The World of Valgard
Over a thousand years have passed since the Empire of Bal-Shanaar at last succumbed to the rot gnawing away at its core for so long, tearing itself asunder in madness, blood, and arcane fire.
At its height, the Bal-Shanaari Empire held much of the rugged continent of Aritae in its grip, from the southeastern Hyskian coast to the Gunnar Foothills in the north. Ruthlessly expansionist, the Imperial legions subjugated myriad kingdoms with blade and spell as they marched northward, eradicating any who refused to bend the knee and submit to the will of the Cabal of Ixos, the immensely powerful mage-kings that ruled the Empire. The landscape of Aritae is dotted with blackened ruins that stand as silent witness to the fate of those who stood in the way of Imperial unification.
After nearly three millennia of rule, the Empire’s formerly unassailable dominance began to falter; stretched thin geographically and taxed by innumerable wars and uprisings, corruption took root in the capitol of Ulaaris. The century to follow was dominated by sectarian squabbling and infighting amongst the ruling caste, while dozens of rebellions erupted in the distant provinces, far from the waning influence of the Cabal. By the time the deathblow was struck, Bal-Shanaar was an empire in name only.
The details of the eventual overthrow of the Cabal in Ulaaris are lost to history, but the consequences of that pivotal act are remembered and lamented today. When the ageless mage-kings of the Cabal of Ixos were slain, the arcane energies contained by their unnaturally-sustained bodies was released into the world, rushing across the continent in the manner a flash-flood might swallow a village. All throughout Aritae, experienced mages and individuals with the barest inkling of innate arcane affinity alike were overwhelmed by the wave of untempered magical energy; minds were shattered and powers amplified exponentially, beyond any hope of control. Crazed wizards flung themselves from their towers or destroyed entire towns in their insanity until organized groups of mage-hunters sprang up to combat the threats. This catastrophic event became known as The Flood, and it has shaped attitudes across the continent concerning the use of magic to this very day.
Years of chaos ensued until the residual energies of The Flood trickled away, but the damage was done; with no strong central government, the Empire effectively collapsed. Magic was virtually eliminated from everyday life, the specter of what had happened all too frightening a reminder of the dangers associated with arcane meddling.
Over a millennium later, life goes on in a world littered with the ruins of a lost age; small communities and villages dot the edges of the wilderness while larger city-states and kingdoms have carved out their own territories across the land. The crumbling remnants of the old High Roads remain unguarded in most places, and travelers face predation from bandits, monsters, and wild animals. Ancient alliances between the First Men and other races, made in the dim age before the rise of Bal-Shanaar, have all but disintegrated. The dwarves of Zarak-Thrum keep to their mountain halls, endlessly warring with creatures from the Underdark. The half-giants of Anatar exist as a mere shadow of their former glory, driven to the brink of extinction by the Bal-Shanaari at the beginning of the Empire’s rise to power. Descendants of the fey folk that taught humanity the ways of magic in the Mythic Age, savage elves stalk the forests with fierce xenophobia.
In the handful of remaining human cities, magic has crept back into society to some extent; city folk have slightly more favorable attitudes towards magic users, but it rarely rises above a wary tolerance. In smaller villages and some more remote kingdoms, arcane practitioners are stigmatized and sometimes even hunted like criminals.
In this climate of danger, those brave few who rise above the rabble leave their mark in whatever way they can. Enterprising warriors and sellswords offer their services to the highest bidder, escorting trade caravans along the few hazardous paths that remain functional; priests of the many gods lead their followers in prayer, some with a genuine desire to end suffering and others with only their personal gain in mind. Thieves, brigands and swindlers get ahead by any unsavory means available to them, while handfuls of gifted individuals study arcane texts and rituals, usually in secret for fear of drawing unwanted attention.
- The world is ancient. The cultures of Valgard have developed for more than ten thousand years, with empires and kingdoms rising and falling with the ages, and the ruins of these lost civilizations can be found across the land.
- The world is slowly emerging from a dark age. A thousand years ago, the last great empire fell. Since then, chaos and lawlessness have been the norm in most parts of Valgard. A few city-states and loose protectorates can be found, and small villages dot the map, but there are no great nations or alliances. Some believe an age of rebuilding is just over the horizon, if only people of vision would rise to the task.
- The outside world is wild and dangerous. Outside the few remaining pockets of civilization, the wilderness has reclaimed the landscape. Wild beasts, bandits, and foul monsters roam the vast stretches of land between city-states and towns. Travel along the old, ruined High Roads is fraught with peril and rarely attempted by common folk. Sailing the seas is equally risky, with corsairs and creatures from the murky depths posing a real danger to even large and powerful ships.
- Magic is viewed with suspicion in many places. With the collapse of the Empire of Bal-Shanaar came The Flood, a magical cataclysm that warped the land and drove magic users everywhere insane. Years of chaos and fear followed as mage-hunters banded together to scour the land of rogue spellcasters. Though The Flood occurred over ten centuries ago, most folk remain distrustful or even hostile magic users. Acceptance of magic has grown slowly in some larger cities, but most who pursue the arcane arts choose to do so in secret, just to be safe.
- The gods are distant and enigmatic. People across Valgard worship innumerable gods by a plethora of names; whether they are all distinct deities or merely aspects of a select few is unknown and very possibly unknowable. The gods are known to exist, for the world itself was undoubtedly shaped by the Dawn War, but the deities themselves remain remote and rarely act directly in the affairs of the world.