Sunday, 27 July 2014

Starter Set Sandbox 4 - Wyvern Tor

What's a Tor?

I remember when I first saw Wyvern Tor on a map of the North 15+ years ago, I didn't actually know what a tor was. I had some vague idea that it was related to a hill but I had to go and look it up. As it's not a particularly common word - unless you live in a place like Dartmoor - it's probably worth pointing out that it is, more or less, "... a large, free-standing residual mass (rock outcrop) that rises abruptly from the surrounding smooth and gentle slopes of a rounded hill summit or ridge crest." The accompanying photo shows one clearly and, based on the description of Wyvern Tor in Lost Mine of Phandelver, is probably a reasonable depiction of this Twilit Land landmark.


In the introductory paragraph I threw in the name "the Twilit Land" and some of you might be wondering what this means. When I went looking for Realmslore relating to Wyvern Tor, the first book I looked at was 2E's outstanding Volo's Guide to the North. While it had no information about Wyvern Tor, it did mention this, "Some sages call the Coast south of Neverwinter the Twilit Land." Realms-nerd that I am, I like that I can now call my planned campaign in this area something like Neverwinter: Adventures in the Twilit Land.

Of course, non-Realms-nerds would be rolling their eyes at this....

As far as I can tell, Wyvern Tor first appeared in 2E's The North boxed set published in 1996 and then only as a location on a map. Between my Google-fu and my ability to search PDF documents using Adobe Acrobat, I have not been able to find any other references to this location so it appears that the details have been created whole cloth for Lost Mine of Phandalin.

Lost Mine tells us, "This crag is a prominent landmark in the rugged hills northeast of the Sword Mountains, and is easily visible from twenty miles away. People traveling along the Triboar Trail in the vicinity of Conyberry catch glimpses of Wyvern Tor to the south as they go." Further, it states that wyverns used to nest here - hence its name - but were wiped out by adventurers and that now a band of orcs lairs here, together with their ogre ally.

These orcs are noted as being scouts from the Kingdom of Many Arrows far to the north which really makes no sense in the context of Many Arrows activities and goals. Wyvern Tor is, however, part of the foothills of the Sword Mountains and the numerous orcs are known to lair in these mountains, including the descendants of the former orc nation of Uruth Ukrypt whose name echoes on in the Kryptgarden Forest to the southeast.

One of the more interesting sources of tidbits about the former orc kingdom of Uruth Ukrypt is the article Toppled Thrones of the North in Dragon 351. It mentions that the seat of the first three kings of Uruth Ukrypt was the Bloodbone Throne of Uruth and that it was lost to Shammagar the black dragon during the Year of the Dracorage (1018 DR).

It was described as follows, "Fashioned from the skulls and ones of the fallen defenders of Uthtower and Phalorm, the Bloodbone Throne of Uruth resembles a heap of shattered skeletons more than 12 feet in diameter and 10 feet in height, magically fused into a single seat of power. The polished skulls of six prices of Phalorm are paired to serve as steps up to the seat of the throne, itself shaped from the ribcage of a great crag cat of the North. The back of the throne is shaped in the form of a triangular stack of skulls, each sporting the single eye of Gruumsh." It then goes on to explain the 'Throne's magical powers which includes the ability to summon a blood elemental.

Uthtower was a kingdom centred on what is now the Mere of Dead Men while Phalorm was a kingdom south of Waterdeep, IIRC. The location Cragmaw Castle covered in Lost Mine of Phandelver is noted as being a remnant of ancient Phalorm. What if it was a tomb built to honour the six fallen princes of Phalorm whose skulls adorn the Bloodbone Throne after the seat was recovered from the orcs? More on this in a moment.

Revising Wyvern Tor
I must admit, my first instinct was to make Wyvern Tor into a nest of wyverns (of course, I am running 4E so I already have a full complement of monsters to work with; 5E DMs are still some weeks away from having access to 5E's Monster Manual) or even the lair of a grey (aka fang) dragon, the latter because of a great picture of  a grey dragon hunting in a hilly area in 4E's Draconomicon.

However, for the sake of simplicity, I will keep the idea of Wyvern Tor being an orc camp. I have two options here: I can make the orcs into a local tribe that is simply marauding - after all, the Tor gives them line of sight over an enormous area and allows them to spot targets on the Triboar Trail - or I go with the idea that orcs are, indeed, scouts from the Kingdom of Many Arrows and give them a legitimate reason for being here.

As explained in the article History Check: Dark Arrow Keep that appears in Dragon 429, there is a fundamental tension in the Kingdom of Many Arrows between those in power who believe in the original King Obould's vision that the orcs could form a nation with a measure of civilisation and those who believe that orcs are meant to be dangerous marauders taking whatever they want from whomever they want. For some generations now, the pro-Obould's vision forces remain in control.

What if one the rebel/traditionalist groups decided that, in order to take the throne from the reigning Obould, they needed a symbol of Gruumsh's favour that would justify their usurpation? The kingdom of Uruth Ukrypt was, like Many Arrows, an orc kingdom but it never succumbed to the trappings of civilisation. And then you have Uruth Ukrypt's seat of power, the Bloodbone Throne of Uruth Ukrypt. As the symbol of the nation, it represents not only Gruumsh's favour but also a reminder than an orc nation does not have to sacrifice orc principles.

And that's why these Many Arrows orcs are here: they're searching for relics of Uruth Ukrypt and, I would suggest, that Wyvern Tor itself is a remnant of that orc kingdom. Considering the hill's key location and its commanding view, it would make sense that it once served as a watchtower for Uruth Ukrypt which also suggests that there might be orc ruins beneath the Tor and thus a dungeon for the PCs to explore. That's potentially much more interesting than the existing single encounter with orcs that seemingly have no reason for being there.

As for the Bloodbone Throne itself, I do like the idea of having Cragmaw Castle as a sepulchre for the six princes of Phalorm. Perhaps the power of the 'Throne meant that the skulls and other remains could not be removed so, instead, the entire 'Throne was buried and a memorial to the princes built in a new underground level of Cragmaw Castle. If the PCs have already discovered the relic in their exploration of Cragmaw Castle they may realise that they have something that is incredibly valuable to the orcs... but which also have the potential to unite the orcs of the North in a great horde that would pose a significant threat to all the non-orcs of the region.

TL; DR: The Many Arrows orcs have found a ruined watchpost beneath Wyvern Tor that dates back to the orc kingdom of Uruth Ukrypt and they are eagerly searching for relics from that former kingdom. Maybe they also have slaves to do the digging as parts of the dungeon have collapsed and those slaves might be the reason the PCs are on the trail of the orcs... or the slaves, when freed, could provide hooks for other adventures.


  1. Thanks. Now I am wondering what a dungeon built by orcs would look like. Would they have built it simply "renovated" an earlier dwarven-built structure?

  2. Do you have suggestions for what some other "relics of Uruth" would be? In particular, I want something the half-orc PC could wear that might signal to the orcs of Wyvern Tor that she may be the Heir of Uruth.

    1. Do you have 3.5E's Weapons of Legacy? There's an orc-related spear in there that could steal and adapt.

      Otherwise, I would probably go for items made of bone - the Yurtrus connection - and related to strength and damage.

      Imagine a big bone axe (or double axe if they exist in 5E) once wielded by one of Uruth's champions. It howls with bloodlust, and also because it contains the bound remains of several primal spirits.

      It's been noted all across Realmslore that the Uthgardt hate orcs. What if this is because the orcs of Uruth Ukrypt perfected the necromantic art of binding primal spirits in order to power their magic items? That would give relics and items of Uruth Ukrypt a distinctive feel... but also provide a reason for any Uthgardt your PCs encounter to go ballistic and attack them.

      It might also show your players that the orcs really are Evil with a capital E.

      My apologies if these are largely half-arsed ideas. I haven't put a lot of thought into it yet.

    2. While digging around, I found Uruth's Ettin Axe in a 3.5 Waterdeep campaign book. A double-headed artifact that was lost in Waterdeep some time after his death.

      I'm also thinking about making it morally ambiguous. One of my PCs has had a Druid vision from the god Pan that one day human civilization will destroy the planet. Maybe the evil destruction of the orcs can be used to prevent that fate.

    3. I'm a goose. I looked up that bloody axe a couple of years ago and have the details saved in the folder for the orcs on my laptop. I simply forgot it was there. Good find!

      Actually, the orcs of Eberron are a bit like that: They hold things that are truly evil at bay and also once saved the main continent from a Far Realm invasion.

    4. Update: Here's what happened.

      I homebrewed the Crown of Uruth as described in the link.

      On Tuesday I'm running a solo adventure with that player where she's going to have to decide what to do now.

      In order to use the crown's abilities, she'll need to convince it that she's worthy. That'll be tough since Uruth would be about as supportive of a female Clan chief as most orcs, which is to say, not.

      The orcs, lead by my replacement for King Grol - A Blade of Ilneval - will be divided on whether to kill her and take the crown, or support her. If she comes back up the stairs, the orcs will already be on the verge of fighting each other. Depending on if the crown supports her and how she conducts herself, she might end up outnumbered or winning over everyone. Orc loyalty is fickle of course though. In either case, what happens next with regards to the party is an open question I'm not sure how to answer.

      She could also try escaping into the cavern which is the dungeon below Castle Cragmaw. It's an Eldritch site I left there to tempt the Sorcerer who seeks after ancient lore. The half-orc could try to navigate the cavern with or without orc support or pursuit to try and escape through a cave exit.