The Northlands are divided into petty kingdoms and city-states ruled more by the hereditary nobility than by the various monarchies. The people are largely human, though a fair number of dwarves have found their way into Northlander society. The land itself is mostly wild and untamed swamps and forests, broken by mountains in the north and east. The summers are cool and wet, and the winters are long, cold, and see heavy snowfalls.
Northlanders themselves as an independent people who often see need to rebel against their lords and kings. Part of this independence is the Thing, a combination of legislative and judicial body that passes laws and rules in criminal cases affecting a specific locality. The Thing has no power to enforce these laws, and leaves that up to the individuals affected, especially the nobility. However, the law binds all, from the lowliest thrall (serf) to the mightiest jarl (baron). This has resulted in a constant state of near lawlessness, as much of the duty of keeping society together falls to society as a whole. The upside is that the Northlanders take contracts and oaths very seriously, as well as loyalty and friendship.
The Northlanders themselves are tall, big-boned, and fair-skinned people, with hair ranging from platinum blond to dark brown, and eye color tending towards blue or hazel. In many ways they are like the people of the southern lands, though the harsh winters and short summers of the Northlands have bred a hardy and independent people. Warfare and raiding is endemic in the nearly lawless north, as are generational blood feuds between clans. Hard work and honesty are held in high regard, as are courage and honor.
Trade and raiding are the most famous of activities that the Northlanders engage in, and these two are sure routes to fame and fortune. It is these two activities that often bring the Northlanders to foreign lands, and the difference between a trading and raiding expedition is usually one of opportunity. A jarl or other wealthy personage owns the ships, and the crews are often his most loyal followers. It is considered proper for a ship's captain to be generous with his crew, and the appellation of 'ring-giver' — a giver of valuable gifts — is one sought by all honorable men of means. However, the majority of Northlanders are farmers, craftsmen, and townsfolk who live prosaic lives of toil and common joys.
The inspirations for the Northlands Saga come from a variety of sources. Naturally, the sagas are a flowing fount of information and ideas. Other historical sources include primary and secondary sources on the Viking Age, as well as the myths and legends of the Celtic and Germanic peoples. The works of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber have also inspired parts of the adventure series and the setting. Drawing from historical fiction, the Saxons series by Bernard Cornwell has provided the imagery for many a battle scene. In the end, the Northlands are not a traditional fantasy setting, but instead a blend of history and sword and sorcery fiction, with a little bit of the standard fantasy RPG tropes.
There are five lands in the Northlands proper, and three that lay just beyond but whose stories are tightly bound to that of the Northlands Saga. The heart of the Northlands is the Stormstøm Vale, a rich and prosperous land along the mighty Stormstøm River. The Vale lacks a king, and is divided into many smaller jarldoms that constantly feud and bicker. The largest city in the Northlands, Trotheim, sits at the mouth of the river. To the west of the Vale lies the land of Hordaland, a place of peat bogs and forest that is heavily settled along its coasts. The Køenig of Hordaland has recently died, and his six year old son sits the throne. The jarls are gaining independence here, and civil war looms. The second city of the Northlands, Halfstead, sits at the end of the Hord Peninsula, and is the most metropolitan of Northlands cities. To the east of the Vale is Hrolfland, ruled by the powerful Hrolf clan, one of the two great clans of the Northlands. Hrolfland sits closest to the decadent and advanced Southlands, and has adopted many of their ways. In the far west are the lands of Gatland and Vastavikland. Gatland is home of the very traditional Gat clan, famed for its warriors and longships. Vastavikland is a rugged land of mountains and volcanoes and breeds tough, fearless, and crazed warriors. The Bear-Sarker and Ulfhander cults are very popular here, and the Vastaviklanders have a reputation for savagery. Estenfird is the youngest and most northerly of the Northlands, and is an untamed land of deep forests and unexplored mountains. The Estenfirders have no kings or jarls, and are fanatically independent.
North of Estenfird is Nukland, the home of the Mysterious elf-like Nuklanders, a reindeer herding people who live isolated on the vast tundra. Further north is the Far North, an unexplored region of primitive peoples and strange beasts. Between Hordaland and Vastavikland lay Seagestreland and the Dnipir River. The Seagestrelanders are not Northlanders, but a different breed of human, and for centuries the Northlanders have traded for amber or gold, and raided the area for thralls and pillaging. The Dnipir River runs south through the Sea of Grass, and only a few brave Northlanders have journeyed far down it, some even portaging their longships across to another watershed and sailing as far as the Southern Sea and the distant Caliphate. Southeast of Hrolfland is the Duchy of Monrovia, north most of the Southlands. The Southlanders are advanced in technology and magic, cladding their warriors in suits of solid steel and calling fire from the sky. They are also a decadent and soft people, and a common target of Northlander Vikings.