Life in the World of Scroungers
Standard of Living and Life Expectancy
Life in Stha Lui is difficult and, for all but the most wealthy, often short. Foodstuffs are often in short supply; anything other than the most basic staples can be extremely expensive. Healing, magical or otherwise, is similarly costly and available only to select groups. Most people work long hours in difficult conditions to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads.
For these reasons, malnutrition and disease are the most common causes of death. Even when a family has access to adequate food to meet their calorie needs, the bulk of most peoples' diets is composed of basic staples; rice, tubers, and similar foods. Many fruits, vegetables, and meat products are beyond the scope of daily diet for many people, leading to nutrient deficiencies and diet-related illnesses even where starvation is not an immediate problem.
Disease is another major problem. Crowded conditions, poor hygiene, and lack of access to healing contribute to the spread of even innocuous diseases. Drinking water that is often contaminated with waste products exacerbates health problems, especially in the crowded cities of Stha Lui's western coast. Even simple wounds are often left untreated, leading to death or disability from infection. Magical healing could alleviate this problem, but the costs associated are prohibitively high for many families and there are casters who can cast multiple Remove Disease spells per day.
As with everything else in Stha Lui, living conditions vary by region. The large newcomer cities are the worst. Their slums often stretch for miles, facilities are overwhelmed, and life expectancies are very short. On the other hand, life expectancies are longer in places like the Śathadva Islands and parts of Shokhestan, where crowding is lower and access to varied diets less restricted.
Stages of Life
The myriad challenges posed by life in Stha Lui have disrupted traditional aging and family paradigms in many cultural groups. In many families, the fine line between life and starvation requires that each member contribute to the best of their abilities.
In order to facilitate division of labor and responsibility, extended families throughout Stha Lui have increasingly adopted a concept known as Jhisa Drishti. Originally a feature of vanar and Aadipuran culture, Jhisa Drishti is a delineation of an individual's role in the family and society. As most commonly-implemented, the Jhisa Drishti system divides an individual's life into four stages.
The first stage, which lasts begins around a child's eighth year and lasts until his late teens, is known as Vithaalah. This is a stage of learning, where the individual prepares himself for later life through study. Traditionally, much of this study is of a philosophical, theological, or historical nature. The student would remove himself from worldly society, take up a life of moderate asceticism, and enter into the service of a teacher, working to provide for the teacher's basic needs in exchange for access to his teachings. While this model predominates, the topics of instruction are increasingly practical; vocational training, apprenticeships, magical instruction, or military training. Indeed, many of Stha Lui's predominant combat schools operate under this framework.
The second stage, which begins upon conclusion of the Vithaalah stage and lasts most of an individual's life, is the Grihaalah, or householder stage. In this stage, the individual re-enters worldly society and works to support his extended family. Individuals in the Grihaalah stage often provide for their parents and in-laws, resulting in large extended families all living under one roof. In many cases, multiple Grihaalis from the same family may combine forces to ensure adequate income to support their many dependents.
The third stage is known as Budhaalah. Individuals in the Budhaalah stage are too old to participate in the rigors of daily labor. Their role shifts to looking after the needs of the home while the family Grihaalis are earning a living. Cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children often fall under a Budhaali's responsibility, freeing younger and more vigorous members of the family for economically-productive labor.
The final stage, Shramaalah, begins if an individual gets too old and infirm to fulfill their responsibilities as a Budhaali. In this stage, the individual retreats from the world once again, beginning a life of asceticism and contemplation that lasts until their death.
Cash and Currency
The precious and semi-precious metals normally used for currency are in scarce supply on Stha Lui and can usually be put to better use. As a result, more common and easily-obtainable materials are frequently used as coinage. The following table outlines the units of currency used on Stha Lui.
The average lower-class laborer or subsistence farmer makes approximately 50 gold pieces in one year, or the equivalent of around 10 silver pieces per week. In most cases, however, this wealth comes in non-currency forms (foodstuffs, essential equipment, seed and fertilizer, etc) or smaller denominations of coin.
In addition, organizations like the Aadipura Mahasaangya Dabha and House Llynydh operate rudimentary banking systems, allowing patrons to exchange their hard currency for reed-paper notes granted value by the organization. This provides patrons with safer storage of wealth and easier transportation (as they can exchange the notes for currency in most places where the organization has a presence) while helping the organization maintain stocks of cash and provide loans.
The Economics of Scarcity
Sharply-limited resources and growing populations have made certain commodities more valuable in Stha Lui than they would be elsewhere. Foodstuffs and building materials (especially wood) are the most obvious examples of commodities whose value has increased due to scarcity, but there are others as well. These commodities, as well as the effect scarcity has on their value, are outlined in the following table. DMs should feel free to modify these guidelines as their campaign dictates, as well as make adjustments for different locations. Lumber, for example, is expensive everywhere but not quite so costly in Genzland or Shokhestan.
Alchemical materials|+20% - 30%
Arcane materials|+20% - 30%
Foodstuffs (exotic)|+30% - 40%
Furniture|+30% - 50%
Lumber|+50% - 60%
Meat (land-based)|+30% - 40%
In addition to its effect on prices, scarcity of certain commodities has resulted in the adoption of alternatives crafted from more readily-available materials or more easily-exploited sources. Because of the prevalence of seafaring and maritime trade, many of these alternatives come from oceanic and aquatic. These new materials and the materials they replace are outlined in the following table. DMs should feel free to add to or modify this list as their campaign dictates.
Coral|Stone and wood in construction of buildings, furniture and other durable goods, and (to some extent) vehicles
Reed-based papyrus|Paper, parchment
Mud brick|Stone in construction of buildings, especially in heavily-populated areas like Home
Mushrooms and other fungi|Tubers and other vegetables in areas like the Mountains where space for conventional agriculture is limited
Fish, shellfish, and other aquatic foods|Most other types of meat in almost every part of Stha Lui except the Hinterlands and Śetaig
Seaweed|Conventional edible greens in coastal areas like Qileka and Aadipura[/table]
The arrival of newcomer groups and the displacement of the landborn largely took place within the span of the first several post-Torrent generations. The newcomers, having spent several years (and in some cases, several generations) eking out a mean existence at sea, arrived in sizeable groups and quickly established themselves in enclaves on Stha Lui’s western coast. These en masse arrivals prevented the formation of a true “melting pot” society and resulted instead in the establishment of the regional power groups outlined below.
The regions are not, however, kingdoms or countries in the conventional sense. Those that rule usually do so from a major city and often (depending on the strength, energy, and skill of a particular ruler or group of elites) have little true power beyond that city and its environs. They may make and enforce laws, but their writ and their relevance decreases substantially the farther one is from their base of power. Networks of patronage, alliances with local elites, military or law enforcement expeditions, and advanced bases are all used to establish a pretense of power, but their efficacy is often fleeting.
As such, the borders of these regional polities are rarely rigid. Maps of Stha Lui, when they attempt to delineate regional boundaries, show little more than loose spheres of influence, which are almost immediately obsolete. And while they may indicate the dominance of a particular racial or cultural group, they are seldom able to show the complexity of the demographic makeup of any given region.
One of the few near-universal characteristics of the peoples of Stha Lui is a strong sense of nostalgia; a yearning for imagined golden ages drowned under miles of seawater. Members of every racial and cultural group, especially those elites with access to the resources and leisure time necessary to engage in academic pursuits, preserve vast corpuses of folk stories, songs, legends, and histories. Some of these sources are more-or-less accurate, many are heavily exaggerated or outright fabrications.
This focus on past glories, combined with the formation of racially- and culturally-based regional power blocs and the intense and threatening diversity of Stha Lui, has resulted in a heavy emphasis on language as a marker of regional identity.
Stha Lui’s resource and space shortages encourage a sort of hostile interdependence that prevents truly significant open conflict between regional power groups, but serious tensions simmer just under the surface veneer of trade and cooperation. In these tensions, language serves as a primary vehicle for the preservation of their ancient cultures (of course exaggerated in legend and song) and unification against constantly-arriving "others." Thus, elites among the landborn and newcomers work actively to promote linguistic identities and language has become a major fault line for Stha Lui’s intra-regional politics.
This has also counteracted (to some extent) the tendency of linguistically-diverse populations in confined areas to develop common Creole languages. Elites and ruling groups intentionally discourage these sorts of linguistic mixing as much as they can. Trade Pidgin has of course developed as a necessary outgrowth of economic interdependence, and Aadipuran is widely spoken along the western coastal cities even outside of Aadipura, but no truly comprehensive Creole language has yet developed. People who need to communicate across languages do so in Trade Pidgin or by learning other languages. Indeed, many who live in culturally- and racially-diverse parts of the continent speak at least the rudiments of three or more languages.
Sidebar: Pronunciation in the Languages of Stha Lui
Stha Lui’s linguistic diversity has resulted in a complex hodge-podge of different naming conventions and regional pronunciations. However, there are some pronunciation rules that hold true for most of Stha Lui’s languages.
- Vowels: “A” is generally pronounced as in the English “far,” with “aa” combinations resulting in a longer vowel sound. “I” is generally pronounced as in the English “feel,” though in Shokhani, Deep Dwarven, and Sea Dwarven, it can also be pronounced as in the English “fill.” “E” is generally pronounced as in the English “fen.”
- Unless used in the typical English “qu” combination, the letter “q” is generally pronounced like the Perso-Arabic ق. It sounds much like the English hard “k,” but pronounced gutterally, in the far back of the throat.
- The combination “kh” is usually pronounced like the Perso-Arabic خ, much like the German “ch” in words like “buch,” though somewhat harder and more gutterally. The typical English “k” sound is an acceptable substitute, and used extensively in regions like Genzbald and Śetaig. In some circumstances however, most notably in the name “Dekhi,” the “kh” combination is pronounced like an aspirated (i.e. extra air is expelled from the lungs during pronunciation) English “k.”
- The character “Ś” is pronounced like the typical English “sh” sound.