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Belor Hemlock, a non-traditional Shoanti living in Sandpoint.
A Shoanti warrior encounters an ogre.

The Shoanti (pronounced show-AHN-tee)1 are an often nomadic people who live in the Storval Plateau and Velashu Uplands regions of Varisia and well as the Hold of Belkzen and the Lands of the Linnorm Kings.2 Like their Varisian cousins, these humans descended from the enslaved workers of the ancient empire of Thassilon, but have since developed a unique and advanced culture of their own.[citation needed]


The origins of the Shoanti people can be traced back over 10,000 years to before Earthfall, specifically to the well-known Thassilonian Empire. They were enslaved by the runelords who trained them to become their warrior caste. After Thassilon's fall, the Shoanti struggled as best they could through the many hardships of the Age of Darkness. The Shoanti share ancestors with the Varisian, Ulfen, and Kellid peoples, and their language is a combination of all three, together with Thassilonian.3

For thousands of years after Earthfall, the Shoanti lived in relative peace with the Varisians who shared their lands. Their primary conflicts were with the wild beasts of the region, raiding orcs from the east and barbarians from the north, and the harsh landscape itself.4 When the Chelish Empire expanded into southern Varisia through Bloodsworn Vale in 4406 AR, the Shoanti and Varisians found themselves facing a new enemy: colonizers from the south.56

For the Varisians, integrating newcomers led to cultural clashes, marked by initial difficulties in coexistence due to prejudice and misunderstandings. However, when compared to the Shoanti experience, the Varisians' interactions seemed relatively harmonious. The Shoanti, having a smaller presence in their ancestral lands than the Varisians, traditionally lived in settled clan-based communities known as quahs. Trouble arose when Cheliax established the colony of Korvosa in the heart of Shoanti territory, which included a sacred Shoanti pyramid. This sparked violent conflicts between Chelish colonists and displaced Shoanti. Following a prolonged and bloody struggle that lasted until 4488 AR, the colonists emerged victorious, renaming the bay "Conqueror's Bay," and Korvosa became Varisia's largest city. The Shoanti were forced to abandon their homeland and relocate to the harsh wilderness of the Storval Plateau in 4507 AR. Prejudice against the Shoanti persists in Korvosa, and the displaced Shoanti have not forgiven the Chelish invaders.756


At first sight, Shoanti may appear daunting.

Shoanti skin tones vary widely from fair but deeply tanned to dark brown, but most have a ruddy complexion.2


Shoanti culture has been formed by near-constant conflict with their challenging environment and their various human and non-human neighbors. This has made them a largely tenacious, stalwart, and mistrustful people who are oath-sworn to retain their lost homelands, and honor-bound to defeat all who would dismiss them as primitive barbarians.2


The name given to Shoanti at birth is generally only used during their childhood, or later in life by close family members or lovers. Shoanti receive their adult name after their rite of passage during adolescence (see below). If a Shoanti is ever expelled from his or her tribe, the individual generally reverts back to their birth name, a sign of great shame among Shoanti.2

Coming of age & tattoos

As youth, all Shoanti must undergo a rite of passage before they are considered an adult. Upon completing this trial they are granted their first tattoo, each of which is specific to the individual's tribe. These tattoos are chosen by a tribe's shaman, and are drawn from an extensive cultural catalog of images and totems. Shoanti use these tattoos as marks of honor and accomplishment. At this time, Shoanti youth are also given their full name: a phrase that is generally an honorific that will become the individual's most commonly used name.28


Shoanti as a whole embrace a wide range of religious beliefs including ancestor worship, totemism, and the veneration of traditional gods such as Desna, Gorum, Gozreh, and Pharasma.2

Common Shoanti terms

  • Azghat - the Shoanti name for the runelords9
  • Skentok - A child kicked in the head by a goat10
  • Tshamek

Tribes of the Shoanti

A Skoan-Quah shaman.

Despite their common heritage, the seven tribes (or "quahs" in their native tongue) of the Shoanti are quite different from one another in terms of traditions, beliefs, and overall world-views. In most cases, loyalty to one's tribe is paramount in the life of a Shoanti, but what this means is specific to the individual clan. Occasionally a quah will adopt a non-Shoanti into the tribe, but never an orc, dromaar, or Chelaxian.11 Some scholars view the Ulfen-descended Horsemen of the Velashu Uplands as being akin to an unofficial eighth quah of the Shoanti; the Shoanti themselves forcefully refute any such suggestion.12 Open warfare between the quahs over resources, land, and politics are rare, and are generally seen as distasteful. When disagreements do escalate, they tend to be resolved through small skirmishes or battles between chosen champions.2

Lyrune-Quah (The Moon Clan)

The Lyrune-Quah are said to be among the best archers and hunters of the Shoanti people. Traveling under the bright Storval moon, and hunting by the illumination of the stars in the vast Varisian sky, members of the Moon Clan recognize that a well-aimed arrow is as effective, if not more so, than a whole band of raging brawlers.13 Their territory is in the Cinderlands of Varisia.2

Typical tattoos for the Lyrune-Quah evoke the night, sight, and wisdom. Prestigious runes include Navrik (Eyeless Sight), Iyon (The Great Moon), and Vinic (Piercing Stone). Animal totems held in high regard are bat, cave bear, field mouse, mountain lion, owl, and wolf. The nature totems of moon, rainstorm, and star are also revered.14

Shadde-Quah (The Axe Clan)

The Shadde-Quah make their home in the cliffs and vales of the Calphiak Mountains in western Varisia and the southern Lands of the Linnorm Kings. Hardy, proud, sea-faring people who are expert divers and fishermen, the Shadde-Quah are mistrustful of outsiders and tend to attack intruders on sight if they are not of Shoanti heritage.152 The Shadde-Quah have virtually no interaction with the nearby town of Riddleport, which they perceive as a settlement of dishonourable, untrustworthy criminals.16

Tattoos with the themes of vitality, endurance, and the ocean are valued. Desirable runes are Vonark (Many Arms), Donark (The Long-Armed), and Eanaw (The Endless Journey). Revered totems include cave bear, cliff, dire bear, eagle, sea, squid, and water elemental.14

Shriikirri-Quah (The Hawk Clan)

Of all the Shoanti tribes, the Shriikirri-Quah possesses the strongest animal affinity, and revere them as holy and mystic. Ever learning from the beast with whom they share the land, the Hawk Clan is perhaps the most peaceful of the quahs, and they serve as the emissaries to the outside world. Their connection to animals also make them the greatest animal trainers among the Shoanti.217 Even though they travel widely, they can generally be found in north-central Varisia.2

Favored tattoos suggest travel, the wilds, hawks, horses, and other animals. Desirable runes are Rotomo (Headwind), Ingir (Beast Heart), and Iyavak (The Pack). The clan's totems are the air elemental, cloud, firepelt cougar, forest grove, hawk, hippogriff, horse, and wind.14

Shundar-Quah (The Spire Clan)

While the Shriikirri act as diplomats to outsiders, members of the Shundar-Quah act as mediators between the Shoanti clans. Their primary ambition is to see the Shoanti unified as a single people, despite the differences that separate the seven quahs.18 The peace that generally reigns between the quahs is largely due to their efforts. They clan reveres and dwells among the Thassilonian ruins on the Storval Plateau and western Belkzen.2

Typical tattoos evoke unity, watchfulness, and the ability to lead. Important runes include Drimiil (Guardian Heart), Kokip (Sentinel), and Klartitil (Broad Klar). Clan totems are the earth elemental, mountain spire, rock fall, spirestalker, and storm roc. Some clan members travel with other quah's; occasionally, they will adopt totems from the host clan.14

Sklar-Quah (The Sun Clan)

Kemchet Flame Stoker, a Sklar-Quah jothka, or tribal war-chief.

By far the most xenophobic of the Shoanti clans, the fierce members of the Sklar-Quah are almost constantly at war. Whether by fending off the orcs from Belkzen or the Chelish invaders of the south, the Sun Clan has learned to use the heat and fire of the Cinderlands itself as a weapon.19 Their burn riders revere the horse above all other animals. They dwell among the southern Cinderlands of the Storval Plateau.2

Desired tattoos are those showing flames or battle, especially comprising of the runes Damkil (Orc Skull), Akmiz (Fire Hand), and Razkiv (Emberstorm). Popular totems are aurochs, cindersnake, emberstorm, fire elemental, firepelt cougar, and sun.14

Skoan-Quah (The Skull Clan)

Life among the Skoan-Quah revolves around death. Whether they are fighting against undead, acting as guardians for the deceased among all the clans, or tracking the oral history of the Shoanti people, the enigmatic and sinister members of the Skull Clan sometimes trouble even the most understanding of their fellow Shoanti.19 They dwell among the burial grounds of the eastern Cinderlands and the Mindspin Mountains.2

Bones and skulls are favored tattoos. Popular runes are Sosmo (Forever Dead), Eiril (Duty), and Graxt (Eternity). Revered totems are ancestor spirit, earth elemental, giant scarab beetle, vulture, will-o'-wisp, and wolf.14

Tamiir-Quah (The Wind Clan)

Members of the Tamiir-Quah are among the most territorial and secluded of the Shoanti people. The Wind Clan makes its home in the mountains of northwestern Varisia and the southern Lands of the Linnorm Kings, and may the gods help anyone who threatens these areas.202 They generally only interact with outsiders when they raid lowlanders for supplies.2

Their tattoos often reflect speed, freedom, and their mountain homes. Runes of significance and Dra (Mist), Cilvat (Wind Soul), and Sovola (The Roc King). The clan's main totems are the air elemental, cloud, griffon, mountain peak, snowflake, storm, storm roc, and wind.14


Korvosans derogatorily label Shoanti horsers,21 and Shoanti are generally seen as rude, uncivilized barbarians by non-Shoanti.22


Paizo published major articles about the Shoanti in A History of Ashes pp. 66–73 and Inner Sea Races pp. 40–43, and an article about Shoanti shamanic traditions in Disciple's Doctrine 24f.

For additional as-yet unincorporated sources about this subject, see the Meta page.

  1. Erik Mona, et al. “Appendices” in Campaign Setting, 247. Paizo Inc., 2008
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 James Jacobs, et al. The Inner Sea World Guide, 18. Paizo Inc., 2011
  3. James Jacobs. (July 25, 2008). Shoanti/Ulfen/Kellid, Paizo Messageboards.
  4. Eric Boyd & Michael Kortes. “People of the Storval Plateau” in A History of Ashes, 68. Paizo Inc., 2008
  5. 5.0 5.1 Mike McArtor. “Chapter 4: History” in Guide to Korvosa, 48–50. Paizo Inc., 2008
  6. 6.0 6.1 James Jacobs, et al. The Inner Sea World Guide, 36. Paizo Inc., 2011
  7. Erik Mona, et al. Saga Lands” in World Guide, 116–117. Paizo Inc., 2019
  8. James Jacobs, et al. The Inner Sea World Guide, 22. Paizo Inc., 2011
  9. Dave Gross. Lord of Runes, 187. Tor Books, 2015
  10. Dave Gross. Lord of Runes, 183. Tor Books, 2015
  11. F. Wesley Schneider, et al. Shoanti” in Varisia, Birthplace of Legends, 6. Paizo Inc., 2012
  12. Jason Bulmahn. “The Armageddon Echo” in The Armageddon Echo, 9. Paizo Inc., 2008
  13. Eric Boyd & Michael Kortes. “People of the Storval Plateau” in A History of Ashes, 69. Paizo Inc., 2008
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 14.6 F. Wesley Schneider, et al. Varisia, Birthplace of Legends, inside front cover. Paizo Inc., 2012
  15. James Jacobs, et al. “Second Darkness Player's Guide” in Second Darkness, 6. Paizo Inc., 2008
  16. James Jacobs, et al. “Second Darkness Player's Guide” in Second Darkness, 5. Paizo Inc., 2008
  17. Eric Boyd & Michael Kortes. “People of the Storval Plateau” in A History of Ashes, 70. Paizo Inc., 2008
  18. Eric Boyd & Michael Kortes. “People of the Storval Plateau” in A History of Ashes, 71. Paizo Inc., 2008
  19. 19.0 19.1 Eric Boyd & Michael Kortes. “People of the Storval Plateau” in A History of Ashes, 72. Paizo Inc., 2008
  20. Eric Boyd & Michael Kortes. “People of the Storval Plateau” in A History of Ashes, 73. Paizo Inc., 2008
  21. Dave Gross. Lord of Runes, 369. Tor Books, 2015
  22. James Jacobs, et al. The Inner Sea World Guide, 196. Paizo Inc., 2011