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Ashar

Overview

Demonym: Ashari
Climate/biome: Arid; coastal sandy desert and savannah with seasonal rivers
Area: Medium
Population density: High; heavily concentrated in large cities
Common Inhabitants: Abilen
Uncommon Inhabitants: Equitarn, humans, orcs, realm
Rare Inhabitants: Eladrin, soratami, elves, wu-kan, kobolds, drow

Ashar is the homeland of the abilen, a land separated from the rest of Alm by a vast sandy desert. Forced into isolation during the War of Empires, today it is the undisputed centre of trade between all nations.

Ashari citizens belong to vast merchant dynasties, typically of abilen stock—though, due to a social tradition of wives’ families adopting their husbands, non-abilen do appear in the hierarchy here and there. Families are businesses, and businesses are family—and negotiating the subtle social rules of Ashari high society is as great a challenge as any outsider is likely to face.

History

Disregarded by both the gnollish and eladrin empires, Ashar was left uninhabited by sentient creatures until the abilen—driven from their homes repeatedly by unending war—took refuge here. Finally safe from the clashing empires, they built their nation slowly, carefully discovering what resources the desert had to offer, learning the patterns of its growth and decline. By mastering the use of their seasonal rivers for agriculture, they found they could create abundance of produce, including a great many crops found nowhere else on Alm.

Ashar also traded eagerly, with anybody who wasn’t directly involved with the war—the nomads of the Grasslands, burrowing kobold scouts, exploratory wu-kan ships, even drifting Rogue Islanders. And out beyond the desert, they watched the war burn on.

When the new power of Brandeis suddenly put an end to the war, Ashar found its time to blossom. The Ashari emerged into the newly-forged peace with an array of exotic goods the empires had never known; new fruits and spices, richly crafted fabrics and dyes, domesticated beasts, and fascinating games and gadgets. Today, its wealth is vast and its reach long, and its former oppressors regularly find themselves confounded by masterful trade deals.

Relationships

Ashar maintains peaceful—if not always friendly—relations with all Almish nations. Even the Aurites, who dogmatically regard abilen as soulless sub-humans, understand that they rely on goods which ultimately come from Ashar.

Sharing a strong cultural taboo against warfare, the abilen prefer to flex their muscle in the form of treaties and tariffs—an arena where their mercantile might makes them the enduring favourite.

Ashar also owns the satellite state of Nasirah, a smaller settlement in the Northern Grasslands which represents the onetime ambition to create an Ashari empire. The plan was abandoned after the colonial government was ousted, but Nasirah was permitted to remain after a lengthy voting summit of the Grasslander tribes. In return for its continued existence, Nasirah is obligated to grant Grasslanders the same benefits as Ashari citizens, as well as the right to camp on public land as appropriate to their seasonal migration.

Finally, Ashar shares joint control of Faradh, a territory connected to the Parosean land bridge which became a waypoint during the Parosea exodus. Though technically its own city-state, Faradh is governed by the merchants who sustain it, many of whom are also Ashari citizens.

Persons of Note

The current ruler of Ashar (and Head of the Ashari Trade Union, naturally) is one Misha Aalya, the matriarch of Ashar’s largest and most powerful family. An gloriously fat abilen woman with a reputation for conducting herself in a manner just on the near side of appropriate, she is often underestimated by those who don’t know her reputation; that she leaves unwary negotiators in her wake like the so many salted fields. Folk say she approaches trade the same way Brands approach drinking (at which she is also, apparently, very accomplished).

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Beasthome

Overview

Demonym: Bestial; of Beasthome. Beast; a person who is Bestial
Climate/biome: Mostly scrubland, rocky desert and mountains
Area: Large
Population density: Very low
Common Inhabitants: Gnolls, natural beasts
Uncommon Inhabitants: Thull realm, elves, equitarn
Rare Inhabitants: Bannyr, jotun, other realm

Beasthome is the last stronghold of the bestial races that ruled Alm before the Death of Empires.

What was once a continent-spanning gnollish empire was worn down by centuries of war, until it was finally forced into this one corner of wilderness. Here, the law of the ancient clans still reigns; the strong rule, and the weak obey. Life is brutal here, and demands brutality in return.

Since female gnolls are typically larger and stronger than their male counterparts, the clans of Beasthome have traditionally been matriarchal in nature. However, sex is no object for a powerful enough warlord, especially if they can master shamanism (non-primal magic is usually regarded as false strength). In rare cases, even a non-gnoll may became a clan leader—if usually only by slaying the current warlord in single combat.

Relationships

Beasthome is a perilous land, where tribal law changes at the whim of the powerful and few outsiders dare to tread. Although no formal declarations were ever made, it generally considers itself to be at war with the Calanish empire until one or the other is completely destroyed. Still, there are those within its borders who tire of eternal war, and wish to aid the outside world when it makes an effort to approach.

Beasthome is located on the western-most cape of Alm and shares a land border only with Ironhilt, controlled by its hated foes, the Brands. This has forced it to remain broadly self-sufficient, save perhaps the occasional seaborne trade. While it has the territory to sustain itself for the foreseeable future, it is undeniably becoming weaker as the nations around it grow more interdependent.

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Brandeis

Overview

Demonym: Brandish; of Brandeis. Brand; a person who is Brandish
Climate/biome: Mostly seasonal woodland and open plains, becoming coniferous forest and taiga to the south. The Soaring Sentinels, marking the western border of Brandeis, are permanently snow-capped.
Area: Massive
Population density: Very low
Common Inhabitants: Bannyr, elves, equitarn, humans, orcs, realm, gremblins
Uncommon Inhabitants: Abilen, goliaths, wu-kan, kobolds, gnolls, eladrin

By far the largest of Alm’s nations, Brandeis occupies much of the Eastern half of the continent. Thanks to its huge territory and low population density, it’s actually a collection of nine holdings, each originally born from an ancestral Brandish clan. These are Adelhae, Albion, Aragon, Ceanmor (the capital), Ironhilt, Kurast, Navorey, Saffron and Woodfall.

Brandeis shares borders with Aurion to the west (by way of the Soaring Sentinels), Calanshae to the east, and the Grasslands to the west. Upon its northern border lies Beasthome, where few humans dare to tread.

History

For centuries, Brandeis was not a nation but a countryside filled with fractious squabbling factions, mostly of sea raiders who came from neighbouring Aethys. Though predominantly bannyri, these original Brands also included some elves, goliaths and other creatures, all under their assorted clan banners.

Even with the gnoll and Calan empires at their door, the Brands spent more effort on their ancestral grudges than their new foes. It was a warrior woman named Brayden, nicknamed “Bloodmane” by the gnolls, who unified the fighting spirit of the bickering clans and used it to drive back gnolls and Calans alike.

The Brands rose to power quickly—far too quickly to have any idea what to do with it. Their holdings were soon larger than they could manage with their thinly-spread population, encompassing a majority of the Almish mainland.

Rather than pressing for more territory, they solidified their borders and set about becoming an unshakeable fixture of the Almish landscape. They abandoned most of their gains on the western front, ceding them to their traditional nomadic occupants. Meanwhile, they consolidated their holdings in the east, keeping the Calans and the gnolls in check by concentrating their strength on those international borders.

Thus, they forged what is now Alm’s mightiest nation—Brandeis.

Leadership

Brandish government echoes the system brought by the first Brands from Aethys, of individual clan royalty who regularly meet to compete for the role of “high” ruler. Each holding elects a thane by popular vote— typically the parent or grandparent of a large local family, though the position is by no means hereditary.

Over these presides a Cean (roughly “boss”) who speaks for the nation and ultimately rules on matters of national importance. In practice, such things are rarely necessary; a Cean who tries to force their will on a dissenting thane quickly finds their position in jeopardy, so most national issues resolve only by reaching a consensus among thanes.

Relationships

Thanks to its surprise victory in the War of Empires, Brandeis is in a stable but antagonistic orbit with Beasthome and Calanshae. Indeed, its strongest military forces remain on its borders with these two countries, with the holding of Ironhilt deliberately designed as a shield against potential invasion. Its dealings with both old neighbours remains tense to this day, but fortunately the two nations hate each other even more than the Brands.

On the other hand, Brandeis also won the favour of many groups oppressed by the empires they defeated, particularly the nomadic tribes to whom they returned the vast plains of western Alm (today known as the Grasslands. Ashar was an immediate ally, as the stability brought about by the End of Empires allowed their trade to flourish. They also made a fast ally of Novelis (or later Tenebrae, and Kalyvas) by granting sovereign territory to to the Parosean refugees.

Beyond these, Brandeis is safe enough to have a laidback approach to Alm’s other nations; they are on good terms with everybody who does not explicitly hate them. Although their size and power is a matter of international concern, they have thus far refrained from abusing it, meaning they are well-liked for now.

Adventures in Brandeis

Of all the Almish lands, Brandeis is the most likely to provide a “typical” D&D experience. While there are many small towns and settlements, large cities are rare; in between are long stretches of wild or semi-cultivated woodlands, mountains, and riverways, where travel can be perilous for the unprepared. It’s an ideal place for starting adventurers to explore, offering diverse challenges without requiring them to leave civilisation behind altogether.

The rustic countryside here is home to a vast number of well-known natural beasts and magical beasts—griffons, owlbears, pegasi, sphinxes, ankhegs, worgs, basilisks, dire animals, and more. While unnecessary killing of such creatures is frowned upon, it’s also important to discourage them from preying on towns and travellers.

Brandeis is very welcoming to adventurers. Though they have little respect for formalities and guild politics, they’re happy to let them establish local chapters as long as they don’t start trouble. Most Brands consider adventuring a good career for a young person; those looking to develop their skills are rarely too far from a sympathetic tavern owner with a noticeboard full of odd jobs.

Brandeis as the Villain

Brandeis is most likely to be “the good guy” in any given conflict, given their history and national persona. However, what the consider a peaceful disagreement is a lot more violent than outsiders might expect; things could easily come to blows, even lethal if something goes wrong. It’s never too hard to excuse a Brandish civil war if you want one.

Beyond this, it’s important to note that while Brandeis has behaved well in past wars, they are now a nation of tremendous power; they enjoy a privileged position from which they could easily become indifferent to the struggles of their neighbours. If you want a truly villainous Brandeis, a warlike cean (or even a second “uniting hero”) could easily turn them into a nation of conquerors.

Persons of Note

Brandeis’ national hero is Brayden Bloodmane, a mighty bannyri woman who united the clans, won the War of Empires, and became the first Cean of the newly-formed Brandish nation. Stories of her exploits range from heroic to downright absurd, and speaking ill of her in Brandish lands is a surefire way to see your tab called in.

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Calanshae

Overview

Demonym: Calanish; of Calanshae. Calan; a person who is Calanish
Climate/biome: Mostly mild woodland, heavily cultivated
Area: Large
Population density: High
Common Inhabitants: Eladrin, elves
Uncommon Inhabitants: Abilen, elhan realm

Bordering on mighty Brandeis and fey-touched Deepwood, Calanshae is a nation established many ages ago by eladrin who manipulated the Deepwood elven tribes into an alliance, and went on the build an empire rivalling that of the gnolls.

Today it is small, but accomplished in the area of courtly intrigue; eladrin form the ruling class over a generally-exploited elven working class. Those elves who will not abide by eladrin rule often flee to Deepwood, which is too savage for most eladrin to enter.

Leadership

Calanshae’s government uses a unique combination of hereditary and political succession. Its nobles may hold their positions for life, but are free to choose whomever they prefer as their successor, rather than passing to a direct descendant. In practice, this often this means a favourite child anyway—but, thanks to the their lifespan making families large and rather distant, eladrin nobles just as often choose other individuals who win their favour. Bloodlines are important to them, family less so.

This is true even of their high sovereign, the Shining Lord; thus, Calanish nobles devote much of their time to plying the Shining Lords’ favour in hopes of being named a potential successor. The forced politeness of Calanish politics typically keeps them from coming to open hostilities, but this doesn’t mean that those close to the top are anything less than ruthless in their ambition.

On the topic of elven marginalisation, the Calanish government likes to point out that there are certainly no laws against selecting an elf—or even some other creature—as an heir. What can be done, if every noble still prefers an eladrin successor? Forcing them to pick an elf for its own sake, they say, would be as wrong as forcing them not to.

History

Since its earliest histories, the gnollish clans were the dominant power on the Almish mainland. Some lands remained outside of their control—particularly the feywild-linked forests of Deepwood and Heartwood—but the elves living there had no interest in fighting the gnolls beyond their homes.

This changed abruptly when the eladrin appeared. Recognising a shared connection to the feywild, the elves of Deepwood believed these newcomers their kin, and answered their call to begin an offensive against the gnolls.

This alliance would go on to flourish beyond the Calans’ greatest expectations. With their advanced magic, the eladrin proved to be the most effective force yet to push back against the gnoll empire—even as they largely avoided the front lines formed by their elven allies. They also embraced a desire for expansion, beginning an aggressive push for territory. Where the elves had never cared for conquest, the eladrin claimed everything they could—leading, ultimately, to the nation of Calanshae.

This “War of Empires” lasted centuries. The gnolls had numbers, ferocity, primal magic and bizarre wild beasts. The eladrin had their long lives, advanced knowledge and arcane prowess, and the aid of their elven allies. Territories changed hands dozens or hundreds of times, but neither empire managed to break the other.

The end of the War was truly the end of an age—and the start of Calanshae’s decline. They lost almost all their territory, pushed back to one corner bordering the Brandish holdings.

The Calans rallied famously, however. They would go on the frame themselves not as losers but as masterminds; they decided on their own that the time of empires was past, and saw that they could safely draw back as long as the gnolls were also checked by the Brandish army. Truly, they must be nothing less than the forefathers of the modern world.

Persons of Note

Lord Cinarion

Hailed as the founder of the Calanish nation, Lord Cinarion is credited with bringing the elves into eladrin society, and creating what the Calans call the first civilised nation on Alm. By all accounts a military mastermind, he presided over many successful campaigns, and dedicated much to the progression of arcane research and development.

Anyariel

An unparalleled master of the spear, Anyariel was an elven warrior of the Tuatha, the elves of Heartwood. She famously pledged her loyalty to Calanshae in the early days of the alliance, and was often depicted at Lord Cinarion’s side on his various campaigns.

However, her story took a tragic turn when her own people came into conflict with Calanshae. Calanish history holds that Heartwood began the violence, but many scholars think it more likely that hostilities were the result of Calanshae trying to assert its rule over the Tuatha.

Whatever the reason, Anyariel’s honour eventually forced her to raise her spear against her homeland—a decision so terrible, she is said to have taken her own life shortly after Heartwood fell.

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Deepwood

Overview

Climate/biome: Temperate forest
Area: Medium
Population density: Very low
Common Inhabitants: Elves, fey beasts
Uncommon Inhabitants: Elhan realm, jotun, equitarn
Rare Inhabitants: Wu-kan, gnolls, drow, thull realm

A mighty forest larger than many nations, Deepwood is the last remnant of a once-permanent gate between the material plane and the feywild.

Even now, the chaotic life energy of the wild seeps through the planar fabric like spreading ink, and countless flora and fauna flourish under its influence.

Deepwood is verdant and beautiful, but also savage and unforgiving. The land is uncultivated and the animals are wild, and trying establish “civilised” spaces is generally regarded as invasive. Only those who accept the ultimate supremacy of the forest itself—as both a single entity, and as a fluid ecosystem—are welcome to make their homes here.

Most settlements in Deepwood are living spaces created with primal magic, integrated with the natural growth of the forest. Those who live here take great care to nurture the forest that gives them shelter and sustenance, and mindful of how often it has saved them from certain destruction.

Relationships

More than any other sentient creature, eladrin are virtually unheard-of in Deepwood. Their colonial history means that they are universally unwelcome in the fey forest, an animosity which is all but impossible for any individual to overcome.

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Faradh

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Ikana

Overview

Demonym: Ikanan
Climate/biome: Mostly rocky steppe and scrubland
Area: Small
Population density: Low
Common Inhabitants: Equitarn, humans, orcs, realm, abilen, kobolds
Uncommon Inhabitants: Elves, bannyr, eladrin

Situated on the border of Brandeis and the Grasslands, Ikana is a small nation with a diverse multicultural makeup.

One a heavily contested tactical location, it has enjoyed a more relaxed pace since the War of Empires ended. It always has produce to trade, making it a useful stop on the well-travelled route between Ashar and Brandeis.

History

Built at the base of a rare pass through the Soaring Sentinels, Ikana has along been a useful position to hold in times of war. Once a tiny village, it gained in size as it was contested more and more often. Before long, the population of soldiers holding it—whichever force they may belong to—required a considerable amount of supporting farmland.

After the Breaking of Empires, Ikana was controlled by the Brands, along with virtually all of Western Alm. When they pulled back to the east, Ikana was finally given its independence—on the condition that it stand with Brandeis, should the pass again become a passage for war.

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Independence

Overview

Demonym: Independent
Climate/biome: City. Independence proper has a rather harsh climate, being so far south, but member city-states vary.
Area: Very small
Population density: Extreme
Common Inhabitants: Humans, orcs, equitarn, felbraug, realm
Uncommon Inhabitants: Kobolds, abilen, eladrin
Rare Inhabitants: Soratami, drow

As the location of the felbraug undercity, Independence proper is home to the only significant population of felbraug in Alm.

Founded by Parosean refugees who wanted no part in the Establishing War, Independence is a neutral city-state—or more accurately, an alliance of independent cities.

Its capital city (Independence proper) is situated on the island around which the Three Kingdoms are arranged, and serves as an important neutral ground between Aurion, Tenebrae and Kalyvas. Thanks to the treaty that ended the Establishing War, it also owns all of the waterways separating the nations, making it a powerful force for keeping the Three Kingdoms in check.

At its best, Independence is land of visionaries and an invaluable mediator of outside disputes. At its worst, it is a nation of wealthy war profiteers, happy to watch the unlucky drown in their own dreams.

History

At first, Independence consisted only of the island which serves as it capital city. In the rumbling before the Establishing War, a significant number of Parosean refugees wanted nothing to do with the looming conflict, and so they outright abandoned the nation of Novelis. Their refuge was a large island off the coast of Novelis, which they believed uninhabited.

Remarkably, they instead found the home of the felbraug, sealed beneath the island’s surface by some ancient enchantment. Having unintentionally broken their seal, the refugees found the felbraug to be intelligent and curious—and surprisingly welcoming. After some amiable negotiations, the felbraug agreed to allow the newcomers residence on the surface, as long as their homes remained undamaged beneath.

Thus Independence was formed—but for better or worse, its role in the Establishing War was not over. As the nearest accessible neutral ground to Novelis, both secular and church forces began to rely on it to sustain their armies. Its stance of neutrality quickly pivoted to opportunism, and as the war escalated, Independence grew wealthy. The fracturing of the secular forces only further increased Independence’s value.

Today, Independence is second only to Ashar in its variety and volume of trade. Ever welcoming to self-styled entreprenuers, it is always open to new ideas; its modern form is a sprawl of unconventional planning and architecture ranging from the visionary to the catastrophic. However, would-be business moguls are wise to be on their guard. As the locals say, the gutters of Independence are also filled with millionaires.

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Kaash

Overview

Demonym: Kaasha
Climate/biome: Mountainous jungle
Area: Large
Population density: Low
Common Inhabitants: Wu-kan, natural beasts
Uncommon Inhabitants: Elves, realm, orcs
Rare Inhabitants: Jotun, kobolds

The mountainous, jungle-covered cape of Ka’ash—most often rendered into “Kaash” in common—is the kingdom of the wu-kan.

Isolated and seemingly uncivilised, Kaash is nevertheless welcoming to outsiders; its people are open-minded, curious, and casually confident that they can make short work of any troublemakers.

Though the jungle may seem foreboding to outsiders, Kaash citizens know their home well, and rely on it for protection and shelter. Rather than clearing the land, they live in vast tree-cities hung with rope bridges and flying fox lines, virtual obstacle courses to ground-dwelling folk.

Leadership

Kaash is “ruled” by a prince, which is in their estimation a non-gendered role elected by popular vote every twenty or so years (maybe earlier if nobody likes the current one). However, their sovereign is openly a figurehead, appointed for show and bragging rights rather than government. The Kaasha prince is essentially an elected mascot or folk hero, there to inspire the people and set an example for little kan to admire.

In practicality, Kaash is a representative democracy, governed by a council of regional leaders chosen by their villages to handle national affairs. Important issues are typically taken back to each village for a referendum, so every Kaasha (even the prince) has a decent say in their laws.

Relationships

Given its isolation, Kaash has had little involvement in the wars of the mainland. That said, all Kaasha are encouraged to venture beyond their homeland in search of adventure, so Kaash has never been without perspective. Once the nation of Ashar was established, Kaash was pleased to find a point of contact on the mainland who didn’t want to set Kaasha explorers on fire, so the two nations have a good relationship going back at least a century.

Since the War of Empires ended, Kaash has actively sought out contact with every nation, eager to learn more about them and their people. In general, they have been received well by everybody except Aurion (who are not fond of non-human hedonists) and Beasthome (who don’t like anybody). They get on especially well with the Brands, though it must be noted that a typical Brand plus a typical Kaasha, is a personality combination that can escalate quickly.

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Okarthel

Overview

Demonym: Karthi
Climate/biome: Mountain, caverns
Area: Medium
Population density: Very low
Common Inhabitants: Kobolds
Uncommon Inhabitants: Aberrant beasts

Okarthel is the home of the seven kobold clans—or rather, their collective name for their many homes.

Running the length of the tremendous mountain range that divides east and west Alm, Okarthel is actually a vast network of tunnels and caverns, deep beneath the craggy peaks. Whichever nation you find yourself in, if you can see mountains, there is probably a kobold somewhere beneath your feet.

Virtually uncontested in their expanding underworld, and indifferent to the endless war above, the clans spread as far as they pleased over the generations. Occasionally their explorations lead them to the lost artefacts of the Precursors, which inevitably lead to new villages as enthusiasts gather to investigate the latest mystery.

Leadership

In a system born of the Seven Seekers, Okarthel is led by a democratically-elected council of clan leaders. In most cases an individual leader can handle matters on their own, though they occasionally call a grand meeting over matters of national importance.

Relationships

Okarthel has no traditional allies or enemies on the surface world, and due to the kobolds’ history, they tend to be highly suspicious of outsiders. However, they also place a high value on exchanging ideas, so there is little choice but to engage with outsiders—if only from a safe distance. In general, their interactions with other nations as best described as toleration.

Karthi trade centers on gadgets and books, and typically offers ore and gems in return. They deal most commonly with Ashar and Independence, but also trade a great deal of iron, copper and other minerals to Kalyvas, whose demand for metals is seemingly unquenchable.

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