The Mountains of Morpheus
People of Drau-Mura
The region of Drau-Mura has no high king or ruling council. Such a state was nearly achieved under the rule of Kasha the Sword-Queen, a heroic ruler who conquered much of the region some 177 years ago, and established a short-lived empire that has today fractured into the various polities of the Azna kingdoms, the Arius kingdoms, Kala Anar, and the Tesia: in other words, what is today most of Drau-Mura. Thanks to its recent political unity, the kingdom of Kala Anar, ruled by its sorcerous Sky-born caste, is poised to possibly forge another empire in the flame of conquest. Only the tumble of the following years will tell.
The Azna, the human ethno-regional people who populate much of the region, recognize Kasha the Sword-Queen as a hero and uniter who brought peace (however temporary) to Drau-Mura. Today, years are tracked in relation to the conclusion of the Crying War, when 177 years ago her forces proclaimed victory over her disorganized political enemies. Although a pitiless conqueror, one ruler among many who has continued human beings’ legacy of violence and hatred, she is also recognized, in her later years, as a builder of social consensus. (Thus is she credited with instituting many of Drau-Mura’s most “civilized” traditions. These include patronages of scholarship and art, the creation of several orders of clerics and paladins, extension of legal rights for halflings and dwarves living among humans, the partial abolition of slavery, and forcing certain social obligations held to the aristocracy, such as tithing to churches and druidic sects. Many Azna are glad to credit the Sword-Queen for other traditions that were actually instituted by one of her comrades or political descendants.)
Today, Azna people are concentrated in the seven Azna kingdoms, and make up perhaps half of the population of the Tesia. Despite Kasha’s iron-fisted rule, the Azna polities have been for generations politically fragmented — often at each other’s throats. From time to time, an Azna prince has attempted to rally the entire Azna people to her banner, but it rarely allays the level of intra-ethnic conflict. Today, solidarity works halfway in uniting the Azna kingdoms against an external foe: In times of tenuous peace, the city-states’ princes condone their warlords’ pillage of outlying settlements, and in times of strong peace, they scheme to attract political favor and increase their wealth. These seven kingdoms are: Strigis, the native home of Kasha the Sword-Queen, and famed for the quality of its horses, longbows, and wine; Cinnamarch, dotted with ruined temples of the Old Faith forbidden to all interlopers; Cayelia, whose city walls safeguard its denizens from arcane magic and even the powers of the Mountains of Morpheus; the House of the Mirrors of Ghosts, whose nobles feud with hostile barbarians over treasure supposedly hidden within lakes whose surfaces are frozen solid around the year; Othermont, ruled autocratically by a blood descendant of Kasha the Sword-Queen, who wields her legendary Sword of Fate; Amadeus, a stronghold of Ashoum ruled by a council of three Ashoumite bishops; and Torbrera’s Forge, conquered variously by coalitions of dwarves and humans nearly 20 times over the past three centuries.
The Azna kingdoms have long disputed with their neighbors in the kingdom of Kala Anar, composed of two distinct castes: the Sky-born, which are the kingdom’s ruling class of landowners, merchants, and professionals, and the Soil-born, which are its common folk. As a whole, the two people are referred to as Anarites, the Sky-born often do not hesitate to speak on their lessers’ behalf. Divisions between the the two “races” are enforced by the Sky-born aristocracy, who claim to be the distant grandchildren of dragons from an ancient era. The aristocracy enjoy a high standard of living, and are (at least compared to anyone else in Drau-Mura) innately talented with magic: what they describe as the the legacy of dragon’s blood, the birthright of a noble, creative, destined people. (Ideologies about birthright aside, the educated rarely dispute that Sky-born have some kind of inherent capability for magic. About one in 20 Sky-born have a modicum of arcane ability, which is a ratio that well exceeds that of any other ethnic or racial group in Drau-Mura.) On the other hand, the Soil-born face various social and legal restrictions, including a ban from practicing arcane magic. Some Soil-born, convinced that their people’s heritage lies to the east, past the Mountains of Morpheus, have attempted to settle outside Kala Anar. Those who succeed in migrating tend to settle in the Tesia, but a few find acceptance among the Azna kingdoms and the lands of the Eastern Tribes.
The three city-states that make up the Federation of the Tesia are the most ethnically mixed in Drau-Mura, and the city-state of Mercadia is the region’s largest urban center. Some denizens often come from faraway lands, though Azna, Soil-born, halflings, dwarves are most common among residents. Rulership has changed hands countless times among the Tesia’s domains: pirates, barbarian warlords, Sky-born aristocrats, unnatural entities, and thieves’ guilds have all ruled one city-state or another at some point in time. The Federation, as an alliance of the three city-states, is only 40 years young and its political solidarity is still shaky, but its ability to grow wealth is undeniable — and threatening to other kings and princes in Drau-Mura. Currently, a web of aristocratic families, Eastern Tribes’ warlords, and guilds wields the most power, though rumors speak of a mighty ocean-devil, a servant of the sea-god Talos, whose ravenous demands are secretly appeased by the cities’ leaders each summer solstice. The three Tesian city-states are: Mercadia, which in the last 30 years has rapidly grown in size and commerce; Mordai’s Isle, which sees an increasing number of immigrant Kyikros, a foreign ethnic group of humans who bring with them companion undead monsters: ghouls, wights, and less describable creatures; and Acantha, recently conquered by the Ravenna tribe, and famed for the quality of its magical elixirs.
The Eastern Tribes are widely regarded as barbarians. Semi-nomadic pastoral people whose wealth is concentrated in their livestock, the Eastern Tribes do not usually relate to outsiders under peaceful circumstances. They have a dark reputation stemming from their martial prowess and their regular practice of raiding other lands, though they are also cautiously accepted as mercenaries. A swirl of feuds clearly divides the tribes, though playing tribe against another is deeply frustrating to even the most skilled diplomats. Although regarded as primitives by their western human counterparts, the Eastern Tribes breed certain rare, extraordinary, even supernatural, livestock and beasts, and can sell them at extravagant prices. They also trade their raiding-spoils, most often in the cities of the Tesia, and their leaders are thus able to acquire a wide range of goods and services surprising to one who sees them as "primitives ". In recent years, the Ravenna tribe has conquered the Tesia city-state of Acantha, suggesting a future of increased economic gain and political power.
Some of the more prominent tribes are: the Brixia, who manage a great deal of druidic lore; the Ravenna, hearty, orc-blooded horse breeders; the Cold Sun, who have the best relations with outsiders; and the Vorroros, a recently ascendant tribe with a reputation for ruthless, fearsome violence and devotion to its patron deity, the Invincible Thunder. Half-orcs are found among most of the tribes, and socially, human/half-orc distinctions are weak at best. The Eastern Tribes also recognize, as (nearly) one of their own, the White Crown tribe, a group of intelligent giant eagles that sometimes deigns to offer their unmatched speed across the wilderness.
The kingdoms of the Arius, also their own ethno-regional group, have enjoyed relative peace and prosperity for the half-century or so. The monotheist religion of Ashoum is most prevalent among the Arius, of all ethnic groups, and its bishops are among the most influential and magically puissant in Drau-Mura. However, the mainline faith has yet to find a compromise with the more ancient practice of necromancy among Arius nobles, who reputedly consult the shades of their ancestors for advice, and compel the shades of foreigners to unknown services. The wealthier of the Arius have come to visit the rest of Drau-Mura, usually with motives of profit or alliance: Advisors, merchants, mercenaries, wizards, and pilgrims can be found throughout Drau-Mura, and often ally themselves with a patron of an outside kingdom for years, even decades. This often gives the rest of Drau-Mura the impression that the Arius in general are detached, greedy, and used to opulence. The three major Arius kingdoms are: Oceanwatch, whose paranoid 98-year-old monarch sends spies throughout Drau-Mura; Sunbridge, whose rulers are accruing even more wealth through the new crop of cotton; and Whitesteed, whose Holy Council of St. Lamourna, where convene Ashoumite priests, bishops, draws numerous pilgrims, philosophers, and magicians every year.
Dwarves and Halflings
For centuries, dwarves have ruled their underground kingdoms to the north, where they live better than the aboveground halfling agrarian settlements over whom they lord, collecting rent and demanding corvee. Dwarves and halflings hardly have a clean history, for in these kingdoms dwarves position themselves as the necessary protectors of halflings, granting them the material and moral safeguards of civilization in exchange for their obedience. (A halfling in a dwarvish kingdom can be easily executed for making sexual advances toward a dwarf.) However, both fear and despise the frost giants to the far north, who easily survive in the inhospitable climate but make raids to capture slaves. Isolationist policies keep the dwarvish kingdoms apart from human ones, and the plagues that have decimated dwarvish populations (while leaving other mortals unscathed) convince dwarvish elites all the more of the wisdom of preventing “contamination” from the decadent, conniving human societies.
Even before the rule of Kasha the Sword-Queen, clanless dwarves and halflings trickled southward to live among human civilizations. Today, dwarves and halflings are culturally removed from their northern counterparts — they’re sometimes referred to as pewter dwarves and halflings, suggesting an upbringing that is impure, but also strong by dint of cunning and versatility. (Relations between halflings and dwarves are somewhat friendlier here, with dwarves more likely to take on an “older sibling” position to halflings, rather than a paternalistic, exploitative one.) Some have prospered through canny investment in the human economy, but most are hitched to the human peasantry. Among the human societies of Drau-Mura, these halflings and dwarves most often favor residence in the Azna kingdoms, which thanks to the edicts of the Sword-Queen afford them rights to property, inheritance, trade, and profession that are almost equal to those of humans. These rights have been contested and compromised for generations, and many human lords see them as one of the Azna’s sorest political mistakes. However, pewter dwarves and halflings have over the centuries improved their economic footing, and sometimes their social status. They do not number among the aristocracy proper, though keeping one or two dwarvish retainers is sometimes in fashion.
“Pewter” dwarves have mostly preserved their inherited culture and faith of ancestor worship, though at present the socio-cultural differences between them and the “true” dwarves are considerable. Halflings have been more promiscuous in borrowing from dwarvish and human culture; they sometimes practice ancestor worship as well, but mostly prefer Ashoum, citing traditions that hold that halflings are equal to dwarves and humans in the eyes of the creator god Asha. Recently, the Ashoumite faith of halflings living under the rule of dwarvish kingdoms has sparked significant controversy, as dwarvish lords seek to expel what they perceive is a foreign, fanatic faith from their civilization.
The dwarf and halfling subraces described in the Player’s Handbook exist independently of these social distinctions; this raciality is, basically, of nature and heredity. The grey dwarves called the duergar rule one of the dwarvish kingdoms, and its regime is as brutal as it is intolerant of dissension within. The duergar are something of a “black sheep” among the dwarvish race, and openly practice the enslavement (and sacrifice) of halflings and humans; yet, their might and wealth are such that no other dwarvish kingdom can afford to alienate them. The dwarvish language is both common and respected across Drau-Mura, having flowed into human kingdoms through trade routes. On the other hand, the halfling tongue is denigrated by humans and dwarves alike, and speaking it in proper company is a horrid faux pas.
Half-Elves and Elves
Half-elves and elves make up a distinct ethno-racial minority, known as the Vanir, but also called the elf-blooded (or, simply, “elves”). Most half-elves are born to other half-elves and elves, and few elves can claim to be fully elf-blooded; among the Vanir, concerns about blood quanta are considered arrogant: What matters is their common heritage of faith and exile. The Vanir have only arrived en masse in the last century or so, apparently having experienced a diaspora from their homelands. They also cleave to their own faith, the worship of a monotheistic Godhead, and have yet to “integrate” well with human society.
The Vanir have highly cherished arcane and divine traditions, with both clerics and wizards representing their faith and mysticism. In cities, tight-knit elvish communities (backed with magic) can enjoy a modicum of prosperity. They continue to face persecution and scapegoating, however, and take the blame for having introduced a number of harmful, insidious magical spells to Drau-Mura, including what are formally called vampiric touch and alter self.
“Vanir” is a pan-ethnic category, to which various elvish subraces, bloodlines, and creeds belong, including the dark elves, whose affinity for night and darkness attracts the suspicion of Ashoumites. The elvish language is relatively foreign to Drau-Mura, and lacks linguistic commonalities with Mura, or the dwarvish and halfling tongues.
Other Races and Mongrel Blood
Dragonborn, gnomes, and tieflings are very rare. As they are not native to Drau-Mura, most of them are adventurers, travelers, or exiles, usually coming by way of a harbor of the Tesia. Orcs hail from the far east, though they rarely venture into Drau-Mura proper. From the far east too hail ogres, who often find a place among the Eastern Tribes as allies, lackeys, or peers.
The term “half-elf” denotes anyone with apparent elvish traits, and given the complex interactions between human and non-human blood, a “human” with a single elven ancestor as many as five generations apart may resemble much a half-elf as a person of half-human, half-elvish descent; this is true too for a person of majority-elf ancestry. Similar “hereditary principles” apply for half-orcs, whose distinctive features can also persist through several generations’ of dilution by watery human blood.
Ethnic Azna humans have perhaps the highest rate of intermarriage with other people (especially in the Tesia), and their appearance varies with region. Their skin ranges from light olive to dark brown; their eyes are usually amber or brown, though green eyes are thought to indicate descent from various Azna culture heroes. Their hair is dark brown to black, and among men and women it usually reaches down near or past the shoulders. It is fashionable, especially among the urban classes of merchants and skilled laborers, to tie one’s hair into complex braids, which can make certain tacit, contingent statements, ranging from the strictly professional to the amorous.
Despite Kala Anar’s caste distinctions, the untrained eye cannot distinguish between an unclothed Sky-born noble and Soil-born commoner (in part due to some intermarriage, and much, much more sex in secret). Both castes have generally brownish skin and dark hair. Sharply distinguishing a minority of Sky-born — perhaps one in ten — of Sky-born are reptilian features: for example, slit pupils, patches of scales, a tongue cleft like a snake’s, and various sensitivities of digestion. Such features are considered signs of a healthy, and sorcerous, lineage; children with a “dragon’s flesh” will likely face the expectation to display magical talent. Sometimes, a Soil-born peasant is found to have such features — her family may face accusations of miscegenation, or she might be treated as “Sky-born all along,” a noble scion tragically lost at birth and raised among peasants. The situation usually attracts more unwanted curiosity than charity. The Sky-born rely on dialect and dress to distinguish themselves from their lessers. Most wear an assortment of rings, brooches, pins, and piercings.
The stereotypical person of the Eastern Tribes has brown skin, and a thick, coal-black mane and (if a man) beard. Of course, that’s a stereotype, as the tribes are diverse in appearance, but not an entirely unfounded one. Over a quarter of easterners have some orcish blood, manifesting variously as pronounced canines (or even tusks), bright amber eyes, a darker hue of blood, and general stature and muscle.
The Arius have light to light brown skin, which they keep short, with trimmed beards among men. Most have brown eyes, but blue and green eyes are seen as marks of beauty. Some have red or blond hair, and this is superstitiously considered an indication of an early death. Aristocrats use a wide array of cosmetics to pale and color their skin and facial features — sometimes, the intent is to present an acceptable visage to the deceased, or ghosts whom they may conjure for advice.