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    An Alternative History of the Scarlet Brotherhood (Part 1)
    Posted on Thu, October 14, 2021 by LordCeb
    ArtharntheCleric writes "How the Kingdom of Shar, and the Scarlet Brotherhood, might have developed and look if the Secret Order of the Scarlet Sign stayed in the shadows ...

    “A Monk of Fife” (page 208); by Andrew Lang (1896) (British Library Catalogue digital ID 014815487)


    A discussion on the Canonfire Discord channel with Jason Zavoda led to this article. He indicated he didn’t like the approach Carl Sargent had taken to the Scarlet Brotherhood in his book of the same name, and had always viewed them as more of an Illuminati type secret organisation operating in the shadows and pulling strings. As such, the approach of the Scarlet Brotherhood as expansionist invader in the Greyhawk Wars also jarred with him. 

    This got me thinking, given I could see Jason’s point which intrigued me, as to how the published sources would need to change to reflect that. After starting to review this I also saw some other people on Discord post about taking a similar approach to the Scarlet Brotherhood (including, from memory, Gary Holian). 

    Having bought The Scarlet Brotherhood book previously (I am interested in Hepmonaland and the Touv, which it covers), and also the Fate of Istus module recently (which has a part based on the Tilvanot Peninsula), it seemed to me that the Kingdom of Shar would need to be a proper political entity if the Brotherhood stepped back into the shadows. 

    Rewriting the Greyhawk Wars to remove the Scarlet Brotherhood and its invasions is too great a change. So making Shar the antagonist with The Brotherhood in the background achieves a similar end. 

    The Brotherhood might have been replaced by the Great Kingdom invading Idee and Onnwal, and the Sea Princes attacking Keoland on their own (which they had done before), but this was a more drastic change I did not want to touch (at this time - maybe a later “what if?” scenario to examine). 

    So how would a more secretive Scarlet Brotherhood work?

    Firstly, I commend to you an article on Canonfire by Rich D “Longetalos” on the population of the Tilvanot peninsula. Accessible here:

    I have adopted that analysis and numbers in the amended details below. 

    The Secret Order of the Scarlet Sign

    The Scarlet Brotherhood would not have the same name. Even if others might refer to it by that name. The Order clearly has members of both genders, and had such since the beginning (the second head of the Order was female). Suel Mages of Power were presumably male and female, and the Suel respected power above all - irrespective of gender. So it is properly The Order of the Scarlet Sign. 

    The term Scarlet Brotherhood instead is the term used by others in the Flanaess, outside Shar, after the first spies and travelers that were able to enter Shar observed the monastic order that supported the churches in Shar and enforced the strict social rules of the king and churches for Suel “purity” (in reality according to the plans of the Order). These monks were mainly male (as the enforcement arm, more suited to male members) and wore scarlet robes (unlike outside Shar where they did not wear these, as they did not want to reveal their membership). 

    Published Sources

    How do the published sources need to change?

    The World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting had an entry for the Scarlet Brotherhood as a realm. This should be replaced as follows:

    Kingdom of Shar

    His Royal Majesty, Zellif XXXIII, King of the Supreme Suloise Kingdom of the Shar

    Capital: Kro Terlep (pop. 5,000 est.)

    Population: 350,000 +/-

    Demi-humans: None

    Humanoids: Some but details unknown

    Resources: rare woods, spices, gold, gems (I, III, IV)

    Following the Great Migrations several Suel tribes reached the Tilvanot peninsula a thousand years ago and settled there. There they established an isolationist Suel kingdom that turned back all foreigners, and only allowed in merchants and traders in limited numbers to their ports on strict conditions in later years as trade began to expand in the Flanaess. It enforced that isolationism initially by simply being far away from everyone, and later with a strong navy to protect its waters. The kingdom controls the whole of the land from the Vast Swamp to the tip of the peninsula. Visitors to the kingdom report a land where the natives remain pure Suel, speak Ancient Suloise (even if those they deal with are also fluent in Common), and continue to worship only Suel deities. Those churches heavily support the rule of the monarch, and enforce an organised and regimented society dedicated to trying to emulate the ways of their ancestors. The king and churches are supported by a martial monk order referred to by visitors as the Scarlet Brotherhood. 

    A temple and monastery of the mysterious Scarlet Brotherhood is supposedly located in the well guarded fortress and walled town of Hesuel Ilshar, from which all foreigners and non-residents are banned and turned away. Visitors and merchants visiting the two ports of Shar they are allowed into report no demi-humans of any types apart from rare fellow visitors. However, scouts and explorers reaching south of the Vast Swamp report being turned back by well armed and trained humanoid forces.

    The timeline in the set should refer to 573 CY as being the year Envoys of Kingdom of Shar first reported; Prince of Furyondy/Provost of Veluna kidnapped.”

    The Living Greyhawk Gazetteer entry for the Scarlet Brotherhood should be replaced as follows:

    Kingdom of Shar

    Proper Name:  The Supreme Suloise Kingdom of the Shar

    Ruler: His Royal Majesty, King Zellif XXXIII, King of the Supreme Suloise Kingdom of the Shar

    Government: Tilvanot is governed by feudal plantation lords under the rule of a monarchy; red-robed monks representing the various Suel churches are an ever-present force that underpins the rule of the king and enforces social rules. 

    Capital: Kro Terlep (pop. 6,000 est. plus several hundred to thousand tribesmen troops in transit at any time) 

    Major Towns: Ekul (pop. 7,000 est., plus several hundred to thousand tribesmen troops in transit at any time), Hesuel Ilshar (exact location & pop. unknown - possibly in excess of 12,000), Taree (pop. 9,500 est.)

    Provinces: Plantation lords under the rule of the king on the Tilvanot Peninsula; foreign holdings include part of the Sea Princes (Monmurg, Port Toli, Jetsom Island, Fairwind Island, Flotsom Island, Sybarate Isle), Onnwal (Scant only), both Olman Islands, and strongholds in the Amedio Jungle and Hepmonaland; the Lordship of the Isles is an allied puppet state

    Resources: Rare woods, fruits, spices, gold, gems (I, III, IV)

    Coinage: Unknown (accepts foreign coinage in its trade ports at strict rates, but allows no coinage of its own to foreigners except for local paper currency)

    Population: 450,000 (exact numbers unknown)—Human 87% (Sfzt - citizens are Suel, slaves are non-Suel), Other 13% (Humanoid (60,000 - hobgoblins, goblins, and orcs)

    Languages: Ancient Suloise, Common (Goblinoid languages amongst humanoids, in addition to Common)

    Alignments: LN*, N, CN (Scarlet Brotherhood - LE*, NE, CE)

    Religions: Pyremius, Syrul, Wee Jas, Bralm, Llerg, Nerull (in secret by a few Brotherhood assassins), Tharizdun (claimed by Brotherhood agents but not actually worshiped) 

    Allies: Lordship of the Isles (puppet state), certain followers of Suloise gods in foreign lands (Syrul, Pyremius, etc.)

    Enemies: Yeomanry, Sterich, Keoland, the Ulek states, Gran March, Furyondy, Veluna, Verbobonc,

    Dyvers, Greyhawk, Iuz, Duchy of Urnst, County of Urnst, the Pale, Nyrond, North Kingdom, Ahlissa, Sunndi, Sea Barons, Rel Astra and allied cities, Ice Barbarians, rebel forces in the Sea Princes, rebel forces in Onnwal, Knights of the Hart, Knights of Holy Shielding, Knights of Luna, Knights of the Watch. Only Iuz can count more enemies than Shar.

    Overview: The Kingdom of Shar was until recently an  apparently small and isolated power in the south eastern Flanaess. It came into its own during the Greyhawk Wars, staging surprise invasions of a number of realms supported by a campaign of espionage, blackmail, and assassination. Prior to this, Shar had apparently planted agents in the courts of rulers throughout the Flanaess. The revelation of this has caused much paranoia and (often undeserved) exiles and assassinations within circles of rulership.

    If reports from northern spies (often suffering climate-induced fever, insect-borne disease, or worse) can be believed, the Kingdom of Shar controls the whole of the vast Tilvanot Peninsula, from the confluence of Vast Swamp and Spine Ridge to the immense tropical island of Lof Bosok, off the northeast coast of the mainland.

    The nation's capital is the formerly closed northern port city of Kro Terlep, which now welcomes ships from distant ports, though few sea captains brave waters rife with piracy and sea monsters to trade with the Brotherhood. Vessels flying the colors of the Lordship of the Isles anchor in the eastern port of Ekul, near squalid shipyards teeming with activity. At least one ship departs Ekul for Hepmonaland every day—the purpose of these voyages can only be speculated upon in the north, though few believe the activities of Shar in Hepmonaland and the Amedio Jungle to be charitable.

    The Scarlet Brotherhood of monks that polices the king’s rule of Shar is said to be based in a marvelous walled city, seldom seen by foreign eyes. It is believed to be hidden somewhere on the massive Okalasna Plateau.

    The armies of Shar, or at least those offloaded in occupied ports to the north and west, consist primarily of tribal warriors from the southern jungles, who give no quarter and who are said to indulge in ritual blood sacrifice. Their leaders are black robed monks or other advisers, all clearly of pure Suel heritage betraying their origins in Shar. These forces are supplemented by orcs, hobgoblins, and other creatures. Many in the north speculate that Shar boasts a standing army within its own borders, but little is known for certain. Many nations have met the impressive navy of Shar, which as often as not is supported by "independent" ships ostensibly from the Lordship of the Isles. 

    History: Prior to 573 CY, few save Sunndi paid much attention to the inhabitants of the Tilvanot Peninsula. Humans of pure Suloise stock, the southerners appeared to lead simple lives, taming their land as plantation farmers with a workforce of slaves, and trading little with the outside world. Their isolation seemed a natural result of the Spine Ridge and Vast Swamp cutting the Tilvanot from the rest of the world.

    In 573 CY priestly ambassadors from the south appeared in the courts of the Iron League. Speaking in whispers, they offered their services to the merchant lords, preaching the beliefs of their Suel deities and announcing themselves as peaceful envoys of the kingdom of Shar, an Ancient Suloise word meaning "purity." Those followers of the Suel deities in these lands welcomed these new missionaries, although they remained enigmatic.

    At the time, few connected the appearance of these sagely, monastic advisers to the disappearance of Prince Thrommel of Furyondy, or to any number of political developments throughout the Flanaess. The envoys did trigger curiosity, of course, and in short order spies were sent to the Tilvanot.

    Few agents returned to their masters. Those who did told of an agrarian society ruled by plantation lords under a king that lived along the coasts that farmed far more than it could consume, with huge shipments of crops sent to the plateau at the center of the peninsula. The farmers, it was said, were a regimented society under their king kept in line by their priests and an order of monks in red robes, men and women who had on occasion displayed unimaginable acts of unarmed martial prowess. These monks kept the populace in order, making examples of those few who would defy the king’s orders.

    The spies also spoke of bredthralls, bizarre slave races created through magic and arcane science, and of the powerful Shar wizards who created and controlled them.

    Needless to say, such reports frightened the rulers of the Flanaess, who turned to their own trusted advisers and agents in conference to plan strategies to deal with the growing threat. Unfortunately, many such advisers were themselves Shar (or properly Brotherhood) agents, and advised caution and patience in the matter. In time, they reasoned, the Shar would reveal themselves, and could be dealt with as the rabble they certainly were.

    Time, of course, proved something else altogether. As the Greyhawk Wars erupted in the north, the envoys sent aid, advisers, and weapons to the states of the Iron League, disguised as succor from Shar. After supporting Irongate and Sunndi against the attacks of South Province, Shar struck in the Lordship of the Isles, replacing the reigning sovereign with his cousin, the corrupted Frolmar Ingerskatti, who declared for the Shar, ceding the nation and its powerful navy to his new ally. With Duxchan ships and charmed monsters, Shar set up a blockade along the Tilva Strait, effectively choking mercantile trade between the east and west.

    Thereafter, envoys of Shar appeared in the court of Prince Jeon of Monmurg, bearing a simple message to the nobles of the Sea Princes: "Submit to the Kingdom of Shar or be destroyed." The princes, lawless nobles and pirate kings who had faced challenges more threatening than a band of men in robes, laughed at the emissaries. By the next morning, twenty-seven of the thirty Sea Princes had been killed. The conquest of Monmurg ensured Shar’s hold on the southern seaways. In a matter of months, Idee and Onnwal had fallen to invasion and assassination. Shar made a move for Irongate as well, but crafty Cobb Darg, who had suspected the allegiances of his "advisers" all along, survived the sudden onslaught.

    After the events of the Greyhawk Wars, the expansionist goal of Shar is now clear. For a time, it appeared as though Shar would come to control even more of the Flanaess. Unsuccessful wartime overtures in Keoland betrayed a great ambition, and many feared what might come next. Fortunately, Shar’s gains soon fractured. In late 586 CY, South Province captured the northern half of Idee, and would own the whole of the territory by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the peasants of Onnwal threw down the Shar appointed government in all but the crucial port town of Scant. In 589 CY the slaves and former nobles of the Sea Princes took advantage of internecine struggles within the provincial leadership to engulf that nation in a continuing civil war.

    Despite these losses, Shar is now much, much more powerful than at any time during its long history. While it has lost land, it has gained enormous wealth, destroyed and destabilized enemies, and made important gains in the southern jungles. Shar commands the southern seaways, with naval blockades in the shark-infested waters of the Tilva Strait, and in the so-called "Southern Gates" of the Azure Sea, between the Amedio Jungle and the Tilvanot Peninsula neat the Olman Isles. Perhaps most importantly, many rulers in the Flanaess believe they have purged their courts of possible Shar agents, giving sovereigns in courts still populated by inactive agents an unwise sense of security. Paradoxically, though Shar has lost much power since the wars, it is now more feared than ever before, and arguably remains poised to strike in several key, as-yet- revealed locations.

    Conflicts and Intrigues: Key Sea Prince holdings are being infiltrated by new Shar agents, along with foreign realms generally. New breeds of monsters created in the Olman Islands are rumored to have taken over part of one island. Shar ambassadors dispatched to the northern barbarians report mixed results, with important ground gained with the Frost Barbarians.

    To be continued in Part 2 ...

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    Re: An Alternative History of the Scarlet Brotherhood (Part 1) (Score: 1)
    by CruelSummerLord on Fri, October 15, 2021
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    Reading this, I'm not sure how your change makes things much different. The Kingdom of Shar is still openly invading and conquering other countries, so at first glance this just sounds like a name change for the Suel force that conquers the south during the Wars. How exactly is the Brotherhood more secretive, and what role does it play in the Kingdom of Shar in this scenario? 

    Re: An Alternative History of the Scarlet Brotherhood (Part 1) (Score: 1)
    by Syzygyst on Sat, October 16, 2021
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    This is very good. It's very similar to what i've done, but mine's a touch different.

    What is the origin of "Shar?"

    I have a "kingdom" as well ruling from the Tilvanot where the S.B. dwells, and it too is politically agressive and clumsier than the S.B. would have it due to factional problems within the S.B. itself. (It doesn't have control of the "kingdom" as much as it once did).

    The overreach of the GH Wars was due to the "kingdom" decision-making guided by an even more sinister offshoot sect within the S.B. -- not the major portion of the S.B. itself.

    So some people (who know of the S.B.) think that the S.B. was probably behind that Kingdom's aggressions, but it actually wasn't. It is not generally common knowledge that "the S.B. made wholesale assassinations during the GH Wars."

    Good article. Thanks.

    Re: An Alternative History of the Scarlet Brotherhood (Part 1) (Score: 1)
    by snafu8252 on Mon, October 25, 2021
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    Small correction required:
    Carl Sargant was the designer of "From the Ashes," published 1992, while Sean Reynolds is noted as designer of "The Scarlet Brotherhood," thus, Sargant was not the writer of TSB.
    I've always wondered if the choice of "designed by" instead of "written by" is intentional. Those are huge books, and would have been quite an undertaking for a single person. I also have to wonder if the fate of a setting and all that would follow would be, could be, trusted to a single person, without some sort of committee oversight, just as the "design" of the whole was overseen by the person noted. Pay this paragraph little heed, as I am just thinking aloud. I'm an old corporate cog, so my thoughts will latch on to the model I'm familiar with.

    You raise a lot of excellent points. I agree that the Brotherhood ought to be renamed The Order of the Scarlet Sign, especially since so many of its brass are women.
    I also like the idea that the Kingdom of Shar and the Scarlet Sign are separate. This is not to say that Shar is not potentially run my the Sign, or that Shar is aware how they are being manipulated. Maybe it is, and it understands the peril it would risk if it tried to disentangle the Sign from its court. This could also explain why the country is LN, and the top tiers of the Scarlet Sign are LE.

    Personally, I've always thought that Shar would not concern itself overmuch with the whole of Oerik, but would rather focus its machinations to those nations closer afield, those they have a vested interest in controlling. It is a rather small nation, and to affect the Flanaess as a whole might necessitate its sending too many of its people abroad. To what end? Why would Shar care to control the Bandit Kingdoms? The Bandit Kingdoms already draw Nyrond's and the Great Kingdom's attention away from the south and Shar without their having to lift a finger.
    Also, I''ve mulled over that the Suel Imperium already had colonies on the shores of the Hold of the Sea Princes, Keoland, Onnwal, and the Tilvenot Peninsula long before the Cataclysms fell. The Greeks and the Romans had a very clear picture of what surrounded them, after all. They, the Suel were a powerful people, and intelligent people, a curious people, regardless their supposed cruel and callous national nature. I find it hard to believe that they were so myopic as to not explore their world to the south and east, only concerning themselves with their northern and western borders. Had they colonized those shores, they would have had a clear notion where to flee to once the Fires rained down.

    Great job, BTW.

    Re: An Alternative History of the Scarlet Brotherhood (Part 1) (Score: 1)
    by ArtharnTheCleric on Sat, August 20, 2022
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    I have since rewritten and expanded the article and it is available as a download pdf on my blog:

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