Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Majestic Empire of Valderia - Background Setting for a Burning Wheel Campaign

I mentioned in a previous post that we were planning on giving Burning Wheel a go and that we had come up with a sort of New World exploration campaign idea pitting medieval explorers/mercenaries against the unknown of a previously unexplored (by the rest of the gaming world) land. As a background to this game, I pulled out a land created for another game that seemed to fit the bill. The land of Valderia.

Valderia was actually designed as the background for a "foreigner" PC that was to join a D&D game of mine. That player and his character never joined up, but the Empire of Valderia and its provinces and colonies were too good to throw away.

The main conflict that fuels this campaign is that of an empire that has reached the limits of its own borders. Being merchantile in nature and troubled by unrest on its borders, it must find new sources for taxes and trade or exploration.

The standard political structure of Valderia is based around an  intricate weave of nobles, merchants and clerics. Each city is ruled by a nobleman with the title of Count who answers directly to a Prince who rules the province where the city exists, who himself is accountable (and usually related to) the King in Valderia’s capital of Moralia. Representing the merchant concerns in the city is a prominent merchant carrying the title of Magister. The Magister acts as intermediary between the concerns of the nobility and the wealthy merchants.

After the Duke and Magister it is the merchants that really keep the cities alive with the flow of goods in and out of the city. Merchants are accountable for their enterprises and fraud or negligence on the part of any merchant house carries with it stiff fines and in severe cases other penalties most notable of which is sanctioning. Sanctioned merchants may find themselves under tariffs or even unable to trade in certain markets. Continued offenses are cause for a complete seizure of a merchant’s holdings within a city and expulsion from the community. Expelled merchants often find themselves black-listed and unable to trade anywhere Valderia and its provinces if the offense is great enough. These merchants often end up destitute and forced into poverty, some other line of less profitable work or, in many cases, become pirates, bandits and other forms of outlaws.

This system of sanctioning and obligatory decency have led the nobles and merchants of Valderia to devise complex networks and tangled webs of agents, agencies, proxies and patsies through which to conduct their illicit affairs. Indeed, there is an entire underworld of individuals, groups, and organizations that cater to the bell-board goings on in Valderia. Of course the services of these sorts is costly, both monetarily as well as in risk to reputation, life, and limb.

The Empire of Valderia is made up of Valderia proper and it's eight provinces. Seven of these provinces known quite collectively as the Eastern Provinces are well settled, each ruled over by its own prince. To the north of Valderia is a cold, wild province known as Nordwyn. The Nordwyners are not of the same ethnic background as Valderia and the Eastern Provinces and are not as well-contented either. Nordwyn is constantly in rebellion, but its rich resources are too great for land-locked Valderia to let go of. Nordwyners are constantly being forcibly recruited into the navies and armies and sent abroad in an attempt to wither down the rebelious populace in that province but it has proven quite futile.

Valderia has one colony abroad, Ralencia. Ralencia is almost a kingdom in its own right, having had to carve out its own niche among the wild coast of a continent abroad. Ralencia however has reached its practical limits being surrounded by other established people and a rough and tough wilderness that resists attempts at pacification. Ralencia is constantly coming into conflict with the Haelic people, a warrior people with a proud history of heroes and monster slayers as well as a race of intelligent wolfmen who inhabit the vast wilderness expanses there. 

The Valderian military model is built on conscripted armies and the use of mercenaries both from abroad and recruited locally. Conscripts are drawn up only during times of war with the Prince of the realm drawing funding from the state coffers. These conscripts are usually made up of simple footmen armed with pikes and half-plate armor. Supporting these footmen are archers given light crossbows and simple padded jerkins. All conscripted troops wear simple, various types of  brimmed helmets or skull caps.

In addition conscripted troops, princes  traditionally maintain a standing force of highly trained footmen and heavy crossbowmen. These footmen known as Bodyguards are armed with swords and half plate and carry round shields embossed with the mark of their prince. The heavy crossbowmen, traditionally recruited from various regions of Valderia and its provinces, are known for their deadly marksmanship and usually carry names from their region of origin such as the Martianis, Istanobilas and Tenadonis. Mercenary recruitment is traditionally left to the merchants who often keep small contingents as household and caravan guards. The Magister is tasked with coordinating large scale recruitment, insisting that every merchant house donate a percentage of his coffers to the cause, a rate that is determined by the perceived threat. These mercenaries are often recruited along the same lines as those used by the individual merchant households making Valderian armies very diverse and at times difficult to coordinate. More disciplined mercenaries are often held in reserve behind those recruited from barbarian peoples or even, on occasion, humanoid tribes.

Another form of elite troop in the Valderian military are various contingents of two-handed weapon wielding armored warriors. They go by different names and carry great swords, great axes, or sometimes wicked pole arms. These troops are often unleashed ahead of the pike blocks or other footmen to break up ranks through sheer brute force and by the terrifying nature of their feriocity. These heavy-hitting linebreakers are also used to break the stalemates that can often arise from matched units of pikes.
Valderia is blessed with abundant grasslands and strong steeds, making them strong in cavalry. Cabriolo or knights form the armored core of the Valderian cavalry, provided by the various noble houses, princes, and the king himself. These warriors come from a tradition of bravado and rather violent duels and vendettas. There is a substantial mortality rate among the Cabriolo, leaving only the best to fight in the ranks of Valderian cavalry. Other cavalry are drawn from various regional cadres and from the various contingents of Borderers that patrol the edges of Valderia. These rough, brutal cavalry have successfully repelled countless border incursions and rebellions in the fringe lands. Due to their reputations and talents for ruthlessness, Borderers are generally not welcome within cities and kept quartered outside in their camps or their own strongholds held seperate from populace areas.

Valderians are known for their love of life and their origin as merchants and traders has left them with a taste for the finer things. Cities and towns in Valderia are famous for their numerous open-air eateries, balconies and enclosed patios. Nearly every family home is built around a central garden patio where most meals and social gatherings are conducted. More well-to-do Valderians may have several of these, themed in different ways even having secreted patios accessible by hidden doors and passages. Such patios are known as “lover’s gardens” and are often used to carry on affairs that the rest of the family or community should not be privy to.

Household life in Valderia is known for its verve and the peoples’ zest for life does not stop at the portal to their homes. Patriarchal and fraternal in nature with fathers, brothers, uncles and sons taking up the pinnacle positions in the household. Despite this, it is wrong to assume that the women of Valderia are without power. No man alive in Valderia willingly invites the vengeance of an angry woman. In fact, Valderian women are known for their long memories for transgressions against them and the ends to which they will go to meet out their revenge. But for the most part families of this land live harmoniously if not a bit raucous.

The average Valderian family consists of a mother and father and their 3-4 children. If alive, the parents of the father will live with him as will his unmarried sisters. It is not uncommon for a father’s bachelor brothers to live under his roof, but this is only until they can set out on their own, something that is greatly encouraged. Wealthier families tend to have fewer children, having learned long ago that too many heirs can make for a short life of any nobleman or merchant. Servants are employed by most upper class households with servants being paid a monthly wage or indentured for a predetermined period, often as recompense for some debt owed by themselves or their family. A typical household with servants will have two to three servants for every adult member of the household and an additional servant for every child in the house.

Outside the cities of this land, the rural people of Valderia live in a fashion similar to their urban brethren. Farmsteads are arranged around an open, cobbled courtyard, usually with a decorative but none-too-functional gate which is more often used as a trellis for grapes or berries. Servants are not employed by rural families as they often have extended families that are more than capable of fulfilling the needs of any individual household. Once again, fathers and their wives live under the same roof as their closest relations. Rural Valderians often have anywhere from 4-10 children per couple. One difference, in rural areas, is the tendency for married siblings and children to remain in or close to their family homes. It is not uncommon to add new buildings or rooms to existing enclaves when a brother or sister is married or has children. This ensures that the family stays close and maximizes the available labor of the family as a whole.

Villages in the outlying areas are collections of craftsmen and small mercantile families who provide services to their rural farming neighbors. These villages are also focal points for social gatherings among the rural folk as well as the locations for public markets. Public postings and any national business is also conducted in these villages and public posting boards display any communications from the state or local authorities. Villages do not maintain militias but all have some form of alarm system that can quickly communicate emergencies across a large area. Every farm and villa is expected to lend a hand to the common good when these alarms go off.

Faith in Valderia is drawn from the beliefs of its parent nation. Compared to local traditions and customs and even the religions of Aesland and Aethelmar, it is ponderous and massive. The religion of the realm has no name of its own and is simply known as the Valderian faith. It includes a dozen or so central deities and countless minor demigods referred to as saints and other titles in a few cases. Most holy men of this religion do not dedicate themselves to a particular god or goddess but instead preach the religion as a whole, observing holidays and rituals as befits the time of year or occasion.

Tolerance is not a strong point of the Valderian way and clerics of this faith are reluctant to give any consideration to the beliefs of others. This is not to say that Valderian clerics are enemies of other faiths or that they have any ill will toward other faiths just that they have no place in their cosmology for others. It has been said that the Valderian way reflects the complicated society in which the people live in. They are lorded over by a patriarchal sea god, Obra who rules the various facets of thee Valderian world through a collection of gods and goddesses who represent the various key elements of the world. Goddesses such as Ephimae, goddess of winds are prayed to for calm sailing weather while others like Demesna are asked for a rich harvest. Beneath such deities are countless saints of place, function and occasion. These saints are associated with nearly every element of day to day life and are called on for everything from good marks in school to finding the right boy to take to the country dance.

Most houses have private altars to their favorite or patron demigod saints as well as numerous icons for the more prominent deities of the faith. Children are blessed before these altars. Marriages and funerals are conducted in temples with full ceremony and it is not considered proper to conduct these events without the proper facilities and rituals performed by the proper holy men. Even in the rural areas there are temples devoted to the faith at which all important observances are carried out.

Those who cross the Valderian way are frowned on and often outcast from their families and polite society but that is usually the extent of any punishment meted out by the clerics of the faith. Severe transgressions against the faith are dealt with by the church itself and punishments, in these instances can range from expulsion from the realm, imprisonment, or even death. Though it is believed that they will do so, clerics of the Valderian way do not often wait for their gods to punish transgressors.

The relationship between the Valderian faith and the states of the realm is a tenuous one. Few princes and noble and not even The King will outright defy the church but few of them truly feel they are beholden to it either. Nobles and merchants often do their expected duties in the eyes of the church while carrying on a secular existence that is more detached from the teaching and beliefs of their faith. They are, however, careful to keep any inappropriate behaviors or actions either where they can be excused or where the church cannot prove anything with any surety.

The main interaction between the clerics and nobility of Valderia is in the sanctifying of their ranks and any important proclamations, dedications, or other pronouncements. Without the official recognition of the clerics of Valderia, no noble can be certain that the common folk will accept such rulings. In many cases such recognitions of state affairs are assured by generous donations to the local temples or by the promise of favors to clerics or their causes.


  1. Dude, you've got some chops at this stuff...

  2. Thanks, man. I love world building.


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