If you feel lost, I highly recommend starting with Part 1 of this series which provides some background information with respect to goals and scope of this project.
And now, formalities aside, lets talk about humans.
To be frank, humans are a little bit boring. The fact is, they are often so uninteresting that a lot of source books don’t even really bother writing much about them. The assumption is that we already know how humans are, by the virtue belonging to the species. So player guides and manuals will go into extreme detail as to how Elves wipe their butts (three seashells method, naturally) and spend whole chapters describing Orc fashion (typically armors with varied amount of spikes on them) but when it comes to describing humans they just go “you know, normal stuff” and call it a day. And of course by “normal stuff” they mean white people, European architecture and western values.
Granted, there is nothing wrong with make-believe pseudo-European setting with knights, kings, wizards in funny hats all doing quests that involve magical swords and slaying dragons. It’s all good and it can be a lot of fun. But that’s not why we’re here. From time to time it would be nice to see a Fantasy setting in which Euro-centric cultures are not the dominant ones.
Yes, I’m aware that there are some settings in which this is the whole point. The Legend of Five Rings is a good example of a setting in which the entire cosmology is based on a non-Western template. But it is not necessarily what you would call a generic RPG settings. It is designed specifically around the idea of players being samurai-like warriors in a Japan-like place in which monsters are loosely designed around Japanise folklore. What I’m more interested in is a standard fantasy setting with Orcs and Elves in which majority of humans just happen to be non-white.
The Third Empire
If you look at my map in Part 1, you will notice that the nation labeled as The Third Empire is one of the largest political bodies on the Raven Island. It also has a central position and shares a border with just about everyone, making it a likely hub of land trade. This is an important nation, whose culture is going to influence all its neighbors and possibly be one of the default places for players to have adventures, and stories to take place. Lets make it fun.
Here is my inspiration:
I envision The Third Empire to have look and feel very loosely based on feudal Japan. If I could actually draw and design period clothing/armor I’d probably make and effort to have them have a sort of unique look. More of a reference than a carbon copy of the real historical period. For one I’d prefer to avoid the cultural appropriation that comes with the samurai culture. They would be more like distant descendants of feudal Japan like culture which found itself on this strange island populated by all kinds of different sentient races and was forced to adapt.
Unlike Feudal Japan, The Third Empire has open borders. It’s cities are major trade hubs, and it’s roads are traversed by caravans of merchants every day. I imagine their culture would be influenced by that of their neighbors that of their neighbors and trade partners.
So for example, instead of Bushido, the Imperial warriors follow a honor code that was more or less imported wholesale from the Orcs of Orzimar. Their feudal system on the other hand was based on that of the Ancient Dwarfs. In both cases however, they put their own unique spin on it.
The Third Empire is actually a matriarchal feudal society, dominated by women. One of their core cultural tenets that has not changed since their arrival on the island, is that only someone capable of bringing life into the world ought to be allowed to end one. On the surface this means that men are not considered to be biologically predisposed to be warriors. And by extension, only people biologically capable of motherhood ought to to make decisions that will impact lives and livelihoods of others. Women are considered to be innately predisposed to be leaders, politicians, heads of the households as well as warriors.
You might say that adventuring in the Third Empire might be kinda crappy if your players all make dude-characters. Then again, having to constantly prove themselves and deal with being patronized and not taken seriously could be an interesting experience for them. Because that’s pretty much what always happen to people who decide to roll female characters in regular settings.
It’s probably worth mentioning that I’m not setting this up as some sort of a model setting. It is just a role reversal kind of thing, and it is not supposed to be treated as superior or inferior type of culture. It’s actually supposed to be just about as shitty as the run-of-the-mill fantasy patriarchies. Just, you know – for the other gender.
The nation is led by an Empress who is an absolute feudal monarch. Her title is hereditary, passed down to her eligible daughters. There is no such thing as an “emperor”. The male spouse of the Empress is simply known as the Imperial Consort and while typically of noble blood, is still technically a commoner. The Empress can also often have multiple concubines or concubini but daughters sired out of the wedlock are not eligible for the throne. That said, determining paternity can sometimes difficult so when in doubt it is typically assumed that whatever the Empress says is true, unless there exists an overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
All the land in the Empire belongs to the Empress, and is split into fiefdoms and provinces that are given to her vassals in exchange for oaths of loyalty and military service. Since only women are fit to be warriors, they are the only people eligible to own land. The entire feudal structure is actually very flat. While the personal wealth and influence of different vassals can vary, all noble women are considered equals. There is officially no stratification in terms of actual political power (ie. no shoguns, dukes, barons or anything like that), no administrative castes and etc. While a land owner can sub-divide her domain, and enter into feudal relationships with other women, everyone’s primary loyalty is directly to the Empress. This flat structure is rather unique was one of the distinctive features of the Ancient Dwarf empire which seems to have inspired it.
It is also worth noting that the Empresses are not worshiped as a goddesses, nor do they claim divine descent or mandate. They are, for the most part, considered ordinary noble women. Bowing or kneeling in front of the empress is considered old-fashioned and this practice which was common in the days of Second Empire is now frowned upon. The proper etiquette when being granted an audience with the Empress is to greet her as you would greet any Imperial noble woman. Men and commoners need to simply lower their heads in respect and slightly extend their arms forward, palms facing outward as they offer their greeting. Men of noble descent who are friends, family or acquaintances can instead offer her their left hand which she may choose to squeeze with her right. Noble women typically grip their forearms Roman handshake style. At times a salute that involves placing an open palm over one’s heart may be more appropriate. A lot of this is influence of Elven culture with it’s democratically elected Councils.
Men in the Third Empire are not allowed to own land or become warriors. It is highly unusual for men to travel alone without protection or leadership of women. While some may be proficient with a sword it is considered improper for them to wield one. Exceptions are of course made for foreigners and members of other races. That said, if a group of foreigners includes women, they will automatically be assumed to be leaders and addressed as such by the locals. If no women are present, they might still insist to be put in touch with the woman in charge at the earliest convenience.
Imperial men are expected to be homemakers and fathers. Most nobles are literate because one of their responsibilities is to attend to primary education of their children. Many make careers as scribes, secretaries or aides to prominent women. They also have near monopoly on the study of arcane arts.
Magic was outlawed in the First and Second Empire, but since then the ban was lifted and it can be practiced openly. However, it still bears a heavy social stigma. Magic use amongst noble warrior women is frowned upon – it is considered a trickery and cowardly way of making up for the lack of skill or courage. As a result mostly men become practitioners. A good warlock can be great asset to any noble household. They are usually paid very well for their services, and treated with a great deal of respect (often also fear). At the same time however, they are socially undesirable and never fully trusted. They typically live apart from the general population in secluded hovels or towers outside the villages or noble estates. You know, kinda like witches in standard fantasy.
The history of the Three Empires is actually pretty long. The First Empire was founded around the same time as the Ancient Dwarf kingdoms in the deep south. It is said that the Imperial women aided the mountain folk to push the Celesials into the North and in the end suffered from the same mysterious calamity that annihilated the entire Dwarven race. Humans however proved to be more resilient to the calamity, and enough of them survived to rebuild their nation as the Second Empire. For a while they were almost uncontested rulers of the island up until the arrival of the Green Tide and subsequent resurgence of Celestial activity.
The Second Empire was besieged from the West by the Orc legions, North by Celestials and from the East by combined Gnoblar and Hoblite forces. It was plunged into complete chaos when Celestials launched a coordinated attack at seven major cities, effectively taking out the Imperial Family, prominent generals, leaders and officials. Eventually the nation once again re-formed as the Third Empire and made alliances with the three green-skinned races to once again push the Celestials into the far Northen regions of the island.
Most Imperials have Asian features including dark hair, brown or dark eyes and the epicanthic eye fold. That said, they are far from ethnically homogeneous. The people in the North-East for example have been culturally mixing and marrying Nords ever since they have arrived. As a result majority of the Imperials in those regions now have brown distinctly skin, and have assimilated a lot of the Nord culture including their obsession with Dragon iconography and their propensity for straight edged blades (as opposed to traditional curved katanas). The the Nord and Imerial blood has been mixed for so long now that Northen Imperials became their own ethnic group with stable gene pool, folklore and traditions.
Similarly, many Imperial descendants that live in the Western Shore of Orzimar have some Armadans blood. They typically have a bit darker complexion and the distinctive black-in-black “deep-sea eyes”. While Imperial/Armadan mixed couples are common in the region, they don’t have their own sub-ethic group like the Northeaster Imperials though it is not unlikely that one will develop in the future. Despite being officially part of Orzimar, humans are a majority in the region and their culture is a bit of a mix of Imperial and Armadan. While women are still considered to be dominant gender, many Imperial or mixed ancestry men pick up Armadan fashion styles and customs bucking their traditional gender roles.
The Armadan tattos especially are viewed as a sign of male empowerment. The is not a traditional part of Imperial culture but it has been booming in the West of the Empire. They are especially favored by men of mixed ancestry. The local designs are strikingly distinct from those of the Armadans and feature unique patterns and colors. They have become a tale tale sign of empowered western men as well as women who support equal rights and treatment for both genders.
Humans and Orcs are too different with respect to their gene pools, so there is no such thing as Half-Orcs or Half-Elves in this setting. That said it is not uncommon to see mixed couples marriages, especially among the commoners who typically marry for love, rather than for political gain.
If the Third Empire was our Samurai inspired faction, then Armadans (also sometimes reffered to as Westerlings) will be the pirate faction. Because pirates are cool.
They are sea-fearing people who have more or less taken over nearly all of the small islands around the mainland. They also have a toe-hold in the Nort of the Gnome controled South Island which is actually their largest, and most prosperous holding. It is actually a quite large swath of land with multiple prosperous cities, including the Capitol City which is the seat their Prince Elect and the Parliament. It is however rather sparsely populated when compared to the smaller islands.
In general, the South Island region is refereed to as The Capitol and it is know for its beautiful vistas, quaint villages and beautiful cities full or open parks, fountains and squares. Most of the citizens of The Capitol are actually quite well off. This includes peasants whose standard of living is actually much higher than in other parts of the world. The agreeable climate and low population growth mean they almost always have plenty of food, and stable source of income.
In contrast, the hundreds of small islands are referred to as The Archipelago. Most of them are very densely populated, and can barely feed their population. Some islands are completely dependent on sea trades, and their populations face starvation during major storms that prevent trade ships from bringing in food and fresh water. Some islands are better off than the others, but poverty and hardship are a constant part of life.
Most Armadan islanders are sailors – both by convenience and by necessity. In fact they consider their lifestyle to be the true and genuine Westerling experience. The land lubbers from the Capitol who have never sailed and never been to the archipelago are sneered and scoffed at. While the Prince technically has a dominion over the entire nation, the true power lies in the hands of the Aripelago governors and sea captains. They care little of the courtly affairs of the distant Capitol City and they know quite well that the Prince cannot enforce his will upon them over many leagues of the sea. The Capitol Navy is the strongest in the world, but it’s total size is dwarfed by the number of independent privateers, pirates and private fleets founded by island governors.
The Armadans have dark olive skin (though typically much lighter than that of Nords or Elves) and are typically slightly shorter than Imperials and Nords. Their most distinctive physical feature are their eyes which are almost uniformly black without any whites, or colored iris visible. Not only that, they also possess a nictitating membrane, or a transparent third eyelid similar to that found in many species of fish and sharks. Armadan pearl divers claim that said membrane allows them to see as clearly under water as they do on land.
Some scholars point out that Westerling eyes are strikingly similar to those of deep sea Nymphs. Acient legends say that the original fleet that discovered the Raven Islands has been lost at sea for centuries and survived only by making alliances with the deep sea dwelling, tentacled merfolk. If this is true however, the alliances must have been broken long time ago, since sirens are as keen to entrap and sink Armadan ships as any others. Many say that despite the fact both races no longer seem to be able to communicate, Armadans are a result of cross-species breeding and they all still have some siren blood in them.
Armadans arrived to Raven Islands some time after the Green Tide event. Their aggressive expansion across the small islands and shorelines had a huge impact on the ongoing war between Celestials, the green-skin nations and the Second Empire. Firstly, they have interrupted trade between the Celestials and the Gnomes crippling Celestial war efforts. Secondly, by invading the Western shores of Orzimar they have put Orcs in an uncertain position, forcing them into an alliance with the newly formed Third Empire to avoid war on all fronts. Thirdly, their assault on the South Island that resulted in the creation of The Capitol forced Gnomes to withdraw from the war completely and evacuate their Raven Island colonies.
Even though they were one of the last people to settle in the Raven Islands their presence helped to shape the current political climate. Since then however, they have become a mostly neutral nation of traders. The Capitol has formal alliances with everyone – including former enemies. They have embassies in the Celestial Kingdom, in the Gnomish Territories and recently even opened trade routes to the Clockwork Dominion. Armadan privateers and many local islander governments however choose their own alliances. So unless you see an Armadan ship flying the Capitol flag, chances are they aren’t friendly.
The Capitol has it’s own distinct culture, fashion and sensibilities. They cultivate a meritocratic aristocracy of sorts. All nobles are expected to be proficient in magic, and the more powerful their skill is the higher their social status. The Price Elect is typically chosen from within the most accomplished wizards. As you can imagine the competition is fierce, and the obsession with magic and arcane knowledge makes the aristocracy seem detached and removed from the common folk. The nobles who show no magical aptitude, typically seek glory and recognition by becoming Cavaliers who are the elite cavalry units tasked with to the defense of the Capitol borders from Gnomish invaders.
Cavaliers are essentially Musketeers on raptor mounts:
Their patrols an extremely common sight on South Island and they are both feared and admired by the common folk. They are considered to be the finest elite fighting unit of The Capitol and the extension of the will of the Prince Elect. When they are seen outside of the South Island, it typically means shit is about to go down and the Prince has decided to take punitive action against one of the island governors.
Islanders fear and despise Cavaliers because they stand for all the wrong things: they are blindly loyal to the Prince, they are wealthy, arrogant and spoiled and have no sea legs. Most Cavaliers spend their oceanic voyages struggling with sea sickness, but once on land they are considered to be undefeated. Cunning governors will therefore engage them on the sea, rather than risking landfall.
On the mainland, they typically serving as honor guard for dignitaries from the Capitol. Orcs of Orzimar are especially impressed by their combat efficiency, and many of the knights seek to purchase their mounts for themselves. They compare their fighting style to that of the Black Forest centaurs.
Historically, those who couldn’t make it in The Capitol City and were unfit to serve as Cavaliers were sent into the Archipelago to be small time island governors fleet captains. It was a form of banishment and a disgrace. This combined with wealth disparity, might have been one of they key reasons of the animosity and resentment towards the Capitol in the islands. The islanders view the Prince Elect and the court as self-indulgent, detached and remote.
These days local island governments tend to be fiercely independent sometimes even outwardly disloyal. The Prince no longer appoints governors letting the island provinces self-govern as long as they don’t step out of the line too much. It is not uncommon for The Capitol to send the Loyalist Navy to pacify rebellious islands and install new local governments only to have them dismantled by the locals mere months later.
The islanders are fond of tattoos. The Imperials have picked up this practice and developed many advanced techniques, but Westerlings prefer simple designs in black or blue ink. The practice is however very unpopular in The Capitol where it is viewed as provincial uncivilized.
Islanders are very open when it comes to other races. Most of the inhabitants of the archipelago are once or future sailors, and they welcome anyone with good sea legs, a head for trade or naval battle skills. Orcs are sought after by most captains for their strength and resilience. It is also not uncommon to see Elf or Windup engineers selling their services to ship crews in need of clockwork war machines or advanced navigational devices. Most ships also have Ravenfolk crew members who provide cheep manual labor. The Capitol on the other hand is a fairly xenophobic place, and non-humans are less than welcome there.
Can you guys say Bear Cavalry? Because that’s what Nords are. They ride fucking bears into battle:
Both Armadans and Imperials tend to rely more on light cavalry, and lighter, functional armors. Nords are going to be heavy hitting, plate armor wearing close combat beasts. They have one of the most terrifying and effective military forces out there… And they are rather peaceful people. Their territories are in the Nort-Eastern “wing” of the Raven Island and they share a border with the Third Empire (with whom they have been allies for centuries) and the great swamps that are considered Gnoblar territories. The Celestial Kingdom is just across the inner sea, but they don’t seem to be a huge threat. Aside from occasional harassment and half-hearted attempts to contest some strategically important ports, the Celestials have been reluctant to launch full offensives against them. Nords are tall, wear incredibly heavy armors and ride monstrously large animals to battle. This prevents Celestials from using their favorite tactics which involve rapid hit-and-run attacks or their signature “snatch, lift and drop” maneuver.
I know what you think: Nords going to be either Vikings (because Norh-men, etc…) or pseudo Russians who talk like Hevy from TF2 (because bears). Nope, that’s just way to easy. Everyone does that, so I want to go against the trope and try something different. My Nords are going to look vaguely South Asian: brown skin, dark eyes, jet black hair, etc. Kinda like this:
The climate of North Vale is rather frigid and unwelcoming which has made Nords rather hardy and resilient people. Most of the population lives in the low lands where the snow recedes during the short summers allowing for cultivation of agriculture. However some of their most famous castles and citadels are high up in the permafrost regions of Ice Shard mountains.
They are ruled by the Ice Queen whose palace was carved directly into the ice on top of the Diamond Peak. The palace which houses hundreds of members of the court, attendants servants and staff, is completely dependent on daily supplies of food, firewood and other materials from the lowland regions. This makes it rather indefensible if it was ever besieged, but Nord rulers consider it a point of honor to live in such a dangerous location. They pride themselves on being able to protect their supply lines from their enemies no matter what. And protect them they do.
The Diamond Peak palace and most other mountain citadels are protected by the fearsome corps of Ice Dragon Riders:
Most dragons have been wiped out by Celestials soon after their arrival. The Ice Shards however were inaccessible to them, and the Ice Dragons proved to be more than match for their warriors. Their ability to literally “breathe” them out of the sky made the extermination of the species virtually impossible. Most of the younger, faster and more agile dragons survived the purge and later made an alliance with the Nords to defend their land together.
Most Nords use polar bears as their primary mode of locomotion, and only the finest, most accomplished warriors get to work with the dragon mounts. It is a great privilege and honor but also a huge responsibility. The Dragon Riders are tasked with protection of supply lines of all the major citadels, as well as with paroling the borders of the kingdom.
Nord society is mostly egalitarian with respect to gender. Unlike the matriarchal society of the Third Empire and the decisively patriarchal Armadan culture, Nords don’t seem to have many rules, taboos with respect to gender roles. Hereditary titles are typically passed to the first born child regardless of the gender (so sometimes Nords will have an Ice King instead of an Ice Queen). Both men and women are encouraged to become warriors and the gender ratio amongst the Dragon Rider elite is pretty much equal.
They also appear to be rather tolerant and welcoming towards other races. While their remote kingdom is rarely visited by Elves or Orcs, Nords are accustomed to having non-humans living along side them. For one, their dragon mounts tend to be fiendishly intelligent and sometimes even capable of magic. Lowland commoners have been living alongside Ravenkin and Gnoblars for ages now, and during harsh winters everyone must work together to survive so prejudices and xenophobia are rather impractical. The Northen citadels are often homes to the Snow Beasts:
Despite their looks, these monstrous, towering creatures are actually fully sentient, and capable of learning human speech. Before the Nords arrived at the islands the Snow Beasts were primitive cave dwellers that only recently discovered fire, and learned to use stone tools. Many still prefer lifestyle, but many have been are drawn into Nord settlements by curiosity and desire to learn new technologies. They are not very smart, and can be very dangerous when angered but they are usually hard workers and are eager to please. Nords usually teach them to use simple tools and hire them for manual labor that requires physical strength and resilience. During war, Snow Beasts will often march to battle along side Nords wielding clubs, maces and wearing make-shift armor if they can afford it.
Yeah, these guys have bear cavalry, dragon riders and armored Yetis. They are pretty much considered to be impossible to conquer. No one wants to fuck with them.
To be continued…
If you were counting, Ravenflight setting has basically four main ethnic groups of humans: Imperials, Nords, Armadans and Northeast Imperials. I’m not really counting the mixed-race Armadans because while the Western Shore region is developing it’s own sub-culture it is not firmly established yet. Nor do they have an established, stable breeding pool like Northeast Imperials.
You might have noticed that none of these groups includes white people. That’s actually by design. Most fantasy seems to be happening in some sort of incarnation of endless Europe populated (except when “exotic” venues are required by the plot) so I wanted to shake things up a bit and re-define what is “normal” and commonplace in this setting.
One thing I was consciously designing for, was the subversion of a rather insidious fantasy trope. I’m not sure if it has a name, but you have probably seen it in a lot of video games. Dragon Age: Origins is a good example here, but others do it to. If you roll a female character, you will actually get extra dialog lines from random non-essential NPC’s. For example if you’re a warrior they will remark on how they don’t often see lady warriors in these parts, especially ones as accomplished by you. I guess it is meant as a compliment or something, but it is rather insidious. Instead of just going with the idea that it is common for women to become warriors or rogues or whatever, it instead insists that your character is the specialest of snowflakes for choosing that career path. It is normal for men to pursue all kinds of adventuring professions, but if a woman does it, it is all kinds of unusual. I hate that.
So the biggest, and most central nation in this setting has a matriarchal society in which women are the default for everything. They are warriors, scholars, rulers etc. This is normal in their society. It is commonplace. Women do everything, except magic, because magic is unclean and unfit for warriors. Instead of morally ambiguous witches that are probably evil and who exist on the margins of the society, we have warlocks which fulfill the same exact role.
If you go outside of the Empire, people are kinda used to the idea of women being warriors, adventures and leaders. While Armadans have traditional patriarchal society, the islanders can’t help but be influenced by the Imperial society. Outside of the isolationist Capitol it is kinda commonplace of Armadan women to pursue any kind of profession they want. And Nords are so chill they don’t even give a shit about gender.
I think this spread provides a pretty decent spread in terms of character choices: Imperials give you samurais and eastern style warlocks. Armadans can be priates, bandits, swashbucklers, aristocratic swasbuckler wizards and dinosaur riding musketeers. Nords are knights who use polar bears instead of horses and can have Yeti buddies who can do the whole the Chewbacka routine.
As usual, let me know what you think about these ideas. I’ll probably have two more of these posts. They are actually kinda exhausting.
|<< Prev||Next >>|