The World of Aernth - Volume 4
Copyright Aaron Smalley ©2000
Edited by Rich Kirkland for The Guild Companion
Welcome to the long overdue fourth installment of the World of Aernth. It has been nearly two years since the first three parts appeared in the first three issues of the Guild Companion
(See the December 1998, March 1999, and May 1999 issues for more details)
The World of Aernth has moved (more than once) since the third installment appeared in the May 1999 issue of the Guild Companion. However the new and hopefully permanent location is now up at: http://www.geocities.com/aernth .
It started out as the setting for several role-playing games well over a decade ago. Since that time it has continually grown and developed, until it seemed to take on a life of it's own. This setting in which over 70 participants have visited within their imaginations is now being converted to a digital format and is accessible on the World Wide Web. The following is a description of this setting from the point of view of several people who exist within this world.
The intention here is to give those viewing it ideas for the development of their own settings, or as a ready resource that can be used by Game Masters who have not designed a setting of their own, but want to utilize a fully developed world. It is written in a fairly generic manner and as such can easily be adapted to nearly any fantasy gaming system. You can also place existing ideas for single session games or even campaigns into the setting with little modification in most cases.
As you may have heard, we at the Guild Companion are working on adventure modules which we hope to offer through our site in the near future, that are set up for use with several gaming systems. A portion of these will be coming out of the World of Aernth setting, and will hopefully be available soon.
I hope that all of you will enjoy experiencing this world of fantasy as much as I have enjoyed developing and GM-ing it.
Click here for a map of the Channel Cities
Thengel says, "This has been interesting and entertaining so far."
Balindar replies, "Thanks, and thank you for the meal. This is a perfect time to tell you about the longest ferry between South Shore and Gorled,
crossing one of the several islands in the channel. Then on to the history of South Shore and then to the most intriguing and mysterious part of the channel cities, the Isle's of Stars. But first, let me enjoy this dinner, then I will continue."
"Take your time, replies Thengel. He then turns to Alerelean and asks, "So how long have you been living in the Channel Cities if you are from the Forbidden Plains, so far west of here?"
She smiles and says, "Too long. My parents traveled here when I was but a child. My father had taken a job as a purchaser for Balandith Shipping, and eventually was promoted and asked to move here to Turinís base of operations. My mother had died about three years after we got here, so he raised me. Turin Balandith being the caring fellow he is, offered to allow us to stay at his estate so that I would have others around and be given a good education while my father plied his trading and haggling skills for him. A few years later my father was on one of Balandithís ships that disappeared somewhere south of the Eastern Continent. Turin allowed me to stay at his estate until I was old enough to fend for myself, then he offered me a job here at his inn waiting tables to make a living. So to make a long story short, about 20 years." I would like to get out of here, I donít really like the crowded streets here, nor the cramped living conditions."
Balindar says, with a mouth half full of fish, "AhhhÖ but there are worse places to live. At least here you donít have to worry about brigands or wild critters that roam much of the less civilized lands. Or the sweltering heat of the jungles that cover most of the southern continent."
"As bad as the heat is in the jungles, it gets hotter during the day in my homeland, but then it cools off way too much at night. And just finding water can be a week long search, if you are lucky enough to find it at all,í says Thengel with his Ďdesert folkí accent.
After Balindar finishes chewing, he replies, "They say the best place in the Channel Cities for the common folk to live, is in South Shore. You have more freedom and are taxed less. Slavery doesnít exist, as is also the case in Dorgard. However unlike Dorgard where you have a council of nobility that rule and constantly bicker back and forth, or a council of greedy merchants in Argentum. Then there is the weak and corrupt king in Gorled, and a week king is not a good thing to have in a powerful military state because it is hard to tell who is truly in command. Or worst of all, the ruthless foreign governor from the Northern Empire slowly squashing the city of Martelain."
"In South Shore you have an elected council of 25 who have to answer to those who elect them, otherwise they are not allowed to stay in office. This makes for a government that has the happiness of its citizens at heart, but also results in a system that can not keep corruption from filtering in. Many of the council members are from the most wealthy ranks of the artisans and merchants, and as such tend to sway things in their favor as much as possible, even to the point of paying actual coinage or trading goods and services for votes. They refer to it as a democracy, however only those who own land or have over a certain level of income are considered Ďcitizenryí and are allowed to vote. I have heard that it is the second largest of the Channel Cities, with nearly 250,000 people living in the 2-Ĺ square miles that the city covers. But of those, only about 30,000 or so are allowed to vote for council members, and about half of them donít bother doing so."
"It sounds like it is a different flavor of corruption in South Shore then. So it is primarily working class folk that live there then," asks Thengel?
"Sort of, you still have a lot of wealthy individuals who hold most of the power, although these are usually the Guild Masters of the various artisans guilds, and their closest companions. The dream of many of the people within the city is to some day be able to rise to a position of power within one of the numerous guild houses there," says Balindar. Taking another drink of brandy, he continues, "Although this is not an easy task to accomplish, and canít be done without making enemies from what I have heard. It is usually the most ruthless of the guild members who rise to these positions of power and wealth. But on the other hand it does promote learning the skills of the guild that they are a part of, thus making the products that come out of South Shore some of the best in the world."
Thengel asks, "So where are good places to become familiar with in my line of work?"
That depends on what type of work you are looking for in South Shore," replies Balindar. "If you are looking to work for council member, then the Councilors Haven is definitely the place to check out, but be warned, dressed like that they are as likely to kick you out as serve you any drinks. That is one of the few taverns in the cities that does not have rooms available for its patrons. While it is one of the smallest pubs around, they serve only the best of drinks and food, and charge a pretty coin for it."
Alerelean interrupts, "You can also check out the Rocís Nest. There is always something going on there. And you canít help but meet people."
Balindar laughs, "Yeah, and watch your pockets. The place is huge, probably the largest tavern you will ever see in your lifetime. A single floor of it will seat more patrons than any other tavern in the Channel Cities, and it has two floors. The inn itself has rooms available on four floors. It also has a large stable, which only one-in-ten of the other inns around here have."
"But donít try to get away with anything in there," Alerelean cuts in while chewing some bread. "There is a guy that the innkeeper pays just for keeping people from getting out of hand. And he has no problems with using extreme force. I have seen him spike a manís head to a pole with his crossbow from over a hundred feet away for raising a ruckus. He had jumped up on a table so that he had a clear shot over most of the intervening patrons heads, but he hit him from half way across the room."
"Half way across the room," Thengel asks. "You said that it was over a hundred feet away."
"Yup, about 35 paces, half way across the tavern! Iíve also seen him jump from the balcony of the second floor down on top of others who were fighting. This guy is vicious and ruthless when it comes to keeping trouble at a minimum."
Balindar says, "When you have several hundred people drinking ale in a room like that, problems are bound to develop unless you do something to prevent it."
"Are you serious, it has four floors," asks Thengel?
"Yes," replies Alerelean, "the place is huge for an inn, with thick stone outer-walls and a slate roof. I think most of the inner walls are wood, but some of those might be stone as well."
Balindar takes another bite of his fish and chews it, then continues, "Another place you may want to check out is the Nesting Swan Inn and Tavern. It is a nice place, but some of the characters that hang out in there can be shady."
"Of course, if you feel like hunting down slaves that have fled from Argentum they can usually be found on the streets of South Shore," says Balindar as he takes another bite of his fish. "They tend to go there, since slavery is illegal within the city, although they do very little to protect those who have managed to escape from the other cities. But while slavery does exist in three of the other four cities, it is rare in all but Argentum. The Church of the All Father in Gorled frowns on the idea of slavery, but even with their power they have not been able to do away with it there. In fact they were fairly common in the Martelain Palace until a slave had assassinated the previous Governor a few years ago. The new Governor doesnít allow any slaves onto the palace grounds, but then he wonít usually step out in public either."
Then Alerelean chuckles and says, "You will also see the ridiculous hats that most of the men in South Shore wear. They are these things with somewhat wide things that stick out around them."
"Brims, they are called, and they are made of felt, which I have heard comes from wool, although I donít know how they give it the thick and stiff feel that it has," interrupts Balandith.
"Anyway, they are funny looking, but a lot of the men down there wear them. They only started about a year or so ago, but now everyone down there does. I even see them in the other cities occasionally. A lot of times they are a strange color, like red, bright green, or yellow. I have even seen a few people that stick bird feathers on them."
After taking another bite of fish and then bread and washing it down with more brandy, Balindar continues, "You will need to keep an eye out for anyone wearing purple sashes around their waist, head, or arms. This is an indicator of the Purple League. They are a loosely organized group of thieves and burglars. If you see someone wearing their colors, they wonít bother you, but there very well could be someone else nearby who is associated with them."
Balindar then takes out his pipe and tobacco again as he continues, "Also, stay clear of the Pallid Hand. There is no way of recognizing their members, as the assassinsí guilds donít generally publicize themselves like some of the thievesí guilds do. They are based out of the Rocís Nest. They are a ruthless and untrustworthy group, to say the least. They have less couthe than probably any other of the underworld guilds in the Channel Cities, not that assassins and thieves are known for being very honorable anyway, but you get the idea."
Thengel asks, "You had mentioned the ferry between Gorled and South Shore. What is so special about it?"
Balindar lights the tobacco with a splinter again and replies, ""Due to the distance between land around the Channel Cities, most are connected by ferries. These ferries are set up with very heavy ropes attached to each side of the shore and are long enough as well as being weighted such that they go into the water far enough that the large ships can get over them without a problem," says Balindar. However other than the stretch between Gorled and South Shore, the longest distance covered by a ferry is about a quarter of a mile. However the distance between Gorled and South Shore is greater than that, but luckily there is an island directly between them, so there are actually two ferries that cross between these two cities, each goes from one city to the island and then back. The island is fairly small and there arenít any buildings on it at all, but it is just a little unusual to have a stop over in the middle with a ferry ride. But on the other hand, you canít get to Dorgard by ferry from any of the other cities without passing through Gorled, so when the bridge between Gorled and Dorgard is burned and they are at war, you can not get to Dorgard except by boat."
"Speaking of boats, what is the deal with the large group of small islands in the southern part of the channel that are all connected by small wooden bridges, and covered by trees and gardens," asks Thengel?
"That," replies Balindar, "is the best kept secret in the Channel Cities. It is the Isle of Stars."
"You mentioned them earlier, what is this isle of stars, some strange cult?"
Balandith continues, "Not exactly. It is a monastery of sorts, but not a religious monastery, think of it more as an elite educational guild. Rumor has it that the biggest and most complete library in the entire world is on the largest of those small islands. It is a long story, but if you want to hear it, that island was the start of the entire Channel Cities area history. Long ago, I donít even know how far back it was, a pair of people from the east, even further east than your homeland traveled to the area. The reason for them coming here isnít known, although there are hundreds of rumors. They settled on the island and started to teach some of the barbaric peoples that lived in the area how to farm and how to smelt metals into bronze. Among other things they also preached of live in harmony with nature, much as the Druids were already doing. However these easterners didnít believe in the nature spirits that the Druids do."
Alerelean says, "I have never heard the story behind them before. All I know are the rumor that people spread about them."
After finishing off a small piece of cheese and taking another draw off his pipe, Balindar continues, "However their teachings were drastically different in many ways from those of the Druidical College. One way was that they rarely used weapons, instead they taught their students to defend themselves using an ancient martial art that had developed in the east long ago. This style of combat used fluid and circular motions to redirect an opponentís force away from the defender and often times utilized the attackers own momentum against himself. It was demonstrated that with extensive practice it was possible to even develop these skills to the point where it was possible to take on an armed opponent and actually be able to subdue them or take them out of the fight. Another thing that was taught was the use of using simple farm implements as weapons, which when used correctly could be as dangerous as military weapons."
"I think I had seen one of them come through my homeland many years ago," says Thengel.
"You probably did," replies Alerelean while Balindar takes a few more puffs and prepares to continue.
"Into the first winter these easterners started to build a structure out of wood. Not just using logs to support skins like the local people had done up till then, but they stacked them to make solid walls that could keep out the weather better than anything that anyone had previously seen.
They continued to teach the local people these building skills, as well as farming, animal husbandry, and various manufacturing skills, until the demand for their services became greater than their ability to teach the material. After a while the school had grown into several teachers, but due to the increased population resulting from the new technology that was brought to the area by these educated easterners, they could not keep up with the demand.
They began only teaching those who could pay of their services. At first this made them fairly wealthy, however as time went by and the focus of the school slowly changed over the generations, they began to teach that wealth could corrupt. Which later was proven true by the fact that the wealthy children of powerful nobles started to create problems for one another. At one point a student, who happened to be the son of a Masgand noble murdered the son of another noble, thus escalating a feud that had already been going on between the families for several generations."
"I can see where being involved in such a tragedy would cause them to change their ways," retorts Thengel after tearing off another piece of bread and dipping it into his now cooled stew.
Balindar continues after another sip of brandy, "From that point on, the school started to be very selective as to whom they taught their arts to. They began to only accept those that had low birth rank, yet had great mental potential. They also started to teach smaller numbers due to their strict requirements of entry. This resulted in many of the members traveling to find children that they felt were worthy of this knowledge, and in the process they began to gather more knowledge. Now they are respected and revered men and women of learned mind and fit bodies, who have dedicated their lives to collecting and retaining knowledge on everything. Some say that they are preparing for a great cataclysm that is expected to nearly wipe out mankind, and that their knowledge will carry the survivors though the terrible event. Others say that they are just a bunch of mixed up and miss-guided monks and historians. Still others consider them to be freaks, and refuse to go near them."
Balindar pauses to take a draw off his pipe and then blow a smoke ring into the air with a smile before continuing, "But they rarely have to worry about brigands or thieves, since during their travels, they never carry any money, and rely on their own abilities and the humanity of otherís for their livelihood. They can often be found stopping at a farm along their travels before sundown, and offering to work for several hours in exchange for food and shelter for the night, which most farmers will usually grant just for the added help."
"What do they do, if they canít find a place to stay then," asks Alerelean?
Balindar answers, "They sleep where ever they happen to be when it gets late. I have seen them sleeping long side the road a couple of times over the years. That is unusual though, since they are well respected by most people of the world. They are a strange people though. They will not allow anyone that is not of their order on to their island for any reason. And they are very particular about those who they take on as students. The potential student, it is said, must swear loyalty to the order, and break off all contact with their natural families between the ages of 4 and 7 when they join the order. While most parents donít want to see their children disappear, the majority of families whoís children are selected are willing to see them go, as they know that their children will soon be part of the most learned and elite organization in the world. Even most neighbors will then treat the rest of the family with more respect than they otherwise would have due to the honor of having born a child that "takes up the walk". I think they call it this because the monks from the Isle of Stars walk or take a boat everywhere that they travel. They always refuse to ride on a wagon or beast of burden, but no one I have ever talked to seems to know the reason behind this."
He then leans forward and takes a sip of his brandy and says in a quiet tone, "There are even rumors that some of them, through their extreme discipline, develop amazing powers or magic wielding abilities. I have also heard stories about them being able to sometimes perform almost superhuman feats."
Balindar then says, "If there is anything else you would like to know, just ask and I will answer to the best of my ability."
"Fascinating. Thank you for the history and culture lesson on the Channel Cities,í replies Thengel.
"You are welcome there young man, now I am curious to learn about some of the places that you have visited in your travels," says Balindar as he brushes some of his long grey hair from in front of his eyes.
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