Red Hand of Doom and Karameikos - Origins and Consequences



Oct 08, 2006 1:52:28
I just recently picked up the adventure titled "Red Hand of Doom" and while I usually don't recommend non-Mystaran products (for a variety of reasons) this particular adventure is great. It is fantastic in its own right, but I bought it because I saw a LOT of potential to alter it for a Karameikan campaign.

I fully plan to post my changes to this worthy adventure, but first let me set the stage for how the Red Hand of Doom fits into the Karameikan storyline. It starts with an Immortal named Orcus...

Although it is highly unlikely that the players will become aware of the full depth of Immortal involvement, it is, perhaps, valuable for the DM to know how all the events, individuals, and organizations fit into Orcus's grand scheme.

Long before Halav, Petra, and Zirchev were even born into mortality, Orcus (his mortal name long since forgotten) was a powerful Traladaran noble who happened to be inflicted with a rare form of lycanthropy which turned him into a devil swine. His already greedy and selfish nature turned more and more destructive as the disease took hold. His control and influence also grew to encompass the whole region known as the Dymrak Forest. Those living under his cruel and depraved rule began to refer to him as "The Dymrak Dread," a title Orcus took a liking to, even as he tortured the ones responsible for its use.

Eventually, Orcus caught the attention of Thanatos who sponsored him to Immortality - an event which caused the Taladarans to cower in fear during the nights for many generations.

By the time of the Great Beastman War, Orcus had lost a lot of his interest in tormenting his former countrymen and had branched out into other areas of interest. Certainly, he would spare a glance every now and again into the Traldar lands to see how "his" people were doing, but it was a very lazy affair.

It, therefore, came as a surprise to him to find that that upstart Halav and his two lapdogs, Petra and Zirchev, had gained Immortality and developed quite a following - and had actually been very active for quite a number of years.

Incensed at these brash Immortals, Orcus began to become involved in Traladaran matters once again. He did not spend any significant amount of time with it - just enough to keep the younger Immortals aware of his displeasure with their interference. At times he found more enjoyment in making the Traladaran Three worry about that he might be plotting that actually developing any plot at all - manipulating Immortal fears proved as much fun as manipulating mortals fears had once been.

Still, watching the steadily growing power of Halav, et. al., gave him occasional pause to think. By AC 900, Orcus knew he would have to reassert his authority over "his" people and teach Halav, Petra, and Zirchev a lesson. The Traladaran Three became the target of a series of Strokes aimed at lessing their power. In AC 970, Orcus began to set his planned Major Stroke in motion.

During that year, Orcus instructed nine of his most faithful worshippers, the Hag Witches of the Dymrak, to direct their covey's magical ability to cast dream on a vulnerable boy named Sergyev who was training to be a cleric of the Church of Traladara. The dreams were to be very low keyed with the intent of chipping away at the man's sanity. These dreams culminated, in AC 995, in the dream appearance of Orcus himself in the guise of Halav.

Orcus told the young man that he (Halav) had been reincarnated in the form of Duke Stefan Karameikos III. Under the direction of Orcus, Sergyev left the Church and formed the Cult of Halav. In the Cult's early days, Orcus maneuvered Cult members into the "discovery" of a "relic" from the Beastman War (it really wasn't, but Orcus wanted them to believe it was).

This relic, a tome written in Gnoll (Orcus found that much more "authentic" than it being written in Infernal) describing a ritual used by the leader of the Beastman horde (it wasn't even known to the beastmen - and Yeenoghu, who was the leader during that time period and now an Immortal himself, was slightly insulted when he learned of this particular lie told by Orcus) called the "Avatar of the Horde" (DMG II, pg. 114-115). Believing they were the sole guardians of this dangerous secret, the Cult of Halav kept the tome hidden from even the majority of its members. Only Sergyev and his handpicked associates knew what mystery was detailed inside.

Years passed and the Cult grew in strength, never knowing it was Orcus who granted them their clerical magic. In the meantime, the Hag Witches worked to solidify the humanoid tribes of the Dymrak Forest. They suffered setbacks due to the presence of the green dragon Argos, who wanted to control the tribes in spite of being a cleric of Orcus himself (which eventually caused Orcus to deliver him on a proverbial platter to an adventurer looking for revenge) and the arrival of the Alfheim refugees during the Wrath of the Immortals War.

The Argos problem solved itself simply enough when the dragon bit off more than he could chew (so to speak) and got himself killed by an adventurer from Penhaligon. The elves continued to be a problem, but Orcus assured the covey that their presence would be a moot point in the near future.

The major setback to the Hag's efforts were due to a single human, known only as the Seer. Set in opposition to his Hags by Zirchev, Orcus had originally dismissed the various Seers as pathetic attempts by Zirchev. However, since the current Seer has been a thorn in the side of the Hags for more than 50 years now, Orcus has finally decided to reconsider this threat and have him removed. Various attempts to lessen the Seer's power over the years have proved fruitless and Orcus is starting to lose his patience.

Finally, in AC 1020, all of the pieces are in place for Orcus to ignite the fuse that will lead to a holy war in Karameikos - causing the death of many clerics and followers (and the associated loss of power) of Halav, Petra, and Zirchev.

King Stefan Karameikos, now 72 years old, is reaching the end of his mortal life, and Orcus plans to give the old coot a push in the right direction. Long time members of the Cult of Halav have expressed concern that Stefan has never accepted their message and his role as the reincarnated King Halav. This is the moment Orcus has prepared Sergyev and other high ranking members of the Cult for.

Believing time is running out, Sergyev is convinced that the Cult must now force the issue and prove to Stefan and the rest of the world that he is, indeed, the savior of the Traladaran people. They intend to use the forbidden knowledge contained in the "Avatar of the Horde" ritual to raise an army of "beastmen" for King Stefan to defeat...and it just so happens that the Hag Witches, having won a major victory over the Seer (more on that later), have just such an army prepared.

The Red Hand of Doom adventure takes place at this point - with significant changes that I will detail in a later post.

Orcus is less concerned about the success or failure of this "beastman army." He would gladly see the entire horde destroyed as long as it accomplishes one simple task: Massive devastation within the Barony of Kelvin, ideally to include widespread destruction in the City of Kelvin.

Why? Because Orcus knows that Desmond Kelvin II has become more and more bitter as he grows older (thanks to some subtle nudging by Orcus). Whereas Desmond 20 years ago would never consider open rebellion, the destruction of his barony and city would send him over the edge. Orcus would be sure to allow Desmond to "discover" the Cult of Halav's involvement, and in his growing rage would call for the extermination of the entire Church of Traladara - which he sees as synonymous with the Cult.

Olliver Jowett (now in his mid 90's) is too old and frail to stop the splintering of the Church of Karameikos as Alfric Oderby takes up his friend Desmond's call for "aggressive reformation."

And Orcus sits back and smiles in remembrance of the good ol' days as Karameikos rips itself apart in civil war.

More to come later after I get some more specifics written up.


Oct 08, 2006 2:00:51
My altered introduction to the Red Hand of Doom adventure:


The deep forest glades danced with fire.

Throughout the heart of the wild forest the humans called the Dymrak, great bonfires had been kindled. There thousands of warriors had gathered – hobgoblins in armor dyed scarlet, thick-thewed bugbear berserkers, goblin wolf riders and skirmishers and archers, and giants as well, who towered over the rest. For so long they had fought each other, tribe against tribe, race against race, engaged in the endless test of battle, feud, and betrayal. But tonight…tonight they stood together, hated enemies shoulder-to-shoulder shouting together as brothers. And they saw that they were strong, and together they danced and sang and shook their blades at the smoke-hidden stars overhead.

“We are the Zhul Dymrak!” they shouted, and the trees shook with the thunder of their voices. “We are the Dymrak Dread! Uighulth na Hargai! None can stand before us!”

One by one the tribes fell silent. Armor creaked as thousands turned to look up to the Place of Speaking. There, a single champion emerged from the assemblage and slowly climbed the ancient stone stair cut into the side of the hill. A hundred bright yellow banners stood beneath them like a phalanx of spears, each marked with a great black eye. The warpriests holding the banners chanted battle-prayers in low voices as the champion ascended.

On the hundredth step, he stopped and turned to face the waiting warriors. He was tall and strong, a hobgoblin of immense size and stature. “I am the Avatar of the Horde!” he cried. “Hear me, warriors of the Dymrak Dread! Tomorrow we march to war!”

The warriors roared their approval, stamping their feet and clashing spear to shield. The leader waited, holding hands aloft until they quieted again. “The Witches of the Dymrak have shown us the way! They have taught us honor, discipline, obedience – and strength! No more will we waste our blood fighting each other. We will take the lands of the elf, the dwarf, and the human, and make them ours!”

The Avatar motioned to a pitiful human, beaten, bloodied, and chained to a stake near one of the huge bonfires. Nine withered figures slowly circled the old human, chanting and occasionally spitting on their prisoner. “We have blinded the eye of Zirchev and soon we will march to victory over the heart of Petra and cut off the arm of Halav! Remember that you stood here this night, warriors of the Dymrak Dread! For a hundred generations your sons and your sons’ sons will sing of the blood spilled by your swords and the glory you win in the nights to come! Now, my brothers – TO WAR!”

The borders of the Dymrak were too small to hold the shout the Dymrak Dread gave in answer to their warlord’s call.


Oct 08, 2006 8:13:29
Wow! I was going to run it somewhere in northern Karameikos but this looks like a better idea. Have you modified the RHoD map to fit Karameikos yet? Please post it if you do.



Oct 08, 2006 23:23:20
Well, I haven't taken the time to make a nice map of the area, but here is something that gives an idea of what I was thinking. True, the distances are smaller than presented in the adventure, but hey...what's a DM to do? Warning: This is hand-drawn and I am no artist.


Just remember that I placed this in AC 1020, so some things are going to be different than presented in GAZ1 or B10.

Here is a VERY brief rundown of the major changes as it relates to the map:

Part I: Witchwood is a northern section of the Dymrak Forest

Part II: Instead of convincing an owl riding elves, PCs have to convince the chevall led centaurs of the Kelvin Moors. The roadblock keeps help from arriving from Penhaligon or the Duke's Road Keep

Part III: The Ghostlord's Tower is placed in Koriszegy Keep - yeah, I know...all the canon material has Koriszegy as a vampire. I think it would be a nice change to have him as a lich instead.

Part IV: The Battle of Brindol becomes the Battle of Kelvin. I also thought a minor diversionary attack of Krakatos would keep help from arriving from the south

Part V: Switch Tiamat to Orcus and it's all golden


Oct 09, 2006 0:10:11
Some more thoughts on how Orcus set things up:

I envision this as a 3-phase plan, referred to briefly above as certain body parts of certain Immortals: The eye of Zirchev, the arm of Halav, and the heart of Petra.

The eye of Zirchev is the Seer. Those who have read my "Karameikan Timeline" (which might actually contradict some stuff I outlined here) and "Traldar and the Legend of the Eyes" stuff over at the Vaults will have a pretty good idea of why the Seer is referred to as an eye. The events to remove the Seer take place before this adventure.

Ironically (and of some humor to Orcus), Stefan Karameikos IS inspired by Halav to some degree and is therefore the "Arm of Halav." Cutting off of this arm is what this adventure is about. I actually plan to have Stefan at the Battle of Kelvin to be killed. This gives further fuel to the holy war fire to come.

The heart of Petra...before I say who it is, let me first say that this revolves around the holy war that comes after this adventure. This role goes to a lady that leads the fight - not to defeat anyone or win the war, but to be a voice of reason, a soother of emotions, a calm presence in a time of chaos. This lady, now in her mid 40s, takes charge in a time when her uncle (in his aging condition) cannot control all the myriad details of the Church of Karameikos in crisis. This "Heart of Petra" is none other than the Thyatian beauty of Threshold - Aleena Halaran. Although not the Queen of Karameikos, I see her as becoming a real power in the future as she leads the Reunited Church (not that she sees herself as such - humility and humbleness are what lead to the people loving her).

Now, back to Orcus. Up until the holy war, Orcus wants to keep a low profile and let others do his work for him. Removing the Seer is the trickiest part of his plan. He sets it up as a Zirchev vs. Arik deal. Arik? Yeah, I've always thought of him as having some connection to the Eyes of Traldar so it becomes natural for him to be involved at this stage. Unfortunately, Arik is imprisoned by the other Immortals and it wouldn't do for Orcus to be seen messing around in such company. So Orcus "borrows" a few of Arik's followers - something that will not endear Orcus to Arik, not that Orcus really cares.

Stage two, the removal of the arm of Halav. Simple. Orcus recreates the Beastman War by pitting Stefan Karameikos against the warpriests of Ranivorus/Yeenoghu. Not only does Ranivous and Halav hate each other due to their mortal conflict, it takes very little effort for Orcus to convince Ranivorus to become involved and thus removing Orcus from the spotlight.

Now the holy war is all Orcus. He is in his element of mass destruction and pits him directly against Petra and her chosen champion, Aleena. Yea, Aleena isn't a cleric of the Church of Traladara, but that is what makes her effective in quelling the violent members of her own order and her compassionate service to the Traladarans gives her the popular support to lead the Reunited Church of both Thyatians and Traladarans.

While Halav, Petra, and Zirchev do lose some power due to the death of clerics and followers, the heart of Petra wins out in the end. I don't think Orcus really knows what troubles he has created for himself by thrusting Aleena into the forefront of the battle against the forces of evil.

Okay, this has gone far beyond the confines of the Red Hand of Doom adventure, but it is what started this whole line of conjecture for me. I hope others enjoy it as well.

BTW, I have no idea how this fits into the timelines presented by the Mystaran Almanacs over at the Vaults. I just had the idea and ran with it.

P.S. Yeah, I've had a crush on Aleena since the mid 1980's...what can I say?


Oct 09, 2006 0:27:37
One more brief thought about Stefan Karameikos:

I toyed with the idea of it being Orcus who inspired Stefan to trade his lands in Thyatis for rulership over the Traldar lands - thus beginning the setup of this whole plot. While it has merit and a lot of "fun-factor" for me, it would put the nation of Karameikos firmly into the realm of a creation of Orcus, which could have some...ummm...interesting consequences.


Oct 09, 2006 10:47:18
Hmm. Upside: The "big picture booga-booga" going on here does at least seem to be well thought-out and consistent. Kudos for that. ;)

Downside: What the heck are the roles of the PCs in this?!?

After all, a campaign is ultimately designed to involve and engage the players, and put the PCs in the spotlight. If there's a prophecy or mystical plan, it either needs to involve the PCs, directly threaten the PCs, or have some major opportunity for the PCs to knock over the apple cart. Otherwise, it's best handled by minor background flavor text - if that.

If I was going to use something like this in my campaign, the big question would be how to get the PCs doing Cool Stuff. Give them a chance to save Duke Stefan's life, pulling him away from a honorless death so he can rally the Karameikan defense (and if he's just got to die, let him pull a Theoden later on that inspires a crushing victory over the bad guys). Set up one of the PCs as a temporary replacement for the Seer, putting the party in the role of knowing more than anyone else about Orcus's plots and what's needed to stop it. Make the PCs work to keep Aleena alive, and acting as her agents to help reunite the Thyatians with the Traladarans and keeping the peace. And no free passes, for PCs, NPCs or kingdoms - if the PCs succeed, campaign elements survive (even if 'by default' Orcus would plow them under) and if they fail key NPCs drop (meaning that future efforts to contain the devastation will be that much tougher).

In a good campaign, the PCs are ultimately more important than everyone else in the setting combined, and any story should ultimately focus around how the PCs get involved and what they do. Try looking at the work you've done with that principle in mind. ;)


Oct 09, 2006 16:44:23
Yes, yes...of course. The PCs play a MAJOR role in the Red Hand of Doom adventure. It is because of the actions of the PCs that the horde gets stopped. What I've detailed above is just background stuff, that leads the PCs from one adventure into another. They don't need to be involved in the Seer stuff...again, that is just background. As for the holy war, of course the PCs would play a huge role - Aleena just becomes the adventure hook/patron/whatever.

While it is true that I sometimes get carried away with overdeveloping setting material that has very little to do with PCs, I'm fully aware that without the PCs there is no game. Besides, I fail to see how what I've done here is any different than the campaign development of others, including the work of the Almanacs.


Oct 16, 2006 3:50:35
In a good campaign, the PCs are ultimately more important than everyone else in the setting combined, and any story should ultimately focus around how the PCs get involved and what they do. Try looking at the work you've done with that principle in mind. ;)

I agree with this sentiment, to a point.

I often see complaints, most often directed at material (official or otherwise) for Forgotten Realms, but now and then for Greyhawk or Mystara, that criticizes the author for dwelling too long on the NPCs and other setting fluff while "neglecting" the PCs. I usually disagree (unless we're talking about something along the lines of the Greyhawk modules Return of the Eight where the NPC celebrities show up at the last minute and steal the show, leaving the PCs standing around looking stupid) for two reasons:

1> To create an interesting setting to play in, the players must be able to learn what events are going on around them, this means the setting needs some level of detail and updating.

2> IMO, PC deeds are much more meaningful to the players when they can compare those deeds to the actions of their peers. So you defeated Bargle, so what? Well, if you defeated Bargle, after some famous NPC failed, it holds more weight.

As far as the material itself, interesting work Steve, and a fun read. Probably a little demon heavy for my campaign (ironic given my screenname, I know...:P ), but I enjoyed reading it.