Thursday, 11 June 2015

Dessarin Valley Sandbox 2 - Red Larch & Getting a Campaign Started

Any adventure needs to begin somewhere and Red Larch is the starting location chosen for Princes of the Apocalypse. And, as there is a decent Mike Schley-created map for Red Larch, it's as good a place as any from which to begin a Dessarin Valley sandbox campaign.

There are two basic purposes to this post: 1. to provide some ideas for logical reasons for PCs to be in Red Larch and 2. to suggest some other starting adventures to get the PCs to level 3 for Princes-proper.

Realmslore

Volo's Guide to the North

I believe that the first time Red Larch is described in any FR product is in this one. It introduces Red Larch as follows:
Red Larch is a waystop town of roughly 600 folk. It’s about a seven day ride north of Waterdeep. Red Larch stands atop a long, low ridge that serves as the westernmost edge of a region of monster infested hills. The ridge was crowned by a landmark brilliant red stand of larches, but the trees were felled long ago by the town’'s first settlers.
The same introductory section then goes on to mention:
Three trails intersect the Long Road at Red Larch. One runs southeast through an area of small farms and ranches to Bargewright Inn; a second winds west through the hills to Kheldell, and the third runs east into the hills, to several abandoned, monster-haunted keeps. The keeps used to belong to adventurers and local ranching communities along the Dessarin. Currently, Red Larch is awash in rumours of a sinister force that strikes by night from the nearby hills. Some say it’'s drow reaching the surface.
It's interesting how that foreshadows some of the adventure sites including in Princes of the Apocalypse.  But it's also interesting how Red Larch was set up from the very beginning as an ideal home base from which a party might head off seeking adventure in ...abandoned, monster-haunted keeps... and to investigate ... a sinister force that strikes by night ... drow ...?


(An idea relating to an abandoned keep is provided later in this post.)

What I also found interesting in Volo's Guide was the mystery surrounding The Swinging Sword which is also a location featured in Princes. It's fairly dry in the 5E adventure but Volo's makes these comments about this inn from 100 or so years before the current game year:
The inn is old and dark, and it’'s full of secret passages and storage closets.
and
The co-owners of the Swinging Sword are Jhandlatha and Peieyrie Taskaloath. They’re originally from Luskan, where their father was a wizard and a foe of the Arcane Brotherhood, who killed him. Jhandlatha is an NG hf W9, and Peieyrie (pronounced PEER-ee) is a CG hf W8. They inherited magical items, but Elminster isn'’t sure just what.
and
There are rumours that a gate (or gates) to other, far-off places in the Realms is hidden somewhere in or near the Swinging Sword. Currently, the tales speak of connections with the Moonshaes, the Vast, and the Tashalar, near Chult. Strange folk do certainly seem to show up at the inn, too. (NB: Gates in 2E were renamed portals in 3E and later editions.)
Secret passages, eh? To me that says, "this inn can be an adventuring location", especially when combined with the rumours of portals to elsewhere. Also, what about those special snowflake players who insist on wild and weird race and class combinations that don't make a lot of sense in this geographical location? Portals are a perfect explanation for their presence far from where they would otherwise make sense.

But back to the idea of The Swinging Sword as an adventuring location. I can think of three main ideas:
  1. The newly reformed Arcane Brotherhood of Luskan have scoured their records and discovered that the Taskaloath sisters likely ended up in the possession of certain important magic items that belonged to the Brotherhood. A band of "recovery experts" (ie, rogues) led by a minor mage are despatched from Luskan to Red Larch to thoroughly search The Swinging Sword and even to dig up the sisters' graves. What if the aforementioned secret passages also lead to extradimensional spaces where the Brotherhood's treasure is now hidden?
  2. Secrets passages and a portal to Chult? Can anyone say yuan-ti slavers? What if The Swinging Sword is the centre of a yuan-ti slaving operation that is now expanding in scope? And a short side trip to the jungle via portal can make a nice change of pace to an Elemental Evil-themed campaign.
  3. One or more of the PCs is a descendant of the Taskaloath sisters and has inherited a portal key which, if taken to the correct secret passage in The Swinging Sword, opens a portal that leads to a small dungeon complex (an arcane laboratory) beneath Luskan where some of the Taskaloath treasures are still stored. One small complication: wererats and/or other gangs from Luskan, or even the reformed Arcane Brotherhood, have also discovered the complex and are exploring it at the same time as the PCs. This hook also has the benefit of providing a logical reason for why one or more of the PCs are in Red Larch.
Any or all of these rough ideas could be easily turned into an adventure with a little bit of work and might also make for a good starter adventure for Princes-proper.

Other Published Material


Dungeon 26: The Inheritance

I believe that the 2E adventure The Inheritance published in Dungeon 26 was one of the more popular Dungeon adventure of its era. And I mention it here because its major location is near Red Larch - Red Larch is even mentioned in the introduction - and the idea of an abandoned keep is, as I have already noted, part of the basic description of Red Larch in Volo's.
 
This is a great starter adventure especially for a campaign taking place in and around the Dessarin Valley. In a nutshell, one of the PCs has inherited a keep from a dead uncle that he was forced to abandon after it was besieged and taken over by a force of hobgoblins from the unfortunately named Lostafinga tribe. (I like the adventure and its author is one of my favourite Dungeon authors, but this adventures suffers from a lot of joke names. But don't let that put you off. It is rather good.)

Even for those without Dungeon 26 - or the ability to use Google - putting this adventure together is fairly simple. The maps are provided above and the keep can be placed anywhere on the regional map near Red Larch although I would personally to it on the northeastern edge of the Westwood some 3.5 hexes from Red Larch. Then it's just a matter of filling the keep and its dungeon with various hobgoblins and hobgoblin-related creatures (a couple of bugbear shock troops, goblin scouts, and - for a true, old-school feel - at least one carnivorous ape).

This would make a great starter adventure for any sort of campaign in the Dessarin Valley as it gives the PCs their own home base that they will need to defend from time to time - the hobgoblins will be back, and their green dragon master might also follow - which gives them a break from the adventure path, and the whole thing gives them both a logical reason to start in Red Larch and then stay and see off the threats to the Dessarin Valley.

Conclusion

So, a good two or so months after I planned to start this series I finally made my first real post and I am actually happy with the ideas even if the post could do with a rewrite. Frankly, I really like Red Larch as a starting location just based on the write-up in Volo's and, combined with The Inheritance from Dungeon 26 and the ideas for making The Swinging Sword more magical and sinister, I think I could put together a pretty decent mini-campaign with some nice variety for almost any D&D edition.

I would start with The Inheritance and its hobgoblins, deal with the yuan-ti slavers next (possibly expanding that to be some more like 1E's N1 Cult of the Reptile god, and then find the portal to the arcane laboratory in Luskan to fight wizards and wererats. It would also might for a nice alternate start to Princes of the Apocalypse or a change from Elemental Evil, all the time, once the PCs are on the adventure path railroad....

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