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The Sullen Vale

The Sullen Vale

I figured I'd start posting my random musings about the Sullen Vale here, subject to criticism, critique, and fairly-lodged accusations of banality.

If I get it well-enough developed, I intend to start a game of it using Rolemaster.

It will be in no particular order; just random bits and pieces. Thanks.


Oh umber-bearded dvergr, wandering the Vale,
With walking stick, so far from den, across the twilight pale.

What tales have ye, what song to sing, what golden finery bear,
With twinkling silver, rascal eyes, and richest tenor blare?

Came ye from under yonder rock, or passed by rooted braes,
And did amongst unearthly oaks, to ancient river say?

Oh keeper of faye secrets old, oh bring thee granite tale,
Please tell me of the foggy wold, along the Sullen Vale.

In General

Dwarves of the Sullen Vale are keepers of rock and stone. Living among the endless shadows of its twilight hills and forests, they are seldom seen by mannish eye. Under root and hill, they learn and trade secrets known only to the earth itself, and it is from the earth that they derive their mysterious magics.

Great lovers of precious metals and stones, dwarves are notoriously greedy, and will often trade ancient secrets for the right bauble. Dwarven metalworking and craftmanship are the stuff of legend, and many an ancient mannish king is said to have been bedecked in dwarven jewelry or outfitted with dwarven sword.

Among these legends, however, are many a fable in which those same kings have been tricked by dwarves, often unwittingly bartering away their kingdoms or becoming forever beholden. Great caution is advised when dealing with these clever, wise creatures.

Physical Description

Dwarves range between four and five feet tall, and are wiry of build, weighing between one hundred and one hundred-fifty pounds. At home in the forever-fall of the Sullen Vale, their skin tone is generally olive and swarthy, and their thick hair runs the panalopy of the colors of high autumn. Dwarven eyes are remarkably bright, and often the color of gold, silver, and gemstone.

Male dwarves wear magnificent beards, often braiding them, decorating them with precious metals, and shaping them with bees wax and comb. Fond of flaxen and wools that blend with the forests and hills, dwarves are never seen without their caps or hoods, nor without their walking stick.

Dwarves of the Sullen Vale are quick, agile, and adept at stealth, having learned such arts in their eternal struggle to survive the malicious trolls, giants, and other creatures that wander the Vale in search of prey.

Behavioral Stereotypes

Dwarves are, by reputation, an interesting mix of personalities and motivations.

They are famously courteous, taking care to use proper title and manner no matter the situation. Though their homes are a secret to men, dwarven hospitality is legendary; once invited to drink in the hall of a dwarf, guests are treated as nobilty and are regailed with as much song, tale, and food as possible. A dwarf will never expel a guest without great cause.

They are notoriously greedy, both with knowledge and secrets as well as with gems, jewelry, and other crafts. They are not, by nature, outright robbers. However, dwarves are well known for crafting all manner of clever schemes to part a traveler from his gold. Such schemes often include complex contracts, games of riddles and tests of wit and other mischief.

Traders in, and keepers of, many of the earth's secrets, dwarves are deeply inquistive. They are quite curious about men and their ways, but are more interested in the nature of the earth itself and often wonder as to how the Vale came to be. It is difficult to predict that which a dwarf may covet more: gold or knowledge.

As already explained, dwarves have a great fondness for gold, silver, iron, and gems, into which they work mysterious magics and from which they craft beautiful jewelry, adornments, coats of mail, arms, and furniture.

Dwarves share the elves' love of poetry and song. Their voices, rich in bass and tenor that belies their slight stature, can sometimes be heard ringing in the cold hills of the Vale. In fact, song and poem are the major media by which dwarves inquire of things and share news with one another.

Adventuring & Combat

The dwarven love of treasure, along with their natural inquisitiveness, make them natural adventurers. They often wander alone, with their walking sticks of blackthorn and greenwood, in the hills and valleys of the Sullen Vale, seeking things out and learning as much as they can from the rocks, trees, and birds.

Being of small stature, and surrounded by the endless nightmare of the Sullen Vale, dwarves are not prone to outright combat. This is not to say that they are cowardly, however. Quite to the contrary, a dwarf can make a tenacious martial opponent. Using their natural aptitude for stealth and magic, dwarves will not shy from harrassing and killing opponents several times their size. Well told are many tales wherein a single dwarf has battled a mighty troll for the prize of his treasure.

Dwarves tend to wear little or light armor, and, when outfitted for battle, carry small pole axes, long knives and dirks, and their ingeniously designed crossbows, which allow them to harry opponents from a distance.

The deadliest weapon in the arsenal of a dwarf, however, is his magic. Dwarves have access to spells of the earth that are beyond the ken of men, and can weave illusions and bend the forest to protect themselves.

Sam Crow's Random Musings

Dwarves of the Sullen Vale are fond of wine, which they make themselves in their halls.

Dwarven halls are found under the roots of ancient trees, in hillsides, and under mighty rocks. They are larger on the inside than the outside, and are formed of rough timber, mortar, and granite. The entrances thereto are perceptible only to the dwarf and his guests.

A dwarf will take a wife, but will not sire children. After all, dwarves are born of the earth itself. Dwarves are otherwise solitary.

Dwarves are fond of sheep, which can often be found around their burroughs. Dwarves will protect the sheep in exchange for wool, which dwarven women spin into fine flaxen and fleece garmets.

Dwarves despise goblins, the latter of which descend from those dwarves whose greed has overtaken them. Thus, goblins are omens of the dangers of dwarven covetousness.


Dynan dell and seelie fade, singing o’er the shining glade,
Fey elwyll where thy court’s arrayed, for golden queen and elvish maid.

Know ye what the stars must see, and smile from thy willow tree,
And rushing beck, afon llewy, and emerald leaves so green for thee.

Thine voice, sweet water, winter’s spring, clear and strong and sparkling,
What say the bird upon your ring, so shaped like ivy tangling?

So sing the elves, the merry elves, where cheerful valley river delves,
Respite from fall in gladdened dells, and hear the brightling summer bells.

In General

To be sure, the Sullen Vale is a sad landscape, forever locked between autumn and winter, never to know the effervescence of spring or the shining glow of summer. The sky is eternally grey and melancholy, and the sun passes only so high as to bathe the land in a lonely, twilight dusk.

Yet, according to legend, there are glens of the Sullen Vale in which the lark still sings, where soft ferns grow, and where great, proud trees cast canopies of happy green over warm, black soil. In these glades and valleys, bright sun shines, and the land knows both spring and summer.

It is in these wondrous dells that are said to live the elves, children of the rushing rivers, sons and daughters of the stars themselves.

Physical Description

Tall and fair, elves stand between six and six and seven feet, and are slender and supple like their fabled willow trees, weighing between one hundred-forty and one hundred-seventy pounds.

Elven hair is thick and flowing, varying in color from golden to raven, and elvish eyes are almond-shaped and reminiscent of spring and summer. Of course, elven ears are gently pointed, and their faces are fine and angelic. There are no more beautiful creatures in the Sullen Vale than the fabled elves.

Elves prefer leathers, wools, and linens twilled in their mystic glens, the colors of which recall glistening brook, mossy rock, and swaying tree. Jewelry is often crafted from wood, not metal, which is arched and bent into strong, graceful knots, brooches, rings, and crowns.

In the forest, elves are silent and invisible at will, often revealing themselves only through call or song; it is said that they can take the shape of trees. Their movements are as subtle as the breeze, and as strong and graceful as rushing rivers.

Behavioral Stereotypes

Elves are generally benevolent creatures, having a distaste for the violence that so defines men. Often where men would push the attack, or fell the foe, elves would stay their steel. This is not to say that elves are not of a martial bent, but rather that they perhaps place more value upon life than do mortals.

For this reason, elves have a tendency toward mercy, and would more quickly spare the offender than would a man. They tend to abhor imprisoning things or inflicting the ultimate punishment of death, seeing themselves as unfit for passing criminal judgment.

In fact, elves have little use for law, at least as men see it, in the abstract. Though they follow the natural rules of the forest, such rules are not derived from the same conceptual structures upon which we found our civilizations. As a result, elves can appear chaotic and unpredictable.

Elves, who are less encumbered by the span of time, and not subject to death or old age in the same way as we, see the world and its events as would they sky looking down upon earth. As such, they appear dispassionate and slow to react to offense or to take slight.
Elves tend to be light-hearted in this respect, often laughing and smiling where others would not, and appearing unaffected by the realties which, to you and me, seem so grim.

Adventuring & Combat

Elves will jealously defend their valleys and glades, and will fight to the death should they feel these sacred places are threatened.

Elves are masters of sword and bow, and move with frightening celerity when roused to combat. A favored elven tactic against potential invaders is to hide among their mighty trees and launch volleys of arrows at their opponents, disappearing when spotted, only to rally again with another volley.

Elves are said to speak with the birds and trees themselves, learning of the whereabouts of potential enemies.

Being nimble and graceful, elves prefer the light, leather armors they fashion themselves. This allows them to best capitalize on their natural quickness and agility in combat.

Elven magic is mythical, and they are said to call upon wind, river, and the forest itself to aid them in combat. Natural healers, elves know the secrets of the herbs of the Sullen Vale.

Sam Crow's Random Musings

Elves are the children of the forest itself, and are not born in the way we men consider that term.

They gather in their seelie courts in magic glades, to trade songs, drink wine, dance, and share news.

When one says "Elven Queen" or "Elven King," they really mean the lord of the court, which is temporary. Elven courts can last anywhere from a night to several years.

Elven glades and valleys are hidden to all but the elves themselves and their forest allies. They may, however, invite outsiders to visit their courts. Their purposes for this, however, are almost always mysterious.

Elves are respectful of dwarves, who often bear them news from the Vale. Elves and dwarves will often craft together, learning the secrets of workmanship from one another.

The Twelve Kingdoms of Men

In the Sullen Vale, the use of the word “kingdom” is perhaps only nominal, as each kingdom actually a single steading, jarldom, or castle (as may be the case) and its lords and denizens. That is to say, the Vale is home to twelve castles and their surrounding lands, each of which claims to be its own kingdom, but none of which has its own politically defined boundary. It would be fair to say that these twelve “kingdoms” are merely twelve townships or twelve chiefdoms.

How these kingdoms came to be is, like everything else in the Sullen Vale, a mystery, the answer to which is either forgotten or perhaps never known. Should one ask a denizen of the Vale from where his kingdom came, the answer would likely be unhelpful at best and nonsensical or circular at worst. Examples of such answers may include “It’s always been here,” or “We come from providence and the line of our good king.” In fact, it would be difficult to tell for how long these kingdoms have existed, even should a scholar successfully trace the lines of the twelve kings back into antiquity.

How the kingdoms interact with one another depends, of course, upon the kingdoms in question. The Sullen Vale, with its perpetual twilight, unnatural cold, and treacherous landscape, is amenable to neither war nor conquest in general. The mere survival of a given people against the horrors and shadowy mystery of the place is, more often than not, a full-time occupation. Still, most of the kingdoms claim some right or another to dominate the others, though from what authority these claims descend is as vague as the histories of the peoples themselves. Perhaps man’s natural tendency toward domination is a sufficient answer for now.

Random Snippet About Personality

One of the modifications I'm making to the RMU rules regards personalities, drives, and alignments.

During character creation, players can roll for (or, alternatively, pick (though rolling seems way cooler)) five personality traits that will help define who their characters are. I'll figure out a way to rank them reltive to one another at some point. I think it would be neat to see the results.

A word about racial tendencies. If you've read above, you'll see that the races have general behavioral tendencies. When choosing a race, you'll roll 1D100 for each of the racial personality tendencies. If the result is 01-50, your character will not have that tendency. If you roll 51-100, he will. This will be done for each of the five racial tendencies.

There will be cultural tendencies for each of the mannish cultures as well, but I haven't figured out what they'll be yet.

After determining which, and how many of the racial tendencies your character has, you'll roll for the remaining traits on the table below.

For example, if you choose to play a dwarf, you'll roll 1D100 for the five dwarven tendencies (listed as "behavioral stereotypes"): Courteous, Inquisitive, Greedy, Philia (Precious Metals), and Philia (Song). For each one you roll over 50, your character will have that personality trait. For each one you roll 50 or less, you'll roll on the table below.

Or something like that.

3.2 Personality (Page 10)

Roll 1D100 and consult the following table, writing down the personality trait that corresponds to the number you rolled. Do this a total of five times for a total of five personality traits. Assign the personality traits in the order desired on your character's Dominant Personality Traits List.

Don't worry if you roll opposing personality traits; they will only serve to make your character more complex and interesting. For example, if you roll both brave and cowardly, you can go on to decide in which situations your character will be brave and in which he will be cowardly. Is he a stoic warrior who struggles internally with innate physical fear, ever locked in a struggle to overcome his own instincts? Perhaps he is physically brave but emotionally fearful.

When all five of your character's personality traits are determined, stop and think about what kind of person they describe and how they may interact to create a unique character.
  1. Adventurous
  2. Aggressive
  3. Agnostic
  4. Ambitious
  5. Amicable
  6. Amoral
  7. Antagonistic
  8. Apprehensive
  9. Arbitrary
  10. Arrogant
  11. Benevolent
  12. Boisterous
  13. Bold
  14. Brave
  15. Calm
  16. Chaste
  17. Cheerful
  18. Cold
  19. Compassionate
  20. Compulsive
  21. Confident
  22. Conservative
  23. Content
  24. Corrupt
  25. Courteous
  26. Cowardly
  27. Cruel
  28. Dark
  29. Deceitful
  30. Destructive
  31. Discourteous
  32. Disorderly
  33. Dispassionate
  34. Energetic
  35. Ethical
  36. Excitable
  37. Extreme
  38. Extroverted
  39. Fatalistic
  40. Focused
  41. Forgiving
  42. Generous
  43. Greedy
  44. Honest
  45. Honorable
  46. Humble
  47. Idealistic
  48. Impatient
  49. Independent
  50. Indulgent
  51. Inquisitive
  52. Intolerant
  53. Introverted
  54. Jealous
  55. Kind
  56. Lawful
  57. Lazy
  58. Liberal
  59. Lighthearted
  60. Loyal
  61. Lustful
  62. Malevolent
  63. Meek
  64. Merciful
  65. Moderate
  66. Open
  67. Optimistic
  68. Orderly
  69. Passive
  70. Patient
  71. Peaceful
  72. Philia
  73. Phobia
  74. Pious
  75. Possessive
  76. Pragmatic
  77. Protective
  78. Proud
  79. Prudent
  80. Reckless
  81. Reserved
  82. Ruthless
  83. Sociable
  84. Stern
  85. Stoic
  86. Stubborn
  87. Sullen
  88. Suspicious
  89. Temperate
  90. Timid
  91. Tolerant
  92. Treacherous
  93. Trusting
  94. Understanding
  95. Unethical
  96. Unrestrained
  97. Vengeful
  98. Vibrant
  99. Violent
  100. Worldly

For example, and assuming no particular race, Sam Crow rolls 1D100 five times and records the following personality traits:

Dice Roll: 1D100
d100 Results: 34
Dice Roll: 1D100
d100 Results: 94
Dice Roll: 1D100
d100 Results: 21
Dice Roll: 1D100
d100 Results: 17
Dice Roll: 1D100
d100 Results: 39

In thinking about my character, and who he would be, I would be guided by these five dominant traits. Cheerful and fatalistic could be an interesting combination. Maybe someone who has given himself over to doom in the Vale, and accepts the probable fate it has for him?

Of course, depending on what my rolls were for the five behavioral stereotypes depending on culture, I may not roll all five times because some of my traits may have been established by my rolls depending on racial or cultural tendencies.


The Seaxisce ("SAX-ish") are tall, broad-shouldered, and fair-skinned, with hair ranging from golden to ashe to medium brown, and eyes of the various shades blue. The Seaxisce culture is represented in the Vale by four kingdoms.

The Kingdom of Selsy, with a population of about 1,800, is ruled by King Aethelred, aged twenty-five, and his vibrant queen, Wulfrida, aged twenty-three, both of whom are beloved by their subjects. The pair have sired two children, Aethelwald and Aethelhelm, within the last two years. Aethelred's younger brother, Aelfred, is also beloved by the people of Selsy, and is the current trustee to the throne until Aethewald comes of age.

The Kingdom of Tamworth, with a population of about 6,100, is ruled by King Burghred, aged twenty-seven and his wife, Aelswith, aged twenty. They have not yet sired an heir. Both are beloved by their subjects.

The Kingdom of Dunwic, with a population of about 2,800, is ruled by Eadmund the Just, aged twenty four. He has not yet taken a queen nor sired a son. His brother, Oswald, is thus the heir to the throne.

The Kingdom of Dunholm, with a population of about 1,800, is ruled by King Aella the Merciless, aged thirty-four, and his queen, Aelgifu, aged twenty-nine. They have a daughter, Blaeja, aged ten. The current faction heir is Aella's brother, Osbhert, aged thirty two. Aella has earned his title through the merciless execution and torture of his enemies. His queen has not been seen in some time.

You can get an idea about how small these "kingdoms" actually are by the population numbers set forth above.

Random snippet of part of the Map of the Sullen Vale I made using CC3.

I'm pleased to share a picture I commissioned to be drawn by the very talented Christopher Reach...I shared some of my concepts of the Vale with him and asked him to brainstorm a landscape scene about what he thought it might look like.


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