Y is for Yak

Yaks, chamois and alpine cows - domesticated mountain animals 

The Empire is mainly about rivers crossing large forests. Hence most of the entries were related to that. This time we concentrate on the mountain ranges defining eastern and southern borders. These areas are the ancestral home of the dwarfs and lately of the greenskin tribes and clans. How do humans, dwarves and orcs interact with the chamois, mountain goats and mountain cows living at different altitudes?

Mountains can sustain a lot of life, more than what you can see and imagine. But this environment enforces survival strategies. We can define two main ones: mountainsides and cold winter. Living on mountain slopes, Yaks and mountain cows need to have a strong balance, low gravity point and strong legs. They also need to survive the winter by storing a lot of excess energy during the summer, grow protective fur, hibernate during the cold seasons, have feet allowing safe movement on the snow or migrate to lower altitude offering better conditions.

People living on or in the mountains use yak and other cattle animals as a source of food. Shepherds and herdsmen take care of these animals, protecting them, leading seasonal migrations, preparing them for winter. These professionals are the early eyes and ears of the inhabitants of the mountains. They can travel far away from their settlements, carrying news and goods. Some animals, like mules or yaks, are also workbeasts helping in trading and transport in these difficult terrains. All these domesticated animals have their wild counterparts. Some are almost impossible to domesticate, like the chamois and mountain goats. Wild yak or mountain cow can gore to death the unwary traveler.

As game master, don’t make travel in mountain areas like crossing a deserted zone. There are much more to use there than in a desert. Each encounter is not about a mountain troll or an orc warband or lurking into a cave. Add more people living or travelling. Confront your players with some tough choice like helping a caravan under attack or let them die and use this event as an opportunity to sneak around a powerful force. What happens if players come across a small herd of yaks carrying goods, messages and dead caravaneer? How will characters negotiate rights and means to travel through a very isolated area inhabited by stubborn people?

-JMT

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