Pelinore is the Old School Roleplaying Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting that you never heard of! A contemporary of Blackmoor, Greyhawk and Mystara, Pelinore has largely been forgotten by the passage of time and remains a product of its time, remembered only by ancient grognards or those who have followed them into the musty halls of the Old School Renaissance.
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To understand the obscurity of Pelinore, you must understand its beginnings. Anyone familiar with /tg/ will be aware of Dragon Magazine, Dungeon Magazine and White Dwarf, but these are only the tip of a veritable iceberg of old-school gaming magazines. In particular, whilst Dragon & Dungeon eventually splintered off from an early RPG magazine called "The Dragon", Pelinore's roots lie in gaming magazine published by the UK branch of TSR called IMAGINE. Created to showcase the creative possibilities that Dungeons & Dragons offered to UK audiences, Pelinore took form within the pages of Imagine, similarly to how Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms started with teasers in the pages of "The Dragon". However, although it did have some unique articles, such as the ones relating to Pelinore, most of Imagine's articles were actually reprints from Dragon Magazine for UK readers, so it couldn't really be sold back to America. And when Imagine went under, Pelinore largely went with it.
The Basics on Pelinore
As a setting, Pelinore is a Heroic Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery world that borrows heavily from the cosmology of Michael Moorcock and builds from the Points of Light concept popularized by early modules such as B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.
Unlike the more grounded fantasy settings TSR put out publicly, Pelinore is a flat world where both the lands around the edge, called the Rim, and the center of the world, a region known in-setting as Worldheart, are equally mysterious. The setting as published focuses on a fairly small cluster of known regions, the most prominent of which is a miles-wide urban sprawl known as the City League. From a cosmological perspective, Pelinore is a battleground where the Cosmic Opposites - Law and Chaos, Good and Evil, Beauty and Ugliness, Happiness and Misery - can play out their struggles, with the gods championing their own causes that serve one or more of the Opposites. The Worldheart is the embodiment of Harmony, where all Opposites work together in perfect unity, whilst the Rim is said to be the realm where absolutes reign. As one gets closer to Worldheart, the world becomes more harmonious, and vice versa, becoming wilder and more unstable as one heads towards the Rim.
From a meta perspective, Pelinore was intended to be a dumping ground for fan-submissions to Imagine, thus the world was made as broad and little-defined as possible, allowing for DMs to offer up their own ideas for settlements, peoples, races, etcetera, and these could then be freely placed into Pelinore as TSR UK desired.
Peoples of Pelinore
For the most part, Pelinore is fairly bog-standard in its races, which are based on the iconic Advanced Dungeons & Dragons lineup - there's nothing really unusual here, compared to the likes of Dragonlance or Mystara; humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, half-elves and half-orcs abound.
That said, having come out for 1st edition means that there are some notes for the presence of odder races as well; a number of Half-Ogres and even a single half-drow appear in Pelinore canon as inhabitants of the City League.
The "mountains" of the area surrounding the City League and Cerwyn County are really high moors and desolate, heather-covered peaks, home to small clans of humanoids - goblins, hobgoblins, gnolls, orcs, kobolds and bugbears, predominantly.
One of the more unusual aspects of Pelinore is that it's the only old-school D&D setting where the aquatic elves are the most important elfin race in terms of their contribution to setting lore, as they basically provoked a great conflict between the gods. It also arguably created the idea of a great racial enmity between aquatic elves and sahuagin. Said Sahuagin are also the ancestors of the Kobolds, as many years prior a number of Sahuagin adapted to living on land but degenerated from living in caves into Kobolds.
Gods of Pelinore
Abex/Sritanna is the Lawful Evil God of Charisma and Dominance. Originally patron of the sahuagin, but nowadays growing popular with humans. Appears to mortal worshippers in an opposite-gendered form; the male Abex to women, and the female Sritanna to men.
Csthenkes is the True Neutral God of Despair.
Dayleeh is the Lawful Neutral God of Vigour.
Fealans is the True Neutral God of Pretty Things (and Thievery).
Fianna is the Chaotic Good Goddess of Judgment.
Grea, Hrea and Trea, collectively known as The Dissemblers, are a trio of goddesses who were originally a single Goddess of War named Keisha - however, after her role in the great God War, and particularly her pleading for the hated god Pharastus to be spared after his defeat, the vengeful gods tore her into the trio to diminish her powers, with each vestige then being impregnated in order to prevent them from re-fusing. The Dissemblers are now the Goddesses of Lying, and all bear a Chaotic alignment; Grea (Chaotic Good) is the White Liar, who seeks only to conceal painful truths and assist through untruths. Hreah (Chaotic Neutral) is the Grey Liar, lying for the sheer joy of it, and patron of illusionists, diplomats, musicians, poets and playwrights. Finally Treat (Chaotic Evil) is the Black Liar, spreading untruthes for pain and profit.
The Green Man is the True Neutral God of Growth and Abundance, patron deity of plants and alcohol. Very popular because he is an undemanding god who largely cares only that his worshippers respect nature's bounty and get good and drunk on the regular.
Grunnundergron is the Chaotic Dwarven God of Mining.
Heslor is the Chaotic Neutral God of Fire and War.
Mielsin is the Chaotic Good Deity of Romance, appearing as male or female as they see fit.
Onjura the Weeper is the True Neutral Goddess of Mourning and Departures.
Pharastus is the Chaotic Evil God of Death.
Rissinis is the True Neutral God of Fishing.
Saith the Protector is the Lawful Good God of Vengeance and Law.
Tarmienel is the Neutral Good God of the Sky, Air, and Weather.
Urrumaa is the True Neutral God of Memory.
Valbure is the True Neutral God of Swords.
While they weren't named, there were references to the Orc and Giant gods having sided with Pharastus against the pantheon.
The City League
Originally, the City League began as a small trading hub - a town that grew where several major trading routes, one of them a river, intersected. And it just grew, and grew. Subsidiary towns and villages formed on its borders, and the City survived so long that it spread out and subsumed them, becoming in effect a city built out of smaller cities. Whilst from the exterior the League appears to be a singular city, it still thinks of itself as a collection of cities, hence the name and the incredibly byzantine bureaucracy that sprang up, as each individual community insisted on maintaining its individual identity even as it was integrated into the greater social organism.
To this day, even the denizens of the League call it simply "The League".
The rulers of the City League is The Katar, the descendant of the original Clerk-at-Arms who organized the well-being and protection of the various merchant guilds of the original city. The Katars (the shorthand nickname; their formal title is "Knight Puissant, Clerk-at-Arms, First Servant of the League of Cities") rule from The Punctilio; the stupendous palace that is the seat of their kind. Their power is aided by a vizier and court, and enacted by the ubiquitous Knights Orcular, who watch, report and punish on behalf of the sprawling bureaucracy that sustains the league.
Notable locations of the League include:
- Punctilio, the courtly centre.
- The Hill, the community surrounding Punctilio.
- The Capitol, seat of the largest library in this part of the world.
- The Temple of Ten Thousand Ravens, where the Redemptors administer city justice.
- Docklands, the largest and most notable port.
- The Borough, home to one of the League's largest markets.
- The New City, which is now centuries old and whose wide avenues are choked with the detritus of periodic riot.
- The Communities, the southern reaches and home to much of the League's population.
Beyond the City League
The vast majority of Pelinore lore focuses on fleshing out the places and peoples of the City League, which may have contributed to the setting's comparative obscurity; it's nice to have the details, but one city does not an adventuring world make. Still, that's not to say there's no lore outside of the City League...
The first area beyond the City's borders deemed noteworthy to add to the setting is the County of Cerwyn, which was established 300 years ago by a renegade Captain of Horse named Barnabus Micreta who fled to this area from his home in the Trade Cities of Xir. It occupies a stretch of river valley about 70 miles inland from the sea and under 50 miles wide even by the most generous of estimates. Still, the land is rich, fertile, sheltered from the worst excesses of the local weather, and very prosperous, with abundant harvests and excellent local wines. Add to it the prosperity of the Osport silver mines, and it's quite well-off. After an overview on the County, subsequent articles largely focused on specific settlements within its borders.
Braeme is a young, human-founded frontier village established in a fertile vale some thirty years ago. Still so small it doesn't even have an inn or tavern (visitors stay in the local temple of the Green Man), it is being plagued by raids from humanoids living in the southern wilderness, which is covered in the adventure "Black Roses" in Imagine Magazine #11.
In contrast, the valley town of Burghalter was founded by dwarves 1283 years ago, but they sold it to a human merchant 137 years ago after the local dwarf population was depleted in a pyrrhic victory in the Sarpath Peaks. It changed hands over the next 39 years, before being wiped out by mercenary giants under the command of an unknown third party; a year later, an evil cult devoted to rakshasa settled in and, with the use of humanoid slaves, turned the place into a veritable fortress. They inhabited the land for nearly 80 years, until being wiped out by vengeful adventurers some 7 years ago; since then, it has slowly begun to be repopulated, including a sizable population of halfling farmers and a community of 30 elves, who moved in to guard and revere a sacred silvery mallorn sapling.
The Town of Darkmoor is a small, fairly poor coastal bay town close to the eastern border of the City League. Its most noteworthy feature is the "Nobridge"; a major bridge that was placed under a permanized Invisibility spell by an eccentric illusionist adventurer to defeat a gnoll warband about 35 years ago. The locals have simply accepted it as part of their community; outsiders often get a shock.
Tellhalter lies on the very fringes of the county of Cerwyn, and is hugely popular with adventurers. A fortress built centuries ago, it now houses a small, impoverished population of some 300 souls, who largely depend on those willing to pass through their town on their way to the road leading from Wicbold to the Cirbell Pass and thence the Steppes, or in search of the legendary City of the Mages in the mountains above Tellhalter.
Tirhalter is another "adventurer's town"; a once-thriving frontier settlement that fell on hard times after multiple raids by monstrous humanoids, and now serves largely as a forward base for would-be adventurers eager to beard those same humanoids in their hill and forest dens, which is only slowing its decline, if that.
The Ranger Batallion of Fastrock is a fortress-community dedicated to housing, training and safeguarding an order of warriors dedicated to guarding law and order in the highlands. Founded with noble vision, but undercut by reality.
The article on Tirhalter was the second-last article to flesh out Pelinore, but it also featured an appendix detailing a number of notable towns and regions beyond the lands of Cerwyn and the City League. These include the Splintered Lands, the Lands of the Priest-Kings, the Trade Cities of Xir, the Sarpath Peaks, Catstane, Cadfan, Marn, and the Steppe region. Most of these are only described by name, but a few "Domains", areas close to the City League and Cerywn but under independent rule, are fleshed out in further detail.
- County of Bereduth: A large, relatively poor domain mostly made up of cattle farmers.
- Principality & Kingdom of Korrath: Two separate regions that bear the same name and ruled over by the same family; the firstborn inherits the Kingdom, whilst the Principality (a glorified name for the port of Emear and its surrounding fields) goes to the secondborn, who becomes the new chief adviser and war leader when a new King is crowned.
- Barony of Poritas: A domain whose baron has ruled for centuries after a poorly-worded Wish left him seemingly immortal, but without eternal youth. Confined to his bedchamber, the Baron of Poritas has turned his realm into a beacon of art, culture and politics in order to salve his endless boredom.
- Barony of Kalos: Originally a sub-fief of the Province Palatine of Kosre, but broke away about 70 years ago.
- The Cammarus See: A city floating in the middle of a lake, erected by religious fundamentalists who found secular power eroding their interest in divine crusades after three and a half centuries. They still maintain an iron grip over their territories, and are hated by just about everyone.
- Province Palatine of Kosre: A port city and one of the last remaining vestiges of the Empire of Almete, which collapsed under infighting 1,400 years ago.