The Eternal Forest
Founding of Wulfstead:
Over three thousand years ago, the North was inhabited by a collection of wild barbarian tribes that ravaged and raided any humans who dared settle the Northern lands. These tribes constantly fought with other humans, as well as with themselves, and chaos reigned. This lifestyle continued until the great frost dragon Numinox invaded from beyond the Northern mountains, its’ armies of frost monsters descending into the Northern valleys. It was then that the barbarians united for the first time, naming their greatest warrior as their king. His name was Randulf, and by his side was an enormous Winter Wolf as big as a small horse. The barbarians made an alliance with the dwarves and together they defeated and killed Numinox.
The Kings of Winter:
Randulf was proclaimed the first King of Winter, and made peace with the southern humans and the dwarf lords. With the aid of great architects, engineers, and wizards from the south, the great Northern city of Wulfstead was founded. The kingdom of the Randulfs was the far Northwestern coast, the mountains directly north of the city, the plains to its’ east which is home to large herds of mammoths and other arctic beasts, and the northernmost part of the forests just south of the city, known to locals as the Wolf’s Wood. Many villages were made surrounding this, the first Northern Kingdom. None of the Northern kingdoms were ever made to the size of their southern counterparts, and usually consisted of one large city surrounded my smaller walled settlements. All the barbarian tribes became one united people and were ruled by the Randulf House and their descendants ever since. When the violent barbarian tribes were gone, lords from the south spread north and formed other large cities and kingdoms in previously hostile lands, but no northern city was ever made that could rival mighty Wulfstead. Peace reigned in the North and the proud Northmen remained largely independent from the political intrigues of other nations.
Almost 250 years ago, the only son and heir of the current King of Wulfstead became afflicted with Lycanthropy. He was a werewolf. There is great fear of Lycanthropes in the North, and rightly so. Evil werewolves have hunted the Northern people for generations. The people demanded his life, largely lead by one of the kingdoms lords, House Oldren who descend from southern men. The King refused to kill his own son and felt his house had been betrayed after everything they had done for their people. His wife had become barren, and this boy was the last living heir to the Randulf house. Rather than face an uprising and the end of their house, the ruling family went into exile along with those still faithful. House Oldren seized control in the power vacuum that followed. This caused a great deal of anger, because the Northmen resented being ruled by anyone of Southern descent. This also caused a rift with the longtime allies of House Randulf, the Winter Wolves. Normally evil creatures, a pact was formed when Wulfstead was founded that led to peace with the Winter Wolves. A small population of good aligned Winter Wolves lived in the city and maintained the alliance. When the Randulf’s went into exile, the wolves left as well, as the pact named the peace terms to be as long as House Randulf was in power, in honor of the bond between the first King of Winter and his Winter Wolf companion who made the treaty. The kingdom slowly descended in power for decades before the Winter War.
The Winter War:
About 200 years ago, the invasion of Queen Elvannia began. A powerful witch, Elvannia invaded Wulfstead with a large army of ice trolls, winter wolves, and other monsters of the cold. The invasion was co-ordinated with House Oldren who remained in power, making a deal with the sorceress to remain in power before the Northmen rebelled against their rule. The other Northern Kingdoms and the Dwarf Lords attempted to relieve the city, but the witch used unknown magic to create a vicious and never-ending winter storm over the entire kingdom. Her monsters of cold held every advantage, and the dwarven griffons were of no use in the icy winds fueled by her evil magic. The Winter War, as it came to be known, lasted only 23 days before Wulfstead was abandoned. At the end Elvannia had sole control over the largest Northern Realm but almost empty of people. She put the remaining barbarians to work, turning Wulfstead into her new city and renaming it Whitethrone. She put the Oldren line in charge and their rule was ruthless with an army of monsters at their command. The people were completely subjugated. The witch leaves for decades at a time, returning to ensure order remains and that the Oldrens remember who is really in charge. She seems to be immortal, although the sources of her longevity are purely rumors. Many think she is a litch, others a vampire or even a minor diety, nobody truly knows.
Arriving overland, travelers know they’re approaching Whitethrone after sojourning through a winter-shrouded forest of conifers, they suddenly find themselves surrounded by birch trees. These leaf less trees aren’t dead, but they might as well be, for there will never be another growing season in this realm, and these trees will never bear another leaf. After half a day of ghostly white, the travelers come to a tall wall made of giant femurs, each sharpened and topped with a skull. This is an illusion, or a trick of the eye—as the travelers near, they note that the walls aren’t actual bones, merely bone-white. A looming gate opens onto a breathtaking prospect: a city of whites—ivory, snow-white, and the blue-white of ice palaces and statues. The main thoroughfare winds gently downhill to the edges of tall cliffs, where it turns into a delicate and impossible span connecting to a shimmering, many-faceted palace made entirely of ice.
Gatehouse denizens and loiterers are quick to take note of the reaction of visitors to the site; those who stare with jaws agape are obviously new blood— first-time visitors, and easy marks. There is plenty of bustle in Whitethrone, and travelers who haven’t heard the stories may make it as far as a few blocks before realizing that they’re walking on a roadway made of human skulls. While other colors are in evidence throughout the city, the most popular styles of architecture incorporate the heavy use of white, with various pastels employed for accents. Monumental domes are often touched with light pink or green, and the ice structures show bluish-white in the sun. The Merchant’s Quarter is more colorful, with bright signs and awnings, but even here permanent buildings are likely to be more somber, with whitewash, half-timber, or pale granite being the order of the day. Most of the city’s monstrous denizens favor white and gray clothing, the better to blend in with their surroundings.
The Oldren ruling family wear whatever strikes their fancy, though they often prefer pastels in cool colors. Merchants wear ordinary traders’ clothes, but local workers generally dress in drab browns, greens, and other typical peasant colors. While the color scheme would not seem to allow for much individuality, the Oldrens’ and prosperous slaves decorate their wooden dwellings extensively with delicate woodwork, known as locally as “gingerbread,” often involving layer upon layer of different shapes. An observer would be hard pressed to find any but the poorest houses boasting identical trim. Whitethrone is home to some of the most skilled woodworkers in all the realm as the Barbarians of old have never lost their skills at carving (though the land’s eternal winter means they must import much of their wood), and because their apprentices cut their teeth on low-cost projects for the lower-class humans, the city is covered with gingerbreading. Consequently, a house of plain construction is a fashion statement of the boldest sort.
The people of Wulfstead wait for the day when they can reclaim their homeland and overthrow their false rulers. This proud and skilled warrior culture is waiting for another leader to rise from their ranks and unite them under one banner, as Randulf did in the founding in Wulfstead. Until that time finally comes, they are little more than slaves.
Like most other cities, Whitethrone is divided up into several social classes. The divisions are largely determined by birth, however, which lends the hierarchy more the aspect of a caste system than a traditional class system. At the top of the heap are the Oldren’s, those descended from the ruling house. Elvannia’s monstrous allies—the ice trolls, evil winter wolves, and snow goblins—make up the next class of citizens, given precedence over all humans but those of House Oldren. Merchants and foreigners fall somewhat below these monsters, but their importance to Whitethrone’s economy keeps them from feeling the brunt of their low status. All other humans in Whitethrone are slaves—descendents of the barbarians who surrendered during the Winter War or were stolen from other nations. The ones who built Wulfstead, lead by House Randulf, the proud warrior race now found themselves slaves.
House Oldren has a large army of humans loyal to their house from the south who were slowly smuggled into the city over time in preparation for the Winter War. These loyal human serve as the law enforcement and various aspects of the government within the city, and are supplemented by Elvannia’s monstrous allies.
The ice trolls, evil winter wolves, snow goblins, ogres, and frost giants that call Whitethrone home occupy a position slightly outside the human caste system. By tradition, they are seen as allies of Elvannia as much as they are subjects, maintaining some separation from the human society. Most Oldren’s treat the monsters with respect, at least in part because of a widespread (and carefully cultivated) belief that monsters have short tempers that can get the better of them. The Oldren belief that monsters can’t always be held responsible for their outbursts guarantees that humans step softly around even monsters of somewhat lower rank.
Merchants and Foreigners
Outsiders in Whitethrone, whether merchants, scholars, or adventurers, fall somewhat below monsters in terms of respect received from the elite. Mostly this means that merchants try to interact with the monsters as little as possible, which is not difficult within the Merchant’s Quarter but almost impossible anywhere else in the city. Adventurers may be attracted to Whitethrone because of the opportunities for quick but dangerous profit in the service of various Oldren’s, or because the surrounding areas of the North are so wild. They do well to remember, however, that many of the monsters beyond the city wall are allies or relatives of monsters within and indiscriminate monster-slaying may be treated as murder. Visitors who interact with monsters, especially the proud winter wolves, must be careful to show respect, but the varying customs of different species can make that difficult: dealing with an ice troll with anything less that steely resolve is seen as an insulting level of weakness, while ogres like a bit of sniveling from their partners in conversation.
In this land of eternal cold, there is no growing season. Other subarctic regions make up for long winters with brief, intense summers, but the sun of the boreal summer cannot penetrate Elvannia’s powerful magic. This means that every plant and tree that lives today existed 200 years ago when the enchantment was placed upon the land. Only conifers continue as before, with deciduous trees in permanent hibernation and all lesser plants long dead. Consequently, the ecosystem is severely diminished, and keeping Whitethrone supplied with food is a daunting challenge.
The city’s monstrous inhabitants are used to fending for themselves in such conditions, but for humans, an elaborate support network has sprung up to keep them in their victuals. The cornerstone of the Whitethrone diet is fish. Fishing is good in the North-Western sea, and numerous fishing camps dot the shore. The typical Whitethrone resident dines on fish at least twice a day. Other meat is supplied largely by migratory fowl and mammals, notably mammoth herds that cross the border from lands to the North, hearded by Winter Wolves. Staple grains such as wheat and corn are bought in bulk from points south, and local bread uses bone meal as a filler when flour is scarce. Most commoners have barely enough fruit and vegetables for basic health, all bought dearly at the market or from the Hidden Gardens. The Oldren’s generally have the wealth to ship in their food. Their diets tend to consist of exotic delicacies from other lands and the fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the Hidden Gardens. They avoid local fish as a display of status, preferring instead to import all of their meat, and the richest and most powerful of House Oldren can afford to have food shipped in from across the Western sea or made magically.
The North-Western sea is filled with ice flows and various winter obstacles, making blockades by other kingdoms unrealistic. Whitethrone hires very specialized captains to navigate these waters and trade from other cities of low repute (free cities, slaver cities, etc…)
Whitethrone has a strong manufacturing base. The largest share of imports is food products, and in exchange Whitethrone produces a plethora of finished goods. Whitethrone’s delicate but sturdy wooden furniture is prized throughout the lands, and the city produces high quality jewelry as well. They are also known to make amazing weapons and armor with various frost enchantments. Some of the most prized weapons are made form magical ice, stronger than steel and as light as mithril. There is also a small but lucrative market in bonewear: furniture, tools, and utensils made of human bone. When a party of adventurers stumbles upon a grisly candelabra made from a human pelvis, chances are it originally came from Whitethrone. Several artisans specialize in making ceramic utensils, plates, and bowls from pulverized human bone, and these items are prized for their delicacy.
Whitethrone is divided into seven districts, some safer than others. Visitors are generally advised to stick to the Merchants’ Quarter, but there aren’t any laws against touring elsewhere—just the law of self-preservation.
- The Floes:
The city west of the Water Palace is riven with numerous streams, fresh from the hot springs and still steaming as they rush toward the cliffs. This district is home to many of the Oldren extended family and other government functionaries because of its proximity to the Royal Palace. Also crowded onto the islands are some of Whitethrone’s heavy industries and foundries which use the rushing waters as motive power for their great wheels and pistons.
The northwest quarter of the city is among the most prosperous, featuring the homes of many Oldren who don’t reside in the Royal Palace. The streets are lined with fashionable shops selling a variety of luxury items. The centerpiece of the district is the elite Frosthall Theater, where the great theatrical works are performed on ice for the Whitethrone nobility.
- The Howlings:
The Howlings district spans the world both inside and outside Whitethrone’s walls. In fact, a gap in the wall allows the winter wolves something no other visitor to Whitethrone enjoys: unfettered entrance and egress without the inconvenience of guards and customs officials. The winter wolves don’t take too much advantage of the situation, and the amount of smuggling that goes on is manageable—a small price to pay for keeping key allies happy. Furthermore, when Randulf ordered the construction of Wulfstead, he crafted a powerful enchantment in the city, any Winter Wolf can take the form of a man, the better to deal with the humans of the city. Winter wolves in human form may be noticed by silver or white hair, yellowish eyes, and sometimes unusually large canines, but otherwise appear fully human. This was for the good Winter Wolves who lived in the city under Randulf rule, but now is used to the advantage of the evil Winter Wolves who serve House Oldren.
The intimidating structure known as the Iron Barracks looms above Whitethrone’s southeastern wall, and the grim, duty-bound aura of that edifice pervades the entire quarter. Ironside residences tend to be austere and utilitarian, and the decorative touches are fewer than elsewhere in the city. While the Oldren and those loyal to them residing here tend to be lower in rank and class than those living in Frosthall, they are the backbone of the human ranks of the military and see themselves as the backbone of its culture as well.
- The Merchants’ Quarter:
Surrounding the Market Square lies the Merchant’s Quarter, originally set aside to allow merchants a safe place to reside during trading missions. Unlike the rest of the city, the Witch’s monstrous allies are supposed to step lightly here, so as not to scare off the foreign custom that is Whitethrone’s lifeblood. While no winter wolf or ice troll would stand still for an insult even here, they are much less likely to pick a fight or order around those humans who get in their way. Most visitors to the city can be found here, and several restaurants and taverns that cater to foreign tastes base themselves in the Quarter.
- The Troll Quarter:
Trolls make up a significant portion of Whitethrone’s population, and are allotted living space disproportionate to their number. Though only one in 20 residents is an ice troll, the Troll Quarter spreads over more than a tenth of the city, along the southern wall. The ice trolls follow very strict customs and mores to prevent the naturally territorial males from killing each other off. Females run the district, and male trolls are usually given the most physically grueling tasks—the better to sweat out their aggressive impulses. In addition, an ongoing fighting tournament operates in the quarter, designed to allow males to fight out their grudges in the arena rather than the street; the Eyefang Arena is host to nightly ranked fighting, with the rankings used to award housing and other scarce resources, and females tending to prefer high ranked males for mates.
Whitethrone is mostly flat, sloping gently down toward the cliffs. The high points of the city are Observatory Hill and Veskaya Hill, the dual foci of the Twohill district. Around the hills lies a quiet neighborhood characterized by the shops of master woodcrafters and the studios and lofts of visiting scholars.
Places of Interest
Whitethrone as a city has a myriad of interesting and disturbing features, but most of these lie outside the safety of the Merchant’s Quarter. A visitor out for adventure might elect to skip the market entirely in favor of other parts of the city.
- The Bone Mill:
Tales of Elvannia and Whitethrone often end with some unfortunate having his or her bones ground into meal to make her bread. In Whitethrone, that grisly end isn’t merely a punishment, but a natural part of the end of life. While those of House Oldren have a plot waiting for them in the Rimerest Cemetery, slaves and any outsiders who can’t secure a burial are used to help further the tenuous ecology of Whitethrone. The Bone Mill performs more functions than its name implies. In the starkly clean compound, some bodies are rendered down for candle tallow, others are preserved for necromantic studies, and remaining bones are ground into meal. Lord Igorin Oldren runs the Bone Mill with an eye toward maximum efficiency. Often new candles and batches of meal can be purchased “next-day,” and some of the more macabre or superstitious Whitethrone residents purchase small bags of meal to memorialize friends or loved ones, which have been processed separately for this purpose.
- The Bone Road:
Stretching from the main gates all the way to the Royal Palace barbican, the Bone Road is a grisly memorial to the triumph of the Winter War. The entire street is paved with skulls, almost all of them from the barbarians killed during the war. The street has been widened and mended with the skulls of criminals and, when necessary, with less meaningful skulls from the Bone Mill.
- The Fishcamps:
The diet of the average Whitethrone resident relies heavily on fish. The high cliffs upon which the city perches aren’t useful for fishing, so the fishermen congregate miles away in shantytowns to the south. The Fishcamps, as they are called, are rife with the smell of fish and desperation. Marcian Enarxion, a business-man from the south, dominates the political life of the Fishcamps, extorting money for “the Fishcamp Guards”— his personal protection racket. He lies low and provides the right bribes when the Iron Guards come around and otherwise rides herd over his charges with impunity.
- Frosthall Theater:
The most famous cultural accomplishment of House Randulf, the Frosthall Theater performs all of the great works on ice. Lady Ilya Oldren runs the theater with a single-minded intensity, doing all of the arrangements herself. Ilya converts opera, comedies, broadsides, and even “The Fall of Wulfstead” into ice-ballet. The end result is surprisingly good. In fact, the troll’s share of visitors to Whitethrone who aren’t there to trade are there to attend the Frosthall. Lady Ilya has no shortage of talented men and women who want to perform in the shows, but occasionally a script requires an unusual personage—a dwarf or a Mwangi, for instance—and Ilya goes to great lengths to procure someone fitting the role, offering large payments or other inducements. Eagerness to get the best talent can sometimes push her to take harsh actions she wouldn’t ordinarily consider.
- The Hidden Gardens:
The perpetual winter of the region put in place by Elvannia’s magic means that nothing grows outside. While trade and magic bring in a variety of foodstuffs, fruits and vegetables only remain fresh if preserved by magic or grown locally. The answer to this conundrum is the Hidden Gardens, a vast greenhouse complex surrounding the Spring Palace. The roofs of these greenhouses are made out of transparent ice which acts like glass to trap heat inside. The warm air within slowly melts the ice, watering the plants in the process. Many areas of the gardens are multileveled, with sun-hungry plants at the highest level and tiers of shade plants farther down, proceeding all the way to the mushroom beds of the basement level. Excess water from each layer drains down to the next, with the result that very little manual watering has to be done. The roofs are replenished by a complex and carefully placed series of pipes that funnel the runoff from the Spring Palace out onto the roofs of the Hidden Gardens, freezing there and replenishing the ice even as it melts from the inside. The Mistress of Gardens, Ilyena Oldren, is perhaps the most powerful lesser Oldren in the city—her influence over the content and distribution of her produce gives her a measure of influence usually reserved for higher ranked Oldren. Further cementing her status, no one but she and her children know all of the details necessary to operating the greenhouses.
- The Iron Barracks:
One of the most imposing sights in Whitethrone is that of the Iron Barracks. They stand against the southeast wall of the city, overtopping it by several stories. The Iron Barracks are the home of the Iron Guards. In peacetime, the Iron Guards serve as the city guard of Whitethrone, with small detachments stationed in other major settlements. The Iron Guards are fanatically devoted to Elvannia and spend considerable effort chronicling all that goes on in Whitethrone so that when their witch returns, she shall have a full accounting. Some of the more decadent Oldren try to keep the guards at arm’s length to avoid scrutiny, but since nobody knows what Elvannia does once she leaves, no one is sure exactly what sort of depravities might draw her wrath or her approbation. Lord Oryo Oldren has been captain of the Iron Guards since coming of age, and rules them with an implacable will. He has been thoroughly indoctrinated into the culture of the guard, showing deference to King Oldren but steadfastly compiles his archives in preparation for Elvannia’s next homecoming.
- The Iron Tooth:
Of the many projects and monuments intended to assure immortality to House Oldren, the most massive is the Iron Tooth, a enormous, in-progress structure that casts its shadow halfway across the city during the short winter days. The Iron Tooth is the personal project of Lord Oldren’s youngest daughter, Lady Tetra Oldren, a technically talented but aesthetically eccentric architect. The audacious plans call for a 500-foot tall structure, all of iron, with over 1,000 rooms, though it isn’t clear what the rooms are intended to hold or how that capacity could be filled without a massive migration into the city. Those 1,000 rooms are all above ground, but rumor has it that the completed Iron Tooth is to extend as far below the ground as it does above.
- Observatory Arcanis:
Observatory Hill is the home of the Observatory Arcanis, the powerful magics of which allow scholars to view the stars and planets with astonishing clarity. Much of the realms modern knowledge of the heavens stems from here, and scholars continue to flow into, and back out of, the Observatory. The only permanent resident scholar of the Observatory is Tretin Oldren, one of Whitethrone’s foremost experts on the planets. His divinations and observations have left him somewhat untethered from earthly reality, and his slightly surreal company may explain why visiting scholars cycle through so quickly.
- Rimerest Cemetery: The only cemetery in a city where most of the dead are bound for the Bone Mill, Rimerest Cemetery is as much a work of art as a burial ground. Large and elaborate ice sculptures serve as tombstones and, in some cases, as mausoleums. House Oldren has never allowed clerics access to the cemetery, and most agree that there must be something sinister going on within. The cemetery is run by an aged ice mage named Urion Oldren. He creates most of the
ice sculptures himself, allowing other ice mages to assist only for especially large or complicated pieces.
- The Royal Palace:
The most physically impressive building in Whitethrone, the Royal palace sits atop a 200-foot-tall pillar of ice rising from the surface of the Western Sea. The palace was created when the city of Wulfstead was founded by House Randulf. It is a marvel of facets and planes, and the towers and spires ascend in seemingly natural crystalline formations. The palace rises to a height of ten stories at its highest point and its dungeons extend at least that far down into the pillar on which it rests. Some speculate that there are chambers as far down as the level of the sea, and point as evidence to the fact that the sea remains perpetually unfrozen near the base of the pillar—something must be producing a lot of heat to keep the thick ice from forming. The entire palace is made of ice, though this magic ice does not melt short of oven temperatures. For comfort, many of the walls and floors on the interior have been finished with wood, and heavy tapestries and carpets trap in the warmth. In the numerous unused parts of the palace, however, such accoutrements are entirely absent, and one can walk for hours through corridors without coming upon anything but ice. In these far wings it is unwise to loiter long, for some creatures that shun the heat of the populated wings might enjoy eating a warm-blooded creature. The Royal Palace is the seat of House Oldren power, and anyone who has caught their interest enough to be invited must be mindful to offer nothing but the most punctilious politeness. The deep political currents of the palace can overcome even the most deft courtiers, causing the palace to be perhaps the most deadly place in the city.
- Porcelain Street:
Of all the industries of Whitethrone, the most iconic is dollmaking. While the woodcrafters make more money and produce more volume, the eerily delicate dolls of Porcelain Street are made nowhere else. The open secret of their construction (not discussed by the many connoisseurs outside Whitethrone’s borders) is the use of refined bone meal in the process. The closely held secret is the use of children’s souls to animate some dolls with specific tasks—from intelligence gathering to border watching to playthings for the most wealthy and decadent of the Oldren.
- The Ratnest:
Home to Whitethrone’s snow goblin population, the Ratnest is a twisted maze of above ground shanties and below ground passages. Nobody travels in the Ratnest without good cause; for one thing, the ceilings are too low—for another, the inhabitants can be murderous. The most notorious reason to visit is the Tunnel Run, an annual event in which Lord Gregorin Oldren pays outlandish sums of gold to anyone who can get from one end of the Ratnest to the other without seeing the light of day.
- The Water Palace:
The hot springs that form the source of the ice floes hit the surface in this giant bathhouse. In the central chamber, full of steam and geyser-like waterspouts, air elementals ride the currents in a perpetual and beautiful dance. Most of the pools in the Water Palace (sometimes called the Spring Palace) are placed in such a way that they have at least a partial view of this chamber, as the dance of the air elementals is one of the great wonders of Whitethrone. The Spring Palace is only open to Oldren extended family and the richest merchants and most well-connected guests, though similar warm bathhouses nearby cater to the lower classes, and are connected by service ways. The most decadent of the Oldren meet their servants and business partners in the Spring Palace, lounging in the hot water as their counterparts stand awkwardly at the side of the pool. The scalding water of the central springs serves to heat many of the nearby buildings, including the Hidden Gardens and many of the great residences of House Oldren.