The Mountains of Morpheus
In this land, dreams succeed rest, and unrest succeeds dreams.
At the northern reaches of the world, the land of Drau-Mura brims with strife, terror, intrigue, and sorcery. Across its wind-swept landscape, from the chilling barbarians’ forests to the dark, smoky streets of the urban heart of the kingdom of Strigis, no mystical forces are more feared or seductive than the Mountains of Morpheus. Those who travel through the mountains, whether driven by faith, curiosity, greed, or desperation, experience dreams of otherworldly danger and beauty. They succumb to madness and inspiration. They are devoured alive. They become lost in the mountains and joined to their eldritch will. A lucky few return having tasted prophecy, bizarre glory, and radical insight.
The feudal realms of human society demarcate their borders with fresh blood. There is no alternative. The social world is a lethal tangle of squabbling territories. The peasant fears both roaming bandit and lawless barbarian, while toiling for his sword-bearing masters. Every lord who would love to rule justly also fears challenge from his rivals, disfavor from his sovereign, and invasion from a foreign kingdom. Yet does not strife promise greatness? While the holdings of the isolationist dwarvish kingdoms dwindle with each decade, and elves and halflings search in vain for their promised land, human beings’ ambitions drive Drau-Mura’s greatest advances and atrocities.
It is a time of fear and danger in the kingdom of Strigis. The foreign, sorcerous aristocrats of the kingdom of Kala Anar sift for gold in its fields by land seizure and corvee. The Prince is reduced to a puppet, as the iron-fisted Lord Arawn attempts to maintain order and provincial barons chop up the countryside into dozens of little fiefdoms. In hills and backwater villages, peasants and former soldiers turn to brigandry — some to fill their bellies, some out of ethnic pride, shame, and vengeance. Local lords continue their petty hustles of fealty and territory, for the alternative is defeat. Behind their masters’ backs, knights, priests, and wizards debate their loyalties in whispers. Devils, fey, and ghosts skulk around mortal society as wolves might around sheep. Within their secluded covens, druidic seers frown over portents and scrying pools. As mortals scheme and die in their shadow, the Mountains of Morpheus again beckon to those who dare …
This campaign takes place in Drau-Mura, a region of a Dungeons & Dragons fantasy world. The name means something like “The Mountain’s Blade” in an archaic dialect, for this is a region defined by both its mystical mountains and bloody cycles of violence. Its society and politics can be brutal, and even when outwardly civilized its rulers are often driven by greed, fear, and ambition to greatness. Today, it is the kingdom of Kala Anar, ruled by its sorcerous nobles, who brandish the sword of conquest, waging war upon its neighbors and building the foundation for an empire.
The region of Drau-Mura is inhabited and ruled mainly by human beings (as opposed to other mortal races, such as halflings or dwarves), who include:
- The once-mighty, once-united Azna people, whose elites dominated most of the region until about 80 years ago, and are today fractured into several kingdoms and city-states. The Azna kingdoms descend from their former empire, while Azna also make up the majority among the mercantile, coastal city-states of the Tesia. This campaign is specifically concerned with the Azna kingdom of Strigis, recently conquered by Kala Anar and ruled by a puppet prince.
- The two “racial” castes of the kingdom of Kala Anar: The Sky-born, aristocrats and merchants with a talent for magic and supposed lineage from ancient dragons; and the Soil-born, peasants who trace their lineage from the east, and who make up the majority of their kingdom. (Together, the Sky-born and Soil-born are called Anarites.) Today, the kingdom pursues its ambitions of expansion and plunder with steadfast aggression. In the Azna kingdoms of Strigis and Cinnamarch, Sky-born nobles count themselves among the ruling class, and have begun to take their turn to exploit the kingdoms’ resources and workers.
- The semi-nomadic Eastern Tribes, who live by pastoralism and wandering dominance over non-nomadic settlements in eastern Drau-Mura, east of the Mountains of Morpheus. The tribes have not been united in ages, though they share elements of a common culture. In the rest of Drau-Mura they are frequently encountered as bandits, mercenaries, and adventurers.
The halflings and clanless dwarves of Drau-Mura have long lived among the Azna kingdoms, mostly hitched onto the peasantry. A few families rise to a level of property through trade, profession, or soldiering. Elves and half-elves are relatively recent arrivals to the region, belonging to an ethno-religious diaspora and community of faith, the Vanir. Over 100 years of life in Drau-Mura has not been enough time for humans to soften their persecution against them. The dwarvish kingdoms to the far north have little present contact with human polities, being locked in a decades-long conflict with frost giants. Half-orcs are most common among the Eastern Tribes, and among them they are usually not socially distinguished from “true” humans.
This present day is the autumn of the 177th year after the conclusion of the Crying War; or, in Kala Anar, the fourth year of the rule of the Righteous Monarch Damascus IV of the House of Sajnsa; or, according to the druidic calendar of the Old Faith, the 30th year of the Period of the Falcon. After the two years of the Wheat-Harvest War, the young and ambitious Monarch of Kala Anar has recently conquered the formerly independent Azna kingdoms of Strigis and Cinnamarch. Tensions flare as the Sky-born aristocracy seeks to enforce its authority over new territories, while rebellious native Azna seek to wrest away their power by any means possible.
Bards, fighters, rangers, and rogues are all well represented throughout Drau-Mura. Many barbarians hail from the Eastern Tribes, though theirs are not the only warriors who eschew the pretenses of high civilization. Clerics are as diverse as Drau-Mura’s ancient faiths, though paladins are typically associated with Ashoum, the popular, monotheistic, organized religion of Drau-Mura, and are crucial to its martial arm.
Druids preserve the philosophies and rites of the Old Faith, a nontheistic religion that claims to be the Drau-Mura oldest, and remains prominent among its rural folk. Monks practice their sacred disciplines of self-denial and self-perfection in urban churches and hinterland monasteries alike. In the Mountains of Morpheus, there exist reclusive sects of druids and monks, who pass down secret mystical practices of tribulation and enlightenment.
The kingdom of Kala Anar is esteemed for its sorcerers, lending credence to the link between magic and the aristocracy’s purported draconic ancestry. Warlocks tend to choose a deity as their patron, though this is often a cover used to allay public suspicion of their dark arts. Wizards are perhaps the least common among the arcane classes. Their organizations are small and often-short lived; wizardry is frequently preserved through family lines and local fraternities.
The Mountains of Morpheus
The Mountains of Morpheus are a place and a power, and will specifically concern this campaign. The supernatural phenomenon of erratic and intense dreams is well known among the people of Drau-Mura. Some dreams are merely lurid, inchoate visions, others confer radical psychological changes, and yet others have very real — physical and spiritual — effects. Even with guaranteed safety, shelter, and food, few travelers would dare to venture for more than a week through the Mountains. With few exceptions, those who stay for too long in mountains perish, transform into monsters, or go irreparably mad.
Nevertheless, many see the risk worth the reward. The dreams bequeathed by the Mountains can be the stuff of otherworldly inspiration. The devout hear the voices of their gods and ancestors, and magicians of any stripe may acquire strange and puissant spells. The vengeful, ambitious, and desperate seek out information they cannot gather by conventional means, while the greedy and curious search for hidden treasure and secrets. Just about anything seems possible with the Mountains’ eldritch power. Yet, can anyone explain why this is so, or the source of this power?
Map of Drau-Mura
- The scale of this map is pretty regional; the region of Drau-Mura is roughly 300,000 square miles in size: comparable to France and Germany. Population is very approximately 8 million.
- Dashed borders indicate political boundaries. In this world, borders are quite fuzzy unless they’re determined by the landscape. Such natural borders are implied by mountains, rivers, and forests.
- Small brown dots indicate cities. Each of the seven Azna kingdoms concentrates its power in a capital city, which shares its name with the wider kingdom. The same is the case with the three polities of the Tesia.
- Green dots indicate sites in the wilderness.