as-perod-thumb.jpg Enlarge

Overview


Aspera is a nation in genteel decline, it's once-rigid heirarchies and class systems softened by age and necessity. Millions of people live clustered in small hamlets and baronies just outside of the Yeron flood plain, where they are assured of a plentiful harvest every year and easy transportation.

Nobility in Aspera is granted by the monarch and not inherited. Furthermore, nobles do not swear fealty to their liege lords but to the crown and country. Women frequently hold baronies and sometimes counties because of the Asperian custom of women handling affairs of money and records, work which is essential to the good management of towns. Together, the noble class keeps a small but formidable standing army made up of riders and thanes. All commonfolk serve for a year as infantry, and nobles can muster large forces at need from the populace.

Aspera is famous for its impressive array of produce and spices. Rare herbs and wood grow in the forest, valuable spices and incense come from the rocky soil of the Creche, and huge quantities of grain and vegetables grow in the river's basin.

Over two million souls live in Aspera, mostly human, most of them concentrated along the alluvial basin of the Yeron. The crown city of Maedyn is located at the point on the Yeron that is closest to the river Stoash in Soubous, and is a major trade city. An extensive network of roads and bridges connects all of the major towns in Aspera.

Quick Facts


Population
2,000,000
Races
85% human
Government
Constitutional Monarchy
Leadership
King Nathaniel, formerly Count of Nychanter

Nathaniel replaced Oldeaus, who died in the Fall of 1146.

Organization


The ruling king or queen gives titles denoting responsibility and privilege to their subjects whom they deem both capable and worthy. Most titles come with land and oversight of some portion of the kingdom. Occasionally, someone who performs a valuable service to the monarch will receive a title without land, denoting the crown's trust in that person.

The crown does not pass strictly from father to son. The king selects his heir with the approval of his lords. If the king dies without an heir the lords choose one of their own. Traditionally the successor to the throne is given the title Duke of Maedyn.

Peers


The monarch personally approves each and every peerage given. If a peer dies and leaves behind a child who is known to the monarch as being capable, he may be given the post. If a peer dies unexpectedly, it isn't unusual for them to be succeeded by a spouse or adult child. It is equally common for a peerage to pass out of a family entirely and into the hands of someone entirely new.

A Duke/Duchess is the highest peer, responsible for large swaths of land including borders. A dukedom is divided into counties (overseen by a Count/Countess) which in turn are divided into baronies (managed by a Baron/Baroness). Peers are addressed as Lord or Lady, or more formally as title forename of placename. eg: Baroness Hucrele of Oakhurst.

Any peer may have any number of Thanes, usually trusted advisors or cavalrymen. A typical baroness may have ten thousand or more souls in her care, and dozens of Thanes to keep order and carry out official tasks.

Territories


Dutchy
Counties
Newholy
Rotherford, Turyr, Foresooth
Lemonfall(Turyr)
Oxhed
Plover, Saltdown, Thrace
Maedyn (Crown Seat)
Nychanter, Simbel
Corak
Tasep, Strait, Reeland
Oakhurst(Tasep) Ardengard(Strait)

There was once another Dutchy and many more counties, but these have been consolodated in the face of declining population.

Justice


Barons act as judges and arbitrators for minor infractions. More serious matters are judged by professional jurists appointed by the king at the county and dutchy level.

All people are not equal under the law. Punishments are more severe for committing a crime against someone above your station (or their families) than for harming someone below your station. However, loyalty to the crown counts for more than social rank or the letter of the law.

Punishment is swift, corpreal, and public. Punishments range from the pillory to beatings, torture, disfigurement, or death. Each county has one or more iternant executioners who carry out these sentences. These men are, invariably, condemned criminals whose own sentences have been commuted so long as they fulfil their duties and obey the laws of the land.

Military


The military is mostly used to keep the peace, keep roads safe and to put down bandits in the forest. There are occasionally border disputes with goblins, orcs, or Ild-Eldir. Counts and Dukes are usually experienced military men who are willing to lead troops into battle. The few who do not have direct military experience have a Thane or subordinate lord whom they trust to lead in their stead.

Every male citizen is required to serve their local Count in the military for a period of one year. Some choose to make a career out of it, but many serve their time and hope for peace for the duration. Those who can afford to buy and keep a horse and the requisite barding may train as riders. Because of the expense, it is usually children of the nobility or merchant classes who take this path.

A military education is a must for any would-be noble. In the finer families it is the only acceptable occupation.

Geography


Aspera is long country that lies against the river Yeron and spans nearly 700 miles from the silver hills in the south to Ild-Eldir in the north. It is also bordered by the cold marshes to the southwest, and the Badlands to the west and northwest.

The Yeron floods yearly, rising twenty or more feet and depositing a great deal of rich silt on the floodplain. As the waters recede villagers begin planting in its wake, being careful to let last year's plot of land lay fallow. Because of the river's yearly flooding, the villages and hamlets are built a mile or more away from the river.

The far south of the country is quite a bit colder than the north, and the south border ends where the Yeron changes from slow-moving plains river into a fast-moving whitewater river tumbling down from the Calulash basin. This area is known as the Silver Hills, and provde iron along with some gold and precious stones.

To the southwest lies lake Coldmyr and Felton Moors. Although once considered part of Aspera, these places lie mostly empty now.

The center part of Aspera is called the Angul forest even though it isn't entirely covered with trees. There are ranks of rolling hills and a few smallish mountains, and several long fertile valleys unencumbered by trees.

In the west and northwest is the Hightable: a series of natural terraces rising over two thousand feet before leveling off in a plateau. The surface of this 'table' is hundreds of miles of arid land growing little more than scrub brush, small mamals, and some reptiles. All along the base of Hightable is a deep dip of land called the Creche. The ground is a jumble of rocky islands separated by lush grasslands.

As you follow the Creche northeast you will rejoin the river at the capital of Aspera, Maedyn. The elevation and change in latitude combine to work a drastic change in climate here, making the ground gradually harder as you move farther north. The northern frontier is marked by the lake and county of Nychanter. By the time you reach Ild-Eldir very little grows except in the river basin.

One more feature bears mentioning, and that is the keep of Oxhed. There is a massive rocky outcropping over thirty miles wide that forces the Yeron to flow northeast, then southwest, then north again. A long winding road is cut into the steep sides of the mountain, and the oldest castle in the land is built on top. The keep's small size is deceiving, since tunnels dug into the rock can provide safety for untold thousands of people. In ages past it was the crown seat, but the requirements of the crown's household exceed the available space on the crown of the mountain.

History


The oldest known habitation in Aspera is the caves under Oxhed. Their age is unknown, but it is believed that the very first people created in As-Perod made those caves and lived in them for a time. Then they left, dispersing to the west and north.

The river basin was settled again about 2500 years ago by various tribes that came East over the Badlands, probably escaping tyrants in the region now known as Soubous. The three main cities are all built on the sites of these earliest settlements. Small cities and tribes flourished for over a thousand years, until a burgeoning population and competition for resources erupted into a series of devestating wars.

Starting in about 250 BCE with the two-hundred years war in the Middle Kingdoms, would-be emperors and colonizers periodically attacked parts of Aspera and took large groups of prisoners home as slaves. It was during this time that an Asperian national identity began to form as a reaction to the invaders. When Mosyph conquered Aspera in 9 BCE as part of his ten-year campaign he cemented the national identity by putting the entire region under a single client king and a single set of national symbols (standards, coinage, law, etc.).

In 310 CE, as the Soubous Empire tore itself apart in civil war, Aspera and Ild-Eldir formed an alliance to break free from the empire. They stopped sending tribute to Soubous and refused any requests for men or material for the empire's internecine conflicts. The crippled empire was unable to stop their secession. Except for occasional raids from the badlands and the mountains in the south, the next six hundred years were mostly peaceful.

Starting in 989 CE there was a large influx of immigrants fleeing the natural disasters in Ild-Eldir. This lasted for several years, followed by a decade of plague and interracial tensions between the newcomers and "native" Asperians. The unrest culminated in a civil war in 1007 CE, which destroyed the kingdom. Once again Aspera was reduced to tribal groups and local kings whose domains were small you could ride across three or four in a single day.

The new, weakened Aspera was frequently preyed upon by goblinoids, dragons, trolls, giants, and anyone else who prefered to take what they wanted by force. The region steadily became smaller and poorer until, in 1054, Prince Tygar convinced all of his fellow warlords to submit to his rule in return for freedom from the constant invasions. He did this remarkable feat through a combination of personal charm, diplomacy, battlefield victories, certain promises, and (it was rumored) a lot of help from the Academy. His first act as king was to force tens of thousands of people to move from remote areas of the country to a narrow corridor just above the river's flood plain. At first these forced relocations met with resistance, but as he made a habit of winning battles against the monsters that preyed on them, the people saw the wisdom in the king's actions.

Part of Tygar's bargain with the nobles was that he would reinstitute the old laws and forsake any right of his inheritors to the throne. The nobles would choose any person they desired to wear the crown on his passing, and retain certain other privileges of nobility. For a while it looked like Tygar would fail to make good on his promise, but he relented one day when every duke and count refused his summons, and he found their armies camped outside the capital city. Tygar gave the nobles what they wanted, but in return demanded a further price from them: all who bore arms would swear allegiance to the king and not to the dukes and counts. A compromise was eventually agreed where the military and all the peers would swear fealty to the "throne", that is the office of the king rather than to his person.

The most recent war in Aspera was in 1118 with the lizardfolk of Ild-Eldir. Called the "River War", it was fought over rights of passage up and down the river, certain tolls and fees, fouling of the river by the cities, and the placement of borders. It lasted for two years and ended in a treaty that settled the various claims to most parties' satisfaction.

Culture


Names


Asperians don't use family names much. People identify by the place they live (Peter of Reeland), the important personage they serve (Avadur, thane to Baroness Iaden), or their title (Duke Endethel of Newholy). Family names are only used in official records and in some formal occasions. The family name is usually the most notable member of the family to have lived in the same general area. In some isolated towns there might be fewer than a half-dozen family names for several hundred people, named after those who founded the town many generations ago.

Religion


Aspera is one of the few places in As-Perod where the gods are still worshipped much as they were before the Veil. There aren't any temples as such, except for the one to Te on Oxhed. But there are small shrines throughout the country to various gods, and the people sacrifice to them at every occasion by pouring out small amounts of wine or grain, or dedicating public works in their names. Fharlanghn has dozens of bridges dedicated to him, foresters give Ehlonna her due, and farmers pay at least a token homage to Yondalla and Pelor. Heironeous has a thriving following among the riders and nobles.

There are always two people in Aspera who are gifted with divine power. The first is the High Priest of Te in Oxhed. In living memory he has always been a former rider-mentor. When the high priest dies the rider-mentors from around the country come to Oxhed and perform a ceremony that reveals who the next priest will be, who then receives his divine powers. The Priest of Te seldom leaves Oxhed, but will perform healing and other services for those who make the pilgramage to the temple.

The second person so gifted is a paladin of Heironeous, always drawn from the ranks of riders. They, too, serve until death or defilement. When a new paladin has to be chosen, hopeful riders from all over the country converge on Oxhed to place their braids on the holy stone. At the next dark moon the chosen rider is revealed through the braids placed on the stone.

When one of these two divinely-appointed people dies, it is counted as a great loss for Aspera. There is long hall under the castle where wooden statues of all the past priests are displayed: 2500 years of spiritual leadership.

There is also a small number of druids scattered throughout Aspera. They also come to the temple of Te to worship and to spend some time with the high priest. Relations between the crown and the druids is sometimes tense, but that between the high priest and the druids is normally quite good. The druids worship Te as the mother-goddess who gave birth not only to As-Perod but also to many of the other gods.

Rarely some other person, other than the druids the priest and the paladin, is favored by the dieties and is revealed. This normally happens in times of danger or uncertainty for Aspera, so they often are greeted with reverence by the public and with trepidation by those who know enough history.

Elsewhere in As-Perod the divine is mostly denied or forgotten or simply relegated to myth.

Pastimes


The people of Aspera love to sing, not so much as an artistic endeavor as a community activity. They sing in the fields while they work, at religious services, and especially in the taverns at night after a long day's work. In this last situation, they like to drink while they sing. Much of the history and lore of Aspera is recorded in those songs, which change slowly.

Aspregians are also very fond of tournaments of all kinds, which are dedicated to Kord and held (at a minimum) four times a year on festival days. The most popular events vary from one county to the next, but wrestling and jousting are sure crowd pleasers in any town.

Death Rites


The dead are interred in tombs and wards are written upon the doors in chalk to prevent the spirit from wandering until the next dark moon. At midnight on the night of the next dark moon the wards are erased. One of the mourners will recite the name of the deceased and their lineage, then commend the spirit to the care of its ancestors. The spirit leaves the tomb and travels west. For this reason the doors of such tombs always face west.

Gender Roles


Gender roles are well-defined among commoners but more flexible among peers. Women own property, can work outside the home in many (but not all) professions, and have equal standing with men before the law. Most trades and crafts are considered mens' work, while ercantile, teaching, and book-related jobs are invariably "womens' work". In the household the man prides himself on not knowing how much money is burried in the cellar, while the woman prides herself on knowing down to the last copper. Women are frequently given baronies because of their skill with letters and counting.

Riders


Riders have their own distinct military sub-culture that celebrates honor, loyalty, and daring. Any literate young man of manners whose family can afford a warhorse and other essential gear may train to become a rider. At the age of thirteen boys are given as servants and students (pages) to a rider of rank, usually a baron or a count, who appoints a mentor to personally supervise the boy's education. During this time the page learns his weapons, tactics, horemanship, grooming, healing, religion, and any other thing his teacher sees fit to impart. The page's horse gains an education as well, learning to attack and obey at the slightest command.

As the page nears his own induction into manhood and military service he follows his master in the field as a non-combatant, there to observe his master and take care of his needs. He is forbidden to fight, and it is considered an outrage for anyone to kill such a page. Once the lad is deemed ready he is inducted in a gruelling ceremony that lasts from dusk till dawn, then takes his oath as a Thane to his master and to the crown. All loyalties thus sworn are ultimately to the crown, not to a thane's immediate master.

The rider-mentors who are in charge of this education are priests of Heironeous. Mentoring riders a sacred task for those who teach, and they pledge before the gods not to fail their students. Riders of sufficient age and distinction to become teachers learn the sacred rites directly from the high priest, himself a rider and an advisor to the crown. Such priests usually do not hold titles of nobility, as they are wholly dedicated to the moral well-being of their caste and, by extension, their countrymen.

Warhorses are bred for intelligence and aggressiveness and are fiercly loyal to their riders, who value them as comrades-at-arms. Riders believe their horses exemplify the virtues they seek to refine in themselves and make use of mounts in important rituals. The mare's milk is drunk in ceremonies, and hair from manes is used for insignia. A rider keeps a braid from the mane of every horse he has ever ridden into battle, sometimes embellished with beads or silver and gold thread, as a token of respect for the comrades who bear him into harm. Riders also practice horse divination, looking to the wisdom of their mounts in times of uncertainty.

When a rider or a horse dies in battle, the rites differ from elsewhere in Aspera. The deceased souls are sped on their way as soon as possible so they can join the fight against evil in the afterlife without delay. This is done in the following way: Every rider carries with him two sticks of precious sandalwood, engraved with prayers for a soul's swift journey. One stick is for himself, and the other is for his horse. After an engagement all of the fallen are laid outdoors on bare earth. When a horse and his rider are both killed they are laid down side by side, so they might leave life together the same as they lived it. The engraved incense is laid on the bodies and lit, and it burns for about one watch. The survivors say the following prayer or something very much like it:

  • Fharlanghn, accept this sacrifice and guide these souls swiftly out of this world. They gave themselves to Heironeous, and it is him they now seek. Heironeous, we give you these riders and horses of Aspera, who were loyal and valiant. They were yours in life, and are yours still.

The sacrifice mentioned is the sandalwood, which is burnt for Fharlanghn. Heironeous' due is the lives and souls of the fallen. The names of riders past are often invoked, and any noteworthy deeds of the fallen are recited. Sometimes bells or wind-chimes are erected. The gathered mourners chant the old stories while they drink wine and watch over the bodies until the incense has burnt away, then they inter or bury or burn the bodies as appropriate. They do not touch the ashes left behind by the incense, although if the wind blows it on them they pay it no mind.