I love Judges Guild’s Campaign Hexagon Sub-System for its flavor, random generators, and sandbox utility, and although I’ve finished rolling up sample Campaign Hexagon entries for every book in the series, I saved an “honorary member” for last: Frontier Forts of Kelnore.
The conceit behind these frontier forts is, basically, Rome.
In the Elder Days once stretched the Kingdom of Kelnore for many leagues across the land. To guard its far-flung frontiers, the Kings of Kelnore built a series of forts surrounding the borders. The King’s Master Mason of the time had a great fear of the “irregular.” And so with his supervision, the serfs and peasants labored to make each fort exactly like every other.
Except, that being a long time ago, they’re not always exactly alike. Some have fallen into ruin, others were modified by their garrison commanders, and still others were altered by post-fall of Kelnore owners.
So when the PCs roll up on a Kelnore fort, they’ll have an idea of what it looks like inside, but they won’t know the specifics. This is the first time I’ve come across this concept in fantasy gaming, and I absolutely love it.
It’s fantastic from a flavor standpoint, as well as for minimizing prep. I can also see a campaign-specific “manual of engagement” arising during play, with the PCs using what they’ve learned from raiding these forts in the past to determine their approach when they encounter one.
While not actually part of the Campaign Hexagon series, Frontier Forts feels like it should be. The book is a bit different from those volumes, as it includes some complete dungeons built using the fort sections, but the random generators have that Campaign Hexagon feel to them.
Okay, dice time!
Hark, a frontier fort!
- Table 2: Table 1, which comes second in the book, is for the site of the fort; the book opens with this table because it guides future rolls, and you might already know the site. (I’ll be rolling for it.) Anyhoo, my d6 roll begets a 2: abandoned. The other three columns tell me that I’ll be making 3 rolls for ruins, 1 for alterations, and 1 for additions. I like this approach. (On a 6, I’d have gotten an active stronghold: zero ruins rolls, 3 alterations, 3 additions.)
- Site and Surroundings: Forward-backtracking to see where the fort is, I get a 17: desert. If the hex containing the fort isn’t desert, that’s an interesting result; I’ll keep it in mind for now.
- Ruins: My three d20 rolls are a 20 (wall section collapsed), a 14 (gate/wall walk collapsed), and a 6 (barracks floor collapsed). This place is a shithole.
- Alterations: Before it became a shithole, though, someone made a change to it. I rolled a 19, “Wall built across Courtyard.” What for? I have an idea based on the desert-in-a-non-desert hex thing, but I’ll just keep it in mind for now.
- Additions: I’m not sure why this is only a d12 table, not d20, but I rolled a 6: “Wooden stockade built around walls.” So this fort saw some serious action at some point — serious enough that they added a stockade wall to make it more defensible. I’m picturing a bitter last stand in this fort’s past.
Here’s how these sorts of changes to the fort plans (which are included in the book, of course) look in the sample dungeons:
- Principal Creature/Leader: This table is a d20 roll cross-referenced with the type of fort — abandoned, in this case. My 17 gets me a hydra.
- Random Location: Where’s its lair? A 6, the courtyard. Sweet.
- Alignment: I’m not going to worry about whether a hydra might have a preset alignment in some editions, I’m just going to roll because it’s more interesting that way. I get a 46, lawful good. Now we’re cooking with gas! This ruined fort just went from a monster lair to . . . something else (but also a monster lair).
- Leader Level: Maybe a bit fuzzy when applied to a hydra, but I’ll roll and see what it suggests. My 73 makes the hydra level 9, with 5-d4 henchmen (net 3) and 6-d6 hirelings (net 5). It makes sense to me that a lawful good hydra might have some buds; I’ll worry about the level thing later.
- Leader Vocation: Yeah, this one’s probably also only for use with “Man” results on the leader table, but in for a penny. I get a 5, magic user.
- Attendants: This is the first of four tables which correspond to a note under the Leader Level table: “Henchmen – roll on Attendants, Retainers, & Warriors Tables.” (A second note applies to hirelings.) No instructions, so I randomize which table to roll on for each henchman, then each hireling. Only one henchman turned out to be an attendant, and a 15 tells me she’s an “Acquintence.”
- Warriors: I got two warrior henchmen, so I roll 2d20: two 11s, “Light Cavalry Bowman.” I also had two hirelings turn out to be warriors: an 8, “Heavy Foot Bowman,” and an 11, “Light Cavalry Bowman.” I’m digging the archer theme.
- Servants: My d2 rolls to randomize hirelings produced three servants. Follow-on d20 rolls: 3, 8, 13, for waiter, groom, and chambermaid. This shithole is now a bit posh. Maybe they’ve just moved in?
The rest of the tables cover random room contents, associated monster denizens, and what you might find inside. Those all feel out of place for a fort with a leader and its posse (it seems like they’d have cleaned it out already), so I’m going to skip them. If instead I’d rolled a ruin, or skipped the leader/hirelings portion of the generator, I’d use these tables.
Here’s how I’d pull all that together into a fort.
The hydra is a transformed magic user, Lord Pennigrave Hockney, who’s been tasked with cleaning up these filthy borderlands. He’s accompanied by an elite squad of archers, three mounted and one afoot; the latter is also a scout. An aide appointed by the queen also accompanies Hockney, ostensibly to provide advice but really to make sure he doesn’t eat anyone important. Naturally, a lord — even a hydra lord — can’t be expected to travel without certain creature comforts, so Hockney brought along his groom, chambermaid, and waiter.
Coming across a dilapidated fort surrounded by a couple acres of desert — a surprise, given that they’re not in a desert — Hockney and company decided to make it work. They cleared it out, disappointed to find much of it in ruin, but the underground crypts would do to house the troops and servants for the time being. Hockney himself will have to live in the courtyard.
They weren’t sure what to make of the wall that had been constructed in that courtyard, dividing it in two. But the remnants of thick shackles made it clear that at some point in the past, the garrison had imprisoned a creature — or unusual person — in one-half of the courtyard, retaining the rest for their use.
Scorch marks, melted stone, and other signs of magic also pointed to the desertification of the surrounding area not being natural. More disturbing, after a few days in the fort, they’ve noticed that the desert seems to be slowly expanding . . .
If the unit is out conducting a raid, only the servants will be home. If they’re scouting the area, Hockney himself (itself?) will be present. Either way, the PCs aren’t likely to expect a lawful good wizard-hydra on a mission from the queen.
Like the other random-generator books JG has produced, I really dig Frontier Forts of Kelnore.
 I don’t envy anyone who has to empty a hydra’s chamberpot.
 Which, yes, come standard in Kelnore forts. I love Judges Guild!
 Or, to be fair, the waiter.