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Oathsworn (Barbarians)

Surion Maedhros

Newbie
New Hampshire Staff
Marshal
History

Oathsworn history is passed down through bards, and little is written. Recent history, mostly tales of honor and bravery, are most popular. What remains of ancient history is vague. Most bards agree that long ago, the people who would become Oathsworn lived far from their current land, and did not lead the honorable lives that unite them as a people today. Their people's ancestors settled in one place, under the rule of a virtuous monarch, and they built large structures to house their families and their herds. Enough food grew that they never had to travel far. Their lives were easy, and some became lazy. They did not want to do their fair share or receive only their fair portion. They began to lie and cheat to do less and get more. The kingdom became corrupt, with greed and desire for power outweighing honor. Though the following monarchs remained examples of honesty and fairness, their councils earned a reputation for underhanded dealings and unfairness.

As devastating Mists began to close in on the kingdom, some citizens believed that their neighbors would be selfish during a crisis. Though many would band together for survival, a crisis would not make honest people out of liars. Rather than be trapped alongside those they thought lacked honor, the people who would become Oathsworn banded together and went out into the Mists. They believed the Mists could not possibly go on forever, and if they traveled far enough, they would find a safe place to settle.

Their walk was long, difficult, and dangerous. Many people were killed by monstrous creatures, and others vanished without a trace, lost in the disorienting Mists. After wandering for many years, they found the cold and harsh but clear area where their descendants live now.

The survivors named their new home Tine. They spoke of the deceitful people who had driven them away, and determined that honesty would be the foundation of their new nation. The first Oaths were made on the first Oath Rings, and they called themselves Oathsworn. Though the Oathsworn are no longer a united people under common leadership, Oaths remain at the forefront of their culture.


Geography and Habitability of the Realm

Oathsworn occupy a tundra that would be considered uninhabitable by many other people. Permafrost limits the growth of plant life, and the threat of hypothermia is constant. The boundaries of their Realm are marked where the snow ends and the Mists begin. Within the Realm there are areas so cold that the snow never melts, particularly along the border.

The tundra is home to a massive population of reindeer, which are able to graze on plants Oathsworn cannot eat. The Oathsworn herd domesticated reindeer for food, fur, and transport. Reindeer migrate seasonally, resulting in a semi-nomadic lifestyle for most Oathsworn. Herding dogs work to keep the reindeer together and are also valued pets. Wolves are the primary threat to the herds.

Freshwater lakes and rivers provide sources of fish, and small vegetation sustains the reindeer herds. Some of the plant life yields food that is also edible to Oathsworn. In the summer months, the uppermost layer of the soil thaws, with the melting frost providing water for the brief growing season.


Social Structure and Law

The Oathsworn population numbers approximately 10,000 individuals, spread widely across their Realm. Extended families and their friends form Kiths, usually 20 to 50 people. These Kiths migrate seasonally with their reindeer herds from winter pasture to the summer calving grounds.

The Realm has a single Earth circle, located within the summer calving grounds. A sizable permanent settlement is built around the circle, and the residents do not herd or travel regularly. Individuals who resurrect in the circle are welcomed to temporarily live in this community. This settlement, named Enger, is too far from the migratory path of the herds to visit during winter. As herders make their way to the summer grounds, many visit Enger to trade and to look for members of their Kith who have resurrected. Not all Kiths stop by Enger, and not all people want to return to their home Kith. This leads to an exchange of individuals between Kiths.

A Kith may go months without seeing any other, since their realm is vast compared to their population. When Kiths do meet, they may trade crafted goods, but they are just as likely to have unfriendly relations as they are to cooperate. A rude remark might escalate to serious insult. Though Oathsworn take honesty extremely seriously and are unlikely to try to cheat someone in a deal, in any trading arrangement it is easy for one party to feel they have been shorted. Grazing space may be disputed. Not every statement is an Oath, and someone speaking carelessly might be dishonest. Since members of the same Kith are often family and even more often have nowhere else to go, disagreements within a Kith are usually settled with words, and with the help of a mediator if necessary. Between Kiths, discussion is more difficult and rivalry is likely. If a disagreement is bitter enough, it could come to violence.

Most Kiths adhere to a customary method of settling serious disputes between members of different Kiths. The concerned parties meet in front of witnesses and hurl stones, spears, and insults at each other until one party falls or surrenders. Though this is dangerous, it is far less deadly than a full clash of steel. Occasionally participants may forego physical violence and instead agree to engage in a contest of skill. A common alternative is to compose poems or songs about the incompetence or unacceptable behavior of an enemy. It is unusual, but accepted, for spellcasters to use magic against each other. Rarely, a game of skill with clear rules might be played, but people who are angry enough to have such a public dispute are unlikely to take such a calm option. The winner of a martial or magical conflict is obvious, with one side rendered incapable of fighting, or surrendering when imminent loss is apparent. The winner of a game of skill is also clear when the game is completed. A competition of wit is not so straightforward. Sometimes one side will concede, voluntarily saying their opponent performed better. When this does not take place, an equal number of witnesses from each Kith confer to determine the winner. On the rare occasions that this results in a tie, the determination is left to chance such as a rolling of dice.

The purpose of this custom is to determine who gets to dictate the resolution of a dispute. The winner is correct, which they have shown through their victory. This might mean their tribe can claim a disputed area, their opinion on a trade deal is correct, or their claim that another person should be ashamed of their actions is valid. They can demand more space for their herd, a better price, a public apology, or other relevant wants.

Elders are looked to in times of conflicts and uncertainty. Their guidance is typically sought before engaging in inter-Kith conflicts, and they are the usual mediators within the Kith. Elders teach what is expected of Kith members and make statements of judgement when someone does not live up to these standards or laws.

Most Kiths have the same laws. Murder is punished with execution. Theft is punished with repayment of more than what was stolen. Necromancy is forbidden, though the punishment for Necromancy itself is verbal. The taboo surrounding Necromancy is not about this school of Magic itself; the problem is what Necromancers go on to do. Necromancers are known to become unpredictable and violent, and to break their Oaths. Criminals and Oathbreakers who were Necromancers often claimed they did not feel fully in control of their actions. Oathsworn believe that using Necromancy corrupts a person's morals, so it must not be cast.


Oaths

The Oathsworn take their name from their tradition of honor. Every individual is called to keep their word to both the letter and spirit. Promises are not given lightly, and hospitality is taken seriously. To break one's word is a dishonor, and betrayal is akin to murder. Four Oaths are consistent across the vast majority of Kiths, and are reaffirmed during meetings between them.

The Oath of the Ring
“Your word is your bond, like a circle, unbroken.”

Oathsworn speak literally to ensure mutual understanding. There should be no hint of deception in statements. When an Oathsworn formally gives their word claiming honesty or making a promise, it must be truthful from beginning to end, with no digressions. Symbolic iron ring pendants are worn by adult Oathsworn, and to swear upon an Oath Ring is to swear that only truth has been spoken and any agreement was made in good faith. Oathsworn may draw a circle upon the ground and stand within it to make more formal proclamations, and the most solemn vows are ideally made within a Circle of Power.

The Oath of Breath
“An oath must be spoken with one breath.”

In order to ensure that oaths are both honest and understood, they must not be complicated. If an oath cannot be stated in one breath, there is more opportunity for the statement to be misleading.

The Oath of Hospitality
“Your words are your deeds.”

A host must provide for their guests. If an Oathsworn invites another person into their home, then that guest is under their protection and in their care. A guest must be kept warm and well-fed. They must be defended against any threat. In return, a guest is expected to be respectful to their host. A host must not send away a respectful guest abruptly, and a guest must not overstay their welcome.

The Oath of Value
“Every person is valuable.”

Each person in a Kith has their own abilities. Some are good defenders and some are good tanners. Some can do many things and some can do few. Every person has value and must receive a share of the Kith’s resources. Some people can have more, but no one should have nothing. Theft is dishonorable. Asking for unequal trade is dishonorable. Offering an unequal trade with the purpose of giving more to someone who has less is kind, and can be accepted if the imbalance is acknowledged and freely chosen. Trade with other Kiths also must be honest.

These oaths are all important, but the Oath of the Ring is the most serious. A personal Oath taken on an Oath Ring is considered a law. The community Oaths set expectations for all people of the Realm, though they are not laws. Members of the Kith who regularly do not follow the community Oaths likely find people do not want to trade or spend time with them, and they may become an unfortunate person relying on others to follow the Oath of Trade.

Those who break the Oath of the Ring are criminals and thrown on mercy of elders. Betrayal may be punished by execution or exile. In the harsh tundra climate, exile is often equivalent to execution.

Youths are not held to the same expectations as adults. Children are taught the Oaths and may be punished for breaking them, but their offenses are not considered criminal and they are not subject to shunning.

Personal Oaths can be dissolved through mutual agreement to do so. However, asking is frowned upon, and agreement is not common. Marriage Oaths are the only exception to this taboo. A marriage Oath is taken seriously, but either party’s request to dismiss it must be honored.

The name of a Kith member who is so dishonorable that they are exiled is never spoken again. They may be mentioned by referring to their actions or relation to another person, but even this is minimized. If that person is ever seen again with another Kith, they are ignored.


Celebrations

Coming of Age
Oathsworn are considered young adults at 16 years old. On their 16th birthday, many members of the Kiths get together to celebrate with a meal. The youth recites and explains the four oaths. After coming of age, a young adult is held to the community expectations and Oaths.

Marriage
Oathsworn may partner to live together, and may partner with intent to have children. These partners may choose to take personal Oaths stating what they will do for their partner. Oathsworn also may choose to partner long term without marrying.

Migration
Arrival at summer or winter grounds is a relief and a reason for celebrating. In winter, Kiths hold sled races and may even race with a friendly nearby kith. Summer is marked with community gatherings to dance, play music, share food, and display crafts.

Elders
Eligible Oathsworn are considered Elders as of their 65th birthday. Because Elders govern the Kith, not every person is considered qualified. The governing Elders can deny an individual this status if they have a history of not following the law and Oaths.


Celestial Magic and Superstition

The Earth can be felt beneath a person's feet. Plants grow and sustain life. The Earth provides the power to heal and defend, as well as the power to use Necromancy. An Earth caster can place their hands down and reflect on their understanding of Magic. Celestial Magic reaches to where the eye can see but the body can't feel. The purpose of this magic is destruction. The Oathsworn do not trust it. Bards tell stories of long ago when their people did use Sky Magic. Though these mages could direct damaging spells at monsters, an Earth caster standing behind a warrior made more sense. Far worse than inefficiency was the bad luck Sky Mages seemed to have.

Kiths came under attack by a bird-like creature, as large as a person and covered in ice crystals. Sky Mages were the first, and sometimes only, targets of this creature. Some Celestial casters met their permanent death through repeated attacks by this creature, while others gave up the practice. Over several generations, Sky Mages died without students taking up the practice, and Celestial Magic died with them. To this day, Sky Magic is so distrusted, there are no known Celestial casters. It is seen as dangerous, unnecessary, and not as natural as Earth.

Though Celestial magic is gone, occasionally there are still reported attacks by an icy bird-like creature, now called the Cockatrice. Kiths have varying practices to keep the bad luck of Celestial Magic away from them and therefore keep away the Cockatrice. Some do not stargaze. Others are alarmed by shooting stars, and will not sleep on a night when they have seen one. Some practices are less clearly connected to the sky, such as having particularly strong feelings about owls, snowfall, or crystals. Oaths believe that if a particular action keeps away the Cockatrice, it is worth doing, though they do not all agree what works or what is bad luck.


The Mists and Outsiders

Selunari caravans occasionally travel into Tine. The nomadic Selunari are quite different from the Oathsworn, but their visits are frequent enough that they are expected and temporarily welcomed. The Selunari trade goods the Oathsworn would not otherwise be able to access, such as many spices, ores, and textiles. Oathsworn have been told that the Selunari hold to a Code of Honor and that they respect the importance honor holds for Oathsworn. Though Selunari have a good reputation for making honest deals and keeping their word, some Oathsworn say they have overheard Selunari talk amongst themselves and believe that the Selunari are not so honest with each other. The Selunari often use many words where Oathsworn would use few. Far more troublesome, the Selunari include Celestial spellcasters. Use of Celestial Magic is forbidden by all Kiths, and anyone who confesses their ability to cast it is not welcomed into a host's home.

Selunari tell stories of other peoples through the Mists. The Oathsworn aren't sure how much is truth and how much is imaginative storytelling. Overall, it sounds to them as though nearly all others needlessly complicate their lives. Most Oathsworn see no reason to risk their lives in the Mists just to visit people who do not lead honorable lives.


Playing an Oathsworn

The Oathsworn focus on honesty leads to directness. They may seem simple, but this does not mean they are stupid. An Oathsworn outside of their home is in among people who they see as very unlike themselves, and see most other races as overcomplicating their own lives. However, Oathsworn are rugged survivors in a climate that many could not handle, and the dangers of the Mists might not seem so bad to the adventurous or foolhardy. Some might see exploring places beyond the Mists as a worthy challenge, or they might simply be curious.

You might consider playing an Oathsworn if you enjoy the idea of playing a direct and honest character from a culture guided by oaths of honor rather than hierarchy or strong governance.
 
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