Friday, July 10, 2015

Fort Thunder River

Fort Thunder River is an example of the cyclical nature of all things.  Built as a border fort during the Everlasting Empire's expansionist phase, it has become a border fort once more as the Empire has contracted in on itself.  The once-thriving township of Kroton that sprung up around it as the region was pacified has shrunk to a village of hardscrabble pioneers, retired adventurers, and old-timers too stubborn to leave their homesteads and follow the Empire.

The fort itself, composed of red, white and black sandstone bricks assembled to form mosaics on each wall of the keep depicting the Imperial double-eagle, stands a short distance from a gentle stretch of Thunder River, far from the treacherous rapids to the north, nestled amidst scrubland hills and dense pine forests.  The houses and shops of the villagers cluster around the fort, surrounded by a mid-sized wall.  Of Kroton's once lovely waterfront, only a pair of stone docks and a crumbling road up to the fort remain.

The fort is manned by the last "official" Imperial Legion on the frontier, a garrison of about fifty men commanded by Captain Karl One-Hand, who is also the de-facto Lord Mayor of what's left of Kroton.  The garrison is supported by a local militia due to an inability to recruit new soldiers to replace those who fall in battle.

Only a single tavern remains, the Prince's Arms (jokingly referred to by the local garrison as the Harlot's Legs, with the same motto: "We're Always Open!"), known for its games of chance, decent ales and solid, rib-sticking food.  The current owner, Marlene the Knife, runs a lucrative side-business selling "Marlene's Emergency Dungeoneering Kits" to adventurers, consisting of backpacks loaded with essentials such as rope, iron spikes, torches, rations, chalk, and other sundry tools of the adventurers' trade.  Because of this, she's in fierce competition with Old Pete, who runs the general store and manages Bartok's smithy, for adventurers' business.

A day's journey from the fort stands the tower of Meinrad the Astrologer, a magus obsessed with the study of the movements of the heavens.  Most consider him a harmless, if curmudgeonly, old fortune teller who likes his privacy; some few whisper conspiratorially that he's in league with dark forces, citing the frequency of lightning strikes around his tower as proof.

Other nearby sites of interest to adventurers include the Black Swamp, a festering, pestilence-ridden
the hills surrounding the Grottoes of Discord
stretch of greasy marshland, equally thick with cypress, moss and biting flies.  The Swamp is home to grotesque reptilian humanoids, the last degenerate descendants of the ancient Serpent-Men, and some claim that a great temple of their still stands in the heart of the swamp.  A few hours' ride north of the Black Swamp are the Grottoes of Discord, a collection of limestone canyons and rifts riddled with maze-like caverns infested with savage races - Orcs, Goblins, Neanderthals, Batboys, Devil Apes and worse.  It's unknown what causes these creatures to flock to these caves and share such tight quarters with one another.

An old monastery, known locally as the Spider Cathedral nowadays, was once home to sect of priests who demanded outrageous tithes from those passing through church lands, claiming that, since money was the root of all evil, by collecting it they were cleansing the populace of sin.  The sect died out centuries ago now, but their vast accumulation of wealth has never been found.  The crumbling ruin that once housed them has since been used as the lair of a vile gangster, but currently stands empty and abandoned.

For those willing to travel, a week to the north stands Fort Fire Mountain, similar in layout to Fort Thunder River but garrisoned by the Lost Legion, a band of cut-throats, mutineers, thieves and honest soldiers held together by harder-than-nails commanders who refused to leave their post, even at the Emperor's command.  Fort Fire Mountain was built among the ruins of a Hyperborean resort town, and the geothermal hot springs that once fed the luxury baths of that ancient empire now feed the spawning grounds of giant frogs and stranger amphibians.  Claims have filtered south of an orcish king who runs a gladiatorial arena for savage and Legionnaire alike to watch and bet on the spectacle.

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