Proper Name: Restored Holy Realm of the Faithful of the Shield Lands
Ruler: Her Most Honorable Ladyship, Countess Katarina of Walworth, Knight Commander of the Shield Lands (LG female human Pal15 of Heironeous)
Government: Commonwealth of local lords ruled by highest ranking noble of Walworth Isle, who is also Knight Commander of local religious army
Major Towns: Admundfort (pop. 5,000? [occupied by Iuz]), Bright Sentry (pop. 2,700; Scragholme Island), Critwall (pop. 14,300); all other towns destroyed
Provinces: (Formerly) twenty-three petty noble domains on the mainland, ruled from Admundfort (the island was its own separate domain); (now) two free domains (mainland area controlled from Critwall, and Scragholme Island), with the remainder of the land overrun but badly controlled by Iuz’s forces Resources: Livestock and foodstuffs in northern occupied lands, not exported; few resources in free lands
Coinage: Currently none, but a mint is being prepared; old coinage is used when found: knight (gp), axeman (ep), shield (sp), sheaf (cp)
Population: 27,000—Human 79% (Osf), Halfling 9%, Elf 5%, Dwarf 3%, Gnome 2%, Half-elf 1%, Halforc 1%
Languages: Common, Halfling, Elven Alignments: LG*, LN, CG
Religions: Heironeous*, St. Cuthbert, Mayaheine, Pholtus, Trithereon
Allies: Furyondy, Veluna, Verbobonc, Dyvers, Greyhawk, Duchy of Urnst, County of Urnst, Highfolk, church of Heironeous
Enemies: Iuz, all remaining forces of the Hierarchs of the Horned Society, all remaining forces of the Bandit Kingdoms; disliked greatly by Knights of the Hart
Overview: The Shield Lands consisted of two dozen provinces of various size, stretching from the fertile region east of the Ritensa River in the south to the Vigilant Highway, from Plague Fields to Alhaster (which joined the Bandit Kingdoms in 577 CY as part of Redhand). The nation’s northern border has shifted throughout the centuries, but it was generally defined by the southern margins of the Rift Barrens.
Prior to the wars, the Shield Lands had established perhaps the most modern and well-cared-for system of roadways in the Flanaess. When armies overran the nation from the north and east, these roads helped to speed the land’s downfall. Most roads remain in good condition, and are used by the forces of Iuz to ship goods to northern lands.
The local climate is temperate, and less harsh that the Bandit Kingdoms to the north. Though far from tropical, the southern coast of the Shield Lands provide the most hospitable beaches in all the Nyr Dyv coastline.
The current nation, often referred to as the “New Shield Lands,” encompasses only the 20–30 miles surrounding the city of Critwall and Scragholme Island, at the mouth of the Veng-Ritensa River. A keep on Scragholme Isle, Bright Sentry, guards a small but growing port that bears the same name and serves as the island domain’s local capital. The current government proclaims that the recapture of all lost lands is its primary goal, though fighting has ground to a virtual standstill within the last year.
The rest of the Shield Lands fell swiftly to Iuz as he swept from the west during the Greyhawk Wars. The well-maintained primary roads of the Shield Lands made this conquest easier for the Demipower, if anything. The lands have suffered greatly since. While 15,000 or so Shield Landers escaped across the Nyr Dyv and the Artonsamay to Furyondy, Urnst, Greyhawk, Dyvers and points west, some 20,000 others were killed in the wars or have been slaughtered by Iuz’s brutal armies of occupation since. The Shield Lands have been heavily depopulated and much of the land ruthlessly pillaged and razed. However, the port of Admundfort proclaimed a regional capital in 587 CY, is very important to the occupiers, because of the trade which can be conducted across the Nyr Dyv for the food the northern lands need so badly. The Shield Lands themselves also yield good food and livestock. On the latter count, it’s worth remembering that most humanoids prefer livestock to humans as a meal!
The effectiveness of the rulership in Admundfort is questionable, as the island is currently besieged by the Furyondian navy and occasionally invaded by fanatical adventuring groups. The isle is thought to be defended entirely by orcs, who may have killed everyone else present. Iuz had generally employed hobgoblins from the Horned Society as soldiers here, with loyal orcs and orogs from the Land of Iuz in the key citadel of Admundfort and one or two other important castles and garrisons. Displacing the hobgoblins has the useful effect of allowing Iuz to place more of his own orcs in the Horned Lands territories left vacant by the hobgoblins.
Rulership and Races of the Shield Lands
Iuz has secured the main cities, castles and towns with his priests and mages in firm control, allowing the remainder of the land to be pillaged, marauded, or ruled by fiends, priests, or humanoids as is expedient. This strategy works well for a land where the main goal is to ruthlessly exploit and dominate the people, but it also gives rise to some problems. Especially to the east, near the Bandit Lands, where the uncoordinated nature of the rulership makes effective control of armies very difficult. Open conflict often results, the most notorious case being the warring fiends of Stahzer. Away from the main centers, rulership is often exercised by the person or fiend strong enough to enforce his dominion. All serve Iuz, of course, but they have differing views of how service should best be rendered.
Exercise of control is not helped by the fact that the nominal ruler is an embittered, Lesser Boneheart mage, Vayne, about whom little has been heard since the Great Northern Crusade. His location in Admundfort is too distant from the sites of many conflicts and the mage himself is not exactly a faithful and loyal servant of Iuz.
The Shield Lands have no indigenous humanoids, of course. All orcs, hobgoblins and such are drawn from the west. Fiends have carte blanche to do as they wish, outside of the major controlled towns and cities. To the east, they are supposed to tell the priestly rulers of Balmund what they do, but being chaotic, they rarely bother. Free-roving renegade fiends are as unpredictable as the servants of the warring Nobles of Stahzer and every bit as vicious.
The remaining human population of the land has almost entirely been enslaved and they are treated appallingly. Many thousands have been sacrificed and a typical strategy employed by Iuz’s priests in the fertile farmlands here vividly demonstrates the brutal treatment meted out to the survivors. Towns such as Axeport and Stahzer were completely leveled and depopulated. Often, a farming village of 100 people will have twenty or so slain and animated as zombies, to work at the very simplest menial duties on the land. The others are then told to work 16-hour days under their hobgoblin masters or else they are slain and animated themselves. Ideally, Iuz would like to have the entire human population animated as undead, but some intelligence is needed for most tasks and live humans can also be used as hostages, most notably surviving Knights of Holy Shielding, imprisoned both within these lands and in western fortresses and cities. So, some 30,000 of the Shield Lands original pre-war 65,000 human population is still alive, but it isn’t an existence that most would envy.
There is virtually no opposition from this quarter to Iuz’s rule. The Knights of Holy Shielding are all but lost to the land, and a rare niche of surviving rebellion such as Ringland is not capable of any active resistance of note. Iuz has crushed the Shield Lands and he is content with that.
Iuz controls a chaotic army of nonhumans here, numbering in the tens of thousands. The Shield Lands forces, stationed in Critwall, consist of some 5,000 infantry and cavalry. Though most of these men and women are elite, battle-hardened veterans, they are war-weary and know that the sheer numbers of nonhumans in their homeland makes a direct assault suicidal.
The people of the New Shield Lands have changed considerably in the last two decades. What once was overweening pride has changed to determination to regain lost lands. These are good, dedicated (if occasionally overzealous) folk who see their mission clearly. They are willing to sacrifice their lives to regain what once was theirs.
Locations and Settlements in the Shield Lands:
- Law’s Forge
- The Plague Fields
- Scragholme Island
History: When Ferrond broke from the Great Kingdom in 254 CY, the nobles of the Nyr Dyv’s north shore refused to acknowledge the new king in Dyvers. Loyal to the ideal of ancient Aerdy but wholly opposed to the decadent regime in Rauxes, these nobles failed to declare complete independence, instead existing somewhere in-between autonomy and their former status as vassals to the viceroy.
When similar circumstances resulted, ultimately, in the formation of the lawless Combination of Free Lords to the north, the southern nobles banded together, forming the “Shield Lands” as a bulwark against the depredations and chaos of the north. Since the earl of Walworth commanded Admundfort, at the time the only notable city in the region, he was chosen as the knight commander of the combined forces of the nobles. Within a handful of years, the new capital saw the formation of the Knights of Holy Shielding, a Heironean order that both formed the core of the new national army and served as an example of good, clean living through dedication to strict, militaristic goals.
The first true challenge to the authority of the shield came during 420–445 CY, when a local warlord gained the Hand and Eye of Vecna, two surpassingly evil artifacts. The lord, Halmadar the Cruel, conquered the region near Delcomben and laid siege to Critwall before being drugged by his subjects and interred alive in the Kron Hills. After the Halmadar affair, the earl of Walworth increased the size of the Knights of Holy Shielding, stationing his holy warriors as advisers throughout the land.
When the Horned Society appeared after the disappearance of Iuz, affairs in the Shield Lands reached a desperate crescendo. Here were enemies dedicated to vile darkness and evil sacrifice, who had sworn upon the ashen altars of Molag’s Hall of Dread that they would march to Admundfort and line the walls with the earl’s intestines. Though years passed without significant military activity, the period between 550–570 saw heavy skirmishing along the western banks of the Ritensa River. Great forts such as Torkeep were raised, but such defenses soon proved inadequate.
In 579 CY, the Horned Society banded together with the lords of the bandit realms Warfields and Wormhall. With hobgoblin and mercenary armies supported by daemons and demodands, the vast host swarmed the western territories, bypassing strongholds and laying waste to villages and farmsteads. Thousands of Shield Landers gathered at Axeport to halt the invasion, but their line was broken and their bodies thrown as fodder to inhuman beasts. By 581, all but Critwall had fallen to the invaders, who had been joined by other Bandit Kingdoms’ troops. The victors carved up the Shield Lands, dividing it into chaotic holdings ruled by bandits, goblinoids, and agents of the Horned Society.
Though many Knights of the Shield remained in Critwall, hundreds more spread to the good countries of the Flanaess, pleading with their leaders to send armies and aid to their fallen land. The gruff arrogance of the Shield Lands nobles had caused deeper rifts than anyone had imagined, however, and despite faint agreements that something must be done, little came of the recruiting effort.
In the early months of 583 CY, however, the occupiers began fleeing the country, leaving only handfuls of easily defeated bands behind. Though few understood at the time, reports that Iuz’s armies were on the march frightened even the cold-blooded Hierarchs, who ordered all armies back to the heartlands to prepare for a defense. By Coldeven, when the Hierarchs were nearly all slain and the Horned Lands quietly fell to Iuz, the battered Shield Lands had been reconquered in the name of Earl Holmer, Knight Commander of the realm.
Furyondy, which had great experience dealing with Iuz and his armies, dispatched emissaries to Admundfort, offering military and financial support for the grand invasion that surely was to come. Fearing annexation so soon after reclaiming his damaged homelands, Holmer curtly refused these offers and expelled Belvor’s agents from his realm. Within months, Iuz’s armies, which had savaged the western Bandit Kingdoms, stood on his eastern border.
Outflanked and unable to support resistance on two fronts, the Shield Lands crumpled swiftly. Over 11,000 Shield Landers fell in the invasion, with as many dying in the subsequent occupation. While life under the bandits and Hierarchs had been difficult, at least the rulers had been (in most cases) human. Now, under Iuz, farmers were forced to work for orcs, necromancers, and demons. These creatures knew nothing of mercy, and life in the Shield Lands became that of fearful persistence, of not knowing if the next day would bring death or disfigurement, knowing that it would not bring hope.
Except for lone fortified keeps and minor pockets of rural resistance, the whole of the Shield Lands fell to Iuz. A daring defense of Admundfort allowed much of the capital’s population to flee via ship to Willip, but the evacuation was not completed. Earl Holmer, ever the noble knight, remained with his homeland, only to be carried off to the dungeons of Dorakaa. (A daring group of Furyondian heroes rescued him in 585 CY, but he was a broken shell of a man by then and died, insane, late that year.)
Occupied Admundfort was taken by Iuz as the new regional capital, to be administered by a Lesser Boneheart mage, Vayne, and assorted demons. The rest of the country fell to lesser leaders, including several fiends. The fertile lands of the Shield Lands became the breadbasket for Iuz’s entire army, much of the physical labor carried out by zombies or humans under the constant threat of murder and subsequent revivification.
When King Belvor IV called the Great Northern Crusade in Planting 586, the ranks of Furyondy swelled with Shield Lands exiles. Belvor appointed Lady Katarina, Earl Holmer’s young cousin, as Lady Marshall of an entire army of Shield Landers, Knights of Holy Shielding, Furyondians, and foreign mercenaries. This force distinguished itself in early victories and was instrumental in the recapture of Grabford.
Thereafter, Lady Katarina turned her attentions to her homeland, smashing into Critwall with zealous military precision. By 588 CY, with Critwall cleared of enemy forces, the government of the Shield Lands was reestablished, albeit over a very small area. Katarina was named Knight Commander of the region.
Lady Katarina and her knights now look east, planning surgical strikes against the enemy, confident that they will reclaim their lost land. (“Perhaps not this year or the next,” they say.) Heironeous has shown them the path of righteousness, and it is long and lined with great sacrifice and furious battle. Those shackled by the Lord of Pain will be released, they cry. Those who fear the break of dawn will be taught the art of war and the strength of courage. The lost lands will be reclaimed, they promise. The Shield will rise again!
Soldiers outside the knighthood, however, view the prospects of liberating the rest of the Shield Lands as bleak, at least through the rest of the decade and probably longer. The forces arrayed against them are overwhelming in numbers, arms, and fortifications. It will be a long and bitter fight.
Conflicts and Intrigues: Some “liberated” humans are suspected of being agents of Iuz, but they are now ensconced in important positions in Critwall. A proposed alliance with the bandit refugees in the Tangles caused a bitter schism between Countess Katarina, who does not tolerate lawlessness, and her closest advisors, who are far more practical (“The enemy of our enemy is our friend”).