A Bit of History
Almost everyone knows the story. For thousands of years, the sorcerer-kings—the mysterious aelva danna—made war against each other on an unimaginable scale. Using armies and eldritch sorcery, they almost destroyed the world, but instead, destroyed themselves. What they left behind was a shattered remnant of the world they created.
The servitor race called the ven dug themselves up and out of the rubble. The world they found was nothing like the world they knew. At long last, they were free from the aelva danna, free from magical slavery, free to make their own destiny. It would take almost two centuries to re-build, but every step was worth it.
The world now looks completely different from the world of the sorcerer-kings. During their time, the land was rich and plentiful, a vast pangaea full of life and wonder. Now, the world is shattered, torn and mutated by sorcerous warfare. All that remains is a spiraling chain of archipelagos filled with mutant flora and fauna.
Bred to be industrious, the ven began rebuilding. The remaining armies of the aelva danna gobbled up land. Led by the surviving generals, the armies held their territories with military might, promises of protection and threats of violence. The warlords were strengthened with their knowledge of ironworking, knowledge exclusive to the noble caste. Iron is one of the rarest elements on Shanri. Noble families looking high and low for new sources of the precious metal. Soon thereafter, civilization began to get under way again. Farmers returned to their work, learning how to woo their crops from the newly-changed soil. Glass blowers and brewers, bankers and blacksmiths all returned to their trades, almost oblivious to the wars around them.
A high king was chosen from among the nobles: a man who was wise, kind, and honorable. His family ruled the ven for almost ten generations… until the corruption of the sorcerer-kings returned. The promise of their power was too great, even for the greatest of ven. The remaining nobles drew together to overthrow him and his Bloodline, resulting in a deadly war that lasted over ten years. When the war was over, the king was overthrown and his family in disgrace, but there was a price to be paid.
The king cursed all who betrayed him. “The Betrayer Curse” settled on the heads of the noble families; a curse that would last one thousand generations.
Almost two centuries of warfare between the land-owning nobles eventually led to a system of non-violent settlement. This settlement led to the foundation of a Senate; a place where all may bring grievance and issue before the land-owning nobility. Each noble was given a certain number of votes based on his lands and title. When issues are brought before the Senate, the nobles vote on the best course of action.Now, two centuries after the Curse fell on their heads, ven culture has been born again like a rose from the rubble. The ven not only maintain what they have, but send out explorers to chart the outer territories, looking for new lands to conquer and new resources to claim as their own. The common folk continue to live as they always have: as vassals under a ruling class that regards them as little more than property. The growing merchant class bumps into the culture’s artificial limits as commerce blossoms. And the nobles continue to play their eternal games of warfare, intrigue and espionage. After countless centuries, the ven have established themselves as masters of Shanri. Or so they believe. But the last two centuries have been turbulent. A brief outline follows.
200 Years Ago: The Betrayer War
Two centuries past, the ven were ruled by an Emperor. His name was Jaymen Steele, Earl of Blayloch, Blooded of the Elk, patriarch of the Steele family. His rule was hard, but not harsh. His mercy was rare, but predictable. He was, by all accounts, a good Emperor. He was also the last.
As his Solace approached, Steele began to seek ways to delay the great sleep, or prevent it entirely. This single occupation eventually turned into a passion, then an obsession. An obsession that drove him willingly into the arms of madness.
The Betrayer War brought together the combined forces of all Houses against the Emperor. So great was his might, those in his own House turned against him, and even that great Strength was barely enough to defeat Steele. Decades of sorcerous research empowered him beyond imagination. When he was defeated, a council of nobles gathered to cast the course of the future. No ven should ever again be declared Emperor. More, that the House of the Elk be held at half-shroud. A warning if they should ever demonstrate the hubris of their Blood again. Sorcery was outlawed, except for the Blooded of the Serpent who were allowed to study the Forbidden Art for the purposes of never allowing any future abuse of power.The Betrayer War forever changed the face of Shanri. Steele’s researches unlocked old doors that should have never been opened. The land was filled with ancient horrors, terrible and unspeakable. The Blooded of the Falcon gave up their own lands to serve as “roadmen,” protecting the common people against the horrors unleashed by Steele’s ambition. The House of the Bear, most deeply wounded by the war, retreated to the mountains to heal.
150 Years Ago: The Quiet Poison
Over the next century, the Blooded of the Wolf moved quickly to consolidate their power and fill the vacuum left behind by an empty throne. The House of the Fox did the same, but met with quick resistance from the Adrente wolves. A second war erupted, but it did not find its end on the battlefield. Instead, the war was ended on the floor of the newly created Senate. The Senate adopted what would come to be known as the War Amendment (taken from Jonan Drax’s ancient Laws) forbidding any noble from gathering armies. The nobility was permitted to keep “a small personal guard for the purposes of security and protection,” but otherwise, no soldiers, no garrisons, and no armies. Needless to say, the ven reacted to the amendment in their own way. They started gathering armies.
Because a noble was allowed a “small personal guard,” the ven began acquiring soldiers for that very purpose. The definition of “small” varied from noble to noble, from twenty armed men to as many as one hundred or more. After all, according to the Law, nobles were also required to protect their vassals. Because vassals are property, they are—legally—an extension of the noble’s person. And so, in a moment of pure irony, “personal protection” became the key phrase that allowed the nobility to raise armies.
But waging war was still illegal. And in reaction to that clause, espionage and assassination became the primary cause of death among nobles in Shanri. For seventy-five years, the death toll became almost epidemic. The primary method of assassination was poison, providing an anonymous method of doing away with powerful enemies.
Thanks to another amendment passed by the Senate, dueling transformed from a messy and bloody exercise into pure ritual. The Dueling Act forbade casual Swordplay, requiring proper procedure for the ven’s most deadly art.
From all this bloodshed, the Wolf and Fox developed the rules for duels, refining them as they murdered each other. Warfare occurred in the courts, civilized and ritualized, but still just as bloody.The Storm, dubbed “the Anguish” by those who lived through it, ravaged all of Shanri. It first appeared a century ago, seemingly willful, seemingly knowing, all too deadly. A murderous Storm. It did indeed seem to know their names.
100 Years Ago: The Anguish
“This storm knows us,” Uvand Philo wrote. “It knows our names.”
Ever since that day, the Storm returns, seeking the Blood of the ven. At first, they were unprepared, their homes and villages and crops wrecked. With no foreknowledge or understanding of what they were dealing with, the ven suffered. Their only warning a distant howling wind like the cry of a wounded animal and the slowly darkening sky.
Many ven moved into the ancient ruins of the sorcerer-kings for shelter. For generations, those buildings remained empty out of fear of what may lay within, but fear of a present danger trumped the fear of the past. The ven cleaned out the vast hallways and rooms, seeking shelter from the Storm.
But one ven sought truth rather than shelter. “The Storm knows our names,” he wrote. “We shall return the favor.” His name was Uvand Philo. Blooded of the Serpent, Duke of Ychara, Philo spent all his waking days searching for the origin of the Storm and all his nights communing with the suaven, seeking their Wisdom. It took him fifty years, right up to the edge of Solace, but in the end, he found what he was looking for. He went to a particular aelven danna ruin with three others. Of the four, only one returned. Danaria Del, Blooded of the Falcon. She knew the Storm’s name and she brought it back… but only for those of her Blood.Since then, the Blooded of the Falcon alone know the Storm’s name. They call upon the Storm and send it back, although sometimes its fury is too great for even those who know its secret.
50 Years Ago: Clandestine Blood
The Storm accomplished two things. First, it made the House of the Falcon—mostly disregarded by the other Houses—a vital and essential part of every noble’s life. Second, it moved the nobles into the deserted mansions and castles of the sorcerer-kings. Many scholars mark this last move as the beginning of a new era for the ven. An era of comfort, security and overconfidence. The great lords—Earls and Dukes—began looking at expanding their domains. This led to smaller nobles—the Barons—looking for allies wherever they couldfind them. Of course, this required a degree of trust no ven was willing to give. The Barons needed a solution… and they found it in the libraries of the sorcerer kings.
Sorcery, long since made illegal by the Senate, found a resurgence in the minor Houses of Shanri. It was Vudru Kouser, Baron of Etrain, Blooded of the Serpent who first brought the Blood Oath into the courts. His tiny lands were surrounded by enemies and he needed an ally he could trust. Using a secret he swore never to reveal, he forged a pact with five other Barons, a sorcerous oath that bound them together. The Oath, sealed with their own Blood, not only ensured no Baron would dare break the Oath, but also gave each noble secrets they swore never to reveal.Kouser’s Oath found its way across Shanri in a matter of months. In almost every court, Barons were taking the Oath, finding allies with sorcery they could not find on their own. The Barons were united, and because their Oaths were made in secret, no Earl or Duke was willing to step into the complicated web of alliances. A stalemate no one dared disturb.
Today: Totem Rex
The most dangerous kind of talk wanders the halls of the Senate. The Earls have been whispering of a “high king.” Not an Emperor. A king. A monarch with independent powers, answerable to the Senate. While Shanri’s greatest nobles (the distinguished “Earls”) conspire to make such a title, they know the Barons will never agree. There are not enough votes in the Senate to pass such an amendment. That makes some Earls consider less peaceful options.
Meanwhile, exploration into ruins deeper in the world and further from the hub of civilization have uncovered dangerous secrets. New sorceries, unspeakable monsters, and treasures of breathtaking Beauty. As this news makes its way through the courts, more nobles sponsor expeditions into the uncharted realms, hoping to bring back treasures and marvels to impress and awe the court.With the import of such valuables, piracy is at an all time high. Whereas before, the ven feared the orks of the sea, now they brave the waters. The seas are now filled with ships flying the colors of the Houses… and flying black flags: anonymous badges of piracy.