So…Vor Rukoth

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.

I mentioned adventure hooks. Vor Rukoth is built around adventure hooks—64 in fact. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its share of mechanics. It has some magic items, monsters, and hazards, but I really wanted to leave it to the DM to fill in the mechanical details. Vor Rukoth is supposed to provide an environment. I know most of the DMs out there are creative people, and most of them have access to the compendium. I’d rather provide lots of juicy story so DMs can pick and choose what they want to use in their adventure.

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.

16 thoughts on “So…Vor Rukoth

  1. I did not realize that these were thought of as adventures. I just thought they were setting sourcebooks like the Gazetters of old. I’ll definitely give them another look.

  2. @pdunwin There’s certainly some setting information like a gazetteer, but it’s really aimed toward a DM who wants to craft short encounters/adventures. There’s certainly plot opportunities for a large campaign arc, but the hooks make the format much less linear than normal adventures.

    @scott Awesome! Glad to hear it. Let me know how you like it. The book definitely fills in some interesting details about Vor Rukoth. I did a lot of cross-referencing of other books to try to unify this book’s story with everything else.

  3. I love this approach to adventures and hope to see more books like this and Hammerfast from WotC. The kraken tentacles and the modules “boss” are both awesome ideas that I could definitely see stealing for my current campaign even if I don’t manage to fit in all of Vor Rukoth.

  4. I didn’t realise Hammerfast and Vor Rukoth were considered “adventures” either.

    Strangely, hearing Greg “say it aloud” makes me much more interested in both products, and I believe Vor Rukoth would be worth it just for information on Coyote’s Refuge. After all, most campaigns feature a (tent) city with suspect inhabitants at some stage…

  5. Thanks for the writeup Greg. I was on the fence on this product (and hammerfast) as I tend to buy ready made adventures and then tweak them to suit my table but reading about someone who so lovingly crafted a project, makes it even more appealing. I think this could be the content that gets closer to building more from-scratch adventures. Consider me sold!

  6. The maps are excellent. I used a few of them in my last game. The map with a bridge over water is the best. I ran the encounter as the PCs assaulting a fortified position. It worked out well. I littered the ground with minions and had orc wizards tossing lightning bolts from the towers.

    What’s up with the cover though? I’m only 4 pages in so maybe it will make sense later. The dragonborn and the chick in the boat I’m guessing are a married couple? It looks like she’s been giving him a hard time because he looks fatigued and pissed off. “I AM fucking rowing, woman. I been rowing for the last 45 goddam minutes. Pick up an oar or shut the fuck up.”

  7. Thanks for all the good comments, everyone. If you get the product, please let me know what you think.

    @metaDM I think you’re referring to the map from HS1: The Slaying Stone. The bridge map is really nice.

    Yeah, the cover is a little bizarre, but the cover was done long before I started work on the project, so that’s what I had to work with :)

  8. Really enjoying this book and glad to see the POL setting expanding. Questions about the geography…is the road coming from the west Ruby Road? If so what is the road coming from the north? Is Vor Rukoth north or south of Skull fields? And although made to be placed anywhere how far southeast did you intend it to be from Hammerfast? Love the different factions and NPC’s and the fact that they aren’t all black and white; good or evil…. I agree these are the things that make a game so much richer.

    1. Hey Justin,

      I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying the book. The road to the north is supposed to head up into the hills (which pertains to at least one of the book’s hooks). It is an unnamed road. The main road that heads to the west is the Rube Road. The skull fields are supposed to extend out in all directions (except east) from Coyote’s Refuge. The Ruby Road eventually connects up to the Trade Road. Hammerfast is about a week away, though really you can fill in the distance however you want. I suggest that Hammerfast not be too close, since you want Vor Rukoth to feel like it is on the fringes of civilization—the borderlands where anything goes, and the adventurers don’t really have any place they can call “safe”

  9. Greg, I really loved Vor Rukorth. It saddened me, that when I approached the DDI team with some suggestions they were completely dismissed. Politely, at first, and then without a word. One of these suggestions was that WoTC should produce more products LIKE Vor Rukorth. As a DM, campaign settings are worth their weight in gold. I do like published adventures, and am using one in one of my games at the moment. However, the campaign setting let me break out the minis and the grids, which is something I totally geek out on! I spend almost no time on the forums now, and have stopped writing on my blog due to the overwhelming vitriol of the boards. It just kinda makes me sad, all the potential wasted. The setting really resonated with me and I would love to see you produce more in the same vein.

  10. Ok, so I bought this product way back when and am finally in a position to use some of the material at my table so I’ve been reading through it and I would totally like to high five you right now Greg. This is really great stuff. My group is about to arrive in Hammerfast (also very good) and I expect them to be interacting with that locaiton and those NPCs there for 3-4 sessions. Then its on to Vor Rukoth (depending on the players, but they’re usually content to follow the main plot without too much extra work on my part). Anyway, I’ve very excited to let the players run wild there. I really think there can be a lot done to tempt and sate the desires of a generally good group who has some less than good moments. I envision running it something like “Whatever happens in Vor Rukoth, STAYS in Vor Rukoth” if you get my meaning. Let the players stretch their RP wings a bit. Can’t wait, and thanks again!

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