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.