Introduction to Wu-Yu
The world of Wu-Yu is dominated by the Empire. It was created a millennium ago when metalworking Dwarves spilled out of their homeland in the West, crossed the Tianshu Mountains, and conquered the Goblinoid tribes that farmed the fertile crescent between the Meng and Jie Die Rivers. With Goblinoids as their serfs, the Dwarves set up a strong government that enforced order from sea to sea. Trade routes brought new technologies and luxuries. Dwarven priests pacified the various peoples with the Doctrine of Unity, which proclaimed that all peoples worshiped the same five supreme deities under local guises. Cities grew, learning prospered, and peace was known.
But over time the system also created corruption, loathing between social classes, an indolent aristocracy, and political rivalry. In this weakening climate, Orc nomads of the Goro Desert began to raid the northern borders of the Empire. The Dwarven armies, with their disciplined ranks of tightly-grouped infantry, were unprepared for the swift mounted archers of the Orcs. And the Dwarven nobility, grown soft amidst their sculpted gardens, were no match for the blood-born Orc commanders. To forestall disaster, the Dwarves invited certain tribes of Orcs to settle inside the Empire in exchange for military service against raiding tribes. Thus, the scene was set for the twilight of the Dwarves.
The Conquest by the Orcs
Enter Hunun Gol, a cunning young Orc born and raised in the Empire. His military genius was recognized in a series of stunningly successful campaigns against raiding tribes. The Empire celebrated him with a hero’s parade through the streets of Xing Xiang. But Hunun Gol was not satisfied with mere honors. His sights were set on bigger things. He took a contingent of crack troops deep into enemy territory, beyond the Goro Desert of the raiding tribes to the Uga’ama Steppes. There dwelled tribes of Orcs with no Imperial contact but a traditional hatred of the Goro tribes. Unifying the Uga’ama tribes, Hunun Gol launched a massive campaign that crushed the Goro threat once and for all.
It was then that the Dwarves realized what a monster they had created. They sent emissaries offering Hunun Gol the title of Imperial Grand Marshall, second only in power to the Emperor himself. Gol did not grace them with a reply. His veteran armies, swelling with reinforcements from the defeated Goro tribes, poured into the Empire. City after city fell, till everything east of the Tianshu Mountains was under his control. A brief peace treaty let him consolidate power before striking west to deliver the final blow. The Dwarven homeland put up a staunch defense, but the last stronghold, the holy city of Bara-xi, finally fell. Hunun Gol was the undisputed master of the Empire.
The Troubled Reign of Hunun Gol
The new Emperor’s troubles were far from over. The task of post-war reconstruction was fraught with peril after peril.
For one thing, his horde of Orcs demanded a share in the Empire. Even after stripping the Dwarven nobility of all holdings, there were still more Orc chiefs than lands to reward them with. Hunun Gol solved this by revoking clan status from families he suspected of working against him. This blunderous move created an underground rebellion that smolders to this day.
For another thing, the Dwarves proved too proud to accept their lowered status. Many of the most learned minds in Wu-Yu committed bodhiyama, or enlightened suicide, leaving an intellectual and technological vacuum that could not be filled by Hunun’s crude Orcs. Other Dwarves rallied around these martyrs and started a new religion called Tathatan, which resolutely refuses the spiritual authority of an Orc-led government, creating an ideological rift in the Empire. Furthermore, many people saw the fall of the Dwarves as a sign that the end times were near, and various apocalyptic cults sprang up across Wu-Yu. The famous Yamananda Prophecy bade tens of thousands sell their belongings in anticipation of the immanent end. The prophesied date came and passed quietly, but the ramifications sent the economy into chaos. Hunun Gol’s theologians responded to these challenges by exhuming a little-heeded verse from a sacred epic, the Grand Drama of the Four Ages. The new interpretation legitimized Orc rule, postponed the end of the world, and instituted a new Imperial cult called Thauma-Virun. By emphasizing salvation, the cult won the hearts of many. Still, the Tathatan religion and apocalyptic cults persist.
Hunun Gol also had to contend with problems of class and race. The Dwarves had exploited their Goblinoid serfs for a thousand years. With the Dwarves displaced, the system appeared poised for change. Meanwhile, immediately after conquering the Empire, Hunun Gol, with orc chiefs militating against him and Dwarven leaders galvanizing protests, was desperate for supporters. He turned to the masses of Goblinoid commoners. In a history-making move called the Decree of Emancipation, Hunun abolished serfdom. In a fated phrase, he declared “All intelligent souls dwelling within this glorious Empire, henceforth be free.” Though he won the hearts of the masses, the Decree did not effect the change he sought. After such a long period of oppression, Goblinoids had no idea how to be free citizens. Most carried on in their accustomed roles of labor and drudgery, albeit with modest pay. Those who did try to move up faced a thousand year’s worth of ingrained racial prejudice. Hunun Gol’s revolution of the masses failed to subvert the power of the Orc chiefs and Dwarven resisters.
Finally, one further threat confronted Hunun Gol. Two centuries previous, the Empire had made contact with reindeer-herding Halflings in the Northern Wastes, giving them arts and technologies in exchange for raw goods, but then had to abandon the region due to civil conflicts closer to home. The Halflings did not forget what they learned, but exploited it to the fullest, founding cities all along the Hoto Coast where the Empire was weak. From these bases, they created a network of marine trade routes that canvassed the Eastern Islands, Southern Islands, and even beyond to an empire of serpent-like Yuan-ti far across the southern ocean. Rare gems and spices generated fabulous wealth. By the time Hunun Gol came to power, the Halfling merchant companies comprised a bristling naval power, fully capable of defending their seas. With civil conflicts broiling at home, Hunun Gol could not risk war with the Halflings. So he offered to make a deal. In exchange for nominal deference to the Empire and an annual tribute, the Halflings demanded legal passage throughout Imperial lands for their merchants, the ban of certain magical spells considered detrimental to business, and the legalization of the slave trade. The latter provision would allow Halflings to import from the Yuan-ti empire the cat-like slave race called Tabaxi. But slavery went against Hunun’s Decree of Emancipation—he was in a bind. Once again his theologians offered a solution. Realizing that the Decree only addressed “souls”, they revived an ancient teaching that only ni-tauma races, which were limited to Orcs, Dwarves, Goblinoids, Elves, Halflings, Humans, and Gnomes, possessed souls. All other species, called tau-tauma and including Vanara and Tabaxi, lacked souls. Furthermore, the Decree spoke only of those “dwelling in this glorious Empire.” Tabaxi were unknown in the Empire at the time, so they could not have been included. Therefore, Tabaxi could be legally bought and sold as slaves in the Empire. This interpretation had the double advantage of enabling a crackdown on the ape-like Vanara, a thieving race recently pushed out of their jungle homeland by environmental pressures. Hunun Gol agreed to the Halfling demands in a landmark treaty called the Freedom of Trade Proclamation. Henceforth, Tabaxi slaves began pouring into the Empire and Vanara were confined to demarcated ghettos.
With the Halflings appeased, Hunun Gol has been able to turn his attention back to local matters. Crops have been failing due to strange clouds of black particles called Thauma’s Ashes. The result has been widespread hunger, yet the last few years have seen little action on the part of Emperor Hunun. He has grown withdrawn, rarely leaving his palace at Xing Xiang. Rumors speculate on his health and mental condition, and on whom he will choose as his successor.
To this day, rebellious Orc families hide in the shadows, Dwarves of the Tathatan religion protest Imperial authority in spiritual matters, apocalyptic cults preach the end, and Goblinoids struggle to rise above their stations. Tabaxi are auctioned off at the slave markets of Shen Bei, and Halfling traders ply the seas and inland routes throughout the Empire. Meanwhile, Elves wander the Empire in their traditional Gypsy-like lifestyle, scorned by many. They are currently banned from several cities. The Vanara struggle to survive inside their ghettos, growing more agitated each day. Humans remain a barbaric people on the fringes of the Empire, but trade with them is growing and recently Human-grown opium poppies have begun flowing out of their highlands in Halfling wagons. Gnomes keep to themselves high atop the Plateau of Trulkor, but texts of the forbidden art of sorcery for which Gnomes are notorious have been leaking into the Empire, creating paranoia and fear. The races of Wu-Yu are at each other’s throats. All are now looking more than ever for strong leadership, which is no where to be found.
In the absence of Hunun Gol’s guiding presence, political factions are growing bolder. The plan for Imperial succession, if there is one, remains secret. Some governors have begun stockpiling for war. The world seems poised on a precipice. There is peace, for now.