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View Full Version : Help me brainstorm: Ancient Elven Stronghold



Eldan
2017-03-28, 05:25 AM
So. The only player in my group who gave me much of a reason for his character to be adventuring (beyond "I was hired" or "I'm a hero") is an archaeologist. So they are going to find some historically interesting ruins.

What they know so far: the uncle of two of the characters, an older slightly eccentric lesser noble, has unearthed some scrolls in the Imperial library that gave him clues to the location of an old elven stronghold that has been lost for near a thousand years. And not just any stronghold: apparently a few members of one of the most magically powerful high elven blood lines left the colony their kin were founding on the coast (or were exiled, the scrolls aren't entirely clear, but hint at conflict) and moved high up into particularly rough, barbarian-infested mountains. They took perhaps a hundred followers with them.

Over the next centuries, there's a handful of mentions of them, mostly in relation to traders who were forced to go off the main pass due to weather or banditry. They built some kind of fortified compound up among the peaks and were generally isolationist. Then, they aren't mentioned again for centuries. No one knows if any are still alive, but they might be, given how long-lived high elves are.

So. I've got a few weeks yet until they get there, but I want to put something interesting for them to find in those mountains. I just don't know what, beyond a few very vague ideas. Research into forbidden magic? A planar breach? Magical constructs of a kind unknown to established science? Elven wizards in deep trance for a thousand years, their minds out amongst the planes and highly annoyed to be disturbed?

I'd be thankful for any ideas. Small or big. What did they do or find up there? Where are they know? What would the fortress look like? Interesting little details of furnishings?

khadgar567
2017-03-28, 05:36 AM
(Inseart indiana jones music) crystal skull of ilitith and cult of elven wizards, geniue pack primeal with all gods wet sign still dying, fontain of imortality( catch you have intelegence lover than 4), gate way to absalom space station, ark of _______.

Corsair14
2017-03-28, 07:43 AM
You can go a couple ways with this. Grey elves are well known isolationists and built beautiful cities high in the mountains where other races would leave them alone. The cities were next to impossible to find, had many illusionary detours that would subtly guide people away from the cities and had more and more deadly magical traps getting closer to the city. The cities themselves were very spire-like and of amazing construction. There was an old fluff box of a thief who found his way into a grey elf city and was climbing a tower when the sun came out and illuminated the city. The beauty was such he lost his grip and fell to his death. Along these lines I would have many magical traps and distractions pushing the PCs away from the city or have some of the more damaging traps already have popped leaving the bodies of various explorers who fell for them. Next you need to decide if its still occupied by elves or something else like another race that conquered them or magical experiments that took over. For a small town have several tower habitations and some elaborately carved buildings on the ground for more mundane uses like stables, craft shops, and servants quarters.

You can also just look up ancient civilizations from earth like that one city in the mountains in Mexico(Micha Pichu or something like that) or maybe those cool Tibetan ruins you always see in movies. There's a lot of real world examples that would work.

Eldan
2017-03-28, 02:35 PM
IT wouldn't quite be a city, more a fortress. There's just five nobles and a hundred servants. That said, towers will feature prominently. I'll probably make some of the architecture dependent on levitation and flying to get around in, stealing from Morrowind.

Good idea mentioning native American mountain cities, though. That should help. Though those didn't really feature towers.

Magical constructs running wild is a likely thing to go for, yes. I'll have to make it interesting, though, and give the scholar something to do, so probably there's hints at command words scattered around. Or some sort of item that lets you command the golems or whatever they turn out to be.

Any ideas for forbidden magic that are a bit more interesting than necromancy or demon summoning?

Mark Hall
2017-03-28, 02:57 PM
Any ideas for forbidden magic that are a bit more interesting than necromancy or demon summoning?

Extreme body modification. They are seeking a more purely elven form, viewing their current forms as having been debased by contact with other humanoids. To that end, you've got them pursuing different, almost caricatured, ideas of what it means to be elven, and disagreeing among themselves, combining various extremes, and, occasionally, fighting among themselves. They have a room where time moves very quickly, so they can observe their weird changes in years, rather than centuries. One of them is semi-heretical to their thinking, and is seeking not the pure elven form, but instead an ur-form that precedes all elves.

Grim Portent
2017-03-28, 04:04 PM
They find that the elven wizards no longer exist as such, having used the lives of their servants to fuel a magical pursuit of omniscience that went wrong. The rituals they used have transformed them into a powerful seer, but also left them disembodied and unable to leave the ritual chamber they used. The resulting oracular choir of spirits knows just about everything that has happened in the past or present, but are arrogant and envy those who still live in the mortal coil, and refuse to share the knowledge they suffer to possess freely. If successfully placated they may answer a question regarding where to find ancient secrets, lost artifacts or how to defeat mighty enemies.

Meanwhile, with no guiding master, the various arcane defenses of the stronghold have run amok, magical guard beasts have devolved and adapted to the slowly crumbling fortress. Some tower above mortal men, and can crush prey in their mighty fists, others hunt like wolves but climb like cats, scrambling through the ruins to hunt any trespasser, man or beast.

Various arcane relics are still located in crumbling studies and vaults whose roofs have long since caved beneath the weight of time and weather, scrolls of ancient spells line the nests of avian guardians and magical fountains still flow with enchanted rainwater.

sktarq
2017-03-28, 05:02 PM
Well first place to look for inspiration.

Prestige classes- the weird ones from whatever mage/wizard splat that you think is normally too crazy to use. Or weird splat classes you've never used before and your players are unfamiliar with (say a binder or wu jen) The nobles got a weird idea from somewhere and were exiled for it. This will be rather edition dependent.

That said if the stronghold still exists and is active - most of the elves there would not be the original group. Perhaps a few elders - but they could have used a couple rings of invisibility or teleport spells to find breeding partners-or fallen in love with a servant class elf. So most would know no other life and be deeply ignorant of life outside unless you account for why they are not. Also the population may well be larger than the founding size-why it is or isn't will shape the nature of the place (strong social control, sacrifices, monsters, etc)

As for style-may I point to Chaco canyon and similar cliff dwelling sites. Would give you the height and defensive strength of a tower but helps to hide them. And did have a tendency to grow rather tall.

Also ask yourself why they have not been discovered. And it is not just their stronghold-the elves will have effects around them. They still need food, water, building materials, tool making materials, probably alchemy/wizard stuff, water. Sure elves are good at minimizing their impact and promoting the forest to grow what they want naturally but the area needed for this still is far larger than their stronghold. If you are going to use magic instead - figure out how many castings you need-It can eat up a lot of your spellcasters slots per day if you are not careful. This can be aided by magic items in a big way-far more useful than regular casting but make sure that an appropriate spellcaster has been around to make it.

Look at the stronghold builder guides for useful magic items on hiding a stronghold, watering it, etc.

And there is also the idea that after a while they left for some reason. To pursue a better location for their quest. The defenses against some monster/barbarian threat got too great. But the defences still work. Infighting. Disease with too few clerics in an arcane society. Just have ways in mind of how they could have gotten out w/o anyone in the wider world noticing (even a local war / famine with lots of other refugees would work)
Also if you do link them to, say, an artifact/McGuffin and they moved a few times to set up new bases - it could be an on going quest/hook

Gravitron5000
2017-03-29, 08:10 AM
After many months of questing and overcoming many hardships, the PCs locate the lost Elven tea house on top of a bleak mountain peak. They are welcomed with an exceedingly elaborate and exacting tea ceremony.

They were exiled for having the audacity to serve milk/cream with their tea. Heathens.

Eldan
2017-03-29, 10:26 AM
Extreme body modification. They are seeking a more purely elven form, viewing their current forms as having been debased by contact with other humanoids. To that end, you've got them pursuing different, almost caricatured, ideas of what it means to be elven, and disagreeing among themselves, combining various extremes, and, occasionally, fighting among themselves. They have a room where time moves very quickly, so they can observe their weird changes in years, rather than centuries. One of them is semi-heretical to their thinking, and is seeking not the pure elven form, but instead an ur-form that precedes all elves.

That's a lovely idea. An elf so tall and slender, their waist is as wide as their arms. An elf so obsessed with beauty, they have slowly turned into a crystal statue. Probably combines well with the disembodied seer-consciousness.


Various arcane relics are still located in crumbling studies and vaults whose roofs have long since caved beneath the weight of time and weather, scrolls of ancient spells line the nests of avian guardians and magical fountains still flow with enchanted rainwater.

Note to self: a murder of crows with magical powers, descendants of familiars who have for centuries nested in stacks of magical scrolls.



As for style-may I point to Chaco canyon and similar cliff dwelling sites. Would give you the height and defensive strength of a tower but helps to hide them. And did have a tendency to grow rather tall.

Also ask yourself why they have not been discovered. And it is not just their stronghold-the elves will have effects around them. They still need food, water, building materials, tool making materials, probably alchemy/wizard stuff, water. Sure elves are good at minimizing their impact and promoting the forest to grow what they want naturally but the area needed for this still is far larger than their stronghold. If you are going to use magic instead - figure out how many castings you need-It can eat up a lot of your spellcasters slots per day if you are not careful. This can be aided by magic items in a big way-far more useful than regular casting but make sure that an appropriate spellcaster has been around to make it.

Since Inca cities have been mentioned too, I think I may combine something here. I was originally thinking they may have invented magic-assisted hydroponics, vast underground lakes lit by artificial suns. But terraced farming is tempting too.


They were exiled for having the audacity to serve milk/cream with their tea. Heathens.

Also tempting. After two sessions, the tone of the game has turned out more fun and occasionally slap-sticky than intended. There's a lot of joking anyway and I ended the last session with a monster running away and falling over and breaking it's neck. (It was the middle of the night, on a steep mountainside and they had blinded it. It seemed appropriate.)

VoxRationis
2017-03-29, 10:32 AM
After many months of questing and overcoming many hardships, the PCs locate the lost Elven tea house on top of a bleak mountain peak. They are welcomed with an exceedingly elaborate and exacting tea ceremony.

They were exiled for having the audacity to serve milk/cream with their tea. Heathens.

I wholeheartedly support this suggestion.

As for locations, a mountain valley below the tree line, but only accessible through crossing higher altitudes, is certainly possible. Glacial runoff provides water for the local ecosystem, and I wouldn't expect a lot of rain. Expect flora and fauna rather different from their normal counterparts.

Kol Korran
2017-03-29, 11:52 AM
Dragons.

As the elves grew in power and years, the most powerful of their kind sought what sort of danger could still threaten them. And the answer came clear- Dragons.

As self appointed enlightened protectors of their race, the high elven mages started searching for a way to fight dragons, and eliminate this threat. Yet... in their efforts, they may have gone too far, and may have even drew unwanted attention from their query. After a disastrous fight against an enraged draconic mother, whose eggs have been stolen, the elven mages have been exiled, for their hubris and endangering their community.

The high elven mages accepted this, for they understood (Or so was their reasoning), that the younger ones did not see as far as they did, they did not see the necessity to act and develop weapons and defenses now, and eliminate the threat early on, before it's too late... So they moved to their fortress, yet did not stop their research. In fact, they have intensified it!

The old fortress could have various remains of the elven experimentation, including specimens of the ""dragon" type, tested upon, altered, and more... It could have various constructed weapons, and defenses. It could have various attempts at "exploring the draconic psyche/ biology/ spirit" and so on, It may even have dragons and more...

Some possible twists: (Note: Quite a few of these ideas are insipration from the Shadorwr Returns game- Dragonfall).
- Perhaps in the exploration of a draconic mind, one of the captured dragons tricked and elf, and their minds switched bodies. The "dragon" the party fights is the insane elf, while the "elf" they save, is actually a dragon in an elven mind, who is NOW fully determined to end the elves (Ironically), yet from within.
- Some of the elves may have decided that they need to become as dragons in order to fight them. put on various draconic templates and so on.
- The elves may have perfected a weapon, but one which kills ANY long lived race (And may have killed most of them). The party may find the research for it, or find some of the weapon intact... Will they use it?
- In their obsessions with dragons, the elves have become somewhat like them- they gather hoards (Wealth and magical power), they have become extremely arrogant, and belittle the lives of short lived races (A sort of "The end justifies the means/ For the greater good/ We do what must be done) and have captured the surrounding orcs and other humanoids, for horrific experiments. Could the party make them see what they have become?
- In that vain, the elves (or whomever runs the place now) may capture the PCs (Who may pose a threat- they now know what the fortress is about! What if a dragon learns of it!) And may decide to detain the PCs. Either as "guests" ("It's for your own good. This must be done. You will see our way, please enjoy your stay in the meantime") or as test subjects ("Ahhh... good! We were running out of orcs. Now, lets run them past our test gaunltet. I wonder how they will they do with the maximized breath emulator...") Can the PCs survive, and escape?

Mastikator
2017-03-29, 12:20 PM
Forbidden magic doesn't mean evil magic, it just means you're not allowed to do it for whatever reason.

Maybe they were developing some new form of magic that represented an existential threat to some good elven deity, knowing why it was an existential threat also represented the existential threat (one of those "if I told you I'd have to kill you" deals).
But since the elves weren't doing anything evil and the deity that wanted to stop them wasn't evil either, in fact they're all good, the deity instead "promoted" them. It made sure that all of the new magic was destroyed or scrambled, but anything else would remain.

Maybe a few were left behind since they didn't need to be killed, but they were all the non-magicals who didn't understand what happened and took it in all the wrong ways, fled and told wrong stories that later became the legend found in the library.

The location should be somewhere you can't just stumble upon, a valley surrounded by impassible mountains may not even cut it, maybe it's in an enchanted forest, the enchantment on the forest is that the ground shifts imperceptibly so that you can't enter the stronghold. You think you're walking in a straight line but you're actually curving around the stronghold. Tall trees and hills obscure the stronghold from all directions. The enchantment was placed on the forest by the very deity that killed the elves.

Maybe there's something special they can do to be granted access to the stronghold, if they can prove that they're not a threat by speaking the right code phrase. Or maybe they've figured out a way to cheat.

Beleriphon
2017-03-29, 01:15 PM
I'm fond of using pictures to inspire what the place is about. Since Inca ruins were mentioned I'll see what I can find regarding Machu Picchu, and other mountain sites.

http://www.lovethesepics.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/ghosts-in-the-foggy-ruins-of-Machu-Picchu.jpg
http://www.uoguelph.ca/~thsiang/visit/china/0802mulan_fortress.jpg
http://www.wallpaperup.com/uploads/wallpapers/2013/03/29/66081/33b5aac4cf1dca90f84fdce35137c16f.jpg
https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/0c/5c/93/0c5c939910ddebcc4b5bcfeed48c1163.jpg
http://cgimg.s3.amazonaws.com/cg/g25/225/225_1281551745_orig.jpg

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4f/Moray_-_Qechuyoq.JPG/640px-Moray_-_Qechuyoq.JPG
http://resources.touropia.com/gfx/d/amazing-christian-monasteries/meteora.jpg
http://www.ta13.eu/images/atrakcje/srebrna/sr1.jpg
http://www.antiquealive.com/Blogs/images/architecture/mountain_fortress/Bukhan-Sanseong-mountain-fortress-surrounding-Seoul.jpg
http://handluggageonly.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/San-Marino.jpg

https://www.national-park.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Welcome-to-Mesa-Verde-National-Park.jpg
http://www.mesaverdefoundation.org/About-Us/About-Mesa-Verde-National-Park/LUMINARIAS-(1)-Banner.aspx
https://www.nps.gov/common/uploads/grid_builder/imr/crop1_1/2FEE2E2D-1DD8-B71B-0B7ED544A4791FA4.jpg?width=640&quality=90&mode=crop
http://campphoto.zenfolio.com/img/s/v-3/p755203726-3.jpg
http://www.seldomseenphoto.com/galleries/World/1American_Southwest/photos/05001077L.jpg

As for what they're doing maybe they retreat to hide away from perceived disaster and their magic is about trying to prevent it from occurring or finding a way to let them survive. They were banished because 1) they're wrong (or at least the rest of the elves think they are) or 2) the disaster is actually a religious schism between this group the rest of mainstream elven society.

Braininthejar2
2017-03-29, 06:02 PM
* elven mages living on top of a high mountain would probably not be interested in farming, but still hungry. Magic was likely the key, so the heroes may encounter the remains of some low key tippyverse attempt that went wrong when its creators died - like a create food trap that feeds a collection of slimes.

* tablets of ancient prophecies that seem to speak of current events - with dire warnings that point to the next story arc - even if the players aren't interested in saving the world, they might want to sell the tablets to someone who would.

* a competing adventurers party - that either dies horribly, fights the party, allies with them and ninja-loots the treasure, or unleashes something they shouldn't, runs away, and covers their rumps by spreading rumors that blame it on the heroes.

* a flail snail. Just because it's an ancient ruin and the campaign isn't very serious

Eldan
2017-03-29, 06:36 PM
* elven mages living on top of a high mountain would probably not be interested in farming, but still hungry. Magic was likely the key, so the heroes may encounter the remains of some low key tippyverse attempt that went wrong when its creators died - like a create food trap that feeds a collection of slimes.

They are elven mages with a hundred retainers, though. So farming is absolutely an option. I'm probably still going for magic hydroponics, though, because that gives me an opportunity for an underwater fight against a giant plant monster.

Edit: and one, possibly two, competing adventure parties are already set up: there was a high elven vampire who tried abducting their excentric uncle for unknown reasons, but they staked him. Might still come back. And there's a side story they ignored about a guild mage who came to the village a month or so ago on "a field trip", before he vanished.

Herobizkit
2017-03-29, 07:27 PM
Stealing from older media is always fun.

5 nobles you say?

How 'bout this sassy stronghold from The Neverending Story II? One spire for each of the nobles...

https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5539/9853271296_10c707e924_b.jpg

Perhaps these Elves are studying the Five Elements (from Eastern philosophies) - Air, Water, Wood, Fire, Metal. This would be different from the standard D&D cosmology and maybe a though experiment to figure out how, exactly?

Eldan
2017-03-30, 05:37 AM
5 nobles you say?

How 'bout this sassy stronghold from The Neverending Story II? One spire for each of the nobles...


Sorry. I can't steal from a movie which does not exist and never has existed. Shame there never was a proper Neverending Story movie that actually took the book's story.

DigoDragon
2017-03-30, 08:31 AM
An elf so obsessed with beauty, they have slowly turned into a crystal statue. Probably combines well with the disembodied seer-consciousness.

That would be a great reveal at some point after the PCs have passed through an old park with several crystal statues littered about. Or maybe there's a dungeon where the 'failed attempts' at beautification were dumped. Golems of glass and crystal would be thematically interesting. :smallbiggrin:

Mark Hall
2017-03-30, 11:39 AM
That would be a great reveal at some point after the PCs have passed through an old park with several crystal statues littered about. Or maybe there's a dungeon where the 'failed attempts' at beautification were dumped. Golems of glass and crystal would be thematically interesting. :smallbiggrin:

With the odd ones made out of wood.

Oooooh, a living wood golem that has become linked to a dryad!

Starbuck_II
2017-03-31, 11:47 AM
After many months of questing and overcoming many hardships, the PCs locate the lost Elven tea house on top of a bleak mountain peak. They are welcomed with an exceedingly elaborate and exacting tea ceremony.

They were exiled for having the audacity to serve milk/cream with their tea. Heathens.

No, nothing so blasť.
Their audacity was milk after tea. Non-heavens have tea after milk.

raspberrybadger
2017-03-31, 11:50 AM
With magic, fortresses need not have physical walls. Perhaps they have been delving into forbidden space, time, and sanity warping magics, so their stronghold is defended by a zone where things that look adjacent really aren't, it's entirely possible to keep walking and have your mind split in half and take two different paths, and so on. Perhaps they have discovered architecture that accomplishes limited versions of these things all on its own.