Cheliax, Empire of Devils
Infernal Cheliax (pronounced CHEL-ee-ax) remains one of the most powerful nations militarily in the Inner Sea region. Its control of the Arch of Aroden, the passage between the Inner Sea and the Arcadian Ocean, also gives it a vital role in much of the region’s trade. Nevertheless, as important as the nation may be today, it pales in comparison to its former Imperial glories. Today, in the eyes of most external observers in other parts of the Inner Sea, Cheliax suffers from extreme diabolism and a tyranny which prevent it from truly achieving its full potential. Internal observers, including the new nobility of Cheliax, firmly believe that Asmodeus and Hell serve Cheliax and assist in maintaining the power necessary for Cheliax to assume its rightful role among the leading nations of the Inner Sea.
History in infernal Cheliax is a slippery thing, especially if it deals with events that occurred before the ascendance of House Thrune. Cheliax’s current rulers understand history’s power to inspire, and therefore have actively worked to eradicate any mention of the nation’s imperial past. They have even done this to former allies, and more than a few noble families have found themselves excised from official records after offending the Hell Knight Order of the Rack and burned on so called clarity pyres, and heavy penalties are imposed on any organization that fails to offer up its previously assigned volumes. The new histories invariably have large gaps and omissions, sometimes to the point of making them unreadable. Despite this, records survive that have escaped the Imperial Ministry of Historical Accuracy’s frequent revisions. These publications can fetch a high price on the black market, providing one can find a buying who is not a paid informant for the Ministry.. Every three months a new state-sanctioned history is printed and disseminated to the nation’s universities and libraries. The now outdated, older copies of these books are collected by the
Cheliax was founded as the westernmost frontier prefecture of the Taldan Empire in 3007 AR. It would remain a part of the Taldan Empire for more than a thousand years, until two years after the massive invasion of Taldor by Qadiran forces in 4079 AR. Aspex the Even-Tongued, the Taldan governor, knew that Taldor could not fight a massive war on two fronts thousands of miles from each other, and declared independence in 4081 AR. Knowing Taldor would remain focused on its titanic struggle with Qadira, King Aspex of the new nation of Cheliax incorporated the Taldan territories of Galt and Isger by force and Andoran and the winged men of Devil’s Perch by diplomacy in what became known as the Even-Tongued Conquest. Due to its size, military power, and boundless ambition, Cheliax would continue to dominate Avistan for the next 600 years.
By 4137 AR, ongoing friction between Absalom and Cheliax over control of trade in the Inner Sea region led Prince Haliad I to lay siege on Absalom. Although the siege was unsuccessful, Cheliax was left the major naval power in the Inner Sea and gained control of both sides of the Arch of Aroden. In 4138 AR, Cheliax also established a new colony in Western Garund at Sargava.
Chelish expansion to the north continued when King Haliad III launched the Everwar in 4305 AR. Over the following century, and spanning the reigns of five Chelish monarchs, the empire conquered or annexed lands in what are now Molthune, Nirmathas, Isger, parts of the Hold of Belkzen, Nidal, and Varisia. The Everwar came to a close in 4410 AR when Cheliax renounced all hopes for further territorial expansion in Varisia and Belkzen. During this expansionist period, Cheliax installed a foreign ruling class in its newfound territories, and the descendants of these people still hold positions of power today, even if Cheliax withdrew its control some time ago.
Even though the Everwar had come to a close, Cheliax’s ambitions continued unabated within its homeland and colonies, supported in part by the Starfall Doctrine. This prophecy stated that the god Aroden would reappear in Cheliax in 4606 AR and lead humanity to a new Age of Glory, with Cheliax at the helm. In anticipation for this, Cheliax went to extraordinary lengths in the last decades of the Age of Enthronement. The first Hellknight order, the Order of the Rack, was founded in 4576 AR in the capital of Westcrown. In 4605 AR, King Gaspodar himself began the preparations for the reappearance of the god.
Chelish Civil War
In 4606 AR, Cheliax’s patron deity Aroden died, and so did its centuries-long dominance of the Inner Sea region. Robbed of his divine mandate, King Gaspodar lost control of the empire as fractious noble houses challenged the crown and each other for dominance. The first to do so was House Thrune, which rekindled a feud over land in 4608 AR with a rival family whose name has since been erased from history by the Chelish government. Cheliax descended into three decades of civil war, as the various noble houses fought for supremacy. Molthune took the opportunity to declare independence in 4632 AR.
The Chelish Civil War was a fractious and destructive endeavor. Brother turned against brother, with small tyrants rising to power, promising shelter from the increasingly worsening conditions. These leaders quickly were brought down by others seeking power, or were eradicated by the many diseases that accompany such drawn-out anarchy. As the years stretched into decades, the people of Cheliax became more and more desperate, looking for any possible solution to their national nightmare. The golden dream of Imperial Cheliax long since forgotten, they increasingly turned to darker methods to quell the fighting and restore order. It was one of these darker methods that finally brought a resolution to the fighting, but one that came at a very steep cost.
With no clear victor to the war after decades of terrible fighting, Abrogail of House Thrune signed a pact with the powers of Hell, placing herself and her family under their control. In return she received a number of devils to bolster her forces, and others to assist her as advisors. With their help, she brought the Chelish heartland under her control, which gave her a certain amount of legitimacy. Baron Grallus of the Chelish colony of Sargava backed House Davian in the war, but Davian’s ambitions were shattered by House Thrune at the Battle of a Hundred Kings. Held near the city of Corentyn in 4639 AR, the defeat of House Davian’s forces here was the climactic battle of the war, signaling the doom of all who opposed House Thrune.
Epilogues of the Civil War
Even though the people did not particularly like being under the rule of devil-worshipers, they liked the anarchy of war even less. Within a year, House Thrune had defeated all other comers and Queen Abrogail I was crowned in 4640 AR. Thrune had not forgotten the betrayal of Baron Grallus, and sent a fleet to enact revenge on Sargava in 4643 AR. Expecting the attack but unable to mount a large-enough fleet to defend himself, Grallus had hired the Shackles Pirates to patrol the waters north of Sargava; the pirates sunk the Chelish fleet in Desperation Bay . A second fleet sent in 4660 AR fared little better and Sargava has managed to hang on to its fragile independence ever since.
A New Order
With order restored throughout the land, the new ruling class of the land began to consolidate and reinforce its power and control over a widespread empire still reeling from decades of war. Their first command was to establish diabolism and the worship of Asmodeus as the official state religion. They then moved the capital from Westcrown to the inland port of Egorian and demanded renewed fealty from Cheliax’s outlying provinces. Unable to stomach being ruled by blasphemous devil-idolators, the people of Andoran and Galt rebelled, each seeking their own destiny. Galt declared independence in 4667 AR, but quickly devolved into score-settling by short-lived governing coalitions in the Red Revolution, while Andoran steered a more stable path beginning in 4669 AR. The crown let these provinces secede, content to focus on the more profitable colonies of Sargava in Garund and Anchor’s End in Arcadia.
Despite the iron-fisted rule of House Thrune, Cheliax was not without its own political turmoil in the years that followed. This was particularly true when it came to the process of who succeeded to the nation’s throne. After 32 years of rule, Queen Abrogail I was murdered by her own son in 4672 AR, who crowned himself Antoninus I soon thereafter. Antoninus’ reign lasted only two years, as he died from incorrectly prepared safu’u fish in 4674 AR, and was succeed by his cousin, Terthule Thrune. Terthule managed to last a bit longer than Antoninus, but disappeared mysteriously in 4682 AR after only eight years on the throne. Upon his death, Terthule’s niece Carellia was crowned as queen. Much like her predecessors, Carellia’s rule was brief and marked by tragedy, and she drowned under mysterious circumstances in 4696 AR. Her death was not investigated by her cousin and heir Infrexus, although he did not fare much better: he fell through the ice and drowned in the Adivian River in 4709 AR. That same year, Abrogail I’s great grand-daughter, the young Abrogail Thrune, was crowned Infernal Majestrix, and has managed to avoid a tragic death ever since.
The empire runs on the backs of fiends now, a perfect machine of hellfire and blood, where morality surrenders to the needs of law and order. It’s easy to curse Cheliax as a nation of devil-lovers, but few can argue with the results of their fiend-binding craft. House Thrune, the greatest of its diabolic noble families, has brought the empire under control once more. Cheliax rises like a dark star, as strong as ever, despite the losses of Galt and Andoran to rebellious forces.
Asmodeus proves as powerful a divine patron as Aroden ever did, shepherding his people toward glory and dominance of the Inner Sea. His plans reach eons into the future, and the minor setbacks of yesterday are all factored into the cost of doing a devil’s business. The Chelish always plan for a long campaign, and never trifle over today’s skirmishes. In the end, all will burn in hellfire. It is only a matter of time and calculated conquest.
Since the Thrune Ascendancy of 4640 AR, Cheliax has been ruled by House Thrune along with a new configuration of noble houses made up of those willing to follow the philosophy of Diabolism. Much of the power of House Thrune was gained through the initial bargain struck between Abrogail Thrune and the rulers of Hell, although rumors abound that additional pacts have been made since that time in the quest for still greater power. Currently, the great-granddaughter of Abrogail I, rules Cheliax with the aid and support of , her pit fiend advisor.
Her Infernal Majestrix, Queen Abrogail of the Twice-Damned House of Thrune rules as absolute monarch in her nation. Her word carries the full weight of law, and is as inescapable as any devil’s contract, even if she frequently changes her mind and has her former edicts and laws erased from the books of Chelish history. She maintains control of the nation’s complex bureaucracy of titled nobles through fear and the hope of earning the queen’s favor.
House Thrune may currently be the most powerful of the noble houses, but it is certainly not the only one. Some of these other noble houses have existed for centuries, while others were commoners raised after the civil war in payment for their loyalty to the House of Thrune. Most of the oldest houses survived the civil war, although those who aligned themselves with the diabolists early in the war have claimed the greatest prestige and wealth. Whatever can be said about the new nobility’s morality, they objectively rule more effectively than the old nobility did before the war. Chelish nobility are arranged in a strict hierarchy of three broad categories (dukes, counts, and barons), each with their own subcategories, for a sum of nine ranks modeled after the nine levels of Hell; the Majestrix and her family are above this order.
Most members of the nobility continue making pacts with various devils in exchange for incredible temporal power. Those who do not espouse diabolism keep it to themselves, as any talk against the methods of the current regime can lead to the complete eradication of an entire bloodline.
Governmental policy within Cheliax is focused upon maintaining order and quelling dissent. This is in direct response to the 30 years of internecine warfare and chaos that preceded the Thrune Ascendancy, as well as the absolute order inherent in the support of Hell. There is a great deal of physical peace and order which allows the lives of ordinary citizens to proceed normally, but it carries a high moral price. Cheliax is far from the abomination of twisted evil imagined by many outsiders, but it does not allow room for any dissent. Nationalistic feelings run deep and are practically required to avoid suspicion. Ambition causes normal citizens to turn in those that they suspect as traitors to Imperial Cheliax, for the perceived promise of wealth and advancement. Organized secular and religious forces such as the Hellknights and the Inquisitors further strive to quell any organized dissent.
The laws of Cheliax are based upon the Asmodean Disciplines, which also serve as the primary religious text for the Church of Asmodeus. These laws are expansive and intrusive, and attempt to regulate nearly every element of a citizen’s public and private life. Because of this, many of them are not enforced, and may not even be enforceable, but they nevertheless serve the purpose of the government by allowing the prompt removal of undesirable elements of society under some perceived or interpreted infraction, or as incentive for citizens to spy on one another.
In addition to the Hellknights who handle dissension within the Empire, Cheliax also boasts one of the largest military organizations in the Inner Sea region. Along with humanoid troops, they continue to use bound devils as well.
Imperial Cheliax covers a large part of southwestern Avistan and, although currently less than half its former size, it is still one of the largest countries in the Inner Sea region. Cheliax is divided into six regions or archduchies, each of which is subdivided into duchies, which further split into counties, which then can be separated into baronies. Not every grouping can be divided into a smaller grouping. For instance, several very small counties do not divide into even smaller baronies. The six archduchies are fixed; there can never be more or less, as there can never be more than six archdukes, and are as follows:
- Archduchy of Hellcoast: The hills of Devil’s Perch and the settlement of Pezzack are the home of the strix, a race of winged humanoids. These fliers protect their homeland diligently although more from a dislike of any foreign rule as much as distaste for the current House of Thrune and its organized devil worship.
- Archduchy of Ravounel: The Ravounel Forest, the North Plains and the settlement of Kintargo in the northwest are the least insular areas of Cheliax and therefore subject to the most outside influence and contact.
- Archduchy of Menador: The Menador Mountains are the religious homeland of Cheliax. It is also the home to scores of Hellknights prepared for a life of unending servitude by the unforgiving nature of the land they inhabit.
- Archduchy of the Heartlands: The Whisperwood, the Barrowood and the Central Plains are the heart of Cheliax.
- Archduchy of Sirmium: The Aspodell Mountains and the River Keld form a natural eastern border to Cheliax.
- Archduchy of Longmarch: The Inner Sea forms the southern border of Cheliax and port cities built upon bluffs dot the coast.
The current capital, Egorian, rests near the center of the nation on the banks of Lake Sorrow. North of the lake stands the Barrowood, and the River Adivian flows south from the lake, past Westpool and East Rikkan, into Gemcrown Bay past Westcrown. Cheliax maintains a foothold in Garund as well, holding the southern end of the Arch of Aroden (the province of Kharijite) and thus controlling access to the Inner Sea. It’s most distant holding is Anchor’s End in far-off Arcadia.
Three-quarters of Cheliax’s human population are ethnic Chelaxians, with Taldans and Kellids the most populous minorities (the latter clustered in Cheliax’s northern reaches). The pale-skinned Chelaxians believe themselves superior to all other peoples. Their compact with great devils gives them power beyond measure, and no other nation of the Inner Sea can compete with their summoners and warlocks when it comes to trafficking with dark forces. These devils require payment for their service, often offered up in the form of tender flesh and boiled blood. Slaves are an important resource of the Chelish as are artifacts of ancient power whose secrets are revealed to them by their timeless patrons. Most of Cheliax’s inhabitants have become used to their repressive government with its infernal ties, seeing it as the price they had to pay to be rescued from the anarchy of civil war. Those who actively support the government tend to receive the greatest chances at wealth and social advancement, while those unable or unwilling to contribute to the hellish regime reap no such rewards or are even the targets of recrimination and ridicule.
Most gnomes in Cheliax live in the town of Brastlewark and enjoy a relatively peaceful existence in comparison to other minority races. Many gnomes are architects and engineers and the best of these provide innovative designs and inventions for the Chelish government. The community is left mostly unmolested as a result.
Nearly all halflings who live in Cheliax are slaves. Known pejoratively as slips, they are treated quite poorly by the general population.
The strix are a race of winged humanoids native to the Devil’s Perch, a dangerous and inhospitable region of western Cheliax’s Menador Mountains. Due to past conflicts with their lowland neighbors, the strix refuse to have anything to do with the untrustworthy humans. The strix have inspired many grisly rumors among the Chelish, who vilify and fear them.
Tieflings enjoy an unusual status in Cheliax, often seen as subordinate to humans. They are rarely seen in public, and appear mainly as unusual slaves or involved in criminal enterprises.
Tieflings are planetouched creatures native to Golarion who are mostly human, yet with the blood of demons, devils, or other evil outsiders in their veins. Also known colloquially (and somewhat pejoratively) as ‘hellspawn’ or ‘devilblooded’, they are often distrusted and feared for this evil lineage. Even in infernal Cheliax where some tieflings serve as middlemen between the people and the denizens of Hell, they are second-class citizens at best.
Tieflings vary greatly in individual appearance from one another, depending not only on the ethnicity of the human parent but also the type of the fiendish parent. They can have horns, greatly varying skin colors, hooves for feet, tails, unusual eyes, and so on. These variances mean that two tieflings born from two different fiends might have vast differences in appearance.
Though tieflings have the blood of fiendish beings, their ancestry is at least one step removed from the original introduction of that blood; the child of a union of a mortal with a fiendish being is a half-fiend, not a tiefling. Tieflings might, but not necessarily, then be born from the union of the half-fiend with another mortal being. The possibility of a tiefling birth continues to many generations after that union, even when two mortals have children, so long as one of the mortals is a direct descendant of the half-fiend.3 Half-fiend creatures can be of many types, but it is found that tieflings are only possibly born from humanoids.
Though for most tieflings, the source of their fiendish blood is unknown, there are some who can trace their tainted blood back to a specific type of fiend and their very personalities may be warped in a way echoing this ancestry. These tiefling heritages are as follows:
- Asura-spawn (Faultspawn)
- Daemon-spawn (Grimspawn)
- Demodand-spawn (Foulspawn)
- Demon-spawn (Pitborn)
- Devil-spawn (Hellspawn)
- Div-spawn (Spitespawn)
- Kyton-spawn (Shackleborn)
- Oni-spawn (Hungerseed)
- Qlippoth-spawn (the Motherless)
- Rakshasa-spawn (Beastbrood)
As Cheliax was once a province of the Empire of Taldor, most humans there speak Taldane, although a significant minority are also conversant in Infernal for obvious reasons.
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From outside Cheliax, it appears that the dominant facet of life in this country is the worship of Hell, and all the excesses it represents. To a citizen, however, the picture is markedly different. True, the yoke of Asmodeus lies across the necks of the citizenry, but the burden is not actually so great as one might imagine.
A great difference between the aristocracy and the commoners is the worship of Asmodeus. The commoners pay lip service to the Lord of Hell; they celebrate the sacred days and keep the mandatory shrines in their homes, but most of them quietly hold to the worship of other gods.
The aristocracy must set an example, though, and so often try to outdo each other in their displays of devotion. Most of them see the worship of Asmodeus as a tool, a way to justify their lifestyles and the tyrannical treatment of their subjects, and few consider the longer-lasting ramif ications of their worship. What they do see is that those who fail to show enough enthusiasm watch their political fortunes dwindle, and sometimes disappear altogether. Thus, the noble families build their private chapels and hold regular services, always expecting to see the Inquisitors come to audit their devotion. Some among the aristocracy treat it as a game of who can commit the most outrageous acts without tarnishing their souls completely, others are deadly serious, but all of them participate.
The citizens of Cheliax are not all evil. Many of them, in fact, have hearts as great as any on Golarion. How is it, then, that they reconcile the worship of Asmodeus with the essential goodness of their spirits?
There are certain philosophies of goodness that allow no compromise. These sects believe it impossible for Chelaxians to remain pure and free from the taint of Hell, their souls all destined for utter damnation. This is false.
In a world with many gods, appeasing one of them in the heart of its secular power cannot properly be called worship. When forced into chapels, services, and observations, the truly upright among the Chelaxians still bow their heads and bend their knees, still open their mouths for prayers to Asmodeus—but while they acknowledge his power in this place, they grant him no dominion in their hearts. It is not expedience or apathy that guides them: it is the instinct of selfpreservation, and only the most narrow-minded would judge them for it.
Others among the Chelaxians find no conflict in worshiping an admittedly evil god. They have grown up with the teachings of the Church of Asmodeus all their life, yet they harbor no cruelty in their hearts, nor do they burn with ambition, rage, or pride. As with so many religions, people follow this god by choosing the teachings they heed, and ignoring the ones they find inconvenient.
Indeed, as the Hellknights would attest, there is much to admire in the teachings of Hell: efficiency, order, hierarchy, knowing one’s place in the world, cleansing uncertainty and chaos—these are all aspects of life lost with the disappearance of Aroden, and the rise of Asmodeus fills a hole many good Chelaxians barely realized was there.
Some expect the worship of Asmodeus to be an extravagant affair, full of orgies, bloodshed, and the sacrifices of innocents. Grimmer celebrants scoff at these juvenile theatrics, calling them the external echoes of an immature faith. What both of them fail to recognize is that there are many paths to Hell, many ways to reach the Pit, and that its infernal gravity calls to each in a separate voice.
The Sacred Texts
The Courts of Hell produce libraries of books, and the printing presses of Cheliax emulate them in many ways. The most crucial to the worship of Asmodeus is his sacred text, the Asmodean Monograph. The earthly version is a mere 1,000 pages, and its supplemental texts number in the hundreds—each focusing on explicating a greater truth, adding codicils and caveats, or filling in lacunae in the original text. These volumes, alone of all books in Cheliax, are immutable by human hand; changes come from the heart of Hell or not at all.
In the cathedrals of the land, the priests dress in their red and black and choose the direction of their flocks. The texts they may choose to teach from are limited, and so these priests must take direction from the central church in Egorian, and must also please the aristocrats who are their lords. Though church and state work hand-in-hand, local needs present themselves with greater urgency—which is to say the local lords occasionally coerce the priests into offering sermons that bolster the lords’ secular power.
The Unholy Days
There are seven major Chelaxian festivals, mandatory events originating from the capital’s bureaucracy.
Equinoxes and Solstices: Four times a year, on the equinoxes and the solstices, come the Dies Irae, or Days of Wrath. These are the days when bloodsports move from the slums and ghettoes into the stadiums of the cities. Slaves and servants of any master may choose to enter the arena to test their mettle against each other, one on one in bloody battles to the death. No master or mistress may forbid the slave from entering. Free men and women of all castes and classes are free to enter as well, to fight and kill without censure or penalty—although, if they die, their families are obliged to pay burial and clean-up expenses. The entrants fight in rounds and waves, eliminating an opponent in each round, until at last one stands alone. The winner is granted freedom from slavery or servitude, erasure of all debts, and a purse of gold.
The Winter Solstice sees the culmination of the Dies Irae, with all the winners of the three previous bouts summoned to Egorian and made to fight to the death for the amusement of the nobles. The winner joins their ranks, given a title of baronet and a plot of land.
Calistril 19, Loyalty Day: This honors the Treaty of Egorian, in which the House of Thrune solidified its control over Cheliax. This is a feast day, and the local governments and Asmodean churches provide a repast that fills every stomach to bursting. It is a day of gluttony, to remind the populace of the bounty their government provides.
Rova, Second Oathday, Signing Day: This is a day of pride in Cheliax and Isger—as well as in Andoran and Galt, though few in those lands speak of it. It honors the day that Cheliax, Andoran, Galt, and Isger agreed to a mutual defense pact and threw off the shackles of the tyrants of Taldor. Observances vary, but most involve huge pyrotechnic displays, feats of strength, and public debates to allow opponents to show off their speaking and rhetorical skills.
Neth 14, Even-Tongued Day: This is a day of remembrance of the conquest of Aspex the Even-Tongued, who brought Andoran, Galt, and Isger under Chelish control. Once it was a day of celebration, but it’s now a day of mourning for the lost glories of Cheliax, and a dark promise that the treacherous allies will be brought into the fold again by word or by sword. Citizens wear black on this day, public speaking is forbidden, and old feuds are brought to memory again, burnished and sharpened—and sometimes brought to sudden and terrible ends.
Outsiders often express surprise at the tolerance shown to other religions, even those of good-aligned gods, and expect that this is another infernal ruse designed to lure good worshipers into the open and then crush them, as Egorian crushes all dissent. But no—Chelaxians are invited to offer their praise to other gods as well, so long as they abide by a few strictures: First, they must not speak against Asmodeus, nor against his priestly hierarchy or followers. They must not speak against the aristocracy, nor encourage dissent. They must abide by the laws of Cheliax. They must live quietly, and avoid drawing attention to themselves. Finally, the ranking priests of the faith must register themselves, and keep records of all priests within the country.
Other rules exist, naturally, in such profusion that it is clear an Inquisitor seeking to charge a priest could find an excuse close at hand. Thus, seen in this way, the tolerance on which the Chelaxians so pride themselves could be interpreted as merely a wave toward an ideal the country sees in itself. That is, in theory these religions can find a home here; in practice, they are forced into strictures that grip faith by the throat.
Priests of Abadar act as judges in remote villages and towns where the strength of Egorian is thin. Erastil’s worship is strong near the Barrowood and Whisper Woods. Iomedae, who was originally Chelaxian, enjoys a remarkable popularity among the people of the north and east, and many of the Hellknights there venerate her above all others. Sarenrae’s worshipers are rare but welcome, for Asmodeans have not forgotten her work in imprisoning Rovagug. Some faiths, however, are forbidden upon pain of torture and execution. These include the worship of any god chaos or any demon or devil other than Asmodeus.
Great Old Ones
Growing up in a country in league with Hell has its share of quirks, advantages, and flaws. For more information on traits, click here.