Chronicles of Adar
As the game begins, you are in Kingshold, the capital of the human-dominated Carlaean Imperium. It is a massive city, taking over a day to traverse from east to west, and overshadowed by the huge and ancient dam known as the Great Bulwark.
You are imprisoned in a dark, dripping holding cell deep inside the structure of that dam, surrounded by the other members of what will become your party, waiting for trial. What brought you here?
Question 1: Where are you from?
There are innumerable possible answers. Many of them are dependent to some degree or another on your race and class selection, but you should let your imagination run free. Here are a few possible ideas.
- I’m from Kingshold itself. Kingshold is a thriving trade center and the capital of the expansionistic assembly of human city states known as the Carlaean Imperium. You can only be a full citizen if you are human and own land somewhere in the city or the regions of farmland outside it, but many inhabitants of the city are not full citizens. If you are a nonhuman, it is unlikely (though not impossible) that you have grown up in the city, but there are a number of reasons you might have moved there. The one exception to the aforementioned rule would be tieflings, thanks to their unique relationship to the human race—there are a number of tieflings born in the city each year, and many stay there in the poorer districts.
- I’m from a town or village in the Carlaean Imperium. There are hundreds of villages, towns, and cities within the region the Imperium claims. Most of them are primarily populated with humans, but there are a number of circumstances in which a nonhuman might live there—and might experience less prejudice than in some of the larger cities.
- I’m from one of the Free Cities. The region to the south of the Imperium is made up of a loose confederation of city-states calling themselves the Free Cities Alliance. This is a recent development, as a variety of smaller city-states banded together about 20 years ago in order to better resist the expansion of the Carlaean Imperium. Like Carlaea they are dominantly human, but there are some members of other races who have taken up residence in their cities.
- I’m from a wood-elf settlement. Wood elves have no kingdoms now, and only dim racial memories of a time when such kingdoms existed. Their settlements are small groups of no more than a few hundred elves living in one place. The settlements in the forests of the Northern Imperium have recently been put under significant pressure thanks to Carlaean expansion, and thanks to the devastation of the forests for agricultural space, construction, and charcoal production.
- I’m from the Vale. The closest thing elves have to a kingdom is the Vale, located far from the Imperium’s territory in the Carenethi Forest west of the Heartland Mountains. The Vale is a growing power in the world, the first real attempt in tens of generations for elves to rebuild some small piece of what they lost in the Mythic Era Collapse. The majority of the Vale’s leadership are high elves, but the broader population contains a significant proportion of wood elves as well. The Valefolk seek to regain the secrets of magic which were once possessed by their ancestors, and to reclaim magical artifacts of the Mythic Era which they consider to be their heritage and birthright.
- I’m from the lands of the Stonewall Pact. Dwarves in the modern era occupy a mere fraction of their ancestral lands, but the largest population of both mountain and hill dwarves live in the lands of the Stonewall Pact in the Heartland Mountains and their eastern foothills. Once, in the Mythic Era, this was the heart of Dwarven civilization, and their massive stone cities built on the crags or into the sides of mountains still dominate the landscape. The dwarves of the Stonewall live in a technocratic monarchy whose major goals are the upkeep and repair of the ancient cities in which they live; they finance these goals through extensive trade in minerals, gems, salt, and coal with the human civilizations around them.
- I’m from the Northern Wildlands. Life on the frontiers is difficult, but someone has to do it. Some nomadic or semi-permanent communities occupy these lands, but the wildlands truly belong only to the beasts and the beastmen. Gnolls and tribes of goblinoids stake out camps throughout the steppes and plains of the wildlands, and the members of civilized races who live in this area must be hardened in order to survive their constant raids. The human, dwarven, and halfling communities in this region must be well defended or well hidden to survive for long.
- I’m from the Coastal Crests. The mountain range on the eastern border of the Carlaean Imperium is still heavily forested in the north, but large sections farther south have been felled and cleared for agricultural land in the past generations. Numerous settlements dot this area, mostly mining communities and farming villages in the foothills of the Crests, but the Crests are also known for their vineyards. Higher in the mountains, numerous monasteries shelter those who wish to leave behind the concerns of civilization for a while—and while the monks are statistically mostly human, these communities are welcoming to any and all who wish to join them.
- I’m from somewhere else entirely. Look at the map, consider what you know about your race, and come up with a backstory in any location you can imagine.
Question 2: What brought you to Kingshold?
- I have always lived here.
- I arrived recently with a trading caravan or diplomatic delegation. The dwarves of the Stonewall Pact have frequent trade with the Imperium in general and with Kingshold specifically, and as a result of this often send ambassadors to the city. Some wood elves trade for goods with the Imperium out of necessity, but are often looked upon by some of their kin as practically traitors for doing so. Rare half-elves are often either engaged in trade or diplomatic relations between human and elven communities. The northern halfling communities commonly trade wool, cheeses, and ales for coin to hire protection against the dangers of the Wildlands around them. Humans from within the Imperium commonly bring regional goods to market in Kingshold, and may send ambassadors to advocate for lower taxation or increased protection in their outlying villages.
- I was sent into the city as a spy. See the section below for ideas about specific reasons.
- I was hired by the Broken Ring. The Imperium’s largest crime syndicate is headquartered in the poor Shieldrim districts of the city of Kingshold, and often recruits petty criminals from the outlying regions either by buying their way out of provincial jails or by helping them hide from the authorities.
- I came to experience life in the big city. Some individuals imagine that life in the city will be more glamorous or simply better than life on their farm or small village. The lucky ones may even be right.
- I came looking for assistance. Border raids by the beastmen of the north often trouble settlements on the Imperium’s northern frontier; such settlements sometimes send a spokesperson to ask for military aid or supplies to be sent to help defend against invaders.
- I fled a troubled situation in my home village. Perhaps you were wrongfully (or rightfully) accused of a crime. (If so, your current situation might be considered somewhat ironic.) Perhaps you jilted (or were jilted by) a lover. Perhaps your inheritance was usurped by a family member, or stolen by a corrupt magistrate.
- I was exiled from my home. For some reason, you were forced to leave your home and have gone to Kingshold—perhaps you have family there, or some other connection which makes Kingshold a reasonable prospect for starting over.
- Something else entirely.
Question 3: What was your crime?
- I’m innocent of any crime—I’ve been framed for something. It may have been an altercation in the streets for which you were accidentally blamed. Perhaps you are a merchant and a rival planted contraband in your shop. If you are a member of a non-human race (particularly if you are a tiefling) you may have been accused wrongfully of stealing, or even taken into custody on trumped up accusations by a racist city watchman. There are a million possibilities.
- I stole something. Perhaps you stole a loaf of bread out of hunger because you had spent all your coin trying to get to the city—or because you are a penniless urchin to begin with. Perhaps you pickpocketed a town official as he passed by in the street and were spotted by his bodyguard. Perhaps you were betrayed by fellow thieves during an elaborate heist while working for the Broken Ring, Carlaea’s largest organized crime syndicate. Perhaps, if you are a wood elf, you saw an artifact of your people displayed as a trinket in a merchant’s shop and stole it out of fury or a sense of justice.
- I killed someone. Perhaps it was a terrible accident. Perhaps it was deliberate and premeditated. Perhaps it was a contract from the Broken Ring. Perhaps it was an attempt to take justice into your own hands, and the person you killed was an evil and corrupt individual. Maybe you feel deep grief and remorse about your deed, and maybe not.
- Someone saw me using magic. Magic is extremely rare throughout the world in general, and is quite frightening to most people. Moreover, it is expressly prohibited in the Carlaean Imperium. While this rule is not strictly enforced throughout the entire region, the city of Kingshold itself is on constant guard against magic users of any variety. The only exception is magic performed by licensed priests of the Septarchate, or by a very few arcanists employed directly by the Council of Kings. Even if you are a priest of the Septarchate but do not have an official license in Kingshold, using magic in the presence of someone who knows you to be unlicensed can get you arrested—no matter how harmless or even benevolent the magic may be.
- I was accused of proselytizing for a non-Septarchine religion—or of blasphemy. Worshipping a god other than the One in Seven and talking about it in public is frowned upon in Kingshold, where the priesthood holds almost as much power as the Council of Kings. Openly professing unbelief is considered equally problematic. These crimes won’t put your life in danger, but could definitely put you in jail for a few days.
- I was caught spying. There are a number of groups who might be interested in spying on affairs in the Imperium’s capital. If you are a wood elf, you might be trying to gather information on Carlaean expansion northward, which is currently overshadowing the last wood elven settlements in the east of Adar. If you are a human, you might be a citizen of one of the cities of the Free Cities Alliance, which is on the brink of war with the Carlaean Imperium thanks to their respective claims over fertile lands between them. If you are a dwarf, your interests are likely financial in nature; the Imperium is no direct threat to your people, but you may be spying on rival trade networks within the city. Other possibilities include working as an informant for the Broken Ring, spying for a noble family which is trying to pry into the secrets of a rival, or even spying on a potential rival for a lover.
- Something else entirely—maybe even something extremely petty. There are a million possibilities—don’t be constrained by the ideas I’ve thrown out here. You might even have been caught littering—never underestimate the righteous anger of a noble who owns property on the in the riverfront district and catches you tossing an apple core into “his” river view.