Kingdom of Caithness
In the beginning, Yrth was home to the elder races – the Elves and their rivals, the Dwarves – and to the nomadic, barbaric Orcs. The dwarves enslaved the orcs or ignored them; most of the elves simply avoided them. But one tribe – the Dark Elves – was offended by the orcs’ very existence. Their best wizards worked for years on a final solution. It is perhaps just as well that the details are not known; basically, it was a great summoning, intended to bring a merciless bane upon the orcs. It failed . . . badly. The Dark Elves’ spell backfired. Most of their communities were destroyed in an instant – blasted by a force that left only burned, mana-dead spots. Others of the Elder Folk suffered likewise. But the Dark Elves did get their ‘bane.’ Several banes, in fact . . . new races, hostile to the orcs, but just as offensive to the Dark Elves. The Banestorm was the greatest magical backfire in the history of Yrth. Thus it was, a thousand years ago, that men, Goblins, Reptile Men, Kobolds, and yet other races came to Yrth. Plucked from their home worlds by the capricious power invoked by the elves, they found themselves in a new land. Yrth would never be the same. Men were by far the most numerous of the newcomers. The force that brought them to Yrth manifested itself as a huge, unnatural storm. Ships, ‘lost at sea,’ found safe haven on unfamiliar shores. Entire villages, blasted from Earth by sorcerous fire or flood, were transplanted to Yrth. Most of this took place between 1050 and 1130 A.D. – the time of Earth’s Crusades. Gradually the newcomers found one another; tribes became nations. One large group of humans – mostly Western European – settled the northern part of the continent, maintaining the feudal system. Another significant group appeared to the south; for the most part, they maintained the tribal culture of their Saracen ancestors. It was inevitable that they would collide.
In this Year of our Lord 2009, most of Yrth is Tech Level 3 – very like our own medieval Europe. Some areas, such as the Nomad Lands, are only TL2. Science advances little, since magic is so powerful. And the Wizards’ Guilds suppress new inventions that might interfere with the supremacy of magic. Weaponry: Gunpowder has been brought to Yrth three times by ‘visitors,’ and invented by natives at least once. Each time, the users and their knowledge have been wiped out by the wizards. The finest hand weapons are made of steel; the best ranged weapons are bows and crossbows. The trained knight in armour is the ultimate fighting machine. Travel: Wealthy folk ride horseback or in a carriage. Others walk. In the big coastal cities, you can rent a rickshaw, complete with puller, for a few copper coins. Big riverboats, powered by sails, oars, or oxen ashore, ply the rivers. At sea, single-masted ships are still most common; some galleys have two or three banks of oarsmen. Medicine: Most healing is done by magic. Those without access to magic rely on herbal remedies, amputation (with wooden legs and steel hooks as replacements for lost limbs), good luck, and prayer. The average lifespan is perhaps 50 years for a townsman, 40 for a serf, 60 or 70 is a ripe old age, achieved by few. Communication: The very wealthy use magic to send messages. Otherwise, private horse-couriers deliver missives; the life of such a courier is never boring. Note that, as a whole, the society is illiterate. (Literacy is a 10 point Advantage that allows you to read and write your own native language and Latin. Most people can read and write their native language to a point that allows them to carry out day to day business.)
Most of Yrth has a ‘normal’ level of mana’ magic is strong and common. The men of Yrth quickly learned magic, from the elder races and from the medieval wizards that crossed over. Wizards’ guilds – where they are organized – have a great deal of political power. However, Caithness lies in a low-mana area, and has little magic.
Most nations and city-states coin gold and silver money. Use the costs given in the Basic Set. A copper farthing ($) has a buying power about equal to a US dollar circa 2009. Silver is worth ten times copper’s value; gold is worth 20 times as much a silver. $1,000 worth of silver weighs one pound. However, precious metals are rare, and much trade is by barter. In particular, travelers can easily barter labour for food in most places. Waterways and seacoasts are the best trade routes; where there are no convenient waterways, there are roads and caravan-routes. Trade is King; even arch-enemies do business when they’re not actually at war. The hardiest explorers are merchants.
The Christian nations speak ‘Anglish,’ a language evolved from Old English with a very heavy Norman-French influence. Northern tribesmen speak a related tongue, ‘Northlands,’ defaulting to Anglish at -3, and vice versa. Either Northlands or Anglish defaults to modern Earth’s English at -4, and vice versa. The Islamic nations use a relatively pure ‘classical’ Arabic. The written language is nearly identical to Earth’s Arabic. The spoken tongue has drifted somewhat; a Terran Arabic-speaker will be at -2 to understand for the first week or so, but after that will have no problems. Latin is spoken by scholars in both Christendom and the Islamic lands, and by Megalan nobles. They can be understood by any Latin scholar from Earth. The Sahudese tongue has departed so far from its roots that it would not be understandable by anyone from Earth. As for the non-human races, each of them speaks its’ own language, but non-humans encountered in a human territory are likely to speak the appropriate human language. Difficulty: The human and non-human languages of this part of Yrth are all considered Mental/Average skills. The exception is Sahudes (Mental/Hard).
Credits: Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games – GURPS Fantasy page 50+