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Thread: ZEITGEIST Player's Guide: Risur
Monday, 16th April, 2012, 04:28 PM #1
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ZEITGEIST Player's Guide: Risur
Every Risuri child knows that before King Kelland, no human nation had ever endured more than a few years in Lanjyr. The mighty nature spirits only allowed the elves to walk their domain, and they terrorized all others with beasts and storms and blight. But in 1200 B.O.V. (Before Our Victory), Kelland subdued the lord spirits of field and forest, of marsh and mountain. With their grudging blessings he established Risur.
The people of Risur offered the spirits tithing and tribute, and eventually lulled them to sleep. What were once uncharted wilds of fierce fey titans and tiny enclaves of elves became a prosperous civilization of men. In the seventeen centuries since, Risur’s rites of rulership have ensured that Kelland’s crown only passes to those mighty enough to cow the land’s primal spirits should they ever seek to reclaim their domain.
Land and CultureRisur is a subtropical country, possessed of vast forests and fertile fields fed by hundreds of rivers and streams, which flow from the southern Anthras mountains to the northern shore of the Avery Sea. Temperatures are warm but comfortable year-round, though a rainy season strikes near the end of what the northern nations consider summer.
Even the poorest Risuri can enjoy fresh fruit year-round. Wealthy foreigners cherish Risur’s pineapples, limes, bananas, and massive jackfruit, but most prized are its cocoa and sugarcane, and alcohols made of each. A typical Risuri meal consists mostly of fruit, beans, bread, and fish, with the occasional beef or pork. Factory workers in Flint seldom can afford quality meat, and instead make savory stews by soaking bones and sausages in dark beans. Holiday celebrations often include steaming milk flavored with either chocolate or honey.
TerrainFour main landscapes make up Risur. The northern Avery Coast is dominated by a mix of wooded beaches—where mountainous granite domes rise out of the sea and anchor dry lands—and forested swamps, often referred to by the native Elven word bayou—where the country’s many rivers sweep soil out into broad floodlands.
The Westlands of Risur are low plains covering most of the western two-thirds of the country, which draw their name from the countless rivers that weave toward the sea like yarn in a cloth. Most towns and farms lie here, though pockets of wild forests and rocky hills create uninhabitable divides between provinces.
The land rises to the south, and in the mid-altitude hills an unusual swamp wriggles across the landscape, known as the High Bayou. Though the hills are uneven, huge numbers of nesting beasts and giant insects have dammed swaths of the land, slowing the rivers that flow out of the mountains and ensuring a steady source for rivers year-round. Few Risuri live here aside from tribes of Ber savages, or villages of elves who never integrated with the rest of the nation.
Beyond the High Bayou, the rain-carved Anthras Mountains forms a broad border with Ber. Forests cover most of these mountains, though mining in the east has stripped many peaks. Centuries of attacks from Ber have kept many towns from flourishing here, but numerous old forts dot the King’s Road, which runs from the richest mining lands, all the way north to the capital.
Major CitiesRisur’s capital of Slate lies on the banks of the Great Delve River, in verdant plains fifty miles from the Avery Sea. It is by far the largest city in the country, with a population of nearly a million people. A half-dozen major highways converge on Slate, including the King’s Road. Slate is still the heart of Risur’s internal trade and business, though more and more international trade goes through the next-largest city.
The industrial powerhouse of Flint sits nestled among dozens of granite peaks along the eastern stretch of Avery Coast. With a rapidly-growing population of over half a million, slums for factory workers have begun to clump along these steep hills, while builders work to clear large sections of rainforest from within the city limits. Small satellite towns cling to the islands outside Flint’s harbor, and many foreign nations and businesses have flocked to the city to gain influence in the past forty years.
Other prominent cities include the beleaguered Shale on the western coast near the war-wracked Yerasol Archipelago, and lumber-rich Bole in the Antwalk Thicket southeast of Slate. Both cities were once capitals of their own smaller nations in ancient times, before joining with Risur.
A dozen other cities with a hundred thousand or more people dot the coastlines, and a few more flourish along the most traversable rivers, but much of the country’s interior is rural.
Race and ReligionThe humans of early Risur outfought or outgrew the native elves, though many elves and half-elves call the land home today. The sub-men races from what is today Ber—half-dragons, half-orcs, minotaurs, and other monstrous peoples—survive in pockets, often as the descendants of slaves taken in old wars, now freed but not accepted. Half-dragons in particular are viewed with suspicion, even more-so than the normally reviled high elves.
Some families of halflings mingle with humans in farming communities, and dwarves similarly in mining towns. Tieflings receive an odd mixture of fear and respect, though common folk tend to believe their influence on the nation is dangerous. Other races are too rare for most people to recognize them, and are generally lumped together with high elves as being distrusted fey.
Risur’s main religion is a mix of old human pantheism, elvish druidic rites, and reverence for local fey titans who slumber in the earth. Centuries ago many gave worship to the high elves gods or even archfey of the Unseen Court, but such beliefs have faded since the fall of Elfaivar in the Second Victory.
For most of Risur’s history, their most respected religious leaders were the skyseers, druids who devoted themselves to understanding patterns in the stars. The skyseers offer guidance and occasionally proclaim prophecies to guide kings, lords, and common folks alike. But the skyseers have many sects, and in the past century their prophecies have grown more and more vague. Many still respect them, but they no longer hold the same political power they once did.
Some elements of the millennium-old Clergy faith have taken root in Risur, in particular the Great Man doctrine, which sits well with a people whose first king personally changed the course of history. However, Risuri reject the Clergy’s elaborate celestial hierarchy of planar domains and stars, which states the dots in the night sky are actual worlds of their own. To the Risuri, such belief reduces the prominence of the mortal races, instead placing greatest import on beings from realms no man has ever visited.
Fey and Mortal RealmsThe folk of Risur know that the Dreaming exists, though they might call it the feywild, the green land, the unseen house, the world beyond the looking glass, or the happy hunting grounds. Most Risuri treat it like an unpredictable neighbor. While human kings rule in the material plane and there are clear cities, nations, hierarchies, and borders, the Dreaming follows rules mortals can only struggle to understand.
Once every few years the Unseen Court sends emissaries to collect the tribute that King Kelland promised the fey titans at Risur’s founding, typically in the form of magic items, prize hounds and horses, or more exotic gifts. In one notable event, a cadre of archfey arrived on the summer solstice and demanded one thousand engraved silver moons before sunrise.
The ultimate desires or motives of the Unseen Court are unknown, but so far their requests have never been onerous. When they are not appeased, however, they retaliate by seizing infants from cribs, driving wild animals into cities, or calling forth impossible weather like flashdroughts and hailstorms of frozen toads.
The most famous manifestation of the Dreaming in Risur is the Great Hunt. Every seventeen days an army of mounted fey warriors gallops the entire length of the nation, avoiding cities and sticking to the uncertain borders of civilization and the wilds. The wind carries the stamping of their steeds’ hooves, the melodies of their riding sounds, and the baying of their hounds, but they are only ever seen by the light of the full moon.
Many folk charms are said to ward off the unwanted attentions of the fickle fey. Lines of salt block their crossing, iron and the sound of iron bells drives them away, and red liquid—blood, paint, or muddy clay— distracts their attention. They are unsettled by anything with spinning parts, from wagon wheels to the gears of a clocktower, and often try to break such devices as fervently as a man might chase a mosquito. On the other hand, milk or cheese left outside a home will win a fey’s favor. Of course, as a fickle lot, fey do not always follow their own rules.
Monarchy and GovernmentRisur’s current monarch, King Aodhan, rules from Torfield Palace in Slate. Now in his seventies, Aodhan was only thirty when the previous king chose him as his successor. Aodhan had distinguished himself in the Third Yerasol War against Danor, performing feats of strength and heroism most men today assume are just tall tales.
Aodhan has always been fascinated by Danor’s technology, ever since he lured its first steam-powered warship into a kraken’s reef lair, waited for the crew to abandon ship, then beat back the kraken and single-handedly piloted the vessel—still bearing scars of the kraken’s tendrils—to the harbor of Flint. Once he took the crown, Aodhan pushed for industrial investment to keep up with Danor, but regional governors forced him to keep foreign technologies out of Slate. Flint became the next most obvious choice.
King Aodhan’s aged wife died four years ago. Though heredity and marriage has little impact on national succession, many wonder whether the king will seek a new bride so late in life. Despite his great strength in his youth, the king grows weaker each year. Many suspect he will name his youngest sister Duchess Ethelyn of Shale as his replacement, and indeed she has distinguished herself as a leader in the Fourth Yerasol War that ended seven years ago, despite that her city nearly fell to Danor. She is rumored to have close ties to the Unseen Court, and acts as Risur’s ambassador to its nearest neighboring nation. However, her coronation would be the first in Risur’s history that transferred the crown between two blood relatives.
PoliticsTwenty-three governors direct the affairs of Risur’s various provinces. Most of these are of noble lineage, descended from one of the nation’s previous kings. Noble governance tends to follow family lines, unlike the crown. Each governor sends several representatives to the national Parliament, which handles the details of implementing the king’s decrees. Various officers of the court and of Parliament direct specific sub-bureaucracies and agencies to handle affairs involving the nation’s commerce, culture, defense, and so on.
One famous exception to the power of the nobility is Roland Stanfield, the aasimar governor of Flint. Five hundred years ago he witnessed the fall of the high elf goddess Srasama, and in various reincarnations he has called Risur his home ever since. Forbidden by the rites of rulership from pursuing the crown because he is no longer precisely “mortal,” Stanfield was long content to govern Flint and its relatively insignificant province of farmers, miners, and fishermen. When King Aodhan decreed Flint would become the seat of Risur’s industry, however, the old aasimar eagerly took to the challenge, claiming he was excited to try something new after so long.
Royal Homeland ConstabularyWith the recent influx of foreign technologies and therefore foreign influence, King Aodhan ordered the formation of a new government agency to protect the traditional identity of the Risuri homeland. Within a decade this mission had morphed into investigating significant threats to the nation, particularly those involving technology. Today the Royal Homeland Constabulary uses a combination of investigators, spies, and warriors to root out, undermine, capture, and if necessary kill any groups who endanger Risur.
Though most activity occurs in Flint, officially the Constabulary’s central chamber is based out of Slate and headed by Lord Viscount Inspector Nigel Price-Hill, who was a commander in the Fourth Yerasol War. His Lordship’s greatest success as director was presiding over the apprehension of a group of Drakr necromancers attempting to animate undead dragons in the Anthras Mountains.
The Flint branch is run by Lady Inspectress Margaret Saxby, who recently won the role through political assignment after the former director lost favor in a scandal. The directorate in Flint keeps busy thwarting arms smuggling, industrial espionage, and the sorts of magical and monstrous threats once handled by plucky self-motivated “adventurers.”
Regardless of where they are based, agents of the Royal Homeland Constabulary have broad jurisdiction throughout the nation, and enjoy mild immunity while overseas when acting in an official, acknowledged capacity.
History and Place in the WorldRisur paved the way to nationhood, and many others followed the same path. By placating, tricking, or slaughtering the dominant fey titans of Lanjyr they turned the continent into a land for mortals. The Risuri people have always respected the spirits and the fey they share the land with, but they believe the era of those beings has rightfully passed. While the northern nations waged holy wars between the Clergy and the Seedism faith of Elfaivar, Risur was preoccupied defending its borders from the sub-men of what is modern Ber. The dragons who terrorized the lands south of the Anthras Mountains feared the progress of civilization, and would often gather armies of savages to raid or assault Risur. It is believed that three centuries ago King Boyle slew the last great dragon of Ber, after which attacks from the south finally faded.
No sooner had Risur found safety to its south than did Danor arise in power to the north. Risur and Danor have warred for nearly two hundred years, mostly using the islands of the Yerasol Archipelago as a proxy battle ground, in a series of four Yerasol Wars. Occasional waves of conquest have lapped over each nation’s shores, and today the two countries have more in common than either likes to acknowledge. The current king assumed the throne at the end of the Third Yerasol War, four decades ago, and he presided over the fourth, in which Risur lost much land against the threat of Danor’s superior technology.
Leaders of Risur’s merchant guilds, its military, and its noble families are grateful for the stability, but fear a resumption of hostilities. They have taken advantage of the new international cordiality in order to catch up with Danor’s technological revolution. Whether the next threat comes from Danor or another foe, Risur is arming.
The Sword of the Black NeedlesFive centuries ago, as Lanjyr was reeling from the fall-out from the Great Malice, a fey titan known as the Voice of Rot rose up against Risur and cast a smoky pall across the sun. The king at the time, Dukain, was a mighty but aged wizard who wielded magic through his sword. He traveled to a mountain ridge overlooking the High Bayou, known as the Black Needles, and there he battled the fey titan, which had taken the form of a towering anaconda of smoke and peat.
The king battled the titan high into the Black Needles, and after three days neither side could force the other to surrender. Realizing he could not defeat the titan and thus was unworthy of his crown, Dukain cast aside his sword and abandoned the battle. The titan, in its fey logic, saw that it and the king were equally matched, so when Dukain ceased to fight, so did the titan. Dukain yielded his crown to his chosen successor, the titan returned to its slumber, and Risur was saved.
Scholars fear that should the lost Sword of the Black Needles ever be recovered, it would signal a resumption of battle for the fey titan, and once again threaten the existence of Risur.
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