The Empire has fallen, despite the best efforts of its defenders. When the Emperor and his commanders had judged defeat inevitable, they gave the order to withdraw, and survive. Thus, though suffering many casualties, the Imperial Oathsworn survive as they have sworn, in small pockets of hardened resistance and survivors, doing what they can to ensure the survival of their race.
The Oathsworn are not uniform rank-and-file legionnaires, all identical in form and function. Beyond uniform insignia, members of each unit run the gamut from hard-armored front-line bulwarks, to lethal, unseen scouts, to battlefield engineer corps. The command staff in fact encourages this diversity, seeing it as an ability to specialize and adapt to any situation. It also affords a great deal of autonomy in fighting units, and gives command multiple options with which to respond to any given situation. As per their code, they tend to avoid direct, large-scale confrontation or defensive actions, favoring less exposed guerilla tactics, choosing to fight intelligently and wasting none of the precious lives of their soldiers on frivolous or foolish missions. In those few instances when they must engage in direct confrontation, they endeavor to choose the time and place of battle, and employ large numbers of mercenaries and conscripts, chosen and trained by the Oathsworn themselves, to help fill out their numbers.
A pragmatic and efficient military order, the Oathsworn tend to organize into small, tightly drilled and highly specialized squads, the easier to serve aboard ships or independent of a larger structure. They have seven ranks in total, one base, three junior, and three senior, with further differentiation determined by seniority. A majority of troops are Privates, and defer to their officers with regard to matters of the Exceptions. The junior officers are considered worthy of making an Exception. The more venerable ranks hold the duty of making Lethal Exceptions, save where the chain of command is broken. Promotion is based solely on demonstrated merit and deeds (usually), both on and off the battlefield, though little advantage is accorded to higher ranks; only more responsibility, one of the reasons why so few of the Southern barons have sought military experience.
The Oathsworn insist that the Oath of Exceptions is not for everyone, and almost actively discourage frivolous enlistment. In fact, any prospective Privates must first acquire a sponsor of at least Sergeant rank or better, though existing privates may often bring someone to the attention of their superiors. That said, the Oathsworn easily recognize the worth of honorable collaboration with non-sworn auxiliaries, regardless of method or race. Rare is the Oathsworn unit that has other allied units equal to less than half its own number, whether Dragonborn shock troops, dwarven combat engineers, elven scouts, or simple human enlisted reserves.
For the time being, though they often work closely with allies of other races, all existing Oathsworn are or ever have been humans. A majority follow martial disciplines, though many seek additional training as Chaplains of the gods, particularly Bahamut, Moradin, and Kord, though others, including Erathis and Pelor (traditionally Southern patrons), have some very limited following. Virtually no Oathsworn follow arcane or primal disciplines, the latter being primarily the purview of other races, the former not trusted and rarely practiced by anyone.
Honor Code: The Order teaches that life, and thus service in the order, has but one rule, called the Instinctual Primacy: Survival. All other choices and behaviors are exceptions to this rule, and thus should only be carried out by one whom has been judged worthy to make such a decision. Some exceptions are codified as Lethal, according to the amount of risk they carry, their overall chance of success, and their overall contribution to the greater good of Humanity. Lethal Exceptions can only be made by a captain or higher, unless the chain of command has been broken. Thus, the name given to their oath: the Oath of Exceptions, which requires strict obedience to these principles.
Several schools of thought exist with regard to the application of the Exceptions. The Orthodoxy espouses a literalistic interpretation of the exceptions, and is the main philosophy espoused by most of the members of the Order (in other words, the ones whom actually practice it). The Movement of Equal Measures wishes to remove many of the distinctions of worth from various members of society (see below), and treat every member equally. This view is often espoused by civilians, especially wealthy nobles from the Southern regions. Finally, a more recent movement across the military and civilian populations, called the Recognition of Sentience, wishes to expand the rights of those races and individuals considered allies of humanity, so that all sentient beings have equal opportunity to receive consideration.
Uniform: Dark grey double-breasted, wide-tailed trench coat, made of tough, waterproof leather with matte-painted steel pauldrons, integrated with other armor and gear. Pauldrons and chest show rank. Crossed bones for junior ranks, Skulls with crossed bones for senior ranks. Gold skulls for General (with a sword) or Admiral (with wings).
The Instinctual Primacy: Survive, at all costs, against all odds. All other concerns are secondary.
Virtues of the Oathsworn: That which help maintain the Oath of Exceptions, and the order in which they must be acquired:
Directives of Conduct: To be followed when Survival is not at stake.
With Regard to Peace:
-Deal openly, honestly, and fairly with all individuals. Deception is a tool of War, not Peace.
-Speak out against unjust or foolish laws and practices. Silence is Acquiescence.
-Pursue intelligent, frugal courses of action in all things. Decisions of passion lead to ruin.
-Observe proper regimen of rest, nourishment, training, and recreation. Intentional self-denial is a weakening hubris.
-Raise a family, or mentor those in need of one. Survival depends on procreation of both Life and Virtue.
-Help those in need without the giving of alms. Charity breeds weakness. Teaching forges strength.
-Honor the Gods. Ask for nothing but the strength to endure. Give thanks for everything.
With Regard to War:
-Show equal respect and sacrifice for all soldiers of a unit, regardless of method, race, rank, or sworn status. Soldiers of shared mission and shared risk are equals.
-Offer suggestions to superiors when appropriate; be silent upon their rejection. New ideas must be tempered with experience.
-Use the best equipment available, and observe its proper care. A soldier lives and dies by his implements of war.
-Creatively deceive enemy forces. Honor exists amongst individuals, not armies.
-Strike the enemy’s weakness with strength, and maneuver weakness away from the enemy’s reach. Victory only has meaning in Survival.
-Offer and accept honorable surrender when it can be trusted. Fights to the death cost the victor sevenfold that of a mutually concluded battle, and cost the loser everything.
-Treat surrendered prisoners of war with the respect due a fellow comrade in arms, but do not trust them. Fairly treated prisoners encourage the future surrender of their comrades.
Exceptions: To be made with small to moderate risk and reasonable chance of success.
-Know everything, especially the immediate area and the disposition of all other beings within.
-Protect all members of Humanity, regardless of contribution, as well as their rights and holdings.
-Retrieve the bodies of fallen comrades.
-Honor the memory of the dead. Ensure they do not rise.
-Protect and aid Allies of Humanity.
-Destroy sworn Enemies of Humanity.
-Avoid dealings with the Fey and the Restless Dead.
Lethal Exceptions: To be made with high to lethal risk and small to moderate chance of success.
-Honor a sworn word. Do not give a sworn word unless no other recourse presents itself.
-Follow all lawful orders received from Oathsworn of higher rank or seniority, deferring to their interpretation of the Exceptions.
-Protect those members of Humanity within whom its survival and future reside: Mothers, Children, and Soldiers.
-Rescue captured comrades. Risk ten Oathsworn for every one to be rescued.
-Kill as many of the enemy as possible when withdrawal or honorable surrender is impossible.
-Cripple enemy forces in such ways as to neutralize their threat to Humanity indefinitely.
-Avoid any and all dealings with Fiends.
The (late) Empire of Avernia
It is said that, some years after the continents rose, a charismatic and determined military leader known as General Argus Arigulus led his remnant forces and the refugees they guarded out from the mountain strongholds of the Dwarves, where they had long sheltered but recently had been invited to vacate. Upon reaching the Westernmost point of the landmass, it’s said that the general declared the barren, hellish landscape to be so like visions of the first circle of hell, Avernus, that, in a moment of sarcastic resolve, he declared it Avernia, or “Land of Hell.” Despite his unfriendly moniker, the people stayed, first in caves sheltered from the storms, and then eventually in fortress-bunkers built from the rock itself. After many years, the people insisted on raising up the general to be their Emperor (or so the histories say), and that he only begrudgingly accepted, becoming Emperor Argus I of Avernia.
His military mindset having thus far allowed him and his people to survive, Argus I set about creating institutions that would outlast him, thus creating the Order of the Oathsworn, whose primary duty would be to ensure the survival of Humanity, and establishing several traditions of public works and public service, not to mention founding the capital city of Vigil. Only one day after laying the cornerstone for what would eventually become the Imperial Palace of the Setting Sun, he passed away in his sleep, aged well over eighty. It is said that he had left extensive instructions regarding succession criteria, as well as many writings for only the eyes of his second-in-command’s son, his chosen successor.
Since that time, over five centuries have passed, with a line of chosen succession passing from one Emperor to the next, usually a direct blood relation, though occasionally simply someone within whom the preexisting ruler had implicit trust. Only once was a chosen succession called into question, when the chosen successor was one without any military experience. The histories say that he nearly led the Empire to ruin, though circumstances certainly were more complicated. Since then, any possible candidate has at one point received military training.
This domination of rule by the Military, however well-intended, did not always ingratiate the entirety of the civilian population. In particular, several wealthy merchant houses, many of them claiming descent from noble houses since before the current world, grew tired of being sidelined and having no say in government. Thus began the War of the Coin, a quick and brutal civil war where the smaller but more effective Oathsworn fought against many of the mercenaries with whom they had previously trained and fought, the throne having been outbid on their contracts by the merchant houses, whom had also withdrawn their capital and ceased to pay their taxes in protest. The histories record a tactical and strategic victory for the Oathsworn, but a logistical one for the merchant-houses.
As part of the surrender (or armistice, per the Southern nobility to this day), several of the merchant leaders were afforded some status as lesser nobility, and the nation’s Forum of Civilty was formed. Though billed as a civilian government, it initially had no power over the Emperor directly, merely serving as a forum to air grievances and as an occasional advisory board, to be ignored at his convenience. As time passed and relative peace reigned in their lands, the nobility gradually demanded more and more influence, they received a great deal of governance over non-military affairs such as trade and agriculture, a change which most agree strengthened the realm economically but weakened them militarily. Also, as the weather and soil tended to be more conducive to habitation in the southern half of the realm, a distinct disparity continued to be encouraged between Northern and Southern Avernia.
In the North, the Military still held more influence. Almost all families sought to enroll their able children in the Military for at least a few tours, and the harder, colder climate encouraged people to band together. In the South, the wealthly land-owning merchant barons held sway, and their prosperity led to a possible further stratification of social class, with the peasants working the fields, leaving the merchant nobility free to pursue business and leisure without the worry of manual labor. Thus, a distinct friction exists between those of Northern and Southern origin. The North feels that the Southern nobility are dishonorable, indolent, greedy slaveholders, and would quickly fall were it not for the aegis provided by the primarily Northern-populated military. They view the southern peasants as pitable, wretched serfs, whom might make something of themselves if given a chance. The South, on the other hand, views the North as violent, oppressive, rigid dictators, with no sense of social propriety or etiquette, whom would quickly starve if it were not for the agricultural and business acumen they provide. They view Northern common-born people as a whole as needing to be made aware of their station, a grievously inefficient workforce that has been educated and encouraged far beyond the point of usefulness. They find nothing more disgusting than the fact that the average Oathsworn would quickly value even the most pitiable, wretched whore over one of the most powerful Barons in the nation, provided only that she had a bastard or two.
Oddly enough, the call of “Freedom from Opression” is used by both sides with regard to each other.
Recently, the late Empress Aria III fell in battle, leading the rearguard forces of Vigil, covering the retreat of the surviving population of the city. Tales have already spread of her vicious but fatal single combat on the battlements of Vigil, with a Craggen commander, known colloquially as Redspear by the surviving Oathsworn. Her four heirs, two male and two female, are all either known to be dead or missing and presumed.