I lump all of these ideas under Bleakstone because my thinking about that setting grew out of its false starts, often under other names.
Procedures (Word doc)
- Create a home base, the starting area. Seed it with rumors and lies. Make an obvious direct course if the PCs want to pursue something clear to start with.
- Place some cool stuff around it, including adventure sites large and small.
- Put some plots and factions in motion in the region.
- Write 100 hex descriptions, like the ones below. Roll d4, d6, or d8 and stock that many 6-mile hexes in each macro-hex at random, rolling d100 for each one. (Or if 100 is too many, do d66.)
- At the end of every session, ask what the players want to do next.
- Stock the macro-hexes around where they move, or plan to move, using the list as in #4.
- Refill the list when it gets low.
Bleakstone is a place of strange magic, fell enchantments, ancient cults, and dark history. Countless massacres, battles, and unnatural events have occurred here, most notably the coming of the bleak stone—the petrified expanses—a century ago. Now a largely uninhabited wilderness, it still bears the scars and other evidence of its former habitation—and unusual history.
These descriptions are deliberately brief and short on details to encourage improvisation at the table. If rolls are indicated, they should be made when the PCs first encounter what’s described in that hex and the result should be noted for future reference. In general, if something exists in a hex and isn’t described as being in a specific part of it (on a river, for example), the PCs will run into it—because where’s the fun in not encountering it?
Starting area notes (text file)
Random hexcrawl starting area creation:
Grab a blank sheet of paper. Turn it sideways.
Assume a starting area of around 11w x 8h 6-mile hexes (~500 square miles), Make a blank map that size in Hexographer (or use hex paper and do it by hand).
Grab the following dice, each of which represents something that will wind up on your map:
6d4 villages 3d6 towns 1d8 city 6d10 forests 4d12 mountains 10d20 dungeons/adventure sites
Drop 4d12 on the paper for mountains. The bigger the number, the taller the mountains in that area. At a minimum each die represents a hex of mountains; join them up if it feels right. Leave the dice.
Drop 6d10 for forests, it's okay if mountain dice get bumped. The higher the number, the denser the forest. Add mountains and forests to Hexographer. Clear all dice.
Drop 6d4 for villages. Higher number means higher population. Leave the dice.
Drop 3d6 for towns. Same thing. Leave the dice.
Drop 1d8 for your city. Same thing, and leave the dice.
Lastly, drop 10d20 for dungeons and adventure sites. You can be mean and let the number equal the level of the dungeon, but it's better to use it as a vague representation of danger level. Add villages, towns, city, and adventure sites to Hexographer.
Add some rivers and maybe a lake if you have space. Add a coastline if you want a coastal region.
Don't correct weird things, like clumps of villages. Instead, make up reasons why they're there and jot those reasons down.
Name every feature on the map -- every hex where you dropped a die. (If you connected forests or mountains, name the whole thing not each hex.)
Make up two things about every hex you filled in (every die you dropped), and 1d4+2 things about every location that seems like it should be important. At a minimum that includes the city and some of the adventure sites. Jot everything you make up down, and keep it short -- a sentence per thing at most. If you have adventures you want to use, assign them to locations where you dropped a die.
Name the region. You're done! Start playing. Really, don't write anything else down unless it's amazing. All your notes for the region should fit on one page. Everything else will come from actual play. If you know your players are headed somewhere, add more details then if it seems like you'll need them.
Waymark (Word doc)
Guiding Principles: Don’t be subtle and don’t hold back If it’s worth noting it’s worth taking too far. Don’t avoid clichés; they work well in games.
Dot no Is and cross no Ts: It doesn’t have to be done to be playable. It will never be done. Being unfinished is a virtue.
The Rule of Two Things: Each point of interest on the map should be most notable for two things. Remembering lots of things is hard, especially as a player; remembering two is easy.
It’s called Dungeons & Dragons: Foreground dungeons (there are many) and dragons (they’re supposedly absent, but are also the Weird Thing that defines the region).
The world is the world: If there are giants in the hills, it’s because there are giants in the hills—not because the PCs are “ready” to face giants.
- No normal monsters
- Every monster is reskinned or altered in some way. Monsters should be surprising, weird, and monstrous.
Mostly humans: Humans are fascinating. Dwarves are awesome, and have settlements in Harth. Everything else is unusual and should be notably rare.
When in doubt, go with devils: The Vazdurak Empire, which predated Saxum and Harth, was big into demons and devils. Old places tend to be bad places, covered in demonic gargoyles.
Harrowmark (Word doc)
Guiding principle: Keep it light.
Centuries ago, what is now called Harrowmark was the seat of an ancient empire. It fell, and the place acquired a dark reputation. Statues and ruins from this age, notably people whose chests are masses of grasping tentacles, can still be found scattered throughout Harrowmark.
About 150 years ago the Vazdurak Empire, an expansionist power devoted to devil worship, controlled the territory north of Harrowmark. The kingdom of Harth still controlled coastal lands east of Harrowmark, and Delzary controlled the lands to Harrowmark’s west. Vazdurak built the Red Nail (now the village of Red Nail) in Harrow Pass, and then began work on Stonehell. Desiring a route to the sea that avoided its neighbors, Vazdurak built the Searoad and the settlement that is now Cape Reckless was founded.
A century ago the empire collapsed, consumed from within by vileness and corruption. Harth moved to retake its old territory northeast of Harrowmark, the kingdom of Saxum moved in from the northwest, and Delzary claimed more land to the west of Harrowmark.
Around this time, the Wyrmstone began to appear. Some blamed the Wyrmstone for the fall of Vazdurak; others said it was caused by the Apocalypse Dragons fleeing Vazdurak’s collapse, or even by Skulvezar himself. Harrowmark, already infamous as a place of danger, became even more dangerous. None of its neighbors moved to settle the region, leaving it as a borderland for the past century.
Harrowmark is claimed by Duke Blackdale, who rules from Blackdale Castle. He’s a madman, but he does know the territory better than anyone outside it. Saxum, Harth, and Delzary are all interested in learning more about Harrowmark—its fell dungeon, Stonehell, its Wyrmstone expanses, and its bizarre and terrifying monsters. No reliable maps of the region exist today, and few alive know much about Harrowmark at all.
Red Nail has become something of a neutral outpost, technically part of Saxum but not hostile to agents from Delzary and Harth. Each nation posts an agent (or several) here, and standing offers exist for mapping Harrowmark, describing its notable features—especially mysterious sites—and cataloging its monstrosities
==Bleakstone June draft (Word doc)
Bleakstone and the Nine Lands: Three of the Nine Lands: the Kardan League, east of Bleakstone, is an aggressive nation ruled by merchant princes; the Varkayri Empire, to the north, was once a dark potentate rule by a tyrant, but it collapsed a century ago, its borders shrank, and it has never fully recovered; Delamark, to the west of Bleakstone, is a traditional feudal monarchy with a strong defensive border where it abuts Varkayri lands.
The Doomfangs: This forbidding wall of tooth-like mountains tops out at 10,000 feet, dominating the skyline for miles around.
The Great Moor: Vast and largely uninhabited, the Great Moor dominates the Bleakstone region. Mist-shrouded, haunted by those slaughtered here in decades past, and the site of numerous petrified expanses, the moor is avoided by all right-minded folk.
Kardan Road: The great Kardan Road runs east-west through Bleakstone, following the Selgar Hills for most of its length. No one travels it lightly, but there’s enough need for overland trade between the League to and Delamark that it sees its share of use. It was originally built to solidify the League’s hold over what’s now Bleakstone in the wake of the collapse of the Varkayri Empire.
Selgar Hills: This long line of scrub-covered, inhospitable hills marks the boundary between the Great Moor—and the southernmost extent of the bleak stone—and the region sane people are willing to travel through.
The White Swamp: Snow-white mold coats almost every tree, rotten log, and scummy pond in this fell marsh. Travelers along Kardan Road pick up their pace while in sight of the swamp.
0813 – Blackbriar: One of a handful of villages on the Great Moor, Blackbriar is a place of rude huts, houses built into hills, and people crazy enough to live north of the Selgar Hills—never mind within walking distance of Barrowmaze.
0912 – Barrowmaze: Once a vast tomb used by the dozens of tiny villages that dotted the Great Moor, Barrowmaze has been abandoned for many years.
0917 – Shadowbrook Manor: This century-old, perfectly preserved manor house is the subject of many tavern tales in Bleakstone.
1312 – Tower of the Stargazer: Those brave or foolish enough to venture onto the Great Moor tell tales of a long-abandoned wizard’s tower north of Cape Reckless.
1316 – Cape Reckless: Cape Reckless is a former Kardan League military fort, abandoned when the petrified expanses began to appear. Now it’s a somewhat lawless town, a popular stopover point for ships traveling along the coast. It’s rough-and-tumble, well-defended, and used to adventurers.
1615 – Tomb of the Iron God: Some in Cape Reckless still hold to the old traditions, and entrust their dead to the monks at this ancient monastery.
1714 – The Grinding Gear: Before the large silver mine north of Farhill dried up a few years ago, the Grinding Gear saw a fair amount of business from miners, pilgrims to the nearby monastery (Tomb of the Iron God), and adventurers following the trail north.
1912 – Farhill: Farhill is a silver mining town, inhabited by true diehards who refuse to give up the old ways despite the fact that their village is now situated in one of the most perilous places in the Nine Lands.
1915 – Stonehell: Once the great Varkayri Empire’s most sinister prison, Stonehell was officially abandoned a hundred years ago, when the empire collapsed. They have never tried to reclaim it.
2012 – Death Frost Doom: High up the lonely peak that looms above the village of Farhill sits a long-forgotten temple of Duvan’Ku, a god of the Writhing Dark.
Bleakstone Tools (Word doc)
Still needs to be wiki-formatted
The Skull King: The skull king is a totem held by the player who currently has the longest-lived character. Once a PC dies, even if they get resurrected, the skull king must be passed to another player. Rubbing it for lucky rolls is traditional. (Stolen from Dan C., the Dungeoneering Dad, who called it the Survivor’s Skull.)
Random Regional Hex Features
Scrap this and start fresh, then pull from below if inspiration runs dry. No random stocking unless an opportunity presents itself, just place interestingly.
Battlefield: The victors drove 20-foot bars of pig iron into the ground and skewered their enemies’ heads upon them. Roll for age of corpses: 1 fresh, 2-4 pre-collapse, 5-6 post-collapse.
Gruesome display: A field where 1d12 bodies have been crucified upside down on crude log crosses. Roll for age of corpses: 1-3 fresh, 4-6 post-collapse.
Weird magic: A miasma of purplish mist clouds the air, making breathing difficult and muffling distant sounds while amplifying nearby ones. Roll for diameter: 1 entire hex, 2 three miles, 3-6 500 yards.
Shattered garden: Stone statues of people and animals litter the area. All are broken off at the ankles or knees, and they’re in various states of disrepair.
Ruins: An abandoned village, the roofs of the houses long gone, most of the walls toppled, and vines and wild grasses growing throughout the area. Skeletons, long since picked clean, can be seen everywhere. Most appear to have been cut apart, with arm bones sheared through and skulls cloven in twain.
Weird magic: A leafless tree, 40 feet tall, is on fire. From 15 feet up, where the branches begin, the whole tree is ablaze—but the fire does not consume it.
Ruins: A burned-out keep, little more than four partial walls and a pile of rubble and rotten wood. Check for a random encounter; if one is indicated, that’s what lives here. Otherwise, it’s empty.
Bleak stone: This petrified expanse subsumed an entire village in the midst of being attacked by tribesmen from the Great Moor. The entire eerie tableau, from the terrified villagers being hacked apart to the howls of rage on the faces of their killers, is frozen mid-battle. There are no signs
Uniquely describe every bleak stone hex. Put some on roads/trails, since the early dungeons are along known paths.
Add the Weeping Hill location idea from Google+.
This d30 table is based on Welsh Piper’s version, modified and expanded to suit Bleakstone.
Roll Feature Notes 1-3 Ruin The remains of a single structure whose original purpose was: 1-2 holding, 3-4 dwelling, 5 tomb, 6 other structure. 4-6 Battlefield The site of a battle: 1-4 minor, 5-6 major; 10% chance the area is haunted by the spirits of the slain. 7-9 Abandoned structure A building or fortification abandoned when the petrified expanses began to appear: 1-2 fortified military camp, 3-4 tower, 5 keep, 6 castle; 70% chance it is currently occupied. 10-12 Contested ground The area is fought over by two or more factions because of its: 1-2 valuable resources, 3 abundant food, 4-5 strategic location, 6 religious significance. 13-15 Ancient structure A construction of antiquity: 1-3 grave marker, 4 astrological construction, 5-6 pagan shrine; 10% chance that it possesses magical properties. 16 Isolated dwelling The home of an outsider: 1 hermit, 2 mad hermit, 3 oracle, 4 retired adventurer, 5 outlaw, 6 homestead; 50% chance the dwelling is fortified. 17 Sacred ground A protected area, designated as a: 1-3 burial ground, 4-5 consecrated area, 6 hunting range. 18 Special hazard An environmental danger: 1-2 poison, 3-4 disease, 5-6 vermin infestation. 19 Treasure A cache of valuables is rumored to lie hidden here: 40% chance of actually existing; 20% chance that it’s unguarded, but certainly not easy to obtain. 20 Natural resource A valuable commodity is located here: 1-2 rare herbs, 3-4 rare mineral (lodestone, quicksilver), 5 rare wood, 6 starmetal. 21 Unholy ground An unhallowed place created by: 1-2 sinister cult, 3-4 dead religion, 5-6 presence of an unholy object. 22 Cult site This area is sacred to a cult of a God of the Writhing Dark: 1-4 evil cult, 5 mysterious cult, 6 good cult. 23 Uncommon lair The lair of an uncommon creature or creatures. 24 Camp A semi-permanent way-station for: 1-3 trappers, 4-6 hunters. 25 Shrine An ancient shrine to a god of the Writhing Dark: 1-3 evil god, 4-6 non- evil god; if non-evil, 10% chance the shrine contains a healing potion. 26 Hideout A dangerous group has made a small redoubt in this area: 1-2 camp, 3-4 fortified cave, 5-6 patched-up ruins; 40% chance of bandits, 60% chance of humanoids. 27 Watchtower A lookout post commands a view of the area: 1-4 from before the petrified expanses began to appear, 5 ancient, 6 recent; 70% chance it’s in use. 28 Rare monster lair The lair of a rare creature or creatures: 1-3 rare for this region, 4-6 unique to this region. 29 Supernatural feature An unexplained effect or object exists here: 1-2 anti-magic field, 3 wild magic field, 4 teleportation portal, 5 profane altar, 6 unexplained sounds. 30 Petrified expanse An area of “bleak stone” several hundred yards to several miles in diameter.
Random Encounters Once per day (barring unusual circumstances), make a d10+d10 random encounter roll and refer to the following table. Modifiers are based on terrain type, region, and circumstances—so if the PCs are at the head of a wagon train with 40 mercenaries in tow, their chance of attracting attention will go up. In general, modifiers are +1 to +5; negative modifiers are also possible.
Roll Encounters 2-15 None 16-19 1 20-23 2 24-25 3
Terrain/Area Modifier Bleak Stone +5 Doomfangs +4 Forest +3 Grassland +1 Great Moor +4 Hills +3 Road — Swamp +5
If necessary, the time of day when encounters occur can be randomized as follows:
Roll Time of Day 1 Morning 2 Noon 3 Evening 4 Night 5 Midnight 6 Pre-Dawn
This system is designed to be simple to use, scalable based on various factors, and to map to the baseline 1/6 chance of an encounter—but with a slim chance (1%) of having two. It’s based on Moldvay D&D and AD&D 1e, but falls somewhere between the two on the simplicity and variability spectrum. The unmodified roll gives an 85% chance of no encounter, 14% chance of 1, and 1% chance of 2; at +3 that becomes 64% none, 26% 1, and 10% 2; and at +5 it’s 36% none, 36% 1, 22% 2, and 6% 3.
Encounter Tables Rolls are d8+d12, which gives a trapezoidal distribution where 9-13 are equally and most likely, and lower and higher numbers get steadily less likely (down to about 1% for 2 and 20). So common monsters for the terrain/area will be clustered in the middle, and weird stuff will be at the extremes.
These tables are built on the principle that “The world is the world,” with some consideration given to this being a starting area for new PCs (mainly in what appears in slots 9-13). Roads supersede the terrain type/area they pass through, except in special cases; trails do not, and encounters on trails match the terrain type/area. Monsters are from LL unless otherwise noted in brackets. (I want the roads to feel safer than anywhere else, but not safe.)
Bleak Stone 2 Glabrezu [AEC] (1d3) 3 Nabassu [MM2] (1) 4 Babau [AEC] (1d3) 5 Bar-Lgura [MM2] (1d3) 6 Marilith [AEC] (1d3) 7 Vrock [AEC] (1d3) 8 Spectre (1d4) 9 Wraith (1d4) 10 Groaning Spirit [AEC] (1) 11 Dretch [MM2] (2-8) 12 Quasit [AEC] (1) 13 Ghost [AEC] (1) 14 Chasme [MM2] (1-3) 15 Incubus [AEC] (1) 16 Succubus [AEC] (1) 17 Shadow (1d8) 18 Balor [AEC] (1d3) 19 Hezrou [AEC] (1d3) 20 Nalfeshnee [AEC] (1d3)
Doomfangs 2 Giant, Storm (1) 3 Gray Worm (1d3) 4 Giant, Stone (1d2) 5 Harpy (1d6) 6 Beetle, Giant Spitting (1d8) 7 Hawk, Giant (1) 8 Cat, Mountain Lion (1d4) 9 Hawk, Ordinary (1) 10 Giant, Hill (1d4) 11 Dwarf (1d6) 12 Wolf, Dire (1d4) 13 Harpy (1d6) 14 Phase Tiger (1d4) 15 Roc, Giant (1) 16 Hippogriff (1) 17 Griffon (1) 18 Manticore (1d2) 19 Dragon, White (1) 20 Dragon, Red (1)
Forest 2 Night Hag [AEC] (1) 3 Unicorn (1d6) 4 Brownie [AEC] (4d4) 5 Cockatrice (1d4) 6 Spider, Giant Black Widow (1d3) 7 Elf (1d4) 8 Halfling (3d6) 9 Wolf (2d6) 10 Boar (1d6) 11 Bee, Giant Killer (1d6) 12 Orc, Poisonblood [BS] (2d4) 13 Men, Brigands (3d6) 14 Wolf, Dire (1d4) 15 Snake, Giant Python (1d3) 16 Satyr (2d4) 17 Troll (1d8) 18 Dryad (1) 19 Treant (1) 20 Dragon, Green (1)
Grassland 2 Bulette [AEC] (1d2) 3 Cockatrice (1d4) 4 Wasp, Giant [AEC] (1d20) 5 Ogre (1d2) 6 Boar, Giant (1d4) 7 Snake, Giant Rattler (1d4) 8 Kardan League scouts (1d6 1st level fighters, on foot) 9 Dog, Wild [AEC] (4d4) 10 Men, Brigands (1d3+3) 11 Jackal [AEC] (1d6) 12 Orc, Poisonblood [BS] (2d4) 13 Shrew, Giant (1d4) 14 Wolf (2d6) 15 Ankheg [AEC] (1d6) 16 Hawk, Giant (1) 17 Spider, Giant Black Widow (1d3) 18 Jackalwere [AEC] (1d4) 19 Blink Dog (1d6) 20 Dragon, Green (1)
Great Moor 2 Ghost [AEC] (1) 3 Rhagodessa, Giant (1d4) 4 Ghoul (1d6) 5 Lycanthrope, Werewolf (1) 6 Fly, Giant Carnivorous (1d6) 7 Bat, Giant (1d10) 8 Sprite (3d6) 9 Bat, Normal (1d100) 10 Goblin, Wormeye [BS] (1d6+3) 11 Zombie (2d4) 12 Wolf, White [BS] (2d4) 13 Cultists of the Writhing Dark (1d8 1st level fighters) 14 Mule (1d8) 15 Insect Swarm (1) 16 Snake, Pit Viper (1d8) 17 Gargoyle (1d6) 18 Groaning Spirit (Banshee) [AEC] (1) 19 Spectre (1d4) 20 Wyvern (1d2)
Hills 2 Giant, Stone (1d2) 3 Giant, Hill (1d4) 4 Ogre (1d2) 5 Axe Beak [AEC] (1d6) 6 Dwarf (1d6) 7 Centipede, Giant (2d4) 8 Kardan League scouts (1d6 1st level fighters, on foot) 9 Wolf, White [BS] (2d4) 10 Hunters (1d4, 0-level) 11 Trappers (1d2, 0-level) 12 Men, Brigands (1d3+3) 13 Hawk, Giant (1) 14 Dog, Wild [AEC] (4d4) 15 Orc, Poisonblood [BS] (2d4) 16 Lycanthrope, Werewolf (1d6) 17 Manticore (1d2) 18 Griffon (1) 19 Chimera (1d2) 20 Dragon, Red (1)
Road 2 Giant, Hill (1d4) 3 Ogre (1d2) 4 Emgar Imperium patrol (1d3x6 1st level fighters, mounted) 5 Orc, Poisonblood [BS] (2d4) 6 Men, Merchants (1d20) 7 A corpse 8 Centipede, Giant (2d4) 9 Men, Brigands (1d3+3) 10 Lone traveler (0-level) 11 Dog, Wild [AEC] (4d4) 12 Travelers (1d4, 0-level) 13 Hawk, Giant (1) 14 Cultists of the Writhing Dark (1d4 1st level fighters) 15 Boar (1d6) 16 Wolf (2d6) 17 Kardan League patrol (2d4x6 1st level fighters, mounted, and 1d6 Dog, War) 18 Badger [AEC] (1d2) 19 Men, Brigands (4d4, mounted) 20 Dragon, Blue (1)
Swamp 2 Hydra (1) 3 Carcass Scavenger (1d3) 4 Leech, Giant (1) 5 Gas Spore [AEC] (1d3) 6 Lizard, Giant Draco (1d4) 7 Fly, Giant Carnivorous (1d6) 8 Troll (1d8) 9 Insect Swarm (1 swarm) 10 Centipede, Giant (2d4) 11 Tick, Giant [AEC] (3d4) 12 Snake, Pit Viper (1d8) 13 Stirge (1d10) 14 Frog, Giant Killer [AEC] (3d6) 15 Toad, Giant (1d4) 16 Shadow (1d8) 17 Slug, Giant [AEC] (1) 18 Will-O-Wisp [AEC] (1) 19 Shambling Mound [AEC] (1d3) 20 Dragon, Black (1)
Goblin, Wormeye >>> Mostly as normal, but their eyes are on long eyestalks, their skin is ashy gray, and they only live in the Great Moor
Orc, Poisonblood >>> As normal orcs, but their blood is poisonous (save or die, but with a bonus) and they coat their weapons with it as they enter battle.
Wolf, White >>> The wolves for which Wolf Point was named, white wolves are the reincarnated forms of people who die in Bleakstone
Rumors in Wolf Point I need to give the group a manageable number of clear options right off the bat. Within minutes of starting to play, the PCs should hear about all of the following: The Varkayri Empire had a vast underground prison at the southern tip of the Doomfangs, and when the empire collapsed a century ago, they stopped guarding it. Rumors and tales and legends about Stonehell abound, and everyone’s is different—but they all agree it’s huge, it’s there, and it’s dangerous. Some adventurers have returned, and they brought back fabulous treasure. Two months ago, a great lightning storm smote the temple of the Iron God, where many in Wolf Point have interred their dead for as long as they can remember. All of the buildings on the surface were destroyed, but no one has been brave enough to go into the catacombs. The monastery can be reached in a half-day’s walk, following Kardan Road east and then taking the trail south to the hills. Folks sometimes travel down from Blackbriar, the last village on the Great Moor, to trade in Wolf Point, and when they do they tell tales about Barrowmaze. Barrowmaze is a vast tomb complex not far from the village, right in the heart of the moor, and the fact that they still live there is why we all know they’re crazy. It’s about three days to Blackbriar on the road; just follow Kardan Road west, then Silver Trail north, and then Old Mine Road east across the moor. Don’t stop in Silverdell. It’s a hair longer if you head east instead, but you can stop in Farhill on the way. Wolf Point doesn’t get a lot of visitors, but in recent months folks heading east have mentioned that they’d heard the inn on Silver Trail was abandoned. Ruins in Bleakstone aren’t unusual, but this inn held on even after Silverdell fell into ruin. It’s about a day’s ride west of the village. Trappers occasionally venture out onto the Great Moor, and although none have seen it personally they all agree that there’s a haunted wizard’s tower due north of Wolf Point. Most agree it’s about a day’s travel, but there’s no road or trail that leads there. Hunters who venture south tell of an abandoned manor house—perfectly preserved, which can’t be right—that sits in a clearing at the edge of Fallen Star Wood. It’s supposed to be haunted, but home to all the wealth of the mage who once lived there. If you follow the coast until you can turn south, it’s less than a day’s walk due south from there.
Sources of Rumors The Bloody Pelt is full of superstitious peasants, as well as hunters and trappers competing to outdo each other will tall tales—some of which are actually true. Potential hirelings gather here as well.
Chendra and Barskin Garr, the village’s smith and innkeeper, are known to deal with tomb-robbers and adventurers, and are a good source of rumors. The Garrs can usually point adventurers in the direction of a few likely hirelings.
The notice board in the village square occasionally features notices, bounties, and job opportunities for the brave and foolish. The PCs can post notices there, as well, though many villagers can’t read.
Huge Bleakstone master document from some point (Word doc)
Still needs to be wiki-formatted
Adir and the Nine Lands Bleakstone is part of a vast region known as the Nine Lands, the central continent on the world of Adir. The Nine Lands are so named for the nine great kingdoms that once stretched across the land. Some of those kingdoms have been absorbed, some are dead and gone, and others have survived to the present day. There are still nine of them, if you count the borderland region of Bleakstone as a kingdom (which it’s technically not), leading many in the Nine Lands to believe that the gods themselves decreed nine as the sacred number of nations that can exist here, the heart of Adir.
The Calendar Time in the Nine Lands is divided as follows: 360 days in a year 12 months in a year 30 days per month 7 days per week, the 7th being a rest day 2 special days each month 24 hours in a day, with the sun rising in the east and setting in the west
Within each month, the 15th and 30th days fall outside of the week structure. These are market, festival, or otherwise special days depending on regional and local customs. In Bleakstone, they’re known as Market Day (just what it sounds like) and Last Day, respectively. Last Day is traditionally considered the best time to embark on a journey.
The months of the year are: Winter Frostmoot (January) Deepsnow (February) Spring Winterwane (March) Rainmoot (April) Palesun (May) Summer Highsun (June) Firemoot (July) Firewane (August) Fall Lowsun (September) Redfall (October) Winter Snowmoot (November) Fellnight (December)
The days of the week are: Moonday (Monday) Towerday (Tuesday) Wineday (Wednesday) Thunderday (Thursday) Fireday (Friday) Swordsday (Saturday) Saintsday (Sunday)
Local and regional traditions and superstitions surround the days of the week, such as Swordsday being the most auspicious time to launch military offensives, Thunderday generally having the worst weather during the week, and so forth. Because most people can’t read, associating days of the week with common things means that it’s simple to plan events in advance, or show what days a store is open (the sign displays a moon, a tower, and a jug of wine—it’s open Moonday through Wineday).
(This whole calendar is designed to be simple and largely transparent during play, but still convey flavor and a measure of realism. To track campaign time in a meaningful way, and to plot believable weather in advance, you need a calendar; to make a calendar, you have to have all this stuff. Months that artificially sound like real-world months feel forced to me; days that do so don’t.)
Gods of the Nine Lands The most prevalent religion in the Nine Lands is the pantheon of the Highstar, also called the Crossroads. In game terms, the Crossroads is the pantheon of Order. People tend worship specific gods according to their needs, always paying reverence to the Highstar. The Highstar is either the sole parent of the four gods or the single god of which the other four are just aspects. The four points of the Crossroads are: Sepradoth, the god of death Kellaen, the god of plenty Nalkysa, the goddess of strife Elmanar, the goddess of peace
The symbol of the Crossroads is a square, tilted 45 degrees, divided into four quarters. People make "the sign of the Crossroads" by tracing the outer bounds of the square, starting at the top, in the air in front of them. Clerics can receive spells from any of the four gods, or the Highstar, though scholars disagree as to whether their power comes from the Highstar or one of its children/aspects. Symbolically, the Highstar sits at the center of the Crossroads and its children sit at the points: Elmanar at the top (N, in compass terms), Kellaen clockwise to the right (E), Nalkysa at the bottom (S), and Sepradoth opposite Kellaen (W).
The Crossroads itself represents the All-In-One, the Highstar that shines over all of Adir. The Highstar is neither male nor female, but is said to be either the single parent of the four gods or the one true god, of which the others are just aspects. The Highstar's children were born in the order that their influence spread throughout Adir: Elmanar is the oldest, for the world was once peaceful; Nalkysa is her identical twin sister, for peace and strife are but two sides of the same coin; Kellaen was born third, his birth heralding the coming of all creatures to Adir; and last came Sepradoth, for all things must end in death.
Minor gods, old gods, forgotten gods, and dead gods populate the quadrants of the Crossroads. Priests of the Highstar attempt to fit any god into one of the quadrants based on their connection (perceived or real) to one of the four great gods. (This makes it easy to put all sorts of weird gods into the game without worrying too much about it, including player-created gods. The whole pantheon is loosely modeled on the Seven in Westeros, and designed to be simple yet evocative.)
Demi-Human Pantheon Elves and dwarves sometimes venerate the Crossroads as well, but more commonly pay homage to their own gods. The dwarves worship Dommgurden, the Deep Lord who filled Adir with caves and tunnels for his chosen people, and revile Undask, Dommgurden's twisted elder brother who is said to lurk in the deepest reaches of the earth, waiting to claim his birthright.
The elves venerate Cormelantharia, commonly called the Lady of the Trees or the Verdant Queen, who covered the land in forest. Blaming humanity for many of the world's ills, they have adopted two gods of the Crossroads, Nalkysa and Sepradoth, into their pantheon as Cormelantharia's dark opponents.
The Gods of the Writhing Dark Alongside the pantheon of Order is the pantheon of Chaos, a host of minor gods with their own cults, degenerate peoples, and sinister customs of worship. While some who seeks to bring chaos into the world worship Sepradoth or Nalkysa, both of whom have a chaotic side, many more venerate one or more of the Gods of the Writhing Dark, a non-unified pantheon of beings that, taken together, are an exemplar of the principle of chaos. Some are dead gods, long forgotten; others are bursting with dark vitality, lurking on the fringes of civilization and building their strength.
In relation to the Crossroads, the Writhing Dark surrounds its borders. (And like the quadrants of the Crossroads, the Writhing Dark neatly accommodates an unlimited number of weird, creepy gods.)
History The Bleakstone region has been claimed by several kingdoms over its centuries of history, but none of them have ever paid much attention to the area. It’s cold in the winter, there isn’t much arable land, and the presence of the dominant Varkayri Empire (which also claimed the region, and also never paid it much mind) kept nearby kingdoms from making aggressive inroads into Bleakstone. When the Varkayri Empire collapsed a century ago, the region collapsed into chaos. Neighboring kingdoms raised armies and marched in to claim former Varkayri holdings, the Empire fought back, and thousands were slaughtered, enslaved, or fled in all directions as refugees.
A decade after the Empire’s fall, it was two-thirds of its former size and had largely ceded its easternmost lands to the Kardan League, a powerful alliance of merchant princes with a great host of mercenaries at their command—and then the “bleak stone” began to appear. The first sighting was north of the Doomfangs: A patch of land a hundred yards wide that appeared to have been turned to stone overnight, right down to the last tree branch and blade of grass. Within a few years, as the rival powers in the region fought skirmishes to retain or take control, more of these mysterious petrified expanses appeared throughout the area. Some included people and animals, even whole towns, frozen forever as they were when this fell magic came upon them.
Between the years of war, the wholesale slaughter and flight of the region’s peasants—and the attendant loss of food production—and the unexplained and ongoing “bleak stone” phenomenon, the price of laying claim to the region simply became too high. The Kardan League withdrew, as did its rivals, and the area—now known as Bleakstone—became a borderland, neither claimed nor desired by the great powers. Decades of internal strife and hardship followed, reducing the population even further.
A few communities hung on, however, or banded together in hastily fortified camps that eventually became towns in their own right. Castles constructed and then abandoned by those who sought to solidify their claim to the region were occupied anew, or put to other purposes. Those who remained were tough and hardy folk, and they became tougher and hardier. They learned to avoid the petrified expanses, especially once tales began surfacing of travelers who had seen ghosts and foul demons cavorting upon the bleak stone. Darker forces took root as well, including cults of the Writhing Dark, bandits, and bestial humanoids looking to found empires of their own. Bleakstone became known as a place where anyone willing to risk their lives could come to start a new one.
In the past decade, no new occurrences of the phenomenon that gave the region its name have been reported. Scouts from neighboring kingdoms have once again been sighted along Bleakstone’s fringes, and their masters appear to have regained their interest in expansion. Whether that interest will linger once they find out just how dangerous Bleakstone actually is remains to be seen…
Inspiration Bleakstone was inspired by a petrified area in the Lamentations of the Flame Princess module “Death Frost Doom,” which gave me the idea for the petrified expanses. A few months after I’d started work on Bleakstone, I also found reference to an area of wilderness inexplicably turning to stone in Knockspell #3, so the idea itself isn’t new. It’s a cool idea, and Bleakstone is my take on how it would play out on a larger scale.
Climate Bleakstone is a temperate region. North of Kardan Road, chill north winds keep the temperature slightly lower on average than it is south of the road. Along the coast, high winds lash the shore. (In Dragon 137 terms, the whole starting map counts as “warm and rainy,” like much of Europe, and is in the northern hemisphere at around 30 or 40 latitude inasmuch as I worry about that stuff.)
The Bleak Stone Bleakstone’s petrified expanses are more commonly called “bleak stone” by the region’s inhabitants. Unbeknownst to most, they are in some way gates to Hell. Demons, creatures of pure chaos, seem able to enter the world through bleak stone, but not to leave its boundaries. Ghosts and other incorporeal undead, the shades of those petrified when bleak stone took hold of them, haunt these regions in great numbers. They are among the most dangerous places in the entire region.
Moot: A Nine Lands term for “meet” or “meeting,” as in the month of Rainmoot (April), when the rains come in earnest.
Radiance: The official title of priests of the Highstar (often called priests of the Crossroads, as well).
Wend: A term for “river” local to Bleakstone, usually a suffix (e.g., Bloodwend).
The Bleakstone Region
Alikar River The Alikar is a small tributary of the Wyk River, which follows Bleakstone’s gradual slope to the sea and also empties into Drake’s Claw Bay. The Alikar is nearly as cold as the Wyk, but not as wide or fast-moving.
Blackbriar Hills Lashed by storms and high winds off the Kavvar Sea, the Blackbriar Hills are a forbidding tangle of salt-encrusted thorn bushes, saw-toothed grasses, and tangled vegetation.
Bloodwend River The Bloodwend flows south from the lands of the Varkayri Empire and into Bleakstone, emptying into Drake’s Claw Bay. It’s notorious for being choked with drifts of wood and bracken, and for its treacherously shallow water, and it carries little traffic in Bleakstone.
Cursed Lake So named for its role in flooding the mine around that sustained Silverdell (0510), Cursed Lake has an ill reputation in Bleakstone.
Darkmoot Forest This sprawling wood is home to the Poisonblood orc tribe, which preys on travelers along Kardan Road and raids the lands to the east. The Poisonblood orcs literally have poison for blood, and are feared for their favorite battle tactic: drawing a blade across their bodies to coat it with poison before battles. The more scars a Poisonblood orc has, the more foes he has slaughtered. (Their blood is a strong poison, but doesn’t last long outside the orcs’ bodies. Save or die with +4 to the save, loses potency after 1d6 days.)
The Doomfangs Rising like a wall of stone knives, the Doomfangs are a range of forbidding peaks from 5,000 to 10,000 feet high. They form a natural climate barrier between the warmer lands of the former Varkayri Empire to the north and east and the generally colder lands that stretch to the coast, as well as a political boundary that once demarcated the western extent of the Varkayri Empire. They are sheer and hard to approach from the north, but from the south foothills and more gradual slopes make them somewhat more hospitable.
Fallen Star Wood Surrounding the hills just north of Wolf Point (1523) is Fallen Star Wood, an old and gnarled forest made strange by the presence of lodestone deposits and the abundance of white wolves that make their home here.
The Gray Blight The lowlands just north of the eastern end of the Doomfangs are poorly irrigated, warm and dry in the summer and windswept year round. North of the Gray Blight, the climate changes, becoming wetter, and the Marwine River and spring rains provide ample water. The Gray Blight is so named for the color of its tall, sparse grass: pale gray, the color of moonlit clouds at night. Despite its peculiar appearance, the grass isn’t harmful to creatures that consume it, but the plain has a bad reputation nonetheless—perhaps owing to the presence of Stonehell (2413), a place that’s earned every bit of its notoriety. The peculiar thing about it is that some longtime residents of Bleakstone say it’s spreading…
The Great Moor Nearly a hundred miles from end to end and forty miles wide at its widest point, the Great Moor is chilly, foggy, and inhospitable. It would make decent grazing land if settled, but most of its former inhabitants fled or were slaughtered in the decades of chaos that followed the collapse of the Varkayri Empire.
Icewend River The Icewend takes its name from the temperature of its water in spring: bone-chillingly cold, straight from the Doomfangs. When it emerges from Cursed Lake, it becomes the Wyk River.
Kardan Road The Kardan League, which lies to the east of Bleakstone, was the most powerful kingdom to contest the region when the Varkayri Empire fell a century ago. As part of their efforts to lay claim to the area, they cleared a road to the west and joined it up with the southern curve of the Empire’s East Road. The League may once have called this road something else, but now it’s simply called Kardan Road. It’s an unpaved road, but it sees enough traffic that it’s not generally overgrown or in terrible shape.
Marwine River Named for the potent marilvyre wine favored in the Varkayri Empire (which itself is often shorted to just “marwine”), the Marwine wends its way east from the Doomfangs across what used to be Empire territory.
Old Mine Road Old Mine Road was once much longer, leading to other mining communities in the foothills south of the Doomfangs, but the northern section has long since been reclaimed by the landscape. All that remains is the path to Farhill (1710), which is hardly ever traveled. It’s a rough dirt road barely wide enough for a wagon.
Redhill Wood Named for the bright red flowers that carpet the hills along its southern edge, Redhill Wood was one the former Varkayri Empire’s main sources of lumber, and much of it was cleared as of a century ago. Since the collapse, new growth has expanded the forest again, and now it supports woodcutters from Turnfell (203).
Selgar Hills Named for one of the earliest settlers to come to what is now Bleakstone, Barioc Selgar, the Selgar Hills shelter Wolf Point from cold winter winds, make the village difficult to approach from the north and west, and are home to an abundance of small animals (particularly minks), making them attractive to trappers.
Silver Trail Known as Silver Trail because of its connection to the former mining town of Silverdell (510), this road isn’t as wide or as nice as Kardan Road or West Road, both of which were cleared by great empires. Silver Trail is a winding dirt road, worn clear over decades by peddlers, miners, and travelers. It counts as a road for movement purposes.
Trail of Woe Used only by desperate and foolish travelers, the Trail of Woe was a road in the time of the Varkayri Empire—the road that was used to transport prisoners to Stonehell (2314). After the empire collapsed and the Gray Blight appeared, the Kardan League built Kardan Road around the Blight, and the Trail of Woe was abandoned.
Two Fords Locals call the place where Kardan Road crosses the Wyk River and the Alikar River in rapid succession Two Fords. Sturdy Kardan-built stone bridges make both crossings simple even in rough weather. Had the Kardan builders not been stymied by the marshy ground where the Wyk and Alikar rivers fork, they could have routed the road north of the fork and saved one crossing.
West Road From the perspective of the potentate of the original Varkayri Empire, which fell a century ago, this road joined the western reaches of his domain to the south and central portions of the realm. Now in disrepair, it was once a paved brick road—the bricks put down by some of the future inhabitants of Stonehell, then merely prisoners.
The White Swamp Many of the fallen, rotted, and overgrown trees in the White Swamp are coated in a mold so white it looks like snow. It dries up in the winter and flourishes anew in the summer, and it glows faintly in the dark. Travelers on Kardan Road pick up their pace while in sight of the swamp.
Wyk River The Wyk flows south from Cursed Lake and then east along the coast, emptying into Drake’s Claw Bay. It’s wide and fast, and when Cursed Lake rises in the spring—fed by the Icewend River and the snowmelt from the Doomfangs—it becomes wider still, and dangerous to ford.
124—Hammers of the God Unknown, never plundered, and deep within the Doomfangs, this dungeon appears as presented in the module—and defines the secret history of the dwarven race.
173—The Pod-Caverns The pod-caverns of the sinister shroom are located beneath these hills along the Marwine River, and appear as presented in the module. The stolen oxen in the adventure hook came from Turnfell (203).
203—Turnfell Situated along West Road in what used to be the Varkayri Empire, the village of Turnfell straddles the Marwine River, with roughly the same number of houses on the north and south side of the river. Like virtually all communities in Bleakstone, Turnfell is walled—in this case, each half has a semi-circular wall that starts on the shore, encircles the village, and ends again at the shore. A tall watchtower rises from the center of each of half of the village, manned 24 hours a day by a member of the village militia. Everyone old enough (or not too old) to carry a spear is part of the militia. No one knows why Turnfell wasn’t built on one side of the Wyk or the other.
An ancient, creaky ferry capable of carrying a laden wagon and two horses, or five horses without a wagon, connects the two halves of the village. The ferry is pulled across the river by donkeys hitched to heavy ropes, one on each side. Most of the villagers herd oxen or sheep along the Marwine, cut wood in Redhill Wood, or trade with travelers coming up or down the West Road. The villagers know of the mysterious tower to the south (the Spire of Iron and Crystal, 167), and some will claim to have been there; in truth, none of them have.
510—Silverdell Until the mine flooded, killing many of the miners and driving the townsfolk away, the mining town of Silverdell was once of the most profitable places in Bleakstone to make a living. It flooded a few years ago, and the miners and other inhabitants of the town declared the mine a lost cause and moved on. What’s left are roofless buildings, piles of rotted wood, and a road leading south that’s become steadily more overgrown as the years march on. The Grinding Gear (0616) was situated around a day’s ride from Silverdell so as to take advantage of miners heading south with silver or north with cash.
812—Barrowmaze The inhabitants of what is now Bleakstone, particularly those living in the shadow of the Doomfangs, have been interred their dead in Barrowmaze for centuries. Their settlements are long gone. The cult of Nergal and the Cult of Orcus (both gods of the Writhing Dark) are more recent arrivals, coming here after the initial wave of chaos that followed the fall of the Varkayri Empire. The dungeon appears as presented in the book, with Blackbriar (1011) replacing Helix and serving as a home base for adventurers exploring the dungeon.
817—The Grinding Gear When the mine near Silverdell (510) flooded and the town itself was abandoned, The Grinding Gear was no longer situated on a traveled road, and it was abandoned as well shortly thereafter. It appears as presented in the module.
1011—Blackbriar The village of Blackbriar grew up around a camp for refugees from the surrounding moorland during the collapse of the Varkayri Empire and the time of slaughter that followed it. As the petrified expanses began to appear, the other villages on the moor were abandoned, leaving Blackbriar as the sole civilized community on the Great Moor. Old Mine Road connects Blackbriar to Farhill (1710), and by following it around to the east or west to the ruins of Silverdell (510, but no one goes there) and Wolf Point (1418). The people of Blackbriar are hardy folk, if a bit odd; the haunted moorland has left its mark on them, and they’re deeply superstitious, rarely travel, and never leave Blackbriar at night.
The village is surrounded by a great earthen mound topped with boulders and sharpened logs, and this “wall” is patrolled by night. Given the presence of Barrowmaze, which the villagers know about, and the dangers of the moor all around them, Blackbriar folks tend to know a lot about death and the dead—to a degree that can be creepy to outsiders. Since no one in Blackbriar is native to this part of the moor, none of their dead are interred in Barrowmaze, and they have no special reverence for the place.
1213—Tower of the Stargazer Situated at the heart of The Great Moor, this dangerous spire appears as presented in the module. 1319 Rusty spearheads, axe heads, and scattered bones signal that this was the site of a small battle. The battle was between pagan sailors from the Kavvar coast and troops of the Kardan League. Kardan insignia can be found on buckles and buttons, if searched for. The battle took place about 50 years ago.
1320—Shadowbrook Manor Situated on a cleared hill at the edge of Fallen Star Wood, this haunted manor house—which the few brave souls who’ve ventured anywhere near it report is perfectly preserved—is avoided by the inhabitants of Wolf Point (1418). It appears as presented in the module.
1418—Wolf Point Named for the prevalence of large, white wolves in the region, Wolf Point is a fishing village at the southern end of the Bleakstone region. It was founded more or less by accident several centuries ago by ex-slaves, traders, escaped criminals and would-be adventurers seeking a new life on the fringes of civilization. The village has hung on through generations of upheaval because the inhabitants have nowhere else to go, surviving because of abundant fishing in Drake’s Claw Bay, the value of white wolf pelts from the surrounding hills, and the bulging coin purses of adventurers passing through.
Wolf Point has a population of 300, mostly fishermen, trappers, and their families. The town is surrounded by a palisade wall of sharpened logs with three watchtowers, a massive wooden gate, and a rough quay with a single ramshackle dock. Once every 1d3 weeks a ship makes the run into Drake’s Claw Bay and docks at Wolf Point for 1d3 days to sell supplies, buy wolf pelts and smoked fish, and drop off the occasional party of desperate ne’er-do-wells. Most of the villagers’ taxes go to paying for a small standing garrison to man the gates and watchtowers and defend the town. The largest house in town, and the only one made of stone, belongs to the mayor, Lady Fay Woodspur, a hard-bitten former soldier whose family has had roots in Wolf Point for centuries.
The village features a single inn, the Bloody Pelt, which occupies the lower floor of the proprietor’s home (Barskin Garr, a relatively recent arrival who recognizes the village’s appeal to adventurers). Barskin’s sister, Chendra Garr, runs a small general store with a smithy in the back, serving as the town’s sole merchant and blacksmith. Like Barskin, she’s accustomed to tomb robbers passing through, and she keeps items like torches, lamp oil, and rope in stock. Padock Duram owns most of the small fishing fleet, leasing boats to the fisherman who ply the bay. Most of the trappers and hunters are only in town when it’s too cold to catch wolves, and haven’t put down roots.
A rundown shrine of the Crossroads looks out over the bay. When he’s not too drunk to stand, the town’s priest (not a cleric), Radiance Bordun, presides over occasional religious services and acts as the town’s healer. The town’s populace is divided between those who venerate the iron god and inter their dead at the monastery outside town (1921) and those who worship the Crossroads; the latter bury their dead in the small, relatively new, cemetery just outside Wolf Point.
Between itinerant trappers and hunters, down-on-their-luck fishermen, other recent arrivals, and travelers, it’s often easy to find people willing to carry torches, act as guards, handle mules, and otherwise do the dirty jobs adventurers need done.
1421 Overlooking the bay is an ancient shrine to Kellathas, a long-forgotten god of the Writhing Dark. The shrine consists of an enormous weathered boulder atop four pillars of crumbling worked stone, and its entire surface is graven with carvings of an enormous narwhal rescuing sailors, killing sea monsters, and basking in the glory heaped on it by its followers. Sand, shells, coral, and driftwood are littered about inside the shrine; all four sides are open to the elements.
1425 A minor battle was fought here around the time that the petrified expanses began to appear, as desperate soldiers attacked a group of riverboats leaving Bleakstone along the Wyk. They slew the sailors, commandeered the boats, and deserted. The rotten skeleton of one of the boats sticks out of the river, and a scattering of bones, dented helmets, and rusty swords covers the north bank in this area.
1523 A watchtower lurks here amidst a copse of tall trees. It has a stone base, with the upper portion made of rough-hewn logs and topped with a wood-and-hide enclosure. Built over a hundred years ago to signal ships out in Drake’s Claw Bay, it’s been maintained by various groups ever since. It’s currently controlled by brigands who are in occasional contact with Kardan League scouts; the brigands report shipping traffic to the scouts in exchange for substantial payment.
1607—The Spire of Iron and Crystal This peak is home to the Spire of Iron and Crystal, which appears as presented in the module. The potentate of the Varkayri Empire investigated, and was frustrated by, the spire on several occasions. When he couldn’t unlock its secrets and it proved resistant to his initial efforts to destroy it, he ignored it.
1710—Farhill Farhill is a small, bleak mining village at the foot of a great peak that somehow survived the century of chaos that followed the fall of the Varkayri Empire. The villagers (about 100) keep finding just enough silver and gold in the foothills to eke out a decent living, but not enough to attract bandits, robbers, or others who might be expected to see them as easy prey. The population is roughly evenly divided between miners and herders, the latter of which herd their sheep and goats out on the Great Moor. Farhill has a rough palisade and a dry moat, but no garrison, relying on its inhospitable location and relative poverty to keep interlopers away. In a pinch, the miners and shepherds can form a militia to defend against an outside threat. The village has a tavern but no inn (they never get travelers), no general store, and no amenities, but the people are surprisingly warm and welcoming to strangers who don’t cause trouble.
1719—Tomb of the Iron God For centuries, the inhabitants of what is now Bleakstone brought their dead to this monastery in the hills not far from Drake’s Claw Bay, entrusting their care to the monks who live here. The church of the Crossroads, the most prevalent religion in the world, began making inroads when the Varkayri Empire fell a century ago. Most new arrivals to the region worship the Crossroads, and many who have lived in Bleakstone for generations now do as well—they didn’t have much luck with their old gods, after all. The monastery and the tomb appear as presented in the module.
1810—Death Frost Doom Unfortunately for the villagers in Farhill (1710), they live at the foot of the mountain that houses the shrine of Duvan’Ku (a god of the Writhing Dark) and the module Death Frost Doom. The module appears as presented.
2411—Stonehell At the far southeastern end of what was once the Varkayri Empire, nestled in the inhospitable foothills of the Doomfangs, sits the Stonehell megadungeon. Apart from the changed name of the empire, it appears as presented in the book.
Inspiration and Design Principles Bleakstone was inspired by my sudden, overwhelming interest in the OSR, which began in early February 2012 with Troy’s Gnome Stew article about running basic D&D for his kids. I wanted to create a hex crawl that could be used as a backup game for the guys, as a gnome game for GenCon 2012, and as a room game for GenCon 2012. I also wanted it to be done “right enough” that it could, if interest was there, blossom into creating the D&D fantasy world I’ve never created—and into an ongoing game.
I was reading B/X D&D, BECMI/RC D&D, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox, LotFP, DCC RPG, Dark Dungeons, and a ridiculous wealth of old-school and OSR modules at the time, and all of them informed how I approached Bleakstone. The version of the hex crawl starting map that this document is based on is around my seventh, and by far the most detailed—this was the time it clicked for me. Welsh Piper and Bat in the Attic’s approaches to hex crawl design were foundational influences, as were the West Marches, and a desire for Bleakstone to evoke and easily be used with basic D&D and OSR RPGs.
From LotFP I took the design principles that it should be a more or less realistic medieval world so that the weird feels weirder, and that most monsters should be truly unique. The idea for the petrified expanses also comes from LotFP—specifically, from Death Frost Doom (which features one without explanation). I wanted the name, “Bleakstone,” to be iconic and remind people of the original fantasy worlds (Greyhawk, Blackmoor).
Put all of that together, and it meant I needed a fun level of realism, a sparse borderlands region, and lots of seeded modules to support quick play. Stonehell was the first OSR product that made me go “Oh my god, I have to run this!” so it became the foundation: The Varkayri Empire is Stonehell’s Sterling Potentate, and that history plus the idea that between regional chaos and the appearance of the bleak stone expanses no one in their right mind would still live there is why Bleakstone is so wild and lightly settled. It’s designed to be easy to jump into, to support multiple groups, and to be a blast to play.
Start PCs in Wolf Point, tell the players the only thing they can’t do is get on a boat and go back out to sea, and those are the last choices I make for them. The assumed baseline is that the PCs are tomb robbers in the old-school sense, out for wealth and glory—if they can survive. There’s enough adventure in Bleakstone’s starting 27,000 square mile hex crawl map to literally last for years of regular play. (Although at some point a regular group would need access to a larger city; that city is likely to be one map over and be Lesserton.)
Goldwell master doc from 2012 (Word doc)
Goldwell Hexcrawl Campaign Setting Begun 1/31/12
Goldwell is a dangerous borderlands region currently unclaimed by any nation, but formerly part of the Sterling Potentate. It’s bounded by the Kardan League to the northwest, the former lands of the Potentate to the north, the slowly expanding dwarven nation of Bekvarin to the northeast, and the Deramere Empire to the southeast. The lands of the Potentate are disputed and chaotic, technically extended the borderland quite a bit outside the Goldwell region. The Kardan League, a powerful, expansionist merchant alliance, the Deramere Empire, a sprawling nation of tiny fiefdoms, and Bekvarin, and underground dwarven kingdom that’s slowly claiming the dark places beneath the Potentate, are all interested in Goldwell for their own reasons.
One of those reasons is Thunder Vale, a fertile rift valley bounded by the Westwall and Eastwall Mountains. It’s an arable region that could provide considerable resources to whoever controls it, but it’s currently overrun by the Darkmoot goblins and the Stormblood orcs, two tribes that rose to prominence when the Potentate collapsed.
A narrow strip of marshy ground grants East-West overland passage where Thunder Vale meets Drake’s Claw Bay, but it’s not a practical crossing point for large groups, caravans, or armies. For now, the League, Bekvarin, and the Empire are only scouting the region, deciding whether and where to make a push to claim Goldwell for their own. For now…
Goldwell was named because it is supposedly a region rich in gold—as the saying went, “It’s like a well full of gold: Just lower a bucket and it will come back up filled to the brim”—in the form of treasure left behind by ancient empires. Over the years, many brave souls have traveled here in search of treasure and found danger instead.
This is a Hexcrawl campaign setting created using Welsh Piper’s random world generation method. The only significant difference is that instead of rolling for the number of minor encounters, I generally just place the number listed in the atlas hex. The idea is that the party starts in Wolf Point (1016), having just arrived there by ship, and can venture in any direction—it’s an open world with no overarching plot, just lots of things for them to discover. In the course of exploring the dangerous wilderness, they’ll create the story that becomes the campaign.
It’s geared towards a BECMI or RC D&D party, a Dark Dungeons party, or a DCC RPG party; the mindset underlying all three of those games is similar, and it’s what I had in mind when I got fired up to create Goldwell.
Highlighted items need further development, or in some cases just to be named on the hex map. I’ve been naming things spontaneously, and apart from the original concept of a map divided by the bay and the vale, coming up with the region’s background and factions on the spot as well. It’s a blast!
Note that the Sterling Potentate is home to Stonehell, giving me a reason to place Stonehell on the outskirts of Goldwell.
1016: Wolf Point, a hardscrabble town on the coast Drake’s Claw Bay. Wolf Point is the jumping-off point for prospectors, ne’er-do-wells, and adventurers heading for Thunder Vale or elsewhere in Goldwell. A town of rough timber buildings, thatched roofs, and a few stone dwellings, Wolf Point has a wall around its non-coastal sides with a large timber gate, walkways for guards, and an observation tower. It’s a sizeable town and a good place to stock up on supplies, buy horses, hire torchbearers and other companions, or secure passage across the bay. Wolf Point is where the PCs start the campaign, having arrived there by ship, and it’s the only choice I’ve made for them: From Wolf Point they can go in any direction, including across the bay, except back out to sea.
Should Wolf Point also house the Keep on the Borderlands, with the Caves of Chaos placed nearby?
0912: A pack of white dire wolves has their lair here in Fallen Star Wood. The abundance of wolves in this area is what gave Wolf Point its name.
0913: The Battle of Warbeck Field, the site of the last major battle between the garrison originally stationed at Wolf Point (1016) and the Darkmoot goblins. Both sides suffered heavy losses, and what was left of the garrison retreated and ultimately abandoned Wolf Point. The few non-soldiers who remained stayed on, and eventually it was transformed from fort to town. It’s believed to be bad luck to linger here, so few have; consequently there’s a fair amount of salvageable gear to be found among the grass.
1014: Burial ground. Many of the humans who fell in the battle of Warbeck Field (0913) were interred here in a secluded valley nestled among the hells. The people of Wolf Point (1016) regard this as sacred ground.
1212: Darkmoot, a goblin trading camp that’s used several times a year by the goblins that inhabit the Westwall Foothills. The occasional brave soul from Wolf Point (1016) ventures up to Darkmoot to trade, but by and large the two groups leave each other alone—they both have more important things to worry about.
1415: Parwell House, the fortified home of Gerron Parwell, sits deep within this swamp. Gerron catches his own fish and hunts his own game, and his home is both difficult to reach and well-fortified against raiders—though it would certainly fall to a large or determined group. Gerron is a retired adventurer who gave up the wanderer’s life a decade ago, but couldn’t bear to leave this dangerous land. He has been known to help travelers in need, and he occasionally travels to Wolf Point (1016).
1616: Monster lair (common or uncommon creature that fits the region).
1321: Wandering monster (appropriate to the region, scouting/foraging).
1520: Fort Ironwood is a ramshackle settlement inhabited by the Ironwood mercenary company. They’ve been here for several years, always just on the cusp of taming the wilderness (according to them), but in actuality growing fat and lazy. Their contract (with a nation far to the southwest) is long since up. They have access to a small boat, and they trade their services for goods with Wolf Point (1016), Helmbrook (1721), and occasionally the village of Sallen (2219).
1522: Larmyn Forest is one of the few places one can find patches of mistbell, a rare flower that can be used to make healing poultices and, if properly treated, a potent poison. Villagers from Helmbrook (1721) occasionally venture here to pick the flowers.
1620: One of the few things the Ironwood Mercenaries from Fort Ironwood (1520) did right when they arrived in Goldwell was to construct a sturdy wooden bridge across the Marlen River, and it still stands today. They maintain a small garrison here, rotating troops out from the fort, and charge a toll to anyone wishing to cross. There’s no better place to cross the Marlen.
1721: The village of Helmbrook is nestled in the foothills on the south bank of the Marlen River, and its few inhabitants live off the river’s abundant fish. They occasionally trade with Fort Ironwood (1520), but mostly keep to themselves. Most live here because they have (or their parents had) little choice, and many are former criminals, escaped slaves, and the like.
0823: The inhabitants of Camp Sweetwater hope that this will be the future site of Sweetwater City, the largest settlement in Goldwell. They have pluck and determination, but they lack the manpower to actually build a settlement larger than a village—although that hasn’t stopped them from trying. There were originally many more settlers, but once the plan to use stone from the cursed ruins of Cortaine (0922) took hold, many of them fled south on the ships they arrived in. The remaining settlers are barely hanging on, and there’s talk that they should abandon the camp and follow their fellows south.
0922: A century ago, these ruins were the city of Cortaine, but that was before the plague came. Rumors abound as to the source of the plague, but no one knows for sure from whence it came or how quickly it struck, though many blame the region’s peculiar black tide (1022). All that’s certain is that Cortaine has never been inhabited since—at least, not by settlers or their ilk—and it’s considered ill luck to be there after dark. The inhabitants of Camp Sweetwater (0823) are attempting to build a new city using stone from Cortaine—a plan that all Goldwell natives consider to be a terrible idea.
1022: Every decade or so, this small inlet—isolated from the rest of Drake’s Claw Bay by eddy currents—suffers from an outbreak of Black Tide, a virulent disease borne by spores released from kelp that only grows here. These waters are dangerous all the time, but especially so during Black Tide. There’s always a fine scum of black goo along the shoreline. It’s believed that this may be what wiped out Cortaine (0922).
1024: Giant snakes infected by Black Tide (1022) spores lair here, rarely venturing out except to hunt for small game. A few of the Camp Sweetwater (0823) settlers have died from snake bites in the past few months, and the others now give this area a wide berth.
1124: An ancient monument known as the Wending Stones can be found in a deep dell in Larmyn Forest. They were erected centuries before humans came to Goldwell, and their purpose is unknown. They are non-magical.
1310: Mount Wyk is home to a treasure cache guarded by undead. The cave the holds the treasure, located some distance from the surface, was once the home of a mad hermit named Axen. Adventurers raided Axen’s home to steal his treasure, and in the ensuing battle the hermit caused a minor magical catastrophe, killing himself and all of the raiders and cursing them to wander the caves as undead.
1510: Monster lair (rare or very rare creature—this is a major encounter; name the mountain after it).
1710: This area is home to two features that make it valuable to both the Darkmoot goblins from the north and the Kardan League’s expeditionary forces from the west: a navigable path down the great cliff and into Thunder Vale, and one of the best observation points in the region, Crowmount. From Crowmount one can see a sizable portion of Thunder Vale, including the likeliest crossing point for groups heading NW/SE at the vale’s southern end. The League currently holds Crowmount and the path, but they repel frequent goblin assaults and they lack numbers.
0315: Treasure. Rumors have long persisted that there’s a hidden cache of treasure in these hills, and not only are the rumors true but that treasure is unguarded—though quite difficult to find. The monsters that prowl the nearby woods (0415) keep away casual seekers of the treasure; assuming they can be bypassed, a cave protected by ancient traps must be located and safely negotiated before the treasure can be claimed.
0415: Wandering monster (appropriate to the region, scouting/foraging).
0513: Dimensional gateway. Tucked in an overgrown glade in a dense part of Fallen Star Wood is an ancient dolmen that acts as a dimensional gateway. When activated, it crackles with magical energy. No one knows it exists or where it goes, and the local wildlife avoid it like the plague.
0516: Lodestone deposits. These hills are home to a surprising amount of lodestone in veins that rise right to the surface of the earth. Every few months a small group will set out from Wolf Point to mine what they can before arousing the interest of the monsters in Fallen Star Wood (0415).
0321: The infamous outlaw known as the Gray Scourge makes his home here, far from civilization. The fierce storms that lash the coastline in this area keep most people away, leaving the Gray Scourge and his small band of pirates free to range up and down the Bay, preying on the unwary. They own a single ship, a small vessel with both sails and oars, that’s suitable for preying only on similarly small (or very poorly defended) ships. Nonetheless, the Gray Scourge is a problem for the people who live on or near the bay.
0518: This hunters’ camp is here year-round, but much less active in the winter months. It’s near enough to Wolf Point (1016) that hunters from town sometimes spend a few weeks based here, hunting and trapping in the area, before heading home. It’s also close enough to the nearby coastal ruins (0520) that it sometimes serves as a rallying point for retaliatory raids on the area’s humanoid tribes. Most of the structures there are rough-hewn and sturdy; they include lean-tos, fire pits, and a crude longhouse. Hunters generally bring their own tents and other gear.
0520: Several hundred years ago, this vast subterranean complex was carved out of the foothills by orcs. Eventually, that tribe was wiped out by what became the Stormblood orc tribe, and the Stormbloods had no desire to maintain this settlement. Portions of the complex have caved in, some areas are flooded, and the parts that are still inhabitable are indeed inhabited.
1813: The Battle of Skirling Pass (so named because the wind here skirls like bagpipes in bad weather) was fought here. A small force of Kardan League mercenaries from the north ambushed a caravan of Deramerean merchants from the south expecting easy prey, and instead encountered fierce opposition from the Deramerean guards. The caravan was utterly destroyed, and virtually everyone involved in the battle died fighting. A few from both sides escaped, and both the Kardans and the Deramereans cite this battle as one of the reasons for their current enmity.
1911: These badlands were the site of a battle between soldiers from Wolf Point (1016) and Stormblood orcs from the Eastwall Mountains. The soldiers were wiped out to a man, and this battle was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Wolf Point garrison, causing them to abandon the region entirely. The battlefield is haunted by ghosts, mainly human but including a few orcs as well.
1917: Monster lair (common or uncommon creature that fits the region).
2116: Wandering monster (appropriate to the region, establishing its lair).
2118: Beckwood Hall is a fortified manor house made of timber and surrounded by a dry moat and a palisade of sharpened logs. It’s held by self-styled Lord Beckwood, really just Armand Beckwood, a former mercenary turned adventurer who decided that this was where he would make his mark. Unfortunately, he and most of his cohorts left on an expedition to Thunder Vale and have never returned. The manor is currently poorly garrisoned and his staff, especially those who can’t hunt or defend themselves, are strongly considering abandoning the place.
2219: The village of Sallen is small, poor, and populated mainly by hunters, trappers, and their families. Many of them were hired on by Lord Beckwood (2118), at least seasonally, and now find themselves without a ready market for their services and lacking the security that the manor provided. Fortunately, the area’s most dangerous inhabitants are on the north side of the White River.
0906: An unexplained wild magic field exists in these hills, perhaps a lingering aftereffect of some long-ago magical conflict. It makes all magic in the area highly unpredictable, and it seems to bother the local wildlife.
0908: Overgrown and covered in vines and debris, a ruined tomb sits forgotten in this part of the Fallen Star Wood. It was erected in the time of the Skylords, the rulers of this region before it became Goldwell. Now long-dead, rumors abound that the Skylords wielded fell swords made of starmetal; their legacy gave the Fallen Star Wood its name, and lodestone and starmetal are occasionally found in the region, lending credence to the legends. A tunnel in the deepest part of this tomb leads to a buried starmetal cache (1009).
1007: A goblin shrine that predates the arrival of the Darkmoot goblin tribe in the region sits in a clearing in the northern arm of the Fallen Star Wood. They hold it in reverence, and come here to pray before major raids and important events. The bleed-off from the wild magic field (0906) has imbued the shrine with magical properties, and all prayers here related to goblins—whether for good or ill—are more likely to come true. This shrine is one of the main reasons why the Darkmoot goblins are so prevalent, and dominant, in this area.
1009: This cache of starmetal is unguarded, but can only be accessed via a tunnel from the lower reaches of the nearby Skylord tomb (0908). Though difficult to forge and hard to work, starmetal is incredibly valuable because it can be turned into weapons of exceptional quality.
Another Goldwell starter (Word doc)
The idea is to have multiple clear options for more than one group of players (the guys as a fill-in game, the gnomes and my room at GenCon 2012, etc.) right out of the gate—in addition to the “Do whatever the hell you want” meta-option.
Low-level adventure options seeded on the initial regional map: Stonehell, about 1-2 days’ travel to the north from Wolf Point
Basics Goldwell is a borderlands region, currently not claimed by any of its neighbors.
It used to be part of the Sterling Potentate, an empire that collapsed around 100 years ago (leaving Stonehell in its wake).
Several thousand years ago, a magical civilization unlike any currently extant raised dozens of floating islands and cities in the sky over what is now Goldwell. When, inevitably, some unknown cataclysm wiped that civilization out, their sky-citadels came crashing down to earth. Some survived largely intact, thanks to their magic. Others, home to twisted menageries of bizarre creatures, shattered and released their contents largely unharmed. Evidence of this long-gone civilization lives on in the region’s ruins and ecology.
1st-level PCs start by landing in a port town, and the only thing they’re not allowed to do is head back out to sea (no seagoing vessels are expected for at least a month). That’s the last choice I make for them, apart from how I populate the world. This is true OSR hexcrawling: If they hear a rumor about a dragon in the hills, it’s not because the dragon is a level-appropriate challenge for the party, it’s because there’s a dragon in the hills.
The town is suitable for use as a home base, but not a terribly comfortable one. Most services low-level PCs could want can be found there.
The PCs start with very little info about the region, but they quickly learn rumors about where other adventurers have gone: the pre-planted modules in the area, not all of which are close by (or suitable for their level).
Use this for the Skylords: http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2008/10/of-ancient-empires.html
Name of the World
- The Nine Lands, or The Ninelands (named for nine kingdoms, some now gone)
Mullwood Drakefell Kheldara Whitestone
-rock Redforge Whiteforge Redsea Silver- Silverdark
Whitefell Underfell The Underlands (as in below the Skylords’ former realm) (The) Gallowlands Fallowdark Zagon, Zaggon Errath Denos Duar Margrum Regar Scyre Vokar Haelm Hellm Doomwood Hallain Gallowmoss Gallowmoor Thoris Thaurn Thauris Yaure
Places to Put on the Map
Many in the world of Aldain worship one or more of the following four gods, often alongside the Highstar, who is either the lone parent of the four gods or the single god of which the other four are just aspects: Sepradoth, the god of death Kellaen, the god of plenty Nalkosa, the goddess of strife Elmaosh, the goddess of peace
The individual gods have no symbols associated with them, but the pantheon does: a square, tilted 45 degrees, divided into four quarters. Sometimes called "the Crossroads," many make "the sign of the Crossroads" by tracing the outer bounds of the square, starting at the top, in the air in front of their face. Clerics can receive spells from any of the four gods, or the Highstar, though scholars disagree as to whether their power comes from the Highstar or one of its children.
Symbolically, the Highstar sits at the center of the Crossroads and its children sit at the points: Elmaosh at the top, Kellaen clockwise to the right, Nalkosa at the bottom, and Sepradoth opposite Kellaen.
The Crossroads itself represents the All-In-One, the Highstar that shines over all of Aldain. The Highstar is neither male nor female, but is said to be either the single parent of the four gods or the one true god, of which the others are just aspects. The Highstar's children were born in the order that their influence spread throughout Aldain: Elmaosh is the oldest, for the world was once peaceful; Nalkosa is her identical twin sister, for peace and strife are but two sides of the same coin; Kellaen was born third, his birth heralding the coming of all creatures to Aldain; and last came Sepradoth, for all things must end in death.
Elves and dwarves sometimes venerate the Crossroads as well, but more commonly pay homage to their own gods. The dwarves worship Dommgurden, the Deep Lord who filled Aldain with caves and tunnels for his chosen people, and revile Undask, Dommgurden's twisted elder brother who is said to lurk in the deepest reaches of the earth, waiting to claim his birthright.
The elves venerate Cormelantharia, commonly called the Lady of the Trees or the Verdant Queen, who covered the land in forest. Blaming humanity for many of the world's ills, they have adopted two gods of the Crossroads, Nalkosa and Sepradoth, into their pantheon as Cormelantharia's dark opponents.
Small and minor gods fit into the quadrants of the Crossroads, and are generally few and regarded as mere facets of the Highstar by all but their most devout worshippers.
The Gods of the Writhing Dark
Alongside the pantheon of order is the pantheon of chaos, a host of minor gods with their own cults, degenerate peoples, and sinister customs of worship. While some who seeks to bring chaos into the world worship Sepradoth or Nalkosa, both of whom have a chaotic side, many more venerate the Gods of the Writhing Dark, a non-unified pantheon of beings that, taken together, are an exemplar of the principle of chaos. Some are dead gods, long forgotten; others are bursting with dark vitality, lurking on the fringes of civilization and building their strength.
This pantheon exists so that I can introduce dark gods as needed without disturbing the simplicity of the Crossroads, and because Gods of the Writhing Dark just sounds cool.