Rise of The Rune Lords
Varisia, Cradle of Legends
Dotted with the monolithic relics of of an empire long since crumbled, Varisia is a rough but majestic land, it’s misty forests and rolling plains bordered by sharp peaks and bountiful seas. It’s people, recently released from colonialism, are hardy frontier folk and new-money nobles, all eager to carve out names for themselves from Varisia’s stern landscape. Yet beyond their village borders, beasts and giants unused to civilization’s encroachment stalk the hills and woods, making short work of both the unwary and the bold.Abken
The town of Abken was founded on a belief, that given the right blend of people, a town might work as a single family, with no individual better than any other. Originally composed of just a few families from the Korvosan underclass, this simple farming commune grew slowly, with new members admitted only through marriage or majority vote. Although friendly to strangers, the now sizable village remains insular and tight-lipped about it’s internal processes, and the large log palisade around the primary compound protects it’s privacy. Outsiders causing trouble can expect to be subdued in short order, as every man, woman and child is quick to raise arms in defense of his or her “family”.
While many forests in Varisia bear dark reputations, Ashwood’s is legendary. Everyone within a hundred miles claims to have a relative or friend-of-a-friend who personally encountered a ghost, werewolf, or other spook within the the wood’s brooding borders. Yet while locals might boast excitedly and exchange tales by day, at night they bar their doors and pile firewood high. The Church of Erastil takes these stories particularly seriously, and worshipers of Old Deareye are frequently seen patrolling the dells and towns along the forest’s ragged edge, making sure the dark creatures within it’s borders stay there.
Baslwief is one of the primary mining townsin Korvosan region; it’s residents pry iron, copper, and rarer metals from the foothills of the Fenwall mountains and ship them downriver. In addition to human prospectors, the town boasts a large population of halflings, who find the city’s frontier aesthetic much to their liking.
Here the shores of Lake Syrantula rise up from the water in a great overhanging cliff of stone. Covering the escarpment is an ancient and crumbling community, it’s caves drilled back into the rock to form a cozy, interconnected warren of ladders and ropes. Although the town is currently inhabited primarily by fisherman and farmers, it’s original architects are rumored to have been a now-extinct tribe of harpies.
The site of a bloody engagement between invading Chelish forces and desperate Shoanti barbarians, Bloodsworn Vale was a primary trade route between Cheliax and it’s Varisian colonies. It fell into disuse after the empire’s collapse. As a few Varisian port cities grow increasingly wealthy from southern trade, many landlocked towns have been clamoring for the pass to be reopened.
Originally settled by Chelaxians out of Korvosa, and once the northernmost Chelish holding in Varisia, this fortress was perfectly situated to defend against and facilitate trade with the harsh warriors from the lands of the Linnorm Kings. Despite the constant threat of Nolander barbarians, the dragon-helmed militia manning the fort’s eponymous curtain walls proved more than capable of rebuffing attacks. Twenty years ago however, all communication with the fortress suddenly ceased. Investigations revealed an empty citadel, devoid of all evidence of attack or disaster. Although most blame the Nolanders, the complete absence of bodies and the pristine shape of the empty ships bobbing in the harbor speak toward a more sinister Calamity.
The Calphiak Mountains are the youngest range in Varisia, dating back a mere 10,000 years to the cataclysmic end of the Thassilonian Empire. Today, the mountains are renowned for their high concentration of Thassilonian artifacts, most famously at the Valley of Stars, a heavily etched crater many explorers believe to be a massive celestial observatory.
Deep in the Mierani Forest, the ancient elven capital of Celwynvian stands empty, it’s verdant palaces and delicate towers poised breathlessly in the half-light beneath the canopy. Avoided superstitiously by other races during the elves’ long absence, the City of Emerald Rains has been quarantined since their return. Refusing all requests by outsiders to enter their ancestral home, the elves claim to have cut off the city to provide their kind with a refuge from the outside world. Those who deal with the denizens of the Mierani Forest, however, whisper that the elves themselves actually reside outside the city, fighting a hidden war to retake their capital from a sinister and unnamed force.
The giants of the Storval Plateau were not always the barbarians they are today, and perhaps the best proof of this lies on the tiny island in lake Skotha known to the giants as Chorak’s Tomb. Here, it is rumored, the descendants of the giant’s warlord’s honor guard still cling to the remnants of civilization, protecting the last traces of their race’s glory. All of this remains speculation, however, as any sentient creatures attempting to approach the island are bombarded with rocks or shot with rune-carved ballista bolts. Not even other giants know what secrets lie at the island’s center, and for now, beyond a few glints of metallic structures in the distance, the mystery of Chorak’s Tomb goes unanswered.
A tangled forest choked by tenacious vines, Churlwood is almost impossible for non-natives to navigate, making it the perfect refuge for the bandit gangs and goblin tribes that raid from it’s borders. With it’s plentiful game and renowned ability to confuse even the most canny trackers, the wood is a popular destination for wanted criminals, it’s borders a haven for rogues and escaped slaves alike – hence the expression, “Safe as a thief in Churlwood.” Of course, what the stories of outlaw folk heroes and egalitarian bandits fail to mention is just how many enter the forest and are never seen again.
The Cinderlands take up the majority of the southern Storval Plateau, it’s dry ashen soil approaching desert status in many places. many of the plants here require fire to split open their seedpods, and in the summer, wildfires race across the badlands in vast sheets of flames ignited by the ferocious seasonal thunderstorms. In these harsh environs, only the Shoanti make any real settlements, and these generally consist of yurts and other easily transportable structures. Fire plays a central role in the lives of these upland tribes as well, and many promote harsh rites of passage in which young warriors must outpace a wildfire or run down an animal driven before the flames.
Originally discovered by the dwarves of Jarderhoff who sometimes refer to it as “Heart of the World.” This massive crystalline formation formation hangs suspended from frail-looking crystal threads in a natural cavern far beneath the edge of the Mindspin Mountains. for hundreds of years, dwarven elders have gathered here annually to watch as the crystal suddenly convulses, sending out a deep, vibrating pulse that can be felt in creatures’ bones for miles around. Recently, however, the dwarves who study Crystalrock have grown withdrawn with concern and excitement as the beating has begun speeding up, currently coinciding with the changing seasons.
While it’s original name has long been lost, the site called Crystilan is today among the best-known Thassilonian artifacts, and has provided scholars with much of what they now know about Thassilonian life. Visiblefrom the sea, the shining dome of translucent crystal is glorious to behold, catching the sun’s light and making it too bright to stare at directly. Up close, the adventurous can peer through the smooth, almost friction less crystal at the chunk of city within, perfectly preserved like a fly in amber. Though many have attempted to break through and reach the great stepped temples and vast arches, no magic or weapon currently known has ever been able to mar or otherwise penetrate the crystal, and those who have attempted to tunnel under it believe the strange shield to be perfect sphere. For now, at least, most scholars are content to transcribe the visible runes and watch the strangely deserted city as it proceeds, unchanging, through the ages toward some unknown purpose.
The hallows and grassy dells of the Curchain Hills are home to relatively peaceful tribes of Shoanti, great herds of grazing aurochs, and several superstitious families of frontier folk. Travelers through the region often claim that certain hills appear too similar, suggesting unnatural formation..
Presumably fed by hot springs as well as the Lampblack and Malgorian rivers, the waters of Ember Lake rise up warm from the rolling plains and certain spots along the shore steam in the colder months. The lake is also home to strange aquatic creatures that dart like fireflies in massive schools beneath the surface. not quite fish, these tiny creatures called “Charigs” resemble salamanders, their transparent skin phosphorescing in the clear waters. although the creatures appear harmless, locals avoid eating them, claiming that on certain nights of the year the schools assemble in flickering patterns miles wide, moving with purpose and intelligence, as if creating glowing signals visible only from the sky.
While Few attempt to establish any real homesteads in the monster-infested Fenwall Mountains, the peak’s rich lodes of iron and precious metals make them an attractive destination for lower class Korvosans and undesirables seeking to strike it big as prospectors. As such, the valleys of the Fenwalls are dotted with tiny one-person camps as well as heavily guarded strip mining excavations bankrolled by larger, Kovosa-based mining concerns.
The dense packed goblins of the Fogscar Mountains squabble among themselves constantly, with each stony gully seeming to host a new tribe of knee-biting scavengers. Although narrow roads run between the misty peaks, travelers seeking a shortcut between Magnimar and Roderic’s cove are advised to go well armed and carry large store of cheap trinkets – or moderately useful garbage – with which to buy off the notoriously covetous natives.
While the town of Galduria survives primarily ferrying grain and lumber along the Lampblack River and Ember lake, it’s true claim to fame is it’s college. By far the oldest structure in town the Twilight Academy is one of the premier schools of magic in Varisia, rivaled only bythe Stone of the Seers in Magnimar and the notorious Acadamae of Korvosa, both of wich consider it an upstart devoid of their own rich heritages. Founded in Galduria specifically to avoid the political pressure and intrigues of those two cities, the Twilight Academy has a reputation for being experimental and unconventional in many of it’s practices., but frequent donations to public works keep locals from probing too deeply into the occasional haywire spell or necromatic accident.
The traditional home of several hill giant tribes, the Gnashers offer the brave explorer a rare glimpseinto the vast giant empire that predated human settlement in Varisia. unfortunately, the brutish natures of it’s current residents make such expeditions a dangerous gamble at best.
It’s original purpose unknown, the great stone wheel of Gruankus lies on the shore of the Varisian Gulf, it’s better remembered as the site of negotiations between Riddleport and Magnimar diplomats that led to the treaty of Gruankus, which has kept traders in the Varisian Gulf nominally safe from pirate attacks for nearly a hundred years.
Even the giant savages who dominate The northern Storval Plateau avoid Guiltspur, an ever-deepening excavation into ages long past, dug by giant sweat and dragon claw. Unmarked and unknown for centuries, only recently has the site revealed itself a complex Thassilonian catacomb.
This village perches on the spit of land where the Sarwin and Falcon Rivers meet, and the twin Harse ferries are the easiest way for travelers to cross either of the great rivers. In addition, Harse boast the best horse and livestock breeders south of the Velashu Uplands, and each year hold an enormous rodeo designed to single out the beast animals and riders.
Upon the largest of Rivenrake island’s jagged peaks sneers the shattered monumental visage of a stern looking woman scowling ever southward over the remnants of the titanic ancient bridge that connected Rivenrake to Argavist Island. Shorn vertically in two, the face reveals levels upon levels of exposed architecture within the mountain, wile below, the ruined foundations of a dust choked tomb of a city climb the mountainside, tempting adventurers with the promise of untold discoveries.
This Massive mountain is at the southernmost reaches of the Iron Peaks and looms over the Sanos Forrest. Hunters and trappers in the region steer clear of the area because they claim savage tribes of inbred ogres inhabit the place.
In the years immediately following the crumbling of the Chelish Empire, Korvosa was embroiled in turmoil, with various noble houses and government officials squabbling over where the colonies allegiance would fall. While many loyal to the old empire eventually left Korvosa and relocated to Magnimar, theirs was not the only faction to desert the quarreling city. Ilsur, formerly a first sword among the Knights of Aroden, advocated shaking off noble rule all together and restructuring Korvosa as an efficient military meritocracy. He campaigned for year but conceeded failure in 4631ar with the foundation of the Kovosan royal house. Ilsur led his troop to the coast of Lake Syrantula, where they settled in a small fishing village and dug in to await their chance to return and put the aristocracy to the sword. Although Ilsur is long dead and his decendants are more woodsman and fishmongers than soldiers, the village remains fiercely independent – ceding to neither Kovosan or Magnimar rule – and all townsfolk are required to maintain a sharp sword and train against the day they might have to defend their freedom from tyrants.
The Iron Peaks
Although the farms in the valleys along the southwestern edge benefit the heavy rains that break on the western side of the mountains, the Iron Peaks are renowned as the domain of easily irritated ogres, hill giants and stone giants. wherever possible, locals avoid venturing beyond the ranges foothills, and advise travelers do the same.
With it’s massive iron curtain wall and steeples of beaten copper, the dwarven stronghold of Janderhoff squats like a great armored beast among the foothills of the Mindspin Mountains. Yet, despite it’s forbidding appearance the city is a bustling nexus of trade, with Shoanti and Chelaxians alike passing through the well guarded tunnels that form the cities only entrances. Once inside visitors quickly find themselves in the low ceiling markets and smithies that provide the cities livelihood. These surface buildings are more for receiving outsiders, as the majority of the towns population lives below-ground in an intricate lattace of subterranean streets.
The city of Strangers, as Kaer Maga is also called, is an anarchic cliff-top citybuilt inside the ruins of an ancient monument. The city is known as a place where someone can hide from persecution or start a new life amid dozens of strange factions and thousands of unique residents.
Tall and forbidding, the jagged snow-capped peaks of the Kodar Mountains are among the highest in the world. Only the hardiest creatures, such as storm giants, rocs and dragons are able to withstand the extreme climate and treacherous cliffs. Numerous mysteries and legends have origens hidden deep within the Kodar Mountains, such as the quixotic Monastery of the Peacock Spirit, the Cloud Citadel of Chadra-Oon, and the lost city of Xin-Shalast.
Formerly the capital of the colonial Varisia, Korvosa suffered several years of turmoil after the fall of the Chelish Empire, and emerged from this struggle roughly equivalent with Magnimar in terms of political power – a fact that still irks many of Korvosa’s residents. These days, most of Korvosa’s decadent nobles continue to lay up their ties to Cheliax and their endorsement of southern fashion, fancying themselves Varisia’s center of culture and enlightenment. Whether or not such conceits are accurate, the city is certainly tied closer than any of it’s neighbors to the land’s imperial past.
The Lady’s Light
Leaning precariously at the end of a rocky spit, The Lady’s Light is a southern sailor’s first glimpse of Varisia. Nearly two hundred feet high, the enormous stone lighthouse is shaped like a sensuous woman in a flowing dress that leaves one breast bare, her right hand pointing a staff that shines a brilliant beam of light out to sea at regular intervals. At the statues’ base a gigantic, strangely hinged stone door presumably leads into the lighthouses interior, but none are known to have unlocked it in modern times.
This lake is concidered to be holy byn the local hill giants, who refuse to visit it except during funerals. Whenever one of their number dies, he is placed on a barge that is then set aflame and pushed out onto the water.