Forgotten Realms: Empire of Ashes
The Empire of Netheril
With a firm hold from the Spine of the World and the desert of Anauroch, to the Cloud Peaks and the Dragonmere, from the Sword Coast, to the Sea of Fallen Stars and the lands of Vaasa, Damara, and Impiltur: the Empire holds most of northern and western Faerun. The heart of the Empire, however, is the Black Citadels – the legendary flying cities of ancient Netheril. No outsider has ever set foot within any of the Black Citadels and returned to speak of it, and no attempt at divination or scrying has ever been able to provide anything but gibbering madness for the would-be seer.
Occupied lands run largely as would be expected in such a rapid and violent takeover – an appointed Netherese regional governor, the Proconsul, dictates law as necessary to keep the populace in line. Various Patrician magistrates administer the needs of the occupation; law is enforced by the Censors, magistrates tasked with maintaining order over the subjugated masses. In newly conquered lands and areas of unrest, there may be a complement of Legionaries under the command of the Proconsul, and delegated to assist the Censors in enforcement; but more often, the Censors appoint Vigilim, plebeian guardsmen, from among the locals. Such appointments are common in “well-acclimated” lands, with various petty bureaucrats and administrators being given the title of Prefect, and some measure of power in the Imperial hierarchy – but only power over their fellow slaves.
Those slaves – “Imperial Subjects,” or plebeians – have no rights, but only the privileges afforded them by the Proconsul. This includes life, liberty, and property, any of which can be taken from any plebeian at the merest whim of a Patrician. Even those with official-sounding titles aren’t immune, unless some powerful Patrician has become fond enough of them to grant protection of some sort. This fondness seldom goes far, however – Patrician affection for a mere plebeian is at best that of a pet owner, and more likely that of the owner of a useful tool, to be discarded when its usefulness is worn out.
Privileges that plebeians do not have are many. Magic, arcane and divine alike, are entirely forbidden, as is the practice of any religion or mystical tradition. Weapons may be possessed only by the Vigilim or other specially-authorized prefects. Being caught with a magical item of any type is a sure way to unwanted attention – the best one can hope is that the item is confiscated. Plebeians may not travel without special permission, and any who are caught on the roads without the right credentials are likely to be arrested on the spot, if not simply slaughtered.
Beyond the basic workings of the occupation government, the power-structure of the Empire itself remains largely opaque to outsiders. Beyond the Legions, there’s some kind of Senate, several Committees, and something called the Decemvarate; conspicuously absent is mention of an “Emperor” as such. Thus far, all known Patricians are governors, magistrates, military commanders, or officials of some sort; it’s unclear whether there’s any Imperial Citizenry outside of the officership and the government.
Netherese High Magick
The Empire has a number of unique resources that have allowed its almost uncontested rise to dominance. Most of these are the result and application of their unearthly magicks. In addition to spells and enchantments that lesser mages can’t begin to conceive of, Netherese High Magick is capable of feats generally ascribed to the gods themselves.
Mythal – Learned from the elves, and expanded upon with knowledge gained from the mysterious Nether Scrolls, the mythal is one of the foundations of Netherese High Magick. Netherese mythals are vast enchantments that (semi-)permanently change the laws of reality in a given location – potentially as large as a city, forest, or other small (but geographically significant) region.
Mythallar – A development of the mythal, a mythallar acts as a sort of eldritch power-grid, generally used to grant magical properties to specially-prepared (but otherwise un-enchanted) objects within range – most notably, the mystical energy shields and eldritch weapons of the Legions and Patricians. The energy can also be tapped by Netherese magi, and used to fuel their own spells, effectively raising the ambient mana level for them and them alone.
In lands held by the Empire, this power-grid is being expanded by the construction of great crystalline monoliths, empowering a mana grid to date only useable by the Empire. Indeed, in lands under the shadow of these monoliths, non-Imperial mages find the energy they put into their spells being siphoned away to power the grid.
Black Citadels – Fortified obsidian cities, constructed atop inverted mountain peaks, the Black Citadels are themselves great mythals. When they first appeared over the desert of Anauroch, there were only three; shortly, another was raised from the sands of the desert. When one was destroyed by the arch-mage Elminster (at the cost of his own life) during the Stand of the Dales, the Empire responded by pulling up the city of Baldur’s Gate by its roots, and transforming it into a replacement.
Flying Fortresses & Bastions – Smaller vessels that use similar magicks to those of the flying cities, fortresses and bastions are forward-assault structure/vehicles, used to project or maintain Imperial power in the absence of a nearby Black Citadel. Fortresses, like the Citadels themselves, beam out eldritch energy like a mythallar, powering the weapons of the Legions and the spells of the Centurions. The fortresses are the size of a castle, shaped like pyramids reflected upon themselves at the bottom, and often carry Legions or other resources; bastions are smaller, the size of a tower, and often fitted with siege or battlefield support weapons.
The Imperial Legions are the primary implement of conquest – the countless, faceless armies that appeared, sometimes over the horizon and sometimes in the very midst of the besieged cities, within hours of the Black Citadels.
Imperators, Legates & Centurions – The officers of the Legions are Patricians, warrior-magi of great power who command the martial and magical forces of the Empire. The Imperators are the flag officers of the Legions, directing battle from above in their flagship fortresses. Legates command individual Legions from their own flying fortresses, battalion-size units consisting of several infantry, support, and auxiliary Centuries. Centurions lead the Legions on the battlefields, from astride their their Vespiorim steeds.
Legionaries – The rank and file soldiers of the Legions are faceless humanoids who are covered in an opaque blackish-purple crystalline growth. They are identifiable as living beings (as opposed to some sort of magical construct) only by the blood that they bleed when dealt enough damage to break through the crystalline armor. When within the effect of a Netherese mythallar, they are imbued with magical protective fields, and the ability to fire blasts of energy from their weapons.
Evocatim – Many of the auxiliary legions display awesome magical powers in battle, although they don’t seem to be mages as such. These soldiers seem to have only a few such powers – fire, lightning, preternatural speed, second sight, etc – but to be able to wield them at will and without limit. While they aren’t Patricians, they’re not mindless Legionaries either; they can and do communicate, but are completely servile to the officers. Some are attached to various support units, using their powers to aid the Legionaries in battle; others are gathered into elite units composed entirely of one or a few kinds of Evocatim.
The Grim Legion – Originally created when Imperial archmagi cursed the dwarves of Mithral Hall and the other strongholds in the Spine of the World, the Grim Legion is an army of undead dwarven warrior-wights, bound into the service of their murderers. They differ little in tactics from the normal Legions, but their horrific fate makes them favorites of the Empire to employ against the dwarven strongholds that yet stand.
Moliorim – Not of all of the Empire’s forces are (or were) living; the Moliorim are magical constructs, golems of various descriptions and abilities. Most are highly specialized for particular purposes, such as guards, siege weapons, and steeds; few are designed for general battlefield deployment.
Vespiorim – The steeds of field officers are the wasp-like Vespiorim, flying Moliorim constructs created to carry the Centurions above the battle, and provide them with deadly automatic defenses to protect from battlefield mishaps and assassins. Vespiorim generate a bubble of repulsive force around themselves and their rider, deflecting most attacks, and are able to fire bolts of disintegrating energy against the rider’s foes.
Lictors – The exact nature and origin of the Lictors, the personal bodyguards and attendants of the Patricians, is unknown. Some believe them to be specially-designed Moliorim, or some kind of magically bound spirit of the Underworld. They appear as shrouded black figures of roughly human size (6-7’ tall) and shape, draped from head to toe in shadowy black cloth, with no flesh, limb, or even eyes showing. They are only encountered in the company of an important Patrician – the more important the Patrician, the more Lictors he will have attending him. They follow their Patrician, or stand motionless and silent, unless some threat presents itself, whereupon they immediately move to engulf it. Their bodies billow open to reveal a depthless, yawning void, which then swallows the potential threat whole.
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