(see map) The realms of Kestria stretch from the forested lake-lands of the kingdom of Jodan in the north-west, to the twin dwarven kingdoms of Darruk-Kur and Ebernesk in the southwest. From the hills of the Orc tribes in the north, and the wide deep vale of the Deepmist Wilds in the north-east, to the sub-continent of Avendi in the south.
The players start in the Dutchy of So’ren, which sits at juncture where the Deepmist river splits into the River Val and the Cremon River. It is a bustling town of about 3500 people, part of the sprawling kingdom of Pharanathia.
The kingdom of Pharanathia has stood for 500 years since Lord Pharan Laureth brought together the warring tribes of Lo’mere, Laureth, Tarkan, Rolo, and Valford. For much of that time Pharanathia has enjoyed relative peace, developing healthy trading relationships with the Darruk-Kur and Ebernesk dwarves in the east, limited trade with Jodan in the northwest, and fey races in the west, and largely ignored by the Yolgargth goliaths to the north, and orc tribes further north.
King Pharan was a good, but cunning leader. He enlisted the help of the Jodanians, and quickly built a strong army to hold the fledgling kingdom together. Factions within the various former tribes resisted the unification, but the resulting rebellions were quickly quashed. Pharan then established an aristocratic tradition by bestowing titles upon loyal families from each of the other 4 tribe lands, thus creating the 5 original duchies.
The Jodan have a saying, “peace is the thief of might”. Subsequent generations of the Laureths became complacent without a mortal threat to force them to hone their swords. The army gradually lost its edge, and became largely ceremonial.
Prosperity reaped from the fertile soil, along with lucrative trade with largely peaceful neighbours to the northwest (Jodanians) and southwest (dwarves), meant that the loyalty of the duchies was easy to retain for scores of generations.
With the establishment of So’ren as the 6th duchy a slow shift in power and attitudes began. So’ren’s rapid accumulation of wealth through trade with the Fey races of Deepmist created jealousies and stirred up the prejudices of the western duchies. They were less than comfortable with the idea of trading with elves and eladrin after so many centuries of trading with the dwarves, with whom many trading partnerships had been formed.
Recent generations of the Laureths further angered the other western duchies by turning a blind eye to the unwanted fey trade, and indeed profiting from it through gradually increasing taxes. On the back of these taxes they grew fat and wasteful, known more for their opulence and extravagance than their leadership. They knew more about how to throw a good party then rule a kingdom, much less protect it from any sort of threat.
The growing divide between the east and west culminated in the succession of Valford, the poorest of the duchies. Valford had long suffered the raids of pirates on their merchant vessels, and local goblins and gnolls on their farms and villages, with the Laureths treating their ails with indifference. They watched with jealousy and anger at the attention instead directed towards the fledging So’ren as investment gold flowed in.
Six months ago Valford declared their independence from Pharanathia. The current king, Philius III, has so far laughed off the petulance of a duchy he considers worthless, but there is growing pressure to respond with a show of strength. Threats by the current Duke, Lexin, of So’ren to follow suit amid debilitating high taxes and the lacklustre performance by the local garrison in domesticating the Yolgargths, further intensified that pressure.
The tipping point was reached three months ago, when the Avendi to the south, little known (yet feared by strength of legend) and previously uninterested in the mainland, out of the blue staged a naval blockade of the port town, Helum, at the base of the cliffs atop which sits Castle Laureth. Rumours abound, including that the Avendi longships carried powerful mages that summoned terrifying creatures from the deep that broke three merchant galleons in two and dragged them to the depths of the harbour.
The Pharanathian army was powerless to respond. Not even the wizards of the Aracana Empricum would dare to challenge the Avendi mages. However, after three days the longships pulled up anchor and left. As puzzling as the turn of events was, it left the duchies in a state of panic. Some were calling for the Laureths to abdicate, and a new king cable of defending the kingdom coronated.
As the story goes, at an intense and angry court session with the king, the dukes passed a vote of no confidence against the king. In spite of the previous tensions between east and west, the Dukes of Lo’mere and Rolo called for the Duke of So’ren to replace King Philius. The king threw the dukes out of the castle. There are whispers a show of strength by the king is imminent. Will he turn to the Jodanians as his ancestor once did? Regardless of what he does, few believe he will be able to protect them from the Avendi.
The Jodanians are a highly militaristic race of humans. They are typically tall, well built, and blonde haired, blue eyed. They are known to be highly disciplined, and their armies are regarded as the best in the land when it comes to waging mass war.
The Goliath tribes to the north are fiercely proud nomads that ride the mightiest of warhorses, and are highly skilled at mounted combat. Most are barbarians or shaman. Their chieftain, Lotan, lives in their only established township on the shore of lake Yolgar.
In recent years the Yolgargth have faced pressure on two fronts, both from skirmishes with the Pharanathians who wish to domesticate or enslave them, but have inflicted diseases upon them to which they do not have natural immunity, and also from orcish incursions that drove them from their traditional lands in the hillier lands to the north.
The Avendi empire on the southern sub-continent to this day remains largely a mystery. The little interaction that has occurred with them has led to the belief that they are aggressive, and to be greatly feared. One rumour says that their emperor is a demi-god.
The duchy of So’ren joined the kingdom as a sovereign entity 100 years ago when Hugor So’ren, an enterprising merchant made two important discoveries; certain rare magical reagents grew particularly well on the slopes overlooking what is now the town of So’ren, and the trees that grow around the river juncture contain wood well-suited to travelling upriver where the water once dissolved the hulls of vessels right from under the feet of sailors.
Hugor quickly established an extremely profitable trade with the Elves and Eladrin from the Deepmist Wilds, bartering the reagents for magical items and crafts he could then on-sell to the aristocracy of the established cities. Hugor’s son, Grethan, went on to establish the town of Trademeet on the edge of Deepmist in order to facilitate more efficient trade with the Fey races. Grethan’s son, Ferenir subsequently formed the Merchant’s Council of Trademeet in order to formalise and codify the trade rules so trade disputes could be fairly adjudicated.
With a population of around 3500, So’ren is now a bustling town of wealthy merchant families, craftsmen, artisans, and other professionals. Many of the merchant families have long-established trading relationships with the Fey races, and there has been much intermarriage between humans and elves, and humans and eladrin. It has an active high society, and is fairly class-conscious (some mingling between the upper and lower classes).
The surrounding areas feature many farming villages primarily to the north among the gently rolling hills where most of the reagent crops are grown. To the south there are communities supporting the lumber industries that feed into housing, and the active boat-building businesses.
The current Duke, Lexin, and his family, are very popular amongst the general population. He is a fair and just leader, although also very strict and religious. There is little crime within the town, and no apparent thieves guild activity of any kind.
RacesSo’ren has roughly the following racial composition:
- Mostly human.
- Many half-elves due to intermarriage. Half-elves are treated with respect, and feel a sense of belonging not normally experienced by half-elves in other parts of Kestria.
- Some elves and a few eladrin, some that live locally, but many that come to engage in trade. The full blood Fey races are respected by the upper class, but held in awe by the lower classes, and in some cases feared for their aura of magic.
- Gnomes sometimes visit to trade like their Fey brethren. Like the eladrin, they are sometimes greeted with a mixture of fear and awe.
- There is a sizeable Halfling village to the northeast. Halflings are largely ignored as insignificant, and sometime seen as minor trouble makers.
- A few Goliaths can be found living in the town as labourers, some slave and some free. Goliaths are generally regarded as uncivilised heathens, and attempts have been made over the years to conquer the Yolgargth to domesticate them, hence the few such slaves living within So’ren. Generally they are looked down upon as lesser creatures, only somewhat above animals in stature. On the other hand, there is some trade with them as they breed the mightiest of warhorses seen anywhere in the land.
- Dwarves are rare in So’ren, and are regarded as untrustworthy, if not hated by some segments of the population, particularly due to the famed enmity between the dwarves and Fey races. They are better tolerated in the eastern duchies where there is trade with the dwarven kingdoms. Occasional brave and enterprising dwarven merchants pass through, plying well-crafted weapons and armour from the forges of Darruk-Kur and Ebernesk.
- Tieflings are rarely seen in Pharanathia. The somewhat eclectic nature of So’ren’s population means that they will tolerate the presence of one in the town, but in other duchies they will be run out of town, if not attacked and killed on the spot. It is much more likely to meet them in Trademeet where a few even live.
The races mentioned in the list above are available to PCs, in addition to half-orcs, or others upon very special request. Accordingly, they will also be difficult to play in this setting.
In general, all the deities in the Player’s Handbook are known in Kestria. Their worship, however, is very limited. In addition to those in the Player’s Handbook, there exists the god Menon, also known as “The Old One”. He is considered unaligned, and has the following areas of influence: aristocracy, tradition, and society. He is exclusively worshipped in the original duchies of Pharanathia, where the Church of Menon has a great influence on those societies. Indeed the Laureths are patrons of the church, and many of their traditions are tied up with the tenets of the faith.
Recent generations of So’rens have introduced the “new gods”, and in the town the main temple is dedicated to the worship of three gods, Avandra, Pelor, and Erathis, in line with the Sor’en’s own philosophies and attitudes.
So’ren Map Key
|B.||Eladrin Trader Dwellings|
|C.||Elven Trader Dwellings|
|D.||Human Merchant Houses|
|F.||Temple of Avandra, Pelor, and Erathis|
|G.||Church of Menon|
|L.||Aracana Empricum So’ren Chapter|
|M.||Inn of the Greedy Wyrm|
|N.||“Crossblades” So’ren Chapter|
|O.||Fenwell Carter – Scribe|
|P.||Ironstrike So’ren Chapter – Blacksmith’s Guild|
|Q.||Melor’s Last Meal – Tavern|
|R.||Ester’s Enchantments – Magic Goods|
|S.||Dusty Tomes – Book store and binder/copyist|
|T.||Hides and Skins – Leather Goods|
|U.||Duke’s Head Tavern|
|V.||Sturdy’s Mounts – Saddler and mount sales|
|X.||Merchant’s Council Concourse|