Standing between the Neran and Hrothi in terms of height, the To'resk average about 5'2" (157cm) and range between 125 and 150 lbs. They have medium-toned skin with black eyes and either black or or dark-brown hair. While somewhat smaller and less impressive in stature, what really stands out about the To'resk is their striking facial features. They have strong brows, angular cheekbones, and distinct noses. Most noticeably, To'resk possess pointed, razor-sharp teeth capable of biting through the tough leathers, shells, and scales of the creatures that inhabit the wetlands. While less aggressive hunters - preferring to cultivate or raise their food - they are patient and calculating in all things they do.
All living creatures in Elyria are rated along three axes of attributes: Physical (Strength, Agility, Stamina), Mental (Will, Reason, Focus), and Social (Persuasion, Intuition, Leadership). The values below represent the To'reshian predisposition toward certain attributes. Note that the actual starting values of a character's attributes are based on their specific parents, but a character's bloodline also determines how easy or difficult it is to raise one attribute over another.
The To'resk have a long, troubled history. By all accounts, the To'resk have existed in the wetlands since before they were wetlands. Once simple agricultural farmers, the To'resk have seen the gradual rise of water levels along their domains and have watched as the amount of usable land has diminished and been replaced by a constant expansion and contraction of marshland. This has necessitated a change in their survival and the To'resk have adapted to a lifestyle that is part agriculture and part aquaculture. While the gradual expansion of the waterways would have been enough to drive out most civilizations, the To'resk are a resolute people and, for reasons not entirely understood, they have chosen to remain in their native lands. But this has not come without loss. The unpredictable nature of the wetlands - periodically presented with floods, droughts, hurricanes, and territorial predators - has caused no small number of To'resk to perish over the years due to starvation, dehydration, or exhaustion.
In spite of that, the To'resk value a peoples' ability to persevere and pick themselves up by their boot straps. That's why when the Unstriped Janoa came broken and abandoned to their doorstep, the To'resk took pity on them and gave them shelter from their personal storm. At first, they were welcomed and began to integrate with the To'resk society. They were given small, non-optimal plots of land with a larger ratio of deep water in which to begin aqua-farming and to make a life for themselves. However, not long after the Unstriped came to the To'resk, the Great Drought struck. This was the longest and most difficult drought in To'resk history. The water levels receded, the rivers dried up, and no rain came to replace it.
The land given to the Unstriped, once deep, dangerous, and largely undesirable by the vast majority of the To'resk, suddenly became the only source of water for their people and necessary for the survival of the To'resk. The To'resk responded by reclaiming some of the waterways that had been given to the Unstriped, and forced the newcomers to live off of the more toxic bogs of the marshlands. In just a short period of time, the Unstriped began to become sick, and those who were unable to live off of the less potable water began to die off from disease. That, combined with limited resources and short allegiances, led the To'resk to ask the Unstriped to leave. The Unstriped, once again treated as second-class citizens, picked up and left the only home they knew, this time headed to the swamps.
The To'resk, owing to the lessons learned from their environment - such as mistaking sinkholes for stable ground and alligator-infested ponds as safe fishing habitats - understand that nothing is as it seems. As a result, the To'resk have developed a profound sense of caution and patience, which is unquestionably their strongest trait. They think and weigh all options before making a decision, all the while reciting the To'reshian mantra of "Observe, Understand, Act." The To'reshian unwillingness to make assumptions and their more calculating, cerebral nature, has given the To'resk a reputation for being excellent negotiators and diplomats.
At the same time, the constant flux of the wetlands, which brings both floods and droughts in equal measure, has made the To'resk a wary and un-trusting people. The inherent unreliability of resources has made the To'resk extremely opportunistic by nature. They say that "each rising tide is an opportunity for success" and believe that everyone and everything is a tool to be used toward their own survival and prosperity. Friendships that exist among the To'resk are almost always made out of personal benefit. But this thirst for stability and a desire to improve one's lot in life is not all negative. Indeed, while they believe firmly in taking care of their own business and enjoy material conquest, they also believe in both tolerance and perseverance. They recognize that one does not always have control over ones own situation, and respect those capable of overcoming adversity.
Along the same lines, while the To'resk are accustomed to the waxing and waning of their environment and have grown adept at adjusting to their situation, they also highly value things which are stable and consistent. As a result, the To'resk are known to impose their own sense of consistency on the world. To that end, the To'resk are a people of manners and ceremony who value highly their reputations, titles, and prestige. Curiously, the To'resk also believe that once a deal has been struck, it can never be broken. This further enhances their role as reliable negotiators and diplomats but shouldn't be overstated. While they value consistency and truthfulness, they don't necessarily value honesty, and the truth they give you may not be the whole truth.
Finally, due to growing up in the muck and mud of the wetlands, combined with their harsh appearance, the To'resk value cleanliness, ornamentation, and fine things over physical appearances. They also have a strong obsession with gold, as it's not only one of the most flexible metals, but it also never rusts - a keen feature when living in the wetlands.
Being among the first Tribes of Mann, the To'resk have long had their own native language which we refer to as "Wetlander." This was their only language until they began to interact with the Janoa and, believing in keeping their friends close and their enemies closer, they quickly taught themselves the Tropical language so they could negotiate and interact with the Janoa on even footing. This served them well as, not only has it allowed them to foster a healthy relationship with the Janoa, but gave them the means to communicate with the Unstriped when they came to live among them shortly before the Great Drought.
More recently, trade between the temperate and tropical regions of the continent has encouraged the To'resk to learn modern Neran, allowing them to act as diplomats and merchants between the tribes of the north and the tribes of the south.
The To'resk are followers of the Qindred religion. The Qindred faith is arguably the oldest religion and its members believe that all Mann-kind are descendants of ancient, powerful beings called Qin, who occupied Elyria before it existed as it does today.
The stories of the Ancients are things of legend and mythology and many volumes exist in Elyria which revisit the countless tales. The stories tell of the creation of the world - the Birthing of the Elements, the Betrayal of Luna, the Burning, the Breaking, and even the Banishing of the Ancients from this world - with many other individual stories in between, each exploring the tragedies and comedies of the individual Qin themselves.
But with respect to the To'resk, it is the "Romance of Ne'ran and Mydra" that is of particular interest. The story of Ne'ran and Mydra goes something like this:
After the Breaking, Mann was stranded in Elyria, incapable of moving between the planes and separated from all that was important to him. His only solace was his half-sister, Terra, Qin of the Land. In the eons before, Terra and Mann had grown quite close as, unlike her brother Oceanus, Terra laid no blame at the feet of her brother for the Betrayal of Luna. Instead, Terra would coordinate secret meetings between Mann and his father Ao, and enjoyed her time with her younger half-sibling.
After the Breaking and the death of Kernos - Qin of the Forest and husband to Terra - Mann and Terra grew closer until a romance sprouted between them. The result of their romance was a son, Ne'ran, the first son of Mann and the Qin of the Grasslands.
Ne'ran was a curious, intelligent, and resourceful being who wandered the Grasslands, becoming master of his domain until he came to the water's edge at the eastern border of Elyria. There, he stepped off into the icy water, unaware of its danger, and began to plummet to the sea floor. Suddenly alert to his presence, Mydra, Qin of the Sea and daughter of Oceanus and Tora, whisked him back to safety where they found commonality and kinship. From that day forward, Ne'ran and Mydra would frequently meet along the water's edge. Mydra would coax Ne'ran into the sea, where she taught him to swim, while he dug troughs for her to swim up onto land. It didn't take long before romance erupted into love, and their union found Mydra pregnant with child.
But the romance of Ne'ran and Mydra does not have a happy ending. When Oceanus learned of Mann's son venturing into the waters, he forbid any interaction between them. Any attempt by Ne'ran to go out into the water was immediately met with hostility, as Oceanus had charged his Son, the Qin of Storms, to wreak havoc on the waters. So Ne'ran and Mydra were separated until the birth of their son.
When Mydra found the birth of her child was near, she swam up the rivers dug by Ne'ran and delivered their child to him, for she knew their son - a descendant of Mann - would never be safe while her father and brother held so much resentment. Once her child was safely in his hands, she fled the lands for her beloved's own protection.
However, Ne'ran couldn't stand the sight of his son, as the child was a reminder of his lost love, and returned to the western coast of the grasslands, leaving his son which Mydra had named To'ran (after her mother and her lover), to be raised by the people of the coast. And so, To'ran, child of Ne'ran and Mydra, became the Qin of the Wetlands.
Today, the To'resk believe their tribe are all descendants of To'ran, and that the constant shifts in weather are a result of the ancient love and feud between Ne'ran, Mydra, and Oceanus. They believe that when the wetlands flood, it's Mydra coming onto land to try to find To'ran and, when it droughts, Oceanus has denied her the ability to look safely upon her child. When there's hurricanes, it's her brother enacting his father's vengeance upon the Children of Mann. And so, in homage to their Qin, the To'resk remain in the wetlands, patiently waiting for the return of Mydra and the love of their father Ne'ran.
The vast majority of music and performances of the To'resk relate either to their religion - their belief in being ancestors of To'ran and descendants of Mann as well as comedies and tragedies of the Ancients, like the Tragedy of Daemon and Selene - or are allegories for culturally taboo subjects. Either way, there are lessons and introspection to be taken from To'resk works. Large wooden instruments such as lyres, lutes, woodblocks, and xylophones are rare due to the lack of large, flat lumber in the wetlands, but such instruments are prized by the wealthy and are typically ornamented or inlaid with gold. Lower class instruments are typically small and transient, such as flutes, gourds, mouth harps, singing bowls and other idiophones.
While the To'resk can and do perform solo, they prefer a larger accompaniment, as they value the complexity and technical difficulty required for such endeavors. Very rarely is music sung a capella as individual performance is seen as low-brow.
While capable builders, farmers, and merchants, the To'resk value the performing arts more than the crafted arts. Although not uncommon to see sculptures of the Ancients, it's far more common to overhear conversation about "The Great Deception", as theater is considered the highest form of art. Similarly, while gold smithing and jewel crafting are held in high regard - with general shape, sculpting, and arrangement being the defining factor (versus etching or reliefs) - poetry is seen as an equally noble pursuit, primarily because it incorporates so many of the To'reshian cultural values; things such as patience, truthfulness, ceremony, calculated action, etc. The best poetry involves clever and hidden number-based mechanics, or those that impose some external constraint, such as the use of iambic pentameter, or various rules including, for example, each word being 4 letters, each line being precisely 12 syllables, or each 6th letter being the same, etc.
The tropical (freshwater) wetlands have been the home of the To'resk for as long as anyone can remember. While sinkholes are an environmental hazard, and drought and flood are periodic concerns, the nature of the wetlands leads to an environment which is rich in cultivatable land for both wet and dry agriculture. The To'resk, all too familiar with the changing nature of the wetlands, have learned to capitalize on the diversity found in their biome by utilizing fully-submerged, partially-submerged, and fully-emergent land to create either farmable land plots or wetland plots for aquaculture and aqua-farming. When not cultivating food, it's also possible for To'resk hunters to hunt for wild game using traps and snares or, when necessary, through the use of small throwing weapons, slings, and slingshots.
In addition to the food provided by the wetlands, they also afford the To'resk a measure of safety, as the uneven and moist ground is difficult to travel through, and virtually impossible to bring large siege equipment across. This has resulted in the To'resk being largely left alone over the millennia, allowing them to build a society rich in culture and trade.
The building materials in the wetlands include softwoods, fibers, clays, and muds. Because the To'resk must deal with high water, alligators, and boar, stilted houses just makes sense. Sturdy, wide timber is rare so most choose to create thatched or wattle and daub structures on a deck of branches. Among the affluent, imported hardwoods allow for more sturdy structures but, even in the absence of superior lumber, enjoy a style of parquetry and wood joint techniques that create broad and strong boards for building. It is exceptionally time consuming and takes great craftsmanship - perfect for the patient To'resk - and features mesmerizing geometric patterns as a result. Rice paper is also commonly used among all social classes as a cheap and simple way to keep the rain out and provide privacy.
The To'reshian society is built first and foremost on the caste system created by those who have gained economic and political power. In particular, the greatest power and wealth are held by those who have possession of waterways, land-bridges, and transportation routes throughout the wetlands. In total, the To'reshian society is broken up into the following four social classes:
The Promotille, or nobility of the To'resk, manage trade routes throughout their lands and provide infrastructure that is most favorable to their citizens and which create more internal opportunities. As a result, most of the Promotille are in possession of the waterways leading in and out of the wetlands, as well as between different sections of the wetlands. The social class of the Promotille is further broken down into the three titled positions of Chancellor (King), Minister (Duke), and Counselor (Count).
The Ministers are responsible for defending the wetlands through diplomacy and must be skilled in negotiation. Their "troops" consist of ambassadors, agents, and appraisers, in addition to a select group of guards and warriors known as the Teeth of the To'resk.
The Counselors are responsible for leveraging the resources provided through trade routes and work to manage a sort of stock market, consisting of trade goods grown internally within the wetlands, as well as brought in from both the north and south of the continent.
Beneath the Promotille are the Industrille. These aristocrats typically manage the individual settlements within the wetlands and work with the Counselors of the Promotille to ensure land is fairly divided and effectively utilized. As To'resk are naturally opportunistic, it is not uncommon for members of the Promotille and Industrille to accept bribes in return for favors. Money talks in To'reshian society, and backroom deals or special exemptions in trade agreements are an accepted part of their society. In addition, many of the Promotille and Industrille work as merchants, diplomats, politicians, and actors, traveling when necessary to engage the other tribes.
Like the Promotille, the Industrille are further divided into Marshals and Mayeurs, with the key difference being that the Mayeurs are typically responsible for settlements internal to the wetlands, and manage people through civil laws, officiating ceremonies - including marriages - and are entrusted with the collection of taxes and resources to be traded by the Counselors.
In contrast, the Marshals are responsible for defending people through controlling land and water routes at key points of natural or forced convergence. Their settlements exists along the borders of the wetlands and are often comprised of vast markets, frequented by Neran, Kypiq, Dras, and Janoa merchants.
Beneath the Industrille are the Mercandille. The Mercandille are made up of the wealthier families and those who have control over any local waterways or emergent land. They typically employ members of the Agradille to work their lands as farmers, fishers, or trappers.
Speaking of the wealthier families, family is yet another important part of To'reshian society. As advancement for the To'resk is often done through mergers and acquisitions of neighboring lands and waterways, marriage has become the cornerstone that holds the To'resk together. It is not uncommon for marriage agreements to accompany endowments of land, transportation routes, access rights, or even access to propriety family knowledge. As a result, the familial bond is held sacred in To'resk society and it is not acceptable to cheat, lie, or steal from the family. The punishments for doing so are harsh. Additionally, families stay close to one another, building up larger settlements which potentially offer increased security, as well as allowing for consolidation of different economic roles such as agriculture and mercantilism.
To'resk leaders are expected to be successful in business, trusted, reputable, and beyond reproach. They are people that the rest of the tribe can look to in order to ensure their survival and perseverance. As such their leaders are chosen by their reputation, much as the Neran do. In the event that no direct heir exists, a power vacuum is created and peers or underlings of the deceased will be granted Casus Belli based on who has the best reputation among those eligible to fulfill the vacant role.
Education among the To'resk tends to prioritize diplomacy, trade, and mercantilism above all else, with the lower classes additionally studying farming and aquaculture. As individual and family advancement is valued higher than community development, the To'resk tend to to keep family recipes and knowledge on how to fish, farm, find gold, or even climb the social ladder as closely guarded secrets. As a result, there are few, if any, schools within the wetlands. Instead, parents teach their children, passing on recipes that would not be readily shared among the To'resk. To gain skills outside of your current family, your fastest route to success is to marry into a family that does possess the skills you're interested in learning, as information is generously shared through marital families.
Consequently, divorce - the breaking of a marriage contract - is extremely frowned upon in To'reshian society and is treated as a sort of social bankruptcy. The breaking of a marriage contract results in a brand by the person who violated the contract. This marks the person as being untrustworthy and less suitable to be married again in the future.
The To'resk live in area that is difficult to assault through traditional means. Siege weaponry is next to impossible to transport through the wetlands, making large scale assaults on To'resk infrastructure strategically un-viable. Additionally, nobody knows the wetlands better than the To'resk and they use traps (including poison) to dissuade invaders from reaching their homeland.
In general, the To'resk prefer to handle conflicts before they begin through negotiation and diplomacy but, when they cannot settle their differences through negotiation, they tend to hire armies to fight for them, such as the Janoan Mercenaries.
Neran - While at least superficially friendly with virtually all tribes, the To'resk go out of their way to maintain a strong trade relationship with the Neran. Not only do the Neran present good trade opportunities across the grasslands, but the Neran frequently facilitate trade directly between the To'resk and other tribes of the North, such as helping them procure metals and minerals of the Hrothi, the hard wood of the Brudvir, and the silks and baubles of the Kypiq. It also doesn't hurt having more powerful allies, as their non-existent military makes the To'resk dependent on the virtues and hired swords of the other tribes to lend them a hand. In exchange, the To'resk play a reciprocal role as the Neran in the north, positioning themselves as diplomats and intermediaries between the Neran and the other tribes of the south.
Janoa - The Janoa and To'resk have been long-time allies and, in spite of their differences in religion and culture, share a common language and an affinity for the warm, moist environment of the central and southern tropics. Historically, the Janoa and To'resk have been reliable trading partners, with the To'resk providing access to Maize, grains, cranberries, dyes, and Milk of the Talonreed, in exchange for gold, hardwood, alchemical ingredients, and most importantly, protection from invaders and other hostile parties. Even when not part of a trade agreement, the To'resk frequently employ young, unproven members of the Janoa society as mercenaries or guards of the Promotille or Industrille.
Dras - While not directly hostile, the To'resk have a conflicted history with the Unstriped Janoa who now call themselves the Dras. At least openly, the To'resk give the Dras a fairly wide birth, largely in order to maintain a facade of detachment that helps feed the ego of the Janoa and encourages a stable trade relationship between them and their allies. Privately, trade between the To'resk and Dras is maintained and encouraged, as the Dras prefer to stay inside their swamps and utilize the To'resk as ambassadors and wholesalers. In exchange, The To'resk have negotiated use of the Dras waterways and have passed it off to the rest of the world as protracted border disputes.
The Waerd - The only true enemies of the To'resk are The Waerd. The two tribes are diametrically opposed in almost all things. Where the To'resk prefer diplomacy and mercantilism, The Waerd have no use for words, and prefer action over anything else. Where the To'resk attempt to live in relative harmony with the other tribes, through negotiations and trade agreements, The Waerd stolidly withstand any attempts at negotiation or alliance by the To'resk. This is not without cause. According to The Waerd, where the To'resk rely on ceremony and manners as a faux attempt at stability and consistency, tradition and custom is at the very core of The Waerd. As such, they view the To'resk as pretenders and sycophants. While The Waerd are the very definition of a communal society, the To'reshian virtues of self-preservation and personal and family prosperity, fly in the face of everything The Waerd hold sacred, and they view it as their responsibility to take from the To'resk what has been given to them in order to impart balance. Finally, while the To'resk hold true to their ancestors and continue to uphold their belief in the Qin, The Weard have abandoned their faith in favor of the Two-Fold Queen, and the To'resk find it apropos that desert is the root of deserter.