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.
Zhentil Keep and the West
Weak? You think the Black Network is weak? Hah! If anything, the razing of Zhentil Keep made it stronger! Cyric's muddling seemed to be exactly what the Zhentarim needed to get rid of the riffraff and get back to the business of ruling the entire Moonsea region -- and everywhere else, for that matter."
-- Flobrian Helvar, Sembian caravan master, to one of his employers as they watch several of their wagons burn on the road to Voonlar
The western portion of the Moonsea region, which includes the city of Zhentil Keep, stretches from the great body of water from which the territory gets its name all the way to the Border Forest in the west, and from the northern fringes of the mighty Cormanthor Forest to the tribal lands of The Ride in the north. The River Stojanow serves as the region's northeastern border, while Yûlash marks its southeastern limit. Most people also consider Voonlar to be part of the region, demarking its extreme southwestern border. Good roads connect many of the communities, with major traffic flowing along the trade triangle of Voonlar, Zhentil Keep, and Teshwave. Another major route leaves Zhentil Keep and passes through Yûlash on its way to Hillsfar in the east, while minor roads run to Phlan to the northeast and to the Citadel of the Raven, Zhentil Keep's companion community, to the north. Trade continues south out of the Western Moonsea region and into the Dalelands and points beyond.
Within the Western Moonsea, two geographic features dominate the landscape -- the River Tesh and the Dragonspine Mountains. The river, which flows from Dagger Falls near the northern tip of the Desertsmouth Mountains, serves as a major trade route, particularly between Teshwave and Zhentil Keep. The Dragonspine Mountains bisect the region from the southwest to the northeast and provide many valuable raw resources as an enticement to the entrepreneurs attempting to carve civilization out of the wild places. Though far from being the largest or tallest mountains in Faerûn, the Dragonspines are rugged and often bitterly cold throughout the year, making them a danger to even the hardiest explorers.
In between these landmarks, the Western Moonsea region features miles of bleak grasslands and moors no one dares travel across alone. A few farms lie scattered throughout, but most people with any sense stay close to the cities and towns, where protection from marauding monsters is readily available. While the Western Moonsea has the greatest concentration of population of any part of the region, this doesn't mean there are folks packed shoulder to shoulder anywhere. Its vast reaches are filled with ancient ruins, dank tombs, remnants of civilizations old even by elven standards, and scores of bloodthirsty humanoids and even more hazardous beasts.
The Campaign in Zhentil Keep
By the time the PCs are ready for the dangers of the Western Moonsea region and the city of Zhentil Keep, they should be tough and hardy adventurers. They most likely worked their way through the previous chapters, gaining experience and insight while exploring the cities of Melvaunt, Hillsfar, Mulmaster, and the smaller locales in between. This section is geared to high-level characters, and if your PCs aren't of sufficient power to face the encounters presented herein, they might quickly be overwhelmed. Even if they are of suitable levels, the challenges available in this chapter will try their abilities and test your players' faculties to the fullest.
As the DM, your job will be just as challenging. You not only have to contend with characters who have a whole slew of unusual and powerful abilities on hand -- including potent spells, uncanny class and prestige class abilities, and devastating magic items -- but you also are being asked to run much more powerful creatures, and run them intelligently. That's a lot to handle. There are a few things you should keep in mind now that you are running an upper-echelon campaign.
First, realize that the degree of complexity within the game at high levels means things are going to move more slowly. Be prepared to track a host of different statistics (especially duration for spell effects) during the course of each round of combat, and realize that one big combat in an evening is an acceptable game session. No one ever found two hastily played encounters with sloppy adjudicating to be more entertaining than a single event that is well prepared, coordinated, and memorable.
Second, understand that few creatures in the game can truly threaten a group of high-level characters in a toe-to-toe fight, at least when their CRs are at an appropriate value. This axiom has little to do with game balance and more to do with the host of information-gathering techniques the characters have available to them. At high enough levels, players are more than willing to spend half an hour or more of a game session just having their characters do magical exploration, sending all sorts of spell sensors down hallways, around corners, and even under the surface of the water to see what's lurking nearby. Once they have scouted the area thoroughly, they'll spend another hour or so just prepping for the ensuing confrontation. Scores of "buff" spells get passed around, potions and scrolls are readied, and no one makes a move until the characters are literally glowing with magical protection. Only then will they be ready to tackle the adversaries.
The best way for you to counter this behavior is through cunning, not through simply amassing greater numbers of more powerful monsters. Misdirection and illusion become the order of the day. Anything a monster or pack of monsters can do to siphon off the PCs' most powerful spells in a harmless fashion is cleverness well used. Look, for example, at the Dragon's Lair encounter in this chapter. The illusory dragon sleeping in the middle of the chamber is there to draw fire, making PCs waste their best spells -- and they will be itching to use those spells, because that's what the excitement of getting to high levels is all about.
In conjunction with the idea that trickery is your best weapon, remember too that traditional deterrents such as physical barriers are no longer going to be effective. The Citadel of the Raven is a formidable fortress, but it's going to be a simple matter for characters with access to such spells as teleport and ethereal jaunt to bypass those defenses. So plan accordingly -- it's not how the antagonists keep the PCs out; it's how they deal with them after they've made it inside.