The Aftermath of Chaos
Outbreak of War
The exact causes and preceding events of the cataclysmic Chaos War are often debated, but most sages and historians believe that an alliance was arranged between Orcus, Vecna and Lolth to carve themselves new empires on the mortal plane. Lolth and her dark elf followers had designs to conquer the Feywild and crush the followers of Corellon, while Orcus and Vecna would expand their influence by striking out from the Abyss and Shadowfell respectively while their followers corrupted the kingdoms of mankind from within. The forces of law were taken by surprise as all out war was suddenly sprouted across the mortal planes. The gods of good were caught unawares and were slow to marshal forces against multiple threats.
Exactly what occurred next is a matter of historical speculation and educated guessing. It is believed that the gods of evil inevitably defeated themselves. Some sages conclude that Orcus, looking toward his own godhood, challenged Vecna for dominion over the undead. Others argue Lolth had designs much greater than the Feywild and betrayed her allies. And even others claim that Bane and Tiamat, covetous of the success of the other evil gods, decided to carve their own pieces of the mortal plane. Perhaps some part of each of these views contributed to what followed. Whatever occurred, conflict fractured the armies of evil allowing Moradin, Bahamut, and Pelor to rally their forces into defensible positions to challenge the oncoming threats. However, the costs were overwhelming.
As the battles spread across the heavens and earth, more of the gods were pulled into the conflict. Massive magical forces were brought to bear as the gods themselves became embroiled in battles the likes of which had not been seen since the Dawn War with the Primordials. The very fabric of reality was stretched to the limit as sorcerous powers transformed matter, wreaked destruction, and consumed the force of life itself.
The dimensional veil between the Feywild and Shadowfell tore and the dimensions collided and combined in a maelstrom of primal and shadow energy. Elemental chaos leaked through cracks in reality into the mortal planes, transforming seas to molten chasms, leveling mountain ranges, and drowning plains. Primordials escaped the prisons that had held since the dawn of time. All of creation was on the brink of destruction when the gods suddenly halted their warring. Even the gods of evil must have realized that rule over the burnt cinders of reality was no rule at all. As much as they would never admit, all the gods’ power derives from their worshipers. Without the mortal world, the gods are but a patina of magical power over an empty shell.
It can’t be said the forces of good won. Truly, all sides paid the crippling toll. Millions died on every plane of existence. The heavens and earth lay transformed and broken and the gods were forced to retreat to their prior manifestations.
Rise of the Horned King
In the aftermath of the devastation on Oerth, the empires of man, elf and dwarfkind struggled to survive. Cities and even whole countries were wiped off the map. Empires fell, and wars of the more mundane variety broke out as militaristic bands of outlaws tried to carve out their own fiefdoms from the remains of the world. From these dark times rose the Horned King. Gathering goblinoid races as well as men of a less-than-well-meaning nature, the Horned King conquered his way across what was left of the eastern kingdoms. His rise to power spanned decades as he carved an empire of a most unsavory sort.
Human, dwarf and elven communities were crushed under his cruel hand and much of the land was over run with the likes of ogre, orc, and goblinkind. His army was finally broken during the siege of Threshold, a city (and now the capital of the Grand Duchy) upon a strategic river crossing between the East and West. How Horned King’s army was defeated is lost to history. What few documents survived the era seem to indicate the Horned King was on the brink of victory as his forces wore down the defenses of Threshold… but the siege came to a sudden end with the Horned King reported dead and his humanoid armies, now leaderless and without strong direction, broke apart and dispersed into the surrounding lands.
For more than a generation, the lands were left to grow wild, with only sparse settlements and tribal humanoids eking out meager existences. Most of the old human and elven settlements stood abandoned as the devastation of the Chaos War followed closely by the armies of the Horned King left only empty, burnt villages and bleaching bones. The few remaining Dwarf tribes retreated to the safety of their mountain outposts. Elves and Eladrin faded into the forests or the Feywild to defend what little home was left from the encroaching shadow. Only in the last hundred years have larger settlements redeveloped in the Eastern parts of the Grand Duchy. Tempted by untapped resources, fertile farmland and the prospect for trade wealth, humans, halflings, elves and even some dwarves have come to resettle the lands around the Nentir Vale, formerly left to ruin.