The Arhei Valley: local information

This is a rough sketch of the continent in which the Ark finds itself. Click on the image to see the full view.
This is a rough sketch of the local barony, Haldresburg. "Haldresburg" refers both to the barony and to the baron's keep and associated town.
An underground complex was discovered under the Ark, but sealed off with stoneshape spells.

The Ark hovers above a rustic scene of light woodlands and patches of farmland. Just below the Ark is the landing area, where the trees have been cleared. A rough path leads east from the clearing. To the northwest of the Ark, a small herd of cattle is kept inside a wooden palisade.

About ten miles to the south, a large river meanders east to west through a green valley. Massive stone keeps and towers dot the cliffs lining the valley (which is about 1-2 miles wide). The valley floor seems to be mostly fields and pastures, divided by hedgerows, low stone walls, and lines of trees. Now and then a boat is visible on the river, stopping at the clusters of wooden houses and piers built along the banks. On the slopes of the valley, there appear to be orchards and vineyards. The workers seem to be roughly human, mixed with groups of ogres. The cultivated lands start about five miles south of the Ark.

Just a mile to the north, there is a visible border. The trees have been cleared, with a 10' high wooden fence, hedge, or high stone wall (it varies from place to place) running down the middle of the strip. The forest grows thicker and darker to the north of the border, with the land rising into hilly, rockier terrain. Snowcapped mountains are visible far to the north and the south.

The closest "civilized" feature is what looks like a grubby wreck of a wooden farmstead half a mile to the east. New trees have taken over what probably used to be fields. However, smoke still rises from the chimney. This is Oerdrik's Steading. Oerdrik the ogre is a cockatrice rancher. Other old steadings (in various stages of abandonment) may be found here and there through the woods.

Local History and Geography

The Arhei River runs through the heart of this continent. It and its tributaries are controlled by a loose federation of ogre magi "Barons", each of them ruling a keep and a territory along the river valley. One baron is selected (usually by a combination of election and combat) as the War Chief. The ogre magi each run a gang of ogres as their enforcers and foot soldiers, in turn dominating their human serfs. The humans serve in return for protection - from the dragons on one side and the goblins on the other. The Valley is only a narrow strip of cultivated land. Their main exports are wine (grapes, assassin vine), lumber (especially to Yrkandos, which is mostly deforested), and cheese. They produce enough grain, meat, and wool for their own use. The ogres and ogre magi have been known to mate with each other and with the humans, producing bastard offspring, rarely acknowledged. (The Barons put a high value on the "purity" of their bloodlines.) This does mean that many ogres are part-bloods and cannier than might be expected. A few humans enjoy higher status within the ogre society by serving the barons as specialists (clerics, mages, warriors, etc.)

The Valley has been settled for the last 500 years, and the population grows but slowly. Villages and towns have in the past been wiped out when overrun by monsters. In earlier years, large underground complexes provided refuge (especially against the dragons), marked by squat stone towers or keeps on the surface. They included magically lit caverns where food could be grown. Such locations were called "Choks", a word in the Giant tongue. The Barons regularly had counter-raids into monster territory to "clear out" the neighborhood.

About 80 years ago, the great green wyrm known as Tloshekai Gartemalichtach (aka "Gart") arranged a truce with the then-War Chief. This was agreed upon, and a fence built. Hereafter, the Arhei Valley settlers would stay out of the Wyrmwood, and the dragons would not attack anything past the fence (except in defense.) Since then, the humans and ogres have been able to live openly aboveground.

Riverfolk: those humans who value freedom more than safety live on the rivers (think Mark Twain, the Mississipi steam boat age, etc.). They are the lifeline of the Arhei Valley, bringing trade from the sea (especially Yrkandos) and from the Skapsian Highlands (elf and dwarf work). Some are actually half-ogres or foreigners, but most are human. The big riverboats use magic from Yrkandos to propel them. (Being expensive, many are owned by merchant consortia based in Yrkandos). The smaller ones are towed by tojanidas who have developed a taste for Arhei wines and gambling. The riverfolk tend to be a fiery and quarrelsome lot, prone to gambling, brawling, and drinking. Betting on cockatrice fights is the current craze. River travel itself is still dangerous, especially between settlements, where monsters still lurk. Sirines (lorelei?) lure travellers to watery deaths.

Monasteries: monasteries (mainly human) are found here and there along the Arhei, in the shadow of a baron's keep. They usually pay a tax of honey, herbs, and wool to their local baron and are left alone. Some are here to escape religious persecution in the western kingdoms. Hawthorn Abbey is one such "monastery", an order of druids and mages (mainly human and elven) dedicated to preserving the natural order from the undead.

Baron Haldre of Haldresburg: Haldresburg is the closest settlement/town to the Ark. The Arkites have met with the Baron: the Ark is now considered part of the barony of Haldresburg, but its inhabitants are free to maintain their own laws aboard the Ark, and enjoined to defend the area against monster incursions and serve the Baron's militias when called upon.

The Wyrmwood (aka Tloshketai) lies just north of the Ark. Mostly forested hills, this area is dominated by lots and lots of green dragons, large and small (and their kin and servant races). They are ruled by their eldest, the wyrm king Tloshekai Gartemalichtach. They have enslaved the kobolds who used to live there, keeping them busy mining and smithing glittery goods for their hoards. It was mainly to keep the flow of treasure going that Gart proposed a truce with the Barons of the Arhei --- the Barons were too successful in massacring the kobolds even if they had a hard time with the dragons themselves. Legend says that the dragons came from another plane about a thousand years ago, maybe longer.

Neighboring barons

Strips of "neutral" woodlands, 2-4 miles wide, separate each barony. The actual boundary is usually a small creek running into the Arhei. Roads along both sides of the river connect each barony, but travel can be hazardous.

Tarres, Baron of Tarresburg
Tarresburg is the barony upriver (west) of Haldresburg. Tarresburg overlooks (in more ways than one) an island infamous for being a den of pirates. Tarres is a recluse with powerful kin (he is the sister-son of the current War Chief, Hamund). He is blacklisted by the merchants for his habit of seizing goods that he desires as "toll".
Fitela, Baron of Solfell
Solfell is the barony downriver (east) of Haldresburg. Fitela is known for being especially stingy and oppressive to his serfs.
Ingwulf, Baron of Wulfsburg
Wulfsburg is the barony across the river (south) of Haldresburg. The territory of Wulfsburg is smaller than Haldresburg, the woods surrounding it thicker. Ingwulf is known for being a sly, ancient ogre, with a handful of grandsons competing to be his heir. Ingwulf is a collector of rare treasures.

Other nations

All-Grave (Capital: Gravenhook. Gnomes, a few humans, others.)
This was once a prosperous kingdom, Yrkthera, twin to Yrkandos, but about 900 years ago, a devastating war with Yrkandos left the kingdom destroyed, broken and sunken into the sea. The magical contamination drove the survivors to scatter throughout the world. Today, Yrktherans are wanderers (think Gypsies). As the land recovered, the frog-people settled in it. About 200 years ago, gnomish refugees from the east of the Goblinlands claimed this area for themselves, driving out the frog-people (bullywugs?), using gnomish engineering to drain swamps and capture land back from the sea. Naturally, the frog-people were and are angry, continuing to undermine the gnomes as they can. Currently, the All-Grave is on peaceful terms with the other kingdoms.
Goblin Lands
Actually, goblins, bugbears, giants, fey, treants, spidery types, and a few other races live here. No unified kingdom, just a patchwork of small territories claimed by one group or another, all of them hostile to intruders. They regularly raid the Arhei valley, stealing sheep, goats, cattle, etc.
Skapsian Highlands (elves, dwarves, humans, others)
A number of semi-independant cantons. Forests in the lowlands, meadows in the highlands. The elves hunt, gather, tend semi-wild fields and orchards, raise goats, and cultivate magic. The dwarves live underground, doing their usual dwarvish thing. Elsir Vale, the location of Gronwin's mega-plot, is set somewhere in here.
Yrkandos (Isle of the Mighty)
This island kingdom is one of the oldest, with its towering cities of magic. The denizens are elementals, djinn, rakshasa, etc. They are reknowned for their magical crafts. These days, they are isolationists, uninterested in anything outside their philosophy and magic. It is the foreigners who are most interested in trade (though there are exceptions.)

Portsmouth: This city on the eastern coast is mainly populated by foreign traders (though some have lived there for generations, they are still considered "foreign".) This includes humans, elves, gnomes, halflings, ogre magi, dwarves, etc.

Noi Werskand (humans, orcs)
Starting about 400 years ago, refugees from Alte Werskand settled along the coast and up the river valleys, slowly building a kingdom of sorts. In earlier days, they were infamous pirates, but nowadays have become more interested in legitimate trade (but pirates remain).
Alte Werskand/Troll Lands
Nowadays, an anarchic wasteland (due to deforestation, over-farming, and many consecutive years of drought), inhabited mainly by trolls, hags, and lycanthropes. In the past, it was under the domination of Yrkandos, which used it as its main supplier of raw materials.
Lishanya (humans, halflings, lowland elves)
The three traditional kingdoms of Lishanya (North, East, and South) united (after centuries of on-and-off war) about 100 years ago. It considers itself the most civilized of the "humanoid" kingdoms, though Mev Dosten disputes that claim. Lishanya also has a tradition of war against Mev Dosten. Lishanya is a "good" kingdom: the worship of evil deities is strictly forbidden. Its Church promotes the Trinity of Pelor, Corellon, and Yondalla. All other deities are supposed to be either their servants or their enemies. Official doctrine: Other races are not as "blessed" as humans, halflings, and elves.

Goatfolk (Ibixians, MM3): Goatfolk live in the mountains between Lishanya and Mev Dosten. Both kingdoms have tried to conquer them, without much success.

Mev Dosten (humans, centaurs, some elves and halflings)
Mev Dosten has a weak king and a strong Church: the Unified Church of Enlightenment. This Church teaches the eradication of all evil and evil-tainted magics. It views Lishanya with suspicion and Yrkandos with disgust. Arhei is an unspeakable den of heretics and monsters. Inquisitors are common. So are evil (and not-quite-evil) underground cults. The centaurs here pride themselves as being "civilized", unlike their wild brethern in the barbaric east (not shown on this map.)

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