Vault and Valley (new setting idea)


A new setting is brewing in my head. It is much smaller than Barbarian Conqueror King, and far more "traditional" in D&D terms.
This is a "micro" setting. Its focus is a mid-sized dungeon which was once a dwarven Vault owned by a Duke (or whatever a dwarven Duke-equivalent is called) on the Borderlands of a dwarven realm. The dwarven realm fell, or at least greatly shrunk in size; the Vault fell and the Duchy became uninhabited Wilderness. I am not sure yet about the exact reasons for its fall, but I do tend to have an Aboleth involved in this.
According to the core rulebook, this means a value of approximately 115,000gp for the stronghold, at least 75% of it are underground. That will give me exact measurement for the dungeon in 10'x10' squares!
The Vault also had mines both beneath and around it. Probably mining iron, but I might make that gold. There are natural caves beneath the mines with nasty things in the bottom ones (which are probably flooded).
After a century and a half, human settlers arrived in the nearby valley which was once the dwarven Duke's domain, led by a petty nobleman who became the new village's Castellan. He belongs to the Empire, but the Empire is weak and crumbling, and the Emperor rules this village in name only - in practice, the Castellan is loyal only to the local Tribune. No Imperial Legionnaires seen in these parts for decades, if not centuries.
Seventy years later, the current Barony, ruled by the original Castellan's grand-grandson, is still Wilderness - even the Tribune's castle stands on Borderlands. The Castellan rules over 150 peasant families. As the area is risky, slightly more than half of these - 80 families - huddle close to the Castellan's stronghold in a small village (Class-VI Market). Most are miners working in a few reclaimed mines, others raise sheep or barley.
The Castellan has a powerful stronghold for his title - at 30,000gp - as he rules a Wilderness domain of about one 6-mile hex. This includes a small tower, some walls, a gatehouse, and a courtyard with several buildings, build on a local hill.
The ruined dwarven Vault is in the next 6-mile hex to that of the Castellan's seat and village.
The current Castellan - a Lawful level 4 Fighter - is young and inexperienced. For one reason or another (I haven't decided yet), he was enthroned rather than his older sister who was exiled (or fled?). He is not a bad man himself, but is not very competent as a ruler and is being manipulated by a court official (a wizard? secret Chaos cultist?) and things in the village are not very good.
There are various monstrous threats to the village, not least of which are lizard-men and goblins. Lizard-men - typically primitive and Neutral - have dwelled in a nearby swamp for eons, and once paid tribute to the dwarven rulers. Since very recently, there is a second tribe of Lizardmen, which hails from the ruined Vault (as do the goblins - the two tribes are in constant war over the upper levels of the Vault). This new tribe, unlike its swamp-dwelling cousins, is surprisingly well-organized and equipped with far better equipment than anything usually seen in the hands of lizard-men (they had advice and help from the Aboleth, whom they worship as a god). They are slowly winning their war against the goblins and are also raiding human settlements from time to time.
Another threat is that of the bandits, led by the legendary Bandit Queen - who is somewhat of a folk heroine. The common story whispered among peasants, is that she fights for the common man and will eventually oust the current Castellan and his advisor, to install herself as a just ruler over the village.
She is, in fact, the Castellan's older sister - a Lawful level 5 Explorer - who slowly builds her power towards a comeback for revenge and for claiming what she sees as justly her own...

So factions are:

1. Castellan - young man, inexperienced and not very clever. A tough warrior nonetheless. Manipulated by "a power behind the throne". Wants to stay in power at his stronghold. Has a stronghold and men-at-arms at his disposal, as well as having a (nominal) patron in his distant liege lord and being the "legitimate ruler". Lawful. Possibly slowly manipulated by Chaos.

2. Bandit Queen - Castellan's older sister. Smart, quite ruthless. Thinks that the end justified the means. Not a bad person, but might become a strict ruler. Wants to take over the stronghold and oust her younger brother. Has a gang of bandits and rebels at her disposal. Has a good reputation (as a legend) among the peasantry. Lawful.

3. Swamp Lizard-men - the old Lizard Tribe. Have lived there for eons. Technologically primitive. Spend most of the time fishing and hunting in the swamp. Sometimes raid human settlements or trade with them. Want to be left alone, at most rob a few villagers and/or trade with stronger humans. Want the Lizard Cult dead. Have a good number of tough warriors at their disposal. Neutral to the hilt.

4. Lizard Cult (or New Tribe) - lizard-men "uplifted" by their "Deep God" - the Aboleth. Well-organized and well-equipped. Want to take over the Swamp from their primitive relatives, and conquer the Vault from the goblins. Also viciously raid human settlements for sacrificial victims and loot. Are a strong military force with alchemical support. Monstrously Chaotic.

5. Goblin King - the older ruler of the Vault's upper levels. Once a menace to the local human population. Wants to stuff his face and belly with cakes all day, as all goblin kings do (and with the sweet flesh of captives), but first he has to get rid of the Lizard Cult, which is slowly winning the war against him. Would also love to raid human settlements. Has many goblinoids at his disposal. Chaotic.

6. Aboleth - the "Deep God". Lives in a cavern deep beneath the Vault. Highly intelligent and scheming. Wants to spread ןאד influence and Chaos itself and slowly corrupt and take over the region. Has Skum at his disposal, as well as toad-men and the lizard-cult - and is a horribly powerful monster itself. Totally Chaotic.

Note that it should be possible for PCs to parlay with each faction, at least in certain circumstances. Chaotic PCs should definitely be able to strike a deal with the Aboleth!

This sounds like a fun adventure! I don't know if, in my notes, I'd have the lizard cult and the aboleth as seperate "factions" given that their goals are more or less wholly aligned and one is a resource of the other. 

Wow, that's a splendid micro-setting - I dig it! I love how you've built it bottom-up from game assumptions, too. 


The Lizard Cult and the Aboleth indeed share the same overall goal, but their shorter-term goals and methods are different. The Aboleth also has tentacles in more pies in addition to the Lizard Cult.

Alex - thank you for your kind words!

I think that the ACKS mechanics do inspire such things. They make it easier to build a consistent, plausible setting...

(by the way, how do dwarven noble titles work? ACKS only shows human and elven)


Alex - thank you for your kind words!

I think that the ACKS mechanics do inspire such things. They make it easier to build a consistent, plausible setting...

(by the way, how do dwarven noble titles work? ACKS only shows human and elven)

[/quote] The Committee of Dwarf Safety sent all the nobles to the guillotine.

Well, except for the Vampire Mayor that has been integrated into the very bones of the city, enmeshed in the Lever Room where he toils in darkness managing the drawbridges and spike traps. 

Just do "born in the purple" for the Castellan being put onto the throne. He was born after his parents ascended the throne whereas his sister was born before. (Worried I've seen this here and I'm regurgitating it, though.)

Sounds really good all round, though.


Below are high-level NPCs and monsters in the Oathbridge region (the name I gave this valley's village). Note that these are faction leaders; some are dungeon level-bosses. Most creatures in this mini-setting are much lower in level and power.
*The Deep God*
The most powerful creature is the nameless Aboleth itself - an 8+2 HD monstrosity, bigger and nastier than the average Aboleth, and also capable of dark sorcery as a 7th level Mage. Also capable of magical research, potion creation, and magical item creation - perfect for rewarding underlings and enticing other people to serve this fish-god. It is, of course, Chaotic and very intelligent. Its goal is to spread its dark influence across the land, gain power, and control as many minions as possible.
*Swamp Lizardmen*
Bleeding Talon, the Lizard Chief, is at 6+2 HD. He is a huge, fat lizardman who rules the Swamp like his ancestors did from time immemorial. He occasionally leads his warriors to raid human settlements or ambush caravans, but for the most part, he is content to stay in his village, eat fish, and mate with as many females as possible. Primitive and savage, but not evil or sadistic. Wants to get rid of the Lizard Cult. Neutral.
Burning Eye, the Lizard Shaman, is at 4+1 HD with level 3 Clerical abilities. He is as savage as his king, but wiser. He leads the lizardman religious activity - worship of totems and idols in the swamp. He knows the value of magical items and will hoard any such item he can get his claws on. Harbors burning hatred for the Lizard Cult. Neutral.
*Lizard Cult*
The Lizard Pontifex, who has long abandoned his lizardman name, is at 5+3 HD with level 5 Mage abilities. Rapidly evolved by Aboleth alchemical methods, he is a genius in lizardman terms (around INT 12). He built the Lizard Cult into a force to be reckoned with, equipped with advanced equipment looted from humans and organized into an effective military unit. He sacrifices captives to his God by throwing them down the well (which goes down into the Aboleth's lake). He is currently at war with the Goblins and Swamp Lizardmen. Communes with his God telepathically and receives gifts through his Emissaries (the Skum). Chaotic
"Tyrannus" is a monster - a 6+1 HD giant lizardman alchemically manipulated by the Aboleth. He is the cult's champion; as dumb as a rock but as tough as a mountain. Easily controlled by the much smarter Pontifex. His bite is venomous, and he wields a massive warhammer looted from the Dwarven ruins; the Dwarves built this weapon for two-handed use, but such a huge reptiloid can hold both it and a massive iron shield. Chaotic.
The Goblin King Burguk is at 4 HD - stronger than most goblin chieftains. He used to terrorize the countryside with his goblin warbands, but now the Lizard Cult has inflicted a painful toll on the goblins - only two Warbands remain. Wants to stuff his face and belly with cakes and humanoid flesh all day, as all goblin kings do, but first he has to get rid of the Lizard Cult. Chaotic.
The Goblin Shaman Nazal is at 1+1 HD, but has level 3 Clerical abilities. He wishes to sacrifice captives to the dark goblin spirits, but before that, he wants to rid the goblin tribe of the Lizard Cult threat. He will begrudgingly agree to parlay even with non-Chaotic characters if that furthers the end of combatting the Lizard Cult. Chaotic.
The Goblin Witch Urinn is at 1 HD, but has Mage abilities at level 4. She is smarter and meaner than other goblins - and even literate - and has interest in magical research. She will torture captured spellcasters to learn Arcane secrets, but will also trade in magical items and lore with strong characters she knows she could not subdue. Chaotic.
Castellan Edmund of Oathbridge, the local ruler, is a level 4 Fighter. He is a capable warrior, but he 22 years old and a mere five years on the throne and is not a good ruler, even though he does try to manage his manor fairly. The matters of state do not come as easy to this young man as warfare does. He prefers to spend his time hunting or sparring rather than deal with the boring and difficult burden of managing his domain. Instead, he lets Gregory, his manipulative majordomo and court wizard, run things. Lawful.
Gregory of Zabreba, the Castellan's majordomo and court wizard, is a level 4 Mage. Older and far more experienced than Castellan Edmund, he Oathbridge's actual ruler. This manipulative politician used his keen knowledge of the archaic and often contradictory law of the dying Empire to install Edmund on the manor's throne instead of his older, smarter sister Rowena, when their father died. This way he could get the power into his hands and also insert his fingers into the manor's coffers. He acts as a tyrant in any way he can get away with without coming into conflict with Edmund. He is Neutral, but the Aboleth is now working on further corrupting this corrupt courtier and turning him Chaotic.
The Bandit Queen is a legendary figure of peasant folklore. Stories about her surfaced a mere few years ago, but now she is a central figure in tall tales and rumor-mongering. She fights, or so the peasant story goes, to overthrow the tyranny of Edmund and Zabreba and institute justice in Oathbridge. "Justice" usually means, in such stories, a major reduction of the extortion taxes levied by Gregory, as well as hanging this rascal and his bully of a Sherriff, Boris. Some even say that she will give serfs their freedom and turn everyone into freeholders. In reality, she is Rowena, Castellan Edmund's older sister. This woman, at the age of 31, is a level 5 Explorer. She is smart, and she also believes that the end always justifies the means and can be quite ruthless. Enraged that her young and inept brother Edmund got the throne, she is determined to take what is hers by the force of arms. For this, she is gathering an army of bandits and rebels to eventually assault Oathbridge, takes its fort, and overthrow her brother. Once enthroned, she will rule with an even hand, but also with an iron fist. Lawful.
Armand the Quick, Oathbridge's chief criminal, is a level 4 Thief, leading a gang of 16 thieves, himself included. His income includes all sorts of petty village crime, burglary in this valley and the surrounding areas, some gambling at the Snoring Dwarf tavern, and other mischief - and also waylaying travelers on the road, in collaboration with the Bandit Queen. He is not an evil man; he is in for the gold. The Bandit Queen is powerful and working with her pays off, so Armand works with her for the time being. He knows very well, though, that if he will be uncareful, he will hang once she takes the throne. Neutral.
Father Frederick, Priest of the Invincible Sun and Oathbridge's religious authority, is a level 3 Cleric. He is a very old, very devout man who has served in his holy post for the past fifty years. He has the villagers' respect but is well-known for being very careful and reserved with magical aid; he does not use his spells lightly and will reject such offer and the accompanying tithe if he suspects that this will serve a questionable purpose. Lawful.
Mother Larissa, the Forest Witch, is a level 5 Cleric of the ancient nature-goddess Marzanna. Peasants whisper dark stories about Mother Larissa, such as that she can turn insolent people into toads (which is correct - she has such a spell in her repertoire), or that she performs blood-rites deep in the woods. There is a certain streak of malice in this old woman, especially when angered, but she is not a villain. Despite her ominous reputation, villagers often consult with her, as she sells effective potions and salves. She also casts magic on behalf of any who pays her with little questions asked, unlike Father Frederick. Even the Swamp Lizardmen respect her, as they know her power very well; they occasionally trade with her as well. She has an enormous number of toads and frogs in and around her garden and has domesticated a giant toad as a guard animal. Neutral.