Setting: The Cossacks

For the first of our real-world inspired settings, we’ll look at one based on the Cossacks. For those who might not know, the Cossacks are a Slavic people best known for their democratic communities with strong military practice. To be clear, there remain Cossack communities throughout Russia, Ukraine and other parts of Europe. That said, we’ll be focusing our setting around the Cossacks of the 17-18th centuries.
So before we outline the main aspects of our setting, let’s look at a few Cossack characteristics. We’ll use these as the basis for our setting, creating a skeleton we’ll build on.
  • Democratic – Cossack communities elected their headman (called an ataman) by democratic vote along with the other key roles of the state.
  • Stanitsas – Cossack states were based around units called the stanitsas. These groups extended over a region and often included many towns and fortresses.
  • Military Service – Cossack society was based around a strong military structure that was like the European knight (including the need to arm themselves for the most part)
  • Tradition over Law – Cossack law was not written down. Disputes were often settled based on tradition passed from generation to generation, though stanitsas did have an elected judge.
  • Multicultural – Cosack communities were fairly multicultural, with marriage across cultures, religions and ethnicities.
  • Family Roles – Cossack culture was largely patriarchal, with men expected to provide and women expected to care for the home. However, women were also expected to protect the home and during times of extended war, would become the primary military power within a community (even initiating raids on neighboring communities).
So with these basic characteristics pulled out, we have a some basic ideas to play with. We’ll build this out as a fantasy setting with a predominantly human population, but that isn’t necessary. Our setting will be based on a land populated by Stanitsas (though we probably won’t call them this). Each stanitsas will be governed by an ataman, with judge, scribe, priests and other officials. The scribe is nearly always a mage or similar class, but not always.
The various stanitsas are often in a state of conflict. Alliances shift based on resource availability, seasonal fluctuations and interpersonal conflicts. Trade is one aspect of our setting that is rarely affected by this constant conflict. Though relations are often hostile, the destruction of a town or stanitsa is rare and is looked upon with suspicion by most communities.
While family roles are often traditional unmarried women often take any number of roles. In some communities, the female members adopt militaristic roles more often, even to the point of serving alongside the community’s main army. Non-human races are often welcomed into a stanitsas and interracial marriage and breeding is common.
This should be enough to get us going with our setting. We’ve got the basics of how political and social life works and even have some hooks for how to integrate the more fantastic elements. Enjoy!

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