Let’s read (lite) Capital of the Borderlands

I recently finished reading Capital of the Borderlands (CotB), and first I’d like to congratulate the authors, Newton Grant and Alex Macris, and artists for a wonderful product!

I made a variety of notes I thought I’d share here. Thus, “Let’s read (lite) …” I won’t be discussing a 200+ page book in depth, but instead plan to hop through the book based on my notes. I have too many notes to post at one time, but I’ll try to add on as my time allows. You, of course, are welcome to add on any CotB discussion as you like.

First, two caveats. Obviously, S P O I L E R S A H E A D. Also, some of my notes regard things I may change when I use CotB in play. I do not intend this as criticism. I’m just both particular and an incorrigible tinkerer. Let’s begin.


I don’t remember when or why I started every campaign by giving each player one or more rumors, but in my experience doing so really adds to play. The many rumors in CotB are a welcome addition. Also, I like the reference to Loremastery for rumors as well as Knowledge (history) or Loremastery for knowledge of the “Adventurer’s Timeline of the Borderlands.”

Adventurer’s/Secret Timeline of the Borderlands

“Warlord Thrax menaces the civilized lands of Aurëpos until his defeat by Exarch Cincanus of Aura.”

I don’t remember mention of Thrax before, but this sounds like an interesting hook for more adventure. My immediate thought is of possibly placing in the Borderlands a 3.x adventure I remember being intriguing about a tomb of a hobgoblin warlord. After a search, it is The Lost Tomb of Kruk-Ma-Kali. I shudder to think how many years it’s been since I read that. I’ll have a looksee to determine if it still holds up, and let y’all know.

Also, on the tangentially related beastman settlements in the Waste, there may be some other sources for inspiration. My first thought is Midnight: Forge of Shadow. I’ve always liked a more serious take of The Orcs of Thar. Finally, Eberron has some references to humanoid and monster cities – I’d have to refresh my memories on these (although I remember Eberron orcs are not suitable for CotB).

“Satisfied that it has placed events on course for the Awakening, the Great Teacher enters cryostasis …”

The Great Teacher patiently corrupted a civilization over a M I L L E N I A. This is not a being that engages in combat unless victory is assured or it’s completely surprised.


Adding to the player starting knowledge comments above, I like the reference to each rank of Black Lore of Zahar, Bright Lore of Aura, Knowledge (history) or Loremastery for knowledge of an event from the Secret Timeline of the Borderlands.

The Waste

“The upland home of the ancient Zaharans has been reduced to barren scrub. Unlike the Great Waste that it joins to the south, the Zaharan Waste is a barrens, not a desert. Rain falls all year long here, and the plateau was once a lush forest much like the Istrith. The forests were cut down to create vast plantations where slaves toiled for the benefit of their Thrassian and Zaharan masters. During the Empyrean War the plantations were burned and despoiled by the vengeful Aurans. Now wind and rain have swept the soil east to the sea, transforming the uplands into a wind-swept barrens of exposed and eroded bedrock, gnarled and lonely trees, and thorny shrubs. Shattered statues, crumbled ruins, ancient irrigation works, and broken walls dot the landscape, reminders that this was once the cradle of civilization in the east.”

Awesome, inspiring description of a region. Like the earlier mention of Warlord Thrax, this is new information to me on the Auran Empire Campaign Setting (AECS), and an interesting hook for more adventure. I should mention this area is probably not a focus for most CotB campaigns (although CotB gives us reasons it could be). I envision a cross between the Wilderlands of The Hobbit and Mad Max. Also, a spectral plantation forever caught in the Zaharan overthrow of their Thrassian masters.

The Forts

I love the brief insights into each fort’s commanding officer.

“Türos Veren serves as a good base for adventurers who wish to explore the Istrith because of the daily ferries to and fro across the Krysivor.”

This location reminds me of classic adventures set near a river, such as B5 Horror on the Hill.

Burial Mound of the Empyreans

“Here, rising from the wind-swept grasslands, are burial mounds from the time of the Empyrean War, weathered standing stones marking each grave site. One barrow, the largest, is actually accessible through wind-hammered stone doors on the side of the mound. It is the barrow of Valerian, war-chief of the Empyreans. Azendor protected his friend’s barrow with an ancient ward meant to shield the remains within from the vengeance of Chaos. Tragically, a traitorous priest in league with Zahar laid a curse upon the mound just before it was sealed. Since then, the souls within have lingered in eternal torment, trapped by the very ward meant to protect them.”

I am heartbroken!! The greatest hero of the setting cursed by undeath!

But I have questions …

Why was Valerian’s soul not freed by cremation? [The Cthonic priest in the back says “See! They lie!”] (I’ll return to Empyrean funeral traditions later.) Is Valerian a Dread Wight? A Deathbound Wraith? An ever burning creature of shadow and flame? Does the Lord of Secrets know Valerian’s fate? These two should meet …

A very interesting read. Thank you!

Thank you golan2072!


One more question related to Valerian: where is Valerian’s half-brother Suhgurim’s grave? Or what manner of undead has he become?

After reading the summaries in Districts of Cyfaraun and Organizations of Cyfaraun, I decided to jump ahead in the book to the detailed district chapters.

First up, the Old District followed by the Festival District. These two districts are likely to be the center of adventure in Cyfaraun, especially if CotB is being used with Secrets of the Nethercity (SotN). Thieves guilds, gladiatorial schools, wererats, doppelgangers and lizardmen … Oh my! Adventurers searching for the Nethercity will be challenged to avoid conflict with one or many of these groups.

Beyond the location-based encounters possible in each district, the District Special Encounters (and City Encounters) really breathe life into the city.

Since I began running ACKS, I’ve looked forward to a product describing two opposing thieves guilds in a city, for players to blunder into or take advantage of, a la A Fistful of Dollars. CotB provides the Argollëan Family Syndicate of the Old District and the Sand & Bones Guild of the Festival District. Additionally, the Argollëan Family holdings include a venture company with attendant mercenary guards, while Sand & Bones buoys its criminal enterprise with all things gladiatorial, sanctioned and unsanctioned.

Details and rosters are presented for both guilds, which could be tweaked or re-skinned for other settings. A possible typo: the Sand & Bones Membership table is missing a Venturer 6, Thana Nyssand.

I’d like to selectively substitute Heroic Fantasy Handbook Freebooters in both organizations. Also, there are a number of Bards in both organizations. I’m inclined to tweak both organizations’ Bards to a mix of Bards, Axioms Noncombatant Characters, and maybe something new in between. Or maybe a Bard with “paths”.

Regarding the Festival District map, the placement of locations 23 Gladiatorial School of Maximus Arjentüran and 26 Sand & Bones Warehouses seems awkward given the location of the beastmen gladiators beneath 20 Imperial Ampitheater and the location of 27 Festival Wharf. Maximus’ school could be a smaller building closer to the arena, almost a “front” but at least convenient to the gladiatorial school staff. Then, 23 could be some combination of warehouse and riverside estate/ headquarters for Sand & Bones (perhaps). 23’s nearness to the center bridge is interesting … there’s a hook for adventure there somewhere. Perhaps an assassination attempt.

I want to change the detail map for 25 The Silk Pony Inn. The building’s exterior shape and adjacency to the outer wall are intriguing. I once played in a campaign described as “D&D Miami Vice”. Add a little James Bond villain’s lair, and that’s what I want for the Silk Pony. I see a multilevel open structure (with the existing numbered locations moved around within): a middle entrance level with seating and suites around the edges, with amphitheater styling, an upper level with more suite seating and balconies leading to bedrooms (one bed per room; these are not for sleeping), and a lower level with games of chance (or blood sports on selected nights). The stables move across the street to a carriage house and stables. (I envision the Silk Pony entertains up and coming ne’er do wells, including adventurers, and rambunctious young nobles who may arrive via carriage.) There’s opportunity for access under the wall, but I’m not sure what I want to do with that.

And a final note for this update. At this point in the book we’ve seen a couple of menus and assorted foodstuff.

What is fish sauce, and why is it added to dishes other than fish?!

This is probably the inspiration for the fish sauce:


[quote="CharlesDM"] "Satisfied that it has placed events on course for the Awakening, the Great Teacher enters cryostasis ..." The Great Teacher patiently corrupted a civilization over a M I L L E N I A. This is not a being that engages in combat unless victory is assured or it’s completely surprised. [/quote]

[spoilers for secrets of the nethercity]

When I skimmed through Secrets of the Nethercity, I was pretty disappointed by its treatment of the Great Teacher. There's a reasonable chance that it will not wake up prior to the PCs opening up the door to T2: The Secret Alien Sepulchre, at which point it will be trapped in a 10' x 10' room with a bunch of heavily armed adventurers. Kind of a letdown, especially compared to the Lady Below in Sinister Stone of Sakkara. If the Great Teacher happens to survive (either through lucky rolls or by being activated beforehand by room F17), there's no real guidance on what its immediate actions or goals would be, either.