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Setting and History
Xina is a vast continent with a large inland sea. Most adventures take place in a region known as the Northlands. The nations of the Northlands are steeped in history, built in a region once held by eldritch races. The mightiest citadels stand on the foundations of ancient holds, holy sanctums are built atop the fallen ruins of sacred sites, and loggers harvest timber from what were once fey woods. To this day, farmers occasionally uncover druidic stones or mysterious rubble beneath a newly cleared acre of land. Three runic languages remain undeciphered, despite the efforts of the most talented sages. The dead languages which can be translated reveal a past full of arcane horrors, high sorcery, and legendary heroism.
A careful study of artifacts recovered from ancient sites revealed that the Northlands were once held by a race known as the Nimoreans. Their mastery of magic was unrivaled. They lived in floating cities, controlled the weather, and created powerful artifacts. They valued logic and wisdom over superstition. In those days, mythic creatures such as dragons and fairies could be found in the wilderness. It is not known why the Nimorean empire passed into history.
After the Nimorean Age, the Northlands were home to the elves, dwarves and kindar. The elves built magnificent cities in the vast forests of Xula trees. The dwarves delved into the mountains of the east to build vast underground cities. The kindar arrived from across the ocean, living in harmony with nature throughout the southern wooded hills. The three races rarely had contact with one other. The elves suffered a long and difficult civil war, fought over cultural ideals. When it ended, a quarter of their population relocated to the rocky northwestern wilderness. The dwarves also split into two nations after a bloody religious war. Only the kindar remained united.
After thousands of years, this Age of Isolation came to an end. The first wave of humans went north, barbarians who claimed much of the tundra and formed two small nations. A few hundred years later, a far greater number of humans arrived, fleeing an empire of dark gods, foul cults and forbidden powers. They fought their way across the frontier and founded a nation called Athanar. At first, the elder races defended their ancestral homes. After many years of war, they suddenly retreated, leaving the eastern grasslands to men.
For nearly four hundred and fifty years, Athanar prospered. Humans multiplied into a vast and powerful empire. Three generations ago, a war of secession fought over resources and sovereignty split the empire into five nations. The northeastern region, known as the Warlands, is entrenched in bitter border disputes and political turmoil to this day.
The last generation has seen the rise of new threats. Marauding armies in the Scourgelands threaten the civilized nation of Alkuras. Orcs from the south pillage and burn any village too small to defend itself and too remote to call for reinforcements. To the north, the tundra barbarians of Viaka and Harmorn raid with greater frequency each spring. Only a few years ago, a shrieking comet tumbled from the night sky and fell into the sea. Seers and astrologers presage a time of coming darkness. It remains to be seen whether this is a prelude to a new age of prosperity and peace, or an end to humanity’s reign.
Now is the time of man, a time when the power of the gods has waned and humans are free to forge their own destinies. Will humans re-forge a single nation, form alliances with the elder races, and unravel the mysteries of the Nimorean ruins? Will they fall beneath the might of the orcish and barbarian hordes? In a dangerous and uncertain future, a handful of heroes can make a difference.
Geography and Climate
The Northland ecologies range from the humid grasslands of Lurga, to the temperate vales of Athanar, to the inhospitable Icy Wastes. Climates and seasons are dependent on latitude and precipitation, with certain marked exceptions due to geographic and magical anomalies.
The Athanari Empire and other nations adjacent to the Lirean Sea enjoy mild summers and brief winters. Dense forests of hardwood trees offer sturdy beams for shipbuilding, fertile soils provide abundant crops, and vast grasslands allow for large herds of cattle and sheep.
Farther north, the climate grows steadily colder. The Warlands, renowned for their wealth of natural resources, suffer deep winters. Varinor experiences heavy snowfall and months of isolation. Times of hardship force farmers to augment their crops and herds with wild game.
The deciduous forests slowly give way to the primeval coniferous stands and mighty Ashwood groves of the Tundra. The dangerous wilderness is reflected by a marked hardiness in people and beasts. While hunters, outlaws, and hermits choose to make their home in these forbidding lands, most of the population comes from vast barbarian tribes. The most powerful tribes are fierce, nomadic horsemen of Harmorn. The tribes of Viaka live in the frigid highlands, holding their own on the border of the Warlands.
Beyond the Tundra are endless fields of snow and glaciers. This region is known as the Icy Wastes. The temperature retreats below freezing every night of the year. High winds often stir up snow, creating the illusion of continuous snowfall. Trees cannot grow in the unrelenting cold. Savage beasts hunt the land and only the strongest creatures survive beyond their first summer.
East of the Lirean Sea are the Dominor Mountains, a narrow range of mountains which drastically affect the climate. The highest and northernmost peaks experience snowfall year round. There are numerous small lakes in the western foothills, but the eastern slopes are stained by an annual rain of ash and soot. Dwarves of the Kingdom of Rengorak live in the northern peaks, while deep dwarves of the Kingdom of Vorathor claim the southern peaks.
To the east of the mountains are the Mirdar Steppes. Isolated from rains swept eastward off the ocean, the steppes suffer from a lack of rainfall. For a short period each spring during the snow thaw, water is plentiful. In high summer, the lack of moisture can be deadly. In years of drought, the steppes become a vast tinderbox. Wildfires rage up and down the high prairie, tainting the air and shading the sunsets the color of dried blood. The northern steppes are held by the gnolls of Ralka, the midlands by Dharga bugbears and Tanak lizardmen, and the southern desert by the demons of Iruk.
Empire of Athanar
The population of the Empire is currently three million, two hundred thousand. Less than ten percent of residents are metahumans and halfbreeds. Silver, livestock, trade and luxury goods are the main exports. The twin capitols were built on ancient Nimorian ruins. Archbridge, in the north, is often called the Summer Court or Summerhold. Kassantia, in the south along the coast, is known as the Winter Court. The heraldry of Athanar is a golden lion rampant on a crimson shield with a black border.
Oldest of the nations, and arguably the most powerful, the Empire of Athanar once dominated the entire Northlands. They were the first humans to arrive in any number. After establishing a foothold in two massive keeps, the young nation was able to hold its own against all rivals. After three hundred years of decadence, the Empire tore itself apart under the rulership of a series of bad Emperors. Fifty years of bloody conflict ended in a series of secessions. The northern provinces split off into the Aristocracy of Varinor, the Kingdom of Solantis, and the Republic of Tanaris. One large southern province broke away and became the Kingdom of Alkuras.
Today, the Empire of the Rampant Lion has a strong presence around its twin capitol cities. Border keeps have fallen into ruin. Brigands and bandits roam the surrounding lands, far from maintained roads. Merchants never travel beyond the Empire's heartlands without armed escort. Small towns often employ sellswords to maintain a skilled militia. Only the Luminar Forest, patrolled regularly by Knights, are free of fierce monsters.
Athanar is known for the honor and nobility of its knights. No knighthood captures the spirit of gallantry better than the Order of the Sable March. Stories of the knights defending valleys against the press of orcs, single-handedly defeating bands of raiding barbarians, and sacrificing their lives to dispatch demons are common. Though the common man believes these tales are too improbable to be true, songs about the knights are still the most often requested of bards. Many young boys dream of traveling to a capitol city to become squires. Most die in service, but those who survive go on to become legendary warriors without peer. Their crest is a black shield with three silver stars, representing honor, duty and courage. The Knights of the Sable March are quartered in a fortress known as the Citadel in the city of Archbridge.