The Valtarian Kingdoms
Once upon a time, in the wild and untamed ruins of the old Valtarian Empire, a great beast ravaged the fields. The realm's queen, without heir, promised her lands to whoever could save her people. A plucky band of adventurers answered the call, and won the kingdom.
But they would not rest; instead, they called all wandering heroes to their banner. United, they set forth on a grand crusade to cleanse the lands of foul creatures and wicked magic. They grew rich on treasure from sacked dungeons, and won the hand of many a prince or princess from grateful but impoverished kingdoms. Before long, all of old Valtaria was theirs to rule.
Now there are no monsters left unslain, no fortresses unbreached. But good cannot exist without evil to sharpen its blade upon. The valiant Monarchs of the Valtarian Kingdoms are forced to adopt villainous mantles in a charade for their peers. They manufacture trial and torment for their offspring in the hope that they, too, will gain the shaper's gift - and, by it, their divine right to rule. The Monarchs play at love and politics and war, treasuries growing ever more thin, as they await the blissful release of their next crusade.
- 1 Virtues of Valtaria
- 2 The Monarch's Ascension
- 3 A Monarch’s Pursuits
- 4 Attitudes of the Valtarian Kingdoms
- 5 The Imperatrix's Court
- 6 Roleplaying A Monarch
- 7 Sovereign's Speech
- 8 Recent Developments
- 9 Valtarian Kingdoms Costume
- 10 Additional Media
Virtues of Valtaria
The beliefs of the Valtarian Kingdoms centre around two concepts, Imperative and Fealty.
A shaper's gift overcomes the prosaic nature of reality, distorting it around the strength of their will. Nothing is impossible, if they work hard enough to make it happen. If a shaper intends to do good, the Valtarians hold, then that is their will - and so their actions can *only* make the world a better place.
The consequence of this is that each Monarch in the Kingdoms is afforded complete moral authority, and complete moral duty to express it. This is known as their Imperative. Even the atrocities committed by Monarchs-In-Shadow are considered righteous, for they have the best of intentions when performing them.
Monarchs-Pawn are those who have forsaken their Imperative; what possible reason would they have to do so, besides having evil in their heart?
If a Monarch has Imperative, a mortal does not: they have no more moral agency than animals. It is fitting, then, that the peasants of Valtaria live in absolute thrall to the Monarch-Victor of their kingdom.
Monarchs-Errant are rich in potential, but their dedication is not yet proven; it is typical for them to offer their fealty to a Monarch-Victor who can best guide them on their path.
Above all stands the Grand High Imperatrix herself, appointed by the Monarchs-Victor as the most virtuous amongst them. A god-king amongst god-kings, hers the highest authority of all.
This spiritual hierarchy is deeply entrenched in Valtarian society, and while passions flare between Monarchs - it is the nature of such virtuous beings - to stand against it is to stand against the very concept of moral meritocracy. And nobody with goodness in their heart could abide that.
The Monarch's Ascension
"Love may be fleeting, but tales of love are eternal."
Matters of love amongst the Monarchs of the Valtarian Kingdoms are the stuff of legends, and are treated with the care due to any other invaluable raw material. There is no such thing as a casual relationship or marriage of convenience in Valtaria - only grand acts of devotion, flamboyant ceremonies, and frantic, acrimonious affairs. The only language the Monarchs speak is that of True Love.That is not to say that Monarchs are immune to ennui, cold feet, or impulsivity - simply that things must be done (and be seen to be done) in the correct and proper fashion. If you find yourself tired of your spouse, then why not get captured by a Monarch-In-Shadow? Either your spouse will reaffirm their love with a daring rescue, or some other suitor will. And while you're waiting, well, some of those villains look so dashing in spiked red armour, don't you think? If that's not to your taste, there's nothing like a quick love triangle to add spice to proceedings.
Most Valtarians are serfs, and grow up in quiet terror of whatever Monarch's business might cast its shadow across their turnip farm or tavern next. More unfortunate are those who are selected by Monarchs to join them: these include their Companions, who serve as decorative honour guards and occasional recipients of romantic overtures, and their Advisors, who are expected to smooth over the cracks in a Monarch-Victor's finances (or cover them up, at least).Least fortunate of all are the Scions, those born to a Monarch. The Monarchs have realised that, if you throw them into harm's way enough times, either they die (the most common result, but it makes dividing your estate much simpler) or they - eventually - rise to the call of destiny and attain the shaper's gift (which justifies everything). The services of Monarchs-In-Shadow, fatesmiths (who, for the right price, can make anyone a Chosen One), and misled Monarchs-Pawn are invaluable in this process.
Valtarians are granted a single name by their parents, at birth. Usually, this will stay with them no matter what - but if a mortal is selected by a Monarch to serve as their Companion or Advisor, it is common for the Monarch to correct their name to something they consider more fitting.
Examples: Alacretia, Seracarte, Gallamond, Ephraste, Telador, Magnus.
When a shaper discovers their gift, they will take an honorific after their name that evokes the manner of their greatness (or, else, how it is attained). It is by this title that they are commonly known: referring to a shaper by their mortal name alone is only done between lovers, or else as a severe insult.
Examples: The Unbeholden, The Unquenched Blade, The Lance Of The Stars, The Bright Veil.
Should a shaper attain the noble station of Monarch-Victor, they will take on an additional title. This is put before their name, and should be suitably grandiose for a perfect ruler. This becomes their new term of address.
Examples: Saviour-Regnant Of Coldwater Main, Her Inviolate Majesty, Benefactor-Regent, Most Beloved, Their Immaculacy.
Of course, none of these are suitable if a shaper is required to adopt the mantle of a Monarch-In-Shadow. If that happens, they will adopt a new name and titles equivalent to their benign alter-ego - again, making sure that they are suitably evocative for such a paragon of villainy.Examples: Valacrezia the Bloody Vixen; Excruciator-Incardinal Alkazadar, the Scourge of the Innocent; Aucrichton the Soulhammer; His Sublime Deviousness Volsheredai, the Truthbane.
A Monarch’s Pursuits
What is more beautiful than the endeavours of the heart? Courtship in the Valtarian Kingdoms is often a long and convoluted affair, where both participants will seek to outdo the other in displays of ardour, devotion, and poetic licence. Assuming neither party is rebuffed, courtship is completed when one beloved believes they cannot one-up the other’s last act of romance – at which point an invitation to marriage is made. Where more than one Monarch is competing for the same person’s affection, no rules apply – and things have a tendency to get really interesting.REPARTEE
Words and whispers exchanged in the Grand High Imperatrix’s Court are laden with honey or coated with barbs, and a Monarch’s wit is expected to be kept as sharp as their blade. Lesser disputes or aspersions on one another’s honour are often dealt with via a ceremonial game called A Monarch’s Dispute.Each participant takes turn to deliver a precisely measured blow, and an accompanying insult or rebuke, to their opponent. The audience then applauds them on the artfulness of their sword- and word-play. Where applause for a turn is louder than the last, the triumphant Monarch scores a point. The first to three points wins.
What is more noble than a just war? And all wars are just if waged under a Monarch’s Imperative. Quarrels around the feasting table quickly spill out into summer-storm disputes between the kingdoms, and crusades against the outlying nations or prominent Monarchs-In-Shadow are an excellent way to show valour and build camaraderie between Monarchs-Errant. The Outworld may deny Monarchs the opportunity to throw peasants’ lives at their problems, but they are sure to find suitable methods of war in Affronts and Geomancy.
Attitudes of the Valtarian Kingdoms
THE PEOPLE'S COMBINE
“Their hearts beat like thunder, and their eyes are set on the horizon – would that they were set on a more noble path. But alas, they come bringing a message of false hope, and would turn the beautiful Kingdoms into a wasteland of steel and ash. Not by my leave! Wherever the shadows of their engines fall, the light of virtue will be there to cast them away!”
- - Denizar, The Brightblade
“Degenerates who know nothing of beauty in spirit, duty, or artifice. Untrustworthy, disrespectful, and badly dressed. I can’t wait for the next crusade to wipe that grubby, hateful bunch of savages off the map.”
- - Regent-Eternal Valedictus, the Voice Of Reason
“I must commend them on their callousness, yes, and the depths of their deviousness are truly inspirational. But tell me this: when did you last see one of their 'agents' stand atop a battlement in a thunderstorm, arms outreached? Mmm? And when did one of these ‘operatives’ last deliver a soliloquy over a fallen nemesis, knowing that their foe’s allies are about to break down the door? Amateurs, I say! AMATEURS!”
- - High Kyriarch Orghast, The Soulscour
“What delightful little games these shadowed folk play. I suppose they must fancy themselves in control.”
- - Her Bounteous Beneficence Galiticia, The Ardent Heart
The Imperatrix's Court
The last Grand High Imperatrix was Villastria, the Most Honourable Witness. Shortly before the Worldbreach, however, she abdicated her title in favour of the Last Crusade, those Monarchs who would enter into the Nexus to bring glory to Valtaria. Nevertheless, the court of the Imperatrix has shaped Valtarian society since before living memory.
"I am called to greatness, and my answer shall echo through the ages."
It is a great day in Valtaria when one of their number attains the shaper's gift. Their background, whether humble or grand, is of no further import: they are a Monarch, a god-king amongst mortals, and the future rests on their soldiers. Amidst grand revelry, their newfound peers induct them into Valtaria's Society of Heroes. They are told of their Imperative: the combined duty and moral authority imparted by their newfound powers.
The newfound Monarch-Errant will take an honorific after their name, in recognition of their manner of greatness - The Unbeholden, The Unquenched Blade, The Lance Of The Stars - and it is this by which they are formally known. But they are accorded no grander title, and no lands to rule, until they prove themselves as rightful heirs of destiny to the Monarchs-Victor that populate the Grand High Imperatrix's court.
Ever ready for battle, bold in spirit and in action: the drive to succeed, and to be seen to succeed, is at the heart of every Monarch-Errant.
"By right, the world is mine."
The Valtarian Kingdoms are ruled by the Monarchs-Victor, members of the court of the Grand High Imperatrix. Charged with impenetrable moral authority by their gift, proven in their dedication and courage many times over, there are none who can claim higher virtue than they.
Monarchs-Victor are chosen from the ranks of aspiring Monarch-Errant, when they have used their miraculous power to accomplish tasks worthy of such station. They take on a further honorific before their name - Saviour-Regnant Of Coldwater Main, Her Inviolate Majesty, Benefactor-Regent - and are granted command of a kingdom within the fjords and broken peaks of Valtaria.
As the advance against the Walkers and Combine has faltered, and the Kingdoms' trove of treasures runs ever more dry, there has been little deserving of the attention of such grand heroes and heroines. From the walls of their fortresses, they have turned their hand to the games of politics and romance, using their fellow Monarchs and the vast armies they command to entertain themselves - at least, until something really worthwhile comes along. Needless to say, the creation of the Outworld has turned many heads.
"My destiny is my own."
Not all shapers in the Valtarian Kingdoms accept their newfound role in the hierarchy so readily. Perhaps they were scions or serfs, and cannot forgive the cruelty that was inflicted upon them; perhaps their sense of propriety simply recoils at what the Monarchs have become.
These scattered few scorn the Grand High Imperatrix's court, and set out to forge their own destiny. Forsaking the tainted riches that would have been bestowed upon them, they do what they can with what they have - or can seize from the hands of Monarchs.
Their would-be peers, for the most part, consider them with a mixture of pity and contempt. They call them Monarchs-Pawn: in refuting their Imperative, they have forsaken virtue, and so are free game to be manipulated into the Monarch-Victors' schemes.
"Everyone needs a hobby."
Good cannot exist without evil. The Valtarian Kingdoms, having long extinguished their supply of dark dungeons and foul creatures, is forced to create its own. A Monarch may elect to disappear for a while, citing some suitable excuse - and in short while, a Monarch-In-Shadow will appear.
Monarchs-In-Shadow adopt titles equivalent to the rank of their alter-ego, and former Monarchs-Victor will be accorded one of the dark citadels that the Grand High Imperatrix keeps on hand for such a purpose. Then they begin their foul work, indulging in as much villainy as they can accomplish. While the identity of a Monarch-In-Shadow is a charade, the suffering and devastation they inflict is very real.
The role of Monarch-In-Shadow is an open secret amongst the Monarchs of the Valtarian Kingdoms: they consider it a mark of moral fortitude for them to set aside their virtue and serve the Kingdoms in this way. And they do serve, creating an excellent environment in which new shapers can rise through acts of heroism, Monarchs-Errant can prove their mettle, and Monarchs-Victor can entertain themselves. They also provide an excellent pretext to brutally conquer and then 'free' neighbouring nations.
Most commonly, the mantle of a Monarch-In-Shadow is shrugged off at a suitably dramatic point; they will recede into the darkness, cursing the brave heroes and assuring them of their eventual return. Some, however - especially former serfs, or those who have a secret taste for tyranny - adopt the role permanently. More than one Monarch's house has been serving the Kingdoms in this way for generations.
Roleplaying A Monarch
YOU ARE ALWAYS RIGHT
You are a Monarch of the Valtarian Kingdoms, god amongst mortals, true arbiter of virtue. If you seek to do good, the outcome can only be good! Even if it may not appear so to the (limited) perspective of others. While others may seek to guide or admonish you, let nothing get in the way of what you already know to be true.SEEK OUT EVIL, AND VANQUISH IT
The proud kingdoms of Valtaria are surrounded on all sides by opportunists, degenerates, false prophets and scoundrels. For as long as good prevails, the future of Valtaria is assured – so find your enemies and gather your forces for glorious crusade! It is not enough to simply defeat evil: a mere 'success' soon fades in the annals of history. Evil must be vanquished. Good must be seen to be done. Victory must be grand!KNOW YOUR PLACE IN THE IMPERATRIX'S COURT
Unlike the barbarous cultures that surround it, Valtaria understands the value of law and order. The Grand High Imperatrix is infallible, and must always be obeyed (unless they have been corrupted somehow, in which case a replacement must be sought). The Monarchs-Victor that surround the Imperatrix are wise veterans of countless crusades, and should be sought for advice and support (unless they have become decadent and indolent, in which case you will have to take their place). The Monarchs-Errant are brave knights, and should be given the chance to prove themselves (unless they have been led astray, in which case they must be brought back into the fold). The Monarchs-Pawn are scum.
Sovereign's speech is:
“It is time to build a new world.
I want to make it better than the old one.
There are four pillars I want us to build upon, 1) the innocent will be protected, 2) harm none and you will not be harmed, 3) people have time to do what brings them joy, 4) those who can help those who need.
I will fight for these things, I would kill for them or die for them.
If you would help build a better future from the ashes of the old, then together we will rise like a phoenix.
We are Valtaria. And there is nothing we cannot do”
- - Bethany the Steadfast, Protector of the Crucible of Legends
The Imperatrix's throne could not stand empty for very long. A harbinger arrived into the tumult of the court, prophecying great ruin if Valtaria could not unite and restore its former glory. A grand tourney was arranged, with many of Valtaria's finest champions and darkest villains competing with sword and spell and speech for this highest of honours.
In the end, it was that very same prophet who ascended the throne. Valtaria now kneels before Nicasta Doomsbane, its first Grand High Imperatrix-In-Shadow in living memory. And soon the rest of the world will too, as she marshals forces for her Accursed Crusade.
Valtarian Kingdoms Costume
The Valtarian Kingdoms have an aesthetic best described as ‘baroque high fantasy’. This is medieval by way of anime, focusing on style over practicality: the very semblance of armour is enough to protect a shaper. Valtarians should always dress as though for a battle, a grand ball, or (preferably) both.
- Clothing: Coloured metals, rich and patterned fabrics. Gambesons, platemail, billowing gowns, long jackets, armoured underclothing.
- Accessories: Capes, huge gemstones everywhere, open-faced helms, massive pauldrons, bonnets, body jewellery, chokers, crowns.
- Iconography: High-contrast, vibrant heraldic colours. Motifs reminiscent of their title suffix.
- Weapons: Greatswords, mage staves, kite shields, wands, bows, spell tomes, maces, oversized gauntlets, demon-possessed items. Any item of battlegear that looks ceremonial in purpose.
Final Fantasy XII, Chronicles of Amber, Nobilis, Elric, Exalted (First Age Solars), almost any pulp fantasy anime.
THINGS TO AVOID
- Drab, functional battlegear. If it’s all you have, accent it with vibrant accessories and heraldry.
- Purely black or white outfits. As a Monarch-In-Shadow, these may be tempting, but they would only be worn by Penitents. Spice things up with a flash of colour – dark reds and purples are nicely sinister.
- Anything too ‘high-tech’. The Valtarian Kingdoms are just as technologically advanced as other cultures, but their science takes a form that we would perceive as magic.
- Monarchs-In-Shadow fall into the same baroque high fantasy aesthetic, but at the scenery-chewing-villain end of the spectrum. Spikes and skulls are recommended.
- Monarchs-Pawn do not have access to the incredible wealth of looted artefacts that the court of the Imperatrix does. If you are playing one, you can go for more of a gritty, low-fantasy look – as long as you still dress like a hero (or villain).