Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Starter Set Sandbox 9 - The Crags


The North

This is all that is said in the boxed set:
Beset with goblins and gnolls, these hills contain the dead mines that brought men to the area.
(I would note that "goblins" also included orcs at that time.)

Neverwinter Campaign Setting

The Crags are introduced as follows:
This long wrinkle of hills and ridges runs northeast from Neverwinter Wood. Goblins, gnolls, ogres, hill giants, and other creatures have dwelled within this rocky landscape for centuries. So too has the Sky Pony tribe of the Uthgardt barbarians. Rumours have long persisted that an entrance to Gauntlgrym lies somewhere in the Crags. However, the hundreds of ancient and now-dead mines that long ago brought humans to the area make for numerous false leads.
They are later described as:
Lacing through Neverwinter Wood, like a stitch holding together the earth's skin, are the Crags. This series of hills and steppes grows into a small mountain range, terminating in the awesome Mount Hotenow. But Mount Hotenow isn't the Crags' only claim to fame. Myths claim that the range's many caves, chasms, and canyons hide paths to the lost dwarven city of Gauntlgrym. Whether the paths exist or not, the mountains do house the ruins of several of that ancient dwarven city's outposts - as well as their treasures - and the monsters that overran those sites.
And then there is Morgur's Mound which is in the southern part of the Crags and appears on the regional map that came with the Neverwinter Campaign Setting:
Atop this foothill of the Crags, Uthgar - deity and founder of the Uthgardt barbarians - died after saving the North from Gurt, Lord of the Pale Giants. The mound is named for Uthgar's brother Morgur (called Morgred by some), who is said to be buried there. Once, the bones of a great thunderbeast were spread atop the hill, marking it as the holy shrine of the Uthgardt. Now, the bones are gone and whatever treasures lay buried there have been stolen. Outsiders who are discovered by Uthgardt barbarians near the mound are typically slain on sight.
The thunderbeast is actually an apatosaurus. The North also notes that, in times of great need, the shamans of the Thunderbeast Tribe can animate the bones to fight.

Putting It All Together

Short Version

Orcs. More orcs. And even more orcs.

In previous posts I have mentioned about the gathering of an orc horde. The Crags is a key place for such an event because it is populated with orcs. I would also note that the ritual enemy of the Sky Pony tribe of the Uthgardt is the orc.

As is also the case in many other places across the North, lots of played-out mines and dwarven ruins can be found here.

At least one entrance to the lost dwarven city of Gauntlgrym is purported to be in The Crags. That also suggests encounters with dwarves (and others) searching for the lost city, as well as some of the monsters from the upper levels of the Underdark such as dire corbies, grimlocks, hook horrors, etc....

Long Version

But what I find most interesting of all is Morgur's Mound, particularly now that the bones of the thunderbeast (aka apatosaurus) have been stolen. Some time ago, I read an idea online suggesting that the purpose of the ancestor mounds of the Uthgardt was to seal away some great threat or threats. This makes even more sense in the context of 4E where the primal powers were responsible for sealing away the primordials... and that made me wonder what would be the consequences of the Bones of the Thunderbeast being taken from Morgur's Mound?

Firstly, why were the Bones taken?

IMC (and this is based on some ideas in the Neverwinter Campaign Setting and the outstanding DDi adventure Shards of Selûne), the Red Wizards of Thay stole the bones originally because they were losing their fight with the Netherese in the Neverwinter Wood who were using the Grey Wolf tribe of the Uthgardt - all of whom are werewolves - as potent shock troops. The Red Wizards retaliated with ritual magic combining the corrupting power of the Dread Ring with the (now corrupted) primal power of the Bones of the Thunderbeast. The net result: the Grey Wolves turned on their erstwhile masters and the Netherese were massacred.

Again IMC, the PCs will soon be embarking on a mission to recover and restore the Bones of the Thunderbeast so I will edit in links to those session reports once they have happened.

Secondly, what has escaped or is in the process of escaping?

My original idea was to have some primordial creature of cold be freed and unleash an unnatural winter - a Fimbulwinter, if you will - across The North. That's still a possibility and could potentially work well when combined with Icespire Peak.

The next idea I had - inspired by this picture of the tarrasque's claw - was to have the tarrasque be one of the creatures imprisoned by the ancestor mounds. And while the PCs would definitely not be capable of fighting the tarrasque itself, I had worked out a level-appropriate(-ish) encounter involving just the claw of the tarrasque being awakened by a ritual being performed by some Thayans. The consequence of the PCs' failure would have been the release of the tarrasque to rampage across The North.

However, the final version is more simple, for now. I decided to have Gurt, Lord of the Pale Giants return as an undead frost giant. Of course, his honour of frost giant wights would also have been released. As of now, this is what the PCs will be facing when they eventually reach Morgur's Mound.

One of my ulterior motives for this encounters - beyond revealing some of the history of the Uthgardt - was because I wanted one of my PCs who fights with a fullblade to end up with the Sword of Gurt which I had decided was a frost brand fullblade +3. This was just in case the PCs ended up fighting the fire giant/fire titan Gommoth in Mount Hotenow.

Other Ideas

B2 Keep on the Borderlands: The Caves of Chaos would fit perfectly in The Crags but there is nearby settlement on the map to serve as a safe haven as per the titular keep. However, if you look at the map of the Sword Coast that came with Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Luskan (for evil PCs or PCs who really enjoy danger), Mirabar, or Longsaddle could fulfil a similar role. Otherwise, my forthcoming Phandalin post has some ideas to make the Caves of Chaos more Realmsian.

CM8 The Endless Stair: This is a non-FR adventure written by Ed Greenwood apparently as a test by TSR to see if he could deliver a product on time and on spec. I rather like the idea of a staircase in the middle of nowhere with nothing apparently holding it in place but which, nevertheless, spirals upwards with no apparent destination. Of course, at the top of the staircase is an invisible door or portal which then leads to a dungeon or dungeon-like complex. I'm not 100% sure this is even the plot of this adventure or just an idea inspired by the cover art and the title. Also, if you have access to the adventure, I strongly recommend stealing the NPC names for your FR games. (And if you know R A Salvatore, suggest that he do the same for his novels.)

G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief: It's very simple, The Crags are hills and hill giants live in hills. This adventure makes perfect sense here.

Grimmantle Keep: This small site-based adventure from the outstanding Lost Empires of Faerûn is actually set in The Crags. For those who don't have acess to Lost Empire, the FR Wikia has some pertinent information and all you really need is a ruined keep plus a death knight - Gaucelm Gonfrey - and its servitors which can be anything from bandits to undead.

S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth: While the original is set in a mountainous area of Greyhawk, other than the riddle - which I would personally drop - there is nothing stopping a DM from setting this adventure in The Crags. The backstory would need a bit of work to make it more Realmsian - perhaps tie it in to ancient Netheril which means there might also be Shadovar competing with the PCs to uncover the site's secrets - and the sheer randomness of some of the encounters could probably do with some work, but the basic idea of a strange site with extraplanar links and a difficult-to-access vault at the centre of the lower level doesn't grow old. Similarly, the wilderness encounters adapt well to The Crags with only a little bit of adjustment required.

Summing Up

The Crags is a great place for fights with "normal" evil humanoids and giants but I think doing something with Morgur's Mound - particularly the idea of "re-sealing" it before something really bad escapes - could be something your players remember for a while.

Because one of my PCs is an Uthgardt, he is going to be able to command the Bones of the Thunderbeast and that means the PCs will be riding, as it were, in the thunderbeast's ribcage from where they recover the bones to Morgur's Mound. I know they're going to remember that!

All of that said, The Crags is at the edge of the map and getting there will take time and effort. I can imagine a lot of groups will simply ignore it and focus on nearer and more accessible locations. That would have been the case with my group but they have accepted the Bones of the Thunderbeast quest and now they have no choice....


  1. For Morgur's Mound, you might want to look at the novel "Son of Thunder". I think the early chapters are set there.

    1. Thanks for that, +A2Wheeler. I have that on my reading list but I think I only realised the connection after I posted this.

      Is there anything worthwhile there you think is worth stealing for here?