So there are certain weird fantasy tropes I love, and one of them is minotaurs. Maybe it was reading of the Legend of Huma at an impressionable age, or playing a Tauren foor so long in World of Warcraft, but I like the idea of minotaurs who are cunning and honourable warriors, filled with savagery and valour (which is a quote from my favourite minotaur). The problem is that in D&D, minotaurs are giant monsters and generally unsuitable for player characters. Enter the Dragonlance Campaign Setting, a wizards licensed book that gave me minotaurs as a playable race, and prompted me to write them into the islands of Indonesia, with a colony in Madagascar, which you’ll learn about today.
Harta, the short version.
Harta is the western colony of the Nirmala, across the ocean from their homeland of Medan, and home to the Yudae (Warriors. Singular, Yuda) initially because it was the Yudae who fought for the Nirmala foothold on Harta against the island’s native Shifters as well as later the mentalists of the Kalashtari and the free peoples of the Dyula savannah. The Yudae of Harta shed blood for two hundred years to secure the island for their people, but all of that ended with the formation of Nafaanra and the great peace. Over three centuries ago, their enemies became their allies, embracing the trade that the Nirmala and that Suraj brought from across the great waters.
The Nirmala are ruled by tribes, each tribe taking charge when its own affairs are required. The high tribes, the Matahari (Sun), the Malam (Night), and the Setiawan (Faith) are the lawmakers, often taking the counsel of other tribal leaders, especially those of the Tirta (Water), the sea captains and naval commanders of the Nirmala. There are all kinds of tribes dwelling on the islands of Medan, each the rulers of their own territories, each contributing to the Nirmala as a whole.
Everyday life as one of the pure, the Nirmala, is a series of tests put forth by the gods. Their faith is tested, their mettle is tested, and they must display the five virtues laid out in the scriptures of Ajasmara or have their station within the tribe threatened by other, better Nirmala. The virtues of Ajasmara are courage, patience, tenacity, duty, and wisdom. These are the foundations of the tribes, and the ties that bind them together. Every Nirmala, from highest king to lowest thrall, attempts to abide by these codes, because to do otherwise would make one something other than Nirmala. Leaders are rigorously tested, and competitions between individuals and tribes are very popular.
Harta itself is something very new, being home to only two tribes, the dark coloured Bulan (Dusk), with their mastery of terrible magics and mentalism, and the golden skinned Cahaya (Dawn), born to carry blade and shield. They are not simply two tribes co-existing on an island, but an army in their own right, disciplined and constantly training. They are the Yudae, the stuff from which legends are made, and even the high tribes give ground to them in their lands. Or that’s the idea. It’s certainly true in Mahabajanga, a regimented city with legions of people, every one of them an accomplished warrior. The outlying villages however, are less rigid. A colony needs farmers as well as warriors, and not every farmer has the time to put in the hours of daily training necessary to the Yudae lifestyle.
The Yudae there, rather than being ruled by a council, are ruled by the Lestaryuda, the abiding warrior, usually an elder, who acts not only as king but as the commander of armies. He consults with advisors on most matters, but his decisions, once made, are absolute. He has been tested by horned Ajasmara, and occupies his position as much out of divine right as general acknowledgement.
Horned Ajasmara is the only god shared by all Nirmala. Father of their people, he has many wives and consorts, and numerous sons and daughters, all gods and goddesses of various tribal pantheons. He is many things at many times, sometimes a warrior, sometimes a lover, other times a trickster, and always a tester. He has made it his duty to make sure the Nirmala are worthy, because as the stories say; once when the Nirmala lived on the great continent that they had been given, he left things in their care, pursing his sometime lover Ratu. After a particularly long tryst, he looked upon the Nirmala and saw none, only warring tribes of vicious beasts. In a fury, he descended from the sky, a fearsome, wrathful Nirmala of darkness and stars, his eyes bright suns, his horns the crescent moon. Bringing his hands down on the stones of their birthplace, he shattered it like glass, and the shards floated apart, forming the islands that the Nirmala now dwell on. He marked the Parmala, the impure, and flung them to the ends of the earth, gathering the rest of the children and giving them his scriptures, which would be passed down through the tribes for ages to come. A Nirmala must be brave, facing her fears. She must be patient, because the right moment will come. She must be tenacious, never giving up. She must know her duty, not only to the gods, but to her people, to her tribe, to her family, and finally to herself. Finally, she must be wise, and use that wisdom to temper her other virtues, to keep courage from becoming foolhardiness, patience from hesitation, tenacity from stubbornness, and duty from slavery.
Hartan religion is much the same, though the Bulan and Cahaya have their own gods and rituals, often inherited from their parent tribes. Most notably the Bulan god Purnoma, the son of Ajasmara by Ratu, god of the full moon, who requires female Bulan to bleed in the moonlight once a month, and Intan, daughter of Ajasmara by Citra, who is the Cahayan goddess of knowledge and discipline. The Yudae themselves have no gods, but many blood rites, bonding Nirmala to Nirmala, forging inter-tribal bonds that will be kept in battle.
Five hundred years ago, the ships of Guntur, Thunder of the East, and his wives Indah the Wise and Sinta of the Shattered Sky, landed on Harta. Their war with the proud tribes of the Berganti are legend, and it was there, born in blood and battle, that the Yudae were born. Even when the Suraj came and brought their peace with them, more than three centuries ago, the Yudae were still fighting. The Lestaryuda of the time, Krisna Greathammer, redefined the Yudae’s place among the Nirmala. They would be guardians, explorers, and soldiers, defending the nation from all threats and seeking out new territories for the pure ones to settle. For three hundred years, since the foundation of Nafaanra, they have done just that, fighting Xiang navies and Gru raiding parties, sailing far and wide and bringing the trade of the Nirmala and the Suraj with them.
Harta at War:
Harta is never and always at war. The Nirmala maintain a constant stream of traffic across the ocean, both from Harta itself and from the lands of the Glimmerfolk, and such trade always needs guards. Xiang pirates will try to prey upon their ships, and the beasts of the sea often take exception to the deep-keeled merchantmen and galleys of the Nirmala. Constantly driven to test themselves, Yudae make their living as sellswords in many nations of Nafaanra, acting as bodyguards, fighting in border wars, or even hunting Ogres and Blackscale in the mountains along the Savage Coast. Some pride themselves as hunters, going deep into the Great Jungle or the Rokia Sangare to challenge the great beasts there, as well as the Berganti and Yuan Ti that reside in those places.
Magic in Harta:
Nirmalans favour divine magic over arcane, and some have even mastered the psionics that some of the races of Nafaanra seem to possess, but nonetheless, all magicks have a place in Nirmalan society. The mage who stands on the deck to hurl his fireball is as much a warrior and a Yuda as the battle-brother who crosses on a line to match steel with steel. However, apart from the Yudae, many tribes have their own brand of magic and their own way of doing it, and are distrustful of magic from outside the tribe.
The Nirmala and the Suraj:
Four thousand years ago as the Suraj reckon time, the first Nirmalan vessels landed in Maharashtra. It was hard to make sense of these tiny and yet virtuous creatures, devoid of horns and hooves. The first voyage burnt the village that greeted them, thinking them weak, only to have every Suraj for miles around, from farmer to fighter, descend on them in the next few weeks, fighting relentlessly with both might and magic against this new threat. The truth soon became clear to the wise-men of the Nirmala. The Suraj are one single tribe, one single family even, devoted to each other as such. They understood the virtues of Ajasmara immediately, and showed that their own devotions were similar. Respected as well for their vast store of knowledge, their spirituality began to creep into the tribes of the Nirmala, inspiring a certain reverence. The Suraj believe themselves on the doorstep of spiritual ascension, the final stage in a long process of reincarnation, with all the privileges and responsibilities that come with that. They must be virtuous and act rightly, because to do otherwise would be unworthy of the Suraj. It was known to the Nirmala that the spirits of their dead moved on, but it was not known to just where they did it. It would be a joke and test worthy of Ajasmara himself to have the greatest Nirmala born as one of these tiny, valourous people.