Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Ethnicity in Dark•Heritage, Part 1

I'd been looking through my copy of Five Fingers recently, for fun.  One of the narrators of one chapter is the historian for a mercenary company called the Sons of Thuria.  In the Iron Kingdoms, Thuria is an ancient kingdom that doesn't exist anymore, and the Thurian ethnicity is straddles a major state border; they are common both in the south of Ord and the northwest of Cygna in cities like (no surprise here) Five Fingers and Ceryl.  Curiously, after reading this passage at night, before falling asleep, I had a dream in which I was eating and using Sons of Thuria barbecue sauce.  The Thurians make some tasty sauce, as I recall.

After this, I made sure I had BBQ for lunch the next day (and regretted that I now live in the Midwest instead of Texas), but I also got down my copy of some of my Iron Kingdoms source material, notably the IKCG or Iron Kingdoms Character Guide and the older Lock & Load: Iron Kingdoms Character Primer both of which discuss the various human ethnicities in the Iron Kingdoms.  In the larger IKCG, they are illustrated--a sample bust type portrait of a man and woman of each race.  In the L&L book, they are described physically.  Curiously, you need both books to get a complete picture of what a "typical" member of each ethnicity looks like.

After that, I also checked out my Pathfinder Chronicles: Campaign Setting, the guide to Golarion, and especially the Inner Sea region.  Both books do a pretty good job of describing human ethnicities and making them interesting choices to pick in play.  The Iron Kingdoms takes the dubious step of creating mechanical differences between them, while Pathfinder instead has "half feats"; traits that are based on either culture, country, or environment of origin, which also serve to give some cultural flavor to the various human ethnicities.

Not that other settings don't have ethnicities, but these two do a particularly good job of integrating them.  Others, like Forgotten Realms, or Eberron, for example, tend to come at us with the overly simplistic Belgariad model, where cultures and countries are 100% mappable, and individuals from each are a caricature of their cultural traits.  No, the real world is more subtle.

There are two ways to approach ethnicities in roleplaying games.  Pathfinder, for example, tends to paint with a pretty broad brush.  Their ethnicities are like Garundi, which make up the majority of the ethnic make-up of an entire continent.  In real world terms, that would also be applicable to DARK•HERITAGE, that would be sort of like making "Mediterranean" an ethnicity, and brushing together whatever differences there may be from someone from Barcelona, Nice, Venice, Sicily, Crete, Malta or Tunisia.  For my purposes, that's clearly too coarse.  But I don't want to go to the other extreme, where I'm saying that even within Greater Catalonia, for example, Valencians, Andorrans and folks from the Balearic Isles are different ethnicities.  In real life, there's actually controversy over issues like that. 

The genesis of an ethnicity is also a complicated issue.  Not every ethnicity is made up of an ancient population core that has persisted for generation after generation after generation for thousands of years (although some are.)  Sometimes ethnogenesis requires only circumstances that cause geographically proximate peoples, regardless of origin, to see each other as "their people", to begin to (if they aren't already) interbreed with each other, and to develop common culture, language and traditions.  This can actually happen fairly quickly in the right circumstances, and some ethnicities in DARK•HERITAGE are really quite young, all things considered.  Others are suitably ancient.

So for DARK•HERITAGE, I'm looking for an approach that is broad enough, yet not too broad.  An approach similar to that taken by the Iron Kingdoms, actually.  Here's the ethnicities of the setting, speaking broadly:
  • The Kurushi are a group of peoples who live in the very southwest areas that are mapped.  Their name comes from the major country in the area, Kurushat, but in reality, many of them have only recently been integrated into that polity, and some of them have more loyalty to their local traditions than to the grand, national one.  Be that as it may, the kurushans have a similar appearance, traditions, language and way of life, even if their more or less unity into a single country is a recent thing.  Fiercely militaristic, frequently even jingoistic to the point of obnoxiousness, and an active, virile and growing group of people, the kurushans are ready to take on the Mezzovian region by storm... except that, well, they're still relatively removed from the area, and have enough of their own issues going on around the shores of the much smaller inland Karkose Sea to deal with.  Fractuous and proud, they will probably always have to deal with local pride, insubordination and other issues within their khaganate, especially as the old khagan sees the end of his life approaching and the tempestuous scrabbling for his position that will no doubt follow his death among his eligible heirs apparent.  The Kurushi are fairly tall and pale-skinned except when tanned by summers of campaigning and other outdoor activity.  They value achievement and ambition, and even the wealthy and the nobility pursue scholarly, athletic, military, or even mercantile pursuits.  Success in any of these arenas brings prestige.  Because of this, many kurushans are fairly tanned; they maintain an active, outdoor lifestyle.  They have dark hair and extremely pale gray eyes, which are often almond shaped due to modest epicanthic folds.  Kurushans have only fairly recently been coming into the lands of other peoples, have been isolated on the other side of the Black Mountains and the Cavusto steppes, but when they have come into contact with isolated settlements, villages, or even full cities other other nationalities, their response has often been aggressive: raiding or even outright conquering and enslaving of thousands of people.  They now have diplomatic relationships with Terrasa and others, so much of that has been officially curtailed, but the kurushans, once they get past their local issues, have been eyeing the rich lands of the Mezzovian region and seeing themselves as the natural overlords.
  • The Calçans, or Calçinos are a young, still crystalizing ethnic group, located up in the "lost province" of Calça.  Exactly who the core population core of this region were is lost to time.  Clearly there were some autochthonous peoples here when Terrasan settlers, soldiers, colonists and conquistadores arrived, but the culture and language owe much more to Terrasa than to the origin natives.  That said, the calçinos have always viewed themselves as a people apart from the rest of the empire; more fiercely independent, more ruggedly frontiersmen-like in outlook, stubborn and free.  Of late, that has been quite literally true; the province isn't called "the Lost Province" for nothing.  Calça has essentially been abandoned by the empire.  No imperial official has been seen in over a generation, and that counts the dubious presence of the men and woman who supported the late Archduke; who himself operated independently and forgotten of the Imperial center.  On the books, Calça still belongs to the Empire, but as it's will and political capital wither, the chances that it will make an attempt to reintegrate the province get more and more slim.  Calça is as much cut off from the empire by trackless forests, snow-covered (at least in winter) dramatic mountain peaks, and faint old roads that are frequently plagued by bandits and highwaymen.  For a number of generaitons, the calçinos have developed in isolation, and have become somewhat unique and even peculiar in that time.  While friendly enough to people they know, calçans are often surly, slow to trust, and wary of outsiders.  Even folks from other villages get a wary eye when they pass through.  Hardworking and rural in economy, Calça is a province of agriculture, fishing and livestock.  There are few genuine luxuries amongst calçans, and they distrust open display of ostentatious wealth.  While lower class terrasans clearly are a major element of the mix that became calçans, in general they are physically somewhat distinct.  Calçans often have fairer and often quite freckly skin, and rather than luxurious black hair, they're more likely to have various shades of brown, and brown eyes.  The further north you go in Calça, the taller and fairer in general the Calçans become, and some folks have theorized that the original inhabitants must have been settled and agricultural relatives of the Haltash tribes.  In fact, there are a few semi-legendary old stories amongst the Haltash that they are, in fact, the descendants of the natives of Calça who refused to submit to the coming terrasans, and instead crossed the Vajol Downs to live the pastoral nomadism life of a tribesman.  Scholars from places like Simashki say this is nonsense; the Baal Hamazi empire has records of Haltash tribesmen in those lands since long before the terrasans come to the area.  Nonetheless, the possibility of a kinship of some kind between the calçinos and the Haltash tribes is a popular one on both sides of the downs.
  • The tolosans are the dominant group on the western side of the Mezzovian sea.  In addition, they've contributed to the development of various other "hybrid" ethnicities; ethnicities like the calçans, norderos, stranzeros or forasteros who crystalized when ancient tolosans came across other populations and mingled with them over time to form all new societies and cultures.  Despite recognizing a kinship to these ancient splinter groups, the tolosans are also cognizant of being their own, distinct ethnicity, and even the most anti-Terrasan Liuran pirate feels a sense of ethnic patriotism when thinking of the accomplishments of his people, the spectacular skyline of Terrasa, the spread of the Terrasan language family and the long reach of its king.  Proud and passionate, quick to anger, and quick to forgive, the fiery, mercurial temper of the tolosans is legendary (and frankly, quite exaggerated).  With usually fine, sometimes even sharp features, thick dark hair, dark brown eyes and olive skin, the tolosans tend to be a good-looking people, although their rich traditional cuisine makes many of the indolent and older population lose their svelte younger figures over time.
  • The norderos are the most populous ethnic group of the central north Mezzovian area.  They are particularly common in the Razine peninsula.  Although the norderos recognize a kinship with the tolosans, and acknowledge that some of their ancestors were tolosan settlers and colonists, those same tolosans left the Tolosan Isles region before the rise of the Terrasan polity, and the Razines have, in general, always set uneasily and unhappily with foreign rulers, ever since the Kings of Terrasa "acquired" the title to the duchy of Razina through dynastic union.  Today, the city of Razina itself has a significant tolosan population, close to half the population, and probably a plurality.  But the countryside for hundreds of leagues round about belongs to the norderos.  Because of this political unsettledness, the norderos often downplay the tolosan angle of their ancestry, and rather focus on the old kingdom of Rozovka from many centuries ago, which sat in--more or less--similar boundaries to the duchy.  Interest in the once-endangered Balshatoi language has been rekindled, and the norderos stress their relationship with their northern brethren now.  Be that as it may, they clearly as a hybrid population, and no matter the current waxing of interest in all things balshatoi, the norderos are something else entirely.  Not tall, but often fairly thick-bodied, with wide, freckled faces and brown hair, with green, blue or brown eyes, the norderos also have a fairly distinctive look to them.
Next time: more.  This post got too long and I didn't want to put everyone on it at once.

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