The Perilous journey into Kingmaker
Stolen Lands History and Geography
Across the northern frontier of the River Kingdoms runs a hinterland not even the most brazen bandit lords dare to claim. Sharing borders with strange barbarians and the scions of a proud kingdom, this wilderness invites few intruders, out of fear of provoking the ire of empires. For untold decades this land has lain fallow, left to the devices of nature and deadly beasts, while strange things lurk amid its swamps, forests, and peaks, and the remnants of an ancient, near-forgotten history sleeps amid ruins and weeds. These are the Stolen Lands, a lordless realm having defied untold conquerors, yet ripe with potential for any bold enough to prove themselves its masters.
The regions called the Stolen Lands takes its name from Brevoy, which claims this realm as rightfully its own. The fertile plains of the Brevic demesne of Rostland spill into the region, coloring the fractious nation’s claim on the wilderness. This makes the border between the River Kingdoms and the northern realm hotly contested, with the descendants of Choral the Conquer—the unifier of modern Brevoy—and ancient Rostlandic nobles claiming right to lands as far south as Hooktongue Slough and the Kamelands, and some brash families asserting their reach extends as far south as the bandit city of Pitax. Beyond the plains, to the east stretch the craggy forests of the Narlmarches and rugged hill country that gradually rises in the wall-like mountains called the Tors of Levenies. To the west, the many rivers and bogs of the Hooktongue Slough transform the region’s lowlands into a vast swamp, eventually giving way to the Spinefields, weedy plains threaded over with bony crags, with the forest of Thousand Voices and the steeps around Mount Branthlend beyond. Diverse in both vistas and dangers, the Stolen Lands hide a variety of dangers, from tales of hauntings and eerie lights in the west to claims of ruins from forgotten empires scattered across the east, with the dens of bandit gangs, strange recluses, and deadly beasts scattered throughout. Those who travel the land, whether as traders or conquerors, find it a rugged, unforgiving region, one that has defied ages of settlers as if it consciously preferred to remain a realm of brutality and beasts. Yet endlessly, new generations enter the land with ambitions and steel, ever hoping to carve out a piece of the Stolen Lands for themselves.
Largely uninhabited by civilized folk, the Stolen Lands hold ample opportunities for profit and adventure. Noted here are several of the regions and noteworthy sites within the northeastern River Kingdoms, along with numerous rumors and legends that tempt glory seekers and treasure hunters to these secluded reaches.
The black hills of Glenebon march from the Stolen Lands into Numeria. Moody gray grasses and tangled scrub meander over rocky hills, regularly blasted by fierce winds in the spring and autumn and by summer brush fires. Few trees stand above the craggy hills and little shelter exists in the dusky land, with the hilltops mounted by barren stone and the valleys filled with scrub and scree. While rain comes too often to transform the hill country into true badlands, the rugged plants that thrive in the area mean that little more than beetles, rodents, snakes, and mangy wolves prowl these hills. Several small prides of manticores find the region to their liking, however, and range from the Branthlend Mountains across the hills and into Numeria, fighting each other for dominance and impaling any creature larger than a hare that falls under their shadow.
Beyond the Narlmarches sink the lowlands of the Stolen Lands, a great murky swamp of rotting trees and moldy mosses. Threaded through with hundreds of slow-moving rivulets and algae-clogged brooks, the Hooktongue Slough sprawls in a massive slime pit, home to all manner of stinging insects, sickly rodents, and croaking predators. Among the northern reaches, large snakes and strange water-striding creatures hunt in close proximity to Lake Hooktongue. To the south, several tribes of boggards inhabit high mound-islands, defending their lands against all interlopers while avoiding the ill-reputed northern lake. Trolls also make occasional forays into the southern swamps, but in wariness of the frogfolk and their strange magics rarely attempt to expand their territory. With such obvious dangers and countless more unknown, few humans would even consider entering the slough were it not for the azure lily, known to grow only amid the bogs just south of Lake Hooktongue. Reputed to be able to cause paralysis in any creature that breathes its grainy blue pollen, the elusive lily has long been hunted for by bandits and assassins of all walks. While most believe the plant to be nothing more than a myth, occasionally a few pinches of a dangerous blue power appear in Pitax or Daggermark, spurring renewed interest in and searches for the plant. Such hunts, however, usually culminate in nothing more than more deaths and disappearances in the depths of the Hooktongue Slough.
Rolling hills of hrown and yellow grass sprawl across the eastern Stolen Lands, the patchy, sand-colored waves and dusky tarns broken by countless rocky mounds called kames. With grasses ranging in height from mere inches to lashing blades over 4 feet tall, and uneven rises rife with hidden rocks, the hill country poses a daunting barrier to travel and settlement, accounting for much of the region’s continued wildness. Amid the hills and grass loom the mysterious kames. While most of these mounds of ancient stone and debris stand quiet and purposeless, in many corners of the region they display strange patterns, with mounds suggestive of waymarkers, ancient barrows, or even long-crumbled walls or foundations. Aside from a few small herds of wild horses and goats, few large animals inhabit the Kamelands, with wolves, foxes, hares, and multitudes of rodents and snakes being the primary occupants. Frequently, wyverns from the western tors wing over the region, seeking easy prey from above, while bears, boars, owlbears, and other savage creatures from the eastern forests regularly range into the hills. While the horses of the region are reputed for their vigor and surefootedness, those from the southern River Kingdoms who attempt to capture such mounts often run afoul of the trolls of the southern Narlmarches, making such attempts too dangerous to regularly risk.
Deep and snaking, the murky gray-green waters of Lake Hooktongue slither through the northern bogs that make up Hooktongue Slough. Some might say that the lake and the slough are one and the same, Lake Hooktongue merely forming the deepest reaches with the surrounding swamps and their ever-changing runnels, mounds of damp earth, and boggy plants connecting to form a single massive, shallow body. Hidden almost completely by the pike-like hemlock and moody willow trees that flourish in the swampy surroundings, only the lake’s westernmost shore emerges from the bog, presenting a pebbled beach patrolled by legions of geese and egrets.
Few visitors come to the lake, though, as the moody, secluded place shares a deadly reputation with its famous ancient resident, the Hooktongue orm. Said to live deep in the cold, murky water where it might sleep for years amid the mud and dead leaves, Old Hooktongue snakes its way throughout the lake and even into the deeper waterways of the slough, feeding upon whatever it pleases. Said to resemble a black water snake of prehistoric proportions with jaws strong enough to snatch up a bear and a ridge of razor-sharp fins, the lake orm rules as the undisputed master of all the Hooktongue waterways. While many dismiss the beast as legend, sightings occur too often and furriers and trappers disappear near the lake too regularly for the tale to quietly fade away. Hunters venturing near the lake always leave a part of their kills on the shore as an offering and appeasement to Old Hooktongue.
Splitting the Stolen Lands in half, the Narlmarches—or Narlmarch Woods, as they are sometimes known—sprawl across the region’s lowlands, hiding deep ravines, craggy hills, and languid streams beneath its houghs of oak, heech, and rushleaf. Within range proud herds of elk, rivercats (a mossy-furred breed of bobcat), black bears, boars, brush thylacines, and numerous breeds of especially large rodents. More unusual creatures also inhabit the forest, including giant owls, will-o’-wisps, various aggressive plant creatures, and a healthy owlbear population. Several small troll gangs also occupy the forest’s southern reaches near the Candlemere, their seclusion affording them a simple life as hunters and scavengers, though, like most of their kind, they take eager sport in ambushing weaker humanoids. The ruins of numerous forgotten bandit hideaways also molder within the Narlmarches, leading to countless tales of lost riches and trap-laden tombs of fantastic treasures.
Cliffs and steep hills hide this brown, rocky lake from almost every direction, though following any river through the Kamelands or Narlmarches inevitably leads to its waters. Sounders of boars frequently visit its shores and favor the thick briars and berry tangles between its western shore and the forest, these beasts granting the great arching body its name. Swelling with the spring thaw, the Tuskwater floods seasonally, spilling into swampy ravines all along its length but mainly to the west. This creates muddy gullies and pits of standing water where fierce swarms of mosquitoes, stirges, fat snakes, and assassin vines prey upon whatever falls into the quicksand-like muck. At more significant depths, the Tuskwater proves bountiful, with pike, longnose gar, bluegill, and— more dangerously—fanged eels. While fanged eels are well known for their slippery skins and vicious, painful bites, elder eels in the lake are known to grow up to 8 feet long and can ably reverse the stakes on any fisherman who tries to make a meal of them. Nevertheless, Tuskwater fanged eels are a delicacy on the tables of New Stetven in Brevoy to the north, making the reward well worth the danger.