Red Hand of Doom
Overview of 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.
Climate and Terrain
Elsir Vale lies in the subtropical latitudes. Summers are hot and dry (although punctuated by the occasional intense thunderstorm), and winters are warm and rainy. Large stretches of the area are quite arid, and the vale is flanked by vast savannas stretching for mile after dusty mile. The forests that stretch across most of the vale’s northern reaches are stifling and swelteringly hot in the summertime, with not a breath of wind to relieve the oppressive heat.
This is the dry season in Elsir Vale, temperatures rise to 110 degrees during the day and fall to 60 degrees at night. Rainfall is infrequent, but when it comes down, it really comes down. Thunderstorms and tornadoes are fairly common.
History of the Vale
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 or 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.
In addition to the settlements described in this section, a fair number of isolated homesteads (more than a few of them long abandoned) are scattered throughout this terrain.
Brindol: (small city, popluation 8,400) 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.
Captain Lars Ulverth (male human), leader of the Lion Guard
Immerstal the Red (male human), foremost wizard in Brindol
Eldremma Axenhaft (female dwarf), a merchant and provisioner who hires mercenaries
out as caravan guards
Shining Servant Tredora Goldenbrow (female human priestess of Pelor), leader of Brindol’s most prominent church
The Lion Guard: The Lion Guard is Lord Jarmaath’s army. They keep order in the town, garrison the keep, and patrol the lands nearby.
The Lions of Brindol: The most skilled and experienced members of the Lion Guard are rewarded with the title “Lion of Brindol.” The Lions of Brindol lead the Lion Guard and undertake special missions for Lord Jarmaath.
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 Galadan Ryethresher (male halfling). 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: (small city, population 11,600) 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 fi rst 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. The activities of these places are overseen by the Temple Council, made up of the highest-ranking clerics devoted to each of the deities the temples serve.
High Councilor Nindel Thorn (male human), leader of the Merchants Council and defacto ruler of the city
Prelate Barila Harrask (female human priestess of St. Cuthbert), high priestess of St. Cuthbert in the vale and head of the Temple Council
Shining Servant Derth Trinn (male half-elf priest of Pelor), member of the Temple Council Farstrider Terise Whellin (female human priestess of Fharlanghn), member of the Temple Council
Lady Yisel Bristeir (female human), titled ruler of Dennovar with little actual power in the city due to the strength of the Merchants Council
Aragathos (male human), most powerful arcane spellcaster in the city, employeed by the city for its defense
Blade Captain Yelsharra (female half-elf), leader of the Dennovar Blades
The Dennovar Blades: The army of Dennovar answers to the Merchants Council.
Drellin’s Ferry: If Dennovar is the eastern gateway to Elsir Vale, then the small town of Drellin’s Ferry is the western. Once a dwarf-made bridge spanned the Elsir River here, but it was destroyed during an epic fl ood 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 (male human) 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, Trask is 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.
Othrek Hammerfist (male dwarf), clanlord of the Hammerfist clan
Thaardin Ironhand (male dwarf), ranking priest of Moradin among the clanholds
Uldrina Flamehair (female dwarf), stonesinger of the clan
Guildmaster Derra Copperfist (male dwarf), wealthiest merchant of the holds
Hammer Guards: Othrek’s elite guards are known as the Hammer Guards.
Hillwatch: A dusty flyspeck of a hamlet located in the northern part of the Brown Hills, Hillwatch is 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 (male human), 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 (male human) is recognized as the leader of the band, but he usually leaves most affairs in the hands of Deillyr Starcloak (female half-elf). Deillyr 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 gave 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 half-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 (female human), a highspirited 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 surrounded by rumors of corruption and connections to various criminal elements. A crusading cleric named Leille (female human priestess of St. Cuthbert) 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. Adranna the Young (female human) is the Eth Speaker, or leader, of the circle .
Sites of Interest
Ruined keeps, burned-out watchtowers, and occasional abandoned farmsteads dot the backlands of Elsir Vale and the area around Lake Rhestin, reminders of the fallen kingdom of Rhestilor. Even older ruins can be found here and there, dating back to the old dwarf-realm or the druidic human folk.
The Blackfens: Lake Rhestin’s eastern shore is hard to define, because the lake gradually gives way to a vast wetland known as the Blackfens. The Blackfens tend to be marsh, rather than swamp—that is, most of the landscape is a treeless maze of open water, reeds, and wet, grassy fl ats that shelter countless waterfowl. Isolated hummocks or islets in the marsh are covered with dense brush or forest. In the days of Rhestilor the marsh was much smaller, its spread controlled through locks and canals, but it has grown steadily since the kingdom’s dissolution. Half-drowned farmhouses, dilapidated barns and sheds, and sinking field-stone fences tell the tale of settled lands slowly inundated and abandoned.
The population growth of monstrous denizens in the Blackfens is stunted by the constant vigilance of several small groups of wild elves known collectively as the Tiri Kitor. These elves were the caretakers of the swampland before the rise of Rhest, and they still fulfill their charge centuries after Rhest’s fall. The elves patrol the Blackfens with the aid of giant owls, using lanterns flickering with pale green continual flame at night. They keep a wary distance from the humans who occasionally fish in the marshland borders.
The Dwarfroad: About 20 miles north of Skull Gorge, the Dawn Way splits into the Old North Road, which leads up along the western shores of Lake Rhestin to the Endless Plains and the cities to the north, and the Dwarfroad, which climbs through the Wyrmsmoke Mountains to the lands of the west. Once this road was the preferred route for caravans traveling east–west, but the growing presence of savage tribes and hungry monsters in the Wyrmsmokes led to the Dwarfroad being all but abandoned. Most travelers follow a battered cart-track that parallels it 30 miles farther north or take their chances on a track skirting the Thornwaste to the south, steering clear of the goblin-infested mountains.
Elsir River: The major river of the region is the Elsir, a broad but slow-moving stream fed by a number of tributaries. For most of its length, the Elsir averages 200 to 400 yards in width, reaching depths of 20 to 40 feet in the middle of its channel. The small town of Elsircross, about 150 miles upstream of Brindol, is the fi rst place where it can be forded, although a wooden bridge spans the river at Brindol and ferries cross it at Talar and Drellin’s Ferry.
Endless Plains: North of the mountains at the edge of Elsir Vale lies a great windblown sea of dry grass, stretching for hundreds of miles east, north, and west. The planes aren’t truly featureless; the land has a fair amount of rise and fall, and low-lying creek beds choked with undergrowth and briars cut deep gullies through the grassland. Lonely stands of tall, hardy trees dot the savannah-land. Nomadic human barbarians, tribes of gnolls, and bands of wild centaurs roam the Endless Plains.
Giantshield Mountains: Sheltering Elsir Vale from the harsh weather of the Endless Plains, the Giantshield Mountains are a low range of arid, well-weathered peaks. The northern slopes are barren, dry, and rocky, home to a variety of dangerous monsters. The southern slopes are a little more hospitable, covered in light pine forest and cut by the gorges of any small seasonal streams. A smattering of isolated farms and steadings hidden throughout the southwest portion of the range represent the last remnants of the druidic folk who once lived throughout the vale.
Golden Plains: East of Elsir Vale lies a vast, arid steppeland that quickly gives way to rocky desert. In the vicinity of Dennovar the Golden Plains are dry, fl at grassland, but within a few dozen miles the grass gives way to a rock-littered badland of flats and mesas—a waterless and inhospitable wilderness posing a formidable trial for the trade caravans following the Dawn Way.
Lake Rhestin: This shallow, marshy lake stretches almost 100 miles from north to south. Once its shores were dotted with the villages and manors of Rhestilor, but in the centuries since the kingdom’s fall, humans have largely abandoned the old heartland of the realm.
Marth Forest: Climbing the southern foothills of the Giantshield Mountains, Marth Forest is a rugged, wild woodland rarely trodden by human feet except in its southwestern fringes. In its lower reaches, the forest is dotted with the old barrows and stone circles of the ancient druidic folk who once dominated the vale. The higher parts are home to human barbarian tribes—disorganized clutches of feral berserkers rarely encountered outside the woods.
Rhest: Once a prosperous city and center of the kingdom of Rhestilor, Rhest is now a half-drowned ruin slowly sinking into the Blackfens.
The Thornwaste: South of the Wyrmsmoke Mountains lies a vast barren land known as the Thornwaste. A maze of broken hills, briar-choked ravines, and dry, dusty scrubland, these badlands give way to larger and larger stretches of true desert as one goes farther south and west. The Thornwaste has long been the haunt of lions and other hungry beasts. The ruins of a lost serpent-empire thousands of years old still lie hidden in this wasteland.
The Westdeep: Several xenophobic tribes of wild elves dwell in the depths of this dense forest, avoiding contact with most other folk. The elves of the Blackfens once counted themselves among these folk, but centuries ago they broke ties with the Westdeep elves and struck out to the east, eventually settling in the Blackfens.
The Witchwood: Generally held to be haunted by the restless spirits of the ancient human druidic folk who once dwelled here, the Witchwood is a lush, wet woodland interspersed with swampy stretches in the vicinity of the larger rivers.
Wyrmsmoke Mountains: Several volcanic peaks gave this rugged range of hills and low mountains its name; travelers who observed the plumes of ash and smoke that sometimes arose from the inner hills believed that a great red dragon was responsible for the fuming hills. The Wyrmsmokes are home to a number of goblin tribes.
Wyvernwatch Mountains: South of Elsir Vale lie the Wyvernwatch Mountains, a forbidding range of high, steep mountains with few passes leading to the other side. The Wyvernwatches divide Elsir Vale from the more densely populated and civilized realms of the southern coast. Only the most determined trekkers cross the range; most go hundreds of miles out of their way by circling east or west around the mountains before turning north.