So about 8 months ago, amid a flurry of work on Monster Manual 3 and the new monster stat block, I took up a little side project called Vor Rukoth: An Ancient Ruins Adventure Site. I was originally assigned to do 32 pages of another project (which must remain unnamed), but I was happy to take up work on Vor Rukoth, because it represented a different approach to adventure writing. This new approach began with Hammerfast. Unlike the Keep on the Shadowfell series, it did not include any encounters. It was driven by adventure hooks, compelling characters, and intriguing locations, rather than encounters. That’s not to say that adventures like Keep on the Shadowfell don’t have their place, but Vor Rukoth and Hammerfast show how an adventure need only provide the seeds of imagination in order to provide a robust gaming experience. The other advantage to this format is that it allowed Vor Rukoth to cover a broad level range; I aimed to make the location relevant to adventurers levels 5 – 15.
I took much of the inspiration for the “feel” of Vor Rukoth from the original D&D adventure, “The Lost City.” Although Vor Rukoth was a ruined city, I wanted it to feel like a living place that changed over the course of adventurers’ visits. I started with a simple idea—Vor Rukoth was an ancient tiefling city, where a yawning portal to Hell remained active.
“Vor Rukoth was one of the jewels of the empire of Bael Turath. Sometimes called the City of Forges, it was ruled over by the emperor’s sister, a human named Lady Najala. During the long and violent war with the dragonborn empire of Arkhosia, the powerful humans of Bael Turath—nobles, wealthy merchants, spellcasters, and priests—underwent a sinister transformation through diabolic pacts. Among the first to swear the oaths to devils and become a tiefling was Lady Najala. Seeing her power and influence grow as a result of her oaths, many of the other nobles of Vor Rukoth lined up for the opportunity to participate.
As the threat from Arkhosia grew more imminent, Lady Najala became suspicious of everyone and began scouring Vor Rukoth’s population for traitors. She called out those nobles who had refused to take infernal oaths, believing they conspired against her, and she erected a gate to Hell to ensure her hold on power. Ultimately, it proved her undoing. As a dragon- born host marched on the city, she desperately threw open the portal to any creatures that would aid her. On what came to be known as the Day of Devils, legions of fiends spilled out from the Nine Hells. They repelled the dragonborn host on the outskirts of Vor Rukoth, but they also slaughtered the thousands who inhabited Vor Rukoth. Najala’s victory meant little, for the city was shattered and left a ruined vestige.”
Vor Rukoth was an opportunity to expand on areas beyond the Nentir Vale. It was off the map, well beyond Hammerfast, which also allowed the city to be more easily be dropped into any campaign. I really aspired to make Vor Rukoth a product that could be used in almost any setting or rules system. I could definitely see a person dropping it into any edition of D&D. Although the story focuses on the ancient conflict between Arkhosia and Bael Turath, those two nations could be any two rival nations, not necessarily ones that are dragonborn and tiefling.
I wanted to include a lot of NPCs, because I feel like strong NPCs are the basis for great role-playing experiences. Almost a fourth of the book is dedicated to the NPCs and the factions that dwell in Coyote’s Refuge, the tent-city outside of Vor Rukoth. I tried to make Coyote’s Refuge an iconic adventuring locale, a place where adventurers could interact with the people going in and out of the ruins and where they could learn about any one of the location’s many adventure hooks.
Taleen Quirrelle: This female eladrin is a pariah of Mithrendain (an eladrin city in the Feywild) who was exiled after her spouse died of poison. The eladrin authorities couldn’t definitively pin the crime on her, but she was exiled nonetheless for suspected complicity. She departed the city with a great deal of wealth, which she funneled into starting what was then called the White Lantern Company. Her beauty, cunning, and business acumen soon attracted other companies until she was able to form the consortium that exists today. Exile from her people has made her bitter and ruthless. Whispers sometimes call her the Princess of Poison, for it is said that anyone who opposes the consortium soon ends up face down in an alley somewhere.
Taleen is attractive, but her face is cool and emotionless. Her green eyes constantly study her surroundings, searching for opportunity. She has a weakness for expensive jewelry and clothing, so she always looks a little out of place in Coyote’s Refuge. She no longer wears the motifs of her people, preferring the more cosmopolitan style of humans.
Hook: The adventurers come across a map showing the way down through the chambers of the Old Market into Valgo’s former hideout. Perhaps it is part of a treasure or a reward for services rendered. In fact, the map is a trap provided by enemies of the characters. Some dwellers in Coyote’s Refuge know of a monstrous creature that lives in the Old Market, which they call the Beast. Whoever supplied the map hopes the creature will wipe out the party. Of course, if the characters manage to defeat the monster—a sea kraken—they might seek revenge against whoever set them up.
The kraken is ancient and immense, with tentacles that extend into many chambers of the sunken market.
Fighting the Kraken
The fight with the Beast of the Old Market might take place across several chambers occupied by different kinds of creatures: kuo-toas, troglodytes, bullywugs, sahuagin, and the like. Create a battleground covered with pools of deep water where the kraken’s tentacles can reach up and grab the characters while they are engaged in fighting the other denizens.
Once the party has destroyed enough tentacles, the Beast—a level 10 sea kraken—rises to confront them (Monster Manual 3, page 122).
One of the advantages to working on a project is doing the art order. In this case, I had the opportunity to do the art order for the poster map that appears in the project. I love poster maps. Dungeon tiles are great, but I will almost always use a poster map before using Dungeon Tiles. Thus, I took this project’s opportunity to have poster maps made for two environments I’d been wanting for a while—one was an awesome throne room for an evil king or queen (in the case of this adventure, Najala). The other was a ruined section of a city. We have Dungeon Tiles that provide materials for city streets and buildings, but we don’t have any for a ruined city. Vor Rukoth, being a ruined city, seemed like the perfect place for such a map.
I realize I’m a little biased, but for the price of 15.00, a poster map and 32 pages of cool illustrations, hooks, story, and mechanics seems like a good deal.