The Dark Continent (region of Kanpur)


World of Kulan DM
"David Howery's article, "The Dark Continent," in DRAGON Magazine #189 is one of my favorites from the 2E era; thus, it was a given when "building" Kulan that I'd create my own version for the setting. Of course, that article is only a guideline for me." ― KF

The Dark Continent. Those three words mean savagery to the civilizations of the northern lands of Kanpur. However, it is far from the truth. In fact, this region of Kanpur is home to some of the oldest civilizations on the planet. Those civilizations are just different from what northerners understand to be civilization. Yes, there is savagery in this region but much of it is noble in strength and mind. High magic and psionic power is common throughout the most southerly parts of the Dark Continent and the Matsu Empire spans across as much territory as Khemit does (some would say even more).

The subregions of the Dark Continent are as diverse as the races and creatures that call this primeval land home.

Aujira Islands (Southern Africa | Zulu Kingdom [High Magic])
"The Zulu Kingdom, sometimes referred to as the Zulu Empire or, rather imprecisely, Zululand, was a monarchy in Southern Africa that extended along the coast of the Indian Ocean from the Tugela River in the south to Pongola River in the north." ― Wikipedia

The DRAGON Magazine article lists several example kingdoms for an African-based campaign setting. The Zulu people are given as one of those examples. The article says that the Zulu of the time period were "famous for their bravery in battle." It goes on to talk about King Shaka kaSenzangakhona and his accomplishments in brief. However, there is a lot more to learn online, now, about the kingdoms and cultures of Africa than can be gleaned from a DRAGON article from 1993. (It's still a great starting point, however.) I have a lot of reading to do about Africa's past, and I'll likely use Wikipedia to gain a better understanding of how to build my own Mythic Africa.

Regardless, the Aujira Islands will be for my version of the Zulu Kingdom. Since it will be an island kingdom, the background of the Zulu people will need to go through some major changes. Plus, the hierarchy of this island people will be highly magical. The citizens of Aujira will be lead by powerful arcanists who will be masters of Abjuration magic. Their brave warriors will be Abjurant Champions as per the prestige class in D&D Complete Mage. The kingdom's champions must be proficient with the traditional weapon of the Zulu people — the assegai. Aujira will also have a powerful navy of magical war-canoes. Hmm, maybe spelljammers too.

Bushlands (African | Bushmen [Psionic])
The Bushlands is a name inspired from The Dark Continent map in DRAGON Magazine #189. On that map, it notes that "Bushmen" live in the desert. Therefore, I created a desert to place my own bushmen. After doing some Wikipedia research, I discovered a name for my bushmen, San, which has become semi-official in the modern day (but with controversy). It's a fine choice for my purposes.

The San will be naturally psionic.

Caesaira (Elven lands [African-Arabian | Ruined])
Caesaira was once a great elven kingdom in ancient times. Long before human kingdoms, such as the Matsu Empire, rose to prominence throughout the Dark Continent, elves ruled its jungles. It is believed that the ancestors of Zakhara's citizens learned their culture from the elves of Caesaira. However, there is also evidence that the culture of the Caesairan elves was rooted in the myths and legends of the Dark Continent. These elves did not worship the Elven Gods. Instead, they worshiped their ancestors as risen immortals as well as tribal totem animals — the giraffe, the lion, the monkey, and the zebra. Evidence gleaned from Caesaira's ruins points to this land being destroyed by its rival, Firryaith. This Jungle-Kin War left both kingdoms in ruins although Firryaith's ancestors still survive in the Dark Jungle — living in primitive tribes. The only remnants of Caesaira are its ruined cities, palaces, and temples; these overgrown ruins are thought to be filled with lost treasures. A few have been looted but death is all most find in the jungles of this lost elven land, which is filled with monsters (and believed, by many, to be haunted).

You have been warned.

Caerox (Elven and halfling tribal lands [African | Ruined])
Caerox is another ruined land that was once a kingdom of demihumans in the time before Khemit's first great kingdom rose to power in the north. It was less grand than Caesaira or Firryaith and it survived for a time after the end of the Jungle-Kin War. However, it had depended on Firryaith for protection and was destroyed by the undead of Terre Mortis. Its ruins are definitely filled with undead but there are still tribes of elves and halflings living in this small jungle. They are less wild than the denizens of the Dark Jungle, but they will attack outlanders that try to defile the ruins of their ancestors. The rulers of Hollowfaust consider Caerox to be under their protection (whether its denizens want that protection or not).

Corsair Domains (AL-QADIM Corsairs of the Great Sea)
When first mapping out Kanpur (in CC2 Pro), I forgot to leave a place for the Corsair Domains. Once I had realized my error, I needed to find a place to put it. There was no way I was going to omit it. (All parts of the AL-QADIM setting exist on Kanpur, somewhere.) I wanted the islands to be west of the High Desert, and I had originally thought of putting the island chain west of Kotaresi, but it was to far away. Therefore, I shoehorned the Corsair Domains into the gulf between the African half and African-Arabian half of the Dark Continent. Its placement is a little odd, but I'm not going to change it now.

Dark Jungle (African [Ashanti Empire | EBERRON Secrets of Xen'drik])
"The Ashanti Empire or Asante Empire, also known as the Ashanti Confederacy or Asanteman (independent from 1701–1896), was a pre-colonial West African state created by the Akan people of what is now the Ashanti Region in Ghana . . . . Akan political organization centered on various clans, each headed by a paramount chief or Amanhene." ― Wikipedia

The Dark Continent article lists the Asante (or Ashante) as another example kingdom of Africa. The brief info given is good but nothing beats Wikipedia. Sure, you cannot always trust what is on that web site, but this is gaming not scholarly writing. The article's map puts the Asante in the continent's jungle; therefore, my version of the Ashante will be located in the Dark Jungle. This growing kingdom is building itself in the shadows of what was once Firryaith. The Akanti, as I will call them, prefer to avoid the ruins of the elves, but when the need is great, they will scavenge building material from the less sacred ruins. The Akanti show respect to the elves of the Dark Jungle, but they do not fear them. War has never broken out between the Akanti and the elves, but there have been skirmishes. The two races consider the citizenry of Stormreach to be a greater threat than each other and will work together to discourage outlanders.

The Dark Jungle is more than the home of the Akanti and the descendants of Firryaith, however. Since I'm using Stormreach in the region, I've decided to add some of the adventuring locales from Secrets of Xen'drik into the heart of jungle. I haven't decided what will go where yet, but I imagine that a lot of what's in that book will find its way into the Dark Jungle or the mountain ranges surrounding it. Note: There are other races living in the Dark Jungle such as wild dwarves — the race from the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, but they'll be twisted in some way. There will likely be halfling "pygmies" too. And, a lot of monsters in the jungle's southern region.

Firryaith (Elven tribal lands [African | High Magic | Ruined])
The name Firryaith is spoken with awe and wonder by the elven tribes of the Dark Jungle. There wasn't another elven kingdom on the Dark Continent greater than this lost civilization. Its heights were as great as the towering city of Sharn in the lands to the north. Its people were an offshoot of the gray elves, and it is believed that the arcanists of Firryaith were masters of high elven magic. Its rulers were considered demigods, and it controlled more than half of the Dark Continent at its zenith. The only land that rivaled it was Caesaira. The bitterness between the two lands is told as tales of legend by elven tribes; it was an animosity that lead to war. The Jungle-Kin War lasted centuries and lead to the downfall of both kingdoms. Firryaith's people were luckier only because they were more widespread. The elven tribes that exist in the Dark Jungle today are the direct descendants of the elves of Firryaith. While they respect the past, they do not desire a return to the old ways. They protect their ancestor's fallen cities (and other structures) from those that would despoil them, but they are not fanatical about it. If outlanders truly wish to lose their lives in the ruins of Firryaith, the elves will not stop them. Outlanders that survive the ruins rarely leave the Dark Jungle with their spoils, however. Yet, despite the odds, adventurers from Stormreach continue to seek out Firryaith's lost ruins.

High Desert (AL-QADIM Land of Fate boxed set)
Al-Qadim is one of my favorite 2E creations. Therefore, when I created Kulan, I knew immediately that I wanted to create my own version of the Land of Fate. The mapping process was a challenge since I wanted my version to be as close as possible to the official version. What resulted was good, but it isn't nearly as close as I'd liked. The Dark Continent and the lands of the Southwest region ended up twisting my map design in bizarre ways. Yet, there will be place for everything from the Zakhara campaign setting on Kanpur. As a result, the High Desert found its way on to the Dark Continent. The desert is home to nine nomadic tribes that are considered “enlightened” as well as many smaller tribes, bands, and raiders. The tribes of the High Desert either trade with or conduct raids on the tribes and city-states of N'Shal. The eastern coastline near the High Desert is notable for the cities that exist there. The Cities of the Pearl — Ajayib, Gana, Jumlat, Sikak, and Tajar — are part of the Land of Fate. In fact, the Pearl Cities are some of the wealthiest cities of Zakhara and trade is vital in these exotic cities. The desert tribes of the High Desert and the Cities of the Pearl are detailed in the "Adventurer's Guide to Zakhara" in the AL-QADIM Land of Fate boxed set.

Kotaresi (Dragonborn lands [African])
While the dragonborn can be found throughout the World of Kulan, the dragonblooded race has only a few lands that they dominate. Kotaresi is one of the largest. The Kotar, as they call themselves, have completely integrated themselves in the culture of the Dark Continent, and they are renown sailors. They have formed a thalassocracy on the island chain that sits along the western shore of the continent. Their sea kingdom is one of the most powerful in the region and they consider the Aujirans to be their enemies. The Kotaresi fleet is mainly composed of massive war canoes and gigantic triremes. The Kotar learned how to build triremes from the citizens of Thundras; the two lands are trading partners and military allies. They have begun experimenting with the idea of building ships that combine aspects of their traditional war canoes with the designs of Thundras. So far, these new designs have failed to give them an edge over the Aujirans, but Kotaresi canoe-ships have been able to sail to the nearby shores of the Fallenlands and back again with only a few losses.

Magaca (African | Madagascar [High Magic])
Madagascar has some interesting history. Its earliest settlers came to the island around 200 BCE; however, I want Magaca to have a higher culture than Madagascar's earliest civilizations. I think Magaca will be based on either the early Sakalava Chiefdoms or the later Merina Kingdom (or both) but amped up considerably. The Sakalava were powerful traders in much of the Indian Ocean. Therefore, Magaca will have strong mercantile ties to Zakhara and distant Indjra. The Merina Kingdom was a pre-colonial state that ruled over Madagascar in the 19th century; its kings and queens were the descendants of a long line of hereditary royalty that stretched back to the first inhabitants of the island. Politically, the Merina and the Sakalava were rivals, which sounds like a great campaign idea to me. Regardless, the island's inhabitants will have access to high magic. Its rulers will be epic.

Matsu Empire (African | Benin Empire)
"The Benin Empire (1440–1897) was a pre-colonial African state in what is now modern Nigeria . . . . The original people and founders of the Benin Empire, the Edo people, were initially ruled by the Ogisos (Kings of the Sky) who called their land Igodomigodo." ― Wikipedia

Benin is another example of an African kingdom given in the Dark Continent article. Benin was a west African empire founded by the Edo people. The article says their leader was known as the Oba; however, Wikipedia states that the empire's earliest rulers were known as the Ogisos, or Kings of the Sky. Ogisos and Oba refer to the early and later dynasties of the Oba. A man named Eweka I was the first Oba, which is a Edo word meaning 'red'.

The best time period for my Matsu Empire seems to be the Golden Age of the Oba Dynasty. It was during this time that Benin City became a military fortress and its leader, Oba Ewuare, launched expansive military campaigns. Matsu City will be a fortress protected by a series of moats and walls. It's inner wall is “a seven mile (11 km) long earthen rampart girded by a moat fifty feet (15 m) deep” as noted on Wikipedia for Benin City. The empire's holy symbol will be the leopard as noted in the Dark Continent article.

The Dark Continent article says that the Benin practiced large-scale human sacrifices but Wikipedia doesn't seem to back this up. Therefore, I'm going to downplay that aspect for my Matsu Empire until I've done more research. However, the Matsu people will be famous artisans of bronze, iron, and ivory as noted in both sources. The Matsu make fantastic bronze wall plaques and life-sized bronze or ivory masks of the empire's nobility. Matsu art is prized as far away as Bluffside to the north and Zakhara to the east.

Mibha (African | Mali Empire)
“The Mali Empire . . . was a West African empire of the Mandinka from c. 1230 to c. 1600. The empire was founded by Sundiata Keita and became renowned for the wealth of its rulers, especially Mansa Musa I. The Mali Empire had many profound cultural influences on West Africa, allowing the spread of its language, laws and customs along the Niger River. The Mali empire extended over a large area and consisted of numerous vassal kingdoms and provinces.” ― Wikipedia

Once again, another African kingdom noted in the Dark Continent article is Mali. The Mali Empire is of note for its wealth an culture — a fact noted both in the article and on Wikipedia. Mali seems to have a lot of history from it pre-Imperial times to its collapse in the 1600s. Its a bit daunting. What I have done for my version of Mali is use a close approximation to the name of the fantasy kingdom given in the Dark Continent article. Mibha is a wealthy city that trades a great deal with the citizens of Thundras. The city's main exports are gold and salt. Mibha will likely be near the beginning of its Imperial era.

N'Shal, Savanna of (African | Sahelian Kingdoms)
“The Sahelian kingdoms were a series of kingdoms or empires that were centered on the sahel, the area of grasslands south of the Sahara. The wealth of the states came from controlling the trade routes across the desert. Their power came from having large pack animals like camels and horses that were fast enough to keep a large empire under central control and were also useful in battle. All of these empires were also quite decentralized with member cities having a great deal of autonomy.” ― Wikipedia

N'Shal is going to be twofold. First, it is going to be the area of grassland where my Sahelian kingdoms have risen and fallen. In the real world, the first of these kingdoms to rise was the Kingdom of Ghana. It was followed by several notable kingdoms including the Sosso, the Mali, Songhai, Kanem-Bornu & Hausa, and Fulani. Since Mibha is my version of the Mali Empire, it is the current N'Shalian kingdom. The future capital city of my Songhai exists as a vassal state of Mibha as do many other city-states scattered across the Savanna of N'Shal. Will it rise to power someday as in the real world?

Second, N'Shal will also be home to many primitive humanoid tribes that live as wild riders and savage primitives. The savanna is named for an ancient tribe of humans who use tamed zebras as mounts and pack animals. This tribe isn't completely human, however. There is a strong legacy of elven and felid blood running through the N'Shal people. Half-elves are common while half-catfolk are more uncommon. The N'Shal carry long spears and clubs and their culture is considered primitive by outsiders. However, the N'Shal are one of the oldest tribes of the Dark Continent, and they masters of powerful spiritual magicks (i.e. spirit shamans). They also have a long legacy of sorcery.

Shelzar (SCARRED LANDS Shelzar: City of Sin [d20 Sourcebook])
The City of Sin. I knew instantly that I was going to use the Shelzar sourcebook for Kulan after buying it. (Actually, I was pretty sure before I bought it. Heh.) But where to put it? I thought about placing it in the middle of my version of the Land of Fate, but it just didn't feel like it fit. Yes, its theme is similar, but Shelzar is darker. I still wanted it close to my Zakhara, however. Thus, it found its way to the southern coastline of the Dark Continent. Shelzar has existed in this region for a long time and some believe it used to be a Zakharan colony — that it broke away from the Land of Fate in ages past. Its citizens deny this story, completely, as do most living in the Land of Fate.

So, how did Shelzar come into being? Who founded it? No one is sure and its history is a bit of mystery. What is known is that the City of Sin is tied to Hollowfaust in some manner. The two cities are ancient rivals; there is a great deal of distrust between the two cities' citizens (some would say outright hate). It doesn't help that Shelzar aligns itself to Stormreach and has had clandestine dealings with the Corsair Domains. Its leaders deny this, of course, but no one believes them.

Solamber (PENUMBRA Seven Cities [d20 Sourcebook])
The city-state of Solamber was founded by a powerful elf, known only as the Sun Lord, over 500 years ago. It is believed that the Sun Lord was originally from the Northwest region of the continent. He continues to rule the city to this day, although he is hard pressed by a evil elven witch known as the Night Lady. Her heritage is a mystery. It is whispered that she is an outcast of Lamnaro, but most in Solamber believe she is more likely a Nevaequariani. Regardless, she and Sun Lord have been warring for control of the city-state for nearly two-and-a-half centuries.

The city-states patron deity is the god known s Apollo or, more specifically, Phoebus Apollo. Solamber means "city of the sun" in the language of the northern elves. Note that Solamber isn't an elven city; it is a mixed community, although the number of elves in the city-state is higher than normal. Solamber's survival on the Dark Continent is mainly due to the power of the Sun Lord. Both Shelzar and Stormreach consider the city-state an enemy while the distant land of Thundras is its best ally. Relations with the tribes of the High Desert are cordial. Relations with the Cities of the Pearl on the other side of the peninsula are 'polite'.

Stormreach (EBERRON City of Stormreach)
I'm quickly becoming an EBERRON fan. Not so much for the setting itself but for the wealth of material that the setting holds. Material that I'm not attached to as placed in Eberron itself. Hmm, an explanation seems to be in order.

Over the years, I've become attached to Greyhawk locales in the WORLD OF GREYHAWK and Realmsian locales in the FORGOTTEN REALMS. Yes, I've placed Waterdeep in the Lands of Harqual, but that was an easy choice. Waterdeep is its own entity. It lives and breathes behind its walls. Greyhawk City, on the other hand, feels, to me, linked too much to its setting for me to lift it out of that world and place it in my own. And I would never take up Shadowdale and plop it down on Harqual or Kanpur. That would be to weird.

But, Eberron, it is new. It's a great setting, but I'm not attached to it. I had no problem placing Sharn at the center of Kanpur's various civilizations, and I knew that Stormreach would soon follow. Of course, my Stormreach will be different from EBERRON's Stormreach. How can it not be? There aren't any true drow on Kulan. And there are several living civilizations on Kulan's Dark Continent while EBERRON's Xen'drik is more of a land of ruins of lost civilizations. (Not that Kanpur's Dark Continent doesn't have its own ruins of lost civilizations.)

Stormreach will still be the destination of choice from those from Sharn seeking to explore the Dark Continent. It is the gateway to the interior of the Dark Jungle where some of Xen'drik's jungle-based locales might soon exist. Locations such as the Obsidian City and Throne Gate Ruins, perhaps. I haven't decided yet. Stormreach will be aligned to Shelzar to the south and against Hollowfaust to the north. Its relations with other settled lands of the Dark Continent are usually adversarial, especially Thundras.

Thundras ("Fort Thunder" from the DRAGON Magazine #189 article)
In the last section of David Howery's article, he describes a trading city called Fort Thunder, which "coexists peacefully with the natives." Thundras is going to be my version of that but more expansive. Port Thundras is its capital and it has several large towns that support it. Thundras was once a vassal city of a feudal land in the Northwest called Caralona. However, that home land was destroyed by Talangrán, and Thundras has had to survive on its own ever since. In many ways, this land of orphaned colonists has gone native. Its citizens are respected throughout the Dark Continent for their political neutrality. Yet, Thundras' people are still considered outlanders at best or invaders at worst.

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