Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Dragon Crusades

The following is an excerpt from a history textbook used by the Bardic College for its youngest students, ranging in age from 12-14.

The year 323 ER was unusually hot, and in Martel it came at the end of a bitter succession war. The newest king in Marnes, Dagobert the Third, had been raised as a paladin of the order of Palenous, and had been a successful general in the border disputes with Tintagel and the dismantling of the Brittanwood Bandit Kingdom in the 310s (Side note: Imperial control over its provinces' militaries was not  fully established until the early 5th century, and during this period there were some conflicts between provinces). He had won the succession conflict largely because the populace believed in his abilities as a military leader, and so upon gaining the throne he began looking for a conflict to engage in.

Due to the hot weather that year, two things happened: for one, the year saw a dismal harvest as fruit died on the vine and plants withered in the hot sun; and for another, the red dragon breeding season was both enthusiastic and destructive.

As you now live in a world without dragons, you would not have witnessed their mating habits. Red dragons in particular, however, tended to be extremely destructive in their courtship, starting fires and causing numerous casualties. Fires in the southern Brittanwood as a result of this destructive behavior angered the green dragon population there, and the two species fought with each other openly over northern Martel. Thousands died, and the grape harvest was all but ruined by fire, poisonous gases, and a fleeing peasantry.

King Dagobert had already dispatched troops to do what they could to protect the populace, but it was one of his advisers that escalated the situation. Magus Criada, Protector of Marnes and one of the most powerful mages in the Empire, hailed from the Monde Hills northeast of Loire. Her family had been killed in a battle between two dragons, and she openly sought revenge on the powerful creatures. She encouraged Dagobert to strike out decisively against the creatures, driving them back to their respective homes in the mountains and the deep forest, never to trouble the people of Martel again.

Dagobert enthusiastically embraced this mission, but soon discovered that after years of civil war, he did not have all the troops necessary to defeat the marauding dragons. After a half a year of fighting that saw far more dead Martelan soldiers than dragons, he convened--at Criada's suggestion--with the Elders of the Temples, who agreed to help him by sending out a call for assistance from soldiers and adventurers across the Empire. The church of Palenous began referring to it as "The Dragon Crusades", and the name has endured.

When the Mage Academy discovered what Criada had suggested, they brought her before a tribunal and stripped her of her rank and her title of Protector. Criada's suggestions were so far outside the bounds of a Protector's duties that she is held up at the Academy as an example of gross negligence.

The Dragon Crusades spread like the wildfire they was meant to contain. At first it was confined to Martel, and the country's economy strained under an influx of adventurers and soldiers seeking glory. Given that the red dragons of Martel had always been open about their existence, they were massacred, and the green dragons of the Brittanwood did not fare much better. It's thought that some survived, but they must have fled to other lands--no dragon has been seen in the woods in over half a millennium.

In the end, the crusade did not end within the borders of Martel. Adventurous groups made their way to Fianna only to find the druids denying them access to the deep woods, but Bayern and Hohenshau, so focused on fighting each other, did not mind the influx of adventurer coin. Though neither nation had many targets to offer, many crusaders stayed behind as mercenaries for one side or the other. Talar--at that time a very new colony of Arad--was home to a few blue dragons, and those foolish enough to trespass into the dwarven mountains in the north found a number of less intelligent white dragons to slay. The bottomlands of Bevin and Emilia brought in the last great harvest, this time of the vicious swamp-dwelling blacks. By 327, it seemed the Dragon Crusades would be coming to a stop. However, hatred of dragons was going nowhere, and dragon scales had proven a very useful component in the forging of armor. The city-states of Duvrain, in particular, were keen to buy dragon scales by the shipload during this time.

Prior to this, the Crusades could have been seen as a foolish but ultimately helpful extermination of an evil, destructive species. However, while they were not nearly as common, there were a number of metallic dragons in the Empire--good, wise creatures whom our predecessors in the Bardic Guilds, as well as the mages of the Academy, considered friends and great living libraries. Had we done more to speak out against the slaughter of the evil chromatic dragons, that would have been the end of it. Instead, using spells of true sight, priests began hunting for dragons lurking among the Empire's populace in polymorphed form. While they turned up a few reds and blacks in this manner, the majority of the dragons disguising themselves as humans and halflings were good dragons--silver, brass, copper, and gold--doing so out of a desire to observe and assist our still new civilization. This did not stop the swords and spells of the Crusaders, and while the Academy and the Bardic Guilds did what they could to give Metallics safe passage out of the Empire, many more were lost than were saved.

We now find ourselves as a society that thinks very little of dragons. On the southern continent they convene with dragons, and sometimes even allow them to rule city-states or tribes. Here, few people even think of dragons, and those that do tell stories of them as destructive monsters. I for one fear that without their wisdom we will fall behind other nations, both in magic and in culture, and the Eracian Empire will wish it had made allies out of some of its dragons. But for now, all we have are their bones.




Monday, November 28, 2016

The Nordest Colony Part 2 - The Founding

When Antorio Casse emerged from Baegnolia into the southern reaches of what is now known as Nordest, his only allies were two mule drivers, sick from poor weather, and a headstrong but powerful priestess of Inanna, Azira. Now that he was certain he'd made his way to the lands of his dreams, he allowed himself a moment to rest, and the four travelers found shelter in the rocky badlands of the south for the night. Unfortunately, during their trip through the desert the weather had warmed, and Casse found out that Nordest had at least one thing in common with Baegnolia: a hearty hobgoblin population.

The group managed to evade the hobgoblins by moving north and west, away from the mountains and down toward a grassy plain, a hasty trip that took only days. Looking out at the vast expanse of grass with no hiding places to speak of, Casse despaired, knowing that there were at least twenty or so goblin and hobgoblin scouts on their trail. But soon Azira noticed that there were signs of human life here as well. Moving them quickly north, Azira found more and more signs of nomadic humans--but she was almost too late in her deduction. The goblinoids had followed them onto the plain.

Casse would later tell an embellished version of this story that grew more colorful over the years, but ultimately the doomed party was saved by Moren grasslander scouts who had been stalking the goblinoids. Peering up suddenly from the tall grass, the Moren struck the goblinoids down in one swift attack. They extended a hand of help to the newfound humans, though the nomads seemed puzzled by the newcomers. Unable to communicate in any meaningful way, Casse and his hirelings found themselves bound in service to a small tribe of Moren, and remained their servants for several weeks. They were fed well and their maladies were healed by an herbal genius who went from clan to clan. The tribe traversed the grasslands, allowing their goats and sheep to graze while foraging for late winter plants and marking their territories and passage. Azira began to document the signs that the Moren used to signify their passage, and to interpret the messages left by other tribes. Meanwhile, Casse did his best to study the Moren language, and by the beginning of Spring he was finally able to have a very basic conversation with them. Now that the nomads knew Casse was not an invader but rather an explorer, they were welcoming and offered to take him to a trade meet.

Southwest of Casse by perhaps a day's ride, there still sits a trading post where Moren tribes meet several times a  year. It was here that the tribe's leader, Katha, brought Casse's group. He stayed there for weeks, a free and healthy man once again, and learned all he could about the lands. He was disappointed to find that there were no precious metals that anyone was aware of, as they did not venture off the grass. He did learn of the Saline Basin tribes though, and of the dwarves who traded with the tribes from the north. He was immediately thrilled to hear of dwarven activity, and when he was able he left the two mule drivers behind to convalesce and made his way north with a group of Moren who wished to trade with several tribes who operated a trading post on the site of what is now Nord. In many ways, Nord was the first city established as a result of the Expedition, as the dwarves there were pleased at the notion of doing business with Imperials.

It has been speculated by many that Antorio and Azira entered into a romance during their travels north, as these sections of Casse's journal have been destroyed. It's also extremely possible that she initiated him into the mysteries of Inanna. Whatever the case was, by the time they had reached Nord, Azira was both frightened and furious at the man she had worked so closely with, and the two parted ways. If the annals of the Furnig dwarven tribe are anything to go by, it was an explosive exit on her part, equal parts angry and fearful. Azira's departure seemed to take the wind out of Casse's sails, and when the dwarves arrived he arranged passage via teleportation back to Caer, the city the Imperials had built within Fianna to wage war against its inhabitants.

When Casse returned to Emilia the following month, he was hailed a hero by everyone except the members of the Consigliere who had bet against his success. Soon, a road was built north across Baegnolia, and it wasn't long before the new settlers discovered precious metals in the foothills of the eastern mountains. It also wasn't long before they found themselves in conflict--with elements of the Moren who disapproved of having their lands invaded and farmed, goblinoids and their orcish masters, and with the mysterious human barbarians who lived in the forests and mountains to the north of the province. The settlers persevered, and the Imperial army built Forts Alus and Saline--one to protect against the hobgoblin tribes that had harried Casse, and the other to protect the land from the hearty human raiders in the north. The army also helped build Casse, a city they used as a staging ground for an invasion into the Ceridwen grove and the Dannan coast which helped force the capitulation of the Fiannans.

Many words have been written about the Moren role in the settling of Nordest. It is hard to say to what degree they suffered or benefited from the Imperial settlements and mines. By the time anyone thought to document it, they had already been living alongside the settlers for over a century. The Basin Moren are a different story entirely of course--they've always limited their contact with other humans, including the Grassland Moren. It would seem they're difficult to make an impression on.

Casse returned to Nordest several times over the course of the rest of his life, but eventually settled down on an estate somewhere in the Sharkmaw Isles. Rumors still persist that there are strange artifacts from Baegnolia in his mansion, wherever it is. As for Azira, she returned to her life as an itinerant priestess, and eventually settled down as matron of the temple in Nalcira. She refused to speak of her time with the expedition, or what had driven her away from the man she had worked alongside.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Vala's Notes on the Fall of Fianna

Note to readers: Vala Softwhistle is a halfling from Nordest who's acutely interested in songs, stories, and poems from every culture. Tan Asil, a barbarian outcast from the Saline Basin beyond Nordest, became her fast friend during the end of the Elven War, when they both played a role in overthrowing Prime Minister Orestes. Since then, they have been travelling from university to university, and spent a lot of Autumn 1109 in Pezane, digging through its ancient and extremely disorganized archives.

Note to self--I dictated this journal entry to Tan, I figured he could use some practice writing quickly. I think he's got the hang of it now. Vala Softwhistle, third day of the third week of Fallow, halfling reckoning, archived

I've been doing some study on the fall of Fianna while I have free run of Pezane University. The troubles seem to be over for the moment, though it's never long between them, it seems. Anyway, I thought I'd get thoughts down on paper with my friend Tan Asil's help so I don't forget them--tomorrow I'm going to finally start looking for some old music and poetry on the subject.

Fianna's troubles started way before Emperor Martius' III's invasion. From the looks of things, they had been busy making their neighbors frosty for a long time. They'd angered the Brecan when they didn't intervene against the Boar King, people suspect that was around -400 ER. It had to have been at least 500 years after the Hillfolk (they used to live in Tintagel and the Brittanwood mostly) had made their peace, or no one would have been so mad. Anyway, about a century after that they brought Elven druidic magics into their groves and stopped taking in a lot of the supplies they'd been getting from Pezane, They still have a saying here I think, they call somebody who suddenly loses interest in doing business a "Grover". But that's beside the point.

Anyway, the groves themselves--that's Taliesen in the southwest, Arianrhod in the southeast, Olwen in the northwest, and Ceridwen in the northeast, and then the Dannan region under Daione rule. I hope we get a chance to go back to Daione someday, need to brush up on my elven before I dig through that library though. Not real sure how excited I am to be that close to a Spire again either...anyway, the groves got really independent, and the Archdruid didn't have any real power to speak of. They had skirmishes against each other on occasion over rites and territory and such, but nothing serious, they just didn't consider themselves one nation anymore. They'd meet every year where Caer is now at the turning of the year for a big ceremonial games. I've heard at that some of the grove circles, especially ones in Taliesin and Olwen, are starting to grumble about how Caer's right in the middle of Imperial territory now so they can't really have their ceremony, but Erinn is dead set on letting them have it, and not just to be nice. I'll never forget how she complained about people thinking she was cute! I have the same problem, but I can't really complain about it, it gets me in places I've got no business being, right?

So when the Nereneans--I suspect Senators Caphrius and Maxinius were probably the masterminds, but nobody knows for sure anymore--got Martius III's ear and started their program of investigating Elven Sedition, Martius had already been looking at a weakened Fianna as the next great frontier. Some people had been advocating an eastern passage to Nordest and thus access to trade with the eastern dwarven clans, but Fianna was rich with resources, magic no Imperial had ever seen, and it was just sitting there blocking the Eracian manifest destiny to rule the whole bloody continent. Except for inconvenient places you know, like the Grey Moor. Yes Tan, I'll get to the point, I'm sorry your hand hurts. No, you DON'T have to write all that down. So when Martius got it into his head to confine all the urban elven enclaves to certain areas and monitor their activity extensively, and then he sent Ambassador Aelethindra home (although she's back on the job now!) and broke off all diplomatic ties with the Elves before moving against Fianna. It was a wise move too, it kept the elves from being able to warn the Fiannans that there was an invasion coming. After that, Martius was just looking for an incident to hang a war on, and he got it when a trade delegation (which was larger than was legal, by the way) was waylaid during some very rowdy festivities in what's now Caer, and one wagon driver and a mercenary guard were killed. Martius found out those responsible were from Arianrhod Grove, north of the Centaur lands, and demanded absurd reparations from them. When they refused, he said he couldn't march through the Centaur lands and demanded permission to move troops through Taliesin Grove--which of course they absolutely refused to do. So the Legions attacked Taliesin.

The war was brutal, and even though it lasted a long time, it should have been over right away. All the Groves had to do was ally and turn back the invasion, but it didn't happen. They were too far separated, and none of them could agree on terms, despite the archdruid--a very, very old human named Ondessa--constantly pressing them to capitulate. Then HE died in Ceridwen, Olwen and Arianrhod blamed Ceridwen Grove for his death, and it took the Elders three years to find a half-elf to sit the Daione Chair. By then it was too late. The Eracians had burned down enough of Taliesin to destroy its ecology, forced a capitulation from Arianrhod that kept them AND the centaurs out of the war. And then they settled in for a long and bitter war, building Caer where it is now and using any violence against it as an excuse to move in more and more troops from around the empire. But even though they'd been willing to sacrifice Taliesin, they didn't want to touch the resources hiding in the northern forests, and though Olwen and Ceridwen were firm allies by this point, and were calling on troops from the Wold and the Dannan Sea islands, and even though Arianrhod was fighting as best they could, the Fiannans just couldn't hold back the tide. In 622 ER--right? Right--they forced the other groves to sign the Treaty of Taliesin, which put all of Fianna under Imperial rule, technically. It wasn't explicit in the treaty, but the Empire had no interest in holding on to anything north of the Dannan shore, and never really pushed for it. Which was probably a mistake, looking back.

Okay, yes, I'm done now! Tomorrow we're going to look for some songs from the time, from an Imperial perspective. Pezane was a major launching point for the first invasion, and was the main channel for troops coming by sea from the west for most of the war, so there should be SOME record of the songs they were singing, and what they thought of Fianna. Yes, I'm actually done!




Friday, December 4, 2015

A List of Organizations, Cabals, and Cults

Below is a brief list of organizations, big and small, which play important roles in the political landscape of the Eracian Empire and its neighbors. It is not comprehensive, but describes the most common types of government agencies, cults, and independent organizations.

 Imperial Corps: This secret group of agents is responsible for investigating and halting violence and disorder that results from the actions of monsters, supernatural creatures, and aggressive groups of humans and humanoids within the borders of the Empire. Their leader is Jacob VanNuys, a former member of the Hand who was "condemned" to his current post by Prime Minister Orestes after questioning the Elven War's methods and reasoning. VanNuys has transformed the agency, and runs it from Rorstad in Bevin and reports directly to the Emperor.

Imperial Hand: The Hand is the elite corps of spies, agents, and provocateurs who supply information back to the Imperial government. Since they have traditionally reported directly to the Prime Minister, and that office is vacant at the moment due to the ignominy brought upon it by Orestes, they are said to be without a leader at the moment. They are certainly acting like a body with no head. A number of agents have gone rogue, or are working at cross purposes to one another, though they still make a token effort to report to the emperor.

Imperial Protectors: This carefully constructed network of mages acts as defense and counsel to cities and towns all across the Empire and its Commonwealth territories. In full provinces, all Protectors must be graduates of the Imperial Arcane Academy in Eracia, but Protectors in satellite areas--such as Hohenshau or Emilia--can simply be competent mages. This network was famously exploited by the Nereneans, who infiltrated its ranks and used its privilege to very nearly bring the Empire to its knees. During the Elven War, the Protectors reported to the Prime Minister, but they now report to High Protector Magus Amisa, who reports to the Emperor and the Senate.

Imperial Academy of Arcane Magic: Floating over Eracia City, the Academy stood for centuries as a bastion of learning which provided Protectors, military mages, bards, and merchant mages to the Empire. During the violence at the end of the Elven War, it was damaged extensively by Nereneans and their giant allies. After the war, Magus Aerth, a former Protector who devoted much of his time to research and was instrumental in ending the war and discovering Prime Minister Orestes' role in it, was given the difficult task of rebuilding the Academy and setting a new course for the organization. Aerth has chosen research as his primary concern, and while the Academy itself is still being rebuilt he is sending his baccalaureate students out into the field to understand magic as it functions in the greater world. The Academy also works closely, as always, with the Protectors, and has been very meticulous in weeding Nerenean influences out of its texts and its faculty. Academy students and agents can be found anywhere there is a magical anomaly, and anywhere there is suspected Nerenean activity.

Nereneans: The secret society known as the Nereneans is composed of both the genetic and spiritual descendants of the cult that destroyed Aster Isle over eleven hundred years ago. They began as a cult that secretly revered the Titans, but soon began to see them as little more than a power source. After ripping Aster Isle asunder trying to harness the slumbering creatures' power, they fled to what is now the Baegnolian desert, where they manipulated the native gnomes into building an impressive city and network of roads for them, but were soon defeated by an army of elves who sought to end their influence and their blasphemies against nature. After being crushed militarily, the survivors fled west and insinuated themselves into the new Eracian Empire. Around five centuries ago they turned public opinion against both the elves and the Fiannans, neutralizing the nation that would likely have been their greatest foe. In 1109 ER, after orchestrating a long war against the elves and draining the Empire's resources, they hatched a plan to raise an immense army with the aid of the Titans' children, the giants, and overthrow the entire continent, but they were ultimately defeated by the Revenant Blades and their adventurer clients.

Revenant Blades: An organization founded by Sydney Morrow and most of the members of the once famous Blades of the Moor adventuring group, the Revenant Blades seeks to employ retired adventurers who have a hard time settling down in an ongoing effort to protect the Empire's (and more recently, the entire region's) citizens from monsters, sinister cabals, and the mistakes of its own government. They are essentially professional meddlers, and they often employ younger, more active adventurers into their service.

Libris Immortalis: The Libris Immortalis does not have a large membership, but it pervades the continent. A loose confederation of intellectuals bent on learning the secrets of immortality by any means necessary, they have members in universities and hospitals, and among lay people who are fascinated with death and its defeat. The name of their order is taken from a book which was said to sit in the Senatorial Library on Aster Island before its destruction at the hands of the Nereneans, and which was said to contain the secrets of eternal life.

Libris Mortis: The Libris Immortalis has spawned a number of splinter groups, but perhaps the most dangerous and prolific is the Libris Mortis. Based in the province of Emilia, and having a strong following in Pezane in particular, this group abhors the idea of immortality or even unnaturally long life, and they believe all creatures should adhere to the lifespans of humans and halflings. They caused a great deal of conflict in Pezane in Autumn of 1109 when they contributed to the death of the God-Emperor of the Lizardfolk.

The Holy Brotherhood: Founded a few decades ago by a visionary priest of Ahura, the Brotherhood is an ecumenical alliance of divine casters that spans the known world. Rather than worshiping a specific god, they plead for and receive spells from the gods they feel are the most appropriate for the task at hand. They focus on good works, and helping the destitute and imperiled, and have developed a vast network that spans the Aster Sea.

Fenians: Founded in the aftermath of Fianna's departure from the Empire, the Fenians were originally meant simply to replace departing Protectors and integrate those that wished to stay, as well as giving druids a larger role than wizards in less urban areas. Seeing an opportunity, Archdruidess Erinn has recruited heavily and expanded the group's mission. Now, in addition to protecting towns within Fianna, many members of the Fenians act as open agents and emissaries who help to gather intelligence, provide assistance to surrounding Commonwealth and independent provinces, and work to gain allies for the new Fiannan nation. The group was founded in Spring of 1109, and by late Autumn had succeeded in a number of endeavors, including but not limited to: preventing centaurs from destroying the city of Pezane, allying Fianna with several cities in Talar and the nation of Gora, and investigating the blight that affected Brecon's barley harvest.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

On Giant Hierarchies

"Dear Magus Amisa, we discovered this missive while searching through former Prime Minister Orestes' hidden files (which, by the way, were hidden in a ridiculously treacherous pocket plane--we haven't lost any of our staff yet, but we're thinking of requesting a shield defender or two for our next foray). It details the hierarchies among giants, which presumably would be useful in making allies of them during the end stages of the war. I hope you find it useful.

                                         --Cestus Pladius, head researcher, Academy department of concealed texts


To Orestes. May this serve you well. Ophearus. 1/14/08

I have spent several months on the Grey Moor, attempting to duplicate the research I conducted for you last year in the Dwarven Mountains. It seems that giant notions of hierarchy are uniform across their separate tribes--and that this notion of hierarchy extends deep into their worldview as a race.

Lowest among them are what I've come to refer to as "giantoids", which is the best I can do in the way of a translation from their varied and difficult to learn language. This comprises the ogres, ettins, firbolgs, verbeeg, and the like--large creatures which are clearly close relatives of the frost and storm giants of the world, but not possessing the power or elemental distinctions which so easily divide their superiors. One thing that is interesting to note is that the deformities of these creatures are looked down upon by the other races, while it is the very deformity of the fomorii which is venerated. Never expect a culture to make sense, my dear friend.

On the next level are hill giants, sand giants, and forest giants, and any other giants which are in not tied to the extremes of nature. While these are significantly larger and more powerful than their giantoid cousins, they lack the intellect of the higher orders. There is a distinction made between these two groups however when it comes to servitude, which I'll get to in a moment.

One order up from these are the giants which reside terrestrially, but in the extreme places of the world most associated with the elemental planes--in other words, frost giants, stone giants, and fire giants, though there are rumors of other more secretive races that may help to make up this rank. While stone giants seem to be characteristically resigned to their place within this hierarchy, both fire and frost giants have, as cultures, made it their business to strive toward the limits of their standing, which still resides somewhere below that of their favored masters. As a result, wars of dominance between these two tribes have often been brutal, especially since they are so vulnerable to one anothers' attacks. Today they largely live far apart, their border regions having been depopulated and reclaimed by other races.

Above these is the last sort of giants that can truly be considered giants--the storm and cloud giants. While immensely powerful, they also take pride in their ability to divorce themselves from the earth. They are the undisputed masters of the other giant races, both by power and by the honors bestowed upon them by the fomorii--or so tradition would have it. Unlike the other races, they take no slaves, but will happily obliterate any other giant who does not perform obeisance to them. Oddly, they are not malicious, but their tradition of god-given dominance gives them a dim view of the sovereignty of the lesser races.

And of course, at the top are the fomorii, who we know so very little about. The fomorii were once fairly numerous, if highly territorial and antisocial creatures, and were the first children of the Titans to walk the earth. They are marked by their dramatic deformities, and were masters of the seas and oceans. After the disastrous war against the gods which so happily littered our world with the tombs of the Titans, the fomorii were quite nearly eradicated. After the massacres which they had perpetrated, the elves allowed them to live but banished them to the deeps. Or so we've been told. We have, of course, failed to make contact with a fomorian as of yet, but we do have a lead or two.

Servitude is an interesting and surprisingly complex notion among giants, and seems to have been instituted at the very least several thousand years ago as a way to keep the hierarchies clear and provide labor and sacrifices for the higher orders. While any order may capture and enslave any sort of giant that is of a lower order, it is considered anathema to enslave a giant that is considered "on rank" with your tribe. This partially explains why the fire and frost giant wars were--at least according to very old legends--so deadly, as neither tribe was allowed morally to take prisoners. It is of course considered prestigious to enslave those giants only slightly less fortunate than your tribe, which is why one rarely finds an ogre toiling away in a cloud giant castle. And on that subject, it is oddly considered prestigious among cloud and storm giants to own fewer slaves. I'm not certain why this is, though in the particular case of the storm giant it may have much to do with their obsession with keeping their castles pristine. A gang of slovenly hill giants would ruin the beauty of their many-spired manses.

Well friend, that's all I have for now, but I'll keep you updated on our quest to find a fomorian to pull one over on. Maybe we'll find one with two asses to kiss so we can flatter him into a job. Good luck in all your endeavors, and may this land be named Neren before the new year.




Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Survey of Talaran History and Culture

 Due to recent events which began in Nalcira, this article is in need of an update. This edit will be forthcoming as soon as our agents to the region return and are extensively debriefed. --Jacob VanNuys, Imperial Corp, Rorstad, Bevin


The former Imperial province of Talar is a land set apart from the rest of the continent. Bordered by the dune wastes of Baegnolia to the north, the arid hills of Gora to the east, and rugged hills separating it from the breadbasket eastern lands of Emilia, it has developed a culture determined as much by its isolation as by its history as an abandoned colony of faraway Arad.


Topography


The southern coast of Talar is dominated by the Aral Plateau, a highland which keeps all but the strongest rains away from the province’s central regions. The plateau itself is semi-arid, and is dominated by pine and cypress forests. Below the plateau, on the coast itself, are a number of small fishing villages. Ocean trade does not extend this far east, for the most part, so there is only one dominant port, Sulafein, located southeast of Ankazir.


The central basin, the largest region of the province, is an arid, windy area. While agriculture has been successful here thanks to the rivers which flow from the Border Mountains and the Aral into the Dalma Sea, the main reason there are so many towns and cities in this inhospitable place is because the Gora-Emilia road passes through this region. Towns and fortresses sprang up here to take advantage of and help protect the route, and the road itself bends north to pass through the capital of Nalcira.


The north central and northeastern areas of Talar are its breadbasket, a lonely, semi-arid swath of land overseen by the priests of Baal in their quest to keep the land green. From the north and east, however, come the twin threats of desertification and goblinoid invasion, the latter evidenced by the line of broken fortresses not far from the Baegnolia border. One of these, Castle Kyr, is famous for it ghostly denizens, mostly the undead remnants of an Imperial regiment.


The northwest portion of the province is more a part of Baegnolia now than Talar; a rugged desert landscape, covered by shifting dunes in some places, now dominates the area. The Baegnolian desert began moving southward several hundred years ago, and monster activity in the region--as well as threats from Fiannan deserters and mercenaries during the Fiannan invasion--have regularly kept the priests of Baal and their gnomish allies from advancing agriculture in the region for many years.


History and Culture


In Imperial Year 307, the nation of Arad, after watching the Eracian Empire expand so rapidly, was keen on expanding itself. Its wars with its neighbors had fallen to a few skirmishes in the past years, and a trading partnership with the gnomes led them to land their ships in the deserted region west of Gora. Things went poorly from the start, as giants, goblinoids, and orcs swept out of the eastern mountains and steppes to prey on the poorly protected colonists. The military and civilian leadership soon agreed that to stay along the coast would be suicide, and abandoned their first colony, called Bakir. The colonists and their army pressed north, over the Aral Plateau, constantly trailed by monsters and bandits. They soon found a defensible but nondescript valley with an excellent sandstone quarry, and set to work constructing what is now the Inner City of Nalcira. Things began to take a turn for the better, and the new city was able to establish a trade route with the cities of Emilia as well as the gnomes to the east. Trade with Arad itself grew troublingly sparse as political troubles grew for the nation, and in 348 the colonists received a devastating message, not from their homeland, but from the Emilian navy, that Arad had entered into a devastating war with both Issha and Duvrain. Arad had abandoned their colony, and the settlers themselves were forced to continue on alone, until, in 377, an Emilian advisor suggested they contact the Empire asking for their protection and economic interest. After several years, a young new emperor travelled from Eracia to Nalcira, and made a pact with the governor there that brought Talar into the Empire--on the condition that they become very public allies of Emilia, thus helping to seal that city’s efforts to become the de facto capital of what would soon become the Emilia Province.


Most of Talar’s history since that time has followed a certain cycle--years of prosperity, followed by years of vicious monster attacks from the wastelands that surround it, followed by years of famine and rebuilding. The most famous period of war began in the year 776, when a black wave of goblinoid tribes spilled over the edges of Baegnolia, likely driven south by other monstrous tribes fleeing the expansions beginning in Nordest at the time. The Imperial army made haste in defending the border, but the only defenses available were a network of crumbling fortresses along the province’s northern border. The army was largely overrun, and one fortress in particular suffered a dark fate--Castle Kyr, where the dark divine spells of the goblins trapped most of the souls lost in battle in the fortress and the tunnels beneath it. Kyr is a haunted place to this day, and only the most foolish commander would force his men to venture there.


The arcane traditions of Arad have never truly died in Talar, and have often proven a thorn in the side for the province’s governing bodies. While elementalism is tolerated by most in its base form, and even encouraged by some researchers of the Academy, the summoning of Djinn and other spirits is explicitly illegal--and was, up until recently, highly difficult. Despite the difficulty, however, many mages throughout Talar’s history have chosen to consult the djinn and their darker cousins to gain power and knowledge.


The Talarans have always held a close kinship with the gnomes, not only because they are their closest neighbors, or because their civilization sits atop many an abandoned gnomish ruin, but also because in the difficult years between Araden and Eracian rule they took the Talarans under their wing, seemingly sympathetic to their plight. Ever since, the culture of Talar has differed greatly from other human cultures in its devotion to certain gnomish customs and foods--as well as a jealous possession of some of the more clever gnomish devices.


Current Events


As of 1109, Talar is facing a new set of challenges. The Empire’s deaf ear toward Gora cost them their farthest eastern province during the Caer deliberations, but this newfound independence has been equally problematic for the new nation. The Protectors had a strong presence in Talar, and were instrumental in rooting out illegal arcane practices within the province. With them gone, the leaders of the arcane community are in some cases less powerful than their predecessors and their rogue adversaries, and in some cases too sympathetic to the old traditions to punish them. As a result, djinn activity in Talar has tripled over the last half year, and many communities have begun to fear and reject the mages they rely on for protection. The departure of a large army--seven full regiments, even during the height of the Elven War--has left them ill-defended and relying on Fiannan mercenaries to defend their borders. The three Nalciran regiments have been released from Imperial service, but are not as well-equipped as they once were, and their Eracian colonels and generals have returned to the west. Meanwhile, the orcish tribes press harder on Gora, and the Talarans fear that it may not be long before they are forced to defend their eastern border, if not alone, then with a paltry collection of allies.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Nordest Colony Part I - The Expedition



A plaque in the city of Emilia, in the Plaza Campana, states that four hundred and thirty years ago, on the first day of the year, Antorio Casse left Emilia, with the blessings of the Consigliere, on the expedition that would lead him through Baegnolia and on to Nordest. This is only partially true--the Consigliere, while they agreed to send him, were incredibly skeptical about his chances of success. Talar had been an established colony of the Eracian Empire for several centuries, and no one there had made it past the deserts to their north. Monsters and storms often came out of that region, but little else. Casse, a scholar and adventurer, claimed that he had worked out two important pieces of information: that the monster tribes generally settled down for breeding and regrouping during the winter, and that the storms there followed a particular pattern that he would be able to exploit. The expedition itself had been both planned and approved only because the war with the Fiannans continued to rage, blocking off a northeastern route to the lands of Nordest, and while Casse himself was only interested in natural resources and possible settlement, the Emilian military saw some strategic value in establishing holdings east of the Empire's foe.

With or without the council's consent, Casse had the money that he needed, and with a full retinue of mules, guides, and wagons, he set out on the Emilia-Gora road while the bells of Emilia rang constantly in celebration of a new year. The first few weeks of the journey were smooth, as the group traveled the highway the Empire had laid down in very recent years. They stopped briefly in Nalcira, but continued on to Ankazir to join the road that wound up past the Dalma Sea and to Baalistan. The Plena Mazda, harsh and windswept in winter, took the first casualties from Casse's party. By the time he reached Anahran, two of his drivers and one of his farriers had abandoned the cause, intimidated by the stories they had heard from locals about the terrible desert to the north, and two of his mules had to be put down after a manticore attack wounded them severely. Further problems with the wild monsters of the plains--largely settled, but still with sparse areas along the major lanes of monster invasion--exhausted the group and killed three of the guards. The priest of Creus Casse had brought with him was sorely taxed by all the necessary healing, and he was forced to hire, at great cost, an itinerant priestess of Inanna. Azira was her name, and she proved to be a great help to Casse's expedition, though she parted ways with the explorer under odd circumstances shortly after the expedition's end.

It was nearly a month into winter when Casse passed the provisional Ft. Ibn and headed into unknown territory with roughly half the number of men and women he had employed when he set out. Passing over the windswept region of enormous dunes, Casse swiftly named the region Baegnolia, an Emilian word meaning "land of sand dunes". Though this would prove to be a misnomer before he left the region, he kept it on all of his maps, saying that his "original impression of the land was more important than accuracy--that the harshly dry and windy land I first rode into is how I shall always remember that place." Dust storms struck almost immediately, but Casse was prepared, using the charts he'd assembled based on records from Ft. Ibn and Castle Kyr to skirt around the edge of the storm. His good luck would not continue, however, and in another week's time the group had only traveled fifty miles. While Casse had been correct about the fact that the monster tribes went to ground during this time, this was less true for the solitary and terrible creatures that lurked in the interior of the desert. An encounter with a basilisk killed all but two of the expedition's remaining guards and the priest of Creus, and another attack from a family of cockatrices took no lives but destroyed much of the party's provisions. They were now on very scant rations, and were forced to learn a few things about hunting in the desert.

A few more weeks passed, and the group came to the badlands of central Baegnolia, where they became lost in the maze of box canyons and deep valleys that cover that most maligned region of that province. Their going was slow, and Casse began to worry that the expedition would not make it through the desert to the promised land he had already dubbed Nordest which he expected to find to the north. The party began to despair, and it was only the guidance of Azira that held them together. Meanwhile, as their hunting skills improved, they soon found themselves pursued by a group of hobgoblin scouts. Soon, an entire tribe of hobgoblins was on their trail, and only Casse's projections saved them. He veered the party into the path of a sandstorm, fatiguing the group and killing all but their last mule, but throwing the army of monsters off of their trail.

Little is known about the following month, as Casse would not speak of it during his life. Some of his men became convinced he was leading them on to their death (with good reason), and a mutiny took place. When all was said and done, only Casse himself, Azira, and two mule drivers were left alive. The mule itself they were forced to eat, their best hunters having died or deserted. During this period of time, however, they moved at incredible speed away from their deserters and dead, desperate to leave Baegnolia behind. Though how far they traveled in actuality is debatable, the small group covered several hundred miles in the matter of one month. They soon passed over into the tortured lands of the north, the last leg of their journey through the desert, and though the survivors of the expedition have said that this was often the most grueling part of their voyage, there were few monsters and no storms so late in the winter. Casse forced the group to press on as Azira taxed her spells to keep the group fed and strong rather than healthy. Soon the group began to notice some odd things about the region--here and there, where sand had been parted by wind, they found the remains of old roads, signposts in a language they could not read, and broken weapons as well as signifiers of everyday life. These signs were sparse, but they gave Casse hope, and he began to believe that the culture he believed lay to the north had retreated from a growing desert, leaving behind artifacts and relics. Years later he would learn that many of the weapons he saw were of gnomish, elven, and what seemed to be ancient Eracian make. It was not until the formation of the Imperial Archaeological Society that many people gave thought to this odd coincidence.

Finally, two and a half months after leaving Emilia, Casse ascended from the desert, crested a rise, and looked down onto the arid grasslands of southern Nordest. It is said that he sighed with relief when they left the desert behind, but his hopes of finding a civilization would not be realized for several more days of travel.