Saturday, 22 March 2014

Silver Marches: Queen of Air & Darkness 0 - A Slightly Different Take on The Winter Horde

More than two weeks ago I posted a rough campaign synopsis for a Heroic Tier campaign I called Silver Marches: The Winter Horde which grew out of an earlier attempt to try and create a sandbox campaign set in the Silver Marches. Unfortunately, it seems I am utterly incapable of creating a sandbox campaign: I need a plot or, at the very least, a metaplot but I digress....

On top of that, I also posted some ideas about my plans to create a capstone campaign, Menzoberranzan: The Demon Weave, that would provide a metaplot and a capstone for several of the campaigns I am currently preparing or playing.

As I have mashed these two campaign ideas together, I find that The Winter Horde is probably not the best name for what I have in mind; Queen of Air & Darkness is. I believe it was in the DDi Dragon 367 article Halls of the Frostmaiden (this is a legally-free download) that it was first revealed that Auril was the FR holder of the archfey title Queen of Air & Darkness. And I further believe that this title was first revealed in the 2E book Monster Mythology.

The Queen of Air and Darkness is the fey deity of magic (especially illusions), darkness, and murder. Her long-lost true name is never spoken among the fey. Her unholy symbol is a black diamond. The Queen of Air and Darkness is a bodiless, invisible being, but she can be perceived magically as a faerie with pale, angular features, blood-black eyes, and a mane of black hair. She is beautiful, but hers is a terrible, eldritch beauty that chills the bone. The Queen is cold and utterly emotionless.
Of course, the 4E version of Lolth also has fey origins as she was once an elf or, at the very least, an elven deity or perhaps an archfey. That means that Lolth would be very aware of the Queen of Air & Darkness and, in the course of seeking additional arcane might to fuel her creation of the Demon Weave, I could easily imagine Lolth's grand scheme also including a plot to steal this title from Auril.

So, what does this mean for my plans for a campaign set in the Silver Marches?

It means at least two things. Firstly, Auril and her drive to accumulate more power - much like what is implied in the published Legacy of the Crystal Shard adventure - is going to appear to be the primary plot point of the campaign.... until, secondly, it is revealed that Lolth is actually manipulating Auril, causing her to overreach in her campaign to steal all of the storm portfolio and more from Gruumsh-who-was-Talos so that, after she is weakened by Gruumsh, Lolth can step in and steal the mantle of Queen of Air & Darkness from the Frostmaiden. With this mantle in place, Lolth will be even better placed to create the Demon Weave fuelled, in part, by the natural arcane power of the Feywild.

My original plan for Silver Marches: The Winter Horde was for an adventure path of five adventures but now I think I can cover the same levels with three adventures with Menzoberranzan: The Demon Weave to serve as the Paragon Tier capstone of the campaign.

Here's my rough synopsis for Silver Marches: Queen of Air & Darkness:

Adventure One: The Darkening of the Glimmerwood
Levels 1-4
I suppose this adventure is about the darkness part of the Queen of Air & Darkness title. The other inspiration for this adventure - other than this terrific piece of art by Ralph Horsley - is The One Ring adventure The Darkening of the Mirkwood which I finally read last week.

Of course, Lord of the Rings is very different from D&D, something that the outstanding The One Ring game system models very well. But I want this first adventure - which is also meant to serve as an introductory adventure for new players! - to have something of the same feeling as The Darkening of the Mirkwood in at least two ways:

1. The PCs need to feel like they really are responsible for holding back darkness. Of course, in the case of this Rise of the Underdark-inspired metaplot, this will involve literal darkness because the goal of this first adventure is to end the pall of magical darkness that has fallen over the Glimmerwood.
2. I want to keep the monster roster fairly simple. The Darkening of the Mirkwood has goblins, orcs, spiders, trolls, werewolves (more accurately, a werewolf), worgs, and wraiths (the Nazg├╗l) and, with a few exceptions, I don't want to add too much to that (the exceptions, of course, being the drow that are a key part of the plot, appropriate drow minions, and creatures of magical cold that I will need to tie it into the wider Queen of Air & Darkness plot).

I must admit, this adventure started smaller with a similar goal but instead set in the Silverwood, however it seems that it would make more sense geographically in terms of where I want the campaign to go to actually set it in the Glimmerwood and to combine it with some ideas I had planned for that forest.

Some of the other sources of inspiration for this adventure are:
  • 1E's Forest of Doom from Dragon 73;
  • 1E's The Black Heart of Ulom from Dungeon 11;
  • 2E's The Shattered Circle;
  • 3E's The Crucible of Freya; and
  • 3E's The Twilight Tomb.
The centrepiece is a hollow tree-fortress - taken from the aforementioned Forest of Doom - built over an ancient temple of Moander. 

Adventure Two: The Corruption of Beorunna's Well
Levels 4-7
While the former adventure was more about darkness, this adventure is more about winter. Here the PCs discover that Spring has been banished from the Silver Marches and the unnatural winter is a result of the corruption of Beorunna's Well by the nalfeshnee Zukothoth who was, according to 1E's FR5 The Savage Frontier, once slain in this exact location.

So, while I know I want this adventure to end with a clash between the PCs and Zukothoth beneath Beorunna's Well, for the moment I am a bit unsure as to how to fill in the rest of this adventure. I know I want the corruption of this ancestor mound to result in the freeing of various elemental creatures and I suppose one of those will be an aspect of Cryonax. In fact, as per my original ideas in my first draft of a synopsis for Silver Marches: The Winter Horde, perhaps what gets this adventure started is Cyronax coming to the village of Quaervarr and causing the village to freeze over. However, I'm not sure if I want to see an aspect of Cryonax as only a level 4 or 5 solo monster....

I mentioned in the previous adventure idea that it might draw on ideas from 1E's The Black Heart of Ulom - an adventure in Dungeon 11 where a forest is awakened by evil - but perhaps that better suits this adventure with the titular Black Heart being the corrupted Uthgardt ancestor mound. But what is also really important from the point-of-view of the story/plot is that it becomes apparent that a faction of the orcs of Many-Arrows have broken away from King Obould and that a horde - The Winter Horde in fact - is being whelmed in Auril's name to attack Silverymoon and the cities of the Silver Marches.

Beyond the final clash with Zukothoth, the adventure also needs to end with the revelation that something else has been freed from the corrupted ancestor mound: the ancient frost titan, Gurt...

Adventure Three: Lord of the Pale Giants
Levels 7-10
While I am struggling for ideas for the previous adventure, with this final adventure I know exactly what I want, beyond what is suggested in this marvellous piece of art by Jesper Ejsing.

Just as my plans for Menzoberranzan: The Demon Weave are meant to be my homage to D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth, D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, and D3 Vault of the Drow, Lord of the Pale Giants is meant to be my homage to two of the original Against the Giants trilogy, G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and G2 The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl.

Plotwise, it involved the PCs acting as emissaries to Kong Obould to ask for his aid in stopping The Winter Horde only to discover he's essentially a king without a kingdom. Restoring his rule requires, inter alia, the recovery of his flaming greatsword which is now in the possession of the hill giant chief (G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, here we come). This is followed by an assault on the rift-fortress of Gurt, Lord of the Pale Giants (G2 The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl) and the discovery, a la the discovery at the end of G3 Halls of the Fire Giant King, that the drow are responsible for the chaos afflicting the Silver Marches.

And, just like in G3 Halls of the Fire Giant King, there is a passage beneath the Glacial Rift leading into the Underdark....

While I want that final adventure to conclude with a super-obvious link to Menzoberranzan: The Demon Weave, I also want the campaign to feel like it has been successfully concluded and for the players to feel like their characters have won a really significant victory.

After all, it may be that we stop the campaign at that point and end our experiment with D&D/RPGs or start a fresh campaign or simply take a long break because, as rewarding as D&D/RPGs can be, they also require a fair bit of effort unlike most forms of entertainment which are far more passive in nature.

Hopefully, though, we will push on so that I can finally cross D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth, D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, and D3 Vault of the Drow off my gaming bucket list....

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