"The priests keep telling me that the Prophets will bring us all together in the next life. I find this hard to believe, since they've torn us apart in this one."
-- Niklas Trägue, Eisenfürst of Freibrug
History and Culture
Located in central Théah, Eisen has long been of critical importance in Théan wars and politics. Troops needed permission to move through her borders, and trade agreements often hinged on allowing merchants to pass through as well. After the War of the Cross, however, Eisen was devastated. Fields were reduced to mud, garrisons could no longer be paid and merchant ships could thumb their noses at any Eisen attempt to collect tolls.
The people of Eisen have always been proud. They are proud that their ancestors carved the Vaticine Church's empire for the Hierophant, and that their Empire lasted for hundreds of years. They are proud that their past is a series of one valorous deed after another. With the state their country is in today, they might be forgiven for trying to live in the past. They were proud of the fact that they have no magic except that which they make with their own sweat and blood...
...and then, the Horrors came.
They started appearing at the end of the War, but once it was over, they arrived in force. A terrible howl in the moonlit forest...the pale Countess living in darkness at the top of the hill...the mad inventor working with corpses in his ruined castle...
It wasn't enough that Eisen survived the War of the Cross. Now, the people of Eisen must survive what all that bloodshed and murder summoned.
Eisen's sun has risen and set once more. Now Eisen is a lonely land of mud and snow, and travelers are well advised to hire an armed guard.
But with all the talk of Eisen being a wasted nation, many have overlooked the fact that not all of her people look wasted. Some of them just look angry.
Eisen has a long history of coming back from disaster, and the worse the disaster, the bigger her comebacks tend to be. Right now, she's disjointed and disagreeable, haunted and preyed upon, but she will banish the Horrors. She will unite her people. And she will be a unified nation. The land isn't as pretty as Avalon, nor is its nobility as dignified as in Montaigne, but they are a proud people who won't let a little mud and blood stain their dignity.
The people who say there's no beauty in Eisen don't know where to look for it. Eisen holds stories of desperate daring, where you don't use words like "hero" and "courage" unless you mean them.
More than any other Nation, Eisen has learned the importance of national unity--chiefly because they've had it stripped from them in the name of religion. The War of the Cross didn't start with Eisen fighting Montaignes or Castillians, it started with Eisen Vaticines fighting Eisen Objectionists. However, after all the blood was spilled and all the cities burned to as, it became clear that it was just Eisen killing Eisen.
Because of this internal dissent, the Eisen are now viewed with the faint scorn by the rest of Théah. However, their battlefield skills remain superior to any others in Théah; even the mighty Montaigne General Montegue has an Eisen sergeant as advisor.
Like every other Nation in Théah, Eisen stands at a crossroads. The most important people are her princes, who must be the unifying force that the Nation needs. Which prince wins the faith of the people will determine what role the Nation plays in the theater of world politics for the next two hundred years.
Théah is about to embark on the path that eisen has been treading for three decades. She's on the edge of realizing that national pride can unify a people more than religion ever could. The Eisen are already there. And they're rebuilding.
But for now, Eisen is a bloody mess. The people know it and they don't like being reminded. It's kind of like walking into someone's house and saying, "What a pit." The Eisen may complain about their land, but they still love her. A Montaigne who wanders into a village and says something scornful about the land will find himself tarred and feathered by the end of the day.
Eisen is a mountainous region nestled in the middle of Théah that borders on almost every major continental country. The winters are long and there is a chill in the air even in the midst of summer. Eisen gets plenty of rain and snow, contributing to muddy roads all year round.
In the southern half of Eisen are the foreboding black forests, or the Schwarzen Wälder. People know not to walk the forest paths at night for fear of the Schattenmann, or "Shade Man." The stories describe him as a giant creature with thin, stick-like limbs, carrying an enormous pair of shears to dismember his victims, snipping them apart with precise strokes.
Northwest of the Wälder stands the Südsee, a huge lake that was once teeming with schools of freshwater fish. Due to heavy fishing, it is no longer as bountiful as it once was. Just to its northeast is the Unsterbliche Sumpf, or "The Undying Swamp," which is thought to be cursed.
Northern Eisen is heavily forested, with broad flood plains on either side of the Rotstrom, a wide river with pockets of clay that turn its waters red. Freiburg (FRY-boorg), the famed capital of trade, straddles the midpoint of the Rotstrom. There are two large forests in northern Eisen: the Angenehme Wald and the Liebliche Wald. Unlike the rest of Eisen's landscape, these forests are known to be safe, pleasant places to travel through. Of course, with all the desperate refugees found in Eisen, that may not be true for much longer. Eisenfürst Pösen posts regular patrols through the forests to flush out any would-be bandits. Still, she is reluctant to take these troops off the patrols in the Salzsumpf, the salt marshes near her castle, Insel; sirens have found their way into the swamp and waylay fishermen and other travelers. Pösen doesn't want hem venturing into her territory.
In the mountains that border Eisen to the north and east, locals tell stories of the drachen, enormous creatures revered by the Eisen. In days past, nobles hunted the drachen as proof of valor. In fact, the image of the drachen has become synonymous with the concepts of strength and power. No noble has actually encountered one of the beasts in living memory, but tales survive of drachen rending entire cities to pieces with their enormous claws.
The iron mines of Eisen are also found in the mountains. Aside from mercenaries, iron is the country's primary export. Dracheneisen, the seemingly magical iron used to forge the legendary dragonscale armor (drachenschuppe) of Eisen, was once mined here. Unfortunately, the dracheneisen mines are a distant memory, like the drachen themselves, and the ancient mines are empty and haunted. What little dracheneisen remains is used to fight Eisen's Horrors. The Nation's most precious material, it can provide both a ward against the Horrors and weapons. Most of the Horrors cannot be harmed by traditional means, but dracheneisen, for some reason, can harm and even destroy them.
Although Eisen lies in haunted ruin, her people are far from beaten. While some have succumbed to the horrors of war, those that remain are stronger for the cruelties they have endured. The Eisen have more collective combat experience than any other nation. The armies of most of Théah's nations rely on an Eisen advisor for tactics and strategy.
Since they have little else left to sell, the Eisen have begun to sell war. Their military academies are the best in Théah, and simply being born an Eisen is often a good enough reason to lead an army. Eisen mercenaries often find work as soldiers, bodyguards or marines defending ships against pirates. Many loyal sons and daughters have left their homeland to fisht abroad, sending their wages home to their families.
One thing that echoes throughout the national character of Eisen is stubbornness. The Eisen never give up. They may lie low while they lick their wounds, but they always return in the end, ready to fight once again.
Thirty years ago, there were 24 million people living in Eisen. Today, there are 10 million. Nearly six million have fled to other countries. The rest are dead. Most died not in battle but through starvation, plagues bred by festering bodies and...Things.
This has transformed the Eisen into grim, shattered people. Families have been torn apart by death, disease and raiders over the years, leaving many alone in the world. Some have retreated into catatonia rather than deal with the horror. Others have taken to the bottle to dull their pain. Even those Eisen who show no external sign of the Ware of the Cross are apt to explode in anger with no warning. It may take generations for these scars to heal.
The Eisen are tall and muscular, with a peculiar genetic quirk that sometimes combines brown or black hair with a red beard. Their eyes can be of any color, which a predisposition towards the lighter shades. The men keep their hair and beards short, in a military fashion, while the women grow their hair to shoulder length and sometimes tie it in braids. They have sharp aquiline noses and a light complexion.
There are four classes in Eisen. The first is the nobility, or Adel (AH-del). They live in grand castles left to them by their forefathers and continue to squabble among themselves, arguing over each acre of land as though it were an entire kingdom.
The second class is the mercenaries, or Söldner (ZOELD-ner). Next to the Adel, the Söldner are the wealthiest people in Eisen. They often form academies to train young Söldner when they grow too old to battle any longer.
The third class is the peasants, or Bauern (BOW-ern). They still cling to their lifestyle, eking out a living on Eisen's increasingly infertile land. They have weathered a great deal of hardship and pain, and there is an undercurrent of anger among them that steadily grows stronger.
The last class in Eisen was created during the War of the Cross. They are called the Waisen (VY-zen), or "the orphans." Their homes were destroyed and their families killed by the soldiers fighting in the War of the Cross. They wander the ruined fields of Eisen with walking sticks, searching for edible roots and other meager supplies. Most of them die of disease or starvation before long, and those who survive are often slain for trespassing on the lands they once called home. They Adel say, "You can identify them easily. They don't shield themselves when you beat them."
Eisen are straightforward. They understand the need for tact, and are careful what they say, but they tell those whom they don't like exactly how they feel. The Eisen have great respect for the truth and consider a secret of a lie to be a burden on their spirit. They'll bear this burden for a friend, or if it's necessary in order to keep their dead in its proper place, but see no reason to spare the feelings of someone they don't like to begin with.
If an Eisen forms a strong friendship, he may refer to a friend as his Rüken (ROO-ken), or "Back." This means that the Eisen would trust him or her to defend his back in a battle. An Eisen never expects to be abandoned in battle by his Rüken unless he has asked him or her not to interfere, such as a duel of honor. When an Eisen is back to back with his Rüken, he will not look behind him. He trusts his Rüken to cover him.
The Eisen show a certain Roughness in their Customs that many foreigners are unused to. Friends hug each other roughly when meeting again after a long separation, and most Eisen have difficulty speaking with a soft voice in social situations, since their own gatherings tend to be loud and boisterous.
Bauern and Waisen dress in whatever they can get, typically coarse linens. Often the Waisen allow their clothing to fall to rags on their backs. The richer Bauern men wear feathered caps, while the women wear aprons.
Söldner dress in fine leathers dyed in bright colors. Their shirts have distinctive sleeves with slits cut lengthwise in them. A wide-brimmed, feathered hat provides a bit of shade in the sun or protection from the rain.
The Adel men follow the fashions of nobility elsewhere with certain unique distinctions. They wear long leggings with thigh-length skirts tied with a single band and flat, wide-brimmed hats. The women also follow international fashions, but prefer small lace collars to the ruffled collars that are popular in so many places. They prefer bright colors on their clothing.
The diet of the Waisen consists of anything peasants can find: old tubers, dead rats, gnawed cabbages and whatever they can steal--including the household pets of the Söldner and Adel.
The Bauer is somewhat better off, relatively speaking. He gets to keep a portion of whatever crop he grows in Eisen's "mud field": typically grains and tubers. They drink water--beer has long since become too expensive for all but the richest Bauern. If they're lucky, the water is clean and doesn't carry and diseases. Butter remains the center point of any meal. It is typically served in a bowl into which break can be dipped. Often the break serves double duty as an eating utensil, herding peas onto forks and the like.
The Söldner and Adel have a more varied diet. They import vegetables and fruits for their tables, and maintain cattle and sheep on their share of the Bauern's grain, ensuring that they have a reasonably steady supply of meat. Much of this meat is dried or turned into sausage to prevent spoilage. A great deal of alcohol flows into the country to feed the soldiers' tireless thirst.
This is an unusual period in Eisen history, as long-standing traditions and customer are abandoned as impractical. Often, holidays go uncelebrated while the men toil on endless public works projects to rebuild the country. Gift giving has become an exchange of handmade crafts, since manufactured goods are entirely out of the Bauern's price range.
Due to the recent shortage of food, children always eat first in Eisen. Even honored guests wait politely until all the children have been served before eating themselves. A guest who does not otherwise would be rebuked, and probably not invited back.
In addition, it has become a customer for guests to bring enough food to feed themselves and their hosts as a "gift." In reality, it's merely a way to make sure that your hosts aren't going hungry while they serve you the best food they have to offer.
The Bauern believe that it is bad luck to hurt or even touch a Waisen, as if somehow their misfortune were contagious. The only way to avoid this ill luck, or so it is believed, is to bathe thoroughly in order to wash it away.
Art and Music
Eisen art and music has less to do with the military than one might expect. Many of their most famous works depict scenes of idyllic beauty, and some of the most spectacular landscapes in all the world. Perhaps the Eisen see enough war in their day-to-day life.
Most Eisen have three names: a first name, a surname and an ehrenname, or "name of honor." The surname passes down from the child's father, as most family names do. Lastly, the ehrenname is given to the child to honor a friend of relative of the parents. Typicalls, it is the honored person's first name. For an Eisen to name his first-born child after a friend is the greatest compliment he can give. In rare cases, men have received a woman's name as their ehrenname, and vice versa. While this can be somewhat amusing, laughing at an Eisen's ehrenname is a deadly insult.
When an Eisen introduces himself, he states his first name, his ehrenname, and then his surname. For instance, if a man introduces himself as "Gregor Friedrich Damaske," he is saying that his first name is Gregor, his surname is Damaske, and his ehrenname is Friedrich.
Common Male Names: Adrian, Bernhard, Dirk, Erich, Gustav, Hand, Josef, Kurt, Lorenz, Max, Oliver, Philip, Reinhard, Rolf, Stefan, Volker, Wenzel, Willi, Xaver
Common Female Names: Anna, Cordula, Cornelia, Dora, Eva, Gabriele, Ingrid, Janina, Kirstin, Lena, Margrit, Mona, Nina, Ruth, Sigrid, Silvia, Tina, Ursula
The Eisen are split between Vaticines and Objectionists. Their churches show an austerity typical to their culture. They don't believe in flashy, useless displays of wealth, but they are very religious nonetheless.
A Bauer often discusses religion with his neighbors while building roads in the winter with them, and the typical Adel can be expected to donate up to 50% of his early income to his church.
There is one practice unique to the Eisen branch of the Church of Prophets, and common to both Vaticines and Objectionists. The Söldner all wear iron necklaces imprinted with the insignia of particularly pious Eisen who were once Söldner themselves. These necklaces are known as Heiligen (HIGH-lih-gehn). The Eisen believe that the spirit of the pious Söldner will intercede with the Creator on the wearer's behalf to keep him safe from harm.
Four men are most commonly honored on heiligen. The most popular bears the insignia of the late Imperator Weiss, a man with a crown of star around his head. Weiss is remembered for his policies of religious freedom. The next most popular bears the insignia of Imperator Gottschalk I, the cross of the Church of Prophets. Gottschalk created the Codacce papacy and gave it to the Hierophant to rule. Objectionists often wear a heiligen with a wolf imprinted on it. Although this is Stefano Wulf's insignia, and he wasn't actually an Eisen, many Objectionists consider him the holiest man since Mattias Lieber. The last of the four primary heiligen bears the insignia of General Stauss, a hawk in flight. Stauss was the champion of the Vaticines in Eisen while he lived and is very fondly remembered by them.
Eisen has collapsed into seven königreiche, or "city-state kingdoms." Each is ruled by an Eisenfürst, or "Iron Prince." The title came from the noble families who once controlled the mines producing the valuable dracheneisen: a metal that is stronger than steel and half the weight. This metal was traditionally used to create superior armor and weaponry for the Eisen nobility, but after the War of the Cross, much of it was lost, stolen or destroyed.
Each Iron Prince rules his kingdom differently. Some, like Elsa Pösen, maintain strict control of all trade and troops. Others, like Roswitha con Wirsche, allow their subordinates to run the kingdom. The most extreme example of this hands-off attitude is Niklas Träge, who collects no taxes or tariffs, and only occasionally becomes involved in politics.
Boundaries between the königreiche are rough and often imprecise. It's not uncommon for two Iron Princes to lay claim to the same region of Eisen. Governmental practices vary from place to place.
The first königreich is the most unusual of them all. It is known as Freiburg, or "Free City," ruled by Niklas Träge, one of the first atheists to come to power in Théah. Träge was a respected general during the War of the Cross. Over the course of the War, his beliefs went from "The Creator will protect us" to "How can the Creator allow this?" to "There is no Creator." He believes that anyone will betray him if offered the right price, and he has been known to get drunk and verbally abuse passing clergy. "Don't trust anyone who believes in færie tales," is common advice from Träge's lips. Despite all this, Träge does his best for his people. He doesn't blame them for their moral weaknesses; he simply uses those weaknesses to manipulate them into doing the "right" thing.
A tall tower stands in the center of town, known simply as the Wachtturm, "The Watchtower." Träge only claims the land that he can see from the top of this tower, having no desire to rule over a larger königreich.
Freiburg's economy is based on free trade. Träge levies no taxes and ensures that the source of certain questionable merchandise never reveals itself. In fact, Träge does his absolute best not to govern the city at all. He simply makes it worth peoples' while to govern themselves, provide for their own protection, etc. Nonetheless, he is convinced that Freiburg will not survive to see its fifth anniversary. There are too many land-hungry Eisenfürsten nearby, and if there's one thing that the Vaticine and Objectionist clergy can agree on, it's that an atheist ruler is a threat to the Church's power.
Roswitha von Wirsche, a woman who lost her husband and three sons in the War of the Cross, rules the second königreich. For a time, she gave up on life, allowing her lands to fall into ruin. But then, something changed. Her farms are some of the most productive in Eisen, her lands seemingly blooming. Wirsche was utterly ravaged in the war, but you could not tell it now. The people have changed as well: they work diligently but lock their doors at night. And if you visit the Country of Wirsche don't bother with niceties: they will not speak to you. They dare not. The Countess may be listening.
Pösen Elsa Pösen rules the third königreich. Elsa is a large woman, immensely strong and a skilled warrior. She is also arrogant and unbelievably stubborn. Her königreich occupies the northeastern corner of Eisen and is the most prosperous of the königreiche, except for perhaps Freiburg. Pösen survived the War of the Cross virtually unharmed. It possesses fertile land and seemingly bottomless iron mines.
Stefan Heilgrund rules the fourth königreich, and works steadily towards the day that Eisen will be re-united under his rule. The other Eisenfürsten see him as a brash young fool and have no intention of ever submitting to his rule. Niklas Träge of Freiburg is the only one who will even talk to him, for he sees Heilgrund as a potentially useful tool. Rumors have spread that Stefan collects occult books and objects for some unknown purpose.
The fifth königreich is ruled by Falk Fischler, a dark, brooding man. His königreich was formed from pieces of Sieger and Hainzl, a fact that Erich Sieger has never forgiven. Much of Falk's depression comes from the fact that his newfound wealth has failed to ease his loneliness. Before, he was surrounded by nobles who sneered at him and looked down on him because he was poor. Now he's surrounded by fawning nobles who hang on his every word for no other reason than that he has power and wealth. Fischler surrounds the Südsee, and much of its income comes from fishing. Unfortunately, fewer fish are caught each year, and Falk has pondered whether or not to prevent fishing for a few years to let the lake recover. Either way, it could mean economic ruin for his people.
The sixth königreich belongs to Erich Sieger. It technically belonged to a Castillian noble at the end of the War of the Cross, but when soldiers arrived to take possession of it, they saw a madman locked within the fortress, willing to fight to the death over a patch of burned, salted mud. They decided that the land wasn't worth the lives it was going to cost them and went home. Since then, Sieger has had difficulties feeding his people and keeps losing them to nearby königreiches. He seems focused completely on retaining his holdings against all odds, and his sheer bloody-minded stubbornness might actually allow him to succeed.
The seventh and final königreich is ruled by Georg Hainzl, a pleasant, jovial man, virtually untouched by the savage War of the Cross. In fact, he is usually untouched by reality in general. He has made his land a place of beauty and art, and remains a generous patron to musicians. His castle contains rooms decorated in themes drawn from famous operas, and its exterior looks like it belongs in a fairy tale. Hainzl gets its income from its iron mines, the best in all of Eisen.
Eisen's primary exports are iron, lumber and coal, which demand high prices in foreign markets. This is fortunate, for Eisen must import 40% of its food due to the ravages of the War of the Cross. The Eisenfürsten control trade everywhere except in Freiburg.
Under the Imperators, Eisen's coinage was the mark, a small silver coin approximately the size of the Imperator's smallest fingernail. Eight marks equal one Guilder. However, only certain Eisenfürsten still accept marks as currency.
After the Treaty of Weissberg, Freiburg began using the Guilder as its standard currency, and also began pfennigs (FEN-igz), equal to one-tenth of a Guilder, with the Vendel League's permission. Since then, Pösen, Fischler and Hainzl have followed suit.
Heilgrund, Wirsche and Sieger all continue to use the mark, but for difference reasons. Heilgrund hopes to use the currency as a rallying point for Eisen, reminding the people of more glorious days. Why Sieger continues to use the mark is unknown: probably just another symptom of the madness that made him defy Castille. He seems to defy people for no other reason than because he can. Perhaps Wirsche continue to use the mark out of tradition. Nobody really knows.
The Guild moneychangers in Freiburg continue to buy marks in exchange for Guilders, but no longer sell them. They are attempting to take the mark out of circulation, since it isn't backed by a stable government.
Most of the military presence in Eisen consists of mercenary bands and the private guards of the Eisenfürsten. Since the private guards consist of no more than ten or twenty members, the mercenary bands will decide the military future of Eisen.
Most of the bands predate the War of the Cross. Many of them fought on both sides of the war at some time or another. Each can be recognized by its distinctive banner and war cry on the battlefield. Most companies also have a charter that sets down rules of conduct and divvies out shares of the pay.
One of the most famous Eisen warbands is the Blutgeister, or "Blood Spirits," whose battle-cry--"Fliegt Geister!" which translates into "Spirits, fly!"--strikes fear into the hearts of those they face.
As for the private guards of the Eisenfürsten, only two are of particular note. Elsa Pösen's guard is noteworthy because of its extreme loyalty and ability. The second, the guard of Erich Sieger, is the most brutal and callous group of Söldner in all of Eisen.
The Military Academies
The Eisen schools of tactics are acknowledged as the greatest of their kind in the world. Not only do the students learn how to fight at them, they learn how to show others how to fight. Four of these schools are acknowledged as the best of the best: Steil, Unabwendbar, Klippe and Gelingen.
Steil is located in Gottkirchen and was founded only seven years ago by a cousin of the late Imperator Riefenstahl. Since then it has seen phenomenal success, turning away more than half of the students who apply for admission. The curriculum emphasized cavalry maneuvers and infantry drills.
Unabwendbar is in Starkbrunn, and serves primarily as a tactical school, with little emphasis on combat training. It teaches a philosophy known as Unwiderstehlich, or "Irresistible." Students learn to embrace the inevitable rather than struggle against it. Their focus shifts to the things that they can make a difference in, both on the battlefield and in life. They can sometimes seem a little cold-hearted, but if they ignore a collapsing cavalry charge, it's because there's nothing they can do to save them.
Klippe is based in the town of Tannen. The students take strict vows of secrecy the first day they arrive at the school, and indeed, attendance is by invitation only. Klippe is considered the best of all the Eisen military academies, and its students often receive the best positions once they graduate. Sadly, there is a high mortality rate among these graduates, leading some to believe that the school is cursed.
Gelingen is founded on the shore opposite Insel. The students learn in the field, often accompanying patrols into the Salzsumpf. These patrols ferret out poachers, watch for invading armies, and hunt down monsters that find their way into the swamp. The motto of the school is Lernen durch taten, or "Know by doing."
"The only thing good about the Avalons is that we know they can't be trusted." As far as the Eisen are concerned, any Avalon has to be watched cautiously. Still, accusing someone of being a thief or a liar is a serious matter, so Eisen usually keep their opinions to themselves unless they have absolute proof of an Avalon's dishonesty.
The Castillians are somewhat odd, but mostly good, religious folk. If an Eisen is an Objectionist, he will definitely keep this a secret around the Castillians. They aren't known for their open-mindedness.
The Montaigne prefer style over substance, which greatly upsets Eisen sensibilities. Eisen see the Montaignes as wasteful, arrogant children. Still, they often have plenty of money to throw around, so it's worth being polite to them, just in case.
There's nothing wrong with men making a living through force of arms. The threat of pirates keeps many Eisen employed, and their trade often goes to Freiburg, where it helps the Eisen economy even more. The Eisen will not profit if something happens to the pirates.
The Sarmatians are an odd bunch. Almost like two different families living under the same roof. On one hand, they've given rights to all their citizens, and on the other, they're making deals with demons. A strange Nation, to be sure. Not exactly how to even begin trusting them.
The Ussurans are strong, quiet people, if a bit skittish. An Eisen could scarcely ask for a better traveling companion, since they keep to themselves unless there's a fight--in which case they're perfectly capable of holding their own.
Although the Vestenmennavenjar are partially responsible for the War of the Cross, they are stout fighters and able craftsmen. Therefore, the Eisen respect them...but do not forget.
The Vodacce weave a web of lies around their victims and then descend to feast upon their helpless bodies. If there's a Vodacce around, always keep an eye on him, or he's bound to stick a dagger in your back.