|By Gary Dupuis|
“I done all four a’ the Red King’s gulags, and it never hurt me none. Well, except maybe the fingers…” – ‘Thumbs’ Johansson, thief for hire
Capital: The Red Tower
Settlements: The Breakers (3,700), The Deeps (4,050), Irontown (5,500), The Red Tower (850), Salttown (2,800) The Gulags (100-300 each)
Ruler: The Red King
Races:Dragonbloods, Half-orcs, Half-ogres, Humans, other slave races
Faiths: Ferrakus, Ithreia, Myketa
Resources: Basalt, dried fish, iron, marble, salt, silver, timber, zinc
Languages: Common, Giant
Border Conditions: Porphyrite borders with the Jheriak Continuance, and the Wyrm’s Yard, which is technically part of The Northlands. The central North Polar Region is rarely sought, and thought to be lifeless.
The Northlands have always been a harsh and unforgiving place. The NewGod War did not change that in any positive way. The driving away of the Elemental Tyrants may have only destabilized what passed for civilization there, leading to a collapse of the tenuous links to the south, not been completely restored to this day.
Those in the Northlands pursued a hardscrabble life, eking out a living amongst the cold and rough terrain, trying to avoid predators, both two- and four-legged that prowled the wastes. That all changed with the arrival of the mercenary warlord who would become known as the Red King. Moving carefully, the Red King betrayed those who hired him and seized the Breakers as a base of operations. His forces, the Red Host, systematically conquered the rest of the Northlands over the course of a decade. Initially, settlements would resist and the Red Host would slaughter the defenders and pillage the place, but later, people just surrendered to the inevitable. Irontown was the last major settlement to be brought into the fold, capitulating when the Red King himself hammered on the town gates.
Powers of note that did not bow down to the Red King were the Jarls of the Fire and Frost Giants, for even the Red Host was not powerful enough to conquer the Jarls in their fortresses. The Red King has shown them his power, however, by destroying several small communities of giants that were isolated from their brethren. Another area of curious defiance is the no-man’s land known as The Wyrm’s Quarter, a porphyrite-barriered region on the border with the Steppes that contains an enigmatic extinct volcano and the surrounding hills, all containing clear deposits of porphyrite. That a vastly powerful dragon or clan of dragons has claimed this territory is plain to all, but disagreements continue as to its origin and nature. Some connect the dragons with Paletius, who has a known affinity for the giant reptiles; with an internal eruption of porphyrite (and the legend of the Porphyrite Dragon); or with the erstwhile and forbidden parentage of the Red King himself.
Little is known about the Red King’s origin beyond the obvious: he is an ogre mage with red draconic heritage, massive and strong almost beyond imagining. His sheer physical presence masks a cunning and varied intellect that he rarely shows except to his closest associates. His rule is distant for most of the villages across the land, but harsh when defied- and the gulags are rarely less than half filled. The gulag system enforces the knowledge that, as long as the taxes and proper respect are paid, the Red Host does its best to keep the roads maintained and safe, and keep giant raiders at bay. The mines, which are the source of the Red King’s wealth and power, are worked primarily by slaves, which the mines have constant demand for.
The conflict with the giant Jarls continues at a low level, with groups of giants raiding for plunder and the Red Host trying to catch them before they can cause too much damage. The people of the Northlands maintain watch towers and hiding places to avoid being taken unawares- and being taken as slaves.
As the Red King has finally seemed to age, after several hundred years, he has begun to turn his eye outward from his obsessive control of the Northlands to the Dry Peninsula; Kesh, Jengu-Na, and the Lotus Blossom Steppes. The Sikoyan Tundra, a natural muskeg-ridden barrier, has begun to see roads built of basalt, and suppression of the nomadic Sikoy people and their reindeer herds. If he decided to plunder, say, the Yeti Wastes instead, the entire peninsula would breathe a sigh of relief.
The Breakers, on the east coast of the Northlands, has one of the very few good natural ports on the north Opal Sea, but is located among a set of vicious rocks and breakers. A pair of tall lighthouses, the Eyes of the North, ensures that ships are guided safely into part. It is the only trade-port out of the Northlands and it is home to a considerable number of fisherman and merchants. The Red Host maintains a strong navy here, with a wide variety of shore batteries to defend against attack.
The Deeps, probably the northernmost city on Porphyra, exists to support a huge open pit mine that brings up slabs of marble for export. Northland yaks pull the stone to the Glace River where it is floated on rafts down to The Breakers or unloaded under the Red Tower and shipped by road. A Red Host fort, clad in marble fragments watches both the slave workers and for giant raiders.
The Gulags: Specialized prison camps used for disciplining Red Host rule-breakers and civilian criminals alike: the rule of slavery is for outlanders only. There are four of these grim camps, and the price of parole after minimum sentence is The Walk- leaving the gulag on foot.
The focus of each gulag is as follows:
· Gulag Red –almost exclusively for Red Host convicts, it keeps an eye on the Jheriak Continuance, and has twice been completely eradicated by would-be invaders.
· Gulag Black- For political and dangerous prisoners, from all over the world, it is called the ‘Loneliest Place on Porphyra’.
· Gulag White- Built into a great calving glacier west of the Continuance, convicts are roped up the sheer sides, and slide their way out on sealskins that they must hunt themselves.
· Gulag Blue- More of a penal colony, holding debtors and families on the somewhat clement shores of the Sea of Ithreia.
Irontown, source of the weapons and armor for the Red Host, is completely walled, being the nearest major settlement to the lands of the giant Jarls, within sight of The Maw-volcanic capital of the fire giants and The Slab- glacial rift-home of the Ice Giants, land-bound cousins to the maritime Frost Giants. Ballistae and catapults festoon the ramparts of this Red Host recruitment town.
Salttown possesses an extensive network of tunnels beneath it, with chambers, rooms, and even temples carved out of the salt itself. The mines of Salttown are worked by free townsfolk, using slaves for only the most dangerous tasks. The Salttowners maintain a strong militia, led by Ithreian rangers that cooperate with the Red Host in defense of the town.
· One of the few things the Red King needs is information, and it is something that he is willing to pay well for. He is too cautious to trust any single source of information, so reliable and effective spies will find themselves well rewarded.
· The Red Host is always looking for brave scouts willing to locate and disrupt the forces of the Giant Jarls. Those who prove themselves skilled in such tasks will be provided with specialized anti-giant weaponry for further missions.
· Gulag Black, the darkest hole on Porphyra, holds a prisoner with information that is vital; so vital that he needs to be found and rescued, from the ultimate prison.
The following regional traits are common in the Northlands.
Gulag Survivor: Not many are tough enough to walk out of the gulag, but it makes those few even tougher. You gain a +1 trait bonus to Fortitude saves, and cold resistance 1.
Red Host Training: Those that serve with the Red Host are hardy and learn tricks for fighting the giants that raid the Northlands. You gain a +1 trait bonus to Survival, and gain a +1 trait bonus to confirm critical hits against giants.