I’ve had to pause work on Hightop Dungeon for the moment due to taking on several new commissions as well as preparing to move to a new home. However in the meantime here is a guide to the Isles of Mist which I presented my players upon beginning our new campaign. Much of the content borrows directly from the Isles of Mist adventure. Some of the content touches on details of my campaign setting beyond the Isles. However some of it also further explores aspects of the Isles and its peoples not mentioned in the adventure. As always, feel free to change or adapt anything you find here to suit the needs of your campaign.
Inside an icy fjord on the edge of civilization sit the Isles of mist. The islands are home to hearty fishermen and herders, as well as a population of giants in decline. Yet the myriad ruined cities, strange monuments and burial grounds scattered about the land bear witness to an illustrious past.
Little is known about the former inhabitants of the isles. Legend has it they were powerful magi that tempted the fates and were cursed to eternal death without rest. It is also rumored in dark taverns that the islands are a haven to pirates.
Welcome to the Islands, a frostbitten wilderness full of mystery and danger. The Isles of Mist are aptly named. Throughout most of the year the Isles are shrouded in precipitation and dense fog. The growing season is short this far North. One can find farms and orchards here and there, but most folks on the Isles either fish or herd sheep. There are three main Islands.
The Isle of Thild
Thild is the largest and most well settled of the Isles of Mist. The lowlands contain a mixture of grasslands and forests. Human settlements are scattered around the coast, with the majority located near Thild city, the Isle’s political center. The city boasts small pockets of elves, dwarves and mixed breeds, but few other non-humans live in the other towns and villages on the Isle.
The grasslands are however home to a small tribe of halforc barbarians that migrated here from the mainland. The barbarians are nomadic and feared and hated by the human populations, whose villages they regularly plunder.
Felknor woods have been infested with giant spiders for as long as the Veskarans have dwelt on the Isle. Few save the loggers of Swiftriver village enter these woods.
Ovrass forest is an enchanted realm, home to a myriad fae and magical creatures. The gnomes of the forest are well known for being skilled artisans in all wood crafts. They make the best stringed instruments in all of Veskar. The forest is patrolled by a small group of rangers.
Arram forest was once like Ovrass forest, full of fae and magical creatures. Yet for unknown reasons the forests has recently turned into a dark and twisted place, full or dangerous beasts.
The Highlands are a series of high moors in the center of the Isle. Only a hearty few sheep herders have settled within this rugged territory. This region is still largely under the control of the Gremfedel Hill Giants who rule over the ogres dwelling there. The ruins of a prominent Taldic city rest in the foothills of the Highlands.
The Island of Kir
Kir is largely uninhabited, save for a single small village of goat herders and fisherman. A few giants and other creatures also dwell upon the Isle. The remains of Taldic civilization hint at a time when the Isle was far more prominent.
The Island of the Dead
The Island of the dead is so named because the largest necropolis on the Isles lies here. It was here also that the dead arose from their grave to slay the gnolls that sought to steal their magic. Today the isle is inhabited only by humans. The incredibly wealthy Skelbar family claims the Isle as their fiefdom. They run the only legitimate establishment on the Isle, the Grey Harbor Inn.
A Brief History
What little is known of the history of this region is simply this: centuries ago powerful mage lords ruled the land in a loosely knit alliance of city states. In those days the Isles were known as the Thildish Isles and several of the Taldic city states stood upon their rocky shores.
How and why this civilization met its end is a mystery. When human longboats from the West arrived on the shores of modern day Veskar they found the crumbling cities overrun with hordes of barbarians. Since their arrival the Western humans have conquered and resettled the land.
For many years the Isles were believed to be cursed and the Westerners avoided them. Pirates took advantage of this and built havens there. Only within the last century have humans once more begun to settle upon the isles.
When humans eventually began re-colonizing the isles they discovered them to be infested with gnolls devoted to an evil deity. Many of these had already perished at the hands of the undead whose tombs they sought to plunder, and the rest were killed or driven away. Beyond these the Isles were found to be home to a small band of halforc barbarians, an ancient clan of hill giants, and a small society of wood elves.
Life & Society
The Isles are a small region of a vast Northern expanse renowned for its harsh environment, its treacherous seas and bitter winters. Only the most intrepid manage to survive in these lands.
The only notable civilization of the north is Veskar, a series of jarldoms that emerged with the arrival of humans from the West. Veskarans are sea-farers. For much of their history they were fierce raiders whose longboats spread terror in the West. Yet upon discovering the riches of former Taldir the Veskarans settled here.
Veskaran society is rigidly hierarchical and authoritarian. Each town and village answers to a chief, who in turn answers to a jarl who rules a region. Historically a chief was the captain of a jarl’s fleet. Yet, due to their new administrative role, many chiefs delegate this task to trusted men-at-arms. The rest of society is composed of those who sail and fight in the jarl’s fleet, and those who feed them. In recent generations a bourgeoning class of artisans and merchants has also arisen in the larger settlements. Adventurers have also emerged to explore the ruins of Taldir.
Races on the Isles
Most humans on the isles are Veskaran. Though not native to the north, since their arrival some centuries back the Veskaran have been quick to adapt, and have rebuilt many of the Taldic cities. As a society they value strength and honor, and are the finest sailors of the northern lands. The Veskaran are a handsome people of average height with dark brown hair and blue or grey eyes. They tend to dress in leather and woolen clothing in hues of dark greens, blues and greys.
There are however many humans on the Isles whose lineage springs from the native barbarian tribes. The largest of these is tribe Nalmur. The Nalmur are a fierce and adaptable people. They value strength and ingenuity. They tend to have large muscular frames, fair skin, blond or red hair and blue or green eyes. The Nalmur have embraced many of the customs and dress of the Veskaran, but continue to dawn the fur coats of Elk warn by their ancestors.
A scant few on the Isles trace their bloodlines back to the Taldic Magocracy of yore. Though they have adopted the customs of the Nalmur, and later, the Veskaran, these individuals can be identified by their distinctive long, angular features and coal black eyes.
There are no native dwarves on the Isles. Those few that can be found are craftsman or warriors who have migrated there. Dwarven civilization in the north all but ended a millennium and a half ago during the War of the Damned when their massive alpine kingdom of Ondroth was raised. Now only a few Dwarven strongholds still exist, the largest of which, Hulgran’s Keep, sits many, many leagues west of the Isles.
A society of wood-elves known as the Keren lives deep within Ovrass forest. They have long guarded their realm against predation from gnolls, barbarians and giants, and are skilled in both sorcery and the art of the bow. They tend to be suspicious of the Veskarans. The Elves are tall, thin and pale, with jet black hair, grey-green colored eyes and striking features. They dress in ornately cut fabrics decorated in leaf patterns.
There are a handful of half-elves within the isles originating from the rare bonding of a wood elf with a human.
Most half-orcs on the isles belong to the Killfang barbarian tribe. There are a few halforcs living among the Veskarans, though these tend to be the objects of much fear and hatred.
Classes on the Isles
Veskarans pride themselves in the art of war. Though their pillaging days have come to a close, Veskarans continue to maintain a warrior tradition in order to protect their settlements from the northerland’s more dangerous denizens.
Half-orcs living amongst Veskarans are often drawn to the warrior’s path, due both to their biology and to a need to protect their own from bigotry. Dwarves who have migrated to the isles are also likely to take up the shield and axe.
Rogues are common within the port town of Thild, where almost anything can be bought or sold on the black market. Unsurprisingly most rogues in town are Veskaran. However some from among the ranks of the half-breed species have also managed to join their ranks.
Though the Taldic city states have perished from the earth, elements of their civilization live on. One such example is the presence of the Magi, the arcane successors of the former magocracy. The Magi are a society of sorcerers that have managed to preserve fragments of the spellcraft of Taldir. They are an independent faction in the northerlands, owing no allegiance to the jarls.
The Magi are not the only casters on the Isles. Veskaran sea witches are adept storm casters. Barbarians also have a role for spell-casting Shamen. The wood-elves have some of the most powerful magic users within the northern land.
Prior to the coming of the Veskaren, a host of competing barbarian tribes ruled the land. Some of these were orc. Many were human. Unions between orcs and humans were common. After years of battle, the largest of these tribes, the Nalmur, submitted themselves to the vassalage of the Veskaran. Over the years the bloodlines of the Nalmur and Veskarn have been mingled.
Other tribes were pushed back into the wilds of the north. Several tribes continue to roam the wilderness, pillaging Veskarn settlements. On the Island of Thild the Killfang is one such tribe.
A band of human and half-elf rangers known as the Grey Wardens patrols Ovrass forest. Every so often some among their ranks will set off in order to explore other regions of the Isles.
Traveling minstrels and storytellers have been known to visit the Isles from time to time, yet few have taken up permanent residence.
The Grey Wardens
To some the Wardens are heroes and protectors of the fae realm. To others they are little better than outlaws, or worse, terrorists. The Wardens are a band of Rangers three dozen strong. They were organized by Kylen Dred a little over two decades ago to protect Ovrass forest from the hunting raids of the Killfangs and the logging interests of surrounding townships.
They have won the respect of the Keren, and are among the few allowed into the Elven courts. They are also the sworn enemy of the Killfangs. Grey Wardens are identified by their distinctive grey-green cloaks. Their sigil is a grey hawk.
This small but fierce tribe of half-orcs roams the moors and lowlands of the Isle of Thild, hunting and raiding wherever they please. During their raids of local towns they often abduct women and small children to add to the number of their tribe. Over the years this has caused the tribe’s genetic pool to become gradually more human. The Killfangs dress in pelts and hides. They file their canines to points and have been known to bite their victims in battle.
The Skelbor Family
Is one of the most powerful, and certainly the wealthiest, families on the Isles. Though the family has no legal entitlements to it, they claim the Island of the dead as their own. Given their reputation as Necromancers and the fact that people aren’t exactly lining up to colonize the Isle, the family’s claims have gone unchallenged.
The family and their entourage dwell in a high stone keep off the western cliffs known as the Grey Harbor Inn. Those who wish to explore the Isle’s ruins and barrows are welcome, provided they pay a tax on all treasure collected.
The Gremfedel Dynasty
Not much is known about the belligerent Hill Giants that rule over the highlands. Their reign seems to have antedated the arrival of the gnolls to Thild. The Giants pay little head to the affairs of the lowlands, but they and their Ogre subjects are quick to violently repress any claim made upon their territory. Veskarans are permitted to let their herds roam the highlands provided they pay “rent” in the form of mutton for doing so.
One of the five terrors of the Veskaran Sea, this pirate ship has been known to frequent the Isles of Mist. Its captain, Kraken Jak claims the title of High Jarl of the seas, and forces all merchant vessels having the misfortune of running in with the Stormbreaker to pay tribute.
(In addition to the Players Guide, here are some notes I sketched out on a few key figures on the Isles which I did not include in the Guide).
Jarl Ivon Kaldrill
Is the melancholy ruler of the Isles. He dwells in the small but important trade port city of Thild. Kaldrill is a balding, heavyset man in his mid fifties. Years ago Kaldrill was a capable leader. However after the death of his wife and sons during an outbreak of brainworms some years ago, he began to drown his sorrows in a bottle. Though he sits on the throne it is widely known that it is his chief counselor Avrell Kord who sees to the day to day affairs of running the city.
Baron Fenton Skelbor
As the patriarch of the Skelbor family, Fenton is the most powerful man on the Isle of the Dead. Fenton is a tall stern man with the proud angular features indicative of Taldic heritage. His wife died several years back. Rumor has it that after her death Fenton reanimated her corpse.
The de facto leader of the Grey Wardens, Dred is a force to be reckoned with. The half-elf was born to the life of a Ranger. His father died in a skirmish with the Killfangs when he was a just a boy and the Keren took him in and raised him as one of their own. When he came of age Dred sought to organize the defense of Ovrass forest. He claims no title yet as the founder of the Grey Wardens other Rangers look to him for direction. Dred is always accompanied by Finre, a Grey hawk he has raised since she was a fledgling.
Tynerass, Huntress of the Wood
Is the most skilled Ranger-Mage on the Isles. Before the coming of the Grey Wardens she led the Keren’s border patrol. Many a fell beast met its end at the tip of her arrow. Currently she acts as diplomat between the Keren, the fey and the Veskaran. However outside of her official duties she often accompanies the Grey Wardens on forest patrols. Her romance with Kylen Dred is one of the worst kept secrets on the Isles.
Thwil is an aging Veskaran Sea Witch living out his retirement in a tower at the western base of the Thildish highlands. There he carries out odd arcane experiments. Local towns benefit from his arcane wonders. Thwil has a large hump-back and suffers from a degenerative disease that has left his body deformed. Yet he remains one of the most powerful sorcerers on the Isles.
Is chief of the Killflang tribe. He won his title after pummeling an ogre to death with his bare hands. Thalgor is large, even for a half-orc and has an incredibly violent disposition.
A PDF to this players Guide may be found here: The Isles of Mist Players Guide.