Big long post of DOOOOOOOOOOM.
So! The Ashlander culture wasn’t all that fleshed out in vanilla Morrowind. They were tribal, they didn’t like anyone, and that was about it. If we expect we’re going to put a lot of content in TR concerning the Ashlanders, this will have to change!
So, this is a compilation of my thoughts on their culture, and what this might mean for how we protray them ingame, particularly in questlines. There’s a lot of stuff here, and I’m not expecting us to get to it anytime soon, either. Food for thought and planning and all that!
General Ashlander Culture in Vanilla
First, some of the basics that we know about Ashlanders.
--the Ashlanders are typically nomadic. They herd guar and shalk for their foodstuffs,and probably add to this with hunting and gathering (gathering for certain, there’s an instance in vanilla where you gather trauma root for an Ashlander to eat).
--they’re often pretty hostile to outsiders, and it’s not uncommon for wandering Ashlanders to attack travelers on sight. However, this doesn’t stop some tribes from forming trade relations with outsiders, such as the Zainab tribe.
--For the most part, the hostility doesn’t seem to go the other way around. Meaning, House Dunmer don’t typically atttack Ashlanders unless provoked. (Though they may be convinced to shove a bunch off their land, a’la Trail of Tears) There are several Ashlander NPCs in vanilla that have chosen to forsake the tribal life and live with the House Dunmer, and they don’t seem to be harassed about this beyond the usual culture shock.
--they used to keep slaves, but don’t anymore, finding it hard to maintain them now that they’ve been pushed into the worst lands
--they are led by a female wise woman and a male ashkhan. The ashkhan deals with all matters of war and also seems to be the head PR person for his tribe. The wise woman is more of a tribal shaman figure, dealing with internal affairs like the physical and spirutal health of the rest of the tribe.
What this means for our gameplay
--we could probably adopt pieces of cultures like the Native Americans and not have it look too out of place. My suggestions would be some sort of adulthood rite via a hunt (quest: guy decides to hunt an outlander rather than an animal, onoes!), a Trail of Tears-like storyline for one of the tribes, as well as animal totems and spirit guides.
--if the game engine allows, we might consider having the Ashlander camps move around depending on the season, and also adding in herds of guar and shalk in the vicinity of the camps.
--like in vanilla, there will be “monster Ashlanders” that attack on sight and are pretty much werewolf food. Quests would be then be concentrated in the tribes and the occasional Ashlander living among the House Dunmer.
--the great gender debate. I think this got covered pretty thoroughly in a discussion on the old forums, so I’ll just say this: possible quest of one of the traditional leaders getting killed and what this means for the governance of the tribe. Instead of going for the cliche “women can’t be warleaders”, we could do a “men can’t be dream-readers”. And yeah, we could have a quest with a woman wanting to be a warrior theme, but it’s such a cliche I’m a little leery about it, unless we can put our own cool twist on it.
It’s mentioned in a few places that, with the possible exception of House Dres, Ashlander culture is the closest thing in Morrowind today that resembles old Chimer traditions, particularly as it relates to Daedra worship. So, this is one of our biggest opportunities of exploring Daedric worship itself, and how a whole culture could be built around it (and not tear itself to pieces in the process...)
First, Dunmer worship Daedra because Boethiah introduced to them the concept of the mortal life being a test to endure, rather than a curse or being cast out from some sort of paradise, like other mer tend to think. Daedra are then both the testers and the teachers—the ones who inflict the trials upon mortal beings, or, in the case of the Good Daedra, the ones who teach Dunmer the tools they need to pass these trials.
Assumably the Ashlanders mostly keep to the same Good Daedra and Bad Daedra delineations as the Tribunal Temple, as the Good Daedra are the ones who helped the Chimer become Chimer, and the Bad Daedra are, well...your typical conniving, destructive Daedra.
Realms: deceit, violence. Enjoys making mortals suffer (uses followers for blood sport, etc), the one mainly responsible for making Chimer out of Altmer. Boethiah may then be one of the most important Daedra to the Ashlanders, and the strongest influence in their culture.
Dusk and Dawn, mystery (not to the same extent as Nocturnal, of course) purportedly the only Daedra who seems to care about its followers, strongly tied to prophecy (including all the Nerevarine stuff), the one who cursed Dunmer with gray skin and red eyes.
Realms: lies, secrets, sex, murder, plots and intrigue. When the Chimer were first being formed, Mephala was instrumental in teaching them techniques to put down their enemies and keep themselves safe from political rivals.
This is the only non-Good Daedra I’m going to mention. And I mention him because he is the Daedra associated with natural disasters and the inhosipitable land of Morrowind. The Ashlanders live in close contact with this land, and so natural disasters are probably much more important to them than to other cultures. Mehrunes Dagon may then be the main antagonist out of all Daedra through an Ashlander perspective.
What can we get from this?
--as a people, they are probably pretty blood-thirsty. This is kept in check somewhat that Dunmer are proud of their heritage and typically very loyal to their kin (in other words, they attack outsiders more than each other, and we see this already with Ashlanders being so hostile to outlanders). Another way it might manifest ingame is they might be caught saying some things that would sound a bit over the top to us, like wanting someone’s death for a minor slight.
--if attacked, the Ashlanders would probably resort to sabotage rather than outright warfare. They just don’t have the manpower, and plus, covert violence is what they’ve been taught by Mephala. Frontier forces like Imperial outposts might then see some quests involved in rooting out Ashlander thefts and poisonings.
--They put a lot of stock in prophecy and dreams to guide their actions. Since prophecies can wind up being really cliche and contrived if not done right, I’d be careful about writing storylines around this one, though. Also especially since the whole main questline is based around a prophecy—we might not really need anything more than that!
--The Ashlanders may make blood sacrifices to Boethiah. It’s likely these blood sacrifices would be slaves and prisoners of war rather than their own kin. They might also have some rites related to offering up the blood of the animals they hunt, but this would probably be less important to the Daedra, as in Tamrielic lore, animals don’t have as strong souls as mortal beings. Quest ideas: save an outlander from being sacrificed, not become sacrificed yourself, or join an Ashlander hunt which involves the blood hunt rite in some way.
--In the past, the tribes probably warred with each other in ways very similar to the Great Houses. Back before the Tribunal, Nerevar’s fame in part came from being a great uniter, after all. This inter-tribal tension has probably lessened in current times, as they have to put more energy towards survival, and the tribes may also be cut off from one another as they get pushed into the Ashlands. However, there could still be a quest involving a skirmish or abduction between tribes.
--Sex is a funny thing. On the one hand, it could be somewhat accepted culturally to use seduction to get what you want from an enemy, and being sensual might be seen a virtue (versus chastity or Puritan-like aversion to the notion). On the other hand, lots of sex means lots of babies which are very difficult to support in a nomadic tribe setting, so it could be frowned on for THAT reason. (Contrasted to the Great Houses, which are agricultural in nature. For them, lots of babies is actually a big help, because it means more little farmhands.) So I’m not sure where to go with this.
--If the Tribunal were the reason Azura cursed the Dunmer with their appearance, and the Ashlanders remained loyal to Nerevar, why then were the Ashlanders included in the curse? I don’t think there’s enough lore available to definitvely answer this, but we might still have an Ashlander having a “crisis of faith” over this as a bit of lore or a small quest.
--we may be able to drop hints about the Oblivion Crisis, using the special relationship Ashlanders have with Mehrunes Dagon as mentioned above.
--some dialogue about Mehrunes and teh Good Daedra in general, under the topic Morrowind lore.
Ancestors and Ancestor Worship
This seems to be something that House Dunmer and Ashlanders still share. The spirits of the dead don’t really like hanging around the mortal world—it’s cold and unpleasant to them. But, among Dunmer, some do so out of duty and loyalty. They guard the houses and other important treasures of their living kin, they give advice, they keep knowledge of ancient rituals and history. Because of this veneration, Dunmer see necromancy as a capital offense if done on another Dunmer. (They don’t care so much about non-Dunmer, and I believe it’s mentioned that they don’t really have any laws or mores regarding this, compared to the rest of the Empire where ALL forms of necromancy is bad.)
It’s a little unclear if some ancestors serve through use of coercion, though. Some reportedly are bound improperly or not attended to frequently enough, and so go a little mad. Also, ingame there’s tons of burial tombs, but no one seems to care if you ransack them. Why is that…?
What this means:
--There may be some old tribal burial grounds on land that Ashlanders can no longer access due to Imperial or Great House encroachment. This would make both Ashlanders and the spirits very upset, with the spirits going a little crazy and causing problems, and the Ashlanders doing everything they can to get back to them. quest idea: the player investigates a strange curse laid on a farm field or new house built nearby a burial ground. Think poltergeist stuff. Another quest idea: the player helps escort an Ashlander to make his/her pilgrimmage to the burial site of an ancestor, which is difficult to reach due to distance and whoever now is occupying the land.
--There may be special rites for times of great upheaval (wars, natural disasters, etc), where the Ashlanders ask their ancestors for help. The player might be witness to or play a part in one of these rites. (I could even see the Ashlanders needing, oh, a blood sacrifice for the rite, and trying to trick the player into being it.)
--In Tamriel lore, interbreeding between men and mer is possible. This probably hasn’t happened in Morrowind for centuries because they’ve been so cut off, but about now that they’re part of the Empire? What would this mean for people who are then descendants of two different races? Would a half-Dunmer only venerate their Dunmer ancestors, would they try to persuade or coerce their non-Dunmer ancestors to serve? It seems like interracial breeding would be a huge scandal whether you’re talking either Ashlander or the House Dunmer, so I’m not sure we’d ever see it being portrayed in the game, but food for thought.
Flora, Fauna, and the Land
This is starting to breach the realm of pure conjecture. I discuss this in light of Ashlanders because tribal cultures tend to have a strong tie to the land, so exploring these creatures and themes would probably be best served through Ashlanders. However, there is almost no mention in vanilla that Ashlanders work this way.
Whether or not they venerate nature, nature is still a very important part of their life. They live in the worst parts of Morrowind, and have to struggle to get basic necessities from it and not die from exposure.
What this means:
--quest idea: the Ashlanders are cut off from an important water hole, and need the player’s help getting access to it, or another one just as good. Complications: the player must find a water hole that is not poisoned by volcanic chemicals, and doesn’t taste of sulphur, please! That, and, an Imperial outpost has set up camp around the old water hole, and they’re not interested in letting a bunch of filthy natives cloud it up with their guar dung, thanks much.
--quest idea: mysterious illness. The player tries to help a wise woman cure an illness that has been plaguing her tribe ever since they moved hunting grounds. She’s thinking along the lines of unhappy spirits or a curse from the House Dunmer, and sends the player out to investigate these possibilities. One of the investigation steps involves making good to the ancestors. The ancestors are a little baffled by the appeasement rite, and then tell the player the correct story: The illness is because the Ashlanders moved too close to a geothermal vent, and the Dunmer are growing ill from the poisonous gases being released from it.
--quest idea (minor): some of the guar in the tribe’s herd have contracted the blight. They need to be put down.
-quest idea: the tribe’s warriors got themselves lost in an ash storm and you get to go find them. May be too similar to certain quests found in vanilla, though a twist may be that the ash storm happened in the middle of a raid on nearby outlanders, leading to the warriors to having to shelter with the outlanders in chagrin. This leads to all sorts of problems the player gets to deal with on arriving, but it may also be an opportunity for peace and trade agreements if the PC plays it right.
--quest idea: gathering blessings of the animal spirits. This one’s kind of iffy, as again, I’m not sure the Ashlanders would venerate the land in this way. I’m also not sure if a quest is the right way of getting this lore across, or if it should be more along the lines of chat topics. But anyway, a quest could be along the lines of the Solstheim quest, pilgrimmaging to holy landmarks that have some spirutal connection to the land itself. Or it could involve the hunting of the creatures for their blessings. Such as: guar = stamina, nix-hound = cunning, cliff racer = speed, kagouti = strength, kwama = fertility, alit = um...aggresion? Probably some virtue to do with Boethiah or Mephala’s teaching, being they’re a nasty, poisonous creature.
--similar to above, a quest that exists as an excuse to learn more about the ecology of Morrowind. An Ashlander wants you to hunt various animals and gather certain herbs, and tells you interesting tidbits about them as you go along.
--Ashlanders may see outlanders as even less than animals, if animals are revered while (obviously) outlander races are not. This might take the form of NPCs, where an Ashlander is seen treating his guar better than an Argonian slave. No real quest, just flavor.
How to differentiate from House Dres?
House Dres being our other faction that has stayed loyal to the ancient ways of the Chimer. Some of the bits about Daedra worship may then be shared between Ashlander and House Dres culture. The biggest difference I see is that the Ashlanders are nomadic tribes, and this introduces stresses and customs that just wouldn’t work in that of a settled agricultural House. Ex: Mehrunes Dagon being less important to Dres, more sensuality and sexual themes among Dres, just as much interest in dreams and portents, the Dres may also do blood sacrifices (using slaves).