Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Starter Set Sandbox 8 - Mere of Dead Men

Short Version

I simply recommend you find the Mere of Dead Men series, the first adventure path to appear in Dungeon, and run it in its entirety. It has so much potential.

The five issues are Dungeon 69 - 73, inclusive, and the adventures are: Slave Vats of the Yuan-ti, Ssscaly Thingssss, Dreadful Vestiges, Mistress on the Mere, and (the simply outstanding which is no surprise because it is written by Eric L Boyd) Eye of Myrkul.

Those five adventures have all the lizardfolk, yuan-ti, bullywugs, undead (including a penanggalan), and black dragons you could possibly need to make the Mere of Dead Men one of the most interesting adventure locations in the Forgotten Realms.

Longer Version

Firstly, I will just quote from The North boxed set:
A vast salt swamp stretches along the Sword Coast shore over 100 miles, reaching a width of 30miles at its greatest extent. It?s a desolate, insect-ridden place seldom visited by civilized races and home to a variety of fell creatures. The Mere has grown in recent memory, swallowing several farms and holdings along the road, and it?s now avoided by all but crazed adventurers equipped with water-breathing magic and looking for battle practice.

Several rich castles and manor houses stand flooded in the Mere, with only spires and battlements showing above the dark waters. Sunken riches and powerful magic guarded by evil creatures await those mighty enough to take it. Khelben ?Blackstaff? Arunsun advises adventurers that some of these flooded places (Castle Naerytar, Holk House, Mornhaven Towers, and Wolfhill House) have their own wards. These allow certain spells to be cast at double strength, and otherspells are negated. These effects are discovered by trial, for all relevant records are lost.

The Mere gained its name when thousands of men were slain by orc hordes striking south from present-day Triboar and east across the Stone Bridge and Ironford. The orcs pursued the men westward between the coastal peaks and slaughtered the human army as it was forced back into the icy waves.

Travellers on the High Road skirting the Mere to the east often travel for three days and nights without stopping to avoid camping near here. Will-o'-wisps bobbing over the water are common night sights on this stretch of road. Legends speak of floating islands, eerie pools of magical origin, lizard men commanded by liches, a penanggalan of monstrous size, and other fantastic creatures often used to scare children and entice adventurers. More recent tales come from a brave few that ventured into the dark waters of the swamp that mention dark tentacles of gargantuan proportions, yuan-ti slavers, temples to inhuman gods, giant leeches with bullywug riders, and a will o? wisp of monstrous size that pulsed with black energy.
Even if you don't have access to the issues of Dungeon I mentioned above, I think there's enough in this description for most DMs to generate one of more adventures.

Secondly, I think the Mere of Dead Men is a great location to set 1E's I1 Tomb of the Lizard King, suitably converted to your own preferred ruleset, and N1 Cult of the Reptile god might also work here. However, if you choose to run N1, you need a village and I would actually recommend Phandalin as described in Lost Mine of Phandelver. The reptile cult can simply add another layer of intrigue to the other happenings in Phandalin.

Thirdly, I think the Mere of Dead Men offers a really good opportunity for the campaign to begin heading into epic territory....

What if 4E's HPE Pseudo-Adventure Path Didn't Suck?

When FR was first published, the deity of death was Myrkul, the Lord of Bones, and one of the Dark Three along with Bane the Black Lord and Bhaal, Lord of Murder. All three of them died during the Time of Troubles, the RSE that heralded the change between 1E and 2E, although Bane came back with the release of 3E.

After Myrkul's demise, Cyric held the portfolio for a time only be supplanted by the incumbent, Kelemvor. While Myrkul and Cyric were both neutral evil in alignment, Kelemvor's alignment is lawful neutral (or unaligned in 4E terms).

When Myrkul was slain, it was noted that some of his remains - a brown dust, IIRC - were scattered over the Sea of Swords and eventually came to rest in the Mere of Dead Men. It was also noted that much of his sentience survives in the artefact known as the Crown of Horns.

Now, with that background out of the way, I want to turn to 4E's pseudo-adventure path, sometimes referred to as the HPE series or six reasons to play Pathfinder (because three of the adventures are actually OK). (The individual adventures are: H1 Keep on the Shadowfell, H2 Thunderspire Labyrinth, H3 Pyramid of Shadow, P1 King of the Trollhaunt Warrens, P2 Demon Queen's Enclave, P3 Assault on Nightwyrm Fortress, E1 Death's Reach, E2 Kingdom of the Ghouls, and E3 Prince of Undeath.) I better begin with a warning: most of these adventures are absolute crap. H2, P1, and P2 are the only ones worth owning, and they have little to do with the overall plot. (It really is a pseudo-adventure path.)

What is interesting about this adventure path is not the execution but the core idea: the tanar'ri lord Orcus is seeking to supplant the Raven Queen as the deity of death. (And obviously that's not a Forgotten Realms reference.) Like some others, I did waste some time trying to extract some value from these misbegotten examples of egregiously bad design and all I could come away with was how having Myrkul try and make a comeback at Kelemvor's expense could be rather interesting.

Eye of Myrkul

The titular Eye of Myrkul is an astronomical feature that appears in the night sky and heralds the waxing of Myrkul's power. And when it's at its apogee, a lost temple of Myrkul rises from the depths of the Mere of Dead Men.

Let's say for the moment that a DM has run a Heroic Tier campaign (using a 4E expression) using, say, the Lost Mine of Phandelver for levels 1-5 and then the ideas relating to the orc threat for, say, levels 5-10. As the orcs are being dealt with, an undead threat from the Mere of Dead Men becomes apparent and the PCs choose to investigate. After exploring one or more of the sites in the Mere of Dead Men - and Castle Naerytar is one of them and is also featured in Hoard of the Dragon Queen - they discover this plot of Myrkul's who is using as his chosen the yuan-ti abomination Nhyris D'Hothek who has been wearing the Crown of Horns since 2E. (IMC, Nhyris has become something like a devourer, as in the Large undead that captures living creatures and" inserts" them in its chest cavity in order to drain them to power its necromantic abilities. I thought that more interesting than just another lich....)

I would also add that some of the hooks for this campaign arc could actually appear as a result of exploring beneath Iniarv's Tower which I have previously suggested might make a good setting for an adaptation of The Tomb of Horrors.

Summing Up

I realise the "Longer Version" part of this post won't make a lot of sense if you're not familiar with the Mere of Dead Men series. If that's the case, I hope the "Shorter Version" plus the lengthy quote from The North boxed set provides any DM reading this with enough ideas to be able to run something more than a random encounter or two in the Mere. I would also point to this Wyrms of the North article for some further background on a black dragon (or two) that may nor may not make an appearance in Eye of Myrkul....

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