The Dark Country is a wild and fierce place with brooding forests and barbarians. The people of the West know the tales of this land and its haunted mountain peaks. Monsters swarm in its hills and caves. They plot there, awaiting the day when they will poor forth and devour the realms of men. There are monsters in the West of course, but these are considered fiercer. Brave men quake at the thought of just how many orcs must hide in the forest, or what manner of beast must be eying them from the bushes.
So why do settlers go there? Why did the Sword Brothers build their abbeys and trade cities in its hills?
To save the souls of the barbarians, or so they said. They saw that the people of the dark country still gave their children to the Old Gods, and these people did not know the light of the God of Law. Off the Sword Brothers went, fresh from their crusade in the Desert Lands and hungry for glory.
There is more than glory to be found in those dark woods. The mountains contain precious metals, and the barbarians buried their heathen kings in great mounds with all the treasure they had amassed in life. The barbarians of the Dark Country are not a poor people. They trade with the Steppe Peoples to the East, and even before the coming of the Sword Brothers the men from the Dark Country brought their forest products to the cities of the West.
The Sword Brothers brought with them a veritable army of merchants, settlers, camp followers, and treasure hunters. These are the men and women who -- along with help from converted natives -- founded the Seven Cities. These cities prospered through trade and settlement and became the rivals of even the cities of the West.
All was not well, however. The Sword Brothers constant warfare with the various tribal kings took its toll on both the land and the brothers themselves. They grew more violent and hostile, more motivated by lucre. They sallied forth from their dark castles to burn villages and capture women, regardless of whether or not they were heathens. Some say they even turned to the black arts to maintain their growing lordships. They became little better than the monsters of the forest, and some even say their features grew hideous and grotesque to match their inner character.
The Church was not pleased. Not only were they now losing potential converts, but one of the pinnacles of sacred Knighthood had fallen into darkness. A crusade was called, and knights and peasants and yeoman and all matter of warriors and people from the West came to undo the evil that the Sword Brothers had wrought. They besieged the Grand Master's Chapter House and once they had broken they found evidence of the most unholy turpitudes imaginable. The Sword Brothers had fallen in league with the Adversaries, and there was no redemption for them.
That was nearly a hundred years ago. Settlement without the watchful eyes of the Sword Brothers has slowed considerably. Barbarians retake land that once belonged to their beleaguered kings. The Westerners who remain huddle in their houses at night, terrorized by both the foul things that live in the hills and the ghosts of the Sword Brothers' sins.
This background has been brewing in my head for some time, and I decided I needed to get it down in some form or I would forget some of the more interesting aspects. Writing it out here has also helped solidify it a bit in my mind, which is one of the wonders of having a blog.
I've based it a bit off of the Transylvanian Saxons, but even more of the background is the result of reading material on the Baltic Crusades. The Sword Brothers are of course a stand in for the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and the Teutonic Knights.
I'm going to leave most of the area outside of the Dark Country, such as the West and the Desert Lands, open for now. I felt that I had to get a handle on the initial campaign area though before play began.
Nightwick is still my primary project, and that fact isn't going to change for a while -- or possibly ever. I'm struggling a bit with stocking its endless halls, but that is the subject of another post.