The Fortress of the Nine
© 2000-2002 Thomas Miller
Table of Contents
Question: What's the main problem with really neat, really powerful bad guys? Answer: They always lose because of their inability to work with other bad guys toward a common goal or purpose, and so when a bunch of good guys team up, the bad guys always go down.
Now imagine this: a number of powerful evil beings - each with unique and useful powers, abilities, underlings, and resources - decide to form an alliance for their mutual gain. Take it one step further: these villains find a remote place and construct an immense stronghold there. After doing so, they move in and populate the place and its environs with their forces...and then proceed to begin their plans of subversion and conquest.
These beings are the Nine. This supplement details the fortress from which they seek to spread their evil throughout the world.
Note: This accessory is set in, and set up for, the Oerik continent on the world of Oerth, circa 580 C.Y. Though the principles of this work could apply in any campaign setting, the specifics really apply to Oerth, and I recommend that the Nine be based and used there.
To understand the history of the fortress, one must understand the history of the Nine. To understand that, one must understand Xusia. The arch-lich, never one to waste time and power when others could be manipulated into serving his needs, came up with the idea of a cabal of beings like himself. Finding others of similar power and means - others who either had this same idea or were receptive to it - was trivial for one of Xusia's abilities. The coming of winter in 577 C.Y. saw the birth of the alliance known as the Nine...and the stage was set for the world to tremble.
Although the framework was in place, it soon became obvious that a stronghold was needed. Rather than hide away, skulking, in some dungeon or other remote place, the Nine instead chose a place where do-gooders seldom trod...and then they built a fortress. Resources and labor were tapped and organized, and excavation and construction on the fortress began in early 578 C.Y. The work proceeded at a pace unheard of, due in large part to the powers and resources of Xusia and others involved in the project. Now, two years later, the bulk of the construction has been completed. The Fortress of the Nine is a functional base from which these dark beings watch, plan, and act.
What follows is a detailed overview of the geography, layout, offensive/defensive capabilities, and inhabitants of this den of evil.
The Fortress is located at the northernmost junction of the Griff mountain range and the swamplands known as the Troll Fens, within hex W2/45. Needless to say, this is one of those places that no one cares about in the first place - which is exactly why it was chosen. Mountains shield it to the north and, to a lesser extent, the east and west. The thick, treacherous swamp that borders the mountain range does the rest. There are raw troops aplenty in this region - humanoids, trolls, and giants as well as bandits and renegades of all types. The area lies beyond the domain of Tenh, to the west, and is also ignored by the Theocracy of the Pale to the south. All in all, it is an ideal site to slowly, steadily build a power base.
Carven from the stone face of a mountain, the Fortress is visible from a league or so away. It rises up from the rough, broken terrain with the mountain as its backdrop. At the base of the fortress sprawls a small city, Harshaak. This place sprung up as the Fortress grew, and now augments the latter in many respects, providing some raw materials as well as a place for the bulk of the Nine's soldiers to live and riase hell. The city also serves another purpose: it is a natural buffer for the Fortress in the event of attack, and could easily be reinforced should the need arise.
There are about 20,000 humans residing inside the city walls and in the farms and hovels surrounding it. There are also many thousands of humanoids living in or near the city, perhaps 10,000 all told. Most of these inhabitants have been drawn to the area either directly or indirectly by the power of the fortress and those inside it. They are aware of the chance to be involved in a successful and powerful organization and seek to pursue this goal here. The city, although filled to the rim and beyond with unruly troops, is ruled with an iron hand by representatives of the Nine. Visitors to the place will almost certainly come under scrutily before long.
4. General Layout
The Fortress is built into the side of a mountain; all that can be seen from the outside are the twin watchtowers that flank the massive central entrance. The towers are 200' high and have arrow slits or windows along their entire length. The main entrance is fully 40' high, a massive set of 20' wide double doors which are only the outermost of a series of protective constructions. A horizontal row of small windows at a 100' height connects the two towers and affords defenders a useful point from which to shower death upon any below.
Inside the double doors, past the antechamber and gigantic portcullis, one can find passages leading to troops' barracks, mess halls, and such. Directly ahead are other chambers which culminate in the huge meeting-hall of the Nine. From this foul place are exits to each member's personal chambers or dwelling area. Some of these lairs are above or below the main level; consult the main map for more details.
At a height of about 250', above and between the tops of the watchtowers, there is an exit point for Ulrich's red dragon mount. This large opening in the mountain's side might appear to be a weakness, but it is the domain of the dragon and its master, and additional guards and wards protect this area as well.
The fortress has six basic levels:
- Ground Level: entry, troops' quarters and mess halls, armory, stables, Gog's quarters (when he's there)
- Second Level: General Kael's suite, and those of his lieutenants
- Aerie: Brimstone's cavern, Ulrich's chambers
- Dungeons: (below Main Level) Orzo's forges
- Caverns: (below Dungeons) Selene's chambers, Bodok's tunnels
- Catacombs: (below Caverns) Xusia's private lair
5. Offensive & Defensive Capabilities
The Fortress operates on a sort of militia system, meaning that the bulk of its troops remain quartered in the city of Harshaak until needed. These forces number approximately 5,000 (about 60% humans and 40% humanoids, mostly orcs and gnolls.) General Kael keeps the best-trained and -disciplined troops within the fortress itself; these number about 500 at any given time. They are a mix of humans and better-behaved humanoids, i.e. the ones whose company the human soldiers can tolerate. The troops within the fortress are all warriors of 2nd-5th level, whereas those quartered in Harshaak are all 1st level. Note that these numbers will grow as the Fortress expands and as more raw recruits flock to the area; the given figures are merely a baseline.
While four hundred of the fortress' standing troops are infantry, a good hundred are mounted cavalry, warriors trained in fighting on horseback. The horses' stables are within the fortress as well, and all of these mounts have barding and are large, strong, well-trained animals. The armor and weapons of the troops can be determined randomly but will be of high quality.
The Fortress also has a stock of war machines such as catapults and ballistae, along with plenty of ammunition. There are also fire-pots, exploding missiles, and the like. General Kael makes sure that all of these weapons are kept in top condition and are ready to be deployed at a moment's notice.
In addition to its human and humanoid troops, the Fortress also houses some other forces:
The fire giants came here with Gog. The stone giants are the front gate-keepers and count as a separate force. The hill giants, as well as all of the trolls and ogres, have been recruited from the surrounding mountains and swamps and are all under the command of Gog.
The fortress has many small entrances (numerous high, small, barred windows as well as smoke/air vents) but only two of any significant size. One is the main gate, which consists of two thick steel doors with a massive bar & brace system. Behind this is a tremendous portcullis which requires two giants to lift. The second entrance, more properly called an exit, is above, in the aerie. Ulrich's dragon, Brimstone, lives in a huge cavern which has a side vent to the outside. However, anyone who tries to get into the fortress this way must contend with the dragon and possibly its master.
- ogres (32, in chain mail, wielding heavy swords or axes)
- trolls (11)
- giants (17: 8 hill giants, 4 stone giants, 5 fire giants) (all are hardy specimens who know basic tactics and are very good with hurled boulders)
6. Wandering Monsters
There really aren't wandering monsters in the Fortress, due to the vastly different sorts of minions employed by some of the Nine. Each subsection of the place has its own guards and denizens, which are detailed later.
Outside the Fortress, however, is another matter. Mixed patrols of human and humanoid troops are common, and once things really get going, air patrols will be present as well.
7. The City of Harshaak
Proper and complete detail of this town, or any town, would be cause for a second accessory. Here are the high points:
- population: including environs, ~20,000 humans and ~10,000 humanoids
- support troops: approximately 5,000 of the above are Fortress troops who live in Harshaak
- government: "the Guvnor" (a large and very mean 8th level half-orc warrior, he answers directly to the Nine) and assorted "watchmen" (typically big dumb brutes, 2nd-4th level warriors)
- other notes: although Harshaak is capable of producing food and supplies, it does not (and cannot) generate enough output for all of the troops in this area (this actually happens via magical means, as detailed later.) The city's real purpose is to give the troops a place to live and let off steam.
8. Maps & Keys
(from highest to lowest altitude)
Aerie (Brimstone's cavern, Ulrich's chambers)
Second Level (General Kael's suite, and those of his lieutenants)
Ground Level (entry, troops' quarters and mess halls, armory, stables, Gog's area)
Dungeons (Orzo's forges, Cespedes' laboratory)
Caverns (Selene's chambers, Bodok's tunnels)
Catacombs (Xusia's private lair)
9. The Nine
10. Scenarios for PCs
By its very nature, the Fortress is not a place for an adventuring party to go spelunking. Use of this accessory as a dungeon to be explored and conquered is strongly discouraged. Instead, think of it as a base, and think of its masters as evil NPCs who can be used in your campaign. Given the widely varying nature of their history and abilities, the Nine and their minions/allies can be placed behind virtually any plotline in your campaign.
11. Closing Notes
Some of the readers will recognize Xusia from my earlier module, Crypt of the Undead King. Although that module was a logical predecessor to this one, some things have changed between then and now. Xusia's very nature and levels are different, and Skorvus is now a priest-lich instead of a mage-lich. Also, you'll note that none of Xusia's other minions or items carried over into this module. All of this is because the Fortress of the Nine was conceived and designed with my previous and future stories in mind. The heroes of The Adventurers will never venture into the first module, but they may well end up in or around this one.