Thursday, November 14, 2013

[Urbis] Coastal Tribes of the Cold Frontier, Part I

As outlined in my first post, the coastal tribes of the Cold Frontier will be loosely inspired by the Inuit and the Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest. All in all, they are not particularly aggressive, though they will likely come to resent the new settlers - how quickly that happens will depend on the actions of the PCs. None are really evil, though some are more ruthless than others. They have a strong cultural taboo against venturing deeply into the interior, as they believe it to be haunted by entities of death, hunger, disease, and madness - and they aren't really wrong.

Many centuries ago, their ancestors lived across Nardhome, even inland - where they even erected cities. I imagine something akin to the ancient Pueblo dwellings of the American Southwest, though adapted to the much harsher northern climate. They would still have been nestled into cliff sides, because that's simply great scenery. But then a great plague or disaster emerged from the center of the continent and consumed all that was in its path. Only those who were able to escape on their boats onto the open ocean escaped this scourge and they waited for weeks until the scourge subsided.

This has several effects: First, the coastal tribes live close to the coast because they fear this scourge will return some day and they need to get back on the ocean again. Second, there are all sorts of native ruins scattered across the interior which can serve as adventure locations for the PCs. Third, this "scourge" serves as a background threat that can erupt at any time - preferably when the PCs are ready to face it, near the climax of the campaign.

Now, let's talk names. Unfortunately, Google Translate doesn't offer Native American languages, but I found a basic English-IñupiaQ Dictionary which will have to do for our purposes. The results will be mangled further for easier pronunciation, just like explorers did since time immemorial. When entering the word "people" as a search term, one of the replies is "ieuksraqtaaq" for "chosen people". Which is a mouthful, so the foreigners will call them the "Iuksra" instead.

They largely support themselves via the bountiful fisheries along the coastline, and also hunt whales, seals, and walruses. Their agriculture is largely limited to cultivating herbs - with the bountiful fish, there was never any need for more extensive farming. Unlike the Inuit they do have permanent wood or stone stone dwellings, and most homes have oil lamps fueled by whale or seal blubber.

To contrast them with the rather patriarchal Flannish Cities, let's make the Iuksra matrilineal. While the men have their traditional role as hunters, it is the women who tend to the villages and represent the center of society. The women own the houses and everything therein, which are inherited from mother to daughter, while the men own their weapons, hunting gear, and a boat that it is at least large enough to carry themselves, their wife, and their children - and these are inherited from father to his wife's sons.

To prevent inbreeding, extramarital affairs are common and accepted, especially on long hunting trips - the Inuit Culture Wikipedia entry mentions the charming euphemism "lamp extinguishing games". Among the Iuksra, it doesn't really matter who the father of a particular child was, as everything is traced through the mother. This will likely give them a reputation as lecherous adulterers by the colonists.

Their marriage vows state that the man is obligated to protect and provide food to his wife and her children (that is, not necessarily his as well), which includes maintaining that boat large enough to carry them all in the case of a new outbreak of the Scourge that wiped out most of their ancestors.The woman is obligated to look after the house and the household and always provide a warm bed and shelter to the man whenever he is in his home village. This means that most Iuksra men don't care if their wives sleep with other men while he isn't home, but when he does come home they are expected to have the decency to get out of the house so that he gets his warm bed.

Note that these are gender roles, not roles of a particular sex. To the Iuksra, someone is a man who goes out of the village to hunt and fish, while someone is a woman who owns a house and takes care of the children. Their actual sex is irrelevant for this distinction. That doesn't mean that they are not aware of the sex of a person, as in who lusts after whom. But they have no cultural problems with two people of the same gender sleeping with each other, regardless of the actual sexes involved. Female-sex hunters and fishers are expected to give up children born to them for adoption, while male-sex house owners are expected to adopt children whose mothers have died (or have to give them up for adoption). Their language reflects this - they will consistently refer adventurers visiting them as male, even female PCs - after all, they left their homes far behind so they are obviously hunters. Conversely, most will initially refer to all the shop and home owners in the colony as female, to the great irritation of the colonists. Children who are too young to have shown specific gender preferences will be referred to with gender-neutral terms.

The villages will have a (male) chieftain, but he is mostly in charge of village defense and at times of war, in which case he is expected to lead the warriors of the village. For most other decisions, the village discusses all issues and decisions together, with the village elders usually pulling the strings.

The Iuksra are generally quite hospitable to polite visitors. The village decides which women will host the guests in their houses, which are often the houses where the women's husbands are away on hunting trips for the pragmatic reason that there is more space available, although a more personal interest of the hostess is not uncommon - and in the case of old women they will often joke that "it has been a long time since a man has slept in their house", which the old folks tend to find hilarious, to the frequent consternation of their guests. The guests are then expected to offer a house gift as compensation for the bother of hosting them, usually some fresh food though metal knives and other useful gifts are highly appreciated.

While I haven't worked out the details of Iuksra religion, they do venerate various animal totems and pay them respect in the hopes of gaining some of their abilities, the favor of their mundane counterparts, or just avert their wrath for slaying the latter for food or self-defense. Different villages will emphasize different totems - for example, the eagle rider village will obviously favor the eagle totem. These animals are considered the spiritual ancestors of the village, often fathering children with the women of the tribe in their myths, and are represented via elaborately carved totem poles.

While the Iuksra have no formal tradition of wizardry, they do have their share of spellcasters who either have innate talents (such as sorcerers) or gain powers via various spirits. These are collectively considered shamans and beyond the traditional gender role system - they are never referred to with a specific gender at all (though again, this does not prevent them from having any type of sexual relationship they please). Their role is to deal with whatever supernatural problems the village may have, in whatever way they can, as this is seen beyond the duty of the warriors. As befits their variety, their approaches to problem-solving are often highly idiosyncratic, as each shaman has a different variety of supernatural powers.

To be continued...