The Arcol Steppe is a high plateau at the extreme north-eastern end of the Agras Plain. It is bordered to the north by the Stormreaver Range and on the east by the Barrier Range, then hemmed in from the Agras by the Little Treonas.
Directly north of the Arcol lies a region called the Teeth of the World, considered to be the most treacherous and impassable mountains anywhere. However, it is possible that the Necromancers tamed that wilderness.
Arcol was uninhabited during the Age of Darkness, but by the early First Chaotic Period had become the primary center for Necromancy. By the end of the Golden Age of Necromancy, the Arcol had turned mostly to desert and was abandoned by the Necromancers.
During the Dynastic Period, the region was subject to attacks by the Marcon Alliance. The necromancers had all but abandoned the place, excepting enclaves where good supplies of fresh water could be maintained, and pilgrimages to the ruins of temples and important cult sites. Various nomadic tribes also made a home in the region, and fought over valuable mines. Different groups transformed necromancer temples into fortresses and built a series of short-lived civilizations over the ruins left behind. Some city-states attained enough power to build Mage Towers, but these were quickly put down by the Marcons.
Towards the end of the Dynastic Period, Arcol was a land of incessant war. Warlords fought amongst themselves, and raiders from the neighboring regions were fierce. Whenever one group obtained any real power, they were put down by the Marcons. However, the environment changed again, with large-scale agriculture improving the possibilities for a strong population.
By the Second Chaotic Period the land was lush once more. As a gateway to one of only two entrances to the much-disputed Lacandos Rift Valley, it retained strategic value. The Necromancers returned as the Grey Temple, and were quick to reclaim their holy sites. The long-resident tribes were subjugated or wiped out, and the era saw the reign of high priests who ruled as emperors.
By the end of the Second Chaotic Period, Arcol had become a terrifying place, where non-Necromancers lived as slaves to a series of powerful litches. The undead were everywhere, and the living Necromancers maintained a totalitarian regime. Arcol made to attack neighboring Ataya, and the first battles decimated the smaller Atayan armies. With few other choices, the Atayans brought out their most sacred artifact, an enchanted sword, and gave it to their last surviving military leader: a young lieutenant named Eieber. The rest is history.
Eieber's campaign in Arcol so badly decimated the region, that the environment was changed once more. In the Second Chaotic Period, the fertile land was irigated with underground canals cut over the centuries. Eieber's warriors stopped these up, salted the earth, and destroyed the old Necromancer temples and the earthly bodies of the Litches.
The freed peoples of Arcol joined Eieber's forces, and the region was abandoned. With Ataya's population decimated, much of it was abandoned as well. The survivors of the campaign went on to found the city of Arindell. Arcol remained empty for much of the Golden Age, excepting visits by treasure hunters. Necromancers, despite their reverence for the region, felt it was 'tainted' by the evils done under the Grey Temple, and made no claim.
During the early Second Age, the region was explored by Merres and Ella Cornwall, using bush planes to site important ruins, and explore them in detail on the ground. They brought back pottery and weapons from centuries earlier, which ignited interest in the region. Of greater percieved value, however, was its proximity to Arindell and the recently-completed canal that served the high mountain city.
In A.Y. 2157, a dam was constructed high on the Little Treonas River, and a series of canals added. Idealy, food could be grown in Arcol to feed Arindell. Large parcels of land were given away, and new towns were built. While some effort was made to preserve the cultural treasures of the region, it was little enforced, and wholesale looting became commonplace. Many farmers supplemented their income by selling antiquities from the ruins near their land, and some companies even used this as a draw. Advertisements for land grants included the prospect of wealth through treasure hunting.
The increased activity drew the attention of archeologists and scholars, who realized the history of the region was very important. Arcol contained many ancient ruins from both the Mage Wars and the early days of Necromancy. Many well-preserved proto-necromancer-temples had been unearthed, as well as tombs and artifacts.
In A.Y. 2220, the Arcol Steppe Authority was formed to put an end to looting. While much of Arcol was uninhabited, the authority was able to identify and protect many important sites. Agents were stationed in these and supplied with homes and necessities, which facilitated the construction of roads. This made the region accessible, so many agents began to trade on their locations and turn them into tourist attractions. The looting of antiquities was still tightly controlled, but interest in the region flourished.
Unfortunately, a new problem arose. Food crops did not grow well on the irrigated land, while better industrial farming techniques on the Agras Plain proved far more economical. With the barge canal to Long Lake, it was still cheaper to ship supplies from Agras than to grow them in Arcol. Gradually, the farms on the steppe switched to cotton production, but the water supply from the Treonas was not enough.
By the middle of the Second Age, agriculture had shifted to the reservoir and river, and to simply feeding the sparse population. The Arcol Steppe Authority had given rise to the Museum State: large ruins owned by rich families who opened them to tourism and archaeology.
In early-to-mid Third Age, interest in the region dropped off sharply in the Necromanic Wars. Although no Necromancers now lived in the region, its reputation as the cradle of necromantic civilization made it undesirable. Many of the Museum States sought to increase tourism by rebuilding the ruined cities, often hastily and with modern materials. These were re-styled from places to come and learn into lavish resorts with a Mage Wars theme.
The gimmick did not pay off, and many such Museum States resorted to selling off parcels of land to build real communities. Unfortunately, Arcol was still desert, and its only real attraction was tourism. Attempts were made to bring in industry, but most failed due to lack of available resources and high costs of construction.
By the mid Third Age, the bulk of the Museum States had collapsed. Their antiquities sold off, the rich families moved on to greener pastures. The towns around them resumed looting the sites, but the golden age (not that Golden Age) was over. Many sites fell into disrepair, and the lavish resorts and reconstructed buildings became indistinguishable from the ancient ruins around them.
Around the end of the Third Age, agriculture resumed as the environment shifted once more. The shift was was short-lived: while Arcol was no longer an arid high-altitude desert, it was now a wet, high-altitude forest wracked by blizzards in the winter months. The Arcol Steppe Authorty collapsed in the early Fourth Age, and Arcol became a lawless, frozen wasteland.
An interesting cultural shift occurred over the Fourth Age. Without the Steppe Authority, the roads that provided access to the remote parts of the region fell into disrepair, and left the remaining population centers (often with populations numbering in the thousands) in isolation. They knew of the outside world, but short of a long and dangerous overland journey, they had no way to visit it.
These peoples adapted into tribes, learning to live off the land, and reverted to a hunter/gatherer lifestyle. In the mid-to-late part of the age, the weather patterns shifted once again, and left the area in winter for nine months of the year, with permafrost over large stretches.
This latest shift was responsible for re-opening the region to outsiders. The surviving residents of Arcol had taken to using dog sleds, and with the ground frozen for nine months out of the year, they could make long journeys with little difficulty. Locals in neighboring Ataya (itself a sparsely-populated and backwater locale) began to report "strange people with stone tools and sleds coming out of the pass and seeking to trade ancient relics for metal". Ironically, the "relics" were mostly plates and souvenirs left over from the tourist resorts.
The trade routs opened up the availability of some modern conveniences, such as metal tools and guns for hunting. It also led to a large exodus from Arcol. In the mid Fifth Age, the winters shortened and the permafrost thawed, allowing for agriculture to resume in part. Historians researching the area developed renewed interest in the forgotten ancient sites, abandoned when the native tribes moved away in search of better hunting grounds. Arcol was now a Remote Autonomous Region under the direct control of the Alliance government, with a governor in Ataya.
Along with interest in the historic sites, came interest in the rich mines which once graced the area, and exploration for these deposits began. Gold, copper, and platinum mining attracted interest, and new towns were built to house workers, often near the ancient ruined cities. The Arcol Steppe Authority was not recreated, but the concept of allowing the sites (which no one had legal claim anymore) to be owned by individuals was revived, and a string of new "Museum States" were born. These lacked the fame of the ancient states and were not legally recognized as soveriegn, but they did draw tourism to the region once more.
Throughout the Sixth Age, the region continued to warm and the population increased. New deposits of valuable resources were discovered, including bauxite and rare-earth metals (not explored at all in the Mage Wars, except in the small quantities necessary for powerful magic), and the region saw increased prominence. A capitol city was established, and the place gained true self-governance for the first time since the Mage Wars.
After the Alliance fell, Arcol went into chaos. The region was largely self-sufficient for food, but relied on exports for finished goods. The collapse of the Alliance and the destruction wrought by Samuel Fate, coupled with a new warming trend, caused a massive upheaval. The region collapsed into civil war. Blood Beasts, not previously seen in the region, put an end to hopes of normal human habitation. The old tribal system returned, and the humans who killed and ate the blood beasts went insane.
Throughout the Long Night, Arcol was a dark, inhospitable place, inhabited by roving tribes of cannibals, blood beasts, and more than a few fallen dragons. Even the legends of fabulous treasures and unspeakably ancient ruins could not draw visitors.
At the beginning of the New Day, the dragons of High Mountain razed Arcol, destroying the cannibal tribes and driving out any other dragons. Blood beasts remained, but now their numbers were few, and the region was once again open to archaeological exploration. It was now fully uninhabited and remote; and any sort of discoveries to be made on the ancient sites would have required massive operations to dig through all the layers accumulated since. Treasure hunting resumed, but there was nothing of value to be found close to the surface. The sorts of old Alliance-era relics present weren't worth much, and the ancient relics were buried under thousands of years of wind and storm deposits.
In N.D. 211, the new Alliance government officially closed the region, citing bloodbeasts and looting as reasons. Only authorized archaeological expeditions were allowed in the area, and these were few and far between.
Because of the unique history of the region, academics who specialize in it are called 'Arc'ologists', a portmanteau of 'Arcol' and 'Archaeology'.