Ashes of Empires
The wars of the past decade are over, and the Golden Age of the Near Kingdoms is clearly at an end.
The Hundkin, a race of barbaric dog-headed warriors from the badlands to the west, now hold dominion over the homelands of the humanoid races. Their empire, known as the Hand of the Chained God, spans almost all of the known world, from the steppes of the Far Reach, across the dwarven kingdoms of the Godsteeth Mountains, to the heart of the human and elven civilizations surrounding the Great Deep Sea.
The Near Kingdoms, grown soft after centuries of internecine conflict and petty political squabbling, thought themselves safe from the Hundkin and failed to react to the horde’s conquest of the nomadic tribes of the distant Reach. By the time the dwarven homelands fell and it became clear that the Godsteeth Mountains would provide no barrier to the empire’s eastward expansion, towns on the edge of the Near Kingdoms began to fall before the Hundkin horde. Armies were belatedly raised to defend the human and elven capitals, but their soldiers were ill-prepared for the ferocious assault of the Hand.
Most of the powerful ruling class fled in the Great Exodus, a desperate evacuation organized by the powerful mages of the Invisible College. These nobles were spirited away to distant planes of existence far from the world in an attempt to preserve their ancient lineages. While some plot and plan their eventual return to power, others are content in their exile and have given up hope of ever returning to the mortal plane.
Of those noble families who failed to escape in the Exodus, some were driven either by desperation or their sense of self-preservation to swear fealty to the Hand. Disparagingly referred to by the common people as the Tarnished Crowns, these nobles now serve as the nominal leaders of the captured kingdoms. What little authority they hold on to is given to them by the Khagans, regional governors representing various tribes of the Hundkin.
While the Tarnished Crowns struggle to hold on to some semblance of their former lives, the common people of the Near Kingdoms suffer terribly. Their homes and lands ravaged by war, and the engines of commerce ground to a pulp beneath the onslaught of the Hand, most of the population lives in desperate poverty and under authoritarian rule. Heavy taxes are levied on all transactions, giving rise to a thriving black market economy dominated by thieves and a greedy merchant class. Gold is scarce, and most people resort to scavenging and barter to escape taxation and provide for the basic necessities of life.
The Hundkin swear allegiance to Lumis, the Chained God of Death, but show no interest in converting the population of their captured lands to his worship. Confident in the supremacy of their deity, they tolerate the people’s continued worship of their own traditional gods. The priests of the old temples do their best to ease the suffering of the poor, but must pay heavy fees to the Hand to be allowed to remain in public operation. Many religious orders, unable or unwilling to pay these fees, have gone underground and work in secret to provide for their followers as best they can.
While priests are begrudgingly tolerated, wizards and sorcerers do not have it so easy. Elite squads of Hundkin investigators and enforcers make a point of showy public executions of those even suspected of practicing magic. Stemming from a combination of the Hundkin’s instinctive distrust of magic and their desire for retaliation against the Invisible College, the Hand quickly outlawed all arcane arts in their newly captured territories. Their assault on the Five Towers of the Invisible College in Trestis Fortuna, capital of Arnassus, brought the capture and violent deaths of much of that organization’s ranks, and the burning of its great library and laboratories brought the tragic loss of untold centuries of arcane knowledge.
While the remaining nobles play at governance and the commoners toil under the oppression of the invaders, some factions work in secret to undermine the Hand and restore the Near Kingdoms to their former freedom.