People of the Shining Land
For the most part, the people of the Shining Lands devote their time and energy to furthering trade, accumulating creature comforts, and strengthening their bonds of mutual respect. Where these fundamental aspects of civilization are lacking or the people are oppressed (in Veldorn, for example), the residents struggle to improve their lives, striving to emulate the shining example set by Durpar, Estagund, and Var the Golden.
Races and Cultures
Though the dominant ethnic group of the Shining Lands is the Durpari, the open, welcoming nature of the natives has ensured that every recognizable race and ethnic group - is represented here. Traders and merchants who come frond distant lands often choose to spend extra time in one or more of the three countries to enjoy the favorable climate and the hospitality. Some settle down and intermarry with the natives; others simply visit for a short time and take their leave.
Other than humans, halflings are the most prevalent humanoids in the Shining Lands, and they have established sizable populations in both Estagund and Durpar. Most of these hin have migrated from Luiren, either to establish trade or simply to partake of the delights offered by another culture. Dwarves congregate in both the Dustwall and the Curna Mountains, and many have established powerful chakas, or merchant houses, based on the mining of gold and gemstones. More than a few half-elves live in the urban centers of the Shining Lands because they are accepted and valued as individuals. Few elves live in or visit these countries, however, since most of them find the strong focus on trade and wealth distasteful. In recent years, more and more gnomes have begun to settle in the region, because their talents as craftsfolk (particularly gemcutters) are in great demand.
The Durpari people have lived along the shores of the Golden Water since before the rise of the Imaskari Empire. They never really established a national identity in their formative years as a people, since they were regularly enslaved, slaughtered, or abandoned to barbarism by various other groups around them - most notably the Mulan of Mulhorand. Thereafter, except for a brief period of conflict in which the Arkaiuns of Dambrath invaded and sacked much of the Shining Lands, the Durpari have been free and independent people. Out of their relative isolation, the Durpari have at last developed a national identity based on trade, respect, and structured law.
The average Durpari stands only 5-1/2 feet tall and has dark, almost ebony-colored skin and black or gray eyes. Her hair is usually dark and thick, though once in a while, a child with deep reddish-gold hair is born.
Folk in the Shining Lands speak Durpari, which has its roots in Draconic, Mulhorandi, and Rauric. They employ the Thorass alphabet, which was imported from the west.
The lands north of Estagund and northwest of Durpar are infested with powerful and well-organized monsters, each of which controls a portion of present-day Veldorn. Through sheer force of personality and more than a little special power, the leaders of these various organizations who are known outside Veldorn as beast-chieftains, have managed to form an alliance whereby they, protect one another from the "depredations" of armies from other lands to the south, west, and north. Beyond this mutual defense pact, the various kinds of monsters leave one another alone.
Veldorn began as a number of small Durpari settlements along the western shore of the Golden Water, between the bay and the Curna Mountains. Over time, creatures such as vampires, beholders, wererats, and beings from the lower planes began to seep down out of the mountains - mostly from the northwest region known as the Beastlands. These evil creatures either overran the human settlements outright or subtly insinuated themselves into their power structures. Other sorts of monsters also shared space with these creatures, either acting as servant races to more powerful creatures or cohabiting for mutual benefit. Gradually, all the centers of civilization in the Veldorn region fell under the sway of fell beasts, and the country became known as the Land of Monsters. Other creatures, including a dragon or two and the hill giants of the Giant's Belt range, have since joined the alliance, staking their own territorial claims. Through the centuries, the humans of Durpar and Estagund have managed to drive some of Veldorn's creatures away from the coast of the Golden Water and reclaim that area as their own, but the beast-tribes have simply migrated to other areas still held by their compatriots, causing Veldorn's borders to shift north and west.
Life and Society
Life in the Shining Lands is surprisingly free, with none of the heavy-handed interference from the power structure so common in neighboring lands. As long as the citizens follow the way of the Adama (see Law and Order and Religion, below), they can generally pursue their business affairs as they see fit. Because it pervades so many of the day-to-day activities in the Shining Lands, the Adama allows the people to govern themselves, effectively negating the need for a central authority. Durpar, where society revolves around business, serves as the best model of this arrangement. In Estagund, much the same situation prevails, though the ruler still makes the major decisions and commands a high level-of respect and service from the people. In Var the Golden, the lifestyle of the average merchant or laborer is the same in most ways as it would be in the other two states, but life at the top is decidedly more political, with three factions constantly struggling for political power. Such posturing tends to draw attention away from business and force the citizens to take sides in debates whether they want to or not. But the fact that commerce remains the driving force behind the struggle ties Var the Golden tightly to the other two nations of the Shining Lands.
The business of-the Shining Lands is business, or so the popular saying goes. The Durpari people have long practiced trade as a way of life and they have become exceptionally good at it. Durpari like to claim that their focus on commerce came about as a more peaceful means of competition than warring with one another - a practice that long held the various nomadic tribes back from advancement as a people. With the recognition of the Adama, the Durpari turned from killing one another to trying to outdo one another in the marketplace. The resulting devotion to material gain spawned a people so skilled in bargaining that they rival even the people of Amn.
Since trade is the center of life in the Shining Lands, the chaka (trading house) is the most prominent kind of organization in the region. Most Durpari identify a citizen by his chaka before even his family, though in most cases, family and chaka are one and the same. A small chaka might operate only a single business, such as a laundry or a cheese shop, while the most powerful might actually have a number of smaller chakas under its wing. These larger chakas are usually diversified and self-supporting, managing a number of businesses and trade routes. Often, they set up shops in other lands to sell the same goods they export from their own countries. Unlike many countries, the nations of the Shining Lands welcome any kind of coinage minted elsewhere. A Durpari merchant doesn't care whether a gold coin came from Cormyr or Calimshan, as long as it is gold. Though they examine coins carefully to ensure that they are legitimate, they happily accept them at face value.
The countries of the Shining Lands export a number of natural products, the most important of which is grain. Durpari farmers harvest acres of wheat from the endless stretches of open plains to sell in the markets of other lands. Gems of various types, coffee, fish, and a few kinds of fruit and vegetables are also shipped from ports in the Shining Lands to other parts of Faerûn. Manufactured goods are gradually becoming important export commodities too, as are trade goods from other lands. Durpari chakas specializing in exotic goods bring products from distant Zakhara and Maztica to the Shining Lands, where they are sold to both the local people and the merchants who wish to ship them to far-flung Amn, Waterdeep, and Thesk, among other places.
Law and Order
The Durpari hold very strongly to their belief in a code of conduct known as the Adama. This code affects every aspect of society, from trade practices to punishments for crimes. Both a religious belief and a way of life, the Adama dictates how citizens should conduct themselves in all aspects of life. Because so much of life in the Shining Lands centers around trade, however, the precepts of the Adama tend to focus on a person's conduct in business.
In general terms, those who adhere to the Adama view all crimes as theft - whether the perpetrator has stolen property, life, or the trust of another. Thus, fraud is considered just as heinous a crime as murder, and unfair or dishonest business practices draw penalties just as harsh as those imposed for more traditional crimes. Few criminals receive second chances here, since tolerance for injustice is minimal.
In general, punishments for crimes in the Shining Lands fit the culture. Fines are effective deterrents in a society that Values commerce and wealth above almost all else. Even trying to pass substandard products off as quality workmanship can result in financially crippling punitive damages. Furthermore, since citizens are quick to abandon a chaka that has been found guilty of underhanded business practices, the fiscal damage often far exceeds the mere fines levied. More than a few chakas have lost both business and political clout (see Government, below) when consumers registered their dissatisfaction with their coin purses.
Interestingly enough, Durpari society views capital punishment as an offense against the Adama. Thus, people found guilty of capital crimes are restrained, usually as indentured workers in mines or on farms, instead of being put to death. For most offenses, such enforced servitude lasts only a few years, but the criminal must begin again with nothing upon release - a secondary punishment in itself. Those not rehabilitated after an initial sentence are restrained for the rest of their lives.
Defense and Warcraft
Each country in the Shining South handles its military affairs in a slightly different manner, though the end result is nearly the same across the entire region.
Durpar: Like all other matters in Durpar, national defense is treated as a business proposition and contracted out to the private sector. Thus, instead of maintaining a national standing army, the country entrusts it's defense to a collection of privately operated mercenary companies, each based out of whichever city funds its operations. The nawabs of the various communities handle the hiring of the defense chakas, but the execution of the local defense is generally left up to the heads of the chakas that receive the contracts.
Every city and town in Durpar collects sufficient taxes from the sale of goods (see Government, below) to pay a contract for defense. The larger ports typically hire chakas that specialize in naval defense, but even the tiniest town usually hires a defense chaka, though it might be no more than an extended family of traditional soldiers. More than a few adventuring groups have chosen to retire in Durpar, form a chaka, and accept a contract to defend the community they call home.
Estagund: Unlike in Durpar, where absolutely every function is a business process, the time-honored tradition of a noble warrior class is still alive and well in Estagund. Known as the Maquar, the members of this noble class follow a highly restrictive code of conduct that dictates many aspects of their lives and limits or prohibits many activities. In exchange for these sacrifices, the Maquar are freed from the responsibility of providing for themselves so they can devote their lives entirely to the protection of the people. The Maquar are answerable only to the Rajah of Estagund and those he deems fit to lead (usually the leaders of the various cities to which units of Maquar are allocated for defense).
Var the Golden: Not all is calm and peaceful in the Land of Wheat. Three major factions - the nawabs (merchants), the hajwas (landed nobles), and the janas (priests of the Adama) constantly struggle with one another for power (see Government, below), and each side of this unstable triangle backs up its claims with private military forces. Although such gamesmanship has little effect on the daily life of the common merchant or laborer, the costs in coin, time, and manpower to keep all these troops in good order saps the country's profits. But in many ways the money is well spent, since the presence of these forces acts as a deterrent to would-be invaders. Few enemies would casually affront Var, knowing that the various factions could easily band together and pool their forces to repel any threats from the outside.
The Adama pervades all facets of life in the Shining South, just as mainstream religion does in many other parts of Faerûn. The major difference is that the Durpari people are extremely tolerant of other religions, since their belief system accepts the multitude of deities followed in other parts of the world, rather than competing with them.
In the strictest sense, the Adama, also known as "the One," is the embodiment of the spirit found in all things humanoids, animals, plants, rocks, and even the gods. Therefore, all creatures and objects on Toril, including deities, are considered manifestations of the Adama. In principle, the Adama is so far-reaching that worshiping any deity is effectively paying homage to it.
In practice, however, not every deity is acceptable. Some are favored because they embody the core values of the Adama better than others. In particular, Zionel (Gond), Curna (Oghma), Lucha (Selûne), Torm, and Waukeen represent the broadest aspects of day-to-day life in the Shining Lands, and thus their followers are welcomed above all others. Other deities - specifically those that require human sacrifice, and Mask, who represents thievery - are rejected because the tenets of their faiths are at cross-purposes with those of the Adama. This seeming contradiction does not bother the inhabitants of the Shining Lands. The opposite of a cherished principle might be a philosophical necessity, but that doesn't make it appealing.
Following the Adama is more a matter of everyday bearing and conduct than ceremony and ritual. The Durpari believe that the Adama exists in all things they do, and if their dealings with others are fair and just, then they honor the Adama. The laws that govern the people are based on the Adama's tenets, which for all practical purposes are the same as the principles espoused by the five Faerûnian deities who best exemplify it.
For the most part, adventurers are treated the same as any other visitors to the Shining Lands - neither sought after nor scorned. While sellswords and wandering wizards have ample opportunity to explore the edges of civilization and unearth treasures from the ruined remains of the past, the Durpari do not want such activities to interrupt the flow of business. Thus, adventurers who get in the way of commerce (or worse yet, violate the laws of the Adama through their actions) are dealt with just as quickly and harshly as any local citizen might be.
This general ambivalence toward adventurers does not, however, mean that the folk of Estagund, Durpar, and Var the Golden have no use for them. On the contrary, Durpari merchants are quite happy to conduct business with any newcomers who have coins burning holes in their pockets and need specialized - and expensive - equipment. Likewise, they are quite willing to bargain with adventurers who return victorious from distant places with wondrous - and often magic - treasures to exchange. Beyond the opportunity for profit, though, the citizens of the Shining Lands recognize the need for brave outsiders who can rid their lands of foul beasts that would otherwise prey on their cities, disrupting both lives and livelihoods.
Veldorn is the obvious exception to this attitude, since the beast-chieftains of that land hold adventurers in the lowest regard. As far as these monster lords are concerned, anyone who comes storming into their territories spoiling for a fight is fair game for a little retributive amusement, and monster-hunting heroes automatically go to the top of that list. Few who strike out to tame wild Veldorn realize just how united the beast-chieftains are when it comes to repelling invaders, and fewer still return to warn others of their unusual level of organization. Occasionally, the foul creatures of Veldorn do more than send the would-be heroes packing - they also mount a counterattack, usually along a trade way, to reinforce the concept that they are not to be trifled with.