BER IS A NATION OF MONSTERS, its history tied to dragons. Until just a few centuries ago, the land was in constant flux, with different dragons battling for supremacy while the mortal races served as their slaves. Tribes of kobolds, gnolls, ogres, ophiduans, lizardfolk, goblinoids, and orcs ascended to tiny nation-states under the banners of their draconic overlords, built cities and strip-mined mountains to gather wealth for these kings, and eventually collapsed into chaos when their rulers fell. Newborn nations conquered each other like a ring of serpents devouring their tails, and whenever a dragon had willpower enough to unite all of Ber, it would inevitably make the mistake of pressing into Risur or Elfaivar, and be slain in retaliation.
Despite the endless turnover of rulers, Ber did manage to establish a few long-lasting cities Ursaliña, Reo Pedrecoso, and the capital Segobriga, among others—and develop a shared culture. After the death of the last dragon king two hundred years ago, Ber splintered into racial and tribal factions.
In addition to hosting aggressive tribes of humanoids, the region has long been home to a wide variety of dangerous monsters—both natural beasts and strange creatures formed from dark magic. Aside from a few fertile valleys, the region is rocky and inhospitable; while glory-seeking knights often ventured into the barrens in search of adventure, no ruler of the neighboring nations ever considered the full conquest of the area to be worth the effort. For their part, the various monsters of the region never developed the organization or leadership required to threaten Risur or Crisillyir on any significant scale. Instead, ogres and trolls and so-forth fought one another, pausing only to crush the occasional questing knight. And so for most of recent history, the barrens were a place of dark legend. Mothers would threaten to send bad children to Ber to be eaten by monsters, but otherwise few people thought much about the creatures said to be lurking there.
Only in the past forty years has a semblance of unity returned to the land, thanks to the visionary leadership of Le Roye Bruse. The Bruse not only unified a land of monsters, he managed to lead it into the modern era. The visionary orc brought organized religion, infrastructure, industry, trade, and education to what once were hopeless wastes. While not as advanced as is neighbors, Ber’s industry has cemented the nation’s prominence on the international stage.
Life and Society
Le Roye Bruse brought great change to the southern barrens. The orc king opened diplomatic channels with Danor and arranged for the construction of quarries, factories, and refineries to exploit Ber’s wealth of minerals and fossil fuels. He encouraged interracial unity via the creation of Guerro, a faith that united the disparate tribal gods into one pantheon. Over the past forty years, a legion of ogre workers has constructed roads between the major communities. These cities have tremendous racial diversity, and can be quite a sight for travelers. Harpies and gargoyles wheel in the sky, while shifters and orcs rub shoulders in the streets and ogres drive wagons pulled by dire horses. All manner of creatures can be found in these cities, from gnolls and bugbears to worgs and even the occasional lamia. Some of these monsters have always lived in the region; others have drifted to Ber from other lands in the hopes of sharing the fledgling nation’s prosperity.
Only a few of these multiracial cities exist, and only a handful of roads. The majority of Ber is untamed badlands. In these outlying areas, communities are rarely as well integrated. Though slavery may be abolished, invariably, the strong still rule the weak: orcs lording over kobolds, ogres ruling orcs, oni dominating ogres, and so on up the chain. Due to the low intelligence of these more powerful creatures, most of these communities exist in an extremely primitive state.
To outsiders, Ber appears to be a wicked, lawless nation, and this is largely accurate. Unless it effects trade, the current Bruse, Shantus, is mostly concerned with major threats: hostilities between monstrous communities, raids on trade caravans, or brawls or other actions that will result in significant property damage or multiple deaths. Shantus’ cadre of troll soldiers deal with these crimes and with any actions that directly threaten the nation’s prosperity. Less severe crimes are ignored; as a result, street violence is commonplace. In the smaller communities, creation and enforcement of laws depends on the whims of the local dictator, who may or may not be able to defend against the Enforcers of Freedom when they come calling. In most cases, the strong do what they want while the weak have no rights whatsoever.
Executores dola Liberta
One of Vairday Bruses’s more contentious programs was to aggressively end the practice of slavery except as a punishment for criminals. He enlisted bureaucrats from Crisillyir to reform the country’s legal system and track convicts, and then created a law enforcement group of warriors and priests, the Enforcers of Freedom.
Comprised primarily of women, the executores dola liberta are officers of the Bruse, tasked with wandering the country and finding tyrants who force others into slavery or slave-like conditions. Such wrongdoers they thrash brutally, dragging them into public locations and pummeling them with royally-empowered fists or staves while proclaiming the person’s crimes. They inflict similar punishments on those who try to quash protests, silence vocal complaints, forbid undesired religious practice, or hoard wealth from those they tax rather than providing value for their money.
Membership in the Enforcers is strictly monitored, and those few who hypocritically abuse their own authority suffer excruciating public torture, then are executed. Support for the executores has waned under the current Bruse, and today they are often forced to action without the support of the central government. As a result, slavery and exploitation are again on the rise.
Remnants of the Dragon Kings
Ber cities tend toward stout, vertical buildings with prominent rooftop perches. Dragons no longer alight these roofs, but they have become part of Ber’s romantic conception of its own identity. Many festivals are celebrated on these old draconic perches, and many inventors from Crisillyir come to Ber to study winged flight and test glider designs.
In the countryside, the dragon kings left an even more obvious mark: megafauna. Beasts of great hunger and great size, dragons protected herds of mastodon, massive cattle, and deer as large as houses, forbidding their enslaved mortals from hunting the creatures. Huge swaths of Ber are still relatively uninhabited because these megafauna and the giant bears and tigers that hunt them pose too great a threat for settlements to endure. But some ranches have managed to domesticate these titans, which can feed a whole village for days. Wealthy foreigners pay huge amounts for the privilege of trophy hunting in Ber or serving such beasts at their banquets.
The nation bears the scars of many mines. Sadly, the wealth from these mines is mostly lost, hidden away in the dungeons of paranoid dragon kings, and booby trapped even after the tyrants’ deaths to prevent their recovery.
The Ursaliña Bear Games
The mountain city of Ursaliña hosts a strange tradition, wherein those who wish to act as ambassadors of Ber hold proxy battles using trained short-haired bears, each standing a dozen feet high at the shoulder. These events are held at a great coliseum once used for entertaining bloodthirsty dragon tyrants, but now hosts sporting events and vicious gladiatorial battles for Ber’s citizens.
Thousands turn out to watch the bear games, which are surrounded with grand pomp and much feasting. The fights between the bears are seldom to the death, because each beast is worth a small fortune. One game five years ago, however, witnessed an event so unbelievable that word of it spread throughout Lanjyr. A minotaur merchant, Brakken of Heffanita, was competing to be named Ber’s ambassador to Orithea, a tiny wartorn nation between Danor and Drakr, when his dire bear had its throat mangled in the arena.
Brakken leapt into the arena and stepped between his bear and its opponent, staring into the other bear’s eyes. To the shock of the crowd, the other bear hesitated in its attack, then fled, as if intimidated by a person half its size. Bruse Shantus gladly named Brakken an ambassador. Perhaps even more unexpected, two years after Brakken began his ambassadorship in Orithea, the country’s civil war ended, and it came under the protection of Danor. Today Orithea is part of the rail route along the north Avery Coast, and it is enjoying unprecedented prosperity.
This past year, Brakken competed to become ambassador to Risur, and won without any challengers.
Fear of the Clergy
Ber has never had any close ties to Clergy religion, for it was insulated by its neighbors. Some elves sought refuge in Ber after the Second Victory, and brought with them great distrust of the Clergy. Ber’s religions fall under a blanket term called Guerro and are a disjointed mish-mash of different tribal beliefs, involving hundreds of gods and spirits without any unifying doctrine save tolerance. More and more Berans are likewise adopting a secular philosophy based on racially-integrated communalism called Panoply, and spreading their beliefs to the poor in Risur and Danor.
Recently, however, preachers from Crisillyir have begun to visit Ber, and a few have set up missions to spread their faith. Some of these have been met by violent retaliation, including one incident where an Enforcer of Freedom tossed a battered priest into a rowboat and told him to return home after the man’s church abducted several children from a nearby village under the auspices of teaching them. Ber has seen what the Clergy can do to a nation when they disagree with its faith. Especially since the Bruse became so friendly with Danor—itself deemed heretical by the church—many in Ber fear that Crisillyir might someday invade in a bid to forcibly convert them.