|Capital:||An-Akio (Nipangu), Ju-No-Nokonjo (Sai-No-Gui)|
|Languages:||Nipangui, Sai-No-Gui Sho Gokkese, Saku Irniqui, Various Odan dialects|
|Ethnic Groups:||Humans, Elves, Halflings|
|Religion:||The Celestial Dragons|
|Government:||Empire (Nipangu and Sai-No-Gu) or Tribal (Saku Irniq, Sho Gokkan, Odan)|
Far to the north and east of Arangoth lies the frigid continent of Panguro and its premier nation, Nipangu. Panguro's remoteness is evident in its most commonly known name: The Sword Islands. Most westerners have never seen a Panguro native, only their imported weapons.
The dark haired, Far Eastern inhabitants of Nipangu, the Nipangui, organize their society into castes. Commoners and merchants are at the bottom; scholars and samurai warriors are above them; elves (considered a higher form of life) rule over everyone. Only one elf may hold the title of Emperor at a time. Nipangui holy men look to the stars, which they believe spell out the will of the Celestial Dragons they worship.
Other peoples in Panguro include the Sai-No-Gui, who are very similar to the Nipangui but are still ruled by an Empress; the Saku Irniqui, a northern nation of furchin Halflings; the Sho Gokkan, fierce nomadic camel-samurai (Panguro is horseless); and the Odan, hostile barbarian beast-worshippers who can assume lycanthropic shape in an unholy ritual.
Main Article: History of Panguro
From the mists of the bronze age to the present, Panguro has seen three waves of immigrants and many wars. Recently, direct contact with the Berjeron mariners has had a pronounced effect on the status quo.
For the last few centuries, Nipangu has been ruled by a Shogun, a warrior regent appointed to govern by an Emperor more concerned with achieving nirvana in his sequestered garden than ruling. The Shogunate is at last beginning to be challenged in its supremacy by the Eizo ‘Sword Clan.’ The incredibly wealthy Sword Clan has built an empire out of shipping fine weapons and other goods to the hungry Occident through outlander merchants. A cold war now rages between the Shogunate and Sword Clan, which is often also fought among the pockets of Nipangui immigrants and merchants in the West.
The Sword Islands lie months of sea-travel to the east and north of Arangoth in waters only roughly charted. To the northwest of Xiunhai-la lies an archipelago about the size of Arangoth, full of ethnically related peoples. In western parlance, this archipelago, considered a largely isolated continent of its own, is usually called the Sword Islands, or Nipangu, after that nation with which they first had contact, but its local name is Panguro. Other known nations within this archipelago are Sai-No-Gu, culturally quite similar to Nipangu, and the polar halfling land, Saku Irniq. A number of tribes of camel-mounted nomads in the interior of the largest island are known by the Nipangui, who are largely the West's only source of knowledge, as the Sho Gokkan or simply ‘The Inlanders.’ There are also scores of tribes of strange barbarian people living in the southern islands called the Odan.
This archipelago lies so far north that the seas are stormy and violent, rarely fit for sailing by any but hardy and experienced seamen, and that the northern edges are completely covered in glaciers. Icebergs are not an uncommon threat in Pangese waters (contributing to their fear of the open sea.)
The islands’ landcape range from treeless tundra in the habitable areas of the north, to coniferous forests and mountainsides in the midranges, broad, flat prairie in the east, and tracts of thick, cold forests in the south. There are remote islands to the south which are humid and warm, and the few tiny colonies here are prized for their products.
The climate of Panguro is generally quite cold and harsh by Arangothian standards, and includes a great deal of precipitation and often six or more months of subzero winter for even the southernmost islands. Coastal areas, however, have a more temperate climate, though they are subject to the occasional violent monsoon.
There are a great number of prized hot springs located throughout the mountainous islands, heated by the several dormant volcanoes. Iron-rich sand is common, and it is from here that the famous Pangui steel is drawn.
Notable Pangui Cities
- Ko-Ho-Nui Amatsu Ga, A northern port city owing loyalty to the Shogun.
- Kaoru Ka-Su-No, The main Eizo port.
- Okabe-Oh, Site of Tenrai Ryuu Sword School
- Ju-No-Nokonjo, Capital of Sai-No-Gu
- An-Akio, Capital of Nipangu
- Inimara-Yo, Forbidden City, Nipangu
- Uosinen-Yo, Forbidden City, Sai-No-Gu
Government and Politics
Each of the Nations of Panguro has a separate mode of government. In Nipangu, a Shogun rules as Regent for the Emperor. In Sai-No-Gu, the Empress is advised by a Noble ministry (including representatives of all 3 Noble Orders of Samurai, Scholars, and Merchants) and a guildmaster ministry. The Sho Gokkan have no central government, and each Lord functions independently. The only central authority the Saku Irniqui recognize is the Elders’ Circle. This body is made up of the 100 Chieftains thought to be wisest, and meet at an annual festival at a sacred location in the south. The Odan have a tribal society.
Notable Government Officials
Ao-Aigado: Emperor of Nipangu. Formerly a druidic Gardener, who has abandoned temporal rule in favor of pursuing spiritual perfection. He has appointed a Shogun from the Samurai caste to rule as Regent in his place. He has not been seen or heard from in over two hundred years.
so-Ahguri-sho-Otomo: Current Shogun of Nipangu, from the Ahguri Samurai clan.
so-Eizo-ka-Daijiro: Daimyo of the Eizo clan of Nipangu, chief rival to the Shogun's power
Ao-Niao: Empress of Sai-No-Gu, who has been on the throne for just over a century.
Panguro is a land without horses or the wild magic of the west, but the arts of the Samurai make war no less deadly. At a basic level, violence continues. Sword Schools' rivalry often threatens to degenerate into civil war itself.
Warfare for the Nipangui is rigid and civilized. Samurai mounted on "Woolly" camels (there are no horses native to the continent, but the camels are shaggy and swift) form dragoon and cavalry units. Unmounted samurai compose their own units and command larger contingents of heavy and light infantry made up of commoners. There are all manner of modern components, including siege engines, sappers, and even some magic support provided by witch conclaves and Monk groups.
The bulk of armies are raised on the occasion of war, with each daimyo being responsible for providing a certain number of troops from his lands. A daimyo without the means or the inclination to raise up his portion of the army, may in certain circumstances donate money to the cause instead, allowing the hiring of mercenaries. Samurai, with their martial training and highborn place of importance, are the core of these armies.
In addition to camels, llamas are very commonly used as pack animals. Musk oxen are utilized as heavier beasts of burden and are the only animal used for pulling wagons and siege engines.
One curious mark of Nipangui war is the practice of officers wearing flags upon their backs. While this marks them out to the enemy, it is also considered a mark of honour as one is inviting even more danger by identifying themselves. Practically, this flag also contains markings of allegiance; ensuring allies are distinguishable from foes and that honour is awarded appropriately afterward.
Generals observe the battle from nearby, rather than engaging in it outright. They keep a staff of flutists and flagmen with them to signal their orders to the officers on the battlefield.
There are a number of sword schools throughout the three nations, each teaching the basics of combat, but each bragging of special (though nonmagical) techniques that are never shared with non-members. Those schools most well-regarded require both great wealth and great character in their students and are perfectly within their rights to turn away an unsuitable candidate.
The Tenrai Ryuu school, situated near the city of Okabe-Oh on the remote, frigid northeastern coast of Nipangu, is the premier school of swordsmanship in the country. The finest samurai in the land train here for an exorbitant fee and others, the sons of lesser samurai and even peasants and foreigners - anyone who can impress the masters - are taken free of charge. The classes are segregated, the former in classes that taught an acceptable level of swordsmanship and the latter into classes that strain the mind and body and seeks to impart as much of the art of swordsmanship to the students in these classes as possible.
Some schools teach the arts of weaponless combat, basic forms of which are common knowledge. Some warriors have made names for themselves by taking these fighting forms to their utmost -- to the point where they would not fear a charging samurai fully armed had they not a stitch of clothing or weaponry. These masters, each again with their own secret techniques run their own schools, though they are not as great in number as the swords schools. This secular set of martial arts are known as "Bamboo" styles. There is quite a bit of debate and rivalry between these schools and the Monasteries, where another form of sinuous "Dragon" style fist and foot fighting is taught, as to which is better.
All schools engage in often violent rivalry, mostly to prove their techniques the best and partly in their efforts to uncover the secrets of other school's techniques. Duels between devotees passing on the streets are not as uncommon as many would like, and occasionally all-out street-wars develop as a result.
Although the heights of physical perfection and the art of their forms are often astounding, fist and weapon-fighting is almost never combined with any sort of magical or supernatural powers. These will be discussed in the Magic section, but suffice to say that mysticism is strictly divided and separated into three distinct sources and may be called upon only in three distinct ways. The main exception to this rule are the Saku Irniqui paladins, or "Walkers of the Path."
There are magical weapons, but because sorcery is not completely trusted, it is sometimes considered a mark upon one's character that he should use such a weapon -- and certainly one upon his skill. If a swordsman needs to use a magical blade, his technique is surely lacking and said swordsman is laughed at by his fellows. Holy weapons are more acceptable, but their numbers are very few and their effects more subtle and less destructive.
It should be noted here, that fighting forms for women are almost never the same as those for men; separate schools exist for each gender. A men's school teaching a woman would not only be thought of as a breach of tradition, but a lack of common sense: women's bodies and strengths are not the same as a man's.
Secret assassins are not unknown in Panguro, and indeed have increased markedly in recent years as the Sword Clan-Shogunate cold war has raged. These black-clad warriors learn ancient techniques thought lost and dare to use Odan poisons in the carrying out of their grisly work, but many Nipangui still believe they are only myths and tales. Unless someone is a prospective client, the secretive assassins do not often spoil this ignorance.
Main Article: Pangui Religion
The people of Panguro follow the will of the Celestial Dragons, who communicate with mortals through the constellations and astrological phenomena.
Society and Peoples
Main Article: Pangui Society
The average Nipangui is a commoner, whether farmer of beans, wheat, wild rice (dry cultivated) in the valleys and terraces, fisher of rivers or lagoons, mercenary, soldier, or an artisan or shopkeeper in the myriad cities which dot the coast. In his features, he differs substantially from Arangothians, Alesians, Berjeron, or even the mysterious men on the far sides of the northern ice-fields, his skin often being coppery with almond-shaped eyes, thick eyebrows, and black hair. He tends to be shorter than westerners, and his features broader.
All the varying classes wear most often a variation of the kimono, made of various materials, though all are tightly knit to protect against the fierce and cold winds. Underneath the kimono, except in the few humid months of summer, thick wool is worn from ankle to neck. The current fashion sees the outer kimono in solid, often dark colours, while the woolen innerwear is brightly colorful and ornately patterned. While it is considered gauche to wear too many symbols or designs on the body of one’s kimono, especially the front, the sleeves and backs often bear myriad symbols, some simply aesthetic and some identifying the various societies to which the wearer belongs.
It is a function of Nipangui society that nearly every citizen belongs to at least one ‘society’ and often over a dozen. The most simple and basic is a common burial society, whose members pool money and resources to ensure that each has a proper funeral. Societies rise in complexity and purpose through the social strata, including neighbourhood associations, religious parishes, investment groups, artisan guilds, and all the way up to the caste system which defines much of the islanders’ lives.
Nations of Panguro
Currently the most powerful nation on the continent, Nipangu is a nation of islands, both big and small. These stretch from the frosted reaches of the north to the temperate and remote southern colonies. Most of the islands are mountainous, with stretches of thick pine and deciduous parkland, fertile valleys and shallow, broad coastal plains. Few deep water ports are fine for the Nipangui, who utilize slow-moving, stable barges to travel from island to island, sticking to the coast and avoiding the dangerous seas, for they are not good sailors. There are few islands which are more than a few miles from the next, and the Nipangui simply island-hop from one to the next.
In tradition, Nipangu is a country ruled by an Emperor. In all the various northern religions, elves are considered sacred and superior beings, only a step below heaven and the Celestial Dragons themselves. Therefore, the title Emperor may only apply to an elf, considered the rightful rulers of the world. It must be noted that beyond that of Emperor, elves hold no temporal titles and serve mainly as Abbots and Abbesses.
In practice, however, for the last few hundred years Nipangu has been ruled by a Shogun. The previous Emperor of Nipangu died of fever three hundred years ago and a new Emperor was chosen, a candidate from the ranks of the druidic 'Gardeners.' (See Entry) This was abnormal, but the astrological divination, by which Emperors are chosen, could not be disputed. This Emperor, The Most Blessed and Honoured Ao-Aigado (ao being the prefix for the Emperor and needing no other names) soon abandoned ruling in favour of attaining immortality by creating within his palace grounds a garden of absolute perfection. By painstakingly using his powers to accomplish such a task, ordering the splendour down to the last grain of sand, he plans to attain a state of Nirvana in which his spirit will be free to escape his body and become one of the Celestial Dragons. He labours at this task still.
To run the nation while he laboured in his garden, Ao-Aigado appointed a prominent samurai clan, the Ahguris, to rule, invoking the ancient practice of Regency. The Clan became the Shogunate and soon after their rise began instituting reactionary policies. The caste structure was strongly reinforced, and in the process the Shogun debased the merchant and scholar castes, which had previously held equally Noble position.
The samurai have become the absolute rulers of this eastern nation. All fiefs were handed over to daimyo lords. Scholars were allowed to retain a little of their former status and help run the bureaucracy, but merchants were fully reduced to the Common caste. Samurai own all places of importance within the Nipangui military as well, and are martially trained from a young age. Their education includes art and literature, however, designed to create a stable nobility. The samurai are singled out as to their station by their swords. While a commoner may wear a katana upon a baldric at his side or on his back, it cannot be worn in his sash and will never be as ornate and decorated as a true samurai’s weapon. Even if the samurai in question chooses to master another weapon, he will always wear the mark of his class. This is mirrored by the tokens the merchant (an abacus) and the scholar (a writing box) classes wear in their sashes.
The Shogunate is based in the capital of An-Akio, where the nearly unreachable palace of the Emperor, staffed by eunuchs, also resides. The Emperor has not been heard from nor seen in nearly two centuries, and has not ruled for over three.
The Sai-No-Gui, who live on the coast of one of the largest islands are quite rich in resources such as iron, silver, wheat, and timber. While just as advanced in the realm of warfare as the Nipangui, they are even poorer sailors. They utilize low, flat barges which regularly hug the coasts in their travels.
Culturally, linguistically, and ethnically, they differ little from the Nipangui. They too, embrace the sparse elven population as elevated beings and rightful rulers of their lands. Currently, an Empress holds sway in Sai-No-Gu, ruling from the capital of Ju-No-Nokonjo. Unlike in Nipangu, however, the Sai No Gui Empress (The Revered and Holy Ao-Niao) is advised by a Noble ministry (including representatives of all 3 Noble Orders) and a guildmaster ministry. The Empress may appoint certain Noble families to certain fiefs, but some are held by distinguished families themselves, and may not be tampered with. Her reign has lasted only a century or so, but has seen few calamities. Unfortunately, while socially and economically sound, it has also seen few new innovations in protection on the nation's borders.
Sai-No-Gu's eastern marches are dangerously susceptible to raids by the Sho Gokkan camel-men, but vital as the breadbasket of the entire archipelago. The flattening land and irrigable rivers and lakes allow for broad fields of various types of grain and wild rice. Protection from raiders is afforded by collective manors in the centre of a number of farmlands. These manors are usually built on the highest ground available and fortified as much as possible. In the event of a raid, the entire community retreats inside these outposts and can only watch while the Sho Gokkan seize their crops. While the government provides serviceable weapons, the local lord acts more as a lookout and perhaps skirmisher than a general. Their only hope lies in the arrival of a 'Gardener' monk (See entry) to facilitate a new crop. Armies are located in the east, but they can retaliate only with punishing attacks. Only rarely are raided goods actually recovered.
Trade with the north and the outlying island colonies is carried out with the aforementioned barges. This has left them vulnerable to the few Western ships that sail so far east. A few pirating expeditions have been reported to have traveled this far, though the long journey and the dangers of Berjeron carracks makes the wealth gained only barely worth it. One of the draws of pirating the Sai-No-Gui for many Westerners is that they seldom need to worry about death by anything other than starvation and disease on the long voyage. Since the Sai-No-Gui are used to warring with the horse tribes and the equally poor local sailors, they are easy prey to Western pirating techniques. Lately the Sword Clan of Nipangu has been increasingly circumventing the authority of that land’s Shogunate and awarding letters of marque to western sailors in return for a cut of their spoils.
The occasional Nipangui land invasions are generally only mildly successful, but massive gains of territory for both sides are not unknown in history.
Like Nipangu, the llama is the primary pack beast, while oxen are used as beasts of burden. Camels are used primarily for mounts.
Warfare is overseen in Sai-No-Gu by an Imperial Marshal (appointed from the ranks of the daimyo), and usually consists of several large, mobile armies in the west and a number of stationary coastal defensive positions in the east. Sai-No-Gui samurai share the same importance in the army, if not in politics, as they do in Nipangu. These knights are the shock troops and backbone of the military, fighting largely with katana and various pole-arms, in both foot and mounted units. Commoner infantry is perhaps slightly more numerous and there is a greater opportunity for advancement and promotion.
The Sho Gokkan
Inland of the Sai-No-Gu island, on the broad, flat eastern plain are a people of semi-nomadic nature who ride shaggy, dromedary camels bred to survive in the colder conditions of the prairie. The Sho Gokkan often hunt roving herds of bison, musk ox, and keep herds of sheep. There is no central government, instead the Sho Gokkan are broken up into over two dozen clans, each with their own leaders and traditional roving grounds. In the western marches, it is typical for clans to be fully nomadic, ranging about their territory – and consequently ready to melt back into the trackless plains. But in the more protected eastern hinterland, more stable villages and ranches are found.
It is interesting to note that while the initial westerners who were introduced to these people titled them 'Chieftains,' the actual name is derived from the same root whence comes the Sai-No-Gui and Nipangui word for Lord. Clans will occasionally combine forces to carry out a war or some other task, and appoint a temporary leader known as a 'Daimyo.'
The Inlanders, as they are called, are something of a contradiction. While they live much of their lives nomadically in tents, drink fermented milk, and eat a diet largely consisting of meat, they are not barbaric by western or eastern standards. Tent houses are set up to resemble those of any other in Nipangu or Sai-No-Gu, only using animal skins instead of paper. Food is cooked in similar ways to their western counterparts, paired with vegetables, noodles, and rice and eaten in the same bowls with the same sticks. They drink the fermented milk from shallow sake bowls, and tea from porcelain cups. While made from different material, their clothes strongly resemble their 'civilized' neighbours, especially in armour. The Sho Gokkan, indeed, are by common consensus strongly related to the other folk of the middle islands, and have changed that culture only to accommodate different sources of materials and a different predominant occupation. A western observer has been quoted as claiming that "The Sho Gokkan may have a different way of life, but they have the same ways of living."
The Sho Gokkan way is not entirely made up of herding, hunting and raiding, either. Various tribes trade the almost omnipresent camel’s hair fabric, wool, milk, hides, meat and other animal goods, as well as certain rare herbs and plants with the Sai-No-Gui and other nations for flour and other goods. Other tribes, acting on some excuse or slight, do raid their Sainogui neighbours - but it is done in a civilized way. The declaration of war has been written up and delivered to the appropriate bodies either upon the occasion, or long ago. This state of war has simply not lapsed for many clans.
War leaders, called Generals, same as their counterparts, are appointed by the Clan's Lord. If several clans come together, a Grand Marshal will be chosen. The Inlander military consists of three components: heavy cavalry, light cavalry, and mounted archers. Light cavalry will wear only a breastplate over their woolen and leather clothes and carry tachi (a form of katana sheathed blade down, differing slightly in make) and yari (spears). Heavy cavalry wear full suits of armour, different only superficially from samurai, and wield swords (tachi), spears (yari), and pole-arms (naginata) and other heavier weapons. Their camels are also lightly barded with stiff leather.
Archers dress much as light cavalry, and will occasionally carry short swords (wakizashi) or other small arms, but their primary weapon is the pride of the Sho Gokkan: the so-called ‘Apostate Bow.’ The bone and sinew shortbow of these camel riders is treated with the same reverence samurai treat their fine katanas. These camel archers are the elite shock troops of the army, and there is no question why. Not only are these bows extremely deadly, but the Sho Gokkan often produce the finest archers found throughout the Sword Islands. Part of their skill is credited to the favorite pastime of youths in shooting the small ground squirrels which proliferate on the plains and whose burrows are dangerous for camels.
The story of the Sho Gokkan devotion to the tachi form of eastern sword ties in to their transition from an empire in its own right to simply a conglomerate of clans.
As the tale is told, the Emperor of Sai-No-Gu wished to wage a war against the neighbouring nation of Sho Gokku, (which had recently been weakened by plague and climate shifts), his principal reason being a desire for more farmland. Recent innovations in agricultural practices had made wheat a vital crop with a huge demand. Unfortunately, a system of alliances had risen up among the three central nations, soon after the war which birthed Sai-No-Gu, which prohibited war without just cause. If he were to simply declare war, he would lose the support of the Nipangui Shogun and face possible encirclement, for times were tense and all rulers ambitious.
Instead, he invited the Sho Gokui Emperor for a feast in one of the principal towns of his eastern border provinces. At this feast, he had the other Emperor’s personal camel butchered and served to him, an unimaginable slight (for while camel meat itself was not taboo, eating one’s own camels was considered inhuman). However, his plans went awry when, instead of declaring war, the shrewd Sho Gokui Emperor challenged him to a duel at dawn. Terrified, for the challenger was praised in all lands for his swordsmanship, the Sai-No-Gui Emperor demanded a solution from his traveling court. His premiere Marshal, so-Masune-ia-Irao (a celebrated name at sword schools) came forward and revealed a technique he had invented, involving the sheathing of a sword blade up so that one could draw and strike with one move. The next dawn, the duel was settled with just one stroke. The traditionally-armed and trained challenger was cleaved in two before he had withdrawn even the tip of his sword from its sheath. Ever after, the people of the plains have rejected the now nearly uniform draw-and-strike katana, often called the art of Iaijutsu, as dishonorable, and proudly wear their swords blade-down.
In the ensuing war (declared by the Sho Gokkui lords in retribution for their lord’s death, despite his wishes), most of Sho Gokku’s western based urban centres were destroyed or seized. In addition, an enclave of Sho Gokkui elves was massacred through indiscriminate magic use. Though the war eventually came to an end, the easterners’ refusal to name a new Emperor, fearful of putting them into danger, earned them the distaste of the other two nations, who began to refer to them as the Sho Gokkan, implying barbarity. It is also common for Nipangui and Sai-No-Gui to refer to the Sho Gokkan as ‘Apostates;’ ones who have abandoned their faith. Even the famed Sho Gokkan camel bow is called an ‘Apostate bow.’ Ever after, the religions of east and west have been split over the proper role of elves in society. The Sho Gokkan are the western peoples’ primitive cousins who have lost their way, irretrievably according to some.
Eventually, without a central Emperor, the nation degenerated into separate clans, though there is still a possibility that they may be united.
The Northernmost island in the chain is mired in arctic conditions, the top third is nearly covered by a glacier which stretches into the north so far it is uncharted by the Pangui. Here dwell the Saku Irniqui, a race of polar 'furchin' halflings who live in the harsh winter conditions of their northern island. These parka-clad people have no real form of central government, but instead live in a sort of limited geriatocracy. Tribes are ruled by Chieftains and Councils made up of those elders still recognized as sound of mind. These geriatocrats have always recognized the unity of the halfling race and dealings with neighbouring tribes are most often friendly. The only central authority the Saku Irniqui recognize is the Elders’ Circle. This body is made up of the 100 Chieftains thought to be wisest, and meet at an annual festival at a sacred location in the south. The only serious things dealt with here are economic concerns regarding trade and prices, and the appointments and reports of their various ambassadors to the foreign courts. The Circle can also be assembled for emergencies at the agreement of two or more members. Outsiders have wondered at the magnificent scene of scores of woolly mammoths, typical long-range transportation, converging at the site of the Circle.
They share the southerners worship of the Celestial Dragons, and this has aided them immensely in their relationship with the pious humans. Because they are not descendants of the Ni-So-Gui, they have not been shunned for lacking an Emperor as have the Sho Gokkan. They must, however, pay a certain tribute each year to each Emperor, and have long been frustrated by superior southern attitudes.
The Saku Irniqui religion places even more emphasis upon astrology and the constellations, not surprising since these are often the only way to navigate in the monocoloured northern wastes. They also have a similar concept of honor and tradition, but much more relaxed and merry than the other cultures.
For at least eight months out of the year, this land is mired in subzero temperatures. The Saku Irniqui live in summer lodges and crofts in the southern reaches and fiords, but also camp in snow-houses in the north. Both summer homes and snow-houses are made in similar fashion, only with different materials (sod bricks and ice blocks). They travel on the glacier by mammoth, dogsled, and in ice sledge-boats, which seat some five of the little folk and rocket across the vast icy expanses with their sails. These boats are never too large, as many spots on the route require a portage, where the crew carries their heavy boat on their shoulders over rough spots. In the southern waters and on the coasts, they use kayaks and other skin boats. While still not skilled enough to venture too far onto the high sea, the halflings are without a doubt the most accomplished sailors of the Sword Islands. Their economy relies on walrus and mammoth ivory, seal oil, fish, caribou hides, the products of small whales, and quick and hardy crops such as flax, hemp, potatoes and barley, which they trade to Nipangu and Sai-No-Gu for their unique goods. Spices, porcelain, tea, silk, and more recently weapons (see history) are then shipped across the ice-fields by sail-powered sledge-ship and traded at the remote northern reaches to undisclosed, dark-skinned middlemen. These mysterious traders may be the lost link between Saku Irniq and western ports like Kagamki (a city in Vernor whence come the goods across the desert for Telemenx) and certain other ports or perhaps only a lost link in a longer chain. In return for the Nipangui goods, the halflings obtain tobacco, glass, gold, silver and other western goods. Contact was made centuries ago at the northern reaches when the Saku Irniqui ranged far in search of the over-hunted walrus.
Recently their own route has been undercut by the increasing sea trade, causing serious economic turmoil and a great deal of bad blood towards the westerners. Increasingly, younger Saku Irniqui have been talking of actually invading the southern nations, with a vague intent to put a stop to the sea-trade. Their rhetoric has so far been dismissed as pointless violence, but it is gaining some favour as frustration increases.
The crews of these far-trading sledge-ships are honored highly in Saku Irniq. The mark of such a prestigious position is the wood or bone facemask they wear with their parkas to protect them from the biting wind and snow blindness. These fairly simple slit-eyed masks are decorated with various symbols, the most common being images of dragons and written characters, both invoking the protection of the Celestial Dragons. The masks are worn on the belt when not needed, opposite their prized akuchi dagger.
Captains of the trading parties are a special class of halfling possessing powers and station similar to paladins of the west. These Captains are titled ‘Walkers of the Path’ (just as Shamans, their tutors are called ‘Finders of the Path’). Although most Saku Irniqui can read the stars for direction purposes, ‘Walkers’ are the undisputed masters of astrological navigation. Without the indispensable paladins, sledge-ship parties can easily get lost in the trackless, endless white of the northern icefields. Their abilities in battle and the power to detect lies further make them the perfect Trading Captains. On those occasions when the halflings must war on other peoples or track down menaces, ‘Walkers’ are often the leaders. Besides the respect for their abilities and opinions, however, these captains hold no innate authority or temporal power.
The Irniqui paladins are marked out by three features. First, their facemasks are expertly carved to resemble closely their actual face – unlike the nearly featureless masks of other crewmembers. Secondly, recognizing their role as principle warriors, their parkas are equipped with certain Nipangui-like armour shingles and instead of a simple parka hood they wear a fur-lined helmet. Thirdly, they are more likely to have a weapon meant strictly for battle (unlike knives and harpoons) than an average halfling, including wakizashi, shortened yari, and western steel spears bought from their trading partners.
Sea-goers are similarly, if not quite as highly, honored. Their own masks are similar to balaclava, and fashioned from treated seal skin.
The halflings use harpoons, slings, bola, bows, and ivory-handled akuchi (hiltless daggers, at which they are masters) for war, hunting, and other work. Occasionally, one sees warriors using the wakizashi.
The halflings have harnessed the native woolly mammoths as labour beasts and mounts. Warfare is a combination of mammoth 'tank' cavalry, with support squads of light infantry. Guerilla warfare is often practiced quite successfully, especially as the halflings rarely war outside of their own lands, being content with what is theirs. But the southern nations resent their middlemen fees and have often tried to obtain footholds on the ice-fields as well as simply conquer and subdue the halflings.
Other enemies include the natural inhabitants of the frozen wastelands – ogre-mages, yeti, ice trolls, the occasional ice-giant, and the Fuyu Qan; a neanderthal-like race newly migrated from the far north.
Islands in the far south, specifically a chain known as the Devil's Tail, are filled with various tribal populations of despised societies known altogether as the 'Odan.' While still retaining many characteristics which relate them to the Ni-So-Gui peoples to the Western eye, the Odan are broader and flatter of feature, their skin often takes on a muddier complexion, and is further darkened by intricate tattoos which can cover their faces.
Though mostly ‘barbarian’ to the cultured mindset, some of these tribes have become somewhat more ‘civilized’ through a willingness to copy the northern peoples. Their culture, dress, and weapons now somewhat resemble the invader, though seldom to a standard level of technology. Few tribes can achieve more than bronze or basic iron craftsmanship.
Tribes are divided along the lines of which animal totem they worship. The Odan religion is polytheistic, but an Odan ‘nation,’ which might consist of several tribes or villages spread out over a certain territory, owes its allegiance to one animal god, which is represented by all earthly animals of that species. The Raven tribe, for instance, considers all ravens earthly aspects of its totemic protector god.
Worship and prayer is also not restricted according to tribe. While their protector deity is worshipped the most devoutly and most often, an Odan tribesman faced with a situation requiring the skills or province of a specific animal is free to pray to that animal. Woodsmen from the Snake tribe, for instance, might sing a song to Beaver while felling a particularly strong tree. A Frog tribe warrior might beseech Tiger for strength in battle. Monkey is considered shrewd and clever, Frog wise, etc.
The most bizarre aspect of Odan society is that their worship of these totems also allows them to take on physical traits of that particular animal through a religious ritual that, among other things, involves blotting out the light of the stars, sun, and moons. This is performed using spells of inky black fog, but lacking such, clouds or even tarps will suffice. Once the ritual is performed, each tribal warrior undergoes a lycanthropic transformation into a bestial form. It is not known how long this form lasts, but it is maintained even if the tribesmen are exposed to celestial light once more. It is only the ritual, not the form, which must be done out of the ‘sight of the dragons.’ Also unknown is how often the rites and subsequent transformations are performed. Seldom does one see an Odan war group that has not taken on their terrifying animal forms, but it is known that the rites are not just for war, but also for festivals and days of religious significance. It has also been noted that the more complete the darkness, the more bestial and more powerful the tribesmen become. For example, a tribe transformed under a tarp would stand little chance against a tribe transformed on an overcast night. While Odan tribes might ally on occasion, it is rare to find more than one ‘nation’ working together. Despite this, war between them is seldom as well – acknowledging their common gods and common enemy.
While the Devil's Tail is quite pleasant in climate as compared to the more northern nations, they still undergo a freezing winter. In order to survive these subzero temperatures, tribes choose different strategies. Some have the technology to build warm winter lodges with efficient heating like their northern adversaries. An interesting technique some of the more susceptible Odan (those whose animal forms are less adapted to the cold) utilize is building their villages about hot springs, which dot the region, and spending much of the day soaking in or sitting next to these warm waters.
Odan society, unlike the northerners, has welcomed magic openly and practitioners are much more often male. In fact, these witch doctors have an immensely cooperative association with the Shamans who practice clerical magic and oversee the lycanthropic rites. The powerful, if occasionally unstable, combination of spell and prayer make the Odan a fearsome enemy.
Raids and small wars carry on back and forth between tribes and the Northerners - especially since the Devil's Tail is in an ideal place to prey on slow, awkward ships ferrying priceless silk and rice from the southern colonized islands. Fish and other amphibious Odan appear without warning from the sea to take an armada. More advanced and non-swimming Odan use huge outrigger canoes fashioned from giant trees. There is also a not uncommon practice of raiding the southern coasts of all three of the central nations and, on rare occasions, Odan tribes have been daring enough to go far north enough to raid the Saku Irniq.
The Odan, especially the more primitive among them, inspire great fear in all the Nipangui peoples - partially because of the wild, untamed nature they represent. Armies fighting the Odan must necessarily be well-led, seasoned, and iron-willed, which is one reason why the superior numbers of the northerners have carried out few successful campaigns against them. In fact, most fighting has been done during Odan wars upon the northlands, rather than by campaigns in the Devil’s Tail itself.
What is more, almost all Odan tribes, primitive or advanced, excel at guerilla warfare. Their booby traps and poisons are unequaled and have meant the demise of more than one invading army, which are used to open-space, civilized warfare. In fact, unscrupulous assassins of the northern nations obtain their deadliest traps and poisons by stealing or trading with these bestial tribes.
More open warfare for the Odan tribes differs according to the tribe. Primitive tribes often base their attacks on horde-based foot charges crying wild battle cries. They wield clubs set with obsidian and sharp rocks, and the leaders will occasionally have metal weapons. More advanced tribes will be led by accomplished generals and fight with precision and skill, though no tribes have mounted divisions. These can be expected to know mining and forging techniques to develop their own sets of weaponry and armour.
Magic in Panguro
Magic is found in three near incompatible forms in this part of the world: Sorcerous, Druidic, and Holy - each performed by a different group. It is believed that the supernatural is purposely split in this manner.
- Sorcerous Magic, associated with women, earth, morning, and chaos. Sorcery deals with affecting people and inanimate objects, often against their will, and bending physical laws.
- Druidic magic, associated with men, plants and animals, evening, and the means of ordering. Druidic magic has to do with nature: plants and animals, and is the only magic that can affect them directly and effectively. It is near useless in dealing with humans or inanimate objects.
- Priestly magic associated with neuter, heavens, night, and order. Generally, this includes healing magic and certain divinations. It is the most effective magic in dealing with the mortal body.
This reoccurrence of the number three is often found in mythology; with Order and Chaos being separated by Spirit; Heaven and Hell by Earth; Dragons and Beasts by Men; Good and Evil by Conscience.
Priestly magic is associated with order and Sorcerous with chaos, and it is by Druidic magic that chaos (nature) is brought to order (cultivation, agriculture, and gardening.) Children are often born with a tendency towards one strain of magic, though the use may be developed through training. One may not draw on any two of these if he can wield, or has ever wielded, the other. The magic affects the body to permanently align it for that specific form.
Though the higher martial arts, both with and without weapons, might seem miraculous to the unlearned, magic is never found outside of these three types.
Sorcery is primarily the field of women, who are unanimously called ‘Witches,’ in all the lands of the Dragon Worshippers. The term is not necessarily disparaging, but it most certainly warns one from trusting these odd women. Magic of a sorcerous nature is, after all, equated with unheavenly chaos.
Sorcerous magic in this land is powerful and primal, but too wild to be wielded without a focus. The tools of a witch’s trade are charms, ointments, potions and magic items. Raw (unfocused, as it is called) spells are often cast using small pieces of paper with the spell written upon it, which burns up as the words are recited. Certain places are preferred for casting both focused and unfocused spells, such as crossroads, hilltops, or any place a spell has previously been cast. Witches and other Nipangui magic users must necessarily resist any temptation to use ‘hard’ magic, such as fireballs and teleportation; as such a spell might very easily kill the user outright or rob them of magic-using ability. In Nipangu’s wild mystical environment (which is said to mirror its wild climate), spells must be ‘softer’, of a more subtle nature. This most often takes the form of charms, illusions, and scrying.
Occasionally male elves exhibit proclivity towards magic, but this is frowned upon by society. These elves, should they choose to develop the skill, are titled ‘Sorcerors’ and are respected but highly feared. It is thought that men are too tempted to use ‘harder’ magic by their nature, while the sly female mind tends to the safer and more acceptable forms. Some male elves, whether only practitioners of minor spells or powerful mages, keep their powers hidden. There have been very few recorded instances of male humans able to wield magic. In fact, western wizards astound and frighten the Pangese.
Odan differ only slightly, in that males, termed ‘Witch Doctors,’ often wield harder magic – but these sorcerers find the magic highly degenerative and do not live long, especially if they use too much power too fast. In addition Odan sorcerers have experimented in techniques of combining Shamanic (clerical) magic with sorcery, to devastating but unpredictable and dangerous results. If a Witch-Doctor and Shaman are seen together on the battle-field, it is a cause of great alarm for both sides. Such a combination is strictly forbidden in the northern nations.
Western mages have arrived here, but despite an initial thrill at the strange and powerful nature of magic in this realm, have avoided it since learning of its unpredictable and degenerative qualities. Those informed few who visit these days have learned from the natives and use only ‘softer’ spells, and those requiring foci and magic items. They have also run into some interference from the Gardener druids, who fear their power for change and destruction.
Some say that when one makes a political decision in Nipangu there are four aspects you must consider: the sky, the throne, the sword, and the earth. That is: the opinions of the heavens (through astrology), the Shogunate, the Sword Clan, and that of the Gardeners.
Most powerful of all societies in the Three Nations are The Gardeners. These wandering monks are the practitioners of druidic magic, that magic which controls plants and animals. A Gardener passing through one’s prefect means good crops and placid livestock, even though a hurricane or a war might rage the meanwhile. Wild nature is quickly brought to order through the powers of these mystics. Any Nipangui would gladly give up the finest room in his house and the freshest food from his stores to entertain one, though they live and eat simply. Like the elves, many of which they count among their number, they are sacrosanct and completely untouchable in a violent manner.
Always covered from head to toe, the Gardeners wear simple kimonos of solid colours, and unlike most other Nipangui, their inner wrappings are also simple and solid. A staff with a hanging lantern is often carried, especially since the life of a Gardener is one of walking. Over their heads they wear woven baskets, containing only a cage-like opening for their sight and voice. All save other Gardeners are forbidden to see their features. All are men and all are celibate.
Unlike traditional monks, those practicing priestly magic, the Gardeners may wander at will, and are not tied to monasteries. It is not known how their hierarchy works or their communication, but if a Gardener requests an action be taken, a daimyo would be hard-pressed to refuse and not face a peasant uprising.
Men and halflings of this archipelago have a distaste for nature in its raw state. Cultivated crops and gardens are celebrated as ordered works of beauty and plenty. But plants and animals in their wild state are uncivilized, wild, dangerous, and even unholy. The Gardeners are the means to order this chaos, and make the land more heavenly.
Because of their proclivity for all sorts of magic, elves make up a fair number of the Gardeners, but just what percentage is unknown. The rare presence of male practitioners of sorcerous magic, despite those powers being associated with women, would lend one to believe that there are females with the potential for druidic magic. Whether they simply keep themselves hidden or are not brought to their potential is unknown.
Despite all the mystery of these Monks, it is known, and increasingly so since contact with the West, that the Gardeners oppose sorcerous magic. Though this has traditionally simply led to an intolerance of those prefects with local witches, or even the rare Sorcerer, the advent of western mages has brought a more fierce edge to the conflict. Gardeners, it seems, do not want powerful western wizards and their ‘hard’ magic in Nipangu.
Gardener machinations have not only been confined to wizardry, but also to horses. The disruption in the balance of power the horse represents is said to be their motivation, but no one can say for sure. Both the Sword Clan and the Shogunate have been encouraged by the tremendous influence of the Gardeners to refrain from importing even a single horse as a rarity. Besides their opinions voiced to daimyo and higher powers, it has been rumoured that not a few Western mages and horse merchants have been the victim of assassins hired by this secretive and powerful sect.
The Pangui nations trade with the West through two routes. The older lies over the northern icefields and takes years to reach Kagamki, east of Arangoth. The newer route is through the Berjeron mariners, who have even taken pockets of Pangui immigrants with them.
Those mariners who discovered the Eizo fief on Nipangu at the turn of the century were a black-skinned people known as the Berjeron. The Berjeron sail the seas with large galleons well fitted to withstand the turbulent northern waters. Like the Sword Clan, they have made a great fortune in taking up the Nipangui trade. Their many-sailed ships have a number of established routes from Panguro to many other western nations.
On Veth, the fine weapons and other goods find their destination in three major ports of trade. The first is Kagamki, a city-state on the far northeast side of Rashnad that has always been a major trading port. Even before the advent of the Nipangui sea route, other middlemen would arrive there from the Icefields trade. Goods pass from Kagamki along the River Iske, then the Desert Road to Telemenx/Taranor and from there to Inner Arangoth, Rondis, Kahlahra, Caern Rhia and all the landlocked nations.
Another main port is Laeng, the capital city of the Aslarian Lorithalle province on the island of Mutoriorlithalle. Laeng has been a fairly sizable port carrying on eastern oceanic trade, but the Nipangui imports have steadily increased its wealth. From Laeng, Aslarian ships carry the goods to Rispith, and thence through the Grand Canal to Zigritath and to the South Sea ports such as Ethcabar, Drache, Sivriana, Secca, Selrose Bay and Rilmeri.
Third is the Bahrian capital of Bahrkul. The goblinoid rulers of Bahr, especially Lord Snu-lahr, the quarter-orcish Lord of Thar^See, have benefited from Nipangui imports, both in wealth and in outfitting their armies with the better specimens. This trade reaches few other nations, but it has begun to penetrate into that underworld inhabited by the Dark Elves, who are allied trading partners of the Bahrian goblinoids.
Of all Pangui nations, only Nipangu participates in the sea trade, and then only the Sword Clan. Sword Clan goods leave from the Eizo port of Kaoru Ka-Su-No. Sai-No-Gu and Saku Irniq join the Nipangui Shogunate and loyal daimyo in trading over the Northern Icefields through the Halflings and other middlemen. This is not necessarily by choice, as the Eizo ruthlessly maintain their monopoly with the Berjeron. The traditional departure point from Nipangu itself for these traditional traders is Ko-Ho-Nui Amatsu Ga, a northern port city owing loyalty to the Shogun.
These exports have traveled the northern route for centuries, though in nowhere near the frequency as is seen nowadays. Besides the Eizo trade in weapons, they include ivory (from the northern walrus), tea, spices, porcelain, silk, rice, jade, poisons and medicines. To a lesser extent, though greater in recent years, southern colonial goods have joined these, including white rice, oranges, lemons, peaches, and other exotic fruits.
In return, the Berjeron and northern middlemen trade gold, silver, glass, and tobacco to their Pangese partners.
Although overseas travel and trade is taken care of by the Berjeron rather than the Sword Clan itself, advisors and merchants have accompanied them to the west on many occasions. These men and their families, as well as adventurers, explorers, independent merchants, and refugees have, over the years, contributed to a growing immigrant presence on Arangoth’s continent. Still tiny by most measures, usually numbering less than a dozen in any major cities, Laeng and Kagamki have both seen the growth of ‘Nipangui’ quarters with small sustainable populations. Because of Nipangu’s dominance of the western trade, there are very few other Pangese peoples represented on Arangoth’s continent.
Immigrant populations are a blend of Shogunate and Sword Clan supporters, as well as those who declare themselves neutral. Kagamki, the traditional port of Nipangui trade, has a majority of Shogun-loyal inhabitants, while Laeng sees more Eizo-loyal immigrants. Just as it does in Nipangu itself, the cold war between these two sides continues in the West and divisions are often fierce. Intrigue is the order of the day over violence, but secret duels between rivals are not unknown. Those loyal to the Shogun must receive goods from their homeland through the Icefields route, as no Sword Clan-allied merchants will supply them, and vice versa.
Though trade with Xiunhai-La is nominally forbidden, it does go on. Even to the Nipangui, this country is largely unknown and the subject of many fanciful myths among the unlearned. It is interesting to note that these myths are often not friendly, for the inhabitants of Panguro consider Xiunlans (whom they know as the Tsunolan) red-haired heretics who have transgressed against the heavens of the dragons and understand little of spiritual matters. Such goods so close could not help but be in demand among the more wealthy Dragon Worshipers, however. Many of the laws are avoided, or winked at by officials in return for kickbacks. This trade is small enough that the unlearned do not even associate the goods with the ‘mythical’ land of heretics, the goods are simply ‘outlander’ treasures. Few Merchants or former Merchants, however, do not know that the Floating Isles are real – and a veritable gold mine. The Sword Clan, ever willing to buck religion to turn a coin, have been making overtures to the Xiunlans to open up more formal trading avenues.
It is associations which help define a Pangui name, which in its full form consists of four parts. The prefix designates one’s caste (or, if not Nipangui or Sainogui, their origin), next the family name, the infix representing one’s prime society or clan identification, followed by the personal name.
Thus: Prefix-Family Name-Infix-Personal Name
- Yo- elves
- So- samurai
- To- merchants (not used openly in Nipangu proper)
- Ko- scholars
- Jo- commoners
- Gai- Westerners
- Dai- Xiunlan
- Bai- Odan
- Qai- Irniqui
It would be a fruitless endeavour to name all of the possible infixes, which are numerous. Most locals would recognize an infix, though the further away, the less likely it is. Infixes are never more than one syllable.
so-Fohan-gai-Jald, gai labelling him as an outsider, yet with enough respect to have it as an infix rather than prefix. Those without infixes are considered landless and clanless outcasts, never to be trusted.
jo-Takamashi-ya-Makie, ya being a prefect or a local guild