Monday, 30 December 2013

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....

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