The Iron Confederacy lies to the south-west of the Empire, beyond the Brass Coast. Their nation is made up of a number of large duchies allied in a loose confederacy. The northern duchies are heavily forested, while the western duchies are hilly and craggy rising to a low mountain range. The central duchies are warm, fertile plains that serve as a breadbasket for the rest of the nation.
The long coastline of the Iron Confederacy is particularly treacherous, and there are comparatively few areas within sight of land where large ships can travel safely. In many places sheer cliffs rise steeply, and in others there are great shoals of sharp rocks just below the surface.
The people of the Iron Confederacy call themselves the Suranni, the Children of Surann, and believe they are descendants of a divine forbear who ascended to heaven after founding their nation. Their noble families trace direct lines of descent to this deified ancestor. They are a highly warlike people, characterised by cruel and uncompromising nature, respect for martial might, suspicion of 'magic' and said to be envious of the Empire and indeed all other human nations.
Of particular interest to Imperial citizens is the Suranni port which is open to trade with the Empire.
The ancestors of the Iron Confederacy came from across the sea around 800 years ago. They quickly subjugated the local human population and engaged in a gleeful war of extermination against the orcs, driving the survivors north into the Lasambrian Hills. At this time, according to their legends, they were ruled by a single divinely inspired Queen who, on her death, ascended to heaven and became a goddess. Her eldest child followed her onto her throne, and for several centuries the Surann as they called themselves were ruled by a hereditary monarch.
They are a hard, proud, jealous people whose society is fundamentally feudal. All real power rests with the dukes and duchesses, and they appoint barons to oversee their lands. The peasants are at the bottom of the pyramid and have few rights. Unlike their Imperial neighbours, they believe that people are born into their station in life and should accept their place in the world. The reward for living one's life according to one's status is to be reforged (reborn) with a higher status in the next life - the most virtuous and hard-working servants of their kingdom are reborn into the noble families. The most respected form of service to the gods is to serve as a soldier, and soldiers who die in battle against the enemies of their duchy are guaranteed to be forged as soldiers in their next life.
All lineages are known in the Iron Confederacy, but the naga bloodline is among the most common. It is very rare outside the nobility or the priesthood, but all the noble families of the Confederacy have threads of naga lineage running through them. Naga children born to commoner households, as well as non-naga lineaged children born to nobles, are usually given up to the priesthood which has lead to a very strong lineaged presence among the priests who are themselves prohibited from marriage.
The duchies are ruled by a duke or duchess, a member of a hereditary noble caste that enjoys many privileges at the cost of grave responsibilities. There are seven duchies in all, each with a reasonable amount of autonomy within the confederacy but bound together by their shared faith and a politically neutral priesthood.
Culture and Customs
The Iron Confederacy knows that justice and virtue come from uncompromising strength. The strong dominate the weak, and the weak offer tribute to the strong to secure their protection and patronage. Strength most often comes from martial might. As such, the warriors and soldiers of the confederacy rule over the farmers and artisans. The best weapons and armour belong to the noble families, each of which traces a descent from the original monarchs and thus has divine blood in their veins.
Their highly feudal culture, the Iron Confederacy is bound by iron-clad laws overseen by priestly judges. Even a duke can be called to answer for crimes against the confederacy. The greatest Suranni knights live and breathe the laws of the nation as handed down by Divine Surann Herself to Her priests. Many of these laws have to do with how a warrior should fight, but there are also very clear instructions to merchants, miners, farmers, artisans and priests about their responsibilities to their duchy and the Confederacy as a whole.
The Suranni are deeply suspicious of magicians, and rogue sorcerers are usually executed by beheading. They consider the religious skills granted to the Imperial priests of the Way (and those of the Faraden as well for that matter) as being a form of magic that is especially offensive to their deities based on the exploitation of narcotics and the base credulity of ignorant people. Liao is quite illegal in the Iron Confederacy - but then so are a great many other 'narcotic' substances. Even trade in medicinal herbs such as sanguine hibiscus (which the Suranni never call Imperial Roseweald, for obvious reasons) and bladeroot are carefully controlled, and several potions with so-called narcotic qualities (OOC: roleplaying effects) are illegal outside of the nobility unless administered with the approval of a priest.
The forebears of the Iron Confederacy came from overseas, seeking to carve out a kingdom. Their early history is full of glorious battles, as noble houses fought against the orcs and drove them out of the fertile lands to found their kingdom. United under the strong leadership of Queen Surann (a possibly mythical figure), the people lived in harmony until her death. She was followed onto the throne by four generations of divinely-inspired monarchs until her great-great-great-grandson tore the kingdom apart by producing no clear heir. The duchies fought among themselves in a bitter civil war that saw the orcs of the Broken Shore and the Lasambrian hills slowly begin to push back the frontiers of civilisation.
At the height of the crisis, however, the goddess Surann inspired her favoured priests to bring the warring dukes and duchesses together. Wielding her divine glory, they were able to create a system of laws based on respecting the sovereignty of the individual duchies but also highlighting their duty to the Suranni people as a whole. The line of kings and queens was declared to be at an end, and the previous monarchs' divine right to rule would be wielded by their mortal descendants - the noble families of the new Iron Confederacy.
The priesthood has been responsible for maintaining the confederacy ever since. There have been squabbles between the duchies in the centuries since, but they have never again erupted into civil war. The legal system of the Iron Confederacy leaves some 'safety valves' which the duchies can employ to work off their frustrations and engage in struggles for land and dominance, but these are suspended in times of national crisis such as attempted orc invasions (or their occasional united attacks against outside forces).
There have been several skirmishes between the Confederacy and the Empire. The Freeborn have borne the brunt of these conflicts, but not uniformly. During the Highborn civil war they attempted naval landings south of Necropolis and attempted an invasion of the (then) free city of Sarvos. Both attacks were rebuffed. In the early years of the Empire, while the Imperial army was busy facing the threat of Alderei the Fair, a major assault was against the Brass Coast that was defeated by a combination of Freeborn and Marcher armies supported by timely intelligence gathered by The League. During the reign of Empress Brannan the Suranni navy landed a small army south of the Necropolis near Rebekah's Leap in response to a perceived threat from the Empire. The fighting was short-lived and ended with the surrender and repatriation of the Confederacy armies.
For the last century, the Iron Confederacy has mostly concerned itself with protecting its borders from the raids of the Grendel, slowly expanding its reach to the south and south-west, before conquering Kalino as its eighth and newest duchy in 379YE.
Iron Confederacy Social Structure
The eight dukes and duchesses control all the land, and all inhabitants of their duchy are their subjects. The priesthood and the Knights of the High Temple stand off to one side, serving as a neutral body that oversees the laws and helps mediate disputes between duchies. Each duchy is ruled by a single hereditary noble family that descends from the original deified founder.
The priesthood serves as judges, with their Knights of the High Temple (often abridged to temple knights or simply templars) as the active enforcement arm. The Knights of the High Temple are independent of the duchies and have the right to cross any boundary in pursuit of fugitives or to arrest criminals whose activities threaten more than one duchy. On occasion an entire order of these 'templars' will take the battlefield, supported by the divine blessing of the priesthood, and form an almost irresistible force that serves to keep the Suranni duchies 'honest' in their dealings with one another.
The lowest of the low are the slaves. Most slaves who work in fields, mines or households are humans. The Iron Confederacy does not have many orc slaves, and they primarily serve in the military as shock troops, considered ultimately expendable because they are not human. They are routinely set to fight to the death for the entertainment of their masters, and any signs of rebellion are brutally put down. Some humans who breed orc soldiers function as mercenaries in the rivalries between the duchies, offering bands of murderous inhuman troops to the service of one duke and then another.
While outsiders see the people of the Iron Confederacy as brutal and amoral, they consider themselves disciplined adherents to a harsh code of justice. They think nothing of cutting the hand off a thief or beheading a magician. A man or woman who breaks their marriage vows, regardless of station, will be exiled and imprisoned for their crimes. Those who voice or teach heresy against the divinities deserve to be hanged, because they are attacking the very basis of Suranni society. Cruel as it may be, the foundations of the Suranni legal code lie in mutual respect, filial piety, duty to the nation and loyalty to the state - married to an absolute conviction that the nobles are simply better than everyone beneath them in status - after all, divine blood flows in their veins.
Iron Confederacy Military Concerns
The might of the Iron Confederacy is found in its knights. Wearing the heaviest armour surmounted with a nasal helm, they form an irresistible wave of metal that sweeps their enemies before it. They favour heavy kite shields and swords, or large two-handed weapons. They usually wear a nasal helm and wear brightly coloured tabards and surcoats that announce their allegiance to one of the noble houses. They often bear blessings bestowed by the Suranni gods through the agency of their priests.
The majority of knights are nobles, although they are supported by a lower caste of minor landless knights (usually in chain over leather) who may come from common stock and are selected for their strength and martial ability. They are often much more brutal and unyielding than their noble masters, having much more to 'prove'. A particularly successful minor knight may receive a grant of land from their duke, usually a farmstead or two or a small village, which they oversee on behalf of their betters.
Minor knights are often responsible for rounding up the peasant levies and militia that support the armies of the Iron Confederacy. They are usually poorly armed and armoured, relying on heavy leather and often without shields. Peasant levies fight with polearms and bows. While they are not considered especially effective, only the most stupid battlefield commander throws her levies away pointlessly - sacrificing peasants without achieving victory is seen as the height of folly by the nobility, because ultimately it is the peasants that put food on the noble tables.
All Confederacy armies are supported by priests wielding enchanted staves. These priests use divinely granted power to provide miraculous healing to the soldiers, and deliver powerful blessings that strengthen knights and peasant levies before battles. Priests are rarely armoured, preferring to rely on their faith to protect them from the blows of their enemies.
Finally, the Iron Confederacy uses some units of slave troops - conquered orcs who are trained to fight and die for their noble lords. These orcs are sent ahead of them to attack their enemies and are considered absolutely expendable.
Iron Confederacy Economic Concerns
The Iron Confederacy is not very good at commerce. They trade among themselves, paying for goods and services with coins of silver, electrum and gold (42 silver pennies to a shilling, 5 (electrum) shillings to a gold crown). Imperial merchants who have examined their coinage claim that it is heavily adulterated with nickel and copper. The rarest and most prized of their coins are bloodmarks (there are 13 gold crowns to each Bloodmark). Forged from an alloy of orichalcum and gold, it is illegal for anyone other than a Suranni noble to carry or use a bloodmark.
The Confederacy maintains a small fleet of warships, which tend to be slow and heavy with oars run by slaves. They focus their attentions on defending the shores of the Confederacy from the Grendel. Thanks to the good job the Freeborn corsairs do keeping the Bay of Catazar free of Grendel vessels, the confederacy takes the brunt of the occasional orc aggression from the Broken Shore. Their few merchant vessels are likewise heavy and slow-moving, and their involvement in foreign trade seems to be limited to exchanges of goods with the Faraden and some southern parts of the Brass Coast.
The most common resources in the duchies of the Iron Confederacy are green iron in their western hills, and ambergelt in the northern forests. The Dukes are also said to hold fortunes in mithril in their vaults - indeed, all trade in mithril and weirwood is controlled by the nobility, and endangering a duchies' supply of these valuable materials - or trading them to foreigners - is a capital offence. The Confederacy seems to have comparatively little access to white granite, and what it does have is largely locked up in fortifications and walls.
The Iron Confederacy believes in the existence of divine spirits, gods and goddesses, who rule over the material world from a hidden heavenly realm. Their priests teach that these gods and goddesses observe the mortal world, and the Suranni are their favoured people. The priests are the intermediaries of the Divine Court, and as such they wield the power to bless the favoured and curse the enemies of the nation. Imperial scholars believe that these gods are deified Imperators.
The gods are often depicted in statue form in Suranni homes. Indeed, children regularly paint images of the gods onto cards, creating a small deck that is sometimes used for divination. Most Suranni adults own a set of these cards made when they were young - a constant reminder of the power of their Pantheon over everyday life.
While some priests may privately favour one or more of their divinities over the others, they worship all the deities as a group rather than separating into individual temples. They point to the way the Empire divides its gods up as yet more proof that their theology is ultimately flawed.
Every noble house has a cadre of priests who serve as advisors; while the first loyalty of the nobles themselves is to their own family and kingdom, the priests are united across national bodies. They help to keep the Confederacy united, and serve as mediators and judges outside the immediate control of the noble houses. A sufficiently powerful cadre of priests can bring even a Duke to brook for a transgression against the laws of the Confederacy.
Priests maintain monasteries throughout the kingdoms, living apart from the rest of the Suranni. Unwanted children - especially lineaged children, and most especially naga born to non-noble families or non-naga born to noble families - are commonly given to the priests to raise. By law, priests are celibate. Although they are not required to be sexually abstinent, any children they sire or bear are removed and raised apart from their parents in another monastery. The priesthood teaches that this is a burden placed on them by their Goddess, as well as a reminder that it was an ungrateful child (Dumon) who tore the earlier golden age of the monarchy apart. External scholars suggest it may be rooted in a precaution to prevent the priesthood forming a dynasty that might threaten the ducal families.
The priests of the Iron Confederacy point to the blessings their gods bestow on them as proof of their power. They can perform great rites together that grant strength and fortune in battle, ensure good harvests, provide weapons and armour, discern the truth and strike down enemies and the unfaithful in the name of their gods.
Details of the Suranni Pantheon can be found here.
There are few magicians in the Iron Confederacy, because most people would rather rely on the tried-and-trusted rites of the priesthood. Magicians are suspicious, untrustworthy characters seen as being in league with Dumon the Liar, the dark god of the Suranni pantheon. Some magicians, accepting their innate corruption, seek out the priesthood and live out their lives in seclusion using their magic under the watchful gaze of the priests; others denounce Dumon and make the priesthood their vocation.
Magicians who do not accept the corrupt source of their power and denounce Dumon are executed without mercy. A foreign magician taken in battle by the Iron Confederacy is often summarily executed unless there is a priest present - in which case there will usually be a quick trial followed by execution. The most common form of execution is beheading; the head is taken by the priests and incinerated in a furnace along with certain aromatic herbs. Magical tomes and implements are usually thrown into the furnace alongside the heads.
Priests warn against dealing with the eternals as demonic agents of Dumon. Magicians who deal with eternals are subject to hanging, drawing and quartering when they are uncovered.
Look and Feel
The strongest influence of the costume of the Iron Confederacy is 12th- or 13th-century Norman (wikipedia has a passable reference here). Their knights wear chain, fight with kite shields, and wear the iconic nasal helm. They top the entire thing off with brightly coloured surcoats or tabards in the colours of their noble house. Plate is less common than in the Empire, and usually a sign of nobility.
Noble heraldry is much more rigid than that used in Imperial nations such as Dawn or the Marches; each duchy has a simple livery that is generally two colours, favouring dark shades. These are often combined in simple geometric shapes. Each Duchy has a single image that is strongly associated with it and appears regularly on surcoats, banners. Commonly known symbols are the raven, the wolf's head, and the coiling dragon. While a shield may bear this heraldry, it is much more common for the shield to be unadorned or daubed with a simple symbol, in preference for a finely coloured surcoat or tabard.
Knights of the High Temple favour heater shields over kite shields, and are more likely to wear mithril plate over heavy steel chain. They wear surcoats or tabards of a single colour, rather than the dual-colours that represent allegiance to a noble house.
Both men and women wear their hair long, often tying it back in a long strip of cloth. The wimple sees extensive use, especially among older women.
A common element in both noble and peasant costume is a short cloak, worn over one shoulder and secured with a brooch.
Priests tend to a slightly more Roman-inspired look. They wear loose single-coloured robes or long tunics and invariably cover their heads with a wimple or long cotton shawl. Some go so far as to cover their entire face with a veil or shawl, in honour of the god-king Kavol. Priests almost invariably wield staves, and never bear weapons longer than a dagger or wear armour.
Peasants wear whatever scraps of leather and wool they can get together, often in the form of shapeless smocks with hose and sandals.
The Iron Confederacy in Play
The Confederacy lies near to the Empire, and the Suranni speak the language known as Imperial, represented by English. Some of their more archaic terms and words may have their roots in real-world French (represented in-character as one of the tongues of the Asavean Archipelago).
On the whole, the Suranni do not like the Empire. Imperials tend to consider them to be one step removed from barbarians, backwards feudalists who give up all control of their destiny to a patently fictional pantheon of 'gods' and enforce brutal, oppressive 'justice' to keep their people under control. The Suranni, in turn, characterise the Imperials as weak, fractious milksops who lack the courage to face reality unless they are in a drug-induced stupor and allow cowardly politicians to chain their warriors in bonds of paper and formality. They haven't even got a proper legal system, and they have so little gold that they have to make their coins out of tin!
It doesn't help that the Suranni (and indeed, arguably, the Empire) are convinced that they have a 'heavenly mandate' (or 'manifest destiny') to rule and that their way of life represents the pinnacle of human achievement.
The information here should be sufficient to create a character with a background connection to the Iron Confederacy. While the Confederacy largely dislikes the empire and does not engage in much trade, that is not to say that individual duchies are entirely anti-Imperial in nature. Some of the northern duchies have a history of trading with the Freeborn, and at least one of the coastal duchies sends regular vessels north to Sarvos, Temeschwar and The Marches.
There is one port in the Iron Confederacy that is currently open to Imperial trade, Robec, but you could also represent connections to the Iron Confederacy with a business that diversifies into ambergelt or green iron - although this is likely to make the most sense in the Brass Coast, Sarvos, Temeschwar or the Marches.
While they are not barbarians (at the moment) the Confederacy as a whole makes little secret of its dislike of the Empire. Even a connection to one of the ducal families is likely to be of limited use. By living in the Empire, a character has effectively cut ties with their family, and may well be treated as a traitor regardless of their motivation for being in the Empire. A much more likely characterisation would be one where your family left the Confederacy (quite possibly by stealth) a generation or so ago to avoid the oppressive regime - or to escape punishment for a crime. This might be especially appropriate for a character with the magician skill which is grounds for execution or imprisonment in the unenlightened Confederacy.
A background that would require you to have further information about the religion of the Iron Confederacy or its gods is unlikely to be approved. The nature of the Suranni deities is intentionally left vague, and precisely how their divine blessings work is a secret that is intended to unfold in play, not in a 'secret briefing sheet'.