Life and Society
The people of Gnarhelm are of majority illuskan stock, which bears a kinship with the norl people of the islands of the Sea of Swords (norl warriors having once refounded Illusk in the distant past), but now has more in common with the tethyrians that have spread north and the two peoples have merged to form modern illuskan society.
Modern illuskans respect strength like the norl, but also have strong familial ties, not just to blood relatives but also to friends and associated groups. This has given rise to a highly factionalised society, wherein inter-group strife is fairly common. Guild wars and street gang violence is common in illuskan settlements on the Sword Coast (as each group strives to prove dominance over the other while fiercely protecting their own). In Gnarhelm this group warfare is organised secretly by the nobility, who use their own families and allies to strike at their opponents in an endless game to secure the throne of Gnarhelm and weaken their opponents.
The constant in-fighting among the people of Gnarhelm has kept that nation from achieving dominance in the Moonshae Islands for many centuries, but those that invade Gnarhelm soon find a fierce, warrior people united in defence of their homeland.
The illuskans respect power, be that physical, monetary, or political power. It is not uncommon to find the common-folk of Gnarhelm arm-wrestling, rock throwing, and other tests of strength to gain respect.from their peers. Among the nobility it is more about education, alliances, and the struggle for power that gains them respect from other nobles. Last of all are those blessed with magical powers, both respected and feared for the raw power they possess, these “runecasters” occupy a special position among society that is unusual among the norl and the ffolk (that of a neutral super-power available for all, but owned by none).
Gnarhelm’s nobility is derived directly from the illuskan nobles that fled the collapse of Stornanter, driven from Illusk and Port Llast by the vicious infighting that began when the Witch-Queen of Stornanter departed in 841 DR.
The nobility of Gnarhelm is hereditary, like other illuskan settlements on the Sword Coast. There are a number of ancient and established noble houses that constantly vie for control of the regions and the nation of Gnarhelm, each has a claim to the throne and so powerful, shifting factions are common throughout Gnarhelm’s history.
Bladestroll – noble house
Tryshaln – noble house
Zelhund – noble house
Elsmyth – noble house
Rushfire – noble house
Argentouch – noble house
Phommor – minor noble
The Black Blades – Assassins
The common folk of Gnarhelm are industrious and hard working like all northmen. Unlike the norl, the illuskans regard any manual labour as worthwhile, and are not afraid to work as fishermen, farmers, miners, labourers, etc, proving their value through their strength and size, and earning a fair reward for that in return.
All illuskans learn to fight from an early age, but fighting is not the sole reason for their existence (unlike the norl). Every illuskan male must possess an axe and shield (by law), and be capable of splitting a cut log the size of a human head with 3 blows (they are tested regularly and suffer a fine if they fail the test), most men can split the wood with a single blow.
Architecture: Unlike their norl cousins, the illuskans are perfectly capable craftsmen and stonemasons (although not quite so capable as the ffolk or others on the mainland). Their buildings tend to be single roomed (with portable wooden dividers for privacy), constructed of stone because of a lack of available wood, the walls are usually dry-stone with thatched straw roofs. These buildings are simple and functional, giving the illuskan commoners a place to sleep and shelter from the poor weather that almost constantly assails the region.
In prior centuries the nobility and royalty also dwelled in stone castles (left over from a time when the ffolk ruled this land). The illuskans found these caers too draughty to maintain, and lacked the skills necessary to maintain these large stone works.
In time the illuskan nobility and royalty abandoned the ffolk caers in favour of large, single story hunting lodges, but these structures proved less capable to defend and over time the endless factional warring and growing civil unrest has led to a rise in wooden lodges (previously used for hunting excursions) that are easier and cheaper to maintain.
Berserkers: The norl are famous for their berserk frenzy that drives many warriors to unparalleled heights of strength and allows them to shrug off almost fatal wounds. Sages believe this trait has largely been lost by the illuskans as they became more civilised and mingled with other human subraces, certainly the Uthgardt barbarians have retained this ability and they mix relatively little with outsiders.
The illuskans of Gnarhelm are rarely able to attain a berserker frenzy, although there are a few that pretend to do so in order to gain prestige or inspire fear among their peers and enemies. Among the commonfolk however there is a growing number of berserkers which is believed to be a result of mixing with the nearby norl (also shown in the degeneration of their society towards more traditional norl values).
Gender Equality: Unlike the norl or the ffolk, the illuskans of Gnarhelm have little concept of gender equality, with women being regarded only as wives and child bearers. Women are respected in their role as mothers, and a man who publicly disrespects or dishonours his wife will lose the respect of his peers, but women are rarely seen outside the home.
Funerals: The illuskans of Gnarhelm do not normally bother with a ceremony for the deceased who are usually burned atop whatever pile of wood can be gathered among the hills of Gnarhelm. Nobility, great warriors, and wealthy sea captains can expect to be placed in a burial knarr (a small ship sized for one person) with their prized possessions, cast out to sea and set alight.
Horned Helmets: Most warriors of Gnarhelm wear a helmet with two horns curving up from the base (unlike the norl who prefer to fight without a helmet, or just wear a steel cap). Historians believe the tradition of wearing horned helmets is in honour of Helmud, the fabled Warleader who carved nation of Gnarhelm out of northern Alaron.
Others believe the tradition of wearing horned helms dates back further to before ancient Stornanter and the Horn of Morgred, carved from the tusk of the great white mammoth
Origin: The ffolk have few myths relating to their history before their arrival on the Moonshae Isles, most having fled the mainland as soon as they reached the Sword Coast. The Talffolk however, speak of settling for a time in the Land of the Arcane (Arcanus Lodi), known for the nearby remains of a fallen civilisation of powerful magic. After many decades the evils of Ebenfar caught up with the Talffolk tribe and forced them to leave their home in a hurry, losing many of their treasures in the process.
Sailing: The norl are the true masters of the sea, living much of their life away from land on long voyages (raids or expeditions). The illuskans are descended from the norl and have lost some of the skills of their ancestors, but they have not lost their love of the sea and are expert sailors when compared to most other seafarers.
The illuskans have adopted the norl style longships since their formation of Gnarhelm, and like the norl they usually mount a figurehead at the prow, however, the illuskans favour scantily clad, nubile forms for their figureheads, often with wild hair (in homage to the ancient Witchqueen of Stornanter).
Transport: Unlike the norl kingdoms, the people of Gnarhelm have an excellent transport system that is comparable to that of the Kingdom of Callidyrr. The illuskans have maintained the ancient roads built by the ffolk during the rule of the High Kingdom over this land, the roads are now constructed of baked clay rather than paved stone slabs, but they link the major settlements of Gnarhelm, Sunderstaad, and Olafstaad and are well patrolled and travelled.
The illuskans brought a large stock of horses with them in 852 DR, this stock formed a stable breeding population. The Gnar Greys are known for their speed and stamina, are easily trained for battle, and can survive on the scrub grass that dominates the hills and cliffs of Gnarhelm. Using these horses the illuskans of the major settlements of Gnarhelm are only a days ride from each other, allowing them to stay in close communication.
Transportation of goods and people takes a little longer (most commoners cannot afford a horse), but the roads are safe and in good condition, considerably speeding what would otherwise be a laborious trek through hills and valleys and lasting several weeks.
Gnarhelm has a stable economy, with agriculture, mining, and fishing in adequate provision. Gnarhelm is a land of rolling hills and steep cliffs, which means there is just enough food produced to provide for the current population, but there is an abundance of metal ore that is readily available that Gnarhelm trades with Callidyrr for gold (and food in harsh winters).
As one of the more civilised northern regions, Gnarhelm is a popular destination for those wishing to trade with the northmen but not wishing to become the victim of a raid or the northmen and their unusual laws regarding ownership. Ffolk traders that ply the waters of the Sea of Moonshae for a living will often stop at the major ports in Gnarhelm to trade for furs, whale oil, fish, and metal ore
The illuskans of Gnarhelm are seasoned traders themselves, and sail as far as Luskan, Port Llast, and Waterdeep to sell their wares
Gnarhelm uses a form of currency inherited from ancient Stornanter; the copper Dar, the silver Sten, the gold Zar. There are 72 Dar in a Sten and 13 Sten in a Zar (the original justification for such arbitrary conversions is long since lost).
The people of Gnarhelm will accept the coins of other lands, but not at the value from their place of origin, instead the illuskan will usually determine the price of the coin he is receiving (or attempting to trade) by threatening and intimidating those he is trading with so that he gets as favourable deal as he can, those who prove themselves intractable in their negotiations will eventually realise that the threats and intimidation are often nothing but bluster.
Gnarhelm’s population is at a peak for the level of food production its environment can sustain. Harsh winters, blight, or disease can often leave hundreds of illuskans starving, and usually results in civil unrest, as a result Gnarhelm’s major import is food from the ffolk kingdoms.
Gnarhelm mines large quantities of metal ore the majority of which it exports by land to Callidyrr through Cantrev Blackstone. Ore is also transported via ship by enterprising illuskan traders to Waterdeep, Luskan, and Port Llast. The people of Gnarhelm are not noted for their craftsmanship, so they prefer to export the raw ore and buy refined goods (especially weapons and armour).
The illuskans of Gnarhelm pay homage to a variety of gods that were represented in ancient Stornanter. Typical illuskans, and ever practical, the people of Gnarhelm do not build great temples or found large churches, instead choosing to venerate the gods at shrines marked by unusual and natural stones (large stones with holes in the middle are preferred).
The illuskans of Gnarhelm worship only those gods that have proven most useful to them and so people often have crude carvings that represent Tempus the Foehammer, Umberlee, Beshaba, Valkur, Talos, etc.
Gnarhelm is only slightly more stable as a kingdom than the likes of Norland and Norheim. It is comprised of three independent regions; Gnarhelm, Olafstaad, and Sunderstaad, each of which is governed by one of the three major noble houses (all who claim descent from Helmud, the legendary war leader that conquered the north of Alaron).
On the occasions that Gnarhelm has been united into a single kingdom, the King changes his patronym to Helmudsson. In the past this united kingdom has never lasted longer than two generations of the same family, always falling to infighting among powerful factions of the nobility that perceive the current family as weak and unfit to rule.
The three most powerful families govern the three largest settlements in Gnarhelm and all claim descent from the supposed founder of Gnarhelm, a warleader known as Helmud, who is said to have smashed down the gates of the caer at Helmsgate Firth with a single blow of his mighty hammer.
These noble families maintain a stranglehold on the power of Gnarhelm, working together to ensure rising nobility are unable to challenge them, and forming factions of noble families to keep the other powerful families from gaining the throne (or claiming it for too long). Political infighting is rife amongst the nobility of Gnarhelm, which has kept this nation from dominating the other kingdoms of the Moonshae Isles (as it did under Torgred the Gnarled.
Trichar: This powerful noble family rules the settlement of Gnarhelm itself, claiming direct kinship from Helmud “”Stonebreaker”, and providing ownership of his mighty hammer “Breach” as proof of their claim.
Zhunder: Another of the powerful noble families that fled to the Moonshae Isles from the collapse of Stornanter. This family rules the settlement of Sunderstaad and claims kinship with Helmud “the Unbreakable”, using their ownership of “The Wall”; a large metal shield supposedly once belonging to Helmud, as proof of their claim.
Giantar: This ancient noble family is thought to have been former nobility from fallen Stornanter. They rule the settlement of Olafstaad and claim that Helmud “the Titan” was their forebear and he gave to his third son the legendary Gnarled Helm as proof of their claim. The Giantar are large, even for illuskans, and also claim that Helmud had the blood of giants in his veins.
Law and Order
The illuskans of Gnarhelm have an established code of laws derived from the laws of the Witch Queen of Stornanter, which like most codified set of laws forbids damage to people or property.
The dominance of a few noble families over the wealth and power in Gnarhelm has meant that the laws serve only the elite, the common folk can expect no defence or assistance in matters of law and so (since they often contain more norl blood than the nobility) they resort to the ancient rights of the northmen to enact a rough justice for themselves.
The Right of Vengeance is employed most often in Gnarhelm among the commonfolk, where the victims inflict similar pains upon the transgressor which is enough to ensure problems in Gnarhelm do not occur very often.
Test of Strength: Among the nobility, where martial strength is not the only measure of a man’s power, it is not uncommon for the Test of Strength to be invoked to allow the rich and powerful to settle their differences by appointing a champion to battle in their stead in a contest of their choosing (usually a wrestling bout or other non-lethal combat between their most accomplished soldiers).
Like most of the Moonshae isles, the land of Gnarhelm does not maintain a standing army as the nobility would not tolerate a King having a powerful army at his disposal for fear of restricting their own power. Instead each noble house maintains its own household of guards and warriors which in times of need can be used in defence of the realm, and if a King rules all of Gnarhelm then these men may be called upon to fight for their King.
Each of the three major noble houses; Trichar, Zhunder, Giantar, are able to field 400 warriors and another 100 mounted warriors. Minor noble houses can each field 50 warriors and 10 mounted warriors. Due to the near constant infighting, and the usually independent 3 regions of Gnarhelm, the full complement of Gnarhelm’s military are only deployed in the event of an invasion. It would take a very powerful King with the full respect of all his nobility to muster all the nation’s warriors in any other circumstances.