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This is a sneak preview of the Commonwealth of Blacktallow. We thought players would be interested in seeing cultures and kingdoms as we work on them. As with all Sneak Previews, details may change over time.
The Commonwealth of Blacktallow
The hearty folk that call the Commonwealth of Blacktallow home are, for the most part, refined and well educated. The Queen and her house have always commissioned and subsidized schools in the towns and villages across the kingdom to teach the young citizenry both knowledge and etiquette. Even the most rural places of Blacktallow are visited by the order of wandering teachers called the Hickory Instructors to ensure that the citizenry is properly educated and the number of places that have not seen at least some kind of education are far and few between.
To live in the Commonwealth of Blacktallow is to know, in your heart, that men and women have risen above their base natures and embraced etiquette, society, and virtue. From the southern sea, to the northern peaks of the Highguard Mountains, the rolling hills and vales of the Commonwealth contain within them men and woman who understand what it is to be chivalrous and refined.
One would think that, in a kingdom that so values chivalry, women might be marginalized but nothing could be further from the truth. Upon the Queen’s command and example, all women choose their path. Some become Gentlewomen, refined members of society who act as keepers of home and hearth, or pursue scholarly lives. These women are often respected members of households or societies, often running families or groups while men toil at business or war. Other women become Lady Adventurers, and these women are welcome in business, expeditions, and even military pursuits. As one can imagine, the application of chivalry is quite different in practice towards the gentile Gentlewomen, as opposed to what is expected while addressing a Lady Adventurer.
The people of the Commonwealth of Blacktallow consider themselves champions of the weak. It is considered bad form to find yourself in the role of a bully, and those who do so are often challenged by more enlightened members of society. It is this instinct to protect the weak that gives the Commonwealths its reputation as a meddler in the affairs of other lands and kingdoms, and the lords and ladies are quite willing to give asylum or sanctuary to the downtrodden or oppressed. This leaves the Commonwealth with no shortage of enemies, but no kingdoms, it is said, hate one another to quite the same heights as the Commonwealth of Blacktallow and the dark kingdom of Vellingrim.
The nobles and upper class of the Commonwealth have long had a fascination with the occult, and it has been for generations popular to call upon Gloaming and to speak with spirits of the dead. Although this gives rise to no small number of charlatans and false soothsayers, those who can truly practice the magic of Gloaming find their services well sought after; until the news they give to one of the noble houses is grim or otherwise not to the liking of those receiving the magic. Those who truly use Gloaming magic are said to be quite powerful; their magic is said to manifest as an eerie green spirit flame called Balefire. Although Balefire can be found naturally in the countryside, especially near the approach of the Festival of the Dead, many mages capture it with special candles that hold this magical green flame. The country is named after the manipulation of Balefire and the populace’s art of burning black wax candles with Balefire to ward off evil spirits. The Gloaming mages who travel away from the Commonwealth of Blacktallow sometimes carry Balefire with them in lanterns to increase the potency of their Gloaming magic in other lands.
Although Gloaming magic and Balefire have long been popular and powerful in Blacktallow, recently the court has taken up the magic of Chimera because the Queen favors that magic. As a result, mages practicing the art of Chimera have recently been popular in high society, and this has created a polite but sometimes intense rivalry between the very different mages in the employ of the noble houses.
Upper Society is divided into great houses which control the House of Lords. A House is measured not only by its wealth, but also by how well off its servants are. Servants that are uncouth, ill dressed, or that lack a decent salary reflect poorly on the house and may affect its place in the House of Lords.
One large part of Chivalry is generosity, and the noble houses are known for their work with charities, both in their own kingdom and outside it.
The Queen has recently commissioned a royal navy so that has created many jobs and positions which bring opportunities for both wealth and titles. The kingdom has let its once great navy languish and pirates are a terrible problem. The Kingdom has competition and outright hostility from its neighbors who have long held superiority of the seas and who do not favor this new competition for the sea lanes in the southern seas.
People from all walks of life in the commonwealth find coats, both long and short, to be both sensible and stylish. The short coat is considered modest and practical. The long coat is considered a sign of wealth, style, and sometimes even considered to have a sinister look. The folk from the commonwealth also favor a wide variety of hats. Bowlers tend to dominate high society for men, although the top hat is also worn, and a wide brimmed traveler’s hat is often worn by those who travel often to ward off bad weather.
Underneath this outerwear folk of Blacktallow favor loose fitting shirts with ruffles or collars, pants, and tall boots to ward off the rainy weather. The occasional highborn might wear an ascot as well, while the commonfolk and nobleperson alike will look to scarves when the weather gets cold.
The women of Blacktallow tend to fall into two distinct camps; The Lady Adventurer dresses in more practical clothing, favoring short coats, tall boots, and sturdy pants to engage in business, travel, or combat. The Gentlewoman instead embraces the older court styles, favoring long dresses with corsets and more ornate, stylish, and some would say less practical, dress. Both types of women are looked upon equally, though individuals might favor the style of one or the other. It is not uncommon for a woman to carry on as a Lady Adventurer in her youth, and retire to the life and dress of a Gentlewoman when she has earned her fortune and no longer has a need to be quite so active. There are also women who favor the Gentlewoman style because it throws others off as to how active that woman might be.
One of the defining characteristics of Blacktallow dress is the prominence of buttons and what it says about your character. Iron, Copper and Brass buttons are favored by the common folk, and the merchants who want to appear more earnest and hardworking. The Highborn, on the other hand, favor silver and gold buttons depending on their preference. Some merchants that deal with high end goods or strictly with money also favor silver or gold buttons so as to appear properly dressed. Many citizens of Blacktallow will maintain a set of “silvers,” which is to say silver buttoned clothing specifically meant for formal occasions, even if they do normally wear buttons befitting a more industrious labor.
There are also some true frontiers’ folk, such as Pale followers and the Blacktallow Rangers, who wear buttons of horn or even bone. This is not frowned on as protecting the wilds is seen as an honorable pursuit since the Queen overthrew Lady Elysia.
Although the Queen’s Guard wear heavy armor, some wealthy or well-connected warriors dress in heavy leather long coats treated with the magic of Balefire to protect them. Curing leather with Balefire makes it extremely strong, if the leather has a high enough quality and/or thickness, while leaving it flexible. Some warriors will supplement their leather with metal armor pieces like a breastplate, one or two pauldrons, gauntlets, and the like. Asymmetrical armor pieces are not uncommon.
~ Practice etiquette above all else.
~ Do not be uncouth, even to your enemies. Especially towards your enemies.
~ Practice and demand chivalry.
~ Treat your station, whatever it might be, as a responsibility rather than a privilege.
~ Every job is an honorable and worthy pursuit if one seeks to master it.
~ Practice a healthy hatred for bullies.
~ Civilization sets us apart from animals.
~ Sometimes civility is more important than honesty.
~ Treat your enemies with respect, for you are often defined by those who oppose you.
The most common religion in the Commonwealth of Blacktallow is the Woven Faith. While all religions are welcome, and some rangers and huntsmen might certainly be Pale, the other religions are sometimes seen as too primitive by the populace to offer true guidance.
While all magics are practiced in the Commonwealth, occult teachings are the most common and captured the imagination of an otherwise very pragmatic citizenry. Recently, however, mages that practice and can demonstrate Chimera have grown in fashion since the Queen is a very strong caster of those magics.
There is no more beloved figure in Blacktallow than Queen Saraesa Gracelyn. Only recently coronated, Queen Saraesa led the rebellion against the dark Queen Elysia, and drove that wicked Queen from the throne and into hiding.
The government of Blacktallow is divided into three groups, each with its own powers and responsibilities. The House of Royals is essentially the Queen (or King, when there is a male ruler) and the royal family. The Queen is ultimately responsible for military matters, diplomatic matters, and can initiate a vote of No Confidence in the House of Lords or the House of Commons. The House of Royals can also make emergency decisions for the good of the kingdom (such as declaring a state of emergency or a state of martial law) for one fortnight if needed, after which the continued action must be approved by the other Houses.
The House of Lords is responsible for creating and administering domestic law and includes representatives from almost every important noble house.
The House of Commons is an additional governing body made up of regionally elected common folk from each region.
The Great Houses have intricate politics and negotiations among themselves. They don’t always live up to the ideals of the Commonwealth, with some older houses maintaining a belief of superiority above newer money, while other houses are more concerned with power and are perhaps slightly less altruistic in those pursuits. The major houses that maintain a presence in the House of Lords currently include the following.
House Claersen – An older noble house, the Claersen make a lot of their money through trade with other kingdoms, and the house maintains the best mage’s guild for creating gates and using the magic of Wayfare.
House Jaminson – An older noble house, the Jaminsons are very rich with old money and act as patrons of artists and scholars. Several kings and queens have been from this house in the past before the shadow Queen took the throne.
House Ironwright – Miners, metalsmiths, and armorers from the west.
House Schoak – Scholars and politicians, they maintain the Hall of Records and include among their house a number of mages.
House Waverly – Considered new money, this family has seen its fortunes rise with the Queen’s renewed interest in maintaining a naval presence.
House Fenrill – This house maintains many rangers and huntsmen, and its fortunes include the sale and trade of furs and some rare woods. House Fenrill is notable as a house that mostly follows the Pale, and includes a number of elves as part of its extended name.
House Vermissian – Having a complicated history, this house willingly served as the right hand of the shadow Queen and was instrumental in her fall when they acted against her to establish Queen Saraessa on the throne.
House Hallow – A religious house, although the house has a macabre reputation as much of its actual money comes from its place in providing morticians and funeral halls. House Hallow also has some of the more powerful casters of Gloaming magic.
Even more than the eye of Vellingrim and its desire to destroy the Commonwealth, the biggest threat to Queen Saraesa Gracelyn’s fair reign is the former Queen Elysia. Although the rebellion and uprising successfully defeated her and those nobles loyal to her, even the sudden shift of House Vermissian was not enough to put an end to her as was planned. No one knows what happened to Queen Elysia, and since she was a powerful mage in her own right the crown would reward handsomely someone who could provide information that led to her capture or destruction.
The whole of the Commonwealth of Blacktallow is divided among land owners and gentry, with the crown owning the largest amounts of land. Each noble house owns and maintains one region of the Commonwealth, and the head of each house in the House of Lords holds the title of Earl or Countess.
The Commonwealth of Blacktallow has three small borders it must guard. The eastern border with Vellingrim is most heavily guarded, as that dark kingdom has made their hatred for Blacktallow known and would gladly bring fire and steel down on the Commonwealth. The southeastern border with Belaingarde is patrolled, but even though that land is chaotic, the Commonwealth has emissaries there and any military movement would more likely come from the sea. Finally, the ancient Pass of Empires to the west is guarded, but that narrow pass is well fortified by the Great Westgate and the Imperium has not moved against the east in almost a century.
Her Royal Majesty, Queen Saraesa Gracelyn. The Queen has no direct relatives or children, but she is still young and unattached. Unfortunately, she has shown no signs of pursuing marriage quite yet, political or otherwise.
Queen Elysia. The former Queen, her reputation is as dark as her rule. She married into her position when she wed the former King Vargas Jaminson, but his young death left her in the empty throne. She ruled the Blacktallow Kingdom for almost 30 years, but recently lost the throne to the uprising of the last bloodline of House Gracelyn, Saraesa who rallied the noble houses, ousted her, and turned the Kingdom into the Commonwealth it is today.
This is a sneak preview of the Kingdom of Morgrave. We thought players would be interested in seeing cultures and kingdoms as we work on them. As with all Sneak Previews, details may change over time.
Those who live in Morgrave are hardy and grim folk. The land itself has a dark reputation and a wicked history. Undead roam the land at night, and the folk of Morgrave need to be on a constant vigil against them. The noble houses of Morgrave constantly war against the undead that seek to take over the land.
Although the undead seem to fall into their own houses and the most powerful undead hold their own twisted version of court, three types of undead roam Morgrave.
Ghasts hunger for the flesh of the Gifted Races, and feed on flesh. They have ghouls as servants, and, although cunning, the ghouls lack the reasoning and power of their ghast masters. Ghasts and ghouls are said to be driven to frenzy by the exposed throats of their prey.
Spectres also roam the land. These powerful incorporeal creatures are difficult to damage without blessed silver weaponry, and they carry the chill of the grave and can call upon it to attack the living. They are served by haunts that roam the land and do the bidding of their masters.
Revenants are skeletal beings that retain a twisted intelligence. They can use both the skill of their previous life, as well as the skills practiced by the undead houses that they serve. These undead are served by lesser skeletons which are risen from fallen foes and crypts in the hills.
The worst of the undead come from the fallen house of Crowell, for that house was once a powerful and loyal noble house in service to the king. House Crowell fell to Malediction when an enemy of that house, as an act of revenge, fed the flesh of the Gifted races to the nobles of that house unbeknownst to the lords and ladies of that court. The house became tainted with Malediction and fell to darkness, becoming themselves ghasts and ghouls and turning on the rest of their countrymen and women.
The people of Morgrave have a particular concern about the food they consume. After the curse of House Crowell, the people of Morgrave, as a habit, take time to bless each meal. Each family has a short blessing they say over their food before they eat, and sprinkle food and drink with either blessed water to cleanse it or a bit of salt to purify it. It is to invite malediction to eat the flesh of the Gifted, and although these people cannot always check on the preparation of meals lest they be rude, they can take proper preparations to cleanse the food they eat.
The magic of gloaming takes many forms, and some members of the Gifted Races have, in the past, become either undead without the taint of Malediction, or twisted in some subtle way while retaining their free will. These folk are not welcome in Morgrave, and can only travel to that land in the escort of the knight of one of the major houses.
Although all the houses produce knights and lords that are constantly vigilant against the threat of the undead, House Wickford is known to produce the most skilled hunters of the undead. Largely forsaking magic in favor of rosewood bolts and blessed silver weapons, the House is perhaps the greatest weapon against the undead.
Although the folk of Morgrave fight a constant battle against the undead, the northern reaches of the kingdom are twisted and have fallen to darkness. This area is called the Bleak Reach, and it includes the northern depths of the Razorwold. It is said that the very branches of that cursed place hunger for the flesh of the living.
People from Morgrave dress in typical European fantasy garb. Wools and cottons are common since there is large variation in temperature during the year. Cloaks, hooded mantles, tabards and surcoats are common. Warriors favor heavy armor to protect against undead roaming the night. Common folk dress in tunics, linen shirts, bodices, and tall boots with linen, wool and leather being common materials.
Morgrave is a dark land, and the creatures twisted with malediction that roam that land tear the throats of travelers and victims. The knights and warriors of Morgrave protect their necks by wearing armor that includes a gorget, or neck protector. In doing so they reduce their exposure to the attacks of undead, particularly ghasts and vampires, that are driven to frenzy by the throats of the living.
The tradition of protecting one’s throat has extended into the fashion of Morgrave even among those who do not wear armor. The people of Morgrave consider an exposed neck to be improper or even scandalous and wear tall collars, scarves, and other fashions to keep that flesh covered.
~ Celebrate the days of the Spring and bask in the daylight of Midsummer’s Eve, and remember always that the Festival of the Dead is less than a year away.
~ Be vigilant for undead threats, and the magic of Necromancy.
~ Those tainted by undeath, gloaming, or Malediction will turn on you. Do not forget that.
~ Bless your food, and purify meals with holy water or salt.
~ Be loyal and steadfast, for those you argue with for petty reasons will be fighting on the morrow with you against the horde of the unliving and watching your back.
The most common religion in Morgrave is the Woven Faith. Many nobles and commonfolk of Morgrave find comfort in the divine purpose woven into the Tapestry, and they call on the Threadbearers for strength. Recently there has been a surge of druidism as archdruids have appeared in Morgrave seeking to cleanse ancient places that were perhaps once sacred to the Pale religion. Shamans are rare, though no religion is outlawed or forbidden in Morgrave.
While Magic is practiced in Morgrave, particularly among the noble houses, it is as rare in this land as in most other lands. The art is difficult to learn and practice. Those who can use magic are valued among most noble houses, although the Wickford house has few if any mages. The noble houses of Morgrave and its people are particularly vigilant against those who would practice Necromancer or deal in the foul art of Malediction. Any evidence of this art will bring inquiry, and evidence of this magic will bring swift and final justice.
The king of Morgrave, His Royal Majesty Kevel Faircroft, is also the leader of the powerful Faircroft house. The house has dozens of branches, and many lords and ladies of Morgrave bear the Faircroft name and traced their lineage back for generations to show their relation to the royal line. The king is beloved of his people, and after the loss of the powerful House Crowell the people are particularly protective of their noble houses.
House Breck, House Serelle, and House Rake are all major houses and very influential in the royal court. Breck is known for its mines, and its iron and silver smiths that craft armor and weapons that are particular potent against the undead. That house also has a small number of runeweavers that bolster its heavily armored knights. House Serelle is perhaps the most devout of the houses, and boasts a larger number of priests that are trained to fight undead and heal those stricken or diseased by those foul things. House Rake guards the borders of Morgrave and the rangers of that house hunt down undead that crawl out of the Bleak Moor.
House Wickford, while influential, does not maintain a presence in the court. The lords and ladies of that house are less social, and spend their time relentlessly hunting the undead; particularly the creatures that consider themselves lords and ladies of the foul creatures that roam the night. In times of need there will be a representative of House Wickford at court to advise the Faircrofts. Since the nobles of House Wickford come to court only when there is some surge in undead activity or uprising their appearance is not generally embraced with joy, and can be cause for no small amount of gossip and conjecture.
The Bleak Reach encompasses the northern area of Morgrave, and this land is in the control of the undead houses that seek to consume all of the kingdom. The Bleak Reach extended well into the Razorwold, which seems to have a mind of its own and a hatred for the living.
The tears of Balaron’s Gaze flow down into western Morgrave, turning part of that area into a heated and ashen wasteland. No one travels there, for wraiths of fire roam that land. The lava to the north does not block the western road leading out of Morgrave, however.
The southern mountains are mined by House Breck. The short coastline and eastern areas are home to House Serelle. House Rake has the northwestern lands, where they guard the borders of the tears and Razorwold. The Wickfords have towers all over the land, and call only a small area around their towers to be ancestral land.
King Kevel Faircroft rules the land. His life and Queen is Ellesandra, who is from house Rake. The king and queen have three daughters and one son; Ferah, Lucia, Gertras, and Keven.
Count Demestrius Wickford leads the house. His wife died years ago to an undead attack. He has one daughter, Hanna, and one son, Larkos.
Baroness Marison Rake leads her house and lives by the sea. She has four children and numerous branches of her family as she is more apt to adopt those she favors in House Rake than some of the more traditional nobles.
Baron Nicolas Serelle is the ruler of his house, but some claim that High Priestess Tara Serelle holds as much power. Regardless of rumors, her advice is well regarded by all the houses.
Baroness Gertrude Breck leads her house. Her husband was killed in a mine collapse, though he was Breck by name only and married into the family from the Commonwealth of Blacktallow far to the southwest.
While we’re hard at work on the Madrigal 3 campaign and rules, we thought the players might enjoy a sneak preview of the map of Aerune in the year 3016.
This is an early, incomplete, draft and we thought you might find the work in progress interesting, even though areas remain unmapped. Keep in mind that names, places, and details may change as the map is developed.
(Note that many map elements are exaggerated in size for artistic reasons.)