The large part of the Archipelago’s business is conducted in a pidgin tongue called Pata Ila. Every island speaks a different dialect, but in general any one speaker can understand any other. Pata Ila shares a number of points in common with each of its neighbors on the islands, although knowing one doesn’t allow one to freely speak or comprehend any of others. In addition to Pata Ila, Archipelago natives may speak the Bronze Tongue of the Bronze Men communities; the Rune-Sailors’ Vandik; the Galotos shared by the Scantii and Hartii; Low Haemish and High Haemish brought in by Slakiv invaders, traders, and Order scholars; Ghazhi, immigrated from the bustling economic powerhouse of Tnadep, the Waplands, and the Theocracy on the mainland; the Mudhoppers’ and Ghoul-eaters’ Ulougu; and here and there a handful of orcish Gyamt, because while orcs themselves are seldom seen in the islands, a number of pirate groups have adopted the tongue as a private code.
Seasons, Holidays, and Time
Like much of the known world, the main part of Archipelago culture has inherited the Slakiv calendar. Days are grouped into fives for counting; five fives make a “month,” with the span between the end of the fourteenth month and the beginning of the new year being observed as a sort of mini-month, in which many workers are allowed to come in late or leave early, and preparations are made for the New Year festivities.
It should be noted that this is the secular calendar; there is a far more complex religious one based on observing the cycles of various elemental nodes, used to coordinate worship and holy observances. The one time each year both calendars match up is at the summer solstice, when the New Year is celebrated.
Each year is divided into five seasons of unequal length: starting around the solstice is the Hot Season, with unrelenting sunlight ameliorated by cooling sea-winds. After this comes the Flight Season, presaged by the appearance of great flocks of migratory birds, bringing cooler weather and culminating in the winter Storm Season. The Growing Season is marked by the resurgence of new plant and animal life and the departure of the birds back to the south whence they came, and the year is rounded out by the Rainy Season, a time of gentle but near-continuous rains and fogs that make sailing dangerous.
Major holidays include the New Year, a time of sky-worship when the old year, living in the sun, is said to reach the peak of its strength and birth the new year from one of the stars. The old year then retires to live out the span of its remaining life in the moon, occasionally punishing the fiery young year with an eclipse. Storytellers and acting troupes will often recount various tales of the sky-people during the New Year festivities.
When the appearance of the migratory birds in the sky marks the beginning of Flight, all the houses with household gods follow a tradition called the Ascent into Dream. Celebrants meet in public places and share small cakes; one or two of these contain cooked (and thus, painfully spicy) Raptor Root. The unfortunates who bite into this nasty surprise have to stand watch. Everyone else drinks alcohol spiked with fresh-pressed (and thus, pleasantly soporific and hallucinogenic) Raptor Root, and are led by the Interpreters of Dreams in a meditative ritual until they pass out and spend a few hours communing with their family totems in Dream.
Mid Flight brings the Foundation Five, a fiveday that begins with the Fast of the Flood (commemorating the destruction of Old Vickelt) and ends with the Feast of Foundation (marking the anniversary of Fair Vickelt’s creation). The intervening three days are a busy time for druids, offering thanks to the gods of the land and placating the spirits of the sea. Low Vickelt, it should be noted, only observes the fast and a single day of druidic activity after.
Storm sees the Senken school’s Festival of Strength, which has grown for the general population into a time of athletic games and physical challenges, and shrunk for Senken’s descendant schools into a time of heightened frequency for their duels and brawls, after which they spend the remainder of Storm recovering from their wounds.
The winter solstice, meanwhile, is marked by the Sunless Immolation. Bonfires are lit, coffee and sweets are served, rhythmic music is played, and many people, especially the young, take part in endurance dances until the new day begins, and is promptly slept mostly away.
After the end of the winter storms, the Goden Goden and Beggars’ Guild lieutenants organize the Rag Festival. Professional entertainers take time off, allowing beggars and the down-on-their-luck to put on various performances. It is customary to tip a decent performer, feed a good one, and outright sponsor an outstanding one, offering them a daily allowance or meal ticket at your household for the coming year. In the past people seen as being too stingy might be mocked, harassed, pranked, and all but outright attacked, but this was put to an end by the current Goden Goden, Brown, after a series of increasingly harsh reprisals by private bodyguards and the Magistrate.
Finally, the mini-month leading up to the New Year is also home to Wee Boss’ Market, after the spring crops have been taken in and just before the summer crops are planted. A fairgrounds is set up some distance outside of town, and anyone who offers something to the gods is admitted, whether they be from the town, a pirate or bandit camp, or even one of the island’s more hostile tribes or from the mainland. Each stall offers some kind of goods for sale and some kind of game of chance, such as a coin-toss to pay double-or-nothing on a cheap item. The Market sees a strict truce; weapons are temporarily surrendered to the Magistrate acolytes manning the gate in return for sweetmeats, and it is said that anyone breaking the truce will be cursed by all the gods of the island.
Within the span of a day, time is not much noted. Sunrise, sunset, and noon are observed, of course, and morning and afternoon may be colloquially divided into “early” and “late,” but common folk make no finer-grained distinctions than these. For those few individuals who desire more precise divisions of time, sundials and sandglasses are the tools of choice. The Order sage and the Collectors’ museum are both known to house enchanted sundials that tell the time (to within about five minutes) regardless of the weather, or the hour of the day or night.
Most of the Archipelago runs on barter and trade. Merchants will be able to tell you the value of a cow in pearls, or of a handful of spice in terms of eggs. In cases where immediate payment can’t be made, regular trading partners may keep a tab, to be cleared at some point in the future. Some islanders never see a coin in their lives.
Others do, and they see a wide variety. The official currency of the Diarchy is “two-face ivory.” The throne claims exclusive right to all whale-ivory found in the Archipelago, and maintains mints where artisans carefully carve it into oblong discs. On one side of these is the Lawgiver’s likeness, with the royal motto and various symbols, and on the other, the Insularch’s face and benediction. These are relatively rare, though, and valuable enough that they are traded more as treasure objects than coinage.
Also in common use are golden and silver Slakiv Imperial coins, silver talents from the Theocracy, and native-copper chits that Pasti produces at a steady rate. Their value is constant enough that they can be used as coinage based on their weight, although they tend to be quickly taken out of circulation and used in various metal crafts.
I really like the variety and texture of the cultural scene you paint here. I’m wondering, though, where the inefficiency, injustice, and cultural failure is? In real cultures, there are always people, and even entire groups, that are exploited or oppressed. Even the beggars in this setting get public protection and a whole festival to boot! It’s a pleasant premise, but just feels a bit too unreal to me. Where is the barbarism, the admixtures of compassion and viciousness?
Cool stuff though. I wish more world-builders spent more time developing their cultures in this way.
Hi again, and thanks again for the thoughts!
One thing I guess could have been more clearly communicated was the web of tensions that are only hinted at here and that came out a bit more in play. Most of the racial groups mentioned in the languages section are in conflict with each other and with the currently dominant culture. The PCs outright raided Rune Sailor and “Mudhopper” holy sites and it was shown how Bronze Men were marginalized in mainstream society.
The beggars’ case is more complicated; I was borrowing a bit from wuxia there, in that some beggars would actually be pretty dangerous to tangle with. I should mention that the subtext of their festival, though, points to violent bitterness and suppression that is only slightly relieved by the one day of indulgence a year. That said, of course, the main theme of play was dungeon-bashing, not social justice, and I was happy to let subtext remain subtext.