Here it is! The third and final part of this setting module about Hill Dwarves. I hope I’ve given you something to work with, maybe helping you make Hill Dwarves a little more than the boring cousins of Mountain Dwarves.
This section will detail the Northern Taiga, that wild land north of the Fenglennary Highlands. The focus of this post will be adventure ideas and lore. Please enjoy!
(Snowy Forest – Andreas Achenbach)
The Northern Taiga
North of the Fenglennary Highlands
The forests and moors of the Northern Taiga are almost perpetually shrouded in mists or light rains. The region could be considered a temperate rain forest in this regard. In the winter time, it is unbearably cold and snowy. Even in the summertime the sky is gray and the land cool. The trees of this land are mostly coniferous evergreens, larches, spruces, and birches. Where the land isn’t covered in dark wet forests, it is dark green rolling hill land, dotted with the ruins and barrows of a lost people.
A once great civilization were the rulers of this land, with their reach extending far into the south. The names and history of this race of men are long-lost to the shadows of time, and all that is left are the white stone ruins of their once great cities, sticking up from the green hills or hidden between the dark trees like dry white bones. These ruins seem almost to glow in the aura of the moon at night, piercing the mists as if they were ethereal spirits of past places.
It is a large land, and an empty seeming one. Flora is plentiful, though fauna is a bit scarce. There is game in the form of elk and boar, but few birds call this place home. What birds there are is usually of the hawk and eagle variety, or at night of the owl family. The many rivers of this land do provide good fishing, usually of river trout. One of these rivers bends southward, becoming The White in the Fenglennarry Highlands.
The Hill Dwarves consider it a haunted land, hexed by dark fey spirits and the ghosts of the men who called it home. In their oral legends, the men who lived here were demon worshippers, calling up monsters from dark places underground or from beyond the sky. They also kept slaves, many of which were the nomadic precursors of the Hill Dwarves themselves. They fell due to their own hubris, the catalyst being a defiant stand by the old hill dwarf king Glenmer Duanore and his united tribes. Even to this day they avoid it, and shake their head at the enthusiastic adventurers that go through the highlands on their way there.
The Dangers of the Northern Taiga
The Northern Taiga’s reputation isn’t simply the result of dwarven tavern tales. It is a land cloaked in darkness, both figuratively and literally. The dangers here are plentiful, and the most common or notable ones are listed here:
- Enchantments: The forests, rivers, bogs, and moors are mist cloaked and moon veiled at night, giving the impression of deep enchantments. Sometimes, this is actually true. More than one adventurer has bent to drink at a stream, and never rise again, locked in perpetual sleep until they waste away to nothing. Such enchantments are said to be the curse of the old race of men, or to be the malevolent “pranks” of dark and evil fey creatures.
- Beasts: Some of the beasts of these huge and dark forests harken back to a time before history, when nature was a true power of the world. Bears and wolves, even badgers and foxes, of great size and strength hunt in the paths and clearings. Even Elk twice the size of a highland deer dance between the trees.
- Fey Powers: Such a dark and magical land, with such a rich history, attract the darkest of fey, who feed upon the magics here and take the forests, caves, and moors as their homes. Hags haunt the riverways, will o’the wisps flit over the ponds and bogs, and trolls wander under the trees, always looking for their next meal. Not all fey powers here are evil, however, and snowy glades and crystal ponds may host powerful fey spirits that will communicate with worthy souls.
- The Haunted Ruins: The white ruins of the old race of men are scattered about the land, the only record in the annals of history of this now lost people. They are not entirely still, however. The spirits of these men walk there still, as skeletal remains patrolling hallways that no longer exist, as ghosts that shriek in envy at the warm blood of the living. And worse of all, in the barrows of heroes and kings, await the dreaded wights and liches.
- The Ice Men: Even beyond the taiga the land extends on into a snowy waste of tundra and ice. Here the rough and barbaric Ice Men live, surviving on the whales and seals of the icy oceans, or going south into the Taiga for game. Some say they are the degenerate survivors of the once great race of men. Contact with them is usually violent, for they have a severe distrust of any outsider, believing everyone but themselves to be evil spirits, trying to destroy their totemic gods. They don’t spend much time in the Taiga, fearing it much like the dwarves do.
- Brigands: Lastly, there are many who seek their fortunes in the forests and ruins, and not just a few of them would seek their fortune preying on other travelers as well as the bones of a bygone civilization.
Locations of Note
There are some places of particular note, that adventurers and fortune seekers might be keen to explore. Most of these places, however, are sure to be dangerous to even the most worthy of combatants.
- The Purple Barrows: The hills and moors of the taiga host many barrows; tombs dug into the ground or into the sides of the hills that house the remains of great heroes, kings, and wizards of the old race of men. One such barrow, the Purple Barrow, is particularly known. Partly because the grass that grows on the hills of this ruined site is a strange violet color, that seems to get more vibrant under the light of the moon. It is also infamous, however, due to the dangerous denizens that haunt its earthen halls. Wights, wielding swords aflame with purple fire, and ghosts that shriek and cast power words that seem gibberish upon the explorers that come seeking its wealth. The entire complex is ten or so different barrows, but those who have survived the area have done so by leaving quickly, and much of it is considered unexplored. One particular wight, called Green Eyes due to the glowing green light within the sockets of his skull, is said to wield a two-handed sword that can cleave stone, is said to be the remains of the last king of the old race, cursed to endure unlife due to the demonic pacts he made while alive.
- The Moonshift Glade: In the deep of the dark forests are many glades, small islands of grassy ground hidden between the trees. One such glade, dipping deep into the earth with a creek running through its middle, is famous because of the strange statue that sits at its lowest point. The statue is a of a woman who looks slightly elven, wearing flowing robes and holding aloft a talisman or amulet on a chain, as if to ward something away. The curiosity grows deeper at night, when the moon is at its highest point and shimmers down into the glade, alighting the amulet. Moonfire springs from it, and alighting the ground, a stairwell appears on the dewy ground near the creek, going deep into the earth. None that have ventured down have returned, and only the tales of those who remained behind have brought the glade into local legends. Many speculate as to the purpose and history of the place, but none really know. Powerful fey magic is the only consensus.
- Keep of the Ogre-Knight: The White, the river that runs through the Fenglennarry Highlands, flows from the north of the taiga, from some unknown wellspring in the snowy mountains at the end of the world. That river is one of many in the taiga, and where it splits off from an even larger river sits a large stone keep of ancient origin. The keep has three towers of varying height, and for the most part has remained un-ruined by time, though vines and moss cover the dark stone. Here, it is said that a giant of a knight, wearing green armor with a huge horned full helmet, sits in the great hall, brooding on a wooden throne, while skeletons of knights and servants eternally hold a feast in front of him. Leaning on the side of the throne is a huge sword, larger than any great sword wielded by man. Why does the great knight brood? Why does his ancient host still feast to this day?
- Nikolakus, the Ruined City: Perhaps the only popularly known inscription or writing from the race of men who ruled this region before their mysterious fall says, in ancient draconic, “Nikolakus, the city of beauty”. This epitaph is inscribed into the ruined white stone arch that marks where the main gate would be to the city, on the edge of the forest and next to a huge lake. The city, like much of the ruins found in the taiga, is almost entirely of the elegant white stone architecture, and even in its advanced ruined state the beauty it must have held still lingers, though like a shadow. This city is the largest complex of ruins in the whole region, and it’s walls divide it into multiple sections. The city even extends out into the lake with stone harbors and towers that stick from the water like white teeth. The whole place is said to glow opalescent in the light of the moon, a ghost of a once great city, no empty… save for the spirits and remains of the fallen.
- The Gate at the Edge of the World: The north border of the taiga is a huge line of the largest mountains ever seen by many in the region. Even from Glenmer’s stand in the highlands to the south these mountains can be seen, huge peaked temples of snow and ice, bordering the world. At one point along the north border lies a massive gate of stone, pillared by two huge statues, one of a man, and the other of a woman. They stand without armor, weapon, or even clothing, supporting the impossibly large arch of the gate. No door blocks the gate, nor bars. It stands as a yawning mouth into the dark pass that leads into the mountains, into the edge of the world. From here the Ice Men come, riding north on their great white spirit bears or sleds, wielding bone tipped spears. The number of people from the known world who have passed this gate, and returned, can be counted on one hand.
Role Playing the Highlands and the Northern Taiga
(Warwick Goble, from the Fairy Book)
This concludes this series on the Fenglennary Highlands, it’s Hill Dwarf citizens, and the region north where adventurers dare to tread. The whole of the land here is meant to be drenched in the history of people that reach back into the mythical ages. Empty lands with gray skies hosting the stone ruins, tombs, and last remnants of a once great people. Fey spirits haunting the edge of the night, or giving their boons to those they see as blessed by fate. While role-playing this region and its people you should keep in mind that the mystery of magic is at the edge of everything. The silent respect and wonder the Hill Dwarves have toward the fey realm and its spirits is a constant part of their everyday life, and should go a long way in setting the proper mood of the highlands.
Thanks for reading! Feedback is both welcome, and actively solicited!