Built on a rocky cliff, a pristine white castle overlooks a cerulean sea. Fortified walls encircle a courtyard filled with fig trees and neatly tended gardens. At each corner is a round tower, their bronze roofs gleaming in the sunlight. Suspended between the towers is an elevated keep that houses a noble family and a regiment of knights who would fight to the death to defend the honor of their station. An angel flies high above the castle and continues east over the rolling green plains and domed roofs of the rhox monastaries that dot the countryside. She is one of many angels that watch over the orderly, rule-bound communities that inhabit the temperate plane below her.
This is Bant, a place of fortified towns, ritualized warfare, and the endless quest for honor. The nations of Jhess and Valeron control the coastal regions while the inland savannahs are divided between the three nations of Akrasa, Topa, and Eos. Despite periodic wars between the nations, they all share the same code: knightly orders defend the natural law, heroic men and women wear enchanted medallions known as sigils, and everyone trains in weaponry and martial arts from a very early age.
The Races of Bant Edit
Rhoxes, avens, humans, and leotau are the most common races in Bant. Whilst rhoxes, aven, and humans can be found throughout the plane, leotau prefer the inland savannahs and have a notorious dislike of the ocean and coastal areas.
Warrior-monks and ascetics, the rhoxes have a solitary nature combined with an innate dedication to spiritual contemplation. They have a reputation for physical prowess and an impatience for those who disagree with them. Those rhoxes who don't turn to spiritual retreat usually become muscle in groups of Unbeholden, the lawless caste that's turned against the rules of Bant society.
A proud race if winged warriors and mages, the avens' homeland is a swath of rocky highland jutting out of the savannah on land claimed by the nation of Akrasa. Though they follow the caste system, many avens avoid entanglement in human affairs. Humans consider aven to be somehow akin to angels, if for no other reason than their appearance. Avens are a bit puzzled by this elevated status because they don't worship the angelic guardians of the plane in the same way the humans do.
Segmented into a caste-based society, humans follow a rigid code of honor and discipline. From an early age, children are taught a weapons-based martial art known as Halcou, a name derived from an alabaster bird with legendary grace and speed. While most humans strive for a life of honor and order, perfection is as impossible here as anywhere else. Some choose not to follow the rules of society and instead prefer to live as bandits and thieves.
Knights of the Inner Three nations ride semi-intelligent feline mounts. Neither Jhess nor Valeron use leotau, for they are creatures of the vast savannah. There are three distinct leotau subspecies: the white-coated orisil favored by the Blessed caste; the golden, fleet-footed mherva, and the large, calico/dappled grohm.
Though they're mortal, angels are not born the same way humans are. Rather, they are formed as a result of an ages-old enchantment that affects all of Bant. Whenever a hero dies, his or her soul transmutes into an angelic state. A hero is any "born" mortal who conformed to Bant's high ideals of honor and valor. Once a soul has transcended, an angel's body is composed of "meta-sigils," the the physical manifestations of world-magic drawn from the essence of the land and sky.
Angels gather at the Cathedral of Bliss, a vast temple of glowing marble and light that floats in the sky above Bant, higher than even the aven can fly. Ruled by the angel Asha, they can observe all of Bant and tend to their responsibilities. Angels embody the largest ideals, such as justice and truth. But they also embody the smallest concepts of beauty and perfection that many of the grounded races take for granted: the path of a crystalline stream flowing through a meadow, or the windswept silhouette of a tree against the dusky sky.
Angelic Ranks Edit
Angels protect and cherish life, but they're not supposed to interfere in the political maneuverings or or prosaic manipulations of lesser mortals. They may champion a cause, guide, and teach, but they do not lead, command, or order.
The angels have organized themselves into four discrete ranks:
There are seven angels Asura who form the Court of Orderly Contemplation
The angels Amesha are the embodiments of the grandest ideals that shape the lives of Bant mortals and inspire its knightly orders: honor, justice, truth, and courtly love.
The angels mahra are the angelic bureaucracy responsible for managing the implementation of the plans and orders of the Asura and Amesha
The lowest rank of angel, Celebrants are responsible for protecting the day-to-day lives and ideals of lower castes. The activities of the Celebrants can ranges from selfless acts, such as giving food to the poor, or acts of whimsy, such as accompanying Adulai the Fool in his travels across the savannah of Topa.
The Caste System Edit
Every nation in Bant recognizes the same castes. Caste is set at birth, and breaking caste roles in rare. Pretending to a higher caste is punishable by imprisonment, while taking on a lower caste rose results in a loss of caste to that level. Gaining sigils, the magic-infused medallions that symbolize allegiance and honor, is the only way to a higher level.
Members of this caste interact with angels, lead nations, and live in accordance with the highest ideals. Many believe that when Blessed children are born, they will become angels as long as they don't fall into decadence or lawlessness. Members of the lesser castes must work harder and accomplish more deeds if they want their souls to transcend to the higher state.
A spiritualist and clerical caste that includes many ascetic rhox monks. The Sighted need not bow before anyone, though they must obey the orders of the Blessed. Strangely enough, the angels and the Sighted have no special relationship. While the angels are seen as spiritual beings of great importance, the Sighted feel they have their own insights into such things, and don't rely on the authority of the angels in the same way as the other castes.
Through noble or courageous deeds, people can earn favor from a patron. Patrons can be high-ranking nobles, knights, or angels who may bestow sigils, magic-infused medallions that empower
the wearer and and increase their rank in society. Members of this caste are ranked by the number of sigils they wear.
Most sentient creatures are mortar. Mortars must follow the orders of the Sigiled, the Sighted, and thre Blessed, though in the enlightened nations of Bant, such orders are not given lightly. The Mortar are considered to be the keepers of common sense, as a counterpoint to the spiritual abstraction of the Sighted and the strictly codified existence of the Sigiled.
This caste consists of bandits and thieves, those who, without Letters of Marque, forcibly take possessions from others. The Unbeholden are often victims of circumstance or rebels who reject the caste system, but there are few truly vicious men and women among their ranks. Many families have one member who is part of the Unbeholden. Often their exploits are chronicled in fables meant to illustrate the importance of virtue and hard work, and the consequences of the lack of discipline that can lead to life as an Unbeholden.
Lisha of the Azure Edit
A tall, striking woman with dark sapphire eyes, Lisha's lips are always painted a brilliant azure blue. Lisha rejected her formal role as a princess of Jhess and became a privateer. Despite her royal family's disapproval, she sails the waters on her frigate, Sunspray, looting merchant ships along the coast of Jhess and Valeron.
Lisha is known for taking a small share of the booty for herself, giving a larger portion to the crew, and distributing the rest to the poor. It isn't unusual for Sunspray to attack a Jhessian port, take over its warehouses, and hand out contents to the local Mortars and Unbeholden. So far, Lisha has always escaped to her ship before the Jhessian cavalry could capture her.
Sigils are magic-infused marks of support and allegiance in Bant. Royal houses, nobles, knightly orders, towns, monasteries, angels, and even a few remarkable individuals are able to grant sigils to signify their support for someone. A few sigils can be bought, but most must be earned in combat or through noble deeds. All sigils empower their wearer. A sigil might increase a person's strength, or heal wounds, or boost endurance. There are rumors of dark sigils that existed before the angels scoured evil from the land.
Smile of Jhess Edit
This sigil is available only to members of the royal family of Jhess, though rumor has it that Lisha has bestowed the sigil on a few paragons that have earned her favor through acts of compassion or charity to the poor.
Serul Cove Edit
Serul Cove is a coastal city whose sigil is granted to their sea captains. It grants the bearer free passage into the cove and the protection of their modest navy while in their waters.
Truth is earned by a decade of dedication to the so-called Ideal of Greatest Weight, and whoever wears the sigil becomes physically incapable of lying.
Knightly Orders Edit
The major knightly orders are active in all the nations of Bant and provide a culturally unifying force. In general, members of an order will resist fighting one another, even when their kingdoms are at war.
The Skyward Eye Edit
The order of the Skyward Eye is an embodiment of the ideal of righteousness. Striving for perfection in being good, living correctly as an example to others, and guiding others in their lives is the core duty of the order. The Skyward Eye crusades against groups and places that choose not to live correctly. Jhess in particular draws ire for its denizens' embrace of what members of the order see as hedonistic pursuits.
The Knight of the Reliquary Edit
The Knights of the Reliquary are an itinerant order that have representatives throughout Bant. They spend their time searching the land for remnants of ancient times, though they don't know exactly what they're seeking, and they don't know exactly what they've found. But in their great warehouses are relics that point to an ancient civilizations, a civilization that seemed to practice abhorrent, evil rites. The Knights of the Reliquary investigate any rumors of magical power and discovery of any new ruins.
The Wayfarer's Friends Edit
The Wayfarer's Friends patrol the roads of Bant, keeping them safe from bandits and monsters. They maintain way stations in uninhabited areas and are the favored knightly order for Mortars who venture out to see the world.
Human monasteries are both militaristic and spiritual, and monks divide their time between meditation and martial pursuits. Each monastery has a liturgy based on the martial art, Halcou, and monks practice this highly stylized combat system using a variety of single-handed weapons. Typically, monks commit to vows and prohibitions such as a vow of poverty or a vow against deceit. Some of these vows become quite extreme, such as a sect that takes a vow of motion. They walk until they collapse in exhaustion only to get up and begin their endless journey again.
Many rhox monks are ascetic, seeking religious inspiration through meditation and a solitary life. If a religious dispute between a human monk and a rhox ascetic can't be resolved through debate, it may become a physical challenge. On an open field, each challenger demonstrates their spiritual fitness through elaborate displays of Halcou. While there is no "winner" of such displays of athleticism, the unspoken agreement is that the challenger with the most grace and skill has the deepest philosophical understanding of the issue in question.
The Great Steles Edit
Huge stone obelisks called steles dot the lands of Bant, focusing and channeling the energy of the land itself. Major forts are built around steles, and the magic from the obelisks seeps into the architecture and instills it with the strength of the surrounding countryside.
Steles are inscribed with detailed pictograms that illustrate a cycle of myths, and the art of carving the steles is a common rhox profession. Since very few humans have the strength to work the dense rock, rhoxes view themselves as the keepers of the myths and the only race to truly understand the symbolic meanings of the stories. One of of the most famous steles sits on a peninsula of blue-tinged rock that juts into the rough ocean north of the port of Serul Cove. Known as the Cormorant Stele, it's engraved with massive seabirds seabirds engaged in battle with a sea monster. Rhox monks who make pilgrimages to the great stele swear they return home with increased vitality and prowess in battle.
Nations of Bant: Jhess and Valeron Edit
Jhess and Valeron are coastal nations, and sometimes traditionalists claim their seafaring cultures are too lax, particularly when it comes to caste. By contrat, the more conservative nations of Eos, Akrasa, and Topa strictly adhere to the rules of warfare and honor.
The island nation of Jhess lies along the eastern coast of Bant. Jhessians are famous navigators and have the finest navy in Bant. They have occasionally warred with Valeron, raiding its coastal villages with their swift naval fleets. Jhess's sleek ships and highly trained marines dominate the sea and beaches, but Valeron's hearty cavalry rule the inland battlefields.
Jhess is more freewheeling than the other nations of Bant, and many Jhessians have a flamboyant streak that is attributed to their coastal living. A far greater portion of the population is likely to be either Sigiled or Sighted than in other nations, and Jhess has the highest population of Unbeholden. Jhessians' upward and downward mobility among the castes is considered shockingly radical by the more traditional mores of the Inner Three.
Valeron stretches along the southern coast of Bant, a land of vast rolling plains dotted with copses of trees. Valeronians are renowned for their beauty, and though the elves are gone from Bant, folklore says Valeronians have some elvish blood. Valeron is famed for the quality of its horses and the expertise of its cavalry. While Valeron cannot challenge Jhess on the sea, their cavalry is so swift that they can spot raiding forces approaching their villages and shift their cavalry rapidly to meet nearly any threat.
The Sun-Dappled Court Edit
The Sun-Dappled Court is a topiary garden planted with thuja trees of immense size that are shaped to resemble the great steles scattered through the kingdoms. Each of the Twelve Trees represents a particular noble bloodline, but all the families of the court are considered to be one tribe. The families of the Sun-Dappled Court rule Valeron justly, though they have a defensive streak that can lead to diplomatic issued with other nations.
Nations of Bant: The Inner Three Edit
The nations of Bant's central savannah, Akrasa, Topa, and Eos, are called the Inner Three. In normal times their relations are good, marked by commerce and cultural exchange, but since Jhess and Velaron went to war, the Inner Three have become embroiled in conflict as well. Compared to the more chaotic style of conflict practiced by the coastal nations, war among the Inner Three is a thing of forms and rituals, carefully timed marches of vast infantry units, and long speeches before battles
Eos is nominally Valeron's ally, due more to their own disputes with Topa than any particular affinity for the Valeronians. The rulers of Eos possess ancient documents that they feel give them claim to several ancient watering holes in Topa, a claim that Topa steadfastly denies. Eos is home of the Olive Branch, a knightly order that seeks to broker peace and smooth the relations between all the nations of Bant. However, all attempts by the knights of the Olive Branch to mediate the dispute between Eos and Topa have failed.
Akrasa, sometimes called "The Sea of Grass", is a land of fertile plains all put to agriculture. Several knightly orders are based in Akrasa, and its own armies are quite large. Akrasa has the largest number of ancient towers and castles of any kingdom and the largest Blessed caste in Bant. While every other caste is well represented and respected, in Akrasa, the Blessed rule with the support of the military. When a Blessed speaks in Akrasa, the ground itself is said to listen.
Akrasa does not have any large bodies of mounted troops. Their knights ride leotau and are mostly Mortars who believe their martial experience gives them a higher status than other Mortars. Outside of Akrasa this is seen as utter pretension and many a brawl has started when a non-Akrasan refused to treat an Akrasan regimentarian with the respect that they believe they are due.
The open savannah of Topa is spotted with towns that surround the precious watering holes and great cloister forts built near important religious locations. Most wild leotau live in Topa, and their knight-paragons are famed for their skill with these feline mounts. Topa's wild leotau often attack Valeron's horse herds so relations are never better than strained cordiality. At the moment, they are in outright war as Topa has allied itself with Jhess. Topa is famous for its caravans, huge trains that carry goods, travelers, and entertainers from watering hole to watering hole.
Topans are master merchants, and compared to other nations they have a particularly large Mortar population, filled with scribes and accountants, merchants and traders. The small Blessed caste that rules Topa looks to both successful Mortars and visionary Sighted for guidance, and both castes have high level representatives on government advisory councils.
Rafiq of the Many Edit
Rafiq is the Grand-Champion of Sigils, Knight-Captain of the Reliquary. The highest-ranking Sigiled in all of Bant, he has attained so many sigils that he is known as Rafiq of the Many. A noble and pure warrior, he is apaladin of the highest calling. While holding true to Bantian ideals, Rafiq is friendly and open, an inspiration rather than a judge, having never forgotten his own lowly birth as a Mortar, the son of a baker.
Rafiq participates in most of the major battles fought in Bant, though which side he champions depends on the delicate balance of all the interests of his sigils. It is not unusual for him to fight for one side one day, and the other the next, as the merits of each side's conflict's claims require.