Tipping the Balance
The Elsir Vale
The setting of the adventure is a thinly populated human frontier known as Elsir Vale and the surrounding wilderlands. The vale stretches almost 250 miles east to west and averages about 70 miles north to south. Several small mountain ranges and dense forests form the vale’s borders.
The scattered human towns and villages of the area grew up along the Dawn Way, an important east-west trade road linking the heavily settled lands that lie northwest across the Endless Plains with the exotic kingdoms and goods of the coastal lands lying to the southeast. Much of the Dawn Way was built by an ancient dwarf-kingdom that spanned the Wyrmsmoke and Giantshield Mountains more than a thousand years ago. While the dwarves are long gone, their roads, bridges, and cisterns remain in use to this day. After the dwarf realm passed, the presence of various monsters and raiders kept traffic along the Dawn Way light for many years; few caravans dared the long and dangerous trek. Few humans lived in Elsir Vale during those years – only scattered settlements of druidic folk who left behind little more than grassy barrows and stone circles on the hilltops.
About five hundred years ago, the nearby city of Rhest came to control the vale and a large swath of land north of the Giantshields as well. Soldiers from Rhest secured the roads all the way to Dennovar and beyond, creating a safe passage for trade. More and more traders traveled the Dawn Way, and the kingdom of Rhestilor grew wealthy on the tariffs exacted from the passing merchants. Under the kingdom’s shield, the towns along the Dawn Way – Brindol, Talar, Terrelton, and the rest – grew up from tiny hamlets of lonely soldiers’ posts to flourishing human settlements.
The kingdom of Rhestilor eventually collapsed under civil strife, monstrous incursions, and magical blights. Almost two hundred years ago, the city of Rhest was burned by a savage horde out of the Wyrmsmoke Mountains. Although the warriors of Rhestilor killed many of the goblins and their kind, the city was abandoned and the already weakened kingdom broken. The locks and canals surrounding Rhest fell into disrepair, and the Blackfens swallowed the ruined city.
In the years since the kingdom’s fall, the towns of Elsir Vale have come to look after themselves. Most of the local lords, such as Jarmaath of Brindol, still hold titles derived from the old kingdom of Rhestilor. While everybody knows that the kings of Rhestilor are long dead, no new realm has arisen in the vale.
- Brindol: One of the largest settlements in the vale, Brindol is a prosperous farming community and caravan stopover located along the Dawn Way on the south bank of the Elsir River. Orchards of apple and pear trees follow the river’s winding shores, while broad grain fields and farmlands surround the town for miles in all directions. Brindol is the home of Lord Kerden Jarmaath, and his small keep and the city walls are the only fortifications of note this side of Dennovar.
- Dauth: A sleepy little hamlet about halfway between the Hammerfist Holds and Brindol, Dauth is home to about two hundred people. It is noted for The Tired Giant, an inn and taphouse under the proprietorship of a halfling named Galadan Ryethresher. The Rhestorilan nobles who once ruled here died out two generations ago, and Dauth Keep – their ancestral home – is only a burned-out shell overlooking the settlement. A council of elders now governs the village.
- Dennovar: A trade-city located on the shores of Lake Ern, Dennovar is the largest community in Elsir Vale. It’s the eastern gateway to the vale, the first bit of civilization a weary traveler encounters after crossing the Golden Plains. Lady Yisel Bristeir is the titular ruler here, but in practice the city is governed by the Merchants Council – powerful oligarchs primarily concerned with keeping the city a good place to do business. Dennovar is also noteworthy for the dozens of temples, both minor and major, that dot its streets.
- Drellins Ferry: If Dennovar is the eastern gateway to Elsir Vale, then the small town of Drellins Ferry is the western. Once a dwarf-made bridge spanned the Elsir River here, but it was destroyed during an epic flood about a hundred years ago. Since that time, travelers on the Dawn Way have crossed by means of a ferry, from which the town gets its name.
- Elsircross: A small town at a ford of the Elsir River, Elsircross is known for woodcutting and papermaking. The self-styled “Baron” Hargil Trask and the rest of the no-good Trask clan govern the town by the Baron’s fiat. Lord Jarmaath of Brindol has no use for Baron Trask and would like to see him and his lot driven out of Elsircross. The towns of Elsir Vale haven’t fought among themselves in many years, however, and Jarmaath is loath to intervene in another town’s business, even if that business is getting rid of a jumped-up brigand like Hargil Trask. For his own part, Traskis smart enough to keep his thugs from running amok in his own lands, so his subjects (and neighbors) tolerate him and his swaggering sons for now.
- Hammerfist Holds: In the high foothills of the Wyvernwatch Mountains lie the Hammerfist Holds, a half-dozen dwarf clanholds that sometimes trade with the humans of the vale. Each of the holds is a hamlet or village, home to a hundred or more dwarves.
- Hillwatch: A dusty flyspeck of a hamlet located in the northern part of the Brown Hills, Hillwatchis primarily populated by shepherds and cattleherds. The town has no inn or tavern; travelers often stay at the home of Jerossil Indo, a well-off rancher who takes a few coins to board strangers for a night or two.
- Marthton: Located in the shadow of the Marth forest, this small town thrives on woodcutting and catering to traders on the Dawn Way. In the hills nearby lie a number of the ancient barrows and stone circles of the long-vanished druidic folk who once dwelled in these lands. Marthton is governed by Lord Erethal Rethrew, an old and miserly man who lays heavy taxes on the folk of his small domain.
- Nimon Gap: A tiny hamlet located at the place where the Dawn Way descends out of the Nimon Hills, Nimon Gap grew up around a large walled inn known as the Cross-Eyed Beholder. The folk of Nimon Gap grow apples, pears, and chestnuts in orchards sheltered below the hills, while shepherds and goatherds keep their livestock in the heights.
- Prosser: A village located about halfway between Brindol and Hillwatch, Prosser is a quiet little place where the adventuring band known as the Six Blades retired some years ago. The former adventurers cleared a number of troublesome monsters from the woods to the west and brought a new prosperity to the town. The wizard Sardith is recognized as the leader of the band and acts as Mayor, but he usually leaves most affairs in the hands of Deillyr Starcloak who runs the town’s taphouse and serves as the chief constable, judge, and troubleshooter.
- Red Rock: Rich copper veins in the high foothills of the Giantshield Mountains eventually gaves rise to the rough-and-tumble mining town of Red Rock. In addition to the copper mines, Red Rock also serves as a trading post for trappers, hunters, and prospectors who wander all over the southern flank of the mountains. A number of dwarves and orcs live here, with no small amount of bad blood between them.
- Talar: A small town west of Brindol, Talar is governed by Lady Celiira Nesten, a high-spirited young woman who lately returned home to take up her father’s title on old Lord Nesten’s death. Her impulsive ideas are tempered by an old and conservative town council, whose members grew accustomed to running things during the old lord’s long decline.
- Terrelton: The western end of Elsir Vale is drier and more sparsely settled than the eastern end. Terrelton is a dusty town that gets by on the livestock and leather trades; several large, foul-smelling tanneries sit in the hills east of the town. The town is governed by a Merchants Council shot through with connections to various gangs of brigands and highwaymen, but a crusading cleric of Erathis named Leille is working to clean up the council by exposing the misdeeds of the criminal members.
- Witchcross: A large village located at the ford of the Witchstream, Witchcross is ostensibly governed by a council of elders. However, the elders make no decisions without consulting a circle of Witchwood druids known as the Keepers of Eth.