The Hōl (pronounced ‘Horl’) are an alliance of tribes from the far north of The Gnawing Wastes. Nomadic herders and raiders they are divided into a handful of clans, each associated with a different totemic beast. They are feared and respected throughout the north, and their yearly migrations can take them as far south as the northern parts of the Selentine Empire. So fearless are these tribes that they even raid the Nomad Khanates.
The Hōl appear to be something of a blend between the Mercanian people and those of the Nomad Khanates. They tend to be extremely pale, with pale blond or jet black hair and brown or blue eyes. There is a tendency towards stockiness, but something in the Hōl bloodline frequently produces giants of six or even seven feet in height. They tend to have high, rounded cheekbones and eyes that are slightly slanted and/or hooded. Some take more after the Khanate peoples, others take more after their Mercanian blood.
The Hōl have many expert craftsmen and women amongst their number and they produce a great deal of jewellery, typically in the form of bone, tusk or beads. Their nomadic lifestyle does not lend itself to metal-working, and so jewellery of a more conventional sort is uncommon amongst the Hōl, though they will trade for it – or steal it – should the chance come about.
Their armour is often extremely decorative, as are their tents and the harnesses and tack they use on their beasts and herds, these decorations conveying meaning through colour and arrangement. The more extravagant the bead-work, the more colourful the armour, the more prestige the tribe member has.
The Hōl still prominently use stone in many of their weapons, saving metal for armour, swords and axes, and still using flint or obsidian for spear, javelin and arrow heads. Stone weapons frequently have small totemic items – feathers, bone and bead-charms – attached to them, as a ward against chipping or breaking.
The Hōl tend to eschew dance as a waste of energy, the closest thing in their culture being an hypnotic swaying and chanting during some of their festivals.
Hōl tribe-members wear a fairly unisex outfit of fine-tooled, insulated buckskin tunics and britches, surmounted by a waist-mat of fur, their upper body further protected by a fur vest and a cross-piece of leather, fur or reindeer skin, covered in toggles, onto which they can hang their gear, weapons, bags, bottles, quivers and so forth. Their sleeves even have toggles, which their gloves or mittens button to, so they can free their hands for delicate work without losing them or setting them down.
The Hōl grow their hair and beards long, as protection against the cold, braiding them with beads and knotting them into elaborate ropes for special occasions, or out of vanity.
The Hōl primarily farm reindeer for meat, horn, bone, leather and milk, as well as drinking their piss – infused with hallucinogenic mushrooms – as part of their vision quests. They also maintain packs of wolves, trained as fierce hunting companions, a breed of battle-elk, and even a breed of bear that one tribe uses as mounts. Legends tell of lost tribes that tamed the great sabretooth tigers, or even the gigantic hairy mammuk. That knowledge has been lost to time. In addition to their herds they take food on their raids, gather and preserve berries, fruit, fish and nuts when they can and engage in trade if they have a surplus – but only during their seasonal festivals.
A tribal leader is accepted by a crude sort of consensus, if nobody significant objects. In times of battle a war leader is chosen amongst the warriors, through a combination of reputation, non-lethal single combat and consensus. Either leader is advised by a Shaman, typically an Air or Water Elementalist. There is no succession, save in the Shamanic line, where each Shaman educates two apprentices, only one of which can become the new Shaman.
There is no appreciable gender division in Hōl society, everyone must be able to fight, everyone must be able to tend the herds, everyone must be able to craft – to at least some degree. There is no more or less honour in any particular role, and every tribe-member is free to seek out their calling and their place, their ‘Kashin’, one of the two most important concepts in Hōl society.
The Hōl practice ancestor worship, or rather memorial, and animistic respect of the spirits. They see no spirit in rocks, plants or places, but only animals and people. This spirit they call ‘Liekki’ or ‘soulfire’ and many of their sayings revolve around the relationship between fire and life. Unlike most inanimate things, the Hōl believe fire itself is alive, and can convey some of that life when it is applied to things – like metal-working or fire-hardening. Just as it sustains the life of those who warm themselves by it.
Chief totemic spirits of the Hōl include the reindeer, the elk, the wolf, the fox, the eagle, the tiger, the mammuk, the bear and the rabbit. Though every animal in their land has a place in their pantheon.
An unfortunate aspect of the Hōl is their practice of slavery. On their raids they frequently take captives from the places they raid, and consider the act of sparing those captives to mean that they are now owed that person’s life. These bondslaves are considered part of the tribe, albeit at a low rung, and can ‘buy’ their way out of their position by saving a life of the tribe, bearing a child for the tribe or committing an act of heroism or great worth to the tribe.
Battle-Elk (a moose for our transatlantic cousins), never shed their antlers. Instead they continue to grow constantly throughout the elk’s lift, and have to be constantly trimmed, honed and sharpened. Battle-elk are also considerably larger and more powerful than their wild cousins.
Attack: 22, Horns (d8+1/5), Kick (d10/6).
Armour Factor: 1 (4 in armour)
Magical Defence: 5
Special: Charge attack: Speed 14 vs Evasion, 1d6+5 damage, minus Armour and thrown 5m back and winded for 1d3 combat rounds.
Herd-Wolves are enormous, wolf-like dogs with pure white fur, who serve as hunting companions and warriors alongside their tribe partners.
Attack: 21 Fangs (d6/6)
Armour Factor: 0 (3 in armour)
Magical Defence: 3
Health Points: 2d6+4
Perception: 11 (elfsight)
Bears, bred to be mounts as well as for size and fierceness, bringing them close to the legendary cave bears in ferocity. They do not hibernate, and require considerable resources from the tribe to stay fed – especially during winter.
Attack: 23, Claws (d10/6)
Armour Factor: 1 (4 in armour)
Magical Defence: 5
Health Points: 3d6+20