Sunday, April 11, 2021

[Marklands Campaign] Player Rumors and Knowledge of the Marklands HEX 0703: Finmark Town and Environs


NCIENT RUINS: Ancient ruins, of glittering crystal and electric blue rusting metal, said to have been from the Uttermost War, can be seen on clear days on the floor of the deep Gloedenvik, between 800 and 1,000 feet down. Some of the twisted towers of crystal and rusting blue metal are hundreds of feet tall! It is said that these ruins are the source of the blue waters that flow out of the Gloedenvik into the Perlevik that create the Blue Pearls of the oysters in the Perlevik. Attempts to explore the strange ruins, even with the aid of wizards, have failed since time immemorial, and ancient Groenblad legends speak of attempts by wizards of greater power than today’s who also failed in these endeavors.

BLAUVIK: Blauvik is a hamlet and the home of the Blaukrone Clan, one of the Great Clans of Finmark, who claim to be descended from junior, cadet branches of the old Finnings Dynasty, which all others know to have died out more than a century ago. Nonetheless, the Blaukrone are given a point of prominence against the two other Great Clans, for even if they are not Finnings, they are definitely descended from the great champions and heroes of that dynasty. The Blaukrone command five longships out of the hamlet, all bearing a blue sea serpent as a figurehead, but these are used in modern days merely for defense of the Perlevik, and the Blaukrone Clan have not sponsored an official Viking raid in two generations. The Blaukrone keep watch on the ruins of the Finborg, but do not stop anyone from trying to delve into its depths; they do claim the right to collect a tax on anything found within, fully backed by the laws and force of the Town Council (they split the tax, a modest 30% on all coins, gems, and items by value, with the council).

BLUESKULL ISLE: In ancient times, when the Viridians first arrived, they discovered countless human skulls – and no other bones – piled on this island at the opening of the Gloedenvik. The skulls had been painted blue by the waters of the Gloedenvik, and many exhibited strange growths and deformation, such as horns or a third eye. The skulls are long since gone, no one knows where, and today the island is home to a breed of strange blue-feathered seagull, which lives in great numbers on the island. Some local youths go to the island to harvest the seagull eggs, which are blue through to the yolk, and are considered a delicacy in Finmark Town.

DRAGEHAUGEN: Once upon a time, before the arrival of the Markka in the Marklands, the region was settled by the Skandiks, an old southern branch of the Valonar, then allies of the Viridians against the Overlord, now found on the eastern shores of the Roglaras. Old Estvik was a Skandik town, destroyed by a red dragon; however, a great hero, whose name has been lost, slew the dragon even as it destroyed the town. The few survivors buried the dragon and the hero and their dead in a series of 13 barrows, along with such surviving treasures that they hoped would keep the draugr of the dead from rising. The survivors then rebuilt Estvik, which today is a Norkka settlement (though some families claim descent from those ancient Skandik lines). To them, the barrows are taboo, for if the dead are disturbed, or their treasure taken, they, perhaps even the dragon, would awake. They burn any would-be barrow-breakers at the stake.

ESTVIK: Estvik is a small hamlet, home to several Norkka clans beholden to the Jarl of Smitten. They are mostly notable for their zealous guarding of the Dragehaugen to the southeast.

FAIRY MOUND: The fairy mound is said to be home to a mixture of fey and sylvan folk of neutral to kindly sort, though they are no less mischievous than any other creatures of such ilk. They are said to be allies of the seeress of Omentorn, to the north. By legend, they provided Queen Griselda with the charm she needed to conceive at her advanced age and thus birth the Finnings Dynasty from King Fin the Great (now extinct since the Gnoll Times), and to have given the nameless hero who slew the Dragon of Estvik the shield that protected him from dragon-fire (but did little good against dragon-claw and dragon-fang).

FINBORG RUINS: The mighty ramparts of the old castle of King Fin the Great are now but moss-covered ruins since the fall of the Finnings Dynasty during the Gnoll Times. Built upon the ruins of an ancient Viridian castle (which was built atop the ruins of an even more ancient castle, and so on), there are said to be more than a dozen dungeon levels beneath the ruined castle, home to ancient lost treasures of the Finnings, the Viridians, the Elves, the Giants, and other strange and eldritch beings said to have once occupied the great ruined pile. Every once in a while, a group of would-be heroes ventures down into the dungeons; once every blue moon, a few return with both great treasure and body and soul intact.

FINHAUGEN: This series of six barrows is home to the remains of the lesser Finnings; the great line was buried (with their treasures) in the catacombs of the Finborg. The descendants of the lesser sons and daughters of Fin and Griselda are buried here, in the barrows of their ancestors. The last that could truly claim descent from any of the six lines was buried more than a century ago. An honor guard from Finmark guards the barrows at all times, lest barrow-breakers open a barrow and give rise to a draugr or, worse, destroy the luck of the town and its people. Would-be barrow-breakers are drowned in the Perlevik in the inlet to the west, their bodies and souls given to Hel directly.

FINMARK TOWN: Finmark Town is the largest settlement in the Marklands, mostly Markka and descendants of mixed Markka, Roglaran, Viridian, Tharbrian and Aelphen clans. The town is founded on the ruins of an old Viridian town, which by legend was itself founded on the ruins of an even more ancient town, and so forth, back to the beginning. It is famous as the main source of the infamous Blue Pearls, both rare and magical, found only in the Perlevik. The town is ruled by a council made up of the elected leaders of each of the three Great Clans, five Middling Clans, and some score of Lesser Clans, organized into the Blue, Red, and Green Factions. The current ruler is Royal Mayor Barlatarn of Roedhalle, whose recently-ascendant Red Faction pushes for closer relations with the Invincible Overlord and cooler relations with the World Emperor. He is opposed by Earl Glauketil Groenblad, leader of the Green Faction, who pushes for the opposite terms. Earl Fingolf Blaukrone, leader of the Blue Faction, remains neutral between the two factions, hoping they will expend their power and best warriors in opposition to each other. With the current deadlock in the factions, little is being done about the recent rise in Sverkka Viking raids in the region, nor the emergence of the Minotaurs in the Hornholt whose bandit-soldiers have conquered the entire western peninsula and now threaten the central Markvald.

FISH ISLE: Even during the height of the Finnings, Fish Isle and its strange Fisher-Folk were left to their own devices, and even raid and trade was rare except in the most difficult of times.

FISHER-FOLK: The Fisher-Folk are an ancient people who live in small thorps and steadings all along the seacoasts. As they are generally very poor, having little more than fish, they have neither been raided nor traded with the Markka who settled the region. They are known for their greenish skin, perhaps a remnant of old Viridian bloodlines; their large, bulbous eyes; webbed fingers and toes; and their wide, ugly mouths filled with sharp teeth. They are generally avoided if at all possible, as they are said to count witches among their number.

GIANT’S FURROW: This great gouge in the earth is three-quarters of a mile long, 300 feet wide, and 500 feet deep. Some say it was carved by Ymir’s axe during the Uttermost War; others say it was a defensive structure built by ancient giants. Sages believe it was an ancient canal used by the people of the ruined city now found at the bottom of the Gloedenvik. Whatever it truly is, today it is home to outcasts and outlaws, who make a miserable home in its deeper environs, which are now riddled with many caves, natural and otherwise, and which are said to go on throughout the peninsula, home to strange subterranean life and giant mushrooms. Their presence makes the overland trip to Estvik and points east and south of Finmark Town dangerous.

GLOEDENVIK: The Gloedenvik is a small, mostly round bay at the heart of the area, north of Finmark. It is known for it strange, glittering, glowing blue waters, which flow out of the bay into the Perlevik, and are said to cause the Blue Pearls of the Perlevik. Attempts to use the blue waters, even distilled down, for other magical endeavors have had mixed success; the most prominent use for the blue water thus far has been in the creation of very fine and long-lasting blue paint and inks. There are Ancient Ruins (see above) at the bottom of the deep bay, which are believed to be the ultimate source of the blue waters.

GROENSTAAT: This hamlet is the home of the Groenblad Clan, one of the three Great Clans of Finmark Town. They are descended from Markka retainers of King Fin the Great and surviving nobles of the old Viridian town which Fin and Griselda and their people conquered after the Orc-Wars. They have four longships at their disposal, all bearing a greens-scaled and skinned mermaid as the figurehead; the Groenblad still sponsored Viking Raids until the recent rise in Sverkka raids, and so have kept their longships at home to perform patrols of the Perlevik.

ISLE OF BONES: Once a processing site for whaling and sealing decades ago, the arrival in the region of large swarms of sharks decades ago killed off much of that trade, and the whalers and sealers either moved on or became pearl divers (who use a special stink to keep away the sharks). The broken and useless bones of centuries of whaling and sealing are piled all over the small island and its beaches.  

ISLE OF SMOKE: This island is used as a smoking ground for local herring and kipper fishermen; it is not used by the Fisher-Folk, who do not smoke their fish for sale or preservation. From time to time anywhere up to two dozen men and boys can be found here smoking their catch and filling barrels.

NORDVIK: This hamlet is the home of the Hajtand Clan, the least of the Middling Clans of Finmark Town. They are descended from a mix of Markka and Norkka clans, and are said to have conquered and absorbed a settlement of Fisher-Folk to found their hamlet. Thus, some Hajtand exhibit the greenish skin, bulbous eyes, sharp teeth, and webbed fingers and toes of the Fisher-Folk. They take it as a matter of pride; after all, their clan name means “Shark-Toothed,” and clan members who do not have the sharp teeth often file theirs to be more like their totem. They have three longships, all with shark figureheads, and care little for the recent rise in Sverkka raids save that it means more competition, so their ships and many of their men are often out a-Viking all summer long (raiding and slaving far more often than trading).

NYMPH SPRING: The eastern tributary of the Eststrom rises from a large, fresh spring at this point, which is home to a powerful nymph. Some say that when Fin the Last was brought low by the Gnoll-King, bringing an end to his line, his squire was told to take the sword Kongensblad, “King’s Blade,” to the nymph for safekeeping until a new King of the Marklands arose. As far any anyone knows, she still keeps it for that day. All who visit her who wish even so much as a question be answered must first complete a quest; it is said that only two have completed a quest and returned, but did not ask the right question, and were never heard from since.

PERLEVIK: The Perlevik is a large, kidney-shaped bay at the inside point of which is found Finmark Town. The Perlevik is home to one of the few major northern pearl fields in the Wilderlands, and is the only place where the famous Blue Pearls can be found. The pearl trade in the area is mostly in the hands of the magnates of Finmark Town, but there are independent pearl diving hamlets and thorps around the vik; as they have not felt the need to obey the Royal Mayor and the dictates of the Council of Finmark, they are not directly provided with the protection of the town, where once they were, prior to the fall of the Finnings in the Gnoll-Times, all part of one realm. In the last few years, the growing success of the pearl harvests and trade have brought with them the scourge of eve more raids of Sverkka Vikings, with the dragon-prowed, purple-sailed longships raiding hamlets, thorps, and even the ships of Finmark Town (though they have not yet gathered in such numbers as to raid the town itself). Raiders from other lands, including pirates from the Wine-Dark sea, are also not unknown, due to the rich trade Finmark Town makes with the City State and other realms. The vik is also home to sharks, sea serpents, giant octopi, giant water termites, and other sea-based monsters, who usually lair in deeper trenches near the heart of the vik. Fortunately, the pearl-divers know a special blend of materials they can slather on themselves that cause a stink that the sharks and other monsters usually avoid… usually.

RUINED HAMLET (NORTH): The hamlet of Roegenby was destroyed several decades ago during a battle between Finmark Town and Smitten over control of the peninsula. Smitten lost the battle, but ensured that no one would settle here again, as their wizards cursed the ruins, which even to this day are home to wandering skeletons and zombies, and perhaps even draugr, ghosts, and other undead. They were wise enough to confine the creatures to the environs of the ruined hamlet, lest they spread like a plague. But the treasures of the hamlet and the warriors who died therein remain untouched by looters due to the haunting of the undead.

RUINED HAMLET (SOUTH): The hamlet of Jaeklaby was destroyed 10 years ago by eldritch forces from the Serpent Mound. A single child was allowed to survive to tell the tale of how foolish barrow-breakers from Jaeklaby sought the treasures of the Serpent Mound, and for their perfidy they and their people were destroyed. The child went mad after telling the tale to a Finmark Town patrol, and died frothing in her madness. She was buried at the outskirts of the empty hamlet, her grave later covered with a stone carved with the tale and a warming not to enter the hamlet – or to disturb the powers of the Serpent Mound! What can be found in the ruined hamlet none can say, as no one who has entered in the last 10 years has ever returned. 

SERPENT MOUND: The serpent Mound is an ancient, giant barrow in the shape of a long serpent that twists in upon itself like a labyrinth. It is a single structure the size of more than two-dozen more common barrows, with 13 stone circle entrances at various points along the structure, the 13th of giant-size, in the “mouth” of the serpent at the center of the labyrinth. It is surrounded by deep forest, though the mound itself is covered only in tall green grasses (nary a shrub or bush to be found). The round stone doors to the complex are covered in bas-relief of intertwining snakes, all eating each other, Ouroboros-style; no writing of any kind is evident. Stone pillars, which were old even before the arrival of the Viridians, stand at the four cardinal points of the structure; a warning can be found not to disturb the mound, written upon the pillars in Ancient Elven. Beside each pillar to the left stands a stone obelisk of more recent vintage, yet still ancient, with the same warning carven in Auld Viridian, and to the right of each a standing-stone upon which is carved a similar warning in Valonar.

ULFHAUGEN: The Ulfhaugen are a series of three barrow mounds, the home of the bones of the Markka ancestors of the Groenblad Clan, founded by Ulf, the half-brother of King Fin the Great; the Viridian ancestors, and all modern Groenblad, are buried in the catacombs of the Temple of Armadad Bog in Finmark Town. The Groenblad are not as attached to their Markka ancestors as other clans, and thus are somewhat remiss in their duties to guard the barrows. By rumor, however, the previous successes of barrow-breakers have awakened guardians within the barrows, who now not only guard the barrows themselves, but also haunt their Groenblad descendants. The priests of Armadad Bog have had little success in putting these draugr down, and now the clan quietly seeks some other source of power to return their ancestors to the repose of the grave.

UTHER PENTWEGERN SEA: The Great Northern Sea which touches upon the Roglaras, the Elephas, Valon, Tarsh, and part of Tarantis. It is a cold sea, with many terrible dangers, home to giant whales, krakens, sharks, sea serpents, and all manner of other sea monsters of myth and legend. The Isles of Pokrantil at the heart of the sea are home to the infamous Sverkka, a Valonar tribe that in ancient days mixed their bloodline with that of exiled Orichalan Dragon Lords, giving rise to the Dragonborn and Dragonblood line of Sorcerer-Vikings who terrorize the northlands to this day. They are opposed by the forces of Valon, the great City of the Ice-Lords, who themselves are of eldritch blood, but of Goodly sort, their Great King Artarias the Bear and his people being allied against all forms of Evil.

WATCHTOWER: Finmark Town maintains a watchtower on top of the highest point in the area, Watchtower Hill. In the event of sighting purple sails or other obvious enemies, the permanent garrison of guardsmen light a beacon that can be seen for many miles to warn of the danger.

WIZARDS: The Wizards Guild of Finmark has a tower here upon the cliff overlooking the Gloedenvik. The wizards and their apprentices study the blue waters of the vik, and the ruins therein, seeking the plumb the secrets of its history and magic. They do not like being disturbed for any reason.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

[Marklands Campaign] First Session -- Arrival in the Marklands!

Session #01: April 7, 2021

Adventurers Present:

Delfonzeo, Male Roglaran Human 1st level Charlatan Bard. Delfonzeo failed a big-time con, and jumped on the departing Majestic Princess with the angry guards of his last victim mere tens of feet behind him.

Garrew Thornbeard, Male Kazadurul Dwarf 1st level Hermit Cleric of Kazadarum

Marin Steelswinger, Female Kazadaran Dwarf 1st level Mercenary Veteran Fighter

Garrew has developed a new theology of a personal, direct relationship between a dwarf and the Dwarf-Father, Kazadarum. The hierarchy of the Temple of Kazadarum in Gaehill had him declared a heretic, and he fled to his cousins in Anvil. There, the high priest found his beliefs offensive, and thus the Patriarch of Kazadarum in Thunderhold also declared him a heretic. He and his cousin, Marin, fled to Dwarfport, and there took ship with the Majestic Princess

Zylven, Androgynous (?) Nilborin Elf 1st level Folk Hero Monk, was orphaned in a three-way battle in the Palewood between the Men of the City State, the Skandiks of Ossary, and their native clan of Nilborin Wood Elves, who recognize no borders drawn by mortals. They were rescued from slavery or worse by Calaquende, a Gray Elven hermit and monk. Calaquende raised Zylven in the martial arts and trained them with the eventual goal of returning to their people to lead them against the Men of the City State and the Skandiks of Ossary to free the gnomes and elves of Palewood from their influence. Unfortunately, they were discovered, and sought to lead a rebellion far too soon… a rebellion that was soundly crushed. Calaquende and Zylven were taken to the City State for a fair trial to be followed by a first-class drawing and quartering, but they escaped. Calaquende was caught, defeated, and slain by the Red Wizard moments after turning Zylven over to some allies to get out of the city. After watching their master die, Zylven was smuggled onto the Majestic Princess.

During their weeks a sea, the four became fast friends as they learned the way of the sails and ship, and Delfonzeo picked up some bits of Dwarvish. They put in at some ports, but were never off the ship for more than a meal, until they reached the end of the Majestic Princess’ route – Finmark, the City of Blue Pearls in the Marklands, the last civilized settlement before reaching the Elephas. There Captain Ulf Ulf’s-Son let them leave the ship to see if they were interested in remaining, or finding another ship to go further afield from the City State and Thunderhold. The captain gave a pouch of coins to Ulrik the Urchin, a young Markka lad whom he has worked with before, to show the adventurers around town, and pay for meals, drinks, and three nights at Karl’s Longhouse, a modest inn in the Foreign Quarter.

Ulrik took stock of the party’s desires and figured they could get what they were looking for at the Drunken Dwarf, a tavern in the Dwarftown section of the Foreign Quarter, next to the Temple of Kazadarum and across from the Smials, the small hobbit quarter (or the “Eighth Eighth’s” as the Markka jest). The elf felt out of place, but fortunately only got quizzical looks rather than angry looks from the crowd, but they were nonplussed by the Roglaran human (after all, Dwarftown is right next to Viridian Row, the stronghold of the Green Clan Alliance). The party dug in to the first real meal they’d had in weeks, and the first real ales in as long, and discussed their situation while also listening for opportunities. They quickly discovered one when Garrew overheard a pair of dwarf merchants discussing how their brother was “overdue to return” and “might have been taken out by the competition.”

Garrew has the tavern maid take them a round of drinks; they nod at Garrew and join the party at the table. There they discover that the two are Thror and Thrun, two of three brothers who own and manage the dwarven jewelry shop on the Street of Swords, one block over. Taking stock of the party and their strange dress and dialect, the brothers surmise that they are new in town, looking for friends, and maybe looking for work. Garrew and the others agree, and so the brother dwarves offer them a proposal.

They explain that the pearl market in Finmark is controlled by the Great Clans and the Middling Clans, who together with the Lesser Clans have put together three factions – the Blues, led by the Blaukrone Clan (all Markka/Valonar bloodlines, and distantly descended from Fin the Founder and his Warrior-Queen, Griselda); the Reds, led by the Roedhalle Clan (descended from Markka and Roglaran survivors of the Orc Wars); and the Greens, led by the Groenblad Clan (descended from Markka and the Viridian survivors of the Orc Wars). Between them they control the vast majority of the market, and independents such as Thror, Thrun, and their brother Thorkel have a hard time even getting bids in to be considered. Thus, the brothers decided to go around the market in Finmark and buy directly from one of the pearl-gathering hamlets on the Perlevik – Blaoystron, a small hamlet on the verge of the Uther Pentwegern Sea, such that they harvest few of the sought-after blue pearls – but more than enough for the brothers to sell at market.

And so three days ago, their brother, Thorkel, set out on a small sailing ship piloted by Storgald Svein’s-Son; he was supposed to finalize negotiations with Odo, the chief of Blaoystron, and return after merely an overnight stay. But he has not returned, though the seas and skies have been clear. And so they need someone to go to Blaoystron and check on their brother and his ship, to see what has happened. They cannot hire locals, as it is a very sensitive matter – if others find out, they could get outbid for the deal, or worse. And so new folks in town, with no loyalty to any faction or clan, and looking for friends and money, would certainly be willing to help…

And they agree – 10 gp each up front, 100 gp each if they bring him back dead, and 250 gp each if they bring him back alive. They decide to meet at Fisherman’s Pier #1 at dawn, where the will receive their down-payment.

After that, the party finished off several more ales, then at around 9:30 decided to go to Karl’s Longhouse and sleep for the night, as they had an early morning. They dismissed Ulrik, telling him that for now, they had decided to stay in Finmark for the nonce, and to thank Captain Ulf for his kindness and generosity. Ulrik then gave them a letter, saying that the captain had expected such. Garrew opened the letter; it contained a blank card. The letter said that Captain Ulf would check on them again when he returns in two months (or thereabouts), and to give the card to Ulrik, he would know what to do if and when the time came. Garrew gave Ulrik the card; Ulrik smiled, nodded and with a mysterious smile said he would use it when the time came. They then tipped him several week’s pay for a laborer, and he said they would meet again… and be careful on South Road. It is not as bad as in the southern cities (he said, looking Delfonzeo in the eye), but there were still men here who preferred to earn their keep “by the blood of others rather than the sweat of their own brow.”

As the party passed the Temple of Kazadarum, they noticed the main doors on High Street were slightly open, and light was streaming out, so they decided to check out the situation, as it seemed late for activity in the temple. The discovered that the High Priest, his priests, and acolytes were performing the “Banking the Coals” ritual, at which point the forge between the altar and the idol was set “to sleep” for the night, to preserve the fire for the morning. They waited a respectful distance, then spoke with the High Priest when the ritual was complete. Garrew and Marin explained that they were migrants looking for opportunities (not mentioning anything about heresy), and the High Priest, Gothar Gorm’s-Son, said that the temple would be more than willing to assist in that effort if they needed help getting settled in, but “there’s not much we can do for an elf and a human.”

After that, they made their way to the Longhouse, where after meeting with the night-watch, they were shown to their room and fell into a deep sleep.

The next morning they made their way to the Fish Market, as Fisherman’s Pier #1 was all the way on the north side of the docks. Along the way they saw a lord of the Greens and his gentlemen entourage trying to calm a horse newly arrived at the stables – the Markka-folk not having much experience with horses, as the forests of the region are too thick for good horse country. Garrew and Delfonzeo tried to assist, but were rebuffed, and one of the Greens insisted they needed no help from some “Roglaran Wild-Man.” So they continued, and made it to pier in good time. There they met with the brothers, were given their down payment, and introduced to Svein Svein’s-Son and his son, Svein Svein’s-Son, the elder Svein being the younger brother of Storgald, the missing ship’s pilot who went with Thorkel. Unfortunately, he and his brother had been for some time estranged so he knew nothing more than he had been told by the brother dwarves.

They set sail across the Perlevik; it was a fine day, with good winds, and Svein told them it would only take them five hours to cross, if the winds held and they did not encounter pirates or vikings or some sea monster… which fortunately their sole encounter was a large merchantman, sailing the Blue Bear of Valon, which Svein told them was a near-mythical city to the north, ruled by a line of ice-blood sorcerers. “Good folk, from what I’ve heard of them,” he said, “Not at all like those Sverkka bastards, the Dragon-Bloods. Pray to your gods we do not meet any of them on the vik…”

They arrived at Blaoystron in timely fashion, having left around 6 am, arriving around 11 am. They first passed through two dozen small boats, “Diver’s boats,” Svein grunted. “Not easy work, but lucrative enough for the effort. I prefer the open sea and fishing, myself.”

The hamlet turned out to be one and around a round, sheltered cove. The could make out more than two dozen small steadings, two large houses, a large longhouse, and next to it, a temple, built in the distinctive high-gabled Valonar fashion. They put in at one of the small piers used by traders and made their way to the longhouse, “We have to check in at Odo’s longhouse,” Svein explained. “He’s the chieftain of the hamlet, and likes to know who’s hanging around with his people.”

They enter the longhouse, and the front portion is almost set up like a tavern, though with central hearths, barrels and tuns along the walls, and tables in-between; a tall, old, almost weary man sat in a tall chair at the far end, the remainder of the longhouse behind him being hidden by curtains. “Is that Svein Svein’s-Son I see in my hall?!” the old man called out. “Come here, Svein, it has been a good while since we have drank together. Bring your son and your friends. Women! Ale all around!” The womenfolk, who were preparing food, or weaving, or doing a half-dozen other things, jumped to, and within moments the group was sitting before the chief with tall leather jacks of frothing ale.

“To your health!” Odo called out, then everyone drank. Then Odo got to business. “What brings you and your friends here, Svein?”

Svein explains that they are here to find his brother, Storgald, and a dwarf jeweler by the name of Thorkel, who were supposed to arrive four days ago, and returned three days ago.

Odo looked surprised, “I was not expecting Thorkel for another week! But he is not here, nor is your brother. I am afraid we have not seen or heard of either of them in the last few days.”

“This bodes not well,” the chief exclaimed. “It has been good weather for more than a week. If they have not arrived, something untoward must have happened to them. The Sverkka are raiding into the vik of late. Or maybe a whale or sea dragon?

“I looked forward to finally meeting with Thorkel to finalize our agreement,” he turns to the party. “You lot I do not know. Are you here to represent the dwarves?”

They replied that they were here to discover what happened to Thorkel, and nothing more, but they would be willing to take a message back to the brothers.

“Well, I do not know what happened to Thorkel or your brother, Svein. But I know someone who might help us. The volva!” At that the women made strange little signs with their fingers. “Bah, women, do not be superstitious! Her sight is a gift from the gods, you know! Nothing to fear!” He swigs down his third large jack of ale. “Yes, let us go to the priestess. She will help. She has the sight!”

And so he led the party next door to the temple, hobbling with the use of a longsword, wrapped in its scabbard as a cane. He explained to the party that their village priestess is “Old Style, not like these new clerics. The young fear that which they do not understand.” As he entered, he cried out, “Kongula! Kongula, where are you! We need your sight, seeress!”

As they entered the party looked around; they knew each a little of the Valonar faith, for most folk in the Roglaras shared in it to a greater or lesser extent, and Odin and Thor were well known, even of the others were not so much. Like most Markka structures they had seen, this one had every inch of it covered in carvings, here representing some sort of mythical tales – warriors, dragons, wizards, wolves – lots of battles, lots of dead. At the far end a large painted wooden statue of Odin, complete with wolves and ravens, and to either side, smaller and smaller idols of other gods.

“Why do you summon me!” the strong feminine voice suddenly boomed throughout the temple. They all looked up from the carvings, or away from Odo, who had been calling out incessantly. They never saw her enter the temple, yet there she was, at the altar before the statues. Tall, with graying-blonde hair in a single long braid held within a mesh of silver. Fine robes of blue that still showed off a voluptuous, athletic form.

“Bah!” Odo shook his head. “Some seeress you are, if you do not know why I have come here!”

“You know that it not how it works, old man! I must be asked a question, and ask the gods themselves! Or be given a vision by the gods of their will, and never could I imagine that the gods would give me a vision of your old and weak self!” They stared at each other across the temple, wills beating at each other, as had obviously been done many times before.

“We have guests, volva! They need to know where their wayward friends and family are. The dwarves, do you recall? We were negotiating with the dwarves of Finmark to sell them our pearls. I thought the dwarf was coming next week, but here they are saying he was supposed to arrive earlier this week, and there is no sign of him.”

She looked at him bitterly for being called to serve in such a fashion, but resigned herself to fate, and sighed. “Very well. Do you have anything of theirs? Clothing, perhaps? Maybe a weapon?”

The party looks at each other; no, they had no such thing. Then Svein spoke up. “I have this…” he said, as he pulled a chain and amulet from his pouch. “My brother and I, before… well, before, we were firmest friends, and we had matching amulets made. Can this maybe help? Maybe he still carried his, as I carry mine?”

The seeress looked him over and took the chain. “Perhaps it might help.”

She turned to the altar. She lit some candles and incense. She bowed over the altar, raised her hands in mystic passes and signs. She chanted in an old tongue, Old Valonar, most likely. The incense and smoke from the candles merged above the altar. The smoke whirled; motes of light danced within. She looked up from her prayers and stared into the glowing smoke.

“I see… a small sailing boat. I see… a man sailing… and a dwarf, sitting. It is a blue sky day, a calm sea day. They are at the heart of the vik… on the horizon is see… a cloud? Dark… a thundercloud? No, a sail. A dark sail. A purple sail!”

At that, Odo and Svein cursed, “Sverkka!”

The volva heard them not. “They are coming! The man, the dwarf, they see them! They try to sail before them, but the Sverkka howl at their stern like wolves! They are gaining. The man pulls out his sword… the dwarf an axe… The dragon-prow hovers before them! The warriors on the longship cast their spears! Blood! Blood on the waters! Red ruin on blue seas!”

She bows her head and covers her face with her hands. The light fades, the smoke breaks and drifts to the ceiling, where it dances among smiling dragons.

She turns to Svein. “I am sorry, but your brother is dead,” Svein bows his head in grief. “But rejoice, for he died with his blade in his hand, and so the Valkyries are sure to have gathered him to their bosom and taken him to Valhalla. Hel holds no grip on the soul of warrior-born and warrior-died.” She grips his shoulder and nods sagely. She turns to Odo and the party. “The dwarf, too, is dead. I know not of his fate, but he fought, too. You can tell that to his brothers.”

Odo turns to the party, his hands wide, a look of sorrow on his face. “I am so sorry that this is not the news you hade hoped for, but at least now, we know.” And he went on, first assigning blame to the Sverkka Vikings – to be sure, they, kif anyone, owe weregild – but also to ask after furthering negotiations, lest the opportunity be lost for the dwarves and his people.

The party was intent upon speaking with him, save for Delfonzeo, who surreptitiously kept his eye on the priestess… he did not trust her (he had little trust for gods or their clerics) and wanted to see where she’d go, if her leaving would be as sudden as her arrival. He was not disappointed. While everyone seemed distracted by Odo, she swiftly made her way to the back wall, where she pressed on the woodwork, opening a secret door, and disappeared through, in a flash. And when the party looked up, she was gone! Though Delfonzeo saw where she went, and how…

And as the rest of the party was speaking with Odo, he went and investigated that part of the woodwork. Looking around, he saw more of the mythological carvings – Thor fighting a great serpent, Sif, perhaps, fighting a large wolf? And then, in between, a pattern of… diamonds? Perhaps a net? No, there… a spider. A large, round spider, in the midst of a web! He looked around, and noticed that the web motif spread throughout the temple walls, amidst the other carvings… but there were no other spiders that he could see.

The body of the spider of which was more worn than the rest of the wood around it… and yes, the body was inset into the wood around it. If he pressed it, he was sure that it would open the secret door.

He looked back, and Odo was finishing his discussion with the party. Odo went up to Svein and his son, to console them on the loss of their brother and uncle, and led the way out of the temple. “It is a shame you will not stay the night,” he said, as he looked back over to the party, and nodded to Delfonzeo to catch up. “There is plenty of meat, fresh wild boar, fish, crab – and ale to spare even for dwarves. I wish you would reconsider.”

The party slowly followed Odo and the Sveins, slowly holding back so as to speak out of earshot of the chief. “We’re not staying the night?” Delfonzeo said. “But there is much strange here… I do not trust this seeress. Or the chief.”

“Nor do I,” said Garrew. “But first, tell me your reason.”

Delfonzeo explained about the secret door and the spider-button and web.

They all thought for a moment, then Garrew spoke softly. “There… is no spider in the myths of the Northmen, at least, of which I am aware.”

Marin nodded, “There is the Spider-Goddess, but then, too… there is the Old Spider Goddess, from which the new Spider-Goddess stole her temples and much of her power.”

The others looked on; of this, they had not heard.

“During my time with the Anvil Hammers, we patrolled the Rorystone Road from Anvil through Byrny, even at times unto the village of Haghill in the Howling Hills. There still stands a temple of the Old Spider Goddess – Yezud, the Spider-Queen of Hell.”

“What is this cult like?”

“I know little more, save that the priest of that cult in Haghill is a pig! As are most of the men in Haghill…”

They all look to Delfonzeo.

“What, I’m not from Haghill.”

“Just checking,” grinned Marin.

“Well, this is bad news, then… you see…” continued Garrew, “While I am no seer myself, I know that she used no divination magic of any sort. I fact, she used nothing more than a simple thaumaturgy cantrip.”

They all look at him in surprise.

“I am sure it works well on the local yokels, and even most simpler believers, but to the trained eye… it was little more than smoke and mirrors, so to speak.”

“So it was all a lie, then?” Marin stated, not asked.

Garrew nodded. “All a lie.”

“Odo has to know, though, that she’s not a real seer. Or at least, that what she did there was not a real divination, no?”

Delfonzeo chipped in, “Oh, Odo is definitely in on the con.”

They all look to him, surprised. “You know this how?”

“The seeress, as Garrew said, was all smoke and mirrors. And Odo was her shill, making sure at all times that we were looking elsewhere, or not paying attention, or interjecting with leading terms…”

“You seem to know a lot about confidence games…” Marin said, eyes narrowing.

“Oh, well… a little… maybe,” Delfonzeo grinned.

“All beside the point,” Garrew said. “We can’t leave now. We need to find out what is really going on here…”

“Well, yeah,” piped up Zylven. “We don’t get paid if we don’t bring back a body, at least!”

They all looked at Zylven; it was one of the few things they had said for days, and the most mercenary thing they had ever said in the other’s presence. They chuckled, and nodded.

“I will go tell Odo, then, that we shall partake of his hospitality after all…” And Garrew strode over to the pier, where Odo was saying farewell to the Sveins…

And thus ended the session…

Saturday, April 3, 2021

[Ravaged Ruins of the Roglaras] Ruined Elvish Observatory and Dreadful Foundations

0728 ELVEN OBSERVATORY: Atop a small mountain overlooking the spring that births the River Elvenstar can be found the ruin of an ancient elven observatory. This 150’ tall wind- and rain-worn tower has a steep, winding 5’ wide stair winding all the way to the top around the outside. As the thin stone rail has long since fallen away, it is very dangerous to climb, but that has not stopped many in the past, as it is the best place to hide from the nearby cave bears when they are angered – the bears are too large and heavy to climb the tower. The tower is solid, and only from the heights of the tower can the outline of the ancient hamlet that once surrounded it be seen – the overgrown foundations of more than two dozen buildings. The top of the tower is 30’ across, and the railing, like that of the stair, has long since fallen away. At the center of the tower top is a 15’ diameter stone structure, with a slit in the green verdigrised bronze domed roof. The dome was set upon a system of wheels and gears, and once upon a time could be rotated, but the mechanism is long since broken. The dome once housed a huge telescope and various devices of eldritch arcane sort, but today there remains nothing more than large dented bronze tubes, shattered and worn glass, and bits of metal and wires. 

Save for the fact that the observation slit cannot be closed, as the door disappeared long ago, the building makes for a decent shelter, such that at some point someone pulled up several stones in the center to make a fire pit. The stones that line the edge of the pit serve well as seats. Three days’ worth of wood is stacked along the wall, and the gnawed and burned bones of several animals (and, perhaps, humanoids) are strewn amidst the shattered remnants of the telescope. The black soot of many fires cover the walls, hiding ancient astrological star-charts with notations in Elvish. The walls can be cleaned and restored through one month of very careful and time-consuming labor. If restored, the charts can be studied over a period of a month by anyone who can read Elvish, and will provide the character studying them a bonus of +2 bonus to any skill check involving astrologically-based spells and knowledge.

0820 SHADOWED RUINS: A series of low stone ruins are found here along the edge of the Darkling Wood, interspersed with many trees of great age. 42 stone foundations, ranging from small houses to a large castle of seven towers, can be found, covered by moss and shrub and withered trees. A dwarf or other expert in stonework or construction will note definite elvish styles in the remaining stonework, though of great antiquity, even for that long-lived race. After unknown eons, the stone still give off a hint of evil if such is detected for, and any who camp amidst the ruins will have somber nightmares of tragedy and loss.

Friday, April 2, 2021

[Ravaged Ruins of the Roglaras] The Scarlet Skull, a Ship of the Damned

0604 SHIP OF THE DAMNED: Several months ago a fierce storm cast the Scarlet Skull, a ship of the damned, upon a rocky promontory, and there the souls of the cursed sailors remain to this day. It was a large merchant vessel converted to use for piracy, and it was split in twain when it crashed upon the rocks. Both sections are mostly rotten, and the forward third, or bow section has collapsed into flinders, while the skull and bone-strewn aft two-thirds (60’ long and 20’ wide) remains the lair of the damned. The undead hide in the stern castle and partially-collapsed below-decks section during the day, and range up to three miles away hunting prey at night – the coast hereabouts has gained a haunted reputation in the last few months. This vile crew consists of 16 intelligent zombies (or Myrkridder Soldiers); Mister Bones, the ghoulish first mate (or Myrkridder Sergeant); Captain Jack Scarlet, a wight (or  Myrkridder Captain); and Hygelak the ghost-parrot (or 7 HD Spirit).

The undead pirates are all dressed in the tattered finery of Gishmesh pirates out of Tarantis; each of the zombies wears one plain gold earring worth 10 gp, the ghoul first-mate wears a gold earring with a small bloodstone worth 35 gp, while the captain wears a gold earring with a small amethyst worth 135 gp and an iron chain with a key around his neck (the key is for the treasure chest).

The lair itself has only incidental treasure from the most recent victims of the damned, including two long swords, three daggers, a rusty suit of chainmail, a suit of moldering studded leather armor, 45 cp, 34 sp, and 12 gp. The real treasure is in the crow’s nest atop the intact mast, in a locked iron-bound treasure chest, and consists of 1,376 cp, 514 sp, 723 gp; 6 gems (2x 25 gp, 2x 50 gp, 2x 100 gp); a pair of matched gold candle holders with the symbol of the sun god Adorak Tau worth 1,000 gp; a large gold unholy altar setting symbol of Adorak Tau worth 250 gp; a gold and platinum orb with the symbol of Adorak Tau worth 3,500 gp; three vials of unholy water worth 30 gp each; a Tarantine spyglass worth 1,000 gp; a magical +1 cutlass with the name “Jack Scarlet” engraved on the blade; and an enchanted fist-sized black opal worth 5,000 gp, the infamous Black Star of Garzan, upon which lays the curse that transformed the crew to undead.

The Black Star of Garzan was found centuries ago by the iron miners of Garzan, near Tarantis, and was given to the Taran as tribute. The Taran in turn gave it to the Temple of Adorak Tau as a gift upon the ascension of a new evil high priest – the temple enchanted it and used it as an element in their Twilight Sacrifice ritual for more than 200 years, until a decade ago, when a thief stole it. That thief was the captain, who stole it with the assistance and cooperation of his crew – and so all fell under the effect of the curse, and they sailed the seas as a crew of the damned for almost 10 years. 

The gem is cursed such that anyone who steals the gem, and anyone who assists and remains with that person, must make a saving throw versus Spells or be drained of one level per day until the gem is returned. Those who die because of the curse rise again as undead, appropriate to their former level of power – the more powerful the thief was in life, the more powerful he is in undeath. Those who are not clerics of Adorak Tau who take the gem from the thief are, of course, considered by the power of the curse to be thieves themselves. A cleric of Adorak Tau can use the gem to summon a lesser devil once per week and a greater devil once per month; unless cast as an hour-long ritual, the summoning lasts for only one turn per level of the cleric.

There is, of course, due to the Law of Dramatic Resolution, a 50% chance that a search party from the Temple of Adorak Tau happens upon the wrecked ship (d6: 1-2) at the same time as the player characters find it, (3-4) while the player characters are in battle with the undead, or (5-6) right after the battle with the undead. Even if they do not show up right away, they can show up any time wherever the Black Star of Garzan might be found. The search party will demand the players turn over the Black Star of Garzan, the candle holders, the orb, and the unholy water and symbol, but are (mostly) unconcerned about the other treasure.

Kyresh Kylak, the leader of the party, is an evil if honorable man; if he makes a deal with the characters he will honor it as long as they honor the deal. His associate Turek Tan, on the other hand, is not honorable, very ambitious, and quite greedy, and thus will try to interfere with any deal that lets the party get away with the remaining riches – and if the player characters (and Kyresh Kylak) get slaughtered in the ensuing battle, so much the better. The clerics are served by 12 unholy berserkers of Adorak Tau who follow their commands without question and to the death.

Dread Curate Kyresh Kylak, Master of the Order of the Searing Orb (LE male Gishmesh 5th level Cleric of Adorak Tau). He wears plate mail armor, wields a magical +1 mace, wears an unholy symbol of Adorak Tau of gold encrusted with ruby gem flakes (250 gp), and carries two vials of unholy water, 5 cp, 7 sp, 150 gp, 40 pp, and the Search Stone of Garzan (a shard of black opal from Garzan worth 100 gp, enchanted to direct the holder to the location of the Black Star of Garzan).

Dark Priest Turek Tan, Priest of the Order of the Burning Rays (NE male Karakhan 3rd level Cleric of Adorak Tau). He wears chain mail armor, wield a mace, wears a silver unholy symbol of Adorak Tau (25 gp), and carries 8 cp, 12 sp, 9 gp, and 8 pp.

12 Unholy Berserkers (LE to NE male Gishmesh or Karakhan 1st level Fighters). They each wear studded leather armor with great helms, wield falchions, daggers, and short bows, wear a bronze holy symbol of Adorak Tau (5 gp) and carry 2d6 cp, 2d6 sp, and 3d6 gp. The lead berserker carries a standard bearing the holy symbol of Adorak Tau and the banner of the Order of the Searing Orb; the standard is worth 250 gp.

The whole party is mounted on riding horses, complete with saddles and tack, and saddle bags containing camping equipment and food, water, and wine for 14 men for two weeks, The saddle bag of Kyresh Kylak contains a small sack holding 87 pp and 13 gems (100 gp value each).

Thursday, April 1, 2021

[Ravaged Ruins of the Roglaras] Five Ruins in the Roglaras

I was considering doing the A to Z challenge this year, but just don't have the gumption. I do, however, want to continue work on a series I've been toying with on and off for the last 20 years -- the Ravaged Ruins of the Roglaras. The original listings for Region 01 never included a Ravaged Ruins entry, so I long ago set out to fix that error. Hopefully, I will finally complete the list this month. And even if I don't, meh, here's a bunch of stuff for you all to try out on your players...

0103 MYSTERIOUS CARVINGS: A mile-long 100’ tall cliff-face wall of black basalt runs east to west in his area facing north; the wall is covered by mysterious carvings of apparently utterly ancient age. The carvings are of dragons and snake-headed men, mixed in with a strange, undecipherable hieroglyphic script, each carving ranging in height from one inch to several feet. Rough stone altars upon which can be seen ancient bloodstains stand before sections of the carvings.

0224 ANCIENT TUNNELS: In the midst of a small copse of trees stands a hillock, along the base of which can be seen several small tunnel openings. These tunnels, which run throughout the hill and under the hill and beyond, are the remnants of an old kobold lair. Kobold skeletons can be found throughout, smashed and sliced through. The nethermost tunnel contains a hidden cache of 365 cp and a magically cursed -1 dagger with the name “Backbiter” engraved in Roglaran upon the blade.

0304 SEALING GROUNDS: The beach in this area along the northern coast was once a preferred sunning area for migrating seals, and local hunters would often come here and hunt the seals as they basked in the sun during the winter. A dozen tumbledown seasonal huts, meat smoking racks, and skin drying racks can still be found in the dunes above the beach, while the bones of hundreds of seals are strewn across the area. The westernmost hut contains the skeleton of the final occupant, along with his sealing harpoon, club, two skinning knives, and 17 sp in a rotting pouch. The seals stopped coming to the area when a pack of seven sharks moved into the bay; the sharks remain, though the frenzied days of feasting on fat, lazy seals are a decade passed…

0407 PYRAMID OF SKULLS: A 20’ tall pyramid of skulls stands in the midst of the grasses of the Plateau of Bendigroth. All the skulls face east. Buried six feet in the ground under the pyramid are the remains of an ancient Tharbrian war chief, seven feet tall and armored in magical +1 scale mail with a magical +1 saber. If the skull pyramid is disturbed, the spirit of the war chief awakens and attacks those who desecrated his monument with the full powers of a spectre. If disturbed during the day, the spectre unerringly tracks down the blasphemers at night, following them until its vengeance is sated or it has been destroyed.

0522 RUINS OF TOAD TEMPLE: Once upon a time, long ago, the priests of the Temple of the Toad of the City State of the Invincible Overlord tried to extend their power beyond the Mermist Swamp and into all wetlands of the region. The ruined temple that stands near the center of the Froggybog Marsh between the arms of the River Buckol is a testament both to their success and their failure. The 27 wooden buildings of the small hamlet around the temple stand half submerged and rotting in the swamp. The lower steps of the temple also stand in the brackish waters, while the marble floors, walls, and columns are covered in ivy and slime. The outer walls of the 80’ diameter round temple still stand mostly intact, as do about half of the two dozen columns around its verge, but the dome and central walls have collapsed into the center, which is filled with rubble. This rubble circles the half-buried idol of the Toad, a 20’ long by 15’ wide by 15’ tall bronze statue of the Toad, now green with age and covered in ivy. Small shrubs grow out of the piled bricks and detritus, and stagnant pools of water cover about a third of the area inside the walls. The priests of this temple performed strange and terrible magical experiments with toads, and the descendants of those creations still haunt the ruins.

17 Troll-Blooded Giant Toads lair in and hunt around the temple and ruined hamlet; they are a scourge on the hamlets bordering the nameless swamp. These semi-intelligent creatures have the faces and maws of trolls married to the bodies of giant toads; they croak to each other in a debased form of the Troll tongue sprinkled with Demonic words and phrases. On nights of the full moon the toads gather in and around the temple ruin to sing to the idol of their god. They enjoy the flesh of humans and dwarves, though they do not go out of their way to seek such meals.

The idol is hollow, and can be entered through a secret door between the idol’s forelegs under the wide-open maw. The secret door is trapped; the trap consists of six spikes that shoot down from the lower jaw of the idol, the poison coating is obvious but ancient and no longer dangerous. The trap is charged for three shots of six spikes each.

The small chamber in the idol contains the temple treasury, consisting of 30,230 cp, 8,654 sp, and 1,542 gp mixed together in four large, iron-bound chests; 24 gems (2x5 gp, 4x10 gp, 3x25 gp, 10x50 gp, 4x100 gp, 1x250 gp) in a gold plated velvet-lined box worth 1,500 gp; a gold music box worth 1,000 gp, that when wound plays hymns of the Toad; a 12” by 12” gem-flake portrait icon of Evil High Priest Zukkotakua (4017 to 4033 BCCC) worth 550 gp; four vials of unholy water worth 30 gp each; eight silver-plated and gem-flake encrusted tridents worth 100 gp each; a covered ivory brazier in the shape of an eye encrusted with gemstones worth 3,000 gp (stolen long ago from the Hell-Bridge Temple); a silver scepter with an emerald atop it worth 1,250 gp; a silver orb carved with toads, with gemstones of emerald flakes, worth 1,250 gp; an ancient clay brooch in the shape of a toad worth 10gp, but worth 10 times that to the Temple of the Toad; a magical +1 amphibian bane trident; and the Codex Bufonidex Mutatis Magnus.

The Codex is a unique gem-encrusted volume which includes in its pages the illuminated Book of Batrachian Joy (the holy canon of the Temple of the Toad), plus an appendix detailing the magical research into and rituals and spells necessary to create and control troll-blooded giant toads -- it is worth 3,000 gp from materials alone, but the unique rituals and spells therein increases its value to 10,000 gp to the right buyer; 

Curse of the Toad: If anyone other than a duly-anointed priest of the Temple of the Toad, or someone magically blessed by such a priest, takes anything out of the treasury chamber -- even so much as a copper piece -- they must make a saving throw versus Spells or, over a period of three days, be slowly and painfully polymorphed into a giant toad (normal variety, not a troll-blooded giant toad).

Sunday, March 28, 2021

[Cartography] New Map of Region 01: The Roglaras

Here is a new map of Wilderlands Region 01: The Roglaras (I am returning to the classic map numbering system for this iteration of my Wilderlands of High Adventure).

The map is at a scale of 5 miles per hex, but of course, you can use it at 6, 8, 12, 12.5, 15, 18, 24, 25, 30... or whatever scale you might like!

A full-size PNG file of this map can be downloaded by clicking here.

Let me know what you think! Enjoy!

Wilderlands Region 01: The Roglaras

Sunday, March 21, 2021

[Races of the Wilderlands] On Gnolls

Commoners and sages alike are much confused on the origin and nature of gnolls, for it is often said that they are the result of the joining of troll and gnome and yet they look nothing at all like those two creatures. This is for one very good, simple reason – the gnolls with which we are all most familiar are not the original gnolls, but merely one of a number of different gnoll breeds, and the most common and best known.

The original gnolls – or joinings, which is what the word “gnoll” means in the ancient tongue of Torsh – were formed from the fusion of troll and gnome. These are what are today known as the Trollkin, or troll-gnoll, and they do indeed look much like their ancient origins suggest – for they have the size of tall dwarves, the build of gnomes, and the skin and facial features (and sometimes, the regenerative abilities) of trolls. They were called “joinings” for the simple reason that they were created by magically “joining” the blood and essence of the two races together to create a third. Torsh, an empire found far to the north and east in what are now haunted wastelands north of Karak and east of Tarsh – used these gnolls, as they called them in their tongue, as foot-soldiers in their great interdimensional Portal Wars.

Somehow, long ages later, the rituals to create gnolls were discovered by the Ghinorians in the far south. Some sages believe that Upper Ghinor had been an outpost of Torsh, and the Ghinorians discovered the rituals in the ruins thereof. I believe it to be a strong possibility, but then, too, the early Ghinorians were also known to be great explorers, so it is not impossible to believe that they may have discovered the rituals in the ruins of Old Torsh itself. Either way, they discovered the rituals and put them to good – or some might say, terrible – use in creating what we know today as the Common Gnoll, or hyena-folk, merging human and hyena to create a monstrously violent beast-man. These they created for their wars against the Demon Principalities on their southern border, for the wastelands thereof are replete with hyenas, and the hyena-folk thrive in such regions.

Later, during the height of their empire, when they required a more tractable servant race, they similarly created the Anubim, or dog-folk, merging human with dog and jackal. This admixture proved far more intelligent and capable, and spread throughout the Ghinorian Empire as guards and servants, even as the hyena-folk spread as a warrior-caste, often under the leadership of their dog-folk cousins. Unfortunately for the Wilderlands at large, when the Ghinorian Empire collapsed, the hyena-folk remained behind, and migrated further afield in great numbers. They served in small armies as mercenaries of the Orichalan Dragon Empire, and eventually turned coat against them to serve the Viridian Empire, for which they were settled in the depopulated then-borderlands of Lyoophiath… with the resulting death and destruction many centuries later from the migrations during the Gnoll Times.

Over their long migrations, the hyena-folk’s dog-folk cousins often travelled with them, or at least along the same routes, though in smaller numbers. At some point they picked up wolf-blood – how is still under much debate among sages –  and is not a part of this treatise. Howsoever they did, these Vargr, or wolf-folk gnolls spread even further afield, first through the Elephas, and thence into Valon, and finally into Tarsh, the Valley of the Ancients, and Tarantis – where they encountered the fourth major gnoll breed, the Meriem, or cat-folk.

At some as yet undiscerned time in the past, at some unknown locale, someone used the ritual of joining to create a combination between elf and cat. Contrary to legend and rumor, the Meriem are as humanoid as trollkin or dog-folk, though like hyena-folk and wolf-folk they can run at high speed on all fours; also, they are perfectly capable of speech, but possess a system of secret hand signals that they may communicate without being heard. Unlike their trollkin, hyena-folk, dog-folk, and wolf-folk cousins, the Meriem have not spread far, and are known today to be found only in Tarantis and along the Ebony Coast among the Matani... though some have taken to piracy on the Wine-Dark Sea.

There are other, minor races of joinings to be found – the bear-folk of the Werewoods (an extraordinary mix of human, bear, and werebear), the fish-folk of the Sea of Five Winds (which may or may not be joinings), and the rat-folk that are seemingly ubiquitous in urban regions throughout the Wilderlands – being only the most prominent of these beings. It seems these days, any transmuter worth his salt tries his hand at the ancient joinings ritual – if he can find it. And so the most potent of transmuters and wizards possess their own small armies of strange joinings, a testament to the power of the ancient rituals of Old Torsh, and to the horrors that some wizards are willing to perpetuate in the name of their art.