Player's Guide to the Bloody Borderlands
There are really two rival lands here, washing back and forth over each other like tides upon a bloody shore. Pelosia calls this place the Margomarissi
(‘northern borderland’). The Dummonii name it more poetically: Scaladoun
, the Vale of Woe.
‘Land of Red Ruin’ is its other name. Ruin of fields, of men, of reputations. Caught between glowering, grumbling nations the landscape has been blighted by centuries of greed, hatred, and death. Both sides claim it as their own, neither will give it up but neither side has men enough to enforce victory. It’s a generations-long conflict; sometimes a cold war, often hot. It is home to peace-makers and war mongers; to marching legionaries, scalping savages and rabble-rousing druids, flocked to by mercenaries from across the world: Both sides use proxy forces to bolster their own - colourful bajo
swordsmen and rune-casters, mercenary axemen from the White Lands and Randish pikes; criminals, crusaders and bandits of all stripes... They call this place 'Paradise'.
Here an adventurer can earn fame, fortune and power (but more often just an early grave) fighting with the Free Companies; leading partisans or partisan-hunters, bandits or peacekeepers, or exploiting the opportunities of war and trade and espionage between the two great nations of the West. The land is infamous for its mercenaries, and the mercenaries infamous for their crimes and fickle loyalty. Nevertheless, they are indispensable. A necessary evil.
The Lay of the Land
Where blood is spilled we hurry
When gold is gone we do not tarry
We drink and kill and wench aplenty
Hail the cursed mercenary!
- Song of the Free Companies
Flanked by reedy swamps, the wide River of Drowned Swords runs sluggishly between the science and civilisation of Pelosia and the wild mystical lands of barbarian Dummonii. At one side dry and dusty grasslands, on the other deep forest. On both banks, war. Its source is high mountains, its terminus the Endless Sea. It almost a quarter the width of the continent.
War has shifted the border back and forth for generations, leaving both sides with bloody vendettas and justifiable claims to the land. Most people regard the River of Drowned Swords to be the true border, whatever the powers that be have decreed. Certainly each nation holds their own side more firmly, but cross regularly into enemy territory.
The Pelosians currently have the upper hand: They’ve controlled the Margomarissi for a hundred years, digging in and fortifying. The Dummonii fight back with sabotage, raids and rebellion; Pelosia replies with more troops and more brutal methods of control. Contrary to the popular perception however, there are peaceful people trying to survive on both sides of the divide. Sadly, there are many more haters and warmongers: Most loathed are the inquisition and elite harmosti legions of Pelosia, and the Dummonii Scalpers (raiders devoted to war and the forest’s most violent gods), but there's also unscrupulous mercenaries and assassins; escape slaves, criminals and heretics, also plague the area (not to mention troublesome spies and merchants). The Margomarissi is paradoxically home to both the most dedicated peace-makers and the most hard-line warmongers.
Keeping the peace is a dangerous occupation, with enemies on both sides regardless of your nationality.
The area is temperate and bountiful when its fields aren't burning, renowned for rich red earth and crimson flowers – coloured by the rust of swallowed blades and many gallons of blood spilled here over the years. The land varies greatly depending which side of the river you're on. The Pelosian Side
Pelosia has cleared the south as much as possible, making way for legion camps and the vast farms needed to feed them. Roads new and old crisscross the grassland, but the wilderness is also dotted with megali
and other ancient ruins, dating back to the Daemon Age. Every crossroads has a checkpoint, and tall watchtowers regularly loom up from the savannah. Soldiers are suspicious; peasants fearful, merchants well-armed; the legions suppress any hint of rebellion, and spies for both sides lurk beneath the awnings of every taverna (or so it’s said). Papers are required for travel and frequently checked; the least suspicion can be cause for delays, incarceration, and sometimes summary execution. There are relatively few citizens here, but the state has ‘encouraged’ many lowlifes and ne’er-do-wells to make a new life on the border.
After the vast farms and ranches, ‘baggage towns’ are the most common feature; mustering points for legionaries and those that serve their needs. Many sprang up around military camps. Others took over existing villages, or are permanently occupied by Pelosian forces.
The Dummonii Side
Oh I away to the north have gone.
The priests say we will not be long
My father says I must stay till its done
My soldier';s oath says never to run
With shield on my arm and Pelo my aid
The old debt shall in blood be paid
- Marching Song of the Pelosian Legion
North of the Drowned Swords, the land couldn’t be more different. Scattered copses of marsh trees soon give way to the forest proper. There’s little sign of cultivation except the overgrown remains of old farms and villas. The Dummonii prefer their battlegrounds as wild as possible.
Druids work tirelessly to make the land inhospitable to invaders ‐‐ a natural maze of thorns and nettles that suits their skill in skirmish‐ warfare. Rusting helmets and swords dangle from the trees, mementoes of Pelosian defeats. Shrines to the Great Mother are hidden in forest clearings, guarded by carved statues and sacrifices to her most violent children, the war gods of Dummonii: Cróga Boldly, Naul the Deadsitter; Lady Silvermane and Mháthair Mharú; Twisted Ikjash and Grandfather Vraag. More secret shrines, places of ancient power, are guarded by warrior‐druids and summoned beasts.
Fortified camps and hidden tree houses dot the forest, temporary home to the tribes that rotate through the region on their yearly progress. An influx of adventurers, mercenaries and eager young patriots swell their numbers, and it often seems to the Pelosians that every tree conceals a bow or rark knife lurking in ambush. The towns of Pile-of-Bones
and Bowbreaker’s Lament
are the largest settlements near the river, where wounded are tended, plans laid, and raiders gather before heading south. The Spears of Stone
Head east upriver, and the land rises. The red clay peters out and the River of Drowned Swords gets a little narrower and considerably faster. Jagged rocks break its surface and the waters foam. Soon hills and then mountains rise up beneath the trees. Their slopes are jagged, like giant flint arrowheads. These are the Spears of Stone - ancient mountains, dangerous but profitable.
As turbulent as the Margomarissi
, the Stone Spears add danger from hostile terrain, escaped servilles, and a‐political bandits. The mountains are rich in gold and silver, attracting countless adventures. Creatures from the Dark Garden also sometime plague the valleys, especially vraag packs from their namesake pass further north… and much, much worse things from the Garden’s verdant depths.
Although less infamous for partisans than the lowlands, the mountains are refuge for escaped serviles, heretics, and other prisoners. Often escapees from the region’s penal mines, the bandit gangs they form pray on merchant caravans and silver convoys heading southwest.
Life is cheap here but iron, alchemical elements, precious metals and jewels all fetch a good price in the heartlands. Mines are worked by tough men who double as caravan guards. Throughout the region, gangs control dirty little towns where gold and silver nuggets pay for meagre pleasures and rough drink ‐‐ lawless places that answer only the bare needs of survival and demands for bribes from local garrisons. Men of every nationality always keep their weapons within easy reach.
If my heart still beat, I would love you
But now I must take bow and pursue
If I still had a tongue, I could sing out
But I'm silent now, giving no war shout
If I were still a farmer, I might sow
But all I've left is reaping now
- Ballad of the Scalpers.