The Atarlie Empire is a nation-state on the eastern side of the Atlas mountains, extending across the Northern Shore to the Eastern Sea, and bounded by the Hearthlands in the south. Populated largely by a haughty branch of the Elven lineage (often known as High Elves in other nations), the Atarlie consider themselves the true rules of Wisteria and the highest lifeform in Ahren. Like any good empire it is actually fairly diverse, integrating humans, halflings, and gnomes from the regions it has conquered, who can obtain full citizenship rights and occasionally even serve in positions of authority.
The Atarlie People, whose name show their connection to the Sun, are often called Sun Elves or High Elves in other lands, by contrast to the relatively “base” Carcolie or other, more exotic offshoots of Elvendom. They are creatures strongly tied to the natural flow of arcane magics, for which they are known and using which their cities and architecture are constructed.
Elven society is both extremely dynamic generation-over-generation in terms of social and economic mobility, and seemingly unchanging to shorter-lived races such as humanity. While it does distinguish between aristocratic, landed, and working classes, those lines blur constantly through intermarriage, political intrigue, and economic mobility (in both directions). Individual regnal periods of individual emperors are relatively long in human terms but still can seem short and end brutally by elven standards, though bloodless coups are more common than full-on imperial assassinations.
All this being said, the Altarie nonetheless consider themselves to be the steadfast guardians of natural and divine order, worshipping the High Elven Pantheon and banning the worship of all gods outside that within their domain. They maintain an internal cohesiveness of realpolitikal and legal power unseen in other nations of comparable size, such as the Bastonians or the Clans of Magnus; while individual Bastonian Monarchs or Dwarven High Kings may achieve similar cohesion, it rarely survives the interregnum. The elves therefore have a pronounced culture of bureaucratic and magisterial civil services which are not seen nearly as pervasively elsewhere.
Atarlie adventurers broadly fall into two classes – elite legionary units or former units now operating as “dogs of war” or “soldiers of fortune”, and disaffected members of Atarlie lowerclasses seeking to make their fortunes elsewhere. Exceptions exist, as always, but as the Empire is seen by most of its citizens as the most preferable domains in the world, exceptions to the two above rules rarely adventure outside the wildernesses of the Empire itself.
Atarlie Geography and Government
Understanding Atarlie Senatorial Politics
While the external view – and the titular expectation – of Imperial power is that the Emperor is the most powerful individual among the Atarlie, the truth is somewhat more complicated. While the Emperor has a great deal of unilateral power with regard to foreign policy and military affairs, the critical powers of taxation and treaty ratification reside in the hands of the Senate.
The senate are a political class (and body) of landed gentry, exclusively Elves, who must meet requirements of ancestral service within the senate along with a certain minimum level of civil or military service prior to being appointed to the Senate. While an Emperor can raise new senators who meet the requirements into their ranks, the Emperor does not have the ability to dismiss the senate.
Because of this the Senate can often hamstring Emperors who have become unpopular among their number, but the Emperor can also retaliate by swelling the senate’s ranks with persons who serve their own interests.
Provinces and Protectorates
The Empire is broken up into a series of provincial holdings, each under the purview of a Prefect, who is responsible to the Emperor for leveeing forces according to the province’s capabilities and to the Senate for meeting requirements of law and taxation. In order of political importance, these provinces are:
- The Imperial Province in the Northwestern Empire, extending from the [Atlas Mountains] in its west to a border along the line from Tripolis to Sunport. The Imperial City is its capital, though the personages of the Emperor and the Prefect of the Imperial City are separate offices.
- The Province of the Sun and Moon extends from this same border all the way to the eastern shores of Wisteria, and as south as the River Silverrun, which is south of Convergence Hall. It commands the important cities of Moonvale, Convergence Hall, and Sunport, the later being its extremely wealthy capital.
- The Atlassian Foothills are a province just south of the Imperial Province, as far south as Three Peak Dale, and as far east as its capital, Heroka and the Three Sisters, a set of mountains which form the general suggestion of its entire eastern border.
- The Province of the Lowland Meadows is east of the Three Sisters, with a central capital of Imarraka which serves as a hub for the ports of Fjordlodge and Bayside, being important trading ports.
- The Southern Province, which is the geographically largest, but least densely populated and least politically unified. This enormous wooded province extends all the way from the borders of the Atlassian Foothills and the Province of the Lowland Medals to the rough median latitude of the Hearthlands, an Atarlie Protectorate. This expanse is rich in natural resources and is somewhat known as the breadbasket and lumberyard of the empire as a result, but the lifestyle is much more insular and rural than the rest of the empire, which is fairly cosmopolitan. It's largest city is Corran, at the foothills of a branch of the Atlas Mountains.
- The Atarlie Frontier is further south still, extending from the formal border of the Southern Province, all the way to the Great River of Stars. The expansion of the empire into the Shimmering Shores, stymied by the Great Collapse, means that the frontier is somewhat more dangerous than the rest of the Empire, and more heavily fortified - the administrative capital at Ichor Hall, a trading port at South Point, and the garrison city of Navarre's Crossing.
The Empire also has a practice of establishing protectorates – often centuries later becoming provinces. Currently, the principal noteworthy protectorate is the Hearthlands. Attacking the Hearthlands from land would require either bypassing Imperial territory or launching an attack across the Atlas Mountains, which would involve bypassing the territory of the Clans of Magnus, who fiercely defend their mountain home.
Arts and Architecture
The Atarlie are a culture at their modern apex, and so are undergoing a golden age in the arts. Artists of all kinds - architects, sculptors, painters, weavers, musicians, playwrights, thespians, and so forth - enjoy an economic freedom to ply their trade unseen elsewhere on Wisteria, or indeed all of Ahren. These artists make up an economic class above the main labour classes but below the loftier merchantile class, who make up a great deal of their patronage.
Atarlie Architects in particular have a reputation for doing the "impossible", incorporating living elements in their designs and shaping walls and towers out of whole stone, seemingly without toolmarks or joinery. They do this by including wizards and other spellcasters in their labour force.
Religion, Festivals, and Timekeeping
The civil religion of the Atarlie Empire focuses on a broad pantheon of divinities. The divinities in general are worshipped by the entire population. Some, such as career clerics, or individuals who feel an affinity based on profession or circumstance, will also worship one or more of these deities in particular above (but not to the exclusion of) the others, as a Patron.
Each of these gods have their own festivals associated with them; in most cases, observed only by the friends and family of people who have selected them as a patron. Only Pyria Valpetor, the Mother of Gods, who is commonly seen as the head of the pantheon enjoys universal observance of her feasts, which are observed on the solstices and equinoxes, given her association with the sun.
If the Bastonian language and alphabet is considered the "common" tongue of Ahren, it is the incredibly precise calendar maintained by the Atarlie that can be thought of as the common calendar. A solar calendar, it consists of 13 months of 28 days, with a single Festival of the Turning Wheel marking a new year celebration that is not considered belonging to any of those months. This calendar takes its name, the Rophalin Calendar, from Rophalin Imperitor, first emperor of the Atarlie, whose date of coronation forms the epoch for the calendar.
There are also a number of civic holidays observed, including celebrations of historical victories, the birthday of the reigning emperor, and special by-proclamation holidays to mark events the Emperor or Senate want fondly remembered.
Fighting, Warfare, and Death
Curiously for an Empire (and therefore a military power), the Atarlie see warfare as an unfortunate but necessary evil. Most expressions of Atarlie imperial power are soft power – displays of force used in place of actual battles, and games of economic manipulation.
These Elves also have a saying: “It is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in the battlefield”. Professional military service is encouraged among all the races that make up the empire (and is one of the paths the gentrified class can use to improve their position), and unlike many other nations the Imperial Legion is a true, standing, professional military force, sworn to servitude with the emperor directly.
The Elven Pantheon teaches an afterlife with an Elysium, not unlike Bastonian conceptions of Heaven. However, Elven morality is far looser and less restrictive, placing a focus on self-improvement and increasing one’s connection to the flows of the arcane.
Language and Scholarship
The Atarlie Alphabet is a syllabary alphabet, used in the recording of all variants of Elvish language, as well as in some traditions of magical writing, such as those employed in The North. Atarlie Elvish and Carcolie Elvish are sufficiently similar in their spoken form as to be mutually understood by speakers of either, and many of the other races of Wisteria simply refer to both languages, collectively, as Elvish. However, this is not true of all elvish variants.
The Atarlie Empire has perhaps the most developed and active tradition of formal scholarship the world over. While under- and lower-class families experience much the same educational process as seen elsewhere in the world (focused apprenticeship), the middle and upper classes enjoy a much more generalized education at the hands of privately-funded schools or even private tutors. The goal of this education, in addition to its stated goal of broadening the student's horizons in a manner befitting a "ruler of the world", is to prepare the student for the Atarlie Civil Examination - an annual round of official examinations that assess the student's suitability for public service and gatekeep civil service positions, most of which are seen as ways to rapidly advance in social or economic position.
Owing to the tight relationship between the Atarlie and the Arcane, schools of arcane magic are extremely common throughout the empire. Most small cities can boast at least one academy focusing on a particular school of magic. In larger settlements, additional schools or even Universities teaching broader fields of study exist.
Diet, Libations, and Entertainment
Given the economic power and high degree of urbanization supported by the Atarlie Empire, along with its habit of trade, the Atarlie enjoy a higher than usual standard of diet, both in terms of raw caloric intake and variety, as well as complexity. The culinary arts are heavily patronized by the Atarlie, both in the civilian and military classes. Atarlie cooks are in demand worldwide for their exotic dishes, which include the usual roasts, stews, and pies, along with more exotic preparations such as stir-fries, various types of Road Tarts, samosas, and the like. Grand feasts are common among even the middle class, at which the courses are defined by custom. Unlike in Bastonia, where potatoes are the principal caloric filler, the Atarlie make heavy use of rice and wheat pasta.
Wine is the alcoholic beverage of choice - much of the region is suited to the cultivation of grapes. Every region usually has a signature wine or two, named for the variety of grape from which it is produced, sometimes with the regional name appended if the grape is a wide-spread variety.
Music and Dance are popular at banquets. The Atarlie are decadent by Bastonian standards; such dance includes both the ordinary composed courtly dances as well as a tradition of exotic dancers of all kinds, if suitable for the feast in question.
Taxation and Provision
As with other aspects of law, taxation is heavily formalized and codified. The Imperial Senate sets the levels at which provinces themselves are taxed, with prefects left responsible for collecting those taxes. As is common in nations with a taxation policy, the Empire sets taxes on the sale of specific goods or the licensing of particular trades, rather than on income. All taxation is handled in coin at the official level - in some rural areas the prefect may elect to collect the tax in the form of trade goods, but is ultimately responsible for the sale of those goods and providing the necessary coin to the Senate Treasury. Unsurprisingly, this creates a common avenue for corruption, with prefects setting a low price for goods in terms of their utility for paying the tax, and then selling them off abroad at a profit.
Taxation is used to pay for the extensive Imperial Legion, one of the only truly-permanent standing armies in all of Wisteria, as well as funding infrastructure projects. In times of crisis, the senate may intervene with subsidy or provision to lower the popular temperature and avert the risk of revolt; otherwise, Imperial citizens are generally left to their own capabilities to earn a living.
Social Class and Economic Position
The Atarlie have a heavily-developed class system, which is at once castelike in its divisions and highly fluid in terms of social mobility. While only Atarlie Elves can serve in the senate or in higher government office, anyone who can meet the requirements of citizenship (usually by way of service in the Legion) enjoys those benefits regardless of race. These social classes range from an underclass of indentured servants, non-citizens, and the truly destitute, through a lower class made up of "ordinary" labour such as farmers, paid servants, and so forth, through a class of artists, merchants, and lower civil servants, all the way up to a sort of gentrified class, primarily Elves, who serve in the senate, high government office, and high military positions.
The principal dividing factor between these classes is economic - even Atarlie find themselves among the underclass as fate occasionally dictates. Only the gentrified class is purely restricted to the Elves, though some scholars argue that a "pseudogentry" exists, consisting largely of humans, halfings, gnomes, and so-on who have the social and economic connections of the true gentry, without the ability to serve in some of the higher positions the elven members of the gentry enjoy.
Providing infrastructure to its citizens is the principal advantage - and arguably the greatest strength - of the Empire, and things like continent-spanning roads, irrigation systems, and fortifications require resources. After infrastructure, maintaining the legion is a key economic driver.
Abroad, apart from their legions, the Atarlie's chief export is knowledge. Atarlie writings on sciences mundane and arcane are considered authoritative around the world, at Atarlie traders frequently ply their craft by taking books and scrolls abroad, selling their wares, and returning with exotic goods like spices. The Empire has a fierce demand for salt that they cannot themselves match, and a goodly chunk of their trade is founded on acquiring more, along with spell components, the magical writings of other cultures, and furs, woods, or metals not found freely in the empire itself.
Technology and Craftsmanship
The strong connection of the Atarlie elves to arcane magic pervades every aspect of life in the empire, and craftsmanship is no exception. If the Dwarves are known for their powerfully enchanted arms and armour, the elves are known for their trade in scrolls, wands, rings, and wonderous items of every other description. The reliance on magics both Arcane and Divine means that the elves enjoy a quality of life beyond other nations simply down to the labour they save by using magic to accomplish the same goals.
Atarlie and the Adventuring Classes
Barbarians are exceedingly rare among the Atarlie; if they exist at all it’s usually in an underclass absorbed into the empire recently. Atarlie senses of decorum and military traditions do not encourage the fury required by the Rage mechanic, nor the style of combat itself.
Bards are common in a variety of forms – professional scholars and adventuring troubadors alike. Immarra Hyacinth’s clergy includes a disproportionate number of bards, whose combined use of divine and arcane magics often makes for unorthodox, but useful, Theurges.
Clerics are actually quite common, both among the pastoral clergy and in military and adventuring contexts. Elves take their religions and traditions seriously, and while most elves worship the entire pantheon, clerics continue to focus on a single member of the pantheon as their divine patron.
Druids are common among the worshippers of Feno Ilirel, and form the backbone of the clergy of that particular member of the panethon. The social role of druids is both as healer and soothsayer, particularly in the country where they might be the only clergy present, such as in farming villages.
Fighters are common within the empire, though the heavier armour and weapons seen in Bastonia and the lands of the dwarves are rarer, seen only among the higher classes or certain specialist warriors – military doctrine favours light or medium armour and graceful weaponry.
Monks are rare within the empire, and are usually of archetypes that favour armed combat, if they exist at all. There is no corresponding god that would serve the monk class well; monks within the empire’s ranks are usually either transplants or students of transplants and are seen to have something of the foreigner about them regardless of their original heritage.
Paladins are surprisingly rare, as High Elven society tends toward Lawful Neutral rather than lawful good. Those that exist often serve as justicars or magistrates, though some are functional templars, maintained by the clerical orders of Gods whose alignments would suit their alignment restriction.
Rangers are an extremely common class among the high elves and can represent any of a number of social roles as befits their combat archetypes and character creation choices. Whole legionary units are composed of rangers almost to the exclusion of others, and representatives of this class can be found among a number of civilian roles, such as dedicated hunters (including of monsters), couriers, cartographers, and the like.
Rogues are extremely common (as is their combat specialist prestige class, the Assassin). In addition to the usual criminal underclass, anyone who is interested in maintaining their social and political position (or improving it) usually employs a few rogues as spies, informants, and the like.
Sorcerers are not seen as negatively in the Empire as they are in some other lands, and the arcane bloodline is extremely common. So closely are the Atarlie tied to the sources of magic in the world that it commonly bubbles in their very veins. Sorcery is so common in the Empire that Sorcerers are not always (or even often) proper adventurers, particularly among the older landed and aristocratic families.
Wizards are also extremely common. Most Atarlie cities have one or more schools of magic, usually focusing on an individual area of study, though a few Universities exist, catering to more generalist wizards-aspirant. Atarlie are so well known for their wizardry that Atarlie wizards are often in demand in other lands as educators, and adventuring Atarlie Wizards are often travelling the world as part of their research. The Atarlie Empire is one of the only places in Ahern where the practice of necromancy is not illegal, though uses beyond communicating with the dead are frowned upon.
Atarlie and Monsters
With how heavily developed the Atarlie Empire is, monsters are a rare concern. The odd dragon or giant may wander down from the Atlas Mountains, along with goblinoid raiding parties, causing issues in that frontier. Similarly, legions abroad have to deal frequently with monsters in their area of operations. That said, the bulk of the empire consists of territory devoid of much by way of actively-hostile magical creatures, and the elves are neutral to friendly with a large number of woodland spirits, fey, fawns, and the like which may inhabit the wilder parts of the Imperial Interior.
Atarlie and the Nations of Wisteria
The Atarlie consider themselves the true rulers of Wisteria, with all areas not under their control seen generally as frontiers of varying degree of civilization. They are diplomatic enough to not say so bluntly, but their haughty affectation often chills discourse with the other nations of Wisteria.
- Bastonia and its largely human population is seen as a mostly-civilized land, or at least as civilized as any nation of such short-lived people could be. The Atarlie trade with Bastonia regularly, especially in The North, where they can obtain rare commodities such as valuable furs, salt (and salt brine), and whale oil.
- The Carcolie are the wild and barbaric cousins of the Atarlie, who have an uneasy peace with the each other. The Mountain Elves claim that the High Elves drove them into the mountains in some largely-forgotten historical rebellion; conversely the High Elves claim the Carcolie have never lived anywhere else, and are simply uncivilizable due to their tight connection to nature and the wildness that breeds.
- The Clans of Magnus are respected, but seen as aloof isolationists; it is a poorly-kept secret that the only reason the Empire has not attempted to exert authority over the Carcolie is that the Mountain Elves share the Atlas Mountains with the dwarven clans. All such past attempts by the elves to seize territory from the dwarves have met in failure, and so instead a cold peace has developed between the two factions.
- The Hearthlands is a peaceful protectorate of the Empire, and one relied on heavily for agricultural trade, with the native halflings and gnomes producing food far in abundance of even their own appetites. While viewed sometimes mockingly by the High Elves, it is held that the Hearthlands are "sufficiently civilized" to not require assimilation into the empire proper.
- The two nations of the Lordless Lands; the Orcish Nation and the Confederacy of Sages, are both known to the Empire, considered equally barbaric. However, the Lordless Lands is so far removed from Atarlie territory that no serious consideration of either nation is made.
- In contrast, the Shimmering Shore, with its own strong connection to both the Arcane and other worlds entirely, is seen as prime real-estate. The Elves trade frequently with the city-states of the Shimmering Shore, who view them as both vital economic allies as well as the looming foreign threat that some of the more eastern city-states use to try and push one another into a larger alliance.