Down & Dirty in the Dread Sea Dominions
‘Ivory Tribes’ is a collective name used by the Imperials to
define all the populations living south of Kyros, from the
actual Savannah nomads to the farmers of the Verdant Belt
and even the feared Cannibals of the Cannibal Islands.
There are great differences among them but they all have
ebony skin. They tend to be of average height and build and
quite strong, but these aren’t universal features. Many Savannah
nomads are as tall as the Northlanders while some
of Verdant Belt dwellers, due to occasional breeding with
Pygmies, are quite short. The Savannah people have harmonious bodies and their
women especially are very attractive. A common saying
claims that a Savannah tribe dancer can melt the heart of a
man with the beauty of her dance and make him die on the
spot, if she wants to.
Sadly, their physical qualities and their lack of technology
made them very appreciated as slaves. Caldea, in particular,
a minor white men reign in the south, has an economy
based on capturing and selling Savannah slaves to foreign
states, while Kyros often launches slave raids through the
The Ivory Tribes have no common cultural identity and
fierce rivalries exist among different tribes. This is definitely
an advantage for slave traders. They don’t even need fight
for slaves, they simply buy war prisoners sold by rival tribes
in exchange for cheap weapons. This practice has been going
on for centuries.
Ivory Tribes men and women wear pelts and simple wool
cloths. They like strong colors, like red and yellow, and are
particularly fond of feathers and strange headgears. Women
usually are bare-breasted.
Typical Ivory Tribes names are short and contain many labials.
For example: Eba, Utu, Ushul, Ngoba, Talindi, Malima.
Cairnlords or Cairnlanders are tall and muscular, with grayish
skin and usually black or gray hair.
They are a truly remarkable — and slightly disgusting —
race because, well, they are tomb dwellers. Their land was
once a powerful empire, even more ancient than the Keronian
Empire, but even its name is forgotten today.
The only remnants of that distant past are the massive
Cairns, artificial hills containing the tombs of the so-called
Ancestors. Some of the Cairns are so large that they can be
considered true necropolises.
The Cairnlanders inhabit them, sleeping, eating, mating
and generally living side by side with the ancient dead ones.
They also bury their relatives in the Cairns, so the Ancestors’
numbers are always growing.
For a Cairnlander the difference between life and death
isn’t that big, or that important. He sees them as two only
slightly different states of existence. Even after death, he
continues to stay with his family, and his skull may become
a relative’s favorite pot, his femur a war club or some other
They are convinced that the spirits of the Ancestors speak
to them, leading and protecting them. Controlling a large
Cairn grants great power, not only because of the ancient
treasures buried within (the Cairnlanders’ metalworking
techniques are primitive and almost all their metal comes
from the Cairns), but also because of the protection granted
by the newly-acquired Ancestors.
The kingdom of the Ancestors was once so vast that some
Cairns are within the boundaries of the Northlanders’ territories
and even of the Iron Empire. However, this does
not stop enemy Cairn Lords from fighting savagely to gain
control of the major Cairns, near or far though they might The Cairnladers are organized in clans, ruled by a chief or a
king. They live off hunting, herding, very primitive agriculture,
They usually wear pelts and ancient rags or armor they
found in their Cairns. Almost all of them also wear an amulet
or some other object belonging to an Ancestor, in the
belief that it will grant protection.
Moreover, they tend to have self-imposed names, more
similar to nicknames than to standard, civilized names.
Some examples are Whispering Ears, Goatpaw, Brokensword,
Seven He Killed, Bride of the Dead One, Skeletal
The Imperials are the broadest and, therefore, most difficult
civilization to define within the Dread Sea Dominions. The
name applies to all the civilized populations once under the
rule of the Iron Empire.
The typical Imperial, living in Faberterra, Syranthia, or
northern Kyros, is of average build and has tanned skin.
Manual workers and farmers tend to have a darker complexion,
while aristocrats and merchants are fairer, but this
is only due to the different lives they lead.
Their hair can be of any color, but brown is the most common,
and they usually have dark eyes. Depending on their status
and wealth, they can have a well-tended beard and mustache
but the military always shave, a tradition coming from health
regulations imposed on the Iron Phalanxes centuries ago.
They wear long and short tunics, sandals and cloaks made
of wool, cotton, or, in the hotter lands, of imported Tricarnian
Imperials tend to be sophisticated and civilized. They
shun many other races whom they see, sometimes with
good reason, as barbarians. Centuries of conquests and
the accumulation of riches have made them fat, arrogant
and with a passion for pleasures, an aspect of their culture
mostly deriving from their contacts with the Tricarnians.
However, they can be dangerous enemies. Civilized people
tend to be schemers and plotters and a concealed dagger
can be more dangerous that an openly shown barbarian axe.
On the bright side, Imperials are cosmopolitan, quite tolerant
of other cultures and religions, generally curious of the
world, and open to new ideas.
The current ruling system of the Empire is an absolute
monarchy but the Emperor is far away, in Faberterra, so the
various parts of the Empire are ruled by governors. In addition
to this, with the progressive decadence of the Empire,
many Imperial lands have become independent and have
reverted to their previous forms of government, monarchy,
oligarchy and, in some cases, democracy.
Imperial names generally include a first name and a patronymic
or family name, such as Tellario Voleskos, Domitio
Antiokan, Marika Eleucorikos, Irenya Berenantios, etc.
The Jademen are of average build and tend to be quite
small, though not as small as the Valk. They have pale yellow
or jade green skin, black hair, and almond-shaped eyes.
Their ancestral home is Lhoban, a bleak territory of tall
mountains — the highest peaks in the known world —, so
cold that only a few animals, like the yaks, can live there.
For this reason, the Jademen usually dress in wool garments.
Weaving is very important in their culture, and the
wool cloth from Lhoban is among the finest and most finely
decorated in the world. They have very little facial hair,
and sporting a beard is always seen as a sign of maturity
Lhoban is a particular form of theocracy ruled by monks.
Their leader, the Enlightened One, is a sort of semi-divine
figure who provides spiritual guidance to the whole kingdom
from his secluded monastery in the City of Clouds.
The lesser monks travel the land and ensure that his will is
The Jademen aren’t religious in a traditional way, but their
philosophy is based on the concept of perpetual reincarnation
and progressive improvement toward final Enlightenment.
This doesn’t mean they don’t believe in the supernatural
— in fact, the opposite is true. The Lhoban monks are
aware of the supernatural threats looming over the world
of men — demons, alien gods, and so on — and one of the
tenets of their philosophy is fighting against these abominations.
In particular, they have been fighting a long war in
the Lands of Idols.
Due to Lhoban’s very harsh environment, many Jademen
left and established large communities in the Dread Sea
Dominions, principally in Ekum, Kyros and in Gis, the
City of the Alchemists.
The Jademen are very polite and respectful, even ceremonious,
but this must not be mistaken for cowardice. They can
be deadly warriors, and many of them are trained in deadly
fighting techniques unknown in the rest of the Empire.
Their names have a Tibetan flavor, as Akar, Amrita, Dhargey,
Gu Lang, Jimpa, Lasya, Sangmu.
The Northlanders are by far the largest and toughest people
in the Dread Sea Dominions. Many of them are taller than
seven feet and strong enough to wrestle an ox barehanded.
Both men and women wear their hair long, and married
women usually plait it. Men tend to have long beards but,
especially among the southern tribes, they shave, mainly
in order to tell their brothers apart from their enemies in
They dress primarily in furs and roughly-woven wool
clothes. The men often walk around bare-chested, even during
cold winters, because this is seen as a sign of strength
while women are dressed in a more traditional way with a
long gown. The Northlanders are fascinated by metal. They are just
starting to learn the art of melting iron and blacksmiths are
held in high esteem.
They are proud, stubborn and bold, but they fear and loathe
the supernatural. Their world view is plain and simple: the
strong prevail over the weak, like the wolf over the deer, and
there is nothing strange about it. The world of nature works
like that, just like that of men.
They are organized in large families or clans, usually led
by the oldest male members, and they live off hunting and
foraging. Quarrels and feuds with neighbors are fairly common
and often end in bloodshed.
The Northlanders are very individualistic and only a few
times in their history a charismatic leader has managed to
unite them under one banner usually to fight a major threat,
as a Cairnlanders’ attack or an Imperial invasion.
Typical Northlanders names are short and sharp-sounding,
as Shangor, Torm, Uma, Verrik, Gorn, Targar, Beren.
They don’t use patronymics, except in very official situations.
For a Northlander it is a man’s sword, not his father,
that makes him important.
Tricarnia is inhabited by two different races: the High Tricarnians
— who are nobles, priests, top military personnel,
merchants, and so on — and slaves , who form the bulk of
Tricarnian slaves are a mix of other races, captured in raids
or bought from pirates and slave traders in Caldeia, Kyros
or in the Independent Cities.
The High Tricarnians aren’t fully human, because the blood
of the old Keronians runs in their veins. They are mostly
very tall and slender, with pale or rarely jet-black complexion.
They have very smooth skin and no body hair, a feature
which other cultures find a little repulsive. Despite this detail,
many of them are very beautiful, with elongated and
sharp features. Some say that the High Tricarnians have
found a way to extend their lives beyond the limits of the
other races, but no evidence has ever been found to confirm
They usually wear long, elaborated garments of silk, a fairly
ordinary commodity in Tricarnia, since it is produced in
the local silkworm farms, a relic from the region’s Keronian
past. In battle they used to wear exquisite armor made of
bronze, replaced now by iron, and pointed helms.
The Tricarnians tend to be cruel, a natural instinct to them,
like that of a cat torturing a mouse. They consider other
races inferior, worth using only as slaves, as victims on the
altars of their alien gods, or as guinea pigs in gruesome experiments.
They brought decadence to the Iron Empire, but the worst
vices of the dissolute Imperial nobles or merchants appear
quite ridiculous if compared to what happens daily in the
citadel of a Priest Prince of Tricarnia.
The other two distinctive traits of this civilization are slavery
As said before, the whole economy of Tricarnia is based on
slavery. Being only a fraction of the total population, the
High Tricarnians alone cannot keep the masses of slaves
under control, so various levels of slavery exist.
The most unfortunate are the humble rice field workers,
the slave miners, and the leech catchers (the medicinal use
of leeches is a common practice among High Tricarnians).
Just above them are the slave warriors and guards, who live
in better conditions. They control their inferiors and are the
bulk of the army. At the top of the slaves’ social ladder are
the eunuchs, a caste of castrated men who are the elite warriors
Sorcery is common. Almost all true-blood Tricarnias have
some knowledge of sorcery which is necessary to survive
the scheming and plotting of their equals, eager to enhance
their power and social standing. Various forms of sorcery
are practiced, but corrupting magic and the evocation of
dark creatures are the most widespread. Lotusmastery
and drug use in general are common and encouraged, also
among the slaves. The reason is obvious: a drugged slave is
easier to control.
Tricarnia is divided in Principalities, each of them totally
independent and governed by a single noble family. Scheming,
plotting and open warfare among the Princes are common.
The capital of Tricarnia, the City of Princes, is considered
as a neutral ground, and no open act of war can be
committed there. It is also the seat of the High Prince, the
ruler of Tricarnia.
Tricarnians deeply hate (and secretly fear) the Caleds, the
descendants of their ancient slaves, who still seek revenge
for thousands of years spent in slavery.
Typical high Tricarnian names have an ancient ring to them
and are always preceded by title, like Princess Salkaria, Price
Hoolon, Priest Tokariel, and so on. Omitting the title when
addressing a Tricarnian noble is considered a mortal insult,
except among family members.
The Valk are the shortest of the common races, with the
exception of the Pygmies. Most are slightly over five feet
tall and a Valk surpassing six feet is considered a giant.
They have black or brown hair, with the exception of the
Valkyrie, their priestesses, who always have white or blonde
hair (usually dyed). The warriors use long braids, and cut
them only in case of dishonor. The longer the braid the
most powerful and brave the warrior. They have little or no
beard, because one of their rites of passage, the Blood Offering,
consists in self inflicting wounds to the cheeks, thus
preventing the growth of facial hair.
The Valk are dressed in leather and both sexes use trousers
and boots, the most practical garments for a race of horse
riders. They learn to ride even before being able to walk and
are incredibly skilled on their ponies. The basis of Valk economy, in times of peace, is herding
sheep, cows, and, naturally horses. Horse milk and goat
meat are their staple and they are particularly fond of fermented
milk spirits, which all the other races find disgusting.
They are organized in clans, led by warlords, who share the
power with the Valkyrie. Except for the priestesses, who are
respected and feared, Valk women have a very low standing
in society, so much so that marriage is rare and a warrior
simply keeps in his tent the women he wants, in a condition
of semi slavery. Only after the birth of a son, the father
becomes responsible for supporting the woman.
The Valk religion deeply influences their way of life. They
are demon worshippers and see demons in many manifestation
of the natural world, such as thunder, the steppe winds,
and the terrible plagues that often decimate the cattle and
bring famine onto the clans. They don’t fear the demons, at
least not openly, but recognize and respect their supernatural
Valk names are throaty and with many consonants: Dhaar,
Khull, Dakka, Rigga, Throgg, Vulkat are all good examples.