Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Few Notes about Cumana

The following was written for my Online Campaign, to add to this post regarding a region called Cumana. I wrote the below without first reading the linked post ... which was two years ago ... so the gentle reader my judge how consistent my world is inside my head by comparing the two descriptions. [bonus points to whomever can guess which information I deleted from the original post because it did not match up with something I decided today - writing is editing]. I pretty much concocted this off the top of my head this morning:

The orange on the left is Zaporozhia; the brown on the
right are the lands of the Don Cossacks; the olive green in the
center is Cumana.  The little bit of olive green at the bottom
left is also a part of Cumana.

The Don River is the large river that flows down through Voronezh, off map,
then again entering and flowing through the Don Cossack lands.
The Sea of Azov is at the bottom left.  The fair sized river

flowing through Cumana is the Donets.

The bright green in the upper left is Poland; the pink is all Russia; the bit of
yellow at the bottom is the Ottoman Empire.

Cumana is one of three buffer states between Russia-Poland and the Ottoman Empire: Cumana, Zaporozhia and the Don Cossacks. Zaporozhia is like something out of a Conan novel; the people are human and extremely nomadic. Although there are "cities" in that territory, these are almost wholly tent cities with a continuously changing population, as clans come in, rest or trade for a few months, only to move outwards again to be replaced by other clans. So there's always a collection of persons and tents there, but the actual persons changes seasonally. There are almost NO permanent structures, not even a palace - the only ones would be scattered churches, mostly of foreigners. The Zaporozhians are principally animistic. They also tend to be 'mad' by European standards. They're violent, prone to clan in-fighting and revenge loops, extremely traditional in outlook and proud. Families are large and xenophobic in the extreme. Marriage outside the clan is done for political reasons, and then very rarely.

The Don Cossacks tend to be mercenary in habit. There are only villages in the Don lands and these are almost wholly inhabited by women and children. The men do not live with the women 9 to 10 months of the year, preferring to raid in every direction. Rangers are highly prevalent among the population and the Cossacks are extraordinary raiders and horseriders. They attack and disappear, attack and disappear, and since they have no 'base' of operations, the entire land could be put under military law and STILL they would function unchanged. The main difference would be that they would descend upon someone else's village and rape those women, as opposed to returning home once or twice a year to rape their wives.

Thus, everyone pays them off, and tries to pay a little bit more than their enemies. The Russians encourage them to attack the Ottomans or the orcs of Digoria, the Ottomans encourage them to attack the orcs of the Jagatai Empire, the Digorians encourage them to attack the Astrakhan Pirates, who encourage them to attack the Cumans and so on. The Don lands consist of dry, very poor soil, cold and windy much of the year and generally of no economic interest to anyone.

These two states, then, with Cumana, form a buffer between Russia, the Jagatai Empire (that reaches all the way to the modern Chinese border) and the Ottoman Empire. Together, they are a formidable power; all three recognize that the fall of any one of them guarantees the fall of all three. None are the kind that will bargain with their enemies, therefore ... and they often break treaties. They survive on account of two reasons:

1) The Ottoman Empire is huge, and the Turk army has many, many enemies. They can't afford to move a significant army into the area to destroy any of these three states because they must keep that army elsewhere, to defend lands that are far more valuable than the steppe occupied by Zaporozhia, Cumana and the Don Cossacks.

2) Russia and Poland are ALWAYS fighting. If they could settle their differences, then Russia might have the will and the power to move and consolidate its southern border. After all, its being raided by three peoples and keeping them all under treaty at the same time is impossible. But any sign of weakness by Russia on the Polish border and Poland rushes to take advantage. There are intricacies there, but I'll save on the writing.

Poland and Russia made peace about three years ago ... but both are in an 'arms race,' and the war could start again at any moment. Russia would like to seize Polissya and Smolensk; Poland would like to seize Bryansk and Kursk. And so it goes.

This I added in reference to a question about the player character's religion:
There are few Catholics in Itoskhan or Cumana, perhaps 2% of the population; about 3% are Russian Orthodox, 5% are Greek Orthodox, 7% are Moslem. 1% would be Jewish. The remaining 78% of the population is a mixture of paganism (polytheistic Uighur/Mongol gods), Arianism (Gnostics) and animism (mysticism). Numbers for these are not available ... the majority is really a mix of all three.

And this because the player asked about the six other tribes in Cumana:

The Zolozi are the wealthy, powerful tribe who dominate the huge city of Mutrakan. Remember that while the Zaporozhians live in tent cities, the Cumans do not; they are the most civilized of the three kingdoms above, and it is the Zolozi 'Fatherhood' that has chosen to embrace trade and civilization in a distinctly oriental manner that has produced Cumana. There are hundreds and hundreds of shrines in Mutrakan (a city of more than 50,000 people), where people are very religious, but these shrines do not depend upon the 'priest class' that exists in Western/Aryan culture. Like Buddhist Lamas, the most devout people are those who dedicate their lives to the acknowledgement of the gods, but they do not 'lead' others; religion is a daily, common experience, where each individual gives what respect they wish without the manufacture of western guilt.

The Zolozi are the most religious, educated, worldly tribe, who produce the kings of Cumana, but this tribe also treats all others within the Kingdom like a father to a his sons - disciplining as necessary, maintaining order, but also providing food and support in times of trouble. Many a time in Andrej's youth would there arrive, in a year of drought (and there are many such years in this country) a caravan full of food given by the Zolozi that kept the villages alive for the season.

The Dworka tribe are half-orc dwarves, whose pure-blood dwarf forefathers occupied lands along the edges of Altslok and Croft (in eastern Kazakhstan), and who migrated with the Cumans in the 11th century, who over a period of seven generations (the number is traditional) were given orc brides as tribute in exchange for weapons and armor that the dwarves provided. These orc brides were chosen by the dwarves, who it is said 'smoothed them of features unbecoming to the Dwarf eye' by magic. Now the Dworka, or Dworkin as they are sometimes called, occupy the hill country along the Donets River in the Donbass, where they keep to themselves, continue to mine and manufacture, and protect Cumana from the Don Cossacks and the Eastern steppes.

The Bonyaki tribe are farmers who dwell upon the river banks south of Mutrakan, who have very little imagination or interest in the world. They are "the back upon which the weight is borne," so is the traditional pride of that people. They are resentful of interlopers "who dare to treat the land as only dirt for their tramping feet"... but can be generous to travellers who are respectful of their ways. In general they are quite poor, suffering more than most from periods of drought, but nevertheless forming the strongest piller in the strength of the kingdom, both in physical manpower and food production.

The Torkastra occupy the lands nearest the Sea of Azov and the valley of the Don where it debouches into the sea. They are fishermen and teamsters, as well as smugglers who operate between Cumana and the Ottoman Empire. On the whole, they are not highly respected in Cumana, but are nevertheless closely protected by the Zolozi, who of course have great use for a people with less 'character' than the Bonyaki. The Bonyaki and Torkastra are the most likely tribes to have differences, which is in no small way affected by the passage of Torkastrans through Bonyaki lands on their way to Mutrakan, they're habit of treating all Bonyaki as 'mud-snuffling pigs' and so on.

The Torkastra possess the largest number of Moslems, having interbred more with the Turks than any other tribe in the Kingdom, so that some Torkastrans are less than 10% Cuman (orc). It should be remember that the Cuman tribe were originally ALL orcs, but five centuries of dwelling in the midst of human peoples has largely reduced the pure orc blood, thus producing the half-orc kingdom. The Bonyaki are the purest strain; the Torkastra the most human.

The Gurdut live mostly in two groups, within the centers of Mutrakan and in Itoskhan. They do not have 'lands' of their own, though there are small hamlets of no name that are scattered throughout northern Cumana and Zaporozhian lands. The Gurdut are servants, mostly, who perform the lowest labor and who have the least amount of prestige in the kingdom. Gurdut children are often gathered at six-year intervals (paid as tribute by Gurdut families) and either sold abroad or occasionally made into eunichs for the Court. This is not seen as unusual, and indeed the Gurdut consider themselves to be highly blessed if the king should desire one of their children for this honor. It is said that the Gurdut "give in this world to receive in the cherished lands" ... which is a mystic belief in an Asian version of the 'happy hunting ground' that all Mongols dream of. The more a Gurdut gives in this life, the more it is said a Gurdut gains in the life hereafter - and giving a child offers great promise.

Finally, the Sharukan, who dwell in the city of Sumi, a tiny enclave joined to Cumana in the furthest north. The Sharukan are a small, very close tribe, who are scholars, interpreters, diplomats and teachers. In many ways they are the least religious, but the most talented of magicians in the kingdom. They see the kingdom as "Seven sticks that make a club," and are variously given to motivate the king to use the club in the wisest manner possible.

Despite their apparent superiority, the Sharukan behave in the most humble manner possible. They believe themselves to be the "least valuable of the tribes," are modest in dress and appearance, are generous, are more likely to seek peace of any of the tribes (including the Zolozi) and believe that retribution "Is the flood that destroys land and people alike." It is said that a Sharukan will never speak first when seated at a table ... and there is a myth that says of one Sharukan Hetman, Syrchan by name, "He waited so patiently for all his ministers to speak of all that required attention, that he did not interrupt for three nights and three days, and that on the fourth day when his opinion was at last sought, it was discovered that he had died."

These peoples are those who occupy the small enclave of Itossia, southwest of the main Kingdom of Cumana. The mass of the population is newly settled, having come only three generations ago. The Yetabeshi are a remnant of a people called the Nogai Horde, who until the 1570s dominated regions north and east of the Caspian Sea called Buzachistan and Mugodstan. The Nogai were Mongol and Turkic, who were part of Genghis Khan's Golden Horde, meaning they were half orc (Turks are human, Mongols are orcs) ... but the Kalmyks who supplanted them were pure-blood orcs.

Many of the Nogai peoples were scattered from the Dnestr River to Kubanistan, destroyed by Orcs and Ottomans, Poles, Russians and even Transylvanians ... but the tribe called Yetabeshi made peace with the Zaporozhians and settled in the valleys of the Vesele and Molochna rivers, greatly expanding the tiny villages of Itoskhan and Vesoi that had been founded in 1342 and 1265. Today, 90% of the residents are of Nogai descent, but there are notable minorities of Catholics, Jews and Greek Orthodox, remnants from the settlement of Greeks in the area 23 centuries ago and Roman Christians 15 centuries ago. Some Mediterranean features are distinctive in the human population of Itossia (shape of the nose bridge and hair), but there has not been time for these features to transfer into the Yetabeshi half-orc tribe.

Therefore, technically, the Yetabeshi are not Cuman in heritage, not even from the times when Cuman and Mongol tribes occupied separate parts of the far Eurasian steppe. There is, however, a communal feeling of welcome that exists in Cumana for the Itossia region - so that each of the other six tribes individually identify the Yetabeshi as lost brothers rather than unwanted interlopers.

The Yetabeshi themselves are herders, ranchers, leather workers and wool gatherers, with handicraft industries of little trading importance - but locally self-sustaining. As a people they are proud, self-directed and highly communal, as well as possessing an optomistic outlook and materialistic certainty of fate. "The world will make room," is a typical Yetabeshi saying.


  1. Goddammit your campaign is so cool. Enjoy your sabbatical, sir.

  2. If you made this campaign setting into a book, I would buy it.

  3. Me too.

    How about the Yetabeshi?


  4. Thanks Alexis, I really enjoyed getting to read all of this.

  5. Out of curiosity Alexis, what mapping program do you use?

  6. I draw them in the manner demonstrated by this video:

    Building Garalzapan's Land

    The video is about creating greater detail out of existing maps, but the original maps you see in the video are all created by hand in the same way as I do in the video.

  7. While it may be a bit gauche to wave the 'more content please' placard right before your break; the information on your Youtube channel is wonderful, and I enjoyed the video blogs too.

    However, to the meat of the comment. After watching your three mapping videos (I am including the economy video in the group as it is very closely tied), I set about working out a few rough drafts for how I would like to set things up for myself. And with a lot of video pauses and referencing the Wiki I have a format that I think is serviceable, for now. And I set about creating a construct for mapping in Publisher.

    To those that have ever just shrugged idly and thought 'that is neat' when observing a map on this site I have but one thing to say; Fall to your knees and weep at the beauty and artistry! After tinkering with this off and on for the bulk of the weekend I have managed to chart out a small section of coast line accounting for less than 1/16th the smallest nation I am wanting to map. And bear in mind that approximately 2/3rds of the page is open ocean.

    Alexis you do not do yourself justice for the labor you put into these things. Well to be fair, you mention these words in passing, however, it was not until actually trying to replicate it that I understand a fraction of the task you have done. And this is with a cobbling together of a turn key style of replication too.

    So all I can say is emphatically; Wow!


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