The Rise of the Runelords
The seat of civilizations forgotten by most modern empires, Varisia’s history is etched upon the stones of its innumerable ruins. Few know what mysterious people once ruled these lands, their towering monuments and incredible architectural feats the sole records of an age of power and wonder. Yet, ask the native Varisians of the past and the monoliths that litter their land and only the cold dread in their eyes will answer.
Nearly 300 years ago, Cheliax founded the colony of Korvosa in the supposedly cursed wilderness between its northern provinces and the Lands of the Linnorm Kings. A century of bloody war with the native barbarians, the Shoanti, followed, culminating in southeastern Varisia falling to Chelish rule. Soon after, colonists and adventure seekers of all persuasions came to populate the newly tamed land. Yet, the deeper foreigners trod inland, the greater the mysteries they discovered: endless walls of carved earth, titanic monoliths, and writings no sage recognized. While many viewed these idols and obelisks as evidence of the land’s cursed reputation these oddities did little to halt Cheliax’s imperialistic march.
A century ago, the death of Cheliax’s god Aroden fractured not just the country’s domestic holdings but indefinitely severed its links to numerous colonies, including those in Varisia. Korvosa, the oldest and largest of Varisia’s cities, made overtures of fealty to Cheliax’s diabolical new Magistrix—overtures which went ignored. Abandoned, discord erupted in the city between traditionalists to the dead Chelish theocracy and revolutionaries eager to embrace Cheliax’s new rule. Realizing that infighting would doom all they had accomplished, many of the traditionalists left Korvosa, migrating west and ultimately founding the city of Magnimar.
Today, both Korvosa and Magnimar fancy themselves the center of culture in Varisia. Both cities have birthed or claimed numerous vassal townships in the surrounding lands. Other races have also come as well, integrating with the human populace or claiming their own territories. The natives of the land also remember a time when Varisia was theirs alone and swear the land will once again be theirs.
And, alien and now largely ignored, the monuments of an ancient era look on… biding their time.
A rocky land that slopes from the high Kodar Mountains in the north to the drenched fens of the south, Varisia is a realm sculpted from stone. Yet between the mountain ranges that carve the region, wildly disparate and vibrant lands flourish. The most dramatic natural wonder of Varisia is the Storval Rise, a continuous line of cliffs that runs hundreds of miles and in some places rises as high as 3,000 feet. Adding to this wonder, nearly the entire face of these cliffs bears eroded sculptures, ruined cliff-castles, and grimly carved passages into depths below.
Above the rise stretches the Storval Plateau, a barren, hilly land of sparse vegetation and deadly giants. This is the primary home of the Shoanti. A nomadic people, the barbarians range from the Stony Mountains in the west to the Cinderlands—a badland of ragged tors—in the east.
Below the Storval Rise, rolling hills, dense forests, and rocky plains make up Varisia’s more hospitable reaches. Many of these lands are marked by ancient monoliths, eroded statues, and cairns of unnatural size. To the northwest, hills covered in high grass and windy flatlands form valleys between mountains and the sea. In the south, fertile lands pocked by rocky limestone pavements and mist-shrouded moors border the massive rot of the Mushfens.
Numerous dense deciduous forests also huddle against Varisia’s numerous mountain ranges. While spiders and other vermin infest the Churlwood, the ghosts of werewolves are said to haunt the Ashwood. Few dare brave the Lurkwood, for its dark trees grow and shed their leaves in an order not set by the seasons. Deadly and deathly things have also long been rumored to haunt the northern Sanos Forest, but the gnome population of the wilderness’s southern arm has done much to dismiss such tales. Finally, the Mierani Forest was once and is now again a home to elves. While they have done much in the 200 years since their reappearance to treat with the peoples of Varisia’s southern lands, the elves permit few outsiders entrance to their woodland home.
Passionate and fiercely independent, Varisians lend their name to their homeland, Varisia. While these clannish wanderers can be found throughout the world, nowhere are larger populations found than in the land of their ancestors.
Insular and adhering to an ancient, nomadic way of life, extended families of Varisians form wandering communities, traveling wherever fate directs them. Varisians don’t believe in claiming land and thus see no hardship in their nomadism. While nature provides for most of their needs, these wanderers often visit the cities and towns of settled people to trade art and curios from their travels, earn coin by entertaining and performing small jobs, and sometimes to con and steal from the unwary. Varisians are also known for their unique mysticism. Some believe their traditional dances provide insights into the future and their family elders can hear the voices of the long dead.
The typical Varisian possesses deep olive skin and hair that ranges from black to auburn, often worn long by both men and women. Customary tattooing leads most to exhibit complex patterns and symbols significantly different from those worn by the Shoanti who share their homeland. As wanderers and-—often-—entertainers, Varisian dress tends toward extremes, from functional garb fit for traveling to wildly impractical dress meant to accentuate their dancing, exotic tattoos, and naturally fit forms.