This is often referred to as “the land of halflings”, as the race usually referred to as halflings is the primary people of the area and exert most control of the area. They are an ancient race, but are young at heart and have a simple culture. They are a semi-nomadic folk, though there are a few settlements and even cities. They share their territory with small groups of other races, but it would appear that few people are as comfortable with dry and unappealing terrain as these happy little wanderers.
Formal Name: Opar Hatalu (The Eternal Plains)
Ruling Body: representative democracy, matriarchal, oligarchic; three large cooperating tribal groups
Common Races: halflings; some humans, elves, gnomes, kobolds, goblins, dwarves; various individuals
Capital: none to speak of, but much power is centered on the tent city Naqikez’, a pillar city of the north called The Towers (recently built), or tied to the city-state of Na-T’uran’
Major Cities: there are no great or noticeable cities in Opar Hatalu, as all of these people are semi-nomadic or clan-based and live in small communities scattered about the region; there is a great tent city on the northern edge of the Sand Sea called Naqikez’ (The Place Where Power Is, or The Powerful Place) that varies from a few hundred to over 50,000 (seasonal); The Towers, built within and on top of three great spires in the north country, is also fast becoming a city of considerable size and with a durable population of over 2,000 ranging up to 20,000 seasonally.
Population Centers: northern tribe lives in small complexes of caves or in spire-side dwellings; central tribe lives in wagon-homes made from the shells of giant tortoises and warrens; southern tribe lives in stone and glass buildings; southeastern tribe lives in villages and warrens
Territory: from the Hidden River on the east to the verdant plains on the west; from the borders of the Emerald Jungle and the Great Northern Wall on the north to the Hot Sea and the Shoulder of the Sea on the south, including the Shards, the Barrens, the Sand Sea, and a small region of hills adjacent to the Verdant Plains
Provinces: the Shards are held by the Rockwalker tribe; the Barrens are held by the Tortoise Clans; the Sand Sea is held by the Sandwalker tribe; the southeastern hills are tended by the Gardeners; and the southern coast is home to the Foamdancers.
Terrain: rocky flats, hills, and spires (north); gravelly flats and low rolling hills (central); sand dunes (south and southeast); fertile hills (southwest)
Environment: hot and dry with chilly winters; minimal rainfall except seasonal monsoons; fertile pockets along streams and rivers and natural cisterns; cyclic fauna in tiered seasons
Growth Style: Trade route and enclaves only, though they would gladly settle the Verdant Plains if they were vacated by their current residents.
Economic Base: trading goods, transporting, wind power, glass and crystal, information trading, tortoise shell, entertainers, iron grass
Coinage: mixed trade coinage prevails, with pieces hailing from nearly the entire world but most common are coins from surrounding areas; pieces of tortoise shell are most commonly used as trade markers among the locals, but platinum, gold, silver and copper are most regular.
Languages: Halfling is spoken amongst the families and, since it is closely related to Common, this is regularly spoken by almost all dwellers in the desert. Human tongues, Kobold, Goblin, Dwarven, Elven, and Gnome are fairly common also.
Alignments: CG, CN, NG; small pockets of NE, CE, LE
Allies: On friendly terms with Uburru, Na-T’uran’, Routufenzen, Ha-Sin’nana, and Pelenia (though they are very leary of expansionists)
Enemies: though not neighbors with Yan-Tek, excursions by goblin commando groups have made most halflings fast enemies of the Jade Empire; at odds with expansionist elements of the gnomes in Pelenia
The people of Opar Hatalu are principally halflings, members of one of the three major tribes that control the region. They are typically cooperative with each other, live communally, and are open-minded. They are known to be wanderers and nomads, free-spirited and fun-loving folk who have big goals and mystic dreams tied to the world in which they live. Dreams, they say, are what makes them usually pretty calm and philosophical people. Do not make the mistake of believing one of these tribal halflings is passive in the face of tyranny or oppression, though. Their frenzied battle style has been known to send armies of great size running or to their graves. Renowned as merchants, their mathematics is very advanced in terms of trade and calculating water and airflow. They are known for exploiting air power, the sun, wheels, and glass.
Life and Society
Life in the Opar Hatalu, like the solar system, revolves around three principle things, in this case: water, trade, and freedom. All of the denizens of the desert, regardless of race, are bound to some degree by these three things. For the halflings, water is sacred and precious. Culturally, no Opar Hatalu halfling will take a drink or even eat food without offering a small bit back to nature in the hopes that this will appease the spirits of nature and lead them to continue providing sufficient for the needs of the tribe. Life is hard work for the halflings of the desert and they are no strangers to labor and travel. The clans typically move about the desert so as not to overtax any one area. This hard life has led to the small folk being surprisingly hardy and very dedicated to each other, even when they undertake a wandering to a place far from their clan. This has also led the clans to have strong ties to each other. This habit of wandering has led to a very active mercantile lifestyle for the locals. They have become a strong trade entity and a crucial knot in the tapestry of trade in Tara. The clans typically carry tons of trade goods around with them in their tortoise- or donkey-drawn wagons made of giant tortoise shells, trading with caravans or people from all over the world. They regularly visit the tent city at Naqikez’, The Towers, and Na-T’uran’, as well as communities in Routufenzen, Ha-Sin’nana, Uburru, and Pelenia. Many halfling traders take up with caravans to places even further beyond, and entire families or clans have been known to establish trade routes to extremely distant locations, like Kham, Tauria, and the Wild Coast. For all of their cohesiveness and cooperative nature, one of the most important things to remember is that these halflings will not require any other person to follow their lead. They lead by wisdom, example, enterprise, and energy and others follow because they see that this fellow or lady has strong direction to their goal and a living power in motion. Clans are usually led by the most successful trader and the most successful trading clans typically lead the tribes. The strongest clans in the tribe typically modify their structures to become a network of leadership for the entire nation. The second most common and established race in the area are less cooperative, leading them to often depend on raiding for their lifestyle. The kobolds of the desert are usually traders, but are far more selfish and destructive in nature, which leads them to quickly dissolve any enterprise they undertake and turn instead to raiding caravans. This has led to a bitter rivalry between the local halflings and kobolds on many occasions, with halfling barbarians scouring out bands of kobold rogues in response to some raiding party damaging or stealing their goods. Kobolds of the area live in small clan groups, typically, though they have been known to grow into raiding parties of several hundred to a couple thousand.
Clothing: The basic dress of the desert is usually pants, pantaloons or longs skirts topped by light tunics or vests. In inclement weather, these are augmented by light jackets, shawls, or ponchos of water-resistant or heat-trapping materials. Shoes tend toward sandals for the most part, though low soft shoes or riding boots are fairly common. A tendency to intricate decoration of parts of an outfit is very common. Among the kobolds, clothing is minimal where the halflings tend to cover most of their bodies. Clothing tends to be made of hemp, woven grass or irongrass, cotton, leather, or sheepskin. Decorations are usually done with colorful thread, dyes, and glass beads.
Adornment: Large ornate brooches and hat-pins are common, as are big buttons, scarves, bandanas, bangles and gaudy necklaces. Women wear carefully applied make-up or tattoos simulating the same and men tend to wear face paint when hunting or going to battle. Common materials for adornments include tortoise-shell, clay, horn, bone, feathers, crystal, glass, wood, and metal.
Flora and Fauna: The most common and notable plants in the area are olive trees, hemp, wild cotton, sweetgrass, date palms, reeds, rushes, wild maize, nut trees, berry bushes, cacti, sawgrass, thorn bushes, roses, tubers, and irongrass. Common animals include lesser desert tortoises, giant desert tortoises, sheep, wild dogs, riding dogs, falcons, desert fowl, foxes, rabbits, desert deer and antelope, lizards, donkeys, snakes, lions, and mice of various kinds.
Food: Residents of the Opar Hatalu tend to eat lots of soups (usually for communal eating) and sandwiches (more for consumption on an individual basis or while traveling). Common ingredients include mutton, lamb, deer, venison, antelope, sweetgrass, tubers, nuts, berries, cactus, olives, milk, butter, cheese, maize, cornbread, and rabbit. For special occasions, dried tortoise meat may be consumed. A favorite recreational drink is a strong salty grog called olive brack, though people who are not accustomed to desert fare or raised around the drink often find it quite difficult to stomach. Salt is quite common and used to flavor and dry foods. Desert salt is different in flavor from mountain salt and often traded with the Routufenzen to create a variation in savory dishes.
Education: Opar Hatalu residents are educated typically through storytelling, song-keeping, mantra and rote memorization, and reading through whatever works are available. Such education usually emphasizes remembering stories and songs that regale the various points of clan and tribe history, learning methods of producing goods or completing complex services, working base-60 mathematics and complex conversions, and the workings of tribal gatherings and politics. Most of the knowledge kept by the tribes is passed down from generation to generation, though much that is learned from other cultures is added to this as quickly as it is acquired. The native curiosity of the halflings leads to many new creations, but the practical needs of their nomadic lifestyle determines the limits of what remains in use.
Trades: Armorer, Weaponsmith, Weaver, Basket-Maker, Herdsman, Chanter, Cart-Maker, Wheelwright, Hunter, Tracker, Forager, Storyteller, Jeweler, Singer, Cook, Dog Trainer, Actor, Sail-Maker, Tortoise-Keeper, Driver, Juggler, Acrobat, Lodger, Tether-Kiter, Glider, Windmill Maker, Guardian, Merchant, Oil Maker, Leatherer.
Exports: tortoise-shell, grass cloth, woven grass items, woven irongrass items, sweetgrass, kites, textiles, jewelry, cactus, blowguns, boomerangs, refined sand, glass, wind chimes, sun catchers, rain gear, trade goods, songs, stories, dances, theater, snakeskin, lizard skin, sling stones, glass sling bullets (1 hp shatter damage), grass paper, and olive brack.
Entertainment: Around the small campfires of the desert, storytelling, communal singing, solos and duets, games of chance, theatrical performances, and poetry recitation are popular. In the light of day, entertainment tends to the physical, such as wrestling, missile tournaments (sling, spear, stone, crescent, and archery), races (foot, donkey, dog, tortoise, bird, or mouse), dancing, elaborate games of tag, competitions of skill, juggling, and acrobatics.
Health: The healing processes of the desert folk are very dependent on the earth that provides for them. Casts, mud-packs, dirt- or sand-bathing, burial treatment, and herb poultices are all very common. Added to these are herbal teas and remedies of various kinds, as well as sweat lodging and aromatherapy. Slightly more advanced techniques have been introduced to the desert, as well, including lancing, stitching, bandaging, and the use of bug netting. Hygiene is usually limited to dirt bathing during most of the year and bathing in water with herbal soaps and stone scrubbers during the rainy season.
Architecture: As there are very few established communities with permanent structures, the residents of the Opar Hatalu are not known for their architecture and buildings. Instead, they are known for their tortoise wagons and their caravan structures. The homes of the Opar Hatalu are usually carved-out caves, tents, wagons, or sand ships. The coastal halflings also make use of boats purchased from other cultures, such as the gnomes, elves, and humans. Temporary lodgings are also often made with sticks lashed together with grass rope and covered in leather or hide waterproofed with pitch or some kind of sap. Caravans and more established communities are organized based on defensive need and prestige (usually determined by trade power). These communities are usually organized in a spiral pattern when camping and in a single, dual or triple column format when traveling. Outriders are common at all times. Established communities will include alleys between buildings. In the city of Na-T’uran’, the buildings are made of stone, but follow the pattern of the tortoise wagons of the desert caravans. In the northern spires, the caves are often carefully carved out to provide more space and comfort. One of the only regularly found constructions in this region is well-walls. Though no living resident of the Opar Hatalu has ever built a well in the desert, they keep the knowledge of how to do so and how to maintain the structures alive in their song-tales.
Transportation: The largest and most obvious of transportation methods found int he region are the massive two-story (for halflings and kobolds) giant desert tortoise shell wagons drawn by teams of lesser desert tortoises or donkeys. These are the homes of families and often entire clans of halflings. Rarely, kobolds are found in these, though they are usually stolen from the halflings and quickly retrieved. Riding dogs are by far the most common individual transportation methods throughout the entire area. Tether-kites and gliders are common wherever the winds or thermals are strong enough to warrant their use. In the south, sand sailors and ships of the desert are commonly used instead of tortoise-wagons. In the spires of the northern desert, four-wheeled chariots are fairly common.
Arms and Armor: The barbarians and guardians of the desert tend to use items made of tortoise-shell, leather, iron-grass, bone, wood, flint, stone, and fiber, though metals such as copper, gold, silver, iron, and even steel are rare but not unknown. Common melee weapons include spears, short swords, scimitars, clubs, sickles, and flails made of large caltrops. Ranged weapons tend to short bows, spears, darts, throwing axes, throwing daggers, throwing crescents or boomerangs, blowguns, and whips made of leather or irongrass. The use of knock-out drugs and poisons is also common, especially among the kobolds. Armor is often tortoise-shell helmets, breastplates, and spaulders. Also common are irongrass skirts, shirts, and caps, as well as leathers (including studded, coin ring and scale armors), hide, and bone brigandine. Rope binding (especially irongrass rope) is common at weak points in armor. Shields are usually made of tortoise shell, wood, or leather or irongrass stretched over wood. Metal armor and shields are uncommon and usually belong to particularly powerful or strong warriors.
Government: This semi-democratic people cast votes into clan and tribal affairs. These votes are usually organized thus: one vote for each adult male of a household, each wagon-master, each mother, and the eldest member of a family. This does allow several votes to some individuals. All votes are collected by an elected “elder” (traditionally this position is held by the eldest, wisest, or most successful). Each of these elders casts a vote to upper councils based on the votes of his constituency. All of the elders together comprise a sort of tribal council. The leaders of these tribal councils are usually from a single family and they in turn report to the council of tribes on the rare occasions that these are called. The leaders of tribal and inter-tribal council meetings (though not the decideing voices in many cases) are the oldest and wisest women in the land. Because these women are often masters of dream-magic, such councils are often held by proxy in dream sessions.
Land and Water: Land in the Opar Hatalu is considered owned by whoever currently possesses it physically, otherwise considered as unconstrained or owned by any other. In recent years, however, there have been tribes or family groups attempting to establish more permanent dominance in a particularly fertile zone. These attempts rarely have lasting success, though they are becoming more common. Water is typically carried in skin bags, shell drums, and clay jugs, and other vessels. The water used by the folk of the Opar Hatalu is either gathered from rainfall or drawn from carefully cultivated oases and wells or seasonal streams and rivers. Water sources are carefully guarded until needs require a group to move on. Water is considered a precious and sacred resource, the most important, in fact. Wasting water is considered a criminal offense and tainting water is a capital offense (even to the selfish kobolds).
Religion: The religion of the halflings is, for the most part, animistic and spiritualist in nature. They believe that all things have a spirit, even the elements. Most of the plant and animal species are seen as having over-arching spirits tied to entire classes of plants, animals, or peoples. Some have compounded all these spirits under a borrowed pantheon of gods (especially in the north), but there is not a widespread precedence for this). There is only one deity that seems to appear regularly as a specific figure of significance. They call her Ofra ’Namak, meaning Grandmother of the Sands, whom they see as their racial spirit and the entity from whom all spirits and mortals are born and in whose arms they are given life.
Spheres: Air (wind, storms, rain, flight), Fire (heat, light, smoke), Life (blood, protection, preservation), Sun (light, heat, dry air), Light, Travel (wheel, flight, donkey, dog, tortoise, walking running), Good, Chaos (freedom, individuality), Art (song, dance, theater, poetry, juggling), Luck (trade, skill, money, chance)
Symbology: To the people of the Opar Hatalu, the following symbols are of particular import: Spirals (earth, wagon trains, and snakes), Triangles (sails, wings, and mathematics), Thorns (thorn bushes, roses, darts, and daggers), Tortoise Shell (giant desert tortoises, food, water, life, and family/clan/tribe), Wheels (travel, freedom, and trade), Dogs (friends, companions, and hunting), and Glass (sun, light, sand, fire, and air).
Major Geographical Features: The northern section of the Opar Hatalu is comprised of rocky flats punctured by sheer-sided spires of rock that are like needles and fingers of the earth. Some of these are quite wide, nearing mesa size. The rock is hard and weathered by strong winds. The area has scrubby growth and seasonal streams. The halflings in this area are of the earth type. The central section, making up just under half of the landmass of the Opar Hatalu, is a dry plain with some gently rolling hills, where the soil is mostly gravel and packed clay with little plant life except at oases and wells. The halflings here are of the desert/fire type. The southern expanse of the Opar Hatalu, on the east, is a vast sea of sand dunes. The halflings here are of the air type. In the very southwest tip of the Opar Hatalu, along the sea, there is a small region of fertile and moist land on which the water type halflings ply their plows and from which they launch their boats.
Important Sites: Any oasis is an important site in this region. Naqikez’ is an important trading center on the sand sea, bordering on Pelenia. The coastal towns are important stops along the trade routes of the seafarers, and The Towers in the north have become important for caravans passing through the area. In the deep central Opar Hatalu, there are also some ancient ruins, as of two great cities that have fallen almost to rubble. These places have become havens for kobold tribes and the target of many barbarian raids on the scaly thieves. Between the cities of Ha-Sin’nana and Na-T’uran’, a series of wells and slightly built-up fortifications have allowed trading clans to make a regular route through the central desert and grow a thriving mercantile process there. This road has laughingly begun to be referred by many as “Tortoise Trail”. A similar, more seasonally affected trade route lies along either bank of the seasonal river that wells up from the fount at Na-T’uran’ and courses to the sea near Pelenia, marking the border of Uburru on the halfling lands.
Regional History: In the forgotten ages of the Ancient World, there was once a thriving civilization in the central Opar Hatalu, but the two great city-states there are said to have gone to war and destroyed each other. In the Times of Terror, the desert itself came alive and destroyed all who walked there. The earth thrust up its fences in the north and the sand swallowed the south. In the times of forgetting, long before the halflings can recall, their ancestors came into this forsaken land and were able to avoid the detection of the vengeful spirits there long enough to let them go back to slumber. In the more peaceful time that followed, the halflings reconnected with the world, first of all to make the link between nations. This link they used to become a crucial part of the world economy and, by extension, its language. Today, the halflings of the Opar Hatalu are a quiet power that holds the center of the world in its palm. The kobolds of the area are believed to have come following the riches of the caravans, but many tribes claim to have been in the desert, skulking about, long before the halflings.
Plots and Rumors: The inter-tribal council that rules the Opar Hatalu often reside in and are almost always an integral part of the councils of that great city-state. As such, they are caught up in all of the intrigue and politics of that city. They have good trade relations with all of their neighbors, though the court of Pelenia has some expansionist elements with their eyes on the fertile south and the desert sands. Given a chance, they may even seek to take over the trade routes to the north. The humans to the west are war-like and have tried to take sections of the desert many times. No doubt they will again, but they seem unable to keep any portion of it for more than a few years before the raiding kobolds and the angered barbarians turn them back to their wetlands. The Routufenzen, though unappreciative of the gaiety and free-thinking of the halflings are nevertheless their staunch allies, as these enterprising folk are the key to their free trade with the outside world and a part of the wall that keeps the salient armies of Yan-Tek from taking the southern flank of the mountain strongholds. The elves to the east are enigmatic and confusing to most halflings, who cannot understand their aloofness. Nevertheless, they trade with them and try to keep out of their politics as much as possible. There are rumors that the kobolds in the area are somehow gaining in power, which seems to be verified by the fact that more and more raiding parties are successfully attacking caravans and repelling barbarian rebuttals. This bodes ill for the area, as they are known to idolize the power of the Jade Emperor and his people. Recent strange disappearances plague the northern spires and the southern desert, lending power to rumors that the desert is awakening again. Strange lights have even the kobolds staying clear of one of the ancient ruined cities in the deep desert. A clan of traders working the Tortoise Trail is attempting to establish long-standing communities at each of the wells on that route in an attempt to take control of the trade there. This has been met with verbal altercations with other clans and complaints lodged in tribal councils. It is only a matter of time before the hot-headed barbarians come to violence over the matter if it is not soon resolved. An ancient order of evil monks worshiping an undead queen and perhaps worse entities has reawakened near and in the city of Na-T’uran’ and its agents are spilling out into the desert trade routes.