A “Dark Dungeons” Campaign Setting
A thousand years ago, the secretive, undying gnomes established a technologically powerful empire, and drove barbarism and war off the map. However, something changed in the gnomes, and their race no longer perpetuated itself; all of their children were born as inherently unmagical dwarves or halflings, who were unable to maintain the arcana upon which the empire was built. The gnomes’ numbers dwindled from mishap or misadventure, and no offspring of any kind have been born for hundreds of years. Eventually, the empire shrank down to a mere valley surrounding Gnome-Tor, a titanic tower carved from a mile-high mountain, powered by unfathomable magical energies.
Civilization fell, and the land was engulfed in chaos. Dwarves and halflings separated, finding each other distasteful; elves lived in a state of perpetual war against the innumerable “reaver races” that preyed on the forests; and the rigidly caste-based humans struck out from their island stronghold of Kem, repeatedly attempting to establish a foothold on the mainland. Monsters slunk out of the shadows, and claimed new homes in the ruins of the gnomish empire.
Finally, one hundred years ago, a peace was struck between the humans and the elves. Though previously the elves regarded the humans as little better than orcs or troglodytes (and in some ways worse), they eventually agreed to help the humans establish a settlement, so long as they agreed to use only wood grown in their own tree farms, descended from the conifers of their island home, and never to use wood from the elves’ deciduous forests. In return, humans would aid the elves in driving away the barbaric, monstrous races, a pursuit at which the warlike humans proved extraordinarily adept. Within a generation, the elven forests were safe, and the human kingdom of Lev was formed.
Explorers from Lev soon encountered dwarves, from whom they learned the history of the gnomish empire. (Histories the elves knew just as well, but regarded as irrelevant to their present war; they were not descendents or subjects of the gnomes!) Humans and dwarves quickly became fast allies, and dwarven artisans traveled to the human homeland, building up Kem from an ancient collection of temples and manors into the strongest fortified position in the known world. As the dwarves went east to the sea, humans adventured farther west, seeking the fabled gnomes, and their legendary tower.
Human fortresses were established everywhere they went, which the elves allowed according to the treaty of mutual protection, but effectively expanding the human empire to surround many parts of the elven lands. In time, the humans came to the great Merlon Range, a nearly impassible line of incredibly high mountains, many of the summits lost in the clouds. On the far side of the elven forests, human adventurers found the valley of Gnome-Tor.