The story started in Kristophan, the capital city of a large kingdom in a long forgotten plane of existence. You were all born in or near this kingdom, and know the basics of its history.
Two hundred years or so ago the kingdom was ruled by a royal bloodline and was a generally rich and prosperous nation. Wars waged off and on with their neighbors to the north, but always ended with a northern defeat and shaky truce. Each of the kings of the different ages refused to invade the north, insisting on diplomacy and peace instead of conquest and colonization. The royal families eventually died off due to some strange curse. A mystery which was never solved. The women of the families simply stopped being able to bear children, and the men became sterile. When the last of the true royalty died, there were several violent grasps for power. Small civil skirmishes broke out between rival factions vying for power, and the northern Emperor attempted to take advantage of the situation and attack. News spread quickly of the pending invasion and a cooperative between the mage and fighter’s guilds was born. They called themselves The Star, using a five pointed star to represent each of the five major cities of the kingdom. The northern Emperor, being a poor tactician, was quickly and easily routed. Another shaky truce has remained in place since. The two kingdoms still consider each other enemies, and no trade or cohabitation exists.
The leaders of The Star became the new ruling class. The mage and fighter’s guilds of the five cities flourished. They became the backbone of the kingdom’s economy. The kingdom enjoyed over a century of peace and prosperity. Then, one fine spring morning, the kingdom awoke to a scandal. Many prominent members of The Star turned up dead and the coffers of each city were empty. Powerful artifacts and magic items gone. Chaos ensued.
With the demise of The Star, the economy crashed. With the crash came riots, looting, burning. Years passed and poverty and famine ravaged the kingdom. Nearly half the population died or fled to other kingdoms. Those few remaining that had money and influence retreated to Kristophan and walled themselves into a small city within the city. A small private army holding the walls and keeping the undesirables at bay. Seeing an opportunity, The Thieves’ Guild of Kristophan made a successful play for power. They quickly took control of the rest of Kristophan and milked its residents by successfully keeping the peace. Their influence spread to the other four cities soon afterward, and things stabilized for a time.
You heard rumors of unrest from the outlying four cities, but no one seemed to know what, exactly, was happening.