Winter Pines is made up of a fairly large section of hardy pine forest in the northwest of Fiiel past the Fiiel mountains, and west of the desolate tundras. Minotaurs and gnolls were the first races to inhabit the Winter Pines, with the minotaurs quickly enslaving the gnolls for their own uses – one of which was to make large dragon boats which they could then use the gnolls to paddle to other lands. Later, a group of humans would call this area home, after invading the Winter Pines area to bring vengeance on the minotaurs who had enslaved them earlier. They would bring with them bugbears and the secrets of martial arts. The humans and bugbears live mainly in the south-east, defending almost two-fifths of the land area and calling it their own, while the minotaurs rule over the gnolls in the north-western part.
The humans have their largest city in a natural port called Port Navar. The other main towns are Jormun (the town where humans and bugbears mostly meet gnomes for the purposes of mechanical trading, and hence the most mechanically advanced town in Winter Pines), Densmere (to the east, where farming is best on the pines/tundra border, and where lots of logging occurs) and Skald to the south-east (a strange place where the winter pines begins to change into a more lush redwood forest before the mountains, and where many hunting of skins, meats as well as grazing is done. Also known as the intellectual and rich area of Winter Pines, where the warriors are not as hardy). The next largest settlements are on the borderlands – four large keeps which are there to keep a vigilant watch over the minotaurs and gnolls, and where the humans and bugbears form for raids and attacks.
Each keep is the property and responsibility of one of the towns – Skald looks after the remote and somewhat eccentric Svaalbard Keep (designed to prevent minotaurs from cutting around through the tundra to attack into the human settlements, which basically never happens), Densmere funds and resources Ursus Keep (the fighting is often thickest at this keep, and the warriors are hardy and gruff), Jormun is responsible for Hus Keep (a coastal keep which keeps watch on the ocean as well as the land, Hus has been furnished with the mechanical expertice of Jormon, including catapults and ballistae for keeping ships at bay). Port Navar supplies Dane-Lor Keep, which is therefore one of the best resourced and defended keeps.
There is only one main road of transport between the borderlands and the rest of the human settlements, which is maintained between Dane-Lor Keep and Port Navar. This is to prevent enemy soldiers from using the roads to assist in their movements, but is also because roads are incredibly difficult to build in Winter Pines, and of limited use. Densmere therefore has a hard time getting their supplies to Ursus Keep, often taking things off road through the wilderness, while Skald is so far that no-one really knows how they do it.
Each town is named for a Karl (Lord) who administers it, as is each keep. The Karls do not own the towns or the people – rather, they are the ones with the most military prowess. The Karl of a town is responsible for the training of soldiers for manning the keep, while the Karl of the keep is responsible for keeping his soldiers trained and organising raids or defense. For this reason, most of the Karls in the keeps are bugbears (Karl Ursus, Karl Dane-Lor, Karl Hus; also Karl Jormun) while most of those from the towns are human (Karl Navar, Karl Skald, Karl Densmere; also Karl Svaalbard). Bugbears make up only about 3-15% of the population of south Winter Pines, so while they are accepted, they are very much a minority, found generally in Jormun, Navar, or the keeps.
M’Tas has a unique heritage, in being a village founded by a human wizard who calls himself a Karl, although his village is only small and he in fact is quite mercenary, having been known to work for both humans and minotaurs. However, people generally don’t mess with him, because he is powerful. The village is a den of scum and villany.
While the Winter Pines humans don’t hate magic, they don’t have much time for it, with so many of the men and women training for battle on the borders. If you’re looking for a wizard, you’re generally going to find them in Skald. Clerics are more common, with Paliyl clerics sometimes being called upon as justicars in the keeps.
In the north of Winter Pines, the minotaurs have their own settlements. They keep mostly to the ocean, being a sea-loving people. The gnolls live much more in the woods, and there are probably still many settlements of gnolls that are not enslaved by the minotaurs. Minotaur society is built entirely around personal strength, with all contests and arguments settled in the Circus – a gladiatorial arena. This has probably been what fosters the belief that anyone weaker than you is wrong, and therefore needs to be given something constructive to do, like building things and menial work. The truth is that anyone who can best a minotaur in single combat will be begrudgingly accepted as superior. It’s just the there aren’t many gnolls or humans who can, and minotaurs are very good at not getting into Circus when they think they are going to lose power and position.
The minotaurs were reached by the kender some time between the first and second migration. The arrival of kender allowed the minotaurs to do what they had always wanted – explore and map, and find out about the rest of the world in an orderly fashion. The wood of the Winter Pines, long, straight and strong, made for excellent boats, even with little mechanical knowledge, and soon the minotaurs had simple but large boats to explore with.
Minotaurs have two large cities: Sentas (where the Sentas Circus is, and all issues of justice, debate and position on the highest level are fought out) and Quinkira (where boats are made). There are also several large towns: Argentarii (the main trading town of the minotaurs – boats leave and arrive here from places like Manxiga); Papirii (the snobbiest minotaur settlement – mages, rich people, scholars live here); Signum (the main staging ground for minotaur raiders); and Ergas (the main slave acquisition town). There is also the small village of Antus, which acts as a first report post on activities of the humans. Since all minotaurs are born as fighters, there is not so much a need for trained warriors, although those that do train in the martial arts are valued and usually end up in positions of power and authority.
Gnolls have a few towns of their own: Slackin and , Dahnlo, which each have satellite villages.