The Fifth Crusade! Worldwound Adventures
Capital: Nerosyan (64,700)
Notable Settlements: Egede (39,410), Kenabres (12,330), Valas’s Gift (220)
Ruler: Crusader Queen Galfrey
Languages: Common, Hallit
Tales of demonic monstrosities spewing from the distant north spread swiftly throughout Avistan at the dawn of the Age of Lost Omens.
The “Song of Sarkoris” related the fall of a wicked barbarian kingdom to horrors from the Great Beyond. “The Ballad of Prince Zhakar” told of the brave march into a chaos-warped land by a band of Mendevian heroes who died one by one fighting their way to the center of the blight, a “wound in the world.” Ministers of congregations shaken by the death of Aroden seized upon songs like these and reports of vile creatures from the north, whipping their followers into a frenzy of religious fervor. A crusade surged north to Mendev to combat the demon-plague of the Worldwound, but in their fervor to save the world, these self-same crusaders may well destroy the nation of Mendev in the process.
Before the crusades, most northerners knew nothing of Mendev, a proud kingdom descended from Iobarian exiles and ne’er-do-wells. As related in the tale that still fuels new recruits to the crusade, Mendev’s last prince died in the ruins of Sarkoris, near the rupture in reality known as the Worldwound. During the first few years of the Age of Lost Omens, the Worldwound’s growth stood unopposed—yet as word spread of the demonic incursion, crusaders took up the call to defend the land. The clergy of Iomedae led the way, stepping out from the shadows of their bewildered masters in the faltering church of Aroden. Nobles in Cheliax, Isger, and Andoran, fearing growing domestic discontent fueled by dispossessed nobles and idle mercenaries roaming their countrysides, joined with the Iomedaean church to sponsor the first Mendevian Crusade in 4622 ar. Thousands of pilgrims soon made their way up the River Road from Cassomir to Chesed and across the Lake of Mists and Veils to Mendev, where they joined battle and the demonic hordes were checked and even pushed back. The crusaders fortified their gains’ and for almost a generation the frontier was quiet. The crusade was deemed a rousing success.
Talk of an easy victory was silenced, however, when the demons, having assembled a massive force, renewed their onslaught. The crusaders suffered horrifying defeats as the land itself seemed to shift and change beneath them, and the demons rode a wave of chaos into and through their lines. This disastrous invasion, including the total loss of the northern fortress-city of Drezen in 4638, triggered a Second Crusade. The crusaders once more threw back the demonic onslaught, and with the demons pushed back, the crusaders devised a new stratagem. A string of rune-encrusted menhirs known as wardstones was constructed to keep the worst of the demonic land’s inhabitants and influence from spreading. The stones must be maintained with careful prayer and ritual, and remain constant points of attack by demons and their servants.
With their armies temporarily contained, the clever demons changed tactics yet again, and through a campaign of careful infiltration, seduction, and betrayal they began to undermine the fragile alliances that held together the crusade. This more subtle campaign produced several crusader defeats, but more importantly it succeeded in inflaming suspicion and paranoia in Mendev. The uneasiness is worst in the border town of Kenabres, where the aging prophet Hulrun leads a zealous pogrom against demon worshipers, and his passion for inquisition remains undimmed by the passing years. In truth, much of the Third Crusade seemed nearly as concerned with purifying the citizenry and the hinterlands of Mendev as with matters on the front lines.
As far back as the First Crusade, many immigrating crusaders suspected the native Iobarian culture and its druidic faith of being demon-tainted. Hundreds of indigenous Mendevians and pilgrims have been burned at the stake in Kenabres alone since these trials began. Crusader leaders in the past turned a blind eye to this cruelty, preferring to focus on military matters, but the Order of Heralds instituted with the Fourth Crusade has made considerable strides in curbing the inquisition.
Even in Kenabres, the ardor of the inquisition has dimmed somewhat, and many hope it will be utterly extinguished with the death of the aged prelate—but quietly here and there throughout Mendev, the screaming flames still echo the passion of her most fervent zealots.
Today, Mendev is a land of duality, a shining bastion of law and goodness hard up against the Worldwound, a burgeoning sinkhole of evil that threatens all of creation. It is a land of pilgrims, crusaders, opportunistic rogues, and a simmering clash of cultures from south and north. Foreigners engaged in the holy wars against the blight of the Worldwound now outnumber the native people of Mendev, who have been pushed aside and treated as an underclass by the nation’s new inhabitants. Queen Galfrey inspires hope that the Fourth Crusade will return attention to the true enemy and the ideals of the crusade— and rid the north of the taint of otherworldly evil. Throughout Avistan and beyond, men and women of strong character and boundless ambition still look to the north with purpose and determination, and in their mouths the Acts of Iomedae are no mere words or stories, but a holy calling. Still, stability is fragile in Mendev, and a real brutality and lawlessness lurks just below the surface. All the while, slowly but surely, the reality-bending chaos of the Worldwound consumes more of the world, spreading its malign influence ever southward. Sooner or later, the wardstones will fail. Unless something changes soon, the Worldwound could eventually encompass all of Avistan.
The noble Queen Galfrey wields considerable power in Nerosyan, but farther from the capital her influence dwindles. Individual crusader commanders vary in their loyalty and how many liberties they take on their own authority, and there is often tension between the religious and military leaders of the crusade over priorities. Looming over all are the overzealous inquisitors—Hulrun of Kenabres is the most influential but he has many sympathizers across Mendev. Meanwhile, the Crusade Heralds attempt to mediate and satisfy all groups in the best interests of the crusade.
The queen and her councilors know that the quality of the crusaders f locking to Mendev has become highly questionable, and yet they are desperate for troops and loath to turn away anyone. Still, they hear the cries of persecuted native Mendevians at the hands of inquisitors and thuggish “low templars” alike. With Mendev’s resources stretched to the breaking point and division within the crusade even in the face of the dire threat of the Worldwound, there are few to spare to quell these internal problems.
All crusaders nominally fight under the white-and-gold banner of Iomedae and the adopted coat of arms of the Mendevian Crusade. Because crusaders are drawn from so many nations and noble houses, every fortification and field of battle in Mendev is a riot of color, as pennons, streamers, gonfalons, ensigns, and standards of all shapes, sizes, and colors snap in the ever-present northern winds. Some represent entirely invented titles, as unknowns from the south seek to create status and privilege for themselves in the north, since it is impossible for the Iomedaean Heralds to check every claim to nobility or knighthood as they mediate precedence and pride of place. The most honored banners, however, are those awarded for service on the field of battle—blazoned with sword, shield, or sunburst—which can be earned by a soldier of any rank, from the lowest to the highest.
Egede: The port city of Egede in the southeast, on the Lake of Mists and Veils, is Mendev’s gateway to the rest of the world. Most crusaders, pilgrims, and traders arrive by way of the River Kingdoms and nearby Chesed in Numeria.
Trade with Brevoy has also blossomed with the recent fall of House Rogarvia. Many new arrivals, bankrupted by their long journey to Mendev and unscrupulous merchants along the way, settle in Egede and spend their time in support industries to aid in the war, or in constant prayer and fasting in support of the soldiers. Exhausted units are often rotated from the front to Egede for rest and relaxation, and many covert brothels and bawdy houses have sprung up, much to the consternation of the more puritanical crusader factions.
Egelsee River: Flowing out of the Estrovian Forest, the Egelsee River marks most of Mendev’s southern border with Numeria, although the frequent Numerian raids across the river in Mendev’s past have ebbed since the crusaders’ arrival. For a relatively short river, its strategic importance to Mendev is immense, and not solely as a source of pure water and fisheries for the capital at Nerosyan.
Estrovian Forest: Southern Mendev is dominated by the Estrovian Forest. Long a source of timber and game, the forest acquired a fell reputation during the First Crusade. A great huntsman from Andoran named Herne Vilhaur was mortally injured while hunting a sacred white stag in the druid groves of the Estrovian Forest and was abandoned by his companions, who named him a deserter and a turncoat to cover their own absence. The druids of the forest, their people being steadily dispossessed by the influx of well-armed foreigners, found in Herne the tool of their vengeance. They hanged him from an ancient oak in the northern reaches of the forest and laid upon him the “curse of the winterthorn,” transforming him into a stag-horned avenging spirit. Warped by the druids’ magic and his own undying hatred for them and for his faithless companions, Herne made his creators his first victims and soon forgot all but his own name, his burning malice, and the urge to hunt. In the years that followed,
Herne’s predations gave native Mendevians and southern interlopers alike a new name for fear in the chill winter night, passing down his awful curse to create a race of stag-crowned dark hunters who live amid winter wolves or great snowy owls. At his passing, these “hernes,” who bore his name, buried him at the foot of the very oak where he had his unholy rebirth. This ground is sacred to the hernes, and while their progenitor’s barrow is said to be rich in funerary treasures, travelers in the Estrovian Forest venture near Herne’s Oak only at grave peril.
Icerift Castle: Mendev has relatively few traditional dungeons that have not already been plundered, thanks to a century of crusaders motivated both by piety and by greed. One little-touched location, however, dates from the First Crusade, when crusaders began construction on a fortress on the high ice near the Crown of the World to command the extreme northern frontier.
Icerift Castle was abandoned when only partially complete, as it was decided it would be too difficult to resupply and reinforce. When the workers and garrison were to return home, crusaders sent to escort them discovered all had been slaughtered and their hearts torn out, without evidence of demonic taint. The native Mendevians blamed the slaughter on the legendary wendigo, and the site was placed under anathema and stricken from crusader records. Fell rumors persist of what lurks within.
Kenabres: The small city of Kenabres in the north is the epicenter of the radical zealot and witch-hunting faction under the leadership of the aged prelate Hulrun. Kenabres is also responsible for managing the defenses along the northern frontier, and the crusader generals Dyre and Marcovina constantly struggle with Hulrun’s demands for crusaders to deal with internal enemies.
Nerosyan: Nerosyan is a fortress city, constantly being built and rebuilt. It guards the confluence of the Egelsee River, arising in the Estrovian Forest, and the chill waters of the West Sellen River, flowing south from the high tundra and the eternal northern ice fields beyond. The city is laid out in a diamond pattern in the angle between the rivers, with perpendicular bastions partitioning it to slow the progress of invaders. Dozens of towers surmount the walls, capped with slit-pierced screens sloped at high angles to shed heavy snowfall and to guard its defenders against flying horrors.
The fourfold gates of the Cruciform Cathedral at the city’s heart allow the crusaders to respond quickly to threats from any quarter. For those who know where to look, Nerosyan retains a subtle residue of its piratical past, but in general it is a city with clarity of purpose, indomitable strength, cool beauty, and a sharp edge poised against the corruption just across the river, fully earning its nickname—“the Diamond of the North.”