Modern Cultures of Eis

Modern Cultures of Eis


In this part, I will be taking the six proto-cultures I developed last time in Pre-History and Subsistence Strategies and molding them into the contemporary cultures of my continent. There are six proto-cultures I have to work with: the Nyktii, the Hulvre, the Orochites, the Dverracks, the Qardaghi and the Llergeidan. I’m not working on history per-se, rather I might outline a few historical conditions and pressures that might have led to the modern cultures. But I will at least discuss the widespread cultures and Empires, roughly how they formed and influenced each other, and how these changes shaped the cultures. The six proto-cultures will then constitute my “ancient progenitor races” like the Romans, Mesopotamians and the Ancient Egyptians of our world.

Descendants of the Llergeidan and the Fate of the Nyktii

The most influential of the cultures by far will be the Llergeidan derived giantish traditions. Not long after the development of agriculture, the Llergeidan begin amassing huge populations. The largest wars in history are fought, and in the end more or less a single Empire rises from the ashes. The Llergeidan Kings then wage wars across the continent, using their technological superiority to conquer and enslave the local races.

However, this is all a very slow process, on the order of hundreds if not thousands of years. During this time the culture is not only changing naturally, but also integrating various aspects of local cultures into theirs. Eventually, the giants living on the borders no longer see themselves as ethnically and culturally aligned with the heartland, leading to various rebellions and collapses. This ends in the storming of the capital city, the deposition of the emperor and the division of the Empire into independent states. In places where giants remained the minority ethnicity, they may lose their power without the backing of the Empire and be forced to integrate, or face exile or execution. Even if there are no giants left in an area, everywhere historically within the empire will likely have Llergeidan elements to the culture of their ruling classes. Llergeidan agricultural techniques will spread even further beyond their borders to people that as of yet have been relying on less labor-efficient survival strategies. This transitional period when most of the world’s economy is switching over to agriculture will result in cultural changes of its own, which each culture will have to respond to differently.

First, let’s deal with the descendants of our human culture, the Nyktii. These hunter-gatherers live in the temperate zones, meaning that they are right in the path of the giants as their Empire begins to expand. The Nyktii will put up a good fight, but within a few hundred years, the Llergeidan will conquer the Nyktiis’ lands and force most of them into slavery. The rest will flee across the mountains, or into other communities among the Orochites and the Hulvre.

Within a few generations, the humans being born in the Imperial heartland will have no independent culture other than as members of the Empire’s lowest class. They may maintain a cultural identity that is distinct from their slavers, but they will have very little connection to their old language, their heritage and their way of life. What connections they do have will be born through their new tongue, and couched in Llergeidan ways of living and thinking. This gap will only grow wider with time, until class and racial identity will be the only remaining divide between them and the giants, no longer culture.

It may be worth noting that what portion of Nyktii culture is preserved by the slaves of the Llergeidan will likely do so by first entering into the giantish culture through contact and borrowing, and then be preserved through the ages as a part of broader giantish culture. The Nyktii likely have names for many plants that the giants don’t and these names would likely pass into the vocabulary of the giantish language. Similarly, many tasks related to drudgery will also likely preserve Nyktii words and practices, due to these tasks being spoken of most commonly among the lower classes. Compare this to how in English we preserve very old word forms like pig, sheep and cow for common farm animals, but borrow the Norman-French words porc, mouton and buef for their meats. The low class farmers most often spoke about the animals in real living terms, and the Norman rulers of England at the time spoke of the animals mostly around the dinner table, and their usage still affects the language today.

So these people will adapt to life under the Empire, but the Empire will also adapt to them. Especially early on, this will cause huge upheavals in the way people on both sides speak and act. This new Llergeidan heartland culture with elements of the old Nyktii just under the surface will be called Plefed, the Llergeidan word for the lands they inhabit. The giants and men of Plefed will live in a highly structured society with giants acting as the rulers, priests and soldiers while the humans tend to the homes, farms and flocks of the giants. Some humans may be trained as scholars, teachers, engineers and bookkeepers, but these would all be done with the objective of making them more valuable to their masters.

This Empire centered in Plefed will have elements of the Celtic aesthetic from the Nyktii mixed with the feudal social order and Welsh influences brought by the Llergeidan. High-class giants will adorn themselves with gold, cut jewels and fine fabrics, but these will be made by human metalsmiths, gemcutters and weavers who will incorporate the artistic elements of their people, like the more organic shapes, spirals and abstract animal figures. Once the Empire falls, the heartland will be less wealthy, but won’t be likely to change their ways at first, instead holding tightly to the prestige of the old Empire as it fades to dust around them.

Outside of the heartland, lesser giantish Lords will become Kings when the Empire falls. This will be the case in most of the borderlands the Empire seized from the Hulvre and the Qardaghi in their heyday.

In the more arid borderlands, the new giant Kings will amass great wealth from the trade flowing through their lands as exotic luxury goods are carted into the Empire. Once the Empire collapses, it will destabilize their economy, likely leading to the return of much of the land to the natives either in sale or by force of arms. There will be a series of wars fought as the giants and the new human city states battle for control of the land.

Plantations powered by slave labor and control of the cities will sustain these Kings for a time, but they will be forced to yield much of their actual authority to the locals to avoid coup-d’etats. Parliamentary or republican monarchies will be the middle ground found by the surviving ex-imperial states that allows them to maintain their lifestyle somewhat. Slavery may be abolished in many of these states, as the electorate post-war will likely be in majority human. But, this won’t mean that the plantations go away, rather, the slaves are now paid a pittance and classed as “laborers”.

Eventually there will be revolts, and efforts made toward forced emancipation in the states that resist. Pro-labor movements will crop up everywhere to resist their exploitation by the upper classes and these will become ongoing struggles that will take hundreds of years to stabilize at least. But during this time, these Kingdoms will be mixed bags of highly authoritarian and highly pro-labor.

The fracturing and reforming of states in this region will make finding a single name for their culture difficult. They are at times very imperial in culture, and at others very Qardagh. Some are free and others are slave states. Personal politics are the cultural divide here, not race or tribe, but “who do you support?” and “where are you from?”. I will call this area the Sugar Deltas, for the area’s famed cash crop; cane sugar farmed in the marshy deltas in the floodplains of the rivers.

The Hulvre borderlands will fare better. Having been on the winning side of the war that crippled the Empire, almost all the lands were returned to the Hulvre or to giant Lords who had been kind to the elves under Imperial rule. In many cases Orders of Emancipation were signed during the war to conscript troops, and slavery broadly has been abolished here. However, the elves who live here have lived under the Empire too long to remember a time when they were the Hulvre. They have grown up in Llergeidan homes worshiping Llergeidan gods and they now know nothing else. After the initial upheaval, elves, humans and giants will live here in relative harmony, though with a lingering memory of a time when the giants were tyrants just beneath the surface.

Since we are talking about a very racial integrated society, now is a good time to address the question of interbreeding. I like the idea of a human-elf hybrid race cropping up on the border here, so I’m going to say that humans and elves can produce viable offspring. I similarly think human-giant hybridizing is possible, though perhaps producing only infertile children, incapable of further passing on their blood. This would suggest that humans and elves are in fact different expressions of the same underlying species, but that giants are different species of the same genus. How about dwarves and giants occupying a sister clade to the humans and elves. This would mean that humans and elves are one species, while dwarves and giants represent another closely related species. It might seem strange to make the smallest and the largest humanoids the same species, but this allows “dwarf” to express more of a body-type than an actual size. So, I can have a “dwarf” just as tall as a human, or even a giant, but still built with the stocky dwarven body shape.

Returning to the topic at hand, I’m going to say that the elves and humans of these imperial provinces intermingled for centuries slowly merging into something akin to a “half-elf”. As the genepools of the two races begin to overlap they won’t see themselves as “half-” anything, but simply their own ethnicity. Other elves and humans are likely to see this differently, and view these people as strangers regardless of how similar their cultures may be. There may be several Kingdoms of elves, giants and men here but they will all have roughly the same culture from centuries spent as a united Empire and centuries more now of alliances as independent Kingdoms. We can say that when they were under the Llergeidan, their province was called Alppelied; and now they continue to call the people from the region as a whole Alppelieds.

Descendants of the Orochites

As the Nyktii flee from the Llergeidan, one of their closest refuges will likely be among the Orochites. They too will be grappling with giantish imperialism, but their place among the arid hills and savannas makes their lands less valuable to the Empire, and more difficult to capture and hold. Orochite communities whose grazing ranges border the Empire will likely develop a more war focused culture as they are forced to contest with their aggressive neighbors. When the Nyktii refugees arrive, this will only stoke the fires of these communities’ hatred for the Empire as the refugees integrate.

These new Orochites will maintain their herds, but they may also develop small-scale agriculture to supplement their diets, based on seeing the new technology in the settlements they raid. Their land is too poor in water and soil to properly monocrop, but the home settlements may grow into sort of groves with small patches of heat-tolerant crops like barley, rye and date-palms growing there year round. Another technology this tribe may discover is metallurgy and how to alloy the native metals from the mountains around their homeland. Copper can be alloyed with lots of other metals, like tin to make bronze, and zinc to make brass, both of which are better tool metals than their component metals. I’m going to say that over the centuries these people have slowly worked out a recipe for a strong brass that they can forge into armor, weapons and arrowheads to give them an edge against their enemies. This final discovery will come less than a hundred years before the fall of the Empire in Plefed, and will play a large role in its ultimate downfall.

Like most militaristic societies, these Orochites will abandon their traditional matriarchy in favor of a patriarch who leads the men in the battle. The increased labor requirements of agriculture may also mean that these people are no longer truly nomadic, with the home settlement now occupied year round, and only some of the labor force working with the flocks. Men in the home, especially foreign Nyktii who are not used to the matriarchal society will likely curtail the freedom and authority that the women had under the old system.

I will call these new shepherd-warriors the Mychabites. This name incorporates some of the elements of the Nyktii, and the Orochite demonyms, but also is meant to evoke the Maccabees, a holy army who conquered Judea for the Israelites mentioned in the Old Testament. These Mychabites will be renowned for their skill with the bow, and their ability to disappear like a shadow into the mountainous terrain of their homelands. They will retain the ritual tattoos of the old Nyktii, and use them to display their victories and accomplishments in battle. It’s thanks to these border-peoples that the other Orochite cultures will be safe to develop without giantish influence.

Past the lands of the Mychabites, there are yet more Orochites. But, unfortunately for these people, while they don’t have to contest with the Empire, they do have to contest with the incredibly ruthless Mychabites. Due to the Mychabites’ culture associating prestige with accomplishments in battle, will never be content without an enemy to fight. During times of peace with the Llergeidan Empire and after its fall, the Mychabites will turn on their cultural cousins for resources and the opportunity to earn more prestige. At first these people will be fighting on even footing, but as the Mychabites develop more advanced weapons technology, and a standing, well-trained raiding force, these other people will have to adapt to avoid being overwhelmed.

To help with this I’d like to place one of my world’s major rivers right in the middle of these people’s lands. When the Mychabites inevitably introduce the concept of agriculture to these people, they will be uniquely positioned to exploit the new technology in a way the Mychabites couldn’t. By digging canals that draw water from the river, these people can expand the reach of the river’s fertile floods and irrigate wider stretches of land. Like their cousins, they will probably grow barley, rye and date-palms, things that can flourish in their arid homeland. But, as they expand along the banks of the river, they may find particularly fertile and sheltered oases and valleys that can support more demanding crops like wheat and oats. As before, these people will likely become sedentary, and may begin to feed their oxen and goats on the oats and barley that they grow, marking a complete transition out of their previous subsistence style.

Cities will be these people’s primary defensive strategy against the Mychabite raids. By using the river and the city walls as buffers, they can tilt the favor of battle back to them and can continue to hold their lands. The borders will likely shift constantly as battles are fought and won and then lost again, but the borders will always recenter to the river as the major geographical obstacle in the region. With the advent of cities, these people will develop more strict social hierarchies with steeper wealth disparities between the upper and lower classes. Eventually this will lead to many of these tribes-become-city-states that dot the river, each of which is ruled by a hereditary monarchy that grew out of the traditional Orochite matriarchalism.

I’m going to call this great river the Shonna, and the culture that lives along its banks are the Shonnai or the Shonna River People, though individually they would likely identify with their city first and their broader cultural heritage second. This is because each city will have different laws, traditions and practices which, though slight to an outsider, seem like major deviations from what each other city would think of as the “normal” and “proper” way to do things.

To make the Shonnai more distinct from the other Orochite cultures, and to compliment their grand agricultural river-cities in an otherwise desert-like land, I would also like to give them some cultural and aesthetic cues from ancient Egypt. I’m going to avoid pyramids, as the Shonnai probably don’t have the resources or the veneration for their monarchs that the Egyptians did. Instead we will adopt objects like the obelisks, the statues and the practice of decorating temples in highly stylized logograms. As we dig more into Shonnai religious beliefs later on, we can also co-opt a lot of the Egyptian religious iconography, but that’s a project for a later time.

In small pockets all over this arid zone, Orochite communities likely exist that have maintained mostly the same exact lifestyle for millenia. These pastoralists will persevere in areas too infertile for agriculture and too far from the city states and the Mychabites to be assimilated. What changes do happen will likely be improvements to technology like well-digging, borrowed metallurgy skills improving tools, better engineering and passive systems for cooling their homes, and hundreds of years to selectively breed their flocks to provide exactly what their communities need. Only the most fiercely insular tribes will be able to continue this way, as more open-minded Orochites assimilate to the other economically and militarily dominant cultures of the region. These factors will select for extremely conservative tribes of Orochites living in very hard to reach places.

These people likely view themselves as culturally contiguous with their Orochite ancestors, to the degree that they maintain any knowledge of those times. It is likely they still use the same name as their ancestors did, but slightly garbled over the years. The specifics of how languages change over time is a super interesting topic, but short of constructing a whole language for these people, I’m just going to make up some sound changes that might happen and derive a new word for these Neo-Orochites. If we take off the o at the beginning, we can get a different initial letter, which will go a long way to making the words read differently in text. Perhaps that sort of difficult to pronounce ch sound becomes a much easier k, and the ending loses the final consonant. If we adjust the final vowels to be more similar to the end of Shonnai, it will even give the sense that they probably speak the same or similar languages, ultimately deriving from some mother tongue. So we will call these reclusive nomads the Rokai.

Descendants of the Hulvre

While all this is going on among the human cultures, the Hulvre have had to adapt to both a large influx of the Nyktii refugees, and a new enemy who has set its eyes on cultivating their cold but workable lands. Hulvre culture will likely become a gradient from very humanized on the borders to almost exclusively elven in the more distant regions. Luckily, the Nyktii and Hulvre cultures are fairly compatible, and though some of the humans may struggle with living under the Lord or Lady of the woods, they will likely integrate very smoothly over the centuries. On their nearest border is Alppeleid, where humans and elves are already slowly becoming one mono-culture under the rule of the giants. This will likely happen to more or less the same extent with the interbreeding of elves and humans in this region. Once the Empire collapses these people and the Alppeleids will look almost identical in terms of their heritage; but where the Alppeleids are thoroughly imperialized in terms of their beliefs and culture, these people will instead be a mixture of Hulvre and Nyktii culture free of direct influence by the Llergeidan.

This borderland culture will face a lot of prejudice, and a series of wars with the vastly superior Llergeidan forces. Their salvation will be their ability to harness nature magics provided by their Lords to protect their lands from invasion. Maintaining supply lines through a forest that is actively hostile to you would be almost impossible, and any ground gained would be lost as soon as the armies retreated. Thus, the Llergeidan Empire would be forced to expand slowly, taking small sections of defensible land and building a frontier of farmland and clearcut from which to wage their war against the elves. Where these lands are continuously in the Empire’s control, you get Alppeleids, and where the border shifts back and forth you get free people of a new creolized culture. Certain Lords and Ladies will be too powerful for the Empire to conquer and many pockets of Hulvre will remain independent or enter into the Empire on negotiated terms of their own.

Now, several cultures will be sharing this region with one another. An imperialized majority including both the Alppeleids and the creolized borderlands, and then several minorities of autonomous natives who have managed to resist the Empire’s influence. Across this whole area, almost all of the cultures use an elven word for the land, but their language has likely been influenced at this point by the giantish tongue. Let’s say that the Hulvre traditionally called their lands vangr, which simply means “land” in their tongue. The creolized elves who have received Llergeidan influences then apply their own accent to it. Perhaps to them it comes out more like fannur. The local independent elven settlements however maintain the original pronunciation. It’s very common for real world cultures to derive their names for their people from a phrase along the lines of “people of the land”, so perhaps the native half-elves do the same and call themselves the Vangralfé, or Vangr-Alfé, “land-people”.

The people of Fannur and the Vangralfé tribes often work together against the Empire as a matter of self preservation. But they have little loyalty to one another; instead the Vangralfé acknowledge that the Fannur elves are an important buffer between them and the Imperial forces, and perhaps feel obligated to help out of a sense of kinship. For the Fannur Kings who have escaped the Llergeidan’s grasp, the Vangralfé are a critical ally, and they often pay heavily in metal and luxury goods to the Vangralfé Lords for help from their warriors and magics.

Beyond these contentious borderlands, the elves are developing their own empire. The great Lord spirit of one of the tribes has domesticated certain plants for their people and taught them when and where to plant them. This gift of agriculture caused an explosion in their population. They built cities, and expanded along the river system where their civilization first formed. Agriculture is difficult in these climates, and even more so when just starting out, but with the aid of magic we can make anything work. Perhaps these elves grow a crop enchanted to keep them from freezing in the ground, or to grow more quickly through the short warm seasons. A much more mundane solution however, is that the crop the Lord spirit granted these Hulvre was a root crop like a potato or a beet. These hardy tubers can survive frozen conditions by sequestering their nutrients and water below the frostline in bulbs that are built to survive the cold. So perhaps the elves mainly rely on root crops like this, but supplement with less plentiful harvests of rye originally imported from the giants through early Fannur cultures.

These elven farmers will outpace most of the other traditional Hulvre tribes, and soon begin to integrate them. However, the difference in technology may not persist, and other Hulvre may begin to practice agriculture as well, eventually leading to a sort of stabilization in this region. The largest Empire of elves will live along the most fertile river systems, with smaller Kingdoms dotting the fringes. Beyond them, hunter-gatherer tribes may persist in some areas, but will be pushed to the absolute limit of available land as the Kingdoms spread out. So there will be three sister cultures all living in the sub-arctic ancestral range of the Hulvre.

The large elven Empire at the center of it all is ruled by the Lord spirit that brought them agriculture in the first place, now at least several hundred years old. This figure is wise and likely genuinely cares for their people. They also have immense magical power which they can bend to the benefit of their Empire and people. This spirit eventually begins to teach the elves forest magics to aid in their agricultural development and to help repel the many contenders for their lands. At this point the ancestral shamanic magics of the elves may be codified into something more concrete. I won’t design a full magic system now, but I will say that this won’t be run of the mill druidism. Rather it will probably resemble druidic nature worship on the surface, but has more to do with alchemical processes, robust knowledge of the local biosphere and divination used to predict the weather.

The ancient Hulvre that gave rise to these people lived in hovels covered in earth. In modern times however, these are thought of as the dwellings of peasants. Anyone in a city lives in a brick house, either made from mudbrick, or more expensive clay. In farming settlements their homes are likely thatched and either shingled or simply tarred in the cities. The end result is that the settlements of the Hulvre look strikingly similar to some early European cities that employed brickwork. They will have maintained their love of nature motifs and organic shapes, so green spaces are everywhere and homes are more likely to be domed, sloped and arched than they are to be box-like, as long as the owner can afford to have it built that way.

Although these people likely haven’t done much metallurgy, we can use magic to give them an interesting new material to work with. Amber hardened from a certain enchanted tree and baked in a kiln like pottery becomes as hard as bronze, though more brittle. Moreover, this amber is easy to cast, as it’s liquid in its original state, and can be farmed unlike metals. These elves use the amber of these trees for their arrowheads, spearheads and daggers. They would have to import sturdier materials to make larger arms like swords and axes, so they generally only do so as necessary. The amber also sees extensive use in their sculptures, jewelry and architecture.

I will have these people take their name from their Lord spirit that watches over their Empire. I’m going to call it Empress Enue. Remember, this isn’t literally an elven queen, it’s an ancient and powerful forest spirit that the elves have made their Empress. And in honor of their undying Empress, the elves call their Empire Enuelia.

Around Enuelia are the many independent elven Kingdoms and commonwealths. These likely all have their own local cultures, so I won’t delve too much into them here. But, these will be an excellent source of new cultures and plots in later parts of the world’s development. In the meantime we can treat them as ethnically related to the Enuelians and therefore likely very similar in many respects. They have mostly the same access to technology and resources, and they live in a fairly stable and traversable part of the world, so cultural diffusion will bare the Enuelian culture out into the Kingdoms at large. Economic bonds, and eventually marriage to lesser nobility of the larger state will probably also contribute to similarities between these cultures.

I will simply call these the Elven Kingdoms for the time being, and we can come back and give them individual names and cultures at some later date.

Finally there are the semi-arctic elven hunter-gatherer tribes living beyond the edge of the Kingdoms. Most of these people will be exiles from their homelands, which were seized by the Kingdoms as they grew. There will be animosity over their treatment, and the elven tribes out here will not have a friendly view of more civilized lands. At best they will simply be reclusive semi-mythical communities tucked back in the glacial valleys and fjords. At worst they will be actively hostile raiders who descend from their icy villages to take what they need from their more fortunate neighbors.

Given that the Hulvre were based on Scandinavian culture, this would be an excellent opportunity to include some viking flavor in the setting. These Hulvre have been marginalized for centuries and now have no problem raiding “those damn city-elves” for whatever they happen to need. These people do still have protector spirits, but the spirits may be related to ice, snow and war more often than forests, given that these people often live in sparsely wooded areas.

I will call these icy elven raiders the Alvroc. Again I’ve taken the older term and “smoothed it out” so to speak. The h is gone and the vowels have changed, but you can still see that very identifiable lvr cluster from Hulvre. Then, instead of cutting off the end vowel like I did before, I expanded the word with an extra consonant. This might represent some new grammar that these elves are applying to their words, or a shift toward avoiding word final vowels. Once again, without having a fully developed language for these people, it’s hard to say why the words are changing this way, but words will change and drift over time, and you can use this to your advantage as a worldbuilder to take some creative license with your naming conventions.

Descendants of Qardagh

In the tropical regions of our continent the Qardaghi elves are living mostly undisturbed by the development of modern politics and technology. Those that live on islands are completely out of reach for the non-seafaring Llergeidan Empire. But those in the jungles may have some surprises in store for them. Jungles are naturally rich in biodiversity and life in general. The moisture and the heat are fantastic for plant growth, and that growth in turn supports a huge and varied ecosystem. To the Empire, this represents a vast sea of available resources, if only they knew how to exploit it. Jungles and tropical rainforests aren’t like temperate forests. They’re thick, swampy places, full of ancient growth that may be older than human memory, and all kinds of hostile creatures and diseases. Those who are adapted to the jungle can live there just fine, but those like the giants who aren’t familiar will likely stumble constantly into unforeseen dangers.

Luckily for the Empire, they don’t need to learn the jungle’s dangers if they can find a guide. Through diplomacy or enslavement, the Empire will eventually find a Qardagh elf and entice them to lead their armies through the jungles. There may be a few conquests especially along the rivers, and the erection of new Imperial cities there. But, after several failed forays into the jungle, the Llergeidan will likely wash their hands of the whole affair. Holding territory in the interior of the jungle represents even more issues than supply lines through enemy territory, and they may find it’s cheaper just to pay the natives’ asking price for the goods they want. Most of these goods will be luxury items like perfumes, exotic pelts, rare minerals and cultural relics to be sold as artifacts and curios back in Plefed. So, the people buying these things can afford to pay top dollar. Other things like useful botanicals might be imported as seeds or cuttings and grown in greenhouses in the Imperial cities.

Even though the Qardaghi will quickly learn not to trust the Empire, they may well settle into an uneasy trade alliance. The Qardaghi will eventually also gain some things back from the whole deal. Metal tools well beyond their ability to fashion can be traded for common local commodities like spices, and technologies like agriculture will spread by word of mouth. Though the seed stock of the giants won’t survive the damp environment of the jungle, things like wild rice and sugarcane could quickly be domesticated once the basic principles are understood. The Qardaghi likely still maintain ritual burnings of their fields, but do so after a traditional harvest, rather than after exhausting a stretch of jungle of its resources. Fire still helps rejuvenate the soil, and this combined with the natural fertility of jungle soil likely means that the Qardaghi are capable of turning some of the largest harvests in the world. Their population would boom in response to these developments, and soon there would be large elven cities dotting the jungle, farming wild rice and cash-cropping sugarcane and spices for export.

These new agricultural Qardaghi use the rivers as their highways for shipping goods, and this may extend to the way they design their cities. Tenochtitlan was a city state built by the Mexica people in the 14th and 15th centuries. It was originally built on an island in Lake Texcoco, but as the city outgrew the island, they began to build homes and public buildings on drained and uplifted portions of the lakebed. Eventually they also built what were called chinampas, partially floating gardens built in the previously swampy edges of the lake. An important factor here is that Lake Texcoco had no inlet, it was fed directly by spring water, and therefore sat very still and wasn’t very deep. Perhaps our Qardaghi use a similar technique to build their cities and rice paddies. But instead of locating the perfect spring fed lake, the Qardaghi begin this practice by digging artificial estuaries next to the rivers in order to flood the banks and create shallow lakes to farm their rice in. Over time, they reclaim parts of the artificial lakes for homes, and the result is a city interlaced with canals that allow water traffic to flow through the open avenues between the buildings.

Let’s give these people a new demonym to reflect their new cultural developments. Remember that the original Qardaghi are based primarily on the Phoenecian and Punic city states, not the Mexica. Though now the inspirations might be a little merged, I’d still like to keep with the Punic naming scheme. Unfortunately, we don’t have many attested writings in the Punic language. However, as best as I can find online, we do know the words for “water” and “city”, mm and r’. But wait, those are some pretty strange words. Where are the vowels? Well, the Phoenician script as the Punics used it was an abjad, a writing system similar to an alphabet except that there are no independent characters for vowels. Abjads are common among Semitic languages; both traditional Hebrew and Arabic use these vowel-less spelling systems. So mm and r’ are the words when written without the vowels, the way they originally would have been written in Phoenician. Luckily, I found one online dictionary that tells me for mm the most likely reconstruction is mim. I don’t trust my source entirely, but that’s fine because I’m just looking for inspiration. By compounding mim and r’ I get Mimrh, which I love the sound of already. Mimrh reminds me of the English word murmur which is one of the sounds we associate with rivers, making this word that much stronger in my mind. So I’ll call these flooded city dwelling elves of the jungle the Mimrh.

On the islands out at sea, the other Qardaghi live a peaceful existence without much conflict at all. Tribes that share an island may fight from time to time, but their populations are so small that war is a losing proposition for everyone. Actually war-like tribes wipe themselves out in a few centuries, leaving only the tribes capable of finding other ways to settle their problems. Contests of strength and acumen are common ways of solving tribal disputes, or even skirmishes between smaller squads of elite warriors rather than anyone’s full force being leveraged. Wars might even be waged magically by sending storms, evil spirits and curses back and forth until one side relents. In any case, tribes will develop a shared sense of what is and isn’t permissible in war time, and it will certainly include rules that limit the amount of actual killing that takes place.

The result is that these tribes may sit on these islands, harvesting their burn-crops granted by the fire spirits, fishing and developing their culture without ever actually developing any new technology. Some may even lose the skills needed for seafaring, locking them to their archipelago or single island and the surrounding waters. These cultures may never “develop” in the sense that the lack of outside pressures may allow them to reject innovation entirely. If they do this, their time will be spent developing family bonds and making art. Though these people’s lives would be simple, they would also be (outside of a few disasters) very happy, with strong communities that produce all sorts of sculpture, music and art to pass the time and keep people entertained. They may also have highly developed religions, that in a way, are “designed” to eat up a lot of the people’s free time with tasks that will keep them engaged in the community, like festivals and communal building projects.

Each of these islands may be separated by potentially thousands of miles of open ocean, and so the cultures that develop will not only be isolated from the mainland, but also from one another. Chains of islands will likely share some cultural features, but even then, there will be a gradient of cultures passing from one end to the other. Like the Elven Kingdoms around Enuelia, we don’t have the time to go through and develop each one of these right now. So, we will call these the Insular Qardaghi for now to distinguish them from their ancestors.

Descendants of the Dverracks

We have one last proto-culture to square away, the Dverracks. Dverracks were originally shepherds living in the boreal north near the Hulvre. With the formation of Enuelia, the division of the Elven Kingdoms, and the expansion of the Alvroc into the boreal regions, the Dverrack will be forced to fight for their lands. Even still, as the Elven Kingdoms adopt Llergeidan war tactics and import bronze to arm their troops, the Dverracks will have nowhere to go but into the high alpine forests where the elves, lacking proper transport, would fail to follow them.

By this point the dwarves have developed two different breeds of their mammoth sheep, one that is more like a yak, used for milk and wool, and another that is more goat-like that the dwarves have bred into riding and pack animals. Thanks to these animals, and the dwarves’ smaller size but wider bodies allowing them to store heat more efficiently, the dwarves can survive in the arctic mountains. Their massively reduced grazing range means that a family can only support a few animals on the land they have, and so hunting and small-scale farming of the elven frostroots become a regular part of their diets as well.

Tribes and clans are too large to support in these new conditions, instead one to three families on independent farmsteads might inhabit a small valley between a few peaks. Their nearest neighbors are similar farmsteads on the other side of the mountain. A dwarf living here might meet fewer than a hundred individuals over the course of their entire lifetime, making marriage prospects slim, especially when accounting for avoiding incest within such a small population. Genealogies are kept as a matter of great importance, and arranged marriages are common in order to avoid this.

These poor mountain people will be called the Gvorra, which I’m borrowing from an Old Church Slavonic word гора meaning “mountain”. Again I’m using a word for the land to describe the people, this title probably being short for a much longer dwarven phrase meaning “people of the mountains”.

Some dwarves will not go live among the Gvorra, they will refuse and they will resist. Some Dverracks may live on in minority communities among the Elven Kingdoms, though they would likely be treated quite terribly by the locals. Others will join bandit gangs or mercenary groups and earn their living by the sword. Dwarves will in this way disperse into the general populace of the elven and giantish Empires. Becoming common sights in the urban centers from Enuelia to Alppeleid.

In our world the most famous itinerant community of this kind are the Romani, also known by the historically used, but now derogatory term “gypsys”. Proud of their culture, and broadly mistrusted and mistreated wherever they go, the majority refuse to integrate into societies that have shown that they are not welcome there. For the dwarves who were already wanderers of a sort, this new sort of wandering will be more demeaning but not a significant change in their lifestyles. The enormous sheep herds of their homeland will be gone. They are too destructive to be brought with them in great numbers. But, their riding sheep will remain, and they will switch to herding the smaller human-domesticated sheep breeds. They make their living selling woolen cloth and other things they can craft on the go. Dwarven home-wagons become a regular sight on roads all over the continent and become associated with wandering craftsmen and merchants.

I’m going to call these dwarves the Üzimatn, again from an Old Church Slavonic word, this time възьмати, meaning to “take up” or simply to “take”; as these Dwarves take their homes with them wherever they go.

With this, we’ve developed an outline of our modern Eisian races. There’s still a lot more to do! But these will serve as the foundations of our “setting bible” as we develop things further. We still don’t know much of anything about the religion, history or geography of these people yet, but this is enough to get us started.

Before we leave off I’m going to briefly summarize what we’ve developed so far.

This chart shows which proto-cultures evolved into the modern ones. We have roughly 15 modern cultures for our continent; which is a lot for fantasy, but it’s what you would expect of a fairly large continent that spans so many climate zones. When I start writing fiction or campaigns for this setting, I will be focusing on smaller regions one at a time. Constraining scope this way will allow me to give rich detail to each part of the world individually, which supports the overall illusion of completeness.

The Dverrack, our dwarven shepherds have not fared the ages well, their descendants, the Gvorra and Üzimatn are highly marginalized communities that struggle to provide even the basic amenities for themselves. Some Üzimatn dwarves chose to integrate into the cities of other nations where they congregate together in a small area and try to make it feel as close to “home” as they can; a phenomena similar to the “Chinatowns” of many American cities.

The Hulvre elves have done much better for themselves, building several grand nations of their own like Enuelia, the Elven Kingdoms and the half-elven Vangralfé tribes. The Alvroc still maintain the old ways of the elves in distant corners of their lands. The Fannur and Alppeleid half-elf Kingdoms have only recently thrown off the shackles of the Llergeidan Empire, but are still reeling from the cultural and political changes instigated by the collapse.

The Nyktii were swallowed by the Llergeidan. Those that escaped found themselves with the Mychabites fighting an endless war against the Empire, or among the elves where long years made the two peoples into a single race. The Llergeidan Empire is now dead, but it lives on in Kingdoms like Plefed, Alppeleid and the Sugar Deltas, even if they are a bit less wealthy. Llergeidan culture lives on also in the agricultural practices of the human Kingdoms descended from the Orochites.

The agricultural Orochites, the Shonna River People, are now quite powerful, with cities and massive irrigated fields to feed their booming population. But they must contest with their cousins, the war-like Mychabites, who have been taught to crave war by centuries of battles with the now dead Llergeidan Empire. The Rokai alone have kept to the original ways of the Orochites, in the most inhospitable places where they will be left in peace.

The Qardagh live on in two populations, the continental Mimrh who build great river cities into the shallows of artificial lakes, and the Insular Qardagh who have spread out and begun to inhabit the islands of the world, completely isolated in their tropical paradises.

I can’t wait to take these modern cultures and start to work with them more. I want to give them religions, histories, magic systems, governments, and more. But those will have to each by discussions of their own, and it will be a long time before all of these cultures have all of that development. Instead, next time, I’m going to move straight into a short story set in Fannur during the Imperial collapse to illustrate how this rough outline can already be turned into the foundations for a final product.

Pre-History and Subsistence Strategies

An Introduction to Eis

As a companion to my On Worldbuilding series, I will also be working through my process step by step and building a world. I want to do this to help illustrate how the topics I’m writing about can be applied to actual worldbuilding. Once in a while I’ll also be throwing in some short fiction set in this world to show you how I take what I’ve developed and apply it to a final product.

 I have three goals for this world I’m going to be building. First I want to be able to include just about anything I need to help tie into the On Worldbuilding articles. Secondly, I want to be able to write these short companion stories. My tertiary goal will be to develop this into a setting for a Pathfinder campaign for me and my friends. I feel like between catering to writers and DMs, I will be covering the use-cases of most worldbuilders. Having goals is an important part of the process, because building your world to fit your final product is much easier than building a world and then trying to make it work in a specific medium. This isn’t to say you can’t create trans-media settings, adapt between mediums, or just build a world for yourself to enjoy; but, if you do have to make adaptations you may find that your vision for the final product and your vision for the world are at odds with each other. Think about how few successful video game adaptations there are, or how many book-to-movie adaptations fail to even tell the same story. This is because some worlds just work better in certain mediums. So make goals for your setting and keep them in mind as you develop your worlds.

To fulfill all of my goals for the setting I’ll be building, I will be making a high magic world with inspirations from fairytales and myths. I will maintain a mostly Euro-centric design, at least for my initial planning stages, to give everything a cohesive aesthetic and familiar vibe. However, I think the principles I will discuss can still be applicable to other settings, even if you plan to aim for something more constrained or more outlandish. I’ve also chosen to start with my scope constrained to a single continent. We can give some thought to the wider world, like other continents and alternate realms, but we’ll do so at a later date when the core of the setting is more firmly established.

In order to give my project a name, I’ve decided to call the world Eis. Your world doesn’t have to have a name from the beginning, but I like to have one even if I might change it later. As I will discuss later in the series, naming things is highly arbitrary and subject to preference for how you want your world to be perceived. Eis is short, which I find subjectively very fitting for world names; and it’s suitably “neutral” in the sense that I can imagine this word being from all sorts of different cultures.

Before I begin I’d like to say that this is my second crack at this. After figuring out a few thousand words of this article and all of my cultures, I decided that I’d deviated too far from my original plan and had to scrap most of what I’d done to that point. This is an ordinary part of worldbuilding. Some days you’ll be tired or hungry or just drained and wont bring 100% of your creative energies. Don’t be afraid to set things aside when you feel frustrated or unhappy with what you’ve made. You can always keep your notes and reintroduce parts of those scrapped ideas later. That’s exactly what I plan to do with my first attempt at my cultures, I’ve got them all saved in a document where I can go look at them again later if I’m lacking inspiration.

Developing My First Cultures

I would like to have at least one culture practicing each of the subsistence strategies I covered in Part 1: Subsistence. In a full sized continent like mine it makes sense that you would have each of these strategies present in some form, assuming the technologies have actually developed in that world, and that agriculture hasn’t asserted dominance everywhere yet. Keeping this in mind I’m going to invent six proto-cultures that I will then develop into my “present day” Eisian cultures. I’m going to start with two Hunter-Gatherer cultures, two Pastoralist nomad cultures, one proto-culture dedicated to Horticulture, and one civilization that has recently developed Agriculture. Much later on, in a future part of the series I’ll add one culture on the verge of Industrialism to round out the list.

Because I want the tone of this setting to be very familiar to those used to fantasy, I’m going to stick to fairly conventional choices for what fantasy races to include in my “core” set of common species. I’m also going to keep the cultural inspirations for these proto-cultures very straightforward. No mixing and matching of real world cultures just yet.

To give a rough idea of how these cultures will be arranged on my continent, I can just look at the requirements their subsistence strategies impose on them. The hunter-gatherer communities will be most widespread in the temperate regions of the world, occupying small villages of between 70-150 people. The shepherds will live in places like mountains, steppes and tundras where no one else can sustain themselves, but where herd animals can graze all or part of the year. The horticulturalists will live in a fertile, isolated place like a jungle where they can maintain their practices without harsh competition over land-rights. And the agricultural society will (at first) be restricted to highly fertile river valleys and floodplains.

Temperate Hunter-Gatherers

First, I want a group of human hunter-gatherers. As discussed before, humans are an important part of building a sense of familiarity with a setting. In my setting I want humans to be widespread so that anywhere I take my stories humans can be present if I, or my eventual players want them to be. This group of humans will be based on the continental Celtic peoples, like the Gauls, the Galatians and the Belgae. These people, related to the Irish and Scottish Gaels, had a beautiful style of complex metal and stonework involving spirals and organic shapes. Unfortunately, their languages died out in Europe following the numerous Roman conquests of their people. Using these people as the basis for this proto-culture will give it an antiquated but distinctly European feel. Because these are hunter-gatherers, they likely aren’t doing much metal work and they aren’t building monoliths yet, but we can still represent their style in other ways.

These people live in small semi-permanent communities of thatched mud huts, or in gatherings of tents pitched in favorable areas. They gather what they can from the surrounding forest and move when things become too scarce. In established villages there will be numerous wood carvings and smaller stone steles commemorating good events, lost loved ones, acts of worship and so on. Perhaps some of these tribes practice ritual tattooing in the same organic style; a practice based on the woad face-painting of the Celts. Copper and silver jewelry are marks of high status, as none but the best warriors, hunters or chieftains can afford them. Life is fairly simple for these people, and they are mostly peaceful. But bad years can easily push tribes into conflict over small stretches of fertile land. Over time, their tribal bonds will completely eclipse the wider shared culture and these people will begin to fracture into many smaller sub-cultures.

An example of Continental Celtic decorative metalwork.
BastienM, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This particular group comes from an area of mostly flat, vast woodlands, broken by river valleys of even denser forests that come down from the mountains. In the lowlands, as it gets hotter, the woodlands give way to open meadows and smaller forests that follow the winding of the rivers. Living in an environment like this, they will be familiar with all kinds of common animals like wolves, hawks, deer, rabbits, etc. But, they likely aren’t so familiar with aquatic creatures other than whatever lives in the rivers, or any of the colder weather beasts like moose or grizzly bears. All sorts of fruits and berries will likely grow around the rivers and in the woods, and the meadows will likely be home to all sorts of herbs and edible flowers and grasses. These may seem like incidental details, but these will all be important factors later when we are making choices about the language, religion, culture and food of these people’s descendants.

These people will be characterized by lightly tanned skin, thick and coarse brown to straw-blonde hair, and darkly colored eyes. I will call them the Nyktii. This is a compound of the Greek word nyx and the Latin genitive plural ending with double “i”s; as in filii “of the sons”. Most of our knowledge of the Celts comes to us from Latin and Greek sources, so most of the names we have for them come to us through these lenses. Nyx means night, but I’ve chosen it here entirely for the purpose of aesthetics. The word is immediately non-English without being overly difficult to pronounce, and it will stick out in blocks of text. As we further develop the world, the Nyktii will be replaced by numerous daughter cultures. But all of them will have a foundation that starts here.

Sub-Arctic Hunter-Gatherers

My second proto-culture of hunter-gatherers will be made up of elves. Elves are, for lack of a better term, a very generic option. Which is good for my purposes as it establishes expectations for the rest of the world very well. But we can still do some work to make them a little more interesting while also fulfilling the goals of my world. I’m going to borrow these elves’ cultural cues from Scandinavian and Old Norse sources. This will hearken back to their mythological roots, and is well within the wheelhouse of expected elven cultures. However, I’m also going to bring in elements traditional of the English faerie-lore much like Tolkien did for his elves, but to different effect. Elves of this culture almost always live with a powerful local forest spirit who watches over them in exchange for offerings. These spirits make the land more bountiful, allowing these elven communities to be much larger than human communities in similar climates. Depending on the spirit the elves have made their King or Queen, their diet may vary, as will what resources are available to them. But the basics of the culture will remain roughly the same, for now.

Thanks to their divine benefactors these elves can inhabit less temperate environments that are not favorable to human habitation. The result is that they have a wider range, but are generally less mobile, and tend to inhabit a single spot without moving for centuries at a time. Elves therefore do build permanent dwellings, often of wood, but just as often out of stone, or dug into the earth. These elves may have elaborate paintings and carvings decorating their homes that depict scenes of nature and animals, or venerations to their Lord. However, the specifics of their living situation will depend on what types of magic their Lord has at their disposal.

These people will live in the colder parts of the continent, and in some places, share the same temperate zones as the humans. Sharing the same range may put them in direct conflict for resources if the humans have a rough season, and so there may be frequent conflicts where the two cultures overlap. The elves prefer to inhabit temperate and boreal forests, or seasonally frozen glacial rivers and lakes. These fresh-water lakes would be surrounded by heath which eventually gives way to open tundra. They will be more familiar with sub-arctic plants and animals like bears, elk, botcats, ermines and salmon, than their human counterparts, but may not have the same generalist knowledge of plants and animals, as their Lords discourage unfavorable growth in their lands.

Visually these elves are by the books; pale skinned with white, blonde or red hair, and tall with pointed ears. Their eyes will be blue, gray or violet. I’m going to call these people the Hulvre, which is a mash-up of the Scandinavian word huldra and the word elves. I love the -lvr- cluster there in the middle, it’s very fun to say. And, also importantly, it isn’t too similar to the other culture name I’ve already chosen. At each step where I add a new name, especially this early, I want to make them look distinct when read and when said aloud, because this will help people keep them separate in their heads as they learn about my setting later. I can already see that both of my cultures have six letter names, and I’ll make sure to switch it up to something longer or shorter next time to keep the profile of the words distinct enough as well.

Arid Pastoral Nomads

My first pastoral culture is going to be another set of humans. But, why add more humans when we already have a human proto-culture? It’s because I don’t want my races to be mono-cultures. I want them to be diverse to help sell the authenticity of my world. So I want to make sure that there are different proto-cultures to represent different human ancestries when I get to the point of developing my modern cultures.

As pastoralists these people will live a nomadic lifestyle in the arid parts of my world, herding their flock from place to place, settling only when the dry summer forces them to shelter at a water source like a large lake or a pre-dug well. Numerous real world peoples lived just like this for thousands of years prior to the spread of agriculture, but the majority of them that are well recorded lived in the dry parts of north Africa and east Asia. This proto-culture will be based on the Semitic peoples, a group that included speakers of Hebrew, Aramaic and pre-Islamic Arabic. Even though this doesn’t conform entirely to my stated goal of making a European inspired setting, Christianity’s roots in Judaism mean that Semitic cultures are still visually recognizable to most Westerners due to their familiarity with Biblical stories set in these communities.

I want these pastoralists to live in the hot and dry parts of my world: in savannas, low deserts, and rocky hills and mountain-sides around their homeland. Given these restrictions, I think these people will primarily herd goats, with oxen being kept as pack animals and as a secondary source of meat and milk. Every few weeks these people will load up their oxen and drive their flock of goats to a new pasture. Once a year, in the summer, they will hunker down in a settlement near a well or lake where some part of the tribe stays year round with the children and elderly. This cycle defines the life of these people, and everyone works toward the shared goal of maintaining the flock by doing their part.

Priit Kallas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Goats and oxen will be a core part of these people’s cultural practices and beliefs. If they have gods, it’s likely that some of them will be in-part or entirely animal-like. It’s also likely that they view these animals as different from others, as more intelligent or spiritually similar to humans. This is similar to how modern people place pet animals “above” the general animal kingdom when it comes to assigning empathy. Seasons and time will also be vitally important to these people, and they may develop some sort of calendar long before anyone else, simply to track the coming and going of the dry seasons. If their women remain at the homestead year round, and the men are always on the trail, then it is likely they will have a marriage or courtship season when dozens of weddings happen in the span of a few weeks leading up to the men’s departure. Some of these tribes will form matriarchal societies. In these situations the eldest woman from the family that “owns” the land will hold cultural authority over the whole settlement. These groups are usually small enough that “town halls” or similar gatherings of all the adults to talk through a difficult issue faced by the community are common, but the matriarch may still wield the right to overrule the community for their own benefit. Some of the descendant cultures will certainly have these features, but none of them will preserve all of these features exactly like this, since each tribe will have its own specific practices and policies.

Living in such a dry environment means that the biodiversity around these people is limited. They likely have very few large predators to contend with (perhaps one or two species), and very little in the way of wild fruits or vegetables. For this reason, animals like their own goats and oxen, but also lions, hawks, lizards, snakes, hawks and buzzards, are part of a very small group of animals these people would be familiar with. These types of dryland animals will crop up very frequently in their mythology because there just isn’t much else going on in the desert than the endless playing-out of this very small food-web.

These people will be identifiable by their dark brown to almost reddish-black skin, to help them stay unburnt while wandering around the desert all the time. Older people will have leathery, sun-cracked skin regardless of their melanin levels, just from spending so much time in the sun. They will have curly black or brown hair and dark eyes, similar to the other human group, the Nyktii, but their facial features will be wider and more pronounced, especially around the mouth, nose and jawline. Let’s call them the Orochites, or simply the Oroch. I’ve derived this term by corrupting the word auroch, the feral ancestor to the modern cow, and giving it the -ite ending that appears appended to the various biblical tribes, like the Semites, the Canaanites, the Israelites and the Hamites. The ch in Oroch should be pronounced like in Hebrew words like challah and chanukah, that is to say as the uvular fricative [χ], an h formed higher in the throat so that your uvula vibrates. This will help give the word the proper non-English feel.

Boreal Pastoral Nomads

My second pastoralist proto-culture will be my dwarves. Dwarves will round out my generic fantasy fare and firmly plant my setting in the conventional high-fantasy aesthetic. Just like with the elves, my choice to include dwarves in the setting gives my audience a clear sign of my intentions for the general and tone of my world. Like my other pastoral cultures, the dwarves will necessarily be nomads, bringing their flock here and there to keep them fed. To make them different, the dwarves will instead inhabit my sub-arctic and boreal climates, where resources are scarce due to the snow and the cold choking out most of the growth. Dwarves will be perennial nomads, constantly moving, and never settling for longer than a few days or weeks at most. My dwarven proto-culture will be based on the Cossacks, a group of independent and semi-democratic people who lived along the banks of the Ural and Don rivers in what is now Russia beginning sometime in the 1400’s. The Cossacks were known as fierce warriors who stood toe to toe with several Empires despite lacking the same resources and manpower. Even when finally brought under the control of the Russian empire, they led rebellions for independence and tried to abolish slavery. Cossacks traditionally had a highly identifiable manner of dress; a long sturdy wool coat that falls to the shins and a tall cylindrical sheepskin hat they call a papakha or papaha.

The tall black hat on the man to the left-of-center is a type of papakha.
Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, Ilya Repin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

These dwarves will keep a special breed of giant wooly sheep that is uniquely adapted to their cold-weather climate. These sheep need a lot of nutrition to keep their enormous size, and so they can quickly strip the land to the roots if not grazed properly. The dwarves will maintain a meritocratic and semi-democratic society which values freedom and self-reliance. They will likely be resistant to ideas like conquest and expansionism, meaning that the dwarven clans are more likely to attempt diplomacy over warfare when solving conflicts. Of course armed disputes will still occur, but dwarves likely have the most developed systems for raising and resolving political disputes out of all of the proto-cultures. However, in keeping with the common fantasy trope, young dwarves within the group experience harsh treatment by elders and an incredible pressure to both conform and provide for the clan according to ancient and often inscrutable cultural laws.

Dwarves living in the boreal regions may frequently come into contact with the elves who live there as well. The Hulvre and these dwarves likely strive to keep their distance from one another, as the Hulvre’s Lords keep their lands very well protected, and don’t take kindly to the dwarves’ ravenous flocks destroying the carefully balanced ecosystem. When the dwarves are forced by bad weather or luck to delve into the Hulvre’s lands, this is likely cause for war. The resulting conflicts have embittered dwarves and elves to one another, especially in border communities where such interactions are more common.

My dwarves will have fair complexions, and brown, black or red hair. They will be short and stocky just as we expect, having more muscle mass than humans and a different bone structure as well. As for their beards, perhaps there is a pervasive cultural taboo against shaving, as there has been in many real world cultures. I will call these dwarves the Dverrack, a portmanteau of dvergr, one of the old Norse words for dwarf, and Cossack. This word has all of the “harshness” I want from a dwarven word, with few vowels and many clustered consonants. I especially like the dv from the Norse borrow-word, which is also sort of evocative of the word dwarf, as they ultimately share the same root.

Tropical Horticulturalists

For my sole proto-culture that practices slash-and-burn horticulture, I’ve chosen elves again. Elves’ natural affinity for nature makes them perfect for this style of subsistence which is so reliant on the rejuvenation of the land to provide for them. As a horticultural society, these elves will live in small static villages surrounded by a rotation of land plots in various degrees of growth and burn. Because I’ve already established that my other elves have a deep symbiotic relationship with a local spirit, I’d like to do the same here. But, instead of a land spirit, these elves organize themselves around a spirit of fire, who fulfills much the same role as the Lords of the Hulvre, but who does so by scouring the land with fire instead of magically nourishing it. The aesthetics of this culture will be inspired by Carthage and other Phoenician city-states like Tyre. This means they will wear light thin clothing and live in permanent stone and mud-brick dwellings along the shores of whatever sea or ocean they can find. Because they have such ready access to the sea, this race will do a lot of fishing to supplement their harvests. They will be the earliest ship-builders and sailors, and the first to begin to inhabit the distant islands of the world.

A proposed reconstruction of Punic Carthage.
damian entwistle, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Without a nurturing Lord spirit, these elves will be forced to live in naturally fertile environments; namely, jungles and tropical islands. In the real world the tropics lie between 23.4°S and 23.4°N of the equator, but slight differences in the orbit of your planet, or major differences in what even constitutes a “planet” in your setting could mean that this band is larger, smaller, or not a consideration at all. In this world I haven’t decided exactly what I want yet, but I know I probably don’t want a very earth-like cosmology, so I will assume that these people live in the hottest and most humid part of the world, whatever that looks like in the end.

Living in a jungle environment and near the water means that these people will be very familiar with both the aquatic life and jungle flora of the region. They may however be less familiar with the fauna, as their reliance on fishing will lessen their need to hunt. They will still be intimately familiar with the large predators of their environments; tigers, panthers, lions, snakes, and in the water sharks, and whatever other fantasy beasts we mix in with them will all be significant threats to these people in their day to day lives within the jungle. They may learn to fear these creatures, or they may learn to venerate them.

These elves will have brick-red to pink skin, a slightly different sort of pigment than human skin gives them a little fantasy twist that is also a nod to their fire-y survival strategy. They will keep the same hair and eye colors as the Hulvre; white, blonde or red hair, and blue, gray or violet eyes. This will help keep the two races cohesive while allowing them to be visually distinct. As for the name: the word Carthage comes to us through Latin Carthago, which was borrowed from Punic quart khadash, which simply meant “new town”. I can take these old roots and crunch them down into Qardagh. Q has a pedigree in English as a very “foreign” seeming letter, especially when it appears without u, which is obligate in English words that do use this letter. This name will give these elves an exotic feeling in this otherwise very familiar setting. So, these will be the Qardaghi.

Agricultural Empire

For my final proto-culture I’m reaching just outside of Tolkienian fantasy and into the nearby realm of European mythology. The culture that discovers agriculture first in this world will be a race of giants. In this case I don’t mean dumb hill-dwelling monsters, but something more akin to the giants of Welsh and Irish mythology. In these traditions, giants were often very wise and somewhat godlike creatures. They were often truly enormous, Bendigeidfran was a giant King of Britain in the Mabinogion who was mistaken for a walking mountain as he waded across the sea to Ireland. My giants won’t be that large, in fact they’ll be only a few feet taller than humans, and very human-like in appearance. But, giants will be a very contentious and imperialistic force that views the world as full of lesser creatures, fit only for eating, slaying or domestication. The giants’ will for domination will set the scene for the wars and conflict that carry my world’s cultures into their modern forms. To keep in line with these inspirations, I’m going to base giantish culture on their depictions as kings, knights and courtiers in Welsh and other British mythologies. This will paint them in the light of an Arthurian fantasy, which matches the regal air I want my giants to have on the surface.

King Arthur, Charles Ernest Butler, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

These giants will have to live in a fertile river valley at first, as all agricultural societies generally did at first on earth. They will likely be on the cusp of the tropical regions near an inland sea, where the weather and seasons are stabilized by the large body of water, and fertility is maintained by the yearly flooding of the riverbanks. When exactly they plant a crop will be determined by either the rainy season, or the flood season depending on whether they actually see a rainy season in their climate. I will say that the annual snowmelt of distant glaciers many thousands of miles away leads to spring-time flooding of the riverbanks. In early summer, when the floods are over, the planting season begins, and harvest then occurs sometime in autumn. There may be another attempt to replant and harvest before the floods come, but this will depend on how tightly they can fit the two growing seasons together. They may even have staggered summer and autumn fields, so that the winter harvest can be in the ground before the harvest of the summer crop.

These guys will be growing barley, wheat and oats at first in large mono-cultured fields. If they do manage to take in two crops in a year, the more nutritionally demanding wheat will probably be the first harvest, and the less demanding barley can be sown as an autumn crop if proper fertilizer is provided. The need for fertilizer may suggest that the giants have domesticated animals as well. I’ll say the giants have domesticated draft horses. Though they aren’t really rideable yet, especially for such large people, they will provide a source of much needed labor in the fields, dragging heavy plows to turn the earth. I will also say that giants are the first to domesticate cats, to keep their grainstores free of mice and rats.

The giants will be light gray skinned, like stone statues, or like the depictions of Norse giants with gray or ice-pale skin. Their hair will range from black to white, but won’t bear any coloring otherwise, and their eyes may be blue, black or gray. I will call these the Llergeidan, a mixture of the Welsh names Llyr and Bendigeidfran. The initial double ll isn’t common in most Latin script languages, so it stands out and gives a distinct appearance to the word without making it harder to pronounce.

In the next part, I will take these proto-cultures and turn them into the modern cultures of this continent. This will involve working out the major conflicts and technological developments that these people will be subject to for the next few millennia. But, we’ll do so by working out how we want our final races to look, and then cutting in our history to fit whatever narrative we need. Once I’ve finished that work, I’ll show you the first piece of fiction I’ve written for this world, and you’ll be able to see how I take these ideas established here and follow through to implement them in a narrative.

Next: The World of Eis: Modern Cultures