This Mysterious Places article can be used in conjunction with the adventure Scourge of the Howling Horde by Gwendolyn F.M. Kestrel adapted for Living Greyhawk. To run this adventure, you need a copy of both the adventure and the adaptation document. The adaptation document can be downloaded through the adventure ordering system with you log on the RPGA Member page.
Blackwall Keep stands on the very cusp of the Cairn Hills, atop a high ridge overlooking the fetid mires of the Mistmarsh. From here, infrequent mounted patrols of Greyhawk Militia ride out to keep vigil over the scrub grasslands bordering the northern verges of the marshes. However, the militia’s presence here has dwindled over the last few years as men have been drawn off by renewed fighting on the Wild Coast.
In recent years, a small village has sprung up around the keep, populated by refugees fleeing the Wild Coast. The most recent influx arrived in 596 CY when orcs of the Orcish Empire of the Pomarj smashed through Greyhawk’s defensive line west of Safeton. Bypassing the twin towers of Eyebite, the orcs razed Narwell and several surrounding villages. While the Free City’s army reacted quickly to stabilize the situation and cut off the marauders’ line of retreat, vicious fighting raged for months. Their road home barred, the orcs continued northwards, joining their brethren at Blackthorn under the ancient boughs of the Gnarley Forest, where they now threaten the lands of both Dyvers and Greyhawk.
As their land was consumed by war, the inhabitants of the region fled their homes for the comparative safety of the north. Faced with this tide of miserable humanity, the Directing Oligarchy of Greyhawk City began moving cartloads of homeless refugees to outlying settlements. As a result, the village of Blackwall Keep suddenly increased by nearly a third in the last year. The influx created some hardship among the inhabitants, with both food and shelter in short supply. However, with the aid of the garrison in the keep, the majority of the villagers survived the lean winter months. The experience has forged a strong bond between the villagers and the men of the garrison.
Blackwall Keep (hamlet): Conventional (council); AL NG; gp limit 100 gp; assets 800 gp; population 160; isolated (153 human, 3 halfling, 2 elf, 1 dwarf, 1 half-elf); armed forces (30 warrior 2, 2 fighter 3, 1 ranger 2/fighter 2).
Authority Figures: Arvel Durgedown (male dwarf; N; Rogue 4), moneylender; Listra (female human; NG; Cleric 1), cleric of Pelor and tender of the Temple; Mallie Marchess (female human; NG; Expert 3), owner of the Blackwall Keep Inn and unofficial leader of the hamlet; Ranald Haradrith (LN male human ranger 2/fighter 2).
Important Temples: The Temple (a small wooden temple dedicated to no deity in particular, although there are specific shrines to the five Oeridian wind deities - collectively known as the Velaeri - and Pelor attached to the building).
Blackwall Keep is a strong four-storied tower keep protected by a stout wooden palisade and a wide, but shallow refuse-filled ditch. The keep is named for a pernicious local lichen that shrouds the tower’s granite walls, giving it a somewhat sinister appearance. Though a strong fortification, the keep has an air of neglect about it. With the departure of the last stonemason, minor maintenance is no longer carried out effectively and in several places the tower’s parapets have begun to crumble. Nonetheless, the defences here are still sound and a determined, well-motivated force could easily hold this place against attack.
As well as the tower house, several outbuildings stand within the palisade – stables for the garrison’s mounts and storage sheds (now mostly empty) – set around a muddy courtyard.
Access to the keep is through a single ironbound door. The ground floor is given over to defence, comprising a guardroom that is manned around the clock by shifts of militiamen. Under the guardroom lies the cellar, which contains a few cells, further storerooms and a well. A spiral staircase ascends from the guardroom to the upper floors. The first floor is given over to quartering the rank and file militiamen. Here, a single large chamber serves as a barracks, mess hall, and kitchen. The floors above contain private quarters for the officers, a single guest room and an armory.
Atop the keep, two light catapults and two ballistae command the approaches to the keep and village. The ballistae protect the keep itself, while the catapults are arrayed to provide maximum protection to the village. From the roof, the garrison maintain a desultory watch over the surrounding area. On the lower levels, arrow slits pierce the thick granite walls, providing fields of fire on all sides. The two upper floors benefit from stoutly-shuttered windows, from which boiling oil and water can be rained down upon anyone assaulting the base of the tower.
The competent, but often drunk, Ranald Haradrith (LN male human ranger 2/fighter 2) commands the 30 militiamen (LN male or female human warrior 2) still garrisoning Blackwall. Two sergeants-at-arms aid Ranald: the corrupt and avaricious Remiel (CN male human fighter 3) and Scherrin (NG male half-elf fighter 3) a cheerless, self-obsessed bore. Morale here is low. The troops have been neither properly supplied nor paid for several months. As a consequence, they have taken to supplementing their meagre rations with extended hunting trips, often in conjunction with huntsmen from the village.
Several stable hands under the expert direction of the stablemaster, Gerandin (N male human expert 3/warrior 1), supplement the garrison. Gerandin is a burly man famed for his love of horses and has been posted at Blackwall Keep longer than anyone else. His extensive knowledge of the local area and skill as a farrier make him an invaluable member of the garrison.
A few of the villagers also occasionally work at the keep in a variety of menial roles. Strong bonds have been formed between the villagers and the militiamen and several of the men have found wives (and mistresses) among the refugees.
Personalities of Blackwall Keep
Ranald Haradrith (CN male human ranger 2/fighter 2)
Appearance: Tall and well-muscled, Ranald is rarely seen without his battered suit of enchanted studded leather armor. His deeply tanned face is blotchy and his eyes are red from lack of sleep. Ranald wears his lank black hair below the shoulder. Several of his teeth were knocked out several years ago. When he smiles, this is very evident.
History and Personality: A native of Greyhawk City, he explored the Cairn Hills in his youth and fought on the Wild Coast against the orcs of the Pomarj during the Greyhawk Wars. Valor in battle earned Ranald command of Blackwall Keep and he has served here ever since. However, the isolation of the posting and the lack of opportunity for advancement have left him bitter and disillusioned. Ranald has recently started to find solace at the bottom of an ale mug. As a consequence, discipline among his men has begun to suffer. When roused to battle, Ranald is a cunning and skilled leader of men. Unfortunately, his self-pity and long drinking bouts make such moments increasingly rare.
Remiel (LN male human fighter 3)
Appearance: Darkly handsome, lithe of build, and always immaculately turned out, Remiel is obviously very well off. His black hair is closely cropped as is his carefully groomed beard. A long silvery scar runs down the left side of his throat.
History and Personality: Remiel claims to be the last scion of a minor Nyrondal noble house, but in truth he is nothing but a clever conman. He enlisted in the militia after his last confidence trick went disastrously wrong. He hopes that, given Blackwall Keep’s isolated location on the fringes of the Mistmarsh, he can hide from those seeking him. Remiel is a greedy man. If adventurers return to the village laden with treasure, he will almost certainly seek to apply any tax he can think of to divert some of that wealth into his own pocket. Several militia men usually assist him in this endeavour (a few of the garrison are truly desperate).
Scherrin (NG male half-elf fighter 3)
Appearance: Black haired and green eyed, Scherrin appears the archetypal half-elf.
History and Personality: Born under the boughs of the Gnarley Forest, Scherrin feels great affinity toward the Free City and is enraged by Ranald’s shoddy command of the keep. Scherrin does not understand the concept of tact and this trait has led to much bad feeling between him, Remiel (who Scherrin knows to be corrupt) and Ranald. He has no sense of humor – he has seen too much suffering on the Wild Coast to take any joy from frivolity.
Whispers and Rumors
Since the Greyhawk Wars, the lizardfolk of the Mistmarsh have become more active, often creeping out of the swamp to raid isolated homesteads. Rumormongers speak of a power struggle among the lizardfolk, while other doomsayers darkly mutter that they have fallen under Turrosh Mak’s sway.
Undead, particularly ghouls, are becoming more of a menace for those searching the Mistmarsh’s fringes for a rare species of duck said to produce the most tender and sweetest meat in all the Flanaess.
Nobody knows why the rich moneylender Arvel Durgedown settled in the village. Though he apparently has more than enough gold to live comfortably in Greyhawk City, he chose to settle in the wilds instead. The perceived wisdom around the village is that Arvel is searching for ancient dwarven ruins that lie somewhere nearby. Most say he does so for the untold riches reputedly inside, but a few say that he is looking for a specific item to restore his honor.