The Empty Vessel
History walks the streets of Hammerfast in the form of the dead, the dwarves and orcs who died in this place more than a century ago. They are now ghosts consigned to wander Hammerfast's streets until the end of days. Hammerfast was once a necropolis, a collection of tombs where the dwarflords interred their people. As the dwarves' wealth grew, their burial chambers changed from simple stone sepulchers to lavish treasure vaults filled with the material wealth garnered over a lifetime. Hammerfast transformed from a graveyard into a storehouse for treasure, and thus it became a target.
A hundred years ago, the Bloodspear orc tribe conquered the necropolis but gained little from it. The orcs killed the priests and warriors tasked with guarding Hammerfast and started to loot the place, but the dwarves' burial chambers yielded their treasures only grudgingly. The necropolis held street after street of unmarked tombs, some riddled with traps, many empty, and only a few containing great treasure. The orcs suffered great losses to the defenses of Hammerfast and, after butchering its guards and capturing a few of its treasures, they turned their attention to easier targets in other locations.
In time, the dwarves returned to Hammerfast. Due to the fall of the Nerath Empire, the citadels of the dwarves were broken, famine and plague grew thick across the land, and monsters and raiders prowled freely. In the face of such chaos, the dwarves made a fateful decision. Why waste fortifications on the dead? They had no use for it. Thus, Hammerfast was trans formed into a town of the living. It has since grown into the largest and richest settlement in the eastern portion of the Nentir Vale.
Yet although Hammerfast has changed, its past lingers on. The remaining sealed tombs stand untouched on pain of death by decree of the Town Council. Ghosts still walk the streets, some of them orc warriors slain in the Bloodspears' attack, others priests of Moradin or the necropolis's doomed guardians, and even a few of them dwarves laid to rest here long ago. Such creatures enjoy full citizenship in Hammerfast, as long as they observe its laws. In a sacred compact struck with Moradin and Gruumsh, the town's founders agreed to respect the dead and defend their resting places in return for the right to settle here.
The compact forged between the folk of Hammerfast, Moradin, and Gruumsh created the foundation upon which the town rests. It shapes everyday life and influences the town's development. Of course, as with anything involving dwarves and orcs, it also creates a source of constant tension.
When the dwarves first resolved to settle in Hammerfast. the priests of Moradin beseeched their god for guidance. The necropolis was once sacred ground, before the invading orcs defiled it.
A champion of Gruumsh named Tarrak led the assault on Hammerfast. He swore to Gruumsh to destroy the place and loot its treasures. Tarrak died in the assault, along with many other fanatical worshipers of Gruumsh. In Gruumsh's Single, baleful eye, Hammerfast became a monument to his worshipers' ferocity.
With two competing deities laying claim to Hammerfast, only a compromise could avert a second war. Moradin and Gruumsh argued and threatened each other through intermediaries, until at last they reached an accord. Gruumsh had no use for the town, but he saw the chance to create a stark reminder of his champion's victory. He demanded that the dwarves set aside part of the town for his priests.
Moradin agreed, but as a condition of his assent insisted on a strict set of rules that both parties must follow. Gruumsh gained his show of defiance, and Moradin ensured that his followers would be safe from Gruumsh's treachery. The rules set forth were simple but inflexible:
- Worshipers of Gruumsh are not to be attacked or detained within the town as long as they do not commit acts of violence against Hammerfast's residents.
- Any priest of Gruumsh in the town must aid in its defense if it comes under attack.
- The ghosts that dwell in Hammerfast are to be left alone, as long as they do not attack the living.
- The temples ofMoradin and Gruumsh are sacred ground. If either is attacked by the other, the gods will intervene.
The punishment for violating the compact varies. If a priest of Gruumsh is injured or detained, the dwarves must turn over a priest of Moradin for torture and execution at Gruumsh's temple. Any priest of Gruumsh that violates the compact is struck blind and exiled to certain death in the wilderness. The town guard enforces the law regarding the ghosts: Any attack on the undead is treated as an assault on a living citizen.
The final rule spurs much speculation. The exact nature of the divine intervention was never set forth, but most residents believe that the gods would send a cataclysm to destroy the town if this rule is broken.
Houses of the Dead
Although some of the tombs in Hammerfast were reduced to rubble by the attacking orcs, most were simply picked clean of their contents. The orcs smashed open coffins, pounded sarcophagi into rubble, and scattered remains across the necropolis.
The dwarves rebuilt Hammerfast, keeping as much of the necropolis intact as possible. Most homes and businesses use the same thick-walled , stone structures that once housed the dead. The interiors have been cleaned and reorganized. In some buildings, the original sarcophagi, murals, and other decorations remain. In the summertime, some of the structures become unbearably hot. For this reason, structures in Hammer fast were built downward , not upward. Most families use the first floor of their homes as workshops or for storage, with the basement level set aside for sleeping. Most structures in Hammerfast house several families, each living within a subset of the chambers found in a typical tomb.
The tombs that remain intact are off limits. The town guard patrols the necropolis, and anyone caught loot ing existing tombs faces a death sentence. That doesn't stop some thieves, and rumors abound of tombs that were looted by thieves despite the vigilance of the town guard.
Many folk suspect that even the tombs now used as homes and businesses still hide ancient treasure chambers, hidden passages, and other secrets. Although looting intact tombs is against the law, tombs that have already been opened are fair game. Thus, adventure might be as close as the secret door beneath one's bed.