Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Lost Frontier: Intro

Two hundred years ago, ships from the League traveled far to the west, past the warring barbarians and elven tribes in the Northern Sea, as driven by the Merchant Houses that rule there they sought discovery of natural riches in untamed lands. New lands brought wealth, and Merchant Houses ever seek to expand their holdings.

A virgin shore was found here, inhabited only by warring tribes of primitive humans, elves, dwarves, and orcs. The southern shore, on the west side of a mouth of a huge river, was settled after the Imperial Troops cleared the area of undesirables, and the city of Carse came into being. Here Imperial troops and merchant houses began to build a city that could be the center of profit and trade in this far away land. Ports were built to land the ships on which a hopefully profitable trade could develop between these new lands and the League.

What they found was not entirely what they expected. While it was a rich land, with untapped natural resources, these was not the riches they had hoped for as their extraction proved most difficult. To the north, a vast mountain range filled with warring tribes of orcs and dwarves prevented most exploration. Dwarves and orcs controlled the mines in the north, and attempts by men to dig out the gold and gems there met with failure after failure. Any attempt to log the great elven forest across the river to the east was doomed, as primitive wood elves and orcs of great number swarmed out to destroy any that tried, with massacres that sometimes left ghost villages. Fishing was dangerous and pirates roamed the impenetrable Pirate Isles nearby, making all shipboard journey’s dangerous and uncertain. Far worse, many fell creatures inhabited these shores, and all seem deadly to man. Exploration was slow, dangerous, and often fatal. A large forest called the “Dreadwood” to the north seemed to exist only to hide many dark elves, the drow, who made travel within almost unthinkable. A large swamp to the south of there was nigh impassible and contained a large plateau on which dwelt a mage of great evil. For the next 100 years, the Merchant Houses spent large amounts of money to little material gain trying to acquire some sort of wealth out of this land.

However, many ruined cities, some dating to pre-cataclysmic times, existed nearby. They were the target of foolhardy explorers, and soon treasure finders were able to discover several great hoards. Soon Carse was not big enough to hold the gold seekers and adventurers, many from far away shores, that filled the port town. The town of Barnacus, sponsored by a prince of the league who was beholden to several merchant houses, was built on the eastern shore of the great river across from Carse. Years later two frontier towns, Dreadguard and Northpoint, were created out of the wilderness to facilitate trade with dwarven tribes in the north. Ever so slowly civilization began to creep into this distant clime.

Then came the great Barbarian Wars. Led by a charismatic leader, tribes of primitive humans swept forth from the steppes of the east, and threatened to destroy the small toehold civilization had taken in the new land. After years of battle, where sometimes dwarves, orcs, men and elves fought side by side, the barbarian tribes disintegrated into warring factions, and abruptly retreated, leaving behind a devastated land. The barbarian tribes had stormed all the way to the walls of Barnacus, and when they retreated they left behind nothing but destruction. Although trade slowly returned (and the city of Northguard was rebuilt from ashes), the great merchant houses of the League had seen enough small return on their decades of investment. The prince who had sponsored the creation of Barnacus decided there was not enough profit to justify his presence. His departure, along with his loyal supporters, seemed to signal a general exodus of many of the merchant houses.

One by one, year by year, more of the noble merchant houses began pulling up stakes and leaving the new land behind. There was just not enough profit for the larger merchant houses to stay. In their place stayed several of the smaller, more ambitious houses, along with many entrepreneurs who did not rely on the monopolies of the Merchant Houses to rule their destiny. The smaller profits they eked out were enough to justify their presence.

Now, several decades after the Barbarian Wars, civilization is no further along here than it was 100 years ago: Only four towns still exist (Carse, Barnacus, Dreadguard and Northguard); the League has pulled out most of their Imperial troops, leaving only several hundred behind as a token force; and many are uneasy that another Barbarian invasion could sweep civilization away with the snap of a finger. The merchant houses are not as powerful as they are in many other places of the world, as only token establishments exist to trade for gems and natural resources, but this just means that someone with gold and vision can make a fortune if they play their cards right. It is a land where an individual adventurer can easily carve out a kingdom since no rule exists outside the walls of the very few inhabited areas. The League holds very little power here, likewise the merchant houses, and in their place several lords, “barons” and minor nobility have claimed small areas as their own, all defended by force of arms and dubious claims of being their own “kingdom”. All four towns are independent, and do not trust the others, although mutual defense pacts are in place each is loath to waste resources such as men and money to support their rivals. Every day there is less and less contact with the far away lands to the east, and this area may soon become a “lost frontier” that either survives on it’s own or disappears into the annals of history.

Civilization has a precarious hold here, and force of sword rules more than the law of men. Northguard and Dreadguard are nothing more than mining towns and lumber towns, respectively, and are quite rough and tumble. Barnacus is little more civilized, being ruled as it is by a minor duke of the League who has taken his exile here and controls the city by the sword arms of his personal army. Carse is perhaps the most civilized spot here, but it is a dying city, as merchant houses pull their staff one by one, displeased with the dwindling profits. Lone adventurers, mercenaries, criminals, exiles, outcasts, halfbreeds, primitives, conmen and bandit lords prosper on this frontier, as their reach and means are only exceeded by their imaginations. Not a few miles outside the few towns the hills rise wild, with monsters, evil humanoids, and undiscovered ruins lying in wait for brave or foolhardy adventurers.