Travelogue takes place in the Midlands, an area controlled by five great merchant houses in the wake of the collapse of a great empire. To the north are freezing wastes where nothing grows, and to the south are rich and fertile plains where expansion has been held at bay by the local nomadic peoples. The Midlands themselves are divided into six major regions.
The northern extents of the Midlands are a cold and desolate place, with lumber and fishing comprising most of the trade the northern towns rely on to live. The northernmost settlement is Farport, which survives by being perfectly positioned to take advantage of seasonal winds and fast ocean currents to trade with lands across the sea. The towns of Mynasthorpe and Rownshackle sit a bit further south, where the weather is milder and hunting and lumber can provide for their needs.
The culture of the Northlands is one that respects need, where a lack of hospitality means sending a traveler to their death. In Farport, bonfires are set up in open areas near the docks so that workers and beggars both can warm themselves against the cold nights. At the same time, people can often become isolated and strange when the snows set in and travel between the towns and isolated farms and settlements becomes blocked off. There are legends of wanderers relying on the hospitality of hermits who turn out to be witches, madmen, or worse – usually with the traveler discovering their secret just as they’re leaving.
Some of these stories have no doubt been fed by the legends of Witchwood Grove, a place where the cold weather of the north seems to be held at bay, and yet also a place where the forest behaves strangely. Those who seek the shelter of the grove often do not return.
The Old Empire
The heart of the Midlands is the castles and forts that were once the seat of the Empire. In the wake of the Empire’s collapse – split across three brothers who squandered their holdings – five great houses turned to trade. As each city began to learn how to rule itself, these houses provided for most of the connectedness of the realm – carrying news with trade goods, funding joint ventures to repel attacks and bring order to the roads and the regions. And yet, people here remember the old ways, and there is a strong monarchist sentiment in many of the families that once bore titles and arms. Many have suggested that the Midlands once again needs an Emperor, someone to unite the cities and provide for a unified defense of the southern border, to finally drive back the nomads.
Of the cities in the Old Empire, two are of particular significance. Fericant was once the seat of the Empire, and much of the realm’s nobility resides there. At the same time, it has made a new name for itself in the mercenary companies that ride out from its gates. Fericant has the best trained soldiers of any of the cities, and that skill can fetch a good price when other cities need to use force to solve their problems. Fericant is also home of House Roenald, the source of much of the physical currency – millarensia – that is used in the Midlands. Their mines along the edge of the Crown Mountains dominate the trade in metals.
Subarat, the home of House Landt, is perhaps the center of trade in the Midlands. Almost any good one might desire passes through its markets, brought in by road or by sea. This creates a small problem – there is such competition over pricing that it is hard to make money selling at Subarat’s market unless you have some kind of special deal.
To the south, a great solitary mountain interrupts the coast-line and projects out into sea as a large peninsula. This is known locally as ‘The Point’, and its cities are the gateway to most of the trade from southern countries and lands across the ocean to the south. Aside from its trade, the Point is known for two things – its inclement weather, and the great mountain of Spiral Tor which looms over all of its cities. The winds coming off of the ocean are always strong and often bring with them nasty storms. Sailors often have to shelter at Cornic Bay to avoid the seasonal hurricanes. The mountain, on the other hand, is a more subtle danger. A great twisting road that takes five days to travel winds up its slopes, left there by an ancient people. Bandits make their homes in the many caves that dot the Tor, for they are the only ones desperate enough to brave the strangeness that is said to happen there.
One of the great houses, House Kernil, makes its home at Sparrow Point. This city was once only a small town due to the steep cliffs that made sea trade nearly impossible. House Kernil changed that. Thanks to the artificers and engineers they have brought in, they have turned this difficult region of the coast into a business opportunity. Ships dock against the cliffs below, and goods and people are raised and lowered on great lifts built into the cliffside.
As one travels south, the land becomes smoother and the climate more suitable for farming. Eventually one reaches seemingly endless, untouched plains. The people of the Midlands would have gladly expanded south except for the many nomadic tribes. The Midlands has a history of war with the nomads, though at the same time there is much trade that slips past the posturing of leaders. Almost all of the horses found in the Midlands can be traced back to trade with the southern people. The Gatelands is the boundary where a number of military forts and homesteads sit as close as they dare to lands claimed by the horsemen of the south. Barm’s Fort protects the region in the wake of the Scarhold incident. This is also the place where House Idran of the town of Omen, and House Dumori of Dumori Manor can be found.
Since expansion to the south was blocked, settlers from the Midlands began to range east along the border of the plains. They found a land of bogs and marshes. The most intrepid of the settlers worked to drain the marshes, creating the settlement of Morvinsburg. Others sought to learn to secrets of the land, and chose to live in the marshes as they were. While many died in this endeavor, Black Oak Township stands as a monument to their success, and the exotic goods that come out of it – medicines, glow-weave, and other products of the marsh – are the reward for their perseverence.
Recently a path was found around the Crown Mountains starting in Morvinsburg and heading north along their eastern rim. The land found beyond the mountains was fertile and uncontested, and many settlers began their journey north. This has brought a surge of growth to the towns of Eastmarch, and they have become the jumping-off point for northern expeditions.
The Green Lands
Beyond the Crown Mountains is a paradox – a land with long growing seasons and moderate weather, despite being far in the north. Something about this land seems almost mystical, as if the fading that happened to the magic of the Midlands has not quite reached here. Those who make their home in the Green Lands speak of wonders and terrors within its forests, for supposedly there are places where the rocks move of their own accord. Bits of this substance, a strange form of jade, have been starting to make their way back along trade routes.
A group of scholars followed the trail to investigate this phenomenon and discovered the Jade Tower, a building constructed of the stuff and seemingly impervious to any attempts to breach it. A town has sprung up around the tower, filled with people seeking to uncover its secrets.