Conquest of the Stolen Lands
The River Kingdoms
In the far-distant past, when forests covered much of Avistan and elves were the dominant race, the land now known as the River Kingdoms was verdant and lively. Streams ran quick and clear, and the land was green and firm. This territory adjoining Kyonin and Lake Encarthan was a place for high nobles and their courts to enjoy hunting and sport. The elves called it Telvurin, translated today in Taldane as “The Shifting Lands.” The departure of the elves gave the human race new territory to explore, putting them in conflict with lizardfolk, frog-men, and suspicious fey. With its dozens of tributary rivers dividing the region into countless small territories, it became a natural place for outcasts, rebels, and petty tyrants to stake claims and declare themselves rulers of whatever land they could grab and hold.
Capital: None Notable Settlements: Daggermark (27,460), Gralton (9,200), Mivon (10,870), Pitax (8,790), Sevenarches (4,340) Rulers: Various warlords, megalomaniacs, bandit kings, retired adventurers, and exiled princes Government: Too numerous to mention, including regions of absolute anarchy Languages: Common, Hallit Religion: Calistria, Cayden Cailean, Erastil, Norgorber, Desna, Gorum, Lamashtu, Hanspur, Gyronna
The massive Sellen River basin drains all the eastern lands, carrying waters from the Lake of Mists and Veils north of Brevoy; from the massive Lake Encarthan; and from Galt, Numeria, and Ustalav. The mighty Sellen finally f lows into the Inner Sea on the border of Taldor and Andoran. As the rivers pass through the hundred marshes and forests of the River Kingdoms, they seem to carry an especially heavy freight of sin, treachery, and thievery. The River Kingdoms are where desperate men go to escape their pasts and carve out new lives.
The bandits, fortunately, have never unified. Although doing so would threaten all their neighbors and give them the ability to deal with other kingdoms as equals, the river lords constantly fight among themselves. Robbery and murder are common on every road and river in the River Kingdoms, and small mercenary companies fight in the spring and summer for ownership of each hamlet and bridge. One result of the frequent infighting is that food in the River Kingdoms is quite valuable. Rather few souls dare to farm or raise livestock, for fear of banditry. What little food is grown is kept secure in castle granaries or well-guarded cattle pens.
War is the constant here—anything that cannot be defended is seized by the strong. Those who hide here and bide their time to grow strong include hardened criminals, slavers, necromancers, vicious princelings who lost a succession struggle, exiled nobles, firebrands, and religious zealots— anyone most people would rather not have as neighbors. These hardy but treacherous folk possess very little trust, but they tend to follow the strong code of River Freedoms. Those who rule are strong, wily, and willing to do anything to keep their hold on power.
In practice, the strongest of the River Kingdoms sometimes dissolve themselves for good reason: their troops and leaders are hired away to fight in distant wars. The bloodiest wars among the kingdoms occur when these troops return and seek to seize their former territories.
The only thing that can unite the River Kingdoms for even a brief period is a threat from Galt, Numeria, or Razmiran, and even then, each princeling vies with his fellows to lead the resistance. Larger realms find the River Kingdoms useful sources of mercenaries and a convenient place to exile undesirables who might make trouble at home. Attempts to seize and hold River Kingdoms territory generally prove expensive, thanks to skills honed by years of infighting being turned against the lessexperienced and less daring soldiers of the wider world. LIFE IN THE RIVER KINGDOMS
Passing crusaders headed to Mendev complain of the chaos in the River Kingdoms, but this is hyperbole. Far removed from the horror of the Worldwound, the River Kingdoms are as predictable as a cauldron—you never know what will come bubbling up, but you can be sure the whole thing is hot. This heat makes the River Kingdoms a singular place to live.
The River Kingdoms are split into more than two dozen sovereign realms, ruled by despots of varying temperament. Tyrants who raise a keep in the River Kingdoms often hail from surrounding lands, but are almost always castoffs, criminals, or wayward offspring of more important folk. Most rule by force, though some are gentler than others.
Life in the River Kingdoms is harsh. Bandits can attack at any time, local governments shift like riverbanks, invading armies pillage the land, and unexpected monstrous and magical threats occur with alarming frequency. Every family has lost someone to sudden violence. The perilous uncertainty keeps everyone tense, suspicious, and often angry.
Trust is paramount. Anyone unrecognizable is not just a potential threat, but also a potential vanguard for an army of threats. “Trust costs more than money” is a common Riverfolk aphorism.
For all this danger, though, the land is still beautiful and bountiful. Even the marshes and forests are fertile. Raiders, not the land or weather, make farming hard. Wheat, corn, oats, and rice are quick and plentiful crops grown throughout the kingdoms. Livestock grow fat on the rich grasses fed by the hydra-headed tributaries of the Sellen River.
Riverfolk love politics, and talk about it in the same manner as farmers talk weather: maybe they can’t do anything about it, but they discuss it endlessly. Any given Riverfolk has an opinion about which form of government is best, how the local leader is doing, and how all the neighboring kingdoms’ leaders are doing.
Living in the River Kingdoms requires protection. Farms and livestock pens are small and well defended, as though each were a small fortress. Moats and earthworks surround the better-established ones, and most farms also have a defendable cellar into which farmers and their families can retreat. Even hamlets and thorps have their own stockade walls, and most commoners wear weapons openly, “to keep everyone honest.”
Trades that require complex support, such as alchemy, are rare and short-lived. Functional, relatively mobile livelihoods thrive here, including tanning, herding, brewing, and other forms of craftsmanship. Bandits
Far more bandits roam the Kingdoms than one would think the population could absorb. Criminals and castoffs from nearby nations, as well as natives, frequently take a turn at banditry here. The law is f lexible, and the Sixth River Freedom subtly encourages it.
Despite the fierce reputation of River Kingdoms bandits, many young men and women only try banditry as a side job, or as a found opportunity when they happen upon treasure left in weak hands. For a few, it’s the only way to retrieve what was stolen from them first. Other bandits are mercenary soldiers turned out of their previous jobs. They would rather fight than steal, but they’d rather live than starve.
Commoners are a hardscrabble lot, so for profit, bandits target wealthy outsiders. Most cities contain lookouts for bandit crews, gathering information on likely visiting targets, or offering guide services to lure visitors into traps. The locals are always wise to these tricks, and for a handful of coppers, a local can usually identify the lookouts… assuming he isn’t one of them himself.
For a charismatic few, banditry is a path to legitimacy. Bandit gangs past a certain size gain their own gravity; highway robbery becomes usurpation at a surprisingly low threshold in the River Kingdoms. More than once, a bandit leader has ended up taking over a keep that he only meant to plunder at the outset.
Yet the River Kingdoms are far from lawless; it’s just that the laws they adhere to appear lawless in practice. The Six River Freedoms receive a lot of lip service, but the primary law of the River Kingdoms is that power rules. The members of the Outlaw Council would be quick to inform would-be philosophers that all nations follow this rule; the River Kingdoms just aren’t shy about admitting it.
Forms of Goverment
Nearly every type of government imaginable has been attempted within the River Kingdoms, and will likely be attempted again. Below is a list of the most common government types that appear in the River Kingdoms. Government types can be mixed, such as an ethnocratic oligarchy. Types include:
Anarchy: The complete absence of organized government. This state exists intermittently throughout the River Kingdoms, but sustaining it as a form of actual policy is exceptionally difficult.
Aristocracy: Rule by a hereditary class of people. Usually subsumed under a monarchy.
Autocracy: Government in which one person has sole, unrestricted rule. Also known as despotism. The majority of River Kingdoms are ruled by autocrats.
Bureaucracy: Rule through a system of departments or bureaus, arranged in a hierarchy of authority. Department heads and staff are usually appointed rather than elected or openly decided.
Confederacy: Rule under a union of states, organizations, or individuals.
Democracy: Majority rule by the people. Rulers are elected from among the populace.
Dictatorship: Although a form of autocracy, a dictator has no plans or aspirations for hereditary rule.
Ethnocracy: Government in which rulership is limited to those of a particular ethnicity or race.
Feudality: A loosely defined form of government consisting of binding agreements between lords and vassals. The River Freedoms make traditional concepts of feudalism difficult to sustain, but versions of this agreement frequently crop up in unstable regions.
Gerontocracy: Rule determined by the eldest—usually a group of elders, rather than the single oldest person.
Gynarchy: Explicit rule by females. See “matriarchy.”
Kritocracy/Kritarchy: Rule by judges. The former is rule by a judge’s personal opinion, whereas the latter is rule by comparison to an external standard, such as “natural rights.”
Magocracy: Rule by secular magical authority, usually a single wizard or sorcerer.
Matriarchy: Rule by a mother figure, within a familial social system.
Meritocracy: Government by those who demonstrate talent or ability in a certain position.
Militocracy: System of rule where the military holds full authority (another River Kingdoms favorite).
Monarchy: Government where supreme authority is held by one hereditary ruler, typically referred to as a king or queen. Many River Kingdom autocrats declare themselves monarchs.
Ochlocracy: Rule by a mob with no formal authority.
Oligarchy: Rule by an elite few.
Patriarchy: Rule by a single father figure, within a familial social system.
Pedocracy: Government by the learned or scholarly.
Plutocracy: Rulership by the rich. Although the wealthy always have power over government, plutocracy is explicit, literal rule by the wealthiest.
Republic: A form of government where the people ruled can indirectly affect the government through representatives.
Syndicracy: Rule by a business group. Theocracy: Though technically meaning direct rule by a deity, theocracy is often defined as rule by clergy who act on a deity’s dictates. Also known as a hierocracy or emirate.
Within the River Kingdoms, “kingdom” is considered acceptable shorthand when referring to an autonomous state, and “lord” is the generic term of address for a ruler, regardless of a ruler’s form of government or sex.
The Six River Freedoms
Frequently invoked—and occasionally trampled—the River Freedoms are the ideological backbone for common Riverfolk. Outsiders who expect to lead Riverfolk must quickly make themselves aware of the subtleties of the River Freedoms, as those who repeatedly f lout a beloved freedom find themselves deposed by a mob. Indeed, the River Freedoms find their most curious interpretations in the folkways of common Riverfolk. A quick-witted wag who quotes a freedom to justify her actions can sway hearts to accept the most egregious behavior, and a misinterpretation of words can get an honest paladin driven out with malice.
Philosophers and scholars who study the political landscapes of the River Kingdoms rank the River Freedoms in order from least to most grave—after all, no one seriously believes in unfettered freedom to speak at all times. However, slavery is as serious an offense here as in Andoran, and nothing is so sacred to Riverfolk as the freedom to keep what one holds.
Say What You Will, I Live Free: The freedom to speak is not the same as freedom from consequences of speech. Outsiders, drunkards, and fools are the only ones who vocally invoke this freedom. All others respect it, and live with it accordingly.
Still, criticism of government is more common here than in other lands. Cruel despots occasionally get an earful from their subjects, and the wise ones do not harshly punish such vocal rabble. In the River Kingdoms, subjects are earned by withstanding criticism rather than suppressing it. Pride sometimes intervenes, but a long-lasting lord is one who lets tongues wag.
This freedom is especially tantalizing for bards and anyone using charm magic. No one attempts to limit a spellcaster’s speech, and a silence spell is a suspicious abrogation of rights.
Oathbreakers Die: The f lip side of free speech in the River Kingdoms is the gravity of oath-breaking. Petty liars are common, but in a land where tomorrow can bring a gang of mercenaries, the people in charge must know whom they can trust. Common oaths include “I swear by the Sellen,” “May Hanspur take my sons,” and “My freedom is my bond.”
Riverfolk who undertake oaths of this nature keep them, or die trying. This attitude trickles down to business transactions, but can ironically make things more difficult— it’s hard to get a Riverfolk trader to fully commit to anything. Standard contracts contain a “Gyronna clause” which voids a contract in case of unforeseen calamity. This would seem a perfect dodge for scoundrels, but associating with Gyronna is the worst omen a Riverfolk trader can invoke. No one deals with a trader who admits aff liction by Gyronna, lest the association rub off.
Walk Any Road, Float Any River: This freedom implies no safety while traveling, especially from the local lord. It merely prevents lords from blocking land and water travel, or charging tolls for passing (except for non-Riverfolk). Of course, any ruler who doesn’t want people on his roads can bar them without erecting a single block—threats, bribes, political pressure, or hiring “bandits” are just as effective.
However, in practice, it means no lord can take his or her people for granted. Most Riverfolk do not leave their homes for anything but essential travel, no matter who is in charge (and poor Riverfolk usually have nowhere else to go), but they might still move to a new kingdom if their lord is abusive. This escape is rarely necessary. A lord who wants a functioning kingdom knows not to treat subjects too harshly, or the best ones will disappear, leaving a half-empty kingdom behind.
Courts Are for Kings: Buried midway down the list is one that undergirds them all: law within the River Kingdoms is malleable, and the rulers of a kingdom do as they wish. In their lands, one must obey. Whether a visitor is a commoner or a neighboring king, all are subject to a lord’s law within his own territory, and anyone who disobeys must be prepared for punishment or a declaration of war.
As a result, rulers seldom visit each other directly. Intermediaries do the talking, even when lords are scant miles away. When face-to-face negotiations occur, the monarchs often take great pains to protect their own sovereignty, even going so far as to set up camp tents on shared borders, talking across a rope line hung with pennants from both kingdoms. The major exception is the yearly Outlaw Council, where the meeting hall is considered politically neutral.
Slavery is an Abomination: Nothing is so secure in the River Kingdoms as freedom for escaped slaves. Unlike Andorens, Riverfolk won’t leave their homes to free slaves, but a runaway in the River Kingdoms is a slave no more.
Some estimates say that one-third of the Riverfolk alive today are escaped slaves or descendants of slaves. Riverfolk welcome thousands of escaped slaves to all kingdoms each year, to fill ranks in armies and agriculture. Escaped slaves are usually the fiercest proponents of the River Freedoms, as these conventions are the first taste of freedom in their new lives.
Because of this freedom, Hellknights of the Order of the Chain and other slave-takers cannot operate openly here, and any Andoren Eagle Knight can dispel most Riverfolk’s natural distrust of strangers by showing her insignia—and get a free drink and a barn to sleep in.
Depending on the local custom, this abolition can extend to indentured servitude. Spellcasters are warned to be circumspect when summoning monsters in the River Kingdoms, lest their magic be misinterpreted.
You Have What You Hold: In contrast to many other civilizations on Golarion, this freedom draws a moral distinction between robbery and mere stealing. Taking something by force is considered acceptable, even begrudgingly praiseworthy. Burglary, on the other hand, is punishable under common law. The difference is in allowing a victim the ability to resist, the opportunity to face his or her robber, and to plan for repossession if so desired. This allows for a rough honesty, letting Riverfolk know and face their enemies.
Religion in the River Kingdoms
In addition to having temples and shrines to Calistria, Cayden Cailean, Erastil, Norgorber, Desna, and even Lamashtu, the River Kingdoms are home to many strange cults, some of which actually have a source of magic behind them. The elves say the magic of the land responds to belief, and many local tales tell of mysterious creatures of the woods who can grant boons in exchange for a sworn oath or devotion, with a few even having true clerics (though strangely limited by distance to their patron). The best known are Gyronna and Hanspur, who are actual (if minor) divinities and whose priests retain their magic throughout Golarion.