I reject your summons to appear before the Assembly of the Saoi. How dare you command a fellow Rider to do anything at all, let alone travel across the Realms to answer to your jumped-up symposium? Yes, I burned the text you mentioned, because it contained dangerous and evil knowledge. If it was written by some holy madwoman of yours whose every word must be venerated, then it is the Saoi that need to reflect and ask the Shaper for guidance, not I.
Tadhg Mac An’Buabhallaí
Rider of Seachnas”
Who are the Vartach?
The Vartach are a people with magic woven into their very bones, and they bear its mark upon their faces as proof. They are one of the playable species in Five Oaths, and if you’re playing a Vartach you will likely be trained in the arcane arts, or if you do not have the ability to cast spells you will be dedicated to a particular pursuit or martial discipline. It takes a lot to bring the Vartach up from their subterranean home in the Realm of Draíod, and those Vartach who emerge into the outside world are often the most driven and determined.
Every Vartach is marked by one of five birthmarks called “brands”, most often on their forehead or cheek. These brands are seemingly random and they do not follow family lines, however traditionalist Vartach set great store by them and will judge individuals by the brand they bear. These brands begin as a jumble of abstract lines in childhood before resolving themselves into one of five signs. The five brands are the Sun Spear, the Broken Chain, the Clashing Swords, the Hook, and the Line Breaker. Even as children, Vartach are expected to live up to their brand, or their parents’ expectations of what their brands will be. If you are branded with the Sun Spear, you are deemed to have a great destiny, and will receive intensive tutelage from a young age in order to meet your full potential. At the other end of the spectrum, Line Breakers born in traditionalist communities are considered cursed and will be blamed for any misfortune. Vartach with the brand of the Line Breaker often leave their homes at a young age, before someone else decides they cannot abide a pariah in their midst any longer.
The other brands have less extreme interpretations. The Clashing Swords indicate a steadfast defender of Vartach kind, and often become guards. A Broken Chain foretells that the bearer will be a trouble maker to be watched. The Hook marks decent, solid working folk, who often become clerks, scribes or artisans.
Vartach among the gallóglaigh run the gamut from the brightest and best to those who could find no other home. A natural desire to excel and to demonstrate their superiority means that the Vartach can be found among the most highly-ranked of gallóglaigh. It is unusual but not unheard of for a Vartach to join the gallóglaigh unaccompanied by at least one of the Fathach, the stone people brought to life by Vartach magic, and similarly dedicated to their life’s purpose.
Origins of the Vartach
The Vartach believe they were born deep below the surface of Tirneach, as the five elements flowed together through the ley lines and converged in Draíod. The Shaper wove the powers together and made the Vartach, a people with a thirst for knowledge of all kinds who could discover and appreciate the full breadth of the Shaper’s creation. Some say that the Vartach were produced by the confluence of magical power alone, but they must still acknowledge that the power would not be there without the Shaper’s influence.
The origin of the Vartach brands is the subject of disagreement. One of the most common stories says that when the Vartach first made it to the surface they encountered the Gwyllt and soon their terrible influence spread throughout the caverns. To protect future generations, a great ritual was carried out and all Vartach since have been born with the brands to ward off the Gwyllt. Other stories abound of an ancient caste system long since abandoned, or a terrible crime for which all Vartach are held responsible and marked forever, or many even more strange and unlikely causes. Each Vartach has their pet theory, and interpretation of their own brand.
The Vartach are still mainly found in Draíod. The Vartach make up the vast majority of the Saoi, the Draíodach term for Riders who possess enough magical power to take their place in the Assembly which advises (or some say controls) the Iarla of Draíod. Many with the Line Breaker or Broken Chain brand find life easier amongst other people where they will not constantly be the object of suspicion, but every Vartach yearns for the power that sizzles through the caverns and tunnels of Draíod, and will return there at least once a year if they can.
Playing a Vartach
When you’re playing a Vartach, the main expression of your heritage is the brand upon your face, which should be applied in black or gold face paint or some other non-permanent method (please do not get a facial tattoo just for Five Oaths!). The five brands are the Sun Spear, the Hook, the Broken Chain, the Line Breaker and the Clashing Swords. The exact form of the brands is not something we are going to prescribe, however your brand must be recognisable as one of the five, and you cannot have more than one brand. Your character may instead have chosen to reject the destiny the brands have allotted them, and had it removed, and in that case they should have a visible scar where the brand once was. Vartach have the same range of skin tone as humans. Vartach often grow their hair long, or cultivate luxurious beards, as symbols of personal power and victory.
In gameplay terms, Vartach have the Mark of Destiny Feat. A Vartach’s brand, or lack thereof, is a guide to the destiny written in their soul. This means they can pick two Spells or Feats which will cost 1 less Vigour for them to use, giving them an edge with those skills.
Vartach with auspicious brands generally have a high status in Draíod, and further afield they are respected for their knowledge and power. They are held in suspicion by some Drakeblooded, whose legends tell them that the dragons of old were sapped of their power before their disappearance or death, and wonder what role the Vartach and their precious ley lines had to play in that. We expect the Vartach to be a popular choice for players who want to portray characters with a magical background, or a character who is determined to achieve their personal goals.
The Lifespan of the Vartach
Average life expectancy: 70
Maximum life expectancy: 80
Common causes of death: Old age, magical fatigue, tunnel collapse.
How the Vartach view the other Species
Creidhe: Not as trustworthy as the Fathach, but they are still very useful in their own way.
Drakeblooded: If their will and imagination was as great as the power of the ancestors they boast of, they might be a threat. Instead, they are a distraction.
Fathach: Our loyal children. They are here for us to guide. What would they do without us?
Firetouched: Excellent entertainment, and useful traders too, but they seem a bit ambitious for new arrivals.
Humans: Their creativity makes them inspirational assistants, but do notleave them unattended.
Krieger: Give a bandit a title, and they still remain a bandit. Watch your purse around them.
Leasiar: They surpass us in precisely two qualities- lifespan and arrogance.
Wildlings: Our power comes from the land, they come from… Something else. They are not to be trusted unless you enjoy having your throat torn open.
Some Vartach You Might One Day Meet…
Aindreas is a Line Breaker, or rather he was. His left cheek is now puckered by a scar where he got a Creidhe smith to burn off the brand which had ruined his life. All through his youth he was avoided or jostled in the tunnels, and he was denied the magical teaching that others were granted. He could feel his parents’ disappointment that their one child to survive was the one who bore the traitor’s brand. As soon as he could, he fled from Draíod. Now he scratches together a living protecting the merchant barges during their slow progress through the canals of Uasa. Through his boots, he can feel the old magic in the waters, which longs to burst the mortal-made banks, and he curses the fate which has left him with no way to harness that power, as is his birthright.
Caoivín bears the brand of the Sun Spear, and even though he does not possess any magical ability he has still been chosen for greatness. From a young age he has trained relentlessly to become a great Vartach warrior, and next year the Saoi of his Riding expects Caoivín to join her personal guard. Nobody has ever asked Caoivín wants from his life, seeing only the brand on his face. He has never seen the surface, and dreams of the rambling life of adventure he could have if he joined the gallóglaigh.
Alva is head of her family, which is one of the wealthiest of Cillcloch, the town which is first stop on the Way of Wisdom. Alva’s family have cultivated the mushrooms and fungi in the caves nearby Cillcloch as long as anyone can remember. Born with the brand of the Hook, Alva was always going to be called to the life of a farmer, and it is her life’s passion. Lately, she has noticed strange footprints in her family’s caverns, footprints which go right through the prized toadstools that are a delicacy for Draíodach elite. They do not belong to any creature she recognises, but it seems to walk on two legs and always back and forth along the same route. This morning, her brother has come to her in a panic, saying that Alva’s nephew never returned from the fields last night. Something out there has taken him.
The Brands of the Vartach
Vartach society is fundamentally based on the five marks that define them as a species, called brands. Starting as an indistinct tangle of black and gold magical veins, these coalesce as they start to come of age, and the shape it takes defines the rest of their life. There are five brands observed in the Vartach, and below is further detail on how the brands influence the lives of those who bear them.
The most auspicious mark, those chosen by the Sunspear have a bright future. It is a mark associated with power, wisdom, and good fortune. Many Sunspears become great mages or military commanders, and they make up the vast majority of the Council of Saoi. Regardless of what their specific destiny is, those marked by the Sunspear are seen as having tremendous potential and being meant for something great.
Upon developing the Sunspear, the Vartach usually receives a significant scholarship stipend to either attend one of Draíod’s most prestigious colleges of magic or receive other intense training suited to their skills.
Notable Sunspear Vartach
Fergal of the Unseen shield
Despite living centuries ago, Fergal’s name is still praised by scholars and mages. He is credited as the first Vartach to discover how to magically ward oneself from spells and teaching others how to do so.
Orlaith of the Golden Caves
A legendary Saoi, Orlaith was the founder of dozens of schools throughout Draíod. She is credited with revolutionising the way magic was taught as well as setting the standard for modern education, and sending Draíod into a golden age of knowledge.
The story of Radha has been repeated so many times that there are hundreds of versions, making the truth difficult to discern. While they were not the first to create a Fathach, they are said to have perfected the process which is still used today, allowing them to live long and healthy lives.
Those marked with the Clashing Swords are well regarded, and seen as stalwart defenders of Vartach kind. While this is often interpreted in a martial fashion there have been many Swords who became renowned healers to defend their people from disease, or teachers to protect the Vartach from stupidity. The mark of Clashing Swords is associated with courage, loyalty, and strength.
Upon developing the Clashing Swords, the Vartach often enter a period of intense martial training, and many will end up serving with the gallóglaigh for a time with almost any Vartach (or indeed Fathach) gallóglach being happy to sponsor a Clashing Sword.
Notable Clashing Swords
Eimear the Hale
A Clashing Sword who lived several centuries ago, Eimear is still remembered for being the first to discover how to cure diseases with magic. She is said to have seen her duty as being to guard the Vartach from any threat, no matter the nature of it.
A famous retired gallóglach who was the Thane of the Stalwart Courage Band, his exploits are legendary particularly in Baol. He is said to have held a narrow pass against a horde of Sluagh alone with nothing but a spear for over four hours. Bards sing of the time he wrestled an Ollocras bare handed, or carried away a boulder that was blocking a vital trade route, but these feats are surely exaggerated.
Clove was fostered as a hostage to a Krieger family when they were young. Whether growing up with these boisterous warriors affected what mark they developed is uncertain, but it definitely affected their temperament and martial skills. Clove spent a decade of their life with the gallóglaigh and lost an eye defending the village of Clochadearg from an onslaught of the undead, a deed for which they are now the Rider of Clochadearg.
The most common brand, the hook is seen as the mark of the honest, decent, hardworking Vartach. While not destined for individual greatness, the industriousness of the Hooks is seen as vital to the success of the Vartach, and Draíod as a whole.
The mark of the Hook is associated with duty, intelligence, and honesty.
Those marked with the Hook normally enter a year long period of apprenticeship shortly after developing it, moving between multiple professionals to find the craft that their talents are best suited for.
The Broken Chain
The Broken Chain is seen as an ill omen, a warning sign of an untrustworthy individual. A Broken Chain is normally the first individual to be investigated when a crime is discovered. While they are not necessarily excluded from Vartach society like the Line Breakers are, they are generally viewed as troublemakers and often have difficulty obtaining and keeping positions of influence.
The Broken Chain is associated with untrustworthiness, anger, and criminality.
After developing the Broken Chain, a Vartach is often assigned a mentor to oversee them and attempt to keep them on the straight and narrow, frequently a Hook or a Clashing Sword.
Notable Broken Chains
Ógán of the Strong Pass
In his youth a tunnel system collapsed, killing Ógán’s family and much of his village. Unable to contain his grief he bitterly missed his family and friends, and broken-heartedly wished that they would come back to him. Unfortunately they felt his grief, and the resulting undead killed over a dozen more people before a band could put them down.
Despite this, Ógán was taken under the wing of several older Vartach and studied architecture, developing safer ways to build tunnels to prevent future cave ins.
The child of two prominent merchants, Sorcha’s parents did their best to keep her on the right path but failed miserably. Stealing the most valuable things she could carry Sorcha ran away from home to Zahnhafen, and joined a Krieger pirate crew. She used her knowledge of her parent’s contacts to lead her new comrades to several lucrative but underprotected ships and used her magics to give them an edge in combat. She has bankrupted her once prosperous family out of spite, and has been leading the raiding party for the last three years.
Rionnach’s first act upon gaining their mark was to steal their families most priceless magical relics and tomes and sell them off to unscrupulous buyers. They are now the most notorious seller of illegal and stolen magical items in Draíod, moving from village to village, always a step ahead of those who chase them. It is rumoured that they count more than one Saoi amongst their clients.
The Line Breaker
Those marked as Line Breakers are viewed as the biggest threats to Vartach society. The least common of the five signs, these individuals are destined to destroy Vartach society if they are not opposed and thwarted. They are generally feared and despised by Vartach society as a whole.
The mark of the Line Breaker is associated with doom, destruction, and chaos.
Many Vartach who develop the mark of the Line Breaker are summarily exiled from their community and must find a place in the world among the other species, generally outside of Draíod. Some families continue to shelter and care for their Line Breaker kin but the many famous examples of those who attempted to live up to their mark means that they are kept under close observation.
Notable Line Breakers
Despite being dead for over a century, Clodagh Wavebringer is still held up as an example of why it is so important to exile Line Breakers. Born to two high ranking Sunspears, Clodagh’s parents argued that their child was exceptional and deserved an opportunity to prove herself, and used every ounce of their substantial influence to secure it.
She was (grudgingly) welcomed into Draíod’s most prestigious arcane college where she studied both magic and architecture.
Despite these opportunities, Clodagh proved her mark true when she tried to use the subterranean rivers that flow through the mountains to flood Draíod. While the cave systems were sealed off in time, she still managed to drown the entire population of Dóchasach as well as herself.
A Line Breaker whose name is especially cursed by the Fathach, Cillian attempted to destroy Vartach society by removing the Fathach, which he saw as “the bedrock that all of Draiód’s oppressive culture is built on”.
Using rituals to create weapons that could badly harm the sturdiest Fathach and magical diseases to ravage them, Cillian attempted to create a group to eradicate the Fathach and then lead a full scale rebellion against the Saoi.
Fortunately he was stopped and killed, but not before the deaths of many innocent Fathach.
Branna was exiled from Fiontir some fifty years ago, and sent to live in Bruid when they developed their mark. It was hoped that the dangers of Bruid would either temper their nature, or kill them before they lived up to their mark.
Unfortunately the result was quite the reverse: Branna made a bargain with the Gwyllt and lead a force of them through the tunnels to strike at the Vartach. They were stopped after the first village they razed but the ensuing battle killed most of two bands of gallóglaigh.
Some Vartach either feel their destiny is a burden they wish to reject, or do not wish for others to know what destiny is in store for them and burn off their brand. This is a painful process not lightly undergone, and leaves a permanent and very obvious scar where the mark was, which never fades away.
Those who chose to hide their mark are generally treated with suspicion by the rest of Vartach society and are frequently assumed to be Line Breakers. Because they don’t have a mark they are considered to be outsiders to Vartach society who have chosen to reject their place in it along with their destiny.