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“All are welcome, but no one survives.”
– Outlander saying
It used to be that the lands to the northeast were fertile, wealthy, and proud. Old manuscripts show that there used to be water here – rivers, lakes, rainfall, misty mountains, and marshes teeming with life. The forests were dense and lush, and the people wanted for nothing.
But that was long ago.
These same lands lying to the south of the Rathbone Mountains are now arid and scorched. Beyond the few towns and settlements that dot the landscape in this region, there is only death in the form of hundreds of miles of unforgiving desert and difficult to navigate swamps. This place is cruel, and most of the inhabitants of this land live here because they feel they have little other choice. The creatures that dwell here are strange and monstrous, larger than they should be and almost always venomous, long of tooth, or sharp of claw. The blighted landscape is made more eerie by the dense ruins and remnants of lost roads and highways that stand as muted reminders of the full, healthy, prosperous lives that once thrived here.
To exist in this brutal part of the world is to be a fighter and a survivor, and most likely touched by some sort of madness, malady, or lack of options. For these Outlands are now the dumping grounds of what stands for the rest of the world’s civilizations. Here is where the cities, villages, and population centers all over the world send their most cursed and tainted – their outcasts. Here, the discarded and unwanted struggle each day to forge an existence and a home for themselves in a land seemingly designed to punish and consume those who would dare such.
It is known that long ago, the followers of the Thorns – the Triumverati of the past – were physically marked and changed by their service. They appeared more corpse-like, more bestial, and more alien. As the world weakened and these Followers grew in number, the world was inflicted with a disease – a cancer which it was never able to recover from. It is believed that then, in this already weakened state, the plagues of man fell upon the earth, crawling over all forms of life. Drought followed, and, ultimately, the great Calamity came to bear, forever changing the world. And while the world may be heavily ruled by the Triumverati in many places, superstitions abound concerning those who are born with their marks. Disaster and misfortune are surely to follow again in the wake of those born with the signs of the Thorns, especially if they are ever allowed to increase into greater concentrations. A second apocalypse is considered to be a real possibility – only this time with humanity being completely altered and disconnected from the natural world and cycle.
Therefore, those born with strange eyes, teeth, skin, appendages, birthmarks, or any sense of strangeness or otherness tend to be treated the world over as pariahs by the general population. While some cultures are more lenient than others, and certainly the Triumverati take in what followers they may, most shun these unfortunates. They are usually forbidden by social convention to marry or breed with a clean, unmarked person, or to hold certain jobs or positions. Some consider the touch of one of these Tainted to carry with it the curse or the misfortune that they were born into. Thus, it is often considered a kindness, and a practical solution, to simply send these marked ones away. Far away. For if they were to be killed it is unknown what kinds of Malefic would eventually rise to terrorize their murderers, and for many parents it is far easier to give over their child to the uncaring world than to wield the knife themselves. And it is in the Outlands that these forsaken end up – for no other place will have them. Here, if they survive long enough among the harsh environment and unforgiving creatures hungry for manflesh, they can make a home.
Some believe their stay will be temporary, and some are under no such illusions. In many of the Gothic cities, the Tainted are told that if they fight hard and reduce the population of dire animals, Malefic, and nonhumans in the wastes, they will be allowed to come home – having proven that they are an aid to humanity rather than a hindrance. And while this may sometimes be true, the old prejudices, restrictions, and taboos remain waiting for them in the far away places they were born into that no longer are familiar as home.
It is ironic that these untouchable and discarded people end up being those who fight the hardest to protect those who do not want them. It is they who are on the front lines against the creatures who threaten the borders of the human world. It is they who shield those who would revile and scorn them, and in so doing, it is they who have become some of the most deadly fighters in existence – truly at one with their environment.
Not only is there the vicious orc to deal with, charging in from the mountains and edges of the world, or the ancient traps and perils created by dwarves to keep all outsiders away from their ancestral homes. Dire creatures and animals who have grown fat off the flesh of men and wise from their elongated lifespans lie in wait in dark caves and burrows in the earth. Heat, lack of potable water, and barren soil defy basic comforts, while malaises and vile sicknesses taint the air.
The humans who dwell here, the Outlanders, are a motley lot, banded together against their hopeless surroundings. Many are newcomers, but just as many have been here for several generations, choosing instead to live in the only land they have ever known. Here, as strange and deadly as it may seem, there is a chance for marriage, a family, and a life free from the contempt of the “pure”. And over time, not all who dwell here bear the obvious marks that banished their ancestors. However, this is balanced out by those who are born stranger still, bred from a long line of parents bearing the curse. Many of the population have at least one strange feature about them, and newcomers that are old enough to have learned shame from their old homes often try to cover themselves up or otherwise disguise their maladies. Others flaunt what makes them different proudly, and it is believed that still others who were born with the appearance of purity may artificially make themselves appear monstrous that they might gain greater acceptance.
Overall, the Outlanders are a violent, opportunistic, hardened culture that has for countless generations made the best of an abysmal situation. They are certainly not united as a people, but they share a sense of brotherhood in being outcasts all the same. The world has been cruel to them, but they are prepared for this. They expect no kindness and no aid, and instead grow stronger and more fearsome – becoming predators in a world that told them they would be prey.
“I would postulate that the greatest horror known to mankind is the realization that no one in the world will come to your aid. No one will help you. Not that they can not; but that they will not. That you are completely alone, and those you thought would rescue you instead turn and run.”
– A Lament for Capacionne
by Symon de Langres
Themes of hunger and excess are inextricably woven throughout the region the Outlanders call their own. Years ago, though it is not clearly understood exactly how long, this region was a paradise. Lush forests, abundant gardens, and ideal weather conditions made these lands the most desirable place within the Throne to live. Evidence from the ruins and wreckage of civilization within the Outlands would indicate that the wealth and bounty of the land would have accommodated the greatest density of people within the old Throne Empire.
This place was called Capacionne; and its prosperous history traces back to the legendary Francois Marseilles who is credited with saving its people from the terrible ravages of magical famine and wasting sickness. According to old tapestries, records, and surviving books, times were so lean in this dark period that people were regularly eating other people to survive. Superstition and fear ruled these years, and sacrifices in deep pits were regularly made to demons and denizens of the dark in the hopes of more harvest and to keep starvation at bay.
When the Shining King Marseilles came and liberated the people from the dark magics they toiled under, a new era began.
Cities which had been designed to keep people close and banded together began work on waterways, sewers, and better quality of living. Numerous agricultural spaces which had been constantly depleted source of cheap grains during the dark times were converted to orchards, vineyards, and well-tended fields of crops and lavender. King Marseilles outlawed cannibalism as well as worship or service to gods or cults, and for many years it is believed that Magicians were no longer welcome in Capacionne. Fortifications and battlements were constructed, and trade was initiated with nearby dwarves for advanced weaponry in order that the people may be better defended against the growing threat of orcs from the mountains whose raids had increased in number alongside the prosperity of the citizens.
When the Emperor of the Throne of God on Earth approached the kingdom of Capacionne, his envoys and retinue were amazed by the comforts and resources the land had to offer. The young kingdom was not interested in war, however, nor were they interested in the faith, religion, god, and prophet of the Throne. They had built themselves up by their own hard labor and ingenuity, and had little trust for gods and faith. Their focus was on their babies and loved ones not starving, and ensuring they could never fall victim again to such ignorance and want. However, King Francois Marseilles had gathered intelligence on the strength and resources of the Empire, and found that war could be avoided if Capacionne entered into allegiance on its own terms. Thus, the King swore to uphold the faith and become part of the Throne, provided certain financial concessions were made such as the construction of roads, walls, and guard outposts stationed by the areas of most troubling orc activity. Thus, with trade and resources from the Throne bolstering the kingdom throughout the Lion Age, Capacionne grew even more wealthy and advanced. Aesthetics could be focused on beyond mere survival, and wine, food, pleasures and pastimes became integral parts of the culture. The picturesque forests, meadows of flowers, flowing rivers, amphitheaters, and villas directed the mind towards romance, poetry, and song. What few scholars remain today are forever looking for surviving copies of the art and creative works that arose during this era, for it is believed that true masterpieces of the human condition were produced and lost. Few could argue that this region was not the real seat of power within the Throne. Mechanical bridges, cannons, defensive war machines, mechanical wonders of production and labor, and sanitation advancements created a thriving area of ease and bounty. Given time, without the Great Wars and Calamity, Capacionne would likely have become the new capital of the empire.
During the Great War, which is believed to have begun a chain reaction of destruction throughout the known world, Capacionne was the ally which rushed to the aid of the Empire first. Canons, rifle companies, and trained militia left from the capitol to help defend Gotha and Rogalia. Travel was slower with canon, giant ballista, and other fantastic weaponry, but the armies of proud country were well drilled and prepared. Members of the royal family left to join the fight as well, as they felt was proper to inspire and show support. Unfortunately, while the heirs to the kingdom were away, the King himself died unexpectedly.
With many forms of communication seemingly cut off, legions of runners, messengers, and ravens were sent in the hopes of reaching one of the royal heirs. But it is believed they must never have reached their destination, or tragedy had already befallen the Capacionne armies, for no members of the royal family were recorded as returning from the battlefield.
This lead to a power vacuum and a rising tide of fear and unrest within the borders of Capacionne. A large portion of the army was gone, and the throne of the kingdom sat empty while various politicians ineffectively vied for power. When additional threats arrived in the form of invading Shariqyn bands from neighboring Sha’ra, and the only reports arriving from the west spoke of devastating losses to the armies of the Throne at the hands of monstrous Kuarlite commanders and Njord berserkers, the people panicked.
The regions pulled away from each other, in a ‘to each their own’ mentality, thinking that without a clear centralized king to coordinate defenses, they were left on their own anyway. Communities pulled inwards and looked to their own protection and resources. While this strategy did delay the downfall of the region as a whole, these smaller, isolated, pieces of the kingdom began to systematically crumble, despite their superior technology. They were not able to withstand invaders, seized supply lines, and onslaughts of Shariqyn water magi the way a united nation could have. Falaisia was the first region to decidedly fall to the Shariqyn. It was the closest to the desert of Korm, where some of the most hostile exchanges between the two cultures had occurred over the generations.
The ancient enemy of man that had dwelled in the hidden places of the world, perhaps since the beginning, the orcs, had not ceased their opportunistic raids and assaults on the already weakened and fear-driven populace. Something appears to have snapped among the people of Capacionne when the orcs assaulted the countryside along with strange, monstrous creatures from the deep pits of generations long ago. Riots broke out in most major cities; fields and forests burned; and most accounts from that time speak of a deep, crushing despair and hopelessness. It is believed that the dwarves fought alongside the Capacian people for many years, attempting to also drive orc and monster alike back to where they came from. But something happened. A great betrayal or disaster is believed to have occurred within the mountain fortresses of the dwarves, and what happened to them next is lost to the stormy waves of time.
Castellonia, the famously independent region to the south, eventually defected to Hestralia for aid and protection, swearing allegiance to the southern, coastal country that had recently declared its own sovereignty from the Empire. In doing so, it was able to defend itself from enemy invaders and threats, but the price it paid in resources was dear.
Lorassaint, bordering with Gotha, fell to the Kuarlite raiders who had turned their eyes to the rest of the world while the heart of the Throne burned to cinders behind them. They left little behind of the people who had called that region their home.
When the pieces of Capacionne were carved up among the victors and vultures, Hestralia and Sha’ra turned more fully to face each other and waged both overt and shadowy cold conflicts between them. It is believed that Hestralia had staged a coup and series of assassination attempts among the Shariqyn Padishah’s court in order to prevent a ritual or globe-affecting spell that the church of the Water Magi had planned. Another theory is that Magicians of Fire and Air had aligned within Hestralia to seize control of regions previously taken by the Triumverati, but the Water Magi interceded. The reverse has also been claimed, with the Water Magi in the role of global savior. Regardless of the true cause or political dealings, it is clearly evident that the powers of Hestralia and Sha’ra were locked in prolonged conflict for many years, cannibalizing the lumber, minerals, metals, and crops of Capacionne between them in the process. The former kingdom was consumed, eaten away by these foreign powers, and gradually wasted away as the desert spread into what was once lush and abundant with green. Without trees, as a result of the extreme deforestation of the region, and the overly aggressive, stripping agricultural practices, the land and soil grew barren. Within several decades, the land was almost unrecognizable.
The great Calamity that shook the world next affected Capacionne less than other regions, but the upset of ecosystems, mountain ranges, and the sinking of the Sha’ra desert under the waves did not help. The land had been undergoing a process of desertification for years, as trees were felled, waterways had been diverted, mountains mined and harvests reaped without thought for the future – the goal was to fund the war machine with Capacionne’s resources. Being the densest population center of the time without a centralized government also did the environment of the region no favors. But when almost all of Sha’ra disappeared, the ground quaked, and the mountains shook and toppled, the subsequent erosion the Capacionne borderlands experienced was immense. The natural disasters of the Calamity were the final segment of the chain reaction that would transform the land into the barren wastes it is today.
Many of the inhabitants of the area left or eventually died off, often caught between crushing armies of Malefic undead ghouls outside the gates of their vast cities, and the starvation and risen dead from the urban cemeteries facing them within. The process was long and drawn out for those who starved to death over and over again, and this tended to create more hollowed Malefic than peaceful dead; which only served to exacerbate the problem. Orc continued to raid the human settlements and cities that still stood, often taking the frail and malnourished inhabitants for food. This strategy was also employed by many of the larger predatory creatures of the region as well, until it seemed as though all inhabitants of the Outland wilds had developed a taste for manflesh. Most of the Triumverati viewed the land as an already conquered place of misery that best served their ends left to its own devices, but that does not mean that cultists did not take up residence.
As time eroded the people as surely as the desert and waters eroded the land, only the most stubborn, defiant, capable, and brutal of humanity remained. Those who would live in the Outlands had to be fighters in every sense of the word. And when the area eventually became a dumping ground for the undesirables of the world, they too had to become hardened or perish. The Outlands are now a place where people and things no one wants to deal with tend to be abandoned. Some Gothic warlords promise redemption and acceptance for time spent in the wastes, fighting back the threats that loom there. Most know that the rejects and pariah fighting there are the only thing standing between the threats at the edge of the world and the civilizations inland and to the west. It is a cruel irony that the outcasts of humanity are one of their main protectors; fighting battles where the only reward is a new fight the next day.
Today, the bones of the cities of old are the prime locations for settlements of the Outlanders. Making use of whatever you can is common practice in the wastes, and the old cities were engineering marvels built to last. While they could not protect the Capacian ancestors from want and need, they can protect the Outlanders today from the more overt threats of Malefic, dire creature, and nonpeople.
Ethics & Values
“I spit on your false faces and lies. Morality isn’t real. It’s a luxury. An indulgence for those with full bellies.”
– Giles the Pious
The wastes are considered so far from any sort of civilized society that many maps don’t even bother listing it. It seems ironic that, given the state of so much of the world, many still shield their eyes from the region and its inhabitants. Perhaps this is because of guilt or a desire to not acknowledge the countless abandoned and neglected people dropped off here like so much refuse; but the people who call it their home do not have that luxury. Survival in the Outlands is dependent upon gazing straight into the face of that which threatens you, and never looking away. It’s nearly impossible to avoid dangers in the wastes, so it does no favors to bury one’s head in the sand.
That’s not to say that all Outlanders are pessimists, but rather that they are realists and don’t place much value in shying away from hard truths or blanketing their lives and language in euphemism. They live an existence surrounded by horrors, and in order to make it to their next sunrise, they need to ensure that they are the apex predators. Thus, it’s a matter of pride for the Outlanders that they live in a place that few others can. The rest of the world may have rejected them, but they have grown strong in spite of their abysmal circumstances – stronger, in fact, than they ever would have been had they not been brought or raised here.
Strength and self-reliance are two highly important qualities to foster in oneself among the Outlanders. Both physical strength and emotional fortitude are considered essential among members of society. You need to be able to fight alongside your family and friends when the enormous dire rats, hyenas, and vultures attack your settlement en masse, and when you watch your mate or children torn apart in front of your eyes, you need to still get up and keep fighting. Otherwise, all might be lost. Self-reliance is also a virtue that is instilled at a young age. One cannot afford to grow soft by having others do your work for you, or by relying on shiny new tools or fresh supplies. You have to be able to hunt or provide your own food, repair what needs repairing, and make or take what you are in need of for daily living. Actions are given far more weight than words. It’s not enough to boast of strength; one has to show it. Those that lead do so through example and strength of will, and Outlanders look down on people who talk and talk without having anything to show for it. The wastes breed durable, resolute people who learn to work with what they have rather than dream about a world that is denied to them.
In order to maximize chances of survival, most people attempt to ally themselves with the strongest people that will have them. Upon coming of age, Outlanders are chosen and sworn into a warband, and will remain within this small group for the rest of their lives. Usually led by the most powerful or skilled among them, these bands do everything together- and most leaders encourage their members to form close emotional and even sexual relationships with other members of the band. This encourages dedication, loyalty, and ferocity in combat.
To some, the Outlanders may appear to be a stoic and violent people devoid of manners or feelings, but the reality is that their environment leaves them with more pressing matters to concern themselves with. Death, final or otherwise, is common in the wastes and they rarely have the luxury of mourning those that they have lost. They certainly have all the emotions shared by humanity, but they don’t have the ability to stop and examine them very often. Better to keep moving and keep fighting than risk being slowed down or pulled under by overwhelming grief, compassion, or joy, and rage leads to stupid mistakes. When most Outlanders do finally have an outpouring of emotion, it is generally while alone or in the company of the select most trusted.
Those who are allowed into an Outlander’s circle of trust learn very quickly that in reality, relationships are what is valued above all else. Those that are relied on are those that an Outlander will often fight, kill, and die for, and trust is taken very seriously. Breaking trust, in fact, is one of the worst offenses that an Outlander can commit and blood feuds are often sworn against someone who breaks their word, and often their entire band is included in that feud. Things break and weapons dull, but the bonds of deep friendship and love are considered the only truly lasting things in the Outlands.
Despite their often strange or cursed appearance and association with the Triumverati, the Outlanders have a complex relationship with them. Some Outlanders bear a deep hatred for the Triumverati, as their cursed birthmarks were what caused them to be cast out of their former home and society. Others embrace them, figuring that if they could be labeled evil without actually being so, then so too could others. Still others embrace the Triumverati for the unique gifts that becoming a member of their cults grant them, seeing it as simply another tool to survive in a harsh climate. The cult of Kuarl is one of the most popular in the wastes, partially because Kuarl’s gifts are the most directly associated with battle, bloodlust, and strength.
Geography & Architecture
“I have often wondered what these stones have seen, and what secret revelations they could tell. What would I know if I had the wisdom of centuries? And the conclusion I’ve come to is that I don’t think it would matter. I would have my time, and then it would end. Even stones must crumble eventually. You need but look around to see that we are all merely guests here, and who knows when our host will see fit to say the reception has ended.”
– Translated fragment from an untitled manuscript, dated to Age of Witchkings
As the new edge of the world far to the east, beyond the forests and crumbling roads of Gotha, the wastes stretch on. Here, former wonders of mankind’s ingenuity lie partially buried beneath sun-blasted desert interspersed with rocky crags and fetid bogs where stagnant water can be found. It is difficult to believe that anyone lives here, and yet there are few ruins that are uninhabited, and most of the former thriving cities have been repurposed as sprawling settlements.
The wide stretch of the wastes may appear at a first look to be open and uninhabited, but in actuality it is anything but, for generations of people have had little choice but to make a life here – raising families in the one place they are not considered unclean or untouchable. Every inch of the wastes is claimed by something; If not human, then beast or orc. And if human, one band or another holds on to what they can. In many places multiple bands lay claim to the same location – trading blood and blows to take back what they know belongs to them.
Deep in the middle of each territory lies the beating heart of every Outlander band, their settlement. This home base is where they bring back the loot that they gather from raiding or scavenging parties and is often centered around a natural water source or easily defended locale. Depending on the size of the band, this may be a small fort, or it may be a fully operational city, for some bands have absorbed others over time and become large conglomerates. These settlements are always augmented with whatever armaments or fortifications that the band can manage, though many take advantage of maintaining and repairing what was already in existence. Mechanical drawbridges, trapped walls, catapults, and even landmines have been used for protection and devastating effect.
The smaller settlements often have a haphazard appearance, made up as they are of anything that the band can scavenge or rig together. Earthen embankments made of rammed earth may be combined with repurposed stone from nearby ruins, or built up with clay and straw bricks and decorated with the bones from a huge and savage beast. Trophies and flags are often hung from the outside wall, so that anyone who approaches may know of the strength of the band within. Always looking for opportunities to take what is needed, raiding and hostile takeover of other settlements is a relatively common phenomenon. However, it is generally agreed that there is no sense in destroying perfectly good cities and settlements and defenses, and thus the conquering band usually does not destroy anything they can preserve and use themselves once they take up residence.
Despite the myriad of settlement locations and types, all stay clear of caves, no matter how tempting and safe they may appear. Generations of lore, careful tutelage, and experience have taught the Outlanders that caves are never worth the risk.
Very likely the most populous and complete of the city-settlements, The Cradle is located in the northwest of the wastes. It is believed that long ago it must have been beautiful. For even today, huge multistoried buildings and sweeping cathedrals stand in various states of repair, and the ancient reservoirs and springs around the city manage to still supply its populace with enough water to support it.
One of the more luxurious features of the Cradle is the baths at its center. It appears that the heated water which flows into the tiled pools is pumped from the deep caves far below the ruins, though it is also theorized that they are heated by magical spells set on the city by the ancients, and still others claim that old dwarven mechanisms boil the water in the very pipes themselves. All can at least agree that the water of the baths is warm and soothing, and that if it is from a natural hotspring then they cannot identify the source. The baths were once enclosed by an atrium, but these days the bathers mostly swim under the open sky- usually in the cool of night surrounded by long shadows thrown by the multitude of punched tin lanterns that rest on the ruined walls beside the water.
Due to the sheer size of the Cradle, and its vast fortifications and resources which many groups want, no one warband rules it all. In fact, there is a tradition of non-dominance, with any group that tries to take control being brutally put down by the other warbands. This is called preserving “The Peace of the Cradle”. Most bands currently in residence may be in competition at times, but they are rarely outright hostile to one another for risking incurring the wrath of the combined bands for breaking the Peace. There are, however, some groups that wield significant power within the city, arguably out of proportion to their fair share. This includes House Dubois, one of the few groups within the Wastes that considers themselves a “House” rather than a warband, and who is known for being possessed of an almost unnatural beauty. They claim to trace their lineage back to times before the Calamity, and whether or not this is true, they have successfully cultivated their mystique and sense of ownership through such stories.
Second only to the Cradle in size, Troctown is also fed by ancient aqueducts, and is located near the west of the Wastes. In addition to having an old reliable source of water like the Cradle, Troctown is also one of the few places that warbands gather without too much bloodshed. This is less because of any sort of peace treaty or law in place – but rather because of the Crater.
The Crater is a natural amphitheater that is almost 100 yards across. Many stories surround the site, but most agree that it was once the site of an epic mage battle in which both combatants perished. Thus, it is tradition to settle any dispute – no matter how small – inside its bounds. There are no restrictions or rules to guide combat in the crater and any sort of weapon or strategy is allowed, though in the unofficial court of public opinion it is considered far more impressive to win with less at hand. Ultimately, the strongest proves their worth and the rightness of their opinion, and typically the battle ends with only one combatant leaving the crater alive.
With most blood feuds settled in a safe space, Troctown is able to serve as a bustling trade town. It is here that bands bring the things they would like to trade with others and gather supplies that they lack, and it is here that outsiders come to trade with the Outlanders. It is also one of the main places that Nemien bring children who are marked by the taint and ostracized. The first sight these traumatized souls have of Troctown is often a raucous battle at the Crater, and many Outlanders firmly believe that this is for the best. Better to get used to the trials of the Outlands early.
Given the importance of Troctown, many bands take it upon themselves to protect the aqueducts and the monsoon-fed reservoirs that feed them. It is also typically considered extremely poor taste to raid caravans coming to or from the city, but that doesn’t keep desperate bands from trying. These raids are primarily discouraged by a consortium of bands led by the Triad: three men who have sat in power in Troctown for as long as anyone can remember.
The Triad consists of Absalon the Redclawed, a man pale of hair and skin with crimson claws that are rumored to be sharp enough to cut even stone; Lazare Ravenkin, who is best known for the glow of his green eyes and the fact that he once trapped and rode a dire raven; and Nicase the Black Death. Little is known about Nicase besides the fact that he wears an expressionless bronze mask everywhere he goes, and that all who oppose him fall victim to a paralytic poison that slowly robs their body of breath over several agonizing days. The three of them have managed to hold on to Troctown by a combination of threats, force of will, and sheer charisma – and their ability to protect the caravans in their territory means that they are likely to maintain that hold for quite some time.
Bonegarden is the home of a band of the same name, and primarily known for their unusual settlement location which rests near a large marshland to the south of the wastes. Built on top of an ancient crypt of unknown provenance, those of Bonegarden have sought shelter from the sun in the crypts themselves, forming a sort of catacombs underground city, connected in parts by tunnels.
While both shady and well protected, the crypts do have one problem in that they tend to flood in the rainy season. During the floods those of the Bonegarden move to the higher levels of the catacombs or the above-ground crypts, but there are some areas of Bonegarden which never fully dry out. This noxious mix of still water and the bones of the long departed is usually avoided by the members of the settlement, but in times of drought it is not unheard of for the band to drink the catacomb water to survive. Of course, doing so is risky due to the underground creatures and Malefic that may be uncovered in the deepest parts of the tombs.
Bonegarden is led by Rosomin Threehand, a horned woman whose name comes from her the huge soulsword she bears. It is said that her sword was tempered in the blood of her own mother, whose dying wish was that her blood be used to arm her beloved daughter.
Balise is not a single settlement, but rather a series of small settlements loosely laid out around the Stairs of Sleep. This peaceful-sounding name hides a terrifying reality, as the Stairs of Sleep are actually a terrace that leads down to one of the largest caves in all of the wastes. With a cave mouth wide enough to fit an elephant, as well as hundreds of other smaller cave entrances, the Stairs of Sleep are one of the primary exits for the hordes of enormous rat creatures that make their homes deep underground.
Given the ongoing possibility and real danger for a large-scale incursion of monsters from the deeps, several bands long ago agreed to create a series of lookouts and smaller settlements that could keep watch upon the Stairs. This is especially important during the spring, when rat mating season drives thousands of the monsters into the open air in a frenzy.
The bands of Balise maintain a series of flame beacons which they use to warn other Outlands inhabitants of incoming ratkins, or to summon help in case something even worse surfaces from the caves. The leader of this critically perilous settlement is Octave Falselight, a fierce warrior of great renown with the horns of a ram, and a temperment to match.
The Circle of Iron
Comparatively, the Circle of Iron is one of the smaller permanent settlements of the Outlands. Due to the nature and size of its construction, it can only house a few hundred people at a time, but over the years many thousands have called it home. More of a fort than a city, at its heart there are only a small handful of buildings. The barracks, lunch hall and administrative building are the oldest structures inside the walls, and are primarily composed of patched brick. Around them, other buildings cobbled together from wood, stone or other scavenged materials have come and gone over the years. It is not these buildings which gave the settlement its flavor, however. The main distinguishing characteristic of the Circle of Iron is its namesake, the iron wall which surrounds the Fort.
This marvel of metal stretches 40 feet high and is five feet wide, allowing guards to stand on its ramparts. The wall has eight sides, forming a polygon, with a single gate built into the front, though from a distance the structure appears to be a circle. The wall is immune to rust, and has never lost its shining, new metal appearance. Despite being struck full force from cannons and siege machines over countless confrontations, the iron appears to have never been scratched. Stories and rumors about the Circle of Iron are a popular topic of conversation throughout the wastes, and it is believed that the wall has stood for thousands of years, and that it is cursed.
The iron wall gives a well-deserved sense of security to those within; however, a persistent sense of unease looms above the Circle of Iron as well. It is said that all who view the iron wall feel a desire burn in their bellies to possess it – to conquer it and make it their own. Time has shown that this will always be a losing battle however, and the only sieges of the Circle of Iron that succeed are those that employ tactics of attrition, and the slow starvation and eventual surrender of those within. This is believed to be the eventual fate of all who make this place their home – to have peace that is incredibly temporary in nature, only to lose to the next band that comes by in greater numbers. Every year a new band takes it, and every year they are forced to defend it against others. It is said that so much blood has been spilled defending and capturing its walls that the sands are permanently stained a brownish, rusted color. It is currently being held by the Crimson Fangs. Only time will tell how long they hold it.
Notable Bands of the Outlanders
“Fool. You do not yet respect your end that will come. You mistake our long life and second chances for immortality. The question is not if you will die, but how.”
– Rheci the Dove
The number of Outlander bands varies year to year due to the constant state of aggression many are in, as well as the shifting treaties, mergers, and dissolutions that take place. Membership can range from small handfuls to several hundred or more. Most are cults of personality that hinge on the leadership skills of one individual, and as such, most of the bands do not survive a generation. Some have stood the test of time better than others, however, with the mantle of leadership passed down over many years and successors. Usually, these bands are united by a cause or charge rather than simple survival or a forceful personality.
Totem: The Wolverine
Maxim: No scars. No survivors.
La Pale is a relatively new band formed around its leader, Absalon the Redclawed. When Absalon came of age, he did not think any of the leaders trying to recruit him were worthy of his skills. He finally agreed to join one of the warbands on the condition that its strongest warrior agree to a trial by combat and best him. If he prevailed, however, the band would agree to follow him instead. He won.
Absalon is rumored to have claws sharp enough to cut through most any substance. And like him, all of his followers are skilled with either claws or blades. Their fearsome reputation is well deserved, and they are particularly known for cutting their defeated enemies up into tiny pieces and leaving them outside the homes of their loved ones in piles. La Pale live inside the walls of Troctown, so while they do not have any official territory, a section of town is recognized as belonging to them. They decorate their spaces with animal skins and trophies from those who challenge them. While they do not have an official outside territory to defend, they are considered an essential part of the security of Troctown, and they do have a reputation to cultivate. Members of La Pale are frequently called to fight in the Crater, and Absalon himself is undefeated.
Totem: The Winged Serpent
Battle Cry: We Don’t Ask
House Dubois maintains a rich history that stretches back before the Calamity. They maintain that they have lived in the heart of the Cradle for as long as the city has stood. They prefer to be addressed as a House rather than a band, for they proclaim they are tied by blood and prestige rather than bonds of convenience. They are an unusual group, and are known for only recruiting beautiful people to join their ranks. Beautiful does not mean untainted, it just means that the irregularities must be aesthetically pleasing. They believe that beauty is a sign of spiritual favor, and use their long, prosperous history as an example of such blessings.
They are currently being led by a man named Jean the Fae. He is the most recent leader of House Dubois, and he inherited the position from his former lover, and possibly spouse, Margot. It is said that his face is flawless, and that gazing upon it will cause people to fall to their knees or be transfixed in wonder. Many have said that he looks like an angel or a creature of inhuman beauty; and it is a certainty that he capitalizes upon that belief, using his bearing and appearance to convince others to provide House Dubois with supplies, necessities, and luxuries. When they are able, House Dubois hires skilled craftspeople of all types from across the Outlander territories and beyond to furnish their sprawling estate.
Despite their success, or perhaps because of it, House Dubois has a mixed reputation. On the one hand, they are known for trading for, taking on, and raising a large portion of the children who are dropped off in Troctown by the Nemien. It is considered very charitable of them. On the other hand, they are also known for owning the largest gladiatorial ring in the Cradle which they fill nightly with slaves they have purchased. Under Jean’s rule, often dozens of people die every night in bloody battles for the entertainment of the House and the masses, only to rise again for future fights. It is known House Dubois has a cruel streak, and they have not lasted this long on good looks and smiles alone.
Battle Cry: We Shall Eat
The Collectors are a roving band that rarely interacts with others. They are consistently found at the sites of battles and skirmishes, seen hovering on the horizon, watching as people die. They only move in once the fighting is done, and the combatants are long gone, and the scavenging can commence. There is no question what the bone collectors do with the pieces of the dead that they find. The flesh is removed and sometimes eaten, sometimes fed to their animals, and sometimes sold; while the pieces of bone are added to their castle. The Collectors live inside a large castle fortress constructed of bone that their leader somehow animates to move between battlefields and across the Outlands. Even though the dead come back more often than not, the Collectors have some manner of preserving that which they scavenge, and their building materials hold fast.
Their leader is Amara the Deathless, and it is believed that she has led the group for over two hundred years. However, it is unknown if her name is simply a title that has been handed down over the years, or if it is the same woman. So few outside the band have met her, and she is not a topic that members of the band speak openly about with outsiders.
There are very few who would admit to wanting to join the macabre group, yet every year their numbers swell – perhaps due to the security their fortress provides, perhaps the fact that few Collectors go hungry. For the most part though, besides those interested in joining, they are largely avoided by others. The Collectors do not attack unprovoked, so it is considered best to leave them alone. Those who have attacked them tell stories of fighters that will continue to stand back up, no matter how many times they are hit. It is considered fruitless folly by most to bother attacking them unless there is a pressing reason.
While outright conflict with the Collectors is rare, that does not mean there is no tension between them and the other bands. The fact that they scavenge the dead and dying earns them few favors and admiration, and many people are appalled to find the precious belongings and bodies of their loved ones carted off for ignoble purposes. However, the Collectors always are willing to first make a trade for such sentimental goods, rather than immediately resort to battle. However, given that the Collectors do not seem to want for weapons, materials, or food, their trade requests tend to run to the odd and exotic, and information, rumors, and secrets will often be accepted as well. Some believe that this steady supply of scandal and blackmail material may be part of the reason why the band has survived and flourished as long as it has. Most everyone else blames the roving fortress.
Totem: Valeda the Giant Slayer Greatsword
Battle Cry: Today We Die
The Bonegarden is a newer band that was formed after the death of Valeda the Giant Slayer. Her body was turned into an oversized greatsword, that her daughter, Rosomin Threehand, wields. Valeda was considered a very powerful woman who got her name by single handedly fighting and killing a dire bear. This earned her the admiration and respect of many who spread her legend and attempted to follow her. But she would take on no band, nor would she join any. It is believed she was atoning for something, though no one could say what. She had a child by an unknown father, and when Valeda finally died her last death, her remains were forged into a sword – a soulsteel that still contained her fighting spirit. This sword became a totem held by Valeda’s daughter that rallied all those who had admired her mother around her.
Rosomin Threehand is as frightening an adversary as her mother, and she seems determined to somehow grow out of the shadow of her mother’s legend, all while being acutely aware that it is her heritage and her famous sword that partially grant her authority and renown. Those close to her say that Rosomin can be heard speaking to the sword often – sometimes beseeching it for something, and sometimes angrily addressing it with bitterness. Whether the sword answers is unknown. The Bonegarden band are so named because they have made their home in a series of linked catacombs that historically served as a giant underground crypt. It is an especially unusual location because most Outlanders fear the underground, let alone a subterranean home of the dead.
Rosomin does not have patience for fear or hesitation. She believes in instincts and action, and teaches her band that fear becomes a useless emotion when it drives one to doubt or inaction. One may make mistakes when they act, but act they must or risk failure from weakness. Since taking over, dozens have potential recruits have flocked to her. However, only a fraction of the potential new members end up joining the ranks of Bonegarden, as anyone who joins cannot show fear of the dark. It is believed that the final test of membership is both surviving the night deep underground with a simple knife for defense, and not pissing oneself. Very few meet this requirement.
Totem: The Sun Bear
Battle Cry: No Land For Us
Vérité immortelle is a band defined equally by their honor as by their rage. They are one of the primary bands that live and die upon the Stairs of Sleep, protecting the Outlander territory from the fanged threats from below. Every night they see combat, and every night they see death, even if it is only in their dreams and gruesome memories from the fight before. They view themselves as the main protector of the Outlands, and their focus is not on simple human threats. Their focus is upon what they consider to be the true threat to the Outlands and the rest of the world – the inhuman monsters that sleep below, the giants of old, and things that lie in wait deeper still. They believe the scholars have everything wrong, and that the source of the end of old civilization came from here… and it is here still.
The most important part of being a member of Vérité immortelle is to hold fast with an insistence and stubbornness that cannot be shaken. After all, death is only temporary for the most part, and if one is firm in what they believe in, then they will always remain true to themselves. There should never be a compromise of who you are, and they are guardians and warriors. If they are to be overrun, they will light flame beacons to inform the tribes that live on the steps above them, but they will fight on their step until the last of them falls.
Every member of Vérité immortelle wears necklaces filled with dire rat teeth. While they strive to fight as a unit, it is understood that at times, the fire in the blood will take over. Their ranks are filled with berserkers who, when provoked, will heedlessly rampage down the steps to meet the rat monsters and Malefic as they emerge. They serve as a counterpoint to the members of the band who refuse to budge, and when one joins the band, they are drilled and tested to see if they are a warrior of fire or stone. Octave Falselight, a horned warrior of fire who is considered the source of authority at Balise – the settlement conglomerated about the Stairs of Sleep, is also the current leader of the Vérité immortelle. The bonds of camaraderie are particularly strong with this band, as they share a deep understanding of the sacrifices they make for a principle and an ideal.
Totem: The Owl
Battle Cry: You Know Not
La Barre is a band that has formed primarily around those whose talents and strength are not in their arms. Healers, spiritualists, priests, scholars, and scouts are recruited into their ranks where they find safety in numbers and versatility. Certainly the occasional skilled combatant is brought into their ranks if they find themselves feeling vulnerable, but in a land where there are plenty of opportunities for those who crave bloodshed, La Barre members pride themselves on solving the problems of survival differently. They believe that there is deeper meaning to our existence than mere survival and fighting amongst each other. Humankind alone was crafted by the gods, or the spirits, or whatever is out there for a purpose that is not yet apparent. But it is hard to argue that we are separate from the animals in that we live more than one life, and we are able to rise above our baser instincts. Thus, those who seem more contemplative, studious, or talented in the arts of philosophy or religion are especially welcome.
They live in a hidden enclave near the marshlands, and are led by a man called Lancelinus the Torchbringer. He is a powerful Seer, though some say he is actually a Magician, and like his predecessors before him, he is expected to be replaced within the next few years. Once the leadership mantle is taken, a successor is often immediately chosen as well, for the dangers are many for the leader of La Barre. Few last more than a few years in the role.
La Barre travels freely through Outlander territory, for their services such as rituals and healing are sought after by almost every band, though the obvious dangers of the land are still very much present. Yet despite having a low population of skilled combatants, it is rare for La Barre to suffer loss of life, and they are one of the few bands that can boast that their members tend to pass away after long, full lives. Many attribute this to the favor of the gods, for even though there are few humans who would want to risk losing their access to the services this band offers, it does not explain their relative success in dealing with the Maelfic and nonhuman threats of the wastes.
Totem: Cottonmouth Snake
Battle Cry: Run
The Water Moccasins make their homes along the coast of the marshlands, and they have lived in this territory for several generations. They have a deep sense of history, and tend to recruit family members and blood relations by default, while newcomers must prove themselves at a disadvantage. Their totem has also remained the same for as long as anyone can remember, and thus they take their band name from it: the Cottonmouth Snake, also known as the Water Moccasin. They are in constant conflict with the Orcs that hunt and encroach upon the settlements of the area, and over the years have grown to be the most warlike of all of the bands.
They are quick to take aggressive action, and will use everything they have at their disposal to win. They are known for employing quick and vicious tactics that rely on sabotage, dirty fighting, and sniping. They ride on enormous tamed crocodiles through the marshwater, allowing them to move quickly and silently up to other bands that are stopped along the waterways. Those they cannot attack from the water, they will instead attack under cover of night, quickly darting in, murdering the unwarring and stealing their belongings. Traps and alchemy are heavily employed by them as well, and often their adversaries will disappear silently and without a trace. Like their totem, they often rely on sharp fangs and poison to get the job done.
Their current leader, Emelot the Vicious, is known for her skill with poisoned blow darts, and she has encouraged the use of poison-tipped weapons wherever possible. She is unpredictable, with a cruel streak and prone to outbursts that make even those closest to her wary. She has borne many children, though their parentage is unclear.
“Even one child separated from their parents, from their home, creates a grief too big for the world to hold. It is a possible future cut short. Even one of these pearls of potency that doesn’t have the opportunity to live itself out is a tragedy, and a theft, from all of life. That is the nature of the curse the rest of the world out there speaks of. It is an impossible overflow of grief that the boundaries of creation was never meant to contain. It is of our own making, and it grows worse every day with each newcomer sent here.”
– Cuthbert the Dreamshield, teacher to the young
The question of what defines humanity is not one that has been left only to the few scholars the current world can claim. In some manner it has crossed the thoughts of every person, even if just to determine what separates a wicked person from a just one – who is a monster and who is a man. Is humanity tied to an innate spark that every person has? Is it something instilled by society? Would a person born in isolation in the wilds develop the same humanity as one born into a large civilization?
There are those who say no – that humanity is instilled from the ethics and morals taught to you by your community – and thus there are those who argue that the Outlanders barely qualify as human for this very reason, cut off as they are from their past and from civilization. Foreigners often make the mistake of believing that to be Outlander is to be a member of a hodgepodge gathering of people with no common ancestry or heritage, but they forget that many Outlanders were born of Outlander ancestors, and thus have known no other life outside of the harsh badlands – and their lineage and history stretches back as far as any other culture.
While the largest influx of the Outlander population does come from the Nemien caravans that come by once or twice a year with the marked and cursed children of other cultures, there are those families living among the wastes that can trace their lineage back to the Shariqyn or Cappacione people that lived here long before. These families might even be fairly unmarked by the taint that many of those brought here possess, although the otherworldly beauty of several of them could be interpreted as a mark of Tarranthalus. A large number of the population also are represented by those who simply stayed once they were brought to the Outlands. Despite the harshness of making a life here, there is an appeal to no longer being perceived as an outcast, monster, or omen of the end times. Many have children, and those children have children, and so on as occurs everywhere.
Those that do come from the outside are often Salgothic, Gothic, or Nemien, and have conflicted ideas about their parent culture. Some embrace their newfound identity fully, while others believe that if they spend enough time in exile performing deeds of bravery they will be able to prove to their parents that they are strong and valuable enough to be allowed to return. Others will even go as far as cutting out or otherwise masking their deformities in order to be allowed to walk among other cultures once again.
But most eventually find their place and establish themselves amongst the Outland wastes in some settlement or band. Some children bear strange Triumverati or cursed marks as their parents before them, and some seem to carry no taint. A seemingly untainted child is met with a mixture of reactions as they grow up – for while it is relatively unspoken, it is hard for families to not feel a certain pride in an unblemished child. Yet this is balanced out by the bullying and jealousy that the child may face as well. While useful markings and adaptations are celebrated in the Outlands, the unmarked may have the freedom to leave and make a life elsewhere, if they so choose. Despite the local pride in being an outcast, the freedom that options bring is a coveted prize.
A child born in the Outlands, or brought to them while still in infancy, as a rule is not given a name until they have reached at least three years of age. At that point, some of the dangers of early death have passed, and the child may come back from the grave if they were to die. Common names are those of old saints and heroes, as parents and guardians desiring the best chances of survival for their children consider such names a good omen. Cordelia, Istra, Innes, Cuthbert, Aren, and Francois are examples. As parentage and lineage are subjects the Outlanders do not care to track, and are generally a moot issue, surnames are not utilized. For some, a first name alone is sufficient, but others take on a deed or title name around the time they swear into a band if they perform a particularly noteworthy task. It may be that this is a carry-over from Gothic custom, but it is important to the Outlanders that if a title name is given, that it come from others. They consider it gauche and distasteful to assign yourself a title name.
“You are a prisoner to those whose approval you crave. Choose your chains wisely.”
– Outlander saying, often shortened to the second part only
Life in the wastes is a precarious balance where the divide between safety and devastating danger can be crossed in a matter of moments. It doesn’t take much for a band to be wiped out and possibly even meet their final death. A scourge of dire creatures, a raiding war party, a flash flood, a bad drought, orcs, or one malefic attack too many can mean the end.
As such, a certain measure of anarchy and chaos rule the Outlands. Leaders regularly fall or are challenged for their authority, settlements change hands, blood feuds and little wars break out, and only the strongest warbands manage to hold their ground. No one assumes that an authority in power will last forever, and in such an environment, it is common for strong and charismatic people to try to break off and form their own bands, even if only for a little while before they are absorbed or taken over by a stronger group.
However, the main ways that power changes hands in the Outlands is twofold: challenge or conquest. Most Outlanders will follow or join up with someone who manages to challenge and beat their leader – as doing so definitively proves that they are more capable than the current person in charge. Most individuals leading warbands will be faced with near constant challenges, especially if they are out of their territory, and often try to build a reputation as someone who you don’t want to challenge. As the standard practice in Outland challenges is that the winner determines the fate of the loser, some nurture such a reputation by enacting elaborately violent tortures on those who challenge them, while others maim or mark those who have failed to take their throne. However, in a society where the land itself can deliver these kinds of punishments, these steps are not often enough to dissuade eager challengers.
Of course, conquest is also common, and warbands often are embroiled in combat and raiding with their neighbors – most especially in times of scarcity. Ongoing conflicts may be due to blood feuds at times, but the most common reason for battle is that one band has resources that someone else wants. One generally-agreed upon rule of war that many – but not all – Outlanders attempt to abide by is that children need not be slaughtered as they represent new potential and talent that can be harnessed and absorbed by bands rather than stamped out. However, some groups have embraced their role as monsters or disciples of the Triumverati, and they are not always as keen to pay heed to social niceties. In fact, most revel in flagrant defiance of societal expectations and ethics. Therefore, most Outlanders train, hone their skills, and choose their bands wisely – for they cannot count on the hope of mercy should they become the object of conquest.
“Abandon your illusions. Only then can you begin to solve the problem.”
– Morelet, a Ranger
There is no set of codified laws within the Outlands, but that does not mean that there are no rules. Culturally agreed-upon behaviors still firmly exist, and the idea of honor and social contracts are very much in place. People will follow the lead of one who seems the most capable of protecting and providing for them, and thus a leader must be able to be trusted to do what they say they are going to do, and they must show the strength within them rather than simply bragging about it. This action-above-words permeates much of Outlander culture, and when someone is accused of wrongdoing, very rarely is their intention or motive taken into account. What matters is what happened, plain and simple – what did they do and what did they not do, and what were the consequences. This cause and effect model of morality is at home among the harsh environment the Outlanders dwell in. For nature does not care what your aim was. It only matters if you succeeded or failed.
Loyalty to the group that you have sworn yourself to is considered to be of paramount importance as well. Again, this loyalty must be demonstrated time and time again rather than simply spoken of. Oaths are considered cheap, while the real tests of camaraderie are those of combat, cohesion, and concern for the wellbeing of your brothers and sisters – the group that you bleed and spill blood with. With that said, there is a type of oath called a blood oath, that is meant to carry the same weight as a future action. For example, if one swears a blood oath that they will protect a person or group, it is considered to have already occurred in the future. It is considered far better to permanently die than to break a blood oath, for it is the highest form of betrayal – and the one type of spoken promise that the Outlanders take seriously. Swearing yourself to a band is similar to marriage in that it is an oathbound partnership in which you promise to do what is best for the group no matter the pain and suffering it might cause you. In return, the group promises to do the same in return for you.
It also follows, then, that betrayal is punished severely and swiftly. To be false to your band is a sign of ultimate weakness. For if one was truly strong, they would have spoken their truth and dealt with the consequences. Oftentimes, prior to their forceful eviction from the band, a liar and betrayer will be permanently maimed or marked in such a way that they will have immense difficulty finding a home within another band in the future.
While it is expected that individuals are self-sufficient, it is also expected that they will speak up for help when they need it. An individual is responsible for knowing and understanding their own limitations, and for not bringing undue hardship or danger upon others to bear through their own miscalculations. For example, assuming that you are strong enough to take on a dire beast, but only succeeding in drawing its attention and leading it to your own group, would be punished by most warbands. Getting someone killed by your own negligence or damaging a shared resource are also seen in the same light.
There are also certain social expectations that are consistent across most of the Outlander culture. For example, it is expected that all will abide by the outcome of a trial by combat and not engage in further feuds after a conflict has been adjudicated in that way. It is also generally considered weak and dishonorable to harm a person who has been given hospitality or who has had their surrender accepted. It is common practice for those approaching a different band or territory to kneel as soon as they are within weapon range in order to show that they are not challenging anyone’s authority. To attack kneeling visitors is considered the same as attacking those who have already surrendered to you.
Relatedly, there is a cultural sense of disapproval for harming those far weaker than you – such as children, the elderly, or the very sick. Defeating these kinds of targets does nothing to illustrate one’s strength, and rather instead shows a certain fear of facing an actual challenge or adversary. It is a sign of weakness, and if there is one thing not tolerated in a leader, peer, or warrior, it is that.
Of course, given that there isn’t an overarching government or ruler in the wastes, these rules and guidelines do not have the weight of law or a dedicated body of government or office to enforce them. Despite that, few people actually break them, for enforcement is often left to everyone, and can at times be in the form of mob justice.
Many among the Outlanders also believe that keeping to this code of rules offers some sort of supernatural protection or luck, and that those who break these rules open themselves up to a world of trouble – both mundane and supernatural. It is said that a host who breaks hospitality with a guest, for example, will find that the angels have turned their faces from him and that malefic creatures will seek him out with impunity. Those that spill innocent or weaker blood, meanwhile, will find their sleep unsatisfying and the vigor sucked out of them – as if in repayment for their craven act
“The whole of life cannot be explained by all of its little parts – all the little individual experiences of your own little life. You have to reach out beyond the portion designated for you, and sup deeply from all there is. Fight, stargaze, dance, mourn, sing, suffer, kill, love, study, starve, die, and get back up and do it differently.”
– Ursula felia Siglind of the Rimari Sensorum, on an extended Vagary
The Outlanders are by necessity a warlike people, so it is fitting that the things they value most are those items which help them to survive their dangerous environment. They are always scavenging for materials to make new weapons or armor, repair existing ones, or for building materials which can help them defend their settlements. However, given the desert-like nature of much of their environment, the surest source of these materials lies outside of the wastes, though many a band has also gone in search of materials from rumored buried or forgotten cities or abandoned settlements over the years. Many Outlanders will say that their greatest need is for metal, for beasts and their hides can be found aplenty. Particularly fine metal is often used to craft the famed Outlander soulsteel swords, which are tempered in the blood of a beloved person or pooled by a band, and are believed to hold the essence of their memories. While several trading posts are established in addition to Troctown, the dangers of raiding parties throughout the wastes means only the most well-protected foreign traders dare to approach them.
Far to the west, just beyond the borders of the Outlands, the closest city for trade is the Gothic stronghold Praesa. Praesa is unique in that it is firmly under the control of various guilds, rather than a Triumverati overlord – though who controls the guilds is up for debate. For those Outlanders willing to make the long trek, or for the Nemien caravans making one last stop before entering the wastes, Praesa is a necessary destination. In order to avoid the notice of raiding parties, some bands will opt to send a small group of brave runners to places such as Praesa and other trading posts. It is always a risk, as a small group is also much easier to wipe out, but the tradeoff is speed and the ability to travel much less obviously than a large warband. In addition to their courage and skill, or foolhardiness, the runners to Praesa and beyond are generally selected for their relative lack of taint, in order that they may blend in the most among the foreigners. Long experience has also shown that even if they defeat or avoid other raiding parties, large groups of Outlanders tend to be repelled by the very outsiders they would like to trade with.
Of course, Outlanders pride themselves on their prowess and most believe they are more than a match for anything these so-called civilized lands could throw at them, so there is little worry about their wellbeing. However, many Outlanders find themselves unnerved by land outside of the Wastes – surrounded as they are by unfamiliar trees and brush that could hide predators or enemies. Some also find they experience complex emotions when travelling into territory that has inherently rejected them and who they are, and at times these trade expeditions do not go as well as one would hope as a result – sometimes turning into outright bloody raids rather than peaceful negotiations.
The main things that Outlanders bring to the world economy that is in demand elsewhere are their exotic trophies and malefica – parts of Malefic creatures and monsters that are in high demand with magicians, priests, ritualists, and those who study or collect such materials. Sometimes scavenged ancient technology is also traded with outsiders, but for the most part the Outlanders keep these rusted wonders for themselves, trading with each other, and adding to the defenses and features of their settlements and armaments. Many Outlander bands are indeed capable of peaceful trade with one another, but there are just as many who believe they shouldn’t have to trade for what they can just take by raid and conquest.
“Stop looking for what you don’t need, and you’ll find what you do.”
– Outlander saying
When most people think of the Outlands, long stretches of barren scrublands and rocky desert come to mind. While a large portion of the Outlands do indeed resemble desolate, dry badlands, not everything is desert-like. Scattered here and there, especially to the north and south, are treacherous bogs – quagmires of decaying plant matter, shrubs, moss, and acidic water. While these areas are dangerous and filled with both predators and shaky ground, they also offer some resources. Peat is plentiful, for example, and is harvested to build up small gardens in other areas of the wastes. Once dry, it is also used as fuel by the Outlanders. Others risk the bogs to harvest berries that grow there, such as cranberries, cloudberries, lingonberries, and huckleberries. Frogs, birds, fish, and even alligator are also common food sources that can be hunted and harvested from these boggy wetlands.
An extensive network of caves and caverns also dot the landscape throughout the Outlands, and many stretch deep underground. Some believe there are even the remains of lost subterranean dwarven cities down below the heated rocks and sands of the surface. While these caverns are cool, inviting, and seemingly very defensible, the Outlanders only enter them with great care. After all, not only are they home to the giant rat creatures that boil up from the depths, but they are also full of noxious gases, strange traps, and fanged predators of all kinds.
However, one of the main draws of these caves is that deep mineral and gem deposits exist within them in high concentrations, even after all this time. Included among the deposits are gemstones found nowhere else in the world. These dark black, deep red, or green stones with bright red inclusions are called odolite or bloodstones by the Outlanders, and seem to react harmoniously, if not strangely, when exposed to magical energies. Because of this, they are highly valued for their use in the rituals of magicians and as totemic or ritual items, as well as for their use as trophies and proof of bravery. It is a courageous soul indeed who ventures into the depths to gather these precious gems.
The largest market the Outlanders have abroad is for their ritual ingredients. What the wastes lack in crops, wood, or textiles, they make up for in malefic and exotic creatures. Huge dire creatures – things with the speech of man and a distinct taste for his flesh – stalk, ooze, and crawl through the darkness, often adorned with too many teeth and eyes. Malefic ghouls, specters, and other forms of unresolved dead shamble across the sands, and the ever-present orc threat lurks in the shadows of the dry hills. But for those who are resolute enough to obtain them, the liquids, hides, organs, and glands of those creatures can be harvested and sold to many interested parties who come to the wastes to trade despite its dangers.
There are more mundane creatures throughout the wastes as well – and the Outlanders use them as they can. Many bands who claim long stretches of dry areas keep and ride camels, for they are especially resilient in desert warfare, for travelling long distances, and for speed along the sand and rocks. Some prefer to train and ride large ibex-like creatures with huge horns, while others have domesticated the predators of the wastes – such as the dog-like boblins, the hyenas, or the giant sandwolves. Different bands may tame the animals closest to them, and often use them to raid other bands and traveling caravans. It is said that the ferocity of your strike is the true coin of the Outlands.
Diet & Dining Customs
“There is no such thing as a perfect ending. Some stories will not have a beginning, middle, and end. Some meals have no courses. And you can never really plan for the future. You don’t get to know what you will be served. That’s life. And that uncertainty is delicious.”
– Lazare Ravenkin
While a large portion of the world struggles with finding adequate food and nutrition, the Outlanders rival the Gothics in terms of scarcity. While the Gothic difficulties are due to issues of overcrowding and a lack of ability to safely leave their cities, the Outlanders’ vast territory does not provide much unless one takes risks or gets very creative. Farming is not generally a viable concept here, given the unpredictable water supply that ranges from droughts to flash flooding, and poor soil quality throughout most of the region. With the exception of the small irrigated fields of Troctown, most food is scavenged or hunted. Thus, the diet of Outlanders consists mostly of meat, insects, and what native flora can be found.
In the marshlands, there is access to more potential gathered food than in the deserts that flank them. The stagnant waters and surrounding environs contain crayfish, turtles, fowl, rats, rabbits, and water lilies. There are sometimes catfish and other fish to be found in the large pools of water. The catfish and crustaceans are often thrown into some sort of soup where all the flavors can be drawn out, and the nutrients released. Another meat found in the swamps is alligators, whose muscular bodies are large enough to feed a family for weeks, though most of the edible meat is concentrated in the tail. They are one of the most dangerous beasts hunted in the marshes, and have a sweet, mild taste. They are eaten along with snakes – large, muscular pythons that make their home in the reeds.
What little farming can be done in the Outlands is relegated to the marshes and swamps, with some creative bands funneling water into their claimed areas. Rice and beans are the primary staples that are grown with agriculture, as they provide more calorically dense nutrition than other water-loving crops. Rice wine is also a beloved beverage that can be traded far and wide through the wastes and beyond. Algae and cattails can be harvested from the wild, and the cattails can be turned into a flour-like substance.
Out in the desert and dry hills, food acquisition falls more on the hunting than the gathering side of things. The Outlanders are partial to spiders and scorpions, as well as locusts and grasshoppers, which are abundant throughout the land. They range in size from tarantulas to those as large as hounds. They are somewhat difficult to kill as weapons must pierce their tough exoskeletons, but larger insects can yield a fair amount of meat, as well as venom to be harvested and used on weapons. Reptiles such as lizards are also a good source of protein that are comparatively easier to catch. Deer, rabbits, and bird eggs can also be found, though predatory animals also will certainly be eaten if they can be hunted down.
Outlanders are certainly not too proud to eat what most consider to be below consumption. Buzzards are plentiful near sites of skirmishes and are easy to shoot out of the sky. Other carrion eating animals such as coyote and desert wolves can find their way into the cooking pot if one is willing to take them on. In lean times, it is not unheard of to eat the flesh of Malefic entities such as ghouls or human flesh while it lingers. If a dire animal is taken down, their flesh is fair game as well, though superstitions abound about consuming creatures who have left their natural place in the food chain far behind.
What little livestock the Outlanders have are precious resources, and are eaten only when they have aged past the point of production, or for very special occasions. Livestock requires water and food, and the Outlanders have very little of either to spare. Goats and camels are relatively hardy with less needs than other traditional livestock such as cows, produce milk (which can be drunk fresh or turned into a fermented beverage), and provide meat and leather when the animal has lived past its prime. To harvest nutrients and protein, the Outlanders will puncture a vein in the neck of the animal and collect its blood in small amounts without killing the animals. The blood is then added to broths, soups, and other recipes, and is a favored food for those who are infirm or young.
In terms of badlands gathering, the Outlanders make use of cactus, mesquite pods (which are ground into a flour for baked goods), ironwood seeds, and highly prized figs and dates. Agave plant sap can be fermented into a beer-like beverage called pulque which, like all alcoholic beverages, tends to be in high demand.
Due to the harsh conditions in which they live, the Outlanders have a tendency to eat communally, pooling their resources so that everyone in their family is fed. Manners are seen as superfluous, unnecessary things that get in the way of true enjoyment of one’s food and company. Using fingers and hands to eat, as well as belching and lip smacking show appreciation and satisfaction in the meal at hand and in the hands that prepared it. The only widely accepted meal courtesy practiced is deference to the hunter. Whoever made the kill is given first choice of the meal once it is cooked. There are no dining hierarchies based on gender, age, or class, but the provider is honored with the first serving for their hard work. It is also considered rude to take more than your fair share of the meal, or to not finish what is on your plate. Warbands will often come together for larger group meals to celebrate holidays and victories. If a season has been particularly prosperous for foraging, hunting, or raiding, bands will hold feasts where they relax their more rigid rationing in favor of indulgence.
Fashion & Dress
“Oh, you are beautiful. Your eyes. Your long limbs. Your jawline. Your teeth. I will wear you proudly when this is done.”
– Cosette Gallowgrin, devotee of Kuarl
The harsh climate of the rocky desert badlands, the uncomfortable conditions of the marshes and swamps, and the lack of reliable resources have forced the Outlanders to be very inventive with their attire. They often eschew aesthetics for utility, and their clothing usually carries the telltale signs of numerous repairs such as patchings, darned holes, and hand-sewn seams where slashes have been mended. Theirs is an odd, rugged, hodgepodge fashion, that stands them well apart from styles elsewhere.
The fabrics that make up the majority of Outlander garb were never intended to be used to construct garments. Canvas from sails and tents is popular, as it can be salvaged from caravans and campsites that have been raided. It is durable and provides protection from the sun, although it can be restrictive and stifling in the heat. Leathers harvested from local animals are stitched into blankets and cloaks, or used to make boots. The Outlanders of the marshlands also fashion leather from fish, snakes, and alligator hides. If the opportunity presents itself, orc skin also makes a very tough and durable leather that carries bragging rights with it as well. Human leather is not unheard of, especially among the bands with Kuarlite allegiances, but it is more for effect than durability, as human skin does not make for very tough or thick leather.
The Outlander uniform depends little on gender; as most everyone wears trousers and tunics to protect their skin and brave the sometimes tumultuous climate. Gloves and boots are a staple, but come in all manner of materials. Some shoes are cobbled together with discarded hardware from previous owners, and are covered in buckles and grommets. Hooded scarves are also popular. They can keep the wind, sun, and dust out of one’s face, but slip off easily if grabbed by an enemy. Hoods are also useful for a certain amount of camouflage as well. Some Outlanders do their best to hide their abnormalities from those they do not know, especially if they are trying to broker a deal or travel in foreign lands. Hoods can cover pointed ears or small horns and shade unusual eyes. Masks, a concept appropriated from the Gothic people, can hide sharp teeth, wounds, and unusual or marked skin. Claws are not so easily concealed, though a cloak can at least temporarily give cover, and those that have them tend to either regularly clip them or simply embrace their otherness because of the difficulty of disguise.
The main adornment that the Outlanders wear is trophies. It is considered poor form and the mark of a weak person to brag about one’s accomplishments, so trophies must speak for the deeds of the individual. Body parts, such as teeth, ears, or fingers of foes are favored by the more bloodthirsty of the Outlanders, but most every fighter wears the bones, fangs, claws, or hide of any kill that is significant to them. Piercings are common, both as a sign of pain tolerance, and as a means to display more small trophies. Raids and scavenging expeditions also result in a variety of clothing and armor options that can be utilized to suit the Outlander. For example, mismatched armor, or a Seravian hat with a Heshan bandolier, paired with a rusty piece of Salgothic plate mail are common sights. Pieces of clothing, armor, and weaponry won in duels or other meaningful combat are another form of trophy that serve practical as well as signalling purpose.
Some Outlanders are partial to cosmetics. They will accentuate their eyes with kohl, paint their faces with their war band’s motifs, or sport tattoos. Some of them use pigments and paints to conceal or mask their eccentric features in hopes that they will blend in or not draw attention to themselves.
The features of an Outlander can vary across a large spectrum of abnormalities from the very obvious to the more subtle. Some grow horns, twisted and gnarled like those of a ram. Others have sharp tipped or misshapen ears, either hidden beneath a shroud, or proudly adorned with metal jewelry. Strange birthmarks and curse signs are more than cause enough to send a child to the Outlands, as well as sunken or corpse-like appearances. Eyes can run the gamut from completely ordinary to unusual shades, animal-like pupils, or even hauntingly black or white. Claws and abnormally sharp teeth can be seen in some, but others choose to file down their more menacing features in order to fit in with those outside of the wastelands. There are also those so beautiful that they are alien and unsettling, and those who are ugly, disfigured and disturbing to look up. While no one trait or mark identifies the Outlanders, they are united in their “otherness”. Even those Outlanders who bear no distinguishing marks have been raised in an environment so hostile and alien to other cultures, that they too will always stand apart.
“Ysabel! Ysabel, come back here! There’s too many of them! Even one orc is a challenge for a band! You’re being an idiot! This is not what they meant for a test and you know it!”
“Shhhh. You’ll destroy my approach. I’m coming home with an orc teeth necklace and there’s enough out there for us both to have an entire adornment set. I’ve got my special crossbow. I just need to get close enough and keep my cover.”
“You’re going to get us both torn apart and eaten!”
“God’s balls, Joris, shut up! It’s going to be fine. I saw that seer-woman just last week. I’ve seen my death, and I can assure you, this is not it.”
– Joris and Ysabel, on their coming of age rites, shortly before their first death
Resting in the hearts of Outlander society is the belief that they don’t truly belong anywhere else. The rest of the world has abandoned them and decided that they are something that is dangerous or unclean – something to be thrown out and forgotten like so much rubbish. This pain is at the core of their understanding of themselves and is part of the reason why they treat children the way they do. In fact, if the Outlanders hold anything special, it is the young children who make their way to their settlements.
That’s not to say that these children have an easy life – coddling the young would only lead them towards weakness and likely an early death – but the people of the wastes protect them as much as they can from the worst of what lies in wait, while doing their best to prepare them for the challenge of living as an Outlander. When a child first arrives in the badlands, they typically are brought to the nearest large settlement by the first Outlander who finds them. If the child is arriving via Nemien caravan, they tend to drop them off in one of the larger city-settlements – typically the Cradle or Troctown. In the case of children who are born in the Outlands, different schools of thought exist. Some are raised exclusively by their parents and their parents’ band, while others believe that around the age of five or six, children should be turned over to another settlement to be raised apart from their birth parents. The rationale of this is that children are considered the responsibility of the community as a whole and it is thought to be bad for their development for them to be raised by the same people who gave birth to them. This latter method is often practiced at an even younger age by some of the more warlike raiders as it also has the added benefit of removing the children from the more overt constant danger these bands find themselves in.
Each settlement that raises children takes their responsibility very seriously. It is considered a symbol of status and strong moral fiber to take care of newcomers and children before they can take care of themselves, and education is one of the more comfortable roles in which the elderly can find a place in the Outlands. After all, those who have lived that long in the wastes have a wealth of worthwhile knowledge to share. More than that, though, wise leaders know that those who are raised among them are unlikely to turn against them later. And those leaders who take as many children as they can reasonably raise, demonstrate their strength and resources to their community as they build connections for the future.
Children are cared for, educated, and housed collectively. In larger settlements they may spend most of their time with other children of a similar age, but in areas of less dense population the entire group of young is taken care of together, with older children taking on some of the responsibilities for teaching and mentoring the young. Given their special status as relatively protected non-combatants, children are free to go from one settlement or another as they wish, but many children stay with their first settlement until they reach the age of testing.
Once a young Outlander approaches their 13th or 14th year they start to undertake a series of tests that act as rites of passage into adulthood. These rites differ from settlement to settlement, and may take several years to pass, but typically consist of being sent into the wilderness with minimal supplies and achieving a set goal – both in groups and as individuals. As each child achieves their various rites of passage and starts to make a name for themselves the warbands in the area begin to appraise the young adult as a potential member. Some bands recruit, while others wait for a potential new member to seek them out. When a child finally chooses a warband and swears themselves to them, they are considered an adult. This oathswearing is often a large event, involving both the settlement and the new warband, as all come together to celebrate their newfound status in life.
There are those who do not pass these tests, and until they do they cannot remain in a warband or leave the state of childhood. Eventually children must be accepted by a warband or be thrown out of the community they were raised in – and those that cannot manage to find themselves a place rarely survive for long in the hazardous lands of the Outlanders. Those that do often lead a haunted existence as outlaws – lone bandits that do not belong to any group’s protection and who anyone can kill or rob without fear of repercussion. These lost souls often succumb to the Night Malefic and become monsters themselves, although there are cautionary stories of those who return to hunt those that threw them to the wolves. It is generally seen as an abject failure to raise children who cannot manage to pass their rites of passage and swear to a warband, and leaders who have it happen more than once often do not maintain leadership.
Medicine, Science, & Technology
“If others had not been foolish before us, we would be.”
– Margot, healer
As the Outlanders live in the ruins of a civilization that fell during the Calamity, they are surrounded by pieces of broken machinery, as well as technology that still works, though the mechanisms are not always well understood. The people who lived here before had complicated irrigation systems and agricultural machinery that allowed them to feed thousands; paved roads that stretched for miles between their giant cities; and defenses that included bolt throwers, cannons, rockets, and automated draw bridges. The knowledge of how to create these systems, though, was lost when the civilization fell. Some Outlanders who have made a study of these wonders have managed to repair and jury-rig some of these contraptions into working again, and some still work given the proper maintenance despite their immense age. Around Troctown, the irrigation system has been repaired, allowing for small scale farming of things like corn and beans. Many of the bands scattered across the Outlands have hauled bolt throwers and cannons back to their home bases where tinkerers have found ways to make them fire again. They have cobbled parts together that were not designed to work with each other and found ways for them to do something new. Some bands make a habit of going off on expeditions to look in areas of rumored ruins in order to try to find remnants of these well-engineered devices. There is the hope that if they gather enough of the broken pieces that they will be able to figure out how they were made, and will be able to manufacture them again.
Scavenging for parts is obviously dangerous work though. Scavengers encounter many malefic, dire creatures, and other warbands looking for the same thing. A common superstition about the orc is that they do not tread in man-made ruins, but those who have actually gone out in search will tell you that if that’s the case, many of these ruins must not be man-made. In their search for pieces of technology that might make their corner of the world better, they have to fight and are exposed to many factors that can cause injury and disease.
In terms of medicinal treatment, those who follow the ways of the Triumverati will tell you that what ails you can be cured if you only sacrifice sufficiently to the dark gods. Those that follow Kuarl, the most popular cult in the wastes, promise gifts such as quick healing and battle prowess that protects you from becoming injured in the first place. Whereas those that follow Lazarolth promise that no matter what, you will always come back, and therefore there is no need to fear the discomfort or dark sleep of death. There are some Outlanders who embrace these promises, especially those who were born with markings associated with these cultists already. But many others fear them, believing that once you swear to one of these powers, you are changed as a person forever. The debate is one that likely will never be settled, since Triumverati supporters argue that they are actually embracing who and what they are and that to live otherwise is the lie. Most Outlanders can agree though, that whatever form it takes, healers are a necessity to have, and those healers who make their career and practice in the Outlands have their own distinct take on how it is done.
Many Outlanders believe that we are surrounded by spirits, for lack of a better term. Every person, animal and object, as well as in the air we breath and the water we drink, is imbued with a spiritual spark – an animus. The vast majority of spirits are neutral entities that do not mean any harm or aid – they simply exist as so many things in nature do. Some are at their core beneficial, but they must be properly appreciated. However, there are malicious spirits that will attack the unwary or those who have unwittingly offended them. It is these spirits that cause illness and disease. It is believed that when a person is injured, their spirit is also wounded. These wounds attract these malicious spirits, who are seeking out blood, and is why a person is much more likely to become ill after an injury. Outlander healers are not only trained to see to the damage to the body, but they are also trained to intercede with the spirits on their patients’ behalf.
For most healers, as with all Outlanders, training for what they are suited to do begins at a young age. Most larger bands would ideally love at least one healer among them, especially if they also have an apprentice they are training with them. However, most have to make do with visiting settlements where a healer makes their services available to a wider audience. The training of a healer takes between five to ten years to complete, and most bands are not prosperous enough to have a healer of their own. It takes a lot of resources to train and educate them, and most find that they make a better, and less dangerous, life for themselves if they stay put within the cities. The major exception to this is the La Barre band, and their large number of healers and ritualists who travel throughout the Outlander territory providing their expertise to those that can pay.
A healer’s training is a combination of learning how to ease the pain and discomfort of injuries to the physical body, while learning what best soothes and appeases the spirits who are either injured or invaded by malicious forces. They learn how to clean abrasions, stitch up cuts, set bones and drain boils. They are also trained on what food and drink will best appease the spirit and banish the hostile ones, and what plants and potions will create a hospitable or unwelcoming environment for said spirits. Not only do they learn what plants to use, they also learn when best to harvest them. There are some plants that should be harvested during a full moon, and others that should only be plucked at dawn.
The work of spiritual healing can be, and often is, ritualistic. It involves physical components, from ritual knives for blood-letting to offerings like food, clay, wax, tallow, wool and animal blood. It is important, especially when injuries are involved, that a part of what caused the injury is included. For instance, in this sympathetic form of healing, if someone was attacked by a dire animal it would be important that a piece of that animal be obtained for the ritual and in some way consumed – whether by digestion, burning, use in a compress, or the making of a protective charm. It is believed that by using a piece of the responsible party that the spiritual wound is easier to close. Therefore, a healing salve may also be applied to the blade that caused an injury, or a person sustaining memory loss may need to consume walnuts since they obviously appear to be whole brains. It is common when a serious wound is received or is not healing correctly, for the entire band to come together to hunt down the responsible party or creature in order to obtain pieces for the healer, if not for outright revenge. If a piece of the responsible party can not be found, a substitute can be used – however there is no guarantee that the ritual will work without it.
While the exact nature of the spiritual healing varies depending on the healer, what is available, and the ailment, a common way to deal with these malicious spiritual attacks in the absence of an adequate cure is to create a substitute for the spirit to target instead. For instance, a common ritual is to capture a small animal, like a mouse. The healer will then tie a cord around the injured or ill person, beseech the spirits to acknowledge the cord as part of the person, and then untie it and wrap it around the mouse instead. The mouse is then allowed to leave, taking the malicious spirits with it. Incense is then burned over the patient, to cleanse them of any other taint that may be lingering. Another common ritual is to create a clay doll as a representation of the patient, and to pack it with herbs and other items that are considered to be spiritually healing. The doll is then placed under the patient’s bed until they are well. It is believed that by making the representation of them healthy, that they are able to make the person healthy in turn.
A final note is that Outlanders have a deep appreciation for a type of person that is often met with distrust throughout the rest of the world – magicians. While their components and needs may be strange and distasteful, the Outlanders understand better than most that the ends often justify the means, and magicians are able to work miracles through apparent sheer force of will. While most magicians would not have cause to stay in the Outlands, they find a warm welcome when they travel through or come calling all the same. There is a deep appeal and sympathy from the Outlander to a person who has chosen to be different and set apart from society, and who has also learned the extremes of self reliance. Magicians do not seem to need anyone besides their own strong wills and perhaps their guild of teachers. And out of those iron minds and skilled hands…what wonders can be created. Magicians are often warned when travelling through Outlander territory that they should guard themselves against overly aggressive negotiations or outright kidnapping from bands who badly wish to have a magician on hand who can solve their difficulties and resource shortcomings.
“So many of those supposedly civilized people have devoted themselves to a delusion. They don’t believe in what is real beyond their senses. But what is thought, then? What is emotion? What is the wind? You feel these things, but you cannot touch them. You cannot see them. Just so, there is a vast amount of the world that lies beyond our ability to perceive it, but that does not make it less real. In fact, it is the things you cannot perceive that should be ignored the least.”
– Lorens Glasseye, totemic priest and devotee of Wolf
The Outlander territory is described as the area of a thousand gods. Every band carries sacred objects that they imbue with deep respect and meaning. Many give offerings to these totems as well, in an effort to appease them and be afforded greater protection. Outsiders misinterpret this behavior as god worship, but it is subtly different. As discussed above, the Outlanders believe that all things possess a spiritual essence or soul. There is a spirit in every rock, tree, animal and person. There is a spirit in the sun, each stream and river, and each mountain. Thus, the sacred objects that the Outlanders carry are in need of careful tending and reverence, for they are evidence of a pact between the Outlander band and the power or protection of an aspect of the spirit world.
It is theorized that the Outlanders acquired this animistic religious practice from their hostile neighbors, the Orcs, though little is known of actual orcish customs. The Outlanders, and the ancestral inhabitants of these lands going back generations, have been routinely attacked by the Orcs that dwell in the mountains and valleys where no man can safely settle. While no clear victor has emerged despite the countless years of war and skirmishing, a certain amount of cultural exchange has taken place. Trophies are taken from battlefields, prisoners are captured, and the realities of life and death are laid bare on the blood-soaked ground of conquest. It is possible that curiosity or desire to understand the opponent’s weaknesses lead to the study of the beautiful totems found protectively clutched or covered by dying Orcs. Or the spirits of the land revealed themselves to the longtime human inhabitants just as the Benalians believe the angels have done throughout history. Or perhaps at some point in history the relationship between orc and human was closer than history books give credit for.
Today, every band has at least one totem they carry which in some way represents what they value as a band and who they are. True to how they live their lives, the Outlanders have a warlike view on how to acquire totems, and to forcibly take the totem of another band is to steal their essence and power for yourself. Of course, for a band to lose their totem is essentially to lose their fighting spirit, and most do not survive this devastation. Most bands either immediately retaliate in the hopes of rescuing their totem, or they dissolve. Most of the totems carried are of predators like bears, wolves, snakes, hawks and crocodiles. Scavengers like hyenas and vultures are also common. Because of the nature of these totems, it is believed that the spirit that the totem represents will not provide the wielders with power unless the totem is earned through combat. Bands will attack one another, and especially brave ones will seek out Orcs, in an attempt to acquire new and potent totems for their group. It is believed that the ongoing relationship between the band and the totem is dependent on what the spirit requires as sacrifice or sustenance, and how well the band in possession of the totem is able to deliver. For example, it is believed that a totem containing a hawk spirit values insightful, clever battle strategy, amber incense, and sober clear-headedness. A band that drunkenly attacks the nearest target haphazardly and without a plan will displease this totem, and it will withhold its gifts or even sabotage the band.
The spirits live in a world that surrounds and intertwines with ours, but is not normally visible to the human eye. As it is believed that every person has a spirit within them, which some people call a soul, when you reach your final death your spirit moves on to this invisible world. Particularly powerful people will have powerful spirits that can reach across the divide and affect the physical world of the living. Some bands will give offerings and sacrifices to those who have died in the hopes of receiving assistance and intervention for protection, good health and happiness. For this reason, the most powerful warriors are turned into soulsteel, where their cremated remains are forged into iron weapons, which creates this special steel.
Priests and seers are sometimes trained to have a better understanding of what the spirit world desires, but many layperson Outlanders participate in making small offerings or symbols of appreciation to the world around them. If they are about to start a long journey, they might pour wine or beer on the road they’ll walk in order to have their path protected. If they are in need of rain, they might offer thanks, encouragement, and sweet-smelling smoke to the clouds and sky. Those who delve deeply into the mysteries of the world beyond are sometimes consulted with to see if a particular spirit has been offended, or what can be done to make amends for such a grievance. Dedicated priests to a particular spirit are rare in the Outlands, unless it is a designated person within the band who is particularly well-versed in how to honor and serve a particular totem or spirit. However, there are those who consider themselves priests or who have dedicated themselves to a particular powerful spirit – perhaps in addition to the totem of their band. Seers in the Outlands will also often perform divining and communication rites with the spirit world, and some are even able to enter a trance-like state where they can speak and interact with the spirit world directly. They believe that they accomplish this, their soul leaves their bodies and travels to the spirit realm. This is a dangerous proposition, because while their body is empty there is the risk that spirits, including the one they seek, can possess their body, and there is no guarantee that the possessing spirit will want to leave their body once it has taken root inside.
It is believed by most priests that the relationship between humans and spirits is reciprocal. Humans provide offerings to the spirits, and the spirits provide beneficial aid in return. Most of the minor rituals and offerings can be done by anyone. Small offerings of food, blood and water are done routinely by the bands. Major requests, like support in a large battle, are the sort of thing one might want to call on an expert to perform to ensure that everything goes smoothly. Many Outlanders believe that disharmony between the natural world and the spiritual one is the cause of most of the world’s suffering, and the Outlands are a hotbed of suffering. Therefore, anything they can do to appease those spirits that need it is likely a positive thing.
There are some that believe that the world is already as a whole in a state of deep disharmony, and that this is the reason for the swelling of Malefic, food shortages and droughts, and unquiet dead. That the spirits were angered was the true cause of the Calamity, and that most of the wars one hears about from history came later after the damage had already been done. Some believe that as punishment for a great wrong or disservice done to the spirits, some spirits have simply left humanity and the world entirely on their own. If we are ever wanting to restore the world to a place of plenty and prosperity, we must make amends and apologize for whatever we have done collectively to offend, and bring the spirits back.
Of course, there are detractors and religious disagreements. One of the more controversial current figures is an Outlander cultist priest-turned apostate named Lubin the Eagle Eye. He has argued, very publicly, over the last decade that the spirits are inherently selfish and do not have the best interest of humanity in mind. He believes that they want us dependent and weak as slaves to their whims. He has called on all Outlanders to turn their backs on the spirits, as they have done to us, and no longer give in to their capricious desires. He espouses Outlanders working to accomplish great things on their own. Perhaps because his message is appealing to the independent and strong-minded Outlanders, and likely aided by his fierce personality and charisma, Lubin has garnered a large following preaching self-reliance and the eschewment of any spirit or god worship. They call themselves The True Inheritors of Mankind, or the Inheritors.
The Triumverati cults are also quite popular in the Outlands, particularly the worship of Kuarl, the God of Blood, Malice, and Slaughter. Many of the Outlander converts feel that they were marked with favor from birth by Kuarl, and they should capitalize on that – especially when much of the world already associates them with the baneful god. Further, the gifts of Kuarl are well-known for giving enormous advantages in combat, and combat of some kind is something hardly any Outlander can escape from. When much of your existence is a fight to survive, it is refreshing to feel as though you have more than a fighting chance. The worship of Tarranthalus, the God of Desire and Power and Lazarolth, the God of Death and Secrets, are somewhat less popular, as their gifts offer advantages of a less overt sort, but are still ever-present. The Lazarine cult promises power and control over eternal life, with no final death, and even the ability to master some of the Malefic monsters that terrorize the populace. And the Tarrantist cult offers you a removal of human limits and boundaries if one but worship correctly. It is easy to see why the draw of these cults is a powerful one. It would be a mistake, however, to think that there is any unity or cooperation between these groups. They are just as much in competition with each other as any of the bands and rival organizations. Each of these cults have a very different set of values and beliefs that are not viewed as compatible with each other.
While some turn to the Triumverati, others turn to their own histories and cultural practices that were carried with them when they came to the Outlands. Many foreign cults and religions are practiced in the Outlands, as most everyone is looking for some way to find strength and meaning within their harsh circumstances. One of the more well-established cults believed originally brought over from Gotha is that of Mama Mort. She is both a gentle mother figure who offers succor, protection, and release to her followers, and the ruthless personification of Death, offering retribution and violent ends. Her symbols resonate with the daily life of the Outlander: skulls, oil lamps, the hourglass and the owl. There have always been a few smaller warbands and clusters of devotees who have worshipped her, but over recent years they have increased in number.
There are others still who adhere to the Benali faith, the religion of the old, fallen Empire brought to collapse by war and disaster. While there are six potential branches to follow, there are only two that have taken any sort of hold in Outlander Territory. The most popular are the Mithrites, followers of Mithriel the Hammer. They believe that the religion’s prophet, Benalus, was chosen by god because of his prowess and strength in battle. He used his gifts and courage to create positive change in the world as he battled evil forces and inspired those around him to be better. The Mithrites believe the world is in need of a new prophet, a new warrior of god, and in the world’s hour of need, one will emerge. They have come together to train and to fight, in anticipation of this new prophet being found or, perhaps, one of them being the chosen one of god. When the prophet arrives, or one of them is deemed worthy, they will need an army – and the followers of Mithriel intend to be ready to fight in that army.
The other order that has gained some popularity is the Sanctum, followers of the Nameless Saint. They do not speak of their accomplishments, nor do they take trophies, and they even forsake their own names. They separate themselves from their warbands and families and travel the world alone. Many Outlander Sanctum followers sear the symbol of the Nameless Saint into their flesh as both a means of showing their devotion, and also of identifying themselves and their purpose without the need of a name. Within the bleak landscape they traverse, they are strange beacons of hope. They believe that everyone is inherently good at their core, and can be saved. Their focus is on using their knowledge and rituals to put the Night Malefic to rest, as these monsters also are merely painful echoes of past wrongs in need of forgiveness and resolution. Many Outlanders recognize the work they do as important, and many will let them pass unaccosted, though any of the Triumverati-affiliated bands will attack on sight as the bad blood between these faiths has never dissipated.
Folklore & Superstition
“Seek not to be reborn. Seek instead to recreate. For rebirth is impossible without a complete and total annihilation of all you believe.”
– Lost Gospels, Author Unknown
The Outlanders are a very superstitious people, which makes sense given the precarious nature of their daily life. When everything around you seems like it is trying to deliver you to your final death, people look for meaning, security, and a little edge wherever they can. Many Outlanders follow a set of superstitions that they believe will keep them safe and in the arms of good fortune, and it is common for them to share any story, bit of folklore, or observation that they believe might lead to a higher chance of survival. And who is to say that these stories aren’t rooted in truth? After all, they’ve kept the Outlanders alive this long.
It is considered one of the largest crimes to breach hospitality, to harm someone who has eaten your salt and tasted your water and who has been welcomed into your settlement. Those who harm those people under the protection of hospitality are said to be haunted by creatures that wait at the edges of your vision and in the dark corners of night; and that their very presence can draw malefic creatures to them. Hospitality cuts both ways though, and those who attack their hosts are said to be similarly cursed.
Within the marshes of the wastes, travelers will sometimes encounter what appear to be interlocking circles of mushrooms and other fungi, given the appearance of a fungal garden that was grown purposefully. When they see these Outlanders steer clear, as it means that a Lazarine or some of their more terrifying creations are nearby.
It is believed that deep within the ground, below the rats and worms and gems, is a food source which the horrid creatures of the cavern feast upon. Some say that it is a sort of enormous fungus that has grown so large that it lies underneath the entirety of the Outlands; others say that it is an immense vault of rotting carcasses filled with noxious growths and cursed bile, that are somehow never depleted. But all agree that deep below the ground is some sort of vile food source that feeds the creatures of the deep. Some say that the rats have grown so large, strong, and intelligent from eating so much of it. And some believe that if humans could but dig down to it, they too could grow stronger and quicker if they also feasted upon such flesh.
It is said that the lights that streak across the sky at night are the tears of the Glimmering Lady, marking the places where hidden treasures are that no one can find. It is of course dangerous to spend too much time in the Wastes at night, but many will do so to find the treasures that these falling stars are said to lead to.
the snails that live within the marshes and at the borders of the wastes are much sought after due to the belief that they can be used as amulets to ward off illness if they are harvested and kept in a little linen bag worn around their neck- but only as long as they are returned to the marsh and buried when the illness has passed in thanks.
Night Crossing Into Day
It is considered bad luck or an omen of death and misfortune to see a night predator out during the day, such as an owl or bat, and many Outlanders will avoid these animals at all cost during daylight hours, even going so far as to turn back around and return to their settlements rather than continuing forward.
Due to the dangers of their environment and the extreme violence which can be a part of daily life, many among the Outlanders become malefic creatures upon reaching their untimely final deaths. It is considered bad luck to use the name of anyone who has become a malefic creature, and it will hasten your own untimely death.
There are some common stories among the Outlanders as well. One such cautionary story concerns two groups who had an ongoing blood feud that could never be sated. The names of these groups changes depending on who is telling it, but it is said that they battled over and over through repeated trials by combat and were never willing to accept defeat. In the end, the last two members of the bands perished in the Crater, as each succumbed to their wounds – leaving no one behind to carry on their traditions.
The Jealous Lovers
There is also the story of the jealous lovers – another cautionary tale of what can happen if possessiveness is allowed to run rampant within a band. In it, an Outlander often called Samuel comes back from a long time apart from their band due to either a trade journey, a far off ruins expedition, or other quest. While Samuel was away, their feelings for one of the band members had solidified into something obsessive and painful. When they see the object of their affection continuing to have normal relations with other bandmates, and seem very attached to one band member in particular, often called Jean, Samuel grows increasingly hostile towards Jean. They continually attempt to outshine each other, and their dislike grows into hatred. Finally, the rivalry culminates in a duel that takes the last of the life of Samuel, and the object of their affection searches the pockets of their cooling body and takes the last of their salt and treasure from their expedition.
“Happiness is prevented by the memory of happiness.”
– Outlander saying
When they are young, Outlanders spend their lives traveling with different groups, with other young people, with different teachers, or alone. They are exposed to different bands, and different ways of surviving a world filled with violence. Once they take the blood oath and join a band, however, their lives narrow. From that point forward they spend the majority of their time with their bandmates. They travel together, fight together, sleep and eat together. They do almost everything together. Outside of trading, combat, and a few shared customs, there are only a few events that bring the Outlanders together as a society. The majority of their celebrations are band-specific, and thus vary greatly from band to band. Common celebrations are memorializing certain impactful combats, honoring the band’s totem in some way, or the anniversary of an important discovery or acquisition of a special weapon or artifact. The few holidays that cross band and settlement boundary lines tend to focus on hunting or the reaffirming of loyalty. While life is incredibly hard, the Outlanders, like all of humanity, find moments of joy, peace, contentment, love, and fulfillment in their individual lives. These precious moments are savored, and holidays give everyone an opportunity to enjoy a good meal and remember and appreciate the relationships and duties they have chosen for themselves.
Saison de Chasse
The Outlanders believe that the weather and events of springtime set the tone for the rest of the year. It is the mating season for many dangerous creatures, particularly the dire rats. If they are left to mate and breed, then the rest of the year, and many years to follow, are much more menacing. When the rat pups are born come summer, they swarm out of their caves ravenously hungry and overrun the land, killing many Outlanders in the process. It is believed that killing one rat in the spring is the same as stopping seven rats come summer. For the benefit of all, most Outlanders work together to combat the dire rat threat.
At the end of March, once spring has begun, the Outlanders form hunting groups that will compete against each other to kill the dangerous creatures. Sometimes these groups are made up of a single band if there are sufficient numbers, but in the spirit of cooperation, they usually have multiple bands included within a hunting group. The various groups will decide what creature they intend to hunt, and will work together to capture as many of the creatures alive as possible. The favored targets are the giant rats, but various snakes, other large predators, and dangerous scavengers such as dire vultures and hyenas are also hunted at this time. It is considered a sign of skilled control and prowess to capture them alive, but if you are unable to capture them – then dead is almost as good.
The hunting groups will bring their prizes back to a central location, where the creatures are strung up and ritualistically slaughtered. Their blood is gathered in large clay pots and is used to mark the earth around the areas the creatures were captured to warn others against procreating. They are then butchered and eaten in a giant feast. The hunting group that brought back the greatest prize is allowed first pick of the meat.
The Saison de Chasse, or Hunting Season, is also a time used to train the youth. The young are not permitted to participate in the hunt, so instead they come forward and perform tests of their skills and demonstrate their valor in mock battles. The running of obstacle courses, archery competitions with moving or challenging targets, and participation in activities such as a tug of war over a line of fire are also common. Those that perform well usually find themselves invited to travel with one of the bands for a while. It is a good first step towards recruitment. It is also expected that the young will lend a hand in the bloodletting and butchery that occurs when the successful hunters return with their prey.
The Great Migration
The Great Migration occurs in the fall, though the exact date varies and depends on when migratory birds emerge from the Northern Mountains and fly south for the winter. When the birds are first seen in any large numbers, each of the bands will break up into two groups. The first group goes out and hunts the birds. They will shoot them out of the sky until they have enough birds for a large meal. The second group will go to a predetermined location and begin constructing a fire pit. They will dig a hole and ring it with stones, gather wood or anything flammable, and set up mats for people to sit on. Once the hunters have returned, they will light the fire and begin prepping the birds in many different ways for a feast. There is an element of competition and culinary creativity as members of the bands will try innovative ways of preparing the bird meat, hoping to stand out among the other dishes. Sometimes, taste-testing competitions will be held for a given category such as “best stew” or the best use of a mystery ingredient, or the best use of very limited ingredients.
The Great Migration is also used as a day to place a hold on any ongoing conflicts – while violence is not outright banned, it is frowned upon as very inappropriate, and anyone in conflict is at the very least expected to step far away from the fire and center of festivities. Those bands who are locked in blood feuds usually will use this day to see if there is any sort of compromise or amends that can be made, and if not, they discuss the terms and arrangements for a future trial by combat. It’s also a good time to see if any bands wish to trade, and to potentially recruit new eligible members.
If a band wishes to entreat another band for dealings or a favor, a peace talk, or even just to open up trade discussions they go through the motions of peaceful approach into another’s territory. When the approaching party arrives, they kneel and present a gift to the acting host or band leader. If the host accepts the offer of conversation, they will kneel, to put themselves on an even footing, and offer hospitality in the form of some food, drink, or something to smoke. If the host does not wish to negotiate with the approaching party, they will not accept the gift and will turn their backs. The approaching party is then allowed to leave unharmed.
Mortos Falan occurs on the longest night of the year when it is believed that the Night Malefic is at its most powerful. In preparation, the bands will build a figure that represents their band as a whole. It is usually built out of wood or tinder, with strips of cloth or locks of hair tying it all together. Each member of the band is expected to place something of themselves into the figure as it is meant to be a substitute for the band. It is used to protect them against any malicious spirits that may target them on this night. By creating a substitute, any ill omens or dark magics that would have been directed towards them are directed towards the figure instead. At first light, once the night is over and the threat has passed, the figure is burned or buried.
It is accepted that an abundance of spiritual energy is available on this night. So while the spirit world is more turbulent and dangerous than normal, the likelihood of performing a successful divination is increased. Seers and priests will be called in, and asked to read the portends and attempt to answer questions of fortune and the future. Those who do not have the gift of sight or influence with the spirits can also attempt to communicate with their deceased loved ones and request their guidance. They will pull out the bones or belongings of their fallen bandmates and loved ones – with skulls widely considered to be the remnant with the strongest spiritual connection. They will clean the bones or artifacts gently and speak their questions or concerns. They will then place the remains under their bed before they go to sleep, and hope that the spirits of the dead will answer their questions in their dreams.
La Foundation, or the Founding, is the only band specific celebration that is fairly consistent between the bands. The date varies band to band, as it is a celebration of the bands founding. The day begins with the band all going hunting together – even those who do not normally hunt. The prey they seek is determined by the totem they follow, as the band will attempt to capture an animal that represents their totem’s favored prey or meal. If their totem is not an animal, they will hunt for something that is meaningful in some way to what their totem represents.
Once the prey has been captured, the band will take it back to their settlement. The band leader will ritualistically slaughter the animal, collecting the animals blood in a vessel. The band leader will then restate the founding principles of their band, they will cut their palm, adding their blood to the mix and swear their loyalty to the band and their chosen totem. From there the other band members will come forward and one by one repeat the procedure. Once they have all re-dedicated themselves to the band, they anoint the totem and then eat the slaughtered animal.
“If you are unwilling to bleed, your word is as worthless as the air it took to speak them.”
– Yanis the Wolfhound
To the Outlanders, maintaining their relationships and backing up their words with actions is of the utmost importance. They need to be able to trust the person at their back in order to survive, and they must continually strive to live up to the expectations of trust placed upon them. It is something they both give and receive, but it is not something given lightly, and once broken, can never be repaired.
To the Outlanders, actions are the best measurement of a person, but if a person gives their word on something, they had best back it up or lose face forever. For the most part, simple promises don’t mean much to Outlanders, but a blood oath is something different. A blood oath is considered a binding contract, and is essentially a promise of action and requires the spilling of blood rather than simply saying pretty words. It is essentially the one oath that means something concrete to an Outlander. For this reason, when greeting each other it is common for Outlanders to hold their hands out at their sides with their palms facing out. First, this posture means they do not intend to attack, at least not at this moment, and secondly it allows them to show each other if they have taken a blood oath before. If their palms are clear of scars, it means they likely are Oathless. A fair amount can be communicated in this way. A lot of scars means that the person may have sworn many blood oaths and either has been in service to a band for a long time, or that they have stretched themselves thin with promises. No scars means that they may not yet be considered an adult, they may be a failure, someone untrustworthy, or it could be that they are a person who heals quickly. It also at least means that they are unlikely to be sworn to an enemy band.
The first, and sometimes only, blood oath that almost every Outlander takes is the oath they swear to their band. While it is possible to take a blood oath prior to joining a band, it is rare – since you are considered a child until you have taken that oath, and children are generally considered to be unable to enter into such agreements. Other blood oaths may occur before a trial by combat or a blood feud. Doing it before a trial by combat is done in some instances where a grievance has cut so deeply that there is concern the participants may not abide by the outcome. A blood oath swearing to respect the trial tends to make everyone feel more comfortable with continuing. The blood feud is a solemn vow that a person and/or their band will make it one of their missions to kill, destroy, or otherwise deliver retribution for a wrong that was committed against them. There is no way out of a blood feud swearing once it has been done, so it is not something to undertake lightly.
The Blood Oath to one’s band is considered an oathbound partnership – a marriage of sorts. Given the frequent life-or-death scenarios that a band finds themselves in together, they tend to form strong emotional bonds. In most bands it is encouraged to develop sexual and romantic relationships with one another. These bonds spur courageous acts in battle and the taking of great risks to protect one another. There is not usually much ceremony to courtship, as it’s treated as a rather straightforward manner of whether or not people would like to be involved with one another, but there are tokens and gestures meant to indicate interest.
In the marshlands it is common for someone to give their intended a sweet rice cake, a berry dessert, or other such sweet treat. If the intended accepts the gift, they are indicating they are open to the idea of pursuing a relationship. In the desert, dates, dried fruits, or organ meats from a latest kill are presented. While Outlanders do not typically engage in monogamous relationships, once in a while there are some that do. To show the band they have made this decision, most will publicly exchange the hearts of their most recent kills with each other and eat them. When this happens, the bands are respectful, though it is considered a strange and potentially ill-advised form of relationship.
The relationships that form within the band can be complicated, and jealousy can become an issue if left to fester. Due to this, Outlanders are rather straightforward and open in their communication of their wants, needs and desires in order to prevent too much friction. However, they tend to also communicate with symbolic gifts as well as words so that there can be no misunderstanding. For instance, gifting of a tongue is universally understood among the Outlanders to mean that they want to speak privately, while gifting something poisonous means that they are displeased. Communicating these things is important because once a Blood Oath to a band has been taken, it is rare to leave the band outside of a trial by combat or in disgrace. This makes preventing interpersonal conflict especially important.
The importance of Outlanders’ relationships does not stop at final death. Death is commonplace, and when it happens they rarely stop to mourn, knowing that most often their companion will return. However, when a final death of a loved one occurs, funeral rites are essential. First, it is of the utmost importance that the body of the deceased be retrieved. Many blood feuds have started over a rival band refusing to return a body. It is believed that a person’s soul, their spirit, is a real thing that resides inside the ribcage. The longer you live, the more your soul seeps into your bones. So when you finally do die for good, a piece of your spirit is still inside of you. Once the body has been retrieved, it is stripped of flesh – usually either by temporary marsh burial of a year and a day or the use of carrion beetles. After the flesh has been removed, the body will be disarticulated and the bones separated. The skull and ribcage are set aside. The other bones are turned into jewelry or given permanent burial. The skull is usually saved and placed inside a box that the Outlanders will store inside their homes. Every year they will open the box, clean the skull and tell their loved one what they have missed. They believe that the memory of the deceased lives on inside the skull. The ribcage is cremated, and the ashes used to make soulsteel from iron. Most Outlanders turn the soulsteel into weapons, so they can carry their loved ones with them every day. These weapons are believed to carry the souls of the deceased, and are imbued with their essence. Touching someone’s soulsteel weapon without their permission is considered extremely disrespectful. While taking someone’s soulsteel weapon without their permission is blood feud-worthy.
“Today is your first and last day. Your only day.”
– Inscription upon the South Gate to the Stairs of Sleep
The Outlanders keep a calendar very similar to that of the Gothic people, likely due to the original heritage of many of the outcasts that are brought to the Outlands.
The calendar is based on a year of twelve months that are based off of the Old Empire’s manner of tracking the days. The months are: Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Iunius, Quintilis, Augustus, Septiember, October, Noviember, Deciember, Ianuarius, Februarius; and each month has roughly 30 days.
Contracts and documents are not something that the Outlanders keep, so they don’t have a consistent way of marking day, month, year – but they tend to at least know the current month, and have names for all of the moons. The corresponding order of the moons starting with Martius are: Whispering Wind Moon, Howling Moon, Waiting Moon, Berry Moon, Homecoming Moon, Corn Moon, Hunter’s Moon, Hawk Moon, Shadow Moon, Spirits Moon, Famine Moon, and Bone Moon. If there is a 13th moon in a year, it is called the Stranger Moon.
Art & Recreation
“Creativity takes courage, young one. Do not forget that there are many forms of bravery. However, you have crossed me one time too many, and you have carved stone when you should have practiced carving men. Let me show you now why you should be afraid.”
– Baptiste Carrion to the artist Nicolas
The Outlanders have been judged by their appearance since their unusual and unnatural features first manifested. For most, that has been since the day they were born. Due to this, they are intimately familiar with the importance of appearances. If you look like a monster, people will react to you like you are a monster. If you look powerful, people will react to you as if you have power. As a result, their art and adornment are designed to evoke certain impacts. They decorate themselves, their homes and their enclaves with depictions of battle. They show their enemies’ homes being torched, their fields salted, and their heads being chopped from their bodies. They use art to instill fear and to create an impression of importance and strength.
All across the Outlander territory are relief sculptures. They are chiselled into the sides of cliffs and large boulders that pepper the landscape. Almost all of the reliefs are detailed depictions of battle or of imposing portrayals of band leaders or totems. The various bands use them to show who is in power and whose territory you have stumbled into. It is common, during power struggles, to have these reliefs vandalized and the image of the leader removed. If the power shifts entirely, the image of the old leader is replaced with the new. It is considered a bad omen for signs of a prior leader’s authority to remain behind, casting its shadow on the current leader.
The Cradle is the exception, being the largest city for the Outlanders. No one band rules it all, and thus it is understood that the bands residing there shall refrain from depicting their leaders in prominent city reliefs. Instead the city is covered in carvings depicting gladiatorial fights, mythical beasts and respected ancestors. Occasionally a band will step out of line and attempt to establish dominance by marking their territory prominently with more political art. These attempts to gain control of the Cradle are usually short lived, as this obvious challenge tends to be stamped out quickly by the numerous other bands in the area. The skirmishes typically end with the would-be leader being maimed, and their group disbanded.
Music and dancing are also effective tools to create a certain mood or emotion. Drums and other percussion instruments are the most common musical instruments used by Outlanders. The deep resonant sound of beating drums are notorious for creating moments of powerful emotion and a sense of fear or apprehension in an opponent before and during battle. The war drums of the Outlanders are often heard for miles around over the sands. In the Marshlands, they also create reed flutes that can play a surprising variety of pitches. When dancing is done, it is for a purpose – to show virility and strength, to seduce, or to create a monstrous or disturbing sense of dread. Usually, movements are powerful and rhythmic and dancing is not meant to be done in pairs. It is a solitary or group activity, usually done before an audience.
Outlanders famously cover themselves in trophies from their fallen enemies. In this way, their deeds and accomplishments are supposed to speak for themselves, and show people just who they might be challenging or dealing with. Almost all of their jewelry has been stolen, won, or carved from bone, teeth, and antlers. Sometimes these organic decorations are carved into beads or will have designs and symbols meaningful to the Outlander carved into them as well. Particularly long and sharp teeth or carved ribs might be used to adorn armor to create a both imposing and functional spiked effect. Outlanders tend to wear lacquered leather armor made of small rectangular plates sewn together. They use this construction method because it is easy to repair or replace the damaged plates, as well as easy to switch out the teeth when more impressive ones are found.
Not all of their crafts, however, are designed to instill fear. Some serve more practical purposes. Reeds and grasses are used to create baskets and mats in the marshlands and badlands, which are used to protect the feet more than the floor – be it from damp chill or scorching hot rock or sands. Within Outlander villages and settlements, they also make clay figurines and dolls. The figures range in use from depictions of totems and religious idols to childrens’ toys. Blankets are also woven out of camel wool, though weaving is considered to be an extreme leisure activity as not many Outlanders feel they have the time necessary to dedicate to such an involved craft.
Whenever possible, it is believed by the Outlanders that recreational activities should serve a purpose beyond simple relaxation. From a young age they play games designed to hone their abilities and prepare them for adult life. Practice fighting and sparring are common sights, with children engaging their friends lightheartedly, or challenging a hated play-yard rival to a mock trial by combat. Beyond hunting, scouting, and raiding, which Outlanders spend a lot of time doing, there is also a keen interest in wrestling and boxing, and children participate in these sports as well. There are rarely any rules to these fights beyond a restriction on biting and gouging out eyes. Fortunately, the fights are unarmed so death is relatively uncommon.
When Outlanders reach adolescence they are expected to participate in hunting for food for the band. They are trained in tracking, archery and riding. Horses are not practical animals in the wastes, given that they require a large amount of water, so most of the bands ride other large animals like dire hyenas, mountain cats, wolves, or camels. The particular animal they ride varies band to band, with most people raising their particular mount from infancy to help create the bond between rider and animal. There are some bands that spend most of their lives riding on the back of these creatures, and through their strong bond with their animals, they are able to perform amazing feats such as both rider and mount attacking their enemy at once with tooth, claw, and steel.
Dodgeball and skipping rope are also games that adults and children alike can participate in. And Kno-kno, a game of tag, is a popular option as well. Teams of nine players compete, and the goal is to tag every member of the opposing team so they cannot move. Outlanders certainly enjoy the games of other cultures such as dice and card games. The most popular game for Outlanders is a knucklebones game called creature elementale. The game pieces are, true to the name, knucklebones, and the pieces are painted four different colors to represent the elements. They generally play with about 88 to 108 pieces. They will roll two dice, one which indicates which color they can collect and another that indicates the number of knucklebones they can grab. They will take turns rolling these dice until all of the pieces are gone. With their captured knucklebones, the players create elemental creatures, built out of at least one of each of the elements. The player with the most elementals at the end wins.
The View of Others
“You must live through something in order to believe it.”
– Outlander proverb
No matter where they go, the Outlanders hold themselves apart from other cultures. It is hard to forget history and the fact that many were forcibly removed from those who would have otherwise been their friends and family. That they were given up. That they were unwanted. That they were handed over to a known difficult and deadly life, all because of an accident or fate of birth they had no control over. These feelings burn more brightly among the Outlanders who are first of their generation in the Outlands, but even those who were born here with old Outlander ancestry see the ongoing pain, misery, and deluded bravery from those who think they have a chance of going back to their old homes. As a result, bitterness and mockery color much of the view that Outlanders often have towards the perceived softer lives of the rest of the world.
This is no more true than where the Salgothics are concerned. Here are a people who refuse to fight for their territory, and instead barricade themselves behind supernatural barriers, growing weak and fat in their rotting gardens. They do and accomplish nothing worthwhile that can be seen. The Salgothics are also one of the primary suppliers of children to the Outlands, given that their society absolutely forbids the presence of those tainted by the Triumverati within their enclaves. These tainted children are typically taken while still in their infancy via Nemien caravans, with their house sigils burned or removed from their bodies if they were even given them in the first place. Many Outlanders only know of the Salgothics as the culture that decided they weren’t worthwhile, and thus resent them and everything they stand for as a result.
The Hesha are disliked for a different reason. While the Hesha often think quite highly of the Outlanders, most among the wastes think of the Hesha as irreverent braggarts who think more of how they will look doing a great deed than how to actually do it. Such behavior rubs many Outlanders the wrong way, which unfortunately leads to many Hesha who simply try harder to impress the stoic warriors. If there is a positive aspect to the Hesha, it is that they seem to have the sense to follow leaders who are up to the task, though many an Outlander has been horrified by stories of Hesha changing crews.
Their feelings towards the Nemien are more positive, though still complex. While they often attack Nemien caravans on their journeys, the Nemien are at least brave enough to travel through the wastes – which means that most Outlanders think of them with some modicum of respect. In addition, their practice of bringing children to the Outlands makes them allies of a sort, as well as their continued trade. They respect that the Nemien protect their own, and their seeming lack of fear of the world around them is admirable. At the same time, there is the knowledge that the Nemien earn a profit taking unwanted children from their homes and depositing them in the Outlands. While this is a needed service, there is something very distasteful about this concept to the average Outlander, and many of the transplanted ones still remember the fear and uncertainty of their trek with the Nemien far from home.
The Outlanders probably have the most in common with the Gothic people, and their warbands mirror much of the organization of Gothic gangs. But the Gothic are much like their neighbors the Salgothic, and believe that the conditions the Outlanders were born with mark them as cursed, carriers of the very taint of the Triumverati, and possibly heralds of an apocalypse. It is a common superstition among the Gothics that drought, misfortune, and death follow any large group of Outlanders, and any Outlander who ventures into Gothic lands faces bigotry and fear. Many among the wastes believe that this is ironic given the fact that the monsters they fight and kill would otherwise wash up upon the lands of the Gothic, and that they are effectively protecting those that hate them. The relationship between these two cultures is thus complicated, and filled with both resentment and longing.
The Outlanders and the Seravians do not interact much, and the only representatives of the Seravians that make it to the wastes are those who have petitioned their lords to become an explorer or monster hunter. Because they primarily interact with the toughest and most combat-trained of Seravian society, most Outlanders think very highly of them and believe that all Seravians are hardened hunters who deserve respect. Outlanders look with envy on some of the advanced weapons of the Seravians, and appreciate their reserved exterior. These are a people who do not talk when they should listen, and who let their actions speak for them, and that is to be admired.
Rumors do exist about another group of people who make their homes in the forests and mountains outside of the wastes. They do not send their children to the Outlands often, but occasionally a band will find a swaddled child upon where their path passes near the boundaries of the wastes and take them with them on their way. The Outlanders have numerous stories about who these people are, with some believing that they are simply isolated communities of people like themselves, and others believing that they are strange descendents of nonhumans like the elves. Tales of encounters with these people have lead to a wary respect for them as fierce warriors who can hold their own against a warband at full strength, and thus the Outlanders try their best to stay out of their territory.