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Origins and Consequences

by Steven B Wilson

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 organisations 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 Traladarans 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 lessening 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 manoeuvred 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 saviour 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 Oderbry 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.