The World of Maxia
Covering many miles of steep valleys and forested hills, the northern borderlands are home to scattered villages, small kingdoms and nomadic clans of Halflings, exiled Dwarves and Dragonborn mercenaries, along with marauding Orcs, Giants and stranger monsters.
The borderlands have always served as a natural buffer between the Celentine Empire and the older kingdoms of Arkhosia, Bael Turath and even their forebears. At one time there was a great Dwarven kingdom which spread out of the mountains and across the hills down to the coast of the Flame Sea, but all that remains now of that ancient and storied nation are scattered ruins and the stories of embittered Dwarven wanderers.
The old roads built by the Dwarf kings of Runehold still cut across the land, though centuries of neglect has left them worn to nothing for the most part, overgrown with weeds or stolen by builders of outlying settlements for their own walls.
Dominating the eastern horizon across the plains, the Eastfall mountains grow out of the smaller northern range known as the Dawnforge Mountains. The Eastfall is infamous for avalanches and tremors, making travel across the peaks a dangerous proposition. These far from natural dangers are largely due to the endless battles between Duergar Dwarves and the Fire Giants serving King Snurre, who war against each other with alchemical bombards, great fire based siege weapons and explosive magics. Both sides are keen slavers who often send down raiding parties into the lowlands to claim new workers for the weapons forges and deep mines of the mountains.
Breaking through the Eastfall Mountains, Axe Pass is a heavily fortified road still standing from the old days of Dwarf rule. Axe Pass cuts from the foothills in the west of the Eastfall through to the gates of Runehold and beyond into the Gray Hills over a hundred miles to the east of the borderlands. Watchstations, walled rest stops and patrol routes are common along the pass, and so long as travellers can rightly claim to be friends to the Dwarf lords of Runehold the journey is relatively safe from marauding bandits and monsters.
The seat of Dwarven royalty for centuries, the city of Runehold stands at the heart of Axe Pass, the city walls towering into the peaks and its halls descending into the depths of the world. As the Celentine Empire crumbled and the petty lords of the borderlands declared their independence, many came to treat with old King Uthgran Swordthane only to find the legendary slayer of Giants, Great Wyrms and Devils to be a frail and dying old Dwarf. The king’s sons stood loyally at his side until his very last breath, and not a heartbeat longer before they turned on one another. Of the seven sons of King Swordthane, only three live half a century after his death and none of the fallen lost their lives to natural causes or unknown foes. The eldest of the the three, Gruenar Swordthane rules over Runehold today. Tired of fraternal conflict and ashamed of what the brother’s war has done to Dwarfkind across the northern lands of Maxia, King Gruenar seeks a way to unite his people once again and rebuild the old Dwarven nations of yore. His brothers are less inclined to forgive however, and the summer months bring the sounds of siege and battle to the mountains surrounding Runehold every year.
The city itself is a marvel of Dwarven engineering and ingenuity, from the subterranean lake tapped via wells and underground aqueducts to the mushroom farms and deep mines from which the wealth of the world still flows. Runehold is utterly self sufficient, though the mountainside goat herds and orchards are vulnerable to enemies, there are many Dwarf warriors ready to stand in defence of their homeland in the face of any foe. Be they Dwarfkin or other.
The massive old growth forest called Shade Wood is home to proud Fey lords in two worlds, for it is here that Shinaelestra the Fading City appears with the full midnight moon. Ruled by the Eladrin ranger lord Calenon Thray the city trades with the people of Nentir Vale and Therund when it appears in the world, the rangers taking their time among mortals to take respite from the near constant warfare they face in the Feywild. The Shade Wood of the Feywild is claimed by the Fomorian King Bronnor of Harrowhame and he has long coveted Shinaelestra for his own. Not least as a passage into the world where he can continue to feed his lust for conquest. In the weeks when the city stands in the Feywild, the Shade Wood is plagued by lycanthropes, Goblins and Cyclops, many of them finding their way from the lands of Brokenstone Vale in the Feywild to plague the world of mortals. A handful of lumber camps work the boundaries of the forest, trading with the lords of Nentir Vale and Therund. On rare occasion the Baron of Therund attempts to settle deeper into the wood, but as yet only the walled village of Braeburn Grove has survived beyond a few months.
That village is the subject of dark rumours and suspicious stories by many and is known to be home to a larger than usual number of Shifters and Half-Elves. The village is said to be governed by an ageing crone who long ago swore pacts to the lords of the Feywild for their protection, and that therein lies the secret of her villages survival.
The tower of the legendary archmage Gaxx stands at the foot of a huge waterfall spilling from the Eastfall Mountains to form the Wyvernflow River. Gaxx is attributed with the creation of a great many magical items now common in the world, and several monsters- the foul Peryton is believed to have been an accidental creation of the archmage for instance. His tower is a crooked building that appears ready to collapse with little provocation, home to the great flocks of ravens Gaxx uses as his messengers into the world.
A few miles downriver of the tower itself stands the village of Gaxxen, settled by apprentices and adventurers who sought the aid of Gaxx in generations past. What began as a small camp of fortune seekers grew into a village over the years and now serves as a common stopping point for those seeking the aid of the mage or the treasures of the infamous Fallstone Keep in the mountains.
Fallstone Keep was the fortress of King Swordthanes fourth son, the prince Edrak Uthgransonn who sought to broker peace between his warring brothers. When the Godstones fell, the relic of Moradin fell here, seemingly a sign from the Father of Dwarves that Edrak was favoured above all. Sadly the stone simple served to draw a host of Fire Giants, Duergar and even two elder Dragons down upon the keep. The resultant battle toppled the stone itself in a huge avalanche burying the keep and the battling forces under half a mountainside. To this day there are treasure seekers and sworn followers of Moradin are drawn here, finding the surrounding mountain caves and ruins of both the keep and great relic itself to be a deadly labyrinth. The place was renamed Fallstone Keep in typical grim Dwarven humour, the ruins are one of the most famous dungeons of Maxia. It is well known the King Gruenar would pay a fortune if his brother’s remains were returned to him.
The Nentir Vale stands north of Shade Wood and the Eastfall Mountains, where the northern Dawnforge and Stonemarch ranges serve as natural borders to the large valley. Settled as the northernmost point of the Celentine Empire, the vale was ravaged by Orcs of the Brokenspear clan in the days following the fall of the Empire. Now, a century later the people of Nentir Vale have begun to rebuild their home under the guidance of the three lords of the Vale. In the eastern reaches of the Dawnforge Mountains stands the independent Dwarf hold of Hammerfast- a place where the living and the dead are considered equals and which brooks no interference from the feuding lords of the mountains.
Fallcrest, Winterhaven and Harkenwold are the three major settlements of the valley, and while they consider one another allies, they clearly refute any claim laid by the nobles of the Celentine States. Rumour across the city-states of the south suggests that one or more minor nobles may soon seek to reclaim the vale through hired mercenaries, a move which would certainly cement the power of anyone who could successfully lay claim to ruling over Nentir Vale again.
The Barony of Therund is a lightly forested realm threatened by the monsters of the Trollhaunt Warrens. Baron Tristan Therund rules from Brightstone Keep over a handful of villages along the many rivers flowing out of the Nentir Vale and from the high ice down toward the Eralian Plains. The baron seeks brave warriors willing to defend his realm against the monsters of Trollhaunt and who would call themselves knights, as he lives in hope that the old days of legend might return. Therunds insistence on attempting to settle Shade Wood and claim Gaxxen as part of his lands casts a shadow over his claim to respect the knightly codes of old however.