World:Hobbes FR Campaign/Campaign Info/History
1,000 years ago:
100 years ago:
The Army of Light
No one knows for sure what all and how many fought from within the stained walls of Tsar, unless Orcus keeps such a tally somewhere on his own abysmal plane, but the forces arrayed against the Demon Prince are well-documented in the dusty archives of the last overking. A brief overview of that panoply follows.
As previously mentioned, the impetus for the crusade came from an alliance formed by the patriarchs of the holy churches of Thyr and Muir. Why these sibling faiths chose to approach the overking at that time, no one recalls. Yet they managed to catch the ear of the aged Overking Graeltor, and his backing put all the civilized kingdoms behind it as well as almost all of the good and neutral faiths.
To remove any suspicion of divisive religious zealotry or hidden agendas, the entire force was placed under the secular command of Graeltor’s most trusted advisor and strategist, the archmage Zelkor. Though the religious stamp was left off of the overall crusade, the troops certainly welcomed the addition of celestial allies when the battle was finally joined. Immediately below Zelkor were his own advisors and aides de camp, a who’s who of the greatest heroes, generals, and war captains of that day. They each commanded a section of the army and did much of the day-to-day planning and tactics while Zelkor, with their assistance, created and implemented the overall strategies and maneuvering of the Army of Light.
The patriarchs Grennell of Thyr and Phestus of Muir stood high among the officers of the army, for it was they who originally petitioned the overking and led to the army’s muster. Strangely, equal to them in influence within the Army of Light was the church of Hecate, lawful evil goddess of magic, and her high priestess Akbeth. Many within the Army of Light opposed the addition of this evil faith to their ranks, yet Law is ever opposed to Chaos even within the Lower Planes. The followers of Hecate despised the chaotic followers of Orcus as much as did the goodly faiths, and since the legions were under the secular control of Zelkor the patriarchs of the good churches were forced to grudgingly accept the services offered by the magic goddess. It proved much to their benefit when the Battle of Tsar entered its most deadly stage as magical attacks and plagues rained down from the priests and wizards of Orcus. Then the powerful clerics and sorcerers of Hecate were able to respond with attacks against the foe of a kind the goodly-aligned spellcasters were unable or unwilling to make. One other reason existed that Zelkor willingly allowed the seemingly incongruent followers of Hecate to join in the crusade. That reason was Akbeth’s lover, the peerless archmage Agamemnon, who joined in the fight and served as a wild card on the battlefield that the followers of Orcus had neither expected nor prepared for.
The patriarchs and matriarchs of other faiths held prominent positions as well over their crusader followers: Kirba of Mitra, Tondallah of Vanitthu, Virrikus of Oghma, and Dawncry of Arn to name a few. Other commanders of the forces of light included the heroic paladin-lords Navarre and Bishu, the Justicars of Muir Alaric of Tircople and Gerrant of Gilboath, the knight commanders Saracek, Brandt Dracobane, Argos the aasimar-knight, and Carileus, Grezell the incomparable swordsman, and the elven warrior-maiden Shelfaer. Augmenting these martial heroes were other personages of renown including the powerful cleric and wizard twins Plethor and Xillin, the wizardess Deserach, consort of Lord Navarre, the priest-mages of Hecate Nemethiar and the elf Phalen, the sorceress Itara, and the mysterious wizard Me’Nak. Of the dwarves came King Kroma leading his doughty warriors. The elven lords Ulo and Tarrazal brought archers and spearmen from the Green Realm. The storm giant Thraestos brought a troop of his brethren and lesser kin. Even Queen Tyrissta of the Small Kingdoms brought contingents of gnomish and halfling skirmishers. But the nonhuman forces were not limited to the mortal realms. From the heavenly planes, leading legions of celestial allies, were the empyreal angel Naphrathoth, the leonal Lord Karask, the hound archon Amaleal, and the planetar general Nimrod. In all over 140,000 soldiers, wizards, clerics, and knights — human, elven, dwarven, giantish, gnomish, halfling, and celestial — stood on the fields before the stained walls of Tsar.
Most controversial of all those allied with the Army of Light was the sorcerer Slavish. A powerful spellcaster — some said the equal of Zelkor or Agamemnon even — Slavish was also a devoted follower of the infernal lord Baalzebul. Like Hecate, Slavish’s devil-liege was also lawfully aligned and therefore opposed to the demonic chaos of Orcus, but the forces of good were unwilling to admit him into their ranks. Allowing a follower of an Archduke of Hell, the opposite end of the evil spectrum from the demons of Orcus, was considered anathema to their cause by many of the goodly host. However, Zelkor’s judgment to admit him finally prevailed in light of what Slavish had to offer to the cause. For Slavish was not only a powerful sorcerer but also bore the sword Demonbane, an artifact so powerful it was said to be capable of slaying Orcus himself. In fact it was forged by the hands of Baalzebul for that very purpose. With such a potent weapon in their midst, Zelkor felt the Army of Light could not afford to turn away the help offered by Slavish. Thus the servant of an arch-devil was the last member admitted into the Army of Light before the march for Tsar.
For more than a year, the Army of Light bivouacked on the plains surrounding the city of Tsar. While the battles raged around the city’s walls, these camps stood as veritable cities in their own right, only occasionally moving due to the depletion of resources or in response to counterattacks. The soldiers of this army lived, built, ate, and died, in these vast camp-cities as the war raged around them, and more than one burial mound and war monument was raised among them to commemorate some lost hero or valorous deed. Eventually the forces of Tsar retreated and the city was abandoned—a victory for the Army of Light, or so the historians say. Yet when the triumphant armies packed up and departed in pursuit of their foes, they left behind a necropolis of elaborate tombs and simple graves, as well as the scarred remains of one of the most horrific attacks in the war, spread out over hundreds of square miles. What had been a victorious armed camp became a desolate, depleted plain, still haunted by its ghosts of victory.
The fighting was at its most intense around the walls of Tsar. The Army of Light battled its way through blood-crazed defenders again and again until within range of the walls and attacked with artillery and spell only to be driven away by the concentrated returned fire from within the city and the floods of reinforcements that rallied to beat the attackers back. This cycle repeated itself over and over like a relentless tide as months stretched into a year and still the walls were not breached. The grounds around the city became a mass open grave of the fallen where defender and attacker trod upon the bones of friend and foe alike, heedless of the fallen until they too were violently ushered into their ranks. In addition to the staggering number of casualties that piled up in the fields about the walls of the city, so too did the grounds absorb the concentrated effects of spell and bombardment releasing all manner of diabolical plague or destructive concoction. In the end the dealing of death became the only purpose to those engaged on these bloodied grounds as all sense of cause or loyalty was lost in the endless, grinding death machine that was the Western Front.
Once long ago, the plains outside the walls of Tsar were an important crossroads for the civilized world. A great trade road ran between the southern kingdoms and the exotic lands of the north, seeing a constant stream of traffic. From behind the mighty walls of Tsar itself, great trade caravans emerged to travel in either direction. Likewise the road from the Black Gates of Tsar ran east to the far distant sea coast where a great port city likewise carried trade to points throughout the known world. Taxes on the goods traveling these two roads made Tsar rich and gave the city leaders great international influence.
Then a shadow fell upon the city. The priesthood of Orcus came to power and slowly gained sway over the city. Harsher tariffs and city sponsored marauders harassed traffic along the roads. Eventually the far distant coastal city shriveled and died as its only major land route for goods was choked off. The southern kingdoms and northern lands became more distant and estranged from each other as travel between the two became a chancy thing. Eventually the first caravan to brave the route for some time discovered that the city of Tsar had grown into a massive citadel and temple-city devoted solely to the foul worship of the Demon Prince of Undead — a blight upon the land. Trade all but ceased save for the slave caravans and bandit companies brave or foolish enough to do business with the decadent disciples of Orcus.
Now the east-west road tapers into nothing only a few miles beyond the edge of the Desolation where it enters the broken, goblin-ridden hills. The north-south road still sees some traffic, supported by the ignoble trade community known as the Camp, and still runs from Bard’s Gate to the now-unknown northern lands. The road itself is a bare hardpan sunken at least a foot below the surrounding ground from the centuries if not millennia of travel it has seen. Tracks do not linger long on this hard surface as windblown dust quickly erases them.
The northern wall of Bard’s Gate looks out over a vast river valley disappearing into purple hills in the hazy distance. The mighty gates fixed in that wall rarely open anymore. On the few occasions when the north gates do open to allow entrance to the occasional merchant caravan or especially daring traveler, they reveal a wide road, paved with great stone flags forming a smooth and level traveling surface striking due north for the hills. However, closer inspection reveals the signs of a lack of maintenance, and after a few miles the road deteriorates into little more than a wide dirt track, overgrown with weeds and with only the occasional stone paver visible in the hard soil. It obviously sees little travel and even less care.
Few stand atop Bard’s Gate’s north wall and gaze out upon that hazy vista or care to think about what lies beyond those distant highlands. Fewer still are brave or foolish enough to make the journey in that direction. Bard’s Gate relies on its commerce from other roads in other directions and pays no mind to the north, for to the north, beyond the village of Taverlan and the distant purple hills and across many leagues, lies the reminder of one of the most tragic moments in the history of the civilized kingdoms. To those who even care to remember, the north gate leads only to bad memories or mournful legend. To the rest it leads to where only madmen would dare to go—the ruined city of Tsar and the great Desolation that surrounds it.
Tsar, the great temple-city to the Demon Prince of the Undead, stood for centuries as a bastion of evil and hate. Foul beings of all kinds flocked to its mighty walls and found succor and purpose within. At its heart stood the great Citadel of Orcus, the black heart of Orcus worship on earth. Countless evils were perpetuated in those corrupt precincts, and equally countless wicked plots were hatched and carried out therein.
Finally the goodly kingdoms could stand the presence of this festering boil in their midst no longer. The churches of Thyr and Muir led a delegation of good and neutral faiths to Graeltor, the last overking. Only with the backing of the nations’ secular armies would the holy churches be able to erase such a blight. In his last major pronouncement before the overthrow and fracturing of the kingdoms into the independent nations they are today, Overking Graeltor called for a mighty crusade to tear down the walls of Tsar and forever end the presence of Orcus worship in the world.
This crusader army, raised from all nations and almost every non-evil faith, became known as the Army of Light and marched for Tsar. In command of this army Graeltor placed his most trusted advisor, the archmage Zelkor. Supported by innumerable knight commanders, wizards, church patriarchs and scores of heroes of renown, Zelkor quickly advanced his army from its staging ground of Bard’s Gate, through Tsar’s outermost defensive positions and into the great plain that surrounded the temple-city itself. Flush with their many quick victories, the Army of Light suddenly found arrayed against itself seemingly endless legions of every sort of vile warrior-race and fell outsider imaginable called up from all over the multiverse and lining the battlements and fields before their redoubt—one of the greatest fortresses and citadels ever erected in that time. The beginnings of doubt seeped into the ranks of the Army of Light.
However, hope was not lost as the heavens opened up and flight upon flight of angels and celestial beings descended from on high to swell the ranks of the Army of Light. With grim determination in both camps, battle was joined on the plain before the gates of Tsar. The war raged for over a year, the Army of Light advancing to the very foot of the walls and then being pushed back by a new surge of demonic power. The disciples of Orcus led by the Grand Cornu, Orcus’s single highest-ranking priest on the mortal planes, threw every vile attack they could at the Army of Light in defense of their city. Rains of horrific fire and acid fell from the skies or belched from fissures in the ground, great constructs crushed their foes before them, terrible clouds of poisonous gas choked entire regiments, and heretofore unknown plagues swept through the troops causing thousands of horrible deaths among the Army of Light. Nevertheless the forces of good persevered and fought on.
Finally, though the battle seemed no closer to victory, the fates seemed to smile on the Army of Light. Unexpectedly the city fell. In a single night the entire city virtually emptied of defenders as they all were magically transported to a point several miles outside the city’s walls, complete with baggage train and mounts for many. The magical expenditure necessary to complete this miraculous maneuver cost the Grand Cornu his very life in sacrifice to Orcus, but the legions of the demon prince had broken free from the Army of Light’s cordon. They immediately took flight before the stunned Army of Light, heading south.
Zelkor and his fellow commanders were immediately suspicious of this sudden retreat but could not afford to allow the combined followers of Orcus concentrated in one place to escape and spread their insidious evil again. A cursory sweep of the city by scouts proved that the withdrawal was no ruse, so Zelkor left one of his most powerful knights, the paladin Lord Bishu, with a company of knights to secure the citadel and hold it until the Army of Light could return and properly destroy it. Then, still with a seed of doubt niggling in his mind, Zelkor ordered the Army of Light in pursuit of the fleeing legions.
The tale of that long pursuit is an epic in and of itself. Finally the Army of Light cornered the forces of darkness in a forest near a rugged coastline. In anticipation of a great victory, the forest was prematurely named the Forest of Hope. The naming proved to be a cruel irony, for in the forest the followers of Orcus had been preparing a great trap for years in case just such an occasion ever arose. Both armies disappeared into the forest. Neither ever emerged. The Army of Light was lost to a man.
The shock of the loss of so many heroes, nobles, and leaders of renown reverberated throughout the kingdoms. The overking was overthrown in the unrest that followed. Minor wars erupted as new factions took over old power bases bereft of their leadership. When all was done and a semblance of peace returned, the lands looked much more like they do today. Some said the loss of so many was worth it for the eradication of the foul cult of Orcus. Others said it had been a scheme concocted by the demon prince all along to destroy his most powerful enemies and sow hate and dissension throughout the civilized nations. Years later when a terrible graveyard and thriving dungeon complex devoted to Orcus was discovered in the Forest of Hope, popular opinion agreed with the latter theory. It seemed Orcus had not been eradicated after all, just relocated, and once again his insidious evil began to spread throughout the lands.
For the past century some attention has been turned to delving into the so-called Dungeon of Graves and rooting out the evil now entrenched there. However, what remained of the temple-city of Tsar was a vast, abandoned ruin surrounded by miles and miles of poisoned and scarred wasteland left behind by the battling armies. It was all but forgotten as a bad memory of despair with no value save as an eyesore and wilderness home for strange and fearsome beasts that moved into the desolate area. The knights of Lord Bishu, left behind at Tsar, were likewise forgotten as they, too, were never heard from again. In the wake of the great tragedy at the Forest of Hope, no one thought to check into the ruins themselves, and all who knew about this relatively small group that had been sent to the city had perished in Orcus’s trap. The people of the civilized nations went on with their lives with, perhaps, a little less hope and optimism than before. Tsar was forgotten, and the land around it shunned and remembered only as the Desolation.
While the rest of the world looked southwards for the future, some few remembered the distant exotic markets of the far north. Those brave or foolish enough to try reopened the trade road that passed through the Desolation to once again reach those far lands. Those that survived such treks and were able to trade the rare items they brought back made fortunes, but most who attempted the dangerous passage died—lost to the hazards of the Desolation. Eventually a small settlement of cutthroats and the worst kind of profiteering entrepreneurs sprang up on the southern fringe of the Desolation. This hole-in-the-wall known simply as the Camp serves as a staging ground for travelers to hire mercenary guards or fast mounts for the perilous run through the Desolation. Likewise it serves as a point of relative safety for those few managing to make it through from the north with or without goods in tow, often with denizens of the Desolation in hot pursuit. There is little to this unruly, fringe settlement, and many meet their fates on its dirty streets without ever making it to the Desolation. Regardless, it manages to just barely eke out an existence serving as a stopping point for those few travelers who dare to make the run.
Now no one but these miscreants and fortune-seekers pay any attention to the area and then only so they can pass through the Desolation as quickly and safely as possible. The temple-city’s ruins are universally avoided and little thought of. Why would anyone wish to go to almost certain death? What could still exist in the unknown holes and broken towers of Orcus’s greatest earthly bastion? What could lie undisturbed, awaiting some possibly preordained time to awake in the ruins of slumbering Tsar?