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Engdyr’s Gameby John Calvin from Threshold Magazine issue 18
[Image: Title Image]
A Mystara 2300 BC Adventure Path
Part II - Ruins of Layhash
The Engdyr’s Game Adventure Path will take PCs on a journey through the Shimmering Lands and introduce them to the bizarre and fantastic technomagical world of the Moadreg dwarves, last inheritors of ancient Blackmoor. They will contend with the mad dwarven elder, Engdyr Heldfyst, and his plot to silence all living things within his domain. However, even as Engdyr attempts to remove the hateful living creatures around him, a new form of life may be stirring… one created by accident by the mad dwarf himself.
This adventure path is intended to introduce DMs and Players to the Mystara 2300 BC setting in general, and to the Shimmering Lands and its inhabitants specifically. Players will start on the plains of the northern province of Kargthyne, but from there they will be sent across the Shimmering Lands. During their journeys the PCs will be introduced to all facets of life in the Shimmering Lands, from the fiery forges of the Yardrak dwarves in Himmevand to the gnomish controlled hills of Qivar. As their careers advance, PCs may have the opportunity to gain dominions of their own within the dwarven lands, meet the movers and shakers of the Elder Conclave and even possibly determine the fate of the dwarven nation on Brun.
Articles comprising this adventure path will attempt to provide much of the information required to run a campaign in these lands, however it will be impossible to cover all aspects of game play and the source material. Additional references can be found in the following sources:
Mystara 2300 BC Campaign Setting Overview [http://pandius.com/Mystara2300BC_SettingOverview.pdf]
GazBC 1, The Shimmering Lands DM's Guide [http://pandius.com/GazBC1_DMs.pdf]
GazBC 1, The Shimmering Lands Player's Guide [http://pandius.com/GazBC1_Players.pdf]
Map of the Shimmering Lands [http://pandius.com/m_shiml.html]
Sixty years ago the Elder of Layhash stopped sending her tithe of troops and supplies to Kairhyeld Gatherhold. Instead she began building up her own troops and augmenting them with beastman mercenaries from Urzud. Engdyr Heldfyst and several other Elders learned of her plot before she could launch an attack against Kairhyeld. Their combined forces marched upon the traitor, destroying her forces utterly. Unknown to most, Layhash and many of the dwarves serving her, were all changelings of Grondheim fostered on the estate for decades.
[Image: Crater of Layhash]
Now the ruins of Layhash are stirring again, as minions of the Troll Queen of Grondheim once again occupy its halls. The PCs must investigate Layhash and root out the Troll Queen’s minions, but this is not the only threat lurking within the ruins. In the caverns under the estate compound some of Engdyr’s escaped spiders have begun establishing a foothold in this realm. Invaders from the Aethereal Plane1, these creatures will need to be neutralized to insure the safety of the area.
[Sidebar: Design Notes 1]
This adventure is intended to be run as the second part in the Engdyr’s Game Adventure Path, however with little modification it can be run as a stand alone dungeon crawl. PCs returning from Part I2 could have been directed to Layhash by several different motivating factors. Those are presented below for completeness. Each can be used as plot hooks for new characters playing through this chapter in the AP as a stand alone adventure.
Recruited by Ryndis
Ryndis Heldfyst is the commander of Kairhyeld, and is furious that the gatherhold’s most valued weapons (those made of iron) have been stolen. Though typically stingy and untrusting, she has loosened her policy on strangers to her lands and is granting adventuring charters to any group willing to recover her missing goods.
If the PCs are working for Ryndis, they have been sent to Layhash to look for the thieves and to recover the missing weapons and return them to Kairhyeld Gatherhold. Ryndis however, is not known for her patience. If the PCs can not recover the iron weapons in a reasonable time, they may find themselves persecuted by the local militia.
Recruited by Sentinel
Kherdehk is one of the Sentinels of the Dusk Shroud based out of Hrokyrdran, and has recently been tracking a strange monster infestation - giant translucent spiders that seemingly appear from thin air. Unable to deal with all of these incursions at once, Kherdehk has been recruiting small adventuring bands to help him contain the creatures.
He has tracked one such incursion to the ruins of Layhash. If the PCs are working for Kherdehk, the Sentinel has sent them to investigate the ruins, and clear out any hint of the monstrous spiders.
Recruited by Giant Princess
Princess Byrnkja is the daughter of a frost giant jarl from the Jotunheight Mountains bordering on eastern Grondheim. Her father was tasked by the Grondheim nobility with sneaking into dwarven lands to sow unrest. When her father went missing, Byrnkja went to look for him, but was unfortunately captured by dwarven Enthrallers based out of Kairhyeld Gatherhold.
If the PCs are working for Byrnkja, that means that they freed her from her bonds at Kairhyeld and promised to help her find her father. The trail has led them to the ruins of Layhash, but finding the frost giant jarl won’t be the PC’s only problem. The Enthrallers may be on their trail, attempting to recover their stolen goods, and if the PCs aren’t careful they may be labeled traitors for aiding enemies of the state.
Act I - Upper Layhash
The Estate of Layhash was built around and within the remains of a giant crater deep in the heartlands of the Syrlhin Plains. A jagged wall of colossal stones rings the outer rim of the crater, pierced in three locations by pairs of tall circular towers. Steep slopes define the inner edges of the crater before flattening out into a more gentle bowl-like basin. A thin band of wooded hills circle the estate’s main mansion directly in the center of the crater.
Although the dwarven elder of Layhash spent most of her time in the center mansion, a community of servants grew up around the crater and its environs, dedicated to serving their dwarven mistress. Although damaged and decrepit, structures from that time still dot the landscape across the crater’s surface.
[Sidebar: Design Notes 2]
[Image: BC 2300 to AC 1000 Comparison]
Ruins of Layhash
The ruins of Layhash have lain fallow for decades, after Engdyr Heldfyst and his followers crushed a budding rebellion from that estate. In truth, Elder Farsah Layhash and many of her followers were changelings of Grondheim. Some of the changelings survived and have been using the ruins as a base of operations while plotting their revenge.
[Image: Map of Layhash]
Should the PCs take their time and scout out the area before advancing they may discover the following:
During the Day
The fey and changelings in locations C2, C3, and C4 remain quiet throughout the day, keeping themselves mostly indoors and under cover. There is very little activity that can be discerned in these locations in daylight hours. The changelings in area C1 are more active, and spend their time searching through the various ruins of the old village. They are less concerned about keeping their presence hidden because they are impersonating normal Shimmering Lands inhabitants.
The giants in area C5 have been given orders to stay in their shelters, although one will occasionally venture forth looking for supplies.
During the Night
During the night the crater comes to life, with areas C1, C4, and C5 all showing signs of activity through camp fires. Area C7, near the giant skeleton, will also come to life with multi colored flashes of light illuminating the cliffside at irregular intervals.
The fey, a small clan of gruendels3, have been sent here to replace more mortals with changelings from Grondheim. They have several young mortals held captive, waiting to be transported to Grondheim. The gruendels respect and fear the witch, disdain the giants, and bully and torment the mortals and changelings alike.
The changelings have been living in this area for decades posing as dwarves. With the increase in activity of their allies, they have begun collecting iron, and plan to ship it back to their queen and collect the reward. The changelings hate and fear the fey and the witch, though they trust the words of the witch more. They are slightly contemptuous of the giants.
The giants in the area have been looking for easy dwarven targets to attack. They have been destabilizing the region for years, and recently have begun working with the changelings to funnel dwarven made weapons back to their clans in the hills and mountains to the west. They hate the witch and her fey, and only tolerate the changelings because of their current deal. Recently their princess went missing, and finding her has become their top priority. Their jarl has secluded himself in the ruins and has not been seen for several days.
Ostensibly in charge of the Grondheimers in this area, Torwenna has begun to chafe under the rule of her “grandmother” the Troll Queen, and is beginning to lose interest in her charges. She cares little about the lives of the giants or fey under her command and the chaos and antipathy that is growing between them. Instead Torwenna spends most of her time studying fragments of Blackmoorian lore she has been able to glean from Mistress Layhash’s ruined estate.
The following structures and sites can be found within the ruins of Layhash.
C1. Westgate Village
A small village made of stone and mud brick huts looms over the crater’s western precipice. Most of the structures are at least partially destroyed. Black scorch marks still stain the landscape, especially strong around the windows and doorways of crumbling huts. A wide dirt trail leads through the structures to a set of makeshift stairs that lead over the edge of the crater.
A small village was constructed around the western sentinel towers. This is where most of the estate’s servants lived and also served as the main inroad for all goods and services being shipped to the central compound.
Now, a large group of changelings have made camp here. They will pretend to be other dwarven explorers from Kairhyeld who left the gatherhold days before the PCs arrived. They will attempt to get word to their fey compatriots in locations C2 and C3, and then betray the PCs at the earliest opportunity.
Changelings (5) HD 1, AC 5, hp 6
Treasure: The changelings have an assortment of coins and small gems between them adding up to 135 gp.
C2. Sentinel Towers
A pair of square stone towers stand before you, rising upward from the crater’s rim. Though a few crumbled stones lie at the base of each tower, the structures themselves appear to be solid and in good repair. A wide dirt path passes between them, eventually leading to makeshift stone stairs that switchback along the canyonside until finally reaching the crater floor.
There are three pairs of these towers, situated respectively around the crater; in the west, the northeast and southeast. The changelings have been living in or around these towers for several years now and have spent some of that time repairing the buildings.
At the top of the northernmost tower are more changelings who keep a look out for interlopers from the west. They will be aware of anyone approaching from that direction, and will warn the changelings in the village. They will wait until dark before alerting their comrades making camp further in the crater.
Changelings (3) HD 1, AC 7, hp 6
Treasure: The changelings have an assortment of coins and small gems between them adding up to 43 gp. One has a black horn inlaid with silver worth 150 gp. Stored in a locked wooden chest are 13 iron swords, the missing weapons from Kairhyeld’s armory.
C3. Western Guard Post
A short, squat, circular tower stands before you, the top level sheared off long ago. Rubble is strewn about ground, and vermin can occasionally be seen darting between stones and tufts of thick grass which covers the area.
This was once a small guard tower along the crater’s northern trail. Guards would inspect goods and visitors before allowing them to travel further inward to the central compound. Damaged in the attack against Layhash, its upper levels are smashed and in ruins, but the base of the tower still provides some shelter from the elements.
Several fey rummage through this area, harassing the tower’s native rodent species and looking for sport. If they are forewarned of intruders or hear anyone coming down the trail, they will wait in hiding and attempt to ambush the interlopers.
A trap door along the northern wall of the tower leads down to U7, Tower Basement.
Gruendel4 (Fey) (3) HD 1*, AC 5, hp 6
A stone building with a U-shaped courtyard lies before you. Gates once separated the courtyard from the surroundings beyond, but were torn asunder long ago, and the building’s slate covered roof has fallen in several areas. What appear to be pens or stables line the length of the inner courtyard.
This large building situated along the path from the western gate to the northern gate once served as the estate’s main stables. Nearly 200 pens designed for housing war mastiffs, line the courtyard walls. At the far end of the courtyard are living quarters and work areas for the staff.
Most of this building is in disrepair, and its treasures have been long since ransacked, however a few of the inner stables have recently been modified to act as cages for prisoners. These house the mortals that have been switched by the fey for changelings, at least until they are sent back to Grondheim. The fey themselves make their abode in the old quartermaster’s rooms.
Gruendel (Fey) (4) HD 1*, AC 5, hp 5
Treasure: The gruendel have gathered together odd bits and pieces of jewelry worth 400 gp (no single item over 25 gp in value), and one has a wand of hold person with 15 charges left. In addition there are 15 dwarven children here ranging in age from 3 to 25 years old. One is the son of Elder Kohlgor in southern Himmevand. The elder will pay a 1000 gp reward for the safe return of his son.
C5. Beastman Dens
Several fractures and crevices can be seen along the eastern edge of the crater’s walls. The caves were apparently once lined with stone walls and canopies, but those have long since crumbled away. New earthen walls ring one of the cave entrances.
A series of caves line the eastern edge of the crater, visible even from the opposite ridge. This is where the estate outfitted and housed several tribes of beastmen mercenaries. Now one of the old caves (at least the entrance) have been dug out by the hill giants to provider shelter for larger creatures.
The hill giants are agitated, and near to deserting. They are waiting for their jarl to return and provide them direction. They hate and fear the fey and their witch. The giants hate dwarves almost as much as they do the fey. They may be convinced to help the PCs, especially if they are with the giant princess.
Following the caves further underground will lead to area U1, Beastman Caves (see below).
Hill Giants (2) HD 10, AC 13, hp 53, 22 (these giants have both been severely wounded in recent battles and spend most of their time resting within the caverns)
Ogres (3) HD 2, AC 11, hp 8
A long stone building stretches out before you. The tiled roof is crumbling away, and the wall has been shattered in several locations. The air here is unnaturally still and quiet, and neither bird nor insect can be heard.
This structure used to be the estate’s barracks, housing several hundred soldiers at a time. Fighting was intense here, as dozens of soldiers chose this building to make their last stand during the purge. Abandoned for decades, the restless undead have taken up residence here.
The witch knows about them and has directed her minions to give the old barracks a wide berth, however not all have followed her directions. Some of the fey have been tormenting the undead from afar. They may try to rile them up if PCs approach.
A set of stairs along the western corridor leads down to what was the estate warden’s private quarters, U9, Warden’s Room, and then to U10, Prison.
Gruendel (Fey) (2) HD 1*, AC 5, hp 5
Wight (Undead) HD 4, AC 13, hp 24
The wight stays in the barracks during the day, but may roam the area near it during night.
Treasure: The gruendel carry 1d8 gems worth 5 gp each. Strewn about the barracks are copper and silver coins worth a total of 76 gp. Under one of the broken cots is a pair of radiance gloves5. The wight wears a set of dwarven bronze plate mail. Although not enchanted, the armor is masterwork quality and provides a +1 bonus to AC.
C7. Buried Skeleton
An ancient beast lies here, its bones half embedded in the crater walls. The skull is enormous, with twin fangs each as long as a spear, jutting downward from the beast’s toothy maw. An elegant tent has been erected nearby.
The skeleton of a gargantuan saber-tooth tiger has been buried here even before the arrival of the dwarves in this region, its bones bleached white by the unforgiving sun over the eons. Little more than a curiosity to the estate’s former inhabitants, the witch has taken a special interest in the discovery.
The tent is lavishly decorated, but the witch prefers to spend most of her time inside of the once great beast’s skull. Torwenna has mostly abandoned her minions to their own devices, and focused all of her attention on trying to animate the creature’s bones for her own designs. She is very close to success, and should the PCs prove too much for her, she will attempt to complete her ritual and bring the skeleton to life in her defense. Due to its sheer size, Torwenna will only be able to animate one of the ancient creature’s claws.
Torwenna (Troll Witch6) HD 3, AC 13, hp 12
Torwenna has spells of a 3rd level wizard (with a focus on enchantment)
Giant Claw (Animated Bones) HD 4, AC 15, hp 52
Treasure: Torwenna has collected an assortment of items found throughout the estate and in the local region over the past several months. In a chest are silver and gold coins totalling 500 gp, and gems and jewelry totalling 250 gp. In a leather pouch she keeps a radiance enhancer that she has not figured out how to work yet. She also has a brooch of charming, and one piece of a set of earrings of communication (which she uses to speak with one of her sisters in Grondheim).
C8. Estate Compound
At the center of the crater, surrounded by a thin ring of trees and stone, you see a squat circular building built from large granite stones. Towering columns of stone surround it, many of them smashed asunder. The compound itself is breached in several areas, and scorched with soot from decades old fires.
The central estate compound has remained abandoned since Layhash was put to the torch decades ago, its halls only just breached by creatures from another plane of existence. Even the fey forces of Grondheim have given the building a wide berth, at least until the giant Jarl Varhad sought solitude within its walls several days ago.
Shortly after discovering the central courtyard of the compound, Jarl Varhad was attacked by a swarm of aetheric spiders, boiling up from the caverns below the structure. Varhad was overcome and eventually killed by the swarm, after which an aetheric rescriptor7 merged with his body reanimating it. Now, controlled by the spiders, the undead giant guards the entrance to their underground lair.
Stairs found within lead to area U15, The Elder’s Suite.
Camp on Alert
Should the changelings manage to get word of intruders to their compatriots in the crater, or should the PCs assault be heedlessly clamorous, the fey and their allies will be quick to react. The majority of the fey forces will converge on C4, The Kennel in order to protect the Troll Queen’s shipment of mortals. The giants will be slower to respond, and will only join the fray once Torwenna cajoles them to action. Should it look likely that the fey will be defeated, the giants will pull back their attack, and may even switch sides.
Act II - Lower Layhash
The lower levels of Layhash were once exclusively reserved for the elder of the estate and her most trusted servants. Now they have been infested by invaders from the Aethereal Plane.
Invaders from the Aethereal Plane, the aetheric spiders have only recently established a foothold inside of the ruins of Layhash. Though alien, the behavior they exhibit is that of a social colonial animal. They forage, build up stores of resource, and defend their lair from intruders. Should they succeed, the spiders will be emboldened, and may begin to expand their territory across the Shimmering Lands. They can feel the power source in the west (the Gate of Light in Himnem) and will eventually try to capture it.
While the aetheric spiders outwardly display only the most basic motivations, there is an ever growing intelligence forming within their ranks. The hivemind is just beginning to perceive its surroundings and awaken its consciousness.
There are several ways to enter Lower Layhash, from the barracks, the western guard post, and through the beastman caves along the eastern cliff base of the crater.
[Image: Map of Lower Ruins]
U1. Beastmen Caves
A long narrow passage leads further into the depths. Small caves open up at regular intervals along either side of the passage. Most are filled with decaying straw and moulding rags, along with sad remnants of furniture long since smashed and used for tinder.
Once these caverns were filled with the beastmen servants of Layhash. They carved the side caverns directly from living rock. Most are roughly 10’ by 10’ in shape, and contain the abandoned possessions of their former occupants.
While most of the material found here is little better than garbage, a thorough search of each chamber will yield a small treasure. Searching the area properly will take at least three hours and any noise may attract the attention of several restless vermin in the area.
Giant Centipedes (3) HD 1, AC 13, hp 4
Treasure: For each hour the PCs search they will find 1d10 gp worth of coins. If they have searched thoroughly (at the end of the third hour), they will find a bronze axe +1, +2 vs giants.
U2. Stirge’s Ledge
The passage opens up into a wider cavern, with a small ledge overlooking an underground lake. The floor here is moist and foul smelling, and littered with dozens of decaying corpses from various rodents and other small animals.
A small colony of stirges makes its lair here, clinging to the ceiling and huddling together during the day in several small alcoves near the top of the cavern. At night they exit the caves and search for easy prey, often traveling as far as 10 miles away to find it. Since the Grondheimers have moved in, the stirges have remained in the vicinity of the crater hoping for prey closer to home.
If this cavern is explored during the day, the stirges will be encountered here and will attack at the first provocation, retreating back to the ceiling only once sated or their prey proves too strong for them. There are a few trinkets that the stirges have dropped in the muck over the years, but anyone searching through it may be infected by a disease known as Blood Lung.
There is a secret door along the northern wall that has been expertly crafted to appear as natural rock. It leads to area U6, Eastern Guard Room.
Stirges (10) HD 1, AC 14, hp 2
Blood Lung (Disease): Blood Lung is caused when spores are inhaled by the victim and take hold in their lungs. A fungal disease, as the mycelial strands expand they puncture the lungs causing the victim to cough blood. The disease takes 1 day to incubate. Each day thereafter a character must save vs Death Ray or Poison or suffer 1d4 temporary Constitution loss. A character that is reduced below 1 Constitution dies. The disease ends once a successful save has been made or the character is cured with a cure disease spell.
Treasure: Various coins totalling 30 gp, along with gems and jewelry totalling 75 gp. In the corner under a particularly large mound of dung is a silver dagger bearing the markings of Urzud8 worth 125 gp.
U3. Lower Lake
A faint breeze blows cool air from the underground lake across the shores of this vast cavern. In the distance splashing water can be heard, waves of light fog emanating from the lake obscure vision through the darkness.
This cavern, along with the Upper Lake, is a large natural cavern initially formed by the meteoric impact that created the crater above eons ago, and has since been expanded by water erosion. An underground river, created by runoff waters from the crater and surrounding plains, flows through here, accumulating into a two-tiered lake in the larger caverns before flowing further underground. The depth of the lake often rises and falls with the season depending on the amount of rainfall received in the immediate area.
A creature lives in the lower lake, sustaining itself mostly on blind fish and the occasional vermin that gets too close to the shore. Should the PCs remain near the shore for more than 10 minutes, or should any of them enter the water, the creature will attack.
Aquatic Kartoeba9 HD 10, AC 13, hp 85
The creature will stay in the water and attack with four of its tentacles. While defeating it entirely may be outside the capabilities of the PCs at this time, the creature will retreat once 20 hp of damage are done to its tentacles.
U4. Upper Lake
Water falls from the southeastern rim of this underground basin into the much larger lake in the cavern below. The air is slightly warmer here, and several small rivulets of water trickle in from cracks and crevices around the cavern and into the lake in its center.
Aside from the occasional blind fish, and small crustacean, nothing lives in the upper lake. The creature in the lower lake is too large and bulky to climb up the waterfall connecting the two bodies of water.
U5. Cave In
Rubble blocks the path ahead. Chunks of stone have sheared off of the cavern walls and clogged the passage.
This natural cave-in occurred decades ago and has blocked this passage ever since. Though a few shards of stone are particularly heavy, most can easily be moved by a person of average strength. The cave-in is however, fairly lengthy, and it would take days to clear it properly.
In addition, anyone attempting to clear the rubble may trigger further cave-ins unless the surrounding cavern is first shored up.
Rubble (Trap) Additional rubble falls down on the characters for 1d6 points of damage, and may pin PCs under rocks on a failed save vs Paralysis or Turn to Stone. Additional movement in the rubble will trigger a cave in causing 3d6 points of damage unless PCs save vs Paralysis or Turn to Stone at -2.
U6. Eastern Guard Room
This small room was carved by expert craftsmen, its walls and ceilings braced with stone and masonry.
This room once served as a gateway from the structures of the outer estate into the inner sanctum.
A secret door leading to U2, Lower Lake can be found along the southern wall of this chamber.
U7. Tower Basement
The room once housed supplies and weapons, now long since smashed or burned to ashes. Thick and cloying, the air weighs heavy in this dark chamber.
The room is sparse and covered in ash and soot. This room once served as a gateway from the structures of the outer estate to the inner sanctum, and was directly linked with a guard tower on the surface.
A ladder set on the northern wall leads up through a trapdoor to area C3, Western Guard Post.
U8. Western Guard Room
This small room was carved from the cavern by expert craftsmen, its walls and ceilings braced with stone and masonry.
This room once served as a guard room and way station for goods and services coming from the outer structures of the estate into the inner sanctum. It also served as a staging ground for the estate’s soldiers during expeditions further into the Shadowdeep10.
U9. Warden’s Room
Long since ransacked, this was once a finely portioned room with rich trappings and silk upholstered furniture. Now it contains little more than smashed rubble strewn across the floor.
The warden was once in charge of managing the estate grounds and keeping any “long term guests” secure. He was one of Mistress Layhash’s most feared servants and commanded her personal guard. As a valued servant his lifestyle was more lavish than most on the estate, and thus when invading armies came his chamber was a primary target of the looting. Most items of value were taken, but the warden’s personal radiance belchers were left in the frey, most likely because the invaders couldn’t figure out how to make them work.
Stairs along the western wall lead up to C6, Barracks.
Treasure: Two radiance belchers can be found after searching this room for a turn. Both are fully discharged, but will begin to recharge if taken into location U11, Comet’s Hollow
U10. Prison Cells
Barred cages line each of the walls along the wide hallway before you. Each is fairly large with a wide gate leading into a deeper chamber. Shackles and chains of varying sizes are still attached to the inner walls, suitable for containing humanoid sized creatures as well as larger beasts.
Most of these cells are empty, though a few still hold bones of various creatures. All of the cells are sealed by locked bronze gates, but the keys can be found in the easternmost chamber, which was used as a guard area to protect the estate’s inner sanctum.
Treasure: One of the cells contains a plain iron ring, a ring of protection. In another cell are the blackened bones of a large humanoid frog-like creature. They can be sold to a collector for 30 gp.
U11. Comet’s Hollow
Smooth and slick, the walls of this roughly spherical room appear to have been subjected to extreme heat and pressure. Stalactites reach down from the ceiling like dripping candles, and rivulets of hardened stone and metal criss cross the entire length of the floor. The ground fractures along the western wall creating chasms of varying width and depth. Most of the cavern’s walls are natural, but the northern wall curves outward, built from large stone blocks.
Glowing silken threads radiate outward from a large crystal ball dominating the center of the room. The threads spread along the cavern, seemingly merging with its floor and walls as they follow their arcane paths. Many of the threads culminate together and pierce the northern wall, where translucent white shapes can be seen milling about them.
The aetheric spiders that are infesting the estate originally came through an unstable portal to the Aethereal in location U14, Antichamber. Attracted to the radiance in this location, they have since begun siphoning off the power stored in the central radiance receptacle and using it to widen and strengthen their portal to the Aethereal. Silken lines are drawing the power from the receptacle and funneling it into the portal in room U14.
In addition to strengthening the portal leading back to their own realm, the spiders have also been busy creating a hold on the Material Plane, turning several of the neighboring chambers into hatcheries. In ancient Blackmoor these spiders were cultivated and used by the Blackmoorians to create and interface with a myriad of technomagical items and engines. Now, without their old masters present, the spiders have seemingly begun to act on their own accord. An alien hivemind, trapped within the spiders themselves has begun to emerge. As the spiders increase in number and power, the hivemind is beginning to realize its own consciousness.
When the PCs enter this area the aetheric hivemind spider will be perched atop the radiance receptacle, occasionally plucking one of the aethereal threads emanating outward from it.
You see a large spider sitting atop the spherical crystal that dominates the center of the room. Its head is translucent with multiple sets of deep black eyes and its abdomen bulges outward, shaped like a gigantic pulsating brain. As the creature takes notice of you it becomes agitated, frantically plucking at the web strings around it. Each pluck elicits an aethereal chord that echoes across the room. Strung together it sounds like the distant voice of a female child.
“Help me… I’m trapped… They’re hurting me… Please make them stop...”
Once the PCs turn their attention to the aetheric hivemind, its minions disperse, circling wide around the room in an attempt to outflank the intruders and prevent them from escaping. The voice repeats itself over and over again, unless the PCs move to attack the hivemind. If they do, it says the following:
“Please help me! I’m sorry… I can’t control them! Don’t hurt me!”
The other spiders in the room will attack, but the hivemind won’t attack the PCs unless it has to defend itself. Once the other spiders are dispatched the hivemind, if still alive, will calm down and sit unmoving atop the radiance receptacle. No further interaction will get it to speak again.
The tunnels at locations a and b were once blocked off with piles of rubble, but were cleared away during the assault on the estate decades ago.
Aetheric Hivemind HD 3*, AC 6, hp 20
Aetheric Spiders (4) HD 2*, AC 7, hp 12
This area once served as the estate Elder’s inner sanctum.
U12. Store Room
Shattered barrels and crates are strewn across this room, their original contents long since rotted away and turned to dust.
These two identical rooms were located on either side of the estate’s inner sanctum, and were mainly used to store goods and supplies used by Mistress Layhash. Little of value is left in these rooms having either been ransacked by pillagers or rotted away to nothingness.
U13. Servants Quarters
Small chambers line the wall here. They appear to have been spartan living quarters, with simple cots and chairs, and a handful of personal items now all smashed and strewn across the floor.
Thick pulsating webs run the length of these rooms, coming together in the corners to hold bulging silken sacks, each shaking intermittently with inner movement.
Only a handful of trusted servants were ever allowed into the estate’s inner sanctum. Those with the distinction were housed in these rooms. Now they have been taken over by the aetheric spiders and used as brood chambers to grow the next generation.
Spider Swarm HD 2*, AC 10, hp 10
The spider swarm can only be hit by magic or by area of effect attacks (fire, acid, electricity, or similar attacks).
Statues line the southern semicircle of this chamber, and a great stone throne once dominated the northern wall. Long ago shattered into pieces, the outline of the chair has taken on a new purpose. Pulsating webs stretch from the statues to converge on the old throne, merging with the stone and forming an archway in the rock.
Aetheric threads converge above the old throne in this room and merge with the surrounding stone to create a portal to the Aethereal Plane. The portal is closed but can be controlled by the hivemind spider in area U11.
U15. Elder’s Suite
These three chambers were once richly portioned. Now the tapestries hanging on the wall are torn to shreds and the furniture smashed and broken.
The spiders have made a brief foray into this area where they found the lone giant jarl brooding in the estate’s central garden above them. After a heated battle, one of the aetheric rescriptors joined with the giant and now remains above, guarding the spider’s lair from the surface. See area C8, Estate Compound, for more information.
Act III - Betrayal
Once the last of the aetheric spiders have been dispatched, the estate’s radiance receptacle roars to life. The wispy web lines leading from the crystal sphere through the walls and into the Antechamber begin to pulse with power and in mere seconds the portal in that area snaps open.
A heavily armored dwarf steps through the shimmering doorway just before it closes with a pop. The dwarf smiles through chiseled features and a black well trimmed beard, and you recognize Kherdehk.
“Well done,” he says. “Even Engdyr Heldfyst himself would be pleased with your efforts… Unfortunately he will never hear of your exploits.”
Kherdehk attacks the PCs, and will not engage them in idle banter. Although he is acting on Engdyr’s orders it should be unclear to the PCs whether or not the dwarven elder wants them dead or Kherdehk simply wants to steal all of the credit for their success.
Dwarf 5, AC 2, hp 23
Treasure: Kherdehk caries assorted coins worth 130 gp, along with an additional 10 red gold11 coins. He carries a spear and an enchanted bronze hand axe called “Biter” - hand axe +1, +2 vs giants. He wears dwarven scale mail +2, and an aetheric gauntlet12 on his left hand.
The PCs should be able to remove the immediate threat of both the Grondheim conspirators and the undead aetherics from the region, however the origin of these threats remains at large. Daring PCs willing to continue exploring both the ruins and the surrounding twilight region between the planes, may find additional allies and tools to use in their upcoming battles.
The ruins of Layhash may be cleared and used as a temporary base of operations, perhaps even sanctioned by the Elder Conclave. As the adventure path continues, the PCs may be able to rally allies to their cause, and eventually petition the Elder Conclave for permanent control of the now fallow estate (especially if one or more of them are dwarves from the Shimmering Lands). Engdyr Heldfyst himself may support such a move, if only to keep tabs on creatures he sees as potentially dangerous to his operations.
Returning the Iron Weapons
Iron weapons are a rare commodity in the Shimmering Lands (and among most of its neighbors). There are very few craftsmen left alive that remember the ancient art of ironwork. While the dwarves prize such weapons, the fey of Grondheim, including the Troll Queen herself, despise them and would go to great lengths to see them destroyed.
By returning the iron weapons to Ryndis Heldfyst the PCs will raise their esteem in her eyes, not to mention help in the continuing struggles with Grondheim.
Freeing the Changeling Captives
Freeing the changeling’s captives will earn the PCs recognition across the Shimmering Lands, and perhaps also the enmity of Grondheim. The captives themselves will also be very grateful, and although many of them are young, there are a handful old and experienced enough to make valuable allies or even hirelings for the PCs.
Should the PCs decide to make Layhash their home, several of the former captives will offer to stay and set up new lives there.
Dealing with the Hivemind
Still just emerging into conscious thought, the hivemind may be difficult for the PCs to communicate with, especially during the period of this adventure. Should the PCs choose to spare the hivemind, they will have the opportunity to communicate with it in the adventures to come, however should the hivemind spider be killed the PCs will not lose that opportunity.
Although the spider’s body can be destroyed, the intelligence inhabiting it is much larger and the PCs will find other conduits of its self expression in the days to come.
Exploring the Depths of Layhash
There are a few passages beneath Layhash that lead further into the depths of the Shadowdeep. Although exploring those passages is outside the scope of this adventure, there are a handful of possible locations that the PCs could reach, should DMs wish to expand upon them.
This ancient outpost of the dwarves was created during the era of Blackmoor, and though it suffered heavily during the Great Rain of Fire, Darmouk13 remains waiting to be rediscovered. In BC 2300 Darmouk is dominated by two groups, both descended from the original dwarven colonists. The pravum have sunk into barbarism, existing as little more than degenerate bands of dwarves who roam the empty streets of their unlit home scavenging for supplies and food. The necronaught dwarves have been able to maintain their civilization despite ever dwindling resources by turning to necromancy. They enhance their undead bodies with hraden14 powered tools and armor, and have built their new homes around the secured central mines where hraden can be acquired.
Home to the Inti15 for centuries during their sanctuary from the Wasting, the great cavern of Picari Palaqwi now stands mostly uninhabited. Most Inti have made the journey to the promised Land of the Sun above, but a few dedicated souls remain behind to protect the sunlit lands from the dangers that lurk beneath the surface. Soldiers here maintain vigil against minions of the Deep Elves and the horrors that they serve.
Appendix 1: New Monsters
Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 1* (M)
Move: 90' (30')
Attacks: 1 weapon
No. Appearing: 1d6 (1d6)
Save As: Wi
Treasure Type: U
XP Value: 50
These small fey16 stand two to three feet tall and are humanoid in appearance, though their heads look slightly too big for their bodies. They appear as civilized and sophisticated courtiers. Many of them remember the era of Blackmoor where they made their homes in the dark spaces between towering buildings of iron and glass, and were often blamed for the disappearances of vagrants and lost children.
Gruendel look down upon most mortals and have a malicious sense of humor. The fey court of Grondheim entrusts them to oversee the “Changeling Project” where mortals are switched with fey counterparts who take over their former lives. Gruendel often relish this assignment, and are known to torment captured mortals before taking them back to the fey realm for fates unknown.
After the “Glantrian Catastrophe” in BC 1700, many of the gruendel become warped and twisted, with their outer appearances more closely matching their dark desires. Some become gremlins17 and plague civilized lands, while others revert to a more savage existence becoming wood imps and redcaps.
[Image: Aetheric Bonder]
Armor Class: 9
Hit Dice: 1* (S)
Move: 60' (10')
In Web: No webs
Attacks: 1 bite
Damage: 1d4 + acid
No. Appearing: 1d4 (1d4)
Save As: Wi
Treasure Type: U
XP Value: 50
Aetheric bonders were specialized aetheric spiders bred by the ancient Blackmoorians in order to create and enhance magical weapons and tools. They are as large as a cat or small dog, and have a conical abdomen that extends forward covering their thorax, and eight short stubby legs which extend an equal distance around their bodies. A bonder’s carapace is mostly translucent with softly glowing innards ranging from white, to green or blue.
A bonder’s natural instincts are to search out and merge with physical items that have a strong tie with the Material Plane. They are particularly drawn to items crafted from metals and stone, but will attempt to merge with items made from wood and cloth if no other tools or weapons are nearby. They will only attack those who physically prevent them from bonding with an item.
Once a bonder has identified an item of interest, it moves to grapple with that object and injects it with its venom. Bonder venom causes an item to become malleable, at which point the bonder attempts to merge with the object, pulling and stretching it as if to wear it as a cloak. It takes a full turn for the bonder to merge with the item after which the spider and object are inseparable. The process creates a low level magic item of the DM’s choice, but the new magic item should be related in some way to the original object.
The ancient Blackmoorians used bonders to create low level magical items, often as a core component for more advanced arcane rituals. With the destruction of Blackmoor all traces of these creatures vanished from the Prime Material Plane, however small, feral, bonder colonies can still be found in remote pockets of the Aethereal Plane.
Acid Attack: 1d6 acid damage. The bonder’s unique method of merging with items can also be a damaging attack when used on living creatures.
Aetheric Hivemind / Ovocereb
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 3* (M)
Move: 80' (20')
In Web: 80’
Attacks: 1 bite
No. Appearing: 1 (1)
Save As: Wi
Treasure Type: U
XP Value: 200
This monstrous spider has an abnormally small thorax attached to a three foot diameter abdomen that is shaped remarkably similar to a human brain. Their translucent carapace pulses from within with a dim yellow light, but also produces strange luminescent symbols along the edge of its abdomen.
A hivemind will typically try to remove itself from combat, taking control of other aetheric spiders and using them as pawns to insure its own safety. Depending on the number of spiders under its control the hivemind may act with an animal intelligence or with the abilities of a super genius.
Blackmoorians created the hivemind spiders in order to help manage their vast aetheric networks, and the creatures were invaluable in maintaining a Blackmoorian presence on that plane. With the Great Rain of Fire and the destruction of most Blackmoorian technomancy, surviving hivemind spiders have reverted to a feral state and act upon their own needs and ambitions.
Flock Shepherd: A hivemind can exert control over any other aetheric spider in its presence by spending one round of concentration. Once controlled the other spider behaves as if it were an extension of the hivemind’s own will. This control lasts as long as the hivemind and aetheric spider are on the same plane of existence.
Variable Intelligence: A hivemind’s intelligence is determined by the number of aetheric spiders directly under its control. With 0 - 10 other spiders the hivemind’s intelligence score is 3. From 11- 20, its intelligence jumps to 13, from 21 - 40 it has an intelligence of 5, and with over 40 other spiders under its control its intelligence becomes 18.
Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 2* (M)
Move: 120' (40')
In Web: 120’
Attacks: 1 bite
No. Appearing: 1d3 (1d3)
Save As: Wi
Treasure Type: U
XP Value: 50
Aetheric rescriptors are giant translucent spiders having a body length of nearly two feet. Their spindly legs extend twice that far and are tipped with sharp, jagged hook-like claws. A rescriptor’s abdomen is long and thin, shaped like a pointed monolith that extends away from its thorax.
Much like their lesser cousin the aetheric bonder, aetheric rescriptors were bread to merge with an entity of the Material Plane, in this case a corpse. This aether spider attaches itself to the head of a deceased creature and is able to create an aetheric undead under the control of the spider. Once the spider binds with the corpse the two creatures become one, and the spider can not be separated from its host.
Rescriptors were created by the ancient Blackmoorians to help bolster defenses in remote regions or strongholds under siege. The Blackmoorians had additional technomagical items that helped them to control rescripted corpses, however undead resulting from feral rescriptors are notoriously hard to control.
Rescripting: Bonding with a corpse produces a unique form of undead. Use normal statistics for the base creature, but bolster them with an additional 2 HD acquired during the merging process.
Troll Witch (Fey)
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 3* (M)
Move: 120' (40')
In Web: No webs
Attacks: 1 bite
Damage: 1d8 + poison
No. Appearing: 1d6 (1d6)
Save As: Wi
Treasure Type: U
XP Value: 50
In their natural form a troll witch looks like a young human or elf female. Most have wispy blonde hair and pixie-like features. Their clothing is sheer and ethereal, often in light greens and blues decorated with glittering jewels. Few however, see a troll witch’s true form as they prefer to mask themselves in illusion.
Tales abound throughout the lands bordering Grondheim of the troll witches and the infernal pacts that they make with unsuspecting mortals. They are masters of enchantment magic, and use their arts to beguile and manipulate all those around them.
Some say that the troll witches are the progeny of the Troll Queen herself, descended from a union between that fairy ruler and the Blackmoorian king Uther Andahar18. Whether this is true or not, the witches possess magical powers along with ancient knowledge.
Enchantress: Treat a troll witch as an enchantress (specialty wizard) with spell levels equal to her hit dice.
Appendix 2: Magic and Artifacts
This large crystal sphere sits upon a solid onyx pedestal and is surrounded by whirring gears, machinery and tubes of all sizes. Although many dwarven estates have a radiance receptacle to collect radiance when the Gate of Light opens once a year, the receptacle at Layhash is unique. Before her demise, the mistress of Layhash experimented with her radiance receptacle by imbuing it with fragments from the meteor that formed Layhash Crater eons ago. The meteor metal seems to have a stabilizing effect on the radiance, allowing it to be stored and used much more reliably. The forge smiths of Layhash used these properties to create several varieties of magical items.
Each of the following magic items contains 10 charges, and can be recharged by placing them next to Layhash’s radiance receptacle. The items must remain in proximity for a full day to regain their charges. For each charge expended by these devices, there is a 1% chance (cumulative per day) that the user contracts a form of Wasting sickness (see below). This chance resets back to 1% at the beginning of each day (or after a long rest period).
A radiance belcher looks very similar to any other dragon belcher, containing a handle attached to a long metallic cylinder. Rather than slots to load potion vials however, the radiance belcher contains a single fixed crystal at its base.
The radiance belcher can be fired as a ranged weapon by expending a single charge. It deals 1d6 points of fire damage along with 1d4 points of radiance damage (Save vs Magic Wands to reduce radiance damage by ½). On a critical hit, the target also contracts the Wasting sickness.
[Image: Radiance Enhancer]
When held, this fist sized crystal ball can enhance the magical powers of any natural spell caster. By concentrating, a spellcaster may cast any known spell, of up to third level, by expending charges from the enhancer. Each charge expended counts as one spell level, and only three charges may be expended during each use.
These supple leather gloves have an intricate design of crystals and filigree metals inlaid into each palm. Both gloves must be worn to gain any of their effects. Expending a charge and touching any mechanical device, will cause that mechanical device to operate in its intended fashion19. The DM must rule on intricate machinery, but locks may be opened or locked, clockwork devices charged or primed, and traps set or disarmed.
In addition to their standard use, the wearer of the gloves may expend two charges and make a touch attack. On a successful hit, the target creature is put to sleep (as the sleep spell), but also suffers a 5% chance to contract the Wasting sickness.
This silvery gauntlet has the embossed form of a spider stretching from its fingertips to its wrist. The gauntlet holds a total of 5 charges, and can be recharged from any item containing radiance energy. A single charge can be expended to open a portal to or from the Athereal Plane, however this power only works in specific regions where the veil between both planes is thin. Five charges may be expended to create a portal between the planes in any region.
Portals created by the aetheric gauntlet are large enough for a single medium sized creature to step through each round. The portal will close after being opened for 5 rounds.
A short sword with an arachnid motif, the Spider Sword is made of strong but nearly translucent metal, possibly of Blackmoorian design. Its hilt and pommel are crafted in the form of a spider with its bottom legs entwining the pommel, its center legs forming the guard, and its two front legs merging into the blade itself.
The Spider Sword functions as a +1 (+2 verses spiders) Ghost Touch sword. If the sword is wielded by a character of sufficient strength it can manifest additional powers.
Damage: 1d6 +1 (+2 verses spiders)
Ghost Touch: The sword may be handled by incorporeal beings (including shades) as if they were corporeal. In addition, when wielded it can harm all incorporeal beings as if they were corporeal.
Radiance Receptacle: A 3rd level character or above can use the sword to absorb 4 points of radiance energy.
Radiance Blast: A 3rd level character or above can cause the sword to expend 1 point of radiance energy on a successful attack, dealing an additional 1d6 points of radiance energy to the target.
Aetheric Portal: A 3rd level character or above can use the sword to open a portal to the Aethereal Plane. This power is identical to that of an aetheric gauntlet (see above).
The Wasting disease spread across the face of Mystara in the wake of the Great Rain of Fire after the destruction of Blackmoor. A devastating disease, it was responsible for the death and destruction of entire cultures and civilizations. Most peoples that survived those times resorted to drastic measures in order to deal with the affliction.
In the centuries since the Great Rain of Fire, the Wasting has thankfully diminished, and few nations in the BC 2300 era now feel its direct impact, however many of the devices used by dwarves and other folk in the Shimmering Lands, still have the potential to reinvigorate the disease.
Initial contracting of the Wasting causes sickness (a character cannot rest, or gain the benefits of resting) and a temporary ability drain of 1 point. Roll randomly (1d6) to determine the ability score affected. These effects last for 1d4 days, and cannot be cured by natural means, although a cure disease spell will end the sickness. Once the sickness has passed, a character can regain full strength after a full rest period.
Should additional Wasting effects be applied to a character who is already under the influence of Minor Wasting, that character immediately contracts Moderate Wasting.
The disease manifests itself by physically distorting and crippling an appendage of the character. Roll 1d3 to determine if Strength, Dexterity, or Charisma is reduced permanently by 1 point. In addition, that character’s movement speed is reduced by 10’. These effects can only be removed through a wish, or magic of equal or greater power.
Should additional Wasting effects be applied to a character who is already suffering from Moderate Wasting, that character immediately contracts Major Wasting.
The disease begins to spread from the afflicted appendage to cover the rest of the body. Roll 1d3 to determine if Strength, Dexterity, or Charisma is reduced permanently by 1 point. Constitution is reduced permanently by 2 points. Each additional Wasting effect applied to this character will repeat this process.
Should the character suffer more than 5 bouts of Major Wasting, or should their Constitution scores drop to 0 or below, that character immediately dies from the Wasting disease. A wish spell, or magic of equal or greater power, applied to the character proactively can prevent the next bout of Wasting effects, but no mortal magic can reverse the disease.
For use by Layout
[Sidebar: Design Notes 1]
Design Notes: This adventure is designed as a dungeon crawl and is intended to provide PCs with some of the resources and tools that they will need in order to complete challenges later in this series. It is also intended as an homage to the old DA modules, in that it showcases items that may have originated during the Age of Blackmoor and that are not necessarily found in a typical fantasy setting.
[Sidebar: Design Notes 2]
Design Notes: Many of the bad magic sites in modern day Ethengar can be associated with a dwarven estate from the ancient Shimmering Lands. In BC 1700, the destruction of an ancient Blackmoorian device near modern day Glantri (in what would now be the Broken Lands), triggered the formation of the Land of Black Sands, and area where the spirit world spilled into the Prime Material Plane.
Why would a device south of Glantri, trigger a paranormal event in eastern Ethengar? One reason is that the two locations were in some way connected or related. In the Mystara 2300 BC Campaign Setting I assume that this connection is caused by related Blackmoorian technomancy located in both areas. Although Hrokyrdran (the modern day World Mountain) was the primary repository for Blackmoorian technomancy, the dwarves of 2300 BC were responsible for disseminating some of that technomancy across Ethengar (concentrated primarily in their lavished estates). Layhash is just one of those locations, being the easternmost bad magic site along the border with the Land of Black Sands.
For use by Layout
Engdyr’s Game AP by John Calvin [used by permission of the artist]
Crater landscape, 3/25/2017 [CCO Public Domain] via pxhere
Comparison of BC 2300 to AC 1000 Region of the World Mountain, by John Calvin [used by permission of the artist] Taken from http://www.pandius.com/ethengar-8.png Ethengar 8mph by Thorfinn Tain
Fairy Princess by drassi [CCO Creative Commons] via pixabay
Map of the Lower Ruins of Layhash by John Calvin, 2017 [used by permission of the artist]
Cuvier's animal kingdom : arranged according to its organization [no known copyright restrictions] via Wikimedia Commons
The Wizard by Sean McGrath, 2009 [Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)] via flickr
1The Aethereal Plane is the name commonly used in BC 2300 for the Ethereal Plane. It is a realm of gray mists that parallels the Material Plan in many ways. The Aethereal Plane and the Ethereal Plane should be considered one in the same.
3See Appendix 1: New Monsters, at the end of this article.
4See the New Monsters Appendix at the end of this article for more information on gruendel.
5See the Magic and Artifacts Appendix at the bottom of this article for more information on radiance gloves.
6See the New Monster Appendix at the bottom of this article for more information on troll witches.
7See the Monster Appendix at the end of his article for more information on aetheric rescriptors.
8Urzud is the land of the humanoids in the northern region of Hyboria. Their chief city, also named Urzud, was a former Blackmorian stronghold called Uthorrad. See Threshold Issue #2 [http://pandius.com/newblack.html] by Francesco Defferrari, and Urzud [http://www.thepiazza.org.uk/bb/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=3932] by John Calvin for more information.
12See the Magic and Artifacts Appendix at the bottom of this article for more information on the aetheric gauntlet.
13For more information on Darmouk in the modern era, see Threshold #16, Dwarves, Gnomes, & Hin.
14A green glowing crystal that contains radiance energy. In dwarven, “hraden” literally translates to “green stone.”
15For more information on the Inti, see the Mystara 2300 BC Campaign Setting Overview [http://pandius.com/Mystara2300BC_SettingOverview.pdf]
17Although gremlins are not technically fey creatures, some speculate that they descended from a diluted fey lineage. Perhaps they were cursed and lost their fey powers, or perhaps they simply intermingled too much with mortal races and became mortals themselves.
18See RobJN’s work on Thorn’s Mystara [http://www.pandius.com/thorns_c.html] on The Vaults of Pandius for more information on the Troll Queen (Morgana) and her Progeny. The troll witches listed here have diluted powers, as they are several generation removed from their originator.
19One example of items that these gloves would work on could be the alien devices found in the DA Blackmoor series modules.