The imbata are a human culture who live mainly as nomadic herders along the fertile coasts of the Outer Continent. They are dark skinned, tall and long limbed. The imbata live mostly in tribes of varying size, from a few families to tribes consisting of many hundreds of individuals. Most tribes are nomadic, herding vur oxen and travelling with their cattle, but there are some settled tribes, and even a nominal tribal group of imbata who are settled within the trade city of Ok-Tom-Bo in the Kingdom of Geilem. The imbata worship the All-Seeing One, although they were never part of the a'Keshamite Empire, and they also honour cultural heroes. Most tribes take their individual identity from such culture heroes.
The Tegwe-Imbata are a culturally typical imbata tribe, although one of the largest and most successful. Their culture heroes are Tegwe and Jiba, husband and wife founders of Tegwe-Imbata society. Tegwe is accredited for first taming the cattle in a contest of skill with the bull god Ibu. Tegwe made a wager with Ibu that whoever lost the contest would be the slave of the winner forever. Ibu accepted but tried to win by cheating. Even so, Tegwe outsmarted him and ended up winning the contest outright. Tegwe also taught how to butcher the animal so that no part is wasted.
Jiba taught the system of knot-writing that the imbata folk are famous for. Originating as a method of keeping count of the herds, the Jiban knot–writing grew in complexity until it was a written language capable of great subtlety and expressiveness. Styles of knots, and their relative positions, form the basis of the language. But rather than a sequence of knots on a linear string, the language can be woven in two dimensions to form complex, interlocking narratives. The knots are small, more like stitches, and a Jiba story-mat resembles a crocheted rug.
It is the duty of the women of the Tegwe-Imbata to keep the sacred tales alive and to weave the Jiba story-mats. Jiban knot-writing is used for the basic stitches in most Tegwe-Imbata clothing too. Often this is a simple repeating phrase singing the praises and asking protection of the All-Seeing One. Sometimes, complex family history is woven into shawls and headscarves. When a child is born, a birth blanket woven with blessings for its life is given as a present.
Certain phrases and knot-patterns can also invoke magical power. What might appear to be a crocheted skull cap may protect a warrior from harm. Pregnant women will wear belts knotted with spells protecting their unborn child and relieving them of the pains of pregnancy. Tying magical knots unwarily can be dangerous, a fact drummed into every Tegwe-Imbata girl from a young age. The thread for knot-writing is usually made from the hair of vur-oxen. This is dyed according to aesthetic considerations (the colour of the thread is mostly irrelevent in Jiban knot-writing). The only time colour is important is when the threads come from a pure white oxen. These animals are rare indeed, and such threads are said to have potent magical power.
Government of the Tegwe-Imbata is an informal affair. Leadership changes according to circumstance and goes to the person with the most experience in whatever situation the tribe faces. He or she is known as the Ibm-Tegwe or Ibm-Jiba (according to gender), a title that means “He/She That Speaks for Tegwe/Jiba”. Men tend to take command in practical matters, like fending off raiders or organising the herd whereas the women, due to their more intimate knowledge of the old legends, take the upper hand where education is required.
The Tegwe-Imbata, and other Imbata, are on friendly terms with the Geilem and travel to Ok-tom-bo to trade (preferring metal goods). They have taught Jiban knot-writing to the Geilem since Jiba designed it as a means of communication, not for keeping secrets, but no-one can weave the subtle story-rugs as well as the Tegwe-Imbata. They dislike the Dromads, since the camel-taurs enjoy raiding imbata herds for sport, and the two cultures often compete for the same resources.
The Sindu-Imbata are an unusual example of settled imbata folk. They live in the sheltered Sindu Valley east of Geilem and although they still keep vur-oxen they also farm the fertile valley, mainly wheat and temir trees. The Sindu-Imbata live in symbiosis with a group of malameks, an intelligent race resembling small pterasaurs. The malameks of Sindu live in a rocky formation projecting over the head of the Sindu Valley. They provide protection for the imbata, ranging from devising the underground irrigation system to fending off djinn sandstorms attack with magic. In return, the imbata provide food for the malameks. Other imbata look down on the Sindu-Imbata, considering them to be little more than servants for the malameks, and indeed some hot-heads within the Sindu tribe also hold this belief.
The Sindu-Imbata, like many others on Fallen Sun, revere the All-Seeing One. They have no great culture heroes, unlike other imbata, but there are those amongst the tribe who hold an almost religious reverence for the malameks. Needless to say, there is friction between this faction and those who chafe at what they see as cossetting by the malameks.
Using The Imbata
The imbata are a possible background for human adventurers from Fallen Sun, or a source of information for distant parts of the continent. Common background skills would be Profession (herder) for all nomadic imbata, and Profession (butcher) for men and Profession (weaver) for women. This last skill would cover the production of ordinary knot-writing, but Craft (knot-writing) would be needed to produce the masterwork items required for great artistic value or for enchanting.
Any literate imbatan would be able to read knot-writing but an outsider would need to purchase two language skills - Speak Imbatan, followed by Read Knot-Writing - in order to make sense of Jiban knot-writing. Those lacking knot-reading skills can always attempt to Decipher Script, assuming they have some passing familiarity with knot-writing and are able to recognise it as such. Of course, any magic capable of translating written text will also provide the meaning of a piece of knot-writing.
As an option, the Item Creation feats can be modified to allow knot-written enchantments. Scribe Scroll, for example, would become Weave Spell-Completion Knot. The item, probably a simple piece of knotting like a friendship bracelet, would otherwise function exactly like a scroll in game mechanic terms, and require the same monetary and XP outlay. Although in, for example, a bracelet form, it would probably not occupy a body slot (gamesmaster's choice), allowing an imbata spellcaster to wear a large number of pre-prepared spells in the form of knotted items.
Other potential feat conversions would be Brew Potion becomes Weave Single-Use Knot and Craft Wand becomes Weave Spell-Storing Knot. Wondrous Items could also be replicated through knot-magic, although in this case they would use an appropriate body slot. Other restrictions on magic item use would also apply; for example only one wand-style knot (Spell-Storing) could be activated at a time. The application of the Use Magic Item skill would be the same, although the gamesmaster may wish to apply a +2 modifier to the DC for any character not also skilled in reading Jiban knot-writing.
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