Keep on the Borderlands

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On August 4, 2010, the group began a Greyhawk campaign using Mentzer Red Box D&D rules and the Keep on the Borderland. The campaign was originally intended as a short demo of old school D&D but expanded beyond that due to popular demand. As such, we eliminated preliminaries and started the party in situ, having already met, been recruited and transported to the Keep and immediately ready to strike out for action.

The setting is the World of Greyhawk, on the border between the Principality of Ulek and the Orcish Empire of Pomarj. PCs are Ulek natives from the captured eastern provinces attempting to harass humanoids in the untamed lands beyond the Jewel River.

PCs present: Ebin, human cleric; Erb Draug Gurth, elf; Huggra, elf; Mike, human thief; Orwill, halfling; Reeny Reenmel, halfling fighter; Thorg, human fighter.

Players were given the following briefing:

“You were all recruited within the Principality of Ulek. Humans, dwarves and halflings are citizens of the eastern provinces within the Disputed Territory and have volunteered for dangerous missions involving getting revenge and wreaking havoc on humanoid invaders. Elves can either be citizens of Ulek or refugees from the northern front of the war. Create your PCs with this background in mind and then discuss amongst yourselves specifically how you came to be together. You saw the call to battle being pounded onto every post in Havenhill, and you answered, swearing yourselves to the service of Prince Corond of Ulek.

Eventually you were all able to arrive at the Fortress of Ogard, snaking your way through hazardous, enemy-held territory, made easier by chaos and dissension in the enemy ranks. Large swaths of land in Ogard Provice are not being controlled by anyone and this has helped you go unnoticed. Signs of atrocities and property destruction are everywhere, along with evidence of enemy clans fighting each other. The following communique awaits you at Ogard, along with official letters of Marque stamped by the Prince himself:

Situation Briefing, Common Year 591, Month of Readying (the first month of Spring) Welcome! No matter your place of birth, you are all now sworn subjects of His Highness, Lord of the Peaks of Haven, Prince Olinstaad Corond of Ulek. Forthwith you will be informed of the current situation in the Principality and of your particular mission. Seven years ago this very month, as many of you are already aware, the pond-sucking, scum-fucking, shit-eating, ox-humping… … humanoid forces of the criminal and illegitimate so-called “warlord” Turrosh Mak of the Pomarj, with overwhelming numbers, invaded the Suss Forest, and thence across the Jewel River into the Ulek States. Our eastern provinces were overrun and the city of Havenhill nearly captured before our glorious counter-attack, aided materially by our great friends, the Knights of Luna, and financially by our good neighbors, the Lion Throne of Keoland.

Since that time the forces of Ulek have battled without rest to recapture our rightful lands, up to our ancient border of the Jewel River. Our enemies, as is their wont, fell to infighting and chaos and we have made great inroads against them. Their situation became so dire that just this past year Mak was forced to withdraw his human mercenaries, bandits and sell-swords from the area. The disorganization of our enemies led directly to the heroic reconquest of the Fortress of Ogard on the banks of the Jewel and of several lines of communication to and from it.

You yourself came to Ogard by circuitous routes to answer the call of His Highness. We do not expect the current favorable situation to persist indefinitely and so we must take every advantage to bring the fight to the lands of our enemies. By our best reckoning, we will have one campaign season in which to conduct “special missions” across the Jewel. You are being sent to a restored watch keep which guards the old road through the borderland between Ogard and Strandkeep, the latter now held strongly by our enemies.

Follow the instructions of the good Castellan, Dame Carspadmir Tiransdottir, and bring glory to yourselves and to Ulek. The keep itself is beyond our traditional borders and WITHIN THE POMARJ ITSELF, so exercise caution! Therefore, be informed that all lands beyond the Jewel River, and all those traveling within who do not properly establish their identities as friends of His Highness, are to be considered HOSTILE and subject to TERMINATION ON SIGHT. We trust to your discretion as agents on-the-scene.

I have authorized Dame Carspadmir to offer bounties on confirmed kills as she sees fit; she will no doubt brief you in greater detail upon your arrival. At a minimum, you shall consider all humanoid races (orc, goblinoid, ogre, troll, giant, etc) as enemies, likewise miscreants, bandits and highwaymen, as well as all agents of the Scarlet Brotherhood. I do not wish to hear of acts of mercy or kindness with regard to such.

Good Hunting!

Duke August Clinkerfire, Commander-in-Chief of the Forces of Free Ulek

Once across the river, you push on about a day’s march with several heavily-guarded supply wagons. Looming ahead on a high shelf of granite north of the road is the Keep on the Borderland. The road has climbed higher as you enter the forested and mountainous country. You now move up a narrow, rocky track. A sheer wall of natural granite is on your left, the path falling away to a steep cliff on the right. There is a small widening ahead, where the main gate to the KEEP is. The blue-clad, spear-wielding, men-at-arms who guard the entrance shout at you to give your names and state your business. All along the wall you see curious faces peering down at you – eager to welcome new champions of Ulek but ready with crossbow and pole arm to give another sort of welcome to enemies.

Your party is greeted by a human, Athatas, corporal of the guard, who examines your letters of Marque before he escorts you to the Castellan, Dame Carspadmir Tiransdottir, a humorless dwarf in magnificent full plate armor with a fine surcoat of blue. She is rumored to be the sister-daughter of Duke August. Skipping the preliminaries, she confirms the rules of engagement set down by the Duke and informs you of the current bounty levels (requires proof of kill):

Humanoids: 10 gp each

Bandit, dead: 20 gp each (Carspadmir wants them eliminated once and for all)

Bandit, alive: 50 gp (one time only, for interrogation)

Bandit leader: 100 gp dead, 200 gp alive (one time only for the second)

The Castellan also gives each of you a voucher worth 100 gp at the provisioner, trader and armorer for any equipment you may need. This is over and above your starting coin. Equipment signed out on the voucher must eventually be returned intact or the bearer will be responsible for reimbursing the keep.

It is early spring. Intermittent light rains are in the offing and runoff from the high hills swells the rivers and streams. The air smells fresher and cleaner than in Ne-Ogard but there is still the distinct taint of smoke wafting in from the east, along with the odor of fenlands to the southeast.

The humanoids are almost exclusively nocturnal and are comprised of orcs, goblins, hobgoblins and perhaps other types working in concert. We do not know how they manage this; perhaps they are under the control of Turrosh Mak himself. With the approaching good weather, more clans are sure to try to move through the area going east to west. We have already sent one team out to the east but we haven’t heard from them since. There were two dwarves, an elf and a human. Avoid the road as it is bound to be watched.”

The party split into two, the majority slowly taking the road east while Orwill and Mike tried to find some way to navigate the stream through the fens, thinking such a route stealthier and less expected.

Orwill spotted a very young bulette “land shark” floating with the current and successfully hopped on for a ride (bonus silly points for this). He hopped off when he spotted humanoid figures observing from a hill to the east, deeper in the fens. Meanwhile, the bulk of the party attempted to slowly track their expected progress.

Orwill and Mike met a group of human slaves who had escaped the orcs, living now simply for vengeance. Once bona fides and favorable intentions were established on both sides, the group – Turkey, Squirrel and Hawk (apparently having so named themselves) – agreed to act as guides and scouts. Orwill and Mike cut back to the road and rejoined the others.

Squirrel led them off the road and through the thick woods toward a large clearing. Here, said Squirrel, many tribes of humanoids had established a work site near some huge, bizarre stone portal set into a hillock. Under the direction of several ogres, they were digging at and around this portal, and attempting to pry it loose by brute force. Strange reddish runes adorned the lintel and the trees had become progressively more black and twisted as they approached the area.

Squirrel then led them to the creatures’ lair, numerous caverns set into the walls of a ravine northeast of the dig site. The party took the direct route to the nearest cave opening, whose stone portal was shaped similarly to the great portal nearby. The opening led into a natural cave, which then opened up into a worked series of caverns. It became apparent that at one time the caverns were finished in a mosaic of black and red tile, which time and disrepair had mostly stripped away, leaving a rough layer of grout or mortar.

A series of sharp skirmishes followed, during which the party defeated a great number of goblin guards and warriors of the “Lasher” tribe.  They also had a tense meeting with Kurchunk the ogre while chasing a goblin guard.  They cleverly offered him the bag of money the goblin was delivering to procure the ogre’s aid and got the ogre’s promise of future assistance.

They barely escaped with their lives, however, when a goblin hunting party returned at just the wrong time to cut them off from the outside. The party managed to collect their wounded and fight through to safety and, guided by Squirrel, who had lurked in the nearby woods, returned to the Keep to recuperate.

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