The Geography of the World
Realize that the monarchies are surrounded on all sides by the Aquilar Republic, a vast theocratic empire. The Church of Rael wishes nothing more than to return to its dominance of all of western Hava, and that means crushing the birthing Monarchies that exist within the center of the lands it claims to control.
To the north lie the Shield Mountains and Winterlands, the realms of the nomads, barbarians and raiders who make up the Children of Winter, and who give glorious battle to the followers of the Summer Gods in the cycle of nature.
Eastward stand the Great Mountains, a range that runs nearly the entire length of Hava. Winterkin control the mountain surfaces, and the k'D'har Dwarves control their interior. This natural barrier separates the two halves of the Raelite Church, and gives the Monarchies an advantage, for as long as its defenders hold out. The k'D'har Dwarves are allies of the Monarchies, for they too worship the summer gods but not the Raelites' false god. Despite this alliance, the Dwarves are shrewd traders and staunch patriots to their own lands, and must be trusted only so far.
The Southern Republic encircles another society as it does the Monarchies, the Elves of the Faerie Mountain. These Elves are also worshipers of the Summer Gods, but their patron deity is dead, and they are a dying people. Many have foolishly allied themselves with the Raelite Church, believed their lies about how their deity is all powerful and can save them. The rest are despondent, and seldom leave their homes. There are no monarchy-born elves, and little trust should e extended to those you meet.
There is a jungle at the far southern edge of the Republic, home to Orcs who have been converted to the false Church and cordoned into the least dangerous of places for the Republic. These Orcs, like the Trolls of the Great Mountains, are slaves in the shackles of philosophy, acting as agents and missionaries for a society that mistreats them, uses them and cruelly tosses them aside. Pity them, but no not trust them.
West lies the Cerise Ocean. The coastline has changed since the Great Winter, and many miles of sandy beach are passable where once cliff fell directly into the water. According to explorers, there are now islands in the Southern Cerise, whose inhabitants raid the Republic's shipping lines. Their culture and religion are unknown.
Running east to west is the Eagle river, which spans the whole of western Hava from the Great Mountains to the Cerise Ocean, the mouth of which is home to the Church's grand cathedral and the center of the Republic. An equally impressive trinity of rivers spans the same distance, with the Faith and Charity rivers meeting at the midpoint of western Hava, forming the Hope, which continues to the Cerise. This junction is the center of the Midlands, where the tiers of being were righted and chivalry again exists. The Monarchies extend outward from this point, an oval following the three rivers and claiming the most fertile land in all of western Hava. The peasants work the soil under the watch of the nobility, and by the grace of the Summer Gods none go hungry and none know want.
The Sun, the Moons and the Stars
The sun follows an eastward to westward course, starting more southerly and more rapidly in winter, more northerly and slower in winter. The Primary Moon, Argen, orbits the world opposite the sun, though is sometimes visible in the sky at the same time The Secondary Moon, Verde, is a small blue-green, living body on an eccentric orbit. Home to visible cities, it is presumed to be a relic of the Djann and may be their new home. The stars have shapes and constellations and patterns, but there are no distinct Pole Stars.
The Midland Monarchies are a loose confederation of small kingdoms on the western half of a continent called Hava. The Kingdoms maintain their confederation due to the threat posed to them by their shared neighbor, the Aquilar Republic. The Midlands are surrounded on all sides by this Theocractic Republic, from which they carved their independence during the years surrounding the end of the Long Winter. Aquilar would love to re-convert and re-absorb the kingdoms, which they see as both renegades and imperiled souls. The nobility of the Midland Kingdoms have no intention of surrendering their land or authority, seeing their position as a sacred trust to defend their people from this harsh, monolithic power that worships a false god.
While the individual kingdoms share a common enemy, they also battle incessantly amongst one another. While sometimes these are annual challenges or training battles designed to keep the troops in prime condition to hold off the Theocracy's forces, other times they are deadly serious battles over territory, strategic position and honor. The Midlands are a breadbasket area; in many ways they're kind of like the North American Midwest. This means there's a desperate struggle for resources, looking for metals amidst the wheat.
There are several large forests, especially in the land between the Faith and Charity Rivers, which are timbered and exported, leading to a wood and palisade structure for the forested or riverbank areas. The communities in the farmlands and plains are often half submerged: a large flat-bottomed pit is dug, then built inside, while the moved earth is made into a false sloping hill surrounding the community. This structure eases construction (as the buildings can use the pit edge as a wall), security (as people can ride within bow-shot of the town and see it only as a low hill) and defense (as the slope hinders attackers and cavalry charges). Stone construction is saved for the key defensive points or noblemens' castles.
The trinity of rivers are a major commerce highway within the monarchies. There are remnants of the roads the Republic constructed besides the river, which the Nobility have revitalized and rebuilt as much as possible. These make travel easy, but the roads and river-ports are taxed by local nobles, and travelling off road is discouraged to reduce the threat of Winter Bandits or Aquilar infiltration. One of the duties of the nobility is the defense of all the Kingdoms against outsiders, and armed patrols of a dozen or so men wearing the livery of the local lord are common.
The Midlands are Feudal Monarchies with some room for social promotion. They are based on the concept of the Tiers of Being, where each person has their own level, and those on the higher level are divinely required to lead their fellow man, just as those on the lower tiers are divinely required to accept the leadership of their superiors. The tiers are High Nobility (Kings, Princes and Earls), Low Nobility, (Dukes, Counts and Barons), Armigers (a class similar to Knights, they are essentially a military class and are expected to produce arms and armor when called upon), Optimates (a powerful mercantile class, kept in check by the nobility. While nominally their equals, they must still accept orders of Armigers in matters of defense or war), Reeves (those who carry out the orders of the Nobility, Armigers or Optimates amongst the peasantry), Peasants (the mass of people who perform the basic labor of society) and Serfs (those captured in war, they are directly overseen by Armigers or Optimates, and lack the rights of Peasants to move or change careers, a step up from slavery). There are no Slaves in the Midlands, though Serfs do come close. [Editor's Note: The terms armiger and optimate were swiped from Gene Wolfe's New Sun books. We hope Mr. Wolfe doesn't mind this small tribute.]
Social promotion is possible, while social demotion is not (with the exception of Peasants entering Serfdom if taken prisoner in a war). This means that social promotion is difficult, and becomes more so as one climbs the tier. In general, ambitious peasants cannot believe they would ever reach beyond the Armiger or Optimte class. Or to ever raise themselves more than one Tier in their lifetime. There are one or two examples of Armigers or Optimates becoming low nobility after extreme services to the high nobility, but this is very, very rare. In general, this system works very well; the Nobility, especially the high nobility, view their responsibility to the people in the most serious of lights, and the people respect their lords for this service and dedication. Granted, there are examples of nobility meeting out low justice, or of peoples' lives being lose in wars of honor, but these problems are nothing when compared to the toils of Winter or the horrors of bureaucratic 'justice' perpetrated by the church in the Republic.
Gods exist, and they are real, tangible gods in the pantheistic, mythological, sense: each has their area of power, worshipers (whom they watch over and grant favors to), enemies among other deities, incarnate bodies, and vast personal power. In Hava, these deities are divided into four sects: the Summer Gods and the Winter Gods (which are most prevalent and perpetually at war), the Elemental Powers (the missing, dead, uncaring or imprisoned gods of the Djann) and the Nether Gods (inhuman powers equivalent to Lovecraftian deities, which most people do not believe in). The Midlands are firmly attached to the Summer Gods, and there are temples to one or more Summer Gods in each town, and large pantheonic temples in community centers.
The Long Winter was prompted by the failure of the people of Hava to properly worship the Summer Gods, and ended by the recreation of the covenant between the rules and the land. This covenant gives the high nobility powers and abilities beyond normal humans, commensurate with the amount of territory they control. This, in addition to the need for resources, prompts many of the battles amongst the Kingdoms. The presence of the Republic on all sides provides both a rational against this and an alternate solution; the Kingdoms are continually trying to expand outward, needing to restore the balance Monarchy provides to West Hava before the Winter Gods can launch another massive assault.
The powers this covenant grants the nobility include longevity and physical strength, as well as an aura of nobility and control of the soil, from blessing the crops to causing earthquakes. These abilities are somewhat shared by the low nobility, but do not filter down to the other classes. As an example, King Daniel, ruler of the lands among the southern Faith, took the throne at age 35, more than 80 years ago. At the age of 120, he still appears as a strong and vital man in his mid-sixties. He can out-arm wrestle any smith in the kingdom, and has challenges of strength with those in his capitol from time to time. Daniel is assumed to be as strong as a large Troll, and is typical of the High Nobility.
Despite the many recent victories, not everything is peaceful. Aquilar presses in on all sides, using military forces, spies and missionaries to undermine the Monarchy's power base and claim to the land. The scarcity of resources proves a continual challenge, and the Republic has blocked all shipping to the midlands, save for the K'D'har dwarves, whom they lack the power or will to stop. Nethermancy cults founded in the Winter still exist and need to be stamped out lest they endanger the Summer Gods' stability. Monsters thought long gone prey on travelers and infest ruins and abandoned cities. The knowledge and treasures of the past are scattered and often entombed, lost to the new age.
Yet despite these troubles, this is a great time for adventurers to be alive; threats abound, treasures and there for the finding, and wealth, fame, honor and glory are more easily attained now than at any time in history, if one is willing to take the risk.
Note on race and culture: To keep the introductory part of the game simple, all characters are peasants in the Midlands, and will share several common cultural aspects. They are all followers of the Summer Gods in some degree; they know the laws and history of the Midlands, and of Western Hava; they speak the same language, known as Rell (Rell is the language of the Republic, and therefore of Western Hava; this is too ingrained for the monarchies to change, much as they may want to), though they will all have strong accents indicating which kingdom they call home.
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Copyright © 2000 Brian Rogers