Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Silver Marches Sandbox 14 - Tombs of Deckon Thar

Edit 10Jan14: If you are interested in this post, I would actually suggest reading the next post - Silver Marches Sandbox 15 - Reavers of Harkenwold & The Caves of Chaos - simply because I think Tombs of Deckon Thar works better as the fourth part of that adventure as suggested at the end of that post.

Some hours ago I posted a revised introduction to this campaign where I included mention of the Zhentarim presence in Silverymoon Pass as part of a Netherese plot to disrupt trade between and among the three major cities of Silverymoon, Sundabar and Everlund.In turn, this built off an idea I had when I posted some thoughts about adapting B2 Keep on the Borderlands for use as part of a sandbox campaign in the Silver Marches. 

(I actually need to revisit that post because I largely dismissed the idea of Zhentarim involvement because I wanted to avoid having a lot intrude on my plans for a sandbox. I have obviously dismissed that plan....)

Now I am looking seriously at the Silverymoon Pass as a place to set one or more other adventures that build off the plot point that the Zhentarim are present - and on the Netherese payroll - and that they have been hired to disrupt trade. Humanoid raiders are useful for that - and I shall return to my homage to the Keep on the Borderlands in the next few days and offer some updated thoughts - but undead can also be terrifying, implacable foes who simply do not care less about bad weather unlike orcs, goblins, human bandits et al. (And while I have neglected included any ideas based on the weather so far, I do plan to adapt the section dealing with weather from 3E's Silver Marches for this campaign.)

And that brings me to the Tombs of Deckon Thar so conveniently located about halfway along the Silverymoon Pass.

The Tombs of Deckon Thar first appeared in a 1E publication, REF5 Lords of Darkness:

Despite being one of the first supplements published for FR, this work used little from Ed Greenwood and was instead written by TSR staffers and/or freelancers. It seems to suffer for this as it does feel particularly FR-ish. 

Lords of Darkness provides the following background for the Tombs:
After the breakup of the Lost Kingdom, a bandit culture took root in the mountains between what is now Silverymoon and Sundabar. Even then, these were relatively large population centres which traded between themselves, and the Chieftains in Gold, as the bandits called themselves, grew rich either raiding the trading caravans or charging high tolls for their safe passage, depending on how accommodating the rulers of the trading lands were.

For eight generations these chieftains led their people in this activity, but eventually they were caught in the path of an orc horde and are said, in ballads, to have died fighting to the last man, woman, and child.

The orcs looted the chieftain's’ great keep in the mountains, but no one has ever discovered the tombs of the seven chieftains who died before the orc invasion.
I don't recall there being a Lost Kingdom in the North; I'll read that as the fall of Netheril instead.

The Tombs are then described as a series of burial mounds linked by tunnels and inhabited by wights. This is the map that comes with the adventure:

And this is the more colourful version provided with the Forgotten Realms Interactive Atlas:

The wights are noted as being ruled by the Mound King, a more powerful wight named Vinjarek (although the spelling was changed to Vinjarak in 3E) who wields an intelligent broadsword apparently of dwarven manufacture named Deepchill. While not described as such, I think it's supposed to be a frost brand sword.

The description of the Tombs was updated slightly in 4E on page 147 of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide:
Seven wight-haunted tombs shudder in the cold grip of the Mound King, a plaguechanged wight with powers unknown but whispered to be terrible. The tombs were once the secret hoards of bandit lords called the Chieftains in Gold, who dominated the western Nether Mountains centuries ago. They sallied from a great keep and buried their dead in barrows filled with ill-gotten loot. One of the seven tombs was plundered by a group of salvagers, and vengeance found them all as they made their way back to their Silverymoon base. In each case, the dismembered corpses were discovered, sans loot and equipment, with the message “Disturb not the Mound King” inscribed in their flesh.
I think I will ignore the reference to plaguechanged as I basically plan to ignore the Spellplague in this campaign. The "Disturb not the Mound King" warning is interesting; it does offer an alternative adventure hook should I need it. And on that note, I can segue nicely into the subject of making this into an adventure for this campaign.

As noted earlier in this post, trade is being disrupted in the Silverymoon Pass by a variety of raiders and that strife is being caused by the Zhentarim as part of a contract they have accepted from the Netherese. Zhentarim necromancers and/or Cyricist clerics have also travelled to the Tombs of Deckon Thar and performed evil necromantic rituals to awaken the Mound King and his vassal wights. These undead are now also raiding the Silverymoon Pass and are controlled by powerful ritual circles inscribed in their tombs.

If these ritual circles are broken, the undead are freed from Zhentarim contol and, indeed, they will extract their vengeance from their erstwhile Zhentarim masters. Rather than the PCs simply attacking everything they encounter directly, they can perform skill challenges to break the power of the rituals and find that the undead will largely take care of the Zhentarim for them. I'm not sure if new players will figure this out but I think with a few skill checks and half an idea I would be willing to provide them with a bit of guidance. After all, that sort of play is an important lesson to learn and one of the joys of tabletop RPGs.

And that's about it. I don't think it has to be much more complicated than that but I think I will also revisit the maps when/if it come time to run this adventure.

Edit: The Mound King

Vinjarak the Mound King is a creature of mystery. Why not make him an undead anti-paladin of Kozah with some storm-based powers? Perhaps his awakening also triggers magical storms throughout the Silverymoon Pass?

And here's a possible picture of him courtesy of Paizo:

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