They are the twisted, slavering horror lurking just beyond sight; they are the putrid, corrupt carriers of plagues; they are the armies of uncompromising brutality which crash like tsunami waves upon the walls of civilization. They are the Banebrood.
Their grotesque forms are diverse beyond reckoning, ranging from hideously mutated mortals through a myriad of hybrid, man-beast obscenities to the savage moon-spawn lycanthropes. All are deranged, vicious creatures hell-bent on hacking down the rotten tree that is civilized society. What unites these disparate barbarous breeds as a species is not something physical at all, but something psychic - for all Banebrood are cursed with an innate subconscious link to the force of feral fury known as the Urghast. Pools and currents of this primal power drift to and fro across the lands, unseen beyond mortal senses, and its howls echo through the dimensions of the cosmos making gods and demons shudder. Ripples in the Urghast stir the Banebrood to crazed brutality, heralded by the dissonant thunder of bestial howls which echo down through the valleys like the overture to a symphony of slaughter.
Banebrood can be roughly divided into four categories. Most recognizable are the Reavers - cannibal, barbarian tribesmen inflicted with various degrees of permanent mutation. The hybrid abominations of man and beast, known as Beastspawn, constitute the second subspecies, including such obscene and ruthless creatures as Minotaurs and Fomorians. Centaurs form the third group; nomadic quadrupeds including such unthinking brawn as the stag centaurs, buffalo-centaurs and rhino-centaurs. Lastly there are those mortals whose mutations are highly unstable, changing from entirely human to total beast in a matter of hours; these are the blood-drinking Lycanthropes.
Banebrood are motivated by the usual necessities of survival - water, food, and reproduction, but the craving for violence is branded into their psyche and sometimes eclipses all other needs! They embody the worst attributes of a filthy beast, married to the intellect of a madman. Contrary to the charcoaled picture painted by thousands of burned towns, the Banebrood do not harbour a master-plan for world domination, but the struggle for resources and territory does not adequately explain their unremitting violence. Probably they possess no rational reason for their carnage; they are simply driven to it by their own bestial natures and by the psychotic dictates of their puppet-master - the Urghast.
Bronze and blood - these are the bricks and mortar with which the glorious Halodyne civilization was built. This proud and sophisticated culture of city-states and temple-cults re-civilized three continents, and the Halodynes are accounted one of the five Blessed Peoples chosen by the Asrae gods. Marching to its drumbeat are the navies of triremes and the armies of hoplites; the might of the Halodynes made manifest. It is they who are the guardians of the civilization whose majesty shines from the marble cities encircling the turquoise waters of the Metronian Sea, glittering like jewels in the warm Pancephalos sun. Dazzling as these cities are, they are but the instruments from which resounds the true accomplishment of the Halodynes - its culture. Three harmonious strains entwine to form this concert - its breathtaking arts, erudite learning and exalted faith. One should not however mistake sophistication for pacifism, for the spear that is the Halodyne military remains ever sharp and ever ready.
Twelve great city-states form the bud from which Halodyne culture blossomed, planted by the gods but tended by the hands and hearts of Mortals. The seeds of this flower spread far and wide across three continents, creating a new golden age of Mortals and epitomizing all that is great and flawed with mankind.
The Halodynes are first and foremost a people of faith, devoted to the Asrae gods; indeed they are counted among the Five Blessed Peoples whom the gods favour above all others. Their pantheistic worship is so intrinsic to the culture that Halodyne society could be likened to the weave of cloth; for through the political might of the secular city-states is woven the religious power of the twelve temple-cults. This interlaced balance of influence makes the fabric of society both strong and flexible, but also makes it prone to internal strife due to the lack of centralized rule.
The Halodynes believe themselves a superior, noble race chosen by the gods to lead mankind. Over the centuries, this immense pride has fermented to hubris, and after five centuries of decline, the Halodyne nations no longer wield the indomitable power of yesteryear, so that many believe its climactic crescendo has already been played.
Bound to the fortunes of the gods, they also found themselves afflicted as their beloved pantheon was dealt two devastating blows, with the destruction of the king-god Aesys and his son, the demigod leader of the Halodyne civilization. Despite the current geopolitical downslide and its fragmented nature, the Halodyne civilization is still a world-power to be reckoned with, and from its ranks have strode radiant heroes the like of which rival those of the mythical ages. It should also not be forgotten that the Halodynes are a people backed by a pantheon of gods whose wrathful avatars are oft witnessed trampling the lands of the mortal world.
Gripping the lands of Ghorn in its cold, gauntleted fist, the Mortan Empire is the mightiest nation on the continent, having assimilated dozens of conquered realms. This expansionist, human culture is at once magnificent and morbid, enlightened and superstitious, with the glory of its accomplishments eclipsed only by the malevolence of its methods. The winged-skull emblem of the empire - the Calva Alata - is said to symbolize mortal transcendence of death through necromancy, but it also rather personifies the image of Mortan culture - macabre imperialism.
Centered upon the metropolis of Catharsium which sits in the caldera of an extinct volcano, the empire was founded almost 800 years ago by the 13 Godeater renegades of the Scarlet Order of Enlightenment. Guarded by cohorts of the praetorian legions, these Emperors now rule from their palace-tomb within Mount Ashgod. The immortal Lichelords reputedly seek to liberate humanity from its subservience to the gods, and to empower mankind to achieve its own ascendant destiny by fashioning a world-spanning empire of Mortals.
Religious nations despise the anti-theist empire, labeling it an infernal abomination, and claim the accursed Lichelords seek only to empower themselves. The empire's sinister use of assassination, alchemical weapons, necromancy and overwhelming military might certainly undermines its image as compassionate philanthropist, but the truth is probably that the Mortan Empire is neither a paragon of goodness nor irredeemably evil, but rather a multi-faceted, sprawling edifice of amoral decadence defying, black-and-white classifications.
Within the central federati (states) and the far-flung provinces of the empire, peace and prosperity reign, enabling a thriving network of trade and a sophisticated urban culture. This Pax Mortana is bought with the blood of its crimson-clad legions - the largest, best-coordinated military on the entire continent of Ghorn. Cohorts of the legions march to war beneath the golden standards of the Calva Alata, supported by devastating war-machines and black magic. Civilian society is equally well regimented with a ubiquitous civil bureaucracy, precise social strata, and a complex code of legal rights. Mortan imperialism advocates grandiose cities of extravagant civic monuments. Vast, arched forums, aqueducts, coliseums and mausoleums are constructed in conquered lands to imprint the world with the stamp of Mortan culture for all eternity.
Far to the north, where the white winds howl and the lands are draped with snow, there stands between the glacial heights the adamant kingdom of Nordgaard. Steel and stone, flesh and bone, where the earth still speaks and the mountains reach from the fjords to the very sky; Nordgaard is a realm steeped in myth, a land which the Jotuns once called their own. Dwarf and Mortal now share this land with a culture fused as one, for common threat was the fire which forged this union in ancient days of yore. The Eternal Kingdom the nation is named, for Nordgaard stands as the oldest realm among the lands of Ghorn.
Upon the barren tundra and in forests of pine; atop snowy peaks and in grim mountain halls; Nordgaard is a land where echoes of the Old Gods may still be heard. They are the elemental Vanitans; deities of Earth; primal and mysterious entities whose avatars still roam the depths of the wilderness. Both the Dwarves and human Skannfyrd tribes worship them, sharing a bond with the very rock beneath their feet and communing with elemental spirits of stone. Their faith has been partially displaced by the Young Gods; in frontier trade-posts and damp whaling villages, aboard Seawolf longships and in cities of Dwarven stone; the Vættir pantheon now reigns. These Asrae gods are fierce, passionate and adventurous deities who befriended the Jotuns, tamed the dragons and slew the primordial fiends.
Sandwiched between the Gvallthorn and Fjellwall Mountains lies the Darag tableland; the stone heart of Nordgaard, so steeped in earth-magic that the very rock lives and breathes. The nation's full holdings extend far beyond to the south, where nine mountain chains cross the continent of Ghorn, each honey-combed by Dwarven halls and dotted with Skannfyrd towns. These South-Holds are an extension of Nordgaard's culture and power, reaching deep into hostile territory.
Clans and guilds form the woof and warp of Nordgaard society. Both wield political power; the clans are most powerful in the rural areas, while the strength of the guilds is concentrated in the towns and cities. The bond between Skannfyrd and Dwarves is hard for foreigners to fathom, but both races shared many common traits even before they united - forthrightness, tenacity, stoicism, hardiness against cold climes and a love of strong ale. The Mortals adopted Dwarven art and designs, and the Dwarves adopted the Skannyr language. In every Dwarven town it is common to find mortals who have made their homes there, and vice-versa.
Besides the many agendas of its various factions, Nordgaard's course is also steered by the secret duty bequeathed them by the first-born Jotuns - the task of reconstructing and enchanting one of the World-Runes. These mountain chains, forming continent-sized symbols of power, are the branching of the cosmic tree Yggdrasill. The fate of more than one world may rest in this clandestine purpose underlying the founding of Nordgaard.
Beyond the unseen lurks a force few men comprehend, for it is inherently magical and ruthlessly brutal yet possesses a rich culture and complex code of honor. Men call it Shadow, and its unforgiving forces, passionately dedicated to exterminating mankind, are the Troglodytes.
Shadow is guardian of the cosmic scales, lying between and beyond the four cardinal elements of Earth, Fire, Ice and Air. It is diametrically opposed to none of them, yet feared by all of them. Its strength is partially derived from their own, for the terrain, structures and denizens upon the Plane of Shadow were initially formed as distorted versions of objects and spirits upon the other four planes. When one element becomes over-powered, it acts like a light, casting a great opposition to itself upon the Plane of Shadow.
Of all the elements, Shadow is regarded as the greatest and its children the mightiest, being as they are almost immune to the powers of the other four planes. Troglodytes are consequently ubiquitous, able to survive in all climates from the icy chill of the Northlands to the Ashlands of the southern wastes; and from the towering altitude of the Hurricane Nebula to the deepest trenches of the oceans. This fact makes them ideally suited to oppose every other elemental race - the calling they were born for.
The physical forms of the Troglodytes are varied, and their numerous cultures are each one unique. The brutal and disciplined armies of hulking Trolloth warriors conform to regimented, feudal societies, building vast fortresses and marching to war in thick armor of iron. The diminutive and irascible Gnolls swarm out of labyrinthine warrens excelling in cunning, sneaky tactics. Imperious and magical, the Shadow Trolls use their ethereal forms to move as fleeting shadows and penetrate all defenses. Savage and frenzied, the Feral Trolls are the final major grouping; primal beasts lurking in the wilderness who answer the call to arms when any of the other Troglodytes march to war. There exists no unified Troglodyte empire for they are spread across the entire world and have established numerous independent kingdoms.
Upon the continent of Ghorn today there are four major Troglodyte realms - the Obsidian Oligarchy in the Cephalos Mountains, the Empire of Dusk in the Northlands, Tartharond in Pancephalos and Cragspire in Tartovara. Small enclaves can be found all across Ghorn as remote settlements or nomadic bands. Indeed, Trolloth may even be encountered in the frontier towns of mortal realms for they often work as mercenaries and bodyguards. Trolloth represent the strategic armies of the Troglodytes while the Feral Trolls represent pure muscle. Shadow Trolls exemplify elemental magic, and the Gnolls constitute unlimited arrow-fodder.
The Wyldfok of Annyr
Far beyond the borders of urban civilizations, where all the works of man are swallowed by primeval nature, dwells the mortal race known as the Wyldfolk, a people marked by their untamed independence and their kinship with nature. Wyldfolk possess an innate affinity for the beasts of the wilderness and are the foremost animal tamers in all the world, domesticating wolfhounds, exotic mounts, and monstrous creatures. What other cultures consider treacherous wilderness the Wyldfolk view as their preferred habitat, and it is within these forests, fens, swamps and highlands that the tribes build their settlements, a trait which sets them apart from other civilizations.
The Wyldfolk of Annyr are a mortal race hailing from the far off mythical continent of Zephyr across the misty Azure Ocean. They are a fierce and vibrant people who possess a deep affinity for nature, and boast many animal empaths. Like the wild creatures they befriend, Wyldfolk shun large cities, preferring to build their towns and villages into the local landscape and vegetation, for cities were cursed places to them - the Banebrood-infested ruins of a damned empire. Wyldfolk humans tend to be tall and slim with thick, reddish hair as untamable as their spirits, ranging from near-blond through ginger to auburn. Though slight of build, they are a hardy folk of endless endurance, and are also renowned for their agility. Conversely, Wyldfolk Ogres generally possess thick dark hair, ruddy complexions and a burly physique.
The Wyldfolk use terrain, missile weapons and ambushes to wear down the enemy before the clan warriors close for the kill. One should not think them averse to melee - quite the contrary. Their former traditions of martial pride were tempered by their new situation - being vastly outnumbered by enemies on all sides within a hostile and uncharted land. Necessity forced them to adopt indirect battle tactics in order to keep casualties within a viable level, or else face extinction. While their enemies may fight for gods and gold, Wyldfolk warriors fight for the sheer joy of battle! For they believe that only in combat can a man truly find himself.
Dressed in colorful clan tartans, and marching to the rousing tones of bagpipes, Wyldfolk are distinctive even from a distance, but these are just the warriors they mean to be seen; for preceding the armies like a shadow are countless scouts, rangers and hunters camouflaged in natural colors, as invisible as the wind. The men adorn their bodies with intricate tattoos, and on the eve of battle, apply war-paint of woad in solemn ritual. All Wyldfolk share a fierce and deep-rooted mindset of independence. Power is therefore decentralized, making inter-tribal warfare commonplace. This independence has left the Wyldfolk prone to piecemeal conquest by invaders, and only the Druids have been able to shepherd the disparate tribes into a unified flock.
During the foreign invasions of the Golden Age, the dispossessed Wyldfolk were one of the few peoples who remained faithful to the Asrae Gods - a time when Mortals turned to new ideologies and practices. Perhaps for this reason they were groomed for greatness as one of the five Blessed Peoples. After the Dark Age, and under the patronage of the Asrae, the Wyldfolk burst forth to spread their culture across northern Ghorn and beyond.
Thy Wyldfolk's homeland of Annyrion is a vast and magical realm, largely unexplored by the Wyldfolk. Even in Lártyr, which holds the greatest concentration of Wyldfolk, the settlements are separated by a great wilderness of misty moors, slate badlands, peat bogs, and high grass meadows, while overhead float hundreds of lush skylands trailing skirts of vines beneath them. Punctuating the wilderness are countless cairns, barrows, megaliths, ruins and chalk-hill figure carvings. The endless rains create a riotous growth of vegetation coursing with the life-force of nature. No wonder then that the anima of the shattered goddess Dhannya was drawn to Annyrion and dwells therein. One cannot help but feel this silent power which permeates all, particularly in the bustle of nature at dawn and dusk. Besides this subtle ambience, there are other magics at work; druids have channeled and stored vast quantities of keraunic power within their network of megaliths. The air of some megalithic sites literally hums with sorcerous energy, and occasionally discharges into the Otherworld with a thunderous crackle. Lurking at the corner of vision are the beguiling Fey, glowing with radiant enchantment and spreading their other-worldly magic in the lives they touch.