The World of Ark

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Glittering Isles of Greyhawk: Prologue

What are the Glittering Isles you ask? Are they REALLY in Greyhawk?

Well, it is easiest to answer the second question first: Yes, they are in Greyhawk...but they are not Canon. The answer to the first question helps to answer the second: the Glittering Isles are a project I've started to create a setting for several of the Modules published for Dungeons and Dragons over the years. I've blended them together the best that I can (with tweaks here and there) so that you can really enjoy a series of modules all wrapped together that were previously setting neutral; but now you can enjoy them in the World of Greyhawk!

The simple map above doesn't give you the scope/scale of the place when compared to the rest of here:

The whole of the place isn't quite as big as the Kingdom of Keoland really. Ahhh...I see the looks and can hear the questions:

"What about the Aqua-aerdians that went beyond the lands of the Sea Barons...wouldn't they have run into the Glittering Isles and settled there instead of going on much farther into the sea?" Well, yes indeed they would have...had they been able to find it! You see, in the distant past, the Glittering Isles were actually almost the exclusive territory of Grey Elves of the Faerie sort. They were exceedingly cautious in their dealings with...well, with anyone! Not only that, but the Demi-God Ye'Cind is actually from the Glittering Isles (yes, that isn't Canon...none of this is Canon mind you!) and his people shrouded their land in deep magic that hid it from the eyes and explorations of other peoples.

"Well, if the Faerie Elves could hide the entire island, how did humans ever find it?" That is a good question...but the answer is really simple: Beltar. Yes, an angry Suel godling lured humanoids to the island via the Underdark and VOILA! you have the island discovered and a great war that ensued that then made it difficult for the diminished Faerie Elves to hide their island home.

"Who were the first humans to find the Glittering Isles?" The Flan found the place first, being affable sorts they didn't infringe on the lands then held by the Faerie Elves. Suel found it next and remained in the southern isles...and then on and on humanity came until we have today's Glittering Isles.

Ok...that is enough questions for now; let's get on with some meat on these bones shall we!


Realms of the

Various Petty Kings to Lairds of small domains the size of Baronies

Capital: Widdershin (population 6,500); nominal trade capital only
Population: 150,000 +/- (Sof)
Demi-humans: Many (Halflings and Gnomes), Mt. Dwarves (7,000), Grey (Faerie) Elves 5,500
Humanoids: Some (primarily Orcs and Xvarts, then mixed)
Resources: Gems (I-IV), Silver, Foodstuffs (Fruits/Nuts)

           The Glittering Isles are rich in gemstones of nearly all kinds as well as abundant silver (all taken primarily from the Caspan Mountains); and it is this wealth that the Corsairs and Merchants of Widdershin trade for gold, furs, rare woods, ivory and even rarely (by those of evil bent) slaves. The Corsairs have explored the coasts of Hepmonoland and the vilest of their people have started taking natives to use as slaves on their island estates. Only in recent years have the Corsairs and Merchants started limited contact with the continent; and then only with merchants of Lo Reltarma on Lendore Isle or with distant kin upon Duxchan Island in the Lordship of the Isles (many of the Corsairs are descendants of Duxchaners who fled the Lordship of the Isles during the conquest of their home by the Great Kingdom). These islands, once long ago the domain of the Faerie Elves only (as well as many of the Fey), were settled by Flan as early as circa 1,500 F.T. (-651 C.Y.) who settled the plains and coasts of Kroanar Isle. Dissatisfied Suel wizards (and their families) arrived circa -500 C.Y. after leaving off from the followers of Lendore; taking the southern islands, there was little strife between these human groups.
          Many petty kingdoms, and even one “empire,” have existed upon these islands; but today it is a fractured political land of minor lords or freeman lairds. Its distance from even the mysterious (to mainlanders) Spindrift Islands enabled the Glittering Isles to remain apart from continental strife and especially conquest by the Great Kingdom; though Schnai (Snow Barbarians) have found the islands here numerous times in their explorations and are in fact the reason the islands are called the Glittering Isles, so named by them. Many times they have stayed as chiefs (or even petty kings) of this land or that. Current realms of note are:

v The Kingdom of Hahntar: largest of the realms, Hahntar could be considered the dominant domain on the main island Kroanar; but internal strife caused by both religious and secular forces have seemingly stagnated its growth. Nevertheless, Hahntar’s famed knights are the backbone of a strong feudal kingdom that could easily field forces equal to such as Geoff, Gran March, Ket, or Sterich.
v The Free Seaholds: the city of Widdershin is the largest settlement upon the island of Kroanar and was the capital of the only true kingdom (which ruled the entire isle of Kroanar and many small islands as well) called Pellham. Today “Old Pellham” is long gone and the merchants rule here in the center of trade for the Glittering Isles. The towers called Mathghamhna sit only a few miles outside Widdershin; said to be an ancient stronghold in the war against the Queen of Chaos in ancient times, it now sits empty and foreboding.
v Autarchy of Xalmak: ruled by the most powerful sorcerer-priest of Wee Jas, Xalmak was once the center of human culture in the Glittering Isles; but now is a culture in severe decline, but still very powerful and respected among The Realms. Hatred of the Undead is strong here, and many come here to learn the secrets of combating them. The clergy of Wee Jas (called by outsiders The Ruby Wraiths due to their penchant for wearing deep red hoods and robes the same color), also support an order of Monk-Sorcerers which are the only functionaries outsiders are allowed to deal with upon Xalmak.
v Faerie Realm of Ye’Cind: ruled by an ancient line of great renown, the original home of the demi-god Ye’Cind now bears his name and his followers rule the musical realm in which the Faerie Elves live. The current Crownfather, Ye’Arendal (cousin of Ye’Cind), sits upon the Gemheart Throne with his wife Ya’Alla, Consort to the Crown. While Ye’Arendal is the titular ruler of the realm, he defers in many things to Ya’Alla who is the High Priestess of Ye’Cind. Most of the gems and silver used in trade come from this domain. In return the elves receive gold and mercenaries to fight the orcs of Krimba-hai.

The meat and drink of this series will be to put things in a light that enables you to use certain older modules that had no home in any particular setting; as well as some few short one shot adventures found in older Dragon/Dungeon magazines too.

To get to the start of that, we need a good map!

This map, titled "Old Pellham and Environs" will be the starting point for the adventures that I will be running here at home with my wife and children (and perhaps some others too). I like this format of map because it just speaks to me of "Ye Olden Times" when I first found Mystara. It also has hexes, which is very "Greyhawk" and fitting; though they aren't the same types of symbols, I'm OK with that.

As you can see on the map, the city of Widdershin is the capital of the Free Seaholds (Holds being very important in the Glittering Isles)...and indeed, it is the former capital of the Kingdom of Pellham which ruled all the main island of Kroanar and some few other islands as well.

Widdershin is first mentioned in the awesome tournament module titled "To Find a King" by Bob Blake; followed by "The Bane of Llywelyn" also by Bob Blake. I've always loved the first of this pair because of the introduction of my favorite villain Baron Krell. If you look on the map near the Goldleaf Forest you will see "Krell's Gate". Other prominent features of these modules are Ciron's Town, the Tower of Ishcabeble, Dolmen Moor and the ever deadly Loren's Wood. Some features had to be changed, and others renamed, to make it all "fit" into the World of Greyhawk. The "Eyes of Berta" were changed into the Eyes of Beltar, Dagda's Thumb was changed to Beory's Thumb, and other minor changes as well. I'll get more into these as this series goes on when I detail how to fit the particular modules into the created setting.

This series will detail in depth the Glittering Isles and the modules placed there (how to fit them, how they have been changed and etc.). The maps have been a special sort of fun for me so far; and so I'll hit a few parts on this particular map to give a hint of what is to come.

The Free Seaholds are a financial power in their world, but a rapidly declining one because of military pressures (territorial ambitions of Hahntar, depredations of the Corsairs, dwindling numbers of the lower classes tired of being taxed, etc). Aside from those domains seen on the map, there is one more: Hold of the Captains March (an area heavily involved in both naval and land battles recently).

North of the Free Seaholds are the High Freeholds. Nominally allied to Widdershin/Pellham (and by default the whole of the Seaholds), the men and women of this land are in all but name wandering bands of mercenaries and bandits. Each "Clan" territory is comprised of numerous small groups of bandits which, if brought together, represent a formidable foe. Widdershin calls upon the greed of the Clan Chiefs here to buy their services against the ambitions of the Kingdom of Hahntar.

West of the Free Seaholds is the petty Kingdom of the Dales. Once known as the western province of Morganth in the last days of Pellham's glory, today the area is ruled ably by a noble family of Elven ancestry. The Kings of the Dales have at their call many Rangers (a special branch of Knights in fact), Yeomen and even half-elven "Wild Runners" from the southern verges of the Goldleaf Forest (which is in theory a part of the Faerie Realm of Ye'Cind). Primarily a peaceful land, it has known war between its own nobles and also against orcs and such from the Caspan mountains. The Module "Destiny of Kings" by Stephen Bourne will be set here. You can see hints of the module in Fontenmere (an "Abbey" which holds the noble accoutrements for crowning the King of the Dales, and once did the same for the Royal Regalia of Pellham), Capel Tower which guards against raids by orcs and the Shrine of Ye'Cind (named the Shrine of Nevron in the module). The map of that module has been greatly modified to make it fit the Glittering Isles.

To the North-East of the Free Seaholds can be seen two Counties of the Kingdom of Hahntar. Both of these are nearly autonomous from Hahntar (its King is currently feeble and addle-minded, its nobles often rebellious, and its religious factions setting half the kingdom against the other half). The Counts of these domains are on constant guard against raids by the "Clans" (read Bandits) of the High Freeholds and would like to launch punitive expeditions against them but can't afford to do so because they lack the military strength individually and also the funds to carry out a campaign. The County of Seamarch is on agreeable terms with the Sea Freeholds (read: bribed by the council of Widdershin) and much trade is carried out upon old and failing roads. Hahntar is famed for two things: its mailed Knights and its War College which rests in the Hawk Marches and thence in the city of Honshar. Here in Honshar are War-Wizards and they are avid foes of all humanoids, raiders, reavers and what have you...but especially hateful toward the orcs of Krimba-hai when they attack the Hawk Marches via the dark and evil Akray Forest from out of the northern Caspan Mountains (the module "The Silver Key" by Ted James and Thomas Zuvich is centered on this conflict between Honshar and Krimba-hai). The War-Wizards of Hahntar are fractious themselves, however; there have been spectacular spell battles between their members even in the streets of Widdershin!

The Goldleaf Forest is that same realm as The Faerie Realm of Ye'Cind; but that area shown in this map is ruled almost independently by the Wild Runners of the Faerie Realm. These are bands of "short-lived" half-elves given the southern forest to have as their own and to act as a buffer between the city of Glittering Falls and the masses of humanity. Much trade is done between humanity and these "elf-clans" as they are called by humans; and it is from here that humanity obtains much silver and many gems in return for gold (as well as additional mercenaries at times). The Wild Runners are mercenary as well, so may be found in small groups within the lands of mankind. They suffer no infringement upon their territory, and heavy payment (at times) from Baron Krell to these mercenaries ensures that they "Lay Claim" on his territory when Krell is threatened by the King of the Dales or the Council of Widdershin.

Full war is uncommon between these particular areas, though there is (as stated) much raiding done by certain elements. A look at some of my inspiration for the warriors of these lands:

Here you can see what the typical Suel (actually Suel-Oeridian-Flan, or Sof) looks like that would be found among just about any army upon the islands. Iron, while not rare, is rarely afforded by lower ranking members of armies, and few nations supply their soldiers with more than a stout shield, helmet and weapons. I picture the Suel of the Glittering Isles to be much akin to Celtic people of Gaul: actually civilized, but lacking in some of the more advanced aspects of civilization for commoners.

Unfortunately for the common yeoman, orcs are not so lightly armored or armed. Against these sort humanity has professional soldiers. Where a Yeoman may be an excellent warrior (and most are on these islands), the professional Man-at-Arms is more than capable of handling a battle against orcs. Add to the man above a fine suit of chain armor and the support of well trained archers and the furious charge of knights...well, there is a reason orcs don't dominate here!

As well as that may be, even the civilized Man-at-Arms has a boogeyman of his own: the barbaric Schnai from distant Rhizia. Armored in layered mail armor and carrying a heavy axe as well as sword, the warriors led by "King" Jom of Jomshold are currently much feared. Having carved out a sizable realm in the north, King Jom leads many warriors such as this. Mercenary to their core, however, Jom knows that his soldiers loyalty is to riches; which he is currently able to give them. The northern realm of "The Warholds" has lost half its territory to Jom and his men; orc mercenaries hired by the Lairds of this domain not withstanding. Skirmishing with the Lords of the Hawk Marches have proven to all that the modern barbarian warrior is much more able than those of history here.

Mentioned several times previously are "Knights" of the various Glittering Isles realms. These are not the shining plate armored knights many are used to in fantasy gaming however. While Full Plate armor is known (and used) in the various realms, its cost is great and so most Knights here wear heavy fully covering chain mail armor with only plates here and there; commonly called Plate and Mail. Their thunderous charge is still deadly; but their own casualties are sometimes greater than might be noticed in the mainland kingdoms of eastern Oerik. To offset these casualties, Knights are not thrown at a line of spears; but usually saved for the crushing blow after an enemy's lines are beginning to falter. They are excellent combatants to a man however, and their dislike of throwing themselves on a stout wall of shields and spears should not be taken as cowardice. The Knights of the Glittering Isles are much feared in one to one combat against lesser men.

Well, there you have a brief introduction to the Realms of the Glittering Isles (also often simply called the Glittering Realms). Stay tuned for more fun as we go along. This is going to be my new home campaign, so I'll have lots of material to share as I go along!


  1. I just found your blog and what a great project! I have always wanted some additional island nations out in that sector of the Greyhawk map as I think the options for "grand age of sail" type adventures need some sort of development as what you've done here. I'm tempted just to plop you're whole creation right where it lies in my own Greyhawk campaign. That would be pirating-- in a good way! :D

    1. Pirate all you's the whole reason I'm bothering to write this particular series in my blog!