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Campaign Setting: Icehold (Government)

Here are more Icehold campaign notes. You can read the first entry and Icehold Index here.

The people of the region of Icehold all consider themselves part of a single culture, generally called Icehold, but not all of them are part of the only large settlement in the region, the fortified harbor and trade town of Jokullnaf. Even so, understanding the government and laws of Jokullnaf (which, confusingly to newcomers, is also often just called Icehold) is crucial to understanding the region as a whole.

Jokullnaf was originally built some 200 years ago as a fortified base of operations for the Drakull Campaign, a religious expedition that sought to destroy the creature belived to be the First vampire and, after several decades, appeared to succeed in destroying it. This lead to a slow conversion of Jokullnaf from a military fortress to a settlement. It is the only major settlement within hundreds of miles of its location, though a few small family enclaves exist in the surrounding caves and valleys. Most are friendly with Jokullnaf.

A few are not.

But even those who are somewhat hostile to the townsfolk accept that the closest thing to law in the land of Icehold is the Jokullnaf Council of Principals.

Council of Principals

Jokullnaf is ruled by a Council of Principals, which serves as the only executive, legislative, and judicial authority within the town. The official motto of the council is “Secure in Body, Belief, and Self.” Councils argue often about what exactly that means, but in general it’s accepted that the job of the Council of Principals is to keep everyone in all of Icehold safe, without bothering them too much. 

The size of the council is currently 12 seats, but it has been as small as 6 and as large as 18 over the past century. Changing the council’s size requires a petition be brought by the population with at least 1,000 signatures, and then a vote in which at least 1/3 of the council agree with the change.

Each seat on the council is assigned to a “Principal Interest” within the population of the city. The current seats are (in order of seniority) Crusaders, The Guard, Landowners, Masons, Alchemists, Citizens, Churches, Scouts, Fishers, Gatherers, Merchants, and Service Guilds. A single councilor holds each seat, and terms are 24 months, offset so a new councilor takes a seat every 2 months. All matters are handled by an open vote among the councilors, with the oldest councilor who has held their seat for at least one full year being given the tiebreaking vote in case of stalemate.

Councilors are not paid for their labor, but do receive a few personal assistants for the term of their membership, generally young members of rich families and trade groups that wish too teach their children how Icehold is run. A councilor is not officially required to appear for the weekly meetings of the council, but one who shirks work without good reason is likely to be penalized by the grumpy councilors who do go to meetings, and eventually thrown out of the council.

Each group represented by a Principal Interest is responsible for keeping a list of enrollment current with the names of everyone considered part of that group. Each group is allowed to petition the Council of Principals to approve a charter that defines membership in an Interest, which almost always includes being of age of majority, mentally sound, not sworn to a foreign secular government, not convicted of a serious crime against Icehold or its population, and being considered an actively involved member of the Interest. 

For example, a Citizen likely only need be a competent adult in good standing, but a Mason must be of at least Journeyfolk skill level, and still an active participant in the profession of masonry.

Nearly all the seats are filled by sortition — each time a seat opens, a councilor is selected at random from the enrollment list of people who qualify. (This is not true for Crusaders, the Guard, or Masons). In most cases a person cannot sit in the same councilor seat two terms in a row (although members of the Guar and the Masons can). Further, the council can dismiss any member from their seat with a 2/3 vote, though that seat is then immediately filled by a new member of the same interest. (And only a more-than-half vote is required to unseat a council from the Guard or the Masons). 

The general definition of each Interest is as follows:

Crusaders: Individuals with ties to a known group that still seeks to destroy the powerful undead that exist in the far north. In most cases, modern crusaders are those who have been trained by someone who was trained by someone who was one of the original members of the Drakull Crusade.

Because Crusaders often leave Jokullnaf for long periods, they are allowed to elect a council from within their ranks, and may select a retired member who i no longer active in crusading.

The Guard: The region of Icehold is dangerous, and Jokullnaf is a fortress town for a reason. The Guard are responsible for walking the walls, manning the watch-towers and gates, organizing defense of Icehold in times of attack, watching for and organizing efforts against fires (especially at the harbor), enforcing degrees of the Council of Principals, and generally being the armed branch of Jikulnaf. However, there are only 30 or so full-time members of the Guard, with any major effort requiring rounding up armed citizens.

Because the Guard has a Guard Commander and a chain of authority is considered important for it to function, the Guard seat is appointed by a vote of the rest of the council, and can be held repeatedly.

Landowners: People who own land within the walls of Jokullnaf, or bowshot of its walls and harbor. Most landowners are families that date back to when Jokullnaf made the transition from armed camp to independent town.  The council restricts ownership to a single person per building, and doesn’t count any building too small for a person to live in, or that doesn’t serve a useful function for the betterment of the region. Unlike most Interests, Landowners are qualified for Council membership if they are  able to speak the oath of loyalty, regardless of age.

Masons: The walls and towers of Jokullnaff are considered crucial for the long-term survival of the town, and they require maintenance and protection from people prying rock loose for use in other projects. There’s no mason’s guild within Jokullnaff, just a very protective, skilled community of people who work on the town’s stone, some of them old enough to have helped build it to begin with.

Because masonry projects often take longer than two years, and require continuity of direction, the masons are allowed to vote for their councilor, and may vote in the same person each term. 

Alchemists: Access to cheap Firestone and Blue Iron, along with natural materials unknown in warmer climes, has caused a small but vibrant alchemist community to develop in Jokullnaf. After a few explosions in the early days, the Council of Principals determined anyone wanting to work in alchemy required the council’s approval. This led to the council and the alchemists working closely together to keep the town safe from experiments and, eventually, that expertise proved useful enough to earn a seat on the council. 

Citizens: As the town grew, the fact landowners had a voice in government but other citizens did not lead to unrest. A citizen’s seat was added to settle things down, and remained for the past century.

Churches: Several churches have moved into Icehold, and often wish to have holy day celebrations, perform loud or odd ceremonies, or otherwise act in ways that seem questionable without some advanced discussion. The Council decided to set aside a single seat for all church leaders in the region. If a church leader fails to appropriately represent the interests of all churches in Icehold, the Council dismisses them and gets a new church leader to sit in the seat.

Scouts: Dangers to Jokullnaf often begin elsewhere, and sometimes you need someone to run to outlying enclaves or put together search and rescue parties. The town scouts are the only people crazy enough to do it all the time, and were granted a seat.

Fishers: Fish makes up a huge part of the Jokullnaf diet, and after a few council decisions made fishing more difficult and led to long, hungry winters, a Fishers’ Seat was added.

Gatherers: Added the summer after the Fisher’s seat, this seat represents those who gather barks, needles, and lichens for foodstuff. It also currently covers rangers with strong family ties to the town, who want their own seat, but aren’t currently numerous enough to convince the council to give them one.

Merchants: Only a few decades old, the Merchant’s Seat is a grudging acknowledgement of how much of Jokullnaf’s comfort, if not quite its existence, depends on goods being brought in by sea and through dangerous mountain passes. Most people on the merchant enrollment lists are also on the Landowner and Citizen lists.

Service Guilds: When the Summer Trade Season opens, hundreds of members of guilds dedicated to servicing the needs and wants of the tradeships, caravans, and merchants that briefly flood the town with money and new people. These cooks, courtesans, dancers, guards, musicians, and scribes, work in small, tight guilds that must follow council rules. Despite most guilds owning property, they are not allowed on the landowner’s enrollments and have often been seen as “outsiders,” leading to unfair treatment. Shortly after the Merchants gained a seat, the Service Guilds held a strike at the beginning of a Trade Summer to prove how important they were to Jokullnaf’s prosperity, and gained a seat.


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Campaign Setting: Icehold (Economy and Threats)

Here are more Icehold campaign notes, which were my focus for this week. You can read the first entry and Icehold Index here.


For much of the year, the fortified town is cut off from any other civilization. Sitting n the far western spur of the Middle Kingdoms, during the summer traders can sail in from the eastern ports of that continent, but also the far western and southern lands of the Ivory Empires, ports in the Spice Gauntlet, and even the Realm of the Jaguar. In addition to sea voyages to Jokullnaf, a few mountain passes lead southeast to the Njor lands and other points in the Middle Kingdoms, though those are passable only in September, and only for a few weeks.

With a typical winter population of 5,000 people, Jokullnaf can swell up to 11,000 in the summer months as merchants flood the city to buy up as much Blue Iron and Firestone as possible, and service folk come with them to provide services the wealthy expect, but there is little need for when they are gone. Numerous Service Guilds exist, including cooks, courtesans, dancers, guards, musicians, and scribes, who own permanent buildings in Icehold which sit nearly empty 8 months out of the year, watched over by a skeleton staff until the work season arrives in summer and its rooms are full.

Though the region around Icehold is mountains, valleys, and tundra, there remain natural resources the locals have learned to harvest and grow. White spruce are common, many growing to more than 100 feet high, and offer nutrition in their needles, inner bark, cones, and seeds. This is most often accessed as various teas, but it can also be used to make beer, porridge, and even a flat bread. Fishing is plentiful and open sea ice fishing, though dangerous, allows that bounty to be caught year-round. Numerous shrubs and bushes flow in the summer, including crowberries which are used to make wines and jams. Other forms of lichens, mosses, and sedges, abound and wyrmlichen can sustain a person for months, though the taste is bitter, sour, and spoiled.

Some herders manage reindeer and musk oxes, and households often raise a small number of hares or clipped snow geese to provide meat in cold months. Insect farming is also common, and considered a fine way to turn lichen into something closer to meat (and, if dried and ground, a kind of flour). Pickling food is extremely common, as is dry freezing and deep freezing in cold pits. Even so, when the Summer trade begins, the desire for honey, flour, and non-local meats is high.


Though the First Vampire is long since destroyed by the Drakull Campaign, other undead still dwell in the tundra, and during the Long Nights are a significant threat. While some are restless spirits of local folk who died in anger or hate, powerful undead from around the world have moved to the far north to take advantage of their immunity to the cold, and the long stretches where no sunlight can reach them. Though none have built true kingdoms, some have created their own tomb complexes, in the style of their homelands, and created as many servants as they can. None of these major undead have lairs too near Jokullnaf, but they keep an eye on the largest gathering of fresh sapient meat and hot blood, and raid whenever they feel they can.

(Art by DM7)

Other threats include arctic cave bears, ice perytons, snow spiders, white chimeras, and the sparse but significant threats of boreal dragons, drakes, wyverns, and wyrms. A troll kingdom once existed in the lands around the town, driving out or killing most other humanoids, but its population is much reduced and has grown only very slightly over the past century. Some trolls trade with the people of Icehold, others seek its destruction. Yeti also exist in the hillier and rockier regions, apparently existing at a neolithic stage of technological development and with extremely simple language skills. These yeti are often seen by newcomers as nothing more than bipedal beasts, but natives to Jokullnaf are aware they are as smart as any other humanoid, even if their culture is less technologically advanced (at least in part because they do not need or trust fire). Most yeti groups see all other humanoids (even trolls) as interlopers in their lands, and eliminate small groups if they can while avoiding bands too big to attack, but as with any sapient creatures, there are exceptions.


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Campaign Setting: Icehold (Location and Environment)

Here are more Icehold campaign notes, which are my focus for all this week. You can read the first entry and Icehold Index here.

Location and Environment

Icehold, also known as Jokullnaf, sits to the farm far north, halfway between the lands of the Njor and the Northern Pole. Even the seas around it are frozen most of the year, and its harbor is typically only free of ice from June to September, and is always frozen sold from November to April. The average temperatures of those months reaches a high of 6° C (43° F). It is below freezing nearly all the rest of the year, with the coldest month averaging high temperatures of −15.5° C (4.1° F), but sometimes getting as cold as −39.1° C (−38.4° F). On the coldest days, a cup of warm tea thrown into the air turns to powdery snow before it hits the ground.

Snow and ice on the ground are nearly universal, which is just as well since rivers freeze and even the deepest wells hit ice rather than liquid water. Nearly every building and most camps keep firesburning nonstop, year-round, with firestone the most common source of heat (a single fist-sized hunk of firestone weighs roughly half a pound, 4 pounds of firestone can keep a typcial stove hot and warm a 20 ft. x 30 ft. house for 24 hours, making it roughly 10 times as efficient as coal). This both heats an area and allows snow and ice to be melted daily for fresh water. It also ensures new fires can easily be started from the burning firestone, should that be needed.

Those local to Jokullnaf know how to survive the deadly cold, and warming magic is common, but some nevertheless freeze to death every year. Buildings are well-insulated, so much so that in the short summer most activity is taken outdoors as the buildings can get uncomfortably warm with just the heat of people in them. Clothing and armor are almost always layered, and extremely thick hooded cloaks known as feldjar are common. Feldjar are made of two thick layers of furred hide, sewn with the fur facing inward to form a thick insulation, and are designed to be buttoned closed if necessary, but generally warn just draped around the shoulders to it can be thrown off if necessary for any detail-oriented work.

Conversely, there are a few regions of the lands around Icehold where massive heat rules. Several apparently-dormant volcanos are close enough to the settlement for their red glow to be visible on a clear night, and many have slow lava flows down into apparently-bottomless pits. Anyone coming close to the molten rock find the air goes from freezing to burning surprisingly quickly, and when snow falls the lava hisses and can produce steam able to scald skin, which may twist and shift suddenly in strong winds. Even beyond the volcanoes, a few of the old firestone mines have caught fire often the decades. The entrances to these are unknown, but occasionally a vent opens in the ground and burning smoke and cinders jet out… before enough ice falls into the crack to make the ground shale so hard it closes access to the burning mines as suddenly as it opened.

The deadly temperatures are far from the only regional challenges Icehold residents face. When the sun sets on October 28th each year, it does not rise again until the 15th of February (111 days later), and due to mountains cannot be seen from town until shortly after the first week of March. Conversely, when it rises on April 18th it does not set again until August 23rd (127 days later). For weeks at either end of these periods the is enough glow to see even though the sun does not properly rise, though the light is dim, in the times known as the Blue Nights.

Some nights, the sky lights up with Spirit Tides from the Ocean of Souls, the literal path (also known as the Low Road) spirits of the departed take to reach the afterlife from the mortal realm. When the Spirit Tides are green, they can be safely observed, and individual spirits cannot be visually picked out. But on especially cold nights they can turn blue, purple, red, or yellow, meaning the barrier between the Spirit Tides and the mortal realm are too thin for safety. Specific souls can be seen, or if you are high enough on a mountainside even spoken to. Such nights draw undead, necromancers, and grieving beloved of the recently lost, but anyone looking at the tides also risks a spirit possessing them, or breaking free to become a spectre or wraith. If work must be done during the nights of strong Spirit Tides, locals to Icehold wear wooden blinders over their eyes, keeping their vision restricted to a narrow band they focus down, away from the skies.

(Art by Jasper W)


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Campaign Setting: Icehold

All this week I’m going to be writing about a fantasy ttRPG setting I’m calling Icehold. I’ll give an overview of the main settlement, some notes about resources and trade, local threats, and even adventure seeds.

(Art by Cerafts)


The fortified harbor and trade town of Jokullnaf, also known as Icehold, is the northernmost walled city in the known world. Nestled in Jokull Harbor, it is surrounded by mountains, tundra, hyboreal forests, and ice. No other major settlement exists within hundreds of miles of it, it can only be accessed for a few months a year, it is under constant threat by undead, extreme weather, deathly cold, and monstrous threats of the far north. With the risk and isolation, however, comes a level of political freedom rare in settlements its size.

Icehold exists only because the Drakuul Crusade built the original fortress as they sought to find and destroy the First Vampire, and in those years rich veins of Blue Iron and Firestone were found in the mountains that stretch for hundreds of miles in all directions of it. Holy pilgrimages still bring a few crusaders to its walls every year, but it is the fortune that can be made mining that has maintained the town. 

Though positioned far north of any humanoid settlement on its continent, it is also on the continent’s westernmost point, making it an attractive trade port for foreign nations… at least for the few months per year its harbor is not totally iced over. Even the extreme cost of the long travel and paying the high prices locals demand for labor in the harsh clime does not make it unprofitable for merchants to come to the Icehold every year, buying materials outright but also trading magics, foods, preservatives, and clothing to the icelocked settlement.  

The local population are a hardy folk, descended from crusaders, the tradesfolk and servants the crusade needed to survive, explorers, and researchers, The population has a large percentage of elf, dwarf, gnome, goblin, human, ogre, orc, and gnimmocs (a gnollish ethnicity adapted to arctic environments). Less common, but noteworthy, are the numbers of halflings, logith (a humanoid species with elemental fire ancestry), lyricera (a tundra-adapted ethnicity of catfolk), and ice trolls (native to the region, predating the establishment of Icehold).

The year-round population of Jokullnaf hovers around 5,000, with another 1,000 or so living in small private settlements (based mostly in caves and defensible valleys). During the summertime Trade Seasons, the popular can almost double, as merchant ships and overland caravans rush to buy as much Blue Steel and Firestone as they can, before the surrounding sea freezes over and the long, winding mountain routes become impassible.

Ruled by a Council of Principals, Jokullnaf sets high value on privacy, individual freedom, and the right to be left alone. While there are laws dictating certain antisocial behaviors are criminal, no sect, ethnicity, ancestry, nationality, religion, or creed is banned or outcast, as long as they play by the rules.

The combination of great personal freedom, vast mining riches, a history of undead-destroying crusades, and access to the coldest places in the world attract a specific kind of person, who is willing to brave all the risks of Icehold’s harsh environment to reap its rewards.

More Icehold!

Here’s an index of additional Icehold articles, updated as they are written.

Location And Environment 

Economy And Threats



I’m currently fighting cancer, and sadly even with insurance that’s extremely expensive. Right now, the main ways to offer your support are to join (or increase your pledge level to) my Patreon or, if you prefer, donate directly through my Ko-Fi account –