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RPG Superstar 2015

The Grand Duchy of Draeth


Round 2 - Top 32: Design a Country

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 aka Sheyd

The Grand Duchy of Draeth
“The dark lands”

Alignment: NE

Capital: Indraa’chal (pop. 95,500)

Notable Settlements: Dargols Gate (pop. 10,800); Shroudwaet (pop. 9,900); Fel Varaht (pop. 8,000); Iscereth (pop. 10,500); Baathos (pop. 8,700).

Ruler: Grand Duchess Jexeria C’brion, Defender of the Six Spires, Matriarch of Indraa’chal.

Government: Hereditary rule through the familial line of House C’brion with an advisory council of lords composed of representatives from the five noble houses.

Description: Situated along the eastern shores of the storm-tossed Sea of Bhirta, the Grand Duchy of Draeth stretches eastward to the forested slopes of the Vornaukk Highlands, northward to the ruin-riddled wildlands of the Dwimauth and southward through the fertile plains of Vingel to the swamp-bound Woodcairn Forest. The population is predominately (85%) human. There is a sizable number (10%) of hobgoblins that call Draeth home. The remaining percentage is a mixture of demi-human families and a small number of orcs.

Founded one thousand years ago by the expanding High Kingdom of Brython, Draeth spent nearly a quarter of every year cut off from the rest of the kingdom due to the winter snows that blocked the passes through the Vornaukk. This annual separation, plus the distance from the heartland of the kingdom made the price of fealty to the king seem steep and unwarranted. This dissatisfaction festered in the hearts of the ducal families until Duchess Pilar C’brion, a powerful wizard, decided to break from Brython. She entered into a pact with Indu’hroth, a half-dragon Balor with the goal of infusing her offspring with great power. The result of this pact entwined the C’brion bloodline with the Abyss for all time. Her first-born, Valeria, blest or cursed with both bloodlines served as the instigator of the break between Draeth and Brython. Hiding her daughter’s vile nature from everyone, Pilar wove a dark plan to make a strike at the heart of the monarchy. When her daughter came of age Pilar abdicated her ducal seat in favor of Valeria. On the day of entitlement Valeria went before the king to swear her oath of fealty but instead drove her claws into the king’s heart. If not for the timely intervention of the Church Templars, Valeria would have succeeded in eliminating the royal line. This treacherous act started the enmity between the two nations and four hundred years of war has done little to change it.

Today the Grand Duchy of Draeth is seen as a cruel and dark domain stretching out its clawed hands grasping at all it desires and above all it desires power. The noble houses are rife with practitioners of dark magicks, be it pact-minded wizards seeking to sell souls to gain an edge on rivals, sorcerers with the spark of magic flowing in their fiend-tainted blood or clerics calling to demon lords or arch devils. The cities and keeps serve as hubs of manufacturing for the rural communities. While every village may have a blacksmith, cordwainer and other essential types of trade workers, the majority of goods are manufactured in the urban centers. This fact creates an odd schism in the country. As long as the flow of resources to the keeps and cities is not interrupted, the nobles and their servitors pay little attention to the peasantry. Should the flow falter however, the reaction is often swift and always brutal.

The worship of true gods is forbidden within the boundaries of Draeth, but in mockery of the Radiant Temple in Brython there are the Nine Peers, Nine powerful Demon Lords and Arch-Devils who have provided significant aid to the Grand Duchy in the past. These Abyssal powers have open cults within the borders of Draeth and their worship is permitted.

DM Secrets: The armies of Draeth have been a bane to the Vornaukk highlanders for many years but recently the Vornaukk clans have gained support from Brython Margraves and are massing forces to strike into the heart of Draeth. The one thing standing in the way is lack of knowledge of the Draethen heartland.

Unknown to the Draethen aristocracy, Indu’hroth returns every few generations to re-infuse his draconic and demonic blood into the C’brion bloodline. The cost of this renewal is the sacrifice of the current line of male heirs of the house. While Jexeria has no qualms with this stricture, the youngest of her three sons discovered his fate and fled the capital. Jexeria’s personal guard search quietly for the boy, but the time of Indu’hroth’s return is rapidly approaching. Should the boy evade capture the pact that has kept House C’brion strong and in power for nearly four hundred years will fracture.

The ruins of the Dwimauth have always lured the Draethen spellcasters. Dating back to the time of Bhirtur Dominion (a once powerful empire that dominated the region over three thousand years ago) any items brought from the ruins, either by their minions or adventurers, creates a stir. Recently a group of adventurers breached the deep halls beneath Ten Spires, an infamous Bhirtur Ruin, and returned with a king’s ransom in Bhirtur items. Agents of the five Draethen Noble houses have been seeking these adventurers and their items.

The druids of the Woodcairn Forest have always found the farm communities in the fertile Vingel plains to be open to their teachings. While the nobles have always frowned upon this, the druidic traditions do not violate the laws of Draeth and actually keep the peasantry content thus the druids have been ignored. Recently however, this practice has changed. Druids of the Woodcairn have been murdered and several small shrines across the Vingel destroyed. The reason for this change is unknown, but the growing unrest in the region is disrupting harvests. This brewing conflict is the plot of a powerful covey of greenhags who loathe the druidic circle. They hope that by ruining the harvest, the Draethen nobles will destroy the druids or at least persecute the peasantry enough to force the druids into the conflict.

Founder, Legendary Games & Publisher, Necromancer Games, RPG Superstar Judge

Submission checklist:

Submitted on time? Check.
Submission is a "country"? Check.
Submission contains all of the mandatory content as required by the contest rules? Check.
Submission is within the word limit? Check. 992 words.
Submission is free of inappropriate content in violation of the "taboo" guidelines? Check.
Submission does not use content from a source other than those listed above? Check.
Submission does not reference a published campaign setting? Check.
Submission does not include maps or art? Check.
Submission is a suitable setting for roleplaying with the d20 system? Check.
Submission is not a "joke" or otherwise completely fails to meet the minimum requirements of the competition or other contest rules? Check.

Founder, Legendary Games & Publisher, Necromancer Games, RPG Superstar Judge

The "I hate names with apostrophies in them!" crowd will be all over this one...

The Exchange Contributor; Publisher, Kobold Press; RPG Superstar Judge

Clark Peterson wrote:
The "I hate names with apostrophies in them!" crowd will be all over this one...

Count me as the guys carrying pitchfork and torch near the front. It's a pet peeve of mine, because it has become such a cheeseball fantasy cliche. It shows a certain lack of ability with naming.

That aside, the demonic bloodline element here is a cool element. It's buried quite a bit by the writing, which seems unfocused. I'd want a pretty tough edit on this to bring it in line.

The hooks and DM secrets are decent, but for a NE country, it's not all that evil except in the aristocracy/noble houses.

Put me down for a weak recommendation on this one. I think it does the job, but things need to get sharper quickly.

Paizo Employee Publisher, Chief Creative Officer

The names were a real turnoff for me on this one, with or without apostrophes. And there were too many of them. If I'm getting hit with rapid-fire nonsense words and then I get a sentence with three or four of them flying at me at once, that's a good way to throw me off track. Like tossing a rock at a juggler, it's just bad form.

I'm not a giant fan of half-dragons in any capacity, so that aspect of the story didn't really impress me much.

The fact that I'm calling it a story subconsciously suggests that there is too much emphasis on the narrative of what's happened in the country's history and not nearly enough open-ended adventure-generators built into the thing. It reads a bit like the background for a novel rather than something that is to be used in a game.

It is not terrible by any means and I do like the element of the impending return of the devil-dragon and the missing heir and all, but I think I'd rather read that story than play that game. I'm unlikely to be playing the heir himself, so his story by default isn't mine.

I'll come back to this after I've had a chance to think about it some more.

Founder, Legendary Games & Publisher, Necromancer Games, RPG Superstar Judge

Fluff (writing, grammar, style, evocative prose, etc.): B-
A bit stilted and cliché, but not horrible. Evocative in parts but flat in others.

Crunch (basics, rules issues, depth of the setting, details, etc.): C
Very little. A bit of racial information.

Design (choices made, format, naming, originality, theme, balance--ie, is the submission heavy in one part but lacking in another?): C
The Good: No major errors. Used the standard format.
The Bad: The names are a bit lame. There is a theme, but it is a pretty generic evil theme. The back story is overdone.

Play (setting for adventure? campaign? is there conflict? are there play limitations?): B-
The Good: There is adventure and conflict here. You can certainly play a good epic heroic fantasy campaign in this country.
The Bad: There are some limitations for divine casters.

Tilt (my personal take, is it evocative? do I want to play there? does it capture my imagination?): C+
This is a fairly generic fantasy setting, with a dollop of demonic flavor ladled on top.

Overall: C+
A silgithly-better-than-average but mostly generic fantasy setting with some demonic fun.

NOT RECOMMENDED for top 16.


For those keeping track this is my second nation review.

It looks like the author fell into a bit of a trap. Obviously the cool parts are the noble houses. But the author had to write up a country, not a political body. The result is a pretty cool group of evil nobility with a country tacked on. If that premise had been picked up and run with, this would be getting more than lukewarm attention. Perhaps by removing a few sentences from the history, applying that space to the DM secrets, and then writing up a tangled web of alliances and betrayals. That would be something worth coming back to.

And maybe the author had that in mind. Maybe there's 10 pages of intrigue all written up and ready to go. But we're really not seeing it here.

Now then ... I don't like apostrophes in names either gentlemen, but a search-and-replace feature and a quick admonishment to the author is all it would take were this a commissioned manuscript on your desk. And I absolutely promise if you go heavy against the apostrophes you'll just start seeing a bunch of names with umlats or something.

Dö yöü wänt thät?

Rating: Thumb Sideways


The ideas sparking from a neutral evil country are good. However, the druid section at the end seems disconnected from the rest.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 aka Sheyd

So THAT is what those two dots over a letter is called! Learn something new every day... well two things; Never use apostrophes in place or house names ever again and what an Umlat is. :)

I would like to thank the judges for their critiques. Reading anywhere from 30,000 to 32,000 words written on 32 different unconnected countries in two days was not an easy task and I appreciate their efforts. I hope that the flaws in my submission will not keep the community from voting Draeth into the top 16.

Scarab Sages

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

While I hate apostrophes and half-dragons, I do like the background evil of this country.

Good luck with this one...one of the few 'European-type' realms submitted.

Dark Archive RPG Superstar 2008 Top 4, Contributor

I love it.

While I noticed, like most of the other readers, a certian lack of detailed "country-side" in this country, it was the Houses that sold me. Hell, the DMG has plenty of information about little one-horse villages poulated by "Jon the Farmer" and "Jon, the Farmer's Son".

It does not, however contain as much awesome, complex, internicine war between demon-aligned Nobles as this does.

Scarab Sages

I really like the disconnect with their parent kingdom, a heavy snowfall each year that makes travel impossible. I love the political ramifications from that. Then I get to the part where the solution is obviously to sleep with a demon-dragon and become evil.

Huh? Then the train comes off the tracks for me.

I mean, wasn't there another, easier alternative? I mean, you don't like being oppressed by a nation that demands a lot of you in exchange for distant, seasonal asistance. Okay, fine, but you think a demon lord is the answer? Likewise ripping the guts out of the king on the day you're supposed to pledge fielty seems like a good way to start a 400 year long war--which it did. Even if it had worked. I'd imagine a bit more nuance to the plan, but then she slept with a demon half-dragon to end her political woes...so yeah.

I like that the prince has run away. I don't like that a demon lord family can't find the brat. Isn't that what discern location and scrying are for? Likewise I don't know that the demon would automatically break what's been the best deal of it's entire existance over a trifle like finding the little runt and handling him demon-style.

Not a terrible backstory, but it does raise a lot of concerns that it doesn't seem to really answer very well.


Gets a "meh" from me. I hear "grand duchy" and I instantly think of BECMI's Karameikos. In fact, I was excited about this one, because I instantly thought of a throwback to BECMI and a bit of nostalgia.

But, nope. Just some hobgoblins, apostrophe names (boo!) and some dark stuff. I personally felt there was too much focus on GM Secrets, as well.

Sorry.


Didn't really interest me, feels like generic evilish country which might serve as a setting for nice adventures but generally did not particularly interest me.

And that storm of names in first couple of sentences was really off-putting.


If my vote goes for this, I demand your next entry use a dieresis, a tilde, and just possibly, a macron in the villain's name.

I bet the coding would give Gary a tic.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16 , Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014, Star Voter 2015 aka Darkjoy

The story is entertaining, but where is your country?

Not voting for this one.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Fiendish Draconic nobles. This entry has some interesting ideas and potential as a villain country – I’m not sure that they’re presented in the best possible way however; it didn’t quite grab me.

I don’t hate the names; they’re better than a lot I’ve seen in this comp so far. Even the apostrophe name doesn’t kill me – yes, they’ve been over-done, but they can have their place and I don’t think the author has gone overboard here.

I thought this was a good use of the DM’s secrets section, some good adventure hooks in there. Still, I’m not sure if this entry excites me enough to get my vote.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 aka Sheyd

mwbeeler wrote:

If my vote goes for this, I demand your next entry use a dieresis, a tilde, and just possibly, a macron in the villain's name.

I bet the coding would give Gary a tic.

Well that's a distinct possibility on one condition... What IS a Dieresis and a Macron? I think I know what a tilde is but then again since I just learned that those two dots over a letter is an Umlat I hesitate to say my knowledge (tilde) check as successful. :)

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 aka Sheyd

Mothman wrote:

Fiendish Draconic nobles. This entry has some interesting ideas and potential as a villain country – I’m not sure that they’re presented in the best possible way however; it didn’t quite grab me.

I don’t hate the names; they’re better than a lot I’ve seen in this comp so far. Even the apostrophe name doesn’t kill me – yes, they’ve been over-done, but they can have their place and I don’t think the author has gone overboard here.

I thought this was a good use of the DM’s secrets section, some good adventure hooks in there. Still, I’m not sure if this entry excites me enough to get my vote.

Yay! Someone didn't completely hate my apostrophe use! (Who knew they would raise such ardor? If I'd known I'd not even used them in contractions! Honest!)

The name Mothman, I actually live not too far from where the Mothman sightings took place... Yes that has nothing to do with anything but still, an odd point that stuck me.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Sheyd wrote:


Yay! Someone didn't completely hate my apostrophe use! (Who knew they would raise such ardor? If I'd known I'd not even used them in contractions! Honest!)

The name Mothman, I actually live not too far from where the Mothman sightings took place... Yes that has nothing to do with anything but still, an odd point that stuck me.

Just quietly ... I've been known to use an apostrophe or two myself. Shhh, don't tell anyone.

Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2008 Top 4; Contributor; Publisher, Legendary Games

Given the reaction I probably shouldn't go pointing out that there was one apostrophe in a name (well, a title really) in my entry.

Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2013 , Dedicated Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014, Star Voter 2015 aka Steven T. Helt

I sort of reject the idea that you could have a half-dragon balor. I know the srd says any living corporeal creature. But a balor is a demon who has been re-engineered by the plane over and over until its power reaches its current status. Even if you could have a half-dragon chasme, it wouldn't be a half-dragon anymore when it became a balor.

I think a half-fiend dragon makes more sense and is just as exciting.

Funny thing: I have dreams of playing an evil character one day whose people have a similar background: his ancestors made a deal with a devil, and so now each of their sons of future generations are badass chosen warriors with devilish bloodlines, destined to go to hell from birth, and commissioned to fight and war their whole lives to refine themselves for the blood war. So you have some similar ideas that I like, but I feel they are not represented well after =being mentioned, or maybe even abandoned altogether.

The place isn't evil, just the rulers. If you promise me a NE country, I want to hear about the cruelty and selfishness of its people. In your entry, the closest thing we have is a brief mention of tolerated cults.
Maybe you were skittish to cross the line, but again: if you offer me an evil people, I want creepy satisfaction. That low emotion will also get my juices running to run an evil campaign, or to send heroes out to reclaim the lost kingdom as soon as spring thaws the passes.

Again - I am making the adventure out of someone else's history lesson. The entrants getting my votes are more exciting than that.

Marathon Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014, Dedicated Voter 2015

Sheyd wrote:

The Grand Duchy of Draeth

I'm on record as hating apostrophes as the lazy attempt at sounding exotic or alien with names. Long been a problem for me. I've put down fantasy novels in bookstores for no other reason than a back cover revealing a name with an apostrophe.

Anyway, I pushed past that and read the whole entry! I actually like a lot of the ideas semi-buried in it. Unlike most, I like the narrative style, though it's a tiny bit too much history for me. It's a bit generic fantasy, but with some real spark deep inside. I think with another week or two of a few more drafts and it might be there.

Low maybe.

Marathon Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014, Dedicated Voter 2015

Squeaks in with my "wildcard vote for the underdog with some hidden promise".


I found the writing a bit dense. I like the basic idea of the demonic connection. I'm not sure exactly why, but the country doesn't grab my attention.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 6 aka adanedhel9

On apostrophes: I think they (and other odd symbols and goofy spellings) do have a place in names. But they need to be used sparingly and carefully. To me, at least, you didn't quite hit the right balance with them here. C’brion? How am I supposed to pronounce that?

You've got a strong concept here. An evil nation led by the offspring of a demon? This is a great start.

But you spend too much time talking about the irrelavent history. More about the here and now would help create a place for adventures. And did you have to make the demon a half-dragon? I don't have anything against half-dragons, nor do I have ancientsensei's reservations. I just think it's a distraction from your theme.

[amateur linguist]

A macron is a straight line over a vowel, like ā. (Well, not like that. Apparently the Paizo boards don't like macrons.) It's typically used to mark the vowel as long.

A dieresis is the same symbol as an umlaut, but it has a different meaning. Umlauts change the pronounciation of the vowel. Diereses say "pronounce me!", as in "naïve".

[/amateur linguist]

Grand Lodge Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014, Star Voter 2015

First sentence: Bah. I'm going to need a lot more than "Oo they're so eeevil."

The names are very much generic fantasy and the first one I saw had an apostrophe in it. This is not a good sign. For what they are, though, they read smoothly. The personal names of the royal house have a good consistent theme.

It's not well written.

Separation from the parent kingdom due to yearly isolation is a good realistic starting point. The rulers' pact is well described.

The first Grand Duchess seems to have sent her new demon-child that cost her so dearly on a suicide mission. Impressive, but strategically unsound.

The entry uses the word "cordwainer". This is very favourable.

I like the opposition of the Nine Peers to the true gods. Religion generally is a strong point of this entry.

DM's Secrets: The fugitive prince, the Dwimauth ruins and the druidic situation are all highly useful developments.

There's a lot to like in this entry, but it's too cliched and the standard of writing kills it.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 aka Sheyd

adanedhel9 wrote:

[amateur linguist]

A macron is a straight line over a vowel, like ā. (Well, not like that. Apparently the Paizo boards don't like macrons.) It's typically used to mark the vowel as long.

A dieresis is the same symbol as an umlaut, but it has a different meaning. Umlauts change the pronounciation of the vowel. Diereses say "pronounce me!", as in "naïve".

[/amateur linguist]

Thank you! I learn something new every day! Normally I'd say I'll dance at your wedding (old saying my mother uses upon occasion as a 'thank you') but since You may have already HAD a wedding and my time machine's in the shop so I'll just have to say 'thank you' again with diereses over all the letters! :)

As a side note, thank you all for your input and comments. If you can find it in your hearts to vote for me I'll not disappoint you.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Modules Subscriber

Place your votes.


Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber

This seems to be a kinda generic "evil country". Which is fine, but not top 5; I'm just not "wowed" by it.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 16 aka amusingsn

I like the flavor here, there's no doubt about that.


There's little that I specifically dislike about this one. I wish you'd done more with the isolation from the main kingdom, especially in a present-day sense.

I'm not a big fan of half-dragons; my taste even uses half-fiends sparingly. Despite that, I loved the pact, the prince fleeing his fate, etc. It would have been helpful to have an organization noted as helping (or at least rumored to be helping) the prince, or some other tie-in to get PCs involved in the action.

I think a lot of entries are missing a bit about everyday life in the kingdom, like trade, humanoid relations, strife with neighbors, intrigue, etc. What's a low-level PC to do here? The druids were a nice touch, but some more adventure hooks would be nice for those not yet ready to take on demons or government.

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