Little consensus exists as to the history of the region that Graywell currently inhabits before the settlement’s founding in 4635 AR. Archeological expeditions and the occasional find by far-wandering shepherds make it clear that the area at one time hosted one of the outlying settlements of the goblin Kingdom of Zog, but it seems that this settlement fared no better than the rest of the goblin empire when the Yellowtongue Plague of 4217 AR struck; no organized goblinoid civilization appears to remain in the region. There are some who believe that there was still earlier wide scale human settlement of the region, as a small but not insignificant number of relics have been discovered over the years which are believed to have been brought into the region by Taldor’s Fifth Army of Exploration. If that is indeed the case then it means that human habitation of the area could go back as far as 2014 AR. Many sages are deeply skeptical of the theory that Taldor’s forces ever made it this far, however, and believe that the relics were likely scavenged elsewhere and carried into the region by the goblins of Zog.
The origins of the current settlement of Graywell trace back to 4635 AR, when a consortium of merchants from Brevoy sponsored the migration of a group of settlers to the area. This movement’s official purpose was to survey the region for natural resources the Brevoy could exploit, but the settlement was also meant to serve an even more important unofficial purpose: Giving Brevoy’s agents a base of operations from which to conduct strikes against river pirates who were disrupting the trade route along the East Sellen River. The stability that the town offered soon attracted outsiders interested in the region, however, and the ethnic Taldans from Brevoy were quickly joined by Kellid and Varisian migrants, as well as a sizable population of escaped slaves from nations to the south. As populations mingled, Brevoy found it increasingly difficult to maintain control of its far-flung outpost, and when Graywell declared itself independent in 4648 AR, House Rogarvia determined that pursuing the matter would bear a greater cost than return. The forces of Brevoy were therefor held back from taking any immediate action against Graywell and its inhabitants.
In 4658 AR, representatives from Daggermark began researching the prospect of using Graywell as a base for resource-gathering and research relating to the wide variety of organic poisons that could be harvested from the Hooktongue Slough, particularly pollen of the near-mythic azure lily. An alchemical research facility (The Athanor) was established, but strong and occasionally violent resistance to Daggermark influence eventually resulted in a peace agreement whereby the alchemists would be permitted to work closely with agents of Daggermark, but would be an autonomous organization.
In the month of Lamashan 4670 AR, a trio of attacks by the flame drake Ibafarshan resulted in the deaths of sixty-seven of Graywell’s residents and the destruction by burning of a significant portion of the town’s structures. These events, known collectively as the Fall of Flame, resulted in an as-yet uncollected bounty being placed on the vicious drake’s head, and are commemorated annually on the first Moonday of Lamashan. Although most of the structures have been either repaired or completely razed and rebuilt, a few of the burned ruins remain.
The long decades of sporadic conflict between Graywell and the beastling tribes of the Narlmarches began in 4676 AR. Even now, little is known about the degenerate animal-men, save that they take pride in their perception of themselves as the favored servants of Lamashtu, the demon goddess of madness and deformity. If they are pursuing any sort of agenda beyond unfettered death and destruction, it is not readily apparent. Weller raiding parties returning from attacks on beastling encampments report that the savage humanoids are diverse and unpredictable fighters. Spoils captured from the the beastlings range from valuables that the deformed villains had no doubt raided from elsewhere to disturbing and unidentifiable artifacts that seem likely to have been manufactured by either the beastlings themselves or their demonic patrons.
Geography and Climate
Graywell is located in the central portion of the Stolen Lands region of the River Kingdoms, slightly more than fifty miles south of the border with Brevoy. The town lies east of the Hooktongue Slough and west and the Narlmarches, situated on a thin strip of plain between the two. Though far from any ocean, land surveyors have calculated the area as being roughly 300 feet above sea level. The geographic character of Graywell is largely flat and even, but it is noted as containing a handful of hills which (due to their incongruity with the surrounding region) are believed to have been artificially created. There has thus far been little scholarly interest and even less agreement regarding who might have created these hills, or for what purpose.
Graywell and the surrounding Stolen Lands are reliably cold in the winter and mild in the summer. Winter snows are common, and cracklenight conditions are a regular feature of the month of Kuthona. Opinions vary, but local reckoning is for the most part in agreement that spring and autumn are the most agreeable months in terms of weather. Morning and evening fogs are a year-round occurrence, and because beastling attacks are often timed to take advantage of the fog’s cover, locals are apt to be particularly cautious during these hours. On rare occasions the town bears witness to the northern aurora. It is a common belief amongst Wellers that these celestial displays are augural in nature, but whether they are auspicious or ominous is a topic that remains hotly debated.
No one has attempted to orchestrate a census of Graywell in many years, due to the community’s largely transient population, many of whom are escaped slaves or other criminals who are both understandably suspicious of being cataloged and prone to violence when disturbed. The best guesswork available suggests that the town’s population is somewhere north of 800 individuals, with men slightly outnumbering women, and children making up just shy of a quarter of the population. Along racial lines, Graywell’s population is roughly 87% human, 6% halfling, 3% half-elf, 2% dwarf, 1% elf and 1% made up of a motley of other races. The human population is now so interbred that a breakdown of its population by ethnicity is currently believed to be impossible.
The halfling population is made up almost entirely of escaped slaves and their descendants, and accordingly they are seen as the most vocal advocates for and the staunchest defenders of the Fifth River Freedom. Halfling charities regularly collect funds to be funneled to anti-slaving organizations operating outside of the River Kingdoms, and are instrumental in welcoming newly arrived former slaves to Graywell and helping them find their place in the community.
Being a half-elf isn’t easy anywhere, but some places make it easier than others, and Graywell is one of those places. Much of Graywell’s population is made up of outcasts of one sort or another anyway, and compared to some, being a half-elf seems downright enviable. The majority of half-elves in Graywell are immigrants from the community of Erages in Kyonin who had grown dissatisfied with their second-class citizenship in that nation. As a result, relations between the half-elves and their full-elven cousins are often quite tense. This tension is thankfully lessened between half-elves and the Forlorn.
While exceptions do exist, the majority of Graywell’s dwarves are considered deeply conservative and reactionary, even by dwarven standards. The local clans first came to Graywell in order to form a society separate from the influence of other dwarven communities, so that they might practice the tradition of Deeprising in peace. Deeprising is a fringe tradition that involves raising young dwarves underground in conditions of total darkness (not a huge detriment, due to darkvision) and completely isolated from non-dwarves until adulthood. In this way, they hope to honor and emulate the legendary Quest for Sky. Most dwarves raised outside of Graywell see the continuation of this practice and backwards and damaging to a young dwarf’s development. It does, however, result in extremely strong bonds between dwarves raised locally.
The elves of Graywell are mainly Forlorn, although a small number of immigrants from Kyonin who have come to the area for some unknown purpose. Most of the elven population is older than Graywell itself, and a few have been in residence since the town’s founding. A popular refrain amongst the town’s elves is that the reason the Forlorn are so comfortable there is because they are less often troubled by the tragedy of watching their companions grow old and die; no one in Graywell ever lives to old age. It’s mostly a joke, but only mostly.
Taken as a whole, the people of Graywell are more likely to be superstitious than outwardly pious. Most of the population conduct their acts of worship somewhat privately, although there are exceptions. Weller religious belief has a reputation for embracing sects that might otherwise have a hard time finding acceptance elsewhere. The local church of Calistria, for example, is a sect that hold to the near-heretical requirement chastity from its priesthood (non-ordained members of the church are not subject to this restriction), believing that lusts sated are lusts lessened. The church of Norgorber is also active in Graywell, as those dependent on the town’s alchemy-driven economy worship his aspect as Blackfingers. Farmers, woodsmen and those who live and make their livings on the outskirts of town are apt to follow Erastil, whose church in Graywell bears the strongest resemblance to its counterparts elsewhere. Clergy of Desna and Hanspur keep no regular residences in Graywell, but as befits the teachings of their nomadic gods, they occasionally pass through town. Graywell is also host to a variety of mysterious and outlandish cults, and a small but vocal minority of community members have taken to following the teachings of the atheist Rahadoumi philosopher Zyad Salashiim.
Life and Culture
To live in the Stolen Lands is no easy thing, but it can be profitable, and as is often the case in places where people have coin and life is uncertain, entertainments have sprung up to offer distraction at a price. Crowds can often be found gathered at the Theater Wyvern, which offers a variety of nightly amusements. Musical performances, dancing girls, and the occasional play or puppet show can be found here on any given night, but the theater’s biggest draw comes from its weekly Blood Night gladiatorial matches. In truth, these amount to little more than brutal, life-threatening pit fights, completely lacking the grace and pageantry that one would find from their equivalent in Tymon, but this does little to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowds. In order to avoid accusations of violating the Fifth River Freedom, Theater Wyvern owner Jollic Festle insists that everyone who fights in his pit is a free man (or woman). Those critical of the practice note that the difference between fighting slaves and individuals desperate for coin to clear their debts is often more academic than practical.
For those interested in blood sports with less human cost, animal fights are a popular diversion featured in many taverns and makeshift pen-arenas. Fads in this field come and go; in previous years fights between dogs, roosters, dire rats and badgers have been in fashion. The current trend is gar fights, which are held in shallow pools found throughout the town. The daring and resourceful can turn good coin supplying alligator gar caught in Lake Hooktongue to hopeful gamblers.
Residents of a more scholarly nature often make use of the Silent Hall, a library that specializes in works banned in other nations. Although its services are not cheap, its selection of proscribed texts is second to none, and for it contains many tomes that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The Silent Hall also contains a respectable selection of more mundane works, but individuals seeking books of magical power will likely be disappointed; no spellbooks of any sort are housed there.
Strictly speaking, Graywell is an outlaw community, anarchic and unrecognized by any of the established kingdoms. It has no formalized laws, save adherence to the six River Freedoms, and it’s lack of a ruling body capable of speaking for the community as a whole prevents it from having a voice on the Outlaw Council of the River Kingdoms. This does not mean that the town is completely is completely lacking in organization; a number of the smaller communities within Graywell have overseers. The churches have their hierarchies, for example, and the dwarves are assigned their roles within their clan structures. Commercial interests have cultures all their own; the stevedores consider themselves an honorable brotherhood, and the sex peddlers are organized and ruthlessly protective of their monopoly on the sale of transactional companionship.
Since Graywell’s transition to independence from Brevoy in 4648 AR, there have been eleven attempts to claim lordship of the town and the surrounding Stolen Lands. Local tradition is to humor these claims, as historical precedent shows that the typically end quickly and spectacularly. The longest of these periods of rulership lasted nearly six years, the shortest a mere four days.
Trade between Graywell and other communities is possible primarily due to access to the East Sellen River. Most of the town’s trade is with merchants from Brevoy or the other River Kingdoms, but merchant caravans from other nations are not so uncommon that anyone would find them odd. Graywell’s major exports are alchemical goods, lumber from the Narlmarches, rare flora and fauna from the Hooktongue Slough, furs and grain. Common imports include metal, artisan’s tools, spices and preservatives, magical supplies and narcotics. Graywell also does a brisk trade in goods illegally obtained by bandits and river pirates.
Lacking a government capable of doing so, Graywell, does not mint its own coinage. Among tradesmen, much commerce is handled via barter and reputation, but coin from other realms is readily accepted. Coin from Brevoy, Absalom and Korvosa retain their full buying power, as does any currency minted and backed by the church of Abadar, but those bearing coin from other nations may find that it carries less weight with Weller merchants. Due in large part to the efforts of the halfling community, attempting to pay a tradesman in coin from Cheliax is considered insulting and a quick route to a fight.