The various PCs can be found at the beginning of this post.
At long-last the party's combined stronghold, Skullfang Castle, is done! The name is part of an extended joke: the massive black castle looming over the border river is named Skullfang Castle - but it is not a dungeon!
The region is the northernmost part of the Dells, a collection of small almost-countries. Riverdell is the central, largest, and wealthiest. It is ruled by a council of merchants. There is also Darhan (based around a Hill Dwarf fortress) on the western border, Whitedell Abbey (a cathedral and training center/home for paladins and why the word 'dell' is used fairly often) to the south, Eastcarp (an influential Human baron) on the east. The northernmost 'nation', Newbriar, ends about 60-70 miles south Skullfang. The area in-between the actual border and Newbriar is made up of about 5 'petty barons' and a scattering of semi-independent small towns. Doomsman of course plans to consolidate as much of this region under his personal rule as possible.
The fortress itself is built on a promontory overlooking the Black Pass, the only way for anyone to get even a cart over the rugged Black Hills for over a hundred miles. It also overlooks the Old Bridge, a stone bridge crossing the Silver River at the mouth of the pass and the only secure crossing of the river until you are inside Newbriar and 80 miles downstream. The Redcaps had controlled the area for years, using it to stage raids along the frontier, until the party came and threw back the local humanoid garrisons. Then the party built all of their fortresses together where they could control the pass and the bridge.
The fortress itself has a strong keep, two outer baileys and two large walled wards. In inner ward holds the cathedral built by Darkwalk (who has been made a bishop by His Holiness) and the outer wards, over three acres, is hopefully for the beginnings of a small village.
The party wanted to celebrate the last construction being finished by an attack on the Redcaps. The Redcaps are an alliance of Hobgoblin and Goblin tribes with associated bugbears and giants. They are also closely allied with/actually ruled by (no one is sure) a temple of Plague Priests, a temple of Slaughter Priests, a temple of Death Priests, and a cabal of necromancers.Having spent a lot of their career pushing the Redcaps back from the region where they built their fortress this is totally expected.
But first - local politics! The closest village is ruled by the grandson of a retired adventurer who built a keep near the border. This frontier baron has a small (10-12 men-at-arms) bodyguard and militia (30-35 militia) and he is served by his brother (a knight) and his grandfather's last surviving adventuring partner, a mage.
The baron really only claims the village around his keep and a few thorpes nearby, no more than about 50 square miles and about 500 people (which includes about 100 Halflings). The party actually knows the baron; one of their first adventures was to deal with some goblin raiders for his advisor, the mage. Indeed, the series of adventures that led to is why they built their fortress where it is, just 7 miles away over the Silver River. Since the baron had never claimed even the bridge....
The party soon finds out that the baron has now claimed the south bank of the river and is charging large tolls on all goods, food, weapons, etc. crossing 'his' bridge. Stardust's spy network reveals that the baron and the mage are both concerned about the possibility of the party dominating the area and offended that 'mercenaries' would dare to challenge them. The baron also hopes that he can tax the party into either abandoning the fortress (letting him claim it) or attacking him - an action he hopes would rally the other petty barons of area to his banner.
The party decided to largely ignore him until after they dealt with the Redcap fortress just 30 miles from the western access to the pass (and built in direct response to their fortress). They mounted their hippogriffs and flew off on a scouting trip.
The first night they were attacked in camp by a band of carnivorous apes and their hobgoblin trainer. The fight was a nice warm up. The next day they reached the Redcap stronghold, a strong tower keep with a surrounding curtain-walls-with-corner-towers setup. All of the towers were roofed and the walls were topped with hoardings. A sneak peek by Mournglow's familiar found that each tower had 3 hobgoblin guards on duty and the main keep had a human in robes and a shaved head with his head tattooed so that it looked as if his skull was gripped from behind by two black hands.
The party immediately named him 'Creepyhead'.
They were pretty sure Creepyhead could see invisible, too.
The party used illusion to get close to the walls and then infiltrated one of the towers. Stardust led the way and, frankly, 3 hobgoblins vs. a 13th level thief was lots of unfair. The towers all had 3 hobs on duty, 7 sleeping, and a sergeant on duty at the bottom door.The party was able to clear two of the towers before an alert sergeant raised the alarm.
They immediately assaulted the last tower using Doomsman's Maul of Thunderbolts to break down the door. As they were fighting the prepared hobs a Spectral Hand crackling with black energy slipped through the wall and paralyzed Doomsman with a touch! The fight continued with the hand dealing out touch attacks as the party tried to figure out where Creepyhead was to have line of sight. Eventually Stardust whipped out her Gem of Seeing and realized - Creepyhead was 'looking' through the skulls scattered all over as decoration!
Creepyhead was using a variant of Corpse Link to watch them from afar and to direct his Spectral Hand. So they started smashing skulls. Not too much later Mournglow (who wears Glasses of Seeing the Invisible) spotted a flying Creepyhead outside the tower and hit him with a Chromatic Orb. Creepyhead saved, so he was only paralyzed, and flew away to the keep.
In the meantime they got Doomsman un-paralyzed and prepared for the army of skeletons, word-riding Goblin archers, and Hobgoblin pikemen surrounding the tower and preparing to attack.
Of course this is when Darkwalk got a Whispering Wind from his henchman back at the fortress stating
"The fortress is besieged!"
This caused consternation for two reasons; one, trouble at home is no good, and; two, Darkwalk was pretty sure his henchman Starwing didn't know Whispering Wind.
The battle was over relatively fast, what with Ember being alive, conscious, and knowing about 20 variations of Fireball plus having a high level fighter. as they mowed down the troops they learned that Creepyhead and his personal staff had fled.
They used magic and items to smash the gates and turned to begin the trip home, wondering if they should burn a teleport scroll and abandon their mounts. Eventually they recevied another Whispering Wind from Redfire, Ember's henchman, that said,
"Besieged by baron. Bearkiller wounded. Keep secure. Permission to attack?"
[Bearkiller is the captain of Doomsman's elite troops]
Ember was able to send return permission.
After a rest the party did Teleport home once the hippogriffs were close enough to make their own way the last 30 miles or so. By that time the main fight was over.
While they were away Bearkiller had sent a group of men on patrol and the men had later crossed the bridge for supplies, gladly paying. On their return the baron's guards had harassed the troops, accusing them of lying.
Doomsman's elite troops are barbarians
Doomsman's men beat up the baron's guards, threw the guard's weapons into the river, and threw the collected tolls in for good measure, then headed to the Keep. Within an hour the baron, his men, and 120 mercenaries were drawn up before the castle [they learned later the provocation at the bridge had been on purpose to create a reason for a battle]. The baron told the henchmen (who were leading while the party was away) that the other petty barons were sending troops to help drive them out. Bearkiller led a foray of troops from the sally port but was ambushed by the baron's mage with a fireball, badly injuring the keep's best troops. That was when Starwing sent the first message.
After Redfire received permission to attack Stardust's "scouts" slipped out and eliminated the enemies watching the sally port. Then Redfire led a team of henchmen and elite troops to assault the baron's HQ tent.
Stardust's henchman, a knight, killed the baron's brother in a jousting duel. Bearkiller (healed by Starwing) ended up killing the baron. One of Stardust's "scouts" killed the mage as he was about to cast a spell. Redfire [a fire elementalist like his boss, Ember] and the troops slapped around the troops and mercenaries until the mage and baron died. At that point the mercenaries called for truce, gathered their dead and wounded, and left. The surviving 3 men-at-arms limped home and the militia had left in round 2. The party arrived well after the fight was over.
The other four petty barons from the area did arrive the next day, all with just token bodyguards. They met with Doomsman, toured the fortress, learned that the 5 party members had taken out a stronghold by themselves in a single afternoon while their servants wiped out their hated rival (turns out the local baron was loathed by his neighbors - that is why they wouldn't help with the goblins years before). The next day the petty barons and the local villagers had all sworn fealty to Doomsman, making him Lord of over 7,500 square miles!
Well, sure, he has to clear most of it. And only about one fifth is settled. And only about one fourth is arable. And it is the border with an army of 10,000+ humanoids.
But it is his!