Bukana means “Gateway.” That is because it is the trade hub of its world. The people of the Sea of Skulls have grown rich and powerful because of the influx of goods flowing into the region from far off lands. The waters off the coast of the islands witness a wide array of vessels both foreign and native.
Over the centuries, people from neighboring lands and beyond, have come to trade, adventure, and live. Some communities of Bukana have deep and long-established ties to certain outside cultures. There are six major maritime powers outside the region of the Sea of Skulls. Here, we will briefly discuss these people and their relationship with the Bukanese. It should be noted that while we discuss the people of these nations, they are part of larger landmasses and frequently bring folks of other cultures and ethnicities.
Inspired by ancient China, this nation is geographically closest to Bukana and it has deep roots in the archipelago. It lies north and west of the Sea of Skulls and some islands of the region nearest the empire have a significant population of ethnically Yudiguans. Just under a century ago, the Empress set her sights on bringing Bukana under her thumb. With the aid of a powerful lakan in the northwestern-most island, she sent her warships to conquer. Immediately upon arrival, her fleet was harried with a concerted effort by the Bukanese. After the vessels were herded into a tighter group, an unseasonal typhoon struck from clear sky and destroyed the invading force. The few remaining ships limped back to their ally’s port. Here, they established a perimeter and the treacherous lakan swore fealty to the Empress, establishing a small, but influential Wangdom in the Sea of Skulls. Today, the tiny nation acts as a base of operations for Yudiguo efforts to exert control in the region. Its magistrates, wizards, and cleric agents use fell magic and an army of terracotta automatons to spread their influence.
This nation shares a continent with Yudiguo, and like its larger neighbor, has close ties to Bukana. Based on feudal Japan, Ryama was once a proud and powerful country, rich in tradition and magic. Now it is a shattered land. Over the centuries, their monarchs had become increasingly paranoid and cruel. When the so-called Mad Emperor, was overthrown by a bloody coup led by the samurai caste two years ago, an apocalyptic prophecy was realized. The demonic Obsidian Lord tore a hole into the Middle-Realm and led his oni horde from Jigoku to take Ryama as its own. Most of the samurai perished buying time for the mass exodus of the once proud Ryami as they fled toward Bukana. Since then, they have become refugees. Most still live aboard their vessels as they eke a meager living from unclaimed seas. Some have found inhospitable islands to try and colonize, while fewer still have found places amongst the Bukanese.
When it comes to regional influence, none can match the Bhodani. While Bukana enjoys great prosperity from trade, the great nation of Bhodan to the north combines a massive merchantile fleet with a navy second to none. Add to that the efforts of their missionaries who spread their belief system throughout the region, this India-inspired country is a true powerhouse. They supplement their military and magical might by employing odd lizard-like birds which they seem to hold in some esteem. While not overtly warlike, the Bhodani are held with some trepidation in other nations. However, in Bukana, they and their lavish commondities are welcomed with opened arms. So it is that this powerful kingdom use the archipelago as a way station in order to conduct business with otherwise hesitant partners. The northern rajanate of Bukana is subject to much cultural influence from Bhodan and has adopted the worship of that land’s god of puzzles as its national religion.
To the southeast of the Sea of Skulls lies the rugged nation of Zamatas. While they maintain steady trade with Bukana, their most significant influence on the islands is definitely cultural. The sultanates of the south are major strongholds of the Zamatasian Amethyst Church. Here, the clerics, advocates, and warriors of Order act as a foil to keep the rampant piracy of the region in check. It is from this land that the Fire Elf originate. Over the centuries, these Jinn have flocked to Bukana for its free, adventurous way of life as well as its fiery volcanic peaks. Through their unique approach to the sciences, many new ideas and tools have made their way from Zamatas to Bukana; these include innovations in roadwork, irrigation, and various implements.
Inspired by the ancient Nubian kingdom of Kush, these proud people journey from the distant south to bring riches back to their pharaoh god-rulers. Their understanding of the realms of the dead, ancestor spirits, and the nature of the soul makes them welcome guests in many academic circles of Bukana. Many dispossessed of that land find a home in the Sea of Skulls acting as mercenaries, healers, and bounty hunters without equal. Their kingdom’s name means “Land of the Bow” (like Nubia) and their archers are the finest in the known world. In fact, they follow their own tradition of ghost archery and its preactictioners find amble use of those skills in spirit-laden Bukana.
The last of the major foreign nations is Wayurqu. They are by far the furthest from Bukana and although the trek is long and perilous, they are still relatively common visitors to the islands – even if they rarely venture past the western-most ports. Their travels are facilitated in part by their mastery of wind magic. Apparently their homeland is incredibly mountainous and their devotion to their sun god gives them agency over the spirits that serve them. Not much is known about their nation or even their customs, as they are consummate business-people interested only in trade. A few remain in Bukana to oversee their merchantile endeavors, but even they keep largely to themselves. If the grisly totems that can be seen on some of their warriors are any indication, they too practice some form of ritual headhunting.
Many smaller groups also travel to the bustling trade hub that is Bukana. Numerous islands lay between the Sea of Skulls and the continent of Yudiguo and Ryama. These are home to a host of smaller nation-states who can make the shorter journey. Additionally, the largely uncharted Sea of Stars lies to the west and fills the waters between Bukana and Wayurqu. All manner of tribal cultures are scattered throughout its expanse. These are to speak nothing of the many vast merfolk kingdoms that encompass Bukana and all of the known depths surrounding it.