Friday, 29 June 2012

Knights of the North - Adventure One

The Blade of Lathander
 A 1st-Level Adventure for the Knights of the North Campaign





Location: Valhingen Graveyard

After arriving in Phlan, the PCs seek out information on the location of their parents' remains. This leads to Valhingen Graveyard where the party frees the doomguide of Kelemvor they need to speak to from the clutches of a mad Cyricist and his graverobber followers.

Location: Ruins of Twilight Keep

They follow the doomguide's advice to the Twilight Marsh where they find an abandoned fort once belonging to the Zhents and the site of their parents' last stand. It is now the lair of a Cult of the Dragon cell with their two black dragon wyrmlings.

After defeating the Cultists, the party find their parents' burial site only to be confronted by a vindictive Zhentarim spirit. Its defeat allows one or more of the parents' ghosts to speak to the PCs. It seems there is a new quest: to find and recover the legendary Blade of Lathander from deeper in the swamp.

Location: Lost Temple of Bhaal

The PCs ultimately find a black dragon's lair - the mother of the two wyrmling they presumably slew - which is a cave-like opening in a large mound. The Blade of Lathander is part of the dragon's hoard. Beneath the mound is an ancient temple - more than 1,000 years old - devoted to the dead power, Bhaal.

The temple is now seeing some activity. There are lizardfolk guards and a presiding cleric - a fallen doomguide of Kelemvor who now thinks he is a cleric of Bhaal but is actually a cleric of Cyric. His name is Varak Redshield. Perhaps even more dangerous is the hezrou that the cleric commands - its name is Toadface and the lizardfolk and bullywugs of the Twilight Marsh see it as some sort of avatar of the powers that they respectively reverence. Zhent emissaries are also present.

While lizardfolk are guarding the temple and serving the cleric (and Toadface), there are also lizardfolk prisoners. If rescued they open up an optional expansion of this adventure.

Location: The Tomb of the Lizard King

The lizardfolk prisoners solicit the party's aid in freeing their fellows from their task of uncovering the lost Tomb of the Lizard King. It seems that if the tomb is uncovered and the lizard king freed a great evil will be unleashed within the Twilight Marsh. If the PCs act with haste they can ensure that the tomb is not opened otherwise they will need to enter and put an end to the threat posed by the lizard king, Sakatha, who is now a lizard king vampire.

(Toadface wants the lizard king to be awakened.)


Third level has been reached (possibly 4th but I will play with the XP awards and try and restrict it to 3rd) and the party has completed the major quest to recover the Blade of Lathander.

They have clashed with the Cult of the Dragon and with Zhents and are aware that the Zhents are becoming more active again in the Moonsea. A cleric of Kelemvor may have been slain as a cleric of Bhaal/Cyric or rescued from evil. Lizardfolk have been freed from a very evil influence (they may also wish for a new treaty with Phlan which the Lord Protector will welcome).

And the party has slain their first dragon (the two wyrmlings don't count).

All in all, I think if that is the way the adventure works out then it's a pretty good start to the new campaign.

Monster List

Named NPCs and Monsters
  • Dalmanu: solo controller 1 (male human wizard)
  • Graverobber 1: lurker 1
  • Graverobber 2: skirmisher 1
  • Thelzar, Zhentarim spirit: solo controller 2 (former male human wizard)
  • Toadface: elite or solo brute 4 (hezrou fiend of blasphemy)
  • Varak Redshield: elite soldier 3 (male human cleric of Cyric)
  • Zzygarn: solo lurker 3 (female young black dragon) - can return as a dracolich

Generic NPCs and Monsters

  • black dragon wyrmling
  • Black Watch city guard, minion soldier 3
  • Black Watch guard captain, soldier [leader] 3
  • bullywug
  • Cult of the Dragon sellsword, minion soldier 2
  • Cult of the Dragon wizard's apprentice, minion artillery 2
  • darktentacles, elite controller 4 (check Neverwinter Campaign Setting)
  • lizardfolk, lurker 2
  • lizard king, brute 8 = elite brute 3 or 4
  • lizard king vampire, elite brute 8 = solo brute 3 or 4
  • Zhent sword fodder (minion soldier 1)
Brainstorming the Adventure

While this is written up like a railroad, the PCs will be free to make other choices. Just as a line is the shortest distance between two points, I want to keep this synopsis as brief as possible.

This is also a first cut. Right now it really doesn't have enough encounters. It also needs a few more encounters that are actually interesting.

I should also include a conflict between the unaligned lizardfolk and the chaotic evil bullywugs. A conflict like this - with the potential for the party to take sides - also offers the opportunity to gain allies, something I am normally hopeless at including in my games.

  • The PCs arrive in Phlan and are surprised by the paranoia and heightened alertness of the Black Watch.
  • Need information on the site of their parents' last stand. Parents were never given a proper burial.
  • Library is a smouldering ruin. Librarians helpfully point them in the direction of the doomguide of Kelemvor in Valhingen Graveyard.
  • Doomguide is not there. Kidnapped by grave robbers working for a strifeleader of Cyric who is also a Zhent agent (some freelance stirring up of strife). Report to Black Watch - hired to find him. Black Watch is busy watching for Zhents.
  • Explore graveyard. Find graverobbers (skirmisher or lurker 1; level >1 encounter). Use Eye on the Realms article for names and picture.
  • Evil tomb complex - the tomb of a traitor? Cadorna? Maybe use ideas from the low-level delve in Open Grave. Doomguide to be sacrificed to Cyric. This is a three-encounter Delve: skeleton guards (minion soldier 1; level 1 encounter), zombies (brute 1; level 1 encounter), strifeleader or eye of fear and flame/flameharrow (solo controller 1; level 1 encounter). Recover some old, rare books that can be given to Mantor's Library for when they rebuild (worth a minor quest reward => add to graverobber encounter to give level 1 encounter XP).
  • Doomguide is able to use Kelemvorite magic to locate the remains of the PCs' parents.
  • Doomguide provides some consumable items.
From Phlan to the Twilight Marsh

The route is the along the Phlan path across the Trank River before turning south into the Twilight Marsh.
  • (Phlan Path) Red Claw goblin bandits (skirmisher 1 and minion skirmisher 1) with a hobgoblin commander (soldier [leader] 2).
  • (Phlan Path) Knight of the Black Gauntlet patrol (all soldiers).
  • (Bridge across the Trank River) Lizardfolk (lurker 2).
  • (Twilight Marsh) Darktentacles (elite controller [?] 4).
  • (Twilight Marsh) Cult of the Dragon mercenaries led by a mage.

The Twilight Keep

This uses the map of the Moathouse from Village of Hommlet, either the 1E or 4E version.
  • Giant frogs. It wouldn't be the moathouse without giant frogs.
  • Zhent patrol spying on the Cultists in Twilight Keep. At least one will attempt to escape.
  • Basic encounters: Cultist mercenary (soldier 1; sellsword - minion soldier 1), Cultist mage (artillery 1; apprentice mage - minion artillery 1), Cultist scout (skirmisher 1). NPCs: cleric of Beshaba (elite soldier or controller 2), swordcaptain (elite soldier 2), wizard wearer of the purple (elite controller 2; wears ring of dragons and has a lesser tome of the dragon). Combine into two level 1 encounters, one level 2 encounter and one level 3 encounter.
  • Two wyrmling black dragons (elite lurker 2 or 3).
  • The PCs should be 2nd-level before they enter the dungeon level.
  • Ghast NPC (elite something 4) - use the named ghast from Dungeon 53 - Steelheart for inspiration.
  • Zhentarim spirit (solo controller 2).
  • Major quest: bury their parents. Actually, they are buried but there are stones there that can be used for a more appropriate memorial.
  • A ghost of one of their parents directs them to find Zzygarn's lair in order to recover the Blade of Lathander.
Zzygarn's Mound

A skill challenge might be in order at this point.
  • Lizardfolk can be parleyed with so that they will point the way to the dragon's lair (are there any low-level divination rituals the PCs could use?);
  • Zzygarn (solo lurker 3) has her lair in a great mound (use 1E's Tomb of the Lizard King for inspiration) that may be the tomb of an ancient lizardfolk, orc or human king from before the fall of Northkeep (treat as a three-encounter delve and include at least one trap as part of the three encounters). The encounter with the dragon will provide the PCs with enough XP to reach 3rd-level.
Return to Phlan
  • Zhent ambush (level 3 encounter) with a demand for the ring of dragons. This encounter should involve a lot of minions (including archers that are minion artillery so that they are launching a cavalcade of ranged attacks) so that the PCs when they first see the map and the miniatures feel like it's a serious ambush. Of course, at this point they're 3rd-level so it's time for them to show what badasses they've become!
The next adventure begins when they reach Phlan and deals with Zhent infiltration of the city via a portal beneath a haunted former tavern (the Red Spyglass) and leads to Zhent pirates and slavers  (although the party may first deal with a Tyranthraxus-possessed cleric of Bane who is planning to betray his city). The Blade of Lathander will be a key BBEG magnet. Maybe I will call it Yellow Sword & Yellow Sails or just Yellow Sails. It will be followed by Bane's Eye then The Stonecrown(ed?) King and concluding with Ruins of the Raven.

Further Adventures in the Twilight Marsh

I've been rather enamoured with the idea of running an adventure in a swamp since I first read the Mere of Dead Men series in Dungeon magazine the late 1990s. However, to the best of my knowledge, I have never actually run swamp or marsh adventures but I would like to change that.

Source Material

These ideas draw inspiration from Dungeon 71's Dreadful Vestiges - this is from the Mere of Dead Men series, arguably the first adventure path to appear in Dungeon magazine - as well as  1E's U2 Danger at Dunwater and I1 Tomb of the Lizard King, Swamp Stomp from Dungeon 93 and Fiend's Embrace from Dungeon 121. I may also use elements from The Muster of Morach Tor from Dungeon 144.

Introduction & Background
The old saying is that a picture says a thousand words. This picture from the Dreadful Vestiges adventure - of a fallen Helmite cleric, Varak Redshield, summoning a hezrou - really illustrates the root of the problem in the Twilight Marsh.

Varak Redshield is an adventuring cleric, or doomguide, of Kelemvor. After travelling to Phlan he learnt more of the history of humanity in the Moonsea North including the rise of the Dark Three - Bane, Bhaal and Myrkul - and the existence of an early temple "of death" in the area now covered by the Twilight Marsh.

Believing that this was a temple of Myrkul, Kelemvor's predecessor (forgetting Cyric's interregnum), Redshield travelled into the Twilight Marsh to try and learn more about the foundations of his own beliefs.

While it was indeed a temple "of death", this was a temple of Bhaal rather than Myrkul. A most unholy place, it has attracted the attention of one or more revilers, incorporeal undead creatures (cf the Dreadful Vestiges adventure) that are now under Cyric's sway. One of the revilers corrupted Redshield and now he thinks he is a cleric of Bhaal although, in fact, it is Cyric whom he serves. (Besides the revilers, in something inspired both by a Fourthcore adventure and also the original Caverns of Thracia, a dying character that revives attracts the attention of a minor aspect of Bhaal. I am thinking of the flying skull I once statted up in 3.5E which wept tears of blood that caused what would now be ongoing damage. However, I am also thinking it needs to be a minion and insubtantial [being a minion this basically means that, if it takes damage and thus would be destroyed, it is instead able to remain on 1 hit point with a successful saving throw].)

The revilers have been whispering to him about the need to find an awaken the lizard king to unite the lizardfolk tribes of the Twilight Marsh so that they can bring death to the surrounding lands in Bhaal's name. The Tomb of the Lizard King is located at the bottom of a swampy lake. Redshield uses magic whispered to him by the revilers to summon a hezrou to cow the lizardfolk into obeying him and forces them build a dam around the tomb. Once the dam walls are finished, the water will be pumped out allowing easy access to the tomb.

(The lizardfolk of the Twilight Marsh typically live in large lodges similar to those built by beavers so this is something they possess the expertise to accomplish.)

If Redshield succeeds, the lizard king will be awakened and all the lizardfolk of the Twilight Marsh will be brought under his sway... with Redshield and his revilers controlling the lizard king. (At this stage, the lizard king will be a vampire in a shameless rip-off - or flattering homage - to the original I1 Tomb of the Lizard King.)

Complicating matters further, the temple of death that is now Redshield's lair is also the home of Zzygarn, the black dragon that the PCs will be seeking in order to recover the Blade of Lathander. (In a sense, this idea is also stolen from I1 Tomb of the Lizard King where the tomb had a guardian black dragon.) Added to that, Redshield is now receiving overtures from Zhent emissaries whose Cyricist leader was guided here by whispers from same mad deity - the same whispers that Redshield is hearing. For the Zhents, control of the lizardfolk provides them with a ready-made and expendable army. For the Cyricists, an unleashed army of bestial lizardfolk led by a lizard king vampire is the perfect way to bring chaos and strife to Phlan.

For the PCs, there is an opportunity to free Redshield from the evil influence of the revilers and Cyric. Essentially, Redshield is possessed by a reviler and the Blade of Lathander has the power to end that possession and destroy the possessing reviler even while Redshield remains possessed. This is also foreshadowing the power of the Blade of Lathander to drive out and harm Tyranthraxus should that possessing spirit make an appearance later in the campaign.

The Unopenable Doors

Drawing inspiration from 1E's WG5 Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure, there will be a party of Zhent mercenaries in the Twilight Marsh looking for the Unopenable Doors. They've found them but they are truly unopenable.

I want to make sure that the campaign has a few mysteries and this will be one of them. Of course, if I'm ever stuck with a need for a dungeon adventure later, I can make it this - the party will simply have to find the key.

The Fane of Kerzit has a nice ring to it....

Key Monsters & NPCs

Toadface the Hezrou

While most hezrous are utterly bereft of anything resembling subtlety, Toadface has learnt from its true master - Graz'zt - how to suppress its more bestial urges from time to time in order to accomplish greater evil.

Due to an alliance between the Dark Prince and the Prince of Lies, Toadface finds itself aiding Cyric and compelled to obey a cleric of Cyric, Varak Redshield, whom he originally corrupted.

Design Considerations

The name is a placeholder but I rather like it. It seems like a nickname that the Zhents would bestow on a summoned demon.

The 4E version of the hezrou is a 22nd-level brute. That's too high for this campaign - obviously - but, more importantly, my monster level philosophy is now very much about reducing them to the level equal to the number of hit dice the monster had in 1E, more or less.

In the case of the hezrou, or the type II demon as it was then, it should be a 9th-level brute to match its 9 hit dice in the 1E Monster Manual. The 1E version is quite boring: it's got cause fear, darkness 15' radius, detect invisible objects (a spell that never actually existed), a chance to gate another hezrou (but only a 20% chance) and telekinesis. None of those are signature abilities.

The 3.5E and Pathfinder versions include the fairly potent blasphemy as well as, inter alia,  chaos hammer and unholy blight. The Pathfinder version also has a stench aura which seems to be its signature ability (I think 3.5E also had this but I have the Pathfinder Bestiary open on my laptop right now). The 4E version is really boring: all it has is a noxious stench aura which now inflicts poison damage in an aura 2 (albeit only to enemies and only if they attack). Another 4E version from one of the HPE series adventures inflicts an attack roll penalty of -2 unless the hezrou is bloodied in which case an enemy is weakened while in the aura.

I particularly like the Pathfinder flavour text:

... The hezrou dwells in the vast Abyssal swamps, mires, and waterways, equally at home on land and in the water. The presence of a hezrou has an obvious effect on the nearby flora and water, causing plant life to twist and knurl and infusing water with a foul odour and brackish taste — signs much easier to spot on the Material Plane than the Abyss. Long exposure to this corruption can cause vile transformations and hideous deformities. Often, entire backwater communities of deformed mutants owe their twisted countenances not as much to ... poor breeding as they do to a hezrou’s proximity....
Putting this all together, I think these are the points to include in my version of the hezrou:
  • it will be a 9th-level brute;
  • a 9th-level brute is worth 400 XP which means I can also stat this up as a 4th-level elite brute which is also worth 400 XP;
  • the noxious stench aura is retained and it causes poison damage;
  • the hezrou is immune to poison and disease, possesses necrotic resistance but is vulnerable to radiant damage;
  • as per the 4E version, its normal attack will be via its claws while it will have high damage  recharge attack via its bite; and
  • it possesses an encounter power that produces something akin to a blasphemy spell from 3.5E, only effects non-evil creatures and probably inflicts poison damage (possibly in combation with either psychic or necrotic - the former because I am thinking of the phrase, "psychic miasma"). 
As for Toadface, I will start with a 4th-level elite brute and then:
  • possibly make it a solo brute to reflect a new template I need to create based on the 3.5E prestige class, fiend of blasphemy, from that edition's Fiend Folio;
  • if Toadface is a fiend of blasphemy then perhaps I will not need the revilers - at the very least, they will not be responsible for Redshield's fall - because it will be Toadface's doing (the revilers will be 4th-level controllers or lurkers);
  • with a name like Toadface, I think of this hezrou as something of a cane toad in appearance so that also means poison sacs on its back (immediate interrupt of melee attacks particularly involving flanking - poison spray in retaliation that may even have a blinding effect);
  • Toadface is a thrall of Graz'zt and also an agent of Cyric so I may include some powers to reflect an unusual ability to deceive and manipulate (the themes for Graz'zt in Demonimicon are a good place to start); and
  • of course, I may also go with Toadface as the simple brute that the current version of the stat block I have created would indicate.

Questions I need to answer:
  • Is there a link between Toadface and Dagon or Umberlee? (And, if so, what does this mean for the possibility of 1. sahuagin appearing in the Twilight Marsh and 2. a redoing of the plot of 1E's Saltmarsh series?)
  • What do the bullywugs of the Twilight Marsh think of the appearance of Toadface in this place?
  • Does Toadface have any goals?
  • How was Toadface summoned and how is he controlled? A statue or idol? (I rather like the idea of an animated idol as a monster - call it the idol of blasphemy. What if this idol can also summon a stream of minions? I am thinking of swarms of Tiny hezrous....)
The Blade of Lathander

The Blade of Lathander is a flametongue sword (the type of sword will be determined once we determine which PC is going to be the heir of the last wielder). Despite doing fire damage, it is able to harm Tyranthraxus even while he is possessing a creature and notwithstanding his immunity to fire.

No comments:

Post a Comment