The Bastonians are a nation, admittedly an oftentimes fractious one, that inhabits the plains and hills of Bastonia, which is bordered to its north and west by the sea, to the east by the Atlas Mountains, and to the south by the Lordless Lands. While the aristocracy and the culture is uniformly human, it does however count a few dwarves, half-elves and half-orcs among its ranks, especially at its fringes.
The Bastonians are sometimes known as People of the Rock due to their propensity for stone construction; they build freely with the material and quarry for it extensively. Owing to the lands in which they live, they are also expert horsemen, and have developed the wild stallions once native to their territory into a variety of purpose-specific breeds, often in demand further afield.
Bastonian society can be seen as relatively complex and hierarchical, but not rigid. Between civil and external conflict, changes in the composition of its noble and knightly classes are commonplace, leading to a degree of upward social mobility not often seen among other nations. Such civil conflicts are particularly common at the death of a king, where the nation often devolves into civil war to settle succession conflicts.
The Bastonian Pantheon is itself a hierarchical polytheism, centring an almighty defender deity and her subordinate Great Saints. Worship of The Almighty is universal within the kingdom (and socially compulsory), with many individuals holding one or more patron Great Saints close to their hearts as well. As in many other nations, this church plays a central role in the governance and daily life of the Bastonians. The Bastonian pantheon also holds a great number of evil entities which are not openly worshipped but instead reviled.
Bastonian Adventurers may be former elite soldiers or knights errant who got a taste for questing after their first formal assignment and have taken to the road instead. They may also be dissatisfied serfs or peasants looking to make a better life. Additionally, some Bastonians simply become adventurers by circumstance, especially in border regions.
Geography and Government
Understanding Bastonian Court
All of Bastonia is ruled by a single monarch, either a King or Queen, whose title is (nominally) hereditary by simple primogeniture. In practice, however, the death of a Bastonian Monarch almost always precipitates a war, as rival claimants move to solidify their position. Avoiding this is usually seen as a deeply auspicious sign of the foresight of the successful claimant and the virtues of the former monarch.
Under a king is a somewhat flattened hierarchy of lords. In material practice, all lords are fundamentally the same thing – ruler of a fortified bastion city and its surrounds. What differentiates them is a series of internal rankings and provincial hierarchies, listed in its general strokes below. However, it is worthwhile to note that exceptions to almost every title exist. For example, the aristocrat in command of Fort Mondale is the Viscount Mondale, who should properly be styled the Earl of Mondale under the following guide, with their title having been "elevated" given the special relationship between Mondale and the crown.
- A Baron or Baroness, usually simply styled a lord, rules only their immediate holding and perhaps a small unsettled geographic area outside his walls. Baron is the lordly rank with the most “churn”. Many barons are first or second generation and the original baron of a particular castle was elevated from among the noble knights in that region for valiant service.
- An Earl (either gender), also simply styled a lord, rules both his immediate holding and one or two villages, thorps, or hamlets in the area. These are usually prestigious barons with good trade practices who earned elevation to an Earldom at some point in the past.
- A Count or Countess, styled as such, who rules over an entire county, including subordinate earls and barons.
- A Duke or Duchess, styled as such, who rules over a full province of the kingdom, including, nominally anyway, their subordinate lords. Dukes and Duchesses are sometimes promoted from among the nobility directly as needed, but oftentimes a Monarch will create their own progeny as the Dukes and Duchesses of the provinces, displacing the previous dukes and duchesses by “promoting” them to “Grand Prince(ss)”, which promotes them to a permanent life of what is essentially a very wealthy baron. At the time of writing, all current Dukes and Duchesses are royal cousins to varying degrees.
The hierarchy among lords is nominally strict and held in reverence. However, if the death of a monarch is foreseeable, these alignments can often shift under the table, leading to situations where one or more of the dukes has gained advantage over the others. Sometimes, making these changed alliances visible is all that is required to shift the crown from one head to another, averting the interregnum conflict altogether.
Duchies of Bastonia
Bastonia comprises five provinces, each with a ruling Duke or Duchess of the same name:
- Estmarch – The region eastward of (roughly) the flow of the River Torres, where it leaves the Atlas Mountains to eventually join the Northern Sea. This particularly hilly area is the foothills of the mountain range and subject to frequent attack by Carcolie raiders, but also the principle hub of trade with the Clans of Magnus. Estmarch is seen as a dangerous but noble land and the Duke of Estmarch is usually the second-in-line to the throne; if you want to usurp your older siblings, historically you are most likely to succeed if you are Duke of Estmarch.
- Zeemarch – the region west of a line (roughly) following the White cliffs, extending as far as the cold shores of the Western Sea. This is a remote, particularly flat, and somewhat desolate march, not often seen as desirable, but it is one of the most peaceful parts of Bastonia as well, leading to a lot of scholarly and artistic development. Though trade dependent, Zeemarch usually boasts an excellent merchant marine and is the most convenient province from which to approach trade with the exotic merchans of the Shimmering Shore. In order of precedence, Duke of Zeemarch is the third-ranking succcessor to the throne.
- The North – a region, best defined by its southernmost holdings but crudely defined as that bordered by an arc drawn through the Unseelie Tower in the west, Castle Pontrainne in the south, and the mouth of the River Torres in the east. This province comprises all lands north of such a line, and enjoys good trade with peoples on the other side of the Atlas Mountains, like the Atarlie Empire and their protectorate in the Hearthlands. Duke of the North is seen as a safe position though it is the fourth lowest in precedence, and the climate itself can tend toward unpleasant.
- The Frontier Counties are the fractious area south of what is called the Bastion Line, a series of contemporary-to-each-other castles that were constructed across what used to be the southern reach of Bastonia. These shifting and frequently-raided wild lands are home do dozens of counties, each of which are volatile and subject to wartime changes in leadership. The Frontier Counties have no defined southern border and eventually just become the Lordless Lands. The Duke of Sudmarch is the proper title for the duke ruling over these lands. It is the most junior position among the dukes, having only been created within the last century. However, there is a belief among many that if any person should pacify the Frontier Counties – such as by building a new Bastion Line or otherwise properly delineating the edge of the Lordless Lands, it would bring about a new era of prosperity in the region and for Bastonia as a whole.
- Finally, the Bastonian Heartland is simply known as Bastonia. Duke of Bastonia is the most prestigious of all dukes, usually the oldest child of the reigning monarch. It is the only Duchy that sometimes is devolved into the titles of the King or Queen themselves if no heir is apparent; all other Duchies usually remain in their original hands or the hands of a trusted ally until a suitable replacement can be found. It is considered bad practice for both the monarch and the Duke of Bastonia to ever be absent from Bastonia simultaneously; if the King were to die while the Duke is absent this almost always results in a war of succession.
Arts and Architecture
Bastonian arts are well-developed. In Bastonia, with Zeemarch and the North in particular, trade has allowed both a plenty of materials as well as a free flow of expertise and craftsmanship. All arts are praised more or less equally.
A central facet of Bastonian life is the castle. Such castles are elaborately constructed, of stone, and exist in designs that are both aesthetically pleasing and brutally functional. For lords who can afford it, such facilities are extensively white-washed externally and painstakingly muralized internally. In particular, some Bastonian craftsmen have found the means to permanently colour glass and have created elaborate pictorial windows for chapels, though these are usually seen in cities and not in castle chapels proper.
Common folk enjoy sizable cottages, though often share them with their extended family. The concept of an “outer wall” is endemic, and even small villages usually have a wooden palisade or crumbling ancient stone wall to use as a protection from outside.
Religion, Festivals, and Timekeeping
Beyond centring their savior-diety, known simply as the Almighty as her name is considered too holy to pronounce, Bastonian religion is highly oriented toward proscription and emphasizes the idea of a virtuous life and of a spirit of inter-mortal penance for their transgressions. Chapels to the Goddess can be found almost anywhere a Bastonians can. Communities who build such chapels also usually dedicate the chapel to one or more of the Great Saints – some chapels have been rededicated numerous times as they change hands. In large cities and metropolises, one or more cathedrals may also exist, which have separated areas for worship of each individual Great Saint in addition to worship of the Goddess – the chief cleric of such an institution is known as a Bishop.
As with the Lords of Bastonia, there is a hierarchy in the clergy. The highest ranking cleric, the Archbishop of Whiterock, is both head of the church and the person responsible for anointing a new monarch to the throne.
A small but potentially dangerous minority worship the “underpantheon” of adversarial deities; the Enemy, San Meteo, and San Verus. Such worship is not usually organized (as it is highly illegal), but in instances where it is there is almost always some abandoned keep, tower, or dungeon that acts as its centre.
Festivals occur monthly and feature one or more of the Great Saints, as well as a few annual festivals that celebrate the Goddess herself.
Fighting, Warfare, and Death
While the commonality of actual warfare varies depending on time and distance from the frontier, life in Bastonia can still be fairly hardscrabble, particularly outside of fortified settlements, where the reach of the law can sometimes be a bit limited.
Bastonian popular culture and histories glamorize warriors and warfare, and heroes are almost always of a martial bent. As a result, men and women both tend to treat war as a necessary and even glorious activity, particularly when a narrative of Divine Justification or Righteousness can be applied to the conflict.
Language and Scholarship
Bastonian Language is the common tongue of western Wisteria, and given that the Bastonian Alphabet is a syllabary, literacy is actually quite common both among Bastonians themselves and others throughout the world. The learned and aristocratic classes focus on “true literacy” in either Elvish (particularly the Atarlied Dialect, which is considered purest) or Draconic (the language of True Arcane Magic). The ecclesiastical tongue is known as Celestial, but few apart from the clergy speak it or read it with any true comprehension; many can parrot common prayers and are aware vaguely of their Common meaning, but aren’t actually conversant in the language.
Most Bastonians learn their crafts through apprenticeship. Nobles, including Knightly Minor Nobility, sometimes receive additional formal education from a Master, Magister, or the like. A few of the major settlements even have colleges of arcane magic or seminaries of divine education where formal education can continue. Secular universities also exist; in particular, engineering and architecture are trades that bring with them a heavy price of scholarship.
Adventurers, particularly in frontier areas, may also learn any of the languages of their enemies.
Diet, Libations, and Entertainment
The Bastonian diet is rich and plentiful, even in the lower classes, though the manner of that diet is strongly stratified between the upper and lower class, including the manner in which meals are consumed. The higher classes often eat three meals a day – consisting of a breaking of the nightly fast in the morning, a lunch of cold meats, cheeses, and bread during the noon hour, and larger meals in the evening, consisting of one or more featured meats supplemented with cheeses, nuts, fruits, and breads.
The poor eat a much more varied, though somewhat spare, diet. If the fast is broken in the morning, it is usually with whatever fruits or nuts may still be to hand from the harvest. The major meal of the day is usually at noon (where weather is often at its strongest and an extended break from the work of the day is desired), most often consisting of a pottage and a bit of meat. If you are particularly well off you would have an additional small meal in the evening – very commonly, this would be fish, as the practice of fishing is easy and Bastonian settlements are often near natural waterways where fish can readily be found; alternatively, it is usually small game. Beef is a rare treat as cows have other utility; instead, the principal meat is pork (as pigs serve no other purpose) or small and medium game; rabbits are commonly raised for this purpose.
The Bastonians prize wine – which has sacramental uses in addition to being an excellent libation – but most of Bastonia is too inclement to produce grapes; the vast majority of this wine is therefore imported.
What Bastonia does produce in great quantity are beers and ales of all kinds, and even some distilled spirits, in the form of various whiskeys – Zeeside and Northern being the two major groups. Brewing and distilling are common employments among the professionally religious, with some abbeys producing them as their principal trade goods.
Taxation and Social Provision
As a nation that also comprises its own hierarchical state, there is a system of taxation and tribute which exists throughout Bastonia, though is too locally variable to speak with in great detail except as a full treatise on the subject. In general, everyone owes taxation to someone; peasants to the local lord, that lord to their proponent (a Baron to his Countess, a countess to their Duke, and so forth), and so up the chain. Among the aristocracy this practice is referred to as a tribute rather than a tax, but the gist is the same – some proportion of the produce of each is required by the superior in order to maintain the necessary treasure to execute the functions of the state.
Such taxation is usually in trade goods at the local level, exchanged in currency only at the tributary level, and even then most Barons pay tribute to their Counts in trade goods or levees of workers or soldiers as well. Treasure is frequently held in the form it was originally received anyway – the purpose of these systems is to provide with the means to pay the limited state functionaries and to stock provisions for siege or disaster in larders, granaries, and so forth throughout the kingdom. The obvious agreement and utility of these taxes is that they be employed for the good of the populace as the need arises – if a latter crop fails a previous stockpile of grain could be disbursed, and so on. Quite a bit of this treasure goes into the upkeep of the fortifications of cities and the salaries, training, and equipment of professional soldiery and even local militias.
The church itself also strongly encourages a Tithe, which is used for “good works”. Historically this can be anything from true charity to simply maintaining the holdings of the church.
As might have been implied by the above there is a pronounced wealth gap within Bastonia. Almost all aristocrats and government officers have the wealth of heroes in other regions – some even rise to the wealth of serial adventurers through their own lifetime of exploits. Conversely, individual civilians are often quite poor in specie, though even the peasant class usually holds a house (but not the land that house rests on) and can provide through their labours and trade for a reasonable living.
As a nation frequently riven with internal warfare and beset by enemies on at least two sides, it is not a surprise that defence and military equipment are major economic drivers in Bastonia. While agriculture remains a key industry and a facet of that defence, Bastonia deals in great quantity with the quarrying of stone, mining of metals, production of construction lumber, and treatment of stone and metals for both peacetime and wartime construction.
The Bastonians have also cornered the market on the valuable arcane reagent Arcwhale Oil via a special class of labourer known as Arcwhalers. While this employs relatively few people in the city of Coldwater and virtually nowhere else in the country, the trade in this substance and resulting taxes is a key economic driver for the entire kingdom.
Technology and Craftsmanship
Bastonian armour is considered second to none, with perhaps the only other exception in terms of craftsmanship coming from the dwarves. Bastonian steel, in particular, is highly refined for the period and approaches qualities defined in modern spring steels. As a result, it is much easier to learn to make acceptable-quality arms and armour in Bastonia, compared to the higher standard of craftsmanship required to make the same materials in the lands of The Clans of Magnus or among the Carcolie.
Bastonian technology does not move with the novel swiftness as is sometimes seen in other lands. A design of sword or technique of stonework will stick around for a century or longer with only minor modifications.
Bastonians have a significant understanding of simple machines and occasionally create fantastic engines of war or engines of construction to suit the needs of their massive stoneworks. Bastonian Castle Architecture extends further in terms of natural, material stonework than any contemporary nation in Ahren is capable of – the Atarlie Empire being the sole exception, perhaps, if you count their magical shaping of stone as a material craft.
That said, a great quantity of Bastonian craftsmanship focuses on serviceability – a broken item can always be replaced. There are plenty of mediocre craftspeople to be found in Bastonia.
Bastonians and the Adventuring Class
Bastonians have the most developed relationships with the classes seen among the various nations of Wisteria. As always, some exceptions exist to the below guidelines, but these are general interpretations of how they are seen.
Barbarian – rarely seen (and more rarely acknowledged), but Berserkers are not uncommon in holdings that are frequently raided, and most often found among peasant militias, particularly in Estmarch. High level barbarians are sometimes the local “tough”. Barbarians also make up the heavier end of the Bastonian Banditry.
Bards – anywhere coin can be found. While even small villages can occasionally boast of a local bard at their bar, no Lordly Court would be complete without a small retinue for entertainment or employment in courtly intreague. Bards also make up a valuable bastion of scholarship, particularly surrounding History, within the Bastonian culture.
Cleric – Plentiful and in most settlements, clerics are, understandably, most often clergymen, though those with adventurer levels worth of cleric experience are almost always in the employ of a professional paramilitary unit, usually a Chivalric Order, or rarely are senior clergy. Some figure directly among the nobility as well; it is not an uncommon arrangement to send prospectless minor children to the Church to make a name for themselves, and the fickleness of the gods often leads to clerics unexpectedly rising to positions of temporal authority.
Druid – rare as the practice is discouraged (and sometimes condemned as heresy), but sometimes found among clergy, practising in secret. Druids are most common on fringe border communities in the east and the south, where they’ve picked up the practice from wilder parts and have greater access to the seclusion needed to engage in druidic ritual. In the communities where they do exist openly they sometimes counter church authority completely; in other cases they are simply the trusted “Old Wise Woman” who can be relied upon to provide good advice for farmers and the ill.
Monk – Not unheard of, though most common in the south. Monastic orders exist throughout Bastonia and can be thought of as a sort of peculiar chivalric order in their own right; these particular kinds of Monks tend to refer to “ki” as “will”, and couch their philosophy in terms familiar to the Bastonian Pantheon rather than the Awakened One, where terms like Ki originated. There is also a small peasant underclass of monastic tradition, not formalized in monasteries but handed down through rigorous training, that occasionally supports peasant uprisings where a given lord has become too oppressive. This latter kind is the kind more common in the south, and speak of monk matters in the usual monk language – the practice having originated across the Lordless Lands, along the Shimmering Shore. Monks tend to take more focus on weaponry in Bastonia, especially improvised weaponry or weaponry that would not be unusual to carry.
Fighter – anywhere a dedicated martial combatant is likely to be seen. This includes professional (i.e., non-militia or non-conscripted) soldiers, castle guards, wardens, some Knights, and so forth. Most chivalric orders include fighters in their makeup. Many Lords or Ladies Commandant are pure fighters.
Paladin – While rare, particularly pious Knights are usually best represented as paladins, and some whole Chivalric orders exist comprised entirely of Paladins at the officer level. Paladins are more common in Bastonia than anywhere else, except perhaps the clanholds of the Dwarves. Paladins are universally well respected – the King or Queen almost always has one as Captain-General.
Ranger – professional soldiers belonging to frontier or remote Bastonian settlements. There is an entire chivalric order made up almost exclusively of rangers known as the Order of San Lauren; this order occupies its own small network of castles and often comes to the aid of frontier and remote villages otherwise left to their own devices. Of course, more typical ranger backgrounds also exist, such as the village's best hunter or a rugged individual survivalist.
Rogue – the “clever” element of the Bostonian Banditry, but that’s not all. Rogue is a perfectly valid class for resolving all manners of court intrigue specialists, and nobody loves a good court intrigue like the courtly Bastonians. Most Lords have one or two rogues in their employ as spymasters. Some Chivalric Orders employ rogues as “Masters of Vaults” or “Reclaimers”, whose role is to provide provision for parties sent out to obtain Relics.
Sorcerers – Sorcery is not unheard of among the Bastonians. Many latent sorcerers, upon discovering their powers, attempt to join Wizards Colleges – a few who figure out their gifts properly occasionally (and confusingly) might serve as Court Wizard to minor lords who can’t otherwise obtain one. More often, Sorcerers in Bastonia never acquire complete control of their gifts and occupy a social role closer to druids, though with a somewhat more negative overall connotation.
Wizards – The controlled and scholastic form of Arcane magic is preferred within Bastonia, and many of the larger settlements have colleges or guilds dedicated to Ars Magica. Some wizards join chivalric orders (better represented by the Magus class) and learn magic in particular for combat. Wizards seeking a comfortable path to relative wealth more often become Court Wizards, serving as entertainment or advisors to their local lord. Many others join the “courts” of powerful “Lords of Magic”, occupying fortress-collages in the otherwise wild parts of Bastonia, focusing on their studies completely.
Bastonians and Monsters
Monsters are, obviously, a pressing matter in Bastonia, and an area on which the Bastonians are unusually clear – pretty much anything not of humanoid type is a monster, including, obviously, the monstrous humanoids. The particular hazard varies from region to region, but in general the killing of monsters is seen as a necessary duty and even a glorious occupation for those who can specialize in it. The prevalence of various monster types is one of the two reasons that even the Bastonian heartland is relatively fortified (the other being the warlike nature of the Bastonians themselves).
Tellingly, Orcs and Goblinkind are not considered monstrous by Bastonian standards, though as both comprise nations which are not allied with Bastonia, they are usually seen as untrustworthy at best - this was made particularly severe after the Green Knoll Purge.
Bastonian Attitudes on the Other Nations
Wisteria is not a monoculture, and neither are Bastonians, though they are certainly one of the more monocultural nations upon it - only the Clans of Magnus and the Hearthlands are more uniform, owing in part to their own respective isolation. That said, Bastonians do occasionally have dealings with most of the other nations upon Wisteria. It should be noted that the attitudes shown below are general in nature and that each unique Bastonian may hold more or less extreme versions of these positions, including the exact opposites of them, as befits their own experiences and understanding of the world.
- The Carcolie are at the front of the mind and the top of the list of fears for most any Bastonian in Estmarch, where the locals live under the constant threat of Carcolie resource raiding. The Carcolie are therefore seen as barbarous and brutish (particularly in contrast to their refined cousins, the Atarlie). In the rest of Bastonia, where Carcolie reputation is more by word of mouth, these positions become even more exaggerated, often blaming the wood elves for atrocities that never occurred. The sole exception seems to be in the Frontier Counties, where a few Carcolie outcasts can be found as hunting guides or retainers to border lords.
- The Atarlie Empire are, by contrast, the "good" elves, which is perhaps why a common Bastonian epithet for the elves that make up the ruling class of the Atarlie being "High Elves". Though culturally, magically, and economically brilliant, the empire is seen as the looming threat on the border by many in Bastonia. Individual elves are, of course, accorded some respect. Whole ships of Atarlie legionnaires, on the other hand, are viewed with incredible suspicion. Most interplay between the empire and the kingdom is diplomatic and economical rather than military, the latter occurring on the individual scale as traders and adventurers either ply the north seas or brave the passes of the Atlas Mountains, which form a natural border between the two powers.
- The Orcish Nation is one of the largest populations of the Lordless Lands. While respected for its merits among the Frontier Counties, throughout the rest of Bastonia, the Orcs have a fearsome and savage reputation that some would argue is undeserved - some going as far as to consider the orcs entirely uncivilized. The Bastonians are also frequently at war with the Orcish Nations, which may contribute to that - the Orcs hold much of the territory the Frontier Counties wants to expand into, and don't like the idea of giving it up to be spoiled by Bastonian visions of civilization.
- The Confederacy of Sages, as it is known in the common tongue, is another population of Centaurs, Fawns, and similar beings inhabiting the Lordless Land whose territory is coterminous, in many areas, with the Orcish Nation. Unlike the Orcs, however, these folks are considered wild, wise, and heathen, more or less in that exact order. They are revered throughout the Lordless Lands and spoken of with quiet reverence, particularly among rural folk, who benefit from the Sages' understanding and wisdom on rare occasion. Unlike the orcs, the sages view war with the kingdom a short-term solution to a longer-term problem, and their reputation for occasionally proving helpful during disaster and famine makes the idea of a war against the sages politically unpopular.
- The Clans of Magnus are viewed with some respect, especially by stonemasons and smiths in Estmarch, and nobility who can afford to import them from elsewhere. In many communities, some deride Dwarves as a myth, and the race as a whole is often overlooked and misunderstood - given Dwarven pride, this has lead to more than a few uncomfortable encounters.
- Opinion on the folk of the Shimmering Shore is similarly divided. The common folk usually only encounter traders from that region, often fabulously wealthy by comparison to the local Bastonian and of exotic half- or mostly-human bloodlines. This leads to a reputation for the Shimmering Shore as a place of fabulous wealth and promise, which returning adventurers and more-knowledgeable merchants and nobility can do little to dissuade the lower classes of, in spite of knowing the very real difficulties of life in that region.