- The High Hills
- The Illuminated Peaks
- The Isles
- The Middle Kingdom
- The North Realm
- The Sea of Grass
- The Seventh Kingdom
The High Hills
The High Hills are the domains of House Corvus and House Lucan. Corvus is the master of Animal Mastery: recognition of, communication with, and influence over birds and beasts. Lucan is the master of Shape-Changing: the transformation of self into other living forms.
Neither of these Noble Houses have been dedicated to the rule of their realms. Although it is common knowledge that the rulers, sons, and daughters of both Houses inhabit the hills, they are seldom seen and rarely interact with common people except in emergencies.
The High Hills are governed instead by four House Administrators. Each controls a large area since the people are spread far and wide throughout the hills. These four Administrators work together, remaining in contact year round. They are dedicated to the welfare of their people.
Thick forests, high cliffs, deep river valleys, waterfalls, and mountain lakes dominate the landscape. Summers are warm, winters cold with snow and ice. Lakes and streams freeze over, but rivers continue to flow. Game is plentiful. Thunderstorms in the spring and fall are a danger to those in high places; lightning kills the unwary.
The men and women of the High Hills are a hardy, frontier folk. Warm and welcoming to friends; cautious, but not hostile to strangers. Polite behavior is prized, as is stoic endurance of hardship.
The people are largely organized around steadings: six to ten families living in a small unfortified village, sharing communal farmland, storage cellars, smithy, and great hall. These folk are hunters, trappers, loggers, and farmers on a small scale, growing little more than a single steading can eat in a year. Clear water is the common drink, but all steadings brew beer, the type varying with the time of year.
It is the custom among these folk that guests should be welcomed and fed without any discussion of money. A guest is expected to contribute to the steading or provide their host with some small gift — one of lesser value than anything offered by the host.
Like most of the Northern Kingdoms, horses are rare in the High Hills, a sure sign of wealth or status. Canoes, rafts, dogcarts and feet are the common forms of travel.
The people of the High Hills gather into the towns and forts for market days, fairs, and holidays; including Imperial Festivals, Noble House Festivals, and seasonal celebrations.
Barter is more prevalent than exchanges involving coins. Fine furs, cured meats and lumber-based goods are the principle exports. Refined goods are imported in small quantities.
In war, the people of the High Hills wear leather armors; soft, hardened, studded, and woven. The bow, long knife and war hatchet are the most common weapons — both knives and hatchets can be thrown with accuracy. Boar spears and maces as weapons are not uncommon among men. Short swords of various types are commonly found amongst the leaders and rangers, along with an occasional great sword. Women of the High Hills are famed as archers, using compound long bows of wood, leather and horn.
A series of forts, constructed of stone and wood, serve as gathering points in times of trouble. Each fort is stocked with provisions to last a season. A levy of six adults is laid on each steading for two months of service per year. This levy of men and women serves in the forts, work as rangers (police) patrolling the trails and training in the art of combat.
The Illuminated Peaks
House Ishi has generally offered a firm, guiding hand to its citizens, whether it be under the name of the Emperor or Lord Ishi. The concept of doing your part for the greater good and glory of Gallidon by gladly meeting the obligations of your particular station in life finds no greater support outside the Illuminated Peaks. Lord Ishi often oversees even minor details of the day-to-day operations of the Illuminated Peaks (some view his curiosity in the minutiae of rule to be a most distasteful soiling of nobility). Still, one can not argue with the efficiency and productivity of the Illuminated Peaks — a level of achievement that cuts across many activities: art, literature, farming, craftsmanship, etc. The miniature sculptures, tiny paintings, and small carvings of the Illuminated Peaks are coveted far and wide, finding a fanatic favor even within the Imperial City.
The Illuminated Peaks are a chain of high mountains rising out of the eastern coastline, with flat, arable land being at a premium. The ingenuity of its inhabitants (combined with the insightful leadership of House Ishi) has managed to squeeze an amazing amount from such a challenging landscape. Farms are tucked away in nooks, valleys, and hidden basins. Temples dedicated to Gallidon, Lord Ishi, and local spirits are scattered across the ridgeline, even in some of the most hostile altitudes. Winters are generally cold, with heavy snows occurring on a regular basis. Falls and springs are rather short-lived, with summers being hot and punctuated by infrequent but heavy rainfalls. Earthquakes are not uncommon, and architecture tends to incorporate measures that limit damage from these natural occurrences.
While its inhabitants refer to their homeland as the Illuminated Peaks, the rest of the world often simply calls Lord Ishi’s kingdom the “Peaks.” Visitors to the Illuminated Peaks are often struck first by the overwhelming sense of orderliness, then by the way in which the inhabitants seem to just "know" how to act in any given situation. Calling attention to one's self, outlandish behavior, even wild gesturing seem out of place in a land blanketed by a feeling of stillness — even in the midst of a bustling city corner. These activities still occur, but they occur with an obvious purpose.
The connection with local spirits has become integrated into daily life in the Illuminated Peaks, elevated and refined to a degree unparalleled elsewhere in the Empire. Inhabitants regularly trek to remote temples to pay homage, give thanks, and offer pleas of help to various spirits responsible for the natural and proper workings of the world. Lord Ishi encourages people to bring the worship of spirits into their homes, and priests have found that they can make a nice living simply by selling charms, necklaces, bracelets, and other trinkets that have been imbued with magical powers, protections, or wards associated with the spirits. Perhaps taking their cue from the Orders, the Illuminated Peaks emphasizes finding how you fit into your world rather than attempting to bend the world to your needs or desires.
While most Illuminated Peaks inhabitants are initially and outwardly friendly, they can become quickly and bitterly cross if they feel you have broken a social taboo or strayed outside the accepted customs. There are elaborate rituals, habits, traditions, and eccentricities that most believe could never be mastered by any outsider.
In an effort to leverage renewable goods, House Ishi has aggressively promoted the advancement of trade, knowledge, and artistic skills. As a result, the Illuminated Peaks exports primarily crafted goods (swords, earthenware, embroidered clothing, etc.), knowledge (scholars, both secular and religious), and culture (the blind beggars of Gitahn are renown for evoking the most spiritual of reactions from their carvings of local spirits, though none can quite articulate why). Non-indigenous resources such as wine and livestock represent the majority of imports. Although visitors are always welcome and treated courteously, few ever feel at home. Thus, Lord Ishi maintains a fairly homogenous demographic, which helps reinforce the loyalty of his charges.
Illuminated Peaks troops are highly disciplined, well trained, and usually very motivated. As a result of the terrain, Lord Ishi’s military tends towards strategies that involve small, organized groups of soldiers who are able to break up, regroup, or reorganize without a lot of command-level direction. Tactically, fighting focuses on being effective in both urban and rural settings, but there is no need to worry about warfare in large, open tracts of land due to the terrain. Practically unstoppable in cities, the Illuminated Peaks troops are at a significant disadvantage when fighting in flat, open areas.
Armor is normally cloth, lacquer, or very light metal, since agility and speed in hand-to-hand combat take priority over protection. “The best defense is a good offense” nicely captures the mentality of Illuminated Peaks troops.
Weapons tend towards smaller blades (the equivalent of very long daggers), while polearms are reserved for assignments or areas with enough room to justify the larger weapons. Ranged weapons are always part of combat, but troops prefer hand-to-hand combat when possible. Wielding dual blades is a popular form of combat, and soldiers almost universally eschew shields.
The Isles are the domain of House Nuada, masters of Elemental Magic. Water, Air, Earth, and Fire are their tools to summon, manipulate, and command. Scions of House Nuada are usually at sea, captaining their ships. The daily activities of the towns and cities on the Isles are governed by leaders of Lower Houses and Administrators appointed by House Nuada and/or the Emperor.
The shallow western coastal sea and a long chain of volcanic islands make up the lands of the Isles. Terrain ranges from lush, green gems to barren mountains of volcanic rock and includes everything in between. Much of the might and wealth of the Kingdom is actually based on the size and skill of their fleet, not the resources of their land.
It is temperate in the Isle, seldom uncomfortably cold or hot. The trade winds are a near constant feature of the region. Only in steep-sided inlets, interior jungle valleys, or near volcanic vents are temperatures unpleasant.
The people of the Isles are intrepid, ever-curious, and unfailingly bold — the women as well as the men. They are not quick to take offense. Because of their travels, they have a very open culture. They are renowned for adopting new styles, innovations and the best practices from all they encounter.
The culture is organized around the structure of Fleet - Ship - Home Port. While some fleets and ships are family ventures, most are organized around meritocracy. Gender is no consideration for leadership roles.
Ships and boats of all varieties are the mode of transport. Horses are almost unknown in the Isles. Feet, ox-drawn wagons, rickshaws, and dog carts are the dominate forms of travel ashore.
Almost all adults wear a neck torc — a choker of silver, bronze, gold, etc. Most of their personal gear and clothing is heavily decorated (gaudy by most standards) with the reoccurring themes of knotted lines, spirals, waves, and sea creatures.
Their ships are sleek, beautiful vessels, easily identifiable by the multiple sails, almost resembling a cloud from the distance. Instead of figureheads, the ships of the Isles all feature ornate eyes painted or inlaid on the prow so that the ship (regarded by her crew as a living entity) can “see” where she is going.
Many people regard the folk of the Isles as little more than pirates. They are not. Honest trade and exploration are the first choice of these folk in all encounters. But if cheated or attacked, the People of the Isles do not hesitate to respond with force. A friendly fight is one thing, but a back-stab or unexplained assault is met with stiff, passionate and bloody resistance.
Everything is fair game. Barter or coins, the People of the Isles are comfortable with either, and they are famed for striking the most unusual deals imaginable. No one is ever sure where their ships are going or what new port they might be selling their goods in. They are approached with caution by merchants who value pride (of striking the best deal) above profit.
If armor is worn, it is of leather. Metal mail is highly unusual. Intricate leather hauberks, bracers and helms are standard and typically highly decorated.
Double edged swords, long and short, are common. Wave-bladed spears and five-foot long pole-axes with a hook on the reverse of the blade for tripping, gathering lines, or gaffing a fish are seen on all the ships of the Isles. Bows and crossbows are not uncommon.
Every adult carries a long, straight-bladed dirk. Some are single edged, some double. These dirks are the symbol of personal honor. Oaths sworn on the personal dirk are considered the most binding. Within the Isles society, to be without a dirk is to be a prisoner at best, an outcast at worst.
As with most things, all combat is organized around Fleet - Ship - Home Port. Anyone facing a fleet of the Isle’s ships would do well to seek refuge on the mainland.
The Middle Kingdom
House Vanth, masters of Necromancy, rule the Middle Kingdom. The leader of the House is always known simply as Vanth. They are the Guardians of the Veil, the barrier between the living and the dead. They are not to be confused with illicit adepts who attempt to reanimate, or summon the dead.
The current Lady Vanth dwells in her fortress-port-city of Vaneth. She dispatches her nieces, nephews, and cousins across the Middle Kingdom, retaining an iron control over its expanse.
An army of Administrators run the day to day activities, settling minor disputes, overseeing the populace, and ensuring the steady flow of the all important trade that is the major livelihood of her population.
From sandy beaches to towering cliffs, the Middle Kingdom encompasses the shores and islands of the Inner Sea. Mighty fortresses stand over the major ports, controlling the safe harbors. All of the seasons are mild, made temperate by the vast expanse of water. Large farms, cultivated fields, orchards and vineyards are found in the countryside around the vast port cities.
There is little actual “wilderness” in the Middle Kingdom, save the Sea. The Inner Sea knows no master.
The Middle Kingdom is the most populous and most heavily trafficked Kingdom of the Empire. People from across the continent travel through it, many finding reasons to stay. It is regarded by its citizens as the most cosmopolitan of the kingdoms.
The Imperial social Order — Emperor, Greater Noble Houses, Lower Houses, Administrators, Craftsmen, Farmers, Merchants — is strongly held here, even after The Destruction.
Horses, oxen-pulled wagons, coaches, ferries, small boats, and palanquins are all common methods of travel. Along well-maintained roads, coaching inns can be found at almost any point within a quarter days travel.
The ships and galleys of the Middle Kingdom are square-sailed and often feature multiple banks of rowers. Most of these rowers are criminals, sentenced to the backbreaking work for life. In recent times, many ships have begun to incorporate the ship designs of the Isles craft. It is not uncommon to see “eyes” painted on the prow of vessels in place of figureheads.
Shrines dedicated to the Emperor, Noble Houses, ancestors, spirits of the sea, the wind, etc., are found throughout the Kingdom along the roads, in small alcoves of the cities, and atop the stone quays of the harbors.
“All trade travels through the Middle Kingdom.”
It is a popular expression and contains a great deal of truth. Situated around the shores of the Inner Sea that separates the Northern and Southern halves of the continent, the Middle Kingdom is the center of Imperial commerce. In its ports can be found the peoples, crafts, cuisines, delicacies, tales, products, and disputes of the entire Empire.
Imperial coinage is used for even the smallest transactions. Prices within the ports and cities of the Middle Kingdom frequently come as a shock to less traveled visitors.
A large military force, with officers drawn from the Lower Houses and soldiers drawn from commoners, is maintained with taxes levied on all trade. This standing army is bound by the rules of chivalry, dedicated to justice, the protection of the weak, and peaceful resolution of dispute. But their lofty standards of behavior are not always realized.
Chain mail armor is the standard, with steel breastplates common among officers and nobles. Long, straight swords, heavy short swords, ornate maces and daggers, pikes, and crossbows are common weapons.
Every city and port is dominated by a massive, fortified castle on the highest ground. Since the Destruction, some scholars have begun hinting that the foundations of some of these castles are older than the Empire.
The North Realm
The North Realm is ruled by House Vakur, masters of Far Sight: the ability to perceive beyond the eye’s sight, into the distance, the past and the future.
House Vakur are few in number and exercise little direct control of their folk. Leaders of the Lower Houses are the Thanes (chieftains) of the many small settlements, towns, and cities of the North Realm. Together with a few Imperial Administrators, these Lower Houses effectively govern the realm. Save for the Emperor himself, House Vakur is the absolute authority of the realm; they just seldom choose to be involved on a daily basis.
Snow-covered forests and hills, icy lakes, and narrow, steep-sided bays form the North Realm. Days are short in the winter, long in the summer. Winters are cold, the world seems frozen to the unlearned. Summers are warm, dry, and mild.
Large herds of caribou and elk travel across the land, always trailed by packs of wolves.
The folk of the North Realm are infamous for their passions and mood swings, boisterous joy to solemn despair. Typically larger and stronger than the norm, both men and women are feared when they become angered.
North Realm folk make trustworthy friends and are loyal beyond sanity; they take insults to heart and are known to bear a grudge for life. Strength, intelligence, determination, music, and story-telling are highly respected and celebrated. Cleanliness, health, and honesty are a duty.
Perhaps due to House Vakur’s sorcerous ability, these folk are firm believers in destiny, maintaining that a person’s fate is woven before their birth and cannot be escaped.
The North Realm is famed for its axe-wrights, sword, and armor smiths, bee hives and honey, wool and scrimshaw. Each spring, the people of the North Realm are on the move. They trade peacefully when they can; raid mercilessly when they are cheated, insulted or denied access to markets.
The axe is supreme, be it long handled or short. Swords are the mark of a proven warrior, thane or rich man. Spears, bows, and shields are common. Most adults carry a seax: a long, heavy, single edged knife worn horizontally across the belly or back. It is both a weapon and a tool. Both leather armors and chain mail are widely used in war.
In warfare, these folk tend to act in small numbers, each warrior acting as their own general once a plan is launched. Their passionate combat style, matched with their size and strength typically make up for their lack of organized, parade tactics.
The Sea of Grass
House Kaday rules the Sea of Grass. Spirit Mastery is their art. Members of the house, the Chieftains, are scattered among the nomadic tribes of horsemen. Lower Noble Houses govern smaller bands. Some leaders of the Lower Houses serve as Administrators in the small towns and few cities of the Kingdom.
This kingdom consists of vast, open steppes of grasslands and wide, slow rivers. Hidden folds in the land give lie to the open horizon. If one knows the land, it is possible to hide armies of cavalry in the steppes.
Summers are hot and dry. Thunderstorms, prodigious displays of lightning with no accompanying rain, are common in the summer and fall. The winters are mild. Snow sometimes falls, but quickly melts in the following days. Springs bring a constant west wind and daily rainstorms.
Herds of wild horse, cattle, bison, antelope, and other grazing animals roam the Sea of Grass. Game is plentiful to those who know the land.
The dark-skinned people of the Sea of Grass are largely nomadic herders. Wealth is counted by the size of a family’s herds and the number of warriors they can muster. They are dedicated to their horses, hawks, and tribe.
Those who dwell in towns and the few large, stone cities are largely farmers and craftsmen. These people are not treated with disdain, rather they are regarded with quiet sympathy. They forego the wide open sky for a small patch of dirt, and all the people are richer for their sacrifice.
Bravery, honor, and family loyalty are the keys to understanding the people ruled by House Kaday. Overly polite behavior is viewed as weakness or fear. Highly organized in warfare, in daily life the people of the Kingdom seem unruly and chaotic to outsiders.
Among their own people, barter is common. When dealing with outsiders, Imperial coins are always used as the standard of exchange rather than any barter system. Livestock is the key export of the Sea of Grass. Fine finished goods are typically imported.
The followers of House Kaday are the supreme cavalry of the Empire. None has ever withstood their charge without high walls. These nomadic warriors are masters of the curved blade, dagger and sword, the lance, and the horse-bow. They wear hardened leather, chain with plate inlays, leather and chain helms, and high horseman’s boots.
In times of trouble, they gather at rallying points in the Sea of Grass by families and tribal groups. They sweep out of the steppes without warning, thousands of cavalry moving in martial unison.
The Seventh Kingdom
This Kingdom awaits creation — it is the undiscovered country.
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