The massive Sellen River basin drains all the eastern lands, carrying waters from the Lake of Mists and Veils north of Brevoy; from the massive Lake Encarthan; and from Galt, Numeria, and Ustalav. The mighty Sellen finally f lows into the Inner Sea on the border of Taldor and Andoran. As the rivers pass through the hundred marshes and forests of the River Kingdoms, they seem to carry an especially heavy freight of sin, treachery, and thievery.
The River Kingdoms are where desperate men go to escape their pasts and carve out new lives. The bandits, fortunately, have never unified. Although doing so would threaten all their neighbors and give them the ability to deal with other kingdoms as equals, the river lords constantly fight among themselves. Robbery and murder are common on every road and river in the River Kingdoms, and small mercenary companies fight in the spring and summer for ownership of each hamlet and bridge. One result of the frequent infighting is that food in the River Kingdoms is quite valuable. Rather few souls dare to farm or raise livestock, for fear of banditry. What little food is grown is kept secure in castle granaries or well-guarded cattle pens.
War is the constant here—anything that cannot be defended is seized by the strong. Those who hide here and bide their time to grow strong include hardened criminals, slavers, necromancers, vicious princelings who lost a succession struggle, exiled nobles, firebrands, and religious zealots— anyone most people would rather not have as neighbors. These hardy but treacherous folk possess very little trust, but they tend to follow the strong code of River Freedoms. Those who rule are strong, wily, and willing to do anything to keep their hold on power.
In practice, the strongest of the River Kingdoms sometimes dissolve themselves for good reason: their troops and leaders are hired away to fight in distant wars. The bloodiest wars among the kingdoms occur when these troops return and seek to seize their former territories. The only thing that can unite the River Kingdoms for even a brief period is a threat from Galt, Numeria, or Razmiran, and even then, each princeling vies with his fellows to lead the resistance. Larger realms find the River Kingdoms useful sources of mercenaries and a convenient place to exile undesirables who might make trouble at home. Attempts to seize and hold River Kingdoms territory generally prove expensive, thanks to skills honed by years of infighting being turned against the less experienced and less daring soldiers of the wider world.
Government: Each of the tiny River Kingdoms follows its own ruler or council, and each possesses its own idiosyncrasies. Most are city-states of a few thousand souls at most, ruled by a despot and his shieldmen. The River Kingdoms are bound together by the River Freedoms and by the Outlaw Council that gathers each year in the wretched Daggermark, a town known for its effective assassin’s guild (and thus rarely a target of conquest) and also for the quality of its poisoners. At the Outlaw Council, the freemen and women who call the River Kingdoms home gather, argue, fight, and plan how to keep their freedom for another year against the larger forces arrayed against them, and which neighbors to tap for tribute and which to leave alone. The Riverfolk would be offended at the very idea that their lands have a prime city or ruling principality, although if pressed they might confess that Daggermark is close. Others might argue that Gralton is the most central city, or Sevenarches the oldest, but Daggermark is the largest and the seat of the Outlaw Council each year. The capital is whatever settlement one swears fealty to, and these settlements are scattered and always in flux. The collapse of one heralds the rise of another, and one year’s metropolis might be next year’s goat pasture.
The Six River Freedoms The River Kingdoms share a rough code of justice and freedoms called the Six River Freedoms. Not all honor the code, but enough do that it serves as a sort of shorthand for the independence that all people of the River Kingdoms hold dear.
Say What You Will, I Live Free: Talk is cheap, and everyone is entitled to speak their own words. You can say anything, but sometimes the best freedom is the freedom to run like hell.
Oathbreakers Die: Liars are often severely punished. Those who swear an oath of fealty to a River Lord and break it can expect any number of painful and lethal possibilities. This freedom to kill oathbreakers is why River Kingdom gangs rarely require a sworn oath for an initiation. Tattoos or brands are more common signs of commitment to membership.
Walk on Any Road, Float on Any River: The freedom to travel is fundamental. No River Kingdom is allowed to bar traffic on a river or a road, save in time of active warfare. Even then, neutral parties are supposed to have freedom of movement.
Courts Are For Kings: This saying is simply a way of reminding visitors that the law here is malleable. Who you know and who your friends are are more important than what the law says.
Slavery is An Abomination: While the River Kingdoms frequently house criminals, none keep slaves. Slavers may visit freely, but taking or holding slaves in the River Kingdoms upsets those many people who were once slaves themselves.
You Have What You Hold: Property laws are weak in the River Kingdoms. If someone claims to own something, he can enforce that claim with his sword.