Venturing east of THE KEEP
The following are keyed hexes in a classic form meant to inspire adventure as Player Character’s travel along the old Bordermen’s Road:
The wind sighs in the pines as cool air flows from the mountains. Several graves have been dug here at the side of the road but their contents have been recently disinterred. Valuables in the form of a few coins a hundred years old have been left behind, scraps of clothing, and a few gnawed bones.
[Ghouls have dug up the graves and taken away what they value in order to consume the corpses.]
There is a shallow ford here across a river at the entrance to a cold reed filled marsh. The water is only knee deep as it tumbles over stones. On the far shore the reeds of the marsh are 2-3 feet higher than a mans head. The Bordermen’s Road resumes on the other side of the ford and leads into the marsh. The road is built higher than the marsh but character’s standing on the road still can’t see over the top of the reeds.
[The ground off the road is infirm, soft, and characters who attempt to walk in the marsh quickly sink to their waists, or chest deep if they wear armour. It is difficult to extract oneself from this morass once a character has left the path, and all sense of direction will be easily lost as all anyone can see in any direction while down in the marsh are reeds.]
The marsh here is loud with the sound of croaking frogs, and by the sounds of them, they are of considerable size.
[At night the sound of the shrilling frogs is deafening, unless a loud noise is made, in which event they suddenly quiet until danger has passed. A living tree with a gloomy outlook lives near here and he resembles an old knotty pine. He will sometimes pluck lost characters out of the marsh and return them to the road, providing they do not resemble Goblins and such, those he throws deeper into the marsh.]
Characters may be alarmed to hear a loud buzzing sound approaching from the east which becomes much louder as it gets closer. A very large dragonfly will soon fly along the old road toward any travelers befor quickly darting overhead. It will then circle the players on the road, but do so out of sight. A snapping sound will then be heard every so often.
[The dragonfly is hunting for mosquitoes and the snapping sound is it catching these small sized pests as they come for the player character’s blood. The mosquitoes will attack characters but if left undisturbed to its work the dragonfly will soon drive them off. If the characters drive away the dragonfly by attacking it the mosquitoes will soon appear and attack.]
A pair of hob nail boots lay on the path here, one is fallen over.
[A giant bullfrog has eaten the boots owner. It is now sleeping off this meal somewhere in the marsh. If it returns it has learned to pick the last character in line as its target.]
The road here leaves the marsh behind and begins to climb the hills. On the path are some small sticks placed in a pattern, almost arranged like runes. To anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of the Borderlands this is a sign left by the Bordermen, but what does it mean?
[The Bordermen’s sticks mean “Goblin hill, do not linger here.” or some such message which is intended for Bordermen.]
The road climbs into the pine forested hills and near the top is a stopping point for travelers. Here may be found a well used campground with a burned out fire and wood conveniently piled inside a natural cave.
[It is a trick. This cave is the back door to a goblin cave. There is a heavy stone wall at the back of this cave which is a revolving stone door. It looks entirely natural and is barred from the inside, which means that although it may be discovered it cannot be opened except from within. The goblin band use it to raid the road at night and are especially gleeful if travelers use this cave as a place to stay; thinking it is a safe refuge. They will wait until after midnight when most are asleep then silently steal out from their hiding place to kill and rob any unsuspecting persons. The cavern behind the secret door is filled with castoff plunder taken from their victims, most of it quite ordinary. A tunnel leads from this cave north and exits on the northern face of the hill and hence not visible from the road, here there is a strong wooden door guarded from within by a Goblin door ward. It too is barred from within. Anyone unfortunate enough to be captured alive will be manacled, chained together, and taken by a torch-lit night travels to the goblin iron mines at Hex 13.03, some nights travel distant. Keep in mind the hexes are at a scale of 25 miles so this journey will take some time. The Goblins use the road at first, route 10.09, 11.08, then leave the road and turn north, 11.07, 11.06 where they often hole up in a cave for a day, sometimes two. Afterward they resume travel moving north 11.05, turn northeast 12.06, 13.05, and follow the river north to 13044, and 1303. Refer to 13.03, Characters who escape into the marshes are not followed.]
In the distance a fire can be seen in the hills.
[At night the fire can be seen as a light, in the day as smoke rising. If approached undetected character’s will see three ghouls sitting about a fire roasting the corpse of a Boneshaker tied onto a spit, it’s undead and gives off an unearthly moan. “Crikey,” says one Ghoul, “I’m right tired of eat’n hundred year old manflesh, it stinks, what I wouldn’t give for a bit of fresh tucker.” The second Ghoul mumbles in agreement and turns the spit, he takes a stick and gives the corpse a whack, raising a cloud of dust. The third says. “Stop that! Don’t knock the dust and mold off of him, that’s good flavouring.” The boneshaker corpse groans and gnashes its teeth.]
The road winds over and through the pine covered hills. There sticks on the ground here, another sign left by the Bordermen no doubt. Travelers may feel uneasy, as if they are being watched.
[The sign left by the Bordermen meaning, Ambush! Run South! This is the perfect place for an attack from the height and cover of the Pine Forest and a band of Bordermen are concealed here waiting for Goblins. They are not easily detected and will not willingly reveal themselves to travelers but instead wait to shower Goblins with arrows. This attack will give any prisoners of the Goblins a chance to escape.]
Anyone approaching these hills will hear the howl of a coyote.
[The Bordermen make this call to signal each other of anyone approaching and anyone woods wise will realize it was not a coyote call. Hidden in the pine covered hills a band of Bordermen have their camp and patiently wait to aid anyone fleeing the ambush in Hex 11.08. Goblins they will shower with arrows before withdrawing for the canny Bordermen dislike a pitched battle if it is not at a place and time of their own choosing. Their camp is on the reverse slope of the hilltop and if they abandon it they will leave a sharp flint knife behind so that any former captives of the Goblins may cut their bonds. The Bordermen will avoid meeting travelers and fade away into the brush, they are excellent woodsmen and leave no easy trail to follow.]
The road winds between the pine covered hills. There is a pile of stones at the side of the road here piled in a cairn.
[Within the pile of stones is a metal box, it contains a nourishing cracker, a staple of wilderness travel left here by the Bordermen. The box is old, something found by the Bordermen. Metal keeps out vermin.]
The entrance to the Goblin iron mine is a cave in the mountain side, and although things are quiet enough this is deceptive for within it is heavily guarded by a troop of Goblins. This is their Great Gate, a stalactite filled cavern, and within a well worn trail smoothed by the iron shod boots of goblins, twists and snakes its way past stalagmites to a heavy iron portcullis.
[None escape the mine, or so the Goblins claim because there are only three exits, the Great Gate, the Desert Gate and the Hole. Prisoners are taken before the Goblin Gaoler and it is his duty to decide what will become of them. The Goblins make their captives servants, or put them to work digging iron out of the rock in their iron mine. A prisoners manacles are never removed and heavy iron bells in the shape of grimacing goblin heads are fastened to their chains. These bells the prisoners must carry with them and are meant to slow their movement and give their presence away by ringing. The Goblins never let their thralls grow too many in number, lest they revolt. Any order given by the least of the Goblins must be obeyed instantly or the prisoner is punished. The Goblins are often cruel and abuse their captives for their own amusement.
The Desert Gate is used to punish prisoners, or to execute them, for the desert is harsh, and strange blood sucking winds inhabit it. If a prisoner can withstand 3 days and 3 nights in the desert they are let back in at midnight on the 3rd night if they beg the goblin guards at the gate, but they are only admitted if they are still strong enough to work. Most prisoners would rather die than beg at the Desert Gate for their lives.
The Hole is a pit of unknown depth and the Goblins use it as an oubliette for unwanted and troublesome prisoners. Once thrown down into its depths none have returned from it to tell the tale. At its bottom is known to be a dark lake so the fall is not a death sentence but groping through the black eternal night at the roots of the mountain might well be. The walls of the Hole are vertical, sleek, and cannot be climbed.
Prisoners are held on the third floor and descend to the iron mine below each day to work. Iron is forged here as well into weapons and other things the Goblins need. The Goblins live according to their ranks on the third and second floor with first floor above being reserved for the Goblin Lord and his Court of Misrule. No prisoner is ever allowed to set foot on the first floor, on pain of death. It is said that the prisoners bells ring if they set foot on the first floor, giving them away. There in the throne room, louvered stone windows can be opened to allow moonlight to enter, when the Goblin King is in a melancholy mood and so wishes it. He is only ever merry when thinking of new mischief.]
12.09 and 12.10
The road meanders in the shadows of these pine covered hills. Squirrels trill warnings when strangers pass. And the road here is covered in a carpet of old brown pine needles.
There is the smell of something foul on the air when the wind blows from the east; the characters turn a bend only to find that poles which have been driven into the ground here on either side of the road have the heads of men and goblins impaled thereupon. The grisly countenances hang slack jawed in various states of decay, most have had their eyes plucked by crows, an unpleasant sight and clearly both a warning and demonstration of power.
[The Bordermen have placed these here as a demonstration of their power to anyone about to enter their territory to the east, refer to 14.09. The heads belong to the northern goblin band and bandits but of course the players will not know whether the heads are of good or bad men and be wary.]
The road bed is driven again through the Marshland and is several feet higher than the marsh itself. Here the reeds are 2-3 feet higher than a man. When the sun shines birds can be heard singing melodiously in the marsh. A wagon has been pushed off the road and into the marsh where it sits axle deep. One corner is submerged and so the wagon sits at an uncomfortable tilt. It is covered in a rotting canvas. There are a few old waterlogged wood boxes left in it.
[The boxes contain a few carpenter’s tools. The axle of the wagon is broken which is why it was abandoned here. Leeches of considerable size wait in the reeds to suck the blood of the unwary.]
A cold river winds its way through the marsh, the current is fast here. The road ends and although pilings for an old wooden bridge still stand in the river the bridge itself has long since rotted and been swept away. The water is quite cool since it is melt-water from the mountain glaciers, and waist deep. Someone has strung a rope along the pilings from one side of the river to the next as an aid to crossing. The tops of the pilings on the eastern side have been carved into the heads of bears, totems.
[The rope, on closer examination, is relatively new and made of hemp. The animal totems are clearly meant to designate a border.]
A few corpses lay in the marsh here, they are the remnants of ancient soldiers, drowned and forgotten.
[The corpses are unnaturally well preserved. During the day they lay, inert. They are so waterlogged they cannot be burned. At night these Boneshakers rise from their watery graves in search of the living. They will approach and follow any light and smother it if they are allowed to get close. In the darkness they will then attack.]
The river deepens and divides and in its middle is a small island upon which a ramshackle house stands on stilts. It has no window or door, only a chimney.
[During the day no one is here. At night smoke sometimes rises from the chimney when its inhabitant is home. Is its occupant a hermit or an outlaw? No one remembers except the man himself. He wears boots to conceal his webbed feet and without footwear he is an able swimmer. He uses the chimney to enter and exit the house. He has a small leather boat called a coracle, which he uses to paddle to and from the island. When overturned it looks like a big round stone, and that is how it is stored when he is not using it. He is not particularly friendly and will tell visitors to go away. Nor will he offer any assistance. He lives here at the sufferance of the Bordermen. His only advice is to “turn back, or follow the road, I don’t care which.” Only if threatened will he grudgingly offer aid, and guide the lost back to the road. Once back on the road he will abandon the characters.]
The road leaves the marsh, thankfully. Mosquitoes can be heard humming in the distance.
The foundation of an old watchtower can be seen on the hill above the road. It has tumbled down and some of its stonework has rolled onto the road. These stones are covered in moss or lichen depending on how they are situated and roots of trees have further rendered and split the foundation of the tower. This is a lonely place.
[The tower was built by the Bordermen in an age of past glory, now it is a forgotten relic of that time. If anyone stays the night here they will be awakened by a ghost, shaken awake, “Time to get up, its your watch, he says gruffly in the ancient tongue of the Bordermen, then disappears. If the character’s go back to sleep he will re-appear saying, “Stand To! They’re coming.” A short time thereafter a group of Boneshakers will attack the tower as they once did in life. ]
The road has sunk here but it is still visible through this isolated bit of marshland. The ground is wet underfoot, noisily squelching with every step.
Treeless hills rise before you and the road slowly climbs them. Once at the top they provide a fairly good view of the surrounding countryside and far off mountains. For this reason the hills have often been used as campsites by travelers or to scout the lay of the land. Of course if you light a fire here it can be seen a long way off.
[These hills belong, properly, to the Boneshaker Foothills and the Undead are known to appear seasonally here due to the glacier run-off. Corpses of ancient soldiers sometimes wash down the streams and into the marshes but more often than not they roam the countryside where they do harm of various kinds. They are attracted to fires, or light of any kind lit here guaranteeing a sleepless night.]
The Ferryman’s Ford
[There is a man here, whom the Bordermen regard as being touched by the Gods. He only ever barters for the crossing fee, 2 coins per person, and will not take anything else. He cannot be killed because he is not really alive, but he does feel pain, particularly with regard to his transgressions. He has been condemned by the Gods to serve here as the ferryman until the end of time. His boat obeys only him and it cannot be moved from the shore unless he so wishes it. He is obstinate and gruff, but he may not refuse to ferry a character across the deep cold river if they have the payment. He ferries characters one at a time, and slowly pushes the boat along with a long pole, he has all eternity. The crossing is a slow process taking several minutes.]