Living Greyhawk Gazetteer Addendum: The Baklunish West, Part I
Date: Sun, March 06, 2005
Topic: Greyhawk Gazetteer
Into the strange and mysterious lands of the Baklunish West do we now travel, learning of Ekbir, Ket and the Plains of the Paynims...
Living Greyhawk Gazetteer Addendum: The Baklunish West, Part I
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EKBIR, CALIPHATE OF
Far and away the most benevolent and peaceful of the known Baklunish states, the Caliphate of Ekbir was the first modern Baklunish state, established by the legendary hero Al’Akbar himself before his ascension to godhood. Assisting in the birth of the Sultanate of Zeif, Ekbir’s influence in the sultanate was tragically cut short after the death of Ozef the Warrior, creator of the new state.
While this loss affected Zeif more than it did Ekbir, the caliphate itself suffered its own setbacks in its naval expansion into the Dramidj Ocean, which hindered its trade and security. Conflicts with the vile peoples of the Ataphad Islands and sahuagin pirates led to many defeats for the Ekbirian navy. Worse than this, however, was the schism in the faith of Al’Akbar coming from the theft of the Cup and Talisman of Al’Akbar by the elves of the Valley of the Mage.
After being attacked and looted by the Paynim exiles they took in during the upheavals of the Relentless Horde, Ekbir became much more bitter and hard-edged, closing its borders to all. Demanding restitution from Zeif, who had brought the Horde into its lands, it was given the decadent province of Tusmit. The nobles of Tusmit refused to accept the social reforms proposed by the caliphate, and managed to gain its independence in return for its pasha pledging loyalty to the caliph.
When Pasha Muammar Quran assumed office in Tusmit, he refused to offer a pledge of loyalty, instead attempting to curry favor with a Zeif that grew increasingly aggressive. Ekbir’s relationships with both states have now frayed badly, and the nation seems to become more and more insular. Not wanting to resort to violence, the caliphate fears it must defend itself, and can see no other way to solve the tensions. No other way, unless the Exalted Faith resumes its centuries-long search for the Cup and Talisman of Al’Akbar
Society and Culture:
Upright, honest and moral, the people of Ekbir exemplify all the best characteristics of the Baklunish. They abhor violence in general, and are known for resolving disputes among themselves through negotiation and diplomacy that involves genuine cooperation, as opposed to the scheming and plotting hidden behind smiles and politeness that seem endemic in other Baklunish lands. Wealth is spread fairly and evenly among all peoples, which means that almost everyone has a good chance of obtaining bread and water for another day. Those citizens who are more miserly are scorned and insulted by their neighbors, until they are shamed until giving their fair share. They are viewed as potentially offending either the gods or one of the many local deities and spirits that the Ekbiri feel are all around them. Families are loyal to one another, and neighbors are always certain to help one another out in case of trouble.
While the Baklunish race as a whole is famous for its little taboos and superstitions observed in everyday life, this tendency is carried to extremes in Ekbir. People pray at least four times a day, and are always making little observances and prayers if they should offend any of the spirits that seem eternally present. This leads many to view the Ekbiri as superstitious and fanatical, a claim that has some justification.
A strong undercurrent of conformity thus runs throughout Ekbiri society. The virtues of the Baklunish are acted on here more than anywhere else, but they are in some cases done by force. Those who step out of line with the wishes of the whole and repeatedly violate the taboos and religious practices of the caliphate can be ostracized and shamed. Many free spirits flee the caliphate to other realms or the wild lands around the Udgru Forest. Most of that forest’s bandits who plague Ekbir are people who have been driven off by what they perceive as its stifling influence. While many of these are just as wild and evil as any other brigand, others are people who could not abide by the strict rules of the caliphate, and sought only to be free, even as they sought to adhere to the high moral standard espoused in the Exalted Faith of Al’Akbar.
Along with this comes a defensiveness towards and distrust of strangers by the populace. The various trials and tribulations they have suffered over the centuries have made the Ekbiri very defensive, always on alert against anyone who would do them harm or seek to further damage their social structure. Most visitors will find that while they are treated civilly, they get a distinct sensation that they are unwelcome in the lands of Ekbir. Those citizens who believe the spirits of society are offended by the presence of foreigners may try and remove the latter by force. It takes careful diplomacy, patience, and an open mind to become accepted by the Ekbiri, but once one does so they will find a people who are genuinely good, caring and honest, but forced to withdraw into a defensive shell by the blows they have taken both to their bodies and their hearts. They are not zealots in the same way as are many Paynims or the members of the True Faith, but they take their life and faith very seriously, and see little to laugh at in life.
The government is a combination of religious and secular authority. Five noble clans, the families of Al’Akbar’s most loyal followers, are the aristocracy of the realm, though they do not have any grand privileges or wealth that the commoners do. If anything, they are held to a higher standard than the common people, with subsequently greater pressure to conform to the requirements of Baklunish society.
These high standards are necessary, given that the clans as a whole are the bureaucracy that keeps the nation running. The people have no real say or influence on these matters, though this matters little given that the aristocrats are even more moralistic than they. The church is actively connected to the state in that the head of state must be a powerful cleric from one of the five royal clans, chosen by all the members of the aristocracy voting as a bloc. The caliph thus elected has great powers and authority at his disposal, but these are checked by the various interests among the aristocracy, who can oppose his policies if enough of them gather together. Otherwise, the caliph serves until death, at which time a new one is voted on as normal. Any member of the clan who is seen as morally upstanding and is a powerful cleric may present himself, though clerical power is required for anyone wishing to become caliph.
The common people have little say in the politics of the realm, although they can be used to measure how well the caliph is living up to his morals through their own reactions to his policies. Should there be enough popular revolt, a caliph could be removed from power, though this has never happened; the aristocrats see themselves as the standard-bearers of moral behavior for the common folk, and act accordingly. The common folk believe that the aristocrats have been chosen by their gods for their virtue, and so give their loyalty in this manner. Despite what one might expect, the nobles and clergy do not have any sort of trickery or deception going on. Feelings are honest and sincere on both sides.
Outside the secular society are the religious classes. While they do not abuse their powers and authority, or neglect their duties towards their citizens, they are always on guard against any unpleasant foreign influences. Rallying against what they perceive as the moral decay of their neighbors, they monitor foreigners and may take action against them if these visitors act in too cavalier a fashion or present a threat to the status quo. They do this not to hoard power or silence dissent, but simply because they feel they are the only religion of character in the Baklunish West, and want to defend their citizens against bad influences.
Slavery is illegal in Ekbir, and women are more or less equal in society, although they have very specific rights, roles and privileges that no man may take or use. Similarly, women may not take the rights, roles and privileges of men; such reversal of gender roles is abhorrent to all Ekbiri. Demi-humans live outside the human society’s general social structure and are given according leeway in the social customs and strictures of the realm. The only demi-human race that interacts with the Ekbiri very much is the elves, whose strict lawful good natures and grim, humorless outlooks suit their human neighbors perfectly. The other demi-human races are generally allowed to govern themselves, although they work with their human neighbors without trouble when needed.
Ekbir’s light and medium cavalry are a formidable sight to any raider or enemy, whether human or not. They are well drilled and practiced, and can match any band of Paynim dervishes sword for sword. Scimitar-wielding light footmen commanded by the caliph are also very dangerous adversaries. Of her land units, only Ekbir’s archers are less than skilled, disciplined and powerful; while reliable, they are no match for those of the Paynims, Zeif, or even Tusmit.
While Zeif’s naval forces are much more numerous, Ekbir’s are of a uniformly good quality, as opposed to the sultanate, often having to make do with rickety cogs and smaller galleons in emergencies. The powerful warships are being refurbished and made even stronger in anticipation of Xargun’s fiftieth anniversary as caliph.
Only their limited size prevents the Ekbirian armed forces from being the strongest in the eastern part of the Baklunish lands. If they were greater in number and inclined to attack their neighbors (which they are not) they would pose a great threat to all their neighbors, given that they lack the weak points present in every other Baklunish army. Ekbir’s aggressive defense of its security thus has many of its neighbors wary.
Xargun, the Caliph of Ekbir, has grown gray and bent after fifty years of ruling his country. The light in his eyes is fading, but it still gleams with intelligence and character, even as his frame maintains an aura of dignity and majesty. He stoops slightly and leans upon a cane to support himself, but no one can deny that he still remains intelligent, capable and formidable.
No matter when he is met, Xargun will demonstrate all the virtues of his nation in his generosity, politeness, honesty, and the care he shows for both his immediate and extended families. When he gives his word, he is in essence tying himself to a law; no cleric of the Exalted Faith can break an oath, once given. In all circumstances, he tries to prove himself worthy of carrying the title and leads his faith by example.
Xargun’s flaws are much like that of his country. In addition to all the personality traits described above, he is also conservative, cantankerous, and often very judgmental, especially towards non-Baklunish humans and demi-humans who do not behave like the dwarves and elves he himself knows. Given that he is beloved by his people and commands immense personal power both as a cleric and the ruler of a country, most people know better than to anger him. If people rankle him too much, he may refuse to aid them altogether, although this only occurs in the most extreme situations. Most often, he will politely but pointedly describe what he sees as the flaws in the people he sees, and does not enjoy being argued with on this point.
Despite all this, Xargun is a good man at heart, and is capable of deep friendship, even with a very select few foreigners. Anyone who does service to the Exalted Faith, whether they are Baklunish or not, will earn his everlasting gratitude and protection. Some suspect that the schism between the various Baklunish peoples and the two branches of Al’Akbar’s faith is the main reason he seems to always be in a testy mood. His deepest, most fond wish is to gaze upon either the Talisman or Cup of Al’Akbar before he dies. If both are found, and he could play a part in reconciling the two faiths before his god calls him home, he would no doubt put in a good word among the powers of good for those who help him in this regard.
The Baklunish West might seem stable and peaceful to those residents of the Flanaess who have survived the Greyhawk Wars, but great intrigue and change are afoot among the Baklunish peoples. Caliph Xargun has long sought to reconcile the faiths of Al’Akbar, and he feels that by retrieving his deity’s sacred artifacts, he might bring this about. However, foreign powers such as Zeif, Ull, and the Paynims would not appreciate this, given that they all have their own reasons for seeing the faiths staying separate and divided. Zeif does not want a united front against its overtures of supremacy; Ull hates anything and everything to do with the goodly gods of the Baklunish, and the Paynims who are loyal to the religious leader Mahdi view both groups as heretics. Elements within both the Exalted and True Faiths are opposed to this in principle as well, or seek to recapture the artifacts for their own purposes.
In traditional diplomacy, Ekbir is angry with Tusmit for its refusal to honor the traditional bonds between their realms by the Tusmit pasha giving homage to the Ekbirian caliph. Instead, Pasha Muammar Quran has instead thrown his loyalty in with the Sultanate of Zeif, causing relations between the two countries to deteriorate swiftly.
What Ekbir finds most galling, apart from what it sees as Quran’s violations of his word and honor, is the latter’s declaration for what it sees as the morally corrupt Sultanate of Zeif. Zeif has lost prestige in recent years, and a fair amount of its territory as well. In reaction to this, Sultan Murad has attempted to restore the power of his nation through aggressive diplomacy, using his uncertain descent from the royal family of the old Baklunish Empire as a basis for his claim.
Given that Zeif has subverted Tusmit and is making overtures to Ket and many of the Paynims, Ekbir feels isolated and endangered. It now angrily denounces the “corrupting influence” of the sultanate and its agents, and both nations harass the other’s shipping and merchant caravans in ways both overt and subtle. The caliphate does not want violence, but it is ready to employ its formidable defenses to protect itself if necessary. Many interests in Zeif would not mind this at all, eager to crush the righteous and self-important caliphate once and for all.
Concerning other nations, Ekbir has never gotten on well with the Tiger Nomads, seeing the latter as a pack of drunken, insane hooligans with no spiritual value whatever. Nomads sometimes raid over the Yecha Hills, but these are usually repelled without difficulty. Ekbir has never trusted the hard-edged diplomacy of Ket, especially after its alliance with Iuz and unprovoked attack on Bissel. Ekbir and the Paynims are content to ignore one another for the most part, but the faiths of Al’Akbar in both nations despise the other.
The realm of Ket has always been the main gateway between the Baklunish West and the Flanaess, profiting greatly from the two-way trade that passes through its gates on either side. It was also an area where the residents of the Flanaess mixed culturally and physically with the Baklunish, though the latter always remained dominant. Despite its great trade and wealth, few of its neighbors on either side trusted it, due to its long-standing enmity with Bissel and most of the other adjacent Flanaess states. It always threatened them with invasion, and its raiders were always a thorn in the side of Gran March, Veluna, Bissel, and most of the demi-humans of the surrounding hills and mountains.
The mistrust Ket’s neighbors had for it was justified when the country allied with Iuz the Old when the latter attempted to conquer the Flanaess in the Greyhawk Wars. It attacked and defeated the crumbling Bissel with little difficulty, and would have expanded further into the Flanaess, except that Iuz’s thrashing at the hands of the Horned Society left Ket without its major ally and alone against Veluna and Gran March. Veluna beat back its raiders, while Gran March struck into Bissel itself, eventually taking part of the fallen march for itself.
Ket both prospered and suffered as a result of the Wars; Graf Imran Tendulkar quickly incorporated most of the destroyed March of Bissel into the nation proper, and was highly successful in assimilating the demoralized and disgusted Bisselites and converting them to western religions. However, its neighbors all hardened their views and diplomacy towards it, costing it valuable trade. Even worse was the near-civil war that occurred when Beygraf Zoltan was assassinated and left dead by the nation’s religious mullahs. The army barely managed to put down a series of deadly power struggles.
Into this void came Nadaid, a veteran of the Bissel campaigns who managed to form a coalition between many moderate clerics, a number of military leaders, and Ket’s powerful merchant class. He was declared beygraf and set about restoring the nation. His moderate policies have not won approval from hard-line mullahs, however, and they demand to scrutinize his government so it remains true to the True Faith. The political situation remains tense.
Society and Culture:
The dress, culture and speech of the Baklunish, the Suel, and the Oeridians were all present in Ket, and each one had some small effect on society. Centuries of interracial contact had made the Kettites into a cosmopolitan people who had experienced many different customs and ways of thinking; as a result, racism and sexism were rather less prevalent here than in surrounding states, with only Veluna being more tolerant and welcoming of difference. However, what came with this were the harsh and severe laws all people had to conform to, regardless of their race or gender; women were just as apt to lose a hand for thieving as were men, and elves as likely to be flogged for assault as humans.
People can generally live their private lives as they want. The Baklunish traditions remain in force in Ket as they do throughout the whole of the Baklunish West, but Ket has more local variations and unique spins on things than do Ekbir or Tusmit, for instance. While adherence to general tradition is required, and some general political beliefs are held by the nation as a whole, Ket is otherwise surprisingly tolerant and generous in its interpretation of the ways of life they had kept for centuries, allowing them to change and grow faster than elsewhere.
While difference and dissent is accepted in private life, political life in Ket is and always has been very rigid and authoritarian. Conformity to the same attitudes towards foreigners was encouraged and sometimes imposed; all foreigners, regardless of race or gender, are seen as competitors and enemies and treated as such. While foreigners may be attacked, discriminated against or harassed almost anywhere, this unfortunate trait is most prevalent in Ket. All that matters is that one is a Kettite, and prescribes to certain public attitudes and laws; otherwise, one’s race, gender, and general beliefs are of little concern to most people.
Most people dwell in the lowest class of society, although with enough hard work, skill and dedication they can enter any of the higher levels of society. The merchants, military, and church all have entrenched positions in Ket’s political life, and each jockeys with the others for influence on the central and provincial governments. Individual members of each class also compete with each other, so the hierarchy is generally fluid and changes often. Each group can also sway public opinion in one way or another; currently, the merchants hold the most influence.
Ket has six regional districts centered on its major trading towns and sections of the forest that each has their own governmental particulars and characters. The north and western districts, for example, are generally more civilized and calm than the wilder southern and eastern areas, where the aggressive Oeridian nature and the passions of the Sueloise are most prevalent.
Above all this is a central government headed by a beygraf, assisted and supported by a network of bureaucrats. These bureaucrats were appointed by the leaders of the military, merchant, and religious sections of Kettish society, and received their positions based on questions of competence and/or political patronage, rather than noble birth.
The beygraf makes most political decisions, though in all cases he must consider the interests and support of each major interest group in the realm, who all hold some type of political power based on who they appoint to serve in his bureaucracy. Those opposed to the beygraf’s policies may appoint troublesome or incompetent public servants to important positions, or induce bureaucrats to refuse to carry out the beygraf’s wishes until their demands were heard and acted on. As a result, being beygraf is a complex juggling act, trying to appear as a strong leader while also keeping everyone’s interests in mind.
The beygraf’s position is typically hereditary in that the eldest son often takes over when his father dies, but the son must always be a proven warrior and leader. Wizardly or clerical powers are also considered assets. If a son does not live up to these exacting standards, someone who does meet the criteria may replace him. It should be noted, however, that attempts by one political group to place a puppet on the throne in this way usually fail, given that most puppets cannot satisfy the requirements to attain their office. If a beygraf should no longer be proved worthy, he may be removed from his position by a court, as well.
Ket has fought with all of its neighbors at some time or another, so that it has a strong and well-respected military force in general, experienced in fighting on many types of terrain. The core of the army is the crossbowman and pike wielder, who wear chain mail and carry short swords for melee situations where their main weapons cannot be used. Ket’s medium cavalry is a match for Ekbir’s in discipline and quality, wearing banded armor, lance, scale barding and wielding scimitars or falchions. Despite a recent loss of prestige, the True Faith and its clergy maintain a significant role in the military, with each company having its own cleric. All Ket soldiers are expected to adhere to the tenets of the True Faith, and they do so admirably. Whatever else one might say about Kettite civilians and their ways of acting, a Kettite soldier can be implicitly trusted in word and deed.
Despite the quality of its own armed forces, Ket has still found it useful to supplement its forces with mercenaries, mainly those from the notoriously independent peoples of the Tusman Hills. However, the people of the Hills and the people of Ket rarely see eye-to-eye in their laws or their morals, so the former never stay long, usually working as guerillas and raiders to thwart Paynims who do the same thing to them.
While not formally allied with Ket, the dwarves of the Yatil Mountains often send additional troops to aid their human neighbors when necessary, and they happily sell good weapons and armor to such valued customers. The main role of the dwarves is to offer assistance with siege warfare and other technical aspects of war the Kettites cannot truly manage themselves. Dwarven siege engineers were essential in capturing Ket, and some dwarves have profited handsomely from the trade Ket directs their way through occupied Bissel. This has driven a wedge between some dwarves and their fellows in Veluna and Gran March, needless to say.
Beygraf Zoltan had a very strange appearance. Dressed in the rich robes of a Baklunish merchant, he had lighter, sandy-colored hair that suggested Sueloise ancestry, and he had a lighter complexion that could come from the Oeridians. Finally, in a move almost unheard of for a Baklunish man, he was clean-shaven, having no moustache or beard.
Zoltan dressed and appeared this way for a very good reason; to throw allies and enemies alike off balance. His silent, brooding manner, pursed lips, and distant, deep eyes made people think he was a strange enigma, leaving them wondering what he was thinking behind his stony visage. In this way, along with his great charisma, Zoltan was a master of getting his opponents to defeat themselves through their own conclusions, fears and insecurities. This kept many of his political opponents off-guard, and also enabled him to rule almost like a king, given that he kept his enemies guessing for so long.
Perceptive individuals, however, eventually saw what truly drove the man: Power.
Zoltan employed the power of his office purely for personal gain and to improve his own stature. Always seeking more power, he was also a master at using it to better his own position, acquiring a massive fortune for himself while in office. To acquire the pleasure and wealth he craved, Zoltan would do anything necessary; he would as easily support a paladin’s quest for the artifacts of Al’Akbar and the building of homes for the poor as he would have his enemies assassinated or sell out his countrymen to the Knights of the Watch. Perhaps Zoltan’s mistake was that he became too caught up in the games of power, forgetting to watch his back against fanatics who were undeterred by his aura, his influence, or his stature. This, of course, led to his bloody assassination one night in 585 CY.
Beygraf Nadaid looks to be almost pure Baklunish, and has the thick hair and beard to prove it. Only thirty-one, he is considered young and naïve by many older politicians, but those who knew him from his army days recognize a man of intelligent, decisive action. A master with the falchion and longbow, Nadaid is a master at slicing both through enemy armor and bureaucratic red tape.
In a sense, Nadaid is the complete opposite of Zoltan. Having little interest in power, he became beygraf for patriotic reasons. Deeply proud of his Baklunish heritage, and what he considers the Baklunish ability to solve disputes through diplomacy and negotiation rather than armed conflict, Nadaid gained power by acting as a consensus-builder. He has gained the support of moderates from all the major interest groups, and he acts accordingly in government and policy.
However, this means that Nadaid has little support from many extremists, especially among the mullahs, the nation’s most powerful clerical leaders. He is seen by some as lacking decisiveness and strength, despite his attempts to maintain a broad base of support among all the factions of his country. As such, hardliners from among the clerics are trying to weaken his government by scrutinizing it to ensure it remains in the True Faith. The True Faith of Al’Akbar is one of the most important elements of Kettish society, and is adhered to by all. Should the mullahs, who are thought to be the best exemplars of the faith, declare his government corrupt and illegitimate, it could easily destroy his power base and his support in every part of society.
Ket has few friendships with any of her neighbors, though she trades with Perrenland, Veluna, Gran March, the Paynims, Ekbir, Zeif, and Tusmit. Every state engages in diplomatic games with its neighbor, but Ket does this actively and openly in most cases, especially in the now open and free city of Thornward. While Veluna and Gran March have little love for one another, they are thinking of working in concert to disrupt Ket’s influence in Thornward and the region as a whole. As one might expect, the merchants of Ket would not take kindly to this or to any political meddling the gnomes of the Lorridges or Tusman Hills might try in this dispute. The latter are always engaged in some sort of enmity or other with the merchants of Ket and the Moquollad Consortium, and so Ket generally views them with hostility.
The independent people of the Tusman Hills trade with Ket, though they do little else; the generally chaotic and individualistic peoples of that region find Ket stifling and oppressive, and the people of Ket disdain their free-ranging and thinking neighbors in turn. Nonetheless, both peoples have helped each other in the past, and might do so again in response to any action from Gran March or the secular nobles of Veluna.
The only people that display anything other than dislike or lukewarm apathy towards Ket are the dwarves of the Yatils. More open-minded and friendly than most of their kind, the dwarves accept all their neighbors for who they are, and have tried to broker peaceful solutions between Ket and her rivals in the past. They have not always succeeded, but their sensitivity towards Ket’s wants and desires have endeared them to the nation. Older dwarves claim they are carrying on a pact of honor with the people of Ket that stems from the latter aiding the former against Iggwilv in the 400s CY. Although the Kettites merely assisted the dwarves to keep the conflict from spilling into their own territory, a rich trading alliance developed between the two peoples afterwards, which developed into a close friendship over the years. Indeed, some of the older dwarves have kept in touch with generations of Kettite humans, with the same graybeards forming friendships with the children and grandchildren of old allies who have now passed on.
PAYNIMS, PLAINS OF THE
The Plains of the Paynims are those unclaimed territories south of the civilized states of the Baklunish West, inhabited by the Paynims, those peoples of the former Baklunish Empire who have never organized themselves into a civilized state, preferring the free nomadic life they have kept for over a millennium. They have always traded with and raided their civilized neighbors and each other, and their politics, allegiances and alignments have ever shifted in response to the actions both of their own and of outside states.
One particular example would be how the Paynims adapted themselves to the world around them was when Zeif attempted to put an end to their marauding by sending the Brazen Horde of the far west among them. Some Paynims were displaced, and were swept up in the Brazen Horde as it invaded Ket and Ekbir, and eventually fractured into the Tiger and Wolf Nomads beyond the Yecha Hills. Much of the Horde remained among the Paynims, however, and these were soon integrated into the eternal cycles of the prairie nomads. In a way, they remain the same people they always were, regardless of the challenges that outsiders imposed upon them. Some say that the only permanent thing in the Baklunish West is the Paynim way of life.
Others say that the only permanent thing anywhere is change. It may well be that the outside world and its conflicts have caught up to the Paynims. This is demonstrated by the fact that the most holy artifacts of the Baklunish, the Cup and Talisman of Al’Akbar and the Jacinth of Inestimable Beauty, are both connected to the Paynims, and so the Paynims have had to contend with the desires and wishes of outside states relating to these sacred treasures.
The Paynims have always viewed Lake Udrukanar, an oasis in the middle of the Dry Steppes, as a sacred place. They claim that in ancient times the first merchants dispatched from the newly formed Sultanate of Zeif were given a wondrous jacinth from the mighty marid genie that was lord and master of the oasis. The merchants had given the name of their sultan as being the heir to the Baklunish Empire, and the jacinth the marid gave them was to have been taken back to the sultan, making him the new Baklunish Emperor and founder of a new imperial dynasty. Sadly, however, the jacinth was lost and with it the imperial inheritance. Zeif is now keenly interested in finding the jacinth, which would confirm its sultan’s claims to rule over the whole of the Baklunish West.
Also, a new Mahdi, or religious leader, has been born to the fanatical dervishes of the Dry Steppes around Lake Udrukanar. Hailed as “a true son of Al’Akbar”, this strange young man preaches of reconciliation between the Exalted and True Faiths of his god, and implores devout Baklunish to seek out and return these exiles, so the breach in the faith may be revealed. This obviously arouses keen interest in the civilized states among adherents to both faiths. They are also interested in verifying the Mahdi’s claim that he is the son of Al’Akbar.
How the Paynims as a whole will react to these developments is uncertain. The Mahdi is gaining adherents and supporters among some of the dervishes and all the nomads of the Dry Steppes, and it is speculated that soon every Paynim may have to swear allegiance to this leader.
Society and Culture:
It is impossible to give a detailed description of the many forms of the government practiced by the Paynims. Some permit slavery, some do not; some loathe demi-humans, some do not; some treat women as chattel, some are actually ruled by women; some are ruled by clerics, some by warrior-chiefs.
Some general comments can be made, however. A noble of some sort leads every Paynim group, whether petty or great, or even by royalty. The most powerful groups tend to have royalty at their heads, and include both great and petty nobles among their tribe. The weaker ones tend to have only great or even petty nobles ruling over them.
Paynims also love the freedom they get from riding around on the endless plains, and from being able to pack up and carry their entire lives with them. They view a sedentary existence as worse than death, and have some contempt for their civilized brethren as a result. From this constant movement and travel comes a strange cycle of wars, alliances, raids, and trades.
Two tribes might be bloody enemies one year, then the closest of allies the next. A tribe might serve in the armies of Ekbir one year raiding the people of Tusmit, and the next in the forces of Tusmit raiding the people of Ket. The Paynims view such things as normal, and they also have a similar belief towards wealth and power. The number of horses, livestock, swords and possibly slaves a tribe has determines their power, but these things are only theirs if they can keep it. If a leader loses his tribe’s belongings, then he was obviously too weak to hang on to them.
The Paynims of the northern and western regions are those who are mostly descended from the old Brazen Horde that invaded centuries ago. These peoples had a surprisingly organized social rank, despite their generally chaotic nature. Strictly defined lines of commoners, royalty, and nobility were defined, with each successive level of authority having to assert its authority through diplomacy and talk, as opposed to by force of arms. These customs generally continue in the modern era, though of course there are a thousand and one variations on how this is applied and to what degree. These people usually favor titles such as Amir (for petty nobles), Shah (for more powerful nobles) and Padishah (for royalty).
The Paynims of the south and east are those who have remained the longest on the prairies, and ironically seem to be the ones that have changed the least. Their forms of nobility and social organization change rapidly, as everything from duels to religious or popular censure to military defeat to marriage catapult new leaders to a position of power. A noble might pass his position on to his son in the north and western Paynim tribes, if he was not outwitted in the meantime. But a duel or revolt might slay an unpopular leader, and the new leader would have to keep himself in power by force, all the while obeying the strange rules, taboos and quirks that so mark Baklunish culture and confirm his right to rule. These Paynims use titles such as Khan (petty nobles), Ilkhan or Orakhan (great nobles) and Tarkhan or Kha-Khan (royalty).
It may well be that a blending of all these cultural traits were carried over into what would become the Tiger and Wolf Nomads, as both native Paynims and invading Horde members were caught in the mass of humanity that emigrated beyond the Yecha Hills. Both Horde and indigenous Paynim contributed cultural traits to what would become the Nomads, and this is remembered with a certain pride among some Nomads.
Few Paynims ever wore any sort of metal armor, as metal armor would both weigh down their swift mounts and be murderously hot to wear in the burning sun of the summer. Instead, Paynims ride blazingly fast horses and wield scimitar and bow with great skill and finesse. Speed, not power, is the main strength of the Paynims. They can be notoriously difficult to catch, especially in the flat plains of the Baklunish West, and more often than not prove a great headache for civilized armies and patrols that try to capture them when they raid.
That said, however, the Paynims are much better raiders and quick strikers than they are fighters. Most raiders who are caught in a head-on battle with the forces of civilized states usually end up losing, and losing badly. Their skilled archers might turn the tide of a battle their way, but these archers are almost always undisciplined and even cowardly, prone to retreat when they face stern enough resistance. Only the dervishes around Lake Udrukanar have any military ability in the proper sense, and even these are usually found wanting in a crisis.
Paynims who take service with the civilized peoples, therefore, are usually used as guerillas and raiders to harass the enemy. The lack of discipline and poor training of the Paynims is of no great consequence when they are attempting very fast raids or battling each other with similar tactics, but can prove disastrous against other civilized forces.
And it should be noted that while the Paynims are all very skilled at riding horses, and thus performing as cavalry and mounted archers, they are woefully unskilled as foot soldiers or infantry. As a result, they are only good as fodder in a foot situation, and in areas where cavalry is of limited use, such as forests and mountains, Paynims usually wind up suffering humiliating defeats when they try to engage enemies in these terrains.
The Mahdi of the Steppes can never be fully described, at least not in words. Those who meet him simply cannot find the words to describe him afterwards except in vague terms. He is of course very handsome, cultured and dignified; almost out of place among most Paynims except the fanatical and righteous dervishes who make up his tribe. His rich, smooth voice seems to lull listeners into a dreamlike trance as they listen to him, or be roused into fiery passion, sadness, anger or any other kind of emotion depending on what he wants. Whether this is a natural talent, a gift from Al’Akbar, or the result of a magic spell, none can say.
While one cannot describe the Mahdi himself very well, one can certainly explain his convictions and beliefs. He believes very strongly in reconciling the faiths of Al’Akbar, and cleansing the rot he claims that has crept into the hearts of some Baklunish peoples and states. As such, he preaches to all those who call themselves sons of Al’Akbar to seek out the Cup and Talisman that are their father’s legacy, and may even enlist the services of demi-humans, women, or outsiders to do so.
The Mahdi also preaches of a rekindling of war between Good and Evil; whether this symbolizes the brewing storm some say is gathering in the Baklunish lands, a coming war, or another threat altogether is known only to him, and he will not explain at this time. Perhaps it simply symbolizes war with the hated Uli, the nation made up of the most degenerate Paynims who control the debased realm of Ull that sits in the middle of Paynim territory like a festering sore.
Other than this, the Mahdi also wants to expand his efforts and his mission beyond the Paynims, though his motives for doing this are unclear, as are his methods. Would he use violence, diplomacy, or both to recruit civilized Baklunish to his cause? Would he impose his visions, or would he work with either the Exalted or True Faiths, or both? Do the clerics of the twin faiths of Al’Akbar have anything to fear from this man? None can say.
It is extraordinarily difficult to describe the Mahdi in better words than these. One might say he is very moral, honorable, and devoted to his cause and those he loves, but he is also mysterious, calculating, and vaguely threatening to those he thinks might oppose his goals.
Most of the civilized Baklunish peoples simply view the Paynims as annoyances who raid their homes and steal their riches. They consider the Paynims savages and scornfully refuse to give them any more consideration than this. Most national governments and churches officially do the same, except for enlisting some of the Paynims in their armies.
That is what they do officially. What they do unofficially is another matter entirely. Sultan Murad of Zeif is almost obsessive in his search for the Jacinth of Inestimable Beauty, which he knows would greatly strengthen his claim on the whole of the Baklunish West if he possessed it. As such, he is likely to court the attentions of many Paynim peoples for himself, all in an attempt to learn where the Jacinth may be located and how to obtain it. Only he knows whether he would oppose or work with the Mahdi, but it is clear that most other Baklunish states, including the distant realms of Komal and Mur, would oppose it if they knew about it.
Tusmit’s government cares little for what the Paynims do, though the members of its True Faith certainly do. So also does most of the Exalted Faith in Ekbir, led by Caliph Xargun. Xargun might try to work with the Mahdi in order to work towards their mutual goals of reuniting the faith, or he might oppose it depending on what the Mahdi’s actions and the feelings of his own church. While many clerics of the Exalted Faith support reunification, others do not. They feel threatened by the power of the Mahdi, and fear he is corrupting the doctrine of Al’Akbar for his own goals and ends, whatever they may be. Although they would never admit it, a few would also fear their own loss of personal power and stature should this come to pass.
The True Faith is much more skeptical of the Mahdi, especially its grand mufti, based in the Yatils. They cannot believe that Al’Akbar would want them to rejoin with the decadent and heretical Exalted Faith, and some have the same feelings towards the Mahdi’s power and doctrine, as do some of those in the Exalted Faith. They would be quite likely to oppose the use of the Cup and Talisman to reunite Al’Akbar’s churches, preferring to keep and use the relics for themselves.
It is also interesting to note that a minority of the Exalted Faith also opposes reunification, while a minority of the True Faith supports it. Whether these minorities would work with the majorities who share their feelings in the opposing sect adds yet another element of intrigue to a very complex situation.