GeographyWinteren is surrounded mostly by Patrons and wild lands. To the east is the Dead March and the Nereid Sea. To the north is the Ochre Mountains and to the southwest the Barrens. The Bone Road runs from the capital of Frostwall to Midhaven, and the White Road runs from Frostwall, along the Ochre Mountains and into Verdant. The land is rocky and hard to farm, even with the landbond, and the winters are long and unforgiving. Only root vegetables, and some hardy varieties or rye and wheat can be grown in this climate. The Wintreni make a brisk economy out of the wool from their flocks of woolly rams, and furs from the giant creatures that live in the foothills of the Ochre Mountains the goliaths allow them to explore.
Frostwall is a large city with a number of palaces and mansions where the noble elite spend the summer and winter months. During the harvest season in autumn and the planting season in Spring, the boyars return to their estates to ensure that the serfs are acting properly and to ensure their serfs won't starve during the long winters. For the most part, other than the Winteren Army, which patrols the lawless borders of the Barrens and Dead March, ensures that the White and Bone Roads are safe, and the serfs bound to their fiefs, most citizens of Winteren dwell in Frostwall, or the new port city of Icy Hold.
GovernmentWinteren is a ruled by a monarch known as a "tsar" or "tsarina". Like a traditional monarch, she delegates her holding to lesser nobles known as "boyars". Almost all of these nobles are of the ghilan race, with only a handful of goliaths, orcs, and half-orcs gaining the privilege. Winteren, however, has a second branch of government: the "anointers". The anointers are exclusively goliaths trained in the use of the landbond rituals. Only they are allowed to create landbonds, and nobles must have an anointer present when a lesser noble is granted title, or the anointers will remove the landbond and reduce both liege and vassal to serfs. Although only goliaths can be anointers, the anointers have created a separate group -- the Acolytes -- who have learned to have faith in the will of the Titans and serve the community as priests and ministers.
Serfdom is an integral part of the economy. There are almost no yeoman who till the land, the status of commoner being reserved for merchants, clerks, and the nobles' personal armies. The serfs are almost entirely human, descendants of those who were enslaved when the ghilan first arrived centuries ago. Serfdom is a hereditary state for humans, but not for other races. Thus, a discredited ghilan noble may be reduced to serfdom, but he knows that his children will be born free, and have a chance at possibly even reacquiring noble title if they acquit themselves well in the service of a boyar.
The anointers also serve two other important purposes. First, they seek out escaped serfs. There is a significant wandering halfling population and amongst them a significant portion are hostile to any form of serfdom. The Ramhead Rangers are also active in the area. The anointers are always seeking out such agents and seeking to return serfs to their demesne.
Second, the anointers are charged with pursuing and prosecuting necromancers. Tsar Yuri agreed to abandon necromancy when Winteren was founded, but many ghilan (and others) continue to practice it in secret. Their proximity to the Barrens means there is an active movement of Efthali in Winteren. The anointers are charged with finding necromancers and executing them. Their jurisdiction is unlimited in this regard, and they even instigated a Civil War in Winteren in pursuit of these duties. The anointers answer only to their internal counsel, and are not even subject to the rule of the tsar.
CultureWinteren is a harsh world. Cold long bitter winters rule this region. Undead constantly pour out of the Dead March, and bandits form the Barrens. The people are hard, but proud of their ability to survive under such harsh conditions. They are know as fearsome fighters and devout followers of the Titans under the tutelage of the anointers and acolytes. Almost all of Winteren consider themselves worshipers of the Titans and regularly attend church service where the Titans' virtues are praised and extolled.
Religion is not the only diversion for Wintreni. The Wintreni are said to drink as hard as any dwarf, dance as fiercely as any elf, and sing as raucously as any Shedu. Halflings, despite their antipathy to Wintreni serfdom, are welcome as travelers and storytellers. It is said that Wintreni are a crust of ice over hearts of flame.
The FoundingOver 400 years ago, a ghilan warlord named Yuri led his people out of Duat for reasons that are murky. Some say he grew weary of the war and sought only peace. Some say he foresaw the return of the Shinigami and sought freedom. Some say he was humiliated in battle and sought redemption. Whatever the reason, the journey was treacherous. He took several thousand Duatans through the heart of the Dead March. Many of them were destroyed by undead. Many others froze to death (and then rose as undead). When he finally emerged in the free lands, only one in three of those who began finished the journey.
He arrived and immediately sought to start his new kingdom. But to do that, he would need laborers. Ghilan are not farmers -- they require wights to do their menial labor. As fortune would have it, Yuri emerged form the Dead March at the site of "New Dragonseye" a city of humans who had founded a new homeland in the frozen waste to hide form persecution. Although the humans outnumbered the ghilan 10 to 1, they were peaceful and had few means of defense. Yuri and his men besieged the town and conquered the inhabitants without losing a single man. They built an enormous altar and prepared to sacrifice the humans and turn them into undead servants for Yuri's New Duat.
But just as the sacrifices were prepared, the ghilan saw an army of goliaths emerge from the Ochre Mountains. The goliaths were well-armed and outnumbered the small ghilan force. These goliaths would not be defeated as easily as the humans. Yuri and his boyars parleyed with the goliaths. The true contents of their discussion are unknown, but many philosophers and storytellers have crafted their own version. At the end of the discussion, Yuri and the boyars unanimously announced the humans would be spared. The ghilan would abandon the old necromantic ways of the Shinigami and follow the new vibrant ways of the Titans. The humans would not be killed. They would be enserfed, not in a New Duat, but in a Free Kingdom of Winteren. The goliaths would remain in Winteren to counsel the ghilan in this new way of living, to oversee their humans serfs, and to advise the tsar.
The Efthali TsarAnd that is how matters stood for over 200 years. The ghilan nobles and goliath anointers created a new society, melding the cultures of Duat and the Ochre Mountains. Trade increased and Winteren stood peaceful. However, not all ghilan appreciated the change. Some ghilan grumbled that necromantic skill was the means for a lowborn ghilan to become a noble. By banning the dark arts, the boyars had created a system where their children were guaranteed to rule, and the lowborn would always remain little better than a serf. Some continued to practice the old ways in the dark, being seduced by the whispers and promises of the Efthali. The anointers did what they could to combat it, but the ghilan had a valid complaint -- there was no social mobility. Slowly, the Efthali seeped even into the noble ranks, among second-born children at first, into the officers of the military, and then into the tsar's own family.
Tsar Yuri II had two sons, Yuri (named after him) and Yaro (named after Winteren's founder). As second-born son, Yaro earned the highest military rank in the Wintreni Ice Guard, an elite unit. But he craved the throne. His brother was an undisciplined wastrel, spoiled from youth, and the knowledge that his accession to tsardom was secure. Yaro's ambitions brought him to the attention of the Efthali, and Yaro soon proved to be a devoted member. When Yuri II died, Yaro arranged for Efthali assassins to kill his brother as well, making it appear that he died in a spat with one of the many human serfs he had taken for a harem. Yaro was crowned Yaro II, but even as he ruled, he kept his Efthali connections a secret for now.
Over the next quarter-century, Yaro II worked to promote Efthali. He framed or discredited boyars who were not sympathetic to him. many of them were indeed incompetent, but some were suspicious of the tsar's true nature. He even managed to corrupt some anointers, who he kept close as advisers, to insulate himself. Despite his efforts, his dark nature was becoming more clear. People whispered of the mysterious disappearance of Yaros enemies. Others said they saw strange apparitions in the tsar's palace. Some anointers were not convinced by their colleagues' assurance, amongst them the central counsel of anointers. They began to investigate the tsar in secret.
Eventually, after 25 years, the truth was discovered when a goliath anointer named Khail and his human and half-orc acolyte aides, accompanied by a halfling thief, snuck into the palace and witnessed the tsar conducting necromantic rights with his goliath anointers and none other than the vile lich Efthal himself. The anointers raised a hue and cry and liberated all of the righteous boyars that had been placed in serfdom by Yaro. In a lightning strike, the same goliath Khail managed to capture and slay Yaro, sending the nation sliding into civil war. He and his allies then fought Efthal to a standstill, forcing him to flee back into the Barrens. But the damage had been done.
Civil WarThe civil war lasted 82 years and during this time no monarchical landbond could be established. Not all of the forces arrayed against the anointers were necromantic. Some of them were new boyars who did not follow Efthal but did not want to lost the noble status they felt they legitimately earned. Not all of the anointers were righteous. Many were simply deposed boyars who wanted to return to the privileged despotism of their youth, with no regard for the welfare of their subjects.
The war was savage. Because of the lack of agriculture, many ghilan returned to raising wights to serve as their armies. The anointers felt helpless to stop the spread of necromancy, and many saw the tendrils of Efthal everywhere, and wondered whether a civil war had been the lichs' plan all along.
The civil war ended mostly after all of the original boyars and "false boyars" had died. In 2575, the council of anointers had finally purged the Efthali influence from their ranks. They called a peace conference among all the ghilan who laid claim to boyarship. After years of negotiations, a new compact was arranged. All those whose descendants had been named boyar either by Yuri II or Yaro II would be named boyar in the new Winteren, if they renounced all necromancy and gave the anointers full reign to investigate any allegations of necromantic practice, and would require anointer approval for any change in a landbond. Those boyars (on both sides of the war) who had employed wights were summarily executed by the anointers. The remaining boyars chose Yovan as their tsar, a wise and shrewd ghilan who somehow managed to have no enemies on either side, and never a whiff of allegations of necromancy.
Yovan's PeaceYovan quickly organized Winteren and restored the dilapidated palaces and capital. The land, which had been fallow for almost a century, blossomed with one of the best harvests Winteren had ever seen. The young nation of Midhaven had just been founded, and desperately needed allies and trade. Yovan obliged. He built ports on the Nereid Sea and began construction of the Bone and White Roads. His 22-year reign was prosperous and made him the second most-popular tsar after Yuri.
That peace has lasted about a century an Winteren continues to prosper. Although still plagued by undead from the Dead March, necromantic cults from the Barrens, and the occasional threats from Ironguard or the Caliphate, it is generally at peace.
Winteren has received something of a black eye in the most recent Dragonseye War, in which it did not even participate. The human Rickard, who has become Archduke of Dragonseye, was once a serf in Winteren, who escaped with his sister, a potent prophetess, and the aid of halflings. If this was not bad enough, it is well known that Rickard is a supporter of the Ramhead Rangers, and has sponsored several daring liberation of serfs and their repatriation to Dragonseye. Winteren will not stand for this interference in their kingdom. It is the most outspoken opponent of this "Dragonseye experiment". Tsarina Vasa II has ordered the anointers to conduct an internal purge to determine how Rickard could have escaped and then ascended to a position of nobility and to stop these Ranger raids.
Winteren has recovered from the civil war of last century and is now strong, vibrant, and powerful. They are pressuring their neighbor Midhaven to renege on their agreement with Dragonseye and to reduce that city to rubble once more. It is said that Vasa II has had an extra-heavy pair of irons built for Rickard, which she plans to use when subjecting him to her personal enserfment.
Monarchs of WinterenTsar Yaro I (2265-2342)
Tsar Imir (2342-2375)
Tsar Yuri I (2375-2407)
Tsar Drei (2407-2426)
Tsar Volod (2426-2462)
Tsar Yuri II (2462-2487)
Tsar Yaro II (2487-2496)
Civil War (2496-2578)
Tsar Yovan I (the "Rich") (2578-2590)
Tsar Simeon (2590-2602)
Tsar Yovan II (the "Meek") (2602-2609)
Tsarina Mitya (2609-2639)
Tsarina Vasa I (2639-2675)
Tsarina Vasa II (2675-present)
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