Nifflgarde, in the far north, is largely separated from the other nations by two mountain ranges. To the north, its shores touch on the Worldsea, known by Nifflgarders as the “Wyrmsea”. To the west, those same shores turn south and into the Bay of Thunder, known to Nifflgarders as the “Bay of Thror”. This bay is shared with Danannsidhe, on its southerly side. Directly south are the Dwerdenheim (“Dwerden-home”) Mountains, which slowly curve northwards and become the Trollhome Mountains to the east. In the far north-east lie the Giants Teeth Mountains, which stretch all the way to the sea. The nation of Nifflgarde is approximately 1350 miles from its westernmost point, all the way to the edge of the Giants Teeth Mountains, and about 850 miles from north to south.
Features and Landmarks
Nifflgarde has two major rivers. The longest is called the Sky-fork, a poetic term for lightning bolt, and it runs from the Dwerdenheim Mountains, down and north through the Blackwood Forest, and thence north and northwest to finally empty into the Wyrmsea. The smaller river, called the Wyrm-tongue, also descends out of the Dwerdenheim Mountains, just to the west of the Blackwood Forest, and quickly turns west to empty into the Bay of Thror.
As noted, Nifflgarde has three mountain ranges along its borders: the Dwerdenheim, the Trollhome, and the Giants Teeth. In addition, the country itself is very hilly, though this is not often depicted on large maps. Nevertheless, it would be true to say that there are more rolling and rocky hills, and even small mountains, to be found in Nifflgarde than there is open plain.
Nifflgarde has two major forests. The larger, called the Blackwood Forest, grows along the Dwerdenheim Mountains, and is split by the broad-running Sky-fork River. The smaller one is in the far north-east, near the Giants Teeth Mountains, and is called, aptly enough, Northwood. Although it is not depicted on many large-scale maps, most of the country is heavily wooded. These two forests are named and listed because they are wild areas that do not readily suffer the incursions of Men.
Situated in the far north, facing the winds coming out of both north and west, Nifflgarde is a cold and harsh country. The hilly terrain is rough enough to make taming the land difficult, and yet those same hills do not rise high enough to present a shield from the ever-present winds. In addition to the cold, it is also very humid almost year-round due to those same winds coming off the Wyrmsea. In the summer, it gets warm enough for a brief growing season of hardy plants, especially root vegetables but also those which are cold-friendly. Eastern Nifflgarde tends to get warmer in summer than the western areas near the sea. Likewise, the winters tend to be more harsh in the eastern regions, and less cold near the sea. It may come as little surprise that the majority of the population lives in the western part of the country, near the sea or along the two main rivers.
Nifflgarde has two cities. The capital, Drakenmount, lies near the mouth of the Wyrm-tongue River, on the north side, within the Bay of Thror. This is also a very large port city, with many stone quays for both merchant ships and ships of war to dock year-round. The city itself is centered on a large hill overlooking the docks and the land round-about. The other city, Farhaven, is on the Sky-fork River in the far north, on an open plain some distance from the shore. The land in that region is very rocky, and the coastline is all fjords. There is a small port at the mouth of the river, but the majority of merchant traffic to Farhaven takes place over land.
The country of Nifflgarde is nominally ruled by a high king, but that high king is elected from among his peers, who are each kings of their regional domains. While the law states that the high king serves for life, there are allowances for him to be peacefully deposed by the council of lords (the peer-kings) if he is deemed to be a poor ruler. The council of lords is an informal group of men composed of anyone powerful enough to raise a small army, tame a region to call his own, and declare himself a king. Given the size of Nifflgarde, there is plenty of room for expansion, but few enough people to expand into the wild lands very quickly. The high king, though he is supposedly the ruler of the nation, must be a master of deal making if he is to keep the regional kings in line. At the same time, any sign of weakness can quickly lead to his being deposed. His primary role is to lead the armies in time of war, whether that is against monster incursions from the mountains, or against Men (although they haven't engaged in an international war in some decades). It is very rare for a high king to serve for his entire life – he will either be deposed due to some real or perceived weakness, or he will die leading the armies in battle against trolls, giants, and other monstrous invasions.
Regional kings run the country of Nifflgarde, acting as petty rulers over their own domains and only answering to the high king when necessary. In spite of this, there are certain laws and rules held to be sacrosanct, such that no king is able to set himself up as a tyrant – at least not for long. The Men of Nifflgarde are strong and proud, and stubborn as well, not given to bending the knee to anyone unless there is a good reason. Anyone strong enough to become a king, has managed to do so for good reasons. Even if he lives long enough to pass on his kingship to a favored (usually eldest) son, that son must still prove himself to his people, lest they rise up and depose him in favor of someone they will follow, or simply move away to another domain where the local king is considered more trustworthy.
A typical domain is composed of a single walled town built on a defensible hill, with one or more long-houses where extended families live and do their daily work or business. Everyone lives within the walls of the town, for safety's sake. Those who farm, must go out to the fields each day rather than living in or near their lands. Taxes are generally minimal – the king may take a tenth of farm produce, or other profit from skilled workers and merchants. The king is expected to maintain a small army for defense of the town, and he can call up local militia when the need arises for a larger armed force. All men between fifteen and fifty years of age can be called to service, unless they are disabled or crippled in some way. All young men are trained to use a sword and shield, and spear, for the defense of their homes.
While local and regional politics are largely the same in Nifflgarde, there are a few powerful kings who exercise their authority over more than one town or village. In these cases, each town is expected to be mostly self-sufficient, maintaining its own armed force, enforcing the king's law as well as any local rules, and paying taxes back to the king in their season. The king will appoint a jarl over each town or village to act in his name and exercise his authority. The jarl's position is even more precarious than that of the king, for if enough townsfolk testify to the king that he is weak or corrupt, he will be removed, and harshly punished if found guilty of some crime. The jarl's position can be hereditary, however this only happens in the rare cases where the loyalty of the jarl has been proven over many years, and the king himself has had a long and prosperous reign.
The high king is appointed to negotiate treaties and alliances with other nations, however anything he does must be ratified by his peers, the council or lords, before it becomes Nifflgarde law. Among the other nations, Nifflgarde is largely regarded as a backwater, even by its allies. Most people see their elected “high king”, and their many petty kings, and see only a land in chaos without a strong ruler. To some degree, this is true, however it overlooks the strength and pride of its people. However, their warriors are respected and feared, and Nifflgarde mercenaries are among the most highly-paid of any in the West.
Nifflgarde has no formal alliances, although they are friendly with Sildara and Nûmidëa. Their relations with Danannsidhe are neutral, but strained, due to their own invasion of that country some decades previously. Though the name of Nifflgarde is known among the nations of the West, they have no other international relations, good or bad, to speak of. Among the nations further east and south, Nifflgarde is a name, a legend, a frozen hell where terrible warrior-monsters dwell, who occasionally venture south to steal from and kill the civilized peoples.
Though the population of Nifflgarde is relatively small, its best-known export is mercenary soldiers. Nifflgarde mail is a type of augmented chain mail that has risen in popularity along with the reputation of Nifflgarde mercenaries. While there is some demand for exported Nifflgarde mail, most demand is handled by local armorers who have figured out how to copy the basic design.
Nifflgarde is also home to the legendary longships of the north-men, with their stylized dragon crests, colorful round shields hung along the sides, and square main sails. Though the ships are of a simple design, they are well-known as being able to survive the roughest seas, and with a good crew that are both fast and maneuverable whether under sail or oar power. Few shipyards produce such craft save those of Drakenmount, in the Bay of Thror, and those ships can be on order (prepaid) for a long time before delivery is made due to the backlog in demand.
Nifflgarde merchants and traders export exotic (to the southern nations) furs and pelts of animals such as mink, ermine, silvertip bears, and winter wolves. Wood is another major export, as the many conifers of different breeds grow tall and straight in the north-lands, and such wood is used in ship making as well as large timber construction.
While the lives of common folk are fairly simple and with little need for items not produced at home, there are a few things imported due to popular demand. From Dwerdenheim, quality cut gems and jewels, even of small size, are very popular among commoners and lords. The people produce their own gold and silver jewelry, but cut stones are more difficult to come by, and the Dwerden are happy to supply. From Vilandria, colorful dyes are imported to be used in all manner of cloth items from clothes to blankets, banners and sails.
In addition, the people, from karls (free folk) to jarls to kings, love to horde gold and silver. Perhaps they get this tendency from their nearest neighbors, the Dwerden , but whatever the source, they do love things made of gold, and even gold coins. This is, in fact, one of the main drivers for mercenaries leaving the country to adventure in other lands: they desire to get rich, return home with a small horde of gold and perhaps a few loyal friends, and setup their own domain. Even if they don't attain to a new king-ship, such wealth can often buy them a place among the jarls of a powerful king, or set them up to be master merchants in their homeland. Thus, gold is itself an import of sorts, brought back home by its own people.
Nifflgarde society is composed of three classes of people. There is a great degree of movement allowed between the classes, so the lines between them are not very strict and in fact there are many gradations of power and influence even within a given class. At the top of society are the kings and their jarls. Even the regional kings are legally considered to be jarls of the high king, and the high king himself is only a peer of the other kings, thus he is a jarl as well. Below the jarls are the karls, the ordinary free folk who make up the vast majority of the population. These are the farmers, the tradesmen and craftsmen, the merchants and men at arms. Below the karls are the thralls, bondsmen who are little more than slaves, with few legal rights and very low standing. There is also a sort of fourth class, the outlaws, who have been banished from society for one reason or another and declared outside the law. They have no legal standing, cannot own property or exercise any rights of common Men, and may be killed on sight without any fear of punishment (and often are). Outlaws are usually branded in some obvious place such as on the forehead, to indicate their legal status.
Nifflgarders are very conservative in the way they view the world and how things are or ought to be. Their three-class system, for example, is deemed to be the perfect structure to allow for some class mobility while still allowing people to find their place in society and maintain it through hard work. Aside from the hording of gold, they are not particularly greedy or materialistic, and in fact the most popular jarls and kings are also known to be the most generous with their gifts. Generosity is thus a highly respected and loved quality, even among those who have little to give. Marriage is common, but so is divorce, and in fact Nifflgarde is one of the few nations where a woman is allowed to sue her husband for divorce. Nifflgarders do not like too many rules, preferring to exercise their freedom and fulfill their responsibilities as adults without outside interference.
There are few taboos in Nifflgarde society. Breaking of an agreement, whether the vows of marriage, or a contract, or a vow of service, is harshly punished and certainly considered taboo. Common vices which might be taboo in other nations, such as public drunkenness, may be frowned upon by some but are not illegal or socially taboo. People are mostly free to live their lives as they see fit, and only expect that others respect their right to be free.
The people of Nifflgarde are the tallest human race of Aerde, men averaging over six feet tall, and women themselves averaging almost six feet. They are also massive people, heavy-boned and tough, like the lands in which they thrive. They have pale complexions (many are freckled) and blond or red hair, with blue or gray eyes being most common. Some southern Nifflgarders have brown hair and/or green eyes, from intermixing with Dedannan and Sildarans. Most men wear beards, in a wide variety of styles. Likewise, their hair is usually long and kept braided. Women also grow their hair long, and often tie it in different kinds of braids or plaits.
Clothing tends to be thick wool and leather, with additional furs in the winter. Men wear a tunic with breeches and long boots, and often multiple tunics are worn for warmth, rather than a cloak, which is rarely used. Women usually wear a simple dress, often with an extra under-layer and perhaps an over-tunic/apron as well. Married women wear a scarf over their hair, while single young women of marriageable age do not. Girls too young for courting keep their hair in braids. Clothing colors tend to be plain, white and gray predominant, though some blues and browns are also seen.
Culture and History
The people of Nifflgarde are, like those of Danannsidhe, generally considered a backward society by those more “civilized”. Nevertheless they have a rich culture and heritage, and are a strong, proud people. They are ruled by a high king, however, this king rules at the sufferance of the other lords of the land, peers and kings in their own right. If they find he is a poor ruler, they will depose him and select a new king to rule, from another family. The king is basically just a military leader for Nifflgarde. Most of the population of Nifflgarde lives in small walled villages or family longhouses, and have little need for or contact with the government. They solve their problems themselves, and fight their own battles when necessary. However, living in the harsh north-lands, they have many orc and troll incursions, especially during the winter, and so the high king leads his army against the larger threats, or sends smaller military units to take care of the problem.
These are the Men of the North, similar in culture and society to the early Germanic and Scandinavian peoples. Hardy and tough, they eke out their survival in the rocky and frozen soil of the north-lands. While they are predominantly farmers, hunters and fishers, the harsh lands and cold winters breed a toughness into them that is never lost. All men, and even many women, are trained fighters with broadsword and shield. They must be: many fell monsters dwell in the mountains to the north and east, and the people must be able to defend themselves.
Nifflgarde is not a single kingdom, but rather a land of “princedoms”, where any clan leader can proclaim himself a king if he wishes, and if his people will support his claim. Most clans live in fortified villages surrounded by wooden palisades, and the people go out to work the nearby communal fields during the day, returning to the protection of their walls before sunset. Each clan is like a large extended family, with smaller family groups each living in their own longhouses within the village. A longhouse is a narrow, single-story home constructed of logs and insulated with peat moss, and having a thatched roof, with a long central hall, or great-room, and one or two smaller rooms on either end. The vast majority of activities take place in the hall: eating, sleeping, playing, education, what have you.
The clans form loose alliances for mutual protection and trade, however relations frequently go sour, due to some personal slight, or perhaps greed, or a long-standing grudge. In these cases, clans will go to war for a season, until one side or the other tires of the fighting and sues for peace. On rare occasions a clan will engage another clan to war against a third. However, this is generally avoided, since the clans prefer to not fight unless they are personally involved.
If (and when) monsters invade an area, the local clans will drop their feuds to fight off the external threat. Once the invaders are driven away, these clans are just as likely to proclaim their feud over and done with, as they are to pick up and begin fighting each other again.
The people of Nifflgarde are a superstitious folk, seeing in the mists many spirits and other things, both visible and invisible. This isn't to say that there aren't supernatural creatures living in those lands – but the people may tend to see more than is really there.
Likewise, they have an obsession with the concept of luck – a supernatural force that can either bring fortune or tragedy to an individual, a family, or an entire clan. Weapons and armor are particularly believed to carry the luck of their current and former owners, either for good or ill. Over time, this “luck” develops the reputation of a magical enchantment or curse, and such items become either treasured family heirlooms, or things to be buried or burned. Certain makers of weapons and armor, because of the quality of their work, also will become known as workers of beneficial magic in the items they create. Such items will fetch hefty prices in the market, even several generations after the original maker has died and his creations have seen much use.
The folk who live along the coast are fishermen as well as farmers, while inland folk combine hunting with farming. Neither group has an easier life than the other, for both the land and the sea are harsh, with the weather often stormy and cold, and monsters waiting to catch the unwary. Although much of Nifflgarde life is communal, there is still trade between families and clans, and also with traveling merchants who come in caravans from the south, or in large vessels that sail along the coast. There are Nifflgarders who go exploring over land and sea as well, actively seeking trade with other peoples in faraway lands.