The Abandoned Zone
There are no countries in this area.
Only mercenaries and travelers.
North of the lycanthrope forest, vast fields and hills of gray and black rock, old pine forests
There are no cities or towns in the abandoned zone, instead there are few outposts along several trade routes going through the hills north to Gakleer and Vile.
These outposts are manned by volunteers and adventurers payed by merchants who want to keep the roads safe for their caravans and stock supplies for the long trip. Sometimes nobles or merchants looking for extra coin will pay for outposts to be constructed off the road near ruins or deep in the woods where rumors of ancients dungeons exist. These are often temporary constructions built for only as long as needed for an excavation site to be built or a dungeon explored before abandoned left to the zone. Throughout the rest of the region are the ravaged and overgrown remains of old cites and towns long left abandoned, in some cases 100s of years, to some unknown curse.
The outposts along the road are built with stone quarried from the red and gray hills while those off the road are built from wood. The outposts will have several buildings surrounded by a wall built either with stone or wood, that is manned at all times by mercenaries or adventurers.
The inner buildings will be spares and only have what is needed, storage for extra food and water, barracks, tavern, stable with anything else being a luxury out here.
The outer wall is often decorated with any trinkets brought by the mercenaries that they consider lucky from their respective cultures, bats, shrunken heads, skulls, candles, etc.
The outside of the inner buildings are often decorated with strings of small crystalline glowing red beads nicknamed blood drops. Blood drops are glowing crystals found in some of the ore and act as half strength light spells. The blood drops keep the outpost lit at night.
Inside, buildings are often keep lit with a combination of blood stones and fire to help keep the place cozy and take the edge of working out in the zone.
The old cities are strangely still intact and have not suffered the wears of time as most would expect. It is said time moves more slowly out in the Zone.
Vines, weeds and trees have taken over many of the building but the effect which should have taken a few decades or less has instead taken 100s of years and no one really knows why. Although it is claimed even time cannot be bothered to come out here. The cities and towns were built with the stone of the hills, their structures mostly black are highlighted with gray stone.
All the buildings’ widows have been bricked up with gray stone and oddly it seems to have been done before they were abandoned, suggesting there was a cultural reason, although the reason had since been lost.
Most structures will have dozens to 100s of spikes on their rooftops made of stone or rusting irons as if a preventive measure from keeping something from coming through the ceiling. Rings of wrought iron fences are built throughout the towns and cities often dividing the settlement into different districts and in some cases so extreme, they will cut across roads, go up walls, over ceilings and even through houses.
There is no explanation, though some scholars suggest it was to keep a creature effected by cold iron at bay, though no creature has been found to exist in the zone. In some cases on the inside of the buildings, scorch marks can be seen, staining the gray stone to a soot black and piles of charred remains can still be found on the floor. It was suggested that the black stone used to built the cities were in fact not black but another color before some extreme event changed the stone to the charred black that it is today.
The mercenaries will wear their respective clothing from the culture they come from or in some cases have a uniform or armband given to them by the merchant house they work for.
There is little clothing left behind from the culture that once lived in the abandoned cities, but the clothing that has been found contains often long black lace dresses and black long coats studded with shiny black bead buttons, although not appearing to be the original color of the cotton fabric. The original hues have since darkened to black as if the clothing all at once over the entire zone was subject to extreme heat.
The mercenaries will have any religion from the culture they come from or may have confronted in their time out in the zone. Most of the time there will be no religion.
The old towns and cities have no mention or buildings to a God or no religious icons suggesting they had no religious side to their culture. However, at the center of of each city is a large polished black obelisk made of black iron. Featureless with the metal never rusting, the obelisks can range anywhere from a few meters tall in a small town to 20 meters tall for the largest cities.
Completely solid and no mention of their use anywhere, there is little explanation of what they were used for. However, with the heavy scent of smoke coming form the obelisks, it is suggested they might have something to do with what happened.
Some adventurers have tried to take some of the metal from the obelisks and form the metal into weapons or armor, but those that do often find them cursed, (the metal acting as negative one to five cursed items) and throw them away.
Like a military structure, the merchant or noble is at the head followed by a captain for each outpost and then ranks descending down the line. What each rank is and does is dependent on the size and need of the outpost. A bartender will be lower than a guard, who will in turn be lower than a sergeant.
Like military, what the higher rank says goes and those who disobey are either flogged or taken out into the middle of the Zone and abandoned to their fate.
Merchants will often have representatives visit or operate in the Zone looking after their assets, these will usually be friends or low ranking family members. These members, no necessarily always higher in station than an outpost captain, do have sway giving their status and relation to the merchant running the business.
It is unknown how the people of this region was ruled. There is no mention of government and no palaces or places of leadership have been discovered. It is suggested that the obelisks perhaps lead the people in some way with the reigns of rulership passed from the obelisks to a chosen, but there is no icon of symbols of rulership that have ever been found.
The outpost produce no goods and receive goods from their merchants families. They do no trade with other nations but will sell goods in return for service or coin.
Since only few paper logs exist and the nation that once existed here is not mentioned by any other nation of Mordeadus, little is known what the people traded or produced but given what has been found within in it suggests they had an extensive mining operation for stone and iron ore and large populous of sheep for their clothing. It is possible they once had a large textile industry along with dye giving that they may have worn dyed cotton but there is no way to be sure as everything in their county is now black and gray.
Despite the oddities of the abandoned settlements, that is only part of the mysteries that lurk within the old towns and structures. Underneath the cities is a network of old sewers, crypts and cellars that connect in a labyrinth of tunnels.
Unsure of why the people built such an elaborate underground layer, it is suggested that it may have been in the end of their civilization as many of the structures are half done or seem to have been hastily assembled. Was it a place to hide, a calling to go underground or something else? There is no way to know.
Within these old tunnels, undead and mutants have not taken up residents but with those dangers comes the hidden treasure still rumored to be in the empty halls. Old coins, magic items and even spells can be found stashed in the underground hidden behind rock or locked in old vaults, making the sometimes deadly trips worth it.
The undead are not the old inhabitants as their clothing is often more modern reflecting adventurers or mercenaries who died in the centuries after the curse and in fact, no bodies of the old civilization have ever been found, even their crypts are oddly empty.
Spirits and ghosts often wander through the cities at night, attracted by whatever disasters happened long ago. It is said the ghosts can hear the pleas of the dead, but cannot find their spirits. Most interestingly however, is the ghosts and spirits seem attracted to the obelisks like a moth to flame with sometimes 100s billowing in the town square like a fog of the undead.
In the old buildings, broken scorched black pottery, blackened silverware and trinkets can still be found and still worth a few coin to the right buyer. In some lucky cases, adventurers have even been known to find coins and magic items stashed in the floorboard or left behind walls but all the easy findings have long since been pilfered and what is left is either guarded by legions of undead or hidden very well.
Despite the odd nature of the abandoned settlements, that is not what makes the place dangerous, nor is the reason no one since has come to rebuild in the area.
What keeps the people away, the mercenaries on guard afraid to venture far from their outposts, the caravan moving at full speed and civilizations from ever approaching the rolling barren hills is the curse.
The curse is a name that umbrellas an entire set of problems those who go to the Abandoned Zone face.
The most common is the fading or disappearances. Many who wonder off the trails or go into the cities never return. No body found, no items recovered, no trace of the person ever seen again. No one knows when someone will disappear or how they disappear, but it is believed to have to do with the obelisks.
The obelisks call to them, is what is often heard before someone wanders into the Zone never to return. Often a person may have nightmares or visions of a place beyond their dimension. They can see the beyond, the afterlife, a place everyone will go forever, a place of old iron tunnels extending forever, the dead shuffling, their skin bleached white, their eyes leaking black ichor. They will be cold and alone among millions, marching endlessly in place devoid of light, sound and smell.
Those who begin to see such things never are the same, always drawn to the obelisks, always hearing their name whispered in the wind. Those who see and hear the visions are lucky as there is still time to escape. It is those that fade from reality in a blink of an eye without warning never having a chance to escape their fate that are the truly cursed.
It is rare for large numbers of people to fade away all at once and in fact, it is said as long as someone can see you, you can’t fade as no one has ever witnessed a fading, but in rare cases entire populations of outposts have disappeared.
Where they go once faded no one knows as divination, commune or even wish have revealed nothing. It is as if they have faded from reality itself.
A second less scary though more problematic issue of the curse is the undead.
Throughout the religion, undead seem to spawn from nothing. A perfectly empty room one minute may have a horde of zombies in it the next minute. Seemingly coming from nowhere, the zombies will have no clothes and no items revealing where and when they could have came from. For this reason, no place is ever truly safe. You never know when an undead spawn will happen, in your sleep, in your room, your tent or your wagon.
Because of this, those who travel through the region have at least two people on guard at all times, this way they can watch each other for the fading and make sure undead do not rise from nothing.
Although zombies are the most common, any form of unintelligent undead have been known to spawn.
A third issue under the curse is madness.
Those who enter the zone can have their minds snap at any moment and often do. The madness is slow often not even noticeable at first and that’s the problem, because once you do it’s too late.
Everyday someone spends in the Zone they must roll a save starting at 0 and rising by 1 per day. Once someone fails a save, they are disturbed - they are always nervous and always on edge, having permanent fear of the Zone. They have penalties to all mind based saves and skills. The saves start at 0 again and the person then continues to roll a save per day. Once they fail, a second time they are panicked - the person sees hallucinations at all times and must roll for insanity every hour. Once the person fails an insanity check, they are broken and cannot recover from their insanity until a remove curse has been cast. While insane, they try to reach the nearest obelisk and then kill anyone who can see them. Once alone with the obelisk, they disappear.
Because of this madness, mercenaries rotate out of the outposts often and as soon as someone shows signs of being disturbed, they are shipped out on the next caravan while under the watchful eye of everyone.
Bandits/Villains and Lairs
Because of the curse, few choose to stay out here long, this means bandits and villains hoping to create a permanent hideaway will look elsewhere as spending more than a month or 2 in the zone leads to crippling insanity not to mention the ever present dangers of disappearing and undead.
Because of this, few bandits come this far instead preparing to plunder the borders both in and out or may out most use the zone of a temporary operation before a more stable location can be found to do their villainy.