Lets be clear, in the real world, the actions of individuals are rarely if ever that important to the outcomes of regional or national events. Even when it appears that they are, very often such outstanding individuals are more an expression of a social trend than the drivers of change. But in the kind of story you tell where the characters aren't the movers and the shakers of destiny, there tend to be a lot fewer fairy knights, and a lot more murder in pubs, than I am aiming for.
Of course, if near superhuman mercenary murder hobo's started plying their trade in the real world (or worse still tried to change the world), governments would squash them with a drone strike and say "no thank you very much" before trying to pretend the whole sorry episode never occurred. The same should be true of any moderately competent fantasy government. So we need a pretty good rational for why adventurers are going to be able to set themselves up as noblity, rise armies, and try and become power players in the nation.
Fortunately, the real world gives us a few situations where skilled, violent and/or charismatic people are able to steer the path of whole nations, as opposed to being steer by the populous or events. Perhaps the most appropriate example is that of warlords in failed states.
That is why Arnel is what it is.
What is Arnel?
Well the short answer to that is, a mess. War and plague have decimated the nation, at a time when it's past strength is sorely needed. Where once it was a magical nation, with many allies amongst the fey and the dead, it has now lost almost all its knowledge of the arcane art, and the other world.
The times are changing, the nations leader is utterly mad, and their are opportunities a plenty for heroes.
The origins of ArnelThe time before: The black kings of Vortmarr ruled a terrible kingdom of dark magic on the western coast of the Solenel peninsular. It expanded ever outwards, consuming nations and tribes. Their kingdom is said to have lasted a thousand years. At sometime during the late stages of their rule, the Arnlings pass through the forest of shadows, and settle to fey haunsted lands beneith the Iceclaws, the forest of shadows, and the Sundel Sea. Meanwhile, a warlord named Horran Vard goes to war with Vortmarr, and for the first time in hundred of years, hope is granted to the people of the penincular as it becomes clear that the black kings may be defeated.
0: To the west, Horran Vard slew Azak, the last of the black kings of Vortmarr. In the chaos and terror that follows, the black fen is formed, as the rivers burst their banks and coastal defenses fail, drowning the greatest cities of Vortmarr, and the remains of their Sorcerer kings.
10: Arnling settlements are common throughout the northern reaches of what will become Arnel. Folk tales and chronicles report that during this time, the Arnling settlements are isolated and fiercely independant. Many are troubled greatly by the fey.
11: Thomas Witt, aged fifteen, becomes the first wizard to be recorded in the folklore the Arnlings. He is said to have stolen magic from a fairy maiden. His adventures over the next ten years form the chronicle of Thomas Witt, and are often claimed to have laid the ground work for nationhood, as his adventures gave every Arnling settlement reason to be thankful to him. The roguish nature of Thomas Watt is the foundations of a view of wizards as tricksters and trouble makers in Arnling cultures. Simon and Tasha Osret are born to the Caleb Osret Chief of woodsedge, and Meli, a priestess of the war goddess.
12: Aaron of Redford, is born Elspeth of Redford, a blacksmith in that village. Katie Waterchild found wandering aged two near the rivers edge at Tallowback ford. Her parents are never identified, and she is adopted by Thomas Witt, who is travelling in the area.
21:Thomas Witt builds home atop the cliffs of the coast of daggers. He names it the High House, and fills it with many treasures, magical and otherwise. In the centuries since, many have tried to enter the High House to steal from it, most have not returned, and those that have, are almost always changed by the experience (rarely for the better).
22: The Frost Giantess Aslaug leads a small raid down from the Iceclaws, destroying the settlement of Holm. The spreading news of this raid and its perpetrators caused panic. Two more raids though out the year are slightly less devastating for the targets, thanks to the warning left by Holm.
23: Giantish raids continue. Thomas Witt, gathers Arnling leaders, persuading them to forge and alliance. On the winter solstice, the alliance and a force of giants clash in what will be known as the battle of Black Axe Field, giving the Arnlings their first glimmer of hope as they successfully drive of the giants. During this battle, Tom Witt scorches out Aslaug's left eye with magic flames. She takes the name Aslaug One-Eye, swearing the destruction of the Arnlings.
24-27: Arnling-giant conflict continues.
28: With no solution to the war with the giants in sight, Thomas Witt gathers 4 young men and woman from across the Arnling settlements, they are Aaron of Redford, the twins Simon and Tasha Osret, and his own adopted daughter Katie Waterchild. He binds these exceptional young people together by powerful oaths, creating the first Oathbound in the process. He leads the young heroes into the fey realm and the underworld, there forging alliances and seeking artifacts to help defeat the giants. Meanwhile, Aslaug One-Eye gathers more giants to her cause, and the Arnlings suffer two terrible defeats.
29: Aslaug One-Eye marches on Whitehold, the greatest remaining Arnling settlement. As Aslaug One-Eye leads the attack on the settlement, the Oathbound return at the head of an army of fey knights and the dead, driving the giants back into the mountains. They carry with them the corpse of Aslaug One-Eye atop her shield. Aaron of Redford and Tasha Osret marry, and are declared high king and queen of the Arnlings. The Nation of Arnel is born.
30-372: Arnlings spread southwards along the coast of daggers and the edge of the forest of slumber, settling the wilderness*. During this time, Arnel transforms from a collection of loosely allied settlements, to a full feudal system. Kate Waterchild and Thomas Witt slowly by surely spread the art of wizardry. It never becomes common, but the nation does have a near monopoly on wizards in the peninsular, which while they are mostly isolated from events elsewhere, earns the nation a reputation that will last for generations to come. Giant raids remain a threat, even if they are uncommon.
373: Arnel's expansion brings it border into contact with the border of the kingdom of Halwick for the first time. King John the second of Arnel meets with the Kings Oleg Ironhand of Halwick, and they agree a common border. This meeting is cordial, thanks in part to generations of sea trade between the two nations. The folk of Halwick are Endels, and Ironhand informs King John of several other Endel nations to the south, and west, including Halwicks neighbours in Alwick.
374: Arnel's southern border expands to meets the kingdom of Alswick. King John the second of Arnel meets with King Skath of Alswick. The two are unable to agree a common border, and tensions run high. This is in part due to both Arnlings and Endel's having settled much of the same land along the boarder region.
378: Banditry and raiding between Arnling and Endel lords in the border region draw Arnel and Alswick into war. For the first time, a major nation feels the effects of Arnels magical and martial traditions. The war lasts fifty day, before Alswick sues for peace, seeding the borderlands to Arnel
385: King John the second dies, his war-like son, Ethelred the first(also known as "the Goblin King"), is crowned. The economy of Arnel, driven by it's constant southwards expansion has suffered since 373, and Ethelred the first invades Alswick. At the same time, he calls forth a horde of goblins from Alswicks forests with a magic horn. Arnel's forces and the goblins progress deep into Alswick.
387: On the eve of total victory in Alswick, two events set Ethelred's plans to chaos. From the north, the largest Giant raid since the days of the Giantess Aslaug One-Eye, comes down from the mountain, and a bannerless force of raiders strikes at Ethelred's supply lines. The Goblin king is forced to flee back into Arnel to deal with the threat, however, he is ambushed on route, and slain. Most historians believe that these raiders were in fact the forces of King Oleg Ironhand, king of Halwick, who feared that his nation would be next to suffer Ethelred's attentions. Ethelred's younger brother, is crowned King Thomas the third. He gathers Arnel's forces, and marches north to face the giants. His wife, Morgan Stormchild, a priestess of the goddess of war travels into the battered nation of Halwick, there she meets with the elderly King Skath of Alswick and an envoy of King Oleg Iron hand. In a masterful example of diplomacy, she is able to convince King Skath to seed a third of his nations original land, in exchange for one hundred years of Oathbound piece between Arnel and Alswick. In addition to this, she is able to ensure nearly thirty marriages between Arnling and Endel noble lines, and favorable trading conditions. Meanwhile Thomas the third, drives back the Giantish invaders, but looses an arm in the process.
399: Queen Svella Ironhand, daughter of king Oleg, invades Arnel, with her nations armies, and a large force of mercenaries. This war will last two decades, and eventually result in the subjugation of Halwick by the sword
405: The true scale of the cunning of queen Morgan becomes clear, as Arnel absorbs Alswick as a Duchy, thanks to economic and social colonisation over the intervening years. This becomes official when skath's only grand child, Sara, marries prince Aaron, son of Thomas the third and Morgan Stormchild.
421: The annexation of Alswick secure and the subjugation of Halwick complete, Arnel finds itself with new neighbours in the form of Alass and Norren.
423: Modern borders of Arnel formed. Increasing sea trade in the Sundel Sea and with the ocean beyond, a near complete end to giant raids, and the growing shadow of Highmarch to the west, ensure a two hundred year period of peace in Arnel. This is widely considered the golden age of Arnel. During this time, the center of Arnel's political life moves south into the lands which were once Alswick and Halwick, with traditional Arnel lands being seen as backwards and superstitious. Meanwhile the high king sells the services of his vessels as mercenaries throughout the peninsular.
650-655: Several Barons of Northern Arnel refuse the call to service of High King Tobin the first, a short lived civil war ensues. During this conflict the king commits a number of Attrocities against his own people. Many historians see this as the end of the golden age of Arnel. After the massacre at Blackhill, it is said that Thomas Witt appeared to King Tobin, and pronounced the doom of the line of Redford. This is the last documented claim of the appearance of the wizard, who had been believed dead for hundreds of years. Since the King was the only witness to this appearance, it is uncertain if the wizard truly appeared, but none doubt the sincerity of Tobin's belief in it. From this time on, madness is a common ailment of the line of Redford. High King Tobin banished wizards from his court, and bans consorting with the fey.
656: The high king levies taxes against the north as a form of collective punishment. Additionally King Tobin attempts to lay siege to and destroy the High House of Thomas Witt, but his armies are unaccountably unable to find it. Serveral laws are past, banning wizardry, druidry and other non-religious magics
671: Plague decimates the northern city of Redford. King Tobin orders the inhabitance slaughtered and the city burned to the ground to stop the plagues spread.
700: An alliance of northern lords and wizards, along with fey allies strike against the south and Tobin's son Ethelred the second. A century of civil war ensues, literally decimating the north. Even by the present day, the north has not truly recovered
800: Weakened by a century of war, the south withdraws from politics in the penincular. Highmarch takes this opportunity and invades several nations which had historically recieved protection from Arnel. While the royalty of Arnel grows weaker and stranger thanks to its heritable madness,a new middle class of merchants rises from the shadow, spreading out from the capital. Mercenary companies become increasingly common, and individual lords start to use their feudal rights to raid one another, rather than protect the kingdom.
850: The renewed Merchant endevours across the eastern peninsular and in the lands beyond the Sundel sea bring unprecedented wealth to the merchant classes of Arnel. This success brings them into conflict with the merchant houses of Salerna.
900: A great plague sweeps the peninsular, brought by trade with other nations. In Arnel the slowly recovering north is hit hard, but not nearly so hard as the south. In desperation the high king retracts laws banning consorting with the Fey, and the practice of wizardry, in the hope of finding a solution to the plague, however, the traditions of magic in the south that might have aided have been utterly lost.
910: With the plague past, rebuilding begin. International trade continues to spur the rise to power of
merchant houses. The north is in ruins, and the king has utterly given up trying to rule it, focusing on ensuring the recovery of the south. New technologies of war and culture flood into the great cities of the south. Perhaps most importantly, is the rise of the Pike. professional soldiers armed with Pikes have started to challenge the battle field supremacy of the heavy cavalry of the noblity. highmarch looks set to invade Vodda, causing the alliance of princes.
914: First Bombard used on peninsular soil
915: The present day.
*these lands were ofcause not truly wildernesses, nor was the land they first settled when passing through the forest of slumber. However, the people of Arnel have a strong cultural myth of having been the first to settle the area.