This article is meant for my players in my Expeditions in the Northlands Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG campaign. As I typed up these notes, I figured I’d share them online and see what others might think. Enjoy.
An old castle stands upon a rocky tor overlooking a lake. Its newer walls envelope and fortify the town on the hill’s slope. Smoke from the settlement’s Burning Place rises into the sky. On a clear day, travelers lost in the wilderness can see this smoke column, and use it as a guide to return to civilization.
A single road leads from the south up to the town’s gatehouse where leery guards question strangers and collect tolls from merchants. At the base of the hill there is a sign: No Forestalling.
This is Engelhadden–the last bastion of Virtoaan culture in the Northlands.
Other villages and hamlets exist, scattered south and a little to the east, in a wide valley between the northern cliffs of the Stone Mountains to the western fringes of the Baern Hills. None, however, are as strong or as well defended as Engelhadden.
This is the last haven for natives during times of crisis or refugees searching for a better life.
It doesn’t take an engineer to notice the cracks in parts of the outer wall, or the rubble of a corner tower strewn on the hill’s south east slope, to the right of the gatehouse. The gap where the tower once stood has been crudely filled in with a wall of brick and mortar, not stone.
Engelhadden itself is a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways. Every foot of possible space has been used for habitation, business, or other basic functions of the community. Some of the buildings, which are made of wood and stone, stand taller than the outer wall itself. Darkwald Keep looms over everything, a monolithic-like structure with a massive tower and four walls, built centuries ago using an archaic design and was never updated.
Newcomers will notice a preponderance of lead: lead rooftops, lead pipes, lead pots and pans, lead grates over ground flood windows. Lead everywhere.
The Punishing Place
Just beyond the gatehouse and to the right is a small courtyard with a raised platform featuring gallows and the stocks. Here, on Market Day, criminals are punished. Thieves get their hands chopped off. Sowers of discord have their tongues removed. Rapists have their eyes plucked, then branded with mark on their forehead, then exiled. Murderers are hung. Fortunately, because of Engelhadden’s draconian laws, it has been some years since the authorities have meted out these severe punishments.
The most common severe infraction is debt. Debtors, who are often foreigners from the south, are branded, given a lead collar, and send to the Galena Mines about a day’s journey to the west.
The Green Owl and The Dragon’s Den
Travelers and locals often slake their thirst at The Green Owl, a simple but large taproom known for its cheap beer and delicious meed. Patrons are discouraged from staying overnight, as there are room rooms. The owner, Thad Meader, may let occasionally let a person stay in the common room for a copper piece or two, depending on his whim. You want a place to sleep? Go to the Dragon’s Den! Food costs extra.
The Dragon’s Den is a three-story Inn. It’s owned by Holland, a grim man with a wooden leg a deep scar on his forehead. He keeps his trusty zweihänder behind the bar if patrons get too rowdy in the common room. The food is lousy, the drinks passable. If ye don’t like it, den have a hoot at the Green Owl!
The Market Place
All outside wares and good brought for trade must be sold in the Market Place, near the center of Engelhadden next to the gates to Darkwald Keep. A forestaller faces a fine of 15% of the value of the goods sold outside the market. Habitual violators may end up sent to the Galena Mines.
The Gathering Place
Next to the Market Square is the Gathering Place. In other Virtoaan communities, The Gathering Place would be a separate building with seven walls. Because of space restrictions, the seven walls are there, but only three are seen—the rest abut or are part of other buildings.
Here one can listen to the fire-and-brimstone sermons of Bishop Osmond Oderick. Without Virtoaa, without proper piety, discipline, and devotion, all will fall into hell and chaos. The sinner’s foot shall slide in time, don’t you slide with him, or we’ll all slide into Hell!
The Burning Place
Engelhadden’s ge-hinnom burns on the east slopes just beyond the town walls. Here the town’s dead smolder alongside trash and refuse. The smoke generally drifts Eastward with the prevailing winds.
Only the Burners, a special group of men appointed by Engelhadden’s Bishop, may enter here. If caught, looters and bone pickers are sent to the Galena Mines.
Persons of Note
Baron Tristram Darkwald: The Baron is a typical Auricken with golden eyes and platinum blond hair. He is often seen but seldom speaks to anybody outside his entourage of attendants and administrators. His wife died a decade ago and his eldest son, Eckhart is being groomed to run the Barony.
Sir Marlen Faust: Faust is The Baron’s chief enforcer of the law inside Engelhadden and wherever the Baron has made his claim in the Northlands. The lower part of Faust’s arm is missing.
Sir Uther Drake: A knight and the captain of Engelhadden’s militia. He works closely with Faust.
The Hunters: A small band of roughly a half-dozen men who serve as elite scouts for Sir Uther Drake. Rumors says there used to dozens of them in the old days, but most have perished.