Yet Another Rethink
While I have been writing up my outlines for the Black Age of Bane campaign, I am finding that I keep coming back to the wonderful picture above which is from the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide for 4E and was created by William O'Connor.
I want this picture to mean something in this campaign. It spends a lot of time on my various desktops because I like it that much.
These are the key things I want in this campaign:
- The primary threat remains the Zhentarim of Darkhold.
- The campaign should take place in three acts, for lack of a better term, with the second act ending with the darkening of the Companion, the second sun that rises above Elturgard. The third act should see light restored to the Companion.
- The first act should include gnolls as the primary threat. (Zhents will, of course, also feature.)
- The second act should include orcs as the primary threat. (And, of course, Zhents will continue to feature.)
- The third act should include shadar-kai (including krinth), shades and related shadow creatures as the primary threats.
- There should be a big set piece battle at the end of the second act as a prelude to the darkening of the Companion. I need to create some suitable rules for mass combat, probably involving a skill challenge with History as the key skill.
- The party should, at least once, infiltrate Darkhold.
Besides these key elements, I also think I want to include the following:
- There is a triad of evil behind everything: Cyric, Shar and Graz'zt. Cyric is looking for additional power to fuel his escape from his prison, Shar continues to work toward the end of everything and Graz'zt is looking to supplant Bane and take over the portfolio of tyranny with the support of both Cyric and Shar.
- I like the idea that the item that will allow the Companion to be darkened is a shadow seed, a congealed mass of the remains of the Shadow Weave. This idea comes from the LFR adventure Shades of the Zhentarim. As per the LFR adventure, the artefact needs to be recovered from the ruins of Zhentil Keep.
- Perhaps the PCs are hired to recover the shadow seed, travelling via portal, and are successful in its recovery but it is then subsequently stolen from the church of Amaunator that hired them to recover it?
Here's a rough outline of the sequence of adventures that could be played through in act one:
Adventure One: The Lost Temple of Bane
A Zhent war mage searches for a lost temple of Bane believing that it contains a portal to one of the treasure vaults of Zhentil Keep. The PCs end up following the war mage into the temple but fail to stop him from travelling through the portal. They do, however, discover writings about the Black Age of Bane and an artefact of the Shadow Weave, the shadow seed.
Adventure Two: The Ruins of Zhentil Keep
The church of Torm or church of Amaunator (as appropriate) that met the party in adventure one, hires them to return to the lost temple and travel through the portal to stop the war mage from recovering the shadow seed. The adventure is very similar to the LFR adventure that inspired it; in due course, the party must ascend the great chain to the Temple in the Sky and there defeat the Zhent war mage and the gauth guardian of the shadow seed (rather than an elite artillery 5, I will probably make the gauth a solo artillery 2 or 3) before returning to Scornubel by portal.
Adventure Three: The Shadows of Scornubel
There is a gap between adventures two and three where the PCs can do "other things". WHile they may earn money, they do not accumulate XP per my experimental rule that XP is only earned for completing each adventure. The shadow seed has been stolen from the church of Torm or Amaunator by skulks and the party is hired to recover it. They enter the shadowy underworld of Scornubel which is populated by skulks, xivorts and cultists of Graz'zt. The shadow seed is not recovered but the trail leads to the Reaching Wood.
Adventure Four: Citadel of the Dark Tree
The Zhents of the Reaching Wood lair in an enormous hollowed-out tree (per the 1E Dragon adventure The Dark Tree). The shadow seed is also not here but the party discovers that the Zhents are behind the aggression of the gnolls and that something big is planned (as in, the summoning of a lesser aspect of Yeenoghu) to unite the gnolls of the Reaching Wood into a large army.
Adventure Five: Call of the Carrion King
Act one concludes with this adventure. Zhent Cyricists and gnoll shamans have joined their powers to summon a lesser aspect of Yeenoghu. The party must fight the Carrion Conventicle and then defeat the Carrion King before he can absorb more power and, more importantly, before he can unite the gnoll tribes behind him in a great army of slaughter.
Conclusion of Act One
The shadow seed remains unrecovered and this may prove frustrating but at least the PCs can feel that they have achieved something significant by preventing the gnolls of the Reaching Wood from uniting behind an aspect of Yeenoghu. The shadow seed, and the mystery of the Black Age of Bane, remain as hooks for the adventures in act two.