Thuria and Beyond
Cold, bleak Hyboria is ruled by grim, gaunt, albino nobles and by powerful witch-women who reside in imposing castles. The common people live in simple huts and cave-like hovels, scratching out a meagre living as subsistence farmers and by raising goats, reindeer and hardy cattle.
Hyborian slavers are greatly feared in remote parts of northern Brythunia, in the northernmost parts of Zamara and among the nomadic people of the steppes to the east of the Kezankian Mountains and the Nezvaya River. Rumours about the approach of bands of tall, grim, white-haired Hyborian raiders can cause villages to hide or send away their children and young adults for fear of losing them forever. The Hyborians, until a few hundred years ago, were themselves a nomadic people, following herd animals and making temporary settlements of yurt-style dwellings fashioned from hides.
Unlike the nobility of the more densely populated and hospitable Thurian kingdoms, Hyborian nobles have found that they lack the means to patrol and control the lands around their stone castles. So the Hyborian ruling class are not really landowners in any meaningful sense, with no settled borders around carefully organised farmlands and forests. Hyborian peasants, therefore, roam their homeland more freely than their counterparts in the more highly organised lands to the south. But while Hyborian common folk are less tightly controlled than peasants elsewhere, they enjoy far less security and predictability in their lives. Any given settlement can suffer at the hands of multiple cruel and exploitative nobles expecting tribute in the form of produce, livestock or service. Hyborian villages, then, fear capture and enslavement in the castles of their land every bit as much as the people in neighbouring kingdoms and on the steppes to the east.
Hyborians (specifically the noble class) are thought of as a cruel people by foreigners, especially Brythunians, Zamarans and Cimmerians. The folk of these neighbouring lands have grown up on tales of Hyborian torture, spite and witchcraft. Given the distinctive appearance of most Hyborians, they are easily spotted abroad and usually given a wide berth.
Hyborian nobles and peasants alike still hunt wild animals, herd domesticated animals and supplement their diets with berries and mushrooms. In some of the more sheltered valleys, forests have been cleared to make way for fields of rye, the only cereal crop which does well in such a harsh climate.
Those that practise sorcery, and there are many in this grim land, are known as Witchmen, and they rule from many of the bleak fortresses that squat horribly on the tops of cleared knolls and wooded ridges. They serve more powerful witch-queens and wizards, dressing solemnly in black with white, faceless masks. The Witchmen typically use magical rods with the power to cause pain and paralysis.
Hyboria is not a unified kingdom. There is no capital city and no single ruler. Instead, influence is contested by the most powerful nobles, wizards and witch-queens. The leaders of the white-masked, black-robed Witchmen, as well as serving their various more powerful masters and mistresses, also form a shadowy society of their own known as the White Hand, organised around secret rituals celebrating worship of a dark, malignant goddess named Louhi.
Louhi is only worshipped by the White Hand and by witch-queens and sorcerers. The common Hyborian people typically venerate the god Bori, whom they think of as their creator and ancestor and for whom their land is named. Bori is worshipped in forest clearings and privately in the meagre homes of the peasants. No magnificent public temples or shrines have ever been constructed to honour him, though some nobles who are not themselves sorcerers are known to have private spaces in their castles in which they worship Bori.
As noted above, Hyboria lacks a single, dominant ruler. By the year 1000 YT (when our campaign starts), however, one of Hyboria’s powerful witch-queens stands out as significantly more influential than the rest – Vammatar, a truly fearsome witch who exerts her baleful power from her northern Hyborian stronghold of Haloga.
To the west, Hyboria is separated from Asgurd by the impassable vastness of the River of Death Ice. To the south, the Graaskal Mountains form the border with Brythunia. At the point where the Graaskal range meets the Eiglophian Mountains, there is one readily passable route into Hyboria from the north-east corner of the Borderlands – this passage is via the infamous Skull Gate. To the east, the north-south range of the Hyborian Mountains could be said to form a notional border. But given that no organised kingdom lies to the east of Hyboria, the rulers of this land are hypothetically free to expand their territory across the steppes. But, slaving raids aside, Hyborian nobles and witch-queens show no desire to push eastwards. The expansion of territory – such a major preoccupation for kingdoms elsewhere – appears to be an almost meaningless concept for Hyborians. The movement of invading tribes westwards into Hyboria from the steppes has never been a threat – and only because of the physical barrier of the Hyborian Mountains. Even the fiercest nomadic tribes of the steppes show no inclination to ride into a land they regard as cursed and malignant. For the people of the steppes, the mountains serve the useful purpose of reminding them not to venture too far west.
A chunk of particularly inhospitable land which was one a north-eastern region of Hyboria has operated as the distinct and separate realm of Irissen since around 500 YT.
Hyboria is devoid of genuinely large settlements. But of the strongholds of powerful nobles, witch-queens and wizards, the most important are: