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Thyatis Never Risesby Rodger Burns
This is a present for those of you who (I predict) got goose bumps over the outcome of the last AH. Well, okay, maybe not.
In this AH, the 'Empire' of Thyatis never really makes it past its first few years. It was originally founded as an Empire by Zendrolion I, and either he never makes his power play, or dies without leaving behind a successor to pick up the pieces. The Thyatian tribes stay in their own small corner of southeastern Brun, forming a 'kingdom' that's really more a group of city-states.
Alphatia turns insular soon afterwards; there's a general decision that the Empire is more than large enough, and that going around grabbing at new territories inhabited by barbarians is just asking for trouble. As a result, they solidify their territories in Bellisaria, the Isle of Dawn and the Alatians, and stop expanding any further.
This leaves a power vacuum in the west that's filled by Darokin. The Kingdom's legions and fledgling navy forces grab Traladara, the northern islands of the Sea of Dawn, and parts of western Ylaruam and Thyatis. (The latter becomes the Kingdom of Hattias, BTW, confined mostly to that single inhospitable island.) The elves of Alfheim, wary of Darokinian imperialism, push their borders north and east to make sure they have their 'backs' to Ethengar and Rockhome.
After a couple of expansionist centuries, Darokin begins to fragment into a confederacy - with a strong military on both land and sea, but more interest in trading than fighting. The cities and main trade routes are safe and well-protected, but there are large chunks of frontier and wilderness filled with monsters and forgotten secrets. Counterbalancing Darokin on the continent is a loose alliance of kingdoms, led by those ever-suspicious Alfheim elves, which can field a marvellous army when it acts in unity (Ethengar cavalry, elvish archers, Glantrian mages, Ostlander and dwarvish foot) but rarely acts as a single force. Both sides are interested in establishing closer ties to the mysterious, isolated, alien, oriental Empire of Alphatia... leading to expeditions straight out of Marco Polo...