Cultures Around the Written World
"Back where I come from there are men who do nothing all day but good deeds.
There are four local human lands, and two local non-human lands. Human, brer, and golem player characters may come from any of the four Houselands, from the city of Farraway, or from Cottington Woods itself. Goblin players are always from UnderMarsh.
In addition to the four Houselands, UnderMarsh and Greencloud there are several cultures from around the world. Cottington Woods exists in a special place, and there are lots of comings and goings. Traders travel all over the Written World and discover all sorts of exotic things, and somehow these things often find their way to Cottington. Characters cannot originate from any of these distant lands, but they could be inspired by the cultures found there. That said, we’d like to maintain a small town atmosphere.
Below is a very general overview of the lands.
The House Lands
The four House Lands border Cottington Woods to the north and south, with the Clubs to the north, and Diamonds, Hearts and Spades to the south surrounding the city of Farraway. Each house land is ruled by a king or queen, who in turn, at least in theory, is subject to the rule of the High King in Farraway.
The House of Clubs, Collamoor
North beyond Cottington Woods, the House of Clubs is removed from the other House Lands. Clublanders place great emphasis on strength of arms and on physical prowess. More so, they value one’s ability to be productive. Farmers are no less valuable than the militia. Clublanders are the most down to earth and practical of the Houselanders, disdaining the Hearts as full of fluff, the Diamonds as twofaced and shallow, and Spades as arrogant busybodies. They are often sought as bodyguards and protectors. The Clublanders sponsor the annual Games, and their fighting school is considered the best in all the lands, such that other houses often send their own to study there.
If there is a reason that the Clublanders fight so well, it is because they fight often. They are under constant threat from the Frostwroth barbarians to their north, and it is a rare winter when those barbarians - or the Frozen Dead of the north - do not attack somewhere along the Clublander coast. Collamoor boasts a large number of standing troops, but even so they cannot be everywhere, and those who live farther away must be ready to defend themselves when the barbarians attack. Clublanders take pride in knowing they defend the rest of the Houselands from the Frostwroth, but feel some resentment that they get little support from the other houses.
There is some small resentment against the Clublanders as a result of their involvement in the war against Baeldannen, the evil fairy queen, when King Roderick Collamoor was ensorcelled by Baeldannen and sent his army to take Farraway City, Asylum, and northern Woods. That war was short and it was, after all, many years ago, and King Robin Collamoor and Queen (and High Princess) Virtue Farraway have done a great deal to make amends.
The Collamoor colors are green and black, often with a black club on a green field, though sometimes the colors are reversed.
(Collamoor takes inspiration from Scottish, Germanic, Scandinavian and
Russian/Slavic fairytales and folklores).
The House of Diamonds, Westall
Diamondlanders are shrewd businessmen who place great emphasis on material wealth. They are very much about appearance and position, and often display both in complicated games of intrigue. No one throws a party like a Diamond. While Diamonds often appear on the surface as benevolent, beneath the surface is often found a heart as cold and unforgiving as their namesake. Diamonds love to make deals, though be careful what deals you make, because a Diamond will hold you to your end. Diamondlanders tend to look down their noses at the other Houses. They are well aware that they are the wealthiest, and flaunt that wealth. Many great Men of Science workshops and guilds are found within the Diamondlands, as well as some universities.
They see Clublanders as "brutish and boorish;” flashy dueling is more the Diamondlander style. While many Diamondlanders sponsor the artisans within the Heartlands, having great appreciation for their work, Diamondlanders see Heartlanders as easily manipulated and foolish for putting more value on love and friendship than on wealth, power, and position - emotions are ephemeral things with no lasting power. Diamondlanders see Spadeslanders as the only House that could possibly compete with them, though they often see Spadeslanders as nosy and prying, without a proper sense of social etiquette and proper respect for one's social position.
Westall, the Diamondlands, is the northernmost of the southern Houselands. The Gobaleen Mountains form the Diamondlander’s northern border, and those same mountains are honeycombed with the mines of both men and goblins. It is not unusual for the Diamondlanders and the goblins to engage in conflict, armed or otherwise, over ownership of the valuable ore found there.
The Diamond Colors are blue and white, and the symbol is typically a blue diamond on a white field. Sometimes the colors are reversed.
(Westall takes inspiration from Victorian England fairytales and folklores,
as well as the pomp and decadence of Renaissance Italy and pre-Revolution France).
The House of Hearts, the Heartlands
As the name implies, Heartlanders are ruled by the heart. They place great value in love and friendship, and courtly love traditions reign. Art and music are considered the greatest pursuits, and even those in other professions typically practice some form of artistic hobby. Many Priests of the Word are Heartlanders. The Bardic College in Briardown is the greatest in the land, and nowhere else in the Houselands are bards so well-respected.
Heartlanders see Clublanders as reliable, dependable and fearsomely brave, but feel sorrowful that they forget that strength of the heart is needed as much as strength of arms. Heartlanders and Diamondlanders rarely, it seems, see eye to eye, yet many Heartlanders have Diamondlander sponsors. Certainly the Diamondlanders have an appreciation for the Arts that the Heartlands produce, but often usually as a status symbol and a thing of beauty to be flaunted, not something to be appreciated for what it truly is. They often find Diamondlanders cold and, well, heartless, and their game of intrigues rarely take into account the feelings of those involved. There is something about Spadelanders that Heartlanders tend to find both intriguing and also at times a bit disconcerting. They share an intense curiosity, but the Spadeslanders have a lack of respect of privacy. Their sense of justice is often removed from their sense of heart, and they sometimes see things too black and white, too life and death.
The Heartlands are the most expansive of the Houselands. They sit between Diamonds and Spades with their northeast corner just touching the city of Farraway.
The Heartland colors are red and white. Their symbol is the red heart on a field of white. This is never reversed.
(For inspiration, read "A Song for Arbonne" by Guy Gavriel Kay
and various Arthurian Legends, as well as courtly love traditions and fairytales,
some celtic folklore, french folklore, etc., especially those that involve stories
of love and the arts.)
The House of Spades, Rollinghill
Fortune favors the Spades. Their lands are smaller than the Heartlands, but have great abundance, and certainly no other house can claim as many marriages into the royal line of Farraway. They have extensive trading routes and engage in many business ventures with the Diamonds. Spadelanders place a great deal of value on knowledge and discovery. This does not mean they are all scholars or priests (though a great number of Scholar-Priests are Spadelanders), but that they share a great curiosity. For this reason, some of the greatest explorers and rogues hail from this house.
They place a strong emphasis on justice, and are often called upon to settle disputes, investigate matters, or enforce the King's law. The first Jacks were Spadelanders. It is said, however, that their pursuit of knowledge and truth sometimes goes too far, and many of the other Houses accuse them of prying into matters not of their concern.
Spadeslanders appreciate the prowess of the Clublanders - but also see them as somewhat straight and narrow. Somtimes even simple, due to their disdain of playing the Game of Cards. But they can be relied upon, and no one makes a better bodyguard that doesn't ask questions. Spadeslanders see the Diamondlanders as so caught in their games and one-ups-manship that they miss the larger picture, and don't appreciate that knowledge for knowledge's sake is often its own reward and by far the greater game. Their emphasis on status and material goods is sometimes seen as gauche. Spadeslanders find the Heartlanders refreshing and delightful. Their patronage of the arts means they often have some of the best libraries and collection of knowledge, and Spadeslanders do love collecting knowledge. They also have an adventurous spirit the Spadelanders appreciate, and perhaps only the Spadelanders truly realize what strength the Heartlanders truly have.
Rollinghill is the southernmost of the four Houselands. To the southeast is the Canyonlands, and the Spadelanders have a strained history with the people there.
The Spade color is black, and the symbol often shows a black spade or spades on a red or white field
(The Spadelands takes its inspiration from a variety of sources, from Sherlock
Holmes to Indian Jones to the Cadfael Chronicles, to stories of knowledge and
discovery; from tales of the justice aspect of Arthurian legends to stories
of spies such as James Bond or Brent Weeks’s Night Angel Trilogy to the
legends of monks like St. Patrick, St. Benedict and St. Augustine.)
The city of Farraway is the seat of the High King of the four Houselands. The citizens of Farraway typically adhere to the characteristics of the various lands, with the added rush and hustle of city life. It is largely considered unnecessary to travel to the various Houselands in order to taste the flavor of them. In most cases, it is enough to visit Farraway, where each house is well represented. Here, the citizens believe, everything of important can be found, and it is not just the center of the law but also the center of culture for all the Houselands.
Much of the city was burned during the War against Baeldannen, the Evil Fairy Queen, but over the past many years, much has been rebuilt - grander, some claim, than it was before, but the few areas that still remain ruined and the memorial to the war stand as a start reminder of the dangers of meddling in the affairs of fairies and in the dangers the Woods to the north can sometimes represent... even if there is also a sense that the people owe the Woods some thanks for thwarting the evil fairy queen's plans.
The city stands at the northern border between the Heart and the Spadelands. It is south of the Border Hills, north of which is Cottington Woods.
(Farraway City is a hodgepodge of all the Houses, and so takes inspiration from all. We envision Farraway as a mix ranging from Victorian London to the Discworld’s Ankh-Morpork to Ba Sing Se from Avatar: The Last Airbender.)
Lake Tower, the center of learning for Magicians across the Houselands is located in the lake across from Farraway City. Not all Magicians are trained here, but certainly those who do are considered to be among the best of all magical practicioners. Those who are serious about Ritual Magic eventually go there to study.
(Lake Tower is a mix of the Wizard’s Tower in Fantasia to legends
of Merlin, a mix of the frivolity of Terry Pratchett’s Unseen University
from the Discoworld novels and to the gravitas of the Wizard Towers in the movie,
The Flight of Dragons)
Most folks in Cottingting Woods grew up on the borders, and tend to take after whichever house was closest to them, but some grew up deeper in the woods, and claim no ties to the Houselands. Those rare individuals are often considered odd, perhaps a little fairy touched, or just plain crazy. At best they are considered backwards or out of touch by mainstream Houselanders. The goings on outside of the woods have a hard time reaching into the woods, and they often don’t seem to matter so much. Woodlanders tend to be more focused on the simple yet frequent day to day challenges that the wood presents.
Locals to Cottington Woods, although not belonging to a specific house, called Woodlanders, are still considered Houselanders. Prior to the start of game, there is no community within the woods, per se. There is no governing body or place where the woodlanders gather to discuss such issues. There is the Cotting House, but that is in many ways only the social center of the Woods, where people gather to trade and tell stories, to drink and to eat in the company of those who understand the strange things that happen in the Woods and for rumors of those things that happen outside it. To the Woodlanders, the world outside the Woods is as strange as the Houselanders see the Woods.
(Cottington Woods itself is heavily influenced by Celtic Myths & Fairytales, the Brothers Grimm, Into the Woods musical, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, many of the fantasy/fairytale writings of CJ Cherryh, and numerous other fairytales and folklore.)
The Houseless (Wanderkin)
Most Wanderkin clans migrate in and out of the Houselands, and player characters
cannot come from these clans/families. However one clan/family, or collection
of family clans, spends most of its time wandering the four Houselands and Cottington
Woods and players may come from this clan.
There are two known, non-human lands that are close to Cottington.
Home to the local wood elven population, Greencloud is a place that no non-elf has ever seen. It rests in the forest to the east of Cottingon. The town of Thornwall guards the only known approach to Greencloud and is guarded vigilantly by aggressive elves perched on high natural walls.
Elves appear as humans, though they have pointed ears. Their clothing always incorporates leaf shapes into the pattern. They are proud and honorable, and often come across as snobbish when they aren't seen as frightening. Woodlanders give them respect much like they would the Fair Folk and avoid them as much as possible. Some few Woodlanders trade with the elves in Thornwall, and elven-made bows and herbal potions are highly valued.
Elves are a presence in the woods and cannot be ignored. They typically do not approach human settlements, and on the rare occasions that they do, they never stay for long. They view non-elves with poorly concealed disgust, and it is well known that the touch of a non-elf is disgusting to an elf. This constant distance is also evident in how elves fight – they choose to wield bows and to kill from a distance.
While elves seem to dislike humans, they absolutely abhor goblins, and will
often threaten goblins on sight or even come to blows. That Cottingon sits between
Greencloud and UnderMarsh is unfortunate, since elven and goblin hostilities
will occasionally occur nearby, drawing the men of town into the conflict.
UnderMarsh is a very boggy swampland west of Cottington, and is home to marsh goblins. Beyond UnderMarsh are the Gobaleen Mountains and south are the Diamondlands. Much of UnderMarsh is under water, which is fine for the amphibious goblins, but makes travel difficult for non-goblins.
Goblins have green skin, though otherwise they appear human. Because the constant in and out of water is hard on fabric, goblins care little about the quality of their clothing, and they typically dress in rags or tattered clothing.
Goblins perhaps even more than the elves, they are a presence that cannot be ignored. Goblins are very curious, and have, to the Houselanders, a poor sense of boundaries, as they don’t have the same understanding of possession of items. Since they occasionally take things that belong to other people, they are viewed with distrust, and very few people will let a goblin into their home.
Because the Diamondlanders and the goblins of UnderMarsh have such a history of violence, goblins tend to regard all humans warily, though they do have dealings and humans don’t typically fear for their lives when traveling goblin lands. Goblins have the same hatred of elves that elves have for them.
While Houselanders will have the most exposure to other Houselanders, there are other cultures out there that may interact with them. Most frequently they would encounter Canyonlanders or Frostwroth, and occasionally they might meet travelers or traders from Taiden Sheh, the Dust Lands or the Barumbi Basin. Lakupaparoo or the Wikapapuji Islands are so far away that only extreme measures would ever serve to create an interaction. But of course, you never know.
The Barumbi Basin
The Barumbi Basin is a tropical rainforest that stretches over a large portion of the Written World, south over the sea from the Houselands. The deep canopy formed overhead by the massive trees of the basin make the place seem even deeper and larger than it is, and it is easy to get lost. Of all the lands on the Written World, none is filled with such an air of natural mystery.
The Houselands have a presence in the Basin in the small city of White House.
While the Robber Barons reigned and fell in the Houselands, other kingdoms did the same in the Barumbi Basin, and ruins of those great kingdoms persist, buried and hidden beneath vines and under roots. Though there is civilization in the Basin, there is more wilderness, and deeper into the jungle civilization as the Houselanders view it is harder to find. The peoples and cultures that remain in the Barumbi basin keep much to themselves.
(Characters can draw their ideas from the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs or H. Rider Haggard, as well as mythologies and folklore of South America and Africa.)
The Canyon Lands
To the south and east of the Spadelands are the Canyon Lands, an enormous stretch of land that is cut and cut again by maze-like ridges and valleys. The proud Canyonlander people are considered “simple” and “primitive” by Houselander standards, as the People here favor Witchcraft over Science and embrace an Oratory Tradition focused on Stories and Tales rather than the Written Word; the First Patron to them is a story teller not a story writer. The Laws of Science were learned and forgotten in the Houselands before the Houselanders ever reached the canyons, and even Ritualized magic is not as well known; what magic they practice is unlike any in the Houselands. But the truth is that their culture is rich and varied, with a different way of life than the Houselands, living in a manner closer to the land and to the fairies, elementals, and spirits that inhabit it.
The greatest of the canyons is RedFeather Canyon, and built into the wall of this canyon is the RedCliff Dwelling Place, the center of Canyonlander culture. While the people of the canyons are divided into many nations with many dispositions, once each year they gather at the RedCliff Dwelling Place to trade and speak of matters of import.
Over the last few generations the Church of the Word has sent many missions into the Canyon Lands to try and bring the Written Word to the people there, but also to bear Witness to ther culture, traditions and stories so that they might be Recorded in the Written Word. There has been some success, especially in the borderlands, but it has also led to some unfortunate conflicts.
(The Canyon Lands should draw ideas from the varied native cultures and tales of North America.)
The Dust Land, the Kingdom of Gold
East and above the Barambi Basin, separated from it by an enormous rock escarpment thousands of miles long are the Dust Lands. Over a thousand years ago the Dust Land was home to the Kingdom of Gold, a kingdom (so the stories say) that reigned since the beginning of time. While it seems that nothing could possibly grow in such a dry place, the Kingdom of Gold is one of the Written World’s oldest cultures, raising pyramids up from the sands to reach for the sky. Eventually the Kingdom of Gold fell, and today the land is divided into dozens of tiny states.
(Based very loosely on ancient Egyptian mythology, the people of the Dust Land envision their patrons as having the heads of animals. The Dust Land also takes inspiration from 1001 Arabian Nights and other folktales of the Sahara Desert and other Desert-dwelling people.)
Frostwroth sits across a great bay from Collamoor, north of Cottington Woods. Frostwroth is a bitterly cold region during the long winter, and a stunningly beautiful one during its very short summer.
Carved out of the surrounding highlands by glaciers at some point during the world’s shrouded prehistory, the land is rugged and filled with dramatic valleys, ancient evergreen forests, and cragged rocky spires that are never without a cap of snow.
The people of Frostwroth are as rugged and violent as the land they claim to have tamed. They regard battle as honorable, and to die in any way but on the sword of an enemy is considered a shame.
The Frostwroth constantly test their mettle not just against themselves but against the Clublands, north of Cottington Woods. In the far too recent past the many clans of Frostwroth unified and brought the full force of their people to bear. Ultimately they were broken and scattered. Now, the various clans battle for dominance over one another, and those farthest south or east also invade the Clublands. Rumors persist that there is a King again among them, seeking both to unify his people in peace with the Clublands and to bring the Frostwroth people to new lands out of the frozen north, but many dismiss these as Bard's tales: why would the warrior winter people abandon their home and their way of life?
It is also rumored that the dead of the Frostwroth cannot bear to die outside their homeland, and return home, one way or another. There are many stories of those who ventured too far north encountering the Frozen Dead. In the years since the Great War, the number of restless dead – believed to be those who died far from home in that War – roaming the Clublands has grown.
(Frostwroth is inspired by classic Viking and Scandanavian tales and some stories of the Scottish highlands.)
Several generations ago, a colony of settlers traveled from the Houselands to settle the far distant land of Lakupaparoo. Lakupaparoo is one of the few places in the Written World that exists just over the horizon. On the otherwise flat Written World, this gives rise to the saying that Lakupaparoo is down under the rest of the world, and the colonists there have even assumed the name of the “House Down Under”. Travelers from the land down under tell of coastal jungles and of an inland made of burning sand.
Aside from the expanding colony of former Houselanders, Lakupaparoo is home to a secretive native culture called the Mungo that even the settlers know very little about.
In recent years there has rumor of unrest between the House Down Under and Farraway, and some talk that the remote people are unhappy with their place among the other houses.
(Lakupaparoo is influenced by tales from Australia and the dreamtime folklore of the Aborigini people.)
The Petal Kingdom
TaidenSheh, the Petal Kingdom rests beyond Greencloud and beyond the Canyonlands on the far eastern shore of the continent. Travel to and from there is difficult, as the traveler must pass through the winding ways of the Canyonlands or through the Fairy Mists of the Old Woods of Cottington Woods.
The Petal Kingdom is ruled by the Emperor ("King of the Petal Lands), who has a guiding council of 3 advisors representing the 6 ministries of the civil government. Unlike the Houselands, where hereditary nobility rules most of the lands, the Petal Kingdom has a hereditary monarchy, but the government positions are Civil Servants who pass a Civil Examination to obtain their posts. Many of these officials are Scholars of the Word following the teachings of the First Patron, though Bards and Magicians are also represented who have undergone the proper schooling and examinations.
That does not mean there might not be some corruption here or there in government appointments, but the premise is that positions are earned by merit and aptitude rather than chance of birth.
The different "lands" with the Petal Kingdom are ruled by appointed nobility; legends say that they are all descendants of the first Emperor's (other) children (not his firstborn, who of course continued the line of Emperor). There are also military leaders, and a mix of permanent military and rotating militia; in the Petal (Land) of The Chrysanthemum, their nobility are all military leaders and they call their king Shogun.
The Petal Kingdom fashion influences can be seen in the Houselands, although it may be considered a bit overdressed in rural Cottington Woods.
(The Petal Kingdom is loosely based on the Asian cultures and folklore of ancient and feudal China, with the Petal of the Chrysanthemum based on ancient & feudal Japan.)
The Wikapapuji Islands rest about halfway between Lakupaparoo and the Houselands, resting in the ocean about a month’s travel from either location. They stretch from the north edge of the world to the south, although they are so far spread out that travelers could miss them completely without the use of a map. Those who live on the more extreme northern and southern islands are not even aware of the others. Near the center of the north/south line is the Wikapapuji Archipelago. Some of the Wikipapuji are still largely seafaring people, and their stories often tell of the migrations and adventures on land and on sea. Hearthstones have particular significance for them, as they carry their hearthstones with them when they settle a new island, and it is said that these seafaring people can always find their way home because they can sense where their hearthstones are.
(The Wikapapuji are inspired by tales of the islands of Polynesia, including Tahiti, Hawaii, and the Maori of New Zealand.)
The Wander Kin, Wanderkin
These wandering clans migrate all over the Written World. Some suspect that the Wanderkin families did something in the past that lost them their home, though if that is the case, none can recall what that thing was. A mysterious and spiritual people, the Wanderkin all have a deep sense of personal freedom and a rigid sense of cultural honor. There are many different clans/families of Wanderkin, and while they may once have shared a common heritage, each Clan has its own traditions and dress. It is said that their Fortune Tellers can truly see into the fate of others, and fireside stories whisper of the terrible Curses those of the Old Blood can wreak on those who thwart them. Their habit of never staying in one place for long has resulted in a deep mistrust of them by many people of other cultures, and they are sometimes scapegoats blamed for lost children or missing items as much as the fairies are.
(The Wanderkin are loosely based on nomadic peoples of varied folklore traditions, such as the Romani and Irish Travellers.)
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