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As a token of apology for apparently killing the effort to collaboratively build the Shadowdeep - full writeup for one smaller cavern, with a more sizeable info dump and several adventure hooks.

The Cavern of Thirith

by Rodger Burns

The Cavern of Thirith is a small, remote cavern near the southeastern edge of the Shadowdeep, more than two hundred miles from the City of the Stars. Though the shadow elves maintain a small outpost here, it's still a place more wilderness than otherwise, visited only infrequently and with many mysteries to explore.

- The Belfry
The shadow elves' main outpost in the cavern is a tower-fort located in the northwest corner of the cavern, guarding the entrance to the tunnel known as the Path of Narilth. The Path itself is one of the smaller major tunnels within the Shadowdeep, averaging no more than 15' wide, and moreover opens up into the Cavern of Thirith some fifty feet above the cavern floor, with a steep slope upwards to its entrance. The Belfry is thus in an excellent defensive position; if enemies attack from within the cavern proper they have to charge uphill into prepared defensive positions, if enemies are within the western tunnel and trying to break into the cavern the Belfry garrison can easily bottle them up in the tunnel's mouth.

The Belfry's permanent garrison is just over a hundred elves strong, made up of younger recruits of whom good things are expected and who are considered capable and responsible enough to handle a tour of duty far away from civilised lands. The garrison captain, Sirinilth, is the great-granddaughter of the explorer who first discovered this cavern; she is a capable soldier and military administrator but prone to disrespectful argument with those strictly dedicated to the Way of Rafiel, and so is in command of this remote outpost rather than a more prestigious location.

The Belfry itself is made up of several structures, all surrounding the trail that has been carved into the cavern wall leading up to the entrance to the Path of Narilth. Rather than try to make merchant wagons and other civilian traffic go up a steep incline, the shadow elves have cut a more shallow ascent that switchbacks several times on its way up the slope; this also offers defensive benefits, as enemies attacking uphill must essentially double back on their own trail several times over, providing ample opportunity for missile fire.

The main Belfry tower is located about halfway up the slope, on a spur of rock separated from the main trail by a narrow (10' wide) but deep gap spanned by a drawbridge controlled from within the tower. This tower is 40' wide, circular, and rises nearly 80' into the air; included within its walls are sleeping quarters for half the garrison, command posts for Captain Sirinilth and her assistants, kitchen, mess and similar, and storehouses in case of siege or any other prolonged interruption in supplies and support. A trio of ballistae are kept on the roof along with lookout points, for use against any large flying monsters that might somehow threaten the Belfry.

Two other major garrison buildings exist in the fort complex. The first of these is the Old Tower, a squat, square-cornered construction located only a short distance away from the opening to the Path of Narilth. Though in a useful field position, it is too small to house more than a single platoon of troops, and so is used more as a secondary outpost rather than a headquarters. One small secret of this tower is a hidden tunnel in the basement, which runs parallel to the Path of Narilth for half a mile before exiting onto a carefully-constructed hidden doorway - battle planning is to use this if an enemy attempts to lay siege to the Belfry from the west or otherwise seal off the tunnel entrance, to slip around behind and attack from two sides at once.

The other supporting building is the Arch-House, a garrison structure built across the lower part of the switchback trail. Again, this building is not large enough to comfortably house more than a platoon of soldiers, but poses an immediate deterrent to any hostile force trying to 'raid and run'. Most of the Arch-House has actually been tunnelled out of the rock behind and below the trail, and an escape tunnel leads up to a staircase leading to the main Belfry basement; any attempt to expand the Belfry would likely start here, carving out new rooms for food storage and troop barracks.

In addition to the full-sized buildings, there are several smaller 'strongpoints' located along the trailside, each barely large enough to hold four or five elves in relatively close quarters (standing, not sleeping). These are used as garrison posts; in the event of an attack from the air, the soldiers stationed at these strongpoints will take cover inside, providing covering fire from several angles against any attackers.

In addition to the Belfry itself, there is a civilian hamlet of about sixty elves about half a mile to the south, in the mushroom forest. These elves grow crops to supplement the soldiers' diets, manufacture weapons and armour, house and entertain travelling merchants, and provide other services - the soldiers themselves often perform simple tasks, but the civilians' presence frees them from the most time-intensive work needed to support a garrison. The Marking-Shaman assigned to the Belfry also spends most of his time at the civilian village, so as to avoid conflicts with Captain Sirinilth. In event of a major attack, these civilians are all under orders to evacuate to the Belfry and take up quarters with the soldiers there.

The Belfry's garrison is capable and well-trained, but there are some things it would have difficulty fighting. An enemy that didn't attack the Belfry directly but instead struck at civilians, incoming merchants and similar softer targets from a base camp deeper in the Cavern of Thirith would be a real problem; the Belfry only has enough soldiers to maintain its own defence, not to conduct offensive operations or rescue missions. Attacks from powerful, fast-moving enemies - able to punch through the Belfry's walls and other defensive positions, or close with its defenders before they could get organised - would also be a serious threat. Finally, any enemy that used treachery or other means to learn the Belfry's defensive plans and subvert them would be extremely dangerous. The aid of adventurers might be necessary in these cases in order to preserve the Belfry as a shadow elf outpost.

Belfry Garrison - Reserve Company
* BR: 122
* Personnel: 112
* Troop Class: Good
Unit Breakdown -
* Division Commander: Captain Sirinilth (E8, Int +2, Wis +1)
* Deputy Commander: Lieutenant Kethrian (E6)
* Heroes: Lieutenant Irrilyn (E5), Shaman-Acolyte Porildor (Elf-Shaman 4)
Platoons 1-4: Each has 24 medium infantry (E1), chain mail, short sword and crossbow; two sergeants (E2), one lieutenant (E3).

BFR calc: LF 11, XF 9, TF 32 (13 wks training, 6 months on duty), EF 15, STF 15 = 82
BR calc: c, d, e (at least two members of the force have magical items/wands/etc), h, i are true. BR = (BFR/10) x 5 + BFR.

- The Shli-Laska
Shadow elves are not the only intelligent beings in the Cavern of Thirith. Within the mire of the southern swamps dwells a strange race of amphibious creatures - scale-skinned, noseless and with finned ears, and twice the size of even the largest shadow elf. The shadow elves refer to these beings as 'shli-laska' (literally 'swimmer-lizards'), and they are a mystery in many respects - reclusive and taciturn, sometimes willing to trade and converse with outlanders but oftentimes dismissive or hostile, seemingly content to live out their entire lives in the depths of the Thirith swamps.

Though the heritage of the shli-laska is unknown to the shadow elves, most surface-born adventurers would recognise them immediately - they are kna, albeit somewhat smaller than average (2-7 hp per hit die) and capable of breathing air as well as water. They fish, harvest mushrooms and swamp weed, and maintain ancient rituals to the Immortal Ka - who in return for their devotion bestows shamanic powers on a select few (to the 8th level of ability; the shli-laska have no wokani). The shli-laska are organised into families of between 12-20 individuals; about a dozen such families are present in the Thirith swamps, and the matriarchs of these families (along with any shamans, generally only 3-4 such are alive at any one time) form a crude governing council over the shli-laska, most notably to determine how the race will react to shadow elf intrusions.

Shli-laska fight with nets, two-handed stabbing spears (base 1d10 damage, plus Strength and other adjustments) and slung rocks (1d4+1 damage, can stun at short range as per the weapon mastery rules). They prefer to use their water-breathing abilities and terrain knowledge to their advantage against all but the most pitiful opponents, striking from ambush or escaping underwater in a difficult situation. They are slow to anger but once they begin fighting they will usually battle to the death (base morale of 10).

- The Wart
This edifice is a former shadow-elf fortress, now abandoned, magically grown from the rock wall along the eastern side of the Cavern of Thirith. Though originally referred to as 'Overlook' in the shadow-elf tongue, locals today now refer to it only as the Wart, for that's how it appears - a giant, spherical protrusion in the otherwise smooth and unmarred cavern wall.

The Wart's overall size is about 60' in diameter; it is a perfect sphere inside, the extrusion of rock on one face mirrored by an exact concavity carved out of the stone behind it. Its base is about 40' off the floor of the cavern, and the only entrance is a trapdoor from the lowest level opening onto empty air - egress, when the Wart was still inhabited, was accomplished via rope-ladder or magic. The inconvenience of such methods of access is one reason why the Wart has never been reclaimed. Upper levels were divided into rooms, laboratory chambers and sleeping quarters, but adventurers will find only the barest traces of any such now.

The Wart was originally created and used by a brotherhood of reclusive sorcerers, shadow elves interested in advancing the study of magic away from the confines of the City of the Stars. Their secrecy and willingness to test many different types of magic was reportedly their undoing; the end came when a quartet of amber golems created by one of the brotherhood's most skilled arcanists broke free of their bonds, killed their creator and destroyed many of the other magical wards scattered throughout the complex. Since then, the Wart has been a dungeon inhabited only by the monstrous and the desperate - if a criminal or goblinoid wanderer tries to take refuge in the Wart, shadow elf policy is to keep an eye out to make sure the unfortunate doesn't escape, and wait for the screaming to die down. Still, there might be some lost arcane tome or magical artifact hidden within the fortress's chambers, and need for a daring group of explorers to go in and retrieve it...

- Spiritfall Gorge
This location is located in the southeastern edge of the Cavern of Thirith - a narrow, ragged-mouthed canyon choked with fungal growths of almost every description. Despite being bone-dry at most times, the canyon stone shows clear signs of water erosion. The cause of this can be found at the top of the canyon - an intermittent vortex to the Elemental Plane of Water, which opens for only short periods once every couple of weeks. The resulting outflow provides enough water to counteract most evaporation in the Thirith swamps, as well as provide water for use by the shadow elves, shli-laska and other native life.

Activity at the Spiritfall Gorge also accounts for most of the few instances of cooperation between the shadow elves and the shli-laska. Creatures or intelligent beings from the Plane of Water are sometimes sucked through the vortex into the Cavern of Thirith, and the shli-laska may ask the shadow elves for help in dealing with these visitors - magic spells and metal weapons are often helpful against extraplanar entities. Unintelligent creatures are often killed, while undines and water elementals (often juveniles) are offered refuge until the vortex re-opens and sent home with the aid of a levitation spell. When such aid is provided, a return gift of gemstones or other valuables is often sent back through the vortex by the water elementals, in thanks for the assistance.

Spiritfall Gorge offers the chance for shadow elf PCs to encounter some very alien beings, or possibly to start an entire chain of adventures on the Elemental Plane of Water.

- The Feathered Spires
This ruined structure is located deep in the Thirith Swamps, on a small rise of land that lifts it out of the waters and plant life that surround it. Shadow elf explorers and scholars have been very interested in visiting this place, but have always been rebuffed by the shli-laska - the swamp-dwellers consider it absolutely taboo, and will not allow visitors to study it under any circumstances.

A few shadow elves have studied the Spires with far-seeing magic, or flown overhead out of bow-shot range. They report that there are six of these strange constructions, made from massive stone blocks carved all over in undecipherable runes and featherlike pattern-etchings, all atop a jumble of windowless and entryless stone buildings. At least two of the spire-edifices are hollow, and may provide access to underground secrets - but the shli-laska allow no such investigation, and the shadow elves have not yet been willing to force the issue.

Known to no one is the true nature of the Feathered Spires - a temple-construction of the Immortal Atzanteotl, erected here millennia ago in furtherance of some minor forgotten scheme. Its presence here explains the shri-laska - the Immortal Ka transplanted them here back when Atzanteotl was first beginning his plot, using them as agents to thwart the Entropic Immortal's whims. Atzanteotl has long forgotten the existence of the Feathered Spires - but shadow elf meddling might spark his memory, and unleash an evil not seen in centuries - to say nothing of ruining the quiet, deceit-based truce between Atzanteotl and Rafiel.

Exactly what lies underneath the Feathered Spires is up to the DM. Possible threats here include skeletons, wights and other undead; magical traps and constructs; thoul servitors in magical stasis; and a pack of spectral hounds, caged away with intricate wards. Atzanteotl's original plan for the Feathered Spires may involve the shadow elves, the Hollow World, Burrowers, surface-dwelling goblinoid tribes, or something entirely different, as suits the needs of the campaign.

- Other Monsters
Glider snakes are similar to normal monstrous snakes, but have a set of slender tentacles just behind their head; these allow them to slowly climb mushroom-trunks and rough rock walls, and once above the ground flex to support extending skin-flaps that can serve as a sort of natural parachute. As a result they can attack their prey from above, surprising on a roll of 1-4 on 1d6 if no special precautions have been taken; if the surprise roll fails, though, any attack roll is at -4 as it's much easier for a target to dodge the diving attack. Otherwise, use the normal statistics for snakes (of any type desired).

Rockeyes are immobile creatures that dwell in the Thirith swamp. They are of interest to the shadow elves because they grow gems inside of them; the shadow elves will rarely (once every decade or so) send out a war-party to harvest any mature rockeyes they can find. A grown rockeye has 5-10 HD (and carries 0-3 gems per HD); it does not attack directly, but once per round will release a magical pulse that affects all within 30' if they fail to save vs. paralysis. The effect of this pulse varies - it initially slows the target for 2-5 rounds, if the target is already slowed it instead paralyses them for 3-8 rounds, if the target is already paralysed it turns them to stone. The shli-laska sometimes allow shadow elves to harvest the rockeyes, and sometimes refuse, even when heavily bribed - this can cause nasty confrontations between the shli-laska and the shadow elves.

Skitter-rats are similar to surface rats, but much larger (as much as 4' from nose to tail) and with splayed, lizard-like limbs. They prowl the mushroom forests and shallower swamp areas of the Cavern of Thirith, and are considered a delicacy by the shli-laska. Their combat statistics are the same as normal boars (RC 162).

The Hoa'gnaoth is a strange, almost demonic creature that roams the Cavern of Thirith - a bat-insect hybrid the size of a large warhorse, with a 15' wingspan, a tendency towards bizarre riddles and a nasty sense of humour. Though it is presumably able to travel throughout much of the Shadowdeep and possibly even to the surface world, it always seems to return to the Cavern of Thirith, for reasons it has never chosen to explain. Its understanding with the shadow elves is simple - it stays away from the Belfry, and in return the shadow elves don't try to fill its body with crossbow bolts. Lone travellers venturing deeper into the cavern are on their own.

In combat, treat the Hoa'gnaoth as a sphinx (RC 205); its spell selection is darkness, hold portal, sleep, ventriloquism; detect invisible, mindmask, mirror image, phantasmal force; dispel magic, hold person, slow, water breathing; confusion, hallucinatory terrain, polymorph other; dissolve, teleport; anti-magic shell. It is very old and widely-travelled, and might be persuaded to share its wisdom with a determined party of adventurers. Gaining the Hoa'gnaoth's respect, though, is a very difficult task.