Tales of the Traveler
History and Culture of Volaria
“As I drew nearer the village, the eerie silence that had pervaded since I crossed the border into Volaria was broken for the first time – by the unexpected sound of song. I spent a moment or two gaping at my surroundings before recognizing the peasant laborers at work in the field ahead as the music’s source. In simple but subtle harmonies, they sang of the pleasures of honest work and a simple life, and of gratitude to their creator. I don’t know for how long I stared before one of them noticed me, and it wasn’t until the song changed to a wary greeting to travelers that I realized that the entire production was wholly improvised. Had I proved myself a foe, I have little doubt that they would have sung a wistful little funeral dirge as they buried my remains beneath their fields.”
-William Dominguez, from
Introduction and Overview
The westernmost of the Western nations, Volaria is a land of grassy, temperate plains, rocky coasts, and rolling hills. The nation’s favorable growing conditions and proximity to a bountiful sea provide food in abundance, lending Volaria a reputation as a land of plenty. The climate is gentle, and storms from the Pyhrric Ocean are the only natural threat to an otherwise idyllic environment.
The peoples of Volaria – having developed their society within a region where meeting the basic needs of survival is a relatively simple matter – have been free throughout history to devote an abundance of energy to spiritual and philosophical matters. Nowhere is the influence of religion more profound or more ubiquitous. Worship of the God Heptus is not merely universal; it is the single central fact of the Volarian lifestyle. The rites and rituals of the faith are so commonplace as to be taken very much for granted, to the extent that their language has no word for religion, nor do they draw any apparent distinction between the religious and the secular.
Volaria is by far the least warlike of the Western nations and tends to avoid direct intervention in its neighbors’ affairs, but is nevertheless highly influential. Aside from producing much of the West’s food, Volaria is the oldest of the Human nations, was the first to rediscover Divine Magic, and is in many ways the most magically advanced. The Volarian clergy’s ability to provide services such as healing, disease control, augury, and long-distance communications has made their goodwill a valuable commodity for rulers throughout the West; this, in turn, has given Volaria a degree of ability to dictate policy beyond its own borders.
Humans were once nomadic hunters, their lives spent following herd migrations across what is now eastern Koradzil. Change came about 6000 years ago, when large numbers of Arakrajim – the common ancestors of Orcs, Ogres, and Goblinoids – began arriving in the region, having come across the Eastern Desert from lands unknown. The Human tribes were driven into the west, where they displaced the native population and came to dominate the land. Those who settled along the western coast came to be known as the Volar, or “sea people.”
The Volar’s new home had little in the way of large game, forcing them to adapt quickly to new lifestyles. The sea was the most obvious source of food, and the once-nomadic tribes quickly settled around prime fishing locations. Still, even this could barely support the vast numbers of the Volar, and starvation was common in their early years along the coast. According to legend, relief came when an Elven wanderer – Andar Shamelreth – came among the Volar, teaching them the foundations of agriculture. Volarian folklore attributes Andar’s arrival to the intervention of Heptus, and refers to him as the First Prophet.
As they learned to cultivate the region’s fertile soil, the Volar spread quickly across the western plains. This brought them into further conflict with the area’s native inhabitants: a small cluster of Assimar called the Marinbani. The Marinbani, though few in numbers, possessed a precious secret; their few shamans were the descendants of an ancient order, created to carry the remnants of some long-forgotten civilization’s knowledge through the chaos of the great cataclysm. Though their legacy was fading, the Marinbani retained both a knowledge of the God Heptus and an understanding of the basic principles of Divine Magic, which had long since been lost to all others throughout the West.
Fearing this unknown power as a possible threat to his people, the chief-king of the Volar sent an army to eradicate the Marinbani, led by his champion Maltoc. Instead, Maltoc converted to the worship of Heptus after witnessing the Marinbani’s miracles, and led his army in a crusade to uproot the pagan clergy of Ihyiel and to unite the Volar in the worship of Heptus. Maltoc was declared the Lord Shaman of the Marinbani, took the chief-king’s daughter as his bride, and declared his heir both the ruler and spiritual leader of all the Volar. Consequently, he is referred to as the Second Prophet.
Over the centuries to follow, the absolute rule of Maltoc’s political-religious dynasty began to grow corrupt. The tide broke when the Third Prophet Gyrmathal discovered Augury, and used it to prove Heptus’ disapproval of the nation’s leaders. He then rallied an army of apostate priests and starving peasants in a civil war against the Volarian throne, which ended in the destruction of the old dynasty. Gyrmathal and his disciples then used their ability to communicate directly with their God to build a society according to his will. The result was the establishment of the system of government employed by Volaria up to the present day.
In a very real sense, Heptus is the absolute ruler of Volaria. When a child is born, his name is decided by Augury. When he reaches the age of apprenticeship, his profession is chosen by Augury. When the time comes for him to take a wife, even his spouse will be chosen for him by his God. By the same token, all decisions of state are made by Heptus Himself and passed on to His clergy.
As a result, the Volarian government is paradoxically both highly efficient and apparently disorganized. Every town has at least one Cleric, and large cities may have dozens or hundreds; at the same time, there is no real heirarchy within the priesthood. Any cleric who is capable of divining the will of Heptus has the same authority as any other; there is no concept of rank within the clergy, and the God apparently issues His commands to whichever of them happens to be convenient. The priest of Volaria’s least noteworthy backwater burg would have all the authority to declare war on behalf of the nation, should he be chosen to deliver the message.
The only priests of Heptus with official ranks are the High Priest – the nominal ruler of Volaria – and the Deacons, who serve as ambassadors to the other nations. A deeper investigation reveals that even these have no particular station, but are chosen primarily for the sake of convenience; the idea of a classless society confuses most of the nobility of the Western nations, and most prefer dealing with people of identifiable status. In actuality, the High Priest of Volaria lives no better than any other clergyman, and in fact lives on precisely the same allowance as every one of the nation’s citizens.
As influential as Heptus’ interpreters are, the Volarian language has no word meaning “priesthood,” “clergy,” or “church;” Volarians see no fundamental difference between being a Cleric and being a farmer or fisherman. A Cleric doesn’t see himself as being in a position of authority; his post is more like that of a messenger, and he generally sees nothing particularly glamorous about it.
Volaria has no standing army to speak of, but employs a relatively large police force, composed chiefly of Clerics, Paladins, and Invokers. As crime amongst the native populace is uncommon, these defenders serve chiefly as escorts to visitors within the nation; even unannounced guests are not uncommonly met at the Volarian border by an impromptu gathering of these guardsmen. Prospective criminals are usually arrested prior to committing any crime, much to the shock of outsiders. The punishment is the same in all cases: the Shunning, which combines exile with excommunication. Most Volarians consider this a fate worse than death, and few survive long after being Shunned.
Lifestyle and Culture