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7Hex Dragons: Backbone Mountains
The Backbone moutains have been home to the dwarves since recorded history, but are also home to others, most notably the kobolds and denizens of the Great Lake and wild southern tunnels
Dwarves of the Backbone Mountains - Population 35,000. Also known as the Dwarves of Grellmore. Tolkien-esque Dwarves, averaging just over 5' (60-67 inches) tall, brilliant craftsmen, smiths and miners. They have avoided being conquered by the Imperial Sorcerers (IS) due to their fortifications and generally trade friendly relations. However the IS, with it's northward march and Army of the West, is about to territorially encompass them and the dwarves are not happy about that. They supply much of the elite of the IS army with Fine Weapons and Armour. They do trade with others, but it is becoming more clandestine as the IS becomes more powerful and protective of it's superior weapons. The IS really does not know how to conquer the Dwarves or stop the trade with the Repitile Men. It would be a hugely costly war and they believe that they would loose their best armourers as the Dwarves would fight to the death. The IS is pursuing a strategy of becoming their sole trade partner and encompassing them to control them. One interesting fact about this colony of Dwarves is 600 years ago a meteor fell on their mountain range and they recovered it. It contained an exotic metal that was nearly impossible to work. They had to invent new tools and creative furnaces to even begin to mold it. Their first act was to make crude tools out of the substance to continue to work the rest of it. They have two sets of good tools from the meteor, and the rest has been made into (1) armour and weapons that are jealously guarded and hidden and (2) a thin sheet covering their inner gates. The metal offers +3 hit protection to any armour made out of them and they reduce DX by 1 less than comparable armour. Weapons are +3 Damage and are totally unbreakable short of throwing them into a volcano or special dwarf furnace. Special Axes of Grellmore also ignore up to 3 points of armour for a two-handed Great Axe. All items (about 6 dozen weapons and 30 suits of armour) are heavily enchanted and limited to Dwarves of this elite unit. The very few times have any been lost, the entire community hunts them back down and kills all those who may know that they are made of a different substance than even adamite. They send candidates for their elite squad to train with the Centaurs patrolling the Wildwood. They have a clandestine alliance with the Reptile Men of the south. They deliver arms and armour through secret tunnels in exchange for copper from their mine, some HTH combat training, some caravan protection and a mutual protection treaty (the Reptile Men will send troops through the tunnel to help the dwarves and also attempt to sack a southern IS city to pull IS troops if the Dwarves are attacked, the Dwarves will fully arm the Reptile Men and send troops if the IS attacks them). There is a huge under ground lake 80 miles south of the main dwarf city and supplies going to the Reptile Man Kingdom have to cross a small corner of it (the dwarves actually walk 9 miles out of their way so they only have to row over a little under a mile of the lake). It is crawling with fish and larger predators (Krakken, etc). It is lit by lichen that glow fairly brightly and the minerals and deposits from dripping water and underground streams keep the lake fertile. The Dwarves claim the Undine's Aquamarine was created to help them cross this lake. (The sea elves north of Gleremere also claim to have created this item.) The Dwarves also have a standing exchange with several Necromancer Brotherhoods (Dwarves not much fond of doing Necromancy themselves) where they get training in being physikers, help with some of the demonic influences in the lower levels of their mines and help with any undead problems they may encounter. In return they give Fine Weapons to the Warders who work with the Necromancer and some pay. They also collaborate on necromantic weapons and armour (see the Dead Hammers), which the Necromancers pay for.
While the dwarves tend to be clannish and happy to stay in their tunnels, they also recognize the need to travel abroad for trade and for education. Traveling Dwarven caravans are common throughout the Duchy, Borderlands and IS. They send their Elite to the wildwood and their masons to any cities that need to create lavish stone buildings. This increases their reputation and their ability to trade for the things they need.
Dwarves tend to be near-sighted (which helps their fine craft work), but makes then poor archers, so while they have their crossbows (which they claim to have invented), but rely on dense axe/hammer formations. Their skeletons and musculature are far denser than humans/elves/etc so they are much stronger than the look (and they look fairly strong). Their low center of gravity and formidable plate armor makes them difficult to dislodge in formation. Characters would likely specialize in hammer/axe/crossbow and be infantry. Clearly caravan guards and merchants are easy to turn into adventurers, as are dwarves in the deep mines (maybe with Combat Necromancers) or working with the Rangers of the Wildwood.
The worst crimes a Dwarf can commit involve the destruction or theft of works of art and craft (this includes murder as dwarves view their own lives as a creation of craftsmanship). Since the destruction of a dwarf is considered heinous, they rarely invoke capital punishment, but rather use Exile (and usually of the whole family of the convicted, including their children, their Mother, Father, sisters, brothers, their sisters and brothers families). Many commit suicide to save their families Exile, but several accept their Exile and leave. This has created a few communities in Exile. Most of these go to the IS as they are welcomed and given smithies and military contracts. But you can find the occasional Dwarf Exile community in the Duchy, Borderlands or Reptile Man Kingdom.
The wild Southern Tunnels are a mishmash of mostly lava tubes from long extinct volcanoes that created some of the mountains, the work of earthquakes opening up caverns or old rivers that used to feed the Great Lake. They are unihabited by humanoids (except the kobolds below, but they stay near the surface of the mountains and steer clear of the Tunnels) and can be dangerous. They do allow the Dwarves to pass the IS province of Thur and deliver goods the the Reptile Man Kingdom. The Reptile Men send caravan guards and it is considered highly honorable to serve a stint in the Tunnels. Many trips are easy, some are quite deadly. There is at least one krakken in the Great Lake. Foul denizens lurk in these Tunnels, blind cave creatures, exile trolls (how bad does that have to be?), poisonous fish in shallow pools, deadly fungi, apep, giant spiders, hydras, shadow wights, malicious earth elementals and toxic fumes from deep vents (where demons are rumoured to be hiding) all add up to a hazardous, but profitable, tour of duty. The dwarves have done some crude mapping and have found 3 different routes that seem to be the least dangerous, and most caravans make it through with minimal or no loss of life. However the stories of whole caravans lost are harrowing.
Kobolds and "His Darkness": Also in the Backbone mountains, to the south of the Great Lake in a series of small caves and on the lower altitude surface of the mountains, are a clan of kobolds who are being mostly controlled by the most powerful Shadow Wight Mage known in this part of Cidri. His name has long been forgotton and the kobolds call him "Your Lordship" to his face and "His Darkness" amongst themselves. ST16 IQ15 DX12. He carries a Weeping Wand. His spells are: 7Hex Shadow, Darkness, Mage Sight (no ST Cost), Detect Life (no ST Cost), Detect Enemies, Control Person, Control Animal, Limited Posession, Teleport, Curse, Dispel Illusions, Summon Shadow Spawn, MH Despair (See Full House Rules for any unknown spells). He eminates a MH Despair spell surounding him at all times at no ST cost and tries to keep the kobolds more than one hex away unless he wants to intimidate/threaten them. He has a NightMare (ST 23 IQ7 DX 12) somewhat poorly tended by the kobolds. They take care of it when He goes into His low-energy, depressive modes. The Kobolds don't know the affliction of Shadow Wights, and He tells them He is communing with higher powers to help them. No one has seen Him in many decades execept for a few "elite" kobold wizards, His personal Guard and the heredetary War Leader of the clan. He will not likely fight but send all the kobolds to fight. He may cast a spell or two (or use the Weeping Wand's Piercing Cry, but will flee if things might go badly (or if the dwarves ever invade, which would be a massacre). He has helped the kobolds a good bit to thrive and they do a bit of hunting and minimal agriculture on the mountain foot hills in small hidden plots, eat the same underground mushrooms the dwarves do (which "His Darkness" showed them how to do) and have some craftsmen. He helps them use the caves they have and to stay away from the wild Southern Tunnels. He teaches the kobold wizards Shadow, Darkness and Summon Shadow Spawn spells, all fire and light spells are forbidden. He has a small personal guard of 12 he hand picks when they are young and they guard him day and night in shifts (he occasionally uses Limited Possession on one of them to spy amongst the other kobolds). Small groups of kobold craftsmen will pose as nomads to trade with small outlying Thurian villages and traveling goblin merchants to get higher quality tools and the occasional weapon/bow. The dwarves vaguely know they are there, but feel they pose no great threat and are too far away to deal with them (they don't know about the Shadow Wight at all). Plus, the kobolds tend to leave the dwarves alone as they are intimidated by them and out-right frightened by the Reptile Men who usually accompany the dwarves through the Southern Tunnels. They all seem to live in a suspicous and minimally hostile togetherness. The IS know of the kobold nomads, but since no bad activities have been connected with them, and have other, more pressing, concerns with the Dark Knights in Thur.
When not in depressive mode, "His Darkness" has some small
ambitions to increase the kobolds and find other shadow wights to rule
and help in his undisciplined research. The shadow wight mages of the Borderlands are
still just a rumour to Him, but he would like to get more shadow
wights under his control. He has kobolds scout ahead and will
occasionally ride out to find victims, but the Thurian province of the
IS is well patrolled and he is feeling, like the Dwarves, hemmed
in. He can only travel at night (when not possessing someone which he
rarely does) and not too far. He suffers the same confusion and time
distortion other Shadow wights do when considering His own status and
being. He does not realize he has been the demi-god of the kobolds for
160 years, it feels like maybe 20 to Him. He does demand the
occasional sentient sacrifice in evil experiments that He performs
trying to understand his undead state and escape it, or to use his
Limited Possession spell to go out in the light (which he hates, but
he can collect some news the kobolds can't).