The Age of Reckoning was a time of unprecedented strife. By the winter of 2504 IC however, the splintered factions were coalescing into powerful nation-states that would dominate the wars to come. The Empire, although diminished, was one nation again. Ulthuan was united under the banner of the High Elves. Naggarond was consolidated under the rule of the Witch King. Bretonnia also ended its civil war, but was hard-pressed by the Wood Elves emerging suddenly from Athel Loren. Flush with the magic flowing over the world the Wood Elves ended centuries of isolation and swept over the southern provinces of Bretonnia as well as the human nations of Estalia and Tilea. The Tomb Kings held sway over the Land of the Dead. In the southern jungles of Lustria the Skaven of Clan Pestilens spread pestilence and famine in their wake, obliterating the ancient nations of the Lizardmen. But as powerful as these nations were becoming, they were all eclipsed by the rise of the Vampire Counts. From their stronghold in Sylvania Mannfred Von Carstein's hordes poured over all lands in a ceaseless, relentless tide of death. The Treaty of Wurtbad allowed Manfred to strike hard and fast at the Dwarven kingdoms while keeping his northern border free of Imperial incursions. Franz, with his nation beset by Norscan raiders, signed the treaty as a matter of expedience. He believed that the mighty Dwarves in their mountainside redoubts could hold the Vampire Counts at bay while the Empire dealt with the Varg and the Skaeling.
|The Dwarven Kingdoms, led by their King, Thorgrim Grudgebearer.|
He was wrong. No news came from the Dwarf kingdoms for many months after the Vampire Counts cut off the Empire from the Dwarf capital of Karaz-a-Karak. Disturbed by the lack of messengers Franz dispatched bold adventurers to make their way through the vampire lands to make contact. None returned. Attempts at scrying by the Celestial College of Magic were defeated by powerful wards. A pall of silence descended over the World's Edge Mountains, and as the days and weeks passed the Dwarves living in the Empire and in the Grey Mountains grew ever more anxious about the fate of their kinfolk. The first inkling of their fate came when famed adventuring duo Felix Jaeger and Gotrek Gurnisson emerged south of Nuln, claiming that they had traveled from Barak Varr in the Borderlands. The tale they brought back was a grim one. One by one the Karaks had fallen, engulfed by teeming armies of the dead. The Border Princes and the Badlands were now vampire country. Orcs and Dwarves alike were being killed or subjugated, their blood considered too coarse and unpalatable by the vampire lords, and drunk only as a measure of last resort. The Vampire Counts, flush in their dominion over the world, could pick and choose their prey, and could have extinguished both races as they saw fit. But they had ambitions beyond simple sustenance, and saw the value of maintaining a work force which possessed both brute strength and stamina, as well as artisan skills.
|Gotrek Gurnisson and Felix Jaeger.|
Franz was under tremendous pressure to declare war against the Vampire Counts. The Empire had close ties with the Dwarven kingdoms, having been trade partners and military allies over the centuries. Many Dwarves lived in the Empire as artisans, stonemasons, engineers and blacksmiths, and had become naturalized citizens. They clamored and petitioned for the Emperor to intervene. But Franz was unyielding. He would honor the Treaty of Wurtbad as long as Mannfred respected the Empire's borders. For this he would be denounced and vilified by many Dwarves who called him craven and oath-breaker. The Treaty of Wurtbad was called the Treaty of Blood by furious Dawi, so-called because it was paid for by the blood of Dwarves. Lenart Tortensson, the Dwarf hero who commanded the artillery so masterfully at Talabheim, resigned his commission and deserted with his entire artillery corps. All over the Empire many of the Dawi did the same.
In truth Franz could do very little. His armies were heavily engaged in the war against the Norscans. The only army defending the southern Empire was Haupt-Anderssen's, and it was stretched to breaking point patrolling the expanse of the southern border. In addition Franz's settlements on the west coast of Bretonnia were suddenly attacked without warning by marauding Black Arks. The Druchii, colloquially known as the Dark Elves, inhabited the cold, wind-swept lands of Naggarond in the New World, having been banished there after being defeated in an ancient civil war from their utopian homeland of Ulthuan. Since that time they had cultivated a fearsome reputation as slavers, raiders and reavers, sowing fear and terror to all the coastal cities of the world. They were also the second greatest power in the world by 2504 IC, having secured control over the northern continent of Naggarond and parts of the Southlands. The attack on Lyonnesse and Moussillon was a declaration of their intention to invade the Old World, and add it to their list of conquests.
Faced with these threats it would have been madness for Franz to declare war against the Vampire Counts. He did everything he could up to the point of declaring war. When a horde of marauding greenskins surged into the southern Grey Mountains he sent Haupt-Anderssen to relieve the Dwarven fortress of Karak Norn, temporarily leaving the southern borders undefended. He pardoned the Dwarven deserters from his armies and let them go where they wished, on the condition that they maintain the peace. His greatest contribution lay in the care and housing of Dwarven refugees emerging from the south and east. The Dwarves were a hardy and stubborn folk, and many of them banded together into formidable groups and marched through vampire lands to escape to the Empire. Felix Jaeger and Gotrek Gurnisson were responsible for the creation of one such "underground railroad", which combined overland routes over mountain passes with secret Underways delved centuries before to create a highway from the lands south of Black Fire Pass into the south-west Empire. Another route extended beneath the World's Edge Mountains and ran directly north from Karaz-a-Karak and emerged near Karak Ungor, the northernmost remaining inhabited hold of the World's Edge Mountains. Imperial pickets were astonished to see a massive Dwarf army emerging through the snows from the east while wintering at Wolfenburg. The army, as it turned out, was a massive column of refugees guarded by a small detachment of Ironbreakers who had fled westward from Karak Ungor. The biggest surprise was in the number of women and children in the column, numbering in the tens of thousands. The Dwarves were a long-lived but infertile race, and the number of males outnumbered the females by ten to one. Dwarven children were almost rarely ever seen outside Dwarven holds, and the sight of so many convinced Franz of the scale of the calamity that had befallen the Dwarven Empire.
So, after 150 plus turns the game world has shaken out like this. The Vampire Counts are the strongest power in the game, followed by the Dark Elves, then the High Elves, then the Wood Elves, then Clan Pestilens and the Tomb Kings, and then finally me. Making the pact with the Vampire Counts saved me from the same fate I suffered in previous campaigns - that is, the Vampires crushing our armies, taking Altdorf and wiping me out. I've concluded treaties with the High Elves and the Wood Elves, and take great care in making sure these two are happy. Without these treaties I'm sure that the Vampire Counts will declare war on us in a heartbeat whenever it suits them.
The Dark Elves declared war on us and took our two cities on the Bretonnian coast. It was a blow because Lyonnesse was a built-up city, but I was never going to hold it for long because it was so far away from the Imperial heartlands. The Vampire Counts wiped out the Dwarves and most of the Orcs, which surprised the hell out of me. In 95% of my campaigns the Dwarves have always been one of the last empires standing. Maybe they were nerfed post-DLC? The Orcs are hanging on, but have been driven out of the Badlands in the south and are rampaging through the Grey Mountains south of the Empire. They haven't declared war yet, but I don't like a desperate rogue faction near my undefended southern borders. We're going to have to wipe them out. Luckily the undead are also squeezing them, so it may be an opportunity to expands a little bit southwards and increase the buffer between Altdorf and the Vampire Counts.
Next: Mortal Empires, Part XVII - Chaos Rising