A Crown of Rot
A well known and very familiar tale of horror to fans of horror roleplaying games, with a bit of my own twist. It is the intention of this game to play out in accordance with the Gothic tradition of storytelling—where the heroes are frequently outclassed and outnumbered by unknowably evil forces beyond their control, and be expected to persevere.
Your story begins on Oerth, the center of all things. The year is 585 CY, a year after The Pact of Greyhawk has been signed, bringing the Greyhawk Wars to an end. You live in the city of Beetu, one of the two power bases in the Western Lands of the Kingdom of Nyrond. Though you are subjects to His August Supremacy, Altmeister of All the Aerdi, King Archbold III of Nyrond, little thought is given by the common people to his highness these days as people struggle to survive.
Nyrond is a land nearly destroyed by the emotional and monetary costs of war. Major roadways remain in ruin, making travel difficult. In some regions, trade is nearly impossible, the mail service is dormant, and communications between the capital and major nobles is often broken.
Desperate times have called for desperate measures for many of Nyrond’s subjects. Banditry is on the rise. Because the country is in such dire economic straits, heavy fines are favored over imprisonment. Debtors prisons, a new development in law enforcement, now dot the countryside.
King Archbold is 58 years of age. The Crown of Nyrond weighs heavy on him. He is tired, increasingly weak and ineffectual. His wife has been dead for seven long years, and he has only his two sons left to him. They have burdens of their own and though Lynwerd is the Crown Prince, rumor has it that his charismatic younger brother, Sewarndt, has his eye on his brother’s position.
Nyrondese folk are shocked at the events of the wars. They feel their leaders and king failed them. Most have become much more insular, not wanting to know What is happening in endangered borderlands, even if they live close by them. As travel declines, many Nyrondese become isolationists. If a traveler tries to talk with them, they simply don’t want to listen. They protect their own, families and friends, and are suspicious of others. The horizon of many Nyrondese is not now their own country. It may be just their own village, town, or even farmstead.
The city of Beetu contains some eleven thousand souls, and has the ill fortune to be ruled by a weakling, the toadying Count Romadnen Bereman. Bereman tries to buy favor with the king, and simply ignores the suffering of his people as he extracts full due from them. Rebuilding his country, Archbold will not hear ill of a man who is supporting his desperate treasury, but at least Bereman does not rule through fear. He deals with problems by running away from them.
Bereman’s royal militia is some 600 men strong, but are increasingly demoralized by having to collect taxes, and many of their number are said to have actually deserted, fleeing into central Nyrond or even into neighboring Urnst. The people of the lands around (Beetu administers lands up to the Gnatmarsh, and along the Duntide to Arnford) have adopted the strategy of trying to conceal anything they own or earn from a militia which they sense feels guilty and wretched at having to collect it and has no stomach for pressing them very hard. People here are downtrodden and despairing, rather than angry. They have become experts in dishonesty by omission, if not by out-and-out lies, and thieves and rogues are beginning to flourish here.
Just about the only thing Bereman has managed not to do wrong concerns the Celadon Forest. Fearful of the anger of woodsmen, he never implemented the king’s edict that the forest should be looted. For this reason much Celadon produce now comes to Beetu, increasing revenues and keeping Bereman afloat.