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The Dellin Tribelands are a vast area between Gersh, Evanandra, and the Freelands. A land of extreme peoples and geography, the Tribelands are lined with harsh mountains — some so cold that they never shed their snow. There are no cities in the Tribelands, only nomadic villages that move periodically to follow the sources of food necessary at the time. Differences between the tribes have kept the Tribelands from ever uniting into a proper nation, even during those rare occasions where the tribes have rallied together for a common cause.
When man first graced Novitas, it said that only the most powerful and hardy traveled north to the Dellin Tribelands. For a long period of time, each man fought for only himself and his family, with relationships outside of a family or small group of families being exceedingly rare. Few were able to survive these harsh conditions, and those who did couldn’t be said to be thriving.
At an undocumented time, a man named Kharnn rose to prominence with terrible speed. He was said to be a man of immense size and greater presence. As he traveled through this harsh environment he took in families with strong warriors who would help him with further conquest. Kharnn had formed the first tribe within the land.
Kharnn continued to recruit people into his tribe for quite some time, sometimes by simply arriving and declaring his sovereignty, and other times through battle. It is rumored that Kharnn's sword had taken so many lives that the blade itself was colored a vibrant red. The only thing Kharnn took as frequently as lives was wives. Kharnn had twelve of them, and they each bore him one child.
When Kharnn finally died, sword in hand, it was left to his 12 sons and daughters to fight for the right to rule. Legend has it that each son and each daughter fought for days, none willing to submit or relinquish their claim. During a lull in the fighting it was proposed that they split the tribe into 12 smaller tribes, and so it was.
The twelve tribes began to thrive, spreading and traveling throughout the untamed land west of Evenandra. In time, the blood line of Kharnn was lost, and new Chieftains rose up. The peaceable arrangement first agreed upon by Kharnn’s progeny was lost, and there came about a state of constant fighting amongst each other for land, resources, and weapons.
Just as it seemed the tribes would whittle themselves to extinction, a new champion would unite them. He was called only Rannigar, and unbeknownst to the tribespeople, he was an Avatar of Grak himself. Rannigar united the Dellin Tribes with ferocity and expedience. Once united, he turned the might of them toward the South and East. The tribes bowed to his will and attacked Evenandra and Nalbendel. While they had little success against the walled cities to the East, they poured into the south, wreaking havoc and causing incredible destruction. Commonly called the War of the Avatars, this conflict eventually ended with the destruction of Old Nalbendel itself, and it was only after the great explosion that Rannigar’s forces were depleted enough to stop their rampage.
Since that time, the Tribelands have been in a constant state of turmoil. The twelve tribes returned to roaming and constant skirmishes amongst each other and themselves, dividing and re-dividing until current day, where the tribes are too numerous and widespread to document accurately.
The Dellin people resemble their environment: tough, dangerous, and unpredictable. They are a nomadic people, not erecting permanent structures but moving every few months to follow game and plants. The Dellin are varied in their dress. Furs, linen and wool are common fabrics. Metalsmithing is known to the Dellin, but most armor themselves in leather or chain, preferring mobility over protection. Tunics, furs, kyrtles, winingas and simple rectangle-cloaks are common, though there are many variations.
The most useful distinction between the various tribes is that between “lowlanders” and “highlanders.” Lowlanders are from the vast center of the Dellin Tribelands. Lowlanders are mostly hunters and gatherers, who may have occasional battles and wars, but who focus more inwardly on their own tribal matters. The Highlanders are from the harsh perimeter of the Tribelands, and are at near-constant war with snow goblins of Gersh, the elves of Evenandra, each other, or Nature herself. As a result, their numbers are far fewer, but the ones that remain are known to be fearsome and accomplished warriors.
Outsiders consider them “barbaric,” but Dellins consider themselves supremely honorable. Many of the social rules and taboos that are common wisdom in the Dell are seen as inane by outsiders.
One such social rule is the concept “Belief begets truth.” If a snow goblin were to adopt a human, the average Dellin would consider that human a snow goblin—though they may still look like a human. When oaths are sworn, a new reality comes about that no amount of fact may overturn. Oaths upon swords are common, and ended with “…and if my oath breaks, so too may my sword break in battle.”
The concept of hospitality is also ingrained in Dellin society. The land’s harshness often means that the kindness of a stranger is all that may keep an outsider from death. The rules that govern Dellin hospitality are as old as the Dellin themselves. If a Dellin is one’s host, one is under his care and protection. One can reasonably expect that the Dellin host will give a guest food, water, shelter, and protection. It is understood that the guest will not take advantage of a host’s hospitality. There are stories told of Dellin with enemies in hot pursuit who seek a Host to protect them. However, a Dellin is within his rights to withdraw his hospitality in these cases.
Gifts and gift-giving is also core to being a Dellin. To refuse a gift from a Dellin is an insult, and may lead to conflict. A good guest will give a gift of some sort, though the value varies on the guest or host. The one exception to this is a gift either from Elves, or of Elven make. In the history of the Dellin, great wars were fought for the possession of these items of quality, so much that Dellin today will often refuse a gift from an elf, even if there are consequences.
Also close to the core of being Dellin is the concept of dominance. Not every fight needs to end in death, and death is thought of as wasteful. Though the Dellin are often thought of as bloodthirsty, they are much more likely to subdue an opponent or take the defeated in battle as slaves rather than kill them. Killing an enemy is often seen as the mark of an unskilled fighter. Personal duels of honor are common, with the vast majority ending in wounds and shame rather than death. When two Dellin tribes declare war, it is likely that only a handful of warriors actually die.
Rank within a given tribe is typically determined by martial ability. For most tribes, the Chieftain is the best warrior. The idea of a child inheriting his father’s position is alien, unless the child learned to be the best warrior from the father. However, there are certain lowlander tribes that rely upon a council of elders to lead, with one elder chosen as Chieftain.
One nearly universal characteristic of a true-blooded Dellin is that he or she would never carry a shield into battle. The average Dellin sees shields as cowardly, calling those who carry them “Wallhiders,” or worse. In Dellin battle, shield users are universally targeted first by the opposing force, and their users often slain for their cowardice. As such, Dellin are rare who carry a shield. Most use two weapons or great weapons.
Once every 4-5 years, all Dellin tribes go to a massive valley known as the Dell for the entire summer. It is a special time when all tribes meet to celebrate, trade, and to craft alliances. No war or battle is permitted within the Vale of the Dell. Though individual duels are quite common, most of which are non-lethal. The duelists are just as likely to curse each other afterward as they are to invite the other to their tent for drink.
The last Dell ended when a faction of Dellin were ejected from the Dell for battle inside the Dell. They left and began a months-long campaign of raids inside the Freelands, but were eventually defeated.
The tribes of Dellin are known to be influenced heavily by the ideals laid forth by Grak, whose Avatar Rannigar led them to prominence in the War of the Avatars. While not every tribe venerates Grak or have one of his ordained, the Warcallers, in their tribe, every Dellin would know of their teachings. Warcallers encourage battle with any opponent, be it snow goblin, elf, or other Dellin. A common teaching is: “Conflict is strength, and strength is power.” Warcallers whip the tribe into frenzy on the battlefield, sowing chaos in the name of their dark God. It is they who are most likely to kill or be killed on the battlefield if their side may lose, and it is they who sacrifice the greatest defeated opponent to Grak in the event of victory. The Warcallers are also final arbiters of duels.
Worship of Grak is universal and open in the highlands, and less common and less open in the lowlands. In the highlands, the Warcallers are trusted advisors to the chief, and the will of the Warcaller is known to be the will of Grak. Living sacrifice, public torture and execution, contests of strength, are all common in the Highlands.
In the Lowlands, worship is more mixed. While worship of Grak is still known, ancestor worship is much more common, with many tribes invoking the memory of their grandparents or other forebears. The oral tradition is the preferred method of record keeping, and most tribesmen are proud to tell the stories of their people. Some tribes venerate the Sept, putting their own particular spin on the worship of the Seven. Still others give respect to powerful animals, and see the world through the lens of that particular animal. Men of the Bear Clan, for example, are hairy, powerful fighters that seek dominance over their fellow man, but would protect their family to the death.
Draconus is not known to be worshipped, but he is respected among the Dellin. There are ancient stories of Draconus’ might and power, and for that he is respected. There are also stories of Dellin heroes who achieved avatar-level power after consuming the heart of a dragon, so most battle-minded Dellin (foolishly, perhaps) claim to relish the chance to battle, kill, and eat the heart of Draconus—and gain his power.
The economy of the Tribelands is hampered by its use of barter rather than coin. Coin is more likely to be used near the border of the Freelands, yet is likely to be rejected further away from the Freelands as having no inherent value. To some Dellin, coin is not functional nor useful—it cannot be melted down and turned into weapons, it cannot be eaten, and it is therefore thought of as weight. These Dellin fully understand the concept of coinage, but they find items of utility to be more valuable than their value in coin – not acknowledging the value of a universal and divisible bartering unit. For example, a live goat is worth more in a trade to a Dellin than a like amount of coin (perhaps equaling an axe in trade), but the goat’s value in coins would only net one a long knife.
Slavery is a common trade practice, though most slaves are well-treated. Each tribe has their own perspective on slavery. Some do not have slaves of their own, though all respect the practice. One who gains a reputation as a cruel slave-owner will often wind up dead in his sleep, so most Dellin treat their slaves well. A slave owner who significantly mistreats his slaves is thought of as a wasteful person, akin to snapping the blade of a sword because it accidentally cut him. The respect a slave earns is equal to his skill. A slave who can craft swords is more respected than a slave who can dig ditches, for example. Other slaves can rise in status if they defend the tribe they serve, possibly becoming a warrior in the process.
The Dellin Tribelands do not have a standing army or any sort of military hierarchy. Each tribe is essentially a migratory city-state with some sort of warrior class, though the nature of that class is as individual as each tribe. In some tribes, every able-bodied male is a warrior, and they rely upon slaves for gathering food. Other tribes are full of hunters, medics, blacksmiths, advisors, and craftsmen, all of whom also participate in battle. In some, women fight alongside men, and in still others, women are never fighters. It is said, “In defense of the tribe, all become warriors.”
When an outside force (Gershen slaver party, orc horde, another large tribe) threatens several tribes, it is common for the tribes to band temporarily together, and then drift apart when the threat is subdued. Often, marriages follow after these temporary alliances as the chieftains seek to solidify the alliance—and cause hesitation in calling war on each other in the future.
The territory each tribe occupies is likely the source of most battles and wars. Each tribe migrates to some extent, and there is no concept of land ownership. Some tribes will claim a particularly good hunting ground for a period of time, but they would not be considered to have a legal claim to anything beyond what they could defend. When two tribes try to claim overlapping territory, some sort of small battle is inevitable.
Rather than have an entire tribe’s warriors fight another tribe, with the risk of enslavement or death of the warriors (which would weaken their tribe), it is common practice for battles to be fought by Champion’s Duel. Each side sends its best warrior to fight. The fight is traditionally to the death, but no further violence extends past the Champion’s Duel. The winning side gains the claim—for a time. Another Champion’s Duel can be called for the same claim, but many tribes are reluctant to send their best fighters unless they believe they can win. There are old stories about especially good combatants in the Champion’s Duel who claimed the defeated as a slave rather than killing him.
No formal government exists unifying the Dellin, but each tribe will govern itself through various means. In the Highlands, a simple might-makes-right hierarchy is established and maintained through individual challenges, with the strongest fighter becoming Chieftain. The strongest magic user (and the most reverent to Grak) becomes the Warcaller, and the two govern tribal affairs together. Many Lowlander tribes maintain the same process of determining the right to rule, but some of them allow the council of elders to choose or depose a Chieftain.
Within a tribe, it is common for members to fill fairly static roles. The females are largely left to child-rearing, with some small minority that has shown incredible skill in a given area left to pursue that trade.
Men are divided across distinct lines. Any man who does not show exceptional skill in fighting, crafting, or magic-use will become a slave, left to do manual labor and menial tasks. Slaves thus number roughly 50% of the male population of a given tribe. The majority of the remainder (roughly 35% of the male population) will become warriors and hunters, feeding the tribe and protecting it. A small handful (roughly 10%) will bring wealth to the tribe via the plying of a special skill at a craft, such as leatherworking, blacksmithing, weaponsmithing, ornamenting, trapsmithing, tracking, performing arts, animal training, carpentry, woodcarving, alchemy, etc). These men are seen as too valuable to be risked in combat, as their skills are not readily replaceable. Men who show great skill in magic become shaman (roughly 5% of the population), leading the tribe in spiritual practice while also tending to injuries by magical means. The greatest of these is chosen to be the Warcaller.
Warriors who manage to live past the age of forty are no longer required to hunt or fight, and will become the elders of the tribe, earning their meat as advisors to the chief, diplomats to other tribes, mediators of internal disputes, and so on.
Places of Interest
The Dell is more a gathering than a physical place. It only occurs where the chieftains have decided it needs to. Tribesmen don't share the location with outsiders as simply attending The Dell grants a modicum of respect.
A vast expanse of wasteland that rivals the harsh climate of Gersh. It is said to be home to some of the largest Yeti in all of the Kingdoms of Novitas.
The Mad Wastes
A near uninhabitable region filled with sinkholes and natural labyrinths. Several tribes have managed to survive here and are in a constant state of war over scarce resources.
The supposed burial ground of Kharnne.
Relationships with other Countries
While the boundary between the southern Tribelands and the northern Freelands is fairly fluid, Freelanders are often thought to be a soft people from a soft land, untempered as they are through lack of harsh climate and constant warfare. Though individual respect may be bestowed based upon one’s martial or magical prowess, Freelanders are usually seen just as good stock for slaves and easy targets for raiding parties.
Empire of Civen
Civenites are generally held to be as mild as their climate, with their overly-polite social conventions and impractical clothing. The Civen Legions, however, are not seen as soft, though the concept of a rigid military structure is difficult for a Tribesman to understand. Most Tribesmen think Civenites are deluded in their greed for worthless coin.
Realm of Evenandra
The Elves of Evanandra have not forgotten Rannigar’s raid during the Avatar war, though most Tribesmen have. Most Dellin believe the elves to be arrogant and effete. Dellin children fear the elves, and play games where they run over the Evenandran border to bait the deadly elven arch-mages. Some tribes take elven ears as trophies.
Kingdom of Gersh
Gershens are simultaneously respected for their battle prowess and despised for their decadent ways. Conflicts between the two are common on the border, and enmity is shared. A mutual camaraderie based on the harsh climate is also common between warriors and more worldly Tribesmen. Each has made slaves of the other in the past.
Denizens of the Great Forest are respected as far as their martial ability can carry them. Some respect is given to a people who live in a wild forest, though elven beliefs on slavery are alien to Dellins. It is assumed that most wood elves are Druids.
Kingdom of Terra
Terrans are respected for their drink and the quality of their weapons, though Dellins cannot initially understand how an entire people can live underground, nor how Terrans seem to have an innate subservience to those of higher rank without duels for status. It is assumed that most Terrans are weaponsmiths.
Theocracy of Vlean
Vleanoans are truly the softest people from the softest land. The average Dellin assumes that most Vleanoans are Septons dressed in frivolous finery - and that the ones not in finery are slaves. Craftier Tribesmen also realize that this means all well-dressed Vleanoans are spies. While the average Tribesman can understand venerating Grak, the fawning devotion of Vleanoans to the Sept is seen as weakness.
Other Information (Unsourced)
Stretching from the Free Lands to the northeast corner of Novitas is the sprawling steppes known collectively as the Dellin Tribelands. Here, there are no cities, only huge tribes that move across the steppes in search of better grazing for their herds or better hunting grounds. When two tribes meet, they are as likely to fight as they are to trade, and sometimes do both. In the Tribelands, every tribe’s chief is a king, and every man’s worth is judged only by his fighting skill.