The Yazakhs are a race of plains warriors divided into a dozen clans, each ruled by a Khan. They are renowned for their ferocity in battle, their mastery of bowmanship, their excellence as cavalry, and their hardy endurance under steppe desert-like conditions. In the wake of Vecna's Disjunction, they have been collectively punished by the gods, with their steppe homes inundated under Lake Retribution. They have become a people without a land.
Yazakh culture is based on travel. Even before their lands were inundated by the gods, they had few permanent settlements, preferring to wander. Their homes are large, round, white canvas tents known as ‘yurts’. Each yurt has a central fire, with the smoke flowing out through a hole in the center of the ceiling. The doors are always wooden and often intricately carved. The inside of each yurt is covered in colorful rugs hanging from the walls and ceiling. Most importantly, each yurt can be packed up by its family in a few hours and loaded on a wagon to move to the next pasture. Yazakh “cities” move seasonally to the best pasture lands.
While paranoid of outside magic, Yazakhs are extremely polite and hospitable. They will invite a passer-by to join them for dinner more often than not. This does not mean that they will take foolish risks--dinner is often an armed affair. Yazakhs herd cattle, sheep, and goats, and only eat the meat of these animals. “Vegetables are for cattle, meat is for man,” is one of their sayings. They drink fermented goat’s milk, which is an acquired taste at best.
At great holidays, Yazakhs hold games--contests between the best warriors in the clan. The contests are ritualized: three events are always held in wrestling, archery, and horseback riding/racing. Wrestling in particular is interesting, because it is performed wearing the traditional costume of a sumo-wrestler-style leather thong and a backless top decorated to look like the great blue bird of paradise (hilarious to non-Yazakhs). The games are accompanied by great feasting and drinking of fermented milk drinks...
The Yazakhs were small nomadic people, little-noted before the Cataclysm, sixteen centuries ago. However, after the devastation of the Cataclysm, they flourished, while the "civilized" denizens of the Videssian, Oceanian, and Southrond Empires suffered. They expanded, and took over the great, semi-arid plains where once the breadbasket of Videssos had been.
Traditionally, there have been twelve Yazakh Clans: Rivtoff, Bolshnik, Blitnik, Ritkin, Bahto, Timur, Taraka, Mangu, Surgat, Hulagu, Umlat, and Abatu. Each is ruled by a Khan of the same name.
Typical Yazakh warriors are men, but a few women of superb fighting skill are allowed to fight in the front ranks. The Yazakhs view men and women as equal and both fight equally well with bow, spear, and sword. They wear lamellar iron armor (like scale mail, 50 nobles, +4 AC, max Dex bonus +3, armor check penalty -4, arcane spell failure 25%, 30 pounds, but actually counts as light, nor medium armor) and utilize wooden shields (+1 AC), although in some cases the best warriors received field plate and magical armor and shields from Vecna during the Great Disjunction.
Yazakh warriors are not known for intelligence. Many are little more than brutes with neither conscience nor civilization. They are suspicious to the point of paranoia concerning any magic born of a source other than that of the Yazakh shamen. The shamens are druidical in nature, and tend to greater consideration and thoughtfulnesss. Wizardry is nearly unknown among the Yazakhs, with its few practitioners feared.
A strong bond exists between the Yazakh rider and his mount. The mount will allow its rider to drain blood from its veins to sustain himself in lean times, a practice which causes little or no harm to the horse. Fully 50% of these war horses will not allow themselves to be mounted by any other than their accustomed rider.
The Yazakh spear bears, in addition to the standard spearpoint, a back-curving hook near the base of the head. Used against a mounted opponent, a successful “to hit” roll will cause the target to make a riding check DC 13 or be pulled from the saddle (in addition to the damage from the hit).
The legendary Yazakh composite bow typically has horn as its primary element; it gains added strength from being left strung, unlike the western longbow. The pull required to use the Yazakh bow is as much as three times that of the western composite bow. It takes at least a 16 strength to use the average Yazakh bow, and many can only be strung and adequately drawn by individuals with 18 or better strength. An added refinement is that Yazakhs typically use the thumb, protected by a metal ring, to draw the bowstring, rather than the more popular two- or three-fingered grips. The use of a single finger to pull the bow allows the bowstring to be drawn to a more acute angle, increasing the force of release. These factors make all Yazakh bows equivalent to masterwork weapons, +1 to hit.
The almost universal use of the Yazakh bow among the clansmen has led to the development of several strategies which take advantage of the bow’s power. Generally, in battle, the archers are used through four and five rotations to soften up opposition. Only when the opposing army is in nearly full disarray does the infantry charge begin. The archers and main body of infantry are concentrated in the center of the line, which eventually engages the enemy force. The left wing of the Yazakh army is minor, and designed only to hold off a flanking action while the outsized right wing attempts to outflank the enemy itself. In a hunt, the hunters fan out in a wide semicircle, driving animals forward and concentrating them as the line draws into a tighter arc. After the leader looses the first arrow, the space within the tightened semicircle becomes a killing ground. This tactic has also been applied, with murderous effect, to invasions of peasant lands.
Yazakh troops are always organized in groups of powers of ten: 10, 100, 1,000, or 10,000. Small scouting parties are usually 10 riders, explorative groups 100 riders, and army divisions 1,000 or 10,000. Yazakhs measure distance in “cattle” roughly 8 feet long--e.g. the house was eight cattle long and two cattle wide.
The Yazakhs are not part of recorded history before the Cataclysm fifteen centures ago, though they undoubted existed. Their height was during the dark centuries immediately after the Rain of Fire, when they swept over the formerly “civilized” lands like a plague. The Videssians eventually recovered from the Cataclysm and began their reconquest of Arik, but could never quite subjugate the Yazakhs even at their height. Their legions would march into the steppe, and the Yazakhs would retreat before them, drawing them in, destroying their supply lines, then surrounding and destroying them. The Yazakhs remained very clannish, having little dealings with other human or non-human races, content to exist in the steppes and launch the occasional raid against the Videssian Empire to the east or the Kingdom of Tara to the west. They were never united again under the Great Khan Altur as they were in the dark ages, instead divided into twelve clans each ruled by khans. Once a year, the khans would meet at the most holy location in Yazakh lands, the ancient stone circle of Tovag Baragu, but attempts to unify and launch concerted raids always broke down within months.
In 1506, Archlich Vecna, ruler of the Cortalish Empire, began laying his plan to achieve godhood, his Great Disjunction to separate Grund from the heavens and make his the only faith. Tovag Baragu figured prominently in these plans, so he methodically sent Fire Wizard agents to win over the khans, using promises of magic, power, and advanced arms and armor. It took several years, and some wars to defeat those who would not submit, but the soon the Yazakhs were all willing to obey Vecna, believing he had control of Tovag Baragu.
The story of how the Intrepid Paragon stopped Vecna's Great Disjunction at Tovag Baragu is related elsewhere. Most Yazakh clans remained loyal to Vecna, fighting the oncoming 3rd Bywater Expeditionary Army and that of the Cortalish Lich Pomeranian, who were both coming to foil Vecna's plans. However, they failed, and when the Disjunction was broken, it is said the gods themselves descended to Tovag Baragu, which they referred to as shards of the original Godstone. They decided that no one would ever misuse the stones' power again, and further, the Yazakhs would be punished for defending Vecna. So it was that the Great Drowning began, as the heavens rained for weeks until over half the steppes were inundated, called Lake Retribution. Only the high Koshka Bluffs--site of the tombs of an ancient civilization--remain above the water, where Clan Bolshnik is said to have settled. The only other Khanate to have emerged intact is Clan Rivtoff, which allied itself with the Southron invaders, and whose southern capital, Liara, was spared from the deluge.
The steppes that remained were too close to the civilized lands, and too small to support the entire Yazakh population, so used to huge, open spaces. Several bands were captured and sold into slavery by the Videssians, while the Tarans used the opportunity to solidify their frontier, driving the tribesmen back. It is estimated as many as a third of the population died in the six months following the end of the Disjunction on Midsummer, 1511. Many Yazakhs are now a people without a home. Some of their bands have ranged through civilized lands, often provoking battle. Some Yazakh horsemen have formed mercenary companies or joined existing armies with their units intact. However, many have dispersed to smaller bands, losing faith in the khans. Yazakhs are looked upon in many civilized nations with disdain as the Vistani are, a treacherous gypsy people. The Yazakhs have nourished a sense of victimhood, that their collective guilt for supporting Vecna was a test of their people. While the druidic gods Ehlonna and Silvanus are still worshipped, most Yazakhs place Selune, goddess of the moon and travelers, as their patron. For all their travails, they still consider it an honor to help a poor traveler.
The establishment of a Yazakh colony in 1513 by Gaetmo So in Aztaltica has proved a major draw for this dispossessed people. A charter signed by Viceroy Cordell in thanks for their support in the Silver Legion Insurrection guaranteed limited free passage and a 100x100 mile enclave, so thousands are expected to emigrate in the coming months.