5E Friday Classics
A Geographical and Historical Survey of the Duchy of Berghof
by Woesinger, As found on the Canonfire website
The Duchy of Berghof lies in a broad, high vale embraced by the Hellfurnaces to the west and the peaks of the Kamph Mountains to east. A minor spur of the Hellfurnace Range, the Kamphs march north and east along the shores of Jeklea Bay, petering out into low coastal hills about 20 leagues west of Port Toli. Unlike their towering parents, the mountains are relatively low and untroubled by volcanic activity. Lush subtropical forests clothe the lower east-facing slopes, a reminder of the proximity of the pestilent jungles of the Amedio. Higher up, cloud forests of conifers, oak and brightly-flowering rhododendrons decked with hanging mosses, cover the low peaks, giving way only on the loftier mountains to grassy heaths, which are often shrouded in mist and low lying cloud. Snow persists only on a handful of the highest summits, though rainfall is heavy on the eastern slopes during the summer and autumn months.
Though the Vale of Berghof is well watered, the encircling mountains shelter it from the worst of the seasonal rains. Its relatively high elevation ensures that the temperatures here are moderate, a welcome relief from the sweltering summer heat in the rest of the Hold. The cool, clear waters of Lake Spendlowe lie at the heart of the Vale. Marodin inhabit the black depths of the lake, though they have little traffic with Berghof’s human inhabitants. The land rises gently from the lakeshore, sloping up in meadows and cleared fields to the wooded foothills and the steeper mountains slopes. Conifers, evergreen oak, rhododendron, kara and camphor trees predominate here.
The ring of mountains is broken in only two places. To the north, the fast-flowing upper Hool cuts a broad gap as it tumbles towards the plains in a series of spectacular cataracts. In the southeast, the Pass of Adlerweg winds along the upper reaches of the Gann River, through the Kamphs and down to the shores of Jeklea Bay. The Gann is only one of several fast-flowing torrents that pour into Lake Spendlowe. Fed by rains and spring melt waters, most can only be crossed at a handful of fords and bridges.
Fishing, farming and forestry are the main staples of Berghof’s populace. The forests of Berghof have long provided timber for the fleets of the Sea Prince, while Lake Spendlowe is known for its large brown trout and the giant pike that prey on them. The cleared land of the Vale is mainly used for goat and sheep herding, though small fields of barley, grain and corn thrive on the fertile fields along the lake shore. Some south-facing slopes boast small vineyards, though only the locals savour the dry white wine produced here.
Given its location, attacks from giants and other mountain creatures are not uncommon. The neighbouring Hellfurnaces are a patchwork of fire giant fiefs, ruled by petty chiefs who often recruit lesser giants (hill giants, ogres and the occasional troll) and other local humanoids (hobgoblins, orcs and gnolls) into their armies. Usually, the giants are too embroiled with their ceaseless internecine warfare to trouble the lowlands much. However, tales of the devastation wreaked by giant raids in the past still strike fear into the hearts of Berghof’s populace. Firedrakes, red dragons and other fire-loving creatures haunt the higher Hellfurnaces, though their incursions into the lowlands are even rarer than those of the giants. Given these threats, it is little wonder that the people of Berghof have tended to cluster together into fortified villages, surrounded by fields and grazing pastures, with isolated farmsteads being all but unknown.
Suel refugees, fleeing the destruction of their homeland in the Rain of Colourless Fire, first settled Berghof over a millennium ago. Compared to the sweltering plains and swamps of the Hool basin, the cool climate around Lake Spendlowe must have come as a relief to the first bedraggled settlers. They founded the settlement of Kusnir on the shores of the lake and somewhat grandiosely proclaimed their leader as the first Grand Duke of Berghof.
In those days, so soon after the fall of the Suel Imperium, the Hellfurnaces had not yet become as perilous as they are today. Instead the mountains provided security, insulating the nascent realm from the chaos and warfare that consumed much of the rest of the Flanaess. The promise of safety brought an influx of refugees – Suel and Oerid alike – and Berghof’s population and power slowly grew. At the behest of the grand dukes, the narrow strip of land along the shores of Jeklea Bay at the southern end of the Pass of Adlerweg was settled and a port built at Jakana. From there, ships set off, hugging the coasts to trade with Keoland, the Suel of Sasserine and the slavers of Port Toli.
Relations with the Toli soon soured, however. A Toli fleet sacked Jakana in -246 CY, beginning over a century of sporadic warfare between the slavers and Berghof. Toli armies attempted to force the Pass of Adlerweg on three occasions, leading the grand dukes to bar the pass with a stout keep. Attempts were also made on the northern gates of the Vale. However, the bard’s songs relate how the Sleros the Cunning used ancient dweomers to bend the waters of Lake Spendlowe to his will. Whipping the lake into a fury, he sent an enormous flood down the cataracts of the Hool, sweeping the advancing Toli army to its doom. Peace came only when King Sanduchar II of Keoland broke the Toli in -121 CY. The grand dukes rebuilt Jakana, which had been burnt by the vengeful Keoish fleet, and peace and prosperity returned for a time.
It was not to last. While Keoland was distracted elsewhere, the Toli rebuilt their power. Again they captured Jakana, renewing their fruitless attempts to force the passes into Berghof. Again, the men of Berghof manned the battlements of Adlerweg and the towers overlooking the Cataracts of the Hool. And again, peace came only when a Keoish king, this time Malv the Navigator, threw down the Toli in 43 CY. On hearing the tidings from the lowlands, the men of Berghof descended from Adlerweg Keep and slaughtered the isolated Toli garrison holding Jakana to a man.
The next threat to Berghof’s tranquillity came not from without, but from within. In 118 CY, Kayar, the younger brother of Grand Duke Sharzol II, attempted to usurp the throne. His coup failed, but the young mage managed to flee with a small band of followers across the Pass of Adlerweg to Jekana. Kayar quickly seized control of the port and raised the entire Jeklea coast in rebellion against his brother. In so doing, he founded a dynasty of pirate barons that would plague the Azure Sea for generations. Several pitched battles were fought in the Pass of Adlerweg, with the men of Berghof standing their ground against their erstwhile brethren behind the stalwart battlements of Adlerweg Keep. Kayar is said to have died cursing the stones of the fortress, saying they had denied him his birthright.
When the grand duchy was absorbed into greater Keoland in 306 CY, the Keoish fleet decisively ended the long festering conflict with Jekana by razing the port to the ground. The port remains a tumbled and haunted ruin to this day.
As the power of Keoland grew, however, so too did the perils of the mountains. Giant raids became more frequent and Berghof’s long slow slide into obscurity began as people fled to safety and prosperity of the cities of the north. As if to add insult to injury, three-quarters of old Kusnir slid into Lake Spendlowe during an earthquake in 412 CY.
When the Sea Princes was carved the Hold out of the crumbling Keoish Empire, the duke of Berghof was quick to join their ranks. He was even quicker to follow the example of many of his subjects and relocate himself to extensive estates on the coast just south of Port Toli, overseeing Berghof via a local reeve.
With its duke absent, Berghof became a backwater, troubled only by intermittent giant and humanoid raids from the mountains. It was to remain so until the Greyhawk Wars and their aftermath brought new bloodshed to the Vale of Berghof…