Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Alphatian Province of Frisland

Continued from "Ambur: the County of Stargaze"

This kingdom at the northwestern tip of the Wizards’ Empire stands amongst the largest in mainland Alphatia and bears a most tumultuous history. Despite its harsh climate and inhospitable land, Frisland became a battleground for races, cultures, and faiths. A legacy of horror and of ancient evils still imbues the region, which to this day survives Alphatia’s efforts to scour the province of its troublesome heritage.

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Hex Map
Kingdom of Greater Frisland (AC 1000) -- Map Scale: 8 Miles per Hex
Frisland’s Origins: In its very distant past, Frisland became a refuge for three races, all of them fleeing greater scourges. The Yanifey came first, a copper-skinned race of ancient Neathar stock more prevalent in the island-continent’s east and south. Reeling from the advance of Alphatian forces after their recent landfall on Mystara, the original Yan folk mixed with fey people before retreating into the cold northwestern reaches, on the oriental side of the Kerothar Mountains. The Ogam, slaves of an evil race now extinct, escaped from the Isle of Dawn and reached the shores of Frisland, before finding solace in hidden valleys, deep amid the Kerothar Mountains. At about the same time, Antalians from Brun fled before King Loark’s onslaught, abandoning their ancestral lands to the goblin hordes. These Antalians, a people of fair complexion, sailed from the west, settling the island of Qeodhar first and Frisland’s western shores thereafter.

The Ogam, of rather small and swarthy Nithian origins, brought with them an ancient faith that no one in their right minds would ever adopt. But in the face of desperation, the Ogam put their trust in outer world beings, inhuman creatures with powers far beyond those of Mystara’s immortals, thoroughly alien and evil. For a time, these tribes of goat- and sheep-herders expanded eastward from the Kerothar Mountains. They relied on their dark magic against the advancing Alphatians, but it backfired. As a result, Frisland’s central plains were impoverished—cursed, in truth. The Ogam once again retreated into their hidden valleys while the Alphatians defeated the Yanifey. During the following centuries, Alphatia resumed its march westward along the northern shores and around the edge of the Frislandic Range. There, they clashed with Antalian jarldoms, and eventually reduced them to slavery.

The Kingdom of Argonath: Defying imperial authority, Alphatian newcomers established a new realm stretching from sea to sea across northern Alphatia. But over time, Argonath too failed, falling prey to internal rivalries, new wars with their southern neighbors, and sea raids from Qeodim Antalians. Imperial forces stepped in, crushed the breakaway kingdom, and split the land among noble houses that would eventually establish the three imperial provinces of Ambur, Ar, and Frisland. By then, the population had dwindled in these lawless and war-ravaged areas. Frisland suffered the most. In addition to the effects of centuries of conflict, a difficult climate, and the forgotten Ogam curse still afflicting its soil, the lands east of the Kerothar Mountains remained deeply impoverished. The western shores fared better, although its people had become slaves of Alphatia.

From the ashes of western Argonath, several new Alphatian kingdoms later came to light. The most powerful, the Kingdom of Frisland, (which eventually gave its name to the entire region) occupied the western bank of Lake Shiell. Just north in the central plains lay the Kingdom of Orzafeth. Along the coast, from the Fris River to the town of Ydroyas, stretched the Kingdom of Wyllareth. A small realm was nestled around the town of Bogotus, and a few others clung to the western coast, on the opposite side of the Kerothar Mountains. Although they all maintained their imperial allegiance to Sundsvall, these were struggling, rival kingdoms. Among them, the worst off was Orzafeth, with the lowest population and poorest land.

The Roots of Conflict: It so happened that an obscure Ogam tribe chose that time to emerge from its hidden valley in the Kerothar Mountains. They appeared in the hills north of the Beatha River, which at the time belonged to Orzafeth. Hoping they would bolster his failing population and, by the same token, his meager army, King Alandar of Orzafeth welcomed these strange people. In a replay of what had happened in the distant past, the Ogam once again migrated into the central plains. Once this first tribe was invited, many more followed. While these mountain folk proved better able to raise crops from Orzafeth’s impoverished soil, their odious faiths also began to grow deeper roots among the unsuspecting population.

The Rise of Orzafeth: Concerned with Orzafeth’s sudden gain in power, the Kingdoms of Frisland and Wyllareth forged a secret pact to crush the middle realm. A protracted sixty-year-long conflict ensued during which the Ogam once more resorted to their dark magic. By the end of that era, the mountain folk had thoroughly mixed with the local population, altering its racial makeup. In this area of Frisland, people were mostly of pale complexion, dark haired Alphatian stock, or of coppery-skinned Cypric and Yanifey origins. With the Ogam influx, the later Orzafethians earned a much darker tone and no longer resembled their neighbors. A magical barrier was raised, which repelled divination magic and transportation spells cast from the other side. Horrors were summoned to keep invaders at bay. Bizarre and ghastly, they roamed Orzafeth and strayed into the neighboring realms. Deadly alien plants spread out, causing havoc among farms and villages. A dimness in the sky grew past Orzafeth’s borders, provoking crop failures and livestock born with frightening deformities. All prisoners of Orzafeth were sacrificed to the Outer Beings during maddening rituals. In the end, the two neighboring realms and the Kingdom of Bogotus agreed to launch an all-out crusade.

Ill-equipped to deal with such wickedness, the alliance foundered. Its troops fled in horror before monstrous hordes, and their campaign turned into a rout. Orzafeth captured great stretches of land in Frisland and Wyllareth. The extent of the catastrophe at last came to the attention of Emperor Alphas III who intervened immediately. Massive forces poured into Frisland, and marched on Orzafeth. Imperial wizards were barely able to keep the hideous hordes at bay, but one by one, they destroyed Ogam temples from which these shambling terrors were summoned. Within six months, the forces of Emperor Alphas tightened their noose around the evil capital.

The Fall of Orzafeth: Fearing utter destruction, Orzafethian priests began a desperate ritual. Imperial wizards braced for new horrors to come. Instead, the darkness overhead formed into a funnel and descended into the city. An eerie light spread along the streets and into the houses, like the fingers of a giant spectral hand. Soul-chilling clamors rose from the last bastion of Orzafeth as the deathly glow claimed its final bounty. Less than an hour later, the mysterious light, the funnel, and the gloom in the sky faded.

Upon investigation , it was found that not one Orzafethian had survived. Shadows of terrified victims seemed imprinted upon the walls. Stone structures and furniture were oddly twisted or partially melted. Those who returned from their observation seemed aged by what they’d just seen, and died before day's end. The emperor ordered a wall erected around the capital’s vicinity, and declared the area off limits to everyone. Guards were assigned to keep watch and destroy anything attempting to come in or out. By imperial decree, a skyship maintained a permanent presence well above the cursed city, with similar orders.

Special thanks to Geoff Gander for the histories of Argonath and Orzafeth, which I summarized in this blog entry. Click here for his original work on the subject, which is far more detailed than my treatment.

The Aftermath: During the following decades, most traces of the Ogam and their evil ways were erased from the surrounding land. Remains of Orzafethian temples were obliterated, and their knowledge made illegal under imperial law. Known records of the Kingdom of Orzafeth as a political entity were erased from imperial archives in an effort to eliminate any temptation to research their links with outer world beings and their dark magic. Surviving horrors were systematically hunted down across the plains, save for the Kerothar Mountains’ wilderness which, although claimed, remained largely uncontrolled.

In the wake of the Orzafethian disaster, Emperor Alphas banished the original dynasties from Frisland and Wyllareth for their failures to alert Sundsvall with time enough to avoid the worst. It was found that both had bribed key personalities in Sundsvall for years to keep the emperor in the dark, as they had hoped to split Orzafeth amongst themselves. Alphas then founded the Greater Kingdom of Frisland, with the City of Shiell as its capital, and installed a new royal dynasty. The old Frisland became the Grand Duchy of Frisia and the apanage of Frislandic kings to come. The other realms of the region became duchies, counties, and marches owing fealty to Shiell and Sundsvall. All of them are now required to maintain imperial ambassadors and their retinues at their capitals.

Greater Frisland incorporates six dominions: the Grand Duchy of Frisia, the neighboring Counties of Orzafeth and Hosseta, the Duchy of Wyllareth on the northern coast, the County of Västheim on the Frislandic Peninsula, and the Marches of Azafeth which hold the western coast along the Alphatian Sea. Greater Frisland remains sparsely populated, with vast stretches of its lands qualifying as wilderness. Population huddles in the vicinity of towns and villages, spreading up to 40 miles out along rivers and trails where settled lands gradually turn into borderlands and wilderness. The Kerothar Mountains separate the old Antalian colonies from the rest of Greater Frisland. The Azafeth Ridge, the Västmark Shield, the Frislandic Range, the Baalbethine Mounts, and the Beatha Spur are all part of the massive Kerothar system.

Population: The Grand Duchy is home to slightly more than 377,000 Frisians, overwhelmingly squeezed along the bank of Lake Shiell within the area between Naugwayne, Sanaz, and Castle Perzaht. This represents about a third of the entire kingdom’s population. Save for Witival’s vicinity, the rest of this royal apanage remains a vast and lawless wilderness, fraught with many dangers.

By dint of its own sheer size, the Duchy of Wyllareth comes next with 291,000 Wyllarethians. The Counties of Västheim and Azafeth arguably come next, together with more than 306,000 people of mixed Antalian and Alphatian ancestries. Orzafeth tallies about 159,000 Neo-Orzafethians, most of whose forebears were deported here from Bellissaria and Esterhold by imperial decree to shore up the deserted region. Finally, the County of Hosseta accounts for nearly 85,000 people. Hossetan, Wyllarethian, and Frisian commoners are of mixed Alphatian and Yanifey stock. The upper class throughout Greater Frisland is invariably of direct Alphatian descent.

Altogether, the population of Greater Frisland adds up to slightly more than 1.2 million people, which translates into a paltry 8 inhabitants per square mile (one more than Foresthome—so far the most under-populated, probably on a par with Blackheart and the Shiye-Lawr). Compared to this, Ar boasts nearly 21 inhabitants per square mile, Ambur 41, and Stonewall a whopping 61. As a whole, Greater Frisland stretches more than 670 miles at its widest and more than 500 miles north-south. The land supports scattered light evergreen woods. Its soil remains poor despite a goodly number of rivers. Harsh climate and the Ogam’s ancient curse prevent farming to the extent of what was accomplished in neighboring Ar and Ambur. As a result, the vast amount of space available for farmland remains barely able to sustain Greater Frisland’s population. The old Antalian colonies have fared better in this regard since their maritime tradition remains strong and allows for fishing and whale-hunting. Decent population and economic growth has taken place there recently, from Ybod to Vykstaht. Västheim now exceeds 12 inhabitants per square mile, clearly the most densely populated dominion in the kingdom. Azafeth still lags well beneath the kingdom’s average due to the large proportion of uninhabited mountains in the old Marklands. The largest urban centers are Shiell (21,000), Witival (9,100), Mafertat (8,800), Bogotus (8,500), and fast-growing Ybod (8,200).

Climate: The windswept west coast experiences a wet and stormy maritime climate, similar to the real-world Aleutian Islands. Wind, fog, and rain prevail, with muddy ground conditions. Average temperature ranges during the summer 45 to 57°F (7 to 14°C) and during the winter 27 to 37°F (-3 to 3°C). Temperatures drop quickly when heading inland into the mountains. The Kerothar system blocks much of the moisture from the Sea of Alphatia, commonly generating snow storms at altitude.

The Shiell area is much colder than the west coast, with what is called a humid continental climate prevailing east of the Kerothar mountains. Though drier than the west, it experiences unpredictable weather and a large seasonal temperature variance. Shiell comes closest to real-world Edmonton, Canada, with temperatures ranging from 16°F/–9°C to 64°F/18°C, including extremes well beyond these numbers. During the coldest months, part or all of Lake Shiell and the Fris River may freeze. The northern coastal stretch is a bit more forgiving than Shiell, featuring a climate comparable to real-world Stockholm, Sweden, as a result of its position along the Strait of Qeodhar. Averages run from 17°F/–8°C to 66°F/19°C with more precipitation than the capital city area.

Economy: In the east, much of the wealth comes from livestock, especially woolly goats and sheep breeds that have accommodated themselves to the harsh climate. They are an Ogam heritage that survived the bad times. Bovines are rarer and considered a luxury, horses even more so. Where iron mines are available, weapons and armor are manufactured. Frisland is a notorious source of captured monsters, usually sold to Blackheart mages. It is also known for the trafficking of forbidden substances obtained from toxic vegetation still infesting much of Greater Frisland’s open plains. Although authorities try to locate and destroy smugglers, the sheer size of the kingdom’s wilderness makes the effort nearly impossible. Law enforcement therefore focuses on urban areas. Along with crime and violence, this trafficking nonetheless generates local wealth and a substantial amount of indirect revenues to the counties. Timber in southern Frisia, smelting near mining areas, and ceramics are other sources of wealth. On the west coast, fishing, whaling, the crafting and commerce of ivory objects (Ybod), oil making, as well as shipbuilding (Nasta and vicinity) are the main activities. Agriculture supports the basic needs of the kingdom but does not yield enough produce for exports. General trade and banking are rudimentary, as well as advanced magical education. Fine young nobles are sent to neighboring realms for their instruction, or to establishments in Haven or Theranderol to perfect their culture.

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Heraldry
Armed Forces: The military caste exceeds 14,000 for the whole of the kingdom, which amounts of 1.2% of the population. It is largely garrisoned in border towns and around the ruins of old Orzafeth. The largest garrisons are in Shiell (about 2,000), Mafertat (1,000), Bogotus (900), Imaroth, Gowola, Ybod, and Igdor (roughly 800 each). Castles typically house 400 troops, forts 200, towers 20. Of Greater Frisland’s three large fortresses, two stand alongside the Fris River and the third locks the southern pass through the Marches of Azafeth. The generals also maintain under retainer 37 seventh-level spellcasters and ten tamed beasts of various sorts, about 10HD each. All urban centers in Greater Frisland, from humble hamlets to the capital city, are fortified to some degree, varying from simple wooden palisades with ditches and watch towers to imposing stonework. Defenses of the central and eastern plains are more extensive, Shiell and Bogotus owning the most elaborate. Those in Wyllareth were destroyed during the conflict with Orzafeth. Although later rebuilt, they aren’t comparable with present Hossetan and Frisian defenses.

Greater Frisland’s navy counts 39 vessels, including 8 submersibles, 5 large galleys, 3 war galleys, 6 longships, 8 skyships, 1 small sail ship, 5 large sail ships, and 3 troop transports. Shiell and Ybod are the two main military ports, housing nine to ten ships each. All longships hail from the west coast. Two skyships each operate from Shiell and Bogotus, largely for the observation of borders with Foresthome and the vicinity of old Orzafeth ruins. The other four skyships are spread out along west coast ports, mostly for the observation of Kerothar valleys. The hidden presence of unsubdued tribes, possibly Ogam, is of concern there. Two submersibles are based in Shiell, three in Gowola, and three more in faraway Zuldaa, essentially for border surveillance. Shiell’s remaining fleet also patrols the Fris River, while vessels in Ybod concern themselves with the Strait of Qeodhar and occasional Qeodhim piracy. In times of war, all towns can seize privately-owned vessels for military use, such as those used by trade guilds or local aristocracy. Compensation for loss is nominal.

Frislandic Diplomacy: Relations with neighboring realms and with Sundsvall range from cautious to frosty. Ar, in particular, shuns all that hails from Frisland for fear that its wicked heritage—the one from old Orzafeth—might spill over into their oh-so-perfect world. One does not cross easily from Frisland into Ar. Such passage is made at Dovefall Bridge, the one single bridge spanning the Fris River. Though both sides patrol the river banks, Ar is most concerned and remains wary for signs of foreign plants or creatures encroaching upon their lands. Crossing the Fris in any direction always demands explanations and substantial proof of business. One is better off seeking passage on a ship sailing through the Strait of Qeodhar, although punctilious control in Ar’s few ports can be just as tedious. All skyships, carts, wagons, merchandise, crews, and passengers coming from Frisland must be fumigated for pest and toxic vegetation. Sniffer dogs are used for the detection of forbidden substances. Native Frislandic monsters are absolutely illegal in Ar and will be summarily put to death if discovered. Needless to point out, this process discourages most trade between the two realms, hurting Frisland the most. In other words, Frisland suffers from a very bad reputation.

Attitudes from Ambur and Foresthome are marginally better, although some trade does take place with the Sylvan Realm across Lake Shiell. Much of that business is handled under the auspices of the Company of Haggleby, headquartered in the Duchy of Westford. This trade house maintains an important presence in the City of Shiell, and specializes in riverine commerce along the Snake River, Lake Shiell, and the Fris River.

Blackheart, on the other hand, enjoys much better relations with its northern neighbor. Essentially they leave each other alone, except for the rather booming trade in captured monsters and other strange organisms, toxic plants, and any old Orzafethian artifact Blackheart mages can get their eager hands on. The latter "goods" and forbidden substances are totally against both the king’s laws and imperial edicts, which doesn’t seem to discourage the southern mages in the least. In fact, these laws simply serve to remove competition for the wicked artifacts, price being no object. Occasionally, a few "things" escape north across the Rainbow River, only to be massacred or resold to their original owners. All in all, business is doing just fine here.

Stoutfellow and Limn maintain a distant and muted relationship with Frisland, mostly because of the forbidding terrain separating them from their northern neighbor. Sundsvall, on the other hand, is still smarting from events leading to the Orzafethian debacle. The forced presence of imperial ambassadors in each of Frisland’s dominions isn’t appreciated by the local aristocracies. They are glorified, expensive spies entirely maintained at the expense of their hosts. Being assigned to these posts is largely seen in Sundsvall as a punishment for misbehaving Vertilian aristocrats. In Empress Eriadna’s view today (2000 AY), establishing new dynasties to run Frisland in no way addressed the issue of their long-term loyalties to the empire. Somehow, this land has always had a troublesome propensity for inciting its people to twist things around and manipulate each other. Corruption runs high in Frisland. Eriadna knows of the general issues that led to the fall of Orzafeth, without specific details which were expunged from imperial records. Among her myriad other responsibilities, she maintains a wary vigil over the northern province.

Unresolved Issues

Most obvious is the frustrating conundrum of forbidden substances vs. law enforcement vs. local wealth vs. affliction and crime. The illicit use of substances from toxic plants related to the Orzafeth curse remains a serious issue. Effects are as varied as the outlandish plants that flare up here and there in Frisland’s wilderness, depending on unfathomably arcane factors. For example, some engender euphoria, greater mental acuity, or massive muscle development; others reduce or eliminate pain, regenerate damaged flesh, cure the symptoms of certain diseases, increase fertility or sexual arousal, etc. The real trouble with all of these miracle remedies is that they are addictive and will eventually result in psychotic disorders. In the wrong hands, the combination of certain substances enables control over the minds of victims, forces them to reveal information, melts their bones, turns their flesh into a mass of gibbering, sucking, creeping gelatin, etc. Curiously, substance abuse never kills. Instead, users gain a spiritual connection with the Ogam’s outer world patrons who created these plants. They are meant as seedlings of the Ogam faith, although this part was never identified through wizardly analysis. It is only suspected among certain circles of Alphatian clerics who studied the phenomenon.

Although old Orzafeth was obliterated, the effects of Ogam summonings survive to this day.  The old barrier that prevented teleportation and scrying from outside Orzafeth borders still exists, although its has weakened. It now only lingers around an area 12 miles in radius from the ruins of the old capital city, which is now referred as the Tainted Lands.  One cannot use instantaneous transportation spells or divination magic through that barrier without incurring dangerous secondary effects.  Spellcasting is also altered in various ways.  Fauna and flora are toxic and bear odd deformities. This area’s evil magic imbued both wildlife and vegetation with a feral cunning and a craving to devour all that enters their domain.  Water is equally poisonous, and any fluids brought in become unfit for consumption within a day.  The city’s ruins are even worse, with twisting streets, shifting buildings, an overwhelming feeling of oppression, lingering evil spirits, and a few monstrous beings which seem to come to life inexplicably.  The Outer Beings’ dark magic lies at the source of the Tainted Lands, and remains beyond the ability of Mystaran wizards, clerics, and their immortal patrons to remove.  Time is the best remedy, provided nothing rouses Orzafeth’s sleeping horrors along the way.

The Ogam themselves are still an issue as well. Scattered tribes hide in secluded valleys of the Kerothar Mountains. They live in caves, but switch dwellings from season to season, eluding skyship observation. The Ogam had built a few strongholds in the mountains during the darkest age of Orzafeth, but these were later reduced to rubble from the air on the orders of Emperor Alphas III. The ruins have been abandoned since then, save for spirits and other alien beasts still lingering there. Skyships watch for the Ogam and dispatch them whenever they can. The unforeseen result of this strategy was to drive the Ogam deeper below ground and put them in contact with the so-called shadow dwarves of Morkhula who dwell beneath the northern Kerothar Mountains. Like-minded, the two races remain on relatively good terms. The Ogam see them as potential followers of their outer world faith. The shadow dwarves consider their upstairs neighbors as allies against Stoutfellow. Exchanges have already taken place, with wicked weapons and armor handed to the Ogam in exchange for a few shambling horrors to be turned loose in Stoutfellow mines.

As some dwarves would say: "Osh Shreith!" (not translated here out of respect to younger readers.)

Master Jarrel, Haggleby Guild Representative

Mystara Alphatia Foresthome Heraldry
This middle-aged man is no more than an unscrupulous opportunist. As a representative for the Company of Haggleby, he commands a crucial branch of his trade house in the City of Shiell, where he generates a lot of business opportunities for his Foresthome paymasters. The King of Frisland knows Master Jarrel well and considers him an economic asset for the development of Frisia. More than once has the guildmaster acted as a banker for local aristocracy, and a facilitator for expanding trade between Foresthome and the Grand Duchy. As such, he stands as an influential personality in the region.

Master Jarrel is well aware of what troubles Greater Frisland. He could not fail to become aware of the existence of the forbidden substances, considering the persistent inspections of his vessels by armed men acting under order of the Captain of the Port, prior to setting sail from Shiell. Because of his extensive relations among the upper class, he learned of various mishaps and afflictions among their families, and their illicit desires to acquire forbidden substances. It wasn’t long before he crossed paths with some shady types seeking well-paid outlets for their ill-gotten goods. For a substantial share of the transactions, Master Jarrel now quietly arranges for his sinister associates to meet with individuals paid by needy aristocrats of the guildmaster’s acquaintance.

The Haggleby representative is also well acquainted with a few ruling wizards in Blackheart, who are interested in live plant specimens. Master Jarrel is generally welcome at the feudal Houses of Arâpaal and Rippenschoff. Magically hidden compartments in some of his vessels enables toxic plants to be transported without much chance the Captain of the Port’s inspectors would ever find them. The guildmaster is, however, unaware of the plants’ intended nature, as seedlings of Ogam faith, or of the psychic connections to Outer Beings resulting from substance abuse. He does know about addictive effects and their detrimental consequences in the long run. As a result, he takes precautions not to touch live toxic plants without gloves, and will not willingly consume forbidden substances. There is another fact of which Master Jarrel remains utterly unconscious—his shady associates have managed to slip him tiny doses of the stuff. Their goal is to gain control over the guildmaster’s mind to make sure he never challenges their fruitful association.

The Company of Haggleby does not condone this type of business, and would in fact reprove it because of its liability to their branch in Shiell. Being expelled from Frisland would be a commercial disaster for the trade house. If the heads of the company ever found out, they would seek to quietly eliminate Master Jarrel and replace him with another guildmaster. Naturally, their representative in Shiell is a cautious man who rarely ventures out without someone watching his back, let alone his shadowy associates and their eager desire to protect their asset.

Appearance: Master Jarrel originally comes from Foresthome. He has pale skin and medium brown hair, longer in back than at the sides and graying at the temples. His face is oblong, wide at his rounded cheekbones and narrower beneath his hair and at the chin. A deep vertical furrow sits above his fleshy nose. As an astute businessman, Jarrel has tremendous energy, and is often found in his office burning the midnight oil. Medium blue eyes with a permanent squint constantly evaluate the people and the probabilities of future usefulness to him and his company. In the midst of such assessments, Master Jarrel tilts his head to the left. A prodigious memory makes notes and files regarding people and business arrangements unnecessary. He is not the most popular character, but others tolerate him because of his business acumen. Jarrel typically wears combinations of grays and greens; his belted tunic has a knee-length split skirt revealing pants and boots.

Master Jerrel: T16, AC1, hp38, MV 120’(40’), AT dagger (2), Dmg 1d4+3, Save T16*, ML7, AL N; St13, In15, Wi10, Dx17, Co 14, Ch16. Magical Items: leather jerkin +1, brooch of dimension door (12 charges), boots and cloak of elven kind, periapt of safety (5 charges), dagger of speed, ring of freedom (as the potion of the same name), hat of the merchant princes, and potion of ethereality.

Periapt of Safety: each charge enables a failed saving throw to be reversed. The item is not rechargeable.

Dagger of Speed: this magical dagger +2 enables its owner to gain initiative when wielding this weapon. It also provides an additional attack each round, over and above the number of attacks normally available to the owner’s class.

Hat of the Merchant Princes: this elegant fur-lined hat with a high crown provides its owner a magical +4 bonus to Armor Class, and the ability to correctly assess the commercial value of objects within arm’s length. The latter ability requires 1 round of concentration, but does not reveal the reason behind an object’s value or its nature. The hat also identifies likely clients for each of the assessed objects when the owner of the hat happens to meet them, a process involving a casual conversation or a handshake. Again, the reasons for a client’s interest aren’t unveiled.

"Black Hand" Draghaal, Shadowy Ring Leader
Mystara Alphatia Frisland Heraldry
Draghaal runs a cell of a secret brotherhood whose activities center on the covert distribution of forbidden substances and toxic plants in Shiell. Named the "Fellowship of Ancients," this loose association regroups exclusively ethnic Yanifey across Greater Frisland. They all have in common a visceral hatred of those whose forebears stole their lands so long ago. They target Alphatians in particular, ethnic Antalians, demi-humans, and all those of mixed Yanifey ancestry whom they see as the scions of traitors. In other words, they despise just about everyone in Frisland. Their intolerance extends to the occasional Ogam they uncover, despite the brotherhood’s main weapon originating from Ogam tradition. In the view of the Ancients, these small, swarthy types are just as bad as the Alphatians.

The fellowship’s goal is purely destructive. Few of its followers believe they will ever regain their lost lands. The general idea is that if the Yanifey can't regain their lost domain, then they will ensure that all those who dwell on it will suffer. The so-called Ancients became very knowledgeable of the toxic plants and forbidden substances. They are masters at producing the odious stuff and using it to gain control of key people who could facilitate its distribution. There are many other circles of bandits purely motivated by greed, who compete with the Ancients for the traffic of illicit substances in Greater Frisland. They have territories, which they defend jealously, but the Ancients know how to infiltrate and eventually massacre their rivals. The fellowship controls the City of Shiell, which is their stronghold. Bloody street wars are known to take place when a new gang attempts to muscle in. The local guard sometimes discover horribly mutilated corpses (or worse things done to them), left behind as warning to rival gangs.

Draghaal schemed for some of his pawns to connect with Master Jarrel. The ring leader orchestrates many such associations across the city. His present goal is to target specifically fine young nobles who are to be sent away to perfect their education, preferably those planning to attend a university in Vertiloch or, better yet, in Sundsvall. Draghaal seeks to spread his rot to the heart of the empire, and provoke its decadence. Since smuggling anything into Vertiloch is so hard, considering magical defenses in place there—especially in regards visiting commoners, let alone anyone of Yanifey ancestry—Draghaal seeks "surrogate" carriers of impeccable pedigree able to circumvent Vertilian vigilance. Sooner or later, these fine young nobles will share their habits with their comrades and become their suppliers.

The ring leader earned his "Black Hand" moniker after accidentally coming in contact with a toxic plant. The poison turned his flesh black, halfway up his left forearm. Since the day of this incident, he earned the ability to sense Outer Being emanations, such as an Ogam shaman casting a spell, the flaring of toxic plants in his area, or the presence of some Orzafeth artifact. This ability, however, also shook the man’s own sanity. Draghaal has become a psychopath: cunning, remorseless, and sadistic. He will sacrifice anything and anyone in order to satisfy of his pathological hatred. His followers fear him enough never to betray him. The ring leader is aware of the link between substance abuse and the Outer Beings. In fact, he knows a great deal about Orzafeth lore. It is clear in his twisted mind that his actions might lead to the destruction of his ancestral land and people. But he doesn’t care. He merely relishes the pain and destruction of his foes, regardless of his own fate in the end.

Appearance: Even though he is of medium height, the intensity in Draghaal’s dark brown eyes and the palpable energy radiating around him makes him seem larger than life. The power in his eyes provides him with his 18 score in Charisma (a successful Wisdom check with a –2 penalty will reveal Draghaal’s actual score). When he walks abroad on the street, his presence commands low lives to duck into an alley or cross to the other side. His dark tightly-curled hair and coppery-hued skin give him a dusky look. Heavy eyebrows do little to shadow Draghaal’s imperious gaze. His voice, normally low and gravelly-dark, expands to an impressive wall-shaking bellow if ever needed. A well-fitted sable colored glove hides the damage to his left hand. Draghaal favors wearing neutral browns in a wide-sleeved shirt, belted pants, and boots. Along with his glove, he prefers a dark brown laced leather vest stamped with swirling patterns. Draghaal appreciates what he’s become and the power it gives him however long it lasts.

Draghaal: F23, AC–3, hp86, MV 120’(40’), AT 1 sword, Dmg 1d8+3/+6, Save F23, ML11, AL C; St17, In16, Wi10, Dx14, Co 15, Ch7(18). Magical Items: cloak of invisibility, talisman of poison resistance (3 charges), spectral armor, Orzafethian sword, and hidden vials containing forbidden substance of various types; Draghaal relies on a blowgun and small darts to deliver the contents of his pouches. Effects include paralysis, confusion (as the spell), fear, charm, or a debilitating disease. Each pouch contains doses for three darts.

Spectral Armor: this magical item consists in fact of a pair of silver bracers that generate an invisible, immaterial armor. The latter is equivalent to a suit of armor +2 and enables magical flight twice a day. The armor is impervious spectres and other immaterial beings.

Orzafethian Sword: this ancient sword was retrieved from a forgotten tomb dating back to Frisland’s darkest ages. Wounds that it inflicts can never be healed, save through the use of forbidden substances. If magically analyzed, it will only come off as a +1 sword. In reality, it is a +1/+4 blade vs. pure-blood Alphatians, +1/+2 vs. those of mixed Alphatian ancestry, including ethnic Cypric. The sword’s bonuses, however, do not apply to Ogam followers of the Outer Beings. When this sword is used to inflict death, its wielder must make a saving throw vs. spell or receive a psychic connection to the Outer Beings and a random insanity trait. Draghaal is immune to this effect because of his own madness and intense hatred.

To be continued. . . Coming next: The Grand Duchy of Frisia
Special thanks to Geoff Gander for his participation to this article, and to Janet Deaver-Pack for character appearances and her editorial contributions.

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