Climate/biome: Seasonal forest and shrubland (heavily cultivated), mountain
Population density: High
Common Inhabitants: Humans
Rare Inhabitants: Realm
Aurion deliberately excludes non-human creatures from its territory, so those who do live here are usually those who can pass for human.
Known as “the Kingdom of Light”, Aurion is one of the Three Kingdoms born of Novelis, the land where the refugees of Parosea first settled. A human-supremacist theocracy it is ruled by the zealous Church of the White Staff.
Like the other Novelis nations, Aurion is situated along the southern coast of Alm, enjoying mild weather most of the year. It shares a very uncomfortable northern border with Tenebrae, but is separated from the rest of the continent by seas to the west and the Soaring Sentinels, a mountain range running between itself and Brandeis, to the east.
The Church of the White Staff predates humanity’s departure from Parosea, and its adherents give sole credit to their god—simply known as the One God, or the True God—for sustaining them through their long ordeal. The Aurites believe that this faith is vindicated by their eventual liberation, which is surely proof of their god’s divine intervention.
Given the chance to found their own nation, they naturally chose to make their religion the law of their land. Although their territory is relatively poor in resources and strategic value, their devotion to their faith makes them a strong military force, calling often upon the benefits of divine magic.
Aurion is ruled by the Exarch of the Church, supported by a hierarchy of priests and inquisitors. The Exarch is believed to be chosen by the True God, and his life bound to that of the Church until his time is done. Thus, an Ascendant to this role must prove his divine choosing by allowing himself to be impaled upon the spear of the First General, the highest ranked commander of Aurion’s armies. If he is truly the chosen avatar of the True God, the Ascendant recovers miraculously from this death wound, and rises to be proclaimed the new Exarch.
Due to its religious stricture, Aurion has poor relations with the other Novelis nations. Its traditional nemesis is Tenebrae, which is considers a land of heretics and death cultists, but it also openly calls Independence a morally bereft sewer of capitalism. It is somewhat more favourable toward Kalyvas, which seems to share its belief in austerity, but this goodwill ends as soon as Kalyvas refuses to denounce the others.
Non-human relations are even worse for the Aurites. The Church teaches that only humans have souls, leading to the natural conclusion that non-humans are all lesser species (and that half-human individuals, like thulls and elan, are abominations). Thus Aurion remains diplomatically isolated from most other nations, and distinctly lacking the benefits of equitable trade with their neighbours. However, Aurion commends itself on its devotion and perseverence, claiming always that its suffering shall once again be rewarded.
Persons of Note
The current Exarch is a former soldier named Kamael, an aged but robust man who perfectly embodies the stern, patriarchal ideal of the White Staff. He is perhaps less zealous than previous Exarchs, and it seems a surprise that he Ascended from the army rather than the clergy. However, his piety is indisputable, and his divine appointment is enough for his people to follow with no complaint. Nevertheless, rumours hold that the Inquisition had hoped for a more aggressive leader, and would be happy to see a new Exarch chosen.
First General Sephnar Kol
General of the first army and high commander of all military activities, Sephnar Kol is a career soldier of many successful campaigns.Having fought side-by-side with the Exarch in their younger days, he serves as Kamael’s close confidant and adviser as well as his suboardinate. His wisdom and experience mean the Exarch often treats him as an equal in the field of military decisions, and he is well aware that there are those in the clergy—the Inquisition especially—who are displeased by this relationship.
High Inquisitor Hamied
After the Exarch and the First General, High Inquisitor Hamied is the highest authority in Aurion. Charged specifically with the duty to stamp out the heresy of arcane magic, Hamied takes deliberate pleasure in his often gruesome work. Quiet, secretive and ruthless, he is a fearsome figure even to Aurite citizens, who do everything they can to stay beneath the Inquisition’s notice.
Climate/biome: Mild to cold woodland, largely cultivated
Population density: Moderate
Common Inhabitants: Humans, orcs, realm
Uncommon Inhabitants: Revenants, tieflings, wilderskins, awakened, elves, abilen
Rare Inhabitants: Eladrin, wu-kan
Called “the Kingdom of Shadow”, Tenebrae is one of the Three Kingdoms born of Novelis, where the refugees of Parosea first settled. It is best known for its strong relationship with arcane magic, and for its great sin, the creation of the Shadow Rift.
The Shadow Rift is a complicated topic for Tenebrians. They know that it is a dreadful thing to which they owe their survival, and they face its deadly presence with grim resolution. However, they are fiercely defensive about its creation. For all that he is a controversial figure, Salem I is definitively a national hero to his people.
Tenebrae is a hereditary monarchy currently led by Salem III, the grandson of its first ruler. Although the king’s rule is absolute, the monarchy employs a hierarchy of elected governors and mayors to handle matters beneath national importance, so in practice most matters are determined by the preferences of individual communities.
Outside of the dangers created by the Shadow Rift, Tenebrae actually enoys a fairly high standard of living. The state takes an active interest in public welfare, and does what it can to provide for those who lack food, shelter and medical care. Tenebrians are also unusually well-educated, thanks to a national schooling program instated after the war.
Tenebrae is famously reviled as a nation of demon-worshipers by its southern neighbour, the theocracy of Aurion. In turn, it considers them religious fanatics, and is proud to be deemed heretical in their eyes. The peace between the two is an tenuous as any Alm has ever seen.
Kalyvas, to the west, does not hate but certainly disdains Tenebrae. They made their choice, it says, and they certainly aren’t going to compromise their own security to save Tenebrians from the undead menace they created. Tenebrae, in turn, considers Kalyvas a nation of posturing cowards who abandoned them in the face of a fascist invasion.
Outside of the Three Kingdoms, Tenebrae is generally viewed with suspicion (they did create a plague of undead) but also sympathy (Aurion does view all non-humans as monsters). Their strongest allies are the trade hubs, Ashar and Independence, who are always looking to buy and sell magical components and enchanted items. They also find unexpected favour with Deepwood, who view Tenebrae’s history with Aurion as similar to their own experience with Calanshae.
Adventures in Tenebrae
Whether you wish to or not, it’s never difficult to find danger in Tenebrae. From wandering undead, to wizards experimenting with dangerous new spells, to Aurite zealots going “witch hunting” over the mountains, there’s always some threat that needs adventurer attention.
Likewise, it’s easy for a party to find support here; guilds and their outposts are plentiful, and few establishments will close their doors to adventurers in need of healing or rest. Those who are citizens can even expect basic sustenance and medical attention from the government itself, making it ironically one of the safest places for novice adventurers to find their feet.
Tenebrae as the villain
By virtue of its opposition to Aurion, Tenebrae as a nation is typically cast as righteous in most of its conflicts. (Nearly anybody seems like the good guy compared to religious fascists!)
However, if you want to cast it as something more sinister, it’s easy to turn Tenebrae’s power structure against it. After all, the only thing that separates a dutiful immortal king from a perpetual paternalistic dictator is his own good intentions. If Salem and his entourage were to decide that they had no obligation to do the best for their people, Tenebrae would be a very grim land indeed.
Persons of Note
King Salem III
Tenebrae’s current king, Salem III, is a melancholy young human with a deep love for his people. He is the direct descendant of the king who created the shadow rift, and it’s often remarked how closely he resembles his grandfather. Rumours abound that the old king has magically extended his life somehow—but if the citizens actually believe this, they never never seem too bothered by it.
The rumours are surprisingly close to true. Salem III is indeed Salem I, his ritual having unintentionally tied his own life to the Shadow Rift, making him Alm’s first vampire. Eternally insecure over his terrible choice, he considers it his duty to watch over Tenebrae forever, and do what he can to one day close the Rift—even if doing so will destroy him.
King Salem has succeeded himself twice so far, thinking it best that his first self should die young, not long past the end of the war. Replacing himself without actually producing any children has been tricky, but he has managed it with the aid of minor illusion and subterfuge, and his royal co-conspirators, Sabine and Ada.
Celia is wife of Salem III, formerly a low-class seamstress in a small border town. She met the king while he was abroad, and the two married quickly, against his advisor’s wishes. Her rags-to-riches romance has earned Celia many enthusiasts among the populace, particularly as her plain-spoken nature is sure to upset any stuffy formal affair.
Celia is in fact Sabine, a succubus summoned by King Salem many years ago to aid in his ongoing ruse. More playful than malicious, she is delighted to enjoy her indefinite stay in the material world, and loves messing with mortal politics. She continually reinvents herself whenever she gets bored with her current “storyline”, even if it means the current queen must suffer a tragic premature death.
The king is almost never seen without one of his loyal hounds, massive white beasts as powerful as wolves, and much alike in appearance. The breed, created by Salem I and unique to Tenebrae, may only be owned by the royal family. Superstition holds that other beasts know to fear the royal hounds, and dare not attack the king while one is present.
While the hound is generally perceived as one of many who look alike, she is in fact the final partner in the royal conspiracy, a wolf wilderskin simply known as Ada. Perhaps the first of her kind in Alm, she discovered her true form while trying to protect the King during the Establishing War. Proud of her power but uncertain of her existence, she chose to remain at his side, and is now an inseparable companion.
Stern and sensible, Ada prefers to stay in her animal form to keep watch over the others. However, she is often the one to handle mundane matters while the King broods and the Queen enjoys her distractions. In private, she is an equal partner in their relationship, though the King is mostly disinterested in physical affection.