Dragon Age Origins: Shadow of the Blight
In ancient Ferelden the Alamarri tribes were oppressed across the Frostback Mountains and eventually forced to separate. The Alamarri split into three tribes, each taking a piece of Ferelden to call their home. One group settled the Ferelden Valley, one was pushed into the Korcari Wilds, and the last returned to the mountains. Modern Fereldans bear little resemblance to their Alamarri ancestors, and the Chasind in the Wilds remember few of their traditions, but the Avvars in the Frostbacks have changed little throughout the ages. The Frostback Mountains are a harsh and dynamic landscape and the Avvars reflect this in their traditions. 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 led 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. Regardless, most people in Ferelden still consider the hillsmen uncivilized barbarians, while the Avvars think their old foes weak and corrupt. It is 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. By contrast, 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.
While comparatively few in number, they are still fell warriors, hardened by their harsh lives. Avvars are skilled hunters and fierce combatants who exult in battle. They raid into the Fereldan lowlands under the cover of heavy storms, using the great cold to their advantage, as their mountain homes have all but inured them to its bite. Occasionally, Avvars descend to the lowlands to work as mercenaries or adventurers. 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. Their treacherous homeland has taught them to avoid heavy armor. They prefer strong chain links, dwarf wrought if they can get it, wrapped in warm furs. Avvars favor axes and spears over swords. Their bows are heavy, with long shafts capable of piercing a man’s torso at great distance.
Generally, the Avvars are encountered only in the midst of winter, unless one happens to be traveling through the heights of the Frostbacks. It is nearly impossible to catch a hunting party of Avvars unawares, due to their great skill at falconry. A hunting party will nearly always have a mountain eagle or two, highly clever and well-trained birds that scout for them. Indeed, Avvars are far more likely to ambush others than be caught themselves. As with all alamarri, they also rely on their warhounds. The hot blooded Avvars are proud, honorable, and relish any opportunity to prove themselves superior to those they consider to be heretical lowlanders. A clever combatant with knowledge of the Avvars’ ways can try to use either their arrogance or their many superstitions against them.
Avvarian Culture and Religion
Permanence is a foreign concept to the Avvars. Nothing in the Frostbacks stays the same forever and wind and rain eventually eats away the strongest holds. Valleys that were arable one generation are locked in year-round ice the next. Game is constantly on the move. Even among themselves, the Avvar make no absolute promises and nothing in Avvar life is permanent either. Avvar settlements are temporary; their agreements and alliances are temporary; even their marriages are temporary.
Although often referred to as a single entity, the Avvars are actually groups of small clans which operate independently of each other, fending for themselves beholden only to their thane. Each is settled 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.
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. When two Avvars get married, during the ceremony the bride will sing a hymn to a select god while the groom attempts to undo a series of knots in a long rope. The number of knots the groom manages to undo will determine the years that the marriage will last.
The only unifying concepts that the Avvars share are their beliefs and culture. The Avvars still worship their old gods, the three dominant ones being Korth the Mountain-Father, Hakkon Wintersbreath and The Lady of the Skies. They also worship many lesser unknown animal gods similarly to the way in which the Dalish venerate the Halla. 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.
Korth the Mountain Father
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.
Haa kon Wintersbreath
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 Skies
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 Clever
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 Sigfost
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.
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…
With Ferelden being based on Anglo-Saxon England, design elements suggest that the Avvar are inspired by the Celtic tribes of Britain: for example, their oppression by the Tevinter Imperium, who are based on the Roman Empire and their tribal dress, which resembles tartan kilts.