Rough Timeline of Varisia

-1000+ years Some other culture ruled Varisia, leaving behind vast ruins for modern day folk to wonder about. Different cultures currently inhabiting Varisia have different names for this culture, but no one claims to know much about them (other than, perhaps, a variety of con men selling maps to hidden treasures). The ruins are widespread, with every current settlement having: some mysterious set of stairs to nowhere, a rock that all animals avoid, a ringed wall which you can see is empty, but from which mysterious sounds come, or the like. The greater ruins include whole cities and enormous statues carved directly into the Ridgewall around the Storvall Plateau; an enormous bridge than runs around most of the harbor of Punjar; and innumerable small roads (which sometimes stay mysteriously clear despite plant life taking over elsewhere), walls, and odd, half-collapsed buildings dotting the landscape. Most cultures view the ruins with suspicion or outright fear – usually, nothing good happens in them. But adventurers explore them nonetheless, sometimes coming back with treasure, sometimes with wild stories, and sometimes not coming back at all.

-500-ish years The Elves, which previously inhabited all the forests in Varasia, disappear without clear explanation (although different cultures have different theories). The forests grow wild with abberants, giant insects, molds, plants, and other, less easily characterized beings. No other culture finds the forests liveable after the disappearance of the elves, so they remain largely uninhabited until the elves’ return centuries later.

-350-ish years The people of the southern empire of Cheliax establish a foothold at Korvosa. For the next century, they drive the native people, the Shoanti, back until the Shoanti live only on the relatively inhospitable Storval Plateau. The other native people, the always-nomadic Varisians, continue to exist throughout the continent. The Chelaxians bring with them the continent’s first Dwarves (as mercenaries and craftsmen) and Dragonborn (mostly as shock troops, but occasionally as wizards supporting more conventional military forces).

-200 years The elves return, but only to the Mieriani Forest, the previous seat of their civilization. At the same time, the Thornblood people, a plant-based people, begin to be seen in a variety of locations, all forested or swampy. There are old folktales about speaking plants and plants with two legs, which scholars believe might refer to the Thornbloods, but they had not been regularly encountered (except by drunkards and children) until now.

-100 years The primary god of the Chelaxians dies. Seers go mad, and many of the prophecies are now understood as worthless. Cheliax ceases all contact with its Varisian colonies. Several emissaries to Cheliax never return, and the few that do describe a civilization in chaos. Those outwardly loyal to Old Cheliax move to Punjar, which becomes the “official” seat of the Cheliax empire in Varisia. The ruling elite of Korsova declares itself an independent republic. There are rumors the Chelaxians of Korsova have made deals with demonic powers (as well as further exploiting the lower classes) in order to maintain their standard of living.

-75-ish years The Eladrin begin to be encountered in and around the Sanos Forest. The Sanos had previously been known for huge, rarely glimpsed predators, which occasionally raided and destroyed nearby villages completely. Such predators disappeared almost overnight, and over the last 75 years, other villages have safely grown and prospered near the Sanos. Chelaxians from both Korsova and Punjar tested the defenses of the Eladrin, and found them to be extremely powerful. Now a treaty holds between the Chelaxians and Eladrin.

RACES

Racial distribution of Varisia – 80% human
7% Halfling
4% Elven
2% Tiefling
3% Dragonborn
2% Half Elven 1% Dwarven 1% Eladrin
less than 1% Thornblood

THORNBLOOD
Average Height: 6’ 0” – 6’ 6”
Average Weight: 150 – 200 lb.
Ability Scores: +2 Constitution, +2 Wisdom
Size: Medium
Speed: 6 squares
Vision: Low-light
Languages: Common, Elven
Skill Bonuses: +2 Nature, +2 Stealth
Forest Walk: You ignore difficult terrain that is the result of trees,
underbrush, plants, or natural growth
Rooted Stance: You can use rooted stance as a daily power.

Rooted Stance Thornblood Racial Power
You take root in the earth, drawing power from the foundation
of the earth.
Daily ✦ Stance
Minor Action Personal
Effect: You gain a +2 bonus to your AC and Fortitude defenses until
the end of the encounter, or until you move from the spot. While in the
stance, you are immune to any effect that forces you to move through
a pull, push, or slide.

Rough outline of the races in Varisia (Racial Stereotypes, mostly):

Humans:

There are three distinct ethnic groups in Varisia, although interaction between them over the past centuries means that they are becoming more mixed in racial subtypes. The relatively indigenous peoples are the Shoanti and the Varisians, and the newest group to arrive are the Chelaxians (stop snickering, Eric).

Shoanti – Prior to the arrival of the Chelaxians, the Shoanti lived in villages and small cities throughout the southern Varisia and also lived on the Storval Plateau in nomadic groups. All Shoanti were supposed to go to the Storval Plateau to survive for some period of time as a rite of passage to adulthood. This was a fortunate tradition, for the Chelaxians drove the all the way to the Ridgewall, at which point they stopped. The Ridgewall was too easily defended by the Shoanti, and the plateau too inhospitable for further military action to make sense. So the Shoanti – now much reduced in numbers and entirely nomadic – survive almost entirely on the plateau. There are nine clans of Shoanti, but nearly all the Shoanti seen in greater Varisia are from the Hawk Clan, the most numerous and the least xenophobic clan. Unsurprisingly, the Hawk Clan lives at the top of the Stoval Stairs, the easiest passage to the Storval Plateau, and most adventurers and Shoanti merchants seen in lower Varisia are Hawks. Some Shoanti (again, almost entirely Hawks) have even settled in lower Varisia since the Chelaxian Empire severed contact a hundred years ago – some have even been put into positions of trust. For example, the sheriff of the town of Sand Point, (where this adventure begins), is a hawk-blooded Shoanti, even through the majority of the townspeople are Chelaxian by descent. Shoanti are known to largely distain arcane magic. Pure-blooded Shoanti have skin tones from reddish brown to dark brown, and hair from red to black.

Varisians – The Varisians are most like the common conception of old-tyme Gypsies. They are the least numerous racial group in Varisia. They wear colorful clothing, travel from town to town to buy and sell goods, spread news, perform folktales and dances, and (according to some) bilk townspeople and steal horses. They did not fight the Chelaxians, but the Varisians have been scorned and oppressed by the invaders, stereotyped both as cowards and as thieves. The Varisians tend toward olive skin tones and red to black hair, but because they accept any gifted, interesting, or oppressed traveler into their caravans, they sometimes have odd looking peoples – sometimes human – in their midst.

Chelaxians – Encouraged to be fertile and heavily settled in the most hospitable areas, Chelaxians are now almost a plurality of all people in Varisia. However, since the cessation of contact with the Empire, not all “born” Varisians really see themselves as particularly Chelaxian in temperament or alliances. As a stereotype, though, Chelaxians tend towards seeing themselves as the only civilized people on the continent and tend towards seeing other races as “servitor” races. Slavery is common among the Chelaxians, but usually only non-Chelaxians are slaves. Since having contact cut off, however, Chelaxians have had to get used to having vast portions of their race be ordinary farmers and trademen…. Chelaxians traditionally have pale skin and dark hair, but by virtue of being an empire, any racial subtype might crop up among them. The Varisians and Shoanti tend to assume any pale-skinned human is “Chelaxian.”

Dragonborn – Dragonborn were unknown on this continent before coming with the Chelaxian invasion force. They did so primarily as shock troops, although a small number of Dragonborn worked as warmages. They have since settled down in Varisia, sometimes in the larger cities; sometimes in small, Dragonborn-only villages close to major cities. Many still join the military in one form or another.

Dwarves – Like the Dragonborn, Dwarves came to Varisia with the Chelaxian invasion force, mostly as military might or as metalworkers supporting the military. Part of the agreement with the Dwarves supporting the invasion included the establishment of the walled Dwarven city of Janderhoff in Varisia. In the Dwarven culture where family and clan come first, many of the Dwarves who agreed to help invade Varisia were rebels and younger sons and daughters, frustrated by the lack of opportunity for advancement among their long-lived kind. However, many of their children have been more conservative and traditional in their viewpoints, disappointed to be largely cut off from their extended families back in Chelaxia. Although the Dwarves of Janderhoff own their city because of Chelaxian might, in this day and age, a person of any race is welcome in the city as long as he/she behaves lawfully and has a good reason to be there (usually trade with the Dwarves).

Eladrin – Eladrin only appeared approximately 75 years ago. Their people arrived somewhere in the heart of the Sanos Forest, and they seem to have arrived in numbers that made up a good-sized city. The Chelaxians had already lost contact with their homeland, and, having learned the hard way with the Elves, immediately tested the Eladrin defenses with small, easily denied forces. Those who survived such attacks reported a city already built inside the forest, defended with vast magical energy weapons. The Chelaxians – both from Korsova and Punjar – immediately sent emissaries instead. Based on the treaties signed, Eladrin have right of passage through all Chelaxian lands, and Chelaxians have right of passage through the Sanos. By 50 years or so into their arrival, Eladrin began to be seen regularly as merchants, researchers, and adventurers throughout Varisia, and some settled in other areas, although they have a tendency to keep to themselves. The Shoanti tend to distrust them, and they are less welcome on the Storvall Plateau, although no clear hostilities have ever been declared. Ever since their arrival, Eladrin children have occasionally appeared as foundlings on the steps of the shrines or temples to Desna. As Desna is a goddess of motherhood and children (among many other things), these foundlings are raised in the church, either in orphanages (in large cities) or by the individual priest or priestess in charge of the temple.

Elves – According to the oral traditions of the Shoanti and Varisians, the Elves lived in the forests of this land from time immemorial, but completely disappeared some 500 years ago. They reappeared close to the time the Chelaxians were in the middle of their most intense offensive in driving back the Shoanti, but the Elves appeared only in the Mieriani Forest, the former seat of their civilization. Because the forests at this time were extremely inhospitable to humanoids and because of the intensity of the fighting elsewhere, the Chelaxians did not immediately move to eradicate the Elves, and by the time they turned their eyes to the Mieriani, the Elves had become entrenched, even enlisting the plants and animals of the forest in their defense. The Chelaxians were soundly defeated, and they left the Mieriani Forest alone afterwards. Since their reappearance, Elven adventurers, bards, and merchants have traveled throughout Varisia, sometimes accompanying Varisian caravans or Shoanti clans, but also occasionally making close friendships or even homes with open-minded Chelaxians.

Half-Elves – In Shoanti or Varisian homes, half-elves are accepted as siblings and equals to other children. Most traditional Chelaxians, however, see half-elves as an abominable dilution of the human, Chelaxian race. Half-elves are most frequently seen by Chelaxians in brothels, as sons and daughters to human or elven prostitutes. Occasionally, half-elves are raised by a loving Chelaxian parent, but there is a lifelong possibility of humiliation or even violence against the half-elf, or even the parent, because of what they represent.

Halflings – Halflings were in Varisia before the Chelaxians arrived, and more came with the Chalaxians as military or servants. They are the most numerous non-human race in Varisia, and come in all racial types imaginable. They tend to be treated like children by the Chelaxians, and sometimes by the Shoanti as well. In the Chelaxian invasion force, many of them joined the military to gain some stature and had a significant impact on the Chelaxian victory.

Thornblood – Very little is known of the Thornbloods, who are very rarely seen outside the (relatively inhospitable) forests. They were not seen by modern-day peoples until after the return of the elves, although there are old folktales about plant-people, which may refer to them existing a long time ago. Most Chelaxians and Shoanti have never talked to a Thornblood, but some have seen them talking to other humanoids (usually Elves) at the edges of forests, or have had them described by storytellers or adventurers.

Tieflings – Tieflings are not a “people” per se, but are born to normal humans, generally Chelaxians. They seem to be uniformly sterile, although occasionally they will form small colonies inside or outside major cites to be with “their own kind.” They are despised by the Shoanti, frequently seen with the Varisians, and draw mixed feelings from the Chelaxians. Some Chelaxians see the birth of a Tiefling with disgust because of their deep dislike for the mixing of Chelaxian blood. Others see the birth of a Tiefling as a sign of favor from Chelaxian “gods,” who frequently resemble (and in some case, are) demons.

Religion in Varisia –

Shoanti – The Shoanti revere places as having spirits, and also pray to ancestor gods. Either religion can support clerics.

Varisians – The only current god “native” to Varisia is Desna, the three-faced goddess of the Varisians. Desna can appear as a maiden, a mother, or a crone. She, in one or more of her incarnations, is a goddess of mothers and children, of dreams, of magic, of growing things, of art, and of various forms of love. Varisians all seem to revere Desna, but they are a flexible people and may also follow any of the Chelaxian gods or the nonhuman gods.

Chelaxian – Cheliax is an empire that accepted religions as it conquered people. As such, they have gods of EVERYTHING – of farming, of murder, of bread, of finches. Many Chelaxians follow multiple gods, sometimes even Desna, although Chelaxians do not tend to gods worshipped by nonhumans. The most commonly followed good god of the Chelaxians is Versatil, a male “father” god of farming, hunting, and family.

Nonhumans – The nonhumans tend to follow pantheons or a single god specific to their people. Half-elves and Halflings might follow any gods, depending upon their upbringing.

Heroic-Tier Feats

Channel Divinity – any of the Channel Divinity feats is available — we’d just have to find a diety to attach it to. Let me know which divinity or feat interests you.

City Born
You grew up in Punjar, Korvosa, or Riddleport, one of Varisia’s three city-states. You are educated and well-informed on the news and needs of your home and hold tight to the knowledge that your city-state is unquestionably greater than the others.
Prerequisite: 1st-level character, cannot have Country Born or Lone Wolf.
Benefit: Choose Punjar, Korvosa, or Riddleport as your home city. The frantic bustle of the city has honed your reactions – you gain a +1 feat bonus to your Reflex defense. If you’re from Punjar, you gain a +1 feat bonus on Diplomacy checks. If you’re from Korvosa, you gain a +1 feat bonus on Intimidate checks. And if you’re from Riddleport, you gain a +1 feat bonus on Bluff checks.

Country Born
You come from one of Varisia’s rural regions, where you were raised in an environment of rustic tradition, honest work, and common sense.
Prerequisite: 1st-level character, cannot have City Born or Lone Wolf.
Benefit: A childhood of farm work, apprenticeship, or similar toil has granted you reserves of endurance. Once per day, when you would be weakened or slowed, you may make a saving throw against that effect (and any effects tied to it) as a free action. Your traditional upbringing has sharpened your willpower as well, granting a +1 feat bonus to your Will defense.

Lone Wolf
Although you may have grown up in the city, you led a lonely childhood and were forced to fend for yourself.
Prerequisite: 1st-level, cannot have City Born or Country Born.
Benefit: You have a +2 feat bonus on saving throws to avoid dying when reduced to negative hit points. Your vigorous health also grants you a +1 feat bonus to your Fortitude defense.

Totem Spirit
You are closely and mystically tied to your tribe’s sacred totem. (Note: If you pick anything but Hawk Tribe, you will need to have some backstory that explains why you would associate with non-Shoanti).
Prerequisite: Member of a Shoanti tribe.
Benefit: The benefit granted by this feat depends on which Shoanti tribe you belong to:
Moon Clan: You gain a +1 feat bonus to your Will defense and a +1 feat bonus on Perception checks.
Axe Clan: Enemies that you mark take a penalty of -3 to attack rolls when attacking targets other than you (instead of a -2 penalty). You also gain a +1 feat bonus on Intimidate checks.
Hawk Clan: You gain a +1 feat bonus on Initiative checks and a +1 feat bonus on Athletics checks.
Spire Clan: You gain a +1 feat bonus to your Fortitude defense and a +1 feat bonus on Perception checks.
Sun Clan: You gain a +1 feat bonus to your Reflex defense and a +1 feat bonus on Acrobatics checks.
Skull Clan: You gain a +2 bonus on weapon damage against undead and a +1 feat bonus on Heal checks. The bonus damage increases to 4 at 11th level and increases to 6 at 21st level.
Wind Clan: You may move an additional 1 square when using the run or charge actions. You also gain a +1 feat bonus on Athletics checks.

Varisian Tattoo
You bear intricate tattoos which inspire and empower your natural magical ability. These tattoos mark you as a worker of the ancient traditions of Varisian magic.
Prerequisite: Con 13, wizard
Benefit: When you take this feat, choose a type of damage from the following list: fire, cold, thunder, lightning, psychic, necrotic, force. Your spells that deal this type of damage deal an additional 1 point of that damage when they hit. The bonus damage increases to 2 at 11th level and increases to 3 at 21st level. In addition, you may have five Prestidigitation effects active at the same time (instead of 3). A Varisian tattoo typically consists of a long string of characters in Thassilonian, the language found on the ancient monuments of the land. Most are quite complex, running the entire length of an arm or leg.

Rise of the Runelords