It is difficult to explain the great war if you weren’t a veteran of it. By comparison to the other great conflicts that had ravaged the world, the Great War was orders of magnitude grander. A conflict that lasted something close to half a millennia, it scoured the world clean of the civilizations that dotted it in the time before.
It is perhaps best to call it a cleansing, a Scourge, a great ending that led to the current beginning.
The war began small and inconsequential – a minor warlord in a far eastern province found himself at the head of an army, and that army laid siege to the city-state of Basim Ra, in the great Caliphate of the Sun, at the edge of the bone desert. It was no different than any other conflict, no grander than a single war. The rest of the world looked on with interest only because war is always of interest to those who rule countries.
Something, however, changed.
After two years of ineffective siege, suddenly, the walls of Basim Ra fell, blown outward from the center of the city like a great lotus flower opening on a spring morning. The sieging force stormed the city, looting and destroying, not bothering to even leave a building standing – rather than being a transfer of governance, the attacking force simply levelled the city. Survivors said that the troops were red-eyed demons, unforgiving, cold, and uninterested in surrender or mercy.
The minor warlord, whom history remembers as Werren Talis, was next seen in heavy, black armor bearing a leering, angry face – and his call went out to all of the raiders and races that could see his victory and thrived on conquest and destruction. Tribes of demon-gnolls and the dark beastfolk abberations of the Beast set aside their normal enmity and became his outriders; warlords and raiders marched at his behest. Daily, his army swelled as he pushed westward – not to conquer, but to level every city, destroy every road, and throw down every great work.
Werren, only a human, should have fallen victim to old age after his razing of the kingdoms of the east had gone on for five decades, but he did not. He seemed to grow stronger rather than more frail, and soon he drew the attention of the Lords of the Undead and commanded Demons and Devils – creatures bound to lay aside their enmity and serve the cause of unbridled destruction.
The races of the world were slow to respond to the obvious threat – sending diplomats and emissaries that were casually ignored, attempting to pay ransoms that were accepted, then saved no one. The Scourge grew more powerful, wealthier – more dangerous, but… they never claimed land. They just killed.
One after another, the great kingdoms and empires fell – and none were spared. Ancient grudges and old, bitter rivalries kept peoples from allying when it could have done some good – but each civilization alone was simply not sufficient to stand against the Scourge when it came. By the time the last remnants of empires rallied, and stood together? There was simply nothing left of sufficient strength to present a challenge, and these forces were crushed.
The Scourge Triumphant:
The Scourge had subsumed all that would join it, and enslaved or killed all those who would not. Rather than hold territory, it had wiped the world clean, leaving the bodies behind. Only one kingdom, a paltry, isolated magocracy ruled by a line of Dragonborn Sorcerer-Kings, still stood – and that simply by the virtue of being small and neutral, isolated from the larger world by a range of mountains that was deadly to cross in summer and near-impossible to find a path through in winter. So the scourge waited, wise – untold numbers seething against the mountains until spring came.
Tintagel, the last kingdom, had nearly broken itself by taking in every refugee. The last remnants of the armies were helped over, under, and through the mountains before the last passes closed, and as the Scourge’s flyers destroyed the ships in the great ocean, the last stragglers and refugees came ashore and were brought inland.
Things were grim – starvation was rampant, and hope nonexistent. Winter granted a brief, harsh respite from the fighting, but all knew that the numbers arrayed against them were double the actual natives and survivors that had poured into the kingdom.
When spring came? So did the armies – by ships, by wings, by foot, and even by a flying fortress somehow lifted aloft by magic, where ballistae and catapults fired on the ground below. The Scourge encircled, and steadily destroyed all as they advanced on the Line in the east, and fought against the navy to the west and the Elven dragonships in the north.
For fifteen years, Tintagel’s generals waged a masterwork in tactics, doing all they could to preserve the land, but unable to land any kind of decisive blow against the numberless hordes.
Then the Line fell, and the Scourge poured onto the Tintagel Plains, heading toward the great city. Desperate, the generals recalled all of their forces – within just months, Tintagel was encircled, besieged – and the Scourge spent five years casually destroying every village, remnant, and township – including the Colleges and Bardshome. Then? The Warlord turned his eyes on the Last City.
For a year, Tintagel held its outer walls – but there was no real hope. The forces arrayed against them were numberless, and no matter the casualties, they never flagged, willing to commit any horror. Merciless, vicious. Cruel.
The defenders retreated to the inner wall and prepared to die.
And on the dawn of first Wintersday, now called the first year after the destruction – a great white light erupted from the Sorcerer-King’s citadel at the center of Tintagel. Purple and black rose to meet it from the ground… and it blasted out in a curtain that scythed through the Scourge like a farmer at harvest day.
What wasn’t destroyed outright cracked and burned and turned on itself – within mere hours, the numberless horde had been reduced to a few survivors that, lacking leadership, fled into the wilds west. Of the Warlord, nothing was seen – but in the six hundred and fifty years that have followed, he has never reappeared.
Heroes arose in a corrupted world, learning the truth of things – the great wish that broke the back of the army but also shattered Fate itself, the role of the Sorcerer-king, the birth of the Rot; one hundred and thirty years after the Cataclysm, they rebuilt the pillars of the world, broke the unintended curse, and – with little fanfare or understanding – broke the grip of the curse on the world itself.
Now, five hundred years later, in the ruins of ancient civilizations lost to time – the Holy Dragon Empire, a redoubt of civilization from the lands north of Tintagel, has struck out into the wider world with its airships and explorer corps, taking volunteers and prisoners alike into lands west, seeking to discover what ancient maps say once existed and map again the world as it is now. It is into this that the players forge – a new horizon, a new frontier, in wilds ravaged by the Scourge’s passing in ages past and tainted by a now-broken curse, discovering the bones of ancient times in a quest for knowledge, power, and pure discovery.