People of Rashemen
The people of Rashemen are sturdy, hardworking, and deeply respectful of the land. A traveler here will never see a logger casually cutting down trees for greater profit, nor a stream dammed to power a mill. The Rashemi understand that they must respect the land as they would a neighbor, for the spirits punish those who take what they don't need.
Rashemi are a short, hardy folk, built for strength rather than speed. Men grow beards but keep them trimmed short. Both sexes keep their hair long: The men wear a pair of thick braids, while the women have only one. The length of one's hair is a measure of status, in marked contrast to the shaven-headed Red Wizards. The penalty for adultery in many villages is to have one's hair cut short, and others shun shorthaired Rashemi for this crime against the family.
Typical Rashemi dress is simple, made of wool, leather, and pelts. Men wear trousers, loose shirts, and fur vests, while women dress in long woolen skirts and blouses of linen. In times of celebration, both sexes dress colorfully, preferring vests and blouses of red, blue, and yellow, embroidered in red, white, and green. Rashemen is relatively poor in metal, and most of that goes to making weapons, tools, and armor, so Rashemi jewelry is made of carved stone, bones, and ivory decorated with complex patterns and runic markings. These pieces are often used as trade goods.
Long ago, these people were forced to defend themselves against the greed of Narfell and Raumathar, two magical nations that constantly fought each other, usually in the lands the Rashemi called home. This ongoing battle against aggressive neighbors turned the Rashemi into insular warriors, distrustful of outlanders and honoring kinfolk who destroyed the most enemies. That mentality persists today, fueled by the greedy attacks of the Red Wizards and Rashemen's relative isolation. With such a history, it is no surprise that the Rashemi glorify personal strength and shun people who are not like them.
The berserkers of Rashemen are organized into lodges named after local creatures. These represent an extended family, and a member of a given lodge in one village can always find friends and a place to sleep in the appropriate lodge-house of another village. A lodge also focuses on special skills, weapons, or fighting styles, all based on the creature from which it takes its name. Some lodges are larger and better known than others - the Great Stag and Wolf lodges have a presence in many settlements, while a smaller lodge may only exist in one tiny village.
The lodge-house itself is a typical Rashemi edifice that serves as a tavern, boarding house, and meeting place for members. Many Rashemi berserkers live in their lodge-house, while others visit regularly to drink with their friends, and still others come only when trouble is brewing and they are needed. Each lodge-house is watched over by a telthor, usually of the creature bearing the lodge's name, which warns the berserkers of approaching danger.
Members of the lodges honor and respect one another as brothers (and sisters, for women are not excluded), although there is much rivalry for skill at fighting, hunting, wrestling, jumping, swimming, and feats of strength. To join a lodge, a character must demonstrate the ability to fly into a barbarian rage and pass through a ritual of initiation. This ranges from an all night dunking contest to a single-handed battle against every other member of the lodge (usually dealing subdual damage, but not always). An outlander must know something of Rashemen and its ways to join (2 ranks in Knowledge [local - Rashemen]), and must have proved his of her worth in battle against the enemies of Rashemen.
Some of the better-known lodges follow. Each has a gift or fighting style that is reflected in a feat. Only members of a particular lodge may learn that lodge's feat. It is possible for a berserker to change lodges, and there is no stigma in doing so. Changing lodges does not prevent a berserker from using his old lodge's fighting style.
Ettercap: These strange berserkers undertake grueling tasks, that would kill a normal human, including subjecting themselves to various animal poisons. Their lodge-house guardian is usually a telthor horse.
Great Stag: These berserkers charge recklessly into combat and often rush opponents through ranks of their own allies. Their telthor guardian is always a stag.
Ice Troll: The members of this lodge roughen their skin with strange draughts and frequent exposure to frozen conditions. They shrug off hits that could disable a normal person. A telthor badger normally guards Ice Troll lodge-houses.
Owlbear: Members of this lodge practice wrestling and take pride in their ability to bring down creatures larger than themselves. Some wear armor spikes to more easily damage their foes. The telthor of a lodge-house is usually a bear or large owl.
Snow Tiger: These berserkers wear the skins and claws of snow tigers, wading into combat with the ferocity and skill of their spirit animal. The claws are weapons, treated as claw bracers, and can be enhanced as if they were masterwork items. A telthor snow tiger is always the guardian of the lodge-house.
Wolf: Like their spirit animal, Wolf lodge berserkers are fond of laying out their opponents and then chopping them to pieces while they're down. Telthor wolves protect their lodge-houses.
Races and Cultures
Given their remote location and the natural barriers that prevent easy communications with other lands, it is not surprising the people of Rashemen are almost exclusively human. Although of the same racial stock as the Rashemi of Thay, they spit at the suggestion that they are related to weaklings who allowed themselves to be enslaved. The people of Rashemen are taller and paler than their Thayan cousins and can easily recognize someone from the land to the south.
As a warrior culture, the Rashemi see competition as a way to define status and honor, as well as to release pent-up aggression. Rashemi compete in nonlethal tests of strength, skill, and endurance, leaving overt hostility for their enemies. Rashemen would never host a gladiatorial arena, but many settlements have regular athletic competitions where contestants pummel one another into submission in hopes of achieving higher esteem among their peers.
For a country that always has a male leader and laws enforced by an exclusive group of female spellcasters, Rashemi are surprisingly egalitarian. Most warriors and berserkers are male, as are most craftsfolk in demanding fields such as black- smithing, but women with the necessary skill are not shunned or ridiculed, and the lodges that train Rashemen's berserkers welcome anyone with an interest in fighting.
While martial skill is respected among the Rashemi, the ability to go berserk against one's enemies is the mark of an elite combatant. Berserkers have the highest status of any class or group in Rashemen other than the Witches. Fangs (military units of ten to fifty berserkers) practice similar fighting styles. Each village has one or more fangs, each tied to a particular berserker lodge (see the Berserker Lodges above).
Life and Society
The people of Rashemen prefer to live their own lives without interference and invasions from hostile neighbors. However, as long as the Red Wizards control Thay, that is not likely to happen, so the Rashemi spend their lives in a near-constant anticipation of attack. This makes life very tense, so the people throw themselves into work and recreation to forget about the constant threat. Rashemi work hard to survive in their harsh and beautiful home, and they play hard to lighten their hearts.
Even within their own land, the Rashemi are surrounded by strange and potentially hostile powers - spirits in the very rocks, trees, and waters. A Rashemi is trained at a very young age to avoid certain landmarks, to leave gifts for helpful spirits, and to ask permission of the telthors before touching anything in an unfamiliar place. The relationship with the spirits is a strange one, for while. Rashemi fear offending them, they also love the spirits for their power to protect the land.
The people have a similar relationship with the Witches. The hathrans are mysterious, always wearing masks when in Rashemen, and have the power of life and death. They wield powerful magic that can burn out a man's mind or reduce a woman's body to dust in an instant, and they are feared for these things. The hathrans also commune with the spirits and placate them when they are angry, sparing the common folk their wrath. They defend against the magic of the Red Wizards and name the Iron Lord, the face of leadership in Rashemen. These earn the people's respect. But most of all, the Rashemi love the Witches because they come from the ranks of their own sisters and daughters.
Among the Rashemi, berserkers are universally honored. In a warrior culture that values strength, endurance, and skill, the berserkers embody the highest ideal of those things, primal and powerful. They lead the fight against enemies and are the face of the Rashemi people to all inside and outside the. land. Although the Witches are the real power in Rashemen, they are wise enough to elect a berserker as leader of the people.
The Witches test all children at a young age - less than ten years old - for aptitude in magic. Those who pass these tests are taken away from their parents to be trained with the Old Ones, male Rashemi of great age and magical power. The Witches are not cruel or secretive; the families know what is to become of their child and that she will become a person of power and influence. The family is always compensated, usually with live-stock, tools, or an orphaned child of similar age.
Both boys and girls train. The girls are taught the deep tenets of Rashemen's religion in preparation for becoming hathrans, while the boys study only arcane magic. Upon reaching adulthood (age twenty in Rashemen), girls are normally ordained as ethrans. Some choose to return to their home villages as practicing mages or healers, but they are always potential recruits for a hathran in need. The boys are given a choice when they reach adulthood: Join the Old Ones, or leave Rashemen forever under a geas to never reveal their secrets. Most choose to remain and may eventually become Old Ones themselves. Those who leave usually practice their magic in distant lands.
An important aspect of the Rashemi way of life is the dajemma, a journey of self-discovery that all young men must take before being considered adults (women may take this journey as well, but it is not required). In days of old, young Rashemi nobles made the dajemma to visit strange lands, slaying horrible monsters and wicked warlords, but now it is mostly an exercise in drinking and sightseeing. It also helps Rashemen. build trade contacts with the outside world. The hathrans require all young ethrans to go on a journey (usually in groups) to learn about the outside world and report on current events.
Other than the dajemma, few Rashemi leave their homeland for any length of time. Foreigners within Rashemen's borders are a curiosity - and not a welcome one. Visitors get many suspicious looks and mages and obvious spellcasters of non-Rashemi faiths gain hostile stares, for the locals dislike anyone other than the Witches practicing magic in their land.
Blocked in by mountains, icy lakes, and haunted forests, Rashemen has to fend for itself in most things. Its people raise herd beasts (cattle, sheep, and surface rothé), hunt wild game, fish, and grow crops in the short summer. They trade with the caravans that come through their country on the Golden Way, offering wool, carved items, furs, firewine, and their famous smoky cheese in exchange for cloth, wood products, and foods they cannot find in their own land. Rashemi have limited options: They cannot produce enough excess to simply buy what they wish, and they are unwilling to trade, sell, or lend the things that others really want (magic, lumber, and skilled berserkers).
Rashemen could greatly benefit from a portal to a large city outside their homeland, but the Witches have' little interest in that sort of magic and are unlikely to allow another person to create such a portal for fear of unwanted visitors.
The most popular export of Rashemen is jhuild - Rashemi firewine - a powerful draught that boosts strength and dulls the senses. The full-strength drink is very expensive, but a watered-down version is affordable to those who have a taste for the exotic. As it is customary to bring a bottle of full-strength jhuild on a dajemma, many young Rashemi have quickly become popular and made some coin in an emergency just by sharing the potent drink with their hosts.
Law and Order
Rashemen is governed by a simple set of laws, primarily concerned with safeguarding people and property. The legal system relies on common sense, which is in good supply despite the number of hotheads in the land. The code of laws takes up less than two written pages, which is fortunate, because a majority of Rashemi are illiterate. The laws also exist in song, making them easier for the common folk to remember.
- Do not kill or deliberately injure another Rashemi. Save your anger for your true enemies.
- Do not steal from your fellow Rashemi or outsiders with honor. To do so is to taint your own honor.
- Respect your family, the spirits, and the deities, for they guard your soul in this life and after.
- Respect the, spirits of your home, for they guard the land when you sleep.
- Obey the Iron Lord, for the safety of all Rashemen is his responsibility.
- Obey the Witches, for they are the bond that ties the people to the land and the Iron Lord to the people.
- Be strong, resolute, and courageous, for the weak, lazy, and craven betray the spirit of the Rashemi people.
Defense and Warcraft
Most of Rashemen's soldiers are warriors and berserkers. Unlike in most other countries, the standard leader or elite member of an army is not a fighter but a barbarian. Rashemen's warriors favor light and medium armor for mobility and stealth, dressing for concealment in snowbanks when enemies approach. The military is divided into units called fangs, which serve together as members of the same berserker lodge.
Warriors support the berserkers with ranged fire or follow them to deal with foes left alive after the initial charge. Some units ride small mountain ponies to reach the front lines or to deploy ranged weapons, but they dismount for battle because the ponies are not suitable combat mounts.
Although the berserkers are terrible to behold, they rarely use group tactics. They generally advance as a screaming mass to tear holes in the enemy lines, which is effective but costly. It is the Witches who make the berserkers successful in war, using powerful place magic and summoning great spirits to attack and terrify the enemy forces, taking advantage of the berserkers' initial successes. They also use the witchboats to deploy forces rapidly into key locations, utilizing their great mobility to place shock troops where they are needed.
Most communities in Rashemen have defensive walls. With the cessation of attacks by the Red Wizards, the Rashemi are enhancing and expanding their southern fortifications, often with spells such as wall of stone. As much as they hope for an end to centuries of war with the Thayans, the Rashemi have lived with their hostile neighbors for too long to believe they could change their colors so easily.
The Rashemi are generally content to defend their own borders and rarely invade neighboring lands. On the rare occasions when large numbers of Rashemen's warriors did leave their homes for war, it was always to make a punitive strike against an enemy fortification in retaliation for an attack against Rashemen. The Rashemi, and the berserkers in particular, feel there is no honor in slaying commoners barely able to defend themselves; they prefer to take out their aggression on military targets.
Rashemi are a devout people, involving religion in every aspect of their daily life, for they venerate the spirits of the land as minor deities. Rashemi religion focuses on "the Three" - Bhalla (Chauntea), Mielikki, and the Hidden One (Mystra) - but also honors telthors and famous heroes. Most of the spirits are not known by name, except for very old ones with recognizable personalities. Most people do not meet the spirits in person but instead seek their signs, which are interpreted as miraculous occurrences and omens. Celebrated heroes are believed to serve the Three in the afterlife as generals, strategists, and messengers. They are rarely seen except in fantastic displays of hathran magic such as the planar ally spell.
All Rashemi respect the hathrans in their role as speakers to the divine (whether deities or spirits). The younger divine spellcasters (ethrans who have not yet become hathrans) are responsible. for most spiritual guidance and healing, much like clerics and druids in other lands. This frees up the hathrans to concentrate on greater matters, such as battling the Red Wizards, thwarting the bheur hags, and guarding Rashemen. Only when an ethran's power is insufficient to minister to the people's needs (such as in the case of a plague) are the hathrans called in.
The wychlaran ("wise old women") are the spiritual guides of the Rashemi people, watching over their souls and communicating with the spirits of the land. The formal term for a member of this group is hathran ("learned sister"), although the Red Wizards and others call them the "Witches of Rashemen," a term the women use informally themselves. All female spellcasters in Rashemen, arcane or divine, fall into one of the four following ranks: unproven, ethran, hathran, or othlor.
The unproven are those female spellcasters who do not choose to become ethrans. (In game terms, these are Rashemi spellcasters who do not take the Ethran feat.) A number of adepts and minor spellcasters fall into this category, women who simply do not have the inclination or aptitude for further study. These women are generally left alone by the Witches to practice their magic as they see fit, so long as they do not claim the privileges and authority of a true Witch.
Ethrans are low-ranking initiates of any arcane or divine spellcasting class, although most are clerics or sorcerers. (To become an ethran, a character must choose the Ethran feat.) An ethran is a Witch and bears the full responsibility, and authority that goes along with the title, although she must defer to the hathrans and othlors. There are thousands of ethrans, although most are little more than village healers or spirit-talkers.
Hathrans are the leaders of the sisterhood. (To become a hathran, a character must acquire at least one level in the hathran prestige class.) A hathran can do no wrong in Rashemen; her word is law, and to disobey her is death. There are about three hundred hathrans scattered over the country and elsewhere in Faerûn; the actual number is a carefully guarded secret of the sisterhood.
The wisest and most experienced hathrans carry the title of othlor ("true one"). No more than a dozen or so othlors exist at any one time, although the title is freely awarded to any sister who merits it.
While the wychlaran serve Rashemen as judges, rulers, priests, and warriors, men with spellcasting ability are segregated from their kin as vremyonni, or "Old Ones." Divine spellcasters such as clerics or druids are not required to set themselves apart in this way, but Rashemi expect wychlaran to placate the spirits and intercede with the gods, so male clerics or druids do not have a role in society. Most become hermits or eventually join a berserker lodge (after multiclassing as barbarians) and become advisors to these elite brotherhoods.
Men who happen to be arcane spellcasters have no such option. They must secret themselves among the hidden villages and cavern strongholds of the vremyonni, or they must leave Rashemen. To refuse this command is death. Most Old Ones accept this as the way of things and do not begrudge their seclusion. In their hidden refuges, they become expert weaponsmiths and item-crafters, creating potent magic weapons for the berserkers and wychlaran in defense of the land. On very rare occasions, When Rashemen faces the direst threats, vremyonni take the field and march to war alongside the wychlaran. Masked like their hathran sisters, each binds himself to a hathran with a short length of silken cord, and the paired spellcasters work as deadly teams.
True adventurers - people who wander about solving problems and investigating strange old ruins - are rare in Rashemen, for most get such urges out of their system in the dajemma. Most adventurers within Rashemen are nobles (usually men and women born of powerful and influential berserkers) who undertake dangerous quests to prove their fitness and courage. Adventurers from other lands are viewed with as much suspicion as any foreigner unless traveling with a hathran or respected berserker. Such folk are uncommon, although they are sometimes seen along the Golden Way, acting as caravan guards or heading to explore remote dungeons. Adventurers are most common in the North Country, where the locals are happy to point strangers toward the nearest ruin just to get rid of them.
Most settlements in Rashemen have only one small establishment for dealing with foreign adventurers (locals can usually stay with family or at a berserker lodge-house). Mulptan and Shevel are the exceptions, having become used to caravan traffic and strange faces. Visiting adventurers are often forced to sleep outside, as no right-minded Rashemi would even lend a barn to someone who may be a spy for the Red Wizards. Many adventurers freeze to death in the colder months, unused to such a reception and unprepared for the extreme temperature.
All strangers are encouraged to move along after a couple of days, and foreign spellcasters are advised to use as little magic as possible within Rashemen's borders for fear of upsetting the locals, spirits, and Witches.
This dark reddish brew is made or certain grapes, fruits, and herbs grown near the city of Urling. It is a common drink for wealthier berserkers. Like alcoholic drinks, jhuild is technically a poison, and a character who drinks it must succeed on a Fortitude saving throw (DC 12) to avoid its effect; those who desire it may voluntarily fail this saving throw. Upon drink firewine, the character takes 2 point of temporary Wisdom damage. One minute later, the drinker gains a +2 bonus to Strength, which lasts for 2 hours. Once the Strength bonus wears off, the user must make another Fortitude saving throw (DC 20) or immediately fall unconscious for 3d4 hours. Whether or not that save succeeds, the user takes a -2 penalty on attacks, saves, and checks for the next 12 hours. It is not possible to become addicted to jhuild or overdose on it (although a person might incapacitate himself by drinking enough to reduce his Wisdom score to 0).
A bottle of jhulld costs 70 gp in Rashemen, but in other countries, it can cost 100 gp or more because of its scarcity. Non-berserkers are usually content to drink a weakened form of firewine diluted with ale, which sells for 2 sp a tankard in Rashemen, 7 to 15 gp elsewhere. This weak brew has almost the same flavor as the real drink but does not grant a Strength bonus or cause unconsciousness. Visitors to Rashemen who believe themselves accustomed to jhuild are surprised to find they have been drinking the diluted version. This causes no end of amusement to the Rashemi, especially in a drinking contest with a berserker.