Friday, September 16, 2016

More About the Purple Plains/Thunderfolk

Items in No Order
1) The Purple Plains stretch about 720 miles East to West and average about a fifth of that distance North to South.  I derived this distance starting with the assumption that, on average, a herd of Ghost Cattle migrates about eight miles in a day.  Their leisurely transit between the East and West poles of the grasslands occupies about 180 days of the year.  8 x 180 = 1,440 miles round trip, meaning the crossing from West to East should cover about 720 miles.

2) The Thunderfolk are seminomadic.  They essentially roam around in a closed circuit, with regular stops that are more like seasonally-occupied homes than temporary campsites.  In fact, these "stations" all have little communities that live there permanently, though the vast majority of the Thunderfolk bands are continually passing through.

3)  The Thunderfolk hunt the Ghost Cattle/Phase-Oxen, but leave the bovine herds offerings of milk, almonds, sweet-grass and occasionally even sugar (must be imported from the far south, very precious).  They do this by placing the offering in a great bowl ahead of the herd's path and backing far enough away to remain in sight while looking non-aggressive.  The beasts are allowed to come on and eat the offering in the sight of the officiant.  The cattle never see dismounted Thunderfolk (or by extension, other humanoids) as a threat (although they may expect offerings), and as long as you avoid the herd's bull you can walk among them quite safely. 

4) Thunderfolk hunt via archery, using recurved oxhorn-and-oak composite bows from knolls 60-100 yards away (obviously, the greater the distance at which you hit your mark the more plaudits you win, and Thunderfolk men set great store by the range at which they can hit a target).  This is far enough away that the cattle will not even realize they are being hunted.  It is extremely important to shoot the ox or cow behind the breast-bone or in the neck and kill the beast instantly, and in this way the Ghost Cattle never see mankind as predators and so never use their phasing ability to escape them.  The Thunderfolk believe that a sloppy archer who must shoot multiple times to make a kill risks disabusing the Ghost Cattle of the truth of their true relationship to Man.

5)  The Thunderfolk, as mentioned previously, are so pale that in places their skin shades into a faint blue.  Their eyes are blue or hazel, and their hair is a near-platinum or golden blonde.  Men and women alike dread their hair and tie the dreadlocks into plates or knots in various styles, often held in place with bronze or bone tubes.  The thickness of their long hair is the first protection of their pale flesh against the harsh sun of the Purple Plains.  Almost all of them wear thick leather mantles or hoods, a few of the richer ones wearing cloaks/serapes of interwoven thick white Ghost Cattle fur, and wound about face and neck on a hot day they will wear whatever linens they can.

6)  Although still hairy in Spring to Summer, it's in Autumn to Winter that the Ghost Cattle's coats of long fine white hair begins to grow truly shaggy and enormous.  By February the enormous coats trail to the ground.  

7) Here are the things you can be in Thunderfolk society:

Patriarch
Priest/Elder
Smith
Saddler
Horse trainer/breeder
Midwife
Weaver
Carver (of bone, wood, etc.)

Weavers, Carvers, Smiths and Saddlers occupy the otherwise almost-empty permanent settlements along the circuit of the Thunderfolk's migrations.  Saddlers are actually generalized tanners/leather-workers but saddles are the most prestigious objects they can make.  The Thunderfolk make saddles as fine as any more materially elaborate civilization, in styles suitable for riding, fighting and pack-bearing.

Weavers actually weave great blankets, cloaks, mantillas or serapes out of the Ghost-Cattle's long white fur.  That's all they do, and it's an extremely prestigious and important position.  These half naked dudes in their hide tents patiently knitting for 14 hours a day have the prestige of a royal tailor.  The furs aren't even fancy.  It's considered irreligious (or at least gauche) to die one of the Ghost Cattle furs, although they will be decorated with attached horns or extra bone pins.

Midwives are also generalists who help women to give birth and horses to foal.  They travel from band to band and even if their services aren't needed it's a good idea to pay one a bowl of fermented mare's milk whenever you see her.  

Horse trainers are like midwives although sometimes they might stay with a band for as long as a year or two years, breaking and teaching up young horses.  Every Thunderfolk knows something about handling horses but for a particularly willful beast sometimes you need a specialist.

If it has a particular need for a midwife or a horse trainer, a band can leave word with other bands they pass on the plains.  Invariably the word will get out to the nearest professional.

Smiths usually just make ornaments, often incorporating precious stones, bones, and bits of glass (natural or traded for) into elaborate armlets, rings, plugs, necklaces etc.  They have very little access to iron; what's found in the Purple Plains naturally is copper and tin, so the smiths produce bronze with a great degree of skill.  (There are a few mining communities of Thunderfolk.  They are basically untouchables and otherwise not worth mentioning).  The best smiths make bronze swords like this:

 Yes, technically Iron Age I know.

The Thunderfolk call these blades "Horse-Swords," and they are the primary preferred weapon for raids and duels (of course Thunderfolk bands raid each other, just never in the scattered towns.  What happens on the plains stays on the plains).  When two Thunderfolken duel, the gentlemanly way to do it is to ride at each other on their best horses and slash at each other on the pass with their Horse-Swords.  Yes, lances and spears are technically the better weapons, but you know what's better than those?  Composite bows, and every Thunderfolk has one of those.  If the Thunderfolk ever get into a real conflict with outsiders it's time for bows and steel mail; for everything else there's Horse-Swords.   
Apprentice carvers make poles, planks and whatever else the Thunderfolk need in bulk.  Buxus sempervirens and quercus robur are strong hardwoods and very common on the Purple Plains. These are usually bought up by traveling bands by the bundle for tentpoles, planting, cooking spits and whatever else.  Bowyers are a highly specialized and elite order within this group.

Patriarchs are simply the leader of a Thunderfolk Band.  I probably need to think up a better name for this but I don't like "chief" or "jarl."  Bands can be as small as a family of 4-6 or a unit of several families with 36 adults.* The Patriarch is always the toughest dude and has at least 2 HD (or at least two class levels, for 3rd Ed+).  Patriarchs are almost always between the ages of 25 and 45.  Richer Patriarchs (at least three families in their band) will always have a steel sword and a mailshirt.  Steel swords and mailshirts are considered redolent of wealth and authority.  A mailshirt will be crudely mended as necessary and passed down in a Band for generations, while a steel sword will always be buried with its owner. 

*Incidentally, every adult Thunderfolk of the migrant bands who isn't a child, elder or pathetically poor owns at least two horses and a packbeast, often a pony.  So in a band of 36 adult, non-elder Thunderfolk that's a herd of 108 equines.  The noise that herd makes crossing the Purple Plains is the actual reason they are called Thunderfolk, not the first thing I thought of with the cow-horns.  Horns don't even sound like thunder, what was I thinking with that first idea? 

After the age of 45-50, a Thunderfolk is considered an Elder, and all Elders are Priests.  Priests interpret dreams and omens, prepare poultices and medicines, occasionally cook, and are considered the moral center of Thunderfolk society.  There is no requirement for this position other than aging into it (and likewise once one is old, no escaping it).  The Priest(s) of a Thunderfolk Band are councilor, apothecary, psychologist and judge all rolled into one.

8) Thunderfolk don't believe in an afterlife.  They believe that the mind remains within the body of the deceased person for a time, dreaming and insensate, until the decay reaches a certain point and consciousness dissipates.  The origin of this strange belief may be skewed perceptions of the Raise Dead and Speak With Dead spells.   A dead Thunderfolk will be buried in their finest garments with a few choice items, perhaps a finely carved horn or favorite bronze necklace.  There is no shroud or box; rather, the deceased is arranged seated with legs-crossed and stitched so as to stay in that position. They are buried sitting upright, at the bottom of a narrow pit.  If the deceased owned a steel sword, that will be laid across their lap.  In this dignified final posture they are interred.