Perilous Gateways
Portals of the Moonstars
By Dale Donovan

The Ankhapur Portal

Last week, mention was made of how Khelben "Blackstaff" Arunsun prefers a hands-on approach when monitoring the actions of his Moonstars. Before we get to this week's portal, a few details on how the typical Moonstars agent acts are worthwhile.

The Blackstaff's first rule for any Moonstars agent is this: Don't get caught while performing Moonstars-related activities. He cares not how an agent spends her days or nights, just as long as she doesn't compromise the carefully constructed secrecy that remains to this day to be the Moonstars' greatest weapon. All Moonstars agents are prompted to accomplish their missions, but not to risk certain capture. Aborting a mission due to that possibility is never frowned upon. Overt actions that would require such decisions remain relatively rare for the small group at this point, however.

The majority of Moonstars "missions" are nothing more than reconnaissance of targets chosen by the Blackstaff or Laeral. Agents surreptitiously observe their targets and report their findings, nothing more. At times, however, action is called for and the Moonstars do not hesitate on such occasions. If the Moonstars discover a doppelganger, fiend, or other creature using magical abilities to infiltrate civilized society, the Moonstars act to kill or drive off the monster. Other Moonstars activities that some might view as questionable include the following:

  • Kidnapping evil individuals for interrogation and a magical "mindwipe" to remove all memories of the questioning;
  • Stealing (or planting) of magic items and even relics and artifacts;
  • The "reapportioning" of profits and goods gained by the Moonstars after breaking up or destroying criminal or evil activities.

These are just some examples, and all such efforts are likely known only by the most senior Moonstars.

One place that has seen Moonstars activity recently is the city of Ankhapur, which is on the northern shore of the Lake of Steam. Not long ago, a powerful Cyricist mage named Pristoleph (CE male fire genasi Sor8/Dev5 of Cyric) took over the neighboring city of Innarlith, the largest trading city on the eastern half of the Lake of Steam. As Ankhapur has, in recent years, built new roads and improved trade conditions there, the new Cyricist regime in Innarlith views the city ruled by King Janol I (NG male human Rog10) as a threat to its incredibly lucrative trade income. Further, Ankhapur is the nearest large city to Innarlith and it naturally becomes a logical target for Cyricist expansion. Additionally, Pristoleph has invited a Thayan enclave into Innarlith, one of the few independent city-states that had been able to resist the lure of the Thayan magic-item trade.

The Ankhapuran Moonstars portal lies in a disused portion of the city's sewers, not far from the docks. The sewers in this part of the city are home to many creatures, but one pays particular attention to the part of the sewers containing the portal. An unusually large and intelligent grick claims as part of it hunting ground the area of the sewers containing the portal, and it knows that any beings coming from what is otherwise a dead-end portion of the sewer tunnels are not to be attacked; they are "not food." Agents who are to use this portal are warned not to attack the grick, which bears an odd, bright green beak. The grick does not provide any assistance or aid to portal users; it simply allows them passage out (and back into) its territory.

Advanced Grick: CR 3; Medium aberration; HD 4d8; hp 18; Init +6; Spd 30 ft., climb 20 ft.; AC 16, touch 12, flat-footed 14; Base Atk +3; Grp +5; Atk +5 melee (1d4+2, tentacle); Full Atk +5 melee (1d4+2, 4 tentacles) and +0 melee (1d3+1, bite); SQ damage reduction 10/magic, darkvision 60 ft., scent; AL N; SV Fort +1, Ref +3, Will +6; Str 14, Dex 14, Con 11, Int 3, Wis 14, Cha 5.

Skills and Feats: Climb +10, Hide +5, Listen +6, Spot +6; Alertness, Improved Initiative, Track.

Scent (Ex): The advanced grick can detect approaching enemies, sniff out hidden foes, and track by sense of smell.

Skills: A grick has a +8 racial bonus on Climb checks and can always choose to take 10 on a Climb check, even if rushed or threatened (already figured above). Their coloration affords gricks a +8 racial bonus on Hide checks when in natural rocky areas.

How to Incorporate the Ankhapur Portal Into Your Campaign

  • The Cyricist faction within the Zhentarim have placed several of its agents in and around Ankhapur, but to what end, not even the Moonstars know. That's why they send the PCs into the city to watch a few of the Cyricists they've identified and to abduct one of them, render him or her unable to recall the details of the Ankhapuran portal, and bring him to a currently undisclosed location for interrogation. Some members of the Moonstars fear that the Ankhapuran Cyricist activities are somehow tied to the recent Cyricist coup in Innarlith, the largest, nearest neighboring city to Ankhapur's east. They fear a possible alliance between the Cyricist Zhents and the Cyricist power base in Innarlith. What long-term repercussions such an arrangement could have for the Lake of Steam region and the religious differences among the ranks of the Zhentarim is unknown, but potentially dire.

  • Pristoleph's former rival in Innarlith, Mandalax the Mighty (CG male human Wiz8), escaped the evil mage's coup with his life, but little else. He fled the city and now secretly resides in Ankhapur, scheming on how best to displace Pristoleph, reduce or eliminate the Cyricist influence, and get the Thayans out of his home city. The Moonstars have heard rumors that Mandalax is in Ankhapur, and the group's senior members would very much like to talk with him. PCs might be sent to make contact with the wizard to set up a discussion, try to recruit him into the group itself, or maybe attempt to abduct the man to see if his defeat has affected his self-confidence and will to fight. With his knowledge of Innarlith and Pristoleph, Mandalax could be an incredibly valuable ally in freeing the city from the evils gripping it.

  • The Cyricists of Innarlith do have interest in weakening Ankhapur's burgeoning trade income and, eventually, bringing the city itself under the rule of Pristoleph and his Cyricist backers. To this end, Pristoleph has recruited several of the creatures commonly known as banelars who retain an allegiance to Cyric, rather than the reborn Bane. He sent these creatures to Ankhapur with the goal of gathering a large enough force to assassinate King Janol I. The Cyricists have found more than one noble family, disgruntled by the heightened taxes and diminished role in ruling that King Janol introduced, to comply with this plan and even to offer up a "suitable" puppet to place on the throne after Janol's death.

Banelar: CR 7; Huge magical beast; HD 7d10+35; hp 73; Init +5; Spd 30 ft., swim 30 ft.; AC 14, touch 9, flat-footed 13; Base Atk +7; Grp +23; Atk +13 melee (2d4+8, sting); Full Atk +13 melee (2d4+8, sting) and +8 melee (1d3+4, bite); Space/Reach 15 ft./15 ft.; SA magic items, poison, spells; SQ darkvision 60 ft., fast healing 2, immunities (acid, poison), low-light vision, resist petrification; AL LE; SV Fort +10, Ref +6, Will +7; Str 26, Dex 13, Con 21, Int 17, Wis 16, Cha 16.

Skills and Feats: Concentration +15, Diplomacy +13, Hide -7, Intimidate +13, Spot +13, Swim +16, Use Magic Device +13; Improved Initiative, Iron Will, Spell Focus (enchantment).

Magic Items: Banelars collect magic items and use them freely. Their tentacles can wear or manipulate amulets, rings, wands, rods, potions, and similar small items.

Poison: A banelar delivers its poison (Fort DC 18) with each successful sting or bite attack. The initial effect is 2d4 points of Constitution damage, and the secondary effect is unconsciousness for 1d3 hours. As a side effect, the skin at the site of the wound turns blue until after the poison wears off.

Spells: A banelar has the spellcasting abilities of a 6th-level cleric and has access to the Evil, Magic, and Water domains.

Fast Healing (Ex): The banelar regains hit points at the rate of 2 per round. Fast healing does not restore hit points lost from starvation, thirst, or suffocation, and it does not allow the banelar to regrow or reattach lost body parts.

Resist Petrification (Ex): A banelar gains a +3 bonus on saving throws to resist petrification.

Cleric Spells Prepared (5/4/4/3; save DC 13 + spell level): 0 -- create water, detect magic, guidance, read magic, resistance; 1st -- bane, cause fear, doom, protection from good; 2nd -- bull's strength, darkness, desecrate, silence; 3rd -- blindness/deafness, contagion, dispel magic.

Description: Banelars have large, dark, snakelike bodies with humanoid heads. They tend to be a dark purple-green in color with greenish-white, glistening eyes and tiny tentacles in a ring around their mouth.

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