Tales abound of the staunch and heroic mountain dwarves, and of the vile schemes of the shadowy deep dwarves. But of the hill dwarves, there seems to be little to tell. The most humble of the dwarven tribes, civilizations, or subraces, they seem to fit seamlessly into human and halfling society.
Those that look, however, will find that there are some things to tell after all.
This first part will detail the Hill Dwarves of the Fenglennarry Highlands as well as the Highlands themselves. The second part will detail the town of Trobal’brae as well as mention locations near the highlands, like the northern taiga.
Trobal’brae is a town for use in your campaign, centered on a Hill Dwarf society. My goal with the town and it’s surroundings is to be easily slipped into a campaign, or plopped down somewhere in a hexcrawl. While not containing any sort of complete adventures, it will provide you with a good amount of adventure seeds and NPCs to get your own ball rolling.
The idea for this setting module actually comes from a campaign that I am a part of that my group plays off and on, in which all of the PCs are Dwarven Kings. It was an ‘epic’ level campaign, and my particular King was actually a bard. Sort of the odd man out, his kingdom was a small highland region of hill dwarves. I’ve enjoyed playing him, so in a way this is sort of an ode to that character. I sort of just lifted the kingdom out of our home world (Taern) and detailed it more thoroughly, so that you might use it.
(As an aside, I was recently invited on the podcast Warmachine V. Warhorse to discuss dark fairy tales and to insult the hosts. It’s a good podcast featuring comparative reviews of movies. The episode I was in (the only important one) can be found here.)
The Hill Dwarves of Trobal’brae and the Fenglennary Highlands
A highland region of hill dwarfs for use in your role playing campaign.
Trobal’brae is a town that lies in the foothills of nearby mountains, an area of highland that is grassy, rocky, and in some places mossy, called the Fenglennarry Highlands. This area is sparsely populated, with seemingly little of note going on to deserve the attentions of the neighboring larger kingdoms. The soil is thin, but the grass abundant enough to support flocks of the strange stunted black-nosed horned sheep, called Fenglen Sheep. Some agriculture also exists, though it is for simple and hardy crop.
The peoples that call this place home are hill dwarves; those humble dwarves that call neither mountain or cave home. Rather than grand chambers of stone, lit by huge fires, it is a place of small fields, mossy dwellings, and simple lives. To a fault the hill dwarf people are practical. They spend their days tilling the thin soil, or shepherding their horned, black nosed, and wiry-haired highland sheep. They also do mining, though rather than seeking gold and jewels they look for iron, tin, copper and other common metals that have use in their various crafts.
Trobal’brae itself is a fairly large town, with the other hill dwarf villages near the area being little more than huddles of stone houses belonging to a family. It is the center of highland trade and commerce, and the residence of their King. It’s a humble town, surrounded by a low stacked-stone wall that has fallen over in places. The buildings and houses are also low, made of stone with straw and mud roofs. Some of the nicer houses are stone and wood, though none rise higher than a single story. Indeed, many of these squat houses have basements of one or two levels, with the dwarves preferring to dig down then build up.
The King of this humble kingdom is named Gwil Goldensong, known as the Traveling Crown, and we will speak more of him later.
There are some reasons why an adventurer would come here. Hill Dwarf craftsmanship for instance, though not as complex as their Mountain Dwarf cousins, is still remarkably masterful. To the north of the Fenglennary Highlands also lies a vast track of hills and taiga forests in which lie the ruins of some forgotten civilization. The bone white stone of these broken places, the barrows and the skeletons of cities, attract adventurers seeking riches. The dwarves, however, are a superstitious people and consider the place cursed and fey-haunted, and avoid it.
At first glance, a non-dwarf would find little difference between a hill dwarf and a mountain dwarf. Looking closely, however, will reveal that in general Hill Dwarves are paler of skin. Their hair and beards also tend to be fairer, ranging from deep red to coppery blonde. They are usually of similar build, though perhaps slightly taller.
Attitudes and mannerisms can also seem similar to their mountain cousins. They can be griff, speak plainly, and appreciate when others are the same way. They appreciate arts that mountain dwarves put less stock in, however, like poetry and song. They also detest the sort of complex politics that permeate mountain dwarf cities. They are lovers of physical activities, especially brawling and wrestling, and love competitions dedicated to these sorts of things. They are a little quicker of temper than mountain dwarves, though also a little more forgiving in the way of grudges.
Style and dress is humble, though they do have a love for clever designs. The women usually braid their hair in many different ways, as do the men, who also keep their beards braided. Facial hair seems to be very important to Hill Dwarves, and they will look askance at a male, even one from another race, who shaves clean. Tattoos are fairly common among their warrior folk, usually swirling designs that they believe provide them with protection or blessings. They usually prefer copper jewelry, and gemstones are very rare among them.
They live in very family based societies, with ‘villages’ being little more than huddles of homes belonging to one family name. The oldest member of the family is considered the leader, until he/she steps down to enjoy a retirement anyway. They will explore a wide range of crafts to support the family, though the children tend to take to the craft of their parents. Younger adults tend to travel to other holds, kingdoms, or towns to try and hone their chosen vocation, or to seek a life more exciting than one on the highlands.
Leadership is neither patriarchal or matriarchal; it is entirely one of seniority. When the current leader of a family, village, town, or even the whole kingdom dies (or steps down), the next oldest member of that person’s clan or family takes their place. Men and women decide which of their families to join when marrying; this is usually part of a negotiation process between families who will pay in “gifts” to another family to get a particularly skilled bride or groom to take their name.
Bardic tradition is very strong among these Hill Dwarves, and celebrated. Bards are given high honor, and usually seated to the right of the host during a feast or celebration. They are the lorekeepers of the Fenglennary dwarves, keeping alive an oral tradition that extends back into the mists of a mythical time. Bards travel frequently among the holds, as well as abroad, though they are usually less honored outside of their highland home.
The warrior arts are also an honorable vocation, and Hill Dwarves will often join other military organizations to educate themselves in the ways of battle. They are very often mercenaries for neighboring kingdoms. It is common among these Hill Dwarves to enjoy the fight itself, laughing and roaring with equal measure. Tactics and warcraft, however, isn’t usually something given much thought, and the kingdom has no standing army or generals of any sort. Families organize for battle themselves, and they tend to fight in a loose rabble. Occasionally a warlord will rise in prestige among them, however, usually from the bardic tradition.
The crafts of the Hill Dwarves are varied. Many of them are miners of metals such as copper and iron, though tin is highly sought after for it’s ease of shaping. Shepherding is another common vocation, and the hills are redolent with the short and hairy horned sheep of the highlands being lead by a solitary dwarf with a short crook. Agriculture is simple and hard, focusing usually on tubers and small herbs.
Magic is less common among them, though not disliked. Their bards are generally the only practitioners, though occasionally a wizard or sorcerer will pop up among them. They do find pleasure in seeing magic at work, however, due to their respect of the fey. They enjoy flashy displays of magic especially, and traveling magicians will often find themselves hired for work in entertainment.
Perhaps the one thing that separates them more than anything else from their cousins is their friendliness towards the fey and elves. Being a superstitious people, their traditions are linked heavily with the fey-realm and it’s effects on their land and in their lives. Any bit of trouble is often blamed on mischevious brownies or boggarts, and holy or very ancient places are said to be fey-haunted. They leave faerie-rings alone, except for perhaps an offering of copper jewelry or dishes of sheep’s milk. They see Elves and Gnomes as pretty much fey and treat them with great respect, often going out of their way to trade with travelers of these races, believing what they possess to be fey-charmed.
(Note: this section is optional, and assumes the use of the base D&D deities. Change as you see fit for your campaign!) In the Fenglennary Highlands, religion is also different than among the mountain dwarves. Though worship of Moradin is common, many of the families feel a disconnect with the traditional dwarven after the schisms millennia past that separated the dwarves into the three groups and caused the Hill Dwarf diaspora. Avandra is actually the most common deity worshipped, presumably due to the nomadic nature of their ancestor tribes. Many families, however, will keep shrines or statuettes of both of their holy symbols. Clerics to Avandra are uncommon; their temples are kept by simple priests who do not train in arms. Bards are also seen to be agents of the Goddess in their own way. There is a large stone temple to Moradin in Trolbal’Brae, founded by a traveling cleric mountain dwarf, and it has an order of martial clerics there.
The Fenglennary Highlands
The Highlands lie in the foothills of a vast mountain range (or wherever you want to put it, really), and stretch for miles. North of the highlands is a colder taiga region of empty plains and coniferous forests. The highlands are a rocky, grassy, and hilly area with many variable elevations. It has harsh winters and mild summers, and like the taiga to the north might seem an empty land to a curious traveler.
The region is peppered with small holds and villages, usually centered on a single family. There are a couple to a few actual towns where the dwarven families will mingle, and the largest of these is Trobal’Brae, which also serves as their capital.
There is said to be a lot of fey activity in the area, and travelers at night often see small glowing lights in the distance. Fairy rings, mushrooms arranged in an oddly symmetrical circle, are common as are fairy mounds. The hill dwarves consider these things sacred, or at least are smart enough not to bother them beyond offerings. There is a common tale of music being heard at dusk when the wind blows, or the sound of a hunting horn during twilight, which the dwarves believe to be a fey prince calling a hunt.
Game on the highlands usually consists of the occasional deer or elk wandering down from the forests, as well as boar. Wildcats are rare but not uncommon. What rivers and bogs they have are pretty good for fishing, and it is a common and loved pastime.
The occasional danger does come to the highlands, usually down from the mountains. Raiding parties of goblins or kobolds are the most common threat, though the occasional ogre can also be an issue. Other, greater, dangers lie north, in the taiga region, but such things usually do not come south.
Locations of note in the Fenglennary Highlands
- Trobal’Brae: The capitol town/city and the seat of King Gwil Goldensong, detailed in the second part of this blog series.
- The Sheeps Sleep: An inn of note due to it being the first on the road into the highlands for many travelers. It is run by the Caoron family, famous for their large flock of highland sheep. Matriarch Hedlem leads the family, and the Inn. She is an older lady who loves to joke with, and play pranks on, her customers.
- The Mounds of Venglass: In the northwestern region of the highlands, an unpopulated and empty area, lie a circle of hills or mounds, in the center of which is an ancient stone well. This region is said to be extremely haunted by the fey folk, and the well is said to be a fairy door. The hill dwarves usually try to steer travelers clear of this area, or simply do not mention it to the overly curious.
- The White: The White is what the hill dwarves call the largest river of the region. It flows from the north, from some source north of the taiga, through the highlands and then eastward, where the mouth of it lies in some faraway kingdom. It is a huge source of fish, and also feeds into various small bogs along the way. Trobal’Brae was founded on the river, and is cut into two parts by it.
- Glemner’s Stand: Glenmer’s Stand is a valley that leads into the taiga region. It is named after the greatest hill dwarf cheiftan of old, and ancestor of it’s kings. Glemner Duanore had united the nomadic tribes against an invasion from the north during ancient times. The civilization that used to reside to the north is said to be of men who had worshipped demons or dark gods and kept slaves. They had fallen into decline, or so says Hill Dwarf mythology, after the dwarves had broken the invasion. Today a statue of the dwarven chieftan, sitting upon the back of a bear, sits on a hill facing to the north.
- Ivystone Tower: Ivystone tower is a very old tower in the eastern region of the highlands, said to have been a watchtower from ancient times. Today a wizard has taken up residence, named Manthris. He keeps to himself, beyond trading with the locals. He is said to have paid a large sum to the local dwarven family for the tower’s use, and is spoken of in much gossip and rumor.
To be continued…
Thanks for reading! Next time we will cover Trobal’Brae and a little bit of the taiga. Feel free to chime in and give feedback, or even ideas!