People of the Known World

Tenegar | Akaian | Chay | Shiæda | Szerathi | Aszerai | Ryken

Tenegar
Total Population: Approx 60,000.
Type: Humanoid (human)

Physical Appearance: Tall and of proud bearing, the Tenegar people stand usually around 6ft tall, with long limbs and broad shoulders. They have rounded faces with dark, ebony-black skin and pale grey or white hair, which in its natural state is soft and wavy, and is often worn in elaborate style. Only married men may wear full beards, but facial hair is common among men of all age groups. Women usually wear their hair long, but woven into braids, twists and buns so that their hair rarely falls past the shoulders; a Tenegar woman wears her hair loose only in private. Tenegar eyes are predominantly deep blue, but grey, turquoise and violet are also common.

Tenegar Culture: The culture of the Tenegar is inextricably bound to their faith and race. They believe their people to have been fathered by the gods, and that once they ruled much of the world, until the Silence fell and laid waste to their former glory. The great majority of Tenegar worship the Three, viewing them not only as gods but as beloved ancestors. Döv Razäd, the capital of the Tenegar, was one of their great cities, now the bastion of their culture and a dominant presence in the Known Lands.

Döv Razäd is famed for its vast libraries and vaults, where relics of the past are stored, and studies of magic and the ancient world are pursued. However, such institutions are available only to the Tenegar – and even then, only to those clans wealthy enough to make appropriate donations to their grand halls. However, basic literacy, religious education and mathematics are free to all Tenegar children, as their culture values the ideal of an educated society; further education is usually achieved through apprenticeship. Though options are plentiful, ship-building, masonry and agriculture remain the primary industries of the Tenegar people.

Tenegar homes are large buildings with high ceilings, designed to maintain cooler temperatures within. Strict codes dictate what sort of decoration and colors may be used on the outside of certain buildings, with a certain shade of sky blue reserved exclusively for temples and shrines. The Tenegar seem to make up for their plainer homes by showcasing their wealth or sense of style upon their persons; their traditional clothing is dominated by bold patterns and bolder colors, accompanied by an abundance of jewelry.

The Tenegar rule themselves by oligarchy. There is a strong sense of tradition and structure amongst the Tenegar, who separate themselves into clans of related families and households. Each clan vies against its fellows for prestige, wealth and influence, and those who are the most successful sit in on the Senate. Should a clan lose face or influence among its peers, it often also loses its seat. As status depends much on wealth and power, there are of course numerous clans who possess no such prestige; often, it is such clans who take the greatest risks, founding new settlements among the islands or organizing large expeditions into the Silent Lands. Few Tenegar will resign themselves to simply being poor; their faith states that their people will someday rise to reclaim the greatness that they lost when the Silence fell, and ambition is strong within their people.

In spite of its tendency to appraise clan worth by its wealth and prestige, individuals within a clan, and outsiders, are judged by other factors. The Tenegar value those who hold to their word, who give appropriate respect and obedience to their elders, and who demonstrate drive and the desire to achieve. They consider sloth to be disgraceful in an adult, and encourage their youth to avoid daydreaming and seek more fruitful means of passing time.

Although most Tenegar follow the Three devoutly, a few hidden cults of other entities exist within their city; those involved typically see these cults as a means to achieve greater power and influence, often through means than their more conservative peers would not dare take. Belief in the Three as the ultimate source of their race is strong even among these heretics, and none would actually deny their ancestor-gods, merely that worship of them did not provide the power they sought. Such cultists must remain extremely guarded of their true allegiances, however, as apostasy is a crime punishable by death; abandonment of the gods is the same as abandoning the Tenegar, and therefore a form of treason.

Though the Tenegar encourage trade within their capital of Döv Razäd, they maintain a policy of segregation between themselves and other races; the foreign quarter is an immense, bustling, and dirty place compared to the calm elegance found elsewhere in the city. They do not consider other races worthless or beneath them – they are simply not Tenegar, and thus cannot take part in the games of status that determine the worthiness of each clan. Many Tenegar can claim to have friends among the Chay or the Szerathi, but while they value friendships highly, they will not usually put their friendship with an outsider above their allegiance to their own clan.


Akaian
Total Population: Approx 80,000.
Type: Humanoid (human)

Physical Appearance: Akaians generally lean toward slender builds, with high, narrow and angular shoulders and typically slim hands with long fingers. Their faces are similarly long, with angular cheekbones and aquiline or hooked noses. The majority of Akaians require very little exercise to burn off excess weight; individuals who become seriously overweight are usually so due to illness or injury. Akaian skin varies between a deep, burnished olive to a light golden brown, and their hair is universally black. Eye colors are usually light brown, amber or deep bottle green, more rarely golden yellow or lighter shades of green. Akaian hair is coarse and straight. Men either wear their beards cropped short in a variety of styles, or go clean-shaven. Women traditionally wear their hair short or shoulder-length, and like to weave in colorful beads, bells and other jewelry.

Akaian Cultures: The Akaian people represent the greatest number of humans in the Known Lands, but also the least unified by culture. Communities tend to consider themselves separate, or at best tenuously allied, with other Akaian communities, and then only if their cultures – and especially their religious beliefs – are compatible.

Most Akaian are Tālist by faith, while small groups have diverged extensively from this norm – the Krolan and the Purified most notable among them, but also smaller cults dedicated to the worship of beings from the Otherworld, the Underworld, or even stranger places. Some have even taken on animistic views similar to the Szerathi. Like religion, cultures and traditions vary greatly, from the sophisticated to the primitive to the downright bizarre.

The Krolan are technically Tālist, but follow a heresy that honors Tanith, believed by most Tālists to be a goddess of darkness and black magic. The Krolan claim that she is not evil, and that her attempts to overthrow Jorah, the god of magic and death, is because she wishes to make an end of death and grant immortality to the mortal people. They are not a technologically advanced people, but this is partly by choice; the Krolan eschew the use of iron and steel. They build their homes, boats, tools and weapons out of wood, animal bones and hide, stone, and clay, claiming that these are materials of the world and will eventually be reclaimed by it, while iron is from the stars and not naturally of the world.

Though small in number, the Purified are infamous in the Known Lands for their fanatical devotion to the god Arazand and for their beliefs of racial purity. Even the slightest divergence in their own people is considered ‘tainted blood’, resulting in the unfortunate growing up as a slave. Though there is almost no crime, corruption or disease among their settlements, this is due to extremely strict regulations. Citizens are forbidden to consume spices, alcohol, or other substances that “taint the blood”, and only white or undyed cloth, and leather boots or sandals, may be worn, except for certain occasions such as weddings or holy days. Purified citizens have their marriages arranged by the priests of Arazand, based on a combination of auspicious portents and the physiological attributes of the two subjects, as the ultimate goal of the Arazan priesthood is to return their people to the original “perfect” image they believe Arazand created them in.


Chay
Total Population: Approx 25,000.
Type: Humanoid (human)

Physical Appearance: The Chay are smaller in stature than both the Tenegar and the Akaians, with the tallest among them reaching 6’ in height, while the men average around 5’8" and the women around 5’3". They have dark, reddish skin tones ranging all the way to deep chocolate brown, and wide, round faces with thin noses. Their hair is tightly curled, commonly chestnut-brown or deep auburn, and sometimes brilliant red in color. Their eyes are typically some shade of gray or almost black. There is no common style in how Chay women wear their hair, though men and women of the ulger (casteless) class often wear their hair short for convenience and to avoid lice. For men mustaches are considered more fashionable than beards, and are often long and extravagant.

Chay Culture: The Chay are divided into three social castes: the gethala (high caste), geshola (low caste) and the ulger (casteless). The geshola are the most numerous and represent the majority of Chay; they hold dignified positions and have many basic rights, including the ability to seek justice or compensation from the courts. Most of the mundane duties of governance is performed by geshola, though the gethala are ultimately the ruling caste. Unless trading at a Chay village, most people of the Known World will only ever meet the geshola caste.

The ulger perform the heaviest labor and menial duties, or work as unpaid servants of the geshola, and have no rights in Chay society – however, if an individual distinguishes themselves in service, it is a common practice that their master will buy their promotion to the geshola caste. Likewise, geshola can become ulger as punishment for certain crimes. Though the ulger do not earn coin, they do earn tokens that can be traded for food and clothing, and are housed in communal living quarters which are regularly checked for signs of disease.

The gethala are the highest caste within Chay society and typically serve as its rulers and nobility, however they are not always the wealthiest of individuals, and no amount of coin can buy someone’s way into the highest caste. Those who earn a place for themselves and their descendants as gethala are legends of the Chay people – a combination of wise scholars and enlightened warriors. Only those whose name becomes a legend of like proportions can hope to become gethala. As a result, the highest caste is also the least numerous.

Legends of the Chay claim that their people were once blessed by beings of fire, and this legend permeates their culture. The colors red and gold are considered especially lucky, flame motifs are common in Chay mosaic and murals, and children born with red hair are often given preferential treatment. It is also no surprise that Tālism, especially faith in Arath, is common among the Chay, however a growing minority among the geshola and gethala castes follow the Elementalist philosophy instead, viewing the spiritual journey of an individual as more important than worship of the divine.

The Chay tend to see faith as a private matter, regardless of its focus. They don’t build public temples, but each home has a place set aside for a private shrine where prayers and offerings can be made. Even the ulger make offerings to the gods, in the hope that they will grant mercy and good fortune. The role of priests is to oversee matters sacred to their gods and to organize the grand festivals that represent the only times that Chay display their piety in public.

Chay are extremely friendly, perhaps even forward individuals. They embrace readily, kiss passing acquaintances on each cheek, and pat strangers on the back and shoulders. Displays of seemingly unwarranted affection are common amongst the Chay, and they are equally boisterous and emotional in matters of trade, diplomacy, and revelry. They love to dance, and will often invent reasons to celebrate and bring out various drums and any combination of the surusa (a transverse flute), kauba (tambourine), chekwas (maracas) or malabi (a short-necked bowl lute).

The Chay diet is comprised mostly of seafood, but are also famous for their breads, cakes and crepes, which are traditionally made with cassava and millet flour. They also ferment cassava into a colorless alcoholic beverage which is consumed only at weddings and births. In spite of their love of dance and celebration, the Chay disapprove of drunkenness, viewing it as losing sight of oneself, and forbid the sale or trade of alcohol and similar intoxicants within their lands. Tobacco, however, is considered a harmless substance, and tobacco pipes are a common sight at Chay belts.


Shiæda
Total Population: Approx 15,000.
Type: Humanoid (human)

Physical Appearance: The Shiæda in general are tall and broad, standing an average of 6–7ft and weighing between 180–260 lbs, with broad, heavy frames. Due to frequent breeding with outlander women, there is some variation in skin tone and hair, however the majority of Shiæda are pale, with milky-white skin that freckles or tans in the sun. Their hair is coarse, ranging in color from tawny brown to ashen-blond, and usually worn long by both genders. Their eyes are typically light blue, hazel green or brown. Men grow beards as soon as possible, equating facial hair with adulthood and maturity, and plaits are common for both men and women.

Shiæda Culture: For much of the year, the Shiæda are relatively peaceful tribal communities, growing crops and raising goats and chickens. They wear drab (and somewhat scant, by most peoples’ standards) clothing, but decorate their homes with elaborate carvings, woven rugs and tapestries, and with various trophies won while abroad. They have no written language, and rely exclusively on oral tradition to tell the history of their people and the stories of their gods, and to brag about their personal glories.

However, the Shiæda are most renowned throughout the Known Lands not for their farming or their storytelling, but their raids. For when the planting at home is done, the young men of each tribe get into their war canoes and pillage other settlements – usually outlanders, but sometimes even other Shiæda – for food, tools, livestock, goods, luxuries and, of course, women.

Marriage is a complicated issue for the Shiæda. They are patriarchal and both land and belongings are handed down through the male line, however it is the women who provide most of the administrative skills needed to manage their lands, in addition to raising their children. Thus, the menfolk are allowed to take multiple wives, although only children of their first marriage may inherit. The male children of these “lesser wives” are destined to live out their lives on the family property, without land or possessions of their own, unless they take to the seas and win fame and plunder in the yearly raids, or attempt to conquer and settle new land elsewhere.

A long history of this has led to the Shiæda being of somewhat motley appearance, with some Tenegar, Akaian and Chay mixed in, resulting in sudden emergence of oddly-colored eyes, or lineages with darker skin tones. It also means that a comparatively high number of “half-elves” can be found among their tribes. As Shiæda half-elves cannot father children and thus have no worth as husbands, the best they can hope to attain is personal glory n the raids and the chance to live out their days richly; as a result, they can be some of the fiercest and most bloodthirsty when they take to raiding.

The Shiæda are said to be virtually fearless in both war and exploration. As often as they make raids upon the people of the Known Lands, they are just as determined to pit their strength, their cunning and their swordplay against the unknown horrors of the Silent Lands. The Shiæda constantly lose entire war parties to these forays, yet the risk of death fails to deter them from embarking on such voyages.

Shiæda worship a number of gods who maintain the world, and who choose the most worthy souls to join them in their abode. The nature of this worth for men, of course, is based on prowess in battle, trophies taken, and a glorious death. The worst fate a Shiæda man can dream of is a life of insignificance. For women, such feats of might and glory are virtually unknown, but they may achieve worth in the eyes of the gods through much simpler means: by being dutiful wives and bearing many children.

The Shiæda practice art in the form of carving, especially of wood and stone. While most homes have only the simplest of ornamentation, Shiæda war canoes and meeting houses are often embellished with slivers of pearl, hammered precious metals and colorful gemstones. Their metalwork is primitive and restricted mostly to iron and bronze, but they enjoy decorating even the most functional of items, such as knife handles and belt buckles, with patterns and pictorial designs. Cloth is limited to bark cloth and tapa cloth, mixed with hides and sometimes fur. Multi-layered skirts are traditional for both men and women, as are heavy rain cloaks for the weather, but otherwise the Shiæda wear very little else.


Szerathi
Total Population: Approx 20,000.
Type: Humanoid (elf)

Physical Appearance: With their unearthly grace and fine features, the Szerathi – known to humans as “elves” – appear hauntingly beautiful to humans and members of many other races. They vary in height more so than humans, ranging from 5’6" to well over 6ft tall. They are more slender than humans, weighing only 100 to 150 pounds, and their ears are upswept and pointed. Males and females are about the same height, and males are only marginally heavier than females. Szerathi skin coloration is pale or a light, almost woody brown, sometimes tinged with copper or golden hues. Their hair varies from shades of brown (most common), to black, blond, or more startling tones of golden-blond, white-blond, olive green or spring green, or shades of autumn from auburn to fiery red-gold. Their eyes vary even more strongly in color; greens, blues, indigo and amber are the most common, but red, brown, and even black can be found among them.

Szerathi Culture: The Szerathi are unique amongst mortal races, in that they were once immortal beings: thousands of years ago, their ancestors split off from the mara, fey denizens of the Otherworld. While their former brethren continue to change form and personality with the seasons, those who named themselves the Szerathi gained permanence of identity. In return, however, they gave up their immortality, although they remain long-lived by human standards.

The Szerathi of the Known Lands are considered carefree roamers by most other races. They put greater stock in their ships (lúinnath) than in their settlements; while families migrate between settlements frequently, they maintain their lúinnath through the generations. There are many Szerathi settlements scattered throughout the islands, usually small and with a sense of impermanence about them. Even so, nothing the “elves” create appears rushed or unfinished. They take pride in creating things of beauty, but have little sentimentality about the ‘things’ themselves – Szerathi have been known to desert a village in its entirety, leaving behind all but a few personal belongings.

Culturally, there is no real gender distinction among the Szerathi; male and female not only have the same rights, but wear the same styles of hair, clothing and jewelry, and perform the same roles interchangeably. Both men and women like to outline their eyes with a shimmering black substance made from crushed beetle shells. This lack of typical separation can lead to misunderstandings and also prejudice from other races; many Tenegar (the women in particular) see Szerathi women as being somewhat brazen or even masculine, while the Shiæda claim that “elven” men are fastidious and womanish.

Szerathi enjoy stories, poetry and song, and craft their own musical instruments to perform on an evening. When they choose to invite guests on board their ships, they are generous, if sometimes mischievous hosts. Many settlements grow fruit (or trade for wine and mead) which is distilled into the strong spirit known to humans as “burned wine”, which the Szerathi call risóm. Despite its potency, most Szerathi are capable of drinking several glasses of risóm in a single sitting, and humans are advised to avoid drinking contests while guesting with Szerathi.

The Szerathi also have keener hearing than humans, and their musical tastes reflects this. While some “elvish music” is considered pretty by human standards, much of it sounds almost monotonous: the variation and range seems exceptionally limited to the human ear, whereas a Szerathi listener is able to hear the subtlety of the music. Many Szerathi view the human preference for a broad range of tone and pitch to be comparatively crude.

The Szerathi wear light but colorful clothing, favoring greens, golds, and blues overall, with splashes of purple, orange, and red, accompanied by deep, warm browns. They are famous for producing the finest of silks, and patterned scarves and shawls of this fabric are common. The only color that Szerathi studiously avoid is white; they believe it is the color associated with ill fortune and death. This may be related to their cultural aversion to snow.

Though renowned as excellent sailors and navigators, it is rare that the Szerathi become explorers; their ships are their homes, crewed by their family and friends, and few wish to endanger their children and elders on dangerous excursions into the Silent Lands. A ship’s captain is typically the patriarch or matriarch of the crew, and maintains discipline on board ship as they see fit – which may be as little or as much as they believe necessary. On land, it is usually a council of elders who make decisions on behalf of the village, and even ship’s captains bow to their judgement.

Unlike most of the human races, the Szerathi have no gods. Or more accurately, they have thousands of gods, each with its own small sphere or place of influence. Such gods may have offerings burned to them, and the Szerathi have many priests whose job it is to placate or, at times, cajole the spirits, but the gods themselves are not worshiped, and Szerathi will only raise a shrine to a particular god if they believe that god has been particularly beneficent toward them.


Aszerai
Total Population: Approx 1,000.
Type: Humanoid (elf, human)

Physical Appearance: To humans, Aszerai look like “elves”, and to the Szerathi, they look human. They average much the same in height as their human parent, and from 120 to 200 pounds, with men only slightly taller and heavier than women. Half-elf men can grow facial hair, and sometimes grow full beards in an attempt to mask their Szerathi ancestry. Aszerai coloration and features lie somewhere between their human and elf parents, and thus show a variety even more pronounced than that found amongst either race. They tend to have the eyes of their Szerathi parents.

Aszerai Culture: Aszerai are a rare breed in the Known Lands. They have no culture nor communities of their own, as their kind are universally sterile. Instead, they usually adopt the culture of the parent who raised them. The vast majority of “half-elves” are raised by their human parent, as the Szerathi find the half-elf lifespan to be too short to fully appreciate the nuances of Szerathi culture and artistry, though many Szerathi families still take in their half-breed children. Aszerai who are raised simultaneously by both parents is almost unheard of, however, as the liaisons between elf and human are rarely long-lived.


Ryken
Total Population: Unknown.
Type: Humanoid (ryken)

Physical Appearance: The ryken are extraordinarily varied in their appearance, as they are born with the ability to alter their physical appearance. They possess two arms, two legs, one head and a short tail, and are roughly 4–5ft tall, but that is where the similarities between each individual seem to end.

Ryken Culture: The Ryken are a secretive people, their population and place of origin unknown. Only a few of their customs have been observed, and some spoken of in passing, which are recorded below.

Ryken are born with the ability to shapeshift. They take great pride in crafting their final appearance through their adolescence, until at last they reach a point they call son ko’al, which translates roughly into Common as “the affirmation”, or the assertion of their “true” self. When and how this period is reached, and whether it is biological or psychological, only the Ryken know. What is known is that from that point onward, the Ryken’s form is permanently fixed.

The Ryken have no gods, or at least no gods whom they speak of to outsiders. Instead, they invoke references to great figures of Ryken legend. The name of Foehg is often spoken in colorful phrases concerning various parts of the great mariner’s anatomy, with context largely dependent on tone. Bugraat, supposedly the first Ryken to engage in trade with humankind, is invoked as an oath of truthfulness and fair dealing – but is by no means binding, where some Ryken are concerned.

Ryken have a much looser grasp of property laws than other cultures of the Known World. Though fearsome and cunning negotiators in matters of trade, Ryken are inherently opportunistic and may divert from their normal trade routes to engage in scavenging, theft or even piracy. They will often be found picking over the remains of ships and villages destroyed by storms, and appear to have no respect for the dead, their own or otherwise.


Return to the Main Page.

People of the Known World

The Silent Seas blitterbug