Nights In Lankhmar
For the purposes of the game (and my sanity), we’ll be defining cultures very, very broadly. Presume there are variations and nuances within a given culture but for our purposes a given culture has certain sweeping characteristics.
A culture is usually tied to a particular geographical area, which in turn is usually populated by a specific People (or, in the case of the Eldfolk and Beastkin, a specific Race). Much like the real world, though, the concepts are not directly connected. A member of the Tomte race could come from a Borian cultural background and currently live in Lankhmar.
The Babavich are matrilineal and egalitarian. Communities run as direct democracies with informal groups of elders making decisions when required. They value independence and stoicism. The Babavich weave their written language into their artwork. Even buildings and furniture are engraved with the whorling script of poems or histories. Babavich sorcerers tie themselves to their spells by tattooing key phrases and symbols upon themselves.
Core to the Swinekin culture is the concept of geffedyurl, more-or-less literally “heart binds to heart”, or more loosely “social skillfulness”. Geffedyurl encompasses the ideas of charisma, empathy, affability and engagement. Someone with a lot of geffedyurl knows when (and how) to lead, when (and how) to follow. They are a good listener and a good talker and a good friend. It’s the quality that makes an individual a valuable part of society.
(It’s pronounced with hard "G"s: gef-eh-DEURL, with the DEURL part sounding like “Darryl” as read by someone imitating the “ERMAHGERD” voice.)
It’s also the reason that Swinekin culture is vanishing at a rapid rate. If you have a good amount of geffedyurl you easily embrace other people’s practices, and therefore most Swinekin communities end up subsumed by the nearby cultures unless that culture has a poor sense of geffedyurl. (The Swinekin believe this explains their warm relationship with the Babavich. The Babavich accept and appreciate geffedyurl, they’re just terrible at cultivating it themselves and remain aloof and insular. Trying to force gregariousness on someone else would, of course, show a profound lack of geffedyurl, and so the Swinekin cheerfully embrace the Babavich’s introverted ways.)
Within Swinekin culture there’s a very loose caste system based on size. For reasons that are unclear it’s presumed that the smaller Swinekin have an inherently greater amount of geffedyurl than their larger brethren, and this prejudice carries over to the other Species — the larger someone is the less socially adroit they are. The bias is subtle — to be overt would be to show a lack of geffedyurl — but definitely present and largely self-enforced, since pushing back would show a lack of geffedyurl. Swinekin who rise to high stations tend to be under five and a half feet tall.
Amongst the Newfolk the Swinekin have a reputation for being loveable oafs. Newfolk get disabused of this idea the first time they face a battalion of angry Swinekin. Swinekin are just more emotive than Newfolk (on average), demonstrating their joys and rages without reservation.
They don’t live in caves but they do live near them, with seats of power, both political and spiritual, housed deep within. The Old Tomte believe that the gods reside deep within the earth, even Adapel and Losivya, and so speak prayers into “god wells” hidden within the deepest caverns. While most Tomte view Vacha as their patron, the Old Tomte revere Kaxus above all others.
Old Tomte are patrilineal and (largely) governed by a monarch: magistrates at the city or town level, kings at the city-state or sovereign nation level. They tend to be isolationist and suspicious of most everyone save the Swinekin. They value specialization; everyone should become the best at some thing, and barring that become the best that you can possibly be. You can be a basket maker or an architect, if you excel in your craft you are granted respect. (Even monarchs are held to this standard.) The craft must be a measure skill; while things like oratory and diplomacy are valued they do not qualify as an Old Tomte craft as such. In most settlements an elder artisan is consulted to judge the quality of someone’s work (regardless of what the elder’s own speciality might be).
Old Tomte magic is characterized by droning chants and dancing (“rhythmic stomping”, more precisely). The spells tend to be slow and subtle
(gods live beneath the earth, addressed through Godwells — natural or crafted deep shafts into the earth)
Borian (Ming dynasty with a hint of Aztec)
Civerny (north Zeva, vikingy types)
Bagroshi (north Kova, Celtic-Pictish types)
The Bagroshi reside on Kova, holding most of the land barring some of the coastal lands in the south (claimed by the Okena) and the southeast (taken by the Civerny). Their society is clan-based and in transition from a nomadic, herding people to semi-permanent settlements, possibly learning from their encounters with the Civerny and Okena on Zeva.
Machvaya (midland Zeva, gypsy types)
Shafasi (Gemland coast, India meets Fatamid Caliphate)
h4. Okena (southern Zeva & Kova — think medieval Russia)
The southern shores of the The Crowns were inhabited by the ancestors of the Bagroshi. Decades of raids and colonization by the Shafasi people led to a distinct hybrid culture. While they have a large presence on both islands they are far more numerous and claim more territory on Zeva than Kova, mostly because that’s where the Shafasi went centuries ago.
The Okena rarely have political organizations larger than a loose alliance of city-states. Even the mighty Lankhmar is merely an independent city at the borders of the city-state of Iriliian. Alliances wax and wane and minor wars are fought for territory.
People: The Okena people average around 5-foot-10 in height. Their skin tone typically spans from golden tan to cappuccino and their hair ranges from dark brown to medium blonde. Their eye color varies wildly from pale blues to deep browns.