Saturday, August 30, 2014

[5th Edition] 5th Edition Campaign Setting Idea

So I am hoping to run some 5th Edition this Sunday, and am already considering what setting to use for an ongoing 5th Edition campaign. It seems ideal for a campaign idea I have had for some time, one that combines all these factors:

While I would, myself, hope for something more Castle Waiting, I know with my players it would end up much more like Shrek, so I might as well prepare for that, anyway. This would be unlike my Sixth Age setting in that it would be pure fantasy, rather than a post-Apocalyptic, post-Change setting.

Still... I might also start out smaller, just to keep it simple. I've always wanted to delve into the classic Rythlondar style campaign, and I think 5th Edition fits that quite well... so I might just whip out a blank sheet of paper and have at it and draw up some sort of Borderland Realm focusing on dungeons filled with whimsy and old-school oddities...

If this all works out well enough, and 5th Edition plays as well as I hope it will, I might just have to consider doing some Olden Lands products using 5th Edition...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Review

So at Gen Con I picked up a copy of the new, 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook.

I hadn't really followed much of the brouhaha over the new edition, nor had I play-tested it; while I had downloaded the free starter set information, I hadn't even read it yet. But, it was the new edition of D&D, so I had to give it a try. Heck, I even gave 4th Edition a try... howsoever brief. So why not, too, 5th Edition?

Here's the short of what I think: 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons is a lovely home-brewed, house-ruled version of the Castles & Crusades system and the ideals of Labyrinth Lord with a dash of Dungeon Crawl Classics and HackMaster 4th Edition for flavor.

The long of it: Based on the PHB, this is probably a game I would play. Heck, if the MM and DMG live up to what I've seen in the PHB, I might even want to run a 5th Edition game. I would have never said that about 4th Edition, and after running a fair bit of 3rd Edition, I gave up on that, too.

But this game really tickles my fancy. And by my fancy, I mean my desire for a nice, simple system. And the new edition honestly delivers. It basically strips the d20 System down, much like Castles & Crusades does, and rebuilds the system using the ideals of the original and early editions... again, much like Castles & Crusades does. It makes certain different assumptions on making the numbers work, but it really feels like a Castles & Crusades variant.

So while I won't be changing my core, go-to game systems... Castles & Crusades and Labyrinth Lord... I will definitely be adding 5th Edition to my repertoire of playable games.

A few specific notes, good and bad, some to chew on, others just to remark upon:

I really, really, REALLY like the way they do spell memorization and spell slots. I'm going to have to steal that system for my house-rules for both C&C and LL.

The halfling art in the book is ridiculous... horrendous, even, in some spots. Otherwise, the art is quite nice. Very medievalesque, yet very inclusive and diverse. Really, better art than any they've had since 2nd Edition.

Oddly, there is no one place where the skills Open Locks and Find/Remove Traps are defined, systematically. You kind of have to piece together bits from the descriptions of Thieves Tools and Dexterity Ability Checks. Would have thought there would have been something definitive in the Rogue description, but no... I guess that is all for the DMG.

There are three Arcane spell-casters, the Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard, each doing magic slightly differently. I could see having maybe one, maybe two in a single campaign, but three... I dunno. Seems a bit heavy. And then, too, you have the Eldritch Knight and the Arcane Trickster Archetypes/Demi-classes (shadows of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea), so really there are five arcane spell-casting classes...

Grappling is nice and simple, as is Two Weapon Wielding. These I like.

Feats are optional, seriously optional, and I think work much better than they did in 3rd Edition. I also like the Backgrounds. One minor note, that I know is going to be a complaint from some players, is moving Charge from a combat option to a feat... I think that will be house-ruled in my games, considering how charge-happy my players are...

And then there is Healing. Using Hit Dice for Healing in Short Rests, recovering all HP and all HD during a Long Rest... that is likely to change. Maybe requiring a Full Day Rest to recover a used HD. Though really, you know, using the rules as written would just make the game go that much faster, with less down-time going back to town to rest and relax. We shall see...

Some of the spells are nerfed, others go way up in power. I think it balances out to make arcane spell-casters more useful in general, especially when combined with the new memorization and spell-slot system. I've usually given wizards a "mage-bolt" power as it was, so it fits in with my way of gaming pretty well.

Essentially, as I went through the book, my thoughts went more often to "ooh, I can use this/steal this" rather than "this makes no sense," as it did often when reading the 4th Edition books.

So the upshot is, 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons is a game I would like to play... maybe even run. I can't really give it a better recommendation than that...

Friday, August 8, 2014

[Cimmeria] History of Hyboria

This is not truly Conan’s Cimmeria. Or rather, I should say, this is not truly Cimmeria as envisioned by Robert E. Howard. That Cimmeria would be a poor place for adventure; were it otherwise, and there were opportunities to earn great treasures, win the adoration of beautiful wenches, and crush the kingdoms of the earth under your sandals, Conan might never have left! Thus, this is a Cimmeria more geared toward using the basic background of the Hyborian Age as a platform for fantasy role-playing game adventures. If you are looking for a scholarly derivation of the Conan canon… this isn’t it. If you are interested in such, I’d advise you to look up “Hyborian Heresies” by Dale Rippke.

To fill in the gaps in Cimmeria, I have taken the ancient myths and legends of the Celts – the Irish, Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Gauls, and more – distilled them further down into archetypes, and applied them to a sword and sorcery framework fleshed out by weird dark fantasy. Don’t worry, however – there are no frolicsome fairies, pesky pixies, or dancing leprechauns to be found. In this Cimmeria, the locals have good and true reason for their fears of the mist-haunted forests and cloud-shrouded crags. The melancholies of the Cimmerians are based not merely on the grim, grey weather, but on the sorcerous, inhuman, and monstrous dangers that lurk around every corner, sleep in muddy rivers, haunt dark valleys, and skulk in ancient Atlantean ruins…

Further, to fill in the pieces of the adjoining lands, I have scoured various Conan resources and adapted bits and pieces that I fancy. The lands of the Aesir and Vanir of course are inspired by Norse mythology. The Eiglophian Mountains also owe much to the Norse, but also owe a debt to Clark Ashton Smith’s Hyperborea stories and Howard’s Kull stories (and the Marvel comic book adaptations). Finally, following in the tradition of the Mighty Marvel Bullpen, I adapted elements and ideas from Gardner Fox’s “Kothar” and “Kyrik” stories to fill in the blanks in the Border Kingdom (though for the most part, only names survived the transformation).

This gazetteer is set in 1361 AA, one hundred years after Venarium and mere days after the death of Conan II, King of Aquilonia, who left seven legitimate sons (by three wives) vying to inherit the kingdom. While this means that all of Conan’s known adventures are history, this leaves the whole wide Hyborian world open to the adventures of your players and their characters. Between the departure of Conan and the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there are yet countless of untold adventures to be had!

Seven thousand years ago the Great Cataclysm struck, Valusia and the other kingdoms of the Thurian continent were destroyed, and their peoples cast down into savagery. The surviving Valusians were conquered and nearly wiped out in the battles between the new, savage empires of the Picts in the west, the Atlanteans in the north, and the Zhemri in the east. For five hundred years these petty, primitive empires squabbled over the leavings of the previous civilization. Then the Lesser Cataclysm struck and undid what little they had done to rebuild.

While the Zhemri empire collapsed into squabbling city-states, and the Picts fell into stone-age savagery, the Atlanteans collapsed all the way back to ape-like primitivism. Not all the Atlanteans fell, however; a few, those who retained the old powers of sorcery and knowledge of super-science, decided to evolve beyond the mortal coil of this world and sought refuge in strange planes and odd angles, and transformed themselves into the Scáith – beings of pure elemental shadow. In their strange Otherworlds, they continued to practice and improve upon their sorcery (though they lost much of their science), and from time to time visited the ape-like descendents of their lost cousins in this world; to prey upon them, enslave them, or otherwise torment them at their pleasure.

The Valusians of the middle-lands were left to their own devices for nearly 500 years, during which they assimilated Pictish, Cimmerian, and Zhemri bloodlines from the clans and tribes that remained after the collapse of their proto-empires. Though preyed upon by the petty city-states of the remnant of the Zhemri Empire, they slowly rebuilt their civilization… clans growing into tribes, tribes giving birth to primitive kingdoms, until…

1000 years after the Great Cataclysm, most of the Valusian tribes and their petty kingdoms were conquered by the Stygian Giant-Kings, great and terrible sorcerous lords from Elder Stygia who settled the north and founded the Empire of Acheron. These dark lords fled Elder Stygia following a civil war; these were the lords who sought vigorous expansion, while those who remained in Elder Stygia sought to remain in contemplative decadence.

The conquered Valusian tribes further assimilated the bloodlines of the Stygian servitors, such as the ancestors of the Shemites (descended from Commorians), the Pelishtim (descended from Verulians), and the Zingg (descended from Farsunians). This mixed people, during the two thousand years of Giant-King rule, merged to become the Acheronians, as steeped in evil and demonolatry as their masters. The free Valusian clans, their cousins on the borders, remained relatively pure-blooded savage barbarians, caught between the Acheronians as the anvil and the hammers of the Picts, savage Atlanteans, Hyborians, and Zhemri.

Another 500 years later, 1500 years after the Cataclysm, and the Khari, fleeing from the rebellion of the Lemurians in the Far East, conquer and settle in Elder Stygia. There they are assimilated into the local population and begin rebuilding an empire. In the north, the Acheronians are also expanding, and eventually the two empires meet at the great escarpment that for long ages defines the border between the North and the South.

By the time 2000 years have passed since the Great Cataclysm, Acheron and Khari-ruled Stygia reach their greatest extent. The core of Acheron consists of most of Aquilonia, Nemedia, eastern Zingara, the southern Border Kingdom, and western Brythunia; the core of Stygia includes modern Stygia, western and central Shem, and points south and east. The two empires fight continually over Ophir, Corinthia, Zamora, and Koth. It was then that the Acheronians made their ultimately lethal mistake – they took in the Hyborian barbarians of the north as mercenaries.

At this time, the north is a Hyborian realm, from the Eiglophian Mountains to the cold frost-covered lands of the Arctic, and from the Vilayet to the Western Ocean. In the south, between the free Valusian tribes north of Acheron and south of the Eiglophian Mountains, the ape-like Cimmerians live in the forested hills and dark valleys. These primitive beings were unsuited for mercenary work; so too the savage Picts in the west and the scheming Zhemri of the east. Thus the Acheronians turned to the Hyborians. The first Hyborian mercenaries of Acheron were well-settled in the re-conquered lands of Koth, as guardians of the border against incursions by Stygia and the Shemites, by the time the first primitive castle was reared in ancient Hyperborea.

It was the advent of the kingdom of Hyperborea, in the eastern heartlands of old Hyboria, as well as the arrival out of the north of the primitive Nordheimr, that began the wholesale drift and migration of the Hyborian peoples south into Acheron. At first, the tide was welcome by those sorcerous princes – more mercenaries to use against the Stygians, more settlers for the ruined and fought-over lands of Koth (and later Argos, Ophir, and Corinthia), more slaves to labor in fields and die screaming on altars. But the short-term gains of this policy missed the long-term results of such wholesale immigration. By the end of this period, nearly 1000 years after the first use of Hyborian mercenaries, 3000 years after the Cataclysm and 3000 years before the modern era, the Hyborian rebellions started in the south.

First in Koth and Argos, then even in Ophir and Corinthia – here and there, in various cities and provinces, the southern Hyborians, civilized for centuries, were in the majority… and they groaned under the yoke of their Acheronian masters. As wars with Stygia were at the time few and far between (the Stygians then caught in the depths of one of their own civil wars), the Hyborians of the south sought their own freedom, to keep their own taxes, and rule their own lands. Now long unused to fighting their own wars, the Acheronians fought fire with fire – and brought in more fresh Hyborian tribes, these often mixed with the Valusians of the borders, or by this time even the Nordheimr of the cold, legendary north. But it did them little good.

As the Hyborian rebellions grew, the Acheronians turned more and more to dark, terrible sorceries, and the power of the Temple of Set grew great in the empire. The new Hyborian mercenaries came to find they had more in common with their enemies than with their masters. Together, they united to overthrow the Acheronians. With even the northern heartlands of the empire thrown into civil war, the trickle of Hyborians from the north became a flood. The empire crumbled. The High Priest of Set in Acheron, Xaltotun, and his followers fled south to Stygia, their power broken, their capital of Python destroyed, shortly before the Kothian Hyborians and their barbaric Hyborian allies crushed the renascent Stygians north of the Styx and razed the city of Kuthchemes.

In the end, the Hyborians had exchanged an empire of Acheronians under Set for an empire of Southern Hyborians, the Kothians, under the Temple of Adonis and Ishtar. For the Kothians immediately began their own empire-building, and within 500 years, 3500 years after the Cataclysm, they ruled an empire that included modern Koth, Ophir, Corinthia, and usually parts of Zamora, Argos, Zingara, and Shem. North of the Red River, south of Cimmeria, east of the Pictish Wilderness, and west of the Kezankian Mountains, petty kingdoms and tribal territories of mixed Hyborian, Valusian, and Acheronian sort continually fought each other, the Picts, and invading clans of Hyperboreans and Nordheimr.

For the Hyperboreans (by then a mixed Hyborian-Nordheimr race) were shortly after the fall of Acheron conquered by the last remnants of the sorcerous Acheronian Giant-Kings; it is they and their sorcery that gave rise to the Witchmen of the White Hand, the ruling caste of modern Hyperborea (though they secretly rule in the name of the Secret Masters, the last of the Giant-Kings). Over the following centuries, whole clans of the mixed Hyperborean peoples raided south into Brythunia, and there settled in the plains, driving the native Valusians into the forests and hills.

The Cimmerians, through all the wandering and war, had been left much to their own devices. Up to this point they had remained, for more than 2000 years, simple ape-like men, living in caves and with no knowledge of the use of tools or even fire, let alone their own humanity. They had been prey for their distant cousins, the Scáith, for long ages; this culled the weak and the slow, the foolish and the curious, from their ranks. It was the advent of the savage Giant-Kings that finally brought the Cimmerians back from the brink of apedom.

For when Acheron was crushed, the Giant-Kings powerful and mighty in sorcery fled north, to Hyperborea, leaving their less magically-potent but no less giant-blooded kin to their own devices. These fled from the ruins of Acheron into the savage north, where even the Hyborians had feared to go – Cimmeria. There they found the primitive Cimmerians and settled among them. They took as their wives the largest and most intelligent of these creatures, and with them bred a new generation of giants, known to Cimmerian myth and legend as the Firbolg.

During this time the Scáith were also busy, expanding into the northlands even as the Nordheimr were moving into the lands emptied by the Hyborians. They enter into Nordheimr legendry as the Liosalfar, or Elves (as opposed to the Svartalfar, or Dwarfs). Many of the northern settlements are of mixed Scáith descent with strong Nordheimr bloodlines; while the elemental portions of their essence have merged and perhaps, weakened, the shadowy darkness of their nature has expanded.

After a few generations building their numbers, the Firbolg, under their leader Crom-Ya, returned to their fallen land of Acheron. There they conquered many of the local tribes and petty-kingdoms, forming their own realms. But they were a divisive and quarrelling people, and were never able to rebuild the ancient empire they had lost. Such unity as they were ever able to muster was expended fighting the superior numbers and powers of the Kothian Empire.

3500 years after the Great Cataclysm, Acheron is no more, Stygia sleeps, Koth waxes and wanes in power, the Argosseans have begun their heroic sea journeys, the Zamorians squabble in their city-states, the Shemites feud with each other when not united against the Kothians, and the Zingarans (the Zingg now mixed with Picts and Hyborians) slowly build their kingdom. The middle lands of the North are a patchwork of petty Hyborian, Valusian, Acheronian, Hyperborean, and Firbolg kingdoms and tribes. The Cimmerians have risen from their ape-like stupor, and though abandoned by the Firbolg, begin to create their own barbaric culture.

The Aesir and Vanir slowly spread into the regions left barren by the migration of the Hyborians north of the Eiglophian Mountains. The southern clans of Nordheimr exhibit a higher level of culture and technology due to their conquest and assimilation of the remaining Hyborian tribes of the region. The return of the Nordheimr to these lands is ironic; for it was the Hyborians who had, thousands of years ago, driven their forefathers (men of Thule who wore the hides of white apes, not the white apes themselves) into the north. Following the tales of their assimilated Hyborian brethren, the Nordheimr often sallied south, through the passes in the Eiglophian Mountains, to raid into the patchwork of kingdoms and tribes between the Cimmerians and Koth.

There they found the Firbolg, for the Nordheimr (followers of Ymir the Frost Giant), a race to be feared and awed. It is from their people that the Nordheimr learned the traditions of burying their noble dead in barrows with their greatest treasures. Such gigantic barrows, often mistaken for natural hills, are found throughout the region from the Red River in the south to and into southern Cimmeria in the north, and from the Kezankian Mountains in the east to and into the Pictish Wilderness in the west. For such was the range of these savage descendents of the Giant-Kings in those days. For a time, the Nordheimr thought to perhaps invade these rich southern lands and claim them for their own. But such was not to be, for with the invasions of the Firbolg and the Nordheimr, the Hyborians were finally stirred to fulfill their destiny.

Weary of the raids coming across the Red River, 4000 years after the Great Cataclysm the Kothian Emperor Nemed I, “The Great,” founded two provinces on the northern side of the river: the eponymous Nemedia and Aquilon (the “Northern Province”). To all the petty Hyborian kingdoms and free tribes he sent ambassadors with the same message, a message of Hyborian unity of purpose, to finally extinguish the Acheronian remnants, the petty Acheronian kingdoms and their bastard children, the Firbolg (known to the Hyborians as the Titans). The next five centuries witnesses the conquest of the central lands by the Hyborians, who assimilate the local Valusians and other petty tribes and exterminate the Firbolg, the last remnants of which retreat into Cimmeria, other wild lands, and Otherworlds. However, even as the Hyborian Empire grew in might, it rotted at the core.

For the southern Hyborians had adopted the worship of Set and his ilk. This was no accident; for while Stygia had seemingly slept, her sons sought out the younger sons of nobles, disaffected priests and philosophers, and lower-class rabble-rousers and rebels. To each they promised wealth and power, if only they bent the knee to Set. Too, each conquered petty Acheronian realm vomited up libraries full of arcane and eldritch lore, which grasping and power-mad lords added to their sorcerous anthology of tricks. And so by 4500 years after the Great Cataclysm, when the Kothian Empire reached its height, its greatest physical extent, and the pinnacle of its power, uniting most of the modern Hyborian realms under one single banner, it was an empire that was almost indistinguishable in evil from that of the original Acheronian Empire.

Into this realm of darkness was born Epimetreus, the Prophet of Mitra; some say he was born in Koth, others Corinthia or Ophir or even Pelishtia, and a few heretics claim Stygia itself. Epimetreus, said to have been the scion of a noble or even royal house, turned to the ways of philosophy and lore at an early age… in other words, he was a wastrel who spent his days in debauchery and debate at sybaritic symposiums. He was middle-aged by the time he saw the error of his ways and became the Prophet of Mitra. He first bearded the lion in his den, and preached publically in the streets of ancient Khorshemish. He was sought out by the Temple of Set, but fled to the north, where he found younger, cleaner, unsullied Hyborian peoples in the still semi-tribal provinces.

Many of these tribes – already unhappy with their lot under their Set-worshipping southern cousins – turned to the ways of Mitra. He went from tribe to tribe, clan to clan, bringing the message of light unto the unenlightened barbarians. They say he flew across the skies wearing a magical cloak of phoenix feathers; few legends tell, however, that the bright light in his hands was the Heart of Ahriman, rather than the Light of Mitra. Over a period of several decades he welded together an alliance of converted tribes, an alliance whose sole purpose was the destruction of the Temple of Set. That the ensuing civil war also brought down the Kothian Empire was merely incidental. When rebellion flared and the northern provinces declared for Mitra, the Kothians showed their true colors and allowed the legions of Stygia into their realm to help fight against the rebels.

Thereafter a client state of Stygia in all but name, it took a generation of war for the northern Hyborians to reduce the Kothian remnant and drive the Stygians from the North. During this time the last remnants of the Hyborian barbarian tribes, mixed nomadic tribes of Hyborians and Nordheimr in truth, migrated south out of the northern lands and west out of the steppes and tundra, the former fleeing from the Nordheimr, the latter from the Hyrkanians then entering the lands they would call Turan. It was the converted sons of these tribes in the next generation who led the battle further south, into Shem, to throw the Stygians again across the Styx. Several tribes continued on, through the eastern deserts and past the Ilbars Mountains, there to merge with the local Vendhyans and other tribes to form the people of Iranistan. These were cousins of the tribes that settled in the newly-conquered lands of Koth, there to found the principalities of Khoraja, Khauran, and others.

It was during this final war against Stygia that Epimetreus was mortally wounded, though even a mortal wound kept him not from his final great act. After taking his wound, he returned north to the (now independent) province of Aquilon, the heart of his following. There he crowned the barbarian prince of the realm, the grandson of the first chief he converted, as the first king of Aquilonia. This was 1,361 years ago, 4700 years after the Great Cataclysm. It was to create a shield in the north, a bastion for the light of Mitra, in answer to the formation of the earlier foundation of the kingdom of Nemedia (which then consisted merely of Belverus and the surrounds) by a mix of pagan Northern Hyborians and the old Southern Hyborians (the origins of the ancient enmity between the two realms). Thereafter Epimetreus retired to his sanctum at Mount Golamira, where his remains are said to be hidden by great and terrible mystic arts.

For a century following the founding of Aquilonia, Hyborian tribes and war-bands continued to wander around the remnants of the Kothian Empire. Petty kingdoms rose and fell, merged and split, but Nemedia and Aquilonia remained relatively stable, and within 400 years had become the strongest realms north of the Red River. Both then went on a spate of empire-building, Aquilonia to the north and west, Nemedia to the north and east. By 800 AA both realms had attained the essence of their modern borders, with Aquilonia acquiring Gunderland (787 AA) and Nemedia acquiring Hanumar each through marriage. Interestingly, each acquisition showed the major difference between the two states remained in matters of religion: the Gundermen had to give up worship of Bori and accept worship of Mitra, while the people of Hanumar exacted a Royal Declaration of Religious Freedom from the king of Nemedia, in order that they might cleave to their reverence of Ibis.

By 800 AA, Aquilonia had also tamed the bulk of the Bossonian lands, forming them into the Bossonian Marches; similarly in the east, Nemedia had formed the Brythunian Marches, and began to slowly absorb the westernmost Brythunian realms. But it was in this process that they began to find the limits of their advancement into the wild lands to west, north, and east. For at the further ends of these petty domains were vast regions of unconquered, and perhaps unconquerable, barbarians and savages. To the west, they would run into the Picts; to the north, the Cimmerians, and to the east, the Nemedians always found difficulty with the forest-based Brythunians, backed by wild Turanians, and scheming Zamorians.

And so the growth of the two great kingdoms slowed, and for a while the borders shrank back, especially in the case of Nemedia, who lost almost all its Brythunian gains and the bits of the Border Kingdom it had absorbed. And so, for further growth and loot, the two imperial powers turned south, to the rich lands of Zingara, Argos, Ophir, and Corinthia. There they competed with one another and with the resurgent imperial Koth. Wars were as much for loot and glory as they were for land. For hundreds of years these middle realms became a patchwork of petty domains, now leaning Aquilonian, then Nemedian, later for Koth, or sometimes independently play two or more sides against each other. The counts of Zingara and Argos and the senators of Corinthia became quite adept at this game. The practice became a true art in the hands of the Ophireans, however, due to their great mineral wealth.

About 300 years ago the great imperial wars of conquest slowly winded down, as the various nations of the middle lands coalesced from the disparate petty realms. It wasn’t so much that the Aquilonians, Nemedians, and Kothians had tired of the imperial game, as the other peoples of the middle lands had caught up with the imperial powers in terms of wealth and technology. Too, in the case of Koth, Stygia was once again emerging from her long slumber, and flexing her own imperial muscles in Shem, Koth’s own backyard.

It was this Stygian resurgence that brought wrack and ruin to the Cimmerian lands, far more so than any inroads attempted by the Aquilonians or Nemedians. For as the saying goes, by the time you see the serpent stirring, it is too late. Stygia had already sent out feelers into the Hyborian lands, the home of their ancient enemy, and there once again founded cults of Set. In these lands they began to foment unrest and rebellion, pitting the poor against the rich, noble against noble, son against the father. By 1100 AA the situation had become quite grim, for so concerned had the nobles and kings been for the expansion of their own power and wealth at any cost, they had built a social tinderbox, onto which the cultists poured rich oil and flaming brands.

Central to and across all boundaries of the civil unrest, civil wars, rebellions, vendettas, and feuds that broke out over this time was the involvement of the sorcerers of the South. They poisoned all wells of knowledge and scholarship and infiltrated all guilds and brotherhoods. Witch-hunters and inquisitors ferreted out many such sorcerers; many of those who were able to flee fled south, to Shem or back to Stygia. Others sought refuge in the Border Kingdoms. Unfortunately, in Aquilonia, the local Inquisitors of the Temple of Mitra saw little difference between the sorcery of the Southern sorcerers of Set, that of various wicked fiend-speaking witches, and the rural, age-old traditions of the priestesses of the old Wiccana tradition. These, too, they scoured from their lands, with many fleeing to the north, to live among the Cimmerians, where they (then) had co-religionists.

At the time the followers of Cimmerian Wiccana and the followers of the Cimmerian Druids were in balance and co-existed with one another; the sudden influx of hundreds of Wiccana priestesses, most of whom had terrible grievances against a male-dominated faith, threw this fine balance askew. This resulted in a war between the Wiccana priestesses and the Druidic priests of Cimmeria, and cast the whole nation of peoples into a bloodbath for generations. As too, at the time, no few cultists, alchemists, magicians, and other practitioners of sorcerous arts fled to the north, swelling the ranks of such in the Border Kingdom, Cimmeria, and Nordheim, a terrible magical war ravaged the whole region for decades.

The North still bears the scars from that time. While it was a many-sided war, eventually in Cimmeria the druids won, casting out or extirpating all other sorcerous powers of any major sort (save for the native Scáith, of course). Of the Wiccana priestesses, many fled into Vanaheim where, under the leadership of the local high priestess Freyja, they formed their own new temple, the Seithr Cult. Others fled to Hyperborea, where they were welcomed into the White Hand. Still others fled to Brythunia or settled deeper into the wilds and hid; many of their descendents can be found today in the Eiglophian Mountains. Of the non-Wiccana/non-Set cultists, especially males, many fled into the Aesir lands and there joined with Wotan, Freyja’s former lover, in his mountain fastness of Yggdrasill in Asgard. Since that time, it has been forbidden for women to practice any magic in Cimmeria, and for any man to practice non-Druidic magic.

The terrible Wizard War, as it is known to the bards of the Cimmerians, did little to engender a love for magic in Cimmerian hearts. Already they had feared and loathed the shadowy sorcery of the Scáith, the dark enchantments of the Dwarfs, and the strange powers of the Pictish shamans. Cimmerians, ever since, have had a magnified loathing and fear of all sorts of magic. They view even their druidic priests with distrust, and many have turned even from the worship of Danu solely to that of Crom, for he promises nothing but struggle in this life and drear existence in the next, and so the grim and melancholy Cimmerians cleave to his simple faith not in hope, but expectation that there is little to be gained in this world or the next… which just goes to show that most Cimmerians miss the point, but Crom isn't the kind of guy to fix their mis-perceptions for them.

Though it took some time, eventually the worst of the cults were routed from Aquilonia, Nemedia, and the other Hyborian lands. Several wars were fought between Stygia and allied Hyborian countries, often led by the crusading priests of Mitra. Stygia, pushed back to the Styx, once again went quiescent. Peace ruled, for a time, allowing populations to grow. Wars started up here and there, most notably in the East, where Turan began gobbling up the debatable lands between its western border and Zamora. The Shemite city-states devolved into ever wider wars. Zingara has been continually in dynastic flux for most of the last century. All sorts of rumblings indicate that, once again, the major kingdoms of the West are readying to play the imperial game.

One such minor move in the game of empires, which had it ended otherwise would have been of little note other than locally, was the Aquilonian move into Cimmeria in 1261 AA with the founding of the settlement of Venarium. Though there had been relative peace between the southern Cimmerians and Aquilonia for some time, and though the Aquilonians had actually signed a treaty with the southern tribes for the lands and the settlement, other Cimmerians of more traditional mindset sent out the red branch, unified scores of otherwise feuding clans, and formed a horde that slaughtered nearly every last man, woman, and child of the settlement. This was the first taste of civilization for a young northern Cimmerian by the name of Conan… and the rest, as they say, is history.

Conan eventually went on to conquer Aquilonia in 1288 AA. 1300 AA coincided with the 6000th year after the Great Cataclysm. Conan I abdicated his throne to his son, Conan II in 1310 AA. Conan II died earlier this year, in 1361 AA, leaving seven (legitimate) sons by three wives. The gazetteer is set at this date…

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

[Cimmeria] The Border Kingdom

My Cimmeria Gazetteer has long been on hold; far too many other things to do right now. But here's one segment that was finished: the Border Kingdom. This realm alone is more than enough for a full campaign...

NOTE: I do not provide levels for the major NPCs listed herein, as various games these days have vastly different scales of level advancement, ranging from level 10 to level 36 each being the greatest, heroic levels. I assign a general rank to the level of accomplishment of the NPC, as follows:

Base: Rank
1: Novice
2: Veteran
3: Heroic
4: Champion
5: Legendary

Simply assign the highest level of accomplishment in your own version to “Legendary” (as in, the best ever) as the high end of the last “band” of potential levels and extrapolate. Thus a system where level 20 is the highest level might turn out as:

Level (Max 20): Rank
1-4: Novice
5-8: Veteran
9-12: Heroic
13-16: Champion
17-20: Legendary

However you adjust and fix the levels of ability is entirely up to you, based on the needs of your campaign. Most peoples of the Hyborian lands are going to be simply normal men and women (level 0); perhaps one in four have levels, and most of these are merely of the Novice rank.

Similarly, I use professions/classes in a broad fashion. Not every system has a barbarian class, or a necromancer class. The appropriate class for an NPC in your campaign should be apparent from the profession/class listed.

The Border Kingdom was, once upon a time, united as a single kingdom known as Phalkaria, ruled by a king in Alkarion. Founded in the waning days of the Hyborian drift by the Golden Falcon tribe, it was one of the few petty kingdoms that survived the expansion of Aquilonia and Nemedia. Like Ophir, it played the two sides against each other, retained its independence, absorbed the other small, petty kingdoms of the region, and became known over time as simply the Border Kingdom.

Thus the Phalkarians, descended from the Hyborians and a strange mix of ancient, semi-civilized local tribes, retained their own unique culture and cults. A civilized realm on the verge of the wilds, Phalkaria was the destination of choice for noble Hyborian exiles of all sorts. Thus, to the unique local culture was added a cosmopolitan layer in the nobles and gentry, for most exiles joined the local nobility, either through purchasing peerage with coin or by carving out their own minor domain on the further borders (usually with the blessing and patronage of the Phalkarian king).

Sadly, the kingdom did not survive the Wizard War, when untold numbers of exiled wizards, witches, and other sorcerers fled the southern lands into the north. The Phalkarian royal house was almost extinguished in the ensuing wars. Shortly thereafter, even as the land was reeling from the disturbances, several Cimmerian, Aesir, and Hyperborean clans invaded the shattered realm, splitting it into its current mix of petty city-states (small towns, really) and barbarian tribal lands. Note that no sub-borders are provided for the three regions, as borders can change on a daily basis. With the further influences of the disparate sorcerers and their followers, and subsequently other exiled noble lords and their warbands added to the mix, the city-states today resemble a hodge-podge of Hyborian and other cultures. Essentially, the towns are a microcosm of the West, interspersed by wide swaths of wilderness, waste, and barbarian tribal lands.

People: The Phalkarian race descends from a mix of various Hyborian tribes and local undifferentiated tribes, these mostly descended from the peoples of pre-Cataclysmic Thule, Zarfhaana, and Valusia; later this core mixed with latter-day Valusian barbarians (of the mixed Valusian/Cimmerian/Zhemri type), still later some Acheronians blood, and most recently Aquilonian, Nemedian, Nordheimr, Hyperborean, and even Cimmerian lines. As such they are a thoroughly hybridized race, though due to social pressures the old Hyborian ways remain the strongest. Their skin can be fair to dusky bronze or even swarthy; hair can range from raven black or dark brown, honey brown and tawny yellow, to strawberry and platinum blonde; and eyes can include blue, gray, hazel, green, or brown.  Height is medium to tall, build is medium to rangy; wealthy indolent types tend to be quite fat. In areas where recent immigrants/invaders have settled, their racial type either has been assimilated with strong remainders or they have remained aloof from the Phalkarians and kept their own phenotypes.

Lifestyle & Society: Phalkarians are culturally Hyborian, though sometimes semi-civilized or even downright barbaric around the edges. This is especially so since the realm fell in the Wizard War, as their culture has not been able to rise above the disunity brought about by that chaotic era. Like Hyborians of Aquilonia and Nemedia, Phalkarians are usually organized in a feudal manner, with a knight or noble lord ruling a manor and the surrounding domain, the master of all within his domain and subservient to and owing fealty (sometimes) to a great lord. In the post-war era, the greater lords rarely rule more than their own town and a few surrounding domains, with scores of petty domains ruled by independent counts, barons, lords, knights, and other self-titled and self-styled nobles splitting up the debatable lands in between the major domains. A warrior on a stout horse could easily cross lands claimed by a half-dozen petty lords in a single day.

The chaos of the region results in grinding poverty and horrific living conditions for the vast majority of the peasantry. Most live in squalor and serfdom on the domains of their noble masters, little better than slaves if not actually slaves in legal fact. Plague, pestilence, and famine are the lot of most who live a nasty, brutish life; if they are lucky, they die naturally, if early, in their beds. Otherwise they might die in one of the numberless petty wars of the noble lords, or be slain out of hand by an angry nobleman, slaughtered in a barbarian raid, taken and sacrificed on the altar of a god or demon, or be kidnapped and eaten alive by one of the various local clans of degenerate men. It is no wonder the noble lords do all they can, outside of enlightened actions, to keep their peasants on their lands, as any who can flee do so, usually to the larger towns, there to live a miserable, if marginally safer life in the slums that have formed in the ruined sections of the old cities still within the town walls.

As in Aquilonia, noble knights wear plate and shield and wield sword, mace, and lance; middle-class sergeants and second-son squires wear chain and shield and carry sword, crossbow, or spear; and lower-class militia are lucky if they have a leather jerkin and a mail coif and usually end up carrying scythes, old bill-hooks, pole-axes and daggers. Adventurers wear whatever they can afford. Unlike the civilized south, in the Border Kingdom, only fools and soon-to-be dead men go about without armor and weapons, even in the more settled and civilized areas. Of course, some noble lords take umbrage at such effrontery, and it might just get the adventurer killed anyway. But that’s the chances one takes in the Border Kingdom.

Settlements & Defenses: Pretty much every settlement has some sort of defenses, or it does not last long. Many smaller villages have only the local keep, tower house, or manor, and thus are built simply and cheaply, such that the loss of the simple hut or cabin can easily be replaced. One-room huts and shacks, or perhaps two-room cottages, made of wooden frames filled with wattle-and-daub with straw thatched roofs, are the most common form of structure. Any chimneys found are old and of stout construction; most have returned to the simple stone hearth, as even when it is overturned it can be reused easily. Buildings in walled towns are much better in construction, though many of these are centuries old and falling down and decrepit. New construction in the towns isn’t much better than that in the villages, though it is usually made of stone taken from the ample ruins elsewhere within the walls of the formerly much larger and grander city. Similarly, old fortifications are usually repaired with stone and brick from other, older buildings rather than repaired with truly new construction, and so the castles of the region are centuries behind in architectural design.

Religion: Once upon a time Phalkaria was united in the worship of Mit-Ra, an offshoot cult of the temple of Mitra. With the savagery of the Wizard War, many lost faith, and the invading cults found a fertile bed in which to plant their philosophical seed. Today most towns and even villages are beholden to one or another cult, some old, some new, some native, some foreign. This exacerbates the continual warfare between domains as many wars take on an air of a crusade against the infidel. Only a portion of each populace is truly zealous, and most common folk and even many nobles could care less, merely going with the motions lest they end up on the altar for the next sacrifice. Zealous guardsmen and acolyte might challenge passers-by as to their faith, but most folk never ask, and never speak of the gods, even in blasphemy.

Flora & Fauna: The northern forests are much like those in Cimmeria; the southern, like those in Bossonia and Nemedia. The Border Kingdom was once clear of monstrous creatures, save in the Great Salt Marsh and upon the borders, but today, long after the Wizard War, it is home to all manners of monstrous creatures. Many lair in ruined towns, villages, and castles; others are found in deep forests and hidden glens, or most commonly, in and on the verge of the Great Salt Marsh. Some are found in the larger towns, as the pets of the cults and noble lords. It is dangerous to slay a rampaging beast in the streets of the towns of the Border Kingdom; for it might be wearing the collar of and be the favored pet of the local potentate, who gave it leave to feast upon the people of his domain as it will!

The map that shows the Western Marches, Northern Wilds, and Great Salt Marsh only shows the major towns and most significant villages, citadels, ruins, and lairs. There are many more small towns, villages, hamlets, castles, towers, and especially ruins and lairs found in the region than are depicted on the map. Lairs of troglodytes depicted are only the largest of that kind; more of that breed can be found elsewhere throughout the region, especially in the Great Salt Marsh.

GREAT SALT MARSH: Also known as the Varakiel Marshes (Nemedia), Siglen Mawr (“Great Bog”, Brythunia), and the Haunted Lands (Phalkaria) the Great Salt Marsh of the Border Kingdom is not a true salt marsh, being hundreds of miles inland from the nearest sea. Rather it is the last remnants of the great Bay of Thule, a large body of water that once separated the ancient kingdom and peninsula of Thule from Valusia. During the Cataclysm the lands under the bay to the west were thrust up to become Cimmeria, the Eiglophian Mountains that were the backbone of Thule were thrust up to increase vastly in area, and the remnants of the salty bay have slowly in-filled with marsh and swamp and bog, as there is no outflow from this lowland region.

The legends that the demon-haunted capital of Acheron, purple-towered Python, can be found in this region are unfounded legends, for the great metropolitan heart of that foul empire stood much further to the south. Here, however, were once found the northern summer retreats of the great lords of the empire, upon the shores and islands of what was then a small inland sea, and thus there are many rich and dangerous ruins to be found amidst the bogs and bracken.

The Great Salt Marsh is home to bandits and primitive bands of troglodytes. The bandits are desperate outcasts from Brythunia, Nemedia, or the rest of the Border Kingdom. Their settlements rarely last long, either sinking into the swamp, dissolving in leadership disputes, or being eaten by the other residents of the swamp, the troglodytes. The trogs are a mix of types, though most are the inbred degenerate descendents of the Acheronians who served the sorcerous masters of the empire. While they have sunk to a level of near inhuman primitivism, some are known to possess strange and powerful sorcerous knowledge.

Criodhar (Lair): These troglodytes are short and thin to the point of emaciation, possessing a purple-black soft wormy skin, four to eight pairs of slimy black eyes, a leech-like maw instead of a mouth and nose, and overly supple skeletal structure. They can swim as fast as they can walk and breathe both water and air. They do not use weapons, instead grappling their prey and biting, latching on and sucking blood until they or their prey are dead. When they feed on enough blood they turn blood red and bloat up to three times their normal girth (though such requires the blood of three or more men). They know of no satiation, and have been known to burst, quite gruesomely, when they feed too much. Otherwise treat Criodhar as goblins.

The Criodhar are the servants (some say children of) Marbhtach Sumaire, the Great Death Leech. This large tribe lives in the half-sunken remnants of an ancient Acheronian arena, surrounded by the ruins of the rest of the Acheronian island town. The arena is also home to giant leeches, some of tremendous size and girth. Crusted gems and jewels of the Acheronians lay strewn about the ruins haphazardly; the Criodhar favor rubies and garnets for their blood-red qualities.

False Python (Ruin): While there are numerous ruins of towers, palaces, villages, and towns found throughout the marsh, the ruins of “False Python” are the greatest in extent, riches, and death. Most of the various troglodyte clans of the marshes have bands living amidst the ruins, along with giant snakes, giant spiders, giant killer bees, many lesser and some greater undead, petty demons, rusting automatons, and, if legends are true, either a sleeping princess or a hibernating lich (the ancient scrolls are uncertain in translation). Recently, a cult of Set worshipers has set up a small shrine in the ruins, as have a cult of Tsathoggua worshipers, exiled schismatics from Belthamquar. Both are following ancient lore that claims that a copy of the Iron Bound Book of Skelos can be found in these ruins.

Laghairt (Lair): Also known as “lizard-men,” the Laghairt are descended from one of the vilest breeding programs of the Acheronian sorcerers. They sought to create a servitor race not unlike the Serpent-Men of ancient lore; to this end they brewed together the essence of men, serpents, and reptiles in their vats. The result was the Laghairt; they are tall, green-scaled, with large serpent/lizard like heads, long serpent/lizard tails, a lizard-like ridge down the back, and clawed hands and feet. The exact mix of man, lizard, and serpent varies from individual to individual. Their heads are a terrible blasphemy against nature; when their jaws are shut, they look like a cross between a lizard and a serpent, complete with serpentine eyes, nostrils, and fore-fangs and crocodilian teeth; when they open their mouths wide, human eyes can be seen nestled in the midst of the red flesh lining of the upper jaws, a small slit nose below, while the back of the throat is actually a human-like, lipless, jawed secondary mouth complete with sharp teeth.

Though the experiment failed, as they turned out to be less than useful as servants, there was a beneficial side effect – the Laghairt possess a gland that, when properly enchanted and consumed, grants the one who eats it the permanent ability to detect magic (a latent ability in Laghairt). The Laghairt are also useful as a sacrifice, granting the celebrant of the sacrifice greater magical bang of the buck (effectively, a Laghairt is worth twice its hit dice in sacrifices). Though they are terrible and inhuman of appearance, most Laghairt just want to be left alone, though this is difficult, as they are gleefully anthropophagus. They are quite naturally afraid of any sort of sorcerers, as they know well their fate should they be caught. Otherwise treat Laghairt as lizard-men.

This Laghairt lair is unremarkable save for the size; it is home to more than 400 Laghairt warriors, with an equal number of females and more than double the total number of men and women in children. The Laghairt are led by a mighty king, LUBACH THE POISONOUS (Laghairt Heroic Barbarian, Poisonous Bite, magical Atlantean +2 war trident). The Laghairt control all of the marshes north of Salmalinde, controlling another half-dozen smaller clans of Laghairt, and are preparing for an invasion of the lands of the “Hairy-Ones,” i.e., the Western Marches and Wild North.

Magagh (Lair): These degenerate beings are squat, broad, and vaguely man-like but with batrachian warty skin, broad toad-like faces, bulging cheeks, bulging watery frog eyes, and a long toad-tongue; fat-bellied and spindly-limbed, save for the thighs made for jumping, with webbed hands and feet. These toad-men are often servants of Tsathoggua, though they usually end up being of little use to him or his cult, as they are fairly stupid and rather cowardly. They attack only from ambush, and only if they outnumber their targets. They are usually found in their lair with giant toads or giant frogs as pets and guards. Otherwise treat Magagh as goblins.

This lair stands amidst the ruins of an old bandit fort mostly sunken into the swamp, but with fern-covered rotting palisade walls and tree-filled square. The blockhouse is converted into a makeshift temple of Tsathoggua, complete with the leader of the clan, GOGHA THE FLENSER (Phalkarian/Magagh Veteran Cleric of Tsathoggua). Gogha answers to the Evil High Priest in Belthamquar. He seeks to put together a crack force to infiltrate the ancient sewerage system of Alkarion, to spy upon and sabotage the efforts of the cult of Mit-Ra. The cleric has a significant horde of emeralds, jade, and other green gemstones in the great bronze cauldron before the icon of Tsathoggua; to be used for bribing other Magagh clans, it is guarded by the formless spawn (green slime) that resides in the cauldron with the stones.

Salmalinde (Ruin): Once an outpost of Atlantis, this ancient ruined city is a tangle of shattered glass, rusting steel, and moldering plastic. On certain nights, when the stars are right, reflections of the ancient city of the Atlanteans can be seen shimmering in the starlight, and the sounds of strange music, growling of alien machines, and the roar of crowds can be heard like whispers in the wind. Remaining for any length of time is dangerous, as a few of the most powerful of the ancient automatons of the Atlanteans still function on the surface, and seek to cleanse the ruins of any invading life-forms. The ancient vaults under the ruins, however, are rich with treasures of the lost past, objects of functional super-science and lost sorceries. However, they are also home to the best preserved and most dangerous of the Atlantean automatons.

Tantagol (Ruin): Once an outpost of the Firbolg, now a series of fallen menhirs, shattered monoliths, and ruined towers amidst slime-bottomed canyons and rugged, barren hills. The caverns beneath the hills are home to clans of Fomorian Giants, who have enslaved several bands of Yemli and Waghabu to their service. The Fomorians are led by KING SEOTAICHE TWO-HEADS (Fomorian Champion Warrior/Wizard, magical +3 two-handed sword wielded one-handed), a great, obese, horribly ugly and mutated monster. The great bulbous head on his shoulders is quite stupid, greedy, and continually drools, while the small head growing out of his chest is quite intelligent, speaks a dozen languages fluently, and is the spell-casting head. He rarely stirs from his golden couch, save to slay those who gainsay him or otherwise offend him. The Fomorians of Tantagol keep many human slaves, males to labor in their mines and females as concubines. The surviving half-breeds of such couplings serve as the slave-masters in the pits and as personal servants and guards of the Fomorians. Treat Fomorian half-breeds as ogres.

Waghabu (Lair): These degenerate men are tall and muscular, covered with matted red fur over everything except the face and the palms of the hands and feet and buttocks. Thought to be descended from a clan of Vanir who invaded the region in the days of Acheron, the Waghabu are one step up the rung from apedom. They have lost use of all forms of tools, including fire, and their language consists of growls, barks, and howls borrowed from lower forms of life. They waylay passers-by, seeking to have them join them for dinner… as the main course, of course, as they are cannibals. Waghabu often keep female humans as concubines, the result of such couplings being slightly more intelligent Waghabu. Otherwise treat them as cavemen.

This Waghabu lair stands amidst the remnants of an ancient Acheronian temple complex dedicated to Set. The Waghabu shaman, a half-breed named URGHU-WHARL (Waghabu/Phalkarian Veteran Shaman) possesses an ancient flute, which one day he played while standing too close to a deep pit in the dungeons of the ruins. The playing of the flute summoned a vast Formless Spawn, a Shoggoth that called itself A’Qhor. Since then Urghu-Wharl has served A’Qhor as a priest of sort, and any who gainsay him are fed to the beast. The Waghabu have taken to raiding nearby settlements in numbers, seeking further sacrifices for their hungry god.

Yemli (Lair): Taller and thinner than men, with disproportionately long arms and legs, green fur, long pointed ears, and glowing crimson eyes. Though they know how to use weapons, they eschew them in favor of claw and bite attacks; they are anthropophagus, often waylaying those lost in the Haunted Lands. They live in the Great Salt Marsh, where they live in numerous small bands, and are believed to be descended from experiments performed by the Acheronians seeking to fuse men and demons. The fact that they are easily charmed and have almost no resistance to magic gives some credence to this view. Yemli are often found in small numbers as servants to sorcerers in the Border Kingdom and nearby Nemedia. Otherwise treat them as hobgoblins.

The Yemli lair in the broken lands is in and under a giant stone tower of utterly ancient construction; in fact, it is effectively a “fossilized castle,” from the utterly ancient and early days of the Serpent-Men. Nothing remains from that unutterably distant era save the walls and ceilings and mysterious scratches in the walls and ceiling that may or may not be early Serpent-Men hieroglyphs. The master of the lair, TCHANGNU BRIGHT-EYES (Khitain Heroic Magician, Carpet of Flying, Wand of Paralysis) seeks to find out if the scratches are truly a language and if there is any eldritch lore hidden therein. The Yemli are fully under his control, and have set up a luxurious penthouse apartment for him at the top of the tower. Their raids into the nearby areas are much more organized and successful under his leadership. He has noticed of late the unusual activity of the Waghabu, and may geas trespassers to find out what is going on among those degenerate men to the north.

NORTHERN WILDS: The Wizard War that rent the kingdom of Phalkaria asunder ended only when the shattered realm was invaded by Cimmerian, Aesir, and Hyperborean clans bent on red ruin, loot, and conquest. At that point anything civil about the wars ended and it became a free-for-all anarchic struggle to survive. In the south the cities and towns, though reduced to towns and villages, survived; in the north, where the barbarians dominated, the land was laid waste, cities and towns razed, and today only small villages of xenophobic Phalkarians or savage barbarians remain amidst the ruins.

Azthamur (Lair): Piscine scales cover their hunched neck-less forms, great gaping fish mouths open wide in the fish-like lump atop the shoulders that passes for a head, lizard-like claws are found at the end of hands and feet. A horrible, terrible blasphemy against nature, the Azthamur were created not by the Acheronians, but by the demon, Azthamur, trapped in the fetid lake by sorcerers of Acheron long millennia ago. For long centuries people avoided the dark, noxious locale, until a band of savages, perhaps proto-Cimmerians, mayhap a band of Hyborians, stumbled into the area fleeing enemies. As they slept, Azthamur’s spirit entered them and transformed them.

And so today their descendents haunt this lake and marsh and the area round, always seeking to capture sacrifices for their dark and loathsome master. They also seek for ways to free him from his duress vile, and so seek to capture a sorcerer who can be forced to do their bidding. They once tried to take Castle Markoth, much to their great loss. But as Count Markoth is no fool, he simply chastened the invaders and sent back their heads to their master in a bucket. Since then the Azthamur concentrate further afield, into Cimmerian lands and to the south.

Commoral (Ruins): Commoral is a ruined city, once the summer city of the royal house of Phalkaria. The city was destroyed and looted during the Wizard War. There is still loot to be found, but sadly, the ruins are overrun by the undead. Mostly skeletons and zombies; they were originally left over after a fierce battle between two necromancers over rulership of the ruins. Both lost, and yet long after their death somehow the skeletons and zombies continue to reproduce themselves within the ruins. Rumors say that the two continue to fight each other in a state of Undeath, replenishing their ranks of undead with those who foolishly seek to loot the ruins. As the (enchanted) Royal Regalia of the Kingdom of Phalkaria were lost in Commoral, and no one has ever claimed to find them, the new King of Alkarion has offered title and lands to any who can return from Commoral with the lost crown, scepter, and orb.

Dwalka (Large Village): Dwalka is home to a tribe of Aesir who settled here after they contributed to the fall of Phalkaria and the ruin of Commoral. The village and tribe is named after the leader who brought them south, Dwalka the Hammer, who has since been deified by his people. The Dwalka wear their golden tresses free, though they braid them when they go to war; they wear chain mail coats, horned helmets, and kite-shaped shields and wield heavy war hammers. THUNOR STRYKR’S-SON (Aesir Veteran Berserker) is the current tribal chief. He is torn on leading a raid on Herklar or fighting the savage demon-worshippers of Fristhia and Thuum; in the latter case, however, he feels he must first recover the Hammer of Dwalka, which was buried with him in his barrow deep in the badlands northwest of the village of Dwalka.

Unknown to the Dwalka, the barrow of their founder was long-ago infiltrated by Count Markoth. There he used his necromancy to raise the body of Dwalka as a terrible draugr, or undead thing. He also set several traps and tossed in a few additional undead for good effect. He did this as he knew eventually the Dwalka would seek out the Dwarf-forged rune-enchanted hammer of their founder; as he could not touch it, he set these protections around it. The deified spirit of Dwalka did nothing, feeling that anyone who wanted to get his hammer should have to go through a bit of a test to see if he was worthy.

Fristhia (Large Village): Fristhia is home to a tribe of barbarians descended from a mix of Aesir and Phalkarians. They are led by the warlock KHELLUS SKOLLI’S-SON (Phalkarian/Aesir Veteran Warlock), a cultist of Kilthin the Hoar-Demon. The Fristhians shave the sides of their heads leaving a long central strip, which is made firm with gel into a tall fan when they go to war. They wear black mail coats; dire-wolf pelt bracers, girdles, and capes; studded-leather kilts; and greaves with demon faces upon the knees. They wield sword and dagger, shield and morning star, or two hand axes. They raid anyone and everyone though naturally give Count Markoth’s castle wide berth when they raid the Cimmerians. The Thuumr are their especial enemy, as the Thuumr worship a competing demon-prince, Ikkorthuum. They save their special tortures, such as slow-death-by-icicle, for these enemies.

Frostfire (Citadel): Frostfire is an ancient Phalkarian tower, built to guard against the things native to the Great Salt Marsh. During the Wizard War it fell to an exiled Aquilonian magician; he delved too deeply into the foundations of the tower, where he found first Acheronian, then Atlantean ruins. In the deep dungeons beneath the tower he discovered a lich resting atop an ancient bier; the lich awakened, and the magician died of fear. Sadly for him, the lich was not truly inimical; the lich, AFGORKON (Atlantean Legendary Magician, Lich) is merely a guardian of ancient treasure and lore.

He eventually took over the entire tower, which is now inhabited by his automatons and conjured monsters. His Frostfire Knights, a type of automaton that appears to be a knight in full field plate armor, go forth now and again and seek out information and bring back certain individuals for questioning. Each bears an Atlantean Laser Sword and wears an Atlantean Rocket Pack. The legend that Afgorkon will grant the use of the legendary Frostfire Blade to a worthy warrior has spread far and wide; many have died in the quest to reach the tower, and none who have entered seeking to gain Afgorkon’s approval have ever returned.

Markoth (Citadel): COUNT VIKTORYN MARKOTH (Phalkarian Champion Anti-Paladin/Heroic Necromancer, Vampire) was a marcher lord of old Phalkaria in the days before the Wizard War, formerly a paladin of Mit-Ra in service to the King of Phalkaria. When the invading sorcerers and barbarians undid all that he had spent a lifetime building, including extirpating his entire family line, he called upon the Powers of Darkness for vengeance, and was transformed into a vampire. Today the Count keeps mostly to himself, and the local barbarian tribes know to keep well away from his castle high in a small spur of mountains. He is served by a small, loyal following of humans, descended from his original servants. He is protected by ranks of lesser undead and potent necromantic spells. His spawn are found in the Western Marches, where they keep an eye on the doings in the much-reduced and fractured Phalkarian heartlands. The Count has a long-term plan to help re-establish the kingdom, but only works from the shadows in order to be the power behind the throne.

Thuum (Large Village): Thuum is home to a tribe of savage barbarians descended from a mix of Aesir and Hyperboreans. They are led by WITCH-QUEEN SYNKKAA NARTTUU (Hyperborean/Aesir Veteran Witch). The blonde and yellow-haired Thuumr men and women shave their heads save for a topknot which is braided and held together with copper, silver, and gold bands to denote their rank. Thuumr warriors wear scale skirts, wide girdles with demon-faced buckles, and wolf and bearskin hides around their shoulders. They favor the use of two-handed axes, two-handed swords, and two-handed mauls. The Thuumr placate Ikkorthuum, a lesser Demon-Prince of Glaciers and Frost. They sacrifice captured foes to him by exposing them in the cold or freezing them alive in troughs of water. Some say the Demon-Prince is in residence, as sometimes living sacrifices are taken into the ever-frost and rime-covered stone temple (the former temple of Mit-Ra) and are never seen again. Winter arrives in early autumn in Thuum, and leaves it very late in the spring; thus the Thuumr must raid far and wide to keep well-fed. Their favorite enemies are the tribesmen of Fristhia, as Ikkorthuum and Kilthin the Hoar-Demon are old enemies.

Virunia: Off the map to the north and east are the tribal lands of the Virunians, a Hyperborean tribe who settled in the region several generations after the Wizard War. They have close ties to the Hyperboreans of Sigtona, beyond Mammutinkallo (the Mammoth Skull Gate), and long-standing feuds with the Hyperboreans of Haloga, beyond Pahkallo (the Death’s Head Gate), as well as the Thuumr and Fristhians.

WESTERN MARCHES: The heartland of the fallen kingdom of Phalkaria, the Western Marches are still semi-civilized, divided among scores of petty kings, dukes, counts, barons, lords, knights, and other self-styled noble rulers. Outside of the domains depicted on the map, which rule most of their hex and portions of neighboring hexes, most hexes in the Western Marches are divided amongst two to eight different petty domains. Some of these are barbarian domains, descended from the invaders from centuries ago, but most are semi-civilized or barbarized Phalkarian domains, complete with a feudal ruler (sometimes a theocrat or sorcerer), his warband and monstrous minions, and many horribly oppressed peasants. Every few years one lord or another gets lucky and conquers a few of his neighbors, but then the new kingdom collapses when he is slain, assassinated, or overthrown. Alliances shift with the wind, and one day’s ally is the next day’s sworn enemy.

Alkarion (Small City): Once the capital of Phalkaria, Alkarion remains the most important settlement of the Border Kingdom, and is largest town in the land. The new ruler, young KING STREPHON III MERDORAMON (Phalkarian Novice Paladin) seeks to re-unite his shattered realm. He hopes that his newly founded order, the Falcon-Knights of Mit-Ra, will be able to be a core of chivalry for the rest of the realm to focus their hopes upon. They cut quite an impressive picture, armed with shining swords and lances and wearing plate complete with falcon-headed or falcon-winged helms. Sadly, the king’s head is filled with ideals of chivalrous battles and knightly quests, rather than realistic expectations of war and strategy. Fortunately, his Captain of the Guard, KOTHYR GOLD-MANE (Dwalka Aesir (apparently) Veteran Barbarian, 18 Strength, 18 Constitution, 18 Dexterity, 18 Charisma, found amidst the rubble of a strange glowing craft after a meteor shower, adopted and raised by the Dwalka) has no little experience in warfare and has earned the king’s respect. The real dangers to the throne are within the city, however, personified by RED RUITHEAN (Phalkarian/Bossonian Heroic Witch, 16 Intelligence, 16 Charisma), the leader of the Cult of Eldrak, a Demon-Prince of Magic.

Belthamquar (Large Town): Belthamquar was conquered by demon-worshiping sorcerers during the Wizard War. It continues to be held by the Chaotic Cult of Tsathoggua, the Toad Demon. GRAND DUKE ITLAM KHOR (Phalkarian Heroic Anti-Paladin, magical +2 Flame Tongue broad sword) may rule the city, but he is ruled by the Evil High Priest of the Temple, TIROUV OMPALLIOS (Phalkarian Heroic Priest of Tsathoggua, five Ioun stones), a saturnine man of perhaps inhuman ancestry. The temple is served by the Magagh, the toad-men of the Great Salt Marsh; they kidnap people from the streets on the nights of the new moon for sacrifice to Tsathoggua. Belthamquar is eternally locked in battle with Elviriom, which for a time was also held by the cult, but the cult was purged by the Cult of Yhoundeh, which now rules that town. Their wars are more along the lines of small raids, but now and again there are actual battles between small armies led by the Anti-Paladins of Tsathoggua in their toad-headed helms and the Ranger-Knights of Yhoundeh wearing antler-topped and elk-head helms.

Caer Sfanol (Citadel): This tower, ancient beyond the knowledge of men, is tall and black, with scores of towers, turrets, and minarets extending from the top, all connected with ramps and covered bridges. Once a wizard hold, today it is the home of the remnants of the Sisterhood of Sekh-Raet, an order of female clergy armigerous in service to the Phalkarian Temple of Mit-Ra. Nearly extirpated during the Wizard War, the last remnants of the Sisterhood fled into the hills of the Border Range.

There they found Caer Sfanol under siege by numerous wizards and their factions, factions who fought among themselves as often with the holders of the tower. Quietly playing each side against the other, all the factions, including the one that held the tower, destroyed each other in a final conflagration of sorcerous powers. The remaining Sisters then moved into the tower, where they discovered the reason behind the investiture of the tower – the native wizard was the guardian of a great and power artifact, the Stone of Sovereign Power, said to have been the stone upon which the Demiurge first alighted when he came to court Mother Earth. The stone thus possesses great generative powers, greater even than the gods themselves, for the gods were born of a union between the Demiurge and Mother Earth.

Since taking the castle, the Sisterhood has become guardians of the Stone while they slowly rebuild their power. Fearing the power in the stone, they do not use it, instead making sure that others do not possess it or use it. The citadel today is home to the order of clergy armigerous, a related order of priestess-nuns, and a small order of enchantresses who study the Stone in order to better understand it and its powers. They are led by MOTHER SUPERIOR MALVINIA (Phalkarian Heroic Priestess of Sekh-Raet); she wishes only to continue as the order has now for centuries, guarding their charge, while some of the younger clergy seek to take an active role in the re-unification of Phalkaria under the new king of Alkarion.

Castle Ymir (Citadel): This castle sits atop the southernmost pass between Cimmeria and the Border Kingdom in the Border Mountains; the other to the northeast being controlled by Unos the Unknown, and such as are further north and east being in barbarian and monster-held Northern Wilds. During the Wizard War the castle was taken by a Hyperborean cryomancer (ice wizard) and his barbarian followers, and has been held by the depraved and debauched descendents of his apprentices since. The current lord of the castle, COUNT KAARLO HIISIIKKEN (Hyperborean Veteran Knight) and his sister/wife, TUONAA HIISIIKKEN (Hyperborean Veteran Cryomancer) continually fight over their plans to conquer local tribes and towns. Tuonaa spends her time with her apprentices maintaining and improving upon the walls and sheets of ice that cover the ancient castle (even in the depths of summer), while Kaarlo spends his time training his knights and small army or going on raids against neighboring towns and tribes.

Chrysala (Citadel): Chrysala is a redoubt and retreat for the priestesses of Wiccana. A former winter palace and retreat for the Phalkarian royal family, the fortress-palace atop a tall, narrow plateau today serves as the seat for the High Priestess of Wiccana, ILLIS SAMANDRA (Phalkarian Heroic Priestess of Wiccana, 18 Charisma). Only priestesses, novices, and their female guards and servants are allowed in the redoubt; male guards and guests are required to remain in a much less palatial fort at the foot of the plateau. The High Priestess would very much like to ally with the new, young king in Alkarion, were he not such a piggish, Mit-Ra worshipping witch-hater. She has ordered her followers to assist the efforts of the king when they can (especially against Chaotic cults), and mitigate the damage he and his crusaders do, should they attack followers of Wiccana. But not all her followers are with the program, and they have begun talk of a schism in the ranks, with ADORLA MYRNIS (Phalkarian Veteran Priestess of Wiccana) leading those who doubt in Illis’ leadership.

Elviriom (Large Town): Elviriom is ruled by a Lawful Cult of Yhoundeh, dedicated to the Elk Goddess of ancient Thule. The secular ruler, PRINCE RHAETOTH HUTHGAR (Phalkarian Veteran Ranger) serves at the will of the High Priest of Yhoundeh, ATHAM WUTHOOL (Phalkarian Heroic Priest of Yhoundeh). Though generally regarded as a savage and wild goddess, the Lawful cult of Yhoundeh sees her as a civilizing influence through the domestication of animals. Shepherds are in high regard in the faith, and hunting is a holy activity, requiring appropriate prayers of thanks to the goddess and to the target of the hunt. The Cult of Tsathoggua is the especial enemy of the cult, not only because it ruled Elviriom before the Yhoundeh, but also since time out of mind. Elviriom is also a competitor with Belthamquar for tolls, as the two towns more or less control the southern passage into Nemedia from the rest of the Border Kingdom, bottling up all the lands between the Great Salt Marsh and the dangerous highlands near the Border Mountains.

Gruthia (Small Town): During the Wizard War Gruthia was invaded by a horde of minor Cimmerian clans. They did not destroy the town entirely, and ended up settling down and intermarrying with the surviving locals. The town today is primitive by other Phalkarian standards, and quite rustic, but it is renowned regionally for its smiths, furriers, and leather-workers as well as for the herds of cattle that walk freely through the streets. After the war, a wandering priest of Anu, the Shemitish god of bulls, strength, and tenacity, ended up settling in the town and converted a great number of the locals; today it is the primary religion followed in the town, though others are not outlawed (save for the cult of Set).

KING OENGUS O’GRUACH (Cimmerian/Phalkarian Heroic Fighter) rules with a light hand. He spends most of his time with his troops patrolling against the depredations of the lords of Castle Ymir; Hyperboreans are not too popular in the town these days. He isn’t taking too seriously the warnings from Thelonia and Thalkaides regarding the dangers presented by the Cult of Set that has recently conquered Herklar; he is more concerned with the rattling of sabers by the King of Alkarion, who views his own title of king as an affront. Fortunately, the High Priest of Anu, TARBHON BRIOSCA (Cimmerian/Phalkarian Heroic Priest of Anu) has an open mind regarding allying with the Cult of Hanuman and the Cult of Ibis against the Cult of Set, and so there have been mixed parties of bull, ape, and ibis-knights seen near Herklar of late.

Herklar (Large Town): Herklar is the largest town north of Alkarion. Found in the heart of a fertile valley, Herklar weathered the Wizard War fairly well. The local count, thereafter a king in his own right, sought only to maintain his own borders, and never set out to try to conquer his neighbors. The people of Herklar knew peace and plenty for generations, though of course, it was a well-guarded peace and plenty. Part of that peace was kept by the Black Lotus, the count’s secret police.

The captain of the secret police, believing it had been his work and the labors of his ancestors that had kept Herklar great, sought a way to usurp the throne from the king. To this end he sought out the assistance of the Cult of Set. They helped him usurp the throne, but the leader of the cult then overthrew the captain, and today the town is openly ruled by the master of the cult of set, EVIL HIGH PRIEST WRATH-AMON (Stygian Champion Cleric of Set). His force of knights, clergy armigerous, and anti-paladins, armed in black plate with serpent-headed helms, shall soon spread far and wide throughout the Western Marches and beyond, seeking out weakness among the neighbors of the new cultic kingdom.

Ravengaard: Ravengaard is an ancient citadel, though whether it was built by the Acheronians, Atlanteans, or another pre-Cataclysmic race is unknown. During the long rule of Phalkaria it was not so much abandoned as guarded-against, as it has a terrible and dark secret at its heart. Beneath the simple and unassuming features of the rough stonework castle is a long, dark tunnel leading deep into the earth. It ends in a tremendous series of vast caverns of unknown extent; within those caverns is another world, a lost world of strange creatures and ancient monsters.

Lit by some unknown and perhaps artificial source, the cavern vault, thousands of feet high, are known to form clouds that rain regularly upon the strange green and purple fronds of alien plants. The caverns are also occupied by monstrous creatures not unlike dinosaurs, though of even stranger and more horrid form, with too many heads, too many legs, strange beaks, alien tentacles, and more unusual limbs. They prey upon the giant insects, giant slugs, giant snails, and slimes, molds, and jellies that are also native to the caverns. All are hunted by the primitive tribes of snake-men that reside in bone-walled villages, one major such village and tribe per cavern.

The hithermost cavern, into which the tunnel from the dungeons of Ravengaard debouches, is home to a terrible and ancient evil, a gargantuan serpent-like thing that lives in a lake at the heart of the cavern. For long ages the savage peoples who lived in Ravengaard (for it was rarely empty), sacrificed goods, gold, and souls to the thing in the lake; ages of treasures are piled upon its bone-strewn shores and hang upon the purple-fronded trees. All such unholy worship ended during the height of Phalkaria; the dungeons were bricked up and the castle was deserted, save for a guardian at a blockhouse nearby to make sure that no one went into the accursed castle. During the Wizard War it was first occupied by a wizard, who delved too deep into the dungeons and discovered the dark world below; then a clan of Cimmerians, who gave the castle its current name “Ravengaard;” and most currently, a large band of sellswords, bandits, and outlaws, led by JHEREK SAMANTAKA (Vendhyan Heroic Fighter/Thief, 16 Charisma).

Jherek is a wanderer from far Vendhya who has slain and stolen his way across the continent. His followers are as mixed a bag of rogues as the Kozaks of Turan, and include men and women of most races of the Hyborian World. While Jherek and his followers are not much for following gods, they have among their lot a shaman from the Black Kingdoms, KODJO THE LAUGHER (Kushite Veteran Shaman, Werehyena), who identified the power at the heart of the castle. Since then they have been sacrificing portions of their loot to Yigigo, for so Kodjo named the beast in the lake, as a true son of Yig, the First Serpent.

Shokkoth (Citadel): Shokkoth is a huge black basalt tower built like a gigantic monolith with small window slits and a single entrance. Ancient records show that the Acheronians discovered it when they conquered this area; apparently the Great Cataclysm and Lesser Cataclysm had little if any effect on it. The living quarters within (room size, ceilings, and stairs) are designed for beings 9’ tall. The Giant-Kings of Acheron assumed it must have been built by their own ancestors, and considered it to be a holy place. The most recent occupant is the scientist, SORAT-SYM (Phalkarian Champion Scientist, Cybernetic Arm, Targeting Reticule, Laser Pistol, and Acid Rifle). Sorat-Sym, a great adventurer, has pieced together many lost bits of super-science of Atlantis, Valusia, and other pre-Cataclysmic civilizations.

His notable works include the automatons that people and protect his tower; the radium lights in halls and rooms; and the many strange and unique machines weapons that his automatons, apprentices, and retainers wield. His grand design is the Acid Vortex Cannon atop the tower; it can hit any target within a mile of the tower, dealing 10d6 points of damage to the target, all those around the target suffering 2d6 points of acid damage less per 10’ band in distance from the original target (8d6 within 10’, 6d6 within 20’, 4d6 within 30’, and 2d6 within 40’). The cannon can only fire once every two minutes. He has heard of many such artifacts found in the Tower of Frostfire and in the ruins of Salmalinde, and seeks adventurers who will be willing to accompany an apprentice to find and recover these for him.

Thalkaides (Small Town): This town fell under the domination of the Ibis cult, exiled schismatics from Nemedia, during the Wizard War. This Lawful and usually Good cult is even more zealously opposed to the cult of Set. The town is a direct theocracy, with HIGH PRIESTESS TEHUTI-AMAUNET (Phalkarian/Nemedian Heroic Priestess of Ibis, Rod of Smiting) also the titular queen of Thalkaides. The cult only has priestesses; this was the schism that drove the cult from Nemedia, where the cult of Ibis today is male-only. The matriarchal tendencies passed on to the entire society of the town, and all positions of power are held by women; daughters are favored in inheritance and succession, and so forth. The northern cult also desired a return to the Old Ways, and so the liturgical tongue is Old Stygian, while the temple and many newer constructions in Thalkaides are of an affected Stygian or Shemitish style.

The famous Ibis Knights are also all women, and consist of knights, clergy armigerous, and paladins. Many of these are not pleased with the current alliance-of-convenience the High Priestess has arranged with the cults of Anu and Hanuman, but once the level of threat has been determined, grumbling should be minimal. Meanwhile, a small cult of Set, hearkening unto the “groans” of the oppressed males of the town, has gained some foothold amongst the sons of nobles who wish that the matriarchal structure of Thalkaides be undone, and that they once again be placed supreme to their sisters in inheritance and power.

Thelonia (Small Town): Like so many Phalkarian towns, Thelonia fell into the hands of a foreign cult, in this case the cult of Hanuman, a cult of mysterious Eastern origins. The Ape-Cult reveres the Ape-God Hanuman, who provides wisdom, knowledge, and eldritch lore. His priests are generally of earthy sort, though this particular cult favors a more ascetic style, strenuously maintained by the High Priest, RAFIK THE IMMORTAL (Zamboulan Champion Priest/Monk, Immortal, Wereape). As a Lawful if Evil cult, the temple rules with a light hand, provided the government under Lord Mayor TARCHON PEPHREDO (Phalkarian Veteran Thief) runs efficiently. They desire a peaceful, quiet town; troublemakers are sacrificed to the apes kept in the temple; there are many different and unusual apes resident in the temple and extensive subterranean lair. The forests to the west are also home to a number of ape bands beholden to the temple and town. While the monks like cooperating with the followers of Ibis and Anu no more than the followers of Ibis and Anu like cooperating with them, the last thing they want is interference again from the cult of Set, whose influence they fled long ago in Zamboula. The Ape-Knights of Hanuman, knights and clergy armigerous in service to the temple, are merely the public face of the temple’s involvement; numerous monks have already infiltrated Herklar to scout out developments in the town.

Thormond (Citadel): This old Phalkarian citadel is held by an order of semi-barbaric warriors descended from mixed Aesir and Phalkarian warbands. They have held the citadel since the fall of Phalkaria, when the Aesir warband of Thorkel Thrain’s-son and the last remaining army of Phalkaria under General Raimond Tavey united to fight a particularly potent sorcerer and his minions. Thorkel, a sorcerer of no mean abilities, and the magicians under the General’s command together were able to engage and trap the enemy sorcerer, while the Aesir warriors and the remnants of the Phalkarian army extirpated the sorcerer’s followers. Sadly, both leaders died in the struggle, as did many of their followers, but enough survived to hold the citadel and maintain their charge; for Thorkel and his allies were only able to trap the sorcerer, and the remaining warriors and soldiers were needed to protect the trapped sorcerer from being released by any reinforcements. They settled in, captured such territory as was needed for their maintenance, and since then have continued what they consider to be a holy vigil; the Aesir were converted to the worship of Mit-Ra, and today keep their own separate temple and hierarchy from that in Alkarion.

Buried deep in the seven-level dungeon beneath Castle Thormond is a hidden vault, trapped with many magical and normal traps, and guarded by conjured monsters and bound demons. Within the vault a crystal ball floats above a small rune-covered pedestal. Within the crystal ball, trapped by Thorkel’s spells though quite aware and angry, is the ancient lich, THULSA DOOM (Legendary+ Necromancer, Lich) [NOTE: This is the original Thulsa Doom from the pre-Cataclysmic era, not the one from the movies; the events in the movies did not occur in this Hyborian world, nor did the encounters between Conan and Thulsa Doom as outlined in the Marvel comics.] The current lord of the castle, GENERAL THORGRIM TAVEY (Aesir/Phalkarian Heroic Paladin) seeks only to continue his custodianship of the lich and defense of the lands needful for the maintenance of the citadel.

Unos (Citadel): This grand castle of Phalkarian construction once guarded the northwestern border against Cimmerian incursion. Today it is held by UNOS RECODRO (Techno-Demon, Heroic Fighter/Magician), a most unique being. Summoned by the sorcerer who had captured the castle during the Wizard War, the summoner attempted to combine his own black magic with some ancient Atlantean technology, a powerful war-automaton, he had discovered in the hitherto unknown depths of the dungeons beneath the castle. The result was Unos, a demon spirit fused with the war-automaton. Its first act was to kill its summoner; fortunately for the world, the demon was then trapped by the remnants of the programming of the war-automaton, which was primarily a defensive machine, not offensive. And since then Unos has been stuck in its castle, defending it against any who come near, but unable to leave and rain death and destruction upon the rest of the world.

Unos primarily operates through one of the many subsidiary automatons it has access to, for there were whole warehouses and storerooms of additional such machines found in the deep dungeons beneath the castle. These are mostly minor security, service, and maintenance-type automatons, though the security automatons are bulked up with laser swords and radium rifles. These patrol an area around the castle no further than 12.43 miles. Unos himself never leaves the command center, deep beneath the castle, for he is unable to do so, as during the long millennia the automaton remained there, it fused with the command module. This is fortunate indeed, as the unit that the demon inhabits is quite massive and heavily armed and armored, an Atlantean Death Machine. The name Unos is spelled out in archaic Atlantean runes upon its chest, and though much is lost to ages of rust and verdigris, were it able to be read, it would read “United Nations Organization for Science: Regional Defense Command Droid.”

Unos is unaware of the scientist Sorat-Sym in Shokkoth to the west; similarly, Sorat-Sym is unaware of Unos, as no living being has passed through the territory of Unos and survived in several hundred years (it is considered a land accursed, ruled by a most xenophobic wizard named Unos, of which nothing is known). However, would either ever hear of the other, it would be a match made in Hell, as Sorat-Sym is more than skilled enough to separate Unos from the command module and alter his program.

Zoqquanor (Citadel): Zoqquanor is a relatively new citadel in the region; built in a single night by demons summoned by its dread lord, VASZGHUL OLCHUK (Zamorian/Demon Heroic Magician, Staff of the Magus), the tower has stood for only a fortnight. Some time ago Vaszghul discovered hints as to the existence of the Stone of Sovereignty, and after consulting the Iron Bound Book of Skelos and other infernal sources, discovered its whereabouts, guarded in Caer Sfanol by the Sisterhood of Sekh-Raet. He has built the tower as a base from which to study their defenses and abilities, for he is nothing if not careful. The local lords, robber barons, and barbaric tribesmen have yet to test his defenses, as they are unsure exactly what has appeared on their borders. While he will not appreciate the delay in his studies, he is ready for such incursions, having filled his tower and the dungeons below with conjured monsters and bound demons, devious traps and well-paid henchmen. Reasonable adventurers may well be hired to his cause, or if they are unreasonable, slain and animated to join his cause anyway. He will leave most such details to his lieutenant, FAZIL THE LION (Turanian Veteran Cleric of Erlik), the leader of his mercenary guards, the bulk of which are renegade Turanians like Fazil. Fazil rides a griffon, charmed and bound to him by Vaszghul, while four of his best men ride similarly bound and charmed hippogriffs.