All peoples of Mithlond know of the Cataclysm that occurred about 800 years ago. Even the less civilized, Dark Age tribes know the basic outlines of the story and many groups know considerably more. Of course, viewpoints of the event vary. Some groups have festooned the story with legendary trappings. Others have skewed their tales to cast certain groups in a better or worse light. Players should remember that what their character knows might be somewhat different from what follows.
Before the Cataclysm, the world was at peace under the dominion of the human Algorand Empire. Fields and lands were productive. Algorand cities were immense, beautiful and full of learning and the arts. The other races grumbled under the dominion of the human lords but as the empire mostly left the elves alone in their woods and the Dwaro alone in mountain halls, the grumbles were not too loud.
The elves dwelt in a number of wooded enclaves within the empire, each under its own lords. Their numbers were never large but the empire gave them nearly complete control over their woods and supported their right to keep out human settlers and control travelers so they were able to maintain stable countries and populations. The elves mostly built in the trees and lived from the careful harvest of “wild” plants and game although they did, of course, use their arts to manage their resources so that the woods could support their populations.
The elvish hallmark was craftsmanship of natural materials, especially wood. Elvish magic was and is fabled but tended more to spirit-based life magic. They did and do have wizards and produce magic weapons and swords although they never traded these and regard the possession of such by a non-elf as tantamount to proof of murder.
The Dwaro’s earlier Empire was long past but by the Cataclysm, they had recovered much of their former arts and surpassed them in places. The Dwaro allowed few non-Dwaro into their underground Dwaro halls but those few travelers spoke of wonders of carved rock, flowing water and other great works, all made possible by Dwaro magic.
Imperial restrictions on the practice of magic extended throughout the Empire, which included the Dwaro realms. However, Algorand Emperors accepted the polite fiction that the vast magic output of the Dwaro came from only a few small shops in the Dwaro halls and left the Dwaro free to be the provider of magic artifacts to the Empire. This brought the Dwaro great wealth and no doubt contributed to their acquiescence to human overlordship.
Dwaro artifacts include martial items, of course, but much more numerous were the day-to-day items that made life at the end of the Imperial age so much easier than in present times. Some examples are powders that provided nighttime illumination, hot plates for use in cooking, self-propelled brooms, powders to clean garments, and many other items.
The Empire kept a tighter hand on all humans but as the lands were prosperous, taxes were relatively light and disaffection was minimal. Humans did most of the farming but almost half lived in the cities as craftsmen, artists, scholars, priests and bureaucrats.
The Empire was founded by the sword at the end of the Age of the Walking Dead but those days were long past by the time of the Cataclysm. In late Imperial times, the Landwatch took care of internal security. It was more of a police and customs force than an army. The Imperial Army remained but stationed mostly on the periphery to guard against creatures from the rim of the world. The army had numerous orders within it including marine forces and several different elite forces. The Dragon Knights were the most famous of the elite forces and still feature prominently in tales.
College of Wizards
The College of Wizards lay north of the Imperial capital city and consisted of an immensely tall spire and much lower surrounding libraries, halls, workshops, dormitories and the like. Immense catacombs lay beneath the college. Only the emperors and the shadowy members of the College could enter the spire and catacombs.
The Algorand Emperors were all wizards of great power, leaders of the College of Wizards that controlled access to the magic arts. The wizards claimed that these powers were too dangerous and forbade them to all but a select few in the land. Many felt that they simply did not want to share power but the Cataclysm proved the claim all too true: on Chanby 29, 5191 something destroyed the College of Wizards.
Stories often describe the Cataclysm as a world-wide explosion or immense blast of some sort but this is not true. While the spire was in fact destroyed by a blast as was much of the College grounds, the concussion did not extend past the College grounds. Worldwide, simultaneously with the destruction of the college, the Cataclysm sundered magic, as the bards put it. Magic remained but in a weakened state. Most magic items failed at that time and those that remain might fail at any moment.
The Cataclysm also sent great tremors through the earth that toppled cities and shattered underground halls. Worse, it caused the world to wobble. Initially the wobble was such that five hundred foot tides swept the core lands of the Empire with tides up to three times higher towards the rim. Since the first months of the cataclysm these have since settled down to the hundred foot tides of the current day.
In places, geography constricted the waters so that walls of water swept the earth bare but in most places, these tides came in at the rate of 2 to 3 feet per hour, still enough to drown many who could not reach very high ground and topple some structures but these tides did not sweep the land clear.
Nonetheless, repeated inundations of salt water spoiled the land to present times and much that was once fertile land is barren or holds only stunted plant life. Coupled with the failing of magic, these two affects of the Cataclysm, not the blast itself, wrecked the Algarond Empire.
The earthquakes, tides and sundering of magic shattered all civilizations.
The Dwaro in their underground halls were most affected since they were most dependent on magic to light their halls and power their works. The earthquakes also collapsed many of their halls and passages. The Dwaro claim more than 95% of their people died the day of the cataclysm or shortly after by starvation.
The elves suffered as well. High in their trees, only the coastal forests saw near complete loss of life, the more upland regions being either out of the water or high enough that their tree-top dwellings remained dry. However, the elves could only support their populations in the woods through magic increase of yields and with magic failing, some starved and many had to disperse, even those not affected by the floods. The elves claim half of their people died within two years of the Cataclysm.
Humans suffered greatly as well as the farmland failed to support the survivors and terrible famine resulted. None know the number of human dead but it was in the tens of millions as only somewhere between one in 20 and one in 100 survived.
The Dark Ages
Eight hundred years later, the world is in a dark age. There is little long distance communication and no large nations. Petty kings squabble in the wreckage, the elves and Dwaro live in the ruins of their old glory and the Algorand cities molder in lifeless ruin.