CROWN OF THE DEAD takes place in a wilderness region approximately ten days’ caravan-travel from the nearest town. This area is coniferous forest, mountain-foothills, and open grassy plains, temperate in climate and similar to the real-world Pacific Northwest.
The region was home to several small settlements, a wealthy town on a lake, a thriving trade road, and a castle on an overlook. In the twenty years since the undead took over, the forest has overgrown the settlements and trade road. The lake is a tangled, nasty swamp, and the castle abandoned and forbidding.
South of the dark forest is open grassland and the scattered remains of farmsteads. Here, between the forest edge and the bog that borders the south edge of the plains, is Riddley’s Crown: a small stone-walled enclave that is the last and only safe refuge of the living, anywhere in this region.
Hastily constructed at the height of the undead invasion, this outpost has seen many permanent residents come and go over the years. Currently, eleven eclectic souls reside here full-time. They, as had others before them, maintain defenses, make improvements as possible, and eke out a living providing services to adventurers and hunting parties who come here.
Food, services, lodging, and equipment are quite expensive in Riddley’s Crown, owing to the limited inventories and space and the infrequent resupply from caravans that travel the detoured trade-route along the south edge of the bog. Adventurers are wise to carry in all they will need, including gold and silver to pay for their welcome. Also, the constant undead presence has an unsettling effect on pack-animals, animal companions, mounts, and livestock; only extremely well-trained or skillfully-handled animals will not panic and flee at its first opportunity.
This region is known in civilized lands to the west as a place where intrepid explorers may get rich quick, albeit at considerable peril. Lost treasures, armor, and weapons are said to abound where soldiers and mercenaries met their ends fighting the mindless evils. Structures, too, might be claimed : houses, farms, villages, abandoned mines still rich with untapped ore, forgotten timber leases…worth little now, but potentially valuable if the lands could be won back from the undead and made safe once more.
Day and night, zombies and other undead wander the land. These evil creatures are comparatively weak in the grasslands surrounding Riddley’s Crown, but are stronger and more numerous in the forest and as one ventures further north towards the cursed castle. Rumors speak of their unusual characteristics; the zombies are infectious, the animated skeletons quick and deadly. Very few have returned to tell of other creatures lurking in the shadows of the tainted realm.
It is mid-March as CROWN OF THE DEAD opens; the Players’ group is the first to arrive in Riddley’s Crown following a dreary, cold, wet winter in this region. The weather is overcast cloud, low-lying and chilly. Fog and misty rain are common this time of year, reducing visibility and making outdoor activity unpleasant. The enclave and its residents are emerging from a winter of carefully conserving fuel and supplies, anticipating the usual influx of caravan goods and wealth-spreading adventurers.