Orcs. They breed like rabbits, but they don’t hop around and eat vegetables from your garden. They eat meat. They eat meat until it’s all gone, but that doesn’t stop them from breeding. They move on, find a new place with meat. They turn all that meat into orcs too. Soon all the meat has been turned into orcs and there isn’t any meat left. It’s about this time that they realize they’re made of meat too. They eat themselves to the edge of extinction. This would all be fine… except for one thing. That middle bit where they eat all the meat until it runs out? That includes humans.
Far to the northeast are the snowy tundras that the orcs call home, if their vile language even has such a word. It’s a harsh land for mankind, but orcs don’t mind the cold like we do. That’s where they start, where their numbers begin to grow, eating the herds of deer and elk that roam those lands. They hunt at night, astride their wolves, and sleep during the long bright summers of the north. Eventually they run out of deer. That’s when they move south. It takes around fifty to a hundred years for them to eat all that the north has to offer, but when they do, their numbers are great, and their ferocity greater.
The Fatherland of humanity, land of heat and sun, nestled in the deserts of the south east. The Emperor styles himself an Immortal Lord in the flesh, and worship of their dynasty is the official state religion. The current dynasty has ruled for a millennium, but they are fat and happy, content in being worshiped and pampered. The orcs never reach the Imperium. The only connection between the Orclands and the Imperium is a narrow strip of land known as the Fiefdoms of Blood or the Bloodlands. A man of exceptional military service can be granted a fortress in the Bloodlands, and his family can enjoy membership in the nobility as long as that fortress holds. When the fortress falls to the orcs, the family falls with it. This is the buffer washed in century after century of blood that keeps the Imperium safe.
The Serpent Sea is a large body of salt water west of the Imerium. It has never been fully explored, and for good reason, as it’s name makes clear. The Serpent Sea is the nesting ground for a breed of monstrous sea creatures. They destroy any ship that crosses their path and devour the crew. As a result, the Imperium has never even attempted to maintain a navy. Brave fishermen may venture out into the waters but rarely stray beyond sight of the shore. Naval trade across the Serpent Sea is nearly unheard of. Some traders use barges along the coast, but travel is slowed by tide and wave and to go beyond the break waters for a long journey is almost certain death.
The Green Sea lies west of the Bloodlands, north of the Imperium, and is connected to the Serpent Sea by a narrow channel. This Sea is rich will a verdant algea and full of fish. The Green Sea could more properly be called a lake as it has a very low salt content, which also keeps the monsters from the Serpent Sea from living here. The safety of these waters makes them ideal for fishermen, who provide a large portion of the meat eaten by the Imperium.
The Dead Sea lies east of the Bloodlands and has no connection to the Serpent Sea or the oceans beyond. The Dead Sea is a salt sea, it’s waters undrinkable and devoid of life. The sea periodically floods and evaporates again every hundred years or so, leaving large salt plains that provide much of the salt trade for the Imperium. On the eastern shores of the Dead Sea is a land of desert and mountain that the orcs have never crossed and where only nomadic tribes can survive.
To the North, west of the Orclands lie the islands of the Elves. Across the frozen sea and atop high cliffs and fjords lie the evergreen forests of the Elves. Men do not know this land, and they are not welcome there.
To the West and South the mountains of the Dwarves touch the sky. They farm in the valleys and mine in the mountains. The orcs rarely reach them there. Once every few epochs an adventuresome orcish general will attempt to scale the Dwarven mountains, rather than feast on his own underlings. The Dwarves pride themselves on holding their ground on such occasions. Their Clans are strong, and their civilization prosperous, though infighting and intrigue are always the downfall of the Dwarves.
In the far west of the world, across the great river known as the Divide, which flows from the mountains of the Dwarves to the Frozen Sea in the north, lies the untouched forests and hills of the Savagelands. No civilization has touched these lands. This is where the giants live, where the dragons roam. The Divide keeps the orcs mostly at bay, and the savagery of the land discourages the agents of civilization.
West across a narrow straight from the Imperium’s dry and desiccated soil, east of the Divide and the Savagelands, south of the Frozen Sea and the elves beyond, and north of the unnavigable Serpent Sea lies the land of opportunity. Verdant and green. Full of life, with rich soil. This is the land in the center of it all, a center of trade and fellowship between the Dwarves, the Elves, and Men. This is also where the orcs come when their numbers grow too large for the north. There’s no sea to protect the Westlands from the orcs, just a great expanse of forests and hills that touches the tundra itself. Every hundred years or so every intrepid human to make their home in the Westlands flees or, far more likely, dies. When the orcs eat themselves to death, the humans return. A new generation with a hundred years ahead of them before any worry of orcs returns. They clear the orcs out and build a new thriving civilization, colonists of the Imperium, sending food and resources back to the fatherland in exchange for the ‘right’ to settle. Civilization layered upon civilization. Cities built on ruins built on ruins back for thousands of years. It is in this land where a man can find true opportunities and liberty. This is where adventure is born, and where adventurers thrive.
Civilization in the Westlands clings to the Western Road. As you travel north the villages and farms become more sparse and eventually give way to wilds. These wilds are not empty. This is the home of bandits and barbarians. Rumors speak of tribes with secret refuges, protection against the cycle of death. Other rumors speak of pacts with demons. Others insist that these lands are washed clean with the rest of the westlands, that the barbarians are just descendants of earlier colonists. Whatever the case may be, these lands and it’s people are outside Imperial dominion.
The March is the long stretch of land between Haven in the west and the City of Bones in the east. The March is considered to be part of the Westlands and the Long Road which runs through it is considered to be part of the Western Road, but when people talk about the Westlands they usually aren’t talking about the March. This section of the Western Road is not nearly as populous as the lands around Haven. The villages hug tight to the main road here, benefiting from the security offered by the presence of the Brotherhood of the Western Road. It’s not that these lands are infertile or inhospitable, the villagers in these lands grow bountiful crops. This land is just stretched between the Merchant Kings of the City of Bones and the Council of the Westlands at Haven. These people cannot count on the security and stability of either and their only importance to either is as an avenue of trade. Without that security this land becomes a prime target for bandits out of the Wilds.
The Knife is a long peninsula at the eastern end of what is still technically considered by the Imperium to be the Westlands. At the tip of the Knife is the City of Bones. The northern shore of the Knife touches the Green Sea and is dotted with fishing villages. The land outside of the City of Bones is full of bustling villages. The Knife is by far the most populous region under Imperial dominion, even more so than the territory of the Imperium itself.
City on the hill. The central district, which has not fallen in 300 years, sits on the brow of a steep hill, with cliffs on three sides. The third side descends to a valley through which the Red River runs, making the only approach to the city too narrow for siege engines to be constructed. The body of the city lies in this valley. The Western Road passes through it and crosses the Red River at Phoenix Bridge, the only bridge built across the Red River.
The City of Bones occupies a peninsula located at the main crossing point from the Westlands into the Imperium proper, between the Green and Serpent seas. It is often considered part of the Imperium, but is ruled primarily by the Merchant Kings who control the flow of goods between the Imperium and the Westlands. The city is named for it’s many rows of walls, whose outer surfaces are covered with the bones and skulls of orcs. The city falls nearly every epoch, only one legend speaks of a leader who held the city, and even then at great cost. The city probably could hold, but the wealthiest citizens always retreat across the straight to the Imperial lands and take their elite guards with them. The city is left to be defended by the peasants and slaves unlucky enough to remain. They fight hard but inevitably fall. The fall of the city of bones is almost always the last and most epic battle of the orcish apocalypse.
The Divide is the center of trade between the Humans, Elves, and Dwarves. For this reason a sizable trade town always grows somewhere along the length of the Divide each epoch. It is rarely in the same place exactly, but it is always there. This epoch the town is named Newport. It is the seat of a very wealthy noble family but also has embassy districts managed independently by the Elves and Dwarves.
Isle of Words
Several miles off the coast of the Serpent Sea, just south of Haven, there is a large island called the Isle of Words. It is the home of wizards and sages, wise men that retire here to escape the weary cycle of blood and death. It’s location isolates it from the politics of the Westlands and the Imperium. It is only accessible via a small port in Haven. The connection with Haven is historic and legends say that the hill upon which the central district of Haven rests was raised up by the magic of the sages in an age long past. Scholars from across the lands sojourn here to study in the great library in the City of Words, though the inner sanctum is reserved only for the disciples of the great wizards. The island is nominally ruled by a meritocracy of wizards, though they meddle little in the affairs of the city or the rest of the rocky isle. When they are forced to settle a dispute you can be assured that neither side will be happy with the result.
Factions and Organizations
Council of the Westlands
Centered in Haven the Council was established by the Imperium as a colonial governing body. The Imperium will not permit kings or liege lords in the Westlands for fear that such a man may oppose Imperial dominion. As such, all nobles families are required to participate equally in the Council and swear their allegiance solely to the Imperium. The Council is largely impotent solving some disputes, but leaving most to be solved with men and blood. The Council is also responsible for overseeing the taxes that are owed, as a portion of crops and minerals, to the Imperium and protecting the Western Road from bandits and monsters from the Savagelands.
Brotherhood of the Western Road
The Brotherhood of the Western Road protects travelers and hunts bandits along the roads between Newport, Haven, and the City of Bones. The organization is highly religious and considers this task a sacred duty. They are funded by the Council, but not sufficient for their needs. They will charge fees to protect expensive baggage trains. They are always in need of sellswords, particularly in the latter days of an epoch when the wilds are brimming with monsters that have crossed from the Savagelands. When not protecting travelers they live in holds along the road and often must live off the land for their sustenance, spending the coin they make primarily on arms and armor.
Temple of the Immortal Lords
The religious center of the Westlands is in Haven. The Cathedral of the Immortal Lords rests on the highest point of the hill. The priests there serve as advisers to the Council, though insiders know that they are the true political powerhouse in the Westlands.
The Imperial Auditors are agents of the Imperium. Their duty is to inspect the records and properties of nobles to ensure that the taxes being paid to the Imperium are correct. It is treason to interfere with an Auditor in any way. It is treason to deny an auditor access to your property. It is treason to deny an auditor’s request for assistance in affairs of enforcement. Auditors are above local law and only subject to Imperial decree or admonishment by the Council, whereby they are returned to the Imperium unharmed.