A Dark and Dangerous Time

It is the year 1225. Wars rage across the world as princes, kings and popes struggle for temporal power. Peasants in many places are only slightly better than slaves, and often ruinous taxes are levied to pay for the comforts and wars of the nobility and church. Towns and cities are no better for many people. Crime is rampant in many cities, and danger lurks amidst the squalor and poverty of dark warrens and alleys. The countryside is no better, with brigands and monsters of many types controlling much of the dark and dangerous lands that lie outside the walls of the cities.

Stupor Mundi

Friedrich II Hohenstaufen is Holy Roman Emperor, ruler of most of Germany and Italy, and in a determined struggle with the Papacy over primacy of rule in Europe. German princes and trading cities of the Lombard league in the plains of northern Italy take sides in shifting struggles for supremacy. He is known as Stupor Mundi, Wonder of the World, because he is fluent in six languages, is not only a patron but also a student of the sciences, keeps a harem and has a personal bodyguard of devoted Muslims.

Friedrich’s home is in Sicily, a diverse and cosmopolitan land. First colonized by the Greek city-states of antiquity, it was controlled for centuries by Saracen princes until Friedrich’s great-grandfather, the Norman knight Roger de Hauteville and his followers conquered Sicily in the 11th century. Although the Muslims, Greek and Latin Christians tend to live in separate areas of Sicily, they coexist in many cities, along with a significant Jewish population. Tensions between these groups sometimes flare into violence, but at least in the cities they get along fairly well.

The university in Palermo, Sicily’s capital, takes advantage of its cosmopolitan environment. In addition to training in secular and ecclesiastical law, it houses scholars of Aristotle, Egyptian and Sufi mysticisms, and the Kaballah. It is rumored darker and more ominous subjects are studied there, including the experimental science of Michael Scotus, personal adviser and astrologer to the Emperor.

Wizards and magick

While the use and practice of arcane magick is not in and of itself heretical, this is a matter of degree and interpretation. Consorting with diabolical and fey creatures is difficult to differentiate from the pure, scientific magic practiced by sanctioned Sages of the arcane arts. The Inquisition thus tends to take the tack that it is better to put “innocent” wizards to the question (with all that entails) than it is to leave a diabolist free to corrupt and destroy.

Most wizards remain in Universities, with their studies primarily theoretical in nature. A select few, such as Michael Scotus and Francis Bacon, no longer simply accepting as Truth the writings of ancient natural philosophers and mages, such as Plato and Aristotle. They have begun to develop a scientific and experimental approach to the study of magick and the natural world, a view the Papacy and Inquisition see as dangerous and potentially corrupting.

There are those in the service of the church who use arcane powers in service of the Inquisitors. And it is rumored that there are those within the Inquisition who have become too close to the forces they fight and now guard dark personal secrets.

Elsewhere in Europe and Asia

The states of Outremer, in the Holy Land, squabble amongst themselves while the forces of Islam push to drive them into the sea. New Knightly orders such as the Teutonic Knights and the Swordbrothers are formed, joining the Templars & Hospitallers in the Holy Land and fighting to control and convert the pagans in the Northeast of Europe, along the coasts of the Baltic Sea.

The Cathar heresy is still being fought in the Languedoc region of France. The Dominican Blackfriars, originally founded to teach and argue the rightness of the Latin church have been given the Inquisitorial authority to judge heretical issues there and elsewhere in Europe.

The nobles of England and France struggle against the increasingly autocratic rule of their Kings with differing degrees of success. Somewhat successfully in Britain, as the Magna Carta places limits on the power of the King, and less so in France, where the King and the state become ever more closely intertwined.

The rulers of many Irish clans are thought to be at least part fey, as the border between this world and the feyrealms is said to be thinnest there. Fierce warriors of the Scottish clans fight against the encroaching English feudal lords, as do the celtic Britons of Gwynedd.

In the Iberian peninsula, the Reconquista has been very successful. The Moors have been completely routed from Portugal, and the Castillians and Aragonese have pushed them back until only the Andalusian Emirate of Granada remains.

The Swedes and the Rus push against the ancient Elven lands of the Finn. Dwarven lords hide in their vastnesses under the Alps, and their dark northern cousins fight their never ending war against the Jotun, a fierce giantish people of the icy north.

A spreading menace across all of the known world, Mongol Orc and Hobgoblin warriors threaten the Kingdoms of the Chin and Turkic tribesman in Asia, the Emirates in Babylon & Damascus in Arabia, and Christian kingdoms and principalities of the Huns and the Kievan Rus in Europe.

Lux Lucis in Obscurum

Lux lucis in obscura