Curse of the Crimson Throne
Ten thousand years ago, when the stars fell from the sky and mighty Azlant sank beneath the sea, humanity entered its Age of Darkness. Yet just as humanity’s hopes of survival seemed lost, the Empire of Taldor, a glorious new realm on the shores of the Inner Sea, rose out of the ashes. The Azlanti survivors who founded this young nation also gave birth to a new people: the Taldans, inheritors of the wonder, majesty, and nobility of Old Azlant. For the next five millennia, Taldans set the course of history for the Inner Sea. From the Gilded City of Oppara, the Taldans’ grand Armies of Exploration surveyed and colonized the continent of Avistan, founding the nations of Andoran, Cheliax, Galt, Isger, Lastwall, Molthune, and Nirmathas, and opening the way to the Mwangi Expanse and the Dragon Empires of Tian Xia. Aroden himself walked among Taldor’s people, and the Taldans spread across Avistan, north through the Verduran Forest and Sellen River basin to the Lake of Mists and Veils, and west along the mighty Menador Mountains to the Arch of Aroden. The empire’s baroque culture blossomed into the pinnacle of privilege and refined taste, and Taldane was and remains the Inner Sea region’s common language. For nearly 6,000 years, Taldans have stood proudly at the forefront of human civilization, for what other people have the courage, the intelligence, the strength, and, most importantly, the will, to lead by example?
Descended from the Azlanti and ancient Keleshites, most Taldans possess naturally bronze skin and long, flowing hair, usually brown or black in hue. Their eyes are small but expressive, and usually green, brown, or gray in color, though amber is not uncommon and is considered highly attractive. Although every culture has its own standards of beauty, Taldans possess a natural comeliness that makes them attractive to most humans, and to some nonhumans as well.
The Taldans’ confidence invariably extends to their physical appearance. Even members of the lower classes tend to revel in wearing sumptuous, excessively elaborate clothes, though they may be made of cheap fabric and paste jewels. Any Taldan worthy of the heritage pays close attention to the latest styles, and more avant-garde Taldans seek to establish new trends themselves. Neatly groomed beards are popular among men, especially those of the upper class, and aristocratic Taldan women are famous for their improbably elaborate wigs, many of which are heirlooms passed down through the generations.
Most Taldans assume their companions will pick up their fashion-forward choices, even if in reality their new styles look a bit ridiculous. As a default, they expect to be the best at what they do—and they expect others at least to admire them, if not emulate them. Of course, Taldans are crestfallen indeed when their companions outshine them, or refuse to support their overblown self-image.
Although they are most numerous in the country that bears their name, Taldans exist in some number in almost every nation in Avistan and Garund. However, no matter where they live, a few core traits tend to influence the worldview and behavior of all Taldans. The arrogant and decadent identity possessed by all Taldans is something that is at once obvious and imperceptible in their daily lives. Virtually all Taldans, regardless of where they actually live, act as if their empire— which, according to the rest of the world, is in decline, if not completely lost to history—is still at the height of its glory and influence.
Taldan society is highly stratified; it is divided into a small, powerful upper class and a vast, impoverished underclass, which makes up 99% of Taldor’s population. The upper class consists of the royalty, who trace their bloodlines back to one Taldan emperor or another, and the senatorial class, made up of hereditary members of Taldor’s senate, prefecture governors, or members of Taldor’s immense, byzantine bureaucracy. Originally, only members of the upper classes could legally grow beards (giving rise to a rather inane class division between “the bearded” and “the unbearded”), though this restriction has largely fallen out of fashion, as most Taldan fads eventually do.
Craftspeople, laborers, merchants, sailors, soldiers, criminals, and people of nearly every other occupation comprise the vast Taldan underclass, kept in check by crushing taxes, punitive tariffs, and a lack of rights. Nevertheless, most lower-class Taldans remain exceedingly loyal to the empire, ever hopeful that they might one day rise above the station of their birth. Even the lowest-born Taldan prides herself on the advantage of a Taldan birth and upbringing; in her mind, such a background marks her as superior to members of other cultures.
Because their empire soared to such cultural and political heights, Taldans truly believe that they are capable of anything, a confidence that often manifests itself as bravery—they are usually the first to charge headlong into an impossible fight. They brook no claims that they are incapable of anything and, in fact, view even the most logical derision as a direct challenge.
As unconsciously entitled as they can be, Taldans can be a remarkably naive people, surprisingly unwilling to accept reality as it truly is. Many still continue to uphold the same lavish lifestyles as their ancestors; Taldans firmly believe that the appearance of wealth and power is the same as actually possessing it. After all, as a common creed in Oppara goes, “If you convince your enemy that you command an unbeatable army and he stands down, the army is effectively real.” Beyond that, many Taldans believe that sheer willpower is enough to eventually succeed, no matter the obstacles, and Oppara’s haberdasheries are full of nobles spending coin they no longer have in anticipation of their families’ return to fortune.
Taldans are more than happy to point out that of the three mortals since Aroden who ascended to divinity through the power of the Starstone, two of them—Cayden Cailean and Norgorber—were themselves Taldan in their mortal lives.
As a people descended from Old Azlant, many Taldans once worshiped Aroden. A few devotees of the Last Azlanti still remain in Taldor, clinging to their dead faith, but most have moved on to other gods who can actually hear their prayers. It is perhaps surprising, then, that worship of Aroden’s successor, Iomedae, is not more widespread among Taldans—until one realizes that Iomedae was of Chelish descent, a fact most Taldans choose to conveniently ignore, along with the Inheritor herself. Abadar and Shelyn—adopted from the old Azlanti pantheon— are considered the most respectable deities among upper-class Taldans, though Calistria and Torag have their adherents as well, particularly among devotees of Taldor’s cutthroat politics and its military, respectively. Many lower-class Taldans follow these examples, but a rising number of disaffected youth have turned to Cayden Cailean instead, while those interested in more criminal pursuits often follow Norgorber.
The church of Sarenrae has had a rocky history in Taldor, and the goddess’s worship was even outlawed for a time more than a hundred years ago. Despite this, Sarenrae remains a popular deity among Taldans of all classes, though few support the militant Cult of the Dawnflower, which seeks to “cleanse” Taldor with sword and fire.
Taldans are known across the world as a self-important, blithe, prideful people. Rather than cruel superiority, however, their ego is born of their self-assured confidence and a delight in their own, perhaps inflated, cultural refinement. Further, it would be impossible to sustain such cultural pride for so many thousands of years were it not based at least in part on reality. Taldans are truly an impressive cultural force, and they have produced great intellectual thinkers, groundbreaking artists, skilled warriors, and powerful spellcasters over the generations. For all of their vanity, Taldan culture has had an undeniable influence on the history of the Inner Sea and continues to shape the politics of the modern day.
Taldor was once the most successful and powerful empire in all of Avistan, and though it has fallen from the lofty heights it once occupied, the Taldan people still act as if they rule the world. Taldans have always focused on the decadent lifestyles their wealth provides them, and their current position on the world stage has done little to change their behaviors. Indeed, historians still debate whether Taldan arrogance, complacency, and frivolity were contributing factors to the empire’s downfall. To a Taldan, however, such questions are irrelevant. Taldor still exists—the golden spires of Oppara still gleam in the sun, Taldor’s legions still proudly patrol the borders, and the lower classes still know their place—so what is there to worry about?
Dueling has always been a popular pastime among Taldans, and the cities of Taldor host numerous elite fighting schools at which dilettantes can learn a variety of combat styles. Over time, however, dueling has become more divorced from its honorable roots. Now, it is far more common for Taldans to duel for the sake of dueling rather than to defend or restore one’s honor. Nevertheless, cheating during a duel or even turning down a challenge is seen as dishonorable, and few Taldans are willing to accept such a blow to their pride and reputation.
By far, the most popular form of dueling among Taldans is rondelero, the art of fighting with the falcata (a traditional Taldan weapon) and buckler Traditionally, rondelero duels were fought to the death, but today, the most skilled practitioners of rondelero are famous celebrities. Nonlethal exhibition duels involving these personalities attract widespread notice and acclaim among all levels of Taldan society.
But duels are not just restricted to fighting with weapons. Those Taldans unskilled in combat have expanded the concept of dueling to virtually all forms of competition. To a Taldan, a duel is simply a contest between two individuals. Taldan spellcasters engage one another in flamboyant spell duels that attract large numbers of spectators, and performers from Taldor’s renowned bardic schools frequently duel one another in dance, music, oratory, poetry, and wit.
Members of Taldor’s upper classes are always consummate politicians; it’s almost a requirement, given the complexity of the Taldan bureaucracy. As such, politics have left an indelible mark on Taldan culture, one that extends far beyond the borders of Taldor itself. Taldans of all classes revel in courtly pageantry and political machinations in whatever lands they inhabit. Even Taldan visitors to other lands take an intense, if fleeting, interest in local politics, and many Taldans find themselves irresistibly drawn to participate—some might say meddle— in political life, whether on a national or local level. Exactly what form this participation takes varies considerably, but Taldans consider leadership their natural birthright. For a Taldan, two elements are required in political life: strong rules or traditions (the more scripted and complicated, the better) and an undercurrent of backhanded intrigue, whether it be backroom negotiations or a literal knife in the back.
Even those Taldans who might never aspire to nobility or governance still incorporate politics into their daily lives. Commoners jockey with one another for position and rank within guilds, the military, or their neighborhoods or villages. To win someone’s hand in marriage, even a lowly swineherd must be willing to outmaneuver and discredit his rivals. If successful, the betrothed couple must put on a wedding with as much fanfare and spectacle as they can muster, or at least enough to put the preceding village wedding to shame in comparison.
Taldans are almost universally uninterested in, if not outright dismissive of, every other ethnicity or race; their own superiority is so ingrained in their minds that most Taldans give little thought to people of other nationalities or ethnicities. When they do interact with others, Taldans tend to be patronizing, though almost never intentionally or maliciously. When it comes down to it, they believe that it is simply impossible for a non-Taldan to achieve the heights of one who has enjoyed a Taldan upbringing. As a result, Taldans tend to irritate or infuriate nearly every other people with whom they come into contact.
The Empire of Taldor and the nation of Qadira have been fierce rivals—and often, outright enemies—for centuries. This conf lict has forever colored Taldan perceptions of Keleshites, whose own homeland, the Padishah Empire of Kelesh, is nowhere near as moribund as Taldor, and who possess an innate sense of superiority to match that of Taldans themselves. In some cases, this manifests as outright racism or hostility toward Keleshites, though most Taldans avoid such extremes. It is accurate to say, however, that most Taldans dislike Keleshites at the very least.
Taldans don’t just reserve their disdain for Keleshites, however. Despite the fact that most Taldans don’t actively try to be rude, they often aren’t much kinder to other ethnicities. To a Taldan, there is little difference between a Shoanti, a Kellid, and an Ulfen, because none of them are Taldan. Taldans simply believe that they are living life the right way, and that they have much to teach the other human ethnicities. Dwarves, elves, gnomes, and especially half-orcs they view even more skeptically, even if they almost never vocalize these internal views. Many Taldans actively try to rise above these preconceptions, but their unconscious focus on their own supposed superiority is often clear to those who spend time with them. Taldans can be quick to take offense at any suggestion that they and their culture are not the pinnacle of humanity. Few Taldans respond well to insults, whether real or implied, from non-Taldans.
On the other hand, some Taldans take great pride in the fact that they don’t uphold the traditional arrogant Taldan stereotype. These Taldans make a point of associating with members of other nations, ethnicities, and races, and are often eager to point out just how progressive they really are regarding their relationships with non-Taldans.
Where in Golarion?
Unsurprisingly, the Taldan homeland is the Empire of Taldor, one of the oldest surviving nations in Avistan, where descendants of Old Azlant mingled with Keleshite settlers nearly 6,000 years ago. Since that time, however, the scions of Taldor have spread throughout the lands of the Inner Sea. The Empire of Taldor once stretched across southern Avistan to the Arch of Aroden, and just as many of the modern nations of southern Avistan were provinces of the empire, so too are their peoples descended from Taldan stock. Taldans make up a significant portion of the populations of Absalom, Andoran, Cheliax, Druma, Galt, Isger, Molthune, and Nirmathas. Likewise, Taldor’s long and tempestuous history with neighboring Qadira means that many Taldans live in that nation as well. Taldor’s great Armies of Exploration left behind colonies and settlers everywhere they went, and today Taldans can be found in Brevoy, Lastwall, the Mwangi Expanse, the River Kingdoms, and even in the nation of Amanandar in Tian Xia. In fact, Taldor’s long influence over the Inner Sea region means that is exceptionally rare not to find at least some people of Taldan descent in any nation of Avistan or Garund.