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A Moral Dilemma
Author: Andrew Rochester
System: D&D Forgotten Realms
Requirements: 4 to 8 characters of 6 to 10th level.
He turned first one way, then the other. Even in the cave's cool evening air, he was sweating. His companions were caught out of time, motionless- seemingly paralyzed by their dilemma, this insidious, corrupting dilemma. They would have one chance, and one chance only. What, in the name of the Reaper of Souls, would be the consequences if they were wrong?
© 2000 Andrew Rochester, all rights reserved.
Andrew Rochester is a graduate from the University of Cambridge (that's Cambridge, England). He turned down a place on a postgraduate course there so as get involved in the 'real world', but unfortunately has ended up as an overworked management consultant. He can, allegedly, be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
This adventure is designed for 4 to 8 characters of 6 to 10th level. The party should principally be of good alignments... at least, at the start of the adventure. The adventure is set in the Forgotten Realms, and transposing the module to other realms will probably prove difficult, although not impossible; Greyhawk is the best candidate for alternative placement of this adventure.
If you are a player, read no further!
What follows is for the eyes of the DungeonMaster alone...
Playing this adventure requires the AD&D 2nd edition core rules— the Players Handbook, the Dungeon Masters Guide and various Monstrous Compendia. If a monster is not familiar, another suitable creature should be substituted. This module also makes references to the Complete Book of Necromancers in order to flesh out (excuse pun) a primary NPC: the Arch-necromancer, Thallis Necrax, Lord of Eltash, Bane of the Benign. If this worthy volume is unavailable, Thallis can be played as a normal Necromancer, possibly using a wizard kit such as the warlock (male witch) from the Complete Wizards Handbook, if this accessory is to hand.
This adventure can start anywhere in the Forgotten Realms. The majority of the adventure itself takes place within Hullack Forest in Cormyr, but the player characters need not be anywhere near the forest at the start of the adventure.
The whole idea behind this adventure is that the characters should be faced with at least a little uncertainty when called to side with either the arch-necromancer Thallis or a group of Lords Alliance members. To this end, it is crucial that DM play Thallis as honourable, intelligent and sincere— in stark contrast to the arrogant righteousness of the Lords Alliance group. As the PCs are mistaken for allies of Thallis (or worse, agents of the Black Network), they may be on the receiving end of the kind of “Now you die, evil worthless scum!” throw-away goody-goody lines that they are more used to dishing out! Hopefully, whatever the outcome, the players will realise that, even in a fantasy world, dominated by (let's face it) a simplistic alignment system, few things are simple, and few people can be simply categorised.
If at all possible, the DM should play the events which follow as taking place during the summer months. This will help to make the characters' trek through the forest more memorable, as the hot, sultry clime and swarms of insects cause problems to any player characters lumbering through the foliage clad in their personal tanks of plate armour. A wealth of information on trekking through the wilderness is provided in the excellent Wilderness Survival Guide, and the DM is encouraged to enforce rules associated with personal temperature, fatigue, exhaustion and humidity as appropriate.
Background for the Dungeon Master
The adventure centres on the players' interactions with one Thallis Necrax. Thallis is an exceptionally capable and in many ways unusual necromancer, although this should not be apparent to the players at the start of the adventure. Created in accordance with the “Complete Book of Necromancers” rules, Thallis is an archetypal necromancer, and full details on dark gifts and the price Thallis pays for these unearthly benefits are given at the end of this module in the appropriate NPC capsule. The DM is urged to play Thallis not as a stereotypical necromancer, but as a worthy and intelligent adversary, whose mindset and values are not so much incompatible with those of the player characters, but identical in some ways, and incommensurable in others.
When the adventure opens, Thallis has recently joined the Zhentarim, hoping for a mutually beneficial arrangement by which he can continue his research while the Zhentarim can benefit from his knowledge and experience in black necromancy: he has started to tire of adventuring, and of seeing the consequences of his fell magics on innocent people.
Thallis naturally has reservations about the capricious loyalty shifts which he is convinced dominate the Zhentarim, but has assured himself that he will be on the periphery of such machinations.
The Zhentarim asked Thallis (politely) if he would mind making as much of his journey as possible by normal means, such as roads and other well-travelled trade routes. This would enable the Zhentarim to gather a little more information about trade activity, and let Thallis determine ways in which necromancy in general— and his own skills in particular— might influence activity along these roads. Thallis agreed, viewing his mundane travel towards the bastions of the Black Network as the closest he would come to a holiday in a long while. Thallis magically sent his henchmen and much of his equipment along ahead so that preparations could be made for his arrival.
Some days before the player characters encounter Thallis, the wizard and a number of hire-sword guards were en route to Deepingdale along the East Way, out of Arabel, in which Thallis had been recovering after some particularly arduous magical research.
(It may seem strange that one so involved with nefarious activities which involve the recently demised chose to conduct his affairs in Cormyr, but before electing to move nearer to Zhentil Keep, Thallis actually enjoyed the stability which the region offers. His strong lawful tendencies, innate nervousness and peculiar lifestyle combine to make him fearful— one might even say paranoid— of chaotic, loosely controlled territories in which any “wanna-be” adventurer can try and make a name for himself by hassling any individuals who do not conform to the visual ideals of the Torillean way...)
To cut a long story short, Thallis and his group were attacked on their sixth day out of Arabel just as they reached Thunder Gap. This took place five days before the player characters meet Thallis for the first time. Thallis was immediately aware of a dull ache in his head, and realised too late that this was a sign of the dead magic region the party had just entered. Too late; for seconds later the entire group was surrounded by murderous green gas as Loxus, the old green dragon of Hullack Forest, struck. The horses and guards were killed instantly, and Thallis was unable to move fast enough on foot to escape the attentions of Loxus and his accompanying wyvern attackers. With his spells inaccessible, the arch-necromancer was dispatched as unceremoniously as a naive thrillseeker who meets his demise minutes after being lowered into the ruins of Undermountatin from the tap room of the Yawning Portal.
Thallis's body— or what was left of it— was recovered from the dead magic area some time later by a group of veterans policing the East Way under the auspices of the Lords Alliance. Naturally, once outside the magic dead region, Thallis regained health and consciousness by virtue of his dark gift of regeneration— and promptly vanished. This, not unsurprisingly, raised the suspicions of the Lords Alliance, who now strongly suspect Thallis of being a member of the Zhentarim, and who have sent Dalin to investigate— cautiously, as any wizard who can defy death is certainly a “mage of no small water”.
When the player characters encounter the arch-necromancer, Thallis is concerned only with the recovery of the possessions he lost as a result of his encounter with Loxus. At the time, he was travelling with a chest containing some of his most prized magic items, and would dearly love to see the casket recovered. As a result, he has tracked down a suitable group of adventurers and collected enough “one-shot” magical items to give them the necessary assistance in their mission. Through the casting of various magics, he has identified the location of his possessions (all items he was wearing were also stripped from him, but fortunately everything of significant value was in the chest in order not to arouse any suspicions during transit) and some information about the identity of his attacker, Loxus.
Thallis is aware that he his being followed, by at least one agent, and is prepared to deal with this eventuality as needs arise. He would be quite happy just to avoid any conflict, though. Thallis is in active contact with senior members of the Zhentarim and his own allies and henchmen who have already arrived at Zhentil Keep with the bulk of his possessions. These allies will provide him with considerable assistance should he request it. The scrolls Thallis offers the player characters are a case in point.
So, all the players have to do is recover Thallis's chest, after defeating a capable old green dragon and the beast's allies. They then have a dilemma, as members of the Lords Alliance will converge on the player characters, accusing them of being members or allies of the Zhentarim, friends of Thallis, wanting the chest for themselves, and any number of other equally unpleasant unfounded insinuations.
Of course, the characters' reaction may be to deny everything, offer a full explanation, turn over the chest and generally behave in a very creepy fashion. If they do this, they will have made an enemy of Thallis for life, and will probably need considerable assistance in hunting down and destroying the necromancer before he learns of the characters' treachery.
PART I: FIRST IMPRESSIONS
“Evil be to him who evil thinks”
The adventure starts when the characters are approached by Thallis. This can happen either by appointment— one of Thallis's henchmen or other allies arranges a meeting between his master and the player characters— or simply with Thallis walking over in an inn, or even in the street, and introducing himself. The DM should work some noteworthy action(s) of the player characters into the conversation as justification for their selection for this quest, if at all possible. However the meeting is arranged, both Thallis and any of his henchmen who might have been involved in arranging the meeting have their alignments and auras magically disguised, to such an extent that even a Paladin's innate ability to detect evil will not indicate anything amiss. This extends to all dealings the player characters may have with Thallis and any of his associates (who the DM should flesh out as necessary).
The DM should take some time to describe Thallis's appearance (including the necromancer's slow, painful stride due to his lameness in his left leg), as the Archmancer hardly looks conventional. For one thing, Thallis's complexion is ashen white; for another, although the day is hot (80F), Thallis is wearing gloves— that seem to extend beyond his wrists— on both hands.
Read the following text to the players when they encounter Thallis for the first time:
Ah, hello, erm, all of you! My name is Thallis, and I am a wizard— or should I say mage, I don't know: the two words can mean different things to different people— where are you from? The north? I don't mean to pry, you know, it's just... [he shakes his head] Sorry, I'm rambling a bit, more than a drunk priest trying to convert someone [he glances over his shoulder nervously to make sure that no priests are within earshot]! Anyway, I would like to make use of your services, as your are an adventuring band of some ability! I'll try and get to the point— not easy for me! [Thallis looks more serious, even menacing]. Some time ago I was travelling between Arabel and Highmoom along the East Way. I know what you're thinking— what about Thunder Gap, right? Well, I thought that we were prepared (I wasn't travelling alone, you know). Anyway, we were attacked. [Thallis's face bears signs of anguish]. We were attacked by creatures from the sky. They moved fast— very fast. Suddenly, my spells would not work. There were a dozen of us in our caravan, and I was the only survivor. I ran— as well as I could, for my art was no match for the beasts that attacked us— and we must have been in a dead magic area, as I managed to cast my spells again after covering a few yards, but too late: I managed only to escape, teleporting to safety. I should have known. There were no reports of dead magic areas on the East Way, so it looks as if I've discovered a new phenomenon: a mobile dead magic pocket! But at what cost... They took a chest of mine. Why, I don't know. Of course it's valuable. I won't bore you with the details of what is in it, but I want it back! Luckily I had the foresight to enchant the damn thing, and I have managed to trace it to some kind of cave high up a cliff face overlooking the Hullack Forest maybe a dozen miles from Thunder Gap. I daren't get it back myself, as my spells indicate that in the cave, there is, er... [Thallis sputters to a halt until he receives prompting from the players characters]... a green dragon! Now don't panic, I've got some scrolls here somewhere [rummage] which should protect you from the beast's accursed breath. He (or she) has got a prime spot and certainly won't want to be moved! I think that the creature must be in league with some other sort of winged creatures, and who knows what allies the beast has in the forest. My divination spells don't seem to be too reliable in that area. I'm not sure why, but I would be on the look out for wild and dead magic areas, if I were you. I don't mind teleporting you to somewhere on the west side of the Hullack Forest, but I'm not going to chance being, shall we say, bounced into the deep ethereal or dispersed over a wide area of the Astral Plane by some magical anomaly in the forest— or the mountains, for that matter. Riding or walking in will take a few days, but I have drawn a map. Look, I just want my chest back (you can't miss it, it's got the same rune as on the map here [waves it]), but I'm sure that the beast has lots of other treasure worth pilfering. Killing a green dragon, eh? That's a way to make a name for yourself: I certainly won't let it be known that you had a scroll of protection to ward off the beast's foul breath! What do you say?
Thallis has imbibed both a Philter of Glibness and a Philter of Persuasiveness, and has cast the following spells upon himself just before meeting with the player characters: mind blank, undetectable alignment and non detection. Naturally, he will not tolerate any spellcasting by the player characters upon his person. The DM should take the role of the philters, assuring the player characters that Thallis seems genuine and quite a decent chap. If, at a later date, anyone asks the player characters their impressions of Thallis, they should reiterate these sentiments. Oh the irony of magic...
The DM should feel quite free to play up the fact that Thallis's pleasant and sincere demeanour seems to be in stark contrast to his pallid complexion, and his fairly unattractive visage. It just goes to show that you should never judge by appearances, after all!
The players should have little hesitation in accepting the challenge. To rid the Realms of an evil beast and its minions is, after all, an opportunity which no Paladin will be able to pass up, especially when magical assistance is offered! The real reason for Thallis's reluctance to recover his possession himself is because he has worked out (correctly) that there is actually a dead magic region in or around Loxus's cave.
Thallis will reluctantly allow players to inspect the scrolls he is offering the group (“Clearly Thallis values these parchments, and is having difficulty in trusting you with them— after all, as far as he knows, you could easily make off with them!”) The scrolls are as follows: Protection from Dragon Breath x3, Protection from Gas, sending, teleport x2 and one roughly drawn map which nevertheless has sufficient detail to guide even the most inexperienced outdoor type to a particular cave entrance set into a high cliff face.
If the characters do bargain— and there is nothing wrong with that, after all— Thallis is prepared to part with the following, albeit reluctantly:
· up to 10,000gp, irrespective of the number of people in the party, with 50% payable in advance
· a maximum of one of the following potions per party member (any mix desired, with multiple potions of the same type acceptable apart from green dragon control, of which Thallis has— or is prepared to offer— only one): green dragon control, climbing, flying, levitation, invulnerability, healing. (“Invisibility won't do you no good— you're up against a dragon, remember?”)
The DM should not just give these items away “willy-nilly”, as Thallis did not choose the player characters because of their lack of ability! The DM should play Thallis as a mage who, although probably not particularly inept, has lost his bottle when it comes to going up against a green dragon and the beast's minions, against whom he feels he is totally outclassed. The player characters, however, should have a nagging concern at the back of their minds: just how easy is it to get one's hands on numerous magical equipment such as scrolls of protection from dragon breath at short notice (even in Waterdeep or Heliogabalous)? If Thallis has these kinds of resources, just powerful is he, and if he really is powerful, why is he getting the adventurers to do his dirty work for him?
The answer of course is that Thallis knows more than he is saying, as he knows of the magic dead area inside Loxus's cave. He believes, however, that the player characters should be powerful enough— just— to defeat the dragon and recover his chest. He did not want to select a group that was too powerful, as there is always the chance that the adventurers may uncover some significant facts that might change the nature of the alliance between themselves and Thallis...
Any other information given out by Thallis about the forest, the dragon and its allies, the attack and so on will be sketchy at best. Thallis is reluctant to be drawn into a question and answer session for fear of being tripped up, and will eventually adopt a “Look, I've told you everything you need to know!” attitude.
As a parting shot, Thallis tells the PCs: “Oh, um, I suppose I should mention that I do consider this an agreement, and that you will either give me back my chest or die trying! But then, you're a good bunch of people— or so I'm told, heh! So there should be no problem there!” The DM should take any opportunity he feels appropriate to remind the players— especially ones whose characters are of lawful and/or good alignments— of Thallis's words.
In all probability, Thallis is wrong, and there will be a problem with the characters holding to this agreement as they learn more of Thallis's real nature. An interesting aspect of this adventure is the nature of any decisions the players make based upon what their characters may discover as the adventure takes its course. The DM should be in no doubt that Thallis will do everything in his power to recover the chest and will seek to completely destroy (so that only a wish will recover them) the party members should they cross him. After the philters wear off, Thallis will go back to being his deranged, sick, corpse-eating self and display no remorse for any of his actions whatsoever.
If the player characters accept the challenge, Thallis will hurry off having arranged to meet the characters some two days hence, allowing them time to prepare themselves for what they may face. Thallis explains that he will assist any mages in the party in teleporting the group to the East Way's crossing with the Immerflow, a point at least three days away from the lair of Loxus. This is as close as Thallis is prepared to send them— “I'm not taking any chances with having your blood on my hands!” He tells the PCs that he will contact them once they have the chest.
The meeting that the player characters have just had with Thallis has been observed by Dalin, the Lords Alliance's agent, who used his ability to lip-read to glean the basic facts discussed during the conversation. The DM should tell one player that his (or her) character noticed a “shady-looking” individual slip away just as the conversation was ending. The exact details depend on the location at which the characters' meeting with Thallis’s has taken place. Regardless of the venue, the characters have no chance to track Dalin, who knows how to cover his tracks only too well.
PART II: THE TRAVEL
Towards the East Way
This module assumes that the characters arrive— quite possibly not on terra firma— at the bridge carrying the East Way across the Immerflow. The first action on the part of the DM should be to determine the PCs arrival altitude if Thallis teleported any members of the group. The location is in the category of “Seen casually” under the description of the teleport spell. It would be a most unkind DM indeed who caused a character's demise as the result of this die roll, but causing the characters some small amount of damage— not to mention embarrassment— as a result of their arriving twenty feet in the air above the bridge (or the river) would enhance the air of suspicion the players need to develop concerning Thallis.
At the bridge there is a small inn “The Tradesman's Tavern”, and a rather depressing-looking open market with a few stalls. The contents are hardly inspiring: expensively priced, badly balanced daggers, for example. If the characters browse and chat to the people in the inn or running the stalls, they will learn that activity (the euphemism used to describe violent attacks, murders, robberies and general strange goings-on) on the East Road has risen sharply over the past few weeks; they do not know why. Trade journeys have started to decline as a result, and a number of showy-looking sellswords now hang around the bridge, hoping to sell their services to bolster any guards tasked with protecting important caravans.
The characters need not worry about having peacestrings around their weapons, as this is a decidedly rough (for Cormyr) area.
The DM can use information and settings from other material to flesh out the inn, market and/or the people who the player characters are likely to find at the Great Bridge: few details are presented here.
At the discretion of the Dungeon Master, the characters may learn one or more of the following pieces of information:
· Undead seem to be roaming widely. Ghasts, ghouls, and dread wights (some reputedly much stronger than normal) have all been spotted in numbers, and the creatures attack fearlessly. However, there have also been reports of undead creatures that nobody seems to be familiar with. Most mercenaries reporting these sightings did not stay long to investigate further, leaving that to the likes of Elminster and the Lords Alliance. (“What are heroes for, after all...”)
· The Lords Alliance's presence on the East Way has diminished in this time of need. This is cause for much grumbling. Apparently, there are more problems near Zhentil Keep. Many believe, however, that one of the reasons for the reduced activity by the Alliance is that too many of the organisation's members have recently met their demise on the East Way— either at the hands of wandering predators, or as the result of some more organised activity, possibly by the Zhentarim...
· Outer-planar creatures have been seen flying above the road. Nobody has yet brought back any more information on their numbers, type or aims.
· Pockets of dead magic and wild magic have indeed been encountered where there were none before: nobody can confirm whether these pockets are mobile, though, and their exact locations are unknown— nobody is that keen to spend the considerable amount of time required to carry out an accurate survey of these dread areas.
· There is indeed a green dragon who has claimed the eastern reaches of Hullack Forest. Reports of this dragon indicate that the beast is massive in size (at least 200 feet long), capable of casting magic, ferocious in battle and allied with numerous other forest and avian creatures around the area of Thunder Pass. If the PCs announce their intention of killing the beast and ransacking its lair, they will be met with derisive laughter. Many groups who seemed much tougher than the player characters have tried, and none of them have returned.
· If the player characters describe Thallis— and you cannot get much more distinctive than “a limping man with a complexion like that of a freshly buried corpse...”, they will be met with blank looks— nobody remembers him travelling along the East Way. This is because he was disguised, and the fact that nobody seems to remember him is another incident which may serve to arouse the characters' suspicions. Even with the drop in traffic caused by the recent activity on the East Way, there are still many trade caravans, hireswords, adventurers and people who are minding their own business travelling down the East Way towards Thunder Gap and beyond. The chances are that most people will claim they remember a caravan being attacked some days ago, but nobody will be able to recall any salient details.
· The DM can insert any gossip relating to this or other adventurers, and spurious or otherwise, as desired.
The reason for the recent upsurge in activity is that a magical gate from a location in the mighty ruins of Undermountain seems to have been activated by a group of unwary adventurers. Various creatures have started to use this gate as a means of egress from Undermountain's treacherous confines, and now significant numbers of undead, outer-planar beasts and other weird and horrible subterranean creatures are starting to emerge at location from this sinister portal.
The nature of the gate's directionality— such as whether or not the player characters can use the magical portal as a means of entering one of Undermountain's levels— is left up to the Dungeon Master, as is the location of the gate within the ruins of Undermountain themselves.
Information volunteered freely, and which the DM should impress upon the players, is that the player characters should move along the East Way at utmost speed, by both day and night if possible so that their journey time is reduced to a minimum. Tradesmen shake their heads and mutter about the number of people whose journey along the East Way— a road which, apart from the occasional orc raid, used to be safe enough— has become their last...
Across the Bridge
The East Way is a major trade route, and is in a condition that would be expected for such an artery. The road is generally wide and level. The characters will move rapidly along the road on foot or horseback even through the forest. Rules from the Wilderness Survival Guide or the Forgotten Realms campaign boxed set can be used.
The turn-off point from the East Way lies some 18 6-mile hexes distant from the river, or a distance of 108 miles (36 leagues). Encounter #8 below should be invoked as the characters approach the turn-off point: this will likely mean that they quickly become lost as they plunge through the undergrowth of Hullack Forest.
According to the Wilderness Survival Guide, a moderately encumbered character with a movement rate of 12 on foot can move 12 miles per half day's travel, or twice that on an unencumbered light war horse (carrying up to 300lb including its rider). For these calculations, half a day is an 8 hour long period. So, if the characters travel through the night on horseback, they could cover 72 miles and reach their turn-off point the next afternoon!
Using the rules from the 2nd edition Dungeon Masters Guide in conjunction with the “Running the Realms” book from the 2nd publication of the Forgotten Realms boxed set, characters with a movement rate of 12 can travel 24 miles per day (4 6-mile hexes) along the road, or twice that if mounted on light warhorses, giving the same journey times to the turn-off point as above.
After only an hour's travel, the characters will find themselves passing through Hullack Forest. Young saplings give way to mighty trees that tower twenty, thirty or more feet above the ground. Traffic along the road is such that the characters may encounter another individual or group every hour or so. Most of these are traders, with a dozen surly looking warriors and possibly a young evoker as guards. They will not stop for any reason, and ignore the player characters, who are clearly adventurers looking for riches or a speedy death. Everyone seems to be in a state of heightened nervousness as a result of the recent goings-on. Greetings of “Well met!” will be returned with shouts of “Be off with you!” and drawn bows. The players should quickly get the message concerning the unsociability of any travellers they meet.
Any part(s) of the following description can be used as the characters journey towards Thunder Gap:
The trees almost line the road as you trek onwards. Tall and uninviting, they restrict your peering gaze into the forest to a few yards. The forest is far from silent, with chattering birds and far-off bestial howls filling the hot, hazy air. The ground is dry and hard, and the humidity from the forest surrounds you, coaxing beads of sweat from your pores. You realise that you have many more miles to travel through this oppressive territory, and you shudder as you rack your brains for terrain that would be better suited to an ambush. As you approach the mighty spires of the Thunder Peaks, the atmosphere becomes less oppressive. If only you could climb above Hullack Forest: yet your gloom depends as you realise that the point at which you must leave the well-trodden road and strike out through the dim reaches of the forest draws ever closer.
Although Thallis did not impress any great urgency upon the characters, if they dawdle along the East Way, they are much more likely to experience unpleasant encounters en route to their destination.
Random encounters should be rolled according to the rules for frequency in the Dungeon Masters Guide, bearing in mind that the terrain type is “forest” once the characters are travelling along the road as it cuts its way through Hullack Forest. The terrain is “wilderness” as there are no population centres along the way.
The table on p.101 of the 2nd edition DMG lists the frequency of encounter checks and the chance of an encounter occurring. The DM should feel free to alter or leave out random encounters if the characters are hurrying along their way. However, the DM is encouraged to make the characters suffer by applying the rules as unpleasantly as possible should the party dawdle. It goes without saying that any group— or members of the group— who stray from the road are going to be in big trouble!
Encounters can be with denizens of the forest or with groups travelling along the East Way. The chances of the player characters picking up allies, whether for a single fight against malignant forest creatures or for the duration of the adventure, are strictly left up to the DM.
Ideally, DMs will use encounter #8 below to force the characters into the forest with a pack of giantkind hot on their heels…
Other Means of Travel, and How to Avoid Them
Manual of the Planes details various encounters should the player characters elect to wander through the border ethereal in order to avoid creatures of a more mundane nature during their journey to the dragon's lair. p.14-15 of the Manual of the Planes gives excellent listings of the beasts likely to be encountered during ethereal travel, from fire bats to demon lords!
If the characters are foolish enough to try and fly towards their destination (and if they have some means to do so continuously for many score miles), they will be attacked by numerous ferocious flying creatures who will stop at nothing to repel what is perceived as a territorial invasion. Beasts encountered will include wyverns, harpies, fearsome Chasme from the outer planes, and other monsters selected from any of the various available works.
Encounters: The East Way
The following special encounters may be used at the discretion of the Dungeon Master during the characters' travel along the road. Other modes of travel, and how to discourage the players from using them, are dealt with below.
1. Raided Party
The players come across a scene of devastation spread across the width of the East Way. A small caravan has been attacked and decimated. The canvas covering two wagons flutters limply in a quiet breeze. The wagons themselves are useless. One is half-burned, the other has a broken axle. Dead horses lie on the ground. Under one is a young man— really just a boy of fourteen or fifteen, a longsword fallen from his grasp and now next to him on the ground. There must be a dozen bodies scattered around the caravan, including the naked, bloodied forms of two women. From most of the corpses protrude black-fletched arrows, which carry one message: orcs. Most of the bodies are mutilated. Fingers have been crudely hacked off, and from the amount of blood, probably while the unfortunate victims were still alive. The blood has only just started to darken, and has not yet hardened. All this carnage must have happened barely minutes ago— it is a wonder that the characters did not hear anything. On the tattered canvas of one of the wagons is scrawled what looks like an elongated “S”; scrawled in the blood of one of the unfortunate victims who were clearly unprepared for the ferocity of the attack.
The raid was carried out by some 60 orcs of the Twisted Spine tribe. The group is strong, containing two 5th level shamans and 4th and 3rd level witch doctors. The group favours short bows and flails, and there is a 10% chance per full round that the characters linger that the group returns to claim more foolish victims.
If the raiding party returns, the characters will have a hard battle on their hands, as the shamans will use spells like prayer, hold person, protection from good, silence and the like to attempt to swing the conflict in the orcs' favour.
This encounter is at a part of the road which cuts through a dense part of the forest, with thirty-foot trees not yards from the side of the road. The characters are likely to be sniped at for some minutes before the main attack comes. The orcs will seek to use their number to pull characters to the ground, at which point their wrists will be cut, fingers sliced off with poorly-honed daggers and their bodies left for the scavengers.
This encounter should immediately arouse the characters' suspicions, as the dopplegangers, disguised as some merchants whom they murdered earlier, hail the characters from their horses and suggest that the PCs accompany them as guards for as long as possible. The dopplegangers probably had to ride hard to overtake the characters, but that is not the only reason for their horses' unsettled behaviour... The 'gangers have a total of 12,000 gp in gems and coinage, and offer 1,000 gp to each party member who chooses to accompany them, even for just a few hours.
Dopplegangers : AL N; AC 5; MV 9; HD 4; hp 24 each; THACO 15; #Att 1; Dmg 1d12; SA Surprise; SD Special; ML 13
If the characters do not immediately see through the 'gangers deception, having one of the PCs spot a leg sticking out from the forest after a few minutes travel should spell out the truth, as the body is that of a merchant who looks exactly like one of the ones the PCs have just encountered...
If things go against the dopplegangers, they will flee. Otherwise, they will attempt to use trickery and deception to split the party up and weaken them. Apart from the coins and gems, the 'gangers have no treasure.
3. Wraith spiders
This encounter is a good one for nocturnal use, and should persuade the players that having their characters dawdle could potentially prove deadly, i.e. the DM can use this encounter to spur the group on. The DM is encouraged to make this conflict as terrifying as possible. At the DM's discretion, the encounter can be used in one of two ways:
· if the characters are camped at night, then the attack happens just before dawn, with the characters' campsite surrounded, if at all possible
· if the characters are travelling during the night, they will pass through an area of wild or dead magic (DM's discretion, consult p.12-13 of the “Running the Realms” book in the 2nd publication of the Forgotten Realms boxed set), at which point they are attacked by the wraith spiders
Wraith spiders [2 per member of party]: AL LE; AC 5; MV 15, Web 18; HD 3+2; hp 20 each; THACO 17; #Att 1; Dmg 1d4; SA Energy drain + poison; SD Silver and +1 or better weapons to hit; MR 15%; ML 15. These creatures have the usual undead immunities and are turned as shadows. How these creatures have come to the surface world, nobody is sure. (In fact, the creatures have emerged from the ruins of Undermountain.)
The party is set upon by 7 wraiths, who attack at once:
Wraith : AL LE; AC 4; MV 12, Fl 24 [B]; HD 5+3; hp 32 each; THACO 15; #Att 1; Dmg 1d6; SA Energy drain; SD Hit only by silver or +1 magical weapons; ML 15
5. Ghastly Ghouls
A pack of ghouls and ghasts confront the player characters and attack immediately.
Ghoul : AL CE; AC 6; MV 9; HD 2; hp 11 each; THACO 19; #Att 3; Dmg 1d3/1d3/1d6; SA paralysation; SD Special; ML 12
Ghast : AL CE; AC 4; MV 15; HD 4; hp 26 each; THACO 17; #Att 3; Dmg 1d4/1d4/1d8; SA Special; SD Special; ML 13
6. Pay the Troll
10 trolls, led by a particularly massive two-headed troll, are waiting for travellers, now that those pesky patrols seem to have died down somewhat. Any travellers will be insulted profusely and ordered to lay down all armour, weapons, magic items (not that trolls can tell the difference) and other valuables or the trolls will “stomp” them. The DM should roll a reaction check for the player who does the most conversing with the trolls, adjusting for Charisma and (at the DM's discretion) role-playing. A modified roll of “friendly”, and the characters will be allowed to pass if each lays down one or two fairly obvious-looking items (wand and staff for a wizard, armour and sword for a warrior etc.) If the reaction roll is not “friendly”, or if the characters do not comply, then it's stomping time (sigh). Trolls will be Trolls...
Trolls : AL CE; AC 4; MV 12; HD 6+6; hp 43 each; THACO 13; #Att 3; Dmg d4+4/d4+4/d8+4; SA Special; SD Regeneration; ML 14
Two-headed troll : AL CE; AC -2 (see below); MV 12; HD 10; hp 60; THACO 11; #Att 4; Dmg d4+4/d4+4/d12/d12; SA Special; SD Regeneration, magical rings; ML 16
The two-headed troll wears a Ring of Protection (+6 on AC, + 1 on saving throws) and a Ring of Spell Turning, making the creature a worthwhile adversary. The creatures attack with their bare “hands”, and have no other treasure.
7. From the Pits of Hell
A pack of five green Abishai circle above, and— at the DM's option— decide that the player characters are a close enough approximation to lunch...
Abishai, green : AL LE; AC 3; MV 9, Fl 12 [C]; HD 5+2; hp 23, 26, 33, 38, 42; THACO 15; #Att 3; Dmg d4/d4/d4+1; SA Poison, dive; SD Regeneration, +1 or better weapon to hit; MR 30%; ML 9
One of the creatures will construct an advanced illusion (innate ability) of a plundered caravan whilst another two will use their alter self abilities to take on the form of simple folk in tattered clothes, weeping at the loss of the rest of their friends, whose bodies lie scattered on the ground. The DM should note that the Abishai are too clever to adopt the forms of alluring young women, opting instead for an average-looking man and woman. They will then use charm person on as many of the characters as possible, followed by suggestion, in an attempt to split the party up so that the three airborne fiends can attack fewer characters. Swooping Abishai attack at +2, and a successful attack roll inflicts double damage.
If things get tough for the Abishai, they will use their teleport without error abilities to escape. They will, however, track the group at night with their infravision, and will attempt to cast suggestion on one party member at a time, with the intention of separating that party member from the rest of the group. Examples of suggestions could include a call of nature to thinking that the character spied or heard something in the forest or down the road that demands investigation.
At the DM's option, if the characters are so loaded down with magical confetti that they are cruising through these encounters, including this one, the destruction of the Abishai by the player characters could anger the greater baatezu that summoned them— an Amnizu, who will seek to destroy the player character party with the assistance of the remainder of his Abishai!
Amnizu : AL LE; AC -1; MV 6, Fl 15 [C]; HD 9; hp 57; THACO 11 (+ special); #Att 1; Dmg 2d4; SA Energy channel, forget; SD +2 or better weapon to hit; MR 50%; ML 13
Abishai, green : AL LE; AC 3; MV 9, Fl 12 [C]; HD 5+2; hp 23, 26, 33, 38, 42; THACO 15; #Att 3; Dmg d4/d4/d4+1; SA Poison, dive; SD Regeneration, +1 or better weapon to hit; MR 30%; ML 9
Note that the Amnizu's attack— should the creature choose to enter into melee— is rolled against AC 10 modified for “pluses” from rings and other magical protections. The Amnizu is likely to cast fireballs indiscriminately (up to 3/day) at the characters from a distance, whether they are fighting the Abishai in melee or not— Baatezu are immune to fire.
8. The Last Encounter: Hill giants and ogres
This encounter should take place if the characters are using the East Way as a means of reaching their destination. The encounter occurs some three miles before the “turn-off” point, the point at which the map given to the player characters by Thallis indicates that it is time to leave the relative security of the road and cut through the forest.
When this encounter takes place, the characters are passing through a particularly craggy section of the forest as the influence of the nearby mountains has changed the terrain to become more rocky. Large boulders line the roads, and rocky outcrops make the ground to either side of the road uneven and uninviting.
The characters are ambushed by a number of hill giants and ogres, unless they have taken adequate precautions, as adjudged by the Dungeon Master. This encounter is designed to force the characters into the forest, as it will be tough for them to defeat the band of adversaries they face. It does not matter, however, if the characters are victorious in this encounter— it's purpose is merely to liven things up a little.
Eight hill giants are hidden (as well at is possible to be hidden when sixteen feet tall) behind boulders in the nearby crags, and these giants start to throw rocks at the party (for 2d8 damage per hit) when the player characters are in range. A solitary ogre shaman is secreted in between two large boulders right at the edge of the road, and begins to chant (spell) when melee is joined. These individuals comprise Group #3 (see below).
As soon as the tell-tale crashing and splintering of rocks is heard, six more hill giants start running from their hiding places two hundred yards behind the group's location. They are accompanied by a dozen ogres [Group #1].
Twelve more ogres led by three hill giants [group #2] approach the party from the other direction, effectively trapping the group— unless they choose to enter the forest... This may not be the most effective ambush plan in the world, but it took the hill giants and ogres weeks (and many messily settled disagreements) to come up with the scheme.
Hill giants : AC 3; MV 12; HD 12 + 1-2hp; HP 73, 75, 80, 83, 84, 97 (the leader); THACO 9; #Att 1; Dmg 2d6+7 (spiked clubs); ML 14
Ogres : AC 5; MV 9; HD 4+1; hp 25 each; THACO 17 (15 with weapon); #Att 1; Dmg 1d6+2 (clubs); ML 12
Ogre leader : AC 3; MV 9; HD 7; hp 33; THACO 13 (8 with battleaxe); #Att 1; Dmg 1d8+5 (battleaxe +2); ML 13
Ogre chieftain : AC 3 (1 with improved haste cast); MV 9; HD 7; hp 37; THACO 13 (6 with sword); #Att 1 (2 with improved haste; first attack at initiative of 0); Dmg 1d10+7 (Sword of Shadows, see below); ML 14.
Hill giants : AC 3; MV 12; HD 12 + 1-2hp; HP 77, 81, 88; THACO 9; #Att 1; Dmg 2d6+7 (spiked clubs); ML 14
Ogres : AC 5; MV 9; HD 4+1; hp 25 each; THACO 17 (15 with weapon); #Att 1; Dmg 1d6+2 (clubs); ML 12
Ogre leader : AC 3; MV 9; HD 7; hp 33; THACO 13 (8 with sword); #Att 1; Dmg 1d10+4 (two-handed sword +1, NSA); ML 13
Hill giants : AC 3; MV 12; HD 12 + 1-2hp; HP 60, 63, 67, 69, 74, 79, 80, 81; THACO 9; #Att 1; Dmg 2d6+7 (spiked clubs) or 2d8 (rocks); ML 14
Ogre Shaman, 3rd level : AC 5; MV 9; HD 4+1; hp 23; THACO 17 (15 with weapon); #Att 1; Dmg 1d6+2 (club); ML 12.
The DM should make it clear to the player characters that, although they are being confronted from both directions along the road, there are numerous places at which the group can make an escape (out of the frying pan) into the forest. Whether this is still possible once the group is in melee is up to the DM and the tactics of the players. The DM should make no bones about the group's situation: running from 17 hill giants and a score of battle-crazed ogres is nothing to be shameful about!
If the characters enter the forest, they will be pursued by a collection of frenzied ogres and giants, but will not be caught. The DM should do everything in his or her power to make the characters believe that they are running for their lives, with the sounds of the massive creatures smashing their way through the undergrowth clearly audible (“...and you're sure that the noise is getting louder...”). Suddenly, after what seems like many minutes, the noises die away: the hill giants and ogres are well aware of the green dragon and various other of the forest's inhabitants, and will not give chase for more than half a mile or so.
The chances are, if the characters flee in this way, that the group is now hopelessly lost.
Sword of the Shadows
This unique, massive cold iron sword is the bane of characters of good alignments. The weapons is a two-handed sword+3 which can has the following powers and abilities:
· cast improved haste 2/day for 2 turns
· any hit from the weapon on a good-aligned creature drains a point of strength (no saving throw). Lost strength points are regained at the rate of 1/hour. After a character's strength is reduced to 0 in this manner, or if the character receives a killing stroke from the sword, the character becomes a shadow under the control of the sword's wielder. The owner of the sword can control a number of shadows equal to his or her level in this way; if more shadows are created, they are free to do as they please
· detect good at will (60 yard range).
· any neutral-aligned character who grasps the sword suffers 1d8+1 points of negative energy damage per round of contact (or portion thereof), as tendrils of blackness play over his form
· any good-aligned character who grasps the sword takes 2d8+2 points of damage, and will lose their grasp on the sword immediately if a strength check at a -4 penalty is not made (check once per round). As soon as a good-aligned character releases the sword, he or she will be attacked as the sword animates (see dancing sword) for a maximum of 1 turn, after which the blade drops to the ground.
Lost in the Forest
Should the characters lose their way in the wood (most likely as a result of being chased by hordes of giant-kind), some possible ways of getting back on track include:
· The non-weapon proficiency direction sense
· The use of a ranger's abilities (or of the tracking non-weapon proficiency) to retrace the group's steps
· Levitating, flying, or otherwise clearing the treetops in order to determine the location of the road, the giants, and/or the cliff face. Remember that flying characters who are visible will be almost immediately attacked!
· Find the path or similar spells to locate a landmark
· The talking owl will guide the characters to either the road or to a track leading to the cliff in which the dragon Loxus has its lair. This will only be done, however, if the characters agree to rid the forest of a recent menace!
· Speak with animals, charm spells cast on wandering monsters, or other methods of extracting the necessary information from the forest's inhabitants, who have a 75% chance to know the direction and approximate distance (probably about a day's travel, depending on the player characters' exact location) of the dragon's lair
Special Encounters in the Forest
These can be used to augment or as a replacement for a standard forest encounter table.
1. Talking owl
Owl, talking : AL LG; AC 3; MV 1, Fl 36 [C]; HD 2+2; hp 10; THACO 19; #Att 3; Dmg 1d4/1d4/1d2; MR 20%; ML 15.
This creature can serve to put the characters back on the right path, so to speak. The owl will assist a good-aligned party in finding a track either to the East Way or to the dragon's lair, but only if the party defeats the black willow described below in encounter #4 below. The owl will not stay with the player characters, and cannot offer any intelligence as to details of Loxus or the beast's lair.
2. Serpent vine
Another present from the depths of Undermountain, the characters may be unlucky enough to encounter one of these fell monsters in the Hullack Forest.
Serpent Vine : AL N(E); AC 4; MV 15; HD 10; hp 63; THACO 11; #Att 1; Dmg 1d12; SA Constriction, spells; SD Camouflage; ML 13
The snake will first try to cast suggestion and charm on party members, whom it may follow through the foliage, waiting for the right moment to attack.
3. Ettercap and Friends
The characters stumble upon an ettercap's lair. If the characters are following a path, they may encounter some of the beast's traps. Striking an innocuous-looking thin branch or vine stretched across the path causes a huge log to swing down across the path, hitting all those within five feet of the trap for 2d10 damage (save for half). The ettercap and spiders attack immediately.
Ettercap : AL NE; AC 6; MV 12; HD 5; hp 33; THACO 15; #Att 3; Dmg 1d3/1d3/1d8; SA Poison; SD Traps; ML 13
Spiders, giant : AL CE; AC 4; MV 3, Wb 12; HD 4+4; hp 18, 23, 28, 33, 34; THACO 17; #Att 1; Dmg 1d8; SA Special; ML 13
If the DM prefers, and the characters have not yet encountered the wraith spiders, one or more of the party may blunder into or encounter the creatures' glowing webs, possibly with dire consequences... In this scenario, the DM should use the details from the road encounter on p.7 above. The ettercap and his trap will not be present in this case— the characters should be in enough trouble!
4. Black Magic Willow
This encounter can either take place as a result of the talking owl's request that the player characters rid the forest of this menace (see above), or purely by chance, if the DM wants to give the players a hard time!
Willow, black : AL NE; AC 2; MV 1/4; HD 12; hp 53; THACO 9; #Att 7-12; Dmg 1d4; SA Drowsiness Aura; SD Regeneration; ML 20
the owl is accompanying the PCs, then the willow is spotted on the other side of a refreshing stream that bubbles down a slight rocky incline into a clear pool. Otherwise, assume that the characters walk past the tree on their forest trek— they may even choose to rest or make camp under its boughs! Remember that even druids are 90% likely to fail to recognise the malignant creature for what it is.
creature has accumulated a suit of plate mail +1 (dwarf-sized), a necklace of adaptation, and two ceramic vials of oil of impact.
PART III: THE LAIR
Loxus dwells in a large, hollowed out temple complex hewn deep into an imposing cliff face which overlooks the carpet of treetops that is Hullack Forest. From this vantage point. it is possible to see miles through the hazy sky, and, as might be imagined, this suits Loxus perfectly.
The cave entrance is clearly marked on the map, which contains ample landmarks for the party to find the location without difficulty, even in the forest. The cave is some 2 hexes (12 miles) from the road, and moving through the forest is severely hampered by the density of the undergrowth.
According to the Forgotten Realms rules, the terrain type is “forest, heavy” almost as soon as the characters step off the road. This means that characters with movement rates of 12 will take two days of normal travel to reach the cave mouth! Naturally, the DM should apply encounter checks with a vigour appropriate to the characters' sense of urgency...
When the characters catch sight of the cliff face, the DM should read them the text below:
Before you, some few score yards distant, stands a mighty cliff face at least one hundred feet high. The rock is uneven, with many hairline fissures criss-crossing the surface, and small shrubs cling precariously to the rock, peppered all over the mighty cliff. You can just make out to your left, some hundred or so yards off, a dark region halfway up the cliff: possibly this is the cave mouth, but you are standing too close to the rock's surface for a good look. If this uninviting feature is the opening as you suspect, then fortune may be smiling upon you yet, as an angled ridge seems to run from the cave— or whatever it is— to the ground.
On the way to the base of the pathway that leads to the cavemouth— or at any other convenient juncture— the characters are attacked by an earth weird, which is identifiable only as a smooth patch of earth at the base of the walkway.
Earth Weird : AC 0; MV 10; HD 8+3; hp 60; THACO 13; #Att 1; Dmg 1d8; ML 13 (from the Dragon Mountain boxed set). The following treasure can be found if the disturbed earth at the base of the walkway is sifted through (10% chance for 1 item to be found per person searching per turn unless detect magic is used): a ring of multiple wishes with no fewer than four wishes remaining; a scroll with the priestly spells airy water, teleport without error, seeming and chain lightning cast at 16th level; a longsword +1 (no special abilities) and a spear +1. Note: having six people searching in one turn does not give a 60% chance of finding something, but 6 10% chances!
Note that the weird will reform in four turns unless reduced to -10 hit points or worse, and so should present a good opportunity to become a recurrent pain in the player characters' necks.
The dark region in the cliff face is indeed the “cave” opening, partially covered with a thin layer of foliage. There is a narrow walkway— not of natural origin, but constructed from ill-fitting stone blocks which have crumbled slightly round the edges with the passage of time— that leads straight from the ground up to the cave mouth, which is located some fifty feet above the ground. A low (three feet high) wall guards the exposed side of the path, and on this wall, at intervals of about twenty feet, are small stone columns, protruding two feet from the top of the wall, each capped with a small stone skull. The whole path is 60 yards long: there are 9 of the “skull pillars” along its length.
Although there are other ways to enter the cave mouth, such as abseiling down from the top of the crag, or by flying or levitating upwards, ascending by means of the path is a good way to gain ingress— provided the trap is avoided, of course. If the 6th stone skull is not twisted hard clockwise as the path is ascended, a pressure plate triggers a number of spears which shoot seemingly straight out of the cliff, striking all characters within five feet of the trap for 2d12 damage. Unfortunately, each character struck has a 25% chance of being hit by one of the spears that has been sprinkled with deathdust (from the Complete Book of Necromancers). If a character hit by a spear that has been coated by the dust fails to save vs. magic, he or she experiences an intense burning sensation for 1d3 rounds. Unless a dispel magic is cast on the individual during this time, the character disintegrates into a pile of dust.
The cave itself is filled with a zone of dead magic, immediately discernible to any spellcaster. This zone also extends some ten feet out from the cave's entrance, so characters flying or levitating past the cave mouth are going to get a bit of a shock!
The inhabitants of the cave— Loxus and the wyverns— are not present when the characters enter, as they are out on a raid. Oh, their guardian creature is present though— an invisible Suwyze: AL N; AC 4; MV 12, Cl 12; HD 4+4; hp 29; THACO 15; #Att 8; Dmg 1d6; SA Tendrils, spells; SD Never surprised; ML 11 (on a good day). The creature has used its innate invisibility power to try and hide from what is obviously a powerful PC group, and will seek to escape at the first opportunity, shouting magically to Loxus as it flobbles out of the cave. The suwyze will cling to walls as much as possible and gibber nervously if discovered, which is fairly likely, as, unless the player characters are making considerable noise, they will hear high-pitched nervous gibbering, whose source is difficult to pinpoint. Of course, to the player characters, this sound could be the menacing wail of some fell creature in the throes of blood-lust...
If pressed, the suwyze will tell the characters whatever they want to know about the lair, including the number of wyverns, and the lack of the lair's other inhabitants. The creature does not really know anything that is going to be of much use to the player characters— the suwyze just moved in a few days ago, and, to be honest, is not sure that it is too happy with arrangements.
The dragon's clairaudience ability ensures that the beastie knows of the characters' arrival, and will turn up 5-8 rounds after the first character steps into the cave, possibly sooner if the suwyze shouts. The dragon will breathe, as dragon breath weapons are not affected by dead magic areas. The dragon will also use chromatic orb spells from outside the dead magic area against suitable targets if Loxus is somehow prevented from entering the cave. Loxus will be accompanied by the wyverns.
Wyverns : AL NE; AC 3; MV 6, Fl 24 [E]; HD 7+7; hp 41, 44, 50, 53, 55, 59; THACO 13; #Att 2; Dmg 1d8/1d6; SA Poison; ML 14.
The cave entrance is about 20' square— just big enough for Loxus! Inside, the cave opens out into a large chamber, some 150' deep by 100' wide by 60' high. The magic dead area only extends in some 50', and is spherical in shape. See Figure 1 at the end of this document for a sketchy diagram of Loxus’s lair.
There is deep trough running across the floor, spanned by a narrow bridge. Light filters up from the water on the left hand side of the bridge. The dragon's treasure is piled in the far corner of the room— ripe for plundering, so it would seem. Opposite the entrance, some 150' away, a passageway seems to have suffered a cave-in of some kind.
A crystal ooze lives in the water, awaiting another of the dragon's victims.
Crystal Ooze : AL N; MV 1, Sw 3; HD 4; hp 26; THACO 17; #Att 1; Dmg 4d4; SA Poison; SD Special; ML 10.
The light in the pool comes from a continual light spell that was cast on a stave carried by a hapless adventurer who sought Tourach's Tomb. Should the characters search the pool and defeat the crystal ooze, they will find a skeleton lying at the bottom with some items still preserved: a scroll case— which just happens to be watertight— containing a scroll of protection from undead, a holy symbol of Nerull, the Grim Reaper, an outer-worldly deity, an earring of protection +2, and a book: a book of great power which, strangely, has resisted the effects of the water and the crystal ooze, and which is immediately dry once removed from the water! The book radiates a dim aura of evil: it is none other than Alabash’s Journal, and is described in more detail on p.16.
There are four chambers at the ends of corridors leading from the main hall. These chambers were used primarily as guard rooms, and are now filthy and dilapidated.
The rubble-filled passage at the far end of the chamber is one possible way to extend this adventure, should the DM so desire. The rubble can be cleared by bare hand. Multiply the total number of strength points working to clear the obstruction by the number of hours worked: once this product exceeds 1200, the passageway is clear. (Note that this is activity is about as strenuous as it gets: see Wilderness Survival Guide for rules on fatigue and exhaustion.)
The passageway opens up to a heavily protected area: the entrance to the lair of the Necrodemon. Information on exactly who— or what— lies beyond the two walls of iron (cast at 29th level) that seal this passage is contained in the tome which the characters may (DM's discretion) acquire from the dead wizard in the pond. This is intended as a hook to get the adventurers into the land of Calcaphon, the Fallen Land, otherwise known as the Realm of Demise. Should the DM not wish to extend the adventure, then he can choose to have the iron plates impenetrable, or simply rule that there is nothing at all at the end of the passageway. The link between this location and the menacing land of Calcaphon is detailed in other works.
Naturally, the PCs may not wish to spend valuable time sifting through rubble when they are standing in what is purported to be a dragon's lair!
It is immediately obvious that this is the chest belonging to Thallis— there is only one chest in the dragon's treasure hoard, and the container is large: 3'x2'x2', and seems to have been fashioned from some steel alloy. The whole casket radiates a dim aura of magic of a shifting, indefinable nature. There is no palpable aura of evil associated with the chest. The characters may have difficulty in moving the chest, which weighs some 300lb!
The casket is wizard locked (at 19th level, naturally), and has the following protections/protective magics:
· the chest is immune to any scrying or divination magic. X-ray vision is doomed to failure, as are spells such as clairvoyance cast in conjunction with infravision.
· no psychoportation or magical transportation will be successful through the walls of the chest. For example, inventive characters who attempt to reduce themselves to a fraction of their original size and then dimension door into the chest will not succeed!
· ethereal travel is not possible through the chest's walls
· magical attempts to breach the chest (disintegrate, passwall, and so on) or to alter the substance from which the chest is constructed (e.g. polymorph any object) will be rebuffed with a great flash that blinds onlookers for 2-5 rounds. This protection is good for the first 19 assaults
· any dispel magic or cancellation type magic directed at the chest will be reflected back at the caster. This will occur up to 19 times before the defensive magic is drained
· a poison needle trap protects the chest's lid. This trap injects a lethal poison unless a saving throw at -8 is made! (The poison is of the same type as the Abyssal venom encountered in the Bloodstone series of adventures)
· should, by some miracle, the chest be opened, then a xag-ya will immediately be summoned, followed 2 rounds later by a xeg-yi:
Xag-ya  and xeg-yi : AC 0; HD 8; hp 64; THACO 13; #Att 1; Dmg d6+6; SA Energy blast/drain; SD +1 or better weapon to hit; MR 15%; XP 1,700
Naturally, the two creatures will rush together and explode as soon as the xeg-yi materialises, causing 4d6+24 points of damage to everyone within 30'. These creatures are fully described in the 1983 tome Monster Manual II. If this book is not available, then the DM should schedule in appropriately destructive alternative guardians.
Obviously, it is not the intention that the PCs succeed in opening the chest, which, after all, does not belong to them! The contents of the chest have not, therefore, been described: it is up to the DM just what super-powerful magical devices and capacious spellbooks he wishes the PCs to gain access to should they succeed in breaching the box's defences.
Needless to say, Thallis is aware of any attempt to breach his chest’s defences unless the casket is brought within the domain of the dead magic area.
PART IV: WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE
When the characters move the chest, the Shandaril's tracer spell cast by Thallis informs him that the chest has been recovered. He then contacts one of the characters with a sending spell, saying that the character should tell Thallis (via the return portion of the spell) that it is safe for him to arrive, if this is the case, and that he will teleport in if this is so. Assuming that the character(s) comply, Thallis arrives some twenty feet away from the chest after a few minutes, relieved. The DM should tell the characters that he is surrounded by a flickering black, shadowy aura, and motions that the characters should keep their distance. Before setting off, Thallis cast the following spells on himself— just to be sure:
· devastate (-5 penalty to saving throws against Thallis's spells, and +2 per die of damage up to die's maximum, for the next 18 rounds)
· death shroud (anyone he strikes in combat must save vs. death at -10 or suffer the consequences, and anyone striking Thallis in combat, successfully or not, with touch or hand-held weapon must save vs. death at -6 or suffer the same fate, for the next 3 turns)
· globe of invulnerability (immune to spells below 5th level for the next 17 rounds)
· fly (18 [B] for the next few hours)
· invulnerability to magical weapons (for the next 16 rounds)
· fire shield (protecting against hot/flame based magical attacks for the next 17 rounds)
· he also takes no damage from the first 10 attacks that would otherwise cause damage (stoneskin)
“I thank you, my friends,” Thallis says earnestly, but he gets no further, as with that curious upside-down inside out “whoosh” of magic, a number of other individuals arrive: eight, in fact. The character who saw Dalin near the start of the adventure recognises him at once as one of the members of this new group.
The characters will be confronted by these members of the Lords Alliance (as that is who this new group is), who will demand the chest. “It's mine”, will shout Thallis, “and you have no right to it!” The DM should point out to the characters that the PC party is effectively next to the chest, with Thallis and the other group about twenty to thirty feet away in opposite directions. Any nasty magics cast from one party to the other are likely to have to go through the player characters first...
The DM should play up the tension here. The Lords Alliance members, who have been scrying on the PC group, the cave, or who somehow cast watchware on the chest— the exact method used is not important— do not deny that the chest belongs to Thallis, but say that he is a member of the Zhentarim, an evil wizard (Thallis protests, saying that his actions are misunderstood), and that he is not getting the chest back. The Lords Alliance members are idealists, and fervently believe that what they are doing is right. Thallis believes that the chest is his, and that his actions are a different matter: any lawful creature, so runs his argument, should not hinder him from claiming his possession!
The characters are in a dilemma. The Lords Alliance absolutely will not back down, and Thallis has not come this far to turn around and leave empty handed. There are a number of outcomes: the PCs can side with one of the parties or can run away, deciding maybe that they have had enough. Just how alignment will be affected by their actions is up to the DM, who is the ultimate adjudicator over any moral dilemma.
This is a good opportunity for the DM to role-play Thallis, who will protest against the increasingly damning accusations of the Lords Alliance, who make no effort to disguise their attempts to convince the player characters of Thallis’s evil nature. The Lords Alliance group (i.e. the DM) will dredge up various nefarious and unwholesome accounts— apocryphal, maybe—of Thallis’s past deeds, which may or may not persuade the players to side with the Alliance members!
There is a maximum of one turn before Thallis makes his move (see below), and the DM should time this period of “negotiation”.
If the Lords Alliance members make a move to fire a weapon, cast a spell, or advance towards the chest, Thallis promptly yells at the player characters to get out of the way (assuming that they are not obviously siding against him), and starts to cast Abi-Dalzim's horrid wilting at the Lords Alliance group (or possibly wail of the banshee or other high-level magic, depending on the tactical situation). Alternatively, if the deadlock has not been resolved after one turn, Thallis will start flying towards the chest (telling the characters to get out of the way, and kindly, too, if they have not yet sided against him) and attempt to cast vanish on it before the advantage of his defensive magics expires. Remember that anyone who touches Thallis is liable to be affected by the death shroud!
In either case, chaos will then ensue, but Thallis, pumped up to the hilt with defensive magics and livid with pent-up fury, is more than a match for the members of the Lords Alliance, who have seriously underestimated their adversary. Whether the player characters can shift the balance, should they choose to side against Thallis is another matter...
Thallis is not “just another mage”: had the outcome of a small number of crucial decisions been the opposite of what they were, he would probably be known the Realms over as a wizard people were proud to say was their friend. As it is, he is now a deadly adversary who has unwittingly put the player characters in a most unenviable position.
If they hand the chest over— as the group confronting the characters seems to have impeccable credentials— then Thallis will seek down and destroy the player characters, the members of the Lords Alliance, and anyone else who stands in between him and his chest, probably in that order!
PART V: NPCS, SPELLS, ITEMS AND APPENDICES
This section describes the various magic items, spells, and NPCs who play a part in the adventure. Thallis Necrax, the main protagonist apart from the player characters, is described in some detail below.
This is a journal, a journal not of the unfortunate lowly mage who met his demise at the whim of Loxus within the beast's lair, but the journal of the white necromancer, Alabash, who many years ago dedicated his life to the destruction of the practitioners of black necromancy. Alabash recognised that many evil arch-necromancers could defy death, either by adopting the form of a timeless undead creature such as the dreaded lich, or by sealing some dark pact with the evil forces who often imbued the black mages with unearthly abilities during their natural existence. As a result, Alabash toiled in library after library, journeyed far and wide and gathered a team of near-fanatics around him in an effort to achieve his goal: the destruction, irrevocable and irreversible of all black necromancers who death should already have claimed. This meant gathering dark secrets from long-forgotten shrines and temples, and the frequent battling of undead or constructed guardians in necromancers' tombs. Many of Alabash's group perished during this protracted period of cleansing, but Alabash was always able to find other worthy warriors to fill their shoes.
The further back in time Alabash took his investigations, the more Alabash found on the subject of the Necrodemon. Consulting crumbling parchments which seemed to disintegrate before his very eyes, and braving horror after horror, Alabash gathered ancient scripts, long-forgotten tomes glorifying the black practitioners, and pored over fell runes and glyphs which adorned misshapen altars to long-forgotten gods. Slowly it dawned on Alabash that the necrodemon did once exist— and probably still did, in some form or other. In the crumbling parchments which many good men died to bring to him, Alabash determined that the necrodemon was an exceptionally powerful necromancer, seemed to have been human, and was always depicted as shrouded in shadows or an aura of blackness. Alabash brushed aside disturbing allusions in the texts which indicated that this characterisation of the necrodemon was merely a “representative” one, couched in terms which any reader would be able to understand, rather than a reflection of the entity's true nature. He brushed these dark hints aside for one simple reason: to take the texts literally was just too impossible; too terrifying.
As he continued his research, Alabash learned that in a time when the thinking of those in power in the Realms was clearer, a number of the most mighty heroes had banded together to rid the world of the black menace of the necrodemon. The battle raged. One man against the world? Yet, seemingly with the assistance of magical powers unheard of at that time or since, the necrodemon contemptuously met all challengers and grew in power. Until one fateful day. What happened that day Alabash could not determine: all information in historical records had either been destroyed, was missing, or was never penned in the first place. Many churches had “rewritten” their histories anyway, in a feeble attempt to deny that the world could ever have spawned such a fell creature as the necrodemon.
All Alabash was able to determine was that the necrodemon was stopped, and interned or incarcerated in some way. Whether the creature had been destroyed, was still human, and a host of other vital details perpetually eluded Alabash. Worryingly, the further he pursued his investigations, the more strange “accidents” started to befall members of his team. Although Alabash's resolve was still unshaken after even so many years of hunting down the black mages, the newly-risen decadence of his homeland started to have its effects on his followers. Combined with the bizarre happenings which took the lives of some of his most trusted followers— by assassination, claimed Alabash— the worthy necromancer started to acquire a reputation as a lunatic, someone who meddled in the past, unearthing things best left alone. The subjects of Alabash's investigations were dead, after all, and not causing anyone any trouble— so why not leave them be? Infuriatingly, just as Alabash seemed to be on the verge of a major discovery, on the verge of learning just who, or what, the necrodemon was or had been, he fell victim to a change in opinion. He was no longer welcome at churches or courts; his followers left; and his reputation crumbled. With the waning of public opinion, Alabash's health began to suffer. He was saddened at what he saw as a “sticking heads in the sand” mentality: the fact that there was now a new age of enlightenment did not in any way diminish the threat that the necrodemon might pose, until at least more was known.
It was merely months before his death at the hands of— ironically— extremists who claimed to be “purifying the past” that Alabash came across potentially his greatest discovery: clues to the location of the necrodemon's resting place. Knowing that he would be unable to gather the resources to investigate, especially with the tide of public opinion having turned against him, Alabash compiled all his the information he had found into a magical tome which he completed in the last few weeks of his life. This tome he placed deep within his chambers, warded in such a way— he hoped— that the information would fall into the right person's hands at the right time. He had scarcely time to complete the rituals before his life was taken from him.
The book is bound into a cover of iron plates, which are always icy-cold to the touch, regardless of the ambient temperature, and which are frequently rimed with frost. There are no magical protections on the book, save for a permanent magic of preservation, which protects the tome from the elements, age, and so on, but which does not affect the book's chance of surviving an attack form. The book is written pretty much completely in a cross between Alabash's native tongue and his own personal code. Comprehend languages will not be sufficient to decipher the contents— the spell is hardly a code-breaker! A character can roll percentile dice once, after a month's uninterrupted study of the book. A value equal or less than his intelligence score means that the book can be completely deciphered after four weeks of effort provided the reader has access to an extensive library (such as Candlekeep in the Forgotten Realms). If the roll is failed, then that character will never be able to understand the book. It is up to the DM whether or not sages can provide assistance in understanding the book's contents.
The contents of the book, which Alabash entitled The Eternal Menace, indicate that the lair of Loxus is a candidate for the tomb of the Necrodemon, but reveal few details of the creature's ability or form. Much of the writing is a glorification of Alabash's group of adventurers, who felt the need for self-justification increasingly as support from the populace dwindled. The lair of Loxus is not the only candidate for the location of the tomb, and the DM can use the book to propel the PCs towards any number of bizarre locations, off-world or outer-planar, should they wish to pursue this matter.
There is no information in the book regarding how access can be gained to the lair of the necrodemon, or on what defences may be present, however. The book is really designed to whet the players' appetites; to urge them to find out more. The manifestation of the necrodemon and his influence in the Forgotten Realms are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg: full details, including the link to Calcaphon, are given in another source.
The players are unlikely to have any direct involvement with Dalin himself, as he serves merely as the eyes and ears of the Lords Alliance, allowing them to obtain information about the player characters without being detected. Should the player characters encounter Dalin, he should be played as an officious, bitter individual, who is clearly not happy with himself or his life up to this point. As a result, he is very aggressive: one might almost say that he has a deathwish… He is also very judgmental, and tends to form rapid conclusions to which he will obstinately stick even in light of clear evidence to the contrary. His stats are as follows:
T5; AL LN (bolshy); AC 2; hp 29 ; THACO (base) 18; #Att 1; Dmg by weapon; S12 I13 W9 D17 Co16 Ch8. His equipment includes studded leather armour +2, a short sword +1 with no special abilities, and whatever else the DM desires.
Wizard (Archetypal Necromancer) 19th level
Armour Class: currently -6 (bracers, cloak+3, ring+3, unholy blessing -2 bonus)
THACO: 14 (base)
Hit Points: 51
Alignment: Lawful Evil
Dark Gifts: Regeneration (2 hit points/round and even if completely destroyed, unholy blessing (-2 AC, +2 saving throws), spell immunities (to all enchantment/charm, and enfeeblement, ploymorphing, cold, electricity and death spells).
Thallis's spell list is given below; spells in brackets are memorised when Thallis wears his Crown of Parallel, described below:
Level 1: Magic Missile (x5), Chill Touch, (Locate Remains, Colour Spray, Grease, Identify, Detect Disease, Jump)
Level 2: ESP, Vocalise, Web, Levitate, Alter Self, Undead Mount, (Strength, Fog Cloud, Darkness 15' radius, Shatter, Choke, Ghoul Touch)
Level 3: Feign Death, Hold Undead, Dispel Magic (x2), Non-detection, Fly, (Haste, Slow, Paralyse, Clairvoyance, Iron Mind, Pain Touch)
Level 4: Brainkill, Dimension Door, Evard's Black Tentacles, Fire Shield, Remove Curse, Wizard Eye, (Polymorph Other, Dimension Door, Polymorph Self, Dancing Weapon, Locate Creature, Enervation)
Level 5: Cone of Cold (x2), Teleport, Animate Dead, Dismissal, (Transmute Rock to Mud, Magic Jar, Wall of Bones, Wall of Iron, Mummy Rot, Summon Shadow)
Level 6: Death Spell, Globe of Invulnerability*, Dead Man's Eyes, Invulnerability to Magical Weapons*, (Chain Lightning, Dead Man's Eyes, Disintegrate, Heal Self)
Level 7: Vanish, Zombie Double, Teleport without Error*, Power Word: Stun, (Power Word: Stun, Draincone, Finger of Death, Prismatic Spray)
Level 8: Abi-Dalzim's Horrid Wilting (x2), Devastate*, Death Shroud*, (Bombard, Polymorph any Object, Maze, Trap the Soul)
Level 9: Wail of the Banshee, Time Stop, (Conflagration, Power Word: Kill)
*Denotes spell already cast when Thallis teleports into the cave at the “end” of the adventure.
Magic Items (temporarily loaned/borrowed)
Bracers of Defence, AC2
Cloak of Protection +3
Scarab of Protection (of the rare +2 variety)
Ring of Protection +3
Crown of Parallel
Crown of Parallel
Judging from the name, this unique item might have been fashioned for one the Riders of Parallel (a sect in the doomed land of Calcaphon). The item appears as a finely-made silver crown, and has the following powers:
· all the abilities of a Naga Crown
· cloaked wizardry
· the ability to take on any form of headgear or head adornment the wearer wishes, such as hats, headbands, hair combs and so on. Transformation is instantaneous, and can be effected as many times as the wearer wishes
Thallis Necrax was born In Evningstar, in the land of Cormyr some forty-five winters ago. Right at the start of his career, he made a decision to specialise in necromancy, one of the darker sides of magic. Like many wizards with ambition, he adventured for a while with numerous bands of thrill-seekers, sacking temples containing numerous undead, which were prevalent in those times in Cormyr, possibly even more populous than today.
Thallis, at the time the characters encounter him in this adventure, is not the thrill-seeker he once was. In fact, if truth be known, he has grown weary of adventuring, which seems to him now to be just an endless cycle of killing and claiming treasures to which one has no right. After all, just because an ancient lord or wizard is dead does not mean that he won't want his treasure back, right? Thallis is looking to “settle down”, in some sense, and conduct magical research until death claims him— he does not really have any great desire to become an undead spellweaver such as a lich, although curiosity and a desire to continue his research may press him to undergo the transformation at a later date.
Thallis has little concern with people's allegations, as long as he is essentially left alone. However, if he is pushed too far, he will fly into a battle-fury, as his frustration at being hassled, attacked, derided and continually insulted because of his appearance, handicaps and choice of art blows up into a frenzy of battle magics.
In combat, Thallis favours area effect spells such as Abi-Dalzim's horrid wilting— a favourite as affected creatures' possessions are unaffected— wail of the banshee, cone of cold and so on. He sometimes fights to the point of recklessness, as he wryly tests the power of his dark gift of regeneration, returning from what seemed like a very permanent death to surprise his adversaries, whom he never forgets.
Thallis is actually quite a likeable chap. What? A likeable necromancer? Well, yes. He is intelligent and educated, and does not hate every living thing or feel jealous towards handsome men with their beautiful brides in the way some rather less sophisticated individuals do. Further, he has a very strong sense of honour, and will do everything within his power to keep his word. He would not dream of attacking a friend, or otherwise allowing a trusted companion to come to harm. Of course, the flip side is that he takes broken agreements very seriously, and will almost certainly seek retribution if deceived. Thallis's aims are to seek a relatively quiet life, and be left alone. He would not dream of indiscriminately rampaging through a population centre because he needed a few extra corpses fore experiments: nor has he ever behaved in such a stereotypically necromantic fashion. He is not actually all that evil, but has become tarnished by some of his more vengeful actions and the spells he casts when pressed.
In this adventure, as is typical when dealing with Thallis, the player characters have the choice of whether to be his friends— or at least, companions— or enemies. Thallis does not operate according to some simple “If it isn't black, kill it!” instructions: he is a complicated individual who will be genuinely saddened by mistrust, and, should he be forced into a conflict of spell or sword against the player characters, it would not be going too far to describe him as having a tear in his eye. He knows the player characters will not be able to defeat him (otherwise he would not have chosen them for this engagement), and would be genuinely saddened at the thought that, but for some meddling interference by some do-gooding Lords Alliance members, the player characters' lives would be able to continue without being prematurely cut short.
The Lords Alliance Group
The strength of this group is of paramount importance, as it possible that the climax of the adventure will involve the player characters fighting alongside, or against, these individuals. In this light, only some bare-bones details are given below. The DM should take it upon himself to modify this group as he sees fit, discarding all the following NPCs—or adding additional numbers to the group— if so desired. Various sources can be used to flesh out these characters: Hall of Heroes, might serve as a starting point for Forgotten Realms characters, for example. Additionally, new/exotic races or classes could feature amongst the Lords Alliance group, such as races from the Skills and Powers hardback. It is at this point in the module that one of the most famous phrases in dungeon-writing makes its appearance: “Space precludes describing these characters in full detail: breathing life into the main antagonists is left to the DM”. Good luck!
Human 12th level warrior (Lawful Neutral)
S18/93; D15; C18; I14; W10; Ch 11; hp 102; AC –3 (variable, see below); #Att 2/round with two-handed swords, or 1/round otherwise; Dmg by weapon
Equipment: Full Plate Armour +3, two-handed Sword +4, Defender with no special abilities. Due to weapon specialisation/mastery and strength modifiers, Jurmal has +5 to hit, +8 damage on two-handed swords.
Human 12th level wizard (Neutral Good)
S9; D11; C15; I19; W10; Ch 12; hp 33; AC –5; #Att 1; Dmg by weapon
Equipment: Bracers of Defence AC2, Ring of Protection +4AC/+2 to saving throws, Cloak of Protection +3, Staff of Power.
Female half-elven 12th level wizard (specialist evoker)/11th level warrior (Lawful Neutral)
S23 (see below); D16; C16; I17; W9; Ch 14; hp 57; AC –2; #Att see below; Dmg by weapon
Equipment: Bracers of Defence AC2, Earring of Protection +2, bastard sword +3 (NSA), bastard sword +2, held in two Staff of Thunder and Lightning, Girdle of Cloud Giant Strength. Insarra fights two-handed. She is ambidextrous as per the rules in the Complete Fighter’s Handbook, or other comparable work, and has specialised in two-weapon style and the use of the bastard sword.
Loxus is an old green male dragon—
AC -4; Mv 9, Fl 30 [C], Sw 9; HD 17; hp 107; #Att 3+special; Dmg 1d8+8/1d8+8/2d10+8; SA Special; SD Variable; MR 30%; THACO -1;
Loxus, being an old dragon, is capable of snatching up to two characters, kicking a foe 1d6+8 feet, wing buffeting for claw damage, and using its tail slap against up to eight creatures. Loxus can detect invisible creatures and objects within 80 feet, and has a clairaudience ability, centred on the cave with a range of 160 feet. The radius of Loxus's dragon fear is 30 yards.
LEVEL 1: Chromatic Orb x2, Magic Missile, Charm Person
LEVEL 2: Blindness