“Life is service. Serve the captain, serve the Duchess, serve God Herself.”
Poor in nobility but rich in raw materials, the Iskan Duchesses command a nation of soldiers and traders devoted to church, crown and coin.
The United Duchies of Iskaland are a mighty military power but landlocked. In peacetime, their military is largely unoccupied and turns to mercenary activities. The soldiers are highly organised through religious ties, and have a place for veterans and ne’er-do-wells in the baggage train. They are also known for their network of guilds and financiers who make do with their homeland’s basic resources to ensure that the country stays wealthy enough to maintain their military. The two groups are inter reliant but tend not to acknowledge each other’s usefulness. Iskaland is a matriarchal nation and the Matrial Church is more common, their weapons are the pike and cannon, and their clothes often feature buckles. Their national colour is black.
Despite the failures of the first Governor of the Osterheim colony, Iskan economic interests in the New World have flourished. Using this new wealth, a “Summer Palace” was constructed for the Matrial Pontiff, who accepted an invitation to live among the Iskan faithful and has not returned to Tassanos since.
A trade agreement between Iskaland and Angheim has grown into a formal alliance between these two nations, but it is yet to be tested.
The United Duchies of Iskaland have also acknowledged the rebellious settlement of Charleston as a nation in their own right, in exchange for favourable trade agreements. With the waning health of the Grand Duchess, her 19-year-old heir Anastasia serves as Princess Regent, having been taken under the Matrial Pontiff’s tutelage.
At constant risk of invasion by the heathen hordes beyond, or even their competitors within Sollundum, the Iskan people have long known that unity is their only defence. Inhabitants of traditionally poor lands, their efforts have ensured that together they can flourish and have had periods of dominance in international politics.
Iskaland is mostly a flat plain broken up with forests, stretching East until it meets the Heathen Steppes and bordered in the North by sea or mountains. Iskan weather is known for rain and snowfall: even in Summer the roads are often bogged by mud and in Winter the trade roads are usually obstructed by snowfall.
- The Heartland, the region surrounding the Capital, is home to Iskaland's academies. The people of the Heartland are educated and skillful - if a little set in their ways - giving rise to a vast majority of Iskaland's leadership caste, from Duchesses to Captains. The Capital is the only major city but the people of the Heartland enjoy the security afforded by their central location.
- The Eastern edge of Iskaland - and Sollundom - is along the Eastern Marches; harsh but well-populated rural territories whence come most of Iskaland’s military forces. If it weren’t for frequent warfare with the Eastern Heathens. the Markduchies would be quite prosperous places but too much of their resources are dedicated to war. Menaced by the Heathens from the steppes, they are famous for their disciplined pike blocks.
- Iskans born along the coast of the North Sea are of mixed heritage, often sharing blood and customs with Angheimers who travelled East along the coast and settled there in ancient times - refugees seeking more-faithful lands to settle. The northern coast is famous for its cliffside lighthouse-cathedrals, casting the light of God Herself across the northern seas. Most of Iskaland's naval interests sail from ports in this region.
- The Border Cities, that neighbour the rest of Sollundum, profit from their large skilled populations and from their financial sectors. They are home to most of the Iskan guilds and their most-talented artisans, and the most-open to foreign influence, ideas and fashion. The guilds of the Border Cities are a land apart, seen as less loyal or integral to Iskaland than the Heartland.
Iskaland is made up of a number of nominally equal principalities ruled by Duchesses or Dukes. Their territories vary in size from a single trading town to a vast border march spanning hundreds of kilometres. It is not uncommon for Duchies to operate autonomously without direction from their Duchess, since the aristocracy often is absent on military campaigns or at the court of the Grand Duchess. These United Duchies are led by the Grand Duchess, elected from their number upon the death of the previous ruler.
Iskan Nobility is the most consistently wealthy. Not that they’re all really rich, far from it, but they’re all around the same level. The richest Iskan noble is not as rich as the richest Padrician noble, but most have a respectable amount of resources at their disposal. This is because they don’t have the same hangups about commerce or hard work that nobles from other countries do; it’s actually more likely for an Iskan mercantile interest to be owned by a noble than a commoner, and most Guild Mistresses are nobly born.
The most ostentatious architecture, dress and art in Iskaland is religious imagery, as the Iskan Church strives to evoke awe in its worshipers and humility in its clergy. Unlike most Iskans, the priesthood is prone to ostentatious displays of wealth in an effort to reflect the glory of God Herself. The Church commands respect and dignity at all times, and its priesthood is often found among the mercenary companies offering comfort before battle. Iskan religion is unique for its use of light; from the lighthouses of the Northern Coast, to the candles of common soldiers. The frequent call and response of Matrial ceremonies is frequently incorporated into pre-battle rituals or training drills, or to seek God Herself’s blessing over labours. The frequent threat of death or defeat makes Iskans very conscious of their sins, their place in the world, and their relationship with God Herself. Even when priests are not present, Iskans will often chant a prayer to themselves where another person might whistle or sing.
The reverence of the Iskans along the Border Cities is often less than that of the rest of the people, since their level of comfort and their mingling with outside influences diminishes the importance of religion in their lives.
The Blood is weak in Iskaland, since religious devotion excludes those with the Blood, it has been excised from many of the most faithful families. It is strongest rarest in the religious North, and often hidden. This contrasts with the Eastern Nobles, who have embraced it to call upon it for purposes of war against the Heathen, fighting fire with fire. While many Duchesses exhibit the Blood, it has for the most part not been an essential element of Iskan politics: major disputes tend to be settled on the battlefield or the boardroom, rather than by individual violence.
The national colour of Iskaland is black. Their palette is dominated by a lack of flashiness; browns and greys or dull, faded colours prevail. Most Iskans are unable to obtain the rich dyes or exotic materials available to a Tassonian or Angheimer noble.
Gold and brass jewellery and accessories are predominant over silver or steel; not only because most Iskans follow the Matrial Orthodoxy but also because steel is preferentially directed to weapons or industry over personal effects.
Iskan clothing features buckles as closings and tough fabrics canvas or leather as the outer layer. Garments should be cut with a low modern waistline, emphasising a rectangular figure - taking inspiration from modern and Hollywood interpretations of Renaissance costuming.
Styles from all throughout the Renaissance period can be applied to Iskan fashion, due to a few factors: the Border Cities’ place as a trading hub; Iskaland’s decided lack of leadership in the fashion stakes; and the variety of styles across the various Duchies. Coats often feature a mantlet over both shoulders, in the “highwayman” style.
Soldiers on campaign might wear vests with a sash in the style of English Civil War soldiery, or Swedish troops during the Thirty Years’ War.
Period-appropriate headwear with a wide brim and not much ornamentation, such as prilgrim hats or simple felt hats, are best for Iskalanders.
- Teamwork: Iskans value cooperation above pretty much anything. If you can’t work as part of a team, you’re a bad Iskan. Hard work, ingenuity and ambition aren’t punished, but Iskaland has a hard history of being defeated by internal division. This is easily translated into their personal relations and small-scale politics; if you can’t be worked with, or you’re discovered undermining the people around you, you’ll find yourself at the wrong end of a pike.
- Reverence: Iskans are a particularly religious lot. Most of them have found themselves praying for their safety - whether on a worksite or battlefield - and expect reverence of God Herself, the Church, and religion in general. Iskans know that even the Heathens of the North and East have religion, and that it is unwise to spit on any God. Blasphemy, or a failure to respect ceremony, are things that most Iskans find distasteful.
- Thriftiness: Through their relative poverty, Iskans are very conscious of the value of a thing. Guildmembers apply this to their craft, and are mindful of ensuring that a fair price is paid for their goods or work. Soldiers and farmers shun wastefulness and will take strenuous measures to make the most of what they’ve got. They tend towards asceticism without actually embracing pauperhood, and look down upon ostentatious displays of wealth (except by religious figures, whom they expect to be quite showy).
- Victory: Iskaland is beset on all sides by competitors or outright enemies, most of whom have some kind of resource advantage. An Iskan strives against all odds, applying their resilience and dogged determination to achieve success. Iskans believe that boast achieves little, and do not respect those who indulge in it. Instead, they will demand proof of success before they grant acknowledgement. They can also be quite antagonistic if challenged, and are keen to correct those who underestimate them.
- Abandonment: Once they’ve completed their apprenticeship, Iskans do that job until they’re physically incapable of doing it anymore. After that, Iskaland is finished with you. If you can’t work, there’s nobody except maybe your immediate friends and family to look after you. The physically or mentally infirm either find ways to be of service - looking after trainees or paperwork, for example - or they die poor and alone.
- Isolationism: While they are rigid adherents to their own chains of command and authority, Iskans have little respect for outside organisations. They recognise one Duchess, one Captain or one Guildmistress. The mercenary sees a Guildmistress' instructions as no more authoritative than an apprentice's - that is to say, not at all.
- Russian Orthodox religious imagery and relation with Steppe peoples.
- Polish internal division, relations with Steppe peoples, and diversity.
- The Holy Roman Empire’s internal divisions, mercenaries, Free Cities and North German mercantile traditions like the Hansa.
- Swiss craftsmanship and mercenaries
- The Netherlands’ commerce, and political organisation.
- Italian condottieri, rich religious iconography and political division.
Six Typical Iskalanders
- The Mercenary Captain: a noble-born or wealthy commoner in command of a body of soldiers, probably an able combatant herself.
- The Guildmistress: leader of a commercial cartel, capable of both reasonable negotiation and cut-throat competition.
- The Mercenary Soldier: a lifer, disciplined and devoted to Duchess and Deity. Skilled with pike or blade and quick to defend his superiors.
- The Guild Enforcer: caravan guard or city watch, loyal to the paymaster and ruthless when it comes to lawbreakers.
- The Camp Follower: an army is not just its soldiers; every force has a train of priests, surgeons, armourers, cooks, and those simply too old or young to fight.
- The Skilled Artisan: someone has to produce all the stuff that the guilds sell, and the Cities are full of labourers doing just that.
Things to avoid
- Warhammer: While they are a militaristic and religious people, Iskaland is not a nation of zealots. They have a quiet reverence for all things spiritual and religious, they are thrifty and humble, and their connection with God Herself is one borne out of a familiarity with death. Witch Hunters and Inquisitors are not part of the Iskaland brief and are not appropriate characters.
- Crusaders: See Warhammer above! Iskalanders' religion is about informing their own behaviour, and rarely about enforcing it on others. Their wars with the Heathens on their Eastern frontiers are not religiously-motivated, but about expanding Iskan territory and halting the steppe peoples' advance.