Runelords of the Shattered Star
Common Races of Varisia
Humans are the most common race in Varisia. Three distinct human societies dwell here: the descendants of colonists of the empire of Cheliax, the tempestuous native tribes of the Shoanti, and the enigmatic and nomadic Varisians.
A long time ago, Cheliax was once an empire of unquestioned might far to the south. Approximately 500 years ago, the empire sent Chelish colonists to explore the largely wilderness filled Varisia and establish settlements. This sparked a war between the settlers and Shoanti that last nearly a century before the Shoanti were pushed back onto the Storval Plateau and other less desirable regions.
With the native inhabitants removed from the most fertile land near the coast, Chelish colonists began to arrive in much greater numbers, under the pretense of bringing “civilization and culture” to Varisia. They established outposts that flourished into great centers of trade. When the empire fell, these cities continued to thrive as independent city-states and centers of commerce.
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 with medium builds, although the far-reaching and polyethnic holdings of the Cheliaxian empire allow humans of varied heritages to claim Chelish descent. Many have a taste for artistic fineries and high art. Chelaxians tend to be an inherently lawful people who take great care and pride in following the rules set out by the community, although they are just as easily swayed to a life of crime as any other people.
Many Chelaxian scholars claim that their people come from the ancient Azlanti (an ancient mythical progenitor race of all human civilization). This is a point of pride for many who believe it, although much of the evidence to support it is weak at best.
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 the empire of 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 (Hawk Clan) — 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 (Moon Clan), Shadde-Quah (Axe Clan), Shundar-Quah (Spire Clan), Sklar-Quah (Sun Clan), Skoan-Quah (Skull Clan), Tamiir-Quah (Wind Clan), typically prove more warlike and aloof.
The Shoanti are a hale and powerfully built people. Typically of ruddy complexion, most men are very tall (~ 6ft.), 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 or trim much of their hair — with only mystics and the elderly ignoring this meme. Many Shoanti wear simple, revealing clothing showcasing their 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 of caravans, 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.
While Varisians are widely known for their love of music and dance, they are also known for their mysticism. Many can be found making a living as fortune-tellers by reading fates through crystal balls and harrow cards. Some even 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. They often have large, expressive eyes and have lithe bodies with long limbs. 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 or revealing dress meant to accentuate their dancing, exotic tattoos, and naturally fit forms. They often garb themselves in brightly colored clothing and some believe colors carry mystical significance. Varisians prefer wealth in the form of gemstones and jewelry, rather than coins, and secure such valuables on their person whenever possible. Varisians are also fond of scarves of all types and many are woven as an intricate record of his or her family tree recorded in colors and patterns.
The majority of the dwarves of Varisia live in the iron-walled city of Janderhoff, in Varisia’s eastern mountain ranges. 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 a passage for the worked goods of Korvosa 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 and Korvosa, hunting alongside the Shoanti, and anywhere else in Varisia that a profit might be made.
Few elves make their home in Varisia, after the abandonment of their true home, the tree-city of Celwynvian in the Mierani Forest. 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.
Despite this, a few settlements outside the forest still stand. From the giant pines, white barks, and towering coastal redwoods, the Mierani elves have sculpted several small villages, most notably cliff-side Arsmeril on the coast and the trading town of Crying Leaf on the edge of the Velashu Uplands.
Some Mierani elves have traveled south to established diplomatic enclaves in the safety of human cities around Varisia, much to the dismay of their forest-dwelling kin. They believe that these city-dwelling elves are far more likely to become Forlorn as time passes, becoming caught up in the short-lived chaos of humans, forgetting the brightness and joy of life or succumbing to darker impulses.
Aside from those of the northern forest, elves from far-off exotic locales like Kyonin, Sovyrian, and the Mordant Spire are not unknown to visit 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. While gnomes are sometimes seen in Korvosa or farther north, these rare individuals are just as likely to be traders and wanderers from other lands.
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 the lives of halflings in Cheliax: second-class citizens who toil as servants, middlemen, and entertainers.
To the west, in the lands claimed by the city of 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 nomadism, love of life, 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. Some find it easy to disguise their mixed heritages in the teeming human cities of southern Varisia. In fact many half-elves are born in these cosmopolitan locations, as elves that have taken up residence in cities like Korvosa or Magnimar find either companionship or carnal entertainment amongst the human population.
A considerable number of half-elves that feel like they cannot find solace in these cities discover a harsher sanctuary among the cutthroats and outcasts of Riddleport in Varisia’s northwest.
A small number of half-elves dwell on the fringes of the small elvish settlements around 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 in Varisia’s northeast. 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. 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.