To the north is the land of snow, where the ice giants walk and death is sown…
- Conquest of Snowreach, Traditional Imperial Song
Snowreach is a nation on the northern continent of Yaril. A blend of Imperial and Iceborn cultures, it is a confederation of principalities, dukedoms and city-states, founded after the conquest of Snowreach by the Emperor Andrecus.
The wide forested region between the Rampart Mountains and Pillar Mountains had been settled by tribes of Iceborn since the Second Age, along with orcs, gnolls and other dark races. From the Bay of Kran in the South and over the mountains, Iceborn raiders bore down upon Lothgeir and the Southern Kingdoms for centuries.
During the lands suffered heavily under both the coming of the dragons and the reign of the Narathi, and strongholds of Narathilim and other dark races still exist in the deep woods, on the eastern borders and in the mountains.
By the Third Age, a few minor kingdoms of Iceborn existed in the region. The Ice Lords of Lothgeir made some expeditions into the area, establishing frontier forts against human and nonhuman raiders, as well as taking some small principalities as satellite states. After the fall of Lothgeir, instability increased as some of the chaos from the Plague of Madness spread into area.
The dwarfholds of the Rampart Mountains have long been involved with Snowreach. The kingdoms of Snowreach have enjoyed trade with the dwarves, though never growing fabulously rich, and a few conflicts. Dwarven settlements riddle the Rampart Mountains and the Hordehollow Hills. Settlers from Mancalia founded the Free City of Rathay to exploit these trade routes, one of the earliest and richest arrangements for those merchant states.
The remaining principalities of Iceborn were conquered by the Emperor Andrecus early in the Fourth Age. Andrecus intended to incorporate Snowreach fully into the Empire, but even before his death, the march toward political separation began. Internal troubles consistently led The Empire to grant more and more autonomy to Snowreach while it focused at home. The Imperial settlers and Iceborn natives intermarried and formed a new line of men known simply as Northmen. Finally, after more than two centuries, the various lords declared themselves separate but ‘still bound by friendship’ with the Empire, and formed the College of Princes to elect a High King of the North, a mostly powerless position that could only be empowered during times of conflict to lead armies.
On paper, Snowreach is a single nation, ruled over by a king who is elected by the College of Princes. The office of High King has been empty for decades, and the reality is that each province of Snowreach is a nation unto itself, with its own army, laws and ruler. Strong bonds connected the kingdoms – a common ancestry, traditions regarding trade, a joint interest in keeping the darkness of the forests, the monsters of Koros and the barbarians of Firend at bay. But conflicts, both civil and violent, are not unheard of.
The titles vary widely – count, duke, prince – but each province has a single hereditary ruler, usually a descendant of a Lower House that was given an opportunity to rule new lands in Snowreach rather than struggle under a High House in the Empire. The larger states contain several noble houses from Iceborn and Imperial lines, organized in a feudal fashion under their ruler, while the smallest states can barely support a few knights for their defense.
While there are no formal alliances, there are certainly distinct factions within the College of Princes. Not necessarily ideological ones, but centered around the most powerful provinces. Lesser provinces stick close to their more powerful cousins, not knowing when protection will be called for and not wanting to cut themselves off. It is these factions that have decided that the High King can be done without for the time being – fearful that an ambitious foe might use the position to try undermine the others.
The College of Princes has few powers. It can make declarations, but they are not laws so much as advice to all lords; it can declare a time of war and elect a High King to lead the armies of Snowreach; and it can request its members to send soldiers for lesser military expeditions. The weight of each province’s vote is complex, based on ancient agreements from centuries ago.
The only firm and agreed upon policy of the realm is the occupation of Farhold. This far-flung fortress serves as the first line of defense against the forces of Azgul and Koros, and has been manned since the time of the Iceborn. However, there are complaints about how heavily each province should be expected to provide for the Farhold’s defenses, but still each year, a regiment departs across the Grim Moors to relieve the last year’s.
Snowreach can be divided into two areas – the coastal regions and Winterlye, the broad flat valley between the Rampart and Pillar Mountains. The coastal regions are flatter and less forested than the Winterlye, but both lands are known for large coniferous forests. Still, the coastal regions are the bread basket of Snowreach, as well as the nation’s main connection with the outside world through the ports of Arcove and Eastkull.
Winterlye itself is a hilly religion of valleys and basins, a cornucopia of small principalities divided by a hill or a small river from their numbers, along with a few larger domains. It stretches to the Grim Moors, a ill-omened brackish and swampy region.
The coastal regions are bordered on the south by the saltwater Brinetide Marshes, while to the east lies the dark land of Zurene and Salaja Vos, Narathi ruins now ruled by dark creatures. The coast is dominated by Lake Andreca and the Bay of Kran. The bay is sheltered by Rathay, an island home to the city of the same name.
While many villages and towns, minor castles and keeps can be found throughout the lands of Snowreach, there are several cities worth noting. The norm in Snowreach are fortress cities, almost all of them walled.