Gwynneth is a mid-sized human kingdom (population ca. 250,000) situated on the coreward shore of the Sea of Cold. It is a subject state of the Tlaroian empire, but as the Tlaroi largely leave the humans alone - except to collect tribute - politics are as volatile as in any independent nation. Gwynneth is essentially a barbarian culture - at least from the viewpoint of the Tlaroi - but contacts with the empire and Narsarian traders have brought quite a few civilizing influences to the country.

Index of topics

Geography (Map)

Map of Gwynneth - Click to see a larger version of the map

Gwynneth occupies the land on both sides of the river Raerwen. Rimward lies the Sea of Cold and coreward the Cold Plains. The country's trailing border is marked by the low Faelgan hills that separate Gwynneth from the neighbouring country of Langein. Spinward Gwynneth reaches into the foothills of the towering Garwant Doriennar, the Pillars of the Sky. The kingdom's border is only loosely defined there as the allegiances of the highland clans regularly shift and change.

Roughly speaking Gwynneth is divided into two large geographical areas. The lowlands of the broad Raerwen valley and the coast are fertile and well-suited for farming. They are the breadbasket of the country and the lowland clans dominate the kingdom both economically and politically. The spinward highlands are much rougher and more suited to grazing, herding and hunting. Iron ore is also mined there. The highland clans are fewer in number and are very independent and unruly. Nevertheless a large part of the military strength of the kingdom is centered here. The Faelgan hills form a smaller distinct geographical feature, but are also very important, as they contain rich copper deposits. Gwynneth has a long-standing feud with Langein, not least because both kingdoms covet the riches of the hills. In the coreward regions of Gwynneth the farmland slowly gives way to the long grass steppes of the Cold Plains. Only hardy grains like rye and barley grow here.

Gwynneth's capital and seat of the royal court is Gwynnin on the upper Raerwen, but the town is small and easily overshadowed economically by Llannaid on the river's mouth, which is a major port on the Sea of Cold.

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Political Map - click to see a larger version

Gwynneth's traditional social base is the clan. All clan members are freemen, but owe fealty to their clan chief, who decides matters of importance to the whole clan and theoretically leads the clan's militia into combat. The most important and powerful clans are those who trace their ancestry back to Ulthar Giantslayer the legendary founder of the kingdom. They have become noble families in all but name, own large tracts of land and call other clans their followers.

Gwynneth is ruled in name by a king, said to be the direct successor to Ulthar Giantslayer, but he is anything but an absolute monarch. The clan council, made up from the chiefs of the most important clans, has much to say in the governing of the kingdom. If the king dies without a male heir or the current monarch is unfit to rule, the council elects a new king.

The old social order, where everything is regulated by traditional customs and the ruling of the clan, is slowly coming apart in the plains of the Raerwen valley and the larger towns. The "noble" clans amass more and more of the arable land and rent it out to tenants. By accepting tenancy the farmers give up their freemen status and lose their voice in the affairs of the clan. At the same time they give up their duty to provide a man, spear and shield for the militia, something more and more rural and urban poor cannot afford anyway. Only in the spinward highlands the old social order remains largely intact.

Gwynneth's politics is dominated by men. Women are traditionally barred from most official functions, and are often relegated to caring for the home and the children, especially among the richer clans. The only regularly available way for a woman to obtain official position and status is the career as a priestess in one of the country's cults. Since the stewardship of Queen Ellen, who ruled wisely and successfully for many years, dissatisfaction with this situation has grown among the female members of the richer clans.

There is a small number of slaves in the kingdom, mostly convicted criminals, debtors and their families. Although legally the status of slave is inherited by a slave's children, it is wide-spread custom to free the children upon their parents' death. This makes them clanless freemen, a fate hardly better and perhaps worse than that of slavery.

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The majority of humans in Gwynneth come from Skaltan stock, but there are also large minorities of Uritians and Jamides in the rimward and trailing parts of the country. Generally the distinctions between the ethnic groups are very much blurred. There are only a few Gwynnians that could be immediately recognized as having pure Skaltan, Urit or Jamid ancestry.

Apart from the Tlaroian garrison troops there are very few non-humans in Gwynneth. Occasionally a small group of Shirurshad travels through the country, but they usually don't stay for any length of time.

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The cults of Liësson and Saër are most influential religious groups in Gwynneth, because most of the more powerful clan leaders belong to one or the other. The priests of Saër serve as judges and preserve and interpret the law all over the kingdom, while the priests of Liësson form a formidable military force, ready at a moments notice. Although the actual congregations of Ereïs and Olkin are much larger, their members are mostly common people, limiting the cults' wealth and political influence. Other highly-respected cults are those of Niamut, Ardaria and Hiar. The Order of the Holy Sword is a order of the Liësson cult, originally founded to preserve the memory of Ulthar Giantslayer's legendary sword, that was supposedly given to him by Liësson himself. Among the rural folk, especially in the highlands, belief in and worship of nature and ancestor spirits is widespread. Witches and hermits who command shamanistic powers serve as their priestesses and priests.

Gwynnians have elevated some of their national heroes to the status of saints of Liësson. All of them were kings of Gwynneth at their time:

  • Ulthar Giantslayer, founder of the kingdom
  • Donar Swordbearer, tragic defender against the Tlaroian Empire
  • Bean the Ugly, a commoner who slew the evil ruler and was elected king himself

The cult of Ardaria has another local saint: Tiainen, a healer who selflessly gave her life to protect Gwynneth from the ravishes of the "White Death" a fearsome plague brought by Narsarian traders.

Contemporary figures of religious importance are:

  • Cerem ap Hadraing, high priest (knave) of Liësson
  • Subran ap Gawaen, high priestess of Saër
  • Iloric, Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sword
  • Nolar ap Tereg, oldest living priest of Saër and advisor to the king

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The kingdom's laws are provided by tradition and the teachings of the cult of Saër and are not laid down in writing. Theoretically the king is the sole source of mortal laws, but in practice he is severely limited both by precedence and the interpretations of the Saër priesthood. The "noble" clans and their chiefs enforce the laws and the priests of Saër serve as judges in all legal matters. However the cult has strong rules in what cases the wisdom and knowledge of Saër may be appealed to directly, i.e. a divination can be performed. These are usually limited to high crimes like treason and heresy, e.g. worship of chaos gods, which are "severe" enough to warrant the direct attention of the god.

Every clan member who owns some land and provides a man, spear and shield to the militia has the right to speak and be heard at his clan moot. The moot elects a clan chief who in turn can elect a new king. Over the years most smaller clans have given their seat on the clan council to one of the "noble" clans, so that those decide on a new king among themselves. A new king is only elected when the old monarch dies without heir or when the council unanimously votes the current king unfit to rule, which happens very rarely. Otherwise the kingship passes to the oldest recognized male offspring of the former king.

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The people of Gwynneth view themselves very much as "freemen", an attitude that shows strongly in their customs. For example no-one, not even the king, may enter the home of a freeman without being explicitly invited. After entering a house it is considered appropriate to pay respects to the owner and his wife, usually with a bow and a compliment to their fine home.

Every freeman has the right to bear arms, usually a sword or a spear, and is obliged to provide training with the weapon to one person of his household. Today many farmers cannot afford to exercise this right, unless they own a heirloom weapon passed down through the generations.

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The year's most important holiday is Ulthar's Day at the beginning of the new year. On this day the legendary founder of Gwynneth is celebrated by countless banquets, fairs, dances and games all across the country.

Brother's day in mid-Elrani is a more serious day mostly celebrated by the powerful clans and the priesthood, as it commemorates the joined rule of Liësson and Saër.

The most easy-going and joyous festivities are on Ereïs Day when winter ends and spring finally comes.

Another day when nobody works is the winter solstice, although it is not a holiday. Everybody stays inside and prays to the gods for protection especially after dark, because Krerok's wild hunt is said to ride that day and nobody wants to be the game.

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Clothing and Jewelry

Wool, linen and leather are the predominant clothing materials in Gwynneth. The richest folk covet silk garments, which are imported by Narsarian traders. Common people wear simple self-made tunics and trousers, while the "nobles" use the same kind of garments, but made from finer cloth and carrying more expensive dyes and adornments. Wooden and straw shoes are common for the simpler folk, while those that can afford it wear leather shoes and boots.

There is few gold and silver in Gwynneth. Only small amounts are brought by Narsarian traders and those are jealously hoarded by the rich and powerful. Therefore much jewelry is made from copper and bronze. The Gwynnians love intricate patterns, mystical beasts and monsters as designs on their clothing and jewelry.

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Generally the Gwynnians are proud, truthful, generous, honourable and independent people - or at least this is how Gwynnians view themselves. Honour and truthfulness are considered the true signs of a Gwynnian, be he poor or rich. The traditions of pride and independence are hard to reconcile with the reality of Tlaroi occupation, and have resulted in several uprisings and rebellions in the past. But today the lessons of those conflicts and common sense keeps most people from doing rash and foolish things.

Gwynnians are slow to forget insults and injustices, and blood feuds are common among the highland clans.

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Education and training takes mostly place within the family or clan. Children learn all necessary skills from their elders. The cults do teach some reading and writing to their initiates, but analphabetism is the rule rather than the exception.

In the towns craftsmen teach their craft to non-family apprentices only when their children can or will not follow in their parents' footsteps. The only semi-public educational institution is the temple of Niamut, which takes in promising children to teach them the knowledge and wisdom of the goddess of learning. But this education is coupled with a mandatory entry into the priesthood and the accompanying vows of guarding and keeping that knowledge.

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Gwynneth's economical base is agriculture. More than ninety percent of the population live by farming and herding. The most common crops are wheat, rye and barley. If it wasn't for the Narsarians, Gwynneth would see few merchants, but the traders from beyond the Garwant Doriennar have established a thriving trade exchange with the country. They buy wheat, which is grown on large estates in the Raerwen valley and produces a substantial surplus, and wool from the famous highland sheep, known for its excellent quality. Other important exports are unworked iron - the secrets of steel making are not well-known in Gwynneth - and hardwoods which are important for Narsaria's ship-building industry.

Gwynneth has significant copper deposits, but it is rarely traded, because the Tlaroi demand tribute in copper and the rest is needed to make bronze and coins. Apart from luxury goods like spices and silk, Gwynneth imports only one major trade good: tin. It is needed for bronze-making and Gwynneth's own tin deposits have long been depleted. The Narsarians buy it from the Uritian cities on the opposite coast of the Sea of Cold and trade it in Gwynneth.

Gwynneth's most important trade centre is the city of Llannaid, since almost all trade with Narsaria is done through its port. The count of Llannaid has direct access to the taxes and tariffs of the city, making him the richest man of the country. Generally most major trade is done by the clan chiefs (counts). They have monopolies on wheat, iron and wood, only wool can be traded freely. This has prevented the emergence of an influential merchant class.

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Trade partners

Gwynneth does some small-scale trade with the nomads of the Cold Plains, the clan kingdoms in the Garwant Doriennar and the cities on the other side of the Sea of Cold. By far the most important trading partner is Narsaria though. Its trader have been coming to Gwynneth for more than 200 years now, at first across the mountains but now mainly via the route across the Sea of Cold.

Gwynneth does not trade with the Tlaroi - or better: the Empire does not trade with Gwynneth. It takes what it wants in taxes and tributes and leaves the humans to their own devices, at least most of the time.

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Gwynneth has a long history of conflict with the Tlaroi, the nomads of the Cold Plains and the neighbouring kingdom Langein, but it does not have a standing army of any significance. Instead, every free household must provide one armed and trained man for the muster, if the need arises. The king and the counts each keep a small personal guard of loyal warriors, that have sworn an oath to their lord, but these units are small.

In the Raerwen valley the erosion of the freeholder system has slowly undermined this system of military service, because the farmers are too poor to pay for their own weapons and cannot afford to spare a man. The count of Llannaid was the first to recognize this problem, and tried to counteract it by establishing an armoury and employing a standing unit of 200 professional soldiers. They serve as both his city guard and a trained core of veterans for the militia. So far no other counts have followed his example and the highland clans still provide the best of the country's forces.

The personal guards of the clan chiefs are usually mounted - the stirrup was introduced from the example of the nomads - but the largest part of the army is infantry. The basic equipment of the warrior consists of a long spear or sword - sometimes both -, a shield, a helmet and a leather or mail hauberk. Three of the highland clans have made the longbow their traditional weapon and form small but highly effective archery units. Against the mounted warriors of the plains the longspear has proven relatively effective. The tactics used by the Gwynnian army are not very complex. Infantry is usually deployed in one or two large units, with the archers in a rearward or flanking position. The cavalry is held in reserve to protect the leaders or to brought into battle at a decisive point to turn the tide.

The Gwynnian army can become very dangerous when it collectively calls on the help of Liësson and strengthens all weapons and armour with divine power. It usually needs a concerted effort by the priesthood to make the independent clansmen act in such unison.

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There are no laws concerning the use of sorcery in Gwynneth, mainly because there hardly any resident sorcerers in the country. The worship and magic of the gods of chaos is forbidden and prosecuted as heresy. Shamans and witches are often accused of using chaos magic, as their magic is suspect to the priess. Most choose to keep their profession secret for this reason. Travelling magic users from foreign lands are viewed with suspicion but are usually left alone, as long as they don't cause any trouble. Cult spirits and divine magic of the gods of order are widely known and used. The cults teach simple but useful spells to their followers for a small fee. In many rural areas this divine magic is replaced by the spells of shamans and witches.

Since simple magic is a common occurrence, most Gwynnians won't comment its use at all. But priests are the only people that regularly and openly use powerful magic. Anybody who shows strong magical abilities and who is obviously no priest will be regarded with suspicion and is in danger of being accused of using chaotic magic. People will be careful around him and more than a bit frightened. Soon enough a priest of Saër will arrive to make sure that the person in question poses no threat to Gwynneth and its inhabitants.

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Magical training

The temples initiate children at the age of twelve to fourteen years into their outer mysteries. Later they will choose promising candidates who might get training to become an acolyte and finally a priest. Shamans and witches teach their art on a personal and individual basis. They take willing adolescents as apprentices and slowly teach them their arts over the years.

No-one teaches Sorcery in Gwynneth

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