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    Canonfire :: View topic - How advanced were the Pre-Cataclysmic western empires?
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    How advanced were the Pre-Cataclysmic western empires?
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    GreySage

    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
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    From: LG Dyvers

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    Thu Jan 21, 2021 9:37 pm  
    How advanced were the Pre-Cataclysmic western empires?

    Recent threads on Canonfire! have me reconsidering a conundrum that has been bothering me for years now.

    Apparently, the Suel Empirium, the Baklunish Empire, and the Oeridians, based in what is now Ull, were so powerful that remnants of each of the three peoples could cut swathes across the Flanaess and carve out new empires while fighting each other as well as the native Flan, demi-humans, humanoids, etc.

    At the same time, there is little to no evidence that any of those empires made any attempt to expand beyond the Barrier Peaks/Chrystal Mists/Hell Furnaces and the Yatil Mountain ranges. Not even for trade.

    Though I can come up with a multitude of excuses/rationalizations/explanations for this, they all end up tasting rather lame and forced.

    Now, I get that they had powerful mages. Maybe the fluctuating magic of Oerth explains how they were able to gain such power. Or, perhaps they simply had access to powerful artifacts that are lost today and the legend of their power has grown through the ages. I tend to consider that the empires, though powerful in their day, weren't really any more powerful than those of Vecna, Shar, Queen Elissa, Sulm, Caerdiralor, The Kingdom of Aerdy, and even many contemporary kingdoms within the Flanaess.

    So, I am asking if anyone knows of such an explanation offered by EGG or another of the Old Guard, or if anyone has any explanation they would like to offer.

    SirXaris
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    Fri Jan 22, 2021 1:44 am  

    This has bothered me in the past as well and I have come up with a solution that serves, though is by no means bulletproof.

    Quite simply, the peoples of the Flanaess constitute the only human/demihuman civilizations on Oerik. The lands southwest of the Hellfurnaces and Sea of Dust are occupied by Monstrous creatures. At least one of those civilizations is composed of beholders, others are the various giant types. There are probably other good candidates, and all have slaves of many shapes and sizes toiling for them while they also offer positions of high standing to dragons as they maneuver against one another.

    By no means have I fleshed this out at all, but the idea is that they are far more powerful than the weak humanoids of the Flanaess and they were previously being held off by promise of mutual devastation by Suel and Baklunni wizards who had access to god-level destructive magics. Right now, they are being held off by the aftereffects of the Twin Cataclysms, but that may end some time in the future.

    Part of my thinking regarding this configuration was that the rest of Oerik would prove to be an interesting adventuring environment for epic level characters, but I haven't needed to use it as of yet.
    Adept Greytalker

    Joined: Sep 20, 2004
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    Fri Jan 22, 2021 3:47 am  

    Good topic SirXaris!

    It frequently crossed my mind why an empire like that of the Suel people didn't seem too large. Technically an empire should constitute several territories and cultures but sometimes the term empire could often be simply because a ruer had declared themselve an Emperor. In the case of the generally self-important Suel that wouldn't be unlikely.

    It's also worth noting that the Occluded Empire of Vecna didn't start to dwindle until a few decades after the Twin Cataclysms. If you look at the map of the Flanaess, Vecna's territory pretty much blocked any expansion west by either the Suel Imperium or the Baklunish Empire. I know there are no canon references to the exact boundaries of it but it probably at its height expanded from the Yeomanry, through the Sheldomar at to the western banks of the Nyr Dyv where Tycheron was built. Only the region of what is now the Tiger Nomads & Perrenland was relatively free for the Baklunish Empire to expand west into but the cold climate, untempered by the warm Dramidj any further than the coastal areas and filled with wild Rovers (who hadn't been pushed as far back eastwards yet) probably didn't seem worth the effort. Similarly in the Amedio, societies such as those in Tamoachan didn't fall until just before the Twin Cataclysms so prior to that it's possible there was trade between the Suel and Olman but again, the Olman peoples, were perhaps not worth the effort to annex when there may have been easier conquests to the west.

    In my notes I've got listed that there were likely some Suel settlers in the area of the Yeomanry & Sea Princes. Melkot was already established pre-Cataclysms, and I've a note of a settlement west of where Monmurg now lies called Alran, as well as a note of Suel pirates around the islands of the coast of the Sea Princes. I can't find the references for any of these at the moment so they may well not be canon. But either way shows a little interaction between the Suel Imperium east of the Hellfurnaces.

    It's also worth noting that we have practically no canon sources of anything west of the Flanaess. It's possible that the Suel expanded their empire westward rather than bother antagonising Vecna to the east. Personally I've always considered the Sunela Coast as part of the Suel Imperium.

    With regards to the rampaging Suel and Oerids, I've never put there success down to them being particularly mighty, more that by the time of the Twin Cataclysms most of the great Flan civilisations had diminished leaving (Sulm for example had been ruined about 5 centuries earlier) a collection of unorganised tribes and peoples like the Lathu, Tenha, Coltens and Rovers/Arapahi. The Suel and Oerids were likely better equipped, access to a bit more magic and also they were driven in a way the declining Flan tribes weren't.

    I don't really know what kind of empire Vecna ran, I'm guessing for it to be around for so long there had to be a certain degree of everyday normality; trade with neighbours etc. But basically I put the lack of eastwards expansion by the Suel and Baklunish down to that one-eyed tyrant. It's interesting to note that Niole Dra was founded two years before the betrayal of Vecna, so maybe his influence was already waning at the edges of his territory or maybe he just didn't care?

    Not the EGG info you were asking for, just my own opinions!
    GreySage

    Joined: Aug 03, 2001
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    Fri Jan 22, 2021 8:37 am  

    I'm not completely sure what you're asking us to explain, but:

    1. I assume the Suel and Baklunish did have colonies outside of their respective basins. The Suel probably (I'm not basing this on canon, just my own personal preference) had colonies in the Amedio Jungle and "Zindia,", and the Baklunish Empire at one point likely included at least parts of Bissel and Blackmoor. Both empires expanded to other worlds and planes. Both traded with their neighbors (including one another).

    2. The Flan were (again, not basing this on canon) decimated by disease and internal conflict at the time of the Great Migrations.
    Journeyman Greytalker

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    Fri Jan 22, 2021 11:45 am  

    Joseph Bloch on the Greyhawk Grognard blog has very recently been detailing the Zihindia lands to the southwest of the Suel Empire, which he takes to have been colonized/subjugated to such an extent that many Suloise deities have been incorporated into the Zihinidan pantheon. This is a tremendously interesting take, IMO, and it suggests that Suloise attention may have been focused to the West as well as the Baklunish North.

    SirXaris' comments on the Occluded Empire of Vecna are good ones for explaining a lack of western encroachment.

    IMC, the Occluded Empire of Vecna, for most of its history, lacked any of the infrastructure, capitals, currency, or other trappings of a normal kingdom. I think of it more of an idea virus, like QAnon, except with the power of a secret lich-lord always waiting behind the scenes to destroy any who defy him.

    I like to think of this as Vecna learning his own lesson: the power of a secret becomes nothing when it is known.

    What that would have meant for the "citizens" is that they have supposedly independent city-states, governments, etc. that were left alone most of the time. But if anyone defied the will of the Whispered One, they'd be instantly destroyed. Now and then, for some purpose, Vecna might raise up an army of undead or such, but once the purpose was fulfilled, all would crumble away and be destroyed without a trace. So most of the Sheldomar Valley would be terrified little islands of humanity, supposedly governed by local warlords or something, but actually everyone knowing they were in thrall to this horrible being who could destroy them whenever he wishes. And the elves of Celene and the Vale of Luna well aware of who was actually pulling the strings but not daring to provoke war (not most of the time).

    This is how I imagine things went for about 900 years until the (relatively late) date where Vecna ascends the Spidered Throne (as detailed on the back of WGR4, I think). This is when Vecna comes out into the open as a undead tyrant ruler and within just a few years Kas has betrayed him and the whole empire breaks apart.

    I like to think of this as Vecna learning his own lesson: the power of a secret becomes nothing when the secret becomes known.
    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Fri Jan 22, 2021 1:13 pm  

    My take on this is that, historically, empires normally stop expanding due to issues with either manpower or politics. Normally both. Or they stop expanding in one particular direction because there are richer or easier pickings elsewhere.

    So, much like the Roman Empire drawing up its border on the Rhine, I would suggest that the mountain ranges provided a useful & defensible border. A permanent military presence beyond them would have stretched manpower in a way that would have made their empires vulnerable to attack from one (or possible all) of their aggressive neighbours; so they settled on just sending traders or punitive expeditions across the border, as the Romans did in Germania (Varrus having proved to his Emperor, in the most catastrophic way possible, the folly of doing otherwise).

    The mass migrations from the Empires were exactly that, a movement en masse. So the overstretch concerns of the Empire were not relevant. Everyone was just getting the hell out of Dodge, taking their families & their entire kit & kaboodle with them.
    Adept Greytalker

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    Fri Jan 22, 2021 6:23 pm  

    Gygax notes that a line of powerful kings lost the Axe of the Dwarvish Lords in the Invoked Devastation. Maybe the dwarves of the Yatils and Barrier Peaks harried the Baklunish or limited eastern expansion.

    Gygax also gives us:
    *the Old Faith
    *a mountain chain crawling with every giant race and drow. Maybe the giants were more advanced then. Maybe the drow weren't so deep yet.
    *some of the most resilient Flan in the Geoff region, allied or living harmoniously with elves. Something about these folk, alone with the Tenhans, was tough enough to maintain Flan culture into present day.
    *the ancient Kingdom of Celene.
    *the mysterious Valley Elves. Roger Moore traces them back to the Lolth/Corellon war.
    *the Mage of the Vale has only existed for a few decades according to the Folio, but Gygax opted for an older, more powerful entity in the Gord books.
    *the xenophobic grugach.

    In Dragon 241, Roger Moore describes a Suel Imperium preoccupied with riches under the oerth and at odds with dwarves and gnomes. Both demihuman races were enslaved by the Suel and relations were so bad Fortubo revolted against the rest of the Suel pantheon. Rebel wizards known as the Inheritors of the Red Gloom struck at the Imperium from beneath the mountains (49).

    All told, we have a powerful bulwark of obstacles slowing expansion from the Yatils to the Hellfurnaces: artifact-wielding dwarves, giant kingdoms, the surface and subterranean refugees of an elven war (valley, drow, rockseers), Flan druids and hierophants, ur-Flan/Vecna, etc.
    -
    Prewar Suel found easier pickings in the underdark and perhaps Amedio and Zindia.

    Oerdians started pushing east as soon as the Baklunish/Suel feud escalated. They founded Gaxmoor in Bissel and didn't stop moving east until they reached Aquaria (R4). Meanwhile, their Celestian-worshiping priests led colonizers to the planes (On Hallowed Ground) and probably Greyspace (someone had to do it and who better than Celestian?).

    As for the Baklunish, the flight of the Oeridians was probably caused by Baklunish expansion as much as the war, thus Ull was one of their first conquests. After that, they may have been more interested in their "space program" at Tovag Baragu than paltry terrestrial disputes against dwarves and Flan.
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    Fri Jan 22, 2021 8:19 pm  

    Nations don't *always* expand to their potential limits.

    Imperial China and Japan have both had rather long isolationist periods, and China before the 20th century generally had a fairly small sphere of influence given its population and

    It probably depends on whether there are economic motives to expand -- heavily-irrigated rice agriculture may be very different in this sense from say, the US's wheat/corn heavy agriculture.

    It probably also depends on the rulers' motives. If they were magic-focused enough, just claiming lots of land might not really be useful/meaningful to them (ie, not meaningfully increased the power they had available), as long as they had enough to feed their population already.
    Encyclopedia Greyhawkaniac

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    Fri Jan 22, 2021 8:26 pm  

    vestcoat wrote:
    Gygax notes that a line of powerful kings lost the Axe of the Dwarvish Lords in the Invoked Devastation. Maybe the dwarves of the Yatils and Barrier Peaks harried the Baklunish or limited eastern expansion.

    Gygax also gives us:
    *the Old Faith
    *a mountain chain crawling with every giant race and drow. Maybe the giants were more advanced then. Maybe the drow weren't so deep yet.
    *some of the most resilient Flan in the Geoff region, allied or living harmoniously with elves. Something about these folk, alone with the Tenhans, was tough enough to maintain Flan culture into present day.
    *the ancient Kingdom of Celene.
    *the mysterious Valley Elves. Roger Moore traces them back to the Lolth/Corellon war.
    *the Mage of the Vale has only existed for a few decades according to the Folio, but Gygax opted for an older, more powerful entity in the Gord books.
    *the xenophobic grugach.

    In Dragon 241, Roger Moore describes a Suel Imperium preoccupied with riches under the oerth and at odds with dwarves and gnomes. Both demihuman races were enslaved by the Suel and relations were so bad Fortubo revolted against the rest of the Suel pantheon. Rebel wizards known as the Inheritors of the Red Gloom struck at the Imperium from beneath the mountains (49).

    All told, we have a powerful bulwark of obstacles slowing expansion from the Yatils to the Hellfurnaces: artifact-wielding dwarves, giant kingdoms, the surface and subterranean refugees of an elven war (valley, drow, rockseers), Flan druids and hierophants, ur-Flan/Vecna, etc.
    -
    Prewar Suel found easier pickings in the underdark and perhaps Amedio and Zindia.

    Oerdians started pushing east as soon as the Baklunish/Suel feud escalated. They founded Gaxmoor in Bissel and didn't stop moving east until they reached Aquaria (R4). Meanwhile, their Celestian-worshiping priests led colonizers to the planes (On Hallowed Ground) and probably Greyspace (someone had to do it and who better than Celestian?).

    As for the Baklunish, the flight of the Oeridians was probably caused by Baklunish expansion as much as the war, thus Ull was one of their first conquests. After that, they may have been more interested in their "space program" at Tovag Baragu than paltry terrestrial disputes against dwarves and Flan.


    I have the ancient flanaess home to both strong dwarven and elven kkingdoms and the various humans labled 'flan' as their inheritors. Both the rising powers of the Bakunish and Suel had gotten their noses smacked in the past and were overly cautious in the way that the golden horde kept the russians from expanding across the urals for long years past their glory days.

    in my campaign the Oeridians are western allies of the bakluni but are being hammered by the suhfang empire. The Bakluni boat the Oeridian tribes from the far west to the ports near Ull and give the Oeridians the flanaess as a new homeland. This expansion is one of the causes of the twin cataclysms. The Oeridians find no dwarven kingdoms and the elves are dispersed and withdrawn people. The Flan are disparate tribes and cultures and the Oeridians defeat them in detail.
    Journeyman Greytalker

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    Sat Jan 23, 2021 9:18 am  

    Everyone is probably aware but the recent Great Western Gate thread is quite germane to this discussion.
    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Sat Jan 23, 2021 10:32 am  

    I would expect the three western powers kept each other pretty fully occupied. If any of them started pushing east, the other two would have taken advantage 'back home' in the west. It wasn't until the power of the Suel and Bakluni were shattered that a movement to the east became possible. After the Twin Cataclysms none of them had the capability to seriously interfere with the remnants of the others.
    Adept Greytalker

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    Sun Jan 24, 2021 12:30 pm  

    I like Vestcoat's, Vlucan's and WingOfCoot's explanations about why the empires didn't grow into the Flanaess proper, and I'd add that the Yatils and Crystalmists provided formidable natural barriers.

    If you look at the latitude map in the 1983 boxed set, you'll see that the part of the Suel Imperium on the Darlene map is actually only a small northeast corner of the Imperium. It might have a tremendous landmass across the entire basin, and the imperial part consists of one Suel house conquering all of the others and making themselves emperors rather than kings. Add to the fact that the Suel and Baklunish empires kept one another in check, their interest in pursuits other than just expansion and any socio-cultural checks that might have prevented expansion like medieval China, and there you go.

    Given how the Flan were able to create their own powerful nations before the Great Migrations, and had some very impressive magic-users in their own right (Tostenhca, Caerdiralor, Sulm, etc.) as well as the powerful gray elven kingdoms (e.g. the City of Summer Stars), they would have likely been able to put up a stiff resistance to any Baklunish or Suel expansion into the Flanaess.

    I attributed the Flan being overtaken in the Migrations in part due to their weakened position from the actions of evil mages like Vecna, Tzunk and Keraptis, and other forces like the draconic overlords in what became North Province. and partly due to a long series of betrayals at the hands of both the Oeridians and the Suel. If they weren't in a weakened position (which came from bad luck rather than any cultural or ethnic traits) they might have been able to make the Oeridians and Suel stick to their agreements and treaties.

    Things turned out better in a few places, most notably Veluna and Geoff, but for the most part it resulted in the Flan being pushed to the margins of society and targeted for racism both subtle and overt, even in many of the more good-aligned lands to this day.
    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Wed Jan 27, 2021 6:27 pm  

    Western Oerik is chockablock full of warring nations, per Chainmail.
    Clearly the Suel and Baklunish had enough on their hands dominating the centre of Oerik, before blasting it to sand.
    I read the lack of serious expansion into the Flanaess prior to the Twin Cataclysms as a bit like the Ancient Greeks or Sumerians not "simply" taking over western Europe. Why would they?
    Gygax deliberately set up the Flanaess as a focus of migration of races that all intrmixed etc, in the same way as the great barbatian migrations affected western Europe, and the collapse of the Roman Empire. Providing back story for .... Greyhawk.
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