Bolvirk is a predominantly human community of sturdy farmers and resolute warriors adrift on the edge of a monstrous sea of orcs who would as soon kill them as trade with them. Its people survive through the grace of the gods, the remarkable tenacity and ingenuity of their leaders, and a simple, soul-deep refusal to be driven from the land of their ancestors.
Bolvirkans know sacrifice in all its forms. Though their lives are far from easy, this band of idealists, scoundrels, and outcasts takes great pride in the independence that comes from being all on their own near hostile territory. For them, every day of the town’s continued existence is an enduring example of civilization’s unconquerable spirit and the prodigious strength of hope.
LN small town
Qualities insular, racially intolerant (orcs)
Government council (Council of Defenders)
Population 780 (560 humans [mostly Noradrie descent], 80 dwarves , 50 halflings, 40 half-orcs,
15 half-elves, 10 gnomes, 25 other)
Chief Defender Halgra Blackblades (CG female
old human ranger)
Councilor Agrit Staginsdar (LN female dwarf wizard)
Councilor and Banker Lessie Crumkin (LN female human
priest of Hermaen)
Councilor Sara Morninghawk (NG female half-orc blacksmith)
High Priestess Tyari Varvatos (LG female human priest of
Master of Stores Kessen Plumb (NG male human)
Patrol Leader Jagrin Grath (LN male human ranger)
History of Bolvirk
Over the centuries, the lands between Krungar, Aelgard, and Hashan has been steadily shifting towards control of the orcs, pushing back line after line of warriors and leaving countless miles of shattered border fortresses to rot within the now orc-held territory. Years prior, beleaguered soldiers and farmers pushed to the limit by nearly 300 years of active war since the last grand orc horde. They joined in an effort called the Alliance, composed of soldiers from Aelgard, Kalavar, and Krungar eager to hold back the orcs of Hashan. They crafted a new border dubbed the Hordeline, a sad affair consisting of little more than earthen ramparts and wooden palisades, and made their stand along the Rouda River. Still, it held long enough for those communities behind it to feel some measure of hope that the orc menace had finally been halted.
It was not to be. Shortly after the Hordeline’s construction, its western stretch fell, and orcs flooded south and east into Aelgard, Krungar, and Kalavar. The Alliance reluctantly ordered yet another general evacuation, pulling back to a new border farther east, and leaving those residents in the relinquished territory to flee to safety with whatever they could carry, desperate to stay one step ahead of the rampaging orcs.
Yet not everyone fled. Enraged by what they saw as the Alliance’s cowardly betrayal, the farmers and retired warriors in the placid settlement of Bolvirk refused to run. Positioned on top of a rocky, naturally defensible plateau called Bloodmarch Hill, the community dug in, sharpening stakes and digging pits, their numbers swelling with refugees and soldiers unwilling to retreat and abandon their friends. When the orcs inevitably arrived, they found their ferocity more than matched by that of Bolvirk’s defenders, and after taking heavy losses assaulting the cliffs and log palisades, the invaders retreated east to loot vacated settlements.
Heady with victory, the surviving residents made a pact, known today as the Standing Vow (or simply “the Vow”): to hold their land against all comers, paying tribute neither to raiding orcs nor to the armies of neighboring nations. They would stand their ground and live free, no matter the cost.
For the last couple centuries, the people of Bolvirk have held to this oath, and it’s a matter of great pride that despite catastrophic raids and the rigors required by life in hostile territory, the town has never fallen. Even more important to some, however, is that the people of Bolvirk have never lost their fundamentally civilized nature, nor have they resorted to paying for protection from an outside entity.
While many have come to Bolvirk over the years looking to escape shadowy pasts, Bovirk accepts no dead weight; only those who are willing to work and contribute to the community can share the safety of the town walls. When the orcs come, every man and woman, regardless of wealth or profession, is expected to aid in the defense. Those who acquit themselves well and conduct themselves with honor find that Bolvirk’s residents care little about who newcomers may have been in their lives before—only who they seek to be now.
Life In Bolvirk
Living under constant threat, the people of Bolvirk have come to embrace death as simply another part of life. This doesn’t mean that all of the inhabitants are totally at peace with their own mortality, but simply that they recognize theirs is a dangerous existence, and thus strive to live their lives to the fullest without worrying unduly about which raid or unfortunate accident may finally claim them.
Perhaps the best symbol of this—and certainly the one that most captures the imagination or outsiders—is the tradition of the hopeknife. Carried by every resident of Bolvirk, a hopeknife is a small sheathed dagger, usually worn on a chain underneath one’s clothes, though young adults recently come of age often display theirs ostentatiously. The tradition of the hopeknife comes out of Bolvirk’s understanding that capture by orcs is often far worse than a quick death, and thus all residents need to be prepared to take their own lives or offer mercy to the wounded in the event of capture. Ironically, what was originally a grim necessity has become a symbol of adulthood and independence, and many children wait impatiently for their twelfth birthdays, on which they’re presented with their own hopeknives and shown which arteries to cut should they or their loved ones fall into enemy hands. Hopeknives are always kept well sharpened, and never used for anything but their intended purpose, though spouses often trade knives as part of a marriage ceremony.
After defense, and with water already handled by the Hopespring, food is the biggest issue in Bolvirk. The town maintains many fields, with border patrols and guards posted in temporary watchtowers at their edges, and focuses on crops that can be stored for long periods, allowing them to maintain extensive stores so as to be ready in case of a siege. Since fields are easily burned, however, the town also relies heavily on its hunters and trappers—during periods of more active conflict with the orcs, these often join with more traditional fighters to counter-raid and steal food and livestock from the orcs themselves.
Perhaps most important to the town’s survival is the siegestone. Early on after Bolvirk’s decision to stand and fight, the town leaders recognized their vulnerability to starvation and made a decision to pool resources in order to find a magical solution. A trading group was sent south to Hopesdawn with most of the town’s easily carried valuables, and they returned with the siegestone, a huge cauldronlike altar that in times of trouble can produce gallon upon gallon of tasteless porridge, keeping the residents from starving completely. The stone resides in the Longhouse and is never used except in direst need— both out of fear of exhausting its magic, and because no one in town is eager to taste the flavor of desperation during peacetime.
Folk in Bolvirk are independent by nature, yet all bow to the wisdom of the Council of Defenders. Chosen from the people’s own ranks every 2 years, these six individuals devote themselves to managing the town’s logistics and defense, making sure that laws are obeyed and no one endangers the community. One of the six councilors holds the title of Chief Defender, who has the final say in all matters relating to the town’s safety and is commander of the people in times of crisis. Outside of that, the six councilors are theoretically of equal power in matters of the town’s prosperity, laws, arbitration, and so on.
For the last 20 years, the position of Chief Defender has been held by Halgra Blackblades. A Bolvirk native, Halgra left the town at a young age to become an adventurer, fighting and raiding her way from the Whitepeak Forests to the Warrior’s Bay and beyond, up into the Frostpeak Mountains. She finally returned at the age of 42 with a veritable throng of children in tow, all from different fathers, and settled in to spend the rest of her life defending her home. Though Jagrin Grath now guides the patrols and raiding parties, Halgra is still a mountain of a woman and quick with her trademark lamp-blackened swords, and her deft politics and tactical acumen mean that no one can honestly challenge her fitness to lead.
Trade is a crucial part of life in Bolvirk. Though far from most established trade routes, Bolvirk still receives the occasional merchant from Aelgard, Krungar, or Hopesdawn eager for the valuable salvage the townsfolk still pull from abandoned settlements (as well as the inflated prices the merchants know they can demand from such an isolated community). Most common among these traders are caravans of Aelgardians attempting to earn some easy coin, or Krungi raiding parties come west from Krungar to prove themselves against the orcs and giants. Bolvirk also sends its own caravans to Aelgard and Midgaard, trading valuable information on orc movements to the defenders on the Krungi border in exchange for supplies. The town even maintains ties with a select few orc traders from Hashan, though the common wisdom is that an orc’s infatuation with trade and civilization never lasts for long.
Orcs are naturally despised in Bolvirk, yet ironically, half-orcs bear less stigma here than in most places. As Bolvirk knows what horrors orcs perpetrate on those they capture, and with Halgra herself having two children from half-orc lovers during her adventuring years, half- orcs are viewed with sympathy, and more than one half-orc raised in orc captivity has escaped to earn a place within Bolvirk’s walls.
Bolvirk is a hardworking community, but also one that understands the value of celebration and taking comfort wherever it can be found. Families are tightly knit, with most families at least mildly related by marriage at some point over the generations. Residents are encouraged to find love wherever they can, and there are few social or sexual taboos as long as residents respect the freedoms of others. Perhaps the best example of Bolvirk’s philosophy is the holiday of Holdfast, commemorating the town’s first victory over the orcs, which begins with a solemn recitation of remembrance and the burning of a wicker sword, followed by games, dancing, ale, and more than a few romantic liaisons.
Bolvirk at a Glance
The most immediately visible feature of the town of Bolvirk is its palisade. Originally, the palisade was a hastily constructed fence of sharpened branches, but over decades of strife, the Bolvirkans have built it into something considerably more lasting and deadly. Ten-foot-high tree trunks, their tops sharpened into wicked points, surround the lower portion of the village, fitted so tightly that not even light passes between them. Their bases are driven another 5 feet into the earth, and the bottom half of the wall is encased in a rough but sturdy stone foundation. Trenches filled with smaller spikes create a deadly briar patch guarding the wall from assault. Also incorporated into the palisade are several rock outcroppings that rise even higher, forming the bases for several wooden watchtowers, including those on both sides of the gate.
Past the gate, the town rises up a steep switchback in the cliff face to an exposed stone plateau 40 feet above the rest of the hill. These cliffs are the town’s true defense, as even a handful of defenders can easily pick off any invaders attempting to scale the sheer cliffs, allowing the townsfolk to concentrate the bulk of their defense on the lower palisades. Stone watchtowers stand in the town’s higher levels as well, with fortified structures crowding between normal houses and shops. While the barns and other working structures are kept outside the walls, and many of the residents spend their days and even nights in those buildings, all residents must either maintain personal quarters in the town or pay a “siege fee” to rent a room or a patch of floor in someone’s house inside the walls, to be used only during orc attacks. The siege fee is a set rate established by the Council of Defenders in order to discourage profiteering.
Below are a few of the more noteworthy locations in the town of Bolvirk.
1. Main Gate: Bolvirk has only a single gate, as anyone needing to exit or enter during a siege could simply use a rope ladder dropped down from the cliffs at the town’s higher end. The gate is built to overlap the stones to either side, allowing the rock of the hill to reinforce it against battering rams. Atop each rock stands a wooden watchtower large enough for a dozen defenders to fire bows or pour boiling water down on attackers from relative safety. Both to intimidate the orcs and to guard against fiery arrows, the towers’ sides and roofs are armored with the shields and breastplates of orcs who’ve assaulted the walls and died, their various clan symbols prominently displayed. The town council sets a precise watch schedule to make sure that plenty of eyes are on the wall both day and night, and all adults in the village are required to take regular shifts.
2. Ivory Hall: The seat of power in Bolvirk, the Ivory Hall was originally festooned with the skulls of the most ferocious orc champions and chieftains felled in Bolvirk’s first siege, their hollow eye sockets mute testimony to both the constant threat under which Bolvirk exists, and to the residents’ unwavering commitment to surviving it. Later generations of councilors found the display too grisly and similar to the orcs’ own trophy-keeping traditions, however, and discarded the bones. Today, the hall gets its name from the brilliant white of its walls, and serves as the home of whoever is Chief Defender. Halgra puts the manor to good use, allowing several of her grown children to house their own families in its many rooms. The only part off-limits to the rest of her rough-and-tumble clan is the Meeting Room—with commanding views of the surrounding countryside, she uses it to host war councils and entertain visitors such as traders, emissaries from Aelgard or Krungar, or adventurers and explorers from Hopesdawn who often use Bolvirk as a launching point for expeditions to explore Jotun ruins.
3. Flame of the Fallen: Bolvirkans are all too familiar with the orc practice of gathering the bones of slain foes and creating grisly monuments out of the remains. To honor the fallen dead and deny their enemies the opportunity to turn them into skeletal mockeries, Bolvirkans go to great lengths to retrieve the body of any citizen slain in battle. Those recovered are burned in a great pyre along the cliff at the town’s crest, their light and smoke traveling up into the endless freedom of the sky. During times of siege, the beacon is kept burning day and night to hearten the defenders and challenge to the orcs—though some cynics say that it’s kept lit to keep townsfolk from noticing and despairing every time a new corpse is added.
4. Commons: The central feature of Bolvirk’s community is a wide amphitheater with a stone floor and a raised stage at one end. By day, the Commons serves as Bolvirk’s training ground, upon which its residents engage in martial training under Jagrin Grath—depending on their primary role in town, some dedicated warriors train nearly every day, but even those more valuable in other capacities are expected to train at least 1 day per month. By night, however, the Commons transforms into a place of relaxation and celebration as townsfolk meet to conduct hopeknife ceremonies for their youth or indulge in any other cause for festivity. Children’s school lessons are often conducted on the rows of tiered seating, the stage is used for announcements and the occasional theatrical performance, and in general the Commons represents a pleasant outdoor meeting point for all residents.
5. Barterstones: While Bolvirk hosts some more established shops within its walls, most of its general trading is conducted at an open-air market held atop several low, broad slabs of flat rock just north of town. Originally, the market was only used for trading with orcs and suspicious outsiders who hadn’t yet earned the people’s trust enough to be allowed inside the community’s walls, but over time the town’s farmers and herders found it easier to meet here than to try and guide wagons and livestock through the town’s steep and narrow streets, and now the vast majority of local trade occurs at the Barterstones as well, with market days coming twice a week (and more often when traders arrive).
6. Plague House: Before the fall of the Hordeline, this was a small church of Forsoti serving the local farming communities. When the Alliance’s forces retreated and Bolvirk decided to stand and fight, the priests of Forsoti joined them—yet unlike the other residents, head priest Arthuris Bain and his two assistants refused to retreat within the fortified walls, confident that Forsoti’s wrath would strike down any raiders who dared to come for them. Though the priests fought valiantly, the church was burned to the ground almost immediately by the rampaging orcs, and all three of its residents were slain. The church stood as a burned-out husk for decades, then 50 years ago was hastily reconstructed as a place to hold those afflicted by a plague sweeping the town. Though removing the sick from inside the town walls doubtlessly saved many, the plague house burned down in a mysterious fire only a few nights after its completion, taking with it a score of patients and healers. Whether the fire was an accident or the work of an arsonist attempting to stop the plague for good, no one knows, but no one ever proposed building on the site again. Today, the site—known as both the Burned Church and the Plague House—is left alone, save for the occasional children’s dare to stand in the center of the blackened beams at sunset. However, lights have recently been seen moving about in the church at night, but even the best trackers unable to find any evidence of tracks there the following morning. The whole town buzzes with wild speculation after each new sighting.
7. Sanctuary: A year after the loss of Bolvirk’s old church, missionaries from Aelgard arrived and began constructing a new house of worship to honor the Noradrie pantheon and minister to the people of Bolvirk—this time wisely building it inside the town’s walls. The new sanctuary houses half a dozen priests and defenders who, in addition to helping with the town’s defense, staff a large prayer hall and a hall of respite where the wounded can be tended after battle. Though some citizens look askance at the Aelgardians, no one is willing to actually turn away such hardworking and valuable residents, especially as they refuse to serve in any governmental capacity. The current matron of the sanctuary is a young cleric named Tyari Varvatos. Speculation abounds as to why she toils here in Bolvirk. Her staunchest ally is an errant champion of Forsoti named Brantos Calderon, formerly stationed at the border outposts for the Alliance, who forsook his post to pledge his blade (and, rumormongers claim, his heart) to the resolute young cleric who toils on this harsh frontier.
The sanctuary’s longest-standing resident (and patient) is a gnarled old half-orc named Katrezra. Raised among the Empty Hand tribe, he suffers from a terrible affliction of the lungs and weeping sores on his face and arms, gained when his jealous chieftain sent him to the Brimstone Haruspex to experience painful visions of the future. Fed up with the barbarity of the orcs, he managed to convince Halgra to grant him sanctuary, and has since found rebirth in the light of Dagda, and proven his loyalty time and again on the town’s walls. He still occasionally has visions, and though many write them off as hallucinations or attention- grabbing, Tyari has begun privately recording them on the chance that they may point toward some important revelation.
8. Ramblehouse: Before its founding as an independent town, Bolvirk had little call for an inn, and for many generations after, the town’s rare visitors would stay wherever there was space. Nearly 30 years ago, however, a handful of escaped halfling slaves from Kalrua fled north all the way to Bolvirk, determined to start new lives. One of them, Cham Larringfass, decided to build not just a place for herself and her friends, but an entire inn and boardinghouse. She got the rest of her crew in on the endeavor, and before long a sprawling, eccentric manor packed with rooms of all shapes and sizes sprang up in the town’s lower end. Though guests are still rare, the aptly named Ramblehouse now houses a sizable chunk of the town’s halfling population, as well as many boarders of other races. Cham, still the head innkeeper, also makes a good living off siege fees, and is thus fond of cutting deals to other halflings and members of “right-sized” races— with the only annoyance being her tendency to play matchmaker for available guests.
9. Longhouse: The largest structure in town, the Longhouse is the central meeting house of Bolvirk, hosting both council meetings and, on days when the weather is foul, all of the various training sessions and celebrations normally held in the Commons. In addition to its great common room for feasts and meetings, the structure also contains several barracks where young unmarried warriors of either gender can live in order to focus more on their militia training. Chief among these is Jagrin Grath, who despite his simple chosen title of Patrol Leader is the councilor in charge of training and leading the town’s militia. After the death of his wife— also a talented ranger and warrior—at the hands of an orc raiding party, he and his sons moved into the Longhouse and devoted themselves to protecting the town, counter-raiding the orcs who would victimize them, and training all Bolvirk residents in the soldiering arts, to ensure that no more families are sundered. In addition to personally leading patrols, he’s in charge of organizing and posting the watchtower rotations and helping Councilor Kessen Plumb make sure that the vast stores of siege rations, weapons, and elixirs in the longhouse’s extensive basement remain viable. With the exception of the siegestone, which is far too heavy to be moved without a block and tackle, all of the stores beneath the Longhouse are kept under lock and key, with only the six councilors having copies of that key.
10. Bolvirk Countinghouse: When the Alliance first abandoned Bolvirk, a Hermaen tax collector in the region named Barran Crumkin decided to go rogue and cast his lot with the Bolvirk residents, whom he saw as epitomizing his faith’s struggle to promote trade and civilization in the face of barbarity. He gathered other like-minded merchants in the town and founded the Bolvirk Countinghouse, a bank where the locals could safely deposit their wealth and earn interest instead of hiding it in their houses and potentially losing it to orc raids. Today, the Bolvirk Countinghouse has grown into a large, stately building that sees to both the banking and spiritual needs of locals and traveling merchants alike. Its proprietor, town council member and banker Lessie Crumkin, can proudly trace her lineage all the way back to the bank’s founder, and takes to her job well enough, though several people have noted not only that her skill at arms in the training arena, but also the way she sometimes longingly watches the patrols leaving— particularly their leader, Jagrin Grath.
11. Hopespring: Originally named simply “Hillspring,” this trickle of fresh water is the reason the town was founded in this spot, and the key to its existence. Welling up from deep within the stone, this astonishingly prolific stream provides the town with a waterfall of pure water, filling the town reservoir before filtering down through cracks in the stone once more and running underground before resurfacing in a creek miles away. Whether the spring is natural or magical, none can say—yet that doesn’t mean no one knows. A mute elven druid, whose weathered features mark his age as venerable even for his timeless race, quietly watches over the spring and its reservoir, though what purpose his quiet contemplation serves is anyone’s guess. Dubbed Silvermane by the townsfolk, he has resided on this hill and slept near the spring since before the town was settled. He rarely communicates with anyone, but on occasion has been seen conversing with Halgra via some form of sign language. He generally holds himself aloof from the town’s proceedings, yet the few occasions upon which he performs magic— healing a dying child or calling lightning down on raiders— earn him respect from most residents, albeit mixed with questions regarding his inscrutable motives. The most common rumor is that he’s the only survivor of the Council of Thorns, a fierce druidic circle whose members ended their lives with the prodigious blood rite that gave Deadlight Marsh its name.
12. Inner Quarter: Bolvirk has two stone inner walls blocking off the sloping area leading up to the top of the plateau. These inner walls are designed to allow citizens to retreat to the higher town in the event that the main palisade is breached, and having a gate at either end of the slope allows defenders to better choke the invaders and turn the whole ramp into a killing ground, firing arrows down from the walls and cliff above.
13. House of Wonders: Most visitors looking to purchase elixirs, rare spellcasting reagents, or trade in magical items are surprised to be introduced to Agrit Staginsdar. The only daughter of a long line of warriors who left Kalavar and came to Bolvirk for undisclosed reasons, she disappointed her family greatly when, after only a few years of studying the arts of war, she insisted on turning her attentions to arcane magic.
Though she’s built quite a fine business for herself, her family still feels strongly that her place is on patrols outside the town—and her relations are none too pleased that her childless marriage to Sara Morninghawk has ended the Staginsdar line. Agrit tends to be violently defensive about her life choices, but lights up when talking about her work or teaching the town’s other burgeoning arcane casters. She’s always eager to examine unfamiliar magic items, and anyone who appeals to her sense of wonder and mystery (and succeeds at a DC 15 Diplomacy check) can convince Agrit to identify a magic item for free.
14. Clamor: Though technically Morninghawk’s Fine Steel, this smithy is better known by its nickname “Clamor” due to the constant pounding of hammers that thunders from it during the daylight hours. Its owner, Councilor Sara Morninghawk, is the daughter of a Dyrferd woman who arrived in the town already pregnant and uninterested in talking about her past. Sara cares little about her mixed heritage, save to note that it gives her “proper shoulders to work the forge.”
Morninghawk oversees all of the metalwork for the town, including several apprentices specializing in different aspects of the trade. She also never goes anywhere without her mother’s axe, which she generally keeps strapped to her back. Sara’s well aware of the eyebrows some folks raise about her marriage to Agrit, but she cheerfully responds with a flexed biceps and the question of who else but a dwarf would be equipped to handle her.
15. The Killin’ Ground: Named for its position on the sloped ascent between the town’s two inner gates, this bar started as a way for Rabus Clarenston to finance the production of his beloved moonshine. Despite the vocal disapproval of Tyari and some of the town’s more straightlaced residents, Rabus does a brisk business—with the only law governing his trade being that, should someone show for a patrol or watch duty drunk on his product, Rabus himself must share in the punishment. As a result, Rabus knows the shift schedule better than anyone, and despite his own near-constant inebriation, he never allows anyone to drink in his bar within 4 hours of his or her next shift (or 6 or even 8 hours, for those he knows can’t handle their drink).
The Killin’ Ground itself is a strange structure, with walls that begin a foot off the ground and a roof made entirely of canvas. When the furious local storms roll in, Rabus pulls back the canvas and lets the rain and the slope of the hill wash the filth of the bar’s constant partying away—which greatly annoys his downhill neighbors.
16. That ’n’ Such: Yet another business known by its nickname rather than its official name—Meeson’s Goods & Salvage—That ’n’ Such is the closest thing Bolvirk has to a general store. Its proprietor, Jess “Crazy Jess” Meeson, is a shrewd businessperson in most matters, but unreserved in her passion for salvage from the days before the Alliance’s border retreated, and her shop is a clutter of both mundane goods useful to townsfolk and “treasures” purchased from patrols and adventurers. Her husband, Gorkis Meeson, is equally obsessed with his own pursuits as the town’s only resident apothecary. From his workshop in the back of the store, he crafts elixirs and curatives both for those residents too embarrassed or ornery to seek out the town’s religious healers with their ailments.