Friday, 21 October 2022

On Bastro and Armaran

“We have doomed the wolf not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be –the mythologized epitome of a savage ruthless killer – which is, in reality, no more than a reflected image of ourself.”
― Farley Mowat, Never Cry Wolf: The Amazing True Story of Life Among Arctic Wolves

Little is said about the far north of the Flanaess. In sooth, this is because little is known about it. And few care what goes on there. It’s a cold place, they shrug, and thus dismiss it of little concern.
A frigid climate and brutal regime combine to make Stonehold one of the harshest lands in all the Flanaess. […] [LGG – 108]
Do those who bask in the southern sun even know that there are people there? I suppose they might surmise as much, if they were to spare a moment to think on it. Should they, though, they would conjure thoughts of men wrapped in furs trudging through waist-deep, windblown snows. In that aspect they would be correct. They would be surprised to learn that there are settlements up there. Indeed, towns.
The majority of Stoneholders live a seminomadic existence, moving to the northern tundra in summer and migrating south in the autumn. The remaining third or so of the population dwell in permanent settlements, mostly west of the Frozen River. [LGG – 108, 109]

Who, then, lives there? The Flan.
Most are pure Flan. There is a scattering of Suel and Oeridian blood, but only a drop or two, here and there. Oeridian to the west, where the Great Kingdom pretended for a time that this northern land was part of their continental magnificence; and Suel to the east, where the Cruski have raided since before the annuls of this forgotten stretch of the Flanaess were thought to be penned to parchment.
The Duchy of Tenh are pure Flan [.] [Dragon #55]
The people of the Hold of Stone Fist […] are primarily hybrids, […] Flan/Suel [.] [Dragon #55]
Hold of Stonefist: chaotic evil; Flan, Suloise, [Aerdy], Cold Tongue [Dragon #52]
In high summer [the Cruski] often find fighting by rounding the coasts of the Hold of Stonefist, and the Cruskii have both hatred and respect for the dour inhabitants of that land. [Folio – 11]
Indeed, one wonders how much Oeridian or Suel blood there could possibly be in these people who dwell far further north than the wall of pureblood Flan that exists in the Duchy of Tenh and the Rovers of the Barrens. In this land further isolated by the icy seas that surround it.

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. [Folio – 21]
White Fanged Bay: The ice formations common this body of water resemble the teeth of a predator, and the bay is named for the great ice-coated rocks and bergs that menace vessels attempting to land along its shores. In summer, vast numbers of walruses and seals bask along these rocky coasts, while killer whales hunt in the waters of the bay. Stonehold folk hunt and fish by the shores. [LGG – 150]

Icy Sea: The Solnor sweeps northward around the Thillonrian Peninsula and ends in the Icy Sea. [WoGA – 47]
These northern waters, likely a part of the circumpolar Dramidj Ocean, remain frozen except in high summer. [LGG – 148]
Even in summer the Icy Sea can be dangerous due to thick fogs and floating mountains of ice. [WoGA – 47]
Whales of all sorts frequent these waters, said to be the domain of a mighty leviathan lord. Ice Barbarians take their ships into these waters to hunt whales and collect walrus ivory and seal furs on the surrounding coasts. [LGG – 148,149]

Buffeted by an unforgiving climate, the Flan here have always been at the mercy of their environment in its most unforgiving. They’d have worshipped its wrath, pled to it for clemency. And they’d have sacrificed to it for leniency.
The Cruel North
WORLD OF GREYHAWK® campaign (Flanaess only): Beory and Obad-Hai, the latter also known as
“The Shalm,” are the major gods of the druids here. [Dragon #209 – 11]
Arctic druid: WG: Thillonrian Peninsula (on which lies the Griff, and Corusk Mountains).
Forest druid (cold): WG: forests along Thillonrian Peninsula (Hraak). [Dragon #209 – 13]
Mountain druid: WG: Corusk-Griff-Rakers chain [Dragon #209 – 14]
It comes to no surprise, then, that they understand cruelty. And worship it.
It also comes to no surprise that when they were introduced to the Oeridians and Suel they adopted those deities of theirs that best mirrored their understanding of the world, as they knew it.
Religions: Erythnul*, Syrul, Beltar, Beory, Obad-Hai [LGG – 108]
Erythnul, OC, Hate, Envy, Malice, Panic CE(N) [WoGA – 63]
Syrul, S, Deceit, False Promises, Lies NE [WoGA – 64]
Beltar, S, Malice, Pits, Deep Caves CE(N) [WoGA – 63]
Theirs was a cruel world. A heartless, unforgiving world. A world in which only the strong were let to live.
This explains Vlek Col Vlekzed, a scion of their fathers who not only understood this, but was also too cruel for even them to tolerate. He was banished.
But he was to return, with vengeance.

c. 430 CY
Vlek Col Vlekzed
Vlek roamed with the Rovers for years. Their raiding pleased him. But his joy in depravity only too soon necessitated that they too should banish him.
Stonefist, then Vlek Col Vlekzed, founded his chiefdom in approximately 430 CY. Vlek was cast out of the Rovers of the Barrens for banditry and lying, but a small number of warriors and their families followed him as leader. For several years he hung around the fringes of his homeland, raiding and stealing from everyone without prejudice. These minor successes attracted a growing following of fellow outcasts, bandits, criminals and like unsavory types. Yet with this strange mixture of fighters, he mounted a highly successful raid into Tenh, swung down into the Bandit Kingdoms and recruited more followers, and then defeated a punitive expedition sent from Tenh. When threatened by a bandit kinglet, Vlek replied by surprising his stronghold, sacking it, and carrying away most of its population. [Folio – 16]
His homeland? I think not.
Rovers of the Barrens: chaotic neutral, neutral [Dragon #52]
Hold of Stonefist: chaotic evil [Dragon #52]
Vlek might have settled in the Bandit Kingdoms. He had the kinglet’s stronghold to raid from into Tenh with impunity. And the Bandit’s method’s suited his own.
Bandit Kingdoms: chaotic neutral, chaotic evil [Dragon #52]
But he didn’t.
Riding unmolested through the lands of his former people, but not caring to test their fighting ability, Vlek moved beyond White Fanged Bay and established a fortified settlement as a permanent camp. [Folio – 16]
He rode north, instead. Why? Because he had revenge in mind. Against his true and actual homeland.
The inhabitants of the area, the Coltens Feodality, were tricked into negotiation with Vlek. These negotiators and their escorting force banish himwere slaughtered, the remainder of the Coltens host routed by surprise and ferocity, and Vlek settled down to rule over the whole territory. As Vlek's infamy spread, malcontents from many nations came to his standard, despite his new name of Stonefist (implying both a terrible foeman and an inflexible ruler). [Folio – 16]

The Coltens folk had no place in this hierarchy, and many fled to the Hraak Forest, or beyond the Big Seal Bay and the northern thrust of the Corusks to dwell in the Taival Tundra, in the land of the Ice Barbarians). [LGG – 109]

576 – 582 CY
Vlek took the “best” of all of his experience and remade his homeland in his own image. His people would raid like Bandits, with the speed of the Rovers. Where only the strong survived.
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. [Folio – 16]

The Fists
The armies of Stonehold are comprised of "Fists", war bands of about 250 fighters, of either infantry or cavalry. The bulk of heavy infantry is drawn from the settlements, while the tundra and forest dwellers provide most of the light infantry and cavalry.
[LGG – 109]
Cavalry is not unknown on the western tundra, but few tundra-dwellers are Ice Barbarians, most having Flan ancestry and being related to the Coltens of Stonehold. [LGG – 54]

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." [WoGG – 37]

The Fists would become the terror of the North.
It was from settlements like Bastro and Araman, of the Atamanship of Bastro, that those footmen were drawn. These were not rank and file footmen like those of the south, these footmen were fast; fleet of foot, sled, and ski; and as nimble as the arctic fox upon the snows of the plains they scurried across.
The former Hold of Stonefist is now divided into four Atamanships: Vlekstaad, Purmill, Kelten, and Bastro. [Dragon #57 – 14]
Located at location Y2-32 on the poster map in The WORLD OF GREYHAWK@ boxed set, Armaran is a medium-sized, well-fortified city (see the map on page 43). The leader’s residence, in the center of town on the peak of a hill [.]
[WGS2 – 44]

Armaran is about as isolated a community as you’ll find. Not so far from the glacial ice to the north, it peers out from its hilltop perch upon the plains that stretch out on all sides, days journey from both the sight of man and the sea. The wind howls there. The snow and ice will strip the skin from your bones when it races to the sea. A man can lose himself here with ease, should he venture too far from sight and the pernicious winds rise out of the calm horizon and turn the world white.
The nearest cities […] are Kelten and Bastro. [WGS2 – 44]
[…] to the city of Armaran. The city is 270 miles away. [from Kelten] [WGS2 – 43]
[…] nine-day journey to Araman [from Kelten] [WGS2 – 43]


523 CY
Long years pass. Little changes in Armaran, if anything. Trappers trap. Fishers fish. Those who scratch at the oerth still do so, and hope that what is tilled will bloom, and there will be a harvest to reap before the snows return after too short a reprieve.
Masters come and go.
Storrich col Vlek, of Bastro
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. Since the season was summer and the Ice Barbarians would not be likely to let his ship pass unmolested, Storrich and his pursuers turned westward. Unfortunately for Storrich and his men, the pilot of the ship ran it aground offshore the Wastes, and Storrich’s company was obliged to take to the land, the pursuit still hot on their heels. As a last desperate measure Storrich attempted entry into the Burning Cliffs region, risking a stone path that he and his men found leading into the smolder. Storrich’s pursuers turned back at this point well satisfied, and informed the Master of the Hold that they had driven Storrich to his death, having waited some days for him to attempt a return and having seen nothing. It proved to be untrue.
[GA – 97]
[There’s no mention where Storrich hails from. Armaran is its own Atatmanship on Anna Meyer's map, but not in any canonical text, where the whole of the north of Stonehold is part of Bastro's. Thus, the Atamanship of Bastro is as good a place as any. To consider fleeing east, he must come from a place where he might consider that route an option. To flee west by ship, he would have to have knowledge of the sea.]
Bastro and Armaran would have suffered from Storrich’s attempt at seizing the Hold, I would imagine.

578 CY
Masters come and go.
In CY 578, shortly after Tenh had coronated its new Duke, the Master of the Hold became Rhelt Seuvord I of Stonehold. [Dragon #57 – 14]
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]
Several of his cousins took ill from a mysterious flux shortly after the coronation, and about a dozen others were reported fleeing into the Griff Mountains with a small band of loyal followers. [Dragon #57 – 14]
Major Towns: Bastro (pop. 1,700), Kelten (pop. 2,800), Purmill (pop, 1,900), Vlekstaad (pop. 2,200 […]) LGG – 108]

582 CY
Artifacts are scattered across the Oerth. Some in unlikely places. Some more important than others.
It was into this far north that heroes ventured for just such artifacts.
“They are very, very ancient, the five Blades of Corusk. Barbarian magic, barbarian weapons, great heroes of your people in the past. […] The five weapons are lost and scattered, or at least they have been for quite some time. Not even a diviner could find them, the stories say.
“The legends say that if the five blades ire brought together again, greatness shall come upon the barbarian people. The legends say that a great force is unleashed which will beat down the enemies of the barbarians. The power of the weapons themselves will be greatly magnified and expanded when the Five Become One and a greater force will inspire the barbarian folk to glory and dominion. I speak of a Power: The Great God of the North!” fact it's cold as hell!
One imagines that Armaran is a hell on oerth if the masters of the Hold should choose to punish those heroes by banishing them to Armaran should they fail in their attempt to acquire the Five Blades of Corusk.
If the characters do not escape or choose not to escape, they are taken to the city of Armaran. Their captors shackle their ankles with chains, and sell them as slaves. […] When a slave escapes and is caught, he is whipped […] and sent back to his owner. Subsequent escape attempts are dealt with more harshly [.] [WGS2 – 44]

The far north is a cruel land. You’d imagine that the people there would never lift a finger to help their mother if she were in need. In that you’d be wrong.
If they make it to a city, they can find someone who helps them. (Every city has its kind folk.) [WGS2 – 44]
No place is wholly evil. There are good people even in the most heartless places. There always are.

584 CY
Did Vatun rise from his captivity? He did not. It was all a rouse by Iuz. But because of his false rising, the Flanaess descended into War as it had not seen since the Suel Imperium clashed with the Bakluni.
The War passed by the Tundra after Vatun’s “return.” The Fists waged theirs in the Then and the Barrens. Until Iuz, distracted, delirious with the Death he had unleashed, lost hold of the Stonefist.
Sevvord Redbeard
[D]uring a period of Suel raids into Stonehold, the magical affliction of Sevvord 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. His army drove the barbarians back from Kelten and secured the pass, while he returned to Vlekstaad with his personal guard.
[LGG – 109]
War had returned to the Hold, if not specifically to the Atamanship of Bastra.
Though untouched, its inhabitants were not spared. They bleed in service of their nation’s “freedom,” as did all the Atamanships.
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]

589 CY
Life grinds on in the wake of the War. Trappers trap. Fishers fish. Farmers scratch at the oerth.
And the men of the Atamanship of Bastra raid, as Fists are wont to do.
Bastro (pop. 1,700)
Armaran (Pop. approx. 1,500)
Resources: Furs, walrus ivory
Population: 55,000 [Stonehold]—Human 96% (FS), Orc 2%, Dwarf 1%, Other 1%
Languages: Flan dialects, [Aerdi], Cold Tongue
Alignments: CE*, CN, N
Religions: Erythnul*, Syrul, Beltar, Beory, Obad-Hai
[LGG – 108, interpolated]

In Defense of their Home
They fend off seasonal raids.
The Ice Barbarians are unsteady allies of the other barbarians, raiding where and when they please. [WGS2 – 6]
They raid Stonehold when the opportunity presents itself. [LGG – 149]
The Ice Barbarians have supported the Fruztii to some extent by making naval raids along the northern coast of Stonefist. [WGS2 – 6]
Territorial disputes with Stonehold that predated the wars were finally brought to a head […] 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]

The True North, Strong and Free
And they endure, each in their own way.
The Coltens folk had no place in [the Stonefist] hierarchy, and many fled to the Hraak Forest, or beyond the Big Seal Bay and the northern thrust of the Corusks to dwell in the Taival Tundra, in the land of the Ice Barbarians). [LGG – 109]
Cavalry is not unknown on the western tundra, but few tundra-dwellers are Ice Barbarians, most having Flan ancestry and being related to the Coltens of Stonehold. They do not serve as warriors for the Cruski, instead paying tribute to their Suel overlords to be left alone. [LGG – 154]

“You never know when the devil might come calling.”
― Farley Mowat

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:
Hold of Stonefist map detail, by Anna Meyer
The City of Armaran map, by Diesel, from WGS2 Howl from the North, 1991
The Hold of Stonefist, by Ken Frank, from WGS2 Howl from the North, 1991

1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
1064 From the Ashes Boxed Set, 1992
2023 Greyhawk Adventures Hardback, 1988
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
9317 WGS1 Five Shall Be One, 1991
9337 WGS2 Howl from the North, 1991
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, 2000
Dragon Magazine, #52, 55, 209
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
The map of Anna B. Meyer

1 comment:

  1. Well done sir! I had all but forgotten Armaran. It's remarkable that Howl added so much and didn't really try to develop what was already there. Classic Sargent I guess?