Garrison of the KEEP

How many troops in the KEEP?

Keep Garrison
Keep Garrison

Turns out there are a lot. But it’s hard to see that when you read Keep on the Borderlands (KotB) encounter-by-encounter. The chart at right shows the organizational hierarchy of the garrison, with the Castellan at the top (each troop type cited by encounter area, general location, number and level; note the chain of command).

For those of you who don’t like colourful PDFs, here’s a quick breakdown of the forces the Castellan can field:

  • 9 officers
    • 1 bailiff (F3)
    • 3 captains of infantry (F3)
    • 1 captain of horse (F3)
    • 1 serjeant (F2)
    • 3 corporals (F2)
  • 30 cavalry
    • 12 heavy horse (F1)
    • 18 medium horse (F1)
  • 170 men-at-arms (F1)
  • 2 couriers (F1)

The Garrison in the Campaign

Ostensibly, the garrison’s role is to defend the KEEP against the hostile forces in the Borderlands. The historical reality (at least in my campaigns) is that it ended up being an internal law-enforcement body when PCs created mayhem within the KEEP. In a full-on campaign setting, though, the garrison’s role can expand as:

  • Escorts to specific encounter areas (e.g., sections of the Caves of Chaos)
  • Extra muscle when exploring the wilderness
  • Scouts that accompany the party as they press beyond the boundaries of KotB’s wilderness map

But it’s important to remember that the troops aren’t retainers, henchmen, or even mercenaries. The garrison’s primary mission is to protect the KEEP and its inhabitants, so they’re not likely to be sent off with adventurers unless the mission is vital to the KEEP’s interests, and the PCs can be trusted.

To that latter bit, the KEEP is on the Borderlands, established to protect the REALM. It’s entirely reasonable, therefore, to deploy the garrison to root out, meet, and neutralise threats outside the walls, quite possibly alongside the PCs. In fact, the module alludes to this when describing that characters could gain access to the Inner Bailey…

…if the adventurers perform a heroic act in behalf of the KEEP, if they bring back an exceptional trophy or valuable prisoners, or if they contribute a valuable magic item or 1,000 or more gold pieces to the place. They will be invited to a feast and revel, and then closely watched and carefully questioned. If the Castellan likes the looks of the group, and his assistants agree, he will ask them to perform a special mission (suitable to their ability, but difficult – use the area map or the Caves of Chaos to find a suitable goal). [KotB, p. 7]

With that in mind, I’d recommend that the best and most logical way to get the garrison involved in the PCs’ adventures is the for the PCs to get in good with the Castellan. Given a positive relationship, the PCs could offer their services as scouts for the KEEP–kind of a “commando” force for special field ops–conducting recon missions, bringing back intelligence to the Castellan, then leading expeditionary forces that include troops to deal with the problem.

UPDATE (8/11/15): For the GM with OCD, I’d suggest using the Monster Reactions table on B24. Roll 2d6, and add the lead PC’s charisma modifier, along with +1 for each of the above conditions met (i.e., exceptional trophy, valuable prisoner or magic item, per 1,000gp). A roll of 2 indicates enmity, and the Castellan will encourage the PCs to leave the KEEP; rolls of 3-8 indicate interest without commitment (further observation is required); rolls of 9-11 are met with approval, while a roll of 12 or more show the Castellan’s trust, which translates to some aid on the PCs’ next foray outside the KEEP’s walls (start such aid small and escalate: maps, equipment, weapons, armour, guides, potions and scrolls, men-at-arms, officers).


To keep things balanced, the level of troops and officers attached to the party are always lower than that that of the PCs (e.g., the Castellan will send 1st-level men-at-arms when the PCs reach 2nd-level, 2nd-level serjeants when the PCs are 3rd-level, etc.).

The Castellan will agree to sending the KEEP’s troops only if the party agrees to contribute a full share of treasure to the KEEP’s war chest (use the guidelines on page 4 of KotB and count the Castellan as a PC when dividing up magical treasure).

Though KotB makes no mention of it, assume the KEEP collects a semi-regular stream of raw recruits from the REALM to maintain the garrison, rotate in new officers, and replace slain or injured troops. Every month, add 0-3 new recruits (F1 men-at-arms). When new troops arrive, there’s a 1/6 chance that an existing man-at-arms is promoted to corporal (F2).

These numbers increase in any month that a PC gains a new experience level (assume the Castellan’s glowing reports to the REALM of success on the Borderlands improve recruiting efforts). In those months, 2-5 new recruits arrive, and that there’s a 2/6 chance of a promotion to corporal.

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Erin Smale

Erin Smale is the author of the Chimera RPG and, a sporadic, rambling blog that provides tips and tools for the time-challenged game master. He lives in secret along the New Jersey coast with his ass-kicking wife Kim and astoundingly cute dog Bella.

4 thoughts on “Garrison of the KEEP

  • August 12, 2015 at 03:28

    Very creative, at first glance it appears there’s a dearth of nco’s. The org chart is great and one for the forces arranged against the keep might also be worth investigating. Since Gygax also undoubtedly thought in terms of miniature battles I would postulate the table of organization you have outlined is easily translatable to Chainmail. It might be interesting to scope that out and the forces arranged against the keep in a pitched battle.

    Another thought I had was what if the Castellan’s soldiers were part of a legion, you could have troop rotation by companies, attrition might account for some losses, deaths, training accidents, re-assignments, illnesses, capture, and desertion of course. Is manpower an issue? What about a detachment of scouts the players could join, aka X4, and then be assigned scouting missions by some Captain under the Castellan.

    • August 12, 2015 at 08:57

      Yeah, the number of NCOs is surprisingly low. Two possible interpretations: (1) there used to be more, but they got dead and haven’t been replaced, or (2) the rigours of the Borderlands demand a high level of self-determination from the troops, making NCOs less of a necessity.

      I do like the idea of arranging a similar chart for the Caves, and possibly the civilians in the KEEP (which makes me think of what factions might exist within).

      Your comment about being part of a legion makes me wonder if the KEEP’s garrison is at full strength. “Is manpower an issue?” I’d say yes – you have 200 troops defending a walled settlement that relies on external supply while surrounded by wilderness filled with humanoids, bandits, giant spiders, and a mad hermit.

      But the idea of PCs getting attached to regular patrols makes sense – either as scouts, extra muscle for caravan duty, or as “expendable assets” until they’ve proven themselves to the Castellan.

  • March 22, 2017 at 02:22

    Typically, lacking magic or cannons or some sort of wall-crushing or surpassing method, 30-40 troops could hold the Keep as long as supply held out. This has been true of historical castles and some of them had less defenses than the Keep.

    So, why have 200?

    The Keep can’t eat without defending the farmsteads. Now, if you are a farmer, you’ve likely got a fortified farmhouse compound in this area, but you can’t stay in that if you want to actually farm. So someone has to do patrolling aggressively to deter and drive off raiders.

    There’s a discussion of how many farms and how many farm-workers/dwellers would be needed. I contend the number mentioned is low given the threat environment and the likelihood of raids from humanoids who also need food but don’t appear to farm much.

    I imagine 120 farmsteads and maybe 2400 people need to be in the area to support the keep itself. Keeping them safe and working would be the major part of the the jobs of the garrison. I would expect at least 40 soldiers on patrol each day, some mounted, some on foot. Patrols could easily be 20 strong and take several days (2-3 with foot patrols, maybe 4-5 with mounted) to do their sweep and return.

    I suspect that any leader in this sort of scenario would find scouts/strikers to be of great benefit.

    If one presumes a feudality, 2400 people could easily require a further handful of knights, each with a manor and a small retinue (say another 10-20 men-at-arms with a sergeant or two). These would be patrolling too. Altogether, there could be 100 men at arms out on patrol in the region counting the local knights and the garrison.

    That seems like a lot when you look at the numbers of humanoids, but remember, the humanoids likely fight as irregulars – hit and run raids, strike where the patrol isn’t, raid caravans and farms, operate in small raiding parties of maybe 15-20, strike and retreat, hit at night as much as possible except that means farm compound attacks whereas open field raids might yield harvested food and slaves too.

    The main challenge (until the humanoid numbers become vast or until something very dangerous (tribe of ogres, bunch of trolls, a small dragon) moves into the area) will be intercepting or locating the raiders. Or tracking them back home. Most often, the patrols will not be where the raiders strike (as the raiders aren’t stupid).

    Scouts, trackers, rangers, and hit-and-run troops with good intel capacity and the ability to skirmish with raiding bands independently would be prized by the Castellan and local Knights.

    • May 4, 2017 at 02:20

      I elected to go integrate the Keep in my own campaign as follows:

      The Keep was an older ruin (there are other ruins in the area) that had been abandoned and fallen into disrepair long ago. It was well located, had a good artesian water source, and the valley stretching to the West had a lot of farming potential. The area had always been a tough place to live. The former fortifications of the area were all ruins or abandoned long ago as the threats emerged from the mountains and the prior nation collapsed.

      What was left was a bunch of die-hard farmers, hunters, foragers, and frontiersmen. They erected wooden pallisades around their villages and came up with ways to patrol and to deal with (do an extent) the threat of humanoid raiding parties. One way they did this was to use large mastiffs with excellent senses of smell as part of their night patrols, partially cancelling the ambush advantages of the humanoids. These fierce hounds were also significant combatants.

      The people of the region are called Bordermen. They hew to the ‘Old Faith’ (druidic) and are more independent and superstitious than the people from the feudal heart of the Kingdom that now has lordship over the Borderlands. They have legends of the other ruins, dangers, and riches that lie within the Blackstone mountains nearly…. and of the bad ends that those looking for the riches and secrets will find.

      The ruin sat upon an old road running into the mountains which would, eventually, come out to other populations (some Freeholds, then eventually a large Kingdom with ties to intra-continental trade). Recently (about 20 years ago), the local King responsible for the area (the Borders), his Duke, his Eorl, and the Eorl’s Thanes came to a conclusion that the old road needed revived to allow further trade (and mostly secure trade it would have to become) to get across and onto the intra-continental trade lanes. They sent emissaries to neighbouring Kingdoms down the intra-continental trade lanes and they have sent token additional forces to help (and the Kingdom at the other side of the mountain range is working on securing its entry point to the passage and they will one day meet in the middle).

      To secure this trade, they needed a robust military presence. They needed to establish local security at their end of the trade route first, then push their control through the mountain pass. To do that, they needed a lynchpin fortification/base on their side of the mountains.

      Some studies of old ruins in the areas and good sites told them the original Blackstangate Keep had been well placed. The fact it still had good water and the Keep was largely physically intact (even if run down and in need of repair and updates) made the site compelling. Of course, updating an empty facility is also a lot cheaper than building a new walled city and keep on a bluff…. that’s also why this project was possible.

      A 20-year long effort of investment cleaned out, repaired, updated, and modified the Keep to not only support a military garrison, but to provide a walled civilian space for commerce and other related activities. This would give a waypoint not easily raided and destroyed at this end of the Northern Passage.

      (Note this is version 2 of Blackstangate Keep. B2! – I literally just realized that as I type this….)

      The Keep is up and running, but the garrison is understrength for what a small walled city should have (doubly so in a a world of big magic and threats). This is because life in other parts of the world has become ‘interesting’ and the sovereign and his major nobles (including the Duke and the Eorl under him) have had to divert their focus elsewhere. The castle is in good shape, but the garrison is understrength.

      Why is this good? Because that means there is an excellent reason for the Castellan to be open to any adventuring group of good character that can help conduct special operations and strikes without much garrison support (they need to be protecting 2400 farmers in the valley).

      The Castellan needs to deal with a serious humanoid threat (combined humanoid joint operations in growing numbers from an unknown base and with unknown overall goals) so he can then start looking at allocating more security to expeditions through the mountains (likely eventually building small fortifications along the way as rest-stops). The need means he’s more open to using ‘irregulars’ (adventurers) versus his own forces.

      I am using the ‘Scouts’ as a place for the PC party to make some friends and get some contacts and area expertise.

      If the PCs can bring money and security to the area, the Castellan will push to expand the trade route sooner.

      What is not yet known is that there are larger threats than the humanoids of the Caves. There are eventually higher level baddies who are part of larger plots in the mountains – not all of them human and some perhaps even strange and horrible in nature. (The campaign arc should keep us in the vicinity of the Keep and the trade route until about L7 or 8 and then L9-15 might be in pursuing the bad guys into their homes deep within the mountain ranges, below them into the great under-deeps, and perhaps even into more bizarre locales).


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