Saturday, 9 October 2021

On Vlekstaad

“Inaction will cause a man to sink into the slough of despond and vanish without a trace.”
― Farley Mowat

Why, one wonders, do certain northernmost settlements exist, let alone thrive? Life cannot be easy there. Long winters. Bitter Cold. Days-long, nay, weeks-long blizzards and their windblown snows. Snow blindness. Long isolation. What draws a man there; and more importantly, most inexplicably, why would he choose to drive his foundation into that steely permafrost, on a shore lashed by harsh, unforgiving, gales. Is that far northern sea a cornucopia of plenty worth the hardship? Or is he is running from something? A crime? An indiscretion? A past? Himself?
Vlekstaad is one such place. Even the Coltens shunned that desolate, shadowed perch, preferring shelter amid the Hraak Forest, and the less turbulent, if far more northly, alluvial beaches of Bastro to its steep, rocky, pebbled surf, its perpetual twilight, its damp chill that numbs both life and limb.

The Icy Sea
Icy Sea:
The Solnor sweeps northward around the Thillonrian Peninsula and ends in the Icy Sea. These northern waters are frozen except in high summer months. The Non hem barbarians sometimes take their galleys into these waters to hunt for ivory and furs and occasionally do a bit of raiding, too. Even in summer the Icy Sea can be dangerous due to thick fogs and floating mountains of ice. [WOGA – 47]

The Icy Sea is frozen over in great areas except during high summer, during which time Ice Barbarians sometimes hunt here for walrus ivory, killer whales, and seal furs. Even at such times, the sea is dangerous due to thick fogs and floes of pack ice. White Fanged Bay is aptly named after a ragged coastline that resembles the teeth of a great predator. The seals and walruses here are hunted by the men of Stonefist. [FtAA – 49]

White Fanged Bay: The ice formations common to this body of water resemble the teeth of a predator, and thus the bay is named for the great ice-coated rocks and bergs that menace vessels attempting to land along its shores. In the summer, numbers of seals and walruses (and even odder creatures) bask along these rocky coasts, and there parties of hunters seek after ivory and furs. (Some say that the name of the place is based upon the long teeth taken from these creatures rather than the icicles and frozen spray.) [WOGA – 36]

Forlorn Forest: The Forlorn Forest is an evergreen woodland of fair size which lies just south of the Icy Sea and whose eastern edge marks the boundary of· the Rovers of the Barrens. Even these fierce nomads avoid the Quaggoth tribes which prowl the forest. [WOGA – 59]

Bluff Hills: The western terminus of the Griff Mountains slowly decreases into a series of rugged ridges and steep hills. This range separates the states of the Bandit Kingdoms from the lands of the Rovers of the Barrens. The former now occupy and claim the Bluff Hills as their territory, as they do the whole of the Fellreev Forest. The nomads to the north are too weakened to effectively dispute this move. The Bluff Hills are said to contain small deposits of copper and gold. Numerous monsters roam the area, and many ogre bands make it their home. [WOGA – 49]

One wonders why anyone would choose to live there, despite its “riches.” It is rich, though. There are ores in the foot of the Bluffs, and deep in the Griffs. The dwarves have long mined them. As did the Flan, once.

The Griff Mountains
As the name implies, the peaks of these mountains are the habitat of many monstrous creatures. The Griff range extends from the western terminus of the Corusks at Hraak Pass, southwest and west for over 100 leagues. These mountains divide the Hold of Stonefist from the Duchy of Tenh and the Theocracy of the Pale below. Being only a trifle lower than the Corusks. the Griff Mountains are similarly uninviting to human settlement, although there are some sprinkled here and there, for these mountains do contain valuable mineral deposits. There is supposedly a small and beautiful land in the heart of this range. Ruled by a powerful prince, and protected from all invasions by magic and might, this tiny realm is said to have buildings roofed in copper and silver, gold used as lead is elsewhere, and jewels lying about on the ground.
[WOGA – 52]
Few believe the tales of the prince of the Griff Mountains. How could such a kingdom exist when the Griffs are teeming with horrors?
The Griffs contain more monsters, with ogres, various types of troll, and ever-hungry griffons especially noteworthy. White puddings are also a feature of the Griffs. There is reputed to be a great subterranean orcish city, Garel Enkdal, within the Griffs [….] [FtAA – 58]

One notable minor realm is the underground "city-state" called Garel Enkdal, located in the westernmost arm of the Griff Mountains near Stonehold. Some explorers estimate the population here to be in excess of twenty-five thousand orcs, with significant numbers of ogres, orc-ogre crossbreeds, half-orcs, and other beings. Garel Enkdal is not well known outside the northeastern Flanaess, and the kingdom interacts little with the rest of the world except to attack hunters, trappers, scouts, and herders of Stonehold. It could pose a major threat to Stonehold but apparently is content to keep to itself. [LGG – 17]

But long before the dwarves and the orcs look to these mountains, the Flan had dwelt here. And still do.
It is commonly held that the Flan peoples of eastern Oerik were simple tribesmen before the events that led to the Suel and Oeridian migrations. There remain to be explained certain ruins found in the Griff and Corusk Mountains. The massive stone foundations, straight level roads, and flattened or terraced areas of mountainside seem from the proportions of the rarely preserved doorways to be intended for creatures of human size, and it seems unlikely that elves or humanoids would have had the inclination to produce such works. What is more, the occasional jade carvings and green ceramic figurines found both at these sites and occasionally in rivers flowing out of the mountains show a people of Flannish features and dress, and there remain in the Duchy of Tenh and among the Coltens stories of a powerful mountain state of Flannish race. […] One of the greatest works of this ancient people, whoever they were, is the mountain known in Flan as Tostenhca, but more commonly known by the name the Suel barbarians gave it, Skrellingshald. It is a place which has been discovered many times, and as often lost again from human knowledge. [GA – 97]
It must have been a wonder in its time. Towering. Inspiring. Legendary. Before something wicked that way came, and would have it for his own.
Nearly 1300 years ago, in a time when the Flan tribes still dominated eastern Oerik, the archwizard Keraptis rose to power in the lands abutting the southern Rakers, and while most historians agree that the mage’s kingdom encompassed what is now known as the Bone March, a few scholars believe the territories that later became Ratik and the Pale were part of this empire as well.
[Dragon #241 – 77]
It was from Keraptis that the people learned greed, and cruelty.
Yet, as is well documented in the little known Legend of Keraptis, the archwizard was a cruel man, so brutal in fact that, near the end of his reign, he demanded his tormented subjects turn over to him one-third of their newborn children as part of their taxes. The peasants did not take this atrocity lightly, and under the leadership of the high priest Gethrun Shoiraine and his ranger followers, the kingdom of the tyrant-mage was sundered. [Dragon #241 – 77]
[The] people rose as one, ousting Keraptis and his personal bodyguard of deranged gnomes. [RtWPM – 3]
But cruel Kerapis would have his revenge.
[Among] other treasures of ancient sorcery, he found the archetypal iceblade Frostrazor and an enigmatic statuette. Keraptis used the figurine’s power to pronounce a heinous curse that laid waste to distant Tostenhca, thus exacting his revenge at last. RtWPM – 3
Those who suffered under Keraptis’ tyranny knew from whence “The Wasting” came. Just as their crops withered, so did their climate; and worse still, so did they. Pestilence laid them low. Those who could fled from Tostencha’s fall. Wretched were they when winter fell. They starved. They stole. They killed to survive. Those lessons learned were never forgotten.
Some where better at it than others.

c. 430 CY
Vlek Col Vlekzed
Stonehold began as the Hold of Stonefist, a bandit chiefdom founded in the territory of the old Coltens Feodality. Vlek Col Vlekzed, called Stonefist, was a ruthless bandit who had been cast out from the Rovers of the Barrens for his vice and cruelty, and left to wander the fringes of his homeland for several years. Over that time, he gathered a large following of evil men, even sacking one of the old Bandit Kingdoms and carrying away most of its population. Vlek moved them beyond White Fanged Bay, where he established the fortified town of Vlekstaad.
 [LGG – 109]

WGS1 - 29
Who exactly was this Vlek Col Vlekzed? A Rover? I think not. No Rover would drive stakes into the ground, or remain chained to one place, preferring to roam with his herds. Was Vlek a Bandit? Surely. But I should doubt that he was from the Bandit Kingdoms. If he were, he would undoubtedly have settled closer to where the pickings were easier; indeed, where there were pickings. Vlek settled where he did because he was a Colten, and bent on returning to those lands that had banished him for his evil ways. Why else would he raise a palisade on such a desolate shore? He meant to cut the Coltens off from the outside world.
This infamous warrior was a menace throughout the region for several years, finally choosing to build a settlement on the border of the Coltens Feodality. The Cohens were still vassals of the duke of Tenh, though their atamans had great latitude in determining their own affairs. [LGG – 113]
And so confined, he meant to have his revenge on them.The Coltens were very uneasy with his presence in their land, but Vlek promised a truce and offered to negotiate with their leaders. As the Coltens traveled to the appointed site, they were ambushed and slaughtered by the followers of Stonefist. The remainder of the Coltens host was routed, and Vlek settled down to rule over the whole territory. [LGG – 109]

The leaders of the Coltens were deceived and murdered by Stonefist under the guise of a parlay. The forces of Tenh, which had never been strong in the region, were unable to dislodge him. [LGG – 113]

The Hold of Stonefist was also renamed. Now openly calling itself Stonehold, this quasi-kingdom is composed of four Atamanships: Vlekstaad (west), Pumull (south), Kelten (east), and Bastro (north). Four Great Chieftains were named, each equal to an Ataman (Reindeer, White Bear, Walrus, and Forest [Hraak] People). Stonehold has become a force that is greatly feared by all in this region. [TAB – 23] [DRG#57 – 14]

The Fists
The Mastership of the Hold is a semi-hereditary position and title. The descendants of Vlek (he had 219 wives and 351 male children who survived to maturity) compete in a bi-annual "Rite of Battle Fitness." The winner may challenge the Master, one of the Atamen of the three towns, or lead a warband and become a chief. The surviving losers join the standing warbands (the "Fists"), those who did best becoming chieftains, sub-chiefs, and leaders of raiding bands. These savage war and raiding bands commonly raid Fruztii, Tenh, and even the Rovers of the Barrens. About 30% or so of the population of the Hold dwell in permanent settlements, and from these people are drawn the bulk of the footmen. Most of the balance of the population are semi-nomadic, moving into the northern tundra in the summer, and migrating south in the fall. From these people come the horsemen and light infantry of the "Fists."
[WOGA – 36]

Religions: Erythnul*, Syrul, Beltar, Beory, Obad-Hai [LGG – 108]
Why these? Originally a land of Flan, Beory and Obad-Hai have always been worshipped in the Hold. The others have been adopted, as they mirror the soul of these truculent souls.

523 CY
Storrich Flees into the Burning Cliffs
Neither Vlek nor his descendants inspired loyalty. Fear, certainly. But none believed in their divine right of rule, seeing that the Vleksteds ascended their throne by vicious subterfuge.
Brute strength has long been the main virtue espoused by the people of this land, and treachery the byword of her leaders. [LGG – 109]
Subtlety was never their forte. Not even when considered it worthy of consideration.
In 523 one Storrich of the Hold of Stonefist failed in an attempt to advance himself by less than traditional methods. Poisoners are not highly regarded even in that grim country, and so Storrich and his followers were obliged to flee. [GA – 97]

576 CY
Capital: Vlekstaad (pop. 2,100)
Population: 60,000 +
 Demi-humans: Doubtful
Humanoids: Some
Resources: furs, ivory, silver, gems (I)
[WOGA – 36]

582 CY
Sevvord Redbeard
It’s no wonder that there are spies within these lands. The Hold is a belligerent state, for the most part, and few would shed a tear if it were to be crushed.
In 582 CY, the god Vatun appeared to his subjects among the barbarian tribes of the Thillonrian Peninsula. Ancient legend predicted that the return of Vatun, who had vanished centuries ago, would signal the birth of a barbarian empire in the north. Unfortunately, this particular "Vatun" was actually Iuz, whipping the northmen into a war frenzy. The barbarians invaded the Hold of Stonefist, which allied with them after Iuz ensorcelled Sevvord Redbeard, the Master of the Hold The combined host then smashed through the Griffs and into the duchy of Tenh, which was swiftly overwhelmed. The barbarian alliance soon crumbled, but the damage was done; Tenh and Stonefist belonged to the Old One. [LGG – 15]

584 CY
Capital: Vlekstaad (pop. 1,950)
[FTAA – 38]

Thus Began the War
Thus began the War.
The Greyhawk Wars that brought hardship and ruin to so much of the Flanaess began here, in Stonehold. Brought into a brief alliance with the Suel barbarians by a deception of Iuz, the Fists turned south to attack their old enemies in Tenh. [LGG – 109]

At the same time, Iuz suffered his first reverse. The folk of Fruztii, Cruski, and Schnai, long-time rivals of Stonefist, took exception to Sevvord’s bold stroke. […]
The barbarian kings resisted Vatun’s call to overrun Ratik […] Though quite willing to launch sea raids against the Bone March and Great Kingdom, the barbarians refused even Vatun’s orders to march through Ratik. As the first few months of the war drew to a close, the northern alliance collapsed altogether. [Wars – 8]

When it was revealed that this was a deception of Iuz the Old, the Suel barbarians withdrew from the alliance created between their nations and the Stonehold. [LGG – 106]

586 CY
Vlekstaad (Pop 2,100) (Pop 2,200)
Resources: Furs, walrus ivory, silver, gems (I)
Population: 55,000—Human 96% (FS), Orc 2%, Dwarf 1%, Other 1%
Alignments: CE*, CN, N
[LGG – 108]

Their alliance with Ratik is less cemented than that of the Cruskii, but Ingemar seems amenable to continued cooperation after the events of the Wars. He also has great hatred for the Stonefisters, and wishes to mount a joint expedition with the other barbarian races through the Griff Mountains to lay waste to Kelten. [FtAA – 37]

With the Hold’s armies occupied elsewhere, the Rhizians chose to secure the Kelten Pass once and for all.
Territorial disputes with Stonehold that predated the wars were finally brought to a head three years ago, when a combined host of Cruski and Schnai entered the eastern hold. They were unable to capture the town of Kelten, but the Cruski reinforced their control of the Taival Tundra. [LGG – 55]

Revvord Redbeard 
Iuz could not retain his old on Sevvord Redbeard while he waged war in Furyondy and Nyrond.
Less than three years ago, during a period of Suel raids into Stonehold, the magical affliction of Revvord Redbeard was ended. Without knowing why, he exploded in a rage that would have killed a lesser man. He gathered the Fists from across Tenh, having them first kill all the clerics of Iuz within their reach, and any locals they could quickly find; then, leaving only a rearguard to occupy Calbut, Nevond Nevnend, and the territory north of the Zumkend River, he returned in force to Stonehold. [LGG – 109]
Redbeard returned in a rage, intent on expelling the Rhizians from his lands.

It was while Redbeard was thus occupied that Tang the Horrific chose to lead an all but defeated Rovers against the hated Fists.
The town of Vlekstaad was chosen as the target of the Rovers' nighttime strike. With most Fists either in Tenh or fighting the Suel in eastern Stonehold, Vlekstaad had almost no able soldiers in residence. Such defenses as they had were quickly penetrated, thanks to the Wardogs' amazing stealth. The stables of Vlekstaad provided a trove of horseflesh, but escaping with them proved more difficult than Tang had anticipated. He and his companions were trapped by a patrol of Fists and forced to battle for their lives. The expedition might have been lost there had not a young Wardog, Nakanwa Daychaser (CG male human Rgr8), led his own band of warriors on Tang's trail. Trapped between the two forces of Rovers, the Fists were slaughtered, but Tang was mortally wounded. Nakanwa quickly assumed control of the surviving Rovers, ordering them to seize everything of value in the town, including its citizens. The remains of the town were set ablaze, becoming the funeral pyre of Tang the Horrific.
With the return of Nakanwa and the wealth of Vlekstaad to the Barrens, new hope rose among the Rovers. Their warriors now had mounts and the people had meat. Perhaps as importantly, the tribes had new members, for the captive children were quickly adopted and the captive women quickly wed. Only time will tell if the razing of Vlekstaad will result in the rebirth of the Rovers of the Barrens. They still remain an elusive people, not revealing their new strength, for they are wary of the vengeance of the Fists. Yet, for the first time since Iuz brought evil into their land, they have real hope. [LGG – 95]

[Sevvord] army drove the barbarians back from Kelten and secured the pass, while he returned to Vlekstaad with his personal guard. The town was a smoking ruin, its inhabitants dead or fled away. The Suel barbarians he blamed for the attack left no survivors to describe the onslaught. A picked force of warriors pursued their trail into the lower Griffs, where it disappeared. He decided the Suel had obviously escaped through the mountains back to their homelands in Rhizia.
Rhelt Sevvord vows vengeance against the Suel, though his greatest hatred is for his former "ally," Iuz. Vlekstaad is being rebuilt, refortified, and regarnsoned. Kelten and Purmill are more important in the affairs of Stonehold, especially in light of the ongoing warfare with the Suel barbarians. [LGG – 110]

Revenge is widely sought against the northern barbarians for the burning of Vlekstaad, but Iuz's forces are hated even more. Conspiracies are suspected between Iuz and several war band leaders to gain control of Stonehold. Murders of war band leaders (by their fellows) are on the rise. [LGG – 110]

590 CY
Capital: Vlekstaad (pop. 700)
[LGG – 108]

591 CY
The people of the Hold are a suspicious lot, and easy to sway to violence.
In the course of three bloody days dozens of young men and women were put to the axe within Vlekstaad. Mad mobs of warriors roamed the settlement following the direction of snarling priests of Erythnul who claimed that hatred Iuz had possessed some of the Stonehold’s youth. The rampage began by decree of Gurfaald the malformed, a twisted prophet of the Lord of Slaughter who wandered down to Vlekstaad from his filthy hovel near Lake Albanfyl. Other priests believed his revelation, and faithful warriors scoured the already decimated settlement looking for the “spawn” of the Old One. These rabblerousers claimed that the young were more susceptible to Iuz’s magic, but others believe the victims’ only crime may have been failing to pay proper tribute to the god of hatred and rage. Rhelt Sevvord himself finally put down the hysteria, confronting [Gurfaald] and cleaving the prophet’s head with the mighty blow of a waraxe. Many within Stonehold believe that Sevvord ended [Gurfaald’s] crusade only because he found it personally insulting. [LGJ#3 – 30]

In the Forlorn Forest
Forlorn Forest:
This subarctic forest has long been avoided by the Rovers of the Barrens due to the presence of many savage kech, timber wolves, and like hazards. The invading Fists likewise give it a wide berth. [FtAA – 55]

Bluff Hills: Some bandits still hold out against Iuz and Stonefist here, with the Grosskopf bandits the most numerous among them. Unfortunately, they have to compete with the large and ferocious ogre bands that also live in the Bluff Hills. Small deposits of gold and copper here have never truly been worth the effort of mining, although svirfnebli far below the surface are said to know places where the ores are much richer. [FtAA – 59]

One must always give credit where credit is due. This piece 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.

The Art:
To the Orc City, by Diesel, from WGS1 Five Shall be One, 1991

1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
2023 Greyhawk Adventures Hardback, 1988
9317 WGS1, The Five Shall be One, 1991
9337 WGS2, Howl from the North, 1991
1068 Greyhawk Wars Boxed Set, 1991
1064 From the Ashes Boxed Set, 1992
9577 The Adventure Begins, 1998
9578 Player’s Guide to Greyhawk, 1998
11434 Return to White Plume Mountain, 1999
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazeteer, 2000
Living Greyhawk Journal, #3
Dragon Magazine 55,56,57,241
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
The map of Anna B. Meyer

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