“You don’t outgrow where you come from.”
– Brian Fallon
Now that we’ve painted the broad strokes off a new world, and placed it in the wider stream of the Cidrian Shards, lets get up close and personal.
The most important place in a campaign world for most players is their starting point. Its the closest thing to ‘home’ in their wandering lives, and its the easiest place to build personal connections and add color and depth to their backgrounds. Its also a place where a GM can take the broader themes of a campaign and bring them down to human scale and literally put a face on them.
For all the majesty and scale of epic fantasy, the best heroes know its not over until they return to the Shire or Winterfell.
For these reasons and more (look here for our previous discussion of village-building), its important to make the home region small enough that characters can become important, but large enough to hide secrets and provide opportunities for adventure. We’re calling ours Falcon’s Reach.
Falcon’s Reach is a prosperous village of 5,000 souls found on a wide stretch of the Tien River as it breaks free of the great wooded lands of the Arástavar before it once again scatters into the swampy delta morass known as the Tangles on its way to the sea. For generations, it has been a gathering place for the staggeringly tall hartwood loggers of the elves to trade with the clever merchants and shipbuilders of the human folk.
The Reach is a crossroads for many cultures of Almeri and more open to diversity than other villages of its size. Officially, it is one of the westernmost provinces of the ancient Venetine empire but its distance from the capital gives them more autonomy than most. Only the protection of its shipping fleet and defending against the rising aggression of the godless realm of Sycorax justifies any imperial military presence in the region.
Even the defense of the Cut — the deep channel carved through the Tangles marshland — has been ceded to the local Watchwardens. These homegrown heroes man the watchtowers and wayposts along the Cut, holding back the threat of the primitive marsh-dwelling reptile men and even more fearsome beasts. Their defense gives way on the coast where the Venetine garrison based in Storr’s Haven keep control the traffic and ensure that tariffs are fully enforced. Not to say that the Wardens deep knowledge of the Tangles have ever aided a merchant to avoid unnecessary imperial attention.
The village itself spans an open, slow-moving portion of the Tien just upriver of the shallow Lake Ishgan. The high eastern bank is where primary residential and commercial districts are. The low western bank is dominated by log yards, saw mills, and the camps of the log drivers. Even in the hightown, most buildings are wooden beyond the first floor. Most streets are cobbled and waste runs down side channels to underground sewer that empty deep in the river.
While a few of the guildhouses and the Pentarchs’ Hall have towers that rise to hundreds of feet to show their prominence, most structures in the Reach are less then three storeys. There are a few broad avenues that separate the sections of the town, but most streets are narrow and winding.
In the ‘hood
There is a rampart wall that circles the garrison keep, the legate’s manor and the shops and residences of the elite in the quarter known as Emperor’s Gate. Its named the imposing gatehouse that guards that looms over the eastern edge of the Nixie bridge. There is a wooden stockade on the edge of the village, but it is rarely manned.
Between the wall and the river bluff is the Fingers, the commercial heart of Falcon’s reach. Here, forest and fair products are exchanged for finished goods from the empire and beyond. Most of the Reach’s nonhuman residents live here, and this is where the best travelers’ accommodations can be found. Named for the twisting streets that branch off the high road.
Further upriver toward the Amber roads is the Notch. The river bluff here is commanded by the cables and towlines that run to the Bucklands log yards below. Many timber workers call the Notch home, as do those who make their living serving them.
Back across the high road is Dunning, home to the working poor of Falcon’s reach, and those who wrest their income from the land. This is a neighborhood of low-lying houses, small farming patches, livestock, and laborers. The High road and Amber road are lined with shops, inns, and warehouse, but most of the commerce beyond these takes place in cramped front rooms or crossroad markets.
Leaving on the Bucklands across the river. The towers and cable lines of the four large mills dominate the landscape here. Beyond lie the boarding houses, brothels, inns, and encampments of the logging men that are the lifeblood of the Reach. The garrison guard do not regularly patrol the muddy lanes of the Bucklands, but the ‘brotherhood’ of loggers keep their now swift justice. These enforcers are supported by the millers, and few question their authority. Bucklanders are open and inviting to their own, or those who can carry themselves in the wood, but have little patience for outsiders or those who claim authority over them.
The nominal ruler of Falcon’s is the Imperial Legate Morthus Durnae. He is primarily a military man, and meddles little in the common affairs of the people. He is, however, ambitious and is ever on the lookout for ways to make a name for himself at court. The true power lies in the council of staveholders, or the guildmasters of Falcon’s Reach. This group of nine prosperous merchant leaders, craftsmen, scholars, and wizards spend a lot of their time scheming against one another, but without them the city would unravel. Beyond the annual imperial levy, the Staves are even responsible for funding civic services, the constables, and even the Watch-wardens.
A year ago on a moonless night, there was a terrible tremor that cracked foundations and shattered glass throughout the Reach. Following that, a strange haze could be seen in the woods southwest of the city. The watch responded, and a group set out to see what had happened. Only three miles outside the walls they came upon a huge black obelisk half-buried in the earth amidst broken trees and smoldering underbrush. The visible projection rose at least 200-feet in the air on a strange angle. In the morning the staveholder of arms — Luchan Alder — led a small force into the haze to investigate the object. Hours later there was a bright red flash, and then nothing. In the intervening months the mists have settled and the first burned out, but no credible information has been learned about the obviously artificially constructed edifice commonly known as the Smoldering Spire. Even those with contacts among the goblins of the Underneath have learned nothing beyond the shaft continues deep into crystalline caverns that honeycomb Almeri’s core.
Up next: Notable people and places of Falcon’s Reach