Beyond the Keep on the Borderland (Pt.3) – Clifford Simak’s Enchanted Pilgrimage

So, the last war between Mankind and Fey has ended, settling into an uneasy armistice. The Caves of Chaos are no longer teeming with the creatures of Fey, and the Keep on the Borderlands is no longer garrisoned, has fallen into disuse and disrepair, and only a small church remains as a reminder that this was once a forward outpost in Christendom’s endless war with soulless heathens. What becomes of the heroes of that age? The Clerics who fought against the forces of Chaos to advance and defend Civilization and ensure that Mankind’s right to rule the land God bestowed upon Adam?

“I have never been able to settle quite comfortably into the role of churchman, although I do my best. I mortify the flesh and discipline the spirit, but the hungers rage within me. Age does not seem to quench them. Much as I may frown upon the folly of what you intend to do, I find within myself the ache to go along with you. I suppose it may be this place, a place of warriors and brave deeds. Peaceful as it may seem now, for centuries it was the outpost of the empire against the peoples of the Wasteland. The tower is now half tumbled down, but once it was a great watch tower and before it ran a wall, close to the river, that has almost disappeared, its stones being carted off by the country people to construct ignoble fences, hen-houses and stables. Once men manned the tower and wall, standing as a human wall of flesh against the encroachments and the depredations of the unholy horde which dwells in the Wasteland.”

“Your grace,” said Snively, far too gently, “your history, despite the centuries, is too recent. There was a day when the humans and the Brotherhood lived as neighbors and in fellowship. It was not until the humans began chopping down the forest, failing to spare the sacred trees and the enchanted glens, not until they began building roads and cities, that there was animosity. You cannot, with clear conscience, talk of encroachments and depredations, for it was the humans—“

“Man had the right to do what he wished with the land,” the bishop said. “He had the holy right to put it to best use. Ungodly creatures such as—“

“Not ungodly,” said Snively. “We had our sacred groves until you cut them down, the fairies had their dancing greens until you turned them into fields. Even such simple little things as fairies…”

This clash between clergy and demi-humans comes from the completely alien and antithetical worldviews each has. Mankind vs. Fey is older than Elf vs. Dwarf, though some of the reasoning and cruft is similar. Elves don’t like Dwarves because Dwarves cut down trees and pursue wealth; Dwarves don’t like Elves, because Elves are haughty and aloof. In the case of Mankind vs. Fey, Fey don’t like mankind because men encroach on their borders, and Mankind doesn’t like Fey because their existence is blasphemous.

So, strange must be the circumstances that a Elf, a Dwarf, or a Halfling would join with Men, especially Men of the cloth, to assist in pushing back that boundary of Elfland for the benefit of Man and Civilization.


Beyond the Keep on the Borderland (Pt.2) – Clifford Simak’s Enchanted Pilgrimage

The Keep on the Borderlands module is the subject of much debate and discussion. Isolated from the greater Known World setting into which it was eventually folded, you have a very simple dichotomy from which a world may be extrapolated–Law vs. Chaos, Civilization vs. the Wild, Christendom vs. Fey… and between the two are the Borderlands.

Now, with what information is given regarding the Caves of Chaos and the Keep on the Borderlands, there are a few things that we can assume:

Beyond the Keep, there is Civilization, and that Civilization is moving towards the wilds, rather than away from it.

Beyond the Caves of Chaos, there is simply more wilds. There is some migration towards the caves from these wilds, but caves are not unified nor are they a hard target. A dedicated push from Civilization could clear out the caves, but if all of Elfland were brought to bare against the Keep, it might topple one outpost at great cost yet it could not ultimately stop the advance of Civilization and man.

Most pre-genre fantasy depicts an Elfland in decline, slowly or rapidly withdrawing its borders to protect what little magic it has left. Determined individuals are sometimes able to find it, but finding it often means that the magic will be extinguished by the institutions of Man.

So, when there’s no push to cleanse the Caves of Chaos or there’s no Keep on the Borderlands to extend the shadow of civilization into Elfland, what is the Borderland and what lies beyond it? How do the demi-humans in the region live?

Simak’s Enchanted Pilgrimage seeks to answer just that:

“Do you know what the Wasteland is?”

“It’s enchanted ground,” said Gib.

“It is,” said Snively, “the last stronghold of the Brotherhood….”

“But you—“

“Yes, we are of the Brotherhood. We get along all right because this is the Borderland. There are humans, certainly, but individual humans—millers, woodcutters, charcoal burners, small farmers, moonshiners. The human institutions, government and church, do not impinge on us. You have never seen the lands to the south and east?”

Gib shook his head.

“There,” said Snively, “you would find few of us. Some in hiding, perhaps, but not living openly as we do. Those who once lived there have been driven out. They have retreated to the Wasteland. As you may suspect, they hold a hatred for all humankind. In the Wasteland are those who have been driven back to it and those who never left, the ones who had stayed there and hung on grimly to the olden ways of life.”

“But you left.”

“Centuries ago,” said Snively, “a group of prospecting gnomes found the ore deposit that underlies these hills. For uncounted millennia the gnomes have been smiths and miners. So we moved here, this small group of us. We have no complaint. But if the so-called human civilization ever moved in full force into the Borderland, we would be driven out.”

Fey is always in a precarious position with mankind nearby, because the institutions of man, particularly the Church, are inimical to them. Land is developed, with towns, roads, and agriculture changing the character of the land, and the bells of the Church and prayers of good Christian men and women drive the elves further back beyond their ancient borders.

Beyond the Keep on the Borderland (Pt.1) – Clifford Simak’s Enchanted Pilgrimage

Over the weekend, I started reading Clifford D. Simak’s Enchanted Pilgrimage. It’s one of his later works (mid-70s), and while it hasn’t been as wild and action-packed as his pulp short I reviewed awhile back, it’s been an interesting read for several reasons.

The mid 70s were a time of tumultuous sea-change in Fantasy. There was a pulp sword & sorcery revival going on in the early part of the decade, but Lord of the Rings was booming and Tolkienian primacy was on the horizon. Dungeons & Dragons and Shannara were about to change everything.

Enchanted Pilgrimage is a party-centric quest-fantasy, but the fantasy is still pre-genre, pre-Tolkienian. While the story isn’t particularly Dunsanian, the setting is, and the portrayal of fey is still on the far side of weird. What Enchanted Pilgrimage does best, though, is illustrate what a demi-human-centric adventuring party would be like.

A scholar finds an original manuscript hidden in the binding of a copy of a travelogue written by someone who traveled to the Wasteland (Elfland); an Inquisitor from the church is trying to hunt him down. The scholar goes on a quest to investigate the truth of the manuscript with the help of some goblins, gnomes, and swamp elves with the Inquisitor on his trail.

The setting is rather nebulous, but a war between fey and Christendom ended a generation before, leaving the Borderlands, co-inhabited by men and fey, between Civilization and the Wasteland.

The quest of the story kicks off in two parts: in civilization, the scholar finds the manuscript about a journey to Elfland; in the wild, a young… something (it’s not clear what the Marsh People are, other than that they’re furry almost-humans) pays visit to an elderly Christian hermit who has a final request for him. Simak very subtly highlights the uncanny nature of fey and the uneasiness that exist between them, even in the relatively peaceful Borderlands.

Gib, the young Marsh Man, is visiting a gnome, who has just finished a new ax-head for him, on his way to see the hermit.

“I only called on the hermit once. A neighborly act, I thought. I took him, as a gift, a fine pair of silver candlesticks. I never went again. I fear that I embarrassed him. I felt an unease in him. He said nothing, of course….”

“He wouldn’t,” said Gib. “He is a kindly man.”

“I shouldn’t have done it,” said the gnome. “It came from living so long in the land of humans and dealing so much with them that I began to lose the distinction between myself and man. But to the hermit, and I suppose many other men, I am a reminder of that other world in which I properly belong, against which men still must have a sense of loathing and disgust, and I suppose for a reason. For ages man and the many people of my world fought very hard and viciously against one another, with no mercy, and I suppose, at most times, without a sense of honor. In consequence of this, the hermit,  who is, as you say, the kindliest of men, did not quite know how to handle me. He must have known that I was harmless and carried no threat to him or any of his race, and yet he was uneasy. If I had been a devil, say, or any sort of demon, he would have known how to act. Out with the holy water and the sacred spells. But I wasn’t a devil, and yet in some obscure way I was somehow connected with the idea of the devil. All these years I have regretted that I called on him.”

“And yet he took the candlesticks.”

“Yes, he did. Most graciously, and he thanked me kindly for them. He was too much a gentleman to throw them back in my face. He gave me, in return, a length of cloth of gold. Someone, I suppose, perhaps some noble visitor, had given it to him, for the hermit would have had no money to buy so princely a gift. I have often thought, however, that he should have kept it and given me a much more lowly gift. I’ve wondered all these years what I possibly could do with a length of cloth of gold. I keep it in a chest and I take it out now and then and have a look at it, but that is all I ever do with it. I suppose I could trade it off for something more utilitarian, but I hesitate to do that, for it was the hermit’s gift and for that reason seems to me to have a certain sentimental value. One does not sell gifts, particularly a gift from so good a man.”

“I think,” said Gib, “that you must imagine much of this—the hermit’s embarrassment, I mean. I for example, have no such feeling toward you. Although, in fairness, I must admit that I am not a human.”

“Much closer than I am,” said the gnome, “and therein may lie a difference.”

Something to think about in your game–humans and demi-humans, even when not directly at odds, may always have a sense of unease about one another on a deep, spiritual level, and the unease will be mutual. These aren’t just people from different races, but beings from different worlds!


Saved for posterity (Keep on the Borderlands)

I’ve been doing some cleanup and came across this for whomever might be interested.  It was my “scratch paper” when I was tallying up the strength for the fighting forces for my Keep on the Borderlands posts (and as such will only make sense in that context).

In the keep:
1. Men at arms (F1/Heavy Inf) 2
2. Heavy Crossbowmen (F1/Heavy Inf w/xBows) 8
Men at arms/Bowmen (F1/Heavy Inf w/LBows) 24
3. Corporal (F2/Heavy Inf) 1
Men at arms (F1/Heavy Inf) 2
4. “Lackeys” (F0/Auxilia) 8
5. none
6. Bailiff (F3/Heavy Inf) 1
Men at arms (F1/Lt. Inf) 6
Men at arms (F1/Heavy Inf w/xBows) 6
7. Merch Guards (F2/Heavy Inf) 2
Priest (C3?/Heavy Inf) 1
Acolytes (C1/Heavy Inf) 2
8. Smith (F1/Lt Inf) 1
9. Provisioner (F1/Auxilia) 1
10.Trader & Sons (F0/Auxilia) 3
11.Banker (F3/Heavy Inf) 1
Magic User (MU2/Magic) 1
Merc (F1/Heavy Inf) 1
12.Men at Arms (F1/Heavy Bowmen) 6
Men at Arms (F1/Lt Inf) 6
Captain (F3/Heavy Inf) 1
15.Merc (F1/Lt Inf) 5
Taverner & Son (F0/Auxilia) 2
16.Guild Master & Clerks (F0/Auxilia) 3
Men at Arms (F1/Lt Inf) 4
17.Curate (C5/Hvy Inf) 1
Acolytes (C1/Hvy Inf) 3
18.Guards (F1/Hvy Inf) 8
Guards (F1/Hvy Inf w/xbows) 8
Guards (F1/Hvy Inf w/Lbows) 8
Captain (F3/Hvy Inf) 1
Sergeant (F2/Hvy Inf) 1
19 Guards (F1/Hvy Inf w/xBows) 8
20 Guards (F1/Hvy Inf) 8
Guards (F1/Hvy Inf w/xbows) 8
Guards (F1/Hvy Inf w/Lbows) 8
Corporal (F1/Hvy Inf) 1
21 non
22.Men-at-arms (F1/Hvy Inf) 2
23.Guards (F1/Hvy Inf) 8
Guards (F1/Hvy Inf w/xbows) 8
Guards (F1/Hvy Inf w/Lbows) 8
Corporal (F1/Hvy Inf) 1
24.Guards (F1/Hvy Inf w/xbows) 8
Guards (F1/Hvy Inf) 8
Hvy Cav (F1/Hvy Cav) 12
Med Cav (F1/Med Cav) 18
Men at Arms (F1/Lt Inf) 2
26.Men at Arms (F1/Hvy Inf w/xBows) 12
Men at Arms (F1/Hvy Inf) 12
Scribe (C2/Hvy Inf) 1
Advisor (E3/Hvy Inf) 1
27.Castellan (F6/Hvy Inf) 1

Rank & File:
Heavy Infantry 2 + 2 + 2 +2 + 1 + 3 + 8 + 2 + 8 + 12 = 40
Heavy bowmen/xbowmen 8 + 24 + 6 + 6 + 8 + 8 + 8 + 8 + 8 + 8 + 8 + 8 + 12 = 120
Lt. Infantry 6 + 1 +6 + 5 + 4 + 2 = 24
Auxilia 8 + 1 + 3 + 2 + 3 = 17

heavy cavalry 12
medium cavalry 18

Command Level
Heavy Inf 1 + 1 +1 +1 +1 +1 +1 + 1 = 8

Heavy Cleric 1 + 1 + 1 = 3

Heavy/elf 1

Magic User 1
A. 8 Kobolds Lt.(1/2 HD)
1. 6 Kobolds Lt.(1/2 HD)
2. 18 rats (1/2 HD)
4. 3 Kobolds Med.Bow(1+1 HD)
5. 1 Kobold Chieftain. (2HD)
5 Fem. (1/2)
6.17 Kobold Lt.(1/2)
23 Fem (1/2)

31 Kobold Infantry (1/2 HD), 28 Female Kobolds (1/2 HD), 1 Chief(2HD), 3 Kobold bowmen (1+1)

=59 1/2 strength light infantry, 3 light bowmen, 1 lt. inf cmdr.

18 rats

B. 1 orc (1)
8. 4 orcs (1)
10.12 Male (1)
12.1 Orc chief (4)
2 female orcs (1)
13 2 giant centipedes (1/2)
14 9 orcs (1)
15 4 orcs
2 orc xbowmen
16.1 orc
1 Orc chief (hvy)(3)
1 female orc (1)

31 orcs, 3 female orcs, 2 orc chiefs (1 lt, 1 hvy), 2 xbowmen

34 Lt Infantry, 2xbowmen, 1 Lt Inf. cmdr., 1 Hvy Inf. cmdr.
D. 6 Goblins (1-1)
17.6 goblins (1-1)
18.6 goblins (1-1)
19.10 Goblins (1-1)
20.1 Chief (3, hvy)
3 goblins (1)
2 females (1-1)
21.4 goblins
4 Hobgoblins

41 Goblins (lt inf.), 1 Chief (Hvy), 4 Hobgoblins (lt inf)

23. 13 Hobgoblins (lt)
24. 2 Hobgoblins (hvy)
25. 9 Hobgoblins (lt)
26. 6 Lt xbows
27. 3 hobgoblins (hvy)
28. 1 hobgoblin (lt)
29. 2 lt xbows
2 hobgoblins (lt)
30. chief (hvy)
4 hobgoblins (lt)
31. 4 (hvy)

29 Hobgoblin Lt Inf., 9 Hobgoblin Hvy Inf., 8 Hobgoblin lt. xbowmen, 1 chief (Hvy. Inf. Cmdr.)

35. 3 bugbear hvy.
36. 1 chief (hvy)
1 bugbear hvy.
38. 3 (hvy)
10 (lt)
39. 2 (hvy)
3 (lt)

9 Bugbear Hvy, 13 Bugbear Lt., 1 Chief (Hvy).

1 minotaur
1 ogre

46 2 Gnoll hvy
2 gnoll bows
47.3 gnoll hvy
5 gnoll lt
49.6 gnoll hvy
11 gnoll lt
50.1 gnoll leader Hvy
2 hvy
4 lt

13 hvy gnolls, 2 gnoll bowmen, 20 lt. gnolls, 1 chief.
K 8 zombies lt
52. 12 skeletons lt
53. 8 zombies lt
54. 4 acolytes hvy
56 4 adepts (hvy)
57. 20 skeletons lt
20 zombies hvy
58. 3 zombies hvy
1 evil priest (hvy)

16 zombie lt inf., 32 skeleton lt inf, 23 zombie hvy inf, 9 evil priests (hvy)

A Bizarre Essay in Which I Relate Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America to the Keep on the Borderlands

Well, i didn’t think I’d get a gaming related post out of de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, but maybe I did after all. I’m only half-way through, intending to begin Vol.II sometime soon, and I’ll admit the reading is laborious as a)it is the first English translation which is both archaic and free-wheeling with some of de Tocqueville’s actual intent, b) the edition I have is riddled with typos; apparently no copy editor felt it worth reading the whole book because they anticipated how few would take the time to read it cover to cover (the quantity and blatantness of the typos seem to pick up midway through and get progressively worse up to the end), and c) I have a new baby kitten who demands a lot of attention.

I have a lot of more useful and productive thoughts that have been inspired by the work, such as my ideas on how a standardization of the teaching of US history nationwide in public schools has undermined the sovereignty of the individual republics by denying their citizens a national identity beyond the Federal government over the course of the last century (damn you and your ilk, Dewey, all playing the long game against the American people!), but that’s not why you clicked on this post on a tabletop gaming blog.

I’ve blogged a bit on Keep on the Borderlands and the nature of each ‘side’ in the standoff. As has been pointed out, the Caves of Chaos are not actually defensible and constitue soft targets, as opposed to the Keep, a bastion of civilization that, barring catastrophy, will stand on the forefront of borders until pioneers have fully displaced the native humanoids by means of settlement, agriculture and urbanization, pushing back the borders until the Keep is a relic of a bygone era of expansion.

Yes, I’m comparing the plight of the greenskins in the Caves of Chaos to that of the Native Americans in early 19th century North America. The Indians are depicted by de Tocqueville as a noble and savage people whose virtues and vices rend them incapable of withstanding the encroachment of the Anglo-American. They are “savage” in that they have not adopted the principal trappings of civilization: settlement*, agriculture, and manufacturing. The natives were “Noble” in that they prized their freedom and independence above all things, but also, as a hunter/warrior people, looked down on efforts to ‘settle down’ and engage in the arduous work of agriculture. Indeed, the agriculture of groups who chose to settle down was beset not only by the derision of their fellows but by the lack of experience, which hampered their ability to compete with the Anglo-Americans.

As pioneers pressed westward into the American Wilds, game would flee before them. The sounds of agriculture and husbandry was said to have driven game unknown even to the pioneers far beyond hills and rivers, thus, tribes were puzzled at the situation that had driven away their livelihoods even before they came into contact with the cause of their woes. Once the land had been rendered destitute, the natives would be faced with the lose-lose proposition: stay on the land of their fathers which could no longer support them, or sell and move west with the game in the vain hope that the white man would cease his indefatigable drive toward the western seas.

Now, back to fantasy land: typically green-skin demihumans are hunters. Except in settings where your typical fantasy tropes are inverted, demihumans live in isolated tribes, rarely do they live in permanent settlements, they do not engage in agricultural pursuits, nor do they engage in any sort of manufacturing. They often have to trade for what they themselves cannot make, and that which they cannot trade for, they steal.

Now, the civilized race of Men build their cities and extend their municipalities, farmlands and hunting grounds into the wilds that are inhabited by these less civilized peoples. By doing so, they make it increasingly difficult for the demi-humans to provide subsistence for themselves by their traditional means. While the goblins could theoretically attempt to settle down and take up farming, they are disadvantaged by not having a long history of agricultural knowledge upon which they can build. They would work harder, work for less and be shamed by the derisions of their hunters and warriors. For these reasons, when Humans and Demi-humans come into contact with one another, they are destined for conflict. The Human sees the lands inhabitted by the Demi-Humans as ill-used: they do not build towns on it, they do not till it, they do not use it for manufacturing. The land is worth more in terms of real output and productivity to the civilized race than the savage. The encroachment of Human civilization exacerbates the wants and needs of demi-humans, who come to desire manufactured goods but have little means of acquiring them, less so because of the decrease in local game. The demi-humans then have no recourse but to wage war on the encroaching civilization or flee deeper into the wilds.

Games and settings may introduce ideas and concepts such as evil gods as an primemover of conflicts between monstrous demi-humans and humans, but even in the absence of such devices, the two cultures would inevitably clash until the primitive culture is destroyed by the heroic force of pioneers determined to seize all that providence has laid before them or the savage culture adopts enough of a degree of civilization that it can maintain itself and retain a claim to land on slightly more equal footing as their oppressor.

Consider the Borderlands scenario. What would it take for the peoples of the Caves to reach a sort of parity with the Keep? They would need a Keep of their own in order to stake claim to the land and protect those who would work the soil there. The Keep exists to protect the farmers who are pressing eastward, who would make better use (i.e. more productive and profitable use) of the land by establishing farms, towns and manufacturing, than the demi-humans who merely ‘reside’ in the caves, hunt and forage for food.

If the demi-humans somehow miraculously seized the Keep, they would take something from it: the advantages presented of civilization to the savage. It would afford them the opportunity to make use of the land better, incorporate some semblance of the culture and social structure which they have overtaken, in the way that eastern European barbarian tribes began to adopt the trappings of the Romans which they overran. When the opposite happens, however, and civilization defeats savagery, the civilized men take little to nothing from the Savage and the savage is wiped from the face of the earth. If the Caves of Chaos were conquered, what would be the benefit of the Humans? They would merely plunder and reclaim what was there of value (much of which was likely acquired from civilization through trade or plunder), return it to their economy, and leave the caves abandoned as municipalities sprung up in the Keep’s vicinity.

By their nature, the forces of the Cave stand no chance, however, against the encroachment of Man, Civilization and the forces of the Keep, comprised of adventurous individuals who are determined to press into the wilds in the name of that civilization and personal wealth and glory. The Caves embody the Lost Cause of the savage peoples, too proud to turn their swords to plowshares and too stubborn to continue giving up ground to the neighboring civilization. As they make their last stand, they face the inevitable fate of destruction from this earth just as those proud nomads of North America did so long ago.

*:There were exceptions to this, including much older and more advanced Mississippian culture, but the Indians displaced by settlers were primarily nomadic peoples who followed the game in the wilds. The Cherokee fared slightly better than other tribes because they had taken up some of the arts of civilization, but it ultimately did not avail them because their settled culture was still in its infancy up against over two millenia of British civilization.

Battle for the Keep on the Borderlands

Manning the Keep on the Borderlands are 244 combat-capable individuals.  Broken down, this force is comprised of 52 Heavy Infantry, 120 heavy infantry who are also equipped with bows & crossbows, 24 light infantry, 12 heavy cavalry, 18 medium cavalry, and 18 Auxilia/militia (individuals who are capable of combat & possess  equipment, though are not part of the fortress’s standard ‘fighting force’, including a low-level mage).  Among these 244, there are 8 commanders, 3 ranking clerics, and an elf, who, by virtue of their equipment, I’ve included in the total of Heavy Infantry.

An excursion to the Caves with 2/3s of this would be a fighting force of 162.

Let’s figure the makeup of this group:

All 30 cavalry

80 bowmen

5 commanders (1 captain, 3 Corporals, 1 Sergeant)

2 Clerics (The Curate & Priest)

28 Hvy Inf

18 Lt Inf

1 Elf

The total fighting force of the Caves of chaos consists of:

262 Evil Light Inf (59 kobolds + 1 chief, 34 orcs + 1 chief, 41 goblins, 29 hobgoblins, 13 bugbears, 20 gnolls, 16 zombies, 32 skeletons)

70 Evil Heavy Inf (1 orc chief, 1 goblin chief, 9 hobgoblins + 1 chief, 9 bugbears + 1 chief, 13 gnolls + 1 chief, 23 zombies, 9 evil priests, 1 minotaur, 1 ogre)

15 Evil Bowmen (various races)

There are 11 Entrances/Bolt-holes in the valley. Because of the number of entrances, it would be difficult to adequately cover any single hole or group of holes if a concentrated attack were made.  On the other hand, any group attacking from a hole that was being covered by archers would incur a good deal of injuries.

The “Keep” forces, though outnumbered in terms of both men and hit dice, have the massive advantage of firepower, with 80 bowmen to the cave’s 15.  Additionally, these bowmen aren’t light archers; they’re heavy infantry who happen to have bows & crossbows.  In the scenario I described, the Castellan stays back at the keep, but if he came along, he adds a major asset to the Keep’s force, in that, as a F6, he is stronger than either the Minotaur or Ogre.

There are a few strategies the Keep forces could employ.  They do not have the numbers to lay an effective siege; without their full number available to repel an all-out assault from a particular entrance, the Keep forces could quickly be routed.  Careful planning might allow for a few entrances to be temporarily blocked with fire or debris, but the number of entrances makes ‘smoking out’ the cave’s inhabitants untenable, at least for a force the size that the keep could field.

Rather than have teams cover each entrance, the Keep forces might setup a “zone defense” around the valley.

North: 30 bowmen, 4 lt. inf. 6 Hvy. Inf. 6 Med Cav, 6 Hvy Cav

West: 20 bowmen, 10 lt. inf., 4 Hvy Inf., 6 Med Cav

South: 30 bowmen, 4 lt. inf., 6 Hvy. Inf. 6 Med Cav, 6 Hvy Cav

Strike Team: 10 Hvy Inf (5 Acolytes, 5 Men at Arms), The Curate (C5), a Captain (F3), and Elf (E3).

The three “zone” forces would be covering the entrances on each side of the valley, with the Western force (which is covering the fewest entrances) able to move quickly to  respond to any sudden foray from the Caves.  The valley is too steep for cavalry to effectively charge anything coming out of the caves, but they would be able to speedily move to fill in a defensive gap should one arise, and pursue any eastward fleeing troops.

The strike team would act as the stick to poke the hornet’s nest. They would not go particularly deep into the cave, engaging only in probing attacks.  The strike team would shortly be followed by a group of 4 lt. and 4 hvy. infantry to the mouth of the cave.  Their purpose would be securing the strike team’s escape route, assisting with extraction and alerting the rest of the Keep’s forces to any sudden change in the tactical situation.  Unlike a heroic party, set on exploration, plunder, and systematic clearing of the cave, the strike team’s objective is to draw out the demi-humans into open combat.  The idea is that the cave’s inhabitants would not be able to effectively respond to a succession of short attacks without entering into a full, fortress-wide defensive stance, or bring a greater force to bear against the Curate’s shock troops, which would lead the counter attackers into an ambush.

If the cave assumes a defensive stance, it will focus on dealing with the Curate’s troops.  After meeting resistance, the Curate withdraws and attacks another entrance.  The inhabitants may think they are under attack from a larger force, allowing the Keep to lay a more effective siege.  Or, if they understand that there is only one group of troops they are preparing against cave-wide, the continual shifting of resources will hamper the Cave’s ability to mount a defense against the Keep’s full force.  As needed, fresh troops can be supplied to the strike team from the Zones, which will serve to create an illusion to the group’s “invincibility”, necessitating larger concentrations of demi-human forces within the caves.  I figure with the whole caves mobilized, non-combatants in danger from intruders, eventually something has to give.

This could be a long process; the strike team probably won’t be working 8-12 hour days, but rather 3-4, returning to a “zone” for rest and resupply before diving into another cave.  Additionally, this team’s secondary role would be setting fire to foliage near the cave entrances, particularly H, A, G and E.

In a pitched battle, with both sides out on the open field, the fight would be fairly evenly matched.  The main reason for this, of course, is the superiority of ranged weapons, giving the Keep’s forces maybe 2-3 rounds of missile combat prior to the start of melee.  It would be easier to judge if I’d also taken into account the total Hit Dice for each side.  Still, I have to give the edge to the Cave’s forces.  Sure, they have a lot of 1/2 HD Kobolds, but they’ve got a lot of 2-4 HD monsters, too.  If the Cave’s forces make their morale checks after suffering about 80 or so HD of losses to arrow fire, things could get a bit dicey.  Though they’re well equipped, just about all of the Keep’s troops are F1.

This “open battle” scenario also assumes that the Caves have left behind only non-combatants.  If, like the Keep’s forces, they only fielded 2/3s of their force (just over 200 troops), the Caves would still significantly outnumber the keep’s troops.  How well the Keeps archers performed would make or break the outcome for either side.

Of course, neither side in the Borderlands has an incentive to face the other on an open field.    This does not mean, however, that the situation is the strategic stalemate that it at first appears to be.  Unlike any attempts to strike against the Caves, an attack against the keep would be doomed to failure.  The forces of Chaos are the real underdogs here.  Again, the preponderance of archers and presence of both ballistae and mini-catapults makes an attack on the Keep untenable.  Unless an outside force of large numbers nowhere found within the module appears out of the east, the Keep on the Borderlands is here to stay, and it is the Caves whose days are numbered.  That’s not to argue that the Caves’ presence does not make the borderlands unsafe for those travelling east outside the Keep, merely that its threat is overstated.  The Caves pose no real threat to the Keep or any lands to the west of the keep.

This makes the Keep a key strategic importance, however.  The Keep somehow falling to the forces of Chaos would be a far more significant shift in strategic balance than the cleansing of the Caves.  The Caves, if anything, are a civilian target, more a town than a fortress.  Its presence does not exert the same influence as the Keep.  Were there instead a small castle inhabited by these demihumans, there would be a bit more parity in the region.  PCs can easily invade the caves, though demi-humans cannot realistically access the Keep.

Keep on the Borderlands makes an interesting scenario for an “Evil” campaign.  Instead of playing humans tasked with removing the nuisance of a small underground demi-human town, Borderlands offers the opportunity to play demihumans who are facing an existential threat from the presence of the Keep and its Adventurers who would set out to hunt them for sport.