The Monastery of Moldan is located on an island in the depths of the Moldan swamps. The monks themselves are devotees of the god of smithcraft and consider the making of the finest metal items to be the highest act of worship that one can offer.
The monastery was founded over three centuries ago by the first abbot of this order. He chose this island for two reasons - firstly, the surrounding swamps would deter visitors, meaning the monks could practice their smithing and other worship undisturbed; secondly, the perils of crossing the swamp formed a worthy test: only those who had shown their devotion, strength and courage by crossing the swamp would be worthy of receiving a weapon made by the Monk-Smiths of Moldan.
The swamps themselves are quite extensive (a circumference of 200 - 300 miles). They contain all the normal hazards that a swamp might have (i.e. snakes, crocodiles, disease carrying insects, etc.). Large amounts of mist are common. In the swamp, there are a number of bits of lands and islands, some permanent (such as the one on which the monastery is set) and others not; shifting channels can make it very difficult to find your way. There have been some attempts at draining the swamp but these have been completely ineffective. The swamps are inhabited by a number of primitive tribes who live by hunting and gathering, and by trading with outsiders and with the monks. For a price, the tribes will often guide people through the swamps (though there are rumours of some, less scrupulous guides abandoning their charges in the depths of the swamp and keeping the money). Though the tribes are often at war, one thing they share in common is a veneration of the Monk-Smiths: the area around the monastery is holy ground, and the tribesmen wll not go though except for certain sacred rituals and to trade with the monks. They are fiercely protective of this area, killing any outsiders who enter it (needless to say, they will not guide people to it). This area is sealed by the monks against teleporting in by magic.
The island on which the monastery is set is about 1 mile long and is moderately fertile - enough so that the monks can grow some of their own food. They trade for some of the rest of what they need with the tribes, and a few times a year they will send some monks to the civilised areas to buy anything else they need (being ascetic monks, they do not need very much, other than bare necessities and items for their smith-craft). This is also the time at which they recruit new novices. They make their money by selling items to any who manage to reach them; on their trips to the civilised areas they also sell less high quality goods (often made by novices). They have been known to accept commisions for items from those who they consider worthy (i.e. of high enough renown (and honour) that they do not need to prove it by trekking through the swamp).
The Monk-Smiths are the pre-eminent smiths in the known world. They spend their lifes practicing the art, aided by mystical meditation rituals that serve to focus their mind and train their bodies for the art of smithing. Though none of the items they create are in any way magical (to do so would be to profane the art of smithing), in quality they are far beyond any other. For example, a sword made by them would not be able to, e.g. burst in to flame, but in terms of balance, accuracy of striking, hardness and damage it would probably be a match for an averagely powerful magic sword. The monks also know of many alloys unknown to the rest of the world, many of which are harder, more easily worked or have some other desirable property that means they can achieve marvels which others could not. The monks have also discovered the secret of electoplating. Some of the water from the swamp has been diverted to run a water wheel that can provide limited water power when necessary (e.g. to pump bellows).
-Most adventurers arriving at the monastery want weapons. The monks can, indeed, produce very good weapons, frequently custom-made to suit a person (meaning they might not be as good if wielded by another). Perhaps the greatest advantage is that the monks do not balk at creating bizarre or unusual weapons with unusual properties (for example a telescopic sword).
-The monks will also produce many other items. Horse-shoes, armour, wheel-hubs, a decorative wrought-iron gate for the king’s palace, etc. Many of the more famous metal objects in the world were made by them.
-It should be reiterated that the monks do not work for free or anything close to it. Weapons are of a comparable price to magic ones of similar quality, and if you want a set of full-plate armour made from an extra-hard alloy it will cost you a fortune.
Suggested plots settings
1)This is a great setting for those times when your PCs are complaining about how come they can’t buy a masterwork partially hollow iron quarterstaff which shoots shurikens out the end (seriously!). This gives them a chance to get a custom made weapon which shouldn’t be good enough to unbalance the game (particularly as by the time they are high enough level to reach the monastery and find it, the weapons would be about the level (or only a bit better) than they might be expected to have. The finding of the monastery and the journey make quite a good plot too, with plenty of opportunities for cunning plans, subterfuge and diplomacy with the tribes.
2) I also find it useful as a means of explaining many of the non-magical but famous metal objects which I put in my campaign world.