Thursday, 4 August 2011

Imperial Background: The History of Krakenberg

I have never really tried to write a background for any of my armies. This is probably indicative of my focus in that I am, first and foremost, a player. At least, that is how I have always thought of myself. My main focus was on making army lists and playing games, regardless of whether I was intent on winning said game, or just having a laugh.

The theme for my Empire army (or themes, given how easily I seem to be distracted) represents far more thought that I have ever really put into building an army around a particular theme. It is certainly the first time I have ever gone so far as to start heavily modelling things in order to fit the vision I have for the army. I am quite enjoying having more to think about that just the strength of the list I make, and whether everything has some paint on it.

Looking through modelling blogs on WargamerAU, Warhammer Empire and the like, I have seen how much effort some people put into backgrounds for their armies and their characters. I am a little bit inspired, so I figured I would throw something together…

The History of Krakenberg
Nestled in the foothills of the World’s Edge Mountains, the ruined castle of Krakenberg is located within the southern limits of Sylvania. It sits at the foot of a pass that leads through the mountains to the shores of Black Water, meeting the road that leads on to the Dwarf hold of Zhufbar. In times gone by, the castle guarded a major trade route between Zhufbar and the Empire. This was a profitable enterprise, and the castle was surrounded by a prosperous town. A tributary of the Aver Reach ran through the town, allowing light barges to be sent down-river to Nachtschlosse and beyond.

Krakenberg, in the foothills of the World's Edge Mountains
The rulers of Krakenberg were always the Barons of the von Krakenberg family. It was a von Krakenberg who oversaw the construction of the castle in the very early days, spending a considerable fortune on foundations laid by Dwarfs hired from Zhufbar, which lies a mere 30 miles away (the name Krakenberg is believed to be a corruption of the Dwarf word Karak, although how this came to pass is lost in the mists of time). The Barons grew wealthy on the trade passing through their town, amassing a bulging purse with which they continually expanded and fortified their holdings.

All of this changed on Geheimnisnacht in the year 2010, when Vlad von Carstein, Count for the last two centuries, summoned the nobility from all over Syvlania to his halls for a feast. Amongst those to attend were Baron Wilhelm and Baroness Emmanuelle von Krakenberg, leaving their young son Heinrich at home to continue his lessons in their absence. Unfortunately, the feast was not of the kind anticipated by the guests, and the Vampires of Castle Drakenhof slaughtered the von Krakenbergs along with every other important noble in the realm.

News of the Count’s treachery was carried back to Krakenberg by a loyal retainer who managed to escape the carnage, along with word that Vlad was gathering an army and marching on the rest of the Empire. Rule of Krakenberg had fallen to the steward, given Heinrich was not yet of age. Amid fears that their forces would be forced into Vlad’s army or simply butchered, the decision was made to abandon Krakenberg and flee west.

In this fortune smiled upon young Heinrich and his remaining household; they found time to gather much of the family’s wealth into a caravan, and flee the town before Vlad’s cronies arrived to finish what they had started. Even as the Vampire Wars commenced, the remains of the house of von Krakenberg travelled steadily westward, eventually arriving at what was decided to be the safest place possible – Middenheim.

Arriving as they did with a small army of trained soldiers and vast wealth at their disposal, the von Krakenbergs were welcomed with open arms by the Count of Middenheim. There they settled, contributing handsomely to the war effort, with Heinrich himself eventually growing into a capable warrior and seasoned commander in Middenland’s armies.

Scion of a noble and wealthy family with no real inheritance, it was Frederik von Krakenberg who first turned his hand to forming a mercenary army some 130 years later. This was during the rampage of Mannfred von Carstein, last of the great Vampire Counts of Sylvania. Frustrated by the ongoing destruction being wrought by the former overlords of the von Krakenbergs and desiring to do more to put a stop to their treachery, Frederik dug into the family coffers and built a sizeable army around a core of his personal guard. With the new army at his heels, Frederik went south and joined the fight to push von Carstein and his horde back into Sylvania, culminating in the Vampire’s ultimate (or was it?) demise at the Battle of Hel Fenn.

Finding himself to be a talented leader at the head of a hardened fighting force, Frederik decided not to disband his mercenary army upon the defeat of Mannfred. Instead, they roamed the fragmented Empire, taking up many often lucrative contracts in a variety of roles. The Legion of Krakenburg (which became generally known as the Krakens, despite never fighting an engagement upon the open seas) developed a name for itself as a tough mercenary outfit, whose services were available to the highest bidder (within reason – von Krakenberg was known to refuse contracts with known dissenters, and others for whom working would likely result in the Krakens becoming outlaws of the realm).

The success of the Krakens resulted in the von Krakenbergs amassing even greater wealth, and Frederik eventually groomed his son for command and passed the baton on when he decided to retire. This pattern has continued for hundreds of years – an extraordinary period for a band of mercenaries to survive. This can be partly attributed to their vast financial backing, as well as having a secure base of operations in Middenheim. This level of support has allowed the Krakens to refrain from accepting the most dangerous of contracts, where desperation may have led other less fortunate sellswords to accept (to their detriment). Indeed, other soldiers within the Krakens began to consider their role in the unit as a family business, often with multiple generations of the one family fighting side-by-side in battle.

The Great War Against Chaos saw the Krakens fight under the banner of Magnus the Pious at the gates of Kislev. Of all the battles in which the Krakens have fought, this was one of the most perilous. Indeed, it was the sort of contract the von Krakenbergs would normally have turned down, however duty to the Empire and consideration of the potentially dire ramifications for all should Magnus fail may have swayed the decision. Like all regiments that took part in the epic battle, the Krakens suffered terrible losses in the north. However, the survivors regrouped and returned home, forming the heart of a new recruitment drive funded generously by a grateful Magnus (by then the new Emperor). 

In addition, the von Krakenbergs leveraged their considerable wealth to assist the Count of Middenheim in rebuilding his own forces, devastated as they were by the war. Through a complicated series of loans and training agreements, the von Krakenbergs became rather inextricably tied to the Count and his legions of White Wolves. This has seen a lucrative ongoing contract for a large portion of the Krakens within Middenheim itself, bolstering the standing army. The safety of Middenheim is important for the backing of the Krakens, so the situation is not seen as at all unfavourable by the von Krakenbergs.

The most recent Chaos invasion led by Archaon again saw the Krakens take a fearsome battering. Perhaps fortunately, a large portion of the army was outside the city walls when Middenheim was besieged. This meant they were spared the brutality of the siege itself, and in fact fared better than those who stayed within the city walls. In fact, the Krakens outside the walls developed a fearsome reputation amongst the Empire troops for their brutal efficiency and merciless dealings with the Chaos forces they encountered. It was rumoured that most of the men were brooding over the fates of loved ones and comrades trapped within Middenheim, and tended to take their anger out on their enemies in battle.

The lifting of the siege saw many joyous reunions, but also saw the fears of many realised when the toll was revealed. Fully two-thirds of the Krakens had not survived the Storm of Chaos (as it became known), with the families of the fighters and other non-combatants within the Krakens faring little better. It was the loss of so many women, children and old men that hit hardest, as fighting men expect to die, but they expect to do so that others may be kept safe.

In truth the toll amongst the Krakens was relatively good, when compared with others who had been trapped within the city. A period of intense rebuilding began, however it was decided by Kristoff, the current Baron von Krakenberg, that it was finally time for a change. Too many of his “family” were in grieving, and Middenheim, previously considered the safest place possible for their homes, was no longer where they wished to be. It was decided that, after 500 years, it was time for the von Krakenbergs to return home.

Simply pulling up roots and leaving Middenheim was a more complicated process than anyone might have expected. The financial and military ties with the Count ran deep, and a long series of negotiations were held before an agreement could be reached. The Krakens would leave, along with their considerable train of family, retainers, possessions and wealth. In addition, Ar-Ulric Valgeir would send with them a small army of newly recruited Knights of the White Wolf, led by a collection of grizzled veterans and a handful of Warrior Priests. 

The White Wolves were included in the part for a number of reasons. By sending additional forces with Kristoff, Count Boris Todbringer would go some small way toward repaying the debts owed the von Krakenbergs by the state. The Krakens were going to reclaim a castle uninhabited for the last 500 years, deep within the tainted region of Sylvania and isolated from the nearest sizeable Imperial settlement. Capable though they were, the Krakens were under strength and would need the help. In addition, sending these inexperienced Knights with the hardened veterans of the Krakens would allow them to learn from some of the best. They would likely also gain valuable combat experience, since the expedition was not expected to be without conflict. The Knights of the White Wolf would establish a chapter house within Krakenberg, with the possibility that further recruits would be sent east to train with the Krakens on an ongoing basis. As is their duty, the White Wolves would also protect the Warrior Priests who rode east with them.

The inclusion of Priests of Ulric in the party destined for Krakenberg might seem strange to some, however the von Krakenbergs did not spend half a millennium in the City of the White Wolf without it affecting their customs. The Barons (and to a large extent, the Krakens as a whole) have long since started placing their worship of Ulric above that of Sigmar, as is the habit of those from the north. Ar-Ulric Valgeir recognised in the von Krakenbergs an opportunity to further Ulric’s influence in the south-east, where he is largely forgotten. 

Discussions with Dwarf traders who passed through the area gave Baron Kristoff an idea of what to expect when he returned to his ancestral home. All traces of the greater town of Krakenberg were gone; long since destroyed by the elements or scavengers looking for building materials. The castle itself still stood. Or rather, parts of it did. It was difficult to get a clear description amidst the grumblings of poor human workmanship and the disgraceful use of solid Dwarf-built foundations. The highland region in which the castle stood was less touched by the Undead than the lower regions closer to the heart of Sylvania (partly thanks to the ruthless efficiency of Dwarf caravan guards who passed through the mountains on a semi-regular basis). Krakenberg would be rather isolated from human civilisation, but it would be far from the most dangerous place in the Old World.

The Krakens set forth from Middenheim with a considerable baggage train and arrived remarkably unscathed. Admittedly this may have been attributed to it being one of the largest armies to be found in the Empire, thanks to the much-reduced state of most forces after the war with Archaon’s forces. Tempting as the piles of loot may have been. no bandits or thugs were suicidal enough to trouble a caravan of hundreds of armed men and knights. 

In the months since arriving at Krakenberg, the rebuilding of the castle has begun in earnest. With a considerable outlay of money, Dwarf engineers have again been brought in to oversee the reconstruction. The town is currently restricted to what can be contained within the castle walls, however plans are in place to extend the walls to accommodate a town proper (Baron Kristoff will not permit the expansion of the town without protection). The Old World is a dangerous place, and in Sylvania, the dead do not rest easy…

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