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I am one of the few adventurers to have been allowed through a clever bit of subterfuge on my part into the former capital of Herath, Belphemon. When I visited, in the guise of a wizard's apprentice, the city was magnificent. Tall, gleaming buildings thrust into the sky. Spells of many sorts created light, offered cooling breezes, lifted people to high entrances, and accomplished a myriad of other tasks.
As I understand it, these clever mages have long striven to restrain the Red Curse. Perhaps they also hold the key to its eventual dissolution.
The Chronicle of the Curse
by Don Luis de Manzanas
Herath is known by most people as the Kingdom of Mages, and rightly so; roughly three-quarters of its population are wizards. The country has other nicknames as well: the Lands of the Great Magus (because its ruler is a powerful sorcerer) and the Land of Equality (because all races are truly equal there and people are measured only by their magical prowess).
Warning! Only the DM should read any further in this chapter, because Herath is also the home of a secret, one potentially pivotal to the SAVAGE COAST campaign.
The Magiocracy of Herath
Many inhabitants of the Savage Coast believe that araneas evil and highly intelligent giant spiders once ruled the lands now called Herath. According to legend, the araneas began disappearing many hundreds of years ago, and human and elven mages moved in and founded the current nation of Herath. Legend says that the araneas were spider-like in form, an image loathsome to other races. Consequently, from rakastan cottages to goblin yurts, unruly children are told tales of scary araneas coming to carry away disrespectful youngsters.
In truth, araneas do still exist. Contrary to popular belief, they are seldom evil and are much more common than anyone realises. The mages who founded Herath were actually araneas in human and elven form. Realising that humanoids would one day dominate the Savage Coast, the araneas used magic to evolve a special shapechanging ability (see the racial descriptions in the "Player Characters" chapter). As a result, an aranea can look like any race: human, dwarf, elf, half-elf, lupin, rakasta, shazak, orc, half-orc, goblin, hobgoblin, or gnoll. However, araneas can only reproduce in spider form. Fortunately for them, their secret is practically undetectable. Had the araneas not learned to conceal their identities, neighbouring realms would have destroyed their nation long ago. Disguised as humans and elves, araneas secretly remain the ruling race in Herath, and they exist outside that nation as well. Over the centuries, many of the spider people have been born to aranea spies and refugees in other nations. For example, many lupin-seeming araneas have been born and raised in Renardy, with no one outside the family ever knowing the difference.
The nation of Herath accepts few visitors from outside its borders, but people who have travelled there report a very egalitarian society. Gender is not a status issue in Herath (male and female are equal in aranean society, so araneas believe that male and female are equal in any race). Neither does race seem to be a status issue. In Herath, lupins, rakastas, shazaks, humans, and others all live in apparent harmony. Though members of a particular family are almost always of the same apparent race, communities mix race freely; rakastas have no subculture, for example. In truth, araneas are typically convinced of their own superiority over members of other races, and non-araneas never rise to positions of true power in Herath. Only araneas can become nobles, or take the Noble kit, in Herath.
Over the centuries, araneas have developed a pragmatic approach to their precarious situation. Young araneas are taught from birth that they are two different people. One is the true aranea, the other is a humanoid alter ego. The aranea's two personalities are distinct, with separate sets of personal history and experience, both of which the aranea learns to accept as legitimate. This outlook ensures that each aranea plays his separate roles to perfection. That the race can perpetrate such a hoax demonstrates the power of the aranean intellect.
Occasionally, the practice does go wrong. A few araneas split their identities so completely that neither of their personalities is even aware of the other. Such psychotic araneas automatically take on their humanoid shape and personality when in the presence of humanoids, forgetting their aranean nature. Then, when in the presence of araneas in arachnid shape, they revert spontaneously to their natural form with no knowledge or memory of their humanoid alter ego. Needless to say, the resulting gaps in memory for each identity are traumatic. In some cases, the unfortunate aranea not only forgets its dual nature, it actually loses the ability to change ever again. Naturally, the araneas hide such individuals away in order to keep their secret safe.
No one knows for sure exactly where araneas came from. Some who know of their existence speculate that the spider people are a creation of the Immortals, an experiment left unchecked. Others surmise that they came from another world. In any case, several aranean realms are concealed in Mystara, though none so well as that in Herath.
Savage Coast araneas were once concentrated in Belphemon, their former capital. Beneath that site lies a huge network of caverns that have seen aranean development. There, primitive paintings and carvings remain as a silent testimony of how long the creatures existed below the earth, but the race soon ventured forth into the woodland above. Armed with their incredible abilities, the araneas advanced unchecked within the confines of their dark forest, a thick wilderness only rarely visited by other races. By the time they reached the edge of their forest, the araneas had already developed their shapechanging skills. In disguise, they began mingling with their neighbours and soon came to perceive humanoids as their inferiors. They believed that the Immortals put the "savages" there for the araneas' benefit: as succulent edibles at first; as convenient armies next; and finally as a precious source of labour, revenue, and sometimes even magical innovation. However, in the Immortals' infinite wisdom, the "savages" were made dangerous and wonderfully varied so that the gift could not be abused, and the araneas would always be inspired to improve themselves.
Posing as humanoid wizards, the araneas slowly established a magiocracy over the region of modern Herath. Four domains arose, each ruled by a powerful wizard, who in turn swore allegiance to the "Great Magus in the Forest." Today, the overall aranean realm stretches from the western borders of Bellayne to the northern edge of the Dark Jungle on the Orc's Head Peninsula and reaches an average of 140 miles inland from its shore on the Western Sea.
The non-araneas of Herath are accustomed to thinking of their ruler as a quiet and reclusive wizard who stays in his tower at the heart of the dark Forest of the Magus. They have had no reason to complain about their treatment or suspect that the ruling nobility is a "monstrous" race. On occasion, the Great Magus visits in humanoid shape, of course the towns and courts of his vassals. Most of Herath's dealings with visiting dignitaries from other nations are done through envoys of the Crown or vassal nobles. So far, no monarch abroad has had reason to suspect anything unusual in Herath at least nothing that is not in keeping with a magiocracy. Further, the Forest of the Magus is off limits to all uninvited people. Of course, none of the local folk would enter the forest anyway since it is rumoured to be haunted and infested with monsters (a perfect place for wizards).
Until recently, the Great Magus lived in the great citadel of Belphemon, where araneas enjoyed going about in their spider shapes. There, the most brilliant aranean minds helped the Great Magus determine his nation's fate and rule his subjects. The citadel reached 100 feet into the air and ten times deeper below ground, connecting with ancient caverns where many more araneas dwelt. Six great fortresses delineated the Great Magus's domain, each home to aranean patrols (in humanoid shape) that guarded the edge of the woods. The fortresses connected with each other and with the citadel through tunnels and caverns. Each fortress was a magical building that marked the edge of the Magus's wizardly power. An invisible web of magic emanated from the citadel and covered the forest. Linked to the Great Magus's mind, the web allowed the ruler to sense everything inside the forest, including the predominant feelings and physical sensations of visitors.
All this changed about a year ago, however, when the Immortals warred and magic stopped working all over the world for several days. The lull period was especially devastating in Herath. Protective magic within the realm was lost, and Herathian wizards suddenly found themselves bereft of spells. Seizing the opportunity, goblinoids on the border quickly mobilised, invading and sacking the capital. The Great Magus barely escaped death by travelling to a nearby castle, Asgamoth, which has since grown into a new capital city. At the same time, the sensing web dissipated, as did an aranean spell confining the Red Curse to the area of the Savage Baronies. The Great Magus and his advisers are currently working to re-establish the sensing web; in the meantime, Herathian border patrols have been dramatically increased. As for the spell confining the Red Curse, restoring things as they were seems beyond the abilities of the araneas, likely requiring the cooperation of most or all of the Immortals.
Herath maintains peace with its neighbours because war would simply be too costly. The Great Magus is far more interested in political intrigue and magical influence than in open warfare. He maintains a delicate balance among his nation's neighbours. The presence of Terra Leãoça, a small Vilaverdan colony, is useful to Herath since the colony is a pain in Bellayne's flank. The Magus quietly supports the colony, in exchange for which Herathian merchant ships can sail through its territorial waters without interference.
Capital and Ruler
Capital: Asgamoth (population 24,000 mostly araneas). Ruler: Wizard-King Yahav IV "The Watcher," son of Queen-Sorceress Amsharai II. The hereditary royal domain includes the Forest of the Magus and the ruins of Belphemon, the former capital (once home to more than 100,000 people, now a vast ruin inhabited by perhaps 3,000 refugees and a like number of monsters). Typical NPC: Noble wizard. Patron: Yehm.
Dominions of Herath
Each dominion's ruler is an aranea in another form. All are loyal to the Grand Magus; while dictators on a local level, the dominion rulers listen closely to the Grand Magus.
Viscounty of Berevrom. Capital: Amion (population 4,300 araneas, humans, elves, rakastas). Ruler: Lady Beryam "The Deft," daughter of Lord Balmoroth of Berevrom (Noble transmuter, "rakasta"). Typical NPC: soldier, thief, or aranea spy. Patron: Enebaan.
County of Enom. Capital: Nezhev (population 5,700 araneas, humans, dwarves, some tortles). Ruler: Count Disbaal "Eight-Eyes," son of Lord Enzuth of Enom (Noble diviner, "human"). Typical NPC: miner or gem cutter. Patron: Negyavim.
Duchy of Ensheya. Capital: Sorodh (population 10,900 araneas, humans, elves, halflings). Ruler: Duke Yaluughu "The Dark Weaver," son of Lord Ezer of Ensheya (Militant mage, "elf"). Typical NPC: farmer or woodcutter. Patron: Yehm.
Viscountcy of Hethzya. Capital: Shahav (population 18,500 araneas, humans, halflings, some rakastas and lupins). Ruler: Lord Mazioth "The Hook," son of Lord Gerphemon of Hethzya (Swashbuckler mage/thief, "half-elf"). Typical NPC: merchant or soldier. Patron: Shaya.
The Wildwoods. Administrative centre: Tower of Yedom (population mostly araneas, with some humans and elves). Ruler: Lord Yezarath of Pazphezu, appointed overseer (Webmaster druid, "elf"). Typical NPC: forest hunter or lonely wizard. Patron: Shaibuth.
The Wildwoods are mostly wilderness, barely touched by civilisation. The Great Magus is still debating whether to let it be reduced by woodcutters and farmers to expand the nation or save it for future generations. The nobility is widely divided on the fate of this unclaimed territory. More pressing is the need to curb the incessant encroachment of rakasta hunters from Bellayne's Wyndham Marches.
Immortal Patrons of Herath
More information on the Immortals can be found in "The Campaign" chapter.
Enebaan (Masauwu): Patron of diplomacy, intrigue, influence, masquerade, rulers, spies, and thieves.
Negyavim (Iliric): Patron of Herathian wizardry, but also of greed and insensitivity. His followers use the local mining of gems and the dwarves' skilful crafting of these precious stones as a source of sacrificial gifts to this greedy Immortal.
Shaibuth (Eiryndul): Patron of forest dwellers. This elven Immortal took on the aranean cause as an afterthought, merely as a means to compete against Korotiku (Yehm), his old rival.
Shaya (Valerias): Patron of beauty and love, especially unrequited love. Valerias was attracted by the true love felt between a human paladin and an aranea who appeared human; rather than expose her secret, the aranea bit her lover, poisoning him, and then ended her own life. The tragic tale touched Valerias, and she has since found a wide following among Herathians.
Yehm (Korotiku the Spider): Araneas are an old favourite of Yehm, one of those Immortals who no longer remembers ever being mortal. It is tempting to say he once was a mortal aranea, which would attest to this race's ancient existence in the universe, but no proof exists of this. Nevertheless, Yehm is the grand patron of araneas, even more so than of the lupins.