Alandar: The Theocracy of Rhond
The heart of the Hannite religion, Rhond is a strong nation with passionate and spiritual people. In many ways the most important place in the world to the common peoples of the West, Rhond and its holy sites have been the point of contention between nations, peoples, and religions for millennia. Though traditionally neutral to all others, Rhondian internal politics is as chaotic and potentially dangerous as those of Eretheria, with new sects of the Hannite faith coming into being every few decades only to be followed by bloody civil wars of religious ideology. This is not a place for the indifferent, apathetic, or uncertain – in Rhond, your beliefs and your life are closely linked and, without one, the other will doubtlessly be lost.
Rhond is a theocracy, which is to say that its religious and political leadership are one and the same. The Church of Hann, with all its structural and bureaucratic complexities, is in control of both the physical and spiritual bodies of every man, woman, and child within Rhond’s borders. Unlike some of the more totalitarian governments of the Alliance, however, Rhond’s political system is more democratic than one might at first assume. The Church of Hann is an organization that is disinclined to deal with worldly matters, and therefore the day-to-day decisions on things like taxes, education, defense, and infrastructure are handed off from dignitary to dignitary in a bewildering and seemingly endless game of pass-the-buck.
Ostensibly, the Steward of Hann, who kneels before the White Throne in Rhond and is Hann’s representative until his return, is in complete control of Rhond as a political entity as well as the Hannite Church as a spiritual one. In practice, only the latter is true. Beneath the Steward, the Church separates into two distinct organizational bodies. The first, known collectively as the Hann’ari (Speakers for Hann), are made up of the priests and Lesser Stewards who comprise the Church of Hann on an international level. The second organization, known as the Hann’aras or, more commonly, the Templars, are in charge of Rhond as a nation. Though not technically priests, the Templars hold no less devotion to the Steward than any of their brothers in the Hann’ari, and are invested with a variety of spiritual as well as secular powers.
The Templars are organized in a similar fashion to a feudal kingdom, with the Grand Templar advising the Steward directly at the top of the organizational pyramid. Directly
below him are the Templars themselves, who act as regional governors or dukes over the seven different provinces of Rhond. Beneath each Templar is an array of Holy Paladins – knights in the sworn service of the Church who police their realm, collect tithes and taxes, and handle the majority of the secular matters in Rhondian life. Thanks to the reticence on the part of the higher-level officials to handle secular matters, the central authority in Rhond is comparatively weak to other feudal kingdoms like Eddon or Akral. Paladins are largely autonomous, and each parish is subject to wildly varying laws and regulations depending on the paladin’s preferences. The Templars themselves only intercede to contradict rulings considered blasphemous or heretical to the Hannite tradition, but other than that content themselves with the limited secular duties of tallying taxes and keeping the peace. It is important to remember that, in the Hannite faith, the physical world is dirty, sinful, and corrupt. Therefore, in order to maintain an aura of holiness to one’s followers, one must appear to be ‘above’ earthly matters. This holds true for the Templars as much as for the priests themselves, and those paladins who become Templars usually do so by ruling effectively without being unduly sullied by the blight of politics, warfare, or scandal – getting more by doing less, as it were.
On the other side of the political structure, the Hann’ari is no less pervasive in Rhondian civic life, however its role is far less ‘hands-on’. Beneath the Steward are two Lesser Stewards who hold dominion over the northern and southern regions of Rhond, respectively. Though only two among dozens of Lesser Stewards scattered throughout the world, the Lesser Stewards of Rhond are afforded a special place at the right and left hand of the Steward himself as those closest to Hann’s holy sites. Beneath these two is a network of priests and abbots who are in charge of organizing and guiding the spiritual lives of the common people and the monks, respectively. In practice, the priests have very little political power at this level – they cannot pass laws, they cannot dispute the secular authority of the paladin, they cannot collect taxes or tithes – but their control over the spiritual and theological teachings of the region is absolute. Therefore, while a priest may not take direct action against and unpopular paladin or templar, he may preach against the evils of the paladin’s laws to the people who, being good Hannites, may take up arms to depose him. The possibility of uprisings is very real in Rhond, and every paladin is sure to have a close working relationship with the priests who control the hearts and minds of the people. No matter how glorious a paladin’s castle may be or how righteous he appears, the people will always say that the priests are the ones who know best. Their will is the will of Hann, which is perfect and incorruptible. The priests do not, after all, sully themselves with the sinful practices of taxation and politics and war, preferring to approach enlightenment through peaceful and sympathetic means. Certainly they are all part of the same system, but the templars and their paladins are and always will be lesser engines in that system in the eyes of the faithful. Fortunately for the priesthood, this has beneficial effects for their chain of command. The central authority of the Lesser Stewards in religious matters is swift and absolute and, while the taxes and tithes may be choked with disorganization, new copies of the Book of Kroth and the Annals of Hann are efficiently distributed to every parish on a regular basis.
Advancement through the Rhondian political structure is done via a voting process known as ‘the Calling.’ Any time an official retires or dies, be it a priest, templar, paladin, or whatever, the former official’s peers get together and select by unanimous vote a new candidate into office. This can be any male Rhondian citizen who doesn’t currently hold an office higher than the one up for grabs, and numerous times through history humble farmers or woodsmen have been called into service as no less than templars or even Steward. The important thing for the Calling is for the most holy, righteous, and capable man to get the job, no matter what they do now. Though it is technically possible to turn down a position, it is rarely done, as the Calling is seen as the will of Hann as much as the will of his servants. Being a patriarchal organization, women are not allowed to hold office within the Hannite Church, though they are employed by paladins as civic authorities, tax collectors, constables, and other positions.
The Rhondian military, such as it is, is maintained by the Templars. Compared with its neighbors, Illin and Veris, the Rhondian Holy Army is tiny, maintaining a force of less than 8,000 trained soldiers to protect the entire country. These armies are made up of those men in the service of the various paladins throughout the land as well as a small group of militant monastic sects. Despite the heroics of certain Verisi and Galaspiner mercenary companied during the Illini wars, there are absolutely no mercenaries employed by Rhond or the Hannite church, as the business of taking money to make war on others is considered an evil of the highest caliber. The Holy Army is solely defensive in nature, and Rhond has rarely expressed any wish to expand its territory or attack another nation at all, not even during the Hannite Wars (where most of the armies in the field were from other nations sent to defend Rhond). It took a foreigner – Conrad Varner – to get them to adopt a more belligerent strategy during the Illini Wars, and it took him so long to do so the war was nearly lost. Still, the small size and non-belligerent nature of Rhond’s standing military belies both the nation’s defensive capabilities. In times of trouble, the Holy Army exists more as a stumbling block than the force that will actually win the war. While the Holy Army delays the invaders, the templars open their armories and proceed to levy troops from the peasant population itself. Unlike other countries, where levying troops can be a tiresome and awkward business as the peasants seek to evade the draft, in Rhond it is not unusual for every single man of fighting age (and many women) to volunteer and line up outside the templar or paladin’s fortress to be given a spear, helmet, and shield and sent off to fight. Though untrained and under-equipped, this unparalleled levying ability means that Rhond can field a force of 100,000 or more in a matter of weeks or even days, which is enough to give even the most brazen invaders pause. Varner himself has always cited the courage of the Rhondian citizens as the one and only reason the Kalsaaris failed to win the war (and has said so over Galaspiner howls of protest in the process). Despite this power, Rhond seeks to avoid conflict as much as possible, and has remained historically neutral through most regional conflicts.
This neutrality is also misleading, for the Rhondians, for all their Hannite faith, are not necessarily peaceful people. Frequent civil struggles and small religious wars are a theme in Rhondian history. There are always those who would interpret the teachings of the Church and the will of Hann in ways not amenable to the established dogma of the Church. Many times it is frustrated templars seeking to expose the hypocrisy or ineffectuality of the Church, or perhaps disillusioned or otherwise dissenting priests within the Hann’ari hierarchy. Greatest, and most destructive, of these religious disputes are those who appear claiming to be Hann Returned—a claim that, if true, would drastically upset not only Rhondian but Alliance politics as a whole. These uprisings and heresies are brutally crushed by the templars and paladins still faithful to the Steward, and the fighting is typically brief, if bloody. The punishment for starting such a religious uprising or preaching heretical beliefs is burning at the stake and, no matter who wins the struggle, the public squares and courtyards of Rhondian villages and castles are filled with blackened stakes, the smell of cooked flesh, and dark smoke for days or even months to come.
Lands and Points of Interest
The Theocracy extends from the Hannor River in the West to the edge of the Western Wastes in the east, and from the outskirts of the Swamps of Vair in the south to the Sea of Syrin in the north. This particular area of land is both fertile and mild in temperature, with an extended growing season and plentiful water for irrigation. The western portions of Rhond are heavily wooded, being in outer regions of the great Ahrn Forest that sweeps northwest into Veris. In addition to the lumber the forest provides, citrus orchards are numerous and prosperous here, and the Rhondian orange and lemon crops are the nation’s chief export. The further east one goes, the more arid the climate becomes until, finally, the eastern border of Rhond is a dusty and rocky area whose only economic worth lies in its quarries and livestock such as sheep, horses, and camels. Central to northern Rhond is heavily cultivated, growing rice in the south near the swamps and gradually shifting to corn, wheat, and barley to the north. The Artavi Mountains, roughly separating eastern from western Rhond, have a number of prosperous mines and even support some hardier crops in their foothills.
The Hannor River acts as the commercial lifeline of the Theocracy, and it is here that the majority of large cities and towns can be found. Running alongside the river is the Pilgrim’s Road, that journeys south along the swamps to Hurn and the Pool of Dawn. While still within Rhond’s borders, the road is a well-maintained highway that is covered by inns, taverns, and marketplaces seeking to make a few honest marks off the many pilgrims making their way through the holy lands. This is also where most of Rhond’s farmers bring their crops to ship north to the capital, and prudent merchants will frequently make a pilgrimage of their own to purchase the citrus fruits and plentiful grains at discount prices before shipping it overseas themselves.
Rhond is a densely populated, fairly wealthy, and civilized area of land for a country south of the Syrin, and it is, by far, the most visited of the three southern Alliance nations. For those who are devotees of the Hannite faith, the shrines, cathedrals, temples, and monasteries of Rhond are popular pilgrimage destinations. It was here, during the dark age of the Warlock Kings, that Hann first re-appeared to the human race and sought to establish a just Church in his name. The Stewards, in secret and later in the open, have sought to glorify their savior’s name ever since. Artifacts supposedly touched or belonging to Hann are at the center of dozens of holy sites throughout the Theocracy, and the historic places where some of the Annals of Hann were said to take place are, today, accompanied by the grandest places of worship ever constructed. Of course, one can hardly go a mile in Rhond without coming across a shrine or monument, but, then, it is well known that Hann’s very blood was spilled across the soil of this land and, in a very real sense, his spirit everywhere. This is a land built to the glory of humanity and its god, and it very much looks the part.
Still, for all that is holy in this land, the bones of what once was very evil still smolder in its darkest corners. The Warlock Kings of ancient times ruled here for ages, and many destructive wars were fought on this very soil. Even today, the crumbling spires of long-forgotten strongholds can be seen poking above the tree line in the deep forests, and farmers routinely discover ancient artifacts when tilling their fields. The Church is very serious about keeping these sites and these wicked items out of the hands of the imprudent, greedy, and ambitious, and treasure hunters heading here are likely to find a very rude welcome from the local authorities. Paradoxically, thanks to the templars’ vigilance against looters, this means that Rhond is home to some of the best preserved Warlock-age sites in the world, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep the fortune seekers out. Fortunately, the hazards afforded by the sites themselves have rendered the success rate of such adventurers pretty near to zero.
The City of Rhond: Reputedly the most ancient city in existence, Rhond is certainly among the most beautiful. Situated on a broad peninsula jutting into the turquoise waters Gulf of Hann and along side the mouth of the mighty Hannor River, Rhond is a paradise of palm trees, white beaches, and gorgeous, lime-stone paved streets. In the bright sunlight of a summer’s day, the entire city gleams like a diamond along the coast and the thousands of canopies and awnings mounted along the waterfront buildings seem like flocks of rainbow colored birds pruning on the pristine shore.
Rhond is home to approximately 450,000 people, but every spring that population surges to near double that number as hordes of pilgrims descend upon the city for the Festival of Arrival, where the entire city breaks into an unparalleled number of parties, parades, fairs, and religious ceremonies. No stranger to visitors from all over the world, Rhond is filled with inns, boarding houses, hostels, and special ‘pilgrim camps’ where travelers are welcome to stay (for a price, of course). Furthermore, Rhond’s restaurants and taverns are without parallel in the West for the quality of their cuisine. On the downside, those looking for a more racy brand of fun will find Rhond to be an inhospitable port. The crackdown on ‘immoral behavior’ by the Church has virtually eliminated the brothels, fighting arenas, and gambling houses in the city, and the local city watch is ruthless and effective at keeping criminals under control. The public stocks are continually full of minor offenders and the prison of Rhond – the feared Stone of Perdition – lurks like a desiccated skull on the northern horizon, a mute warning to those who would cross the law one too many times. Sentences there are seldom for any period less than twenty years and reputably no one has lived longer than five.
Unlike most cities in the West, Rhond is not divided into discernible sections. The Great Temple of Hann and its attached administrative buildings occupy most of the central city and the enormous domes and steeples of the temple are among the largest structures ever built by man. Circling the Great Temple and running down the center of the entire peninsula are the public gardens. Filled with quiet fountains and serene flora, the gardens are a place for the faithful to find refuge from the bustle of city life and meditate in their free time. They are open all day but, like the rest of the city, they close for curfew shortly after sundown.
Poverty is a serious issue in Rhond and the poor are evident all over the city. Though the Church maintains numerous poor houses and orphanages to accommodate the disenfranchised, the city’s lack of segmentation means that the ‘rabble’ can be found almost anywhere in town. Though this can be disconcerting to dignified guests from places like Akral or Eretheria, where the poor are kept in their place, it is calmly accepted by the locals, who see them as a chance to do good to their brother men in the form of alms. Indeed, Rhond can be a beggar’s paradise, and it is rumored that some unscrupulous caitiffs have even gone so far as to feign homelessness while the alms they receive have gone so far as to purchase them a house, clothes, and more.
Despite the Arcanostrum’s steadily cooling relationship with Rhond, spacious and beautiful grounds were deeded to Saldor in more cordial times. Known as ‘Wizard’s Point,’ the very tip of the Rhondian peninsula is home to a four-hundred foot tower of pure mageglass and enchanted violet stone which, in addition to serving as a beacon for ships at night, is rumored to be part of the city’s maritime defenses. Locals, echoing their Church’s attitude towards the proliferation of sorcery among the common population, have a variety of cruel rumors of what the magi within do to those poor unfortunates who wind up there. If there is any truth to these rumors, it is not evident from without.
Besides Wizard’s Point, Rhond has only one defensive fortification of note, that being a modest twenty foot stone wall with attached barracks that blocks off the base of the peninsula. Though structurally sound and adequately manned, its defenses are far inferior to those of most capital cities, and popular myth among the Alliance nations states that this is intentional. Rhond, they say, would sooner surrender to an invader than risk having their precious city damaged. If the wall is easy for an invader to breach, so too is it easy to re-breach when retaking the city.
Culture and People
Rhondians are lusty, colorful, and passionate people who both work hard and play hard. Known for fiery tempers, strong opinions, and undying loyalty, they are a people that are both exciting and difficult to get along with, but in either case a visitor is sure to get a good story out of it. They are popular among the other nations of the West, as Rhondian good cheer and exuberance are welcomed by the well-to-do and downtrodden alike.
The key word in Rhondian life is passion, as Rhondians are a culture of true believers. They throw their heart and soul into every enterprise, be it prayer, war, romance, or even just taking a nap. Rhondian parties are loud, raucous affairs, their funerals are unbelievably sad, and their dances are scandalously sensual. They live for the moment, stick closely to their honor and their families, and never give less than 110%. All this, of course, makes Rhond sound like an exhausting place, but nothing could be further from the truth. Rhondians believe in living a good life, not living life to be good. Unlike Galaspiners or Saldorians, Rhondians see idleness, relaxation, and meditation as important to life as running around building things, learning things, or selling things. So, while a Rhondian may be dragging you by the arm to a party one night, they will be sleeping late and refusing to go out the following day – remember, they give everything 110%, even laziness.
The two centers of Rhondian life are the family and the Church, though not necessarily in that order. Rhondian families are more than just one’s parents and siblings, but everyone who is even remotely related to you, from your great, great uncles to your third cousins and their wives and children. Every Ozdai’s Feast and every Hearth Festival in Rhond finds thousands of Rhondians returning to their ancestral homes to attend what amounts to a bi-annual family reunion. There, news is exchanged, gifts are given, immense quantities of food is consumed, and business is conducted between distant relatives. There is a saying in Rhond that goes “A business in the family is a family business.” Just about everybody in Rhond works, plays, and lives their lives in the context of their extended family. There is almost no such thing as an entrepreneur here, since to start one’s own enterprise is to say to your family that what they’re doing isn’t good enough for you – a grave insult. Just about the only exception to the ‘staying in the family’ rule is the Church. The Church of Hann is revered by all Rhondians, and joining its ranks, whether to be come a templar, monk, or priest, is an honor to the family. By the same token, leaving or being expelled from the Church is a grave dishonor, and many Rhondians who have faced such a fate have found them not only disavowed by the Church but also disowned by their own kin.
It is important to note that, though all Rhondians believe in the guidance of Hann and expect his return, and all Rhondians treat the Church with the utmost reverence, their faith is not a blind one. More than one Illini visitor has been scandalized to hear open criticism of the Church’s policies in Rhondian taverns and town squares – and not the kind of criticism whispered in doorways or behind backs, mind you, but open, yell-in-your-face criticism, full of insults, tirades, arguments, and even the occasional fistfight. Every Rhondian adult has very definite opinions about various Church policies, including everything from a priest’s attire to various interpretations of the Book of Kroth and the Annals of Hann themselves. Of course, this critical opinion of the Church does have limits beyond which are considered heresy (which all Rhondians fear and oppose), but the exact nature of those limits are difficult for a foreigner to comprehend. Calling the Steward himself a witless fool or a illiterate bastard can be just fine, but claiming a single phrase in the Book of Kroth is ‘exaggerated’ can be enough to put the speaker and his entire family in the flames. On the whole, foreigners try very hard not to get into religious discussions with Rhondians, as one can never tell when one has crossed the line from debate into grave insult.
For the uncertain, the best way to gauge a Rhondian is still through his family reputation. Ancestry is almost as important here as it is in Akral or even Eretheria, but for different reasons. Whereas those others see family as a platform for political and social influence, for the Rhondian it is an indication of their character. The patriarch of any given family is the moral compass of the whole, and what he declares as acceptable to him is acceptable to all. These traditions are passed down from generation to generation, and it is rare for anyone – even following patriarchs – to go against the tradition. Every Rhondian carries the reputation of their family with them wherever they go, and their actions are a direct reflection on the quality of their parentage. It is for this reason that many Rhondians will fail to let even the tiniest social transgressions or personal insults slide, for to accept them is to accept an insult to all of that person’s relatives, as well. In general, if one is respectful of a Rhondian, the Rhondian will reciprocate in kind by showing respect to you and your family. That is, of course, unless you cross the line. Though honor and decorum are valued among the natives of Rhond, honesty and integrity are valued much more. If someone is acting in a shameful manner, the Rhondian will be certain to let them know about it and, most likely, attempt to cure them of their evil ways with Galaspiner-like tenacity. There is nothing worse (or better, depending on your point of view) and a Rhondian friend who thinks you are making a mistake and is trying to help you. They will argue until the sun stops shining and they will pester you until your hair falls out before they will allow you to sully your name and the names of your fathers before you – tooka-addicts beware.
Beyond their passion for moral rectitude, however, is also the Rhondians’ love for food. Having the advantage of being in an area of immense fertility coupled by its proximity to the crops of its Western neighbors and access to Kalsaari trade routes, the diet of an average Rhondian is varied and plentiful. Kalsaari spices are mixed with Eddon beef and local rice and fruit to make delicacies touted by all the most discriminating palates in the West. Dishes prepared here are spicy and exotic when compared to much of the diet of the West, and to a visiting Northon the sheer variety of flavors is enough to overload their senses. Food is of great importance to any self-respecting Rhondian, and every one of them has particular recipes that are their family secret or personal specialties. Meals are enormous affairs, even among the peasantry, and frequently involve three to five courses, and the arrival of guests or local holidays can give rise to feasting that can last up to three days. Fortunately for the Rhondians, food is both plentiful and cheaply available to all but the most poor, and the Church is very willing to feed those who are in need.
While Illin was nearly destroyed by the Kalsaari invasion of twenty-seven years ago and it’s name graces the historical accounts of the war, most of the biggest and most pivotal battles of the war were fought on Rhondian soil. The great southern city of Via Durano was conquered by the Kalsaari Legions quickly, and the desert outposts along the Rhondian border were easily toppled. The city of Otove, along the Hannor River, was besieged, and the Duke of Galaspin, fighting in Illin, had his supply routes along the Old South Road to Rhond itself. It was here, in a small mountain town called Atrisia, that Conrad Varner earned fame and glory by charging from the gates in a reckless sally against a legion of Kalsaari heavy infantry and, in that one move, changed the momentum of the war. Today, war monuments can be found in every Rhondian graveyard, and veterans of the war populate every town and village. The bitterness towards the Kalsaaris is almost undiminished here, which has had an adverse affect on Rhondian cooking. Anything imported from Kalsaar has a heavy tariff applied to it, and so locals have made due by substituting some ingredients with local herbs. The results are spotty, and many an older Rhondian laments the forgotten, heady flavors of saffron and curry.
On a more recent and significant level, the dramatic increase in sorcerous materials in the past decades has driven a wedge between Rhond and the richer northern countries of the West. By relaxing the controls on sorcerous materials and the practices of alchemists, thaumaturges, warlocks, and the like, the Church has seen its power shrink. Now, rather than going to a Hannite Church for sorcerous healing from the local priest (and the attendant donations and prayers needed to secure such a ritual), people can just buy illbane powder or bloodpatch elixirs from their local alchemist without the attendant ritualistic folderol. Attendance to Hannite churches in the northern nations of the West is down significantly, and Rhond feels threatened. It is a conservative power, clinging to its traditions as many of its neighbors move on. Though not in serious danger of isolating itself as of yet, the secularization of life in the West could potentially lead to a time where Rhond is left behind.