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7 Hex Dragon: Imperial Sorcerers
The Imperial Sorcerers (IS) started as a very powerful Wizards Guild in the city-state of Dar Karador 700 years ago (the city itself was founded some 1000 years ago). The city was ruled by a council of generals, the landed elite and representatives of a few guilds and the Sorcerers Guild (as they called themselves). The city was aggressive and rapidly overcame it's neighbors, including the nearby port city of Dar Miralo (80 miles to the south east) as a route to the sea. The city was fairly advanced in the arts and architecture and the technology/magery of warfare, being the first to use catapults and the first to plant mages at the platoon level as support for each unit. Wizards were actively recruited and even mediocre mages could help with a well placed darkness spell, or clumsiness on the first line of charging opponents. More powerful wizards were put on intelligence gathering, they put huge resources into the Crystal Ball and other scrying magics. Not being horsemen, they also were the first to use units of Pikemen and Crossbowmen in special formation to breakup heavy calvary charges. The discipline of their infantry was renowned/notorious, being the best drilled in the known world. Most of the power was with the Landed Elite who also produced most of the troops from their Estates and vassals and most of the Generals (though a few came up the ranks).
Culturally they pride themselves on being the first to abolish slavery, advance women into the highest ranks of leadership and to institute a serf-like arrangement with the rural population. There are publicly funded arts and architecture, with Dar Karador being the Jewel of the Empire, with publicly and privately funded arts festivals, combat games (not to the death) and paved roads and a rudimentary sewage system. Look on them like the Byzantines under the Basils or Romans under Marcus Aurelius. Women have a prominent role in all levels of leadership in the Socerer's Guilds to the trade guilds to the military.
After taking Dar Miralo they founded a navy base there and started prowling up and down the coast, taking small towns and villages and working to isloate the larger cities and keep them off guard until the better prepared infantry could do the real work. They fought a trade war with Gleremere and were able to keep them from trading with their southern partners.
For the last 100 years or so the IS has been more aggressive in taking cities and forcing the population into adopting the language, currency and legal system of the IS. There are two notable exceptions and they were two of their earlier conquests (not long after Dar Miralo). The first was the city of Cantor, stradling the river just north east of the Great marsh. The siege was fierce and the southern half of the city was totally sacked and burned (and is still a ruin to this day). That city maintains its own legal code (though it has adopted many legal customs of Dar Karador over the years). Cantor was an advanced city, with a population of 40,000 including the rural surroundings. They possesed a thriving Wizards guild and excellent architects (much of Dar Karador has been done in the Cantorian style since their conquest).
Also, every year the IS celebrates the Treaty of the Foothills when the city-state of Thur finally surrendered when faced with the whole might of the IS Infantry at their city gate. This was the first time the IS swallowed whole a significant power that also had begun the road to Imperialism. They added over a third more land to the Empire with this treaty. The Thurians have maintained a good bit of their local culture, including their legal codes from the nomad days. Their history stretches back to the same stock as the nomads to the northern steppe. The clan leader Thurlid took his tribe north on a vision from the Sun god to found a city and quit their nomad ways. They started agriculture and building crude enclosures. They were helped by some refugees from the south who were driven out by the Reptile Men. These refugees included some architects and stone masons (who were spared by the Reptile men so as to be turned into slave labor and help them build their own castles and fortifications). They won their freedom and headed north. The Thurians were thrilled as the other nomadic tribes were constantly raiding against them and burning their wooden fortifications. They were immediately given places of honor and started building. The Thurians repelled all attacks and the nomads drifted north. They began to cultivate and settle larger and larger areas. Their nomadic background was not entirely lost, they kept their mounted knightly orders a good cavalry augmented with more traditional infantry that the rural population provided, and still made raids on neighboring villages and nomadic encampments. Eventually they began to conquor the villages and small cities near them. Their administration became increasingly sophisticated and they became greedy for more land. This put them on a headlong collision course with the IS who were expanding westward towards them. After several successful skirmishes with their cavalry, the Thurian fielded an army to march on Dar Karador. The IS, far advanced in magic than the Thurians, had excellent intelligence on their movements. They were able to cut their supply lines and ambush them. The victory was stunning to the Thurians and devastating, they had handily won most engagements with their superior calvary and intelligence (their intelligence order, The Order of the Fox was devastated to be so outwitted, many committed suicide). They retreated to fight another day, but they were always one step behind and were forced back for several years in a row, until the patient and thorough IS army was approaching Thur itself. With their army all but decimated and the remnants of their cavalry hiding in the Backbone Mountains, the over-matched Thurian King swore allegiance to the Imperial Council in exchange for some autonomy. The arrangement has benefited both cities in many ways. Thur gained much of the magic and technology of the IS, and the IS gained at least a minimal cavalry element in their army (all cavalry regiments train in Thur for a year and half) before deployment.
Dwarves and Thurians have never gotten along. The masons of Thur are jealous of the Dwarves and the Dwarves never trusted horses or those who ride them. The Thurians used to get a good bit of their metalwork from ka'Han, but as relations between the new Duchy and IS become colder, that trade has all but trickled out. The Thurians are now the beneficiares of the Dwarven Exile commuities, though they usually have middlemen to actually do the trading.
The Thurians also resent the Reptile Men. This comes from a long histoy, the ancestors of Thur were nomads who fled the encroaching desert and the Reptile Men who came with it. The Reptile Men generally look down on humans and that pricks the Thurians own sense of honor and martial prowess. The Thurians are better riders, but not better fighters, than the Reptile Men (but don't tell that to the members of the Order of the Bear or Order of the Boar).
Thur retains a few of its more feudal institutions like Knightly Orders, though they have less power than of old with the IS assuming many of their hereditary functions. There is one semi-secret order that wants to break away from Dar Karador and the IS, the Order of the Chameleon. When they come into the open, they wear dark (though not necessarily black) armour and carry the classic Thurian Horsemans Hammer which is also in their Coat of Arms. They foment for civil war and make raids against IS units or small military outposts. The IS has done a good job of forcing them deep underground with their advanced scrying abilities, but have not succeeded in capturing one alive (they fight to the death or commit suicide to avoid capture). All Chameleons carry small poisons and small hidden knives to kill themselves rather than be interrogated.
Religiously the Dar Karador worshiped a pantheon headed by Dar Haldor, Lawgiver (who has some suspicious similarities to the Barbarian God of Order, indicating that the ancient stock of Dar Karador may be the northern tribes or vice versa). Other notables were the gods of Strife, Poetry and the Sun. Their symbol at the time was a Sunrise over an open book of the Law, resting on the crossed spears of Strife. The Seasons were celebrated as cycles of Sun the LifeGiver, following its course in the Law.
The Sorcerers Guild rapidly became the mecca for all who are gifted Mages both inside and outside the Empire with the added funding provided by the military and the extensive testing done to all children to find any with any wizarding ability. Many of the best and brightest were exposed to both the Sorcerer's Guild and military life. This lead the normally contentious and egotistical tendencies of most Wizard's Guilds to be tempered by a certain military discipline and organization. Additionally, many of the best mages were actually promoted by their ability and most leaders of the Guild came up through the ranks. When truly ambitious wizards came along, they had a powerful organization to pull to their will.
For decades the landed elite imperceptibally lost power to the Sorcerer's Guild as they relied on the Guild for intelligence, both on external and internal foes and for clerical skills. The Guild took on more diplomatic roles, both for the ability to have a wizard in the foreign courts and to tie it to the clerical record keeping activity (the Secretariat) of the Guild. The Guild turned into a multifaceted organization: there were basic town wizards who had extensive contact with the merchants and trade guilds, the Secret Police through their intelligence gathering functions, the combat wizards in the military, the Diplomatic Corps, the clerical record keepers and many of the military's strategists moved over to the Intelligence center of the Guild so they could plan with the most recent information. More and more generals came straight out of the Guild or were closely tied to the Guild's clerical and intelligence centers. Couple this with the increasing professionalization of the army, severing it from it's peasant roots, and the army, lead by Guild friendly Generals, started to become a third force in the Council that was increasingly under the influence of the Guild. Some of the landed elite became alarmed and started to form a minority coalition to limit the power of the Guild by separating out the military command and control structure from under Guild control, claiming to go back to the original balance that had made Dar Karador great. This conflict escalated and polarized the city in more and more areas of life. Those who allied with the Guild tended to be devotees of the Sun god, urban merchants and the rank and file of the army. On the other side were many of the landed elite (and hence many of the officers of the army), the priesthood of the Dar Haldor and the peasantry. It broke into a culture war and small issues loomed large as they became dividing points for the Guild vs. the landed nobility.
The turning point came when the Northern Army was defeated by a fast moving coalition of partially nomadic tribes and barbarian tribes that swept down out of the Northwestern Steppe. Catching the Northern army by surprise and able to separate them, most were killed and the rest surrendered. There was wild rumour that many of the landed nobility had arranged for this attack and surrendered to join the nomads in crushing the Sorcerers Guild. With the Nomads just 120 miles outside of Dar Karador and the Southern army 5 days forced march away in the bogs to the south, the Sorcerers Guild used the fear and confusion to enact a coup. Taking huge risks, they called in Greater Demons and expended all their collective strength in summoning Dragons and illusions of dragons, they were able to confuse and slow the superstitious nomads until the Southern army returned to defend the city in a ferocious seige that lasted 60 days. At the end, the nomads withdrew, devastating the countryside as they left. This had the effect of striking a heavy blow on the landed nobility whose estates and manpower were in ruin. The Sorcerer's Guild then used the opportunity to break the back of the landed elite. Using the rumors of noble defection to the nomads (almost completely untrue), the Sorcerer's Secret Police swooped in on their major opponents, already in shambles from the Nomadic devastation, and arrested them. The Sorcerers Guild broke up their estates into significantly smaller plots that were given to friendly merchants, some of the Sorcerers (who were given titles) and some loyal peasants. The Council was reorganized with a front of giving more regional representation to the newly conquered territories (up until that time, most of the council was from Dar Karador), but in reality the Socerer's Guild was given overwhelming influence by having representatives from the Secret Police, Military, Diplomatic Corps, the Secretariat, etc. The Sorcerers were hailed as heroes and saviours of the Empire and the Council was renamed the Imperial Sorcerers Council. The symbol was changed to a Wizard's Staff tipped with the Sun God's flaming symbol and the two crossed spears of Strife at the base of the Staff.
After that time, the Eldar Council (the core ruling body within the Council that handles the day-to-day business of the Empire comprising 30 or so of the most powerful Wizards from the Secretariat, Secret Police, Military, Diplomatic Corps, Guilds and some regional lords) became more and more reclusive, only coming out for major holidays or time of distress (see the account of the creation of Skeleton Warriors for an instance). The Empire has become more efficient at conquering and incorperating lands. They honestly feel that they are bringing a higher level of culture to the barbarian tribes around them, though "breaking" the barbarians involves some unfortunate tactics and punitive measures. They have expanded greatly into the Northwest Steppe, putting it under the plow and it has become the breadbasket of the Empire. The Nomadic Tribes have been pushed back and have weakened with the loss of their ancetral lands. They mount raids and other nuisance activities on the far Northwest borderlands (and are in talks with the Duchy of Mount Bronar to join that coalition). The Empire has stalled in the south where the Great Marsh does not allow the army to pass, and on the other side is a small but ferocious kingdom of Reptile Men who will not be subdued. To the west are the Backbone Mountains that are inhabited by dwarves. The Mountains and foothills were swarming with orcs 500 years ago, but the dwarves and later with the IS all but wiped them out, scattering them and pushing them North and East. The Dwarves now allow the Empire to pass over their range with some aid in exchange for special trade relations for the Army and guarantees of autonomy. Past that range the Empire has a foothold with the newly formed (but small) Western Army and are planning further exploring the Western Plains once they develop a string of fortresses in the foothills as a staging point.
To the north they have made the most gains, taking city-states and tribal hunting grounds. This has engendered the fear and animosity of large numbers in their wake who do not see the arrival of the IS as a liberation at all. The taxes are getting heavier and the army is becoming harsher and greedier in taking food and provisions for their further treks north. Their general policy is to lay waste to the countryside so that the landed nobility is broken and there is a general food shortage. They then cart in food and give it to the urban merchants to distribute. This makes the population depedent on the IS and puts the urban merchants in a position of power (under the Governing Sorcerers Council). They deal as fast as they can with any insurgency, risking being too harsh rather than too lenient in the first few months.
The army used to come from peasant households who were encouraged to keep one set of arms and armour per family for the annual campaigns. The landed nobility provided leaders and some arms (mostly bows) for their poorer serfs. Currently the IS Army has professionalized and contains Light Archers, Heavy Archers, Light Infantry, Heavy Infantry and a small Cavalry. The Light Archers use Longbows and the Heavy Archers use crossbows. The Heavy Infantry have chain mail or heavier, tower shields and 1H/2H spears (or Pikes if facing cavalry). They carry maces on their belts for close combat. The light infantry wear leather armour and carry javelins, small shields and small axes. The cavalry is mostly to prevent flanking maneouvers by opponents or to quickly take opposing command groups, but rarely charge opposing lines. They have Shield, Spears and long one handed axes for close combat. Some units have horse bows. The spear is the weapon of choice in the IS and they have used them for thousands of years.
Despite their reputation for homogenizing their conquered foes, there is a good bit of diversity in the Empire. Both due to pragmatic considerations of rule and a belief in giving some autonomy to local areas (especially if the rulers were fairly friendly to the IS before becoming part of the Empire). There are a wide variety of religions, but are watched by the Secret Police for any political activity. Thur retains much of it's local color and flair (including the Orders), though it is ruled mostly by the local Sorcerer's Council headed nominally by the King of Thur. Within the older part of the Empire, racial integration is fairly well accomplished. In most cities there is a "dwarf quarter", or "Orc Square", etc. In Dar Karador, Dar Miralo and Cantor there are some small enclaves of Dwarves (though there are no dwarves in Thur) and Elves and Orcs, but for the most part Dwarves and Elves and Half-Orcs live where their station allows. The Dwarves form the most interesting minority. The IS has long had trade with the Dwarves of Grellmore, but those relations are becoming strained as the IS is more insistent on incorporationg the Dwarves as an autonomous region within the IS, making them the Dwarves sole trading partner. This is tense but one way out for some members of the Sorcerer's Council is embrace Dwarven Exiles. The Dwarves are reticent to invoke capital punishment, seeing all dwarven life as a work of art. But they are prone to Exile for the worst of crimes (theft, vandalism, murder). Many of these Exiles have been embraced by the IS as a way to breed their own Dwarven craftsmen. They are given a fair bit of honor and usually set up with a shop and apprentices. These Exiles have a scent of second class citizen about them (there have been some questionable rulings in the courts and they have no representation in the Sorcerers Council), but over all they are honored and given generous military contracts to produce arms and armour. The exception is Thur where the Dwarves have never been welcome. Primarily the masons of Thur (who came from the south) have been jealous of the Dwarves and actively sought to exclude them to hold on to their monopoly, but the Dwarves themselves never trusted horses or horse riders like the Thurians.
Politically the Sorcerer's Council is comprised of the Eldar Council which is a lifetime appointment and chosen out of the greater Council by all manner of wheeling and dealing and back room deals. The rest of the Council is made up of Sorcerers from the various regions/city-states, with any region city state having between 4 and 15 members. Those positions last at least 3 years, but there is no term limit. Choosing members varies a bit from region to region (in Thur it is done by heredity or chosen successor, in Dar Miralo it is by appointment of the Eldar Council, in Girsallar the Guild has internal elections, etc).
The major resisters to IS hegemony are the remaining nomadic tribes to the far Northwest (though they are weak now), the Duchy of Mount Bronar to the north, a coalition of previously contentious barons and settled barbarian tribes who have banded together to form a large, if poorly organized, force. To the far Northeast are orc tribes and the WildLands. Trapped in the middle are the towns and baronies of the Borderlands (bordering the Duchy of Mount Bronar, the Orc tribes and the IS). Crosshaven is in the Borderlands (close to the Duchy) and is becoming a major trade stop over due to the strange "Conflict in the South" as the locals call it. Traders coming from the Duchy, the Northeast and the coast used to travel through the area of the Conflict via the trade road from Naroth, but have been diverted west, through Crosshaven, to avoid it. The IS is watching this "Conflict" and attempting to do intelligence gathering. They are being patient and mostly countering the Duke's moves to gain more barons, they are economically and diplomatically wooing the southern Baronies. The "Conflict" is wasting the resources of the Borderland Baronies and the Duchy. The one downside is many of the independent baronies are joining the Duchy to get the Dukes help in resisting the raids. The IS is looking for an excuse to send in a largish (2,000+) brigade to "help", then build a permanent base. They are wooing the southern Baronies to their side in exchange for aid in any attacks. They have many diplomatic missions going to Mt. Bronar, but are not very serious about any treaties (except those that allow IS merchants to trade more freely in the Duchy).
Total population of the IS is just over two million and rising.
Points of Geographic Interest - The Haldor Plateau. 150 miles East of Dar Karador is a small mountain range that has a lake on a high plateau. It was believed that the original laws that have governed Dar Karador and the IS came straight from Haldor on the banks of Lake Haldor. This has been a questing place for shamans and others wanting to prove themselves or get advice (similar to the Oracle at Delphi). The winds that blow over the Lake are said to carry Haldor's voice if you listen closely. Nearby are a series of caves that eventually wind around under Lake Haldor where there are underground streams and lakes. The caves have various denizens, so far none of which have been particularly evil or mysterious, but the caves are very extensive and have not been fully explored. The High Guard (the Guards posted to the Council Chambers and to the Eldar Council) all have to quest here and kill a beast. That test being more a show of dedication and willingness to follow any command given than a test of actual martial prowess.
Girsallar was a large manorial estate and bustling village that the IS took in a series of raids to set up a string of fortresses on their northern border. It has turned into a millitary town, with the main population, outside of the rural farmers, the IS garrison of some 2,000+. They run patrols into the borderlands, and long patrols along the IS border. They respond to orc raids and have a small cavalry unit attached (70 men and horses). They have a huge celebration on the Summer Solstice involving bon fires and 3 days of feast.
The ruin to the East of the Great Marsh was a city destroyed by the Reptile Men when their honor was slighted by an official in a small tournament held every year. A drunken victor over one of the Reptile Men (a rarity, the Reptile Men won 85-90% of the contests) slurred the royal house and family of the Reptile Man he beat in combat. When the Lord Mayor refused to publicly apologize in Reptile fashion, the Reptile Men mounted a quick strike force who marched double time for 6 days to arrive at the city faster than they could prepare any defense and laid waste to the city. The ruin has been plundered fairly well, but it is now in the general control of the IS so opportunities have dwindled. The IS wants to turn it into a fortified city and develop the rual area around it as: first line of defense against the Reptile Men, a staging area to post spys on their activities, and a trading post to trade with them. There are Imperial surveyors out and scouting parties are exploring the rubble to make sure it is clear of bandits and other nasties.