Savage Rise of the Runelords
Three distinct human societies dwell in Varisia: the expansionist colonists of Cheliax, the tempestuous tribes of the Shoanti barbarians, and the enigmatic Varisians.
Beyond the Mindspin Mountains and far to the south lies the cosmopolitan heresy of Cheliax. Once an empire of unquestioned might, the death of the empire’s god Aroden allowed the rise of a diabolical aristocracy who treat with the denizens of Hell to afford their endless decadence and eternal rule. Although unquestionably depraved and diminished by the loss of its deity, Cheliax remains a beacon of culture, art, and sorcery that dominates much of the southern part of the continent.
While expansionist Cheliax once coveted the riches of Varisia, its decline has freed its colonies to their own fates. Now, the most powerful of Cheliax’s city-states, monument-haunted Magnimar and imperial-minded Korvosa, vie for control of its abandoned Varisian holdings.
In these cities and the numerous vassal settlements of each, the majority of the populace can trace their ancestry to the sharpfeatured people of Cheliax. Chelaxians possess dark hair and
eyes contrasted by pale skin—along with a taste for artistic fineries and high art—and the far-reaching and polyethnic holdings of Cheliax allow humans of varied heritages to claim Chelish descent. So numerous and varied are these immigrants that the natives of Varisia now simply refer to all humans not of Varisian or Shoanti blood as Chelaxians.
Across the northeastern reaches of Varisia, the seven ardent tribes of the Shoanti make their homes. A turbulent people adhering to traditions unchanged in hundreds of years, these natives live harsh lives, preying upon predators and eking what they can from an unforgiving land. Most of the tribes nomadically follow herds and water as the seasons demand, but they typically stay within familiar territories and return to favored homelands year after year.
The Shoanti once held all of Varisia as their own, sharing it only with the Varisians, whom they coldly accept as distant cousins. The coming of explorers and colonists from Cheliax changed all this, though, sparking an age of bloody warfare. Few know how many tribes of Shoanti were lost in these endless battles—and even today the names of the so-called dead tribes are not spoken—but finally the barbarians were forced to cede their homeland’s southern reaches to the invaders. While they still claim all Varisia as their rightful land, today the Shoanti tribes are limited the Storval Plateau, the Cinderlands, the Curchainian Hills, and the Velashu Uplands.
Their loss of the south remains an unhealed wound shared between all the tribes, and fiery youths often raise their voices in bloody vows against all those of Chelish blood. Of the seven remaining Shoanti tribes, those of the Shriikirri-Quah—a people who hold great respect for animals and claim to learn much from their ways—are most likely to interact with other peoples. The other tribes, those of the Lyrune-Quah, Shadde-Quah, Shundar-Quah, Sklar-Quah, Skoan-Quah, Tamiir-Quah, typically prove more warlike and aloof.
The Shoanti are a hale and powerfully built people. Typically of ruddy complexion, most men stand well over 6 feet tall, with women only slightly shorter. Hair is viewed as a distraction and possible detriment (especially in the complex arts of hand-to-hand battle many tribes cultivate) and thus both genders frequently shave their heads—with only mystics and the elderly ignoring this meme. Many Shoanti wear prominent tattoos, typically of shapes and patterns heavy with traditional meaning, which wearers expand and embellish upon as they age.
Passionate and fiercely independent, Varisians lend their name to their homeland, Varisia. While these clannish wanderers can be found throughout the world, nowhere are larger populations found than in the land of their ancestors.
Insular and adhering to an ancient, nomadic way of life, extended families of Varisians form wandering communities, traveling wherever fate directs them. Varisians don’t believe in claiming land and thus see no hardship in their nomadism. While nature provides for most of their needs, these wanderers often visit the cities and towns of settled people to trade art and curios from their travels, earn coin by entertaining and performing small jobs, and sometimes to con and steal from the unwary. Varisians are also known for their unique mysticism. Some believe their traditional dances provide insights into the future and their family elders can hear the voices of the long dead.
The typical Varisian possesses deep olive skin and hair that ranges from black to auburn, often worn long by both men and women. Customary tattooing leads most to exhibit complex patterns and symbols significantly different from those worn by the Shoanti who share their homeland. As wanderers and—often—entertainers, Varisian dress tends toward extremes, from functional garb fit for traveling to wildly impractical dress meant to accentuate their dancing, exotic tattoos, and naturally fit forms.