In the Shadow of Griffin Mountain
It is possible for characters (and advised for new players) to begin as young Balazaring tribespeople. The Balazarings are a simple people, unsophisticated and ignorant of the outside world. They approach the world like most players new to the setting: curious and eager; timid but bursting with the desire to try something. The natural environment of the Balazar grasslands provide them with the early experiences that will strengthen them for later, more wide-ranging and dangerous missions.
The three Balazaring tribes are similar to each other, and are representative of hunter-gatherer societies throughout the Genertelan highlands. Although preferred cults and specialized social adaptations separate the widespread peoples; the harsh environment forces them to maintain similar lifestyles. The daily life of an Orlanthi hunter from distant Ralios differs little from that of a Balazaring hunter in his homeland.
The Balazaring peoples have a basic social unit averaging approximately 420 individuals, of which about 280 are adult. This is called a clan. A clan has approximately 70 family groups, called hearths, each group averaging four adults and two children. A hearth gets its name from the sacred fire that each family keeps in its care, from it lighting fires each time a new camp is made.
When Balazarings are busy trying to outrun dirk-tooth cats and Lunar tax collectors, the most common place they will flee to is their clan’s hearth.
Much simpler than the three elaborate citadels of Dykene, Trilus, and Elkoi, these earthen structures will certainly outlast them. Griffins often use them to practice dropping rocks since the circular bulls-eye shape from the air lends itself to this endeavor.
Members of a clan always treat each other with the respect born of kinship, never calling another in his clan an enemy. Meeting with a friendly clan hearth during the hunting is always cause for rejoicing, even if the meeting is brief. Whenever there is a decision to be made in a clan, it is made by popular acclaim, with each of the hunter initiates getting a single vote. Women may vote also if they are hunter initiates, though only about 10% of the hunters in any given tribe will be women. It is even rarer to find a female Rune-level hunter. While the ties of the clan are close, those of the hearth are even closer. The hearth is considered an unbreakable family unit. Even though a man or woman might desert their clan brothers in an emergency, he or she will never desert a hearthmate.
The tribe never domesticated riding animals even though the region has been exposed at one time or another to all the exotic cavalry of Genertela. They use dogs extensively, which are more suitable to their lifestyle. The size of the hunting parties varies according to the season and the game available. When game is most abundant the people congregate together. This is the only opportunity that the entire clan has to meet. It is traditional for clan meets to be held in the autumnal Earth Season. The people of Balazar have followed the way of the hunter for a hundred generations. They specialize in killing any available game, and each hunter has some ability in all appropriate skills, knowing how to track, trap, and pursue.
Two groups of leaders top the Balazaring clan hierarchy: the secular hunting authorities and the priests. In most cases their purposes work toward the one common good, though difficulties arise. The hunter/warrior hierarchy includes the Chief, elected at the death of the old Chief for a lifetime office, and the Council of Elders, which includes the best or most popular hunters. The traditional number of council members among the Balazarings is seven, of which one is the Chief and two others are clan holy people.
The holy people are the priests and shamans of the clan. On the average no more than 1% of the population are full-time priests or shamans fully committed to their spiritual occupations. This averages four people per clan. One is always a Hearth Mother, and the others have Tharkantus or Hunter orientation. Thus, each clan has about nine leaders. One is the Chief (sometimes called a king), who is also leader of the Council of Elders; two more are holy people, also members of the council; four more are council members, elected by popular consensus; and the last two (or more) are holy people not on the council.
Normally the Balazarings are an open and peace-loving people. However, early in their history the sons of the legendary Founder quarreled and split forever, dividing their people into three tribes. Since then the citadels have been rivals for supremacy among the hunter clans. The three tribes take their names from the citadels that house their kings. However, not all of the clans belong to one of the citadel tribes. Each of the citadels has a permanent population of its own, including a home clan (larger than average), peasants or slaves, and foreigners. They also vie for alliances with surrounding clans, offering protection and trade benefits to the chiefs who join them. This usually persuades clans close to the citadels, but just as often the clans further from the citadels remain independent.
Clan rivalries are widespread, though clans joined by alliance to a citadel perforce avoid internecine strife. There are no set hunting territories for any of the clans, save for the sanctuary of their clan holy grounds, and they range wherever they need to go. Rival clans often meet in the wilderness, and sometimes find it advantageous to attack each other.
Some clans have long-standing rivalries, much like the rivalries of the citadel owners. This intrigue occasionally becomes widespread and overwhelms the whole land, but dies quickly when more pressing business closes in on their simple lives. Many clans have no hostility to others, and thus even meetings with strangers on the plains may bring friendship and joy. Lately the Elkoi citadel has made many good alliances among the western clans, and their warriors and friends have been seen far from their fortress. Rumor says they all carry swords now, too.
The native tongue of the region was heavily influenced in the Second Age by the language of the Tharkantus cult, Fire Speech. Other languages introduced by foreigners have been slow to catch on. Occasionally Trade Talk is learned. Residents of the Elkoi territory will have at least a basic knowledge of New Pelorian, if they live in the citadel area.
The Balazarings worship several deities. Notable among them are: Tharkantus, called Yelmalio by foreigners (the patron of the tribal nobility who dwell in the citadels); Balazar (the Founder god of the nation); Foundchild the Hunting God (who blesses his grandchildren as they direct their lives in that pursuit); Rigtaina the hunting nymph (daughter of Foundchild and wife of Balazar); and the Hearth Mother (who preserves the sacred fire that is so necessary to life).
Many spirits abound in the area, and each clan has at least one shaman who speaks to them. Brother Dog is one of the most popular spirits. Local spirits of hills, trees, rivers, and other geographical features are also common. Shamans also defend against evil spirits, including disease spirits and those sent by the trolls of the region.
Man and dog hunting teams vary their tactics depending on their numbers, the prey at hand, the size of the herd, and so on. They prefer ambushes if possible and employ many traps. In general the Balazarings creep as close as possible to a herd and then kill one or more animals as needed. If they have dogs that are trained to keep quiet they will bring these animals to frighten off or distract the bulls of the herd if they become antagonistic. Balazarings usually find their way close to a herd by using the dogs to track. They will always follow a wounded animal to finish it off.
Hunting dogs do not normally attack a target with intent to kill. Their function is to bark, growl, and generally threaten their prey enough so that it will be driven before them in fear. This also marks their own location for their master. However, they will attack single targets or small groups when they greatly outnumber their prey; odds of 10 to 1 are usually needed before this will occur.
All packs will have a leader. If members of a pack do not know what to do, they will always follow their leader’s actions, imitating them to their best ability.
The Balazarings have an intimate relationship with their dogs, one of their few domesticated animals. The children grow up with the pups, and often share a dog-drag with a litter of puppies, lapping up blood pudding from the same food bag. The relation of man and dog is exemplified by the widespread Hunter sub-cult of Brother Dog. Few are the tribesmen who do not belong. The presence of these favored beasts makes it almost impossible to approach Balazarings, whether it be a group of women and children or a band of warriors, without the animals noticing and setting up a yammer.
It should be noted here that wolves, hyenae, and feral domestic breeds are disliked and not tolerated in the land. The same species are distrusted even when tamed or when used as vehicles for bound or allied spirits. It is common for people with wolves, etc., as pets or bound spirits to give a gift to Balazaring dog owners to keep their packs back.
There are two breeds of dog common to the Balazaring tribes. The first is a tawny common breed, sometimes called the hunting dog. The second is a larger brown type, usually called the fighting dog. Every hearth has its own pack of hunting dogs, and the chiefs of each clan maintain small packs of special fighting dogs.
The Balazarings are inferior in formal battle upon a set field. However, in their own country their sharpened hunter skills make them keen warriors. They make extensive use of ambushes and pursuit and are skilled at hit-and-run tactics. They like to strike quickly in raids, fleeing into the brush with whatever can be snatched up.
Balazarings do not believe in slavery; because of the ancient Dara Happan practice of taking Balazarings as slaves, they actively detest the practice even more so than most Orlanthi. When they capture foes in battle, they must hold them, bound and weakened by hunger and thirst, until the next clan meeting (a full clan meets but once a year). Prisoners are then turned over to the Council of Elders, who will decide their fate. If the man is an enemy tribesman he will most likely be traded in a prisoner exchange or held for ransom. If he is a known criminal he will probably be executed. He may also receive an offer to join the clan as an adult, or be sponsored until qualified to become an adult. Many times a clan will swell after a successful war, because the former prisoners recognize a winner when they see one and willingly join with loyalty. Balazarings often treat outsiders differently, but when they capture someone they are as likely to attempt to turn a profit in ransom as they are to execute the prisoner.
The weapons of the Balazaring people are primitive. Weapons will normally be of flint or other stone, and armor will be hide or occasionally boiled leather. They also make their own small or medium shields. They do not have knowledge of metallurgy, so it is rare to encounter a hunter with metal weapons. The types of weapons vary by personal preference, but usually come from the following list: battle ax, hatchet, dagger, heavy club, light club, long spear, short spear, throwing ax, self bow, dart, javelin, or thrown rock. Flails and crossbows will seem magical to the average Balazaring. Most weapons will be completely of wood, or perhaps have polished stone heads or blades. Prized weapons will often be heavily decorated with feathers, paint, and occasionally rough gems and precious metals. A normal hunter will carry a melee weapon and at least one type of missile weapon. Great Hunters often have metal weapons. Citadel guards are usually better armed and armored, as their lords control the centers of trade. They are swordsmen, and usually wear at least some metal armor.