Many resources suggest that Niole Dra sits on the Sheldomar River as a port city. Darlene's map indicates otherwise by placing the city about 10-15 miles away from the river. How do you see its placements?
If it is a river port city, what lies across from it on the eastern bank in the Duchy of Ulek? Is there a town that is regularly used to trade goods with Niole Dra that are commonly found in the Silverwood, such as lumber? Or is there not such a population/commerce center and why? Geographic obstacle? Anti-human sentiment? How do you see this?
I believe it has been officially stated that all cities anywhere within the hex of a river on Darlene's map are considered to be port towns along said river. So Niole Dra should indeed be on the Sheldomar.
I'm by no means an expert on military tactics, but normally I think you want a buffer zone so your neighbor has to do some work before laying siege on your seat of government.
Of course, the reason the Darlene Map doesn't have borders drawn on it is because Gygax assumed that borders in the Flanaess are often fleeting. If Niole Dra is indeed built on the Sheldomar River, it's possible that the Sheldomar River was not originally considered the eastern border of its territories. Perhaps it once claimed the March of Aglonde all the way to the Silverwood, ceding the march to the Duchy of Ulek only after the Duchy was incorporated into Keoland and it no longer seemed to matter.
The Living Greyhawk Gazetteer has it that the Duchy of Ulek was threatened, and nearly fell, before the early waves of Suel migrants in the years before the Rain of Colorless Fire. When the Neheli entered the Sheldomar Valley as part of Slerotin's exodus, it's implied (it doesn't specifically say this was the Neheli, just that they were a subsequent wave of Suloise) they allied with the elves of Ulek to force out the earlier Suel. So when Niole Dra was founded, perhaps the Duchy of Ulek was already considered a friendly neighbor and trading partner.
If you wanted, you could use some of the background of the city of Pal Ador from the 3e sourcebook Races of Destiny as a model for Niole Dra.
Races of Destiny wrote:
Pal Ador is an enormous city bisected by a large, turgid river. It is an ancient and grand city that has fallen to decadence, declining steadily over the past centuries. At the moment, Pal Ador is a divided city, both figuratively and literally. Its two largest races, humans and elves, live in an unsteady accord, with the river acting as a natural border that barely keeps the peace.
Pal Ador is situated on a large open plain dotted with trees—the river on which it sits is the only notable feature. Although in its decline, Pal Ador is filled with grand, towering buildings, expansive manors, and a bustling merchant’s district. The architecture on the elf side of town is markedly different from the human side, reflecting its inhabitants’ unique style. Regardless of their location, all buildings show signs of slow decay and the place exudes a genteel rot. Pal Ador is noted for its huge sewer system, built to last for centuries. These sewers have become the territory of all manner of scum, criminals, and dissidents.
Pal Ador was created long ago as a settlement that bordered human and elf territories. The two races lived in harmony, and Pal Ador quickly became a trading and cultural center. The two nations established embassies five hundred years ago, and ideas and good will flourished. This all came to an end two hundred years later when the political foundation on which the city was built began to crack. Over time, divisions between the city’s elves and humans grew. The two nations that were once allies and partners came to blows, and portions of Pal Ador were sacked several times by both sides.
After almost seventy-five years of war, a truce was finally established, and Pal Ador was once again used as a neutral ground for humans and elves. Trade started up again, and buildings were repaired, but attitudes were never again the same. The two races pulled back on opposite sides of the river, maintaining their own governments as well as polite, if icy, relations with each other.
I could see that history fitting with Keoland's history fairly closely, with the two nations coming to blows after the Short War in 438 CY, and a truce established when Tavish IV officially acknowledged the secession of the Ulek states in 461 CY.
But I don't get the impression from Greyhawk sources that Keoland and the Duchy of Ulek are at all hostile with each other in the present day.
If Niole Dra was established more as a fortress from which to launch attacks against the Firstcomer Suel and defend against the depredations of Vecna from the north, perhaps it was constructed in a place where it would be difficult to build on the other side of the river. Then as the city expanded to the west, the eastern bank of the Sheldomar was still unsuitable (too steep, perhaps, or vulnerable to seasonal flooding) for expansion.
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