The humans who live here have made their home in about as cold and forbidding a place as could be imagined, yet they seem to like it. Boskenland is all birch woods, bleak hills and blue rocky outcrops. The original human settlers were from Jehannum and have retained their burly, robust approach to life.
This craggy, featureless stretch of land is where the god Brith is said to have severed his malformed left hand, which then grew into the spider-goddess She that the Drow worship. A crack in the ground supposedly leads to the kingdom of the Drow.
A long-established monarchy, Caldraza is one of the wealthier and more refined human nations. The country recently converted officially to the Marianist religion, sweeping away the old Pagan pantheon still worshipped in Chillhame, Ghael and Jehannum. King Titus lost his son and heir a year ago in a murderous attack by a clan of Ghael, leading him to declare war on the entire nation. Troops are gathering on the river border but hostilities have not broken out fully as yet.
Caldraza supplies most of the world with fine glass products, having plentiful supplies of the necessary raw materials and generations of experts to work with it. The royal palace at Beacon City is walled on the outside with black glass panels.
The land bridge between the northern and southern continents is a sprawling rain forest, many hundreds of miles from end to end. While the colonists to the north were able to cope with the more temperate climes there, even if they had to wrest the land from monsters, the humidity and sheer danger of Cendra's jungles were too much for them. The jungles are thickly infested with kobolds on the outer edges and reptilian life forms in the unexplored heart.
There are travelers' tales of human tribes living in the jungle, who speak no known language, though these have never been verified. Expeditions have, however, brought golden ornaments and utensils out of deepest Cendra; whether these are the work of humanoids or some skilled non-humanoid race remains a mystery.
This small island is notable only for being the place where a massive Drow army was defeated at least one thousand years ago. It is independent, though the kingdom of Caldraza has long considered it a part of itself and is keen to recover it. The capital of Chillhame is Saragost, a walled city that boasts a fortified harbor.
Corona, otherwise called the 'Crown of the World', is a series of gigantic ice peaks that rise out of the sea, strangely regular and artificial-looking. The peaks form an insurmountable barrier, concealing whatever lies beyond them from the eyes of the world. Although creatures with the power of flight could theoretically fly over the mountains to see what secrets Corona hides, none is known to have done so successfully. Wild theories nonetheless abound, with some tale-tellers insisting that beyond the peaks there is a titanic hole leading to the interior of the world and others describing a bizarre city built by a race older even than the elves.
Whatever is beyond the peaks of Corona, one thing is known: it occasionally sets the northern sky on fire with rainbows of light, chasing each other in arcs and ripples. These lights can be seen from the Waste and from the northern mountains of Caldraza.
The Eagle Nations
This huge country was originally entirely wild and was referred to as the Scarred Land. Monstrous humanoids, giants and dire animals made up its population; the only humanoids to live there were small bands of wood elves, which were tough and resilient enough to cope. Some six hundred years ago, a group of decommissioned Caldrazan warriors decided that it was better to live as rulers in a new land than servants in an old one. They set off for the Scarred Land, determined to carve themselves out a place in the world.
The fighting was hard, but they cleared out an area large enough to support a village and kept it fortified. This village grew into a town and eventually a small city. The elves of Xoth Sarandi, impressed by the humans' bravery and tenacity, constructed a sea-portal to help them bring in supplies and colonists.
Over the last five centuries, colonists have been shipping out to the Scarred Land, with the same dream as the original warriors. Every country in the world, with the exception of the elven nations, has had people leave for a better life in the colonies. The elves retained their attitude of quiet observation, though they continued to give assistance and a second sea-portal was constructed on the western coast a hundred years after the first. The frontier has been steadily pushed back from both sides, so that all that remains of the original wilderness is a broad patch in the centre, which is crammed full of monsters forced out of their original habitat. This patch is still called the Scarred Land.
The settlers organized themselves into regional states, some feudal, some democratic according to the citizens' preference. This collective of sub-kingdoms was termed the Eagle Nations, as it represented liberty and freedom from the chains of the past. For a brief period, the Eagle Nations were united by common treaty and were the most powerful country on the planet. Unfortunately, strife between the different kingdoms has caused the Eagle Nations to collapse on itself, turning a league of allied powers into a country of feuding principalities.
Tribal humans, organized into clans, populate this wild hilly country. Their culture is similar to that of historical Scotland. The clans are constantly feuding with one another, with no one clan holding dominance for long. Caldraza has recently declared war on Ghael, which is prompting the clans to set aside their differences and unite against a common enemy.
The border between Ghael and Caldraza is the river Schlass, which is too broad to be fordable in its lower reaches and runs through the monster-infested Forest of Meere in the upper. The Caldrazans have built a chain of forts along their side of the Schlass, to watch for hostile forces. The Ghaels in turn have established camps along their side but lack the organization to build permanent defenses.
The Horned Reaches
This vast area of desolate prairie is named for the herds of horned animals (buffalo, ibex, antelope, feral cattle and the like) that roam across it, migrating from one feeding ground to the next. It has never been settled, as there is no easy way to transport materials and supplies out into the deep wilderness. Besides, the land is more suited to wild herds than to people. Some wild tribes of elves live here, the descendants of exiles who were driven from Shallenoi centuries ago and who have adapted to living in the inhospitable wild land.
The Horned Reaches form a natural barrier around Shallenoi. Few people would bother crossing the seemingly endless prairie to reach the elven lands, which is one reason why they have lain undisturbed for so long. The sea-gate between Xoth Sarandi and Shallenoi is open only to the elves and to those who they invite. It is not open to tourists or casual visitors.
This militaristic human country is home to a proud breed of humans, who are convinced of their own superiority and invulnerability. The dwarves of Svarth have been trading with the humans of Jehannum for centuries, exchanging dwarven metalwork for human meat, beer and cereals, with the result that Jehannum is now the most strongly armed and armored country in the world. The Iron Dukes rule the country from Burgenstoch Castle, a steel-plated fortress in the capital, Crom Calamar.
The Drow were once tolerated and sheltered in Jehannum. Following the defeat of their armies in Chillhame, the humans showed compassion for the survivors (mostly females and children) and assigned them land that they could cultivate, on the understanding that they caused no trouble. Much to the surprise of all concerned, the Drow proved able to cohabit peacefully, establishing settlements and even trading their knowledge of magic and alchemy with their human protectors. This arrangement came to a bitter, bloody end when the elves of Xoth Sarandi offered Jehannum a massive sum in tribute to cancel the protection, quietly promising a bounty for the head of any Drow collected in addition to this. The humans gave vent to their hatred and forced the Drow out of the region.
This hot country, blessed with mineral wealth and huge tracts of fertile land, has a rigid caste system, developed when the elves first made contact and entrenched by them over the years. The nobility are so far removed from the peasantry that they are essentially a different species.
The King of Kahoor, Parhav the Thirty-First, is a boy of fourteen. Despite his age, he is not sentimental and has overseen quite draconian punishments for his subjects. The law in Kahoor is rigid and ignorance of it is not an excuse. Furthermore, the upper classes can commit certain offences with impunity, while a serf would be stoned to death for the same thing. There literally is one law for the rich and another for the poor.
Kahoor s principal dependency, Shumil, is much more relaxed. Many of Kahoor's people migrate to Shumil in the hope of finding a more tolerant society, though the work there is no less hard.
On the border of Kahoor and Urmish lies the Wall of Grand Iora, a spectacular structure of white stone, consisting of a single unbroken wall with guard towers at half-mile intervals. The Wall has defended Kahoor against the monstrous humanoids of Urmish for generations.
The southern tip of the continent is a marshy place of river deltas and rice fields, where the houses of common folk are built on stilts. This part of Kandang has whole families of boat people, who live their lives migrating from island to island. Further north, one finds ancient cities and lonely towers on hillsides, along with curious ruins from an age where dragons walked among men in human form.
A hereditary line of sorcerers forms the monarchy of Kandang. The usual claims of dragon blood apply. Specifically, the ruling King claims descent from the golden dragons who lived in the area when humans were still living in caves.
To be a sorcerer in Kandang is a great honor, as it proves that one is related (however distantly) to the royal ones of old, the Dragon-Kings of Kandang. However, it does make for some strange customs that are repellent to foreigners.
The best-known custom is that of blood preservation. In order to preserve the royal blood in its full strength, interbreeding among the royal family is not only common but required by law. Brothers are married to sisters and parents to children. The result of this is that several members of the dynasty are both physically and mentally unusual. Those with the strongest concentration of dragon blood sometimes have draconian characteristics, such as hourglass-shaped pupils, forked tongues or scaly-looking skin.
This island was once home to the Myrrik, a species of sentient tentacled bipeds that have now died out, who worshipped a vast sea-beast as an incarnate deity.
Although the Myrrik never allowed visitors further inland than their ports, leading to speculation that they were carrying out horrible rites in their lopsided temples, they were still willing to trade. They supplied Xoth Sarandi with pearls, whale oil and fish in such quantities that a sea-portal was built by the harbor in order to deal with the volume of shipping.
Athul was lost in a titanic cataclysm that submerged the island completely. The Myrrik appear to have been wiped out entirely; the trading ships that came found thousands of floating dead bodies. The sea-portal is still standing.
This country of high mountains and eternal snow is under the control of a wise, benign monarch, King Kallimon, who remains neutral to the conflicts of his neighbors and has occasionally been able to broker diplomatic solutions to their differences. Nobody has ever been able to invade this country, as even the peasants seem to be schooled in martial arts.
There is an abundance of monasteries in Murduk Râm, which draw seekers from all the nations of the world. Those who would learn the fighting arts of the monk are well advised to pack light and travel to the mountains.
This region is thickly forested, with great rolling swathes of green land between the wooded regions. It is widely believed to be the most beautiful country in Ashfar of all the settled lands; it is certainly the least built upon. Qual is home to several thousand families of wood elves, who came here via the sea-portals from Xoth Sarandi and preferred life in the wild to the unending dream of Shallenoi.
There is also a huge half-elf population in Qual. This goes back to the time when the dragon Scalliandrax and the armies that were allied with him laid waste to the kingdom of Kandang, sending the populations of entire towns fleeing into the forests of Qual for shelter. They had previously had a superstitious fear of the forests and the elves that dwelt there, but the horror that was tearing their land apart was worse. The elves realized that the humans were unfit for life in the deep forest and would die without their help. They chose to shelter them, even going so far as to adopt some of them into their own families.
One thousand years after these events, there are very few pureblooded humans left in the forests of Qual. Almost the entire population is elven or half-elven.
This was the original elven homeland, before Xoth Sarandi was discovered and colonized. It is the oldest continuous civilization in the world. Only that of the now-destroyed Myrrik was older. Many of the glorious temples, palaces and towers of Shallenoi have stood for three thousand years and are expected to stand for three thousand more. Nothing important has changed in all that time; the inhabitants seem almost as if they are living in a perfect dream. Shallenoi is a flawed paradise, a place simultaneously beautiful and stagnant, stifled under the weight of its own history.
There is more magic worked in Shallenoi than anywhere else in Ashfar. The country seems to run on it. At times it is as if the occupants would rather cast a spell than exert themselves in any other way, even for something so simple as to open or close a door, or lift a book from a shelf. The place is, as human wizards have been known to say, 'drunk on magic'.
This island, once a small human prison colony, has been completely taken over by pirates. They prey on ships whose owners are too poor (or too mean) to pay to use the sea-portals and take the long overseas route to the Eagle Nations. The pirates of the Shard are not the only group of freebooters in the Incarnadine Ocean; there is at least one other major group, the sea-harriers, whose home is as yet undiscovered.
The Shard was really a self-created problem for Jehannum, Caldraza and Kahoor. When the Eagle Nations were still in their infancy, these countries used the Shard as a dumping ground for their undesirables, sending them there to live in exile as a preferable fate to execution. The criminals of the Shard soon organized themselves into an efficient force, making weapons from wood and using what limited magic they had to help shape metal. They were able to overpower a ship that came to deliver the next load of convicts, setting the prisoners free and using the ship to harass the colonists who were coming to the Eagle Nations to start a new life.
Reports tell of a Pirate Queen who rules the Shard, supposedly a former noble of Kahoor. The Shard has not been a prison colony for many years; new arrivals are born rather than brought in on ships. A child born in the Shard is raised to be one thing only: a rogue. The rogues trained up on the Shard sometimes make their way to other lands, where they put their skills to good use.
The Desert of Sharn
This bleak, sandy zone of dead land effectively seals off Jehannum and the northwestern countries from the remainder of the eastern continent. It is all but uninhabitable; only monsters, madmen and hard-bitten desert nomads live here.
As if the heat and lack of landmarks were not enough, large lodestone deposits cause magnetic compasses to behave erratically, making magic the only means of navigating the desert. There are legends of demon-haunted rock plateaus in the desert s centre, though these have never been confirmed.
Whereas the colonization of the Eagle Nations was an every-man-for-himself affair, with warriors claiming whatever regions of the Scarred Land they could take, the colonization of Shumil was far more orderly.
Shumil was originally almost as inhospitable as the rest of the Horned Reaches. However, when colonists from Kahoor first arrived, they brought their distinctive irrigation and plateau cultivation methods with them, which quickly brought flourishing crops to the region. Shumil remains a satellite of the Kingdom of Kahoor, supplying that country with exotic spices and silks.
Its culture is much like that of Kahoor but without so much of the old world hierarchy. Shumil is a land of merchants, laborers and tradesmen, not of lords and serfs. Natives of Shumil are usually humorous, sarcastic and enterprising, quick to see the potential profit in any undertaking.
Jagged mountains, known collectively as the Spine, encircle the southernmost landmass of Ashfar. These are not the immense ice peaks of Corona, but a series of broken crooked masses inhabited by frost giants and other monstrous creatures. The land around the South Pole is taboo; none of the residents of the outer mountains will go there. This is because it is a frozen battlefield. It preserves the ice-stiffened bodies of hundreds of dead frost giants and their warriors, a grim memorial of a time when the various giant clans waged war upon each other.
This mountainous region is home to more dwarves than any other part of Ashfar. The rock is rich with precious mineral deposits and good iron ore, and the dwarves have tunneled deep to extract it. The dwarves of Svarth are on good terms with the humans of Jehannum, whose gritty, unsentimental, militaristic ways appeal to them. They have fought alongside them more than once, most notably in the Battle of the Azoic Sea.
The mountains to the northeast of Svarth are not populated by humanoids at all. They are one of the last places in Ashfar to be haunted by dragons. So long as the dragons are left alone, they are willing to leave the dwarves and humans alone. They pursue their own long-smoldering feuds and bitter territorial disputes.
The Topaz Dominions
This mighty kingdom of pyramids and sand dunes is ruled by a Sun King, who his people believe to be the earthly incarnation of a God. Its people are sun-browned and brawny, raised with a respect for wizardly magic, since human wizards are often in charge of the cities here. The Sun King s special infantry forces, the Phoenix Legions, are also priests of his faith, giving them the power to wield divine magic while in the fray.
The lands of the Topaz Dominions are strikingly different from the northern countries, in that buildings are made from clay and stone rather than bricks and mortar, and some of the finer items that one would expect to find are rare or missing altogether (such as sophisticated locks, full plate amour and rapiers). The people are content to live in a more technologically backward land, as the prevalence of magic makes many devices redundant.
To the northeast of Visk are the hills, woods and low mountains of Urmish, which is the closest thing to a goblinoid nation anywhere on Ashfar. As with so many countries, the border with Visk is a river, in this case the river Blute.
Urmish contains massed tribes of orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, ogres and bugbears, without any humanoid settlements at all. Only the jungles of Cendra are less civilized. The Wall of Grand Iora prevents the creatures of Urmish from moving south, while the river Blute and the tough natives of Visk keep them from moving further westwards. It is worth noting that 'Urmish' is the human name for this region; the population themselves do not have a name for it, nor do they even recognize it as a country. It is simply the place where they live.
The predominantly human Republic of Valjinn is a prosperous and stable country. With murky, damp Kandang to the south and the cryptic, bleak mountains of Murduk Râm to the north, Valjinn is a realm of stability between two extremes. The rulers, a council of elected representatives headed by a president referred to as the Falcon Elect, are based in the city of Sephardia.
There is considerable hostility between Kandang and Valjinn. Kandang once occupied the entire region south of Murduk Râm, including the forests of Qual and most of the southern portion of Kahoor. Under the benign (if autocratic) rule of the Dragon-Kings, the entire region was renowned for its wealth, magical prowess and the wisdom of its rulers.
Approximately a thousand years ago, many of the family of the Dragon-Kings were destroyed, along with their patron golden dragons. At the head of this massacre was the black dragon Scalliandrax, who had recently fought and overcome the silver dragon Aristeele above the mountains of Svarth and was now convinced of his own invulnerability. The rule of the golden ones in Kandang had been an annoyance to Scalliandrax for many years; he tore into their civilization without mercy. Many of the humans fled into the eastern forests (the land that is now Qual) for refuge, where groups of elves took pity on them and helped to shelter them.
In the chaos that followed, the remnants of the Dragon-Kings attempted to re-establish their rule over southern Kandang, while a group of ordinary humans were simultaneously rallying the survivors in the north. Without their dragon patrons to guide them, the Dragon-Kings rapidly became mere tyrants, demanding subjection and obeisance. This merely hardened the resolve of the rebels, who declared that Valjinn was to be an independent republic.
The hills of Vella are where the gnomes live. They have kept goodwill with their halfling neighbors in Verd for many years, though they are far more curious and eager to explore the world. The academies of Vella are acknowledged to be the best in the world where mechanical sciences and handcrafting are concerned and as a result, gnome artisans are in high demand. Trainee artisans spend a 'journeyman year' traveling the world, working wherever they are required, usually as jewelers, stonemasons or metal smiths.
The capital city of Vella is Quinazzi, the 'pale snow jewel', a city of canals, walkways and intricate stone fascias.
This green and peaceful country is the home of Ashfar's halflings. They live here as they have always lived, content and isolated from the world. The dangers here are very few; there are no monsters any more and even strangers from other races are uncommon. The elves of Xoth Sarandi intended to build a sea-portal by Verd but the halflings petitioned them not to, as they did not want their home opened up to the world. Their request was honored and Verd was left in peace.
Occasionally, a halfling born in Verd will find the peace and quiet unbearable and go adventuring, taking a ship to Jehannum, Caldraza or the Eagle Nations. Many halfling adventurers hail from Verd and have a strange mixture of homesickness and resentment for the place.
The Empire of Visk covers more ground than any other single dominion of Ashfar, ranging from the temperate eastern zones to the flat northern tundra where only the nomads and shamans go. The people of Visk were nomadic for many generations before they settled and are still most comfortable in the saddle, ranging from town to town. The horsemen of Visk are the finest in the world, whether they are the cavalry of the royal guard or the raiders who prey on the border towns.
The Emperor of Visk is Caranacus, who is sixty years old and looks forty, and rules his empire with the confidence of an unconquerable tyrant. He is known to have escaped death countless times, walking away from assassination attempts that left those around him torn to shreds.
Some say that Caranacus is no longer human, that he is some sort of vampire or incarnate ghost. Others claim that he is one and the same person as the historical conqueror Uzbal Jin, who subjugated the lands of western Visk eight hundred years ago and set an entire city to the torch when they did not capitulate quickly enough. Whatever he may truly be, his people all fear him, even those who adore him and would gladly die in his name.
There is an uneasy peace between Visk and Jehannum, though the nations have been at war more than once in the past. The Desert of Sharn forms a natural shield, though its northern coast is less harsh than its central region and invading armies can be (and have been) sent through it. The most celebrated failed invasion of Jehannum came three hundred years ago in the Battle of the Azoic Sea, when a massive force of troop ships from Visk attempted to land on the eastern coast of Jehannum and were repelled by the dwarves and humans of that land fighting together. The superior siege weaponry on the Jehannum side smashed dozens of the ships of Visk to splinters before they could make landfall.
Beyond the limits of Boskenland and the Eagle Nations lies a zone of barren tundra that ultimately becomes an arctic wasteland. No humanoids have ever settled here, for though there is enough hunting to support life, the area is home to dreadful monsters that shun the warmer climes of the south. There are local tales of a snow warlock or ice queen (the legends vary) who has a frosty citadel in the depths of the Waste, but this has never been seen by human eyes.
The nearest settlement to the Waste is Ommersdale, a thriving town built upon the fur trade.
The island of Xoth Sarandi, home of the elven archmages, is the undisputed centre of the world. Around the island are titanic stone archways, the sea-portals, which connect to similar archways in far-off parts of the globe. This feat of magic has enabled the elves to colonize the various continents and keep their colonies supplied and defended, without having to risk the hazards of the open sea. Later, when the portals were made available to other races, they grew wealthy beyond measure from the fees they were able to charge from the use of their transport system.
Xoth Sarandi is the crossroads of the world. Almost all ocean-going traffic travels to its destination via this magical island. It is almost entirely urbanized, with two tiers to the city. The outer districts are those in which the other races live, along with those elves who are involved with shipping or trade. These districts are essentially a huge mass of dockland, with buildings ranging from salubrious structures of marble where ships with peacock sails lie in harbor all the way down to filthy warehouses and wharves where the worst excesses of the decadent can be indulged.
The inner districts are restricted to the elves and their few honored guests alone. They are, politically and magically, the most important regions in all of Ashfar, as they are the points from where the portal network is controlled. This system is the source of the ruling houses immense wealth and the enduring dominance of the elves, even though they no longer have colonies across the world and the sun has finally set on their empire.