Friday, March 16, 2012

The Seven Lakes, Part 1

So, was walking through a forest a few weekends ago, with summer finally trying to break through, and got a feeling about a new area for campaigning.  The feeling of sunlight through tall trees while walking a narrow path between a deep lake and a volcanic peak left something with me...

It's developed since then, with me attempting a map on the computer, rather than hand-drawn (it's a learning process), and deciding on a mash of the local landscape (volcanic lakes and forested mountains), the Ayleid Ruins from Oblivion, and a few other little ideas and inspirations.

The Seven Lakes are known far and wide across The Empire as a place of ethereal beauty and great danger, of volcanoes and lakes and ruins and a mighty cosmopolitan city. The truth is somewhat less impressive, but so few have travelled there and back to the Empire, that word of this never seems to take root.  And no-one likes undermining the wild stories and legends of the storytellers...

The City (Twin Streams, or Rotokawa in the local language) is reachable from the Empire to the West, across a vast plateau, formed from past volcanic ashfalls, but now grassed with copses of fast growing trees and occasional volcanic tors.  And to the North, a slightly narrower and muddier road follows river valleys, gorges and animal tracks, crossing three major rivers by ancient Dwarven bridges, to reach the sheltered coastal cities of the Storm Reach.  Traders, scholars and even occasional tourists flow along each of these to experience the charms of Rotokawa.

The City perches on the southern side of the largest and most Western lake, in a small caldera that shelters it from the constant winds, but also retains smoke, and gases from the copious geothermal fumaroles, geysers and streams.  The first impression of a traveller is of mud and water, and the low, almost water level huts of the native population clustered on the edge of the lake.  Soon, however, the roads become wooden walkways, with steaming warm water running beneath them, and close set square stone buildings huddle close together beside these.  There is no orientation or structure to the walkways that intermix with carved stone ledges, and the closeness and sameness of the buildings, and strangers are often lost.

Inside each building, shop or home, the utilitarian outside gives way to a riot of warm, rich colour and smells.  The many inns and hotels are all homely and welcoming, and one can be found for all persuasions and budgets.  Shops trade incense, crystals and cut gems and jewellery, or exotic fruit and fantastical fish (the fruit are grown in geothermally heated greenhouses, and the fish are caught by the native peoples from the depths of the Lake).  Alchemists brew, melt, combine and crush the rich local flora and fauna to provide the rich and the foolish with unique salves, ointments and potions, and local smiths forge copper, silver and quicksilver, and can treat iron and steel weapons and armours to avoid the corrosion the sulphurous air can cause.

The caldera walls contain the majority of the geothermal features, with small geysers feathering spray in most areas, and multicoloured seeps staining them various colours.  Several large, somewhat fortified estates perch outside the caldera, away from the heat, humidity and smell of the heated water, but they are at risk from local raiding goblins, and maintain met-at-arms at all times.

The native population are pale skinned, with little body hair and a mane of hair running down their neck, shaved over the ears.  They have slightly webbed fingers and toes, and live in circular reed walled huts over the lake waters, with a hole in the floor.  They call themselves the Sla-ho, but others refer to them simply as the Lake People.  They are comfortable in the water, and can hold their breath and dive for up to 5 minutes, far into the vent in the floor of the lake, gathering strange fish and molluscs, water plants and minerals under the waves.  Although forming close-knit family groups, away from the water they are surprisingly conversational and are good bargainers. Usually attired in loose fitting linen-like pants and sleeveless shifts, the Sla-ho never seem to leave the Lake surrounds, and none have ever expressed a desire to do so.  However, it is hard for others to identify a particular individual, as they all seem to possess the same general facial features and mannerisms.

Nagastani, from Oblivion
Travellers visit the City for a number of reasons, including the healing properties of the geothermal water baths and muds, the novelty of endless hot and warm water, the rare and novel herbs and materials of the local environments, the mix of Empire and Coastal trade goods, and, of course, the Ruins of the ancient peoples known as the Los Mehno, which attract by far the most desperate, violent and free-spending layers of society.

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