Introduction: An Overview of Saelmaria
The world of Aeva has seen tremendous change over the past 700 years. When the barrier between worlds cracked and allowed renegade outsiders to enter, the people who inhabited the continent of Saelmaria felt the worst of the onslaught. After all, the Chaos Rift, which led directly to the plane of Acheron, was located on their homelands. Creatures of Chaos reveled in their newfound freedom. Demons infiltrated cities and set neighbor against neighbor, frightened the people with grisly murders, or simply replaced a king and enslaved entire kingdoms with their tyranny. Age-old grudges surfaced and soon the face of Saelmaria was torn asunder by the constant wars waged between powerful warlords and their summoned minions.
After a few decades of constant battle and the continual influx of new outsiders who discovered the Chaos Rift, the high priests of three deities (Khemed, the Teacher; Ashvi, the Guide; and Tavril, the Guardian) took the lead in fighting back. These three men took the power of their churches and combined them under Sankta Allianco, the Holy Concordat, and forged the Holy Triad. Together the members of the Triad used their divine magic to fight the scourge of demonic forces, which had now spread to other parts of Aeva. Over the next fifty years, the Holy Triad became a force to be reckoned with. With their combined abilities, the churches of the Holy Triad were able to gather the forces of the Saelmarian kingdoms under one banner and send those forces, armed with divine magic, against the outsiders who had taken control. In the end, the people of Saelmaria won their war against what had become known as the Chaos Flood.
While part of the Holy Triad's energy was directed at fighting the outsiders who were already on Aeva, others were attempting to discover a way to prevent new outsiders from entering the world and possibly turning the tide back against the world's rightful inhabitants. The first great step in that effort was in sealing the Chaos Rift. After discovering the Rift's location, high in the mountains of Saelmaria, Khemed's clerics searched their ancient lore and consulted with the messengers of their god. They eventually discovered a powerful ritual that would close the breach between Aeva and Acheron. But they discovered more than that in their searching.
The church discovered that the mountains around the Rift were full of a new mineral, which they dubbed "divinium". The ore possesses magical properties, allowing weapons, armor, and other items to be forged and blessed to create items of great magical power. This discovery was followed shortly by the Revelation of Khemed and Tavril, in which the two gods divulged to their clerics a Rite of Banishment that would prevent any outsider from ever entering the world of Aeva unless summoned by an Aevan deity. Enactment of that rite would forever protect the world from the possibility of another Chaos Flood.
When the last of the great Acherian armies was defeated, the Holy Triad gathered its clerics for the Rite of Banishment. Thousands of clerics from three faiths prayed together for the protection of their world and their gods answered their prayers. Khemed, Ashvi, and Tavril wove a barrier of divine power around the world of Aeva, ensuring that only the gods of their world--or more accurately, the clerics who represent those gods--could ever allow another outsider to set foot on Aeva. All realms were off limits to the people of Aeva as well. Because of their close connections with the Prime Plane, only the Astral Plane, the Ethereal Plane, and the Plane of Shadows were left open.
When the Rite was finished and the barrier completed, the Holy Triad went about the task of protecting the world from those who would attempt to open any portals without church permission. The free study and practice of Arcane Magic was outlawed. Wizards were hunted down and imprisoned or executed. Those born with an innate knowledge of magic, called Sorcerers, were enslaved: their souls trapped in crystals that allowed their owners to decide what spells a sorcerer would be allowed cast and at what time. These unfortunate individuals became known as Spell-slaves. Some would eventually escape and return to stop others from being taken. Those who regained their soul-crystals learned to use them as foci for magic and became known as Talisites, for their magic derives from the magical talismans that hold their very souls. Spell-slaves helped children to escape before the church's Crusaders descended upon their villages to enslave the newest generation of sorcerers. Those who did escape learned to use their magic without the soul-crystals and became known as Freecasters. Whether they are Spell-slaves or Freecasters, all who possess the art of Arcane Magic are at risk, for the church truly believes that they represent the greatest threat to the safety of the world and will stop at nothing to control or destroy them.
The power of the Holy Triad grew quickly, creating the Holy Saelmarian Empire. The first Holy Emperor, Justinian I, was named over six hundred years ago. He oversaw all the kingdoms of Saelmaria, enforcing the church's edicts with the divine magic of the Triad's clerics and with weapons forged of divinium. The Emperor eventually outlawed the worship of all other deities in Saelmaria, for fear that the divine magic of the "lesser spirits" would be turned against the Empire. The Faiths War drove most of those who worship the elemental spirits into hiding and resulted in the creation of thousands of secretive cults.
The sealing of portals to other worlds eventually led to a shortage of pure elemental materials, which enraged the dragons of Aeva, who need pools of pure elemental essence to reproduce. The Dragon War came as a result of this shortage and led to the proclamation that dragons, too, were to be driven from the realms of Saelmaria. The forging of divinium dragon-slaying weapons was the death knell for dragon-kind on Saelmaria. Most dragons left the continent and attempted to resettle in other parts of the world, hoping they would be able to overcome or coexist with the dragons whose territories they were forced to invade.
The elves of Aeva, whose very essence is magical in nature, knew that the Empire's rabid hatred of all things Arcane would eventually be turned upon them, as well. Allying with the few dragons remaining on Saelmaria, the Elven empire of Faenar declared war on the Holy Saelmarian Empire. The Elf and Dragon War lasted for many years, but Faenar was practically surrounded by Saelmarian kingdoms. The might of Elven magic was great, but eventually, the best they could achieve was a stalemate that they knew could not last forever. The elves' greatest wizards and sorcerers worked tirelessly on a solution to their dilemma, but eventually, they chose to retreat from the world of man, altogether. Most of the elves of Faenar retreated in a single night, known as the Vanishing. Very few Saelmarians know where the elves went, and most do not care. Hatred and misunderstanding of magic had spread throughout the Empire by the time of the Elf and Dragon War. Most citizens cared nothing for the plight of the graceful and magnificent elves or for the culture that they had created over thousands of years.
The Vanishing was a strong warning for the other non-human races of Saelmaria. Outlawing worship of other gods meant outlawing the worship of their racial deities. While the demi-humans of Aeva had never shared the strong bond with their gods that those of other worlds had, they resented being told who they could and could not worship. The dwarves, always a reclusive race, closed the great doors of Dwarfhold in the mountains of Saelmaria and rarely ventured out to trade with the Saelmarians. Many gnomes went with the dwarves, hoping to find a better life below ground than they might hope to have among the humans. However, some gnomes were willing to keep the magical side of their nature hidden in the hopes that their skill as tinkerers and scientists would win them favor. These gnomes were labeled traitors by their kin, but they saw themselves as pragmatists, knowing that there was much to be gained by working with the humans and only risked great loss by turning against them. Halflings, carefree and independent and not overly attached to their racial deities, had always had it rough in Saelmarian kingdoms. They saw no great change in their lives as the Empire grew in power. Some did worry about the future enough to leave Saelmaria in search of a fabled halfling kingdom on the other side of the world, but most stayed where they lived and continued to dodge the tall-folk as they went about their business.
Today, the Holy Saelmarian Empire is the greatest power in the known world. The Church is prosperous, as are those kingdoms who obey the Emperor. The practice of magic is still strictly controlled in Saelmaria, policed by the Emperor's Crusaders, knights of Tavril who have the power to know another person's thoughts and intentions. These same knights make annual trips to villages to test newborns for any sign of magical ability. Those who prove to be sorcerers are taken from their homes and subjected to crystal-bonding, then sent to work for the church or high-ranking nobles of the Empire. These Spell-slaves are the only sorcerers allowed to practice magic openly, and their spells are tightly controlled by those who own their soul-crystals.
Political intrigue is the bread and butter of Saelmarian Imperial life. Emperor Justinian II (the first man in almost 600 years to dare to take the name of the first Holy Saelmarian Emperor), goes forward with his plans to spread the worship of the Holy Triad, and thus the Empire, to Benivalia and the other continents of the world. Meanwhile, kingdoms vie with one another for control of trade routes and resources, not the least of which is the favor of their Emperor. Those kings and queens who find themselves on the outside of the Emperor's good graces typically do not remain in power long.
Forces in Saelmaria must work against the Empire covertly, whether those forces are attempting to undo what they perceive as injustice or to take the Emperor's power for themselves. The clerics of the Lesser Spirits attempt to spread the worship of their gods, hoping they can build enough strength to truly challenge the Triad. Along with the Lesser Spirit cults, there are others who move in the shadows. The Hidden Ones, gods who once ruled Aeva or who have just arrived and want to stake a claim to the souls of the world, are also spreading word of their power. Secret cabals meet in back rooms and dungeons to plan their rise to power, always wary of the Crusaders patrolling the streets outside. The Talisites and Freecasters of Saelmaria work against the practice of spellbonding, hoping one day to lift the oppressive ban on arcane magic and the inhumane slavery that comes with it. Whether these heroes with noble intentions risk bringing about ruination of the world by allowing another Chaos Flood remains to be seen.
The rest of Aeva is a place to be explored. While some adventurers prefer to stay close to home and uncover the mysteries of the lost empire of Faenar or the fallen kingdom of Adlogar, others roam far and wide. They encounter strange cultures and new races, like the orcs of the Tendarian Steppes on Benivalia. These orcs are nomads, far removed from their otherworldly cousins. Noble and proud, they have retained much of their barbarity, but have left behind the worship of the evil, one-eyed god, Gruumsh. After thousands of years on Aeva free from the tyranny of reckless shamans, they have built a new life with new customs. The orcs have begun worshipping the gods of Aeva and have found a place where they can be both feared and respected. Raiders and warlords, still, the orcs are a force to be reckoned with.
The dragons of Aeva still exist, though they are far fewer in number than before their wars with the Holy Triad. Aevan Dragons are elementals who belong to the world of Aeva, true forces of nature who rely on the few remaining pockets of pure elemental matter for procreation. The remaining dragons are ancient and magnificent beasts who have gained incredible stores of knowledge and power during their lives. Many believe that dragons are immortal, and no one has been able to disprove that belief.
The Aevan elves remain in hiding, staying in the great forests and jungles of the world, preserving their culture and grieving for the loss of their great and powerful empire. Faenar was the home of their ancestors for eons, yet they were forced to leave it after only a few decades of warfare. Heartened by the few curses and protections they were able to place on the land before they left, the elves, many of whom still remember life in their ancient home, long for the day when they might return to Faenar and reclaim their birthright.
The dwarves, secure in their ancestral homes, continue to live their lives free of the tyranny and oppression of the Saelmarian Empire. Clashing only occasionally with human miners in search of divinium and other materials, the dwarves carve out new passages, always expanding Dwarfhold and uncovering rich deposits of ore. The strict laws of dwarven society provide the foundation for their strength and ensure that tradition is upheld, regardless of the external forces that press on them as a people. Attempting to coexist with the gnomes is difficult for both races. The dwarves have a strict and closed society, while the gnomes are more open and inquisitive. The tensions between the races were heightened by the closure of the Mountain Door, for now the gnomes are not free to come and go as they please. The Mountain King, leader of the dwarven people, has much to do in managing the relations between races, but tradition and his rapidly dwindling power may cause great difficulty for him. The influence of courtiers has grown in recent generations, causing some to question whether the Mountain King truly does rule Dwarfhold at all.
Many people in Saelmaria feel that the time is coming for great change. Emperor Justinian the Second's announcement that he is planning to expand the empire is viewed in as many different ways and more as there are kingdoms in the Empire. Those whom the emperor intends to subjugate certainly have their own opinions about his intentions, as well. There are rumors that a new god has joined the Aevan pantheon, those who worship it are well-hidden. In all, the coming years will be interesting for all on Aeva--especially those who take up the mantle of "adventurer" or "hero" and play a part in shaping the events to come.