Five Realms History
At the beginning of the Current Era nearly three thousand years ago, a good portion of southeastern Aurach — the land that would eventually come to be the Five Realms — was under the rule of the Kings of Moarn, a handful of monarchs who ultimately answered to the Dathyl, or High King. These kings were in turn served by a number of thanes, who governed the land and acted as minor warlords in times of trouble. Depending on the ballad or the source, Moarn is alternately seen as the last vestiges of a Golden Age, or as a tarnished dynasty that showed how any bloodline can eventually gutter out or become corrupt. Most of fallen Moarn has vanished, but the stones of the High King’s seat still form the foundation of Dathylway, and the noble burial grounds of the time, the Cairnlands, still have a dread reputation in Tamshar.
The Thane-Clans and the Nethocracy
Eventually, the rule of the Kings of Moarn faltered and died, and the thanes themselves became the governors of the land. By the end of the last Dathyl’s reign (roughly around 1400 CE), the prominent thanes and their families were seen as the true power of the realm. Thus began the time of the thane-clans, a period marked by countless feuds and petty wars. Even today, some people are able to trace their lineage back to a prominent thane-clan, although such an honorific means little.
Partway through the thane-clans’ reign, there arose a dangerous civilization to the northeast. The ballads disagree as to whether it was an infernal magocracy or a diabolic theocracy; what is known is that those lands fell under the sway of a series of witch-kings who had garnered unholy power from forgotten pacts and artifacts of the Twilight Age. This terrible empire, the Baal-Angru, conjured up devils to serve as their elite troops, and blasted their foes with fire summoned from Hell itself. Many still refer to this empire with dread as the Nethocracy.
The thane-clans suffered several clashes with the Nethocracy, although most of the dread empire’s efforts were directed against other civilizations of the time. The thane-clans were too poorly organized to offer direct opposition, and a few went over to their diabolical neighbors in the name of self-preservation, ceding their lands to the demon-worshipping witch-priests in order that their families might be spared the Nethocrats’ attentions.
Finally, true resistance to the Nethocracy came in the form of twelve strong thanes (the title having remained despite its loss of meaning), each a master of warfare or wizardry. These twelve began gathering many other thane-clans to them, absorbing them in the name of providing a more united front. Some thane-clans refused to bow to the leadership of the twelve — and were forced into submission. Whether they liked it or not, the thane-clans would show a unified front. Thanks to the skill of these twelve warlords, their armies were able to drive the Nethocracy from much of the land, until a final truce was reached.
The Twelve Lords
Unfortunately, these conquerors soon showed that they had acted for reasons other than patriotism. The twelve warlords divided up the territory amongst themselves, agreeing to support one another in an alliance that would last until their grandchildren’s grandchildren took the thrones and then beyond. The year 2070 was the beginning of the Twelve-Lord Dynasty.
The Twelve-Lord Dynasty was inappropriately named; it was the name the Twelve themselves had chosen, and has thus lingered on in many places. Many scholars strive to promote the more accurate (if not as euphonic) phrase “Twelve-Lord Alliance” — with little success. Though this coalition lasted for two centuries, it had nothing to do with the transition of power from regent to heir. By most accounts, the Twelve were near-immortal, and their children — if any — were tightly controlled, and never truly allowed to rise to their sires’ level.
They were also tyrants. Those thane-clans that had shown the most resistance to the rise of the Twelve were exterminated to the youngest child, their names wiped from the face of the land. Each lord governed his land with an iron fist, and soon even the Twelve’s own clans were broken apart to serve their masters better. Although life under the Twelve was better than that under the Nethocracy, it was still a time of brutal oppression and servitude. The Twelve-Lord Dynasty was finally split apart by a combination of factors. In the north, the Lord Sunder turned against his fellows, crusading to overthrow the government he’d helped build in an act of great repentance. In the southeast, it was a small group of priests and lordly thanes who rallied the rebellion. In the northwest hills and forests, the fighting had never really stopped — but now the dwarves and woodsmen who resisted the Dynasty had assistance. And in the southwest lands that would become Tamshar, the people rose in revolt, led by powerful warrior-heroes. Over the course of three months, eleven of the Twelve were toppled and slain, their fortresses left in ruin. The year 2269 was the end of the Twelve-Lord Dynasty and the beginning of the Five Realms.
The Five Realms
The Realms were colored by the nature of the heroes who’d fought to free them. In the southwest, the people decided they’d had enough of lords, and far preferred heroes. Thus was born Tamshar’s meritocracy. In the southeast, the people of Vilessa chose to raise up new princes and princesses in an attempt to recapture the days of the Kings of Moarn. In the northeast, the folk of Archindor chose to reinstate the office of thane, but thanes chosen by vote rather than lineage. In the north, Lord Sunder himself was placed on the throne (against, the ballads say, his own wishes) as the first King of Sundrin, with the legendary enchantress Yslaine as the first Queen. And in Ulberia, most towns were simply left to govern themselves, with ultimate authority falling to a Grand Duke chosen by a council of High Eldest. As the reasoning went, a Grand Duke was impressive enough to command the respect of lands outside the Five Realms, but might avoid some of the perennial problems that beset those who style themselves “lords” or “kings.”