Koru: the People of the Isles part 3

This is the third part in a series of drafts about Koru: Island World’s section on developing peoples and settlements. Here are the other articles: People of the Isles part 1 and People of the Isles part 2.

First Contact

When meeting a new settlement for the first time, the widely accepted protocol is to perform a Ritual of First Contact.

A successful ritual can drastically improve first impressions of the newly encountered culture and affect how they interact.

Because of the nature of Koru’s huge, shallow ocean, any newcomers to an island are assumed to be in need of rest, supplies and shelter. They are, in other words, at the mercy of their hosts. At best, rejection could mean dismissal of the visitors and being forbidden to set foot on the island; at worst it could mean lethal consequences.

Due to the popularity of this ritual, friendly settlements still conduct it even if they’ve been allies for generations. Some yearly gatherings are still formalized in this way, albeit without the risk of negative reactions. The First Contact ceremony is adhered to and repeated over the years out of politeness and friendly respect.

The Ritual

Please note that this is a rough draft and this will be refined.

This ceremony has a few stages:

1. Announcement: while the islanders will have noticed one or more ships approaching from strange waters, it is a good first step to make one’s presence known while keeping a distance. This must happen during the day time: even if the visitors arrive at night, they must wait until daylight. Anything else will be seen as aggressive or warlike. The newcomers are to keep their boats steady in the waters for a few hours to allow their hosts time to observe them and assess their numbers. Once satisfied, the hosts will send an emissary for First Talk.

In game terms, this can be a tense situation for a number of reasons: dangerous coastline predators, harsh weather or tidal conditions or simply making a stealthy approach more challenging (islanders are considered to be nearly always on the lookout for visitors or invaders).

"Potlatch Guests Arriving at Sitka, Winter 1803" by Bill Holm © 1997 (source)
“Potlatch Guests Arriving at Sitka, Winter 1803” by Bill Holm © 1997 (source)

2. First Talk: the hosts will approach in one or more vessels carrying representatives of whoever rules the settlement. The newcomers must all stand or be still and make it obvious that they hold no weapons. Both groups of boats will come close to each other and initial greetings are made. The visitors present their gifts (there must always be gifts; each sailor usually carries some valuable items of some kind in case of such an event) and the hosts present fresh water. This is a trust exercise and a reminder that the hosts are in a position of power here. Once the water is drunk and the gifts appraised, the visitors are allowed to approach the island and enter the settlement.

In game terms, this is when most of the first impressions rolls (Charisma-based, usually, but also Wisdom and insight) and roleplaying will occur. This is a crucial moment.

3. Presentations: a few of the visitors are sent to present their gifts to the leader(s) of the settlement. If accepted, they must then accept to do a task for their hosts. These can vary greatly in complexity or difficulty, depending on how well interactions have been so far. If things have gone smoothly, it may be as simple as paying quick devotion to their Tupua or at a small shrine. If not, then it may be as hard as giving over all of their useful weapons or gear and ridding the local Ruin of some trouble.

Here are some possible Quests:

  1. Clean out a nearby ruin of dangerous pests, troublesome spirits or a spiteful curse.
  2. Locate and bring back some escaped slaves, troubled youth or angry rebels.
  3. Provide an escort to endangered merchants, frightened sailors or novice hunters.
  4. Remove a curse from a sick child, a possessed youth or a diseased crop.
  5. Rescue the local Tupua: awaken it from a strange slumber, free it from a rival’s prison or cure its spiritual disease.
  6. Appease the local Tupua: calm its anger at the people, resolve a dispute or flatter its damaged ego.
  7. Root out any secret followers of a forbidden cult, usurpers of the royal family or a hiding murderer.
  8. Hunt down a legendary beast that threatens the settlement, a vengeful spirit preying on travellers or an overgrown carnivorous plant that has spread and infested whole parts of the island.
  9. Help a local shaman find the tribe’s origin story, free their people from a spiritual curse or bring back music to the people.
  10. Defend the settlement from roving bandits, angry spirits or a rival tribe.
  11. Rescue lost children from an evil trickster spirit, a misguided wandering shaman or a tragically troubled Tupua.
  12. Find the cause of their diseased crops, poisoned fresh water streams or widespread sterility.

In game terms, this can be very interesting as the player characters meet and interact with the rulers and immediately receive a quest. The Presentation moves the game forward, especially if the players are wandering aimlessly: by encountering a new settlement they will be presented with many NPCs and hooks. At least, that is the goal of this section.

Certain character classes really shine in the First Contact Ritual: Bards in particular. Noble warriors, such as Paladins or veteran Fighters may as well based on their reputations or demonstrations of skill. Some competent Navigators, Healers or Artists will also be appreciated. Most of these character types may have bonuses to their social rolls: or at the very least Game Masters should be more generous to them on failed dice rolls.


Koru: the People of the Isles part 2

Tools to help populate the archipelago

This is a follow-up to part 1!

Disclaimer: none of these images belong to me and I will not be using any of them in this product. They are purely for decorative purposes on this blog and nothing else.

Societal and Cultural traits

Choose or randomly determine who’s in charge, their predominant cultural features and, if you wish to bring on some remarkable fantasy or science fiction world-building, a unique physical trait or two. Please note that even the most traditionally “harsh” forms of leadership might take on a kind and gentle role, while some traditionally benign ruling types might be uncharacteristically cruel and oppressive in the eyes of visitors.


  1. Kratocracy: leadership is only taken by force, competition or cunning. Rulers are always watching their backs, sometimes wary of even their families.
  2. Monarchy: the people are ruled by a single or married couple (king or queen, chieftain, sovereign etc..)
  3. Patriarchy/MatriarchyOne Gender is more in charge: the other enjoys fewer liberties and positions of autonomy.
  4. Theocracy: Holy people (shamans, priestesses, medicine folk) enforce laws and taboos from a religious or spiritual angle.
  5. Democracy: There are no leaders; that role is shared equally amongst everyone. Major decisions are made by vote.
  6. Multiple rulers: leadership is always shared by two, three or even four people; each possibly representing a different group in society.
  7. Geniocracy: knowledge and learning are prized above all else: a erudite council holds political power.
  8. Feudalism: Certain bloodlines are born into supreme leadership. 
  9. Despotism: a single leader rules by intimidation and brutality.
  10. Elders: they are governed by a council of the eldest people in the settlement.
  11. Mercantile: trade and commerce are valued above all else: those who are the most successful at trade are the rulers.
  12. Plutocracy: only the wealthiest families hold political power.  
  13. Pacifist: they dislike and avoid violence. Peacemakers and diplomats lead by example.
  14. Meritocracy: those who excel in particular roles (e.g.: hunter, healer, warrior, navigator, artisan) are held in high esteem
  15. Slaversowning and selling slaves is prestigious and common. The most prodigious slave masters rule.
  16. Xenocracytheir rulers are never human… Perhaps one of the unique races of Koru or one of the Old Ones.
  17. Anarchism: decisions are made at a democratic level about laws, rules and punishments; but there are no central rulers
  18. Stratocracy: leadership comes from the warrior class: the eldest or most accomplished soldiers are in charge.
  19. Commune: no central leadership and all accumulated wealth and/or resources are distributed evenly amongst every individual
  20. Demarchy: the ruler is selected randomly or through divination.
From the Hawaiian movie: Until the Sun Sets (source)
From the Hawaiian movie: Until the Sun Sets (source)

Cultural or Social Features

  1. Uncommon homes: they prefer to live: underground, in trees, on rafts above the sea, in a single group home, on the back of a giant animal or in strange floating ruins…
  2. Obsessive taboos: a particular rule is strictly adhered to: they cannot touch the earth with their bare feet, they cannot make eye contact with children, eating meat is a mortal sin, they cannot refuse to offer hospitality to anyone, they cannot use boats when during high tide or they mustn’t smile when any of the moons are full.
  3. Psychedelic visions: a precious local resource is tainted with a fungus or toxin that creates intense hallucinations when consumed. Special individuals routinely embark upon holy vision journeys for religious reasons.
  4. Great fameThey are renown everywhere for their great talents as: warriors, healers, artists, hunters, musicians, storytellers or sailors.
  5. Fervent worship of a particular person, animal or plant. They define their culture, appearance and mannerisms around it.
  6. Sacrifice: They routinely perform sacrificial ritual, usually involving animals, cherished crops, valuable resources or even humans…
  7. Masks: a group in society must always don masks when outside of their homes: unmarried adults, anyone who’s spilled blood through violence (their own or someone else’s), those who have entered a ruin of the Old Ones, anyone who’s spoken to a Tupua, anyone born on a moonless night…
  8. Nomadic: they never settle in one place for long, they’re always preparing to move, perhaps to follow the migration of an animal or the movement of celestial bodies…
  9. Strange leader(s): telepathic mummies, sacred infants, legendary animals, very old plants, semi-sentient fungus or the stars themselves…
  10. Monster Worship: They regularly offer sacrifices or offerings to a dangerous predator to keep it docile; perhaps because its presence is somehow beneficial to them…
  11. Tupua: They have been a strained relationship with the local Tupua for some reason: they are cursed for breaking a vow, they owe a harsh payment in exchange of a past favour, they were caught giving devotion to a rival, or perhaps they just hurt its feelings and it has gone missing.
  12. Hardship: a plague, pestilence or famine has recently devastated the population. They may or may not be recovering. 
  13. Fractioned: ancient rivalries seething below the surface and causing civil unrest.
  14. Corrupt leadership: their ruler(s) is notoriously corrupt and distrusted: revolution is seething below the surface…
  15. Lucky: their island is uncommonly disease-free, bountiful and healthy. Almost too perfect
  16. Symbiotic: they have made a mutually beneficial arrangement with another race and live alongside them: Deep Ones, Trilobite-people or the Moth folk.
  17. Superstitious: they have a great fear of magic and spirits. Any displays of supernatural power will draw their ire and terror.
  18. Ancestor Worship: They profoundly honour and trust their ancestors, whom they speak with often, either at festivals or as a regular ritual.
  19. Social Quirk: Always (or never) smiling, avoiding eye-contact except with family and spouse, an entire gender or social group never go out at night without a snake or other small animal, they never speak above a whisper, they are unable to lie (and always speak with brutal honesty), they believe that anyone from outside of their island is a spirit or demon (perhaps benevolent?).
  20. Caste Structure: they have a rigid social system of castes that, to outsiders, may seem completely arbitrary or unfair.

Unique Traits

  1. Colouration: everyone coats themselves in vivid or intense colours: body paint, dyes, tattoos, clay or powder.
  2. Ancestor: the people have subtle features that hint at a non-simian ancestor: bird, reptile, invertebrate, plant, fungus or amphibian.
  3. Physique: compared with “regular” humans, these people are particularly tall, short, stocky, slender, muscular or gaunt.
  4. Extrasensory organs one or more extra eyes, long ears, antennae, head tendrils, a sixth sense or an awareness of an alien colour.
  5. Limbs: they have two sets of arms, double jointed, extra (of fewer) fingers, webbed extremities, wings or a tail instead of legs (see the Tails trait).
  6. Tails: they have long furry tails, spiny fish-like ones, smooth and snake-like, slimy slug-like or short and vestigial. 
  7. Gendered: reversed gender dimorphism, everyone is androgynous, everyone is hermaphrodite, self replicating, there’s a third gender or they are genderless and cannot procreate biologically. 
  8. Natural weaponry: venomous bite, sharp claws, horns or antlers, spiny ridges, acidic blood or powerful retractable inner mouth.
  9. Hair: instead they have feathers, quills, plants, living tendrils, scales or none at all.
  10. Clothing: they strictly wear only of a specific colour, a particular animal, metal, plant or none at all.
  11. Masks: they all don masks of animals, ancestors, Tupua, stars, writing or blank and faceless.
  12. Language: they primarily only communicate through song, sign language, shifting skin colours, stories, visual symbols or telepathically.
  13. Biology: they are amphibious, nocturnal, mature rapidly, born from eggs, have really short or long life spans or have a chrysalis stage.
  14. Body Modification: while tattoos are very common on Koru in all cultures, some tribes are distinct: they file their teeth into points, have many piercings, scarification, large plate or ring insertions into the ears or lips or even head-shaping.
  15. Animal featured: while they are humanoid and bipedal, they are not mammals: reptilian, insectoid, fish, amphibian octopoid or avian.
  16. Elemental: these people are physical humanoid manifestation of: fire, ice, water, wind, earth or stone.
  17. Remarkable stature: they are all especially tiny or gigantic.
  18. Frightening nature: they are vampires, cannibals, ogres, spirits, deep dwellers or skinless ones. Ironically, they might be kind, despite their appearances…
  19. Restless Dead: they are half in the spirit world: moonlight ghosts, bog skeletons, mournful shadows, drowned ones, cinder-wights or frost wraiths.
  20. Not wholly of this world: these people can only be perceived by outsiders through dreams, only at night (or during the day), during rainstorms, while wearing a mask, by those who leave offerings at a holy shrine or by people who have been touched by death in some way.

Koru: the People of the Isles part 1

Tools to help populate the archipelago

Disclaimer: none of these images belong to me and I will not be using any of them in this product. They are purely for decorative purposes on this blog and nothing else.

Use these lists and tables while you’re creating the first island chain or when the players discover a new location while they explore the wild oceans of Koru.

These are just inspirational guidelines; pick what feels right based on what has been discovered so far. If a random result doesn’t make any sense or doesn’t spark the imagination of you or your players, pick something else!

The default assumption is that these people are inspired by the First nations peoples of the Pacific Ocean and the Pacific Northwest of America. By default they are not meant to hint at northern European medieval cultures. That being said, Koru is not our own world; it is a fantastic place with a totally different history and origin.

Population: who lives here?

Two Tlingit Men (source)
Two Tlingit Men (source)

Whenever it makes sense, an island will include a Steading or a Village, especially the starting one from which the player-characters begin their adventures.

While generating an island chain, or while exploring uncharted waters, choose or roll on the following list to determine who lives on the island and why. Most islands out there beyond your home archipelago will be hostile environments that were never suitable for human settlement but still may be worth exploring.

As a general rule, you can roll a d6 for smaller islands. For medium ones, add +3 to your roll. For the largest islands, add +6 to your roll.

While it is rare for larger islands to be completely uninhabited, it is possible. In that case, roll a d6 without any modifiers. Perhaps that one huge, resource-rich island is home to a terrifying beast or victim to a devastating supernatural plague…

  1. It’s a Hostile environment due to a lack of fresh water, scarce or unreliable food sources or maybe because the island and its coastline are home to dangerous animals or plants. Only the most hardy and resourceful could dare to live here.
  2. This Cursed Land is troubled by vengeful spirits, cruel Tupua or the echoes of a past atrocity. The place is haunted or spiritually inhospitable. Individuals would only live here against their will, as punishment, or because they too, are cursed…
  3. Contains a Deserted settlement that was abandoned due to a mass exodus, genocide, suicide or something even worse. Anyone living here might be a lone survivor or recent settlers who are (so far) unaware of the previous tragedy.
  4. There is only a Solitary hermit: perhaps he or she is a sole survivor, an exile or a soul-seeking recluse… There must be reason why there isn’t a settlement there: roll again on this table but with a d3 to determine the cause.
  5. Only an Outpost can be found here. Perhaps it belongs to a shipwrecked family or it’s used as a base by a gang of outlaws, exiled criminals, or a hunting party.
  6. A small Shrine, maintained by no more than half a dozen dedicated souls. It is likely dedicated to a special deity, legendary figure or even a Tupua.
  7. A dozen or so families live in a Steading of minor significance. Perhaps it’s a relatively young settlement, or they’re the last survivors of some dire calamity.
  8. A partially hidden Cove containing a busy port. It is likely used for illicit merchants, opportunistic pirates or as a base for idealistic rebels on the run…
  9. A solidly built Temple, maintained by a few dozen supplicants. It might be a standalone building or carved out of a rocky mountainside; or somewhere even more exotic, such as an underwater cave or Old One Ruin…
  10. A famous and bustling Port that is a well known trading center, a major boat building dock or a seasonal place for major tribal ceremonies.
  11. A Village composed of a few hundred families…
  12. A well-defended and armed Fort, housing at least a hundred warriors. Its purpose may be related to war, as a defense against invading hordes or a bastion against giant predators…


Attitude towards visitors

Before the player characters first encounter the islanders, choose or roll randomly on the table below to determine how they outwardly act towards visitors. The closer that the party is to their home island, add a modifier to the roll to increase the chance of a beneficial relationship. Unless there’s strife between settlements right at the start: in that case add a penalty to the roll.

Optional: Secret motive

From Beyond Eden
From Beyond Eden

To make things interesting, you can roll a second time to determine how the people really feel versus how they present themselves. Maybe a certain village only acts hospitable when it actually want to feed the outsiders to their deity.

  1. Hostility: they will openly harm and hinder any strangers to the best of their ability.
  2. Predatory: they eagerly want to prey on the strangers, and will try to trap them, either violently or through guile. What they want, exactly can vary: resources, tools, their flesh or their souls…
  3. War: their nation is at war with the strangers’. They will attempt to drive off, imprison or kill them if possible.
  4. Enslavement.They are slavers and will do whatever they can to capture the strangers alive.
  5. Sacrifice: they’ll openly or subtly acquire the strangers for a much needed human sacrifice.
  6. Secrecy. They do not wish to be found by or interact with strangers. They will hide and conceal themselves.
  7. Trial.They seek to put strangers to a test to see if they’re worthy. Failure means death… or worse…
  8. Distrust: they won’t bother the strangers but won’t help them either. They will warily keep an eye on them.
  9. Defensiveness: they anticipate trouble from the strangers and keep their distance while preparing for the worst.
  10. Fearful: they are so frightened by the strangers’ arrival that they will flee-or fight- if they feel threatened.
  11. Disinterest: they see the strangers as dull at best or a mild nuisance at worst.
  12. Awe: the arrival of the strangers coincides with fateful prophecy or important omens, for good or ill.
  13. Seeking aid: they suffer dark times and need desperately need help. The strangers may be their only hope.
  14. Pity: either through genuine goodness or haughty condescension, the strangers are seen as sad and pathetic.
  15. Worship: the strangers are seen as spiritual saviors, either prophesied or through mistaken identity.
  16. Alliance: they see the strangers as allies to their cause: they need help with some trouble afflicting their people.
  17. Trade: they desire this above all else: they have things to sell or things that they want to acquire.
  18. Hospitality: they are compelled to feed, house and comfort anyone visiting their island. But no more.
  19. Integration: they are eager for new additions to their people. Will do whatever they can to peacefully convince them to stay.
  20. Generosity: they openly accept newcomers into their village, offering them shelter, comfort and aid.