Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Dark Weavings - Expanding on the Crystal Shard Idea

Two nights ago I wrote a post about importing, as it were, the Dread Rings of Thay idea to Elturgard (and what I have been referring to as the Dark Weavings campaign) and having the Dread Ring be the means that Bane - rather than Szass Tam - is able to syphon off the power of the Companion and thus turn it into a thing of darkness.

Of course, this idea has nothing to do with the drow and thus nothing to do with the title Dark Weavings. As a result, a few hours after my Dread Ring post - which would result in the campaign being renamed The Black Age of Bane - I added the following to the same post:
In the three or so hours since I typed the above I have been thinking about how the same sort of outline might work if I still wanted to use drow as the principal antagonists. Obviously, there would be no Dread Ring nor do ghouls - true ghouls or otherwise - feel appropriate.

What could work is something like what happened to Sulasspryn as noted in the 2E supplement, The Moonsea. The drow are beneath Elturel and cause great sinkholes to open to swallow parts of the city. And in the midst of this unnatural disaster, a great spider-like temple rises up through the stone from the Underdark and, instead of an aspect of Bane syphoning off the power of the Companion, it is an aspect of Lolth.

If I go with this option, maybe I can also use the Crystal Shard. Instead of Dread Ring towers, I can have a series of Cryshal-Tirith towers created by Crenshinibon. And maybe the drow tricked the Zhents into thinking that they found the Crystal Shard when the reality is the drow want the Zhents to wield it. The drow knows its strengths and weaknesses but a Zhent Black Cloak soon discovers he is merely a pawn of the 'Shard.

If I run with this, I rather like the LFR-inspired idea that Crenshinibon is a splinter from the Shard of Evil at the heart of the Abyss. That also means that, if used to pierce the a vital place in the Demonweb Pits, it can cause the Lolth's astral realm to unravel as it seeks to reunite with its former abyssal home. That also makes for an interesting Paragon Tier adventure.

Perhaps it is a cleric of Waukeen (actually a thrall of Graz'zt) who suggests such a course of action to the PCs after Lolth's defeat at their hands. If so, that lets me run D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth, D2 Shrine of the Kuo-toa, D3 Vault of the Drow and Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits - with a smattering of the 3E Dungeon adventure The Harrowing - just like I have wanted to do for close to three decades now.

And, in a perfect world, that would then segue into For Duty & Deity allowing the PCs to free Waukeen from Graz'zt's grasp. However, I have no idea how I would make that work for a low- mid-Paragon Tier party. (While I have already weakened the basic tanar'ri to a level matching their 1E hit dice, it still doesn't solve the problem of how to deal with the Dark Prince who is very much an Epic Tier entity. Unless, of course, he is distracted by the unravelling of the Demonweb Pits....)
One of the drawbacks of not knowing when I will start my new campaign - the Philippines is a rather long way from Australia! - is that I have lots of time to keep playing with ideas rather than settling down and actually running with them. I still really like the Dread Ring idea - after all, I just finished another post earlier tonight t organise my thoughts on making the Dread Ring the virtual centrepiece of a Neverwinter campaign - but I also want to make sure that when we do get around to choosing which campaign is going to be run that there is an option that focusses very much on the drow. And, as the quoted section shows, my idea for the Dark Weavings campaign is very drow-centric. 

The Caves of Chaos

There is a great post on Candlekeep by Ed Greenwood about Skull Gorge that makes it feel like the logical location for the Caves of Chaos from the classic adventure, B2 Keep on the Borderlands.

Skull Gorge is on the outskirts of Elturgard and may make for a logical staging ground for the gathering and training of humanoid troops. 

While I need to think this through some more to make sure I am getting the threat levels right, I rather like the idea of a location akin to the Caves of Chaos set in the Skull Gorge with a Zhent Black Cloak wielding Crenshinibon so that the Crystal Shard is attracting various evil humanoid races to itself. The first the folk of Elturgard know of this is when a crystal tower, a Cryshal-Tirith, appears on the horizon and disgorges orcs, ogres, goblins and hobgoblins under Zhent command. And before a retaliatory strike can be mounted, the crystal tower disappears taking the Zhent reavers with it. (I should also note that both the real sun and the Companion are slightly dimmed when Crenshinibon uses its power to create a duplicate tower. This is an important visual for the PCs.)

The PCs could be sent to Skull Gorge to see if this is the source of the raids or they may even follow the raiders back through the Crystal Shard. Suffice to say that it would be easy to fill two or more levels of advancement (taking the party from 1st-level to 3rd-level) with such an adventure.

Another option would be to save the appearance of the crystal towers for later and simply run a modified Raiders of Galath's Roost with the orc et al raiders appearing via a portal in a set of ruins on a hill.

Whichever way I go, I rather like the idea of the first adventure being a blend of the Caves of Chaos from B2 Keep on the Borderlands and Raiders of Galath's Roost. Note to self: make sure you include some drow allies of the Zhents as foreshadowing for later in the campaign. A shrine of Lolth infested with spiders would also be a nice touch.

The Carrion King

OK, so my basic motivation for this adventure idea is that I have a miniature of Yeenoghu and I want to use it. Of course, that's one of the basic motivations for The Black Age of Bane idea - except that involves an aspect of Bane miniature - so at least I'm being consistent....

I think I have posted this basic idea at least three times on this blog. It all comes down to this: using a combination of carrion - dead bodies - and the abyssal power of Crenshinibon, the Zhents summon (and bind) a minor aspect of Yeenoghu to lead the various gnoll tribes of the Reaching Woods as a single bestial horde that they will unleashed on Elturgard's paladins and other defenders.

Of course, my plan is for the party to slay the aspect of Yeenoghu and stop this horde from forming.

(Right now I definitely feel like I am going over old ground which was not really the point of this post.)

The Sinister Spire

One of the last adventures published for 3.5E was the rather good, The Sinister Spire. It was the second adventure of a trilogy than began with Barrow of the Forgotten King and finished with Fortress of the Yuan-ti. I can also see that the latter adventure could inspire a rather lengthy sidetrek to Najara but that would need to be the subject of another post. (And, note to self again, the BBEG would be the Myrkul-infused Crown of Horns and not the elder evil, Sertrous. It would probably fit quite well with what I have outlined for The Black Age of Bane especially if Bane is also seeking the reunite Jergal's power that was split between the Black Lord, Myrkul and Bhaal - noting that Bhaal's essence can be found near the Boaresky Bridge.)

The Underdark city in The Sinister Spire is a ruined centre for trade dominated dominated by the titular spire except that the spire belonged to a group of drow necromancers (hmmm, ideas also for The Black Age of Bane...). What if the spire is actually a temple of Lolth and it is located directly beneath Elturel and the Companion? The drow could use ancient primordial magic - perhaps rune magic stolen from the aboleth or the awakening of an earth titan (the latter idea is, of course, stolen almost wholesale from Orcs of Stonefang Pass) - to cause the spire to rise and pierce the Companion and turn it from a great shining light into an orb of eternal night. Perhaps Crenshinibon is also joined with/to the spire and it could even be stolen from the party as it becomes powerless when the Companion sheds darkness rather than light. (And it may very well be a cleric of Waukeen [actually a thrall of Graz'zt] who suddenly appears and suggests to the party that they recover the Crystal Shard and take it underground where it is powerless... before suggesting other things...).

It is the same primordial magic that is allowing the drow to cause tremors and sinkholes in Elturel. Perhaps the PCs gain access to the city of the Spire via one of the sinkholes? All this earth magic should see norkers make an appearance: can I combine them with Lolthbound goblins to create a Lolthbound norker monster?

Anyway, this is meant to be the final adventure of the Heroic Tier. It's tempting to let the PCs fail so that the Companion is corrupted in order to set the scene for a series of adventures culminating in the unravelling of the Demonweb Pits but that would be a horrible piece of railroading.

In this post, I haven't mentioned the presence of an aspect of Lolth. I'm just not seeing it at the moment but it does make sense because I cannot imagine her allowing one of her priestesses to win such a victory.

Of course, that raises another issue. Obviously a priestess of Lolth is present when the spire pierces the Companion but, until this point, I am assuming that a Zhent Black Cloak is the one wielding Crenshinibon. The simplest solution that springs to mind is that the drow take back the Crystal Shard by simply surrounding it and its wielder with magical darkness. This renders the 'Shard powerless so that the Zhent is easily slain and the 'Shard can taken into the unremitting darkness of the Underdark.

Summing up the Heroic Tier

I basically want to combine the Caves of Chaos from B2 Keep on the Borderlands with Raiders of Galath's Roost, throw in an adventure that resembles parts of the 1E Slave Lords A1-4 series and then conclude in an adventure that begins in the Underdark before moving to the surface and the darkened light of the corrupted Companion.

In between I want lots of action involving Zhents and drow, plus some gnolls and heretical paladins. I could throw in some werewolves for good measure (remembering that the Maiden of the Moon in the Feywild is also Eilistraee in disguise - and she may also want to see the Demonweb Pits unravelled) but otherwise I have a fairly small monster roster.

There are some very obvious gaps in the outline above - and it still doesn't feel as coherent as the Dread Ring-inspired The Black Age of Bane write-up from a couple of nights ago, but I do like the mix of Zhents, drow and the Crystal Shard.

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