Threats & Strifes (Years of Gold)
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D&D without challenges, be they dastardly, mustache-twirling villains or inhuman monsters, is like trying to play a boardgame without the pieces: you have the setting and the world, but there's nothing to do. Here are listed various threats to the Years of Gold world and its inhabitants. They are divided into local threats (a villain or a situation that threatens a single town, city, church, forest or other element of that scale) and universal threats (a villain or a situation that threatens a country, a mountain range, an entire shoreline or even the world at whole). The entries are in CR order, from least to most dangerous.
It's important to note that while the threats listed here are great for easily introducing players to the Pansaer world and work great for gameplay and campaign purposes, they are far from the only threats that the players can deal with. The sky is the limit when designing new villains, cults, disasters and gods to torment the players - you can even modify those presented here to better suit you needs!
A local threat is a person, party, disaster or phenomenon that threatens a roughly city-sized area. A snake cult operating in a single forest is a local threat, a cult with agents in every city in the world is not. A mobster who pulls the strings of a port town's underworld is a local threat, the mobster who has his fingers in global business is not.
Carl von Arnberg, the Sweet Slaughterer of Basket
Suggested levels: 1 to 6
Keywords: Nobility, ambition, identity
|Death can be as sweet as honey.|
Among the ancient noble lineages of the west, the family of Von Arnberg is young, but ambitious. It's head (and currently, the only member) is Carl von Arnberg, a man whose kind face and pleasant demeanor hides a monstrous mind. After grasping control of the old, thought-to-be-extinguished name of Von Arnberg, Carl began to systematically take control of Redford businesses, both legal and illegal.
Carl's power is currently wavering, however, since the well-liked Hayworths - Redford's family of sheriffs - have openly spoken against the young noble, and Von Leavens have begun to buy out Von Arnberg properties. Furthermore, Carl has always felt himself inadequate, since of old he had no specialization, unlike the other notables of Redford politics. Even with his trademark bees (and the unpleasant business of his transformation into a bee swarmnester), he wants to further solidify himself as a someone.
This has led to Carl planning a trio of assassinations: Lucas Hayworth, who destroyed Carl's reputation; Harold von Leaven, who challenges Carl economically and steals away his profits; and Vilhelm von Morr, who represents the old lineages of nobles in Carl's mind. If the assassinations were to be successful, it would rocket the Von Arnberg name back to the frontlines of Redford politics. If not, chaos might follow.
A campaign with Carl von Arnberg as the villain can proceed from the very first level into the early-mid levels, allowing for a quick and interesting campaign of successively harder challenges that culminate with a vicious battle with the Sweet Slaughterer himself. The secret mutation that Carl and his cronies bear gives a Von Arnberg -campaign a mystery plot element, and the themes allow for interesting roleplaying and storytelling.
Even though Carl's sway over Redford politics as well as his funds are both waning, he still has a lot of hold over many people, either through them being in debt to him or through the threat of violence. His most trusted allies are Jonathan Drake and Grimbold (see Von Arnberg), who function as enforcer and spy, respectively. Add to this the monsters Carl creates in his hidden laboratories, and you have a force to be reckoned with. Carl's roster of minions is as follows:
- A hundred bee-farmers (1st-level Commoner, mostly dunners and humans)
- Twenty enforcers (1st to 3rd-level Warrior, mostly humans and goliaths) and five goliath mobsters (1st-level Barbarian)
- Twenty spies (1st-level Rogue, mostly goblins and goliaths)
- Ten bee swarmnesters (2nd-level Warrior, mostly humans)
- Ten monstrous giant bees
- Five ogre thugs (no class levels) and two ogre swarmnesters (no class levels)
Torg Cudean and the Temple of the Rising
Suggested levels: 3 to 8
Keywords: Religion, fanaticism, complicated morality
|Even the priests of the temple|
know not the thoughts of their High Minister.
Torg Cudean is the High Minister of the Temple of the Rising, a church devoted to the worship of Auri in the bustling city of Redford. The temple and church he's risen to lead was once a kindly church of aid and charity, helping those in need without asking for anything in return. The influence of the dwarven minister has turned the temple to darker meaning.
Torg sees the divinity of Auri as an absolute truth, one that everyone should blindly accept and subsequently bow before the titan's glory. Torg is not evil in the traditional sense - he doesn't seek to hurt people, or to claim riches. These mean nothing to him. He honestly believes he's doing the right thing when executing people of the "wrong" religions, when taking alms that his followers can't afford, or when he claims he speaks as the voice of Auri on earth.
The fanaticism of the minister is of a contagious sort, and he has especially the peasantry and lower classes of Redford in an uproar. Day by day his influence grows greater, and fewer and fewer people can stand against him. Even the nobles and the Council of Redford is powerless before him. His plans culminate in an open upheaval of the city, in which the "pagans" will get what they deserve.
Torg Cudean is the perfect introductory villain to a Years of Gold campaign: the players quickly learn that alignment means nothing, that the world is twisted, that the gods are cruel and that there are more than one side to each issue. Torg is intended as a villain, but if the players so wish, can also be a source of information, even employment. The players can have a hand in helping the High Minister reach his goals.
It's best to introduce Torg Cudean slowly, by having him appear as a benign figure at first: the temples of Auri in Redford do offer free healing services, and the High Minister's behavior doesn't appear nefarious - at first. You can introduce levels of sinisterness to Torg by having him send the players on a quest of questionable righteousness. A campaign with him should culminate into a fight with the High Minister and his Judgmental Retinue, a fight that's sure to stay in your player's memory.
While not a general or a warmonger per se, Torg has more or less direct control of all the warriors, clerics and priests that function under the Temple of the Rising. This leaves him with the single largest martial force in all of Redford. At least the following numbers are at his call at any given time:
- Fifty priests (2nd-level Cleric) and twenty ministers (4th-level Cleric)
- Fifty clerical bodyguards (1st-level Fighter)
- Twenty-five knights of Auri (3rd-level Knight)
- Twenty attack dogs
- Five stained glass golemsMM2
Al Mehmed, the Crimson Sultan
Suggested levels: 5 to 10
Keywords: Law, justice, eternal life
|The Crimson Sultan has|
many horrors under his command.
As a secluded center of ancient customs and habits, it's not surprising that Dharuum would attract a particularly complicated question of rulership. Al Mehmed, the Crimson Sultan, is a powerful mummy, awoken from his eternal slumber due to the failings of his embalming. Now, he claims that he's the rightful sultan, according to ancient law: he's never stopped being the sultan, since he's still alive.
Al Mehmed has given the city of Dharuum an ultimatum: they have a hundred days to give the city to him willingly. Otherwise, he will assault it with a force of gathered desert monstrosities, sympathetic lower caste citizens and other allies. While it's unlikely the force will be enough to take the city (at least as of yet), it would certainly be strong enough to lay waste to it, extinguishing the Jewel of the East.
The campaign of the Crimson Sultan is a wonderfully flavorful one, filled with opportunities for both roleplaying and interesting scraps. Since Al Mehmed is hardly an evil being, and merely stands by what he claims is right, the campaign can even be held entirely nonviolently - or perhaps the players will side with the sultan, since the current sultan of Dharuum, Al Tayyib, is the worse of the two worlds, and the state of the city reflects this.
It's worth it to play up the justice aspect of the "villain" as a Dungeon Master. According to the law, Al Mehmed is irrefutably the rightful sultan; thus, the actual strife of the situation is born from semantics and differing opinions. Al Tayyib will try his best to convince the players to find evidence that Al Mehmed is not entitled to the throne, or even destroy him, while the Crimson Sultan will attempt to convert the characters to his point of view. It's up to the players to decide who's in the right.
Al Mehmed's forces are, as of yet, rather limited (as is appropriate for a local threat). His most powerful generals are Mafdet, the anubal warden who botched the sultan's embalming and has ulterior plans of its own; and Adom bin Jibade, a war-hungry centaur who receives (suffers from?) prophetical visions. Furthermore, he commands a lineup of lesser minions as follows:
- A hundred dunedelver dwarves (1st-level Ranger) and twenty dunedelver captains (2nd-level Ranger/2nd-level Rogue)
- A hundred skeletons and fifty giant jackal skeletons
- Fifty goblin bedouins (1st-level Ranger) and fifteen goblin barren-mages (5th-level Wizard)
- Twenty-five giant jackals
- Twenty harpies (no class levels) and ten harpy archers (2nd-level Fighter)
- Twenty mephits (five dust, five fire, five salt, five steam)
- Ten Large monstrous scorpions and three Huge armored monstrous scorpions (AC 26 (-2 size, +12 natural, +6 armor), touch 8, flat-footed 26)
- Ten anubal wardens and four anubal hounds
- Five mummies
- Two fire giants (no class levels)
An universal threat is a person, party, disaster or phenomenon that threatens a country, the continent or the universe at whole. A minotaur warlord who seeks to seize control of the east is an universal threat, the same warlord seeking to conquer a city is not. A magical cataclysm that will swallow the whole world if left unchecked is an universal threat, a similar phenomenon that corrupts a single mountain is not.
Skarrnog and the Great Claw
Suggested levels: 5 to 15
Keywords: Horde, conquer, lackeys
|The west will fall.|
Skarrnog, vicious barghest-turned-warlord, is the chieftain of the Great Claw and the leader of the wild goblin tribes that dwell in the lowlands of Hundon and the slopes of Caragos Eavorn. Wild goblins are different from their civilized cousins: driven to exile and solitude in the wilds, they've turned to evil ways, applying their gleaming intellect to wicked causes. They've historically never been a great threat, thanks to their tribal feuds, but this has changed with the coming of Skarrnog.
The barghest chieftain is quite unlike his monstrous brethren: his mind is sharp as a diamond, able to concentrate on strategy and devious plans alike, and his goals go much further than the next meal or raid. Skarrnog wants nothing less than to rule all of the west. His travels in the dark mountains have left him not only incredibly strong, but also viciously cunning. Dozens of hidden fortresses are under his command, and to get to him, one has to go through an army of devoted followers.
Skarrnog's influence can mostly easily be met in Redford, which he seeks to destroy in order to deny the west the grain it needs, but there are few cities in the western kingdoms he doesn't have an influence in. Calimport and Brimhaven are both bases of operation for his underlings, and thus the Great Claw can be introduced to a campaign from a plethora of areas.
As a Dungeon Master, it's best to introduce the Great Claw through hearsay and whispered legends first, introducing the players to Skarrnog's minions and cutthroats long before his name is even mentioned. Thus, a campaign with Skarrnog can proceed from small, contained dungeon delves (perhaps to his drug labs in Redford and Calimport) to greater and greater adventures, until the players are finally ready to face the warlord himself in his greatest keep. Truly, a comprehensive campaign.
One of the best features of Skarrnog is that he has many allies and underlings, giving him depth and reach without having to bring out the man himself too early on. His most powerful underlings make up clear trajectory of lesser masterminds from early levels to higher adventures: Viga Toecutter for early levels (perhaps met when investigating the drug labs), Rakabarr and Urabarr for mid-to-high levels (when the players want to undermine the Great Claw's armament production), and Izzit-Ogg for the final encounters (met just before Skarrnog and/or with him).
Skarrnog also commands a massive army, meaning direct attacks are highly ineffective, creating a need for clever thinking, encompassing adventures and nonlinear gameplay. The exact consistency of the warlord's armies are in constant flux, but it can roughly be said he has the following lineup under his command at any given time:
- Four thousand goblin warriors (1st-level Warrior), two hundred goblin shamans (4th-level Adept), a hundred goblin weapon masters (8th-level Fighter), a hundred goblin arcanists (7th-level Wizard) and fifty goblin generals (4th-level Fighter/6th-Level Rogue)
- Two hundred Large giant spiders, a hundred spider swarms and fifty Huge giant spiders
- A hundred worgs
- A hundred ogres (no class levels) and twenty fiendish offspring of Rakabarr and Urabarr (1st-level Barbarian with fiendish template)
- Ten ettins
Suggested levels: 7 to 15
Keywords: Spiders, arcane, dungeons
|Searching for ever greater morsels.|
The folklore surrounding spiders in Pansaer differs from that held by you and I: spiders are thought to be the ultimate surviver and keeper of knowledge. This has to do with the legends surrounding the deity Groke Who Is Cold, who is associated with spiders and well-liked. However, there is no arguing that the children of Groke, the giant spiders, are vicious monsters, born of hatred for the races that trod on and spite their lesser kin.
Born of this horrid stock are the Mothers Three: three giant spider sisters that dwell in a fortress as ancient as time in Carag Ka'thull, weaving webs of lies and sorcery. They are Hecate, the eldest and most powerful; Selene, the tyrannical leader; and Arteme, a monstrous giant. They rule over all spiderkind of Pansaer, their venom (both physical and metaphorical) poisoning the very roots of the world. If left unchecked, their plans will spell doom for the continent.
The ultimate plan of the Mothers is to finish a ritual like none before it: a series of torture-sacrifices in a set order, reaching from shore to shore, and finishing with the sacrifice of the dwarven king of Caragos Eavorn. With this ritual, the spider matriarchs seek to summon forth an ancient power in the form of a flood of spiders, and cleanse the world of all other races.
The Mothers Three are a high-level threat that ties in nicely with a variety of other quests: since giant spiders have their hands (mandibles?) in many a plot and are allied with a variety of villains (for example Skarrnog), they can be introduced as a threat long before the characters have to meet them in person. A campaign with the Mothers should lead the players from lair to lair, stopping parts of the ritual and uncovering clues about the true plot of the matriarchs.
Another great feature of the mothers is that as ancient rulers of an entire race, they have minions and lackeys to spare. Caragos Eavorn is filled with spider lairs, each swearing at least nominal fealty to Hecate and her sisters. Furthermore, Ulermo Spiderborn (one of the Mothers' generals) gives the quest lenght, in the sense that the players can first fight the goliath shapeshifter. The sister's magical minions are a further threat all their own. The lineup of followers the Mothers have is roughly as follows:
- Two thousand Medium giant spiders, two thousand Large giant spiders, a thousand Huge giant spiders, two hundred Gargantuan giant spiders, twenty Colossal giant spiders and endless amounts of spider swarms
- Five hundred humanoid operatives, spies, assassins and slaves (various classes)
- Four hundred giant spider acolytes (3rd-level Wizard, varying size) and a hundred giant spider cultists (5th-level Wizard, varying size)
- Two hundred and fifty humanoid priests of Groke (3rd-level Cleric) and fifty archpriests of Groke (6th-level Cleric)
- Two hundred ettercaps and fifty ettercap anomalies (5th-level Sorcerer)
- A hundred shadows and fifty greater shadows
- A hundred tomb spidersMM4
- Fifty web golemsMM3
Aleister, the Green Devil
Suggested levels: 15 to 20
Keywords: Dreams, prophecy, ancient
|Dreaming for millenia has left Aleister|
a master of nightmares.
A foe of man and god alike, Aleister is one of the few surviving dragons in Pansaer. The dragons of the continent are all invariably ancient in age, and Aleister is old even among them. His powers (both physical and magical) are awe-inspiring, and the clouds of acidic vapors he breathes leave little left of his foes. Dwelling in a nameless fortress in Dunas, the great wood just north of Tull, Aleister bides his time, to reach his ultimate goal: omniscience.
For Aleister is gifted with the power of foresight and of prophetical visions. The tantalizing glimpses of the future he receives every time he slumbers have led him to seek the greatest diviner wizard in the world, Jonathaiah, who is the grand master of divination magic in the Spire. To infiltrate that great stronghold of wizards, Aleister has schemed for hundreds, if not thousands of years, but the ancient wyrm has no lack of time. Once he achieves the perfect visions he believes Jonathaiah can grant him, even the titan-gods will be unable to challenge him.
Aleister is a rarity among the villains of Years of Gold: he's CR 21, and since its likely he'll fight with minions and underlings, the fight can be even harder than that. Since adventures on Pansaer shouldn't reach into epic levels (and rarely even to these heights), it's safe to say Aleister is the ultimate foe, and the balance point of other super-villains: they shouldn't get harder than this.
The Green Devil is the perfect end to a campaign of epic proportions in the world of Pansaer. Introduce him in whispered hints even as the players are still fighting lesser threats (possibly those outlined here). He shouldn't come into focus until the players are ready to fight his lackeys one-on-one, and even then it should be made clear that he's much too powerful to face. The equipping and grim preparation for the seemingly-impossible fight ahead can be an adventures - or even string of adventures - on its own.
Having lived for thousands of years, Aleister has had plenty of time to gather a following of minions from all walks of life. Most of them live in his Dunas-based fortress or in the forest area, but many also dwell in secondary lairs, hidden in cities and villages or are constantly traveling. The exact numbers are under constant change, but the core remains the same:
- Five thousand spies of various races spread across the continent (5th to 15th-level Rogue)
- Two thousand soldiers mutated by Aleister's presence (5th-level Fighter) and five hundred such sorcerers (11th-level Sorcerer)
- Five hundred scrags (no class levels) and two hundred scrag hungers (7th-level Ranger)
- Five hundred water naga and two hundred dark naga
- A hundred hydras (any number of heads), fifty pyrohydras and fifty cryohydras
- Fifty wyverns
- Twenty elder black puddings
The line-up also includes the dragon generals of Aleister's armies, Grymm and Lochh.