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Let's Read: Midgard World Book

Libertad

Knight in tarnished armor
Validated User
#1


Hello everyone. I'm still riding the writer's high from my Northlands review, so I'm striking while the iron's hot to cover another realm of which I have a great passion. The Midgard campaign setting is the brainchild of Wolfgang Baur, a world he's developed for his home campaigns since he was 14 years old. But unlike a lot of similar long-running projects which often turn into humanocentric low-fantasy, Midgard distinguished itself among the pack. The first glimpses utilized evocative world-building. Central and Eastern European folk tales served as major inspirations, and the initial products centered around a clockwork city that sat on the edge of foreboding forest (which may or may not have a mind of its own). Over time more material was released for Midgard in Kobold Quarterly and Open Design, Baur's gaming periodical and publishing house respectively. There were also crowd-funded "patronage projects" which acted as a sort of ur-KickStarter for fans.


A proper campaign setting sourcebook was released in 2012 for Pathfinder/AGE System (Dragon Age/Blue Rose), but throughout its lifespan experimented with variant rulesets. To my knowledge, material for Midgard is available for the 3rd through 5th Editions of Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder RPG, 13th Age, Swords & Wizardry, and the AGE System. As of 2018 it released a mostly system-neutral World Book which advanced 10 years from the original setting. There's also a Player's Guide, Hero's Handbook, and Guidebook for Pathfinder, 5th Edition, and Swords & Wizardry systems to go together with the World Book as "sister supplements." The World Book is the one we're reviewing today; as the owner of both it and the 2012 version, I'll do my best to illustrate the major geo-political differences whenever they crop up.


Our book opens with some in-universe fiction by Wade Rockett, where a group of adventurers are on a quest to discover what troubles the World Serpent's sleep in order to save their city from an undescribed darkness. The adventurers all contain character aspects from the setting, such as an undead ghoulish monk and a clockwork priestess undeterred by the cold blizzard sweeping over the land. I'm not really one for fiction in sourcebooks, so I don't have much to say other than it demonstrates how a Midgard adventuring party can include more exotic options of races.




Right from the outset, the Midgard World Book highlights several major aspects which set it apart from other settings. It acknowledges that there are many pseudo-medieval fantasy worlds on the market, so the Seven Secrets of Midgard are meant to be played up to make gaming sessions here feel like a truly different realm. I like this concept: with the wealth of 3rd-party material out there, it's very hard to commit to purchasing a new sourcebook that several others don't do already.



  1. A Flat World: Instead of a sphere, the world of Midgard is a floating disc-shaped object encircled by Veles, a serpent-god biting its own tail. Few have truly made it to the edge to see this great beast for themselves. The cosmos is similar, with a moon and stars, and there are rumors that a civilization of fey live on the "bottom half" of the world.
  2. Elemental Dragon Lords: Dragons in Midgard are strongly keyed to elements rather than alignment and the good metallic/evil chromatic set-up. Several centuries ago most dragons combined their resources into forming a vast empire, realizing this could get them more influence and power than fighting amongst each other in hoard-filled caves. The Mharoti Empire is the most populous and powerful country in the known setting. It is here scaled races, from dragons on down to the lowly kobolds, are the dominant social force.
  3. Gods That Dabble and Plot: The gods in Midgard are very active in the mortal world, although they wear masks to conceal their true identity. The reason for this is that one gains a god's power via murder or enslavement, and as such the masks make it so that the true number of existing gods is unknown. Deities may take a different name (and even moral code and teachings) from culture to culture yet are united by similar themes (Perun and Thor both command lightning).
  4. Hidden Races: Midgard has several major races who had a prominent place in the world from the outset. But there are other peoples who are isolated enough that they only recently have been discovered to the point that they can interact with wider society.
  5. Ley Lines and Shadow Roads: Magical energy known as ley lines rushes through the world, and enterprising mages can tap their power to fuel their spells. An ancient elven empire used said lines to create shadow roads capable of long-range teleportation to link their empire. Both sources are keyed to specific locations in the world and are prized by heroes and villains, kings and archmages alike, for the power they contain.
  6. Shifting Borders and Falling Kingdoms: Midgard is not meant to be a static world where published material takes place within the same year in perpetuity. As you can imagine, Kobold Press has a sort of metaplot going for the setting in terms of published material. But this section is more personal advice for GMs to make politics, revolts, etc change the world around the PCs whether by changing things directly or from situations beyond their grasp.
  7. Time Flies, and Status Matters: This part is expressed in two optional rules, one of which is detailed later. Time Flies is meant to cover longer-term campaigns over a period of months and years as personal progression is meant to be a significant undertaking of one's life. Going from apprentice to archmage in a year is not the presumed standard. Aside from time-sensitive missions and dungeon crawls, the rules suggest that the timeline advances by twice the real-world time that has passed between game sessions. For long-form sagas, it is two months of game-time instead. The Status rules are detailed later, which is meant to bake ancient-world style social status into a trait for characters.



Personally speaking I like most of these iconic setting traits. I am a bit more wary of metaplots, and the time flies rules should be more subjective than definite; I prefer the Northlands approach, where individual adventures are spaced between each other by in-game years regardless of how many gaming sessions it takes to complete them.


History




After this we get a timeline of events of Midgard, from the creation of the world to the modern day. The creation is subject to multiple interpretations, and the various races and cultures all have their own tellings. Dragons claim that the world was created by Veles for them to rule over, whereas the giants' insist the world was fashioned by the gods from the corpse of their murdered progenitor Aurgelmir. Regardless of the truth, it is known that the gods formed factions upon Midgard and warred against each other. The dwarves claimed that during this time they were created by the smith god Volund and the thunder god Thor to fight against the elves, giants, other races serving under the banner of enemy gods. During this time the dwarves achieved great deeds, but their halls fell from war and natural disasters. Historians have different reasons for this: some say they pushed they gods away and so were punished, while others say that elven sabotage and magic brought them low. The dwarves split in a diaspora with different cultural groups settling into new homes across Midgard.


Around 5,000 years ago the mighty pseudo-Egyptian Kingdom of Nuria Natal arose among a ley line-powered riverbank. Their civilization is the oldest continuous human kingdom, surviving through times when the rest of Midgard was brought low into war and barbarism. Two-thousand years later there was also a technologically-advanced island nation of Ankeshel which had flying carriages, lightning spears, and other marvels. It fell beneath the waves from the horrors living under the sea. And 800 years after that, a second great nation of elves created a new empire connected by shadow roads. They even ruled humans and other races, who by this time saw their rule as preferable to the centuries of chaos preceding their founding. But over time new generations knew only of elven rule, and Young Kingdoms seeking independence grew in lands the elves chose not to govern. Many of these dynasties still exist in some form today, albeit more in legacy than in unbroken succession. Krakova and Zobeck number among them. 800 years ago a war known as the Black Sorceress' Revolt broke out in the western nations of Bemmea, where human mages relied upon risky pacts with dark powers to summon into Midgard as soldiers. A mutual arms race between humand and elves arose out of this. In desperation some elves threw their lot in with similar dark powers, creating the subraces known as the shadow fey among the elves and the tieflings among the humans.


Shadow roads were shut down to prevent hellish forces from traveling Midgard at will, but not before the forces of the elven nation of Thorn marched through them long last time before disappearing completely. This began the start of the Great Retreat 482 years ago, when the elves withdrew in mass numbers from the mortal world. They left their empire barren in but a week. Other races stepped in to loot and occupy the empty lands, with the only elven enclave of Arbonesse remaining and closed off from outside contact. Gnomes, halflings, and servitor races were now free and directionless.


300 years ago a wise and powerful dragon known as Mharot created a political pact between others of his kind to create a Sultanate. As no dragon was willing to put another with supreme authority over them, they chose a human puppet prince to rule day-to-day affairs. The Sultan/Sultana paid tribute to the greatest dragon lords, and lesser dragons below them served as nobles administering their traditional lands-turned-imperial-districts. Utilizing legions of kobolds, dragonkin, and other subjected races, their power expanded across three continents by force or by treaty. They managed to crush the minotaur city-states and send their people scattered, but the dragons suffered their first major defeat from the god-kings of Nuria Natal. Even so, the Mharoti Empire still desires to claim the riches and land of Midgard under nobler guises. During this time the vampire and darakhul (ghoul) kingdoms of Morgau and Doresh formed, using the advantages of undeath to wage war at night and in winter. And the elves are starting to reappear in Midgard with little explanation on their part, seeking out ley line nodes, lore, and old religious sites.


We end this section with a series of recent events within the past 50 years. More nations enter into defense pacts against the Mharoti, the formerly-imprisoned sea god Nethus is freed from his prison but brainwashed by the goddess Hecate into believing himself her loyal husband, the darakhul conquer the nation of Krakova to absorb into Morgau, the shadow fey hatch an unsuccessful plot to take over Zobeck, the Queen of Dornig falls into an enchanted sleep, the Mharoti Empire's former Sultana flees the throne due to a coup from her previous military failures, among other things.






People of Midgard




We get a brief overview of the major regions of Midgard, which will be covered later in their own chapters. Midgard has seven major races, defined more by their representation in major world events and in some cases their commonality. There's also 8 minor races who have their place in Midgard. The races and their magical traditions are entirely in "fluff" (no game mechanics) but we're referred to appropriate system-based sourcebooks for Pathfinder and 5th Edition for actual rules. Each of the major races besides humans have a brief entry on cultural magical traditions which arose among them.


Before covering the races we have the optional Status rules. Basically it is a score every character has. It can range from 0 (slave) to 60+ (legendary heroes, demigods). It is either a flat 4 if point-buy is used, or with a roll of 1d6+1. A PC adds their Charmisma modifier to their starting status, and one's race (and class if using the Pathfinder rules) can further alter it. In short, in an adventuring party NPCs will address the PC with the highest Status as the default party leader. There is a table provided to be used as a yardstick for an average NPC's social standing. Personally I find it rather arbitrary in places: what separates a "peasant" from a "commoner," and why is an archer's status just below a guild leader or bishop? It's also a bit restrictive, in that it may lock out certain character concepts with a bad roll. You wanted to be a noble scion wizard struggling with familial obligations of rulership when they'd much rather bury their nose in books? Too bad your Charisma is 10 and you rolled a 1 on the d6. Welcome to serfdom!





Humans are a farflung group and inhabit all sorts of social structures and kingdoms. We get a rundown on the major ethnic groups and their cultural languages. Caelmaran live mostly in the western lands and are closely associated with dark magic (sometimes unfairly, sometimes not). The Dornigfolk are humans living in traditional elven lands and as such adopted the language and culture of "the last bastion of the empire of Thorn." Kushites are people of Nuria Natal, the Mharoti Empire, and many Southlands kingdoms. The Madgar hail from the kingdom of their name and live among the Rothenian Plains; they are also skilled in animal husbandry and sadly prone to drunkenness. The Northlanders are pseudo-Scandinavians who hail from a martial culture. The Roshgazi are mostly a sea-faring folk who share close ties with the minotaurs. The Septimes (who call themselves the Manzaro) are the people of the Seven Cities whose realms are notable for their methods of ritualized, honor-based warfare.


Finally there's mention of numerous smaller human ethnic groups and a perception among other races that humans are more prone to supernatural corruption.


Dragonborn (known as Dragonkin in the 2012 sourcebook) are the youngest race of Midgard. They are humanoid reptilians imbued with elemental traits of a draconic lineage and organize their ethnic groups along these lines (interbreeding is possible). They comprise a huge portion of the Empire's military force where their breath weapons (and elemental resistance) are incorporated into military tactics and formation. As a culture tend to be very arrogant and patriotic, pointing out how relatively fast their civilization grew in spite of their race's youth. Dragon magical traditions focus on the elements and there are rituals capable of turning members of the reptilian races into "higher" forms (kobold to dragonborn, dragonborn into drake).


Dwarves are divided into three major cultural regions. The dwarves of the Northlands are the most tradition-based, favoring the gods Thor and Volund and making continual warfare against the monsters of the northern realms and raiding coastal territories of the south. The dwarves of the Ironcrag cantons are focused in the crossroads and famed for their advanced technology, including gunpowder and airships whose construction is a closely-guarded secret. The dwarves of the Southlands live primarily in Nuria Natal and are integrated into the dominant human culture as bodyguards, warriors, creators of clockwork servants, and engineers of god-king's pyramids. Dwarven magic is believed to be learned from Wotan and are the mutual traditions of rune magic (which even non-mages can use) and ring magic.


Elves once lived in a grand empire of Thorn, and although not the eldest race they take pride in teaching the human and dwarves "the art of civilization." As of now the few elves remaining in Midgard are part of three groups: the ruthless and duplicitous shadow fey, the nomadic Windrunners of the Rothenian Plains, and the river elves of the kingdom of Arbonnese. The Elfmarked are humans with traces of elven blood which sometimes manifest in ways such as pointed ears. Arbonesse elves have three names: a birth name by parents, a personal name taken upon adulthood, and a lineage/family name. Dornig law forbids those without elven heritage from appropriating elven names, but there's a brisk trade in genealogy in that realm for tracing one's ancestry in hopes of claiming this social status. Elven magic tends to be ritual-based and tied to the shadow roads.


Gearforged are deceased souls imbued into an artificial clockwork body, first created by the priesthood of Rava. They were made to serve as soldiers in the city of Zobeck, and their bodies rely upon a combination of magic and technology to function. Their magical traditions involve soulforging (the creation of transplanting souls into gearforged bodies), and a tradition of Clockwork Magic focused around machinery.


Kobolds were the slaves of dwarves long ago, suited to menial labor and minework. Many live in the fringes of society in dwarven kingdoms, and in the city of Zobeck are confined to a large ghetto. They learned to adopt unorthodox tactics to survive, such as trapsmithing, creation of small warrens, and dirty fighting. They dominate the mining industry in many lands, and in some cases they own their own mines which they guard fiercly. The Mharoti Empire is an exception to their otherwise low social status: there they are treated as being above humans yet still below dragonborn and dragons. Many kobolds throughout Midgard either aspire to travel there or view the realm as one of liberation. There is no mention of kobold-specific magic.


Minotaurs are a searfaring race of warriors. They are fond of self-decoration, whether carving patterns in their own horns, shaving or dying their fur in certain ways, ritual scars, and braiding hair with tokens of fallen enemies. They are great lovers of food and many communities devote significant time to finely-prepared cuisines during festivals and important events. Minotaurs who have their horns broken face considerable stigma and must constantly prove their worth, which ironically has produced some of the most famous members of their race among the "brokehorns." Minotaur magic focuses on labyrinthine themes, from confusing illusory charms to traps and abjuration. Said magic is forbidden to be taught to non-minotaurs.


Ravenfolk are also known as huginn or heru. They have small settlements all across Midgard and distrusted for associations with spies, thieves, and being all-purpose troublemarkers. The exception is in Nuria Natal where they are honored and serve in high positions in temples of Horus. But whatever culture they live in, ravenfolk take pride in being messengers for the gods; they do not choose which god seeks an individual, and it is an unlucky Ravenfolk who brings the attention of one of the Dark Gods. They claim to have invented or shared the runes of the All-Father, and tend to focus on prophetic and shadow spells.


Shadow Fey are believed to be elves and goblins who swore an oath of service to Sarastra, the goddess of night and magic. They gained great power and prestige in the Shadow Realm, at the expense of being cut off from their former allies and an aversion to sunlight. They still adhere to the cultural traditions of their elven ancestors, and their magical traditions involve the manipulation of shadow and starlight.


The Minor Races are low in number, too scattered or isolated to match the power and legacies of the major races. Their entries are much shorter here. The Aasimar are human descendants of angels concentrated in the realm of Ishadia and are engaged in a war of attrition with the Mharoti Empire. Bearfolk are anthropomorphic bears who live in roving bands concentrated in the Northlands and Shadow Realm. Centaurs roam the Rothenian Plains and have a violent history of banditry. They've even destroyed small nations and entire cities. Darakhul are undead akin to ghouls who feed upon the living. They have a pact with the Dark Gods and live in in an underground of Doresh. Dust Goblins are people who refused to be conquered or negotiate during wartime, but due to being on the losing side of many wars got pushed to the most inhospitable regions of Midgard. The text contradicts itself on the "no masters" part by mentioning that worgs and nightgarms treat them as pets and servants and in turn the goblins worship them. Dust goblins scavenge among ruins for relics to trade in cities, thus earning the "dust" moniker. Gnolls are raiders of the southern kingdoms and tend to be xenophobic, but have integrated to various degrees in Nuria Natal. Gnomes are a people whose ancestors earned the wrath of Baba Yaga and thus turned to the aid of devils for protection. They now mostly live in the forest kingdom of Neimheim of which little is known. Tieflings once dominated the noble families of western magocracies but are now reviled for being "hellborn," although shadow fey, gnolls, and gnomes tolerate them. Trollkin are people with mixed giant and fey bloodlines; they are known for being ferocious warriors as well as having powers over spirits and the roads between worlds. They have their own kingdom in the Northlands. Finally the halflings, or Winterfolk, left with their elven masters during the Great Retreat. Those few who stayed behind in Midgard are rarely seen and ply their trade on the rivers of the Grand Duchy of Dornig.


Miscellaneous Stuff


There's quite a bit of entries here for various cultural details. I'm not going to treat them as their own sections, instead surmising them.


Time and the Seasonal CalendarWe get an explanation of Midgard's calendar system (12 months, 360 days and 6 intercalendar festival days) along with days of the week of the most populous cultures. We have a discussion of how various people mark their years.


Travel, Trade Fairs, and Festivals: This has detailed accounts of the passage of days between well-known cities of Midgard both by foot and by horseback. Daily pay for guards is listed based upon
profession, and there's a list of trade fairs based upon their location, date, and what goods are their specialty. Major holidays festivals around Midgard focus around seasonal changes. Some of the more interesting ones include the Lantern Festival during the Winter Solstice where a torch-light vigil to the sun-god parades around town; New Year's Dawn where people gather to watch the sun rise and bang pots and ring bells to drive away bad spirits; Hatching Day for reptilian races in which many of them are said to have their first birthday; and the Day of Misrule where a child is pronounced high priest or king/queen and the adults seek to fulfill their pronouncements.


Ley Lines and Shadow Roads: Ley lines are primarily used to empower spells beyond their base capabilities. They come in three varieties based on strength: weak, strong, and titanic. The specifics for their game effects differ depending upon the rules system, but in general grant beneficial effects for free and/or add to the numerical values of spells. However, manipulating their power is no sure thing and mages risk backlash of varying magnitudes if they fail to concentrate the power. We also get a map of the known ley lines of Midgard:





The arrangements are not coincidental. More than a few nations based their territories on ley lines, such as Nuria Natal whose line more or less goes along the riverbanks. The Greast Wastes of the western realms are screwed up from the elf-mage wars and so has only one reliable line in the far west.


Shadow Roads are basically fast-travel networks. The best-maintained ones are in the former elven lands of Dornig and can take 1d3 days of travel, but beyond there the travel times are longer (particularly in the Great Wastes where 1d12 is the standard). Not all shadow roads are safe. They may be guarded by celestial, fiends, fey, and other dangerous entities. In order to travel a shadow road, you must know its location and be able to open it via a Shadow Road spell or Key of Veles magical item. Some have additional prerequisites for their function, like only being usable on a full moon.





Magic and Scholarship: This section highlights the major magical colleges of Midgard and their specializations which aren't always wizardly in nature. Colleges tend to be specialized rather than generic, able to study a variety of magic but with a major emphasis on certain kinds. For example the Arcane Collegium of Zobeck is notable for clockwork magic as well as alchemy and illumination magic, whereas the Great Linnorm House is built out of the bones of dragons and makes heavy use of runic spells and has an all-female order of celestial magical practitioners.


Languages: There are 28 major languages of Midgard. Whereas this would be a vestigial feature in most games, language has a folkloric effect and some of the more supernatural and stranger tongues grant speakers unique abilities. For example, mastery of Void Speech (spoken by alien gods and beings of the outer darkness) adds +1 to the DC of fear-related spells and skill checks, while Whisperium (a silent language of gnomes and diabolists) allows the speaker to cast a spell silently once per day. Many tongues grant a bonus on social skill checks related to their dominant culture 1/day. This both shows that the speaker's knowledge of their culture and phrases rather than being an outside, and reflects how concepts are more easily understood in one's native tongue.


The World: The final section of this chapter talks about the setting's cosmology and the planes of existence. We know already that Midgard is a disc-shaped realm surrounded by Veles, but the Elves retreated to a land on the opposite side of the coin alternately called the Bright Land, Elflands, and similar names. Between these two sides is the Shadow Realm, a dark and forlorn place of nightmares. The heavens are geocentric, meaning that the sun, moon, planets, and stars orbit Midgard. The sun is the chariot of Khors, or Aten, or whatever dominant culture views as their sun god. There is a single primary moon and seven lesser moons known as the Mage's Stars for their symbology in arcane magic. Stars (not moons) in the sky are intelligent living creatures capable of coming down to Midgard, whether just to visit people or in need of great heroes.


Six planets orbit Midgard, but most people only know of five and the sourcebook does not say if they too are disc-shaped. They are associated with various elements in alchemy or believed to hold sway over various aspects of the world. Asaph is believed to influence the seas of Midgard; Ermoan is a small and fast planet which some believe to be a comet or a lost court of shadow fey; the darkened planet known as Melgros is only able to be seen by those with the keenest eyes and thus earned the name "Archer's Planet" because most who see it happen to be legendary archers; Temperos is believed by the giants to be home of the gods; Tiomoutiri is most visible at sunrise and as such has a sacred spot among sun-worshipers; finally, Zuhal is considered to be responsible for controlling all magic.


As for other planes of existence, they are the domains of the gods and their servants. There's the tortuous Eleven Hells; the gluttonous Evermaw which is the afterlife for all undead; the voidlike realm of the Ginnungagap full of alien, maddened creatures; the great marketplace of Lingedesh where anything can be bought and sold; Ravatet the Plane of Rusty Gears where forgotten treasures lurk among the junk piles and strange scavengers; Silendora, a mythical land believed to be where the Elves retreated; and Valhalla/the Storm Court, where gods of the North and of war come to meet and hone their blades.


And connecting all the planes together is Yggdrasil, whose World Trees are its branches that poke into Midgard and allow travelers to visit other realms. They are revered almost everywhere they grow, and druids and worshipers of the Northlands pantheon treat their spells as if they were 1 level higher when on such sacred grounds. We get a list of known World Tree locations, including some of which became corrupted by dark powers.


Thoughts So Far: Midgard has a sort of storybook feel in the set-up of its world, what with masked gods and talking stars and a flat world. The racial magical traditions, association of planets with alchemic metals, and list of colleges for spellcasters point to a high fantasy and high magic style of setting. Having the most powerful country be a non-human realm is also novel, and I do like how they gave learning languages mechanical benefits even if not all options are equal. The bulk of the rest of the book covers the various lands of this wonderful world:


Next chapter we'll cover the Crossroads, the geographic and cultural heart of the continent!
 
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Crimson Carcharodon

Registered User
Validated User
#3
100% subscribed and reading along. I've been so busy lately that I haven't gotten the chance to really give the World Book a solid read through yet, but damn if I haven't been excited about it ever since I got the PDFs.
 

Libertad

Knight in tarnished armor
Validated User
#6

The second chapter of the book, and the first regional chapter, covers the Crossroads. Each major region of the setting has a sort of theme going for it, and the Crossroads is "feudal European trading hub." A fair portion of this chapter focuses on Zobeck, given its relative prominence in the setting, and has a bit more pseudo-steampunk elements in its gearforged and clockwork overtones. The Crossroads trades with all its neighbors, although some of them such as the undead kingdoms to the north and the Mharoti dragons to the south aren't above trying to strike hard bargains at swordpoint.

Before covering the countries and city-states we learn about the cultural customs in the form of great gatherings and celebrations. Daughter's Feast takes place in Perunalia and sometimes the god Perun himself and his divine family attend; the Dwarfmoot is a seasonal open forum/court in the Ironcrags where all matter of deals and disputes are resolved; Knight's Call is a social gathering of warriors from various lands seeking to test their martial prowess against each other; and the Queensmeet is a grand tournament where knights and vassals compete for a bejeweled helmet set with a gold band whose champion must compete yearly to defend their holding of it.

Additionally the section talks about how Ironcrag dwarves make use of indentured servitude from prisoners of war. They usually ransom them back to villages, but when people are unwilling or unable to pay they are used as a labor force for 10 years. Although Ironcrag law forbids starvation and torture of thralls and a decade is not long in a dwarf's lifespan, the practice alternately breeds fear and resentment. The former is beneficial to the Ironcrags in that many mercenary companies are less willing to perform operations in dwarven territory, but the latter is detrimental in that it gives rise to vengeful warriors who feel their lives have been stolen from long captivity.

The Free City of Zobeck

Zobeck was once a feudal realm whose people suffered under the nobility of House Stross. But a Great Revolt among the common folk overthrew the crown and instituted a new form of government. Consuls comprised of merchants and politically-connected people, serve 5-year terms, and from among their number they appoint a mayor of the city to serve a 10 year term. Many Zobeckers prize the way of mercantilism, an ideal where commerce and personal skill are the pathway to success rather than a royal bloodline. This ideal is far from realized; in spite of their participation in the revolution, Zobeck's sizable kobold minority are denied employment and living space in most of the city. Most of them live in the cramped confines of the Kobold Ghetto which may as well be its own world apart legally and culturally.

Zobeck is separated into 5 main districts, with 6 smaller ones. The Citadel District is where the wealthiest burghers live and is home to the knightly Order of Griffon Riders who act as an aerial cavalry in wartime. This District also sports the Free Army and its famed Zobeck Hussars. The Collegium District caters to the famous Arcane Collegium and the needs of scribes, mages, and intelligentsia. The Collegium spares no expense in protecting its assets, from clockwork traps to gargoyle guardians. In spite of its small student body of 40 it has state-of-the-art laboratories and libraries. The Dock District sits along the city's river and is the busiest area of the city. It is home to the gnomish Blue Barbers of Wharf Street who have hair-restoring tonics, but are rumored to be spies for the Shadow Fey. The Gear District sees to the maintenance of clockwork and steam-powered devices and is where the gearforged congregate for repair and socialization. The city government pours considerable expense into continual creation of gearforged soldiers, about one a month in addition to creations made via private donations. The Kobold Ghetto is a warren of streets no more than six feet wide with interconnecting roofs keeping out the sun.

During the age of House Stross the Ghetto was a giant labor camp, and in spite of terrible conditions it produced more than a few kobolds responsible for valuable inventions but whose names are lost to history. After the Great Revolt the kobolds re-purposed the camp to be more generic residential space even if living standards are still poor. An unofficial network of linked iron chains and barrels act as impromptu river bridges for smugglers and other never-do-wells. The most infamous den of ill repute is the Pit of the Fierce Lynx, an underground gladiatorial arena where the winner is treated like royalty in the Ghetto for a week and a day.

Beyond this we have brief mentions of minor districts, such as Lower Zobeck where the poor working classes live, a series of old mining tunnels known as the Cartways once used by House Stross for private parties, the Merchant District which has all manner of mundane goods along with strange magical items brokered at the Shadow Fey Exchange, and Upper Zobeck which is home to the Free City's centers of administration and government. We end our time in Zobeck proper with Places of Interest, such as the Old Stross Public Bathhoue which is a favorite social gathering spot for rich and poor alike, a bar of scum and villainy known as the Weathsheaf which welcomes gangsters, diabolists, and and "legitimate businessmen" operating under a tense neutral space, and the Winter's Kiss Shadow Fey Embassy whose location on Alchemist's Folly street seems to shift every so often.

METAPLOT: Lord Mayor Karillian Gluck was a relative non-entity in the 2012 edition, and after a threat on his life by the Shadow Fey a dwarven woman known as Constantia Olleck now fills his shoes. She made a small fortune off of mule trains, and is forging alliances with neighbors in the wake of the Mharoti Empire annexing the city-state of Illyria (which is in the Seven Cities region).

The Shadow Fey originally did not have an open presence in Zobeck save among informal traders, but the adventure Courts of the Shadow Fey involved their attempt in taking over the city. I do not own this book so I can't speak much of specifics, but while they haven't been driven out for failing in this endeavor they are kept at arms' length by just about everyone in the city.

Outside the city walls we get some information on nearby villages and fortresses. Most of them don't have anything of note to mention in this reivew besides the Freehold of Obertal. This military garrison is commanded by a pair of wedded Griffon Knights who are abusing their authority to extort "protection fees" from travelers. There are entries on the most common trade routes, the prominent trading houses both domestic and foreign, and the mercenary companies. The latter group has the most interesting people, such as the Black Brotherhood who purse war for the sake of Mavros the War God, the gnoll band Hrothgar's Marauders whose leader is possessed by a dormant demon suppressed deep within his mind, and the mostly-gearforged Clanking Legion whose recent military victories are due to miraculous magic of unknown origins.

We do have a wordy section on people daring enough to trade with the shadow fey. These elves view haggling for gold as beneath them, and instead prefer to trade unique magical goods for a fraction of a mortal's memories, "just a sliver" of a year or day of life, or sex. The last part is because such an activity provides a brief sense of "warmth" and intimacy among an otherwise jaded people. A pair of merchants named Jabber and Tuck Marick grew immeasurably rich from their deals with the fey, but in recent years things changed. Now most trade goes through the Shadow Fey embassy or Exchange, and the market for moonsteel-forged weapons (shapechanger bane) dried up as every fey merchant makes a prospective buyer swear an oath to never utilize these armaments against their people.

Not claimed by Zobeck but a stone's throw away, the Margreve Forest is a woodland realm which has existed since time immemorial. Although there is no proof, the forest seems to have a mind of its own and those who pay it proper respect find their travels within easier...and those who despoil its bounty find that the very natural world turns against them. Doting parents and jaded elders alike caution people to stay away, and among monstrous horrors it is also home to the feudal ruins of House Stross, bandits, and even the secret mines of kobolds. There is but one trade road cutting through it, but as that road leads into the undead-ruled kingdoms of the north, it too has a grim reputation. Although it has a brief entry in the World Book, the Margreve Forest is very much a Grimm's Fairy Tales style of deep, dark wood. The Tales of the Old Margreve adventure compilation expressed these themes very well.

Free Cantons of the Ironcrags

The dwarves of the Ironcrags organize into socio-political units known as cantons which center around a major settlement which has existed for at least a century. Although there are 13 presently the number of cantons fluctuates throughout generations as old ones fall, incorporate their neighbors, or break up into smaller cantons. They are autonomous, with their own customs, laws, and coats of arms. Like Zobeck the dwarves choose their own rulers rather than an hereditary aristocracy. The Bundhausen canton is the most open to outsiders and home of the yearly Dwarfmoot, making it one of the most politically powerful. Grisal's territory is claimed by both the Duchies of Dornig and Morgau, although the devoutly-religious dwarves put up a good fight in keeping the undead at bay. The Gunnacks are born travelers and lack not for natural resources. Kubourg's territory centers around a well-defended castle with extensive underground chambers. Hammerfell is named for its peerless artisans who produce famed magical runic Hammershields. Tijino is a gathering point for mercenaries who broker deals with southern cities to march to war. Finally, Wintersheim is home to a famed ranger society, the Order of the White Wolf, and shares many cultural traits with its Northlander kin. They even have a resident friendly white dragon named Hrothvengr.

We get a look at some minor cantons who each have a unique theme to set them apart. For example, Bareicks are impoverished berserkers, while the canton of Templeforge has a holy shrine where they create airships. Our section on the Cantons ends with talk about lost halls and ruins.


The Magdar Kingdom

The Magdar Kingdom is your stereotypical Goodly-Good Knightly Realm. The Toussaint to the Witcher's Temeria, the Minas Tirith to Tolkien's Mordor. It is a monarchy where two major knightly orders serve Khors, god of light, sun, and justice; Lada, goddess of healing, love, mercy, and dawn; and Perun, god of war and storms. It is a stable realm in spite of regular skirmishes with the Mharoti Empire. In fact it is due to this regular warfare that the Magdars perfected the creation of iron-reinforced war wagons capable of linking up to serve as mobile walls and fortresses. Its cities are glorious fortified affairs, from the beautiful capital of Cronepisht, to Khorsburg whose white-golden marble cathedral is the site of many pilgrimages. Wizards help local industry in the creation of region-famous wines and whose war-mages reinforce military regiments. We get detailed descriptions of cities (who tend to center around a single economic aspect like brewery or smithing) and reinforced castles and citadels.

METAPLOT: King Stefanos and his eldest son Zsigismond died at the battle of Marroc's Stand. This was a joint operation between their country and Illyria against the Mharoti Empire. Unfortunately it failed, causing the Mharoti warbands to go south and conquer the latter country. Now Queen Dorytta sits upon the Madgar Throne, grieving at the loss of her family yet redoubled in her efforts to repel the draconic threat.

We get detailed descriptions of the two knightly orders: the Order of the Undying Sun is a military regiment supplemented by divine spellcasters of Khors and Lada, and whose paladins of the former god comprise their most elite units. The Order of the Storm is a mostly-cavalry order who worship Perun and have a bit of a rivalry with the Undying Sun. Both knighthoods were allied to House Stross and as such are not well-liked in Zobeck. However a mutual defense pact between the kingdom and the Free City against the Mharoti Empire shelves these hostilities for now.

Perunalia


Also known as the Duchy of Perun's Daughter, this nation controls land and trade routes on the shores of the Ruby Sea. It is also a matriarchal society ruled by the demigoddess Vasilka Soulay whose very father is the god of war and thunder. It is a major center of lore and education, and the royal palace's library is open to the public one day a week. The Duchy is also a matriarchal society, where men are viewed as too driven by emotion and baser urges to be trusted with government and defense. Manual labor is considered the only proper venue to temper their impulses, and they are limited in rights in education, property ownership, and handling of money. The rest of Midgard, which is mostly a patriarchal setting in government and social mores (the bulk of Mavros' clerics are men for instance), finds Perun a strange culture at best or "shameless women" to be carried away in war and taught their place at worst. Perunalia is also known for producing peerless archers, and virtually every girl is gifted a bow at age 14 as a rite of passage. Villages and cities alike host archery tournaments for them to test their skills.

Personally, Perunalia rubs me the wrong way. Midgard has a tendency to write up cultures which have oppressive traditions yet whose inhabitants are not necessarily stereotypically evil: Zobeck segregates of kobolds as an example of their hypocrisy of self-determination, and in spite of some legal protections the Ironcrags' slavery system breeds a lot of resentment. But in this country's case the overwhelming majority of NPCs in government are good-aligned, and quite a few of them are paladins to boot! I am reminded of the debate over Paizo's handling of Erastil, a Lawful Good nature god who was fond of traditional gender roles for women. This ended sparked a most idiotic debate among players over whether systemic sexism can ever be "good." Although Perunalia does not have the same bad taste as Erastil in that almost every society IRL is patriarchal and thus does not commonly map to "lived experiences," it still feels weird.

As for cities and towns, Perunalia was historically part of elven rule and much of its architecture preserves this style. In some cases cities still retain their elven names. The Storm Court of Perun is a floating fortress and literal home of said god which visits the city of Orkasa once a year. However its presence can no longer be commanded by the Duchess: theories as to why include divine disfavor to the god's distractions from other wars and prayers committing his time. The Summer Gardens of Queen Osilessi was once a planned elven city of arts which sat at a shadow road nexus, but during the Great Retreat it has now become a ruined city haunted by griffons, drakes, and various monsters of the briars. Even a detachment of Mharoti soldiers where unable to claim it, and the surrounding forest is guarded by a group of armed bandits led by an elven enchantress known as the Apple Baroness.

METAPLOT: The Electoral Kingdom of Krakova, along with the Principalities of Morgau and Doresh and the Cloudwall Mountains, were once counted as being part of the Crossroads region. But after the former's invasion by the latter they are now one greater kingdom which is covered in the next chapter.

Thoughts So Far: The Crossroads are perhaps my least favorite region. It is way too close to cliche fantasy tropes from Chivalric Knightly Realm to Dwarven Mountain Kingdoms. The regions I enjoy the most, Zobeck and the Margreve Forest, really shine in their own sourcebooks but whose entries here are too brief to show off their most unique features. Ironically, Zobeck's use of certain titles such as burghers for wealthy citizens and hussars for elite military units make it the most authentically Central/Eastern European realm in comparison to the other nations. At times the chapter reads like a medieval economics survey where there's more focus on common trade goods for companies and cities in lieu of interesting adventuring opportunities in said places.

Fortunately things get a lot less bland in the next chapter where we cover the Dark Kingdoms! Vampires, ghouls, and gnomes, oh my!
 
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kronovan

Registered User
Validated User
#7
I'm going to subscribe, despite having read my 2012 Midgard Campaign Setting book front to back and back to front. I've run a campaign in the setting with the True20 RPG and another using the AGE appendix in the MCS and my own homebrewed edition of AGE I call MidAGE. I wasn't part of the latest Kickstarter and don't plan on buying the Midgard World Book, so this thread should help highlight where things are different.

Anyhow, it's a terrific setting to run a campaign in. My next Midgard campaign will most definitely use the D&D 5e rules.
 

Libertad

Knight in tarnished armor
Validated User
#8

Northeast of the Free City of Zobeck and past the perilous woods of the Margreve Forest lies a realm of darkness. The twin Principalities of Morgau and Doresh were once feudal realms like so many others. But now an undead aristocracy of vampires rules over the land exacting taxes of blood and coin from an oppressed populace. Politically separate from them is the Ghoul Imperium, an underground kingdom stretching from beneath the Ironcrags up to the former Electoral Kingdom of Krakova. The new province of Krakovar was once a realm whose King was chosen by vote among the noble families, yet its government was overthrown by a joint effort between tunneling darakhul troops and the vampire kingdom's Order of the Knights Incorporeal. Temples to Marena the Red Goddess and evil gods abound, and the vampiric aristocratic structure is a hierarchical pyramid of sirers and their spawn. It is not unknown for enterprising slaves seeking undeath to hire assassins to kill their would-be master once the blood-draining's complete so they can be undead and free.

We open this chapter discussing the power groups of the Blood Kingdom: King Lucan (formerly Prince Lucan) is the most powerful monarch and the one who masterminded the overthrow of the living rulers 300 years ago. After that we have various noble families favored by Lucan and/or sired directly by him who tend to be managers of armies and large fiefdoms. Below that are administrators of smaller territories, and some can be darakhul or even prominent humans in addition to vampires. The Order of the Knights Incorporeal is the elite military arm of the Blood Kingdom's armies. The noble titles use Slavic descriptors, such as "voivode" or "voivodina" for generals or governers, and "gospodar" or "gospoda" which is Slovenian for "lord" and "lady" respectively.

The Church to Lucan's State is the priesthood of Marena the Red Goddess, who has an aspect as a deity of death as well as one of lust and fertility. Marena's church has various female-focused social orders collectively known as the Blood Sisters, such as the Cantri Abbey which safeguards pregnant women and the Temple of Aprostala which is a pilgrimage site home to many violent sacrifices. The Blood Sisters are spreading their influence beyond Morgau and Doresh by setting up secret temples in good-aligned cities posing as brothels, where they gradually gain new converts with members-only orgies.

You know, between the Northlands' Trotheim chapter and this, I'm beginning to see a theme of fiendish prostitutes in gaming material.

METAPLOT: Originally the vampires' relationship with Baba Yaga has been complex where the witch would sometimes aid them, but she mostly stayed away from their realms. However, the Greater Duchy of Morgau established friendly relations with the gnomes of Niemheim, who are enemies of Baba Yaga. As of now the witch has not acted openly, but the queen-in-exile of Krakova is seeking to align with her against the undead; nothing has come of it so far, as her chicken-legged hut is notoriously hard to find even for her spy network of "mice."

Lay of the Land

The Blood Kingdom of Morgau is made up of three former kingdoms: Duchy of Morgau, the Barony of Doresh, and the newly-gained northern province of Krakovar (formerly the Electoral Kingdom of Krakova). The first two kingdoms are gifted with forested highlands, and the Cloudwall Mountains to the east and the Margreve Forest to the south serve as natural defenses. Mist is common at all times of year, and the fields are richly fertile and the woods abound with game. Bratislor is the capital whose grim castle has a no-living policy. This changes during each solstice, where 100 unlucky citizens are invited and only one person ever leaves alive with their eyes and tongue gouged out. Hengksburg meanwhile is the most stable city and center of the Blood Kingdom's slave trade. The cult of Mammon is growing among the merchant class, and its undead Lord Mayor Rodyan demands a blood tax from each trader. Rodyan is also infamous for having a thing for teenage girls, and has went through 300 wives as he invariably ends up killing them during sex.

METAPLOT: Recently a vampiric hunting party captured Dajan Savirne of Clarsaya, a 15 year old girl of Perunalia who is already an accomplished archer. She is going to be presented to Rodyan as an "amazon bride." Enraged, the paladins of Perunalia mounted a failed rescue mission through the Cloudwall Mountains. After only one survivor came back, they instead are focusing on strengthening the borders against further vampire raids.

So there's a recurring element in this chapter of sexually predatory people in power. Beyond just the above example there's an example of Koschei the Deathless who arrives at King Lucan's balls with a new frightened woman in each arm; a satyr King of Rags who marries the daughter of the Lord of the city of Twine on her 16th birthday each generation as part of a fairy-tale style pact and whose lord seeks an end to this tradition; additionally the satyr's own daughters are drunkards who angrily attack those who refuse their sexual advances; the High Priestess of the Temple of Aprostala imprisons and sacrifices pilgrims who refuse to have sex with her; and the Cloudwall Mountains is home to ogre warbands who kidnap travelers to take as slaves and mates. I'm not going to complain of just one example in a book, but when you have five or six within the very same chapter and two of them involve victimized adolescent girls, I can't help but picture this as lazy writing for shock value.

Vallanoria is a military city which is home to Marena's warlike devotees in the Temple of the Scourging Goddess. The town brutally crushed several rebellions, and there are rumors that the crows who fly about are disguised secret police.

The Wendestal Forest and the Stale Wood is administered by Lady Chemaya, a lich of dubious loyalties whose alliances among the vampires shifts as often as she changes robes. The Stale Wood is a dark, cold place where no sunlight pierces through. The only true authority here is the King in Rags, an 8 foot tall satyr whose very presence corrupts the surrounding land in rot.

The Cloudwall Mountains is the private hunting grounds of King Lucan and his favored servants. It is home to many dangerous monsters from two-headed eagles and rocs to ogres and yeti. Criminals and unlucky people picked out as human prey to hunt are sometimes let loose in the mountain range. Any lucky enough to make it over to the Rothenian Plains to the east earn their lives and freedom, although precious few complete the harrowing journey.



We get a half-page sidebar discussing the Ghoul Imperium. The wide-ranging nation is a vast connection of tunnels and caverns whose geographic center hosts Darakhan, the White City. Many underdark races such as dark creepers/stalkers, drow, derro, dwarves, and svirfneblin are conquered subjects. They have either joined the undead legions of the darakhul ghouls or were spared so that they and their descendants can act as cattle. The undead immunity to exhaustion means that army legions can travel 48-72 miles a day on foot (depending on the weight of their armor), and unintelligent zombies are used as "army rations" instead of the delicate nature of living cattle. It is only due to the ghouls' aversion to sunlight that they have not made inroads into the surface world, save their alliance with Prince Lucan against Krakova. The 2012 edition of the setting treated the Empire of the Ghouls as its own country entry, with some brief detail on its cities. These aspects are excised, although the entry was one and a half pages long so it's not a big cut by any means.

Castle Lengrove and the Great Necropolis house the last tombs of the pre-Lucan nobles, a testament to what has changed. There is a large cavern opening to the Ghoul Imperium nearby which both countries use as a trade network. Leander Stross (recognize that name?), the darakhul ambassador to Morgau, lives here. Before moving on to Krakovar we have some discussing on the Grisal Marches and the frequent wars against the dwarves of the same-named Canton; Cantri Abbey whose safeguarding and helping of pregnant mothers is perhaps the Red Goddess' only positive social service; Temple Aprostala and its pilgrimage rites; Fandorin Keep whose has a secret portal to the famous Stross Library in the ruined Castle Shadowcrag; and the Blood Vaults of Sister Alkava which is a published dungeon crawl whose new priestess found a novel yet gruesome way of preserving extracted blood.

The Province of Krakovar once chose its own kings. But now Lucan appointed Princess Hristina, Grand Marshall of the Ghost Knights, as the ruler of the newly-occupied territory. The landholding nobles known as the Slahta are still living yet forced to tow Hristina's line after she made several bloody examples of those who resisted. The old temples of Wotan and Perun were razed and converted to shrines of Marena and Mavros. The Ghost Knights have their work cut out for them here: Krakova's old spy network known as the "mice" are active and making alliances to stymie their occupiers, and a group of reaver dwarves from the Northlands established a new territory known as the Wolfmark in its northern coast. What's more, Krakovar's population is 7 times that of Morgau and Doresh combined and all but young children remember the days before unliving tyranny. Trolls and Khazzaki raiders care not for the change in administration and raid the eastern border.

Krakova, City of the Mermaid is still open to trade. Reminders of its past glory, from the Assembly Hall of Magnates to Mermaid's Island where each new king was voted in and crowned, fell into disrepair and were barred off-limits by Hristina. The World Tree Temple in the city of Varshava was razed to the ground, much to the dismay of many citizens yet whose burning fumes sparked magical gifts in those who breathed it. Gybick, City of Scribes, is famed for its book trade. Spymaster Velda Lupei of the Krakovan "mice" is hiding out here, having burned most of her organization's records to prevent from falling into enemy hands. Yet still she hid some precious volumes containing information about the most senior spies and rebel leaders in an extradimensional space. The vampires of Wallenbirg are fond of hunting fey in the nearby woodlands, which inevitably makes the peasants suffer as the fairies kidnap children and command swarms of mice to strip the granaries bare in revenge. The ruins of Yarosbirg Castle was home to a religious order of light and life dedicated to the goddess Sif. A shield maiden named Sister Adelind fought bravely against the Ghost Knights, managing to incinerate the vampire lord Otmar the Sallow with a shining spear. Although legions of ghouls killed her, she earned sainthood and martyrdom among Krakovans and others defiant of King Lucan's rule. Many secretly visit the castle to leave tiny wooden shields and white flowers as offerings.

METAPLOT: The entire section of Krakovar is pretty much a metaplot change. In the 2012 edition it did not have much in the way of internal or external conflict besides nobles jockeying for kingship. Ironically, Wallenbirg's relationship with the fey was still poor due to logging and the kidnapping/grain destruction methods of punishment were still the same. This time however it's the vampires' fault. If anything, the metaplot made this country a lot less boring!

Our final entry for this chapter are the Nine Cities of Neimheim. A long time ago the gnomes were friendly folk: they taught humans the art of magic, eager to discuss the finer points of mundane occupations, and traded with the people of Krakova. But 200 years ago things changed for the worse when a gnome prince betrayed an oath to Baba Yaga. One by one gnome villages disappeared overnight as night-haunts, strigoi, and other servants of the witch hunted them down. The adult's beards were used for pillow-stuffing and the children cooked in her stew pots. The gnomish people seemed destined for destruction, but then a smoldering horned gentleman made a very generous offer to the King of the Gnomes.

Ever since the gnome kingdom of Neimheim has lived under a diabolic specter. Temples to the lords of Hell are everywhere and devils preside over their towns as wardens against Baba Yaga's forces. Niemheim's borders are protected by magical defenses known as glower stones: crude structures in the shape of hunching gnomes who smile at those allowed entry, but glower and in some cases unleash magical spells on those not permitted to enter the forest. Once a month the gnomes must make blood sacrifices; if no strangers come into their seemingly-comfy little towns, they must provide from among their own people. As a result gnome traders and illusionists visit roadside inns and taverns to trick people with rumors of wealth and glory beneath their pine boughs whose inhabitants seem harmless enough with their red caps and pointy-toed shoes. With every band of travelers or foreign raiders that disappears within their borders, the gnomes send out a new batch of high-quality knives, tallow candles, pottery, leather, vellum, and other goods their forest home is ordinarily incapable of creating on its own. Nobody questions its origins.

King Redbeard lives in a hidden palace in the Great City of Holmgard. His castle is a well-warded structure which can only be found when one receives an invitation: if such a boon is granted, the person wanders the streets at dawn until they somehow find their way to the front gates. Although an amoral snake-in-the-grass, the fate of his people is a heavy burden on Redbeard's shoulders. His greatest hope is to somehow make peace with Baba Yaga and save his kingdom from diabolical influence. His people are divided between wanting to pretend to live as normal a life as possible, and the other half fully embrace their encouraged evil.

METAPLOT: Redbeard's ace-in-the-hole is the Offering Bowl, a secret cauldron shrouded against devilish detection. Carved from the oldest trees, it is guarded by his most trusted and loyal servants and Unera, one of Baba Yaga's daughters who uses magic to hide its presence. Redbeard hopes that if the Bowl is filled with the blood of innocent mortals, this will make up for his ancestor's wrongdoing to the great witch.

MORE METAPLOT:It's not just Redbeard who is seeking loopholes. The unique invention of the Red Cap hat can shroud a gnome from Baba Yaga's eyes outside the forest proper by taking a bit of the forest with them. Plants, lichen, and mushrooms are packed into a linen scarf tied under the wearer's chin. As long as the flora within is fed and kept alive it will work, but the fear of losing it or having said plants die keeps all but a handful of gnomes from venturing outside Neimheim. Additionally, a blind gnome warlock by the name of Halivimar the Charred perfected a means of expanding Neimheim's borders: the planting of seeds brewing with foul magic can grow as much as 5,000 square feet of "sproutings" in less than a day. He's hired a group of scouts to plant these seeds across the Rothenian Plains and establish small enclaves.

As for specific areas, we have the corrupted World Tree of Suf, which is used by infernal travelers on business in Midgard and whose acorns can be brewed into a brimstone-infused liquor. The cities of Volvyagrad and Holmgard see a lot of trade from non-gnomes although said people rarely seek to stay long-term. There are brief mentions of lesser towns, such as Hexen rumored to be home to a college of witches and wizards or Königsheim which has a temple to Chernobog home to an order of anti-paladin cavalry known as the Hellspurs.

Thoughts so far: The "evil kingdoms" of Midgard are interesting places full of story fodder. The many factions, from vampire nobles to dwarven reavers and Krakovan spies, provide ample factions for PCs to ally with or turn against each other. The gnomes of Neimheim have a twisted fairy tale aspect of malicious fey. Yet in spite of the influence of devils there's a significant portion of their populace privately unhappy with the state of affairs and can make for an interesting PC exile concept. My only real complaints with this chapter is the repetition of weird sex stuff.

Join us next time on the Rothenian Plains, where we explore the oft-unused fantasy counterpart cultures of the Eurasian Steppes!
 

Libertad

Knight in tarnished armor
Validated User
#9


The Rothenian Plain is a huge open grassland of the east whose size dwarfs all but the largest of empires. The nomadic way of life is the norm here, and the only standing proper nation is the poor but proud Kingdom of Vidim. The steppes are the favorite stomping grounds of Baba Yaga, who plays the various factions against one another from year to year. And beyond are the mysterious lands of the Utter East who have yet to be detailed in any sourcebooks.


Our first entry is not a nation or culture, but on Grandmother Baba Yaga herself. She's one of the major power players of Midgard, and although not a deity herself kings and gods alike treat her with a mixture of respect and fear. There is just as much fact known about her as folktales, and it's not uncommon for scholars compiling books about her to have the ink on their pages vanish or turn into paper-eating worms. But Baba Yaga's knowledge is boundless, from the last thoughts of the dying star Tovaya to the Words of Unfounding which can never be spoken lest they unseat the gods. She is willing to part with her unmatched knowledge for a high price, which usually takes the form of a fairy tale-style quest or sacrifice such one's own final breath. She lives in a mobile hut with enormous chicken legs capable of leaping in mile-long jaunts, and the interior is supernaturally large with all manner of rooms.


Baba Yaga has an unknown amount of daughters, all beautiful fey known as vila. They too are powerful in the magical arts and have their own (albeit smaller) chicken-legged huts. It's not uncommon to see them cavorting in the halls and palaces of Midgard's nobility where some have the lord's ear. The less witting servants of the great witch are mystics who went mad from the knowledge imparted by her and who look for her influence in signs and portents. In addition to lore, Baba Yaga has a secret garden with unique ingredients capable of healing any affliction, tended to by mindless slaves who angered or failed her along with earth elemental guardians. But her most famous minion is perhaps Koschei the Deathless, a wicked immortal whose soul is embedded within an egg hidden inside a duck, which is nestled within a hare that rests within a goat. The egg's destruction means Koschei's destruction, and so Baba Yaga keeps the goat's location hidden to make Koschei do what she wants.


METAPLOT: The kingdom of Domovogrod was the only other sedentary culture besides Vidim upon the plains. It was founded by Sivinvoya Vellaraya, a silver dragon who cared not for the Mharoti Empire's political goals and instead journeyed north to settle near a World Tree known as the Winter Tree. He taught the surrounding humans advanced farming and healing techniques to found the kingdom of Domovogrod. Although the dragon is long-gone, his human descendants ruled in his example. But now the kingdom's overrun by ogres, trolls, and giants of the Northlands, its capital city claimed by a gluttonous warlord unable to rise from his very throne. The Winter Tree now sits unattended beyond a small band of winterfolk druids and rangers. The last human bastion is a small town of fur-traders seeking vengeance against the giants.


Khanate of the Khazzaki


The Khazzaki are a band of human and centaur nomads who live as horse and ox herders, warriors, and occasionally farmers. Their settlements are tent-like yurts, their leader is a Khan who has a military-like hierarchy of generals and soldiers spread among the clans. Although they have traditional lands, they are a far-flung people who can show up anywhere from the Crossroads to the Utter East. They warred against the Mharoti Empire, and Khan Bodhan Zenody is prepping for an all-out assault on either them or one of the greater nations for loot and glory. After successful raids and campaigns it is customary for Khazzaki to travel to the Red Mounds of Rhos Khurgan, a set of 32 burial mounds created by a forgotten race. One of the mounds is cursed and thus avoided. The Khazzaki treat them as sacred sites and pour wine on their soil as offered drink. For unknown reasons divine magic is warped and stymied around the mounds. The Khanate's closest thing to a proper city is Misto Kolis, which is more akin to a traveling carnival and has a sizable Kariv population.


METAPLOT: One of the greatest scourges of the Khanate recently is not war but a disease afflicting their horses known as the Black Strangles. It spreads fast and affects even centaurs, and the Khan is hoping that a mysterious group of allied druids known as the Grassweavers of Perun may discover a cure. There's also individual tents of great fame, such as the Yurt Monasteries home to sorcerer-priests of obscure gods, the Black Wagon whose doom-saying oracle is a bad omen to encounter on the plains, and the Krasni Yurta whose wizard occupant enchanted its silk to be as strong as steel along with a pocket dimension only he and his guests can access.


We finish this section with mention of the Khan's Three Great Treasures: Draugir the horse who only lets the true khan ride it and was won from Koschei over a riding contest; the An'Ducyr bow which was forged from the heartwood of a World Tree which grants magical sight to one who draws its bowstring; and the Dragoncoat, armor forged from the scales of a wind dragon which grants immunity to poison as well as enchantment and evocation spells of all kinds.


We have a brief sidebar on Demon Mountain, a sulfurous place of foul reputation ruled over by a tiefling archmage known only as the Master. He claims to be the noble scion of Vale Turog and lives in a palace of bones he can never leave, but sends all manner of mortal and demonic minions to scour the lands. Fun fact: as he fathered dozens of tiefling children he sent out into the world in order to discover a way to undo his imprisonment. As such he was presented as a possible backstory for tiefling PCs


Centaur Hordes of the Plain


The centaur clans are individually small yet possessed of a mighty reputation. They are mercenaries of great skill whose services have been purchased with meager oats and cheese. They are fiercely independent and although willing to work for others almost never acquiesce to assimilating into sedentary cities. They believe that true freedom is found via a nomadic lifestyle. The centaurs believe that their creation was by the god Perun after his previous creations failed. Humans had the ability to craft great tools but whose bodies were too slow and weak, while horses were fast and strong but too dumb and herd-like to produce cunning hunters and great heroes. It was the mocking of his wife that convinced Perun to give it his all and create the centaurs, combining the best traits of his earlier creations.


We get a brief rundown of centaur culture: they herd goats and sheep and mark passage into adulthood when one can create and live in their own tent. They are nomadic but have favored locations to return to twice a year, and their mages are predominantly druids. Men are encouraged to be warriors and women are discouraged from journeying beyond the confines of their clan group. There is talk by the Chieftain of the Yendge Clan to unite the race under a single banner which the smaller tribes find amenable for strength in numbers. The Black Strangle disease is a growing plague among centaurs and known as the Long-Teeth among them. It causes their teeth to grow twice their normal size, makes the sensation of bright light painful, and causes excruciating pain to walk or stand. The final stage is the most dire, as it encourages the centaur to seek out others of their kind to bite and infect, now hardly better than a mindless cannibal.


METAPLOT: The Grassweavers of Perun created a herbal poultice to prevent the disease from reaching this final stage, although centaur and Khazzaki both seek a true cure. There is rumor of a remedy in the city of Trombei.


We finish this entry with a talk on centaur clan structure. They tend to be either steppe nomads, mercenary companies, or bandits, and all of them elect their Chieftains and war leaders via majority vote. The six clans listed here are the Dargit who are famed archers; Morav, whose bards' stirring odes strike inspiration into their allies and fear into their enemies; Ogol, a clan governed by druids who serve Perun and are on the hunt for the legendary spear Zonbol believed to be wielded by their god; Rhoet, a sadistic mercenary band with ties to Demon Mountain and the realm of Misto Cherno; Sarras, expert wine-makers; and Yengde, mercenaries and bandits who are famed for dual-wielding spears.


Kingdom of Vidim


Vidim's origins lie in a mutual defense pact between humans and huginn against dwarven and giant raiders. The kingdom makes the majority of its wealth through sea trade along the Nieder Straits, and most of its population are subsistence-based farmers known as serfs. Beyond the agricultural serfs are the boyars, nobles and vassals trusted with physical defense from foreign threats and local uprisings. Then there are the huggin, who act as a spy network who inhabit a rookery (impromptu ravenfolk neighborhood among a city's towers and multi-story structures) not far from the tsar's Scarlet Palace. The boyars and huginns do not trust each other, and the tsar is unable to quell the numerous duels and murders which crop up between both sides.


The Tsar's judgment is unraveling due to his madness, which is kept secret by his inner circle to avoid the loss of national morale. Although they do their best to guide him to wise actions, this is not always possible. There are those suggesting the eldest Princess ascend the throne, although she's devoted to her father and brooks no talk of deposing him. His palace's major feature is the skull of a Thursir giant slain by the current tsar's father and is considered a good luck charm by many.


We get brief descriptions of of three smaller cities of Vidim, as well as a natural feature of five pillars in the sea known as the Salt Fingers. The last one is so named because its foundations mysteriously bend and reform into new gestures on the eve of the winter solstice. Many astronomers, mages, and priests used to make pilgrimages here, but in recent times a group of violent merfolk sunk ships which get too close to the Fingers.


Our time in Vidim ends with a talk of the capital's temple of Wotan which is a labyrinthine palace, and those huginn who live inside it experience a strange molting of feathers: blue-black hues are replaced with silver and gold, quite often followed by dreams of the Storm Court. Nobody knows for sure whether this is a gift from Wotan, trickery by Loki, or some other god's scheme.


Wandering Realm of the Kariv


The Kariv are the other major nomadic ethnic group of the Rothenian Plains, although their travels take them to the Crossroads and other realms. They are more or less Hollywood Roma/Romani people: they dress in colorful clothes, are ruled by matriarchs who often have some form of magical talent, and are compelled to never put down stakes in a single location due to a curse afflicting their fertility if an individual stays in one place for more than several months at a time. The Kariv are divided into extended family units known as clans, although they have a king whose authority is weighed by every clan leader.


METAPLOT:The current King Iqbal Lovari has recently gone missing for unknown reasons. Due to this many accusations are going about, particularly between the Lovari and Gallati families. There's also the King's would-be successor, Sanash, a young oracle who is skilled in divination and believed to be prophesied to unite the clans and redeem the Kalders. Ruling in Iqbal's place are Sanchari and Innessa, a pair of twins who are actually two souls sharing one body, but a third evil sister is currently asleep within and unknown to all.


As for the curse affecting the Kariv, the Wander Curse is of unknown origins yet whose ultimate effects render the settler-to-be infertile. It takes place in stages, from a loss of creative arts and energy to having all their clothing and personal possessions fade into dull grey and brown colors. There is no known cure, and infertile Kariv are known as the Arrid who often resort to desperate measures such as dark magic to restore what they lost.


METAPLOT: Oddly, the description of the Kariv has changed over publications. In the 2009 Dwarves of the Ironcrags sourcebook, the curse of the Kariv more or less forced them into a nomadic lifestyle, which in turn caused them to be heavily distrusted and vilified by more sedentary and dominant cultures. They suffered extreme systemic discrimination, which in turn caused the Kariv to be resentful of outsiders and thus feel less moral compulsion in cheating them for money or hurting them for slights:


Spat upon and insulted, their children beaten in open streets, their women violated with little recourse in the law—it is small wonder the Kariv hold together so tightly. Confl icts are handled internally and outsiders are rarely trusted. Aft er centuries of abuse, the Kariv feel no remorse for taking full advantage of dechas, or nonKariv, at every opportunity. Kariv believe their cons, swindles, and robberies balance the scales in a world where they are denied the opportunities and fortunes granted others. Every time a decha wonders why a Kariv commits murder, the Kariv merely point to any of their recently lynched people and shrug.

Contrasted with the 2012/2018 description, the Kariv's anti-social relations are less due to institutional bigotry and more due to personal bitterness at their curse which causes them to lash out:


And yet, when the fires die down to embers and the shadows close in, the Kariv show their dark side. They drink and whore and gamble, the women as much as the men. They take chances that invariably lead to trouble; they cheat and lie to the Gadscho, their term for any who are not Kariv. And before the seasons turn, no matter how sweet the pastures or how warm the feather beds of a friendly host-town, they move on.


The Kariv travel because they must. Their curse is one from the fey and the Green Gods, some say, the result of a Kariv king’s betrayal of an oath to the gods. Or perhaps it is the result of a bad bargain struck with Baba Yaga—storytellers disagree on the details. What is crystal clear is that Kariv men and women who do not pull up stakes and move at least a few day’s ride every few months grow infertile and their line ends. The fortunetelling families cannot abide the thought. The proud, doting Kariv fathers and strict mothers have no patience for such a fate. And so they live on the road.

Both examples play upon the "thieving gypsy" stereotype, although the 2009 had a much more plausible cycle of distrust and prejudice between oppressor and oppressed. It gives ample fodder for both sides to play off of each other's resentments and keep the status quo, while also making the Kariv's resentment understandable for what has been heaped upon them. The current Kariv primarily steal out of misplaced anger, and I don't feel that this is an improvement.


We get a run-down of the eight largest Kariv clans: the Dakat, who are are horse traders rising up politically due to various shady dealings; the Galati, the closest the Kariv have to royalty and possess the best diviners; the Heph, who are patriarchal diabolists shunned by the other Karvis and allied with the Master of Demon Mountain; the Leanti, entertainers and bards who have a knack for thievery and castrate their prisoners...this last part is just thrown in their description with no context; the Lovari are the expert artisans and tinkers who are also prized as mercenaries; the Merceri, who are expert healers and worship angels, trusted for their hospitable demeanor and diplomatic skills; the Sergin, archers and trackers respected by others for their keen eyes and reflexes; and finally the Kalder, a mysterious clan who has many stories circling around them: some claim they were created in Baba Yaga's cauldron, others claim they are child-stealers and maiden-snatchers for Niemheim's gnomes, some say they are ruled by undead, etc. What is known is that they cannot produce diviners among their ranks, and their leader is a heartless man who exercises his power with violence and blackmail.


The final pages of this chapter detail three locations: the Thin Trail which is the least traveled place in the Rothenian Plain and known to grant visions of monstrous leviathans moving upon charred wastelands. In order to find it you must follow mundane directions but must burn something precious between four trees on a specific hilltop to continue the search. The Cloud-soaked Cliff is in the northern reaches of the Plains, home to the sacred forge of the Lovari clan. It is said that the god Svarog himself blesses their work, woken up by the hammering smithies. The finest creations are sacrificed to the god by being thrown over the nearby cliffs, while the rest of the tools are either kept by the clan or sold to other people. Finally, the Wandering Bazaar is a mobile Kariv marketplace which stops by Ingot Lake. Anyone with enough gold may open a stall and sell anything which will not bring trouble to the community. The Bazaar often hosts an annually fishing competition with a healthy sum of gold as the grand prize.


METAPLOT: The 2012 edition detailed the Windrunner elves, one of the three elven ethnic groups still present in Midgard. They are a nomadic people who broke off from the Arbonnese and organized into eight clans. They were known for the construction of windrunner kites, aerial gliders capable of lifting a human-sized rider into the air with a strong gust along with a trailing horse or oxen. Although not inherently magical, they are frequently blessed by priests of Ellel (one of Wotan's mask) for his association with the sky. The 2018 Worldbook mentions them here and there, but there's no in-depth write-up.


Thoughts So Far: Baba Yaga could have very easily ended up as a Faerun-style mega NPC in that she's ultra-powerful and has her hands in all manner of affairs. But given that her motives are unpredictable and it's mostly her minions who intervene, I think that this keeps her as a more Lady of Pain style character who isn't likely to steal the PC's thunder. My favorite parts of this chapter were the write-ups of the Khazzaki clans and the specific locations. It's not often you have a Mongol-style fantasy culture in a game unless it's explicitly East Asian. The specific locations such as the Thin Trail and Wandering Bazaar are good adventure fodder, and the missing Kariv king and a proposed centaur nation make for good political conflict. I feel that the Kariv are racially problematic, and the centaurs do not have much to individualize themselves from the Khazzaki beyond being a monstrous race (there are even Khazzaki centaurs). I am a bit sad that the entry for Demon Mountain was excised to a sidebar in this book.


Next time our travels leave the windswept plains for the grand cities of the Mharoti Empire, the most powerful nation in Midgard!
 
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Libertad

Knight in tarnished armor
Validated User
#10

For some reason I think about the Ikana Castle music from Majora's Mask whenever I look at the above picture.

The Mharoti Empire is the largest country in the known setting of Midgard, both in land and population size.* Although a lot of their culture, titles, and religion are dragon-focused, they have an Ottoman/Arabian vibe with more than a few names containing the "al" prefix, marketplaces being open-air bazaars, as well as their emperor being referred to as a Sultan. The Mharoti Empire is an aggressively expansionist country, with propaganda teaching that dragons and the related reptilian races are destined to rule the world. Even many citizens away from the front lines are more than eager to support such campaigns as troops bring back much in the way of looted wealth. The newfound trade revenue flowing in from newly-claimed territories is just icing on the cake. For most of the 400 years since their founding, things only seemed to look up for the Mharoti. However the dragons are biting off more than they can chew: they are making way too many enemies too fast, fighting simultaneous war fronts in Ishadia, Khandira, and the Magdar Kingdoms not to mention the ongoing pacification of the newly-conquered Illyrians. Diplomats from Nuria Natal and Zobeck are forging mutual defense pacts with other city-states and nations, and there's a fair chance the Khazzaki tribes may invade. Anti-dragonkin pogroms in Capleon are being used as justification for a campaign against city-state, and there is talk the Mharoti might invade Nuria Natal next as their first foot in the Southlands.

METAPLOT: The Nurian alliances and Capleon riots are metaplot things, but perhaps the biggest change is the crowning of a new Sultan. The previous Sultana was Casmara Azrabahir, a human woman with draconic blood. A violent coup was raised against her due to recent military failures in the Seven Cities and Khandira. Such losses resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers and an their dragon generals. She managed to take refuge in the Republic of Valera in the Seven Cities. Now for once in its history, a dragonkin and not a human sits upon the throne, Ozmir al-Stragul. Although he's proving to be a competent ruler so far, millions of Mharoti humans worry about their last great point of pride being taken over by their fellow reptilian citizens.

*For an overview of their might, the Empire's population is 48 million (47 of that 48 dragonborn, humans, and kobolds) and its far western reaches are in Rumela, with a vassal state of Parthia in the east. Semi-related. There's an official interactive map of Midgard here. No other country comes close to the sheer manpower of the Mharoti. I made a list of most populous countries in the sourcebook after the Empire: Muria Natal at 13 million, Ishadia around 9 million, the Greater Ducy of Morgau, Doresh, and Krakovar at 4,356,000, and finally the Grand Duchy of Dornig at nearly 4 million. Most countries and city-states can barely push one million if they're not in the low hundred-thousands, and Dornig and Morgau are both influential enough to get their own chapters. In addition to airborne dragons and magical troops, it's not hard at all for the Mharoti to throw in human (and dragonkin) waves as a tactic to overwhelm smaller armies, and in most cases this works.

Before diving into the imperial provinces we get a run-down of the Mharoti government structure. The empire's divided into provinces ruled over the most powerful and noble of dragons who have some degree of sway over the Sultan, while the Sultan (who cannot be a dragon) administers day-to-day affairs and commands the army. It is a species-based caste system: the bottom caste is the Jambuka, anyone who is not a reptilian and comprise mostly low-class laborers and servants. Above them are the Kobaldi who more or less fill the same social role as Jambuka, save they have an inflated sense of superiority for being "dragonkin" and control most of the mining and weaving guilds. Sekban are the lowest ranks of dragonkin (dragonborn and dragon-blood humans) who may be more skilled laborers. Edjet are military units of dragonkin who are raised to fight in a variety of ways from magic to martial might. Akinji are minor landholders and administrators who serve as officers and skilled troops in war. Timarli are the nobles and include dragons, drakes, wyverns, and related species who can range from owners of large farmlands and guilds to high priests, gentry, and generals. The Urmanli are 500 of the most well-connected true dragons. Finally are the Morza, nine Great Dragon Lords who administer each of the Empire's provinces, act as advisers for the Sultan, and are drawn from the ranks of the Urmanli when one of them dies. Finally we get a full-page sidebar discussing the make-up of a typical 30,000 Mharoti Legion, along with a list of troop types by caste and their roles (archers, infantry, air support, etc).



We have a sidebar about the Dragoncoil Mountains, a natural feature dominating the central Empire. The region's strong in ley line magic, a great resource which enhances the imperial spellcasters' magical projects. Now we get into the Provinces and the Morza, describing not only the land but also its ruler's relations and ambitions. Our first province is Gizmiri, a wasteland of red desert whose only major industries are mines and coastal fishing. The provincial capital of Sarkland is a trading hub famed for its magical carpets, and the Morza Ateshah's mere fiery presence causes nearby land to change into desert. Ateshah's secret goal is to research ancient knowledge to spread this across all of Midgard, which needless to say won't sit well with the rest of the Empire.

Satarah al-Beldestani is the morza of Harkesh, although she wasn't always a true dragon. She was once a dragonborn paladin who ascended the Sky Stairs of Beldestan and returned transformed into a star drake. She's one of the more hawkish morza, seeking an all-out war with Nuria Natal which even by the sultan's standards is regarded as foolhardy. Harkesh is the capital of the Empire proper and is known as the Golden City. It's a trade hub where even merchants from enemy countries come: commerce and coin knows no national allegiance. We get a full-page map of Harkesh along with brief descriptions of various interesting locations, such as the Four Pillars of Wisdom which engage in ritualized rival school street fights with each other based on one of their god Azuran's directional winds.

Although the Empire's founder Mharot is still alive and kicking, he is not one for politics anymore and is content to be ruler of the rural mountain province of Kalpostan. He spends most of his time sleeping but on rare occasions he speaks the Words of Transformation to ascend kobolds and dragonkins to the next higher form in the caste system.

METAPLOT: A human soothsayer known as Enver Demir Demir al-Kaa'Nesh has the ability to read the dreams of Mharot, which he uses to relay his proclamations to the other members of his court. However al-Kaa'Nesh is getting up there in years and there is worry of who, if any, is trusted enough to replace him. The city of Kaa'Nesh is known for its blood mages, who found a way to grant magical ogres tattoos to drain the life force of those they wound in hand-to-hand combat. Due to this they make for valuable shock troopers.

Ibbalan the Illustrious' claim to fame is being the eldest ruling morza thanks to a sacrifice to the god Baal. Now his very spirit possess his own treasure horde and capable of forming into a dragon-like form of coins and jewels. He oversees Mezar Province, secured on a vital trade route between the eastern and western realms of Midgard. It has two capitals based on the season, while Ibbalan's home city of Irkaly is home to the Elemental Academy which trains many edjet war-mages and timarli.

Lashmaraq Talshah rules over Hariz Province, the easternmost realm of the Empire. She's a ruthless taskmaster and perfectionist, having spent decades to build an elite army one day capable of extending territory into Khandira and Beldestan. The other Dragon Lords fear her for her spy network and as such hope she remains distracted enough in this remote region. The province is mostly unsettled and poor, and the numerous nomads and Khazzaki raiders make enforcement difficult at best.

Parsis the Hidden is the ruler of Betik Province and one of the two only golden dragons in the Empire. He is not one to delegate and loves to shapeshift into dragonborn and non-reptilian forms to take a "hands-on" approach of surveying the state of his province. The region is home to the Empire's greatest centers of learning; the Hidden University is notable for allowing entry to anyone capable of passing the exam's skills regardless of their race or economic status. The region is riddled with invisible castles and fortresses in the clouds, and its ley line-enhanced scrying is used to give directions to the Empire's armies and various other grandiose tasks.

Rüzgar is a simple cave dragon. He cares little for governing Zaldri Province, his favorite thing instead to pit his armies against great foes and eat the greatest among the opposition. He gets on with the current Sultan in trading war stories and hypothetical invasions. His province is lightly populated, and its proximity to the borders of Perunalia and the Magdar Kingdom mean there are always legions patrolling the border.

Marea Province's morza Yiraz Azah is unique in more ways than one. She's the only morza not from the Dragoncoil Mountains region, instead hailing from an unknown realm in the North. Yiraz prefers a honey-over-vinegar approach to imperialism, suggesting that future realms should be voluntarily absorbed via mutually-beneficial treaties, although this was before she became morza. She still talks the talk, but commits military forces against the cities of Kyprion and Triolo under self-justification that she would be a fairer ruler than the other morza. Her province is an exception in that dragonkin and kobolds are in the minority, and she tolerates local religious traditions outside the dragon pantheon.

METAPLOT: The religious tolerance has come to a violent end when priests of Seggotan were believed to be organizing a rebellion after they started occupying and restoring abandoned temples. The Mharoti soldiers' murder of these overwise-peaceful people has only served to martyr them among the populace and inflame local resentment.


Rumela is the newest territory of the Mharoti Empire, formerly the Seven City realm of Illyria. They lost a long and taxing war with the dragons, its noble families fled to other cities, its Duchess chained to a massive stone block. She is kept alive by food and magic for all citizens to see how low their former leader fell. The Mharoti Empire is investing heavily in farm and pasture creation to recoup their losses along with rebuilding the capital city and palace. The latter especially to be more "dragon-friendly" in accessibility. Illyria/Rumela's non-dragonkin populace are awash with anger and depression over their loss. Many would-be rebels still lie rotting in mass graves and the remaining noble families are pitted against each other by the ruling morza to prevent them from reaching a united front.

Glauvistus was the general responsible for the country's subjugation and is now its new morza. She is is intentionally making laws and taxes crueler to "drive out the rebellious spirit of risky citizens" in the belief that killing them right then and there will help subjugate the last threats to her rule. The White Mountain Marches are perhaps the last true area of resistance, although the Dragon Empire's struggles up there are more due to orc-human hybrid worshipers of the White Goddess who lair in the innumerable mountain caverns and peaks. Additionally there is the Lonely Spire, a small magical academy which is in a tense ceasefire with the invaders. This is because it's home to a great archmage notable for producing students of unsurpassed skill and Glauvistus' soldiers do not exactly know the true capabilities of what they might face.

METAPLOT: Zrandres was a copper dragon prisoner who the Duchess put on display in Palasi, promising a grand reward to anyone who can extract a truthful statement from the constantly-lying dragon. Now the very same Baba Yaga-enchanted shackles which held him hold the Duchess, and he's now the morza's sadistic head of the occupier's secret police.


Pathia is a vassal state of the Mharoti Empire. The reason they haven't been conquered outright is that the Parthians pay plenty in tribute, worship the dragon pantheon, and acts as a buffer zone between Khandira and the Rothenian Plain. Parthians are mostly humans who live off of trade and industry rather than agriculture. Their society places a high degree of politeness and hospitality even with outsiders, but they have a large number of blood feuds between their own cities and clans. Their capital of Isphahan is protected with enchanted stone and home to many temples. The city of Rhaga is home to the Collegium Elemental which sells iron spheres known as voidfire orbs capable of calling down a one-time flame strike spell.

South of the country are numerous battlefield graveyards haunted by ghosts and latent magic of Mharoti-Khandiran wars. The Red Wastes are dry and inhospitable to most life, with the only major features the Halls of the Cobra home to a ghoulish death cult and Black Lion Castle which is filled with otherworldly hounds, oozes, and demons. Finally there's the bandit stronghold of Dorin's Tower which manages to avoid destruction for being a major supplier of water and provisions to to passing armies.

The Forbidden Mountains of Beldestan is our first non-Mharoti nation in this chapter. We covered evil nations before, although in Morgau's case it was mostly an undead overclass. Even Niemheim has the gnomes between the rock and hard place that is choosing devil worship and sacrifice or suffer total genocide. But in Beldestan it's all evil all the time for fun! Human sacrifices are held every day, people praise the dark gods openly and fervently, slavery is used for manual labor, blasphemers have holes drilled into their skulls, kidnapping would-be brides is commonplace, and families betray and kill one another for entertainment. If it weren't for its crazy populace, the pilgrimage site sacred to all gods known as the Sky Stairs would get a lot more visitors. Said Stairs are home to many challenges, from giant eagles to strong winds and all variety of undead, but those who ascend to the last stair become favored in the eyes of the gods.

The Towers of Khubara is a mountain nation of dwarves and humans who raise the fastest falcons in the world and mine all manner of metals. They are most known for mithral and the unique wave-washed steel. The latter can be forged into weapons capable of reducing the AC bonus of shields and worn armor on a critical hit against a target (no sunder mechanics necessary)! We have additional lists of interesting locations, such as the Giant Throne fortress which has an observatory detailing the process of how dragons turn into stars and stars into gods, the Grove of Silence populated by satyrs who worship evil gods, poppy fields presided over by gnoll-priests and ragers of Veles who derive the plants' seeds into addictive drug known as dragonsmoke or dragonpipe, and a miles-high World Tree home to the gods Vashnaya and the Monkey King. The Trees' wood can be fashioned into amulets to ward off darkness.

Despotate of the Ruby Sea


Our final nation is the much-villified peninsular country of the Ruby Sea. Its claim to fame is slavery of all kinds, and its respectable war-galleys house possessed demons capable of being controlled by the forbidden magic of ship captains. They search far and wide for new people to shackle, and some of their best clients are the gnomes of Niemheim, the priests of Baal, the Mharoti Empire, and the Tsar of Vidim. The Despot Veltrin rules over the country as an absolute dictator, who forged his empire of shackles from asking Baba Yaga the secret to taking control of a beached demonbound ship. From her lessons he learned ways to make more of those ships and thus form a veritable army. Beyond this dark power, Veltrin's flesh golem bodyguards are animated from the corpses of former generals who plotted a failed coup against him.

Slaves are kept in line with false hope and minor acts of "mercy" to keep them in line. Not having to serve the galley oars, magical healing, or a days' respite from labor make for powerful motivators, but so do starvation and lashes when those fail. In fact, the slaves are the city's greatest defense in a roundabout way. Via blood sacrifices to the White Goddess, slave-masters can temporarily transform slaves into hulking monstrous warriors. They were used to great effect in repelling Khazzaki raiders and Mharoti legions. Speaking of which, there is an unofficial alliance of sorts by said raiders: the Khazzaki give clandestine messages to the amazons of Perunalia to sail a warship and recover any of their captives while their mounted and centaur warriors plunder the Despotate's grain and farmland. Such widespread attacks cause much disarray among slaveholders, and many slaves use the opportunity to run off into the wilderness in hopes of making it to the Rothenian Plains or Perunalia or getting picked up by a friendly vessel.

METAPLOT: The Mharoti's new Sultan demanded the Despotate to send him tribute, but Veltrin is ignoring him so far.


Thoughts So Far: Far from your typical evil empire of doom and gloom, the Mharoti Empire is an interesting and varied land which gives a lot of fodder for adventuring opportunity, be they for or against the government. From the newly-conquered province to the private schemes of the Morza, it feels like a lot is going on in the region. Magic carpet shops, elementalist academies, ruins filled with the legacies of bygone times, and monstrous rulers make the Dragon Empire and surrounding lands feel full of great wonders and dangers. The Despotate of the Ruby Sea makes for a classic "fight the slavers" adventure hook, and the demon-bound ships are a novel idea. Parthia did not strike any strong feelings in me, but Beldestan's mustache-twirling populace is too ludicrous to be believable. It felt like the author wanted to make drow as a nation, but with none of the cool or sexy features that made those elves popular in the first place. But overall I liked this chapter.

Join us next time as we venture into the Southlands, home of the Nurian god-kings and the swashbuckling Corsair Coast!
 
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