World:Shattered Academy/Geography

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Overview

Here's a brief overview of our campaign world. It remains closely based on the Europe of 1450, with several name changes to avoid over-familiarity.

It is the year 2203 A.U.C. (ab urbe condita, from the founding of the city of Rema) over two millennia since the elf-prince Remus founded the city that would bear his name across the continent of Europa. And, indeed, he would hardly recognize that continent today.

Elves still dominate the Oenotrian headland, though many other bloodlines have moved in over the centuries, from dwarfs in the Apennine Mountains to orcs in the Po Valley and the lowlands of Hadriatica. As happens in most areas where the races mix, humans have become increasingly common, though Oenotrian middle-folk tend to be taller and bulkier than those farther north, who have more Dawn Folk blood in their veins. The isolation of Trinacria, separated from Oenotria by the Zancian Rift, has preserved more of its elvish heritage, though waves of invaders have reached even there over the centuries and trade proceeds apace today over the great bridge to Messina. But more and more foreigners arrive every year, as the squabbling city-states of Oenotria spend the wealth of their trading empires on mercenaries for their endless wars. Saluzzo, Milano, Genoa, Venezia, Mantua, Modena, Lucca, Ferrara, Firenze, Siena, and the Kingdom of Neapolis vie for power continually. The Pontifical Estates remain above the fray, under the direct rule of the High Priest of Jupiter, but politics there are just as ruthless as in the rest of the realm.

North of Oenotria, past the shield of the White Mountains, stretch the Allemagnies, a riot of rival realms governed by a profusion of petty kings, dukes, princes, counts, and so on, ruling over the most racially mixed population in Europa. Ironically, for all their variety, the Allemagnies are a more peaceful place than Oenotria: loosely allied under the banner of the Sacred Reman Realm (which is, in reality, neither sacred, nor Reman, nor much of a realm!), allied in trade under the customs union known as the Zollverein, and so mixed in race and religion that no faction can muster enough strength to seriously challenge another, though the Allemagnies produce more than their share of professional soldiers and mercenaries. Still, the growing number of Free Cities, owing fealty to no noble lord but governed by councils of artisans and tradesmen, offer another picture of the typical Allemagne. If an Oenotrian is hot-headed and brash, an Allemagne is stolid and practical: the two are contrasting stereotypes.

East of the Allemagnies, civilization rapidly begins to slip away. The mostly-orcish Kingdom of Polscia avows a Europan heritage, though the human and dwarven Theutonic Knights who rule along the Baltic shores would violently disagree. Lithuania and Novgorod likewise claim kinship with the cultural heritage of ancient Rema, but many would claim they are merely orcs with better table manners than their comrades in the Golden Horde further Eastward. From there, it is said, it is a sea of barbaric horse-nomads and wolf-riders until the fabled lands of Cathay.

South of Polscia, within the partial ring of the Carpathian Mountains, squats the evil realm of Sarmatia, under the bony thumb of the immortal necromancer Arpad. Those who attempt to invade his lands first fall, then rise again to join his army. A few human-dominated buffer states exist in the lands that were once Hellas -- Illyria, Herzegovina, Moesia, Wallachia -- but they are powerless puppets in the continual struggles between the Oenotrian elf-states, the necromantic machinations of Sarmatia, and the subtle intrigues of Rakasha.

If there is any good to be found in the Sarmatian blight, it is the counterweight it provides to the Rakashan Empire, beyond the Black Sea in Anatolia and around the rim of the Great Rift. Like Sarmatia, the Rakashans dominate their realm with an army of slaves, although their non-Rakashan soldiers, known as "janissaries," still retain the dignity of life. Still, the oriental luxuries, the subtle illusions and mind-control magic, the sorcerous aid of free-willed elementals given power and responsibility, the treacherous politics of eunuch administrators each struggling against his fellows to bring his satrapy to the attention of the emperor, all make Rakasha a wholly foreign and dangerous place. Rakasha has steadily expanded further into Europa with each passing year, and is a subject of some concern to the elven nobles of Oenotria.

Just as foreign as Rakasha, if far more primitive, are the Bottomlands that lie far below Europa in the Great Rift. The thick air, stifling heat, and relentless desert discourage all races but the native Saurians, though one can find the occasional trading post where airships call, and unscrupulous Oenotrian states have been known to enslave any Saurian unlucky enough to live below their escarpments. Minerals from the earth, or evaporates from the briny lakebeds, along with the products of the scarce but strange plant and animal life, keep the Bottomlands from becoming a totally unregarded backwater, but they are more flown over than traveled through. The Saurians remain a backward people, ruled by tribal warchiefs and shamans, pursuing their own inscrutable goals in ignorance of the wider world. Occasionally one will emerge from the Rift on a "vision quest" or as a traveling entertainer with some circus, or a band will seek service as inexpensive mercenaries to be pitted against far better-equipped highlanders, but a Saurian remains a rare sight in greater Europa.

Rakashan power runs all along the southern rim of the Great Rift, though the emirates of Ifriqiyah and Fes claim independence from the main body of the Empire. South of these slender states lies sandy desert barely more hospitable than the Bottomlands, and it is said that, farther yet, the sun's rays turn sand to glass and boil the seas. At Mount Tariq the Great Rift ends and the Ocean begins, and, passing north, we come again to civilized Europan realms.

Iberia is a divided realm. Over a millennium ago it was part of the Reman Empire, and elves ruled over the aboriginal Dawn Folk. Orcish invaders of the Tervingi tribes pushed through Iberia at the empire's fall, and dominated it through much of the Dark Ages. Not long after, Rakashans entered from the south and came to dominate as far as the Pirinean Mountains at the border of Frankland. But over the past several hundred years, humans and others have pushed them back. Now, the Rakashan Emirate of Alandalus holds only the southern tip of the Iberian headland, hemmed in by the shores of the Ocean, the slopes of great Mount Tariq, and the cliffs of the Great Rift. Alandalus prospers through trade, but spends much of it buying favors and playing off its northern neighbors against each other in an effort to stave off the final stages of reconquest. Of those neighbors, Nafarroa retains a large population of Dawn Folk, including in its royal family, but Galicia, Castilla, and Arago are as human-dominated as one would expect from Iberia's tumultuous ethnic history.

Across the Pirinean Mountains from Iberia lie the settled human realms of Frankland and Burgundia. Here is the melting-pot of the continent, where Dawn Folk were overcome by Reman imperialists who in turn fell to orcish barbarians who were then salted with dwarvish invaders. A breeder of animals might describe the result as "hybrid vigor," and these two states are indeed full of energy and potential. Frankland has only recently regained the northern territory it lost to Albion over a century-long war, and its king remains poised in a careful balance between shoring up his own power and pleasing the powerful and restless nobles of the realm. Burgundia is a commercial powerhouse, with seaports along the Albian Channel and skyports along the Great Rift, and trading connections over the White Mountains to Oenotria and across the plains of Allemagne, and its king has gained much fame for his support of the arts.

Across a strait of water from Frankland lies the island of Prydain. Prydain remained largely outside the sway of the Reman Empire, but its largest nation of Albion was conquered some 400 years ago by enterprising nobles from Frankland. The noble houses are mainly human, as are many of the commoners, though significant pure strains of dwarves, orcs, and Dawn Folk remain. Native Prydains tend to be shorter and swarthier than their Frankish overlords, due to the smaller proportion of elven blood. Those overlords are thinning, however, as the kingdom of Albion turns in on itself in what some fear will become a civil war between the power House of Lancaster and House of York. The weak king, Henri VI, has lost all his former Frankish possessions but the city of Caletum, and many believe he is ripe for removal from the throne. No doubt Albion's northern neighbor, human Caledonia, would be grateful for the respite from Albion's attempts at expansion.

West of Prydain lie the islands of Eire and Lyonesse, the only lands still dominated by the Dawn Folk. Eire saw significant incursions by dwarven sea-raiders and orcish tribes, but the races have largely remained separate rather than intermingling as in other realms. Lyonesse remains the last pure haven of Dawn Folk, zealously protected by its druidic priesthood even as it lags in technology behind the other Europan states. No airships fly to or from Lyonesse, and precious few waterborne merchants; it is said that invisible coracles patrol the waters, bearing grim fighters who will drill holes in any ship that strays into their waters, sending it to the bottom of the unforgiving sea.

The far north of Europa is home to two dwarvish kingdoms, Jutland and Sverge. For seventy years they have been united under a single kingship, under the "Kalmar Union," but now that bond is breaking down. The larger Sverge, which also claims the realms of Norge and orcish Suomi, along with the far-off island Thule, have expelled Jutish soldiers from their land and denied King Erik as their monarch in favor of their own King Karl. Meanwhile, Sverge is a major source of iron for all of Europa, and dwarvish mercenaries are well-known and respected. The giants of the far north have not yet awoken to the weakening of their smaller neighbors, but it is only a matter of time.

National Stereotypes

  • Oenotrian: Snooty elvish nobles, human commoners; hot-headed, passionate, inventive
  • Allemagne: A wholly mixed bag of races and governments; stolid but good-humored, practical
  • Theutonic: Human and dwarvish militarists over a largely orcish peasantry; grim, warlike, arrogant
  • Easterner: Orcish rulers, dwarven and human subjects; wild, boisterous, violent, uncivilized
  • Sarmatian: Dead but walking, wholly devoted to the necromancer Arpad.
  • Rakashan: A few Rakashan overlords use magic and guile to rule over human and elven subjects.
  • Saurian: Primitive tribesmen, of limited technology and culture. Curiosities in civilized lands.
  • Iberian: Mixed races of rulers and ruled. Cautious, militaristic, but open to diversity.
  • Frank: The most human of states. Flowery, romantic nobles who revel in chivalry; cheery peasants.
  • Burgundian: Merchant-princes and crafty artisans. Bridges between other cultures.
  • Albion: Frankish nobles aloof from their also-human subjects. Devoted to family pride and honor.
  • Caledonian: Fiercely independent; never ruled by Rema. A loose kingdom, dominated by family ties.
  • Eiran: Squabbling Dawn Folk kingdoms with some dwarves and orcs. Proudly primitive.
  • Lyonessan: Pure Dawn Folk, and determined to remain so. Primitive but powerful with wit and magic.
  • Jute: Dwarvish overlords with a Franko-Allemagne populace. Open-handed traders, strong soldiers.
  • Svergin: Dwarvish through-and-through, with an orcish underclass. Not far from their Viking forebears.