The Red Hand of Doom
Formerly a fortress held and manned by a powerful family of soldiers known as the Vraaths, wo were members of the Oathsworn, this keep survived the fall of Rhestilor but later succumbed to a senseless feud with the local forest giants. For many years the keep has stood in ruins.
Looming out of the shadowy woods ahead is a haunting sight – a ruined keep. The old castle sits on a small rocky hillock, and you can catch glimpses of a broken tower between the trees. A moss-covered stone at the side of the road you’re following marks a footpath that looks like it leads up to the keep.
The old keep is in very poor repair. The gatehouse has partially collapsed, as is a section of wall to the south. A small wooden building sits next to the remains of a long-abandoned garden in front of the structure. The walls surrounding the keep are about fifteen feet high, with a two-story tower looming in the southwest corner of the courtyard within. Large boulders lie strewn amid the ruins of the two watch towers, and a massive humanoid skeleton slumps amid the ruins of the northern one. This skeleton still wears tattered fragments of hide armor, and a large club lies next to one of its bony arms.
Vraath Keep has a tragic history, as the ruins and skeletal remains clearly attest. For centuries, trade through the Witchwood used the Dawn Way, and the soldiers stationed at Vraath Keep were the primary defenders of the region, with Oathsowrn as their leaders. Their presence kept the road safe for merchants to travel.
A few years before the fall of Rhest, an ambitious young man named Amery Vraath, from a long and distinguished line of Oathsworn, inherited control of the keep. After the Rhestilor kingdom dissolved, Amery laid claim to the entire Witchwood as a protected realm. Amery sought to rid his new domain of its evil reputation. Chief among his targets was a tribe of forest giants that dwelt deep in the woods. Knows as the Twisttusks, these forest giants generally kept to themselves but raided merchants on the Dawn Way from time to time.
The brash young lord gathered together an impressive group of mercenaries and adventurers, and early one summer day led his force against the Twisttusks. The battle was furious, but in the end Amery’s men won the day and forced the Twisttusks to flee into the mountains. The soldiers burned the giants’ steading to the ground and returned to Vraath, victorious.
Yet their victory was short-lived. One week later, the surviving Twisttusks returned and attacked Vraath Keep during a tremendous thunderstorm. The giants bombarded the keep all night with hurled boulders and massive poisoned arrows. When the sun rose, four of the Twistusks lay dead amid the ruined keep, but none of the keep’s soldiers or residents remained. Those who had survived the battle were taken away to be eaten by the giants in their own victory feats – all except for Amery Vraath. The young lordling retreated into the vault below his keep after he was hot by a forest giant’s poisoned arrow, hoping to elude death, only to perish slowly of his poisoned wound. Rumors persist that Amery’s ghost haunts the ruins, and that those who dare to travel the Dawn Way at night say they sometimes hear the sounds of his anguished cries coming from somewhere deep underground.
1) Ruined Gatehouse
The keep’s gatehouse has seen better days. The watchtowers to either side have partially collapsed, and several large boulders lie strewn about. The decayed remains of two sets of large wooden gates lie in a heap on the group.
2) Gardener’s Shack
A small wooden shack sits to the east of the keep itself, near an overgrown patch of weeds that might have once been a fine garden.
This courtyard of hard-packed earth has an eerie air of desolation. Jagged boulders embedded in the ground seem to have been dropped here, or thrown from a great distance; many of the walls bear large dents and cracks where these boulders might have once struck. Two massive skeletons lie at opposite ends of the courtyard, one propped up the watchtower and the other sprawled at the far end by a building that could be a stable. To the south, where a section of the keep’s outer wall has collapsed, a third giant skeleton lies partially buried in the ruble.
4) North Tower
5) South Tower
This large wooden building has a thin layer of dry, mouldering straw strewn across the floor. To the east, an open area contains a decrepit, dust-caked forge and a large mound of moldy straw. To the west, four horse stalls divide up the remaining space.
What this squat building might once have been used for is unclear. All the furniture has been crushed into rubble, and a large nestlike mound of tree branches, bones, bits and pieces foul-smelling animal parts, and long thin spikes of some sort of black material fills the northwest corner of the room. A gaping hole in the roof in the northeast corner provides a view of the sky above.
8) Great Hall
The interior of this stone building is open and spacious. Wooden timbers support the roof above, and here and there the remains of what were probably once interior dividing walls are evident. Two large boulders sit on the floor to the south, near a large hole that has been knocked in the southeast wall. Rubble from this hole has been piled in a circle to form a crude fire pit. A poorly stuffed and rotting owlbear looms in the corner of the room.
9) Storage Room
The remains of a large table fills this room.
10) Tower Lower Floor
This circular chamber has been outfitted with a mix of furniture, including a large rotting desk, a massive broken four-poster bed. A flight of stairs arcs up along the south wall to the upper floor, and a fair amount of rubble from a hole in the ceiling lies heaped on the base of these stairs.
11) Tower Upper Floor
The roof of this circular chamber has partially collapsed to the southeast. Massive timbers slump against the floor, fallen from the rafters above. A huge gap in the tower’s east wall allows a brisk breeze into the chamber, which has four windows in the remaining walls. Three large boulders lie on the floor amid a halo of fractures and cracks.
12) Lower Vault
The Walls of this small vault are of worked stone, the ceiling is twelve feet overhead. The air is thick and smells stale and slightly smokey. Three alcoves have been cut into the walls, two to the north and one to the east. Each alcove is sealed with an iron gate and locked with chains and a large padlock. Beyond one alcove are several shelves. Beyond the second is a small desk and chair, the desk is piled high with papers and books. Beyond the third sits a single large trunk.
A human skeleton lies slumped against the eastern alcove’s gate. Still dressed in tattered chain mail, the skeleton has a massive arrow protruding from its ribs.