Rising to power
The River Kingdoms
In the far-distant past, when forests covered much of Avistan and elves were the dominant race, the land now known as the River Kingdoms was verdant and lively. Streams ran quick and clear, and the land was green and firm. This territory adjoining Kyonin and Lake Encarthan was a place for high nobles and their courts to enjoy hunting and sport. The elves called it Telvurin, translated today in Taldane as “The Shifting Lands.” The departure of the elves gave the human race new territory to explore, putting them in conflict with lizardfolk, frog-men, and suspicious fey. With its dozens of tributary rivers dividing the region into countless small territories, it became a natural place for outcasts, rebels, and petty tyrants to stake claims and declare themselves rulers of whatever land they could grab and hold.
The Sellen River
The lay of the land is the direct result of the Sellen River and its many tributaries. The rich, damp soil supports ancient trees and traps water, creating dozens of isolated boggy areas with their own ecologies and pockets of native creatures. The Sellen River
This wide, lazy river system drains across the gentle slopes of the River Kingdoms into Kallas Lake, and eventually empties into the Inner Sea. The Sellen is the main transport system of this region, as it or its tributaries touch most kingdoms in the nation. Thanks to the Third River Freedom (see page 7), these waterways are clear of any official obstruction to trade or travel. However, bandits and pirates ply all parts of the river, so travel and commerce are never certain. Merchants mainly move food around the kingdoms, but steady traffic in arms and armor makes traders both good targets for bandits and well prepared for them. Travelers also use the Sellen daily, and the western and main branches are highways for crusaders headed to Mendev. Of course, crusaders often feel obliged to halt wrongdoing along the way as well, or to stop and collect some much-appreciated “donations” to the cause.
In most places, the river is less than a mile wide and around 12 feet deep, best suited to barge travel. Bridges seldom last outside of the stable kingdoms, so ferryboats are common along the waterway.
Outsiders find it confusing that on many maps the tributaries are also called “the Sellen River.” The turnover of sovereignty leads to frequent renaming, making most names too temporary to be useful. When it’s relevant, the river is referred to by its three main branches: West Sellen, Main Sellen, and East Sellen, with specific sections of the river named according to the nearest kingdom through which it f lows. When conversing with a native about one of these confusingly named rivers, understanding the particulars of directions and locations requires a DC 15 Knowledge (local) skill check.
Over a dozen discrete forested areas cover much of the River Kingdoms. During the time of the elves, woods blanketed much more of the land in one or two vast forests that rivaled the size of the modern Verduran, but logging, blight, and fire culled many of the trees over the ages. The larger forests are still home to secretive fey, and all of them are havens for bandits and other undesirables.
The many waterways are known to f lood and shift over time, and what was once a fertile plain can become a shallow lake in a particularly rainy season, eventually transforming into a bog. Conversely, the source of a swamp’s water may drift farther upstream, causing the swamp to dry out and revert to a forest or even a plain. Most plants of the River Kingdoms can adapt to wet or dry situations, though some thrive better in one or the other and are replaced by competitors when the environment changes too far from their optimal setup.
The waters carry silt and nutrients to all parts of the River Kingdoms, and crops grow well here, leading some enterprising settlers to plant on dry areas or small, clearcut sites, moving their plots as the terrain accommodates these alterations. This constant change means that maps drawn a decade ago may contain significant errors regarding wilderness areas, and those from a century before may be all but unrecognizable except for the names of settlements.
The Six River Freedoms
Frequently invoked—and occasionally trampled—the River Freedoms are the ideological backbone for common Riverfolk. Outsiders who expect to lead Riverfolk must quickly make themselves aware of the subtleties of the River Freedoms, as those who repeatedly f lout a beloved freedom find themselves deposed by a mob. Indeed, the River Freedoms find their most curious interpretations in the folkways of common Riverfolk. A quick-witted wag who quotes a freedom to justify her actions can sway hearts to accept the most egregious behavior, and a misinterpretation of words can get an honest paladin driven out with malice.
Philosophers and scholars who study the political landscapes of the River Kingdoms rank the River Freedoms in order from least to most grave—after all, no one seriously believes in unfettered freedom to speak at all times. However, slavery is as serious an offense here as in Andoran, and nothing is so sacred to Riverfolk as the freedom to keep what one holds.
Say What You Will, I Live Free:
The freedom to speak is not the same as freedom from consequences of speech. Outsiders, drunkards, and fools are the only ones who vocally invoke this freedom. All others respect it, and live with it accordingly.
Still, criticism of government is more common here than in other lands. Cruel despots occasionally get an earful from their subjects, and the wise ones do not harshly punish such vocal rabble. In the River Kingdoms, subjects are earned by withstanding criticism rather than suppressing it. Pride sometimes intervenes, but a long-lasting lord is one who lets tongues wag.
This freedom is especially tantalizing for bards and anyone using charm magic. No one attempts to limit a spellcaster’s speech, and a silence spell is a suspicious abrogation of rights.
The flip side of free speech in the River Kingdoms is the gravity of oath-breaking. Petty liars are common, but in a land where tomorrow can bring a gang of mercenaries, the people in charge must know whom they can trust. Common oaths include “I swear by the Sellen,” “May Hanspur take my sons,” and “My freedom is my bond.”
Riverfolk who undertake oaths of this nature keep them, or die trying. This attitude trickles down to business transactions, but can ironically make things more difficult— it’s hard to get a Riverfolk trader to fully commit to anything. Standard contracts contain a “Gyronna clause” which voids a contract in case of unforeseen calamity. This would seem a perfect dodge for scoundrels, but associating with Gyronna is the worst omen a Riverfolk trader can invoke. No one deals with a trader who admits aff liction by Gyronna, lest the association rub off.
Walk Any Road, Float Any River:
This freedom implies no safety while traveling, especially from the local lord. It merely prevents lords from blocking land and water travel, or charging tolls for passing (except for non-Riverfolk). Of course, any ruler who doesn’t want people on his roads can bar them without erecting a single block—threats, bribes, political pressure, or hiring “bandits” are just as effective.
However, in practice, it means no lord can take his or her people for granted. Most Riverfolk do not leave their homes for anything but essential travel, no matter who is in charge (and poor Riverfolk usually have nowhere else to go), but they might still move to a new kingdom if their lord is abusive. This escape is rarely necessary. A lord who wants a functioning kingdom knows not to treat subjects too harshly, or the best ones will disappear, leaving a half-empty kingdom behind.
Courts Are for Kings:
Buried midway down the list is one that undergirds them all: law within the River Kingdoms is malleable, and the rulers of a kingdom do as they wish. In their lands, one must obey. Whether a visitor is a commoner or a neighboring king, all are subject to a lord’s law within his own territory, and anyone who disobeys must be prepared for punishment or a declaration of war.
As a result, rulers seldom visit each other directly. Intermediaries do the talking, even when lords are scant miles away. When face-to-face negotiations occur, the monarchs often take great pains to protect their own sovereignty, even going so far as to set up camp tents on shared borders, talking across a rope line hung with pennants from both kingdoms. The major exception is the yearly Outlaw Council, where the meeting hall is considered politically neutral.
Slavery is an Abomination:
Nothing is so secure in the River Kingdoms as freedom for escaped slaves. Unlike Andorens, Riverfolk won’t leave their homes to free slaves, but a runaway in the River Kingdoms is a slave no more.
Some estimates say that one-third of the Riverfolk alive today are escaped slaves or descendants of slaves. Riverfolk welcome thousands of escaped slaves to all kingdoms each year, to fill ranks in armies and agriculture. Escaped slaves are usually the fiercest proponents of the River Freedoms, as these conventions are the first taste of freedom in their new lives. Because of this freedom, Hellknights of the Order of the Chain and other slave-takers cannot operate openly here, and any Andoren Eagle Knight can dispel most Riverfolk’s natural distrust of strangers by showing her insignia—and get a free drink and a barn to sleep in.
Depending on the local custom, this abolition can extend to indentured servitude. Spellcasters are warned to be circumspect when summoning monsters in the River Kingdoms, lest their magic be misinterpreted.
You Have What You Hold:
In contrast to many other civilizations on Golarion, this freedom draws a moral distinction between robbery and mere stealing. Taking something by force is considered acceptable, even begrudgingly praiseworthy. Burglary, on the other hand, is punishable under common law. The difference is in allowing a victim the ability to resist, the opportunity to face his or her robber, and to plan for repossession if so desired. This allows for a rough honesty, letting Riverfolk know and face their enemies.
The River Kingdoms are a collection of often-fractious neighbors united only by their common geography and their near-anarchic independence. When the local lord may change from year to year, the nearest “king” is actually a bandit with delusions of grandeur, and the only thing protecting a rancher’s livestock is how well he can use a sword, the strong learn to depend on themselves and distrust those who break their word or exploit others. Though the leaders of the River Kingdoms are varied and ever-changing, the people—as stubborn and contrary as they may be—mark the character of the River Kingdoms: survivalist adaptability and stubborn endurance.
The River Kingdoms consist of 22 major separate territories:
- Gyronna and Hanspurtune
- Loric Fells
- Protectorate of the Black Marquis
- Scrawny Crossing
- The Stolen Lands
- China mieville, Elaine Cunningham, Chris Pramas, and Steve Kenson; “Pathfinder Chronicles – Guide to the River Kingdoms” Paizo Publishing 2010