The world of Anaria

Which probably bears an actionable similarity to Greyhawk, but is also rather different. Plus I don’t like the direction that the Living Greyhawk campaign took. So my version keeps the same map (which I have always loved), and a lot of the same kingdoms, but put a new, less anthropocentric spin on the history. There are going to be a lot more elves…

So once, there was a great Elfish kingdom to the west, beyond the what are now the Barrier Peaks. Back then, this was a fertile land, not the Sea of Dust that it now is. And this kingdom became an empire – it conquered lands to the west that are beyond the knowledge of men now living, and it sent expeditions into the east, where it found forests and scattered tribes of men, that it dominated, and used to fell trees for its insatiable needs. And it warred with the elvish clans to the north, who roamed the great steppe, fierce archers on fleet horses who lived only for their freedom under the wide skies.

And the empire of S’el became darker and more decadent as it expanded. Its people gave themselves over to dark pleasures and depraved desires, and the spires of their cities echoes with the screams of tortured and pain. But ever were the clans of the north a thorn in their sides, and their greatest warriors rode to battle on great dragons that breathed fire. And they had no homes upon the steppe, but were ever on the move, falling back when assaulted, and striking again when least expected.

So the great mages of the S’El created a great magic, and wove their greatest spells into one great spell that would scourge all the northern plains. But the shamen of the northern clans felt the spell as it grew and grew, and they called upon their spirits of land and water, sky and earth, and the wrought their spells in return. Finally the hammer fell and the Invoked Devastation fell upon the northern plains, and the grass and trees withered and died. But the shamen of the north were powerful too, although they could not stop the spell entirely. But they could turn some of its power away, so not all life on the plains was extinguished, and they mixed the power they had turned away with the pain of the desecrated land, and drove it back on S’El. The mages of S’El were arrogant, and never expected the clans of the north to master such power. Few saw its coming , and fewer still escaped the Rain of Colourless Fire which fell upon S’El. Everything the rain touched turned to dust, and the whole great land of S’El – its rivers and forests and fields and people became a great sea of chocking dust.

Thus passed S’El into history.

But some of its people escaped, either because they had been in the east when the Rain fell, or they felt its coming and managed to escape.

To the east of S’El, beyond the mountains, was a fair land – a great valley watered by two great rivers. Here they tried to recreate the kingdom of S’El in exile – they rounded up the human tribes as slaves, and built new cities. Some of the elves already dwelling here had been remote garrisons of S’El, who were happy enough to help this endeavour, but many were those who had fled S’El at the shame of its depraved practices. In time, these scattered elves gathered their strength, and then, freeing the human slaves, they struck at the few remaining S’El mages. Many were slaughtered, but a few escaped, across the sea, yet further to the east.

In this newly freed land, many of the free elves settled down with the men who they had freed, and together created the Kingdom of K’el, which is now called the High Kingdom of Keoland. Keoland is probably the place in all of Oerth where men and elves are most at peace with each other. Indeed there are few in Keoland who could claim to be entirely elven or entirely human, so much is their blood mixed. And they claim that they have the best attributes of both races. Certainly Keoland is known as a kingdom that is ruled fairly and justly. The Kingdom itself contains many realms, all of which recognise the suzerainty of the High Kingdom, but many of which are to all intents and purposes independent. The most notable are the Yeomanry in the east, which is a human realm for those who hold to the purity of human blood, and the Celene in the west, which is the only pure-blooded elven realm in the High Kingdom.

The High King himself (or herself) is elected from those of royal blood by a council of barons, and serves for a term of twenty years, whether man or elf or any mixture of the two. The Keoish say that this practice of short reigns is what saves them from the decadence and decline of the Great Kingdom.

Which now brings us to the mention of the Great Kingdom. For when those elves who had been ousted from K’El fled east, across the sea, they found a new realm; a kingdom of men that flourished in the wide lands between the two seas. Unlike the land between the two rivers, this was no scattering of tribes that could be easily dominated, and their numbers were further reduced even from the scattered remnants that had fled S’El. But those of them that remained were those that were most cunning and puissant in dark magic. And so they came not in might, but under darkness, and cover of night. And they worked their way into the shadows of the Great Kingdom, watching and waiting; luring men into dark cults and enthralling those close to the halls of power. Gradually, their influence increased, as, disguised by their glamours, they took up their positions around the throne. Gradually, the Great Kingdom descended into factionalism and strife. Some men were tools of the dark elves, and others turned to other sources of power in order to counter them. The Great Kingdom split into a myriad of warring kingdoms. In some elves remained in the shadows, in others, they ascended the throne. All made pacts with dark powers to better dominate the others. The most successful of these were some kingdoms of the south that started to worship a serpent god – their deity granted them the power to become mighty serpents themselves, and create slave armies of serpent men. For a time, it seemed as if their legions would dominate all of the east, but the elves, emerging from the darkness and opposing themselves to the openly depraved behaviour of the serpent people, were able to fully use their magical power for the first time. The war was long and bloody, but gradually the serpent men were forced back, finally across the Azure Sea to the jungles of Amedio. The elves of S’El were able to set themselves up as the saviours of the Great Kingdom, and the greatest amongst them ascended to the golden throne of the new Great Kingdom.

The hearts of the elves of S’El were always dark however, and gradually they reverted to their former ways, as they pulled all power into their own hands. Their lives were many generations of those of men, and gradually men cam to resent and hate their new masters for their power, their immortality and their ruthlessness. Plots were hatched, and rebellions and uprisings became ever more frequent. At the same time, men of power dabbled again in pacts with dark powers in order to give themselves the power and lifespan of their elven masters. In the end, the elves were overthrown, but the men who raised themselves to the ruling class were every bit as depraved and degenerate, as well as long lived as their former masters. Thus the Great Kingdom stagnated, and became a dark place where the peasantry groaned and cowered in their villages, working for their feudal lords in dark castles between grim forests where dark creatures lurked.

Story 1, Chapter 1 (Draft) – repost

Reposted as I inadventently deleted it.

Like all stories this story starts with a city, an incredible city. Alzahar, rising from the rocky wastes, animpossible mountain of jumbled dwellings and houses, as baked yellow and brown as the wastes themselves, a thousand years of habitation piled on top of each other, inconceivable in this waterless land. Trade routes from far off lands converged upon this point and the city lived for the bellow of camels, the aroma of heavy spices and the flow of gold from hand to hand. As the weary traveller approached across the rock shards of the wastes, the secret of Alzahar became visible, the great rift, hidden from distant sight, that carved through the wastes and out into the sand sea, where the waters of the Gualf emerged from their underground course and cut a great gorge through the soft sandstone of the wastes. Here, a thousand feet below the wastes, were gardens and fields of plump dates, rushes and birds nesting in the caves that lined the cliffs. And at the head of it all, at the point where the stygian river emerged into the harsh glare, straddling the head of the gorge was the great city itself, hewn from the dust-coloured stone on which it sat, rising like a cancerous tumour from the rock itself. Alzahar, the very heart of the world.

The arrival of a caravan from across the wastes was not an event of import in the life of Alzahar. It required a few officials to bestir themselves in order to inspect the burdens the camels carried, assess and log the contents, fill out forms and register the travellers. It bestirred the crowd of beggars and children and crowded round the newly-arrived offering services that they needed after weeks in the desert; a room, a bath, food, companionship, a beautiful girl, or several. To the seasoned traveller these were annoyances, they had favourite haunts, long term companions, places they knew were clean in every sense. To the first time traveller, they could be deadly, leading to a blind alley in the furthest reaches of the city and a quick end.

This morning’s caravan was no different to any other, arriving in the early hours before the midday sun started to beat down mercilessly. It came from over the Bathan hills and from the far off port of Arcolan, on the Inner Sea, part of the Empire. It brought goods that only the Empire could provide, cheap but well made swords and spear-heads, beautifully decorated pattery in the latest styles, salt. Amongst the travellers however was one who was new to Alzahar, white skinned after the fashion of the Sealanders. The crowd by the gate marked him, the desert traveller attire badly worn, by one not used to it, but also the outline of a sword visible under the long robe, the hilt occasionally visible as he moved.

Formalities past, he hefted a small bundle over his shoulder and after a few brief words and directions from the caravan leader strode off, taking the central road out of the irregular market place by the west gate. The caravan would take the large road that ran south along the city wall, towards the rich merchants quarter, but the central road he took led upwards, twisting and turning past the blank fronts of ancient buildings, into the very heart of the city. Alzahar had not been built on a hill, but war, local feuds and the passage of ages had crumbled many of the oldest builsings of the city to rubble and future generations, had just built upon the wreckage that they couldn’t salvage. As a result the centre of the city had risen gradually higher and higher and the few truly ancient buildings that still stood now opened to the street on what had been their third or fourth floor, everything below relegated to unlit basements. The city stood not so much on a hill as on a termites nest, riddled with long abandoned cellars, rooms and tunnels, home to vermin and those who preferred to conduct their business in the dark.

The buildings towered overhead, cutting out the bright sun and keeping the street cooler than expected. The street wound onwards, past doorways barred with great metal bound doors of wood so ancient, desicated and worm eaten that they looked as if a single blow would shatter them. A small gaggle of children and youths followed, eager to see where the stranger was headed, if he knew him himself. At each turning he stopped, considered and then took the higher road, or at least the road that seemed initially to lead higher, until at last he emerged again into the light, in an irregular and empty square at the top of the city. Opposite him stood a large building, its great gate, large than any other seen so far, flanked by a pair of stone towers. Above the gate was a stone arcade or loggia, a balcony facing the square below.

Crossing the square the stranger banged on the gate, the noised echoing around the square and hollowly within. Nothing stirred, save an old beggar on the corner of one of the other streets that led into the square, who sidled slowly over, hobbling and hawking as he came.

“No-one there” he said, “no-one there long time” he continued in a strange argot of local Sidelhian and the Rhamonian of the Inner Sea.

“But this is the palace of the king?” asked the stranger, in a different version of the same argot.

“Once, once was, no king here now.”

“Where is he then?”

“I take you, maybe, it is good for me, maybe” the beggar suggested.

“Yes, the king. I will give you money if you take me to the king.”

The beggar turned and shuffled off across the square towards yet another narrow street. The stranger stayed standing in front of the palace. Turning, the beggar gesticulated widlly at him – “Come, come, here, this way”.

Making his mind up the stranger bent down to straighten his boot and then strode across the square, catching the hobbling beggar in a few short strides. The beggar hobbled into the narrow street and then took a side alley that descended a sharp set of stairs, which he negotiated with difficulty. He then entered a maze of smaller streets in the north end of the city. The stranger was no innocent and he recognised that this was a dangerous situation. His senses searched the area aroudn for possible threats and his unease was rewarded when suddenly in a narrow alleyway, there was a scuffle of feet, and two other men burst out from a side alley. The stranger’s reactions were cat-like. He turned and his left hand shot out, the dagger concealed in the palm flying across the intervening gap and hitting one of his assailants in the face. He continued turning, drawing his sword as he went. The straight blade flashed out in a wide circle and decapitated the beggar as it went, his head spinning off into the corner and the knife falling clattering from his hand. The sudden moment of silence was broken by a shout from the ruffian behind him and a scream from the one he had hit. He ran, not pausing to look behind him, but hearing the sounds of feet in pursuit. He turned a corner and continued down another blank alleyway, when he saw a dark-robed figure, armed with a scimitar, enter the alleyway from a turning ahead of him. Turning back was not an option, but he had already noted one of the buildings in the alleyway was little more than a ruin, its doorway gaping open darkly, its upper storeys little more than rubble.

A New World Idea

A dualistic world caught between two sources of power, an aetheric energy whose source is the sun and a cthonic energy whose source is the earth. Each energy source is antithecal to the other and yet also capable of interacting with it – the surface of the world is the point of interaction.

Each energy is associated with a major and a minor element. The major aetheric element is Fire, the minor element is Air. The major cthonic element is Earth, the minor is Water. The two major elements cannot interact with each other, but they can influence the opposing minor elements. The two minor elements can combine, but the result depends on which is the dominant element in the combination. Air and Water with Air dominant is Foam, with Water dominant is mist or miasma.

The cthonic power is served by the cthonic beings. These are cold blooded, from the lore-wise dragons down through various orders of lizards and lizardmen. The aetheric power is served by its own range of creatures, from angelic faeries down to men. The higher creatures of each power are pure, the lower creatures are alloyed and impure, which makes them less powerful but more tolerant of the power of the other. For example the faerie are pure creatures of light, they are filled with aetheric energy but find the touch of metal deadly since it is cthonic in origin. Dragons are pure cthonic creatures – they cannot fly or breathe fire but can shake the foundations of the earth. They find the very touch of light hard to bear though.

The middle races, men and lizardmen, have no such power and suffer few such problems. They can feed upon both sources of power, the earthpower the flows from the ground beneath their feet and the lightpower than shines down, although they find their preferred power easier to comprehend. For all of them though, power is something that they are blind to and need to scrabble for.