A Traveller's Guide to the Midlands
Argosa, or The Midlands, is a land thraught with risk and reward. Beyond the fortified walls of civilization, the wilds are dominated by man eating skorn, ferocious beasts, and xenophobic barbarians. Though safer within walls, the cities are dangerous. On the streets, life is cheap while corruption, brutality, and exploitation are widespread.
The vast majority of land in Argosa is completely uncharted. Roads leading to the wilderness are absent, and outposts and villages few and far between.
The main threat to explorers and travellers are the violent tribes of skorn. Known as halfmen or beastmen, these creatures are heavy set, pink skinned proto-humans, often scarred and heavily sunburnt. 7ft tall if not for their stooping stature, they have small eyes, flat faces, and rudimentary ear holes on the sides of their head. That which isn't sunburnt in covered in knotted hair, and the stench of a skorn is something not forgotten.
Travel between cities is via armed watercraft or heavily guarded caravans only. No one travels the outlands alone, and to venture beyond the patrol of the Argosan Rangers is to court with disaster, regardless of preparations.
Five cultures control the civilized points within the vast expanse of the Midlands.
The Midlanders of Lake Argos or Argosans are ruled by a King and court of hereditary highborn, vastly outnumbered by the growing underclass. They control Crow's Keep, Port Brax, and Northgate, making up the central basin referred to as the Midlands. Argosans are leaders in scientific advancement in the region, the sole producers of full plate mail and certain alchemical concoctions. They venerate seven dieties, and highborn and lowborn alike partake in private prayer and public worship; celebrating at temples, guided by ordained clergy. The Seven Ancients are as follows:
(Health, protection, healing, happiness, hope)
(Decay, disease, suffering, death)
(Luck, skill, fate)
(War, courage, struggle, glory)
(Night, darkness, mystery, deceit, madness)
(Sun, weather, nature, creation)
(Knowledge, art, wisdom, justice)
Common Midlander apparel includes tunics, doublets, dresses, and tabards, complemented with sturdy trousers and boots. Prosperous citizens tend to wear more linen thatn wool, with greater finery. In times of war, only Midlanders field armies with heavy cavalry. Their main force consists of mail clad men-at-arms, pikemen, and regimented archers.
The Nydissians of the Southern Empire are a dark-skinned people of the more equatorial Nydissia. They are expansionists, with the largest and most experienced forces in the region. They control Melek (their farthest northern settlement) and once Kadimos before it was looted and burned by barbarians and Midlanders. Nydissians are governed by the philosophical order known at the Lucentum, who value logic and reason above all other human qualities. They worship no gods, but recognize magic is real and dangerous. The Ordo Malefactos actively hunt socerers, burning them alive when caught. Nydissians are partial to airy togas and light tunics to accommodate the warmer southern weather. Southern armies are led by generals, broken down into cohorts and spear headed by small elite warrior cadres known as centurions. They wear breatplates and greaves, armed with spears and large shields, and fight with disciplined coordination.
The Varnori are tall, pale skinned raiders from across the Boreal Sea, hosting a powerful navy and veteran sailors. Vorngard is their southernmost settlement and first permenant enroachment into the Midlands. They ar new residents, erecting their first buildings twenty years ago, a curious mix of reavers, warriors, and emerging farmers. Vorngard is governed by the Council of Varnor , some of whom are advised by Rune Seers said to be gifted in the power of prophecy. The Varnori know but one diety; the Deep Old One , a vengeful and unforgiving god of the darkest depths of the sea. Varnori clothing usually consists of heavy furs, cloaks, and waterproof leathers, consistent with the cooler Northern climate. In combat the Varnori favor wooden shields, light armour amenable to swimming, and sharp blades of all kinds.
The Karoks are an albino race of elder Midlanders, the oldest surviving human culture in Argosa. Of all the human dwelling in the region, they are ostensibly the most secure; protected by the mountain fortress of Dol-Karok, the Ironhhull Mountains and White Drifts beyond. The Circle of Five, an eliete merchant council of Dol-Karok's most pwoerful trading houses, rule the mountain. Karoks have access to the best metals and minerals in the land, making them exceptionally wealthy and affirming their importance as trade partners. Karoks believe that the spirits of their entombed forebaears linger within the stone of their primordial home, revering their ancestoral halls as holy gestalts of earth and soul. The more wealth one amasses, the stronger one's soul connects with the stone. The last of the dwarves, known as servitors, languish in Dol-Karok; shackled and enslaved by the Circle and their own racial goldlust. Numbering in the hundreds, they spend their days endlessly toiling in the mines, eager to exploit new veins. Karok clothing varies greatly according to the cast and taste.
Karok clothing varies greatly according to caste and taste. Amongst the nobile Mithri, intricate gowns and equisite coats are common. The most powerful housese utilise exclusive rare silks from far eastern Shenzu. Ornate masks are customary on formal occasions, worn by the influential as expressions of power, style, and house affiliation. Less prosperous commoners, known as Cavar, dress more practically but with similar ostentation, substituting valuable gems for foux stones and expert embroidery. Karkoks do not have a large standing army, but all citizens are required to undertake a period of compulsory military training, adn expected to take up arms in defense of their home if required. The Circle prefer to send mercenaries to do their bidding outside the mountain.
The Thuel are the Argos basin barbarians, olive skinned, heavy set, and deeply tanned. Exact thuel numbers are difficult to assess, but it is clear that the tribes are dwindling compared to the fast breeding skorn. A unified barbarian horde would be a potent force, but has yet to be achieved in recorded history. By and large the clans are ruled by warrior chieftains, whose titles are inherited by blood or won through contests of strength. Thuels are highly supersitious and true magic is universally feared. Spiritually speaking, clan beliefs tend towards elemental animism or totemic animal guides. Thuels have no written language, instead recording rtheir history by way of song, dance, and story. The largest Thuel societies are found in the Great Plains and Argos Plateau, spread across the east and west of the Midlands, competing with the skorn plauge. Barbarian garb varies between clans, but tattoos and skin painting are considered high art, and scars indicative of courage and virility. Maximsing such visual cues often means sparse clothing.
Corruption is rife throughout Midlander, Nydissian, and Dol-Karok societies, including the law courts and city guard. Bribery and intimidation are commonplace, with the wealthy and influential able to buy or cajole their way out of most problems. For minor infringements on the street, a discrete handful of coins goes a long way to convincing the watch to mind their own business.
In Varnori culture, might makes right, and their few enshrined laws are subject to the Jarl's interpretation on any particular day. In most cases, disputes are resolved by way of bloody duel, wereguild, and labour debt or coin restitution.
Thuels are subject to tribal customary law, settled over many generations and kept according to the oral histories of the skalds. Honour and respect are of the central importance to the clans, with offenders commonly subject to adverse branding, maiming, flogging, or exile.
In walled cities, investigations and arrests are usually carried out by the guard. In situations of imminent danger, the watch are empowered to kill offenders on the spot, acting as the judge, jury, and executioner. Alternatively an accused might be fined, thrown in the watch house, dumped outside the city walls, or dragged before a justicar or other authority.
Very serious offences such as maiming or murder are generally punished on an eye for an eye basis (self defense, if made out, is a valid rebuttal to such charges). Property damage, fraud, and theft may incur a range of penalties, depending on the quantum involved. Terms of imprisonment are served in the dungeon of the resident keep, or possibly the cells beneath the watch house.
In Nydissia, sorcery typically means death by burning. Practitioners among thuel fare little better, although some tribes will tolerate mundane shamans and druids as customary spirit guides, healers, and the like. Varnori too routinely burn, behead, or exile magicians, but for the Rune Seers, their traditional soothsayers, which may be accepted in certain clans, depending on the views of the presiding jarl.
In the Midlands, the study and the practice of magic is illegal an rightly feared. Offences commited with magic, or that result from using it are punished invariably by maiming, exile, or death. There is a single exception: the King may sanction individual sorcerers that serve the crown. In the present day, there is but one sanctioned wizard: Nocratha the Stargazer of Northgate.
In Dol-Karok, the arcane arets are officially shunned and punished with exile or death. Some whisper however that the Karoks were not always albinos, and did not ever favour masks, nor cloak themselves in long gowns and expansive coats.
IN rare and excpetional circumstances, an authority may shoose to exercise mercy, and commute a sentence of death to permanent and immediate exile instead. Such a person is not ownly physically exiled, but also "outside" of the law itself (without rights and unprotected by the law, may be killed with impunity).
For simplicity, all of the human cultures default to similar currency regimes, namely gold and silver coins, with one gold equivalent to ten silver. Generally speaking the various currencies are interchangeable, but private money changers also exist to facilitate formal currency exchange.
Travel in Depth
An adventurous Midlander will find themselves travelling frequently, and more often than not trackless and without direction. When travelling the Outlands, there are a few things to consider:
One can only travel 8 hours in a day. Past that point another 8 hours and one day's worth of ration is needed to recouperate.
One may Double Time while travelling, moving at twice the pace for one hour of the 8 without penalty, but any past that hour incurs 1 point of nonlethal damage to person, and 1 point lethal damage to mount.
Travelling past 8 hours a day will require a hearty constitution, a CON check is necessary or 1d6 nonlethal damage is sustained and a character is considered exausted. A mount pushed past 8 hours automatically takes 1d6 lethal damage.
Boats do not require an 8 hour marching cycle, as long as there is a pilot and crew for a day shift and a night shift, boats do not need to rest.
One may choose a travel variation, each with pros and cons. Double timing may make it difficult to track and detect. Cautious travel is slower, yet makes one harder to detect while also making tracking and detecting easier. Exploration travel will make finding things in the expanse of the outlands easier, yet movement can be rather slow. Foraging travel can be done for an hour each 8, and might provide enough food for multiple people.
Different terrain will result in different travel speeds. Using roads and trails is the fasted mode of travell, yet there is a difference between walking the open plains and treking through the deep forest.
Different conditions will result in different travel speeds. Day and night time travel differ by a large margin, and travelling in the extreme heat or dense downpour will hamper speeds.
Travelling by landmark is simple, yet finding something without may require some time. Travelling in a direction without landmark requires a check every 4 hours of a march. Getting lost will never backtrack, only hinder forward progress for 4 hours of a march.
Hirelings are key to "safer" Outland travel. Having meat shields to protect and watch over a group is never a bad idea.
Those skilled in navigating may attempt to ascertain the actual distance travelled in a 8 hour march. Due to conditions and varying terrain, travel distances can change wildly. A successful Widlerness Lore check may determine the actual distance travelled, while a failure will only give an average.
Finding hidden locations will take time. A group may enter the exploration travel in a given area, making no directional progress yet instead exploring the immediate area in depth. These things will take time, dependent on whether or not the location in visible from the surface as well as terrain differences in sightline. In general, one can see 3 miles to the horizon in an open plain.