Legends say that once this world was part of a much larger one. But one day, long ago, the gods became angry and sought to destroy it. The people of the small villages, being proper sorts who gave the gods their fair due, were spared. The rest of the world was torn apart and stripped away, flung into the primordial mists in a thousand shards, while the humble hard-working souls were allowed to remain alive. There were hardships, to be sure, but the people had survived and must ever be thankful to the gods for being spared. And yet darkness had managed to maintain a foothold even here. But out of fear that the gods may someday try to cleanse that evil by wiping them all away, the folk never spoke aught of it in their prayers or their rituals. Instead, the people do what they can to contain the horrors which plague them.
In reality, Brocschtal is a pocket realm created by the great sundering over 3,000 years ago. Not by the whims of gods but by the hubris of mages. And while its inhabitants are only one realm out of dozens floating in an ethereal sea, there is no way for them to know this. All they know is that the rest of the world vanished and the edges of their own small realm end in thick mists which no one may return from after entering. All that is heard from those who try is a great cry of agony followed by deathly silence.
Brocschtal, as the people have called the last of the land left to them, is fairly small — about 70 miles long by 50 wide. Its entire surface is covered in rolling hills and mountain height, though the mountains are sliced off by the borders of the realm. Much of it is thickly forested with plenty of flowing streams and a decent mine or two. In one long spidery line stretching from hill to hill are roadways connecting villages of clustered homes and communal farms. There is plenty of land cleared around these settlements for growing simple crops and the raising of sheep.
For the most part it is a peaceful, idyllic land. There are no wars, no armies, no bloodthirsty madmen. Each village has its council of elders and its priests to keep things civil. There may be an argument here and there over minor slights or the occasional drunken brawl, but never any outright violence. At least not among the human population.
However, there is a darker side to Brocschtal. Creatures roam the dark forests, when the night is full upon the land, feasting on the simple folk of the quiet villages. And quite dark does night become in this land. Brocschtal has no moon to light its skies when the sun drops below the horizon. Mists cover the stars above, barring even that weak light from shining through. In this great blackness gnawers of human flesh and bone make their way into homes and graveyards to take in their fill. Men hunt these creatures as they can but the subterranean lairs of the ghouls lie deep within the forests, making it difficult to completely root them out. In daylight they are vulnerable, yet within their caves they can be quite a menace to those who hunt them.
Ghouls make their way without fail in the dark; although blind they find their way by sound and smell and some other unknown sense. They crawl out into the inky blackness of night, silently loping across the forest loam, drawn on by endless hunger and the scent of humanity. They are not completely mindless and have learned to thwart every locked gate and barred door. They will attack at least once or twice a week. Sometimes the only sign is that graves have been disturbed and the broken bones and mutilated flesh of the dead are strewn about. On other occasions, some family will awaken to the sounds of a pack of the beasts descending upon them mercilessly.
Kallen awoke in the night to muffled sounds: A soft squeal, a distant crack of wood, and dim scratching. Nothing very close by; if he wasn't such a light sleeper, he likely would never have noticed. He reached over and grabbed the axe at his bedside by the haft, sitting up and waiting while his heart pounded. He looked over at the sleeping form of his beloved Mary, hoping that the lamb's blood and pennyroil blend on the lintel would be enough to repel the creatures, although that hadn't done much for the Smiths family three weeks ago.
Time passed and eventually the sounds stopped. Even so, Kallen did not relax his vigil until the first light of dawn began to filter in through the high windows. Once the sun was well up, he made his way outside. At first he thought maybe they'd been lucky and it had only been a wolf come from the forest. Three sheep had been torn apart and wood from the pen had been snapped. A closer look showed that the sheep had not been killed for food, as a simple wolf would have done. Sometimes the ghouls did that, as if offended at the creatures. Or maybe that's what they considered having a bit of "fun."
Kallen made his way further from his home and saw the telltale signs of graves dug up and the bodies desecrated. He shook his head, feeling a mixture of relief that no one else had perished and revulsion at the sacrilege. He would again make a plea to the elders to move the graveyard further away from Savvers Settlement, even though he knew what the outcome would be. "The gods will know something is up if we move the graves too far from the village. The priests ordained long ago that the dead can't find their rest if they lay too far from their living kin. Best to keep things as they are."
Despite their blindness, ghouls become disoriented in bright light and are then easily dispatched. Seen by light they are disgusting creatures, with pale, waxy skin, large opalescent eyes, and vertical slits instead of noses. A faint reek of corruption emanates when they are near. Fire will burn them and hard metal can slice them open to reveal thick black blood, but they will continue on as if unharmed until torn to pieces. Beware their long claws, as a swipe from one may cause a deadly infection, eventually turning the afflicted into a newly birthed lurker in the dark.
The first sign Tekka had of the horror of her last day alive was the screaming of her mother in the next room. She'd only ever heard those cries from farther away, only ever seen the sad faces and canvas covered bodies on the day after. But now she knew her time had come.
Fighting down panic, she stumbled out of bed, felt for a match and the precious length of candle. Once lit, with the dim glow of light dancing about the small room, she grabbed up the long knife her father had given her on her tenth birthday, and tried to stand her ground. Her mother's screams silenced, as did the pained grunts of her father. Tears streaking her face, trying to be as silent as possible, Tekka waited for her life to be over.
Her door was struck from its frame in one tremendous blow. By the candlelight she saw the inhuman face of her murderer. It leapt for her, clawing her across the face and knocking her across the room. Reflexively, she had managed to stab it. The knife stuck on a rib and was ripped from her hands. Black blood oozed around the blade. The thing advanced, pointed teeth bared.
Other men of the village must have been roused by the sounds, for they came charging in. She clearly heard the sounds of fighting. The creature before her sniffed the air once before bounding out.
The men had driven the ghouls out, yet Tekka knew she had not been saved. One look at the scratches upon her face and their collective demeanor turned stony. She fell into a heap, sobbing. They would hang her. The priest would say some meaningless words over her body. And then they would cut out her guts and stuff her corpse with garlic, pennyroil, lavender, mint, marigold, and sheep's blood; anything they believed could poison the demons of the night as they feasted upon her dead flesh.
The villages of Brocschtal range in size from a half-dozen families nestled against a hillside to five or six hundred souls clustered together. The land is fertile and the forests provide plenty of wild pig and venison, while the climate is fairly mild. Were it not for the ghoul incursion, there would be proper cities from a much larger population. However, the ghouls appear to limit themselves to what the human population can withstand without being wiped out completely.
The villages themselves have no proper names but are generally referred to by the most prominent family. For example, the largest village, population 623, is referred to as "Flint Settlement." It used to be called "Miller Settlement" until the ghouls wiped out a sizable portion of that family.
Any village of medium size or larger has an informal group of ghoul hunters who do their best to wipe out the ghouls. Deaths among ghoul hunters are not uncommon.
The Tower and The Anchor
Overgrown with plant life and partially buried in the drift of dirt over three millennia, the Crystal Tower appears in this realm as a spiraling shaft of agate decorated in malachite; looking for all the world like a great stone tree. It has remained magically barred since the great sundering. The key to it is currently held in the demon realms, waiting to be liberated by those who would reweave the torn pieces of the world together.
It was the foul magics released by the sundering which gave birth to the first of the ghouls and they occasionally come to congregate around the great edifice, looking upon it with awe and reverence. They would launch themselves at any trespassers in a berserker rage of unbelievable ferocity.
Attaching Brocschtal to its neighboring realms will require uncovering the local Anchor. In this case, it is a small bronze statue of a mountain god held in trust by the priests of the various villages. It is ritually passed from village to village on a slow circuit taking up most of a year. As the folk of Brocschtal truly believe that it was their piety which saved them from the destruction of the world, they will not willingly part with it.
Note: This sub is one part of a much larger campaign I am slowly developing, and as such is not very usable on its own.