The Seven Kingdoms (known as Westeros or the Sunset Kingdoms to many foreign peoples) is a feudal realm ruled from the Iron Throne in the Red Keep of King’s Landing. The name of the realm comes from the fact that it is made up of seven distinct former realms, each with their own history and some with their own distinct cultures and religions. Six of the seven realms were conquered by Aegon Targaryen (the Conqueror) and his sisters. These former realms were the Kingdom of the North, the Kingdom of Mountain and Vale, the Kingdom of the Iron Islands and the Trident, the Kingdom of the Rock, the Kingdom of the Reach, and Kingdom of the Stormlands.
The seventh realm, long claimed and recently both conquered and then lost again, is the Kingdom of Dorne, now once again ruled by its traditional sovereign lord, a Prince of House Martell.
When Aegon the Conqueror and his sisters landed, the first wooden fort they raised would eventually become the nucleus of a thriving city. Called King’s Landing, the city has rapidly grown to rival Oldtown as the largest city in the Seven Kingdoms. Nestled beside the opening of the Blackwater River into Blackwater Bay, the port is kept busy. The city walls have grown encompass the three great hills—Visenya’s Hill where a sept stands, Rhaenys’s Hill where the empty Dragonpit looms, and highest of all, Aegon’s Hill crowned by the Red Keep.
The city itself houses well over a hundred thousand people, from all walks of life: from nobles visiting at court to members of the guilds and on down to street urchins and thugs in the squallor of the quarter of the city known as Flea Bottom.
The Red Keep was begun by Aegon, but it was not completed until the reign of his son, King Maegor I. Hundreds of artisans were executed at Maegor the Cruel’s command, so that only he and a chosen few would know its secrets; it’s whispered that there is a network of tunnels and secret passages, giving secret access to every part of the keep. At the center of the Red Keep is Maegor’s Holdfast, a castle-within-a-castle, where the royal family keep their quarters. Around it are the great drum towers, the aged godswood, and various keeps and buildings besides.
About 500 miles northeast of King’s Landing, just beyond Blackwater Bay, is the royal island of Dragonstone and its vassal island of Driftmark. Further north near Crackclaw Point is Claw Island, and to the south is the long peninsula called Massey’s Hook. These regions are commanded from the citadel on Dragonstone by the heir apparent to the throne, known as the Prince of Dragonstone, due to the history of Dragonstone as being the westernmost point of Valyrian rule before the Doom. Survivors of that catastrophe escaped to area, taking up the Faith, and in time the descendants of the Targaryen lords who ruled at the citadel of Dragonstone—Aegon and his sisters—launched their invasion of Westeros from the islands.
Despite this august history and unique relationship to the Targaryens, the islands and their lords are relatively poor. Beyond having a great naval strength, which makes up the bulk of the royal fleet, there is little to recommend them. Dragonstone itself is rather barren and harsh, noteworthy only for the Valyrian citadel and the semi-active volcano that dominates the landscape. The other islands, and Massey’s Hook, are not much better, and the lords of these areas are sometimes mocked as “codfish lords”.
Beyond the revenue won by providing ships for the royal fleet and from the fishing that provides the area its staple foods, the lords of Dragonstone and its vassal islands are the first line of defense against pirates and smugglers who try to seek passage in and out of Blackwater Bay. Between Driftmark and Sharp Point at the end of Massey’s Hook is the Gullet, a narrow strait which is particularly guarded by an active sea watch.
The citadel on Dragonstone, where the Prince of Dragonstone has his seat, is a structure far beyond anything that could be made today. The Valyrians had the conceit of building the whole place to look as if it were made up of dragons of stone, and perhaps by some magical art now lost they shaped the stone so that it all seems seamless and almost alive. Driftmark is just to the southwest of Dragonstone and is in fact a larger island. Across the Gullet from Driftmark is the castle of Sharp Point at the end of Massey’s Hook. Claw Isle is approximately 125 miles north of Dragonstone.
The stormlands encompasses two distinct regions: the heavily forested eastern portion, and the stretch of land extending southwest along the line of the red mountains of Dorne, calld the Dornish Marches. The stormlands are rich in timber and furs, stone and even amber, but it is a place given to rain and the eponymous storms which can come roaring from the narrow sea. Beginning south of the kingswood, the Baratheons rule the region from their ancestral seat, Storm’s End, an ancient castle on the shore of Shipbreaker Bay which can withstand the tempests.
The Dornish Marches have a long history of raiding, skirmishes, and outright warfare with the Dornishmen. The marcher ballads are full of such strife, and the castles of the marcher lords are some of the strongest in the realm because of this long history. Extending southwest as far as Nightsong, the seat of House Caron, the Marches not only border Dorne, but also the Reach.
The great castle of Storm’s End has a massive, circular curtain wall whose stones are so closely fitted together that the wind cannot get a grip from it. Thrusting up from within its confines is a huge drum tower, its battlements making it look like a fist thrusting into the sky. Legend claims that Brandon Stark, Brandon the Builder, helped build it for Durran the Storm King after the gods of sea and sky tore down his previous castles out of rage of his taking their daughter Elenei to wife. Perched on cliffs above Shipbreaker Bay, there is an opening to sea which allow boats to row under the castle.
Travelling north from King’s Landing one soon reaches the riverlands, at the crossroads of the realm. The riverlands have been a common battleground for rival kigndoms for many thousands of years. Watered by the the Trident—the Red Fork, Blue Fork, and Green Fork rivers which join into one near the sea—the riverlands are fertile but difficult to defend. Ruled by the Tullys of Riverrun, the riverlands are bordered by the westerlands to the west, the Vale and the Mountains of the Moon to the east, and the swamp called the Neck to the north.
At the juncture of the Tumblestone river and the Red Fork stands Riverrun, seat of the Tullys who rule the riverlands since the day they led the riverlords to abandon Harren the Black to join Aegon the Conqueror and his sisters. The castle, made of red sandstone, is relatively small but also very well-defended because of its location. Triangular in shape, the waters of the rivers run along its walls on both sides, and a moat on the third side can be flooded to leave the castle on an island.
The greatest seat in the Riverlands, however, is the half-ruined Harrenhal. Raised by the ironborn tyrant Harren the Black over forty years, the castle is the largest in the Seven Kingdoms, with some of the highest towers and thickest walls in the realm. The Targaryen dragons burned it, killing Harren and his sons, and the heat of their flames was so hot that the stones of the huge, tall towers were partially melted. Held now by the Lothstons, the castle has had an unlucky history, with every house to hold it since Black Harren’s having died out.
Harrenhal sits besides the great lake called the Gods’ Eye, and at the center of the lake is the Isle of Faces, where it is said that the green men—an ancient order founded millenia ago to seal a peace between the First Men and the original inhabitants of the continent, the children of the forest—have carved every weirwood with a face and protect it. Few go there, and none of them speak of what they see.
The westerlands are not the largest, most populous, or most fertile part of the realm, but it is certainly the richest. Full of hills and crags, the land is dotted with mines from which pour gold and silver in astonishing quantities. Although the westerlands were once greatly troubled by the ironborn reavers raiding along the western coast, its eastward border with the riverlands is far more defensible thanks to the chief pass being guarded by the castle called the Golden Tooth. South along the oceanroad, however, lies the Reach; before Aegon and his sister came, the Kingdom of the Rock and the Kingdom of the Reach were often at war over their disputed borders.
The seat is of the ruling house, the Lannisters, is called Casterly Rock. A massive hill of solid rock has over the millennia been honeycombed with halls and chambers, and further fortified with walls and towers, while its depths are filled with ancient mines where gold can still be found. Near to it is the city of Lannisport, the wealthiest city in the realm after Oldtown.
The second largest portion of the realm, the second wealthiest as well, but also the most fertile and populous. The Reach is the heart of chivalry in the Seven Kingdoms, an attitude fostered first by the ancient Gardener kings and then by the Tyrells who rule from their seat, Highgarden. The Reach covers a great expanse, from the Sunset Sea east to the very verge of the stormlands. The mighty Mander river, the broadest river in the realm, cuts through it.
Highgarden, where the Tyrells rule from, is one of the most beautiful castles in the realm, full of gardens, marble arcades, and fountains. It is sited near the Mander river, which pours southwestwards into the sea. The city of Oldtown, however, may be more important to the wealth of the Reach. The first and for a long time the greatest city in the Seven Kingdoms, Oldtown has been ruled by the Hightowers since time out of mind. They were kings once, and then when they bent the knee to the Gardeners, they still had power and wealth enough to largely rule themselves. The Hightowers are great patrons of the arts and learning, and thanks to them the maesters found a home at the Citadel. Their own seat gives them their name, because the Hightower of Oldtown is the tallest structure in the Seven Kingdoms, a huge tiered tower 800 feet high topped by a fiery beacon which can be seen dozens of miles away at sea.
The next most significant region of the Reach is the large island called the Arbor, ruled by the Redwynes. A powerful house, the Redwynes are said to control the largest military fleet in the realm, with hundreds of galleys at their call and hundreds more of merchant galleys, cogs, and more. The Arbor is famed throughout the world for the golden wine it produces, and it is the source of much of their wealth and influence.
The Vale of Arryn is a fertile valley nestled between the Mountains of the Moon which border it on all sides. The only sure road into it from the riverlands to the west is the high road, which can be perilous thanks to the savage clans which still roam, committing all kinds of outlawry. The Vale extends east to the rocky, much less fertile area called the Fingers which extend into the narrow sea.
The Eyrie is a small, beautiful consider that is considered one of the most formidable castles in the Seven Kingdoms. The Eyrie can only be approached by a difficult path, guarded by a series of defences, up the face of the Giant’s Lance. These defences consist of a stout castle named the Gates of the Moon, commanded by the High Steward of the Vale, and three waycastles called Stone, Snow, and Sky.
Beyond these castles, the Arryns name a Knight of the Gate to act as castellan of the twin watchtowers that guard the Bloody Gate, against which a dozen armies smashed themselves to pieces in the Age of Heroes.
A large town, or perhaps one of the smallest cities in the realm, Gulltown is the chief port of the Vale.
The North, stretching from near the Wall down to the Neck, in land area makes up half the whole of the realm. However, it is a harsh place, especially in winter, and so its population is sparse. Once the first and oldest kingdom in the realm, the North has been ruled by scions of House Stark for 8,000 years. Despite the harshness, it is beautiful, with great, ancient forests, tall and foreboding peaks, and flinty hills.
Winterfell, the ancient seat of the Starks, is a sprawling complex containing half-ruined buildings and towers rubbing shoulders with new ones. Over so many generations, the castle has grown organically, but at its heart remains the oldest godswood in the realm. Built in area known for its hot springs, some of the newer buildings pipe the hot water between walls to warm chambers.
The chief port of the North is White Harbor, a small town and fortress ruled by the Manderlys, a family originally from the Reach who were persecuted by the Gardener kings and found refuge thanks to the Starks. It stands near the White Knife river. Away to the west, beyond the kingsroad, the ancient barrows where the First Men buried their chieftains and kings dot the moors, and some houses have their seats among them. Far to the North, the population grows sparser and sparser still, until one comes to the Wall. Raised after the Others were defeated, the Wall is a massive structure of ice some 300 miles long and 700 feet tall, guarded by the men of the Night’s Watch. The Others have no been seen for millennia, but the wildlings beyond the Wall often attempt to raid across it, and occasionally their have been kings-beyond-the-Wall who have threatened the North and the realm itself.
The Iron Islands lie west of the riverlands and Ironman’s Bay. The seven major islands are Great Wyk (largest of the islands), Old Wyk, Saltcliffe, Pyke, Orkmont, Blacktyde, and Harlaw (richest and most populous of the islands), while there are numerous small islets. Pyke is dominated by the Greyjoys, Lords of the Iron Islands, and their castle. The islands are noted for their eponymous product, iron, and are otherwise rather barren and harsh to live upon.
The isolation of the ironborn from the mainland has given them a unique culture, based on the Old Way of warfare and reaving, and the unique faith of the Drowned God who is ever at war with the Storm God. The poverty of the islands has also been a spur to ironborn reaving and conquest, and in the days before Aegon and his sisters they controlled the Riverlands. The longships of the ironborn were feared along all the western coast of Westeros, and even further, It was the death of Harren the Black and his sons in Harrenhal that broke the power of the ironborn and made them, in the end, a minor part of the greater realm. Despite this, the ironborn are still known for having a penchant for reaving.
Nagga’s Ribs, on Old Wyk, is an important historical site. There, the bones of an ancient sea dragon once served to make up the longhall of the legendary Grey King. Since then, Nagga’s Ribs was the location of the kingsmoots, where kings were chosen in the old days. There has been no kingsmoot in several thousand years, however.
The castle of Pyke is built up on various spurs of rock and islets, with the various towers connected by bridges of stone or rope. In the hall of the Greyjoys sits the Seastone Chair, from which the Lord Reaper of Pyke rules the Iron Islands.
The southernmost region on the continent of Westeros is characterized by three distinct environments. In the north, the Red Mountains of Dorne separate the region from the rest of Westeros, with only the Boneway and the Prince’s Pass allowing for passage through the mountains. Beyond the mountains are the red deserts of Dorne, harsh and forbidding save in the long river valleys. Finally, the climate becomes less harsh and more fertile along the coasts. Due to these three distinct environments and the forces of history, the Dornish people can be divided similarly into three groups (named as follows by the Young Dragon in the early days of the Conquest): the stony Dornishmen, descendants of the First Men and the Andals; the sandy Dornishmen, burned dark brown by living in the deserts and the river valleys; and the salty Dornishmen of the coasts, who are the most Rhoynish in their descent.
Other than the mountains, Dorne is bounded by the sea, from the Sea of Dorne along the northern coast that juts west of the mountains to the Narrow Sea at the Broken Arm and on to the Summer Sea along the long southern and western coastline. The Broken Arm once connected Westeros to the eastern continent until it was shattered in ancient days by the magic of the children of the forest in an attempt to stop the migration of the First Men. A remnant of that cataclysmic event are the long chain of islands called the Stepstones, a disputed area with a long and bloody history.
The harsh Dornish climate somewhat limits what the realm can produce, but olives, lemons, pomegranates, plums, yew wood (longbows made of Dornish yew are highly regarded), the fabled horses known as sand steeds, summerwine and strong red wines are among common products. Despite its long coastline, Dorne does not have a notable naval fleet, although fishing communities can be found dotting the coast.
Sunspear, the seat of the Prince of Dorne, is on the south-eastern coast of Dorne near the Greenblood river. Starfall is at the mouth of a great bay in the southwest, Yronwood and Wyl guard the Boneway, and the fertile lands of Lemonwood on the other side of the Greenblood from Sunspear.
Westeros is one of three known continents in the world, the others being Essos, to the east across the Narrow Sea, and Sothoryos, to the south.
The Free Cities of Essos, once under the sway of the Freehold of Valyria, are diverse, wealthy, cosmopolitan group of cities who share something of a common language (various dialects of a bastard Valyrian) but little else. The Free Cities often war with one another over the Stepstones, the Disputed Lands, and other territories where their interests come into conflict. The Nine Free Cities are: Braavos, Lorath, Lys, Myr, Norvos, Pentos, Qohor, Tyrosh, and Volantis. Of them, only Norvos and Qohor are landlocked, leading to the other Free Cities being well-known for their ships which carry trade across many of the seas of the world. The Free Cities are also known as the home of many sellsword companies, of varying size and quality.
Braavos, ruled by its Sea Lord, is the most powerful of the Free Cities both because of its great naval fleet and its influential Iron Bank. Darker rumors suggest that the Faceless Men, the most expensive guild of assassins, also have something to do with Braavos’s dominance. Braavos is in fact a group of islands (as many as a hundred) close together within a lagoon whose only entrance is guarded by the Titan of Braavos, a massive fortress in the form of a man whose legs straddle the inlet.
Lorath is an island in the Shivering Sea north of Essos. Little is known of it.
Lys is a group of islands and one of the southernmost Free Cities. It is known for its fine tapestries, perfumes, poisons, and pleasure slaves. Blonde hair and blue eyes are common Lysene traits, and it is suggested that the pleasure houses of Lys have bred pleasure slaves for Valyrian looks.
Myr is well known for its craftsmen and artists, who make unsurpassed lenses, beautiful lace, costly carpets, and ornately carved screens. The people of Myr tend to be dark of hair and eye, and are ruled by the wealthy magistrates of the Free City.
Norvos is known for its rolling hills and terraced farms. The government is theocratic. The priests of Norvos train slave-soldiers to acts as guards for the city’s chief families, warriors who carry double-headed axes which they wield with deadly skill and unquestioned loyalty.
Pentos is a proper city, on the coast of a bay. Ruled by its wealthy magisters and the elected Prince who must stand surety for the good fortune of the city with his life, Pentos is one of the largest of the Free Cities. Pentos is known for its cheeses. The lands beyond it are sparsely populated thanks to regular incursions by Dothraki khalasars.
Qohor is the furthest inland of the Free Cities, and is well known for the vast Forest of Qohor. The Qohoriks produce fine tapestries and are very skilled at metalworking, even claiming to still know some of the magics of the sorcerer-smiths of Valyria. Qohor is unique in having a city guard made up entirely of Unsullied, disciplined eunuch slave-soldiers who feel no pain.
Tyrosh is ruled by its Archon and has a strong naval presence. Tyroshi armorers are known for their intricate, fanciful armors. Tyroshi are infamous for their avarice, and are deeply involved in the slave trade among the Free Cities.
Volantis is known for its sweet red wines, its glass, and its slaves, who have their faces tattooed to denote their function. Volantis is the furthest south of the Free Cities, situated at the wide mouth of the Rhoyne. Black walls of Valyrian creation surround the core of the city, and only pure-born Volantene citizens—still showing the Valyrian features—and their slaves are allowed to remain within the walls, while other freedmen must reside outside the walls in the sprawling city. Volantis is one of the most powerful Free Cities, with several towns and small cities in vassalage to it. After the Doom, the Volantenes made war in Essos and became the dominant force among the Free Cities for some hundred years, until their power was broken and the peace faction (called the Elephants) finally seized power from the Tigers who had brought so much war and destruction.
East beyond the coast of Essos lies the great river Rhoyne, with its ruined remnants of the Rhoynar. A high civilization that had taught the Andals how to work iron, the Rhoynar eventually came into conflict with the Freehold of Valyria. More than 800 years ago they entered a final war with them which ended in the destruction of the Rhoynar cities. The legendary Nymeria gathered survivors and fled across the narrow sea to Dorne, where she wed Mors Martell and unified Dorne under their rule.
In the Summer Sea south of Westeros can be found the fabled Summer Isles. The Summer Islanders are the greatest mariners in the world, their huge, tall swan ships plying the seas. Marked out by their black skin and the cloaks of colorful feathers they wear, they are rarely seen outside of ports in the Seven Kingdoms. Another isle, Ib, lies far to the north in the Shivering Sea. The men of Ib are hairy, rubbing grease or fat into their beards, and wield axes. They can generally be found on fat-bellied whaling vessels.
Beyond the Rhoyne lies the great Dothraki sea, a vast plain peopled by the Dothraki. Considered barbarians in Westeros, they are a nomadic, horse-riding people known for their archery on horseback and their savagery in battle. Their tribes, called khalasars, raid all along the boundaries of the Dothraki sea, and the nearest Free Cities to the Dothraki sea (such as Pentos and Volantis, which has a number of vassal cities and towns along the Rhoyne) are known to pay tributes to the khals so that they leave them alone.