The Red Hand of Doom is an exciting super-adventure that pits heroes against an army bent on domination. Rampaging hobgoblins and their allies threaten to destroy the realm and all who stand before them. Characters who dare confront the horde soon discover that these particular hobgoblins worship Tiamat, the evil queen of dragons, and eventually come face-to-face with her draconic minions. The excerpts below include the introduction and adventure outline, two sample encounters, and statistics for the encounters. (Crafty DMs may find the encounters and their relevant statistics useful in other ways, too!)
The dry hilltops danced with fire.
Throughout the heart of the wild badlands the humans called the Wyrmsmokes, great bonfires had been kindled atop the ridges overlooking Elsir Vale. There thousands of warriors had gathered -- hobgoblins in armor dyed scarlet, thick-thewed bugbear berserkers, goblin worg riders and skirmishers and archers, and the scaled ones as well, who often towered over the rest. For so long they had fought each other, tribe against tribe, race against race, engaged in the endless test of battle, feud, and betrayal. But tonight . . . tonight they stood together, hated enemies shoulder-to-shoulder, shouting together as brothers. And they saw that they were strong, and together they danced and sang and shook their blades at the smoke-hidden stars overhead.
"We are the Kulkor Zhul!" they shouted, and the hills shook with the thunder of their voices. "We are the People of the Dragon! Uighulth na Hargai! None can stand before us!"
One by one the tribes fell silent. Armor creaked as thousands turned to look up to the Place of Speaking. There, a single champion emerged from the assemblage and slowly climbed the ancient stone stair cut into the side of the hill. A hundred bright yellow banners stood beneath him like a phalanx of spears, each marked with a great red hand. The warpriests holding the banners chanted battle-prayers in low voices as the champion ascended.
On the hundredth step he stopped and turned to face the waiting warriors. He was tall and strong, one of the hobgoblin chieftains, but dull blue scales gleamed along his shoulders, and jutting horns swept back from his head. "I am Azarr Kul, Son of the Dragon!" he cried. "Hear me, warriors of the Kulkor Zhul! Tomorrow we march to war!"
The warriors roared their approval, stamping their feet and clashing spear to shield. Azarr Kul waited, holding his hands aloft until they quieted again. "The warpriests of the Doom Hand have shown us the way! They have taught us honor, discipline, obedience -- and strength! No more will we waste our blood fighting each other. We will take the lands of the elf, the dwarf, and the human, and make them ours! Under the banner of the Red Hand of Doom we march to victory and conquest! Remember that you stood here this night, warriors of Kulkor Zhul! For a hundred generations your sons and your sons' sons will sing of the blood spilled by your swords and the glory you win in the nights to come! Now, my brothers -- to WAR!"
The burning hills were too small to hold the shout the Kulkor Zhul gave in answer to their warlord's call.
War is gathering in the dry brown hills known as the Wyrmsmoke Mountains. As midsummer settles over the land, smothering everything in heat and dust, the fierce warriors of the Kulkor Zhul -- "People of the Dragon" in the hobgoblin tongue -- gather beneath the dreaded Red Hand banner, ready to sweep down out of the Wyrmsmokes and conquer the human lands below. Your player characters face an onslaught of fire and steel the likes of which few have ever seen.
Encounter Levels:Red Hand of Doom is designed for a party of four characters who begin the adventure at 5th level. Over the course of the adventure they should accumulate enough experience to reach 10th level before the climactic encounters at the end of the adventure.
You need the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual to run this adventure. Some monsters from D&D® supplements appear in this book, but their complete statistics are given in Appendix I. Several NPCs have prestige classes from other sources, but we've made sure that any unique class feature or ability is fully described in the statistics block, so that you can run those characters based on the information herein.
Because this adventure focuses on stopping a rampaging horde, you might find Heroes of Battle a useful adjunct to your game. However, Red Hand of Doom assumes that you don't have Heroes of Battle and provides all the information you need to run this adventure.
Finally, we've made an effort to feature NPCs and monsters you can easily represent with the available sets of D&D miniatures. Red Hand of Doom assumes that you're using some sort of battle mat or grid for your game, as well as miniatures to represent the heroes and the monsters in tactical situations. You don't need to use the minis or resolve the fights on a tabletop mapsheet, but we think you'll enjoy the adventure more if you do.
The Battle Maps
Red Hand of Doom comes complete with a double-sided sheet that provides three battle maps for use in the adventure.
The map that depicts a road cutting through a forested glade can be used to play out the first encounter, Marauder Attack (see page 14).
The map that shows a street with buildings on either side is designed for the Streets of Blood encounter (see page 91) that occurs during the Battle of Brindol. It can also be used for the encounter titled Dirty Rotten Looters (see page 43).
The map that depicts a worked stone complex with dragon statues placed around its perimeter is for use with the climactic encounter of the adventure, Inner Sanctum (see page 109).
Of course, you can use these maps for other purposes as you see fit, either for other roleplaying encounters or for skirmish battles that use the D&D Miniatures rules.
For centuries, the dry and dusty Wyrmsmoke Mountains have been home to dozens of goblinoid tribes. Travelers skirted the goblin-infested hills by a generous margin, but the Wyrmsmoke tribes posed no significant threat to the nearby human townlands and settlements other than the occasional bloody raid. Yet deep within the mountains lay hidden something that would spell doom -- an ancient temple dedicated to Tiamat, the Queen of Evil Dragons.
Built hundreds of years ago to serve as the hidden redoubt of a despicable cult of dragon-worshipers, the temple was eventually cleansed by a band of heroes from the human city of Rhest. For several centuries the complex lay empty. Then, thirty years ago, the young half-dragon hobgoblin warrior Azarr Kul discovered the abandoned temple and was awed by the teachings of Tiamat he read on the walls therein. He abandoned Maglubiyet, the traditional deity of his people, and dedicated himself to leading the rest of his nation to Tiamat's worship.
Over the next twenty years, Azarr Kul grew into a powerful warlord and a mighty priest of Tiamat. Early in his rise to power he struck up an alliance with the blue dragon Tyrgarun, his own sire. Aided by this powerful ally, Azarr Kul converted his entire tribe into fanatical worshipers of Tiamat. He renamed the tribes that had fallen under his wing the Kulkor Zhul and began to lay his plans for the conquest of Elsir Vale.
Dedicating themselves to the Queen of Evil Dragons with the fanaticism of the recently converted, the members of the Kulkor Zhul grew strong, stronger than any Wyrmsmoke tribe before them. Adopting the standard of the Red Hand, an ancient symbol of Tiamat's cult, Azarr Kul created an elite caste of warpriests, monks, and dragon-favored champions to lead the Kulkor Zhul.
Late last year, Azarr Kul and his dragon-worshiping zealots destroyed the last opposition to his supremacy over the Wyrmsmoke tribes, slaughtering the Black Knife Goblins and the tribes allied to them in a ferocious onslaught. The survivors accepted his suzerainty and were absorbed into his realm. Azarr Kul named his new kingdom Harg Kulkor, or "Land of the Dragon."
After a long season of rebuilding his strength, offering bribes to many of the intelligent monsters in the region, and reinforcing the power of his Red Hand warpriests over the disparate tribes he ruled, Azarr Kul finally turned his attention to the lands beyond the Wyrmsmoke Mountains. What he saw whetted his ambition for power; no city or state within hundreds of miles could field an army as strong as his. The High Wyrmlord dreams of carving out a hobgoblin empire stretching from the Sunset Sea to the Golden Plains -- and the first step is to crush the human towns of Elsir Vale.
Red Hand of Doom casts the player characters in the role of heroes fighting to stem the advance of Azarr Kul's horde. There are far too many enemy warriors for the PCs to deal with them all personally. Instead, the heroes undertake vital missions that influence the outcome of the war. These missions include the following.
- Spying out the movements of Azarr Kul's army.
- Defeating roving bands of marauders.
- Leading the effort to rally an elf army to meet the Red Hand horde.
- Disrupting an alliance between the Red Hand and a powerful lich.
- Killing important enemy commanders, champions, and monsters.
- And, finally, infiltrating the Fane of Tiamat to defeat the Red Hand warpriests and their leader in their secret stronghold.
The adventure is divided into five parts, describing five key locations the PCs are likely to explore in the course of the adventure. Event-triggered encounters are also woven into each of the five parts. The adventure locales and events are designed to interact: Events will steer the heroes toward adventure locales, and things the heroes do in the locales will trigger events.
Part I: The Witchwood
The adventure begins when the player characters confront a powerful warband of raiders threatening the small town of Drellin's Ferry. Under the command of Wyrmlord Koth, the warband of hobgoblins and goblins lairs in the ruins of an old keep buried in the dense Witchwood, scouting out the surrounding lands in preparation for an attack. Soon the Wyrmlord and his warband intend to sweep down on Drellin's Ferry and slaughter its inhabitants.
In the course of their fight to drive off the marauders, the PCs learn that Koth's warband is just the tip of the spear, and that a horde of goblins, hobgoblins, and their allies is marching south. They also learn that their enemies are driven on by the fanatical warpriests of Tiamat. Drellin's Ferry can't be saved, but the heroes can give the townsfolk time to flee by wrecking a bridge on an old dwarf road the Red Hand horde needs to cross. There they confront the youngest of the Red Hand's dragon champions, a green dragon named Ozyrrandion.
By the end of this part, the war has begun. Thereafter the PCs divide their time between fighting to stem the advance of the Red Hand horde and foiling the plans of the other Wyrmlords, whose work will give the horde an irresistible advantage if left to run its course.
Part II: The Ruins of Rhest
Something has cut off the Old North Road in the vicinity of the Blackfens. None can flee by that route, nor can help from more distant cities reach besieged Elsir Vale. While scouting the swamp and seeking an answer to the question of who or what has cut off the road, the PCs encounter the reclusive owl-riding wild elves known as the Tiri Kitor. From them, the PCs learn that Wyrmlord Saarvith has allied with a black dragon named Regiarax, and together they have established a hatchery of sinister dragonspawn in the ruins of the drowned city of Rhest. The PCs must defeat both the Wyrmlord and the dragon to prevent the appearance of these vicious creatures in the war. If the PCs play their cards right, they can even gain the aid of the Tiri Kitor elves against the advancing Red Hand horde.
At the end of this section, the PCs discover the threat of the Ghostlord (see Part III). Meanwhile, the Red Hand horde is striking deep all across the vale's western marches, and the war is going poorly indeed for the beleaguered humans.
Part III: The Ghostlord's Tower
Azarr Kul brings a deadly new ally into the battle when Red Hand agents steal the phylactery of the human druid lich known as the Ghostlord and coerce this powerful undead menace into joining the war on the Red Hand's side. After gaining possession of the stolen phylactery, the PCs travel into the Thornwaste and do battle with Wyrmlord Ulwai Stormcaller in the lich's lionshaped lair. Eventually, the PCs must confront the Ghostlord himself and either destroy him (no small task) or purchase his neutrality by returning his phylactery in exchange for peace. By the time they dissuade the lich from joining his forces to those of Azarr Kul, the Red Hand horde is bearing down on Brindol.
Part IV: The Enemy at the Gates
While the PCs have managed to counter some of the Red Hand's outlying efforts, the horde has been advancing remorselessly into human lands. Now the characters confront the main army of the enemy directly in the Battle of Brindol, in which the PCs' actions make the difference between the human city's survival or destruction. Depending on how successful the PCs were in the previous parts of the adventure, the battle can end in anything from a hard-fought draw to a catastrophic defeat. Either way, in the aftermath of the battle it becomes clear that the best chance of winning the war is for a brave band of infiltrators to strike into the heart of the hobgoblin lands and decapitate the horde by destroying the Red Hand order.
Part V: Fane of Tiamat
The PCs assault the High Wyrmlord's stronghold, the Fane of Tiamat, deep in the Wyrmsmoke Mountains. Temporarily checked in the Battle of Brindol, Azarr Kul and his circle of high priests are seeking infernal aid from the Nine Hells, summoning devils and fiendish monsters, including an aspect of Tiamat herself, to break the last human resistance. The PCs fight a desperate battle in the dark temple, and ultimately confront High Wyrmlord Azarr Kul himself in the heart of the Fane of Tiamat.