The Peoples of Karyst
Dwarves are commonly found throughout Karyst and are the dominant culture in several regions, including the lands south of the Korrok Mountains, the Revyk Mountains, and the region of Elerak’s Teeth. Dwarven communities engage in considerable trade with non-dwarven settlements and seek to build strong ties with nearby communities. Known to be honest and fair, there is a strong level of comfort when trading with dwarves. Many dwarven-made goods are highly sought after, particularly iron and steel goods. They also supply some of the most sought-after architects and engineers.
Dwarven culture is highly ordered and rich in tradition. As a people they adhere to clear and rigid laws, most of which have not changed over the long centuries. While most dwarven societies are welcoming towards outsiders, they expect them to adhere to their rules and laws, something which is not always easy for non-dwarves. Oddly enough, many dwarves find the discomfort this causes in non-dwarves to be quite amusing.
Dwarves are stoic, solemn, and pragmatic in character. Most comfortable with things that are tangible in nature, dwarves are also materialistic and avid collectors, particularly of precious stones and finely crafted objects. There is little music, poetry or pageantry in dwarven culture. Dwarven speech itself is short, pointed, and concise, a habit that non-dwarves often interpret as being brusque, harsh and even rude.
Stone dwarves are the most common variety of dwarf, particularly in the west. Stone dwarves have light to medium brown skin tones with eyes of pale blue, grey or green colour. The less common Iron dwarves are slightly taller and less broad than their more populous brethren. Iron dwarves have deep brown skin tones, often tinged with a dull orange or red colouring. Their eyes tend to be deep blue or pale grey in colour.
While physically smaller in stature than humans and elves, dwarves tend to be quite broad in the chest and shoulders. Male dwarves place great pride in their beards, keeping it well groomed and clean. It is a common practice to adorn their beard with rings, precious stones and even jewels. Female dwarves do not grow beards, although they frequently sport intricately braided hair decorated with jewelry.
While once a populous and prosperous people, a devastating plague struck the elven peoples some 400 years ago, drastically reducing their numbers. They still maintain a strong presence in many large woodlands, but are an uncommon sight outside of their own lands. Most dwell in small, isolated communities, extremely cautious in their dealings with those outside of their own community, including other elves. They occasionally form ties to communities outside their own, but even these are tenuous and often fraught with tension.
Elves have an intuitive sense of right and wrong, and as such rely less on rules and laws than they do on feeling and instinct. The internal workings of elven society are a mystery to most outsiders, and the intricacies and nuances of their culture tend to alienate non-elves. For this reason, elves are often viewed as arrogant, self-serving and even contemptuous of non-elves. Elves in turn are hesitant to include outsiders, who are generally seen as disruptive, ignorant and disrespectful of their culture.
Elves are among the longest lived beings to walk Karyst, and have a long and storied history. Patient and contemplative, they typically act with more caution and forethought than other beings. As a culture they have an innate connection to the natural world, and view themselves as custodians and guardians of it. This has often resulted in tension and conflict with other cultures and has led to them being viewed with suspicion and distrust by non-elves.
More so than other beings, elves have a deep love of music, song and dance. Most elven lore is captured in song rather than written in books or on scrolls, and worship is conducted through both song and dance. Elves put little store in the material value of objects, valuing instead the history and sentiment of something.
The most common of the elven peoples are the Heartwood elves. Like all elves they appear slender and delicate, slightly smaller in stature than most humans. Heartwood elves are the most accepting of outsiders and the only variety likely to be found outside of elven lands. Their skin tends to be lightly tanned with tinges of green and gold. Eye colouring is typically green, gold or a lustrous brown. Thorn elves are less populous and also less accepting of outsiders, including other elves. Fiercely territorial, they aggressively defend their lands against any intrusion. Thorn elves have copper or nut-brown skin-colouring and eyes of moss green or a watery blue. Silverleaf elves are the least populous and are extremely rare. Intolerant of outsiders to the point of being xenophobic, any Silverleaf elves encountered outside of their own lands are likely to be outcasts. Silverleaf elves have skin tones ranging from bone white to dull silver, and eyes of sky blue, violet or indigo.
While gnomes are wide spread throughout Karyst, they are not normally found in large numbers in any one place. Most gnomish settlements are found in hilly regions, such as the Barrows, the White Kettle Hills, and the Rusting Hills. Gnome communities are also commonly found in or near regions dominated by humans or dwarves with whom they establish strong trade ties.
Although friendly with non-gnomes, gnomes are very protective of their community and cautious about exposing it to risk. For this reason, most meetings with outsiders are held in some other pre-arranged location. Most gnome settlements establish two or three such meeting places, normally in an easily defended location that can be monitored from the main settlement. Gnomish settlements themselves are well fortified, consisting of both underground and aboveground structures, and are often kept hidden.
A simple and earthy people, they avoid titles and the trappings of officialdom, having no true aristocracy themselves and little understanding of it. Rather an individual’s status is derived from their standing within their family; a helpful and supportive child is seen as a valuable member of the community, whereas the family black sheep is as much an outcast of the community as from their own family. Gnomish families tend to be quite large, encompassing distant blood relations from all branches. Family ties are established on the mother’s side, such that a male gnome marries into the wife’s family. The matriarchs of each family, known as Speakers, select a Hetman to act as the leader of the community, including settling disputes, leading the militia and representing the community to outsiders.
Gnomes are generally good natured and friendly, and are notorious for their impish sense of humour. They are fond of tricks and illusions, and have a deep love of stories and long tales. Despite this, they are a hard working, loyal, and dutiful people. Gnomes have a strong connection to the natural world, particularly to the earth and the animals that burrow and dig beneath the ground. They also have a keen sense for the arcane.
While all surface-dwelling gnomes are Rock Gnomes, they consider themselves to belong to one of two types: Rootless or Burrowers. Rootless gnomes tend to be more engaging with non-gnomes than Burrowers, although their duty to family is without question. The Rootless typically travel in groups of three to six extended families, moving in large wooden wagons from one place to the next, rarely staying in a single location for more than a month or two before moving on again. Burrowers are those gnomes who live in established settlements. They are more cautious in their dealings with outsiders, but their ties are broader, taking in the community as a whole. Most gnomes are Burrows, although Rootless gnomes are more likely to be encountered.
While small in stature, gnomes are incredibly sturdy. Their skin tones range from a light, earthy brown to dark auburn, while eye colour is typically emerald or mahogany.
Of all the civilised peoples, halflings are the most unassuming. Uninterested in conquest or the pursuit of power, they are content to dwell in their small riverside communities, plying the waters for trade, food, and other resources. Halflings are comfortable with most other civilized beings, and are often found within the confines of human and dwarven settlements, as well as in close proximity to gnomish and elven settlements.
Although they are generally open and have little dislike for outsiders, most halflings view the grand auspices and aspirations of other settled peoples with mild disdain. The great enterprises of humans and dwarves are often sources of amusement among the riverfolk, who have difficulty understanding the necessity for grand towers or sprawling cities, as is the mystic splendour of the elven peoples. The complex social structure of other peoples is viewed in a similar light. Halfling society is largely egalitarian, with no true nobility; individuals may fill an office or position, but do so based on ability, not status. As such, they have little use for titles and social classes.
Halfling communities form an integral part of trade and diplomacy in Karyst. Because of their ease in dealing with other races, they frequently form trade links and relations among multiple communities and are able to bridge the movement of goods from one settlement to another. They are further aided in this by a strong network of water routes that connects numerous disparate halfling communities, which allows them to trade in goods from distant settlements. Because of this, halflings are often an excellent source of information as well as making good messengers.
Halflings are industrious and hard working, displaying little pretense or self-importance. They also tend to be less materialistic than other races, and have a more communal view on matters of propriety which is often in stark contrast to that of non-halflings. On the other hand, they enjoy many indulgences, such as fine wines, brandies and rich foods. They are also great talkers with a weakness for gossip.
Halflings are a small people, about half the size of the average human. Most have ruddy skin colouring, although lighter skin tones are not uncommon. Eye colour is typically blue or brown, while green and grey eyes are less frequent. Halflings have thick, curly hair which is normally red or brown and occasionally black. Because they dwell almost exclusively in lands dominated by other races, the halfling’s own language has all but died out.
In the eyes of many, those of half-elven blood are an unfortunate breed; neither human nor elf, they do not fit in either world, and neither offers much in the way of acceptance. Although half-elves are only part elf, non-elves make little distinction, and often treat them with mild suspicion. Elves for their part are less dismissive of their half-elven brethren, but nevertheless consider their humanity to be a taint; it makes them less than elf. In many elven communities, this heritage is treated almost as a disease or curse, with the result that half-elves are looked upon with pity. As a result, most half-elves will eventually take to life on the road, as traders, traveling artisans, mercenaries, or adventurers.
Like their full-blooded brethren, half-elves feel a strong connection to the natural world, and many find themselves drawn to a life outside the confines of stone walls. While they also share a love of music and song, it does not hold the same mystic importance as it does for true elves. Half-elves are quicker to act than true elves, but still more contemplative and patient than most humans. Owing to their human heritage, they are also highly adaptive and more pragmatic than elves.
Half-elves are generally taller and more broadly built than full-blooded elves, but still less so than most humans. Half-elven colouration varies quite widely depending on their parentage.
Half-orcs have no true society or culture of their own; most live among orc tribes, where there is little distinction between mixed or full-blooded orc. Although not as brutish as full-blooded orcs, half-orcs are generally more intelligent and creative, which makes them more suited to leadership, command and positions of power within the tribe, provided they can demonstrate their strength and fend off rivals. Some find the humanity within themselves to be more compelling, and seek a different life among more civilised peoples. Those who do so find a cold, if not openly hostile welcome, and are frequently cast to the fringes of society. And yet, their strength and general fierceness are considered valuable traits, under the right circumstances. Half-orcs are commonly hired for brute labour. It is also not uncommon for them to fill the ranks of skirmishers in armies, or be hired as merchant guards. Some take to a life of banditry and raiding, even forming their own brutish tribes.
Most half-orcs have mottled green or greyish coloured skin, although some have lighter skin tones more closely resembling their human parentage. Eye colour is wide-ranging in half-orcs, from a deep red or orange to blue, green or brown.
Humans have managed to thrive in almost all regions of Karyst, due to both their large population and their great adaptability. Human settlements can be found throughout all lands and in almost any terrain. Human societies tend to grow and expand rapidly, and they are more likely to be conquerors than the other civilized races. For this reason, non-human societies tend to look upon humans with mild unease. Still, most human settlements have at least some non-human inhabitants. Larger towns and cities often contain entire communities of dwarves, gnomes and halflings. Humans, however, are seldom fond living within non-human settlements.
Four distinct human peoples dwell in Kayrst: Taeryhsian, Hakunic, Boshundi, and Uthurian. All four cultures are found throughout the world, although in varying numbers. Although there has been some intermixing through the ages, many humans lay claim to one heritage or another. Human communities are usually dominated by one culture with only subtle influences from other cultures.
Originally from the island of Taeryhs, the Taeyrhsians have a long history of conquest and expansion. Known as city-builders, Taeyrhsian fortifications and settlements are scattered throughout Taeryhs, the Shattered Isles, and western Kryos. Many have fallen into ruin, replaced by later structures, their usefulness having been worn out, or merely abandoned.
Traditional Taeyrhsian society is highly hierarchical and stratified, with a strong central authority and numerous layers of subservient vassals and lesser social classes. Taeryhsians further enforce this by emphasizing social station in their attire, often restricting specific forms of dress to higher ranks. Members of guilds and other associations frequently wear some token marking their affiliation, although the nature of this can differ greatly.
Taeryhsian culture is in many ways quite formal, with many small rituals and observances. Greetings and departures are marked with formal tones, and hospitality is viewed not only as a virtue but also as an art. Interactions among those of differing social station, particularly between noble and commoner, are carried out in ritualistic tones, with more formal dealings being conducted in ceremony.
Taeyrhsians have a strong martial tradition, although they have little preference for cavalry. Prowess in arms is highly valued in most Taeryhsian societies, and is considered a necessity in those of higher station. The priesthood is regarded quite highly in Taeryhsian society, and priests are often granted positions or offices of import. While the use of magic is held in high esteem, most Taeryhsians distance themselves from the arcane arts and give practitioners a wide, respectful berth. Magic users, for their part, commonly form guilds or colleges, in effect forming their own separate society.
The Taeyrhsian people are characteristically stocky and stout in build. The classic Taeyrhsian looks are dark red or auburn hair, with grey or blue eyes and light skin tones. Black or brown hair is also not uncommon.
The Hakunii are a clan-based people who believe in strong family and communal ties. Although there are differences among the numerous clans, they are largely similar in cultural and societal norms. While an individual or an entire family may relocate, they still consider themselves to be part of the clan and maintain some contact with their clan, including following the edicts of the clan’s leaders.
The clan is the centre of Hakunic culture, and its ties are stronger than almost all other allegiances. Most clans encompass several large, extended families. The clan leadership is made up of elders, a champion and a chieftain. The clan champion is the best warrior, determined through challenges of combat and physical prowess. The chieftain, a hereditary title, is the primary decision-maker, handling most matters pertaining to the clan. If a dispute arises between clans and cannot be resolved by the elders or chieftains, it is decided by a contest of the champions. There is a hierarchy among clans in which several clans are obeisant to the chieftain of a more powerful clan, though not to other clan members. All clans have at least one family of noble blood, that of the chieftain’s line, while particularly large or powerful ones may have two or three noble families, either through the merging of separate clans or a splintering of one family.
The Hakunic peoples came to Kryos from the distant east in a vast wave of ships, refugees from a dead and dying land. They brought with them their old way of life, principally the druidic faith, which has spread across Kryos and even Taeryhs as Hakunic clans migrated ever further west. Among traditional Hakunic peoples, the druidic faith is a central part of life. The druids themselves belong to no clan, forsaking such allegiances upon taking their oaths, although they often take an interest in the matters of local clans. Bards are also an important part of the Hakunic way of life, as they are the lore-keepers and historians of their people. Unlike druidic priests, a bard is not required to forsake their clan, and may rise to a position of importance within their own clan.
The Hakunii are characteristically tall with a lean build. Skin tones are normally quite pale, from light tan to milk white. Hair colour is commonly blonde or light brown, although it is often tinged with red or orange. Eye colouring can be any range of blue, grey, or green shades.
The Boshundi are an ancient people, originally from the Shattered Isles, who have spread across most of Karyst. Originally a seafaring culture, Boshundi merchants and explorers have traversed the seas of Karyst for long centuries, founding numerous small and disparate settlements throughout the known world. Boshundi raiders and pirates have plagued the waters of Karyst for just as long. While traditionally a seafaring people, they also have a strong presence in numerous interior regions.
The Boshundi culture retains a strong focus on the sea, as well as trade and exploration. Ship masters hold great influence among the Boshundi, often forming a loose aristocracy. For this reason Boshundi lords typically maintain tight control over the right to build and command a ship. Most Boshundi societies posses a powerful merchant class which often rivals or even surpasses the influence of the nobility. The goddess Feryl traditionally holds considerable sway among the Boshundi, as do Nasmirrhyn and Brenal. While Orym and his priests are well respected, his influence among the Boshundi is usually restricted to matters of trade.
The Boshundi have little regard for practitioners of the magical arts, though this attitude is not born of superstition or fear. Rather, the practised control and long hours of study are unappealing to their nature, and are viewed with disinterest. Dramatic and ostentatious displays of magical skill, however, are highly admired. Hence prestidigitators and performing tricksters receive far greater admiration than more serious practitioners. For this reason, Boshundi who wish to persue study of the magical arts usually do so amongst other peoples.
Most Boshundi are characteristically passionate, emotional and brash. They are adventurous by nature and have a great passion for contests, even to the point of folly. Daring exploits are a source of great pride and are viewed as important and worthy achievements. Because of this, many Boshundi expend a great amount of time and energy trying to out due each other in one manner or another. Their courage and daring has served many Boshundi well, driving them to pursue ever greater achievements. This same bravado is also their downfall, leading to rash and often reckless decisions.
Boshundi typically have swarthy skin tones with an olive cast. Hair is usually dark in colour, commonly black, deep red, or indigo. Most Boshundi have brown eyes, with orange or red flecking, although dark blue and grey are not unknown.
The Uthurian peoples have dwelt in the northern regions of Kryos since at least the end of the Savage Age. Since that time the Uthurians have spread throughout Kryos, though their numbers have thinned considerably. In ancient times, the Uthurians dwelt in vast nomadic tribes on the high plains of Meinyoch. The tribes slowly moved down out of the northern plains into Beslahn and Karsim, raiding, conquering and ultimately settling in more southerly regions. While most are now settled peoples, there are still those who hold to this old way of life.
Uthurian culture strongly reflects their ancient beginnings. Strength, physical-prowess, power and might are highly valued, and seen as signs of the gods’ favour. There is no hereditary nobility in Uthurian culture, as the mightiest among them are always viewed as the most fit to lead and rule; power and mastery are not a birth-right, but the rightful due of those who have the means to earn and hold them. Uthurian societies are an ever-changing network of alliances and allegiances, with the strong and powerful drawing others around them. Conflict, in one form or another, is a near constant as leaders vie amongst each other for primacy, while also fending off challenges from their own followers.
Although viewed as wild and barbaric, the Uthurians have great respect for tradition. Their customs are quite intricate and complex, and failure to uphold them is seen as not only disrespectful, but also a weakness of character. Combative and fierce-tempered, the smallest slight can easily result in confrontation. Despite this, or possibly because of it, Uthurians also have a great lust for life and its many pleasures. Uthurians also maintain strong ties to the natural world, and are famed for their skill at taming and commanding beasts of all manner.
Harkening back to their shamanistic traditions, Uthurian priests usually represent multiple deities with related dominions and beliefs. The triumvirate of Adeln, Kos, and Feryl is quite common, as is that of Ahzel, Celd and Rolm. The practice of magic is viewed with both awe and superstition. Seen as a great source of power, those who are strong in the practice are feared and given considerable respect, while those with weak skills are typically subject to disdain and abuse. As most never achieve great prowess, the practice is not very common among the Uthurians.
Uthurians are typically husky in build, with ruddy or earthy brown skin colour. Most have black hair, although rust-coloured hair is not uncommon. A small few have silver or platinum-coloured hair, and are said to be “frost-touched”. Eye colouration can be brown, green or grey.