History: Avvars and FereldenEdit
The country of Ferelden rests far into the southeast of the continent of Thedas. It is a wide and barbarous nation, populated by a fiercely proud folk who’ve only just begun to “civilize” within the last few centuries. The Fereldans are a martial people who value loyalty and honor far more than more material goods. They are descendants of the Alamarri, a warlike culture of fractious barbarian tribes that lived for battle. The Alamarri followed powerful warlords known as “banns” into near constant struggle with their fellow tribes, as each bann sought to widen his territory and influence. The history of the Alamarri is written with the blood of great champions who rose to immense power and wide dominion, only to have their legacies and tribes torn apart with their deaths.
The Alamarri were an animistic people, who worshiped a wide variety of nature deities. Most sacred of all creatures was the wolf, which they believed was created by the gods to be both a guide and protector for mankind. Promising young Alamarri warriors were paired off with cubs, and wolves were afforded as much honor as the greatest fighters when they fell in battle.
In modern times, the Fereldans still face two enemies born of the Alamarri. Several centuries after their ancestors first came into Ferelden, a great civil was arose among the tribes that caused one large faction to break away from the Alamarri. The rebels eventually became known as the Avvarian hillsmen, a bloodthirsty offshoot of an already fierce people. Despite their brutality, the Avvars were gradually pushed high into the Frostback Mountains where they dwell still, nursing their ancient bitter grudge against their kin. They cling to the old ways, worshiping the nature gods that they once shared with the Alamarri and despising “lowlanders” as blasphemous weaklings softened by the trappings of civilizations. While the Avvars are comparatively few in number, they are fell warriors, hardened by their harsh lives. Their winter raids, though rare, are still greatly feared by all Ferelden.
When the Alamarri first passed into Ferelden from the distant west, some moved into the swampy forest vastness and the tundra beyond the south now known as the Korcari Wilds. These folk became known as the Chasind wilders, a strange twisted people plagued by dark desires. The old tales state that after “countless winters” had passed since they parted from the other tribes of the Alamarri, the Chasind invaded the lands of the north accompanied by “white shadows” and twisted swam creatures. They conquered the Alamarri for a time, though many of the tales dispute just how long this period lasted or even if the valley tribes were ever truly subjugated, before the Alamarri slaughtered the Chasind shamans who had called up the shadows with their magic, and drove the warriors back to the south.
The Avvarian hillsmen, also known as Avvars, are a rugged human people who make their homes in the Frostback Mountains. In centuries past they were one of the many barbarian tribes that lived in and around the Ferelden region. When the Alamarri clans united 400 years ago under the first king of Ferelden, the Avvars refused to join them. The hillsmen were too independent, too proud, and too stubborn to pay homage to any king.
Their continued raiding into the lowlands lead to many long and bitter wars, but ultimately the Avvars alone could not stand up to the united forces of Ferelden. The hillsmen were driven back into their mountain homes, but no commander dared to fight them on their home ground. Since then there has been an uneasy peace between the Avvars and Ferelden.
Today the Avvarian hillsmen are largely isolated in the Frostbacks. They do trade with the dwarves and some Avvars descent to the lowlands to work as mercenaries or adventurers. Most people in Ferelden consider the hillsmen uncivilized barbarians, while the Avvars think their old foes weak and corrupt. It was thus no great surprise that there are still sporadic raids from the Frostbacks, but the hillsmen have learned to strike quickly and retreat to their holds before they are counterattacked.
The majority of the Avvarian people live in subsistence conditions, with the greater part of their days spent gathering the necessities of survival with little time given over to activities without an immediate practical application. Ornamentation is rare among Avvar-made goods that aren’t religious in nature. They prefer well made items that endure the Frostbacks’ extreme weather.
The Avvars have a decent relationship with the dwarven kingdom of Orzammar. The Avvars trade furs, goat milk, and free passage rights for dwarf traders (allowing them to travel over the Frostbacks in peace) in exchange for arms and armor. The dwarves regard the Avvars as a useful deterrent against both Ferelden and Orlesian ambitions.
Avvarian Holds and MarriageEdit
Since each Avvar hold is made up of several extended family clans, Avvars often have to marry outside their hold to avoid their relatives. This is seen as a good thing, for it brings in new blood and extends the ties among Avvars. Avvar men go about securing brides by kidnapping them. This is partially arranged in advance by approaching the elders of the target clan and announcing one’s intention. Failure to do so can lead to a blood feud.
Once permission has been given, a warrior is expected to prove his skill by slipping into the hold and removing his new bride. A warrior who is caught on his first try can expect a severe beating, but nothing worse. If he is caught again on the second try, though, he is likely to become lunch for the clan’s sacred animal. Avvarian men may approach a lady directly if they wish to secure her agreement (or assistance), and some Avvar women make it known that they desire a specific man.
Avvars are expected to put loyalty to hold before blood. Even a kidnapped bride is expected to renounce her former ties and leave to her new clan. Indeed, her old clan and family are forever after slightly suspicious of her, even if she was taken against her will.
The hillsmen are divided into clans, each of which is centered around a settlement called a hold. The settlement and the clan are so intertwined that they share the same name, so the seat of Clan Craghold is Craghold. Avvar names have three parts: first name, byname and clan name. The clans are matrilineal (as they say, one's mother is obvious to all), so the byname indicates an Avvar's mother by use of "An" (daughter of) or "Ar" (son of) in front of the mother's name. This is followed by "O" then the clan name. For example: Archill Ar Dubne O Bearhold. Archill is the son of Dunbe and they belong to the Clan Bearhold.
Avvarian Culture and ReligionEdit
It is nearly impossible to speak of the Avvarian people without speaking of their beliefs. Faith is the vibrant cornerstone of their existence, filling their harsh lives with sacred implications, for the Avvars believe as the Alamarri once did: the gods live in all things. Wind from an unexpected direction, birds flying in unusual patterns, a sudden silence amidst the high peaks in the spring -- these are nothing but chance to a lowlander, but are messages from the gods to an Avvar.
The Avvars believe without question that their gods have protected them and kept them strong, for do they not thrive despite their numerous enemies? Wise lowlanders avoid pointing out that the hillsmen have been pushed into some of the most inhospitable terrain in all of Thedas. In truth, the Avvars love the Frostbacks and would only take offense at the thought that they were “forced” into the mountains.
The Avvars have a complex pantheon, which includes both nature spirits and legendary mortals who have ascended to the heavens. This is further complicated by the fact that the pantheon varies somewhat from hold to hold, as every clan has its own sacred tales and heroes; however, all Avvars agree on the three greatest gods. These are Korth the Mountain Father, Haakon Wintersbreath, and the Lady of the Skies. Imhar the Clever and the Great Bear Sigfost are also revered is most communities.
As with any theology, the Avvarians might be right, might be completely wrong, or the whole of Thedas might be completely mental. No one really knows for sure, and a good Chantry priest or Keeper could punch just as many holes in their way of thinking as the Avvarian Shaman could do in reverse.
Korth the Mountain FatherEdit
Eldest and strongest, the foundation upon which all is built, Korth is the god of mountains and caves, lord of the Frostbacks. Through the Mountain Father’s benevolence, the Avvars are provided with everything they might need, though it is unwise to tempt his wrath by demanding more than one’s rightful due. It is Korth who sends game to needy hunters, leads goatherds to lush fields, and approves of a hold’s sacred animal. The majority of Avvarians believe that Korth has always been; that he is as aged as the foundations of his mountains. Only in the ancient Frosthold do they sing otherwise. Their Winter Song, sung only during Wintersend, may be the oldest known to any Avvar. It tells that Korth was once a man, a hunter without peer, who led his people into the mountains when the world was young.
See The Frostback Mountains for a tale on Korth.
Korth’s firstborn son Haakon is the Lord of Winter, master of the twin, biting colds of ice and steel. The Wintersbreath is the god of arms and battle, for to the Avvars winter and war are near synonymous. It is cold that protects the Avvarians from their enemies, it is cold that they use as a weapon against the lowlanders when they raid from the mountains, and cold is the fear they wish to inspire in the faithless. Haakon is not simply a deity to be worshiped; he is the fearsome, icy killer young Avvars aspire to become.
The Lady of the SkiesEdit
After the mountains beneath, only the skies above are as sacred to the Avvars. The Mistress of Birds is their patroness and protector; her flocks assist the Avvars in keeping a lookout for their many foes. Birds are the agents of the Lady, bringers of omens and foretellers of woe. Deceased Avvars are "offered to the Lady" in a solemn ceremony that Fereldan scholars refer to as an "air burial." Rather than being cremated or buried, their bodies are completely dismembered and offered to the carrion birds of the mountains. Flesh, organs, and even bones are powdered so the avians can consume all that remains and carry it off to the Lady’s realm. Thus, the Lady of the Skies is also the Avvars' goddess of death.
Imhar the CleverEdit
Tales of Imhar have brought cheer to the Avvars on many a cold night, for his is the way of the trickster, and they delight in stories of his cunning. A slight man of infinite jest and vicious wit, Imhar's mockery cuts deeper than any blade. Imhar's greatest feat was arguably the single-handed rout of a mighty horde of demons after an evil seductress tricked him into facing them weaponless. He retreated, making them think that he was a coward and fleeing. When they finally caught up with him in a narrow mountain pass, Imhar's laughter defeated them by causing an avalanche.
The Great Bear SigfostEdit
Wisest of all the mountain spirits and so large that the Mountain Father once mistook him for one of his smaller peaks, Sigfost lounges at the foot of Korth's throne. Characters seeking wisdom can challenge Sigfost to fight for it, but the bones of the devoured and unworthy litter his vast den. Avvars hold bears to be sacred and though they sometimes hunt them, great ceremony always accompanies such efforts. All Avvars judge bereskarn to be blasphemous horrors. A very few Circle magi claim to have met Sigfost in the Fade; these are invariably open-minded magi known to get along well with people from other cultures, and none of them will discuss the experience lightly.
An as yet unknown deity - but he has a key named after him to access the Avvar basement crypt in Awakening.
The Avvars' gods are more capricious than cruel, demanding appeasement for perceived sleights rather than wantonly casting misfortune on their people from lofty heights. When Avvars suffer, it seldom occurs to them to blame ill luck, but instead, to wonder which of the gods they have offended. If a warrior suffers a wound, he is concerned that he may have slighted Haakon. If a hunting party returns empty-handed, their only thought is to placate the Mountain Father; indeed, they will not go forth hunting once more until they have decided on how to mollify Korth -- there would be no point in it, as they would surely fail again.
When forced to consider complex spiritual matters, the Avvars turn to their shamans, the lore keepers of the mountains. It is they who watch the migrations of birds seeking wisdom from the Lady, they who keep the old songs and retain the knowledge of the proper rites to honor the gods and spirits of the mountains. The majority of the Avvars' shamans are powerful mages whose traditions stretch far back beyond the foundations of the Circle of Magi. Neither the Chantry nor the Prophetess means anything to the Avvarians, and Templars are not welcome in the Frostbacks. This is wise, as many of the shamans' rituals would horrify the Chantry. Even mild rites invite spirits to speak through the casters for a time, to say nothing of some of their more powerful ceremonies. The Avvars are well aware that some spirits are reluctant to depart human hosts willingly, but they have means of dealing with such recalcitrant entities.
Songs and LoreEdit
The majority of Avvarians believe that Korth has always been; that he is as aged as the foundations of his mountains. Only in the ancient Frosthold do they sing otherwise. Their Winter Song, sung only during Wintersend, may be the oldest known to any Avvar. It tells that Korth was once a man, a hunter without peer, who led his people into the mountains when the world was young
Avvars and the FadeEdit
The Avvarians call the Fade the "Twilight." Fade, Beyond, and Twilight are all names for the same place.
Avvarians have a backwards outlook compared to the average Ferelden. The Hillsmen believe that people constantly change the Fade with their thoughts and dreams. Humans and other races are ultimately responsible for some of the creatures which exist there. Rather than thinking demons tempt humans, the Hillsmen believe demons exist because of humans. In their belief system, unhealthy human obsessions create desire demons, not the other way around.
Kitling's Elder once mentioned that if "a thing can be dreamed, it exists," and speculated that the belief in the Maker might have actually created him in the Fade. From her point of view, if enough people actually believe it, they will have an impact on the Fade and it will become real in the dream world. Where griffons are extinct in the material world, the Elder would tell you that they’re not all gone. People still keep them in stories, memories, and dreams so they still exist in the Fade as spirits. The same holds true for nightmares, however, and the Avvarian people are loathe to keep some things in their oral traditions and history, lest they become too powerful.
Part of the Shaman’s role in Avvarian society is to interpret dreams, and they have a small, ritualistic scar placed in the center of their forehead when they pass initiation. Their place is one of cautious respect rather than ridicule, because they are believed to live closer to the gods than ordinary people.