I’ve been working far too much on a side project to create a hexcrawl exploring the Mournland in Eberron for Dungeons and Dragons 5e. For those that don’t know, the Mournland is a landscape warped by magic and covered in dense mist, and it’s described by the creator of the setting, Keith Baker, as a massive overland dungeon.
But there are a few problems with just taking this at face value. For one thing, the map of the Mournland is left deliberately vague, so there’s not much structure to it, as you would expect to find in a dungeon. So it’s not really a dungeon, it’s more a backdrop for post-apocalyptic, weird gonzo stuff to add spice to a campaign. The other problem with the Mournland being an enormous dungeon is that it’s really, really big. Sizes have fluctuated a bit, so it used to be even bigger, but in 5th edition Eberron it’s 1200 miles long and 300 miles wide. That’s a huge territory to explore!
So most DMs, if they use the Mournland, might do things similar to what the designers in the early Oracle of War adventures did, which is speed through the travel to an actual dungeon or encounter, with the possibility that something weird might happen on the way. This could be a planned set-piece encounter, some monsters from a random table, or a nasty effect like healing magic doing the least amount possible. And while this approach is a bit linear, that’s fine if that’s what your group wants.
But what I wanted was a more rigorous system for describing what was in the Mournland that would let me feed rumours to the players to draw them deeper and deeper in, let them get lost or stumble across interesting things and explore them, and make the experience their own. I also wanted to mix the fantastic and gonzo elements of the Mournland with more mundane remnants of old Cyre, such as ruined towns and villages away from the big cities on the map.
I’m hoping to do a series of posts explaining what I’m working on, and the decision making behind the design decisions. In this first post, rather than focus on mechanics, I’m going to share my thoughts on the the historic geography of Cyre itself. I wrote this to think through ways of making the different regions of Cyre feel distinct, with different types of architecture and ways of organising their farms, villages and towns based on the climate and culture of the diffeent regions.
The Geography of Cyre
Cyre stretched over 1000 miles from Scions Sound in the north to Kraken bay in the south. Its climate was the most varied of all of the Five Nations, ranging from cool temperate in the north to subtropical and arid in the south. Most of inland Cyre would probably have had a continental climate with dry cold winters and hot summers prone to thunderstorms.
We don’t have much information about the geography of Cyre before the Mourning except from the location of its major cities and the geographical features that made up its borders, so that’s the starting point. The few maps of Cyre pre-Mourning show that it had no real mountains, but the interior rose up into a sort of central plateau, with the two highest points being heavily forested.
Northern Cyre: Dollen, Swoz and Eston
In the north, Cyre’s natural borders were the two great rivers Cyre and Brey, which both feed into Scions Sound, a large star-shaped inlet in the north of Khorvaire. The city of Eston, seat of House Cannith, lay inland from the upper Brey river at the north of Lake Azul, and was surrounded by hills before the Mourning (they collapsed in an earthquake). There are two settlements marked on the northern border of the Cyre inlet, Dollen on the River and Swoz, but no information on how big they were. I think it makes sense that Dollen was the larger city, given it had a more strategic location to trade with the other northern nations, but they were both probably substantial settlements to make the cut to be on the map. Scions Sound is explicitly called out as being stormy, so this part of northern Cyre probably got more rainfall and had a more mild, coastal climate than the interior. Snow is common in the winter, but rarely lasted for long before turning to rain.
The Cyre river makes a dramatic bend from meandering north from its source in Lake Cyre to flowing west into the Sound. This part of the river should probably have been heavily populated, but the only official settlement on the Cyre side is Fort Bright. There is a major Karrnathi city on the other side of the river, however, Karralakton, so the region as a whole is probably fairly fertile. Interestingly, the Cyre river is described as being turbulent as it passes this city, which implies that it’s difficult for boats to navigate the river. An easy explanation is that the earthquakes of the Mourning disrupted the river bed, making navigation much more difficult, although it might also mean that the terrain here was always quite rough, and there were numerous waterfalls and rapids.
Central Cyre: Kalazart, Metrol and Lake Cyre
Cyre’s capital city of Metrol lies near the upper reaches of the Cyre river on the eastern border, and this exposed location is a bit strange. It only really makes sense to me if the river can be navigated by large boats, which would make this an important strategic location. However, Metrol is built around (and on top of) unique rock formations known as the Vermishards, which may have had supernatural origins, and certainly would help make the city very resistant to seige. There’s no information on Metrol being in a manifest zone or other supernatural effect before the Mourning, but it probably was given its unique geology. That’s another reason why the capital might be located here even if the river is not useful for commercial shipping.
In the centre of Cyre is the city of Kalazart, famous for its fabrics and garment industry. Kalazart appears to be alone in the middle of a vast plain, but it lies on the main trade road from the west to Metrol. It probably had a minor river nearby that flowed into the Brey to supply it with water, and if central Cyre is relatively flat, may even have been a nexus for a canal system to link the eastern and western waterways. The surrounding area was probably a combination of dry rolling hills and open plains.
To the south, Cyre’s eastern border is mostly defined by Lake Cyre and the Blade desert, which stretches down to the southern sea. A river once ran from the source of the Crimson Water down to the sea here, also helping to set the historic boundary. Lake Cyre itself is a massive body of water, roughly the same size as Lake Ontario, that presumably is fed by many minor rivers and streams from Cyre and the Talenta Plains. Its shores would have been among the most desirable places to live in Cyre, since the lake is big enough to moderate the climate and make this area more humid than the dry plains, and the climate would have been warm all year round. The city of Tronish lay on/near the southern shore of Lake Cyre. (It actually lies something like 12-15 miles away from the lake, which is an odd choice, so I’m moving it to the water’s edge.) A bit further south, the area around the Blade desert probably had a very arid Medierranean climate, but the rising hills of the southern highlands were cooler and greener.
Southern Cyre: Making, Fort Barren, Seaside
The city of Making was a stronghold of House Cannith, and again stands alone in the middle of southern Cyre. This isolated position would have been in the middle of the forested southern highlands, which might have given it some relief from the hot southern summers. It was probably a centre for the local mining and timber industries, as well as being a research center for House Cannith. In earlier editions a major trade road and lightning rail line went through Making, but the 5e map has it isolated for some reason. I prefer the old map here, it’s more sensible, so we can say the 5e map shows another, lesser road that is still mostly intact and not buried under tons of obsidian. Assuming Making was on the main trade road and had a lightening rail connection, the terrain can’t have been too rough (or extensive tunnels might have been used, which is probably cooler).
The western border is a bit harder to define. Near Breland, the land is quite open, but it’s not unreasonable to think a small river might have come from the hills near Kennrun to join the Brey to make a natural boundary, or that these hills extended on into Cyre, looping north or south. On the border with Dargun, it is much more likely there was some form of natural border that helped isolate this province and let the hobgoblins secure their prize by controlling key access points. The name of the fortress to secure the southern border is Barren Keep, so the far south at least may have been barren badlands or desert. However in the north, the fort of Gorgonhorn is said to be in fertile farmland. A river probably makes the most sense, with Lyrenton being the former main bridge over.
Finally, the southern coast of Cyre is defined by two large peninsulas. The largest of these is separated from Darguun by the sound of the Ghaal river, and has an unnamed ruin near its southern tip, which is possibly another unnamed city. The smaller peninsula is home to the city of Seaside, as well as the Feyspire Shaelas Tiraleth near the Valenar border. The climate for this whole area was probably coastal Mediteranean, with hot dry summers and cooler, wetter winters. However, the same weather patterns that sustained the jungles of southern Valenar and the Khraal in Darguun might have kept this area more humid and subtropical, with some form of monsoon winds bringing heavy summer rains. Cyre has no coastal islands on the continental map of Khorvaire, but while this rules out large islands, there were probably hundreds of small ones that are simply not visible on this scale, many of which may have been inhabited by fishing villages.
Next post, I’ll look at turning this wall of text into something that’s more useable in the game by dividing Cyre up into districts, each with their own identity and brand of horror. Here’s a sneak peak:
Once a playground for the wealthy, the Lakelands are now one of the best places to get lost in the whole Mournland. Apart from the high moors of the northern tip, the rest of the land has sunk into a filthy, dangerous swamp. Grand palaces and hunting lodges are now half-submerged in mud and water, and entire towns have washed away. Most bridges were destroyed in the war, and canals are regularly blocked with fallen trees. Salvagers who have come back from the region report that it feels as though they are in a maze where the walls keep shifting and foul slimy things wait to ambush them.
- Stone Forest: Petrified trees fill this area, mostly fallen in a tangle of stone and crystal columns to block most roads and canals through. A herd of gorgons who escaped from Cannith’s zoo in Eston to the south now wander the forest.
- The Devouring Glen: An area famous for hunting, the local manifest zone has become corrupted to spawn predatory abominations that roam the nearby lands.
- Necromancer meat market: Corpse scavengers bring bodies and even captured undead from the surrounding areas to this former market town to sell to necromancers under the eye of the Emerald Claw.