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In the name of the Dragonby Francesco Defferrari from Threshold Magazine issue 7
In the name of the Dragon
by Francesco Defferrari (Sturm)
An adventure in the Wyrmsteeth
An adventure for PCs of high level (best for 9-12 level), fighting the Heldannic invasion in the north1!
This adventure sends the PCs in pursuit of Heldannic agents who came in possession of a very dangerous artifact, with which they could endanger the very existence of the ancient Dragon realm.
In Act I, PCs receive their mission and almost reach the Heldannic agents, but soon discover that there are more than two players in this game.
In Act II, PCs cross the dangerous Gnomsdal forest and Gap, finding enemies, traitors and possible new friends.
In Act III, PCs continue their pursuit in the Skarsholm plains, and more interlopers appear.
In Act IV, PCs must cross the Skaufskogr hills, full of Heldannic troops.
In Act V, PCs have one last chance to retrieve the artifact in the Streets of Landfall, or all will be lost for the Dragon kingdom.
Background and enemies
After suffering several crushing defeats at the hands of the dragons2, the Alphatian mages were able to create at least two very powerful Rods of Dragon Control. One of them was kept in the Alphatian imperial treasury, and had the power to control a huge number of gold dragons. Another Rod to control red dragons, the Rod of Savrille, was created by a powerful wizard. Centuries ago3 the Rod of Savrille was destroyed, and the Alphatian empress at the time gave the imperial Rod to the dragons as a gesture of friendship and peace. The dragons decided not to destroy it, because they considered it important to study to counter its powers if necessary. Now a group of Heldannic agents has done the unthinkable: they have discovered the hiding place of the Rod, defeated its powerful guardians and stolen it! The Heldannic thieves did it thanks to decisive clues and aid provided by Primate Inge Gottfried4. What they do not know yet is that other interested parties knew of the Rod too and have been informed by spies of the theft, and are now sending their minions to take the Rod. One such party is Denagothian, in particular the black dragon Vitriol, champion of Idris and ally of the Shadow Lord. Another such party is a cabal of Alphatian wizards that wants the Rod back to use it against the Empress herself. The last party involved is a group of powerful Glantrian adventurers, sent by Jaggar Von Drachenfels and by Dolores Hillsbury5. Obviously, it is possible to have the PCs play the role of the Glantrian, Alphatian or Denagoth agents, instead of that of envoys of the Dragon King, depending on the nature and origin of the party, and the willingness of the DM to suitably adapt the adventure.
Sidebar: Setting the date and season
The adventure could be set anywhere between AC 1010 and 1016, when the Heldannic Knights are conducting their campaign of conquest in Norwold, clashing with Wyrmsteeth dragons. It is also possible to set the adventure in a different timeframe by adapting the background to the individual campaign timeline.
It could be better if the season is early spring, as the abundance of snow, and the risk of avalanches in treacherous mountain trails can add quite some drama to the adventure. The dead cold of deep winter or the muddy trails of early summer however could work just as well.
1010 AC, Thaumont 1st: the Heldannic army lay siege to Landfall and takes it by Klarmont 20th. The conquest stops at the Landfall region for the year.
1011, Thaumont 19th: the knights begin their march along the coast toward Oceansend, besieging it from Flaurmont 10th. Soon Norwold intervenes to defend the city, and the Wyrmsteeth dragons do the same thing on Felmont, 22nd. Oceansend however surrenders to the Heldannic knights on Sviftmont 16th.
1012: the Heldannic knights are in possession of Landfall and Oceansend and all the land between them, at least along the coast, and are probably consolidating their conquests and founding outposts, as Neuhafen, renaming it Strondborg, and Forton Town, at the mouth of the Forton river over the ruins of Heldolanum.
1013: the Heldannic inquisition sweeps the Heldannic territories, while on Nuwmont 17th a severe earthquake strikes Norwold. On Vatermont 12-14 a deadly blizzard strikes the Heldannic territories. Between the 11th and 28th Fyrmont there is a great fire around Neuhafen, the new city founded by the knights on the Forton river between Freiburg and Landfall. on Sviftmont the 2nd a great gale strikes the coast of Heldannic territories and Norwold. On Eirmont the 3rd there is a great fire in Freiburg, a suspected arson6.
1014: The Heldannic Order wars with the simbasta in Davania and is defeated. The Heldannic knights also have trouble at home with rebels and renegades, and in the meantime king Ericall of Norwold tightens his kingdom ties with other Alphatian dominions.
1015: The Myoshiman Empire and the Wyrmsteeth dragons attack Freiburg but are repelled by a combined army of Heldannic knights and simbasta7. From Flaurmont however the knights have more revolts in their territories and on Klarmont the 5th Oceansend frees itself from their rule. Within the month the Heldannic knights are repelled to the Nordheim river. By the end of the year however the knights regain full control of their territories and are ready to strike back.
1016: The Heldannic knights ally with Qeodharan raiders and launch another invasion toward Oceansend in Felmont, laying siege to it on Fyrmont 12th and taking it on Ambyrmont 10th. In Ambyrmont Norwold too is attacked by dragons (a result of a plot by the Church of Idris8). On Kaldmont 7th a peace treaty is signed between Norwold, Wyrmsteeth and the Heldannic territories.
1017: The Heldannic knights have to deal with another internal rebellion and Norwold has its share of problems with Ostlander, Qeodharan pirates and undead.
1018: While the Norwold confederacy establish more cordial relations with Thyatis, the Heldannic territories are engulfed in civil war. The Heldannic knights of Wulf Von Klagendorf leave Oceansend free in exchange for Thyatian aid. The Heldannic knights effectively lose control of northern Heldland. The faction led by Heinrich Straßenburger ultimately wins and Wulf is slain on Sviftmont 6th. The civil war however continues as Anna von Hendriks still fights against Straßenburger.
1019: The Heldannic civil wars goes on with Anna Von Hendriks laying siege to Freiburg on Kaldmont 11th. The Norwold league is formed. Oceansend becomes a Thyatian protectorate.
Sidebar: Creating the PCs
If the PCs are not native of the Wyrmsteeth kingdom, they could have some friendship with the dragons or they could have been pressed into service by the dragons because they committed some crimes in their eyes. In this case the PCs could come from any race or culture from Norwold, the Known World or beyond, providing they’re not Heldannic loyalists, and the dragons will put a geas on them to assure they’ll complete the mission. Thyatian PCs could be affiliated with the Knights of Air, RAF, or other forces that are friendly with dragons. These characters may be working as part of a Thyatian mission to Wyrmsteeth, or be spies deployed in Norwold. If they are personally unknown to the dragons however, they could still put the geas on them.
If the PCs are Wyrmsteeth natives they could belong to one of the several races that populate the dragon kingdom. In this case, each PC will have a Dragon lord, and will bear his or her tattoo. The tattoo bestows to the PC a special power, usually related to the Dragon lord. A Red dragon’s vassal could have for example resistance to fire or create fire as a special power.
The most common races living in the Wyrmsteeth kingdom are:
Wurkrest dwarves: Slightly taller and sturdier than normal dwarves, they pretend to be “normal” dwarves that arrived from the south like the others, but the truth is they are what’s left of the dwarves who sided with the Dragon Realm from before the Great Rain of Fire. Modern dwarves do not remember their history anymore, so other Norwold dwarves, like the Stormhaven clan, have good relations with them.
Wyrm gnomes: Their original story is similar to the Wurkrest dwarves above, but the gnome population has been integrated several times in the centuries by refugees from Glantri and the northern reaches too.
Dragonkin: These people9 were created by dragons ages ago and have lived in the Wyrmsteeth ever since. Their lifespan is up to 300 years.
Dragonborn: A dragonborn10 is the child of a dragon and another race, usually a humanoid one. They can be quite different in aspect and live long lives, as long as the elves. Traditionally a dragonborn receives a special gift (a magical object) from his or her dragon parent, grandfather or ancestor (if still alive).
Lizardkin: Arctic lizardmen with white skin, adapted to the cold climate and the mostly subterranean varkha11 populate the Wyrmsteeth since old times.
Saurials12: They are too ancient creatures that live in the area since thousands of years, some believe originally brought from Davania by the dragons.
Ice Frogfolk13: It’s a common rumor in the Wyrmsteeth that they were brought from Skothar at some point in the remote past. They spend the winter and most of the autumn in subterranean houses and cover themselves heavily in clothes if they have to face the cold outside.
Wyrm brutemen: Highly intelligent and civilized, rumored to possess great mental and magical powers, these brutemen belonged to an ancient and lost civilization.
Humans: Several human cultures live in the Wyrmsteeth. The more numerous are the Wyrmsdanner, Antalians related to the Heldanners that live in the area since thousands of years. Then there are the Vanatics, a culture similar to Traladarans and Zuyevans, also living here since before the Great Rain of Fire14. Then there are Thyatians, mostly outcasts of relatives of werecreatures, with no love lost for the Empire. Also many Heldanner exiles came here after the Knights of Vanya stole their lands in the south. Other human cultures have found a home in the Wyrmsteeth, like Norwolder Antalians, Alphatians and Denagothians. All of them usually have no residual allegiance with their former homelands
Wyrm humanoids: All the common races of humanoids have representatives in the Wyrmsteeth. They are usually fanatically loyal to their liege dragon.
Wyrm fairies: These fairy folk, mostly sidhes and drakes, sided with the dragons long ago. They have however peaceful relations with the other, unaligned fairy folk that live around the Wyrmsteeth area, like centaurs, ents, actaeons and others.
Werecreatures: The Wyrmsteeth dragons offered protection to werecreatures many centuries ago, so many of them live in the Realm. Usually they are not distinguishable from normal humans, and many have normal human relatives and live peacefully among them.
Eldar: Mythical ancestors of the elves that supposedly survive only in the Wyrmsteeth15.
Wyrm elves: Different group of elves have joined the dragon realm over the centuries and eventually formed a new and particular clan under a green dragon ruler.
Wyrm giants: This special breed of giants had a powerful kingdom in these mountains in ages now lost. They are similar to stone giants. A giant PC should have the advantages of strength and size but the disadvantage of encumbrance and weight in the treacherous ice covered mountain trails.
Wyrm rakasta: Lynxman, snow pardasta and mountain rakasta16 live in the area since ancient times, and some have sworn allegiance to the kingdom.
Wyrm lupins: The Heldann Shepherd, Norwold Malamute, Gnomish Snoutzer, Great Dogge and white Foxfolk lupin breeds17 have lived in the area since thousand of years.
Others: As the Dragon Realm is very ancient and the dragons live long lives and are often powerful wizards, nearly any Mystaran or extraplanar race could have some inhabitants in the area, if the DM wishes so.
PCs could also belong to unique orders of the Wyrmsteeth, like the Order of the Holy Blood Swords or the Defenders18, or the Redhammers19.
Complications: Even if the Wyrmsteeth population is normally loyal to the dragons, the DM could allow one or more PCs to be traitors or spies, working for the Heldannic knights or another external power, and ready to betray the rest of the group. Among the Wyrmsteeth population there are tensions, as in any other nation, mostly due to the perceived superiority of one race over another or over religious issue, as the Church of Pearl in recent years has hindered the religious freedom of other faiths20. Vassals and scions of chaotic dragons could also have unresolved issues and grudges with vassals and scions of neutral and lawful dragons.
Several maps of southern Norwold can be useful to run the adventure. In particular, an 8mph map is provided in "The Skaufskogr and Beyond" in this same issue, whereas JTR (OldDawg) designed a different version for the GazF series21. Robin Dijkema's Composite Map of Norwold provides a further elaboration on JTR's map, and can be found on page 22 of Threshold Magazine Issue 622.
A 24 mph map is attached to Simone Neri's article, "A Traveller's Guide to Norwold", in this same issue. I have also designed a map of Brun at 24 mph which could be used instead23. Note that depending on the specific map used, certain encounters may be affected. Map-dependent encounters will be indicated as such in the text.
Temple of Pearl in Windreach
The adventure begins in the great temple of Pearl in Windreach, the majestic capital of the Wyrmsteeth kingdom. PCs will be summoned by none other than the Dragon King himself. The King24, is imposing and majestic, and PCs should be properly humbled before him. He’ll explain to them that the Rod has been stolen and to retrieve it is most urgent and vital. They have been chosen as known and capable adventurers, and also because they are not dragons. The King in fact fears that a cunning spellcaster, as one may be among the thieves, could be able to use the Rod against approaching dragons of any breed, and doesn’t want to risk such an occurrence. Indeed over time the dragons have modified the Rod, expanding its power. Now the object can control dragons of any colour, albeit at a shorter range. The King will not share this information with the PCs, fearing they could be tempted to keep the Rod for themselves, or that spies could be among them (and a traitor could be among them if the DM would allow so). Until the Rod is retrieved, no dragon would come near it, so the PCs cannot have aerial support. Apparently, and strangely enough, the Heldannic Knights do not have it either, so they have escaped from the hiding place of the Rod by dog sleds25.
What the King does not know is that the Heldann have decided to avoid the use of a warbird because they fear a dragon attack, and they think that a land party has better chances to hide and escape. The Heldann in fact do not know yet how to use the Rod. The King also doesn’t know that other parties are now pursuing the Rod. A Denagothian spy in fact is active at the highest level of the Wyrmsteeth government, and now Vitriol will mobilize his agent in the area to have the Rod. Dolores of Hillsbury also has a well placed spy in Denagoth: she has shared the information with Jaggar von Drachenfels26, for her unknown purpose, and now a Glantrian party is on the track of the Rod too. Another spy was placed at the highest levels of the Heldannic knights hierarchy by some Alphatian wizards: they want the Rod too and are sending yet another party to retrieve it. Neither the PCs nor the Heldannic agents will know about these three other parties until they meet them.
PCs are equipped as quickly as possible with provisions, dog sleds, skis and snow rackets and sent through a magic portal to the Ransarn river valley, south of the official Wyrmsteeth kingdom border, near to the place where the Rod was secretly kept.
If the DM has decided to stage the adventure during the most dramatic years of the Heldannic invasion of Norwold, then the area from the Ransarn Valley and below is already a frontline, with Heldannic troops probably ready to invade from the Gnomstal and the Saffir pass. Therefore the thieves could find allies rather quickly, if not stopped in time.
As the PCs arrive in the snow covered valley, they will immediately meet Jacob 'Raven' Aloysius, First Legion Overlord and Wereraven, with some soldiers. Jacob is hurt, as are all his men, while others have been killed by the thieves, who have escaped south along the Ransarn river. Jacob will give the PCs a first description of the thieves: a thin and tattooed man, a grey-bearded man, a lupin, a blond-haired female knight, two young knights with brown beards, and one bald and beardless knight. None of the suspects wore Heldannic symbols but, as the Heldann Territories are now at war with the Wyrmsteeth kingdom, Heldannic knights are the most likely candidates for the theft. Jacob will also warn the PCs about the strength of the thieves, as the Rod was kept in a secluded and secret temple nearby, with powerful guardians which have been easily dispatched. Jacob and his men tried to stop the thieves, but they used a strange weapon on them, gravely injuring and confusing many of his party, and allowing the thieves to escape27. Jacob will send four of his men with the PCs. All of them are werecreatures (the DM should choose the species) so they can be of help in the pursuit.
Jacob also promises to follow and aid as soon as some clerics arrive here to cure his soldiers28. After that the PCs should begin the pursuit!
Sidebar: The Heldannic party
Konrad (C13), the gray bearded man, is a powerful cleric of Vanya and the leader of the group, the DM should adjust his level depending on the PCs’ levels, but he shouldn’t be below 10. He has a Holy Word globe with three charges left, a ring of protection+2, a ring of protection from fire and ice, several scrolls of protection from evil 10’, several potions of healing, potions of invisibility, and a potion of giant’s strength. Shan (T14 or see note), the thin and tattooed man is a powerful, bronze skinned assassin and sorcerer29 from Davania in service of the church. He has rings of protection+2, fire and ice resistance, a potion of levitation, a potion of flying, and a wand of fireballs with 9 charges. The lupin, Roaroth, (F11) is an experienced warrior of the Heldann Shepherd breed. He has a sword+2, plate mail+2, a potion of blending, boots of speed, and a ring of spell turning with 4 charges left. The bald and beardless knight, the two young knights and the blond haired female knight are all paladins of Vanya (P8-12). All are equipped with rings of protection +1 and fire resistance, 1 potion of flying each, 2 scrolls of create monsters (15HD), and have weapons and armor +1. The party also has several potions of speed which they use up during their escape. They will not be easy to defeat. They also have an unique Massmorph ring that disguises them as trees, as the spell. The effect however is not as perfect as the spell, and they can be normally spotted at a short distance (less than 10 meters).
The DM may choose different ways to calculate the relative speed of the two parties. It should be assumed that the PCs can soon spot signs of the thieves and slowly gain on them. There are 400 miles from Ransarn valley to Landfall and, even in spring and summer without snow, the terrain is hilly, irregular and devoid of good roads. As per the BECMI Rules Cyclopedia (page 88), PCs can cover only 16 miles a day, reaching 36 a day only by exhausting the dogs (or the horses, or other mounts). The Heldann however will be able to cover 80 miles in just one day among the light forest of the eastern Ransarn Valley, reaching the Ransarn river. They’ll accomplish this with the potions of speed and exhausting the dogs, trusting in the possibility to change them among Heldann troops at the ford. PCs could match such speed only with magic or airborne mounts, but spotting the Heldann from the air will be impossible, as they’ll be magically concealed too.
Several factors could weigh on when the PCs will be able to reach the Heldannic thieves, mostly the results of optional encounters listed below, duration of fights and natural obstacles.
If the PCs are exhausting their mounts and using magic as the Heldann do, the DM could decide which group is gaining or losing ground making checks on the average constitution of each group (and their mounts)30.
Optional encounter #1 Undead!
To give the PCs an even more dramatic chase, the DM may choose to include in the first day an encounter with undead, that could come either from Koldunya (if you use the Skaufskogr map) or from Drax Ruthiss (if you use JTR’s map), an abandoned Essurian31 city. The undead could be a random encounter, or have been sent by the Church of Idris, Hel (if the DM desires another complication), or Nyx. In the first case the undead could be allied to the Denagoth party (see below). In the latter case they could offer their help to the PCs, as Koldunya could wish to help the dragons in exchange for aid against the Church of Idris.
When the PCs reach the thicker woods near the bank of the Ransarn they should be able to see the Heldannic party not too much ahead. But at this moment a new complication will ensue: a large band (50 or more) of red haired barbarians will come from the forest, half of it pursuing the Heldannic thieves, the other half stopping the PCs.
These are Vantalian nomads, the Vrodniki. Knyaz (duke) Korun of the Suva Voysko (the “owl host”) will stop the PCs. Korun will insist that the PCs join him, as he wants to retrieve the artifact for the dragons, just like them. The simple fact that he knows about the theft should make PCs wary of him. Indeed Korun was sent by Dominagon, a powerful blue dragon who has recently (secretly) decided to join the cause of Vitriol and the Church of Idris. If Korun takes the Rod he will later give it to Dominagon, who’ll probably go to Denagoth with it. Before the PCs have to make a choice however another host of about 20 warriors Vrodniki will arrive. These are led by Knyaz Visok of the Orao Voysko (Eagle host) and they are truly sent by the Wyrmsteeth government.
Visok will accuse Korun of being a traitor32 (and rightly so), and the PCs will have to decide which party they trust. Either way, the two groups of nomads will start a fight that will probably involve the PCs too. Jacob 'Raven' Aloysius could eventually arrive with a host of Wyrmsteeth troops and stop the fight. He’ll scold both Knyaz for fighting among themselves with the Heldann ready to attack the valley. The Knyaz will grudgingly stop their men and follow Jacob to the Ransarn river, where the Wyrmsteeth army and allies will stand against the invasion.
The Heldannic party escapes!
The Heldannic Knights should be able to escape the Vrodniki and the PCs, cross the Ransarn33 and flee into the Gnomsdal forest, forcing the PCs to follow them there. If necessary, or for added drama, Heldannic troops may intercept the main force of the pursuers at the ford of the Ransarn river, forcing a battle with the Vrodniki and the Wyrmsteeth army. The Gnomsdal goblins, who are under the rule of Dominagon, will fight against the Heldannic Knights in this occasion, attacking them from behind. However, the goblins will then pursue the Heldannic thieves as they escape south into the Gnomsdal forest. Jacob will explain that they probably act under Dominagon’s orders, and the Blue dragon’s loyalty to Wyrmsteeth is very much in question. The Vrodniki and the Wyrmsteeth army will not risk entering the Gnomsdal, where they could be caught between Heldann and hostile humanoids, but Jacob will send two more of his soldiers with the PCs (werecreatures as the four before) and also Knyaz Visok will send five expert warriors with the PCs if they wish to have some more help.
Or maybe they don’t?
PCs shouldn’t be able to stop the Heldann this early in the adventure, but if the PCs are particularly good, the DM could allow them to intercept them already. If this happens, the Heldann will still have 3 charges of Holy Word in a strange white sphere that the grey bearded man keeps. If the PCs manage to do it nevertheless, then the adventure can be played in reverse, with several interesting parties (Dominagon’s Vrodniki and goblins, Denagothians, Alphatians, other Heldannic soldiers) pursuing the PCs to steal the Rod before they reach Wyrmsteeth borders. If however the PCs do not reach the Heldannic thieves or are unable to stop them at the Ransarn ford, then proceed to:
Gnomsdal Forest and Gap
In the Gnomsdal forest, the Heldann will be able to cover only 16 miles a day, and therefore it should take them 6 days to reach the other Heldannic camp in the Gnomsal gap, but they’ll cover 32 miles in the last day, anticipating the possibility of changing their dogs (or horses) and so covering the distance in only 5 days. If the PCs get too close, they will send any encountered group of Heldannic soldiers against them, as explained in Encounter #5 below. The PCs can probably maintain the same normal speed on average, but the DM could roll a constitution check to determine who is gaining ground. If the PCs try to fly they’ll be attacked by warbirds34, and anyway they will not be able to spot the Heldann from the air, due to the Massmorph effect.
Even if there are legends of gnomes and fairy creatures in this area, these woods are mostly inhabited by goblins and hobgoblins who aren’t very friendly with the Wyrmsteeth nor with Oceansend and Norwold, but answer to Dominagon. The Lirovka’s Alps south of the forest are also inhabited by clans of Mountain rakasta and Mountain giants. Both have to pay tribute to Dominagon to avoid harassment by the dragon and his goblins, but resent this and resent the Wyrmsteeth government who does nothing to keep Dominagon in check. They were trying to establish an alliance with Oceansend and Alpha, but now they have been cut off from the rest of Norwold by the Heldann invasion. It’s hard to say now if they’ll fight the Heldann or will have a truce, or even an alliance, with them. Jacob can provide the PCs all the above info before they enter the Gnomsdal.
This goblin village is the first community encountered after the ford of the Ransarn river35. If the Heldann invasion has reached this far, the village is now occupied by a vast number of Heldannic troops and the goblins have retired to the mountains to harass them. All the valley should then be a war zone, where the PCs should tread carefully, as they cannot defeat all the Heldannic army alone, and neither the local goblins. It should be immediately obvious then that Hegkogur has to be avoided. Fortunately, the Heldannic thieves, even if they stopped to rest for some hours, have every intention to go further south, and the PCs can follow them.
All encounters below can be played or avoided as the DM prefers, or randomly determined with a 10% chance of encounter for each hex and the roll of 1d5 (1d10 halved) to choose which encounter of the 5 optional encounters listed below for this area. Also the players could be able to avoid an encounter through stealth. The DM could also randomly determine if such encounters happens also for the Heldannic thieves. If it’s so, the Heldann could be hindered and slowed and be reached by the PCs, or at least the PCs could encounter survivors of a party that the Heldann defeated, and obtain help and information from them.
Optional encounter #2 Goblins fight back!
Groups of many goblins and hobgoblins (at least 1d10+5 HD 1-3 each or more, depending on PCs levels), often with experienced warriors (HD 3-7), chiefs (HD 5-9), wiccas or shamans (W or S 4-8), roam the valley harassing Heldannic troops. They will not be hostile to a Wyrmsteeth party, as their lord Dominagon is nominally an ally of the Dragon King, and they’ll offer their help. If their help is refused, they’ll try to follow the PCs as their ultimate purpose is to retrieve the Rod and bring it to their master. The Heldannic thieves too will run into at least one group of such goblins, but will defeat and scatter them. Survivors among the goblins could point out the direction where the thieves are going (south on the eastern border of the valley).
Optional encounter #3 People of the Mountains
Mountain rakasta of the Chogh Dene tribes and some Mountain giants allied with them are watching the Heldannic troops, fearing they will eventually invade their mountains. As written above, they distrust the Wyrmsteeth kingdom that hasn’t helped them against Dominagon. Clever PCs could be able to parley with them, promising help, and obtain at least some assistance, shortcut or direction to intercept the Heldannic party.
Such parties will normally be composed of 3-4 experienced rakasta warriors (F3-5), a thief (T5 or AD&D ranger) and a shaman (S5-8) or chief (F6-10) and 1-2 Mountain giants (HD 13-20). The Norwold party (see below) could be able to obtain the Rakasta assistance, if the PCs are able to ally with them.
Optional encounter #4 Fair resistance
Fairy folk squads, mostly composed of gremlins, pixies, pookas and satyrs are ready to hinder the Heldann advance as soon as they disturb the forest (such as cutting trees to make large buildings36). Human druids could also be among them, and treants. For the moment probably fairy folk are just keeping an eye on Heldann activities, but the situation could escalate quickly. To protect the forest, the fairies are ready to help the goblins, with whom they have a long lasting truce, but they’ll also be open to an alliance with Wyrmsteeth or Norwold, whatever party guarantees more help in defending the forest. If the Heldannic thieves encounter the fairies however they’ll be polite and respectful with them, and the fairies will let them pass.
Encounter #5 The Invasion
Heldann troops and some Mountain giant mercenaries are quickly marching toward the Ransarn river, and several groups are trying to “secure” the forest, i.e. destroying any residual goblin and monster presence. “Monster” is for the Heldann quite a broad category that includes almost all the non-human sentient races, except for some lupins and the more human-like, such as elves, halflings, dwarves, gnomes and giants. Such Heldannic parties will be immediately hostile to the PCs, easily recognizing them as Wyrmsteeth spies, unless the PCs are almost all humans and somehow disguised. If the PCs try to pass as Norwolders or Oceansenders, they’ll be considered enemies anyway. Even if they try to pass as Thyatian agents they’ll be questioned and, if they do not fight back, taken prisoner. The Heldannic thieves will send one such group against the PCs as soon as they encounter one. These groups of Heldann could be composed of low level soldiers (F1-3) with a corporal or sergeant (P4-5) or be more experienced knights (P4-8) with 1-3 Mountain giants (12-18 HD) and a lieutenant or captain (P9-12).
Optional encounter #6 Norwolders
This party of adventurers have been sent by King Ericall to spy the Heldann advance. They know nothing of the Rod, but will try to follow the Heldannic thieves nevertheless to understand what they’re doing. If the Heldann discover them, they’ll try to kill them or, failing that, they’ll send another Heldannic party as in encounter 5 against them. If the PC’s try to parley with them, they’ll be open to an alliance with the Wyrmsteeth, as king Ericall by 1011 AC is actively seeking a firm alliance with the Dragon kingdom. The PCs are probably aware of that too, and could therefore find an agreement with the Norwold party. As the latter one doesn’t, in fact, know anything about the Rod, they’ll be happy to help just to strengthen relations with a useful ally. They also already have contacts with the Chogh Dene Mountain rakasta, and could guide the PCs to a shortcut in the southern Lirovka’s Alps that can bring them to the Nordheim river avoiding the Heldann surveillance of the Gnomsdal Gap.
Sidebar: The Norwold party
The Norwold party is composed of one female cleric, one male wizard, one male elf, two male warriors, one female halfling thief or rake. If appropriate for the DM’s campaign, they could be a group of famous adventurers. They should be at least around level 7 and have one magical weapon +1, or magical armor, +1 or magical ring +1 each, and also some magical objects, as potions of healing, speed, invulnerability, gaseous form, defense, heroism, gauntlets of ogre’s strength, and a wand of lightning.
The Gap will have a Heldann camp at the centre and be heavily guarded by Heldann troops. The Heldannic thieves will have an ambush organized against the PCs by Heldannic soldiers (at least 10 F or P4-8 and a commander P7-11), to try to stop them. Clever PCs could avoid the trap entirely if they have obtained the help of the Norwold party and the rakasta, and therefore are able to take the shortcut mentioned above to reach the Nordheim river. If not, PCs will have to break through the Heldann block with violence, to follow the thieves in the Skarsholm.
This region takes its name from Skars, “some kind of ogress (or possibly even a hag) feared by the few Heldanners and Heldann Shepherds who lived here37”. Orcs and hobgoblins partially conquered this area, harassing the local humans, Heldann Shepherds and Foxfolk lupins. The arrival of the Heldann has therefore been seen as fortuitous by these latter populations, who have established with the Heldannic army various degrees of cooperation, alliance or truce.
All the region could well be considered full enemy territory, and the PCs should try to move as stealthy as possible.
It will take for the Heldann party five days to reach the road that crosses the Skaufskogr hill.
As in Act II, all the encounters below can be played or randomly determined, both for the Heldannic thieves and the PCs, as the DM prefers.
Optional encounter #7 Orcs
Numerous parties of orcs (HD 1-5) with possibly some ogres (HD 4-9), fire giants (HD 11) and mountain giants (HD 12-15) are roaming the area, staging guerrilla warfare against Heldannic troops and supplies. Pushed back to the Hettafjall Mountains by the Heldannic invasion, they’re not inclined to surrender yet. They are allies with the Denagothian party below, that has promised them aid from Vitriol and his black dragons against the Heldann. They’ll not be immediately hostile to the PCs if they’re able to recognize them as Wyrmsteeth agents, even proposing a momentary alliance against the common Heldannic enemy. Their true purpose however would be to drive the Heldannic thieves and the PCs toward the Denagothian party.
Optional encounter #8 Lupins
Groups of Heldann shepherds with some Foxfolk lupins (1d6+2 each HD 2-7) are scouting the region to drive away orcs or, failing that, pinpoint their position to return with reinforces and the aid of Heldannic troops. The lupins do not really trust Heldann much, but they think an alliance with them is the only option they have at the moment. They could however be open to switch to Wyrmsteeth and Norwold, if the PCs can guarantee effective aid against the orcs.
They’ll not stop the Heldann but will not hinder the PCs either, and they could warn them about the presence of orcs nearby. There is also a 20% chance that they have spied on the Denagothians and could warn the PCs about them too.
Optional encounter #9 Denagothians
The Denagothian party is composed of a Dragonborn warrior (son of Vitriol), a female cleric of Idris, a human wizard, a human warrior, a brute warrior, an orc warrior, an ogre warrior, a goblin thief, and a thoul38. Under the nominal leadership of the Dragonborn, the party is in truth deeply divided by Denagothian politics, with the Dragonborn, the brute, the orc, ogre and the thoul loyal to Vitriol, the female cleric and the goblin to the Church of Idris, and the human wizard and human warrior to the Shadow Lord. They’ll present a unified front however and it would be hard for the PCs to play on their division, unless they already have been in Denagoth and know the situation of the country well. If the Denagothians succeed in taking the Rod, however, they could turn on one another rather quickly once they have reached the Gate of Henadin and thus are near to Denagoth borders. When they encounter the PCs for the first time they’ll be friendly and offer their help, particularly if they have already encountered the Heldann and been defeated. They’ll claim to be loyal to Denagoth’s dragons, here to establish good relations with the Wyrmsteeth. If the PCs accept their help, they’ll turn on them as soon as the Heldann are defeated and the Rod is taken.
Sidebar: The Denagothian party
The Dragonborn warrior should be at least a F12, the female cleric a C10, the others should be around level 10 too. They could be famous (or infamous) adventurers in their country and beyond. They will have several magical objects, beside weapons, armor and rings, such as a wand of frost, scroll of conjure elementals, potions of gaseous form, speed, heroism, polymorph self, plant control, dragon control, a rod of victory, and a girdle of giant strength.
Optional encounter #10 Alphatians
This human group of three wizards (one female), one male cleric of Razud, three male warriors and one female thief will present itself as freedom fighters from Midway Haven, now occupied by Heldannic soldiers. They’ll recount dreadful stories about Heldannic abuses on the colony and claim to be here to search for allies among the lupins and other local populations. The story is only partially true. The three wizards, the cleric and the thief, all clearly Alphatians39, claim to be colonists but really come from mainland Alphatia, sent by other powerful wizards to retrieve the Rod. They have been following the thieves for days, but will claim that they have only just spotted them and they’ll offer their help. The three warriors, one Cypric Alphatian looking and the other two Antalian looking, are really from Midway Haven but will not expose the wizards as they are eager to kill Heldannc knights for whatever reason, and do not care about the PCs or the Wyrmsteeth. Nevertheless, the younger Antalian warrior could let something slip about the Alphatians if the PCs talk to him a bit. If the PCs accept the Alphatians’ help, they’ll assist until the Rod is retrieved, then they’ll turn on the PCs to take it for themselves.
Sidebar: The Alphatian party
The wizard and the thief, at least, could be famous adventurers in the Empire, all around level 11, while the three warriors, around level 5-8, could be local adventurers that have distinguished themselves in the resistance against the Heldann. The wizards and the thief will have a lot of magical objects, mostly rings of protections, at least a wand each, a potion of flying each, a potion of gaseous form each, a potion of healing each, potions of human control, flying, speed, growth, elemental form, and poison, and scrolls of create monster, summon elementals, spell catching, and seeing. The warriors will probably have only magical weapons and some potions of cure serious wounds.
Theoretically at this point the PCs could have goblins, Norwolders, orcs, Denagothians and Alphatians with them, even if it would require some amount of effort to have all these different people get along. Should the PCs retrieve the Rod whilst in the company of all these groups, the goblins, orcs and Denagothian will turn on them immediately, while the Alphatians will remain momentarily loyal, only to turn on them later. The Norwolders however will not betray the PCs. Any group obviously could take advantage of the confusion to escape with the Rod or to steal it during the night.
This region is mostly inhabited by lupins, with some gnomes, elves and fairy folk among them. Humans are rare and usually are druids or rangers. The Heldann army has to cross the hills going from Landfall to the north, and the lupins, while at peace for the moment, are quite worried.
The Heldannic party will cross the hills in just two days, covering 32 miles on the second day to reach Regjadur, where they have fresh mounts waiting for them.
Encounter #11 Foxfolks
More than one group of Foxfolk lupins can be encountered in the hills, so that the PCs should meet at least one. Each group will have at least a Foxfolk druid (D5-10), with possibly a shaman (S3-9) too and the rest will be composed by warriors and rangers (F2-8) (or foresters in BECMI rules). Forest gnomes, elves, Snoutzer lupins and human druids or foresters could be present among the Foxfolk. The lupins have a truce with the Heldannic Order at the moment , i.e. they have allowed the Heldannic army to pass undisturbed. They’d have preferred not to let them pass, but the clans rightfully considered that they could not resist alone, yet they are very worried that the Heldann will be here to stay, and will slowly begin to colonize and cut their forest.
For this reason, they’re carefully searching for allies among the nearby elves, gnomes, Heldann Sheperd lupins, antalian freedom fighters and even giants, orcs, bugbears and gnolls.
Any Foxfolk group will not stop the Heldannic thieves, but they’ll be willing to parley with the PCs and interested in establishing stable relations with Wyrmsteeth and Norwold, so they’ll point out the direction the Heldannic thieves have taken and maybe even guide the PCs to avoid the Heldannic troops.
Encounter #12 More Heldannic soldiers
It seems almost the entire Heldann army is going north from Landfall, passing among these hills. If the PCs haven’t reached the Heldannic thieves yet, they’ll do their best to use the army as a shield between them and the PCs. If the PCs reach the Heldannic thieves in this area, they’ll try to call nearby troops to their aid, and there is a 50% chance each round that 1d10+5 Heldannic soldiers (One F7 and the others F2-4) will come in aid.
Encounter #13 Regjadur
This town just south of the Skaufskogr hills is normally inhabited by local Antalian humans, but is now full of Heldannic troops and carriages on the route from Landfall to the north. The Heldannic thieves will stop briefly at the town, just to change dogs (or horses) and if they are aware they have been followed (and they probably are, at this point) they will send two groups of soldiers (as above) after the PCs. There is a good road to Landfall, so the Heldannic party will be able to cover the 48 miles in just five hours.
Encounter #14 Glantrians
The Glantrian party will be encountered just south of Regjadur. They’ll try to stop the Heldann, attacking them with certainty and determination. The party is composed of four wizards (two female), one thief and four warriors (one female). They’ll be friendly with the PCs, claiming to be representatives of “Western dragons”, and willing to help. If the Heldannic thieves have already been defeated before, this group will follow the PCs to take the Rod, but they’ll always try to befriend the PCs beforehand, and then they’ll try to steal the Rod during a rest or during the night. They could also form a temporary alliance with the Denagothians, if they get the chance, but will eventually betray them. They will fight the Alphatians on sight however, and the Alphatians will do the same with them.
Sidebar: The Glantrian party
They are a group of adventurers famous in Glantri and beyond, notoriously often working for Dolores and Jaggar. They should be around level 9 and will have plenty of magical objects too, such as boots of speed, a potion of diminution, a mirror of life trapping, a ring of truth, a ring of quickness, and potions of healing, clairaudience, clairvoyance, elemental form, giant strength, polymorph self, antidote, and dragon control.
If, despite this last encounter, the Heldannic thieves are still ahead, they will reach Landfall.
The city is occupied by a large contingent of Heldannic troops, with Warbirds and ships in the harbour. PCs could hope to enter it only in disguise, and non-human PCs could have serious difficulties, as normally only demi-humans (elves, dwarves, gnomes and halflings) and sometimes lupins, giants and rakasta are accepted into the city, and thoroughly questioned beforehand.
The Heldannic thieves will spend a night in the city, at the “Welcome Inn and Tavern” on Shayler Street40, heavily guarded as it’s now the favorite place for Heldannic officers. The next day they’ll board the ship “Glory of Vanya II” to Freiburg, and will reach the Heldannic capital at the end of the fourth day of sailing.
If the PCs have not yet retrieved the Rod then stealing it from the tavern (a very difficult task) or hiding in the ship’s hold could be the last chance they have. One of the other interested groups, mentioned before, could have the same idea, if they’re not with the PCs.
The Alphatian group has also hired the services of an Ostland pirate, with whom they’ll try to board the Heldannic ship to take the Rod. Obviously, they’ll not share this information with the PCs, unless forced to. Resourceful PCs could try to obtain another ship in case the thieves manage to leave Landfall.
Return and Ending
If the PCs fail, the adventure could still continue with a desperate strike on Freiburg before the Heldann can manage to use the Rod. The Alphatians, the Glantrians and the Denagothians could try the same thing too, but they will not try it on Windreach, fearing the wrath of the dragons. If another party takes the Rod, that will mean a disaster for the Wyrmsteeth.
If the PCs take the Rod any surviving interested party will still try to take it from them until they reach the safety of Wyrmsteeth lands. Once the Dragon Kingdom has the Rod again, they’ll make sure it will be impossible to steal again, but surviving enemies could return in the future in some other adventure. The adventure could have follow-ups in aiding friendly parties against the Heldannic knights, like the Norwolders and the Lupins, and in the continuing war for Oceansend and the north. Also if Dominagon’s treachery has been proved, the King will probably exile him to Denagoth or beyond. The Dragon King will also reward PCs handsomely, with appropriate honours and riches, and their status and fame in Wyrmsteeth society will be greatly improved. They’ll certainly become indeed the most famous adventurers of the Kingdom.
1 This adventure was inspired by the work of Giulio Caroletti that originally appeared in Tome of Mystara volume 2, the Dragonlord trilogy, Simone Neri’s History of Dragonkind, the D&D 2000 movie, James Mishler’s Age of Blackmoor, by JTR’s Landfall Gazetteer F8 and Denagoth Gazetteer F2, and by Agathokles’ work on the Skaufskogr region in this same issue. My work has several different assumptions from theirs: for example I assume that the Dragon kingdom is much more ancient than in Giulio’s and Simone’s works, therefore linking it to James’ history and my article on 3050 BC Mystara in issue #2 of Threshold magazine, page 165, but each DM could obviously choose the backstory he or she prefers.
2 As described in the Dragonlord trilogy and summarized here http://pandius.com/drgnkndh.html by Simone Neri. I imagine that the rod described in the D&D 2000 movie was created as a consequence of these Alphatian defeats around 510-511 AC (1510-1511 AY).
5 Jaggar, as High Master of Dracology, has a very different purpose in this matter than Dolores, who is unbeknownst to him the Night Dragon Synn. The Glantrian party is therefore divided, see below.
9 Possible statistics can be found here: http://www.lomion.de/cmm/drgkin.php and here: http://www.dandwiki.com/wiki/Dragonkin_(3.5e_Race). They could also be linked to the Veydran mentioned in The Dragonlord trilogy.
14 Simone Neri’s A Traveller guide to Norwold and Agathokles’ Skaufskogrs article in this same issue provide more details on these people.
15 According to the Dragonlord trilogy. Could be similar to D&D 4th ed. Eladrin.
20 As explained in Giulio Caroletti’s work. In the Dragonlord trilogy however the Wyrmsteeth are rather ruled by gold dragon priests of The Great One. I’m assuming here that now the red dragons are dominating Wyrmsteeth politics, thus reconciling the two sources, but other DMs may prefer otherwise. In Simone Neri’s article “A Traveler’s guide to Norwold” here in this same issue of Threshold magazine, the take is also slightly different from mine, as I assume a much stronger and organized realm.
24 In Giulio Caroletti’s work, the King is a red dragon, while in Bruce Heard's HK works, the Dragon King is the gold dragon Eruptaar. It was also a gold in the Dragonlord trilogy. In the Mystara Almanac description of 1017-1019 AC the Wyrmsteeth was a triarchic kingdom. The DM may choose the ruler she or he prefers.
25 Assuming it’s winter or early spring. In another season, the Heldannic thieves and the PCs will have to use horses or other terrestrial mounts.
26 Or Jaggar, being the Master of Dracology, could have obtained this information on his own.
27 This should be described as an effect similar to the clerical spell Holy Word.
28 Jacob is already regenerating his wounds but some of his men are not and he wants to remain with the wounded for now, he will refuse to abandon them and will follow the PCs later.
29 Or just a high level mystic or thief with powerful magical objects, if using unmodified BECMI rules.
32 As the DM prefers, Korun could be aware and part of Dominagon's treachery, or simply a dupe.
33 The Ransarn will be frozen during winter, and therefore easily crossed by sled or horse. In other seasons, a boat will be needed to cross the river. The Heldannic thieves could have left one on the shore for this purpose, but the PCs will have to find another solution.
36 Or maybe the Heldannic Order will get along with the fairies and respect their territory. Much depends on how each DM wishes to play the Order in his/her campaign.
37 As described in Giampaolo Agosta’s Skaufskogr article in this same issue.
39 I.e. a male wizard and the female wizard are pure Alphatians with black hair and pale skin, while the other male wizard and the thief are Cypric Alphatians with brown hair and bronze skin.