Most of the records of the time before the Shrouding have been lost. Most people live their lives in total ignorance of the past beyond the memory of their oldest neighbor, and even the learned have to piece together scraps of information, leading to a history with more gaps than filled spaces, and more questions than answers.
What is known is that some two hundred years ago, the region now called the Shrouded Lands was called the Grand Duchy of Tamlost, and it was one of four Grand Duchies that made up a great empire called the High Kingdom of Egalia. The Grand Duke lived in his palace in the capitol city of Maranvir, and proud walled towns spread out across the land, connected by a series of grand highways. In the mountains to the north were the dwarven citadel-states of Khaz Barduk and Khaz Durok, who were tied to Tamlost through networks of trade and political alliance.
Tamlost was the least magical and least developed of the Grand Duchies of the High Kingdom, at least outside of Maranvir. Still, it was a place of peace and prosperity, with strong armies and great towns, where wealth and knowledge traveled along the highways. The monsters were driven deep into the forests and mountains.
Of course, it was too good to last. About two hundred years ago, there was a great Cataclysm of some kind that ravaged the High Kingdom – or rather, a long string of disasters that are grouped together. First came a dark plague that traveled along the great highways from city to town to fortress, seemingly unstoppable. Within a a few years, almost one human in three was dead by the disease, and the elves and dwarves in their holdings were almost as hard hit. The semi-nomadic halflings were even worse off then the more sedentary humans.
Trade slowed to a trickle as villages and towns sealed themselves in, terrified of the plague. People began to abandon the cities and towns where the plague hit the hardest, and where lack of trade made it impossible to feed everyone. Revolutions sprang up in remote parts of the Empire, as local malcontents saw the weakness of the central power and capitalized on it. Only the loyalty and raw magical and military power of the Knightly Orders (chapters of knights and mages, loyal to the High King and spread throught the empire) prevented utter anarchy.
Then it got worse. A vast Horde swept in from the East, led by demons and filled to the brim with cannibal gnolls and savage, corrupt hordesmen. Almost simultaneously, war broke out with the legendary, mystical Dragon Kings to the far south. Why the Horde picked this time to invade are unknown, though tale-tellers mutter that their demon overlords spread the plague in advance to weaken the High Kingdom. The reasons for the war are similarly lost to history.
It looked for a while like the whole of the world would be drowned in fire, enslaved by the dragons or eaten alive by demons. The High King was the most potent wizard in all the world, however, and even ravaged by plague and at the end of her strength, the High Kingdom was still very strong. A series of brilliant campaigns and delaying actions in the South kept the Dragon Kings’ armies at bay while a grand alliance of every Grand Duchy, ally, city-state and client-kingdom faced down the Horde.
For nearly a decade the war dragged on, until the Orders were reduced to a paltry handful of knights and both sides were bled dry. It finally came to a head at the Battle of Ebon Lake, right at the gates of the Capitol of High Kingdom. It seemed like all was lost until the High King himself, riding atop his magical flying horse crafted from steel and gold, slew the seven demonic overlords of the Horde in single combat while his nobility crafted a mighty Overspell that would channel the mystic resources of the entire kingdom into a weapon of unbelieveable destructive power.
No one is exactly sure what happened next. Most scholars believe that the invading Horde was annihilated and the Dragon Kings so cowed by the sheer power of the spell that they withdrew their armies and sued for peace. The aftermath, however, was the doom of the High Kingdom. Its capitol was rendered unlivable by the residual energies of the Overspell. The Knightly Orders were almost completely wiped out, and the nobility of the kingdom was not much better. Even worse, the draining effects of the Overspell lingered – magic was severely limited, and the fantastic devices and grand magical infrastructures that bound the High Kingdom together started to crumble almost immediately.
The High King lived through the battle, but was a broken man afterwards. His family was dead and his kingdom was collapsing around him. Less than a year after his final victory, he simply disappeared, taking his steel horse with him.
By this time, Tamlost – the Grand Duchy, if you remember, which would become the Shrouded Lands – has almost completely fallen into anarchy. Vestiges of the plague still existed in remote parts of the world, and the Grand Duke and most of his court were dead. Maranvir had almost been completely abandoned, and those nobles and mages who survived locked themselves in their little holdings as everything decayed around them.
Then came the Shrouding.
Around one hundred and seventy years ago, the Shroud first started creeping out of the Deeping Mire and into the outskirts of Maranvir. Within a few months, Maranvir and the Seeker’s Forest were Shrouded, and within a year it had spread into the mountains to the west and hovered, pale and malignant, off the coast to the east. All of Tamlost was suddenly and abruptly cut off from the rest of the world, and since that day no one has ever come out of the shroud from Elsewhere, and no one who has entered the Shroud from this side has ever returned.
The Shroud seemed to have a malignant will behind it, actively seeking out towns and towers where vestiges of the High Kingdom still remained. Many were abandoned, some were simply swallowed whole and stripped clean of life, while one – just one! – was able to throw up a permanent magical barrier that kept the Shroud at bay.
The elves retreated to their forest enclaves and drove out their magic-users to protect themselves from the Shroud. The dwarven city of Khaz Durok simply shut it’s doors, sealing themselves inside the mountain and cutting off all contact with the outside world. Khaz Barduk, however, was built into the cliffs of Barad Valley, and had no such option. In the end, it didn’t really matter, as the Maran Dam burst a year later – perhaps from lack of maintenance – a disaster which sank half the city into a newly formed lake and drove the survivors out into the Shrouded lands to seek their fortunes elsewhere.
Since then, things have been more or less in stasis. For the past century and a half, the people of the Shrouded Lands have lived in small villages and towns, heavily fortified against the Shroud and against the monsters who have crept back out of the dark places of the world to menace us. Nobody travels the road except the desperate – and, of course, the bands of Kingsmen who brave the Shroud to keep hope alive, and to bring news and trade goods to the isolated communities.
Some hold out hope that the High King is out there somewhere, and that he’ll return, burn off the Shroud, and usher in a new golden age. Most, however, have accepted that this is the only world they’ve got, and they do what they need to get by, day by day and year by year. It’s not an easy life, but we’re surviving… for now.