Istivin : City of Shadows.
In the shadows of the great western mountains lies a tragic nation devastated by war and poisoned by the opportunistic crush of would-be nobles holding false claims on ravaged manors and overgrown fields. Eight years ago, an army of giants and savage humanoids surged from the mountain crags, conquering the land’s armies and capturing its haunted capital, the star-crossed city of Istivin. This is the Marchland of Sterich, and its terrible secrets hold countless possibilities.
The people of Sterich are hardy and independent. They pride themselves on their independence and toughness. In the past two generations, the poplulation has hardened to violence and bloodlust. In Istivin, once the grand coliseum used to hold horse racing and contests of strength and skill. These days, gladitorial bloodsports are more frequent.
Istivin lies at the political and geographic heart of the March of Sterich. The nation’s capital since its founding nearly 800 years ago, Istivin is the hereditary seat of the House of Qualtaine, modest rulers largely content to enjoy the wealth of vast mining operations in the nearby Jotens and Crystalmist Mountains. Maintaining those mines often meant cutting through tribes of savage humanoids and giants, however, and these struggles brought turmoil to Sterich for eight centuries. With its soaring walls and sturdy keep, Istivin and its citizens weathered many brutal incursions over the years.
Then, eighteen years ago, Istivin fell under attack from a wholly unanticipated opponent — Lolth, Demon Queen of Spiders. An immense black hemisphere of eldritch energy appeared over Krelont Keep and much of the city’s central square, completely cutting off the government and constabulary housed within. Brave citizens were able to cross through the energy barrier, but none returned from its inky depths. Worse, the hemisphere expanded slowly, every day engulfing more of the city.
At the same time, organized raids by giant-led savage humanoids surged into the lowlands of Sterich, hitting the nation’s border forts with devastating effect. Only the timely intervention of brave and powerful adventurers ( SUCH AS YOURSELVES ) destroyed the giant threat, unveiling it as the work of Darkelves from below the Crystalmists. Descending into the depths of the earth, these adventurers penetrated the fabled Vault of the Drow and ultimately ventured to the Abyss itself to solve the mystery of the black hemisphere, which turned out to be the physical manifestation of an attempt by Lolth to draw Istivin—and eventually all of Oerth—into her hideous Demonweb. With Lolth’s machinations defeated, Krelont Keep and its inhabitants returned to Istivin unharmed.
Ten years ago, mountain dwarves from the southwest of the city sent warning to Istivin of a new giant and savage humanoid force gathering near the mountain headwaters of the Davish River. Soon thereafter, contact with the dwarfholds ceased altogether. Istivin moved against the threatening incursion but failed to anticipate the speed and ferocity with which the assault would come. The nation’s unprepared and undermanned border forts buckled under the fierce assault, and many of their surviving soldiers fled to the interior to defend the capital. Sterich’s western baronies fell quickly as the forces of the Giant King Galmoor marched for Istivin. Overmatched and unprepared, Earl Querchard ordered a complete evacuation. Less than a decade after Lolth’s black hemisphere, Istivin had fallen.
Humbled, Earl Querchard fled to the city of Flen, in the neighboring kingdom of Keoland. Although now virtually independent, Sterich had been established as a Keolandish vassal state, and King Skotti felt some responsibility for its fall. He promoted Querchard to the title of marquis, and installed the ruler at the head of a vast army of reclamation that struck back against the giants eight years ago. When the blooded army hacked its way to Istivin, they discovered a completely abandoned capital, with no sign of King Galmoor or his savage host. The city’s ancient buildings remained almost wholly intact, unlike the other conquered settlements of Sterich. A puzzled Querchard resumed his position of rulership in Krelont Keep and set to the task of liberating the whole of the land.
As the land grew rich from the yield of its mines, more and more men of allegedly high station flocked to Sterich to seek dispensation from its first earl.
The last two decades saw the nobles of Sterich scattered before the advance of savage armies. Many of the nation’s barons died defending their lands or fell into financial ruin when they abandoned their estates. As such, the reclamation has brought with it great confusion over who is and isn’t a noble of Sterich, with unknown heirs and cousins of cousins coming forth to claim title and lands left behind by their departed or missing kin. Adding to this confusion is an influx of many minor Keoish nobles (mainly second sons and scions of bankrupt houses) who contributed troops and treasure to the liberation of Sterich and who now seek repayment through grant and title to improve their own fortunes. Istivin has become a gathering point for opportunistic nobles both genuine and fraudulent.
Into this confusion has come an influx of adventurers and profiteers seeking title and lands. Some of these profit-seekers are little more than common thieves, and more than one “baron” has been found knifed in an alley by the morning patrols. You will be able to blend in easily.
The wife of the missing marquis ( Missing 4 years now ) , Marchioness Resbin Dren Emondav, has adopted the role of her husband. She is intelligent, though lacking in imagination, and sees the rule of law as the answer.
The marchioness has brought laws barring the entry of all unauthorized personnel into Krelont Keep or the city’s military citadels. Individuals caught impersonating nobles of Sterich or Keoland face a short trial and quick execution. Those caught inciting violence through word or deed face long sentences in the city dungeons.
Eight years ago, Marquis Querchard and the nobles of Sterich led the nation’s armies to victory in a bloody campaign that reclaimed Istivin and the whole of the realm. Today, this once proud force has been consumed by inefficiency, its honored regiments squandered under the command of antagonistic nobles squabbling amongst themselves for control of regained land. But Istivin itself remains a bastion of military competence and discipline.
Sterich’s military marches to the orders of General Commander of the Army of the March Griffage Terpin, a crusty mountain fighter who earned his fame against the giants, bugbears, and ogres of the Joten mountains. Terpin directs the nation’s military affairs from Istivin’s East Citadel, and answers directly to the marchioness. Emondav appointed him general commander after his predecessor, Tybold Borm, fell to an assassin’s knife three years ago, and he is unswervingly loyal to her every command (and, according to calumnious wags, to her every desire).
Second only to the general commander is Karri Velthundle, who has been the Marshall of the Sterish Cavalry for more than 200 years. A succession of Sterich’s rulers have asked her to assume the role of general commander, but she has always refused, preferring to concentrate on her passion and combat specialty — light cavalry. Velthundle’s tactics combine horsemanship and magic, and the ranks of her renowned mounted order swell with warriors armed with spells as well as steel. They reside in West Citadel, near the Trade Gate.
Sterich’s army was gutted in the giant invasion and blooded badly during the recent reconquest. Many of the current officers replaced others who fell during the war, and were promoted based on their skill and experience battling giants and savage humanoids. The 600-some soldiers stationed in Istivin are thus a finely honed unit.