Home to soaring mountains, sprawling valleys, majestic fjords and snow-covered forests, Norska is a rugged land of extraordinary beauty and danger. The hardy men and women that inhabit these northern reaches today adhere to a way of life largely unchanged from the First Men who settled Norska in the mythic ages of old, relying on strength and cunning to not only survive the unforgiving climate and fearsome wilderness but flourish, carving out many stout kingdoms across the breadth of the frigid land.
Led by proud jarls who gained their thrones through bravery in battle and shrewdness in diplomacy, each of the northern kingdoms boasts a familiarity with war and hardship seldom found in the south of Aritae these days; border skirmishes between jarldoms are common and clashes with other savage humanoids (trolls, ogres and hobgoblins, among others) are a part of everyday life. Nearly every winter, bands of frost giants come down from the frozen, hostile lands beyond the northernmost borders of the Norskan kingdoms to spread death and destruction among the human settlements. Once in a great while a mighty chieftain will rise among the giants and unite their many tribes into a vast horde with singular purpose, sweeping down from the icy north to pose a massive threat to the Norskans; in these times of peril, the jarls call a moot to nominate a champion of their own to lead the combined forces of the northern kingdoms against their ancient foes in an epic war of survival. The greybeards of many towns will remember such wars occurring earlier in their lifetimes and can often be found retelling the skalds’ tales of the bravery and horror of those times.
When the Bal-Shanaari rose to power and swept north in the Age of Conquest, the dwarves of Zarak-Thrum (with whom the Norskans enjoyed a strong relationship) and their mountain territories formed a natural barrier to the Imperial advance; envoys from the Bal-Shanaari were sent through the mountain passes into Norska to treat with many of the most powerful jarls of the day, offering them a place in the empire. The proud northerners naturally refused, and the mage-kings of the Empire deemed it a pointless expenditure of resources to cross the mountains in an attempt to conquer what amounted to little more than a sparsely-populated frontierland, and were loathe to risk a war with Zarak-Thrum. To this day, Norskans pride themselves on their independence, having never fallen to the Imperial conquest.
In the centuries to follow, many jarls began to send raiders south in the summer, reaving along the coasts and down the Zehuar River in their fearsome dragonships to plunder Imperial outposts and towns for treasure and thralls. In modern times, most of the kingdoms of the north have ceased this practice, though a few particularly bloody-handed jarls continue to adhere to the “Old Ways,” particularly in the western reaches of Norska; whispered tales speak of cruel men who could take the shapes of beasts raiding along the western coast of the Stormlands, burning entire towns and leaving mutilated, half-eaten corpses for the seabirds to feast upon.