The King’s Highway – or – PCs ask the darndest things!
The first adventure I ever helmed as GM was the Wildsgate adventure. I wanted to eventually be able to skip around from one DCC to another without paying any heed to geographical constraints, so I created a campaign setting called the “Temple of True North.” The underlying premise is that much of the world was depopulated by some sort of cataclysm and the Temple of True North has been taken over by a contingent of Lammasu trying to get to the bottom of what caused the “Great Catastrophe.” So they send out adventuring parties to remote locations of the world to explore, establish new trade routes, and search for clues as to what brought a former high-magic civilization to its knees.
As inexperienced raw recruits for the True North Trading Co., my party of PCs was offered a “simple” mission to find out what had happened to a previous adventuring party which had teleported to the vicinity of Wildsgate but never returned. So after my players stocked up on supplies and collected a few rumors as to what challenges they might face in The Wilds, they were teleported to a spot not far from the King’s Highway (coincidentally near the X marked “Player’s Start” on the adventure map).
As they approached the road they could see the River Saedre flowing on the other side and asked a passing peasant for directions. They were told that the tree line on the northern shore of the river was the very edge of “The Wilds,” and that if they wanted to reach Wildsgate they should follow the King’s Highway eastward. And of course the first question out of one of my players’ mouths was: “Which King built the King’s Highway?”
The peasant pleaded genuine ignorance, but the truth of the matter was: I didn’t have a clue either! Plus, I didn’t want to make something up on the spot that might paint me into a narrative corner later on!
The Temple of True North employs Divine Oracles (from the Complete Divine supplement) to go on vision quests along rivers and roads to hopefully find abandoned ruins worthy of exploration. After my party’s successful return from the Wilds, one of the oracles attempted to map out the King’s Highway to see where it ultimately led. In his vision, the oracle saw a road leading to a frozen face staring out at the sky. Further research showed that this face might be linked to the former “fifth wonder of the world” – i.e. the Talons of the Horned King. So when my PC’s were teleported to a point near the small village of Kyarovsk, they found themselves on a road which was built from different materials than the King’s Highway, but was remarkably similar in proportion and design.
Then I finally forked over the dough to get the World of Aereth Gazetteer. Now I had an opportunity to place both Wildsgate and Kyarovsk in some sort of geographical context. So how far did the “King’s Highway” actually go, and where to?
Some posters have complained that the World of Aereth Gazetteer maps (large as they are) don’t show any road systems or well defined political borders. To me this is a plus, because it means I can decide for myself which towns are connected by roads and where potential trade routes might lie. Also, I don’t think ANY magical kingdom should be overly blessed with an abundance of roads. If it were really possible for high level wizards to teleport you anywhere you’ve already been, it would be far more efficient to pay someone to teleport you and your trade goods from one end of the continent to the other. After all, why risk life and limb against bandits and all sorts of environmental hazards when you could get from one capital city to another in the blink of an eye?
Road building would never be a high priority for a magic kingdom, except for possibly the merchant classes. For those not fortunate enough to be born of noble blood, the only form of “upward mobility”(economically speaking) would be to seek their fortune by finding new and more profitable trade routes (or turn to lives of crime, obviously
Which is all just a long winded way of explaining why I went to the trouble of drawing out a map of the “King’s Highway”- and wrote up a short history detailing why it had been built and precisely where it led. And all because PCs ask the darndest things!
In true Roman fashion, my roads can only be built in straight lines so that the mile markers can be gauged accurately (the history of the odometer is a fascinating story, BTW – at least to hear the History Channel tell it).
The King’s Highway
In the days of yore when the Barony of Valsund
was at its peak, four neighboring kingdoms entreated with King Jarregut the Great
to establish a trade route which would span the breadth of the five kingdoms that they might mutually prosper. Reputable merchants would be given free passage, the flow of goods and services all the way from the Straits of Ytmal
to Valfors Bay
would be unimpeded by banditry or ill fortune. Or at least that was what the “Treaty of the King’s Highway” was intended to accomplish at its inception.
There was a time when merchant barrons would boast that they could ship a barrel of ale from the port city of Avenors
to the far north bay of Galeron
within a fortnight, and it was no empty boast. Unfortunately, that time is long past. Most of the King’s Highway has long since collapsed into ruin and neglect, and even in its heyday, much of the “highway” was traversed by rivers and waterways rather than paved stone.
The longest stretch of the King's Highway which is still essentially intact is the reach connecting the dwarven port of Stalgard
to the coastal metropolis of Avenors
. The Highway was built at a time when dwarves, elves and men still had amicable trade relations (if you can imagine it). The Steel Overlords
of the dwarven clans would ferry goods from their capital city of Ul Balhar
down to the port of Stalgard
, where cargo was then unloaded onto caravans headed west. Even in those days the Saedre River
was riddled with rapids and falls, so the first great bridge along the King's Highway was forged where the low mountains meet the forest of The Wilds
Back then, the hill fort of Wildsgate
was first human settlement to welcome weary travelers along the road to Veltos
. But the Barony of Wildsgate
seems to have grown weaker in its resolve to defend the road in recent generations, and the march between Stalgard
has become one of the most dangerous treks along the Highway. Only a small percentage of merchants have been able to steer clear of the goblin raiders lurking in The Wilds
While the road between Wildsgate
has fallen into disrepair, it is still serviceable as need be. When the merchants of Avenors
say they “do business on the King's Highway,” they are most assuredly referring to the small stretch of road between Avenors
, easily the most heavily trafficked portion of the Highway in the present age.
When the road was first built, the Elven Kingdom of Amn’crith
allowed free passage from Avenors
though the forest so that barges could make their way up river to the Uthurian
city of Talisade.
The road leading from Talisade
to the Luithean
city of Armandel
is still heavily traveled, though there is a toll bridge to be found when crossing from one kingdom into the other.
In its day, Celinost
was the capital ward of the Valsund Barony, which could be reached via waterway from its sister city of Araduin
. The road from Armandel
still stands, but banditry along the road has been a constant danger ever since the Barony of Valsund
fell into ruin so long ago. The former barony was not renamed “The Warlands
” for nothing. What was once the most crucial link in the Galeron
trade route from Kithmon
is virtually non-existent today. Valsund’s warring heirs tore up the pavement the King's Highway to build watchtowers and checkpoints along the way. Kithmon
still entreats with tradesmen from the Kingdom of Morrain
, but their longstanding feud with the Witch Wood
elves has taken its toll on interstate commerce.
The barbarian chieftains of Ternyziem
have learned that nothing but taxation and treachery awaits them in the corrupted port of Morcaut
, and market their goods accordingly. Ternyziem
has much stronger trade ties with Galeron
than any city to the south. The last stretch of King’s Highway which was built and paid for from the same money chest was the reach between Ternyziem
back when the Talons of the Horned King
were still regarded as “the fifth wonder of the world.” Most of the locals have long since wised up to the tourist trap that it is, but some seers travel from as far away as Kithmon
to visit the Talons
In this day and age, when people are asked to point out the “King’s Highway” on a map, they will typically draw a straight line from Stalgard
and warn you steer clear of The Wilds
. But how many still remember that the King’s Highway was commissioned by none other than King Jarregut the Great
, or that songs of Ternyziem
were once sung in the mead halls of Ul Balhar
? Such are the ignorant and perilous times we live in.
- None the Wiser, Gentleman and Scholar