The nation of Mannheim is located in a mountainous coastal region on the continent of Oerik. It has a close alliance with a nation of mountain Dwarves who dwell underneath the same range, and who call their home Nidavellir. Mannheim’s chief exports are furs, lumber, metals and minerals, and fish and other products from the sea. Settlements occur mostly along the coasts and in protected mountain valleys. Knowing they could be snowed in and stranded at any time, every community is self-sufficient. They enjoy visitors, and trade frequently, but mostly for luxuries. Technology is fairly low, and they see little need for more than they have. Improvements in agricultural tools and weaponry are most welcomed, but if it seems to move them away from a hands-on approach, they are just as likely to reject it.
The people of Mannheim are warlike. Some communities desire to expand their power, and raid frequently. Others simply protect themselves from raiders. Regardless, almost every person over the age of 14 knows something about fighting and self-defense, and is prepared to do so. Fighters, Barbarians, and Rangers are common, and most priestly orders have some focus on battle. Most temples are actually fortresses covered in religious decoration. Despite all this, Mannheim has no standing army, since it is so easy to call up warriors at a moment’s notice. They do, however, have a skilled and powerful navy. Their ships are rustic but tough, much like their crews. These ships trade with nearby coastal nations, and raid them when times are particularly tough. This practice used to be much more common, but Mannheim has developed pacts and treaties with neighboring countries over the years, which cut down on this.
The people of Mannheim are tough. Living with mountains, cold, and the sea has forged them into a rugged, hardy race. They tend to be tall and muscular (which runs to fat in those who are out of shape), and either broad or rangy. Their skin is naturally pale, but most people spend so much time outdoors that it turns a weathered nut-brown. Their hair is usually brown or black, though sometimes blond hair shows up. It is considered exotic and attractive. Red hair among humans is extremely rare, and is considered a mark of bad temper or of witchcraft (mostly because of Loki).
Communities do quite a lot of farming. This can be hard on them, since the growing season is fairly short, but they make do. As a race, the people are close to the earth. They live off the land, and believe that it should be treated well and respected, used with consideration rather than pillaged for whatever people can get. This comes from a simple need for survival in a rough climate. If the earth is not treated well, then people will end up starving.
While men usually wield power outside the home, and women are the god-queens of their domain, this is not always the case. Women are seen as equal. Society accepts female warriors, and in certain cases it is even expected. A woman whose home or family has been defiled is supposed to avenge it. Young women sometimes go adventuring to capture themselves great husbands. Some women even swear themselves to the sword and refuse to ever marry, instead pursuing fame as a warrior at the cost of all else. Also, female clerics are quite common (female gods tend to have female clerics, and vice versa) and when a wizard is encountered, it is most likely to be a woman (usually a worshipper of Freya). Male wizards are seen to be frightening, unpredictable creatures since they most often worship Odin (who is creepy even if he is the ruler of the gods). Women are also seen to have more natural gifts at prophecy and ties to fate.
The political structure of Mannheim is loose. There is a king, and everyone is expected to show him respect and (generally) obedience. On the other hand, he is expected to be worth it. The crown is inherited, but if a particular ruler proves to be too great a fool for anyone to stomach, they may overthrow him and place someone else on the throne. This happens rarely, only four or five times in the nation’s history. The king is expected to be a good fighter. In fact, the crown prince traditionally adventures for a few years in his youth, with a band of trusted men (and sometimes women). When he becomes king, these comrades make up his bodyguards and most trusted advisors and commanders. It is also traditional that a king have several children, since adventuring can be fairly lethal.
The king has a rough and ready sort of court, made up of influential persons. Some of these are from powerful families, while others have earned the position themselves. The wealthiest men, the most powerful fighters, the high priest of each major god, men who own a great number of ships, the finest weaponsmiths…these are the sort who attend the king. Each community (or group of communities) is represented by a person they choose, who acts as a go-between for the community and the king. Though there are many communities, this seldom causes overwork for the king, since they prefer to be self-sufficient. In fact, the problem is usually that they don’t go for help when they need it, rather than the other way around. Villages and communities are generally overseen by a loose council of elders and influential people, who discuss and work out problems that are brought to them. Also, villages and communities that are fairly close to each other often work together on regional issues, mostly involving raids by aggressive communities and giants.
The people of Mannheim have a great deal of contact with Dwarves, since the Dwarves of Nidavellir are their closest allies. There are also many legends of Elves. In times long past, Mannheim apparently dealt extensively with that race, although they have seen very little of the Elves for so long that probably no one alive has ever laid eyes on one. Still, anyone would know an Elf (or a Dark Elf) on sight.
The people of Mannheim hold tightly to their myths and legends. Everyone has heard the tales of the world’s creation and coming destruction. Bards are revered. This is because they believe that these stories are far more than simple entertainment. They are prophecies, handed down since the gods’ creation of the world so that mortals can prepare themselves for its eventual destruction. They can be told for entertainment (and some of them are hilarious), but at heart they should always be taken seriously.
The world has been prophesized, from the beginning to the end (Ragnorak). Gods and men already know how they will die. All beings are assigned a fate at birth by the three Norns, and it is inescapable. A mortal’s lot is to face that fate with courage and resolution. Meanwhile, the choices that mortal makes and the things he achieves during the lifetime allotted him are his own. Most mortals do not know the fate assigned them, but if they desire they can usually learn it (this generally involves a quest or duty of some sort). Gods and immortals, on the other hand, almost always know the fate awaiting them.
This belief in unchangeable fate shapes a great deal of the Mannheim mindset. They are fatalistic yet driven. Their mortality floats like a sword over their heads. They are taught to accept this as the way things must be, yet they are paradoxically given an ‘out.’ The people are taught that if they are valiant, strong, and pious, and they die in battle, then they may be taken to the halls of the gods, where they become immortal and serve in the gods’ personal armies. Alternatively, people are also taught that ‘immortality’ in stories is to be sought after. Brave warriors from legend are revered almost like demigods, and the line between memory and immortality blurs. Thus, pursuing immortality and godhood are not only sanctioned, but encouraged by society, so long as it is done in appropriate ways.
The people of this religion believe that Oearth (which they call Midgard) is supported in the roots of an enormous ash tree named Yggdrasil. At the site where the roots enter Midgard, they say a well exists that will grant secret knowledge to a person who sacrifices something and drinks from it (Odin gave his eye here). Yggdrasil’s roots also extend into Asgard (the outer planes, and the Well of Urd, or Fate, stands where the root enters) and Niflheim (the underworld).
Although most of the gods are primarily warriors, they have great respect, even awe, for wisdom, knowledge, and magic. Only a few of the gods know how to use magic. Freya is a warrior sorceress, who is supposed to have taught magic to mortals. Odin sought out and learned every form of knowledge, wisdom, and magic, and is the only god who can use all of them. However, he does not share his learning easily. It must be earned. His wife, Frigga, shares some of Odin’s knowledge and foresight, and is seen as a more approachable goddess of divination and prophecy. Finally, the goddess Hel, ruler of the Underworld, is a source of evil magic and necromancy.
Reflecting this, the people of Mannheim have a deep respect for magical power, but also are uncomfortable around it and those who wield it. They much prefer situations they can tackle head on. If approached by a wizard, they will be courteous and will attempt to answer questions, but will not offer information that could be dangerous to friends and allies. They will also attempt to escape the wizard’s attention as quickly as possible.
People have an independent approach to their gods. The gods do take a hand in mortal affairs, but they do not usually give direct assistance. Most of them believe that their worshippers should be able to take care of themselves. For their part, mortals tend to worship gods for various reasons: benefits—ascension as a divine warrior, for example; love—gentle gods such as Frey lend themselves to this; or fear—e.g. desire for Loki to favor them by leaving them alone. Gods can be treated solemnly or with humor (though they might not like this), but like their legends they should be taken seriously.
People believe that the world will be destroyed in a great godswar called Ragnorak. Immortal will fight immortal and most of them will be killed. Mortals will rise to follow their gods into battle, taking one side or another. The great powers unleashed will shatter the earth as it is now known. Only a handful of gods and mortals will survive, to build a new, more perfect world from the ashes.
Almost all men and women know this prophecy. Priests teach it to the young. However, the story has been told so many times over the centuries that there are now many versions. Some of these differ only in details, while others diverge wildly. In almost every version, the world dies either by ice or by fire. The gods of the Giants are involved, and in some versions they are the enemy that the gods rise to fight. However, since the country suffers from constant depredations by Fire and Frost Giants, it may simply be that this mindset has worked its way into the tale.
Other variations say that the world is destroyed after Fenris Wolf eats the sun, or that Loki brings it on after he escapes from the prison the gods bound him in. Finally, some stories (unpopular with priests) say that Odin is to blame for the end of the world, causing it with his power-gathering and his attempts to escape his foretold death. A fairly popular belief is that Mannheim’s gods will someday go to war against another pantheon, though what pantheon, and how it might come about, are open questions.
The gods cultivate great mortal warriors, raising them to the ranks of the divine in order to expand their armies, preparing for Ragnorak. Much of the reason that gods and mortals fight so frequently is for training. Every god has his or her warlike aspect, even those who represent something else entirely.
Odin: One-eye, All-Father, Grim—Odin is the most powerful of all gods. He is the most knowledgeable, cleverest, and perhaps the greatest in battle. Despite this, most people find him a bit…creepy. A nearly all-powerful figure who can manipulate as well as he can fight, who tore out his own eye and crucified himself on a tree for power, who spies on everything as the mood takes him… He’s a little disturbing. Still, he is THE god of battle. Men who want to join the gods as warriors traditionally worship him. Male wizards have few other options. And if he decides he likes you, the perks are tremendous.
Ravens and wolves are sacred to him. They should not be killed, because his personal pets sometimes wander the world in the guise of normal animals, and you never know when you might be throwing a rock at his wolf. His worshippers favor intelligence and trickery, value self-reliance (you can never trust someone else like you can trust yourself), and collect knowledge. They also enjoy drinking a lot, fighting, being rowdy, and poetry.
Odin is discomforting partially because one of his spheres is death. One of his names is Lord of the Gallows. He is the god of those who die in battle, and those who die as criminals. And while he has many positive qualities, he is also conniving and manipulative. He desires power. If any god or mortal displays a skill that Odin does not have, he will find a way to gain it for himself. Some say that this power-mongering is in an attempt to escape the fate foretold for him at Ragnorak, and that this is what will bring it on. Finally, there are rumors that he still works with Loki, even after his judgment and imprisonment by the gods, and that Odin sometimes frees him in order for Loki to do deeds for him.
Freya: Freya is perhaps the nicest of all the goddesses. She is very popular, especially among women, since in many ways she represents everything feminine, including the ability for a woman to do what a man can. She is a goddess of war and a powerful sorceress besides, and in many stories she is the one who taught magic to gods and men. Though she is married, she is more than willing to sleep with anyone who captures her fancy (or has something she wants), and she loves pretty things. In fact, in many ways she is Odin’s more approachable feminine counterpart, though she is not renowned for being manipulative. She appreciates passion and exuberance, and readily accepts worshippers from other races (legend goes that she was once commonly worshipped by the elves, and her usual appearance is very elf-like).
Loki: Fire-hair, Trickster, Firebringer—Loki is all about trickery and mischief. He and Odin are very good friends when they’re not trying to mess with each other, and when Odin AND Loki are involved in something, you know all hell is going to break loose. Loki is not a popular god, but everyone knows about him. He’s somewhat evil, but mostly he’s a being of pure chaos. He’s a god of thieves, and he’s supposed to take the evil side in Ragnorak. He used to be more amusing than evil, but long ago he arranged the death of a beloved god, and the rest of the pantheon imprisoned him for it. Now he is supposedly bound beneath the earth, and will escape just in time for Ragnorak—possibly even to cause it. Other stories say, however, that he is still Odin’s comrade, and Odin sometimes sets him free to help in his schemes. Some theologians speculate on the true nature of Ragnorak when two conniving blood brothers are supposedly taking opposite sides…
Theft, by the way, is ill thought-of in Mannheim society. People almost never steal out of need, since the community is structured in a way that allows support for such problems. Instead, stealing is usually involved in political issues, arguments, and the like. Theft is often punished by loss of fingers, a sound beating, and other physical methods. Bizarrely, however, thieves can get great respect for spectacular heists…so long as they aren’t caught. Also, theft and roguery are by no means the same thing. Trickiness is admired, except sometimes by the person being tricked.
The people of Mannheim consider all other human pantheons to be inferior to theirs. After all, theirs is the only one willing to teach people and train them for Ragnorak. This shows wisdom and caring from their gods, so far as the people are concerned. A fairly popular theory about Ragnorak is that some other pantheon causes it. Despite this, Mannheim’s people do not normally persecute other beliefs and religions. They feel that if Ragnorak is fated to happen, then harassing others won’t stop it. Besides, it is not the place of mortals to judge others for events that have not happened yet. That is the prerogative of the gods. Nevertheless, there are faiths that they suppress. Loki’s worshippers are bound and burned when caught. Hel’s few followers suffer a similar unpleasant fate. Worshippers of foreign gods they see as evil are driven out, beaten, or similarly dealt with. Gods of insanity, disease, and undeath, for example, are commonly viewed thus, but an evil god of war, even Erythnul, would probably not be treated so (though they may be avoided). The deciding factor is whether a given god’s practices involve an honorable death.
The people of this nation are moderately curious as to life in other places, but they tend to view the more civilized lands and climates as being rather weak and soft. If a culture does not teach a person how to fend for himself, then what is the use? They weigh others against the simple logic of survival. They typically respect barbarians, nomads, rangers, and other such types, and enjoy challenging all visitors to various games to test them. Sparring is a popular pastime, and survival challenges are a slightly more formal entertainment often practiced during festivals, where all the young lads and lasses go charging out into the wilderness for several days and then try to make it back alive. Children and inebriated adults play games like King of the Hill and rock-dodging (a lot like dodge ball). Footraces, barrel rolling, swimming contests (usually in cold water)…almost any kind of athletic contest is fair game to challenge foreigners with. These are good-hearted sport, if rough, and people very rarely mean any harm by it.
In the same vein, visitors may be surprised at the exuberance of these people. When they are not working, they are usually throwing an impromptu party at the town mead hall or playing some kind of game. They always invite (practically drag) visitors along, and feel a bit uncomfortable around the shy or meek wallflowers. So they’ll generally challenge them to a contest. Their logic is that physical exercise always gets the blood going.