Designing Valedonia: Dalwyn
by, 16th December 2011 at 10:17 PM (1684 Views)
By Mark Hope, Senior Writer
Welcome to the second blog on designing the continent of Valedonia. Last time, we looked at the feudal nation of Vallenheim; today we’ll be taking a trip to the highlands. As you may already know, Valedonia is Embers of Caerus’ “western European fantasy” continent, but there’s more to western Europe than knights and castles. Early European history is rife with migrations and invasions by nomadic tribes, and it is to these that we’re looking for today’s blog.
The highlands of the Dalwyn are the second main culture in Valedonia. The Dalwyn are inspired by nomadic peoples such as the Celts, by raider-cultures like the Vikings and the Saxons, and by shamanic tribes like the Yakut of Siberia. European history is built on the movements of these kinds of cultures, and they’re a rich source of inspiration for games. As with Vallenheim, we’ll be looking at the three main elements of Dalwyn life and seeing how these make for fun gaming.
Religion is part of life all across Caerus. In the Dalwyn highlands, it takes the form of ancestor worship, animism, and shamanism. As with the Celtic festival of Samhain, so also the Dalwyn look to their dead for guidance, honoring them in the same way. To the Dalwyn, the honor of the ancestors is the most important thing in life; much of their culture is driven by the desire to be seen as worthy in your ancestors’ eyes.
Dalwyn animism is similar to that of hunter-gatherer cultures the world over, and the highland clans see the world around them as thriving with unseen forces, and gods both great and small. A Dalwyn hunter will offer prayers to the elements to give him a favorable hunt, ask his ancestors to let his arrows fly true, and will give thanks to the spirit of the stag when his hunt is successful.
Dalwyn shamanism draws a great deal of inspiration from Siberian shamanic beliefs, taken to a fantastic extreme. For example, the Dalwyn ritually blind their shamans – called Gravespeakers – ensuring that their vision never strays into the physical world. In our world, by comparison, such blinding was usually just symbolized by a mask or blindfold. One aspect of real-world culture that didn’t need exaggerating, though, is the shamanic ritual where the tribe drinks their shaman’s urine to benefit from all the psychedelic drugs in his system – a genuine technique from our world. Stuff like that you just can’t make up!
Where gameplay is concerned, this gives Dalwyn characters a rich and all-encompassing spirituality to draw on – will you appease the spirits of the forest before you harvest those enchanted fungi? It can unite characters under the common banner of a shared ancestor – when next will the Sons of Avencar ride forth? And it can provide you with access to lore and experiences unheard of elsewhere – who will be the first to drink the Gravespeaker’s special brew and commune with the ancestors?
Throughout their history, the Dalwyn have struggled against their environment. Where Vallenheim had fields of wheat and orchards heavy with fruit, the inhospitable highland climate meant that the Dalwyn had to fight for every scrap that came their way. This led to one of the prime features of the Dalwyn culture: they are raiders. They do not seek to occupy other lands; they love the highlands and would never stoop to dwell in softer climes. But they will happily come marauding into your pastoral farmland and take whatever they need, carrying it back to their highland homes.
Look no further than the Vikings and Saxons to see this in action. Insufficient agricultural resources were one of the main causes of the Viking raids and Saxon migrations across Europe, combined with a growing youthful population. At the same time, these cultures seized upon the weaknesses of their neighbors, in some cases winning entire kingdoms for themselves. So it is with the Dalwyn: they raid because they have to, but also because they know that they can get away with it. And because they love it.
For your Dalwyn character, there is no better reason to raid that Vallenheim border fort than “because it’s there.” Prove your worth to your clan. Honor your ancestors with your valor. Show the Vallenheimers how a true warrior dies. And for a Vallenheimer, there are few better places to win glory than on the border marches with the highlands. Whole orders of knighthood have sprung from such bravery. In Dalwyn, you will be grateful for every scrap you have, because you will have won it with sweat and blood, be it your or someone else’s.
The earliest Dalwyn settlements had no compunctions about raiding one another, just as early European tribes made war on each other in the years following the fall of Rome. In an area as inhospitable as the Dalwyn highlands, however, you can’t sustain this level of aggression for long. In time, the Dalwyn clans agreed on a mutual peace. It’s not a perfect peace, but it’s as good as it gets for the Dalwyn.
The Danelaw – an independent Danish settlement in early medieval England – is a great example of how warring tribes and kingdoms can coexist. A combination of Danish, Norwegian, Anglo-Saxon and British peoples were jostling for supremacy in England, and one way of reaching a peace was to divide the land up into several smaller realms. So in addition to Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria, the Danelaw came into being – a huge stretch of England that belonged to the Danes. This is exactly how the Dalwyn keep the peace amongst themselves – by staying out of each other’s territory.
Although Caerus’ magical apocalypse has affected clan structure in some ways, the old traditions still hold for the most part. So while your Dalwyn character might hail from clan Vojdun, she must also respect the Rasheth, especially when in their lands. Legend holds that a terrible curse will fall upon whomever breaks the peace that holds the clans together. And if some Rasheth dog insults your grandfather’s honor? Then he must learn to love the taste of Vojdun steel, and curses be damned.
One final point bears mentioning: the Dalwyn hate being called the Dalwyn. It’s a name given them by the Vallenheimers, and they do not like it. If asked, a highlander would say he is one of the Singers of the Black Stone, and offer no explanation as to why. Just what is this mysterious Black Stone so sacred to the clans? Well, it has something to do with the curse that enforces the peace of the Dalwyn. Pray that you don’t find out the answer the hard way…
Only one culture remains - the shattered kingdoms of Caerloth. For this we’re heading back beyond the medieval period, into pre-Roman Europe to draw inspiration from the ancient Celts. And we’ll be adding a dose of Celtic mythology into the mix as well, for extra spice. Stay tuned for more…