This isolated halfling town lies on the southern coast of the Nyr Dyv’s shallow Midbay arm, 12 miles east of the mouth of the Selintan River. The largest demi- human settlement within the Domain of Greyhawk, Elmshire sits near the middle of a strip of temperate, fertile grassland between the northern slopes of the Cairn Hills and the Midbay, measuring about 35 miles long east-west and up to 6 miles wide north-south. This green, rolling region, which locals call the South Shore, is dotted with the farms and herds of many dozens of halfling families, with a few gnome and human families living among them.
Elmshire appears quite different from human communities, as it is spread out and has no community core. There are few large wooden buildings like barns or inns, which humans are accustomed to seeing in villages, and even the larger structures here are widely separated. It is said that a man could walk from one end of Elmshire to the other and be only vaguely aware he has passed through a significant settlement.
Elmshire is bisected by a large stream called Green River that flows down from the Cairn Hills, forking once near the shore around a small island delta (Big Isle). A second, smaller delta (Little Isle) lies at the mouth of Eastbranch, the lesser watercourse splitting from Green River. Green River divides the town into two general districts, Westfields and Eastfields, with the farms on Big Isle forming a small third district. The Green River is roughly 30 feet wide and rarely more than 5 feet deep, and it does not appear on most maps of the area.
The land for miles around is entirely cultivated or used for pasture, except for numerous small woodlots and the sand- and-rock beach on the east side of Elmshire. Farm borders are marked by stone posts and ditches, unless ponies, sheep, goats, or cattle are kept and wooden fences are used. Most homes of the halfling population are actually underground, dug below low mounds of earth that are piled higher and made broader when the homes are constructed. A typical burrow mound measures 40-50 feet across and 5 feet high, housing beneath it a family of two to four adults and up to twice as many children. A clay or metal chimney invariably pokes up near the top of the mound, emitting blue smoke at various times of the day as one of the halflings’ four or five mealtimes approaches. Some mounds are covered with ivy, herb or vegetable gardens, shrubbery, decorative stones, sculptures, or wildflowers, but many are covered with thick grass on which livestock graze. Some mounds cover underground tool sheds, chicken coops, breweries, bakeries, or food-storage cellars. Broad, low-roofed barns are uncommon but present on larger farms. Elms are the most common tree, but willows and oaks also abound.
A wide, stone-paved, well-built highway called the High Road leads down to Elmshire from the rugged Cairn Hills, connecting the town with the City of Greyhawk (about 58 miles away to the southwest) and one of its three mining communities. Steaming Springs (about 28 miles away). High Road crosses the Green River at White Bridge, a large and cleverly designed wooden structure built in 551 CY. Because of its location. White Bridge is sometimes taken to be the center of Elmshire. Four inns lie within 400 feet of it, and outdoor celebrations usually take place here by the banks of Green River. Many curved dirt paths spread out from High Road to the town’s farmsteads, with short stone pillars at intersections displaying the names of the various routes. High Road is not paved beyond White Bridge; it is called Long Trail as it winds along the shoreline to the east, soon turning into a footpath and ending about 17 miles away in hilly wilderness. Several narrow paths lead into the hills from Elmshire’s southernmost farms. These trails are used by hunters, goat and sheep herders, mushroom-pickers, and the occasional fortune-seeker.
Along the northwestern Midbay shore, weathered wooden piers extend into the shallow waters, which are in many places covered with cattails, reeds, and other tall lakeside plants. Midbay provides fish for local dinners and for export. The shipping trade here, though minor compared to Greyhawk’s, is still important to Elmshire’s economy, as noted later in this article. At night, the South Shore is lit by many candles, torches, and lanterns, often used by ships on the Nyr Dyv to guide themselves toward the entrance to the Selintan farther west. This habit has persisted despite conflicts with the Rhennee, as the halflings regard their homeland as a light in the darkness of the world and feel they should show it.
History: The South Shore was probably home to nomadic bands of Flan hunters and fishers for ages. The ruins of very old gnome burrows and cottages are also found in the area, but these have little of interest to treasure hunters. The Flan and gnomes were likely chased off over six centuries ago by early Suloise settlers; these established some farms but were eventually driven off themselves by large bandit gangs around 100 CY. This fertile land was resettled in force by a large halfling family, the Hardiggins, in 335 CY. Their cluster of farms attracted many more halfling settlers from the Cairn Hills, and this spot was named Elmshire after a large grove of elms by which the Hardiggins first built their homes. (This grove exists today just beyond Westfields.)
The Cairn Hills here have little in the way of valuable metal or mineral resources, and both the Nyr Dyv and the hills have bad reputations for their inhabitants (monsters, pirates or bandits, lethal ruins, and others). These factors encouraged humans to build farms else¬ where, to the halflings’ relief, and the farms prospered. Bandits occasionally raided the area, but the farmers had little worth stealing. Moreover, the halflings became adept at scouting, setting traps and ambushes, firing missiles from cover and camouflage, and gaining forged iron and magical weaponry from Greyhawk. Having found a fertile niche in the world, the halflings were determined not to lose it.
The community prospered while Zagig Yragerne was in charge of Greyhawk, as he ignored the halflings except to have the Selintan’s mouth carefully marked with buoys and lights to allow Nyr Dyv shipping to pass safely through the shallow waters of Midbay. Zagig also directed many attacks against bandits who had traditionally lurked in the Cairn Hills, and his name is revered even now among Elmshire’s inhabitants. (Some of the oldest citizens here even remember seeing him personally.)
Elmshire has one historical figure of note: Pontus Hardiggin, a halfling traveler who ranged widely about the world between the years 350 and 390 CY before retiring to Elmshire to write his memoirs. Life Afoot is found in many libraries across the Flanaess, and it is one of the most entertaining travelogues ever written. Among other stories, some obviously fabricated, Hardiggin described a visit to a secret, idyllic land in which halflings and giants lived in peace, blessed with fertile soil, health, and a great deposit of gold, emeralds, and useful metals. Hardiggin placed this land in the Yatils, but this may have been intended as a joke or a deliberate attempt to protect the inhabitants of that happy land by misdirection. Pontus met Zagig Yragerne several times, but he privately felt the Lord Mayor was “as crazy as a Midsummer Night werewolf.” A few halfling adventurers call Elmshire their home—_"walking in Old Pont’s footsteps,"_ as some locals say. However, adventuring is generally regarded here as inordinately dangerous and uncomfortable.
Since Zagig’s time, not much of note has occurred in this town, aside from a few notable lake monsters coming ashore or attacking ships, and a period when pirates raided the town before being crushed by warships from Furyondy (525-526 cy). Bandits are still a problem every year for outlying farms, though with the Greyhawk Militia out in force since the Greyhawk Wars, few marauders have been sighted.
For almost a century, Elmshire has been governed by a mayor, usually a former adventurer or wealthy merchant who traveled widely beyond the town but who spent enough time in Elmshire to still be considered a trustworthy local. The mayor is elected for life but can retire or be voted out of office by a simple majority of voters. Only the town elders (the heads of each farm household) can vote; two-thirds of the elders are male. Elmshire mayors have been elected since 499 CY, one year after Greyhawk proclaimed it was a free and independent city. A total of nine mayors have served here, eight of them male or female halflings and one a male gnome, a veteran of the Hateful Wars in the Kron Hills to the west. Until recently, the town was always independent of Greyhawk’s authority. The only requirement for the position of mayor is that the townsfolk have confidence in the candidate’s abilities to defend and protect the region, which includes settling local disputes and making trade deals with outside groups as much as it means organizing and leading the local militia, if it must be raised.
The current mayor is His Honor Windsor Greenshade (N male halfling Fighter L5/Rogue L6), a former adventurer who left Elmshire in 540 CY and returned twenty years later, wealthy but weary of the state of affairs in the world. He was elected mayor after the murder of Her Honor Marigold Runner and six other halflings and humans in 571 CY by bandits on the High Road. Mayor Greenshade successfully led the town’s defense against these and other bandits until 574 CY, when the City of Greyhawk sent strong patrols through the Cairn Hills and began improving the High Road between the two communities. Greenshade personally led seven assaults on bandit lairs near Elmshire, and he is credited with killing twelve brigands and executing another dozen. He later negotiated trade deals with restaurants in the City of Greyhawk to supply them with smoked fish and goat cheese, starting the town’s most recent economic boom.
Mayor Greenshade had another notable effect on Elmshire in encouraging more halflings from the Cairn Hills to come to the South Shore and join their fellows, seeking safety in numbers from brigands. The town nearly doubled in size between 571 and 582 CY because of the huge migration to the community. Food production boomed, and caravans from Greyhawk began appearing several times a week to haul away produce to feed the city’s hundred legions.
By 582 CY, about 5,100 adult halflings lived here, with a smattering of gnomes and humans that the halflings found acceptable company. There were tidings of evil events across the Nyr Dyv (the return of Iuz in 570 CY, primarily, and tales of fighting between the Shield Lands and invaders from the Bandit Kingdoms and the Horned Society in 579-581 CY), but life was still good, and Elmshire was considered secure. The start of the Greyhawk Wars in the north, particularly the crushing of the Shield Lands in 583 CY, stunned everyone, but it did not change this picture of prosperity and peace.
Then a mysterious plague struck in late spring 583 CY, spreading rapidly throughout the community. The town was quarantined by the mayor, who ordered guards to turn away traffic on the High Road for two months. The plague is now generally called Yellow Eye, as one of the early symptoms of infection was a pale yellow color in the corneas. The disease had vile characteristics and caused the sufferer to lose all appetite and thirst, waste away, and die within a week. Force-feeding proved unsuccessful as a cure; magic and priests were in short supply and able to save only a handful of citizens. About a quarter of Elmshire’s adult citizens died. The adult halfling population fell to 3,800 by 584 CY, but many children died of the disease as well, perhaps raising the total mortality to almost 5,000. Humans and
gnomes caught Yellow Eye as well and were made ill, but none died from it. Large stone cairns now stand at the sites of seven mass graves dug in 583-584 CY, just beyond the southernmost farms.
The devastating effects of the plague extended beyond the deaths of Elmshire’s residents. In addition to fears that the plague would spread to the Free City, the Directing Oligarchy of Greyhawk was concerned that the entire halfling community would collapse, leaving Greyhawk’s northern border open to landings by forces allied with luz. The fish, cheese, wool, grain, and other produce from Elmshire were important to the city, and food riots were to be avoided at all costs.
The Oligarchy eventually worked out an agreement with Mayor Greenshade that was approved by the town elders and signed into effect in Patchwall, 583 CY. Given Elmshire’s weak state, Greyhawk would provide military protection to all the South Shore, particularly Elmshire, in return for a low level of taxation. This tax is collected several times each year and shipped by guarded caravan to Greyhawk. The Oligarchs worried that the taxes would not be kept up over time, but this proved unfounded. Soldiers from the Greyhawk Militia have since been stationed here for shore patrol duty, and their presence has also lessened the number of bandit attacks in the hills to the south. The older halflings who survived the disease have not forgotten its horrors, but they almost never speak of it now. They do drink more than most halflings do, however, and are quite somber and depressed at times.
Another dramatic event marked Elmshire and damaged its hospitality. In the spring of 585 CY, about forty adult halflings disappeared in separate incidents while on guard duty along the Midbay shoreline. An investigation by outside adventurers revealed that the guards were being drugged by a renegade halfling in league with an evil Rhennee family. These Rhennee worked for Iuz, and they took the kidnapped halflings across the Nyr Dyv to an unspeakable fate in the Empire of Iuz.
Public outcry was so intense after this incident that the normally placid nature of Elmshire’s citizens was completely discarded. The Merrifoot and Proudhair families, all halflings who were involved in this vile business, were branded, beaten, and exiled as a result, their lands and possessions seized for public auction. Several members of these families now live in the Old City of Greyhawk , reportedly performing menial jobs and drinking heavily; the rest have scattered. The ringleader, Permen Merrifoot, was hanged after a trial lasting three days, and his body was burned to ashes.
The town of Elmshire then turned completely against the Rhennee. Before 580 CY, several dozen Rhennee barges were allowed to dock at Elmshire and winter over, their coins adding to the town’s coffers. As Iuz spread his influence through the Rhennee, however, the bargefolk became less popular and were accused (with some good reason) of local thefts. Relations between halflings and Rhennee decayed to the point where trade between them ceased and halflings regarded the Rhennee as evil.
The kidnapping and undoubted murder of the forty guards, however, enraged the halflings beyond reason. Two Rhennee barges were attacked by missile fire as they approached Elmshire in the summer of 585 CY, and the bargefolk have avoided the town completely since then. In 587 CY, an attempt was made by a neutral party in Greyhawk to reconcile the two sides, but it failed miserably when Mayor Greenshade spat at the Rhennee and cursed them bitterly for the treachery of their fellows. He shouted that he would see every Rhennee who set foot on the South Shore swing dead from a tree within an hour, and the townspeople roared their approval. Matters have not improved since then. A squad of twenty-two Greyhawk Militia soldiers is now stationed here and rotated monthly, patrolling the coast on horseback. Elmshire’s militia has several watchposts established, reinforced by friendly Greyhawk mercenaries hired by the wealthier halflings of the community and supplied with good armor and weapons. It is rumored that a wizard is being sought who would make Elmshire home and further aid the folk.
In 590 CY, the Association of Rafters, Freighters, and Bargemen of the Selintan was formed by workers from the Merchants’ and Traders’ Union. The Rafters (as this union is commonly known) was granted a monopoly on shipping big cargoes by raft, barge, or oared galley to ports along the Selintan, from Hardby to Greyhawk and to all villages between. Cargoes to and from Elmshire, on the Nyr Dyv, are included in the monopoly. This monopoly applies only if such cargoes originate within the Domain of Greyhawk, so foreign shippers can still pass through the Selintan freely, trading as they go. Though some residents of Elmshire feared the union was a ruse for Greyhawk to claim even more taxes in trade, the arrangement has worked out well for all involved. Trade has begun to rise perceptibly by water as well as land, and the feeling is that better times are around the comer.
At the present time, the population of Elmshire is just under 4,000 halfling adults, with three times as many children. Many surviving families blended after the Yellow Eye plague, and a good number of hill-dwelling halflings came to Elmshire in 586-588 CY by invitation of the mayor and elders, who gave the immigrants a chance to purchase homes and farmland left abandoned after the plague. After some debate, some southern farms in the Cairn Hills were opened for sale to landless gnomes from Greyhawk or Grossettgrottell, who gladly took the opportunity to join the town. Human settlement is not encouraged out of the (not unreasonable) fear that the larger folk will multiply and eventually find an excuse to drive out the smaller ones.
Another thousand halflings are scattered across the northern Caim Hills, most within 20 miles of the Nyr Dyv. Perhaps three hundred of these live within 10 miles of Elmshire itself. Most halflings here are the Hairfoot sort, with a few Stouts; Tallfellow halflings are almost unknown.
Rickety piers extend into the shallow, weedy waters along the shore of the Midbay. Blue, sweet smoke wafts upward from tiny chimneys jutting from the grassy ground beyond. And everywhere people are walking, riding ponies. running, and talking. This pastoral settlement of halflings has grown to become a major center for the diminutive demihumans, no doubt because of its proximity to Greyhawk itself.
Halflings, as rule, enjoy the Free City for a time but grow tired of living there. Consequently, more than 5,000 of them have settled here, near the inlet of the Selintan River. Wide banks of shallows have made the shores of Midbay inhospitable to large craft. Those vessels keep to the clearly indicated channel in the center of the wide waterway, following deep water all the way to the wharves of Greyhawk.
But the halflings, with their light canoes of leather and bark, found good fishing in those shallows. They brought sheep to the lower slopes of the Cairn Hills, and found that their flocks flourished along the grassy lake shore. And here, among a collection of low hills lying under the shade of a vast grove of elms, the halflings have settled. The solid wooden doors of their burrows dot the landscape, as do the shutters over their small windows and the often-smoking chimneys above their hearths.
Elmshire is a city of good food and cheery folk. Many inns have raised doorways and ceilings, and at least one or two human-sized beds, for human visitors are not uncommon here. Indeed, its shoreline often offers shelter to the barges of the Rhennee. In winter. the population of the town swells with the bargefolk who encamp here for the season.
At night Elmshire glows with thousands of candles, torches, and lanterns all flickering cheerily. If the air is clear, boatmen following the deep channel into the Selintan can mark their progress by the sight of the bustling town along the shore.
The halflings can assemble a ragged militia of some 600 fighters in an emergency, under the command of their mayor. All of the militia are armed with daggers. Three companies in addition use short bows, while the other two use short spears.