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The Stone Folkby James Mishler
On the Great Escarpment of the Isle of Dawn there exists a race of beings known as the Stone Folk. These people are distant relatives of the Rock Men found elsewhere on Mystara. The Stone Folk are, as their name implies, made of stone... a form of granite, in fact. They are more humanoid in appearance than their distant cousins, and have been mistaken at times for short stone golems, though they are very alive, indeed. They range from the western rim of the escarpment to the hills abutting the great forest; they have one known city and several small villages, but most of them live in small clans of no more than 30. They call their region the Kingdom of the High Land, though they have not had a king in over 15 centuries. At one time the Stone Folk had a powerful and wealthy kingdom, but it was destroyed in the same cataclysm that destroyed Nithia (they were victims of the corrupted Nithians, not their allies). The stone folk are great allies of dwarves and gnomes. Stone folk are slow to anger, but inexorable in their vengeance. The Stone Folk revere "Thinker in Deep Stone" (whom the Nithians knew as Thoth; he was the first King and Greatest King of the Stone Folk). The Stone Folk also have a full pantheon of deities, but the only other major figures are Kagyar, Garl, Terra and a strange fellow known as Laughing Axe (the Nithians knew Laughing Axe by the name of Bes; Laughing Axe was Thinker in Deep Stone's companion on his first quest, which was a search for the reason behind the extinction of the elder dwarven race).
Nature of the Stone Folk
For most of their history, the Stone Folk of the Great Escarpment were little different than relatives found elsewhere, the Rock Men. This situation changed rapidly after the destruction of Blackmoor in the Rain of Colourless Fire. The energies released during the great explosions, though mostly controlled by the efforts of the Immortals, had a lasting effect on many of the life forms of Mystara, and the Rock Men were no exception. The primary effect on the Rock Men population of the Isle of Dawn was a decrease in life expectancy (the population that evolved into the Stone Folk would eventually have a life expectancy of only 300 years, as compared to the Rock Men average of 600 years); fortunately, this effect was more than balanced by a commensurate increase in the birth rate. Stone Folk females are able to reproduce as often as humans do, unlike their Rock Men cousins, who do so only once every ten years. Stone folk mature fairly rapidly, and reach adult age at around 20 years.
The physical nature of the Stone Folk also diverged from that of their Rock Men cousins; they began to take on a less ponderous form, appearing more "human" in proportion, though some still exhibit the rough-hewn appearance of their cousins. These changes took place rapidly, over the course of the millennium following the great cataclysm (BC 3000 to ca. BC 2000). During this period there were great cultural as well as biophysical evolutions; these came in part though adaptation to their changing physical nature, as well as in part through cultural contacts with other intelligent races. The first races the Stone Folk came into contact with were the Dwarves and Gnomes, who are to this day the greatest allies of the Stone Folk...
The Golden Age of the High Land
Dwarves and Gnomes had reached the Great Escarpment of the Isle of Dawn by around BC 2500; they apparently migrated over one of the land bridges between which still existed at that time Brun and the Isle of Dawn (either the Helskir Bridge or the Hardanger Isthmus, as they are known by sages today; both apparently sank during the same period of vulcanism which separated the modern isles of Ierendi and Minrothad from the mainland). Both the Dwarves and the Gnomes were very attracted to the region that the Stone Folk resided in, as it was replete with all manner of precious metals and gems; in fact, in those days, one could hardly step anywhere in the region without stumbling over a pile of gold nuggets or rough gemstones. Fortunately, there was plenty wealth for all to share, and the Stone Folk welcomed the Dwarves and Gnomes to their land.
The Stone Folk learned the ways of civilisation from the Dwarves and the Gnomes, including all manners of crafts. The Stone Folk eventually excelled their teachers in stonecarving and gemcutting, as they were much closer to the nature of these mediums than either of the other peoples. The Dwarves and Gnomes, in turn, prospered from what the Stone Folk could teach them about the ways of earth and stone. The Gnomes of the High Land (as the three races called the Great Escarpment) regard this period as a golden age which lasted nearly 1000 years. Tragically, the Dwarves of the High Land are no more, as they too perished along with the other Dwarves of the surface world...
Of the Great King of the Stone Folk
By around BC 2000 it had become obvious to all the folk of the High Land that the dwarven race was dying out. At this time there lived a Stone Folk philosopher/mage known as "Thinker in Deep Stone". Thinker was a great friend of the Dwarves; he was a famous builder in stone, a metalsmith of legendary ability an and unparalleled lapidary. His manner fit his name; he thought long and hard on the condition of the Dwarves. Eventually, he came to the conclusion that he would need to learn more about the origin of the Dwarves, so he went on a quest for knowledge. With him went his Dwarven companion known only as Laughing Axe.
For over 200 years the pair travelled the world in search of a way to save the Dwarven race; eventually, through their efforts they were able to bring the plight of the Dwarves to the attention of the Immortal Kagyar. Upon the transformation of the Dwarves in BC 1800 Thinker returned to the High Land under the sponsorship of Kagyar and set about the path to Immortality. Thinker became the first King of the Stone Folk, and King of the High Land; he is revered as the only "Great King" that the Stone Folk have ever had.
Over time Thinker delved into the deepest secrets of nature, as well as the ways of science and magic. Due to his unusual origin (no Rock Man or Stone Folk had ever before pursued Immortality, nor has any since), Thinker's path ended up being a combination of the several paths to Immortality; his quest was in part that of the Paragon, Polymath, Dynast and Epic Hero. In time he studied the ways of the Wizard, Warrior, Priest and Rogue; he achieved ultimate mastery in the ways of mortal magic; he helped found and maintain an empire (two, actually; more on that later); and he undertook a quest to find/create an artifact and with it thwarted a major Entropic plot.
Thinker achieved Immortality in BC 1500. While he is little known outside the Stone Folk community, he is revered as a minor deity by many Dwarven and Gnomish communities to whom he is simply known as "The Master of Stone". To the Hollow World Nithians and the outer world Thothians he is known as Thoth. Remember how I mentioned earlier that Thinker actually founded and helped maintain *two* empires? Well, one of them was the Kingdom of the High Land... the other was none other than the Nithian Empire itself....
In order to understand the development of the Nithian Empire in relation to the Stone Folk of the High Land, I will have to outline a bit of history; this is the history as *I* have developed it; use what you like, discard the rest. Ignore it in total if it goes against your developed campaign; but please, enjoy...
A bit of Thonian History
To truly understand the origins of the Nithian Empire, we have to go far into the forgotten past, to the Colonial Era of Imperial Blackmoor (ca. BC 3500). For five hundred years, Blackmoor and Thonian colonists dominated the eastern coast of Brun, from the Draconian Empire and Dwarven Principalities in the far north to the Azcan Empire and Neathar Tribes in the west. From BC 3200-3000, the Brun Colonies were dominated by the Corporations, great mercantile interests which were sovereign states in all but name. The greatest of these corporations (a MetaCorporation, with interplanetary and interstellar interests), was the Imperial Teigh-Mohr Combine, headquartered in the ancient Imperial Thonian City of Mohacs. The leaders of the Imperial Teigh-Mohr Combine ruled the colonies as though they were their own kingdoms. The primary concern of the colonial managers was the production of raw materials for use by the great manufactories on the continent of Skothar. Most raw materials were produced through the use of slave labour; though they were highly advanced technologically, the ancient Blackmoorians (or Thonians, as they referred to themselves) maintained many medieval traditions. The great majority of the slaves were originally from the Oltec Empire or the Neathar Tribes; the allied Azcan Empire was the primary source of slaves for the colonies.
(Note that although the ruling kingdom was Blackmoor, founded by Uther Andahar in BC 4000, the peoples of that land still referred to themselves as Thonians, though the Thonian Empire had long ago disintegrated into petty kingdoms)
The Great Rain of Fire ended the dominance of Imperial Blackmoor... though the land was shattered, many of the Thonian colonists survived, most of them employees of the Imperial Teigh-Mohr Combine; they were, however, outnumbered by the slave populations, and no longer supported with the technology of the east (remember, the colonies were providers of raw materials, they had little or no ability to produce finished goods). The Imperial Teigh-Mohr Combine colonies were unusual, however, in that they had a large percentage of mages, alchemists and specialist wizards. Several generations prior to the Great Rain of Fire, the kingdoms of the Empire went through one of their periodic "Mage Scares", in which the Thonian Church persecuted corporations and individuals that used and benefited from wizardly magic. Many wizards fled Skothar, either settling off-world or in the Brun Colonies under the protection of the Imperial Teigh-Mohr Combine (hereafter the ITMC). After the scare, the ITMC was able to use the magical and technomantic developments of their wizards to corner the magic-oriented markets. So in addition to the slave population and the ITMC management corps, the colonies had a large magic-able population. Many of these wizards, conjurers, alterers and especially, the necromancers, were able to use their abilities to survive the chaos which followed the Great Rain of Fire. Using their great magical superiority, the wizards of the ITMC were able to dominate the shattered remnants of the colonies, both the colonial and slave populations...
From BC 3000-2500, the region of the Thonian Brun Colonies was dominated by the wizards of the ITMC. Over this period there was a great deal of cultural evolution. Foremost was the loss of technological ability; there were several reasons for this regression. First, the colonies never had any real ability to produce finished goods of any sort, so they had neither the technical ability nor the knowledge to maintain their technology; second, the now-ruling wizards were terrified of the effects that the Great Rain of Fire had had on the planets ecology; and third, the wizards feared the use of high-technology against them by their subject peoples, so they eliminated any attempts to resurrect the old ways. The end result is that by the time that the chaos began to settle down (ca. BC 2900), the entire region had regressed to a bronze-age level of technology. By this time the population dominated by the wizards had taken on a new identity; they referred to themselves as the Taymora, and their land as Taymor. The wizards of Taymor had, by this time, come to dominate all of the old colonial territory. Each wizard or clique of wizards settled in their own city, with the remnants of the Thonian colonists forming the nobility and middle classes, and the slave population remaining slaves. The majority of the wizards that had survived the Great Rain of Fire had at least some working knowledge of necromancy; many of them were necromancers. (The ITMC had a great interest in combining the powers of the school of necromancy with the scientific medical knowledge of the time; many medicines and medical techniques of Blackmoor at it's height combined necromancy and technology). Many of the wizards, naturally, had a vested interest in extending their lives as much as they could; they used their knowledge to plumb the depths of mortality, and eventually many of them came into contact with the Immortal Nyx. She granted necromantic knowledge to those of the wizards that she felt were worthy; the result of this is that by BC 2800, most of the rulers of the newly developing city-states were undead creatures, Greater Nosferatu (not vampires; these come into the picture later). Many of the wizards became priests of Nyx, even those who did not become full fledged priests still were granted some priestly abilities. Regardless of their actual priestly status, all the ruling wizards of the Taymoran City-States were known as Undying Priest-Kings by BC 2700. The era from BC 2700-2500 is known as the Taymor City-State Period. Each Undying Priest-King was absolute master in his own city, as well as in the surrounding region. Of course, many of the Undying Priest-Kings were not satisfied with ruling only their own city; thus, numerous wars were fought between the Taymoran city-states. When challenged, an Undying Priest-King could either submit to the aggressor, or defend himself and his city. If he lost, he was then a Dead Priest-King, and his city was ruled by a governor, or razed to the ground, it's citizens enslaved and it's slaves sacrificed for the greater glory of the victorious Undying Priest-King; if he submitted, he was allowed to keep his station as a sub-king, and the city would become a member of a growing kingdom. Finally, in BC 2500, all the city states were brought under the control of one Undying Priest-King. The Undying Priest-King of Colhador on Hadas conquered or reduced the other four remaining Taymoran kingdoms in several wars from BC 2535-2500. Upon the destruction of the final resisting city, he declared himself the Eternal Emperor of Taymor, Beloved and Chosen of the Night. Thus began the Imperial Period of Taymor, which would last for 500 years (BC 2500-2000)...
On the Imperial Period of the Taymoran Culture
I. The Social Structure and the Caste System
A. The Noble Clans, the Royal Houses and the Imperial House
With the ascension of the Eternal Emperor of Taymor in BC 2500 the Taymoran culture entered into its Imperial Period. The single most unifying factor during this era was the rule of the Eternal Emperor; the Eternal Emperor Kheresartun lived his life of undeath to the end of the empire in BC 2000. The Eternal Emperor was at the apex of Taymoran society; directly beneath him in the power structure were his subordinate Undying Priest-Kings and the other members of the Imperial House (all of the Undying Priest-Kings were Greater Nosferatu; many other members of the Imperial House were as well; the balance were Lesser Nosferatu.). The Undying Priest-Kings were all considered to be a part of the Imperial House even if they were not actual progeny of the Eternal Emperor. Following the Imperial House were the members of the Royal Houses of the subordinate Undying Priest-Kings (all Lesser Nosferatu); many of the Noble Clans of Colhador on Hadas were considered to be on a level with the subordinate Royal Houses; then followed the Noble Clans of the other city-states, in varying levels of power and prestige. The members of the Noble Clans who qualified made up the priesthood; many others were mages, or sometimes warriors (though there was a Warrior Caste, the great generals and war-leaders came from the warriors of the Noble Clans).
The Imperial House and the Royal Houses were considered to be a subset of the Noble Caste; almost all members of the Imperial House and Royal Houses were drawn from the Noble Clans, though there were some notable exceptions. The only way for a non-noble to become a member of a Noble Clan (or to form his or her own clan) was for a member of the Imperial House or one of the Royal Houses to ennoble him or her; this was generally done at the behest of the elders of the Noble Clans, when they felt that a member of the Warrior Caste or of the Merchant Caste was worthy of becoming a member of their Clan.
All political and spiritual power was held by the clans of the Noble Caste. The Temples of Nyx were the property of the Eternal Emperor, held in fief by the various Noble Clans; the Noble Clans also owned many plantations, Serf Craftsclans and Slave Houses, all in the name of the Emperor (or through a subordinate Undying Priest-King). Many of the plantations, Serf Craftsclans and Slave Houses were "sub-let" to the clans of the Merchant caste, especially during the later Imperial Period. Even though a Noble Clan may not be very wealthy, they would always hold a certain level of power and prestige that even the wealthiest Merchant Clan could never hope to attain...
... a basic outline on Taymoran Society in general. Here are some basics:
1) As the Nithians are to the real world's Ancient Egyptians, so are the Taymorans to the real world's Sumerian/Babylonian/Assyrian/Mesopotamian cultures. Sort of... with a dark twist...
2) The Taymorans were a Bronze Age culture; though the Undying Priest-Kings knew of and had some access to the ancient technology, they frowned upon technological development of any sort.
3) The Taymorans were ruled by the Eternal Emperor and the Undying Priest-Kings (or the rare Undying Priest-Queen). These beings were Greater Nosferatu, as well as either very powerful mages, necromancers, or priests; even those who were not priests of Nyx had many priestly powers.
4) The Taymorans had a rather rigid caste system:
I. The Noble Clans (included the Imperial House and the Royal Houses) (all were connected somehow with the Temple Orders, even if not priests)
II. The Warrior Clans
III. The Merchant Clans (included artisan clans such as workers of gold and steel)
IV. The Serf Clans (included lesser artisan clans and farming clans; "Owned" by the Noble Clans)
V. The Slave Houses (all owned by the various Temple Orders)
5) Taymoran society centred around serving Nyx, the Eternal Emperor, the Undying Priest-Kings and the Noble Clans. The Warrior Clans served as stormtroopers; the Merchant Clans provided the more luxurious services; and the Serf Clans and the Slave Houses provided the grunt labour (or dinner for the Nosferatu, in the case of the Imperial and Royal Slave Houses).
6) The Taymorans had monolithic architecture in the form of the ziggurat, or "stepped pyramid", derived in part from the Azcan pyramid as well as a desire to physically represent the basis of Taymoran society (each ziggurat had five levels, no more, no less). A temple was often at the top; they were also used to bury important nobles and the rare member of the Imperial or Royal Courts who so warranted it (the Taymoran Mummy is a truly horrible creature; it was once a member of the Imperial House or one of the Royal Houses that was mummified "alive" while still in it's state of undeath as a Nosferatu; stats posted soon).
Next Year: the Taymoran Warrior Caste, the "Paladins of the Night"...
In BC 2000 the Taymoran Empire came to a very abrupt end in a great war between those who had remained loyal to Nyx and the Eternal Emperor and those who followed the ways of Thanatos. The earth heaved, cracked and sank beneath the waves (Note that this date is based on the timeline in PC 3 "The Sea People"; more on this in another post). The only city of the Taymorans that remained after the great war and cataclysm was the city of Nithus, on the River Nithia in the Eastern Plains. The ruler of Nithus had turned to the ways of Thanatos; he had been opposed in this regard by several of his progeny, which were led by the twin brothers Orisis and Setu-Kha. After the war and cataclysm, the brothers were able to depose their master; Orisis ascended to the throne, as he was the popular leader and elder of the twins (though only by minutes). This did not sit well with Setu-Kha, and he rebelled (BC 1950); eventually, Setu-Kha fell in with Thanatos, and ruled his own land to the south and west (this was the island that once existed where the isles of Ierendi now are). The two realms fought now and again, with no major gains on either part. During this period, Thinker visited Nithus on his quest to save the Dwarves; he befriended Orisis, who, though a Nosferatu, was very enlightened. Eventually, Thinker moved on in his quest. In BC 1800, Setu-Kha finally overthrew Orisis; in his attempt to save his kingdom, Orisis allied with the growing Cult of Horon (Ixion). Nyx abandoned Orisis to his fate... (which was, of course, similar to that of the real-world's mythic Osiris). Haterat, the High Priestess of Horon, did not abandon her late-found ally, and quested to recover Orisis' remains. She finally brought them together in BC 1760; Horon granted her request, and returned Orisis to life; real life, not the unlife of the Nosferatu. Setu-Kha had ruled Nithus with an iron fist; Orisis and Haterat had little problem in leading the populace to a rebellion. He called upon his old friend, Thinker, and by BC 1750 they had overthrown Setu-Kha's forces in the Nithian region. During the rebellion, Thinker took on the guise of Thoth, an aged and wise human sage. In several of the battles "Thoth" polymorphed into several forms which were advantageous at the time; that if the Ibis and the Baboon, among others. Gnomes and Stone Folk of the High Land also assisted the rebels. During the next 50 years, Orisis, Haterat and Thoth took the battle to Setu-Kha's island; they also transformed Nithian society; they cast down the ziggurats dedicated to Thanatos (perverted from their former status as dedicated to Nyx); they raised temples to Horon, Isiris and Ptahr (Rathanos and Pflarr came into the picture later). Thoth developed a new writing system, called Hieroglyphs, based on the old Taymoran cuneiform script (which itself was based on the ancient Thonian iconographic computer language); the allies of the Nithians, the Stonefolk and the Gnomes, brought the secret of steel to the Nithians. The Nithians finally overthrew the forces of Setu-Kha in a great battle in BC 1700; the son of Orisis, Horon-Ausar (born BC 1755), slew Setu-Kha on the steps of his own royal dais; shortly thereafter, the isle blew up in the seismic activity following the elven folly in the area that is now the broken lands. Upon the end of Setu-Kha's kingdom, Orisis turned the rule of Nithia over to his son Horon-Ausar (BC 1700); Orisis disappears into the east on his quest for true Immortality under the sponsorship of Horon...
And that's the basics on how Thinker/Thoth helped to found the Nithian Empire...