To the Esteemed Master’s Council of the Vanguards,
I have completed my analysis of Itharian power structures, and present it to you now.
Factions this report has dubbed superpowers are those whose influence extends beyond the norm, often encompassing subjugated or conscripted remains of former nations.
Ret-Talus of the Fallen Kingdom
The Fallen Kingdom continues to be the most powerful faction within Itharia, though in-depth analysis indicates they are far less efficient than they could be. By all accounts Ret-Talus possesses the means to conquer the world in a manner far beyond what he has yet accomplished. Our first analysis ten years ago suggested the Rotten King’s mind was so alien from our own that we were simply incapable of comprehending his thoughts. This new report however is of the opinion that he is mad. In his two thousand year dominance of Itharia, Ret-Talus has switched back and forth between the apparent goal of ruling on a global scale, to the goal of exterminating all life. With his era-long advantage of possessing a summoning stone and his ability to create his own troops at no cost, Ret-Talus should have accomplished any goal he desired long ago. We believe that while he commands a great, perhaps unparalleled understanding of magic, he does not possess the military knowledge or focus needed to be as effective as he might otherwise be. Coupled with the fact that he hates all living creatures, and therefore cannot ally with any faction, there is hope that he may yet be defeated.
I am proud to report the Vanguards remain one of the most visible, if not powerful forces in Itharia. Our continued defiance against the Fallen Kingdom has gained us enormous popularity, and certainly the City of Heap has become a magnet for the dispossessed. Still, we are hampered by the fact that we are a relatively small fighting force, not to mention the burden we shoulder in protecting the weak and defenseless. Kalon Lightbringer’s call to arms produced little to no response from the other factions, and we continue to operate largely on our own. If it were not for our role in first countering Ret-Talus, we would no doubt have less influence upon the world than we do.
The Bender Empire
The Benders are an anomaly in the political makeup of Itharia. The reign of Ret-Talus saw the collapse of the nation-structure and the creation of race or culture-based factions. The proliferation of summoning stones has only increased this. Yet the Benders seem to have seized upon the anarchy created by the undead menace and have built an empire of sorts from the remnants of Far Estan cultures. Most empires envelop other countries by conquering them, but the Benders appear to simply lay claim to those they neighbor. Given the choice between the Fallen Kingdom or the Benders, many of the oppressed simply accept Bender rule in the hope of being better protected from the dead. Bender psychomancy no doubt quells the voices (or minds) of those dissenters who would resist them. Our analysis suggests that the Bender Empire is in a precarious position, and should the Fallen Kingdom be defeated, the empire would be impossible to control and would likely splinter apart almost overnight.
The Shadow Elves
There was some debate over the inclusion of the Shadow Elves in the superpower category, but there can be no mistaking their impact on Itharian politics, even if the exact nature of that impact is not fully understood. We believe the Shadow Elves originate from Westernest, possibly from the depths of the Gaellian Mountains. Selundar, the first summoner among their kind, has appeared uninvited at the Citadel of the Fist on numerous occasions, often bearing dire warnings. There are reports that he has contacted other summoners as well. While the Shadow Elves are no strangers to conflict in the Summoner Wars, we have reason to believe Selundar’s objectives are not wholly unlike our own, though he seems less concerned with Ret-Talus, and more with some unseen supernatural force. Selundar has claimed a malicious force exists upon Itharia, and it is this force which fuels the strife of our times. It is the recommendation of this report that information provided by Selundar be met with cautious acceptance, but he must never be wholly trusted.
The Lesser Factions
The lesser factions are still major players on the world stage, though they lack the ability to overly influence those around them.
The Phoenix Elves of North Meeric are a prickly lot, seemingly hungry to prove their place in Itharia. Their mother and son summoners are fond of proclaiming grudges against the rest of the world, which has kept them severely isolated.
Tales of Jungle Elf viciousness have become widespread, though their actions do not suggest an overarching plan or desire for conquest. We believe Abua Shi is especially susceptible to Selundar’s influence.
Leonardo de Galna is believed to have been the strongest potential ally we had, but his untimely death lead to the Cloaks throwing the bulk of their weight against the Benders. We are currently seeking diplomatic measures to strengthen our relationship with the Cloaks, though we have clashed with them on several occasions.
What reports we get from the plains of North Meeric are full of horrifying accounts of these madmen. Some believe they are an offshoot of the Death Cult, but these loosely organized bands of reavers are more accurately described as demon worshippers. We have it on good authority from the Guild Dwarves that the Filth are intent upon bringing demonic apocalypse to Itharia, but we have yet to discover if they are in fact capable of it.
The Tundra Orcs possess surprising depth for beings of such monstrous countenance. They are a threat to Itharian stability, but, and I know this sounds heretical, they appear to follow a code of martial honor not too dissimilar to our own. The Tundra Orcs attack only military targets, unlike the other marauding factions of North Meeric.
The Swamp Orcs of North Meeric are building a fearsome reputation. When they initially entered the Itharian power struggle we predicted they would behave much like the Tundra Orcs. But instead of the thoughtful barbarism of their frostbitten cousins, the Swamp Orcs seem less interested in conquering territory, and more in sowing terror and chaos. All that is left behind from Swamp Orc attacks are burnt, vine-choked villages, the boiled remains of their victims, and horrifying tales of marauders who came in the night.
Has there ever been a faction as frustrating to the Vanguards as the Guild Dwarves? By all accounts our two peoples should be closely allied, for our kind once shared a close bond. Yet the Guild Dwarves continue to put us off, demanding tributes of gold or other treasures in exchange for their friendship. Perhaps Oldin’s mind is too overcome with grief for his slain son, but his ambassadors keep repeating the same ridiculous demands. Some have suggested the Guild Dwarves have ulterior motives and a strategy we have yet to comprehend, but I would ask the council to consider that the Guild Dwarves live too much in the past, and greatly overvalue their place in the world.
The Deep Dwarves are a xenophobic lot, exceeding even the Guild Dwarf and Mountain Vargath reputations for hating outsiders. The Guild Dwarves claim the Deep Dwarves are located in a mountain range on the western side of North Meeric, but we have yet to verify it. If the Guild Dwarves are right, there are no entrances to Deep Dwarf cities from the surface, and any attempts at creating entrances immediately lead to bloodshed. We know Deep Dwarf culture is based around an elite caste of magic users, but we have no idea what their motivations might be.
The Vargath presence in the Gaellian mountains has proven useful for our purposes. Their isolationist policies make diplomacy near pointless, and they have attacked us on numerous occasions when it was felt we had trespassed into their territory. But so too have they aggressively attacked would-be conquerors of our continent, and we have good reason to believe they have unintentionally protected our northwestern borders for decades.
The Cave Goblins are a mischievous nuisance, and it would be easy to write them off as a hostile child-race. Or at least it would if they did not attack in such overwhelming numbers. Cave Goblin attacks are often large, and the creatures are nothing if not clever, at least when it comes to hit-and-run attacks and ambushes.
Alas that a Summoning Stone ever came to the Sand Goblins, otherwise they would still be safely trapped on their hell-continent of Tralia. They are as chaotic and as seemingly random as their North Meeric cousins, but are hardier if not quite as clever. Survivors to the core, they are adept at ambushes and hit-and-run attacks.
Itharia suffers from no lack of sellswords, but lately there have been rumors of mercenary captains obtaining summoning stones. If this rumor is true, there is no way to predict how these mercenary summoners will impact the Summoner Wars, seeing as how they have no home or culture to fight for.
I thank the Council for the honor of allowing me to prepare this report, and trust that my observations and suggestions will be carefully considered by the Council’s esteemed members. The face of Itharia changes with every day, and it is only through careful diplomacy and cautious strategy that the Vanguards shall survive to see a new era.