Richtcrag (from the old tongue “Ríocht Na Cruach”, meaning ‘Kingdom of Steel’) was an enigma to most of the more ‘civilized’ nations in Faedrun. A brutal land of steppes, rocky terrain, and isolated villages, it seems at first to be inhabited solely by a sullen, suspicious people who would rather not travel far from their homeland. Beyond this, however, you will find a fiercely independent people, willing to fight and die for their land, which has been torn by warfare ever since it was founded as a loose nation.
A Bit of History
Richtcrag has never known much in the way of peace. A sort of tribal rule has always reigned in the land, ever since the first inhabitants began farming and setting up villages. The amount of arable land in Richtcrag is few and far between – communities would spring up around any area where the ground was fertile enough to hold crops, supplementing their diet with the occasional hunted boar or stag from the forests which managed to survive in the rocky terrain. These tight-knit communities saw the need for protection and martial prowess, lest their neighbors would force them from their land.
Soon, some villages with common backgrounds began banding together under skilled leaders – these “Cogadh-cheannaire”, or Cogaires, began to unite larger and larger tracts of land under their banners. Might made right, and these great Cogaires grew more and more powerful. These warriors-princes led armies into battle, waging brutal warfare against their enemies and driving the people under their command into fight after fight.
Around one hundred years before the Battle of Grayfield, a Cogaire by the name of Bartram Cruach managed what was once thought impossible – through political maneuvering, skill in tactics, and sheer bloody-mindedness, he managed to unite the scattered leaders into a single nation. Rather than declaring himself king, he gave forth a now-legendary declaration.
“By the steel in my hand and the bravery of my warriors, I have taken this land for my own. But what fun would it be to rule over a placid kingdom? No, the Kingdom of Cruach will go on as it always has. My line shall ensure it!”
With those words, posted to every town and village, he had laid out the course of history. As more political men sat down and drafted the rulership of the land, they considered the point of this boast – the right to rule comes only with the steel and skill to hold it, and all their laws reflect it.
At the top sits the king, drawn from the line of Bertram Cruach. Interestingly enough, this is not a line that is hereditary – Cruach would adopt anyone capable of defeating one of his children into the line, and so the succession at the time of the Undead plague was a mess of bloody fighting – anyone who can claim connection to the line of Cruach, whether by blood or by combat, is considered a contender for the ostensible “rulership” of Richtcrag. While they are supposedly the head of the nation, it is only in times of great dread that they raise any sort of unified force.
Governance is accomplished by the Cogaires – while this position was somewhat variable in the beginning, there are now six established “regions”, each of which is ruled over by a Cogaire. There are no true boundaries or political agreements – what you can hold is yours, and what your enemy can take is his by right. Twice a year, the six Cogaires who hold the most land meet and discuss trade, temporary stops to fighting, and other such boring matters.
Íoclaochra, or “Paid Warriors”, are a common sight. Easily identified by their fanciful dress, bristling array of weapons, and tendency to seek out any possible fight, these mercenaries were a logical consequence of the constant warfare of the land.
The rich clothing of an Íoclaochra serves to indicate both their skills as a mercenary as well as gives them a sort of portable wealth – they tend towards clashing colors, imported silks, and elaborate hats. This is an advertisement of their skills – no warrior uncomfortable with a few strange stares would dress so wildly – to prospective employers. They are notorious gamblers and drunkards off of the battlefield, for most of them seem to know that their time is short.
Íoclaochra are oftentimes trained via apprenticeship to a more experienced mercenary – it is only when a youth has drawn his first pay as a full mercenary that they are considered a true member of the class. This first pay is typically spent on an elaborate hat – a tradition that began when a group of Íoclaochra was due to be executed after capture. Rather than dressing somberly, they spent the eve of their execution tending to their clothing and demanded that their heads, customarily displayed for a week after the execution, remain with the hats so that all who saw them would know that those who died had been true warriors.
The Major Regions of Richtcrag
While it’s impossible to consider Richtcrag as a uniform nation, the major regions all have their own individual culture and legends. These so-called ”major regions” serve as the primary cultural regions of the area at the time of the Old World – the refugees on Mardrun are few in number enough that regional differences are seldom acknowledged beyond modes of dress and mannerisms, as all of them have come to see themselves as the remains of Richtcrag’s culture. These regions are also roughly analgous to the domains of the six largest Cogaires – these are the major territorities that have existed throughout most of Richtcrag’s history.
A coastal city, full of twisting alleys and intrigue, the rule of the day is calculated violence. Considered by its residents and the nearby fishing peasants to be the seat of culture in Richtcrag. While it is no less violent than the other major regions, that violence is cloaked in a veneer of custom and civilization. The Íoclaochra here tend towards trickery and dirty fighting, preferring elegant blades of ‘finesse’ rather than the larger blades of their neighbors. Due to trade with Aldoria and Vandregon, the Valinate region is a cosmopolitan one, turning out works of art that are renowned throughout Faedrun.
Petty squabbles for territory and ownership tend to take place within Valinate’s formal duel structure – an elaborate code of honor which dictates what sort of offenses allow for a legitimate challenge. The actual dueling code, however, is fraught with subtle tricks and excuses for duels. Many a petty nobleman has managed to increase his holdings by challenging rival to a duel over a petty offense, like failing to give him a proper greeting in the street or wearing the wrong style of hat.
Valinate’s culture is oddly refined in comparison to the rest of the barbaric nation, with attitudes and outlooks closer to a refined Vandregonian noble than the typical foreign belief of Richtcrag natives as uncultured, boisterous peasant-warriors. Manners of dress tend towards Syndar fashion, although tempered by the rougher living conditions within the city, and while Íoclaochra still retain flamboyant dress and impressive hats, they tend towards darker, more unified colour schemes than the bright, riotous shades common to other regions. Musically, they tend to prefer complex compositions, and are well known across Faedrun for their operas – long, musical performances punctuated with acting and other spectacle.
One of the most enduring cultural traditions of Valinate is that of the Masquerade – a masked celebration, typically held by nobility, and serving as a time were the peasantry can play at nobility while taking time in the city. The typically refined culture of the area gives way to drunken splendor, showing that, no matter how much they may mask their alliegances, they are still of the same bloodlines that united Richtcrag in the beginning. A second, darker tradition exists within this celebration, however – every year, at Masquerade time, certain Íoclaochra don masks and dark regalia, acting as paid assassins within the city. Other Íoclaochra see this as a sign of the decadence of the city weakening its warriors, but those who take part in these masked killings see themselves as legends in their own right.
Cul’Claimete is known for two things – hard liquor and harder warriors. This wide region serves as the Southern border to Richtcrag, and to most of Faedrun, the only region they care about. While some other regions in Richtcrag have a semblance of governance, Cul’Claimete is governed by a series of feudal “lairds”, all under the High Lord of the region.
The peasants are an active part of the warfare – every last man and woman has fought to defend their homestead, usually in the guise of working for their local Laird. Most of them tend towards large weapons and larger words – the hurling of insults and boasting is considered to be the highest art form in Cul’Claimete. Íoclaochra from this region tend towards elaborately pleated plaid garments which speak volumes to those who know how to read the code – home village, affiliations, and victories in battle.
The music of Cul’Claimete, much like their culture and personalities, is boisterous, loud, and primal – the few members of this region who have made it to Mardrun have found a strange kinship with the Ulven, although the Ulven fail to understand why they would wear “Women’s clothing”. This remains an amusing point of contention amongst these two groups, and has sparked off a number of brawls that ended with both parties drunken singing of the accomplishments of their former enemies.
Amongst all other sports, Cul’Claimete treasures feats of strength and endurance above all else. Their favorite sport – at least according to a casual observer – appears to be bare-knuckle boxing. Before the Fall, a tournament was held once every three years at the castle of the High Lord, who – according to tradition – had the names of all past champions engraved on the stones of their castle, ”to strengthen its foundation with the strength of the people”. Sadly, this record was lost when the people of Richtcrag fled, although many dishonest traders in artifacts from the Old World claim to have a genuine piece of the old castle.
This somewhat mountainous region is where the traditional image of Íoclaochra comes from; it is full of small feudal holdings, castles, and dense, dark forests. The peasants, rather than being farmers, tend towards the mining trade. This is where most of the metal and trade goods for the rest of Richtcrag come from, and the skill of their weaponsmiths are renowned across all of Faedrun. For a number of years, Kupferhügel was one of the primary suppliers of arms and armor to the Order of Arnath’s Fist, which serves as one of the primary faiths of the region.
The Íoclaochra of the region are proud mercenaries – more so than any other region. They tend towards elaborate, slashed sleeves, incredibly bright colours, and the most ostentatious hats possible. Rather than acting as lone mercenaries, they tend to form organized bands, adopting a complicated series of rank and address to better act in other armies. The region is well-known for the quality of the crossbows that come from it, and few of the Íoclaochra who come from this region foregoe this efficient weapon.
The peasants come off as considerably more dour than other regions – quiet, reserved, and dedicated to their trades. There are a number of trade guilds in the region, all of which chair themselves in the central city, Molnberg, which serves as the hub for trade in the region, situated as it is on the Rhim River, a major trade route out of the nation. Beyond this taciturn nature, however, comes a love for gambling and other contemplative games – Kupferhügel is known for some of the most prosperous gambling dens in all of Faedrun, and they have brought many of their games of chance to the New World.
The borders of the region are populated with a number of Wild Syndar, some of whom have mixed in with the culture of the region. Tensions occasionally run high, however, as few peasants are willing to trust the ”Häxvolk” living near them, and occasional forays into the woods by mercenaries companies on ”training exercises” end with a surprising number of dead Syndar.
Built over a swampy region of the land, the various fiefdoms in the region are clusters of isolated villages situated on stilts above the bogs and dense trees of the region. Moreso than any other region, Marais-Enceinte is a land of solitary survivalists, seeking to live in the harshest region for a chance at freedom. Fiercely independent and proud of their local culture, the Marais-Enceinte accent is immediately noticable when used in the common tongue – full of rolling r’s and the largest number of blasphemies on Faedrun, it is alternately musical and scatalogical; a fitting companion to the bogs they call home.
The average peasant makes their living off of fishing and farming the few solid plots of land of Marais-Enceinte. Unique to the region is a wide variety of grapes and other berry-bearing vines, helped along by the soil’s unique character. Wines are prized in this region, and even the poorest peasant has access to it – after all, the brakish waters of the region make it hard to obtain and preserve fresh water, so wine ensures that nothing living manages to sneak in and spoil the drink. Few bottles were brought over during the Fall, and so Marais-Enceinte wine is prized amongst the nobles on Mardrun – seen as priceless artifacts, never able to be reproduced due to the loss of their unique vines, they command exorbitant prices whenever a bottle comes up for trade.
Íoclaochra from Marais-Enceinte are seen as scouts and trackers, trained to navigate across all sorts of terrain and fight from ambush. They favor longer knives and lighter armor – while the protection of heavy armor is useful on a stable battlefield, the swampy lands of their home leads them to favor mobility over raw defensive capabilities. They are also adept healers – the region’s many inhabitants include a staggering array of venemous serpents and virulent diseases, all of which can prove more deadly than any foe’s blade.
The peasants, as with the neighbouring Kupferhügel, are reserved and somewhat taciturn, but take a fierce pride in their independent status. The region’s music tends towards immensely energetic, expressive performance and typically features the concertina – an instrument exported to a number of Aldorian sailors. Their love of song and wine can lead to a comforting feel in their taverns, but the average traveler is urged to be wary – accidentally challenging the independence or aptitude of one of the region’s residents can lead to a heated confrontation that will end with one party half-buried in the morass of one of the all-encompasing bogs.
The northern border of Richtcrag is a harsh place, acting as a buffer between the nation of Nara Pentare and the rest of Faedrun. Filled with broad steppes and wind-swept mountains, this region is known as Olon Zylj (Oh-lon Zhi-le), and it is home to the nomadic barbarians which kept the Nara Pentare isolated for so long. With few permanent cities, some of the best horses on Faedrun, and great fields of game, this is a seemingly inhospitable region for those who fail to understand the way of life required to survive.
The Íoclaochra, rather than accepting silver, take payment in food, supplies, and horses, for money is a useless conceit to someone who might see a ”civilized” trading place once in a year. In this, they get along with the Ulven quite well, sharing many of their values, but the Olon Zyjl place a much greater emphasis on individual reliance, and their Íoclaochra are known for switching sides in battle should they be tempted with a better offer. Their skill with bows is reknowned across Faedrun, which makes potential issues of loyalty worth the risk – so long as they are well-paid, they are reliable enough. While their skill with horses was incredible on Faedrun, the lack of horses on Mardrun has taken that from them – many Olon Zyjl Íoclaochra are still bitter over the loss of their beloved livestock during the Fall.
The Olon Zyjl see the Nara Pentare as a symbol of all that is wrong with so-called ”civilization”, and they raid along the borders frequently. While they are merely an annoyance to the larger nation, their attacks keep the borders closed to foreign influences, serving to further isolate the Nara Pentare from the rest of Faedrun.
The ”capitol” (if one might use that term) of Richtcrag, Pericht is seen as an unofficial neutral ground at the center of Richtcrag. Similar in culture to Kupferhügel, this region of foreboding mountains is practically a fortress in and of itself. A center of trade and agreement, as well as home to a number of valuable mines, this region declared its independence from Kupferhügel soon after they realized the need for neutral ground in the center where all the Cogaires might meet to discuss matters of territorities, truces, and other negotiations that would shape the nation’s history.
Far from uniting Richtcrag, Pericht’s status as the ostensible capitol merely ensures that the nation does not disintegrate into all-out war, rather keeping to smaller skirmishes and the usual state of ”friendly ravaging of lands” that it is known for. The only reason it maintains it status as a neutral ground is its fortress-like arrangement and the universal conscription of all residents into the military.
Íoclaochra of the region are even more organized than their counterparts in Kupferhügel, serving as the well-paid advisors to the Cogaire of the region. They are known for their well-drilled formations and utilization of the halberd and pike, as well as their well-crafted armor. Of the regions in Richtcrag, this was the last to succumb to the undead, and there are rumors today that a few Íoclaochra still defend the central keep in the capitol city against the undead hordes, though most dismiss these as nothing more than the wishful rumors of a defeated people.
Trade and Money
Richtcrag is not known as a nation of traders. Craftsmen, perhaps, and skilled workers and miners, but the easiest way to insult someone from any region is by calling them a trader. Sure, certain prominent caposin Valinate may maintain their households and bodyguards with money taken from trade, but they are simply moving goods around – a trader would be someone who saw that as their sole goal; understanding this is the key to avoiding insulting any artisan in Richtcrag.
While they are considered a somewhat less civilized land than their southern neighbors of Vandregon, Aldoria, and the May’kar Dominion, they are far from backwards. Much like the finest ships come from Aldoria and the finest art comes from the May’kar, the finest weapons and armor are to be found in the north. Master craftsmen and women pass down the secrets of their trade to their children, leading to certain familial lines and villages becoming highly contested commodities or (should their fame grow enough) – oddly placid zones where the whole village is dedicated to the perfection of that craft.
One of the most famous inventions to come from Richtcrag is the crossbow, of which those crafted in Kupferhügel are considered the finest in Faedrun. Whether it is the elaborately-engraved and fanciful miniature bows of Valinate or the powerful, workman-like bows of Marais-Enceinte, they are valued items all across Faedrun. Precious few survived the trip to Mardrun, unfortunately, and the craftsmanship may have been lost forever with the coming of the undead plague.
Many other advances in warfare were made by the Íoclaochra, who sold their services not only in their homeland, but in other lands as well. Some took up permanent residence in the south as swordmasters, and while some found their tactics were useless against the undead, others helped to shape the face of warfare across Faedrun.
An old Richtcrag proverb may shed some light on this dedication – “In peace, man contemplates beauty. In war, man crafts survival.”
Richtcrag Dueling Traditions
The history and rules of dueling are a major part of Richtcrag society. Whether it is an informal fist-fights intended to settle barroom disagreements, an academic duel between two students, or a battlefield duel to the death, all fights are seen as honorable, with certain rules and rituals serving as a framework to the bloody culture of Richtcrag. They look upon these duels with pride, which served to give them some common ground with the Ulven, who nonetheless find the odd variations and excessive challenges to be strange and foreign.
There are three inviolate rules to all duels, laid out by Bartram Cruach when he took the throne. Any violation of the Three is seen as an absolute disgrace – Íoclaochra have been tried and executed for failing to acquit themselves honorably in such formalized combat.
1) Only the agreed-upon weapons are to be used – a disarmed warrior may yield or find their weapon, but never draw another.2) Death comes to all men, and acceptance of that fate is found in a duel. No warrior is to be punished for killing another in a duel.3) To interrupt or intrude upon a duel is the greatest disrespect.
There are scores of other rules, depending on the type of duel and the number of participants – each variation has formalized rules and a history, including the names of famous participants. This is a part of their national pride – while they will eagerly war with neighboring communities, suggesting that a village or warrior has failed to uphold the traditions is cause for the whole of Richtcrag society to descend upon the unlucky slanderer.
The origins of this duel are found in the numerous barrooms and inns of Cul’Claimete. After a few drinks, even the most level-headed man can find himself talking above their station. Should two patrons disagree too loudly, the bartender will pour a pair of drinks, and issue the traditional challenge – if they’d like to keep drinking, they’ll need to settle outside.
A space around the hearth is then cleared, and a circle three paces is marked out – some bars keep a permanent circle carved into the floorboards, while others simply bring out a rope. The warriors stand facing one another, and exchange blows until one of them cannot stand. No weapons are involved, and it’s as much a test of martial skill as it is of endurance. When one man can’t stand, the duel is over, and both return to the bar for drinks, considering the matter settled. The loser typically pays for both drinks, although particularly gracious winners tend to buy a round for the whole bar at the end of a particularly involved fight. It keeps tensions low, as most patrons know that insulting someone might lead to a savage beating.
A favorite amongst ruffians and rogues, this is a personal combat to first blood. The participants are both issued a single knife, and their left wrists are bound together. A bystander signals the start, and the duel is fought. It proceeds in three stages – a fight to first blood is merely the first blow to land, while a fight to first wound ends only when one of the participants suffers a serious injury. Fights to the death are rare, but happen – by the end, both participants are usually covered in blood from numerous minor cuts, and the winner dies as often as the loser. Unlike other duels, the actual rules are decided upon during the combat – an opponent who refuses to yield after first blood escalates the fight.
Generally, bets are placed on who the winner will be, along with how long the duel will take. Betting on fights is a valued tradition of Richtcrag, and the winner is typically given some portion of the bets against him. Certain vicious Valinate duelists take pride in this type of street brawling, displaying any number of vicious scars from their earlier victories. “To pay his blood-price” is Valinate slang for when such a duelist collects their winnings after any sort of fight.
The Formal Duel
Intended to keep warriors and Íoclaochra from spilling too much blood while working under the same Cogaire, these are somewhat more elaborate affairs that other duels. A formal challenge is issued from one warrior to another – it must specify the reason behind the duel, the name of the opponent, and the severity of the duel. Traditionally, no warrior under the employ of a Cogaire is allowed to kill one of his comrades without a gross betrayal – fights over lovers can sometimes allow for this, along with those duels intended to settle the matter of a theft.
The challenged party is allowed to choose the weapon used for this fight. Generally, there are three varieties of weapons chosen – the single straight sword, sword-and-shield, or two-handed swords, although polearms and axes are not unheard of. The weapons used are to be identical – certain unscrupulous warriors have tried to substitute inferior blades for their opponent, only to have it backfire spectacularly.
The duel then follows a very specific structure. The other warriors in the employ of the Cogaire form a circle around the participants, and the reason for the duel are read out. The challenger is then given the choice to forgive the insult – if not, then the duel begins. Both warriors salute one another, and fight until the agreed-upon degree – first blood or first wound is typical, although it is permissible to declare that a duel will continue until one warrior is unconscious.
The Battlefield Duel
One of the strangest traditions in Richtcrag, this is one of the rights of an Íoclaochra, as laid out by Cruach himself. Two Íoclaochra who meet on the field of battle are given the right of formal challenge. This duel is always to the death, with the victor claiming the possessions of the loser.
The structure is always the same – the challenging warrior calls out his name, the Cogaire he follows, and throws down his hat. The challenger must then do the same, and both Íoclaochra salute one another. To intrude upon this sort of duel is forbidden – Cogaire have executed men for attempting to assist in this sort of fight.
Both warriors are expected to use only the weapons that they are holding at the time, to the point of refusing a replacement should their blade be broken. Once the duel is finished, the victor claims the hat of his opponent, strapping it to his belt and continuing into the fray once again. This is a privilege extended only to those recognized as Íoclaochra, and the rules only apply when fighting equals – a number of warriors outside of the caste have died when they assumed their opponent would treat them as if they were a true Íoclaochra.
The academies of Richtcrag also bear a specific dueling tradition – rather than being a challenge over honor, it is a ritual test of the courage of both participants. The fighters stand three paces apart, holding a single straight sword. They then proceed to fight – not moving, as backing down would show that they were afraid of injury.
The goal of this fight is somewhat odd, as well – the participants seek to strike their opponent on the face with a raking cut, attempting to give them a scar. Oddly enough, being cut is not a sign of losing – these scars are worn with pride, symbolizing their bravery and ability to withstand pain. Deaths are rare, but occur from time to time – generally, when one side cannot effectively control their blade and strikes their opponent too hard.