Alandar: The Barony of Veris
There is not a single nation in the West despised and mistrusted as much as the troublesome Barony of Veris (though Ihyn comes close). Home to some of the world’s finest sailors, Verisi ships can be found in almost every port in the West (and even a few in the South and East) engaged in their share of legal trade and more than their fair share of smuggling, theft, piracy, and general mischief. Veris itself denies responsibility for a ‘few criminals’ within their borders, though all it requires is a closer look at their society to realize that these criminals aren’t exactly hunted within the borders of their own country, but lauded as heroes of the people. If you like breaking the rules, if you like all the booze and loose women you can handle, if you like to steal for a living rather than earn it, then, my friend, Veris is the country for you.
According to legend, Veris had a political structure very much like Akral’s — the nation from which Veris seceded rather peaceably some fifteen-hundred years ago. In those days, Veris was ruled by its own King and attended by his own set of Lords, and so on. Those days, however, ended with the beginning of the Hannite Wars, four centuries after the nation’s founding. At the height of the war against Kalsaar, King Hymrek V, forever afterwards known as Hymrek the Betrayer, turned against his allies, Akral and Eddon, for a wealth of riches given by the Kalsaari Emperor. Enraged at the change of allegiance, Akral crushed Veris and put its nobility to the sword, assuming harsh authority over the land. This colonization lasted almost a century before Veris, with silent help from the Count of Ihyn, rose up against the Akrallian chavalier and regained control of their homeland.
Unfortunately for the Verisi, the time of the mighty Verisi noble class was long gone — executed decades ago. Those who were now in charge were rebels, criminals, slaves, and pirates, and the government they set up reflects that. When the first Baron ascended the throne in the 45th year of Keeper Issiril, it was immediately clear to all that Veris was a changed place forever.
The modern day structure of Verisi political life is little more than an absolute dictatorship headed by the Baron of Veris and enforced by the Red Hand—the Baron’s personal army. Essentially a thieves’ guild writ large, the Baron and his men have very little concern for the Verisi people, so long as they pay their taxes and obey their orders. Authority on a local level is handled by village elders, local mayors, or whatever other person or persons the locals choose to recognize, but none of it is considered ‘official’ by the Baron or his men, and, should the Red Hand wish it, such local leaders could be executed on a whim. Such an occurrence is rare, and only happens when the village or region is resisting the wishes of the Baron. In general, each area pays its taxes and whatever else the Red Hand chooses to extort from them every year, and in turn the Red Hand leaves them in peace.
Local commanders of Red Hand garrisons, known as ‘Marshals’ are the closest thing that Veris has to a noble class, and the word ‘noble’ is used here loosely. Unlike most nobility throughout the West, Marshals are not required to perform any sort of service for the people he or she rules. The people under their jurisdiction are permitted to live there in exchange for a sizeable quantity of their crops, goods, and monies—that’s all. Of course, this doesn’t mean that all Marshals simply ignore their people and are blind to their suffering. Some of these rulers are wise, kind, and beloved of their people, providing money to help the poor, protecting them from raiders and thieves, and doing all the things that a good ruler should. These kind of rulers are in the minority, but they form a powerful minority in that their people are more willing to help them out in times of trouble, making conscription that much easier. The politics of Veris only becomes complicated insofar as its marshals are forced to balance mercy with ruthlessness enough to maintain their own power base and seem dangerous enough to discourage revolt or a hostile takeover by a rival marshal.
Thanks to the almost complete lack of any organizing political structure outside of the Baron’s own personal guard, Veris is a very chaotic place. Every individual settlement is almost like a city-state unto itself, clustered together for defense, complete with its own history, unique customs, and mistrustful of outsiders. Bands of robbers, cutthroats, and raiders are common here, not to mention the ‘Volunteer Navy,’ which is little more than a bunch of legalized pirates that are granted Baronial protection in ports. Between all of these ne’er-do-wells and the Red Hand itself, the Verisi people are constantly watching out for attack, and trained militias can be found in almost every town, village, or city.
This concentration of armed people makes Veris a surprisingly effective military power. While not as organized or well-equipped as the armies of Eddon, Akral, or Galaspin, Veris has enormous numbers of trained personnel and a network of fortified settlements and castles that is unparalleled in the West. When Veris is attacked, the Red Hand has the authority to conscript as many of the local militias as possible to stave off the assault. Furthermore, should a war of aggression be underway, the conscripts are regularly supplemented by sellswords and mercenaries of every conceivable size and description. Such rabble flocks to the banner of Veris in droves thanks to its reputation of for treating mercenaries very well (just look at the Volunteer Navy!) and for the near complete and total lack of law and order maintained over the land. Many mercs travel here to attack Akrallian caravans and then stay to loot the countryside, resulting in a win-win situation for the morally challenged.
Though the Baron makes a point of creating very few laws designed to protect his citizens, knowing full well that his power base is near wholly comprised of thieves and murderers, the Baron does, nevertheless, come down harshly on those who go too far. Should a marshal start a murderous rampage that begins to send Verisi citizens fleeing into neighboring Rhond or Eddon, the Baron’ personal detachment of the Red Hand — the Knights of the Blood Gauntlet — ride out to destroy the offender and all of his progeny. Marshals know the price of stepping over the line, and only the brave and foolish few take that step. The Baron is not known for his mercy, particularly when your actions are putting a dent in his purse.
Lands and Points of Interest
Veris is a rough and rugged land, largely uncultivated and inhabited in great concentrations only along the nation’s coastline, which is extensive. Fully half of all the land area in Veris is comprised of a great peninsula that bears the name of the nation that rules it. Fishing villages, seaports, and naval fortresses line the coast from the Rhondian border, along the Syrin, and into the Dagger — a 350-mile inlet that separates Eddon from Veris.
The waters surrounding Veris are especially rocky and perilous, and only the shinn’har themselves know them better than the Verisi fishermen that sail them. These shoals and reefs form an imposing natural barrier that has kept Veris largely immune to Akrallian naval invasion throughout history, but also inhibit all but the boldest of foreign ships from entering Verisi ports, hurting the nation’s ability to trade, but making the area a prime spot for pirates to set up safe havens for themselves.
Inland, virtually the whole of Veris is covered with the thick woodlands of the Ahrn forest. Fur-trapping, hunting, and lumbering are primary occupations of most honest people who live here, as well as a fair number of fruit-tree and vegetable growers that are responsible for much of the nation’s food supply. Roads are infrequent and poorly maintained, as are bridges, but the Verisi forests supply amble hiding places for bandits, robbers, and fugitives to hide and survive for years if need be. It is a saying among the Defenders of the Balance (who are less than welcome in Verisi territory) that if a man has escaped you, sooner or later he’ll be living in a Verisi tree. Also indigenous to the forests are a fair number of monsters including dragonspawn such as gargoyles, firedrakes, and wyverns.
As stated earlier, virtually all settlements in Veris are designed to repel attack. From the smallest village to the biggest port, walls, stockades, towers, magical alarms, guard posts, or moats are all standard civil engineering projects. Rather than a wholly civilized country like Rhond or Eretheria, Veris is a wide wilderness punctuated by pockets of humanity from which the inhabitants never stray far. It is both the ideal place to hide and the ideal place to disappear against your will — be wary.
The City of Veris: From its perch atop the two-hundred foot tall Betrayer’s Cliffs, the city of Veris commands an incredible view of the surrounding oceans and coastline. Home to 43,000 criminals, pirates, thugs, thieves, and troublemakers, Veris is widely considered among the safest places in the world for an enterprising young outlaw to live, and among the most dangerous places for just about everybody else. The city of Veris is, in actuality, two cities — Veris itself, which rests atop the cliffs, and the Warrens, which is a network of caves and tunnels that snake through the cliffs themselves and acts as Veris’ seaport. Though connected by a number of hoists, wells, passages, and magical lifts, the Warrens and Veris hardly seem like the same place at all.
The Warrens are the poorer of the two, its inhabitants being forced to pay exorbitant takes to keep the wealthy topside well fed and furnished. Down here, people live in ramshackle homes built of as much driftwood as anything else, and are tucked into the hundreds of side tunnels that branch off of Underharbor — the massive ocean inlet that fills the largest cavern in the Warrens. The Underharbor is lined with docks and is constantly echoing with the sound of ships’ bells, sailors songs, and similar noise of the great ocean going vessels that are guided in here by keen-eyed old Verisi navigators to unload their goods, get restocked, and set back out to sea. As the commercial port of the nation’s capital, it is also through here that most foreign visitors get their first encounter with the Verisi, and the significance of this is not lost on the locals. The Warrens is home to some of the most debauched and morally bankrupt individuals in Alandar, and the sheer number of pubs, whorehouses, and black market shops that line the docks and fill the tunnels is a good indication of that fact. The Saldorian Ambassador here has oft commented in his reports to the Arcanostrum that he finds it ‘highly unusual’ when he doesn’t see someone killed in the streets of the Warren at least once a day. The Red Hand is largely absent here, and the various Volunteer Navy vessels docked along the wharves are the closest thing to government ‘officials’ to be found. A number of thieves’ guilds are in constant competition to control the Underharbor and, therefore, be able to skim as much off the top of the incoming commodities as possible. Given the proximity of the Baron and his Knights of the Blood Gauntlet, such turf wars have proven alarmingly fatal and largely unsuccessful in achieving their collective goal, but the various guilds are able to supply a modicum of security for the everyday workers and citizens forced to live here.
Two-hundred feet above the Underharbor and the Warrens that surround it is the city of Veris proper. Enclosed by a fifty-foot wall and built almost entirely out of heavy stone quarried from the very cliffs upon which it sits, Veris is an imposing place. Compared to the Warrens, Veris is civilized and almost clean, but when compared with anywhere else the comparison falls short. Those with the money can afford to maintain their neighborhoods and homes with fair success, but the poorer districts (i.e. those areas closest to the walls) are dirty, decaying, and fetid. Social order is rigidly maintained here, as there are a pair of Red Hand guards on almost every corner, ready to dispense ‘justice’ on anyone who looks at them the wrong way. Though willing to turn a blind eye to the behavior of the Warrens for the most part, the Baron will not tolerate rioting or mob violence in his own backyard. Those dissidents, criminals, and troublemakers who are not killed on the spot and cannot bribe their way out of their punishment are locked in a cage and dangled over the cliffs beneath the Lonely Keep itself. If they are lucky, they are fed occasionally. Most people are simply left to rot.
The Lonely Keep is the Baron’s own residence, and is a citadel as ancient as Veris itself. Built upon a promontory of rock stretching out from the cliffs, the black-walled castle stands forty feet away from the main bulk of Veris along its northwestern edge. Not particularly large, the keep’s highest tower is 100 feet high and all its the flat, round turrets are capped with iron spikes that give the whole thing a sinister look. Worn smooth by centuries of wind and rain, there are very few military commanders who would even consider laying siege to this unapproachable fortress — better to starve them out. Acting as the Baron’s personal home as well as the barracks for the Knights of the Blood Gauntlet, the Keep commands a wide view across the Sea of Syrin and can effectively attack any naval vessel that dares to negotiate the rocky waters in hopes of entering the Underharbor.
Far more important to the city’s defenses than even the Keep, however, is the Great Aqueduct. Carrying fresh water from miles inland, the huge aqueduct enters the city next to its great southern gatehouse and is among the most guarded structures in all of Veris. Patrols of thirty Red Hand soldiers ride its length every few hours, and anyone caught tampering with its waters in the least is immediately put to death. The Aqueduct represents the city’s only supply of fresh drinking water, and even the Warrens use it as the water tumbles down into the lower city’s public wells and basins. As defensible as Veris is, any hostile army that gets control of the aqueduct can capture the city inside of a month for certain.
Culture and People
Veris is a treacherous place, with all the facets and intricacies of human cruelty and greed laid bare for all to witness and suffer from. Given that, one might expect the people to be likewise treacherous, or at least grim. But this is not Ihyn, nor is it even Illin — this is Veris, and the people here are unlike any other. Known for their sense of humor, their hatred of authority, and their adaptable natures, the Verisi have a bad reputation among the rich and respectable of the world, and enjoy almost the opposite from all those who are poor, downtrodden, and without hope. To a Verisi, the key to life is to take what you can and enjoy it while you have it, and if you can make your enemies look foolish at the same time, all the better.
It is the assumption of most of the world and, indeed, it has been the implication of this description so far that all of Veris is inhabited by criminals and outlaws. This is not technically true, since one cannot be an outlaw if there aren’t any laws in the first place. Every Verisi, from the top on down, knows the system — if they’re stronger than you, they take what they like, and vice versa. The trick is, from a Verisi standpoint, to find ways to avoid the inevitable as long as possible. Towards this end, the Verisi people put almost no stock in personal honor, honesty, or loyalty, preferring instead to live long, carefree lives away from the harsh grip of the Red Hand. Almost all young people in Veris go through a period referred to as ‘the Kicks,’ where the recently grown man or woman goes out into the world for a lifetime of raising hell, having fun, and (as often as not) stealing things. This adventuring life lasts until the person is caught and killed, they leave Veris for good, or, having had their fill of adventure, journey back to their little hometown to settle down and raise a family.
This abandonment of home and hearth is not representative of a disrespect for one’s own family. The Verisi, as much as any other human beings, love their family and care what happens to them. It is, however, a taboo among those you care for to lay down discipline and order. “Life,” they say, “will tell you what to do better than anyone else.” Verisi families are convivial and jovial bunches, with parents being more like friends to their children than authority figures. Children grow up hearing their own parents’ stories of adventure and mischief, and aspire to emulate (or even top!) their ancestors. The Verisi are known for being brutal practical jokers, with some pranks even resulting in real physical harm. However, jokers should be cautious, for among the Verisi the phrase ‘what goes around, comes around’ has real philosophical weight. A man who only plays mild jokes on his neighbors will, in turn, have the same played on him. A violent prankster, however, will end up a victim of one of his own dangerous plots or, worse, he will end up dead at the end of what the Verisi term ‘the Final Joke’ — murder.
For all the trouble that afflicts the average Verisi throughout their lives, they are a people with a remarkable ability to find humor and happiness in even the darkest of events. To a Verisi, there is nothing that is sacred and no joke, no matter how inappropriate, that cannot be told. No people in the world have a larger collection of ribald stories and filthy limericks, and it is a common pastime for adults and children to try to come up with bigger, better, and even more offensive tales. Listeners who get offended at this peculiarly Verisi merriment are in for a rough time, as that only encourages the jokers to get even more extreme and disgusting.
It is not the practice of the Verisi to shelter people from what they see as the harsh realities of real life. Children are well aware of death, sex, and violence from a young age, and learn to cope just as their parents do. In Verisi society, denying the truth for the sake of ‘propriety’ is not only idiotic, but harmful to those who need to hear what you have to say. Verisi, when not lying to further their own aims, are straightforward and blunt with news, and especially so with bad news. There is no attempt to soften the blow of a family member’s death or similar tragedy—the afflicted will deal with it just as they all do or wither away and die, in which case they weren’t worth keeping around, anyway.
Veris is a land of rebels and devil-may-care rabble-rousers who live as best they can in an unfair world. They are not bitter towards the Red Hand or the Baron in particular — they’re just doing what they can get away with, after all — and would actually prefer a cruel ruler who leaves them alone most of the time rather than a just one that is always in their face. Personal freedom and responsibility for the consequences of one’s own actions are important cultural mores, and therefore they tend to despise any kind of central authority that tells them what to do or how to act or (worse yet) provides ways for someone in trouble to find an easy way out. Veris is a land completely devoid of charities, hostile towards the Hannite Church, and has nothing but contempt for the Arcanostrum (though they realize the magi are far too powerful to meddle with). They do, however, enjoy a relationship with the shinn’har that is nothing short of brotherly, and selkies can be found aboard almost every Verisi ship in large groups.
The ocean is of paramount importance to the Verisi people, and the majority of the nation’s indigenous population are sailors or fishermen. Veris’s extensive coastline and ample harbors makes this nation home to more ocean-going vessels than any other nation in the Alliance. Though typically small and lightly armed, Verisi merchant ships and smuggling sloops are found all over the world, and the Verisi have made a name for themselves as the finest sailors short of the shinn’har themselves. Verisi Navigators – Arcanostrum trained sorcerers with their trademark all-seeing crystal eyes and golden chains of sworn service to the Baron – are the undisputed masters of navigation and weather prediction, and if there is anyone in the world who might be able to get a ship through the Needle in one piece, it is an officer born and raised in Veris.
It is often surprises people when they learn just how quickly Veris came to the aid of Rhond and Illin during the Illini Wars. One would not expect a nation of mercenaries and rebels to take up arms and go to war on behalf of their grim and theocratic neighbors, but they did, and in droves. Verisi mercenaries were involved in every front of the war and many such companies swore service to Mudboots Varner himself and were involved in everything from the Charge of Atrisia to the Sack of Tasis to the Battle of Calassa. Indeed, even regiments of the Red Hand were dispatched to assist the Duke of Galaspin in his struggles in the Illini peninsula and acquitted themselves well in the battles there.
Despite this record of service, however, Veris has not gained at all from the magical-industrial boom that has elevated so much of the West in terms of quality of life and material wealth. Veris is the disrespected stepchild of Western Politics, too remote to be a major trading player (despite its fleets), too poor to be a financial player, and too disorganized to throw its political weight around. The old Baron’s solution to this problem has been simple: he has signed charters (in secret) giving Verisi ships and the Volunteer Navy carte blanche to raid Akrallian, Ihynish, and even Saldorian shipping unless those captains of seized vessels can provide documentation of doing business with Veris. This outrageous practice has caused a lot of saber rattling on the part of the Akrallians, but they have done nothing about it yet. This may be because Veris’s practice of nautical blackmail is having the opposite of the desired effect – instead of encouraging ships to trade with Veris, it has shunted more and more traffic between the northern nations of the West to the spirit engine lines. This increase in traffic is leading to plans for more and more spirit engine tracks and more and more rapid trade among Akral, Eretheria, Saldor, and Galaspin. Veris grows more isolated every year, and joins its southern neighbors – Rhond, Illin, and Eddon – in bitterness towards the wealthier neighbors to the north.