Dangers and threats to the Duchy of Anderland lurk everywhere. Kobolds, goblins, orcs, and other vicious humanoids live in the forests and hills. The savage Reavers of Uthnal conduct brutal raids into the realm every spring. Brigands and escaped criminals from Maldar lurk along the roadways and riverways. For all these dangers, there are still other things that threaten the lives and prosperity of all Anderlanders. Some of the most well known such threats are detailed below.
As always, information will be added and old information modified to keep pace with campaign developments. Don’t believe everything you read!
Dominion of Uthnal: Although many days’ travel distant, the Dominion of Uthnal remains a grave concern for the Duchy of Anderland. The people of this realm are barbarians in the truest sense of the word. They worship gods either primal or demonic, they practice human sacrifice and cannibalism, and their religious rituals are among the most cruel of anywhere in the world. These facts are sobering enough, but of even greater concern is Uthnal battle prowess. The Reavers of this land are extremely tough, skilled, strong, and deadly melee fighters. At least one in ten of their number are berserkers – men who fight without fear of death or thought for defense. Fortunately, the lands of Uthnal are far enough away that Anderland only suffers one or two raids from them every year or two; most such raids arrive by ship across the Frostwind Sea.
Maldar, Empire of: The Empire of Maldar poses a constant and dire threat to Anderland. On the surface, the Duchy of Anderland is simply a vassal state to the empire. During times of need, it remains Maldar’s duty to protect its satellites. In truth, however, no monster or tribe of orcs poses a fraction of the danger that Maldar ultimately represents.
For one thing, the current Emperor of Maldar holds the unfortunate sobriquet of “The Mad Emperor.” As with many past emperors, Emperor Vasev Gogoyrov is cunning, charismatic, but also bloodthirsty, capricious, and totally lacking in human empathy. From the moment he ascended the throne, the current emperor has cast envious eyes upon the Duchy of Anderland. In his mind, Anderland should be completely absorbed into Maldar and lose all semblance of independence. To achieve that end, he is willing to undertake any political maneuvering, wheeling and dealing, or scheme.
Second, the Church of Bane represents an ongoing threat to Anderland. In Maldar, the Church of Bane stands as the most powerful and influential of all religions. By imperial decree, all citizens – both in Maldar and in Anderland – must pay homage to Bane and keep shrines devoted to his faith. The priests of Bane have become the most zealous, vigilant, determined, and ambitious men and women in the empire, and their power grows with each passing year.
On the surface, the followers of Bane are relatively peaceful, if persistent. Human sacrifices are forbidden, and the Church of Bane does not have completely free reign. Nonetheless, sinister rumors and dark stories suggest the church’s emerging power, if unchecked, could topple the Empire of Maldar.
Paladanthis, Theocracy of: According to its creed, the Theocracy of Paladanthis represents a “shining light for all creatures of good conscience.” Unfortunately, the people of Paladanthis increasingly choose to interpret this mandate as broadly as possible. While this realm serves to keep the Empire of Maldar in check, at the same time it poses a significant threat to the Duchy of Anderland. The leaders of Paladanthis (see above) would love nothing more than to control Anderland and use it to directly attack Maldar. Of course, such an event would require the people of the duchy to live and worship the way the Palandanthans demand, not the Maldarans.
Church of Bane: The god known as Bane stands as one of the most dangerous to civilization and peace throughout the world. The god’s portfolio of influence represents many concepts diametrically opposed to peace, compassion, and mercy. As a result, a number of realms discourage open worship of Bane; a few kingdoms go as far as to forbid such worship (the Theocracy of Paladanthis is one such locale).
Within the Empire of Maldar, the worship of Bane is not only accepted, it is required. Individuals failing to wear proper symbols of Bane, or failing to maintain a shrine in their homes and shops are subject to fines and even arrest. The most important and influential citizens of Maldar are deeply engaged in the church; each Maldaran emperor is automatically considered a high priest of the church.
Given the importance of this faith in Maldar, it comes as no surprise just how powerful the Church of Bane has become in that land. Clergy of the church are typically wealthy and powerful. All temples and other religious structures dedicated to Bane are tax exempt, as are his clergy. In many ways, these priests are above the law except in a few ways.
Visitors to Maldar are strongly encouraged to show outward devotion to Bane. Such individuals are likewise strongly discouraged from showing open worship of other gods. For the most part, the average person on the street is unlikely to undergo much scrutiny, but it only takes one ambitious citizen or one zealous priest and the offender finds himself in prison or worse.
Fortunately, human sacrifice of any sort is forbidden in Maldar by order of the emperor. This goes against standard practices of the faith, but such is the law. From time to time, the emperor and the Archpriest of the Church of Bane come into heated disagreement, but for the most part the church and imperial leaders cooperate relatively well.
The Death Titans: This small military force represents the most powerful and most elite unit in the entire region. It never numbers more than 1,000 warriors, and all these warriors are either goliath or similar creatures such as ogres (with goliath warriors representing 65% of the force’s recruits). These powerful warriors receive the best possible training, have access to superior equipment, and benefit from the support of clerics and wizards as needed. These soldiers are among the most lethal and effective in the entire region. To date, the Death Titans have an unblemished record of victory; when they take the field, most enemies simply break and run rather than face them. Unfortunately, these warriors are arrogant, belligerent, and hold nothing but contempt for lesser soldiers or civilians. The Death Titans have increasingly been influenced by the Church of Bane, and most of the unit’s clerics are Banites. Recruits who fail to pass the entrance requirements are put to death.
The Lightbringers: In the distant past when the Empire of Nerath held dominion to the north, Emperor Lightbringer formed an organization known as the Lightbringers. Members of this organization worked to protect the empire’s citizens and uphold the realm’s laws. As Nerath collapsed, the Lightbringer organization splintered and spread out across the continent. One splinter group found a home in the Theocracy of Paladanthis, where they maintain an impressive headquarters and the support of the local clergy. For the most part, members of the Lightbringers seek to execute witches, destroy demons, track down escaped criminals, and bring to justice those who have turned away from the gods. Unfortunately, the Lightbringers are often demonstrate too much zealousness and not enough discretion in their tactics, and innocent people often suffer without need. The Lightbringers often provide assistance to individuals and groups in need, which sets them apart from the Witch-Hunters of the Malleus Maleficarum (see below). At the same time, Lightbringers have greater support (especially within Paladanthis), and they often take such support as their mandate to do whatever they see fit.
Maldaran Intelligence Service (“MIS”): One of the most secretive, feared, and sinister organizations is also one of the most powerful. Created shortly after Maldar’s revolution from monarchy to despotism, the MIS has served to keep the Emperor alive, informed, and in power. Of secondary importance, the MIS tracks, pursues, and (if necessary) eliminates enemies of the state. The MIS maintains bases throughout the Empire and in outlying areas. MIS agents travel throughout the Empire in search of treasonous words and deeds, criminals, and other troublemakers. This organization is infamous for its secrecy and its paranoia. MIS agents are experts in interrogation and torture, and they frequently make heavy use of magic to collect information. MIS field agents are highly trained combat operatives, often equipped with potent magic weapons and tools.
The leader of the MIS is an individual identified only as “One.” Only a handful of agents know this individual’s actual identity; some people believe that “One” is actually a group of three or more individuals co-sharing power and authority.
MIS agents operate within the Empire with impunity. They are above the law, immune to prosecution, and able to commandeer any local resource they deem necessary. An MIS agent can walk into a town, demand long-term room and board at the local inn and receive same. He can then walk about through the town’s streets and stop any citizen for questioning. His words are law. Wise people rightly fear the power of the MIS, and they fear its wrath.
The sheer number of stories, legends, and rumors surrounding the MIS is epic. Only a few people actually know the truth about MIS, and they do not repeat what they know. Most recently, some stories suggest an ongoing dispute between the Maldaran Intelligence Service and the Church of Bane (see above). Apparently, each organization recognizes the other’s growing influence and seeks to prevent such growth.
Malleus Maleficarum: An organization of Witch-Hunters and Demon-Slayers, also known as the “Hammer of Witches.” This old organization was originally outlawed by Emperor Lightbringer many centuries ago. Despite all efforts to the contrary, this organization (and many others just like it) survived. A number of such groups escaped the Nerathan Empire; the members of this particular order traveled north and eventually gained acceptance in the Theocracy of Paladanthis (see above). Although the leadership of the Theocracy publicly distances his regime from the Witch-Hunters, it is apparent that the Paladanthans grant considerable support to the Malleus Maleficarum.
The Witch-Hunters of this order are zealous, determined, and lethal. They have no concern for inflicting “collateral damage” as long as they destroy their intended target as well. Their methods are cruel and barbaric (albeit effective). If captured while in Anderland, they are arrested and shipped back to Paladanthis (to avoid drawing the wrath of their neighbors). If captured in Maldar, the Witch-Hunters are tortured to death as an example. This is especially true given the enmity between Witch-Hunters and the followers of Bane.
The Slave-Takers: This organization is not strictly part of the Maldaran government, but it operates with imperial blessing and makes frequent use of imperial resources. When a slave – be he (or she) a servant, gladiator, laborer, or anything else – runs away, the master can ask the Slave-Takers for assistance. These ruthless bounty hunters track down, retrieve, and return refugee slaves. They enjoy wide latitude throughout the Empire, and they have full legal right to enter the Duchy of Anderland (one of the infamous Thirteen Points). Indeed, the officials of Anderland are legally bound to provide assistance to these bounty hunters when such demands are made. The Slave-Takers are dangerous, unscrupulous, cruel, and untrustworthy men and women. They are mercenaries without any conscience whatsoever. They make their living by capturing slaves and returning those slaves to punishment and continuing servitude. For the most part, the Slave-Takers are strongly disliked by almost everyone. When an individual seeks the return of his slave property, however, suddenly the Slave-Takers become welcome allies.
Cults represent small but extremely zealous religious groups organized around unusual, extreme, or outlawed beliefs and practices. For the most part, local laws stridently prohibit membership in a cult, and most of their practices remain outlawed. Even in the Empire of Maldar where the Church of Bane holds sway, cults are forbidden. Of course, in many cases such laws only serve to drive cults deeper underground.
Most cults are extremely secretive, and not even their name – let alone their existence – is known by outsiders. The handful of cults described below are some of the more infamous or extreme. Local authorities often provide rewards to any information leading to the arrest of cult members.
The Accursed: This peculiar cult seems to regenerate every generation or so. The cult revolves around the practice of Blight magic, with the highest-ranking cultists being Blight mages or chaos priests of one sort or another. Fortunately, the cult has never enjoyed a large membership and it has never received much support – most other cults despise the Blighted, too. Typically, a cell of the Accursed appears in an area, gains membership and brings suffering. After a brief time, local authorities locate and eradicate the cult. Unfortunately, it inevitably reappears somewhere else years or decades later. Overall, the cult has minimal long-term impact, but its appearance inevitably heralds much death, pain, and destruction before meeting its demise.
The Apostles of Midnight: This cult worships the Night Dragon. The cult existed long before the attack of the Night Dragon, and it continues to thrive even 20 years after the Night Dragon’s demise. Although these cultists are primarily based somewhere in Anderland, their influence extends into parts of northern Maldar. Local authorities believe this cult remains small, with its membership dwindling every year the Night Dragon fails to stage a comeback. During the Night of Shadows, the Apostles of Midnight served to sow confusion and terror in advance of the Night Dragon’s final attack. According to rumors, they regularly kidnap young men and women for sacrifices to their missing god. With the Night Dragon dead and buried, these cultists expend their energy in trying to resurrect the creature. They believe they will be elevated to godhood for their deeds.
Children of the Beast (aka Children of the Black Goat of the Woods): This perverse primal cult has somehow survived and even prospered despite every effort of the Council of Druids, the Wardens, the Pathfinders, and the ducal family. These cultists worship and serve the Horned Man (sometimes referred to by his ancient name, Shub-Niggurath, or the Black Goat of the Woods With a Thousand Young). This cult, drawn from the ranks of the insane, the destitute, the forlorn, and the desperate, takes good care of its members. At the same time, the cult harbors nothing but hatred and disgust towards “normals” outside their ranks; they few outsiders as cattle for sacrifice and victims upon which they may practice their twisted magic. These cultists are often marked by the Horned Man’s “blessings” with malformities, extra limbs, or other aberrant features.
Children of Set: The precise origins of this small and exotic cult remain shrouded in mystery. To date, there have been only a handful of minor official encounters with members of this cult. Local authorities in the know believe that “Set” is another name for the serpent-goddess known as Zehir. Based on limited available information, this cult originates far to the south on a distant continent. Whatever their origins, the Children of Set have established a handful of small cults in Anderland, Maldar, and along the Cadean Marches. To date, nothing is known about the motives of or resources available to this nascent cult.
The Lords of Iron: This cult believes that the Church of Bane has been co-opted, that it has “sold out” its beliefs in exchange for political power. The Lords of Iron believe in Bane, but they demand the right to practice human (and other race) sacrifice to honor their god. These cultists often attack Banite clergy in order to frighten other members. They are feared and hated by Banites and average citizens alike. The Lords of Iron are extremely well organized, and several of their members are likely wealthy and powerful. To date, all attempts to eradicate this cult have failed. There are rumors that cultists are able to communicate with one another over large distances.