Monday, 2 May 2016

Legends of Eaphandra - The Western Marches, Part 1

Legends of Eaphandra (Lore)

The Western Marches, Part 1


I’m building a setting as part of a long-term game development project I’ve been working on. I’d like to step things up a notch and start getting products ready for publication, especially in light of Wizards of the Coast releasing a new open game license for the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

The setting is called Eaphandra, a world that will, I’m hoping, will be the stage for a series of games in the Legends of Eaphandra brand.

To support that effort (and to keep me working on Eaphandra content at least as a side project no matter what else I’m up to these days), I’m going to try to release something about Eaphandra about once a week here. Such postings can include:

Vignettes – short pieces of fiction set in the world
Lore – short descriptive pieces outlining some portion of the world’s history, geography, famous personalities, cosmology, bestiary, and the like, often written in the style of an in-setting text
Design – without necessarily getting into specific mechanics (which would be released in published products), outline design theory or design philosophy concepts going into game products released for Legends of Eaphandra

Without further ado, let’s start with some lore about what will be one of the core areas focused upon in the setting: the region known as the Western Marches.

The Western Marches

Excerpts from The Western Marches, Volume 1, by Sigimund Darke, completed in 63 IR.

The Western Marches underwent some of the most significant changes of any of the regions of Vistrum during and following the Archonian Wars, as anyone who lived through the time can attest to.

Perhaps the most notable event to occur in the aftermath of the Wars is the signing of the Accords of the Free Peoples, which formalised the existing diplomatic relations between several of the key regional players, including, perhaps most significantly, the orcish clans of the Highlands. Thus far, the Accords appear to be a triumph of diplomacy, as they were characterised at the time by King Alcaris II of Borillia, rather than a “damnable error for which we’ll all pay for with our lives”, as their final draft was described, less charitably, by Thane Kundrik Firehammer, a member of the Mithrildelve negotiating party who was one of the few staunch opponents to including the orcs. We shall review some of the key events surrounding the Accords in some detail in later passages.

Let us now turn to the more recent history of the Western Marches, that is, the history spanning the time that historians are now calling the Imperial Age.

Scholars are now defining the Imperial Age as the time in which the Archonian Empire began its brief ascent to dominance through to the present, when the rise and fall of the Empire remain the most important of events in Eaphandra. The Empire had existed, albeit contained to the island of Archonia itself and a few outlying colonies, for quite some time previously. A consensus is growing that the beginning of the Imperial Age occurred when the forces that could have resisted Archonia’s initial rise were crippled during the Second Necromancer’s War. As such, the first year of Imperial Reckoning (abbreviated 1 IR, or 1 IA in some texts) is given to the year in which the forces of Zyrkuz the Necromancer destroyed the village of Flaxenburgh in Borillia while searching for the Pendant of Stars, what would have otherwise been the 432nd year of the Age of Wyrms.

The Second Necromancer’s War was short, taking place over 1-2 IR. For all its brevity, it was eventful, and posed a serious challenge to the survival of several of the sovereign powers of the Western Marches. The Western Marches were not the only area affected – the Mael’droen Imperium was also devastated, and the Necromancer even landed a small but elite force on Archonia – but the effects on the Marches were perhaps more significant than elsewhere.

Perhaps most notable was the destruction of the Borillian capital city of Amboril at the hands the Necromancer’s forces. The Siege of Amboril had two major consequences pertaining to the future: in the first place, Borillian military strength was severely depleted, and had not recovered enough to resist Archonian aggression during the first stages of the Archonian Wars; and in the second, the low participation of Highland clans in the siege and their subsequent turnabout in favour of the Borillians before its end, which is credited with preventing the Necromancer from completely overrunning Borillia, is believed to have paved the way for cooperation between the orcs and other peoples of the Western Marches during the Archonian Wars.

Also of great significance was the Battle of the Feywold, in which the Necromancer’s armies, and his floating Skull’s Crown fortress, blighted the ancestral home of the elves on Eaphandra. Although it was during this battle where Zyrkuz met what is thought to be his final end, as with the attack on Borillia, the destruction wreaked weakened the military power of the Emerald Throne. Indeed, the magical energies unleashed with the destruction of Skull’s Crown has left a large area of the Feywold barren, unable to support life of any kind, to this day. The result left the elves, like Borillia, unable to resist the Archonian Empire and its allies when they invaded the Western Marches, but also brought the elves closer to Borillia and the Dales, further laying the foundations for the eventual Accords.

With its most significant rivals, save the dwarves of Mithrildelve, so significantly weakened, the Archonian Empire, which had emerged from the Second Necromancer’s War relatively unscathed, was able to exploit the resulting power vacuum. Striking up alliances with the hobgoblins of Gorm’grul, the humans and lycanthropes of Siluria, and a number of powers from the Lightless Deep, the Empire began its campaign of conquest in 12 IR, rapidly overrunning the Mael’droen Imperium that same year.

The Empire came to the Western Marches in 13 IR, in spite of not having consolidated its gains the previous year. It’s thought the Empire proceeded so swiftly out of fear that a prolonged wait would leave its potential enemies in the region too strong and united to defeat. Whether waiting could have improved the Empire’s chances or not, it met the earliest checks in its advance: it was unable to conquer Mithrildelve, although it left the dwarves there in a protracted siege, and while its forces overran the Highlands, they were unable to completely pacify them, leaving pockets of resistance that would flare up. Whether out of a sense of urgency or complacency, the Archonian Empire never sought to reduce Mithrildelve or pacify the Highlands. Another development that would prove crucial is that the Borillian royal family was able to escape across the Worldcleft Ocean. The Borillian royalty would form a core of resistance against the Empire, ensuring Borillia’s central place in the Grand Alliance despite its having been conquered.

So it was that the Western Marches were under the rule of the Archonian Empire, a situation that endured for over a decade. The situation would soon change drastically. In 27 IR, with the Empire’s forces engaged in campaigns across the Worldcleft and within the Great Eastern Steppes of Vistrum, the Empire of the Celestial Dragon entered into a coalition with the Grand Alliance. Where before, the Archonian Empire had been progressing in consolidating its conquests, and, given enough time, may have even quashed the Alliance, now it found itself dangerously overstretched. With its own resources insufficiently mobilised, however, the Empire of the Celestial Dragon took some time to bring its immense power to bear. The damage was done, though, in that Archonian forces paused their other campaigns to redeploy in an effort to prevail before it was too late: while an Archonian invasion of the lands of the Dragon was surprisingly successful over the short term, it stalled before it could prove decisive, and the strategic space granted to the rest of the Grand Alliance was of critical importance.

From the perspective of the Western Marches, little changed until the spring of 28 IR, when Alliance troops began filtering into the Highlands, courtesy of friendly orc clans. The Archonian Empire never quite had the forces to spare to crush the incursion, and so the Allied and orcish forces grew in strength, even as Archonian forces were eroded elsewhere along the Empire’s perimeter. By the fall of 30 IR, the build-up of Allied troops was such that they were able to surprise and overwhelm the Imperial forces. The Highlands, the Dales, the Feywold, and most of Borillia were liberated from Archonian control before the winter set in. Relieving the Siege of Mithrildelve would have to wait until 31 IR, the year in which the Archonian Empire collapsed completely.

In the chaos and confusion of the Empire’s collapse, it’s not clear what were the critical death blows: the convergence of Grand Alliance and Celestial Dragon forces; the terrifying, if thankfully short-lived, invasion by fiends from the Abyss within Archonia itself; or the march of an undead army, led by the wizard who would go on to occupy the ruined Archmage’s Tower in Archonia, that broke the armies of Gorm’grul. The Archmage, and heroes in the service of the Grand Alliance, managed to finish off the fiendish invaders, leaving the Archonian Empire and its allies prostrate but still extant.

For the Western Marches, the end of the Archonian Wars brought significant changes. The regional powers of the Western Marches had seen the price of disunity and isolation with the rapid Archonian conquest of their lands. They saw the Mael’droen Imperium recover surprisingly quickly, and even establish cordial relations with Gorm’grul, posing a new external threat to the region. And they saw signs of organisation and coalition persevering among the powers of the Lightless Deep, a holdover from their alliance with Archonia. It was thus seen to be a necessity to band together. Further, from their experience working with the Highlands orcs, the Borillians sought to bring them into any informal or formal arrangement that might take shape, despite considerable opposition from others, especially Mithrildelve. The Borillians prevailed, and when in 44 IR the Accords of the Free Peoples came into being.

The Accords have been tested: by an ambitious orcish warchief rallying clans against them in 46 IR; by treachery on the part of the Firehammer dwarves in 49 IR; and even by the Wars of the Borderlands in 50-52 IR, when the Imperium sought to extend its influence into the Western Marches. However, the Accords have endured despite these challenges, and with one of the most longstanding sources of conflict – between the orcs of the Highlands and the other regional powers – removed, the Western Marches have, as of this writing, experienced the benefits of peace and prosperity, and the Free Peoples are, taken together, becoming a political faction worthy of challenging the Mael’droen Imperium and, as rumour has it, the Covenant of the Lightless Deep, for the political heart and soul of Vistrum, if such a thing could be said to exist.

Editor’s Note: The above excerpts from Sigimund Darke’s seminal work on the Western Marches are taken from the first volume, in which Professor Darke describes the recent history of the Marches in some detail. Subsequent volumes expand upon its geography and climate, and additional history, tying in where appropriate additional history from elsewhere in Eaphandra. Corrections and critical remarks by other scholars are left unanswered, as Professor Darke mysteriously vanished not long after completing the work.

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