Long ago, centuries before the current age as the bards tell us, there was a period of glory and peace, where peace and wealth abounded. This all changed with the coming of Kurst, a wizard of the most foul arts, who sought not just wealth and glory, but ALL wealth and ALLglory. Through foul magics and powerful technologies, Kurst raised a great army with which he nearly crushed the whole of the world under his mailed fist. Many people would not let the world be burned to a burned grave. The world united and a great war was fought. The cost was monumental, costing technology and infrastructure the world over. The elves disappeared. Dragons were wiped out. Technology fell, and religion and magic took its place. The foul creatures that Kurst had raised to fill his armies with still lurked in the dark places of the world, but as long as you're good, and as long as you keep the faith and stay within the light of the great cities, you will be protected by the light…!
At least that's what they say in The Grand Kingdoms of Streothmond. They still hold true to their grand pantheon, and they've given up war—in fact, aside from the border skirmishes with the mad Tusek tribes in the north, Steothmond hasn't had cause to call upon its vast army en masse in memory. Rather, they keep to the slow and steady development and expansion of their kingdoms, slowly but surely reclaiming ruins across the continent and rebuilding cities long since lost. It doesn't take a grand scholar to see that not all of these cities were ever human-held; the architecture clearly showed Dwarven, Halfling, and even Elfish influences. Their cautious expansion and "one-size fits all" answer for whatever happened in the past doesn't work so well for everyone.
In the north, the wild folk still live in their tribal lands, raiders and pirates beyond comprehension. Their society is based heavily upon raiding and slaving, and as such they are generally hated and feared by all other nations, though they seem content to merely hold their borders and keep others far away from the north. Few seem interested in frigid wastelands enough to challenge their xenophobia, and the Tusek Tribes remain a feared and hated mystery.
In the oldest, most rounded mountains of the central western landmass is the great nation of Magnos. Magnos is a land primarily peopled by the Dwarves. They are masons and steel-smiths without peer, and their unique access to Mountainheart Gems gives them an unmatched advantage in the development of steam technology. If you want to go somewhere and you want to get there quickly, you're likely to ride on a Magnos-manufactured railway.
To the South, along the Magnos Range, the youngest races have forged a mighty nation, forged from little more than curiosity and a can-do attitude. The Free Peoples of Milpac are peopled mostly by Hill Dwarfs, Halflings, and their Gnomish kin, allegedly a result of generations of Halflings living among the Dwarves. The entire nation has shaken off the constriction of religion and instead embraces discovery and science. While the Magnos Rail will take you to your destination swiftly, the most advanced sailing vessels, and airships of the Milpac Federation will carry you safely to the farthest horizons and beyond.
The Grand Kingdoms of Streothmond are a collection of loosely-aligned citystates, each paying tithe to the capital, Streothmond, who ensures the safety and infrastructure of an advanced, albeit feudal society are available to one and all. Streothmond is primarily peopled by humans and half-elves, with a fair number of the short races sprinkled throughout. Elves… well, elves…
Elves are almost unheard of in any of the other nations. They are most populous in Streothmond, though they are viewed with suspicion in almost all cases and rarely trusted. They are largely aloof and quiet, and when they do settle down, it's almost never with another elf, as elves are unspeakably uncommon. Some believe them to be cursed by the gods. Others believe elves to be simply very, very divergent half-elves. Those who give credence to dark rumors and believe the Legend of Kurst would have you believe that the Elven people were wiped out during the war. Rumors have abounded of a lost Elven kingdom, Sembue, where the entire population sealed themselves away from the world until the darkness rose again and they would rise up en masse to save the people from… yaaawn..!
In this world, at a time of wealth and peace and discovery, this sounds more than anything like some kind of half-elven or elven propaganda pudu to try and give hope to the young or stir up the blood of treasure-hunters. It's bunk. No one who's gone looking for Elf-kingdoms has ever returned with a shred of evidence, and many just don't come back. In 1,500 years, their population has been steadily declining. The day of elves is done.
Outside the cities, in wild and unsettled places, it's true that monsters still exist. Giant creatures, magical aberrations, and strange automatons stalk distant caves and forests. There's no doubt that it's safer to stick closer to the cities and roads. In one such city to the East, a Duke of Streothmond has recently died, leaving his twin sons in line for a throne. The Barons, eager to prove their worth to their people and to the kingdom at large, host a massive festival in their capital of Drace to celebrate the life and mourn the passage of their honored, beloved father. In a twist of unfortunate fate the elder Baron, Trice, is killed in the jousting tourney when a broken lance sends a shard through his helmet visor, killing him instantly. His brother, Tisare, is now the heir-apparent and holds the throne of Drace. Of the two sons, he was the much less loved and respected. Where Trice had been a valiant knight, a storied fighter, and very fair upon the eye, Tisare was scrawny, with pale, blotched skin, thin hair, and no great martial accomplishments to claim. Rumors circulated his whole life about his appetites, foul magic, depravity, and the sort. Soon after ascending the throne, rumors begin to circulate of a secret police, and people disappearing in the night. During the day, there are tourneys and festivals and celebrations, weekly. Such rumors must be nonsense. Likely, people are just making fun of the weakling, quiet leader, but somehow a sense of desperation still permeates the population… Maybe there's something to these rumors, after all?