Introduced in Player's Handbook II, backgrounds are a way to customize your character's history to give depth to your mechanical choices and your roleplaying. In playing a Sarlonan character, you must consider the culture your character comes from when choosing a background. This section provides some helpful information to flesh out a background into something truly Sarlonan.
Riedrans and Adventuring
As a player of a Riedran character, especially a human, you have some special considerations. Common people in Riedra don't just break out of their appointed roles and go adventuring. They stick to what they're told. Most are content with their lot, and few welcome, much less seek, any sort of change.
Options are available to you, however. Even if your character has an artisan or farmhand background, he or she might have performed some heroic deed or special service that was a sure sign of deserved movement on the Path of Inspiration -- say, military conscription or placement as a priest's assistant. Perhaps your character is one of the few Riedrans with a relationship to an underground group, raised with the knowledge that all is not necessarily well in the homeland, or maybe your character recently awakened to the reality of Riedra and is now on the run (see Drifter). Another possibility is that the character is some sort of criminal, rightly or wrongly accused, looking for a route to freedom. In this latter case, what a person did doesn't need to be evil. Many reasonable actions or unchangeable conditions are "crimes" in Riedra, or they are at least situations that get people "disappeared," including simply being born with psionic or magic talents.
In Sarlona, artisans are just as numerous, if not more so, than in Khorvaire. They take on a different light depending on the Sarlonan society a character comes from.
Riedran artisans are specialists groomed from a young age to perfect some craft deemed important by their Inspired overlords. Few true artists are nonhuman. Riedrans tend to see work as spiritually important and obedience to the vision of the Inspired doubly so. Great craftsmanship doesn't raise one above one's commoner station in Riedra, but fine work is a sure sign of positive evolution on the Path of Inspiration.
Adaran craftpersons practice art as a form of meditation and leisure, and many have another day job. Their work is often folksy and practical. Elders teach children to be versatile and self-reliant, so most Adarans have some skill at crafting. In all of Sarlona, Adaran work is the most likely to be magecrafted or psionically enhanced. Xephs of Adar are especially noted for their exotic crystalworking traditions, and kalashtar are renowned for intuitively and intellectually sophisticated art.
Syrks of all races practice art forms lost to most of Sarlona, since their land is one of the few places on the continent where numerous relics of old Sarlonan kingdoms still stand. In Syrkarn, art is diverse and might be different in villages only a day's ride apart.
Folk of the steppes take their work seriously. As true tradespersons, they resemble mundane artisans of Khorvaire more than any others on Sarlona. They are second only to Adarans in their mixture of craft and the supernatural.
In the Tashana Tundra, dwarves toil in ways different from those of the Mror Holds, but none are more divergent from the dwarven norm than the Akiak dwarves. Dwarves of the Akiak clans have mastered alchemy, crystalwork, and metalwork. They build sophisticated magic, alchemical, and mechanical devices. Also in the Tundra, the shifter and human tribes produce beautiful native work that is surprisingly sophisticated for such "primitive" people. In fact, Tashanan shifter art is in great demand in certain circles of Khorvaire, especially Zilargo.
Ascetics are even more common in Sarlona than Khorvaire, and they tend to be more concentrated as well. Most come from Adar, but the other lands of Sarlona have their hermits and mystics.
Riedran ascetics tend to be those being groomed for priesthood on the Path of Inspiration. Youngsters placed in such positions are often observant and inquisitive, and their natural tendencies are channeled away from questioning what's around them toward questioning what's within and looking for ways to help their fellow citizens. Unlike counterparts in other societies, Riedran ascetics are closely monitored as they are schooled in proper recordkeeping, archiving, and scribing. Most times, indoctrination takes hold and the youth becomes a loyal priest, perhaps developing divine magic as a key to an abnormally venturesome life in the military or other unusual service. A tiny minority never becomes blind enough to be fooled by the veneer of righteousness in Riedran life, and such persons must flee Riedra or die.
Within the temple-fortresses of Adar, ascetics can be martial artists, arcanists, priests, psions, or any other sort of mystic. Sometimes, a single person is more than one.
The life of an ascetic in Adar varies. Most are expected to maintain a certain level of physical ability to keep the body strong for meditation and general mental sharpness. Many ascetics start out very young in physically active monastic traditions. While study is important, early conditioning focuses on balancing body and mind. As such, Adaran ascetics are also more focused on meditation than rote learning. Knowledge is dispensed in a practical and frank conversational manner that encourages comprehension and reflection over memorization. Adar's ascetics tend to be diversely skilled and highly moral.
Other types of ascetics exist, too, especially in Syrkarn and the Tundra, but these are unusual persons under the tutelage of some obscure sect or teacher. Often, such relationships are personal, centered on or surrounded by no group. The strange Qiku shaman who lives in self-imposed exile might take students, as might the Syrk mystic versed in ancient Sarlonan magic. In fact, this type of ascetic can be found in Adar as well, perhaps living in a high cave that can only be reached by a seemingly impossible climb. It's even feasible to find such teachers and students on the fringes of Riedran society, though no such abominations are suffered to live if discovered by the Inspired -- unless the teacher and student happen to practice the Path of Inspiration.
Drifters are common outside of Riedra. Such a background is often tied to a tribal society or the loss of one. But other types of drifters inhabit Sarlona.
Syrkarn's natives are often nomads. Syrks can be found in permanent settlements, but many come from nomadic people. Wandering is more a method of survival than anything else, and such nomads learn less about other people than they do about self-reliance and the harshness of the natural world. In Syrkarn, though, traveling widely can also teach one a diversity of ancient lore, or at least where strange ruins and dangerous magical phenomena are located.
Tashanan shifters and humans are much the same, except the lack of resources in the Tundra pushes people to move with more regularity. Following game animals and securing sites that are good redoubts against harsh weather and magical phenomena are important elements to Tashanan life. In recent times, the depredations of the Kalaak barbarians have forced many Tashanan folk to be mobile or face violence that can be worse than murder. Some wander tribeless after Kalaak raids or internecine interclan warfare take their toll.
One cannot forget about the Akiak dwarves, betrayed by the Inspired in the early days of Riedra and forced into exile in the harsh north. Though most Akiaks have settled, no doubt some of them still wander forlorn in the wastes, an utterly homeless people. Individual Akiaks, especially the young raised on stories of Reidran treachery, roam the Tundra to harden and ready themselves for the coming battle.
Adar has its drifters, too. Most of these are tough survivalists and mountaineers who live off the land and intermittent hospitality. Some are mystics who prefer travel to sedentary meditation. A few of Adar's defenders are eternally roving warriors who live and love among the peaks, a few even having families as they go. Others who live in the winds and rifts of Adar are the unforgiven or grief-stricken, running from a crime or loss too great to bear.
In Riedra, drifters are those on the run from authority, and these persons must find a new land to call home or face death. Among them might be dromites from a destroyed city-hive or a young wilder rooted out by the hounds of the Inspired. Sadly, whole groups of Riedrans might face this fate if they defy the Inspired for the good of one among them. Such defiance is rare.
The only place in Sarlona where farmhands are truly rare is the Tashana Tundra, but Syrkarn follows closely. Syrk settlements do have farmers, but many places in the vastness of Syrkarn have no permanent settlements. Tribal folk on the Tundra rarely farm, though some communities harvest rock lichens, seaweed, or winter grains. Dwarves there cultivate fungi in the deeps, and some even maintain hardy herds of goats and sheep in the mountains.
Many Riedrans are farmers or general laborers. Such is the lot of most folk in an orderly and populous society centered on urbanism -- such a civilization often runs on its ability to keep bellies full. This axiom becomes doubly important in Riedra under the guidance of the divinely motivated Inspired. The Inspired must allocate workers appropriately to keep the population fed lest they seem to be incompetent. Populations that have their basic needs met are more compliant. Interestingly, the farmers and laborers of Riedra don't see life as one of menial and demeaning toil, instead acknowledging their place in supporting their fellows and moving on the Path of Inspiration. In what could possibly be taken as a good in the society the Inspired have created, Riedrans honor honest labor on a spiritual level. So, Riedran farmhands are likely to be proud of their heritage.
Adarans have a similar spiritual view of work, but they have come to this realization through the harsh realities of life among Adar's peaks. The Path of Light has had some influence, but Adarans have always valued action and competence. This ethic extends to the simplest tasks.
Gladiators are rare in Sarlona, and most who would qualify for such a title aren't and never were slaves. In the rough and lawless Syrk port of Ardhmen, pit fighters are common. These hardened combatants make their living as pugilists and entertainers in makeshift arenas, usually working for a cut of betting pools rather than wages. Pit fights are usually between unarmed combatants who don't fight to the death. A few unlucky warriors end up on the wrong end of a fixed fight, an unfortunate death, or a misplaced bet, and they might be indentured by the debt or forced to flee servitude or the wrath of an underworld figure. Others see their skills as tools for their own glory, and the laurels of adventure seem greater than those of the pit.
The shifters of Tashana long ago abandoned the savage practice of gladiatorial contests. Life in the Tundra is simply too harsh to spill unnecessary blood. Many of the human barbarian tribes, however, do not share this enlightened view. Captured warriors from rival tribes might be pitted against one another or against the savage beasts of the northern lands.
The Inspired leaders of Riedra would have outsiders believe that theirs is a society of perfect order, with everyone provided for and none left wanting. But there are exceptions. The Inspired are ruthless when dealing with internal "enemies of the state," and entire families can be ostracized for political offenses. Often, adults simply disappear, leaving children abandoned and on their own. Individuals with mixed-blood characteristics, actual or suspected, are often shunned and rejected by the state and her people.
The poor of Riedra often fall in with criminal elements such as the Dream Merchants in an effort to simply survive. Some become involved with the dreamlily trade, and many become addicted to this destructive substance. Many of the dissident groups within Riedra actively recruit amongst the dispossessed sectors of society. A character with this type of background is likely to be affiliated with groups opposed to the Riedran leadership.
Riedra is not the only place where the dispossessed are left behind. Poverty is rampant in the ramshackle coastal settlements of Whitetooth or Winterstead. The unlikely collision of piracy and commerce with the seemingly primitive Tundra life has resulted in odd coastal shantytowns where the poor and downtrodden struggle to survive among the frigid wharves and docks. Separated from their traditional tribal culture, many human and shifter families live on the fringes of these nascent cities, improvising shelter and scavenging food and clothing. Characters hailing from these communities are likely to be extremely resourceful and adaptable.
The villages and towns of Syrkarn and Adar's agricultural regions also have their permanent underclass. Here the needy haunt the shadows of the traveler's inn, begging for scraps, and stealing what they can from windowsills and vegetable gardens. Often, these desperate souls find their way to the adventuring life by signing onto (or stowing away in) passing trade caravans.
Increasing trade and diplomacy between Riedra and the nations of Khorvaire have given rise to a new and growing naval presence on the coasts of Sarlona. Riedra maintains a significant military navy, with regular patrols off the shores of Rhiavhaar and Dor Maleer. Riedran sailors are known to be incredibly disciplined and efficient, as are all members of the nations' military organizations. A growing merchant marine economy has developed in recent years as well, and many sailors are assigned by the state to man the sophisticated Riedran cargo ships that sail the Sea of Rage to Khorvaire and back again. In recent years, an elite class of mariners has been established to transport Riedran ambassadors and other officials between the two continents.
The coastal regions of the Tashana Tundra boast a proud mariner tradition as well. The port settlements of Whitetooth and Winterstead have long been known to harbor vessels from the Lhazaar Principalities, facilitating trade that falls outside the purview of official Riedran commerce. The maenads of the Tashyvar Islands are particularly renowned for their seamanship, piloting their ingenious, shallow-water vessels along the shores and inland waterways of the western Tashana shore. Inland, the Qiku and Chuniigi shifter tribes fish and travel the Tashana's thousands of rivers and lakes in their small yakay boats.
In Adar and Syrkarn, the dozens of fishing villages that dot the shorelines have remained virtually unchanged for hundred of years. The expert fishing folk of the coast harvest the waters between Sarlona and Argonnessen, and some individual captains have initiated limited intercontinental trade with Khorvaire. Surprisingly, many mongrel ogre tribes in Syrkarn have taken to seafaring. Some have turned to piracy, raiding other ships and coastal villages in their enormous keelboats and longships.
Characters with a mariner background will be familiar with many of the waterways and inland river routes of their particular area of Sarlona.
Set above the rabble of the workers and commoners of Riedra, the Chosen have been touched by the divine force of the nation and selected to potentially ascend to the near-divine status of the Inspired. Or so they're told. The truth of the matter is much more sinister. The Chosen are in actuality "empty vessels" designated as host bodies for the extraplanar spirits of Dal Quor. The result of generations of controlled breeding and psionic manipulation, these individuals enjoy a life of privilege and many advantages denied to the common Riedran.
As the underclasses toil endlessly in hopes of achieving spiritual advancement, the Chosen are provided with the best tutors and instructors, even servants, to prepare them for the eventual bonding process. They are schooled in the great fortress-metropoli of Riedra and instructed in a secret language which is actually the unholy tongue of the quori. The Chosen share the subtle physical distinctions of the Inspired -- delicate features that hint at a trace of elven blood.
Player characters who proceed from this background are among the few -- the very few -- who have escaped their awful fate. Those who turn from the path of the Chosen are relentlessly hunted and pursued -- by the Thousand Eyes if they attempt to hide within Riedra and by the Dreaming Dark if they make it past Riedra's borders. Former empty vessels carry with them a terrible secret and are likely to be very careful indeed about sharing their past with anyone. And they live in constant fear of the inevitable day when the quori spirit will attempt to reclaim its promised host.
Noble Scions can hail from other regions of Sarlona as well. Many of the human and mongrel ogre communities of Syrkarn have their equivalent of an aristocratic class, and the maenads of the Tashyvar Islands maintain a tradition of noble bloodlines. Even in the mostly egalitarian communities of Adar, some are inevitably set above the rest. The Keepers of the Word in particular enjoy a relatively cloistered and privileged way of life, with certain magical lineages granted elevated status.
Sarlona has its share of armies and warriors, but nowhere is the military life more pervasive than among the dwarves and duergar of the refugee Akiak people. Relentless war with the Riedran occupiers of their land has forced virtually every adult to become, essentially, a soldier.
In the contested valleys and passes of the Paqaa Mountains, bands of Akiak resistance fighters continue their struggle to retake their ancestral clanhomes. The Akiak are well-disciplined and extremely tenacious fighters. The massive betrayal of the Inspired nearly wiped out their nation, and the Akiak are fighting for nothing less than the survival of their people. Cunning technologists, the Akiak have developed unique alchemical weaponry for use in attacks on the Riedran hanbalani and other military targets. Akiak guerilla bands typically consist of six to twelve fighters, and they rely on speed and mobility to counter the Riedrans' superior numbers. Akiak soldiers learn the arts of war not in a training room but on the bloody rocks of the Paqaas.
Riedra itself has a substantial army, most notably the highly-trained human fighters of the Harmonious Shield. The Inspired insist upon absolute loyalty to the state, and strict discipline is enforced upon all soldiers, most of whom are inducted at a very young age. Riedra also has a unique fighting force of ronin shifters called the Taskaan -- fighters who are bound to an individual Inspired lord and follow a samurai-like code of honor.
Adventurers with a background in the Riedran military will almost certainly have broken away from their soldiering life at some point, and this presents a new set of problems. The Riedran leadership does not take kindly to deserters and traitors and has a policy of assigning death squads and bounty hunters to pursue those who break from the ranks.
In the Tashana, the great shifter nations do not draw a distinction between hunting and fighting -- essentially, all able-bodied adults are warriors, and each nation is capable of fielding an enormous army at short notice. Some individual tribes, however, do have an equivalent of the professional soldier. Called sentries, these warriors specialize in fighting a particular tribal enemy, such as the Kalaak barbarians of the north.
Life revolves around the tribe in the shifter nations of the Tashana Tundra. Children are raised by the community as a whole, with each member of the tribe participating in the rearing of the young. It is an overriding credo of the Tashana that the health of the group is paramount, and loyalty to the tribe comes first, even before loyalty to blood relatives.
Most tribes of the Tashana, both human and shifter, are at least semi-nomadic. In the north, tribes follow the vast herds of caribou that wander the grasslands, and some tribes follow a seasonal pattern, roaming south in the summer months. Resources are scarce in the Tashana, and life is precious. Accordingly, the tribes of the Tundra place great value on conservation -- hunters are careful to kill only what is needed for the tribe to survive, and those groups that harvest from the land or the sea are mindful of preservation. Characters with a tribal background from the Tashana region of Sarlona are likely to have a profound respect for nature, regardless of their class.
Of the three shifter nations in the Tundra, the Qiku are the largest and most established. There are even several permanent settlements in the south, built in and around the enormous rock mounds of the grasslands. Qiku shifters are particularly known for their craftsmanship, especially with musical instruments including flutes, pipes, and drums. The coastal Saartuk tribes tend to follow intricate nomadic patterns based on the seasonal movements of sea and river fish. The most notable exception is the coastal settlement of Wintertooth, a permanent trading outpost at the mouth of the Tiiki river. Characters with a Saartuk tribal background are likely to have some experience with boats and seamanship. The Chuniigi tribes of the north are the most warlike of the nations and have been fiercely battling the human Kalaak raiders in recent years. Chuniigi characters may tend to aggression and violence more than is typical for other Tashanan shifters.
Tribal traditions also exist in Syrkarn, particularly amongst the mongrel ogres. Syrkarnan tribes are more territorial than the Tashanans, with each tribe controlling a specific piece of land. Much of the conflict amongst Sykarn mongrel ogre groups occurs when these lands and their borders are contested. Contact and trade with the human settlements of Syrkarn have had a curious effect on the mongrel ogre tribes, so that the tribes tend to be surprisingly structured and lawful.