Shadows of Bal-Shanaar

Nearly a thousand years have passed since the collapse of the last great civilization on the continent, the empire of Bal-Shanaar. Ruled by a powerful cabal of magic-users, the Bal-Shanaari empire nearly covered the whole of the Aritaean landmass, imposing order and prosperity among the many independent nations. At the end of the last great age, a terrible conflict erupted in the heart of the empire; the people of Ulaaris, capital city and crown jewel of the Bal-Shanaari, overthrew the mage-lords of the empire in a bloody revolt. The reasons behind the rebellion are lost to history, but the outcome is widely known, for it shaped the continent permanently: a flood of untempered arcane energy issued forth from Ulaaris, washing over the landscape of Aritae and driving magic users everywhere mad. Wizards and warlocks flung themselves from their towers, or destroyed entire cities in their insanity. What ensued was a chain reaction of epic proportions; kingdoms besieged by rampaging magic-users sought the aid of their neighbors in vain, unaware that the problem was an epidemic gripping the entire empire. Alliances crumbled as nations were forced to deal with their renegade mages internally. This event and its consequences are referred to as The Flood.

Eventually, after several years of anarchy and bloodshed, the last of the arcane threats was put down. With no strong central government, the empire effectively collapsed, fragmenting into independent city-states with very little commerce or trade. Magic was completely eliminated from everyday life, the specter of what had happened all too frightening a reminder of the dangers associated with arcane meddling. In this climate of fear and uncertainty, religious orders gained more influence than ever before and rose up to shepherd the people, filling the void that magic had once occupied. Many gods flourished and prospered in this time, with numerous cults and brotherhoods springing up all over the land.

Today, the diverse landscapes of Aritae are a vast, threatening wilderness dotted with the ruins and remains of many once-proud cities. Isolation and lack of relations have insulated most of the small city-states and territories from the goings-on of the wider world. Rumors of fabulous cities to the south persist, as well as tales of vast snow-covered kingdoms in the north, but for the majority of people living in the central part of the continent, these are merely fanciful stories. Everyday life is a relatively bleak affair, with small communities and villages dotting the edges of the wilderness and struggling to subsist on whatever natural resources are available. People often come into conflict with monsters, bands of other humanoids, and wild animals. Throughout the wilds, enclaves of barbarians can be found, settlements founded by those who eschewed the trappings of a civilized society in favor of a stronger connection to the natural world. Magic has crept back into society to some extent; people have slightly more favorable attitudes towards magic users, but it rarely rises above a wary tolerance.

In this climate of danger, those brave few who rise above the rabble leave their mark in whatever way they can. Enterprising warriors and sellswords offer their services to the highest bidder, escorting trade caravans along the few hazardous paths that remain functional while priests of the many gods lead their followers in prayer, some with a genuine desire to end suffering and others with only their personal gain in mind. Thieves, brigands and swindlers get ahead by any unsavory means available to them, while handfuls of gifted individuals study arcane texts and rituals, usually in secret for fear of drawing unwanted attention.

The Land

Anatar

Anatar is the name given to the lowland region of central Aritae. Geographically, temperate shrubland dominates the area, with light forests dotting the landscape and growing denser as one moves south. Moorland, mostly infertile and difficult to cultivate, composes much of the open land. Rolling hills begin to emerge the closer one gets to the rugged mountains of the north. The southern reaches of Anatar receive a tremendous amount of rainfall and eventually transition into the vast, canopied jungles of Bal-Shanaar. The broad Zehuari River (“Serpent’s Tongue” in the old imperial language) originates in the mountains and runs more or less down the center of the Aritaean landmass, forking in the south and winding down into the jungles toward the sea.

There are few intact roads to be found in Anatar; most of the old empire’s trade routes fell into disrepair centuries ago, making travel a dangerous proposition. There are no major powers, politically, in Anatar; several city-states exist but they are generally concerned only with their own interests and engage in little trade. Every so often, one state will raid another, or petty border wars will erupt, but these usually leave little lasting imprint on the day-to-day life of most folk. Most villages and townships are located along the banks of the Zehuari; river travel, while by no means safe, tends to be less dangerous than trying to find a path overland through the unchecked wilderness. Travelers to new settlements are usually greeted with a healthy dose of suspicion, since few people are able to make it out and about on their own these days.

Religion

Religion in Aritae is a part of everyday life; this is not to say that every person is devoutly religious. In fact, quite the opposite is true. While most people acknowledge the existence of gods, they do not overly concern themselves with their worship. Offerings are made at appropriate times to different deities for various reasons, but the majority of people simply go about their lives with little thought of what the gods might think or feel. Some deities, however, enjoy a zealous following. Many fanatical cults exist throughout the land, proclaiming their god to be the one true divinity and condemning worshipers of other gods as heretics. However, without any central religious authority to set a standard for heresy, the influence of these cults is limited and they frequently find themselves clashing with other orders over religious ideals.

The general consensus about the creation of the world parallels that given in the Player’s Handbook, though many regional cults have their own ideas.

The Races

Humans: Humans make up the bulk of the population in Aritae; the Bal-Shanaari empire was the last major human civilization, and its influence stretched far and wide. Humans are strong, hardy folk who have adapted to living in adverse wilderness conditions.

Elves and Half-Elves: The majority of elves in Aritae belong to nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes spread throughout the wooded wilderness, living off the land and preying on traveling caravans. Occasionally, elven hunting parties will raid human settlements. Elves are aloof and have difficulty empathizing with humans. These tendencies make race relations between humans and elves understandably tense, and only a few human towns are home to elves. Half-elves are most often the product of rape, due to the elven sacking of human villages. They inherit many of the best features of both races, however, and humans find half-elves easier to relate to than the alien-minded elves.

Dwarves: The dwarves of Aritae make their home in great halls cut from the rock of the Mountains of Might. Many clans make up a coalition of allied holds, stretching across the mountain range and deep beneath the earth, where they mine precious metals from the earth and fight endless wars against the creatures of the depths. Dwarves are not commonly seen outside their mountain homes, though a few families have traveled abroad and settled in various areas.

Halflings: Halflings can be found in many of the larger human settlements, as well as in communities of their own in the wilderness. Halflings are nimble folk who enjoy natural places and have a strong connection to the earth. Most folk believe that halflings descended from elves. Halflings commonly find work as guides, scouts and messengers, owing to their affinity for the wild.

Tieflings: It is rumored that during the height of its power, the Bal-Shanaari empire had dealings with infernal beings of vast power. The descendants of the individuals who trafficked with these powers walk the land, usually as charlatans and cutthroats. Possessing some inborn arcane affinity, these individuals use simple glamours to conceal their true nature, allowing them to blend into human society. Most often, these folk are concerned with simple personal gain, though attitudes do vary on an individual basis…

Dragonborn: Tales persist of dragon-men in the far reaches of the land, but these stories are universally ridiculed as fiction. Dragonborn are not a playable race.

Eladrin: Players who are interested in playing an Eladrin, contact the DM.

Shadows of Bal-Shanaar

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