From Saratof, the capital of the Empire, to Niesse, the heart of orc hatred, and from the hot sands of Ardaya’s endless desert to Cloudforger’s frigid peaks, Chaldea is a world with myriad fascinating locations to discover and explore.
Ardaya is one of the largest kingdoms on the continent of Niessia, dominating the lands to the east of Niesse. Its capital is the underground city of Raqmu.
Dushara’s Bounty, a gigantic sandstone plateau, spans the western half of Ardaya. Little more than a rock crust, nothing can grow on what is considered to likely be the literal continental shelf. The hills and mountains of Niesse rise up from it, as if this plateau were its foundation, a country-sized shelf with mountains affixed to its surface.
Mighty rivers flow in deep gorges across the plateau. In these gorges the Ardayan people endure a difficult existence, farming and herding in the bottoms of these ravines. These deep chasms and canyons are connected via underground passageways, of which even locals concede “only a few know them all.” Entryways to this network are hidden in plain sight among a never-ending surface tableau of rock cracks and fissures. These passageways are used as part of an extensive trade network connecting Ardaya to the independent Nabatean Trade Cities on the coast, Mycanea to the north, and even the orc kingdom of Niesse to the west.
In spite of the limited sunlight that reaches the bottoms of these gorges, the land itself is quite fertile. The Ardayans credit Dushara, head of the Qurayshite pantheon, for having blessed this region. Most enthralling, one could travel the breadth of Ardaya and pass within hundreds of feet of tens of thousands of Ardayans yet never see even one of them.
At the eastern edge of this plateau is a drop of thousands of feet into a sea of sand called the Endless Desert. The rivers plummet out of the gorges and into this plain of sand, where water collects in its center; there, it is so hot the water evaporates (or sinks into a large underground sea beneath the Endless Desert) as quickly as it flows into sand.
Three large yet shallow lakes called the Tears of the Trinity—so shallow, one can walk 50 miles across without getting wet above the waist—collect this water until it evaporates. Each lake is named after one of the female trinity of Qurayshite deities: from north to south, they are the Tears of Al-Uzza, the Tears of Allat, and the Tears of Manat.
Ardaya is inspire by the real-world Nabateans, an Arab kingdom from antiquity. Raqmu is the Nabatean name for Petra. The Qurayshites were the pantheon of deities worshipped by the Nabateans before polytheism gave way first to Christianity and then to Islam.
Augstat, the capital of the Kingdom of Hesse, is a city of roughly 50,000 people. It is also the most important port city of the western coast of Niessia. Though not nearly as large as major cities like Saratof or Regis that are closer to the heart of the Empire, Augstat remains the most important port city of the western coast of Niessia.
Demographics: Most of the city’s citizens are humans of Hessen ethnicity. As with most cities this size, Augstat contains small communities of halflings, dwarves, elves, and orcs (well-segregated, of course), but only the halfling community is large enough to reach even 1% of the city’s overall population.
Terrain: Augstat is a hilly, port city. The mouth of the Garnon River is just north of the city, as is the Garnon Forest itself.
Economy: Augstat’s economy is primarily comprised of trade and metalwork. Most of the trade is simple and regional, with coastal and river ships the agricultural goods brought in from the countryside. These are complemented by a modest but steady stream of international cargo ships from port cities all over Chaldea. The city also hosts a trade in rare specialty goods that can only be found in the enchanted Garnon Forest to the north.
Locations of Note
- The Rubenstein Lodge. The oldest building in Augstat is The Lodge, a mystical tower that has served as Rubenstein’s guild lodge since the founding of the order over 700 years ago. Rubenstein is an order of magicians brought together to serve a single ideal: The crimes of magicians are best judged by magicians. Throughout Chaldea, Rubenstein is called upon in many courts to advise on laws and crimes involving the supernatural.
- Enchantment’s Guard. Just north of Augstat is Enchantment’s Guard. Originally an ancient dwarven fortress, it was repurposed by humans once most dwarves migrated underground. Enchantment’s Guard is one of the largest fortresses in Chaldea and is the headquarters of the 10th Legion, as well as the home and offices of Hellwig Gustavus, governor of Niessia, which makes it the ultimate seat of power on the continent.
- Lordint’s School of Forging. Lordint is an outcast dwarf and Chaldea’s greatest weaponsmith and armorer. In his school, Lordint teaches his craft to those who have a talent for it, both dwarves and non-dwarves alike.
- The Kordavan Informant. The Kordavan Informant (KI) is Chaldea’s first founded newspaper. Taking advantage of a gnome invention called the gnoter, which was designed to help the deal with the ballooning paperwork requirements of a worldwide empire, the founder of the KI invented the newspaper and now there are KI offices in several major cities around the world. The headquarters, however, remain rooted in Augstat.
- University of Augstat. The largest house of learning in Niessia.
- International Faire. A large central plaza in Augstat, the International Faire serves as the “city center” and, in the mornings, a farmers’ market. By contrast, it is also the preferred venue for public executions.
- Boars Fallow. Every city has its rough part of town, and Augstat’s is rougher than most. The neighborhood of Boars Fallow is home to the dreaded Black Daggers, outcast dwarves, halfling rogues, drug dens, orc mercenaries, black marketers, slave traders, and even pirates and privateers.
- Brendan Abbey. The large palatial estate of the King of Hesse, King Brendan the Tall.
- Altiflector. Before Augstat was founded, a dwarven city named Durstock stood in the same location. Durstock was destroyed in the Claw-Hammer War a thousand years ago, and now the Altiflector district has developed amid the ruins from that era. The Rubenstein Lodge is here, which further enhances the district’s reputation as haunted. The only homes and businesses in this district are those rare individuals who prefer to live in dark, spooky places.
Pre-1,000 Years Ago. The dwarven city, Durstock, is established roughly where Augstat is today, although slightly more inland.
1,000 Years Ago. Durstock is destroyed by dragons in the Claw-Hammer War. Enchantment’s Guard survives the war, but both it and Durstock are abandoned when the dwarves begin migrating deep underground. For the next three-hundred years, nothing of note happens here.
700 Years Ago. Two magicians, Kouri and Arismarne, form Rubenstein, an order of magicians. They build a tower, The Lodge, within the ruins of Durstock. Other magicians visit from time to time, and eventually a trading post, specializing in the types of odd things that can be found in the enchanted Garnon Forest to the north—things magicians might prize—sprouts up just outside the ruins.
Year -680. Earliest reliable reference to Augstat, as a fishing village near the ruins of Durstock. Founded by one of the few tribal chieftains of the era who recorded events in order to supply his family and men-at-arms based in Enchantment’s Guard with a steady supply of food.
Year -540. August is declared the capital city of the newly formed Kingdom of Hesse.
Year 5. After yet another Hessen uprising against Emperor Kordaava is squelched, Kordaava appoints Legatus Hellwig Gustavus as Governor of Niessia. Augstat becomes the seat of continental rule until the present day, spurring tremendous growth.
Year 41. Present day. Augstat’s population has nearly doubled over the last 36 years
Hesse is inspired by the real-world Teutonic Knights of the 13th century.
The gnoter is essentially a gnome, steampunk-esque version of a printing press.
Enchantment’s Guard is a massive facility that could house an entire township within. Indeed, as the home of the 10th Legion, Enchantment’s Guard can easily accommodate the soldiers, families, supporting auxilia, stores, and armaments of the entire legion. It’s so large that the entire north wing of the complex remains sealed and unused.
Dwarves originally built Enchantment’s Guard over 1000 years ago when they lived on the surface of Chaldea. During the Claw-Hammer War, as the dwarves descended underground, they abandoned Enchantment’s Guard rather than see it destroyed by dragons.
Since the dwarves abandoned Enchantment’s Guard, humans have fought over the citadel repeatedly. It played a key role in the history of Hesse, serving the role of “the mountain” in a regional game of King of the Mountain. Possession of Enchantment’s Guard has always signified a sort of de facto right to rule, at least by those who believe might makes right, an ethos sensible to many ancient Hessens.
The Kingdom of Marn is a vast, chaotic forest-jungle that borders the Great Sea to the north and the continent of Somarria to the south. This quixotic land is rich with diverse otherworldly creatures, insects the size of small elephants, groves of thousand-foot-tall deciduous trees, and dark chasms that plunge to the continent’s core. Marn is the only kingdom in all of Chaldea devoid of civilization—it has no known cities or towns, not even frontier villages. It’s one of the great mysteries in all of Chaldea.
Very little is known of Marn except for what can be seen from its borders. No one goes into Marn, and those who claim to have done so are ridiculed and named as braggarts. Even the longest-lived Chaldeans (elves and dragons) know little of the land and share even less of what they have learned. They call the wood kingdom Lysa Thalor, a name born in the predawn history of Chaldea before the Claw Hammer War.
What can be seen from the land’s edges are thickset trees, twisted and malformed— oak and maple and sometimes willows, all luxuriant and intertwined. These trees are far different from their counterparts found elsewhere in Chaldea—in Marn, they seem to have somehow burst their seams to grow taller and darker, with exposed root systems that reach out like thick fingers to lunge for and stab what ground remains within their reach
Three things are known to hail from Marn:
1) Marn elves (also called “Marners,” the mad elves of Lysa Thalor). Marn elves have existed in this land for countless thousands of years. They are uniquely identifiable in the global culture of elves—they cover their bodies in mysterious tribal tattoos, bark grafts and body alterations of studded jewelry, bones and beads. Some say it is these body alterations that cause the Marn elves to go insane and attack anyone who dares enter their land.
2) The C’Tharki. These enormous six-foot metallic beetles have a mane of prehensile tentacles that encircles their head. Once a year the C’Tharki swarm, attacking and eating everything within reach of their tentacles. No one is safe during the swarm, especially the small villages that risk encroachment on Marn’s borders. The C’Tharki carapaces are highly prized in weapons manufacturing.
3) Potent drugs and hallucinogenic elixirs. As one famous saying goes, “The best things come from Marn.” Ranged all along Marn’s vast borders are shantytowns and villages dedicated to a booming drug trade. Drugs from Marn hook anyone and everyone willing to consume them. Once within the hold of the “Marn meds,” people lose themselves to the wild, chaotic, and haunting dreams that only a place like Marn can create.
The city of Niesse is one of the oldest seats of power in Chaldea. A thousand years ago, when the dwarves ruled Chaldea, Niesse served as the dwarven capital of all of Chaldea.
During the Claw-Hammer War, Niesse was taken by the elder diamond dragon, Sureniel, and his army of orcs. During the final battle for control of Niesse, Sureniel fought his arch-enemy, the elder mithril dragon, Mirithian. While Mirithian was not killed, he was driven into a deep cavernous hole that descends “forever.” Since this fight, Sureniel has never left Niesse; he sits by this hole and waits for Mirithian’s eventual return.
Niesse lies deep underground close to sea level—which is located underground when you’re inside a mountain range.
To travel to Niesse, one must enter the underground highway system through one of the surface fortresses in the Divinity Mountains: Gorgbast, Bruun, Gloggu, Molwitz, or Brieg.
The entirety of this underground complex is home to the largest nation of orcs in Chaldea.
Niessia is one of the prominent continents of Chaldea, adjoining the continent of Tamica to the north.
The Garnon Forest
The Garnon Forest is full of life and is resplendent with mystical phenomena. Located on the continent of Niessia, it forms much of Niessia’s border with the continent of Tamica. Additionally, the forest borders Hesse to the south, Somacia to the southeast, and Tavya to the east.
The Universe Tree—what the Norse call Yggdrasil and the elves call the Mother Tree—connects all the worlds of the Pearl Universe, and the Garnon Forest serves as the critical point of connection for Chaldea’s place in the cosmos. It is in this forest the roots of the Universe Tree intersect with Chaldea; the life force of every living thing in Chaldea comes from these woods.
The most obvious sign of the Universe Tree’s connection to Chaldea is in the town of Tartu. Here, a monolithic arch rises out of the earth and descends back down into it. The Norse and the elves can’t agree on whether this is a root or a branch, but they agree it is a visible manifestation of the world’s connection to the universe. This dimensional nexus leads to thousands, or perhaps millions, of other worlds.
The Garnon Forest is also home to the Swamp of Khonn, the birthplace of the Drasildar.
The headwaters of the Garnon River are in the Cloudforger Mountains of Tavya. From here, the Garnon flows west by southwest, feeding into both the Swamp of Khonn and eventually into the Great Sea near Augstat.
Many monsters and fey live in the Garnon Forest; the most prevalent are bugbears, lizardfolk, and elves.
In spite of the tremendous dangers, there are those who brave them, for the Garnon Forest is also home to many plants and creatures that have mystical and alchemical properties, and nearby Augstat benefits from a modest but steady trade of these expensive ingredients.
The Great Sea
Chaldea is not a planet, moon, asteroid, or any similar sort of heavenly body.
Chaldea is a group of lands—continents, islands, and island chains—floating in a seemingly endless mystical pool of water called The Great Sea.
The Great Sea looks like an ocean and in many ways behaves like one. It’s sometimes calm, sometimes stormy, and it brims with aquatic life. At night, the signs of the Zodiac, as well as other constellations, shine brightly while they dance across the sky.
But normal navigational techniques are of no use here. There is no magnetic north, and sextants would yield inconsistent results, for the land masses are constantly shifting locations relative to one other—and all attempts at discerning the patterns of their movements have failed. Some Chaldeans believe the whole concept of one land being east (or any other compass direction) is completely erroneous once adrift in The Great Sea.
Chaldeans don’t have “maps of the world.” They have maps of the various lands. And instead of using astronomy, ships navigate The Great Sea with astrology.
The constellations that stars form are sharp and easy to spot in the heavens. Sailors essentially can’t miss them. Further, the movement of constellations is not so predictable. Prominent are the signs of the zodiac, and they follow each other in prominence in the standard order: Capricorn, then Aquarius, then Pisces, and so on. But their precise movements and interactions with each other vary. For instance, a sailor might see Leo sit on the horizon for weeks but then suddenly pounce across the sky to tussle with Scorpio. Virgo is shy and rarely seen outside her month of ascendency.
Ocean navigators use a collection of fables, folklore, creatures, and mystical implements to chart their course. For example, “a male bullfrog always knows the direction home to mother.” “Never follow the tail of Scorpio; it always leads to death.” “The sword of Orion always points to the Imperial Capitol.” “If you spray mysticator (gypsy mist) at a sail and the wind picks up shortly thereafter, it will take you to your heart’s desire.”
Navigation is linked particularly closely to astrology. Yet while captains follow the stars, they do so in a mystical way, not a scientific one. Advancement in navigation means learning more and crazier fables, acquiring more bizarre instruments, and being wary of bad ethers.
Navigators’ maps don’t look like something written on an XY coordinate system with sizes and distances to scale; rather, they show discordant land masses with strange symbols, astrological references, old sailors’ tales, and advice on what to do for good luck—like which offerings to throw into the sea at certain places, and so on.
To drive home the point, once ships are sailing The Great Sea, there simply is no way for their navigators to “scientifically” know which way is north. If they end up at the wrong spot, they don’t think “I made an error in my math calculations.” Instead, they think “Which spirit did I piss off?” or “Yakav must have put the bullfrogs in the wrong cages!” or “Strange ethers influenced the divine winds.”
On small- to medium-sized ships, the navigator is also likely the captain. A very important ship might have a fulltime navigator. The navigator’s cabin contains an eclectic mix of odd mystical instruments, bizarre creatures in cages, indecipherable notes written not just in Kordavan but with astrological symbols and mystical nautical notations. The cabin might seem like the strange, exotic lair of some crazy old wizard.
When a ship leaves land, it isn’t immediately in this mythical place. The coastal waters act as one might expect—at first. But when ships sail out some 20 miles or so (plus or minus), they pass through an obvious transition from coastal waters into the mythic sea. This is the edge of the landmass, the edge of the part of the landmass they can’t see, the part that’s below the surface of the water.
In some places, this transition is relatively easy, like sailing into or out of the mouth of a river. In others, the transition is wild and violent, impassible. Competent ship navigators and pilots know, of course, where the best spots are.
The time it takes to cross The Great Sea has little to do with where one port is in relation to another. In fact, the idea of a “world map” is completely misleading. A world map implies distances and orientations that might be correct during one month but not during the next.
If voyagers sail into The Great Sea on a seaworthy ship with a competent navigator, they can expect their trip to take about four weeks on average. The bulk of the bell curve is three to five weeks. It helps somewhat to have a fast ship; the fastest ships can shave about a week off this travel time. It also helps to have an intuitive and experienced astrologer who is equally competent in the skills of sailing (piloting, seamanship, etc.). That person can, on average, shave another week off the duration. So, the fastest ships with the best navigators can navigate The Great Sea in one to three weeks on average.
Some cities are easier to find than other, as they have the astrological equivalent of the North Star hovering over them. Port Facility is a famous example. This is the first port every navigator learns how to find.
Great Sea navigation tends to be geared toward a port city destination. Steering “a little to the left” of Set’s Spear will not land a ship “a little west” of Saratof. The crew might just as easily land in Kofin. Trying to land at some arbitrary stretch of coastline is much more difficult than following the tried-and-true astrological signposts.
There is some predictability. If there weren’t, even astrologists wouldn’t be able to do their jobs. But the routes from A to B shift with the astrological calendar. If a ship sails from Augstat to Argos and then the next night another ship sails from Augstat to Argos in a faster ship, the second ship will be taking a very similar route through the astrological influences and might catch up with the first ship.
There are also trade routes—city combinations that are relatively easy to sail between. Conversely, one city might be particularly difficult to find from another specific city.
It’s also tricky to use ocean navigation to sail from one city to another on the same continent. How can a crew sail to a place they’re sailing from? It turns out to be very difficult to chart.
Every 77 years “the stars align” to create the Suzugos, an event of great astrological significance. During this period, the signs act irrationally and navigation is impossible. Storms, earthquakes, and extreme tides plague Chaldea. Sailing during this period is tantamount to suicide.
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