“Your subjects despair at the chaos around them. Your nobles still look to the old lords who founded this land, and hope that the Cerunae might return to set it to order. They do not know what I have seen. The Empire you wait for, the glories of old you hope to see restored… Your fallen cities are all that remains of it.”
Welcome to the Bordermarches — the setting for the book(s) I am writing, as well as a number of tabletop RPG campaigns I’ve run.
First, some background:
In 2008, I deployed to the Mid-East for a few months. Just before I left, a friend suggested starting a tabletop RPG group at his house. While I was sitting around in “the desert” between flights, I was looking for something to do. Then the exchange set up a display stand for the core rulebooks of the newest edition of Dungeons and Dragons: the Player’s Handbook, the Monster Manual, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
I had some extra money and thought, “I’ll check this out.”
The core rulebooks inspired the original version of my setting. They describe a flawed and dangerous world, a place where civilization huddles in ‘points of light’ surrounded by darkness and the unknown. For the purpose of the rulebooks, the writers suggest the backdrop of a long-fallen empire, an ancient power that spanned the known world and left secrets behind in its ruin.
Naturally, this works great for a campaign.
What technology might the ancient empire have possessed? What’s left of that?
What power or magic did they know? Can it be learned today?
Who or what destroyed them? And is that destructive force still around?
Does it lie dormant, biding its time, its hunger growing as the day of its return approaches?
Or was it a tremendous global calamity, a meteor strike for example?
Has that devastation become a legend of gods casting fire to the earth in their wrath?
And perhaps it was an act of the Divine after all?
If so, what prompted it? Some rampant evil that now rises again and threatens a global judgment?
Needless to say, there are almost limitless options.
And that’s assuming you don’t decide the empire in question is actually still intact and in control.
Since it gives so many options, I ran with that general idea… a world in decline, a realm under siege on all sides, an unstable government struggling to stand while crippled by corruption within.
In the world of the Bordermarches, the Cerune Empire has fallen. Its Amethyral Throne has been bereft of a rightful Imperial for several hundred years. Wars and squabbling for power consumed most of the Empire’s greatness.
However, in the centuries prior to its decline, Cerune sought to expand its reach to other continents. A grand expedition carried the Emperor’s banner across the seas to found a seat of power on a new continent. Opportunity and hope brought great numbers to this new land, and the Cerunae spread until natural borders or strong resistance stopped them.
The Snowcap Mountains cross the north, separating this land from the tundra nation of Glacierift. The jagged peaks of Tiernalen’s Wall form the eastern edge, and none return who venture into the forests on the other side. To the distant southeast, arid wastes and twisted magic prevent further expansion. The gloom of Feyshadow Fen marks the western border, between the Snowcaps and the bay where the Cerunae first landed.
This distant addition to the Empire marked the furthest edge of Cerune’s power, the borders of its reach. Four City-States took root across the expanse: Mirelenai, the crime-ridden port city where the Empire first landed; Lanaloth, the city of harvest that provides food for most of the realm; Aelwyn, known for the finest craftsmanship and most courageous warriors; and Aulivar, the greatest and highest of the Cities. Though each seeks its own interests, they are also bound by a mutual defense pact in case of a greater regional threat.
And such threats now arise against the Marches.
To the north, Glacierift has collapsed, descending into madness and violence. Its former soldiers and desperate refugees seek aid from Aulivar, and where they do not find it, they take what they need by force.
To the east, contact has been lost with many of the scattered mining villages that supply Aelwyn’s smithies. The few gibbering survivors speak of bloodthirsty savages. Tiernalen’s Wall has held back the remnants of the Cerunae from further expansion, but it does not prevent outsiders from pouring into the Marches.
To the southeast, the Army of the Marches stands watch over the border of the Wastes–a border that encroaches steadily on the green fields and farmlands of Lanaloth. Merchants and travelers no longer cross the Wastes freely, and the few who risk the journey bring reports of the Orghûl preparing for war.
And in the southwest, Mirelenai crumbles under the weight of its own corruption. The Seamistress and her loyalists wage a losing war against organized criminals and the power-hungry nobles who fund them.
The days are dark for the Marches, and hope dwindles in the face of such opposition, like a flickering candle at midnight.
And there is one who seeks to extinguish it…
So there you have it, the introduction to the Bordermarches. Sadly, with this limited information, it’s run-of-the-mill fantasy fare. But I hope to reveal and explain some core concepts that I believe set it apart as unique.
And right off the bat on that list is the “troubling complications of scientific progress.”