The days of easy pillage from the south are mostly over, as Ulfen raiders can no longer pass through the Arch of Aroden into the Inner Sea unaccosted. At the same time, the Ulfen are increasingly hired as sailors, marines, and bodyguards throughout Avistan, perhaps because they combine great seamanship, ruthlessness, and exotic looks.
Ulfen men and women set great store by personal appearance, valuing their flowing locks, tight braids, and well-kept furs of ermine, mink, and fox. They wear necklaces of amber, carved narwhal horn, and mammoth ivory, as well as finely worked bronze and silver in a braided style. They consider themselves the handsomest men and women in all Avistan, and the damnable thing about it, to other peoples, is that they are often right.
Ulfen hailing from the Lands of the Linnorm Kings are typically sailors and traders; those from the Irrisen lands ruled by Baba Yaga are more often riders than sailors, although they share cultural ties. The Ulfen traditionally keep thralls—slaves whose period of service ends in a set amount of time. Children born to thralls are always born free, and thralls can file a complaint against a harsh or unfair master (which shames the master, certainly, but also runs the risk of a master’s fury). Thralls have been either captured in battle or condemned to service by a thingmar, a court of justice of the Ulfen consisting of the victim’s peers, overseen by an elder jarl or chief. Even chiefs or jarls can be condemned as thralls if they have foresworn an oath, killed a child, or betrayed their fellow warriors.
Ulfen men are fond of competitions both athletic and alcoholic. Their athletic contests often occur at the approach of winter or the start of spring and include climbing ice walls, hurling timbers of various sizes, axe throwing, sled pulls, and races on foot and on snowshoes. Swimming is not a skill that Ulfens value, although sailing and rowing are. The drinking competitions happen during great feasts, when the Ulfen men boast of their ability to down kegs or even barrels of mead, ale, and cider. Outsiders tend to take away from this a view that Ulfen are boors and louts, which is not entirely true. Their boorish loutishness tends to be confined to special occasions such as feast days—Ulfen men who try this approach at other times find that Ulfen women mock them mercilessly. Few care to repeat the experience.
Ulfen women are often powerful druids and priestesses of Desna or Torag. The men are most often rangers and barbarians, and worship Erastil, Gorum, or Torag, although they have druids and priests of Desna among their numbers as well. As a group, the Ulfen are more adventurous than most—the wilderness of the Linnorm Kings and Irrisen is too thinly settled for anyone to live long who cannot prosper in the wild and find food and shelter when bad weather sets in. Yet most Ulfen are not heroes, but rather trappers, hunters, farmers, and fisherfolk, according to the season and their own family heritage.
In general, dueling and feuding are popular pastimes among the Ulfen, with great emphasis on personal honor and the value of a sworn oath. Insults are usually answered with axe and shield pushes, and while dueling is always considered purely a temporary argument, fought to the first blood and forgotten as soon as it is over, feuding is a more serious thing. In a feud among the Ulfen, entire families and clans can go to war over a conflict as simple as the proper way to mend nets or the rights to a particular salmon spawning ground. Sheep and cattle raiding are also popular pastimes.
Finally, no discussion of the Ulfen would be complete without mention of the high incidence of lycanthropy among them. The curse of lycanthropy is not considered an especially dishonorable state among the Ulfen, but rather a mark of favor from nature spirits. During the full moon, those who suffer from it and cannot control their violent urges are required to stay in a longhouse or spirit house, which is barred with silver and stocked with enough food to satiate even the largest appetite.
The Ulfen have a reputation abroad for being strong, dumb, and quiet, as well as having strange accents and smelly furs. Most Ulfen are quite tall, with men starting at 6 feet and the women just a few inches shorter. Their skin is pale and their hair blond, light brown, or red. Both men and women wear their hair long and braided; women’s braids tend to be more elaborate. Men usually wear beards.