Background of the Isolated Forest Dwarves & the Mapped Lands
Note: This background information is presented unorganized, because it is not intended to tell you, in some orderly way, “everything you need to know for the adventure”. It is intended to convey simply “who you are and where you come from” to give a sense of place to the beginning of the adventure, and also provide you with information you inherently “know”.
As such, not all portions are specific to the campaign, and some may never come in to play. Other parts are quite significant.
The Known Lands
The “Known or Mapped Lands”, consist primarily of an enormous peninsula that spans nearly 1000 miles North to South, and a similar distance from East to West. The north of the peninsula is bordered entirely by a range of mountains unparalleled in size and scope. It is known that there is land beyond, but those lands are not well mapped, and they certainly have held no interest to you or your clan.
There are five principal political and geographic Nations that comprise the known lands.
The Ragesian Empire lies in the northwest of the region, spanning several hundred miles north to south and east to west. To the east of Ragesia is the Shining Land of Shahalesti, a tenuous ally with whom relations have frayed of late. To the south lie the Exarchate of Sindaire, the Kingdom of Dassen, and the Khaganhold of Ostalin, three nations which so far have managed to avoid being conquered by the much larger and powerful Empire of Ragesia.
The Ragesian Empire (capital city Ragos) is located on central lowlands dominated by many lakes. While the core of the empire is populated heavily by orcs and half-orcs, the outer regions have wildly diverse cultures and populations, the result of having once been many separate nations, conquered by sword and torch.
Every region has a large component of orcs in the population, along with heavy military
presence to ensure loyalty and peace. Though the people of Ragesia have been conquered, most are content that they live today in relative safety. Given the power of the empire, rebellion just doesn’t seem worth it. The majority of the population is still human however, or half-orc, and different ethnic groups remain mostly concentrated in their old homelands, which are often separated by low, long mountain ranges.
Ragesia is conventional in its political organization; mayors and town councils are found in nearly every community. The focus of their governance though, is power and subjugation. Evil hearts are encouraged to define and execute the letter of the law with scant regard for compassion or quarter, though it is occasionally given, if only to underscore the power of the empire. Like the tribal beginnings of the orcs who now rule, strength and position is gained through depravity and guile. The populace has grown used to the occasional suspicious death or mysterious fire or robbery. The northern reaches are home to people known as the Kelaquois, who live in frigid lands that are frozen for most of the year, where they coexist with frost giants, mastodons, and vast herds of bison.
The western plains were once the nation of Latia, its renowned ship-building now
benefiting Ragesia and its navy. The southern lands are craggy, with cold rocky deserts dominating what was once Chathus, a land of nomads and traders who nevertheless defended their lands with great vigour, using cavalry and mobility to wage a protracted war, allowing their home to be the last conquered by Ragesia.
The central heartlands once belonged to the powerful nation of Morrus, and numerous old castles, forts, and walls dot the landscape, defenses which were easily bypassed with Emperor Coaltongue’s Torch.
An ocean borders Ragesia to the west, with rocky mountains marking Ragesia’s borders with the nations to the south – Sindaire and Dassen. The northern border is a high, frigid mountain range, separating Ragesia from most of the rest of the world. The same mountains curve down to form the eastern border, rising high enough that Ragesia never saw much value in trying to conquer beyond them.
The capital city of Ragos stretches along a vast lake, and the imperial palace lies safely
offshore on a fantastically-defended island. At night its walls burn with thousands of torches, making the lake look like it is on fire. Ragos seethes with intrigue and unrestrained evil. Plots and counter-plots are the norm and any kind of vice can be had for a few coppers. The city is intimidating and no-one, not even the guards can be trusted to keep one safe.
On the far side of the mountains that mark Ragesia’s eastern border spreads the Shining
Land of Shahalesti, ruled by Lord Shaaladel, a middle-aged eladrin who rose from being
a military commander to the nation’s ruler during the ascension of the Ragesian Empire.
Shahalesti was in danger of being conquered like Ragesia’s other neighbors, and Shaaladel’s aggressive displays of force — including the conquest and destruction of two nearby elven lands that were hostile to him — are credited as major reasons why Ragesia has so far not looked east for conquest.
During Ragesia’s annexation of its neighbors, Lord Shaaladel even lent his aid, he and his
trusted aides participating personally in battles by Coaltongue’s side. A canny and charismatic commander, he is respected even by the Ragesian army, and many expected him to succeed after Coaltongue’s death. Rumors say that the eladrin lord had been quite displeased that the old half-orc was refusing to die of old age.
Shahalesti is not an entirely eladrin nation. The majority of its population is human, but
they live as commoners with little real power. The aristocracy is almost exclusively eladrin, as well as the higher ranks among the military. Despite a grudging alliance with Ragesia, however, orcs and half-orcs are despised and persecuted, unable to hold any public positions, often horribly exploited as nearly slave labor. A few outposts of wealthy orcs with ties to Ragesia have tried to start their own communities, and this is a steady source of strife.
The capital of Shahalesti, Calanis, is built over a crescent rift carved by a waterfall. The city is forbidden to non-eladrin except by invitation from one of the royal family which, as of now, consists only of Shaaladel and his daughter Shalosha. The population of Calanis is mixed (45% eladrin, 35% human, 10% elf or half-elf, 5% halfling, 2% orc, 2% half-orc, 1% other).
Shahalesti is viewed by most politicallyminded sages as an opportunistic country. It
will ally and war according to advantages it sees through the weaknesses and strengths of its neighbors. In general, Shahalesti is a good and peace-loving country that respects its borders, but as the winds of war blow, it is perceived that the Shahalesti people will seize opportunities to advance itself, even to the detriment of its allies.
The Shahalesti military, including its navy, focuses on quality rather than quantity. Most
soldiers are equipped with at least minor magic items, and arcane magic in general is key to most of the nation’s tactics. Their most famed soldiers are the Solei Palancis, the shining legion, whose swords shed light as bright as the sun.
The Kingdom of Dassen lies to the south of Ragesia, and the southwest of Shahalesti, its
borders defined by craggy mountains defended by hundreds of small dwarven strongholds.
Dassen’s people, a swarthy assortment of humans and dwarves, cherish their land, to
the point that superstitious cavalrymen even put dirt in their boots so never have to stop
touching the soil of their homeland. King Steppengard rules a patchwork of eight
feudal holdings, many of them controlled by distant relatives with claims to the throne of
numbing complexity. To assure that he never has to worry about untangling these claims,
Steppengard has had a huge family with eighteen children, all legitimate on the word of his oath.
There are no mighty cities in Dassen, only thousands of farms and towns growing out
from the nine castles of the king and his dukes. The largest city, Bresk, lies on a major
river beside Steppengard’s castle, and is a hilly community built both above and below ground. It’s population is a mix of humans and dwarves with a small number of orcs (65% human, 28% dwarf, 5% orc, 1% half-orc, 1% other).
At the end of a swampy isthmus on Dassen’s southern tip, the town of Seaquen is home to a school called Lyceum, devoted to teaching magic of all kinds. Students of Lyceum are encouraged to learn a variety of magical styles, and are trained in spelldueling techniques.
The national government of the Exarchate of Sindaire is officially run by a representative from Ragesia, but in practice the Exarch has limited power. The people of Sindaire — mostly humans with some caravans of nomadic gnomes — pay some taxes to Ragesia, but maintain their own armies and laws. They take mild comfort in knowing that, should Ostalin, their neighbors to the south, ever attempt to claim more land, Ragesia will come to their defense. Recently a vocal group of city mayors in the center of the nation began to protest the taxes to Ragesia, and refused to pay. Unlike the coastal cities, they little benefited from trade with Ragesian ships, and they called for the removal of the Exarch, a half-orc woman named Horstea. Despite protests from the government ministers, the Exarch sent a plea to Ragesia, and Coaltongue’s army reponded, traveling by Torch
to the central prairies to put down the rebellion.
Sindaire has a long-established druidic tradition, coming from a time when a group of
refugees fleeing a catastrophe in what is now Shahalesti settled in Sindaire’s warm forests, converting many of the locals through their generosity and their disciplined devotion to nobler ideals. The refugees revered lions, and lions now fill the role of pets to the aristocracy and guard dogs for the common folk.
The large capital city of Turinn lies on two sides of a long rock spur. The western side has ports on the sea, while the bulk of the city lies safe on the east.
The Order of the Aquiline Cross originally emerged in Sindaire a decade ago. Since then,
small chapels that teach the order’s doctrine of mercy, sacrifice, and a fierce defense of life have sprung up throughout the lands of Ragesia and its neighbors. Knights of this order dress in white and red tabards marked with a cross surrounded by a halo of feathers.
For many years, the small island people of Ostalin battled among themselves, before finally a warlord conquered his foes and proclaimed himself Khagan. He then led his people to the mainland, conquering lands from Sindaire with the aid of hippogriff aerial archers until he reached a mountain range and met resistance from a clan of dragonborn. Impressed with the honor the dragonborn exhibited on the battlefield, the Khagan decided to learn from this strange race and sued for peace. The dragonborn accepted and the Khagan became a disciple of the dragonborn culture, even changing his name to Barazar.
During this time, Barazar had many children with many wives, but ultimately he left his nation to his half-elf son Onamdammin, in whom he saw the same fire of obsession that led him to conquer. The Khagan hoped his son would be the one to topple Coaltongue and rule Ragesia, but he did not see that the young ruler had no honor underneath his veneer of respectability. With deep regret, he denounced Onamdammin and fled along with his family to the mountains, vowing to correct his mistake. He died from an assassin’s arrow before he could carry out his coup. His remaining sons
are now seeking help from other nations to depose their half-brother.
The Khaganhold of Ostalin is a violent state, ruled poorly by Khagan Onamdammin, whose passions and desires far outstrip his talents. He has broken relations with the dragonborn because they refuse to relinquish his siblings. In response, he has become sympathetic to the many tieflings chased out of other countries. The Khagan is also intent on finding his remaining three half-brothers; he is obsessed with securing his throne through a program of elimination. The capital city of Kistan is relatively small, since the city that used to occupy the land was burned down only a few decades ago by the original Khagan. The nation’s diverse landscape is renowned for its beauty, and Sindaire still seeks to reclaim it.
The Monastery of Two Winds lies in the mountains that form the main border between
Ostalin and Dassen, near to the large town of Eresh. The monastery teaches two different
approaches to harnessing the power of air magic, the gentle west wind style, and the fierce east wind style. Some monks of the two winds feel compelled to travel the world, letting the wind guide their journeys.
The Free City-State of Gate Pass
In addition to the five Nations of the peninsula, there exists a free an independent City-State called Gate Pass. A medium-sized city built within a rocky mountain pass, Gate Pass is the bridge of trade and travel between the Ragesian Empire and Shahalesti, the kingdom of the eladrin.
Population 17,000; another 2,000 or so live on the countryside and upper mountain
slopes within a few miles of the main gates. The citizens of Gate Pass are mostly human.
A sizeable orc and half-orc population represents about 20% of the city. A small
elven refugee population is the only other significant group, with half-elves, dwarves,
and gnomes filling out the rest.
Government: A half-orc individual named Merrick Hurt is the city’s governor. He
presides over a city council represented by individuals from each ward and district
in the city. The council is responsible for managing the military, commerce, and
public projects. According to most of the populace, the council is largely ineffectual
and is easily swayed by citizen groups, wealthy merchants, religious concerns, and
Defense: Numbering in the hundreds, the guards also act as constables. Most guards
are responsible for watching the gates and kill zones around the city. A small unit of
twenty griffon riders patrols the farms in the outlying area and represents the only
Inns are most often found at the outermost districts of the city with the
exception of a few around the grand square. The quality of accommodations lessens the
farther away the inn is from the Emelk Way.
*The History of Emperor of Ragesia: Drakus Coaltongue *
The Old Dragon, some called him, since he seemed immortal and he only grew more
cunning and powerful with age. Decades ago, a warlord arose among the orc tribes of what is now Ragesia. Drakus Coaltongue, half-orc son of a human noblewoman, brought a level of patience and political cunning rarely seen among the savage orcs. He united many tribes, slew a gold dragon and took its child as a prize, and prepared his people for glory. And then, to everyone’s surprise, he did not sweep into human lands for a bloody but ultimately short-lived rampage. Instead, Coaltongue allied with various poor human nations, helping them drive back the predations of the strongest country in the region, Morrus. Coaltongue even gained the aid of the insular elves of Shahalesti, until finally he was ready to lead a coalition army against Morrus. For this great assault, Coaltongue revealed a devastatingly powerful artifact that would lead him to victory, the Torch of the Burning Sky. The power of the Torch was to call down fire from the sky, and to carry Coaltongue’s army hundreds of miles in an instant, plucking them up with one pillar of flame, and depositing them with another. Coaltongue and his allies easily defeated Morrus, and from the nation’s burning remains, Coaltongue created a new kingdom for himself and his orcish followers: Ragesia.
For a time, Emperor Coaltongue and his allies coexisted in relative peace. Coaltongue
was content with his new homeland, and did not want to jeopardize it by reaching too far
and falling before the might of many nations, as Morrus had fallen before him.
But slowly, almost surreptitiously, Ragesia expanded its borders. It took years for events
to play out, and always in a way that made Ragesia’s imperialism seem justified: either
as a response to enemy attacks, or in the name of providing aid to another nation that was being threatened. With the benefit of hindsight, many suspect that somehow Coaltongue provoked these conflicts. Finally, when Coaltongue was far older than any halforc had right to be, all the lands that had once belonged to his allies were his.
Recently, after nearly a decade of relative inactivity, Coaltongue offered to help the
Exarchate of Sindaire put down a rebellion within its borders, and the nation nervously
accepted, fearful of being swallowed up by another trick. What Coaltongue was planning
may never be known, because a few weeks into his military campaign, something went
wrong. Ragesia has not heard from its emperor in a month, or if they have, they have hidden the news.
Races of Ragnesia, and you, the Forest Dwarves:
The races of Ragesia are diverse, with Humans, Half Orcs, Elves, Eladrin, Gnomes, Tieflings, Halflings all well represented.
Dwarves: Once plentiful and well represented across the lands, the mighty dwarf nation has become fragmented, insular and isolated from the rest of the world. Those who venture beyond the tunnels and caverns of their mountain realm (near Gate Pass), do so in an effort to fight against the resignation that seems to be overtaking the older generations. Convinced that the isolationism is just as imprisoning as their ancient servitude to the giants, the adventurous dwarves venture out to build an inspiring legacy, rekindle the pride of the Dwarven nation, or restore faith in the ancient gods that seem to be forgotten in this modern day.
Your clan is an example of one of these adventurous groups. Generations ago, your families went searching to reclaim a place of prominence as well as reclaim the lands of your heritage.
Through the leadership of tribal leader Balen Dustbeard, you and your kinsmen have developed a resourceful community, and more importantly redeveloped the sense of adventure and optimism that has been missing from the Dwarven culture for far too long.