Mysteries of the Moonsea provides you with many ready-to-use campaign pieces so that you can learn the basic background information on an area, then use one of the severa the completed adventures you'll find within this tome.The excerpts below include information on Melvaunt, Hillsfar, Mulmaster, and Zhentil, plus you'll get two ready-made areas as a sampling of what you'll find within the book.
The Moonsea is rich, indeed . . . gold and jewels, valuable pelts, and old ruins ripe for plundering. But it is a hard place to live -- cold, brutal, and dangerous, and it makes the men who live there into something much the same, tempering the soft iron of their spirits into cold, sharp steel. The people of the Moonsea are hard and unforgiving because if they weren't they'd be dead at the hands of monsters, tyrants, or the cruel turns of nature herself."
-- Khelben "Blackstaff" Arunsun
"Dare -- and beware!"
-- Moonsea battle cry
How to Use This Book
Mysteries of the Moonsea takes a different approach from other regional Forgotten Realms books; it's a box of ready-to-use campaign pieces rather than an instruction manual on how to make those pieces yourself. Instead of you having to read an entire regional book and then come up with your own campaign based on that region, this book gives you the basic background information you need to run a campaign in the area and provides you with a large number of completed adventures from which to pick and choose.
Rather than a comprehensive description of every person, place, and thing in the Moonsea region, Mysteries of the Moonsea focuses on four main cities and provides scores of miniadventures (sometimes called "quests" hereafter) for a Moonsea-based campaign. Each quest is tied to a particular part of the Moonsea, and some have links to one or more other quests in that area or another area, allowing you to string them together into a long campaign starting at 1st level and ending around 18th level. Roughly half of the quests are set in or very close to one of the four main cities, and the other half are located farther away.
The quests have a lot of overlap in terms of character level, which allows you to pick and choose appropriate adventures for your PCs based on their abilities and interests and what sort of campaign you want to run. For example, if you're planning a city campaign you can just use the in-city quests, while a group of heroes consisting of barbarians, druids, and rangers might enjoy all of the outlying quests and only rarely enter the cities. The overlapping quests and the many links allow you to build a nonlinear adventure that responds to the actions the PCs take. It's possible to run an entire campaign using only half of the included quests, and run a later (or simultaneous) campaign using the other half, with each set of PCs hearing about the other's activities and sometimes helping or hindering each other. You can also plan to use all forty adventures in one campaign, particularly if the PCs deal with plot elements quickly or prefer combat adventures rather than themes involving diplomacy, intrigue, and mystery.
Because the quests are self-contained, you can also use them for stand-alone "side treks" in campaigns set elsewhere in Faerûn -- for example, a Dalelands campaign might divert into the southern Moonsea area and deal with one of the quests there, an Anauroch campaign might make use of one of the Zhentarim quests in the western Moonsea, and so on. Some city quests might fit well in another city entirely. Finally, with so many portals all over Faerûn, it's quite possible for the PCs to stumble across a Moonsea quest through a portal, either returning to their original location when they're done or sticking around to follow up on the links to other Moonsea quests.
After the remaining short explanatory text at the beginning of this introduction section, the book gives an overview of the territory around the Moonsea, expanding on the information presented in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. The remaining four chapters cover one of the four rough quadrants of the Moonsea, starting with low-level adventures and culminating in high-level adventures: North (focusing on Melvaunt), south (focusing on Hillsfar), east (focusing on Mulmaster), and west (focusing on Zhentil Keep). The expanded Moonsea map on page 7 shows the general borders for each of these quadrants.
Each chapter starts with a short geographical overview of the quadrant, then follows with several pages of more detailed information on its primary city-state, giving you key locations, city demographics, influential groups, and full game statistics for several level-appropriate villains. Following the villains is a list of rumors the PCs can overhear using skill checks (some of which are false or red herrings, some of which are plot hooks to various quests or other quadrants). Next are location-based quests set within or immediately nearby the city, followed by another set of quests that take place in outlying areas of the quadrant.
DM Navigation Tips
The easiest way to navigate the book is to determine what adventure levels you're looking for and jump to that chapter. The north quadrant (Chapter 1) is for PCs of 1st-7th level, the south (Chapter 2) is for 6th-12th level, the east (Chapter 3) is for 9th-14th level, and the west (Chapter 4) is for 12th-18th level. If you plan to run a long campaign using this book, you'll start at the beginning and work your way back as the campaign progresses. The events in and around these adventures take place in the last half of the Year of Rogue Dragons (1373 DR).
Where to Start
If you're planning on running a campaign in the Moonsea, read the Moonsea Primer later in this introduction. Once you have a grip on the background material, figure out where you want to start the campaign or at what level you want the PCs to start (one greatly influences the other, at least if you don't want to modify the NPCs and monsters to suit a different party level), then pick the chapter appropriate to your answer and read up on that quadrant and its quests.
If you're going to pick and choose material from this book for an ongoing campaign outside the Moonsea, you can skip the Moonsea Primer and jump right to the chapter that has quests for the target levels you need (see DM Navigation Tips in this introduction).
Work You Have To Do
This book is not a super-adventure with one common plot linking it all together. It's not a detailed adventure path with comprehensive answers for many possible actions. It's up to you as the DM to help create solid links for the quests in this book so the PCs can go from one to another in the order you want. You'll also need to fill in some details depending on which aspects of the cities and quests they want to explore. You'll also need to watch what the players are doing and read up on the future quests to push the connections they might be interested in and deemphasize the ones that you don't want to pursue or are inappropriate for the party. This book provides a lot of component pieces that you can easily assemble, but you have to do the assembling -- here are the bricks, you provide the mortar and the elbow grease.
Mysteries of the Moonsea assumes the PCs are good or at least neutral. Some quests expect that PCs will want to get involved to fight an injustice (such as freeing slaves), defend innocents (such as protecting a village from raiders), and the like, whereas many evil parties have no interest in such things, unless there is a profit to be made. If your campaign's PCs tend to be on the evil side, you'll need to modify the quests to suit their interests. In some cases the "villains" of each major city might end up as potential allies, or you could change the "villains" to be more neutral or good so as to remain obstacles for the PCs.
Before continuing in this section, familiarize yourself with the description of the Moonsea region provided on pages 159-165 of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting.
Facts to Keep In Mind
Weather: Moonsea is located in the northern part of Faerûn. While not as cold as the Silver Marches, it is much cooler than the Dalelands or Waterdeep, and people dress warmly all year round (a fur cape or cloak is a common article of clothing in the Moonsea). Anyone who walks around in light clothing during cold weather is obviously either a fool or someone who is using magic to stay warm and doesn't care if people know it (and thus a fool). Minor magic items that protect against the cold, such as rings or potions that give resistance 3 against nonlethal damage caused by cold, are in common use among the wealthier people of the Moonsea, who enjoy not having to wear bulky clothing all the time (and these people are the ones who can afford bodyguards to protect them from robbers who would take such luxuries from them). The lake itself is fed by glacial meltwater and even in summer it can be cold enough to kill a swimmer. Because of this, most people who make their living on the water can't swim, since they've never had the opportunity to practice; instead, they have learned more practical skills such as fire building and how to not fall out of a boat.
In the winter months much of the sea freezes over, making travel across the ice possible but (due to the great distances involved) not very common. The larger cities sometimes use icebreaking ships, summoned monsters, or fire magic to keep their dock areas somewhat clear of ice, though this is impractical on a large scale. Ice fishing is common, with fishermen walking to their favorite spots rather than boating. The first snow usually falls in early to middle Uktar, and the land is consistently snowy from Nightal to Alturiak, with occasional snowfalls happening through Tarsakh.
The frequent cold and limited technology means that Moonsea inns usually have a small number of large rooms rather than a large number of small rooms; this reduces the number of individual fireplaces needed and the overall risk of fire. Some inns have just one large common room heated by a large hearth. This means these places have less privacy than a typical adventurer's inn but attacks are less likely because there are so many witnesses. The places with smaller rooms tend to use closed metal braziers full of hot coals to offset the chill.
Refer to Cold Dangers, DMG 302, for more information on dealing with cold environments. Summers usually are not cold enough to be considered a cold hazard (with highs about 60°F, 16°C). Spring and autumn are routinely in the cold weather category (40°F, 4°C or below), and winter is usually in the severe cold category (0°F, -18°C or below), often dipping into extreme cold (below -20°F, -29°C) several times over the course of the winter.
Because of the natural cold, those who have the means to magically protect themselves against cold (such as adventurers, spellcasters, and other wealthy folk) often do so, and in turn are aware that their enemies might have similar protection. This means that magic-using NPCs are less likely to use cold attacks. since doing so is often a waste of time (though the followers of Auril, unpopular even in the Moonsea, would disagree). PCs who gird themselves against magical cold in anticipation of many "cold mages" in the area might be surprised that fireball and lightning bolt are just as common here as in warmer lands.
City-States: Because of the danger of bandits, monsters, and military rivals, civilized populations gather in large settlements and behind walls for protection and comfort; every town has at least a wooden palisade wall. Adventurers traveling cross-country are much less likely to stumble across a hamlet or village here than elsewhere in Faerûn. Most settlements don't allow visitors after dark, and some even refuse entry to strangers during the day except under special circumstances -- even visiting merchants must make their deals outside the town wall.
Monsters: Though most parts of Faerûn have at least occasional problems with marauding monsters, the Moonsea is particularly dangerous in this regard. Surrounded by old mountains and ancient forests, and divided by a mysterious deep sea, the land here has more than its fair share of strange beasts. In particular, the lake was once called the Sea of Dragons because of the many dragons that came here to mate; its forests and mountains are still riddled with dragon lairs. Moonsea folk do not scoff at rumors of monsters -- they tighten their belts, sharpen their swords, and expect the worst. Monster trophies do not impress them; such things hang in the main hall of most towns that have managed to survive for more than a few years.
Religion: The common faiths of the Moonsea reflect its dangerous nature; most of the gods worshiped here are of the "worship me or bad things will happen to you" variety, and the rest fall into the "worship me or I will do bad things to you" category. Whether overt or subtle, these faiths influence how the local people think. Visitors who worship bright and noble gods are likely to be scoffed at behind their backs, while those who worship "frivolous" deities such as Eldath, Lliira, Milil, Sharess, and Sune are often derided to their face. Adventurers who proselytize "foreign" religions quickly draw the attention of Banite loyalists and others who openly serve the evil deities favored here. Most Moonsea folk pay lip service to these deities just to keep potential threats away, not necessarily fully embracing the dark philosophies of these deities.
Suspicion: Because of their frontier situation and the many threats in the Moonsea (particularly from rival city-states), the people of the region are mistrustful of any stranger, since any unknown person could be a spy or assassin from a rival settlement. Unlike other harsh lands where a culture of hospitality to all became the norm for the sake of survival, the Moonsea folk have more of a "take care of your own" attitude. This also makes them reluctant to turn to outsiders for help except under great duress, or when they have no questions about a person's motivations (for example, even in the Moonsea a paladin of Torm is someone you can trust to help you without an ulterior motive). Strangers must prove their worth before earning even a small measure of free hospitality. While the people of the Moonsea are not inherently evil or distrustful (any more than the people of the Dales are inherently friendly and good), that is the attitude bred into them by a culture where survival is hard work and the kind-hearted are usually taken advantage of.
How to Introduce the Region
The best way to express the feel of the Moonsea is in real-world terms. If you combine the "harsh land makes a strong people" themes of the Viking civilization with the "we will persevere against adversity" attitude of the pre-Soviet Russian commoners and the strike-it-rich frenzy of the California gold rush, you get a reasonable approximation of the region's temperament. Civilized humans settle there in the hopes of becoming rich or at least living well; they remain out of stubbornness to an almost fatalistic extent, and continue to prosper in each generation because those who work hard succeed -- and because failure means death. The Moonsea is not a nice or safe place to live; its settlers are driven people who want make their own choices about their lives, were driven out of their old lands, or know that they are the ones who will triumph.
When running a Moonsea campaign, try to reinforce those three themes. The people of the Moonsea aren't helpless and are content to solve their problems themselves. If they can't solve it themselves they'll endure tyrants or threats in the interest of long-term survival. All of them know that fate could tip the balance in their favor any day now and they'll be rewarded for their hard work. Local PCs should represent these qualities. Foreign PCs should encounter these qualities often as a contrast to your typical Faerûnian peasant. Moonsea folk are not foolish or stupid, just very determined to beat the odds.
What You Need to Use This Book
To use this supplement, you need the three D&D core rulebooks -- Player's Handbook (PH), Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG), and Monster Manual (MM) -- in addition to the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (FRCS). Because some of the characters here use the revised regional feats and prestige classes presented in the Player's Guide to Faerûn (PG), you will find that book helpful. Some of the NPCs presented here use spells from Player's Guide to Faerûn, Magic of Faerûn (Mag) or Unapproachable East (Una), but none of those spells are critical to using those NPCs, so you can swap out those spells for others if you don't have those books. In addition, many of these spells were updated and included in Spell Compendium (SC), so you can refer to those versions if you have that book.
Several encounters are magical locations, which are a new type of resource explained fully in Dungeon Master's Guide II, though all the information on the locations in this book is provided for you, and DMG II is optional (though you might find it useful for modifying the locations or creating your own).