On the many maps of the Kingdom, the northern reaches are marked by fewer and fewer details as the reach of the King and his cadre of knights, wizards, and surveyors weakens. Before the blasted wastes and endless ice of Hyperborea there is another section, marked Hyloidia, the White Lands.
A Savage Land
The White Lands are hoary and old, with many forests. In many places massive stands of pale trees, Bone-Birches, can be found. Some of these ancient trees rival the King’s Oak more common in the heartland of the Kingdoms. In other places the trees are black-barked northern elm, or timelessly ancient yews as twisted as any crone. The rivers there run deep and cold, their waters deceptive and smooth. Beneath the water is rife with undercurrents and unseen rocks to break limbs and slash at unprotected flesh.
The northern edge of the White Lands are demarcated from the wastes of Hyperborea by a massive range of pale mountains, where the stone is nearly as pale as the snow that sits upon their peaks. Rumors speak of fell monsters banished and bound within the roots of the mountains, the elves tell similar tales of foes to mighty to slay, but defeated and placed in ancient vaults beneath the earth. No dwarves tunnel in those palaces of stone, or if they do, none know of them, not even their own kin. Their is an air about the mountains, oppressive and cruel, and to be close to them is to court malaise and death.
Some speak of devils in the mountains, and refer to that blasted land of witches and devils, Zehin. While there is no doubt of the Zehini, and the mountain worshipping diabolism, there is no such similar faith among the Hyloidians. In comparison to the bloody ways of Zehin, or the pomp and circumstance of the Trinity, the Hyloidians are doggedly pragmatic and still honor the Old Paths.
The Sacred Groves
The Bone-Birch is a sacred tree to the Hyloidians, who use it’s wood to craft their best spears and arrows, only delegating bow construction to the most elastic yews. The wood has a very high natural luster, making it popular outside of Hyloidia. While the Hyloidians have reverence for the tree, that do fell them to harvest their wood, but this is done with reverence, and new seedlings are planted in auspicious locales as directed by the druids.
Outside of Hyloidia, the wood of the bone-birch is highly prized for making furniture, wooden boxes, wood carvings and other luxury items from. This creates a good deal of hostility between the natives and outsiders who attempt to cut the trees and escape unnoticed. There are Hyloidian patrols who have the sole task of hunting the tree-poachers and executing them, usually on spears made from the stolen wood.
A Culture of War
The White Lands are far from empty and the Hyloidians are not the only occupants. With the ominous White Mountains to the north and the Halkobras, or Goblin Mountains to the west, the Hyloidians are under constant pressure. There is no shortage of ogres, goblins, trolls, giants, and other filthy races eager for their fertile lands and treasures of iron and moonstone.
As a result of this, the Hyloidian culture has evolved hand in hand with the threat of constant raiding and racial warfare. Most Hyloidian settlements have a palisade wall around them, the berm leading up to them studded with sharpened tree trunks. Most of the buildings in the settlement have thick log walls that are packed with wattle and daub, and a sod roof. This reduces the damage from fiery weapons, and also makes most of the buildings a bit more durable than average.
The people are raised from childhood training in the arts of war. Many children’s games are simple forms of fighting skills, casting sticks at a target translates to spear and javelin casting, while mock fighting with swords and shields is encouraged. Even women are fully capable of defending themselves in times of peril. Those who lack the vigor to fight hand to hand are trained to use bows to shower foes with hails of arrows. Many of the elderly among the Hyloidians are dead-shots with their yew longbows.
Arms and Armor
Metalworking is a borderline form of magic among the White lands. Most of the metal found is poor weapon grade metals such as zinc, tin, and copper. While there are some primitive bronzes being made, the true strength of the Hyloidians comes from their most sacred treasure, an iron mine. Located near the center of their domain, this mine, and the associated coal and peat bogs near it supply the raw materials to produce weapons grade iron for making swords, spear points, helmets, breastplates, and other pieces of armor.
The barbed spear is one of the most common of the Hyloidian arms, being an 8 foot bone-birch shaft with a 10 to 13 inch iron head. The weapon does best against foes in leather armors as the iron is ductile and tends to bend when confronted with steel armors. Secondary weapons are the cut and thrust short sword, and the sling. Archers use a six foot yew bow that is capable of exceptionally long shots, though the lack of good steel prevents the shafts from being able to penetrate very dense armors, such as platemail or the stony hide of trolls.
The heavy weapon of the Hyloidians is called a scorpion, and is distantly related to a ballista. The rolling giant bow is pulled back by means of levers pulling against the thick bowstrings, and the weapon fires a shaft roughly six feet long and three inches thick. Most often, saplings are cut and fire hardened for this, though some are armed with iron shod bolts for stronger penetration.
Their armor is a mix of iron plates and hard boiled leather. The plates are most often worn across the chest and the back to stop torso hits, while the legs are protected by a leather ‘skirt’. Greaves, or metal bracers cover the forearm and lower legs. A few warriors have full arm armor sleeves that they use as shields in a close combat berzerker style of fighting.
The Ghost Paint is a mixture of a local ore ground to a fine dust, lowland mud chosen for its consistancy, and an extract from the hemlock plant. Plastered across the armor, limbs and face of the warrior, the paint has the effect of making the warrior more difficult to see in the normally foggy regions of the White Lands. It also has a euphoric relaxing effect on the warrior, leaving them indifferent to the cadence of war drums or the bellows of the ogres and giants who often attack them.
Songs of Battle
Animal mimicry is a regular aspect of day to day life. Most Hyloidians can mimic a wolf with ease by their teen years. Other animals included are the songs of whipporwills, hawk calls, and most any other sounding animal. The final expression of this art of mimicry is the White Howl. this is a special ability that many warriors learn as they enter into battles, lifting their voices to the eerie pitch of the wolves under the moon, or the song of the Nightsinger, or the death notes of the Whipporwill above a dead man’s bier. This has the semi-magical effect of creating a Fear spell cast against their foes. This fear effect and the utter calm of the white painted warriors has been one of the key factors in their continued survival against the other races who war with them.
The Old Ways
Predating the Trinity and the Via Mortus, the Old Ways are the ancient rites of honoring the basic forces of nature. to the Old Ways, all of the gods are valid, if not equals, and none can claim supremacy as the true gods have since gone into slumber, leaving the current gods as wayward stewards. The Hyloidians recognize seven elder gods, anming them as Those Who Slumber. They are named:
Tactorix, Keeper of the winds and sheperd of the stars.
Brisorix, Bearer of the Sun Jewel, and mother of day.
Gutramix, guardian of the spirits of the slain and that which is past.
Malanix, Lord of the Mountains and the pillar of the heavens.
Anukovix, The Lady of all Waters.
Usamerix, the Gatherer of Forces, the god of all gods.
These gods are worshipped in large open shrines, with many smaller shrines dedicated to local spirits and powers that remain in harmony with the will of Those Who Slumber. Offerings of incense, animal blood and fat, and other burnable goods are made there, with the shrine keepers taking the meat from the sacrifices into feast day offerings to the common folk.
Giants of Wood
One of the most signifigant aspects of the Hyloidian’s religious practices is the Wicker Man. Built once a year, this colossus can be as tall as fifty feet and is as much a marvel of construction as it is a thing of the gods. Built in the springtime of greenwood, it’s construction marks the first day of the new year and the end of winter. After being built, it spends much of the spring and summer festooned with garlands of ivy and flowers. The acolytes of the quasi-druidic faith tend to the giant until the fall comes and the Autumnal Equinox.
During this time, the wicker giant is filled with dry wood gathered from the forest as well as the offerings of the villages that built it. Livestock is sacrificed on massive stone altars before the wicker man, and in rare instances humans are sacrificed. Most of the time, these are criminals of the most vial sort, offending outlanders or the heaped up bodies of prisoners of war. A festival is held at the feet of the giant, with many participants becoming drunken, engaging in intercourse and impromptu games of competition and chance.
The highlight of the festival comes when the Heirophant, or high druid, calls on the old gods to take their offering. This is the signal for the wicker man to be set ablaze, consuming it and everything placed inside of it completely. On rare occasion, living offerings are placed within the wicker man. Rather than criminals or slaves, these are considered worthy sacrifices, and enter the cage willingly. Most often these are members of the priesthood who have recieved a vision from the gods of the Old Ways, and have been called to them. Such victims are known as Wicker Saints, or the Wickerman’s Children.
A Place in the World
Located far to the north and to the west, Hyloidia and the rest of the White Lands are far removed from Falhath and its environs. The Kingdom of Trinistine has not yet reached the borders of this region, as such the Old Faith remains strong. Most ‘civilized’ folk would consider the Hyloidians barbaric in the very least and some would consider then inhuman. Magic users are held in very high regard by the Hyloidians, and many magi have fled the clerically dominated southern regions for safer homes in the north. AS such the bloodlines of magic run deep and strong in the area, with the ability to work magic being more common than it is elsewhere.
Missionaries - The PCs, likely a clerical bunch, have gotten marching orders to bring god to those dirty mud caked heathens in the northlands. As outlanders from a technologically superior culture, the PCs have an initial advantage in combat, but should soon be at a disadvantage when facing the wild northmen.
Visions - The PCs end up in a Hyloidian settlement in time for the time of the Burning Man. A local priestess demands to be wed to one of the PCs, complete with whatever said PC wants. The tables turn when she later reveals that she and her husband are to be victoriously offered to the gods as Children of the Wicker Man. Things should get hot under the collar by then.
Ogre Raid - The PCs have to help defend a settlement against an ogre raid, letting them see the challenges of a society that they see as weak, ineffectual, and inbred and leave them wondering what their homes would be like if faced with similar challenges.
Gods of Wood and Stone - gods of the old stripe, the powers of the Old Ways are violent and atavistic. Offending the God of the Wolves of the Feldershaar is going to bring packs of bloodlusting wolves down on the offenders. The PCs insult a potent local god and have to face the consequences…