The Sundered Empire is the setting of the 2002 version of Chainmail, a Dungeons & Dragons 3e tie-in warband game sharing the namesake of the medieval wargame that ultimately gave birth to D&D in the first place. Taking its name from the Empire of Ravilla, which has been destroyed, the Sundered Empire is a mini-setting that takes place in Western Oerik, on the other side of which lies Flanaess. It is defined by what has come to be known as the Godwar.
What's the Godwar?
In the finest of D&D traditions, the Godwar started when somebody had a noble idea that ended up fucking things up for the whole world. The one in question was an elf, but whether or not that directly affected things is unclear.
In this world, the local God of War was a douchebag named Stratis, who liked to come and visit the mortal world from his home in Ysgard, just so he could enjoy it as people went insane from his presence and flew into mindless conflict for no good reason. Needless to say, a lot of people weren't very happy with this, and finally, an elf from the western lands named Marinn decided to do something. Marinn went to many other races, arguing that if they could slay Stratis, they would end war itself, and nobody would need to fight anymore. This was a noble-sounding idea, and so Marinn became head of a veritable army of heroes from many different races. Gathering up the most powerful artifacts in the world, they waited for Stratis to come along and then jumped him.
Stratis might have been an asshole, but he wasn't a pussy; in the end, only Marinn and two other of the god-slayers survived the battle, but ultimately, they managed to kill Stratis. As Marinn drove an elven blade into the god's heart, Stratis used his dying breath to invoke a curse:
“You think your people will be free? You think you have escaped me? You mortals will have nothing but war, not a moment of peace until a new God of War rises to replace me.”
He then shot up from the battlefield like a meteorite, scattering his weapons, armor, and blood across the world. His weapons empowered many beings to rise up to claim his position, whilst his blood tainted the air and filled the mortal races with untameable bloodlust. Soldiers can't gather in numbers because, once free from the presence of their direct commanders, they fall into mindless savagery. As such, warbands from all of the different factions now spearhead the search for the Panoply of Stratis; only by ascending a new War God will the slaughter end, but who would dare trust the benevolence of another race to claim such a position?
And so, the Godwar will rage on and on...
Seven major factions compete in the Godwar, with mercenaries making up an impromptu eighth power.
An army of the undead commanded by the mad lich Ahmut. Three centuries before the slaying of Stratis, Ahmut was a human nomad chieftain who amassed a great army and sought to take the fight back to the tyrannical elves of Ravilla. For this, the Oligarchs set upon him their most dreaded assassin, Prisca, who slew him with a magical blade that entrapped his conscious spirit within his corpse, leaving him incapable of moving on to the afterlife even as his followers mourned him and buried him within a hidden grave. Needless to say, when Stratis' Spear landed in his ribcage and broke the elven curse enough for him to reanimate, Ahmut was not feeling particularly charitable towards the living. Especially those damn elves...
Once a mighty hobgoblin chieftain in his own right, Drazen found himself propelled on the road to godhood when he witnessed and was first to retrieve the Axe of Stratis. Butchering any rival, he has subjugated huge hordes of goblinds, orcs, ogres, trolls, and beasts, forging them into the mightiest army of their kind ever seen.
A drow noble house defeated in the civil wars of their kind, brought over from the Drow Trilogy back when they weren't. Nu-Kilsek holds none of the Panoply of Stratis, but believes that collecting these divine relics will allow them to restore their place in the Underdark.
A century ago, a particularly cruel and deranged dwarven tyrant provoked his people into an uprising so fierce, they chose to throw down age-old traditions, evolving into something distinctly communist. They believe that if they find the Panoply of Stratis, rather than allowing one dwarven warrior to become a new God of War, they can control this divine magic, allowing the Worker's Council to direct its power to the good of their people. Armed with noble intentions and mystical magitek weapons, and backed by elementals, Mordengard has launched itself wholeheartedly into the Godwar, ignoring any hypocrisy in their actions.
The last of the factions to claim part of the Panoply of Stratis, Naresh is a savage nation of gnolls and their demonic allies. With the Flail of Stratis in his hand, Jangir, half-fiend son of Yeenoghu and Priest-King of Naresh, seeks to harness the powers of the God of War to topple the elven empire of Ravilla, allowing him to rip open the Abyssal Gateways that Yeenoghu may claim this world for himself.
Arrogant, cruel and gloriously self-centered, the Elves of Ravilla were charged by Corellon Larethian with guarding the Abyssal Gateways that remained after the Demon Wars centuries ago. Constructing fortified cities around each gateway, the Oligarchs decided that the best way to carry out their stewardship was to crush any and all other nations and powers that might potentially threaten elven supremacy and thus, supposedly, risk opening the portals. Throughout the eons, they have invaded, betrayed, sabotaged and dominated every other faction and power on the planet. Which has come back to bite them; Ahmut and Jangir have a particularly hatred for the elves of Ravilla, as do the drow of House Kilsek, whilst even their nominal allies in Mordengard and Thalos utterly despise them and would see them wiped out. Only the clouds of bloodlust have kept their long-stretched cities from falling to siege. And, unbeknownst to the Oligarchs, whilst the Sword of Stratis has fallen into the hands of an elf named Tarquin, he is not necessarily an ally to those who have held onto power for so long and at the expense of so many others.
An island nation of humans united in their flight from the conquering elves of Ravilla, the former slaves defeated an elven armada to secure their independence centuries ago. They have never forgotten, nor forgiven, the elves, and as they worship Stern Alia, the Shield Mother, the divine parent of Stratis, the Godwar is one of holy vengeance against the elves, whom they blame (not incorrectly) for starting the whole damned mess in the first place. Devout theocrats whose sincere devotion has not only filled their ranks with clerics and paladins, but also earned them both angelic allies and a significant population of aasimar, powers further compounded by both the imperial school of wizardry and the unique mechanical golems created by their gnome allies.
Now, the sourcebooks for Chainmail hardly warranted the term. They were very minimalistic in terms of information. As such, whilst Chainmail was a thing, Wizards of the Coast tried to support it through a bevvy of articles taking place in various issues of Dragon Magazine.
Dragon #285 presents the very first of these articles; an examination of the history of the Empire of Ravilla, establishing that part of their motivation for spreading to conquer Western Oerik was to control sorcerers, whose sudden manifestation amidst their ranks they blamed for a sudden demonic resurgence. The article also came with a 3e profile for a new monster - the Crested Felldrake - and information on the Duelling Societies that the gray elves of Ravilla created before the Godwar erupted. As one of the articles nodding towards actually playing a D&D campaign set in the Sundered Empire, this sidebar includes some tips on how to represent a PC's membership in a Dueling Society.
Dragon #286 expands upon Ahmut's Legion, mostly by detailing its alliance with the Red Scythe - an underground sect of Nerull worshippers who turned to the Reaper for the power to cast off their hated elven overlords. It also includes 3e stas of the Gnoll Slaughterpit Zombie, a gruesome undead warrior made by sewing two extra arms and a second head onto a gnoll's corpse before reanimating it.
Dragon #287 details the founding of Thalos, incorporating a sidebar with 3e stats for worshipping Stern Alia the Shield Mother (alignment: Lawful Neutral in Eastern Oerik, Lawful Good in Thalos, symbol: shield, holy weapon: longsword, domains: Law, Protection, War) and 3e stats for the Hammerer, a powerful melee-focused war-constructed created by Thalosian gnomish artificers.
Dragon #288 focused on Chainmail's own mechanics, providing an illustrated guide to combat in order to make it easier to understand.
Dragon #289 talks about the gnollish hordes of Naresh, and includes a 3e statblock for the Abyssal Maw, a new demon originally introduced as part of the Nareshian hordes. This demon would later go on to reappear in official sourcebooks in both 4th edition and 5th edition.
Dragon #290 steps back into focusing on Chainmail mechanics, providing a number of potential tactics for a player to use to lead their warband to victory.
Dragon #291 looked at the history of the dwarven People's State of Mordengard, and provided a 3e statblock for one of their elemental troopers, the Stone Spike.
Dragon #292 featured a two-fer deal; a look at Drazen's horde of hobgoblins, with stats for the battle-trained War Ape, and a look at some unconventional possible configurations for warbands.
Dragon #293 examines an area of the Sundered Empire not officially covered in the splatbooks; the Free States, a former puppet state of Ravilla and now a band of loosely-aligned independent races struggling to survive in the Godwar. This provides a new Chainmail mercenary trooper, the Ogre Merc. It also takes a look at a nonstandard approach to Mordengard warbands.
Dragon #294 looks at some new underground-set adventure scenarios for Chainmail, and how to take advantage of those in D&D, as well as some sample warbands focused on three-player or larger games of Chainmail.
Dragon #295 examines the Children of Nassica, five relics from the Demon War of Ravilla's ancient past, and how to use those in both Chainmail and D&D. It then follows up with some tactics specifically aimed at those looking to play three-player and larger games of Chainmail.
Dragon #296 talks about the history of the Scalebane battlefield, the sight of an ancient slaughter of dragons, and provides 3e stats for the Ebon Glaive, an artifact-weapon forged for Stratis himself to fight dragons. It folllows up with some examples of new Drazen's Horde warbands to take advantage of the Hobgoblin Adept commander.
Dragon #297 provides five new Chainmail scenarios tied into the Ghostwind Plateau expansion.
Dragon #298 examines House Kilsek, the exiled drow faction, in greater detail, complete with two new Prestige Classes based on models from the warband; the Bloodsister, a female drow warrior specialized in tunnel-fighting, dual-wielding and sneak attacks, and the Nightshade, a drow assassin with a magical affinity for venom.
Dragon #315 was the last issue to ever have anything to do with the setting, introducing the Soldiers of the Last Order, a militant splinter-sect of Drazen's Horde that has developed around a new worship of Nomog-Geaya, the racial patron of hobgoblins. It comes complete with a prestige class to represent the Boge (Shaman) of Nomog-Geaya, a powerful warrior-cleric dedicated to spreading his word.
In addition to the above, Chainmail also found a secondary home in the "Role Models" articles for issues 286, 287, 289 and 290, covering specific paint schemes and modelling tips.