January 10, 2017

My Minaria Sandbox

I've been running weekly game sessions every Thursday for over a year now. The PCs have mostly just been delving into Stonehell Dungeon and staying in the nearby town of Hardingham. We're still having a blast in Stonehell, but I want to spend some time detailing the surrounding world in case the group decides to roam around more.

I'll use the map from the board game Divine Right. It is awesome. Behold!

I've placed Stonehell and Hardingham in the Forest of the Lurking, a few hexes east of the Invisible School of Thaumaturgy. My goal is to fill every named site on that map using old D&D modules, some more recent purchases, and free adventures I find online. Expect more posts soon.

In addition to the map, I'm going to borrow some (but not all) of the lore and personalities from the game. I'll also combine in the historical elements that were already established in previous sessions. These come from many other sources: Stonehell, my old Ancients and Aliens campaign setting, Jeff Rients' World of Cinder, and a bunch of other random tidbits.

Here we go.

This is a brief rundown of the common knowledge regarding the history and nations of Minaria.  While not all of the information is precisely true, the information here is widely accepted by common folk throughout Minaria. Your characters already know all this stuff.

Early History

The Frog Gods, and the birth of the world
The earliest histories of Minaria are highly disputed, especially between the demi-human races.  Little is agreed upon except that the world was created, populated with beasts, and that it was a time of brutality and blood.  Chaotics claim that this was the golden age, when the croaking of the Frog Gods rang out across a world that was young and free; unsullied by the touch of insecure pretender gods who whine for order and control.  The chaotic priests’ calls to “Return Minaria to greatness!” appeal to some, but fill others with an anxious dread.  

The Ancients
Then came the Ancients.  Ascendant divinities or usurpers depending on who is asked.  These beings descended upon Minaria and took control almost immediately.  At this time, their magic and power were absolute.  They altered the land, the peoples, and even themselves into whatever designs they wished.  Though few in number the ancients were highly feared and revered.  It is agreed by all that the ancients created humanity, in addition to many other races; both hominid and monster.  Even the dragons were their slaves.  The Ancients ruled over all of Minaria for over a thousand years.  Those who refused to obey them were driven into hiding.  The pureblood elves, dwarves, and halflings claim to have hidden in the deepest tunnels of the world, while the ancients twisted their captured kin into mutant half-breed slave races.  Many of these races are now extinct (or nearly so), but the humans at least have proven to be exceptionally adaptable and prolific.

What happened next is unclear.  It’s as if the Ancients quietly packed up and left one day.  The few surviving glyphs and runes say that “...the Ancient ones stepped off the world of mortal men and went up into the heavens”.  Some claim that the Ancients ascended into divinity, and a few of these Old Gods are still worshiped to this day.  Others say that the ancients were never gods at all, but simply left the world once they grew tired of it, or perhaps their seers saw that the world might turn against them and so chose to leave before their control began slipping away.  

Little remains now of the ancient civilization other than eroded monuments and plundered ruins.  Many of the religions dedicated to the Old Gods claim to hold the true secrets of the Ancients, but the only group that is still uncovering new artifacts and ancient pre-draconic script are the so called Eaters of Wisdom who live at their sanctuary in the north called The Temple of Kings.

The Age of Dragons
After the Ancients came the Age of Dragons.  An indeterminate time when dragons were worshipped as living gods.  The dragons gathered large numbers of humanoid followers to care for their needs and to indulge their whims.  It is supposed that there was once a great civilization of the dragons, but little is known of this time due to the extensive efforts to remove it from history.  Some few dragons have survived to this day, and though they still surround themselves with human cults these followers have been bred for loyalty and fanaticism.  The dragon cults of today are forbidden the use of magic, and not even allowed to learn how to read and write.  Whatever knowledge the dragons still possess, they are keeping it to themselves.

The Cataclysm
Tempests, earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, and giant meteorite storms shattered the land and seemingly wiped out the dragon civilization.  Death and destruction were everywhere.  Many of the enslaved hominids came to believe that the cataclysm was divine retribution for the wickedness and arrogance of the dragons who claimed to be gods.  Soon the dragons found that they were being hunted by their former slaves under the banner of the new Church of the Gold Dragon which claims that all of the dragons in the mortal realm are fallen angels who were cast out of heaven after they rebelled against the great Gold Dragon.

The Empire of the Silver Potentate
The Silver Potentate rose to fame as a legendary dragon hunter.  He gathered an army of supporters, claimed to be a messiah and eventually took control of the Church of the Gold Dragon.  He and his armies drove the dragons far out into the wilderness, and he and the church destroyed any trace of the demonic draconic that they could find lest humanity be tricked and tempted once again to follow their evil ways.  Over time he came to rule an empire that spanned the continent of Minaria.  This was the golden age of humanity.  The Silver Potentate’s rule was good and just for many decades, but over the long march of years it turned dark and oppressive.  Some blame his madness on the constant use of magical potions of Longevity, others say that it was the dragon wounds which eventually festered within his heart.  Whatever the cause, the Silver Potentate’s increasing paranoia and delusions led to widespread oppression and persecution.  He created the vast prison known as Stone Hell to house suspected revolutionaries.  He saw enemies all around him, and crushed imaginary rebellions with an iron fist.  When that was not enough he instituted repeated holodomor (man-made famines) upon regions where he suspected sedition.  Each holodomor would last for a year or two, then the empire would sweep in with food and claim the remaining orphans as wards of the state.

The Rebellion of the Scarlet Witch Queen
Eventually the reign of the Silver Potentate grew too terrible to endure, and his people rose up against him en masse.  The rebellion of the Scarlet Witch Queen lit the spark, but the truth was simply that centuries of injustice had created a powder keg of revolt.  The Scarlet Witch rose to power in an area of the northeast which is now covered in swamps and hot springs named The Witches Kitchen.  By all accounts she was beautiful, brilliant, and callously cruel.  Her early and surprising victories at the Tower of Zards so enraged the Silver Potentate that he turned the full force of the empire’s might against her.  Tales soon spread throughout the empire of the woman who was using trickery and guile to thwart the Potentate.  These tales incited others and the rebellion became more widespread and diffuse, a mass of small revolts with little if any coordination.

Eventually her luck ran out; the Scarlet Witch Queen and her forces died at the battlefield of The Wasted Dead, but the rebellion did not die with her.  A band of rebels overwhelmed the reduced garrison at the prison of Stone Hell, and freed those prisoners who were still sane enough to leave.  Word soon spread of the horrors found within, and all the regions and districts of the empire revolted against the potentate.  He fled east with his loyal and charmed followers to the fortified city of Khos, deep in the frontier.  They held there for 2 years.  At the end it was clear that the city would be overwhelmed, so he ordered his mages to play the final gambit.  The entire populace of the city was sacrificed and used to empower the spell of the undying.  The armies of the rebellion continued the fight, but each fallen soldier would rise and turn against them.  Eventually they retreated and realized that the dead soldiers of Khos can not venture terribly far from the city.  It is said that the Silver Potentate continues to rule over Khos, the lost city of the dead; perhaps for all time.

The Dark Age
After the collapse of the empire the people of Minaria grimly fought to preserve what they could of the glory and wisdom of the past, but much of the continent descended into barbarism and rival city-states.  In the last few hundred years, new and powerful kingdoms have advanced upon the foundations laid by the work and sacrifice of their forebears, bringing about a new order to the continent.  Eventually, ten kingdoms and two sorcerous principalities grew up to form the political entities known today. Most of these are feudal monarchies, generally lacking the political and economic base for territorial expansion.  However, border strife and raids for plunder are still common.

The Modern Kingdoms
THE BLACK HAND - Some say the Black Hand arrived from exile out of the east. Others conjecture that it arose from the mausoleums under the Tower of Zards itself.  Armed with foul magics, and with demonic aid, it repaired the ancient Tower and now throws a sinister shroud over the Shards of Lor.  The lands around the tower are patrolled by orderly groups of undead, occasionally these bands are led by necromancers like the goat-headed satyrs who call themselves “The Cloven”.  The Black Hand has been known to go to war for one coalition or another, but prefers to remain alone in its tower, practicing death magic in a restrained and private manner.

UNSEEN UNIVERSITY - The original Invisible School of Thaumaturgy is claimed to have a pre-Cataclysmic origin, but this contention is often debated.  It was founded by a splinter sect of the Eaters of Wisdom (so-called for their voracious appetite for knowledge) hailing from the sanctuary at The Temple of Kings.  It was here, under a veil of secrecy and enchantments, that the dissident Eaters began teaching students “the ways of the ancients” and humanity came to learn the practice of spellcraft.  This secrecy would later prove especially important when Minaria was ruled by the Empire.  At that time the Silver Potentate was hunting down unregistered wizards and “persuading” them to take magical oaths of loyalty.  A coalition of free sorcerers and philosophers hid their various magical schools offworld and then connected them via magical gates at the Invisible School of Thaumaturgy thus forming Unseen University.  Since the fall of the empire the institution has become much more open and overt.  In recent years the university’s Office of Community Relations has teamed with the Subcommittee on Strategic Athletic Services to pursue an aggressive policy of expansion and integration into the surrounding regional communities.  Today the university is a polity in it’s own right, and still provides the finest education to which a young magician can aspire.  Though tuition and other fees can be high there is no finer place to be trained in the arts of high sorcery.

GHEM - Ghem is the kingdom of the Dwarves, it’s legendary lost capital was founded ages ago deep in the darkness of the underworld.  The Dwarves now dwell near the surface in scattered mining colonies around Minaria.  Each of the seven clans prefers to tend to their own business, but will rally to each other’s aid if called.  Sadly though, the dwarves suffer due to a web of feuds and rivalries that prevent them from ever truly uniting together.  Two of the clans each claim that their fortress is the new capitol of Ghem, and honestly it just gets worse from there.  It has been said that the dwarves never forget, and never forgive.  Despite their faults, the dwarves are given at least grudging respect by the other kingdoms.  Dwarven craftsmanship is unsurpassed, and their airships help to facilitate trade throughout Minaria.

HOTHIOR - Eking out a living in the sandy land of Hothior has left most of the native yeomen little time for high cultural achievement. Worse, their thinly-populated nation is beset on every side by powerful rivals who often come raiding and further impoverish the inhabitants. Hothiorans are often deemed crude and backwards by Minarian standards, but adversity has made them a canny and energetic people. The capital, Port Lork, is the center of a vast horsehide tanning industry. Castle Lapspell is an even more prosperous trading city. There the Yando Rivermen land their wares and pay their duties, while its markets throng with merchants from Shucassam, Rombune, and Mivior. Dikes have expanded the marshes east of the city, protecting that vulnerable flank and allowing new wet-land crops to be planted profitably in what was before but poor pasture land.

IMMER - The kingdom of Immer rose from a hearty stock of hunters and trappers who infiltrated from the south. Soon farmers followed the hunters and Immer expanded north, east, and west from the fort established early on at Muscaster. At length, the Immerites, in alliance with the Eaters of Wisdom, drove the local barbarians from the pre-cataclysmic fortress Castle Altarr and made it their capital. Today, fur trading has diminished, except among the Gorpin. Woodsmen, cattle grazing and placer mining in the River Rapid have replaced the old ways. Immerites are known to be formidable fighters, as their armies get little respite from the invading Barbarians from the north, raiding Goblins from Zorn, and battles with the Muetarans, who hotly contest with Immer for the western quarter of the Disputed Lands.

MIVIOR  - The tangled forests and high mountains of the interior have forced the people of Mivior into the business of the sea. From her thick forests the ships that dominate the commerce of the Great Sea are built. A near monopoly of trade with the distant continent of Reiken to the west has fabulously enriched the kingdom. Mivior maintains the largest war fleet in Minaria and controls the sea - unless two or more enemies combine their fleets to challenge her. Its large army, with many marines trained in amphibious raiding, make Mivior a desirable ally and an opponent to fear.

MUETAR - The kingdom of Muetar has been forced to maintain the largest army in Minaria. Often attacked on every side, the hearty yeomen of Muetar have developed a strong militaristic tradition, all too often at the price of liberty. Pennol on the Lake is not only the capital, but also the holy site of the Church of the Gold Dragon where the Dragon Pope sits Ex Cathedra dispensing wisdom from the supreme holy book the Golden Draconomicon.  The ruling family of Muetar often serve terms as templars and paladins and are tied so strongly to the church that it is sometimes difficult to see where one ends and the other begins.  The products of Muetar’s rolling hills and fertile valleys are carried to port by the famous barge sailors, the rivermen of Yando or, more lately, picked up by dwarven airships that float into Pennol when the weather permits.

NEUTH  - Often called "Elfland" by its human neighbors, Neuth is the old home of the forest Elves.  Long ago, the Ancient ones destroyed the elvish capitol Ider Bolis and drove the elves underground for millennia.  The great petrified tree, home of Xylarthen the elven arch-mage, was also blasted to pieces and is known today as Stump Hole.  These were the dark days.  The Elves have returned, of course, and reclaimed Neuth.  They do not appreciate outsiders wandering into their forest, but tolerate officials sent by allies and trading partners.  They typically believe themselves to be better endowed with intellect, noble spirit, and pure aspirations than the other races.  Some few elves still see humans as the tainted mongrel creations of their enemies, the Ancients; and will refuse to have any dealings with them.

PON  - The kingdom of Pon is a fusion of earlier mountain tribes and robber baronies. The powerful dukes of Marzarbol gradually drew the disorderly inhabitants of the forests and mountains together and established a kingdom. The Ponese still favor their ancestral trade of robbing and raiding their neighbors, but the growing strength of Shucassam and Muetar have forced a change in their ways. The most recent addition to the coffers of Pon has come through eastern caravan trade, bypassing the high imposts of Shucassam. This has allowed the city of Heap, once a despised backwater, to grow and gain wide prominence as a trade hub.

ROMBUNE  - The pirate hideaways on Skull Isle thrived for many years on the hapless merchantmen plying the Great Sea. However, as Mivior grew to become the ruler of the seas, the independent pirate captains were forced to unite and form an elected monarchy based on the articles of piracy. Tradition and bribery have kept the throne in one family for the past two hundred years. The thick forest of Skull Island supports a flourishing shipbuilding industry. A protectorate by marriage, the mainland city of Parros has secured control of the important iron industry there for Rombune.  More recently, Rombune has turned its attention toward expanding eastward into the interior of the continent.

SHUCASSAM - Minarians call the materialistic Shucassamites the "people without gods".  This is not precisely true, although their type of shamanism, the legacy of their nomadic origins, lacks the ceremonial sophistication of northern religions. Only the Holy Brotherhood of Pinboh, a military order of lepers, manages to work up any real religious fervor. The realm of Shucassam is a toll gate across the caravan routes from the north to the south. High taxes on this commerce allows Shucassam to support a large army and a luxurious way of life for its upper classes, and even the slaves live in relative comfort.

ZORN  - The goblin kingdom of Zorn supports a large population of fierce fighters.  The goblinoid races are usually a fractious mob of warring tribes and clans, but here they are unified under the deft leadership of the ruling hobgoblins.  Had they united earlier, they undoubtedly would have controlled vast territories, but for now the growth of strong human kingdoms to the south and the appearance of the Black Hand in the Shards of Lor has slowed their expansion. Their capital is now a volcanic labyrinth known as the Pits.  Aside from extensive goat herding, the chief Zornite economic activities are plundering, raiding, and enslaving their neighbors.

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