Hounds

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The Order of the Wolf

Headquarters: Witchcliff
Realms: Aunwe, Alteraan, Caratas, Dra’zhar Lands, Korashur, Northern Kingdoms, Sachsenheim, Shenzhou, Valeria

The life of a Hound is a grim one indeed. Descended from an ancient order of mage-knights once known as the Order of Avyrnas, the Hounds as they are now commonly known are a hardened mix of vengeful hunters, pardoned criminals and mystic archivists. Known more formally these days as the Order of the Wolf, members rise through the ranks from the harsh life of a rank-and-file initiate to the even harsher life of a witcher and fulfill duties ranging from the hunting of monsters, to fostering diplomacy and peace between the Five Realms.

Heraldry and Uniform

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The common colours of the Hounds are black and brown with the occasional gold accent (only really on diplomatic or ritualistic finery), though in older times before the fall of the High Kingdom blue was used in the place of brown. Motifs are either runic inscriptions or the motifs of the culture that a Hound blends with, and the items they put effort into improving are likewise those of their hosts.

Initiation and Advancement

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Signing on to the Order of the Wolf is not something to be done lightly. An initiate will join the order in one of two ways, by taking the Oath of the Black if one is a criminal, or by the Oath of the White if joining for other reasons. For those that take the Oath of the Black, the punishment for whatever crimes they have committed is set aside. They are then taken into the order to serve for the rest of their lives in what is known as their Black Watch, upon entrance into this order the initiates go through the first alchemical change and become sterilized. For the Oath of the White, an initiate can choose to serve for whatever length of time they choose, but if they leave the order it is only under exceptional circumstances that they are allowed to return.

Advancement is through dedication and completion of trials. The ranks of the order are divided broadly into five levels; initiate, hunter, witcher, stalker, and master. To be accepted as an initiate a new recruit must show an ability to follow orders even if it means their own death, the ability to work as part of a team, and control over their baser instincts. Advancement to hunter comes with proving loyalty to the order and displaying proficiency at recognizing and dispatching monsters, via sword, intellect or cunning.

Once a Hound has shown their capabilities to the point that they might be left to their grim work by themselves, they are ready to become fullfledged members of the order; a Witcher. They are put through a series of grueling tests that strain their body, mind, and resolve, and if they succeed, irrevocably transform the Hound into something more than human. In time, a Witcher may advance to the rank of Stalker once they have dispatched a great and powerful beast and garnered some fair measure of renown for their exploits. The step then on to Master is not set down, and only the existing Masters know what tests the aspirant may have to endure to join their ranks.

Should a Hound choose to leave the order, they must be granted leave by the Master of the Overwatch to which they are sworn. Those that haven’t and depart without leave to do so are declared renegade and hunted down like any other monster. Additionally, whichever of the two oaths they have sworn, if they have advanced to the rank of Witcher in the order there is no leaving the order. For Witchers, one can never truly lay down ones weapons and turn to a new life; the blood in their veins, the years of training and the fear of normal citizens means that once a Witcher, always a Witcher. Those that wish to step back from active duties can be given leave to do so, but they are always considered a member of the order, and required to follow its tenets, and to break them is to be declared renegade.

Leadership

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Though the order has a hierarchy at the top of which sits the Grandmaster, the control over operations is far more distributed, with regional masters for the most part independently responsible for activities under their Overwatch. The ranks of Stalkers and Witchers are themselves given much independence, with only the requirements that they send word of their activities at least once a month, and at the times of the solstices report in to a Haven if possible. Hunters are allowed to operate in the field at length as part of a Pack, but must report back every two weeks if possible and return to a Haven at least once every three months, and spend at least one month a year in training. Initiates are completely under the command of Hunters or others above them in order rank, and complete obedience is expected.

In addition to the ranks of the order, Havens are organised along more standard military lines, with soldiers, sergeants, lieutenants, captains and commanders in ascending order of command. These ranks reflect a Hounds role in unit actions, and while their military rank often parallels their order rank, it is not uncommon to have a Witcher still holding only the rank of soldier or a particularly experienced Hunter holding the rank of captain.

Organisational Life

Once initiated into the order, a Hound’s life is relatively spartan within the walls of the Havens, the fortress or bunker like settlements in which the order live, train and prepare themselves for their duties when not out in the field. Multiple Havens make up an Overwatch, each one of these linked to a realm or continent in which the Hounds have a substantial presence. Most Havens (especially the large or prominent ones) are led by a Master, and each Overwatch by a regional Master, with all reporting to the Grandmaster at the order headquarters in Witchcliff on the continent of Lorandar.

As daily life goes, a certain degree of carousing within the Haven is acceptable, as well as the consensual bedding of one’s fellow Hounds. For initiates no such activity (drinking or sex) is allowed outside the Haven walls or with those not of the order, and to stray from this tenet is to be severely punished. This tenet is relaxed for those who have become Hunters as long as they do not cause problems doing so for the order. Witchers and Stalkers have few restrictions in this regard on them, and in fact are well known throughout the Five Realms for the pleasures of the flesh they indulge in when not hunting monsters.

Initiates and Hunters are organised in Packs of most often between four and ten Hounds, led by someone of at least sergeant rank. For an initiate the only departure from the Haven is under the supervision of their sergeant, provided the sergeant is also at least a Hunter. Such departures may occur as part of a hunting party, transfer to another Haven, or in rare cases for an honour guard for a Master for example. If for any reason something happens to their commanding officer they are expected to immediately report to another officer or face the prospect of being deemed renegade.

For some Hunters and most Witchers and Stalkers, operational life consists of living embedded in a local Realm and travelling from settlement to settlement. For some this can be as nomadic as staying in a place just long enough to find and dispatch a particular beast before moving on to the next place, and for others pursuing more diplomatic actions this might entail spending many months in a noble court gaining the acceptance of the local rulers.

Objectives

When the ancestors of the order journeyed with the Avyrnians from their homeland to Aluvinor and Lorandar their sworn duties to the King were to protect his person and those of his house, and to extend their reach further and root out dark influences and creatures that might threaten their people and lands. From this ancient mission two branches of the old order arose, the Dragons and the Wolves; the first acting as the Royal Guard and elite in the lines of battle, and the second roaming out alone or in small groups to police the fringes of the realm from threats and destroy them before they grew too powerful.

With the fall of the High Kingdom and the splintering of the old order, the Hounds as they were by then more commonly known, set about focusing on their mission; hunting down the dark threats posed by monsters, cultists and murderers, and gathering information necessary to know the weaknesses of these things.

Additional to their previous duties, the Hounds have also dedicated themselves to working to keep the peace as much as is possible between the Five Realms, determined that even if the High Kingdom is never restored, that humanity never fall into war so destructive as to become weakened before a greater foe.

Language

It is ensured that all Hounds speak common in addition to any other languages from their home realm. Those who have passed the trials of initiation are encouraged to learn new languages, particularly if they intend to travel to foreign realms. For ones who intend on advancing up the ranks of the order, the knowledge of multiple languages also influences the consideration of their advancement. Due to their role in hunting monsters, Hounds will often pick up the strange tongues of the entities they hunt. The Old Tongue, the Wild Tongue, and even smatterings of Ancient are known by members of the order, though Hounds are generally wise to keep quiet on their knowledge of the more exotic tongues when faced with fanatical priests or simple and fearful villagers.

Religion

Hounds will often join the order maintaining a belief in whatever gods they had worshipped before, and the order does not actively discourage religious worship. The horrors that they deal with can either drive them to believe even stronger or discard the gods and place the faith solely in their brother and sisters in arms or themselves alone. To the order a Hound needs every tool possible in their arsenal, and if faith in a particular god helps them to stand firm against the horrors they face, then they would never deprive them of that tool.

Harking back to older times when the order journeyed on campaign as part of the Avrnyian crusade, they took with them far older rituals that it is said date from the even older time of the Age of Darkness thousands of years prior. Most prominent amongst these rituals is are the solstice gatherings, where twice a year when the sun is at its highest or lowest, Hounds will gather and around the time of midnight recall the names of their fallen brothers and sisters and tell tales of their exploits and those of the order. During the gathering an initiate may treat a master as his sister or brother and enmities are forgiven. Wine is drunk and food shared between all, and it always ends no more than a few hours later with all reaffirming their Oath and praising one last time their fallen.

Crime and Punishment

As a military order in which many members are former criminals and there is always the suspicion of the populace to deal with, transgressions against local laws or the tenets of the order are treated harshly. If the accused crime is by a local populace and the Hounds chooses not to submit to whatever their legal process may be, their first duty is to pass word to the regional master that an accusation has been made. If the accusation bears any weight to it (i.e. it is not completely strange) the master will dispatch an Arbiter to investigate.

An Arbiter is a veteran stalker whose specific role it is to investigate incidents and determine what truly happened to the best of their quite formidable capabilities. They will, in most cases, arrive within a day or two of the message being sent by the Hound, and will commence investigations immediately, using methods both magical and mundane to extract the facts from locals and the Hound alike. When an Arbiter questions a suspected Hound of a crime they have committed, it is imperative for the Hound that they must convince the Arbiter of their innocence, for the default is that they are guilty unless proven innocent.

In the case of the Hound being found guilty, they are either subjected to the local punishment under the watchful eye of the Arbiter, or removed for often more intensive “rehabilitation” at a Haven. In the event that the Hound is innocent, the local populace are at the very least admonished for wasting the order’s time, and at the worst marked with a Writ of Exclusion that removes the protection offered by the order and leaves them at the mercy of whatever threats might eye them up. In the extreme event that a Hound is subjected to summary justice by a populace without their consent, whether guilty or not, they find the wrath of the order brought down upon them through the appearance of a Master and a pack of Stalkers. Those responsible are punished with little remorse before a Writ of Exclusion is laid upon the settlement.

When a tenet of the order is broken by a Hound, there is little room for leniency, and punishment starts at the lesser extent of a summary lesson in pain delivered through the Scouring; a torturous process of which the Hounds rarely speak to outsiders. At the other extent, particularly if they are a renegade, a Hound can expect to suffer a painful execution and destruction of their soul for the worst crimes against their order.

Military

In former times the Order of Avyrnas could field entire regiments in battle for the High Kingdom, but after its fall and the splitting off of the dragon knights the resultant Order of the Wolf was limited to small forces that at the very best could pull together a few hundred if necessary. Due to the distributed nature of their work, the order has since then almost always relied upon local forces for providing the bulk of manpower if necessary, with their people acting as skirmishers or elites in support of regular units.

In the rare cases the Hounds have to assemble a force to deal with a powerful foe such as a demon horde or a wild hunt and cannot draw enough of the right sort of aid from local realms, the local Master will put a Writ of Summoning to the Overwatch and possibly beyond to draw what additional forces are available. The last time this was done was during the last pass of the Red Star one-hundred and forty years ago when the demon-prince Mephannon stood poised to corrupt the Circle of the Watchers in Eastern Manara, and was only brought low when two-thousand Hounds from across the world faced him down, almost all giving their lives in the process.

Though famous for their formations of massed knights the Hounds also field other mounted troops, from bow armed skirmishers to lighter equipped cavalry for reconnaissance and harassment. With every man a highly trained and experienced fighter the Hounds have no equals on the battlefield, both mounted or on foot.

This elite standard has one major drawback however and that is a lack of numbers. While castoffs from the Hounds, ejected for insufficient capability or stamina, still stand out amongst the best soldiers of the kingdoms, these stringent standards mean that there are only a handful of Hounds in comparison to the vast armies of the kingdoms.

A lack of numbers has not prevented the Hounds from successfully taking on far larger forces however. They are infamous for their ability to brush aside the most determined of defensive lines and strike directly for the leaders of their opposition, a tactic which has shattered the largest of armies time and time again.

Internal Factions

The Nightwatch

The majority of Hounds believe the order should remain isolated as has been their way and maintain their focus on the hunting of monsters and striving for peace between the Five Realms. The Reforgers: Lesser in number than the Nightwatch, the Reforgers are those who strongly believe that the Hounds should reform the Order of Avyrnas and re-establish themselves as a more dominant power in across the Five Realms. While there are many who would like to see their fortunes improved, there not enough support for this faction to do anything more than remain as a side-note, given the risk of upsetting their already delicate position amidst the Five Realms.

The Salt Wolves

A strange and even more enigmatic group of Witchers are those that live their lives for the most part aboard the vessels of the Five Realms. Though few in number, these hardy individuals are worth their weight in aetherstone for any captain that is fortunate enough to have them sailing aboard with them. Not only do they prove invaluable when faced with a sea serpent or doldrum wraith, but the sighting of one aboard a vessel is often enough for most would-be pirates to turn tail and flee for their lives.

The Forsaken

For some it might be that the Hounds way of life is too much to endure, and for others it can be that they relish the taste of blood so much that the collateral damage from their activities is too much for the order to accept. However it comes to it, some choose to depart the order without leave and in doing so are forever marked as renegades. For those that survive the inevitable hunting by their former brothers and sisters, life is one always on the run, and for that very reason the Forsaken become very dangerous indeed.

Figures of Note

Grandmaster Arthus Carnavron

A stern individual whose indiscretions with the young Sachsen Queen Verena it is said led to his taking the oath at age seventeen. He is known to have travelled from one pole to the other and encountered some of the most ferocious entities that the world has spawned, and after a lifetime of fighting them he became Grandmaster in 4:1226.

Lucius the All-seeing

Robbed of his sight by an ethereal in a dramatic battle in a collapsing demi-plane, Lucius has never since been able to heal his injury. With that scar came the gift of foresight and intuition beyond the ken of normal men, and his prescience has extended to predicting the rise of new threats like the Dragon of Redwood to unlocking the secrets of the Kharmanas Mechanism. Whispered rumour has it that his latest predictions involve the resurrection of a dead god and a coming time of darkness, though the order deny any substance to the idea.

Madeline Talierra

Convicted by the Valerian authorities for murdering her husband and sister and mere seconds away from execution, Madeline was spared at the last moment by a Witcher that happened to be in the crowd and intervened. There and then she swore the Oath of the Black and left with her. Since then she has gained significant renown as a huntress with a specialty for tracking demons and cultists, a talent that the Valerian authorities now grudgingly welcome.

Amunan Qual’vor

Descended it is said from a lineage of humans in the past that bred with the Ancients, Amunen gave up his tenure at the Grand Order of Lithos and joined the Hounds. His magical prowess and continued influence in Korashur have helped the order greatly when it comes to dealing with the legacy of the Ancient race and the strange ruins they have left behind.

Bremil the Stout

Jokingly referred to as the bastard son of a mountainfolk and a badger, Bremil is a master craftsman working out of Saltmarsh and is a particular expert in shipbuilding and nautical construction. The small fleet of vessels owned and operated by the Hounds has in large part been built and maintained through his initiative and talents.

Ranges

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Alteraan

The Hounds of Alteraan find themselves having to walk a fine line between heroes of the people and unwanted breachers-of-thepeace. Alteraanians seem to change their mind so rapidly that they have been likened to being more fickle than a mermaid, except when it comes to financial transactions of course. As Hounds rarely do their work for exorbitant sums, Alteraanians are happy to tolerate them slaying their monsters for them, right up until they find the Hounds have finished and turned to bedding their men and women.

Sachsenheim

In the lands of the Sachsens the Hounds are accepted better than anywhere in the rest of the Five Realms. Due to the twinned history of the order and the ancestors of the Sachsens, and the threat posed by monsters from the Wastelands or Dark Forest, the people of Sachsenheim tolerate and give thanks to the Hounds for their assistance. It it to maintain this positive relationship that the order enforces its tenets so strictly here and elsewhere, because if they didn’t, it is not too far to go before the Hounds might become viewed as monsters themselves.

Dra’zhar Lands

Though spread far and wide and almost constantly on the move with the local tribes, Hounds embedded with the horselords are generally welcomed and made to feel at home within a tribe, at least relatively speaking when compared to the other realms. When faced with monsters, a Dra’zhar Hound can also more often than not count on a decent number of capable local warriors to back them up, another great benefit to working in the region. Where things do become complicated is in relation to internal and external conflict between tribes and the other realms, for the combative stance of the Dra’zhar is a significant challenge to overcome in trying to achieve the second aim of peace between the realms.

Valeria

While it might seem like Hounds would be welcome within the Empire, the often rough and cunning approach favoured by the Hounds to dealing with problems is at odds with the precise and forthright manner in which Valerians solve most of their difficulties. Hounds operating in Valeria will generally be granted as much as they need to complete their task at hand, but rarely anything more, and their presence is often seen as an unsettling influence on the local population.

Korashur

For those familiar with the look a person might give a welltrained pet chimpanzee, it is possible to get a sense of how a Korashuran mage might regard a Hound. Though most might consider their own capabilities a match for all but the worst threats the world has to offer, the Korashurans are content to let Hounds carry out their self-chosen duties as long as it does not impact on their own operations. As well as this, even the most reticent mage is often wise enough to know when it is useful to make use of the assistance of members of the order, even though they may not express any gratitude openly.

Shenzhou

In the distant lands of Shenzhou to the west, a Hound can expect to be welcomed and given hospitality likely many foreigners that behave themselves, but also like most foreigners they find themselves treated differently to locals. Unlike most foreigners though, being treated differently is par for the trial for them, and so Shenzhou is one of the most pleasant places for a Hound to operate. This being said, as it is not part of the Five Realms, the order has less interest in operations here, and focus more on observation and ensuring that any threats that do arise are dealt with before they can cross to Lorandar or Aluvinor.

Caratas

A difficult continent to deal with, this equatorial landmass is divided into a western and eastern section, connected by a relatively narrow land bridge. Numerous small city-states and networks of villages exist along its shores or deep in the heart of its jungles and plains, and Hounds have to be particularly careful to not fall foul of the locals beliefs in sorcery and that the Hounds themselves are demons, something that causes a problem all too often. The primary reason for maintaining a presence on this continent is for seeking out and monitoring the ruins of the Ancients, which are in particular abundance all across the continent, and many of which hold terrors that cannot be left to rise unchecked.

Aunwe

Though it is rare for a Hound to travel to the southern continent, some relish the challenge and see it as necessary to keep watch over the vast Greatwoods. There are few humans living on the continent apart from some heavily fortified holds of the Stormreach, primarily due to the fact that the tractless greatwoods are filled with wildlings that strongly resent the presence of humans interlopers in their domain. While it has been over a millennia since a Wild Hunt came from Aunwe and threatened the Five Realms, the Hounds keep watch for any since of their return.

Northern Kingdoms

The most distant of the human realms are the Northern Kingdoms, which are in fact a broad collection of moderately sized realms inhabiting the south-eastern portion of the continent of Sar-karadas, descended mostly from forces of the Grand Crusade that toppled the last realm of the Ancients in that far-flung place. Life in this place might be familiar to those in the Five Realms in some regard, and for the truly adventurous it is a land of opportunity. Everything here seems just that bit larger than life, especially some of the monsters. Thankfully with distance comes less threat, and there is in fact little call for Hounds to travel this far afield except under the most exceptional circumstances.

Bases and Outposts

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Witchcliff

The ancient stronghold of the Hounds. Built into an atop a rocky promontory at the north-west extent of the White Mountains, this citadel is said to have been constructed shortly after the foundations of Lightstone were laid. That being said, some parts of Witchcliff are of an elegant and arcane style that by wear and tear seems to predate Lightstone by hundreds of years, though the Masters of the Hounds keep the truth of the matter tight-lipped. Within its vast halls and passages the oldest and most skilled of the Order of the Wolf train new recruits in combat, diplomacy, and the other alchemical and magical arts of their order.

Blackcrag

Probably the most idyllic location in Valeria is also home to one of its most heavily fortified cities, ruled over by the Hounds. On the steep shores of the lake by the same name, Blackreach is an impregnable fortress of black volcanic rock surrounding a city of tiered quarters where the populace live. The Hounds built this fortress in ages past during the time of the Avyrnian Crusade and have ruled over the surrounding area since, providing a safe bastion for their duties across Valeria.

Boneshadow’s Bastion

Built on the edge of the Wastelands and dating back to the destruction of the Ancients on Lorandar, the fortress is a bleak and purposeful place where Hounds and supporting soldiers of the Sachsens watch over the Wastelands against the fell horrors that arise there. It is a grim place that relies upon regular supply caravans from the Skyrenhal Plains to support its garrison, and is not a place where most Hounds or allied soldiers are keen to stay for too long, especially after encountering the dread mists of the Wastelands.

Darkshard Caverns

Formed by large quantities of flowing water in times past, the caverns later were the site of significant deposits of aetherstone that was mined by the Ancients. Plundered of much of the rare stone, the caverns were granted to the Hounds after their assistance of the Dra’zhar in 4:1081 against the aggressive campaign of Lord Paulus of Valeria. By the present day the Hounds have built a substantial stronghold throughout the caverns that house members of their order taking a break from time amongst the Dra’zhar, and those new to the lands training and growing accustomed to how to interact with the horse-warriors.

The Aerie

Nestled atop a broad ridge in the southern-central Torran Mountains of Caratas, the Aerie is a majestic and resolute structure said to have in ancient times been an observatory or temple of the Ancients. These days it houses the far-ranging Hounds that keep watch over the wilds of Caratas.

The Rampart

Located within the territory of the Stormreach Hold of Mossman Bay, the Rampart is a stout fortress from which particularly brave (or foolish) Hounds keep watch over the things that dwell within the Greatwoods of Aunwe. Wildlings, trolls, dragons and far more terrible things lurk underneath the shaded boughs; a challenge for even the greatest amongst the order.

Vvarden Hollow

Due to the paranoia that many mages feel towards Hounds, in Korashur the order setup its primary base of operations in an isolated settlement in the Saltenbranch Forest. Its population previously wiped out by a cabal of vampires, the Hounds decided to re-inhabit the place themselves after they had dispatched the undead, having themselves recently been forced to abandon their previous stronghold in Tarnankh Pass due to a destructive assault by fell-beasts from the Wastelands.

Other Subjects of Note

Dice Poker

In this game each player uses a set of five dice, and the goal is to roll the strongest hand in two of three hands. The players decide between themselves who starts first, though it is usually the challenger that does. The players make their initial bets and the starting player rolls, followed by the other players. In succession, the first player chooses whether to raise the bet or not, and then subsequent players can surrender, accept or raise the bet even further. Players then select which, if any, dice they wish to reroll. Once all players have made their second roll, the highest-ranking hand wins.

If at the end any hands match, the highest face-value prevails: e.g. if a player has a Pair of 3s and their opponent has a Pair of 4s, the player loses. ‘Extra’ dice (in the case of Pairs or Three-/Four-of-aKind) are only considered if matching hands are identical: e.g. if two players have four 6s, one of them has a fifth die that is a 3 and their opponent’s is a 1, the first player wins. If two or more players end with all five dice matching, it’s a draw; this adds another chance to raise the stakes and re-roll, and though rare, can happen more than once per game, dragging it out until one hand exceeds the other.

Ranking of Hands from the lowest to the highest:

  • Nothing — five mismatched dice forming no sequence longer than four.
  • Pair — two dice showing the same value.
  • Two Pairs — two pairs of dice, each showing the same value.
  • Three-of-a-Kind — three dice showing the same value.
  • Five High Straight — dice showing values from 1 through 5, inclusive.
  • Six High Straight — dice showing values from 2 through 6, inclusive.
  • Full House — Pair of one value and Three-of-a-Kind of another.
  • Four-of-a-Kind — four dice showing the same value.
  • Five-of-a-Kind — all five dice showing the same value.