Witch Fire Ascendant
Nations of the Iron Kingdoms
Cygnar emerged from the Corvis Treaties as the strongest and wealthiest nation of western Immoren. It was able to unite the ancient lands of Caspia with the sprawling Midlunds as well as much of Thuria’s southern fertile coasts and the forested holds of the insular Morridanes, inheritors of the bloodlines of Morrdh. Together the diverse people of these regions have pooled their strengths and united as proud Cygnarans.
Cygnar has no lack of iron, gold, timber, food, gems, quarries, or any other resource coveted by a modern nation. It is a nation boasting many great minds who have pushed advances in alchemy and mechanika to new heights, giving the nation a technological edge over its rivals. Its warjacks boast inventive armaments and bow to the will of their warcasters, who are trained by the finest military academy in the Iron Kingdoms.
From the time of the Corvis Treaties, Cygnar has bordered each of the original Iron Kingdoms: Ord to the northwest, Khador to the north on the far side of the Thornwood, and Llael to the northeast. The Bloodstone Marches made up its eastern border until the Cygnaran Civil War. The end of that religious conflict resulted in the establishment of the Protectorate of Menoth, a region governed by a theocracy that would in time become increasingly independent and hostile.
Cygnar endured political upheaval in recent times when Leto Raelthorne, “the Younger,” ousted his tyrannical brother King Vinter IV, “the Elder.” The deposed king managed to escape before being put on trial for his crimes. While it has never been easy to wear the Cygnaran crown, King Leto has borne more burdens than any sovereign deserves.
Cygnar remains among the mightiest powers of the region. The heart of the nation’s vast mining network, industrial capacity, and most formidable military garrisons remain intact, and its citizens stand more determined than ever to fight in defense of their families and lands. Yet there persists a growing divide within the nation between those who support King Leto and others who are discontented by the privations of interminable warfare and are beginning to conspire to arrange for a different sovereign to occupy the throne.
Without question Khador’s people are tough, irascible, weathered, and proud. They learned well from those ancient days when man endured through strength and cruelty and see no reason to temper those qualities now. The north keeps deep and ancient customs derived from the time when barbaric horselords roamed these vast lands and ruled the Khardic Empire supported by Menite priests.
To better understand these cold-hearted northerners, consider that much of Khador is frozen five months out of the year. Strong winds snap trees in half, and sudden snows sweep in so fast that entire wagon trains can vanish in mere seconds. Only a harsh people could hope to survive in such a harsh place. Khador’s military personifies this strength, with huge warjacks thundering along next to steel-hearted men and women armed to the teeth with axes and guns. In the last century enlightened leaders have done much to modernize the Khadoran military. While its mechaniks prefer simplicity and rugged design over needless complications, Khadoran engineering and mechanika is nearly the equal of Cygnar’s.
Unlike its southern rival, which relies on volunteers, Khador has conscripted its soldiers since the time of the old empire. Every adult male and any woman who wishes and is not with child serves the Motherland for some amount of time. This is a proud tradition whereby every able-bodied citizen is personally invested in the defense of their nation and knows the trials and tribulations of being a soldier.
Morrowans form the majority of this nation, but not an overwhelming one as in Cygnar, Ord, and Llael. The Menite faith is stronger in the north than anywhere outside the Protectorate of Menoth. Whether Menite or Morrowan, however, Khadorans love their sovereign above all. They are as patriotic a people as you will ever find—and that is part of why they are so unwelcoming to outsiders.
Khador has always chafed at the compromises made in the Corvis Treaties, for they glorify the days of the old Khardic Empire and seek every opportunity to restore its reach and power. Every generation a new sovereign ascends the throne and declares the time ripe to reclaim lands that are rightfully Khadoran. Even the Kossite and Skirov tribes no longer remember that they once stood as independent kingdoms free of the rule of Khards. Now all Khadorans share a burning devotion to the rebirth of the old empire and are willing to put aside personal comforts and even sacrifice their lives if necessary to achieve this goal.
Following the recent occupation of Llael, Queen Ayn Vanar declared Khador an empire once more and named herself empress, to the tremendous approval of her people. Khadoran forces swept on to batter the Cygnaran northern border and have since claimed the Thornwood Forest. The capture of this large and key area of land presages yet more bitter battles between these two great nations.
The rugged western kingdom of Ord is a land with deep history and its own rich culture, but it is also a region that has often suffered in conflicts with more powerful neighbors. It lacks the natural resources of some great kingdoms, being a moody realm of foggy bogs, wet marshes, and backbreaking hilly farmland. Land-owning castellans maintain themselves on herds of cattle and horses, aloof from the masses struggling to put food on the table. The Ordic people are tough and not easily discomfited, though. They find diversion in song, gambling, and ale rather than dwelling on life’s inequities.
Ord’s people include Thurians in the south mixed with a larger majority who descend from the old kingdom of Tordor, famed for its powerful warships, and the lure of the sea is still strong among those who dwell here. Ord’s coastal cities are a sailor’s paradise, and the nation boasts the best mariners ever to live. The Ordic Royal Navy is counted a peer among those of western Immoren’s greater powers. The Ordic army is also highly respected despite its smaller size and outmoded weaponry compared to the northern and southern powers. Its soldiers are deemed as tough as trollkin and have courage to spare, but the poverty of Ord is reflected in its reliance on simpler gear and its heavy use of defensive tactics such as fixed cannon emplacements and exploiting the difficult local terrain against potential aggressors. Ord’s clever sovereign, King Baird II, has taken measures to improve Ord’s lot and spent the nation’s meager treasury to bolster both navy and army with certain advances, but remaining neutral in the larger wars is still deemed vital to the nation’s survival. Khador has often come snapping at Ord’s heels like a wolf after a deer, but Ordmen have long held their formidable borders and intend to avoid Llael’s fate by any means necessary.
Standing neutral has other advantages, as Ord’s merchant houses have benefitted from trade brought through the region between parties who might not otherwise be willing to interact. Certain towns in this nation have become favored haunts of mercenaries and sell-swords of all varieties. Similarly, refugees from war-torn lands often flee to Ord, bringing with them their talents and knowledge. For a nation lacking in natural wealth, the exchange of information has become its own industry.
Llael’s primary geographical advantage is also its greatest weakness: sharing its borders with four kingdoms with few natural barriers to inhibit trade—or the movement of armies. This served to line the pockets of certain entrepreneurial nobles and merchants who exploited the shipping along the Black River flowing from Rhul to the Gulf of Cygnar. Llael’s merchants were centrally located to serve as middlemen for a variety of lucrative mercantile organizations.
Cygnar had been allied with Llael for three hundred years, and it was only with their protection that the smaller nation had weathered numerous Khadoran assaults over the generations. It may be an overreliance on Cygnaran soldiers and mercenaries that leads to a certain denial among the Llaelese people about their vulnerability. Llael earned its early fame during the Rebellion for being the birthplace of blasting powder and long boasted many of the finest pistoleers and alchemists in western Immoren. Unfortunately, these talents were directed more to commercial gain and less to bolstering the kingdom’s rotting defenses and inadequate military. Its people spent their time instead in appreciation for the finer things in life, from expensive locally produced wines, to great written works in their native tongue, works of art, music, and architecture, all sponsored by bickering nobles competing to control the trade that was the nation’s lifeblood.
Llael’s last king had died decades before, and his heirs had all fallen prey to murderous conspiracies by those seeking to exploit the chaos. The nobles who came after allowed Llael’s small army to languish, relying increasingly on foreign aid and unreliable sell-swords instead. The nation’s renowned pistoleers became duelists and assassins for hire rather than protecting the borders. The Laelese military is in a truly sorry state, it maintains a small garrison at key points (which translates to the capital and a couple of major cities), the guards here are more for looks and prescence than any actual combat ability.
The Protectorate of Menoth
For years historians and politicians both have pretended the Protectorate of Menoth was not a nation of its own because the agreements that ended the Cygnaran Civil War left it technically beholden to Cygnar’s crown. Over time those obligations proved to be a farce, and now it is clear the Protectorate stands as the youngest of the Iron Kingdoms.
Caspia was divided in the aftermath of the Cygnaran Civil War. The larger, western portion of the city remained part of Cygnar, while the eastern portion across the Black River became Sul, capital of the Protectorate. This placed bitter enemies in close proximity, with only towering walls and a rushing river between their heavily armed garrisons. The rest of the Protectorate stretches east and southeast into an arid and resource-poor region adjacent to the dangerous Bloodstone Marches.
Sul-Menites practice a strict form of worship and believe their only chance of evading endless torment in the afterlife is obedience to the True Law. Priests and scrutators instill a terror of the clergy in the population, teaching the people to obey without question and to expect the lash for expressing the slightest doubt. Perhaps because of these harsh measures, the Menite faith has been in slow decline for many centuries, steadily losing ground to the more benevolent message of the Church of Morrow.
The recent appearance of the Harbinger of Menoth has provided the spark the Menites have long sought to revitalize their faith. This young woman emerged from an obscure town on the fringes of the Protectorate and displayed clear signs of miraculous contact with the divine, including the fact that her feet refuse to touch the unclean earth. She sometimes communes directly with Menoth and can speak his words. Witnessing her visage has prompted thousands of foreigner Menites to immediately convert and pull up their roots to relocate to the Protectorate.
Regular border skirmishes between the “Protectorate” and Cygnar have occured over the last year, some say they are getting more frequent and increasingly bold. The latest ruour from traders from near the border is that the protectorate is now even using Warjacks! there not simply converted labourjacks anymore.
Beyond the Iron Kingdoms
The Iron Kingdoms are by no means the only nations and lands of western Immoren. There are sizable enclaves of Rhulfolk and Iosans adjacent to the lands of men, and far to the west across the dark seas there is the island realm of the Dragonfather, Toruk.
The Scharde Islands lurk in the pirate-infested coastal waters past the Broken Coast of western Cygnar. the largest isle hosting the capital of the Nightmare Empire of Cryx. The island’s jagged, foreboding coastline hints at the realm’s true nature—it is a land even more grim and treacherous than it appears. Its vicious forests and ravaged mountains are home to blighted trollkin, ogrun, twisted men, savage gobbers, and warped half-breeds. These peoples may resemble races of the mainland, but the cruel culture of the island and the necromantic energies pervading this kingdom have transformed them into something malicious and vile.
The inhabitants of this land live in fear under the shadow of their ruler, the first dragon, Lord Toruk. Also called the Dragonfather, he is the source of all of his kind and deemed a god by those who must obey his governing lich lords and priests of his cult. Toruk is the source of the malignance that radiates from this island as a palpable energy, the blight that affects every plant, animal, and stone in this kingdom. A master of undeath, he has gifted his chosen vassals with unnatural immortality as the undead, which walk alongside the living in the bleak cities of the empire. Toruk’s royal court is held in a gigantic black stone palace warmed by the heat of the wounded earth beneath, and great pits filled with the bones of the dead are heaped nearby and picked over by the necrotechs that construct Cryx’s malignant machines of war.
The Dragonfather has utterly dominated his territory for sixteen centuries, and his privateers terrorize the western coasts of Cygnar and Ord by preying on shipping routes and pillaging lightly defended villages for their resources and inhabitants alike. Entire communities have vanished after Cryxian raids, the inhabitants seized and presumably added to the undead armies. Although Toruk seems content to rule his remote island realm, the mainland nations fear the day he decides to expand his borders, and it seems likely this has begun to come to pass.
The elven nation of Ios has long secluded itself from the kingdoms of man, and for centuries those who crossed its borders without invitation would not return. This nation is decidedly xenophobic, although in decades past it conducted periodic trade and maintained some limited communication with its neighbors. Its ambassadors were always close-lipped and secretive even in the best of times, but several decades ago Ios sealed its borders entirely. Outsiders know little of Ios with any certainty, except that its people have their own culture and a religion entirely distinct from the rest of the Iron Kingdoms, including unique arcane techniques and their own blend of magic and technology called arcanika. To most, elves are an exotic and dangerous enigma.
Unknown to the other nations, the Iosans have long endured awareness of a looming catastrophe, one that if left unresolved will result in their extinction. The Iosans are the remnants of a once-vast empire from the east and have been in gradual decline for thousands of years. Their plight has been brought into sharper relief by recent events that have led radical groups to rise to greater prominence. A sect known as the Retribution of Scyrah has transformed from an outlawed sect to a growing power within Ios’ military and government, and this group believes the woes of this nation can be solved only by the eradication of humanity, particularly human wizards and mechaniks. The Retribution has been secretly working outside Ios’ borders for centuries, establishing safe houses for their agents and conducting covert attacks on human mages.
As these zealots gain power, others who do not wish to become embroiled in open war fear the volatility of their agenda. Some Iosans reject the violent goals of the Retribution and would seek to solve their problems through rational means, including reaching out to other nations for information and aid. Even these more benevolent individuals are wary of revealing the secrets of their ailing people and do not comfortably mingle with outsiders, though. Despite this, they will enter into uncomfortable alliances as a matter of necessity, spending their lives working to unlock any secret that can forestall the doom of their kind.
Compared to the dynamic kingdoms of men and the strange doings of the inscrutable elves, the dwarven Rhulfolk are a bastion of order and reason. Their society has been without major upheaval for over a thousand years, and the history of Rhul traces back longer than any other established civilization in the region. Even their armed disputes are more like duels than wars, being organized and adjudicated by the dwarven parliament, known among their own kind as the Moot. The traditional leaders of the Moot are the Stone Lords, aged and respected dwarves who can trace their bloodline all the way back to the thirteen Great Fathers, divine progenitors of the dwarven people. The other members of the Moot are representatives from the Hundred Houses, the most powerful landed clans. It is this group that is responsible for forging the laws of dwarven society, using an incredibly lengthy set of procedural rules called the Codex.
Across all the known lands Rhulfolk are renowned for their fine craftsmanship and their prowess as engineers and builders. Any child knows the quality of dwarven metalwork and stonecraft, and the stout folk’s skill at mining and love of building is matched only by their ingenuity in mechanikal engineering. Yet equally prized by outsiders is the Rhulic skill and fondness for battle. While their society is eminently stable, skill at arms and warfare is a craft undertaken with the same serious attention as any other. Every clan boasts its own great warriors, and many of these seek to earn fame and profit and to sharpen their skills in the wars outside of Rhul. This has led to an increasing emergence of highly trained and valued Rhulic mercenaries eager to take on contracts in other lands. Entire dwarven conclaves beholden to Rhulic law exist in several of the human kingdoms, and these communities are deemed invaluable sources of skilled labor, quality crafted goods, and reliable sell-swords. It is widely understood that these mercenaries are ultimately still devoted and loyal to Rhul would immediately return to their homeland should it ever need to be defended from outsiders.