Step 5: Dungeon BackgroundIt is now time to use the level names and landmarks of the dungeon to inspire several different eras of occupation. I normally use three, because that gives me enough detail to keep things interesting while being simple enough to make the design work easier. I tend to label these eras Ancient, Old and Present.
AncientThe most evocative name level of the dungeon seems to me to be The Tomb of the Old One. This is where the McGuffin of the campaign is going to be and where all of the various factions are going to want access to. It is therefore imperative that I know who the Old One really is.
According to the original material, Scytheback was part of the reason the Bright Empire fell; however, remnants of the Empire still hold on. Thus, the dragon had to have been stopped at some point. This is where the Old One enters into the picture.
The Old One was (is?) a powerful magic-user from the days of the Bright Empire. Today, no one remembers his (her?) name. Tasked with stopping the dragon Scytheback, they entered into battle. The dragon nearly lost its life and did lose an eye. Never before had the beast encountered such a powerful adversary. Never before had it experienced fear. It has laid low ever since, using intermediaries to do its will.
Little did the dragon know that the Old One was also crippled in the fight. Unable to survive another onslaught by the dragon, the Old One turned to dark secrets in order to protect the people of the Bright Empire. As an accomplished necromancer, the Old One became corrupt. In the end, the Old One did more to bring down the Empire than did Scytheback.
Today no one knows if the Old One lives or has died, but artifacts occasionally do show up, reminding the people of Blackmarsh that a powerful mage once roamed these lands.
OldThe fortification on the surface of the dungeon was built later without knowledge of the lower sections beneath. The stone giants of the White Mountains suggest a reason why the fortifications became necessary. Off the west side of the map is giant territory. The pass was a means for those giants to raid Blackmarsh. This period was colloquially called the Giants Wars.
Eventually, things escalated when the various types of giants were united by a frost giant named Gymir. Due to the disorganization of the giants, the fortification of Fedor’s Pass proved to be partially effective. Once united, however, Fedor’s Pass quickly fell and the people of Blackmarsh got desperate. Gathering a large amount of viz, a group of mages cast a ritual spell that closed off the mountain pass. The remaining giants were either hunted down and killed or agreed to some form of peace. The stone giants are all that remain of those stranded in Blackmarsh by the Giant Wars.
The fortress at Fedor’s Pass was briefly maintained after the Giant Wars; however, the post was plagued by bad luck, accidents and a few unnatural deaths. Given that it no longer had any real protective purpose the post was eventually abandoned.
PresentIt is now time to take elements of the Ancient and Old eras of the dungeon and weave them into who presently occupies the dungeon. Currently, the main fort of Fedor’s Pass is occupied by a force of goblins led by the bugbear Drefec. They are a part of a coalition of goblin tribes led by the stone giant Lythor. Unlike many of the stone giants currently in the region, he is Chaotic and yearns for the days of old when the giants were terrorizing the land during the Giant Wars. Fueling this desire was a chance discovery of a volume that once belonged to the Old One. Lythor read the book and his already cruel intelligence became dangerously high. Subsequently, he has organized the local goblin tribes into a personal army.
At the beginning of the campaign, Lythor has been sending out scouting parties in search of clues for the resting place of the Old One because there are references in the tome he read of other books, weapons and treasures that could turn his private army into a conquering hoard. The bugbear Drefec has unknowingly found the location of the Tomb of the Old One; however, he has discovered an artifact of the Old One himself and is now only paying lip service to Lythor.
Beneath the Opal Lake is an artifact manufactured by the Old One call the Subterranean Lake of Watery Simulacrums. Drefec now lies within that artifact and is able to send individual duplicates of himself to rule and fight without fear of death, because when one simulacrum is destroyed (turning into water), another one can rise with all the knowledge of the previous Simulacrum.
There is, however, a faction within Drefec’s forces that haven’t forgotten their mission and are secretly trying to find more artifacts to return to Lythos. Ironically, if a party managed to actually kill Drefec, it might actually make the situation worse...