The Codex of War

Summary: Notes on the world of "Stone Against The Sea," a pulp swashbuckling serial in the spirit of Robert Howard.

The Tsardom of Ursia

Flag: Emblazoned golden bear paw in the upper left side of a purple background

Ursia is known by many names, including the "Land of the Bear." The Tsardom was once a small Taurian outpost on a frozen bog in the north, known today as Groznygrad. When the Taurian Empire collapsed, many of its remaining officials fled to the remote colony. The town grew into a port city for the nearby rivers, eventually becoming a regional trading hub run by a loose alliance of princes and nobles. This changed when Vladimir the Bear rose to power, and unified the country by force. The Bear of the North established secret police, a network of spies, and demanded to be known as the ancient title of Taurian Emperors, "Tsar." While he died under mysterious circumstances, his kingdom endured. In time, it spanned across a continent, from the city of Groznygrad to the distant eastern steppes.

The warrior class appointed by Vladimir had become the kingdom's primary powerbrokers. The Cossacks faced a variety of foes, and dealt with most of them from horseback. They frequently adopt tactics from their most frequent foes, the mounted archers of the eastern steppes. As such, most Cossacks use a blend of ancient and modern weapons, from composite bows to flintlock carbines. The favored Cossack blades are often curved cavalry sabers, similar to the steppe nomads they often fight.

While the Cossacks are the most influential group of warriors in Ursia, they are not the most ancient martial tradition. When the heir to the Taurian Empire fled north, he brought his unit of bodyguards, the Varangians. These axe-wielding shock troops were recruited from the savage raiders of the Frozen Sea, and swore absolute fealty to their charges. While the heir died in a failed attempt to reclaim the throne, the Varangians endured. For centuries, they acted as a mercenary company to the local nobility. Vladimir reorganized them as a unit of bodyguards and shock troops, able to break enemy formations with aggression and power.

While tensions between the Cossacks and Varangians exists, the axe-bearing guard found themselves rediscovering their roots in recent decades. As Tsarina Ivana expanded the Ursian fleet to include modern ships, the Varangians were redeployed as marines. Their fearsome axes were useful in chopping down enemy masts, and their ranks swelled with experienced sailors knowledgeable on ship-to-ship combat. While they were drawn into politics and petty feuds for a time, the Varangians have come full circle as returning to their roots as seaborne raiders. The Tsarina compensated for a lack of ships by employing Varangians as privateers, so that her foes may not be safe, even far from the North.

The Ursians have sought to expand their own colonial holdings to match Bordeaux and Anglavia, but they have been limited to unexplored regions of North Aquila. They do not send over large numbers of settlers, as their colonial administration is often staffed by aristocrats and officers that fell from favor or are perceived to have angered the Tsarina. The Ursians do, however, have significant holdings in the form of the fur trade in Aquila. Their near monopoly on certain types of pelts has not gone unnoticed, and drawn the attentions of their better-equipped rival powers. Most Ursian "colonies" are little more than a trading post with an Imperial Orthodox mission, so the loss of a few is hardly a significant setback. Few nations have successfully invaded the Bear of the North, with its harsh winters and harsher people. Time will tell if they can establish an empire to rival the other powers, or they will fall back into being a rural backwater.