Karrnath, born in war
Karrnath, land of night
Karrnath, we salute you
Let the world marvel at your might!
- “War March of the Karrns,” Karrnath’s national anthem
Known as the “birthplace of kings,” the kingdom 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 Lhazaarite 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 Lhazaarite 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 Dhakaani goblins out of the land and made war upon the other human settlements. Karrn dreamed of ruling a vast kingdom, and in his zeal he conquered two-fifths 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 goblin empire of Dhakaan. 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 ir’Wynarn, 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 empire 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 Military 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 arts 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 Karrn 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 Galifaran empire 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 kingdom 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 is not 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 King 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 kingdoms. 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 spent more of the Last War in active warfare than any of the other four nations; it never left a war footing and never had long-term armistices with its foes. Battles between Karrnath and Cyre were particularly bloody, especially when the Valenar elves became Cyran mercenaries. Karrnath and Aundair were enemies throughout most of the Last War, although that front had long periods of stalemate and low-intensity battles of attrition. Thrane and Breland were either bitter enemies or tenuous allies, depending on the war’s shifting fortunes.
Karrnathi forces had seized Cyran territory on the Day of Mourning, preparing to use the area as a staging ground for a push into Breland. For this reason, tens of thousands of Karrns were among the dead on the day Cyre became the Mournland. Karrnath lost as many citizens to famine and disease as it did to enemy action over the course of the war. Shortly after the war began, plague and wheat-blight savaged the nation, bringing low the Galifaran province known for its industry and military tradition. The combination of famine and disease was so devastating that King Kaius I, desperate to save his realm, turned to the Blood of Vol for aid—a decision that forever changed Kaius and Karrnath as a whole. When Kaius I, transformed into an immortal vampire by the Lich Queen Vol, returned to power in the guise of his great-grandson King Kaius III, he immediately set about ending the war. But even two years after the Treaty of Thronehold was signed, Karrnath is still a militaristic society that’s reluctant to abandon its war footing. The warlords remain the most powerful and influential of Kaius III’s nobles. Most towns still have large standing militias, and service in the national army is compulsory. Karrn soldiers still engage Valenar raiders to the southeast and battle strange horrors from the Mournland, and every skirmish receives a lot of attention in broadsheet chronicles and talk within the taverns.
Karrnath also has the advantage of relatively secure borders. Scions Sound offers a measure of protection from Aundair and Thrane, and the northern waters keep all but the most determined Lhazaarite pirates at bay. Karrnath’s historic weakness, its southern border, is a lot safer now that Cyre is no longer around. Mutated monsters periodically emerge from the Mournland, to be sure, but that’s a far cry from an invading Cyran army. Garrisons in Lakeside and Irontown remain strong and alert, for Karrnath and the Mror Holds continue to dispute the border between the two nations, and many Karrns want to reclaim the dwarven lands as their own.
While Kaius III has officially broken Karrnath’s ties with the Blood of Vol cult and declared it no longer the national religion, a significant portion of his citizenry continues to follow the tenets of blood as life and undeath as divinity. The Karrn Crown has gone so far as to ban the open worship of the Blood of Vol in Korth, but shrines still draw followers in the towns and villages, and the Crimson Monastery in Atur continues to hold open ceremonies to mostly packed audiences of the faithful. Kaius has had better success in curtailing the influence of the Order of the Emerald Claw. In general, the nation has come to see this group of one-time patriots (at least that was how they were portrayed when the order was originally established) as violent extremists who no longer have the best interests of Karrnath at heart (This does not keep some warlords and nobles from working with them, however).
The nation continues to utilize undead forces for defense, but the vast majority of Karrnath’s undead troops have been hidden away in secret crypts for the day when they will again be needed. This huge force of undead, with more being added every day under the orders of the Minister of the Dead, provides a ready-to-use army that can quickly bolster the living forces of the nation’s warlords — while also remaining mostly hidden from the rest of the states of Khorvaire. Kaius III knows what the Minister is up to, but he does not realize the extent to which the undead buildup is continuing.
Locations in Karrnath