This is a teaser to an RPG supplement I will be putting out later this year (2019). It describes the large island of Avaliet and some of its notable cities and landmarks.Author’s Note
Avaliet is a large volcanic island off the western coast of the Shey Lands. Colonized primarily by ilph’mari and wuyon’mari, the inhabitants of Avaliet frequently ally with Tarith and the people of the Shey, although they have always fiercely maintained their independence from the affairs of other nations.
Geography and Climate
Though not quite large enough to be called a continent, Avaliet is a vast land of forests and mountain ranges. It sees a fair amount of rainfall from east-bound winds off the sea, with temperatures ranging from moderately warm in the south to viciously cold in the north.
The Beaten Path
The Beaten Path is a natural land bridge spanning between Avaliet and the northern Shey Lands. Despite the name, it is not often used, due to its proximity to the active volcano, Seppa’Sara, as well as the fact it is only passable on foot in the dead of winter, when ice forms between the stepping-stone islets making up its length. Some wuyon’mar and Little Folk guides will hire out to travellers with whale-bone kayaks and pine-log canoes during the warmer seasons, but the price is steep, and the route is made more dangerous by smugglers and outlaws plying the black waters of the Strait.
The Clanging Heights
The Clanging Heights, or “Dzil’Ke Balahn” in the native language, form the spiny backbone of Avaliet’s mountain range. Originally formed by the volcanoes that rose Avaliet from the sea, the Clanging Heights include both heavily forested hills in the southern portion of the island as well as tall, craggy peaks in the central and northern portions. Some of the mountains are inhabited by Little Folk, who more often use tunnels instead of facing the cold temperatures and rugged landscape of the Surface. Steinheim is a notable exception, having entrances inside temperate valleys reachable through mountain passes to the east and south.
Nah’Ke’tzin is the name given to the unbroken forests running across the island from north to south on the western slopes of the Clanging Heights. There are two main parts, Greater and Lesser Nah’Ke’tzin.
Greater Nah’Ke’tzin is the name given to the deepest part of the forest, so called for its giant trees, each towering hundreds of feet above the forest floor. Other gigantic flora, such as vines large enough to tunnel through and flowers as big as a house, have been reported on occasion from explorers. The ilph’mar city of Rising Heath is found on the outskirts of Greater Nah’Ke’tzin, and is often the first and only glimpse into the sacred forests that outsiders will ever get.
Lesser Nah’Ke’tzin forms a blanket around the eye of Greater Nah’Ke’tzin and contains oaks, pines, birches, ashes, and other such trees that are more familiar to human sensibilities. The ilph’mari of Lesser Nah’Ke’tzin consider themselves more civilized than those living in Greater Nah’Ke’tzin, though both are often viewed as hopelessly primitive by the wuyon’mari. On the southern coasts, Lesser Nah’Ke’Tzin is frequently battered by hurricanes spawned in the Strait, forming a marshy barrier between it and any ships coming up on the island from the south.
The northernmost volcano of Avaliet, Seppa’Sara, is still active. It is sometimes called “Hammer Ringer” by the Little Folk, who have stories of a demi-god smith living inside the volcano, who tosses out unfinished works of metalcraft with explosive furor whenever he is displeased with them. Craftsman will sometimes make pilgrimages to the volcano’s foot to obtain the demi-god’s blessing. The lava is said to form an especially pure ore once cooled. Despite the cost and the danger to harvest the ore, the metal it makes, blackiron, is popular among the wuyon’mari for weapon and armor crafting.
The Strait, also called The-Light-From-Heart’s-Vein, is the small sea between Avaliet and the rest of the western continent. The southern waters enjoy balmy temperatures, kelp forests, and a large amount of coral reefs. The northern waters, in contrast, are cold and iceberg-ridden and are often covered with a layer of ice in the winter. Some sailors claim the north has just as much life under its icy surface as the south, but not many are willing to risk hypothermia and death to prove it.
The Strait gets its longer name from a folktale. The folktale goes that a lonely wuyon’mar sailor-mage from Havet, afflicted with mind sickness, dove into the Strait after his wife drowned in a hurricane. His spirit, hoping to attract companionship, now lights up the waters with his magic. Blue, white, purple, and green lights have been spotted both in the southern coral reefs and kelp forests as well as under the ice in the far north. Minds of more scientific bent would chalk this up to the presence of bioluminescent lifeforms in the water, as well as the reflection of the Northern Aurora. Xenophobic minds might instead explain this as magical fallout leftover from Krygon and akor’mar invasions in the past. The Avaliet military pays this last notion a little more respect than mere rumor, and will frequently send divers out to seal crevasses thought to lead to underwater portions of the Reaches.
Due to the isolationist nature of the wuyon’ and ilph’mari, Avaliet is home to only five major cities but countless smaller villages and outposts. Many of these smaller towns have no name, or are named after a memorable landmark, leader, or event in history, such as Rock-Fall-In-The-Night, Akor’mar’s Run, or T’saag’Chin’e, the latter of which means “Long Nose” in the ilph’mar language and is attributed to the overlong protuberance of the wuyon’mar lord currently living there.
Found on the outer edge of Greater Nah’Ke’tzin, Greenwood is the nominal capital city of the ilph’mari, though they would of course claim such concepts as cities as below them. The designation instead comes from the humans and the wuyon’mari, the former who have come to Avaliet to trade and the latter of whom still try to maintain a delineation between themselves and the ilph’mari that they consider as lesser beings in need of their guidance.
Greenwood’s architecture combines the styles of wuyon’mari, humans, and ilph’mari. Most of the buildings are made of sturdy stone blocks or logs covered over with wicker and thatch roofs in the manner of humans, but are carved fancifully to resemble trees, flowers, and vines in the manner of the wuyon’mari, and some are up in the trees and connected by bridges and lifts in the manner of the ilph’mari.
The city is roughly divided between the three races, though the city’s districts are instead optimistically named for their function. The Trade District is inhabited mainly by humans and features all the varied shops, craftsmen, inns, and taverns that could be expected in a gathering of these three races. Wuyon’mari inhabit the Magisterial District, where the aristocrats and magi reside and where the governmental buildings are located. Ilph’mari are often found in the Wildwoods, a series of gardens, huts, slums, and military outposts bordering the Great Hedgewall.
Greenwood is protected from the wilds of Greater Nah’Ke’tzin by the Great Hedgewall, a line of hedges and trees magically grafted onto each other to create an impenetrable barrier up to fifteen feet thick and a hundred feet high in places. Many of the tallest trees have been carved out to serve as watch towers.
The Least Hedgewall encircles the rest of the city, and is instead built in sections of mundane stone blocks and wooden palisades. It’s said that the ilph’mari long ago lost the secrets to grow plants into barriers as they are in the Great Hedgewall, though other rumors suggest the wuyon’mari keep a careful control on any such “nature magic” in the city limits, strictly forbidding its usage unless the mage has been properly registered by the regional clerk in the Magisterial District.
Also called “Tsin’Ke Halahigi” in the ilph’mar language, Rising Heath is a tree-city hidden away in the depths of Greater Nah’Ke’tzin. In times of war, the only entrance to the city is through a massive wicker covered bridge, called “the Hangover”, that can be cut down at a moment’s notice. (Though also a literal description of the bridge, which spans some hundred of feet to the nearest cliff face and is several hundred feet off the ground, the bridge is also fondly named for the drunken weaving of its supports in high winds, as well as the reactions from outsiders at having to cross such a contraption.) During more peaceful times, the ilph’mari can be observed climbing up onto the city’s platforms via any number of vines, ladders cut into trunks, lifts, and with the help of large squirrel-like creatures they call the T’zeeki’Hazei.
Described by the ilph’mari, Rising Heath is less of a city and more of a collection of multiple families who banded together for mutual protection from the wilder inhabitants of Greater Nah’Ke’tzin. The city is headed by a council of The Heads (the ilph’mari word for this post hasn’t yet been granted to outsiders) who come together twice a moon cycle to deliberate on matters of state. The city does not see any great export of goods and services, though a substantial number of the citizens are willing to hire out as guides. The trustworthiness of such guides is up for debate however, as few people are able to traverse Greater Nah’Ke’tzin and emerge alive, and revealing their sacred forests’ secrets is considered heretical to most ilph’mari.
The inhabitants of Rising Heath are highly secretive and tend to be suspicious of outsiders. As there is no established economy, goods must be obtained through bartering or the performing of a service. In place of taverns and inns, ilph’mari have a notion of Honorable Hosts, where the differing families of the city will compete with each other for who can be the most gracious to foreign guests. Even the most humble family is expected to provide lodging and food to their guests under this system, though this requirement might be satisfied by a hammock strung up under the kitchen and a gnawed bone for a meal, depending on the host’s disposition to the guest.
Steinheim is an underground city populated by Little Folk, built into the blocky mountain called the Stein. It is considered the last step on the pilgrimage to Seppa’Sara and enjoys a large population of both craftsmen and priests. In recent years, magi have also started flocking to the city, on account of the marvelous air and water powered public systems being pioneered by the city’s brightest individuals.
The deeper tunnels of Steinheim are regulated to forges and homes, naturally heated by the lava rivers flowing around and below them. Ventilation to the lower levels is controlled by a number of shafts and fan contraptions, all of which join up in the Temple of Jarilon in the peak of the Stein. The priests of Jarilon consider it one of their sacred duties to maintain these shafts, as well as the pipes that control the city’s water supply. Tampering with either is subject to strict punishments up to execution and exile, and each access point is heavily guarded.
The upmost tunnels of Steinheim open out into three different temperate mountain valleys. The largest and highest valley, called the Farmer’s Table, is more of a mesa than a valley and contains most of the farms needed to grow the city’s food supply, cut into terraces on the sides of the mountains or covering the mesa’s flatlands. The second-largest valley is the Wet Valley, which is dominated by an icy cold lake. The lake is dammed off on one side and diverted into watermills and plumbing systems overseen by the Jarilon priests. The third valley, and the smallest, is Hike’s Bluff. Though each valley is accessible through mountain passes, Hike’s Bluff serves as the main thoroughfare for trade into and out of the city. It is thought to be named both for the hike it presents to outsiders unused to travelling at altitude, as well as a Little Folk warrior named Hike who once defended the adjoining pass from akor’mar invaders.
Despite its natural defenses and strict legal system, Steinheim is open and friendly to outsiders. In the words of one guide, the worst obstacle one will meet is the five-foot-high tunnels in the older parts of the city, and those are easily avoided by becoming so sloshed with Steinheim brew that one is crawling about on their hands and knees anyway. Though the city is nominally ruled by a mayor and a council, the Jarilon priests carry much of the true authority in Steinheim, and can seem at once open-mindedly welcoming and bull-doggedly stubborn in their pursuit of the common good.