Furs and amber and strong drink, that’s what gets you through the dark winter days when the ice cracks at the end of the bay and you hear the linnorm scales scrape along the surface. Warm furs and someone worth tumbling between them. – Ulfen winter wisdom
Physical Description and Physical Outlook
The Ulfen scratch a living in the north. They have a reputation abroad for being strong, dumb, and quiet, as well as having strange accents and smelly furs. Most Ulfen are quite tall, with men starting at 6 feet and the women just a few inches shorter. Their skin is pale and their hair blond, straw brown, or red. Both men and women wear it long and braided, with the women prone to more elaborate braids. Men usually wear beards.
Ulfen men and women set great store by personal appearance, valuing their flowing locks, tight braids, and well-kept furs of ermine, mink, and fox. They were necklaces of amber, carved narwhal horn, and mammoth ivory, as well as finely-worked bronze and silver in a braided style. They consider themselves the handsomest men and women in all Avistan, and the damnable thing about it, to other peoples, is that they are often right.
The days of raw pillage from the north are mostly over, as the Ulfen can no longer pass through the Arch of Aroden into the Inner Sea unaccosted. At the same time, the Ulfen are hired as sailors, marines, and bodyguards widely throughout Avistan, perhaps because they combine great seamanship, ruthlessness, and exotic looks. It has become quite fashionable in Qadira and elsewhere near the Isle of Kortos to hire an Ulfen bodyguard for his towering height, his pale skin and hair, and his vile stench, which is considered a mark of distinction among bodyguards in southern lands.
Ulfen men from the Land of the Linnorm Kings fulfill the stereotype of sailors and traders; Ulfen from the Irrisen lands ruled by Baba Yaga are more raiders and riders than seamen, although they share cultural ties.
Ulfen traditionally keep thralls – slaves whose period of service ends in a set amount of time. Children born to thralls are always born free, and thralls can file a complaint against a harsh or unfair master (which shames the master, certainly, but also runs the risk of a master’s fury). Thralls are either captured in battle or condemned to service by a thingmar, a court of justice of the Ulfen by their peers, overseen by an elder jarl or chief. Even a chief or jarl can be condemned as a thrall if he has forsworn an oath, killed a child, or betrayed his shield-brothers.
Ulfen men are fond of competitions both athletic and alcoholic. Their athletic contests often occur at the approach of winter or the start of spring and include climbing ice walls, hurling timbers of various sizes, ax throwing, sled pulls, and races on foot and on snowshoes. Swimming is not a skill that the Ulfen value, although sailing and rowing are. The drinking competitions happen during great feasts, when the Ulfen men boast of their ability to down kegs or even barrels of mead, ale, and cider. Outsiders tend to take away from this a view that Ulfen are boars and louts, which is not entirely true. Their boorish loutishness tends to be confined to special occasions – Ulfen men who try this approach on other than feast days find that Ulfen women mock them mercilessly. Few repeat the experience.
The women are often powerful druids and priestesses of Desna or Torag. A few maidens each year also go on the Mountain Ride, a week-long hunt to tame hipogriffs and pegasi on the high peaks of the Kodar Mountains east of Jol or the Tusk Mountains in the Realm of the Mammoth Lords. Most maidens see this as a chance to escape their parents and wander alpine meadows in the early summer before they settle down, but each year a few of them actually succeed in bringing back a tame mount. These Ulfen women are called the “wind sisters” or sometimes simply the “sky maidens,” and they are messengers, couriers, and heralds between the various kings, princelings, and jarls of the North. With their great speed, they hop even from the mainland to the many islands to the west, from Halgrim to Jol and sometimes risking the bitter skies over Irrisen to reach the few Ulfen there not enslaved by evil. Without them, the remote settlements of Ulfen lands would be even more isolated. These wind sisters also form an important defense against the arrival of dragons and linnorms, providing crucial warning time to secure livestock, prepare defenses, and take refuge against these marauders.
Ulfen sing during any task they perform. They sing while they work, sail, cook, walk, herd, and so on. They sing when they fight. The Ulfen warrior’s distinctive song is always completely his own. The wind sisters might sing to urge their pegasi to fly faster and guide lhe lance, while the berserk greataxe-wielding raider might sing of blood and a widow’s tears, but each warrior knows the song that carries him through battle. Some foes find it unsettling, while dwarves seem to consider it fairly normal. If you hear songs of blood,archery, feathered death, and glory, you know the Ulfen are ambushing you.
In general, dueling and feuding are popular pastimes among the Ulfen, with great emphasis on personal honor and the value of a sworn oath. Insults are usually answered with ax and shield pushes, and while dueling is always considered purely a temporary argument, fought to the first blood and forgotten as soon as it is over, feuding is a more serious thing. In a feud among the Ulfen, entire families and clans can go to war over a conflict as simple as the proper way to mend the nets or the rights to a particular salmon spawning ground. Sheep and cattle raiding are also popular pastimes.
Finally, no discussion of the Ulfen would be complete without mention of the high incidence of lycanthropes among them. Werewolves, werebears, and wereravens are most common, but selkies (wereseals), werewolverines, and even werefoxes are not unknown among them. The curse of lycanthropy is not considered an especially dishonorable state among the Ulfen, but simply a mark of favor from nature spirits; Those who suffer from it and who cannot control their violent urges are required to stay in a long-house or spirit house during the full moon, which is barred with silver and stocked with enough food to satiate even the largest appetite.
While women heroes of the Ulfen often become Sky Maidens, men are most often rangers and barbarians and worshipers of Erastil, Gorum, and Torag, although they have druids and priests of Desna among their numbers as well. As a group, they are more adventurous than most – the wilderness of the Linnorm Kings and Irrisen is too thinly settled for anyone to live long who cannot prosper in the wild and find food and shelter when bad weather sets in.
Few in each generation become skalds – half-wise, half-drunken singers and jesters to the great men and women of the tribes. They tell the sagas that record Ulfen history, and they are often the most literate in a village or town. Unlike the wind sisters, they have no immunity from reprisals, although most consider it unlucky to lower oneself to answer a skald with personal combat. Defeating a skald in a drinking contest, on the other hand, is considered quite a coup.
The loudmouth Ulfen king Ingimundr the Unruly is currently gathering Ulfen adventurers and younger sons for a foray into the “rich southern lands.” Most older men oppose this, as trade and bodyguard work are making many of the Ulfen quite wealthy by northern standards, although Ingrimundr is clearly calling to something in the Ulfen blood. The tales that the Ulfen tell about themselves might make them sail south and go a-reaving again, although the Norns and the Fates advise against it. More likely, perhaps, is a great gambit to the east, to take back land from Irrisen stolen long ago by Baba Yaga and her trollish minions. Ingimundr believes he can convince the Ulfen under her sway to turn against the Witch Queen, although others believe her rule is as absolute as the relentless grip of the northern ice.
Language and Naming
Ulfen speak Skald, the tongue of the distant north, and write their language using a runic alphabet taken from the dwarves. Skald speakers and dwarven speakers can understand one another with quite a bit of difficulty.
Ulfen tend to possess two names: a given name and a patronymic. Men generally receive names of powerful ancestors and hero-kings, although some bear names that are actual words in Skald that their parents hope they embody or emulate in life. Women often receive descriptive names that define their parents hope for their future.
Male: Asbjorn, Birger, Eilif, Herger, Hyglak, Jens, Kjell, Kriger, Niklas, Olaf, Ragnar, Sterk, Storhoi, Tallak, Varg
Female: Asta, Birgit, Dagny, Eva, Gerda, Gunda, Hege, Ingegerd, Ingrid, Jorun, Magda, Nanna, Runa, Signe, Tine
Sources: Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting