Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Cultures of Hyborean Greyhawk

In keeping with the spirit of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea as well as other Sword and Sorcery influenced games (such as the Mongoose Conan d20 game and their Lankhmar supplements for Runequest, as well as the Conan modules for AD&D) the lack of demi-human options requires an increase in definition of the different human cultures compared to a lot of D&D-family games. One of the things I thought was interesting about the World of Greyhawk was the backstory of the different humans—the Suloise-Bakluni war leading to the Rain of Colorless Fire and the Invoked Devastation, the displacement of the local Flannae, and so on—at least compared to other games out there which either fixated on regions or nationalities, not races of humans.

I think I will follow AS&SH's lead in not assigning any mechanical bonuses or penalties to the different cultures. While the typical Kimmerian will be hardy, I want to avoid the pitfalls of some of the later “optimizable” editions of D&D where you were looked at funny if you tried to make a character whose race did not directly compliment the mechanical effects of class.

So, there are seven major cultural groups in Hyborean Greyhawk—The Amedi, the Bakluni, the Kelts, the Oeridians, the Picts, the Stygians, and the Vikings. Within each of these are different subgroups, which will be explained a little further. Some of these subgroups are even further stratified, based upon political divisions that lead to cultural differences.

Some scholars do not include the Amedi when cataloging the major cultures of the Flanaess. On almost every map, the Amedio Jungle and Lowlands are a small portion, isolated by land thanks to the Hellfurnaces. This reflect more the ignorance of the cartographers, as the Amedi people extend far to the south. Most denizens of the Flanaess encounter the Amedi through the many sailors encountered on ships and in dock wards across the continent. The Amedi vie with the Zingarans and Argossians of the eastern seas for the title of best sailors on the Flanaess.

Culturally, there are three subgroups of the Amedi. Island Amedi populate the islands off the coast of the Monmurg Principalities. They have mixed with the Keoish Kelts although the islands retain a strongly Amedi flair. Jungle Amedi are a fierce, tribal culture of warriors who have resisted all attempts by the Plains Amedi to “civilize” them. The Amedi of the Amedio Lowlands are a vibrant mercantile people, whose sailors are renowned throughout the Flanaess.

The Bakluni once held one of the most powerful empires history had ever known. It was only when the Stygians called down the Invoked Devastation upon the Baklunish Empire that they were scattered into their current state. The Afghuli remain in what was once the Baklunish Empire, now called Afghulistan, the Land of the Dry Steppes. Their ability to survive in more-than-austere conditions is legendary. The Arabyan people to the north believe themselves to be the true heirs to the Baklunish Empire. There are four different kinds of Arabyans. The Paynims are a collection of nomadic Arabyans who eschew the concepts of “civilization” which led to the eradication of the old empire. North of them, on the coast of the Dramidj Ocean, are the Northern Arabyans, with their many caliphates. They seek to reclaim the lost glories of the Baklunish Empire. To the east lies Ket, the gateway to the Bakluni West. Most travelers deal with the Ket Arabyans, who have allowed some of the foreign cultures to rub off on them. South of the Paynims lies the sinister land of Ull. A dark country of sorcerers and foul creatures, agents of Ull pursue inscrutable objectives in support of unspeakable masters and are the source of many of the negative stereotypes Easterners apply to the Arabyans. The final subgroup of Bakluni are the Esquimaux of the North. The Esquimaux are a tribal culture who survive hunting the mammoths of the northern tundra. Rumors abound that they know the secrets of the Land of Black Ice to the far north of the Burneal Forest—evil secrets.

Kelts are, without a doubt, the most populous people of the Flanaess. From the southwestern Keoish states to the Kimmerians of the north, Kelts are found far and wide throughout the land. As a result, they have the largest amount of subgroups.

Keoish Kelts settled in the Sheldomar Valley, pushing the native Picts out to the northeast. The King of Keoland ostensibly commands the fealty of all of the Keoishmen, but in reality Keoland sits alone along the Sheldomar, content to live out its delusions. To Keoland's north lie the Northern Marches and the Ulek States. The Marchers believe themselves to be the primary bastion of the Keltic People against the Bakluni of the West. In reality, they deal more with savage mountain-folk of the Lortmil Mountains and the Barrier Peaks, as well as the unruly forest tribes of the Bramblewood. The Ulekers have their hands full, dealing with raids from the Wild Kelts of the Wooly Bay. Quite often, the lords of the Ulek States fail to even offer token fealty to Keoland, feeling that they get little support for their tribute. To date, Keoland has not pressed the issue. To the west of Keoland lie the Mountain Counties. Giants, ape-men, and worse descend from the Crystalmist Mountains and the militant Mountaineers are there to defend Keoland from them. Finally, to the south lies the Monmurg Principalities. Monmurgers have mixed with the Island Amedi, although the mainland Principalities are decidely Keoish in nature.

The central portion of the Flanaess is held by the Velondi Kelts. The Velondi of Veluna are under the direction (some say oppression) of the Church of Mitra. Mitran priests the Flanaess over train at the religious centers throughout Veluna. The neighboring Furyondy stands watch against the Pictish Wilderness to its north, its border companies keeping the various raiders at bay from the civilized center of the Flanaess. The constant war with the Picts has created a new class of errant nobles, who the King of Furyondy has sent to carve a new land to the east out of the Pictish Wilderness. The Shield Landers are the rough-and-ready extension of this, looking to spread the word and civilization of Mitra to the savage Picts.

Finally, the less “civilized” Keltic cultures should be mentioned. The lands of the Wooly Bay are home to the Wild Kelts. Some say that it's the ill wind blowing across the bay from the Leng Desert that makes this land so untamable, but no one knows for sure. The Wild Kelts raid neighboring lands, attack shipping, and generally make a nuisance for everyone around them. It is only because they fight each other more than the outside world that they are not considered more of a threat. Far to the north, beyond the Pictish Wilderness lies Kimmeria. The Kimmerians are a strong and clannish race of warriors. The harshness of the north winds off the Icy Sea have forged men of steel.Challenging the Kelts for “civilized” supremacy on the Flanaess are the Oeridians. There are two main groups of Oeridians—The Aerdi people and the Nyrondese. The Aerdi once controlled a vast empire which reached as far as the Lortmil Mountains to the west. The remaining Great Kingdom is a decadent place, relying heavily on the labor of slaves and the occasional tribute from neighboring territories and the threat of intervention by its armies of foreign mercenaries. While the Sea Barons of Zingara trace their lineage to Aerdi, they are a more dynamic people, whose mercantile reach extends throughout the Solnor Ocean and even into the Azure Sea. To the south of the Great Kingdom lies The Iron League, a confederation of city-states whose loyalty to each other is only marginally greater than their shared resistance to the Overkings of Aerdi.

To the west of the Great Kingdom lies its former vassal state, Nyrond, who has become a power in and of itself. Of all of the major kingdoms of the Flanaess (Nyrond, in addition to Furyondy, Keoland, and the Great Kingdom), Nyrond is perhaps the most outwardly aggressive of the bunch, constantly challenging the Great Kingdom, as well as sponsoring expeditions into the Pictish Wilderness, the Bone March, and even the Leng Desert. To the west of Nyrond is Urnst, a buffer state which absorbs many of the Pictish and Leng retributions to Nyrondese incursions. The people of Urnst long to get out of the shadow of Nyrond, but have as yet been unable. Nestled in the bosom of The Rakers lies the last Nyrondese state—The Pale. Fanatic devotees of Mitra, The Pale seeks to spread the word of Mitra by sword and fire if need be. Nyrond does its best to focus The Pale's attention on the Picts, but there is an increasingly vocal population who feel that Nyrond and the Great Kingdom have turned too far from the true faith and must be returned to the fold.From Whystil Lake to the Griff Mountains, Picts, the original inhabitants (along with the Vikings) of the Flanaess war against Esquimaux, Kimmerians, Kelts, and Oeridians alike. For almost all of recorded history, the Picts were like those in the eastern Bandit Kingdoms—petty warlords, commanding a few hundred poorly equipped warriors at best and unable to sustain any truly threatening offensive. However, the rise of two cultures has changed the complexion of the Pictish Wilderness and many of the civilized nations are nervous. On the border of Furyondy, Pictish tribes have united under the banner of the Horned Society. Reports of deviltry abound and the increasingly coordinated and organized nature of the society's depredations has put the Furyondy borderers on the defensive. Opposite Whystil Lake from Furyondy is the even more troubling nation of Iuz. Purported to be the son of a succubus, this land's eponymous lord has allowed his mother's demonic allies to breed with the native tribes. These demon-blooded Picts, known as orcs, are a new, terrifying threat. Many believe it is only a matter of time before Iuz's orc horde comes for the civilized Flanaess.

Much like the Bakluni, the Stygians once commanded a vast empire in what is now the Sea of Dust. After they called down the Invoked Devastation upon the Baklunish Empire, the Bakluni responded with the Rain of Colorless Fire. The few surviving Stygians migrated across the Flanaess, settling upon the Tilvanot Peninsula to the southeast. The secluded cities of the Great Plateau are the homes to the last remaining Pureblood Stygians. They jealously guard their bloodlines as much as they hoard their ancient knowledge. Hawk-nosed Stygian “advisors” offer to share this lore in exchange for unspeakable concessions to courts throughout the Flanaess. Reasonable folk know no good ever comes from these deals, but those in power are seldom reasonable. To the east of the Tilvanot are the Argossian Islands and these Stygians, considered mongrels by the purebloods, have bred with the local Oeridians to create a seafaring power to rival the Zingarans. To the south of the Argossians lie the Hephamoni people. Through breeding and extermination, the Stygians have set up vast plantations managed by purebloods, but surviving on the backs of the slave Hephamoni.

The final major culture are, along with the Picts, natives of the Flanaess. From their northeastern mountain redoubts, Vikings sail forth from the Vikland Peninsula to harass Kimmeria and the Aerdi nations. In some cases the Stygian nations have tasted the fury of Northmen who have gone a-viking. The Northmen are organized into various clans, occasionally one of the Jarls will organize many clans under his banner, but this never lasts long. The only Viking civilization to move beyond clans into nationhood is Ratik. At one point, Ratik was the northernmost portion of the Aerdi Empire, but after the Great Undead Horde was unleashed within the Bone March, it was left isolated. Ratik has since taken the ferocity of the Viking culture and added some of the infrastructure and learning of the Oeridians and formed a rugged and hardy civilization which stands alone in an unforgiving wilderness.

There are some other cultures that deserve mention, those of the Inhumans. They generally keep to themselves, brooking no intrusions onto their territory and are possessed of magic and technology unheard of by any man. Atlanteans who have survived the destruction of their homeland, Atlantis, live on a series of islands between the Argossians and Zingarans. Provided no one intrudes on their land, they usually allow traffic to pass by in peace. Throught the mountains of the Flanaess, Dwarf ruins contain unfathomable clockwork technologies and considerable wealth. No one knows when the Dwarfs were extant, and any exploration of their remnants has shed little light on their culture. Of course, this could have something to do with the relative danger involved. Few who enter Dwarf ruins return and those who do are forever changed. Before mankind, the Hyboreans ruled over all. They refuse to explain why they have retreated to their secret fasts, Celene in the Keltic Wilds and the Valley of the Mage in the Crystalmists, and the appearance of a Hyborean is usually a portent of ill-omen.


  1. This is great stuff, Dennis. From the text, I'm definitely getting a sense of how you're altering the traditional Greyhawk and Hyperborean landscapes, but I hope you'll be sharing a map at some point, too?


  2. A full-blown formal map will come out once I've settled a lot more on things. I've got some sketchups on the "Flipping the Flanaess" blog.