Monday, 27 January 2014

Stat Block - Mummy

There's a published 4E mummy that is a level 8 brute that is probably a better design that this one, but with this one I tried to capture a bit more of the 1E Monster Manual's feel for this creature. I can remember having a lot of fun with the 1E equivalent of ghastly appearance around 1982 or so.

I am expecting that at least one of these will be encountered by the level 1 PCs that will be playing Adytum of the Skull. Fortunately, the PCs must deliberately open a sarcophagus if they want to fight one; they're not wandering monsters or otherwise normal encounters.

Stat Block - Haldroun Duskmantle, death knight

I've been writing (and rewriting!) an introductory dungeon adventure based on the maps from Paizo's Crypt of the Everflame. As an introductory adventure I am trying to include as many of the classic D&D monsters and tropes as possible.

Originally, I was going to have the final encounter - as depicted on the cover of Crypt of the Everflame - be against some sort of custom undead warlord. That basic idea then led me to start thinking about death knights and how, despite purchasing 1E's Fiend Folio in 1982, I have never actually used one in a game despite them being, in many ways, a classic D&D monster.

As I have mentioned on this blog before, I prefer to change the level of 4E monsters to match their 1E hit dice. And, if I want a lower level version of a particular monster, I can keep the same XP value and reduce its level by 4 to make an elite, or reduce its level by 8 or 9 to make a solo. Death knights had 9 hit dice in 1E. Using my "formula" this would have resulted in a level 1 solo but I decided on a level 2 solo soldier simply because the PCs will be level 2 by that point and level 2 seems like a more appropriate challenge.

Haldroun Duskmantle's story is covered in the introduction to the adventure I mentioned I am writing but his stat block is really just a de-levelled version of Lord Soth's with a couple of custom touches of my own. I rather like the idea of a level 2 monster armed with a fireball, a wall of ice, and a power word power he can use up to three times in an encounter: I will definitely playtest Duskmantle before I unleash him on the PCs!

Let's see if he survives playtesting....

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Silver Marches Sandbox 22 - So, You All Meet in the Golden Oak Inn...

... seems to be a variation on a widely-despised D&D trope but it's one that actually makes sense considering the role that inns, taverns, pubs, and even hotels have played historically in real life to this day.

More importantly, today is considered D&D's 40th birthday or anniversary and it's therefore a day to celebrate such familiar tropes and clichés without which we might not be gaming today.

And, in the context of Silver Marches: In Search of the Unknown, I'm preparing a campaign for a group of people who have never played a tabletop RPG before and, until they saw my books and miniatures, had absolutely no idea that such a thing existed. I just cannot imagine introducing people to D&D without also introducing them to this, one of my most favourite and, indeed, practical D&D tropes.

There is one more trope I am going to tackle here; that of the patron. In the context of a campaign for new players, I think the extra information and direction that a patron can provide will prove to be invaluable for ensuring that the campaign has a sense of momentum. And in this case, the patron and the inn are rather closely intertwined....

Golden Oak Inn

Source Material
Volo's Guide to the North describes this inn as follows:
This excellent, expensive inn is also a temple to Shiallia, a local deity tied to Silvanus and Mielikki. (Be careful not to wantonly destroy seedlings or harm any animal babes while in Silverymoon or the High Forest lest you direly offend her.) I was not allowed near the place.

I was told it’s very beautiful and has a live oak tree growing up through the taproom, with little lanterns hanging down from its boughs over every table. The rain comes in, so in stormy weather the taproom empties quickly to cellars downstairs and meeting rooms that open out from the taproom on all sides, a few steps up.
3E's Silver Marches states:
Located in Northbank on Dancer's Mask Lane, northeast off Rallowglass Ride, the Golden Oak features cozy, rustic rooms, dim flagstone passages, fragrant herbs, and windowbox herbs, reminding guests of sleeping outdoors in a safe, pleasant corner of the woods. Meeting rooms are available for rent upstairs, while a friendly cellar taproom boasts entertaining gossip downstairs.

All the rooms in this inn open off a central atrium dominated by a huge oak that rises up into the open sky. latterns depending from its branches to hang above tables. Dedicated to the deity, Shiallia, the Golden Oak is favoured by druids, rangers, elves, and those who like privacy or peace and quiet. The prices are stiff, but guests can expect superb chamber service.
4E's Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide provides an abbreviated version of the description in Silver Marches:
This historic inn features cozy, rustic rooms, dim flagstoned passages, fragrant herbs, and pots and window boxes full of well-tended plants. All the rooms open off a central atrium dominated by a gargantuan oak that rises into the open sky. The tree’s branches are alight with glimmering lanterns, giving soft light to the tables beneath.
I think the description in Silver Marches is the most useful for my purposes.

Lady of the Lance aka Lady of the Golden Oak

One of the "open secrets" of the Golden Oak inn is that the Golden Oak is the dwelling place of the Belaerrauna, a hamadryad also known as the Lady of the Lance or the Lady of the Golden Oak (female hamadryad preserving invoker of Mielikki). 

Bel, as her intimates call her, is the latest in a long line of hamadryads worshipping Mielikki, Shiallia, and/or Silvanus who take up residence in the Golden Oak for a number of seasons and use it to learn of what is happening in Silverymoon so that they might be better equipped to deal with the threats to the forests and other natural areas of the Silver Marches.

The principal advantage of dwelling within the Golden Oak is that the Lady is able to take the measure of those who stay in the inn and determine whether her interests and the interests of a particular individual or group may align. In these cases, Bel becomes a patron dispensing quests across the Silver Marches to thwart the depredations of the Netherese, the whelming of an orc horde, the slaving of the Red Wizards, or the general strife of the Zhents. In all of these cases, she is acting to preserve what she sees is the Balance.

The Lady of the Lance has made herself known to the PCs having taking their measure and deciding she likes what she sees. She has effectively become their patron at the beginning of the campaign.

The Innkeeper

Landivar Telstone (male human ranger) is the master of the Golden Oak Inn. Formerly one of the Mielikki's rangers, Landivar chose a more sedate life as an innkeeper after the touch of a plaguechanged wraith withered his left leg and left him permanently lame (and secretly spellscarred). A friendly dwarf crafted a steel frame (name?) for his withered left leg and that allows him to still get around, albeit a lot slower than in his trailblazing days.

Now in his 50s and retired from the adventuring life for more than two decades, Landivar still remains something of an expert on the geography of the Silver Marches and lands to its north, as well as being very knowledgeable about flora and fauna including orcs, giants, etc....

Landivar is also a worshipper of Shiallia and shows his devotion by rearing a menagerie of orphaned animals in the loft above the inn's stables. Anyone foolish enough to harm his young charges will soon discover he has lost none of his talent with a pair of handaxes....

Mysterious Loner

The PCs begin the campaign as regulars in the Golden Oak Inn. One of the irregular patrons that they recognise is a mysterious loner, a shifter ranger named Nesker (male shifter ranger) who always sits near the oak at the centre of the inn and is frequently observed apparently talking to himself. Landivar is very protective of this particularly customer and dissuades any questions or prying into the shifter's identity or history.

Nesker is a solitary ranger who is tasked by the Lady of the Lance with monitoring the movements of the various orc tribes near Silverymoon. While his bestial features might attract scornful looks from the civilised (but ignorant) folk of Silverymoon, among the orcs those same features remind them that Nesker is not to be trifled with.

He is also held in very high regard by the Knights in Silver who often seek his advice on dealing with orc threats. One of the shamans of Dark Arrow Keep has placed an enormous bounty on Nesker's head in response to the death of the shaman's son as Nesker's hands. The fact that Nesker was protecting simple farmers from an orc raid, of course, means nothing to an orc.

Nesker thoroughly dislikes anything enclosed or underground. Even cities feel wrong to him but he loves the atmosphere at the Golden Oak Inn and this is about the only place he can be found in Silverymoon. When Nesker is seen to be talking to himself he is normally speaking with Belaerrauna. Sometimes, though, he communes with a primal spirit that will occasionally reveal itself through the oak.
The shifter never takes a room when he stays in the Golden Oak Inn. Instead, he is unique in that he is permitted to sleep in the oak's branches which he does after first taking care that none see him doing so.
Other People

The Captain: Knights in Silver.

The Merchant

The Sage

The Spy

The Thief

The Wizard

Food, Drink & Accommodation

Excellent quality; elven and eladrin tastes are catered for.

Hooks & Rumours

There's treasure to be found at the Abe abbey.
A cougar has escaped from a travelling circus.
The hiding place of The Cavernrot Boys can be found in the the plains.
Celegalad Stonebeam and Firin Firebeard will be fighting a duel tomorrow.
The body of a male dwarf was found in the outhouse of The Cheap Queen. The City Watch says it has all the markings of a crime of opportunity. Examining the wounds on the body, they appear to be caused by fist and open hand. The body appears to be stripped of everything of value. .
There's a reward of 1 gold for badger skins.
The hiding place of The Damnghost Troop can be found in the the hills.
The towns of Oxford and Barnley are having a territorial dispute.
Erestwen Mirrellas the bard was attacked by a manticore in the nearby fields.
Plague has struck the town of Seaham.
Bifur Silvermace, a local wizard needs the heart of a unicorn for "research purposes".
Elemmë Redsmith the mage was attacked by a dragon in the nearby desert.
Dwari, a local wizard needs the heart of a manticore for "research purposes".
The Shadowed Bass House has a sect in town
The body of a male gnome was found in the outhouse of The Tiny Minotaur Resthouse. The City Watch thinks it is a mugging gone wrong. Examining the body, magic was the likely cause of death. No items of worth were found on the body
Daniel Turner has discovered the location of The Scioptic Panopticon of Evil.
Lugrat the shipwright has mysteriously disappeared.

Silver Marches Sandbox 21 - Player Characters

I've been trying to write a first adventure for this campaign - currently entitled Adytum of the Skull and based off the map for Paizo's Crypt of the Everflame - but it's more difficult to write something not having any idea of who or what the characters will be, doubly so when this is being written for a group of people whose sole exposure to RPGs comes in the form of the MMORPG Defence of the Ancients aka DotA.

Off the back of that lack of experience, I've also decided that it would be best to create the characters myself with each one based on a miniature that I have in my collection. My plan is to lay out the miniatures before the players, give some rough background information, answer any questions they might have, and then let them choose one character each.

The group will be made up of at least three players with four or five being a possibility. I've spent a couple of hours preparing character sheets tonight - 4E might be complicated but the Character Builder is just so useful! - and thought I would post some of the details of the characters here.

With the exception of the changeling rogue, the characters are fairly heroic in nature and the changeling could easily be redeemed. I expect that this will be very much a Good vs Evil campaign with the players firmly on the side of Good.

One last thing. Yes, the campaign is going to start in a tavern. It wouldn't be their first D&D game if it didn't start in a tavern and the Golden Oak Inn does sound rather pleasant....

Aloevan Amarillis
Female eladrin tactical warlord

Aloevan Amarillis is the scion of a moon elf (aka eladrin) house known for its members' penchant for leaving Evermeet to explore Faerûn. That's what Aloevan has done, and she seeks not only adventure but the remains of the ancient elven heritage in the Silver Marches from the kingdoms of Iliyanbruen, Eaerlann, and Aryvandaar.

Aloevan has also studied eladrin battle tactics at Silverymoon's College of War and, as a result, is a gifted battle strategist and tactician. Her primary concern as a result of her studies is the risk to the Silver Marches of another orc horde and she believes that the eladrin have a particular responsibility to remind the folk of Luruar of this threat and also to help them prepare for, or possibly even prevent, the next horde.

Female human thunderborn barbarian

It is a tradition among the youth of the eastern land of Rashemen to embark on a year-long quest to explore other parts of Faerûn when they come of age. This quest is known as the Dajemma.

Elassa was not born Rashemen. Rather she was born a slave in the land of Thay, the nation of the Red Wizards, but she was rescued from slavery by a band of brave Rashemmi berserkers who, at the direction of the masked Wychlaran of Rashemen who lead them, often raid into Thay seeking to disrupt the evil sorcery of the Red Wizards and free any slaves that they may find. 

For the next five years after finding her freedom, Elassa trained as one of the legendary Rashemmi berserkers and heard the thunderous call of the primal spirits. These spirits directed her to the young Wychlaran named Yeveldra and, at their behest, she pledged herself to the young witch as her sworn protector. Thus it was only natural that when Yeveldra went on her Dajemma that Elassa followed.

(If Yeveldra has not been chosen as a character then she is missing and Elassa is looking for her.)

While you are far from the east, and far from the lands of Thay, you have heard rumours of Red Wizards even here in the Silver Marches. If you find them, you will kill them: it's as simple as that for you.

Lalaskra Hawklin
Female human weaponmaster fighter

The Hawklin family are a noble family of Cormyr, far to the west, known for the wanderlust of their young scions. While there is no Rashemmi blood in Lalaskra's veins, she shares something of the same desire to embark on a Dajemma and see the world.

Lalaskra has just successfully finished three years as a soldier in the Purple Dragons, the standing army of Cormyr, and has decided to travel to Silverymoon to explore the legendary North exactly as her father, and her father's father, did at the same age.

During her time in the Purple Dragons, Lalaskra frequently had to deal with the menace of the Zhentarim, an evil organisation of mercenaries, assassins, and mad clerics of the evil deity Cyric. They have troubled Cormyr for generations and, no doubt, will continue to do so for many more generations to come. Sometimes Lalaskra dreams of ending their menace once and for all....

Female changeling scoundrel rogue

Changeling.  Beggar. Guttersnipe. Scoundrel. Thief. Survivor.

All of these words describe Shallar. She has spent her life simply trying to survive on the streets of the cities and other settlements of the Silver Marches, an orphan who never knew her parents or even had a proper adult role model.

Instead she relied on her wits and nimble fingers and, when those failed, her ability to change her form thus giving her an almost impenetrable disguise. But now she has companions and friends: the other PCs whom she has come to know as they have all spent time at the Golden Oak Inn.

Shallar equates money or wealth with survival and she comes across as quite greedy as a result. For now, all that interests here is treasure.

Female human witch wizard

Like all of the Wychlaran of Rashemen, Yeveldra prefers to wear a mask. However, there is no taboo on its removal, rather she simply considers it a normal article of clothing.
Yeveldra's presence in Silverymoon is largely explained by the background provided for Elassa above. There is one fundamental difference: Yeveldra is a seer and she received a vision that caused her to come to Silverymoon in search of a potent magical mask once owned by another Wychlaran some generations ago.
Yeveldra is a devout follower of Selûne the Moonmaiden and thus is fundamentally opposed to Shar, the Lady of Loss and Mistress of the Night. She knows that this mask is somehow connected to the eternal war between the Moonmaiden and her sister Shar and Yeveldra believes that recovering this mask will aid Selûne's cause in this everlasting battle between light and darkness.

She knows that the mask dates back to the time of ancient Netheril and is afraid that it may have fallen once more into Netherese hands - and the Netherese are known to be devout worshippers of Shar - so she plans to follow any hints or rumours of Netherese magic believing that this is the only way the mask will be found.

Further Development

I will leave personality and mannerisms etc... to the players - obviously - but I may edit in some additional notes about each character's history as I continue refining the first adventure. Obviously, part of that is going to include how they met and decided to join together: as new players, they're going to need assistance with this also.

Yeveldra was the first of the characters that I began thinking about, in part because I liked the art that inspired her miniature (shown here) but also because I love the basic idea behind the Dajemma. Interestingly, all but Shallar are also wanderers. That wasn't deliberate in the case of Aloevan and Lalaskra but was a result of reading the background of the families that they belong to both of which have their own Dajemma-like traditions.
And living in the Philippines where nearly 30% of the working age population have to go overseas to work I imagine that the players will grasp this concept fairly easily!
So far, all my potential players are girls so I am sticking to female characters. Of course, there are five characters and right now I think we're probably going to start with three players. If this happens, I suppose the group will consist of Aloevan (simply because you have to have a leader), Elassa, and Yeveldra. Lalaskra will probably be the fourth choice and Shallar will be the fifth. If we do end up with only three players, I will include two more NPCs which I will stat up as level 1 soldiers rather than creating them as PCs (and I would rather use Adventure Tools to create a monster-like NPC than learn how to create companion characters).

Anyway, now that I have a pool of characters to draw from, I can get back to trying to make the first adventure not suck as much as it currently does....

Edit: 26Jan14

I thought it might help to have another leader class to choose from so here's a cleric.

Female human warpriest of Selûne

Thaerea was raised in the Grey Wolf tribe of the Uthgardt barbarians and she saw the Shar-worshipping Netherese come and corrupt the savage nobility of her tribe into decadent bestial violence. Now the Grey Wolf tribe is but a band of tame werewolves in Netheril's employ.

However, the light of Selûne shone brightly on Thaerea and she was rescued by some adventurers in her early teens and delivered to the temple of Selûne where the silverstars, as Selûne's clerics are properly called, raised her... and also taught her to tame her violent impulses because, like the others of the Grey Wolf tribe, Thaerea is a werewolf.

Nevertheless, Thaerea is also a faithful silverstar and her bestial impulses are under control. That said, she has great difficulty keeping the beast within leashed when she witnesses the depravity and destruction wrought by the Shar-worshipping Netherese. And she believes that, together with the other female adventurers she has met at Silverymoon's Golden Oak Inn, her destiny involves striking a mighty blow against the Mistress of the Night and her Netherese servitors....

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Silver Marches Sandbox 20 - Crypt of the Everflame adapted as The Adytum of the Skull - Introduction

I accidentally posted a very incomplete draft of this adventure a couple of days ago. The adventure is now broken into five parts - this introduction is the first of those five parts - and I will post the other parts as they are done. Hopefully this rewritten version which work out much better than the first draft!

While Pathfinder is not my game, there is no doubt that Paizo has been - and continues to be - very successful with their house-ruled version of 3.5E. (NB: I do not use house-ruled in a disparaging sense but simply to describe what it is.) I know that I still get most of their products for a combination of the ideas and the art.

In my quest to find the perfect introductory adventure for this campaign - more importantly, the perfect introductory adventure for a group of people with no idea that an RPG exists outside of MMORPGs - I thought I should go through the various level 1 Pathfinder adventures I have purchased to see what adventure I might be able to simply convert or otherwise adapt to 4E. I also remembered that I had in my collection of battlemaps the GameMastery Flip-Mat: Dungeon from Paizo which coincidentally and/or conveniently depicts the map of the dungeon in the level 1 adventure Crypt of the Everflame.


I think the visuals of the pre-printed map will work really well for introducing the players to a mini- and grid-heavy game like 4E plus, even though this is not a conversion but essentially a new adventure matched to the map, the adventure includes a lot of things - puzzles, dangers of pits, grappling-based battle etc... - that it can be helpful to introduce to new players. I will definitely keep a lot of those things and some of the descriptions, even as a I change everything else.

Now, with that lengthy introduction out of the way, onward to the Adytum of the Skull....

The Adytum of the Skull


A Zhentarim cleric of Cyric seeks to awaken an ancient evil which may pose a threat to the entire Silver Marches. And in a strange twist of fate, it falls to a band of young adventures to end this threat....

A dungeon. A dragon. A death knight.

These are three of the key ingredients for this adventure which is designed as a first adventure for level 1 characters in the Silver Marches: In Search of the Unknown campaign. It is an homage to both B1 In Search of the Unknown and B2 Keep on the Borderlands while using the dungeons maps from Paizo's Crypt of the Everflame.


Recent Events

The defenders of civilisation in the North watch the orcs of the Silver Marches carefully, always looking for signs that an orc horde is being whelmed as such an event is historically overdue.

And while it seems that the orcs of the North have taken their first steps toward civilisation with the Kingdom of Many-Arrows, those who truly understand what makes an orc an orc know that it will take but a spark to ignite the orcs in a conflagration of destruction that threatens the entire Silver Marches.

The hamadryad Belaerrauna is one of those who watches for such threats in the North. While most of her "watching" is by magical means, she also has her eyes and ears ranging across the Silver Marches watching the orcs and the other major threats such as the Shadovar of Netheril and the newly resurgent Zhentarim of Newfort.

One of her most important agents is the shifter ranger Nesker whose focus is the orcs of the Nether Mountains. In the past tenday he followed a band of orcs into a grassy vale some 25 miles east southeast of Silverymoon in the foothills of the Nether Mountains.

The vale bore signs of having once been inhabited - the ruined foundations of ancient buildings still remained even if the rubble now looked more like natural boulders - and was dominated by a skull-shaped rocky outcrop on a hill 100 or so feet above the surface of the vale.

Mountain goats were plentiful and they were the target of the orc raiders. Unfortunately for the orcs, the goats were well-protected by the goats' very protective goatherd: a rather large and extremely alert ettin. After the two-headed brute reduced the orcs to vulture-food, Nesker returned to Silverymoon to report the existence of the ruins and, more particularly, the skull-shaped outcropping to Belaerrauna. (Nesker will only go underground in an absolute emergency, and generally not when he is alone.)

Based on what Nesker told her, Belaerrauna performed a divination ritual and thus it was revealed that the dungeon beneath the skull-shaped outcropping - more properly, the skull-shaped entrance - held within it the "iron gauntlet of the Black Lord whose release would herald the Black Age of Bane across the Silver Marches".

Profoundly disturbed by what the divination revealed, the hamadryad now needs adventurers to travel to the dungeon and end this threat before it is unleashed across the Silver Marches.

And that's where the PCs come in….

History of the Adytum

The ruins that Nesker found are all that remains of the village of Orlsgate, an outlying settlement of the (original) empire of Netheril best known for its Jergali monastery and the more mysterious Adytum of the Skull in the hills above the village.

Here the Jergali clerics, also known as scriveners of doom performed their sacred tasks of recording the disposition of the dead and similar rites and rituals, and interred many of their most faithful in the catacombs of the Adytum of the Skull, while dwelling in a separate monastery in the village below.

(The word adytum means that part of a shrine where the public were forbidden to enter.)

This all came to an end after the apotheosis of Bane the Black Lord.

The more fanatical of Bane's followers knew that the Black Lord's power - and the power of Bhaal and Myrkul, the two other members of the Dark Three - came from Jergal who strangely surrendered his divine portfolios to Bane, Bhaal, and Myrkul with little resistance.

For the more fanatical Banites, this episode that took place in the mysterious realms of the Astral Sea needed to be played out here in Toril also. As a result, Haldroun Duskmantle, a former paladin of Jergal  who converted to Bane, led a vicious pogrom across the border areas of the empire of Netheril destroying Jergali monasteries, temples and shrines including here at Orlsgate.

However, when Duskmantle entered what is now his tomb in the Adytum of the Skull, the cold wrath of Jergal was unleashed and Duskmantle's life was taken from him. The Pitiless One cursed his former paladin to forever guard the Adytum of the Skull from other defilers and he remains entombed in the Adytum until this day.

While Bane could not directly stop this from happening, he was able to corrupt the curse so that Duskmantle's doom was not tied to the Adytum of the Skull, per se, but to a skull-headed mace wielded by one of the scriveners of doom the Banites had slain. However, when a Banite cleric tried to recover this mace from the body of the dead Jergali at the Black Lord's behest, the mace could not be found.

The mace still exists hidden within the Adytum. If it is found, it can be used to awaken and command Duskmantle who possesses the powers of a death knight. A Cyricist cleric, Halazondar, from within the ranks of the Zhentarim recently discovered a very incomplete version of this tale in the Vault of the Sages in Silverymoon.

Halazondar believes that the skull-headed mace will allow him to awaken and control the death knight, Haldroun Duskmantle, who, in turn, will be able to command the barrow wights and other undead of the Tombs of Deckon Thar thus providing the Zhentarim with a major advantage in their quest to dominate Silverymoon Pass (more of this story will be revealed in the next adventure).

What Halazondar does not realise is that the returned death knight is an avowed Banite who will eventually shake off the control that the mace will initially afford.

With the coming of spring, Halazondar is making plans to set out from Silverymoon (where he has secretly wintered) to find the Adytum of the Skull. With Zhentarim soldiers in tow, the Cyricist will arrive in the vale just before the PCs finally exit the Adytum….


Hired by (see adventure hooks), the PCs prepare to travel roughly half-a-day to the east of Silverymoon, into the foothills of the Nether Mountains. While it is spring, it is only the very beginning so the weather is quite cold plus there are spring rains and lots of groundwater from melting snow.

There is no road to follow, only directions and landmarks, but the PCs soon find themselves in the hills and under attack by orcs. They may have been ambushed, or clever play (with appropriate skill checks) may have resulting in the PCs doing the ambushing, but eventually the orcs are defeated and the PCs continue on.

Eventually the PCs come to a fairly flat vale overlooked by a skull-shaped structure in the hill above. Mountain goats are common and eventually they encounter the acid-scarred goatherd, an ettin named Gorbash Ghamorz. They may defeat the ettin in battle or they may negotiate with him/them to defeat the black dragon that dwells in the entrance to the Adytum of the Skull: in the latter case, the real reward is being forewarned of the dragon's existence.

The PCs may rest at this point or may push on into the Adytum. Ultimately, though, they enter the Adytum through its broken doors and encounter the very young black dragon known as Skullface. The defeat of the black dragon allows them to press on. The dungeon is explored, various undead and other creatures (possibly including the mercenaries known as the Whiteskulls) are deal with, culminating in what is likely to be the final encounter: a grand melee with the cursed undead warlord, Haldroun Duskmantle:
Haldroun Duskmantle: former champion of Bane, now a death knight cursed by Jergal
The PCs may then choose to explore some more in order to complete their major quest(s) and then they will (most likely) return to Silverymoon for their rewards. One small problem though: the return journey will see an attack by a large group of orcs which will eventually be complicated by the arrival of a young bulette drawn to the commotion. After that, their return home is safe and peaceful.

A Quick Note on the Maps

I'm not really sure of Paizo's policy on posting maps directly from the adventure so the maps I've posted - with the large SAMPLE watermark through them - are publicly available on Paizo's site here and here. Suffice to say, if you like the ideas behind this adventure, you're going to need to buy either the GameMastery Flip-Mat: Dungeon and/or Crypt of the Everflame from Paizo.

Monster Roster

I will post all the stat blocks in separate posts but I will just note the monster levels and types here. Please note that I use AD&D hit dice to work out the level of a monster simply because it gives me a much larger variety of creatures to use in Heroic Tier - and early Paragon Tier, if necessary - where I prefer to run my games.

And, frankly, I just find it makes more sense but I am also conditioned by many years of the pre-4E versions of D&D.
  • Ankheg - level 3 lurker;
  • Ant, giant - level 2 soldier;
  • Crypt thing - level 1 solo controller;
  • Ettin - level 6 elite brute or level 1 solo brute;
  • Frog, giant - level 1 controller;
  • Ghast - level 4 soldier;
  • Ghoul - level 2 soldier;
  • Manticore - level 6 artillery or level 2 elite artillery;
  • Mummy - level 6 brute or level 2 elite brute;
  • Naga, dark - level 9 controller or level 5 elite controller;
  • Ogre - level 4 brute;
  • Salamander - level 7 soldier or level 3 elite soldier (skirmisher?);
  • Skeleton - level 1 skirmisher;
  • Wyvern (maybe eating their horses outside) - level 7 skirmisher or level 3 elite skirmisher;
  • Leucrotta - level 2 elite brute or skirmisher;
  • Orc - level 1 brute;
  • Orc, youth - level 1 minion brute;
  • Haldroun Duskmantle, death knight - level 2 solo soldier.

Here are the links to the other parts of the adventure:
  • Part One: In Search of the Unknown
  • Part Two: Adytum Level One
  • Part Three: Adytum Level Two
  • Part Four: Conclusion

Stat Blocks - Nether Mountains Orcs and an ettin NPC

One of my "policies" with 4E is to reduce the levels of the monsters to match that of their 1E hit dice. Besides better fitting my sense of the relative power levels of the world, it gives me a much larger monster roster to work with in the Heroic Tier campaigns I prefer.

This is my latest version of a basic orc from the Nether Mountains in the Silver Marches:
If you're looking at the critical damage - and the brutal critical trait - and thinking that it is really high, you may be right but I will say it results in the correct average damage for a level 1 brute. I don't normally include extra damage on a critical but I wanted to make these orcs brutal. After all, people are scared of orcs so now I am giving my players a numbers-based reason for thinking carefully about tangling with an orc warband.

I've also created a level 1 minion version of the same:
And now for the fluff.

Dragon 429 included a fairly interesting article History Check: Dark Arrow Keep about the orcs of the Silver Marches, and specifically those of the Many-Arrows tribe who have organised themselves into a kingdom which, more or less, lives at peace with its neighbours.

And that is not the orc way.

Many orcs, even some in Dark Arrow Keep, find this to be absolutely heretical and these Nether Mountain orc represent the orcs of the more traditional tribes.

I see these orcs as being fanatical worshippers of Gruumsh and, as a result, each has plucked out one of his eyes. That's why they also carry no missile weapons. The youths are newly of age and so their eyes have been freshly removed. Most, if not all, will have their eye sockets stuffed with herbs to stop infection held in place with crude bandages. I think this visual is a great way to show the players the fanaticism of these orcs.

When these two types of orcs are encountered, they're not so much warbands but raids carried out as part of the initiation rites for the youths. The youths want a kill - and, even better, a trophy - to prove to their tribe their orc-hood and their right to be counted amongst the tribe's warriors. In metagame terms, it may also signal their "upgrade" from level 1 minion brute to level 1 brute.

While I don't have a tribe name in mind yet - canonically, 3E's Silver Marches provides a few names with Thousand Fists the most geographically appropriate - I want to focus on the symbol of the eye both to match their distinctive appearance and also because I am thinking of having a beholder as the Voice of Gruumsh responsible for inciting these orcs to take up their more traditional marauding ways. (The Voice of Gruumsh idea is, at least subconciously, a nod to the part a beholder played as the Voice of Bane in the Temple in the Sky above the Burning Tower in the 2E Realms.) Oh, and that's likely to be part of a Zhentarim plot, but I digress....

I'll stat up some leader-types at some point.

I've also created an ettin NPC that I want to use in my opening adventure. An ettin in 1E had 10 hit dice so I started with the ettin being a level 10 brute. A level 10 brute has the same XP value as a level 6 elite brute or a level 1 solo brute, and the latter suited my purposes better for an introductory adventure:
A level 1 brute should do an average of 11 damage per round. A solo should possess three attacks doing that. I went a slightly different route. I started with average damage of 33 per round and then split it into two attacks which take place on each of the the two heads' individual turns. On top of that, once this ettin is bloodied, it starts attacking everything around it making it a true solo threat.

There is still a chance of locking it down with a dominate or stun effect but an attacker has to roll twice and take the worse result when targeting the ettin's Will plus the ettin gets four saving throws with a +5 bonus per round. Hopefully I have given it enough to pose a decent threat.

Names by Ed Greenwood - 4,006 names, to be precise!

I managed to include all of the Forging the Realms articles up until this week in my last trawl for names.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Neverwinter II: Ruins of Adventure 2 - BBEGs

In my previous post introducing Neverwinter II: Ruins of Adventure, I postulated the idea of running a campaign set in the ruins of Neverwinter but heavily inspired by 1E/2E's FRC2 Ruins of Adventure (which was set in Phlan on the Moonsea, half a continent or so away). 

In one sense, this would turn a Neverwinter campaign into something of an old-fashioned OD&D/AD&D hexcrawl where you clear the hexes surrounding the castle you just built because you had achieved "name level" as it was once referred to. I suppose that it is an option, but instead of building a castle, the PCs would take over the rulership of Neverwinter from Lord Neverember. And that still remains a possibility.

But the real point of this post is to offer up some ideas for BBEGs - different to the ones employed in Neverwinter I: Year of the Ageless One - and their goals to give the Neverwinter II: Ruins of Adventure campaign a bit of plot/metaplot/backstory support.

Aboleth: Night Below

The first campaign that I ran in 3E all the way to its conclusion around level 23 or so was an adaptation of the 2E boxed set adventure Night Below.

It was fairly heavily modified but the basic plot remained in place: the aboleth needed spellcasters to fuel the rituals that would create gargantuan psionic obelisks that, in turn, would allow the aboleth to magnify their natural domination ability to affect entire regions. Of course, the only way to obtain the spellcasters was by organising slaving operations that would capture them. The net result was a logical progression from individual slavers to a group of slavers to a slave market and then into the Underdark before finally confronting the aboleth in their city.

This could also work in Neverwinter.

Beholders: I, Tyrant
I was surprised to find this rather inspiring piece of flavour text introducing the entry for beholders in 4E's Monster Vault:
When the unwholesome plane known as the Far Realm comes into tenuous contact with reality, terrible things boil across the boundary.

Nightmares form the thunderhead of psychic storms that presage the arrival of warped beings and forces undreamt of by the maddest demon or the vilest devil. Many aberrant creatures stumble upon the world by accident, pushed in like chill wind through a door suddenly opened. Others crash into reality because it is as loathsome to them as their surreal homeland is to all sane natives of the rational planes.

Beholders, however, come as conquerors. Each one seeks to claim all in its sight, and beholders see much indeed.
What if the disaster that brought Neverwinter low also echoed across the planes - and the not-plane of the Far Realms - and, like a receding sea the precedes a tsunami, the natural disaster of the volcano preceded a most unnatural disaster: a rift in reality that allowed the Far Realm to spill into the world.

The net result? A new beholder hive, fresh arrivals to Toril, who, like the daleks of Dr Who, are here only to conquer or to exterminate.

Another option, based on the BBEG in Paizo's first adventure path The Shackled City, is to have the beholder be able to take the form of the human ruler of Neverwinter: what if Lord Neverember is actually a beholder mage in human form?

Neogi: Web of Chains

I have really liked the neogi - a strange cross between a moray eel and a spider - since they were first introduced in the boxed set Spelljammer: AD&D Adventures in Space, the first in the Spelljammer line of products which actually did what its tagline said and set AD&D adventures in space.The neogi were introduced as evil merchants and slave-traders whose only interested was in gaining wealth and owning things, particularly slaves. 

Despite my fondness for them, to the best of my knowledge I have never used a neogi in adventure. Perhaps Ruins of Adventure is my chance to address that?

One of the (few) good 4E adventures published in Dungeon was Web of Chains in Dungeon 168. I think the background for this adventure could be easily adapted for use in the ruins of Neverwinter:
The Bloody Chain clan is an ancient group of neogi slavers and merchants ruled by Ghorfal the Voracious, the eldest neogi of the clan. The Bloody Chain were once voyagers across vast seas, commanding slave ships with green sails that struck terror into the hearts of all that saw them. The Bloody Chain traded with devils, drow, and evil giants, and they even aspired to build their own empire until a group of heroes struck them down. Although they burned all the green-sailed ships and left most of the Bloody Chain neogi dead, Ghorfal and a few of its servants survived.

... Through cunning trade and its considerable personal power, it has brought the Bloody Chain from the brink of extinction and turned it into a small but dangerous raiding band. Ghorfal still craves the greater wealth and influence it once commanded on its slave ships and is taking a great gamble to reclaim his lost status. Ghorfal leveraged what treasure and slaves it has left to hire enough mercenaries to aid it in building a new, permanent stronghold. Using his old contacts, he has spread the claim that he already controls a vast slave bazaar where creatures of all species can be bought and sold. Come spring, his buyers will begin to arrive, and he must finish his base of operations before then....
What if Ghorfal the Voracious has set up its lair in the ruins of Neverwinter and has loggers working the Neverwinter Wood for lumber with which to build new ships while a great Underdark bazaar at the bottom of the Chasm - which could even be based on the Seven-Pillared Hall from H2 Thunderspire Labyrinth - serves as the market for its slaves.

The other beauty of this basic set-up is that it could also work in conjunction with, say, having a beholder as the true ruler of the ruins of Neverwinter or it could be tied to the aboleth-based adaptation of Night Below previously mentioned. Further, a natural conclusion to this sort of slaving operation would be the Demon Weave-based adaptation of the legendary D series - D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth, D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, and D3 Vault of the Drow - that I seem to mention repeatedly on this blog.

Aberrant Tyrants

So there's a collection of lawful evil aberrations who could be the BBEGs of Neverwinter: Ruins of Adventure. The only lawful evil aberration I have omitted is the illithid but that's easy enough to edit back into the post later.

Age of Upheaval 3 - Campaign Arc: First Draft (FR + 13th Age)

One of the reasons I chose Mike Schley's map of Faerûn for the picture in the campaign's banner is that I am hoping to run Age of Upheaval all over the map. Normally my campaigns focus on a region but in view of the subject matter, in this case I want the PCs to range all over Faerûn.

To facilitate that, the basic structure I will give the campaign is based on events during the Time of Troubles. This is also a nod to the role the Tablets of Fate played during the Time of Troubles and how the end of the Age of Upheaval - the event, not this campaign - will result in Ao essentially rewriting the Tablets.

There is also a certain irony at work here because I not only despised the whole concept of the Time of Troubles, I also thought the Tablets and Fate as well as Ao will silly concepts that the Realms was better off without.

For those who don't know, the Time of Troubles was largely caused by Bane but resulted in his death, but it also resulted in the deaths of the other two members of the Dark Three, as they were called, Bhaal and Myrkul. Bane managed to come back with the events that accompanied the 3E version of the Realms, but both Bhaal and Myrkul are essentially dead. (Essentially is an important qualifier when it comes to Realms deities.)

Immediately after the Time of Troubles, Cyric inherited the powers and portfolios of all three of the Dark Three placing him in the position of being probably the most powerful evil deity. Over time, he lost most of that power and now, of course, he's imprisoned as a result of his role in causing the Spellplague.

I mention all of this because it's important to the overall story of Age of Upheaval. What if:
  1. Bane sees the end of the Age of Upheaval and The Sundering event as a time for him to finish what he started during the Time of Troubles?
  2. Cyric sees the the end of the Age of Upheaval and The Sundering event as a time for him to escape his imprisonment and take back the power he originally held?
  3. Bane and Cyric are actually both correct and the nature of the Age of Upheaval means that their goals are actually within reach?
  4. The keys for Bane or Cyric to achieve their goals lie within the remains of those deities slain during the Time of Troubles?
So, three dead deities and three tiers for the campaign. Here's a rough outline:

Adventurer Tier: The Crown of Horns

What happens when you mash-up Eye of Myrkul from Dungeon 73 (the fifth adventure in the Mere of Dead Men series, the original Dungeon adventure path), add in the god golem from the 4E super-adventure updating the Tomb of Horrors, and then make Nhyris D'hothek, the yuan-ti lich wearing the Crown of Horns into the BBEG?
The PCs begin in Waterdeep and soon find themselves on the trail of yuan-ti slavers operating out of Downshadow and/or Skullport. Seeking to bring the slaving operation to an end, they follow the trail to the Mere of Dead Men fighting an army of undead, numerous lizardfolk including a lizard king riding a catoblepas, and yuan-ti.

Ultimately they end up in an ancient temple of Myrkul sunken beneath the Mere of Dead Men in the middle of a three-way battle for control - Banites vs Cyricists vs the serpentfolk cultists of the Crown of Horns - or a huge flesh golem crafted from the bodily remains of Myrkul.

What do the PCs do if they win? They will need the aid of one or more Icons - and they will need to choosen carefully - to end the threat posed by Myrkul's remaining power.

Champion Tier: The Black Blood of Bhaal

By the end of the Adventurer Tier, the PCs have some idea of what is happening. It may be that they have, for example, travelled to Candlekeep to learn more of the forces that are not only shaping the Realms but shaped the Realms in the past.

That then brings them to Baldur's Gate where I could run some of Murder in Baldur's Gate to introduce the threat posed by Bhaal being awakened again. From there, the adventure leads to the Boareskyr Bridge because Bhaal was slain close by and his black blood still pollutes the water.

This blood possesses significant power such that it could be used in a ritual to corrupt The Companion, the second sun that hovers above Elturel in Elturgard nearby. The Companion is a relic of Amaunator imbued with his power but the Banites, Cyricists and perhaps another faction are seeking to corrupt The Companion and turn it into both a thing of darkness but also a colossal symbol of their deity.

This clash between Cyric and Bane has had an additional effect. The Zhentarim of Darkhold are effectively in a state of civil war between the Cyricist and Banite factions. With clever play, the PCs may be able to use these factions to accomplish their own goals.

Ideally, the Champion Tier concludes with the PCs protecting The Companion from being corrupted and thus earn the gratitude of the paladins of Torm who rule Elturgard. This is important leading into the Epic Tier....

Epic Tier: The Final Battle

I will address the conclusion first.

Ideally, I would like to see a repeat of the battle between Torm and Bane that took place in Tantras toward the end of the Time of Troubles but, this time, the role of Torm is played by the PCs and they fight Bane in Torm's place (this is why having the gratitude of the paladins - and likely Torm himself - was noted as being important at the end of the Champion Tier).

However, that means that Cyric is no longer in the running. How was he removed from being an agent of influence? Did the PCs travel to another plane, perhaps even his prison? Did they strengthen his bindings?

While I have an endgame in mind, I still haven't thought out how to fill the Epic Tier with things that are truly Epic. That said, I have plenty of time to do so.

Filling in the Blanks

The above is very much a first draft of a campaign arc and is more about providing a general direction that formally serving as a campaign outline. Clearly there is a lot of detail missing particularly in relation to the named NPCs which is what I typically use to shape my campaigns. Also, in a 13th Age context, the role of the other Icons needs to be more carefully considered.

But the general direction is there. I think I will enjoy filling in the blanks. :)