Hello hello! Given that we’re getting further and further into LnD and the world keeps expanding with every arc I figured it’s high time to explain some of the background stuff that I've only hinted at so far for the area the majority of our story has been taking place in so far: The Northern Regions.
The Northern Regions have seen great conflict since long before the fall of the Great Tang Dynasty and the creation of the Scorched Lands now bordering it to the east. It is only for the past three thousand years or so that the borders of the factions within have been stabilizing. While minor alterations still occur the amount of times entire major clans have fallen or changed allegiances throughout these millenia can be counted on both hands. So it is that the world at large is now waiting with baited breath and keeping a close eye on the north to see what upheaval the changed loyalties of the Hu clan may bring.
But I digress.
The main reason for their relative stability is twofold. The difference in power between each of the three great northern sects being relatively small and the terrain they have made their home within.
The clearest example of these natural defenses are those of the White Rose Sect. With their entire northern flank bordering the inhospitable Far North, their eastern one curving around the edges of the Scorched Lands and large scale military deployments through the celestial mountain range to their west being unfeasible the only place the White Rose can be truly threatened is their southern border.
Even then should their forces be forced back far enough they can simply retreat to the Everfrost Glacier where the eternal frost amplifies their advantage to the point it would require both of the other northern sects to dedicate a significant portion of their forces to truly wipe them out, a move that would leave them defenseless. Both to each other and to the world at large.
It is no surprise then that the cold is both the White Rose’s biggest threat and largest advantage, for as much as the inhospitable climate provides them defensive advantages it lacks the fertile land required to maintain a population anywhere nearly as large as that of the other sects. As a result the clans within their territory tend to focus on pooling their resources within a small amount of talented cultivators and focus on mobility and hit and run tactics, for every loss of life and most importantly the loss of the resources required to raise said cultivators is a hefty blow and forces them to choose carefully who they want invest into.
In stark contrast to this approach is that of the Steadfast Rock Sect. Possessing far more fertile and populated lands than the White Rose, what they may lack in the extreme level of specialization and individual strength they more than make up for in numbers and combat formations. With their entire domain nestled within a criss-cross of mountain ranges that leave few wide routes for armies to pass through, the Steadfast Rock has great difficulty expanding their holdings past these natural borders. With their burgeoning population numbers and constant internal unrest however they have little choice but to focus the anger of their warriors externally. For lack of other options this usually results in them turning their efforts north resulting in their age old enmity with the White Rose.
What lets them turn their attention to the north with few other concerns however is not just the mountains guarding their backs. No, it is their expertise in formations and their ability to rapidly communicate across wide distances that allow them to deploy their warriors with far greater ease than the other sects and ensure they will still have a home to return to. Defensive formations make their holdings a tough rock to crack and battle formations allow their cultivators to combine and amplify their powers into a whole that is far stronger than what each individual brings to the table. Combined with the jade mines and said expertise in the art of formations that allows them to create far more communication jades than their competitors any force that devotes their time to battering down one of their fortified cities may find themselves outmaneuvered and outflanked. Such skills in coordination have even made their way down to the populace at large and much to the Steadfast Rock’s dismay to the darker forces lurking within their borders.
Whereas the White Rose consolidates their strength into the elite and the Steadfast Rock maintains their position due to coordination the Iron Fist Sect keeps up with the skill of their craft. For where the Steadfast Rock has their jade the Iron Fist has a great many metal deposits within their realm, mundane and spiritual alike.
Unlike the trio of clans leading the White Rose or the Shen who maintain dominance over the entire Steadfast Rock the Iron Fist does not have a hereditary ruling system and is instead led by a council of twelve. Whether it is one of the four Grand Elders or one of the eight Elders, each member of the council sits on it for no more than a century. Whenever a seat becomes available -either through a member of the council serving their full tenure, retiring or perishing- it goes to whichever member of the sect has achieved the most notable accomplishments within the last century, regardless of whether or not they belong to any of the larger clans.
Why so much metal suited to create arms and armor for cultivators can be found within their demesne is a long debated subject. Some quote the qi-deprived Deadlands separating the sect from the Western Plains as the cause, that perhaps its qi has condensed within the earth below or even migrated to the territory of the Iron Fist Sect entirely. Others point to the fact that the cultivators within their territory are weaker than the norm to disprove the theory that their lands may be richer in qi and suggest it might simply be a result of the various mountain ranges in their vicinity.
Whatever the truth might be it has given them quite the edge over their competitors when it comes to the creation of artifacts. Many clans even equip their guard in full sets of spiritual armor and weapons as a sign of their wealth. Yet it is not solely the quantity of spiritual metals allowing them to practice more that gives them such a hefty boost and allows them to keep up with other sects despite their cultivators being individually weaker. It is the affinities they have gained that truly ensure their continuation.
For while it is true that affinities are passed down through family lines they do not simply appear out of nowhere. A cultivator grows in strength by absorbing the qi of the world, filling their bodies with it and attuning it to themselves. The body adapts and such a process leaves its mark, over the generations cultivators themselves may find their bodies attuning to more easily take in forms of qi absorbed by themselves and their ancestors.
Just as the frozen north gives the clans under the White Rose a bigger chance of gaining ice or cold related affinities and the craggy mountains surrounding the Steadfast Rock grant them the powers of rock and soil the clans under the Iron Fist have gained affinities allowing them to better use a variety of metals and possess an almost instinctive understanding of how to craft with them.
Indeed many believe the creation and existence of the Scorched Lands may lead to an increase in fire related affinities and keep a close eye on those lands bordering it. What has caused both the Hu and their neighbors the Tai to have such strong affinities for more ethereal arts is yet unknown or perhaps a closely guarded secret. Regardless of the truth it has caused their lands to be mostly avoided and limited military movements to the neighboring provinces of the Xie and the Ke on their western borders. For whilst there are certainly lands inhabited by less affluent clans to their east few commanders are mad enough to pass that close to the infernal hellscape created by Immortal Soulfire.