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The New World, Part 9: Names and Cultures of the Barbarians

by Rich Burlew - originally from

Time to try and get this Names and Cultures thing finished up.

First and foremost of the nations yet to be defined is Kingdom D. Let’s review and expand upon what I’ve already decided about this place.

Kingdom D is geographically isolated by mountains from the rest of the continent. This is going to be crucial, I think, in that whatever culture exists is going to have been completely different from the pseudo-European Thrans. Further, I think this means that they must have been slightly less advanced in the ways of war, because they were conquered by Garrick the Forger fairly easily—especially when you consider that I just established that Garrick’s troops had to get through “impassable” mountains to attack them. Thus, in the present day, we know that while Kingdom D’s culture will be very different from the Thrans, they will have adopted their military techniques and equipment over the last 50 years.

Kingdom D revolted from Royce’s rule at some point. Further, I think it was more a war of intimidation than full-scale assaults. I don’t want there to have been a 20 year war of independence here. I picture that the Kingdom D’ers managed to pull off a few very devastating strikes against their neighbors on the other side of the mountains, the Stahlmen. Now that I think of it, this dovetails nicely with Fauchard’s hostility towards Kingdom D; these battles might well have been slaughters, and the Stahlmen and Thrans of Fauchard still remember these assaults.

Here’s what I am thinking of, then, as a cultural basis for Kingdom D: India. I’m picturing Kingdom D as a fusion between ancient India and the Dark Ages of Europe. Their knights wear chain mail armor with colored silk; their government is a mix of feudalism and a strict caste system. Basically, they were different enough to never truly fit in to Garrick’s empire, but absorbed enough that they are now technologically equal with the other three kingdoms.

I think there’s a lot of potential there for a unique visual look, which is something I find really important. I want someone to be able to understand the differences between the different nations by looking at a warrior from each.

Now, I need a name for them. I’ve grown so attached to “Kingdom D” as a name, though, that I want to keep the name starting with D. So, and Indian-sounding word that begins with “d”. How about Dharta? It’s pure invention on my part, but the “dh” spelling feels right.

My new nation of Dharta doesn’t have a king or queen, though. That is part of what is going to separate them from the other nations, and part of why they revolted in the first place. Dharta will be essentially an oligarchy, ruled by the highest caste. It won’t be entirely benevolent, but because they are Dhartan in nature and not foreign conquerors they have the complete support of their people—for now. But if Fauchard and its allies were ever permanently dealt with, this upper caste might face the fact that those below them are now far better armed and armored than ever before in their land’s history.

Let’s move on to the proto-Viking culture in the northwest islands. These are going to be an analog of the Vikings, but not the Vikings of stories today. These are thieves, bandits, raiders, and generally unpleasant people, not noble warriors. They are going to have more in common with rogues than barbarians. Their boating skills will be superb, naturally, allowing them to scour most of Redwater with raiding parties. They have no horsemanship skills, but this serves them well as they live in lands ill-suited for cavalry tactics. This, more than anything, is why Redwater knights have so much trouble ending their threat. They can kill a raiding party, but they can’t wipe out the source.

This will also not be a unified nation in any sense of the word. Each set of villages will be ruled by a warlord with only casual relations to the others. This frustrates Queen Katirionna’s efforts to sue for peace; she appeases one warlord with chests of gold, only to find the armies of three others knocking on her kingdom’s doors. In a sense, though, this is their weakness as well. If the various warlords ever banded together, they could sack Riversend itself.

They still need a name though; Vikingish, but not too obvious. How about Ordnings? Hmmm, kind of awkward to say. Wait, what about Westlings? It’s kind of a play on the Vikings being called “Norsemen,” or Northmen. These raiders come from the westernmost islands and peninsulas on the continent, and they don’t have enough of a unified nation to have picked a name for themselves, so they are called by the name other tribes have always referred to them.

That takes care of the “H Barbarians” (harkening back to our map), let’s look at the F Barbarians. These are the most northern human settlements, brushing right up against the arctic gnolls. When thinking of northern, arctic cultures, fantasy worlds seem to always go in the same direction: big burly blonde guys with horned helmets. Blech. Cliché, and plus I already have a culture leeching off the Vikings. I want a new arctic culture that I’ve never seen used.

How about Eskimos? Not literally; no igloos, for example. But an arctic oriental culture, kind of a mix of Inuit and the northern reaches of Asia. This immediately sounds interesting to me, because I’ve been wrestling internally with whether to include a “typically” Asian nation. My fear was that once you have samurai and such, you lose the Dark Ages feel. But this would be something new and interesting; villages of hearty spear fishermen living on the northeastern bay. They’re simply too far north to have been conquered by the Thrans, but they might have goods worth trading, resulting in the occasional traveler. In fact, I think they might be the only “barbarian” collective on good terms with the civilized nations. They’ve got too much to deal with from the gnolls to fight with the other humans.

Let’s give these people a name. Pulling from the Eskimo/Inuit thing, I’m actually going to give them TWO names: one they call themselves, and one others call them. For their common name, I’ll go with something descriptive: Icemen. Simple, direct, to-the-point, and probably loathed by the people themselves. They refer to themselves, however, as the Ayoo Tun’I. Which explains why the southerners can’t be bothered to remember it.

E Barbarians next. These people are right up against Vertland, but are not part of it. They were, however, under Garrick’s direct military rule for at least a decade, before Royce retreated from their lands. I imagine they would have to be pretty hostile to avoid being assimilated. So it occurs to me that it would be interesting to give them a guiding cultural belief that actually prevented them from being absorbed permanently. In fact, I am going to give them a very strict druidic religion that will have a very different take on the Sun and the Moon than the Churches’ doctrines. I don’t know what it is yet, but I think it will include the belief that the gnomes are demons. Little, stubby demons out to corrupt the souls of tall, strong men. Bam! Instant ideological conflict with both the nations, the Churches, and the gnomes themselves. I like it.

As far as culture, I think I’ve defined them enough with the religion, so we’ll keep them basic Dark Age villages, with no fancy real-world analog. But I suspect they will have shades of latter-day concepts like witch trials and inquisitors in their tiny villages. And since it looks like their lands cover the best trading routes between the Icemen and Vertland, there’s plenty of opportunity to run afoul of them during a campaign.

Finally, their name. I’ve been looking for something a bit on the poetic side; I think they refer to themselves as the Children of the Twelve. Frankly, I have no idea who or what the Twelve are at this point, though I imagine it ties into their radical religion. We’ll worry about that later, for now, I like the sound of it.

We’re on the home stretch. G Barbarians next. OK, let’s look at where I drew them: in unconnected river valleys in the north. While all the “barbarian” lands are not unified, what if these valleys were actually completely isolated from one another? Just getting there is a huge ordeal. And what would be the logical consequence of isolation? A backwards undeveloped society. These guys are still in the Iron Age up there, with no idea about what’s going on in the rest of the world.

They’ve got their own little set of mini-kingdoms, each different from the next but all way behind the rest of the continent. I like the idea, not only because it’s fun to have people who are awed by the sights of the cities, but because it’s good setting-building to include an area where a DM can create his own independent kingdom. Sometimes plots just demand you to be able to kill a king without disrupting the status quo of the setting. So collectively, we’ll call these the Valley Kingdoms. We’ll name a few if it comes up as important.

Hey, I think I finally finished naming everything major. Only took me like 3 months. Next time, I finally move on to something that will have some seriously helpful tips for any campaign setting: Organizations and their roles.