Excerpts 06/07/2006

Mysteries of the Moonsea Excerpt 2
By Thomas Reid, Sean Reynolds

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.

Hillsfar and the South

Some say that Zhentil Keep is the most evil city on the Moonsea. They're fools to even think that. Hillsfar is worse -- they force elves and other nonhumans to fight to the death in an area. Their mage-ruler Maalthiir tolerates anything in the city that doesn't interfere with trade, and he tortures people in his dungeons for sport. Maalthiir's private army will protect you if you pay the right bribes, and rob and murder you if you don't. At least the Zhents admit to their evil -- the folk of Hillsfar ignore the evil around them so they can make a profit. They are the worst of human nature."

-- Dyrlar Graywinter, elf scout of Cormanthor

"Zhentil Keep? Hillsfar? Who can tell which is the lesser of two evils?"

-- Moonsea saying

Geographical Overview

Much of the Southern Moonsea's coast abuts the forest of Cormanthor, or at least where the forest once grew before human settlers cut it back. Including the ancient elven tower called Abarat's Folly in the west, this area holds three settlements, several ruins, a sunken city, two rivers, and countless acres of thick forest. Roads connect Hillsfar west to ruined Yûlash and beyond, Ashabenford and Essembra in the south, and Elventree to the east. Well-walked trails also connect to locales in the Dragon Reach, making this area the best-connected coast of the Moonsea in terms of land traffic.

The River Duathamper (also called the Elvenflow) carries water north and east from Cormanthor into the Moonsea. East of that is the River Lis, which carries water south into the Dragon Reach, and eventually connects to the Sea of Fallen Stars. Both rivers are gentle and easy travel by ship or barge. Because the Lis is the only waterway that leaves the Moonsea, many vessels pass (and make port along) the southern shore as they travel to other parts of Faerûn. Most places on the southern shore are rocky or otherwise unsuitable for a port; most of the few places safe enough to stop are already controlled by human settlements such as Hillsfar and Elmwood, and the rest are little more than simple trading posts with a few shacks and some spare lumber to quickly patch a damaged ship. Well connected by water and land, the southern coast is at a trade advantage compared to the Moonsea's other shores, since it is able to do commerce by land or by sea even when the winters freeze much of the lake.

Because this territory lacks any mountains or sources of ore, the southern region's economy is based partly on fishing and lumber but mainly on trading materials from hunters, miners, and crafters from other parts of the Moonsea and beyond. Though it has no significant natural barriers to prevent invasion, the southern shore is relatively well protected by its more dangerous rivals to the west, east, and south; anyone wishing to attack Hillsfar or the other settlements here must go through the Zhentarim (backed by the power of Bane), Mulmaster's army (backed by the Thayans), or the elves in Cormanthor (both surface elves and drow). This leaves the people of the Southern Moonsea to focus on their own interests, usually involving profit and intrigue.

The Campaign in Hillsfar

The quests in this chapter are designed for characters of 6th-12th level. Around this time PCs start to get some really interesting abilities and can hold their own without worrying about a lucky critical hit. They're also increasingly mobile, with access to fly, dimension door, and even teleport; this means they're often able to make hit-and-run attacks against powerful opponents or escape from dangerous situations very quickly. This tends to make them particularly confident and ready to take on the world, and gives you the opportunity to set them against challenges that will make a name for them as PCs -- while just about every adventurer has fought orcs and goblins, few can say they've slain the masters of a mysterious sinking island, faced the plant monsters of the Red Wizards of Thay, or plumbed the far corners of an ancient elven site and survived. These deeds are of the sort that helps a PC attract cohorts and followers . . . and the interest of the Zhentarim and other powerful groups.

If the PCs are coming to Hillsfar after completing some of the Melvaunt quests, there are many ways you can get them involved in what's going on in the City of Trade. The details are left vague to allow you to easily shape the campaign's direction. Tie-ins from the Melvaunt section could include the following people and places.

Tattooed Slaves: These poor souls might have something to do with the local Red Wizard enclave -- the agents working with the dwarf Theoderus could be representatives of the head of the enclave. The wizard Mordak, apprentice to the ruler of Hillsfar, could be responsible; perhaps he is trying to find some way to leverage power from his master in a subtle and indirect way that doesn't violate his magical compulsions (see the Mordak's Tower quest). Weapons bearing Theoderus's runes might show up in the hands of Red Plume officers in and around the city (see the Roadside Shrine and Urban Dungeon quests, as well as the villainous Red Plume, Serag Kull).

Corwyn Jaffe: Some of this rogue's pirate friends might know that wererats are planning to take over the Hillsfar rogue's guild (see the Rogue's Redoubt quest, page 57), or might even be wererats from that clan. Consider placing documents in his tavern's cellar referring to "the attack on the Rogues Guild" and "best to use wereform."

Vorbyx's Chambers of Bone: Because this war leader was alive long ago, he could very well have had some information about the elf settlements north of Cormanthor (see the Ruins in Cormanthor quest). Perhaps an elf explorer traveling through Thar stumbled upon the outer chambers of Vorbyx's false tomb and died in a trap, leaving behind a journal or letters between Abarat the Alabaster (see the Abarat's Folly quest) and his cousin Talarith.

Ogre Stronghold: Gywahier the annis hag might know some of the scrags who live in the Moonsea and can give the PCs information about the "sea drow" that battle the scrags for territory (see the Bell in the Deep quest).

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