The Age of Ruin
Talon Falls - The People
Talon Falls possesses a unique diversity that most cities lack. Because of its location and history, the city has become home of all the civilized (and some of the not-so-civilized) peoples of the world. Even the isolationistic elves have found a quarter within which to live. And those races most reviled, half-orcs and half-elves, have assimilated themselves into the seedier parts of the city. And though its population is transient and ever changing, the halflings have a permanent presence in the city. Each culture, and how it came to settle in Talon Falls, is outlined below:
Human beings are the founders, and by far the most prevalent people in Talon Falls. 90% of all businesses are human-owned, if not human-run. 80% of the military is human as well. It is said that the city was founded by a handful of survivors from the Ancient times who had burrowed themselves into the mountain in order to protect themselves from the horrors befalling the rest of the world. Whether this is true or not, the oldest records of the city are written in the human tongue and all artwork from that time is purely humanistic.
Human culture is Aristocratic and stratified. It is possible for people of the lower classes to climb to the higher, but it is exceedingly rare. The fastest way to the top is the brutal and devious acquisition and application of money and power. Those who have risen from the lowest level to the highest are the most dangerous and powerful people in the city. Most humans harbor some dreams of climbing the social ladder. The most common routes taken are joining the military and the churches. However, for those who do not have the patience to climb rank so slowly, exploration and treasure-hunting hold the greatest promise of upward mobility.
The Dwarves of Talon Falls are not of the city; so much as they are intimate neighbors. They mingle with the population of the city, and they work alongside their fellow people in the mines, but they remain aloof and apart. All but the most untouchable Dwarves live in their underground sister-city, Avahl, which is dug into the mountain around the Palace. Avahl is directly connected to the Forge beneath the falls and most dwarves can count the number of times in their lives in which they set foot onto Talon Falls proper on one hand.
The Dwarves of Avahl are secretive and private people. They happily entered into a business arrangement with the humans of Talon Falls, exchanging iron for strong workers and other essentials of life and business, but they do not invite the other races into their dark city, nor do they reveal more to the other races than they deem absolutely necessary. The locations of the alloys which are mixed with iron to create steel, for example, are completely unknown except to a handful of dwarven journeymen.
Dwarven culture in Avahl is extremely patriarchal, with the men holding all positions of power, creativity, mastery, and prestige. Dwarven men each have harems of varying number which determines their status among the people. Women are left with the common duties of day to day living, from mining in the Forge, to cooking and raising the children. The men are by no-means lazy, but they have created a society which allows them to pursue their own ends without the encumbrance of mundane concerns.
Though the women seem to have second-class citizenship, they are not treated poorly or ignored; indeed they are held in high-esteem for their accomplishments. It is only that those accomplishments are self-less, and communal. It is rare for a dwarven male to leave the comfort of Avahl for any reason, even to seek glory and renown, but it is absolutely anathema for a woman to do so. Any who do are cut off from their people in a funereal right of excommunication.
The Elves of Talon Falls are a bitter, down-trodden people, holding on to their dignity by only the barest of threads. Throughout the world elves are known for their pomposity and arrogance, their shunning of technology and “unnatural” living. That the elves of Talon Falls live within the fortress walls is a testament to the severity of their plight.
The elves of Talon Falls used to call Ralenhal their home, and had done so for nearly a thousand years. But the arrival of the gnolls and their troll brethren marked the end of their homeland, and for many, their lives. The gnolls came from the north in countless numbers and hammered the Ralen-folk. The orcs and goblins to the South, who had, for nearly a hundred years remained apathetic to the elves, took the opportunity of the gnoll invasion to try and grab some forest of their own. Pressed between these two mighty foes, the Ralen-folk didn’t stand a chance. Though they fought bravely to protect and hide their cairns, they were conquered, and those who refused to flee to the shelter offered by the humans of Talon Falls, were destroyed.
Accepting defeat at the hands of inferior people was only less painful than having to rely on the mercy of humans for their continued survival. But the humans did not greet the elves as slaves or people to be pitied. They allotted them a quarter of their newly expanded city, and allowed them to create for themselves a place all their own, demanding only that they pay the same tribute as all people within in the city walls: 10% of their income, and 20% of their able-bodied youth enlisting into service for the Lord for a period of 8 years. The elves accepted these terms with as much dignity as they could muster, and resigned themselves to a life of humility and shame.
Elven culture is conservative and highly structured. Though they are people of the wild, they have chosen to couch their culture in the artificial confines of tradition. This perhaps has more to do with the longevity of the elven people in general than to anything else. Those who have lived centuries doing things one way fear change. Because of this strict cultural environment, however, young elves undergo rites of passage, which often include their leaving the safety of the homeland and setting out to know the world for a few centuries before returning to the family to take their place in elven society. In Talon Falls, however, this tradition has suffered. Many elders frown upon youths carelessly marching off into the world when their people live in (relative) squalor and shame. And many of the youths who have gone on rites of passage sought to reclaim their homeland from the monstrous races. Few have returned.
Halflings are wanderers at heart. Rarely does a caravan remain in one place for longer than a year, and the vast majority do not even stay that long. It is rumored that once Halflings had a place to call home, but some unnamable horror befell them and they have made a life of wandering ever since. Most halflings, if asked, will say that is a rumor made up by other races, for they have never, nor ever will desire one place to call home. Why should they when they have the whole world?
Most races are conflicted about halflings. On one hand they bring carnivals, music, entertainment, gambling, and celebration with them everywhere they go, which is no small boon to people trying to scratch out an existence in this harsh world. But at the same time, they are shameless scoundrels, thieves, and smugglers. They live outside the cities, and more often than not, outside the law. So whenever a halfling clan or troupe passes through a settlement, the people put on their finest clothes, but hide their finest treasures.
Halfling culture is based around the clan, but only loosely. The curious, and devious, nature of the race means they hold only the most tenuous bonds to any people or places. A halfling may have abandoned his clan decades ago in order to seek adventure, fame, or fun half way around the world. But despite not having seen them for tens of years, if the clan calls in time of need, the members come to answer and do their duty. This call usually involves punishing unfriendly communities, but occasionally it involves bloody feuds between clans, which are rarely matched in savagery and brutality.
Half-elves and half-orcs, as well as any other “half” people do not have cultures. They are barely allowed to exist. Because of the elven character no half-elf is ever accepted in their culture, and humans, chiding under the bigotry and arrogance of the elven people usually take out their frustration on the unwanted half-breed as well. It is only their wits and their skills that keep them living on the fringe of either culture.
Half-orcs have it much harder, however, because they are almost exclusively the product of rape. Orcs revile the half-orc as an abomination, and humans revile them as a creature born of evil. It is only their strength and skill with weapons that allow half-orcs some measure of stability and peace in an otherwise brutal and unforgiving life.