The Salvation of Geoff
Location: Approx. 100 miles NE of Gorna, between the Oytwood and Dim Forest
Population: 3,500 (not including Gran March troops)
Major Races: Humans (90%), Elves (5%), Gnome (3%), Dwarves (2%)
Military: Approximately 1,000 Gran March troops in occupation, militia of 500-750 can be organized within three days
Exports: Resources not exported
Imports: Foodstuffs, livestock, timber
Formerly a bordertown between the Grand Duchy of Geoff and the Gran March, Hochoch has only recently been thrust to the forefront in the politics of the Sheldomar. Many of the older residents remember the sleepy days, watching caravans roll through the town gates. Children are still told the stories of brave Roelkar and others that made the town more than a market place in the shadows of the ancient Willow Towers.
These days are gone now, dashed in the aftermath of the Great Wars. The siege and battle at the town walls in 586 CY was proof enough for most. Many left, many stayed. And many more came to seek their fortune in the torn lands west beyond the Duke’s Gate. Some come heeding the cries for liberation; others come in search of the scraps left by the armies of evil. Some simply come to gaze upon the porcelain Willow Towers and the lush Garden of Lai. And to most, it matters not who they are, only that they have come.
Hochoch in 591 CY is a different place than the town which stood here only a decade ago. While it was once a rest stop on the way through to the lands of Geoff, it is now the gateway to the liberation of Geoff. The mercenary companies which now gather in the Oytwood and along the Javan travel through the city regularly, and the restored Northill Keep maintains a constant vigil atop the Shalm’s Shoulders north of town.
Hochoch sits on the banks of the Realstream, on the eastern rim of the area known as The Cup by the inhabitants, between the Realstream and the upper Javan river. Neither of these are deep enough for larger vessels, such as river galleys or the larger merchant barges, but there is traffic from smaller boats, mostly local traffic, and some from southern Keoland. Travel on the Javan is still moderately light given the situation in the Grand Duchy of Geoff. These rivers flow through the central Dim Forest, a place named for the shadows created by the thick canopy of tall trees. Beneath the canopy, these waterways are only navigable only by poled barges small flatbottom vessels.
Most of The Cup is only lightly wooded, and the plains are fertile and good for grazing. Only a scattering of farms remained in 586 CY, when the Battle of Hochoch was fought, and though the farmsteaders are beginning to return to the region, most of the foodstuffs here are imported from the east.
The Duke’s Highway runs the length of the Cup, from the Realstream at Hochoch to river stations on the Javan. Despite the years of neglect, the road is still usable. Military forces have begun erecting tall watchtowers every dozen miles, sending messages between one another by bird and by signal. These fortresses discourage banditry and hostile troop movement. Light signals can be easily seen between towers on a clear night.
Hochoch is a middle-sized community of nearly 3,500 people. Most of these folk are descendants of Suel and Oeridian stock, with a substantial strain of Flan blood as well. Hochoch received a considerable number of refugees fleeing east when Geoff and Sterich fell to humanoid invaders, thus increasing its Flannae population. There is a small population of high elves and hill dwarves, and a few gnomes and halflings also live within the town’s walls. The folk here hold many of the same political attitudes as elsewhere in the Sheldomar Valley. Most still consider themselves loyal subjects to the Grand Duke, Owen I, though this is no longer necessarily the case. The constant presence of the Knights of the Watch gives many hope that soon they will be able to return to their homes in the west, or at least what remains of them.
Hochoch began as a trading post and fishing village in the early days of Keoland. It was built at the site of the legendary Gardens of Lai and the ruins of five towers, known in Flannae legend as the Willow Towers. These towers are believed to date back before the great migrations, perhaps as far back as when the powerful lords of the Isle of Woe ruled over eastern Oerik. Flan legend has it that they are of Olven design. Old tales and maps sometimes refer to Hochoch as Hocholve, which means “Hand of Elves” in Old Flan, though the true origins of these mysterious structures has never been confirmed. The town’s name, Hochoch, stems from this.
The Willow towers are aptly named, given their tall, lithe structure. Only two of the towers remain standing, fondly called the Thumb and Gardenview towers by the townsfolk. A third is known to have collapsed shortly after the mage Roelkar and his men, having successfully entered and exited it once, entered a second time. It is the only one of the Willow Towers known to have been penetrated, and bears the name Roelkar’s Breach in tribute.
“Peace would come to the Sheldomar eventually, and when the Kingdom of Keoland was established in -100 CY, the Willow Towers still denied the newcomers. It was suspected the sylvan elves of the Dim Forest knew the secrets of the ruins, but few men who cared would brave the shadows of that woodland. True, some did go seeking such knowledge. The few who returned spoke of cities of wild elves at the heart of the forest. Little folk taken by a certain madness but were, according to the slightly more peaceful sylvan, the true descendants of the Golden Court. One of these fearless explorers, a practitioner of enchantments whose name has been recorded as Roelkar, returned with part of the secret – a name: Haunafay.
Accompanied by a band of strong arms and scouts, Roelkar was the among the first to enter the gardens and return. He claimed to have spoken with the golden galda trees at the center of the gardens, these apparently being the last true members of the Golden Court. Roelkar was a master of oration, and with the luck of Olidammara had won the trees to his side. With the secrets they gave him, Roelkar’s band entered the first of the Willow Towers.
Another interesting phenomenon of that day: within an hour to the moment when Roelkar claimed to have spoken with the masters of the garden, Olamdri, the druid hierophant appeared in the shadows of the garden. No one saw him come – he was simply discovered sleeping on the hillside. The next day, the man stepped lively into the tangles of the garden and was gone, not to be seen again for a generation.
Roelkar and his men returned to camp in high spirits. They bore with them artifacts from a forgotten era, and were full of the anticipation of exploring the higher reaches of the tower, which became known as Roelkar’s Breach, in the morn. It would be the last night any one would see them, for not a single one returned from their next day’s venture.”
From the Journals of the Sage, Nyfarem of Hookhill
Hochoch grew, and as Keoland nurtured its northern colonies, it became the major trading post south of the Dim Forest. At its peak, before the Empire of Keoland fell in the Small Wars, the population of the town and its outlying parts was nearly 12,000. Though defensive structures had long been in place, the King of Keoland ordered stone walls built to surround the town proper. Its proximity to the Dim Forest made it vulnerable to raids from creatures of that place.
The Province and town of Hochoch have seen a number of changes over the past decade. Originally of Keoland, there were constant disagreements about its ownership between it and the Grand Duchy of Geoff. When war came to the east in 582 CY, the townsfolk only listened to stories from afar. Then Ket invaded Bissel and humanoid hordes swept out of the Crystalmists, overwhelming the distracted armies of Sterich and Geoff. The fate of Hochoch seemed dark indeed.
Then, in 586 CY, as the armies of orcs, goblins, and ogres amassed within a day from the town walls, a ray of hope arrived. Legions of Gran March cavalry, led by the famed Knights of the Watch, arrived under cover of darkness. The battlefield the next day, at the Battle of Hochoch, turned the green pastures red with blood. The humanoid line, unprepared for such resistance, broke and those forces were routed northward into the Dim Forest. Hochoch had been saved and its townsfolk rejoiced. None would imagine what would come next.
In Hookhill, the new Commandant, Magnus Vrianian declared the whole of the province of Hochoch annexed by the Gran March and placed under martial law. Despite protests by Grand Duke Owen I, who had taken residence in Hookhill, and King Skotti of Keoland, it was agreed Hochoch would remain under control of the March until such time as it was adequately stabilized, only then to be returned to its own rule. In the meantime, Commandant Vrianian ordered, both sides would have to work out the issue of control. Few noticed the clause in Commandant Vrianian’s proclamation that if the territorial dispute were not settled by such time as Hochoch was released of martial law, it would become part of the Gran March’s eastern territory.
In the spring of 591 CY, the atmosphere in Hochoch is even more urgent than 5 years ago. Exiles are slowly gathering behind the town’s walls. The humanoid armies, retreating from defeats in Sterich, now gather their strength in Geoff on the far side of the Javan river. These raiders fight nearly daily skirmishes with patrols.
The Marcher presence is strong. Just north of the town is Northill Keep, sitting atop the Shalm’s Shoulders – twin hills named for the Flan deity. Watchtowers manned by soldiers observe the highways into town. The town walls are manned and soldiers walk the streets, enforcing the peace. In some areas of town, a curfew has been imposed. Many of the townsfolk, including the former Mayor, Abnur Rhys, are beginning to doubt their Marcher “guests” will ever leave, and tensions are beginning to run high. In Niole Dra, Grand Duke Owen I and King Skotti have not yet resolved their differences.
The dwarven refugees who came to fight at the battle of Hochoch five years ago have become a rowdy presence in the town. Despite the best efforts to curtail their festiveness, these dwarves cause problems within the human population not yet used to their brand of humor.
While the majority of the giant-led forces have withdrawn further back to the Javan, the lands west of the Duke’s Gate still hold many dangers. Ghouls and other unspeakable horrors roam the old battlefields at night. The old towns and cities of the Grand Duchy lay in ruins – pillaged and burned, and they offer hiding places to bandits, invaders, or worse.
These are interesting days for the leadership of Hochoch, and not all pleasant. While the traditional appointed Mayor, Abnur Rhys, still presides over basic functions from the town hall, the real power in Hochoch is the Lord Knight Protector, Horace Amstide. Sir Amstide, sent by Commandant Vrianian to administer the town during the reoccupation, is a typical Marchite lordling, steady and determined. Many of the town’s leaders seen put off by his no-nonsense approach to governing. There is little gray in Sir Amstide’s manner, and his agenda for Hochoch is clear and simple. In effect, the town is in a state of martial law. The Lord Mayor and his agents are now no more than figureheads, and this doesn’t sit well with them.
There is also the matter of Hochoch allegiance. Abnur Rhys has authority granted by the Grand Duke of Geoff, while Sir Amstide acts in the name of the Commandant of the Gran March. It is believed by many the Commandant plans to annex the Cup region as a whole, using it as a staging area in the war to reclaim Geoff’s sovereignty. The Grand Duke is aware of such rumors and has voiced his protests to King Skotti of Keoland.
Abnur Rhys is not the kind of man to wait for the Keoish King to speak for him. He has, instead, instigated a form of shadow government, taking what authority is handed down from Sir Amstide and expanding it through bureaucratic channels. Whatever his orders, the Lord Knight Protector is still a Knight of the Watch, with little taste for the day to day subtleties of government. A skilled politician, Rhys knows how to use intrigue to his advantage, then make false assurances to regain much of his former power.
Mayor Rhys is not without his supporters among the townsfolk. While there is no lack of appreciation for the Gran March’s efforts in the region, few native Geoffites wish to swear loyalty to the Commandant. In many cases, the townsfolk look to Rhys as the lawful ruler of the township. Most are loyal to the Knights of the Watch out of tradition and so far as there is a united effort to reclaim Geoff for the Grand Duke.
Hochoch has always been amazingly diverse religiously. Since the Greyhawk Wars, the town has swollen with the ranks of exiles from Sterich and Bissel, knights and soldiers from Keoland and the Gran March, and numerous adventures. As with many places in troubled areas, the townsfolk have begun to take much more stock in faith. The deities of the Suel and Flan have always been represented, though of late the most popular followings are of the more common powers. Today, the most honored deities in Hochoch are Pelor and Kord, and a thriving cult to Trithereon has been at work here since 586 CY. The Knights of the Watch hold vigils to Pholtus at the chapel in Northill Keep. Both Kelanen and Mayaheine have small followings in town, though neither has a formal place of worship.
As is customary in the Sheldomar Valley, the folk rarely limit reverence to a single deity, and while all temples in Hochoch are attended by some small groups, it is the Zenith of the Sun temple, dedicated to Pelor, regularly attracts a large congregation. Prayers to Pelor are also customary at festivals and town hall meetings. Most of the townsfolk accept the deity as a sort of patron of Hochoch these days.
Hochoch shares most of the holidays and festivals held throughout the Gran March and Geoff, drawing from both nations. However, the Green River Festival is unique to the townsfolk. This festival has been held annually for as long as anyone can remember, and possibly dates back to Flan customs before the foundation of Hochoch.
In mid-spring, snow-runoff brings a rise to the banks of the Realstream. As the river passes through the Dim Forest, it collects winter deadfall. For a few days, the waters of the Realstream turn turbulent and a faint shade of green. This event usually comes in mid to late Planting, and precedes the spawning season for the perch and trout inhabiting the river.
The Green River Festival commemorates this event, and gives thanks to the spirits of the land for the bounty to come. In a twilight ceremony led by a cleric of the Old Faith, or a druid of Obad-Hai, small tallow candles are set on wooden plaques and set afloat on the river. The purpose is to lead the fish to their seasonal spawning beds. The ceremony is held on the first day of the two day festival.
Surrounded by a low wall and overseen by a fortified keep, Hochoch is by all respects a well-defended town. The town wall is twelve feet, or roughly two stories tall, and set about with battlements and towers. The towers straddling the Duke’s Gate are the tallest, heightened when the Marchites occupied the town. They receive messages from the watch towers on the Duke’s Highway, which would warn of approaching dangers. The wall is largely stone with wooden supports, some of which have been replaced by stone.
A full militia is currently employed by decree of the Lord Knight Protector. Every able bodied man must spend his time on the wall, as well as time training with a weapon. If necessary, the town militia can assemble nearly 750 men. Another 150 are trained guardsmen, who form the police force of the town. They answer to the local constable who in turn answers to the Lord Mayor, or the Lord Knight Protector in his stead. Mayor Rhys’ constable, Willum Thol, was quickly dismissed by Sir Amstide when the man proved unreasonable. In his place, Kamen Freck was appointed the position. Constable Freck, for all his allegiance to Geoff, understands the situation and is willing to work in the space given by the Knight. He is also no ally of Mayor Rhys. Constable Freck is perhaps Sir Amstide’s only ally against the Lord Mayor’s shadow government – a mantle which has won the Constable little goodwill from Rhys’ supporters.
Northill Keep, set on the western-most height of the Shalm’s Shoulders, was begun in the summer of 586 CY. Its walls are tall and sound, and the fortress is capable of withstanding a siege for many months if necessary. It normally holds a single cavalry company, two units of infantry and a company of archers, perhaps 300 troops in all. This is seen as suitable in the defense of Hochoch. The walls can easily house as many as 1,000. When the keep and grounds were completed, craftsmen began working on a tunnel system to connect the town proper and Northill Keep. Such endeavors proved more costly than effective, however, the ground was just too soft and the project was abandoned – though rumors to the contrary exist. From its position, few among the Watchers doubt Northill Keep is more than adequate in the defense of Hochoch.
Neighborhood and Town Sites
As Hochoch is not a large town when compared to the likes of Verbobonc or Cryllor, it may seem strange, or even inappropriate that its neighborhoods are divided so neatly. Even the townsfolk rarely use terms such as “the Garden District”, and neighborhoods are usually better identified with the nearest gate (High Gate, Twin Gates, etc.). On the other hand, Riverfront and East River are regularly referred to as such, and depending on who you speak to may seem like completely separate communities from Hochoch. When giving directions to places inside the town walls, places are marked by their street and the nearest gate.
Districts and neighborhoods do exist however, and are used primarily in political ventures. A nobleman will not likely wish to live in “East End” with the commoners, and might even refer to that section in haughty disdain. And as such, those highly concerned with status are more likely to identify places by their district than the common townsfolk, who see such identifiers as needlessly excessive in most cases.
Riverfront is a shamble of packed buildings and warehouses. There is a certain odor to the place, given the fisheries on the bank of the Realstream, and most establishments burn strong scented candles to help mask it. Most of the residents of Riverfront live in high story apartments, or above their shops. Families tend to build upwards, and it is not uncommon to find as many as four stories on some buildings. The ground here is wet, precluding basements. Instead, most buildings have an attic or loft for storage. Those buildings closest to the Realstream are often elevated, as the river is subject to minor floods every six years or so.
Except in the harshest times of winter, ferries are available to carry passengers and their mounts across the Realstream year-round. Most of the larger ferries end their business at sundown, but a few continue on into the odd hours of the night. Transport costs around 5cp per passenger (horses count as passengers) on the smaller ferries, while the larger ones, capable of transporting whole caravans, cost a bit more.
Once a community of fisherman and charter boat captains, East River is the newest part of Hochoch. It is not new in years, but was only recently annexed; just prior to the wars. It lacks the crowding of Riverfront but otherwise shares its character.
This fortress occupies the western of two hills north of the town proper known as the Shalm’s Shoulders. In addition to holding a sizeable force of the Marchite army and a number of Knights of the March, a shrine to Pholtus is housed there. Most of the Knights of the Watch pay homage to He of the Blinding Light, including Sir Horace Amstide, who journeys there with his aides each Godsday. A small but growing number of townsfolk also travel there on key holy days to worship. The knights and soldiers are watchful of these people, but usually permit them to enter and give homage. The high priest is a Missionary knight named Droven Klysse. He is very adamant about his faith, to the point many of the townsfolk view him as arrogant and condescending.
Cemetery of Pelor
This large plot of ground rests south of the town ways, inland some distance from the Realstream. It is an ancient burial plot, with sarcophagi bearing dates as far back as 100 CY. The plots are arranged in a circular manner, spreading out from a series of six stone slabs, low to the ground, which form the center of the mausoleum. Funeral rites are performed upon these slabs, before the dead are sealed away from Pelor’s light. This allows the souls of the dead to leave their mortal shells. It is known if a man faithful to Pelor is buried prematurely, the soul is trapped on the mortal realm and undeath can result. It is likewise unhealthy to bury those faithful below ground, hence the dead are sealed upright in mausoleums. It is also appropriate, in the case of priests of Pelor, to cremate the body and seal away the ashes.
The Town Proper
The Promenade runs north to south, connecting the Garden and River Gates with the High Gate. It is a wide road, and heavily trafficked by caravans from spring to autumn. The second thoroughfare, Garden Way, runs east to west, connecting the North Gate and Duke’s Gate. Prior to the fall of Geoff, most commercial traffic traveled the Promenade to Garden Way, and those parts are still the most built up. The eastern length of Garden Way is much more open.
Market Lane begins at the North Gate and runs to the east through the High Gate district and intersecting the Promenade at the Garden District.
Twin Gates Market
The hustle and bustle of the southern town proper is a maze of shops, carts, and stalls. As exiles slowly return to Hochoch, and adventurers come to seek their fortunes in lost Geoff, the market district of the town has grown considerably.
Not only encapsulating the Garden of Lai and the Willow Towers, the Garden District is the district of the wealthy and noble in Hochoch. The grounds are spacious and the homes, while not elaborate, are typically large and low.
Larger than Twin Gates Market on the south side of town, West Market is known for its high profile luxury shops. Most of the products here are more expensive than can be found on the south side, but not necessarily of higher quality.
The residents of this area are largely refugees and demi-humans. There is evidence this was once one of the most beautiful districts in town. The foreign nobles who once summered in Hochoch have moved on, leaving behind a shadow of color. The new residents have changed the old atmosphere of this place. The quarter is now a mishmash of cultural influences and color, producing features quite unique from the rest of the town. Open areas are dotted with trees and monuments, adding to the attractive aesthetics of the place. Old mansions now house multiple families, and the flat rooftop terraces have been converted to gardens and are home to Hochoch’s elven population.
While parks and temples give High Gate its character, the town hall and militia barracks are definitely its centerpiece. The roads in this quarter are paved in brick, and a local guild keeps them in good condition. This is the religious and political center of town, and the townsfolk will assure travelers that the two make strange bedfellows.
Largely a residential area to the common working folk of Hochoch, East End does have a few extraordinary features. There are isolated pockets of shops, and non-guild tradesmen often sell their services here. This is one of the few areas in Hochoch not lit after nightfall. While some alleyways collect beggars, most of the residents of East End are honorable folk, and theft is uncommon.