Feb 23, 2012

New Uses for Culture (Own): Songlines

Follow Songline

There are no maps in the Dawnlands, and certainly none among the Kadiz or Hill People. Instead, navigation on the plains of Kadiz is handled by songlines. Songlines are highly structured pieces of music that are used as aids to navigation. Nomads are constantly inventing new ones and trading them to other clans, and a part of the traditional lore a child on the plains acquires is the songlines for anywhere his tribe normally goes. Songlines are named after the people who invent the song, so they have names like "Vangir's Song" (which tells how to get from Dwer Tor to Kaddish, named after a mercenary who made the journey many times). A small number of songlines are secret, and maintained by specific septs or clans to find their holy places or caches or other secret locations.

The number of lines in each verse conveys the number of days of travel that the songline covers. A line is repeated a number of times equal to the duration required to traverse or find the obstacle from the previous feature. The rhythmic measure conveys the type of terrain (the faster it is, the easier the ground), while the semantic content of each line covers the specific landmark to look for and how to find it.

By the time most nomads reach adulthood they know hundreds of songlines, so many that the problem is often choosing amongst all the possible ones they know to most accurately navigate to where they get. Most songlines cover between one and eight days of travel, so multiple songlines may be required on long journeys. The nomads give one another directions by songline for most purposes, and use the sun and pole star to navigate in places the songlines don't cover. A nomad who discovers such a location can win a place in the collective memory of his people by inventing a songline for it.

A character who is attempting to travel from one destination to another accurately must test Culture (Own). Success means they can find their way following the correct series of songlines, which may or may not be the most direct route. Failure means they end up somewhere they didn't expect or take longer than expected to get there. On a critical success, they can piece together multiple songlines line by line to construct a new, more direct songline (which they may then name after themselves), while a critical failure means the character has a failure of memory and dead-ends. They must find and convince someone to teach them a songline to successfully navigate to another location.

Characters may also use this skill to invent false songlines or evaluate potentially false ones for veracity. False songlines may be given or taught to one's enemies to mislead them.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks. It's how the Australian Aborigines used to navigate around Australia, and there are some examples from First Nations peoples (the Navajo IIRC) down in America as well. I thought it was a cool concept, so into the Dawnlands it goes.

  2. I agree, nice idea. Makes Bards useful :)