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7Hex Dragons: The High Plains Barbarians
The High Plains are a disorganized tribal area south of the Gargoyle Mountains, very friendly to the Duchy (many, but certainly not all, larger tribes have joined the Duchy via feudal oath or mutual protection pact). The farthest back record of the peoples that live here come with the arrival of the mounted nomads fleeing the southern dessert. The nomads carve out the western plains from the orcs and push farther north for more room to roam. They run into the barbarian tribes (as so labeled by the nomads who held the local tribe's horsemanship abilities to be sub-par and so less civilized) and end up settling Bronar by either gently subjugating the barbarians, or pushing the more militant ones further east (with the nomad ancestry in Bronar still having a air of aristocracy about it as compared to barbarian ancestry). At that time the barbarian transition from their historical economy of forest-based hunter-gathers to a more settled temple based agricultural life was in early process. Compared to the Duchy of Bronar (and certainly compared to the IS) they are fairly poor and technically and magically retrograde. Most homes are simple one-story structures and they do low efficiency farming (though it is getting better by emulating their neighbors, and the Duke is urging the craftsmen of ka'Han to train the local populations in the west in better agriculture and smithywork to free up more resources and manpower for defense and research). Increasingly many of the Temples will try to collect a "rainy day" crop levy to store in case of famine or other need in addition to the Temple tax to run the administration and fund the education of the tribe thereby indicating more efficiency and industry.
Most of the barbarian tribes are fairly peaceful, happy to till the soil, hunt in the mountain forests, worship their ancestors and go on quests into the Gargoyle Mountains or further. They are a combination of religious/pastoral and hunter/foresters, with the older hunter/forester groups slowly being integrated into the pastoral communities (a process that has been going on for centuries and will occasionally mildly reverse if there is a drought or other trauma to the steppe agriculture). While the similarities in their religious practices point to a common origin in the mountains (and their penchant for using the throwing ax), the forest tribes and then the eastern and western pastoral tribes have diverged facing different challenges. The older forest tribes are suspicious of strangers and superstitious. They can be religiously intolerant and will look down with scorn at the pastoral communities (even when they occasionally go to them for help or training or manufactured good). The Eastern tribes were more under the shadow of the Kirean Kingdom in ancient times and have had to deal more with demon and undead excursions from the Wildwood after the Kingdom's fall. They are more militarily like the Kireans, adapting their heavy ax formations (Danish to Lochaber type axes). They are more superstitious and distrustful of the Necromantic arts due to periodic demonic exposure. They are also slightly distrustful and reclusive. The Western tribes had to face more of the nomad incursions and have adapted their military towards the phalanx as derived from their boar spears. They have taken some aspects of nomad culture into their own, and are a bit more open and hospitable. For individual protection a short (5') bladed head spear is often used in the western plains. It is a variant off of the spear they use in their phalanxes against the nomads (which itself is a variant off of a boar spear), but more adapted to portable individual self defense. More popular in the eastern plains is a danish or lochaber ax variant for individual protection. All tribes are proficient with throwing axes. They have running/throwing contests at festivals, where younger adults and older adolescents will run an obstacle course and have to hit targets with throwing axes. So small bow, shield, spear variants (glaive/boar), Danish and lochaber type axes and throwing axes are the most obvious weapons for the barbarian, but there are variations across tribes, those very near the the Wildlands have more interaction with the Elven and Centaur Rangers and may have more advanced weaponry and training from them. See the Demon Cleaver for one such weapon in the eastern tribes. Those in the west may be closer to ka'Han and have some of their preferred weapons (or even a rare Elk Tine Sword).
The older network of forest communities along the northern edge of the plains, along the higher foothills that tend to be hunter/gatherers (with some very rudimentary agriculture) and live in movable yurt like structures hauled around by pack animals. They have some basic metallurgy, but trade for more advanced metal goods with any of the local temple-based communities. They represent an older, if poorer, way of life, but pride themselves on keeping the traditions of the ancestors, with their speed and distance running and use of the throwing ax. The larger forest based tribes will have a local shaman/priest who handles all religious functions (marriages, deaths, births, hunting rituals). Many are nascent Necromancers/Wizards and may communicate with the undead or cast basic spells needed in a forest hunter/gatherer settings. See Spirit Magic and the Necromancer in 7 Hex Dragon House Rules. They will only have low level or very practical necromantic abilities, including some healing, detect undead and induce fear. Some very few gifted could possess Repel or even Banish Undead. Others will be skilled with animals (control animal, etc) and divination. But the forest tribes are very suspicious of necromatic types.
Militarily the forest-based tribes will depend more on quick strike attacks with fast runners, bows and throwing axes. If pressed, which is rare, they will form up with spears, axes or whatever is around to cover a retreat. Some larger forest tribes will occasionally train with a local Temple formation from time to time in exchange for mutual protection. Mostly the forest dwellers will have cruder weapons, leather armour (likely not curboillie, but if anyone has trained at a Temple in leatherwork...). They greatly prize being fleet of foot and doing quick strikes.
Each settled agricultural area is centered on the local Temple that worships a combination of ancestors and gods. Small shrines dot the landscape to protect travelers and for basic help with fertility or passage to the afterlife. All homes will have shrines to family ancestors and usually one, sometimes more, of the gods (many will worship Fertility for children and crops, others more involved in local politics will worship the broader tribe/clan ancestors and god of Order, etc). There is a disorganized pantheon including gods for the Afterlife (associated with rock, shadow and comfort, they bury their dead in stone tombs), Fertility (associated with the moon, soil and standing water like lakes and ponds), Order (associated with mountains and very old/tall trees), Chaos (Trickster, associated with running water), Battle (often associated with the large mountain elk and their rutting and fighting for territory), and Love (associated with fire, which figures prominently in wedding ceremonies with two flames joining, and in understanding youthful ardor as a consuming flame). Travel/Trade is associated with air and the wind. The gods names vary from tribe to tribe but with family resemblances of root phonemes being morphed over time and history, but still indicating a single origin.
The temple in the middle of each rural/tribal/clan area houses much of the administration of the area (record keeping, genealogy, marriages, burials, food storage for bad times, schooling for the youth, debt records, etc). Most late adolescents will spend 1-2 years living either full time or at least the non-harvesting/planting season at the temple. There they will get their advanced schooling, such as it is (and that varies from temple to temple due to local resources). That will include basic reading/writing/math for the wealthier youth who may be expected to provide tribal/clan leadership or who may go into the priesthood full time (and they may spend upwards of 4 years there). The vast majority are trained in basic husbandry and farming in addition to some kind of craft (metal working, leather working, building/carpentry, forestry, etc) in addition to the religion and history of the tribe and their ancestors. Those spotted with martial ability will have training in the local combat/weapons systems. Some very poor families with only one child may be exempted from the 1-2 year full time stint if they successfully plead hardship.
Steel is difficult to acquire and expensive. On the other hand, they are excellent leather workers from their forest hunting and have mastered boiled leather (courboillie) which is hard and efficient. They are also competent wood workers and many have added laminated splints to the leather or any other cheaper metals (bronze rings or thin plates, etc) if they are wealthy enough. Some very few chieftains/battle priests/priestesses of very large tribes might have a sword and steel armour (See the Elk Tine Sword). Otherwise, they use weapons and armour that maximize the wood/leather to metal ratios (axes, spears, courbollie, etc).
The priests, like individual households, will specialize in one or two of the gods (Fertility, Afterlife, etc) and then the local tribal ancestors. Priests can be either male or female, but traditionally Love, Afterlife and Fertility have a majority of females and the Travel/Trade, Warrior and Order priests are mostly male. There are many and notable exceptions (see Glainsare for example). The warrior priest(esse)s (those who specialize in the god of Battle), are also the local commanders in charge of the regular training and muster, and will be integrated with other local tribes if great enough need calls more than one tribe up (massive gargoyle invasion, demon excursion from the WildWood or other large scale threat). If girls are found to have martial ability, they are happily trained in combat. The Fertility priests will lead the planting blessings and the harvest festivals, in addition to being midwives and fertility consultants. Love priests will conduct matchmaking, marriage ceremonies, marriage counseling, settle courting disputes and the very rare and frowned upon divorce. Priests of Order will religiously officiate over political/tribal meetings, keep minutes of the meetings and are also responsible for the local book of law and precedent and important genealogy tables. They are also the justices of the peace (though anything serious goes to tribal councils, a single priest or tribunal of priests/justices will deal with small property boundary issues, petty thefts, small time tax evasions, issues with the muster or who should be exempted from the 1-2 year temple education stint, etc). The god of Travel and Trade has few priests outside the very large communities and will often just have a statue with periodic, small agricultural sacrifices (usually during the non-planting/harvest seasons), though there are many. However many, many shrines along the roadways/crossroads and over the entry to mountain passes are dedicated to the Traveler god. Where there is a dedicated priest or two, s/he will be in charge of tax collections, keeping the books for the Temple and witness for larger commercial loans both from the Temple treasury itself (which is the majority of credit) and between 3rd parties of sufficient size. The local currency is in a certain size/quality of elk hide that is mostly virtual. Back in the forest days, wealthier families had small piles of elk hides for their yurts and clothing and gear, even then elk hide was more often just a simple way to compare values and was mostly a convenient bookkeeping gimmick standing in for a promise to pay something more useful. If nothing useful could be found or the credit was with another tribe, the actual elk hides would occasionally be paid at the end of the season with any interest. There are no Trickster priests, but the Trickster shows up in every temple as a snake-like, boar-like or rat-like humanoid statue standing outside of the main pantheon, and small crop sacrifices are left at his statue to appease him. He shows up on local shrines and in shrines near rivers known to flood coming off of the mountains and on high hills to prevent downpours or blizzards.
All priests wear robes (fur-lined in almost all cases) of varying color to indicate specialization and rank. This differs a bit from tribe to tribe and east to west, but broad color similarity shows a common history. The warrior priests wear variations of green, with darker colors and sleeve designs indicating higher rank. Most have variations of charging elk as coat-of-arms, but not universally (several Eastern tribes feature a circle of crossed axes in honor of the Tahote tribe, see below). Fertility priests wear earth-tones with tints of red and pink to show rank and are adorned with flowers on any special occasion. Order priests wear white with the ornateness of the collar to indicate rank. Their coat-of-arms will have Mountains and the Tree of Life that ties the bedrock mountains (Order of Creation) with the Tree of Ancestors. The Love priests tend to wear variations of cream or light browns with the local head priest wearing a dark brown robe and carrying a sapling branch. Most medium temples only have at most one or two part-time Love priests, so rank is simply the senior vs apprentice member. Larger tribes may have a senior priest, an acolyte or two and an elder (usually a retired senior priest). Afterlife priests wear gray/black combinations and are in charge of funerals, burials, grieving and estate issues. They will often give the blessing before battle (and arrange for care of the dead after a battle). Travel/Trade tend to wear sky blue and will be multilingual travelers themselves and proficient with math and interest calculations. They will be in charge of money changing (such little as there is), trade regulations, weights and measures, tax collections and pricing (Order priests will handle those things along with tribal council in smaller tribes).
Some Priests can have some basic, low-level spells (IQ 12 and under likely with some exceptions for very large temples) that would be relevant to their specialization. Ancestral and Afterlife priests in larger communities might have some Necromanic abilities (detect undead, healing, induce fear, repel undead, cure disease). See the Necromancer in 7 Hex Dragon House Rules. Gifted necromatic shamans will likely be scooped up by one of the Necromancer Brotherhoods, though the forest dwellers may escape their attention.
Some of smaller tribes will be hybrid and have a very small temple and very few priests who fill multiple roles and will likely not even be full time at the Temple, having their own farms. Fertility, Love, Ancestor and Afterlife are often combined as are Order, Trade/Travel and Battle. These smaller tribes are often up against the foothills and forests and will rely on a combination of basic agriculture in the spring/summer/fall with the more traditional forest-based forester/hunter/gatherer during the late-fall/winter. Some even living in very simple homes on the farm during the agricultural parts of the year and mobile yurts during the winter to follow the herds of Elk and deer.
Religious vision quests are quite common and one focus of community life. They are also a way the younger adults can prove their worth and full adulthood, especially during times of peace. It is also a way for any disgraced/dishonored adult to be forgiven and re-integrated. For many tribes it is a 2nd rite of passage (graduation from the Temple schooling is the introduction to competent young adulthood and the vision quest is entrance into honored adulthood). They involve a mild drug induced state and then a quest to retrieve some object either in the mountains, or even as far as the Karlydian Tundra. They can retrieve eagle feathers or gargoyle bladders or a giant's stoneware or Karlydian weapons or artifacts or griffin eggs. Depending on which god speaks to them, the quest will have a different flavor. All vision quests start with a symbolic agricultural sacrifice to the Traveler god on the morning the visionary leaves. Those who are given a vision by the Trickster are both honored and feared and can live a precarious existence. If they succeed in their quest and are generally lucky and bold (almost to the point of reckless) they can be honored if isolated. Trickster/Chaos visionaries can become rogue/free-lance warriors/scouts/spies/operatives (think hulking berserker coming out of nowhere to lead a reckless charge that just might succeed due to its audacity, or a crazy behind-the-lines supply raid against odds, etc). Or a traveling bards/showmen with dangerous animals in tow and daring circus feats. Or a throwing ax master hitting impossible targets on the run. Or shamans of the undead (those will likely be pushing the boundary of undead summoning but only in dire need) and can be called into to deal with hauntings over the local priesthood if their reputation is great enough. If they are unlucky or fail in their Trickster Quest it is a sign of being cursed by the Trickster and they can be shunned and live a life of grinding poverty, alms and mild abuse. Either way they are likely to live mobile and somewhat isolated lives. Those given visions by the Trickster make for rich characters (roguish daredevil bards, berserkers, shamans, etc) with interesting and maybe sad back stories and are often mercenary types as they are rarely allowed to settle down due to their affiliation with the Trickster/Chaos (see Glainsare below.
Some notable vision quests have been to rid the far eastern plains of the demon horde that spilled out of the WildLands, steal a Frost Star from the Karlydians (which brought them over the mountains in revenge at a terrible loss to the northern tribes). And the usual gargoyle bladder quests which earn the hatred of the gargoyles for the barbarians.
One notable eastern tribe, the now extinct TaHote, resisted the Kirean Kingdom for several decades and the worked with the remnant that escaped to Kir Ornault after the Calamity to fend off demon/undead outpourings from the Wild Wood. Kir Ornault fell to plague and demon invasion. The TaHote tribe, wanting to take the city as an outpost against the WildWood marched on the demon horde with their newly devised Demon Cleavers, only to be massacred to that last warrior.
Roaming broadly around the eastern high plains,
especially near the southeast corner of
the Wildwood is a band of barbarians lead by
the imposing (6 foot 2 inches and muscled) Battle Priestess Glainsare
(ST 17 IQ 15 DX 16: Demon
Cleaver, Borealis Bow,
+1 Fine Splint Leather Armour (4point protection,
-3DX), Ranger Cloak, and 4
fine silver throwing axes +1DX, +2Dmg; Talents: Ax, Bow, UC1,
naturalist, tactician, running, priest, tracking, woodsman). She was
given a vision from the Trickster to steal treasure from a mountain
giant, but make it look like a gargoyle did it. She pulled it off with
aplomb but faced the usual shunning upon her return home. Instead of
giving into the isolation, she pulled together a band of other
Trickster Visionaries to form a group of some 6-8 high minded and
principled mercenaries who travel in traditional style with mobile
yurts carried by beasts of burden. They protect caravans, go on
missions around edge of the Wild Lands
Elven and Centaur Rangers,
protect small outlying temples from attack, track down bandits for
bounty rewards, etc. She has made more of a name for herself with the
recent "Conflict in the
South" giving her more opportunities to deal with smaller hostile
incidences that may not require a full muster. As usual there are many
who do not like that those under the influence of the Trickster are
roaming free, especially in armed bands, but those very many whom she
has benefited have come to her defense in the larger eastern Temples
who think to put a stop to her and her crew. She has a middle-aged
forest shaman who has had training with some of the local Temples, the
Rangers and discreetly with some Necromancers who were visiting the
Rangers. The Necromancers decided against taking him to a Brotherhood
for formal training due to his age and limited Necromantic
ability. Still, he is more advanced than most barbarian shamans (ST 11
IQ 13 DX 12; his staff is topped by a thinly disguised Necromantic
Spirit Jar (which is frowned upon by most barbarian religious folks,
see 7HexDragon House Rules
Magic), Talisman of of the
Boar, and magical one-use small wolf and bear carvings when thrown
on the ground turn into the animal for 12 turns; Spells: cure disease,
detect undead, summon wolf, staff, repel undead, trailtwister, aid,
spirit jar). Glainsare is part of
the Borderlands Campaign.