The continent of the Aztaltica is divided into several large groups of cities and towns that are, barely, homogeneous enough to be called nations. These nations in turn consist of many various tribal groups and clans, so that generalizations about one people may in fact only apply to a small part of the population. Six regions of Aztaltica maintain enough internal organization and authority to justify the term ‘nation.’ These include Zlatan, Itzapan, Huatepec, Atlan, Axocopan, and Yaxuna.
The other peoples, such as the natives of Far Itzapan, the Dog People, and the Green Folk living south of the House of Tezca, follow a village-organized society. Their only chance of achieving nationhood status comes from the dubious honor of conquest by one of the aforementioned states.
Of the six nations, Zlatan is the largest, richest, and grandest. The Zlatan peoples have subjugated many smaller tribes within the boundaries of their domains. They have formed a strong alliance with Atlan, based primarily on the threat to invade, should the Atlans not prove comfortably amicable during the tribute negotiations.
Huatepec is a small state, but boasts strong, rugged warriors and a tightly disciplined army. Surrounded by mountains, harsh of terrain and poor of resource, the Huatepecs have maintained their independence throughout many decades of conflict with Zlatan. They watch the Empire, for of all the nations Huatepec is closest to the Valley of Zlatan.
Itzapan, farthest east of the lands, boasts the highest culture of the Aztaltica, but it is a culture that has passed its peak. The Itzapan jungles are full of grand ceremonial centers, steep pyramids, and wondrous temples. But now many of these have been abandoned, and the jungle does not leave abandoned structures long intact.
Yaxuna is a land of merchants and craftsmen. Militarily, it has never been a match for any of its powerful neighbors. However, its traders maintain an industrious commerce across Aztaltica, as well as generous tribute, so even Zlatan does not covet conquest of the kingdom. The Yaxuna are known through Aztaltica for their tall, conical hats, both for warriors and merchants alike.
The Atlan are ultimately descended from the Iztapan, but separated long ago. They are the weakest of the peoples, a total client state of the Zlatan Empire. They are often known as weak but cunning, the butt of many jokes across Aztaltica.
The Axocopan are a primitive society in the far southeast, in which a confluence of Zlatan and much Green Folk jungle people blood runs. They are, in fact, jungle folk who only in the last two hundred years have gradually built cities and formed a civilization, and hence remain primitive. They pay tribute to Zlatan to avoid conquest.
Peoples of Aztaltica
The overall groups of humans who have settled Aztaltica fall into four basic types: the Itzapan peoples, of the eastern peninsula; the Zlatan themselves; the Green Folk of the low jungles; and the Dog People. Each of these cultural groups has certain traits that distinguish its members.
The Itzapans inhabit the lands of Itzapan and Far Itzapan; though their descendants inhabit Atlan and Yaxuna, these peoples have become so intermixed racially they no longer consider themselves Itzapan nor have their racial characteristics. The Itzapan are an agricultural folk, with few war-making skills but highly advanced knowledge of science and medicine. Their influence has extended throughout Aztaltica with a mighty and wonderful civilization. Now, most of this grandeur has vanished, but the Itzapan people maintain with pride their traditions of learning, inquisitive thought, and scientific advancement.
The Itzapans tend to be short, with muscular builds and intense black eyes. Although of course they have the wide variety of human characteristics common in any culture, a few generalities can be broadly applied to the Itzapan. They are quick to laugh, even at themselves, and are slow to react with anger. More open to new ideas than many other natives, they easily adapt to new customs and traditions. They learn new skills easily, and tend to be very industrious.
Nevertheless, the Itzapans are proud people, and cherish their long tradition of art, architecture, and astronomy. They greatly respect men and women of learning; in fact, they are the only native culture that willingly accepts women into positions of authority and responsibility.
Itzapan lifestyles vary somewhat depending on whether the environment is village or city. Several large cities rise out of the jungles of the peninsula, most notably Tazumal and Tulom-Itzi. Whereas village life is simple, and the education standard and practical, in the cities schools are well organized and a young person can select from wide areas of knowledge available to him. Here are the temples, where villagers come to study the priesthood, and the observatories where astronomers study the skies. The Itzapans are also advanced in the arts of healing, and the apothecaries and practitioners of medicines are found in the cities.
The god Qotal is revered throughout the Itzapan lands, and was remembered even during his long absence. The faces carved into the cliffside at Twin Visages are perhaps the most remarkable example of this faith. Though other gods are acknowledged and worshipped, the Itzapans no longer employ human sacrifice as part of their religious routine.
However, while the Itzapan race is one people, it is wrong to consider Itzapan and Far Itzapan the same nation. Itzapan is much stronger, while their ancient cousins in the great Jungle of Chult are few in number, living in a handful of the ancient, glorious cities, having forgotten half of the magic wonder of their forefathers. Nonetheless, the Far Itzapan are perhaps the most advanced human civilization left in Aztaltica, regarding the regular Itzapan as their poor, country cousins--all regard them with mistrust, and there are few trade links. Only a handful of the famed Yaxuna merchants and some Iztapans, are allowed to trade, and rarely allowed within the Far Itzapan cities, just on the outskirts to conduct business.
The greatest cities and most organized social systems of Aztaltica have been created by the Zlatan. They have waged the most ambitious wars, and built the greatest empire. The Zlatan tend to be taller in stature than the Itzapans, with longer, leaner physiques. Their faces are more angular in appearance but, like the Itzapans, even the adult males are beardless.
Culturally, the Aztalticans have placed a greater emphasis on form, with less on substance, than their jungle neighbors, the Itzapans. Aztaltican architecture tends to be grandiose, the colors of its artwork bright. The classic example, of course, is the Great Pyramid of Zlatan, towering toward the heavens, its gaudy mosaics and sweeping height stand as an obvious attempt to overcome the structure’s environment, not merge with it.
The Zlatan devote themselves to Sotek. Other gods, particularly those powerful deities of the sun and rain, are worshipped as well, but the most intense devotion is saved for Sotek.
Warrior training begins at a very young age for young boys, with a rigorous regimen of study and exercise. It is not uncommon for a youth, by the time of his sixteenth birthday, to have attained the skills of a first level warrior. In keeping with their warlike traditions, the Zlatan are the culture who created the Feathered Wars—the ritual battles between nations, expressly for the purpose of gathering prisoners for sacrifice. In Zlatan societies, the highest status is awarded to the members of the military orders—especially the Eagle and Jaguar Knights.
Dog People (Chicimecs)
The Dog People are a collection of savage tribes who inhabit the western portions of the continent, although they alone use their name for themselves, the Chicimecs. They lack any coherent structure and never work together, which is fortunate for the rest of the lands, because their stealth and savagery is unmatched. They practice a highly advanced form of shamanism, which reputedly bestows great powers upon their most accomplished sorcerers.
The Dog People have no structure of civilization in the way of the Itzapan and Zlatan folk. However, they have a rich oral tradition, and a full belief in the gods of Aztaltica. They have never had the abundance of food, and consequently population, of their neighbors to the south—and thus have never developed their religion to the level of human sacrifice.
The Dog People are fearless warriors, and very loyal to their companions. They are stoic to the point where they are almost completely unaffected by pain and privation. The gods held in highest regard among them are Azul, the earth goddess, and—not surprisingly considering the parched living space of the Dog People—Tezca, the god of sun and fire.
Like the Dog People, the tribesmen who live among the eastern jungles of Aztaltica dwell in groups of villages, with no central government or large cities. The exception to this is the nation of Axocopan, along the southeastern coast of the continent—there, some of the cultural traits of the Zlatan peoples have blended with the racial heritage of the Green Folk. The Green Folk resemble the Itzapan in stature. They protect their privacy savagely, and few who venture into their forests ever return.
They are skilled with the use of kurari poison, and are excellent archers. They worship the gods of nature, and though they do not practice human sacrifice as a religious ritual, they rarely let prisoners live for long—except in the case of a captive who demonstrates some unusual capability or can provide a strong reason for being allowed to live.
New Character Classes
This is the ultimate order of knighthood in Aztaltica—the most elite class of warrior, with its officers all members of the nobility. The lodges of the Eagle Knights are located in all of the major human cities of Aztaltica. These are the locations where young aspirants can go to apply to the order. They will receive training here, and have the opportunity to serve as apprentices in battle, being taught by veteran warriors.
The Eagles are captains of hundred- and thousand-men regiments of the armies of Zlatan and many other nations. In addition, they serve as scouts for those armies, and as teachers and tutors of young men who aspire to be warriors. All who reach Eagle Knight level 8 become nobles of the city in which they serve.
The Eagle Knight must have a maca, a bow and arrows. Before he can advance to the second level, he needs an Eagle cloak, with full helmet and feathered mantle. The primary hindrance of the Eagle Warrior is his duty to his lodge, which owes allegiances to the Revered Counselor or ruler of the city in which it is located. This involves periods of guard duty, as well as long periods of instruction and training.
The Jaguar Knight is the counterpart of the Eagle. He too gathers in lodges in the great cities to study and perfect his craft. He serves the lord of the city as a loyal soldier. Jaguars sometimes command the regiments of the Aztaltican armies, but often are used as skirmishers, a company of them acting together to infiltrate the enemy lines or perform a horrifying surprise attack. They also fulfil the role of temple protectors and enforcers for the cult of Sotek—though not all Jaguar Knights are followers of the god of war.
Young warriors hoping to enter the ranks of Jaguar Knighthood must perform apprenticeships at the lodges of the order. Prior to second level, they are not able to don the armor of the actual Jaguar Knight; they serve as loyal warriors and must prove their courage and ferocity prior to gaining this honored status. As with the Eagle Knight, the primary hindrance of a Jaguar Knight is the service he owes to his order. He must obey commands, serve as a guard or footsoldiers and generally force himself to fit in—that is, if he wants to continue his training.
Aztaltican Artisans: Plumaweavers and Hishnashapers
Though these are treated as a variant of the bard class, they represent a rather different mindset than that of the bard. They are bards, and not wizards, because their training requires them to participate in their world, experiencing and learning things about the environment in a way hat makes them considerably more broader-based characters than the typical magic user with his nose buried in a spellbook.
The spells of pluma and hishna available are not so numerous, nor so potent, as are the spells of the wizard class.
Go to Aztaltica Background Report Part III. Religion