Curse of the Crimson Throne
The Shoanti roam the harshest environments of Varisia, bound together by honor, tradition, and a history steeped in bloody conflict, from their brutally heroic legends to the defeats of the recent past. Shaped by strife, they are stalwart, tenacious, suspicious, and oath-sworn to regain all the land that was once theirs. Shoanti legends say they were chosen in the distant past by ancient emperors as an elite warrior caste, selected for the greatest skill, speed, strength, and— most importantly—honor. The Shoanti people often find it difficult to preserve their cultural beliefs in the face of the changing world and the constant hardships they face, but they consider the loss of their traditions a more devastating fate than losing their own lives.
After years of war with encroaching southern colonists, Shoanti tribes pushed north into the wastelands of the Storval Plateau. While many Shoanti have come to appreciate and admire the stark beauty of this wilderness, some still wish to reclaim the greener lands that were once theirs. Shoanti youths often have a strong urge to roam, seeking insight from the world’s spirits in a long questing journey away from their tribe and its territory. A few Shoanti even turn their backs on their traditional lands to dwell in the greater comfort afforded by civilization.
For thousands of years the Shoanti lived in relative peace with the Varisians who shared their lands. Their primary conflicts were with the wild beasts of the region, raiding orcs from the east and barbarians from the north, and the harsh landscape itself. When the Chelaxian Empire expanded into southern Varisia through Bloodsworn Vale in 4406 AR, the Shoanti found themselves facing a new enemy: colonizers from the south. The battles between the people of what would become Korvosa and the Shoanti raged for decades, the The Last Shoanti War was the final conflict which started in 4462 and ended in 4488.
Shoanti are powerfully built, and often stand more than 6 feet tall as adults. Though their skin tones vary at birth from medium fawn to dark brown, most have ruddy undertones, and by the time Shoanti are old enough to walk, any skin not usually covered by clothing has taken on a deep tan. Shoanti eye colors range from amber to pale gray to dark brown. They consider long hair a dangerous liability in hand-to-hand combat, and most adults shave their heads completely, though shamans, the elderly, and young Shoanti seeking partners with whom to begin families may allow their hair to grow long.
Most outlanders recognize Shoanti by their distinctive tribal tattoos, which are usually easily visible. The Shoanti patrols that come into contact with foreigners tend to favor minimal, nonrestrictive clothing. Shoanti wear high, stiff leather boots when traveling or living in areas with venomous or aggressive wildlife, but otherwise prefer sandals. Aside from their elaborate tattoos, Shoanti are not given to complex ornamentation, but if they wish to trade or make a good impression, they sometimes wear rings or bracelets that foreigners may recognize as valuable.
The Shoanti are divided into seven nations, known as quahs, which are further divided into tribes. The tribes within a quah roam the land for much of the year, setting up their yurts when game is plentiful and moving on as it becomes scarce. They share most items collectively and eschew the notion of individual ownership of land, though each quah has a territory over which it claims stewardship. Some tribes practice subsistence farming for part of the year, and most meet seasonally to trade. Each tribe keeps some coin with its other treasures to use when dealing with outlanders, but the Shoanti do not use money among themselves. The Shoanti largely forgo fixed settlements or fortifications, seeing them as invitations for their enemies to attack.
A quah is defined by its culturally distinct traditions, iconography, totems, and rites of passage. Each tribe is ruled by a warchief, called a jothka, who is advised by a shaman known as a thundercaller—a storyteller and performer who maintains and passes on the tribe’s history. Each tribe’s jothka answers to the quahjothka, the head of the quah. Crimes against one’s tribe members are seen as the most serious offense one can commit against nature, the gods, and other humans; a Shoanti who kills or seriously injures another tribe member faces exile, which is often a tacit death sentence in the harsh environment of northeastern Varisia’s Storval Plateau.
Each Shoanti receives a birth name to use during childhood. Upon reaching adulthood, a Shoanti gains an honorific title—based on her memorable deeds or experiences, prominent character traits, or a famous parent or ancestor— which is used in place of her birth name. This honorific may change several times during a Shoanti’s life, and the same title is never given to one individual if it’s in use by another. An adult Shoanti’s birth name might be used as a nickname by close family or lovers, but most reveal it to a non-Shoanti only if the outlander has earned a deep enough level of trust to become surrogate family. Shoanti who abandon their tribes sometimes revert to using their birth names, but most traditional Shoanti find this practice shameful.
The Shoanti live in a world of totem spirits—the animating force of animals, supernatural beasts, great rivers, the rarely glimpsed Athaureon that lights the northern sky, and even the deadly emberstorms that sweep the Cinderlands—all of which watch over and guide those who have the wisdom to heed them. These totems first identify themselves to Shoanti as they cross the threshold into adulthood, usually in the form of visions granted during the dangerous rites of passage unique to each quah. A quah has particular totems it holds as especially sacred, and because Shoanti animism is also combined with ancestor worship, members of a quah may see themselves as descended from the aurochs or the lightning storms they revere, or attribute characteristics of their favored totems to ancestors or great heroes from their history. A storied shaman may thus be portrayed with hawks’ wings sweeping from his back, or a victorious battle leader may be shown with flames springing from her footprints, leading some non-Shoanti scholars to theorize that some of the quahs may have been led by half-celestial or elemental-blooded individuals. However, such attempts to distinguish between the literal and metaphorical are almost always met with either stony impatience or amused disdain by Shoanti storytellers; if one deigns to elaborate on her reaction, it is usually only to advise against the folly of imposing outlander interpretations on Shoanti tales.
Each quah has a deeply rooted spiritual bond with its ancestral lands. A Shoanti will readily acknowledge that his environment is harsh and perilous, while observing with quiet pride that he is one of the creatures that make it such. Under that swagger lies a brash appreciation for the sort of dangers that would terrify any sensible visitor, and those whom a Shoanti honors with friendship may even detect a note of tenderness in the Shoanti’s descriptions of his homeland’s harsh and lethal beauty. Most Shoanti don’t treat the land itself as a totem, but their relationship with it suggests that at some level they view it as a living being.
The major gods of the Inner Sea region are familiar to the Shoanti from their contact with outlanders, and a few tribes pay some form of homage to Desna, Gorum, Gozreh, or Pharasma. Shoanti who leave their lands may adopt these outlander forms of worship as well, but most who stay with their quahs remain faithful to their ancestral spiritual practices.
The Shoanti value skill at wilderness survival and combat. Shoanti warriors use several distinctive pieces of weaponry, including the earth breaker (a two-handed spiked maul), the klar (a bladed shield traditionally made from the skull of a breed of giant gecko called the horned spirestalker), and Shoanti bolas (similar to a normal bolas, but designed to kill rather than incapacitate). The Shoanti have also developed a unique fighting style known as “thunder and fang,” which utilizes the earth breaker and klar in deadly combinations.
When a Shoanti youth has completed her quah’s rite of passage, her tribe’s spiritual leader chooses a tattoo from an expansive assortment of traditional runic symbols. Each has multiple levels of interpretation, and as a Shoanti lives her life and adds to her deeds, she expands the designs and evolves their patterns to add personal nuances to their meanings, but the first marking sets the theme for the patterns. These extensive markings often wrap around the wearer’s torso, limbs, and sometimes up the neck and across the face.
The patterns that ornament Shoanti’s bodies connect them to their past and to the land they inhabit, drawing on stories of the creatures and natural spirits of the environment as well as the shape and character of the land itself. Each quah favors patterns that represent the strengths and virtues it prizes, and a Shoanti can identify another’s quah, tribe, totems, and personal history after a few seconds of glancing over his tattoos. While the associations and allusions a particular symbol calls up vary for members of different quahs, the basic meaning is universal across Shoanti culture. A tattoo’s bearer can proudly account for every specific mark, and in most cases, will happily tell the stories behind each and every one of them.
The Shoanti people are united by tradition and shared heritage, but separated into seven distinctive quahs. Conflicts are usually settled by small skirmishes or ritualized combat between champions to determine which side the spirits favor.
Lyrune-Quah (Moon Clan): Renowned as skilled, keeneyed archers, these nocturnal Shoanti usually hunt during dusk and travel by the light of the moon. The Lyrune-Quah value insight and precision over raw brawn, and favor symbols suggestive of the night, sight, and wisdom.
Shadde-Quah (Axe Clan): The members of this coastal quah are expert divers and spear fishers. They reside in sea caves during colder months and build boats to strike back savagely at raiders from the north. The Shadde-Quah prefer symbols that suggest vitality and endurance, and evoke the ocean and its creatures.
Shriikirri-Quah (Hawk Clan): The Shriikirri-Quah are known for their deep reverence for the land’s animal spirits. Skilled at both hunting and training animals, Hawk Clan outriders are among the finest mounted warriors in Varisia. Their symbolism generally suggests travel, the wilds, and animals—particularly horses.
Shundar-Quah (Spire Clan): The Shundar-Quah see the welfare of all Shoanti as their sacred trust. They act as diplomats between quahs to ease tribal tensions, and spread tales of Shoanti bravery and unity. They prize harmony, watchfulness, and the ability to lead, and adorn themselves with runes that evoke protection.
Sklar-Quah (Sun Clan): The Shoanti of the warlike Sun Clan are the least tolerant of outlanders. Their most famous warriors are the burn riders—elite cavalry who ride through fire as a rite of passage. Much of their tattoos involve stylized flames.
Skoan-Quah (Skull Clan): The enigmatic Skoan-Quah act as guardians of burial grounds and the honored dead. Skull Clan shamans serve as ancestral historians, and boneslayers in each tribe specialize in warding off evil spirits and destroying undead creatures. Skoan-Quah are generally recognized by the prevalence of skulls and bones in their tattoos and iconography.
Tamiir-Quah (Wind Clan): The reclusive Tamiir-Quah seasonally inhabit several rugged, mountainous regions. These swift warriors swoop down from the high peaks to attack trespassers and mount lightning raids on lowland areas. Most of their symbols reference speed, freedom, and their mountain homes.
Like most cultures with strong oral traditions, the Shoanti have a wealth of epics, folktales, parables, and myths that encode their history, teach their people ethics and values, glorify their heroes, and serve as entertainment— as well as having myriad versions unique to each family or tribe. One cycle of tales, however, is notable for being identical across all seven quahs, memorized letter-perfect by shamans and other lore-keepers and related carefully to each new generation. This cycle of stories claims that the Shoanti came to Varisia in a time before time, carried there by cruel gods known as the Azghat, who brought order to the world. The Shoanti were their blades, selected for this task because of their skill, speed, strength, and honor. The Azghat organized their enforcers into seven divisions, giving each a purpose unique to their gifts. When great numbers rose up against the Azghat, they fell into a spiral of evil and dishonor in the fight. With heavy hearts, the Shoanti were forced to turn on their former patrons, and after defeating them, to let their kingdom crumble into dust. One symbol, the seven-pointed star, remains as a reminder of the Shoanti unity and victory when they overthrew their masters. To this day, they carry not only their own honor, but the remains of the gifts given to them by the Azghat, and with each victory, they restore a little bit of the renown of their past, slowly bringing back the Azghat’s memory and resurrecting their glory. Until this work is complete, those who seek to purge the Shoanti and the memory of the Azghat from the land will be many, but the Shoanti will remain strong.
Outlanders are the objects of suspicion and outright distrust by the quahs, the most conservative of which are blatantly xenophobic. The historical enemies of the Shoanti are numerous: the giants of the Kodar Mountains, the orcs of the Hold of Belkzen, raiders from the Lands of the Linnorm Kings, and colonists from Cheliax. The Shoanti mind-set is that of a besieged people, as every year they hear the footsteps of more foreigners treading on their lands.
Yet Shoanti prejudice against outlanders is nuanced. Their legends hold that their ancestors were born from the unions of the strongest members of many different peoples, and most Shoanti readily acknowledge and attempt to learn from the strengths of non-Shoanti who earn their admiration. Despite their deeply ingrained hatred of Chelaxians, most Shoanti see Chelish failings as the result of the inf luence of Chelish culture, rather than of a taint in the Chelish bloodline. If a member of a Shoanti tribe offers sanctuary to an outlander, the entire tribe views maintaining that protection as an obligation, and may eventually adopt an outlander who earns the right to be viewed as an equal, offering those who share their ideals a chance to face the quah’s rite of passage. Once a foreigner has completed the rite, she is considered as much Shoanti as any other member of her quah. Her foreign past is neither a taboo subject nor a curiosity, for the essence of being Shoanti is adherence to a set of ethics and ideals, bonds with members of one’s quah and its totems, and defense of the quah and its lands, rather than a particular heritage.
Where on Golarion?
The Shoanti originate from the region of northwestern Avistan now known as Varisia. They have dwelled there since before the Age of Anguish, but until relatively recently, they largely had contact only with wandering Varisians. Today, the Shoanti people can be found in Varisia and the areas around it, especially the untamed lands of the cold north where their strength and ferocity matches with that of the natives of these areas, such as the Lands of the Linnorm Kings, the Realm of the Mammoth Lords, and as far west as the edges of the Worldwound and Numeria. Some Shoanti also inhabit parts of the Hold of Belkzen, but the mutual hatred between Shoanti and orcs makes this a hostile and bloody existence. Very few Shoanti seek to settle in the lands southeast of Varisia, as their antipathy is still strong toward what they see as the “Chelish” nations of Nidal and Nirmathas.
Edge of Anarchy
The Shoanti began to muster for potential conflict when one of their kind was murdered in the streets and his corpse was taken by the Necroterrorist Rolth. Thousand Bones managed to talk down many of the would-be aggressor’s when his corpse was returned and the proper burial ceremonies were able to be performed.
A History of Ashes
The party encountered several of the Shoanti clans, with the Skoan-Quah they were greeted by Thousand Bones and given the quest to acquire a Truthspeaker from the Lyrune-Quah, before encountering Krojun and had a friendly game of Sredna with him, though Frank lost.
After visiting the Lyrune-Quah and defeating the Red Reaver that infiltrated their sacred ground they gained the Truthspeakers pledge to witness their ritual or worthiness. He witnessed them take the Cindermaw challenge and reported it to the Sklar-Quah.