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Races of Varisia
From the reclusive elves of the Mierani forest to the orc-blooded interlopers from the Hold of Belkzen to the Varisian wanderers from whom the region takes its name, diversity and conflict characterize the varied cultures that make Varisia their home.
Three distinct human societies dwell in Varisia: the expansionist colonists of Cheliax, the tempestuous tribes of the Shoanti barbarians, and the enigmatic Varisians.
Beyond the Mindspin Mountains and far to the south lies the cosmopolitan heresy of Cheliax. Once an empire of unquestioned might, the death of the empire’s god Aroden allowed the rise of a diabolical aristocracy who treat with the denizens of Hell to afford their endless decadence and eternal rule. Although unquestionably depraved and diminished by the loss of its deity, Cheliax remains a beacon of culture, art, and magic that dominates much of the southern part of the continent.
While expansionist Cheliax once coveted the riches of Varisia, its decline has freed its colonies to their own fates. Now, the most powerful of Cheliax’s city-states, monument-haunted Magnimar and imperial-minded Korvosa, vie for control of its abandoned Varisian holdings.
In these cities and the numerous vassal settlements of each, the majority of the populace can trace their ancestry to the sharp-featured people of Cheliax. Chelaxians possess dark hair and eyes contrasted by pale skin—along with a taste for artistic fineries and high art—and the far-reaching and polyethnic holdings of Cheliax allow humans of varied heritages to claim Chelish descent. So numerous and varied are these immigrants that the natives of Varisia now simply refer to all humans not of Varisian or Shoanti blood as Chelaxians.
Across the northeastern reaches of Varisia, the seven ardent tribes of the Shoanti make their homes. A turbulent people adhering to traditions unchanged in hundreds of years, these natives live harsh lives, preying upon predators and eking what they can from an unforgiving land. Most of the tribes nomadically follow herds and water as the seasons demand, but they typically stay within familiar territories and return to favored homelands year after year.
The Shoanti once held all of Varisia as their own, sharing it only with the Varisians, whom they coldly accept as distant cousins. The coming of explorers and colonists from Cheliax changed all this, though, sparking an age of bloody warfare. Few know how many tribes of Shoanti were lost in these endless battles—and even today the names of the so-called dead tribes are not spoken—but finally the barbarians were forced to cede their homeland’s southern reaches to the invaders. While they still claim all Varisia as their rightful land, today the Shoanti tribes are limited the Storval Plateau, the Cinderlands, the Curchainian Hills, and the Velashu Uplands. Their loss of the south remains an unhealed wound shared between all the tribes, and fiery youths often raise their voices in bloody vows against all those of Chelish blood. Of the seven remaining Shoanti tribes, those of the Shriikirri-Quah—a people who hold great respect for animals and claim to learn much from their ways—are most likely to interact with other peoples. The other tribes, those of the Lyrune-Quah, Shadde-Quah, Shundar-Quah, Sklar-Quah, Skoan-Quah, Tamiir-Quah, typically prove more warlike and aloof.
The Shoanti are a hale and powerfully built people. Typically of ruddy complexion, most men stand well over 6 feet tall, with women only slightly shorter. Hair is viewed as a distraction and possible detriment (especially in the complex arts of hand-to-hand battle many tribes cultivate) and thus both genders frequently shave their heads—with only mystics and the elderly ignoring this meme. Many Shoanti wear prominent tattoos, typically of shapes and patterns heavy with traditional meaning, which wearers expand and embellish upon as they age.
Passionate and fiercely independent, Varisians lend their name to their homeland, Varisia. While these clannish wanderers can be found throughout the world, nowhere are larger populations found than in the land of their ancestors.
Insular and adhering to an ancient, nomadic way of life, extended families of Varisians form wandering communities, traveling wherever fate directs them. Varisians don’t believe in claiming land and thus see no hardship in their nomadism. While nature provides for most of their needs, these wanderers often visit the cities and towns of settled people to trade art and curios from their travels, earn coin by entertaining and performing small jobs, and sometimes to con and steal from the unwary. Varisians are also known for their unique mysticism. Some believe their traditional dances provide insights into the future and their family elders can hear the voices of the long dead.
The typical Varisian possesses deep olive skin and hair that ranges from black to auburn, often worn long by both men and women. Customary tattooing leads most to exhibit complex patterns and symbols significantly different from those worn by the Shoanti who share their homeland. As wanderers and—often—entertainers, Varisian dress tends toward extremes, from functional garb fit for traveling to wildly impractical dress meant to accentuate their dancing, exotic tattoos, and naturally fit forms.
The majority of the dwarves of Varisia live in the iron-walled town of Janderhoff. Having settled in the copper-rich foothills of the Mindspin Mountains centuries ago, with the coming of foreign interlopers the dwarves have seen their home change from a simple mining village to a bustling trading town. Despite Janderhoff’s fortresslike exterior, its people welcome any visitors who seek to do honest business and who don’t cause trouble. This hospitality extends to both the Shoanti tribes of the Storval Plateau and the Chelish traditionalists of Korvosa. While the barbarians and Chelaxians antagonize one another seemingly at every opportunity, Janderhoff has no mind for such bickering. The dwarves eagerly capitalize on their position as the sole passage for the worked goods of Korvosa and beyond onto the plateau and rare Shoanti foods, medicines, and ancient artifacts into the south.
While Janderhoff offers great opportunities to enterprising dwarves, those who seek their fortunes away from their home’s copper steeples can be found among the workshops of Magnimar, the gas forges of Riddleport, hunting alongside the Shoanti, and anywhere else in Varisia that a profit might be made.
Few elves make their home in Varisia, with the exception of the residents of the Mierani forest. From the giant pines, white barks, and towering coastal redwoods, the Mierani elves have sculpted several villages, most notably cliff-side Arsmeril on the coast and the trading town of Crying Leaf on the edge of the Velashu Uplands. Their true home, though, the tree-city of Celwynvian, is a city abandoned. Although it still stands, the elves have fled the City of Emerald Rains, saying only that the place has fallen under the deepest of shadows. Few elves—and no outsiders— know any more than this, though emissaries to Korvosa and Magnimar offer incredible rewards to any willing to investigate the forsaken city.
Aside from those of the northern forest, elves from far-off exotic locales like Kyonin, Sovyrian, and the Mordant Spire are not unknown in Varisia’s larger ports.
While it’s well-known that the gnomes of Varisia make their homes in the Sanos forest, few can truthfully say they’ve ever seen an actual gnome community. Whimsical but secretive—despite their seemingly good natures—the gnomes of Varisia rarely speak of their homes. Even when they do, their details rarely weather retellings, leading many to speculate that a great treasure, gateways to the fey court, or some other secret lies hidden within the forest. Regardless of their mysteries, Varisian gnomes share their race’s typical ties to the natural world, and perhaps even a heightened curiosity, as many gnomes seem to sense something vaguely “off,” “strange,” or “old” about the land.
Gnomes are most commonly found in the rural communities around the Sanos forest. Nybor, Wartle, and Whistledown host the largest populations, with some even traveling as far as Magnimar and Riddleport. While gnomes are sometimes seen in Korvosa or farther north, these rare individuals are typically traders and wanderers from Thom to the east, Brastlewark in Cheliax, or the Shay Citadels of Irrere.
As they tend to throughout the world, the halflings of Varisia live among the other races of the lands they inhabit. Most commonly met in the southern lands from Magnimar to Korvosa, halflings tend to adopt one of three distinct ways of life.
As many migrated to Varisia following Chelish explorers, the halflings of Korvosa and its vassal townships live life similarly to their kin in Cheliax: second-class citizens who toil as servants, middlemen, and entertainers. To the west, in the lands claimed by Magnimar, halflings enjoy more emancipated lives, occupying many of the same roles as humans. Although some Chelish prejudices survive, leading some to ridicule the smaller folk, most halflings are happy to swindle foolish and condescending humans.
Numerous halflings have also joined the land’s native Varisians, sharing in their nomadisim and reverence of the goddess Desna. Both peoples seem to view the other as kindred spirits and willingly share their ways.
Born of extraordinary and often unfortunate circumstances, half-elves face prejudices of both their parent races. While some find it easy to disguise their mixed heritages in the teeming human cities of southern Varisia, a considerable number discover a harsh sanctuary among the cutthroats and outcasts of Riddleport. Some half-elves dwell on the fringes of the Mierani forest where they are, at best, pitied by their elven kin or, at worst, shunned. A few half-elves have come to live among Varisia’s wandering natives: the Shoanti see no difference between them and full-blooded elves, while Varisians prove all too familiar with the scorn of their “civilized” human cousins.
Regardless—or perhaps in spite—of the cards cast against them, half-elves strive for extraordinary goals, doing and saying what few would dare, defying the world, and determinedly shattering prejudices.
Members of this rare, bastard race most commonly come to Varisia alongside marauders from the Hold of Belkzen, which frequently raid Shoanti tribes and pillage the sparse resources of the Cinderlands. The warlike clans long ago discovered that breeding with humans produced whelps of greater cunning and discipline and have since preyed upon Varisia’s native peoples to provide such brutal unions.
While some half-orcs have sought to escape the barbarousness of Belkzen, most travel Varisia on special orders from their warlords, taking them to scurvy Riddleport, shadowy Kaer Maga, or the merciless pits of Urglin. While some make their homes in the same depraved dens their bloodthirsty kin frequent, others live on the fringes of Varisia’s southern lands. In seeking acceptance, these outcasts lead lives of incredible daring and personal discipline, ever hoping to prove their worth by actions and escape the shadows of their birth. In any case, wise half-orcs rightly avoid Varisia’s native Shoanti, who see them as the foulest abominations, more hated than even the Chelaxians of the south.