is hard and difficult work. Though gold, silver, and copper can be found in the mountains, the greatest treasure of the Vandren is salt, which they trade with merchants from all over the Ancient Lands. For several centuries elven merchants have been hiring Vandren warriors to protect the valuable caravans from bandits and the warriors of hostile clans, and they soon began to employ large numbers of Vandren mercenaries in their wars against each other. Vandren have been migrating from the mountains to the borders of the elven lands ever since, and while still mostly disorganized and relatively few in numbers, they are becoming a new powerful tribe on the coast of the Inner Sea.

The most famous of the Vandren mercenaries are the Sakaya, who began as a religious group in the Vestanen Mountains that had its own warriors to protects its great monasteries and farming villages. During times of peace, these warrior monks took up mercenary work to hone their skills of combat, but some never returned to the mountains and instead made their new homes in the conquered fortresses of their defeated enemies. Though the Sakaya of the lowlands accept warriors of any tribe or clan into their ranks, the majority of them are still Vandren, and for many people on the Inner Sea there is very little difference between the two.