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Chaos on the Old Borderlands - 20 Questions, Part Four

Continuing the description of the Old Borderlands, here's the next instalment of answers to Jeff Rients's famed 20 Questions.

13. Which way to the nearest tavern?

The Rimy Bear was named after the frozen bear corpse found in the building before it was rebuilt into a tavern. The bear’s skull is now the tavern’s sign. It’s barkeep and owner, Boyan, is rumoured to be an ex-adventurer, and most of Constable Ferro’s garrison drinks there when off-duty. A few private rooms upstairs are available, but most travellers sleep in the common room downstairs. Because the Bear cycles through regulars in the Constable’s command, it has a clannish feel, and newly arrived adventurers are required to perform the ritual of ‘swearing on the skull’ before being allowed to drink in peace.

The Weary Mule is the largest inn at the Manor, and is built outside the old manor walls but inside the outer stockade. It has stabling for horses and livestock, but all the accommodations are common rooms. It’s partially owned by the Constable, with former (mostly unsuccessful) adventurers putting up the rest of the cash to get it started. The hobgoblin Hilderica, former barmaid, has become the de facto manager and primary barkeep of the Mule, though she is not the namesake as many patrons assume.

The Humble Vagabond is outside the stockade, but is built out of the stout stone walls of an old outbuilding and has its own defensive enclosure. Its stables are small, but it has cozy private rooms aplenty, and is popular with the more furtive travellers passing through the Fort. The owner, Sobeshka, is a night owl, and is known to answer a knock at the inn’s door late into the night. She is rumoured to be involved with peasant revolutionaries, or banditry, or sorcery, or chaos worship, or something sinister, but that may also just be suspicious cast by the talkative on the reserved.

The Garden and Vine, the largest tavern and inn in Leechford, is built to the specifications of its owner, Lord Fasolimov, and is almost fatally cold in the winter. It’s supposed to resemble a kind of faux-villa for wealthy travellers to lounge around a reflecting pool and trade witty repartee, but the kind of visitors who come to the Old Borderlands aren’t in the market for Fasolimov’s expensive wine, expensive food, and cut-rate attempt at south-coast secular architecture. If it weren’t the best place to gamble in the Borderlands, no one would go there at all. Fasolimov keeps funding the thing, though, so the landlord Audoin and his staff do their jobs. They just do them very slowly when Fasolimov isn’t staying there.


14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?

  • The Dragon of Foul Peak terrorizes the hills and mountains east of the Blackbriar Wood. That no goblin-champion or orcish war-party from further north has slain it and opened up the region to resettlement means the dragon is either is too monstrous for mere mortals to deal with, or its presence serves someone’s interests.
  • The Wanderer of the Grey Hills is usually heard, rather than seen. Soul-chilling howls are the only warning of its approach and strange, giant footprints the only trace of its passing. 
  • Mad Chernyvulk, the self-proclaimed Goblin Emperor of the West Marches, has personally led a number of raids against caravans and outlying settlements that ended with massacres so grotesque that some believe he is a chaos-cultist, or a demon himself. There is a hefty bounty is on his head, but the last party to seek him out never returned from the Blackbriar.
  • Goblin hunters have reported seeing a giant boar the size of a hut in the northern Blackbriar, but a lot of goblin hunters are kind of tiny so how large could it be, really?
  • At least one half-dead adventurer made it back to the Manor ranting about a minotaur in the berzerker hills — something about a bull-head-man? Poison vapours? The details were pretty sketchy.
  • The ragamuffin children who catch fish in the Leechfens have been telling tall tales about “The Beast of the Fens.” Maybe one of them was telling the truth.

15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?

The Old Borderlands is supposedly part of the Realm of the Great Kingdom, and the Realm of the Great Kingdom is currently at war with the High Khaganate over the disposition of some southern border provinces who sought the Khagan’s protection in exchange for Khaganate suzerainty during the Wars of Realmish Succession. Thus, the current conduct could be considered merely an extension of that previous conflict, especially from the perspective of those breakaway provinces whose independence from one or more High King(s) is currently being paid in bloody installments against Realmish armies. For the Realm to call such things ‘wars’ would theoretically legitimize the authority of those hoping to push off the High-Kingly yoke in the eyes of the Elector Princes, leading to all sorts of bad precedents in case an Elector Prince elects to disapprove of their princely peers’ choice of electee, so instead the bloody massacre and driving-out of the swamp-dwellers of the Greatwash and the grinding siege and blockade of the Bryscanie peninsula are merely ‘revolts.’ 

In the lands of the orc-lords to the northeast, alliances great and petty clash over tundra and steppe. Though the orcs—and the humans and goblins who live under their overlordship—are mostly thought to be split between those who follow a eschatologically-inclined variation of the Church of Law and those who sacrifice to the di inferi. 

To the northwest, in the isles of the north, Realmish authority seeks to establish itself up to at least the nominal levels it possessed in the last century there. Expeditions from the Realm encounter breakaway petty kingdoms, enclaves of pagan orcs, and elven holdfasts from ancient ages. 

16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?

The death-pits of the elven age are perhaps merely legend; stories of northern chaos-sages who perform auguries by by reading the bite marks and gnawed entrails of the starved prisoners may be just stories too. In the Realm, in times of peace, the knightly classes would test their mettle in jousts and grand melees, but as actual wars occupy the aristocracy’s attention they’ve become more recruiting and training events than celebrations. 

In the Borderlands, the closest to a formalized combat is betting on wrestling in the Rimy Bear. That only happens on weeks without fights about who’s cheating at dice, though. 

Woodsmen in the Rimy Bear mention that the goblins of the Blackbriar Wood have some contests of skill — spear-throwing, hitting tiny stones with sticks, things like that — but that’s more about showing off and gaining esteem amongst the goblin-clans than earning prize money. 

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