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    Thaele- What we know and what we might guess

    So, I've begun to think about the Thaele, the Cold Continent, lately. Beautiful Thaele has been sadly ignored for the more populous and warm Adurian and even Djaparan continents, but the truth is, we actually know quite a bit more about her to build our base upon.

    I will do two things in this post which I hope will start people's creative juices flowing: the first is examine the canon sources on Thaele to see what we “know” for certain and the second is to extrapolate from those sources, what we know about Cerilian history and information we can base off of what we know about Earth geography.

    I'd love to hear any thoughts on this matter.

    The Canon:
    I have found four concrete sources on Thaele: Player's Secrets of Stjordvik (PSS) page 13, Player's Secrets of Halskapa (PSH) pages 28-29, the Map of the Rjurik Highlands (MRH) and the book Rjurik Highlands (RH) page page 59. Please let me know if you have any further information.

    The Land: “The distant and icy realm of Thaele harbors vast stands of timber, rich mineral deposits and even occasional fertile valleys sheltered from the wind and fed by volcanic hot springs along its fodled, wrinkled hills.” (RH) “Thaele is rich, yes, but it is even more dangerous than Cerilia. The climate is colder and harsher and food is not as abundant.” (PSH 28) The map depicts Thaele as a land of peninsulas and broad bays. The western sections are covered in conifer forest and the east is an open plain.

    The Settlements: The map depicts the shoreline as having six colonies, three in the western forests and three on the eastern plains; only three are described. They are, in order from west to east: Hoekstraad (Halskapa), Janina, Emmaleigh, Rjalford (Jankaping), Tjarvaald (Stjordvik) and Elk Bay.

    The settlements appear to be exporters of exotic raw materials. To the aforementioned timber and minerals, we may also add “bear skins, narwhal oil, ivory and […] gold” (PSS).

    None of these colonies are very old—RH mentions that Hoekstraad is “the oldest of the colonies” and “was established by Halskapa over a decade ago.” Likewise, the PSS notes that Queen Ljorrah sent Jarl Andros Drakkenvir to Tjarvaald a few years previously; I cannot find a clear indication of when she abdicated to her son Varri. Perhaps paradoxically, the section on Tjarvaald also has an excerpt from “a traditional Rjurik whaler's chantey”:

    On the Day of Rebirth what words did I speak
    in Tjarvaald on that frozen Sarimiere day?
    Take me back to the ice fields in summer melt
    to hear what I said as my promise unthaws.
    Back th eanchor send the sails,
    No living is made out hunting the whales
    -from Lies told a Rich Man's Daughter

    Hoekstraad (1/6) is led by the Jarl Haelrya Sivardaan (Frj; F8; An, minor, 16; CG), who endeavors to eventually make the colony a full-scale realm (RH). However, the colony is beset by the monstrious unnskrajir— “great serpentine monsters that inhabit the coastal waters and lands. These beasts threaten the lives of the Hoekstraad colonists on a daily basis and many hunters are killed each season. Not much is known about these giant sea snakes, but there are rumors of organized attacks made by groups (some even describe them as clans) of the creatures.” The colony is lacated in the southern shore of a broad, forested peninsula on the western side of the continent. The most sophisticated of the colonies we know of, it enjoys a Law (1) (the Jarl), a Guild (1) (the Three Trees Traders) and a Temple (1) (the Emerald Spire). Shipments coming into Halskapa in the spring and summer the Jarl and the King wealthy men (PSH 27)
    “In the spring and summer seasons, the colony produces GB equal to a guild (6) in a province (7). For fall and winter seasons, it produces as a guild (0).” (PSH 27)

    Tjarvaald (1/6) “has proven to be a relatively successful and prosperous colony, though it is dependent upon trade contacts with the Three Trees Traders for much of its food and building material” (RH). Tjarvaald is located on the barren eastern coast, though it is located in a sheltered bay. The leader is Jarl Andros Drakkenvir (Mrj; R12; Ma, minor, 18; NG) “a veteran warrior with a flair for leadership who gets as much satisfaction out of overseeing the colony's economic well-being as he does out of battling ice troll raiders and the occasional remorhaz” (RH). He was once a war leader in Stjordvik who as sent by Queen Ljorrah into this working retirement, “they say that the only good deed that Queen Ljorrah ever did was promoting Andros” (PSS). He demanded “a whaling ship for transport, one that would then remain with him in the arctic colony” and which he used to export narwhal oil, bear skins and gold. He established a colonists council and a militia “he calls the Ice Guard” which “defends the colony from ice troll raids and the occasional forays by pirates. The militia's other responsibility is to accompany its governor when he hunts remorhaz for sport” (PSS). The colony is not as sophisticated as Hoekstraad, as it lacks a formal temple presence, but it does have a Law (1) (Andros), and a Guild (1) (Three Trees Traders).

    Rjalford (0/7) is the weakest and poorest of the colonies described. Established only three years ago, it struggles for survival. The leader is Jarl Haldan Njarik (Mrj; Re, minor, 10; LN) “a competent leader and administrator” (RH). However, the colony is located the furthest north of any of the settlements on a patch of barren, open shoreline and “is hopelessly rugged area and is periodically ravaged by ice trolls and fhoimoriens as well as by harsh weather conditions. Its few hundred citizens barely manage to survive from year to year” (RH). It has a Law (0) and a Guild (0) both controlled by the Jarl.

    Inhabitants: Beyond the Rjurik, who are recent arrivals, we have no indication of any human settlements, nor of any other of the major species (Dwarf, Elf, Halfing, Goblin or Orog). The reported species are:

    Remorhaz—Nothing indicates these are any different than standard D&D stats. They appear to live in the forested west as they have been mentioned in the Hoekstraad description.
    Ice Trolls—The ice trolls are described in the 1993 2nd Edition Monster Manual (pages 349-351) but I don't believe these have been converted to 3e, 3.5e or 4e. I also don't know how intelligent these creatures are or how their stats compared to those of 'standard' trolls, so that would be useful if anyone has the old books. However, they appear to be major antagonists of the eastern colonies. The Havens of the Great Bay book discussion of the Klessberg says that they are smaller, and more intelligent than their standard cousins and hunt in packs. Both the descriptions of Tjarvaald and Rjalford mention them.
    Fhoimoriens—Nothing indicates these are any different than standard D&D stats. They appear to live in the east, having been mentioned in the description of Rjalford.
    Polar Bears—Nothing indicates these are any different than standard D&D stats
    Unnskrajir—I seem to remember something more written about these creatures than the short description in the discussion of Hoekstraad in PSH, but I can't find it. They appear to live in the waters of the west of the continent as they're mentioned only in Hoekstraad.
    Elk—The easternmost colony is “Elk Bay”, which is probably also the name of the bay it sits on. We may surmise there are 'elk' on the broad eastern plains. These may not be literal 'elk' as found on Cerilia (or Earth) but the most convenient name for some other ungulate (like the way colonists named American Bison “Buffalo” for lack of a better term). Perhaps they are reindeer?

    The Extrapolations:
    Based off of what we know about Cerilia, Thaele and Earth we can begin to make a few educated guesses.

    Biodiversity: Thaele is a cold continent which has had no known land connection to any other continent. Both of these elements on Earth tend to mean that the region has a low number of species. In addition, we know that Cerilia is known as the “Continent of Monsters” by the ancient Adurians which may mean that it has a higher number of monstrous inhabitants than is normal for Aebrynis.

    Human Settlement: It is probable that both Rjurik and Brechts have known about Thaele since the Flight from the Shadow, but it is unlikely that there are any other human groups on the area. For one, humans come from Aduria and the first to pass through Cerilia were the Five Tribes. There is no known land bridge so any group would have to get there by boat, probably along the Cerilian coast. We know of no other human groups, with or without boats, who might make this passage.

    However, it is possible—even probable—that there have been Thaelesian settlements before the establishment of Hoekstraad a decade previous. For one, there is the slim evidence of the “traditional Rjurik whaler's chantey” which mentions Tjarvaald and the sheer proximity. The Norse of Earth settled and abandoned Greenland at least twice and North America once. Many of the early settlements were intended to be seasonal or temporary. It could be that this wave of settlement is only the latest in a long history of a temporary Rjurik presence. Perhaps Tjarvaald is the name of that region of coastline where Rjurik have long hunted whales, dried fish or sought out polar bears.

    It is also possible that the Brechts have tried to settle Thaele, perhaps Elk Bay—the only non-Rjurik sounding colony name and the easternmost settlement—is made up of enterprising Mudenites or Danigers.

    This raises the question of who settled the remaining three colonies (Elk Bay, Emmaleigh and Janina). Svinik is a good candidate for one. Rjuvik is a bit chaotic, but a possibility and Hogunmark also is a possibility, though it is a bit insular, focusing upon its eastern enemies not outward expansion. It is possible that they are not permanent settlements, but seasonal camps or even the ruins of previous settlements. They also may have been set up by non-domain regents. Storm Holtson's Stjordvik Traders certainly would be interested in the wealth flowing out of the north and the Three Trees Traders may have their own, independent, settlement.

    Non Human Settlement: I would argue that it is unlikely that either the dwarves or elves settled Thaele. We have no evidence of either of them having boats or any desire to explore beyond Cerilia. The dwarves in particular seem unlikely to set sail based on their nature and the elves may have some mystical connection to Cerilia itself as this is the only continent where they have appeared. Of course, your campaign may have mighty cities of ice elves ruling over the interior or vast fortresses of dwarves working the volcanic, glacier-choked mountains; I'm just saying they're not very probable.

    Goblins may have come to Thaele, but without the trade networks that support the Rjurik it is difficult to see why they would come and how they would survive. The Urga-Zai goblins are even more poorly organized than their Thurazoran cousins and probably wouldn't be able to maintain a long-term colonial presence. However, it is possible that there are goblin pirates, refugees and bandits in Thaele.

    Halflings, on the other hand, are a far more probable Thaelesian resident. The halflings popped into Aebrynis more-or-less randomly, escaping the darkness engulfing the Shadow World. Some quite possibly could have appeared in Thaele. These refugees, lacking boats, boat-making technology and possibly even a knowledge of Cerilia's existence (not to mention a fear of the Unnskrajir off the coast), probably never would have left Thaele. I would guess that most of their numbers live in the forested west, living in tiny groups hidden from their many predators. They might herd elk/reindeer, forage the forests or ply the coastal waters in tiny craft. They would speak the ancestral halfling language and be secretive and suspicious.

    Other Species: What else lives in the north? Based on Earth examples, we may guess that as there is no land bridge, it is probable that there are different animals on Thaele than Cerilia. This may include the remorhaz and the elk/reindeer. It is also possible there are mastodons here. Magical creatures would probably be fewer in number as there have been far fewer wizards to create them. Likewise, undead would not be common as there have been far fewer sentient creatures who have died here. A few Cerilian Dragons may make their homes in Thaele, far from the lesser races.

    Monsters of the elemental variety—such as Ice Giants—might dominate the frozen interiors. They may give little thought to the coastlines and have thus far missed the pitiful Rjurik settlements. I personally like the idea of an ice giant society ruling the north, the giants we see in Cerilia would be outcasts, atypical of their people. As they apparently exist largely off of magical energy, there could be a large number of them deep in the ice.

    Hyperborea: No doubt legends exist of a fantastical valley of warmth and magic hidden in the ice. Does it exist? This is up to you, but I am hesitant to add this type of Forgotten Realms-style high magic in the campaign. If it does, it is probably maintained by some form of realm magic and must be regularly updated. Perhaps a single elven wizard traveled to Thaele millennia ago for escape from the pressures of the court of Lluabraight (perhaps he/she had a falling out with the ruling parties?). This wizard might be served by a handful of loyal elves or even a tribe of halflings. Maybe there is an ancient war between the domains of the mighty ice giants and this ancient elven conjurer?

    Alternatively, this may not be such an exotic place, instead a hidden valley rich in hot springs where the inhabitants—halflings?--have managed to gather in larger numbers. This might be a disappointment to the human explorers who find it.

    Of course, there may be no such place.

    Armored Bears: Fans of the Golden Compass may be tempted to create a realm of armored polar bears in the north. This is outside of the scope of normal Birthright, but could be an interesting addition if handled properly.

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    Site Moderator AndrewTall's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Satchkep45 View Post
    Inhabitants: Beyond the Rjurik, who are recent arrivals, we have no indication of any human settlements, nor of any other of the major species (Dwarf, Elf, Halfing, Goblin or Orog). The reported species are...

    The Extrapolations:
    Based off of what we know about Cerilia, Thaele and Earth we can begin to make a few educated guesses.

    Biodiversity: Thaele is a cold continent which has had no known land connection to any other continent. Both of these elements on Earth tend to mean that the region has a low number of species. In addition, we know that Cerilia is known as the “Continent of Monsters” by the ancient Adurians which may mean that it has a higher number of monstrous inhabitants than is normal for Aebrynis.
    While there is no land bridge, there is likely to be an "ice-bridge" - I wouldn't be surprised if the Thaelsesian passage is frozen solid for at least part of the year given the description of the northern rjurik climate. That would allow polar bears, etc to cross between northern rjurik and Thaele as the ice pack advanced and retreated and while it wouldn't be an easy trip goblins, etc could have crossed long ago.

    There will also be links via the Shadow World, while these links will have been corrupted since Deismaar some passage is possible, and some races fleeing the Shadow world as it corrupted could have settled. I'd expect that magical races like the karamhul and sidhe would have seen travel via the spirit word as far more natural than building boats, etc - albeit in recent times very dangerous leading to abrupt isolation of their realms

    Considering continental drift and evolution, etc I'd actually expect that all of the major civilised races not only could easily be found on Thaele but should be there now or have left some mark - look at the spread of humans over the past 10,000 years or so.

    Add in failed settlements (likely many) and temporary settlements and all sorts could be present. I note that I expect that I'd expect that the recent historic norm was temporary settlement - arrive in spring/summer, log/hunt/etc while the weather is good and sail home. That's easier than permanent settlement if there are many monsters and terrible winters around, but when someone first settled that act would have led to a land-grab as the temporary settlers abruptly tried to leave at least some people year round to stake their claim and avoid losing out.

    You could have monstrous races - walrus-men, yak-men, ice goblins, etc - they allow holdings, trade, etc hich improves playability but are still 'monsters' to explain the tagline.

    Or, given provincial mind-sets, perhaps the aebrynnis inuit-type humans are seen as monsters rather than as humans? I don't really see yeti's as a usable population?

    I'd consider some cold water sahuagin - it seems odd that they are only found in the Krakenstaur and they make for interesting raiders (albeit you'd need to do something with the sea-serpents) but they aren't really good for comunication.

    Vulcanism is always good for a 'hot province' - we don't have "a yellowstone" type caldera in Cerilia/aduria that I'm aware of but it would make a fascinating province - of course without a good idea of the plate tectonics in Cerilia its hard to estimate fault lines, etc or continental drift.

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    I really hadn't given much thought about Thaele as a place for settling, permanent or temporary.
    What it seems to me is that Rjurik, Vosgaard and even northern parts of Brechtur make life miserable during winter months, so I'd consider anyone setting off for Thaele a bit desperate or masochistic.
    OK, so you actually come up with an idea about climate warmed up by volcanic and geyser activity or even magic that shields the valleys or something. In the first case scenario you'd have very unstable environment, and for the second, it's a kind of used idea for Torova Temylatin island. Besides, BR isn't really very "magical" setting. And don't forget Rjurik don't have wizards and are very suspicious of them and magic.

    I'd go for developing some adventure areas, if there's a need to venture there in the first place. A full blown realm, I'm not so sure about. We're talking arctic circle and there isn't much magic that could protect a whole realm. What do they actually eat, what do they wear to protect them on such arduous journey and while living there? I'm sorry if I seem like a buzz killer, but I've been exploring and writing about Rjurik and Vosgaard, and it gave me chills at a very thought about how they live, how they feed, have sex, bathe, I don't know... And I've also been skeptic about Torova Temylatin and I'm still trying to swallow that one.

    There was a case when elves shielded the whole realm of Cwmb Bheinn by magic, but they are elves, they have sufficient number of wizards and not so many monsters roaming the land in the first place.... but, if it makes one happy, then go for it.
    Rey M. - court wizard of Tuarhievel

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    Quote Originally Posted by Satchkep45 View Post
    Likewise, the PSS notes that Queen Ljorrah sent Jarl Andros Drakkenvir to Tjarvaald a few years previously; I cannot find a clear indication of when she abdicated to her son Varri. .
    If I remember correctly, she abdicated in the present year...

    EDIT: Wrong. Page 4, PS of Stjordvik, "...Queen Ljorrah, my mother, died three years ago..." That is, if you accept that fact from a non-canon.
    Last edited by Rey; 12-18-2011 at 09:02 PM.
    Rey M. - court wizard of Tuarhievel

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    The cold would definately be a problem for humans and goblins. I can see inuit type peoples scraping by. I note that on reflection the southern coast can't be totally buried under ice at any point given the forests, so I'd assume at least a short growing season. But indeed, a very cold miserable one - to me the question for any human would be 'why live here?'

    A karamhul realm being partly subterranean would fare better, at least if you accept the possibility of underground farming in general. Sidhe could in my view do just fine, they don't seem to need mass agriculture and are partly spirit in nature so they may not even feel the cold.

    In terms of vulcanism I'd maybe allow a single good province (from a super volcano) but I accept that it's grasping at straws. I note that one potential vulcanic benefit over a wider area could be that seen in the Serengeti where vulcanic ash leads to the plains being very fertile during the wet season - a short term but bumper harvest could allow a well-prepared group to sustain itself.

    In general though I accept that large populations would be an issue in Thaele due to the limited harvest potential.

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    A busy Thaele or an Empty Thaele

    Commentators are right in my mind that vosgaard and rjurik are damn cold places and pretty hostile in themselves, so Thaele would be even worse. That said, we DO have canon sources placing Rjurik settlements there, maps that mark forests, and descriptions of ice trolls and other monsters. So it's not impossible.

    I think there are two potential visions of Thaele: busy or empty. A busy Thaele has a history of migrating species with perhaps magically shielded colonies of elves, dwarven nations hidden in mountains, new human subgroups, yetis or walrus men. This is like perhaps a fantasy Siberia. A busy thaele, IMO, would require magic--either magic species or Cerilian species protected.

    The other end is an empty thaele: a few desperate rjurik settlements and a few monsters--perhaps having crossed an ice bridge or via the shadow world--that raid them. This is more of a fantasy greenland or antarctica.

    I personally think of Thaele as a pretty empty place. The Rjurik are tough but chances are their experiments will fail. The monsters are few and desperate and perhaps there is something in the interior (I like the idea of Ice Giants holding court), but PCs wouldn't interact with them as fellow domain leaders, more like the way they interact with dragons.

    On the comparison of the expansion of humans on aebrynis versus earth, there is a huge difference: on earth we're basically the only intelligent life. On Cerilia alone, humans face competition from: elves, dwarves, goblins, halflings, gnolls, orogs, dragons, giants, fey, sahaugin and trolls. Look at how Neanderthals slowed the expansion Homo Sapiens Sapiens in Europe--on Cerilia they were probably slowed even more; we might guess that other continents have other species as well. So, I don't think we should assume humans have expanded everywhere on Aebrynis in the way we did on Earth.

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    Absolutely agreed.

    The canon mentions settlements on shores of Thaele, so it should not be disregarded.
    Make them hunt for fish, mostly, 'polar' bears for skins, perhaps some forest, but not very much inland activity. At least not human. Those mentioned places may be some far outposts if you could think of adventure ideas. Adventurers could have their last repose before venturing into the wild, cold and untamed land. They should be at least somewhat magically shielded from cold and have ample provisions. Their journey must be hard, progress almost impossible. Magical monsters and events, places, certainly, but carefully considered.

    Thaele could be an interesting place, if you don't get carried away.
    Rey M. - court wizard of Tuarhievel

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    Administrator Green Knight's Avatar
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    Not sure if this has been mentioned:

    According to the cardboard map of Cerilia it would appear Thaele is an island.

    But an island that is sometimes (or perhaps every winter?) connected to northern Cerilia by pack ice.
    Cheers
    Bjørn
    DM of Ruins of Empire II PbeM

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    Site Moderator AndrewTall's Avatar
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    The only maps I have show just the southern part of Thaele - nothing of its east, west or northern coast.

    I'd expect that if its an island then the Thaelesian passage is fairly shallow in oceanic terms, and that either way if the passage does freeze, then Thaele becomes connected by ice to the entire northern icesheet.

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    Administrator Green Knight's Avatar
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    Cardboard map of Cerilia++ from the basic box:

    http://www.pe1rdw.demon.nl/cerilia/cerilia1.jpg

    It shows the northern coastline of Thaele, which seems to be ice-covered. The pack ice covering is probably the all-year cover. How much freezes over in winter would vary a bit.

    The map is very coarse, so leave plenty of room for interpretation. You could easily un-island Thaele...what do Anuireans know of what's under all that ice anyway :P
    Cheers
    Bjørn
    DM of Ruins of Empire II PbeM

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