The Rift Canyon and the Barrens
The Rift Canyon is probably unique in all Oerik. This huge, near-200 mile long fissure is over a mile deep in places, with great sheer rock faces, scrub-wooded screes, paths which only the most agile can clamber down, honeycombs of caves, caverns, and warrens, and dark things slithering in its deepest recesses. In this unpromising place, nearly 6,000 bandits manage to survive in the caves and passages. The original 2,000 settlers have been joined by 4,000 exiles who have promised faithful service to the self-proclaimed Plar of the Rift, Durand Grossman (NE male human Rogue L11). The exiles are mostly Reyhu men, angry at their displacement from rulership by Iuz’s priests. They have joined an extraordinary society.
The way in which the bandits negotiate and travel within the Rift Canyon is astonishing enough in itself. Virtually all are effectively expert rock-climbers and have become skilled in the use of slings, sling-staffs, light crossbows, lariats and similar hillsmen’s weapons. They have developed a very complex system of signs, involving rock-marking, scratches on moss and lichen patches, and the use of plant stains and such to signal safe and unsafe paths and the presence of Iuz’s forces. The bandits have shown real resilience by surviving here.
The Plar doesn’t just have humans to call upon, either. Hobgoblins, ores and half-ores native to the Rift have allied with him, and the Plar has some other monstrous aid too. A pair of trained adult hippogriffs are sent aloft with agile riders to spy and the Plar himself has almost a dozen “pet” displacer beasts. Most startlingly, the Plar is able to call on the services of a deep-laired gorgimera in times of real need. A handful of hell hounds, kept well away from the displacer beasts, are used to protect tunnel entrances which lead to major caves and caverns around the Rift. The loyalty of these creatures may in part be due to the services of the ex-Aerdi mage Menfri Rauveen, who is researching the magical secrets of the Rift. He is also good for morale. Seeing an invading warband of orcs toasted by chain lightning is an awesome sight for bandits, many of whom have never seen such mighty magics before.
Survival in the Rift
However, these survivors are beset with problems. Cranzer is determined to wipe out as many as possible, mostly because the vital silver mines scattered around the area of Riftcrag are the only material resource worth having in the Bandit Lands. To secure their safety, his troops ruthlessly exterminate all bandits seen within some 30 miles of Riftcrag, where the mines are located. Others may be captured, in the hope of getting them to yield information about safe pathways. Since such routes are often sabotaged, booby-trapped, and then renewed by the Plar’s men, any information which is so obtained by Iuz’s men is soon rendered out of date. Nonetheless, Cranzer employs goblins and ores for mass attacks in warbands of 200 and more. Well-equipped strike parties of orcs, orogs and hobgoblins with priests and mages are used for more important actions against the Plar.
The second problem the Rift bandits have is simple: just getting enough to eat to stay alive. The Rift itself has fish, lizards and the like in the caves and their pools and springs, and some hardy goats on the hilly surfaces of the canyon and even the barrens beyond. Trapping yields a few birds, hares and other small animals. But this is meager fare and the bandits are forced to raid beyond the Rift in search of food. The Tangles provides some, and raids on supply trains headed for Riftcrag, Balmund or Hallorn provide more, but starvation is a very real threat.
A third problem is the bizarre weather of the Rift. Highly localized, swirling, gale-force winds can sweep men away from rock faces in the blink of an eye. In the winter, bitter frosts make any traversing of the rocks very dangerous indeed and Iuz’s forces have learned most of the direct passage routes to the surface by now and stand guard over them. Drifting mists can make rock moist and as hazardous as ice and frost. Rockfalls are common, and cave-ins are hardly uncommon. This is dangerous terrain, to be sure.
Finally, the most inaccessible parts of the Rift, both on the Rift floor and in the deepest caves, have many monsters still, though bandits and humanoids have wiped out most of those which lived along the sides of this great crevasse over the last hundred or so years. Around a hundred ogres, though, still hang on to possession of one cluster of caves due north of Sheerwatch and represent a real threat to anyone approaching their domain. Behirs, carrion crawlers, cave fishers, giant lizards, and gelatinous cubes are among some of the more-commonly reported hazards. A singular annis, a beholder, and, allegedly, a small group of illithids present more formidable, if thankfully rarer, threats. It is also very likely that passages to Underdark are to be found in some part of the Rift and there have been reports of dinosaur-like and prehistoric beasts in some of the very deep caverns below the Rift.