The world’s humans are scattered and divided, engaged in a losing battle against the darkening world and their own ignorance. It wasn’t always so. Once, the splendor of Nerath lit the world with its culture and accomplishments. It united races and governed prosperously. Nerathi architects raised marvels of engineering; its artists composed works capturing the imagination; and its philosophy formed the foundation of humanity’s ideologies. Yet none of these feats could save Nerath from destruction. Humans today are the inheritors of this legacy, though few of them realize what their ancestors lost with the empire’s fall. Although Nerath now means little more than ancient legends in the shadows of crumbling ruins, every person of every race alive in the world today shares this common thread to their history - that once, Nerath ruled, and the world was a better a place. There are those who would see it so again.
An Age of Legends
Nerath’s history stretches back to the dark ages which followed the destruction of Bael Turath and Arkhosia. It dominates world history from then until its fall one hundred years ago. The triumphs and follies of its 500-year-rule are well-told legends throughout the world today, though many details have been lost to the toll of unkind years. What characters know about Nerath has been colored by their homeland and upbringing, and only the most dedicated scholars know anything beyond common folklore—anything true, that is.
It is well known that Nerath enjoyed a meteoric rise to power by filling the cultural and economic void after the wars that destroyed the old empires. Out of simple clans of farmers arose an incomparably vast empire forged through conquest and ingenuity by the legendary leader Magroth, first emperor of Nerath. At fifteen years of age, Magroth founded the imperial capital, lit the legendary Flame Imperishable, and led the growing Nerathi legions on decades-long marches of expansion which would claim most of the known world within his lifetime.
The empire met its finish beneath the rending claws of a seemingly endless horde of gnolls and demons led by the mysterious “Ruler of Ruin.” With the central government destroyed, provincial kings banded together to defend what remained of the empire. One of them, the just King Elidyr, took up the imperial crown and rallied a valiant defense of Nerath, but it was not enough. When Elidyr was slain, the Ruler of Ruin simply returned to the abyss, apparently content to leave the world in chaos. The remaining lords of the empire—fragmented, fearful, and desperate—fell upon one another for survival. Commerce ground to a halt. Famine spread. Hope withered, and the Flame Imperishable became a funeral pyre for the world’s greatest empire.
To this day, the core realm of the empire is a scorched wasteland littered with the crumbling shells of cities and noble villas which once gleamed like pearls beneath a hopeful sun. Swarms of flies obscure the day and the land is infested with savage gnolls, first among the Ruler of Ruin’s servants in the world. The capital city still stands, though it has been transformed by the gnolls into a nightmare of its former glory. The soot-blackened walls are festooned with the flayed skins of defeated armies, and the sacred Flame Imperishable is clogged with the charred bones of the gnolls’ victims.
The Imperial Legacy
Your character has grown up feeling the influence of Nerath in their homeland, though in most cases it is difficult to tell fact and legend apart. The following topics and myths might explain that influence. Rare scholars recognize, however, that by clinging to the most appealing legends and myths, humanity risks losing its memory and understanding of Nerath’s reality, which is worth far more than its traditions.
Nerathi architecture soared to unmatched functional and esthetic heights, thanks to use of innovative building materials, keen understanding of engineering, and implementation of ritual magic. Although their greatest works were ravaged during the fall, intact ruins are prized by heroes and treasure hunters, who are irresistibly drawn by the lure of undiscovered cities and complexes and the priceless treasures they conceal. For the Nerathi faithful, these ruins are much more than tombs to be plundered; they are places of deep reverence which often become sites of organized pilgrimages and intellectual preservation.
Many elements of Nerath’s great civic works, such as its roads, aqueducts, public buildings, and even fortresses, survived in provincial regions. All are still used by people today, who are accustomed to walking in the literal shadows of their ancestors. Few, however, have the knowledge to maintain these structures. Their architectural secrets are jealously sought by today’s kings, who are eager to erect monuments of their own to rival the ancient empires’. This reverence for Nerathi construction is not universal; some Nerathi sites are shunned as places of ill omen.
Social Structure and Politics:
Countless customs practiced today began with the Nerathi, though most of them are now no more than simple traditions or festival days. Nerathi ideals have succumbed to the evils of greed and fear. Ambitious monarchs have trumpeted “tradition” in their efforts to scoop ever more power into their own hands. Such kings prop up their authority by claiming a hereditary connection to former emperors or governors. Some cultures go so far as to defame Nerath as an example of hubris and as a challenge to existing authority. In these places, anything related to the empire’s legacy may be outlawed rather than revered. Restoring the lost egalitarian social structure of Nerath may be a challenge too daunting for societies to overcome, but it’s undertaken by many Nerathi faithful.
While Nerathi virtues rewarded self-discipline and sacrifice, the exact opposite is true in most regions today, where folk are forced to cut ethical corners just to get by. Bereft of the selfconfidence and security of their ancestors, many humans today are forced by circumstance to do whatever is necessary to survive. This almost always results in selfishness and moral apathy; so long as monsters, villains, and dark forces threaten existence, few willingly take the high road when easier and pettier options are available. The Nerathi faithful often take up their ancestor’s ethics as a matter of personal honor or genuine desire to improve society.
Though they respected the gods, Nerathi took great pride in their ability to succeed without divine guidance. To them, the highest reverence went to their virtues of duty, equality, reason, and temperance. When the empire fell, however, religions stepped in to fill the cultural hole. Today, few societies take the time to bother with ancient philosophy, and most clerics owe little to Nerath save the splendid architecture of their temples. Many clerics openly attribute Nerath’s fall to its haughty self-reliance and diffidence toward the gods, with the cleric’s patron deity always playing a prominent role in guiding folk through the chaos that followed. To the Nerathi faithful, bodies of literature written by Nerath’s many philosophers are among the empire’s most treasured artifacts.