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DM Tips:Vosgaard

The Vos are based loosely on a mixture of Russian and Mongol cultures. These cultures are relatively uncommon in fantasy games, but inspiration could be drawn from the Mongol Hordes (although this might clash with Binsada in the Khinasi lands).
This page is a collection of hints, tips, adventure ideas, etc for DM's running a campaign in the Frozen Wastes inhabited by the Vos, please add your own experiences and suggestions in any areas you feel relevant.

[top]Social strata

A man's worth is what he can claim and hold, the strong rule, the weak serve or perish, such is considered justice amongst these barbarians. Farid ibn Nuari 678 HR.

Although a commoner can rise through the social strata like nowhere else, this is the exception not the rule. A strong warrior will swiftly gain respect regardless of birth, but few of common birth would ever get the chance to prove what they could do. A strong but foolish warrior will also inevitably be tricked into challenging the wrong rival.

Traditions that may limit a Tsarevo's power amongst the Vos are:
  • Prohibitions on land ownership, if land is communal than it is harder to accumulate wealth.
  • Rights of commoners to challenge even high-born accusers - this may require the backing of a noble or a temple
  • Strong rights for warriors, priest, and other nobles.
  • Disdain for trade, harvests and other habits of weak tribes.
  • Constant calls for raids for young warriors to win glory and wives.
  • Temple exemptions from taxes - or even right to tax the province ruler.
  • Bans on trade with rival clans.


The Vos take blood seriously, just as a warrior who does not defend their honor proves themselves weak, so a family which fails to pursue a feud is clearly inferior. In the tough Vos environment families rely on each other to survive, and frequently intermarry to maintain close ties, this can have negative consequences in that a warrior connected to many strong families may hold a position of importance despite being a weakling, but generally serves to ensure that strong families grow stronger and weak families are pushed out of desirable lands.

[top]Men and women

Leave the thinking to the women, a man makes his mark in blood not words. - Pyotr Greywolf , 890 MA.
The Vos are legendary for respecting only brute strength, as such some assume that women have a lowly status akin to slaves, or even worse. These people forget that Kriesha is also worshiped by the Vos. While many warriors treat women poorly, beating and even bartering them, a wise Tsarevo understands that a woman's subtle ways can root out rivals and destroy them more readily than any show of force, and that a wife can be more loyal even than a son.

[top]Torva vs Nona

The Torva, or True, Vos are almost unchanged from their forefathers that turned from Vorynn to Azrai and brought havoc to the other tribes of man during the War of the Shadow. Ignorant - deliberately so - of all the wonders of civilization the Torva seek to maintain their way of life and avoid succumbing to the weakness that 'progress' brings. The Torva are what most foreigners think of as 'real' Vos, but even amongst the Torva there are great differences - a warrior, noble or priest have little in common with the majority of the population which is comprised of craftsmen, peasants and slaves - of course such inferior folk tend to have little say in matters.

The Nona, or New, Vos are growing in numbers. Strongest amongst the weak is a common derision targeted at the Nona, and it is true that merchants, craftsmen and the like are more likely to be Nona than any other segment of the population, but growing numbers of warriors are familiar with the ways of the Brecht and the Khinasi, and no longer see the need to shun aspects of these other cultures which will benefit them, similarly the growing skills of their foes are making the wiser Tsarevo's see the need to trade for fine steel weapons.

Outsiders hearing tales of the Nona might think that they are 'civilized' or 'modern' Vos, or even the ancient Vos who followed Vorynn. None of these views is correct. The Nona understand that the land is harsh, and that only the strong can survive, they recognize however that there are many paths to strength. The Nona frequently look to gods other than Belinik and Kriesha as they are often scorned by both churches who tend to cling to tradition and thus Torva ways, however many Nona fervently worship the traditional Vos gods - Kriesha in particular for she is far swifter than Belinik to recognize strength in new forms and ways.

[top]Settled vs Nomadic

Like the Rjurik, some Vos are nomadic. Indeed given the harsh environment in many provinces there is little alternative. Some hunters chase seals over the ice, or follow reindeer herds. Others forage from the forests moving on as the deplete the available foodstuffs.

In general the strongest tribes hold the best land, and thus the nomads of the Vos tend to either be weak, or outcast for some reason. Accordingly unlike the Rjurik the Vos do not idealize the nomadic life, rather they scorn it, a nomad is someone unable to claim and hold worthwhile land, they are are worthless as merchants and of value only as slaves. In harsher lands where the nomadic life is more of a necessity nomadic tribes may have greater status and possibly even be courted as mercenaries by warlords.

Possible issues:
  • Should a settled clan look weak, then a nomadic tribe may seek to claim its land.

  • The Winter Witches could proclaim a tribe soft, and order it to abandon its lands and wander for a generation - or such a tribe could return to reclaim its lands.

  • To settle a new land the immigrants will have to be nomadic, as a result no settled Vos wish to emigrate and so the lands wealth goes untapped, how is a barbarian king to deal with the problem?


Might is right, in war one finds glory, only a coward fears death. Common Vos proverbs.
Belinik is the god of war and strength, he embraces brutality as a tactic which brings fear to the hearts of the weak and so makes them easier prey for worthy warriors. Belinik embraces conflict as it weeds out the weak and gives the strong a chance to prove themselves, the clans embrace this message as they need all their people to be strong - a weak clansman consumes resources but provides little of benefit to the clan and so they should serve the stronger to justify their lives, or be driven out.


Kriesha is the polar opposite of Belinik in many respects, subtle where he is brutish, quiet where he is loud, patient where he is rash and cunning where he is blatant. They are however similar in many ways, both see weakness as evil - the weak threaten survival of the tribe and so the survival of the Vos, both see mercy as weakness, both consider the survival of the people as far more important than the survival of any particular person - or even any clan.

[top]Survival in the Frozen north

In the northern parts of Vosgard the winter winds can freeze a man to the bone and the groaning ice can crush him like an ant Dmitri Poulsson, 1470 HC.
"Every year we have four natural disasters - Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter". Summer and autumn may not bring disaster, but winter and spring most assuredly do. Winter is perhaps obvious, but spring is equally deadly.

[top]The curse of spring

  • As the thaw slowly comes the rivers melt, once fine solid roads become treacherous with pits while the water below will leach the warmth from a man in minutes.

  • As the thaw continues rivers will flood low lying land, in northern Vosgaard no solid structure will be built by the waters edge except by a fool.

  • On larger rivers such as the Tarey that divides Melyy and Velenoye, you can see spectacular show of ice drift. Under the pressure from water all ice starts to break and then drift down the river. And if ice can't drift freely (for example under some pesky bridge) it starts to clog the river and form ice-hummocks. Usually these blocks are less than 10 feet in height, but sometimes they can be over 20". And pressure easily can be measured in tens of tons. This drift will destroy any Vos-built bridge, only the Karamhul, or perhaps a Anuirean, could build a bridge that would withstand this flow.

  • The thaw will make land boggy, roads will be impassable for up to a month until the warming weather dries the earth and the worst of the spring floods passes.


Winter is cold. A man can survive weeks without food, without warmth he will die in a single night. Vos saying.
  • Nomads have tents covered with furs where all the family can huddle together near small fireplace. As they usually make camp in the forest (in the open winds are stronger than in the forest), great firewood consumption isn't a problem.

  • Settled Vos have wooden cottages with small external openings - small windows, low doors. All the chinks in the walls and floor are carefully patched by dry moss. And they have cattle-sheds attached to main building - or even as part of main building. Even a Vos cow can freeze to death at especially cold nights.

  • Vos settlements all have walls - even the small ones, although this are often sloped. These are not, as ignorant Anuirean generals thought when the spreading Anuirean Empire finally reached Vosgaard, built because the Vos are constantly at war and cannot build foundations and other wall supports, but rather to block the wind. Keeping the wind from blowing through the village can be the difference between frozen walls and frozen people.

  • Some Vos may be sophisticated enough to build so called "russian oven". This monstrosity of a fireplace is built with about 1000 bricks and can be fed firewood once per day (!) to keep your house warm at harshest winter. A top of this oven is typical sleeping place for children and old people. This construction can save you lot of firewood (and lot of trips to nearby forest), but you must have decent Craft (masonry) skill to build it. Lesser ovens are easier to build, but they are less economical.

  • In northern Vosgaard we have also distinctive architecture features. Houses of the rich sport two types of living rooms - summer and winter ones. You can have all the fancy gates and broad windows for summer, but at winter these rooms are used only for storage. Tsor's palace can be exception, of course.

  • Houses of the poor and middle class (and winter entrances in the rich houses) have additional entry room - to keep cold air away from living apartments. (Simplest russian cottage design so-called "5-wall hut" have additional wall which separates main room and entry room).

  • Vos horses. More akin to ponies in many respects Vos breeds are (relatively) small beasts, adapted to the Vos regional climate and diet. They can plow through snow up to their knees without much difficulty. Nomad horses are even better. They adapted for extreme cold of the northern winter and they can dig grass from under the snow. Their only disadvantage is their small size.

  • Dogs can be used for pulling sleds only if you have steady meat or fish supply.

  • Dogs with sleds work REALLY well on frozen rivers; horses aren't bad as long as their is a solid covering of snow on the river, but really the rivers would work really well with sleigh-carts (hand pushed sleds on runners) so long as the pusher had some spiked strips on their feet (made easily from nail bits forced through leather straps).

  • Ski (hunter's ski, short and relatively broad, with fur on working surface) is another useful device. Even better, you can march on ski through dense forest, where horse risks to broke legs, and dog can't run through rough relief consisted of fallen trees and shrubs covered by snow of various depth

  • Snow shoes. Ski's are a little advanced for the Vos, metal or bone skates even more so, snowshoes fashioned from bent branches and woven rope are however endemic - any self respecting Vos could fashion such with ease. Snow shoes allow travel over deep snow, without such shoes a traveler will sink even light snowfall, this floundering through snow is immensely tiring, and worse can lead to sweating which in turn leads to frozen clothes and death, Kriesha take the fool who is to proud to bend his back and gather wood.

  • The second thing to remember in the winter is the dark...lots and lots of darkness. Because of the location of Vosgaard, I don't know if it is as dark as the more northerly regions of our own world though. I picture it more along the lines of where Mongolia is; which means in the deepest winter there are still several hours of daylight.

[top]Tips from play

  • A show of strength can often deter attack - even when one is weak one should strive to look strong, try to hide away whilst you heal and you risk inviting attack.

  • Merchants are weak, but Kriesha sees uses for them, so long as the temple of the Winter Witch accepts their fealty minimize the pillaging by warriors of merchants - gold is best won through battle, but a tribe which ignores its other assets invites weakness.

  • The Nona are weak, but Torva allies are inevitably also rivals, keep some of the soft willed ones around, not only will the tribe grow stronger through their trade, the Nona will distract your rivals.

  • Wizards are an abomination, weaklings who best warriors through guile. However in Kriesha's eyes this use of cunning and skill is worthy - so long as the wizard knows their place. A wizard - particularly a woman - could find support from Kriesha's temples in exchange for favors and service.

  • Goblins make useful allies, goblin raiders are endemic in many areas, a deal with goblins can turn your problem into someone else's problem. Beware however, gnolls are pawns to be disposed of when they cease to be useful, but goblins are often cunning and may have plans of their own - never show them a moments weakness!

  • Melyy is rich, and growing fast, but it is a target for every Torva in the Wastes, make friends quickly, if you can't make friends nearby, then invite in one of the softer churches - the Nona embrace Laerme and her mother Sera is every bit as wise regarding wealth as Kriesha - and her followers are greedy enough to risk all for the chance for a share of the silver!

  • Raid early, raid often. Nothing proves strength like victory in battle, the wise king raids to harvest his foes - not utterly crush them, through such harvesting the clan gains a steady stream of wealth, opportunities to demonstrate prowess, and of course slaves - all far preferable to conquering a desert!

  • The Vos value strength and courage, leaving others to do your bidding proves them strong - not you, leave leading the armies to others and you may find your crown on their head and your ears dangling from their belt.

  • For a Vos character - be sure to take a lot of Survival skill. For a Vos regent - Espionage, the favored method of attacking others in Anuire, is not so reliable here, nor is it as necessary. Instead, pick an enemy who you can reasonably hope to quickly defeat and go smash them. Get the attack over with before your other neighbors can react or you may end up fighting on two fronts - never a happy prospect. The worthwhile use of espionage is Spying on your neighbors so you can attack them when they are distracted by other enemies.

  • Keep Belinik happy by having a brisk little war every couple of years. Be victorious - use every wretched means needed to assure just that - remember if it's a fair fight you're not trying hard enough.

  • At some point you need some tactical or operational flexibility, because you should have a problem which you did not anticipate, so keep some reserves available in a central location.

  • For fighting in the winter, hit and run raids are best...and primarily just before dark. When attacking an enemy, you hit them just before dark and then fade away into a darkened path of retreat you know well; but that your enemy has no way to track because of the darkness. By the time the light comes again, you are miles and miles away...and the stronger night winds may have well covered your tracks with blown snow. Of course, most people in Vosgaard would expect this very tactic; so absolute surprise would be the primary goal...avoiding detection. Again, Varsk mounted soldiers would be best here because the white Varsk with their white-clad riders could move quickly in the snow to hit a target with minimal visibility.

  • Frozen bodies of water again become very prominent in winter fighting too. Whereas in the summer the forests might restrict movement for fighting and marching through soggy the winter the rivers would allow raiding parties to move quickly and attack river villages and such. It would also make it far easier to make an escape with looted goods because even the crudest sled (made of broken barrels lashed with rope even) would slide easily along a frozen river. It also makes it easier to pull fallen comrades away on little more than a grain sack.

  • With the limited resources of winter, village infighting might be common; especially if nearby villages each sport their own warlord. Particularly harsh winters might bring worse than roving wolf-packs...and wild Varsk would become hungry and perhaps stalk animals and even people around smaller settlements.

  • I see Varsks with their lizard like feet being VERY good in all forms of snowy weather, almost slithering through the snow like a snake in water. I can almost picture them slithering through the snow with only their heads slightly above the snow, their rider leaning heavily into their neck until right before both spring up in a surprise charge! That would be awesome!

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