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Marshes of Maggorath

by Rodger Burns

Recently while pondering over some of the old DotE material, I glanced at the big 72-mile hex map of the two empires and noticed the rather odd sight of a nice chunk of marshlands directly west of the Icereach mountain range past Norwold. And I got to thinking. The DotE 72-mile map may not be perfectly canon material (it severely limits the size of Denagoth and ignores the existence of the Mengul range, after all), but for initial source material (which this is - we don't even officially know where Denagoth's northern border *is*, after all, and this would be somewhere past that) it may be useful. So I came up with this.

(As a note, the map's been put together with the Arr-Kelaan Mapping Software - I'm not patient enough for the craftwork practiced by Thorf or Geoff. S'why the ruins are all represented with castle icons rather than proper trashed cities.)

I'm envisioning a place where humans are a distinct minority - the main inhabitants are goblinoids who defected from King Loark's Great Horde some two-three millennia back, lizard kin who were bred from goblinoid stock by the dragons of the Wyrmsteeth, lupin who have 'always been here', and probably a few gnomes just to make things interesting.

The titular character, Maggorath, was a controversial fellow who showed up around AC 200, forged an empire with fire and sword, and turned it over to his heirs who tried to hold the whole thing together until it collapsed around two and a half centuries ago. So we've a place that's distinctly frontier-like, distinctly uncivilised, but has the memories and ruins of a past empire and a few ruling folks who wouldn't mind restoring the "Golden Age" (with themselves on top, of course) and who consider human adventurers to be a valuable resource towards that end. (Assuming they're working for you, of course, not the competition.) The goal is to have a setting that's interesting, a change of pace, and not quite like anything else in the Known World.


(Info dumping - a bit more formal sense of what I've got in mind, and how it all comes together. This should hopefully go well with the map to manage a solid 'big picture' view on the region.)

The first race to live in the lands of Maggorath were the dog-like lupin. Their tribes have roamed the western forests and settled into the hills as long as anyone can remember; if written record or their own myths ever held any clue as to how they arrived in this land, it has long been forgotten. The lupin did not seek to extend mastery over their home or tame its denizens, but instead lived in peace and harmony, spread thinly as hunters and caretakers of the natural world.

This might have continued indefinitely, if the Great Horde of King Loark hadn't swept through the Marshes on its way to the southlands. Half war host, half migratory nation, the Great Horde included many clans who had been more than ready to leave the northern Hyborean wastes, but weren't exactly thrilled at the prospect of having to war with humans in order to carve out a new homeland. These tribes chose to stay within the marshes as the rest of the horde moved south, accepting the cold climate and soggy terrain as the price of living in a place with no meddling from other races. They clashed somewhat with the lupin, but the greater numbers of the goblinoids and the unwillingness of the lupin to engage in outright war led to quick goblinoid domination of the region.

Unfortunately, the assumption that no outside race would choose to meddle in the affairs of the marshes wasn't entirely correct. The draconic kingdoms of the Wyrmsteeth mountains to the east quickly noticed the goblinoid infestation, and though they were unconcerned in general - a few slimy humanoids, against an entire flight of dragons? - a few chose to take advantage of the opportunity. Some tribes were coerced outright into serving a dragon's will; other dragons chose to use the goblinoids as breeding stock to create a new servitor race. Unfortunately, the breeding experiments backfired - goblinoids, so recently descended from the endlessly morphic 'Beastman' ur-race, didn't take well to having their bodies reshaped, and the dragons' would-be servants ended up possessing half a hundred different forms and being effectively uncontrollable. Elders of the Wyrmsteeth dragons ordered that all further experiments be halted, but not before the alien, cunning scaled kin had come to the Marshes.

The intrusion of the dragons had one other effect - draconic language, customs, and some sense of civilisation had come to the Marshes. A few goblinoid chieftains began to try and organise military formations and tribal federations; history and lore began to be recorded in written form. This stumbling, unguided effort to build a civilisation from the ground up continued for centuries at only a snail's pace, and might still be striking forward aimlessly today had it not been for the coming of one man - the warrior Maggorath.

Maggorath was a human from the southlands, with a shadowy past and a habit of ruthless efficiency. He arrived in the Marshes some eight hundred years ago, leading a small army of adventurers, mercenaries and landless wanderers, and surprised and conquered many of the southern goblinoid tribes. These goblinoids were used as the nucleus of a new army stretching ever northwards, subjugating and indoctrinating every tribe encountered, until over the course of twenty years Maggorath was the undisputed ruler of the Marshes. Maggorath and his allies force-fed civilisation onto the goblinoids, built cities and citadels on the edges of the marshlands, concluded treaties with the lupin as well as the King of Denagoth to the south, and did their best to build a realm that would last.

Some might call Maggorath a brutal and pitiless tyrant, building a empire of savages with the brand and lash. Others could just as easily call him a visionary, extending the fruits of civilisation to a bunch of ignorant barbarians who had no sense of the larger world or the benefits of technology and culture. Whatever one's view of Maggorath's motives, his accomplishments are undeniable - his realm persisted, under his own rule and that of his heirs, for more than six hundred years. Goblinoid energy and stubbornness were shaped and channelled by the humans in the nation's ruling class, and in one of the most remote and inhospitable places on Mystara a mighty nation flourished.

It couldn't last, of course. The humans of Maggorath were too few to remain in control, and the new nation had almost no trading partners - the Denagothians whenever they weren't being paranoid and isolationist, the Wendarians whenever they weren't being prejudiced towards goblins, and the halflings of Norwold only when someone dared pass over the Iceteeth mountain range. Whether more frequent contact could have saved Maggorath, by ensuring a continued influx of human advisers or by civilising the goblinoid underclass more quickly, will never be known. Two hundred and fifty years ago, the last king of Maggorath was murdered by an ambitious guard-captain, and the nation collapsed in a flurry of civil wars and tribal bloodshed.

The Marshes of Maggorath have been in a state of near-barbarism since that time. The goblinoids and scaled kin war over control of the marshlands themselves; the lupin have retreated to their hills, and hold them through woods lore and cunning rather than treaties and offered wisdom. Monsters continue to breed in dark corners of the land where no one can hunt them down. The cities of Maggorath have fallen into ruin, inhabited by dark creatures; they are mostly avoided by the superstitious natives of the land. Legends still persist of the lost 'Golden Age' when all lived in unity, and a few of the bolder chieftains seek to recreate the fallen Empire with themselves at its head, but lack the tools needed to do so. The future of the region is bleak and uncertain.

What will adventurers do in the Marshes? Dicker with its people, loot its ruins, and move on? Seek out the ancient secrets of the lupin, or search for the origin of the alien scaled kin? Work towards the nigh-impossible task of resurrecting the lost kingdom of Maggorath, or keeping some villain from remaking the kingdom in his own twisted image? The possibilities are endless...