Campaign of the Month: March 2016
Ptolus, City by the Spire
The Known World
The following is a brief description of the lands, cities, and major features of the known world. In an all-Ptolus campaign, this information is purely background material. As such, this section offers only the vaguest of generalities.
Mountainous Cherubar to the far west of Ptolus is a mysterious place filled with isolated villages and remote settlements. Humans live among the winged Cherubim elves here, attempting to keep savage giants at bay. These folk, it is said, consort with spirits of the air to such a degree that cold winds flow through their veins instead of mortal blood. This region is separated from the Plains of Rhoth by the Cherubar Mountains.
THE COLD DESERT
Surrounding the mysterious shaft known as Mrathrach’s Pit, the Cold Desert is a dry, dead wasteland southwest of Ptolus. The extremely inhospitable area is barren and virtually lifeless — a region of orcs, hobgoblins, and monstrous things with almost no humans, elves, or other civilized folk.
THE EASTERN HORDES
Long ignored by the peoples of the west, the tribes beyond the Grey Mountains east of Tarsis unified under King Oulgas around 700 IA. Assailing the Grey Mountains, they swept across the Plains of Panish in the next few years and fought great battles with the Imperial Army. Due to the barbarians’ great numbers and the lack of unity among the Imperial forces (the Empire was pulled in three ways due to the contesting of the Lion-Guarded Throne), the Hordes met with large-scale success. By 709, Oulgas laid siege to Tarsis itself. By 710, he sat in the Imperial Palace. People expected Oulgas to proclaim himself Emperor, but he did not. Reportedly, the man had nothing but contempt for the more civilized folk of the west. When Oulgas left Tarsis in 714, taking the majority of his people with him back over the mountains, rumor has it someone asked him why he invaded in the first place. Oulgas is said to have answered, “Because I could.” Some of the easterners stayed behind, most of them settling in the Plains of Panish or southern Nall.
Antique and shadowy Kem, located south of Prustan lands along the Southern Sea, used to be a place of great magic and sorcery. Now it lies in ruins, brought low by the same spells that made it great almost five thousand years ago. Blighted by magical conflicts called the Wars of Fire millennia ago, Kem has become a haven for Harrow elves who fled east after their release from Goth Gulgamel. Only the toughest, coarsest of plant life grows in Kem’s magically tainted soil, and few natural animals stalk its wastelands. Kem is a land of ghosts and shadows, lost to time. The few cities that remain in Kem stand upon ruined metropolises of fallen tors. The mixed population includes humans, lizardfolk, gnomes, Shoal elves, Harrow elves, and the occasional dwarf.
Said to be haunted by the ghosts of the “first men,” icy Nall is a rough northerly forestland trapped between the Dragonsbirth Mountains to the west, the Grey Mountains to the east, and the Endless Sea of Ice to the north. The people of Nall are few but hardy. Most of them live in nomadic barbarian tribes, each ruled by a shaman woman. Some dwell in the depths of the Black Angel Forest or the Great North Woods. The small communities here are isolated, accustomed to living through the long winters without ever seeing anyone from another village or tribe.
PALASTAN AND THE MOONSILVER FOREST
About a year ago, Palastan’s Imperial Governor appointed by the Lion-Guarded Throne died amid chaos and rioting in the capital city of Trolone. Forces loyal to the hereditary monarchy, long exiled from the land, returned order to Trolone. King Anathais and Queen Miaga returned to their palace and took control of Palastan “until the Empire appoints a new governor.” With the ongoing problems in Tarsis, this has not happened — nor is it likely to happen in the near future.
Palastan is a verdant land of rolling hills and green fields. The people farm and herd, as well as fish along the southern coast of the Whitewind Sea. Although of late political power has remained in the hands of the monarchy or the Imperial Governor, most would say that the Viridian Lords hold the true power in the land. These rangers operate independently from the government, but the populace looks to them for guidance and leadership. The Viridian Lords are said to have physically bonded with plant life in a manner handed down to them by the Circle of Green, an ancient group of druids that disappeared long ago.
Technically, the city of Ptolus falls within the borders of Palastan. However, since the death of the Imperial Governor, it has maintained its independence from the monarchy.
Palastan is a realm of rugged individuals. The people are simple and generally virtuous, but not interested in complex, rigid sets of laws. They have never much liked being a part of the Empire. Culturally, Palastani enjoy proclaiming their individuality, and do so through piercings, body art, and distinctive (but not necessarily flamboyant) dress. Besides humans, Shoal elves and centaurs make up most of Palastan’s population, although the Stonelost dwarves maintain a few small villages in the hills after losing their city, Dwarvenhearth, thousands of years ago. The humans get along equally well with both dwarves and elves, as well as the tribes of aram that gallop across the open fields.
While not rulers in Palastan, the Viridian Lords as a group are well respected by all. They patrol the wild lands and the roads, keeping the people safe from orc raiders, bandits, goblins, ogres, giants, wyverns, and worse.
Most of the area’s Shoal elves live in the Moonsilver Forest, a place of sylvan magic that retains many secrets even after all these centuries. Non-elves (except for the Viridian Lords) keep strictly to the few roads that pass through these woods. The wood holds many elven communities, most of them small and well hidden—unlike the larger, more prominent elven cities along the coast of Ren Tehoth to the east.
THE PLAINS OF PANISH
These rolling plains of grassy, fertile fields east of Tarsis stretch for seemingly endless miles up to the foothills of the Grey Mountains. The River Sorenth flows out of the Grey Mountains to empty into the Gulf of Satran at Tarsis. Remote and primitive tribes of humans, litorians, and other races live here. One will find almost no elves or dwarves, however.
THE PRUSTAN PENINSULA
The Prustan Peninsula, which juts boldly out into the Southern Sea, is home to the Grailwarden dwarves and the human Prust. More than a thousand years ago, the Prust took over the lands around the city of Tarsis to the north and eventually established the Empire of Tarsis. As rugged as their mountainous homeland, these industrious people built fabulous roads for their Empire and developed great devices using gears, steam, and gunpowder. This land has a harsh environment, with strong winds and seemingly unnaturally cold weather. (Some blame the toxic spells unleashed long ago in ancient Kem on the southern tip of the peninsula.) The Grailwarden dwarves and the Prust have worked hand in hand here for as long as either race can remember. The dwarves’ Grail Keep, a fortress built into a cliff face in the Hotash Mountains, protects their city, which lies below. The Grail Temple beneath the city holds the fabled White Grail, an object of great power from which the Grailwarden dwarves take their name.
Though it was once a fabulous kingdom, most of Ren Tehoth’s cities now lie in ruin, proof that nothing lasts forever. Even before the founding of the Lion-Guarded Throne, Tarsis annexed Ren Tehoth, its neighbor that stretched as far west as the Vantaran Peaks. The royal bloodline had long since been extinguished, the people of the kingdom scattered and warring amid tiny, feudal states without an ultimate liege to keep the peace among the vassals. Intimidated by Tarsis’ growing strength and eager to live in peace, Ren Tehoth accepted foreign rule with little resistance. The few nobles and thanes unwilling to submit found themselves overrun by the extremely efficient Prustan army that enforced Tarsis’ might. Today, the cities of greatest interest in Ren Tehoth are actually elven. Running from the Dragonsbirth Mountains to the southern tip of the Bay of Ptolus within the Morn Woods are a number of well established elven settlements, larger than those in the Moonsilver Forest. They include Paelinth, Sariush, and Phinothae. The Shoal elves of Ren Tehoth resemble their western cousins but are even less comfortable around humans, due to the region’s scarce human population in recent centuries.
The Plains of Rhoth due west of Ptolus are known for their farms and vast herds of horses and livestock. Rhothans are a good-natured folk, standing tall and fair. They dwell in small towns and villages frequented by halfling caravans. Few other civilized humanoids frequent this land (no elves, dwarves, gnomes, or litorians, for example), and the folks there tend to be xenophobic and isolationist. The people do come into conflict with orcs and sometimes even gnolls — the Gnoll War in southern Rhoth three decades back is well known.
THE SEA KINGDOMS AND DOHRINTHAS
A federation of once-warring pirate princes, the Sea Kingdoms on the southern edge of the continent earned their power and wealth from fishing and shipping in the Southern Sea. Bounded by two rivers—the Sunwash in the west and the Calathan River in the east—this is a place of politics and betrayals, plots and assassinations. It is also a place of great beauty, for gold and silk f flow like water, it is said, and the area has seen little warfare to despoil it for hundreds of years.
Dohrinthas, the Golden City, has prospered greatly in the last few centuries, for ships laden with wealth come to this large port daily from the southern lands. When massing barbarians began to threaten Tarsis in 706 IA, Empress Addares XXXIV attempted to move the Imperial capital to her home of Dohrinthas. As a result, she succeeded in splitting the Empire, as Segaci Fellisti — an aging councilor who also claimed the throne — maintained the government in Tarsis, until the barbarians sacked the city a few years later. Dohrinthas is a large and well established city teeming with many races. For the last three centuries it has remained second only to Tarsis in influence and power. Although it remains under the domain of the Lion-Guarded Throne, the Holy Empire was never able to completely solidify its power amid its baroque, pinnacled towers and spired minarets.
The people of Dohrinthas and, in fact, the Sea Kingdoms as a whole, are an odd mixture of jaded, cynical urbanites and rough-and-tumble seafarers.
Tarsis, the fading capital of more than half the world, is recovering slowly from the barbarian invasions of a decade ago. Toppled walls and buildings are being rebuilt, and slowly people are returning to the city. The Grand Cathedral here serves as headquarters of the Church of Lothian, despite the fact that the Emperor of the Church remains in the city of Ptolus. Ancient beyond reckoning, the vast city of Tarsis was merely an important trading center at the mouth of the River Sorenth until the militaristic Prust from the peninsula to the southeast took over the area and eventually founded an empire centered in the quickly growing city. The Prust chose Tarsis as their hub of power because their own cities were remote and trapped within rugged mountains. Some claim that Tarsis was the world’s first urban center—another reason the Prust chose to stake their empire there. At its height, the Empire of Tarsis encompassed all of the Prustan Peninsula and the lands immediately surrounding the Southern Sea, including Uraq, and the northern lands from Cherubar to the Grey Mountains. Today, its control is questionable. To some, the Empire has fallen. To others, it exists in name only. Yet to many proud citizens, the Empire still retains control over its lands, and all owe fealty to the Emperor.
URAQ AND THE DISTANT SOUTH
Hundreds of years before the Lion-Guarded Throne rose to power, the land of Uraq held sway over most of the known world. By controlling the Southern Sea, this economic seafaring power also controlled commerce in the surrounding lands. As the seat of a mercantile empire, Uraq once ruled through economic power. But those days are long past; it fell to the Empire of Tarsis over five centuries ago after a series of bloody wars. Uraq remains a wealthy land of spice, silk, and fertile oases. The Tarsisans have been tolerable rulers — in fact, they usually ruled from a distance. The hot desert sands of Uraq never seemed to appeal to the Prustan overlords, nor did the climate provide a good environment for their guns and machines. Far to the south of Uraq, past a mountain range called the Scorched Peaks, lie the distant realms of Panogolan and Buneir — kingdoms of savanna and jungle ignored by the Empire. Beyond that is ancient Kellisan, with its own empire, and the Sea of World’s End. Even the folk of Uraq rarely travel to such places except to trade, although thousands of years ago Kellisan ruled Uraq and left much of its culture behind. Most people in the Empire think of all lands south of Uraq as simply the “distant south” and know no details of such places.