The Golden Waste is a sea of yellow grasses and groves of gnarled trees. The hard clay earth drains the rains into steep riverbeds and leaves little for wells and pools. Strange and terrible beasts prowl the plains and darken the skies with their hunting, but most fearsome of all the dwellers in this dry land are the people known as the Howlers.
The Howlers are of countless nomad tribes, riding strange creatures, roaming with their herds of meat-beasts from one grazing land to another to seek fresh springs and fresh plunder. They are a constant scourge to their neighbors of Lom and Vissio, riding out of the wastes on their ferocious beasts to rob unsuspecting travelers and savage the folk of ill-guarded towns. They worship the spirits of the earth and the mighty creatures that walk it, and they scorn foreign gods.
Their ancestors were a great nation, one related to the modern-day Bright Republic. Instead of technical artifices, however, their theurges were obsessed with the creation of the Mandala, a massive arcane working that would cover the entire nation in a web of occult might. Buildings, roads, and mystic structures were all woven into this great Mandala, every inch of them covered with sigils and arcane script.
No one is quite sure what went wrong when the Mandala was finally completed. The Howlers only know that the cities fell, the roads burned, and only those men and women who were out on the plains survived the chaos that followed. The beasts of the land birthed monsters and terrible zones of lethal magical residue blighted the old city-sites. Those Howlers who lived tamed the more tractable of the beasts for mounts and livestock, and now shun the ruins as places of death and misfortune.
The Howlers are primitive in their technology and lack many resources, but they are peerless animal-breeders and beast-tamers. They are scattered in countless small tribes across the plains, each under the ordinary guidance of a peace chief and the martial leadership of a war chief. While the latter is the mightiest warrior of a band, the former is chosen for their eloquence, wisdom, and persuasive abilities.
For as primitive as they are, the Howlers are superb poets and musicians. As written words and meaningful sigils are strictly taboo for all Howlers, they rely instead on the vocal arts. The sinews and strange organs of their beasts are made into exotic musical instruments, and the fame of their music is amplified by the entertainment companies of the neighboring Bright Republic, where they are romanticized by a populace that has a comfortable sea between them and Howler raiding parties. Their other neighbors love them much less.
Many say that Howler adepts have strange powers of voice and song, and can command beasts, charm men, and blast their enemies with the force of their arts. Those reckless adventurers who dare the Howler bands in an attempt to reach the ruins of their ancient forebears sometimes find out the truth of the matter firsthand.
Trade with the tribes is forbidden in both Vissio and Lom, but Bright Republic merchants and talent scouts have a provisional immunity from the tribes’ depredations. With no way to reach the islands, the tribes are forced to trade the services of their musicians and their harvested animal products for the trinkets the Republic offers. Some coastal tribes have quietly begun breeding sea-monsters and flying beasts that might be able to overcome Republican shore guards.
Outside researchers have sought fragments of the Mandala for centuries, but the tribes insist that the shards are still dangerous. Any caught with them can expect a slow death at Howler hands.