Saturday, October 17, 2009

Noffel – Warrior Culture

Pronunciation guide: Noffel [NAW-ful], Noffelian [naw-FELL-ee-yun]

As one might glean from reading Noffel’s early history,  Noffel’s economy is based upon iron mining, fishing, and sea trading, and its culture centers upon its fishing villages and its proud military/warrior tradition.  Noffellians are most renowned throughout the Lands of Ara for their prowess at fishing and sailing, and their deadliness with the long sword.

As was noted in a previous post on the Lands of Ara, Noffel is by far the oldest Arandish kingdom, having originated as a tribal fishing culture whose people worshipped Zapar, god of the waters, Minar, god of copper, Aldor, goddess of the wood, and Frey, god of the mountains (plus various local tribal gods now lost to history).  In present-day Noffel, Aldor and Minar have been forgotten, but Frey is still widely worshipped and is held to be the principal deity of the Noffellians; Noffellian clerics all follow Frey.  Fisherfolk and sailors still pay their respects to Zapar as well, though there is no formal temple to Zapar in the king’s city of Highgate.  Awra, who is called “the arch-sorceress” or simply “the witch” in most areas of Noffel, is despised by almost all Noffellians. 

In present-day Noffel, there is a mandatory one-year military term for all Noffellian youths of all genders, and nearly everyone in the kingdom is exposed to sword use long before reaching adventuring age.  Though the rare Noffellian has strayed from tradition and turned to the ways of magic, there is no official teaching or practicing of arcane magic anywhere in the kingdom of Noffel, and arcane magic use is looked down upon by most Noffellians.  Some towns and regions in Noffel even have explicit laws forbidding magic use, under threat of permanent exile.  The only thing more despised in Noffel than an arcane magic practitioner is a draft-dodger.

Given its culture, most Noffellian adventurers end up as fighters or rangers of some sort, and usually swordspersons.  Some Noffellian families, especially those with a military history or ties to the Noffellian High Guard, encourage or demand that their youth, to confirm their passage into adulthood, perform what is called a “Sword Quest,” a dangerous mission designed to prove the quester’s worthiness to take up the family sword.  These quests can be of any sort, from heroic rescue missions to monster-hunting quests. . . whatever the referee might wish or concoct.  Family and community politics can be involved in this, too: maybe a young sword-quester is sent on a mission as a favor to Uncle Leebort in the High Guard, or to make good on some past debt the quester’s father owes to an old war buddy.  Sometimes sword-questers find themselves naively caught up in some intricate web of deceit and treachery, wherein their own family members have been manipulated into sending the quester on a suicide mission or a quest that is not at all what it seems.  The perceptive reader will note that Noffellian Sword Quests make GREAT 1st-level adventure hooks; whenever a player says s/he wants to roll up a Noffellian swordsperson, I start thinking about possible Sword Quests and I swiftly interview the player about whether his/her Noffellian character’s family might demand a Quest and if so, what general form it might possibly take.

Note that Noffellian Sword Quests are named both (1) for the tradition of passing down the “family sword”—either a purely ceremonial item and/or an actual combat long sword previously belonging to a warrior family member or mentor—to the successful quester, and (2) as a reference to the Legend of the Crimson Blades, which tells of thirteen Noffellian swords cursed and turned blood-red by the arch-sorceress Awra, a figure much despised in Noffel.  During a particular period of Noffellian history (and still in rare cases to this day), Sword Quests were actually missions to find one of the lost “Fifty Swords” and/or the thirteen Crimson Blades.  I will return to the subject of the Crimson Blades in a future post. 

Politically, Noffel is ruled by a king, but also has a Senate with power of approval over the succession of Noffellian kings—an innovation introduced to Noffellian government in Old Calendar Year 2229 by Ormin, adviser to King Tandar the Beloved.  The Noffellian seat of government, including both the King’s Palace and the Senate Hall, is in Highgate, a beautifully kept city nestled in the hills where the King’s Ford River forks, becoming the King’s Ford River and the Blint River.  Highgate also houses the King’s Place of Judgment, which is the highest court in Noffel, and the famed Keep of the Noffellian High Guard.  The High Guard is one of the most effective and feared military organizations in Ara.  The High Guard is made up almost exclusively of Noffellians; some Blintians are also permitted to join, but no one of any other nationality or kingdom would ever be allowed in.  Despite this exclusivity, or perhaps because of it, the Noffellian High Guard retains the best longsword users in Noffel and probably in all the Lands of Ara.  The High Guard is typically presumed to be fanatically loyal to the king, and its main function is to protect the king and his city.  Referees wishing to set a campaign in Noffel could easily brew up some political tensions /conflicts / mutinies between the Noffellian king and the Captain of the High Guard.  I also sometimes use the High Guard as a kind of Noffellian FBI, sending its soldiers and agents to places throughout Noffel to investigate wrongdoings and clamp down on violent crime inside Noffel’s borders.

Some of the most famous historical Noffellians include King Tarandis, the First King of Noffel; Silverblade the Stout-Hearted, the first and greatest of the Noffellian crusaders against the undead; and, of course, in our present era, Hokka the Sailor

Noffel is a great place for launching missions to the southern (and largely unexplored) Komar Peninsula, the rodian island of Suhl, the Free City of Kaladar, and/or the Great Western Swamp, which lies to the north and west of Noffel.  As a referee, I like how Noffel’s culture and law mess with magic-users’ ability to practice their magic openly; wizards traveling to/through Noffel are usually advised by friendly NPCs to conceal their class.  In my own campaigns, I have used Noffel mostly as a place to be passed through; the only Noffellian city any of my parties have spent much time is is Jakama.  In fact, strangely, I have never even had an adventure party so much as set foot in the Noffellian capitol city of Highgate; though the existence of the seat of Noffellian government and the Keep of the High Guard have always been implied in my campaigns, the city did not even have a name until I named it a few weeks ago!

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