Highfane logo

Library

Gaufolk

The Gaufolk (GAW-folk) (s. Gaufolk, adj. Gaufolk) are a technologically and magically advanced race of humans—scholars and natural-born rulers. They inhabit and rule the Gaurik, also known as the Hundred-and-One, a great empire in Oest that stretches from the Mothersea in the west to the Deniza Sea in the east and from Volland in the north to Leido’s Waste in the south.

The Gaufolk are highly civilized, living lives of relative luxury in well-built settlements, often with easy access to the benefits of magic, and their ways are urbane and free. However, this freedom does not extend to the men; women rule Gaufolk society, and the men are little more than laborers.

As rulers of one of the greatest realms of Highfane, the Gaufolk are dominant in mainland Oest. However, they continuously risk overextending their resources to hold their vast empire together.

Physical Appearance

The Gaufolk are a mix of the Aedligs, a dark-skinned people hailing from Volland in the warm north of Oest, and the people of Oest they have conquered and brought into their empire. As such, they are usually lighter of skin than pure Aedligs, with almond-colored skin being most common. Gaufolk of purer Aedlig blood are generally darker, right up to the deep ebony of the original Aedligs. Their hair tends to be dark, either black or dark brown, and is nearly always straight. Gaufolk usually have dark eyes. The Gaufolk are smaller than most other human races; the average Gaufolk stands around five foot and five inches tall, with little difference in height between men and women.

Most women, especially those with a military background, tend to wear their hair short or even shave their heads completely. On social occasions, they wear wigs of varying colors and styles, depending on what is fashionable that season. When attending church, many women wear wigs that allow them to easily tear out their hair when lamenting their god’s death. Among socialite men, long hair is favored, but laborers tend to crop their hair short. Either way, beards are unacceptable among Gaufolk men; wearing one would be a statement of rebellion against the matriarchy and is frowned upon. In some Gaus, beards are outright forbidden, although this rule should generally only apply to Gaufolk men, not foreigners.

In Gaufolk fashion, femininity is favored. Many Gaufolk, including the men with wealthy patrons or with wealth of their own, frequent Bender Mages: alchemists and artists of the arcane that make subtle or considerable alterations to their clients’ faces and bodies against payment. Most of the craft of Bender Mages is derived from the practices of the Etter. Through the services of Bender Mages, the wealthy ensure they are smooth of skin, clean of limb, and pleasing to the eye—right up unto the end of their lives. However, this tradition is somewhat frowned upon in the more pragmatic military circles. Unlike many peoples of Highfane, the Gaufolk do not paint or tattoo their skin; they consider this practice barbarian. Make-up, however, is common among men and women, especially around the eyes and especially for the purpose of making their tears leave dark streaks on their faces to demonstrate grief at their god’s death during religious ceremonies.

Society

Gaufolk society is highly civilized and complex. Still, despite its complexities, the Gaufolk are foremost peaceful and welcoming. However, when angered, provoked, or denied, the fury of the Gaufolk is a thing easily focused and carried out to terrifying effect, a sight to behold indeed.

The Gaufolk value freedom like no other: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of marriage, and many other such freedoms are considered fundamental rights of any citizen. Yet at the same time, Gaufolk society is strictly matriarchal: the women rule and benefit from such freedoms, while the men are prohibited to hold public offices, actively partake in politics, study the arcane, or participate in warfare. Technically, men are free to object to this; there are no impediments to what they may say or what opinions they may have. However, the men of the Gaufolk have learned that the velvet glove of the matriarchy hides an iron fist. Silence is best. The only place where men enjoy some degree of freedom are the Pauper Guilds, which offer home to the orphaned, the destitute, the ousted, or men otherwise without Matron. These men are allowed to serve as mercenaries and warriors, sometimes even as battlemages, although they garner little respect from their rulers, and the generals of the Gaurik often consider them expendable.

The matriarchy of the Gaufolk extends from the very bottom to the very top. Each family is headed by a Matron. The Matron is generally the eldest woman of the family, although some—especially larger and noble—families elect a Matron and have family statutes to govern this election and the authority of the Matron. Up from the Matron, every consolidated domain—either incorporated settlements or free domains—is ruled by a Dame. The Dames answer to the rulers of their respective provinces—the “Gaus”—who may hold the title of Baroness, Governess, Countess, Duchess, or Princess. The Gaus, loose and semi-independent domains, answer to the Queen-Sorceress, either directly or through some intermediary noblewoman. Men have no part in this: they are not allowed to possess land and their wealth belongs to the Matron of their family. Should they have no Matron, then their wealth is forfeited to the crown and they must join a Pauper Guild.

Considering this structure, the Gaufolk place importance in family. Each family is a tight social structure with a leader to direct the efforts of its individuals toward the collective good of the family. Where one would expect such required obedience to clash with Gaufolk appreciation of freedom, the laws and customs of the Gaurik often provide a solution: for example, the Matron may choose a spouse for the daughters of her family, but Gaurik law protects polyandry so that these daughters may marry the man (or woman) they love as well. Similarly, the daughters of a family are held to obey the commands of their Matron, but Gaufolk law allows them to challenge such decisions before the Dame or, with permission of the same, branch off and begin their own family if there are insurmountable differences of opinion. Such checks and balances, while sometimes confusing and overly bureaucratic, maintain a degree of fairness and equity in Gaufolk families—for the women, at least.

Another important aspect of Gaufolk society is tolerance. This tolerance extends toward others and their customs, including especially the non-human races of Highfane. Unlike most other humans, the Gaufolk welcome and respect such races and, when receiving them, do not expect them to adapt and change their ways. As a result, the Gaurik has several parallel societies of especially Alps and Gyta who retain their own traditions, including sometimes even a patriarchal structure or worship of other gods, so long as they submit to the ultimate rule of the Gaufolk. The passage of time has seen the integration of some of these groups into Gaufolk life, but many retain their customs, making Gaufolk life vibrant, versatile, and full of exotic influences. Gaufolk tolerance extends itself to magic as well. The Etterkin and Ettergyta, reviled elsewhere, are rarely the victim of bigotry or abuse in Gaufolk society and may even find themselves the subjects of admiration. Most cities, even some towns or villages, have colleges that teach the talented the tenets of magic, and magic permeates several aspects of society: the rich are known to frequent Bender Mages to beautify them, especially as old age nears; large cities offer teleportation services for the wealthy; and many villages will have mundane magical services, such as lighting, sending missives, and healing services.

While the Gaufolk practice religious tolerance to great extent, their own religion still plays an important part in their lives. The dour worship of Damas-of-the-Dagger is present in nearly every facet of everyday life, and most Gaufolk consider the teachings of the Saints of Damas universal and undisputed truths, although there are dissenting opinions—sometimes called heresies—among their own numbers. As a consequence, religious officials hold much sway. Most powerful among these is the Order of Celestines, which began as a military order but now dominates many aspects of religious life. The leader of the Order of Celestines, the Grand Mistress, is a direct advisor to the Queen-Sorceress and the second most powerful figure in the Gaurik.

Finally, the Gaufolk are highly advanced with a strong rule of law. Practices such as despotism, trial-by-combat, dueling, and slavery are prohibited, and the Dames see to the enforcement of law in their territories. Gaufolk settlements often know relatively high standards of luxury, usually aided by magic, and Gaufolk commonly can afford to build with brick and stone, unless locally unavailable, and have the knowledge and skill to do so beautifully. Gaufolk smiths, often male, are among some of the finest of Highfane, and there is no equal to Gaurik steel, excepting the Etter-wrought Fanhule Steel. Additionally, Gaufolk scholars have excellent knowledge of magic and arcane matters, holding the practice of it in high esteem. Gaufolk know less of agriculture: fertile land is so abundant in the Gaurik that its people have not yet seen much need to perfect their techniques. They are also much less skilled at shipbuilding and navigation than many of the other humans of Highfane. While the Gaufolk are trying to catch on, especially considering the threat posed by the seaborne Yslings, the sea does not appear to be in their blood.

History

The Gaufolk descend from the Aedligs of Volland in the warm northeast region of Oest. The Aedligs, as nearly all human races of Highfane, were enslaved by the Etter during the Age of the Etter. Little is known of the Aedligs prior to the Etter rule, but scholars agree that it is unlikely that the Aedligs lived in Volland prior to the Etter invasion. They were probably brought to Volland by the Etter and were originally indigenous to the northwestern regions of Oest. This is especially likely since many of the northwestern tribes have many customs in common with the Aedligs. Scholars assume that the Etter isolated the Aedligs from the other human races in order to train them as warriors.

Under the rule of the Etter, the Aedligs lived in favorable conditions: they formed the bulk of the Etter slave armies that subjugated the north of Oest, having been made to specialize early on in the art of war-magic characteristic of the Etter. So favored, the Aedligs suffered fewer depredations, and many of them were magically and alchemically altered to better serve their purpose. As a result, the number of Etterkin among the descendants of the Aedlids is very high. On several separate occasions, Aedlig slave armies were fielded in southern Oest to fight in uprisings. Aedligs are known to have participated in the Seven-Day Siege and the sack of the Ysling city of Karrvy, an incident that may have laid the foundations of the current Gaufolk-Ysling feud. At any rate, the Aedligs were aware of the existence of southern Oest, familiar with its terrain, and traveled there on several occasions at the behest of their Etter masters.

When the Etter dwindled, the Aedligs were quick to lay claim to the holdings of their former masters in Volland. They adapted a rigid caste system modeled after that of the Etter and dominated by a ruling echelon of adept battlemages. From there on, they subjugated what few neighbors they had and assimilated them into a warrior-mage culture that was destined to expand. During this warrior age, some of the Aedligs learned of Damas-of-the-Dagger from a figure known as the Sinner, also known as the First Saint. The first converts of this new religion were exiled. They were the first Aedligs to travel south since the dwindling of the Etter. In southern Oest, they learned of the divided kingdoms of the Sormans. Sources of that time document wonder at the weakness and lack of unity of the Sormans, as well as the vast quantities of claimed but untilled fertile lands in southern Oest. Shortly after, a religious civil war broke out in Volland as the religion of Damas-of-the-Dagger spread like wildfire. Damas’s devotees were not destined to win. When their defeat at the hands of the Aedlig battlemages was imminent, entire populations of Aedligs came south to join their sisters and lay claim to new domains.

At first, the Aedligs sought co-existence with the Sormans. However, the Sorman and Aedlig cultures clashed heavily: unlike the matriarchal Aedligs, the Sormans had come to lean heavily on ideals of masculinity, seeing few roles for women besides caring for home and hearth. Additionally, the Sormans worshiped the Wendel—fickle gods, often of foul temperament, and given to infighting. As such, they were revelers, quarrelsome, and lived in the moment, while the Aedligs were united, adhered to the dour worship of Damas, and celebrated not battle itself but the victories it brought. Finally, tolerance of magic and non-human races among the Sormans was low: they had suffered at the hands of the Etter, much more so than the favored Aedligs, and they spurned the Aedligs and their ways.

The Sormans turned the Aedligs from their cities and villages and thus drove them into the arms of Alps and Gyta, similarly exiled. The Aedligs, their ranks bolstered by refugees from Volland, allied with the Alps and Gyta and managed to field armies that wiped away the weak, squabbling hosts of the Sormans. Other kingdoms were made to submit through political marriages, economic dominance, or given up voluntarily by Sormans as appeasement. Over the course of two and a half centuries, in what would later be known as the Slow War, the Aedligs claimed the vast majority of Oest from the Sormans, establishing a mighty realm that ever expanded. The Slow War came to a conclusion at the Battle for Trebsby in 559 AF, which ended in the fall of the last remaining Sorman kingdom in Oest.

However, the defeat of their one enemy brought about a crisis among the Aedligs. Their governance was modeled after that of their kin in Volland: the battlemage caste, consisting of the Matrons of many noble families that each claimed descent from one of Dama’s saints, ruled. With Oest under their heel, the Matrons began to vie for domination and control of this new Aedlig realm. The Aedlig Civil War broke out almost at once, and Oest again became a stage for conflict. The Yslings to the south took advantage of the weakened state of the Aedligs and began vicious raids destined to fuel the nascent hatred between Aedlig and Ysling: to the Aedlig and later the Gaufolk, the Ysling was ever a raider and a murderer, a foul thief to make shore at night and take by force what he desired; while the Ysling remembered well the sack of Karrvy at Aedlig hands and how the Aedlig—a willing slave to the foulest threat ever come to Highfane—slaughtered and stole and reveled in destruction and flame.

The Aedlig Civil War raged for half a century until finally the Queen-Sorceress rose. An ambitious woman of Etterkin descent, she plotted and schemed until she had secured the support of the most powerful, and up to then neutral, warrior order of the Aedligs: the Celestines. With an unstoppable host and the word of the Dead God’s saints at her back, the Queen-Sorceress brought the Matrons to heel. Her methods were unorthodox: the Queen-Sorceress opened the borders, welcoming all who would seek refuge or home in Oest, and in doing so befriended many foreigners: Sormans and Ulder who sought to trade, renegade Yslings, exiles from the north, adventurers from the east. She then pressured the Matrons into marriages with her allies, many of them foreign, and required of the Matrons that their offspring be sent to the Queen-Sorceress’s court at Trauwach as hostages. The Matrons who refused were coerced; some received payment, others were pressured by threat or by force. The hostages, who were the Matrons of the future, were educated according to the vision of the Queen-Sorceress, as were their offspring in their turn. After two generations, the Matrons were largely pacified. Today, it is still required of the scions of noble families to receive education in Trauwach, where they are brought into the fold and where their loyalties are tested.

Slowly but surely, the Queen-Sorceress consolidated the realms, shaped them into semi-independent provinces or “Gaus”, and did away with Aedlig traditions of chieftainship, trial-by-combat, and the rigid caste system that the battlemages had dominated for more than six centuries since the dwindling of the Etter. She introduced the federal government of the Gaurik and called its people—who mixed with the races they had conquered and the foreigners the Queen-Sorceress had brought to Oest—the Gaufolk. She condemned use of the Aedlig name and associated it with the chaos, tribalism, and barbarism that still ruled in their native Volland.

The Queen-Sorceress, who seems to live unending, consolidated the Gaurik and began construction of a navy to repel the Ysling raiders. However, the Yslings have grown mighty and numerous and now dominate both the cold south and the seas that offer access to Eadland. The two races are poised for war as they both seek expansion.

Religion

The Gaufolk worship Damas, also known as Damas-of-the-Dagger and the One-in-Many, and in the vernacular as the Dead God. The ancestors of the Gaufolk were converted to the service of Damas shortly after the Etter abandoned Highfane by a prophet known as the Sinner or the First Saint.

The creation myth of Damas tells that Damas, a being of neither gender nor countenance, was once alone in the void. The force that created them, Miasma, offered a choice: to linger eternally and lonely or to create life, love it and be loved, only to be ultimately undone by it. Damas chose to create. When they saw the beauty of their creation, they broke their sword—the First Sword—on their knee and renounced all violence against their beautiful creation.

But not all things love their creator. In the shadows of the Three Great Planes, three of Damas’ mortal enemies wrought three daggers from the shards of the First Sword that Damas had broken on their knee. Over the course of centuries, the machinations of Damas’s enemies brought these three together and they were made into a single blade of hate, which was finally brought to bear against Damas, and thus the god was slain by their own creation.

In death, Damas became once again part of Miasma, the swirling chaotic force whence all life comes and whither all life must return. With the return of that great divine and potent spirit, Miasma was infused with blessedness and holy strength. And since all energies meld in Miasma and all souls are created from Miasma, every being born since the slaughter of Damas carries within itself a Shred of the God who once was. This is why Damas is the One-in-Many and why all are divine if only they seek to understand and strengthen the Shred of the God in them.

Through grief, mourning, and gratitude, the Gaufolk believe they can foster the Shred of the God in themselves and attain divinity. This is achieved by following the teachings of the Saints of Damas, of whom the Sinner was the first. These saints, from whom the noble families of the Gaufolk each claim descent, have written down their teachings, compiled into the Book of Saints, and have given detailed instructions on rituals, days of religious significance, and the manner in which the Gaufolk must treat one another in order to honor the Shred of the God and achieve divinity. Sacrifice, deep respect for grief, public mourning, and the full surrender to sorrow are tenets of the religion of the Gaufolk. It is common for them to cry in public, and during rituals it is even encouraged, and revels and feasts must always be given a dour note by remembering the god who was and grieving their passing.

The Gaufolk call upon Damas often, and many of their sayings and mannerisms will involve Damas. As such, best wishes or sincere welcoming words from Gaufolk may include references to death and grief, which to others may sound strange or morbid even, especially when paired with an event that is essentially joyful. Among the Gaufolk, thinking of death, referring to it often, and giving death a place on the stage place of life, however, is a sign of sincere worship. The Gaufolk rarely invoke the power of their god for aid. After all, Damas is dead: there is little he can still do today. Whatever one wishes to achieve with divine aid must be done by awaking the Shred of the God in oneself.

Rituals in the service of Damas take place in churches. There is an established clergy that presides over such rituals. It is common for priests to give sermons, and the Gaufolk are expected to shed tears and grieve openly and loudly at set intervals during such sermons. Men and women may often heavily shade and line their eyes with dark cosmetic, known as Koehl, so that their tears cause visible streaks on their cheeks, and many are known to expose themselves to irritants that stimulate the flow of tears or to wet the corners of their eyes with water to simulate them. Worshipers may also wear wigs especially designed to allow for the easy tearing out of hair in grief. Rituals and services take place daily and on special occasions, such as weddings, funerals, victories, and other causes of joy or grief.

The service of Damas has gained little foothold among the other free peoples. The descendants of the Stedda are often either too raw and elemental or too stoic and obsessed with wealth and power to spend much of their time on a god that by all accounts doesn’t even live. The Alps, the Gyta, and the Ulder are too close to nature for so abstract a religion. As such, efforts to convert the people of Eadland have so far been unsuccessful. Among the Gaufolk, however, the worship of Damas is dominant. The original Aedligs from whom the Gaufolk descend, as well as those who still live in Volland to this day, worship the Eight Sages, and Gaufolk today consider this a backward and barbarian religion.

Relations

Of all human races in Highfane, the Gaufolk are the most tolerant. They generally hold few prejudices against others and even regard the Etter with less hate than most. Ettergyta and Etterkin are welcome in the Gaurik, as are Alps and Gyta. Those who do not worship Damas or subscribe to the matriarchy of the Gaufolk are welcome, too. They are allowed to retain whatever religion and customs they hold dear, so long as they obey the rule of law and recognize the authority of the Dames. As such, the Gaufolk have successfully annexed the territories of many Alp and Gyta tribes, some of which live relatively secluded in their native domains, while others have moved to and sometimes even integrated into the settlements of the Gaufolk.

Still, the Gaufolk are looked upon with mistrust and are often spurned by the Sormans. The Sormans remember the conquest of Oest by the ancestors of the Gaufolk—when they were given the choice to be assimilated or to flee. Those who fled to Eadland remember that the lands across the Mothersea were once theirs. They know that the Gaurik is in its final phase of consolidation: the Queen-Sorceress is close to making the Gaurik into a mighty empire that retains functionality and flexibility despite its size. A fool can tell that the next step must be expansion, and some Sormans fear that the Gaufolk may once again take what is theirs. The Sormans’ resentment is not necessarily mutual: the Gaufolk see the Sormans as misguided and foolish but do not despise them. It is a tragedy to the Gaufolk that the Sormans were given a chance to become part of true civilization but chose savagery and ignorance instead.

The Yslings, however, despise the Gaufolk, and the feeling is quite mutual. The list of grudges is long; it includes the sack of Karrvy by the ancestors of the Gaufolk and the endless raids of the Yslings into the Gaurik that began during the Aedlig Civil War. Additionally, their differing views on magic and the acceptance of other races have also widened the gap. Since both Yslings and Gaufolk each rule one of the mightiest realms of Oest, it is likely that this age will see them come to blows.

As for the Ulder: they care little for the Gaufolk, and the feeling is mutual. While there are no grudges in the past, their ways are so radically different that the tribal and patriarchal Ulder have a hard time understanding the urbane and matriarchal Gaufolk. They avoid each other, for the Gaufolk do not see the Ulder as either a threat or a potential ally, and the Ulder—confined as they are to the wilderness—do not feel enough of the true power of the Gaufolk to fear them.

Territory

The Gaufolk rule their mainland empire on the continent of Oest, the Gaurik. This empire consists of many provinces, known as Gaus, and is also known as the Hundred-and-One, a name derived from the original number of Gaus in the first incarnation of the Gaurik. The current number of Gaus surpasses this by far, but the name has stuck.

To the north of the Gaurik lie the massive Volbergen, which seal off northern Oest in its entirety with passes leading into Volland, the lands of the Aedligs, and the White Desert, through which a trail leads to the exotic harbors of the Godswater. To the east, beginning at the Volbergen and reaching deep into the south, the Deniza Sea forms another border of the Gaurik. To the southeast, the Deniza Sea empties out into the Kolthasmung Sea, where the Gaurik has built coastal cities to explore and to trade with easterners and those of lands yet more distant. Farther south, the Gaurik is bordered by the plains of the Tavalin, while to the southwest lie the barren lands of Leido’s Waste, beyond which lies Scallingerland. To the west of the Gaurik is the contested Mothersea.

The Gaurik itself has a great variety of climate and geography. One will find a temperate coastal climate on the mid-western coasts, where the white-walled city of Loewe overlooks the Mothersea. To the north, hugging the Volbergen, the air turns warm; vineyards and olive orchards bask in the sun on gently rolling hills, reaching from Sommelingen on the coast of the Mothersea to Weinen on the coast of the Deniza Sea. Yet south nearer Leido’s Waste the weather turns cold and snow falls often and thick. In the east, there are wetlands and rivers to turn the Gaurik into a labyrinth and the air is heavy with water. The Gaurik overlaps much of the empire of the Etter on Oest, and its domain is dotted with ruins of the Etter. Indeed, many cities of the Gaurik are built upon such ruins or around them, and Dames often use the old strongholds of the Etter as ancestral homes. Many other cities of the Gaurik have stood since the Sormans ruled Oest, or date back even further to the years of the Stedda.

Languages

The Gaufolk speak Gauwort, a language derived from Jazak, which their Aedlig ancestors spoke, and Bysprak, the tongue of the Stedda, with elements of many other foreign languages. Gauwort is famed for its incredibly complicated grammar. Generally, it has two variants: Highwort, which uses the correct grammar and is spoken almost exclusively by the nobility and the clergy or written down in works of high literature; and Landwort, a version of Gauwort with more lax rules that serves as a kind of vernacular for day-to-day communication outside of official settings.

Gauwort, especially the Landwort variant, is often spoken outside the Gaurik in the east and north of Oest, where the Gaufolk are a dominant power. In the west, however, the lingua franca is Sydlig, the tongue of the Yslings, who have conquered the Mothersea. As such, many Gaufolk with dealings in the west will know Sydlig, Bysprak, or both.

Naming Customs

Gaufolk women use matronymic surnames, which means that everyone receives a surname derived from their mother’s first name at birth, usually by adding the suffix -a to the name. It is custom for first daughters to have the same first name as their mothers. Since this gets confusing as generations succeed one another, it is also custom to add a numeral to name and surname when they are the same as a parent’s. Finally, women of noble descent add a family name as well. All noble families must descend from a saint, and the family name will always be the original first name of the saint, preceded by the prefix Saint-. In addition, women of noble birth receive a title that varies depending on their holdings and position but defaults to Lady for those in rank below that of a Dame.

Gaufolk men also receive a matronymic name, but must add a suffix to indicate that they are male, which is usually -zon, -vik, or -man, with exact spelling varying depending on local customs and dialect. Gaufolk men of noble birth are not allowed to use the family name but do receive a title. This title is always Sir or—for those related to a woman holding the rank of Countess or higher—Prince, regardless of their holdings or position. This male variant of a noble title is not hereditary; nobility does not pass down through the male line, and the children of a nobleman are considered commoners.

Characters

Lady Morgen Morgena IX Saint-Anka: Master Celestine of Kechselgau.

Lady Natana Erna Saint-Inge: a captain in service of Lady Morgen.

Lady Ulle Ulla XI Saint-Bernate: Celestine of Kechselgau in service of Lady Morgen.

Gaufolk

A helmet of the Celestines, a sacred order of the Gaufolk. A helmet of the Celestines, a sacred order of the Gaufolk.
Race Human
Territory Oest
Ruler the Queen-Sorceress
Religion Damas-of-the-Dagger

So, what do you think?

Start reading now or download your first free rpg-module! If you like what you see, join us and start your own adventure in Highfane.