Most places along the Road of the Dead record time in 12-year cycles, the names of which vary from place to place but follow a common format:
- The year of the Heavens
- The year of Stars
- The year of the Sky (or Air)
- The year of the Sun
- The year of the Moon
- The year of the Wind (or Rain)
- The year of The Sea
- The year of Stone (or the Earth)
- The year of Mountains
- The year of the Forests
- The year of Dragons
- The year of Man (or the Gods, or Magic)
The origins of this cycle are unknown, but likely it is several thousand years old as its use transcends many modern nations and racial divides. Historical events are often used as references for how many full cycles have passed since then. For example, the fall of the Lich-Kings is a common reference point in the East. As the current year is the Year of the Moon and began 210 years after that event, it would be noted as ‘The 17th Year of the Moon, after the fall of the Lich-Kings’.
The crossroad city of Eshju marks its calendar by its near-mythical founding several hundred cycles ago. A few races keep their own unique cycles with different numbers of years, and many isolated populations rely exclusively on regnal years, tracking how long their current ruler has reigned.
Dragons and their servants do not use the cycle but instead track time by decades and centuries on their own calendars, many of which span thousands of years. The Eladrin supposedly have records of events going back one hundred thousand years.
Ages of the Material Realm
The physical world is understood to be extremely old and has undergone numerous cycles of universal catastrophes and resurgences. Thus, no information survives of events before the relatively recent eras. These ancient periods of time are defined mostly from religious myths and the speculations of philosophers. As such, they can vary amongst differing studies and are of little interest to anyone else.Age of Man
- The beginning of time is said to have been dominated solely by the Human race. Sages of primal spirits suggest humanity’s arrival was preceded by an extended age of nature, as the world itself grew and developed.
- The nature of humanity’s advancement is highly debated, but common themes involve Humans mastering all forms of crafting and mental discipline. This includes claims that mankind invented all things that can ever be built, traveled to other worlds and simultaneously built new ones, gave rise to the other intelligent natural races, lived among the gods (which were either granted divine powers by man or alternately invented by them), and at one point solved all material concerns. Most often suggested is that Humans eventually invented magic.
- The introduction of the arcane arts enabled men and other races to potentially circumvent all limits of the physical world and create anything imagined. The opening of the material realm to other possible realms is the one known result of this invention. At first only parallel realms were accessed, such as the Fey Realm, the Plane of Shadow, and alternate physical worlds. But as more otherworldly beings moved through the planar gates and established settlements, stranger and more malevolent outsiders began to use the material realm for travel and exploitation.
- Eventually the world grew crowded by whole menageries of aberrant creatures, magical beasts, celestials, fiends, and elementals, and wars threatened to break out on a catastrophic scale. The cause is unknown, but the response to this chaos was a near-total severance of the world from all other planes of existence and realms of magic, referred to now as ‘the Stranding’. All outsiders remaining in the physical world at that time were permanently stuck in material form. Even immortals would find themselves hindered from escape as death left them discorporated in a state of non-existence, until summoned again to flesh, within the planar barrier known as the Veil. All extra-planar travel halted at this point; arcane magic dwindled to rare talent and rigid study, and the whims of the divine could only be expressed through devotion to broad domains.
- The remaining races began to start anew with their limited powers and resources. Many varieties of beings are expected to have gone extinct during this age, and it cannot be known for certain just how many continent-spanning empires rose and fell in this time. Some pieces of lore gathered from timeless beings suggest that at least Rakshasas, Genies, and Tieflings have each held all the lands of the known world under their sway at one time or another. Although when and under what conditions can only be said of the later, whose empire of Bael Turath extended into the Age of Recorded History.
- The Age of Recorded History tracks the waning days and eras following the decline of Bael Turath, the last major empire to span the entire known continent. Their contemporary knowledge survived as fragmentary lore and legend as it passed through the appearance and demise of subsequent regional powers. Many events during this age have been shaped by Bael Turath’s influence upon the world and the aftermath of its withdrawal.
Eras of Recorded HistoryThe Rise and Fall of Bael Turath (c. 25,000 – 10,000 years ago)
- Originally a small Human kingdom in the west, competing with the Rakshasa and Genie empires, Bael Turath formed pacts with devils, daemons, and similar immortals, transforming themselves into the fiend-touched race of Tieflings, dependent upon otherworldly spirits to power their magic and technology. Their empire went on to conquer the entire continent, excluding the untamed East and a couple kingdoms in the far west and north. Eventually the Tieflings’ capital cities on the western peninsula were devastated by an unnatural calamity, sinking it under the ocean. Their continental empire began to collapse and the Tieflings retreated to their ruined homelands. Thousands of years passed before Bael Turath stabilized enough to compete again with its western neighbors.
- Dragons seized power in several large regions across the continent and formed entire kingdoms ruled by draconic dynasties. These kingdoms made loose alliances with each other and traded with foreign powers such as Genies, Oni, and Sorcerers. Many small kingdoms continued to exist as client states under fealty to dragons; humans prospered under this system. Internal politics and the burgeoning strength of Bael Turath, Rakshasa, and Beholders left the Dragon kingdoms weak against rebellions and foreign invasion. The era ends with much of their territory taken by Orcs, Hobgoblins, and Neogi.
- Hobgoblins built a single empire throughout the central regions. Trade was highly decentralized and revolved around slave labor. Several brief periods of war, expansion, and construction followed several centuries of stagnation, until their empire was finally fragmented by invasions upon multiple fronts.
- A group of about 40 human mages mastered the art of necromancy and turned the Omiran peninsula into an undead nation. These Lich-Kings took a non-expansionist approach and constructed a massive roade network stretching from Omira to the west. Though the city of Eshju prospered as a crossroad, the rest of the Borderlands and the East remained divided and undeveloped as Omira choked out all other trade by tailoring to the decadence of major western powers (namely their need for luxury goods, magic, and slavery). The Lich-Kings were overthrown by their human slaves organized by worshipers of the All-Father of Death, placing humans in charge of their former master’s cities.
- ‘These modern times’, as a handful of philosophers understand it, are both prosperous and tumultuous. Strong human nations exist in the east for the first time in millennia, while hostilities rise in the west. Due to its newness and lack of distinct direction, the modern era is largely ignored by scholars of history. Few writers even acknowledged the Lich Kings’ era properly ended within the century after their fall. It exists chiefly in the realm of supposition, as philosophers concoct their own wild forecasts of the theme and nature of the future.