Return of Xoriat
Known as the “birthplace of kings,” the nation of Karrnath was born in war. The art of war remains the birthright of every true son and daughter of the land, and it sings in their blood and their dreams. The first humans to settle the region were Lhazaar marauders. They built outposts along the barren coastline and raided the softer lands to the south. Slowly, these outposts developed into towns and cities, and the people that remained in the land were tempered by the long, harsh winters.
As the descendants of the Lhazaar raiders continued to spread out and eventually divide into five distinct nations, Karrn the Conqueror rose to power. He transformed the pirates and pillagers of his northeastern realm into a deadly army. Under his leadership, the Karrnathi forces swept the remnants of the goblinoids out of the land and made war upon the other human settlements. Karrn dreamed of ruling avast kingdom, and in his zeal he conquered two-fitths of the human lands. In the end, no single foe defeated Karrn. Rather, he was overcome by the sheer size of Khorvaire and his own penchant for cruelty.
Karrn’s legacy remains, and most people tend to forget the atrocities and prefer to remember the accomplishments. He cleared the heartland of the human nations of the remnants of the goblinoid empire. He galvanized the people and kick-started the march to civilization. He built the greatest army of his age. And he died in a kingdom that bore his name. Centuries later, his descendant Galifar, a true son of Karrnath, would pick up Karrn’s dream and unite the Five Nations.
Galifar utilized the military power of Karrnath to forge his kingdom, and no force could stand against him. Of course, he tempered war with hope and a dream of a better society, and thus succeeded where Karrn had failed. After the Kingdom of Galifar was established, military officers from across the land trained at the Rekkenmark Academy. Military traditions and training were disseminated to the rest of the kingdom, but as a people the Karrns continued to be more dedicated to and proficient in the art of war. To this day, every citizen of Karrnath serves a term in the military, and every citizen of Karrnath practices with the local militia.
Life in Karrnath can be cold and hard, but the Karrnathi people are colder and harder. When the Last War began, the people of the land rallied behind their king. It seemed unthinkable that the other parts of the collapsing kingdom could stand against the military might of Karrnath. Better equipment and training could take the Karrns only so far, however. They underestimated the arcane weaponry of Aundair and Cyre. They underestimated the divine power of the Silver Flame that bolstered Thrane. And they failed to account for the sheer heart and determination of the Brelish people, perhaps the most underrated nation at the start of the war.
Karrnath suffered a series of embarrassing and potentially destructive setbacks, forcing King Kaius I to accept aid from the Blood of Vol. Using the necromantic arts at their disposal, the Vol priests called Karrnath’s fallen warriors back from the grave, setting the stage for the rest of the long, long war. The tireless undead troops bolstered the nation’s living soldiers and brought a sense of otherworldly terror to the battlefields. The Karrnathi undead were some of the most unusual troops deployed in battle until the creation of the warforged.
A military dictatorship since the start of the Last War, Karrnath continues to operate under martial law. This makes it a bit tougher on visitors and adventurer types, but the land isn’t totally closed to travelers. Instead of the Code of Galifar, the country follows the Code of Kaius. This rigid set of laws and responsibilities is based on the older code, but many rights have been restricted or eliminated in the name of national defense. With the end of the Last War, a handful of the more stringent laws have been lifted, but the overall oppression of a martial system remains.
Today, Karrnath enjoys its role as one of the architects of peace, but there are undercurrents of unease throughout all levels of the nation. It came as a surprise when Kaius III, leader of a harsh band of hardened warriors, pressed for peace. Most of the Karrnathi warlords (the highest-ranking nobles in the land) believe that their king is simply rebuilding the strength of the nation and searching for an advantage to turn against the other nations. They trust that he will unleash their armies again when the time is right and grasp the throne of Galifar as his own. But there are those among the warlords and nobility that believe that Kaius is too soft, not at all like his father or great-grandfather. They see the Treaty of Thronehold as a symbol of his cowardice, and his efforts to curtail the power of the Blood of Vol as a rejection of the religion of the people. When the current peace finally breaks, it may be Karrnath that swings the first sword—despite the wishes of its king.
Karrnath is wary of Aundair and still regards it as an enemy. Kaius often opposes Aundair’s Queen Aurala diplomatically, but he doesn’t believe Aundair has the will or the ability to make a significant move against Karrnath. In general, Aundair is a lot more worried about Karrnath than Karrnath is about Aundair.
Kaius regards Breland’s King Boranel as his most powerful rival at the moment. Breland’s industry is second to none, and Kaius respects its capacity to return to a war footing and outproduce Karrnath at a moment’s notice. Karrnath thus supports anything that distracts or divides Breland. It offers a measure of diplomatic recognition to Droaam’s Daughters of Sora Kell, and Kaius quietly encourages firebrands in the Brelish Parliament.
Karrnath supports the creation of a new homeland for the Cyran refugees, mostly as a way to provide another headache for Breland. Kaius pays lip service to other efforts at reversing the Cyran diaspora, such as resettlement in Q’Barra, but he’d like nothing better than a pro-Karrnath “New Cyre” that eats up acres of eastern Breland.
The loyalty of the dwarven clans of the Mror Holds was a key strategic advantage for Karrnath throughout the early years of the Last War. The dwarves provided an immense amount of war materiel, and many a column of dwarf troops marched alongside Karrnath’s army. As the war progressed, however, the dwarves decided to take advantage of the turmoil and break out with their own nation. Karrnath has not yet forgiven what it sees as a treacherous act by treacherous people, and tensions between the two run high.
Kaius uses talk of mutual protection to maintain relations with the Talenta halflings. Karrnath keeps a standing army garrisoned in the southern Talenta Plains, taking pains to point out how it’s beating back incursions from the Valenar elves on a monthly basis. And Kaius isn’t above provoking an incursion when he wants to demonstrate his friendship to a particular halfling tribe.
Karrnath and Thrane have cool relations for both geopolitical and personal reasons. Thrane’s military might be a match for Karrnath’s, especially when augmented by the many spellcasters of the Silver Flame. Kaius has no love for the religion that seized control of the throne from his nephew. There is no love lost between the two nations, and hostilities between the two could break out at any moment, despite efforts to keep the Thronehold Accords alive.
The peace between Valenar and Karrnath exists only on paper. Every few weeks, the Karrnathi army clashes with riders from Valenar in a series of raids and counterraids that have so far proved inconclusive. But neither side fully commits to all-out war because both recognize the clashes for what they are: a sideline. Both Karrnath and Valenar are too busy establishing themselves in the postwar political landscape to be distracted with a real war—at the moment.
Of all the nations formed at the Treaty of Thronehold, Karrnath enjoys the most contact with the sea barons and merchant princes of the Lhazaar Principalities. During the Last War, Karrnath employed a number of the sea barons and their fleets, and received significant assistance from the Bloodsails of Farlnen. Since the end of the war and Kaius’s rejection of the Blood of Vol and the Order of the Emerald Claw, the Bloodsails have withdrawn support and have started attacking Karrnathi ships and villages along the coast. Other merchant princes regularly trade with Karrnath, but it is getting hard to tell which Lhazaar ships will be friendly and which will loot and plunder as they pass through Karrnathi waters.
Karrnath maintains some level of diplomatic relations with every nation on Khorvaire, plus Aerenal and the Riedran Empire. Kaius’s representatives are welcome where other diplomats fear to tread, including the Great Crag of Droaam.