Life is short — let it never be dull!Alam Proverb
- 1 Introduction
- 2 The People
- 3 Culture and Customs
- 4 History
- 5 Political Leadership
- 6 Economic Interests
- 7 Military Concerns
- 8 Religious Beliefs
- 9 Magical Traditions
- 10 Hearth Magic and the Egregore
- 11 Icons and Images
- 12 Lineage and Species Attitudes
- 13 Territories
- 14 Children
The Alam are travellers, traders, lovers and poets. They are exotic and flamboyant; when they laugh their humour is infectious and without spite, when they love they do so with a passion that is without guile and when they’re angry, their wrath is like a summer storm – terrible to behold but swift in passing. To be Alam is to be driven by a hunger for life, to see the world, to taste every delicacy, sample every wine and tell every tale. Success is measured in wealth, family and influence, not out of greed, but for the joy success brings.
Their wagons and ships cross the world bringing exotic spices, exquisite fabrics and cut gems that command the finest prices. While others see them as brazen and mercurial, their honesty is without arrogance, for to aggrandise the self is vulgar, while to praise the deeds of another is an art. Their tales are bawdy enough for a common tavern and grand enough for a lordly court alike and can fill a room with laughter, tears or gasps of horror.
The Alam prize individual freedom and responsibility. Although they are capable of serving a cause they have little respect for authority. Pompous or self-important individuals, especially those who think that titles and positions have made them important are ridiculed in Alam. Respect is earned, it cannot be bought or appointed.
They are infamous for their corsairs who operate throughout the Bay Of Catazar. These daring privateers risk everything ensuring that the Empire's enemies are unable to threaten her shores and earning a fortune in gold in the process. It is a dangerous life but one that perfectly suits the Alam passion for high adventure.
They are the Alam and they believe that while life maybe short, it should never be dull!
Five things to know about the Alam
- Their word is their bond. Alam traders possess an honesty that would put most priests to shame.
- They are notoriously candid. Brazen in person, and disarmingly frank in negotiation, they will tell you exactly what they think, whether you want to know or not.
- They will put a price on anything. The Alam believe the fairest way to reckon the worth of something is to put a price on it.
- They crave adventure and excitement. None more so than their corsairs who are the terror of the high seas.
- They prize freedom and responsibility and disdain authority. The Alam philosophy is that society is best served when every individual is responsible for themselves and to themselves.
The archetypal Alam is the gregarious trader, the man or woman who has a story for everything, can lay hands on whatever you need and will send you on your way with a slightly baffled smile on your face, several new commodities in your hands (whether you wanted them to begin with or not) and very few coins remaining in your pockets.
The Alam reputation as a nation of traders stems from the ease with which they put a price on things. Alam hosts are not insulted by a guests' offer to pay for a meal, nor by a request to purchase an ancient family heirloom. To the Alam, all things have a price and they strive to live their lives accordingly. Provided you are scrupulously honest about such things, the Alam see no shame in taking money for anything you wish to sell. Of course not every Alam earns their living as a merchant, but almost all are ready to turn a profit if the situation presents itself.
To the Alam, the purpose of putting a price on something is to create honest clarity about what things are worth. The Alam detest favours and obligations, even between friends or lovers. For the Alam an honest deal is one where people know what they are offering, what they are getting and what it will cost them. They are perfectly comfortable with someone paying to influence a decision, provided those making the decision remain honest about the payments they are taking.
Honesty is profoundly important to the Alam. To the Alam, honesty means much more than not lying, it is about acting with integrity and openly accepting responsibility for what you are doing. Transactions that in other nations would be called bribes and conducted discreetly in private are carried out openly in Alam without shame. Part of this stems from the traditional Alam belief in individual freedom and their contempt for authority – they simply don't accept that anyone else has the right to censor them. The Alam are fully aware that others do not share their approach but their only expectation of each other is that they will act honestly, deceit is the one thing that always brings contempt and shame in Alam. Alam who are dishonest or commit heinous crimes are often disowned by their families.
The Alam are passionate people who love dancing and story-telling. The best dances are energetic and exuberant, and those who aren’t dancing are expected to join in by making music to cheering the dancers on. The best stories are bold and extraordinary tales of adventure and passion. It is considered rude to boast however; telling the tales of your own deeds is vulgar and self-aggrandising and if it must be done, events should always be described as if they happened to a friend. To tell the tale of another’s deeds does them great honour, even when those deeds are so embellished with artistic license as to be almost unrecognisable. Even in this honest culture, dramatically embellished stories are encouraged. There is no intent to deceive, the audience is well aware that these are fictions spun for entertainment. But, as the poets say, there is truth at the heart of every story.
The Alam are divided into three great tribes, named the Erigo, the Riqueza and the Guerra, that are descended from the families of the three founders. Every Alam traces their line through their mother's family to one of the founders, and this creates the tribal identity of the Alam. Each tribe is composed of a great number of extended families. The smallest families have only a few dozen members, the largest can have hundreds or thousands of people sharing a family name and a common purpose.
Alam typically have three names. The first is their given name as decided by their parents and can be as creative or as bland as their imagination. The second is their family name and the last name is that of the tribe. Family is of great importance, but the respect due to an Alam will never be based on their family alone - they must make their own reputation.
Culture and Customs
Family is of paramount importance to the Alam. They live in extended family groups covering several generations and are tight-knit, open with each other, totally relaxed with each other and ferociously loyal. Occasionally Alam will extend the privilege of family membership to valued friends, long-term employees or waifs and strays - these adoptees are whole-heartedly welcomed and are treated no different from blood family. An insult to one family member is an insult to all - a friend to one family member is a friend to all. To the Alam, betraying their family is unthinkable.
In Alam, food and drink is only offered freely to family. Because of this, the offer of hospitality creates the expectation of obligation; in a sense you are offering guests a place in your family which obliges them to respond accordingly. Since most Alam habitually avoid favours and social debts but all Alam enjoy hospitality, both giving and receiving, the custom is always to offer to pay before receiving refreshments. An Alam approaching a tent of revelry might ask the price for a seat at the table. A token price of a ring or two indicates that they are very welcome to join, a price in crowns indicates that the meeting is private and the Alam should look elsewhere, but an exorbitant price in thrones is a deliberate insult.
Despite the ritualized nature of the exchange, actual payment is required. To the Alam mind, it is the payment that ensures that no further obligation exists on the part of either party. For close friends or clearly impoverished an Alam might offer a fine meal for help with the dishes or even an afternoon's work. It is easy to be itinerant in Alam society, so long as you don't mind working for your supper.
Koch is the traditional drink of the Alam, but every family has its own recipe. Each family carefully guards their own recipe for Koch, and there is a common belief that to give away its secret is to give some of your good luck to another. In most families Koch is a dark is a bitter but uplifting brew that is sometimes sweetened with honey or sugar. It is very rarely alcoholic, since it is intended to be drunk as a family and when business is being discussed. Indeed the taking of Koch before the opening of trade negotiations is considered not only polite, but beneficial to the coming talks.
Written contracts are exceptionally important in Alam culture. The best contracts are short and succinct but clearly identify the obligations of both parties. To the Alam mind making an agreement commits the integrity of their soul to the deal, if they contract to do something their honesty is at stake if they cannot carry through. For this reason almost all enduring contracts include fiscal clauses for default. This is not meant as a lack of commitment, but simply to avoid being a hostage to fortune, should circumstances change and make it impossible for the parties to complete the deal. However, the Alam see no shame in going back on contracts written, particularly if a better deal comes along, provided the default bonds are paid.
Art, particularly calligraphy, is highly valued in Alam. They value books but treasure those that have are beautifully illuminated. To the Alam, every aspect of writing is an important artistic statement, the language used should be articulate and possess a lyrical quality, the letters and words should be written with bold ink strokes on beautiful paper or parchment that is then decorated and illuminated. Given their emphasis on deals, it is perhaps no surprise that the Alam even like well written contracts and they often display particularly fine examples on the walls of their homes, especially ones that had great sentimental or fiscal value.
Alam society does not favour men or women but tribal and familial lines are always matrilineal and while men may marry into an Alam family and tribe, women may not. If an Alam woman marries then her husband joins her tribal family. Marriage outside the tribe is relatively rare. Much more common is for Alam men and women to form a temporary attachment. These attachments are romantic or physical in nature, but with no assumption that they will last for life. In fact with some pairings there is no assumption that they will last more than a night, an attitude that some outsiders find scandalous.
All marriages – and indeed most extended attachments – are formalised with a contract in which each participant lays down the parameters of the relationship. A marriage or relationship contract commonly covers matters such as the duration of the relationship, the rights and responsibilities of the participants, the expectation of fidelity, the division of shared wealth both during and after the relationship ends, and at least one clause covering how the relationship may be ended prematurely by either party. This rather cold-blooded practicality around matters of the heart is just another manifestation of the Alam's fiscal approach to life. These contracts ensure that both parties know the value the other places on the attachment. Not all attachments require a contract, but if a relationship is going to last for more than a few weeks, it is usually a sensible precaution against misunderstandings.
In the time before the formation of the Empire, three sisters lived in ancient Basilikon. Daughters of the family Alam, each one was a powerful magician. Dissatisfied with the stratification and conservatism of the ancient city, they took their extended families and left the safety of Basilikon behind to seek their own destiny under the open sky. Choosing freedom over the security of urban life, they travelled widely searching for a place to settle. There are countless stories of the activities of the founders and their families during this time, but eventually they came to the pampas, the warm fertile plains south of the Marches. The sisters wove powerful magic and determined that these plains would be the best place for their families to build a future for themselves. The extended families settled down, but after a generation of travelling the wanderlust came to define the Alam and remains a strong urge to this day.
By the time the Empress began her crusade to unite humanity beneath her banner, the Alam were much as they are today – a disparate people of sprawling, extended families spread over three tribes, with each tribe tracing an unbroken matrilineal line back to one of the founders. While each family and each tribe treasured their individual freedoms, they were bound together into a loose nation by a shared heritage and by carefully negotiated contracts and treaties. Initially the tribes were suspicious of the Empress and hostile to the interests of the powerful Basilikon priests that backed her. But after several meetings with prominent tribal leaders, the Empress acquiesced to their demands and they agreed to join the nascent Empire.
The Alam played a key role in the formation of the early Empire – they were instrumental in slavery being outlawed and it was their insistence that each Nation would set the means to select their own Senators. Their most significant contribution was the creation of the Egregores, ensuring that every nation was able to preserve it's traditions. They were unable to convince the priests of Basilikon to acknowledge the central role of honesty in a virtuous life, but they are enormously proud that their influence ensured that their ideas of individual freedom and responsibility became a central part of the Empires identity.
Since that day, membership of the Empire has given the Alam the ability to negotiate not just for themselves, but for the Empire as a whole. It is something they use shamelessly to their advantage when dealing with foreign powers. The stability provided by the Empire has allowed the Alam to travel far beyond their territories bringing great wealth to all the nations.
No member of the Alam has ever sat upon the Imperial throne, but they have always had a strong presence and loud voice in the Senate. The Alam believe that it is in the Senate that true power lies, and that the best Emperors have accepted this and served as figureheads and administrators rather than policy makers. Popular prejudice paints the Alam as poor politicians – a slur that several of them embrace. Their blunt honesty combined with a tendency to want to get to the point of any argument does not endear them to their political opponents, but they make up for this directness with a tendency to produce powerful and impassioned orators.
The Alam are traditionally cautious when it comes to the idea of authority and control. They value loyalty and even discipline, but they are an informal people who have little regard for titles and status and even less for those who think such positions make them more important than their fellows.
Each Alam family is represented by a Dhomiro. Selecting a Dhomiro is not a political decision, most families simply select the most suitable individual. They are usually chosen on account of their ability to organize or communicate, and they have great influence but little formal power. Their role is to represent their family's interests to those who seek to deal with the family as a whole. Any Dhomiro that put on airs or graces would be ridiculed and Dhomiro that are not effective in furthering their family's interests are quickly replaced.
The reality of this loose-weave community means that towns, villages and trade wagons are effectively governed by the wealthiest, most influential family who dwells there. This can lead to fluid but infrequent shifts of power as familial fortunes wax and wane. When more formal arrangements are needed, representatives of the families involved will negotiate a formal contract.
Alam society is not so much controlled as ‘nudged in a beneficial direction’ by the families with the most power and influence. There is little leadership beyond the Dhomiro. There is a presumption of cooperation between different families that are part of the same tribe, but this presumption only makes the inevitable rivalries more fierce. When this rivalry threatens to get out of hand, it often falls to the Hakima – the magical custodians of the Alam tribal legacy – to step in and try to mediate some sort of peaceful conclusion. While the Hakima have no formal authority over the Dhomiro, their advice and magical support can help turn a strong family into a truly great family. The Hakima stand outside the traditional Alam family structure placing their tribe above all other loyalties. Their official role is to guide the decisions the families of the tribe make. This neutrality makes them an essential part of the political structure and most are highly respected.
To outsiders it is a chaotic and unstructured form of governance, but to the Alam it is as natural as breathing. When an outsider finds themselves frustrated trying to work out who is in charge, the traditional Alam response is “the wind”. A less metaphorical response might be to ask “why does someone always have to be in charge?” When a decision needs making that affects a number of families, the Hakima and the families gather to discuss the issue. To outsiders this a wild affair of drink and revelry, but the informal atmosphere of the gather in no way undermines the severity of the discussions. The exchange of coin, scripts of trade and goods eventually leads to a common opinion and subsequent decision, usually formalised through a contract.
Despite this, Imperial rule requires that the Alam select Senators. The Alam solution is simple; wealth and influence dictate many things in Alam life and they see no reason why senatorial seats should be any different.
When Senatorial seats become vacant, individual families present purses of money to the Civil Service in an effort to secure Senatorial positions. The family that presents the richest purses gets first choice of available seats and so on until all available seats are allocated. The choice of who claims the Senatorial seat is left to the victorious Dhomiro. Those who are not successful in claiming a seat reclaim their purse, and the money paid by the winners is pooled and distributed between all families present who have not just gained a senatorial Seat – in proportion to their numbers present.
While outsiders may be offended by the way in which the Alam auction off important Imperial positions, it is a matter of pride that there is comparatively little duplicity in the political achievement of the Alam Senators. To the Alam way of thinking their approach is honest - while the politics of other nations can be devious and underhanded, the Alam are forthright and open in the methods employed.
“Come in, come in honoured guest and be seated, please, help yourself to the koch, it is freshly brewed!”
“The rug? Why yes! It was a gift of Dhomiro Decruz! See the scripture picked out in gold? An illuminating text spun by maidens of Feroz, it lists the seven prophets and ways in which a man might better himself in their image. An exceptional gift for one as humble as I!”
“Price, you say? Nay sir, the rug is too precious to me to part with, but if you are interested, let me find something almost as well made that would be more affordable.”“Twenty crowns, you say? A salve to the spirit to be certain, but if we were to speak of twenty-five, I think I may be able to work something out. Idmar! Ink! Parchment!”
To the Alam, money is perhaps the most versatile tool in existence. A rich person can pay for services and goods, but it goes beyond that. Where the Catazarri prize “favours” and “influence”, the Alam deal with matters of obligation in a much more concrete manner, with money. There is a common belief that all Alam are merchants, and maybe there is a little truth to it. Money is a measure not only of security and comfort in Alam, but also of success and prestige. There are few things that money cannot secure, and the Alam are adept at putting a price on the things they want. Every Alam is to one degree or another looking to “make their fortune” because wealth equates to status among the Alam.
The Alam demand for honesty extends to haggling; no trader of the Alam would ever stoop to lying about his merchandise or personal situation for the sake of a better deal. They regard it partly as a matter of ethics and partly as a matter of skill to be utterly honest about the goods they sell. While this makes it difficult to steal a bargain, it does mean that the Alam are well respected as traders. They protect this reputation very aggressively, and Alam traders who do seek to twist a deal or sell a light load can face the most severe repercussions from their fellow Alam.
When an outsider thinks of an Alam trader, he is often thinking of a harem proprieter. Alam towns always have at least one harem, a communal social houses of music, story-telling, drinking and dance. At the end of a hard day of work the people of the Alam can often be found, discussing their latest ventures or telling extravagant and grand tales of their ancestors, friends and relatives. They are not places of lewd behaviour (though what happens upstairs between consenting adults is their business) and are staffed by folk of both sexes and varying lineages.
As with most Alam business, a harem is traditionally owned by an extended family invested in their upkeep and operation, and a given family will often maintain more than one structure, or operate a “travelling harem” akin to a circus or fair. In addition to the services and entertainments they provide, the best harem are places of trade. While a lot of formal business takes place at the bazaar, the harem is where merchants go to relax and it is often where the real business of complex trade takes place. While the bazaar is a fine place to visit if you want a new pair of shoes or a sword, the harem is where merchants can informally come to an agreement over chilled fruit and wine concerning more risky ventures, bulk deals and investment opportunities.
When it comes to making financial agreements more complex than a direct exchange of goods, Alam are most comfortable dealing through contracts. A contract lays down the responsibilities and expectations of both sides of an agreement. The best contracts are short, clear and precise, and contain at least one “get out” clause that allows the participants to get out of the contract without losing face (usually by paying a sum of money to the other side of the contract).
As a consequence, Alam merchants usually seek out the services of a professional scrivener to formalise their relationships. A discreet, neutral scrivener can work out and witness a contract that satisfies both parties, and they are very much in demand. Combining the skill to express ideas simply and clearly in writing with a talent for arbitrating between individuals to help them express what they actually want, these scrivener are the backbone of Alam economic life. The Alam prefer to abide by the letter of a contract, rather than the “spirit” – arguments about what was “meant” by the contract are inevitably circular and unhelpful. Where the meaning of a contract must be discussed or clarified, it is again to the professional scrivener that the Alam merchant turns. The best scriveners are also artists, or employ someone capable of making their contracts look attractive and professional with fine calligraphy and colourful flourishes.
The Alam are not the strongest military in the Empire, but there is one area where their strength is uncontested – on the open seas. Every Alam tribe includes dozens of families who make their living as Corsairs, sea borne raiders who prey on barbarian shipping passing through the Bay of Catazar. The Alam detest piracy, but they regard privateering as a perfectly legitimate form of warfare, albeit a highly profitable one.
Corsair groups are usually Alam families who own one or more seaworthy vessels. Corsairs are not just privateers, they commonly engage in foreign trade. A common saying suggests that the only difference between a privateer and a merchant is that the privateers get their goods cheaper.
Regardless of how they choose to interact with foreigners, corsairs are often a source of goods unobtainable within the Empire. If the Alam applaud the triumphs of their corsairs, and enjoy the wealth and plunder they bring back, the Empire tolerate it because the Corsairs are effective in dissuading the barbarians who dwell across the bay from attempting a naval invasion. Only the fear of the power of the Corsairs keeps the southern coasts of the Empire free of invaders.
The Alam lands are rich in luxuries - precious metals, gem-stones, spices and fine fabrics. Their ships sail far afield, bringing back bounty from foreign lands. Their expertise as entertainers is rarely matched within the Empire. The only thing the Alam do not buy or sell are slaves. Slavery of Imperial Citizens is illegal in the Empire, and the Alam take no part in the trade even when overseas. The Alam philosophy is that society is best served when every individual is responsible for themselves and to themselves. While the Alam do not hold with slavery, they approve of the idea of hard work as punishment, treating the wages a criminal might have earnt doing a job honestly as payment towards the resolution of their crime. Deep mines sunk into the Kahraman mountains tap veins of precious ores and gemstones, and are worked by gangs of convicted criminals.
While the Alam nation supports two Imperial armies, organized along traditional lines, most Alam families encourage their children to practise some martial skills. The Alam remember a time when the families were responsible for their own defence and they try to remain prepared in case that day should come again. Most Alam are commonly taught to fight wearing light armour and carrying a small shield and a stabbing javelin or sword. They are not career soldiers and by day they are tradesmen, farmers and labourers, only turning to martial matters when required.
In addition to these forces many families maintain a small dedicated fighting force, usually family members who have shown a capacity for martial excellence. These warriors protect Alam caravans and settlements from bands of raiding orcs or adventurous bandits. Families take a pride in equipping their warriors with the best equipment they can afford. Many of these family warriors have spent time in the Imperial armies, honing their abilities, and are often trained to fight in heavy armour in close formation. The ideal accoutrements are a ornately engraved plate breastplate often worn with other pieces of armour over layered silk robes combined with whatever weapons that family favours.
Some Alam warriors find such an exhilaration in battle that they actively seek opportunities to fight. Centuries ago, the Hakima began to gather Alam who had been disowned and turned them into a fighting force. By serving their tribe the Alam were able to find a way to redeem themselves. These groups were called Kohan, meaning without family, and their number has grown considerably over the years. Although they still accept men and women who have been cast out, most Kohan are volunteers, individuals who find such joy in battle that they cannot give it up. They fight for the joy of battle, flinging themselves into combat with a blood-thirsty relish that can easily dispirit an enemy. Kohan often adopt flamboyant costume and body paint, the better to unnerve their enemies. When they are not fighting they are most usually found celebrating their continued survival with that same intensity.
Groups of Kohan usually form loose bands of soldiers who live and fight together, the group serving as a surrogate for the family they have left behind. Groups of Kohan are driven by very different reasons but the traditional ones pledge their service directly to the Hakima of their tribe. They regard devoting yourself to the tribe above all other loyalties as a higher calling and see their path as a spiritual one. A “family” of Kohan is generally quite loose, and its membership fluid, although they are always of the same tribe. Kohan who cannot fight due to pregnancy or injury generally return to their birth family either until they are ready to fight again, and sometimes Kohan choose to rejoin their original family permanently.
The Alam believe their people are embodied by the elements of dust, fire and glass. The ever-changing and wind-blown dust of the plains is their flesh and the source of their wanderlust. The ferocity of fire is their burning passion for life and convivial spirit, bright and unquenchable. The purity of glass is their soul, and once broken can never again be mended. Dishonesty and wickedness shatters your soul and pieces of it are lost with each act of deception.
This fierce metaphysical belief underpins a very personal relationship with matters of faith and the spirit, one that is rarely articulated directly outside of poetry or song. While from the outside the Alam may seem impious and disrespectful, this is a misconception. The Alam have great respect for the prophets, but they have little time for the priests and religious structures that exist to mediate – or dilute - their messages. Formal religion is seen as being full of pomposity and self-importance, whereas a truly faithful person should understand the teachings of the prophets in his or her soul.
As a result Alam religious ceremonies tend to place their emphasis on celebration rather than sermons. They celebrate sacred festivals with entertainment, feasting, parties and dancing. Many families include a devout priest or spiritual family member who can be relied on to oversee these indulgences, but for the largest and most important festivities the Alam seek out the services of a Sutannir.
A cross between a professional priest and a party organizer, Sutannir conduct important ceremonies such as the coming of age or a wedding, and see to the spiritual needs of the Alam as a whole. Before the ceremony many paint their face and limbs with stylised flames in bright colours and dress in flamboyant costumes. A good Sutannir will keep his words short and evocative, knowing his audience prefer to be inspired to virtue rather than lectured. When not speaking they manage the entertainments to make sure that everyone attending is drawn into the celebrations. While it may be the festivity that the Alam remember rather than the ceremony, the best Sutannir are able to provide religious instruction and support without labouring their point.
Coal-walking, fire breathing, fire dancing and other symbolic performances that represent the Alam passion for life are always popular at Alam religious celebrations. Lone Sutannir will hire sufficient entertainers and artisans skilled at these activities to fill the night's entertainment, concentrating on managing their performances to ensure the best overall impact. Sutannir groups usually include numerous talented performers in their ranks who can cover most of the skills most commonly in demand.
Sutannir also perform funeral ceremonies. The death of a family member is never a sombre affair, because the Alam delight in the joy of life and they consider it an insult to a glorious life to mourn it's passing. As with marriages and coming of age ceremonies, funeral practices have an air of carnival about them, with the mourners turning out in brightly coloured robes. On the rare occasion when grief is appropriate (such as with the death of a child), the grieving is much shorter but just as open and intense.
The only festival the Sutannir do not perform is the Festival of Farsi. On this day, the Alam turn virtue on its head and celebrate the contrary. The festival takes place on the second day of the Autumn Equinox and starts at sunset and lasts until midnight. The proud become humble, the indulgent ascetic and generous greedy. It is a time of foolishness, pranks and trickery that begins with a symbolic chase, where seven effigies of the prophets are chased from the camp in a gleeful and chaotic parade. Everyone is encouraged to try harmless skills like juggling and music – the more terrible the performance the more it is applauded. The festival usually ends in a drunken stupor.
Magic is a source of wonder and mystery to the Alam, and it is quite common for an individual Alam to know a spell or two, which is commonly called a “knack” or “cantrip” regardless of its actual power. Those who do not devote themselves to the study of magic generally avoid written works of magic. Magic that is written down is suspicious, and superstitious individuals suggest that magical books take on a malevolent life of their own as a consequence of the power they contain. Within the Alam families, magic is passed from one individual to another directly.
Within a family there is often at least one fortune teller, an individual who has made a more serious study of magic. These individuals accept a responsibility for teaching relatives who are interested in learning a few magical knacks, and use their magic to help their family and harm their enemies as well as try to scry the vagaries of fortune and fate. These magicians tend to be practical, and often combine their study of magic with crafting or medicinal lore.
The more powerful and organised magicians in Alam society, the Hakima, view fortune tellers as unsophisticated dabblers at best, and ignorant meddlers at worst. Hakima are organized along tribal lines, drawing members from the most skilled and promising individuals from every family that is part of that tribe. The Hakima are highly skilled practitioners of ritual magic - custodians of magical lore handed down to them by the founder of their tribe. The Hakima are dedicated to preserving not only their own tribe, but the integrity of the Alam Nation as a whole.
Hearth Magic and the Egregore
Mouraka, The Patchwork Man – a being who appears in a number of forms but who always wears a brightly-coloured patchwork robe. He is a walking amalgam of their burning passions, all booming laughter, terrible anger and wild ostentation. Among friends he is the heart and soul of the party, but to enemies he is the furious dervish. He’s big-bellied, and his voice booms with laughter.
Icons and Images
The Alam have a love of bright, vibrant colours. They especially value the colours of flames, strong bright yellows, brilliant oranges and every conceivable shade of red as well as gold and silver. Black is considered severe and only generally used for shrouds to hide the faces of the dead and white is the colour of the poor, of those too impoverished to afford exotic dyes. Clothes are usually worn loose with layers of hanging material. Veils are a fashion accessory worn by men and women at festivals and ceremonies to make them appear more mysterious and alluring.
The image of the flame is central to the Alam culture, they believe it represents their spirit; wild, powerful and unchained. Expensive clothing is made in brightly coloured layers to convey the impression of the fire within. Stylised flames are often found on banners and flags and Alam art often includes a fire or flame in the image.
Leather is considered unappealing to most Alam, a dull heavy material they reserve for boots or armour, so they strongly prefer sashes to belts. A scabbard or a pouch is hung at the waist by a silk cord that goes over the shoulder.
The Alam admire ornate or bejewelled items. To the Alam, a brilliant craftsman is one who can make something elegant as well as sturdy. Their weapons and armour are often engraved or adorned, but they are not fatuous, and do not compromise utility for the sake of appearance. Jewellery is very common with the best pieces, like necklaces, crowns or tiaras, designed to frame the wearers hands or face.
This love of the ornate extends to their writing as well; Alam prize artful calligraphy and ornate seals. A beautifully presented children’s book is treasured more than a dry treatise on magic or history, no matter how useful he latter might be. Given that many families keep their most lucrative or successful contracts as trophies of their economic acumen, a contract may be a literal work of art, presented with the same pride that members of another nation might present a coat of arms or family tree.
Lineage and Species Attitudes
The Cambion have a special place in Alam society, a tradition that dates back to the murky prehistory of the Alam. According to legend a particularly clever Cambion (whose origin is usually tied to the teller in some way) convinced the founders to sign a cleverly worded trade agreement. This binding oath is allegedly what has kept the Alam together as a people and prevented the tribes from splitting up during their wanderings.
This story has created a superstition that the blood of a Cambion (usually a thumb print) upon a document of trade will bring good fortune to the signatories. As a result Alam Cambion often study to become scriveners.
The calm nature of the Merrow is at odds with the fiery Alam way of life. Merrow rarely find themselves comfortable in Alam society and there are few to be found. Many Alam parents of a Merrow child will take that child across the border to Catazarria, where the child will find a better life. There is no shame in this, the Alam recognize that a Merrow will struggle to find a life in the tribes and encourage the parents to make a decision that is seen as being in the best interests of the child.
The land of the Alam is wealthy in spices, precious stones and silks. The people enjoy strong trade links with foreign nations, allowing them to bring luxuries and commodities to all the people of the Empire (for a price of course!). Textiles, wines and ales from far-off places are prized treasures, but wood is a thing of beauty to the natives of the Alam. They are a people of rolling plains, dusty steppes and dry savannah almost entirely devoid of large areas of forest. Early in the history of the Alam they cut down most of their hardwood to build ships and settlements, and the trees that remain are more suited for burning than building. The Alam look jealously at the ancient trees of the Navarr, and occasionally lobby to be allowed to log these areas to produce building materials. Since fine quality wood is a valuable commodity, there is little furniture in an Alam household and dwellings tend to be piled high with rugs, cushions and furs.
The towns of the Alam are sprawling, disorganised affairs almost inevitably built around a bustling bazaar. Everything from steel to spices changes hands in these trading hubs and they are festooned with brightly coloured fabrics, gaudily painted signs and exotic wares. Contracts of trade, seals of endorsement and bonds of marque are proudly displayed by vendors who hawk their goods to the people who fill the plazas and streets at all hours. In and around these cosmopolitan bazaars, the wealthiest families maintain sprawling estates. Often plain from the outside, Alam structures are alive with ostentation within and lined with ornate tapestries and finery. The most influential Alam thread their homes with running water and glittering fountains, sculptures and artefacts crafted from precious materials, beautiful rugs, carpets and hangings, the scents of incense and the sound of music. It is important that a home be beautiful, as well as secure, “Your home,” as one ancient poet put it, “should be a comfort to your body, and a balm to your soul.”
Madruga of the Jewelled Isles is the easternmost territory of Alam, running from the Kahraman mountains down to the Bay of Catazar. Down the coast of Madruga and Feroz the corsairs and merchantmen raise their sails, running goods to Basilikon and Sarvos, trading with foreign powers, and fighting off barbarian incursions. Joharra, the Jewel, the City of a Thousand Sails, is acknowledged as the pre-eminent city in Alam. It lies in Madruga close by the border with Feroz. Brightly-coloured tent-shanties extend Joharra out far beyond the small cluster of stone buildings that make up the heart of the city. Sails of all shapes and sizes fill the sheltered bay, which is guarded by a series of iron woven nets and chains bought at great expense from the forges of the Njordir.
Feroz is the southernmost territory of Alam, and like Madruga has both isles and coastline. Here the climate is warm and humid, perfect for the cultivation of different plants. This is the home of the fabled spice-gardens of Feroz, the source of much of the wealth of the Alam. But the seas are more treacherous here, and to the south and the west the barbarians constantly threaten by land. As a result many armed merchantmen patrol the seas, and groups of young warriors journey along the borders and into lost Segura, fighting skirmishes with the ever-encroaching foes.
The mountains of Kahraman rise from the great grasslands of Soroche to the south and the forest of Mourne, on the Marches' border, to the north. It's a treacherous land of broken rock and barren mountainside. Fast-flowing streams spill down deep jagged-edged valleys. There's precious little in the way of vegetation, only scrub that clings to the slopes. However, there are riches in the mountains; here the Alam find precious metals and minerals, often as sediment lying in the streambeds. Scattered settlements shelter in the valleys, with the remains of stone fortresses and watchtowers decaying on the heights above, remnants from the days before Empire when the Alam warred with the Marches.
To the south of the mountains of Kahraman lie sweeping grass plains, a seemingly desolate landscape dotted with strange rock formations shaped by the wind. Here the Alam graze the bulk of their herds of goats and sheep. The wind from the west, the Delés, is constant and bitingly cold at night. As a result, for shelter, Alam communities settle in bowl-shaped depressions cut from the earth, their tents sunk below the plains surface.
Segura was once a centre of trade for the Alam. Like southern Kahraman, it is a land of rolling grass plains where herds once grazed; however, on the south-western border stood the town of Anduz, a settlement built on the ruins of a much older city. In Anduz, the Alam rubbed shoulders with foreigners of three other nations, and there they acted as a trade gateway for the Empire. Unfortunately only twenty years ago a great force of barbarians moved in from the west and took Anduz, scattering the foreigners and the Alam and burning much of the grassland. Now Segura is a battleground; every year the Alam will try to reclaim ground and be fought back.
Things Every Child Should Know
- "A little lie makes a lot of strife." If you tell a lie, you lose a little bit of your soul. Be truthful to yourself and to others.
- "Your family is your greatest treasure." Family is the most important thing there is. Always be there to help your family and they will be there to help you.
- "Words are fine jewels to be picked up and shown off." Tell stories and find stories, and if you hear an interesting tale or rumour, make sure you tell it to your family.
- "Each small thing is worth a Ring." Never do anything for free, unless it's for your family. You need not be paid in coin -- people often have more interesting things to trade.
- "Only sell your own goat." You must never trade something which isn't yours.