Fantasy Campaign - Overview

18 May 2020

Years ago I put quite a bit of time into developing this fantasy campaign for GURPs 4th edition. Sadly, scheduling conflicts and life in general did what so often happens, and I don't believe we ever got past making characters for this game.

I like the setting, Elves are rare, powerful, malevolent and magical. Dwarves effectively have a tech level advantage, toting around blackpowder weapons and fine steel weapons. Humans are just beginning to establish their own societies after millennia as slaves to elves.

Contents
Plot elements/ideas/NPCs, etc - The "Bolt Hole" session scenario


THE PC RACES

Humans

The Fyrn Vurden
"The Old Words"
Before the arrival and conquest of the elves, humans lived in a wide variety of tribes, many of whom had their own languages. Most died out with the conquest, while some continued to be used by the enslaved humans. Only pieces of these words are still known – most coming from a single original tongue, which was originally spoken in the area where Theodred led the first revolt. Many of these words are still used in ritual and are attached to old objects such as swords dating from the Wars

The humans live in one of several kingdoms, organized along classic medieval patterns. Most humans are simple peasants, living and farming in their villages, each village ruled by either a chief (or thane) or by a council of elders. War is quite common among humans, both between kings as well as between the various scheming nobles who are (theoretically) below their kings.

Although there are no living humans who directly remember the Great Wars (or at least very few – see The Gray Ones), they still have left a huge imprint on human affairs. The kingdoms all trace their roots to one or more of the heroes and generals of the wars. Ruins (Elven or human) litter the countryside. There are many tales and songs from the wars, and most humans still view themselves as being threatened by elves – even though very few have ever seen one. The only race that humans typically have even a slightly positive view of are the dwarves, both because of their assistance during the Wars and because of the value placed on their handiwork.

Humans have a basic medieval level of technology. Most warriors wear mail and carry sword or axe. Only the wealthiest wear plate armor made by dwarves. Humans can practice shamanic or "normal" magic.

Human metalworking still lags far behind that of the dwarves in terms of quality, despite the fact that smiths are held in great esteem. As a result, many human-made weapons are of inferior quality – see the weapon section for more information.

The Gray Ones
While believed by most to be little more than old wives stories meant to frighten children, there are those who say that there are still some few who live still from the Last War. There were those who learned arcane secrets from the elves both before and during the war – often through torture. Some of these learned the secret of using blood magic to extend life, although in many ways these Gray Ones are little more than dead themselves. Still, they live on, usually in ruins, pursuing their own obscure magical goals, little concerned with the growing human world around them.

Vir Stak (Freeman's Steel)
It is a widespread custom in human kingdoms that a boy is given a steel weapon upon becoming a man. In many places, girls are also given steel upon reaching their adulthood – sometimes weapons, sometimes other implements. This is a tradition dating back to the wars, when having an iron weapon was of such importance. Now it is often a simple knife, or sometimes a sword or other weapon. Sometimes it is new, more often it is a weapon passed down in the family. Similarly, it is customary that an adult man (usually) must carry some sort of steel weapon at all times – although usually this is just a simple knife used for food and work, and is usually not the man's original Vir Stak gift.

Dwarves

Dwarf Racial template
Night Vision +4: 4 points
HT 11: 10 points
FP +2: 6 points
High TL: 5 points
Hard to Subdue +1: 2 points
Magic Resistance +5: 10 points
Rapid Healing: 5 points
Alcohol Tolerance: 1 points
Total Cost: 43 points

Dwarves are a solitary race that live deep within the mountains. They rarely leave their tunnels, especially since the fall of the elven empire. Dwarves have no magical ability, and will not use magic items.

As a generally non-magical race, the dwarves were able to maintain their independence from the elves because of their widespread use of steel, and their advanced technology. Dwarves have mastered the use of gunpowder, and regularly use wheel-lock based firearms, grenades, cannon, etc. They also make use of a variety of steam-powered mining machinery, some of which has been converted to propel vehicles in war-time. In game terms, they are low TL5.

Dwarves distinguish between Dvarnnetek and Annartek (Dwarven technology and "Others" technology. Dwarves will only trade basic steel weapons and equipment to humans – it would be considered sacrilege to give an item using Dvarnnetek to a human, much less an elf! There are stories that entire human villages have been wiped out when dwarves suspect them of stealing such items. Humans respect dwarves, and think that all of them are fabulously wealthy (which can be dangerous combination...)

Each clan lives in its own mountain, and only rarely do they come into conflict with each other. Most dwarves never leave their birth-mountain, and within dwarven society the merchants who do travel outside their mountains are regarded with a mixture of awe and disapproval. Merchants typically trade amongst themselves, with occasional trips into human lands. They value a wide variety of human foods such as cheeses, beers, sausages and other foods that are difficult or impossible to make in their mountains. There is little else that humans can offer them, except occasionally as a source of cheap labor.

Dwarves have almost no dealings with Elves – while the original wars between the races occurred nearly seven hundred years ago now, both races have long memories and little reason to trade or even communicate. The Dwarves do often fight with goblins, who are far more numerous, and who are continually encroaching on dwarven territory because of population pressures.

There are at least two instances of dwarves attacking humans, both in response to coordinated attacks on dwarven caravans. In one instance a dwarven army marched down from the mountain, defeated two human forces sent to oppose it, used cannon to blow down the walls of the human king and forced him to a humiliating peace in which large shipments of agricultural goods and slaves were paid to the dwarves over a period of ten years. Stories of this war have circulated throughout the human lands – and have been embroidered over the years so that now some think that the dwarves ride bears and ogres, and that they can pop out of the ground anywhere they want to attack humans who cause trouble for them.

The only NPC dwarves that the PCs are likely to encounter are traveling merchants. Likewise, any dwarven PCs must have a good reason to be wandering outside dwarven lands.

Elves

Elves have become very rare in the centuries since the fall of the great elven empire, but the ruins of their civilization and the wars that ended it are everywhere. They are still feared and mistrusted by humans, and rarely are seen outside the great forests of the old elven lands. Most humans regard elves as evil and an elf traveling in human lands had best stay well disguised. Elves are tall (around 6-7 feet) and very thin and pale. They are very graceful, but have an alien way of moving that most humans find unnatural. Elves are natural mages, and may be both mages or shamans.

Elves have an innate weakness to iron and steel – the mere touch is uncomfortable (a burning feeling like dry ice), and such weapons cause more damage, more bleeding, and are more difficult to heal. Elves can sense iron or steel within about a yard of them, depending on the the amount.

Elves are technically ruled by a single king, yet in reality they are split among several noble families or houses. Elven politics tends towards betrayal and intricate scheming, dominated by rivalries that still exist dating back to the great civil war that followed the expulsion of the elves from the human lands.

Elves typically live widely dispersed, subsisting off of agricultural work performed by their slaves (if they own them) or by simple gathering, augmented by magic. As such, their population is relatively low. They communicate magically, and travel quickly, and can quickly congregate for their various feast days, war, etc.

For game purposes, elves are TL4, although their inability to use iron or steel severely limits their use of technology. They are however extremely proficient magic users, and have greatly advanced and streamlined the enchanting process

THE NPC RACES

Goblins

Goblin Racial Template
ST -3
IQ -2
DX +1
HT + 0
Per + 1
Wil – 1
hit points -2
stealth DX+2

The goblins are a tribal, roughly stone-age race that live in the far north. There are many, many different tribes, constantly squabbling and feuding. Only a goblin really knows the intricacies of goblin tribal relationships. Most tribes are simply named after animals, body parts, natural phenomena, etc. Tribes are led by their chief, basically the biggest, strongest goblin in the tribe. When a chief dies, there is usually at least a fair amount of squabbling, fighting, backstabbing, etc. until a new chief comes to power. Occasionally a chief's death will cause the tribe to split into two or more new tribes.

The average goblins stands around 4.5 feet tall, and is quite lightly built. The have a gray-green skin, a protuberant belly and out-sized head with large eyes and mouths, and bat-like ears. They have evolved an ability to subsist on nearly any organic material - "hungry as a goblin" is a common human expression, implying someone who's hungry enough to try eating just about anything.

They use a wide variety of stone age weapons including stone-tipped spears (with atlatls), bolas, slings and clubs. A very small proportion have some extremely limited shamanic magic, generally of a ritual nature.

The tribes are currently under a great deal of pressure to move south as the emergence of the Krak'lek have pushed them out of their ancestral northern lands. As a result, the northern tribes have either forced the tribes to the south of them to move, or have been wiped out. At the southern edge of goblin lands, the tribes have begun infiltrating what have traditionally been considered human lands.

Goblin Warrior

Attack 10
– club 1d-1cr
– spear 1d-1i (2hds = 1d imp) (throw = 1d imp, acc 2, rng 7/10)
– spear w/atlatl 1d-1 imp, acc 3, rng 21/28)
– s. bow 1d-2i (Acc. 1, Rng. 70/105, RoF 1(2), stone arrows -1 vs. armor, +1 if dmg. Pen.)
– sling (1d-2 pi, acc 0, rng 42/70, rof1(2)

ST 7 (1d-3, 1d-2)
DX 12 (40)
IQ 8 (-40)
HT 12/10 (16)
Will 7 (-5)
Per 10 (10)
Basic speed 6
Basic Move 5 (-5)
Encumbrance 16 = 0, 32 = -1, etc.

Krak'Lek

The Krak'Lek are an ancient insectoid race that until recently lived entirely on a small island off the north coast. Fourteen years ago one of their queens was swept to the mainland through a stroke of luck. Finding a relative paradise (at least compared to their ancestral island) her hive prospered, spreading quickly through a network of ancient tunnels beneath the northern hills. They soon began to expand on the surface, where they have come into conflict with the goblins.

The Krak'Lek have a variety of specially evolved castes. The most common are the workers and soldiers. The typical worker stands on four legs at about 5 feet tall, or about 3 feet tall when on all eight legs. Krak'Lek can stand up the front half of their bodies to allow them to use their front pair of legs, which have a finer set of manipulators.

The soldier class of the Krak'Lek are larger, stronger and faster. They have no fine manipulators on their front legs, but rather have large bladed "choppers" for combat.

Halflings

Halflings are feral, primitive creatures who live in the dense tropical jungles and swamps of the South. They are tribal, cannibalistic and very fierce. They stand 3-4 feet tall, and practice many forms of ritual scarification, tattooing, filed teeth etc. They are rarely seen outside their jungles, and when they are seen they're often used in sideshows in traveling carnivals, etc. They are very primitive, with only stone-age level technology – although they do have an impressive mastery of poisons derived from the plants of their jungle home.

Among humans, halflings are considered as little better than goblins, indeed some think they are the same race. In reality they are quite different, as halflings can use shamanic magic, and are quite a bit more intelligent. Halflings live in simple huts or occasionally in tree-huts. Most exist through simple hunting and gathering, except for the shaman in each village, who lives off of the gifts of the villagers. The chief of each village leads through a mixture of intimidation and charisma, and leads most activities.

Wood Elves

Rumored to be the offspring of Elves and Humans (or perhaps and Elves and Halflings), wood elves inhabit some of the great southern forests. They're taller than halflings, and from a distance could pass for a young human, although with a darker complexion than is common. Their society is based around tribes, although a council of tribes acts as leadership body to make decisions for all wood elves. Wood elves keep to themselves, trading with no one, caring only for their woods. Humans only know that no one returns from the forests where wood elves dwell, and assume the forests to be inhabited by elves or spirits, or perhaps both. The dwarves have no knowledge at all of the existence of wood elves.

Ogres

Ogres are huge, lumbering creatures that wander the forests and mountains. They exist by scavenging, gathering, and killing anything that can't avoid them. They are covered with thick hair, and use only basic clubs. They live solitary lives, coming together only for mating (you do not want to be anywhere near an ogre in heat!) They're typically unable to understand language, and none can speak it. They are occasionally captured and trained in much the same way a bear is, although with more difficulty. Rarely one will live in a kind of symbiosis with goblin tribes, who provide with food in return for some measure of protection.

The beasts are also known as Hunë and stand roughly 8' tall. In combat they use clubs or throw large rocks.

ST 22 (2d/4d), DX 13, IQ 7, HT 14/22, init 6.75, Move 8, Dodge 7. Attacks (skill 14): rock 2d-1 crushing, SS12, 44/77; Fist 2d-1 crushing; Club 4d+3 crushing, 2h club 4d+4 crushing. Their thick skin and matted hair provdes DR1 all over (except eyes).A

The "Diggers"

These little guys are intended as a nasty surprise for the PCs, so they should have no knowledge of them. They are small humanoids, standing 2-3 feet tall, and looking like a cross between a muskrat and a monkey. They are hairless and maggott-colored, and attack with small crude weapons or bites. Their danger is in their numbers, and the fact that they can dig up from below to attack surprised PCs. They get slight warning by digging/scrabbling noises below them (-5 to check) about 10 seconds before the ground will erupt with diggers.

ST 7 (1d-3/1d-3), SX 11, IQ 8, HT 12/6, init 6.75, mv 4, dodge 5. Attacks (skill 11): Knife (1d-2 cut, 1d-2 impale), Spear (1d impale), bite (1d-3 crushing).

Basic Map

Map
I created this map off a bit of real earth, and began layering stuff over it in Photoshop - was never quite completed! The elven continent lay far off across the ocean. Doesn't really matter where, as only elves know its location and how to get there.

HISTORY

The history of the world is governed by iron and steel. For all of known history, humans have been the slaves of the elves - kept illiterate and ignorant. However, in the decades leading up to the Iron War secret societies spread throughout the human slave settlements, in which humans learned military and magical skills in secret - and began to flee the elves to live in the no-mans land between elven and dwarven lands to the north. A leader arose among the human outcast tribes named Theodred. Somehow he convinced the dwarves to give the humans steel weapons. Until this time, humans used no iron or steel weapons, and were not aware of the effect that iron and steel have upon elves. Theodred armed and trained his followers, and his army defeated the elves in the first battle of the war at Nagliefeld - where his capital city of Naglimund was later founded.

In the following years of war (known as the "Great Wars") the humans throughout the northern continent rose up against their elven masters. Most of these rebellions were bloodily suppressed, but Theodred's armies (armed with dwarven steel weapons) carved out a large kingdom centered around Naglimund, and smuggled weapons to rebels wherever possible.

The first war of Iron came to a close, and there were three human kingdoms (Svartenlanne, Isenfeld, Grenfyrd), in addition to Theodred's lands. The humans in the free lands continued to prepare for war and began to learn to work iron and use magic. Meanwhile the Elves brought new forces from their southern continent (named "Aelfhome"), and the second Iron War began after a fifteen years of peace. The elves, seeing their chance in the internal squabbling of the new human kingdoms launched a new invasion, which came to be called The Last Elven War.

The Last Elven War saw the first use of the "Atolrinc" or "terrible weapons" by the Elves. A horrible magical weapon was used against the small human kingdom of Isenfeld, and the kingdom fell in a week. It is unknown (to the humans) what nature of weapon was used, for no one has gone past the old borders of Isenfeld and return. The dwarves, under threat of these new weapons characteristically withdrew their support from their humans and retreated into their mountain fortresses.

The Atolrinc weapons include a variety of dark magics including necromancy, plagues, etc.

After the fall of Isenfeld, the elves launched a new offensive against Theodred's capital city of Naglimund. In a series of battles known as the "Month of Battles" the Elves fought to the outskirts of Naglimund, and laid siege to the city. They took terrible losses trying to assault the walls of Naglimund, which were not strong themselves (as the humans knew little about stone-working) but the walls were surrounded by thousands of long iron spikes set into the earth, which caused the Elves intense discomfort, even if they did not touch them. After several failed assaults they pulled back and apparently began to try to lay siege to the city.

During the siege, which lasted at least four months, the Elves and humans used all sorts of magic against each other - neither side had much in the way of siege technology, so it became a duel between mages and shamans. However, in the fourth month Naglimund suddenly fell. No one knows exactly what happened, as none of the humans in the city survived - and if the Elves know they will not say. It is said that Theodred died fighting in front of his iron throne with his huge claymore sword. Of course it's just a story and there's many others about the fall of Naglimund such as: the elves called a dragon to their aid, a volcano arose, a comet struck the city, the Elves caused a terrible sickness, etc. No one really knows, and no one has been to Naglimund since its fall, supposedly because it is haunted by the ghosts of the humans and Elves who died there. There are also tales that a dwarven trade caravan somehow escaped the fall and returned to the mountains, and that ever since the dwarves have been cautious about having too many dealings with the humans.

In reality, the Elves were desperate to end the miserable siege, and a new leader known as Aeldon the Dark offered to end it through the use of an even more terrible form of magic. In a week long ritual, he and his acolytes ritually executed hundreds of captured humans and even dissident elves. Drawing power from this blood magic, they summoned a demon (Baelloc) who destroyed Naglimund, and then turned upon his summoners. Aeldon and his followers were destroyed, and Baelloc apparently returned to his origin. The elves, horrified by these events, left the continent and returned to their home continent.

In the years that followed the humans slowly recovered, and then began to quickly rebuild. The elves, watching secretly, were dismayed and surprised by the vigor with which the new human kingdoms rebuilt and rearmed. The dwarves, learning of the Elvish demon summoning became fearful that the elves would someday use such magic on them, withdrew ever deeper into the mountain stronholds, coming out ever more rarely for trade.

The Current Situation – Human Kingdoms

In the years since the last Elven War the human kingdoms have continued to split, and there are now a number of ever-changing "kingdoms" that may or may not actually qualify for the term. Many nobles have claimed descent from the heroes of the Iron Wars, and have proclaimed themselves kings – yet most are nothing more than strongmen and warlords.

Most villages are (at least technically) under the domain of a lord, often called a Duke – who usually controls several villages. The Duke in turn often has sworn fealty to another lord, often a "king." In reality, many villages are claimed by multiple dukes, and dukes fight amongst themselves over control of villages. Generally, a duke has a castle or hill fort, and the closer a village is to his castle, the more likely he controls it.

Grimvall Duchy
The PCs will start in the duchy of Grimvall, a small duchy ruled by Duke Grimvall from a rather decrepit hill fort near the village. The Duke controls several other villages within a couple days ride – but it is a poor area in the wild northern edge of human civilization. The Duke is a fairly benevolent ruler, and owes fealty to King Theodred VII of Nordvald. The remoteness and poverty of the region means Grimvall is rarely called upon to levy troops or treasure for the King, which is good because the Duchy itself is constantly under threat from goblin raiders from the forests and hills to the north.

Nordvald
The kingdom of Nordvald is relatively new, having split from the neighboring kingdom of Bretwalda about a century ago. The kings claim relation to the original Theodred through a rather convoluted genealogy – in reality the first king was one of the more powerful nobles of Bretwalda, who took advantage of his king's absence during a war to announce his own independence. Several vicious little wars later, and the two kingdoms are more or less at peace, each distracted by its own problems.

Svartengloff
Svartengloff (aka Blackcastle) is the capital city of Nordvalle. It is based around the royal castle, an ancient castle built with dwarven help during the interval between the great elven wars. Because of its strong castle, the city has been relatively safe during the turbulent years following the wars, and a rather large city has grown up around it. Blackcastle is a major stop on the dwarven trade routes, and boasts one the larger trade markets around. In midsummer there's a three week trade fair located near the city.

MAGIC

Elves may use any magic, as normal per GURPS 4th ed.
Humans may only use "shamanic" magic.
Dwarves may only use enchantment magic.

All of the races (except dwarves) can and do use magic. Elves are natural magic users, and by far the most advanced. While humans have no penalties to using magic, few use it and most humans are illiterate, making learning magic difficult. There are wandering human hedge-mages who are skilled in minor healing and plant spells, and how make their living roaming from village to village, healing and helping with crops. There are also a small number of powerful, secretive human arch-mages. Some are supported or otherwise associated with kings or nobles, but most live in seclusion, caring only for their study and avoiding contact with other humans. There are two arch-mages who have used their magical knowledge to extend their lives – and who date back to the great wars, but their presence is unknown even to other arch-mages and even the local villagers know nothing of their presence, or may have old stories of evil spirits who roam deep within the haunted forest, etc. Goblins and halfling magic is limited to shamans, with very limited selection of spells. Being both illiterate and with no conception of systematic magic, their magic is often extremely inefficient and mostly ritual in nature. Of course there are no goblin or halfling enchanters!

Magic Items

Magic items are quite rare and expensive in the human lands, and are non-existent in dwarven territories. The dwarvish religion and culture forbids all use of magic and magic items, and a dwarf will not willingly use or even touch a magic item. Humans have no such compulsion, and do enchant items. However, a dwarf will not willingly sell a dwarvish made item if he knows that it will be enchanted, therefore human enchanters must either work with human-made items (which are of inferior quality) or must buy a dwarvish item through a middle-man. Since an enchanter is unlikely to want to put the effort required into enchanting a lower quality item, most enchanted weapons and armor are originally made by dwarves, then sold to a human merchant who then sells it to the enchanter. This makes the items more expensive, for the human middlemen must be very careful that their dwarvish suppliers don't find out that they're selling items to enchanters!

In practice, this means that a given enchanted item will have a base cost of: (book cost for fine quality item x 2) = cost to enchanter, then add the cost of the enchantment plus the enchanter's profit margin (50-100% usually! There's high demand and little supply!).

The other kind of magic item occasionally found in human lands are those made by elves which were left behind after the wars. These items are extremely rare, and the more complex items will often require a code word or phrase (the password enchantment) - in elvish, of course - to be used. These are very valuable to the right people, but cannot be sold "in the open" - a person who will buy and sell these items is a very useful contact!

ARMS & ARMOR

Human-forged iron weapons are considered "cheap" in quality, although the price remains the same as the price in the book. Weapons that do not rely on good quality iron are not affected – including: bows, slings, staves, crossbows, clubs, axes, spears, etc. The heaviest armor available is chain mail, and it is 10% heavier than the mail in the book, owing to poor quality metal and clumsy construction. Lighter armor such as leather and padded armor are unaffected.

Dwarven-forged arms and armor are possible to acquire – such items are as the book stats, with an extra 50% increase in cost due to their lack of supply. Higher than normal quality items are available as well, as are enchanted items – increase cost by 50% at least, perhaps as much as 100% - in addition to any cost increase for weapon quality. Dwarves will only use fine or higher quality weapons, but make "export" quality (normal) weapons for sale to humans. Higher tech level items are not available from the dwarves, and are carefully protected. For example, most dwarven caravan guards do not carry such weapons – relying instead on higher quality weapons and heavy armor to deal with any humans foolish enough to attack them. Caravan leaders often carry firearms, both as obvious weapon and as a mark of status.

Elven weapons and armor are not made of steel or iron (of course) and are generally totally unavailable in human lands. Occasionally they are discovered in ruins dating back to the wars or before, but those are often quickly purchased by some of the human arch-mages for study. The average human encountering such an item would fear its "cursed magic."

Elves favor light weapons and armor, and favor the bow above all other weapons. A typical elven warrior wears a kind of quilted silk armor, providing a base DR of 2 (flexible armor) – often enchanted with +1 or +2 DR depending on his wealth. He carries a composite bow, typically enchanted with +1 accuracy, and arrows enchanted for +1 damage. Elvish arrows use ironwood tips, which in game terms make them equivalent of normal steel arrows. Although generally avoiding close combat, elves typically use an ironwood rapier or saber. Rarely do elves use shields, although some do use an off hand main-gauche style weapon.