Bridge Over the Gu-Hai
Lai Giin – Hobgoblin Empire
Lai Giin, or Hobgoblins (lit. High Family) are the sole surviving Hobgoblin civilisation. Once possessing an empire that spanned the known world, the Lai Giin have been pushed back to their southern continent heartlands, known as Giin Wai.
Hobgoblin culture is highly formal and ritualised. Their language is one of the most complex still used, with different dialects spoken by men and women, and different social classes. Their modes of dress have remained largely unchanged for centuries, and varies little between men and women of similar social background. The upper classes wear silk sarongs, and decorated silver or gold ceremonial gorgets, pauldrons, bracers and often open faced helmets. Their chests are usually bare, and often tattooed. Lower classes wear loose cotton trousers or robes, and bronze armour pieces. All hobgoblins over the age of twelve carry a Kris, a long dagger with a serpentine curved blade that is designed for stabbing and slashing. Upper class Hobgoblins also carry a kind of atlatl called a Lai Bo made from Wootz steel, that also doubles as a highly effective mace.
Hobgoblin architecture is characterised by its uniform design aesthetic, with wide verandas, large windows, and heavy bass-relief carved decorations on all walls and pillars. Even the most humble dwelling has these carvings, which tell the story of the families that have lived there. The richer the family is, the more elaborate the carvings are, with the most rich often detailing their carvings with gold leaf and precious stones. Roofs are usually either reed thatch, or baked clay tile. Walls are most often wood, with stone reserved for fortifications and municipal structures.
Lai Giin have no single monarch, instead the senior members of the Hai Lai Giin, or Most High Family, sit in council. They rely on the reports of the Hai Lai Do, or Fist of the Most High to make their decisions, and then make sure their orders are carried out. The Hai Lai Do are fanatically loyal, trained from an extremely young age in the complex and often violent politics of the Lai Giin. All of them are excellent fighters as well as skilled diplomats, and many also have some level of magical aptitude.
Lai Giin religion focuses around a form of ancestor worship, focused around paragon family members called Soo. Soo are Hobgoblins who performed great services for their families and their people, and after their deaths are canonised. The most worshipped Soo are drawn from the royal family, but every family has its own Soo that it makes offerings to. Every Hobgoblin home, no matter how humble, has some kind of Soo shrine within it, where the family members will leave offerings of rice, plum wine and incense.
The Hobgoblin military is largely a civilian levy, but this does not mean it is any less effective. All Hobgoblins, male and female, participate in military training from a young age. Even the children of the richest and most powerful families participates in basic combat drills and ritual combat is deeply entrenched in Hobgoblin culture.
Hobgoblin light infantry fight with Kris and large round shields, and wear armour on their heads, arms and legs. They usually fight bare-chested, using their shields to cover their bodies. They fight shoulder to shoulder in rectangular formations four deep and twenty across. These 80 man groups are known as Giin Do, or Family Fists, and the soldiers are often drawn from a particular family or community. High ranking Do also carry Lai Bo, which can be used to propel 4-7’ steel-tipped darts accurately and with significant force.
Heavy infantry were developed after the first war with the Humans, and tend to be drawn from the Wo Giin, or non-Hobgoblin citizens. They are armoured from head to toe, and fight with pikes called Bo-Kris.
Hobgoblin cavalry are usually entirely drawn from high-born families, and would be classified as light cavalry due to their scant armour, and hit-and-run tactics. They use Lai Bo, and round shields. Their rate of fire more than makes up for the shorter range vs. bows, and their horses are usually barded to protect them from arrow fire.
Hobgoblins also make use of chariots when fighting on open ground. Each chariot is drawn by two horses, and crewed by three Hobgoblins: a driver, an dart-thrower, and a pikeman.
Wo Giin is what the Hobgoblins call all non-hobgoblins, and started as their term for Goblins and Orcs. It is also used as a derogatory term among themselves for any Hobgoblin that has shown a lack of manners, or cowardice. There are subtleties of inflection and accompanying hand gestures that indicate what kind of Wo Giin the Hobgoblin is talking about.
Cities of the Lai Giin:
There are dozens of towns and smaller settlements on the Gu Hai river, and its tributaries. Three great cities stand out however, both due to their size, and their importance to the Empire.
Hai Lai is the capital city of the Lai Giin, and home of the Hai Lai Giin, for whom it is named. Large even by Human standards, it straddles the river Gu Hai, a wide and slow-running waterway that serves as the main artery of trade for the Hobgoblin empire. Hai Lai, like all Hobgoblin cities, is split between the Jun Wu Lai, or the City on High Land, and the Jun Wo, or Low City. The Jun Wo is closest to the banks of the river, and spreads out over the water itself. The buildings are built from bamboo, and either floated on pontoons, or built on stilts to keep it out of the reach of winter floods. Narrow boats are used to navigate the waterways between the buildings.
The Jun Wu Lai is built on the hillsides, and hill tops. In the lower reaches there are canals and locks cut into the hill to allow delivery barges to ascend to the High Markets. Buildings in the Jun Wu Lai are much more sturdily build, from timber and stone, and the wealthy live there. The hillsides are out of reach of the winter floods, and the richest houses have fine silk gauze draped over the windows and doorways to keep out the biting insects that spread diseases like Sleeping Flu and Blue Fever.
The palace of the Hai Lai Giin is built on the top of the highest hill in Hai Lai. Built from granite that was shipped all the way from the northern continent at the height of the Empire, this ancient structure is part palace, part fortress. The outer surface of the high walls is uncharacteristically bare of sculpture, and has instead been polished until it reflects the sunlight like a mirror, and then enchanted to bind and strengthen the rock. Inside, there are formal gardens and airy pavilions. Silk gauze hangs in great tents, and censers burn incense day and night despite the palace being high enough that there are few insects to repel. The Hai Lai Giin live in this palace as virtual prisoners, with only the lowest and least important family members allowed to leave the grounds. Eunuch servants and guards tend to their needs, but also serve to enforce their captivity. Their only real connection to the outside world is the Hai Lai Do, or the Fist of the Most High, a corps made up of lesser cousins and illegitimate children of the royal family who’s job it is to investigate on the Hai Lai Giin’s behalf, draft reports and enforce the will of the family.
The City of Chun is the northern-most city in the Empire. Once Chun was the gateway to the Outer Empire, and the funnel through which the wealth of the colonies was poured back into the heartlands. Now it primarily exists as the first line of defence against invasion by the aggressive Human nations to the north. Chun’s most distinctive feature is the Fortress of the Moon, a massive fortification that spans the river Gu Hai, and the valley walls as well. It is a startling and intimidating piece of architecture, and represents the single largest obstacle to invading the lands of the Lai Giin. Hundreds of soldiers are permanently stationed at the fortress at any given time, and thousands more live in the town in its shadow. The town mostly survives trading silk from its mulberry plantations for permitted northern goods like grain, coal and metal. Chun is the only city that allows non-goblinoids to settle in the Jun Wo, with enclaves of humans and gnomes living side by side with orcs and goblins. It is also the only Hobgoblin city to be permitted to build an Airship dock, which has significantly increased trade in recent years. The close proximity of these foreign traders and diplomats with xenophobic and proud Lai Do soldiers has caused several minor diplomatic incidents, but a permanent staff of Royal inspectors enforce the peace with an iron fist.
Hai-i Gyu is located in the mountains at the southernmost edge of the southern continent. Built around one of the tributaries of the Gu Hai river, it is a mining city, and also the coldest city in the Hobgoblin kingdom. The Gyu mountains are rich in iron, coal, copper and tin. The foothills are also rich in gold. Despite this wealth of mineral resources, there are harsh restrictions on mining quotas, and while mining is still the single largest employer in the area, the second largest is metal recycling. The foundries of Hai-i Gyu take shipments of old and broken metal from the other cities and melt them down, then re-use the metal in the workshops and factories at the foot of the mountain. Hai-i Gyu is also known as the Black City, because the soot from the foundries stains everything, even the people. Hai-i Gyu is a closed city. No non-hobgoblins are allowed in, other than the slaves and prisoners who work the mines, and they never leave. A single Royal Governor oversees the operation of the mines, a lifetime position that is seen by many as a punishment posting.
The Kris is the mark of an adult Lai Giin. All adults, regardless of station, have a Kris that they carry prominently on their hip (if male) or strapped to their calf (if female).
Fourteen inches long, with a sinuously curved blade that starts wide at the base and then tapers to a wicked point, and with a fuller that extends the full length of the blade, this weapon is designed for thrusting, but will inflict nasty cuts when slashing also. The fighting style of the Lai Giin is a combination of both attacks, the latter mostly as a distraction, or non-lethal humiliation during duels. In battle, these short stabbing blades are very good for finding the the gaps in armour, and prizing them open. They also allow the Lai Giin to fight very close together, meaning that other less disciplined forces might find themselves effectively outnumbered two or even three to one, and facing a wall of locked shields and snarling demon-faced helmets.
The Lai Bo is the mark of an upper-class Lai Giin. These throwing sticks are made of expensive Wootz Steel, a flexible and strong alloy that allows it to be used in close combat without damaging its accuracy. Each is forged from a single piece of metal, and consists of a rod the length of its owners arm, weighted at the end with a spherical head. A groove for the dart runs down the spine, and a tooth projecting from the end fits against a corresponding groove in base of the dart. Lai Bo use different darts in different situations, all of which have a slightly different technique to throw accurately. The war-dart is the shortest and heaviest, designed to use from horseback and the front lines of an infantry Do. These war-darts are made from teak, and sheathed in steel. The flights are made from copper, and the points are honed to needle sharpness. Hunting darts on the other hand are lighter and longer, made from bamboo and tipped with glass, flint or bronze. These use feather flights, and generally have a longer range but less penetrating power. Many darts also have barbs made from steel, bronze or glass, to make the dart more difficult to remove.
The Bo Kris is a pike between eight and ten feet long, and topped with a y-shaped blade similar to that of a ransuer. They are used primarily by auxiliary heavy-infantry to defend the flanks of the army against cavalry charges.
The Dha is a long blade usually reserved for ceremonial occasions, such as executions and pre-battle offerings to the Soo. There are however several instances of Hobgoblin heroes specialising in the Dha over the Kris, due to its longer reach and greater damage potential.
The Dha is characterised by a single cutting edge, a slightly curved blade and a long handle designed to be held with both hands. The blade is made with Wootz steel, a pattern-welded steel that holds a very good edge, while remaining very light.
Hobgoblin armour tends not to include breastplates, as the large round shield they carry covers their chest, and the heat of their homeland makes such full-body armour impractical. Instead, they have lamellar greaves, skirts, gorgets and pouldrons, as well as bracers. Battle armour can be made from bronze or steel. Ceremonial and Duelling armour is usually made from bronze or copper, since it is designed to show the marks from blade-cuts for the purposes of scoring.
Hobgoblins wear armour in their daily lives, but there is a difference in design between their daily armour and their battle armour. The most visible difference is decoration, while all Hobgoblin armour is heavily decorated, their daily armour often features protruding embossed sculpture that would catch a blade in combat and thus diminish the effectiveness of the armour. Battle armour only ever has engraving and inlay, so as not to catch an enemies blade. The helmets they wear in battle are usually closed face helms with eye slots, and the face plates are often shaped into the faces of demons and monsters. Daily helmets are open-faced.
The Hobgoblin tall helmets are different from northern helm designs in that they have a conical crown. starting from about an inch above the brow they raise to a point that often has a plume or some other kind of embellishment attached to it.
Auxilliary heavy infantry, usually consisting of Orcs, wear full lamellar armour in battle.
Hobgoblins bring a variety of beasts onto the battlefield, both as mounts and as living siege engines. The most often seen are elephants and rhinoceros. Elephants in particular are used as mounts for senior officers, and also as mobile siege platforms, with small ballista mounted on their backs. Rhinos are used in a variety of ways, usually involving aggravating them, then releasing them on the enemy lines.
A Note on Slavery
Hobgoblins do not generally take slaves for life. Even slaves taken in times of war have specific conditions under which they are kept and, eventually, released. This practice, known as Indenture, is regulated by law, and punishments for transgressing a contract are severe for either party. The only Indenture contract that is a definite one-way trip is a mining contract to work in Hai-i Gyu. Such contracts are usually offered to war captives and bankrupts with no useful skills.
Indenture is the only form of employment for Wo Giin. Orc and Goblin workers negotiate an Indenture contract with their Lai Giin employers, work out their term and then either renegotiate or find new employment. The Indenture is marked with a tattoo on the neck or chest, showing a series of three pictograms. The first indicates the family they work for, the second their job, and the third their release date. Miners however have a single symbol magically tattooed on their foreheads: The symbol of the Hai Lai. Those found with a genuine miner’s mark outside of Hai-i Gyu are assumed to have deserted and are publicly flogged, hung until near-dead, disembowelled and then beheaded. Their heads are then tarred, and sent to Hai-i Gyu to be mounted above the gates.
Hobgoblins are generally over six feet tall, with some females being significantly larger. There are few other obvious physical differences between male and female Hobgoblins, females only have breasts when they are pregnant or breast-feeding young. Both genders have a lean, naturally muscular physique, angular features and almond shaped eyes. Their teeth seem oversized and sharp to humans, resembling those of large felines. Their skin is dull red, grey or brown, and their eyes are yellow, orange, brown or green. Their pupils are horizontally barred, like those of a goat. Most Hobgoblins have a pattern of markings on their nose and brow in a contrasting colour to that of their skin, usually yellow or black.
The Hobgoblins are loosely based on the Khmer people of Vietnam and Cambodia. They are civilised and intelligent, with a culture that goes back further than that of the Humans. When playing a Hobgoblin, they are unfailingly arrogant and eminently sure of their own abilities. They believe that to lie, cheat or back away from a challenge is tantamount to cowardice, and consequently is beneath them. That is not to say that they will play fair, or won’t seize an advantage when they see one, they merely do so within their strict rules of conduct. Even Hobgoblin criminals obey these rules for the most part, since taking things by force, intimidation or blackmail is not against the ‘rules’.
Don’t Lie – Hobgoblins do not lie directly, but they neither must they tell the whole truth. They can lie by omission, and their complex language makes avoiding inconvenient truths much simpler. For this reason they dislike the more simplistic tongues of the Humans and Gnomes.
Don’t Cheat – You can steal, but you do it face-to-face with your victim. Hobgoblin thieves work through intimidation and blackmail, and their ‘thieves guild’ is a quasi-legitimate association with offices and a roster of members that stretches into the thousands. That said, there is nothing in the rules about allowing another to fall into a trap. If your target is lazy, stupid or greedy enough to walk willingly into a dangerous situation, then they are not protected by the rules. Honey-traps are a common tool for Lai Giin ‘criminals’.
Don’t Run – True Hobgoblins don’t back down. To do so is to be Wo Giin, a lesser being. In situations where retreat is necessary, the hobgoblin who gives the order can take the responsibility onto themselves by committing ritual suicide, or covering the retreat by fighting to the death. One convenient way of avoiding such a fate however is to never commit yourself to action where retreat is inevitable, or instead give the responsibility for retreating to a Wo Giin subordinate with no such compunctions. On the battlefield, specialist Wo Giin auxiliaries are used for harassment and rear-guard actions, allowing the body of the army to “redeploy” to a more advantageous position. In politics the situation is more complex. When a Hobgoblin needs to change their standing on an issue, they have to go through a complex and ritualised series of incremental changes, so as to retain face. This slow manoeuvring is very frustrating for the more mercurial humans, but the only alternative is trial by combat. Duels circumvent the rules, allowing two Hobgoblins an avenue for quickly resolving disputes. Small matters might only take a quick slap, or a fist-fight. More complex issues usually result in blood being spilled.
Wo Giin comprise a number of client (or slave) species. Most are Orcs and Goblins, who were the first species to fall in the Hobgoblin expansion. The vast majority of Orcs and Goblins live outside of the cities, in the plantations and terraced rice paddies that dot the surrounding countryside. They work on tenant farms and smallholdings, paying rent to their Hobgoblin landlords.
It is important to note that the vast majority of Wo Giin do not feel that they are particularly oppressed. Their original cultures were totally erased during their conquest, and they have enjoyed a gradual increase in standing over the last few hundred years that has left most of them feeling fortunate, rather than resentful. Indentured Wo Giin are treated as near-equal citizens, able to hold property and operate in most areas on equal footing to low-ranking Hobgoblins. Their lack of ethical constraints actually puts more daring Wo Giin on an advantageous footing when dealing with Humans and Gnomes, and there is a growing wealthy merchant class in the northern towns. As a Wo Giin cannot be compelled to do anything outside of the terms of his or her indenture contract, there is significant freedom for Wo Giin to pursue their own goals outside of their contract-mandated duties.
The life of the Wo Giin is in fact sufficiently attractive that a number of war prisoners taken during the Hobgoblin’s contraction actually stayed on after their contracts were up, found human partners and settled down. There is now a community of Human Wo Giin that extends right through the Giin Wai, and has no particular loyalty to the Lantzrood.
Wo Giin who refuse to take indenture are seen as untrustworthy, and potentially subversive, however. This is because they exist outside of the system, as it were. A truly free population of Wo Giin is something that keeps some senior Hobgoblins up at night. For this reason, the growing merchant guilds in Chun are seen as a threat by some in the Hai Lai Giin, and some believe that a crackdown may be necessary to prevent harmful ideas from spreading further south.
Most Wo Giin have little culture of their own, although the relatively small number of Human and Elven Wo Giin do sometimes retain their own culture, and modes of dress. One element of Wo Giin culture however is theatre. Groups of Wo Giin performers travel up and down the Gu Hai on specially built barges, performing plays and operas for Low City crowds. Usually made up of Goblin actors, with the occasional Orc or Elf, these groups are the Hobgoblin equivalent of Gypsies, bearing no Indentures and thus being seen by Lai Giin as untrustworthy and potentially subversive.
Wo Giin clothing is usually simple, consisting of short sarongs or breech-clouts, woven reed sandles, and wide conical hats made from woven reeds or stretched animal skin. Wealthier Wo Giin wear silk sarongs or loose robes, usually dyed to match their master’s colours, although the new merchant guilds forming in Chun have their own colours.
Orcs are large-ish humanoids, slightly shorter but much heavier set than Hobgoblins. Their skin is usually grey-green or brown, eyes black or dark brown and their hair is universally black. They have small, round ears and flat noses.
Goblins are small, similar in height and build to Gnomes. They have similar noses to Orcs, but wide, flat-lipped mouths, and large pointed ears that can twist and turn like those of a hare. Their eyes are disproportionately large, and they have excellent night-vision. Goblins skin is either deep green or brown, their eyes are usually green, brown or black. They have no body-hair.