The Fall of Nerath
The world you live in is predominantly chaos. Nowhere known has a particularly large central government. The largest kingdom known in these parts can be crossed in three days on a fast horse. The last great Empire, Nerath, has fallen.
It’s been more than a century since that empire fell. The ruling family was human. It spanned much of the world, bound by such magical wonders as could send representatives wherever they needed, could gather information to keep tabs on everywhere and everyone at once. But it is now gone. It grew beyond its own ability to self-govern. The humans tended to oppress other races, a problem that has come up in just about every empire that was based on one race. The governors given dominion over specific locations grew corrupt with age and power. The forces of chaos, random monsters like goblins and orcs that thrive in today’s world, were driven underground and scattered, without leaders, and cowed into submission. Unfortunately, this left the noble races free to turn on each other in wars over religion or the rights to natural resources, wars the arrogant leading government allowed (some even claim fostered) as it kept them from turning on the central power.
There are many different stories of what dealt Nerath’s final blow. Some say it was a hidden cult that summoned a demon in the main city. Some say it was the machinations of Tiamat. Others claim it was the masterpiece of one of the Dukes of Hell. Whatever did happen, the imperial city was reduced to ash in the course of a week-long fire, and the back of the empire was broken. With no one to force obedience, the various countries and kingdoms turned on each other in a panic. Knowledge and technology were lost, trade routes once safe as your own backyard were given back to the chaotic forces of ogres and giants, and the blazing bonfire of civilization has been reduced to points of light separated by vast tracts of darkness. Most people in any one spot are aware at most of the nearest six or seven other petty kingdoms that could conceivably be reached. Any maps further than that are out-of-date. It is a dark age for the world, a time when heroes are needed to beat back the darkness and allow the light room and time to grow a new civilization.
Many records are lost, and few dates are accurate before the Fall of Nerath, but by all accounts the empire thrived for between five and ten centuries. Before that was another long period of darkness; no one has any clue how long that period stretched. And before that, of course, everyone knows, was the time of the dual empires of Arkhosia and Bael Turath…