Monday, February 21, 2011

Castles and Crusades: more setting design notes

I've been jotting down some notes for a campaign setting for Castles and Crusades. I wanted to do a traditional western-European feel...something familiar and easy to recognize.

In the present day, the Western Kingdoms represent the flowers grown from a fertile ground fed by the receding waters of a dying empire. The kingdoms of the south, known as the Amber Kingdoms, were once the homeland of a world-dominating empire. The empire only fell back six-hundred years ago, leaving Vinlund and Avignus to build their own governments and rule for themselves. Those two kingdoms, which became known with some of the nearby lands as “The Young Kingdoms,” have grown and flourished in the last six centuries (despite threats from the north and east).

The Young Kingdoms have moved away from the nurture and the traditions of the old empire in the same way children grow away from their parents. Although their civil, cultural and religious traditions have their foundations in ancient imperial traditions, they've grown to serve the unique needs of each people. All of the Young Kingdoms share some traits, like long-separated family members. Their languages all share a common root, which serves as a noticeable and tangible link between the three lands. Their societies, much like their architecture, are built on the remains of the old empire.

The most successful of the Young Kingdoms is Avignus, a fertile land with temperate winters, moderate summers, a long growing season, and hearty people. The folk of the eastern portion of the kingdom are a hearty lot, who have developed a love of epic poetry and music. They are the more spiritual than their western brethren. The people of the western kingdom are renowned for their horsemanship and their skill with mounted combat.

Vinlund, to the south, is a kingdom dominated by wine and magic. Farmers raise some of the greatest vines in the world, and local wineries create the most memorable wines. People are well-fed, with expansive farms. Every town has its own vintage of wine, and each claims theirs is the best. Their wizard-kings have ruled since before the fall of the empire. A high academy of magic is hidden deep in their mountains. The king's ghostly advisors, legend has it, travel the kingdom looking for practitioners of The Science (the kingdom's name for arcane magic).

The empire survives now as the fragmented “Amber Kingdoms.” The ancestral great families of the empire, in an effort of self-preservation, each carved out their own city-states or protectorates. Some tried to wage war on each other, in attempts to gain more territory or more resources, or even just to answer old family rivalries. Some still try to live as if the empire never crumbled. Their guards may well still wear old imperial armor and weapons; some subjects may still wear the garb of the ancient empire. Citizens of the Amber Kingdoms still tell stories of their families' ancient greatness, and sill reside in centuries-old estates. Vitare, the northern-most of the Amber Kingdoms, is considered the most “progressive.” They trade with the Young Kingdoms, receive ambassadors into the Imperial Court (and sends out ambassadors to the Young Kingdoms, as well), and claims not to take part in the in-fighting participated in by the other old imperial families. The king of Vitare (who still uses the title of “Emperor”) claims leadership over all of the Amber Kingdoms, though has no ability to collect taxes, raise armies, or truly rule over the subjects of the former empire.

The northern lands of Ecrus and Titus have only recently been split. In the days of the old empire, the land was simply known as The Northern Reach. Ecrus was the name the local “barbarians” gave to their homeland. These barbarians raided their neighbors for livestock, crops, and more valuable treasures. The empire tried, unsuccessfully, to invade Ecrus several times. The barbarians continuously fought back the invaders. Eventually, Ecrus was damaged from inside threats.

Orc and goblin tribes emerged from deep in the mountains. The ravaged the people of Ecrus, destroying settlements, capturing people, stealing whatever resources the barbarians of Ecrus had stored away. The orc and goblin raids mirrored the barbarians' in severity and technique. The Ecrusians fought back, struggling to keep their culture and people from being destroyed by the orcish threat. After a century of fighting, the orcs were driven back across the mountains; they took over the eastern portion of the lands. Amazingly enough, some tribes of Ecrusian people followed along, either following the hoards as slaves, of because they found a kinship among the orcs themselves. The barbarians of Ecrus maintained the western portion. The eastern lands were named Titus by the dying empire, reflecting the name of one of the many lands of the dead from their myths.

The Mistlands are the northeastern part of the Great Western Isle. Their great accomplishment, according to some, was in building trading relations with the people of Ecrus (after successfully fighting off the barbarians after years of attempted raids). The northern, hilly region is the only civilized settlement on the island (as a matter of fact, the empire once had an outpost on its shores). The rest of the island is dominated by the will of an ancient dragon, and scores of magical creatures under his control. There are legends about lost tribes of elves and other fey creatures who live there, and of ancient magics that protect the island.

No one has ever returned from the island that is off the Mistlands north shore.

The strip of land connecting the Young Kingdoms and the Amber Kingdoms are called, simply, the Lost Lands. Since the fall of the empire, these lands fell to depravity, infighting, and invaders from the east and from the great rift. They lost all stability once the empire left. Some of the central lands, once called Tiranic, reverted to an almost barbaric state, ruled and controlled by tribal elders and fighting off other clans. In the southern province of Molloy, the dead rose and enslaved the living. The northern region, once called Deiteramund, has become dominated by the rift, which had begun spilling out Abyss-spawned creatures once the Amber Tower was erected in the heart of the empire.

None of those lands were particularly stable to begin with, truth be told. Tiranic was only ever stable because of the leadership and influence of the empire. Molloy's un-dead hid in their tombs, hills and forests for centuries, waiting for their time to strike. The rift had always existed in Deiteramund, and so had the portals deep in its depths. Without the empire's magic or governance, these lands were ultimately doomed.

East of the Lost Lands are vast mountain ranges, and a land dominated by desert. Its there that the King of Avignus leads a crusade against the Goblyn Queen. There is very little to report about the lands there, their people, or their cultures.

No comments: