The Mountains of Morpheus
People of Drau Mura
Drau Mura has no high king or ruling council, and has never had one. Perhaps the closest it ever came to such a state was under the rule of Kasha Sword-Eye, a warlord-queen who conquered much of the region, including what are now the Sibarii city-states. Though a pitiless warrior, Kasha is credited with instituting many of the customs and common law of the land, and for helping found several orders of clerics and paladins that exist to this day.
The Azna, the human ethnic group that populates much of the region, recognize Kasha Sword-Eye as a hero and uniter who brought peace, however temporary, to Drau Mura. Today, years are tracked in relation to the conclusion of the Crying War, when 177 years ago her forces proclaimed victory over conquered cities and castles.
Today, the Azna are concentrated in the disparate towns and city-states collectively called the Sibarii, and are very common in the Tesia. Despite Kasha’s iron-fisted rule, the Sibarii have been politically fragmented — often at each other’s throats — for generations. From time to time, a warlord or prince has attempted to rally the entire Azna people to her banner, which usually provoked several fierce battles among the Sibarii. Today, ethnic solidarity works halfway in uniting the Sibarii against an external foe. In times of tenuous peace, the city-states’ princes condone the pillage of each other’s outlying settlements, and in times of strong peace, they scheme to attract political favor and economic power.
The Sibarii have long disputed with the ancient kingdom of Kala Anar, which is composed of two distinct castes: the Sky-born, which are the kingdom’s ruling class, and the Soil-born, which are its common folk. Divisions between the the two “races” are enforced by the Sky-born aristocracy, who claim descent from dragons. The aristocracy enjoy a high standard of living, and are (at least compared to anyone else in Drau Mura) innately talented with magic — said to be the birthright of a noble people with draconic ancestry. On the other hand, the Soil-born face various social and legal restrictions, perhaps the most significant of which is the prohibition from learning magic.
The kingdoms of the Arius, who are also their own human ethnic group, have enjoyed relative peace and prosperity for the last generation or two. Their wealth attracts thieves, bandits, and political aggression, fostering a degree of mutual enmity with the rest of Drau Mura. Further adding to the revulsion of the Arius is their nobility’s ancient practice of necromancy. Aristocrats reputedly consult the shades of their ancestors for advice, and reanimate the despised to serve. Many rulers, priests, and wizards have sought, none successfully, to reconcile the tradition of necromancy with the dominant Ashoum religion. Arius nobility keep relatively good relations (often meaning little more than open lines of communication) with about half of the nobility of the Sibarii and the Tesia, thanks to over a century of careful intermarriage.
The four city-states that make up the Federation of the Tesia are the most ethnically mixed in Drau Mura, and the city-state of Mercadia is the region’s largest urban center. Its denizens often come from faraway lands, though the Azna are most common among humans. Rulership has changed hands countless times among the Tesia’s domains: pirates, barbarian warlords, Kala Anar aristocrats, unnatural entities, and thieves’ guilds have all ruled one city-state or another at some point in time. Currently, a web of professional and merchants’ guilds wield considerable poitical power, backing various family patriarchs that hold magistrate offices.
The Eastern Tribes are widely regarded as barbarians. Semi-nomadic people whose wealth is concentrated in their livestock (some breeds of which are highly prized, even supernatural), the Eastern Tribes do not usually relate to outsiders under peaceful circumstances. They have a dark reputation stemming from their martial prowess and their regular practice of raiding other lands, though there is a history of mutual retaliation between them and “civilized” powers. A swirl of feuds clearly divides the tribes, though playing tribe against another is deeply frustrating to even the most skilled diplomats. Most tribes follow a mix of the Old Ways, pagan deities, and ancestor veneration. Half-orcs are found among most of the tribes, and human/half-orc distinctions are weak at best.
Some of the more prominent tribes are the Brixia (who manage a great deal of druidic lore), the Ravenna (hearty, orc-blooded horse breeders), the Cold Sun (who have the best relations with outsiders), and the Vorroros (a recently ascendant tribe with a reputation for ruthless, fearsome violence and devotion to its patron deity, the Invincible Thunder).
Dwarves and Halflings
For generations, dwarves have ruled their underground kingdoms to the north, where they tend to live better than the halfling agrarian settlements from whom they collect rent. Although dwarves and halflings hardly have a clean history, both fear and despise the frost giants to the far north, who easily survive in the inhospitable climate but make raids to capture slaves.
Even before the rule of Kasha Sword-Eye, clanless dwarves and halflings trickled southward to live among human civilizations, mostly dwarves to the Sibarii city-states and halflings to the Arius Kingdoms. Today, Sibarii dwarves and halflings are culturally removed from their northern counterparts. Some have prospered through canny investment in the human economy, but most, like most humans, find themselves at the bottom of socioeconomic hierarchies.
Half-elves make up a distinct ethnic minority, known as the Vanir, but also as the elf-blooded (and as “elves”). Most half-elves are born to other half-elves, and very few are able to (or would care to) trace their lineage to a pure-blooded elven ancestor. The Vanir have only arrived en masse in the last century or so, apparently having experienced a diaspora from their homelands. Most Vanir families congregate in the Tesia, and they cleave to their own faith, the worship of a monotheistic sun god.
The Vanir have highly cherished arcane and divine traditions, with both clerics and wizards representing their religion. The warlocks’ practice is expressly forbidden, to the extent that even an outside warlock may attract Vanir interference. In cities, tight-knit half-elf communities (backed with magic) can enjoy a degree of prosperity, even power. They face some persecution and scapegoating, however, and attempts to locate a territory of their own often leads to exploitation and conflict.
Other Races and Mongrel Blood
Dragonborn, gnomes, and tieflings are very rare. As they are not native to Drau Mura, most of them are adventurers, travelers, or exiles, usually coming by way of a harbor of the Tesia. Elves are uncommon, and just as likely to come from abroad as from their secluded kingdom in the far northwest. Orcs hail from the far east, though they rarely venture into Drau Mura, as they apparently have been locked in a series of conflicts with each other and undead monsters for some time.
The term “half-elf” actually denotes anyone with apparent elvish traits, and given the curious interactions between human and non-human blood, a “human” with a single elvish ancestor as many as five generations apart may look as much a half-elf as a person of half-human, half-elvish descent; the opposite is true too. Given that most Vanir descend from other Vanir, calculating an individual’s blood quantum is next to impossible for most half-elves. Similar hereditary “principles” apply for half-orcs, whose distinctive features can also persist through several generations’ of dilution by watery human blood.
Ethnic Azna humans have perhaps the highest rate of intermarriage with other people (especially in the Tesia), and their appearance varies with region. Their skin ranges from light olive to dark brown; their eyes are usually amber or brown, though green eyes are thought to indicate descent from various Azna culture heroes. Their hair is dark brown to black, and among men and women it usually reaches down to or past the shoulders. Certain braids, by custom, indicate profession, faith, marital status, and place of origin. Baldness is associated with weakness; the wealthy purchase wigs to hide it, and to forcibly shave someone is to seriously humiliate her.
The Arius have light to light brown skin, which they keep short, with trimmed beards among men. Most have brown eyes, but blue and green eyes are seen as marks of beauty. Aristocrats use a wide array of cosmetics to pale and color their skin and facial features — sometimes, the intent is to present an acceptable visage to the deceased, or ghosts whom they may conjure for advice. Among all the Arius, rings are popular, the number and make indicating one’s success, prosperity, and achievements.
Despite Kala Anar’s class differences, the untrained eye cannot, from afar, distinguish between the average Sky-born noble and the Soil-born worker (in part due to some intermarriage, and much, much more sex in secret). Both castes have dark skin with tight, curly black hair. On average, the Sky-born are taller and have less body hair, though these are hardly useful distinctions. Sharply distinguishing a minority — perhaps one in ten — of Sky-born are reptilian features: for example, slit pupils, patches of scales, a tongue cleft like a snake’s, and various sensitivities of digestion. Such features are considered signs of a healthy, and sorcerous, lineage; children with a “dragon’s mark” will likely face the expectation to display magical talent. Sometimes, a Soil-born peasant is found to have such features — her family may face accusations of miscegenation, or she might be treated as “Sky-born all along,” a noble scion tragically lost at birth and raised among peasants. The situation usually attracts more unwanted curiosity than charity.
The Sky-born rely on dress to distinguish themselves from their lessers. Most wear an assortment of rings, brooches, pins, and piercings. Aristocrats speak with an accent characterized by a deeper pitch and careful but dramatic gesticulation. It is popular (though sometimes there’s not really any other option) among the Soil-born to keep their appearance plain and modest, though few grow long hair — indeed, only Sky-born are permitted to wear elaborate, braided hairstyles.
The stereotypical “barbarian” of the Eastern Tribes has fair skin, but a thick, coal-black mane and (if a man) beard. Of course, that’s a stereotype, but the tribes are generally of lighter skin, thought to suggest descent from the vicious, pale frost giants of the north. Over half of these people have some orcish blood, manifesting variously as pronounced canines (or even tusks!), bright amber eyes, a darker hue of blood, and general stature and muscle.