“Through trial and sacrifice we have removed the shackles of the gods, it is now our time to rise up and become the lords and stewards of Faelon.”
– Seeker Velosh, Guardian of the First Citizen
Natural disasters, religious intolerance and population pressures caused the First Symker Migration during the first and second century. As tribes traveled west, they were persecuted by the native Symker for religious and political prejudices and the Grular whose lands could not support a large influx of people. The migration started as a trickle and ended as a flood. All sorts of groups fled west; whole tribes seeking lands of their own, people desiring religious and political freedom, criminals, deserters, philosophers and other undesirables brought together in an attempt to escape a culture where they stood little chance to achieve a free or comfortable life. The road was full of deadly trials, not the least of which were the continual raids of the cruel and warlike Grular. It is estimated that over half of the refugees died during the journey. While most turned south to settle into modern day Kandor, the remnants of the flight fled north to eventually settle in the foothills of the Dorsang Danar, where they formed a loose protective confederation. Unfortunately, they were still in conflict with the Grular and had trampled through Trillian territories, creating a deadly new enemy.
A generation later, the Second Symker migration brought more refugees. The continued conflict with the Grular and Trillians forced the newly merged members of the confederation into the safety of the mountains. They also discovered a large plateau within the mountains that gave them a safe place for their herds and even a bit of arable land for crops. With only one major path into the plateau, this formed a perfect natural defense. During this move, the Varkraalans first encountered the Kuzaarik. Both races were apprehensive at first, a clash seemed imminent, but it soon became clear through trade and diplomacy that the two complimented each other and enhanced the strength of the newly formed Varkraalan nation as well as the isolated Kuzaarik. The following centuries witnessed the development and adaption of the Varkraalan culture. The tribes became intermingled beyond recognition and their culture changed until little influence from their Symker homelands remained.
Over the years, the Varkraalans learned much from the Kuzaarik. Smithing, mining, mountain survival and Rune Magic were significant parts of the establishment and survival of the Varkraalan nation. Strongholds were established to defend against the continued raids of the Grular, the distant threat of the Kandor and Symker and the continued skirmishes with the Trillians. The plateau provided the Varkraalans with all of their needs. Although much of it was devoid of fertile lands, the vast grasslands provided a perfect area for herding, which soon became the main source of food. While subsistence farming is the norm, there are areas of the plateau that provide additional food sources to supplement their diet such as wheat, barley, potatoes and a few other assorted fruits and vegetables.
The capital of the Varkraalan nation is the Steel City, Ashnaal. Each city-state within the nation could be more accurately described as a fortified town. Each city also has a Thane who administers the city and also performs political duties at the capital. The position of Thane can be inherited, elected or achieved by a variety of means according to the customs of that city-state. All Thanes traditionally co-exist with military Captains who carry the responsibility of protecting that city-state during times of war.
The Steel Seat of Ashnaal is occupied by the First Citizen. The First Citizen is the elected leader of the assembly and presides over decision making, foreign policy, trade and a variety of other government functions. During times of war, the First Citizen has complete control of the government and military and can only be removed by unanimous vote of the Thanic Council.
In 1008, Dramlo Tildin is First Citizen.
Black chain with a single breaking link over an orange field. The chain represents the Varkraalans freeing themselves from the bonds of both religion and their Symidian and Grular tormentors.
The Captains are military leaders of each city-state. The Captains nominate a Marshall to live in the capital and advise the First Citizen and Council on all matters of military significance. This also serves as a check in case the First Citizen is militarily inept or must be removed by non-political means.
The Varkraalan style military has evolved from necessity and the resources available to them. Years of battling Trillian archery transformed the former Symker nomadic horsemen into a heavily armored strike force known as Cataphracts. These men and their horses are fully armored in the best Varkraalan steel. Armed with lance and bow; the charge of the cataphract strikes fear into all but the stoutest enemies.
The majority of the citizens of Varkraal cannot afford to outfit all of their men in the best armor, nor can they provide the necessary time for training. Citizen soldiers are called up during times of war. These soldiers are either city men or the nomads that tend the herds on the plain. Both are usually armed with javelin or bow. Their function is to slow and harass the enemy while the Cataphracts deliver a decisive blow. The herders provide their own mounts and function in battle much as their nomadic cousins to the east while the townfolk tend to fight on foot.
The best of the skirmishers are the Dread Hunters. These men hunt and clear the mountain passes for dangerous creatures that threaten the citizens of Varkraal and endanger their livelihood by killing off their stock. The hunters are lightly armored and rely on their speed, cunning and a variety of missile weapons backed by their Dread spear. Unfortunately, such a dangerous job ensures a high mortality rate and even during times of war the hidden mountain paths must be kept safe. This means that the use of Dread Hunters is limited even during times of war.
There are also citizens trained by the Kuzaarik in engineering. These soldiers man the war machines deemed safe and rarely include any of the experimental Kuzaarik models. The citizen-soldiers that man these weapons and perform other engineering functions are mostly residents of the Kuzaarik Sky City of Vinyabah Gohrahd.
Often military ventures are accompanied by Rune Masons, powerful mages learned in the ways of Rune Magic; another gift of the Kuzaarik. There is almost always a contingent from the Dread Hunters Lodge to coordinate scouting and often a Spirit Guide or two to assist the commander with wisdom or in special operations.
The Varkraalans are atheistic. Their beliefs brought about the religious persecution that drove them from their old Symker homeland. They find the ways of the Gods to be impractical and not beneficial to the men and women of Faelon. In fact, they believe the purpose of most gods is self-serving. Most Varkraalans think they exist to forge their own path in the universe and to serve another is counter to the spirit of freedom and the advancement of their race. Why serve another when there is so much humans can still achieve?
The vast majority of Varkraalans believe in the philosophy of Varka, or the belief in the capability of man to create a perfect society. It is an altruistic philosophy that seeks the perfection of humans in order to achieve a perfect citizen. The monks that follow this path are called Seekers because they are always trying to acquire knowledge that will benefit humanity. They usually reside in small self-contained societies in Varkraalan mountain retreats where their sole purpose is the advancement of the human race through perfection of mind, body and soul. They believe the capabilities of their race have barely been tapped and the ability to achieve a perfect society will require the dedication of thousands of generations of monks. Seekers do not accumulate wealth or luxuries in their lives. Their quarters are often bare in nature, with little in the way of luxury. Their retreats, however, often have fine displays of art, vast libraries, halls of music and beautiful gardens.
A Seeker has never been known to lie and they are often requested as arbiters in local disputes because of their wisdom and honesty. Their physical feats, mental capabilities and prowess in unarmed combat are famous throughout Varkraal and beyond. They have no obligations to serve anyone but the First Citizen as payment for their land and retreats. Their services as advisors, tutors and even bodyguards can be obtained through gifts or donations at local temples.
Varkraalans families that give up or allow a member to join the Seekers are honored for their sacrifice. Having a family member that is a Seeker is a source of pride and respect for any family. While most citizens believe in the philosophy, it is a difficult path to follow. As a society, they have not fully escaped their roots or the trials of the past. The land itself molds the citizens within it, not every person is capable of joining the Seekers nor do they wish to. Yet each citizen follows the philosophy in their own way or in the traditions of their families.
There is also a different, darker philosophy within Varkraal which has led to the formation of a splinter sect. Known as the Deceivers, this sect tends to believe humans are constrained by their very nature and that perfection is unattainable. Instead, they seek the power of the immortals and operate in Varkraalan society secretively out of necessity. They attempt to accumulate power and wealth to achieve their own goals. Deceit, infiltration of government, military and private enterprise are their chosen methods to gain power. Assassination, both overt and subtle, is their main method of creating power vacuums for their members to fill. Their organization is a mystery, but their devotion is near fanatical. While they currently have no known temples, rumors of hidden retreats, the use of dark magics and hidden alliances continue to stain an otherwise commendable society.
View of Outsiders
The Varkraalans view most outsiders with caution. Traders, embassies and other foreign functionaries are allowed to visit, but are mostly confined to Danar Lach, the Mountain Keep, under the watchful eye of a large permanent garrison. A town has grown behind the keep that houses most of the traders that conduct business with foreign merchants along with pens for cattle and warehouses for tradable ore or finished metalwork products from the various city-states. Inside the keep there is an official government building where the First Citizen, or representatives, conducts meetings with foreign dignitaries.
The Varkraalans can scarcely remember the days when the Kuzaarik where not an intregal part of their lives. Many of the more gifted citizens actually reside in the Sky City and many of the Kuzaarik roam freely amongst the Varkraalans working their trades and further advancing their symbiotic relationship. While the two races have their differences, both realize that life would be much more difficult without each other.
Mating Rituals and Customs
Marriages can be arranged or follow the whims of love. Typically, the nomadic families that follow their herds grazing in the plains will arrange marriages to benefit the family. These nomads value women that can have many children since life on the plain is harsh and the people living on them have a higher mortality rate than their cousins in the cities. Couples that have large families are respected. Men with large families are admired and envied amongst other men and women for their marital prowess.
The residents of the cities also arrange many marriages, but these are more likely to form political or economic alliances. Since many of the city families have accumulated more wealth, they can afford to let their children marry for love more often than the herders of the plain.
Varkraalan families enjoy a variety of physical activities as recreation: wrestling, horsemanship, archery and foot races are just a few of the many competitive activities that they enjoy. Oral histories and family gatherings around the fire at night are a tradition that dates back to their days when they fled the Symker. There is very little book-learning among the people of the plains, but there is much wisdom. The people of the cities highly value education and will voraciously read any tomes or scrolls they can acquire, especially fictional or mythical stories. Intellectual games involving stones or small boards are also very popular. The fads change over the generations since the herders have a lot of time to think of new games.
What is valued by this society?
Freedom from oppression is the basis of all that forms Varkraalan society. Because of their persecution amongst the Symker and their hard trials on the road the Varkraalans appreciate the freedom they have to make something of themselves or live a simple life on the plain. That value is still as fresh in their minds as the day their forefathers claimed the plains for themselves.
The Varkraalans also have less lofty and more practical things they value: the ability to function after drinking vast amounts of intoxicating fluids, marital prowess, excellent craftsmanship, athletics, horsemanship, cunning, feats of arms, bravery and loyalty just to name a few.
Varkraal exports precious metals and gems, steel, and copper. Varkraalan steel is highly sought after by all the nations of Isarchael. The wealth the Varkraalans have accumulated over the last few centuries does not sit idly in coffers, but is quickly put to use in improving the infrastructure of existing city-states and the upkeep and improvement of fortifications and the main highway. The standard of living is currently at its highest point since the founding of the nation. However, this applies chiefly to those who dwell in the cities. There is no way to ease the life the nomads live on the plains beyond the new and improved “yurts” purchased by the state and gifted to the tribes and simple tools, utensils and a few luxury items that brighten the lives of the herdsmen.
Varkraal has an alpine climate.