“Windy and cold and damp. A miserable hard place, in truth … but my lord father once told me that hard places breed hard men, and hard men rule the world.”
— Theon Greyjoy
The Iron Islands are an unwelcoming cluster of islands due west of the Neck, rising from the stormy seas in the midst of Ironman’s Bay. This desolate archipelago consists of the isles of Pyke, Old Wyk, Great Wyk, Harlaw, Orkmont, Saltcliffe, Blacktyde, and dozens of smaller crags and islets, some so tiny that they can barely host a single village. Life on the Iron Islands is hard, but its people endure and remember a proud past. These inhabitants are known as Ironmen throughout Westeros, “The Ironborn” amongst themselves. Once a feared raiding culture, ironborn reavers would raid, pillage, rape, and burn. Ironmen in longboats brought fear and suffering to the coast of Westeros and beyond. Their more recent history has been bleaker, however, but even still the men of the Iron Islands remember their former glorious traditions.
The island chain of the Iron Islands lies off the western coast of the Seven Kingdoms, in Ironman’s Bay. It is west of the Trident river and the Neck, and just northwest of the Westerlands. There are several islands of notable size: Pyke, Old Wyk, Harlaw, Great Wyk, Saltcliffe, Blacktyde, and Orkmont. The sea storms often wreck havoc on the islands with their considerable force: Pyke once extended a spur of land like a sword out of the sea, but that outcropping has long since shattered, and it is now in essence three separate isles.
The seas are rocky and stormy, and offer few safe harbours. From the islands, however, one can easily sail down the Westerlands and along the borders of the Reach, reaching even the Arbor. Or one could sail North along the Neck, or around Cape Kraken and into the Blazewater Bay and the Saltspear river. From Blazewater Bay, the ironmen can menace the Stony Shore, the shore of the wolfswood, and theoretically reach as far as the Wall.
Trade & Resources
The Iron Islands are a harsh place to live, let alone prosper. The islands are not good for farming, but some meagre crops can still be harvested and a few flocks of sheep and goats are kept. The ground is rocky, though, and farmers often have to do without the animals that might make their lot easier: oxen or horses.
The ocean offers the other source of food for the islands. The islands are rocky, and so is the ocean that surrounds them making boating perilous, especially in light of the frequent storms that blast the islands. Still, fishing provides the islands with cod and other seafood that make the islands survivable.
However miserable the gathering of food may be, it is mining that is often considered the hardest life on the islands, backbreaking labour far from the fresh sea air and sun. It is difficult work for little reward, for there are only base metals to be found: iron, lead, and tin. That these poor rewards provide the chief export of the islands is perhaps a sign of how cheerless life is on the islands.
The Iron Islands can call upon an estimated 20,000 swords. The island fleet is the largest in Westeros, greater than the royal fleet and far larger than nearly every other navy. The islands can probably float about 500 longships or more — many of these might dip no more than 20 oars, while a handful dip more than 100. The Iron Fleet is a specific elite fleet of these larger ships. It should be noted that a longship does not compare well to a galley or carrack, despite being faster and more manoeuvrable, as those ships have much higher decks with room to mount scorpions and other such instruments of war.
The ironmen have an advantage over other regions for their martial culture encompasses everyone, high and low, men and even some women, all of whom learn to fight and reave. The only exception are the thralls, who are not taught to fight but instead do heavy labor.
The Old Way
With so little wealth on the islands themselves, it is not difficult to understand why the ironmen of old turned to raiding. The main continent of Westeros would have appeared a very rich land in comparison. Even today, the main land is called the “green lands” by the ironmen. To strike out and take the riches from their better off neighbours must have tempted the ancient ironmen terribly, so they took what their own lands would not provide.
Ancient cultural traditions, or the “old way,” are still highly regarded on the Iron Islands. The Old Way embodies the remembered values of a culture based on raiding. A man’s worth was judged primarily on his skill as a raider, as evidenced in the surviving practice regarding jewellery. Men on the Iron Islands wear no tokens unless they have “paid the iron price,” only wearing jewellery that has been taken from fallen foes.
In addition to the actual goods acquired during raids, the ironborn also took people. Many of their captives would work as thralls, slaving away on the farms and mines of the isles since the true sons of the Iron Islands are meant for more than such drudgery. Women were also taken captive to act as bed warmers; a man could have several of these “salt wives” in addition to his one true ironborn wife, his “rock wife.”
Ironborn women, however, may fight as well as a man, and may crew a longship or even captain their own ships. It is said that the sea gives them the appetites of a man. Despite this freedom, no woman has ever led the ironborn as queen.
Traits, Attitudes & Characteristics
Cleverness, skill at arms, and persistence are all treasured traits to the Ironmen. They live in contempt of the weaklings of the “green lands” (their name for the mainland of Westeros), their gods, and their laws. Ship captains and warriors are revered among them; it is said that every captain is a king on his or her deck, and every king must be a captain. Captains are expected to raid, gaining wealth for their crews through plunder and pillage. Indeed, true Ironmen only value things “bought with iron” (won by force of arms in combat), and have only scorn for those who clothe themselves in finery bought with gold.
Life is short on the Iron Islands, and the harsh clime has bred a harsh outlook in the Ironmen. Even their sports are brutal: most feasts see at least one “finger dance,” a game where one or more drunken warriors hurl short-hafted axes at each other. Players must either catch the axes or leap over them. The game draws its name from the fact that most dances end when one player loses some of his or her fingers. Death and pain are the expected results of a life spent reaving, and dying well in battle is seen as far better than a life of comfort.
Style of the Ironmen
Most of the ironborn lords do not style themselves “Lord Farwynd” or “Lord Goodbrother,” instead using an older form, such as “the Farwynd” or “the Goodbrother,” much as the clan leaders of the North do. A few houses have taken on the mainland styles of lord, mostly through contact with the green lands.
True ironmen who cling to the Old Way reject the Seven of the Andals and the old gods of the First Men. They have their own deity. A hard people in a harsh land, the ironborn cling to their true faith, that of the Drowned God. The islands still have clergy who braid seaweed through their hair and dress in robes coloured to resemble the sea: mottled greens, blues, and greys. The priests perform blessings, and ask for human sacrifice by drowning when the ironmen are victorious in battle.
The rest of the ironmen revere the Drowned God much as they revere their own history. To die gloriously in his cause, following the Old Way, earns a warrior a place at the feast in his watery halls. The Drowned God is locked in struggle with the Storm God, his enemy and the enemy of all true ironborn.
“What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger.”
— Aeron Greyjoy
Greyjoy’s of Pyke
Reportedly descended from the legendary Grey King of the Age of Heroes, the Greyjoy family has ruled the Iron Islands since Lord Vickon Greyjoy was chosen after the fall of Harren the Black during the War of Conquest. Prior to the arrival of Aegon the Conqueror, the Ironmen ruled over the Riverlands and much of the western coast of Westeros. Today, the Greyjoys rule the Iron Islands from the kraken-shaped Seastone Chair in Pyke, and command one of the strongest navies in the Seven Kingdoms. Bastards born in the Iron Islands are given the surname Pyke.
“Men fish the sea, dig in the earth, and die. Women birth children in blood and pain, and die. Night follows day. The wind and tides remain. The islands are as our god made them.”
— Aeron Damphair Greyjoy
Minor Houses (By Isle)
Great Wyk: Farwynd, Goodbrother*, Merlyn,
Harlaw: Harlaw, Myre, Stonetree, Volmark
Old Wyk: Goodbrother*
Orkmont: Goodbrother*, Orkwood
Pyke: Botley, Wynch
- NOTE: There are Goodbrothers on the isles of Great Wyk, Old Wyk, and Orkmont. Other houses may also have splinter branches spread across the isles.
All characters from the Iron Islands gain the following benefits:
35% base for swim
20% base for sailor