Cattle die and kinsmen die, thyself too soon must die, but one thing never, I ween, will die—fair fame of one who has earned. — from the "Wisdom for Wanderers and Counsel to Guests," Hávamál, The Words of Odin the High One.
We are nearing the end, friends! It’s been a heady ride, but it’s not quite over yet. We still have a surprise or two left with which we hope to delight you.
There is a center to all things, and so it is with worlds. Between Hel and the Dry Lands, Aether and the Endless Ice, the Shining Realm, fair Alfheim and the other worlds sits the world of mortal men and women. And the crossroads of all is the Middarmark: a harsh land of stark beauty concealing the crumbling bones of countless civilizations that have sought to tame it and failed.
Cold and forbidding, the Middarmark is lashed by rain during its short, cool summers and swallowed by snow and ice during its long, deadly winters. Malevolent, primeval forests, troll-haunted, shroud the land. Deathly fogs choke its craggy shores, hiding savage, pitiless raiders that slip forth from their uncharted skerries to pillage and enslave. Dragons, burning with gold-lust and gnawed by eternal hunger, roost in glacier-blanketed mountains that themselves seethe with stony hate for fleshy things. Wights and spirits of the air prey upon fools caught on the downs when the Burning Lord gives way to night. Even the soil of this unkind land is not particularly fertile.
Most people of the Middarmark huddle behind stout walls, whisper prayers to the Lords for succor and hope the monstrous and hungry denizens of the dark will prey upon some other unfortunate soul. But braver (or more foolhardy) folk do not lie down before the darkness. The land’s bones are shot through with veins of silver, and broad-backed miners descend into the forbidding deeps to seek it. Its abundant peat bogs hide nodules of bog iron that the intrepid gather with turf knives and brow-sweat. Its forests yield timber ideal for building ships, and its churning seas boast a treasure trove in fish, whales and ambergris to be wrested from the terrible serpents. Alagablettur, places of power where the Shroud of Worlds has frayed, lie hidden throughout the Middarmark, drawing power-hungry magicians, would-be Lords and their worshippers and chthonic and celestial spirits that would walk the worlds.
The mighty can wring wealth and power from this hostile land. Others like you and I who wish to thrive have only one option: to plumb the depths of the past with fire and sword, to seek the treasures of our forebears who sought to tame this land and failed. Perhaps you, brave adventurer, shall be the hero that drives back the darkness...if you live.
A Gift for Good Friends
The Middarmark Gazetteer will be the first supplement for Torchbearer. It will be a broad strokes setting guide, chock full of adventure ideas, to give you a jumping off point for your own Torchbearer campaigns. You can expect new settlements, legends of infamous lairs and harrowing places, some details on the more popular Hero Cults of the Young Lords, and, of course, new spells, magic items, monsters and more! Thor is hard at work writing it now, drawing from Norse mythology and the Scandinavian folktales he heard at his farmor’s (grandmother’s) knee. But it's an entirely new setting: As if the vikings had conquered Greenland and Nova Scotia and then found the ruins of the Roman Levant beneath the roots of the forests. We plan to release the Middarmark Gazetteer next year, and you, dear friends and supporters, will receive the PDF for free once it’s complete!
Thor is already hard at work on an initial draft. The final book will contain a detailed overview of the land and its denizens, customized classes and spells, new scenarios and of course new art.
Here’s a taste to whet your appetite!
The seafaring Bjornings of old were renowned for their savage, adventurous spirit and reckless abandon, but only the hardiest and most fearless of their descendants are willing to venture within sight of this ancient and sinister forest. Legend holds that it was here that the last of the Sakki people fled the coming of the Bjornings and swore a pact with ancient and malign powers that have grasped this land since before the birth of men.
None know what became of the Sakki, but anyone who travels within sight of the Ironwold can feel a twisted and brooding presence that lingers in dreams long nights after one has left it. Even the elves shun the forest’s dominion.
The Ironwold clings to the rocky foothills and lower slopes of the Bjorngrims and spreads south and west along the fertile valleys of the Jeilir, Mærg and Dreik rivers, where doughty farmers wage a slow but ceaseless war against the devouring forest. It is not unheard of for these men to go mad, ripping up the least blade of grass along the verges of the wood, lest the trees march forth after their scouts. Within living memory, nearly a hundred steadings have been lost to the Ironwold’s inexorable advance.
Tales describe tortured and rocky terrain, icy tarns, long-forgotten stone circles the size of giants and crumbling ruins whose masters even the elves don’t remember hidden in the shadowy, claustrophobic embrace of the pines, firs, larch and sortjerns. The sortjern, unique to the Ironwold, are knotted and twisted, with veinous bark as black as night. Hard as the stony bones of the land from which it springs, sortjern trees blunt axes and stubbornly resist flame.
Nearly 70 years ago, King Haakon Haraldsson of the Middarmark, eager to increase access to the markets of the dwarves, sent forth warriors of his household to carve a path north through the Ironwold. It took 15 years, and too many lives were lost to the monsters, demons and evil spirits that haunt the terrible wood, but the heroes were successful. They carved a narrow, forbidding road, twisting endlessly around the impossibly hard sortjern trees, all the way to Frostfast Hall: the Blodveien.
In their honor, King Stein Sigurdsson, Haakon’s grandson, founded a great fortified temple complex of iron and stone at the southern end of the Blodveien and dedicated it to the Lords, calling it Jernkloster. Beneath it, he dug catacombs and a great ossuary, where all the heroes of the Blodveien whose bodies could be recovered were laid to rest. In time, the survivors would also go to sleep the endless sleep beneath Jernkloster, and legend holds that should Jernkloster be about to fall, the Grand Master’s horn would summon those mighty heroes for one last battle. King Stein had a tomb prepared for himself there, but it is presumably empty, for Stein’s body was lost in the churning waters of the Skyet Sea when his ship was sunk on the Gott coast.
The clerics of Jernkloster, grim-faced men and women called to that somber place by the Lords, swear a vow to keep the Blodveien open and defend the people of the Middarmark from the ravages of the terrible monsters that pour forth from the Ironwold like a never ending stream. It is a thankless task, and one seldom remembered by Stein’s heirs, but the order survives on tithes paid by the few grateful merchants courageous or desperate enough to use the road.
—Thor and Luke