Barbarian - Ridgeway Highlanders
Link to Barbarian Class description
The Highlanders are a clan structured group that lives in the wooded uplands and mountain valleys called "The Ridgeway" (the valleys control easier access through the mountains). They practice hunting and small scale farming/herding with a small excess of wool products and rarer natural resources that are traded to more civilized lands for essentials the Highlanders can not produce themselves. Highlanders practice a ritualized form of raiding among themselves. Lowland humans/demi-humans are targets for stealthy non-lethal raiding; whereas monsters, especially humanoids, are to be eradicated. These activities are strictly governed by a "Highland Code". Part of this Code governs Highland culture and warfare - a code that combines deadly practicality with a fierce independence that has a broad 'romantic streak'. Life among the Highlanders may be confusing at times but it is never boring….
Land and Its People
The Highlands are ….. highlands. If it were not for the nearby mountain ranges, most people would describe the highlands as mountains. Granted, these are older, rounded, and weathered mountains that are largely tree covered ('mountain tops' may be bare rock or scrub and the trees on the mountain sides grow slowly on rather thin soil) - however, it is a rugged terrain of steep slopes or even cliffs. The highlands tend to have ridges running southwest to northeast with corresponding valleys of fairly rich soil in between the ridges. Ridges to the east tend to be of sedimentary rock - especially limestone. These ridges often have caves - sometimes extensive systems- in them that can harbour hostile monsters. To the west, the rock becomes metamorphic and igneous. Rich mineral deposits can be found here. Vegetation varies from temperate forest on the lowest parts of the highlands through coniferous forests on higher slopes to scrubby vegetation or even bare rock on the highest points. The growing season is relatively generous with fairly predictable and consistent precipitation. Summer thunderstorms can be… exciting in the higher elevations and rush unexpectedly up valleys. Fall and winter storms can be severe with both heavy precipitation and winds - a highland blizzard is quite memorable if you live through it. Likewise, no Highlander with an ounce of sense will build on a valley floor where fall storms can turn benign creeks into raging rivers. A harsh land with great potential; the highlands have shaped its people into a rugged group that values hard work and kinship ties.
As a result, Highlander skills are those for surviving in a rugged environment of steep hills and valleys. Highlanders climb very well and are nimble cross country runners. With fast flowing streams and a rugged topography, there are very few bodies of water in Highland territory that lend themselves to swimming. As a result, swimming skills are awkward at best or most likely to be non-existent. Highland survival skills (Deerstalker) are tailored to this environment. Also, to just survive some of the surprises the highlands can throw at its inhabitants, Highlanders have bred into their people and culture the ability to push beyond their limits for that last bit of effort (Barbarian Primeval Instincts). One of the worst insults to a Highlander is to be told he or she simply 'gave up'.
This 'never give up' attitude is a part of the reason why outsiders cannot understand the "Highland Code", especially the custom of incessant clan raiding. Clans raid other clans to take their goods or livestock or prisoners; but mostly to earn prestige for the individual raiders and their clan. Prestige is as vital to a clan member as food or water. Prestige determines social standing, interactions, and value within the clan. Those clan members with the most prestige have proven they have "A wise head, a brave heart, and a strong arm." While a foolishly brave and successful warrior will have considerable prestige; a clan elder who offers sage advice even when it's unpopular and backs it up with actions will far outweigh his younger warrior clansman in prestige. Highlanders value bravery very highly, but to meet a Highlander who is a fool is an extremely rare event.
That practical wisdom and valuing bravery and prowess is what governs clan raiding (which is far from a rare event). Again, raids are prestige events. The object is to prove that the raider(s) and clan are better than the members of the clan being raided. The object is to acquire evidence of success (goods, livestock, and prisoners) without killing or seriously injuring the clan members being raided. In fact, causing such injuries or deaths seriously reduces the raiding clan's prestige. It is not unusual for a clan who has committed such a 'failed raid' to try to restore their prestige by eliminating a monster threat to the clan they just raided. While confusing to others, it makes perfect sense to the Highlanders…. It should be noted that accidently killing a raiding clan member (such as killing or injuring the raider before the raided clan realizes it is a clan raid and not an actual attack) does not affect the raided clan's prestige at all. It does, according to Highlanders, take the joy out of the raid for both sides…. During a raid, blacksmiths, healers, priests, witches, bards, young children and their mothers are all considered untouchable. Also, any guests of the clan are considered untouchable during a raid as well. Any Highlander who comes openly and without threat to a clan's holdings is to be treated as (and act as) a honoured guest. To abuse 'guest right' is a serious prestige blow to the offender and his/her clan. Ironically, the only time a guest may fight in a raid is to aid the defenders if his/her own clan decides to attack his hosts. Otherwise, it would be considered an abuse of the code of being a good guest.
Perhaps, the best way of explaining clan raiding is the legend/story of "Corin's Raid". Corin was a young and very accomplished warrior of the Black Rock clan. He had proven himself time and again as a savage and canny fighter and leader against the nearby orc tribes. While leading one such campaign, his clan was raided by the Three Mountains clan. While the raiding clan got limited prestige (the orc tribe was a threat to more than just the Black Rock clan so raiding them at that time was considered low honour), the Black Rock clan did suffer a loss of prestige from the raid and a few of the clan blamed Corin for taking the best fighters away. Corin vowed to right this situation. Alone, he stole into the Three Mountains clan territory. He subdued the clan chief's guards without harming them. He then tied up and gagged the chief and carefully removed the hair on his head, his beard, and the rest of the hair on his body - leaving the naked chief tied outside in open view for his villagers to find. Corin supposedly finished his raid by kidnapping the chief's daughter so she could witness that her father was unharmed and be able to witness Corin's feat. He then carried the young woman off to his clan and later married her. While there are many Black Rock clan members who claim to be descendants of that marriage, there is no direct proof. However, to this day, Black Rock clan chiefs like to sit on a pillow of woven hair and ask their wives to repair the dog blanket made from the same hair whenever they host a member of the Three Mountains clan. It just goes to show that clan raids are a deadly serious game to Highlanders, but one tempered by practicality and humour.
Dealing with monsters and other dangerous creatures is an entirely different matter. Not only are these threats eliminated (no prisoners, etc.); but, a Highlander only becomes a warrior when he or she kills a creature that is an actual threat. The number and lethality of the creatures killed helps to determine a clansmen's prestige and his clan's prestige as well. Successful War-chiefs often lead not only their own clan's warriors but neighbouring clans as well on significant raids against monsters or to destroy significant threats to the clans. Highlanders deal with monster threats with cold-hearted logic (leave none of them alive to breed and prevent the lair from being reused). Highlanders strip the dead and their holdings of anything of value - anything else is destroyed.
As for value, Highlanders think nothing of quiet raids on more civilized lands. These raids are for needed resources and the raiders attempt to make off with any materials without their former owner's awareness (after all, they are soft lowlanders - it would be embarrassing to be caught by them!). More adept leaders try to leave indications that the raid was done by some other group (such as a local orc band, etc). If the offended lowlanders mistakenly take out their frustrations against a potential threat to the clan, all the better.
Few Highlanders are aware of their actual origin or history. To them, they have always been there and will always be part of the Highlands. Actually, they are immigrants. About 500 years ago, the rulers of Prealith tried to expand their holdings in the feudal style of neighbouring kingdoms. Using the wealth from piracy and trade, they hired mercenaries and gathered their own soldiers. The effort was not only a failure, but lost land and settlements as well. One casualty were the mercenaries. Cut off from any ports and not able to evacuate, the mercenaries and the people who accompanied them, fought their way inland and managed to lose their pursuers in the Highlands. There, the different companies established their own holdings but held to an overall code. The companies evolved into clans and the code evolved into the "Highland Code". The mercenaries were mainly Sea Wolves and they mixed with a few Ice People and Prealith villagers drawn mainly from Old Human stock. Thus, tall, blonde, and heavily built physiques dominate Highlander stock with a few clans tending a bit more to their Old Human/Ice People roots with darker hair and skin plus a short and stocky physique.
Highlanders live in small villagers built into the side of the ridges. Houses are small stone cottagers that are built very solidly and very defensible. Barns for livestock are built adjoining the cottages. Land around and above the cottages are used for pasture while the valley floor is used for fields. The village that is home to the clan chief is bigger with more services - though it could not be called a town. It does have a mill, fortified clan chief home, a few services, and often a small church/temple. They are simply larger versions of the cottages. Clan holdings expand up and down the valley they occupy.
Magic is viewed with considerable suspicion by Highlanders. Clerics use the power of the Gods, not magic. Bard magic is non-existent. Bards are 'low-bards' with no magic but better combat skills. Wizards and illusionists do not exist in the highlands. Most who have the potential never develop the talent - life as a Highlander leaves no room for the talent to develop nor is the desire there. Either the talent is suppressed or explained away as lucky little incidences or a flash of power during extreme stress (such as combat) kills the potential mage.
However, there are always a few of such potential power that it will not be denied. These unfortunate few become witches. Witches are respected a little, but mostly feared and shunned. They deal in potions and hexes - witch magic is different than other magics. Witches will use their powers against outside threats - but not during raids. Despite being largely shunned, being a member of the clan is too ingrained for witches to just stand by when the clan is threatened. That feeling includes both defense and accompanying major attacks on monster threats. But, a raid, does not threaten the clan - just its pride and witches are quite happy to see others humbled. Also, witch magic can be unpredictable - so in everyone's interest they are left alone during raids. Witches are asked (and paid) for favours that require a bit of magic but are favours that are considered too trivial or inappropriate for the priests. Love potions or concoctions to reduce aging or increase beauty or 'vigour' are the witches' stock and trade. In addition, Highlanders will often approach witches for charms and talismans that call on the aid of the nature spirits or totems (the strength of a bear, etc.). Witches are not so much shunned as avoided. Actually antagonizing such a power is an unwise thing, but it does not stop the whispering or the rhymes of indiscreet children. On the other hand, a witch needs to be careful he or she does not alienate the community too much.
Priests are under no such limitations. They represent the will of the Gods. Highland priest typically venerate the High Lord, the Lady of Peace, and either the God of War or a garbled version of Gird. They offer both services to the people and the leading priests can exercise a certain amount of clerical magic. Clerics are also aware that their flock will often venerate nature spirits as well and call upon their aid - often with the help of witches. Priests either regard this practice as impossible to stamp out or just a slightly garbled version of worshiping the High Lord in how he manifests himself on earth.
Over the past few generations, witch magic and other elements of Highland life have undergone some accelerating changes. Around 50 years ago, the Highlanders were aided by "The Red Witches of Sanctuary". Neither group talks of what that aid was or what it involved; however, it resulted in the Sanctuary community, especially the Red Witches, being regarded as "untouchable" by the Highlanders while Highlanders, especially those with magic potential, are instructed in Sanctuary (though there are a number of Sanctuary people who travel to the Highlands to 'help out' - which includes teaching. Instruction also includes non-magic skills - both craft and some combat skills. There are many Highlanders who worry about the softening influence of Sanctuary; but, they don't deny the skills brought in by the instruction have improved life in the Highlands and made the Highlanders an even deadlier combat force.
Weapons and War
Highland Barbarians are proficient with all types of axes, hammers, longsword, broadsword, bastard sword, 2 handed sword, short sword, dagger, spear, short bows, and slings. Armour tends to be leather and studded leather with shields. Other weapons are just not available to Highlanders (cannot manufacture them) or inappropriate (e.g. woods too thick so a longbow gets snagged up or possible range that can be seen is well within short bow range). Highlanders are also quite good at using clubs and brawling/wrestling as they are the tools of choice for raids.
Tactics are well developed for small parties (ambushes, raids, etc.). Working with larger groups is chaotic , at best they just try to expand small party tactics. Strategy is mostly beyond Highlander war chiefs.
Raids have reinforced the Highlanders' ability to intimidate others. Distinctive face paint and tattoos both serve to intimidate and are camouflage (breaks up pattern of the face).
The constant raids and monster encounters mean a Highlander is difficult to surprise (Combat Sense). An experienced Highlander Warrior will have fought countless battles against monster humanoids. As a result, he/she will have gained the Whirlwind Attack ability.
Highlanders expect both genders to be able to fight. Highlanders realize their villagers are likely to be attacked at some point so the more clan members able to fight, the better. Habitual warriors are a much smaller group and dominated by men. However, 'wolf maidens' and other female warriors are respected for their speed and ferocity in combat.