Winterwild

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A map of the inhabited lands.

Peoples

There are three principle peoples who make their home in the lands of Winterwild.

Humanity

The old tribes of humanity came to the northern lands of Winterwild hundreds of years ago, back in the days when life was lived by the Old Ways. They built stone circles, then primitive cities, and over a thousand years later they are widespread across the land, aspiring to tame the oceans and work the fields. Though the lands to the far south are considered to be more hospitable and civilized, those of the north have learned to respect the fierce powers of the Winterwild, and are strongly independent from the kingdoms and empires of the summer climates. To this end they have always fought for their freedoms, but in recent times these wars have gotten out of hand, staining the ground with blood and causing the rise of new evils in the world. But humanity, as it always has, seeks to endure.

Typical masculine names: Marius, Eric, Ivan, Vitomir
Typical feminine names: Bronwyn, Karin, Lena, Tara

Zarkadi

A nomadic people, kin to humanity, the zarkadi are the ones who brought horseriding to the lands of Winterwild. They are built much like humans, only smaller and more lightly built, and with ears akin to those of deer, along with animalistic manes of hair that run halfway down their backs. The average zarkadi stands a head shorter than the average human, not accounting for their wild hair. They have a society of matriarchal clans that incorporates a deep bond with their horses, roaming the plains and hills during the warmer months before retreating to more permanent encampments to wait out the long winter. They are so closely related to humanity that nothing prevents mixed couples from having offspring, although the children will either be full-blooded zarkadi or humans - for whatever reason, the blood does not mix.

Typical masculine names: Pyridon, Telios, Nikos, Athan
Typical feminine names: Eryna, Jophia, Dionne, Malysse

Bears

In ancient times, in accordance with the Old Ways, those who died were given to the animals of the forests, so that their immortal spirits would live on in the beasts. Those times are now long since past, but their effects on the world are still evident. The bears of the Forest of Bears, descended from those who freely took the essence of humanity, are considered a people of the land. They are capable of speech, of reason and forethought, and though somewhat reclusive in their ways, a part of life in the lands of Winterwild. Every year they come from their winter's sleep to bargain for contracts, exchanging their services as guardians or workhorses for material goods. Rugs and fine furs to keep their caves warm during the winter, books to while away the hours, as well as lanterns and candles to stave away the darkness.

Typical masculine names: Torsten Brokenclaw, Einar the Large, Thundercall Leif
Typical feminine names: Astrid of the Long Winter, Black Sanna, Helga One-Eyed

Government

Humanity is the only people in the lands of Winterwild to have an organised system of government. The zarkadi are led by their clan elders, and the bears seemingly have nothing whatsoever besides the laws of nature.

Each town and city is governed by one of the noble houses. Which house is determined by a popular vote, meaning that while the nobility remains in charge, they cannot treat the common people however they like. Votes are held once a year, but two or more noble houses can call for a vote if they have sufficient reason to give the people a new option.

Members of a noble house do not have to be related, strictly speaking. Blood relations, and marriages, are encouraged, but a house can "adopt" anyone, as well as disavow those born into the house. It is considered to be separate from family, and sometimes those not meant to lead will be disavowed from the house while remaining a member of the family. Even marriage does not lead to becoming part of the house, although in practice the two often go hand-in-hand.

When a new member joins the house, either through adoption or by coming of age, they are not allowed to govern or contribute until six months later, a law enacted to stop noble houses from poaching popular figures in an attempt to sweep the vote in their favour.

Major Houses

The four major houses hold significant political power, even though they may not hold the most positions of governance.

Charvon

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Ancestral Seat: Guailhall, Varhaud

Currently led by Baron Ebrixes Charvon, the House Charvon has a strong and coldly antagonistic relationship with House Strathar, the accumulation of many generations of slights and snubs from both sides. Charvon has many holdings in coal mines, from where they get their economic strength.

Ozmornica

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Ancestral Seat: Onkero Hold, Berinspur

It is said that House Ozmornica knows the sea, and in the port city of Berinspur it shows, having never lost a vote in recorded history. The current head of Ozmornica, Lord Ruell Ozmornica, is charismatic and strong-handed, something the whalers and fishermen of Berinspur respect.

Skyld

Skyld.png
Ancestral Seat: Skrevenhalm, Kelderbay

In recent years, House Skyld has made quite a stir in the circles of nobility after adopting in a bear by the name of White-Eye Iviryn. It has cost their head, Countess Atressa Skyld, a severe blow to her reputation amongst the elite, but has won them the vote for the past three years in a row from the bear-friendly citizens of their native Kelderbay.

Strathar

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Ancestral Seat: Iklammer, Varhaud

The other major noble house of Varhaud, House Strathar is under the control of the aging Baron Violy Strathar, and his son Sir Anatoly Strathar. Their long-time feud with the House Charvon has cost them a few votes in the last few years, giving them the notoriety of being more concerned with personal honour, rather than effective governance.

Minor Houses

The four minor houses have limited influence, either through small size, bad circumstances, or other misfortunes.

Brechtan

Brechtan.png
Ancestral Seat: Korzenrad, Kelderbay

Even though it is based out of Kelderbay, House Brechtan does better in the surrounding small towns than it does in its home city. Currently it is headed by Sir Anton Brechtan, whose adherence to the Old Ways keeps the rural vote favouring his house, but also gets Brechtan frowned upon by the Eldurin Church for failing to keep with the times.

Gallimur

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Ancestral Seat: Voldenwal, Mastat (now razed)
Current Seat: Ranhange, Berinspur

Formerly from one of the cities destroyed in the Great War, House Gallimur has since relocated to an estate in Berinspur as their main seat. Their power has diminished greatly since the war, leaving them as one of the minor houses. Lady Marsia Gallimur aspires for her house to one day regain their former status.

Holwyn

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Ancestral Seat: Tengely Hall, Dirgemouth

Though supposedly headed by Baron Ulf Holwyn, House Holwyn is firmly in the pockets of the merchant guilds of Dirgemouth, who ensure that they continually get the vote in exchange for exceptionally liberal policies on trading and banking. Holwyn has not had any sort of success on the mainland, but nor does it aspire to.

Magrent

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Ancestral Seat: Keremgrad, Belek (now razed)
Current Seat: Veldermark, Varhaud

Another house that lost its status after losing its holdings in the Great War, Magrent has sought to make the best of its situation by situating itself in Varhaud, to act as a third option to the feuding houses of Charvon and Strathar. Though as of yet only having had limited success, house head Lord Thartan Magrent remains optimistic that the strategy will pay off.

Settlements

Cities

The four major cities are the only ones still standing after the last Great War, the others having been razed and the populations resettled elsewhere. Because of this, they are quite crowded, and have dismal ghettoes full of refugees who still cannot afford proper housing.

Berinspur

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Berinspur is a wide city that sprawls along the coastline, following the ocean as much as the people who live there do. It is the largest docks in the north, especially since the Great War and the razing of many of the other coastal cities. Since those who made their living from the sea had to move to Berinspur, the city is one of the few that has boomed since the end of the Great War, growing rich off the whaling and fishing that has been its stock trade for generations. The whalers of Berinspur are a hardy bunch, even for an occupation as dangerous as theirs, and the term "hard as a Berinspur punch" has come to mean a blow of remarkable proportions.

Dirgemouth

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Placed opportunely between the Gentle Sea and the Titan Sea, Dirgemouth started off as a trading outpost centuries ago, and quickly became a vibrant and prosperous settlement. These days it is strongly controlled by the merchant guilds, some of whom were around for its founding, and this private control does show at times. The city eschews the protection of the Watch and has several different organisations of town guards instead, each one working for one of the major guilds. The merchant guilds invest a lot of money into seeing Dirgemouth run the way they wish it to be run, and House Holwyn obliges by graciously accepting every donation and passing every suggested law. Most of the population knows the city is crooked, but since a good section of the population also owe their livelihoods to the guilds, it continues.

Kelderbay

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Also called the City of Bears due to its close proximity to the Forest of Bears, Kelderbay is perhaps the oldest city in the lands, dating back almost two thousand years. Because of this ancient heritage, the bears of the forest come to Kelderbay to seek work in the springtime, and a rare few have become wealthy enough from this practice to own townhouses within the city walls, sleeping out the winter surrounded by brick and timber, rather than stone and tree. As such it is a rather vibrant mixing of cultures, evident in the design of the city itself. There are no streets or alleys that are a tight squeeze, and all doors are nearly as wide as they are tall.

Varhaud

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Formerly the King's seat before the Great War, Varhaud continues to act much like the capital of the lands of Winterwild, mainly due to its strong hold over the coal mines. Coal is a vital commodity considering the long winters, and Varhaud wears its wealth on its sleeve as the primary site of industry and progress. Many mills and warehouses sit on the eastern side of the city, with the riverside and southern districts being home to many stately houses and more noble pursuits. It boasts the largest theatre in the land, as well as some of the most influential families and individuals outside of the noble houses. Rumour has it that there is a secret school for assassins hidden somewhere in the old quarter of the city, with classes for the application of Meduran poisons and southern fighting techniques.

Towns

The minor towns are larger than the many villages that dot the landscape, but are still much smaller than the cities. They are considered to be somewhat inconsequential by the larger noble houses, but do their part in terms of commerce and industry.

Aberhead

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A former fishing village, now the largest town by the Uraltwood, the people of Aberhead have been fishing the Gentle Sea for many generations. Because of their proximity to the mysterious Uraltwood, the town's walls are high and those who do not come in by boat are often treated rather harshly.

Atholl

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Situated upon the river, near halfway between Castle Valemount and Varhaud, Atholl is often a stopping place for travellers between the great city and the castle. It boasts many inns and taverns, as well as a vast marketplace for those to spend coin. Barges from here venture up and down the river during the warmer times of the year.

Dyserth

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The ferry between Dyserth and Helaster is long established route, dating back into antiquity, one of the most travelled sea routes. Of note are the many windmills of the town, taking advantage of the winds coming in from the sea to drive the small industries of the town.

Helaster

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The riches of the nearby gold mine give Helaster the economic edge to resist advances of the merchant guilds of Dirgemouth, although it is that wealth which causes the guilds to seek control there in the first place. Because of this, many independent merchants reside in Helaster, away from the guild fees that would otherwise bring down their revenue.

Marbridge

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Just outside the wetlands that act as a source of peat, Marbridge has been plagued in recent times by the multiple necrophage encampments that have arisen. The town's defenses have been rebuilt and bolstered a number of times, but the population of the town has dwindled to a shadow of its former self.

Otton

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Nestled amid rolling hills and quiet woodland, Otton is a peaceful haven for hunting and other sport, favoured by members of the noble houses as a getaway from the strenuous business of governance. Originally the combination of several estates and the adjoining servants quarters, Otton has developed progressively over the last couple of centuries.

Shorefast

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Home to the oldest of the Eldurin churchs in the north, Shorefast divides itself between sea and land, home to both fishers and farmers in almost equal number. It is often the first stop for travellers on their way to Varhaud from the south and other parts of the north, to either make the journey on the roads or by barge upriver.

Urford

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Also called Little Town of Bears, due to being so exceptionally close to the Forest of Bears, Urford also provides the nearby Castle Gray with food, materials, and a place for Watchmen to get stinking drunk out of sight of their superiors. There are also a plethora of ironworks and smiths in the town.

Wynton

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Another town threatened by the close proximity of necrophage encampments, Wynton survives through always having been a fortified town. It has been a target of the severlings in earlier times, leading it to build solid walls and fortifications to keep the winter raiders at bay, thanks to the nearby mines and quarries of the mountains.

Castles

There are three castles of the Watch, who guard the lands of Winterwild and protect them against all threats. Becoming part of the Watch is a big commitment, and one not easily broken. Each castle has a Captain, who runs the duties of the Watch in their area of influence, and who appoints their own successor. Sometimes noble houses have influence in suggesting nominations, but the decision cannot be contested by outsiders.

Gray

Current Captain: Daggen Kirke, 54

Castle Gray guards the north, situated on the edge of the Forest of Bears, and is both the smallest and the oldest of the three castles. It is the only castle of the Watch that has bears in permanent service, although they often see their duty as protecting the Forest of Bears from what lies outside it, rather than the other way around. They principally deal with severlings, but in more recent months, necrophage scouting parties have become an issue.

Ravenglass

Current Captain: Stasia Quinn, 37

Ravenglass Castle watches over the Uraltwood and the coast of the Titan Sea, possessing a fortified dock that holds the only warships of the Watch, in order to keep down piracy and quell any potential invasions from the sea. In something of an isolated region, some of those in the Ravenglass Watch have opted to do so due to the solitude and tranquillity that service there offers.

Valemount

Current Captain: Leon Nailwright, 44

Valemount Castle safeguards the southeast plains, the only land route to the distant south, and is the largest of the three castles of the Watch. During the last Great War, it was the staging ground for the northern forces, and the expansions made to it are still in use to this day, useful considering the unexpected rise of the necrophages. However, because of its great size and intimidating defences, the nearby necrophage encampments have made repeated attempts to siege and claim the castle as their own.

Year & Seasons

The lands of Winterwild rely upon an astral calendar that follows the movement of the stars rather than the often-unpredictable passage of the seasons.

Spring

Rain and fog begin rolling in from the southern seas, bringing warmer air to melt away the winter's snow and encourage the revival of the plants and animals. The nights are still long.

Irste

Irste
Star Sign: Olen, the Deer

The year begins with spring's arrival, on the first day of the first month, commonly called Night of the New Year. Bonfires are lit to celebrate the passage of another winter, and it is considered good luck for the rest of the year if there is no snow or rain all day.

The next big event is the Feast of Candles, an Eldurin holiday, which takes place on the 22nd day of Irste. It is a time of great celebration for those of the Eldurin faith, as they give thanks to the flame that keeps the darkness at bay, when the days start growing longer again.

The ice floes of the Titan Sea begin to retreat back northwards during this month.

The 27th is Counting Day, when the people cast their vote on which noble house should represent their city or town. By the 31st, all votes have been tallied, and those settlements that need to see a change in governance do so by the end of this day.

The last day of the month, the 42nd, is the start of the year's whaling in Berinspur, and begins with a raucous festival of drinking and feasting to celebrate those whalers who may not live to see the next year because of their dangerous trade.

Annar

Annar
Star Sign: Scian, the Knife

The first week of Annar sees the arrival of the bears in Kelderbay after their winter seclusion, coming down to offer their strong bodies for labour in exchange for goods and services. During Bear Week, many contracts are signed, and canny traders arrive early to get the best deals from the strongest among the bears, who will typically arrive first.

On the 27th day, in Varhaud, the annual tanzenchess tournament begins, lasting for three days. This variant of chess requires a special twin board, separated by a high divider, so each player can only see their board. Adjudicated by a referee, the players must discern the location of their opponent's pieces through their knowledge of strategy. Many nobles, merchants, and other wealthy citizens attend the tournament to place bets and follow the progression of their favoured players. The winner gets a prize of 1,000 silver, but more importantly, the coveted title of Grandmaster bestowed upon them.

The last three days of Annar are the Sela Navasi, a zarkadi festival where horses that are now old enough to carry riders are saddled up properly for the first time. Since horses are very important to the zarkadi, they will sometimes wait a whole year until the next Sela Navasi if there are any doubts that a horse is ready.

Summer

Mostly dry, with a few large thunderstorms as the clashing winds drive up from the plains to the southwest, the only snow left that in the Forest of Bears and amid the mountain peaks. The Hawk Sea has completely melted by now. This season is traditionally time for mining and tending the farms for the common people.

Mesamber

Mesamber
Star Sign: Danha, the Bull

The first summer month begins with the day of Summerdawn, to celebrate the oncoming summer, a tradition since the times of the Old Ways. It is usually a time of familial reunions and get-togethers, and the gifting of skerrings: small wood carvings of various subjects (animals and birds being the most common) that act a little like tokens of friendship.

The 13th day of Mesamber is Flower Day, a minor celebration of love where couples young and old are supposed to gift each other flowers as a symbol of their commitment. Though not often observed by the more mature, youths embrace it wholeheartedly, looking forward to Flower Day all year round as the perfect chance to confess, or reaffirm, their love.

The Day of Remembrance takes place on the 26th, marking the end of the last Great War that scarred the land, left cities in ruins, and brought about the onset of the necrophages. Services are held in every town, city, and village by the Eldurin Church, honouring those who passed.

The zarkadi compete in the Vederen on the 31st, a race held by each clan to see who the best rider amongst them is. They are welcoming to outsiders who wish to watch, but will not allow anyone from outside the clan to compete, not even other zarkadi. Those who are found to be the most skilled rider are given the honorific Kourevi (or Koureva, if a man), meaning "one who flows like the wind".

The last day of Mesamber is the Midsummer Festival, celebrated across the Winterwild lands through song, dance, and plenty of drinking and feasting. It is also one of the more common days to get married on, as joining hands on Midsummer's eve is supposed to bring good fortune to the marriage.

Verember

Verember
Star Sign: Cephon, the Arrow

High summer has come by Verember, the wheat ripening in the fields. The Medurans honor the foundation of their order on the 5th, one of the few events on their otherwise uncrowded calendar. It is not as festive a celebration as those on the Eldurin calendar, but a day of quiet appreciation, as is the Meduran way.

The 12th of the month is usually the day when Captains of the Watch announce that they are stepping down and appointing a successor, if they are doing so. Nothing stops them from doing so on any other day, but it has become a tradition over the years that it should be done on this day.

Towards the end of the month is the harvest time, when the wheat must be cut. It is something of a holiday, since all hands are required to gather in the crop as summer starts to come to an end. The bears will often take part as well, if their contracts allow, pulling wagons in exchange for mead or ale.

Autumn

The days grow short again, and the weather gets colder. Crops of all kinds must be harvested before the frosts arrive, and animals slaughtered for the long winter ahead. The winds change, blowing down from the north again, bringing heavy clouds.

Oto

Oto
Star Sign: Pescarus, the Gull

The Appelstrad takes place from the 6th of Oto until the 10th, harvesting the apples from the orchards of the lowlands as the cold weather approaches. Most are preserved in honey, to keep through the long winter ahead, but a great deal of cider is produced to keep spirits high during the darker months of the year.

The 23rd is the return of the Berinspur whalers, coinciding with the departure of the whales from the Titan Sea for the year to the southwestern seas. Much as the start of the whaling season, its conclusion features much drinking, although often in a more sombre mood than when it began.

The 29th and the 30th are the Parade of Hands in Dirgemouth, a colourful festival put on by the city's guilds as a magnanimous show of gratitude to the people of the city, as well as a good reason to encourage those people to spend more than a little coin amongst the guild-owned shops.

The last two days of Oto are the Final Harvest, celebrating the end of the year's harvests. Traditionally, all the food that will not last through winter is consumed during this time, although some of the poorer households will do their best to make it last as long as possible.

Zesdem

Zesdem
Star Sign: Harn, the Hunter

The 7th is Night of the First Fire, an Eldurin celebration that borrows some of its meaning from the Old Ways. A meal of roast hog and sausages is the traditional way to celebrate, in the company of one's neighbours. In the smaller villages, everyone will gather together and eat at one big feast, sharing what they have with each other.

The zarkadi festival, Orosimeria, falls on the 12th. It is a formal farewell to the year, as the zarkadi do not believe that winter is part of the "proper" year, and the day for zarkadi couples to be wed.

The Return is the week in the latter half of Zesdem when the bears return to their forest, having completed their contracts. Very rarely do bears spend the winter outside the forest, although it is not wholly unheard of. They will load up their newfound belongings on carts and make the long trip back to the Forest of the Bears to sleep through winter's embrace.

The 45th is Hahn Lowain, a festival that dates back to the Old Ways, and the 46th is All Shrine Day, an Eldurin holiday that has worked its way into the Hahn Lowain celebration. On Hahn Lowain, it is traditional to make straw effigies of bears and hang them over the door, in order to keep the household safe while the real bears are back in the forest. Since the introduction of Eldurin, this has changed more into giving thanks for the bears, and attending Eldurin churches on All Shrine Day to seek divine protection instead.

Winter

The nights are their longest, the sun only around for a handful of hours every day. The Hawk Sea freezes over, all the way to the shore. Snowfall occurs regularly, burying the land under a carpet of white. Ice floes begin to stretch down across the Titan Sea, some making it all the way to the Gentle Sea.

Junde

Junde
Star Sign: Baisor, the Wolf

Those animals not used to the cold are all in barns by the start of this month, as the first big snowfalls begin, sometimes up to three or four inches every night during the first couple of weeks as the northern weather front pushes downwards across the land.

From the 21st through to the 24th is the Four Nights of the Sword, a contest of swordfighting skill held within the walls of the three great castles of the Watch. It is used to determine the fighting capabilities and tactical minds of the ranked recruits, as well as to occupy otherwise boring and uneventful winter nights. Sometimes the contest attracts an audience, but travel in the winter is difficult, so it is never a large event. Those who win the tournament of their castle are called the Blade, meaning there are always three current Blades in existence: the Blade of Gray, the Blade of Ravenglass, and the Blade of Valemount.

The 26th is the Bardach, otherwise called the Night of Stories, where it is expected for people to gather around the fire and tell tales. Whether they are legends, old myths, or more contemporary fare does not matter. This holiday is a holdover from the Old Ways, but is harmless enough that the Eldurin faith embraces it as a pleasant way to spend a dark winter's evening.

The Feast of Saint Gaspargan falls on the 44th, an Eldurian celebration of one of the more renowned saints of the order, who (it is said) could kindle fire with a touch.

Attundi

Attundi
Star Sign: Mathan, the Bear

The 5th is the Rising of the Star, the day when the elusive Winter Star appears in the night sky. Events that occur on this day are considered fortuitous.

The Midwinter Festival takes place from the 11th until the 13th, at the coldest and darkest time of the year. While it mostly takes place indoors, due to the unforgiving climate and lack of sunlight, people still manage to be cheerful and merry. On the 12th, presents are traditionally exchanged, mostly between friends and family, but nobles are expected (and somewhat obligated) to give to the poor at this time.

Saint Cascim's Night is on the 25th, another Eldurin holiday to try and brighten the mood during the long, dark winters.

The 51st is the Setting of the Star, when the Winter Star disappears from the night sky, not to be seen again until the next year.

Religion & Mysticism

Eldurin

Originally born from primitive fire worship from the distant south, the Eldurin Church has progressed greatly over the intervening millennia. Fire is still the principle focus, but more as a conduit for the divine, rather than divinity itself. The faith holds that through fire, all things can be made pure, although mainly speaking of metaphorical fire in more modern times. Cremation is how they treat the dead, a radical departure from the Old Ways which governed the people of Winterwild for so long, but a sensible move given the recent trouble with the necrophages.

Eldurin monks and priests are not the only members of the church, there are several military orders who serve as protectors of the Church's property and sanctity. In uncertain times, they have ensured the safety and survival of the Eldurin faith, through flame and sword. It is said that the truly devout are trained in how to handle fire as one would handle a hunting hound, able to touch it without becoming burned, hold it in the palm of their hand like a blade, and apply it to wounds to heal them. Most of this appears to be exaggeration through rumour, but there is a grain of truth in it. Many Eldurin priests preach with fire on their hands, and are not burned by it.

The talk of everlasting peace after death for the humble and faithful masses is what keeps the typical citizen in line with the Church's decrees of peace and goodwill, decrees made because the upper echelons of the Church know that serenity is the surest path to prosperity, and prosperity means plentiful tithes. It is considered to be appropriate for members of the Church to donate 5% of their earnings every year, although this is usually waived for the poorer faithful, who have little to give and are all the more grateful to keep it.

Meduran

The Meduran way is not a religion, but more a collection of philosophies that can be held alongside any other religion, although most tend to eschew the spiritual in their pursuit of knowledge. Principle to the Meduran philosophies is the study and practice of the alchemical arts, making most Medurans unparalleled masters of the secret sciences.

Great citadels of learning have been built in key places in the land, self-contained communities that do little trading with the outside world, being mostly sufficient in the raising of food and water, and needing little else but components for their experiments. Contemplation of life's mysteries is what all Medurans seem to strive for, in the pursuit of the Great Work: mastery over that which can be changed within nature, over death and life, over the limitations of the human body. However, Medurans work "within the circle", keeping to a strict code that forbids unnatural interference.

Many doctors have benefited from the Medurans, if they are not in fact Medurans themselves, as the study of anatomy and medicine is very much the domain of the secret sciences. It is said that the master of their alchemical craft can conjure fire from powder, turn water into ice in midsummer, and other fanciful tales. As much as these exploits would like to be attributed to "magic", they come from intelligence and understanding of natural properties.

The Old Ways

Many centuries ago, long before steel and printing, and the great cities of the north were little more than villages of thatch and stone defended by dirt ramparts, the Old Ways governed the lands of Winterwild. They were simple but strong commands, to be true to one's word, to respect the forces man could not understand, and to give the bodies of the dead to the animals of the forests, so that their spirits could live on in the great predators. But time passed, the great stone circles fell into ruin, and the Old Ways disappeared from the land, replaced by the bright beacons of the Eldurin Church.

However, the Old Ways are not entirely lost. Some still hold to them, even though they may attend an Eldurin Church every week. They are especially common amongst the recluses and hermits of the far north, who may still visit those old stone circles to commune with the natural world. There is much that is still not fully understood about the strange ways in which the world can sometimes work, and though the Old Ways do not profess to understand, they are still considered the best option, by some, to do so.

Zarkadi

The Zarkadi go their own way with a form of ancestor worship, specifically rotating around the founder (or founders) of their clan. Over the generations, legends of their feats have grown out of proportion, lending an air of the divine. Zarkadi all have a strong respect for all their ancestors, although mostly reserved for those who have passed on. Living relatives do not get respect unless they have earned it.

Horses also play an important role in zarkadi religion, due to the very close relationship they have. In part they are influenced by the Old Ways, for the zarkadi believe that their dead must be buried so that their spirits can provide the grass that their horses graze upon. But they will not eat horse under any circumstance, and will bury their dead steeds with as much reverence as any zarkadi. Offering a burial to a non-zarkadi is considered to be quite the honour, although not always recognised as such.

Threats

The Hawk Sea

A freshwater sea that stretches far into the uncharted lands where the snow never clears, the Hawk Sea freezes over come winter, melting over the spring thaw. When it is frozen over, however, it is effective a highway for those willing to make the days-long trek, bypassing the otherwise treacherous Dragonspine Mountains and the seemingly endless Forest of Bears. This is dangerous, because far to the north are the loose-knit tribes and gangs of the severlings, outcasts and exiles, and the descendents of thieves and murderers. They make their camps far in the unknown north, within caves and other natural shelters from the intense cold, and when winter comes, they make the crossing over the Hawk Sea to attempt to raid the lands of Winterwild for anything they can pillage. However, they must make it back while the Hawk Sea remains frozen, or else they must risk journeying through the Forest of Bears during spring, as the bears awaken, or over the high peaks of the Dragonspine.

The Necrophages

After the last Great War, the fields and plains of Winterwild lay piled high with the war dead. Soldiers slain, horses broken, great siege engines in pieces scattered across the churned mud. While civilisation sought to rebuild and recover, the scavengers came to pick the bones clean. Wolves, wild dogs, crows and ravens, rats and even gulls all tore into the corpses left behind. In accordance to the Old Ways, these animals took on the essence of those they consumed, but this time it did not go entirely as the Old Ways say. From these simple animals arose the necrophages, the eaters of the dead, whose bodies twisted obscenely to take on the traits of the dead they feasted upon.

These days, necrophages dwell in encampments, dressed in the battered armour left behind by their first meals, engaging in a grisly pantomime of war where they attack the surrounding towns and villages, seeking fresh corpses to dine on. The siege engines have been clumsily rebuilt into the meat wagons, to transport the slain back to the encampment to sustain the necrophages, as their lives grow unnaturally longer with each corpse they consume.

Many attempts have been made to rid the land of the necrophages, but as they have eaten soldiers, they have gained soldier's cunning. They understand tactics in a variety of forms, they know the usefulness of fear and panic as weapons, and their warped bodies can withstand much pain. Unlike the bears, they have gained no humanity from their consumption, only the worst aspects. They are a blight worse than any plague, an army unlike any other in history, and one of the biggest threats to the world ever seen.

The Uraltwood

Amongst the Medurans, their defining law is to stay "within the circle" - to not challenge nature, but to work inside the system. There are those who are tempted, and give in to those temptations, and turn their study of the alchemic arts into something forbidden. If they are caught, they are exiled to the Uraltwood, where they are free to continue their work, but without the protection or equipment provided by a citadel. Many die of starvation, or are claimed by winter, too obsessed with their twisted philosophies to know how to gather food or build a shelter.

Quite rarely, some manage to survive, and an even rarer few actually thrive in this environment, away from their more irritating peers and the troublesome questions that follow. Hidden amid the tall pines are hidden laboratories, citadels in miniature where monstrosities and abominations are enacted. This forbidden branch of the alchemic arts, which lies "outside the circle", is the subject of much fear and rumour amongst not only Medurans, but the common people outside the citadel walls.

So far to date, none of these outsiders have attempted to make their way back to civilised lands, but there is always talk of livestock, sometimes even people, disappearing within the Uraltwood.