Anyone who assumes Iobaria is only a barbaric wasteland of frozen forests, broken mountains, and random ruins is a fool. The Ice Steppes, the Caemorin, the Syrzemyan Highlands, and the Hills of Nomen—all are home to mysteries, monsters, myths, and magics long forgotten among the warmer climes. The human realm of Iobaria was perhaps the least of the powers ever to stalk the glaciers’ edges, its name the only lingering claim to the land and powers that yet remain there. Look past the freezing mists and trackless wilderness, and you’ll find a land whose legends refuse to pass into the haze of history and forgetfulness. This is a place where myth and history blur into a single ageless tradition, weaving a legacy that the diverse native peoples hold as sacred as any religion, and that strangers to these realms ignore at their own peril.
— Gadava Bhulada, Under the Undying Eye
The first human realm to lay claim to what all now consider Iobaria rose from humble beginnings in 752 ar. Twenty Ulfen survivors (out of an initial force of 60) staggered out of the Crown of the World and hunkered down in a small longhouse just as winter closed in. That mere longhouse eventually grew into Okormirr, the first of nine Ulfen cities or settlements of Njalgard, each city a stronghold for one of nine koffars. Njalgard is almost totally forgotten and has since been subsumed by the realm it spawned—Iobaria. The nation was named after Iobar the Potent, the heir to Orlov’s throne who cajoled or tricked each koffar into a trial by combat, besting them all to take control of all Njalgard’s city-states and unite the lands as one state. After the Choking Plague fractured the populace and induced local rebellions, the three powers within the remaining cities of Kridorn, Orlov, and Mavradia held on to power for a few centuries, but never restored the full glory of Old Iobaria.
Plagues, for one reason or another, seem to crop up more regularly in Iobaria than in other lands. Since the second millennium of the Age of Enthronement, plagues have struck with limited to widespread effects no less than 55 times. Despite these eruptions of illness and the mystery of their source, most Iobarians stay due to their love of their land or innate sense that surviving its challenges makes them stronger and more worthy to inherit such a noble land.
Nearly 500 years after the Choking Death fractured the original nation, three warlords, their followers, and their dragon allies restored the rule of New Iobaria. With the inner highlands now easily reached by dragonriders, the three armies quickly conquered the realm anew by 3309 ar. Treachery among the human rulers led to strife and eventually left only one clan in control of Iobaria after 3870 ar (many allies and enemies fled west to what is now Brevoy). The second realm of Iobaria lasted another 8 centuries, until its power dwindled due to infighting and the Drakeplague of 4519 ar. Now, only the covetous factions controlling Kridorn, Mirnbay, and Orlov believe Iobaria still exists in any meaningful way, and their claims to power are only as strong as the mercenary armies they hire.
Iobaria in the present has pockets of civilization all tightly tied to trade, money, and what little control or influence some warlords or former nobles can cobble together through gold or might. Overall, Iobaria has become the wilderness the outside world has long believed it to be, though its people keep their balance and stay alive by knowing what the harsh land and its varied races can do to and for them. Those who respect each other’s claims hold détente among themselves and survive; those that ignore the balances of power or reach beyond their grasp find themselves as lifeless as the frozen stone pinnacles of Hvorsuli.
Iobaria’s relentlessly cold lands stretch from its northwest corner, between the glacial Icewall and the Lake of Mists and Veils, down to its southeastern corner, bordering the Castrovin Sea. The northern boundaries contain the Ice Steppes, whose rocky conditions fool many into dismissing them as a lifeless barrens leading to the glaciers and the Crown of the World. The most populous area for humans has always been Okor’s Basin, the sloping depression between the Lake of Mists and Veils, the Icerime Peaks, and the Syrzemyan Highlands considered by many to be the breadbasket of the north, with its varieties of hardy plant and animal crops. In fact, topographically, Iobaria resembles a crude pyramid, with its peak around Kirya and the lands sloping away from that peak in all directions, save where the Icerime Peaks meet the land.
The Syrzemyan Highlands encompass the majority of central Iobaria and are rife with caverns, hills, and mountains filled with riches and dangers aplenty (be they natural, supernatural, or monstrous in nature). This area contains the fewest human settlements of any size, though the chance of meeting lone prospectors, bounty hunters, or trappers of all races is still moderate. Many of Iobaria’s powerful waterways start from these uplands, with two exceptions: the Myrfrus River (or “Deeprun”) in the east and the Okorrus River (“Okor’s Flow”) in the northwest. Settlers and villages are few and far between, and local populations give their own unique names to the hills and territories of the highlands.
The Caemorin surprises many who come to Iobaria expecting naught but icy rocks and glaciers. These fertile lands are in some places even more productive than Okor’s Basin, though the plants and animals are still unfamiliar and unsettling foods to many whose roots stretch westward.
In general, Iobaria’s climate is near-arctic and quite hostile, but it supports a surprisingly robust ecosystem that keeps people strong, if isolated and hard. This still isn’t enough to make it more than a limited target for those after wealth and resources. Few who don’t already love Iobaria’s stark harshness ever stick around to see its beauty bloom in summer, and fewer still brave its threats to explore its ancient mysteries and ruins.