The terrain of the Echo Wood is rugged and broken. The gentle Juliver Hills marching along the eastern edge of the West Sellen’s valley grow steeper and less forgiving as one travels north toward the higher steppes of Numeria. The Echo Wood, one of the higher spots in the River Kingdoms, isn’t boggy like the forests elsewhere in the meandering Sellen flatlands. Many small streams trickle through deep, narrow ravines, winding their way westward to the West Sellen or eastward to the Dagger River. In fact, foresters familiar with the Echo Wood know the surest way to get one’s bearings is to find a stream and follow it.
The Echo Wood takes its name from the unusual clarity and confusing behavior of sounds trapped beneath the heavy canopy. Most locals suppose it has something to do with the hilly terrain or the types of trees and ground cover that prevail in the area, but there is a more fantastic explanation:Some small residual magic remains from the ancient spells of concealment and illusion created by the outlawed Azlanti who hid themselves here. Things are just a little harder to find and a little more confusing within the forest’s shadows than they ought to be. Even the most wood-wise rangers sometimes find that a path they were seeking isn’t where they thought it was, or mistake the direction and distance of a companion’s cry for help.
The ancient magic lingering in the Echo Wood disorients and confuses creatures unused to the forest’s ways. Travelers and inexperienced loggers often report hazy mirages, strange thrumming noises, and winding paths that change from one visit to the next. Those who learn the secrets of the Echo Wood soon become used to the strange, warped arcana permeating the region, however, and popular folklore tells that people who spend too long in the forest might even become a part of the haunted woods.
The Echo Wood is a temperate mixed forest. Most of its trees are deciduous hardwoods of various types, including ash, beech, black oak, cherry, holly, maple, poplar, red oak, and yew. A number of conifers, such as firs, red pines, and white pines, can be found there as well, especially on the northfacing slopes and in the drier, higher ridges. Groves of mighty, silver-barked paueliels can be found scattered throughout the eastern reaches of the Echo Wood, which are generally wilder and less traveled than the western arm of the forest.
The Wolfmane barbarians regard the paueliels as sacred trees and attack anyone they catch in the act of cutting one down, although they allow timber to be harvested from a naturally fallen paueliel.
Because of the hilly landscape, the forest understory is quite thick in places. Dense thickets of laurel, rhododendron, witch hazel, and various briars and berries choke the steeper hillsides and ravines. Patches of nettleweed are common, as are thickets of goblinbramble, a nasty and tough briar that grows only in the Echo Wood. The goblinbramble is another manifestation of the ancient spells that once guarded the forest, and sometimes seems actively malevolent, growing swiftly and strangling larger trees. More dangerous plants such as assassin vines and quickwoods can also be found, but are thankfully rare.
The forest’s wildlife is quite diverse as well. Ordinary animals such as deer, beavers, squirrels, hares, sables, otters, foxes, gray wolves, and black bears are all common; boars, elk, and panthers are somewhat rarer. Large birds such as owls, hawks, ravens, and woodpeckers are also found throughout the forest, but smaller songbirds seem to be scarce, lending an air of eerie silence to the entire place, interrupted only by the chittering of small critters or the sudden takeoff of a murder of crows. The Echo Wood is notorious for its population of spiders, ranging from miniscule bramble spiders (named for their thorny carapaces) to massive moon spiders, which are pallid, round-bellied horrors that can catch prey as big as elk—and the occasional woodcutter—in their sticky ground webs.
The more monstrous denizens of the forest include dire boars, dire wolves, ettercaps, owlbears, and, of course, the giant spiders. Travelers sometimes encounter the occasional forest drake or lamia in the darker recesses of the woodland, or even the green dragon Thelsterex, but such formidable monsters are thankfully rare. Nevertheless, the Echo Wood can be a very dangerous place for the unprepared to visit.
In addition to potentially dangerous game, the Echo Wood is home to numerous monsters, bandits, marauding barbarians, and tribes of evil humanoids. Kellid tribesfolk from the steppes of Numeria often pass through the Echo Wood on their way to raid the settlements of the River Kingdoms. Kobolds, ogres, and even a few trolls make their lairs in caves or ruins within the forest, and several prominent goblin tribes have attempted to restore their lost empire of Zog in the scattered temples and dilapidated forts throughout the woods. These goblin tribes are typically ruled by a powerful goblin cleric or warchief, but a few have fallen under the command of bugbears or barghests.
The Wolfmane tribespeople take steps to protect their villages and sacred grounds, driving off any dangerous monsters or aggressive raiders who venture too close. Likewise, the Hunters’ Guild and the baron of Thornkeep’s guards make an effort to watch the forest within a mile or two of the town. However, the great majority of the Echo Wood is not patrolled or protected. Travelers and explorers heading into the depths of the forest take their lives in their own hands.
The Echo Wood is a large forest crisscrossed by human cart tracks, game paths, and old goblin roads that date back to the Kingdom of Zog. Scores of small caves, dismal thickets, eerie groves, and overgrown ruins lie within an easy day’s march from Thornkeep. A handful of these ruins or caves are quite extensive, and harbor long-forgotten treasure hoards rich enough to tempt any would-be adventurer. Of course, few hoards indeed are completely unguarded; dangerous monsters lurk in the most promising sites.
Not far from the intersection of the Mosswater Road and the Valley Road stands a small inn and taproom known as Alejia’s Crossing. Alejia (female human) is a retired adventurer and former outlaw who settled on a longabandoned farm. She expanded the old fieldstone farmhouse into a small and somewhat run-down inn, and hired on a couple of her former associates to help operate the place. Alejia and her cronies pass the days reminiscing about old times and exaggerating the stories of their exploits, while the poorly paid and much-abused staff does its best to keep the place running.
Five miles north of Thornkeep lie the remains of an old goblin citadel, Castle Baskraal. Located in the middle of a deep, shadowed forest vale, this was one of the strongholds of the Kingdom of Zog. It was largely destroyed by Lady Tarwynna’s army almost 500 years ago. No goblin has dared to set foot here since, but other monsters frequently infest the place. The remains of the walls and crumbling towers shelter several dangerous predatory creatures, including a nest of wyverns.
Those zealous pilgrims who hope to aid Mendev’s crusade against the monsters of the Worldwound typically travel north via one of two routes—the River Road, which follows the Sellen’s centermost tributary, and the Crusader Road, which runs along the West Sellen. This latter road is the favored target of the highway bandits, con artists, phony toll keepers, and other underhanded thieves who populate Thornkeep, which is but a stone’s throw away from the heavily traveled path. After passing through the roguish town of Thornkeep, virtuous crusaders making their way toward the demon-infested lands of the north tend to feel further assured of their righteous cause, while greedy mercenaries hoping to score some coin in Mendev sometimes linger near the bandit fortress, finding all the glory they ever desired among the ranks of the Three Daggers or another of the town’s nefarious gangs.
Easily one of the most extensive cavern systems in the Echo Wood is the Dismal Caverns, located beneath a wooded ridge a day’s march from Thornkeep. Though the whole system stretches for many hundreds of yards, there are few grand chambers, and the delicate features that beautify other cave systems are noticeably lacking. Many of the tunnels and chambers are wet and muddy, with low ceilings and floors choked with forest debris and animal bones washed into the cavern system during each year’s spring flooding. Most explorers who have visited the Dismal Caverns return to the surface world cold, tired, muddy, and generally dispirited.
About a mile upstream (northeast) of Thornkeep, Echo Stream passes through a small gorge or draw known locally as Echo Cleft. The stream flows noisily through a steep-sided rock chute about 15 or 20 feet tall and only 10 to 15 feet wide. Boulders and old snags create a series of pools and tiny falls over a distance of a hundred yards or so. Most Thornkeep residents think of Echo Cleft as a picturesque little spot, and it’s popular with the town’s children in the summertime; they tell stories that a clumsy outlaw spilled a whole bag of gold coins in the stream here.
Ten miles northwest of Thornkeep, on the banks of the West Sellen, stands the town of Riverwatch. Considered the last settlement of the River Kingdoms before one crosses into Numeria or Ustalav, Riverwatch is a bustling port for barge traffic along the West Sellen. Mosswater’s destruction 50 years ago left Riverwatch as the only port along the river between Lockridge, more than 100 miles to the south, and the squalid village of Dravod Knock 250 miles farther north. As such, it’s the last outpost of civilization along the West Sellen River for a long way.
Ninety years ago, the Knights of Iomedae established a chain of small keeps along the wild stretch of the West Sellen to protect pilgrims and crusaders bound for distant Mendev along the western route. The knights established a garrison at Riverwatch, and assumed responsibility for maintaining law and order in the area. To this day, the knights are still the effective authorities in the town, governing the settlement and doing their best to keep the river and roads safe for travel.
The knights at Fort Riverwatch have no use at all for the bandits and outlaws sheltered at Thornkeep, but the Iomedaean garrison is small and overmatched—the best of the knights are away in the north, manning the defenses of Mendev. As a consequence, they have never had the strength to clean out Thornkeep and put an end to its lawless ways, and seem unlikely to muster the necessary troops anytime soon.
An ancient ruin dating back to the days of the Azlanti exiles, the Misted Vault is a series of subterranean chambers with an entrance hidden in a hillside amid a jumble of boulders. A set of weathered stone steps descends steeply into a deep cleft between the rocks, and an ancient doorway surrounded by faded runes lies at the bottom. For some unknown reason, a cold, clinging white mist fills the cleft and the chambers hidden in the hill.
The largest and most well known of the ruined towns in the western River Kingdoms, Mosswater was abandoned 50 years ago when a series of terrifying merrow attacks killed hundreds and sent the survivors fleeing for their lives. Empty warehouses and ivy-covered manors stand silently along weed-infested streets beside Glow Water Lake. Wherever one wanders in the ruins, the weathered bones of those who did not escape the town’s doom crunch underfoot—a grim warning to anyone who dares tread the haunted avenues and alleys. Most travelers forgo the now-overgrown stretch of the Crusader Road near Mosswater in favor of the safer Valley Road to the east of Glow Water Lake.
The people of Mosswater fled or died in great haste and confusion. They left behind warehouses and homes full of valuable goods and the trappings of wealth. Some of those killed before they could make their escapes also left hidden caches of gold coins, gemstones, or magical treasures. Many of these abandoned (or forgotten) treasures still remain in the ruins of the town. Unfortunately, the ogres that laid waste to Mosswater still lurk in the depths of Glow Water Lake, and other dangerous monsters now live in the ruins. Worse yet, the restless spirits of Mosswater’s slaughtered townsfolk sometimes roam the streets after the sun goes down.
The Murdoons are a stubborn, pugnacious clan of freeholders who live in a fortlike palisade several miles north of Thornkeep. They get by with trapping, hunting, gathering nuts and mushrooms, raising pigs, and tending a small garden plot within their crude fortifications. The leader of the clan is Tunk Murdoon (male human), a thick-waisted, broad-shouldered bulldog of a man who spits in the eye on anyone who tries to tell him what to do or how to live. Four of Tunk’s grown children and their families live here, along with a couple of stray cousins and in-laws who all share the Murdoon determination to make a go of it with no help from anyone else.
Oreena Hollysong, the Druid
This is the home of Oreena the druid, a short, stooped, whitehaired woman who has spent the better part of 60 years wandering the paths of the Echo Wood and watching over the forest. In her younger days, she battled endlessly against the work of the most greedy woodcutters and trappers, recklessly and self-righteously inflicting destruction upon entire logging camps, mining operations, and hunting parties. Eventually she forged alliances with the wise women of the Wolfmane tribe, forgoing her ways of vengeance and instead cultivating the barbarians’ custom of respect for the forest spirits.
Now she is working to instill a similar tradition among the common folk of Thornkeep by quietly spreading the Green Faith among the village’s farmers and foresters. Few suspect that the grandmotherly Oreena is the same “Warden of the Wood” who punished loggers and hunters with such ferocity a generation ago.
A steep-sided sinkhole surrounded by snarled thickets of goblinbramble and dead trees, the Pit of Chains is the entrance to a large set of subterranean caverns. A narrow flight of worn stone steps descends around the side of the pit; rusting old chains with hundreds of wicked hooks attached are anchored in the pit walls, and sag across the open space. Old, rotting corpses of goblins, humans, and folk of a handful of other races hang from the chains or lie where they’ve fallen on the pit floor. The smell of the place is ghastly.
Deep in the heart of the forest lies a beautiful, hidden lake surrounded by a magnificent grove of birches. This is Silvershade Lake, one of the few truly fey places within the Echo Wood.
The Skull-Bashers—a vicious band of ogres—plague the outlying farms and homesteads of Thornkeep. Like most ogres, they are lazy, sullen, violent brutes. The Skull-Bashers are notorious for their habit of taking captives back to their cave, bashing their heads in, and boiling the still-twitching bodies in a huge iron kettle. The ogres are so fond of their “bone boils” that they go to great lengths to avoid killing potential meals at the sites of their raids, using nets, bolas, and simple flails made of heavy rope to catch and subdue the hapless victims for later stewing.
Thelsterex the Dragon
The most dangerous dragon residing in the western Echo Wood is Thelsterex, an adult green dragon. The fell energies that permeate the Echo Wood have seeped into and tainted Thelsterex, granting him a particularly nasty visage and causing hard, spiky growths to sprout from his scales. Because of his fearsome and unnatural appearance, the Wolfmanes of the forest have taken to calling Thelsterex by another name: Eruktul-Nabuk, or “Jaderazor.” His lair is a large cave at the end of a ravine choked with briars and boulders. Any creature lacking a dragon’s thick scales (or perhaps a suit of plate armor) who pushes through the thorns is painfully scratched again and again. Because of the terrain and the thick brush, the dragon’s lair is very well hidden.
Thelsterex is an arrogant and jealous dragon who spends much of his time searching for potential rivals and driving them out of “his” forest. A few smaller and weaker green dragons skulk about the Echo Wood (mostly Thelsterex’s younger siblings, their progenitors having left the forest years ago), and Thelsterex wants to make sure they don’t get the idea to try establishing themselves here.
One of the few truly swampy areas within the Echo Wood, Toad Hollow is a poorly drained dell surrounded by low, bramblecovered ridges. Cypresses festooned with hanging moss stand in the stagnant, knee-deep waters of Toad Lake.
Toad Hollow is home to a reclusive tribe of boggards, who make their homes in crude huts built on platforms around the wading cypresses. The boggards are growing in number and aggressiveness, and bands of boggard marauders and scavengers are now a routine sight in the nearby woods.
While they rarely attack humans unless they outnumber their quarry by a large margin, the Toad Hollow hunting parties are now numerous enough to overwhelm a company of woodcutters or a wellguarded caravan, and the boggard priestkings are looking for opportunities to do exactly that.
A Halfling and his war-dog
One mile outside of Thornkeep along the Daggermark Road lies the large, fortified homestead of Divram Woodbristle (male halfling) and his extended family. The Woodbristles are a resourceful, tenacious clan of halflings known for their abundant fungus gardens and superior mushrooms—which possess an exquisite taste as well as unique restorative properties. To protect their home from the robbers who roam the area, Divram and his siblings excavated an extensive system of burrows beneath a hillside, and carefully cultivated the forest’s goblinbramble to protect their homestead with a thorny palisade. To this formidable defense the Woodbristles added a kennel full of the largest, meanest war dogs they could find. More than one gang of bandits has tried to plunder the half ling homestead, only to be driven away in abject defeat.
Fort Inevitable stands on the rolling plains near the West Sellen River, close to the forest. This is a rich and gentle land; the town is surrounded by green pastures and wide, golden fields of grain. A strong stone wall with battlements and gatehouses protects Fort Inevitable, and within this formidable defense, the town is an orderly collection of two- and three-story stone houses and workshops with roofs of red tile or blue slate. If the streets seem a little cheerless and drab, at least they’re paved with good cobblestones and cleared regularly.
Nothing epitomizes the essential nature of Fort Inevitable as aptly as the stone citadel of the Hellknights, which looms over the town. There is no difference between martial law and civil authority in Fort Inevitable. The senior officer of the garrison rules as the lord or lady commander, directly overseeing civic administration as well as exercising military command. The current commander is a stern, middle-aged Chelish woman named Paralictor Audara Drovust. She is the commanding officer of the Order of the Pike’s chapter in the Crusader Road region, ruler of the Citadel, high magistrate, tax assessor, director of public works, keeper of the treasury, and chief regulator of business and commerce. No important aspect of the town’s life and activity is left outside the lady commander’s authority.
Fort Inevitable was a good-sized village with extensive trade and commerce before the Hellknights chose it as their base on the Crusader Road, and its people still work as farmers, herders, artisans, and merchants. Law-abiding citizens find the lady commander’s rule to be firm but manageable. Those who don’t find a respectable profession or who fall into debt see a different side of Fort Inevitable, as both slavery and indentured servitude are legal here.
While the lady commander seems to wield complete authority, appearances can be deceiving. Two other Hellknight orders—the Order of the Nail and the Order of the Gate—maintain presences on the Crusader Road, and while they defer to Drovust, each maintains its own chain of command and works toward its own purposes. Much of the town’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of the Council of Prosperity, a group of wealthy merchants and industry owners that exerts a good deal of influence over the Hellknights’ decisions. Finally, the lady commander is bound by her order’s vows and regulations; the Hellknights don’t break their own laws.
Fort Inevitable may be an oppressive place to live, but the Hellknights are not mindlessly brutal or vindictive. They crack down viciously on public disorder, enforce curfews, and tightly regulate commerce and transactions, but they don’t harass honest travelers. But it’s a good idea to guard your tongue and watch your step while inside its hard stone walls.
The Hellknights forcefully patrol Fort Inevitable and the surrounding lands, enforcing Drovust’s strict laws. At any given time, two to four squads of Hellknight soldiers patrol the town on foot, while the gates are constantly manned by larger contingents. They swiftly intervene to break up brawls and prevent crimes. If they fail to catch a perpetrator on the scene, the Hellknights thoroughly investigate the situation.
They maintain a long “wanted” list of known or suspected criminals, and regularly circulate sketches or descriptions of suspects. Bandits and other criminals from nearby towns have a saying: “The Hellknights never forget.”
For town defense, the lady commander oversees a force of 60 Hellknight riders—well-equipped, fanatically loyal, and easily some of the best to be found on the Crusader Road. In a desperate situation, the Hellknights can call up a well-trained militia of 130 pikemen from the Fort’s common citizens.
The Hellknights believe that freedom is a privilege, not a right. Those who fail to contribute to the community’s prosperity can and should be put to work by their betters. Debtors, criminals, and vagrants are all subject to enslavement under Hellknight law. Debtors normally become indentured to the holders of their debt after a hearing in the Citadel. Monthly auctions allow the purchase of criminals and vagrants sentenced to slavery.
Many people, especially the poor, wind up as the property of rich merchants and landowners. Attempts to escape or resist one’s lawful master are considered serious crimes, and often extend the term of servitude.
The Hellknights are as rigorous about the legalities of slavery as they are everything else. It’s unlawful to abduct a stranger and drag him back in chains. Slaveowners who come by their property illegally are in danger of being charged themselves. The Hellknights also forbid slaveholders from engaging in wanton acts of cruelty or mistreatment—a slaveholder who allows one of his slaves to starve or who beats a slave to death is subject to arrest and trial.
While obvious monsters are fair game to all, the Hellknights do not recognize the right of any self-declared adventurer to kill “villains” and seize their belongings. That’s common banditry, and those who ride back to Fort Inevitable after committing such vigilantism can expect to be arrested— unless they’ve first secured a letter of warrant.
A letter of warrant is a license from the lord commander authorizing the bearer and her company to “act in the interest of good order and keep the lady commander’s laws.” That is generally construed as doing most of the things adventuring parties typically do—attacking outlaws, hunting monsters, surveying dangerous ruins, and investigating mysteries.
Adventurers operating from Fort Inevitable purchase a letter of warrant for 50 gp per year. The lady commander’s agents also require reports of just what actions were taken with a letter of warrant.
Most visitors assume that there is only one power group in Fort Inevitable—the Hellknights. However, some citizens of the town still hold influence, and even the Hellknights have personal rivalries and power struggles.
The Spire endures to this day, protected by the vast magical prowess of its original builders. Its levels are occupied by several different factions and races; some fight for territory, some seek to harness the great artifact’s powers, and others simply wish to be left alone. On other levels, the secrets of the Azlanti or even the ancient Vault Builders lie undisturbed, awaiting explorers intrepid enough to reach them. However, there have been reports of people who just went to look at it from afar, and while just standing in the glen around it, they suddenly disappeared without a trace.
Lady Commander Drovust
A tall, athletic woman of 45 years, Audara Drovust spent close to 30 years as an armiger, Hellknight, and field officer before ascending to command of the fort. She holds the rank of paralictor in the Order of the Pike, a Hellknight order dedicated to defeating monsters threatening human lands. The Order of the Pike makes up the majority of Fort Inevitable’s garrison, and its members patrol the western reaches of the Echo Wood and the outskirts of the ruins of Mosswater while sponsoring expeditions to join the Mendevian Crusade.
Lady Drovust rarely draws a sword herself these days, but is an experienced general with a gift for engineering and logistics. She personally designed the town’s defenses and oversaw their construction for her predecessor, Lord Commander Varden. Lady Drovust also heads up the bureaucracy of the Citadel. Tax assessments, public works, justice, licenses—everything eventually crosses her desk and receives her personal attention.
Lady Drovust doesn’t indulge in malice for its own sake, but she firmly believes it is the right and duty of the strong to govern the weak and order their lives efficiently. Having finally succeeded in getting Fort Inevitable running more or less as she thinks it should, she is actively planning her next move to bring more of the Crusader Road under her efficient administration, all in the interest of supporting the crusade in Mendev.
Symbol and a Hellknight from the Order of the Nail.
The second most numerous group of Hellknights residing in Fort Inevitable is the Order of the Nail, under the command of Maralictor Dandru Wolfhelm. While the Order of the Pike is mostly concerned with maintaining Fort Inevitable as a base for supporting the crusade in Mendev, the Order of the Nail is sworn to bring law to lawless areas—and this corner of the River Kingdoms is overrun with pirates, bandits, and outlaws. Maralictor Wolfhelm chafes under the lady commander’s tight leash, and constantly argues for turning Fort Inevitable’s full strength against Thornkeep and the other bandit nests in the area.
Wolfhelm grudgingly accepts the lady commander’s orders, but he and his fellow Nails frequently test the limits of their mandate. The maralictor provokes retaliation from Thornkeep or other bandit dens, in the hope that the lady commander will be forced to recognize the threat. Lady Drovust is waiting for the maralictor to step far enough over the line that she can remove him from his command and reassert her control.
A high-ranking member of the Order of the Gate, Signifer Oritian Hast presents himself as a loyal cleric of Mephistopheles as well as a scholar of arcane lore. He is intensely interested in the Emerald Spire, recognizing the artifact as a potential source of unimaginable power in the proper hands (his own, of course). While the lady commander leans toward making the site off-limits, Signifer Hast argues for a thorough investigation.
As the ranking officer of the Order of the Gate, Signifer Hast commands their small chapter here: three lesser signifers and two Hellknights of the order. They work side by side with the Order of the Pike. Signifer Hast publicly supports the lady commander.
The Hellknights abolished the city government when they took over 30 years ago, assuming civil authority as well as military command. The nearest equivalent that still exists is the Council of Prosperity. The council has no statutory authority, and simply serves as an advisory board for the lady commander. Staffed by the wealthiest merchants and business owners of Fort Inevitable, the Council of Prosperity seeks to persuade the lady commander to moderate onerous taxes and rulings while ensuring that the Hellknights’ laws protect wealth and property.
The leaders on the Council include foundry owner Durston Goldbeard (N male dwarf expert 5), landowner Nimad Teravon (LE male old human commoner 4), and merchant Estha Walthomar (NG female middle-aged human expert 6). Durston is a more or less honest businessman; Nimad is a heartless old miser who ruins people unfortunate enough to be stuck renting from him; and Estha is a generous woman who does what she can to help out the less fortunate.
A matronly woman of 60 years, High Mother Sarise Dremagne is a cleric of Abadar who leads Fort Inevitable’s largest congregation, the Temple of the Golden Key. Stern and proper, High Mother Sarise dislikes the Hellknights’ support for slavery and their veneration of Asmodeus, but generally approves of their vigorous enforcement of the law. In her eyes, as long as one isn’t a lawbreaker, then it isn’t a problem that the laws of the town are sternly enforced.
The High Mother is the most influential non-Hellknight in the town, and the Temple’s ecclesiastical calendar is the framework around which most of the townsfolk arrange their lives. While High Mother Sarise does not challenge the lady commander’s rule, she serves as an important voice against excessive brutality and persecution.
The town of Fort Inevitable stands on a low, rounded hill amid the rolling landscape along the West Sellen. A strong, well-maintained city wall encloses the town’s orderly streets, dominated by the Commander’s Citadel—which most natives shorten to “the Citadel.” The town’s impressive fortifications are everywhere one looks, as are patrols of Hellknight foot soldiers. The main gates are closed at sunset each night, and a strictly enforced curfew goes into effect 2 hours after sunset. The Hellknights have little patience for scofflaws, and are quick to arrest and imprison anyone defying their rules.
Few people with elven blood wind up spending much time in Fort Inevitable, but the old vintner Caerlin (LG male old half-elf expert 5) is an exception. Now over a century old, he wears his years well, as most half-elves do. A former resident of Mosswater, he escaped from the town’s monstrous destruction more than 50 years ago and reestablished himself in Southwood—the best grapegrowing country he could find nearby.
Caerlin strongly dislikes the Hellknights, and refuses to use slaves. He does make use of indentured servants, but treats them fairly and pays them well when they complete their terms. His daughter Taeserle (NG female half-elf rogue 4) currently manages most of the winery’s production.
Giles Stonde was swept up in Lady Commander Drovust’s investigation of Lord Varden’s assassination and hanged by the Hellknights, leaving his wife Ilyana Stonde (N female human commoner 1) and their young children without a means of support. Ilyana and her children are scraping by, earning a little money by gathering mushrooms and herbs in the nearby woods, tending a vegetable garden, and keeping a number of chickens and goats.
The burly half-orc Drurn (NE male half-orc fighter 2/expert 2), a retired sellsword, owns this tannery and the adjoining pasture lands. His work is not especially good, but it’s cheap and convenient for the crafters and tailors in Fort Inevitable. Drurn keeps a dozen slaves in dismal conditions, and is routinely in trouble with the Hellknights for his excessively brutal treatment of them.
Expansive fields of golden wheat surround the fine stone farmhouse of Naldred Tillman (LE male human commoner 4). Naldred is the largest private slave owner in the Hellknights’ domain, with a half-dozen hired overseers keeping watch over almost 30 field slaves, who are housed in a secure barracks building across the lane from Naldred’s home. Naldred’s fields stretch for almost a mile south and east of Fort Inevitable, and this huge farm produces a vast quantity of grain in most years. Blunt and opinionated, Naldred is a staunch supporter of the Hellknights’ rule; in fact, two of his sons are currently training as armigers. He is a hard taskmaster, working his slaves to exhaustion, but he is rarely capricious or cruel for the sake of cruelty. However, over the last few weeks, several of his slaves have suddenly died of exhaustion.
The green hillside overlooking Misty Lake is home to the Holworths, a large and rambunctious clan of native Southwooders who have lived in this spot for the better part of 2 centuries. The current matriarch of the clan is Nilsa, usually referred to simply as Mother Holworth (N female venerable human commoner 2). She is a stern, sharp-tongued woman halfway through her seventh decade who has outlived two husbands and now has a house full of children, grandchildren, and even a couple of very young great-grandchildren. The Holworths are noted for producing a variety of excellent cheeses, although they’ve had an increasingly hard time paying the Hellknight taxes over the last couple of years.
Just downhill (and downwind) from the Holworths’ dairy farm is the largest foundry in Fort Inevitable, the Serragon Ironworks. The ironworks’ proprietor is Daldar Serragon (LE male human aristocrat 4), a former nobleman of Galt who fled to the River Kingdoms 20 years ago to escape the gallows. He bought out a local smelter from its previous owner, and expanded the workshop over the years. Daldar is not much of an artisan, but he has the loyalty of an excellent ironmaster, the dwarven smith Hurmarsk Firehammer (LN male dwarf expert 5). Most of the Ironworks’ stokers and cinder haulers are slaves, while the actual metalworkers are employees.
The original settlement of Southwood was established here because the site combined good farmland with easy access to water. Misty Lake is fed by both a small, unnamed stream that flows out of the southern Echo Wood and springs under the low hill on which Fort Inevitable stands. The lake is deep, reaching 50 feet in its middle. There are rumors that an old lord of Southwood concealed a treasure chest in the lake more than 100 years ago. People have tried various schemes for searching the lake bottom, but no one has found any treasure yet.
The well-established halfling miller Anden Kettlefoot (LG male halfling expert 3) is the owner of this large and prosperous mill. Anden is a man of 40, and lives in the attached house with his wife Seela and several small children. More than once he has stepped in to save an unfortunate citizen from going into debt and losing everything to the lady commander’s court—a dangerous habit that hasn’t won him many friends among the Hellknights.
Typical Day at Mosswater Gate.
Fort Inevitable’s impressive defenses begin with two main gatehouses; the western gatehouse is known as the Mosswater Gate. This gate consists of a large timber door sheathed in iron plate, plus a portcullis on the inner side. Numerous arrow slits overlook both the approach to the gates and the interior passage, which is also covered by murder holes set in its ceiling. The upper floor of the gatehouse serves as extra barracks space and storage for the Hellknight garrison.
The Mosswater gate is under the command of Maralictor Kiera Wirt (LN female human fighter 5). She leads a detail of five Hellknighs who question everyone entering or leaving town. Maralictor Wirt is a decent person for a Hellknight, and applies a good deal of common sense and compassion as she executes her duties.
The Wall of the City
A strong city wall protects Fort Inevitable. The walls average 30 feet in height and are a little more than 10 feet thick at the base. A battlement at the top faces outward, with an 8-foot-wide walk running the length of the wall. Towers every 100 to 200 feet provide good arcs of fire against approaching attackers, and serve as extra storage for food and arms. The towers also provide extra barracks space when the lady commander needs to house more Hellknights than can easily fit in her own keep, the gatehouses, and the Mardyl Barracks.
Hellknight sentries regularly patrol the wall tops and the towers. This is normally quiet duty, but from time to time a frightening apparition—some sort of ghost or spectre — roams the northern section of the wall and the towers there.
Fort Inevitable’s market square, which lies just inside the Mosswater Gate, is quiet, orderly, and very tightly regulated. Local farmers and livestock-keepers apply to the Citadel for licenses to bring their produce, dairy goods, and meat to market on a regular rotation. The townsfolk often meet and gossip in the market square while stocking up on household provisions; “I heard it by the gate” is a local expression for the rumor mill.
Rumors: Current rumors claim that adventurers are in demand by the Goldenfire Order of Thornkeep (taking up residence at area 13, the Juliver Arms), strange attacks by new types of undead monsters have High Mother Sarise Dremagne (from area 33) concerned, and Abernard Royst (who lives in area 41) keeps trying to find out more about the Spire—and even claims there’s dangerous chambers beneath it.
This large work yard on the south side of the Gate Market is the establishment of the stonemason and builder Zoldor Maril (LE male old human expert 3). A bitter, miserly man of 60 years, Zoldor owns eight slaves, who handle much of the drudgework of moving and shaping heavy stones. He sorely resents the Hellknights’ heavy taxes and their insistence on fair dealing, but his work is safe and solid, and many of the buildings in and around town were built under his supervision.
Large and comfortable by anyone’s standards, the Juliver Arms is the best inn to be found in Fort Inevitable. It’s under the management of a bustling clan of halflings named the Reedbanks, who pride themselves on setting a lavish table. The accommodations are not cheap: the Reedbanks cater to wealthy merchants and adventurers with loose pockets.
The clan patriarch is Doliver Reedbank (LG male middle-aged halfling commoner 2). Doliver doesn’t like the Hellknights at all, but he’s no revolutionary.
Iliara Starcloak, leader of the Goldenfire Order of Thornkeep, is currently here searching for missing wizards from her order. She needs to depart Fort Inevitable soon, and wants to hire adventurers to take over the search and extend it to the Spire. The missing spellcasters had come to study portals, so the Goldenfire Order is still interested in detailed research about any extraplanar portals to be found.
Named for the striking coat of arms hanging in the common room, the Red Shield is a busy taphouse that is especially popular with the Hellknights. On any given evening, a dozen or more of the town’s off-duty garrison guards can be found here, enjoying drafts of bitter or stout. The proprietor is Embra Morsk (N female middle-aged wizard 2/expert 2), a retired adventurer. She is a no-nonsense businesswoman, and fearless when it comes to defending her property. The old shield with its red device once belonged to a noted local hero named Dinwood, who made a name for himself as a monster hunter.
This large livery store, carriage shop, and stable is under the management of Kallon Poldmar, a respected member of the Council of Prosperity. His stable boards visitors’ mounts, buys and sells horses and mules, and carries leather goods such as saddles, saddlebags, and reins. He and his wife, Pola, reside in one of the townhouses just a few doors over.
A comfortable townhome on Juliver Way, this house belongs to the human moneychanger Gertrand Yeldun. Gertrand sits on the Council of Prosperity.
The flamboyant Varisian Mirelinda Doumaz (NE female human expert 3) owns a workshop that produces all sorts of cotton, linen, wool, and felt cloth. She is a weaver, not a seamstress, and sells cloth by the bolt to merchants throughout the region. She drives more profits by buying the contracts of indentured servants and setting them to work at her looms. She doesn’t hesitate to punish workers who aren’t keeping up with demand.
To her customers and neighbors, Mirelinda presents a very different face. She hosts lavish entertainments at her home, and often scandalizes the town with her affairs. There are many dark rumors about where she found the coin she needed to establish herself in Fort Inevitable.
The grounds of the Temple of Silence are home to the largest cemetery in town. It is well tended, and there have been no problems with undead in living memory.
The Temple of Silence has stood here for almost 200 years, founded after a priestess of Pharasma passing through was struck by a powerful vision on this spot. Her fellow Pharasmins raised a small shrine, and by the time the Hellknights seized control of the town, the Temple of Silence was well established as the second most popular church in town. The presiding priest of the Temple of Silence is an Ustalav named Dimeru Faldindor (N male human cleric 4).
Smaller and less busy than the gates on Juliver Way, the North Gate is intended for foot traffic only. The guard detail here is smaller than at the other gates, consisting of three Hellknights plus a gate-sergeant.
The Hellknights maintain a good-sized stable close by the town’s north gate. It can mount and equip 30 riders at one time. Most of the mounts are trained warhorses.
The Hellknight in charge of the stable is Hielon Keenlance (LE male old human fighter 4). A battered and scarred old veteran, Hielon rarely leads patrols in person these days, instead training (and frequently beating or haranguing) younger troops.
Trading in papermaking, bookbinding, inks, and books of all kinds, Falandra’s Bindery is a cluttered and friendly place that is part workshop and part used bookstore. The owner is Falandra Nolm (LG female human expert 1/wizard 3), a woman still in her twenties. She inherited the store from her father, Presdar Nolm, who was one of the accused conspirators arrested and executed after Lord Varden’s death. Falandra has no love for the Hellknights or the lady commander, but she has several younger siblings to support, so she keeps a respectable appearance.
A small number of monks from the Taldan Order of the Stalwart Fist answered the call of the Mendevian Crusade. Three years ago, a master of the order named Sister Khedra (LN female dwarf monk 6) established a small priory in the Crusader Road region to aid and support pilgrims and Stalwart Fist members on their way to Mendev.
The Stalwart Priory includes a small shrine dedicated to Irori, living quarters for up to a dozen monks and students, and a large dojo. Sister Khedra maintains a firm policy of non-involvement with politics and civic affairs.
Located between North Way and the Fountain Square, this is the shop of the apothecary Londor Sefurd (NE male human alchemist 4). Sefurd is an unpleasant character with an oily, wheedling manner and an unhealthy interest in exotic toxins. He deals in potions, spell components, alchemical mixtures, and, a variety of 'other' things.
Master Sefurd is disliked by most who know him, and his trade is regarded as suspicious by the Hellknights. Many people wonder why the lady commander hasn’t shut down his business and run him out of town. The answer is simple, but not known by the public!
Master armorer Rillin Nadinghad (LN female old human expert 6) is widely acknowledged as the best crafter of plate armor for a hundred miles around Fort Inevitable. Her workshop and store have stood in Fountain Square for decades. She and her team of armorers—mostly her own grown children, aided by a handful of indentured servants who work the bellows and stoke the furnaces—create and sell most forms of armor with significant metalwork.
Owned and operated by the affable merchant Thom Braddon (N male human rogue 5), this shop sells provisions, tools, cookware, tack and harness, and a hundred other useful things. Braddon set up shop shortly after Lady Commander Drovust’s witch hunts following Lord Varden’s death. The store’s previous owner was one of the people executed, and Braddon bought the place in a public auction. Some of Fort Inevitable’s populace still harbor resentment toward him for the manner in which he came to own his business.
This fountain consists of a stone plinth within a pool, crowned by a statue of the half-elf heroine Tarwynna, leader of the army that crushed the goblin kingdom of Zog. The fountain and its statue date back to before the Mendevian Crusades brought a plague of bandits down on Southwood. The Fountain Square is a common meeting place in town, and notices are tacked up on a message board nearby.
Cases of criminal and civil justice in Fort Inevitable are heard in this imposing courthouse. The Hall of Rectitude is home to a pair of spacious courtrooms, the offices of the town’s magistrates, and an extensive jail that’s usually quite full of prisoners, most serving short sentences for minor offenses. The officer in charge is Maralictor Tisserle Ilomna (LN female human fighter 5/HellknightISWG 2), the town’s chief magistrate and overseer of the police functions of the garrison. Lady Commander Drovust retains the power to review Maralictor Ilomna’s rulings and commute or increase sentences as she deems necessary, but for the most part Maralictor Ilomna’s judgments stand—she is a stickler for applying the letter of the law.
Maralictor Ilomna’s ambitious subordinate, Gregan Hadurnosk (LE male human fighter 2/cleric 2), is convinced she is too soft on wrongdoers. The young Hellknight is scheming to bring down the chief magistrate and replace her.
The original stronghold of Southwood, this old stone building served as Lord Commander Varden’s headquarters until the new Commander’s Citadel was completed. It is now used as an auxiliary barracks by the Hellknights. Lady Drovust assigned the Mardyl Barracks to the Order of the Nail, and allows them to use it as their local headquarters.
About 20 of Fort Inevitable’s Hellknights count themselves as members of the Order of the Nail, and are under the command of Maralictor Dandru Wolfhelm. The Nail knights muster with the larger Pike contingent when the lady commander calls out the whole garrison, but they do not otherwise share in guard duties. Instead, they vigorously patrol the roads and byways of the area surrounding Fort Inevitable, following their order’s mandate to suppress banditry. Maralictor Wolfhelm often hires adventurers with letters of warrant to supplement his order’s patrols.
Strictly speaking, a bailey is a courtyard enclosed between walls. However, this open ground in front of the Commander’s Citadel acquired the name years ago when the Hellknights were considering the construction of a much larger keep on this spot, and the name stuck. The wide, green field serves as the Hellknights’ primary practice ground inside Fort Inevitable, and from sunup to sundown one can find garrison soldiers sparring, shooting, or exercising in this area.
This building includes a chapel dedicated to gods of law, a good-sized library, arcane workrooms, and the Fort Inevitable offices of the Order of the Gate. This is the domain of Signifer Oritian Hast, a brilliant and articulate man who makes a great show of providing wise counsel to the lady commander on all magical matters. However, he is secretly suborning key Hellknights with an eye toward replacing her.
As the most extensive library in Fort Inevitable and a center of magical knowledge, the Chancery serves as something of a Hellknight-sponsored wizards’ guild. The licensing and charter processes are expensive and time-consuming, but a mage with the coin and the patience can become a patron of the Chancery, with special privileges for library access and workroom usage—the Order of the Gate is always on the lookout for potential recruits, after all.
The Citadel - Home of the Lady Commander.
The single strongest fortification in the Crusader Road region, the Commander’s Citadel is a roomy, octagonal tower more than 90 feet tall. Round turrets at the corners of the main structure provide excellent fields of fire both inside and outside the city wall. The main door opens on the bailey inside the walls, but there is also a small postern (usually locked) that leads outside the city wall to the shore of Misty Lake.
The Citadel is home to Lady Commander Audara Drovust, as well as 40 Hellknights of the Order of the Pike and a number of servants. In addition to living quarters, it houses kitchens, a banquet hall, offices for town officials, a small chapel, extensive cellars for food storage, a well, and dungeons for holding prisoners of special interest to the lady commander. The Citadel’s routine business is in the hands of the castellan, a Hellknight named Karn Kerromick (LE male half-orc fighter 4/expert 3), while the lady commander’s personal schedule and appointments are managed by the chamberlain, Erron Nythist (LN male human aristocrat 2). Those who wish to speak to Lady Drovust finds that they’ll need to explain their business to the castellan or the
One of the largest and most ornate buildings in town, the Temple of the Golden Key is dedicated to the worship of Abadar, god of law and commerce. Hellknights under arms do not set foot in the temple without asking permission from the ranking priest present, and the lady commander does not involve herself in ecclesiastical matters.
The current leader of the temple is High Mother Sarise Dremagne, who oversees a small staff of three junior acolytes, a handful of servants, and a number of laypeople who serve as deacons and attendants. The temple is routinely packed on days of worship, and a fair number of Hellknights (mostly from the Order of the Nail) are usually in attendance.
At the east end of North Way stand two large warehouses, just across the street from a bustling counting-house and workshop. These buildings are the headquarters of the prosperous trading house Goldfoot’s Mercantile, under the proprietorship of Mormuk Goldfoot (LG male dwarf expert 3). The business deals in commodities, buying up large quantities of refined materials such as cured leather, bolts of cloth, metal ingots, furs, spices, and wines, and shipping them to where they’ll command the highest prices. Goldfoot’s employs a dozen clerks and laborers, none of them slaves.
Mormuk is a fat, good-natured dwarf, and takes pride in being good company. He dislikes the Hellknights’ regime, but believes that prosperity is the best response to oppression.
This store sells armor, clothing, saddles, tack and harness, and other goods made from leather. The proprietor is a competent leatherworker named Salle Ulmander (N female human expert 2). The rear of the building is the workshop, while the front is the store. Salle supervises two younger brothers and a cousin, teaching them leatherworking as she manages the business and the household. The Ulmanders are newcomers, having emigrated from Tymon in search of a new place to set up their family trade.
The Salamander Company is the largest and most successful mercenary band in the area. The Salamanders march under a black banner featuring the emblem of a scarlet salamander; they number almost 200, scattered all over the River Kingdoms in small bands on different contracts. Currently, around 30 mercenaries are available for hire in Fort Inevitable.
The leader of the Salamanders is a battle-tested wizard named Red Shireena (N female human fighter 2/wizard 7). She is fairly selective about recruits, and usually requires prospective Salamanders to prove their worth by sparring on the training grounds. Salamander Company mercenaries are generally paid 1 to 10 gp per day based on experience and talents, plus whatever they can pick up on the side during their assignments.
The best weapon shop in Fort Inevitable is Tsador’s Arms, owned and operated by the half-orc weaponsmith Tsador Ironmaker (LE male half-orc fighter 3/expert 4). Tsador is a surly, sour-tempered fellow with a greedy streak a mile wide; he runs his forges with slaves toiling at the bellows and poorly paid apprentice smiths hammering at the hot iron, and barely remembers to feed and clothe the lot of them.
Tsador sells a good deal of cheaply made work, but he is actually a talented weaponsmith when motivated by the promise of a big payday. For custom orders (such as masterwork blades), he typically charges 20 to 50 percent more than the listed price, but the work is quite good.
The second taphouse in Fort Inevitable is the Helmed Lady, located between Fountain Square and the North Way. The tavern takes its name from the statue of Tarwynna in the nearby fountain. The proprietor is an aged dwarf named Kagnin Alemaster (LN female dwarf commoner 2). Kagnin’s sons are adventurers of note, and she proudly displays mementos of their journeys around the taproom. They are rarely at home, so she employs a sizable staff of serving maids and brewer’s assistants to create her excellent beer. The Helmed Lady is popular with the average citizens, but Hellknights do most of their drinking at the Red Shield.
These four large silos hold a huge reserve of grain. The Hellknights buy up the first quarter of each local farmer’s harvest and set it aside. Unfortunately, the lady commander sets the rates at which the town buys its reserve from the farmers, so the grain-growers don’t make much money on what they sell to the granary. However, in times of plenty they come out ahead, since even if the granary hasn’t been drawn down in a given season, a certain amount of stored grain must be replaced each year.
This house has stood vacant for several years. No one seems to remember what happened to the owners. Rumor says the Hellknights are about to take possession and put it up for auction.
A white-haired sage of 55 years, Abernard Royst (LG male old human transmuter 8) is one of the most notable adventurers permanently residing in Fort Inevitable. Abernard is a cantankerous fellow who spends most of his time engaged in research and experimentation. He rarely risks life and limb in dungeons anymore, but always has a long list of unusual materials or difficult tasks he’s willing to hire adventuring parties to acquire or perform for him. He often takes in apprentices, and proves to be a much more considerate master than his gruff personality would suggest. Abernard is careful to observe the laws of Fort Inevitable.
Abernard owns a precious keepsake that made its way from the dungeon decades ago. It’s a sliver of what he claims is the skymetal noqual, a substance with inherent resistance to magic. The piece he possesses is no bigger than a finger joint, and looks like a chip from a sculpted item with a serrated edge. If anyone can find the rest of the work it came from, Abernard promises a 1,500 gp reward (or more!) — but he expects it won’t be easy to locate.
Identical in construction to the Mosswater Gate (area 9), the Juliver Gate is home to another dozen Hellknight guards, led by an officer named Bolgur (LE male half-orc fighter 4). The Juliver Road continues southeast for about 70 miles until it reaches the town of Sezgin in the realm of Lambreth.
Fort Inevitable’s streets are drained by a well-built sewer system that empties into a small creek on the north side of the city wall. The discharge is covered by a locked grate, but anyone with a little determination can enter the city’s sewers here. The sewer network has several other access points in town, including locked staircases near the Mosswater Gate and the Mardyl Barracks, plus a handful of secret entrances in the cellars of various homes and businesses. In the sewers, vermin such as rats, centipedes, and cockroaches sometimes gather in dangerous numbers. Worse yet, bands of gremlins haunt the disused tunnels, though the lady commander attributes their mischief to “criminals and malcontents.”