“Come to me eesland, weary chil’ o’ de Sea!” sang the fisherfolk as they hung their heavy nets to dry in the tropical breeze. “She gif’ you peace; She gif’ you love; She wher’ you long to be!”
This chain of small islands is a popular stop for passing ships, best known for its many colorful tropical birds. Blessed with beautiful beaches, beautiful women, and fertile volcanic soil, few sailors would willingly miss an opportunity for shore leave on these idyllic isles.
The inhabitants of the Zwitters are a tall, dark-skinned people, known for their elegant features and generous disposition. Visitors from more cautious lands are often amazed at the way these openhearted people take relative strangers into their homes and families.
Late in the last century, many of the Zwitters converted to the worship of a peaceful god of mercy: The demands of this new god fit well with the generous spirit of the islands’ people. Despite this official worship, many of the islanders still pay private obeisance to the island spirits that their ancestors honored. Their public worship can be rather odd, as elements of their previous religions intrude upon their ceremonies.
Women on these islands adorn themselves with necklaces of beads and shells, which are exchanged at any important occasion. The complex patterns of color and design found on these necklaces convey a wealth of information to the islanders, but most foreign visitors find the details baffling. A careless sailor that gives one of these necklaces to a maiden he fancies may find himself accidentally betrothed, or worse, incur the wrath of the girl’s family due to his “indecent” proposal.
Men on the islands share complex and stylized tattoos, celebrating important occasions and close friendships with painful tattoo ceremonies. Older islanders will often proudly describe the meaning of each piece of ornate body art, often in great detail. It is believed that the eldest and greatest tattoo artists of the islands are able to imbue these designs with magical power, often designing patterns that allow friends to contact each other for help in times of need.
The government of the Zwitter islands is overseen by circles of elders from each of the islands’ small towns. Little is expressly forbidden, but the majority of the island men act as a militia, keeping the peace and discouraging violence. Drunk or violent sailors will be locked up until they are sober, then escorted back to their ships and advised not to return. Ship captains generally enforce good behavior from their crews, for ships that repeatedly cause problems will be “blacklisted”: No islander will trade with them and they are not permitted to make harbor there.
While the islands seem almost defenseless against pirates or foreign powers, there are persistent rumors of a powerful mage (or group of mages) guarding these peaceful people. Legends tell of hostile fleets that were scattered by sudden storms or overwhelmed by horrifying creatures of the depths when they approached the islands. Although the identities of these mysterious guardians are not known, it is likely that the island folk are well protected.
The majority of the islanders make their living from the sea. Many of them work as fishermen, while others have an unusual trade: They train fish to retrieve oysters. An odd local fish can be trained to “fetch” items. Schools of these odd little fish, known as “shellsuckers”, search out oysters and haul them up to the surface, where the islanders cut them apart and allow the fish to feed on the contents. In order to ensure a bountiful crop of pearls, these islanders have developed techniques of “seeding” pearls, raising thousands of oysters in sheltered pools, and then throwing them out to sea to mature. Immature oysters brought in by their trained fish are hauled away from the harvest site and thrown back out to sea.
The islands are known for their pearls, tropical fruits, and the rich crops of their numerous farms and plantations, but their talking birds are probably their most famous export. A dozen different species are captured and tamed to serve as pets. These avians each have colorful names, ranging from the “Scarlet Hornbeak”, through “Willet’s Conure” and the agile “Palmdancer Macaw”. A few species, hunted excessively, have become very rare, and there is talk of banning their export. Some fear that the “Crimson-Tailed Parrot” and the “Titan Macaw” may soon vanish from the lush forests of their home islands.
Uses in the Campaign
These beautiful islands feature no ominous plots, no secret cultural “booby traps”, no horrible cults: Just a pleasant island to visit. Someplace where the heroes can accidentally get engaged to a tropical beauty, can try to help a “blacklisted” ship get the supplies they need, or can argue religious orthodoxy with the odd local priests.
Druidically inclined types can attempt to save the rare birds from magically-inclined sorts who need them as spell components. Some might want to seek out the magical guardians of the islands, who could certainly teach a thing or two about weather control, while others, doubting the guardians actually exist, might enlist to help these folk defend themselves against pirates or the predatory rulers of neighboring lands.
Alternatively, in a grimmer world, where peace and plenty are fading memories, the Zwitters could be some fancied legend, a utopia where the sun always shines and the wind is always warm. In such a game, pale warriors of the sea could tell tales of “the Islands next to Heaven”, long lost to men.