Friday, August 8, 2014

[Cimmeria] History of Hyboria

This is not truly Conan’s Cimmeria. Or rather, I should say, this is not truly Cimmeria as envisioned by Robert E. Howard. That Cimmeria would be a poor place for adventure; were it otherwise, and there were opportunities to earn great treasures, win the adoration of beautiful wenches, and crush the kingdoms of the earth under your sandals, Conan might never have left! Thus, this is a Cimmeria more geared toward using the basic background of the Hyborian Age as a platform for fantasy role-playing game adventures. If you are looking for a scholarly derivation of the Conan canon… this isn’t it. If you are interested in such, I’d advise you to look up “Hyborian Heresies” by Dale Rippke.

To fill in the gaps in Cimmeria, I have taken the ancient myths and legends of the Celts – the Irish, Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Gauls, and more – distilled them further down into archetypes, and applied them to a sword and sorcery framework fleshed out by weird dark fantasy. Don’t worry, however – there are no frolicsome fairies, pesky pixies, or dancing leprechauns to be found. In this Cimmeria, the locals have good and true reason for their fears of the mist-haunted forests and cloud-shrouded crags. The melancholies of the Cimmerians are based not merely on the grim, grey weather, but on the sorcerous, inhuman, and monstrous dangers that lurk around every corner, sleep in muddy rivers, haunt dark valleys, and skulk in ancient Atlantean ruins…

Further, to fill in the pieces of the adjoining lands, I have scoured various Conan resources and adapted bits and pieces that I fancy. The lands of the Aesir and Vanir of course are inspired by Norse mythology. The Eiglophian Mountains also owe much to the Norse, but also owe a debt to Clark Ashton Smith’s Hyperborea stories and Howard’s Kull stories (and the Marvel comic book adaptations). Finally, following in the tradition of the Mighty Marvel Bullpen, I adapted elements and ideas from Gardner Fox’s “Kothar” and “Kyrik” stories to fill in the blanks in the Border Kingdom (though for the most part, only names survived the transformation).

This gazetteer is set in 1361 AA, one hundred years after Venarium and mere days after the death of Conan II, King of Aquilonia, who left seven legitimate sons (by three wives) vying to inherit the kingdom. While this means that all of Conan’s known adventures are history, this leaves the whole wide Hyborian world open to the adventures of your players and their characters. Between the departure of Conan and the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there are yet countless of untold adventures to be had!

Seven thousand years ago the Great Cataclysm struck, Valusia and the other kingdoms of the Thurian continent were destroyed, and their peoples cast down into savagery. The surviving Valusians were conquered and nearly wiped out in the battles between the new, savage empires of the Picts in the west, the Atlanteans in the north, and the Zhemri in the east. For five hundred years these petty, primitive empires squabbled over the leavings of the previous civilization. Then the Lesser Cataclysm struck and undid what little they had done to rebuild.

While the Zhemri empire collapsed into squabbling city-states, and the Picts fell into stone-age savagery, the Atlanteans collapsed all the way back to ape-like primitivism. Not all the Atlanteans fell, however; a few, those who retained the old powers of sorcery and knowledge of super-science, decided to evolve beyond the mortal coil of this world and sought refuge in strange planes and odd angles, and transformed themselves into the Scáith – beings of pure elemental shadow. In their strange Otherworlds, they continued to practice and improve upon their sorcery (though they lost much of their science), and from time to time visited the ape-like descendents of their lost cousins in this world; to prey upon them, enslave them, or otherwise torment them at their pleasure.

The Valusians of the middle-lands were left to their own devices for nearly 500 years, during which they assimilated Pictish, Cimmerian, and Zhemri bloodlines from the clans and tribes that remained after the collapse of their proto-empires. Though preyed upon by the petty city-states of the remnant of the Zhemri Empire, they slowly rebuilt their civilization… clans growing into tribes, tribes giving birth to primitive kingdoms, until…

1000 years after the Great Cataclysm, most of the Valusian tribes and their petty kingdoms were conquered by the Stygian Giant-Kings, great and terrible sorcerous lords from Elder Stygia who settled the north and founded the Empire of Acheron. These dark lords fled Elder Stygia following a civil war; these were the lords who sought vigorous expansion, while those who remained in Elder Stygia sought to remain in contemplative decadence.

The conquered Valusian tribes further assimilated the bloodlines of the Stygian servitors, such as the ancestors of the Shemites (descended from Commorians), the Pelishtim (descended from Verulians), and the Zingg (descended from Farsunians). This mixed people, during the two thousand years of Giant-King rule, merged to become the Acheronians, as steeped in evil and demonolatry as their masters. The free Valusian clans, their cousins on the borders, remained relatively pure-blooded savage barbarians, caught between the Acheronians as the anvil and the hammers of the Picts, savage Atlanteans, Hyborians, and Zhemri.

Another 500 years later, 1500 years after the Cataclysm, and the Khari, fleeing from the rebellion of the Lemurians in the Far East, conquer and settle in Elder Stygia. There they are assimilated into the local population and begin rebuilding an empire. In the north, the Acheronians are also expanding, and eventually the two empires meet at the great escarpment that for long ages defines the border between the North and the South.

By the time 2000 years have passed since the Great Cataclysm, Acheron and Khari-ruled Stygia reach their greatest extent. The core of Acheron consists of most of Aquilonia, Nemedia, eastern Zingara, the southern Border Kingdom, and western Brythunia; the core of Stygia includes modern Stygia, western and central Shem, and points south and east. The two empires fight continually over Ophir, Corinthia, Zamora, and Koth. It was then that the Acheronians made their ultimately lethal mistake – they took in the Hyborian barbarians of the north as mercenaries.

At this time, the north is a Hyborian realm, from the Eiglophian Mountains to the cold frost-covered lands of the Arctic, and from the Vilayet to the Western Ocean. In the south, between the free Valusian tribes north of Acheron and south of the Eiglophian Mountains, the ape-like Cimmerians live in the forested hills and dark valleys. These primitive beings were unsuited for mercenary work; so too the savage Picts in the west and the scheming Zhemri of the east. Thus the Acheronians turned to the Hyborians. The first Hyborian mercenaries of Acheron were well-settled in the re-conquered lands of Koth, as guardians of the border against incursions by Stygia and the Shemites, by the time the first primitive castle was reared in ancient Hyperborea.

It was the advent of the kingdom of Hyperborea, in the eastern heartlands of old Hyboria, as well as the arrival out of the north of the primitive Nordheimr, that began the wholesale drift and migration of the Hyborian peoples south into Acheron. At first, the tide was welcome by those sorcerous princes – more mercenaries to use against the Stygians, more settlers for the ruined and fought-over lands of Koth (and later Argos, Ophir, and Corinthia), more slaves to labor in fields and die screaming on altars. But the short-term gains of this policy missed the long-term results of such wholesale immigration. By the end of this period, nearly 1000 years after the first use of Hyborian mercenaries, 3000 years after the Cataclysm and 3000 years before the modern era, the Hyborian rebellions started in the south.

First in Koth and Argos, then even in Ophir and Corinthia – here and there, in various cities and provinces, the southern Hyborians, civilized for centuries, were in the majority… and they groaned under the yoke of their Acheronian masters. As wars with Stygia were at the time few and far between (the Stygians then caught in the depths of one of their own civil wars), the Hyborians of the south sought their own freedom, to keep their own taxes, and rule their own lands. Now long unused to fighting their own wars, the Acheronians fought fire with fire – and brought in more fresh Hyborian tribes, these often mixed with the Valusians of the borders, or by this time even the Nordheimr of the cold, legendary north. But it did them little good.

As the Hyborian rebellions grew, the Acheronians turned more and more to dark, terrible sorceries, and the power of the Temple of Set grew great in the empire. The new Hyborian mercenaries came to find they had more in common with their enemies than with their masters. Together, they united to overthrow the Acheronians. With even the northern heartlands of the empire thrown into civil war, the trickle of Hyborians from the north became a flood. The empire crumbled. The High Priest of Set in Acheron, Xaltotun, and his followers fled south to Stygia, their power broken, their capital of Python destroyed, shortly before the Kothian Hyborians and their barbaric Hyborian allies crushed the renascent Stygians north of the Styx and razed the city of Kuthchemes.

In the end, the Hyborians had exchanged an empire of Acheronians under Set for an empire of Southern Hyborians, the Kothians, under the Temple of Adonis and Ishtar. For the Kothians immediately began their own empire-building, and within 500 years, 3500 years after the Cataclysm, they ruled an empire that included modern Koth, Ophir, Corinthia, and usually parts of Zamora, Argos, Zingara, and Shem. North of the Red River, south of Cimmeria, east of the Pictish Wilderness, and west of the Kezankian Mountains, petty kingdoms and tribal territories of mixed Hyborian, Valusian, and Acheronian sort continually fought each other, the Picts, and invading clans of Hyperboreans and Nordheimr.

For the Hyperboreans (by then a mixed Hyborian-Nordheimr race) were shortly after the fall of Acheron conquered by the last remnants of the sorcerous Acheronian Giant-Kings; it is they and their sorcery that gave rise to the Witchmen of the White Hand, the ruling caste of modern Hyperborea (though they secretly rule in the name of the Secret Masters, the last of the Giant-Kings). Over the following centuries, whole clans of the mixed Hyperborean peoples raided south into Brythunia, and there settled in the plains, driving the native Valusians into the forests and hills.

The Cimmerians, through all the wandering and war, had been left much to their own devices. Up to this point they had remained, for more than 2000 years, simple ape-like men, living in caves and with no knowledge of the use of tools or even fire, let alone their own humanity. They had been prey for their distant cousins, the Scáith, for long ages; this culled the weak and the slow, the foolish and the curious, from their ranks. It was the advent of the savage Giant-Kings that finally brought the Cimmerians back from the brink of apedom.

For when Acheron was crushed, the Giant-Kings powerful and mighty in sorcery fled north, to Hyperborea, leaving their less magically-potent but no less giant-blooded kin to their own devices. These fled from the ruins of Acheron into the savage north, where even the Hyborians had feared to go – Cimmeria. There they found the primitive Cimmerians and settled among them. They took as their wives the largest and most intelligent of these creatures, and with them bred a new generation of giants, known to Cimmerian myth and legend as the Firbolg.

During this time the Scáith were also busy, expanding into the northlands even as the Nordheimr were moving into the lands emptied by the Hyborians. They enter into Nordheimr legendry as the Liosalfar, or Elves (as opposed to the Svartalfar, or Dwarfs). Many of the northern settlements are of mixed Scáith descent with strong Nordheimr bloodlines; while the elemental portions of their essence have merged and perhaps, weakened, the shadowy darkness of their nature has expanded.

After a few generations building their numbers, the Firbolg, under their leader Crom-Ya, returned to their fallen land of Acheron. There they conquered many of the local tribes and petty-kingdoms, forming their own realms. But they were a divisive and quarrelling people, and were never able to rebuild the ancient empire they had lost. Such unity as they were ever able to muster was expended fighting the superior numbers and powers of the Kothian Empire.

3500 years after the Great Cataclysm, Acheron is no more, Stygia sleeps, Koth waxes and wanes in power, the Argosseans have begun their heroic sea journeys, the Zamorians squabble in their city-states, the Shemites feud with each other when not united against the Kothians, and the Zingarans (the Zingg now mixed with Picts and Hyborians) slowly build their kingdom. The middle lands of the North are a patchwork of petty Hyborian, Valusian, Acheronian, Hyperborean, and Firbolg kingdoms and tribes. The Cimmerians have risen from their ape-like stupor, and though abandoned by the Firbolg, begin to create their own barbaric culture.

The Aesir and Vanir slowly spread into the regions left barren by the migration of the Hyborians north of the Eiglophian Mountains. The southern clans of Nordheimr exhibit a higher level of culture and technology due to their conquest and assimilation of the remaining Hyborian tribes of the region. The return of the Nordheimr to these lands is ironic; for it was the Hyborians who had, thousands of years ago, driven their forefathers (men of Thule who wore the hides of white apes, not the white apes themselves) into the north. Following the tales of their assimilated Hyborian brethren, the Nordheimr often sallied south, through the passes in the Eiglophian Mountains, to raid into the patchwork of kingdoms and tribes between the Cimmerians and Koth.

There they found the Firbolg, for the Nordheimr (followers of Ymir the Frost Giant), a race to be feared and awed. It is from their people that the Nordheimr learned the traditions of burying their noble dead in barrows with their greatest treasures. Such gigantic barrows, often mistaken for natural hills, are found throughout the region from the Red River in the south to and into southern Cimmeria in the north, and from the Kezankian Mountains in the east to and into the Pictish Wilderness in the west. For such was the range of these savage descendents of the Giant-Kings in those days. For a time, the Nordheimr thought to perhaps invade these rich southern lands and claim them for their own. But such was not to be, for with the invasions of the Firbolg and the Nordheimr, the Hyborians were finally stirred to fulfill their destiny.

Weary of the raids coming across the Red River, 4000 years after the Great Cataclysm the Kothian Emperor Nemed I, “The Great,” founded two provinces on the northern side of the river: the eponymous Nemedia and Aquilon (the “Northern Province”). To all the petty Hyborian kingdoms and free tribes he sent ambassadors with the same message, a message of Hyborian unity of purpose, to finally extinguish the Acheronian remnants, the petty Acheronian kingdoms and their bastard children, the Firbolg (known to the Hyborians as the Titans). The next five centuries witnesses the conquest of the central lands by the Hyborians, who assimilate the local Valusians and other petty tribes and exterminate the Firbolg, the last remnants of which retreat into Cimmeria, other wild lands, and Otherworlds. However, even as the Hyborian Empire grew in might, it rotted at the core.

For the southern Hyborians had adopted the worship of Set and his ilk. This was no accident; for while Stygia had seemingly slept, her sons sought out the younger sons of nobles, disaffected priests and philosophers, and lower-class rabble-rousers and rebels. To each they promised wealth and power, if only they bent the knee to Set. Too, each conquered petty Acheronian realm vomited up libraries full of arcane and eldritch lore, which grasping and power-mad lords added to their sorcerous anthology of tricks. And so by 4500 years after the Great Cataclysm, when the Kothian Empire reached its height, its greatest physical extent, and the pinnacle of its power, uniting most of the modern Hyborian realms under one single banner, it was an empire that was almost indistinguishable in evil from that of the original Acheronian Empire.

Into this realm of darkness was born Epimetreus, the Prophet of Mitra; some say he was born in Koth, others Corinthia or Ophir or even Pelishtia, and a few heretics claim Stygia itself. Epimetreus, said to have been the scion of a noble or even royal house, turned to the ways of philosophy and lore at an early age… in other words, he was a wastrel who spent his days in debauchery and debate at sybaritic symposiums. He was middle-aged by the time he saw the error of his ways and became the Prophet of Mitra. He first bearded the lion in his den, and preached publically in the streets of ancient Khorshemish. He was sought out by the Temple of Set, but fled to the north, where he found younger, cleaner, unsullied Hyborian peoples in the still semi-tribal provinces.

Many of these tribes – already unhappy with their lot under their Set-worshipping southern cousins – turned to the ways of Mitra. He went from tribe to tribe, clan to clan, bringing the message of light unto the unenlightened barbarians. They say he flew across the skies wearing a magical cloak of phoenix feathers; few legends tell, however, that the bright light in his hands was the Heart of Ahriman, rather than the Light of Mitra. Over a period of several decades he welded together an alliance of converted tribes, an alliance whose sole purpose was the destruction of the Temple of Set. That the ensuing civil war also brought down the Kothian Empire was merely incidental. When rebellion flared and the northern provinces declared for Mitra, the Kothians showed their true colors and allowed the legions of Stygia into their realm to help fight against the rebels.

Thereafter a client state of Stygia in all but name, it took a generation of war for the northern Hyborians to reduce the Kothian remnant and drive the Stygians from the North. During this time the last remnants of the Hyborian barbarian tribes, mixed nomadic tribes of Hyborians and Nordheimr in truth, migrated south out of the northern lands and west out of the steppes and tundra, the former fleeing from the Nordheimr, the latter from the Hyrkanians then entering the lands they would call Turan. It was the converted sons of these tribes in the next generation who led the battle further south, into Shem, to throw the Stygians again across the Styx. Several tribes continued on, through the eastern deserts and past the Ilbars Mountains, there to merge with the local Vendhyans and other tribes to form the people of Iranistan. These were cousins of the tribes that settled in the newly-conquered lands of Koth, there to found the principalities of Khoraja, Khauran, and others.

It was during this final war against Stygia that Epimetreus was mortally wounded, though even a mortal wound kept him not from his final great act. After taking his wound, he returned north to the (now independent) province of Aquilon, the heart of his following. There he crowned the barbarian prince of the realm, the grandson of the first chief he converted, as the first king of Aquilonia. This was 1,361 years ago, 4700 years after the Great Cataclysm. It was to create a shield in the north, a bastion for the light of Mitra, in answer to the formation of the earlier foundation of the kingdom of Nemedia (which then consisted merely of Belverus and the surrounds) by a mix of pagan Northern Hyborians and the old Southern Hyborians (the origins of the ancient enmity between the two realms). Thereafter Epimetreus retired to his sanctum at Mount Golamira, where his remains are said to be hidden by great and terrible mystic arts.

For a century following the founding of Aquilonia, Hyborian tribes and war-bands continued to wander around the remnants of the Kothian Empire. Petty kingdoms rose and fell, merged and split, but Nemedia and Aquilonia remained relatively stable, and within 400 years had become the strongest realms north of the Red River. Both then went on a spate of empire-building, Aquilonia to the north and west, Nemedia to the north and east. By 800 AA both realms had attained the essence of their modern borders, with Aquilonia acquiring Gunderland (787 AA) and Nemedia acquiring Hanumar each through marriage. Interestingly, each acquisition showed the major difference between the two states remained in matters of religion: the Gundermen had to give up worship of Bori and accept worship of Mitra, while the people of Hanumar exacted a Royal Declaration of Religious Freedom from the king of Nemedia, in order that they might cleave to their reverence of Ibis.

By 800 AA, Aquilonia had also tamed the bulk of the Bossonian lands, forming them into the Bossonian Marches; similarly in the east, Nemedia had formed the Brythunian Marches, and began to slowly absorb the westernmost Brythunian realms. But it was in this process that they began to find the limits of their advancement into the wild lands to west, north, and east. For at the further ends of these petty domains were vast regions of unconquered, and perhaps unconquerable, barbarians and savages. To the west, they would run into the Picts; to the north, the Cimmerians, and to the east, the Nemedians always found difficulty with the forest-based Brythunians, backed by wild Turanians, and scheming Zamorians.

And so the growth of the two great kingdoms slowed, and for a while the borders shrank back, especially in the case of Nemedia, who lost almost all its Brythunian gains and the bits of the Border Kingdom it had absorbed. And so, for further growth and loot, the two imperial powers turned south, to the rich lands of Zingara, Argos, Ophir, and Corinthia. There they competed with one another and with the resurgent imperial Koth. Wars were as much for loot and glory as they were for land. For hundreds of years these middle realms became a patchwork of petty domains, now leaning Aquilonian, then Nemedian, later for Koth, or sometimes independently play two or more sides against each other. The counts of Zingara and Argos and the senators of Corinthia became quite adept at this game. The practice became a true art in the hands of the Ophireans, however, due to their great mineral wealth.

About 300 years ago the great imperial wars of conquest slowly winded down, as the various nations of the middle lands coalesced from the disparate petty realms. It wasn’t so much that the Aquilonians, Nemedians, and Kothians had tired of the imperial game, as the other peoples of the middle lands had caught up with the imperial powers in terms of wealth and technology. Too, in the case of Koth, Stygia was once again emerging from her long slumber, and flexing her own imperial muscles in Shem, Koth’s own backyard.

It was this Stygian resurgence that brought wrack and ruin to the Cimmerian lands, far more so than any inroads attempted by the Aquilonians or Nemedians. For as the saying goes, by the time you see the serpent stirring, it is too late. Stygia had already sent out feelers into the Hyborian lands, the home of their ancient enemy, and there once again founded cults of Set. In these lands they began to foment unrest and rebellion, pitting the poor against the rich, noble against noble, son against the father. By 1100 AA the situation had become quite grim, for so concerned had the nobles and kings been for the expansion of their own power and wealth at any cost, they had built a social tinderbox, onto which the cultists poured rich oil and flaming brands.

Central to and across all boundaries of the civil unrest, civil wars, rebellions, vendettas, and feuds that broke out over this time was the involvement of the sorcerers of the South. They poisoned all wells of knowledge and scholarship and infiltrated all guilds and brotherhoods. Witch-hunters and inquisitors ferreted out many such sorcerers; many of those who were able to flee fled south, to Shem or back to Stygia. Others sought refuge in the Border Kingdoms. Unfortunately, in Aquilonia, the local Inquisitors of the Temple of Mitra saw little difference between the sorcery of the Southern sorcerers of Set, that of various wicked fiend-speaking witches, and the rural, age-old traditions of the priestesses of the old Wiccana tradition. These, too, they scoured from their lands, with many fleeing to the north, to live among the Cimmerians, where they (then) had co-religionists.

At the time the followers of Cimmerian Wiccana and the followers of the Cimmerian Druids were in balance and co-existed with one another; the sudden influx of hundreds of Wiccana priestesses, most of whom had terrible grievances against a male-dominated faith, threw this fine balance askew. This resulted in a war between the Wiccana priestesses and the Druidic priests of Cimmeria, and cast the whole nation of peoples into a bloodbath for generations. As too, at the time, no few cultists, alchemists, magicians, and other practitioners of sorcerous arts fled to the north, swelling the ranks of such in the Border Kingdom, Cimmeria, and Nordheim, a terrible magical war ravaged the whole region for decades.

The North still bears the scars from that time. While it was a many-sided war, eventually in Cimmeria the druids won, casting out or extirpating all other sorcerous powers of any major sort (save for the native Scáith, of course). Of the Wiccana priestesses, many fled into Vanaheim where, under the leadership of the local high priestess Freyja, they formed their own new temple, the Seithr Cult. Others fled to Hyperborea, where they were welcomed into the White Hand. Still others fled to Brythunia or settled deeper into the wilds and hid; many of their descendents can be found today in the Eiglophian Mountains. Of the non-Wiccana/non-Set cultists, especially males, many fled into the Aesir lands and there joined with Wotan, Freyja’s former lover, in his mountain fastness of Yggdrasill in Asgard. Since that time, it has been forbidden for women to practice any magic in Cimmeria, and for any man to practice non-Druidic magic.

The terrible Wizard War, as it is known to the bards of the Cimmerians, did little to engender a love for magic in Cimmerian hearts. Already they had feared and loathed the shadowy sorcery of the Scáith, the dark enchantments of the Dwarfs, and the strange powers of the Pictish shamans. Cimmerians, ever since, have had a magnified loathing and fear of all sorts of magic. They view even their druidic priests with distrust, and many have turned even from the worship of Danu solely to that of Crom, for he promises nothing but struggle in this life and drear existence in the next, and so the grim and melancholy Cimmerians cleave to his simple faith not in hope, but expectation that there is little to be gained in this world or the next… which just goes to show that most Cimmerians miss the point, but Crom isn't the kind of guy to fix their mis-perceptions for them.

Though it took some time, eventually the worst of the cults were routed from Aquilonia, Nemedia, and the other Hyborian lands. Several wars were fought between Stygia and allied Hyborian countries, often led by the crusading priests of Mitra. Stygia, pushed back to the Styx, once again went quiescent. Peace ruled, for a time, allowing populations to grow. Wars started up here and there, most notably in the East, where Turan began gobbling up the debatable lands between its western border and Zamora. The Shemite city-states devolved into ever wider wars. Zingara has been continually in dynastic flux for most of the last century. All sorts of rumblings indicate that, once again, the major kingdoms of the West are readying to play the imperial game.

One such minor move in the game of empires, which had it ended otherwise would have been of little note other than locally, was the Aquilonian move into Cimmeria in 1261 AA with the founding of the settlement of Venarium. Though there had been relative peace between the southern Cimmerians and Aquilonia for some time, and though the Aquilonians had actually signed a treaty with the southern tribes for the lands and the settlement, other Cimmerians of more traditional mindset sent out the red branch, unified scores of otherwise feuding clans, and formed a horde that slaughtered nearly every last man, woman, and child of the settlement. This was the first taste of civilization for a young northern Cimmerian by the name of Conan… and the rest, as they say, is history.

Conan eventually went on to conquer Aquilonia in 1288 AA. 1300 AA coincided with the 6000th year after the Great Cataclysm. Conan I abdicated his throne to his son, Conan II in 1310 AA. Conan II died earlier this year, in 1361 AA, leaving seven (legitimate) sons by three wives. The gazetteer is set at this date…

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