Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Silver Marches Sandbox 12 - Raiders of Galath's Roost

One of my absolute favourite adventures of all time is the 3E adventure Raiders of Galath's Roost published in Dungeon 87. I am biased because it involves the Zhentarim - they are, simply put, my favourite D&D organisation of all time - but, for me, the real attraction is that it is, like the Caves of Chaos from B2 Keep on the Borderlands, so portable and useable in almost any location or, indeed, in any world.

Part One: Galath's Roost

The set-up is simple. The titular raiders are attacking the Dalelands but, when pursued, they cannot be found. This is because they are using a portal - no surprises there - near the ruins of the titular (that word again) Galath's Roost which includes both a small surface level and a slightly larger underground level.

Here are the maps from the first part of the adventure:

That's the surface level and some of the surrounding wilderness. In the original adventure, the surface encounters include some drow scouts who are also investigating the raiders.

And that's the dungeon level. The maps are quite simple but easy to adapt for a variety of settings. More on that below.

After the PCs investigate Galath's Roost and discover the portal and its method of activation, they can travel via the portal to the raiders' base, a Zhentarim fortress in the mountains nearby.

Part Two: The Zhentarim Fortress

The portal leads to a Zhentarim fortress which spreads out over three levels. I rather like the maps and I like the thought that has gone into, for example, having the portal open outside the fortress on a piece of ground separated from the entrance to the fortress by a sheer drop that can be crossed with difficulty, with magic or by lowering a drawbridge. It's a good way to make the players stop and think:

The fortress as seen here is quite large with a lot of encounters - and that's before looking at the other levels. Even in 3E I had to modify it on the fly to remove the grind; that's an even bigger issue in 4E unless a lot of minions are used.

The fortress also has an upper level which is perfect for overlooking the arrival area:

It also seems designed to handle flying creatures. Perhaps there is a Zhentarim skymage in residence?

My favourite level is the dungeon level with its Banite sacrificial chamber shaped like a hand:

That cage-like area on the floor represents a grille over an oubliette where ghouls are kept. The adventure actually provides an illustration for this:

The primary goal in the fortress is to defeat the Zhentarim whose leader is a cleric of Bane (this is pre-Spellplague, of course, when the Banites, rather than Cyricists, were in charge) who is illustrated in the adventure's cover art:

Even though the colours are wrong, I love this illustration because it really captures the arrogance and superciliousness of a cleric of Bane, and I like the dire rat beast of Bane hiding behind the cleric's legs. R K Post does good work.

Part Three: Fitting this in the Silver Marches Sandbox

The beauty of this adventure with its RUIN + PORTAL + FORTRESS model is that it can fit almost anywhere. The Silver Marches is full of ruins and the use of a portal to travel to the fortress means the fortress can be in any of the mountains of which there are plenty.

However, I've been trying to think of an introductory adventure for a prospective Silver Marches campaign which will begin in the city of Silverymoon. I've already posted a couple of ideas for using B1 In Search of the Unknown and B2 Keep on the Borderlands as starter adventures but, in keeping with the sandbox theme, I want to be able to present the PCs with other options.
The Silverwood
Also, looking at the map of the Silver Marches I am using, the geographical feature that stands out near Silverymoon is the Silverwood. Strangely enough, despite its proximity to one of the most storied and developed cities of the Realms, next to nothing has been written about the Silverwood. In fact, all I can find boils down to this:
The land rises at the edge of the Trollmoors (aka Evermoors) and a small forest made up almost entirely of of silver birch trees covers the rise. Trolls from the moors below continue to roam in this wood, but there are other terrors as well. The eastern side of the woods ends in a sharp escarpment which drops down to the River Rauvin and Silverymoon.
I'm not sure of the canon source for the silver birch trees but the rest seems consistent with what I recall reading. And silver birches fit both in terms of the name of the Silverwood and the prevailing climate so I will be keeping this entire description. 

The Raiders

Looking at the map and reading the description above of the Silverwood, it's clear that the Silverwood overlooks the River Rauvin which makes it a prime location for river piracy. Trade flows down the River Rauvin and, wherever there is trade, there are criminals seeking to profit from it.

I rather like the idea of river pirates. The barges that are used on the river are relatively slow-moving (except in spring when the river is flowing because of melting snow and ice in the mountains) and they are difficult to manoeuvre.

At the risk of introducing more story elements into this sandbox, I already have in mind that I want to use the Zhentarim but these are not the well-organised, Bane-worshipping Zhentarim of pre-4E; rather, these are the more cell-like, Cyric-worshipping (or at least -tolerating) mercenaries of an organisation that has kept the Zhentarim name but is no longer the continent-wide threat it once was. (For now.) 

The Zhentarim in the Silver Marches are based in Newfort (this is a settlement that was introduced in 3E's Silver Marches and noted as being made up of settlers who originally hailed from Zhentil Keep) and are available for hire as mercenaries. I haven't given any thought yet to what they have been doing in the past but, for now, they have been hired by the Netherese to disrupt trade between and among the three major cities of the Silver Marches, namely Silverymoon, Everlund and Sundabar.

One of the basic ideas behind my plans for a clone of B2 Keep on the Borderlands is to have the titular keep be Hawk's Nest in the Silverymoon Pass but to have it taken over by the Zhentarim and used as a forward base for unleashing the humanoids they control (the humanoid lairs are, of course, the Caves of Chaos from that adventure) to bring trade in the Silverymoon Pass to a standstill.

Similarly, I think I could do much the same here with the ruin being the forward base for the Zhents and then the humanoid raiders arrive each day (or night) before being unleashed on the barge traffic on the River Rauvin.
And rather than using the Zhent fortress maps from Raiders of Galath's Roost, I am thinking of actually tying this into my version of Keep on the Borderlands and simply having the origin of the raiders be my version of the Caves of Chaos near Hawk's Nest thereby mashing Raiders of Galath's Roost and Keep on the Borderlands into a single adventure.

The major problem with this in the context of a sandbox is, of course, that it is strongly story-based. You have the link from the river raiders to the Zhents in the ruin then the portal leading to the Caves of Chaos and, finally, the Zhent headquarters in Hawk's Nest (and this also feels like it has some similarities with the plot of 4E's excellent Reavers of Harkenwold). At this point the PCs will probably find evidence that it was the Netherese who hired the Zhentarim to disrupt trade and that might suggest that the next adventure is against the Netherese.

I'll stop right there.

By simply making it so that the PCs can't work out how to use the portal, I can simply keep the river raiders (goblins? hobgoblins? orcs?), the ruin in the Silverwood with a Zhentarim leader and some bodyguards (this makes me think of Broken Spire Keep and the cleric Ranchefus in 2E's Night Below boxed set mega-adventure) and maybe have the ruin include a tomb of an eladrin or elven cleric of Moander from ancient Eaerlann that the PCs awaken as some sort of plant-based mummy that might even be potent enough to stat up as a solo creature.

Taken together, that's probably a fairly solid introductory adventure with a decent background, a nice mix of monsters and an unresolved mystery as to why the Zhentarim are using humanoid raiders to disrupt trade. And this picture from Night Below definitely makes me want to include Ranchefus or at least a cleric of Cyricist based on him:
Ranchefus, aka Yet Another Reason for Loving Arnie Swekel's B&W Work
Further Development

The easiest option to expand this adventure is to mash it up with Keep on the Borderlands and flavour it with Reavers of Harkenwold, as I have already mentioned.

Another option draws from Night Below and ties in with the Demon Weave storyline involving Lolth wanting to become the deity of magic - WotC's Rise of the Underdark event - and, while keeping the background elements already mentioned, have the underground level of this ruin in the Silverwood connected to the Underdark where "Ranchefus" is selling those his raiders capture on the river as slaves to the drow.

The idea here is not to pursue the drow all the way back to Menzoberranzan, but I do like the idea of taking on a band of drow slavers and then returning to Silverymoon to report to the city's leaders that the Zhentarim were behind the raiders and it seems that the drow were behind the Zhentarim. Who knows what might come of that?

And, of course, while it is probably seen as a horribly clich├ęd storyline for anyone who has played for a while, I think it could work really well with a group of new players. Anyway, the point in throwing around these sorts of ideas - in my brain or in a blog - is to simply to throw out options. A sandbox game lives and dies on options because you need options in order to offer players meaningful choices.

Similarly, the humanoid raiders don't even need to be led by a Zhent, nor does there need to be a portal linking them to another location. These could simply be orc raiders led by a shaman of Gruumsh, or goblins led by a hobgoblin (or even human) cleric of Bane or the leader may even be a fey'ri sorcerer seeking to obtain the resources to equip an army. There are river raiders. There is a ruin. It is in the Silverwood. Have fun from there.


  1. Hi, this topic sounds just like a thread I started over at Candlekeep several weeks ago. I was asking about 3rd Ed lore regarding the Silverwood. Seems there isn't any really. I love your idea and I'm going to incorporate it into my own Silver Marches game. I am tying in the old 1E adventure "The Inheritance" from Road to Danger. The hobgoblins occupying the keep have been raiding the barge traffic in the employ of the Zhents, who are also raiding the barge traffic from Galath's Roost. A well placed and mysterious letter on the leader of the hobgoblins mentions the Zhent's operating base. The Zhents in my game are going to be a sect dedicated to Manshoon and their goal is to reestablish the church of Bane in the Marches. To tie this back to the adventure we just completed, the Malarites (People of the Black Blood) are assisting the Zhents in gaining a foothold in isolated portions of the Marches where their activities will go largely unnoticed. Additionally, they are capturing slaves, some will East to be sold Thay etc, but some are being sold to drow slavers operating in the mountains north of the Moonwood, which will tie in my eventual plan to take this group to the Underdark.

  2. Firstly, thanks for the comment. I do remember reading your thread when I was also looking for information on The Silverwood.

    Interestingly, my basic FR metaplot is that a young clone of Manshoon has been awakened by beholders who want 1. "their" Zhentarim back and 2. to get rid of the Cyricists and put the Banites in charge again. Elminster's Guide to the Forgotten Realms was very, very clear - in the section, the Secret History of the Zhentarim - that Manshoon does in fact have a close relationship with Bane.

    In short, I have a couple of campaigns involving the Banites manipulating the Cyricists with a few to getting rid of the Dark Sun's followers and having Banites once more in charge of a renewed and resurgent Zhentarim.

    I think we're on a similar wavelength in that respect.

    One of the reasons the Zhents are present in the Silver Marches and seemingly allied with the Netherese is that this new Manshoon knows of the location of a phaerimm in stasis. He is planning to unleash this phaerimm on the Netherese as revenge for their destruction of Zhentil Keep... but obviously that piece of metaplot is for some time in the future.

    Anyway, glad you got some value from one of my rambling posts. ;)

  3. I rather enjoy your blog. I play strictly 2E and 3E realms but it's always good to see what other DMs are up to. I'm not known for being the most creative person in the world so small things like this get me thinking of good ideas and places to take my game. I do not fully understand the whole Manshoon clone thing but he's always been one of my favorite NPCs since 1st ed. He will probably end up being one of the BBEG's of my campaign...of course that is a LONG way off. Keep up the good work. Enjoyable reading.