The following article has been adapted and developed by Scott from Dave Brohman's Urkhadi description originally published in the Scarred Lands Campaign Setting.
original idea: Dave Brohman (aka sulaco)
The Urkhadi are a proud warrior-people who have sacrified personal freedoms for the strength of greater unity. One might expect this of a people who must constantly defend their home, a paradise in the midst of a nightmarish wasteland, from all manner of hostile life, even unlife. Demons, titanspawn, undead (see descriptions of surrounding areas in Scarred Lands Campaign Setting: Ghelspad), and powerful predators have all come knocking at their door at one time or another. They’ve met all of this with no allies at their backs, no strength but their own. Their harsh reality has led to the creation of a military state where the greatest warrior is made chief and all who are able must serve in the Scar’s defense.
The Scar's Defenses
Ever vigilant and protective of their small paradise, they have developed a defense for their small canyon that is more than enough to repel the average assailant. There are currently 6 entrances built into and along the Scar's towering walls and all are watched by sentries and contain multiple traps, like collapsible bridges and ladders to prevent descent or triggerable avalanches, drops, and even spiked pendulums to name a few. Also, there are hidden sentry positions from which boulders and spears can be launched at intruders. The defense of the entrances alone requires 30 sentries (5 per entrance) at all hours per the current Ortark’s decree (see below). If they have a vulnerability, it is attacks from flying creatures and creatures capable of climbing down into the Scar on their own. Yet, with 50 more sentries stationed around the Scar's rim in 10 massively built stone lookout towers (providing a greater range of vision from 30 ft up and relief from the merciless sun), little comes or goes unnoticed (at least during the day) and alarms are quickly raised (via horns) to warn the Urkhadi in the Scar below. Constant patrols (10 patrols of 10 warriors during the day and 10 patrols of 20 warriors at night) move from tower to tower around the Scar's perimeter, bringing the total outer defense to 180 per shift (approximately six hours, with a universal "changing of the guards" taking place at sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight) by day, 280 per shift by night (since there is more traffic in a desert during the night and visibility drops, patrol strength is doubled).
Society & Government
Their greatest strength being their solidarity, there is little room for dissension in the Urkhadi culture. All who are able are expected to serve on the patrols, even women. The only exceptions are the youngest of children and the elderly. Older children are taken on patrols as soon as they are able to hold their own in the competitions held every five days from noon to sunset. These include spear throwing for accuracy, throwing heavy stones for distance, running, mock sword (stout wooden sticks) and shield combat, and wrestling (forcing someone out of a cirlce first or penning them down for a long count, roughly two full rounds, in a specially built sand arena). The games are collectively known as the Orkhad. Those in their prime (15 to 30 years old) who fail to prove competitive (by placing last in three or more games) lose respect and may be ridiculed by their peers, unless suffering from an injury or illness, of course, which exempts them from participation. However, those who are older (45+) merely go into respectful retirement following their long service in the Scar's defense.
Justice is swift and often final among the Urkhadi. Murderers and thieves are either executed or made to fight their accusers to the death, depending on how guilty they appear to be to the Jorda (see below), which rules on such. The Jorda can also erase their crime, but outspoken challengers of their rulings are sometimes allowed to pick a champion to fight someone who has been "cleansed" to the death to put an end to any further discord. At all other times, though, fights to the death are not allowed and considered murder, as the Urkhadi must be kept strong and focused for their mutual defense.
A sort of survival of the fittest philosophy underlies everything in the Scar, as can be seen from everyone's involvement in the Scar's defense, the Orkhad, their laws, and routes to power.
The Urkhadi chief, called the Ortark, is usually one of the older (30 to 40 years old) and more respected (by the Jorda for performing great deeds and, it should be noted, establishing the proper alliances among the Jorda) Urkhadi warriors. Elected by the Jorda (a council of elders made up of ex-Ortarks), the Ortark must remain active in the Urkhadi games. As soon as he fails to successfully compete (placing last in three or more games), he retires to the council of elders until death. The Jorda can overrule and even throw the Ortark out of office if they can come to an agreement (which is hard enough), select a champion, and have him beat the Ortark in at least three of the five Orkhad games at a specially scheduled event. This isn't possible during times of war or when pressing decisions must be made. At such times the Ortark's decisions stand unless he is swayed by the Jorda's opinions. The current Ortark is a 16th level fighter named Lokan.
The Ortark is always male, but that's not to say that females are not held in high esteem. In fact, the women have all the property rights (minus the Ortark and Jorda grounds) and maintain custody of their children should they choose to sever a relationship with a lifemate or lover for any reason, which they have free reign to do.
Urkhadi weddings consist of a warrior gifting the mother of the woman he desires with the cleaned skulls or other trophies of slain beasts and enemies taken by his hand. These effectively prove his skill as a warrior and that his children will be great warriors as well. Without such trophies he will not win the approval of said mother and the hand of his "bride" to be (who is more often than not already his lover). Regardless of their status as lovers or if the daughter is baring a child, tradition demands the mother's approval of the first marriage or no house will be built for her. Some mothers prove very stubborn and selective, causing no end of torment for their daughters and their lovers. The skulls and other trophies are broken, meticulously ground into powder if possible, and mixed with a paste made from certain jungle plants. The resulting compound is used to paint a symbol of blessing for strong children above the entrance of the bride's new house, which is built by her family.
Since women own all the property and the houses, a man who loses a lover will, at least for a short period of time (unless he has another lover lined up), find himself without a home, for men are not allowed to build homes for themselves in the Scar (a tradition which also helps to preserve the forest ecosystem of the Scar). Their only real options are to turn to their mothers for support (considered humiliating past 20 years of age, when all Urkhadi are expected to have selected a lifemate and so have a house of their own) or bed down in specially built caves meant for social outcasts (called Kreewat, which are the butt of many jokes).
Almost all Urkhadi revere Denev (called Morjha in the Scar) as the Earth Mother, asking for her blessing over crops, unborn children, and attempts to get with child, and thanking her for providing sustenance when prey is slain and before food is eaten. A number have become her druids/adepts, though such dedication often prevents them from rising to the rank of Ortark. Currently, worship of any power besides Morjha isn’t tolerated by the Urkhadi majority, the Ortark, or the Jorda, the fear being that the worship of other powers will fragment Urkhadi society and ultimately weaken its defense. An entire "cult" of Vangal worshippers, 12 member in all, was once ostracized for this very reason. This attitude is only slowly changing among the Urkhadi majority and many in power would not see it change. Worship of Morjha does not exempt one in any way from service in the defense of the Scar, however. Thus, worshippers must balance their faith with the laws and values of the Urkhadi culture. Morjha worshippers who refuse to serve in the Scar's defense are seen as dangerous extremists and usually ostracized as well.
Commerce, the Ortark's Treasury, and the Ortark’s Personal Guard
There is no monetary system in the Scar, only bartering. However, there is plenty outsiders could trade for in the Scar, something which would surprise most visitors. Parties sent to the ruins of the Empire of Elz and the Empire of the Flame by order of the various Ortarks have brought back all kinds of treasure, including precious stones, gaudy Elzan jewelry, and magical items. All such items are kept in the Ortark's treasury and used to buy goods from Zathiske merchants and other traders to be found in nearby areas when needed, never from other Urkhadi. Most of the magical items are not recognized as such, but, through use, some weapons (mostly scimitars) have become legendary among the Urkhadi and are lent by the Ortark to warriors who distinguish themselves in the Orkhad or by performing great deeds in the service of the Scar. These items always return to the Ortark and his treasury upon their possessor's death and serve as potent status symbols among the Urkhadi. Currently, there are no less than twelve +1, three +2, and one +3 weapon (carried by the Ortark) in the Ortark's service. There are more, but those with more alarming (to the Urkhadi, that is) magical powers are disfavored and usually kept in storage to be called upon only in times of dire need. The treasury is a cave dug deep into one of the walls of the Scar near the Ortark's residence and guarded by five warriors from his personal guard (traditionally, 10 warriors who are handpicked by the Ortark) at all times. These guards are all given +1/+2 weapons to perform their Ortark assigned duties with, including leading or comprising deep ranging scouting/treasure gathering/hunting missions.
Most Urkhadi wear loose fitting clothing of a light material that is made from the fibers of a dried forest plant. The style of clothing ranges from simple breech clothes to loose robes tied at the waist. They also carry weapons purchased from Quelsk, Zamon, and Shelzar merchants and distributed by the Ortark (see Commerce above). Hair and beards are cropped short to prevent their being used against them during battle or play. Jewelry is not worn for the same reason. However, tattoos are in abundance. Most are displayed on the chest and arms. The tattoos are symbols of strength, speed, etc., as well as stylized creature and nature totems. Such tatoos are a point of pride among the Urkahdi and display the greatest amount of individuality currently tolerated.
Aborigine-like drawings (totems of creatures; aspects of nature; representations of Morjha, Urkahdi, etc.; and various symbols) can be found all along the walls of the Scar. Statues of the same are spread throughout the Scar's jungle. A wanderer can find many statues even in the less frequently visited portions (constructed by a lover/s to commemorate a fondly remembered tryst, perhaps?).
There is a plant found only in the Scar's jungles, called jomwia, whose midnight blue leaves are harvested, carefully preserved, and smoked. The plant is a strong sleep inducer and pain reducer and gives the inhaler strangely vivid, short-lived dreams (similar to hallucinations) that are remembered with haunting clarity upon waking (including color, texture, smell, taste, even sound). A few Urkhadi have even been driven mad by these dream-hallucinations, though this is rare. Many Urkhadi believe them to be past life memories or visions of the future. It is often used religiously and on the injured by way of censers to reduce pain and induce sleep. A very delicate plant that never survives transplant attempts, it can only be found growing in the wild. When it grows it is abundant, though 7 years pass between each growth. The plant's residue lingers in the inhaler's system for months (1d2+2) and only produces its vivid dreams in a body free of any initial traces of itself, though it induces sleep and reduces pain regardless.
Scorpion (death’s hand spirit), Rat (spirit whose hunger never ceases), Beetle (unshakable spirit), Wasp (mad/berserker/kamikaze spirit), Spider (spirit of stealth), Lizard (lucky spirit), Vulture (dark omen spirit, as in directed toward the enemies of the Urkhadi), Desert Falcon (honorable/proud spirit), Firedrake (spirit who endures), Bat (spirit blessed in darkness), Dragonfly (spirit of grace), Snake (spirit stealer), Fire Ant (pain spirit--giving and taking), Centipede (spirit of change/reversal/chaos)
Speed (wind), Luck (water), Protection/Blessings (tree/Denev), Endurance (fire/sun), Wisdom (white moon), Death (black moon), Destiny (stars)
Totems and symbols are combined to create personal crests. Totems and symbols are highly stylized. In fact, they are actually a form of writing--something like the Aztec language. Only an Urkhadi would recognize all the figures and what they mean. A warrior might have a crest that displays a falcon totem underscored by a sun symbol, hence saying that he can endure much and maintain his pride and honor. The above totems and symbols are but a sampling.
I'll forbear most comment for fear of coming off as the "official" voice in this matter, not just cos I am an SL writer but also cos I created the Urkhadi.
There are some things about this descritpion I quite like, and others which are defintiely not the way I would go with it, but the whole point I wanted to achieve with the Urkhadi was to craft the bare-bones and leave them open enough for each GM to take it in their own direction. That fact that Scott and I could see some things the same and some things quite differently points to a success I think.
I am glad that people like the Urkhadi and even moreso that it has struck a chord with Scott and others so that they *want* to develop them more on their own.
I feel that once my writing is done, the product of my imgaintion is
yours, not mine, though I do still retain the joy of a proud parent when
others enjoy what I have written. So thanks Scott, for enjoying
the Ukhadi and for taking them to different places than I would have.
Good on ya mate. :- )