Five paladins walk into a bar
Covered in a thick coat of fur, with keen eyes and large mobile ears atop their heads, Kittarans are very suited to living and hunting in the heavy snows and freezing temperatures of the north. Each individual may stand from four to five and a half feet at maturity, with their ears adding roughly 6 inches of additional height. Their tails are typically about two feet long and bushy like a fox’s tail. They are used for balance and for assisting communication (like a cat or dog). The large ears are topped with an elongated tuft of fur resembling that of a bobcat.
Their fur is almost a solid white, only interrupted with small flecks of brown or gray during the winter months, with the non-white hairs becoming more common during the summer months, acting as a very effective natural camouflage in their environment. The thick fur allows a Kittaran to comfortably burrow into snowbanks and remain motionless for long periods of time. An invader would do well to beware the ambush of angry Kittarans erupting from what he believed to be featureless snow.
Their faces are long snouts, much like that of a fox long tufts at the cheeks. Their eyes are slightly larger than those of a similarly sized human. Their teeth are a mix similar to that of a human, with an extra upper pair of pronounced canines, and a more pronounced pair on the lower jaw. – Fix this, don’t remember exact phrasing
The fur atop their heads and upper chest and back is longer, forming a thick mane and chest tuft.
Nearly hidden by the fur, their dextrous hands and feet sport four fingers or toes and an extended opposable dew claw, each digit housing a heavy climbing claw at the tip, giving them excellent gripping ability. However, their shape and thickness do not allow them to be used in combat any more effectively than a human’s bare hands.
As their thick fur gives all the protection from the elements they could need, even acting as waterproofing due to the fur’s hollow core, they have little use for clothing. In fact, wearing full clothing over the fur would obstruct the wearers movements.
Living primarily in shallow caves or burrows, Kittaran follow their herds of bighorn sheep along a year-long route through their mountainous territory. While primarily carnivorous, tribes of Kittaran carry a small, efficient garden on a litter-like structure on their travels.
Kittaran primarily inhabit pre-existing caves, and may make minor modifications or improvements over generations. Lacking the tools to do major earth-moving, Kittaran would spend years or decades carving out a single storage ledge, but their modifications always last a long time and are purely practical.
Being pack animals, Kittaran dwellings are communal, rarely consisting of more than a single room. The structure of even the largest dwellings is fluid based on the occasion; part of the room may be dedicated to birthing mothers and newborn litters in one season and to ritual space in the next.
Kittaran leadership is divided into in the Hunt-Leader, who organizes hunts, war, and tribal migration, and the Keeper of the Flame who handles religious services, rites of passage, and medicine. The Keeper also advises the Hunt-Leader in migration preparation, leading long-held traditions in march order and packing as well as performing ritual to pray for good weather and easy travel along the route.
Gender division among the Kittaran is just as fluid and based in practicality as the rest of their culture. Rather than keeping the genders divided based on over-arching commonalities, individuals within the tribe are given jobs to do based on what they are good at; a male who lacks much skill at hunting but happens to have the aptitude to be a good weaver will join the circle of people weaving blankets rather than joining the hunts, while the opposite can also be true for females. This fluid division means the Kittaran have little prejudice against supposed “women’s work” as every task performed by members of the tribe is vital to their survival in some way.
As a people the Kittarans are somewhat secretive, due simply to their relative isolation from large populations of all races save the Dwarves, who historically might share the lower sections of the mountain tops they can inhabit. A non-Kittaran found wandering within their lands or close to a settlement will be watched for signs of threatening actions. However, a traveler lost in a storm, who has made no threatening moves against the local population may be guided to a safe refuge for the duration of the storm.
If an outsider were to allowed to come to know the Kittarans better, they would find a people willing to share a meal and fire. Their seasonal festivals, and their bi-annual local festival of remembrance, while small due to space limitations, are jovial affairs with dancing and music, historical ballads, and performances depicting the deeds of the creator spirits and past heroes. Their bi-annual great festival however, is a much larger affair, involving multiple settlements.
Kittaran music focuses on songs, drums and a stringed instrument resembling a curved harp with a deep backboard, usually made of bone or chitin, though occasionally made of wood, that can be played by strumming like a harp, or with a bow, as a cello. The drums can be of several typed, either a pair or trio of very small thin, long drums played by striking with the backs of the players’ talons, or larger drums struck with either the curve or tip of a bent drumstick.
Singing plays a great part in Kittaran society, as their history and traditions are passed down primarily by song. While writing has been developed, mostly through contact with the Dwarves, the Kittarans still rely on teaching through song. As such, written records of history are recorded as song, covering long strips of hide and occasional paper covered in the adopted Dwarven letters and note notations. Singing is so prevalent in their society, that it is more uncommon to not hear more than one softly sung tune, from the children learning at the foot of the local teacher, the young adolescents preparing the weapons for the hunters, the elders preparing food, to the priest training his apprentice or mediating disputes.
While the Kittarans are not known for going out to explore the world, they do possess a curiosity about the unknown. Rarely ranging further than it takes for a hunt or the bi-annual great festivals, the Kittaran that manages to learn something of the lands away from their homes is a welcome guest. And the exceptionally rare non-Kittaran welcomed amongst them is even more so.
The Kittarans worship the spirit of fire itself, the eternal flame that gave of itself to fuel the life within each of them. Those Kittarans that devote themselves to the flame ritualistically shear themselves of most of their heavy fur, relying solely on the life giving heat of the flames kept on their altars, and the shared warmth of their faithful. The ‘temple’ within every Kittaran settlement is a centered on an altar with a small, low flame kept burning at all times, usually in the form of a small fat oil lamp.
Since the flame is kept only as a focus for the priests and not as an avatar for their god, there is no ‘crime’ of extinguishing the flame, wither intentionally or accidentally. In fact, it is considered that intentionally extinguishing the flame is a signal to their god, asking for guidance and strength. Usually this is done only when the settlement finds itself either under attack or dangerously short of resources.
Once every two years, the Kittarans hold their great gathering, a festival to life, honoring the spirit of fire and it’s gift of life. On the years between the great gathering, they hold a smaller local version, identical in all but scale. Held near the end of summer, it is also a farewell to the relatively warm days and sunlight. It can last for several weeks, and the shortest known lasted eleven days, considered by those who remember it as an extremely short gathering.
Each time the great gathering is held, the different settlement compete in a series of games and competition, the small gathering restricted to the local populous, usually competing for the right to represent their settlement at the next great festival. Young Kittarans nearing the end of adolescence are traded between settlements, spreading ideas and bloodlines, preventing stagnation and inbreeding.
Several of these gatherings are held at the same time, with differing settlements attending different gatherings almost every time, further spreading the ideas and bloodlines shared. It is during these meets also, that a welcome non-Kittaran will be introduced to their hosts’ neighbors, and encouraged to tell their tales and experiences to a rapt crowd of hundreds at a time.
The festival ends with a final ceremony, calling the names of the deceased to be remembered and returned to the flame. The priests of the various settlements take and trade apprentices, as a priest must serve two neighboring settlements before they can return to their own. At last, the settlements split, each going their own way home, fortified against the long fall and winter ahead.
Tools and Weapons
Primarily, weapons and armor are made from molded bone and chitin, hardly ever using wood or plant material, as it is too important in heating homes and cooking food. However, the materials used to replace them can be nearly as strong as more typical materials, and are usually much lighter. The most common materials used, are the bones and chitinous plates from some of the creatures the Kittarans hunt.
The armor worn by a warrior, is most ofter built of leather straps and harnesses holding plates of chitin, harvested from a common subterranean insect. This chitin is normally a very pale gray or blue, and very thin, though resistant to piercing. It is layered several times with a strong lacquer, helping to shape and color the plates. The finished product is much lighter than steel, while affording nearly as much protection. Worn only over the vital parts, and allowing a great field of motion, a skilled Kittaran warrior can be just as protected as a knight in full plate.
Weapons and tools are more often made of molded bone. While not as strong as metal, it is much lighter, and prepared correctly, it becomes a very useful material. Treated with a chemical boil, the bone softens, allowing it to be shaped and molded, folded, and hammered into shape. The result is a surprisingly strong, though relatively weak compared to steel or iron, light, useful weapon or tool that has no trouble holding an edge. Though to hone these weapons, the edge must be softened slightly first, usually with a rag soaked in a temporary softening agent. Additionally, by shaping the bone and layering it with thin slices of horn, it can produce a bow with a very strong pull, and the arrowheads for the arrows it will fire, while the shafts are made from rolled chitin and lacquer.
A distinct lack of flammable materials, and their priority for the cooking and heating of their homes, prevented the Kittarans from developing forging techniques. The only metal tools, weapons and armor are items scavenged from attackers or travelers lost in storms. These items are rare, and cherished for their strength and durability, the weapons even more so, though the armors are usually relegated to task they were never meant for. While a fine metal weapon would find a place of honor at the side of a settlement’s greatest hunter or warrior, a suit of armor would be more likely to find itself pressed into the role of a cooking surface.
A traveling Bard caught in a sudden storm while traveling the Dwarven lands told a tale of following a ghostly light through a mountain pass, until he collapsed from exhaustion and cold. His audiences would usually scoff at his recollection of a flurry of snow lifting him into a warm grasp, and carrying him as he passed out. When he woke, he found himself in a small cave, wrapped in warm blankets near a small fire, a warm bowl of soup waiting for him.
He did not know how long he waited in the cave for the storm to pass, but he would occasionally turn to find a fresh, warm meal deposited inside the mouth of the cave. When the storm finally passed, he found his pack and a small stone marker pointing to the opening of a nearby gully. A new marker would appear ahead of him pointing in a new direction, until he came within sight of a small patrol from a Dwarven town. His recollection of the tale was met only with knowing nods from the Dwarves.
The bard spent the next two years traveling as bards do, telling the tale of the Snow Spirits who saved his life whenever a snowstorm raged outside the walls. While no listener ever believed his tale as truth, he would swear it was so. His travels ended when, returning to the dwarven town he had been lead to, he was again caught in a heavy snowstorm. The next spring, a group of travelers found the cave he had sheltered in, finding the bards pack of light clothing. No sign of the bard himself or the flute he always carried were ever found, and the bard’s name was eventually forgotten.
Several months later, another lost traveler found his way to a nearby Dwarven settlement. This traveler dared not tell his story of survival for fear of being thought mad, so he kept silent, never telling a soul of the ghostly light, and the faint music that had lead him to a cave, a small fire, and a pile of blankets.