Thornkeep - Den of Villainy

“Welcome to Thornkeep, home of the powerful Blades. Or so they’d have you believe. It’s all lies. They’re just thugs… vermin, creeping around in the shadows.”

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Hidden within the twisting paths of the the Forest Kingdom, the lawless settlement of Thornkeep gives shelter to folk both dangerous and desperate. Here the hardiest settlers and artisans ply their trades, ready to defend their own with blade or arrow; mercenaries and barbarians brawl in dismal tap-houses, fueled by turbid moonshine and illicit backwater drugs; brigands and river pirates come to spend their bloody gold in unruly and dingy establishments; and monsters both benign and otherwise hide among the populace, eking out their debauched existences as they seek to inflict cruelties on their neighbors. Mercy, charity, trust – these virtues are in short supply in Thornkeep. This forest stronghold is a place where the bold and enterprising can make a fortune and perhaps even keep it – so long as they are strong enough to protect their wealth from the myriad dangers, both human and otherwise, that plague the town.

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Thornkeep lies about twelve miles from the broad, sluggish Ambarin River and the prosperous river-town of Hexwater. Thornkeep is a disorderly, ramshackle affair that huddles on a low hill beneath the bramble-strewn walls of its namesake castle. The presence of the castle provides the locals enough protection to deter the attentions of brigands and river pirates, while offering the realm’s own bandits and thieves a safe haven from which they might prey on traffic along the Ambarin or south into the fields of Mornhaven, the City of Bright Sails.

The most recent lord of Thornkeep is Baron Tervin Blackshield, who seized his lofty title and position through murdering his predecessor in TR 1042. Such had been the way of things in the forest town for the last eighty years or so; whoever is strong enough to depose the existing lord of the castle and make it their own claims the title of baron, and rules until the next would-be nobleman wrenches the title and power from their grasp. The Darkstars, the original noble family to claim Thornkeep, are long forgotten, having been replaced by a bloody succession of robber knights, bandit queens, mercenary lords, and the occasional bored adventurer.

Baron Tervin rarely showed himself, and attended the town’s affairs only when his own coin purse or security of the region was at stake. Most say the Baron’s secretive nature is just the byproduct of his own healthy paranoia, though whispers hinted there is another dark secret behind it. On the evening of the 30th of Uktar, TR 1049, this secret was revealed to be his lycanthropy, an illness he seemed to have contracted since arriving at the community. He and several leading soldiers and yeomen of his realm had been infected as well, and during a brawl in the great hall with the adventurers, he was largely defeated, forcing him and one of his surviving sergeants to flee into the night accompanied by a pack of loyal wolves. He has not been seen since. His daughter, Lady Neria Blackshield, is now slated to inherit the realm.

Given the Baron’s lack of interest, the people who actually kept order in Thornkeep have been a fractious collection of mercenary leaders and guild masters from the Mangai known as the Blades of Thornkeep. Numerous factions make Thornkeep their home; the Blades are simply the leaders of the biggest gangs and armed juntos. None of the freebooters were quite strong enough to overthrow the Baron and his soldiers alone, but each is unwilling to support the other Blades as rulers. The Blackshield clan would like little more than to crush these threats to their power, but rightfully worries that the efforts in suppressing even one group might weaken them enough to be vulnerable to attack from another.

Membership of the Blades changes frequently. When a faction grows strong enough that the other groups need to take it into account, the leader of that faction is counted as a Blade, and when that power weakens, the title is lost. At the moment, the noted Blades of Thornkeep include; Master Daemon Tarrasque, guildmaster of the Three Daggers thieves’ guild; Arianna Redfern, captain of the Blue Basilisks, a band of mercenaries; and Iliara Starcloak, leader of the Goldenfire Order – wizards-for-hire. Chieftain Darioth Wolfmane, leader of the Wolfsmane barbarians encamped in the nearby Echo Wood, has no interest in the local town’s politics, but everyone knows they would be powerful allies if anyone could make them choose sides. Finally, Mogur Graalsk – chieftain of the goblin tribe from the Briarwarren often calls himself a Blade even when no one else does, and boldly claims to be a friend to the people of Thornkeep, even though few trust a goblin further than they could throw the little monsters.

The citizens of Thornkeep are free to do virtually anything they can get away with. The Baron’s soldiers enforce few laws, collecting “taxes” when the mood suits them, and occasionally making an example of an individual who disturbs the Baron’s relative peace. However, they are quick to respond to open challenges to their liege’s power, such as bands of self-righteous adventurers who seek to take justice into their own hands. Short of this, the internal politics of Thornkeep largely goes unchecked by the town’s official watch. Any who defy one of the Blades – or who trouble a person under the protection of a Blade – can expect little help from the Baron’s guards if the offended faction retaliates.

In practice, the outlaws of Thornkeep usually exercise restraint and avoid picking fights within the town. Instead, they rob travellers passing through the area or pillage nearby communities. Nearby noble lands have been harassed by Thornkeep’s brigands over the years, but none see it as worthwhile to break the peace, mounting a serious effort to clean-out the bandit stronghold.

Thornkeep might seem like a den of evil and villainy at first glance, but one would be short-sighted to accept this as the whole story. The town is also a place of great opportunities, where anyone with sharp wits and talent can flourish. Merchants and artisans who lack the combat prowess to defend their trades can simply purchase protection from the local cell of the Lia-Kavair, mercenaries, or even a powerful individual no one wants to rile. In fact, the protection racket in Thornkeep isn’t as ruinously expensive as it is in Mornhaven, because there is plenty of competition – if the thieves try to take a larger cut, a merchant might decide to simply hire the mercenaries instead. As a result, while there are indeed many mercenaries and thieves in Thornkeep, there are plenty of more-or-less honest townsfolk too.

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Industry and Economy

Most of Thornkeep’s citizens earn their livings from two sources; the surrounding Echo Wood and its plethora of natural resources, or the never-ending traffic of caravans and crusading adventurers that travel through the region. Thornkeep is not exactly a major crossroads, but it is a convenient stopping point for traders and travellers seeking to bypass Mornhaven, or from caravans and timber parties moving back and forth through the town and the forest’s charcoal and timber camps. Provisioning travellers is one of the primary businesses for Thornkeep’s honest merchants.

Thornkeep imports flour, salt, beef, leather, cloth, ironwork, and luxury items from Hexwater, south from Mornhaven and the nearby tribal clans. In return, Thornkeep produces timber, furs, iron, woodwork, and simple glassware. Traders carry Thornkeep’s raw materials and finished goods west to Hexwater and its villages, and thence either south to Mornhaven or north towards Seville; Mornhaven has a tremendous appetite for raw wood and its various products. Local lowland barbarian clans, feared by many as raiders, also come to Thornkeep to trade.

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Hides are one of the primary exports from Thornkeep and one of the few commodities that travels well and in significant quantity from this isolated region. Buyers often look forward to the leather and hides from the region, and once it reaches its markets in the City of Bright Sails, it is consolidated with hides from other parts of the forest into large lots where it is shipped overseas via the ports in the Mage Isles to other parts of the world. Most consider Huntmaster Jaervon “Longshanks” Mardesal to be the leader of the local hunters, though his guild is neither official, nor recognized by the local Baron.

Hunting is ideal for the region. It requires large stretches of woodland, though local areas tend to be over-hunted, or haunted by wood-cutters and charcoal camps, making it poor. Beaver, bear and sable, commonplace in the forest’s streams, provide valuable furs that trappers cure and ship to Mornhaven The local wolves are carefully watched by a handful of huntsmen, and are known for producing thick, luxurious furs which are in demand among most Shemite nobles. The traditional herds of deer and elk are hunted primarily to supply local meat demands. Of course, dangerous monsters roam the wilder parts of the woodlands, and not all hunters return home.

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Stands of high-quality timber are exceedingly common and represent its easiest resource to exploit. The Timberwright’s Guild have authority from the Baron in the form of his own warrant to fell trees wherever they may. Easily exploited, the valuable timber is either brought to Thornkeep for immediate processing and thence transported to Hexwater, or (from stands closer to the river) brought directly from the forests of the western Smoke Wood to the dockyards in Timberbay, where it is floated down to Mornhaven for consumption. All timberwrights pay their “Stumpage Tax” of 2-3 sp per tree, directly into the coffers of the barony. The local master of the Timberwright’s Guild is Master Thuldrin Kreed, the effective ruler of Hexwater, and whose economic influence reaches even into Thornkeep, despite the fact he has almost never visited the town in modern memory. His agents, however, range widely and his presence can be easily felt. The guild’s other closest agent is Alveric Wolfsbane located in the nearby thorp of Dour, from which several other wood-cutters operate.

Charcoal is usually exploited without the need to cut down trees (though it can happen), instead using readily available waste wood to produce its charcoal, but shipping good quality firewood to markets in Mornhaven and larger farming communities. The local representative of the Charcoaler’s Guild, is Master Varyl Dragonfire, recently having taken over the local franchise, though his position is still closely under the control of Master Kreed, both for political and financial reasons.

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Although metal and gems belong to the Crown, quarries can be privately owned. The ancient Triumph Quarry is a large limestone quarry that was founded fifteen years ago to assist Torra Stonefarmer in her efforts as a mason. It produces a fine quality blue-grey limestone that is soft when first cut, but hardens into blocks perfect for carving detailed statues and trim. It has only begun to produce a fraction of its potential, but the top-quality stone has an increasing market from visiting merchants seeking to find new markets.

The site is an open rough-hewn cave, delved into the side of a stony hill, and surrounded by an unruly camp of ancient stone houses; the remnants of an ancient dwarven stone camp. The site is meant to house temporary worker groups who rough-shape stone blocks for shipment to Thornkeep, where they are shaped to better suit the buildings they will eventually be used in. The quarry is only opened when reserves of cut stone run low in town.

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The only source of known metal ores in the district is Halted-Stream Camp. The origin of Master Borath Stonesplitter’s mined ores, it is a natural outcropping of what is known as “Ironstone”, a porous, reddish stone dug out of surface deposits. The site has been consistently employed by various miners for nearly two hundred years, and much of the site’s over-burden has long since been removed. The long, trench-like mines are now almost thirty feet deep, and prone to flooding. The continued prosperity of the mine is closely tied to the fact the local Baron does not swear fealty to the Crown, since he can claim the profits of the mine directly himself.

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It’s hard to dignify the business of robbery and raiding as an industry, but Thornkeep profits greatly from the activities of its criminals. Most of the town’s merchants don’t ask too closely about where " … foragers of the road…" acquire their goods, so they effectively act as fences buying stolen goods. Since much of Thornkeep is a home to various small bandit gangs, it’s naturally a good place to find mercenaries ready to stake their lives on their skill with blade and bow. Anyone looking to hire some muscle that doesn’t ask too many questions, will discover there are a fair number of blades for hire in the local town.

Although there has been no single source of leadership among the gangs of Thornkeep, in recent months the rise of the so-called “Stag Lord” has brought many small bands under his/her control. However, even that organization has begun to fall apart, despite a certain fear these bandits seem to have regarding their leader.

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Law & Order

Justice and public order in Thornkeep are relative. The Baron’s soldiers stop open brawling, arson, robbery, or murder in the streets – if they happen to catch someone in the act, that is. They generally ignore any crime that comes down to one person’s word against another’s, unless a public outcry erupts or someone makes it worth their while to take an interest.

Once someone has committed a crime, the injured party or anyone sympathetic to the injured party is free to seek any compensation they can – demanding repayment from the offender, administering a punitive beating, or simply driving out or killing the villain (although such brazen vengeance may attract the attention of the Baron’s guards, who tend to frown on blatant lethal vigilantism). If the wronged person is powerful enough, or has powerful friends, justice can be swift and harsh. If not, the criminal will likely get away with their crime.

Ordinary people can place themselves under something close to security by placing themselves under the protection of one of Thornkeep’s stronger factions and its Blade. Most local merchants grudgingly pay protection monies to Three Daggers, and in return, Three Daggers severely punish anyone bothering one of their charges. Other townsfolk hire local mercenary bands such as the Blue Basilisks or the Goldenfire Order, or rely on their friendship with the Wolfmane barbarians to keep them from harm. Buying protection can cost as much as 10-25% of the shop keeper’s revenues or artist’s production directly. It’s also a good idea to pay on time.

Outside of such more or less businesslike protection arrangements, a rough and bloody sort of street justice is commonplace in Thornkeep. Many of the outlawws and sellswords that dwell in Thornkeep enjoy the relative comfort of the community, and have an “off-hands” attitude towards the common folk who provide them with food, clothing and shelter. Many will find their actions intervened when a townsfolk is endangered or being threatened. Strangers bullying local citizens soon learn that even Thornkeep has some rules.

Defenses : The Blackshields hold Thornkeep with a force of around twenty (20) loutish, ill-kempt mercenaries who have a talent for knocking heads, and a small detachment of mercenaries under Arianna Redfern, who have an exclusive contract to defend the main keep. Caer Dragonscron itself is not in good repair, but a castle is still a castle – close the gates, and it’s hard to get in. There are almost no provisions for defending the town outside of the castle walls. The townsfolk have organized a small militia of local citizens to rally and defend their holdings, but they are ill-armed and ill-trained. The best hope against a dire threat would be the intervention of the Blue Basilisks, or the Goldenfire Order, or both. Though usually mercenaries are not willing to fight without monies changing hands, both Arianna Redfern and Iliara Starcloak would reluctantly move to defend their homes from imminent destruction.

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Thornkeep (CN Small Town)

Corruption +2, Crime +0, Economy +1, Law +1, Lore +1, Society -2.
Qualitites Notorious, Strategic Location
Danger +10

Government : Blackshield Clan
Population : 630

Thornkeep lies in a small natural clearing in the Echo Wood, where the Echo Stream winds around the foot of Brokenhelm Hill. Most of the town lies on the lower slopes of the hill, wherever builders found good places to raise houses and room for workshops, stores and warehouses. Some people came to Thornkeep with substantial wealth or a talent for construction, and put up shops and homes that are soundly made. Others, lacking skill or funds for building, did the best they could. As a result, much of the town has a distinctly ramshackle and improvised look to it.

Three roads meet at Thornkeep. The Dagger Road to the southeast loops around south to the Timber Glens, passing through two small thorps before reaching The Gardens east of the City of Bright Sails. The closest thorp is Daggermark, a small forest community about six miles away, that is held by no one, but pays lip-service and its taxes to the Blackshield Clan; Mosswater Road to the north that leads to the ruins of Mosswater eight miles north near the hilly headwaters of Echo Stream; and Hexwater Road that leads seven miles west at Alejia’s Crossing, where it splits north to Riverwatch and south to Southwood. Many smaller tracks crisscross the woods near town, and well-informed traders give the town a wide berth. Some traders, however, have good relations with Thornkeep’s various factions and enjoy safe passage through the nearby woods.

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Caer Dragonscorn (“The Keep”) : Holdfast of the Blackshield Clan : The village is dominated by the weathered battlements of Dragonscorn itself, which is usually simply called “…the Keep…” by locals. The castle is in poor repair, but is well sited on top of Brokenhelm Hill, with a commanding view of the surrounding valley. Thickets of dense Goblin Brambles ring the Keep’s walls and its hill, especially along its southwestern side cliffs. It is rumored that somewhere under these thorns, lies a crevice, that opens to the ancient Halls Under the Hill, the ancient cavern home of the goblins of the region. Among adventurers, they are better-known as The Accursed Halls.

Thornkeep Green : The center of Thornkeep life is the town green, an open patch of ground at the foot of the road leading up to Dragonscorn Castle. Several of the oldest and most respectable shops are located here, and any community festivals and markets are held on the oft-muddied fields. From time to time, an enemy wanting to make a particularly pointed statement will leave their enemies her overnight; bound, beaten, unconscious or dead, and in plain sight of the entire village. By morning, if these victims are lucky enough (and alive), some kindhearted local might agree to free them from their restraints, though more often they are left to their own devices, since few would seek to get caught up in local gang politics.

Goblin Bazaar (“The Thieves’ Market”) : ## $$ : A small clearing on the edge of the town is the trading spot to a small clan of somewhat civilized goblins, known as the Goblin Bazaar. Here the Brambleclaw goblins peddle whatever small valuables they might find (usually from looting corpses left in the streets, from petty thefts around town). If a traveler has lost something about town, it’s a good bet that it will that sooner or later it will turn up here.

An open-air location, there are several local goblins that are present most market days (typically held every ten-day), and these regulars have staked out spots that are exclusively theirs. All others have to scramble for position, and competition in the early morning of a market is fierce. While visitors charge their own prices, the regulars consistently sell goods for half standard prices. Regulars include : Mumbling Jak-Jak : Usually selling scraps of cloth, leather and an occasional nice set of clothing or pair of boots; Kram : Hates haggling, settling prices quickly for his simple short bows, knives and arrows; Rash : Selling bloody chunks of meat, fur and hides, along with necklaces and bracelets of leather thongs and teeth; Larva sells rough woven wool blankets and cloth made from various unidentifiable sources.

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Graveyard Hill : Thornkeep has many problems with restless dead over the years, since it’s unfortunately rather common for people to die violently and then be buried without the proper rites. Ghouls and wights arise from the graveyard from time to time, posing a deadly threat to nighttime travellers along the Dagger Road and to townsfolk whose farms are nearby. Sword Brother Eldrast of The Shrine of Battle is constantly seeking to seal the old vaults and perform proper funerary rituals, hoping to end the undead problem.

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Shrine (“Shrine of Battle”) : Temple of Sarrok, the Gray Slayer : Long abandoned, this small shrine was recently repaired and renovated by Sword Brother Eldrast, a dwarven priest of Sarrok, the Foehammer. The cleric lives in a small set of rooms behind the shrine with his personal follower, a stooped old man named Murfric, and a young human acolyte Taronnel, who is learning the tenets of her faith from the veteran priest. Brother Eldrast is, however, a poor mentor, spending much of his time in the taverns of town, preaching his tenets of bold action and honorable battle to the mercenaries and bandits of town who frequent these places. The patrons tolerate him, because he is a stout hand in a fight, and he is known to buy drinks for patrons that pay attention to his words.

Brother Eldrast is also known to willingly heal injured parties who seek his aid, for a customary donation to the shrine and the story of the fights that inflicted the wounds. He is known to demand far less than most typical priests (typically 50 sp per casting), if the battle was suitably heroic. The shrine has claim on a ten-acre plot of land as a temple glebe, but has seen little development this past year, though its gardens are complete and several trees have been planted.

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Shrine (“House of the Ploughman”) : Temple of Korg, Father of the Fields : This small timber shrine is dedicated to the god of agriculture, and stands by the banks of Echo Stream. Watched over by the aged priestess Mistress Idara, who has been here for more than 30 years. Korg’s tenets of hard work and earning a living by the sweat of your brow have a certain appeal among the common folk of Thornkeep far more than Sarrok’s do, so Mistress Idara is well liked and respected among the farmers and craftsmen of the town. However, few of them have much coin to spare in the upkeep of the old shrine, which is constantly falling into disrepair. Many years ago, Mistress Idara inherited the care of the old shrine from her mentor, and she often speaks fondly of his tales of the lost temple to Korg in Mosswater.

Mistress Idara has limited powers available, but she is willing to heal and bless any in need, asking for little in exchange. She is known to prepare healing potions and ointments for common use, often taking little more than a few coins or a bag of vegetables in exchange, though she will demand a suitable donation from the wealthy and adventurers.
Rumors also hint that she has a few valuable relics inherited from her mentor, namely scrolls of Lesser Restoration and Raise Dead, as well as numerous other relics recently retrieved by adventurers in her service.

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Mercenaries (“The Blue Basilisks”) : ### $$$ : Mercenaries are an exception to the typical understanding of Mangai politics and its monopoly structure. They are unguilded, but have power that is also outside the bounds of most nobility to control. Also, merchants and nobles find them useful tools to ensure their power, so they grant mercenary forces some legitimacy.

In Thornkeep, the Blue Basilisks are a mercenary company formed by Captain Arianna Redfern. The group numbers roughly a dozen veteran warriors, and find half their number accompanying small merchants on the road south to Mornhaven_ or west to Hexwater on a regular basis. The Baron is also known to employ them from time to time, when he goes bandit hunting. The barracks located on the south side of the commons, holds a small stable for their few mounts and are easily spotted with their bright blue cloaks and colorful heraldry on their shields. They always deploy in pairs.

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Apothecary : ### $$$ : Brishtargera Greenbottle the resident apothecary to Thornkeep is a self-absorbed female gnome, known as Brishta to her friends. Brishta is a highly intelligent woman who is all too aware of her own cleverness. She can be imperious, condescending, vain, or pedantic as her moods take her, which makes her a difficult person to like, even though she has the skills that many in town desperately require. Brishta begrudgingly procures the components she needs to make the magical and mundane remedies the town needs, but she greatly appreciates other highly intelligent individuals, such as wizards and scholars, and delights in academic discussions with any such who travel through town. Common herbs (6 sp per vial) are easily available, but rarer items can be acquired.

Among the usual remedies she makes, she has begun brewing a uniquely strong sedative brewed from local goblinbramble berries, and is always in the market to find more of the bitter black fruit. These “Brambleberry Potions” are popular enough to make a growing demand for them among visiting adventurers and traders, and they are often the base for her own branded Potion of Healing (500 sp per flask).

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Clothier : ### $$$ : A timid halfling from Mornhaven, Hap “Happy” Thistledown is a talented clothier and weaver who makes much of the cloth and textiles worn by Thornkeep’s citizens. He is assisted by his wife Lanni, who is an excellent seamstress in her own right, and their four children. Local farmers and shepherds in the area produce small amounts of linen and wool, but its not nearly enough for the entire community’s needs, so the Thistledowns acquire most of their textiles from merchants passing through the community, or when they manage to get some bulk on consignment from Mornhaven. The young family is ardently non-political. Hap imports linen (8 sp per yard), buckram (20 sp per yard) and fine wool (120 sp per yard) for sale, but also makes traditional cloaks (100 sp), gowns (50 sp) and tunics (50 sp), usually of a serge, or mixed linen and wool blend.

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Glassworker (“Kairn Glaziers”) : ### $$$ : Glass-making requires a large amount of ready firewood, and in TR 1043, Mistress Andreja Kairn relocated to this site from northern Iberia. She employs a dozen workers in her shop, most of them young members of the local farmers who live nearby, and the rest younger members of her extended family who moved with her. The clan produces simple, rugged work such as glass beads, leaded panes, and thick bottles and flasks with a regular market in Mornhaven and the nearby villages, particularly Tiller. While they make nothing like the finer work from the city itself, the clan designs are durable and have a ready market among the local Wolfmane tribes; one of the principle reasons they have taken such an active interest in the town recently. Her prices remain quite reasonable. Bottles and flasks (20 sp) are her primary products, though she also produces other glassware to order, such as stained glass pieces (1′ × 1′ section : 20 sp).

Finding a good, reliable source of sand for her work has proven difficult, but Mistress Kairn counts Chieftain Darioth Wolfmane as a personal friend, and that tribe protects her workers from bandits and local thugs, as well as leads them to isolated sources of high quality sand in the region. The best deposits are located near the headwaters of Echo Stream, close to the ruins of Mosswater.

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Guild of Arcane Lore (“Goldenfire Tower”) : ### $$$ : Home of the elven mage Iliara Starcloak, Goldenfire Tower is a small round tower four floors tall, adjacent to her comfortable and well-built stone home by the shore of the millpond. The tower is also the base for the local mage’s guild of Thornkeep. The guild holds regular meetings at every full moon, but other than that, the Goldenfire wizards go their own way – members must maintain their own homes, and generally work alone.

The Goldenfire Order is a professional association first and foremost, with no great mission other than to look out for members of the order, who are wizards living in Thornkeep. Illiara’s apprentice Timber is a young and studious fellow who also serves as the Goldenfire Order’s clerk and record-keeper. He personally greets all visitors to the tower, and determines whether their business is worthy of his master’s time and personal attentions. Newcomers are welcome to the Order at anytime, with the only obligations being the traditional standards of the Shek-Pvar.

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Hideworker (“Highwarren’s Saddlery”) : ### $$$ : Tall, thin and stoop-shouldered, Juna Highwarren makes her living as a hideworker, producing leather from hides and crafting saddles (Military – 200 sp; Riding – 100 sp; Pack – 50 sp), tack and harness (30 sp), saddlebags (40 sp), packs (20 sp) and pouches (5 sp) of all kinds. She assists Igmar Dusthelm in making leather pieces for his armors, including the thicker and heavier leathers required, and produces the usual goods of the ostler at Serianna Narrows’ request, to allow her to better spend time with her charges. A third generation local, Juna’s grandparents established this shop when they fled _Mosswater_decades go. She works with her twin brother Jarmod, who bows to her greater talents and expertise.

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Innkeeper (“Green Forest Inn)” : ### $$$ : One of the oldest buildings in town, the Greenforest is a respectable inn and tavern with fieldstone walls and carved woodwork adorning its posts and eaves. Owned by Shamus Tusk, a balding, middle-aged man with a moustache like a bristle brush. Master Tusk is a gossip and a busy-body, and an excellent source of rumor about village life. If you want everyone to know something, tell Master Tusk, and by morning everyone will know about it. His lean, sharp-tongued wife Jalia is renowned as the best cook in town. Their young niece Drusta is the stablehand, as Master Tusk owns and looks after the stables. Vess and Eduard, their two man-servants, work the tavern, and keep the place clean. Eduard is young, kind and handsome, but he is “Betrothed” to a young local huntress named Gyenneth who takes offense easily and is constantly getting into fights with women who pay too much attention to him.

Private rooms at the Greenforest cost 1 gp per night, but includes a light breakfast and dinner (typically bread and soup or stew). They also keep a separate common room with a dozen bunks, where a bunk and chest cost 2 sp per night, but includes a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast and a loaf of crusty bread for dinner. Locally brewed rough ales cost 5 cps per tankard, but only an expensive Winewater wine is available at 12 sp per tankard. Pear-apple juice is also available for 1 sp a tankard. Normal meals are stews from the common pot, with a bit of bread and cheese, usually costing 15 cp per serving.

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Innkeeper (“The Thirsty Ogre”) : ## $$ : This disreputable tavern is much rougher than the Greenforest Inn, and so outlaws. goblins, barbarians, and the less savory mercenaries make up the majority of the Thirsty Ogre’s patrons. The evenings are filled with bawdy songs, boastful challenges, and drunken brawling, and it’s not unusual for blades and spells to settle matters that get out of hand. Anyone who sets foot in the Thirsty Ogre is assumed to know what they’re getting into, and those who aren’t looking for a fight would do well to stay away from the notorious establishment.

The owner of the Thirsty Ogre is a retired half-orc adventurer named Toldari, who was a hard-drinking brawler of legendary proportions back in her day. Toldari has a bad knee from an arrow wound, and is missing her left eye, but she can still knock most opponents flat with a single punch. She claims that the Thirsty Ogre is the kind of place she always liked best as a customer, and she wades onto the floor to break up fights when someone is in danger of dying. The bar keeper is a grumpy bear of a man named Red and his servers are Greledos and Mariele, a flirtatious half-elf maiden who has the attentions of half of the regulars in the place.

Meals at the Thirsty Ogre are light meals of bread, soup and a small beer for 1 sp. Lodging is only a spot on the common room floor for 2 cp a night. Drinks, the only real attraction to the place, are universally 1 sp per tankard of soapy, watered-down ale, brewed in the tavern cellars. The Thirsty Ogre sometimes gets a barrel or cask of odd vintages from bandits or other individuals, and price varies, but it tends to disappear the night it’s broached. An old stable out back is served by no one, and is free, though regulars know to tip the servers if they don’t want the mount to go missing.

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Lexigrapher (“Thornkeep’s Bindery”) : ### $$$ : Thornkeep is hardly a center of learning, but the ready supply of hides means it’s a good place to make parchment. An elderly gnome Master Farakin Thumbwhistle established himself as a parchment maker and bookbinder after abandoning his shop and home in Mosswater fifty years ago. He sells parchment (2 sp per sheet), fine vellum (4 sp per sheet), iron-quills (2 sp), ink (5 sp per vial – sufficient for writing a scroll), and blank parchment scrolls (24 pages : 50 sp). Blank, leather-bound vellum books (100 pages : 500 sp) can be made to order, and he usually has a selection of collected books, maps, and scrolls for sale. A scholar and collector of lore, Master Farakin usually keeps one or two well-researched treasure maps at his disposal, and is willing to pay for tales of adventurers while they explored the wilds, often to verify questions he has about them or other research.

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Mason : ### $$$ : Torra Stonefarmer is the best builder in town, a dour dwarven woman who takes personal offense when someone new to town tries to build their own house or shop without her services. Torra came to town about fifteen years ago as a mercenary, but soon discovered that no one in town had the ability to make a home or workshop that would last beyond a few seasons, and realized that she could make a good living just by selling her expertise. Torra heads up a small band of human and goblin laborers, while she designs engineers and helps build most simple structures needed in the community. Common shaped limestone of good quality sells for 2 sp per 2’-square, 100-120 lbs block. These same stones could fetch perhaps double this in Hexwater or more in the Mornhaven markets, but is usually not worth the trip.

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Greenfoot Trade Shield

Mercantyler (“Greenfoot Provisions”) : ### $$$ : The leading provisioner in Thornkeep, Mistress Nessa Greenfoot is a clever young halfling woman who bought out the previous provisioner. A hard-working, no-nonsense type, Mistress Greenfoot buys local produce, milk, cheese, eggs, and meat from local hunters and farmers, while importing grain and other staples from Mornhaven (prices are 120% for local provisions; 150% for imports). Mistress Greenfoot employs several cousins as clerks and warehouse workers, including her large and impressive (but simple) half-orc friend Bosk, who lives with her and ensures the Blades stay away.

With the death of the local fur trader, Tardin “Ironjaw”, Greenfoot has begun to attract the bulk of the local fur trade.

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Tarrasque Trade Shield

Mercantyler (“Thornkeep Mercantile”) : ### $$$ : A typical frontier trading shop, the facility has a spacious yard and two recently constructed warehouses. Easily the largest business in town, it takes the largest share of trade in provisions, clothing, tools and supplies. More importantly, it is owned by Master Daemon Tarrasque, one of the local Blades, and rumored head of the local thieves’ guild, The Three Daggers, and by far the wealthiest man in town. Master Tarrasque’s wagons do constant business with the nearby timber camps and villages, making regular trips to Mornhaven, and never seem to be set upon by the bandits who seem to plague other traders in the region.

Master Tarrasque sells various goods, each in their own area of his main showroom and at various prices including; clothing and packs (100%), footwear, gloves and belts (125%); hand tools (110%); lighting equipment (110%); food and herbs (120%); rope, chains, writing materials and dungeon explorer’s equipment (110%); spears and shields (110%); light armor and helmets (150%); tack and harness (75%). His personal stables are for the use of his own trade caravans, but the trader sometimes sells older mounts and is a ready market for selling well-rested horses and oxen. Costs for his older stock are 75% of standard rates, but they tend to be sway-backed creatures with little use left in them.

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Metalsmith (“Bucket and Bellows”) : ### $$$ : Producing basic metal goods, the retired adventurer Scar Thunderfist is one of the busiest men in town. He works from sunup until well after dark each day, since his wife died over two years ago. His five sons are all working with him, ranging in age from 9 to 18. He and his family are all of the “Old Faith”, worshipping the Lady of the Forest. They spend their time making and repairing simple iron craft and farm tools; hammers (70 sp), mallets (100 sp), crosscut saws (30 sp), ripsaws (70 sp), shovels (30 sp), hoes (30 sp), picks (90 sp), and axes (70 sp). He also makes a set of butchering tools for hunters, consisting of a dozen iron hooks and a long skinning knife in a leather sheaf (100 sp). His clan make various nails, spikes, hinges and iron hoops for other craftsmen as well. Anyone looking for steel tools are referred to the weaponsmiths.

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Miller (“Hairalt’s Mill”) : ## $$$ : In TR 1030, an enterprising young master miller named Hairalt gained the franchise to open a new mill in this isolated community, with the guild hoping to encourage a new wave of settlement in the area, especially in the wake of the refugees from Mosswater. It proved difficult to implement, mostly because the local area produces little raw grain. Harailt eventually died, never having made the franchise work, and it sat abandoned for more than a decade. Recently, an old miller named Bounder and his sons arrived, bought the franchise from the Baron, and settled in to the business of grinding local grains for a portion of the grain. Although their flour and breads are coarse, they make it work, keeping fees reasonable and primarily selling to the local provisioners. Their stone ovens bake rye (5 cp per loaf) and wheat (1 sp per loaf) breads, and oatmeal (20 sp per 30-lbs sack) are available. Rye flour (15 sp per 30-lbs sack) and wheat flour (30 sp per 30-lbs sack) are also available in small quantities.

Echo Stream pools nest to the mill below the bluffs of Brokenhelm Hill, forming the large, deep pool known as “Harailt’s Pond”. Although long gone, Harailt did a good job of establishing the mill, and the pond has remained over the years. Presently home to a number of ducks and geese, as well as the occasional murder victim, town folklore claims it houses more than its share of ghosts.

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Miner (“Borath’s Smelter”) : ### $$$ : Located next to the Glassworks, is the smelter of Master Borath Stonesplitter, a dwarven craftsman who mines raw iron ores from the Halted-Stream Camp mine he controls, and then refines it in town, pouring his own trade ingots (mostly iron and copper “Stones”; each a 12 lb disk of raw metal worth 12 sp and 60 sp respectively), to trade into nearby markets. A survivor from the ruins of Mosswater, Master Stonesplitter started over again in Thornkeep, and has proven to be a hard master to work for, rarely keeping apprentices for more than a season before they try their hands at something else. He is a close ally of Master Daemon Tarrasque, and the two maintain close ties.

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Ostler (“Serianna’s Livery”) : #### $$$ : A former adventurer, Serianna Narrows founded the stables with profits from her last successful dungeon expedition., A natural horsewoman, who appreciates them far more than people, her intimidating beauty does a good job of keeping away unwanted suitors. She happily stables mules, horses, oxen, and other mounts for 30 sp per ten-day (including grooming and fodder) though oats cost extra (1 sp per day), and usually has a small selection of riding and pack horses available for purchase (750 sp per mount). Used harness and tack are also available (90 sp per set).

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Timberwright : ### $$$ : Established by the enterprising ancestor of the present owner a hundred years ago, this sawmill takes raw timber from the local woodcutters and sells the cut lumber west in Hexwater for a tidy profit. Owned by Warrick Arrowshaft, of the locally infamous Arrowshaft clan, an ancient family that counts among the closest thing to a noble clan the town has ever produced. He has a half-dozen thugs who protect his caravans, but do little else beyond lounge around smoking and spending their wages. The workers sell cut timber in traditional 12"-square beams of 12’ lengths, made from birch (120 sp), pine (240 sp) and oak (500 sp). 6’ lengths are available at half the cost, and a smaller thickness of lumber (usually 6" or 3" depth) are also available on request.

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Weaponcrafter (Specialty : Light Armor) : ### $$$ : A boisterous and boastful veteran from the Misty Crags, Igmar Dusthelm is a competent armorer who specializes in light and medium armors such as leather armor (100 sp), hide armor (100 sp), chain shirts (500 sp), and scale mail (500 sp). He also makes shields (100 sp). For all his brashness to customers, he is strikingly shy and unknowingly smitten by Torra Stonefarmer, the town mason.

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Weaponcrafter (Specialty : Light Blades : “Echo Wood Arms”) : #### $$$$ : The resident swordmaker and weaponsmith in Thornkeep, is Iozef Eversnow, a Brakite ex-patriate who established his workshop in TR 1045. Renowned throughout town for his excellent blades, particularly his light blades, such as rapiers (350 sp) and daggers (30 sp), many locals have wondered why a man of such talent and kind disposition has chosen to settle here. Whatever his past, his work is appreciated and he is well-paid for his efforts.

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Woodcrafter ### $$$ : A carpenter, cabinetmaker and general woodcrafter of some skill, Fileros Dustwander lives and works in this workshop with his wife Anyana, son Roero and two apprentices. He is sorely pressed by all the different factions in town to pay protection money, and near wits end. Dustwander crafts the usual assortment of goods for locals when commissioned, but always keeps a few simple wooden wagon wheels (40 sp each), and small travel trunks (30 sp) on hand at all times. He is usually working on a new wagon that can be completed in a couple days, selling for 50 gps.

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Thornkeep has little cleared land, and its people barely raise enough food to support themselves. The land isn’t suitable for extensive fields of grain or corn, but many townsfolk maintain good-sized vegetable and herb gardens where they grow beans, cabbage, peas, rhubarb and vetches. The only commercial agriculture consists of several large farmlands with apple orchards on the outskirts of town. Consequently, foodstuffs such as flour and dried beef are a common and valuable import.

The regional farms of Thornkeep are kept busy supplying the town’s perishables; goats for milk, pigs for meat, chickens and eggs for cooking, and vegetable gardens and fruit trees for their produce are common, even among the poor cottar families who work for their livings among the local industries. The success of these small farms has been the steady local market demand for their products. Most small farms consist of a stone house, a barn and stockade for livestock, and a few out-buildings, like a smokehouse or a shed for tools. All have thick doors and bolts to secure them, even the windows. Few have gardens or fields larger than five or six acres; hidden and nearby berry patches and small orchards with a handful of trees are rather common.

Local large farms are fairly substantial holdings of more than fifty (50) acres, usually supporting their own handful of two or three cottars who help work the lands and tend to its herds. In more settled lands they might be considered “Manors”, and their owners knighted to support the local noble, but in Thornkeep, there is no such distinction. There are also smaller farms scattered around the local region, but within the town’s local environs, there are only four such farms of note.

Applewarden Orchard : Widow Eliseera Applewarden, a young, beautiful woman from a distant village who married the ancient farmer who once owned this orchard. He soon died (quite happily claim most), and the good widow has taken many a young lover since, raising apples from her orchards and keeping much to herself. The orchards have fallen into great disrepair, and she has even let all of her hired workers go, one by one, replaced by others who know little of the work, but require much smaller fees to work. Rumors persist she is actually an enchantress, and everyone considers her a wastrel. Her workers sell her apples for 15 sp per 30-lb bushel.

Darknight Farm : Built on a low ridge overlooking the valley, the lonely farmlands of Master Meer Darknight is an elderly man in his late sixties. Having three small cottars under his care, he works the lands alone, having lost his only son, Dyr, a strong, handsome youth to bandits five years ago in TR 1044. Ownership of the large farm will pass to a clerk in Mornhaven, who was recently married and visits the farm once a year, just prior to the snows blowing through, in respect to his inheritance. Darknight raises millet (15 sp per 45-lbs bushel), rye (12 sp per 45-lbs bushel) and peas (10 sp per 40-lbs bushel), as well as keeping a few hogs for smoked hams and bacon : 4 sp per lb).

Firestone Orchard : Row after row of well-tended pear-apple trees stand at the foot of Graveyard Hill, the farm of Master Miles Firestone. A reclusive fellow who lives here with his wife Berlan and their two young children. Practitioners of the “green faith”, they follow the Lady of the Forest and are on good terms with the local Stone Circle. The clan has been in Thornkeep for many generations, and make a point of staying out of everyone’s business. They make a popular cider and fruit juice that sells well in the Greenforest Inn, called “Firestone Cider”, a peppery cider, and a simpler “Firestone Juice”, selling for 2 sp and 1 sp per wineskin, respectively. Pear-apples sell for 20 sp per 30-lbs bushel.

Havenbrooks Farm : Mistress Firlan Brooks, a common laborer from Mornhaven moved here in TR 1043 in an effort to start a new life on the frontier. She settled on this abandoned farm, and earned a reputation for hard luck, as increasingly severe blights and problems plagued her efforts. In late-TR 1049, she abandoned the farmlands when she learned it was a former temple glebe of Kurse – The Corruptor, and has since moved her operations to Raven’s Roost Farm, where she continues to act as a free farmer, dealing with those more substantial lands. Today, the buildings have been left empty to the elements, and the fields are slowly being taken back by the forest and its plants.

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The Barony of Thornkeep

Traditionally, a Baron in the Forest Kingdom is an independent nobleman who rules an entire province for the Crown, consisting of numerous lords and an army of knights with their own village, manors and soldiers. In Shem, there are only four (4) recognized barons; Archenshield, Freehold, Tauria, and Winecastle. Tauria is still claimed by the crown, but has since declared itself independent of Warduke rule. Other lands could be declared a barony in time, such as the Greensward, Elmshire or the Fellreeves, requiring a ruler with the drive and ability to develop the population base and economic clout to ensure independence.

In the case of the Barony of Thornkeep, it is an unrecognized title that has persisted for generations, mostly because of the barony’s location in an unsettled portion of the lands, under constant threat of monster and bandits. The rulers of Thornkeep have thus been able to maintain a position above traditional feudal laws, simply because the Crown doesn’t want to push its luck in these wilderness regions, and isn’t able to directly support expansion. Should it ever become subject to lawful rule and economic stability, it might fall under the control of the Crown. its geographic location makes it a Crown Lordship of Seaholme, and the rulers would likely lose the title of Baron.

Today, the Barony of Thornkeep is a relatively undefined border region in the north-eastern stretch of the Smoke Glens region of the province of the Barony of Seaholme. Its depths on the edge of the Echo Wood ensures it stays out of the political and economic attentions of most activity in the region, and so it pays no taxes to anyone beyond the local nobles and politically important guildsmen. The region does, however, have numerous resources that have value and are not properly exploited by the Barons because of an inability to enforce the Crown’s full economic and legal clout. Its proximity to the triangle border between the Hinterlands of the Barony of Ambarin, the fields of Seaholme, and the Mist Woods of the Barony of Winewater, have ensured it is far enough away from everyone to remain relatively beneath notice.

Thornkeep itself provides the lion’s share of the barony’s income, and control of this market town with its property taxes, bonding and hawking fees provides a steady stream of silver into its coffers. The local craftsmen (21 households), clergy (2 households) and cottager hunters (27 households) provide much of this revenue. Their focus is towards the local market or castle and most have little more than their own cottage and a few vegetable plots. The local yeomen (3 households), farmers (4 households) and cottars (25 households) form the second group. Their focus is outwards, towards the fields and pastures of the town. Twelve of the cottars are actually woodsmen, who operate from the forest edges. The baron controls roughly 800 acres directly, with 400 acres of scattered woodland and 400 acres of direct demesne. The remainder of the local region is tentatively under the control of Thornkeep, but rarely patrolled and never exploited by locals, except in lumber camps and a couple mines/quarries.

The local manor was destroyed mid-Shorn TR 1049 in a fire that swept its compound and ruined the ancient mothalla and many of its supportive buildings. The bailiff died in the events leading to the manor’s destruction, and presently Lady Ivis Blackshield has taken over most of the duties the bailiff once held. The castle plans to rebuild a new manor on the site of the old one come spring, and will likely hire a new bailiff to take over these matters come Spring. The demesne manor is actually small, traditionally run by a Bailiff, whose primary task is to support the needs of the castle and its garrison, and supervising the baron’s stables and kennels. Much of the demesne is poor pasture, both for summer grazing and winter fodder. Several large barns are needed to store the food to feed the Baron’s hungry mounts, troops and servants through the dark winter.

There are several small farms and hunter’s cottages scattered throughout the local area that owe their tribute to the local lord of Thornkeep, like Blackhart Farm, Wolfram Farm, Darkmoon Manor, and Woodbristle Manor, though such payments are typically grudgingly given. In addition to the villages of Daggermark and Dour, and the ruins of Mosswater, there are the quarries, iron mines and several timber camps that also pay some tribute to Baron Tervin Blackshield.

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Located six miles south of Thornkeep, Daggermark is a former knight’s holding that is now home to a dozen local woodsmen, a handful of craftsmen, and the ruins of the tower fort that lies a mile north along the Echo Stream. Locals continue to use the former knight’s arms as their militia’s crest, and while they largely govern themselves, they still pay taxes to Thornkeep.

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Located even further down Dagger Road, lies the tiny thorp of Dour. A forward staging area for the Timberwright’s and Charcoaler’s Guilds, the place has barely any population, and no services, but has two shrines present; one to Sarrok – The Gray Slayer and another to Amalthea – Bringer of Life Renewed. Few even stop unless watering their oxen or horses, seeking to pay tribute to the shrines, or have business with the local timberwright. This tiny thorp also pays its taxes once a year to Baron Blackshield’s clerks.

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History

The history of Thornkeep is only a couple hundred years old, but the story of this corner of the Forest Kingdom began in vastly ancient times. The first people to build on this site, were an exiled elven warlord and his kin, the legendary Azlantoni, who came to the Echo Wood over 10,000 years ago. They built a secret stronghold here, but were swiftly discovered by their enemies and eradicated. All that remains of that settlement is a handful of hidden vault-tombs and their ruined towers located across the western reaches of the Echo Woods, overlooking the Ambarin River, along with a legacy of lingering, mysterious aberrant magicks.

For millennia, few wandered the Echo Wood except elven hunting parties and monsters. After the Migration Wars and the founding of “The Realm of the Stag” near the present site of Seville, the next true power to rise in this area was the goblin Kingdom of Zog, a coalition of seven canny barghests that attracted a large following of goblin scavengers and bugbear raiders. For over a century, they raided the lands around their fortified base, going so far as to sack the lands outside Mornhaven, in TR 409. Threatening to despoil the city of Mornhaven itself, the kingdom was eradicated by a plague known as the “Yellowtongue Sickness”, that decimated its ranks and left it open to attack. After several centuries of decline and war with the burgeoning bugbear kingdoms to the north-west, the half-elven heroine Tarwynna – a bold gladiator from the arenas in the City-State of Serelind, organized an expedition against the faded goblin stronghold, and crushed it, in TR 555.

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The Echo Wood was left depopulated until TR 865, when “The Great Host” invaded the Grandwood, and the first real castle of men was built, founding Thornkeep. A bastard from Starfall with no hope to inherit, Antonis Darkstar knew he would have no chance to live the life of decadence and ease he desired, and so the arrogant nobleman established his own private holding deep in the Greensward, on the east bank of the Echo Stream at Brokenhelm Hill. A great hunter, he quickly became familiar with the Echo Wood, and roamed the forest paths in search of challenge and great game. However, Darkstar had other prey in mind when he established Thornkeep; he knew that a base close to Mornhaven along the eastern edges of Echo Wood would be the perfect hold from which he might exact heavy tribute from passing merchants and travellers. Thus did he establish his crooked domain with himself as its overlord.

The Darkstars of Thornkeep earned quite the reputation among the highland tribes of the Grandwood as dangerous, grasping robber barons, and troubled the region for generations. Over time, however, the family’s fortunes waned, and the Darkstars became lazy, sullen drunkards and bullies at best. Almost ninety (90) years ago, in TR 960, Naruman Darkstar the eleventh of his line, was deposed by Sir Jarthoom Eeliron, a rogue knight of the Checkered Shield who saw the opportunity to earn himself both a title and a castle with his sword. Baron Eeliron was soon murdered by an ambitious underling, inaugurating the tradition of rule by might and bloody seizures of power that still remains today.

Soon Thornkeep seemed fated to go the way of so many other tiny, bygone realms in the isolated forests of the Grandwood and slowly crumble into obscurity. Only a few score villagers and foresters remained in its tumble-down village, huddled around the heap of masonry known as Thornkeep. Then, the tragic misfortune of the nearby towns reversed Thornkeep’s long decline. In TR 1002, the prosperous settlement of Mosswater was attacked by hordes of trolls, and many of its citizens were slain. Unable to repel the creatures stalking their streets, the survivors abandoned their homes. Thornkeep was the only safe haven close enough to retreat to, and many of Mosswater’s refugees chose to settle in the forest town.

Reinvigorated by this influx of new settlers (and the relative wealth they brought with them), Thornkeep began to expand once more. The booming village became semi-notorious for its lack of real authority, and attracted a large number of outlaws seeking refuge, thieves eager to prey on the weak, local lowland barbarians desiring a place to trade, and bold merchants seeking to increase their fortunes. In the last couple decades, brigand companies, thieves’ guilds, and lawless freebooters have trickled through the town, entrenching themselves in the town’s hierarchy of debased authorities and establishing the corrupt and increasingly complex power structure that stands today. Some ruled Thornkeep for a few years before fading away; others lasted only weeks or months before being shouldered aside by newer, more ruthless gangs.

Today, the largest and strongest of Thornkeep’s gangs is the Three Daggers thieve’s guild, established in TR 1040. But even the Three Daggers have to be careful, since Thornkeep is full of mercenaries and adventurers who might fight back if pushed too hard. Thornkeep’s dubious infrastructure sustains an uneasy truce between the town’s various gangs and the Blackshield’s soldiers, manifesting from the half-hearted labours of amoral thugs a precarious sense of harmony – and that’s good enough for most citizens.

Thornkeep - Den of Villainy

Thieves & Kings Robling