Geography of the Phoenix Empire
Scale: From the most north-western point of Hunbao to the furthest and most south-eastern point of Goyun, the Phoenix Empire spans somewhere between 1,100 and 1,200 miles. By way of real-world reference, this is approximately equal to the distance from Brest, in western France, to the eastern border of Slovakia; or from Cleveland, Ohio, on the southern shore of Lake Erie, to the southern tip of Florida.
At its greatest extent, the Jaoshen Phoenix Empire comprised nine provinces, stretching from the Purple Mountains in the east to the Gleaming Gulf in the west, bounded by the Sea of Nine Great Winds in the south and the Thunderhead and the Desert of Sighs in the north. One entire province, now colloquially called the Lost Province, fell to internal strife and the depredations of monsters and invaders during the Succession Crisis; other provinces flouted Imperial authority during the Regency, and even now resist being brought entirely to heel. The original Imperial bureaucracy reserved to the Phoenix Throne and its agents the power to appoint, inspect, and dismiss provincial governors, but the Succession Crisis and Regency heralded the rise of a feudal system, with many governors rejecting the Regent's authority over their positions and instead naming their own successors from within their families. The Restoration offers hope to staunch Imperial traditionalists, but it remains to be seen whether the newly-crowned Phoenix Empress Su-Minh will be able to marshal the will and political clout to oppose these entrenched provincial dynasties.
The people of any given province are referred to by appending min to the name of the province; for example, the people of Danjao are the Danjaomin. What constitutes "people" in this context depends upon the speaker; tax-paying citizens and those born within a province are the two most typical meanings. Similarly, when it is necessary to refer to all the people of the Phoenix Empire, the word Jaoshenmin is used.
Danjao (Imperial Province)
Land Where the Phoenix is Enthroned
Danjao is the heart of the Empire, its well-tended fields and orchards spreading out in a colourful patchwork from the banks of the Petal River and dotted here and there by orderly towns, all under the watchful eye of Imperial bureaucrats and soldiers and enraptured by the majesty of Jaoling, the Imperial City. The lands of the Imperial Province are safe and bountiful; its villages are handsome and well-patrolled; its people are virtuous, content, and loyal to the Phoenix Throne. Foreigners (and to certain, insufferably snobbish Danjaomin, everyone not of Danjao is a foreigner) may find close-ordered Danjao's regimentation and traditions stifling, and the unfaltering politeness of its people laced with insincere smiles and innuendo. On the other hand, Danjao is the colourful and cosmopolitan crossroads of the Empire, where a traveller can enjoy a little of what every province has to offer in comfort and safety.
Danjao remained loyal to the Phoenix Throne throughout the Succession Crisis and the Regency, and has welcomed the Restoration and the coronation of Phoenix Empress Su-Minh with great pomp and jubilation. Many prominent local nobles belong to the extended Fenghwa family and are staunch supporters of the Phoenix Dynasty.
Jangwu (River Province)
Land Astride the Gleaming Ribbon
From its headwaters in the Ti Shan Mountains, the Gilt River flows through the eastern Empire in a gently glittering arc. Upon its banks are gathered the villages and fields of Jangwu, the River Province. Next to the glittering grandeur and bustle of the neighbouring Imperial Province, Jangwu may seem a quiet land of humble people; but it is the River Province that produces so much of the grain and goods which sustain the Empire, and its people take pride in their toil. Trade along the Gilt River has made many Jangwumin quite wealthy, but even these rich merchants tend to comport themselves humbly, without the cadres of fawning servants and the gaudy clothes and jewels that so often signify wealth elsewhere in the Empire.
Politically, Jangwu is a land divided. West of the Gilt River, loyalist sentiments hold sway, and a branch of the Fengwha family loudly proclaims its support for the Phoenix Empress. The lands east of the Gilt River, further removed from Imperial influence, are the domain of the Seouyang family and its vassals, who regard the Restoration with rather less enthusiasm.
Quinshen (Forest Province)
Land of the Host Bowed in Contemplation
A vast, primeval forest stretching from the slopes of the Ti Shan Mountains almost to the coast of the Sea of Nine Great Winds, Quinshen is home to the greatest population of elves in the Empire, most of whom live in seclusion deep within the woods, far from outside concerns and the handful of Imperial highways that cleave through the Forest Province. While some outsiders admire the forest's stark beauty and serenity, many others find it to be a dark and sinister place, and few caravans making their way through Quinshen tarry without pressing need. Logging and hunting takes place along the outskirts of the forest, in accordance with ancient treaties negotiated between early Phoenix Emperors and elven nobles; those who flaunt these agreements, or press too deep into the woods, generally meet grisly ends.
The elves of Quinshen remain broadly loyal to the Phoenix Throne so long as the old treaties remain in force, no matter how strongly the scattered settlements along the forest's edge might desire to exploit the forest's potential more thoroughly. The Song-Linh family traces its roots to the intermarriage of aristocratic elven bloodlines and human noble houses, and counts elves, half-elves, and humans among its members.
Tishan (Mountain Province)
Land of Delving and Striving
If the Petal River basin of the Imperial Province is the heart of the Empire, then the Ti Shan Mountains are its backbone, a land of deep valleys, lonely plateaus, and towering peaks around whose southern foothills the provinces of Danjao, Jangwu, and Quinshen gather. The Mountain Province is a place of harsh beauty and stark contrast; while the deep-delving dwarves bore their mines and carve their halls into the roots of the mountains, ascetics and contemplatives build their monasteries on the upper slopes, seeking enlightenment beneath the gaze of snow-capped peaks. Most of the Empire's major rivers, including the Gilt and the Petal, have their headwaters in the Tishan, and marking the province's eastern border, the heavily fortified Gyao-Lai Pass divides the Ti Shan Mountains from the Thunderhead and permits passage between the forests of Quinshen and the borderlands of Shuyan.
Both the dwarves and monks of Tishan tend to remain largely neutral in political matters, proclaiming loyalty to the Empire and the Phoenix Throne rather than to any individual Emperor, family, or faction. The dominant noble house of the Mountain Province, the Gyakkho family, actively and avidly supports the Restoration.
Hunbao (Lake Province)
Land of Mists and Plenty
Countless streams and endless rains pour forth from the Thunderhead into Hunbao, a land of lakes and rivers cloaked in mist, fog, and cloud. Much effort has been spent taming the Lake Province, and its once-vast tracts of marshland have given way to carefully maintained paddies and plantations. This labour has turned Hunbao from a sparsely inhabited hinterland into one of the Empire's most productive provinces, and rice grown here graces tables as far afield as Jangwu and Shuyan. Adding to Hunbao's wealth are the opportunities for trade with the Thousand Scale Kingdoms, across the waters of the Gleaming Gulf. Despite this, many of the people of the Lake Province endure gruelling toil and live in abject poverty, and large swathes of undeveloped and trackless wilderness remain. Outsiders have often remarked that Hunbao's damp and gloomy climate has produced a cheerless, suspicious, and superstitious people.
Hunbao's governor at the time of the Succession Crisis was one of the first nobles to reject the Regent's authority and found his own dynasty, which endures to this day. The Daeyong family shows no inclination to surrender its influence here, cordially acknowledging the Phoenix Empress but rejecting the mandates of the Restoration.
Daosei (Island Province)
Land That Beholds the Shining Seas
The Island Province encompasses fully half of the Empire's oceanic coastline and the greater share of its islands, enduring the hardships and enjoying the bounty of the Sea of Nine Great Winds. Daosei's waters are bountiful with fish, seaweed, and pearls, and the islands themselves are home to exotic plants and animals unknown elsewhere in the Empire, but exploration and trade are its greatest source of wealth. All manner of unusual wares make their way into the Empire's markets through Daosei's ports, and the Island Province is home to the greatest number – and variety – of foreigners anywhere in the Empire, who bring with them strange customs, strange languages, and stranger gods. While the Daoseimin have grown accustomed to so many foreigners and their oddities, citizens of other provinces are not so inured and have likened the ports of the Island Province to towns ruled and populated by madmen.
Much of the Island Province now submits to the rule of the Angkyara family, who have come to count raiders and pirates among their vassals, and seem determined to reject the authority of the Phoenix Empress, retaining their stranglehold upon Daosei if not making a bid for outright independence.
Goyun (Highland Province)
Land in Service to Order
Goyun is a solemn land of windswept steppes and grey-sided hills beyond the verdant valley of the River Province, serving as the Empire's bulwark against the Purple Mountains and the distant Land of the Icewalkers. Much of the Highland Province is only sparsely settled; its population is concentrated in the west, close to the safety and bounty of Jangwu, while the eastern marches of the province are dotted with castles, fortified trading posts, and the occasional small village of brave souls. The Goyunmin know the Icewalkers and other foreign barbarians better than any other people of the Empire, and are not so quick to give in to superstitious fear... but they know well, too, how strange Icewalker customs can be, how fickle their moods, how terrible their fury. If the people of Goyun yet fear the Icewalkers, it is a fear born out of familiarity, not ignorance.
Goyun reverted to a feudal system during the Regency, with ambitious warlords fortifying themselves within its castles and squabbling for prestige, power, and control of its scarce resources. It remains to be seen whether the Byeon-Ji family that now rules Goyun intends to submit to the newly-crowned Phoenix Empress, or to defend its claim to the province in open defiance of Imperial power.
Shuyan (Far Province)
Land of Faces Lifted to the Sun
Shuyan lies on the northern side of the Ti Shan Mountains, and forms much of the Empire's northern and eastern border. The Far Province is both hot and dry, by Imperial standards, consisting of expansive grasslands that give way to semi-arid steppes where it borders the Desert of Sighs. Malkapur and the tribes of the Desert of Sighs are both strong influences upon its native population, who, before the coming of the Empire, lived nomadic lives as herders of horses and cattle. Modern Shuyan is roughly divided between those who maintain this way of life, and the Imperial migrants who have established permanent villages and fortresses in many of the province's most fertile and promising territories. The distant threat of invasion, from the deserts tribes of the east or the monster-haunted mountains and wilderness of the west, is the closest thing to a common banner to which both cultures can rally.
Two noble houses have rises to prominence in Shuyan, one from each side of the divide between nomadic and settled peoples. The Kyeonggao family welcomes the new Phoenix Empress, hoping to turn Imperial attention upon the province and thereby profit, while the Tenghen family stands in opposition to any further encroachment upon the native people of Shuyan, their way of life, and their ancestral lands.
The Lost Province
Nameless Land Fallen From Imperial Grace and Majesty
Once called Muyao, Land Where Many Roads Meet, the Trade Province, this region was settled at the height of Imperial power, as the Phoenix Emperor Lan-Biao sought to open new trade routes into Algolapata and Malkapur. Its distance from the Phoenix Throne and proximity to the monster-haunted mountains of the Thunderhead doomed Muyao during the Succession Crisis. Too remote to receive attention or support from the warring factions, the Trade Province succumbed to neglect and to monstrous incursions, and its surviving population retreated to the relative safety of the Far Province or fled into the depths of Malkapur or the Forest of Chembu. Today, the Lost Province is home only to bandits, monsters, and a scattering of determined frontiersmen and freeholders. No noble family yet lays claim to the Lost Province, and no political faction holds sway here.
Beyond the Empire
A traveller could spend his life walking the length and breadth of the Phoenix Empire and still not see all the Eight Provinces have to offer, but though Jaoshen is vast and full of wonder, it is not the whole of the world; it merely lies at its crossroads. Presented here are a selection of regions neighbouring the Pheonix Empire, and from which foreigners might hail. This is not intended as an exhaustive atlas of the world; lands stranger still lie beyond the horizon, though characters from such utterly foreign places might consider the Stranger in a Strange Land campaign trait.
The Forest of Chembu and Algolapata
North of the Empire lies the Forest of Chembu, a vast woodland stretching from the slopes of the Thunderhead to the savannahs of Malkapur. Frightful monsters make their lairs in the darkest reaches of the forest, but a greater concern to travellers is the coalition of fey creatures, giants, and jungle tribes that gives its allegiance to the mysterious lord Chemboku. Those who seek to traverse the forest, or who make their living along its borders, do so only with Chemboku's permission, swiftly revoked should the woodland lord feel he has been insulted, or his hospitality or generosity taken advantage of. Further still to the north, beyond the Forest of Chembu, are the kingdoms of Algolapata, home to proud, strange, and dark-skinned peoples. Those merchants willing to brave the long and dangerous journey from the Phoenix Empire to these distant lands often return with a fortune in emeralds and Algolapatan gold... or not at all, slain by monsters, bandits, or the offended whims of some foreign prince.
The Gleaming Gulf and the Thousand Scale Kingdoms
The Gleaming Gulf stretches almost 300 miles inland from the main body of the Sea of Nine Great Winds. On its eastern shore lies the Lake Province of the Phoenix Empire; to the west stretch the Thousand Scale Kingdoms, lands ruled by serpentfolk, lizardfolk, and other reptilian creatures. The true extent of the Kingdoms is not known to the scholars of the Phoenix Empire, though it is widely believed that they are not quite the equal of Jaoshen in either territory or population, divided between upwards of thirty separate realms rather than the Empire's eight provinces. While all the Kingdoms have so far declined invitations to join the Empire, those closest at hand are quite receptive to both diplomatic envoys and trading expeditions, exporting jewels, hardwoods, medicines, and narcotics. The common races that make up the majority of the Empire's population are rare in the Thousand Scale Kingdoms, but reptilian races such as kobolds and nagaji are far more numerous there.
The Purple Mountains and the Land of the Icewalkers
The highlands of Goyun are but the foothills of the Purple Mountains that form the south-eastern border of the Empire, a foreboding wall of barren cliffs and storm-shrouded peaks. The mountains themselves are barely inhabited, and give way in the east to high and windswept plateaus where scrawny goats, dull-feathered birds, and bands of rangy orcs eke out a meagre existence. To the south, the land grows steadily colder, snow covering the ground for an ever-greater part of the year until determined travellers arrive at the shores of a frozen ocean. This is the home of the barbarians called Icewalkers by the people of the Empire, a hardy race of hunters and raiders, all too willing to make the long journey to Jaoshen's borders to pluck the tender fruits of the Eight Provinces. At the height of summer, the ice cracks, and the brave captain of a small ship might make his way even further east to barely-known lands, should he have the desire.
Malkapur and the Desert of Sighs
The southern provinces of Malkapur are the Phoenix Empire's closest neighbour, a broad wedge of savannah between the Forest of Chembu and the Lost Province to the west and the Desert of Sighs to the east. The heartlands of Malkapur are distant, and as varied as the provinces and people of the Empire itself, but the common picture of Malkapurans in the minds of the Jaoshenmin is of a dark-haired and copper-skinned race with a talent for archery and a bloated pantheon of colourful and bestial gods. East of Malkapur lies the Desert of Sighs, an arid expanse of shifting sand and wind-scoured rock, but even this hostile land is not uninhabited. Oases support a network of trade routes to far-off ports and markets, for the daring and determined, and various nomadic tribes and creatures unknown elsewhere in the world make their homes here.
Though not so high as the Purple Mountains of the south, the grey peaks of the Thunderhead possess an even more fearsome reputation. Giants, thunderbirds, and tribes of monstrous humanoids make the Thunderhead their home; the last of these expend much energy warring among themselves, but have also been known to descend from their mountain strongholds into the provinces of Hunbao, Quinshen, and Shuyan to loot, slay, and despoil. The Thunderhead draws its name from the black clouds that seem to churn endlessly around the flanks of its highest spires, their ceaseless, ominous rumbling audible for miles around.
The Sea of Nine Great Winds
A great ocean lies to the south of the Phoenix Empire, its near coast stretching west around and beyond the Thousand Scale Kingdoms, and south-east to the frozen Land of the Icewalkers. The Nine Great Winds for which the sea is named are both a blessing and a curse, speeding the Empire's trading fleets to distant ports but also hurling violent storms upon its shores, especially during the summer months. The true extent of the Sea of Nine Great Winds has yet to be explored, and any maps or charts that purport to accurately show the lands more than several hundred miles distant from the Empire should be regarded as educated guesswork at best and outright, outrageous falsehood at worst.