First up for today, Editorial-0 wished to expand a bit on the culture of the Veltine and sent along a sizeable chunk of material. I’ve expanded on that and done some editing, so here we have a more in-depth look at the Veltine.
The chilly Khundare Archipelago, homeland of the Veltine, is difficult to reach from the larger Ishorin and Ra’Vatan island chains. The distance is considerable to begin with, and the islands are encircled by the Frozen Sea, Sea of Mist, Sea of Weeds, Pillars of Ice, and Seas of Darkness – all difficult and dangerous to navigate.
The Veltine, being a bit insular, generally prefer it that way.
Veltine society has few towns or cities. Fundamentally, it’s organized around small clans or extended families, each occupying their own, basically self-supporting, clan-steading. (Those which become dependent on other steadings for any of the basics of life are soon subordinated and absorbed by those other steadings). Any steading will support basic crafts, fishing or herding or both, a few speciality crafts to trade with other steadings, and at least some basic agriculture. Steadings which are fortunate enough to possess other natural resources are generally especially prosperous. A steading will often support more than a hundred related individuals from several generations.
A steading is normally focused – socially, if not necessarily physically – on an Ancestral Hall, a longhouse normally framed and paneled with wood and bone (from massive sea-creatures) and walled and roofed with turf. With the usual earth-bermed shelter from the wild magic of the great storms, the ancestral hall contains food-stores, kitchens, sleeping areas for the clan’s pups, any special tools or treasures the clan may possess, and sleeping areas for respected elders who have moved into the ancestral hall. Most adults live in small huts nearby. Such shelters provide comfortable places to sleep, and provide room to store a few things out of the weather, but generally do not provide for cooking or more elaborate facilities.
Farmers and herders generally live in larger bungalows, which double as storehouses and barns, while the occasional serious specialists – master-smiths, magicians, the crafters of charms and talismans, teachers, and priests – generally occupy smaller halls which provide the earth-sheltered space for them to practice their arts. Slaves generally occupy crude pit-huts.
Other special facilities usually include a field for training or dueling, a (sometimes quite elaborate) bathing area, well-protected boathouses, and the steading defenses – generally consisting of various barriers (walls, moats, thorny hedges, or fields of broken glass or sharp stones), guard-posts, and dangerous pets.
Not surprisingly, Veltine live like this because they are aggressive and often fight over land, resources, mates, and status. To the Veltine, personal combat is the rational way to settle almost any disputed issue. They’re physically powerful and know it, plus they heal quickly, and they tend to subscribe to the usual d20 view that the strongest (high level) individuals are almost impossible to keep from fighting it out and doing what they want to anyway. Death is rare in such fights unless a feud has grown intensely personal, but it’s easy to wind up maimed. Duels are traditional and have highly ritualized behaviors (a restraining mechanism which has proven successful across the generations) for initiating, fighting, and conceding them. Veltine can be forced into duels, but the traditions give the one being forced some modest advantages, allowing for some social stability.
While there isn’t any real “government” outside of the occasional council of elders and warriors, the Veltine do have strong customs and their temples to bind them together, a bit like the city-states of ancient Greece. There are competitions, festivals, and religious rituals – and the priests of the various Veltine Ideals generally attempt to enforce the Veltine customs and dueling rules through “moral authority”, shame, and – if necessary – through violence. The Veltine aren’t really very devout, but they rarely dispute the authority of a temple in its area of expertise – although the temples are just as competitive amongst themselves as any other Veltine organization.
In general, Truth is regarded as the purest Ideal, and is one of the few without competing claims that one hero or another represents it’s true embodiment. It’s high priest or “Noble Philosopher” is highly respected, on the theory that – as he or she is representing the ideal of truth – his or her proclamations must be accurate.
Of course, when they prove inaccurate, that also proves that the high priest is failing in his or her duty to the Ideal, which means it’s time to tear the old high priest into shreds and elect a new one. That usually suffices to keep such proclamations rare, which helps keep them respected – which helps maintain the rules of justice, honor, and succession which the temple proclaimed long ago.
In practice, while Truth may be purest, it’s the Warrior Ideals – Honor, Ferocity, Duty, and Glory – that are most popular. Ideals such as Strength, Agility, Skill, and Tactics are also highly regarded, but Service, Peace, Compassion, and Knowledge get more lip service than actual support.
Most temples teach some magical or martial techniques – demonstrating the superiority of their philosophies through the superiority of their followers – and so are the Veltine centers of knowledge. They maintain the histories (although rarely agreeing on them) and guard their lore zealously, offering it only to those who leave their clans to swear loyalty to the temple itself. Leaving a clan is a huge step, but not considered disreputable. Similarly, particularly respected masters of a given discipline (most often martial arts) may leave their clan to devote themselves to their skills and take students from any clan.
Battle for standing is not merely physical, of course (although that is usually a major component), and where Veltine gather they compete for power. This most often happens in their few cities (mostly, in fact, occupied by other races), or their more numerous market centers, and often involves competing nobles and temples. Of course, nobility in the Veltine world is something you take, assert and defend through deal-making, shows of strength and personal courage. Adoptions, intermarriage and crowd-pleasing shows are the primary tools of successful Veltine. Attempts to rule through brute force tend to fail spectacularly. The Veltine are simply too fractious and prone to going into berserker rages when pushed instead of knuckling under.
While the Veltine lack innate magic, and their (fairly scarce) mages favor physical enhancements and magic which draws upon the body’s resources, their physical might and toughness serve them well in many fields. They can accomplish mighty labors, move great weights, haul nets and lines with ease, attempt to take the great monsters of the sea, and relatively few creatures bother them. Even fewer bother a group. They can usually flee sudden strikes and reorganize, or use hit-and-run tactics of their own to grind down major foes. While there are occasional monster-problems in their lands, such troubles are a mere background for their internal struggles.
Veltine agriculture is fairly basic, and is often the province of slaves of other species, but they do combine simple magic with their innate physical advantages with some effect. They don’t eat many vegetables, of course, but they do raise fodder and eat breads with cheese or meat sauces. They are also particularly fond of herbal infusions and some mild stimulants which grow well in the acidic soil of the cool and rainy inland mountains. There’s even a modest export marketfor such products. Of course, it’s a long ways to the other archipelagos, so only items with compact value are sent that far.
Veltine are natural warriors, though they don’t take well to military discipline. They tend to come in mobs and warbands, not in platoons and regiments, but work well with their own leaders. They often bring their own ships and gear, and are well-paid in booty. Their smaller craft usually have a single sail, a light frame, and oars for backup. They’re just big enough to hold a band of warriors, their gear, and some plunder, and travel quickly to raid and plunder. Larger ships usually have multiple sails and oars and may have a screw, suitable for use with a dwarven engine (if one is available), magic, or peddling. Most also mount a ram, as well as provisions for boarding. If they have a weather-wizard available to becalm enemy ships, so much the better.
Those guilty of major crimes or who shame their clans are cast out. If they can’t find another clan to take them in, and can’t find a place in one of the towns, they frequently leave altogether rather than live as a drifter without a place in society. Veltine have a hard time killing family, but exiles are considered to be dead and officially forgotten. This has contributed to a generally bad reputation of the Veltine in many other lands, since Veltine travelers may well be exiled murderers or thieves. Any descendants of the exiles born later aren’t considered tainted, but they won’t even be known to the clan anyway. Thus, there are small populations of Veltine living in other lands.
Veltine wealth is largely based on food production, with land holdings and production of useful goods contributing as well. Clan ties function as a kind of “credit rating”, but there is no recognized system of currency. This makes it hard to carry wealth to new areas. Veltine usually rely on family connections, but outsiders are advised to carry small, valuable, items, such as perfumes, spices, incense, magical devices, weapons, and brightly-colored cloth (many Veltine love brightly-colored cloth, but they produce few fine fabrics – so it fetches a good price. Ikam cloth is most prized. Outsiders can fall back on money – but the Veltine may or may not accept it, and invariably only do so at a terrible rate of exchange. It’s better to try to fit in by making friends; a Veltine clan is more likely to offer hospitality in exchange for stories or some useful magical work than gold – although the few towns (such as Casinium) which routinely trade with outsiders are more businesslike.
Travelers are advised, however, to watch out for the occasional outlaws and for a few of the crazier religious beliefs. The Veltine belief that they are on the top of the food chain, and thus are superior to everyone and everything else, occasionally turns up as the belief that – to ascend to a higher state or prove yourself truly superior – you simply need to live on a diet of other Veltine. The few known cases usually didn’t last long (or go over well), but there are plenty of rumors of their being entire cannibal cults out there. A few other tales imply that a wolf-form Veltine who manages to devour the heart of another Veltine will be granted the ability to shapeshift since he or she has proven themselves and their strength. Still other tales state that, when any Veltine eats another, the cannibal will sometimes gain increased abilities and “increase the potency of their blood”. Veltine generally don’t like to discuss such things, and their priests mostly deny that such tales have any truth to them, but it’s not like there’s been any properly-controlled testing.