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The Division of the Five: A campaign schemeby Ville Lähde
Overview of the campaign:
This campaign scheme was originally written for the Twin Campaigns. It lays a loose basis for a series of adventures that take place in Karameikos and the Five Shires. At the centre of the campaign is the ancient Nithian Lich Hazar and his intricate plan to bring the Traladara under the sway of his dark patron, a deity of the undead. During the course of this campaign a lot of unknown historical events are brought to light, even from the time of the Hutaakan occupation and the wars against the Nithian gnolls. Also the actions of Hazar, his allies and followers will greatly influence the politics of Karameikos.
The Plans of Hazar:
The name of the campaign derives from the nature of Hazar's master plan. He summons an avatar of his deity (or some equivalent, depending on the metaphysics of your campaign) to Mystara, and divides it into five spirits - each of which is able to possess even the most powerful individuals. The spirits will be sent to five locations of the Duchy in order to possess key individuals via powerful religious rituals. The rituals are performed by members of the cult of Hazar. The souls of the possessed are captured in soul-cage crystals that are in the fortress of Hazar, and the undead deity will be able to control their bodies. If the plan succeeds, Karameikos will be largely under undead reign. (Note: The timeline proposed below assume that the possessions will take place.)
The master plan doesn't cover all of the story, though. Every possessing ritual is followed with secondary plans of the cult, the object of which is to spread disorder in the realm. This would make it easier for the undead spirits to fulfil the plans of the undead deity. Hazar is aided in this by many allies and contacts, the most important of which being the Iron Ring. His cult has thoroughly infiltrated the criminal organisation. (Note: The infiltration of the Iron Ring was easier in the Twin Campaigns as the organisation had been weakened substantially in the earlier years of the second millennium AC. This resulted from the campaign thread "Wrath of Iron Ring" suggested in the module "Night's Dark Terror. The DM can of course make the Iron Ring more of an ally of Hazar and less of a pawn. Some hidden agenda of the Ring Masters would then fit the campaign well: the idea of powerful undead reign would not be very appealing to any sane group.)
All of Hazar's plans shall culminate in the instigation of a conflict between the Black Eagle and Karameikos, in which much of the military might of the realm would be destroyed. This will be easy if the possession plans are successful. Thus the realm will be ripe for undead infiltration. The conflict will centre on the town of Luln, which will be attacked by the forces of Hazar, Iron Ring and Black Eagle. They are met by expeditionary forces from around the realm, brought in by the possessed individuals. As the Karameikan forces are commanded by the undead spirits, their defeat is inevitable.
Then again, this will also be the best situation for reversing the possessions. The reversal will require a lot of clerical power, the soul cages and the presence of the possessed. But even if the PCs succeed in this, the undead deity has still one card in its sleeve. The Division of the Five will be followed with "the Merge of the Five". The banished spirits will combine into the manifestation of a full Avatar in the battlefield. (Note: The DM can of course rebuild the campaign thus that the object of the PCs is to stop this conflict from happening. Thus the centre of the campaign would be on stopping the possessions.)
The Traladaran artefacts:
The three artefacts of the Traladaran people, introduced in the Vaults of Pandius, may also play an important part in this campaign. Whatever celestial forces are watching over the Traladara, they have nonetheless been concerned about Hazar for a long time. The three artefacts were created during the Hutaakan occupation to help Traldar rebels, or after the Hutaakan withdrawal to aid the Traldar people. They were held by Halav, Petra and Zirchev during their heroic exploits, but after the war against the gnolls and the death of Halav they were scattered and lost.
Now the artefacts are once more being drawn to light. But the undead deity has intervened. During the centuries that Hazar has been realising his plan, his undead patron has influenced his with visions and portents about suitable allies. One reason for this was that Hazar would thus find the lost artefacts. Now Hazar has ordered powerful allies to guard the artefacts, so that they won't disturb his campaign. The artefacts can function as a basis for a religious quest - the protectors of the Traladaran people send their follower(s) to regain them, to be used in the battle against Hazar. (More details on the items may be found in the article in the Vaults. As one can see, they have been linked to the idiosyncratic history of the Twin Campaigns, but can easily be modified to suit any version of Karameikos.)
Locations of the items:
The Armour of Halav: Either agents of Hazar found this in the ruins of Lavv under Kelven, or it had become the property of the Korizegy clan centuries ago - depends how this suits the individual campaign history. In any case, the Korizegy family, cursed with vampirism by Hazar, now guards the armour.
The Mace of Petra: Guarded by a white dragon in the north-eastern mountains near Castellan Keep. Was lost in ancient wars against Frost Giants. The dragon is an ally of Hazar.
The Helmet of Zirchev: A tribe of werewolves lives in the ruins of Zirchev's tower in the Riverfork area. They have allied with Hazar.
The artefacts may be too powerful for some. They can be downgraded of course, but one possibility is to tie their powers to this specific quest. The items are not just passive "magic items", but they have their own destiny not up to the person holding them. Giving them up is a test of faith, and refusing to do so may have sinister outcomes...
I have suggested many general events in the following timeline. Most of them are optional. They are just suggested ways to get the PCs involved and to get some "glue" to hold the campaign together. The order of the campaign, even the main storyline, can easily be adapted to suit any taste. The DM can very well let PCs stop the attempts to possess the five individuals, instead of letting things go ahead to the final conflict. Trip to the fortress of Hazar may then be just a way to get rid of a dangerous foe, not to recover the lost souls. Or maybe just some souls are taken. Whether the PCs can stop the secondary plans or not is also significant - they can cause much grief and change many things. Also, the idea about involving some religious and nationalistic clashes to this campaign may be dropped, if the DM isn't interested in them.
History and general details of key individuals and groups:
He was a cleric of a Nithian deity of the undead during the time the Traladaran people fled to the lands now called Karameikos. Hazar decided that the Traladara and whatever powers assisted them in their "defection" must be punished. He moved to the lands later populated by the halflings, the Five Shires. In the northern mountains he started creating a substantial workforce of undead, which assisted him in building a pyramid inside a mountain. This was to become the power base for the emerging cult of Hazar in these lands.
Hazar knew that the execution of his master plan would take centuries, so he began the morbid path of attaining lichdom. To gain favours from his deity he attacked many members of the Gentle Folk, turning some of their lords into Wyrds and other forms of undead. After becoming a true lich he started creating his cult (see below). Also, he was responsible for the downfall and vampirism of the Korizegy family.
(In the Twin Campaigns this is Chemos, the god of undeath - ripped off from the Krynn pantheon. Chemos was one of the three gods that formed the Nithian triumvirate. Others were Thanatos and Rathanos.)
A leader of a band of halfling Strikers, veterans of many incursions into the Black Eagle. Nipa has become aware of the increasing activities of the Iron Ring and some powerful allies they have gained. He will be an excellent source of information, a guide, and most of all a great plot tool for involving the PCs in the trouble brewing in the Shires and the Black Eagle.
Cult of Hazar:
This group has been created by Hazar during the last few centuries. They have worked in secret up to the present, building bases of power, gaining allies and laying groundwork for the Division of the Five. One of their power bases is in the middle of Blight Swamp, where they have forged an alliance with the local black dragon. In the "key locations" below, their local chapters and alliances are detailed.
Note: One good way to introduce the PCs into this campaign is to have them bump into the cult from time to time. (Actually, the idea of the cult was sparked years ago when I crafted a small "basic level" adventure around the Threshold undead logging camp -idea in the Expert set.)
This sinister organisation has been detailed in the module "Night's Dark terror". As told above, the Ring has been infiltrated by the Cult of Hazar. Several Masters, Reavers and their Hound pawns have been deployed around Karameikos to assist the cultists in their possession plans and general mischief. Now the Ring is gathering its forces and pulling in favours in the Black Eagle to gather a substantial army to attack Luln.
Church of Karameikos opposition & The Order of Griffon:
Due to the meddling of the Hazar cultists and the Iron Ring agents, the relations between the church of Traladara and the Church of Karameikos have become somewhat strained. Some zealous elements in the order of Griffon and the Church of Karameikos see this as an opportunity to gain power and get rid of some dangerous opponents both within their own church and in the Church of Traladara.
(The key individuals of the churches and some interesting plot suggestions have been given in the Karameikos Gazetteer.)
This is a group of militant Traladarans who have been driven underground. They are led by a former member of the Cult of Halav, Kiril Petrevich. Kiril had a vision of the coming dangers threatening "the Sacred Realm" of Stephan Karameikos. These were later "confirmed" by a series of obscure texts written by an insane monk of the Church of Traladara. The vision and the writings hint of a danger by "the Five, who were the One, but have become the Five only to become the one again..." (you get the drift), the iron chains that threaten to enslave the children of Traladara, and the persecution of the Traladarans.
The Fivebane is an excellent ally for the PCs during the adventures in Specularum, especially when the relations between the two churches become strained.
Other individuals: To flesh out the campaign the DM will need a lot of individual cultists, Iron Ring agents, zealots and militants and dark allies of Hazar. In "Key locations" below several canon individuals have been mentioned also.
The Cult of Hazar has several objectives here. They wish to possess admiral Hyraksos (or some other military official), who could influence the deployment of the Karameikan forces in the coming conflict. Other plans include framing incidents that will strain the relations between the two churches: some assassinations, fake demagogues etc.
Optional: IMC I spiced up the action in Specularum by launching several adventure threads from the Karameikos Gazetteer and linking them to the main plot: The treason of Tisza and Marilenev, who may be connected with the Fivebane. The Iron Ring agents may become involved in the internal clashes of the Torenescu family, where Dmitros the beggar king may become an important figure etc.
The main objective of the cult is to possess baron Kelven, who would also deploy troops to the coming conflict. In addition to that, the cultists and the Iron Ring members will engage in sabotage in order to stop or delay the troops that will be sent to assist the Castellan keep during the giant orc invasion.
The operatives in Kelven and possibly small cells in Rifllian and Threshold will try to spread mistrust between the humans and the elves. The object of this is to make it harder for the elves to coordinate their actions with humans in the Luln battle.
Hordes of Pfark tribe orcs (see "Night's Dark Terror") and Frost giants have succumbed to the authority of a powerful white dragon, who is an ally of Hazar. Unless the PCs intervene, the northern army will most likely be devastated.
The cultists are ready to possess one of the key figures of the Karameikan forces during the battle. IMC this was Aleena Halaran, who joined the Castellan garrison with a Threshold contingent.
See: The Traladaran artefacts
During the last few decades Hazar has tempted a cult of doppelgangers to settle in the city. There is going to be a possession carnival. In addition to the attempted spirit possession of Sulescu himself, the doppelgangers will try to take over the whole town. If this succeeds, then a Sulescu force sent into the Luln battle will be very dangerous to other unit on its side.
Guarding the Armour of Halav isn't the only task for the Korizegy vampires. Their task is also to possess the leader of the elves, who will be lured to the western fringes of the elven woods by several incidents staged by the Iron Ring. Local loggers, hunters etc. will be blamed for them, adding to the stress on human-elf-relations.
The main element here is the Helmet of Zirchev, which a tribe of werewolves is guarding. In the coming Luln conflict the werewolves might be very dangerous, if Hazar manages to get the to them battlefield.
Note: One powerful cleric cultist has voluntarily contracted lycanthropy to add to the defences here.
The power base of the cult may be used as a way to get the PCs gain some information on the location of Hazar's fortress. Only the highest clerics know about it.
The Fortress of Hazar:
This is a pyramid carved right into a mountain. A very dangerous place, as Hazar has had centuries to gain powerful pawns and chains of sub-pawns. For the PCs the soul crystals are the main attraction.
One possible timeline:
This is only a suggestion for the order of events. Much will of course depend on how successful the PCs are in foiling the plans of the cult and gaining information about other cult/Iron Ring cells. It is up to the DM to decide now much the cells know about each other.
1) Trouble in Specularum
The PCs get involved in the events, when the clashes between the militants of the two churches become bloody. The agents of Iron Ring fuel these clashes, and may directly aid one party. Another good introductory thread might be the poisonous plot within the Torenescu family - Iron Ring agents might be involved, and this might lead to confrontations between the Iron Ring and the Torenescu loyalists. The idea here is that the PCs just get involved with the Iron Ring at this stage, so they know something sinister is cooking. But the Cult of Hazar will remain in the background.
- One outcome of these clashes might be that either of both of the militant parties will be outlawed and persecuted.
2) Sabotage and racism in Kelven
The best way to involve the PCs in the events in Kelven is to have them travel there with the troops that are sent to assist the Castellan keep. They may also get hints about the straining of the elf-human -relationships.
3) The Castellan keep
This is an opportunity for some good dragon-hunting and giant-bashing. The Mace of Petra is a good way to introduce the PCs to the deeper religious significance of this campaign. They might find some engraved testimonies of the last owner of the mace, describing the coming of the Hutaakan, the ancient flight of Traldar from unknown lands (Nithia) - and there might be hints about a dark undead fiend... Most of all, the texts will refer to the other artefacts, which will most likely tempt the PCs. Some religious visions might be good here, if the DM wants to use the idea about the Traladaran religious quest.
4) Possession in Specularum
The nationalistic and religious clashes deepen, possibly involving Marilenev and the treasonous Tisza. The Iron Ring and the cultist will try to intensify these clashes, so that the Duke will have to concentrate his attention on maintaining order in the city. After the possession of Hyraksos (or someone else), the internal policies of the Karameikan government will shift rapidly. The militant parties, especially the Traladaran ones, will be persecuted harshly.
At this time news of troop concentrations in the Black Eagle reach the capital. The Strikers of Nipa may be a good lead here. Haphazard plans are made to send some troops to assist Sascia of Luln, but the volatile situation on Specularum, troubles with elves, and the recent Castellan operations will make full mobilisation impossible.
Notes: IMC I had the whole Specularum situation develop so far, that the Traladaran militants, who had internal frictions of their own, had to flee to Marilenev. Her own treasonous activities and connections with Tisza had been brought to light, and a new rebellion was looming on the horizon. In the end a fraction within the ranks of the would-be rebels left Marilenev alone, and she was publicly executed. The PC (Alexander Penhaligon) managed to change from the hero of Castellan to an outlaw and a public hero again.
5) The Sulescu Doppelganger festival
One possible lead that can lure the PCs here is the fact that Sulescu has one of the oldest surviving collections of ancient Traladaran textual records. Those looking for clues about the whereabouts of the artefacts will most likely be drawn here. And in fact, there's a lot to find. Ancient tablets and manuscripts give more hints about the secret history of the Traladaran people. An old document tells about the final battle between the beastman king (gnoll) and Halav, the demise of both, and the cowardly retreat of the Hutaakan to their unknown valley. Through careful research one can trace the fate of the three heroes and their artefacts, although the details are fragmentary. What is clear is the retreat of Zirchev to his tower, location of which may be left obscure. Also there's a brief remark on the Armour of Halav, (and how it ended with the Korizegy family, it the DM wishes to use this version of history).
The doppelganger plot can be brought in by a series of detective-style murder investigations, that the officials may ask the PCs to help with. This will of course require that the DM fleshes out the town of Sulescu in considerable detail.
6) The Vampires of Korizegy Keep
There are two good ways to bring the PCs here. The visit can be a part of the quest for the Traladaran artefacts. (Hints of the location of the armour may be found in Sulescu. Alternatively, if the agents of the Iron Ring and the Cult have found the armour in Lavv, under Kelven, and transported it here, hints of this can be found during the Kelven episode.) Or the PCs may get involved with some elf-human clashes in the western part of the elven forest, which may lead them to the vampiric allies of Hazar. This also gives a good opportunity for some elven adventures, which are often forgotten in Karameikos.
The Armour of Halav is also a good opportunity to introduce some further knowledge about the history of the realm. Either via religious visions, textual sources by the former holders of the artefact or even an apparition of one of them, the DM can reveal the location of the Helmet of Zirchev, and perhaps make the religious quest "official" by confirming it with a divine intervention.
(Note: IMC I shocked the PCs with a little gaming trick, when they were approaching the Korizegy Keep. After a restful night they woke up and continued their approach, sensing an eerie feeling in the air. The keep was totally in ruins, with little marks of its former glory. Then, with a ground-shaking tremor, a ghastly thing burst out from some forgotten vault: a huge carrion bird made entirely of the bones of elves/infants/deformed animals/those dead in battle (take your pick). A desperate battle ensued, resulting in the death of the PCs, some screaming (This is unfair! We haven't got a chance!)... and ended with the PCs waking up in the night, screaming and sweaty. Their actual approach to the Keep was a bit edgy. If you haven't done anything like this before, I strongly recommend it.)
7) The werewolves of Riverfork
As PCs travel to higher experience levels, the shock value of lycanthropes seems to diminish a little. So why not introduce a whole tribe of them?
The lycanthropic allies of Hazar can be made into tough adversaries. This is a good way to demonstrate the remaining wildness and danger of Karameikos. Also, this is a good opportunity to bring some non-humanoid allies to the play: I introduces some characters that became good friends to the PCs and were a big help to them. A local chevall is worried about the threat of werewolves to the wild horses living in the area. There's also a solitary werebear, a good and stout fellow, who can be convinced to join the fight. (I actually named the werebear Pooh...)
The ancient tower of Zirchev, where the werewolves are living, is a good place to introduce some ancient lore again. Maybe the PCs can find an old poem, learned from hin bards and written down by Zirchev, which describes the fate of the Gentle folk in the hands of an evil, undead monster. Sufficient tips about Hazar may lure the PCs into investigating similar legends in the Five Shires, and they may lead them to the fortress of Hazar. Or in the notes of the Hazar cultist who became a werewolf, the PCs may find notes about the cult base in the Blight Swamp, or even about the fortress of Hazar.
8) Blight Swamp
This encounter is optional in the sense that there aren't any possession plans around. Then again, finding out about the extent and the power of the cult will be a good dramatic moment for the PCs. Here they may realise the dangerous implications of the coming conflict with the forces of the Black Eagle, the Iron Ring and the Cult of Hazar. They have two choices:
Should they turn back and try to reverse the possession? It's up to the DM whether s/he lets them understand that this will require the soul-cage crystals (see below). Or shall they try to eliminate the leader of the cult before the battle of Luln ensues? That is, if there's time. Or if the DM wishes, they may have enough time to recover the crystals AND return to Luln in order to reverse the possessions in the final battle. It is even possible that they simply decide to assassinate the possessed individuals, if they have become interested in the rebellious ideas they found in the Specularum episodes. Or maybe this is just an act of desperation. Anyway, their public life in Karameikos would be over.
9) The Five Shires and Hazar's Fortress
As any lair of a lich, this should be made into a tough encounter. Also, the outlandish setting of a pyramid inside a mountain allows the DM to bring the PCs into environmental settings that are strange, alienating and eerie in themselves. Remember that Hazar has had a lot of spare time to devote to decorating. Some ideas: An elven forest crafted from stone, inhabited by the Gentle Folk wyrds. Vampiric or spectre servants that have Nithian looks, including mummies of course. Undead topis, crafted from halflings instead of the usual shrinking procedure - there might actually be smials for lairs! Hazar may have incorporated the Hutaakan science of living statues for his defences
10) CLIMAX: The Battle of Luln
This is the culmination point for Hazar's plans. The idea is that the possessed individuals will lead expeditionary forces from around the realm to battle the Black Eagle, Iron Ring & Cult incursion. During this campaign, this strange will to commit forces and take part in the battle personally will be a good hint that something is amiss: Who ever heard of Sulescu leaving his town? Why the heck was Hyraksos, an admiral, elected to lead a ground force?
Composition of the Karameikan force might look something like this:
- A unit of Specularum guard or marines, led by Hyraksos.
- A unit of Kelven troops, led by the baron.
- Some elven "volunteers", led by the present leader of elves.
- If Aleena Halaran was possessed, you might throw in some Threshold troops
- A surprising Sulescu unit, led by Sulescu himself.
- The troops of Sascia, effectively the only force totally loyal to Karameikos (not under spirit control).
- If you wish to bring in some other loyal forces, the Strikers of Nipa are a good option, possibly even some Fivebane "commandoes". The Elvenguard would also be a good solution.
What about the enemy? Their forces could include:
- Some elite guardsmen of the Black Eagle Barony.
- Crack mercenary troops hired by the Iron Ring.
- Bugbear mercenaries from western Karameikos.
- Werewolves of Riverfork, if the PCs couldn't eliminate them.
- A unit or Iron Ring Hounds, equal to berserkers.
- A surprise force of skeletons or zombies, commanded by priests of the Cult of Hazar. Of course, a force like this would be kept in secret from the other enemy units.
- High-level cult priests, Iron Ring Masters and Reavers and officers of the Black Eagle will be the big baddies in this battle.
What is the object of this battle from the viewpoint of Hazar? In short: total annihilation, as the leaders of the Karameikan forces will effectively try to lose the battle. The strained elf-human relations will make even direct confrontations between units in the Karameikan side plausible (that is, if the PCs didn't stop these plans before). But ironically, victory for Black Eagle isn't what Hazar is looking for. He just wants both sides to suffer terrible losses, but the possessed individuals are of course meant to get home in one piece. The Cult and Iron Ring leaders are expendable, as the plans have already been realised. The Black Eagle is meant to lose much in this battle, too - if Hazar's deity manages to gain control in Karameikos, invading Black Eagle will be on the "things to do-list" sooner or later. Thus it is even possible that the undead troops will turn on their "allies" if the battle goes too well for the Black Eagle side.
The Macabre High-Fantasy Splatter Climax Option:
As mentioned earlier, there's still one card in Hazar's sleeve if thing go bad for him. That is, if the PCs manage to gain the soul-cage crystals, banish the undead spirits and recover the lost souls. This is the only good way for the Karameikan side to win this conflict. But (as described below) the spirits can only be banished from the possessed bodies, not back to their home plane - short of a wish spell, that is. Or five simultaneous, powerful dispel evils directed at all of the spirits at the same time, as they are, despite their divided nature, essentially one being.
After being banished from the possessed bodies, the Five spirits shall hover over the battlefield, coolly gazing over the blood and mayhem. Then, joining in a unison invocation, they cause every single body on the field to explode, scattering hundreds of bones in the air. The spirits merge into one towering Avatar of the undead god, constructing its body from the bones, joined by guts and tendons of the fallen - and claws and teeth of the countless fallen weapons.
See if they can handle this...
- Spying mission to the Black Eagle Barony in order to unearth the sinister connections between the Iron Ring and the Cult of Hazar.
- Additional Elf-Human clashes in Rifllian, where an Iron Ring cell is active.
Ways to bring the PCs into the campaign:
You can of course start the campaign from the Frost Giant battles, bring in the Cult of Hazar there, and merge the two Sulescu episodes together. Or the PCs may get involved in the clashes between elves and humans in western Karameikos or Rifllian. Also, the news about troop movements in Black Eagle may reach the PCs very early on, and they start the campaign by the above mentioned spying missions. Then the existence of the Cult would be a big surprise.
Reversing the possessions:
I decided on the following procedure. To successfully reverse the possession one has to cast a powerful dispel evil spell at the possessed individual. This will drive the spirit out. This must be followed with breaking the soul-cage crystal in close proximity of the body, so that the soul can find its way home. Otherwise the body will fall into coma.
It is very possible that the PCs find out about the possessions early on (if the DM wishes so) and try to dispel the spirit - with disastrous consequences. How the hell are they going to explain to the authorities, that they exorcised a renowned individual into coma? A trip to Five Shires to recover the crystals might be in order.
Or: The PCs can be totally oblivious to the fact that anyone has been possessed. They may just decide to travel to Hazar's fortress to kill the lich. Finding the caged souls of five compatriots will be a shock - imagine their faces when they realise who is going to lead the Karameikan armies "in just a few days! How the heck are we going to get there in time? Where on Mystara are we going to get enough clerics to dispel those spirits? I wish I never started this adventuring business, I always wanted to be a lumberjack, leaping from..."