Greyhawk 636 CY: The Rise of Asmodeus
Von Slythe's Domain
The Von Slythe’s Domain
Situated just west of the Grandwood and north of the Mikar River in Ahlissa, the Von Slythe’s domain was known to be a pocket of safety and stability even during upheaval in the Great Kingdom. Using a combination of influence, excellent negotiation skills and well plied favors, the Von Slythes kept their lands relatively free from outside control. Which, in turn, kept their people free from the horrors perpetrated by the rulers of house Naelax. Backed by their loyal and just vassals, the Stalwarths, their lands were considered a slice of good-aligned territory in a sea of chaos and evil. While the citizens were well aware that the Von Slythes smuggled clerics of Pholtus and Knight Protectors into the Grandwood, Rel Astra, and even to Nyrond, they were stubbornly closed-mouthed and the Overkings never seemed to get word.
After the disaster at Rauxes and the dissolution of the Great Kingdom, things remained largely the same for the people. Taxes were reasonable and steady, bandits avoided the roads lest they tangle with the resident paladins, and trade through the Grandwood to the coast was profitable. The betrothal of Wilhelmina Stalwarth and Jaquard Von Slythe meant the two families would cement their ties through marriage, and the future lord of the Von Slythes was popular in his easy manner and accessibility. While the rest of the kingdom of Ahlissa seemed to suffer, the people of the Von Slythe’s lands prospered.
Referred to as “the event” or “that day” by the citizens, everything changed in a single afternoon. The destruction of the Von Slythe’s and their castle, the revelation of their true nature, the blighting of the land, and the death of the majority of the Stalwarth family caused a cascade of upheaval. Their righteous protectors put a stop to what could have been a much worse catastrophe, but left the people without their benevolent guardians. The evil energies left behind tainted the crops and eventually gave rise to bizarre undead and strangely mutated wildlife. Without their powerful rulers to protect them from the other nobility, the future seemed very bleak indeed.
Nine years on, the Von Slythe’s lands are a much different place, barren of hope and struggling to survive. The mighty castle is a ruins that even brave adventurers turn back from, and the Stalwarth’s proud manor stands abandoned, having been stripped of its ancestral wealth to fund the upkeep of the populace. The Stalwarths seized the Von Slythe’s assets and claimed administrative control over the area in an effort to generate some stability and delay the inevitable appropriation by another powerful house. So far no one has stepped forward, but the location has tempted many.
Every year, more of the people leave and the population is only a third of what it had been. The remains of the Stalwarths do their best to protect all who stay behind and have taken over the stewardship of the local church of Heironeous. The roads grow cracked and worn and the fields lay empty of crops. The majestic cathedral of Heironeous is mostly unused and boarded up while the grounds have become overgrown. In the towns, many buildings are abandoned, slowly decaying without anyone to tend them. Those steadfast folk who remain are hardened by experience and distrustful of strangers who seem to want nothing but to pick through the remains of their once great homeland. Their faith in the Stalwarths is perhaps the only thing that is undiminished.
Despite the overwhelming sense of inexorable decline, the locals support one another with an impressive determination. Celebrations, while few, are as raucous and fervent as can be found anywhere in the Flanaess. Even while the former lands of the Great Kingdom fester with evil, these people hold fast to their beliefs in good and law. They are fiercely independent and hold the Overkings of Ahlissa and North Kingdom in great disdain. If an outsider can gain their trust, they will find no finer and more unwavering allies. These people, while disinclined to favor strangers, still offer their hospitality when they can. More often, however, they offer advice to travelers on how to safely navigate the area. And they tell every newcomer to stay well away from the castle.
The Von Slythe’s Castle lies to the south of the main villages. This seclusion prevented more casualties from being suffered, but also offered the family the freedom that allowed their more nefarious activities. Now it is a ruin. Nothing but low brush and gnarled, diseased trees grow in the area. The castle was literally blasted apart, with immense and ancient stones tossed like leaves by the wind. These stones are oddly brittle now and crumble with a touch. The courtyard bears scorch marks from the battle that took place and deeply scored marks in the flagstones have caused speculation that some sort of tremendous clawed beasts may have been present. This place is cloaked in suffocating ill ease that seems to only grow stronger as the years pass. Those who originally came to look for survivors and found themselves collecting only pieces of the dead swear it was not so oppressive a sensation when they were there. Adam and Tobias Stalwarth will occasionally accompany more determined adventurers to the site, but mostly to take bets on how close they will get before the guests decide to turn back. As of yet, no one has actually stayed to search the castle grounds since the day after the catastrophe.
A half hour leisurely ride from Castle Von Slythe is the Stalwarth Manor. Once a bustling estate, it stands completely abandoned and nearly stripped entirely of its former marvelous appointments. Having stood guard for hundreds of years, it seems to exude a sad aura of fallen glory. The locals do not shun this location as they do the castle, and children sometimes play in and and around the site. The adults find such behavior unseemly and disrespectful to the family that sacrificed so much for them. The Stalwarths seem not to mind, however. The shell of the place is still in remarkably good condition and remains sturdy and safe. A rather impressive tree fort can be found on the grounds in a tremendous old oak tree. This is a favorite spot for the local children to steal away from their parents and gather in “secret.” The parents, in turn, know that the place is quite safe and guarded by holy magics designed to keep young ones protected from harm. The fort was constructed by Alfred and Touma Stalwarth in their youth and was fortified to be a place for their children to play. The remaining Stalwarths live in the nearest town of Guardholme.
Guardholme is the largest town in the surrounding area. Many of the smaller villages have been completely abandoned with the remaining folk moving into Guardholme for safety. Nearly a third of the town is derelict and uninhabited. The buildings collapse with distressing frequency, but no one has the funds or desire to maintain them. The roads through the town are rough at best and dangerous at worst. Townsfolk rarely travel very far until they decide to leave for good. Only the town square is in good repair. The cobblestones here are in good shape, and it is the site of all major celebrations. Though the large fountain no longer operates, the local masons tend to it frequently to prevent it from falling completely apart.
The General Store is run by Touma Stalwarth and has become something of a hotspot in the area. It stands off the main square. His prices are reasonable, and he is exceptionally fair in his dealings. Everyone purchases their goods through him, partly to show their support for his family. Visitors are always encouraged to buy supplies there since they will find little else in the area. It also is the best place to go to hear the latest gossip and serves as a convenient landmark and meeting place. Touma lives in the apartment above his store.
At the edge of town is the once magnificent Cathedral of Heironeous. He is the most popular god amongst the folk and they still regularly attend services and offer tithes. Due to the steady decline of the population, the church no longer can afford to support all its staff and many duties have passed to volunteers. The unused portions have been sealed off as best they can. Since the local inn keeper passed on, the church has become the only place for guests to stay unless they are friendly with the locals. The old high priest of Heironeous has grown slightly senile and will likely retire soon. He has already left nearly all this duties in the capable hands of Thereca Stalwarth who, despite her young age, shows great wisdom and a kind disposition. She, her brothers Tobias and Adam, and cousin Wilhelmina all stay at the church to assist and to take as much of the burden of maintaining the place as they can.
Image 1: “Fog in the Dawn” by Andreas Rocha