Varstad is a large country known for its treacherous mountain terrain, deadly predators, and hardy natives. It is a tribal culture ruled by a single High Chieftan. Its people are tall, black haired, and blue eyed, with the women just as capable in warfare as many of the men. They ride large war yaks into battle, goring their enemies as they shatter their lines. Wyverns constantly patrol the mountain ranges, swooping down to feed on livestock and unfortunate foreign travelers.
The tallest mountain peaks are home to the provakh, a race of large, nomadic humanoids with a penchant for daring escapades and a cultural focus on the herd as a social unit.
The true history of the humans of Varstad has been lost, and what little remains has been so heavily steeped in myth and legend as to be entirely indistinguishable from the long sagas their people are so fond of reciting. Varstad's cultures have been built on a strong oral tradition; very few written testaments have survived, as what little records are kept are usually kept for the purposes of trade. The human sagas tell of the Stonefather, the chief human god, a giant of stone and ice who breathed life into the first men and filled them with curiosity and strength. The provakh worship Stonefather also, revering him as the Great Creator of their people, who birthed them from the very rock of the mountains they now inhabit.
Varstad is composed almost entirely of mountain ranges. Its borders contain some of the highest peaks known on Veth, especially the Zarloc Colossi. Most of the human population make their homes in the foothills of the various mountains, leaving the higher altitudes to the livestock during certain parts of the year. Some of the larger city centers are nearest to the country's coast.
The mountain peaks get taller as one travels deeper into the country, with its largest continually frozen and routinely hammered by heavy wind and snowfall. This is where the provakh and the wyverns make their home. The wyverns routinely swoop down to the lower ranges and foothills to prey on the national wildlife, which often includes Varstadi livestock. A maze of mountains, ravines, and foothills make overland navigation practically impossible for those unfamiliar with the countryside. Daring traders have been known to hire the provakh to guide them through the less hospitable ranges, but such instances are exceedingly rare.
The mountains' brutal weather patterns and dangerous terrain breeds some of the most dangerous mammals in the country, including dire wolves, smilodons, wyverns, and even rocs. Less intimidating fauna include mundane wolves (more interested in avoiding people unless starved), coyote, mountain lions, yaks, and a large breed of mountain goat.
The mountains gradually flatten as one travels west, from mountains to foothills. This is where many of the Varstadi make their homes, thriving on the trade that comes and goes, both naval and otherwise. The usual selection of wildlife can be found near the foothills, as well as wild horses, buffalo, yaks, and wolves as the terrain grows steeper.
Government and Politics
Families of both races are organized into tribes (called herds by the provakh), with human villages containing one or more tribes and cities containing dozens. In both Varstadi governments, a man is regarded as the chieftain of his house and property and is given the freedom to govern it as he pleases, although human tribesmen must fall in line with the laws set by their High Chieftain. Yearly summits are held in Nuskhal or during times of war, with villages and cities selecting a single representative based on merit. The provakh rarely attend such summits.
When one leader dies or is considered no longer fit to rule, a new one is chosen by the men of each human house, while the provakh almost universally give men and women equal voting rights. Such selections for human tribes take place in the city's long house and can take several days as the merits are debated. Provakh elections tend only to last a few minutes as chieftains are nominated, voted upon, and approved much faster due to the smaller social groups.
Varstad has no official standing military or equivalent organization for either race. Both men and women are taught how to fight and defend their homes and homeland in both cases. A human man is not considered worthy of having a family, home, or property unless he is able to defend it, while an individual provakh tends not to own more than his equipment and what he can carry. Because of this, almost every citizen of either culture lives in a perpetual state of combat readiness, should the need arise.
Human weapons include spears (both short and long), short swords, hatchets, battleaxes, and even shields, which are used as much for smashing into foes as they are used to defend. Short recurve bows are also used from the mounted position to soften an enemy from range before closing the distance to engage in melee combat. Varstadi humans consider ranged combat to be somewhat cowardly and will close the distance to an enemy with remarkable swiftness, using the weight of their large war yaks to their advantage, breaking through enemy lines and splitting their companies with the speed of their advance. The divided units are then encircled and swiftly cut down.
Provakh herds will viciously defend their homes. Given their innate ability to traverse sheer cliff faces and cold, lethal terrain, a charge against a provakh herd is widely regarded as effective suicide by almost all Varstadi people, even other provakhi.
Varstadi military history is heavily laden with victory on both sides, particularly on the home front, as unfamiliarity with the terrain caused many problems for an invading force. Both Varstadi cultures use the terrain to their advantage, appearing to vanish and reappear with near magical swiftness, cutting off an enemy's supply line and subsequent retreat with remarkable efficiency and falling upon the enemy forces with reckless abandon.
Little is known of the Varstadi religions. They have no name and appear to predate what little written history exists. Their oral histories are not widely shared, so the origins of their religions are currently unknown. What little is known speaks of their chief deity, the Stonefather, who is portrayed by both cultures as a large, frowning face carved into various altars high up on the mountains. Details vary based on racial culture, with humans favoring images with full beard and hair, while the provakh, being generally hairless themselves, portraying idealized provakh features. House deities are worshiped by human families and family groups, and the only proof that the Varstadi even worship at all is in the talismans they wear about their necks, which always contain at least one representation of their deity, and generally have at least two or three others, be they patrons of war, fertility, or protection from the elements and wildlife.
Their gods are distant ones, only helping those who have the strength to help themselves. Praying is considered an act of weakness and is generally said to bring about further misfortune.
Laws are few in the human tribes, with theft and murder earning a criminal the harshest punishments. Murder in Varstad is defined as stabbing someone in the back, during the night, or at any time that they are unaware. A direct challenge to another is considered a 'slaying' and is not punishable under law. Challenges can be issued to right various social wrongs, including insults and broken oaths.
Oathbreaking is the most severe social crime a man can commit. A man's word is his value as an individual. Oathbreakers are forbidden from participating in leader selection or leadership positions in their society, and are generally outcast and stripped of their house name, family and village gods. All men are left with a talisman of the Stonefather, however, as his cold, frowning gaze responds to no prayer.
A man's wealth is his livestock, as raising livestock and growing crops are two of the most common professions in Varstad. Every farmer is a warrior, as are those who hold other professions. Classes are determined by profession, but none are placed above others save the village and city chieftans. The more common professions in Varstad are those with martial applications, such as blacksmiths and leatherworkers, and those who expand their villages and cities, such as stoneworkers and carpenters.
A particularly unique profession in Varstad is that of the wyvern hunter. Wyverns are a constant threat to livestock, which are guarded by the large war yaks that serve the Varstadi as mounts and pack animals. Wyverns will not bother trying to attack a field guarded by the war yaks, which are too large to carry off and too dangerous to attack. Many an unfortunate wyvern has met its end at the point of a war yak's horn. Live bait is often strung up in the middle of a large ravine, with the hunters on either side. Large crossbows fire heavy nets as the wyvern approaches, tangling the creature's wings and, more importantly, its stinging tail. The creature is then pulled up and quickly dispatched, the remains finding a variety of uses, from poisons to weapons and armor, as well as simple decoration.
Many in Varstad make their living guiding trade caravans through their country to Kahlahra, Najjir, and The Tyhinn Empire, as well as to their coastal port cities beyond the desert. Trade leaving Varstad by boat may end up anywhere in the world. By land, trade with Kahlahra (via The Tyhinn Empire's roads) consists mostly of the exchange of horse breeding stock, the Khalars preferring the hardier breeds of the Varstadi, and the Varstadi making use of the Khalar breeds' speed and temperament. The Varstadi economy is fueled by the hardiness of their various export livestock, and their chief imports are the rare gems and minerals from The United Tszamoorian Empire's mining operations.
Many languages are spoken in Varstad, as Varstadi children are taught many tongues from a very young age. As trade with other nations brings a continuous stream of wealth into the country, a familiarity with the languages of other countries is extremely important to the Varstadi. The national language of Varstad is Varstakh, a harsh sounding language with a runic alphabet. Provakhi speak a broad range of dialects based on this language.
See the full article on Provakh for more information about this elusive race of mountain-dwelling giants.