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"Tell von Kluck to withdraw, and take this message to the Burgomeisters of Marienburg. Tell them to appoint a delegation to meet our Plenipotentiaries to discuss a treaty. We will recognize their independence. But, mark my words, I pray for the day when they come crawling for help against Chaos or the Norse or the Bretonnians. Let the Directors see what their gold buys them then! I curse them and their lands and their city! Westerland - bah! I name that land for what it is, a Wasteland, and I hope they choke on it!"
Emperor Wilhelm III von Holswig-Schliestein on 2429 IC.[1a]

The Wasteland is a coastal area around the mouth of the River Reik which contains the prosperous city of Marienburg. The Wasteland used to be the Empire province of Westerland that was conquered in 501 IC by Emperor Sigismund II, until it seceded during the reign of Emperor Dieter IV in 2429 IC through a hefty bribe.

History

Pre-Human Times

Once the Wasteland didn't deserve that name. Long before Man had come to the Old World, the lands around the mouth of the Reik were the home of lush grasslands and bountiful woods, the trees of which produced abundant fruit in endless variety. Elf loremasters tell how this virgin country was filled with animals that provided meat for their new port. Herds of thousands of wild cattle, the aurochs now so rare in the Old World, roamed peacefully among the grasses. There were so many that, according to folklore of the Elves, a blind man couldn't shoot an arrow into the sky in those days without bringing down a feast for a hundred.[1a]

The Dwarfs loved this land, too, and called it Tiwaz-Katalbuyk, 'Rest at Journey's End'. These were the days of their friendship with the Elves. They mined the mountains and panned the streams for precious metals and gems, trading these with the Elves for works of exquisite craftsmanship and rare raw materials from beyond the sea. Even after both had gone, in the wake of their disastrous war, this was a really a land of plenty.[1a]

But sometime after the departure of the Elves and the Dwarfs and before the arrival of Man, Chaos and evil came, spreading like a cancer from the north and the south. The Skaven, digging their tunnels like cracks meant to undermine the continent, burst forth from the abandoned mines and ravaged the surface. Within a few decades, the land was a ruin: the herds were slaughtered, the waters poisoned and the groves cut down. Marching like vermin into the north of this realm, they found the Fimir, a race of reptilian giants who themselves were remaking the land in their own blasphemous image.[1a]

War was inevitable. For how long it raged, only the Fimir and the Skaven know, and certainly no one is asking them. The Skaven built great castles to hold their conquests, and slowly they pushed the Fimir back. In the end, there came a cataclysm that decimated both sides. Whether it was a last desperate effort by the Fimir, an attempt at final victory by the Skaven, or even a rebellion by the earth itself doesn't matter. Great waves of magic washed over the land and the earth convulsed and cracked. In a night, the castles of the Skaven and the holds of the Fimir were thrown down as the very bedrock heaved, broke and sank. Their armies were destroyed and their minions crushed or swallowed whole. By dawn the next day, only the land itself remained, nearly empty of life and hiding its wounds under a thick blanket of fog.[1a]

Now it is a grim place where only the hardiest souls can hope to make a living, let alone prosper.[1a]

Geography

Wasteland v2.jpg

The Wasteland extends from the Laurelorn Forest in the east to the Pale Sisters and the Bretonnian march at the west, and from the verges of the Mirror Moors on the Imperial frontier to the shores of the Sea of Claws. Though scattered hamlets and farmsteads eke out a hard-living here and there in the Wasteland, especially along the course of the River Reik, the majority of the population lives in the city of Marienburg itself.[1b]

The Sea

North beyond the Wasteland lies the Sea of Claws, whose turbulent waters are thrashed by wild storms. As Marienburger sailors say, only "mad Elves and Norscans" dare sail it in winter. Between Mittherbst and Mondstille, the storms are so severe that only Elven clippers call at Marienburg, unless the captain is drunk, desperate, insane - or Norse. Whether due to the senseless wanderings of Morrslieb the Chaos Moon or simply Manann's anger over some slight against the sea, the Sea of Claws is also subject to severe tides that have inflicted devastating floods on Marienburg in the past. Though less frequent in recent centuries since the construction of the great Dwarfen pumps beneath the Vloedmuur, the Sea of Claws still wreaks occasional havoc and inundates most of the city, save for the mansions of the wealthy on the highest islands.[1b]

Where the Reik enters the sea the land splits to form a great bay, the Manaanspoort Zee. This is Marienburg's garden, the source of most of its food. Hundreds of ships set out every day from the great port to harvest the water's bounty of haddock, halibut and herring. Whales feed here, too, including the rare three-point baleen, sacred to the cult of Manaan because of the white trident-like mark upon its head. The bay is also frequently visited by the Grey Barbed Shark, which is more commonly known as "Stromfels' Kitty" for its aggressive habits and voracious appetite. Like the banned god, it makes no distinction among its prey, having been known to take a careless fisherman right from his boat as he leaned over to haul in a net.[1b]

The Manaanspoort Zee is also Marienburg's chief highway, for over it travel thousands of ships from all the Known World and beyond, carrying the trade goods that are the city-state's lifeblood. Most take the longer, north-eastern route through the bay, using the beacon of the lighthouse at Fort Solace to avoid the rocky shoals that line the south-western shores from Reaver's Point to the village of Broekwater. Those more daring or careless will chance this route, hoping to gain a few precious hours on their competition. Such daring captains pay a price, though, risking the dangers of random rip tides or cunning wreckers who seek to lead them onto the rocks with false beacons.[1b]

A sandy shelf rises gently from the sea along the coast on either side of the marsh. The cold, windblown dunes extend for roughly a day's ride inland, with only the occasional patch of tough grass, a fisherman's shack or a hermit's cottage to break the monotony. Yet such an unpromising environment is filled with life: near the shore are herring, beach-spawning grunion and sand eels, whilst the beach plays host to crabs and insects of all sorts. A few small groupings of seal and sea lion remain, but these are the remnants of the vast herds that once visited this coast: by the 18th century they had been driven to near extinction by hunters. Unique to these shores is the Mottled Green Sea Slug. Sliced and pickled in brine, the aristocrats of northern Bretonnia consider it a delicacy. Feeding on all these are innumerable sandpipers and gulls, whose mournful cries make this seem a haunted land.[1b]

North

The country rises from the sea to a ridge that marks the beginnings of the vast moorlands that most people associate with the Wasteland. North-east of Marienburg and the swamps lie the Tumble Downs, named for their broken, rough character. Low rolling hillocks and boggy dells mark this country, short tough grasses giving way to stagnant ponds choked with cattails. Occasional stands of oak or pine break this vista, though they have a stunted, sickly character. Thick fogs frequently blanket this part of the Wasteland in the autumn and spring, when they're not driven-off by the frigid winds that blow in from the Sea of Claws. The frequent winter rains turn the downs into a morass that few willingly dare, whilst summer steams the few residents with a humid heat that only mosquitoes love. There are many, many mosquitoes.[1b]

Amongst the downs, travelers find great clumps of exposed rock that break through the soil like broken teeth. Most think these are natural exposures of ancient bedrock, but some scholars argue that they are the remains of ancient civilizations, that the odd weatherings are really the faded sigils of pre-human stonemasons. Many have evil reputations, the blackest given to 'Rat Rock', a vast jumble of cyclopean blocks at the north edge of the Grootscher Marsh, several of which bear markings disturbingly similar to those left by the Skaven. Whatever the truth, few willingly camp in their shadows.[1b]

Still, Man does his best to survive even in these bleak surroundings. The Tumble Downs are sparsely dotted with small hamlets and farmsteads, the folk there scratching out a mean existence with tiny vegetable plots and small herds of stringy sheep and cattle. Unlike Wastelanders who live in the city itself, they are a suspicious lot who don't take kindly to strangers and almost never open their doors after dark.[1c]

Along the northern coast there are only two towns of note. The first is Fort Solace, a small port with a population of just 310, built around a lighthouse along the north shore of the Manaanspoort Zee. It is a new town, founded after the destruction of Almshoven and its beacon on the opposite shore during the last Incursion of Chaos. Fort Solace is owned outright by the Wasteland Import-Export Exchange, and its governor is a 'Change employee. Ships reaching the Manaanspoort Sea at nightfall often stop here before making the final journey to Marienburg or, more rarely, if they plan to skip Marienburg altogether and sail directly to Norsca and Kislev. Fort Solace provides little more than basic services and goods not destined for the city-state are taxed heavily, since the Directorate prefers that all traffic pass through Marienburg.[1c]

At the far north of the Tumble Downs, at the end of a rutted track grandly named the "Old North Road", sits the border town of Aarnau. Site of the last remaining old noble house of the Wasteland, the van Buurens, this fishing and farming village with 4000 inhabitants takes seriously its self-appointed role as guardian of the Wasteland's independence. Just what threat they guard against is an amusing mystery to Marienburgers, since the Elves of Laurelorn mind their own business and the Empire is hardly likely to march an army through this isolated corner of the Old World. Still, the 150-strong militia drills before cheering children on the public green every other Festag under the watchful eye of Baron Martinus van Buuren. The old codger has spent so much money on uniforms and equipment over the years that the men of Aarnau are known as 'Wasteland Peacocks', though none who have seen them fight against Fimir warbands in the northern Tumble Downs will say that to an Aarnauer's face.[1c]

The Tumble Downs are cut by one real highway, the Middenheim Road. It serves as the main overland contact between Marienburg and the Empire. Other than the Wouduin Tollhouse at the edge of the Laurelorn Forest and some fortified coaching inns spaced a day's ride apart, traveling the Middenheim Road is a lonely journey that wise coachmen make as swiftly as possible. The barrenness of the country makes the trip a dangerous one, for the Downs hide outlaws, highwaymen and worse.[1c]

South

South of Marienburg and the marshes, the River Reik cuts a broad and winding path. This is the city's other artery, equal in importance to the Manaanspoort Sea. Along it sail ships carrying trade goods to and from the interior of the Old World. It is a faster and more reliable route than any overland path, and the luxury-loving nobles and social-climbing middle classes of the Empire and as far away as Kislev rely on the Reik to bring them the finer things in life, just as the merchants of Marienburg rely on it to bring them Imperial Crowns and Kislevite Rubles.[1c]

It is along the alluvial plains of the river that one finds the greatest concentrations of population outside of Marienburg itself. Several small villages and river-front inns squat along its length, the largest of which is Kalkaat (population 625) and Leydenhoven (population 510). Wastelanders here are more like their Marienburger cousins inhabit, being more accustomed to seeing strangers and more willing to open their homes to them. Though the Wasteland River Watch regularly patrols the Reik, small bands of pirates prey on careless riverboats, striking swiftly and then melting back into the general population. Smugglers prefer the Reik route too, hiding illicit cargoes among the tons of legitimate goods that pass along it each day.[1c]

Between the river and the Bitter Moors lies the Kleinland ('Little Country'), an almost-pleasant heath mostly used for sheep-herding: its excellent wool is one of the Wasteland's few native exports. But even here, residents keep their spears sharp and village walls in good repair, for Greenskins and worse sometimes wander out from the mountains, while the moors themselves are rumored to hide great castles of the Fimir and vales where Chaos and mutants reign supreme. Or, so they tell any travelers who are willing to buy a round or two of ale in the local taproom.[1c]

The town of Halsdorph once prospered here, its rare patch of fine farmland and excellent lace goods encouraging traders to divert from the Gisoreux road for a chance at extra profit and a safe night's sleep. But that was before the 'Night of Terror', when the earth shook, the land sank and the swamp swallowed the best fields. Now the town is dying, few visitors call at this depressing place, and the remaining residents (only 133) stare fearfully over their shoulders, haunted by dreams of the nearby 'Demon Swamp'. The Directorate itself ignores blighted Halsdorph, rarely bothering to send even excise men here.[1c]

At the edge of the Little Country where the Bitter Moors begin, a great road runs from Marienburg to the Bretonnian city of Gisoreux, from which many in the large village of Klessen (population 422) make their living by providing rest and refreshment to travelers going either way. Following the Gisoreux Road south-west through the bleak countryside past the broken signpost that points to Halsdorph, the traveler eventually comes to the foothills of the Pale Sisters and Grey Mountains which bracket the Ois Gap, the main overland route to Bretonnia. Other than the mining village of Erlach, the foothills are only sparsely inhabited by lonely shepherds, hopeful prospectors, religious hermits and ragged outlaws who prey on the road traffic. Old exhausted mines are scattered amongst the hills and mountains, some still worked by the Dwarfs, but most of them long since abandoned for better prospects elsewhere.[1d]

In the middle of the Ois Gap at the bridge over the river squats Fort Bergbres, a former Imperial castle now run jointly by the Marienburg Directorate and agents appointed by the Duc du Gisoreux. It has a population of 225 and serves as a rest station and supply post for those preparing for the long trek across the Bitter Moors or refitting after crossing it. There is a large joint force of excise men and Roadwardens here to guard against smugglers and protect travelers against the dangers waiting in the hills. At least, that's the idea. Travelers more often refer to Fort Bergbres as "Fort Beg-Bribe" since getting anything done requires a 'donation' of guilders or Bretonnian gold sous to the proper official. Upstanding merchants who object to the practice find themselves buried under mountains of paperwork and subjected to excruciatingly slow inspections. Most put up with this only once and thereafter pay the price and pass the cost on to the customer.[1d]

North and west beyond the Gisoreux Road lie the empty wastes of the Bitter Moors, a vast expanse that rolls to the Bretonnian frontier. Little of value grows in this poisoned land and, if anything, it is even less populated than the Tumble Downs. Even smugglers are reluctant to cross its barren interior - many of the streams flowing from the Pale Sisters are tainted and foul, polluted by mine-leavings that have leached into the water, or perhaps by the Fimir or Skaven. The fogs have a way of disorienting travelers and leading them on random paths that sometimes go nowhere at all. Only hares and lynx are common here, as are the carrion crows that feed on the moor's dead and dying.[1d]

The Coast Road

Travelers who must pass through the Bitter Moors by some route other than the Gisoreux Road usually take the Old Coast Road, an ancient raised highway built by the Elves in the days of their dominion over the Old World. Built to a different logic than the roads of Man or Dwarf, its close-fitting white stone blocks begin in Klessen and take a meandering path along the coast, closely following the shore to an abrupt end near L'Anguille. Thousands of years old, it is rough and broken in places. The Grootscher Marsh surrounds a long stretch of it, while portions have been swallowed by the sea. This ancient route is used infrequently, and then only by those who do not want to meet other travelers on their way.[1d]

Only one town, the fishing village of Broekwater (population 84), remains along the coast till one reaches Bretonnia. Though never proven, Broekwater and the few run-down inns in its area have a reputation as criminal haunts, since ships that dare the south-western coast of the Manaanspoort Sea often fall foul of wreckers who leave no witnesses. The Grey Mist gang of smugglers is rumored to make its base here, and whispers mark Broekwater as a center of the banned cult of Stromfels. While traders in Marienburg regularly complain about the criminal activities centered on Broekwater, the lack of action by the Directorate has lead many to speculate (quietly, for their own safety) about some sort of official backing from one or more of the Great Houses.[1d]

Further on are the ruins of Almshoven and its lighthouse. Destroyed during the Incursion of Chaos by the reaver Bilespit, a Champion of Nurgle, the village was never rebuilt and now is feared as a diseased, cursed graveyard best avoided by all. This, of course, makes it very attractive to those needing to vanish for a while. That the occasional treasure-seeker disappears here without a trace only adds fuel to the region's dark legends.[1d]

Well-past Almshoven the road passes Reavers' Point, the site of a great pirate camp in the 24th century. Once the scourge of all who traveled the Sea of Claws, the pirates and wreckers of Reavers' Point sank ship after ship in their bloody quest for gold, their power and wealth intimidating even the rulers of Marienburg. Finally, after the 'Pirate Baron' Bartholomeus the Black declared himself "Lord of the Seas and all the Waste", the desperate rulers of Marienburg took action. Pooling the fortunes of the wealthy merchant families, they built ships and hired mercenaries. Under the command of admiral Jaan Maartens, a senior priest of Manaan, the power of Reavers' Point was broken in a daylong naval battle. At the battle's height, Maartens and Bartholomeus locked in a death-struggle on the foredeck of the pirate's flagship, the Black Angel. What happened next is unclear, but Bartholomeus and Maartens both fell overboard and were lost at sea. Their ghosts are said still to haunt the land and sea around Reavers' Point, hunting each other till the end of time.[1d]

Grootscher Marsh

Surrounding Marienburg where the Reik flows into the Manaanspoort Zee is the Grootscher Marsh, a forlorn delta that spreads for dozens of miles up and down the coast and back along the River Reik. It's a gloomy place, choked with cattail reeds taller than a man and scattered groves of trees hoary with age, great beards of fungus hanging from the branches down to their tangled masses of roots. Fetid mists that carry the faint stink of decay float among the rushes: even the wind and rain can't drive them away completely. As the Reik flows into this muddy bottomland, its waters branch and divides from the main channel, separating and rejoining, twisting among the hummocks in a confusing snarl of streams, channels and treacherous pools.[1e]

The marsh provided refuge to the Jutones when they first fled here around the year -20 I.C., and it still serves to shield the city against would-be conquerors. The Reik and the two raised causeways to Middenheim and Gisoreux funnel and eventually trap invaders who can't march an army through a swamp. Many times in the city's history, the rulers of Marienburg have simply abandoned the Wasteland to advancing enemies, only to pick and snipe at them from the fens as they starved outside the city's walls.[1e]

The Grootscher Marsh holds things of value, too, and Wastelanders are skilled at wringing out every penny's worth. Swampers fish for the delta eel that forms much of the peasants' diet, and the eggs of the grey herons that arrive with the summer are avidly sought by the city's gourmets. Herbalists pay richly for medicinal plants that are found nowhere else, like the 'peace-maker' root of the marsh lily that has a reputation for curing hangovers. Even the mud has its uses, for earth from certain parts of the swamp are known to have powerful euphoric and even hallucinogenic properties. Alchemists can reduce it to a powder that doctors mix with wine to treat patients suffering from various illnesses of the head. Cultists and thrill-seekers prefer the illegal pure form, called Slannesh's Dream, which they smoke in a pipe to induce visions, gain enlightenment and increase their endurance at orgies. It is also highly addictive, a fact not lost on the city's criminal classes.[1e]

And yet, the Grootscher Marsh has an evil name among average Marienburgers, who commonly call it the Cursed Marsh, when they can bear to think about it at all. The walls of the Vloedmuur are not only for holding back the tide or foreign enemies, but also the things that lurk amongst the reeds and tangleroot trees. Kind-hearted residents will do all they can to persuade friends from entering the swamp, making a sign of protection every time its name is mentioned and telling wild tales of the dangers within.[1e]

But those determined to hunt for lost Elven treasures can always find a swamper willing to take them out on his flatboat, though at the price of several guilders per head - paid in advance. The more foolish (and cheap) buy their own boat. After all, none of the locals are stupid enough to rent their property to a visitor when they are almost certain that they'll never see either again! The lucky ones return muddy, wet and cold after a day or two of wandering aimlessly in the ever-present mists, while the rest are remembered fondly when the time comes to make a toast in a local pub.[1e]

Trivia

  • Marienburg and The Wasteland loosely resemble the Netherlands.

Sources

  • 1:Marienburg: Sold Down the River — WFRP (1st Edition)
  • Warhammer Armies: The Empire (4th Edition)
  • pg. 6
  • pg. 10
  • pg. 11
  • pg. 14
  • Warhammer Armies: The Empire (6th Edition)
  • pg. 59
  • pg. 68
  • Warhammer Armies: The Empire (7th Edition)
  • pg. 30
  • pg. 31
  • Warhammer Armies: The Empire (8th Edition)
  • pg. 16
  • pg. 17
  • pg. 22
  • pg. 25
  • The End Times II - Glottkin
  • Warhammer RPG 1st Edition: Core Rulebook
  • pg. 280
  • pg. 281
  • Warhammer RPG 2nd Edition: Sigmar's Heirs
  • pg. 6
  • A Murder in Marienburg (Novel), by David Bishop