Friday, 25 March 2022

The Oerth Journal 36

 

The Oerth Journal #36
Hear ye, hear ye, the long-awaited spring issue of the Oerth Journal is here at last.
It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’m not sure why the delay, issues with the funding platform, presumably, but I’m not the one to ask. Neither should we complain, either. I expect that putting this publication together is a lot of work, and it’s a free download for those unwilling or unable to afford a print copy. We should all be pleased that Kristoph Nolen continues to pour as much love and effort into its creation as he does.

So, what did his effort bring us? A themed issue regarding the Holidays and Festivals of Greyhawk. Which makes me wonder why my submission is betwixt its covers…. Just kidding. I’m not complaining. I’m actually very pleased my submission is included. Part 3 of “A Fistful of Baubles,” concerning Hradji Beartooth’s ill-fated expedition to mysterious Tostencha, continues within. Patience gentle reader, there’s just one more upcoming chapter left and then it’s complete.
What have you thought of it thus far? Time well wasted? I jest. If you love Greyhawk, which you obviously must if you’re reading this review, how can pursuing new stories and detailed lore for the setting ever be a waste of your time? I do wonder if there are one or two readers among you who’ve been impatiently awaiting “Baubles” continuation after so long a delay and flipped to the back of the issue to read my submission first. That would be quite a compliment, indeed!
That said, mine is not the only deviation from said theme. That’s a good thing, I believe. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
Enough about me and mine.
How does this issue celebrate the holidays and festivals of Greyhawk? By revealing them, by explaining them, by expounding upon them.
Take Thomas Kelly’s submission, for example: “Father Tabor’s Guide to Midsummer and Richfest” details how Merikka’s faithful observe the midsummer festival, although Tabor grudgingly highlights the Summer Queen Sotillion’s and her husband Zilchus’ rites and passages. More importantly, regional observances are touched upon, as one expects that few countries will celebrate the festival in exactly the same way. It’s a lengthy article because the Flanaess is a vast place, indeed.

We learn about the daily customs of “Richfest in Chathold” from Sam Dillon. It’s a weeklong affair, and a lot happens each day, what with its parades, its markets, its displays of pyrotechnics! A Rite of Charity is observed, as is religious obeisance. There is feasting, music and theater and competitions, so renowned that revelers travel to the city from miles around, and even from lands afar to partake of it. It is truly a sight to behold, an event one should experience at least once in their lifetime!

Erkil Stoneguard
Nathan Dole believes “The Spirit Festival” as even more frolicsome! He opines that “Brewfest in Saltmarsh” is without parallel! Participants enter their very best creations of wine, mead, malt, and liquors to be judged by Saltmarsh notaries, and may the best libation win. This year’s motley crew of entrants are listed, as are their creations, as are a few of the rumours milling about—a nice touch (each culled from certain DM’s Guild adventures set in the Saltmarsh region).
One wonders how “Erkil’s Skullsplitter” might fare were the Mountain Dwarf’s ruby red ale ever entered in that much celebrated competition? It might never be, though, as the Despotrix of Hardby requests Erkil Stoneguard’s presence at her annual Brewfest celebration, an invitation he has yet to decline. Mark “Sollace” Allen believes that no other libation could ever be considered its better. None might be, for those who’ve imbibed it describe it as truly magical!
Alvyn Bannocksburn
Is it? Paul “Artharn the Cleric” Jurdeczka suggests that the wines “Alvyn ‘Purplesocks’ Bannocksburn” peddles surpass simple beers and ales, regardless their reputation. The wines Alvyn trade in are certainly some of the best the Flanaess has to offer, and he has traveled far and wide in search of them, even to some of the most unlikely places, which is puzzling; but Alvyn has always been the most eccentric of the mercantile Bannockburns, hasn’t he?

A shorter, if equally evocative submission is James A.S. Muldowney’s “The Beers of the Flaneass.” Let’s say that it will add flavour to your game. These libations will surely be focal during festivals of any sort.
As are theatrical productions. Jared Milne waxes upon “Xanvener’s Performance” of ‘The Liar’s Court,’ annually staged in the Great Kingdom of Aerdy during Brewfest’s theatrical season.

Heward
In keeping with the theater, Joe “Greyhawk Grognard” Bloch reveals a musical artifact fit for bardic performances at festivals, “The Therimoire of Heward.” It’s a book of songs, a book of spells, a book of tales that any tinker would love to tinker with! But be aware and wary, for it has a mind of its own….

Kristoph treats us with two short pieces, each but a page long. The first is a short story concerning a certain Illusionist (of “Trading Cards” fame [1993]) named Loran competing in the Free City’s Desportium of Magick. His second entry concerns his favourite folk, the Rhennee, and how they celebrate Needfest. Why, one wonders, would they bother when they don’t appear to worship the one true pantheon, whichever that may be. Why? Because they find every reason to celebrate life and happiness, that’s why.

Les Reno keeps in theme with a dissertation on the “Beekeepers of Badwall,” who they are, who they were, and how they came to be, and the rites and rituals that arise from their distant past.
It’s a thought-provoking piece, proof of what can be developed from scant mentions in canonical source material (in this case “Artifact of Evil,” and “The Adventure Begins”), and what can be gleaned from the deities of potentially disparate cultures, if one is willing to exercise a little imagination. Such is the way of worldbuilding, though, isn’t it?
Les can’t be held to just one article in this edition. Where his first dealt with the Flan, his second explores a well-hidden secret, “the Sheltering Ancestors,” one the olve are wont to keep. It’s eldritch, as one would expect of such a long-lived race, it’s legendary, and it just might explain why the olve revere the natural world, and most specifically, ancient trees.
Trust Len to twist these two tales together, because he does. He’s a meticulous lore-master and word-builder. He leaves no stone unturned, no leaf, nor beehive, uninspected!

Casey Brown takes a holiday from the Bandit Kingdoms to flesh out the city of Seaton, its history, its ruling family, and its points of interest. Festivals important to it are detailed. And so, surprisingly, is Lord Obmi, that dastardly dwarf of days-gone-by. He was always meant to be formidable, and Mr. Brown has made him so, once again. Yeah, he’s bad ass here for 5e, as he was meant to be.

There are other equally evocative works in this issue.
Two panels of Mike Bridges’ “Cultists of Tharizdun” lurk within.
Rich DiIoia continues to explore his fascination of all things Suel. He goes way back this time, like, way back in time, back to the heyday of the Suel Imperium and its colonial expansion into the Amedio and beyond, and its meeting the Olman Empire, and the war that inevitably followed.
Zach Houghton introduces a new magic item, “Accursed Fishhooks.” Are these Stormhooks a cursed item? Or are they merely a harmless prank? You be the judge.

Never the Heroes
There’s another, besides myself, delivering narrative fiction. Mark Allen will not be outdone by Len Reno, delivering two pieces for your enjoyment. His second continues his series, “Never the Heroes, Pt. 2.” Mark is a wonderful wordsmith. His prose flow across the mind with ease. Moreover, he has a talent for weaving exposition and character development into his tale without seeming to. Enjoy! I did.

Well, that’s what’s in this issue of the Oerth Journal. Have I provoked your interest? Are you ready and willing to read more, perhaps each article in its entirety? I hope I have. As noted above: I consider it time well wasted.
So, you ask, how do I get my hands on this magazine? And more importantly, how much coin will I be relieved of for the pleasure of obtaining a physical copy if this zine?
Not one red cent! A mention before, it’s a free download, found HERE! as a direct download. Or HERE! on the Greyhawk Online Oerth Journal page.
If you want a hardcopy of this particular issue, you may be out of luck. Print subscribers get a physical copy. And you’d have had to support the Oerth Journal prior to publication to get one. But if you wish to receive print copies in future, consider donating to the Oerth Journal HERE!
More importantly, have I inspired you to try your hand at writing something for an upcoming issue? I do hope I have. And we’d love to hear from you.

 All art is from the Oerth Journal 36, and is wholly owned by the artists.

Friday, 18 March 2022

Thoughts on L2 The Assassin’s Knot

 

"It is the brain, the little gray cells on which one must rely.
One must seek the truth within – not without." ~ Poirot
― Agatha Christie, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, 1920

The Assassin's Knot
Murder most foul! A small ruby, a leather button, and a golden lute string are your only leads. Can you follow them to the heart of THE ASSASSIN’S KNOT?
[L2 The Assassin’s Knot – 0]

Len Lakofka’s second installment of his Lendore Isles series is a bit of a departure from his first, but less so than you might imagine. Where L1 The Secret of Bone Hill is a sandbox in miniature, this submission is more of a mystery, a Who-done-it investigation, if you will. This is not to say that Bone Hill doesn’t share aspects of one as well, because it does: It’s a conundrum with a number of curious threads to unravel, should you discover them; I’d go as far to say that it’s a Gordian Knot. I direct you to my earlier review, and to The Restenford Project for details why.
The Assassin’s Knot is far more straightforward than Bone Hill, if as complex; but complexity is what we expect of Len, isn’t it. He was a stickler for detail, after all, leaving nary a stone to be unturned.
L2 begins where L1 left off, in Restenford, although one need not have played the first to appreciate the second. If you had—played L1, that is—this adventure will be all the richer. You’ll know and be invested in Pelltar, in Baron Grellus and in his family.

Restenford and Garrotton
Baron Grellus of Resternford is dead. All clues point to the small town of Garrotten, a day’s journey to the south. The [sorcerer] Pelltar of Restenford has asked you to undertake a secret investigation of the crime. Can you succeed before the murderer strikes again?
[L2 – 1]
You see why, now, don’t you? The Baron’s murder means something now and is not some dry text block to be endured before the action begins. Having played L1 lends continuity to the narrative. And having done so explains why Pelltar has approached you, and not Gelpas, Restenford’s Captain of the Guard, to look into this murder most foul.
Actually, the question need be asked, does Gelpas even have jurisdiction in Garrotten? Probably not.
Might Baroness Fairwind, Grellus’ widow? Surely she should; shouldn’t she? Grellus did, it would seem. [See L1 – 23, mentioned below.] But Fairwind is incapacitated, at present.
Restenford castle has been sealed to outsiders until the Baron’s wife and daughter recover from the shock. [L2 – 2]
Thus, Pelltar has approached the heroes of Bone Hill to do what he and the authorities cannot.

The evidence is as follows:
Pelltar
The Baron was found strangled at 8 AM Monday morning. His bedroom was locked from the inside. No furniture or other objects were overturned or broken; however, three clues to the murderer were found in the room. First, a small red ruby (value 50 gp) was located near the body. Second, a golden lute string was found under the bed. Third, a red leather button was found in the Baron’s hand. […] The effort to speak with dead gave no clues, and all attempts to raise the Baron met with failure. However, Pelltar has acquired the following information:
An old man with long white hair, wearing a blue robe with the symbol of three barracuda on it, ate at the Restenford inn. This symbol is known to represent one of the major sea deities worshipped on Lendore Isle: Osprem, Goddess of the Seas and Water Travel. A temple to this deity is located in Garrotten. The old man displayed a beautiful golden holy symbol, a small whale. The eyes of the whale were red rubies.
A man in traveling clothes appeared at a local tavern where he had a few drinks and played the lute for the people in the tavern. He stayed a few hours and then left. The lute had unusual golden strings.
A man came into town to buy a few barrels of beer and have them shipped to his inn in Garrotten. He wore a distinctive red vest with ornate red buttons. When shown the button found in the Baron’s room, the wine merchant identified it as resembling the ones on the innkeeper’s vest. [L2 – 2]

When younger, we likely all sat round listening to our tireless DM drone the above text block, verbatim, followed yet again by this:
Balmorrow
The guard at the south gate of Restenford (whose road leads to Garrotten) remembered each of the three men. They arrived one after the other, about an hour apart, between 7 PM and 9 PM Sunday night. None of these men were seen to leave Restenford, but a later search of the town did not find them. Pelltar the [sorcerer] thinks he knows them. The first is Harper, the high priest of the Church of Osprem in Garrotten. The second is Balmorrow, a theater owner in Garrotten. The third seems to be Abraham, the town’s innkeeper.
[L2 – 2]
I would suggest that those who had were deprived of a great role-playing opportunity. Players ought to discover all the above through play, IMHO. And in doing so the conspiracy will be revealed to them one clue at a time.
All clues lead to Garrotton, it would seem. And it would seem that Garrotton is not without a bit of a reputation:
Dark rumors suggest that Garrotten is the headquarters for assassins who operate right under the nose of the town’s mayor. There is no proof that such a guild exists, but a common phrase in much of this area is, “If you want someone killed, go to Garrotten.” [L2 – 2]
One wonders how these dark rumours came to be common, or even uncommon, knowledge and why these assassins weren’t put to rights earlier by Pelltar or some other worthy, if they were true.
Rumours aside, things are not as they seem. They never are, nor should they be, should this be a mystery worth pursuing. Or any adventure, for that matter.
Should I mention that there will be spoilers?
It should come as no surprise that:
Tellish
All three suspects are innocent. The Baron of Restenford was murdered by Tellish, head of the Assassins’ Guild in Garrotten. Tellish accomplished the murder by using a cloak of etherealness and his abilities to climb walls and pick locks. At 7 PM he entered town dressed as the high priest of the temple of Osprem. He then sneaked out of town, removed the high priest disguise, and re-entered as the theater owner at 8 PM. Once that role was played, he again left by the wall and entered town at 9 PM disguised as the innkeeper. Tellish then removed the last disguise and went to perform the assassination at 1 AM. He then climbed the town wall a third time and returned to Garrotten.
[L2 – 3]

Why, one wonders, was Baron Grellus assassinated?
In his megalomaniac state [Qualton, the abbot of Phaulkon] desires to gain the throne by marrying Andrella (though she knows nothing of his plan or desires). [L1 – 23]
The assassin was hired by Qualton, the canon of the Church of Phaulkon in Restenford. Qualton suffers from a form of schizophrenia that produces occasional fits of megalomania. It is his goal to become Baron of Restenford himself, but to do so he must murder the current Baron and Baroness, then marry the Baron’s daughter. In his twisted mind this all seems quite logical and possible. [L2 – 3]

Qualton, for all his schizophrenic scheming, is nothing but a pawn in a greater game.
Qualton’s desire to kill the Baron and Baroness fits right into the plans of Arrness, the mayor of Garrotten. She would like to see the Baron’s entire line die out (including the daughter, Andrella). Arrness, as the strongest surviving political leader in this part of Lendore Isle, could then claim the town of Restenford in addition to her town of Garrotten. The Duke of Kroten is too busy with non-human raids on his borders to intervene— and would probably support a strong local ruler anyway... Thus, Qualton paying Tellish to kill the Baron has played right into Arrness’ hands! [L2 – 3]
Arrness: M6 female magic-user; Castle; Mayor [L2 – 3]

Zahrdahl, the Trickster
Personally, I would wonder if Arrness is herself an unwitting pawn of the Duke of Kroton, who also seems to have designs on Restenford?
Zahrdahl [the Trickster, AL NE] poses as a bait dealer, poor and dirty, but is really an illusionist spy for the Duke of Kroten to the northwest. [L1 – 25]
The Duke does not play a part in this adventure. Nor should he. The Duke’s dark doings are beyond the pay grade of our heroes, currently. For more on Nebubenub, the Duke of Kroton, I invite you to download Len Lekofka’s further adventures in the Lendore Isles, found on the Dragonsfoot website. Yeah, if you are a little put off by the Duke’s name, I don’t blame you. I wasn’t terribly fold of Balooshi the Djinni, in L1, either; but such was Len’s sense of humour, I suppose.

The Duke’s machinations aside, we know that Tellish killed the Duke and that the Abbot of Phaulkon set him on his task; but more importantly, we know that Grellor’s death is integral to Arrness’ power play. We also know that there is an assassin’s guild in Garrotton.
This may come as some sort of surprise, but Arrness is a member of the guild.
Arrness: M6 female magic-user; Castle; Mayor [L2 – 3]
And so is Tellish.
Tellish: C5/A6, male dual-class cleric/assassin; Castle; cover: C3
Tellish poses as an advisor priest (3rd level). His is actually the head of the Assassins’ Guild and co-equal with Arrness. [L2 – 20]
Tellish poses as a clerical advisor to Arrness. He is a cleric who became an assassin, and now enjoys the benefits of both professions as a dual-classed character. His guild has two other members in the castle garrison, three at the inn, and one posing as a caretaker at the church. Associate members of the guild are the mayor of the town herself (Arrness, a 6th level magic-user) and brigands from the nearby woods. who occasionally provide “muscle” for the Guild. The Assassins’ Guild is well concealed in the town, and only Tellish knows everyone else. [L2 – 3]

Other members are:
Lothar: A5, male assassin; Temple; cover: groundskeeper
Knows Tellish is the head of the guild. [L2 – 2,10]
Only Arrness and Tellish know that Lothar is in the Guild. [L2 – 16]
Lothar poses as a fighter who has been maimed in the wars and seeks now only a more quiet life. As such he has hired on at the church some 15 months ago as a handy man and grounds keeper. [L2 – 16]
Lothar is the Assassin Guild spy [at the Church of Osprem], posing as the crippled groundskeeper. He prefers to stay out of the public eye, since his wounds caused the loss of his left ear, his left eye, and left him a horrid scar where the left side of his face was mangled by a flail. He is high in the Guild hierarchy, and a dangerous adversary. He stole the high priest’s holy symbol for Tellish, and may engineer additional problems for the party. No one knows his real purpose, and he will not risk suspicion unless the situation is critical. [L2 – 15]
Lothar has secret spy holes into Harper’s office and the main sanctuary. He will always try to get an ear or eye full and report interesting information to the guild. If present, he will quietly go to his room soon after a stranger meets the high priest. He will wait for a period of at least an hour before going to the castle. He will never go the castle during daylight hours. He always asks for Tellish when he goes to report. [L2 – 16]

Sangster: A4, male assassin [spy]; Castle/Town patrol; cover: F2
Knows Tellish is the head of the guild. [L2 – 2]
Sangster poses as a fighter in town. He knows who Tellish is.
Assassin Students—teacher, Sangster [L2 – 2,21]

Basmar
“Captain” Basmar:
A4, male assassin; Inn; cover: smuggler
Knows Tellish is the head of the guild. [L2 – 2,10]
Basmar’s only contact at the castle is Sangster. Basmar does not know the boss nor does he know the mayor is connected with the guild. He does not even know that Glami is the major’s spy in the inn. If the party begins to ask too many questions. Basmar may arrange for one of them (or a contact) to be assassinated. [L2- 12]

Gellius: A3, male assassin; Castle/Town; cover: F2
Gellius poses as a fighter in town. [L2 – 2,21]

Philmar: A3, male assassin; Inn; cover: hunter
His cover profession is a hunter and dog trainer, though he will refuse offers of employment. [L2 – 2,10]
Oscar: A3, male midget assassin; Inn; cover: local
His cover profession is smuggling goods on the lake and river. [L2 – 2,10]
Philmar and Oscar share room 6. They drink sparingly and are willing to talk with virtually anyone about anything (except the guild!). They do not know who heads the guild, nor do they know that the mayor is associated with it. […]
Basmar is their guild contact, though they do not openly associate with him. When Basmar wants to see them, he ties a bandana to their doorknob. He will meet them just outside town at the bridge that crosses the river near area D. When Oscar and Philmar want to contact him, they slip a copper piece under his door. [L2 – 11]

Gilmi: F5 weaponsmith, dwarf (spy); Smithy; cover: smith [L2 – 2,8]
Gilmi is an active spy for the Assassins’ Guild. The midget assassin Oscar at the inn is his contact; he does not know anyone else. He will report interesting strangers to Oscar when he has a chance to do so. He will greet any dwarf or gnome he meets and act as friendly as possible without revealing his true alignment. [L2 – 8]

Rogan: A1 male assassin, gnome; Castle/Town; cover: clean-up boy
With his hair dyed and shorn, he can pass as a grubby human boy of about 10 years or so at a distance of 20’ or more. He tricked Falpir into getting a button from Abraham. [L2 – 2,21]

Thomas: A1 male assassin [L2 – 3]

That’s quite a motley crew.
There are others in town who, while not exactly members, aid and abet the guild, even if they don’t know they are:
Holga: M1 female magic-user (spy); Castle; student
Magic-user Student—teacher, Arrness [L2 – 2,19,21]
She goes into town. unescorted, as a spy for the mayor. She reports all new characters to Arrness directly, who might reward her with an extra gold piece or two for excellent information. [L2 – 21]
Once she realizes that the lute string was used in an assassination, she must decide whether to abandon Wilbur or try to convince him to flee Garrotten with her (she really likes him!). If the latter, he will have to decide whether his fear of assassination and love for her is stronger than his loyalty to Balmorrow. [L2 – 19]

Glami: M3 male magic-user (spy); Inn; barkeep
His right arm is partially paralyzed and he has a long ugly scar on the inside of his forearm. [L2 – 2,10]
Glami is no longer an adventurer due to partial paralysis in his arm. He still dabbles in the art and his teacher is the mayor herself. His book was lost in the adventure that maimed him, thus he is dependent upon her for spells. She does not charge him anything for reading her book as long as he keeps her informed about new people in town. He is clever and will try to trick a party into telling him their business without revealing that he is really a spy for the mayor. He does not know the mayor is part of the guild nor that three assassins stay in the inn. If the inn is attacked or if the innkeeper enters melee, Glami will support the innkeeper. He does not know of Abraham’s psionic powers nor that Philmar, Oscar, and Basmar are assassins. [L2 – 11]

It’s the players’ task to suss these villains out and put an end to their dastardly deeds. A difficult task, I warrant, considering the Dramatis Personae to consider, some suspects, some red herrings, some innocent bystanders. One expects as much from Len, citing his propensity to stating every NPC in his towns (note that each and every Castle Guard is detailed on page 21), to say nothing of their relationships, their motivations, their wants and desires.

The suspects are as follows:
Harper
Harper
, High Priest of Osprem.
Harper is old and senile (which is one reason the Guild doesn’t regard him as a threat). He is essentially harmless and highly eccentric. Harper will cast a spell at the drop of a hat, though he will never actually harm anyone. [L2 – 15]
There is the innkeeper, Abraham d’Farmin.
And Balmorrow, the owner of The Theatre of the Mystic.
Balmorrow is very popular with the people of the town. He provides, with the inn, one of the few entertainments in the small village. For this reason, coupled with Balmorrow’s considerable ability to defend himself, the Assassins’ Guild has made few direct moves to oust him. However, Tellish, the chief assassin, is trying to discredit Balmorrow by making it appear that he might be an assassin—hoping that some avenging character will eliminate him without getting the guild involved. [L2 – 18]

These NPCs are integral to the investigation:
Falpir
Falpir was duped by the gnome Rogan (see the Castle) into stealing one of the buttons from Abraham’s vest. The button was left at the murder scene to implicate the innkeeper. [L2 – 11]
Wilbur
Unknown to Balmorrow, Wilbur has fallen in love with Holga, the mayor’s apprentice and spy (see Castle Residents). She convinced him to get one of Balmorrow’s golden lute strings, which the mayor passed on to Tellish for the assassination. Holga doesn’t know this, nor does she know about the mayor’s association with the guild. Wilbur is a complete (if not too bright) innocent. He thinks Holga still has this token of his affection and considers himself fiercely loyal to Balmorrow. [L2 – 18]

Krak
And here’s the obligatory red herring:
Krak, a half-orc armorer with an intelligent sword: longsword +2, damage +6 vs. lawful good (I 15, E 19, NE; slay lawful good characters; detects lawful good, sloping passages, and elevator rooms; levitation; speaks common)
The blade has a mind of its own, and is 25% likely to scan for lawful good characters within 10 feet if it is not performing some other function. If it detects any, it will takeover Krak, who does not have the intelligence, charisma, and level to oppose it. [L2 – 6]
Krak is not part of the assassin’s guild, though most old-school players will automatically assume he is.

If Len was lacking in any aspect of design, it was in naming NPCs. Intermixed with Gelmarks and Kraks, are Martins and Ollies and Lydias. I suppose there no rules against using English names, but they somehow seem a little out of place amid the Quenexes and Basmars. My real issue is that there are too many characters with similarly phonetic names in this module. There is Beshkar and Basmar, Balmar and Balmorrow, Glami and Gilmi, Wilbur and Willis, Arrness and Armax, and Falpir, Philmar and Falbore and Phillis. One must need take notes to just keep them straight, especially as Arrness and Armax are both female magic users.
I will refrain from commenting further on Nebubenub and Balooshi, as neither name is included within this adventure.

Abraham at the bar; Philmar, Basmar, Oscar, and Grellius at table; Glami behind the bar

As noted earlier, this is a complex web of misdirection, and one should read this adventure carefully to understand what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen.
The general plotline follows this schedule: [L2 – 3]
Prior:
Basmar, Philmar, and Oscar take rooms at Abraham’s Inn.
Three of the inn’s permanent residents belong to the Assassins’ Guild (Oscar, Philmar, and Basmar). [L2 – 11]
The assassin was hired by Qualton, the canon of the Church of Phaulkon in Restenford. [L2 – 3]
Falpir was duped by the gnome Rogan (see the Castle) into stealing one of the buttons from Abraham’s vest. [L2 – 11]
[Holga] convinced [Wilbur] to get one of Balmorrow’s golden lute strings, which the mayor passed on to Tellish for the assassination. [L2 – 18]
SUNDAY: Tellish murders Baron Grellus and plants his false clues. [L2 – 3]
MONDAY: The Baron was found strangled at 8 AM Monday morning. [L2 – 3]
The player characters are assembled in Restenford by the wizard Peltar. Investigations point to Garrotten. [L2 – 3]
TUESDAY: The characters travel to Garrotten [,] arriving about 8 PM. They will probably stay at the House of Abraham, the only inn in town. They will be very tired after their trip. [L2 – 3]
In the course of the adventure, some events can happen at any time:
Special Note. It is possible to make reports and get advice from Pelltar, but it takes a day for a message to be delivered and a day to get a reply. [L2 – 4]
The Visit. While the party members are out, their rooms at the inn are ransacked by assassins. This event is most likely after the party has drawn attention to itself. An alternative is to have Wilfong, a common thief, caught (or nearly caught) in the act of robbery. [L2 – 4]
The Octopus. Basmar at the inn spins a tale of a monstrous devilfish that attacks boats going upriver at the north end of the lake. His purpose is to distract the party from the investigation. Even if no one is killed, the hunt will take a full day. [L2 – 4]
The Contact. The DM introduces a special NPC who supposedly has vital information. The main purpose of this encounter is to kill the NPC to demonstrate to the players how dangerous the investigation is. The exact details are up to the DM-the effect on the players is the most important result. [L2 – 4]
If that doesn’t light a fire under the PCs this will:
The Arrest of Abraham. If the party goes to Arrness (or she hears of their investigation) she will hold an audience that will delay the party investigation half a day. Arrness will forbid the characters to continue, saying that she can keep order in her own town. The next day, Abraham will be arrested and convicted; the trial will cost the characters half a day if they go. Abraham will be executed morning of the second day following, unless rescued. [L2 – 4]
There are other side encounters presented, but as they are plot and not time sensitive, I will not I won’t mention them here.
Events will heat up if the players haven’t solved the mystery in a week of trying.
Andrella
SUNDAY:
If the players have not solved the mystery (most won’t). Tellish assassinates the Baroness.
MONDAY: Word of the assassination reaches Garrotten. [L2 – 3]
SATURDAY: Events of this week depend on player actions. Probably the mystery will be solved and the characters will raid the mayor’s castle. If the DM wants a confrontation with Qualton (using L1), the characters will hear a rumor that Qualton has proposed to Andrella.
SUNDAY: On the following Sunday Tellish will again travel to Restenford. He will assume no guises this time, however. He will just sneak into the castle and murder the Baroness. If nothing stops him, one week later he will kill Andrella and Qualton as well! The death of the Baroness should be a strong hint to the party that they are under time pressure, if they have not yet guessed. [L2 – 3] If Tellish isn’t stopped, he will assassinate both Andrella and Qualton. [L2 – 3]
MONDAY: Word reaches Garrotten. Within a few days, Arrness and Tellish begin their political takeover. Pelltar retires from the scene. The characters must adapt to the new order or flee. [L2 – 3]

All in all, the plot is simple. Most mysteries are when you strip them down to their bare facts. It’s the fog of ignorance and misdirection that makes them difficult.

I’m not suggesting that this will be easy, because it won’t be: There is a ton of misdirection. There are trap doors secreted under carpets and beds in Abraham’s guest rooms leading to a secret crawl-way beneath the inn.  The assassins know about it, and make use of it, but they did not excavate it; so why did Abraham? To spy on his guests? Or did some past innkeeper with less noble aims excavate them?
The assassins have locked their trapdoors from their side so that the doors can no longer be opened. Wilfong has moved his bed so that a leg of it is squarely on top of the trapdoor, but has not locked it. [L2 – 14]
What will they think about Harper, the High Priest of Osprem?
Harper is a bit senile and eccentric. He has become very forgetful and somewhat impetuous in his daily actions. [L2 – 17]
He is essentially harmless […]. Harper will cast a spell at the drop of a hat, though he will never actually harm anyone. [L2 – 13]
Might the players think his senility an act? Or might they think he has become dangerously unstable?
And what will they make of Balmorrow’s evasive answers when questioned?
Balmorrow the owner [of the Theater of the Mystic Celebration,] a bard, has been trying to uncover the guild. Balmorrow does not want Garrotten to retain its reputation as a village of assassins, but he has not be able to break the hierarchy of the Guild and determine who is leader is. He has made little progress, and does not realize he has attracted the guild’s attention. [L2 – 18]
As long as Balmorrow thinks the guild might leave him alone, he will refuse to be directly involved. He will not risk the lives of his friends or his theater and home if he can avoid it. If he does take an active part, he will stay behind the scenes as much as possible [.] [L2 – 19]

Meanwhile, there are others working against the party, whatever their motivation in doing so.
I draw your attention to Basmar’s fishing trip, to Wilbur’s love for Holga, and Holga’s spying for the mayor: She reports all new characters to Arrness directly, who might reward her with an extra gold piece or two for excellent information. [L2 – 21]
Or Glami’s: He is clever and will try to trick a party into telling him their business without revealing that he is really a spy for the mayor. [L2 – 11]
Wilfong is a gambler on the take: He is not an assassin but he suspects [Basmar, Oscar, and Philmar] may be. He might sell his suspicions for 25 gp or more [.] He has observed that “Captain” Basmar doesn’t own a boat. [L2 – 11]
Harmon is more altruistic. The temple curate, will never admit anyone to see the high priest, but will say Harper is “too busy,” “in prayer,” “performing a ceremony,” “resting,” etc. [L2 – 17]
Others are more altruistic: Basil, the curate, takes care of the actual administration of the church grounds. He also spends much of his time looking out for Harper and apologizing for Harmin’s brusque manner. [L2 – 15]

Once the players gather in the clues and solve the mystery, the endgame is a simple assault on Arrness’ castle. I suggest stealth is the better approach, but to each his own.

What do I think of L2?
The town and regional maps are serviceable, if not as detailed as was Restenford. I wish the larger area map showed more of the coast and actually pinpointed Restenford’s position on it in relation to Garrotton. And I find the town layout a little perplexing. Those detailing “The House of Abraham,” and “Garrotton Castle” are better, but since that’s where most of the “action” will be, it stands to reason these would be highlighted. Those for “The Theater of the Mystic Celebration,” and “The Church of Osprem” are rudimentary, at best.

As to the adventure itself, I think it works better as a continuance of L1 than as itself alone; but it’s still a solid module.
I have to say that hack and slash players are not going to enjoy this adventure. Combat is sparse. And what early combat there is will likely be their end. This adventure is very much a challenge, and any party that expects to muscle its way through it will probably fail, rounded up by the guard, or laid low by the guild, itself, depending on their level.
That said, it is what I expected: a classic Len Lakofka module. Maybe that’s why I like it. I prefer skulking about and figuring stuff out. My campaigns were always urban affairs, where dungeon delving was a rare event, so this one is right up my alley.
Have I done justice to it here? Maybe. Probably not. There’s more to it than mentioned, obviously. I’ve passed over important encounters, made no mention of other important NPCs. So, if you want to learn more about this Gordian Knot, you’ll have to lay hands on it and read it.


And if I should be so bold to suggest:
“Don't judge a book by its cover”
― George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, 1860




One must always give credit where credit is due. This post is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable.
Very special thanks to Lenard Lakofka, without whose imagination, this adventure, and this review, could not have been possible, to say nothing of The Restenford Project.


The Art:
L2 The Assassin's Knot cover, artist undisclosed (MD. Lak?), 1983
Restenford and Garrotton regional map, by "Reader Ethan," found on The Restenford Project
Balmorrow, from L2 The Assassin's Knot, 1983
Tellish at Restenford Castle, from L2 The Assassin's Knot, 1983
Basmar, from L2 The Assassin's Knot, 1983
Harper, from L2 The Assassin's Knot, 1983
Krak, from L2 The Assassin's Knot, 1983
The House of Abraham, from L2 The Assassin's Knot, 1983
House of Abraham map, by Stephen D. Sullivan, from L2 The Assassin's Knot, 1983
Garrotton area map, by Stephen D. Sullivan, from L2 The Assassin's Knot, 1983
Garrotton town map, by Stephen D. Sullivan, from L2 The Assassin's Knot, 1983

 
Sources:
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9045 L1 The Secret of Bone Hill, 1981
9057 L2 The Assassin’s Knot, 1983
L4C The Lendore Isle Companion
L5A The Kroton Campaign Guide
L5C The Kroton Campaign Companion
The Restenford Project

Friday, 11 March 2022

History of the South, Part 9: A Paradigm Shift


“The beginning is the most important part of the work.”
― Plato, The Republic

As old empires wane, others rise.
Tis is not to say that the old empires disappear overnight. Their waning persisted for decades, if not centuries. But in their waning, others find opportunities to capitalize on their diminished aspect, and perhaps undermine their interests.

530 CY
The Sea Princes were quite aware of Keoland’s influence, and how Keoland would forever seek to diminish the returns of the Princes’ investments. The Princes were also aware how profitable foreign “holdings” could be; so it comes as no surprise that they desired their own. Where better than the Amedio. It was on their doorstep, and was rich in exotic woods, in spice, in precious metals and stone, to say nothing of its peoples, were they bold enough to seize them.
The Sea Princes Arrive
The Olman and Suel battled each other and among themselves for food, territory and slaves, and for the glory of fighting. In this churning mess of permanent civil war, the arrival of the Sea Princes in about 530 CY was barely noticed.
The Princes explored the Olman Islands and cut their way into the Amedio, enslaving the natives they didn’t kill. The Amedio slaves were sent back to the Hold of the Sea Princes as cheap labour, or kept in their native lands to dig mines, clear vegetation and pick fruits for export. [SB – 63]
[The] Sea Princes expanded their borders to the Hellfurnaces. Vast plantations, worked by imported Amedio slaves, provided shiploads of tropical fruits and sugar, goods that could be exported to foreign ports for unheard-of low prices. Though the sale of human beings drew the ire of upstart radical nations such as the Yeomanry, the Sea Princes' slave trade was seen by most of the Flanaess as a necessary evil on the road to fantastic wealth. [LGG – 101]
Thousands of natives died from mistreatment, malnutrition and unfamiliar diseases they contracted from the Holders. Some tribal leaders recognized the threat and managed a few retaliatory attacks against their would-be captors, but most of the natives saw their northern slave-takers as a way to eliminate their ancient enemies, and began slaving raids of their own, selling conquered opponents to the Sea Princes for iron weapons, cheap jewelry and minor magic items. [SB – 63]

539- 564 CY
Trevlyan III of House Neheli (The Afflicted] [LGJ #1 – 14]

mid-550’s
The Turmoil Between Crowns was indeed turbulent. The Celestial Houses of the Great Kingdom sought to capitalize on its fluid uncertainty, ever striving to rise above the others, each rising to and falling from prominence.
In the South Province alone, the seat of power passed from House Cranden, to House Naelax, and then to House Chelor, cousins of the Overking.
In the mid-550s, cousins of the overking known as the Chelors were awarded rulership of South Province, and for thirty years they ran an aggressive campaign to win back these rich provinces, but to no avail. [LGG – 58]

557 CY
The See of Medegia, on the other Hand, had always been firmly in the hands of the clergy, and at this time under the iron fist of Hextor, wrested long years past from Pholtus.
The Holy Censor still remains one of the chief advisors of the Overking, however, and he reigns oppressively over peasant masses with full approval from Rauxes. [Folio – 12]
Rel Astra, on the other hand, had long been in fiefdom to House Garasteth.
And continued to when His Most Lordly Nobility, Lord Protector of Rel Astra, Drax of House Garasteth became ruler of the city of Rel Astra.
Rel Astra is currently ruled by Lord (actually Prince) Drax of House Garasteth, who has held sway over the city since 557 CY. [LGG – 92]
The city and constabular fief of Rel Astra extends from the precincts of the city northwards to the Lone Heath south of the Mikar, including the town of Ountsy, whose mayor is subject to Rel Astra. This trading and mercantile port city is held in hereditary fief by a rival noble house of the Aerdi who are secretly conspiring against the royal house of Naelex, although they are careful to allow no proof of this to fall into their enemies' hands. They desperately seek close ties with Medegia and the Sea Barons to balance the weight of the Overking' s kinsmen in North and South Province. It is reported that the Overking views these machinations with ill-concealed delight, for they are seen as check and balance, as the monarch fears his own at least as much as he distrusts others. In any case, the lord of Rel Astra at the same time desires to check the growth of the Censor's lands and holdings, and secret plots with the freefolk of Grandwood Forest and the Herzog of the South Province are rumored. [Folio – 14]

558 CY
Foreign Advisors
The Kingdom of Shar was of two minds regarding Ivid V’s ascension to the throne. It behooved them to have a stable Kingdom to the north, but they lost their influence in his court and that did not please them at all. It would be best if his tenure was short, they decided, and took measures to ensure just that.
In the madness and infighting following Ivid I’s death, the Scarlet Sign infiltrated the Aerdi court to keep a close watch on things, but with the crowning of Ivid V in [6072 SD] the Great Kingdom settled for a time. The new Overking banished all foreign advisors from the courts of his nation, and the Brotherhood lost its foothold in Suundi.
In 6074 SD, the Scarlet Brotherhood set out to stir trouble for the Great Kingdom. In the Raker Mountain range, members whispered into the ears of humanoid leaders, encouraging them to raid the Bone March. The raids began the spring of the next year, and by the year after that the raids became a full invasion. [SB – 5]

559 CY
Did the orcs and gnolls listen to their whispers? They did, for those whispers promised great things. Land, power and pillage. Riches beyond their imaginings. Did they trust those who whispered? No. Not in the least. But they did not let that away them.
They are not prepared, the whispers said. They look to the barbarians to the north and have not guarded against you, they said. But the orcs were cautious. For they knew not what these red-robed whisperers hoped to gain. And because they had heard the whispers of Men before, and knew that Men had always used orcish blood to blunt the swords of their enemies. The gnolls were less cautious, for the whispers promised them blood, and they do so love the smell of it.

563 CY
The Bone March fell to the humanoids and all humans in that area were either enslaved or killed, Lord Clement among them, as he was held up within the walls of Spinecastle, waiting for succor from Ratik and the North Province, when it fell after a prolonged siege, virtually overnight. Survivors say that the orcs and gnolls had nothing to do with its fall, that it fell from within, that dark forces rose up from its very foundations, causing those within to throw open the gates in their haste to flee, and only then did the humanoids gain entry. It was the castles’ curse, they said, gesturing to ward off the Evil they claimed to witness that day.
Success?
In 560 CY, the Great Kingdom’s northernmost province Bone March was invaded by humanoids from the Rakers: it fell three years later and has been in a barbaric state since.
[PGtG – 10]
In 563 the land fell to these invaders, its lord was slain, and its army slain or enslaved. Humans in the area were likewise enslaved or killed, and the whole territory Is now ruled by one or more of the humanoid chiefs. [Folio – 9]

What did the Scarlet Brotherhood think about their success? They were elated. They were infuriated. The orcs slaughtered their agents along with all the other humans, for the orcs understood that those red-robed whisperers were not their friends. They understood that they were pawns in a greater game that was not their own. And they recognized the scent of slavery when they smelled it.
The Bone March fell to the humanoids in 6078 SD, and all humans in that territory were slain or enslaved. The plot misfired. The Bone March’s new rulers severed all ties with their human co-conspirators, and few Brotherhood agents escaped with their lives. [SB – 5]

564 CY
Kimbertos Skotti of House Lizhal (The Commoner) [LGJ #1 – 14]

568 CY
One wonders whether there ever has been sweeping change in the Kingdom of Shar? The last time change affected the Tilvenot peninsula was in 489 CY, 79 years prior, when the old order toppled. Since then, The Kingdom of Sar has been guided by the monastic Order of the Scarlet Sign (or the Scarlet Brotherhood, as it is known far and wide) and the Order of the Scarlet Sign has been guided by the Father of Obedience. One might say that the Father of Obedience IS the Kingdom of Shar.
The Father of Obedience is elected for life by a council of the highest-ranked monks. The current Father of Obedience is Korenth Zan [.] Elected to his Office in 6083 SD, [his] attitudes are similar to the Strong Hand Faction, although he professes no allegiance to the group – his only true allegiance is to his race and the Brotherhood itself. [SB – 18]
The Strong Hand faction wishes to begin domination of the Flanaess immediately by taking control of the predominately Suel nations and using them to conquer the lands immediately north of the Tilvanot Peninsula. [WG8 Fate of Istus – 110]

572 CY
Who rules the eastern seas? The elves? They had never laid claim to its vast expanse, despite their having sailed its waters for millennia. The Flan? They were the first men to lay eyes on the Solnor, but they were content to do little more than cast nets into its banks. The Suloise? They, like the Flan before them, colonized coast and island alike, and for a time, it was they who ruled its waves. But it wasn’t until the Aerdi laid eyes on it did anyone truly lay claim to it. Ivid commanded the Sea Barons to secure his coasts and tame those who raided it. Did they ever truly tame the Barbarians of the north? No. But they did put an end to the piracy of the south, for a time.
The Duxchaners are still smarting from the battle, wherein the Sea Barons sank four of their warships and made prizes of three loaded cogs before they could gain safety in Pontylver. [Folio – 12]

More than a century and a half of conflict has ensued between the [Sea Barons and the Lordship of the Isles], and while the names and faces have often changed, the contests are still hotly fought. The Sea Barons won the most recent encounter, the massive Battle of Medegia, fought in the Aerdi Sea in 572 CY. [LGG – 100]
The Battle of Medegia
The last century and a half have seen many battles between the two naval powers, culminating in one of the largest in 572 CY. The Duxchaners and their Suel duke had grown increasingly powerful during the intervening years and finally, when an internal squabble among the Oeridian lords on Diren failed to produce a successor in 564 CY, Latmac Ranold of Duxchan became the new prince. He took an increasingly provocative stance among the lords of the Iron League, favoring open conflict against the Great Kingdom to negotiation and subterfuge. Ranold built up the navy of the Lordship and began harassing the shipping lanes of the Great Kingdom as his forebears had done centuries ago. However, this led to the Battle of Medegia in 572 CY, in which the Duxchaners suffered their greatest defeat by the Sea Barons. This action failed to get the approval and support of the Iron League, and the debacle deflated Prince Ranold greatly. As the lord grew older, he appeared to lose his once-tight grip on the islands.
[LGG – 71]

573 CY
Korenth Zan decreed that the Shar had remained in the shadow of the Flanaess for far too long. Where they not Suloise? Where they not destined to rule as their ancestors once had? It was time they ventured forth and laid the groundwork for what was, and always had been, inevitable. Thus his emissaries set sail to those Suloise ports closes to theirs.
The first official act of the organization was the dispatching of emissaries to the courts of the Iron League in 573 CY. Traveling robed and hooded in red, these strangers claimed to be ambassadors from the Land of Purity. Most were excellent scholars and sages who observed in the courts of the Iron League and generously offered their talents to those who needed them. [Wars – 6]

In 573 CY, a secretive monastic group called the Scarlet Brotherhood was discovered living on the Tilvanot Peninsula, south of Sunndi. Despite dark rumors of this group's aims (control of the Flanaess by Suloise-descended peoples) and forces (monsters, assassins, thieves, and martial artists), the Brotherhood was ignored for a decade. [PGtG – 10]

In 6088 SD […] red-robed members of the Scarlet Brotherhood appeared in the cities of the Iron League, describing themselves as sages from the Land of Purity and offering their services. These advisors were accepted by the member-countries’ rulers, albeit with some hesitation, and soon the Scarlet Brotherhood moved into sensitive and vital offices in a handful of other nations, as well. Simultaneously, Brotherhood assassins eliminated intractable foes of the Brotherhood. In most cases care was taken to dissociate the acts from the instigators, but the removals often accelerated the advisors’ advancement. [SB – 5]

The arrival of the Brothers of the Scarlet Sign did trigger curiosity, of course, and in short order spies were sent to the Tilvanot.
Few agents returned to their masters. Those who did told of an agrarian society along the coasts that farmed far more than it could consume, with huge shipments of crop sent to the plateau at the center of the peninsula. The farmers, it was said, were kept in line by orderly monks in red robes, men and women who had on occasion displayed unimaginable acts of unarmed martial prowess. These monks kept the populace in order, making examples of those few who would defy their orders.
The spies also spoke of bredthralls, bizarre slave races created through magic and arcane science, and of the powerful wizards of the Scarlet Sign who created and controlled them. Last, and perhaps worst of all, the agents of the north reported that the Scarlet Brotherhood did not worship proper gods, but instead gave tribute to dread Tharizdun, the Great Destroyer.
Needless to say, such reports frightened the rulers of the Flanaess, who turned to their own trusted advisers and agents in conference to plan strategies to deal with the growing threat. Unfortunately, many such advisers were themselves Brotherhood agents, and advised caution and patience in the matter. In time, they reasoned, the Brotherhood would reveal themselves, and could be dealt with as the rabble they certainly were. [LGG – 96,98]

The Seer of Urnst
The Seer of Urnst has always been a bit of an enigmatic figure. He was advisor to Justinian Lorinar, the Duke of Urnst, and convinced the Duke that the [Soul Gem, secreted within the equally mysterious Ghost Tower of Inverness] could be both a very powerful protection from one's enemies and a great tool with which to battle the forces of evil. [C2 – 2] It is inexplicable that such an evil artifact should ever be considered a boon to possess, unless one were evil, or possessed with a deep desire to possess artifacts and relics, whatever their nature.
As do the Seekers.
The Seekers are a loose-knit society od adventuring scholars and explorers who hunt ancient secrets and magic, often for personal gain and profit. The Seekers have become something of a nuisance to the Silent Ones over the past two centuries, as the two societies have often butted heads contending for the same items. The seekers have as a particular goal the desire to locate and secure ancient artifacts and relics of a unique nature. In the opinion of the Silent Ones, these items are best left undisturbed, even destroyed if need be, lest they fall into the wrong hands. […]
Some Seekers share sympathies with the Skeptics of Nellix Town [Duchy of Urnst] and often share their company in the home of Marius of Seltaren [,] who along with the former Seer of Urnst were high ranking members of the order in that nation.
[LGJ #4 – 15,16]
The Seer of Urnst might indeed travel long and far seeking such artifacts, in and of itself a dangerous proposition. It comes as no surprise that one day the Seer departed, and never returned, whatever his fate.
In 576, Warnes was appointed Chief Sorcerous Councilor to Duke Karll, filling a vacuum left open a few years earlier by the mysterious disappearance of the Seer of Urnst. [LGJ #0 – 11]

Not all Sea Princes condoned slavery. Some even abhorred it. Others sought to end the slave trade, expecting that their trade might suffer in the long run should the practice continue.
When the moderate Prince Jeon II of Monmurg assumed the throne in 573 CY, most expected the issue to come to a head. [LGG – 101]

574 CY
Was the infamous Stalman Klim a Sea Prince? Common belief is that he fared from the Pomarj. But I wonder? He did venture forth from the secluded, and secretive city of Suderham long years prior; but one wonders, considering his intended use of slavery to finance his plans of domination.
Regardless Klim’s origins, he and his newfound allies (some of whom were members of the Scarlet brotherhood) eventually arrived in Suderham, assassinating the city’s King Roderic when he protested Klim’s methods.
Stalman Klim
In 574 CY High Priest Klim returned to Suderham with his new allies. King Rodric’s Joy at Klim’s return was short-lived, as the priest tried to involve the king in his schemes. Klim had promised the other members of the Nine that they could use Suderham as a secret base, but King Roderic refused. The young monarch did not want to involve himself or his people in the dark deeds that Klim planned, not alley himself with cretures as black-souled as the drow. Following King Rodric’s rebuff, the outraged high priest organized an assassin’s coup. […] Stalman Klim addressed the people of Suderham and claimed that King Rodric had committed blasphemy against their god, the Earth Dragon. […] With the help of magical influence, the citizens of Suderham believed the heroic priest. Klim was, after all, the only man in 62 years to return to the city alive.
 [Slavers – 121]

575 CY
Blood is thinker than water. Or so the old saying goes. Far be it of Ivid to refute such a claim. He raised his family high, where and when able, and thus supported House Naelax-Selor’s claim to the throne of the South Province.
Herzog Chelor, third of that name to rule the once-greatest fief of Aerdy, scion of the House of Naelax-Selor, spent two years securing his base of power. [Dragon #57 – 15]

For nearly 30 years, three rulers of the same name —Herzog Chelor—kept Ahlissa stable. They did this through repression and fear of the magical power and fiendish aid which both they, and their relative the overking, could bring to bear on any rebelling against them.
Since South Province lacked any truly powerful nobles, with large landholdings and powerful armies, the Chelors stayed in control. [Ivid – 128]

Ivid wasn’t the only one to believe blood thicker than water. He wasn’t the only one securing territory, either.
The arrival of pure Suel from the Scarlet Brotherhood in 6090 SD was a surprise to the people of Zar, who had largely forgotten their heritage and lived in a state of barbarism. The Brotherhood won over the Zarii with gentle words, promises of power and gifts, so the people of Zar taught the Brotherhood what was necessary to survive in the jungles of Hepmonoland. In less than a year, Zar became a primitive daughter state to the kingdom of Shar, sending resources and warriors north to the main Brotherhood lands. The city of Zar is being revovated and restored from ruin.
The Zarii are content with their lot; in exchange for goods and warriors, they receive exotic (to them) cloth, weapons and food. They ferry gents of the Brotherhood along the newly built roads to Lerga, travel to strange lands, fight and pillage; most don’t realize that they are second-class people to the Brotherhood—barely above Hobgoblins. [SB – 55]

Most adventurers come to an early end. Theirs is a dangerous path. But some survive their exploits; indeed, some thrive upon them. Warnes Starcoat was one such.
Warnes came to real prominence in CY 575, after defeating the plots of a certain mysterious magus, known only as the Weird of Gnatmarsh. This sorceress and her cult had grown wicked and powerful over the previous few years, espousing the worship of various depraved, croaking powers of the swamp. Her grotesque retinue plagued the surrounding territory, killing and maiming men, dwarves, and elves, even delving into the Celadon. When her final outrage, absolute control of the mouth of Nesser, proceeded unchallenged after her destruction of a royal squadron, Warnes and a company of allies went after her. In what has become a legendary magical duel, he defeated the Weird in personal combat, sinking her perverse tower into the swamp in a display of crackling energy that drew Warnes into the Astral Plane. There, in an adventure he has yet to speak of, he gained his most prized possession and his namesake, the Starcoat. [LGJ #0 – 11]
It was then that Mordenkainen and the Circle of Eight took note of this rising talent.

(11 Reaping) Events in Module L1, The Secret of Bone Hill occur.

c 576-579 CY
Iggwilv reappears, but is thwarted by Tenser in events from WG6, Isle of the Ape. [Rot8 – 55]

576-580 CY
Stalman Klim
Klim scoured the coasts of the Azure and Gearnat Seas, landing, abducting, and carrying away those unfortunates he and his compatriots came across.
Original Slavelords terrorize the coast.  [Slavers – 120]
For several years, organized bands of pirates and slavers have made a living by raiding the coastal towns on the Sea of Gearnat. Ranging from Onnwal to the Wild Coast, they have descended quickly and ruthlessly on the small towns and villages, and carried off innocent citizens into the night. [A1 – 2]
Before long, his Yellow Sails were the terror of the seas.
The lords have finally become determined to take action, forgetting their petty squabbles to unite against the marauders of the yellow sails. [A2- 2]
Mercenaries were commissioned, and the machinations of Klim and his associates were put to an end. For now. But Klim and many of his allies escaped, whence, none could say.

576 CY
The Seer of Urnst had disappeared three years prior. None knew where he had gone. None knew if he ever intended to return. None could even attest to whether he had met his end.
Justinian Lorinar, the Duke of Urnst, was advised that the time had come to admit that they might never see the enigmatic Seer ever again, and that he ought to be replaced. But by whom, he asked? It was suggested that the Seer might be replaced by the wizard who’d put an end to the Weird of Gnatmarsh.
In 576, Warnes was appointed Chief Sorcerous Councilor to Duke Karll, filling a vacuum left open a few years earlier by the mysterious disappearance of the Seer of Urnst. Six months later, he was welcomed in Countess Belissica's court as well. [LGJ #0 – 11]

One would think that the Scarlet Brotherhood was a strict and ordered society, and in that thought, one would be correct. It was; far more than most in fact. This is not to say that all within it were pulling in the same direction, so to speak. There was division within the Brotherhood. Secrets abounded.
The [recent] alliance between the Oriental monks and the Scarlet Brotherhood contained the seeds of division, despite similar alignments, philosophies, and even symbolic colors. At the root of the difficulty is the Scarlet Brotherhood’s program for racial superiority. […] Initially their superior knowledge of martial arts allowed the Orientals to maintain something of a balance of power, but that advantage has been gradually eroded, while the need to maintain Suelites in exposed public positions has distanced them from the centers of power within the Scarlet Brotherhood. […] Even now [the Kara-Tur] confine themselves to the inner quarters of Hesuel Ilshar and go forth among general members of the population cowled and in long robes that conceal the color of their skins.
Several other factors have recently combined to put Hesuel Ilshar in a state of foment. Among these are the news of turmoil in the Flanaess (which causes some factions to press for immediate action), and the approaching millennium of the Scarlet Brotherhood’s foundation, which many consider to be a sign that they should either reform, or go forth and conquer, or both. Last but not least, a golden box has appeared in the inner courts of Hesuel Ilshar at the very place which once opened onto Kara-Tur. The highest representatives of the monkish order, both Oriental and Suel, have received visions intimating that the box must be kept secret and safeguarded from all others, even those within the Scarlet Brotherhood; that it contains an essence vital to the continuation of the known order.
[WG8 – 109,110]
The casket […] appeared mysteriously one night next to the Central Compound of Hesuel Ilshar. […] It is decorated with intertwining dragons. […]  [It] is presently concealed in the Garden of Meditation. [WG8 – 110]
The casket contained the spirit of Morgoroth, a minion of Istus sent to test and evaluate the peoples of the Flanaess. As to why, and to what end, who can guess the intentions of Istus, for hers is the inexplicably woven web of fate.
The Holy Land of Shar was most assuredly a structured, well-ordered society. But not all castes within were satisfied with their lot.
Within the Scarlet Brotherhood, there are the obvious divisions according to city quarter and according to profession (the [Silent Death, the Aesthete, the Cloaking Shadow], and the more diffuse orders of [Arms and the Arcane]). The fact that the highest leadership remains within the hands of those trained as monks is a source of unhappiness for all those of other professions (calling a monk “father” is particularly galling to them). In addition to this, there are the more fundamental divisions according to what might be called political philosophy. [WG8 – 110]
The Pure Suels wish to eliminate the Kara-Tur, and the ancient and heretical houses of Rhola and Neheli of Ulek and Keoland.
The Strong Hand wish immediate domination of the Flaneass, beginning with predominately Suel nations.
The High Unity are the most moderate, and secret faction, believing that the Shar should take in what strength there might be gained from other human races, and to gain skills they might from the elves and dwarves.
Finally, there are the Millennialists, whose doctrine states that “at the millennium of the Foundation a great miracle will occur which will be the beginning of a purified and strengthened Scarlet Brotherhood.”
The descendants of the original monks from Kara-Tur amount to a faction in themselves. They are increasingly uncomfortable and isolated, and many of them have come to believe that their ancestors were wrong to embrace a foreign country [….] [WG8 – 110]
Indeed, there were even factions within the Kara-Tur: The Sapphire Celestials, the Black Order, The Golden Monks, and the Scarlet Order.

With the passing of the "Millennium" date predicted by Huro for the Scarlet Brotherhood, when nothing oerth shattering occurred, the Millennialist Party begins to decline.
The Millenialists believe some obscure and generally discredited statements of the “prophet” Huro (officially banished from the Brotherhood and sentenced to death by ritual torture). He wrote a hundred years ago that “at the millennium of the Foundation a great miracle will occur which will be the beginning of a purified and strengthened Scarlet Brotherhood,” This will be the signal to go forth in strength to conquer the world. Millenialists know that this is The Year (6091 S.D., or 576 CY, exactly 1,000 years since the Scarlet Brotherhood was formed), and are making plans. [WG8 – 110]
They assumed that the Foundation referred to the inception of the Brotherhood in 5091 SD, and thus the millennium date would be 6091 SD, or 576 CY. However, no earth-shattering miracles occurred in that year, and this faction’s membership has dwindled away since then, although a few steadfast members cling to Huro’s writings, claiming that they were misinterpreted. [SB – 17] (6091 SD)

Vigils were held at the Ziggurat of Black for such a sign, none forthcoming. Prayers made. Sacrifices as well. But for naught. Silence met the millennium. And incredulity. Had they been forsaken?
Ziggurat of Black:
The Black Ziggurat
This strange place appears to be a tower of stacked black metal disks, each five feet high and smaller than the one below it. 75 feet across at the base and 40 feet tall, it is surrounded by an odd time-inverting effect—within 100-foot-diameter hemisphere of the tower, it is the opposite time of day as the land beyond the hemisphere. In other words, if it is late afternoon outside the hemisphere, near the Ziggurat it is approaching dawn. Also, the sun and moon are switched within this zone, so when it is high noon outside, the darkened area has the moon directly overhead. The effect is no illusion—undead and other creatures affected by sunlight are harmed when the hemisphere is in daylight, and creatures and spells enhanced by night work normally when the hemisphere is dark.
The Ziggurat itself is pitted and tarnished as if from great age. It is terribly cold to the touch, capable of peeling off bare skin on even the warmest days. Scrying and sounding have determined that there is a hollow space within the object, but no entrances have been discovered and no wizards have volunteered to teleport blindly into it. Those who spend too much time near it experience blurred vision and terrible nightmares about spiraling downward into blackness. The Scarlet Brotherhood believes the Ziggurat may be connected to Tharizdun and are trying to learn more about it. [SB – 33]

Despite the silence that met the Millennial’s vigil, there was a spark of hope that the people of Shar had not been abandoned after all. During their vigil, the Order of Arcane discovered the Weeping hexagram. The faithful wondered: Is this the sign we have been waiting for?
[The Weeping Hexagram] was discovered by the Scarlet Brotherhood in 6091 SD in a cavern near the Ziggurat of Black. It was a ten-foot-diameter ring of black iron inset with a bowed hexagram; it seeped blood when exposed to sunlight. Believed to be tied in some way to the mysterious god Tharizdun, the Brotherhood began exploring and cataloguing its magical abilities, which included the ability to create darkness, animate the dead, attack minds with phantoms and summon creatures from other planes. [SB – 86]
The discovery of the Weeping Hexagram did indeed prove to be the omen the Millennials believed. Or so they said. And so too did many of the Order of the Arcane believe it to be.
Having recently discovered a resonance between the Weeping hexagram and the Ziggurat of Black, the Office of Sorcery is investigating the possibility of using the two as some sort of power source, utilizing the artifacts’ supposed link to Tharizdun; the Office of Sorcery is enthusiastic about the possibility of creating wide-scale madness and freezing temperatures in other parts of the Flanaess, though the Office of Faith advises caution. [SB – 24]

Omens and artifacts aside, the Brotherhood knew that to place too much faith in such things was folly. Their course had been set by the Father of Obedience, and thus far he had steered them true. The path to success lay within subterfuge and manipulation; and they had made great strides, thus far.
But not always.
The Brotherhood had not succeeded in all their endeavours of seduction. They failed utterly in their seduction of the Cruski.
Old King Cralstag
They came with tales of the lost glory of the Suel race and its ruined empire. They told how the Cruski were descended from an Imperial House, the noble and loyal servant of the last Suel emperor.
Old King Cralstag knew well that his ancestors, be they slaves or scoundrels, were never the lapdogs of an emperor who stank of magic. So he told the Scarlet Brothers, and before all in his court, as his judgment on their words. For this, the Brothers murdered him soon thereafter—not with clean blade or strength of arms, but with hidden venom in his cup.
The king's nephew, Lolgoff, knew the old king's judgment and the manner of his death. When the Brothers were brought before him, they spoke words of praise and honor for the dead king, and they smiled. Lolgoff smiled too, as he cut them apart with the old king's sword, for he honored Cralstag in deeds, not words. As king and fasstal, Lolgoff pronounced his judgment: The Brothers of the Scarlet Sign should receive only death in the kingdom of Cruski. [LGG – 55]
And they had failed in Fruztii, if not so completely, for they retained a foothold in Djekul, its jarl despondent of his kin having fallen under Ratik’s shadow.
His Most Warlike Majesty, King Ralff of the Fruztii, did not see it as such. Bonded by blood, and having shed blood to protect one another, the Fruztii and Ratik ratified their bond in the eyes of both their gods, for they knew that if they were to have any hope of standing against their enemies they would need to stand as one.
This symbolic parchment was endorsed and blessed by the gods of both Ratik and Fruztii, and the superstitious Frost Barbarians place great store in its safety. [WoGG – 29]


“And that (...) is the secret of happiness and virtue —liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny.”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World





One must always give credit where credit is due. This History is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable.
Thanks to Steven Wilson for his GREYCHRONDEX and to Keith Horsfield for his “Chronological History of Eastern Oerik.” Special thanks to Jason Zavoda for his compiled index, “Greyhawkania,” an invaluable research tool.


The Art:
The Seer of Urnst, by Jeff Dee, from C2 Ghost Tower of Inverness, 1980
Earth Dragon Priest, by Wayne Reynolds, from Slavers, 2000
Hesuel Ilshar, by Sam Wood, from The Scarlet Brotherhood, 1999

 
Sources:
1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
1068 Greyhawk Wars Boxed Set, 1991
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
9039 A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity, 1980
9045 L1 The Secret of Bone Hill, 1981
9253 WG8 Fate of Istus, 1989
9576 Return of the Eight, 1998
9577 The Adventure Begins, 1998
9578 Player’s Guide to Greyhawk, 1998
11374 The Scarlet Brotherhood, 1999
11621 Slavers, 2000
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazeteer, 2000
Ivid the Undying, 1998 
Dragon Magazine #57
LGJ #0, #1, #4
Greychrondex, Wilson, Steven B.
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
The map of Anna B. Meyer