Blood in the River
The massive Sellen River basin drains all the eastern lands, carrying waters from the Lake of Mists and Veils north of Brevoy; from the massive Lake Encarthan; and from Galt, Numeria, and Ustalav. The mighty Sellen finally flows into the Inner Sea on the border of Taldor and Andoran. As the rivers pass through the hundred marshes and forests of the River Kingdoms, they seem to carry an especially heavy freight of sin, treachery, and thievery. The River Kingdoms are where desperate men go to escape their pasts and carve out new lives.
- Capital: None
- Rulers: Various warlords, megalomaniacs, bandit kings, retired adventurers, and exiled princes
- Government: Too numerous to mention, including regions of absolute anarchy
- Languages: Common, Hallit
- Religion: Calistria, Cayden Cailean, Erastil, Norgorber, Desna, Gorum, Lamashtu, Hanspur, Gyronna
The bandits, fortunately, have never unified. Although doing so would threaten all their neighbors and give them the ability to deal with other kingdoms as equals, the river lords constantly fight among themselves. Robbery and murder are common on every road and river in the River Kingdoms, and small mercenary companies fight in the spring and summer for ownership of each hamlet and bridge. One result of the frequent infighting is that food in the River Kingdoms is quite valuable. Rather few souls dare to farm or raise livestock, for fear of banditry. What little food is grown is kept secure in castle granaries or well-guarded cattle pens.
War is the constant here—anything that cannot be defended is seized by the strong. Those who hide here and bide their time to grow strong include hardened criminals, slavers, necromancers, vicious princelings who lost a succession struggle, exiled nobles, firebrands, and religious zealots— anyone most people would rather not have as neighbors. These hardy but treacherous folk possess very little trust, but they tend to follow the strong code of River Freedoms. Those who rule are strong, wily, and willing to do anything to keep their hold on power.
In practice, the strongest of the River Kingdoms sometimes dissolve themselves for good reason: their troops and leaders are hired away to fight in distant wars. The bloodiest wars among the kingdoms occur when these troops return and seek to seize their former territories.
The only thing that can unite the River Kingdoms for even a brief period is a threat from Galt, Numeria, or Razmiran, and even then, each princeling vies with his fellows to lead the resistance. Larger realms find the River Kingdoms useful sources of mercenaries and a convenient place to exile undesirables who might make trouble at home. Attempts to seize and hold River Kingdoms territory generally prove expensive, thanks to skills honed by years of infighting being turned against the less experienced and less daring soldiers of the wider world.
LIFE IN THE RIVER KINGDOMS
Passing crusaders headed to Mendev complain of the chaos in the River Kingdoms, but this is hyperbole. Far removed from the horror of the Worldwound, the River Kingdoms are as predictable as a cauldron—you never know what will come bubbling up, but you can be sure the whole thing is hot. This heat makes the River Kingdoms a singular place to live.
The River Kingdoms are split into more than two dozen sovereign realms, ruled by despots of varying temperament. Tyrants who raise a keep in the River Kingdoms often hail from surrounding lands, but are almost always castoffs, criminals, or wayward offspring of more important folk. Most rule by force, though some are gentler than others.
Life in the River Kingdoms is harsh. Bandits can attack at any time, local governments shift like riverbanks, invading armies pillage the land, and unexpected monstrous and magical threats occur with alarming frequency. Every family has lost someone to sudden violence. The perilous uncertainty keeps everyone tense, suspicious, and often angry.
Trust is paramount. Anyone unrecognizable is not just a potential threat, but also a potential vanguard for an army of threats. “Trust costs more than money” is a common Riverfolk aphorism.
For all this danger, though, the land is still beautiful and bountiful. Even the marshes and forests are fertile. Raiders, not the land or weather, make farming hard. Wheat, corn, oats, and rice are quick and plentiful crops grown throughout the kingdoms. Livestock grow fat on the rich grasses fed by the hydra-headed tributaries of the Sellen River.
Riverfolk love politics, and talk about it in the same manner as farmers talk weather: maybe they can’t do anything about it, but they discuss it endlessly. Any given Riverfolk has an opinion about which form of government is best, how the local leader is doing, and how all the neighboring kingdoms’ leaders are doing.
Living in the River Kingdoms requires protection. Farms and livestock pens are small and well defended, as though each were a small fortress. Moats and earthworks surround the better-established ones, and most farms also have a defendable cellar into which farmers and their families can retreat. Even hamlets and thorps have their own stockade walls, and most commoners wear weapons openly, “to keep everyone honest.”
Trades that require complex support, such as alchemy, are rare and short-lived. Functional, relatively mobile livelihoods thrive here, including tanning, herding, brewing, and other forms of craftsmanship.
Far more bandits roam the Kingdoms than one would think the population could absorb. Criminals and castoffs from nearby nations, as well as natives, frequently take a turn at banditry here. The law is f lexible, and the Sixth River Freedom subtly encourages it.
Despite the fierce reputation of River Kingdoms bandits, many young men and women only try banditry as a side job, or as a found opportunity when they happen upon treasure left in weak hands. For a few, it’s the only way to retrieve what was stolen from them first. Other bandits are mercenary soldiers turned out of their previous jobs. They would rather fight than steal, but they’d rather live than starve.
Commoners are a hardscrabble lot, so for profit, bandits target wealthy outsiders. Most cities contain lookouts for bandit crews, gathering information on likely visiting targets, or offering guide services to lure visitors into traps. The locals are always wise to these tricks, and for a handful of coppers, a local can usually identify the lookouts… assuming he isn’t one of them himself.
For a charismatic few, banditry is a path to legitimacy. Bandit gangs past a certain size gain their own gravity; highway robbery becomes usurpation at a surprisingly low threshold in the River Kingdoms. More than once, a bandit leader has ended up taking over a keep that he only meant to plunder at the outset.
Yet the River Kingdoms are far from lawless; it’s just that the laws they adhere to appear lawless in practice. The Six River Freedoms receive a lot of lip service, but the primary law of the River Kingdoms is that power rules. The members of the Outlaw Council would be quick to inform would-be philosophers that all nations follow this rule; the River Kingdoms just aren’t shy about admitting it.