Friday, 10 January 2014

Silver Marches Sandbox 15 - Reavers of Harkenwold & The Caves of Chaos

I could probably title this post Leaving the Sandbox Behind. It's also a return to my earlier Keep on the Borderlands post taking some of the ideas I expanded on a little in my revised introduction and now turning the Silverymoon Pass into the location of a larger adventure.

So think of this as Reavers of the Silverymoon Pass but also as a mash-up of B2 Keep on the Borderlands, Raiders of Galath's Roost and also Reavers of Harkenwold. There is definitely a plot at work in this adventure outline....

Reavers of the Silverymoon Pass Harkenwold

Reavers of Harkenwold is one of the few 4E adventures published by WotC that receives nearly universal praise, which is no surprise considering that the designer is listed as Rich Baker and additional design is credited to Chris Perkins. Mike Mearls, the author of so much d20 glut and two of the worst adventures in D&D's lifetime - Keep on the Shadowfell and Pyramid of Shadows - is not mentioned at all. That is no coincidence.

Until Rich Baker's forced departure under one of WotC's cretinous "let's get rid of our good people (and promote the clown who killed 4E to oversee 5E) because it's cheap"- redundancy programmes so beloved by corporate USA, he was one of two WotC employees who consistently turned out great adventures; the other was Chris Perkins and Chris has publicly acknowledged that he considered Rick Baker to be the best adventure writer working for WotC at the time. Frankly, I think he was also their best designer who was responsible for many pieces of innovative design... and he was also the only WotC game designer whose novels were actually not only readable but worth reading.

I can't wait for his new campaign setting Primeval Thule to be published....


And that was a rather large digression. Back on topic, here is an extract from the introduction for Reavers of Harkenwold:
Reavers of Harkenwold pits the heroes against the Iron Circle, a company of cruel mercenaries that has seized control of the small land of Harkenwold. In this adventure, the heroes become daring rebels and lead the folk of Harkenwold against their oppressors.
I feel a certain temptation to use the Iron Circle because of the great art that accompanies the adventure but I am sticking with the Zhentarim simply because I think they're an important part of the Forgotten Realms... and I have lots of Zhentarim miniatures that I want to use.

Here's a revised introduction for my campaign:
Reavers of the Silverymoon Pass pits the heroes against the Zhentarim, a company of cruel mercenaries that has effectively seized control of the Silverymoon Pass preventing trade from flowing between Silverymoon and Sundabar. The keep of Hawk's Nest, normally used by the Knights in Silver to protect the pass, is now a Zhent fortress, falling under their control during the winter months when it is largely vacated by the Knights. In this adventure, the heroes take back control of the Silverymoon Pass from the Zhentarim, they evict them forcibly from Hawk's Nest, and discover a darker plan to bring ruin to the Silver Marches.
This is also where I need to mention my mash-up. My plans for Hawk's Nest are inspired by the titular keep from B2 Keep on the Borderlands and the Iron Keep from Reavers of Harkenwold. The map is definitely based on the Iron Keep simply because it is so much better (the cartographer for Iron Keep is Mike Schley; need I say more?).

Adventure Synopsis, Part One: The Iron Circle
On the outskirts of Harkenwold, the adventurers encounter a band of Iron Circle marauders threatening a farmhouse. They intervene and rescue the widow llyana and her sons. Ilyana tells the heroes about Harkenwold's troubles and begs them to help end this evil. She directs the heroes to the nearby village of Albridge and two key figures in Harkenwold's growing resistance: a retired adventurer named Dar Gremath and the druid Reithann.

Dar Gremath is keen to deal with isolated Iron Circle detachments. He suggests certain targets, among them a supply caravan. For her part, Reithann advises the heroes to strike at the Toadwallow Caverns, the lair of a bullywug tribe allied to the Iron Circle. If the heroes defeat the bullywugs, the rebels in western Harkenwold are free to bring the fight to the Iron Circle. Regardless of which option they pick, the adventurers can return to the other quest whenever they want.

Cleaning out the Toadwallow or raiding the Iron Circle brings the adventurers to Nazin Redthorn's attention and convinces him that they are a serious threat. He dispatches strong patrols to hunt them down. The defeat of one of these strike forces emboldens freedom fighters throughout the region. Heartened by the adventurers' aid, the people of Harkenwold prepare for battle against the invaders. The leaders of the resistance ask the heroes to contact the Woodsingers, a clan of elves living in the Harken Forest south of Harkenwold. To gain the aid of the elves, the adventurers must defeat the evil lurking in the wizard sanctuary of Dal Nystiere. Accomplishing the quest concludes this part of the adventure.
This obviously doesn't suit an adventure in the Silverymoon Pass but there are bits that I can definitely use - it's part two of Reavers that I am more interested in.

That said, the opening encounter involving the Zhentarim (rather than the Iron Circle) threatening a farmhouse is a great opening. Riffing off that, I think I will instead have a larger force attacking the village of Khelb and that makes me think I should also draw on some ideas from 4E's Rescue at Rivenroar published in Dungeon 156, the first adventure in the Scales of War adventure path, for further inspiration.

Here's the first draft of  revised synopsis:
Part 1: The Zhentarim Revealed

The PCs are hired by Silverymoon to investigate the raiders that have brought the spring trade through the Silverymoon Pass to a virtual standstill.

Approaching Khelb, a small caravan town at the western end of the Silverymoon Pass, the PCs notice smoke over the hill and see that the town is under attack by orcs and others. The PCs rush to Khelb's aid and help the defenders to drive off the orcs, an ogre throwing barrels of alchemist's fire and a band of Zhentarim mercenaries.

As the town cleans up, it is noticed that the raiders who escaped took captives with them and the PCs quickly agree to pursue the raiders and recover the captives. This brings them to a dwarven ruin which has been transformed into a Zhentarim supply station and the PCs not only rescue the captives but recover a large amount of trade goods.

Returning to Khelb, the PCs receive fresh supplies from Silverymoon as well as fresh instructions. Now that it is known that the Zhentarim are involved, the leaders of Silverymoon are assuming that this is why they haven't heard from Hawk's Nest and the PCs are asked to focus on that keep. This leads to part 2.
Adventure Synopsis, Part Two: The Die Is Cast
Returning from the forest with Woodsinger warriors as allies, the adventurers learn that Nazin Redthorn is marching to destroy the resistance. In the Battle of Albridge, the heroes lead the Harkenwolders and their elven allies against the Iron Circle. With hard fighting and some luck, the Iron Circle is defeated, and the surviving mercenaries retreat to Iron Keep-a stronghold too well fortified for t!he Harkenwolders to storm.

In the climactic challenge of the adventure, the heroes infiltrate Iron Keep. With fortune on their side, they strive to free Baron Stockmer, defeat the remaining Iron Circle soldiers, and kill or capture Nazin Redthorn. Their heroic efforts bring freedom to Harkenwold once again!
Actually, it's funny reading that synopsis and comparing it to what I see in my mind's eye based on my memory and my reaction to reading the adventure. Like a lot of DMs, I find that my memory of an adventure that I have yet to run is more like an edited and reshaped version than the actual adventure that appears on paper or PDF. Clearly Reavers is one of those adventures!
One of the other things I notice reading these synopses is that there is an opportunity to gather allies in Reavers and that's something that hasn't really occurred to me in relation to my adaptation. But it does make sense. It adds another element to the adventure particularly in the context that this is supposed to be a campaign for new players.

One option I quite like is to have a tribe of goliaths that the Zhentarim have been raiding for slaves for any construction work they need because of the goliaths' great strength. That leads to another thought: there could be a village of goliaths comprised only of females and young plus their Zhentarim guards. The male goliaths are being forced to labour for the Zhentarim otherwise the Zhents will kill their wives and children. The PCs have to stealthily infiltrate the village and neutralise the Zhentarim. Some of the wives will then set off to find their husbands and, when the PCs most need it, they will find a band of angry male goliaths behind them ready to inflict major damage on the Zhentarim on behalf of their rescuers.

Yeah, that would work.

Ultimately though, this is about the PCs heading into the Nether Mountains, or at least the foothills, and carefully infiltrating Hawk's Nest - the substitute for the Iron Keep of Reavers but using the same map - and ending the Zhentarim threat.

Here's a first draft of a revised synopsis:
In response to the fresh instructions from Silverymoon, the heroes head into the Nether Mountains in search of the keep of Hawk's Nest which they suspect is under Zhentarim control.

En route, they happen across a Zhentarim-controlled village of goliaths where the females and young are hostages securing the heavy labour of their husbands who have been forced into servitude by the Zhentarim. Freeing the goliaths from the Zhentarim, the PCs continue on to Hawk's Nest with a clear sense of direction and the knowledge that they will soon have a warband of very angry male goliaths at their backs.

They soon find the keep of Hawk's Nest but it is too well fortified to simply storm but the timely arrival of an appropriate NPC reveals the existence of a secret entrance (tunnel? well?). Using that secret entrance, the PCs carefully infiltrate the keep and end the Zhentarim threat... but also discover that the Zhentarim are working for the Netherese (some Shadovar emissaries will be present) and that there is a major Zhentarim base nearby where more forces are being gathered. This leads to part 3.
The Caves of Chaos

I thought this idea would work best as a mash-up of Reavers of Harkenwold and B2 Keep on the Borderlands, and I have previously posted some ideas about setting an adaptation of Keep on the Borderlands in and around Hawk's Nest so this definitely isn't a new idea.

While the keep of Hawk's Nest serves as the headquarters of the Zhentarim in the Silverymoon Pass - as well as providing a hawk's eye view over those using the pass - the primary gathering point for their humanoid raiders are the Caves of Chaos, a placeholder name from the principal adventure location in Keep on the Borderlands.

Up until now I have only mention the Zhentarim using orcs and ogres but part of me wants a bit more variety in the foes that the PCs will face. That, of course, also needs some sort of justification. For the moment I will go with some as unoriginal as any of my other ideas and have the justification for the gathering of normally antagonistic creatures be the presence in the temple complex of the Caves of Chaos of a splinter from the Shard of Evil at the heart of the Abyss.

This relic of absolute evil has been sending out a siren call to creatures of evil within the Nether Mountains. Previously quiscient, it was awakened by a cleric of Cyric who now serves as its high priest.

There's not much reason for a synopsis here. Basically this is the Caves of  Chaos from B2 Keep on the Borderlands but with this much better map by someone called The Weem:

And I'll drop the gnolls and kobolds - I don't think they're geographically appropriate - and limit the creatures to goblins, hobgoblins, ogres and orcs. But my favourite encounter will be, no doubt, with a particularly vile cleric of Cyric who is able to draw on the power of the Shard of the Abyss.

So that's my part 3.

Ultimately, the PCs end the Zhentarim threat in the Silverymoon Pass allowing trade to flow once more. They will receive both rewards and recognition from the leaders of Silverymoon and, unless I have an idea for another mission, will be free to go off and explore the Silver Marches sandbox....

Then again, perhaps as they return to Silverymoon they come under attack from undead bandits and realise the Zhentarim threat is not yet ended. Instead, the Tombs of Deckon Thar await....

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