Kings of the North
It has been a time of relative peace and prosperity in the Northlands; the various kingdoms mostly settled their differences at the end of the last war twenty years ago, and though tensions remain, the kings have proven content to remain at home and care for their own lands.
Elsewhere, however, things are different. In the wild lands to the north, orcs, goblins and human tribes lurk, harrying the northernmost border of the Kingdoms of the North, warring amongst each other, carrying off livestock and burning farms. To the south, the great Therundan Empire lies sundered. Therund itself is now nothing but a wasteland, and its successor states squabble over what remains. To the east, the Sea People cast covetous eyes on the wealth of the coastal regions of the Kingdoms and the South alike, and in the mountains between the North and South, the ancient war between the dwarfs and goblins is starting to spill onto the surface, and elves have been seen leaving their forest fastnesses more often than they have in generations.
The peace in the north is coming to its end, and uncertain times lay ahead. A strong ruler might profit from events to come, but the weak or unlucky could well be swept away.
In KoN, players take the role of a feudal noble, owing allegiance to one of eight kingdoms collectively known as the Kingdoms of the North. Although the past twenty years have been relatively peaceful, that peace is now obviously starting to fray about the edges, and it is the task of the players to develop and expand their lands by seizing the opportunities presented by the various problems upsetting the orderly nature of things, and to do so without provoking an overwhelming hostile response by their liege and his other vassals. Or, at least, not doing so until they are in a position to defeat him and claim his throne for themselves.
How this is accomplished is left up to each player; whether it is carving new civilised land out of barbarian infested wilderness, or developing their fief into a bustling metropolis using money earned as a mercenary fighting in the wars in the South, there are many routes to success. There are, however, just as many routes to failure; perhaps you lose your campaign against the orcs in the north, and they sack your stronghold, or perhaps you are captured by a Southron army and tortured on the altar of an evil god, leaving you crippled.
The Northlands are those settled areas north of the very firm boundary of the Ospermounts, and south of the rather nebulous border of the Wildlands. The peoples of this area are a mixture of peoples; descendants of the same tribes and nomads that populate the Wildlands, Therundian settlers from the far side of the Ospers and Seafolk from the archipelagos to the east. The Therundian Empire never brought the area into its official territory, despite the efforts to settle it, so the political organisation of the eight kingdoms that control the territory is significantly different to that of lands on the south side of the Ospers. Each kingdom is a feudal realm, with landowning nobles owing personal fealty to either the King, or a liege that themselves owes that fealty. Those nobles owe obligations to their liege in the form of armed men or scutage, and in return the King owes obligations to them; to defend them if attacked, to settle disputes between them and their neighbours fairly, and to guarantee the preservations of noble and common privileges alike. Therundian religion coexists with Seafolk and tribal beliefs, with a degree of syncretism unheard of in the South, in addition to younger beliefs purely born in the Northlands.
The land itself is fertile, and rich in minerals and lumber. A single river, the Salofay, drains most of the area of the Kingdoms, and is navigable up much of its length, whether to river barges or ocean-going ships. Trade moves down the river to port cities on the eastern coast, where it passes over the ocean to the east, or southwards along the coast to the warring states in the south. Once, it travelled further still, to the island of Therund itself, but Therund is now nothing but sand and tumbled stone. Land trade passes south over the Ospers through several large passes, and control of those trade routes - and their revenue - fuels much of the conflict in the area. Northward trade is limited and local; orcs and other beasts do not trade with humans, and the human tribes in the area generally have little to trade in return, although they are usually as willing to trade what they do have as they are to raid settled lands. Dwarves and elves, meanwhile, generally have little interest in human goods, although the dwarves at least are willing to trade metalwork and enchanted goods for coin and precious stones.
Tinuroth, known in the Eight Kingdoms as 'the South', is the area between the Ospermounts in the north, the Deladian Highlands to the west, and the Doaldest Ocean to the south. It is significantly larger than the Northlands in area, and like the Eight Kingdoms, is mostly drained by a single huge river system. Historically, the area was conquered and settled by the Therundians, crossing the Doaldest from their island home to the south. Therund itself is now gone, and with it its empire, but the society it left behind still has deep roots. Tinuroth is a divided land, and the verious successor states squabble over who has the rights to which part of the Empire's corpse, but they remain urbanised societies ruled by a system of bureaucracy independent (at least technically) from landowners and property. Many are not even monarchies, and the land as a whole is more developed, if more wartorn, than the North.
It is also resource rich and fertile, if hotter and drier than the North. Where the Eight Kingdoms grow apples barley, and wheat, Tiunroth produces oranges and other citrus fruits, rice and spices. The great cities on the southern coast and along the Ildisfay river valley field armies that, compared to those of the North, are vast, and a sophisticated network of canals and roads allows them to travel further and be kept in the field longer. The collapse of central authority, however, took with it the Imperial military structure and the professional Imperial Army, leaving the successor states to fall back on their local militias. That tradition of citizen soldiery, well entrenched by the end of the Imperial period, was never overcome by most of the southern states, and many of them field armies primarily composed of militia. Compared to northern levies, they are better equipped and trained, but most such armies lack a core of professional soldiery; many Northern nobles maintain standing bodies of professional troops, specifically for campaigning in the South, and Southern nations are happy to hire them; Northern nobles have little personal stake in Southern conflicts, and so long as they are paid, can generally be counted on to be loyal, within reason at least. Those states that do maintain professional soldiery, however, are formidable indeed.
The Imskel Archipelago
This inaccurately named archipelago - in actually fact, several archipelagos and much larger islands - occupies much of the sea off the eastern cost of both the Northlands and Tinuroth. Although the peoples that live there are generally described as 'Sea People' or 'Seafolk,' they have a great variety of cultures and nations. Many of them are great traders, others are raiders and pirates, but just about the only thing most of them have in common is that they are great seafarers. Many of them occupy lands that are just as rich as the Eight Kingdoms and Tinuroth, but others have little in the way of good farmland or mineral wealth. In general, it is those with poor lands that turn to raiding, whereas the richer island peoples spend their efforts exporting great quantities of valuable cloth, spices, dyes and oils. Rumors persist that they know of lands far beyond what the people of the Eight Kingdoms and Tinuroth know as the civilised world, but the Imsekls aren't telling. Certianly, however, coinage struck by no known kingdom can be found in the Isles.
The lands to the north and west of the Eight Kingdoms are unsettled. Generations ago, when the Empire first reached the Ospers, the Eight Kingdoms themselves were as the Wildlands are today. Lightly populated and largely uncultivated, they hold a wealth of untapped riches. However, they also hold dangers; orcs dwell in the hills and mountains, nomadic tribes of horse riding humans call the plains home, and goblins infest the forests. None of these groups take kindly to the intrusion of settled people into their lands, and will fight savagely to drive out invaders. Likewise, they will raid and plunder the northnermost boundaries of the Kingdoms and attempt to drive out the people living there to increase the grazing area for their animals. The humans, at least, are willing to engage in trade as well, and are generally a source of furs and speciality goods such as amber and high quality wax, excellent quality leather and other durable animal products, as well as bows, horses and cattle.
Underneath the Ospermounts dwell the dwarves. Legendary stonemasons, metalcrafters and enchanters, the dwarves have, since a time before the Empire arrived in Tinuroth, been locked in a war with mountain goblins for control of the underground spaces of the earth. Not a great deal is known about them, for they generally avoid the surface - sunlight is unpleasant to them, and the wide open spaces and empty sky of the surface causes vertigo and nausea to most. What is known is that they live in places other than the Ospers, although whether those other places are other mountain ranges or tunnels and underground fastnesses beneath the entire world is unknown. Mostly, they are famous as a source of magical weaponry and armour, and for their love of precious metals and gemstones. Physically, they are unpleasant to look at; grey skin, large, bulbous eyes and sparse hair over wrinkled flesh, and standing substantially shorter than a human. They are, however, possessed of great physical strength, and generally clad in armour beyond the skill of the best human craftsman to replicate.
In the few military encounters between them and humans, however, they have deployed terrible weapons; metal machines that spew fire that cannot be doused with water, staffs that spew sulphrous smoke and flame that cut men down with balls of lead through even the best armour and artificial fog that burns the flesh and lungs of any it touches. If left alone, however, they bother nobody, absorbed fully with their own affairs below the ground.
Even more enigmatic than the dwarves, the elves are, according to the best research of human mages, beings not of the mortal world. In this, they do not simply mean that elves are immortal, although it is believed that that is also the case. In fact, as far as anybody knows, they dwell in a place entirely separate from the mundane world, accessible only by a handful of places deep in the forests that cover the eastern end of the Ospers. Generally, they are content to remain there, and do not bother travellers who stay near to the roads, and even to let men chop down trees and clear the land for farms. Periodically, individual elves or groups depart on tasks they never explain; sometimes, it is to raise a standing stone on the other side of the Eight Kingdoms, or to gift a human - peasant, noble or king - with something. Occasionally, they sack a settlement, sometimes they plant great orchards overnight, creating prosperity for the local people. Whatever their plans are, they always seem to be random, but in every case, interfering creates great trouble for those who do so. The farmer who knocks down the stone raised in the middle of his field might find that all of his animals drop dead one morning, and the man who throws away the unworked pebble given to him by a passing elf will be killed by a falling branch the next day. The number of these trips has increased sharply over the last several years, although to what end remains a mystery.
The handful of times an elven army has faced an army of men, the elves have displayed themselves incomparible masters of magic. The land itself dances to their whims, and the weather obeys their orders. Great chasms swallow whole companies of men, and lightning strikes from clear skies. The elves themselves, clad in ethereal, crystalline armour and riding horned and fanged horses that can tear a man in two with a single bite, carry swords longer than most men are tall, and which cut through iron and steel with effortless grace. Mundane weapons shatter on their armour, and each elf seems impervious to harm from anything except the weapons of men and women blessed with the power of gods. No human army has ever won such a battle, but fortunately, the elves seem completely uninterested in conquest, and will usually only fight to defend the path to their homes.