The Near West

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Anshu
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I've never been very interested in the West of Creation; it suffers from being impossibly removed from the rest of the setting, and yet simultaneously impossibly integrated with the rest of the setting. Looking at the map again recently, it also occurred to me that it's strange for the Pole of Water's influence to become so utterly dominant so close the Pole of Earth. It feels like there really ought to be more to the West closer in toward the center, groups of islands that can operate as an analog for the Threshold regions of the other directions. And so I present:
 
The Near West

The Near West, sometimes also called the Western Threshold, is a collective term for the minor islands and archipelagoes that roughly fall along an arc anchored by Fajad in the north and the approximate location of Bluehaven in the south. Indeed, the islands that are known to house Bluehaven somewhere in their waters are sometimes counted the southernmost islands of the Near West.
Last edited by Anshu on Sat Nov 20, 2021 11:42 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Daragni Archipelago

Geography & Resources

Not far north of the great islands that surround Bluehaven lies the Daragni Archipelago, dominated by two large crescent-shaped islands that enclose a sheltered lagoon, the flooded remnants of an enormous ancient volcanic caldera. The larger island, Greater Daragni, rises from the sea in nearly sheer cliffs on its southern face. Over the spine of the mountain ridge, the steepness and ruggedness of Greater Daragni gradually declines as one goes north. Springs in the ridge flow together into a small river that descends over many waterfalls until reaching ground in the foothills. From there the Star River, so called due to the countless tiny white zircons that sparkle from the bed and banks of dark volcanic earth in the right light, flows slow and clear all the way to the sheltered waters of the lagoon, easily navigable by small boat.

Across the lagoon, Lesser Daragni is almost totally flat, having grown up from a coral reef into the gap left by the long-ago shattered crater wall. Although its soil is no more fertile than Greater Daragni’s, its less rugged terrain makes it more suited for mass cultivation, and so more than half of the archipelago’s agriculture is carried out on the Lesser island. The archipelago includes several other islands and atolls poking up from the surrounding reefs, but none large enough to support more than a small village.

The largest settlement in the Daragni Archipelago is Starfall City (though by foreign standards it’s more of a large town), named for its location around the last of the Star River’s waterfalls. It is the capital of the archipelago, home to the Dzaragni family of Dragon-Blooded who give the islands both their rulers and their name. Though not on par with the Houses of the Realm or the Gentes of Lookshy, the Dzaragni bloodline is strong enough to produce at least one Exalt in every generation, always of the Fire Aspect, and Exaltation is considered a prerequisite for the throne. The current queen is no exception, being a Fire Aspect named Dzaragni Harimad.

As might be expected of an island-dwelling people, the Daragnians are master boat-builders, and make extensive (though not exclusive) use of the mastwood tree in their vessels. For everyday use they favor outrigger canoes, with double canoes for heavy-duty work. Large catamarans and trimarans are used almost exclusively for long-distance travel and warfare against the Lintha. Sails are made from the leaves of the pandan tree, which are also used for other relatively hardy textile crafts, like mats and baskets; however, items like ropes, cords, and the majority of clothes are made from the fibers of the abacá tree, which are soft, fine, and even stronger than silk.

The three staples of Daragnian cuisine are rice, fish, and chicken eggs, with various peppers as the primary vegetable. Bananas, breadfruit, and citrus are also fairly common, but chicken meat is considered an occasional luxury for most. Pandan leaves not needed for sailmaking are used to provide a vanilla-like flavoring, alongside several types of ginger, some of which are also used medicinally. The nuts of the mastwood tree are toxic, but yield oil that also has medicinal uses, while candlenuts (from the tree of the same name) can be cooked to make them edible, skewered for use as torches, or crushed to extract lamp oil.

In terms of mineral resources, Daragni doesn’t have much to offer. The mountain ridge yields enough copper and iron to meet the locals’ practical needs, and a small amount of gold and silver, which is used along with semi-precious stones made from the corals that form the archipelago’s reefs and islands in high-status jewelry and adornments. The zircons lining the banks of the Star River (and, indeed, scattered throughout the soil of Greater Daragna), while plentiful beyond count, are nevertheless too small to be of value as gemstones, and have no other known uses.
The Strange Daragnian Fire Dragons wrote: There is some question among Realm sages whether the blood of Hesiesh is the only blood the Dzaragni bear. Despite the regularity with which they produce Exalted, they almost totally lack aspect markings, and their animas have an unusual appearance. Unlike the swirling flames of most Fire Aspects, the anima of a Dzaragni scion first shows in the eyes, which glow like molten gold, and as they use more Essence, the rest of their body begins to glow and shed heat like hot metal.
Last edited by Anshu on Sat Jan 29, 2022 6:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Soured Friendship & Ancient Hatred

The Archipelago’s proximity to the Lintha home port makes it of some interest to the Realm, but the potentially tainted nature of its ruling family’s blood keep them at arm’s length; while nominally a satrapy under House Peleps, the islands are functionally independent, and until recently, the only tribute Peleps required was that the Daragnians maintain and stock a few docks and a supply depot for the use of their vessels on their way further west. However, with the loss of the merchant fleet to House V’neef and the Realm teetering on the brink, Peleps has become much more demanding: now the Great House squeezes the archipelago for artwork, jewelry, and foodstuffs it can sell as exotica in the Realm.

Of course, proximity to Bluehaven makes the archipelago of interest to the Lintha as well, and the demon pirates have for centuries desired to bring the Daragnians under their loose dominion. Over the generations, they have made numerous attempts to conquer the Daragni Archipelago, but each time they have broken against the combination of Daragnian terrain, technology, and valor.

While one might assume from tales of Bluehaven’s reefs and sargassos that the Lintha would not find similar obstacles challenging, the truth is that they have had centuries to carefully map routes through their home waters, and they know much less about the Daragnian reefs. Without that detailed knowledge, they risk straying into unexpected shallows and doing serious damage both to their ships and the worms that tow them – and even once through the reefs, the sheer slopes of Greater Daragni’s south-facing mountain ridge prevent landings from that direction, forcing invaders to circle around toward Lesser Daragni and the entrances to the central lagoon.

While the terrain forces major Lintha assaults to approach at low speeds and along predictable courses, the Daragnian war catamarans and trimarans are shallow-draughted enough to sail or row over all but the shallowest waters, allowing them to attack invading Lintha swiftly from any direction, and retreat along routes where pursuit is impossible. The Lintha’s raiding attacks have tended to be more successful, as groups of small boats can more swiftly and easily navigate the reefs and carry out wide-ranging raids on the many villages and homesteads scattered around the archipelago’s petty islands, striking and retreating with their ill-gotten gains before the Daragnians can muster a coordinated defense.

The generations-long conflict has engendered an intense hatred for the Lintha among the Daragnians, who refer to their enemy simply as “Southerners” or “the South”, but also a sense of pride in their people’s accomplishments, surviving and winning against a terrible foe, and they can be very welcoming to outsiders who they do not perceive as bearing any Southern taint. Even those Daragnians who most resent House Peleps and the Realm’s heavy-handedness know they are the lesser evil compared to the Lintha.
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Treasures, Locations, & Inhabitants

The Dzaragni family owns two treasures of note. One, the Iron Crown, is always worn by the ruling monarch; but the other, the Blue Sword, might be carried by another of the family’s scions or kept reverently in the royal armory, for in some generations the blade finds no-one it considers worthy.

The Iron Crown is a simple circlet made, as its name implies, of polished iron. It serves as an artificial hearthstone for the geomantic energies channeled by the layout of Starfall City, which enhance the sturdiness of the city’s stone buildings, provide the Daragnian monarchs with improved Essence respiration, and heighten their awareness of imminent violence and Lintha attack.
Starfall City and the Iron Crown (Earth-Aspected Manse ♦♦♦) wrote:The Iron Crown provides benefits to its wearer as though it were a socketed two-dot Hearthstone, though it cannot actually be plugged into an artifact. When someone rolls or would roll Join Battle within the city, the wearer may reflexively make an Perception + Awareness roll against Difficulty 3 to sense the imminent violence, gaining enough information to direct watchmen or troops to the scene. Attacks by the Lintha taking place anywhere in the Archipelago trigger the same roll, although only a general compass bearing and sense of distance is gained, instead of a precise location.
The Blue Sword is a double-edged straight sword quite distinct from the more curved blades of local manufacture. The blade, hilt and pommel are starmetal, with a grip of cured mastwood. The hilt technically bears two hearthstone sockets, one on each face, but at least one socket must be occupied by a blue jade cabochon for the weapon’s Essence to flow properly.
The Blue Sword (Starmetal Daiklave, Artifact ♦♦♦♦♦) wrote:This weapon is resonant with women and dissonant with men over the age of 20, regardless of their normal material resonances. She can engage socially with characters who attune to her, or have some other means of communicating with objects, with the following stats.

Essence: 5; Willpower: 10; Join Battle: 10 dice
Intimacies: Protect the Daragni Archipelago (Defining Principle), Grown men are unworthy of my power (Major Principle), I was made for women’s hands (Major Principle)
Actions: History of the Daragni Archipelago: 10 dice; Read Intentions: 6 dice; Senses: 10 dice; Social Influence: 10 dice
Appearance 5, Resolve 5, Guile 3

The Blue Sword’s Defining Principle is protected as if by Righteous Lion Defense. The other two Intimacies listed here are also inherent to the sword’s being; they can be eroded by determined action, but return in full at the beginning of every new story.

Evocations of the Blue Sword
In addition to gaining the ability to communicate with the spirit of the sword, characters who attune to the Blue Sword awaken the first Evocation for no cost.

In Pursuit of Purpose
Cost: —; Mins: Essence 1
Type: Permanent
Keywords: Dissonant, Resonant
Duration: Permanent
Prerequisites: None

When her wielder acts in accordance with the Blue Sword’s “Protect the Daragni Archipelago” Defining Principle, increase the weapon’s Damage rating by 4. The bonuses provided by this Evocation are not counted as bonus dice from charms.

Resonant: The Blue Sword rejoices in the hands of one whom she was meant for. Resonant wielders replace the Accuracy and Defense of the weapon with the rating of her “I was made for women’s hands” Principle.

Dissonant: The Blue Sword rebels in the hands of one whose Essence does not complement her own. Dissonant wielders reduce the Accuracy and Defense of the weapon by the rating of her “Grown men are unworthy of my power” Principle.

No further Evocations are presently known, though Daragnian legends tell of the sword’s ability to summon storms of wind and wave in defense of their islands.
On a broad ledge near the summit of Greater Daragni’s mountain ridge, the uttermost source of the Star River wells up from the rock to form a cool, still pool before flowing down to mingle with the waters of other springs. Next to the pool stands an ancient house of stone, which has been the home of a soothsayer known as Ethul for as long as the Daragnians have dwelt on the islands. For all that time, Ethul has advised and – occasionally – prophesied for those who climb the mountain to meet him. He asks nothing in return for this service, save only that the insights he offers be used for Daragnian protection and prosperity.

The Starspring is a Sidereal demesne, and the house a manse that caps it. Ethul himself is a Chosen of Secrets who has claimed it, and does not truly live there at all times, but rather uses the Calibration Gate to come and go when the Loom tells him visitors are on their way. The manse produces no hearthstone, but rather orders and channels the power into the Starspring itself, giving its still waters their powers. On clear nights, they reflect the night sky above, except for the constellation of the Mask, which in reflection still appears as it did before the Usurpation and its breaking; but the water’s true power is revealed only when sipped, allowing some imbibers the chance to see something of the future.
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Some of you may recognize that I have shamelessly stolen been inspired by Robin McKinley's Damar, the setting for her fantasy novels The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, only passed through a reverse Rohan filter to go from horseriding to seafaring, and with Polynesian material culture, because the Polynesians and their shipbuilding are badass, while the Lintha get to play the part of the Northerners.

I had considered at one point having an expy of the British Isles be the northern anchor of the Near West and expanding their not-British-Empire into the Daragnians, but really the whole point of the Near West is to have places for the Realm to interact with more plausibly than, say, Wavecrest or Skullstone, so it made much more sense to have the Realm be the imperial overlord, although of a different flavor.
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Not entirely sure how I slept on this when it was originally posted back in November. There's a lot to like here, the location is really nicely fleshed out with a lot of cool ideas and I'm a bit of a sucker for having stuff like the cuisine and resources get talked about so you can have an idea of what it's like for a character to visit, or what sort of trade is going on. The history with the Lintha's a good touch too and actually gives those guys more to do. I also agree on giving the British inspired rivals a miss, like you said the Realm is pretty good at filling that niche and one of the reasons players are going to come to the table for an Exalted game is to get to interact with it in capacities like this.

I'm not familiar with the 'inspiration' but really like your execution on the Blue Sword, using the intimacies and the resonance/dissonance to have a weapon that's powered differently in the hands of different users is a really elegant approach that makes it pretty instantly interesting to me. I'd really enjoy seeing a few more evocations of this thing using the resonant/dissonant split. Plus all sentient swords are pretty damn cool full stop.

The only thing I feel like is missing here that I'd be keen to see a little more of if you planned to keep working on it is a little on the culture and people of Daragni. There's a bunch of cool stuff about their shipbuilding and relationships with others but I always think it's nice to have little bits thrown in about how the typical person is and how some of those hooks shape the mindset of the residents.
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theshockmaster
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There's some really interesting stuff here! The West does badly need some additional islands (it's apocryphal, but I remember hearing the west is supposed to have more, they just didn't actually draw any) since the Archipelago is further from the Blessed Isle than America is from Europe, begging the question of how people knew it was there at all, and stuff like this is a great start.
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