Some 420 years ago, the Empire of Ruritania spread from the forbidding peaks of the Graustark Mountains all the way to the grey, listless waves of the Sea of Zenda. Comprised of six independent duchies – Mittenheim, Graustark, Zenda, Varania, Dawsbergen and Ruritania herself – the Empire of Ruritania, at her height, administered a nation spanning hundreds of miles and containing millions of souls.
Although nominally independent political entities, the five duchies of Mittenheim, Graustark, Zenda, Varania and Dawsbergen all paid military and economic tribute to the Emperor of Ruritania; a figure who, by tradition, also served as the absolute ruler of the Duchy of Ruritania. Although the confederation was at times unstable (Zenda and Dawsbergen were particular hotbeds of secessionist politics), this grand alliance sustained the Empire for some 1100 years.
However, a little more than 400 years ago, catastrophe struck: the heir-apparent to the Duchy of Ruritania (and, by extension, the Empire itself) was found murdered, his body found strewn across the steps leading into the Ruritanian Tower. Although the heir-apparent was by no means well-loved by his constituents, the thought that he could be killed by a commoner was nonsensical, so deep within the Citadel. The murderer could only have been a member of staff… or a visiting delegate from another duchy.
Immediately, accusations began to fly. All of the dukes disavowed knowledge, and no less than seven different separatist groups across the Empire claimed responsibility for the man’s murder. Slowly but inevitably, each of the duchies began to militarise, all attempting to ward off the designs of the others. Tensions were building, weapons were being forged, and all that was required to set off the powder keg was the slightest spark.
That spark, as it turns out, was a female scion of the noble house of Zenda. A young, wanton girl, she had been engaged in a torrid love affair with a Gaustarkian nobleman of rather lesser
rank. This was in and of itself not unusual; nobles of all ranks maintain paramours outside the bonds of marriage. However, in this case, a gossiping chambermaid saw fit to inform a local gang of youths that a Gaustarkian man of ill-breeding was having his merry way with the sweet, virginal daughter of the Duke of Zenda. Unfortunately for the young Gaustarkian, he was subsequently torn apart by a crowd of belligerent villagers upon leaving the young lady’s chambers one crisp evening.
This lynching catalysed an diplomatic crisis, with each duchy declaring war against each other according to age-old factional alliances. Lasting over 20 years, the resulting civil war resulted in the deaths of nearly one million people and the wholesale destruction of the Empire of Ruritania. Growing more balkanised with each passing year, the Duchies of Graustark, Zenda, Varania and Dawsbergen eventually sundered into an innumerable number of counties, independent republics, principalities, earldoms, and small agrarian collectives, while the Duchy of Ruritania itself was left a shattered ruin.
Out of all of the duchies that existed prior to the civil war, only Mittenheim remains. A small, remote, and backwards realm ruled by Duke Wilhelm the Reformer, it remains unavoidably yoked to its past – as a vassal state of a once-grand empire.