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.