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. Player characters may come from any of the four Houselands, from Farraway or from Cottington Woods itself.
In addition to the four Houselands 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. 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 separated from the other House Lands. Clublanders place great emphasis on strength of arms and on physical prowess. Moreso, 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 so often. They are under constant threat from the Frostwroth barbarians to their north, and it is a rare winter when those barbarians 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
(For inspiration, read "A Song for Arbonne" by Guy Gavriel Kay.)
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, 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.
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 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.
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.
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, Woodlanders are still considered Houselanders
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 walls.
Elves appear as humans, though they have pointed ears. Their clothing always incorporates leaf shapes into the pattern.
Elves are not a player option, but they 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.
Goblins are not a player option, though perhaps even more than the elves, they are a presence that cannot be ignored. Goblins are very curious, and have a poor sense of boundaries. 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 have 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 meet Canyonlanders or Frostwroth barbarians, 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.
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 is harder to find.
Characters can draw their ideas from the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs or H. Rider Haggard
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 braves are primitive by Houselander standards. The Laws of Science were learned and forgotten in the Houselands before the Houselanders ever reached the canyons, and even magic is not as well known.
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 people there into a more enlightened state. There has been some success.
The Canyon Lands should draw ideas from the native cultures 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. 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. Over a thousand years ago the Dust Land was home to the Kingdom of Gold, a kingdom that reigned since the beginning of time. 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.
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.
Frostwroth is inspired by classic Viking tales and from tales 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 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 that even the settlers know very little about.
Lakupaparoo is influenced by tales from Australia and New Zealand.
The Petal Kingdom
Taiden Sheh, the Petal Kingdom, is loosely based on the Asian cultures of feudal China or Japan. 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.
Petal Kingdom fashion influences can be seen in the Houselands, although it may be considered a bit overdressed in rural Cottington Woods.
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.
The Wikapapuji are inspired by tales of the islands of the South Pacific, including Tahiti and Hawaii.
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 have a deep sense of personal freedom and a rigid sense of cultural honor. Their habit of never staying in one place for long has resulted in a deep mistrust of them by people of other cultures.
The Wanderkin are loosely based on the gypsies of common folklore.
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