Bumpkins, Depression, Sham Finery: Gongburg has it all. Adventure within the ruins of the once great Imperial Empire. Truly it was the empire to end all empires.
Dilapitated hiking paths snake their way up the scenic twin peaks of the lone mountains to the North East of BURNTFORT. Near the top of the Western peak is a small near collapsing banquet hall. Its balcony provides a good view of the region. A fairly large and certainily inbred family makes their home within these ruins. They have stockpiled Imperial knicknacks and kitsch: paintings of the scenic vistas of this moutain, poorly made scultpures, ugly art featuring trite and out of fashion sayings, etc.
Once a hinterland garrison for the 94th Terico, then a bustling castle town that has fallen into picturesque ruin in the eon since it was bypassed by the IMPERIAL HIGHWAY and the 300 years since the marble walled White Fort itself was sacked. The rich marble of the nearby mountains both serves as the primary building material in of the town and in the past provided commerce and trade. Since the MARBLE QUARRY has been abandoned the few citizens of Burnt Fort content themselves with cabbage and turnip farming, intoxicating mushroom wine and cruel gossip.
Broken lands, once turned by the plow, but long abandoned by civilized man. Dust colored rabbits and large flocks of crows seem the only inhabitants.
Runoff from the MONOLITH OF THE MOON's whispering waters has curdled the earth in this area and killed the native grasses and shrubs. Now fleshy copses of pale fungal blooms dominate a landscape of dead earth. The fungus is mostly poisonous, except to the grub colored, soft fleshed moondogs and other pallid monstrosities that burrow into the stalks of giant mushrooms and perch on thier caps waiting to drop on visitors and devour them. Harvesters from BURNTWATCH cautiously pick at the edges of the fungal groves, gathering up the pale blue mooncaps that give thier town's wine it's prized hallucinagenic qualities.
Shunned and feared by the monks at the SHRINE OF THE NINTH EMPEROR a black iron monolith looms above the shattered plain, surrounded by a crater that has become an arcane sink filled with pale fungal life and water that whispers false futures when exposed to moonlight.
BURNTFORT used to mine the fine marble of this quarry for trade, but it's distance from good roads, and the decline in even the market for decorative statuary has left the quarry abandoned except for a tiny wildcat tin mine that operates on the lowest level of the quarry. The miners report that the maze of the greater MARBLE QUARRY proper is haunted, swarming with maddened minging automata, built on cursed stone and a place of terrible danger.
A few scattered farmstead toil stolidly along the poorly graveled dirt track between BURNTFORT and the narrow passes that lead Southward towards the IMPERIAL HIGHWAY. Most grow cabbages, though some apple orchards providing mealy green fruit and a few goat herds are also in evidence. The residents of these lands are prey to wandering beasts and wicked men, but moil on generation after generation all the same.
More heavily farmed then the lands nearer BURNTFORT crudely walled thropes of four or five suspicious families cluster among cabbage fields and apple orchards. A large windmill is noticable from the road, it's ragged sails turning listlessly above an older shell. The anceint windmill is abandoned but none of the locals can or will give a rational explanantion for why.
Dry Plains, green only for the months of early spring strech mournfully. The Shepards of the Wool Tribes graze thier flockshere, playing thier clay pipes to each other in the evenings.
A lonely shrine atop a hill littered with carved stelle, some of them unbelieveably ancient. In his Western Progress, the 9th Sainted Emperor "The Bronze Masked Ponderer", is said to have rested here for a night and declared the area "Not too vile". The small bronze shrine contains relics of dubious history, kept by a suprisingly large, fervent and elderly sect of bronze masked monks in tent-like green felt robes who inhabit the honeycomb of crypts, passages and catacombs in the hill beneath the shrine.
Entombed here are the ancient god-queens of the plainsfolk. The first was an actual God. Imperial administration kept her sleeping with hex-carved giant gladii through the breast and pubis. These hexes have been rusting away, over the centuries ... The MONOLITH OF THE MOON's waters say: "Definitely nothing to worry about."
Crooked mountains, largely of pure white marble that cut up from the plains and hills unnaturally. Paths and stairs, a few natural, but most cut for ancient and forgotten reasons wind through them and at night screams of the white peak cats echo off the pale uncut faces of the mountains. Occassionally the large white sheep of these mountains, wild and orantely horned with spirals and spires, can be glimpsed at a distance.
Niches, creches, tunnels and crypts have been chiseled into the mountain above LAKE FLEXUOUS for generations by both locals and the Wool Tribes 0305. The tombs are relatively safe near the surface, but Blackhearts, Flesh Eaters, Scavenger Ghouls and of vermin are known to dwell in the deeper recesses. A small stone pagoda stands beside the lake itself, home to a blind hermit who acts as a caretaker to the tombs.
Huge stone carvings predate the Imperial Presence, thier feline forms chipped into the living rock with ancient tender care. Hundreds of feet tall, each of the carved cats smirks with the inscrutibility of its species. Stone doors, some smashed in lead to a labyrinth of cold smooth halls behind the cats that winds deep into the mountains. Sleeping beneath the Cats under a bright moon will lead to prophetic feeling dreams of great success and low order possibility.
The Spring camps of the Wool Tribes gather here in tents of green and yellow. Lambing, sheering and the trade of wool are the business of these felt armored nomads, the few remenants of a once numerous people. They are distrustful, clannish and burdened by ancient feuds - though in recent decades thier numbers have grown even as the grass has become thinner and the winters colder. The monks and hermits of the SHRINE OF THE NINTH EMPEROR trade felt, wool and meat with them for tools and grain of WATERBURG and the wine of BURNTFORT, but the Wool Tribes have stubbornly refused to worship the Imperial Cult.
Natural caves in the cliffs above the misty forest have long provided a refuge for outlaws, bandits, and outcasts. The cliffs themselves and the old trees of the forest are covered with carvings in 100's of varities of thieves' cant, thrall sign and the lost languages of many peoples. Even the overly abundent owls of the forest mimic the secret utterances of long dead bandit brotherhoods as they hunt red eyed mice and black squirrels in the gloom.
Once the site of an Imperial Factor, whose huge orichalcum wheels still turn in the quick flow of the falls, Waterburg is now a somewhat functional town producing handicrafts and iron tools with iron, copperm bronze and silver from a few small mines in the cliffs nearby. The citizens of Waterburg are marked with a fair bit of thrall blood, and short tusks and compulsive obessions are not uncommon, but they are more industrious and coherent then most in these hinterlands. The mayor of Waterburg has formed a company of local heavy infantry under the command of his 2nd daugther and desires Imperial recognition as a 'post town; and the office of marchwarden, but needs more capitol for the necessary bribes.
Dull and grey below crooked mountains whose cold streams feed it, LAKE FLEXUOUS offers only poor fishing, and is rumored to be haunted by the drowned maidens of the ancient Wool Tribes who, fleeing the atrocities of the 93rd Terico were dragged down to the lake's depths by the weight of thier jade and silver jewelry. No evidence of such a haunting exists, but jade and agate carved beads are sometimes found on the lakes rocky beaches.
Set against the stark cliff that separate the Burntfort Marches from the Gongburg Solitudes, there is something bucolic about this particular range of hills. It is said that these hills were blessed by an ancient sheep headed goddess (or the 172nd Sainted Emperor who is also a patron of even-toed ungulants and sea reavers) to always remain a haven for her people, and indeed in winter and summer there is green grass, flowery meadows and beds of fern in abundance. Along the dirt and gravel track from the BROKEN STAIR squats an ancient altar, in the shape of a ram's curled horn, psyhically screaming with the blood of thousands of years of human sacrifice.
The Mountains here are twisted faces of pristine white marble cut with trails, and spotted with orange lichen and small stands of drooping trees. Picturesque and unforgiving, little lives here except inordinately large peak cats that stalk on silent pads and are said to prey on the spirits of the dead, as well as the flesh of any creature from mouse through man and the large, aggressively horned sheep they share the cliffsides with. Explorers in these mountains report finding pits and niches entirely filled with small marble tokens, meticulously carved in the shape of sheep skulls.
3 farmers turned bandits are holed up in the woods along with a surprisingly large cache of turnips stolen from GONGBURG. They are looking for someone to take them off their hands and will sell them at a very reasonable price. Their former employer is offering a 100 GP reward for each bandit, dead or alive.
Tent-stalls line the Highway, their colours faded. Highway-side merchants were traditionally called Beggars - how else would one style the locals, grasping at scraps of Imperial commerce? It has been years since a shining caravan drifted past. The Beggars, once the richest families in WATERBURG, have turned to banditry.
Dun hills of sage scrub and golden grass. Rumor has it that on this spot the Wool Tribes ambushed the Tourmarchēs of the 94th Terico and his guard, slaying them to the last man and percipitating a brutal war and half century of genocidal pogrom. Rumor has it that the Tourmarchēs was escorting treasure, a paychest, or carried powerful ancient weapons and in BURNTFORT, WATERBURG and even GONGBURG drunks and confidence men clad in farcial approximations of the holy felt robes of Wool Tribes' wangateur will offer 'ancient' maps to it's purported location (though the maps of GONGBURG tend to be laughably incompetent).
The line of cliffs that separate the GONGBURG Solitudes from the BURNTFORT Marches to the North are broken here by a tumbled stair of stone that appears suddenly from the rolling hills of yellow crass and sage bracken. Improvments over the centuries have led to a rough track that winds up the cliffs over the steps, providing mule traders, peddlers, bandits and felt sellers access to the Marches.
Dusty hills populated by hares, ugly grey groundfowl, and a group of indifferently mounted bandits who sometimes claim to be Imperial tax officials and have the seals to prove it if pressed.
The raised roadbed of the IMPERIAL HIGHWAY, graded monumental blocks, set on a tall platform of magically shaped rock, pulled up from the bedrock by ancient 'Magi Architecturae' divides the densely forested region to the North from the woods to the South. The Southern woods are spindly and twisted, though largely bare of leaves. In ancient times a great massacre occured here, the fleeing multitudes of the Wool Tribes 0305 trapped and surrounded by the automatons, falcons and fusillers of the 94th Terico and slaughtered down to the infants. The wood has grown strange since, fattened on the blood of an entire people and the barbararity of thier deaths. The bodies of the dead now lie in the MASS GRAVES to the South, but this place and this wood remember them.
Other then a large waterhole or two meaning that they are greener then most, these plains contain only grass, rabbit, grazing herd of aurachs and the odd hunting pack of wolves.
The IMPERIAL HIGHWAY here straddles the plains in a perfect line of ancient stone. Except for the lack of traffic it's almost possible to believe that the Highway is something more then the collapsing artery of a dying polity.
The dirt track out of GONGBURG and the IMPERIAL HIGHWAY meet among dull ochre hills speckled with a few sage leaved briars and cliffs of lichen covered grey rock. At the junction, a rickety wooden tower leads up 20' to the level of the highway. It's interior papered with the prayers, handbills and diaries of past travellers. The local bandit gangs, felt traders, tinkers and bumpkins use this spot as a way of exchanging messages and news.
The IMPERIAL HIGHWAY in the South offers safe passage, despie a huge washout that makes the movement of anything larger then a 4 horse wagon difficult, but to the North is a stew of arcane corruption. A ruined Seige Colossus - it's bridge still wrethed in the eldritch fire that destoryed it, hulks surrounded by a crater of magical esters, pollutants and poisons. The particular corruption here appears necromantic, and everything (except the fat sloths of Owlbears that roam the sink) here has the cast of unlife - plants sprout new brown leaves after lashing out at the living and many birds are rotten kites of moldered feathers or skeletal, flightless abominations.
Forgotten by civilization and the law, GONGBURG is a stinking mud pit of colorfully deformed dirt farmers, inbreeding and rampant drunken hopelessness. Turnips are Gongburg's major crop and it has only the most minimal of accomidations for travellers.
Plague dead, paupers, and the corpse of criminals have been piled atop the graves of the area original inhabitants for hundreds of years. The great stone pits and cairns that held the victims of ancient pogroms now overflow with newer dead, most of whom are now simply dumped in the lush, well feritilized grass.
Something huge died here in the ancient past, a titan, a great wyrm, an arch demon - it's unclear. Whatever the majestic creature was it's stone hard bones still erupt from the scrubby yellow plains, taller then most fortresses and far more ominious. Huts, hovels and mud shantys have been built against the bones, but they all appear empty, thier hearths cold.