The Cairn Hills are generally regarded as a northern spur of the Abbor-Alz, stretching north to the Nyr Dyv (as is obvious). Their character becomes increasingly differentiated from the Abbor-Alz the farther north one travels, becoming less sharply undulating and lower. The hills are granitic and contain large quartz deposits and important resources, although the surface soil is usually shallow and of poor fertility.
The northernmost promontory of the hills, beyond the mouth of the Selintan, yields fine gems, especially rubies and emeralds and a few diamonds. The Free City is happy to allow the gnomes of Grossettgrottell and the outlying smaller mines exclusive control over mining them, given gnomish skills. The gnomes prize this, and protect their terrain jealously.
As one travels east along the Midbay of the Nyr Dyv, these gem deposits rapidly diminish and the hills here have poor mineral wealth; farther south, jade and amethyst can be found. However, in this area are found many of the legendary burial sites which give the Cairn Hills their name. These are the ancient treasure troves that provided such a vital source of revenue in Greyhawk’s wild, early days before trade brought the coffers of the city its present largesse.
To the south, where the Cairn Hills approach Atlas of Greyhawk Lands the Abbor-Alz, there are a handful of gnomish gem mines, fairly widely scattered, and more dwarves and hillsmen. The easternmost fringes of the hills have three important corundum mines that remain part of the lands of the Duchy of Urnst.
The Cairn Hills contain some mediocre metal ore deposits, mostly iron and copper. These are concentrated in the hills southwest of Midbay, where there are three important mining towns, and to the south around the Abbor-Alz. There are also two silver- mines of note, at the Sourlode complex and the dwarven citadel of Karakast.
Flora and Fauna of the Cairn Hills
In brief, the hills drain water swiftly so that few lakes are present, although there are a few streams that flow most of the year round. The pattern of plant life follows the course of waterways to a great extent, but the dirt of the hillsides is populated only by tough grasses and a rare bush struggling for survival. Alpine plants with hard leaves cling to the surfaces of less exposed hillsides. Along stream beds, larger bushes and a few trees, mostly evergreens, can be found. A few galda trees manage to survive in such places.
Smaller fauna here include mice, other small rodents, and the grey hawks that eat them and gave the Free City its name. Very rarely, a roc will be seen among its much smaller cousins. Larger mammals of note include wild pigs in the lower valleys, hunted by hillsmen, and a species of grass-eating deer, hunted for its tender, sweet meat.
Gnomes of the Cairn Hills
In all, there are some 6,000 gnomes in the Cairn Hills. The greatest concentration of them is found in the northernmost hills west of the Selintan, where they mine gems. The settlement of Grossettgrottell is their major community.
Gnomes in the Cairn Hills always dwell underground. Typically, gnomish settlements are on the borders of the hills, within 20-30 miles of the edge of the hill range; however, they may excavate mines well beyond this limit and there are exceptions, especially in the old Urnst lands. Smaller settlements are scattered widely through the whole range of hills.
Cairn Hills gnomes are generally friendly, industrious folk. They are happy with the rule of the Free City. Those in the expanded domain, previously administered by Urnst, have welcomed the new Greyhawk presence. This is because of the strong clan affiliations with their brethren who have always lived in Greyhawk-controlled lands, and because the rulers of Greyhawk have always taken pains to make the gnomes feel protected and their concerns heard. Greyhawk militiamen are always under orders to consider gnomish interests a first priority in the Cairns, and squads of militia frequently include a gnome scout, nighttime look-out, and adviser.
Tithes and taxes imposed on the gnomes are relatively low, and are lower than those imposed by Urnst. All this does not mean that the gnomes are overly trusting or overly friendly folk with those they do not know. They are perfectly aware that there has been a war, that Iuz is rising across the Nyr Dyv, and many have heard of the Scarlet Brotherhood. They are thus cautious in dealings with adventurers, especially humans.
Halflings of the Cairn Hills
The large majority of the halflings of the Cairn Hills dwells along the southern shores of Midbay and the northern fringes of the hills abutting this area. The relative poverty of the hills here, in terms of mineral resources, is the major reason that everyone else has been happy to allow the halflings to settle. While the shores of Midbay are too shallow for Nyr Dyv boat traffic, the halflings dwelling there have been able to make good use of their skills with light leather and bark canoes. They have fished Midbay’s waters very successfully.
Within the major settlement of Elmshire, there are some 3,800 halflings there, and another 1,000 are scattered among the northern hills (mostly within 20 miles of the Nyr Dyv). The halflings of the Cairns are peaceful folk. Their own militias are fairly ragged units, and they avoid conflict when they can. Halflings generally like to spend part of their lives in Greyhawk itself, but not usually for longer than it takes to make their fortune, or to find out the hard way they’re not going to.
Halfling communities always have an elected ruler, typically a mayor or sheriff. Family ties are strong, and communities are often insular. While halflings met outside their own lands may often be thieves, there is little thievery, crime, or drunkenness in the halflings’ own realms. One point of note is that halflings are almost all highly suspicious of the Rhennee and regard them as evil until proven otherwise. They avoid trade with them.
Dwarves of the Cairn Hills
The dwarven population of the Cairn Hills is small, perhaps no more than 1,200 in total. They are virtually all found in the southern hills abutting the Abbor-Alz. Clan distinctions are weak within each large community (at Greysmere and Karakast); since the total population is small, the dwarves band together and minimize clan distinctions.
Cairn Hills dwarves are notoriously insular. They have little regard for Greyhawk or Urnst, feeling themselves fully capable of self-defense, and refusing point-blank to pay any taxes or tribute. To them, humans should be grateful that the
Hillsmen of the Cairn Hills
Around 2,500 simple hillsmen scratch a living in the Cairn Hills. They are usually dwellers in very small villages, where many of their dwellings may be little more than tents. They are most commonly found in the northeast Cairns and the central southern lands bordering on the Mistmarsh. Some of the latter hunt and trap game around the fringes of the Mistlake and harvest swamp hay and reeds for building materials, fuel, and fodder. For the most part, they survive on galda fruit, livestock herding (sheep and goats), deer and pig hunting, and a little fishing in the hill streams.
Hillsmen are poor people, used to a hard way of life. They are fearful of outsiders and try to evade contact with them, although they do rarely trade in small market villages on the flanks of the hills over in the Duchy of Urnst, trading livestock for utensils, woven cloth, and other basics. Hillsmen are excellent trackers.
Bandits of the Cairn Hills
There are no more than a score groups of bandits in the Cairn Hills, simply because there isn’t much for them to make off with—the hillsmen are too poor, the dwarves too secluded in their citadels, the gnomes too numerous and strong. Bandits can really make any kind of a living only by ambushing trade caravans in the hills, and these tend to be well-protected. The bandits are likewise well aware of the growing presence of the Greyhawk militia.
All of this means that there aren’t many bandits around, but those who exist are smart, cunning, and well-prepared, for otherwise they would not survive, such as the renowned bandit Barlieu Clarreth and his band or the Encampment of Rosco Two-Finger.
Humanoids of the Cairn Hills
Ores, hobgoblins, and goblins may all be found in the Cairn Hills, although they are rare indeed north of the Mistlake, where determined gnomes have played a major role in hunting them down and killing them. The caves around the Abbor-Alz mountains are their major retreats, and they compete here with dwarves for living space. The goblinoid races are less aggressive than usual, given their small numbers (which are not exactly known), and they always retreat to their lairs by day, emerging only at night to forage for whatever they can get. Goblins in particular are poorly armed and have very low morale (subtract 2 from normal rating), since the other goblinoid races regard them as a soft target and often hunt them at night. The only important exception to this general picture is the orcish citadel of Harrgrek Kukulend, detailed below.
The Militia of Cairn Hills
The expanded Cairn Hills militia has eight bases: three well fortified keeps, four forts, and one housed garrison. The locations and roles of each of these is followed by a detailing of the troops and leaders. The Militia is under the command of Tigran Gellner, who occasionally rides to the Free City to make detailed reports to the Directors about events in the Cairn Hills.
Stonefort: Far to the north, this garrison of 60 militiamen watches over the southern Nyr Dyv. The fort doubles as a penal colony; criminals sentenced to forced labor work in gravel quarries here. Their produce is shipped and then conveyed by wagon to the garrison at Stonebridge and on to the Free City.
There are some 80 convicts here at any given time, who have average life expectancy of five years. This posting is truly a grim one, and the militiamen are hard and cruel. Trained tracker dogs are used to chase the very few criminals who escape their shackles and manacles, and they often make short work of any exhausted wretch they catch.
Stonebridge: This small garrison keeps careful watch over river traffic approaching Greyhawk. It comprises some 20 men and always includes at least two lieutenants. Trained homing pigeons are used to alert the Free City to any major approaching danger, although the Selintan beacon system is being installed here as a backup. Life is usually quiet here for the men, who tend to lose a lot of their wages gambling with the gnomes of Grossettgrottell.
Diamond Lake: The fort here houses a garrison of 60 militia whose remit is to patrol the areas around the mining towns of the north, and to liase with the halfling communities to the north. The Blackwall Keep militia may call for reinforcements from here if trouble erupts in the Mistmarsh, so it is not entirely a backwater post.
Blackwall Keep, Marsh Keep: Both keeps are strong, stone towers with stockaded horse corrals. Should swift dispatch of messengers be necessary, horses are employed (pigeons tend to get eaten too easily by hawks here).
Each keep contains some 40 militiamen. Regular patrols around the edges of the Mistmarsh are mounted from here, although the Marsh isn’t entered by these men. Although these are not technically located within the Cairn Hills, they are subsumed under the Commander of the Cairn Hills.
Fort Leman: This is the northernmost of the three “spinal” central garrisons, holding some 50 men. This slightly isolated fort is in an area of low population density and is a listening post more than anything else.
Fort Gellner: Named after the previous Commander of the Cairn Hills militia, this strongly fortified stone and wooden fort houses 120 militia selected for their toughness and high degree of discipline. The fort is being completed, having been rebuilt from the ruins of an old stronghold in the land previously controlled by the Duchy to the east.
Of the militia, 10 are members of the elite Mountaineer Militia. Patrols (at least 10 strong) operate in all nearby areas within the hills, and spying missions with the Mountaineers’ griffons extend well to the south and past the borders with Urnst (by arrangement). The garrison’s remit includes tracking down and slaying monsters and groups of humanoids; the men here are warlike. This is a posting where the men see action, and their wages (double normal) reflect that.
Ryell Pass: The keep here has the same name as the pass in which it stands. The garrison of 80 men here is similar to that at Fort Gellner. This keep serves as a stopping-off and resting point for Mountaineer Militia who have overflown the Abbor-Alz mountains from Karistyne’s Castle or Storm Keep.
In addition to the specific duties of each garrison, each must provide aid, when needed, to those who have accepted Greyhawk’s rule in the area. Those who accept rule" means those who pay taxes or tithes, or who provide other returns (such as bodies for conscripted military service; some small gnomish communities provide volunteers to work as lamplighters on the Selintan barges, for example).
Settlements in the Cairn Hills
Mining Towns in the Cairn Hills
Other Sites in the Cairn Hills