One of the challenges of designing a campaign setting as inhospitable as our demiplane, is that we’re constantly looking for ways to explain how civilization can survive in such a hostile world. If you’ve been keeping up with the Create Demiplane episodes, you know that Alex and I have explored the worship of dragons in our world as centers of communities and kingdoms to keep areas warm and livable. But what about settlements without draconic ties? One idea I’ve been kicking around is a settlement whose survival is tied to a geothermic event.
So, in our mission to continue to flesh out our Demiplane, this week’s installment of the Private Sanctuary Press takes us to Hearthcrown, a tiny pocket of habitable warmth contained within a caldera hidden amidst the remote Frostspire mountains. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the term “caldera”, run a Google image search and be prepared to witness some of the most breath taking scenery that the real world has to offer.
I’m no geologist. But I figured that Alex and I have spent a fair bit of time exploring magical and fantastic ways of a how a settlement survives in the frigid wastes so I thought I might try my hand at writing up a settlement that’s a bit more mundane. Basically, a caldera is the end result of what happens when a certain type of volcano hollows out and destabilizes. The resulting depression resembles a crater save that it was cased by a collapse rather than an impact. Calderas’ internal environment can vary greatly from biome to biome and in our case renders the area habitable for humanoids.
Hearthcrown is a relative paradise compared to other settlements across the Demiplane. Temperatures on the caldera floor, especially closest to the Hearth are fairly mild, almost Spring-like while temperatures at the base of the Wall, the coldest regions of Hearthcrown, rarely drop below freezing.
The inhabitants consist of primarily humans – who were the first group to discover the caldera – as well as a number of other humanoids who have stumbled on the haven over the course of its history. Amongst its population can be found: humans, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, and even orcs.
Hearthcrown survives through a combination of two factors that serve to keep the climate habitable, if not comfortable, for the people who live there. First, the lake of magma beneath the once-active volcano is still hot, and this heat rises up and warms the surface. Second is the caldera’s steep slopes, known as the Wall which rise several thousand feet above the caldera floor and shelters Hearthcrown from the cuttingly frigid winds that whip through the Frostspire Mountains.
The center of the caldera is known as the Hearth. Here, where it is warmest, the rising heat and volcanic ash in the soil serve to make the land arable and suitable for the type of farming that most in this world only dream of. The Sward, is a catch-all term for the ring of land between the Hearth and the Wall. Those living closest to the Hearth -the Innersward – enjoy a life of comparative luxury while those living at the foot of the Wall – the Outersward – fare little better than someone living in a Drake Den – the Hearthcrawni term for a Dragon Hold.
Hearthcrown is governed by The Council of Life, five appointed individuals representing families living within the Innersward. Their is the responsibility to determine how best Hearthcrown continues its survival. What crops to plant, how much to seed stock to maintain, and the rationing of supplies are amongst their routine deliberations. On rare occasion, when an outsider stumbles into Hearthcrown, the council also decides whether the interloper is permitted to stay or is to be tossed back into the cold.
But of course, the most important part of a settlement write up is what makes it interesting to go there. Sure, sure, town in the middle of a volcano is a neat concept. But why should the PCs care? Because where there’s trouble or conflict there’s also adventure to be had!
- Recently, a budding movement has been forming amidst the inhabitants of Hearthcrown. Led by the mysterious and charismatic Lady Somertide, the Cult of Winter’s End has been gaining influence in the Outersward claiming that they hold to key to ending the Demiplane’s eternal winter and ushering in an Eternal Spring. But before that can happen, the Cult of Winter’s End must first seize complete power in Hearthcrown. Are the PCs going to take sides? And if so, who will they champion?
- The Council of Life has been harboring a secret. The Hearth is cooling. Crop yields over the past several seasons have been on the decline. And augurs say that it’s to do with temperatures falling at an alarming rate. Perhaps the PCs are sent below to investigate what might be behind this cooling.
- An enormous winged cruciform silhouette has been spotted atop the Wall and rumors say that it’s a dragon, looking for a home. The remote but relatively undefended Hearthcrown might make a tempting target for a wandering wyrm. Will the PCs fend off the dragon? Or assist the creature as agents of Hearthcrown’s conquest?
These are just a few ideas for developing this adventure area. Next steps include determining the size and scale of Hearthcrown as well as populating the area with notable NPCs of all different levels and CRs.
So what do you think? How do you think Hearthcrown fits into our overall Demiplane? Where do you think we should go from here? Let us know in the comments section below.