The Karst Archipelago

Alone now in the vastness of the Mirror Sea, the Karst Archipelago has always been a curious and benighted place. Made of old limestone baked for eons in the warm sun of the Impossibly Blue Sky and slowly dissolving into the sea, the islands of the archipelago are riddled with caves, ruins, memories, and mysteries—some more pleasant than others.

A humid, tropical climate pervades the southern latitudes, and in the north, the archipelago is drier. Snow falls on the tallest peaks of the largest island, Thark Minora. No chart or map of the area is complete, and it is hard to say exactly where the archipelago begins and where it ends; distance—like time—is a fluid concept in these waters.


The recorded history of the Karst Archipelago begins hundreds of years ago, though many beings existed here for millennia before that. Though a few long-abandoned and forgotten outposts of the First Serpos Empire remain, the first folk to settle here were lagartos separatists, bringing their spirits and superstitions, both quick to intermingle with the echoes of those from before.

A few silent centuries passed, as the lagartos formed tight- knit, insular, and self-sufficient communities on a handful of the archipelago’s islands. Then came the fall of the First Serpos Empire, bloated and corrupt. In its wake, the veldlings—a nation’s worth of refugees, once oppressed and newly free—fled across the sea from their homelands in the Western Sands. Midway in their journey to their intended destination, the Eastern Woods, lay the archipelago, a stopover and a place to rest. Some chose to stay, lured by warm sands and secluded shores, and from these communities came another part of the archipelago’s culture, a mercantile and seaborne spirit.

In the ensuing years, small outposts were established here and there by merchants and explorers from the Three Distant Shores, and a number of longtime communities became trading destinations of their own. Still, the archipelago remained something of an afterthought; it flourished and even thrived, but little changed.

And so life went on for five hundred years.

One day, no ships arrived from the Three Distant Shores, but no one noticed; foreign ships, after all, were unpredictable things. Nor did anyone notice when they did not arrive the next day, or week, or month thereafter. It was not until one could no longer say how long it had been that anyone cared to wonder—and by then, it was far too late to do anything about it, if anything could have been done at all.

Some say the old doomsayers and fortune-tellers at the edge of Orway were the first to catch on, and also the last to be listened to. The exact measure now matters not; all that can be said is that it has been at least a generation since the Three Distant Shores were last heard from in the Karst Archipelago.

Life in the Archipelago

In the archipelago, now isolated from the Three Distant Shores, life continues unchanged for many folk. Those who live in the villages and cities of its nation-states and island kingdoms lead fairly mundane lives. The warm climate and the abundance of the sea provide for basic needs, and most of the islands have some form of agriculture: orchards, vineyards, root crops, or fowl.

Industry survives here and there—even some new ventures on the more prosperous islands—but many things remain in scarce supply. Trade is a vital conduit for many goods, and the sea is filled with merchant vessels. It is filled with pirates and other unscrupulous folk too— drawn to the trade ships like hungry gulls.


Much of the archipelago remains unexplored or recently forgotten by its residents, but some islands are known far and wide. These are but a few of the most recognized destinations in the archipelago.


Though it is a prosperous merchant kingdom, Belagoria sits on the precipice of multiple disasters. Ever at odds, it and its rival, Golandra, have let hostilities spiral into outright warfare. In addition, Belagorian peasants have begun to revolt against the wealthy excesses of the merchant families as a dontler blight in Eastern Belagoria enters its third year. Lastly, the ground itself has begun to tremble beneath the capital; some fear—correctly— that a major earthquake is due to strike.

Eektorp Bay

Founded by the eekhorn, and home to more of them than anywhere else in these parts, Eektorp Bay is one of the busiest, and dirtiest, ports in the archipelago—a maze of shipyards, docks, high roads, and back alleys, all choked with corruption and filth.

Its ruler, the Duke, is a corpulent autocrat with an insatiable hunger for roast goose and honied dontlers. He rules Eektorp Bay and the slums of Hoveltun with a lazy but iron fist, going months without oppressing the citizenry, only to crack down on a whim and execute a handful of folk for some minor or completely arbitrary slight—real or perceived.

Porta Cortu

Porta Cortu, a freeport, is a loosely organized collection of communities packed onto four small islands: Little Hen, Orway, Picoloro, and Whitecliff. This nexus of merchants, adventurers, and excitement is the dizzying center of all trade and commerce in the archipelago, the perfect place for all kinds of tales.

Narrators can learn more about this eclectic port in the chapter Things to Do in Porta Cortu—which can be found in the upcoming print edition of Karst.


A kingdom known for its mighty warriors, Thark has a proud and insecure culture. The citizens of Thark praise honesty and forthright behavior; Deceit is shunned. The folk are active; many engage in hunting, mountaineering, and other physical activities, while some seek glory in the ranks of the military or as adventurers.

The nation consists of two large and hilly islands as well as a number of smaller isles. The island of Thark Minora is the largest in the archipelago, its coastal hills leading up to snowcapped mountains. An unabashed monarchy (but non-hereditary; each successor is chosen and groomed), Thark is currently ruled by King Groedsun, a tall and jolly smooth-skin visita whose long and storied reign has been mostly benevolent.

Rumors and Legends

Fact, fiction, or somewhere in between, these rumors and legends can be used for general background or the beginnings of a tale:

Quill Island was once known as the Isle of Pines and Tears. The last attempt at settling it failed a lifetime ago.

The Mirror Sea has been unusually active and stormy around Gygalos Island as of late.

Spirits haunt the ancient battlefield of Scatterbones; the sea here glows at night.

The cult of Eku offers membership in exchange for stolen works of art.

Death manifests as three crows: one silent, two laughing.

In Eektorp Bay, the Duke has ordered the construction of a dozen sturdy boats, hundreds of bows, and thousands of arrows; few know his intent, but many are concerned—and will pay dearly for more information.

The First Serpos Empire once conducted unspeakable thaumaturgic research on a nearly forgotten island somewhere in the archipelago.

Drakt Harbor—a cutthroat’s dream, built of scrapped ships and half-excavated caves—is hidden inside a lagoon in the caldera of a burnt-out volcano.

Amidst the dontler blight in Belagoria, rumors persist that the merchant families are hoarding enough reserves to feed the countryside—and are looking to profit.

In the mountains of Thark, hill pirates have begun to raid pack trains along the road between the port of Arzúa and the mountain resort of Gándara.

In Yugen Boreth, the farthest reach of Thark, there is a giant tadpole who speaks a truth that few can hear.

Once, a great nation of stripe-furred folk inhabited the Karst Archipelago. At their height, they surpassed even the serpos—whose empire flourished as theirs declined.