Alara: Culture of the Civilized Lands

This post is going to be a bit of a hodgepodge. I’m basically going to be talking about the culture of the Civilized Lands, and culture is such an undefinable thing that I’ll be going over a lot of stuff. I’ll go over three things in this post: History, Currency, and Entertainment. That should give a good amount of background that will allow you to figure out exactly what’s going on in the Civilized Lands.

A Brief History of the Civilized Lands
The Civilized Lands, on the whole, are still reeling from the destruction of an empire that enforced the peace for more than three hundred years.

For all of written human history, human civilization on Alara had been limited to a collection of city-states in the area known as the Civilized Lands. These city-states were entirely uncountable, with shifting alliances occurring every week and wars constantly being waged. The most powerful of these city-states were three cities known as Dunél Vas, Argan Vas, and Tugél Vas. In Old Common, these three names roughly translated into City of Kings, City of Swords, and City of Bones.

All of these city-states wanted power more than anything else. It was obvious that they could gain nothing while constantly battling each other. Roughly five hundred years ago, the city-states of Dunél Vas and Argan Vas forged an alliance. Together, they overtook all of the smaller city-states near them. They allied with the elven nations and the dwarven kingdom of Irongate. Tugél Vas faded into the background, knowing that they would be defeated if they drew attention to themselves. The Empire was born.

Peace happened. The only conflict that even occasionally disrupted the peace was excursions into the forests of Selvern, home of the evil Satyrs, but even that did not disturb the peace too much. The Satyrs gradually hid, using their powerful illusion magic to disguise their tree-cities. Gradually, expeditions into the woods of Selvern ceased. All was well, and peace was held for three centuries, only being interrupted by the occasional crusade waged against some far-off foe. These did not, however, interrupt the day-to-day living of the Empire.

Roughly two hundred years ago, everything fell apart. Assassins, striking in one bloody night, slew the benevolent king of Argan Vas and many of the politicians who supported him. A power-hungry group of warlords took control of the City of Swords. Many of the cities on the farthest reaches of the power of Dunél Vas took the chance and rebelled, forming countless scattered city-states, many around the rivers of the Civilized Lands. In a fortnight, the power of the Empire was reduced to less than half that of its former self.

The emperor, a man named Darius, was furious. He waged war against the new leaders of Argan Vas, a war that was not exactly helped by the fact that they had enlisted the help of the Satyrs – indeed, it was through the plots of the Satyrs that the old king had fallen in the first place. Through this long war, he gradually went insane from rage. When he was about to declare war on his elven and dwarven allies due to “them not helping enough”, his eldest son, Benedict, slew him and took his crown.

Benedict knew that the label of “emperor” was a recipe for disaster, and thus christened himself King Benedict I. He renamed the city of Dunél Vas in the new tongue (the Common language had evolved since the founding of the Empire), calling it Wyrmspire and taking it for his capital. Thus, the Alliance was born. At roughly the same time, the Twelve also emerged.

Since then, the Alliance have been engaged in basically constant warfare with the Twelve. A rough pattern has emerged, with twenty years of war being followed by twenty years of peace. Currently, the Civilized Lands are in the middle of one of these periods of peace. Roughly fifty years ago, the city of Below was founded (although at first, no one new it was going to be a city. It was merely a small experimentational outpost originally).

The highest unit of currency in the Civilized Lands is known as the Imperial Draketalon. The draketalon is a leftover from the days of the Empire. Way back when the Empire was first formed, the talons of actual dragons were often used as currency. This had several downsides, ranging from the fact that dragon talons were a severely limited resource to the fact that several powerful dragons took umbrage to this and went on years-long rampages. Eventually, the draketalons were replaced with gold coins, but the name was retained.

After the fall of the Empire, all the current nations kept the Draketalon for their currency as a matter of convenience. They are still referred to formally as “Imperial Draketalons”, as that is their origin. The appearance of an Imperial Draketalon often differs vastly depending on its nation of origin and how long ago it was minted. The most common form of draketalon is a round gold coin, about the size of a half-dollar coin, with a dragon on one side and the head of the leader of the nation where it was produced in profile on the other side. Draketalons are worth the same no matter what nation the come from. Alliance draketalons are accepted in the lands of the Twelve, and vise-versa.

A lower denomination of currency is the wyrmling. These coins don’t have any complicated backstory behind them, but were named wyrmlings in keeping with the dragon theme of the draketalon. Wyrmlings are produced by all of the civilizations that produce draketalons. As such, wyrmlings often differ greatly in appearance. The most common variety is a small iron coin, about the size of a quarter, with a square hole through the middle. On one side, there is a picture of a young dragon, and on the other some kind of design, often vines twining around the edges of the coin.

The lowest denomination of currency is a small, unmarked coin, iron and about the size of a dime. These are the very lowest coin in all the lands, and are often used to purchase small and useless things. They have no official name (they were only created in a depression that occurred several decades ago, and no one ever got around to naming them), but are often colloquially referred to as shards. Ten shards are worth one wyrmling, and ten wyrmlings are worth a draketalon.

Bartering is common among farmers and those that live in rural areas. In towns and cities, however, the use of coinage is basically required.

This system of coins is used only by the humans, elves, dwarves, and Underfoot. The Amen-Kathar, the Rhokari, the Satyrs, and the Njorlghar have no currency. The Minotaur use their own currency, but the Council is pressuring the emperor to accept the draketalon instead.

The ways in which a civilization entertains itself can go a long way towards defining its culture. Powerful and influential nations often play strategy games that require great amounts of thought, luxurious civilizations have bloody gladiator battles, and poor tribes play games such as “Throw The Rock” “Throw The Stick” and “Throw The Rock and then Throw The Stick Shortly Thereafter”.

The Civilized Lands have a combination of many of these characteristics. The minotaur regularly enjoy the sand and blood of the gladiator battles in their local arena. While many inhabitants of the mainlands look upon this with disdain, many also enjoy the same general thing. While technically illegal, underground fighting pits have sprung up all over the Civilized Lands. The most famous of these is the Arena of Blood, which is quite literally undergound, being formed out of a small part of the tunnels beneath Wyrmspire. Nightly battles amuse many patrons, and bets are constantly being placed upon the outcome of the fights.

More civilized folk play many other sort of games. The most common games are Karran, any game using a standard deck of cards, and games involving dice. Dice in the Civilized Lands are most often six-sided, just like those of the real world. A common variant is six-sided dice that have each side painted a different color, instead of bearing a different number. All manner of gambling games have emerged from these dice.

Karran is a common game. It is very much like chess, except for the exclusion of the King and Queen pieces, and the inclusion of the Throne piece and the Dragon piece. The Throne piece is basically a duplicate of the King, except for its ability to perform a maneuver known as Crowning, which allows it to upgrade a nearby pawn to a lord (the equivalent of a knight) in exchange for several moves. The Dragon piece moves as a Queen, but may move over other pieces. The most brilliant minds play a variant known as Dra’Karran, an incredibly complicated game played on three boards with over twenty unique pieces.

Many games are played with a deck of cards. The standard deck of cards of the Civilized Lands differs greatly from a card deck of the real world. Alaran card decks are based on units of eight (oft considered a lucky number). An Alaran card deck consists of eight suits with eight cards in each suit. Many games are played with this card deck. The eight suits are Kings, Knights, Lords, Drakes, Men, Elves, Dwarves, and Winds. Each suit has eight cards, an ace and a two card through an eight card. The suits are represented with appropriate symbols: small crowns represent the King suit, small swords the Knight suit, etcetera. Decks vary greatly from one another in terms of artisticness, cheap decks merely have symbols and labels, while more expensive decks have beautiful pictures for every card. The fact that there are only eight cards in each suit has entered into common vocabulary, something very valuable could be referred to as a “nine of Kings” (Kings are traditionally the trump suit), while something elusive could be referred to as a “nine of Winds” (Winds are often wild cards).

Next post, I’ll probably be doing something involving a dwarven subrace. Look forward to it, peons.


1 Comment

  1. September 25, 2007 at 6:20 am

    […] several eight-sided dice and the traditional deck of cards used in the Civilized Lands (described here). Karran is also widely played, and in some establishments there are special back rooms for the […]

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