The Peoples of the Dune Sea

Posted in Uncategorized on April 7, 2012 by cuttydarke
When I first had the idea of the Dune Sea it had a feeling something like nostalgia to it.  I don't normally do nostalgia but this was the good kind.  It reminded me of some of the few good things I remember from childhood.  I thought about reading the Voyages of Sinbad from 101 Arabian night.  It was one of my favourite books.  I remembered a reading excersise I had to do at school where I read about the Pygmies who live in some of the deepest jungles of Africa and how they crossed dangerous rivers by climbing a tall tree, tying a home-made rope round their waist and leaping for a tree on the other side.  I remembered all the things I'd read about the vikings and the celts and how they weren't the barbarians that the might at first seem.

I wanted to make the players re-think the player races.  I also don't believe in Evil races, or even Evil Gods.  There are Evil individuals in the Dune Sea but they get no free pass from the GM.  I also wanted to simulate different cultural groups as well as races.

There's much more detail to come but here I give you the quick and dirty guide to the Races and Cultures of the Dune Sea.

City Folk.

These are the default humans of the Dune Sea area.  They don’t all live in the cities but they owe allegiance to them.  They farm for the city or fish for it or ply the slow river barges that carry the heavy cargo.  They are at home in all the cities but have no natural survival skills outside the fertile lands.

They come in all the regular shapes and sizes that you’d expect and are the most diverse of all the peoples of the dune sea .  Most of the City Folk have olive or tanned skin, brown or gray eyes and brown or black hair but some have much darker skin.  There are a few with fair skin and blue or green eyes and lighter hair but this usually means Norn ancestry.


Speaking of the Norn – they might look like Elves but they act more like Celts or Vikings.  They tend to be a little taller than the city folk and have longer limbs, fairer skin and a lighter overall colouring.  Norn come from the lands to the north.  They are travellers who came in long ships and created a city on the coast called Bjornwen.  

Norn make great warriors, they tend to favour the long bow, the spear and the sword and shield.  They love highly decorated armour and will spend ages polishing it.  In battle they are prone to a kind of rage that can make them cast aside much of their clothing and charge into combat with no thought of safety.  

Norn culture has a powerful streak of nature worship running through it.  Norn Clerics, or Skalds usually have access to weather based spells.  There are many Norn Druids who can sometimes transform into animals unknown in the Dune Sea area.

Norn like elaborate hairdos, long moustaches, epic sagas that take a week to tell, and hanging out with Dwerg artisans.


Ah the Dwerg.  Shorter and broader than the City Folk.  They tend to be long in the body and short in the leg.  The Dwerg are the hairiest of the Dune Sea races unless they are in mourning.  All Dwerg have thick hair and side whiskers the males have full beards and moustaches and body hair.  

The Dwerg are built for the cold, even more than the Norn and therefore are not that common in the lowland cities.  They are a race of artisans, mages and miners.  The Dwerg love all metals and are the greatest metal workers in all the world.  Dwerg mages are common and they are nearly all Fire Mages.  To a Dwerg metalsmith a Fire Mage is the ultimate portable forge and the Dwerg have developed a lot of specialist magic.

Dwerg Warriors tend to go for heavy armour and axes or warhammers for close combat and elaborate cross bows for ranged.  Dwerg clerics are usually followers of Bez the Smith God and thus carry warhammers and have fire and earth magics as well as healing abilities.

The Dwerg do not have the mountains to themselves.  The high mountain passes are home to the Gurpas.


The humans who live in the mountains.  Though clearly the same race as the people of the cities the Gurpas have a very different culture.  

Gurpas are very sought after as sky ship crew because they live so high up that they are resistant to altitude sickness.  Though they tend to be shorter than the city folk and often look quite delicate they have a tremendous capacity to carry heavy weights long distances on foot.  There are no roads in the mountains and the winds mean that sky ships are often impractical so everything has to be carried by humans or domesticated animals and there’s not a lot of grazing land for animals.  

The Gurpas have a single city, Skyfell, carved into the side of a mountain.  There are villages all through the mountains wherever there is enough flat land to graze animals or cut into terraces for paddy fields.  The Gurpa and the Dwerg often work together to build the paddy fields and the irrigation for them and the Gurpa produce most of the food consumed in the Dwerg city of Scarcrag.

The Mountains are also home to an order of Monks who worship the Monkey God Tekli which may explain why Gurpa Clerics favour unarmed combat along with healing and wind spells.  Gurpa Warriors tend to wear light armour over many layers of cloth and are fond of paired blades.  Shield use is rare.  Gurpas are too short to use longbows and usually use either Heavy Dwerg made crossbows or their own short, recurved bows.

There must be something in all that clean mountain air because the Gurpas produce a lot of mages.  It’s traditional to travel and seek out many masters to learn from so Gurpa mages are common all over the Dune Sea which makes them almost as widely traveled as the Pygmies.


The Pygmies are the smallest of the Dune Sea peoples. Usually no taller than 4’2”. They have the darkest colouring with curly black hair, dark brown eyes and skin ranging from deep brown to bluish black.

They look delicate and other races sometimes have a hard time fighting them because they can resemble children but they are actually sturdier than many humans.  They are particularly resistant to poisoning and it is well known that you can’t out drink a Pygmy.  Pygmies are also very hard to hit.  They are agile and quick and seem to shrug off damage that would floor a larger human.  They even seem to be able to dodge injury from crushing and falling which should be impossible.  Maybe it’s because they get so much practice.

The Pygmies come from the jungles to the south of the desert and are relatively rare in the Dune Sea area. In their homeland they have built a surprisingly large civilisation in the midst of the the deepest jungle by manipulating and understanding plant growth.

The Pygmy civilisation trades fruit and timber with the cities of the Alliance and some Pygmies travel north on the merchant sky ships. They are curious by nature and brave to the point of foolhardiness. They do not fear death, only cowardice and boredom. An extremely bored Pygmy will build a basic sky ship out of just about anything simply to get to somewhere new.

In their home cities the Pygmies live in tree houses and this may explain why they seem to have no fear of heights. This trait combined with a natural ability with ropes makes them sought after Sky Sailors.

The Traditional Pygmy method of bridge building is to tie a rope around one’s waist. Climb up a tall tree and leap across the gap to be bridged into a smaller tree. Then tie off the rope and one’s friends will follow.  And that’s a pretty good example of how they think.

The preferred weapon of a Pygmy is the biggest one he or she can carry. The preferred tactic of a Pygmy is to charge at the enemy screaming. They are natural barbarians warriors.  Pygmy Clerics, Druids and Mages have the same attitude to spells as the warriors do to weapons.  The bigger, the louder the messier the better.  Most Pygmy healing comes in the form of potions, rather than spells and Pygmy Alchemists and Apothecaries are surprisingly popular.

Pygmies don’t really do armour.  They often don’t do clothes.  In their homeland they never wear more than a strip of cloth to stop their tender parts catching on things but things are a little different around the Dune Sea.  It doesn’t take much sand in the loincloth for a Pygmy to decide that the Sarouin might have a point.

Sarouin and Sand Walkers.

The Sarouin and the Sand Walkers are two races that form one tightly knit cultural group.  The Sarouin are humans, the Sand Walkers less so.

Sarouin in the old tongue of the Dune sea means ‘Dweller in the dry’.  They seem to be descendants of the people who farmed the Dune Sea before the coming of the great dry.

It is not known when the Sarouin rule of modesty first appeared. Perhaps it evolved out of the need to protect themselves from the sun and the wind and the sand. Wherever it came from it is now one of the few hard and fast rules of Sarouin society. The humanoid form is not for public display. The very least a Sarouin will wear outside their tent is a full length robe and a turban. Many Sarouin of both genders also cover at least part of their face with a scarf or veil.

It’s hard to tell what the Sarouin look like because they are always covered in layers of cloth. Ethnic Sarouin are said to have coffee coloured skin, brown or black hair and brown or grey eyes. However the Creeping city has become a safe refuge for anyone who wants to escape from the rule of Seth. The Sarouin accept anyone as long as they can follow the rule of modesty.

The Sand Walkers are the largest of the humanoid races. They are tall and heavy set with an average height well above 6 feet. True Sandwalkers have no hair but many of them have some human, or more rarely Dwerg or Norn ancestry. Their skin is thick and sand coloured and tends to be dry. Some say the Sand Walkers are scaly but actually they are just martyrs to eczema.

Of course it’s quite hard to tell what the Sand Walkers look like these days. Since they threw their lot in with the Sarouin they have taken to wearing the same robes.  This leads to a certain amount of suspicion and mistrust from the city folk.  They call both the Sarouin and the Sand Walkers ‘Sandies’ and discriminate against both groups.  

The Origin of the Sand Walkers is lost in the mists of time.  It is said that their ancestors built a great civilisation in the heart of the desert before the Great Dry.  There are certainly ruins amid the dunes.  The stories tell that the last and greatest of the Sand Walker cities, Irem of the Pillars, is still out there waiting to be found and plundered.  The Sand Walkers themselves claim to know little of their own history.

Sand Walkers are hugely strong and resistant to damage and make great warriors.  Sarouin Warriors are also common.  Both tend to rely on loose robes worn over armour and curved blades paired with small shields.  They use bows and slings and occasionally javelins for ranged combat.

The Sarouin have only one word for a magic user – Mystic – and they apply it to Druids, Mages and Clerics.  Any Mystic will have access to spells that create fresh water and food.  It’s a tough life in the desert.  

All Sarouin have wilderness survival skills and make great guides.  The Sand Walkers can also survive well in the desert but that’s down to genetics rather than skill and they are not so good at keeping humans alive.  It’s important to remember that a Human from the cities or the mountains would be lucky to survive a single day in the desert but the Sarouin have built a city there, even if it is always on the move.


Map of the Dune Sea mark one

Posted in Uncategorized on April 7, 2012 by cuttydarke
I’ve done my best but I’m not sure how clear it is. I’ll post more details soon.


Sent from my iPad

Sky Pirates – What to post next.

Posted in Uncategorized on April 6, 2012 by cuttydarke
So I'm new to this whole thing.  I have loads of stuff already written about the Dune Sea, the people the Gods, the cities, the history and lots of lovely flavour.   But I don't know what to post next.  So I'm throwing this open to anyone who reads this.  What do I tell you about next?

Comment here, or on Facebook if you've followed the link from there, or via Twitter if you've followed the link from there or vial Google+ if you've come from there.

Some questions to think about:

Do you want a map now, even if it's amateurish?
Do you want to know about the Gods now – the gods play an important part in how the various factions interact.
Do you want to know about the races and cultural groups now?
Do you want to know about the factions and groups?
Do you want to know about the cities?
Do you just want me to write something entertaining about sky pirates?

Do you have any questions or suggestions?

Why am I only three quarters of a writer?

Posted in Uncategorized on April 3, 2012 by cuttydarke
I can write.  I swear I can.  

I can wrangle inspiration with the best of them.  I know a good idea when it goes flitting across the back of my eyeballs.  I can pin that bastard down and do something useful with it.  I know when to tend an idea and let it grow, I know when to pretend to ignore it so it has space to expand and I know when to sit by it and poke it with the stick o' doom until it does its little dance.  People who don't write think this is the hard part.  That's why they ask writers where they get their ideas.  People who do write know that while it's not easy there are plenty of ticks to it and all it really takes is patience and attention.

When it comes to the intellectual bit I can do that too.  I can combine my ideas into a structure.  I can write a plan and follow it or I can do it on the fly.  It's not my strongest suit but I'm ok at it.  At least I think I am.  Perhaps this is the real origin of my weakness.

The heavy lifting of writing is the bit I used to think was hard.   Now I know that it's easy.  It's just a matter of priorities.  Once you set aside the time and say to yourself 'during this time my number one priority is putting the words down and I don't care how ugly and stupid they are I'm just going to write' then you find that the word count grows and you surprise yourself with where it ends up going.  I say 'you' but what I mean is 'I'.  I surprise myself.  

The problem is that my success at stage three seems to have come at the cost of utter paralysis at stage 4.  The critical stage.  A book isn't so much built up as carved out.  The first draft is a big dumb hunk of rock that might have a masterpiece hiding in it.  Or it might not.  You don't know until you pare away the crap.  If there's any good stuff at all under all that crap you might have an actual book.  

But when I look at my various hunks of rock I am stumped.  I can't tell the good from the bad and everything I change seems to make it worse and the more I look at the bits I think are good the worse they look.  When I show them to other people the things they say just confuse me more.

I know that part of it is a chronic and deep seated fear of rejection.  Which is ridiculous.  I've been rejected so often, in so many ways and by so many people in my life that I ought to be used to it now.  I should be immune to it it but it's still there, poisoning my perceptions.  The fear keeps me from finishing things because if they're not finished I don't have to show them to anyone.

But that's not the only problem.  If it was just fear of rejection I'd never post anything anywhere.  There's the fear of failure, which is part of the fear of rejection but there's also the fear of success.  Once you've succeeded what then?  You have to do it again.  What if you can't?  What if you left people down?  But I don't think that's all of it. It's like there's something missing from my critical faculty.  Like I've forgotten how to tell the difference between good and bad.  I don't mean good and evil.  I mean entertaining and hackneyed. I mean concise and long-winded.  I mean the difference between something worth reading and the same old bullshit.

So what is the problem?  Why do I freeze whenever I look at something I've written and try to improve it?  I'm sure I used to be able to edit.  That used to be the bit I thought I was good at.  I used to think the hard bit was the actual hard slog of getting the words down but once they were out I could fix them.  Now that I can get them out I don't know what to do with them.

Sorry there are no answers here.  If there's anyone reading this who has any advice feel free to comment but I may well ignore any advice.

Flight Crystals, Magic Items and Sky ships.

Posted in Uncategorized on April 2, 2012 by cuttydarke

A Sky Pirate Captain speaks.

Posted in Uncategorized on April 1, 2012 by cuttydarke
"Siblings of the Skies, listen to me. When Bassin Berrode led the freeing of the cities and the overthrow of the corrupt tyrannical Sultans, from the deck of his ship The Liberator, he did not do it entirely out of greed or thirst for power but because he knew it to be right. He united the disparate rebels and bandits and gave them one name and one code: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity! Out of them, our ancestors, was born the great age of sky piracy and trade. The Dune Sea became wealthy and that wealth was not limited to just the few but shared among all people.

"Now a new Tyranny is upon us, the Sethites and their white robed servants. Yet we shame our ancestors; we all but cower in our hidden city creeping forth only to seize a few weak merchants while the tyrants grow fat in their temples off the suffering of all the people of the Dune Sea. Well no more. My Crew and I will lift the ancient and worn hulk of our fellowship skyward once more. We will show you the way; we shall again flock like the sparrows of the desert, harrowing the Sethites and forcing them out of our skys. They shall learn to cower in their temples as we free the Dune Sea from their yoke. Tyranny shall once more learn to fear the coming of… The Liberator!"

~ Jet Berrode at the launch of the sky ship Liberator. 

Thanks to Niles Calder for this.

A Short History of Sky Piracy Around the Dune Sea.

Posted in Uncategorized on April 1, 2012 by cuttydarke
Once upon a time there was a group of mighty city states set around a great desert.   The cities made wars and alliances and treaties against each other as each sought to dominate all.   The cities could not afford large armies and so they fought in the skies and their greatest champions were the Pirates.   They became more than Pirates. They were Privateers and they raided and stole and plundered in the name of their patron city.   In all the cities every child secretly wanted to grow up to be a Pirate.

But it couldn’t last.   Eventually the cities made peace and then trade and eventually an alliance of equals.   They had no need of Privateers so they went back to being Pirates and being a drain upon the economy.   The cities could still not afford large armies so they recruited a band of mighty champions, many of them former Privateers, to defend the cities and the trade between them.   Most of the Pirates went out of business.   Some of them turned to smuggling till the cities changed the tax laws.   Now most things were taxed but not by much and there was no profit in smuggling.

Only the most ruthless and sneaky of the Pirates stayed in business.   They were hunted everywhere and an enemy to all.   They were murderers and thieves and no-one wanted to be one when they grew up.

For a while everything was grand for everyone except the Pirates but dark secrets lurked beneath the sands of the Dune Sea.   There were earthquakes and no-one knew why.   Then there were reports of abandoned villages and empty tents and then the news of the black pyramids reached the rulers of the great alliance.  

Black pyramids had risen up from the desert sands and from them sallied forth undead legions led by ancient pharaohs and powered by unknown magics.   The Brotherhood of Champions fought bravely and every priest and monk and paladin in the cities joined them but they could not drive the hoards back.   Eventually the council of rulers called on the Brotherhood to try something different.   They sent forth a small band of the very best to delve into the secret heart of the largest black pyramid.   The wise men hypothesised that a great lich-king might hide within.

The small band of heroes were successful and some of them even survived but they were broken men.   Only one, a priest of Seth, seemed untouched by the horrors he had seen but in the years since there have been rumours that he yet harbours a darker secret.  

In gratitude the Council of rulers made him Bishop to the council and under his watchful eye the Council grew together.   They had started out each representing his or her own city but they became representatives of the alliance.   The Alliance became greater than the cities and the Council came to rely more and more on the Bishop for spiritual guidance.

Seth became the most fashionable of the Gods and soon people found that it was hard to get on in society if you didn’t pay at least lip service to Seth.   The temples of the other Gods could not compete for donations and began to look threadbare and eventually to fall into disrepair.

Over the years the rulers on the council came and went.   Young men were chosen to replace them and grew old and grey and died in the service of the Council all under the watchful eye of the Bishop.   And the Bishop never seemed to get any older.   Just thinner and paler and ever more gaunt.   Officially it is a gift from his God and proof of Seth’s munificence but some have their doubts.

These are dark times.   Once people gave their money to the temple of Seth by choice now there is a compulsory tithe and many luxury goods are heavily taxed.   Following other Gods is not actually illegal but it draws suspicion and is looked on like a social disease.   If you want to succeed then you keep your beliefs to yourself and go to watch the sacrifice with everybody else.

Between the tithes and the taxes the poor are poorer than they ever used to be but the rich seem no worse off.   Lawlessness and political discontent are rife in the dusty rookeries of the big cities.   The taxes have brought the smugglers back and the poor and the merchant class welcome them in these expensive times.   The Brotherhood of Champions are not the august body they once were.   There seems to be little money to pay them, they can’t recruit from other faiths and they are often called upon to follow orders that go against their principals.   In recent years many have retired, died or disappeared and there have been few new recruits.

With the Brotherhood weakened much of the job of day to day law enforcement has been taken over by the white-robed tithemen of the temple of Seth.   They started out simply keeping order in the temple and collecting the tithe but as the Brotherhood weakened they have become strong.   Now they are in every city in the Alliance and at every level of society.   They guard the gates, they enforce the taxes, they collect the tithes and the rents, they catch thieves and murderers and enforce public order.   And of course they officiate at executions.   Or sacrifices as they are called these days.

These are dark times, interesting times, and once more children dream of growing up to be Pirates.