Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Silver Marches Sandbox 11 - Riding the River Rauvin, Part 2: The Dungeon of the Ruins (aka The Prison of the Firebringer)

At the end of this short adventure, the PCs are left with three options and I will cover one of those here: deciding to travel north to explore the Dungeon of the Ruins, also known as the Prison of the Firebringer.
Bazim-Gorag the Firebringer
Originally a dwarven hold called Andalbruin, the site was transformed into a human village when the Selskar Order, a group of Netherese arcanists, occupied the ruins of the hold in -626 DR and set up a magic school named Selskartur (Tower of the Star in Loross). Less than forty years later, as the village looked to expanding into a realm of its own, the troll warlord Harska Thaug attempted to attack Rilithar but Selskartur was in-between the troll's forces and the elves.

Troll magic-users defended Harska's army against the arcane might of the Selskar Order and appeared to have the upper hand despite taking tremendous casualties. Ilviroon, the leader of the Selskar Order, opened a gate and summoned Bazim-Gorag whom he charged with burning the trolls to death. Bazim-Gorag did as he was commanded and drove the trolls into the Spine of the World. When Ilviroon dallied in compensating the slaad lord for his services, Bazim-Gorag turned on his summoners and killed many Selskar arcanists. Ilviroon trapped and bound Bazim-Gorag in some dwarven vaults beneath Selskartur and left him there, beginning an effort to rebuild what had been destroyed.

Harska and his trolls returned the following winter though and, still weak from the last attack, the Selskar Order was wiped out. Unfortunately, Ilviroon was the only person who knew how to release Bazim-Gorag from his binding. The slaad was trapped with no hope of rescue for nearly two thousand years.

Over that time Selskartur became known as the Dungeon of the Ruins and in 1356 DR adventurers calling themselves the Company of the Riven Orb ventured far enough into the dungeon to meet their ends at the eyes of a beholder just outside Bazim-Gorag's vault. With the path to him almost completely clear of obstructions, the slaad managed to remotely influence many evil individuals to come serve him. These individuals became a cult, calling themselves the Acolytes of the Hidden Flame, and came to inhabit the dungeon, doing all they could to enact Bazim-Gorag's will. In 1373 DR a durzagon cultist discovered a method to free his master but his plans were foiled by adventurers.
The source for this background was the Prison of the Firebringer adventure by Rich Baker and published in Dungeon 101. I am not proposing a simple conversion of Prison of the Firebringer - that adventure was designed for 3.5E characters of levels 13-15 - but the maps, background and general idea provide a really good framework around which I can easily build an adventure suitable for 4E's Heroic Tier. (And, of course, it would be even simpler to adjust it for almost any level for a 13th Age game.)

Adventure Hooks

Black-Feathered Bandits

The Black Raven tribe of the Uthgardt have their primary camp west northwest of the Dungeon of the Ruins. They are notorious bandits and raiders in the area having eschewed almost any form of civilisation but holding fast to their Uthgardt traditions.

It seems that many have been sighted around the Dungeon of the Ruins and the ruler of Nesmé hires the PCs to find out why as the place has a sinister reputation.

Build It and They Will Come

The simplest hook for this adventure is for the players to see Dungeon of the Ruins on the map and simply decide to explore what's there. This actually makes a lot of sense in the context of the set-up assumed in Part 1: bored adventurers looking for something to do in or near Nesmé.

Lurkwood Loggers
The Lurkwood has an unsavoury reputation that keeps such races as eladrin, elves, and the more goodly fey from settling within its borders. However, that also means that it is a target for loggers who don't want to upset the goodly fey and their allies amongst the rulers of the Silver Marches.

With the arrival of spring, logging crews have departed Nesmé, their winter base, to log the eastern edges of the Lurkwood near the Dungeon of the Ruins. Soon enough, a lone logger appears at Nesmé's gates claiming that his fellow loggers have all been slain, have disappeared and/or have been taken as slaves by Black Raven barbarians, dark fey, frog-like humanoids (ie, bullywugs) and/or slavers. The PCs are then hired to deal with the situation and the parties involved which ends up leading them to the Dungeon of the Ruins....

Getting There: The Surbrin Way
I like this relatively simply wilderness map that is part of the Prison of the Firebringer adventure as it makes it relatively easy to turn the journey to the Dungeon of the Ruins into a mini-sandbox.

Surbrin Way

I really like the idea of a simple ambush by Black Raven Uthgardt barbarians, filling a role that might be played by orcs in other campaign. To mix it up a bit, perhaps I can have a Black Raven shaman riding a giant raven (stats for these are in 3E's Silver Marches and they would be easy enough to convert).

Old Selskar Road

The encounters along the Old Selskar Road are probably going to be very similar to those in Selskar Vale which, in turn, will be determined by what is actually the primary threat at the Dungeon of the Ruins (see below).

Frost Hills

These hills could easily hold common creatures like leucrotta, ogres, orcs, perytons, and maybe a dragon or two  (grey, red, white), all of which might decide that a party wandering along Old Selskar Road makes for good eating.

It's also likely that these hills contain other dwarven ruins and maybe a steading of hill giants which may provide inspiration for further adventures in this area.

The Lurkwood

As implied above, the Lurkwood is a dark and dangerous place. It's noted in a few sources as a place with bottomless bogs and deadly quicksand. That suggests that will-o'-wisps are likely to be plentiful which further suggests the presence of dark fey.

Perhaps those who explore the Lurkwood eventually encounter cyclops slavers working for a fomorian king whose Feywild demesne overlays this great forest and perhaps that fomorian king is also linked to the troll problem in the Evermoors.... (I'll post a link expanding this idea at some point.)

Selskar Vale

What will the PCs find in the Selskar Vale? At this point, I haven't decided what the primary threat might be but here are some initial ideas:
  • The bullywugs of Faerûn are the devolved descendants of the Creator Race - the batrachi - whose mastery of the Elemental Chaos allowed them to transform into the elemental horrors known as slaadi. Under the influence of a powerful but rather insane bullywug chaos sorcerer, a band of bullywugs is here at the Dungeon of the Ruins seeking to free Bazim-Gorag because the chaos sorcerer has promised that the slaad lord will transform them all into slaadi!
  • The drow of House Xorlarrin in Menzoberranzan are searching for "fuel" for the creation of Lolth's Demon Weave and it seems an imprisoned slaad lord, even only an aspect, would provide a significant amount of "fuel". When the PCs arrive, the House Xorlarrin drow are performing various rituals that will syphon off the Firebringer's life and power... unless, of course, the PCs stop them.
  • The ultimate goal of Shar is the utter annihilation of everything and some of her more devout followers - including among the Netherese are aware of and share that goal. The power of the Firebringer unleashed would cause much destruction so this band of Netherese wants to tap that for themselves... but the PCs are there to stop them. 
  • The Zul family from Thay were, before the Spellplague, known as devout Cyricists but Szass Tam's bargain with Bane meant that their worship of the Dark Sun needed to be hidden otherwise the Regent of Thay's wrath might be unleashed. Sefris Zul, also known as the Queen of Lies, is a Cyric-worshipping mystic theurge who has heard the Dark Sun's whispers telling her that she is the key to his freedom. In response to those whispers she and her Thayan band are at the Dungeon of the Ruins seeking to free the aspect of Bazim-Gorag imprisoned therein because it seems the Firebringer knows part of the ritual (or maybe it's an item) that will allow Cyric to be freed. Her forces have been gathering slaves to dig their way to the dungeons where the slaad lord is ensnared.
Actually, I could use a combination of two or more of these ideas to create factions at the site which might make the dungeon that much more interesting. I think with further development, it could end up with more of a T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil feel to it, which would be a great excuse to use this wonderful piece of art:
Maybe the Dungeon of the Ruins is not so ruined after all?

The Dungeon

Finally, we get to the dungeon itself.

I think the most important point is this: even if the PCs are only level 1 and the rest of the adventure suits beginning characters, if the PCs explore far enough, they will encounter the imprisoned aspect of Bazim-Gorag even though he is probably something like a level 12 elite soldier (which has the same XP value as a level 7 solo soldier: this is another option if the PCs come back after a few levels).

The dungeon should feel like it was built by dwarves - and that means that there might be some stonework traps in less-travelled areas - but also have a theme of elemental fire and chaos. And the final encounter should involve the PCs coming across a ritual to free Bazim-Gorag which they must stop else they will have to fight the Firebringer themselves....

Anyway, with this rough outline plus the Dungeon 101 adventure Prison of the Firebringer, I think most DMs could nut something out fairly quickly on the fly for use in a sandbox campaign set in the Silver Marches.

Silver Marches Sandbox 10 - Riding the River Rauvin, Part 1

I think this post might be a bit more sandbox-like than my past three or so posts.

Looking at the map, and reading 3E's Silver Marches, reveals that the River Rauvin plays an important role in relation to trade in the Silver Marches. Goods being sent from Sundabar to Nesmé, for example, would be better sent by barge as barges typically have greater capacity than horse-drawn wagons and, if you're travelling in the same direction of the current, you're not worried about animals needing food or rest so you should, in theory, be making much better time.

Nesmé is known for being nearly constantly threatened by troll attacks. Let's assume that trolls are, like most creatures, fairly lazy in winter and they wait until it is spring before they start posing a menace to Nesmé. Let's further assume that the campaign begins with winter just ending and spring just beginning and that Nesmé needs more weapons in preparation for this year's troll attacks.

A basic conceit of most fantasy worlds is that dwarves produce the best weapons and armour so let's make another assumption that the good folk of Nesmé prefer to buy arms from Sundabar for that genuine dwarven quality. With winter ending and the River Rauvin flowing super-fast because of meltwater, barges are now being sent from Sundabar to Nesmé with new arms and armour. 

While river travel is typically safer than land travel, there are still risks and barge captains hire guards to travel on the barges. I make another assumption here: the PCs are in Silverymoon and a barge-captain from Sundabar is hiring new guards as the guards that came with him from Sundabar will only travel as far as Silverymoon. There is nothing sinister in this. As the PCs will soon discover, the speed of the river means that any return journey from Nesmé by barge will be delayed by about a month until the river slows down because otherwise towing the barges is too difficult for the tow-animals. The guards from Sundabar don't want to sit around doing nothing in Nesmé for a month... nor do they want to risk travelling around the Evermoors with the trolls becoming active with the arrival of spring.

Assuming the PCs accept the commission, they find themselves on a fairly fast journey to Nesmé that is interrupted by a few fairly dangerous encounters including a young rock-throwing hill giant, river pirates and maybe a couple of freshwater scrags. Essentially, it's a three-encounter dungeon delve set on the water which might make an interesting and effective single night introduction to the combat side of RPGs (although it is missing some meaningful decision points and needs some interaction and exploration but that's easily fixed).
As already noted, barges won't return upriver for another month or so when the river slows down so that leaves the PCs hanging around in Nesmé, returning to Silverymoon by land or looking at the map and noticing the Dungeon of the Ruins nearby....

Monday, 30 December 2013

Silver Marches Sandbox 9 - DL10 Dragons of Dreams

I must admit, generally speaking I despise the Dragonlance saga - Fizban, kender, railroads - and yet I recognise that there are some enormously creative set-pieces that I would really like to run one day. The problem though is, like George Lucas's prequel trilogy, sometimes the attempts to lighten the tone end up reducing everything to low (and unfunny) farce.

Yes Fizban, I am looking at you.

One of the set-pieces that I simply adore is found in DL10 Dragons of Dreams and it seems like something that would fit well in my Silver Marches: In Search of the Unknown campaign, particularly as a companion adventure to The Nameless Dungeon which I covered in two previous posts (part one and part two).


3.5E's Lost Empires of Faerûn mentions the following in relation to the descendants of the fallen elven kingdom of Eaerlann who dwell in the High Forest in former Eaerlanni lands:
The Council of the Wood (Caerilcarn) is a group of wood elf elders and moon elf nobles who share a common dream of raising a new Eaerlann, a dream that is slowly coming to fruition. Through the group's efforts the settlement of Talltrees (the ancient site of kingdom's capital) was built and the new settlements of Reitheillaethor and Nordahaeril were founded. The Caerilcarn also cooperated with the army of Evermeet during the fey'ri invasion lead by Sarya Dlardrageth, successfully massing an army of wood elves at the Lost Peaks and breaking Sarya's pursuing orcish forces. The Caerilcarn is headed by Morgwais, the Lady of the Wood, and is led by its spokesman Yrind Morninglight.
I noticed this when I was looking at the background material for The Nameless Dungeon and I started to wonder what would have happened to this council in the century or so since the Spellplague particularly in the context of The Nameless Dungeon suddenly seeing some traffic again: why haven't these elves and eladrin noticed?

That made me think of my gaming bucket list and my desire to run DL10 Dragons of Dreams: the Caerilcarn and the wood elves and moon elves (aka eladrin) that it leads are no longer present on Toril. Instead, they are prisoners in a strange dream realm created by a potent eladrin lore-gem (a selu'kiira) in the possession of a green dragon warlock whose infernal pact is with Malkizid the Branded King:

Adapting the Adventure

In the original Dragons of Dreams, the elven lord Lorac Caladon stole an artefact known as a Dragon Orb and then found himself trapped by the artefact with his kingdom in some sort of nightmare realm. The adventure requires that the PCs either awaken Lorac or slay him so that his land may be freed from the Orb

To make it more interesting, the means by which Lorac can be awakened is determined by the players flipping three coins - to simulate their characters throwing three coins into a magical pond - and then the results determine what the PCs' three objectives are. I rather like this even though I won't be using it.

I think I will make this selu'kiira an heirloom of House Starym, a sun elf house known for its racism, evil and relationship with the (essentially) dead power Moander, the former deity of rot and corruption. An eladrin wizard of the Caerilcarn examined this lore-gem after it was recovered from an Eaerlanni ruin only to find that it overwhelmed his mind and, in a manner similar to that described for Lorac in the original adventure, used his nightmares (or at least the elven equivalent) to entrap all of the eladrin and elves subject to the rule of the Caerilcarn.

This nightmare realm exists entirely within the selu'kiira and the green dragon that possesses the lore-gem can use its power to entrap others (basically it is an attack vs Will with a single effect: the PC is removed from play... until escape!). And that's how the PCs end up inside... unless, of course, they defeat the green dragon first in which case they may find themselves entering the lore-gem willingly in order to free the elves.

Inside the nightmare realm it is essentially Groundhog Day for the entrapped elves. No matter what they do they find themselves alive and whole again. Even insanity lasts but a short time before the afflicted elf appears in his or her house as if having just left reverie. They are also unable to escape in and of themselves and need the PCs' help.

A short version could simply require the PCs to defeat a monster of some sort: another green dragon, a warped and twisted version of the eladrin mage who accidentally activated the lore-gem, or even an aspect of Moander. However, it might be better to require the PCs to perform a series of tasks that might include:
  • Bring hope back to the elves by defeating Treerazer, a fiend in the service of Malkizid which stalks and torments them "daily";
  • Purify a temple of Corellon (this could be a skill challenge) that is hidden in shadow and, indeed, haunted by shadow demons. This will give the PCs access to a scroll containing a High Magic ritual of purification - Daoin’'Teague'Feer: “Starshine Upon the People” which is described more fully in 2E's Cormanthyr - that the PCs will need to...;
  • Find the original mage who is now corrupted into a plant-like monstrosity by the power of Moander and perform the Starshine Upon the People ritual to cleanse him of this evil.
Treerazer does not appear in the original adventure but, rather, comes from the Second Darkness adventure path from Paizo for Pathfinder. I want to use Treerazer largely because of the art:
Treerazer's Rampage
The return of the New Eaerlanni eladrin and elves to Turlang's Wood should be a significant event in the campaign and the players should feel like their PCs are major league heroes for what they have accomplished. And I suspect that the elves will be rather generous with their rewards....

Possible Complications

I really like the idea of including the Eldreth Veluuthra - these are Nazi-like eladrin and elven supremacists - within the nightmare realm of the selu'kiira. What if they have completely given themselves over to the evil of the Branded King and thus they constantly harry the party as the PCs seek to free the other elves?

What if the green dragon warlock is able to enter the nightmare realm of the selu'kiira but, like the entrapped elves, is unable to be permanently slain there? The PCs may defeat the dragon only to find when they return to Turlang's Wood that it is not only very much alive, it also knows their battle tactics intimately.

Silver Marches Sandbox 8 - The Nameless Dungeon, Part 2

My previous post - The Nameless Dungeon, Part 1 - provided most of the published background material about The Nameless Dungeon from 1E through to Rich Baker's The Last Mythal trilogy published just before 4E was released.

I want to expand on that material a little bit more before putting together some rough ideas about turning The Nameless Dungeon into an adventure or - more accurately - a very loose adventure outline.

The Serpentfolk of Slitherswamp

3E's Silver Marches revealed that there were naga-led serpentfolk (ophidians and yuan-ti) in The Nameless Dungeon that arrived via portal and clashed with the tanarukka of the Scourged Legion. The origin of these serpentfolk was explain in 3.5E's Serpent Kingdoms that:
Located deep beneath the city of Waterdeep, the Slitherswamp is a largely unexplored sublevel between Levels Four and Five of Undermountain. Halaster stocked the Slitherswamp with abductees from Najara in the Year of the Sighing Serpent(1289 DR), and it is still populated primarily by dark nagas, ophidians, and snakes of all sorts.

Contact between the Slitherswamp and Najara was not reestablished until the Year of  the Serpent (1359 DR), when a dark naga dwelling in Undermountain discovered a portal. This particular portal linked the Slitherswamp with an area of rolling grasslands in the shadow of the Serpent Hills....
More than half of the Slitherswamp’s inhabitants vanished via a second portal during Halaster’s Higharvestide in the Year of the Gauntlet (1369 DR). This group is now imprisoned in the depths of the Nameless Dungeon in the High Forest, and no contact has been made to date.
Presumably more information is provided in the The Last Mythal trilogy but I don't really need any more information. What is important is that the serpentfolk are present, that they were or perhaps still are imprisoned, and that they are probably wondering why they are here. More on that later....

The Elves of Eaerlann

The Nameless Dungeon was built by the elves of the ancient kingdom of Eaerlann. The Forgotten Realms Wikia presents the following information about Eaerlann compiled from various sources:
What I find particularly interesting in the context of the Netherese threat that I have mentioned a few times in other posts in this series is that it was the Eaerlanni elves who taught the Netherese magic. I can imagine that the modern Netherese who are noted as searching for the lost magic of ancient Netheril might be even more interested in the lost magic from their "source" of magic. It's a rather good reason for throwing the Netherese into The Nameless Dungeon as yet another faction.

For those reading this who are wondering about the references to the High Forest which do not appear on the map of the Silver Marches that I am using, the southern forest of Turlang's Wood is actually the northern tip of the (far larger) High Forest.

The Legacy of Aryvandaar

The elven kingdom of Eaerlann was predated by another older elven kingdom in the same location, and that was Aryvandaar. The sun elves of Aryvandaar - and this kingdom was also as the Vyshaantar Empire - were evil on a level that the drow probably did not and do not match.

In their mad quest for power, the trafficked with fiends particularly the fallen celestial servant of Corellon, Malkizid the Branded King. Under the influence of this malignant evil, the elves of Aryvandaar mastered the elven High Magic ritual known as the Dark Disaster or the Killing Storms. With this ritual, they utterly destroyed the forest realm of Miyeritar, leaving the blasted plains that is now the High Moor as described in 2E's Cormanthyr: Empire of the Elves:
During this Third campaign, the greatest tragedy in all elfdom occurred. Even the elves are unclear over the course of events that led to the catastrophe, though it centered on conquered Miyeritar and the resistors to Aryvandaan rule therein. Some speak of High Mage sympathisers within Miyeritar harnessing forbidden, blasphemous magics against their elves, a taboo never before broken by elves, no matter how mad. Others point to the gold High Mages of Aryvandaar, their political and familial connections with the now-recognisably power-mad Vyshaantar clan, and their greater number and greater powers.

Regardless of which elves did what to whom, the killing storms known by elves as the Dark Disaster were summoned over Miyeritar 1,000 years after the first Vyshaan noble walked among its wooded glades as a conqueror.

The Dark Disaster lasted for months, and when its cloying black-and-olive mists and ichor-choked rains finally dissipated, the once-proud realm stood revealed as an open, poisoned and blasted plain instead of a forest. While many of the folk of Miyeritar fled far before the killing storm, many innocents died in its fell wake. Ninety dark elf wizards and a trio of High Mages of Miyeritar chose to face it and fight, though what became of them is lost, for they headed to the heart of the storm a month after its origin, seeking the place of power where they could cast a counterspell against the storm; like all else within the storm’s envelope, there was naught left behind to find but ash and ichor.
As noted in The Nameless Dungeon, Part 1 post, the Eaerlanni elves built or at least used The Nameless Dungeon to contain the ancient evils of the past. What if one of those ancient evils is the knowledge of this malefic High Magic ritual?

The nihilist Sharran Netherese would definitely be interested in such magic - as would the drow particularly with their plan to create the Demon Weave - but the Scourged Legion and a new group of fey'ri (demonic elves) might see such a ritual as the ideal way to inflict their revenge on the elves of
Faerûn particularly if they are being manipulated by Malkizid...

The Plots of the Branded King

... because we know that the Branded King has an eternal hatred of the elves and eladrin of Faerûn simply because they are the favourite children of his former master, Corellon. Malkizid has been the source of all of the major strife that has afflicted the elves of Toril. Indeed, he bears a major responsibility for the events that led to the fall of the dark elves and their transformation into drow.

He was also behind the corruption and degradation of the Dlardrageth and the other daemonfey (including the fey'ri) and was clearly the one whispering in the ears of the Vyshaantar High Mages who performed the Dark Disaster ritual. In a similar way, he is also likely to be the one providing the impetus for the xenophobic Eldreth Veluuthra, the racist eladrin and elves who believe humans and their ilk are essentially a plague to be eradicated. I can see certain members of the Eldreth being interested in the Dark Disaster ritual....

Interestingly, Malkizid is also noted as being a master of portal magic: what if he also brought the serpentfolk to The Nameless Dungeon for some new purpose? And what might that purpose be?

What if The Nameless Dungeon is also the prison for an aspect of Malkizid? 2E's Cormanthyr notes the existence of another High Magic ritual:
N’'Quor’'Khaor - “"The Banishing, Binding Outside of the People’'s Lands”"

... this great ritual of at least nine High Mages both summons a physical form of an extraplanar entity (such as a tanar'’ri lord or a godly avatar) and binds it, setting certain limitations upon the target entity. In its least form, the ritual banishes the entity temporarily from the Realms, while the most advanced form of this ritual fully banishes the entity permanently from Realmspace and confines said physical avatar in a sub-dimensional prison. All levels of binding must have one way to undo the binding set by the High Mages.
And this is where the serpentfolk come in: what if the the one way to undo the binding involves the actions of a naga? That would explain why Malkizid expended some of his power to bring the serpentfolk here.

Putting It All Together
Entrance to The Nameless Dungeon
I basically see this location as the final adventure of a Heroic Tier campaign. That means it's basically aimed at levels 9-11. As I use 1E monster hit dice to determine monster levels this works fairly well:
  • aspect of Malkizid, level 10 elite (no 1E equivalent);
  • dark naga, levels 9-11;
  • drow, level 2+;
  • green dragon, level 10 solo;
  • Netherese, level 2+;
  • orc, level 2+;
  • tanarukk, level 5;
  • Vyshaantar war construct, level 5-ish (these are basically evil warforged); and
  • yuan-ti, levels 6-9.
It is likely that the PCs are following one or more of the following (rather half-arsed but easily expanded) hooks:
  • House Xorlarrin drow from Menzoberranzan have been robbing elven tombs of ancient maps and lore that point to some great magic. Everything now points to The Nameless Dungeon of Turlang's Wood being the location of that great magic and the PCs need to stop the drow from discovering the final component of the Demon Weave.
  • It is now plain that the Netherese are not interested in conquest but in complete destruction. The clues you have gathered point to The Nameless Dungeon as being the place where the most destructive of ancient elven magic is hidden and the PCs must stop them from discovering and using this ritual else the Silver Marches will be no more.
  • Why have the serpentfolk been so active in the Silver Marches? They search for any ancient elven artefacts, relics or, most of all, tomes and lore-gems, but it is a complete mystery as to why they are doing this. However, they have led a trail of bodies behind them and the PCs have now followed a powerful band into Turlang's Wood where only to lose their trail at the entrance to The Nameless Dungeon.
From there it's basically a three- or four-level fairly Old School dungeon with an entrapped fiend seeking to be freed, competing factions finding each other, a secret cache that can only be opened by solving some sort of puzzle, lots of ancient magics including golems etc.... 

Ideally, this should bring the campaign to a fairly logical end. And now that I have written this up, I can give some thought to adding some sort of plot/metaplot to the Silver Marches: In Search of the Unknown campaign....

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Silver Marches Sandbox 7 - The Nameless Dungeon, Part 1

At the southern edge of Mike Schley's excellent map of the Silver Marches, essentially due south of Sundabar, is The Nameless Dungeon. For much of the published history of the Forgotten Realms it has been a place of mystery at least until Rich Baker wrote The Last Mythal trilogy. Before throwing out a few suggestions about how to use it as an adventuring location I thought it would be interesting to look at its published history.

History Check

FR5 The Savage Frontier (1E)
Until adventurers from Sundabar brought a glowing suit of mithral chain mail +4 out of the ruins of this elven citadel, the treasures of elven Eaerlann were believed to have disappeared with the elves. The discovery of the Nameless Dungeon has caused a furore among elves in the North. An envoy from Evermeet has gone as far as to ask High Lady Alustriel of Silverymoon to outlaw those known to have trespassed here. There is something in the ancient  crypts that the elves do not want anyone to know about.
This appears to be the first time the Nameless Dungeon is mentioned in Realmslore. There is a hint of great treasure and a great mystery.
The North (2E)

Page 51
The third green dragon is a female named Chloracridara, newly arrived from the Far Forest. She currently cares for a clutch of two eggs in her lair and intends on remaining until these are hatched and her young are ready to leave. Her lair is located among the ruins of Mhiilamniir between the Lost Peaks and the Nameless Dungeon. She attacks anything within 200 yards of her lair to provide food for her young.

Page 53
Eaerlann and its holdings were abandoned when their fair city of Ascalhorn fell to tanar’ri hordes, becoming fell Hellgate Keep. Many, if not all, of the elves joined the migration to the west to Evermeet. Still, the works and some of the sites of Eaerlann remain evident today, but only to those who know where to look. Tall Trees, the Nameless Dungeon, and the Old Road are the most noted of the ruins of Eaerlann, but others exist.
Page 58
Eaerlann's treasures were believed to have disappeared with the elves, but this was proven wrong when the elven ruin soon known as the Nameless Dungeon yielded mithral armour, magical weapons, and other works of lost elven craft to adventurers from Sundabar in 1351. The plundered citadel quickly caused a furor among elves in the North, and envoys from Evermeet have established some guardians at the site (along with troops supplied by High Lady Alustriel of Silverymoon and others from Evereska) to prevent trespassers from plundering elven treasures that should remain buried.

In almost two decades, the Nameless Dungeon has produced only a few artefacts and items, such as two mithral suits of scale and chain mail armor, an ornately-crafted longsword with a basket hilt (carved to appear as multiple tongues of flame), and a helm made of mithral that was shaped like a hawk's head complete with beak. This scarcity is due to the fact that its guardians (2-12 moon-elf warriors of levels 3-8) have allowed no one to enter for over twelve years without tokens of free passage granted exclusively by Alustriel (granted ostensibly to historians and elven scholars).

The elves claim they simply don't want the holy ground of an ancient elven burial ground violated by ravaging intruders. Others claim that there is something powerful in the ancient crypts that the elves wish to keep secret.
The extent of the mystery - particularly in terms of the evil that the site hides - is strengthened in these paragraphs plus now we have a sense of the history of the place, something that will gradually take stronger shape.

In terms of using this material in play, I definitely want to use the named green dragon either as an encounter or as the mother of another green dragon that the PCs encounter (those eggs that are mentioned have obviously hatched by now...).
Hellgate Keep (2E)

The first mention of the Nameless Dungeon in this adventure is in relation to Kaanyr Vhok and his Scourged Legion of tanarukka where it is noted that the Nameless Dungeon is, for all intents and purposes, a barracks for Vhok's troops but connected to the grand prize - Hellgate Keep - by tunnels. (These tunnels are noted as having been completed in 1356DR, the Year of the Worm.)

Those tunnels could prove useful in terms of expanding the adventure into Hellgate Keep.

Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (3E)
In the northeastern High Forest (near Tall Trees) stands a ruin of fallen Eaerlann, a crypt beneath a shattered and overgrown mansion. There's also a small subterranean storage complex near the mansion (not guarded by the elves, and not connected to the mansion crypt.) It's said by some to be a long-abandoned dwarven or gnome dwelling.
I find the mention of the mansion and the crypt to be a bit inconsistent with the hints of the place given in the earlier lore. Of course, the mansion could be a far more recent addition but the Nameless Dungeon itself certainly feels like more than just a "crypt" or "small subterranean storage complex". I think this entry can simply be ignored.

Silver Marches (3E)
Located near the old town now known as Elven Port, the Nameless Dungeon is another ruin of Old Eaerlann. It's linked to Elven Pot and the ruins of Mhiilamniir by an overgrown elf highway known as the Old Road. The dungeon consists of an ancient citadel in which were hidden many terrible elf artefacts. Access to the Nameless Dungeon was long barred by the wood elves of the forest. Three years ago, in Alturiak of 1369DR, two groups of monsters invaded the Nameless Dungeon, driving off the elf garrison.

The first was a strong company of tanarukka and half-fiends calling itself the Scourged Legion of Hellgate Keep. The second was a powerful band of nagas, yuan-ti, and other snake-like creatures that arrived through a mysterious portal. The two bands vie for control of the dungeon.
That's better. Now we're back to the ruined citadel. This is also where it is first revealed that two factions were fighting over the dungeon: the Scourged Legion and naga-led yuan-ti. I rather like the idea of another faction being present without a DM needing to create it himself.
Lost Empires of Faerûn (3.5E)
Sarya freeing a fey'ri from The Nameless Dungeon

During the Crown Wars, the elves of Aryvandaar built a citadel known as Nar Kerymhoarth in the northeastern region of the High Forest to serve as an armoury for their war magic. When the empire dissolved, the armoury was abandoned.
Five thousand years ago, a group of rebellious sun elves influenced by House Dlardrageth claimed the old armoury and restocked it with magic created by the elves of the ancient Vyshaantar Empire. Years later, in the closing campaigns of the Seven Citadels' War, the army of Eaerlann defeated more than two thousand fey'ri warriors of House Dlardrageth and House Vyshaan and imprisoned them in magical stasis in the belowground levels of the armoury. The imprisoned fey'ri were soon forgotten by their jailers, and their prison, which was known as the Nameless Dungeon, became a place of intrigue for adventurers.

After the fall of Eaerlann, the wood elf patrols that guarded this part of the High Forest successfully barred access to the Nameless Dungeon for a time. In 1369DR, a contingent of orcs and tanarukka from the Scourged Legion seized the dungeon, only to be drive off by a tribe of dark nagas and other scalykind from the Slitherswamp. These monsters, which had travelled to the dungeon through a portal, settled in and made the place their lair.

In early 1374DR, the daemonfey Sarya released powerful magic from the Gatekeeper's Crystal to free the imprisoned fey'ri. The resulting explosion wrecked the upper levels of the keep and killed many of its naga and yuan-ti residents, trapping the rest in the lower levels of Nar Kerymhoarth.
The secrets of the Nameless Dungeon, and even its real name, are starting to be revealed, and the fey'ri and daemonfey are absolutely key. Frankly there is a lot of material in this section of Lost Empires of Faerûn to inspire a campaign based on the legacies of ancient elven kingdoms in this part of the Forgotten Realms.

The Final Gate (novel)

Shortly before sunset, they finally reached the rocky tor of Nar Kerymhoarth, the Nameless Dungeon. A low hill of ancient stone rose up through the forest mantle, its sides draped with young evergreens. Without Gaerradh’s aid, they might easily have missed it altogether. Approaching from the north, there was nothing to indicate that a buried vault lay beneath the hill. The wood elf led them around the base of the tor and finally brought them out into a valley between two arms of the hill.

“Here,” said Gaerradh. “This is the place where the daemonfey opened Nar Kerymhoarth.”

Araevin frowned. All he saw was a desolate clearing in the forest between the rocky arms of the hillside. But then he realized that the defile in which they stood was not a natural valley, but instead a titanic bite taken out of the hillside. Clover and blackberries covered much of the bare dirt, but shorn tree trunks marked the edges of the vast wound, and great boulders lay tumbled out of place all around them. The defile ended in a deep cleft in the hillside, where a dark cave mouth awaited.

“Let me guess,” Maresa said. “In there? That would be our luck. Trolls, demons, devils, whatever in the Nine Hells that monster Grimlight was… I just can’t wait.”

“It may not be inside,” Araevin told her. “The crystal might be lying on the forest floor a mile or two away.”

The genasi eyed the beckoning darkness under the hill. “Care to wager on that?”

Nesterin looked to Araevin. “You said that this was an old elven stronghold,” the star elf said. “Who delved it, and why? What is the story of this place?”

“Its name is Nar Kerymhoarth. My people do not like to speak of it,” Gaerradh answered for Araevin. “Because we don’t tell its name to outsiders, the place became known as the Nameless Dungeon. It’s one of the Seven Citadels of ancient Siluvanede.

“Long ago, three elven kingdoms shared this forest: Eaerlann, Siluvanede, and Sharrven. Siluvanede was the strongest of the three realms. It was a sun elf kingdom whose people hoped to build a realm to rival long-lost Aryvandaar.

“But a new shadow fell over Siluvanede. The sun elves grew proud and ambitious. Many were seduced into swearing allegiance to the daemonfey-though the Dlardrageths remained hidden for a long time, guiding the kingdom’s affairs in secret. Finally war broke out among the three kingdoms; Eaerlann and Sharrven stood together against Siluvanede. That was the Seven Citadels’ War.” Gaerradh glanced at Donnor and Maresa, hesitating, but then she continued. “In the last years of the war, the fey’ri legions appeared. The foulness of the daemonfey was revealed for all to see. But Eaerlann and Sharrven together overcame Siluvanede.

“My ancestors bound the fey’ri and their masters in timeless magical prisons, buried beneath their ancient strongholds. The people of Eaerlann and Sharrven vowed to keep an eternal watch over these places.”

Araevin picked up Gaerradh’s tale. “Sharrven fell not long after Siluvanede,” he said. “Eaerlann endured for many centuries more but was overthrown five hundred years ago, when demonic hordes emerged from Hellgate Keep and destroyed all the lands nearby.”

Gaerradh nodded. “Our watch failed. By the time my people returned to this part of the forest, we’d forgotten the story of the old prisons. We knew that something old and evil slept in the secret strongholds of the forest, and so we kept watch. But we didn’t know why.”

“You seem to have pieced it all together now,” Jorin observed.

“Only because the daemonfey showed us what we’d forgotten.” Gaerradh shrugged. “I only learned the beginning of the story-the story of the fey’ri and the Seven Citadels’ War-after speaking with the sages and scribes of Silverymoon this summer.”

“So Sarya Dlardrageth’s fey’ri army was imprisoned right in there-” Donnor Kerth nodded at the ruined hillside-“after some ancient elven civil war?”

“Yes, you are right,” the wood elf answered.

“Any idea of what lies buried here? What sort of magic or guardian monsters we might find?”

Gaerradh shook her head. “We never set foot in the deeper halls of the Nameless Dungeon. They were sealed so thoroughly we didn’t even know they existed.”
The book continues with a description of the entrance tunnel lined with 88 alcoves at least one of which holds an elven "war-construct", some sort of lesser golem:

Maresa led the way as they followed the passage. Donnor and Jorin stayed close behind her, swords at the ready. They soon came to a series of alcoves or niches in the vault. The first few they passed were empty, but then they found one occupied by a tall statue of iron. It was shaped like a proud sun elf warrior, dressed in the same sort of ancient armor that Araevin had seen many of the fey’ri wear. This was no fey’ri; for one thing, the statue lacked wings, horns, or any other demonic features. Heavy, spiked gauntlets encased its fists.

“That thing is built to fight,” Donnor said. The cleric looked up and down the hall at the empty niches to each side. The company had already passed thirty or forty of them. “I wonder if all these alcoves used to have statues in them… and where they all went, if more of them were here once.”

“Leave it alone,” Araevin decided. “It doesn’t seem to be active now.” The mystery of the abandoned war-construct could wait.

He turned away to follow his companions deeper into the dungeon. They were ten paces farther down the hallway when the squeal of rusted metal in motion stopped him in his tracks.

“I do not like the sound of that,” Nesterin said to Araevin.

Together the elves turned, and found themselves staring at the iron statue as it ponderously stepped forth from its alcove and swiveled to face them. It raised one arm slowly, as if to accuse them of some crime. Brilliant blue sparks abruptly sprang into life in its blank eyes and the joinings between its armored plates. From its outstretched gauntlet a great stroke of lightning leaped down the hallway with a terrible booming thunderclap.

Araevin threw himself aside but was still caught and spun around to the hard stone floor by the force of the bolt. His muscles jerked and kicked, leaving him writhing on the flagstones with searing white pain all along his right side and smoke rising from his cloak. Nesterin fell nearby, singed as badly as Araevin. Maresa ducked out of the way with an oath, but the lightning stroke bent toward Donnor in his plate armor and struck him with its full force. Blue sparks flew from the Lathanderite’s body, and he was flung ten yards down the hall, spinning through the air as his sword clattered to the floor.
I can definitely use this construct in my adaptation. Frankly, I don't want to read on further simply because I would rather build my own version of The Nameless Dungeon based on some other published adventures and the backstory provided here.

A lot of people on the internet seem to dislike the Forgotten Realms because there is so much material to master. Even a location on a map like The Nameless Dungeon seems to have accumulated a fair amount of lore. But the internet - and the work of fellow fans - makes tapping that material for inspiration so much easier than even a decade ago.

I really do see this more as inspiration than as a straightjacket on an individual DM's creativity. From this material, we have the following to work with:
  • The Nameless Dungeon was an ancient elven armoury but also a secret prison.
  • A green dragon (or two, or even a family) considers The Nameless Dungeon to fall within its (their) territory.
  • At least four factions are interested in The Nameless Dungeon: the elves who want to ensure that further evils are not released, the Scourged Legion who see it as a lair, the naga-led scalykind who are trapped there, and whatever fey'ri might remain.
  • The elves placed lesser golems - war-constructs - as guardians but there's probably some item that allows them to be controlled so that they can also be used in battle.
  • And, of course, we have a really solid backstory for the dungeon which should inform its design and details.
Frankly, it seems to be a pretty good start for designing a dungeon that makes some sense. More to follow in part two....

Silver Marches Sandbox 6 - WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun

In my previous post, I provided some ideas for incorporating S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth in a Silver Marches sandbox. As I mentioned in that post, Lost Caverns is essentially the sister adventure to WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun which, while even more Greyhawk-specific than Lost Caverns, also sparks some ideas that I think might be suitable for a Silver Marches sandbox.

The Forgotten Temple can be viewed as being divided into three sections. There is a wilderness section rather similar to the wilderness section of Lost Caverns, there is an aboveground surface temple and then there are several dungeon levels below ground.

Wilderness Encounters

As I would probably set this very close to Lost Caverns, I would simply use the same ideas for wilderness encounters as per the Lost Caverns post. However, there is a rather usable old school blue map of an orc lair that it would be a shame to waste. It would be easy enough to incorporate with minimal conversion work.

The Temple

In the original adventure, the aboveground temple was the demesne of a mountain giant - Groorg the Cunning in this case - which had, in 1E, a weird power to summon evil humanoid creatures to itself and those humanoids would then willingly serve the giant. (It never was explained how or why this happened and it's something I have no intention of incorporating. I'm fairly sure this was yet another piece of random design from 1E's Fiend Folio.) This led to a situation where entering the temple required the PCs to fight their way through several waves of humanoids with each wave increasing the hit dice of the creatures involved. (Yes, that's 1E Gygaxian story logic at work. :) )

I don't want to use a mountain giant and I am thinking that this adventure works best if I ignore my preference for a plot-free sandbox and actually parcel out a few dollops of plot and/or metaplot: the Netherese are here and their forces are led by a death giant. Hopefully I can use this picture even if it means changing the description (and map) of the temple quite significantly:
The Netherese forces can be a mixture of shadar-kai, krinth (a shadow demon-spawned slave race), and Netherese humans. And while they're guarding the temple above, an elite band of Netherese are trying to puzzle out the mysteries of the dungeon below.

I'm also thinking that the temple itself is actually a temple of Shar built during the pre-Karsus time of Netheril when it was at its height. The temple of Shar, though, is significantly younger than the dungeons beneath for reasons that will shortly become clear.

Notwithstanding the different monster roster, I would like to preserve the mass battle feel of the original adventure. Fortunately, minions make that really easy in 4E, as mooks do in 13th Age, and hopefully the experience will leave the players feel like their characters are badasses....

The Temple's Dungeons

There is no point trying to incorporate a conversion of, adaptation of or even an adventure inspired by WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun without actually embracing the weirdness including the  strange altars, mysterious robes, torches and incense, the whole lot. And that's definitely my plan.

The fundamental difference is that I don't want to include Tharizdun as I see him/it as belonging to Greyhawk and the world of Oerth although WotC allowed him/it to cross worlds for their (incredibly half-assed) Abyssal Plague plotline.

Instead of the creature trapped in the Black Cyst being Tharizdun, in this case the creature is actually a shadevari, an ancient creature of shadow said to predate the creation of Toril. The Netherese are devout (even fanatical) Shar-worshippers who are trying to free the shadevari believing it to be part of the key to achieve Shar's primary goal: utter nihilism with the world and its galaxy reduced to utter nothingness.

I am thinking of keeping the Tharizdun name, or at least the original name coined by Rob Kuntz before it was appropriated by Gary Gygax. That name was the very similar Tharzduun although an interview with Rob Kuntz also included a superfluous apostrophe - Tharzdu'un - which, in this case, may actually make sense.

So the PCs follow in the footsteps of the Netherese Sharrans and the shadevari may or may not be freed... but hopefully it will all be weird in a good and memorable way.