Beyond the borders of the Theocracy in the north are savage seas, frozen plains and mountainous country, known to the human kingdoms simply as the Northlands. The people of this cold land are as hard and unforgiving as the landscape that they inhabit. They are the proud Nordländer, and they will not be broken by the elements. They make their homes in the treacherous mountain ranges of the Dragon Spine and the Spear Peaks, on the tundra beyond Dystermark and where mighty glaciers and long fjords shape the coasts of Nordländ.
The population of this bleak country is split into three distinct societies:
These are the people of the seas and fjords; who live along the coasts of the Northlands. They are master mariners, living much of their lives on the sea or at port aboard the fearsome Drakkar long ships.
When not raiding with their crews, Fjordsmen tend to their farmsteads, or make a living from the sea or chosen trade. They are wilful and creative, valuing Songs, wit and freedom higher than any Nordländer people. They are inquisitive and cunning folk, making them good scouts and skirmishers. They favour the quick, “hit-and-run” style so typical of their raids on Theocracy lands.
Their seafaring heritage means that over the years, people from other cultures have visited or settled along the coasts and fjords, either by their own choice or through enslavement in raids. Ship crews can be diverse in their appearance and due to this, it is not unheard of for an elf or those of old Sobekian descent to end up in a Drakkar crew.
The crews of the Fjords are the first line of defence in the Northlands, patrolling for signs of incursion by enemy forces. Long has there been the tradition of raiding Theocracy and Kingdom territories. As such, they are always on the lookout for retaliatory attacks from the forces of these lands, who view them as savages and heretics. Lately however, the Fjordsmen have been forced to make an uneasy peace with the southerners and turn their attention from pillaging other human settlements, to repelling attacks from the bone ships of the Lich King’s pale fleets that sail from the east. After several devastating attacks on their ports, the ever-creative Fjordsmen have made the brave decision to persuade reluctant Vala fire-born with them onto the decks of their Drakkar long ships. This move has seen a devastating effect against the vessels of the Undead. The Lich King has been successfully repelled up to now, but new innovations and resources are required to prevent them from Making Landfall in the future.
The Tundra Clans
The tundra clans inhabit the vast, unforgiving plains and cold forests of the extreme north. Hags and twisted unnatural beasts are some of the great dangers that these hardy clansmen must contend with every time they go out into the wild.
They live communally, in burghs made up of long-houses ringed by spiked palisades that defy the environments best efforts to remove them with snow and ice. These frozen communities breed some of the strongest and bravest fighters in all the Northlands. Their constant fight against the ravages of nature and the wildlife of the region makes the men and women of the clans into furious fighters. Known for their unhinged battle-rage, many tundra clansmen and women favour the use of two-handed weapons that they wield in great, swinging arcs at opponents. A fully enraged clansman will think nothing of charging headlong at the most challenging enemies with sadistic glee. Although they are fierce, raucous and bloody, the tundra clans are not entirely without civilisation. They even have their own city where the tundra begins, Dystermark, with busy markets, and home to shrines, craftsmen and taverns where troubles are forgotten and new clansmen made. Of all the Northmen,
The tundra clans have the strongest tradition of warrior lodges, particularly those of the Ghost Bear and Tundra Wolf.
The Men of the Mountains
From high in the mountain peaks the ancient families of the north rule Nordländ, making their home in great holds and fortresses carved deep into the mountains themselves. Of these, Yldenfel is by far the greatest, as it holds the Long Table and Father’s Forge.
These proud holds do not take up the mantle of leadership lightly. Every day, they carry out their sacred duty to keep order between the clans of the north and patrol the mountain regions, keeping them safe from the Mountain-Kin, the restless dead and other strange monsters that have appeared in the land following the Days of Fire. Woe unto any who would try to wrest this mountain birthright from them, for the noble mountain jarls and their huscarl elite are skilled warriors, famed for their strategy, integrity and resilience in battle. A pair of armoured huscarls once defended a breach in a mountain gatehouse from an attacking war band until the gap was sealed with the bodies of slain foes. As they control the deep mines within the great ranges, the mountain jarls and the fighters of their holds have access to valuable metal ores and can forge heavier armour than their lowland brethren.
Consequently, Men of the Mountains tend to emphasise endurance and survivability in battle, covering themselves almost entirely in protective chain and plating.
The clans of the north are led by nobles called Jarl or Eorl. Sometimes, the rulers of particularly successful Jarldoms will style themselves as minor kings and queens. Each season, or in times of terrible danger, the Jarls meet together to discuss important business at a meeting called a moot. Occasionally, all of the Jarls will gather. This is usually only for vital business such as the appointment of the High-King of the Northlands. These gatherings are known as High Moots.
However, the High-King does not have total control as in the Kingdom or other lands. A council of elders, elected by the Jarls, sits in Yldenfel, the royal seat of power. Any new laws or decisions that affect the Northlands must be ratified by this council with the High-King having the casting vote.
In military matters, all the clans and great halls have their part to play in the defence of the Northlands. Generally speaking, the Fjordsmen protect the coasts from attack in their Drakkar long ships; the Tundra Clans patrol the great ice plains and the Men of the Mountains patrol the great mountain ranges of the Dragon Spine and the Spear Peaks.
In times of war, the horns of Yldenfel blast their deep notes down from the peaks and the beacon fires are lit all across the land. Upon this call, all clans take up arms and send their warriors to the great stone circle and from there the war bands are sent to repel whatever threat assails them. With the contingent of Nordländer warriors sent to The Vale, the elder-council has made sure that all peoples of the Northlands are represented in some way or another.
All fighting folk of the Northlands know of the great beasts that stalk the land. Razorcats, Ghost Bears and Tundra Wolves can slay entire villages if unchecked and have done so in the past. Killing one of these fearsome creatures and wearing a trophy of the kill will earn the warrior responsible, entry into one of the famed Warrior Lodges.
These lodges of fighting brethren exemplify the ideals of the Huntress in their search for mighty quarry and the protection of their folk. Each lodge is named after great beasts and monsters of the North, with the lodges of the Tuskbear, the Razorcat, Ghost Bear and the Tundra Wolf being the most well-known. Warriors of these lodges are renowned even beyond the borders of Nordländ, with their tales being sung even as far as the Elland. The brothers and sisters of these warrior lodges are easily recognisable, as they each wear the skins of the beast that they slew to gain entry to the society and wear the fraternal brooch of membership, fiercely proud of the status and respect that it affords the bearer. They will defend their fellow lodge-brethren to the death, accepting no dishonour to their lodge or their fellows, for they stand as a second family.
Since the invasion of the Orc Khanate and the emergence of trolls and abominations, a new warrior lodge has arisen. The lodge of the Troll hunter ranges out of the north to seek out these beasts and bring back their skins to show their prowess in combat. The lodge has a reputation for being fearless in their endeavours to slay these powerful beasts wherever they can be found and they wear cloaks made out of troll skin as evidence of their skill and bravery.
In the Northlands, magic is no matter to be trifled with. There are many terrifying creatures and dangers in the region, and the Nordländer have survived by being suspicious and fearful of the magical arts. Mages and wizards are viewed with suspicion, generally being compared to mountain Hags and Necromancers. The penalties for dabbling in arcane arts, especially necromancy is severe, commonly resulting in execution by the Jarl’s local headsman.
Although magic is generally distrusted in the north there are two areas of the arcane arts that are respected and valued by the Northmen. The magical crafting of enchantments and the wild, elemental power of the Vala fire-born. This is not to say that other magic is not practised but suffice to say that these individuals are looked upon with great mistrust.
The sagas and songs have many tales of flaming swords, talking axes and rings of might, produced by the legendary rune-smiths. The legends tell of a time when the first men of the north were able to craft powerful magical weapons and armour that were used to combat the enemies of the people. The rune-smith’s power involved the written arts as well as the craft of the smith but the great weapons of power never last beyond the saga of the hero. Many believe that these lost arts are the same ones now wielded by the new magical guilds of the Kingdom of Elland and view this with jealous and covetous eyes.
To this day skilled blacksmiths are still known as rune-smiths in the Northlands and the weapons and armour they craft are always inscribed with the marks of their craft. The magical means to ensorcel these runes has long been diluted but the traditions of the past live on and with the discovery of the Vale it is hoped that this knowledge can be rekindled and once again the rune-smiths will breath life into their creations. However, the knowledge of these new crafting techniques is in the grip of The Guilds of the Kingdom and as such membership of this organisation is now necessary to gain access to these secrets …
Fire Magic and the Vala
In the cold of the north, a good fire is often the difference between life and death. It cooks food, keeps a clan warm, and allows the working of metal.
Under the shimmering rainbow lights in the north, occasionally a child will be born with a fiery temper and an unnatural affinity with the flames, able to command elemental fire and bend it to their will. As soon as their gift manifests, they are taken away from their clan to be an apprentice to an elder with the same talent until they are ready to receive the obsidian rod and the mark of the Father at his forge that marks them as Vala, a fire-born.
These fire-casters are valued both in the smithy, where they can create the hottest temperatures at the rune forges; and on the battlefield, where their raw, elemental magic has proved invaluable against the opponents of the Northland armies. Such power comes at a price, however.
Vala tend to be fiery and short-tempered in nature. It is said that to anger a Vala is to risk igniting the magic within them, unleashing their elemental force. This legend generates a respect for their power but means Vala often live separately from society, having to live lonely lives in small homes of stone.
If it were not for the mark of Grimnir’s favour upon them, the Fire-born would almost certainly be persecuted by their own people. As such, Vala often wear rune etched shackles as symbols of their loyalty to their Jarl and as a surety against their more suggested violent elemental nature.
In the Nordländer force sent to The Vale, the keys to any such shackles are given over to the highest ranking Jarl present.
Every time a baby is born in the Northlands, it is given two names – its own name, and the name of its mother or father, depending on the sex of the child. If a boy, it will be named for its father; if a girl, its mother. The early years of a Nordländer child are not easy – they are reared in the cold, on hard food and taught to fight with wooden weapons as soon as they are able to walk.
Each clan or hall has its own initiation rites, but most consider a blooding to be the final step to maturity. Those wishing to become free men or women undertake the blooding, where they make their first kill. This might be in a raid on the south, or the hunt for a great beast.
No child is barred from the blooding. All of the warriors in the Northlands, from the shield maiden, lady Erika the Bloody-handed, Jarl of the Seolfer Fjord, to the lowliest crew on a Drakkar, all experience the blooding that passed them from childhood to maturity.
Marriage in the Northlands is incredibly simple. Whilst minor variations and practices may change, the basic premise is of the Joining.
After the marriage promise is made, a hearth-priest closes the two bands of metal belonging to each lover around its counterpart to form a joined link. At this moment, the couple are as one in the eyes of the universe, linked together by the coils of the World Serpent.
There are many different funeral customs and burial traditions in the Northlands. The Fjordsmen prefer to sink long ships lined with their fallen comrades, the clansmen of the Tundra use mighty barrows and mounds and the Men of the Mountain inter their dead in vaults and under monoliths at the summits of great places.
With larger funerals or piles of enemy corpses following a battle or plague, the disposal of mortal remains is left to the Vala, who can ensure with their elemental fire that the dead pass on and there is nothing useful left for the evils of the region.
There has never been friendship between the North and the other human lands. The Fjordsmen of both coasts historically raided the Theocracy and Elland mercilessly. The Tundra Clan raids into the Theocracy across the IsenFord are as nightmares told to children by their mothers.
Ever since the Days of Fire, the need for an uneasy truce has evolved and the war has brought the nations to a quiet but guarded détente. The Kingdom bears the brunt of the war with the Orc Khanate and the Northmen defend the Northern borders and stop incursion from the Rime Sea. It is not a perfect situation and both sides have little trust for each other, but it is necessary and tolerated by all involved.
Since the discovery of the Vale, High King Haakon Gramuldsson, of the north has sent word to the Kingdom that he intends to share in the bounty that the Vale has to offer. Knowing that refusal would breed contempt and possibly out right war, King Edric has begrudgingly agreed to let a contingent from the north to enter with his forces.
The High King and the council have sent their best representatives from the combined people of the north to represent the nation in the continued fight against the new enemy …
Elves are an uncommon sight in the Nordländer settlements. Whilst a few hardy communities of Ethrin serve the Jarls of the eastern Fjord towns and Seolferfjord in the west where the weather is more temperate, elves as a race have an exceptionally low tolerance for cold or freezing temperature.
The cultural distrust of magic users and a high value on physical prowess usually mean that most elvish folk struggle to find work in this harsh land.
The clansmen of the north dress in leathers, padding and furs that allow them to live in the harsh northern climates that are so inhospitable to those south of the glaciers and tundra. Function is everything to these people, and even a mountain jarl in their mantle of office and higher quality regalia will still favour substance over style.
There are notable exceptions to this however, in the vestments of the fighters who are members of warrior lodges. These veteran warriors festoon themselves in the skins of the animals that they have killed to gain entry to their specific lodge.
Fjordsmen tend to wear lighter apparel, needing to be more nimble in their long ships, with plenty of looted trophies about their person from their raids. As they prefer to remain agile and nimble aboard ship, they will usually only put on their mail shirts when they know head-to-head battle is unavoidable.
Tundra Clansman tend toward the most savage-looking, and can be marked by outlandish or shaven hairstyles, facial tattoos and piercings, or scarring particular to their clan. Nördlander fighters without facial markings will usually don war paint before a big battle, to intimidate their enemies and to encourage battle fury. This is especially true of the savage tribes of the Grey Forest who are almost feral in their appearance and nature.
Men of the Mountains dress in a more traditionally noble manner from an Elland point-of-view, favouring beards and long hair; their lineage expressed in finer dress and heavier armour.
In general, the Northlands have a distinctly Nordic feel and any style of this is a good fit for this culture, particularly being equipped with large, round shields and “Viking” style weapons.
Fjordmen: 13th Warrior, Viking raiders.
Tundra Clans: Saxons from King Arthur, Wildlings and Hill-Tribes from The Vale of Arryn from Game of Thrones.
Men of the Mountains: Riders of Rohan/Lonely Mountain/People of the Mountain in Middle Earth.