Presented here is, in broad strokes, the history of the Three Kingdoms of the Imperium Teutones - Neustria, Austrasia, and Swabia - and the world in which they reside.
In elder days, the elven race ventured forth from their misty isles, and settled far across the land, from the temperate shores of the north sea to the southern jungles of Crotalia, and to the Silberschild mountains in the east. There they found the first of the dwarves, at that time workers in bronze, and much trade was had. But the elves were ever a fractious folk, and their mainland territories fragmented into a patchwork of baronies and villages. It was during this period that man emerged from the ice-wastes of the north and settled in Nordmar, and the dwarves reported the first skirmishes with the beastmen of the kingdom of Leng in the East. Many years passed, and the elves continued their gradual and patchwork expansion south into the Crotalus, eventually prompting a counter-invasion by the scalyfolk who there reside. Many an elf was slain, and the geistbaum groves grew. In time the elves organized themselves beneath a strong leader, the warrior-mage Aeron the Fair, and drove the lizardmen back. Aeron maintained power for the rest of his considerable lifespan, and the realm of the mainland elves was at peace.
These years were less than peaceful for the dwarves, however, who found themselves beleaguered by fell creatures fleeing things even more terrible in the East. Many holdfasts were abandoned, and some dwarves began a migration to the West, to the Bleiburg Highlands. This was also the era of the first meeting of dwarf and man, as Norse traders and raiders explored the coasts of the Silbermeer and up the River Rune. Reactions were mixed, but the dwarven holds were largely impregnable to the poorly-organized and poorly-armed raiders, and so trade of furs for metalwork was largely the order of the day, except when migrants and refugees were encountered.
The elven tree-villages, however, were found to be consistently easy targets, and the Northmen pillaged them with impunity for a time before Aeron drove them back into the sea with powers mundane and magical. Men remained few on the continent until the elven empire was thrown into tumult as a result of Aeron's death. Though Aeron was nearing the end of his natural lifespan, some scholars believe that he was assassinated by a conspiracy of powerful mages who found his heir, Elberon, more pliable and amenable to their views on necromancy and blacker magics, which were strictly forbidden under Aeron's rule. The wars of the elvish succession took many years, and during this time man once again expanded his territories in the south. The southlanders abandoned their nomadic roots and founded such cities as Konigsport, Gothenheim, and Bad Rotenburg in the valley of the Rune. In time the Northmen raided them as well, but the southlanders had acquired horses from the elves and steel from the dwarves, and under the leadership of Gundwulf the Short, the Northmen were soundly defeated at the battle of Konigsport. Gundwulf was subsequently named King of the Teutons, as the united peoples of the southlands named themselves.
But his kingship was a short one, for though it had taken fifty years and many dark deeds, the wars of the elvish succession were coming to an end, and Elberon claimed the lands of the Teutons for reconquest into his empire. Lacking the arcana of the elves, Gundwulf's armies were routed, his lands captured, and mankind subjected to the now-harsh, even bloodthirsty rule of the decadent and fallen elves. Not even time could release them, for Elberon had insulated himself from old age through vampirism, and had jovially consumed the conspirators who had aided his rise to power. The chains of feudalism were forged wit blood bonds, terrible oaths, and the vampiric gaze, from the Seven Undying Dukes down to the vampiric knightly Order of the Sanguine Rose who treated the southmen as chattel and food. The dwarven bastions proved harder to take than the lands of man, until in a rage Elberon released thirteen great wyrms, captured in the Crotalian jungles with sorcery and promises of great treasure, into the Silberschild mountains. These all but drove the dwarves from their ancestral homes, settling in the ruins to spawn and sleep, and the Silberschilds gained the epithet "Mountains of Mourning" in dwarven epic poetry thereafter. The elves went so far as to march an undead army across the Beastlands to Leng, where their drive for conquest was finally ground to a gruesome stalemate by that even more ancient and vile sorcerous empire.
It is unknown how many years passed during Elberon's reign, or Die Schwarze Auge as it is now called. What is known is that the elves committed atrocities so foul that their god, Ammonar, wept for the sins of His beloved and firstborn children, and in time turned His face away from them and towards mankind, bestowing his gifts upon a handful of prophets. Elberon made a sport of hunting these prophets and using them as fuel for dark rituals, but in time one of these blessed men, one Theudald the Pious, a monk at the monastery of Blenheim, survived to lead a successful rebellion against the elves and liberated Gothenheim. This spurred several other rebellions throughout human territory, the most successful of which were led by Laudus the Large and Grimoald One-Eye, both of whom claimed descent from Gundwulf to legitimate their claim to rulership. The allied forces of man were brought to battle by Elberon's host at the siege of Gothenheim, where elven sorcery blotted the sun from the sky for a full week and all was thought lost. When Elberon himself entered the fray on the seventh day of darkness, though, Theudald performed a miracle and restored light to the sky, destroying the elven vampire-lord utterly and breaking his host. The elves were driven back into the Schwartzwald, and much new territory was claimed in the following crusade. A threefold kingdom was established, with the line of Theudald ruling foremost as Holy Emperors of the Sudetenland and Neustria from their capital in the sacred city of Gothenheim, the line of Grimoald ruling Austrasia from the academy towers of Bad Rotenburg, and the line of Laudus ruling the coastal kingdom of Swabia from Konigsport.
As time passed, however, it became apparent that Ammonar's favors to Theudald were more extensive than initially thought - he and his line were blessed with extreme longevity and excellent health in addition to their clerical capabilities. As a result, the reign of Emperor Theudald has continued for some 250 years since the victory at Gothenheim. During this time, the church of Ammonar has largely ousted the pagan Norse religions, and several knightly orders have risen to prominence, including the Order of the Silver Thorn and the Order of Cleansing Flame. Theudald's descendants are sizable in number and hold significant lands in the vicinity of Gothenheim. Grimoald lived to an extremely old age before disappearing under mysterious circumstances, and Austrasia has largely been managed by the Council of Archmages of the Rotenburg Academy since. This is a source of some friction both with the populace and the church, as neither has much tolerance for witches after the long abuses of the elves, but no force has yet been mustered to break the council's hold. If any resistance were to arise from within Austrasia, it would be from Mannerheim or Zugenhof, in the Howling Hills to the East, fortresses of warrior princes both. Swabia has remained under the rule of Laudus's lineage, warrior and merchant kings after the style of the Northmen with whom they interact regularly. The dwarves of Blieburg owe fealty to the Swabian monarchs, though they regularly send their youths on crusades to Zugenhof and the Silberschilds through Austrasian territory to reclaim their ancestral homelands. The elves, for their part, have largely gone into hiding within human lands - the Order of Cleansing Flame makes hunting elven covens and conspiracies a major part of their business, but the covens often take refuge beneath the aegis of the Rotenburg Academy. The peasants still bear much dislike and superstition with regard to the elves - it is custom to never meet an elf's gaze, to arrange to speak with them only in daylight in a public place, and to never invite one into your house. Most are treated with fear and mistrust, though rarely outright violence (except from the Order).
Theudald's longevity is not without limit, however, and he has visibly aged over the last thirty years. It is believed that his time is soon, and there is much dispute over who will rule in his stead. His seven sons claim that they clearly possess the divine right to rule, while the church claims the sole power to assign the title of holy emperor and the nobles not of Theudald's blood argue for a return to the old Northman tradition of the althing and the election of an emperor, as was done with Gundwulf. Theudald has yet to voice an opinion on this weighty matter; perhaps he is waiting for a divine revelation, or perhaps he is watching the enemies surrounding the borders of his empire - the elven lich lords to the south, the hordes of Leng to the east, and the Norsemen all eye the empire in distress like hounds circling a bleeding bear. Worse still, there are poor omens in the sky, and the Misty Isles of the Fey have again appeared off the cost of Bleiburg, for the first time in living memory, for reasons unknown. There are rumors that the Crotalons are advancing into the southern Schwartzwald, and the Norsemen whisper in hushed voices that whatever man fled from in the furthest north in the first days is coming in pursuit. Truly, it is a time of trepidation and uncertainty.
But all uncertain times are fraught with opportunity for those willing to accept risk... And so, enter the PCs, in the rural farming village of Steinwenden...