The rolling hills and coastal plains south of the Reaching Mountains are claimed by the Kingdom of the Bear, which has no other name in humanoid tongues. The fey bears and werebears that reside here hold a wide region but the sparse population doesn’t mind trespassers, as long as they respect the King of Bears and defer to his people when challenged. Common visitors include berserkers studying the Way of the Bear and druids and rangers seeking a superlative animal companion. A few unscrupulous adventurers hunt the inhabitants, since their furs are said to be magical proof against any cold.
A fair number of hulking, ursine adventurers go out into the world each year for fame, glory, a challenge, or to sate their curiosity about the world beyond Bjornrike. Though the initial sight—and sometimes the second, and the third—of an armed and armored bear standing upright causes considerable trepidation, once one understands the ebb and flow of their temperament and always gives them the first portion of fish at mealtime, the bearfolk become formidable adventuring companions.
The king, a bearfolk named Mesikammen, rules over a court of bear jarls and a cadre of witches and oracles. His royal court spends most of its time hunting in the hills near the capital and feasting, brawling, and drinking the finest honey mead from immense stone bowls. The King of Bears rules from Gloaming Crag, which thrusts out from the foothills of the Reaching Mountains like a petrified wave. A warren of caves and tunnels riddles its interior. Kingship is decided by yearly challenges, theoretically open to anyone, but Mesikammen, known as “Old Honey Paws” for his taste for sweets and other indulgences, has defeated all comers for over 20 years.
The most cosmopolitan portion of the realm is the predominantly human town of Bjeornheim (“bear’s city” in the Northern Tongue), which sits at the wide costal delta of the River Lakz. Each spring vast hordes of salmon make their way upstream, attracting a legion of bear and human fisherfolk who compete, sometimes violently, for their share of the annual bounty. Aquatic monsters sometimes follow these shoals, disrupting the annual festival until heroes deal with them. Bjeornheim employs a unique defense against raiders: Hives of ferocious bees ring the town, swarming out to attack anyone who threatens during the day. Only residents are immune to their stinging rampages, since they eat so much local honey that they smell of it and are accepted by the hives. At night semi-domesticated bears patrols with local lycanthropes, and they treat any creature walking on two legs with deep suspicion. Few dare to trouble the town, so Bjeornheim has earned a reputation as a safe place to make port.
Traders from Vidim and the exotic kingdoms of the Far East visit here, as well as centaurs and elves from the Rothenian Plain, Kariv wagons, and Khazzaki tribes. Like the hives that protect them, Bjeornheim is ruled by a queen: Yohana Honeyhair, an elderly but still goldenhaired druid of the Bear Maiden (a bearfolk goddess of dawn and honey, often associated with Lada the Golden). Queen Yohana rules from Bee-Ulf Hall, overlooking the town. The mead brewed by her family is the finest ale in the North (made from local honey) and renowned as excellent portage ale. Each year many casks travel north in tribute to the Bear King, a tempting target for bandits.
Talk of omens and signs of Fimbulwinter are largely ignored by Mesikammen, who remains unconvinced of their veracity, particularly due to the lack of outside threats. The current peace simply means the Cult of Ragnarok has been taking its time deciding how to attack Bjeornheim. Through the machinations of unscrupulous alchemists in their employ, the cultists are creating a balm that temporary wards off bees and made from their own honey, which the cult is procuring through discreet trade. Once Bjeornheim’s defenses no longer function during the day, Old Honeypaws may find reason to change his assessment of signs and portents…
Adventures in Björnrike
Adventures in Bjornrike involve the intrigues of the Ursine Courts and attempts to steal their treasures.
- The guardian bees of Bjeornheim have begun to die off rapidly and mysteriously. The PCs must find the cause and a cure. Is this a prelude to an attack, perhaps by the agents of Boreas?
- The Bear King has announced a great contest to find the first spring bloom of the legendary Honey Lotus that grows in the steep hills above the Gloaming Crag. PCs must compete with bold centaurs, cunning elves, wily Kariv, and daring Khazzaki to win the golden prize.
- Old Honey Paws has decided Yohana would make a fine Bear Queen and mate for him. However, she has rebuffed his advances. The PCs are sent to woo her on his behalf. If they do their job too well, she falls for a party member, angering the Bear King.
But this is where we must stop for now, my friend. My mind, it wanders so at times. Do come see me again, though, for more of the wonders and surprises of Midgard. (OGL)