Friday, 16 April 2021

The Rovers of the Barrens Primer

“human prosperity never abides long in the same place”
― Herodotus, The Histories 

“The Holy Land is everywhere”
― Black Elk

The Plains of Plenty
The Barrens are an old land, and the Rovers have roamed their plains and hills for as long as anyone can remember.
When did they arrive? Shortly after the Flan had left their suppression in the west. When exactly? None can say. The Rovers claim that they have always dwelt there, from the time when the First World was destroyed by fire, since the people crawled through a long, dark cave into daylight, and were met by a great herd led by a white horse, and that the People and the Horse walked as one until they came upon a plain of plenty, where the herd might graze and the people might hunt and never know hunger and where they would be forever free, until the Second World was destroyed by ice.

In truth, the Rovers are Flan who escaped Suel suppression; and while some settled and became the Tenha and the Coltens, the Rovers continued to roam the Barrens, migrating with herds of the great herds of bison and elk north of the Nyr Dyv, from as far east as White Fang Bay to the shores of Quag Lake. The Rovers kept to their old ways and rejected writing, farming, and town-building. For this reason, they were called barbarians.
Theirs is a barren and harsh land, windswept and without shelter, and blanketed in such bitter cold snows in the winter, that the Aerdy came, they deemed it too worthless to conquer.

The Rovers of the Barrens
The Rovers had always traded with their settled kin, but took to raiding those that came after, taking what was theirs by right of strength. Their horse, and their fleet-footed Wardogs (masters of close-fighting techniques whose weapons are the hatchet and knife, their agility and outrageous bravado are renowned throughout the Flanaess, giving rise to the expression "wild as a Wardog") were the terror of all the “settled.” The only “serious” threat to their claim that the entirety of the lands north of the Great Lake belonged to them were the Uirtag, the dwellers of the Burneal Forest, but those stone-age Flan tribes never left the confines of the pines, and the Rovers hardly never ventured within.
Keraptis came and claimed their lands, first in the east, and then north of the Mountain that Smokes, but he never once travelled their plains, and before long he disappeared. It wasn’t until the Relentless Horde swept into the north that the Rovers’ claim was ever contested. Half their ancestral lands were taken from them; and try as they might, the Nomads would never be uprooted. An uneasy peace ruled the northern steppes, until Iuz rose from whence he came.
Iuz very nearly destroyed the proud peoples of the north. But they survived by abandoning their beloved grasslands for the Fellreev and the Forlorn Forests, where they live with the sylvan elves. A few ride with the kentauros, the centaurs of the Barrens, and a few with the Wolf Nomads, but most cling to existence, hunted by the Fists of Stonehold, and the goblinoid hordes of Iuz.
Until Tang arrived, and reminded them of their proud heritage, that once the settled quaked with fear when they hear the thunder of their hooves. 

An Ancient, Nomadic People
The ancient, nomadic Flan wore simple clothing of animal skins: belts, breechcloths, capes, robes, and footwear (boots and hard-soled slippers). Body painting and tattoos were common methods of personal decoration, and these traditions are still practiced by the Rovers of the Barrens (who prefer yellows and reds).
[LGG - 5,6]
Doubtless the oldest language still spoken to any considerable extent, Flan is used by the Tenha in a corrupt form, and Rovers of the Barrens have a strange version of it. [LGG - 12]

Inspiration for play in the Barrens may be found in American Western genera films and novels if the DM wishes the Rovers to resemble North American indigenous culture, notably Last of the Mohicans, and A Man Called Horse, as well as Dances with Wolves. In literature, inspiration may be found in the “First North Americans” series by Michael Gear (People of the Wolf, etc), and Eye of Cat by Roager Zalazny.
It the DM wishes the Rovers to resemble Eastern European cultures, such as the Hun, inspiration may be found in Aetius: Attila's Nemesis by Ian Hughes, and “Attila,” a 2001 television series.
Inspiration may also be found in the history of Poland, most specifically concerning the Partisans of the Second World War: “Fire Without Smoke: Memoirs of a Polish Partisan,” by Florian Mayevski, and “Definace,” by Nechama Tec. 

Country Specific Resources:
There are none specific to the Rovers of the Barrens, but most pertinent information can be found in:
The Greyhawk Folio, The Greyhawk setting boxed set, Greyhawk Adventures (concerning Tang), Greyhawk Wars, From the Ashes Boxed Set, Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, Dragon magazine #52,55,57,63,205,253

Adventures in the Country Include:
Ghost Dance
Ghost Dance, 
Dungeon #32, Rovers of the Barrens
Tomb of Zhang the Horrific, by William Dvorak, Rovers of the Barrens.
The fight for survival against Iuz and his Boneheart.
This dry grassland is dotted by Iuzian fortifications such as Grassfort and Fort Shennek manned by Iuzian forces.
Raiding Iuzian forts and supply trains.
Raiders and slavers from, and border skirmishes with, Iuz, the Bandit Kingdoms, and Stonefist.
Infiltrating the Gibbering Gate to free prisoners from imprisonment. The Gibbering Gate, a prison / insane asylum run by Jumper, one of Iuz’s Greater Boneheart, is found in the Barrens. Information about the Gibbering Gate can be found in WGR5 Iuz the Evil.
Hunting down the mythical White Auroch.
Forest adventures in the Forlorn and Fellreev Forests.
The Forlorn forest found just to the east of the Barren Wastes, is full of hideous monsters and possibly ancient secrets.
To the southeast of the Barrens is the Bluff Hills, home of the Shadow Caverns and a number of ruins of Ur-Flan cities.

Adventures in Nearby areas include:
The Kentauros
S4 White Plume Mountain, Bandit Kingdoms
Return to White Plume Mountain
WG8, Fate of Istus, #1 Bandit Kingdoms, #2 Nyrond, #5 Pale
WGS1 Five Shall Be One, Bandit Kingdoms
WGS2 Howl From the North
WGR5 Iuz the Evil
The Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga
Fright at Tristor, Theocracy of the Pale
Forge of Fury, Bone March
A Slight Diversion, OJ#9,  Redspan, Bandit Kingdoms
Out of the Ashes, Dungeon #17, Bandit Kingdoms
The Mud Sorcerer's Tomb, Dungeon #37, Bone March
Ex Keraptis Cum Amore, Dungeon #77, Burning Cliffs
Deep Freeze, Dungeon #83, Theocracy of the Pale
Armistice, Dungeon #84, Griff Mountains
The Sharm’s Dark Song, Dungeon #87
Glacier Seas, Dungeon #87
Beyond the Light of Reason, Dungeon #96, Tenh
Raiders of the Black Ice, Dungeon #115, Blackmoor
Ill Made Graves, Dungeon #133, Jotsplat & the Icy Sea
King of the Rift, Dungeon, #133, Bandit Kingdoms
Into the Wormcrawl Fissure, Dungeon, #134, Bandit Kingdoms
C13 From His Cold, Dead Hands, by Carlos Lising, casl Entertainment, 2019, Jotsplat & the Icy Sea
C14 The Sanguine Labrinth, by Carlos Lising, casl Entertainment, 2019, Burning Cliffs
FB1 While on the Road to Cavrik's Cove, casl Entertainment, 2021, Ratik
Although later retconned into the Yeomanry, B1 Into the Unknown (in the monochrome edition) was originally suggested as located in The Duchy of Tenh. That would make north Tenh an ideal location for B1 Keep on the Borderlands, as well.
Arctic adventures in Blackmoor, the Cold Marshes, the Taival Tundra; (and the outer doors of and ancient dwarven clanhold)
Sea adventures upon the Icy Seas, White Fang Bay, and Big Seal Bay.
Forest adventures in the Burneal Forest, Bears, winter wolves and sable firs.
Mountain adventures (and possibly Underdark adventures) in the Griff mountains (alternate placement of G1-3). Dragons. Remorhaz. Yeti.
Taking the fight to Iuz.
Ruins of the Ur-Flan from the time of Keraptis.
Adventurers travelling into the Northern Wates can visit the mysterious Burning Cliffs and the Rover villages along the coast.

While few ruins exist in the Barrens for dungeon crawls, and there are no cities for urban adventures, the primary source of adventures stems from the conflict between Iuz and the Rovers, and to a lesser extent, raiders from the Hold of Stonefist.

Rovers of the Barrens:

“The canter is a cure for every evil.” ― Benjamin Disraeli

chaotic neutral, neutral; Flan, Baklunish, Oeridian, Common, Suloise.
[Dragon #52 - 20]

His Mighty Lordship, the Ataman of the Standards, Kishwa Dogteeth; Chief of the Wardogs
Population: 65,000?
Demi-humans: Few
Humanoids: Numerous
Resources: furs, gold
[WOGA – 33]

Proper Name: Arapahi [translated: People of the Plentiful Huntinglands]
Ruler: His Mighty Lordship, Ataman of the Standards, Durishi Great Hound, Chief of the Wardogs
Capital: None
Major Towns: None, only temporary camps of up to 5,000 people
Provinces: None (the Rovers are properly not a nation but a collection of closely related nomadic tribes who currently hold little defensible land)
Resources: Furs and hides, horn, gold nuggets, horses
Population: 35,000—Human 37% (Fb), Orc 20%, Goblin 18%, Hobgoblin 10%, Halfling 7%, Gnome 5%, Half-orc 3%
Languages: Flan (several dialects), Common, Orc, Goblin, Halfling, Gnome
Alignments: CN, CE, N
Religions: Obad-Hai, Beory, Pelor, other Flan gods, Telchur (from long-ago Oeridian contact)
[LGG – 94]

One must always give credit where credit is due. This Primer is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable.
Special thanks to Jason Zavoda for his compiled index, “Greyhawkania,” an invaluable research tool.

This primer has been expanded from the original postcard found in Canonfire’s “Touring the Flanaess” index, written by William “Giantstomp” Dvorak, and some passages from that scholarly work reside with this piece.

The Art:
All art is wholly owned by the artists.
Ghost Dance, by Scott Burdick, Dungeon magazine cover #32, 1991

2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1981
1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
2023 Greyhawk Adventures, 1989
1064 From the Ashes Boxed Set, 1992
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, 2000
Dragon Magazine
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
Anna B. Meyer’s Greyhawk Map


  1. I always saw the rovers of the Barrens as being a straight up analogue for Howard's Cimmeria, right down to neighbouring viking land. Greyhawk Conan is a rover.

  2. Cimmeria...hmmm now THAT is interesting. My friend made Conan for Greyhawk once, but I think he hailed from somewhere else. Rovers seems good in hindsight!

  3. The Cimmeria poem Howard wrote I feel is very appropriate: