I Am a Genius: listen to my words

I Have the Conch


listen to my words

Bregtoran: Warriors of Steppe and of Skov

Geography

The rolling plains of Silkur eventually give way to the Bregtoran Steppe, which unfolds to the south uninterrupted, except by the Troeggskov, until the Final Hills on the edge of lands. It’s a quiet land. The gentle rolling pastures of Silkur to the north give way to the vast Bregtorian steppe, where the land streches out flat and treeless as far as the eye can see. In the middle of this is the Troeggskov, a forest of immense magnitude where ancient, towering trees stand silently as they have for thousands of years.

The Troeggskov, or "troll-forest" is the great forest that lies in the middle of all other Bregtoran lands. It emerges from the Bregtoran Steppe like a giant sea of green, and the trees of the Troeggskov are truly a spectacle. The immense trunks support a thick canopy, and the effect is like walking through a vaulted, natural cathedral, with a shadowy roof, speckled by the beams of light that occasionally force their way through. The roots of the Troeggskov delve deep into the ground, reaching down to vast, cavernous underground lakes that feed the great trees in an otherwise inhospitable land. It is said that some of the troll buildings in the Old City have secret stairs that lead to these lakes, but only the Masters there know for sure.

Scattered throughout the forest are villages and towns of Bregtorian woodsmen, who make a living hunting wild game, foraging for berries, and in the smithies of the forest. Usually located near a stretch where the undergrowth grows thick, and smaller trees search for gaps in the canopy, the settlements draw on this lesser lumber to build their houses and fuel the fires of their workshops. They are very reluctant to cut down any of the old trees, and very few have been brought down ever since the Bregtorians drove the trolls out and settled the wood. While blacksmiths exist all over Bregtoran, they are most concentrated and of highest renown in the Troeggskov.

Near to the heart of the forest is the Troegghost ("troll-home,") the Old City, with its troll-built buildings.

When the Bregtorians first moved into the steppe to which they gave their name, they avoided the forest, and settled all the surrounding land. There were few elemental forest humans among them, and so the Bregtorians were content to leave the trees to themelves. In time, though, reputation of the unexplored forest spread and the forest humans among the Bregtorians, along with adventurers from other lands, set to explore the forest and settle there. When they disappeared and were not heard of for months, a party was sent to investigate and found the people slaughtered. This exploration of the forest coincided with the rise of the first real vorralcolm (the Bregtorian version of a king.) For revenge, but also in part to solidify his own power, this vorralcolm marshalled a large force and invaded the forest, unaware of what awaited. Thus commenced the Troll wars.

The war continued after the leader’s death, with seasons of uneasy peace broken by fierce aggression from either side, for well into one hundred years. While obstinate and powerful, the trolls eventually became overwhelmed by the ever-increasing number of humans now pouring into their forest, and the Bregtorians gained the upper hand, driving them back to the gates of their city, the Troegghost. The city was eventually taken and the trolls exterminated, but not without great loss to the Bregtorians.

Stories from the Troll Wars are staples for Bregtorian skalds, and while there is general agreement as to the outline of the story, each skald gives it his own particular flavor. One point in all the stories is unclear, though: how the trolls came to be organized and built a city. There exists no other account nor evidence of such organization among trolls, nor of such craftsmanship. Some hold that they were ruled by a demon or other powerful being who made the city for them, but none of the stories makes any mention of darklings or other accompanying creatures. Others believe the trolls of the Troeggskov were the last remnants of a dying, more intelligent race of trolls that once ruled much of the south. There are probably as many theories on the subject as there are scholars or skalds that consider the issue.

The victorious humans did little to alter the Troegghost, or Old City as it is now often called, and the city still looks much like it did when trolls walked its lanes. The gates of the Troegghost are made straight from the trucks of trees, not as large as those trunks of the trees still living in the forest, but large by any standard. They ring an area (the Troegghost is small as far as cities go) about the size of an ordinary human town. The houses and buildings of the Bregtorians have passed beyond the walls and outward into the forest. Inside the city the troll buildings loom, with newer human-built structures scattered among them. The troll buildings are all made of stone, and they stand out; there is no quarry within the forest, and the stones themselves must have been brought in from a distant location. Aside from its strange architecture and history, the Troegghost is an ordinary city. The City Masters, a hereditary council of stewards, are responsible for maintaining order and preserving the unique quality of the city’s architecture.

To the north of the Troeggskov lie the lands bordering Silkur. The weather is mild and while there are definite winters, it rarely snows. Here, as in many other places on the steppe, Bregtorians farm or raise dairy cattle. The steppe is less fertile than the plains and pastures to the north, and so Bregtorian farmers generally have a harder time of it. Bregtorians as a whole have not taken to horses as the Silkurees have, relying rather on oxen to aid them in their labors. In Bregtoran, most Bregtorians travel either travel by ox-cart, or they march.

Not too far from the northeast borders of the Troeggskov is Murgen Dyr, which for the most part is a rather chaotic place. Murgen Dyr sits on the edge of the steppe, and from its walls a person can gaze into the rolling grasses of Silkur. A wealthy man named Old Frehg founded the city long ago. Upon his death power was divided among his sons, who then divided power among their sons, and so on and so forth until the present state of affairs, where different sections of the city are ruled by different men or women, some of whom are no more than leaders of street gangs. No one lays claim to Old Frehg’s lineage today; no one really cares anymore. As a result of this fractured and oft-changing leadership Murgen Dyr is a lawless city, and an exciting one. While certain understandings exist to allow the day to day business of commerce to proceed, it’s largely by force that things are accomplished. If a man can back up his claim with an ax and the strength to use it well, he’s probably right. Unless, of course, there’s a stronger man with a bigger ax to challenge him.

The largest structure amidst the jumble of one- and two-story buildings in and around the city wall is the Judgment Hall. It takes its name from its old use; Old Frehg used to resolve high-profile disputes-civil and criminal-through combat. He had the hall constructed to house these fights. The Judgment Hall is round and tall, supported by buttresses on the outside and pillars on the inside to hold the roof up over the expansive interior. It is a very spacious building. The central feature is the ring, one hundred fifty feet in diameter, surrounded by seats and stands for the onlookers. No longer used for resolving disputes, the Judgment Hall has become the home to a regular series of gladiatorial contests. The fights in the Judgment Hall are non-lethal, and mostly consist of wrestling or boxing matches. There is a vibrant gambling industry that accompanies these fights.

While it’s not spoken of openly, the city tolerates a lethal version of these fights, complete with all manner of weapons. While each city and town in Bregtoran sponsors wrestling and boxing matches, lethal contests are mostly taboo or illegal. In Murgen Dyr these more violent bouts are held in various nondescript locations throughout the city, many of which are underground. The city lies above a network of tunnels and sewers that serve as home to many activities, enterprises, and people that don’t care for the light of day. The full extent of these tunnels is known to probably only a few, as new tunnels and entrances to the underground are occasionally dug for one reason or another. This extensive tangle of tunnels has given rise to the legend of Houthmaw, a beast that stalks the tunnels in search of the unwary man or woman to devour. Whether or not Houthmaw actually exists is hotly debated in many an alehouse. Bregtorian mothers use Houthmaw to scare their children into obedience. Various versions of Houthmaw exist in stories, including a slimy black-skinned troll, an enormous wolf, and a giant fanged serpent. Houthmaw sightings are common fodder for gossip, and corpses are sometimes found in the tunnels. While these bodies could belong to victims of Houthmaw, they could just as easily be the result of the ordinary criminal element that exists in the city.

To the west of the Troeggskov, the steppe stretches out until it reaches the River Nabal that forms Bregtoran’s border with the Nomad Plains. To the east it opens up into a broad expanse that continues until the mountains. Beyond the mountains lie the Tyleri Jungle and Empire. The mountains are actually two different ranges, separated by a high plains pass. On the northern side, the mountains are lower and fairly gentle, not much higher than the high plains themselves. To the south, the mountains are much more intimidating: tall, treacherous, and deemed to be impassable. The high plains are the domain of the Bregtorian oxherds. In the summer, the oxherds feed their oxen on the hardy grasses that grow between the ranges. When winter arrives, they drive their herds down into the lowlands of the steppe at the base of the pass where the temperatures are milder. At the onset of summer and warmer weather, they drive the oxen back into the high plains.

The oxen they herd are larger than the typical ox and hardy enough to withstand cooler temperatures year-round, for even in summertime the high plains aren’t very warm. Their fur is longer, and their horns are longer also. The oxherds rely on their beasts, using their fur for clothing, their skins for the travelling shelters when there are on the march, and living off their milk and meat. They sell the oxen to traders for other goods they can’t produce from their livestock.

Towards the southern end of the gentler northern mountains is Ulvem, home of the forgelords. The Bregtorians found veins of ore in the gentle mountains to their east, and mining operations are a common sight among their peaks and ridges. Near these mining camps and shafts is the city that houses the great forges that refine the ore into metal. Ulvem is a newer city compared to the Troegghost, Murgen Dyr, or the other large cities of Bregtoran. It was a lonely settlement near the entrance to the high plains for most of its history, until the ore was discovered and the miners arrived. While newer, it has been around long enough to become quite a city. The rulers of the city are the owners of the various mining operations in the region, commonly known as the forgelords. They have concentrated production of the raw materials into this central location for important reasons: nearby Lake Jeyd provides water for the refinement processes, the location on the steppe provides a comfortable retreat for miners who’ve been in the mountains, and with the variety of operations nearby, they are easily able to specialize.

While some rudimentary refinement takes place at several of the mining camps, most of it happens in Ulvem. Caravans of oxen pulling carts of valuable ore are constantly arriving, as well as caravans bringing coal or ox manure used to fuel the fires of the forges. Others bring the goods of Bregtorian farms and smithies to exchange for the raw metal that the city produces. The most common ore brought is iron, although smaller amounts of other similar metals have been found as well. As a planned city, the design of Ulvem is quite ingenious. The forgelords were then, and continue to be, very cooperative in their efforts. Although ultimately concerned with individual wealth, they have found that working together usually provides much more opportunity for gain in their industry. While there is no formal governing body to embody this cooperation, the forgelords themselves often meet in council to discuss matters of business and the city.

Ulvem was built on a small hill, which was leveled off. The city rests upon it. The city proper, as the portion built on the hill is called, consists of sixty-four large blocks, making a square of eight to a side. The eight principal forges are housed herein the city proper, one in each corner and one in the center of each side, taking two or three blocks apiece. The smokestacks of the forges rise higher than all else in the city, and seem to ring it with towers. The taller smokestacks have balconies towards their tops, where guards watch over the surrounding lands. The forges also extend underground, into the hill. In the bottoms of the forges are the bellows and the hottest parts of the works. Access tunnels run beneath the city to link the forges, and open up to the hillside to give caravans direct access to the works without having to pass through the city. The hillside has been built up to form a sort of foundation and wall for the city. Access to the city proper is gained by large stone ramps gradually leading up from the steppe on the south and west sides of the city.

The Irons of Ulvem

Ulvem is renowned for its forges and the metals they produce. While the forges produce a variety of pure stock as well as alloys, each particular forge has a specialty brand they’ve developed. The formulas on these special metals are a closely guarded secret. Almost all metals, including the specialty brands, are iron alloys. Listed below are some of the more famous alloys the various forges have produced.

  • Soffel Hard: a good general use iron, frequently found in heavy machinery or other weight-bearing functions such as cart axles. A durable iron that wears well over time.
  • Grey Agyrn: an alloy valued for its use in making armor. Its high density makes it weighty, but difficult to pierce or rend.
  • Lawred: a specialty iron used in fine detail work. Much more malleable than most alloys, it works easily into thin strands, and once formed can be hardened by a tempering process.
  • Brint Benall: often used in weapons (especially blades,) this iron boasts a nice balance between weight and strength.
  • Ox Foot: a very low-grade iron, produced cheaply and used when quality is not an issue.

A chief factor in the design of Ulvem was the climate. In its southern location, temperatures can get cold in the winter. The heat from the underground fires and furnaces of the forges rises up to the city proper, keeping it warmer than the surrounding steppe. Heat also travels through the access tunnels, and so the inner part of the city, where no forges are located, receives heat as well. It keeps the city comfortable in wintertime. Of course the summers, even though they aren’t as warm as they can be in lands to the north, can be sweltering, for the flames of the forges are never quenched. These tunnels, unlike the subterranean mess of Murgen Dyr, are well kept and maintained by the forgelords.

As a mining town, Ulvem has a peculiar character. For the most part, its residents are laborers in the forges, miners on leave from the work in the mountains, or residents of the city who cater to the miners. The miners tend to spend their earnings freely during their leave on ale and entertainment. There are more than the usual number of alehouses and inns, and even some euphemistically named "social halls." There are significantly more men than women in Ulvem. The forgelords themselves live in large manors within sight of the city, but far enough away to be free of the grit of the forgeworks and the ambience of miners squandering their wages.

Surrounding the hill of the city proper are smaller buildings and huts. They mostly line the broad lanes that lead up to the forge accesses built into the hillside.

To the south of the Troeggskov, from the River Nabal to the looming mountains of the southeast, lie the cooler southern lands of Bregtoran. Here the summers are shorter and the winters colder, but by no means frigid. Farms and villages are fewer than in other parts, and less prosperous. Snow is common during the coldest months. The Bregtorians commonly refer mostly empty quarter as the "edge of lands," and with good reason. At the furthest southern point of Bregtoran, a line of hills rises and blocks the view to the south. The Final hills, as they are named, mark the start of the truly cold lands to the south, and due to the temperature and the barren landscape the Bregtorians have not settled them. These hills are not spoken of much by Bregtorians. There’s a good amount of superstition involved, and most fear the southern lands beyond the steppe. Very, very few have ever dared to climb into the hills. Only a small handful is known to have returned, and those few have not spoken at all of their travels to the south, for reasons they do not explain.

 

The Bregtorians Themselves

Bregtorians are by and large of the elemental plains, mountain or hill types. Other types exist, but are not as common. This is due to the simple nature of the landscape of Bregtoran: an open steppe that rises into hills and mountains. Of course, the Troeggskov lies right in the middle of it. Attracted to the great trees, elemental forest types from abroad have slowly migrated to the forest and been assimilated into Bregtorian culture, mingling with the other types that chose to remain after the trolls were defeated. In the Treoggskov it is not uncommon to find forest types, or even a jungle type here and there. Outside of the woods, elemental forest types are hardly to be seen.

Less common than the plain, hill, and mountain types, but not rare by any means, are the elemental river types. The Bregtorian Steppe is more dry than surrounding lands. Elemental types that are truly rare among Bregtorians are ocean, desert, and jungle types. So far from their typical environments, ocean and desert types only exist in Bregtoran at need or due to other circumstances that might attract them. They can mainly be found in the cities. Jungle types are the least common of all. Only a few exist among the great trees of the Troeggskov, and these usually keep to themselves.

Due to the predominance of certain elemental types, Bregtorians can be a little suspicious of less common types. Not all Bregtorians feel this way, but a good number do, and general sentiment often leans their way. Of course, being in the majority, the mountain, hill, and plains types most often harbor these feelings of suspicion. The most inclined to suspect will look upon river and forest types with a wary eye, and will automatically judge any ocean, desert, and especially jungle type to be up to no good. These rare types may experience some degree of social isolation and find themselves the objects of religious persecution (regardless of their religion,) depending on where they find themselves in Bregtoran. The most liberal and accepting of Bregtorians are in lawless Murgen Dyr, while the most mistrusting are in the far south.

Another result of this climate of mild mistrust is the division between the Bregtorians of the steppe and those of the Troeggskov. While it isn’t to the level of animosity, or even blatant dislike, the differences between the environments and the elemental types that live there have placed a subtle wedge between Bregtorians of the two regions. Ralcolms who rule near the borders of the regions often play upon this division when they wish to stir up their people to war.

 

Government and Military

While unified ethnically, politically Bregtoran is as fragmented as a puzzle. There are as many rulers of Bregtoran as there are cities, towns, and villages, and perhaps more. Each town has its own leader, called a ralcolm. The word means "chief" or "head." Whether a person is claiming to be king, queen, duke, countess, mayor, steward, captain, or boss, in Bregtoran they’ll be referred to as ralcolm. How one gets to be ralcolm can vary. Some places have hereditary ralcolms. Some people become ralcolm through wealth, others through strength of arms, and yet others through sheer charisma. Obviously the ralcolm of a large city is going to be more powerful and respected than that of a small town, but the title is the same. There are two exceptions: the leaders of the Troegghost are the commonly known as the Masters, and the rulers of Ulvem are known as the forgelords. Both groups are effectively ralcolms over their cities, but they have come to be known by these specific names.

Ralcolms usually keep a group of advisors to aid them in managing the affairs of land that they rule. These advisors range from capable people who are chosen by merit, to sycophantic yes-men. It follows that the larger the realm, the larger the group of advisors.

Aside from ruling their domain (establishing laws, enforcing them, providing protection, resolving disputes, collecting taxes, etc.) another chief occupation of a ralcolm is warfare. Like their neighbors the Silkurees, the Bregtorians are a fighting race. While the Silkurees’ violence is mostly of a personal nature, though, the Bregtorians’ violent nature is accomplished through organized warbands and raiding parties. It is not uncommon for a ralcolm to raise a warband to pillage a neighboring village or city. Success in warfare brings much prestige to a ralcolm, along with stolen goods and treasure. Thus stronger ralcolms are constantly making vassals of their weaker neighbors, and the tides of power are forever shifting.

Occasionally a ralcolm will conquer a great amount of territory, bringing large numbers of villages, towns, and cities under their dominion. It is then that such a ralcolm will often assume the title of vorralcolm, meaning "great among ralcolms." If more than one ralcolm has assumed this title, war is quick to follow, and eventually there will be only one to make the claim. The reigns of the vorralcolms, especially the most powerful, are turbulent times of constant warfare. Their dominion ends with death, also. No dynasties have ever been established amongst the Bregtorians, as vassal ralcolms all grab for power upon the death of their lord and restore Bregtoran to its typical fractured state.

Throughout its history, some few vorralcolms have united all of Bregtoran under their banner. The elite among these few have even pushed beyond Bregtorian lands in their conquests. Notable vorralcolms of Bregtorian history include Tyrl the Magnificent, Gemek Fellhand, Frigur, the Bladequeen Vanika, and Orom hul Crod.

Warbands are most often composed of ordinary men, and sometimes (but not often) women. Aside from their everyday occupation, every Bregtorian worth his or her salt is a fighter, and a Bregtorian (especially a man) who cannot fight or fights very poorly is at the bottom of the social ladder.

Most ralcolms maintain a small standing military force, typically mercenaries, who act as bodyguards, police, and a first line of defense in case of attack. Mercenaries can be found for hire all over Bregtoran, typically in alehouses. In the cities and larger towns of Bregtoran there will be a guild hall for the Mercenary’s Guild of Bregtoran, called the Belgorym. The Belgorym is the most respected organization in Bregtoran, and is comprised of the greatest warriors. To be accepted into its ranks is a great honor and brings much prestige. The Belgorym hires its warriors out to whoever can pay the price, and has no political affiliation or aspirations of its own. Once hired their loyalty is never suspect. Unlike many common mercenaries, Belgorym warriors can only be bought once.

Culture

Bregtoran is a hard land that breeds strength in its inhabitants. A reflection of this is the quiet confidence that many have observed in the Bregtorian race. Bregtorians are for the most part not showy, and like to immerse themselves in their work. Many Bregtorians are farmers or herders. Many also make their living as blacksmiths, working the metal mined from their mountains and refined in the forges of Ulvem.

The blacksmith tradition of Bregtoran goes back as long as recorded history, and the blacksmiths are highly skilled, producing quality tools, weapons, and occasionally works of art. Most Bregtorian weaponry, while being very functional, is also highly decorated in traditional Bregtorian patterns. These patterns are often carved into the metal itself, or found as metal inlays into wood. Every town and village has its blacksmith, and it isn’t uncommon for a town to have two or three, with the less successful smiths supplementing their income with a garden or dairy cow.

Another important part of every Bregtorian town is the alehouse. As much as Bregtorians like to immerse themselves in their work, they enjoy immersing themselves in song and drink when the work is done. The alehouses are comfortable, inviting places in the cool of the Bregtoran Steppe or the shadows of the Troeggskov. Always with a good-sized hearth, and often more than one, the typical alehouse is filled with wooden tables and benches surrounding an open raised platform in the center, with a bar off to the side and a kitchen behind. The furniture is well worn from much use, and the mugs are tall and thick. While a variety of drinks can be bought, especially in the larger, urban alehouses, the most common drink is that which gives the establishments their name: stout Bregtorian ale. It may seem that such establishments, serving alcohol and catering to large part-time warriors with no inhibitions towards drunkenness, may get ransacked by drunken brawlers nearly every night. This is rarely the case; the Bregtorians value the alehouses so much that any violence is always taken outside. It is the height of ignorance and bad manners to fight inside an alehouse, and even drunks respect this. This being said, the exits are large and many in number, and frequently used. This is just one part of an informal code of alehouse behavior, rich with tradition, that is much of what makes the alehouses of Bregtoran such accommodating and entertaining-and interesting-places. Many alehouses, but not all, will have rooms above the alehouse floor to rent on a nightly basis. Alemasters (managers of the alehouses, who are often the owners themselves) retain the right to refuse to house anyone they wish, without having to give reason.

The raised platform in the center of every alehouse is the skaldstam, the seat of the skald. Here these bards of Bregtoran sing songs, tell tales, and generally entertain the customers. Skalds are not paid or employed by the alehouse. Rather, they travel from town to town and make their living performing in various alehouses along their way. The patrons of the alehouse tip the skald in a wooden chest on the edge of the skaldstam facing the bar. The best alehouses have the greatest skalds, and also the biggest-tipping patrons. Some alehouses are so popular that they regularly turn down skalds who seek to perform in their halls, allowing only the best that chance. Likewise, the most famous skalds can be discriminating when it comes to which alehouse they will perform in. Skalds are fond of travelling, and often leave Bregtoran for lucrative tours abroad, as they are much sought after. They never remain to long abroad, though, not just because they long for home, but because the audiences are best in Bregtoran.

For the Bregtorians’ love of song and story, Skalds hold an important and respected place in Bregtorian society. Skalds serve as the historians of Bregtoran, passing along the stories of antiquity each night as they perform. There is a loose organization among the skalds, and when they meet they often take the time to swap stories or songs, and give advice as to which alehouses tip best.

Any Bregtorian can aspire to become a skald, but it does require talent, practice, and musical ability, especially with an instrument. The career of a poor skald is mercifully short. Skalds are expected to own their own instrument and accompany themselves as they sing. The best skalds also compose music to play during the tales they tell. The songs of the skalds fall into four general categories: work songs, battle songs, love songs, and lullabies. Each form is appreciated for what it is, and skalds will pepper their performances with songs of each form. Of course, most nights the work and battle songs, being the liveliest, are favorites. Common to all forms is the metaphor of war, which curiously makes its way into even the sweetest of lullabies.

As close to their hearts as song and story is the Bregtorians’ love for battle. As mentioned above, every Bregtorian is a warrior, regardless of what they do to make a living. Each man and woman owns a weapon of some sort, used when they are called into warbands or when defense of their homes requires it. To be a warrior is requisite for any kind of standing in Bregtorian society, and the worst fighters are held in the lowest esteem. They value most a straightforward, heavy-hitting style of fighting, as opposed to the "dancing," as they often call it, of the Silkurees to the north.

As warlike as they are, they usually reserve this tendency for organized conflicts. This often takes the form of participating in a warband, or defending against one. Men and women can also participate in contests. Every town and city in Bregtoran hosts regular contests of wrestling and boxing, sponsored and presided over by the ralcolm. Winners often receive small prizes from the patron ralcolm, and the best are sent along to the annual competition in Murgen Dyr.

Alehouse Etiquette

In Bregtorian alehouses, there are rules. They aren’t laws enforced by police, and you’ll never see a copy of them posted on the wall. Rather, they are part of a long held tradition. Foreigners are often surprised to find in Bregtorian alehouses places of comfort and hospitality where they expected something much more rowdy. Ask any skald why they always return to Bregtoran, even if the money’s better elsewhere, and they’ll tell you: foreigners don’t know the rules. Below is a summary of some of the more prominent "rules."

  1. It’s fine if you get drunk. You can get as hammered as you want, but do not let your drink get the better of you and goad you into a fight. There is no fighting in Bregtorian alehouses. If you feel the need to teach someone a lesson, take it outside. Plenty do.
  2. Remember to tip the skald. No one’s going to keep track of who has tipped and who hasn’t, but it’s a common courtesy, and helps to bring quality skalds to the establishment. If you’re a stranger or new to the area you’ll be watched, and tipping the skald is a good way to show that you’re just like everyone else, and that you have good intentions.
  3. Never steal from the skald’s tipping chest. Someone’s always got their eyes on that chest, not the least of which is the skald. Getting caught trying to steal the tips is one of the fastest ways to get kicked out of an alehouse, and a city. When you go to tip the skald, drop the tip into the chest from above (it will be open when the skald is on the skaldstam.) Never put your hand inside the chest.
  4. Have fun along with the skald. Sing along with him. Be vocal. Express satisfaction during a story, and interact with the skald as she tells it.
  5. Unless they’re terrible-and you’ll know-don’t heckle the skald. Hecklers are often called upon to take the skaldstam and sing or recite themselves, and are always given a good dose of their own medicine.
  6. To express discontent or disappointment with a skald, remain silent. A silent house is the sign of a very poor skald.
  7. To call a waiter or barmaid, don’t raise your hand and wave. You don’t even need to make eye contact. Especially, don’t yell or call out. Simply rest your elbow on the table or bar where you’re at, with your forearm straight up and your hand in a fist. The help is watching, and they will come.
  8. Treat the help with respect. Have a little fun, of course. Flirt with a barmaid or a waiter. But if you carry it too far and the alemaster will call on the "house committee"-comprised of anyone that wants to join (they’re usually very large)-to take the offender outside and educate them.
  9. If you’re a stranger it’s custom for you to "wear the plant" by placing a flower, leaf, or blade of grass somewhere noticeable on your clothing. By acknowledging that you are new to the area and the alehouse, the locals will give you the benefit of the doubt and generally treat you with respect. A stranger who doesn’t wear the plant will more than likely be held in suspicion. A stranger who’s worn their welcome will have their plant removed, which is a polite way of asking them to leave. A stranger not wearing the plant who has worn their welcome will be forcibly removed by the house committee without much warning.

Every year on the first day of spring, the Great Contest begins, and lasts for about two weeks. Murgen Dyr is a lawless city, except during the Great Contest when the eyes of all Bregtoran are upon it. During this time it manages to keep its shadier activities under the surface and put on a semblance of civility. "Contest law" is the term used to describe the informal understanding the various petty ralcolms of the city have while the Great Contest is on. Even with contest law in force, Murgen Dyr bursts with activity during the time of the contest. The city’s population swells with visitors and activity in the city never stops, no matter what hour of the day or night.

The best fighters are drawn from all over Bregtoran to participate. The Great Contest is actually a series of tournaments. The most prominent are the wrestling and boxing tournaments, as they represent the coming together of the champions of local contests that have been going on all year long. A town, village, or city takes great pride when one of its own succeeds on a national level. Other tournaments involve weaponry of all sorts. The contestants here are all very well armored, and the weapons they use are blunted to prevent harm. These armed contests are regulated to ensure the general safety of the participants. There are marksmanship tournaments for archers and hurlers. Some of the more powerful ralcolms have in recent years taken to sponsoring a marksmanship tournament for catapults in a range outside the city. The highest profile matches of these tournaments take place within the Judgment Hall of Murgen Dyr.

The Great Contest is open to any that wish to enter. Entrants usually come sponsored from a ralcolm or other powerful sponsor, but it is not necessary to be sponsored thus. Contestants that enter of their own volition, without a sponsor, are held to a higher standard, though. Sponsored entrants are considered to have proven themselves. Unsponsored entrants must prove themselves in the eyes of the crowd. Those unsponsored entrants who do poorly are considered to have wasted the spectators’ time and are mocked in Murgen Dyr and at home when the news reaches.

Technically not a part of the Great Contest, but coinciding with it and for all intents and purposes considered to be a part of it, is the Festival of Skalds. Long ago, with large numbers of skalds converging on Murgen Dyr to profit from the constant demand for entertainment, the skalds decided to organize a competition of their own to celebrate the best of their craft. Over the centuries the festival has grown in profile and tradition, and today is held by many as important as the tournaments of the Great Contest. Small competitions are held over the two weeks in alehouses throughout the city, with the final contest bringing together the greatest skalds in all the land in the largest and oldest alehouse of Murgen Dyr, Old Frehg’s Bottom. The best musician receives the Wisserdrom, a trophy in the form of a solid gold lute, and the champion storyteller receives the Fortaellig, a golden trophy crown.

Another item of significant importance within the culture of the Bregtorians is the use of hounds. Long ago Bregtorians tamed wild dogs to accompany them and help them in their labors. A typical Bregtorian household will include a pet hound, which is generally well cared for. You can find dogs of many breeds in Bregtoran, below are some of the most popular.

The southhound is a breed much used by farmers to help them with managing their livestock, especially in the south. More thickly furred and well suited to the colder winter of the southern Bregtorian Steppe, the southhounds are strong animals that work well with other beasts. Each spring they shed their dense coats and the Bregtorian farmers that keep them weave their wool into warm clothing. The Grevan is the largest of breeds in Bregtoran. They stand tall, the largest among them even reaching a man’s hip. Loyal and with fierce tempers, Grevans are commonly employed as guard hounds. Some Bregtorians also use specially trained Grevans in war, as they are intimidating animals. Redcoats are smaller hounds with short, nimble legs and slender bodies. Their name refers to the long red hair that forms their coats and gives them the illusion of greater girth. Redcoats make excellent companions, and are happiest when in the company of their human masters. Mothers will sometimes get a redcoat for a young child, to watch over it. Redcoats are also useful for hunting rodents in the house. Skovhounds are excellent hunters, employing keen senses of smell and hearing when tracking wild game. The hunters of the Troeggskov use skovhounds to great effect.

As far as religion is concerned, most Bregtorians have some kind of beliefs and attend a regular worship service. Their religion is very cultural, and many Bregtorians are merely habitual worshippers rather than truly devoted. Their church is not centrally organized but based on a similar approach to theology. The Bregtorians, in line with their martial nature, are military in their worship. The church is technically called an army, the "Army of the Faithful," and priests are officers in that army.

Each town has its temple, and what is preached therein depends on the priest. The position of priest, in Bregtoran, is hereditary. Doctrines as well as the office are handed down from generation to generation, and this accounts for the great deal of variety in Bregtorian religious belief and practice. They preach lots of hellfire and damnation, and a common thread that binds the beliefs and practices together is the theme that this life is a war: a war between elumen and shailumen, Azmozeth and Dianthik, or angels and demons, depending on how the priest chooses to characterize it. This theme of supernatural warfare ties in nicely with the Bregtorians’ natural proclivity towards battle. It’s unclear whether one gave birth to the other, but today these beliefs and proclivities are mutually reinforcing. Of course, the righteous will side with the angels. Many different priests and temples hold different angels as their patrons, and these patrons are often worshipped as much as anything else.

In addition to wars between divine and infernal beings, the Bregtorian religious tradition also focuses on the conflicts within each person. Worshippers are sometimes called upon to make sacrifices to prove their devotion to the powers of good. It is rare, but Church officers have even raised small armies composed of followers to physically fight some force they have determined as evil. Some priests use their religious authority in the pursuit of political authority and become ralcolms. As mentioned above, authority isn’t centralized, but is held by the local priests who build their congregations with charisma and forceful preaching. Strength in arms always helps, too.

 

Bregtorians Abroad

Given its politically fragmented nature, Bregtoran maintains no relationships with foreign entities. Individual ralcolms may, and those bordering foreign lands often do. Vorralcolms, when they arise, often attempt to create foreign policy, mostly because they can and see it as a matter of prestige and a perk of the position. More often than not these attempts are abject failures, given the typically bombastic, threatening natures of their creators.

As a whole, Bregtoran has good relations with Silkur to the north. While not exactly alike, the Silkurees and Bregtorians have many things in common, and generally respect one another. This hasn’t stopped the occasional Bregtorian warband from sacking a Silkuree border town, though. Such occurrences are few and far between, given the vengeful nature of Silkuree pride, and the vigilance of the Yurinath horsemen.

Bregtorians trade little with the Tylerians to the east. Mostly this trade consists of the forgelords exporting their coveted metals across the mountains in return for gold. The forgelords have an understanding with their nearby oxherd brethren, and use passes through the mountains rather than disturb the summer feeding grounds. The oxherds’ only dealing with the Tylerians is to destroy any encroachments they make into the high plains. Thus far they have been successful, and the Tylerians appear not to be interested in this kind of relationship, as they have ceased any attempt in that area long ago. In general, Bregtorians do not care for the jungle.

To the west across the River Nabal are the Nomad Plains. Relationships between the nomads and the Bregtorians have their high and low points. The border with the nomads’ lands is the most porous, as far as warbands are concerned, and there seems to be a constant skirmish between tribes and ralcolms with lands on the river in a cycle of vengeance. As a result, nomads do not welcome Bregtorians into their lands. The exception to this rule is the skald. The nomads have a deep love for the stories and songs of these travelling performers, and consider a visit from a skald a special treat. While they do not open up all of their secrets to the skalds, they are very friendly with them, and allow them passage through their lands.

On a more individual level, Bregtorians exhibit a somewhat casual disregard for the affairs outside their lands. They are concerned with their own lives, and see to their own business, and do not look to take on the troubles and problems of other nations.

Bregtorians are most comfortable with their own. They aren’t quick to learn foreign customs, and don’t welcome the scrutiny of foreign eyes. As a result, they do not care too much for travel abroad. If they do travel, they do not remain in foreign lands for very long. When abroad, Bregtorians are most comfortable in bars or taverns, resembling in many ways the alehouses of their home. Larger in stature and confident, they see themselves as tougher than foreigners, and generally hold themselves to be better fighters. The noble among Bregtorians will see a kind of chivalry in this, making a point of defending those who they believe are weaker, but without drawing too much attention to themselves. The most base of Bregtorians will become bullies in the company of foreigners.

Foreigners perceive expatriate Bregtorians to be quiet and reserved. It is true, for Bregtorians are not big talkers in lands outside their own. Unless they get a little drink in them, of course, in which case they’ll move quickly from talking to singing. Those who dislike Bregtorians see them as bullies and drunkards. Most people don’t mind them, and find them nice to have around in a fight. The Bregtorians’ attitude towards battle leads to their being the center of attention in most fights they’re involved in abroad, which is just fine with the Bregtorians, who kind of like it that way.

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