The game is set on an island (or group of islands) off the coast from a much larger continental landmass predominantly ruled as an empire with various subordinate kingdoms. The capital is at Sanctuary in the south east part of the main island. There are other major settlements at Skullport on the south coast some 100 miles south and west of Sanctuary, Schooltown some 100 miles north of Sanctuary.
The island was, until recently the Kingdom of the Isles, part of the Empire but ruled by a King and extended noble class all subject to Imperial Law and rule. The Kingdom paid taxes and raised troops to serve in the imperial legions. The King and court of nobles held feudal authority over all the people of the Kingdom. Over the past years a new social class of professionals arose and formed themselves into guilds in order to improve their bargaining position with the nobility. The nobility continued to retain power and wealth was measured in land until the King issued charters to certain guilds granting them certain rights in return for obligations directly to the crown (including taxation and service). This was not popular with the nobles who saw their power being eroded and a loss of power. The richest and most important guilds were those who offered services that the king valued, these included the Guild of Mages, the Guild of Alchemists, the Guild of Barbers and Surgeons and the Guild of Mercenaries.
Some twelve years ago the old queen, Catherine II, died and power passed to her son Edward IV. Edward was a weak person who was heavily influenced by his friends in the nobility. He engaged in a number of reforms which strengthened the rights of the nobles by reducing the number of Freemen (persons who owed no direct duty of service to a noble) reverting them to serf status. He also sought to tax the guilds and removed most of their charters, placing their members into noble households as serfs. This did not happen to the richest and most powerful guilds but they could see which way things were developing and three years ago they organised a revolution against the nobility.
The revolution was successful for three main reasons:
First, the rebellion was orchestrated by the “adventuring guilds” – the Mercinaries, Mages, Alchemists and Surgeons. These guilds had the combat training and expertise to deal with the troops of the nobles as well as being rich enough to fund supplies and equipment;
Second, the nobles themselves were not fully cooperative and could be easily set against each other; and
Finally, the rebels managed to reactivate an awesomely powerful magical defence system on the island. This system created devastating magical storm wherever large concentrations of troops appeared; while the loyal forces were superior in number, the guilds were able to field small units individually far superior to those troops thus the loyalists could not use their superior numbers to overcome the rebels individual superiority.
After the war, the Guilds Council, or just the Council, was formed to rule the Kingdom. Each guild master has one vote with a deciding vote going to the chairman of the council. The guilds elect their own leaders. In addition the overall head of the churches determined by the various churches and their faithful sits on the Council. The chair is currently held by the head of the Mages’ Guild.
The magical defence is now further enhanced to prevent ships reaching the island unless the appropriate steps are taken to protect the vessel. This has prevented the Empire from sending military forces in any significant numbers to attempt to recapture the Kingdom. At the moment the Empire is still at war with the Kingdom but it is only a matter of time before they change their approach and offer to let the Council rule the Kingdom under imperial overall rule in much the same way that the royal family used to.
One of the first edicts of the Council was that all nobles and their families be executed. This was carried out efficiently although many family members did manage to escape into exile. It is a criminal offence for any person to claim a noble title on the islands although visiting nobles from other lands are not subject to this.
The serfs are all in the process of being emancipated. The Council neither needs nor wants a class of serfs and is in the process of freeing all the serfs: anyone may approach the Council and obtain a writ of freedom at no charge which declares them to be free from all feudal obligations. Many serfs have chosen not to do this as they do not understand the new system. The Council has Knights and Guards travelling arround the villages and communities setting up new systems for land management. A Council officer is appointed to regulate the community and collect taxes. This person divides up the farmland between the farmers and grants them title over the land that they work; any crops they raise are theirs and can be consumed or sold and they now have a duty to pay taxes. At the moment this is costing the Council to set this up but it is expected that the taxes will pay for things in time. An extensive new travelling merchant class has come into existence to trade goods (mostly food) from these communities and sell it in the towns which do not produce their own food. At present, the Council are ensuring food supplies to the towns. This system is not idyllic and does not suit everyone. Citizens have to work to earn money or produce food, those who do not or cannot starve. These changes are not popular everywhere but at the moment it is working and the majority of the population are highly supportive of the Council.
One upshot of all of this is that the social structure has replaced the classes of serf, freeman and noble with peoples’ guild rank. In effect the new nobility is made up of the senior guild members but there is one significant difference: anyone is free to join a guild, advance within the guild and (potentially) rule the Kingdom. Money not land now determines your wealth. Many families are now encouraging their children to apprentice to powerful guilds.
The council has created and funds three bodies to protect the people:
The Guards – responsible for law and the protection of towns; they have powers to arrest and hold criminals and to pursue warrants issued by a magistrate.
The Rangers – responsible for scouting and reconnaissance and the protection of outlying villages and communities from threats from the wild lands.
The Knights – responsible for protecting the islands from threats from the void including demons and the unlife. They are also responsible for dealing with priests of banned religions as well as dangerous demonologists and necromancers.
These groups are all considered part of the Mercinaries Guild but report to the Guild Council through their internal chain of command. They are paid and supplied with special equipment and training paid for by the council.
The Council also pays for the training of healers and supports the right of their guild to control healing and the right of the alchemists to control the trade in all magic that does not involve healing. Currently the Council does not have a view on the new magientists and is in discussions about permitting them to set up a University on the island; there is a slight dispute as to which guild they might fall under.
The adventures have come together in a very small hamlet at a place called Sharonoir where there was originally a guard post. The guard post has been taken over by the Council who want to clear the area for settlement. Unfortunately it is rather wild at the moment and the area is far from safe. Rather than send in groups of Rangers (of which the Council has very few), it has been decided to encourage adventurers to Sharonoir and offer them guild warrants to investigate and clear the area.
The hamlet was built over a place known to the ancient people of the land as Forg ap Wailand. There is a druidic site nearby as well as a magical nexus. This is not particularly unusual, such places are often used for settlements since they have significant advantages.
Guild representative – the guilds are represented locally by a Guild Senior Alchemist who will handle banking, payment for missions and act as a buyer and seller of magical goods.
Law enforcement – there will be a senior Guard responsible for law enforcement and judging any cases that may come up.
Scout – there will be a Ranger who can lead out parties on scouting missions.
If the number of adventurers increases, extra representatives will be sent.