The world upon which you exit is a small one, floating through the cosmos that only the most forward thinking scholars and wizards can fathom, nestled snugly in it’s own little corner of reality. It is made up of a nearly 50/50 mix of water and dry land, with bitterly cold and frozen poles sandwiching between them a mild to tropical climate. The land is split into two major continents, the Lifewell and Counterforce continents, as well as several smaller archipelago nations. While most of the seas have been explored, there are still some areas where men and ships dare not go.
The Lifewell Continent
The Lifewell Continent, named so long ago by one of the prominent wizards that just has never been changed is not, contrary to popular belief, where life on the planet started. The Lifewell continent was named for the open grasslands and easily farmed soil that make up most of it’s center, as well as the deep swamps on the southern end of the continent that merge into nearly impenetrable forests. To the north of the plains are the high mountains, snowy peaked and majestic, and full of mysteries and dangers.
The Lifewell Continent is the native home of three of the major races in the world, Humans, Elves and Dwarves. The races live in a state of long-standing peace, but the nations are not without their tensions with each other.
The Counterforce Continent
The Counterforce Continent was so named when early explorers first traveled over the small land bridge between the two continents and ran up against an unforgiving, frozen mountainous waste which descended into a blasted, flat plain seeming devoid of any life. The assumption was that the Lifewell Continent did indeed spring forth life, while this other, blasted land knew only death. This idea was proven wrong, however, upon the discovery of the Orcs who lived and ruled in the mountains to the north, fierce and prideful and violent. To their south, separated by the vast expanse of ‘The Waste’, the halflings lived in relative peace, oblivious to the rest of the world until the explorations of men and elves brought them to the realization that more existed outside of their open Savannah.
However, the Counterforce Continent isn’t all mountains, dead valleys and grasslands. To the south and east of the continent are huge rain forests, pushing all the way up to the shore lines on the east, and the volcanic tropics of the south of the continent. There is a tale told among both halfling families and orc tribes that the blasted plain between the two races was the result of a great battle between an ice dragon of the north, and a green dragon of the south, laying the land betwixt the two to waste.
The Kingdom of Men, as the human lands are called, were once nothing more than a loose band of small familial tribes scattered across the plains sandwiched between the warring factions of the Elves and Dwarves.
It was during this time, as legend tells, that a small group of humans from the divided tribes came forth, bringing with them the light of knowledge and peace, saving the other two races from mutual destruction at the hands of a plotting Great Darkness. Lore states that it was this small band, lead by a very powerful wizard, who unified the tribes of men into the current kingdom, founding the three main institutions of Kingdom of Men, as well as establishing humanity as an equal force among the other races. Once organized, the human clans formed a society of farmers and traders, being situated between the two other nations, as well as having many sea ports and a proficiency at agriculture and economics.
To this day, the Elves and Dwarves both still honor the treaties formed at the founding of the Kingdom, and within it’s borders you can find all races living in relative harmony, trading and working and living their lives beneath the banner of a human ruler. Many halflings have also claimed the Kingdom as their homeland, abandoning the harsh life on the opposite continent.
The Kingdom of Men has three main branches of power that rules over the lands and oversees the prosperity and protection of the peoples who live within it’s borders. They are the Royal Court, who make and pass laws and judgments; The Knights of the Red Palm, who are the military leaders and law enforcers; and The Order of Silence, a sect of monks who preserve all knowledge and teachings within the Kingdom.
The Royal Court
The Royal Court is the governing body of the Kingdom of Men. It consists of the King, his council of advisors, and the local governors, whose power is limited based on decree of the King. The local governors of any area are simply figureheads and meant only to make initial court rulings based upon the land’s laws. No local political figure holds powers to make local laws, and all appeals go directly to the high court of the King.
The line of the Kings of Men has not been broken since the first founding of the Kingdom, and the traditions of succession have not changed either. An heir to the throne is born, and immediately presented to the Order of Silence at the age of three, where he spends nine years learning the history, laws, and ways of the Kingdom. At the age of twelve, the would-be King is then conscripted into the service of the Knights of the Red Palm, where he will spend four years as a guardsman, taught discipline and valor. Following his military service, the heir then spends another four years as a junior ambassador to each of the other four kingdoms, learning diplomacy and tact.
Upon the twentieth birthday of the Heir, he returns to the capital, at which point there is a year of celebration for the people, and a year of tutelage for the fellow under his father, the current King. During this time, no business may be brought before the King or his prince, and they are secluded away from all distractions as the older King imparts his knowledge. At the end of this year, the old King abdicates the throne and will pass his crown on to his son. The new King then has twenty years in which to rule as he sees fit, and at the end of that time he must produce an heir to become the next King. A King’s rule runs in a strict 60-year cycle, and the time of the new King is always a festive one.
The Knights of the Red Palm
The Knights of the Red Palm are the backbone of the Kingdom of Men’s fighting forces. They lead the armies, patrol the realm, uphold the law, and are a shining beacon of all that the Kingdom stands for. To be admitted into their ranks is an honor few ever even dream of obtaining. The responsibilities of protecting all of the Kingdom’s citizens falls squarely upon their shoulders alone, and most men, even if offered, would refuse such a position.
In times of strife, the Knights of the Red Palm’s main objective is to safeguard the King and his line.
The Order of Silence
Mysterious, brooding, powerful and secretive are all things that make the rumors around the Order of Silence even more believable. Initiates into the Order take a stern oath never to speak a word to anyone outside of the order, on pain of having their lips sewn permanently shut, a punishment that is all too often dolled out without mercy or pity. Very few people join the Order voluntarily, as the Order is also the Kingdom’s version of a home for abandoned children.
At it’s surface, the Order is benevolent, it’s goal to amass all of the knowledge and learning in the Continents into a single repository, against the advent of the collapse of civilization.
The elves are secretive and xenophobic, living as they do in the trees and forests to the south of the Kingdom of Men. The Great Swamp separates the two, and with only a few passable roads leading through it, the Elves keep a tight security around who enters their lands.
The Council of Houses
The Elves are ruled by a council of houses, each house representing a family. These families are vast and even with the lack of contact with outsiders, it is very rare that any two close relatives marry. Intermingling between houses is allowed, with the male of the house joining the house of the female, a point of difference with other races upon which the elves pride themselves. Each house serves a function in elvish society, and all houses are considered equal in stature, or so they claim.
- Vyloros – These are the politicians, ambassadors, lawmakers, arguers and anything else one might associate with politics. This is, by far, the smallest of the families, and yet in practice, they wield far more power. While each of the houses have representatives at the council, it is the Vyloros who carry out it’s bureaucratic decisions and write the laws into the books.
- Shasos – The warrior caste, these elves spend their time in training for the defense of the lands of the Elves as well as acting as the standing police force. This house, along with the Taesal, are the ones most outsiders are most familiar with.
- Taesal – The house of Merchants, the Taesal are usually adventurous, outgoing, and far more accepting of others than any other house, mostly because they are the ones that do the most business outside of the woodlands. If there is money to be made, you can be sure that a Taesal is behind it.
- J’Hardys – The house of labor, these elves are the most numerous of any of the houses, and thus have the most representation at council. The J’Hardys are the common laborer and craftsmen, the underlying foundation upon which the entirety of the Elvish community is based.
- Tandros – Those elves born naturally into the house of Tandros have magic running in their veins, and only Tandros only teach the Tandros, keeping the secrets of elven wizards secure within the forests, and even more secure within the family.
Other than the five families represented at Council, there is rumored to he a sixth family, though no one will name it, which specializes in assassinations, crime, drug and weapons smuggling, among other unsavory professions. The Elven highest council denies the existence of this house, and there is no record of it in any elven history. Despite this, rumors persist, fueled by the occasional Elven criminal who wears no seal of any of the five houses.
Not much is known about Dwarven culture, aside from their nearly fanatical militaristic lifestyles. All levels of Dwarven society are ranked by their standing, and an individual cannot be born into a rank. All dwarven children start off at the same rank, as the dwarves value personal loyalty, honor, and drive above the status of one’s parentage. Because of this, the society is fully devoted to their leaders, and will follow orders without question, even if it means their own death.
Some dwarves do leave the rank and file of their brethren to live amongst the other races, usually serving in their armies or as exceptional blacksmiths, craftsmen or artisans. Dwarves are not, on average, a magical race, lest not that many know of.
The race of the Orcs is a barbaric one, brutish and tribal, with no formal overall leadership save what the majority of the loosely aligned clans decide to impose upon the others. Despite this, however, they seem content with their own inner wars and power plays to the point that they ignore the other races save for trading or the occasional impulsive raid. Orc legends tell of a time, however, where they were ruled by a great and powerful war chief who nearly destroyed the peoples of the Lifewell Continent, and whose ferocity was unmatched, even by the long-dead dragons of legend.
The halfling peoples have lived for ages free upon the southern grasslands of the Counterforce Continent, wild and without many laws save what the social conditions make mandatory. Banding together in small groups and nomadic tribes for protection against the beasts and the beastmen who also roam the savannah, they’ve come to be looked upon as a wreckless and lacadasical society.
Halflings do not care much for the laws and customs of the other races, though they tolerate humans far better than the stern and aloof elves or the strict dwarves. They tend to travel in packs, even after moving out of their native lands, and never stay in one place for too long, lest they grow bored. You will rarely ever see a halfling living alone, or even in pairs, though it does occasionally happen when one gets too old to travel.
- Beastmen – Barely more than the beasts they hunt, the Beastmen of the savannah live in small villages, easily moved when the food moves. They are usually noble savages, but also territorial and will attack viciously if they feel their lands have been unfairly entered. Some speculate that their existance, half-animal as it is, is the result of some great magical accident some time in the long past.
A Brief History of Magic
Magic on the continents and it’s history have been hotly debated since as long as anyone can remember. Most agree that the magic of the world comes from nature and the gods, though no one has seen or heard from them in centuries. Some scholars, working closely with wizards, have noted that excessive use of magic in a small area seems to temporarily drain that area of magical power, leaving the land dead. Many suspect that, this being the case, the barren wastes of the Counterforce Continent were the location of a great working of magical powers that left the land still recovering.
There are a small number of magical researchers who disagree with the accepted version of the origins of magic, however. These people claim that while the majority of magic does currently draw from the natural forces, it was not always this way, and that there are tomes which could be interpreted to read as though magic flows into the world from various other planes of existence, seeping into your own through the cosmic fabric and powering esoteric spells not seen in the Continents for many centuries. Small in number, the believers in this alternative view of magic are none-the-less very determined to discover whether these other planes are real, and how to reach them.
The O’Dimshore Incident
Some years back, a low-level mage named Flannery O’Dimshore caused quite an uproar in the magical community by claiming to have uncovered indisputable proof of the existence of other magical realms, and that said tome also provided many spells that could be used to open portals to the other elemental planes, and even perhaps summon energies from them. Many others laughed and ridiculed the man, thinking him either insane or seeking attention, as he was an outlandish and ridiculous figure amongst the community.
Not perturbed by these naysayers, Flannery O’Dimshore announced that he was going to attempt to cast a simple spell to open a doorway into what the tome called “The Elemental Plane of Air”, as it was described as being one of the tamer realms in the tome. Many people showed up outside of his tower to witness the opening. The spell seemed to be proceeding nominally, but when the time came for the opening of the portal itself, there was a magical backlash of such force that it destroyed Flannery’s tower, killing the young wizard, destroying his tomes, and injuring many of the onlookers. Since that day, the King of Men ruled that any attempts at such spells are illegal, and any caught seeking to recreate O’Dimshore’s work would be punished by death.
Religion and the Gods
With such a wide range of cultures and views on the origins of magic, it isn’t much of a surprise that there is also a large range of views on the origins of life and purpose. Religion on the Continents varies greatly, with nearly as many ‘Gods’ as there were tribes of men, before the joining together and forming of the Kingdom. That being said, there are a good number of agreed upon ‘major’ religions that have been around since as long as there are tales and legends. These major gods and deities seem to be common between most of the major races, proving either that the races were far more intertwined than they are now, or that there is more to the gods than mere dogma and legends.
Ancient religious texts tell of times where men communed regularly with their gods, calling upon them in times of need or to show their dedication and worship in person. These texts all seem to die out around the time of the formation of the Kingdom of Men across all of the nations. Many scholars say that this is a result of the centralization of loose tribes into a larger society, leaving less room for flights of fancy and the decline of power of the theocratic leaning groups as their governance became the realm of their respective non-religious governing bodies.
One thing is for certain, however, and that is the undeniable power of the priesthood. Their ‘miracles’ and powers they claim to have stowed upon them by their different gods act in much the same way as wizards’ magic, yet without the suctioning of life from the surrounding area (save in the cases of those cults who still worship the ‘dark’ gods of death and decay, but even those workings are significantly different from the natural magics). In the end, most people believe in something larger than themselves, even if the Gods themselves have been personally absent from the world for centuries.
With the proliferation of the natural magics, and the studies done by scholars and wizards, there have been very few technological breakthroughs. There have been some advancements in the realms of the Dwarfs, who are naturally suspicious of any sort of power that does not originate from with an individual. Their clockwork mining machines are things of beauty to behold if one can get access to them, but they are also fragile and require large teams of engineers to keep running properly. As a result, Dwarven toys are highly valued and expensive, as they usually are made by master engineers with clockwork parts.
The rest of the world, however, relies either on magic or the strength of their own bodies to make their lives easier. It is not uncommon for a large farming homestead to employ a magician or witch at the start of the growing season to bless and enchant the soil to promote a good crop, or for a labor contractor to have a hedgemage on the payroll to help with heavy lifting of stone and providing care and aid to their workers.