The track of Varram, the white wyrmspeaker, takes the characters into the Serpent Hills. The Rise of Tiamat basically glosses over a lot of what can be found in this area – the random encounter table has a few entries for ruins or relatively minor encounters. Once upon a time, TSR released a product that gave a large number of encounter tables for the Serpent Hills and its environs: Elminster’s Ecologies, Appendix II: The High Moor and The Serpent Hills. I’ve just picked up a second-hand copy of that product, although, sadly, a little too late for use in this adventure. But I’ll use it as inspiration in this article!
One of the problems with the Forgotten Realms is that the scale of the maps is… ahem… erratic. Both Tyranny of Dragons and Princes of the Apocalypse suffer from it, where the scale on the map is different to the scale on the descriptions. The adventure describes the tomb as being “65 miles north-north-east”. There’s just one problem with that – the Serpent Hills lie about 120 miles north-east of Boareskyr Bridge!
I’ve placed the tomb about 50-60 miles into the Serpent Hills. The map below is a portion of the map released by Wizards as part of the Extra Life promotion, with a hex overlay. The hex scale is (roughly) 30 miles per hex; I used how far it was from Dragonspear Castle to Boareskyr Bridge on my original Forgotten Realms maps as a guide (about 200 miles). The next map scale we see is likely to contradict that! J
The random encounters presented in the book are limited, as is appropriate for such a small chance of having encounters. If you are interested in a little more options, I offer these for the Serpent Hills, which are inspired by tables from Elminster’s Ecologies and the 3E Forgotten Realms DM Screen. Note that these are not appropriate for D&D Adventurers League play of the adventure.
|Roll (1d8+1d12)||Monsters||Roll (1d8+1d12)|
|2||1 Spirit Naga||12||3d6 Vultures*|
|3||1d4 Pegasus||13||1d6 Guard Drakes|
|4||1 Yuan-Ti Abomination + 1d4 Malisons||14||2d8 Poisonous Snakes|
|5||1d4 Yuan-Ti Malisons + 1d8 Purebloods||15||1d4 Giant Constrictor Snakes|
|6||1d2 hill giants*||16||1d8 Giant Poisonous Snakes|
|7||1d6 humanoids*||17||Ruined settlement*|
|8||1d8 giant frogs*||18||Shrine*|
|9||Unmarked grave*||19||1d8 Ghouls|
|10||3d8 Herd animals*||20||Adventurers (1d4, levels d6+4)|
Entries marked with asterisks can be found described in The Rise of Tiamat.
Map section from D&D Extra Life rewards, with hex grid overlay.
1 hex=30 miles (approx.)
In theory, my group should have had more encounters than they did on the way to the Tomb, but the dice were kind to them. I was planning on throwing a few more encounters at them regardless of the dice, but we were short on time this session, so instead I had them just arrive at the tomb.
The party surveyed the area from the top of the canyon wall, and so were able to see the smouldering campfire and the hint of shadowy movement down below. Once they came down to the canyon proper, they had no problem in investigating the area and, although they found the graves, they could not find whatever had been moving about – and had little desire to. Instead, their attention was drawn to the two great statues before the entrance to the tomb, cracked and broken images of a lost time.
However, they were still strong in magic. As the group approached, both statues turned towards them and questioned them on why the party approached. The halfling took the lead and explained they sought knowledge (taking his cue from what the statues had said), and the group were ushered inside. This group were cautious in their approach – and it was the right one to take.
As a result, they were warned as they entered against some of the dangers in the Tomb. My initial description of the antechamber pointed out all the precious items within; all illusory and remembrances of past glory. The idea was that the players would interact with them and then discover their illusory status. This didn’t happen, because the players were respectful! So too, when they entered the hallway of cowled magicians, no-one ignored the warning and looked into their hoods; instead they hurried by!
The next chamber – where a great mosaic of a knight fighting a chimera lay in front of them on the floor – could not be so easily bypassed, as the chimera animated and attacked the group. Its firebreath was a real shock to the adventurers, but, as they were well-rested, they were able to destroy it pretty easily, although the cleric needed to expend a few spells afterwards to heal the wounded.
Despite two sets of doors (one marked “SAFE” in chalk, and one bulging outwards from something beyond it), the party chose to investigate the corridor leading out – and downwards – further into the tomb complex. Any thoughts of going back to investigate the doors were quickly forgotten as they triggered a trap: a great sphere of bone that rolled down the corridor, collecting the cleric as it did as the rest of the party, who were a lot more nimble, leapt out of the way!
Racing down the corridor, they discovered the cleric lying barely-conscious amongst the shards of the sphere in a great chamber with many tapestries, which concealed sarcophaguses. Once again, the voice of the statues reverberated in their minds, warning them of danger. They fed the cleric a few potions of healing until they were ready to proceed. But not back up the corridor. That was dangerous!
Instead they discovered the library, where empty shelves were guarded by the ghost of one of Diderius’s disciples. The ghost was not in the best state, lamenting over the missing books. The party’s rogue took pity on her, and assured her that they’d find the books.
This is one of those encounters where a good role-playing DM can really enthral the players. I’m not that DM, but I can see the potential.
Now the party came to a great throne where a golem sat, demanding tribute from the group before passing. The group paid without protest and moved on, descending a set of stairs that led to a group of five bearded devils sitting at a table…
…and that’s where I ended the session! Nothing like a good cliff-hanger!