Friday, February 8, 2013

[Olden Lands Gazetteer Preview] The Western Moors

WESTERN MOORS
The Western Moors, known locally as the Sliabh na Bhfearocras (“Moors of Hungry Men”) or the Siar Tailtardha (“Western Highlands”) are the exclusive domain of bands and clans of Guidhel barbarians. The Meirleaghel, as the clans of the highlands are known, are noted raiders and reavers, banding together to raid anyone within reach – each other, the settlements in the Northern Verdhulann, the tribes of the Worgwood, the hobgoblins of the Toxoth, the goblins of the Morghluidh Mountains, the Gotha and Guidhel of the Eastern Moors; even their cousins in Mhoriedh and the gnomes of Hugelheim are not immune to their depredations.


They raid so often because the lands they inhabit are quite poor. The moors are sour lands, not well suited to crops, and much of the land is altogether too poor to use. The Meirleaghel are fond of children, needful to support their parents or avenge them in the incessant feuds, and their small farms cannot produce enough to support the ever-burgeoning population.

The short grasses only support small herds of goats, sheep, and small, shaggy cattle. Hunting is limited to beavers, badgers, and deer, though giant forms of all three are relatively common, and every few years a mammoth or two wanders in out of the Cold North. The rivers and long lakes run with salmon, trout, and large lake eels, and the thickets are home to grouse, but never enough. And so the raiders go out after the sowing is done. It is the raiders of the Highlands that have, generation after generation, century after century, acted as the pump for tribes to migrate ever southward.

Monsters are few and far between, like the peoples of the highlands. The most famous are the loch nathair, the lake serpents, fey snake monsters of Unseelie sort that inhabit the long, deep lakes of the highlands (these are essentially nagas of various evil sorts, with the less magically potent larger and approaching the size of sea serpents). These compete with the kelpies that also infest the lakes. The cairn-strewn bottomlands covered in copses of fir pines and peat bogs are the domain of hags and their petty-goblin spawn. The largest typical predatory beast is the caterwaul. Other predators are rare, usually wolves out of the Worgwood or the rare saber-toothed tiger out of the Cold North.

In addition to sheep, goats, and shaggy cattle, the clans keep large cats, about the size of a lynx; these are semi-domesticated and used as would be a hunting hound. They also keep a truculent breed of white-coated badger-hounds and a smaller breed of black-coated cairn-hounds as ratters.

Like the Worgwood, the Western Moors are covered with the ruins of a bygone era – elven, goblinoid, and dwarven ruins can be found on hill and in dale, often haunted by the ghosts of the lost defenders. They are also favorite haunts of the Unseelie and incorporeal undead, as well as holds for the brigand bands and the rare robber-baron exiles from Gyrax.

The largest ruin is of the Great Citadel at Foscadh, the largest settlement in the region. The town stands between the ruined Great Citadel high upon Ben Moergh and the rocky strand of Loch Dubh, the Black Lake. Founded by Gottic exiles from Gyrax a century ago, Foscadh is the only town of any note in the Highlands, and is ruled by Uthvas MacBethaidh, the Bandit-King (Evil 7th level Guidhel Barbarian), and his son, Hamish Fire-Crown (Neutral 9th level Guidhel Barbarian). Hamish is gathering the largest horde of reavers in living memory, with the goal of looting the northern cities and towns of Gyrax and returning home with a stolen witch-wife of Mhoriedh.

The druids and bards of the Meirleaghel are rarely considered more than charlatans and mountebanks by their own followers, let alone the other Guidhel tribes. Few respect them, as their power in this sour land is weak and feeble, and their scholarship, so valued by the Guidhel, is tattered and poor. But bards are valued for their story-telling, and the druids, when taught more wicked spells by the hags of the bogs and the serpents of the lochs, can earn their keep or even riches by blackmailing the clans, propitiated by pies and ugly maidens to keep their curses from destroying the meager crops of the dirt-scratchers.

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