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.


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.