Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Silver Marches Sandbox 18 - Wizard's Amulet & The Crucible of Freya

One of my favourite third party publishers for D&D was Necromancer Games who used the rather accurate tagline THIRD EDITION RULES, FIRST EDITION FEEL for their products. Sadly, despite initial public enthusiam for producing products for 4E, the complete mishandling of the GSL, 4E's replacement for the d20 licence that existed for 3.xE, meant that they never embraced 4E either as Necromancer Games of when they reincarnated as Frog god Games.

However, corporate history aside, we still have their products including their first published print adventure, The Crucible of Freya, and its free prequel that was made available online, The Wizard's Amulet. Although I won't be covering it in this post - or, given it size, at all - these two formed a rather fantastic loose trilogy with the third adventure being The Tomb of Abysthor. All three have recently been combined into a single mega-adventure, Stoneheart Valley, published for both Pathfinder and Swords & Wizardry by Frog god Games.

I should also mention that there is a free supplement to The Crucible of Freya - requiring a password to open but the password is on the first page of Crucible - titled The Crucible of Freya: Supplemental Adventure Ideas and Encounter Areas. That title describes it perfectly. It also adds another 50% or so to the size of the adventure which, at the time, presented rather good value-for-money!

I have never run The Wizard's Amulet but I did use The Crucible of Freya as the basic outline for an adventure I ran in 3.5E set in Ashabenford in the Dalelands but I also included elements from Raiders of Galath's Roost. I'm not planning on doing that here: I think there is a really good starter adventure - or even mini-campaign - contained within Amulet, Crucible and the free online supplement. I think this would work well in the Glimmerwood with Quaervarr standing in for the village of Fairhill from the adventure and the ruined keep being part of the ruined settlement of Methegrist. 

Before discussing the adaptation further, I will start with a short summary of each adventure and the supplementary material.

Adventure Summaries

The Wizard's Amulet

This is very much an introduction to The Crucible of Freya rather than a substantial, standalone adventure.

One of the PCs - a pregenerated sorcerer - discovered a letter during his time as an apprentice in which a wizard named Eralion described his attempt to become a lich and his failure to do so.  The letter was found along with a mysterious amulet with strange markings. The adventure is about a group of neophyte adventurers setting off to find Eralion's keep in the hope of discovering the wizard's treasure.

The PCs begin in the city of Reme and, from there, travel to the village of Fairhill which is supposed to be near Eralion's keep. Their goal was to seek out the keep and plunder it of its contents which, if the sorcerer's research was to be believed, included a magic staff.

En-route, the PCs have a series of encounters plus go through some of the basics of adventuring like camping for the night, learning not to sleep in armour, and setting a watch. The encounters include basics like stirges plus a far more interesting mother leucrotta with her young before the PCs come to a farmhouse notable for the dead bodies of the farmer and his family.

The farmhouse is the site of a major encounter involving the PC sorcerer's rival- Vortigern, a wizard with an imp familiar - together with a pair of half-orc thugs and the zombies animated from the remains of the farmer and his family.
The Crucible of Freya

The adventure is introduced as follows:
The adventure begins with the players’ arrival in the village of Fairhill, but quickly involves them in a quest to recover a stolen holy item recently taken in an orc raid. In hot pursuit of the thieving orc band, the characters discover the orcs have taken up residence in a ruined keep nearby.

Once there, the party learns that even more sinister forces are at work: the keep’s original owner may still wield some influence over his now-ruined abode.
Village of Fairhill 
Crucible includes a fair amount of description to facilitate interaction with the residents of Fairhill but the adventure is really revolves around the Temple of Freya and, more specifically, the Crucible of Freya after which the adventure is named.

Freya is a minor deity of love and fertility. The Crucible is used, inter alia, in harvest festivals and to make the barren fertile. In 4E terms, it would probably act as focus for certain rituals allowing them to be performed without the use of components.

Monster Lairs

Exploring the wilderness around Fairhill is provided for in the description of the lairs of four fairly powerful monsters, two of which can also be interacted with beyond simply fighting. The four are:
  1. Karigror the troll is a fearsome opponent who can be either a combat encounter or an interaction encounter as he is will demand a bribe before he attacks. This could even be played in a more fairy tale-like manner where he guards access to a bridge or similar feature and demands a toll for its crossing. 
  2. Girblog is an ettin currently suffering from the effect of placing a cursed helm of alignment on one of his heads. Further, he holds captive Arialle, a female human bard, for whom he (they?) plays music so that she will sing for him. 
  3. There is at least one owlbear who raids local farms and who the PCs may encounter in its lair or simply wandering around searching for food. 
  4. Finally, the PCs may meet a male manticore as a random encounter who is seeking food for his offspring. His lair is a cave in a hillside where the PCs can find the female manticore and her cubs. The cubs are young enough that they could be taken and sold.
Ideas for wilderness encounters are further fleshed out in the Supplemental Adventure Ideas and Encounter Areas section below.

The Ruined Keep

This is the real meat of the adventure. The ruined keep once belonged to the mage, Eralion, but it is now inhabited by orcs, Grosh the ogre, and a Tavik, a male human cleric of Orcus. There is also the option to encounter the evil wizard Vortigern should he have survived the events of The Wizard's Amulet.

Besides the orcs etc... of the above-ground level, there are three underground levels with the final level being the crypt of Eralion, the seal to which can only be broken by the wizard's amulet for which the first adventure is named.

Synopsis of Events

After their journey from Reme, the PCs arrive in Fairhill possibly nursing wounds from their encounter with the wizard Vortigern and his half-orc thugs and zombies. While resting in Fairhill, the village comes under attack from orcs and the PCs help to defend Fairhill once the alarm is raised.

The orcs used the chaos caused by the attack to steal the Crucible of Freya from the temple of Freya and, ultimately, the PCs accept the quest to pursue the orcs and recover the Crucible.

The pursuit can be simple or complicated. Choices have to made about a route and appropriate skills are used. Depending on the choices the PCs make, the PCs could be ambushed by the orcs or may even beat the orcs to their destination, the ruined keep.

Depending on whether or not they overtook the orcs, or were ambushed by same, the PCs may actually have the Crucible in their possession and thus may have no real need to assault the ruined keep. However, the desire for treasure may be strong and the adventure also includes as part of the quest the agreement on the part of the PCs to punish those who attacked the village and stole the Crucible.

The assault on the ruined keep could play out differently depending on what happened during the course of the pursuit. At one extreme, orcs hungover from their celebration of a successful raid could be effectively useless in combat to the other extreme where they are forewarned and forearmed. And, of course, there are not only the orcs and their master to contend with, but the possibility of exploring the dungeon levels and encountering, inter alia, the undead form of the wizard Eralion.

Finally, the PCs return to Fairhill where, assuming they have been successful, there is a feast held in their honour and they can prepare for their next adventure.

Supplemental Adventure Ideas and Encounter Areas

Aside from a rather interesting table of rumours, this PDF adds more detail to the wilderness map and adds the following encounter seeds.
  1. Gethrame the Crone is an ancient witch cursed with blindness who dwells in a cave. Despite her blindness, her possession of certain items gives her some useful scrying abilities. She can also provide some information about Eralion.
  2. A band of ratfolk (a new monsters) dwell beneath the roots of a corrupted treant which guards their warrens from interlopers.
  3. Giant spiders share a single massive web that includes many egg sacs and the web-shrouded bodies of many humanoid victims.
  4. There is a single source for all the stirges that menace this area: a cave complex beneath a hill in the forest. They are the "pets" of Yandarral, a mad wizard/druid who sees any settlement in the forest as a blight on the natural landscape.
  5. A pack of winter wolves share three ice caves.
  6. The Grove of the Moon is the meeting place for a circle of druids led by a female elf named Illarda. The grove is protected by a pack of good-aligned worgs. They are being menaced by a marauding owlbear.
  7. The Monastery of the Standing Stone is a compound of wood and stone designed to blend in with the natural environment. Their dead are interred in a nearby set of hidden caves and they practise a form of ancestor worship or veneration.
  8. A small village, Crimmor, is located near a lake which used to be fished for a type of freshwater bass. However, all of these fish disappeared a decade or so ago (devoured by freshwater locathah) and the village has suffered as a result. It is run by a small thieves' guild and is beset each night by a flock of stirges sent by Yandarral.
  9. Near a trade road is a ruined way station - basically a small wooden fort - which is now occupied by gnoll raiders. 
Finally, one of the other ideas mentioned in the document is that of a rival adventuring party - Darkral, male elf sorcerer/monk; Jarra, female human sorcerer; Gariela, female elf barbarian/bard/rogue; Korungra, male half-orc cleric/rogue; and Nathiel, male half-elf ranger - who may compete with the PCs for fame and fortune. I rather like this idea, all the more so with new players.

Adapting the Adventures

Key Locations

Silverymoon is where the PCs begin and this is the replacement for the city of Reme. This is part of the description from the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide:
Silverymoon is the Gem of the North, a centre of learning and a symbol of greatness. It is a beautiful place of ancient trees and soaring towers, with curving lines and garden plantings adorning every nook and balcony. Aerial steeds carry riders across the skies, magic and learning are revered, music and laughter echo in the streets, and the city is celebrated for its fascinating shops brimming with maps, books, art, and items of esoteric lore.
The Glimmerwood replaces the wilderness described most fully in the PDF supplement that accompanies The Crucible of Freya adventure. The Glimmerwood is also described in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide:
This wide forest’s uninterrupted expanse includes the previously separate Moonwood, Druarwood, Cold Wood, and the Night Trees. Favourable growing conditions over the last century have allowed these individual woods to become a single forest.

The western eaves of the Glimmerwood shade ettins, orcs, Uthgardt barbarians, and red tigers beneath pine and spruce. The Uthgardt are beholden to their shamans. They fell only sanctified trees, build fires only in blessed pits, and avoid any overgrown ruins labeled taboo. Overall, the Uthgardt are a superstitious, if fierce and bloodthirsty, people.
It also receives a description in the eleventh season of D&D Encounters, War of Everlasting Darkness that is meant to be read to the players:
The light of day quickly diminishes under the shade of the soaring trees of the Glimmerwood. The trees are mostly pines, their fallen needles forming a soft blanket over the forest floor. Here and there are the massive trunks of shadowtop trees, easily the size of a small house at the base, soaring up to dense clusters of copper-colored leaves at the top. The forest is also dotted with stands of duskwood trees, their black bark giving them an eerie appearance. 
Quaervarr takes the place of Fairhill, the village in both Amulet and Crucible. It's on the southwestern edge of the Glimmerwood and was most recently described in War of Everlasting Darkness. This was the description given to be read to the players:
Near the end of spring,. your travels brina you to Quaervarr, a pleasant logging village just inside the vast Glimmerwood. At the a ate of the walled palisade that surrounds the vil1age, a pair of militia guards leaning on spears asked you a few cursory questions about your business, then pointed you to the inn, a luxurious place called the Whistling Stag.

Half hunting lodge and half sumptuous mansion, the Whistling Stag offers heated baths, down pillows, warm blankets, and lovely views of the verdant forest outside. All this is complemented by bearskin carpets, stag heads on the wall, and a lush tapestry depicting elves on a boar hunt.
The description from Volo's Guide to the North is also quite useful:
This logging village of 760 human and half-elven folk stands north of Silverymoon, on the edge of the Moonwood (now known as the Glimmerwood). It’s known for the huge shadowtop and duskwood trees that provide masts and roof beams for many a ship or hall across the North and down the Sword Coast as far as the eastern reaches of Calimshan.

Quaervarr is a quiet, shady place of woodcarvers, carpenters, loggers, and woodland gardeners. The village'’s food comes from its hunters and from small planted patches in the forest; I have learned enough to particularly recommend the toasted, salted ferns.

Most visitors come here to stay at the Whistling Stag inn and hunting lodge. It’'s a cozy and luxurious base from which guests can enjoy the best hunting in all the North. The expert lodge guides hunt down owlbears, stirges, and other predators year-round. This helps to keep the boar and deer that roam the southern Moonwood plentiful. 

The guides are full of tales about the forest depths. In the depths of the Moonwood, they say, there is a ruined, overgrown elven castle. Its name is forgotten, but great magic is said to sleep in its gloomy chambers. The castle is very hard to find. Its vine-choked, needle-thin spires are lost among the trees, and it bears some sort of cloaking mythal that deters monster intrusions and magical detection alike.

There is also a hill, where drow ladies come on moonlit nights to dance in a great ring (this is the Mouth of Song). This seems to be done in worship to Eilistraee, a goddess of good aims. It is dangerous to approach the women, the guides say. They hurl potent spells at intruders, chasing those they see for long distances through the forest.
Finally, the ruins of Methegrist replaces the ruined keep. It has only one reference in Realmslore that I can find, and that is also in War of Everlasting Darkness. The following description if provided for the DM:
Centuries ago, Methegrist was horne to a small group of paladins known as the Moonwatchers. Dedicated to Helm, the paladins were the self-appointed protectors of the Moonlands. However, they were destroyed when a devil infiltrated their ranks and turned them against one another. 
There is also a section of text to be read to the players:
Scattered remnants of ancient flagstones and masonry mark the location of the ruins, though the full extent of the former fortress is hidden beneath the undergrowth.
I find the mention of Helm correlates nicely with the shrine of St Cuthbert noted as being present in the ruined keep of Crucible

Revised Background & Synopsis

The PCs gather in Silverymoon at either the Son of the Goat, a tavern renowned for its raucous revelry, or at the Golden Oak Inn, an historic inn noted its central atrium dominated by a gargantuan oak that rises into the open sky, depending on the nature of the characters. There they agree to form a fellowship or adventuring party - I am thinking of this as the adventure that starts the campaign even though it has competition for that role - and decide that they will travel to Quaervarr and, from there, seek out the ruins of Methegrist because one or more of the PCs know of a family heirloom secreted with the ruins. (This needs further development, of course, and I may edit this post later to reflect some more detailed ideas.)

The journey to Quaervarr is not easy. It is the very beginning of spring but winter has not fully released its icy grip and, although the sun is often shining, there is still snow on the ground and the temperature remains quite low. Following the well-marked trade roads results in the PCs encountering orc raiders and secretive Zhentarim scouts from Hawk's Nest. Alternatively, they may have chanced up the newly-marked territory of a young bulette who thinks they might make a suitable meal.

Ultimately, the PCs arrive in Quaervarr, possibly battered and bleeding - definitely the latter if they disturbed a nest of stirges en route. There they find lodging at The Whistling Stag and arrive in time to witness the arrival of a merry band of hunters bearing the head of an owlbear that they have slain. (The PCs may later have the misfortune to encounter its angry - and still living! - mate.) They may also find healing or even resurrection at the shrine of Mielikki (or Chauntea if more appropriate) which is the only shrine or temple in Quaervarr. 

The next day, shortly before the dawn when it is still dark and almost all of the village is sleeping, orcs attack with flaming arrows while an ogre ally batters a section of the wooden pallisade surrounding the village to useless splinters. 

Hearing the cries of alarm, the PCs join in the defence of the village and may account for one or more of the more significant threats and may also play a major role in putting out any of the fires started by the orcs' flaming arrows. The net result should be a victory for Quaervarr with the PCs being hailed as heroes for the part they played.

It soon becomes obvious to the cleric of Mielikki that the shrine of Mielikki was secretly attacked and the gauntlets of Moander stolen. Because of the heroism of the PCs, they are immediately approached and asked to pursue the orcs, recover the
gauntlets of Moander and the end the threat posed by whoever or whatever sent these orcs to steal this relic.

The pursuit of the orcs offers three different choices for the PCs depending on the result of the skill challenge they undertake to track the orcs. They could end up in a giant nest of spiders led by an ettercap, crossing into the territory of a hungry ettin or a more direct route which offers the chance of the PCs being ambushed by the orcs. 

The ruins of Methergrist are based on a combination of a map of the ruined keep from The Crucible of Freya and the map of the legendary moathouse from T1 The Village of Hommlet or T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil. Besides a ruined temple of Helm, the ruins also contain a graveyard that supplemented the catacombs beneath the ruined temple.

And that's what attracted the orcs' master: a drow necromancer from Menzoberranzan.

More particularly, the temple of Helm once held the gauntlets of Moander in a secret reliquary, keeping their evil from the world. However, with the death of Helm, the Helmites decided they could no longer act as wardens for this evil and so the gauntlets were given to the shrine of Mielikki in Quaervarr to watch over (they could not be taken to Silverymoon because they would corrupt the wards and the mythal simply by their presence, such is their power). The drow necromancer discovered this by performing multiple speak with dead rituals with the Helmite corpses until he found the information he needed.

This scion of House Xorlarrin had been specifically sent to Methegrist to recover the gauntlets and he will return to Menzoberranzan once they are in his possession and leave the orcs to their fate. However, before he does so he may use the power of the gauntlets to unseal one or more of the lesser reliquaries. The drow's necromancy may have awakened one or more ghosts who can inform the PCs just how dangerous the gauntlets of Moander can be (because they can corrupt a mythal, they can shorten the process that the drow will use to create Lolth's Demon Weave by co-opting and corrupting the power of Silverymoon's mythal).

Finally, with the gauntlets of Moander recovered and the orc raiders and their drow master put to the sword, the PCs return to Quaervarr where their success is celebrated in a feast at The Whistling Stag. And who knows what secrets might be whispered in one or more of their ears that will lead to further adventures once the celebrations are over or maybe they will return to Silverymoon to report this disturbing news about the drow seeking the gauntlets of Moander....

Other Options

I do like the basic structure of a NECROMANCER going to the ruined temple of Helm in Methegrist in search of the very evil MACGUFFIN only to find it missing and then the necromancer uses speak with the dead rituals to interrogate the dead Helmites until he discovers that it is now hidden within the shrine of Mielikki (or, perhaps, Chauntea) in Quaervarr etc.... 

The NECROMANCER and the MACGUFFIN are easily changed and, no doubt, there are options that might better link into the backstories of one or more of the PCs, as was the case with the set-up of the original Crucible of Freya.

Here are some a couple possible replacements:
  • A Cyricist cleric is looking for an item of elemental power that he believes may be one of the keys to freeing the Dark Sun from his imprisonment. However, it's no longer in the Helmite ruin but is secreted with the shrine of Mielikki in Quaervarr.
  • A human necromancer searches for a potent necromantic tome which he traces to Methegrist only to find that is now hidden within a shrine in Quaervarr.
  • A Malarite werewolf vampire has discovered that the coffin of his vampire master, with his master imprisoned within, is locked away in a Helmite reliquary and the key to open it is hidden inside the altar of the shrine in Quaervarr. The vampire is using orcs because he doesn't want the other People of the Black Blood to know that he is seeking his master's return.
I think the combination of the drow necromancer and the gauntlets of Moander is more interesting than these replacements so maybe I will revisit this part of the post tomorrow with some fresh inspiration.

Some Final Thoughts

There are only two things that I like about D&D Next. The first is the idea of advantage and disadvantage. (Instead of keeping track of a bunch of piddling modifiers, you just work out whether you get to roll two d20s instead of a single d20. When you have advantage you keep the higher and when you have disadvantage you keep the lower.) The second is breaking down the D&D experience into the so-called "three pillars" of combat, exploration, and interaction.

While this post, like most of my posts, focusses on ideas for the basic plot or story and the principal combat encounters, an adventure like this - particularly if, as I plan, it is run for new players - needs a lot of opportunities for exploration and interaction.

Tackling those in reverse order, I think the beginning in Silverymoon is going to be a prime candidate for offering opportunities for interaction. Perhaps the PCs visit a sage or the temple of Oghma to try and find out more about Methegrist before they depart? Maybe they consult with their former master for advice? Then there's also the normal interaction involved in buying supplies etc....

Similarly, Quaervarr offers other opportunities for interaction. What about the owlbear hunters? What else have they seen? What about Quaervarr's militia? Are there any bounties to be collected? Who can tell them the lay of the land? And, of course, there is the cleric who tends the shrine of Mielikki: sure, she offers a quest but can she also offer information?

Finally, as per the summaries of the original adventures by adaptation is based on, some of the monsters can actually be negotiated with, as can their prisoners as it the case with the ettin and his "pet" bard. I definitely want to keep at least the troll and the ettin encounters because they're not just about combat but also about interesting interaction and meaningful choices.

As for exploration, if I had any talent at mapping or with mapping software, I would actually map out the section of The Glimmerwood surrounding Quaervarr with hexes and turn it into a small hexcrawl. Things like the descriptions of the trees and the strange Uthgardt practices will help bring the area alive, as will a few more small ruins with interesting features designed more for exploration than for combat.

Also, the temple of Helm has to really feel like a temple of Helm. I know I will be drawing a lot on descriptions in 2E's Faiths & Avatars, for example, and any published examples of temples of Helm I can find to make it something more than just an altar, a symbol and a few candles. The shrine of Mielikki in Quaervarr will also received similar treatment or I may even expand it into a combined shrine of, say, Mielikki, Chauntea and Eldath and incorporate specific features of all three faiths.

I'm very much driven by story in my approach to D&D and other RPGs but it's good to remember that the players, while engaged by the story, also need the "three pillars" of combat, exploration and interaction to make sure they know they're playing a game instead of being forced onto my story-based railroad.

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