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Northern Reachesby Christopher Richard Davies
GAZ7 The Northern Reaches suffers from a number of problems. First of all, it really should have included the Heldannic Freeholds, whose people were noted as being closely akin to "the people of the northeastern kingdoms" from the very beginning. Secondly, it shifted yet another X-series module out of the present day and into the future -- actually, three of them, since X13 was at least nominally linked to X11 and contained references to characters from X3.
But my biggest issue was the wholesale addition of Norse mythology to the world of D&D. Now, you could justifiably point out that in doing so, Mr. Rolston and Ms. Danforth were being faithful to X3, which mentions a temple to the god Forseti, who was a god worshipped by the Norse. But it should be noted that he was a relatively minor god, only invoked in swearing oaths, and that there are no surviving myths about him. In contrast, Thor, Odin and the rest have a lot more baggage.
And one thing that I find somewhat troubling is the way that this influenced subsequent products. For example, it was asserted that the Antalian ancestors of the people of the Northern Reaches also worshipped Odin, back into prehistory. If so, then they're very different from their historical source -- because Odin (or Othinn, Woden, etc.) became a major figure in the Teutonic religion relatively late in its development. (Ironically, the authors cited some of Poul Anderson's works in their bibliography, but don't seem to have been aware of his story "The Sorrows of Odin the Goth", which would have made this quite clear.)
[*] The primary deity worshipped by the people of the Northern Reaches is known as Viuden, an alias of Noumenos, the Hierarch of the Sphere of Thought. Equally popular among the nobility are Tor, the lord of thunder, and Teuz, the war-leader and master of the hunt. (The latter is honoured in the Isle of Dawn under the name of Nodens.) The common folk honour powers such as Boldur (aka Ixion), the Nooga (aka Protius) Wayland (aka Kagyar), and Forseti (aka Tarastia), as well as the twins Frey and Freyja. Evil folk typically turn to the worship of Loge (aka Asmodeus) or Hel (aka Thanatos). The Norns (Urdh, Verthandi, and Sculd) are honoured but not actually worshipped. Recent interlopers in the region include cults dedicated to Skurge the Executioner (aka Bemarris) and Amora the Enchantress (aka Kythria).
[*] Characters from the Northern Reaches should substitute Heldannic for "Common" (Thyatian) on their languages known.
[*] Ostland: The early death of Hord Dark-Eye's wife, Rhora Anlafsdottir, was not the only tragedy to rob him of his joy in life. In the very same year, his only brother, Alfgeir, was murdered on his wedding night -- by his bride, a certain Thyatian princess. His frustration at being unable to solve his problems through direct, violent action largely dates from that episode. Furthermore, he extends his anger to Stefania's family; while not mad enough to risk his kingdom in an attack on Thyatis, he would be perfectly willing to work against Thyatian interests if the opportunity presented itself.
[*] Vestland: Up until five years ago, the description of Vestland would have been accurate. However, that was before King Harald -- called Maramet, or "Woundmaker" -- was apparently slain in battle with Heldanner barbarians, and the Sorona Crown of the Vestlander nation was lost. (This artifact of uncertain origins was discovered by Ottar Udarsson, later called Ottar the Just, and is believed to have played a key role in his victory in the Battle of Bridenford, though details have been obscured.) Even worse than these losses was what followed, as Prince Thendel Haraldsson was slain in battle while trying to reclaim the Crown, leaving the Kingdom without a King.
After Thendelís death, a Council of Regents was established in Norrvik. Only those well-disposed to the high kingship were elected to this body, for their mandate was to govern until such time as the monarchy could be restored. Over the last five years, the power and authority of the Council has dwindled. In some cases the regents have simply been unable to discharge the duties of royalty. In cases of feudal succession their proclamations have been often ignored. At the present time the Council only has nominal control over the southern portion of the realm, due largely to the support of the Duke Stephan of Rhoona. Elsewhere the voice of the Council is weak or else completely ignored. This has led to them making a very bad decision with regards to the problem of Heldann, which they may one day come to regret. But more of that anon.
[*] Soderfjord: The jarls of Soderfjord, allied under the Pact of Nordhartar, have viewed recent events in Vestland with dismay. They are now bereft of what limited assistance in defence against Ostland the Vestlanders were willing to offer them. To some extent, this has strengthened arguments that Soderfjord needs a king of its own, but on the other hand, the circumstances in Vestland makes some jarls wonder what would happen to their nation if they had a king and then saw him suddenly removed ... whether they would have further to fall than they already do.
[*] Heldann: In the closing months of the year 999 AC, the Heldannic Freeholds were invaded by an extraordinarily powerful army of clerics and paladins of Vanya, equipped with a small fleet of flying ships. These Knights of the Grey Lady have begun the process of conquering the Freeholds, as well as establishing treaties with Ostland (where Hord couldn't care less who rules in the region) and Vestland (whose regency council, against the advice of Patriarch Annacks of Ruthin, decided that they needed a secure northern border). While they have encountered spirited resistance from the Heldannic warriors, as well as surprising defiance from the pirates of Freiburg, it seems fairly likely that the Knights will have eliminated all resistance to their rule within the next year or so.
These events have prompted considerable international tension. The Empire of Alphatia views the Knights of the Grey Lady, somewhat inaccurately, as a group of Thyatians establishing a beachhead that will eventually allow them to invade Norwold. This has led to speculation that King Ericall of Norwold will open his kingdom to settlement by powerful adventurers, of any nation, who are willing to swear fealty to him, sometime in the next few months.
[*] While the Modrigswerg dwarves believe that they came to the Northern Reaches from Rockhome around 2500 BC, the truth is somewhat more complicated. Like all modern dwarves, the mould dwarves were created from the original dwarves around 1800 BC, and given false memories of their history before that. That false history includes being driven out of Rockhome for engaging in blasphemous practices ... which they still practice. (While most of them only add alchemy to their practice of standard craftmagic, others are wizards, while many of the worst among their kind are warlocks, usually of the infernal or dark pacts.)
The Immortal Kagyar created the Modrigswerg culture as an alternative to the standard dwarven one, as something of a counterpoint. During the creation of the dwarves, one of his associates pointed out that while he had made them resistant to magic, adding a cultural bias against the arcane arts actually made them vulnerable in many ways. Among mortals, magic was often the best defence against magic, and if the dwarves were unwilling to use it, their native resistance might not ensure that they would survive an enemy that was.
Kagyar was not wholly persuaded by this reasoning, but he decided to give the idea an airing by creating a separate, secondary culture. He reasoned that, if the Modrigswerg dwarves proved to be more successful than the mainstream dwarven culture, they could eventually be reintegrated into that mainstream in a way that would benefit both. So far, he's not impressed with the results; the Modrigswergs have often engaged in some fairly self-destructive practices, above and beyond their reliance on arcane magic, like inbreeding and kin-strife. He sometimes wonders why Asmodeus was smiling when he made that suggestion ... but there are other matters to concern him.
[*] The future of the Northern Reaches will largely determined by the actions of the Knights of the Grey Lady -- soon to be known as the Heldannic Knights. As mentioned, their success in conquering the Freeholds is virtually assured, although their difficulties in taking Freiburg will lead to an arrangement with the city burghers that allows them to maintain a small amount of liberty for the foreseeable future. Having conquered the Freeholds in Vanya's name, they will then begin to seek out new lands to conquer in her name.
Unless Vestland's difficulties are alleviated, say by someone finding a certain crown of ancient glory and putting it on an appropriate head, it will be the very next target on the Heldannic Knights' list. (Of course, they may be distracted by a general war with Alphatia.) After Vestland is taken, the jarls of Soderfjord will realise their danger and try to unify -- unfortunately, likely too late. Then it will be Ostland's turn, which may prove to be the hardest nut of all to crack.
Furthermore, the Heldannic advance will be slowing by that point, as the Knight's war machine begins to overextend itself in Norwold. Eventually, the Knights will begin to experience schisms as their original unity of purpose is lost in favour of numerous personal agendas. The Heldannic Empire, not based on principles of tolerance -- as are, to varying degrees, the Thyatian and Alphatian Empires -- will not endure anywhere nearly as long. By mid-century, it will be in complete collapse. But Vanya will have been entertained by their victories, and that's the most important thing.
 Hey -- I passed up an opportunity to do an Oh My Goddess reference. You guys are getting off easy.
 In diplomacy, sometimes two plus two does make five. The Alphatians are wrong about the Knights' loyalties, but quite correct about their ultimate intentions, as you've already seen.