Here’s the next segment in the Introduction to Atheria series – short descriptions of the various realms of the Atheria setting. As always, the birthright packages can be found on the Races of Atheria page and the characters for the setting use the abilities from Eclipse: The Codex Persona, a classless d20 system (also available in a shareware version HERE).
The land itself is given to extremes: towering peaks, rushing rivers and waterfalls, smoking volcanoes, thick jungles, and windblown deserts make up a high percentage of the country. Most of the arable land is concentrated along the great rivers and central plains between the elemental nexi, while the areas closest to the elemental nexi themselves are unsuitable for habitation – filled with an excess of the relevant elemental force
Despite that fact, HuSung still incorporates four times the territory, and three times as much usable land, as any other known domain. It’s inhabitants elemental birthright is easily turned to a multitude of practical purposes or to personal defense – and is a ready gateway to the study of more general theurgy. With spirit magic, it is easy to call on your ancestors for aid or advice. The elemental nexi themselves are sources of a variety of mystical materials. Most of the borders are secured by unthreatening, or even useful, domains such as the Forest and Binding realms.
In consequence of these natural advantages, HuSung is the largest, most generally comfortable – and perhaps the most prosperous – realm of Atheria. Many of the most onerous tasks, such as turning the soil, quarrying, mining, and working metal and stone, harvesting, and tending the fields, take up a much smaller percentage of the populations time than they do in most lands, leaving even the farmers with a good deal of time to indulge in games, festivals, elaborate formal customs, and cultural (or martial) arts. While the Imperium produces the most advanced, most durable, and most consistent goods, the Empire produces the most beautiful ones.
In general, life in HuSung is good. Even the occasional visiting barbarian or imported slave will rarely have that much to complain about save, perhaps, for being patronized and sneered at.
Perhaps unfortunately, most of the inhabitants see this as proof of the notion that they are the favored children of heaven, and that the inhabitants of other realms are destined for a life of drudgery. Whether they pity them for this unfortunate fate or see them as natural slaves is a matter of personal attitude and the abilities that such outsiders display – but the people of HuSung almost always look down on outsiders to some degree. After all, if the gods had truly favored them, they would have been born in HuSung.
Sadly, while HuSung is theoretically united beneath the Emperor, in practice the Emperor is secluded and has little say in the day-to-day administration of the land, instead heading up the mystical orders who attempt to moderate the ebb and flow of elemental energies throughout the realm. The empires day-to-day administration is mostly left up to a collection of squabbling governors and warlords while the basic cycle of life is set by the elemental seasons of Mayu (Flood), Fung (Wind/Storm), Kaul (Drying Earth), Gwaii (Summer/Heat), Sengo (Spirit/Harvest), and Jith (Winter Sleep).
Socially the empire is surprisingly egalitarian and independent. While clan and family are considered very important, their elemental birthright can make a crowd of upset farmers surprisingly dangerous – forcing the rulers to exercise some moderation in their decrees and to actually deliver some services in exchange for the taxes, magic, and labor they require from their subjects. Judges actually investigate cases and attempt to enforce the laws fairly, armies tend to pay for their supplies, and nobles honor both tradition and skilled advisors. Unlike most of Atheria, HuSung does not hold entire families responsible for the actions of individual members.
Similarly, while warfare is common, it tends to be small-scale and is usually conducted between small bands of professional warriors and their supporting ancestor spirits. Warriors and adventurers are highly respected, but they are also expected to behave professionally. Chaotic barbarians and ragged pickpockets are not tolerated. Despite such occasional caveats, HuSung has a surprisingly enlightened legal system. Rank has some privileges, but even slaves and young children have quite a few rights. As such, “adulthood” is a graduated concept in HuSung. Children of 12 have the right to accept or reject apprenticeships, and children of 16 may make most personal decisions for themselves, but they aren’t really considered “adult” and ready to make major decisions until they’re 21. There are rules of evidence, a prohibition of most torture, and an actual system of appeals. Foreigners often find all of this quite confusing. Foreign nobles, who find that the word of a common farmer is considered every bit as good as theirs (or, as a local, better) are often quite offended. Most offenses are dealt with by fines or forced labor.
Uniquely for Atheria, the monetary system of HuSung employs a printed currency – the Guan (a unit based on the value of a bushel of grain and about a weeks wages for a laborer). The Guan is, however, nearly impossible to counterfeit, since it incorporates powdered firestone in the ink as well as materials from the earth and water nexi in the processing – all of which are imperial monopolies. Silver and Copper both serve as the basis for Kes – smaller coins of various denominations – but these tend to confuse foreigners, since the pronunciation difference between Silver and Copper Kes is merely a matter of tone.
Given the populations inherent spirit magic, and the widespread use of daily rituals intended to maintain the interest of deceased ancestors, the revered ancestors are not so much worshiped as negotiated with. Every clan and household in HuSung has their patron ghosts, and receives a certain amount of power from the astral plane. While it’s rare for an ancestral spirit to have grand powers, it’s not unheard of. Moreover, since the powers of the ancestors tend to concentrate on those family members in dangerous situations, the imperial armies of HuSung – which call up one able-bodied man from each extended household – are surprisingly effective on those (rare) occasions when they’re called up against a border incursion or other disaster.
This does create problems sometimes. Forgotten ancestors can be quite troublesome – and will often have had many centuries of experience in possessing bodies and channeling their powers into the physical realm. Various sorts of undead and haunts are all too common in HuSung.
Appeals and day-to-day worship which doesn’t involve the ancestors, such as those involving weather, crops, and the other forces of the natural world, are usually directed to local spirits – totems, powerful nature spirits, and conceptual entities. The great bureaucracy of heaven is supposed to extend all the way up to the five elemental lords, and the Emperor of Heaven – The Dragon itself – but only the Mystic Orders and the Emperor himself have much to do with such higher powers.
Unlike humans, the animals of HuSung are almost always primarily attuned to a single elemental power, although they may wield their birthrights in fairly sophisticated instinctive fashions. Those occasional animals attuned to two or three elements tend to be unnaturally clever, and – driven by ruthless instincts – are often extremely dangerous. Those few beasts attuned to four or even all five elements tend to be as clever as humans are, and often learn to use their elemental powers to transform their own bodies. They may occasionally be accepted in society, but rarely show much respect for its constraints.