(The following is the back-story for the temporary D&D v3.5 adventure, “Moonwatch”, that I will be running for our players on game nights when our regular D-M is unavailable)
The setting for the adventure is the Kingdom of Corinthia. Corinthia is a wealthy nation, blessed with abundant food from the sea and land, minerals and timber from the earth, and prosperous people. Its cities are broad and clean and bustling with commerce and worship of the gods and all nature of pursuits and endeavors.
Wealth has made Corinthia a target of envy and avarice. For many years, perpetual unrest has boiled at her borders. Orcs, goblins, ogres and giants, lizardfolk – these and nation-states and tribes of hard-hearted Men threaten almost all sides. Only neighbouring Khör, a stable but reserved Dwarf kingdom at the north- and north-east borders, breaks a solid ring of antagonists.
On the strength of seemingly inexhaustible wealth, Corinthia has mounted a massive military and effective Navy, securing borders and forcing back invaders for well over a century.
Corinthia’s current King has ruled for twenty-three years. On ascending the throne, the King set Corinthia’s imperial ambitions higher than his forebearers, and pushed out from their borders with thundering force. Twenty years of conquest, occupation, counterattack, and retreat have chipped away at the treasury and worn down the military. What had been grand ambitions of broad empire, dissolved into daily skirmishes and tidal flow of the borders into the wild and back to the edge of civilization. Gains are made, losses are taken, the cycle repeats. The citizenry are loyal and the threats ever-present; few question the efforts.
In this atmosphere of war and intrigue and adventure, came the rise of Guild beyond just those dealing in shipping or commerce or thievery. These were Adventurer, Mage, Fighter guilds – dozens, at times well over a hundred such organizations, in the capital city of Meridian alone. Some simple start-up franchises were slapped together by travelling companions with a nose for trouble and a lust for gold; other, larger adventuring Guilds formed from entire companies of soldiers mustered out of service on expiry of their term. Their in-house expertise and strength wrote themselves license to seek fame and fortune out in the world. They sought out wealth and took it from deep caverns and lost cities and dark dungeons.
A bidding war evolved between the adventuring guilds and the military, for the best and most able men and women who came of age or emigrated to taste Corinthia’s wealth and prestige. The kingdom would pay exceptionally well for skilled hands to take up arms in defense of Corinthia; then the Guilds would pay even better, often for those same people, to lure them away when possible and sign these mercenaries to the service of the Guild, to hunt riches and fame in the Wild.
As out-of-control spending to maintain the military grew to worry the royal house, clever heads prevailed and new doctrine came to effect. Instead of competing with Guilds for the best available fighters and warriors, the kingdom delegated military operations to Guilds under set-price contracts. The rivers of gold poured into soldier’s pockets to attract and eventually lose them to Guild service, now paid the minimum bidder to do the work. Corinthia let its military attrition flow into the Guilds, and then paid the Guilds an economical market-rate to do what a costlier standing army had done before at greater expense.
Ten years went by and this became the normal course of affairs. While a standing army remains, it is largely a defensive garrison. Raids, invasions, reconnaissance, all operations outside of Corinthia’s borders are bid and won by Guilds. Special operations are offered at set rates for accomplishment, performance, and agreement as to split of plunder. Corruption is endemic. The kingdom’s economically sound invention fell victim to excess and lack of accountability and graft. More and more, Corinthia’s wealth turns away from its peaceful causes and funds the security and tactical readiness of the guilds. Well-skilled Guilds excel while lesser Guilds fail outright or are slowly bled dry of talent and capital, to be crushed underfoot or absorbed by predatory tactics of other, stronger adventuring Guilds.
Now, while there is growing unease within Corinthia and mounting enemy forces without, the Guilds themselves have stabilized in growth. There are few but massive companies of mercenaries, hardly even formal Guilds as much as private armies; and there are smaller, independent, more traditional adventuring guilds on the proverbial bubble: struggling to win contracts, always short of gold and skilled agents, their future uncertain day-to-day and the wolves of failure and defeat at their door.
Drake’s Dragoons is one such Guild.