The various lands were invigorated by the fresh influx of wealth and soldiers, and petty squabbles soon erupted into war. Each separate ruler sought to conquer his neighbor, and solidify his hold on the land. After nearly a century of smaller wars and battles, a king finally emerged that controlled all of the dukes under him. Forcing them to swear loyalty and fealty, King Arnold Agrin began the reign of the Vridaran Empire in 950 Avard. Some trade happened with the eastern kingdoms, either by sea or overland, through the lands held by the Granite Clan of dwarves. Influenced by dwarven construction and eastern philosophies, Mikindim and Rahne became the dominant deities in Vridara.
Several border skirmishes occurred between the Toomaran Tribes and Vridara, as the fertile prairie plains appeared appetizing to the land-hungry Vridarans. The Toomaran cavalry's ability to strike hard and then fade away into the plains made it virtually impossible for the Vridarans to hold any land. The Vridaran forests and heavily fortified castles made it impossible for the Toomarans to invade and exact an appropriate revenge, so blood feuds lasted for decades.
In 1021, the Autumn Earth Tribe captured the wife of the Earl of Sorel. Tales and legends of atrocities galvanized the Vridaran lords, and they struck back against all the Toomaran Tribes with a ferocity akin to their crusading fathers. At the head of the attacks was a knight armed with the Princess Sword -- a two-handed, silvery blade, said to have a woman carved into the handle. The Princess Sword led the Vridaran forces in a number of battles, beating back the Autumn Earth Tribe, and leading the empire's forces even into the Night Sky and Pale Snow Tribes. During the winter, the war was forced to a stand still by a harder than normal northerly that blanketed the ground with thick snow and ice.
In the spring of 1022, the Princess Sword and its Knight Errant changed sides -- led by the wife of the Earl of Sorel. A large portion of the Vridaran nobility was wiped out in Toomaran territory, and a coup quickly occurred back in the capital, Brevit. The new king of Vridara quickly sued for peace, and the Toomaran Overchief agreed. The Earl of Sorel, leading a rogue detachment of knights bent on revenge, attempted to thwart the peace process. The Earl, his wife, and her champion wielding the Princess Sword were all slain by both the Toomarans and the Vridaran Royal Guard. The peace process continued on; because of the respect warriors on both side had accrued, the peace was a lasting one. Trade began, tentatively at first, and then with more force.
Unable to take land to the south, the Vridarans attempted to take land from the less nomadic Amaran Tribes, but their powerful druids and rangers held them back. Minor skirmishes continue to the present day between the Vridaran Empire and the Amarans.
Kings have come and gone through the four-hundred year history of the young nation. The empire lives on, strong in traditions and faith, with a powerful military spirit and a very cautious king. During the Inquisition, a great many Seekers and priests moved into the empire from over the Granite Mountains. During the War of the Undead, the eastern mountains were destroyed, leaving behind scattered fragments and low-lying hills. The Molten Mountains still hold some remnants of the Granite Clan of dwarves, but evil creatures and many undead keep treasure-seekers at a minimum. Many undead moved through the empire towards the east in a mass migration, but for the most part, Vridara's power is still intact.
Use: The farming soil is a rocky, sandy, clayish mix that is difficult to work with, save near the rivers. There, the high silt content means just sandy and clayish. Traditional crops just meet the demands of Vridara itself, with little left over for export. The majority of the farming surfaces in Vridara are terraced up the sides of valleys, using cleverly constructed irrigation and drainage systems. This protects the crops from flooding in the spring thaws and summer storms, and makes them more difficult to conquer by neighboring lords. The rest of the woods are hunted for their pelts and furs.
Water: Because of the many hills and small mountains in Vridara, there are a myriad of softer, limestone caves and underground rivers. Most of these underground rivers run from east to west, unlike the above-ground rivers, which run from south to north. Where they cross, surface eddies might be the only indication that just beneath the surface of the water, a powerful whirlpool current exists. Water and watery pools on the surface are fairly common, and strong fogs and mists often roll up over all the land.
Weather: The rainy season is early spring and late fall, just after and just before the winter snows. The summers are rather humid, dry, and hot, all at once. Thunderstorms do roll in on occasion during the summer months, giving rise to flash floods, tornadoes, and lightning storms. The winter storms bring several feet of snow and moderately cold temperatures. Rarely do the rivers ice over, but it happens every generation or so.
Animals: The animal life in Vridara is fairly dangerous, ranging from wolves to boar. The occasional large ankheg or stag beetle can still be found in the wilder portions of Vridara, especially close to the Molten Mountains the Ovor Hills. More rarely, deinychus will surge up out of the many caves, or a snapper-saw tree will be found. The higher hills and mountains to the east of the forests contain megalocentipeds and whip scorpions in abundance, and have never been tamed despite the empire's best efforts. What mining towns exist there, are constantly under guard and protection, making for nerve-wracking stays. Ancient dwarven legends of retribution for violating the once-dwarven mines also contribute to the scarcity of men in the Molten Mountains and the Ovor Hills.
Keynotes: Koobrick Island, a stony and mountainous land with steep sides, is mined for iron as well. The dangerous approaches to the island, as well as the harsh conditions there, have made it a prison, where the worst criminals are sent from the empire.
Cavalry: Leading the footmen are the knights, mounted on massive chargers and armored in heavy plate mail. The classic knight's weapon in Vridara is the bastard sword, backed by a shield with a spike upon it. Lances are rarely used in the Vridaran Forests because of the heavy brush, and the inability of most chargers to rise to full speed in the close in-fighting that occurs in the forests. Most knight's chargers are armored in plate, as well, reflecting the heavy emphasis Vridara places on steel and power in war. The average knight is a 3rd-level fighter.
Artillery: Ballistae are the most common siege engine in the empire, as catapults and trebuchets are useless in limited visibilities. Sieges are rare enough occurrences, and the high-backed mountains usually sited for castles are virtually impossible to take, save by treachery and trickery. Architecture has been a high point of study in the empire, and its roads, castles, buildings, and fortifications are among the strongest to be found.
Bows: Bows are not very popular in Vridara, due to the scarcity of bow-quality woods. Shortbows and reinforced shortbows are usually borrowed from the Toomarans. Longbows and the like are reserved for the nobility, who can afford the rare woods and arrows necessary for such.
Navy: Vridara's navy exists primarily to transport troops up and down the Tim and Roger Rivers, and throughout the Gulf of Tompkin. To prevent piracy and other trouble on the high seas, the empire has a small fleet of warships. Heavily armored and slow, the naval forces pack the heavy catapults and trebuchets aboard their large decks. Though the navy rarely can catch pirates on the seas themselves, its smaller sloops act as able spies and saboteurs, and can bring down the full might of the empire's navy to fixed positions and ports. The sailors are typically armed with shortswords, and wear studded leather. The average sailor is a 1st-level fighter.
Elite: The military elite of Vridara are the Imperial Royal Guard. They act as both as body guards for the king, and as his personal envoys and heralds. They wear mithral banded mail, covered in red-dyed leather. All of their leather is the same Imperial Red, and they wear a considerable amount of it. Their chief weapons are the classic bastard swords of the knights (also made of mithral), backed by iron spears and spiked mithral shields. They wear red leather capes and hoods, together with their spears and the bastard swords they carry on their hips. The average Royal Guardsman is an 8th-level fighter.
Mercs: Mercenaries operate within the confines of the empire with considerable freedom. "Post Inns," which serve light drinks and have military-style rooms, serve primarily to post work requests for mercenaries. A full-time scribe can usually be found tending these Post Inns, and he regularly updates the requests for mercenaries, based off of the needs of the merchants (who rarely visit the Post Inns themselves). Nearly all well-to-do merchants are assumed to have body guards which are basically contract mercenaries hired through the Post Inns. There is no official Mercenaries' Guild within Vridara for this reason, though the Merchants' Guilds hold considerable power over the mercenaries.
Citizenry: With a strong military tradition, and a history of crusaders peacefully invading, nearly every peasant and commoner has military blood. At one time, it could be assumed that a worn shortsword or a rusty suit of scale mail was hidden in every peasant or commoner's home. The military's stranglehold on steel has forced many to trade or rework their old arms and armament, so the peasantry's weapons are usually wooden affairs -- pole arms with splint mail, and the like.
Assignments: The majority of the footmen can be found scattered throughout the various cities of the Empire, acting as police and city-guards, each responding to the nobility in charge of that city. Many of the knights work both within the city, and along the roads, ensuring the safety of the highways. The Royal Guard are rarely found outside of Brevit, though they can occasionally be found traveling escorted by knights from the capital building to outlying dukes with important messages or commands. The border with the Toomarans is very loose, with only footmen to check merchant cargoes and check for contraband. The various docks districts are likewise protected by footmen, and all foreigners are given considerably more inspection than natives. The border with the Amarans is heavily patrolled, and replete with small forts; few people actually travel from one or another nation into the other, without considerable bribery or heavy escort. Travelers are usually turned aside, unless they can prove Vridaran special interests to the captain of the fort.
Classes: Class is everything in Vridaran culture, and the considerable mobility within the classes gives many hope. The feudal system dominates, though classes within the church, guilds, military, and in various trades are well respected.
Taboos: Vridarans are afraid of magic, since the nation was founded by crusaders. Many of the native taboos stem from associations with magic, and witchcraft. Black cats, huge cauldrons of bubbling goo, sprinklings of dust or salt on a person, and strangely enough, quarterstaffs, are all considered ill omens. Nudity is not an uncommon thing, given the public baths and the occasional need to prevent soiling of clothes, but for the most part, the Vridarans are a fairly prudish people. One of the gravest insults in Vridaran culture is the 'gesture of the missing finger'; to show all five fingers, though with the ring finger bent back out of sight, is to imply that a man (or woman) has not the prerequisite body parts to consummate a marriage.
Commonlaws: Displaying the missing finger gesture is an easy way to bring trouble with the footmen, often leading to a fine. Fines are the most common form of punishment for crimes, and failure to pay fines leads to indentured servitude. Theft is often punished with fines or servitude worth twelve times the value of the object stolen. Because of this, owners often keep a close eye on their valuables; however, to have an object stolen and not know how it happened is considered a mild failure on the part of the owner. Open bribery is illegal, particularly in coin, and few Vridarans can be bought off in this fashion. Bribery with 'gifts' or gems is much more effective -- and nor is it illegal. Women tend to have as many rights as men, though they cannot give oaths of fealty; as such, women cannot serve in the military, or occupy positions in government. All verbal oaths are binding, especially because the Church of Lul or Rahne can establish the truth of the matter before the courts. The courts are usually the local landed owner, though only an Earl, Duke, or the King are allowed to decide on matters of death.
Mannerisms: Vridarans tend to be quick to smile, and are masters of body language and facial expressions. They pride themselves on being calm and calculating, and it is not unusual for one to faint when faced with the impossible. Men tend to nod in greeting to one another, or clasp wrists with old friends or partners. Women do much the same, though are often more reserved with men, than with their own. Both genders tend to eat in a hurry, with their mouths open, rarely savoring food, and seeing it only as fuel. (In truth, most Vridarans have a poor sense of taste and smell.)
Holidays: (For full holiday listings, please consult the calendar table in the main Gaeleth entry section.) Davor the 24th is often celebrated as the founding of Vridara. No trade takes place, and the churches are generally packed with followers giving thanks to their various saints and archons. The celebration begins at midnight with fasting until noon, and then everyone enjoys feasts with free food and drink, and much reveling until that midnight, when the holiday is officially over. Of particular importance is Dacal the 2nd. In Vridara, celebrations of Lul begin on Cal the 27th, and continue on through Dacal the 7th. Vridarans give gifts of literature and jewelry, and spend a great deal of time in the Libraries of Lul, or at home reading or displaying their gifts. Parties are often quiet, sober affairs, and a great deal of resting and sleeping goes on.
Appearance: Because wealth is so important, the quality of clothing is very important to most Vridarans. The national dress is usually very functional, however, and so frilly or extravagant clothing is considered distasteful and gaudy. There is a great deal of pride in high-quality, functional clothing that is at once both subtly pleasing to the eye, and imminently useful. Men tend to wear leather breeches, tucked into mid-calf boots. They wear cotton or woolen shirts depending on the season, with large vests full of pockets. Inclement weather brings out large overcoats of varying thicknesses. Women tend to wear leather dresses cut only to mid calf, and boots very similar to those of the men, as well as vests. Colors tend to be somewhat conservative, but dye variation within a single article of clothing can be an indication of quality, so that a pair of breeches might be brown near the boots, and ochre near the waist. Varying amounts of gold or silver thread, coupled with silks and jewelry, is usually the easiest indicator of station. Men's hair tends to be long, with long mustaches, and women tend to wear their hair in intricate braids. (Men in Vridara are renowned for their ability to manipulate braids, and it can be assumed that every man in Vridara can braid hair.)
Foods: Their cuisine is simple and easy to prepare -- heavy in meats with lots of stewed vegetables. Occasionally fish supplements the Vridaran diet, but the majority of the meat is either pork, fowl, or deer. Farming is common only near the castles and on terraces in the mountains; the rest of the land is used for hunting. Farmers and hunters both are respected equally, and each is assumed to be able to prepare the foods he grows or gathers. Cooking is therefore a common thing for men to experiment with, especially in the summer growing season.
Barter: Though foreign coins are unacceptable, jewels and gems are. Many Vridarans can be assumed to know the value of various precious and semiprecious stones. Moneylenders and jewelers often exchange coin for gems, or store them with written receipts for a small fee. Exchanges usually occur with a modest 10% price, though exceedingly rare gems can require 20 or 30% for fees. For truly large transactions of money, the international standard of bullion is accepted in Vridara. Vridaran bullion is untinted, but bears the royal crest of certified purity -- a falcon with balancing scales held in its claws.
Exports: The empire exports a fair number of furs, as well as lumber, silk, grapes, and mead. Mead is the most common drink in Vridara, with wine following at a close second. In the Gulf of Tompkin, rare mussels and snails yield up a fine purple dye for export. Several special hills yield up ochres that, when treated, give a blood-red dye that is the color of the royal court and guard. The Molten Mountains and the Ovor Hills, once a part of the Granite Mountains, give up raw iron and occasionally mithral. The military owns first rights to all iron and mithral, and the secret to manufacturing mithrel is a closely guarded state secret. Because of this, smiths are held in high regard, and may never leave the country. Stonemasons and carpenters have made up for the lack of steel and iron pinnings, cleverly bypassing the need for large amounts of iron. Iron and mithral rarely leave the empire, save on diplomatic or military excursions.
Imports: Vridara imports a fair amount of grain to supplement what it grows on its terraces. In addition to grain, it imports quick-silver for tanning purposes, lead, and silver. Its net trade balance each year hovers close to zero, and so it imports a fair amount of gold from its neighbors, as well, in the form of luxury items. The empire's tariff's are rather stiff, and most foreign sellers must pay a high price to do business in Vridara. The internal commercial systems are thus over-protected, and able to import what they choose without fear of foreign competition.
Customs: Customs agents are rather fair, save at the Amaran border, and some one in three are open to minor 'gifts' to aid cargoes through.
Contraband: As mentioned earlier, iron and mithral rarely leave the country. Incoming contraband deals mainly with drugs and poisons, as well as magical items. One interesting piece of 'contraband' is literature eaten through with bookworms or the like. Customs agents are well trained on spotting such, and will peruse all documents not sealed.
Cities: Lamental, at the mouth of the Tim River, is the next largest city in the empire. Like Brevit, it is ruled by its own duke, and has extensive wharves and docks. It also has the modern accruments of engineering and architecture, but instead of fountains, the city is renowned for its small parks with bleeding stones.
Temples: The Tome of Knowledge is the largest temple to Lul in Vridara, found directly across from the palace grounds in Trevit. A monastery to Mikindim exists in the Molten Mountains, known as the Kiminaran. The ten churches to Rahne found in Trevit are actually arranged in a strategic grid formation, and the collapse of certain alleyways and buildings links the churches together into a walled fortification with church-towers around the heart of the city; this arrangement is known as the Ten Churches. The main temple to Rahne in Trevit is known as the "Kurangier", which in Common translates to "The Fist of War".
Tales of Sylvan Elves deep within the forests continue to pop up from time to time. There are legends of whole tribes that have escaped the Vridaran Inquisition, hiding in the dense underbrush. It is rumored that the elves kidnap small children and raise them as agents, to be reintroduced into Vridaran culture as spies. 'Elf child' is a wickedly barbed insult, usually aimed at outsiders.
There are reputedly ancient dwarven ruins within the Molten Mountains to the northeast. The dwarves have always been respected by the Vridarans, partially because of their skill, and partially because of their wealth. A handful of old tomes have been discovered within the hills and mountains, and though the bodies were respectfully left alone and reconsecrated by various priests, the tomes themselves were looted quite efficiently.
One of the greatest legends of the crusaders, was of a holy weapon lost deep within the forests. The weapon was known as Resonance, and through the holy might of its god, could shatter any weapon that opposed it in combat. Resonance's exact nature and god varies, depending on who tells the tale, but there is little doubt it exists. The weapon was supposedly guarded by a covey of hags that escaped the crusaders and the Inquisition.
Cardinal Shalar Hasovan: High priest of the Church of Lul in Vridara, the cardinal pretends to be a fat, jolly imbecile in the teal and purple robes of his office. Out of his robes, he tends to wear silenced chain mail beneath his cassock, and carries a heavy mace. His 'out of office' attitude is extraordinarily intelligent, very sharp, and also very blunt -- so much so that many of his attending bishops fear his sharp tongue. He is a 12th-level cleric. He is often found traveling to the various churches of Lul in Vridara, though his home is the Tome of Knowledge in Trevit.
Cardinal Ayella Dast: High priest of the Church of Rahne in Vridara, she is a small, quiet woman wearing scale mail with blue and gray woolen trim. The cardinal listens more often than she speaks, and her words are sparingly used, but like a coiled spring, she can unleash a tirade that shakes walls and shatters egos. Always with her is a tall Toomaran Shadow Guardian (see prestige class) of 8th-level. The cardinal herself is a 13th-level cleric, and can often be found among one of the Ten Churches in Trevit, or in Kurangier.
Duke Zavastar: The most powerful duke in all Vridara, his lands encompass Lamental and the northern portions of the nation. Cold and calculating, he uses friends and enemies alike in a perpetual attempt to seize the throne from King Gonot. As ruthless as he is cunning, he divides his time between the Imperial Court and his own castle just south of Lamental. He is a 9th-level Rogue.
Royal Guardsman Zan: The head of the military in Vridara, Zan is also the head of the Royal Guard. A warrior of exceptional quality, and half Toomaran, he is a battle-scarred veteran that has seen almost everything in combat, and in the courts. Rumored to have a weakness for the ladies, he often displays a kerchief on his right arm from whichever lady he currently dallies with. Zan is a 16th-level fighter.
Grandmaster Kargil: Though retired from active guild service, Kargil is considered by all to be the greatest blacksmith in Vridaran history. Living in Sanovel, just west of Trevit on the Roger River, he creates custom weapons, armor, and equipment for only the richest of patrons -- but his quality is renowned. It is rumored that he had a dwarven teacher. Kargil is an 18th-level expert.
Regional feats for Vridarans include: Armor Proficiency (light, medium, and heavy), Exotic Weapon Proficiency (bastard swords), Mounted Combat, Negotiator, and Shield Proficiency.