Sunday 28 June 2015

Nomad clans of the Deep Taiga

Reindeer clan girl. Photo by Jeroen Toirkens.
So: there's the Road. The Road runs from the unimaginable east to the unimaginable west, carrying goods and knowledge and riches back and forth. The Road is the artery of civilization. Nations hang from it, pendant, like baubles on a string.

Go north.

North of the road are the steppes: empty, illimitable, the wind's highway. Quarreling peoples flow back and forth across them like tides. To live is to ride, here. Every tribe has its horse god. To them, a man without horses barely qualifies as human at all.

Go north.

North of the steppes is the taiga: the cold forests, the kingdoms of the spruce, the pine, and the larch. They are vast and pathless. No nation can prosper here. An army would march in circles until it perished from exhaustion. An empire would vanish beneath the trees with barely a sound. The land is boggy.  The frost grips the earth almost all year round.

Along the southern edges, the taiga peoples ride horses and hunt reindeer, and live almost like the steppe people; but further in, in the Deep Taiga, the people have found stranger ways to survive. They must ride, of course - but what they ride becomes an increasingly open question. The beasts of the Deep Taiga are huge and intelligent, half-way to being spirits rather than mere animals; each clan, if it is to survive, must find one such breed of beasts and strike a symbiotic bargain with them, allowing them into their camps and into their souls. Neither humans nor animals emerge from the process unchanged.

Here, then, are twenty possible clans that you might encounter out in the Deep Taiga. If some of them sound ecologically improbable - in a 'but what would they all eat?' sort of way - then remember that these animals are as much emanations of the landscape as they are flesh and blood. Maybe they don't eat. Maybe they eat dreams, or fears, or regrets. Maybe they eat ritual offerings of dirt and snow, which are as nutritious as meat to them provided the ceremonies have been properly performed. Then again, maybe they eat lost travelers from the southlands who stand around asking silly questions. Try not to look too tasty...

Nomad Clans of the Deep Taiga (roll 1d20)
  1. Wolf clan. Ride huge wolves the size of ponies. Great hunters and savage warriors. Strongly hierarchical and fiercely territorial.
  2. Arachnid clan. Ride enormous spiders, allowing them to scuttle through the canopy from tree to tree. Great trap-makers. Weave their tents out of spiders-silk.
  3. Wildcat clan. Ride gigantic wildcats. Communicate in a weird, yowling language. Smell overpoweringly of musk. Enjoy toying with their prey.
  4. Bear clan. Ride enormous bears; whole families can travel on the backs of the largest ones. Build villages for the winter while their mounts hibernate. Tend to be big, burly, and hairy. Drink more mead than is good for them.
  5. Elk clan. A lanky and rather smelly tribe. They ride elk, whom they also herd before them, eating their meat and making clothes and tents from their hides. Male clansmen are polygamous, and often grow antlers.
  6. Boar clan. Ride huge boars the size of small horses. Aggressive and bad-tempered. Spectacularly omnivorous. Eat their own dead.
  7. Hawk clan. A proud and distant people. Ride gigantic hawks, ranging far across the taiga in search of prey, which their mounts snatch up in their enormous talons.
  8. Reindeer clan. Tundra dwellers. Ride reindeer. Survive in environments so harsh that life would seem to be impossible, licking the lichen from rocks and trees, and never seeming to feel the cold. Males and females alike sometimes grow antlers. Their knees click when they walk.
  9. Owl clan. Ride enormous snowy owls across the forest canopy. Huge-eyed and silent. Can see in the dark.
  10. Raven clan. Scavengers. Ride huge ravens, flapping just above the canopy, their beady eyes scanning the forest floor for their next meal. 
  11. Woolly mammoth clan. Whole families ride on the back of each woolly mammoth, in hide tents tied to their backs. The clansfolk are amazingly loud and hairy and have a genetic tendency towards gigantism. Tusks are not unknown among them.
  12. Sabertooth clan. Ride around on goddamn sabertooth tigers. No-one messes with them because they are the baddest dudes in the entire taiga.
  13. Woolly rhino clan. Each woolly rhino carries two or three riders. Clansfolk are big and thick-skinned and easily annoyed. Perennial rivals of the woolly mammoth clans.
  14. Yeti clan. Adults ride around on a tribe of domesticated yetis, in 'saddles' attached to their backs; children are carried on the front, in slings. Clansfolk are small and lightly-built, forming a striking contrast to their lumbering companions. Yetis are (slightly) intelligent, have their own primitive language, and sing mournfully to one another as they walk, but this doesn't stop the clan from butchering them for food during bad winters.
  15. Tree clan. This clan has domesticated a grove of walking trees. They live in treehouses high in the branches, which the trees carry from place to place; each evening, the trees put down roots, and the people swarm down the trunks to look for food. Clansfolk are amazing climbers.
  16. Goat clan. Mountain-dwellers; ride huge, sure-footed mountain goats, capable of carrying them up the most inaccessible mountain trails. Make their homes in hidden valleys no-one else could possibly find or reach. They have a reputation for lustful behaviour.
  17. Corpse clan. This clan has domesticated the corpses of its own ancestors. The living ride the dead; other corpses stagger along behind, carrying their baggage. The corpses are slow but tireless. Other clans avoid them, mostly because of the smell.
  18. Shadow clan. This clan has domesticated their own shadows. Each member uses an enchanted bridle to subdue their shadow, which they then drag down onto all fours and ride, using carefully positioned light sources to keep their limbs suitably long. The shadows resent this bitterly, but can communicate their outrage only by pulling faces, as they have no voices with which to speak.
  19. Reflection clan. This clan uses magical reins to bind their own reflections; they lean over still pools until they can see themselves, then they dip the reigns into the water and pull their reflections out, shimmering and dripping, to use as steeds or beasts of burden. The reflections look rather bewildered by the whole experience, but do their work without complaint.
  20. Cloud clan. This clan has learned the trick of lassoing low-hanging clouds, which they then pull down onto the ground and ride around on, hovering a foot or two above the floor. The clouds aren't very fast, but they move at the same speed over all terrain, no matter how rugged. In hot, clear weather they shrink and eventually vanish, requiring the clan's cloud-hunters to make another trip up into the hills to catch a new herd.

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