View Full Version : Journal Campaign Notes - 3.5e D&D (FR)

Cliff Sedge
2019-03-25, 12:03 AM
( Before there were Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and Dungeon of the Mad Mage, there was this D&D 2.0/3.x custom creation ):

[** Adding glossary soon that will have more detailed notes on people/places/items/events/etc.]

Homebrew thread is better. I want to share some campaign notes, adventure ideas, encounter designs, NPCs, homebrew stuff, house rule stuff, etc. - and have it open to critique/criticism to help me improve as a DM. Alternatively, others may simply lurk and steal ideas for their own games.]

This thread is basically for me to share whatever ideas I have or will come up with for running a D&D campaign.

Others are free to share their own ideas if they think those ideas would fit in well with what I'm working on, or you may praise/deride/analyze/whatever anything I share, and we can discuss why we think it's good or could be improved.

Details --

RPG: D&D 3.x (d20-3.5 foundation with A LOT of homebrew/house rules/other editions and systems mixed in)

Setting: Forgotten Realms, particularly Sword Coast - Waterdeep/Undermountain, ca. 1370 - 1380 DR, but expandable to any region/plane/setting as soon as the PCs find one of the many spelljammer ships or planeswalking portals or magic spells/items scattered throughout the world.

Scope: This is material I've worked on for 20-30 years. I have written notes, adventure modules, and "head canon" that can take characters from level-0 child through level 20 badass and beyond in one continuous and consistent series of adventures.

Primary published adventure modules used: Ruins of Undermountain (2e), Dragon Mountain (2e), Expedition to Undermountain (3.5e), Skullport (I think 2e; it still has negative ACs and THAC0 ...). All non-3.5 material has been converted to 3.5-ish rules.

If you ever want to experience one of these adventures as a player and don't want a lot of major things spoiled, stop reading now. Many of the story elements and character details I'm going to talk about are things I've modified slightly from the published works, so some things are only spoilers if you intend to play in my version of these adventures, but either way most of it will be details that only DMs should know about.

[I will update this irregularly but try to reply to the thread in more-or-less well-organized segments. Stay tuned for the first installment or go ahead and start adding your own ideas or asking questions.]

Cliff Sedge
2019-03-25, 09:20 PM

The Fall of Undermountain
Act I. (first-tier: character levels 1 through 5)

The Mad Mage has died.

Undermountain is in turmoil. Monsters once contained are coming up from below. The dungeon ecosystem is changing, and adventurers - some good, some evil - are going down underground, hoping to beat back the monsters or to loot the wizard's lair.

Quest possibilities --
Players can join in the looting and compete with rival parties at treasure hunting; they can be hired to stop others from finding certain items (it is known or suspected that there are items too powerful to allow some naive adventurers to find). There are items that must be recovered and brought back to the magical authorities: the Watchful Order or the Blackstaff.

Players can try to contain the threat of more - and more powerful - monsters coming up from the depths: possibly negotiating with rival monster factions who until now have held on to a tenuous peace among themselves.

Players can engage in various rescue or recovery missions:
-A noble's son has foolheartedly gone down under the mountain for adventure and needs to be rescued - or body recovered..
-Similarly, an adventurer's wife fears her husband has died below; she gives the party a minor magic item to help them with the quest.
-A merchant hires the party to bring up relics and exotic items to sell in his shop.
-An adventuring guild hires the players to make maps of the dungeon, and so on.

Many dwarves arrive hoping to retake their ancestral home. Will the players help them?

Halaster's Heirs form an "Arcanist's Academy" in the dungeon to research old, powerful magic and ultimately to recover Halaster's magic items and spell books.

A necromancer is building an army of undead to claim large regions of Undermountain for himself,


In short, the first (tier-1) act is for players to get to know the game world and its characters, gain experience and wealth, and learn about the deeper story.

[Most of this is based off Expedition to Undermountain, as it is meant as a low-level starter adventure.]

Cliff Sedge
2019-03-25, 09:26 PM
Act II. (second tier: character levels 5 through 10)

Act 1 should include enough clues so that players realize that there is much more going on than originally believed, and at-first seemingly unconnected areas, power groups, and events are connected to each other in complex ways.

Major plot points to encounter by the end of Act 1 --

The Call:
An earthquake shakes the city. Something cataclysmic has occurred deep under the mountain. Seers, sages, and wizards (including player-character spellcasters) receive dreams and visions from Halaster (via the “soul shards”). Some show rooms and halls of the dungeon filled with monsters and/or magic items; others show Halaster's screaming (or laughing) face, rooms collapsing and filling with lava, or the door of a storeroom falling open and treasure spilling out, a hilltop made of multicolored gemstones flashing, vibrating, and then exploding, and similar nightmares or tempting fantasies.

(PCs and NPCs alike - spellcasters at first - but then soon almost everybody receives one of these visions at random every day, or once or twice per week.)

Rumors of the Mad Mage’s death become more widely believed, and the chaos that ensues hits closer and closer to home.

(At first, speculations are conflicting: some people say that the Mad Wizard has died; others say he is still alive and is trying to destroy Waterdeep from below.)

Players can learn that while evil and insane, Halaster held obsessive control over the monsters of Undermountain, and he made a deal with the lords of the city to keep the most dangerous trapped in the lowest levels. In return, the lords promised to leave Undermountain out of their jurisdiction, so Hal can continue his mad entertainments unbothered by official tampering.

Now that Halaster's powerful magicks are failing to contain the horrors of the deep places, monsters more terrible than goblins and wererats are threatening to ascend and attack the city.

Sundered dwarves (descendants of clan Melairkyn) seek to take back their ancestral home. So-called Thunderbrothers (dwarf twins commanded by Dumathoin and Moradin to take back Melairbode) arrive in Waterdeep. They seek assistance from sympathetic adventuring parties..

Kidnappers who capture young men and women of Waterdeep become more bold in their activities. Clues link them to a tribe of orcs (the Grinning Skulls); an unholy torture cult (the Church of Loviatar); and a noble merchant family (Hlethvagi of House Anteos). When players "learn too much" and investigate closer, Hlethvagi and his orcs flee to either Leilon, Neverwinter, or Luskan.

Cliff Sedge
2019-03-25, 09:43 PM
The weather after the earthquake becomes supernaturally cold. Citizens flee the city to escape from the deadly climate as much as from their fearful visions. Only much later will this be learned to be only tangentially connected to the coming Spellplague and Sundering, as the magic Weave begins to fail. It may first be rumored or believed that it is connected to Halaster, Undermountain, and the earthquake; but actually for now, it is unconnected..

A powerful group from Cormyr, The Company of the Violet Wyrm, discovered a secret room and artifact they intended to use to find a dragon's lair, but now it is linked via Halaster's soul shards to Dragon Mountain. It will later be discovered that the lower levels of Undermountain were teleported en masse to the top of a mountain southeast of Calimshan. This sudden and immense removal was the locus of the earthquake.

Aftershocks continue infrequently for months, and Waterdeep worries that the city will collapse into Undermountain or that the entire mountain will crumble to pieces. They aren't wrong: if the players do not ultimately recover the soul shards of Halaster that are trapped within the fragments of the Runestone of Gett and within Yeldoon’s medallion, then the void left by the removal of lower Undermountain will cause the literal fall of Undermountain - and Waterdeep above it - to collapse into the Underdark.
[Note: What should be the time frame for this?]

One of the Gett fragments may be easily found, and if brought to a knowledgeable sage (Blackstaff, ideally) it can be revealed that three others exist; at least one is nearby, and they are connected somehow to Undermountain and Halaster. Perhaps by finding them all and joining them, Undermountain can be restored, and the city saved from certain destruction.

Various factions, power groups, and sponsoring groups offer to hire the players for missions. The party can learn about Blackstaff, the Lords’ Alliance, the Moonstars, Force Grey, the Rescue Rangers, the Thunderbrothers, the Unseen, and the Arcanist’s Academy; or the players can learn about some of the many groups and factions that could be working with or against each other - or willing to work with or against the party - such as goblin, hobgoblin, and bugbear tribes; other adventuring parties on their own missions; various undead; and Yeldoon's relatives.

Players may learn (or learn more) about Halaster's Heirs, and they likely will encounter Jhessirya and obtain the Horned Ring. Trobriand can make an appearance, arguing with Durnan about buying the Yawning Portal from him. They can find a burned parchment page with an excerpt from the tale of “The Seventimes.” Ellithral the Golden can offer a lot of lore, clues, and rumors about Halaster's Heirs, the Arcanist's Academy, The Call, and other history of Waterdeep, Undermountain, Halaster and the Yawning Portal. Blackstaff can also be a good resource for this information: more reliable and accurate, but also attached to a greater cost (likely paid by being hired to complete quests).

[The idea is that no matter where the PCs go or who they meet, every encounter, every item, every rumor, everything is connected to the events around the fall of Undermountain in some way. These don't necessarily point the players where to go or what to do, but rather are all things that make sense later after the players have collected other clues.

Cliff Sedge
2019-03-25, 09:48 PM
Act 2 will involve delving deeper into Undermountain: the second and third levels especially. It is possible to segue to Dragon Mountain during this act.

Skullport, The Unseen, three or more rival drow groups, and the Thunderbrothers are good plot points for this tier.

The party, before reaching levels 8 through 10, should obtain enough knowledge to realize that finding the fragments of Gett and solving the mystery of Halaster's death are a top priority. Encounters in Skullport can give many clues about what is happening below.

Drow are migrating up from their strongholds that were destroyed by the quake. Gnomes and dwarves bring news of whole sections of Undermountain missing and replaced with magma-filled chambers.

Adventure should focus on exploration and information-gathering. Players may have access to a lot of deep lore now about Halaster Heirs, the Melairkyn, drow factions, and possible bigger encounters: dragons, mercenary companies, illithid, or beholders.

Acts 3 and 4, if players continue with the campaign, can lead to the lowest levels of Undermountain via the Dragon Mountain campaign and finally to Halaster's lair. This will reveal secrets about what he was doing that led to such disaster. Halaster learned somehow about the coming Sundering. He thought he found a spell that likely couldn't prevent it, but he thought it could save Undermountain and himself. He tried casting it, and it ended up transporting most of Undermountain elsewhere and blew apart Halaster's body and spirit. As a last resort, had he survived the spell, he prepared a spelljammer ship to take him off-planet. The ship survived, but it requires repair to its helm...

The end of campaign can be when the players find and use the spelljammer ship to exit Realmspace or at least leave Toril before the collision with Abeir in phase space.

Players, of course, may ignore the main plots and explore Undermountain freely or even leave Undermountain and Waterdeep entirely. If so, then they should become aware somehow that Undermountain and Waterdeep get destroyed, and the consequences are wide-reaching. Collapse of economies, a takeover of the region by neighboring kingdoms, people/ places/ things the players care about are destroyed.

[After completing the Crypt of Yeldoon quest, more material from Ruins of Undermountain and Skullport can be incorporated. An important theme to remember is that everyone - especially long-time residents of Undermountain and Skullport are feeling very anxious, and many tense rivalries can easily explode into conflict.]

Cliff Sedge
2019-03-25, 09:51 PM
Characters of level 15 - 20 can reach the conclusion of the campaign by finding Halaster's spelljammer ship; rejoining the Runestone of Gett; conquering, allying with, or negotiating treaties between the various factions and power groups; gaining control of one or more large areas in Undermountain to use as a lair, stronghold, base of operations, storeroom, etc; or possibly conquering Skullport...

Crucial items are the Yeldoon's medallion and the Gett runestone to save Undermountain and activate the spelljammer. The subplot of restoring Melairkyn rule over Undermountain requires recovering the sword and crown of Whitehelm that allows access to certain teleport portals, and convincing Gyudd to take up the Black Helm and helping him drive back the drow from Belkram's Fall. (To then ultimately recover the Crown Adamant from Belkram)

The three major antagonists are The Unseen (doppelgangers), House Tanor-Thal (drow), and The Twisted Rune (liches, vampires and other powerful undead). The Unseen are the least dangerous but still very ambitious, devious, and determined. The Rune are the most evil and dangerous, and they can ultimately defeat either the Unseen or the drow, if one of those groups ends up taking control of Undermountain.

Cliff Sedge
2019-03-28, 09:19 PM
[This is the list of items I will add more detailed notes for later.]

(people, places, items, events, monsters, factions and power groups, and more)


"The City of Splendors" is the biggest, richest city on the Sword Coast of Faerun. Named for its natural deep-water harbor, this city wraps around the coastal mountain: Mount Waterdeep. It is divided into a number of districts, called 'Wards.'

The biggest, baddest dungeon in Faerun. It lies in and under Mount Waterdeep. There are only a couple physical entrances - the best known is The Yawning Portal. For centuries, the "Mad Mage" Halaster Blackcloak has ruled Undermountain, stocking its rooms and halls with deadly traps and monsters.

Leilon / Neverwinter / Luskan area
- Leilon is a small mining town between Waterdeep and Neverwinter to the north.
- Neverwinter "The Jewel of the North" is a medium-sized city-state on the northwest Sword Coast.
- Luskan "The City of Sails" lies north of Neverwinter, a dangerous port town ruled by ex-pirates and The Arcane Brotherhood.

"The Forest Kingdom" is a feudal nation in central Faerun. It is still recovering from the recent Goblin Wars of 1372 that led to the death of their king.

Dragon Mountain
A mysterious mountain top that changes locations around the world roughly every 20 years. Halaster's magic caused a large part of the mountain to be replaced by several levels of Undermountain.

A trading rival of Waterdeep in southwest Faerun. Dragon Mountain is rumored to appear in the Marching Mountains to the east of this nation.

The Underdark
Deep underground sprawling caverns, home of drow, duergar, svirfneblin, kuo-toa, illithids, beholders, and many other monstrous races.

The Yawning Portal
This decades-old inn and tavern is the home and business of Durnan and his family. He built it over the prior site of Halaster's ancient wizard tower. It is the best-known easy access to the upper-most levels of Undermountain. It is found on the south side of Castle Ward.

"The Port of Shadow" is a practically lawless subterranean city in the third (Sargauth) level of Undermountain. Pirates, slave traders, mercenary companies, and various outcasts from above live side-by-side with drow, duergar, and illithids from the Underdark. It is most commonly accessed via the South Sea Caves on the western seaside of Mount Waterdeep, though it also connects with other levels of Undermountain.

Halaster's Lair / The Runestone Level
Halaster never had a true lair in Undermountain. All of Undermountain was his to roam, and he rarely stayed in the same location for long. The deepest level of Undermountain is however known as "The Mad Wizard's Lair," and a nearby level, The Runestone Level, is where Halaster died while working on a powerful spell to save Undermountain from an approaching doom.

Realmspace / Toril / Abeir
- The Forgotten Realms campaign setting is within a crystal sphere (the "solar system") called Realmspace.
-The primary planet - on which is the continent of Faerun - is called Toril. It is much like Earth in size and geology. It has 24-hour days and 365-day years. It is further from its sun (which is hotter than Earth's sun); is slightly larger, but less dense, so surface gravity is slightly less. It is populated with dozens of intelligent races, including humans, elves, dwarves, dragons, and giants.
- Abeir is in the same material plane as Toril, but in a 'pocket dimension' out of phase with Toril. Abeir-Toril was once a single world, but many millenia ago they were sundered apart into separate worlds.

Phase Space
The extra-dimensional "space between" Abeir and Toril. This space is shrinking, and soon the two worlds will join again during the 'Spell Plague.'

Neighboring Kingdoms
Other nations/kingdoms near Waterdeep are --
The High Forest to the northeast, Cormyr to the east, Amn, Tethyr, and Calimshan to the south,

Belkram's Fall
A miles-deep vertical shaft (an ancient, naturally-formed lava tube) connecting many lower levels of Undermountain. It is named after Belkram: a high cleric of Dumathoin in Clan Melairkyn who went insane and betrayed Melairbode to drow invaders. Rumors tell that Belkram jumped headfirst into the lava tube in order to kill himself.


Halaster "The Mad Mage" Blackcloak
Halaster is believed to be a thousand (or more) year old wizard from ancient Netheril who traveled to the Sword Coast with seven apprentices to research powerful magic. He built his wizard's tower on the slope of Mount Waterdeep, and while digging below for his basements and cellars, he discovered the ancient stronghold of the Melairkyn Clan dwarves, which had recently been overrun by dark elves.
Halaster wanted the entire subterranean stronghold for himself, and he had the magical power to accomplish this goal. He killed or drove off most of the drow and killed or drove off any remaining dwarves, and he claimed all of Undermountain as his own.
He used it to store and experiment with rare magic items and spell components. He gated in monsters from all over Toril - and even from other planes - to protect his treasure. The Mad Mage was already a bit insane to begin with, but his time in Undermountain completely cracked his mind.
He wanted nothing more to do with The Lands Above and even ignored most of his apprentices - who also built their own lairs in sublevels of Undermountain. Soon, all Halaster wanted was to be entertained by watching his monsters and magical traps kill foolhardy adventurers and to acquire more magical power.

The Blackstaff
Khelben "Blackstaff" Arunson was the archmage of Waterdeep for many years. With his partner, Lady Laeral Silverhand (one of "The Seven Sisters), Khelben used his powerful magic and other resources to protect the city from the most dangerous of enemies.
However, a year ago, Khelben died and one of his star apprentices, Danillo Than, had since impersonated Khelben in his stead to hide that fact. He is now the current acting archmage of the City, holding the title of Blackstaff with Laeral's full support.

Jhessirya Kestleharp
One of Halaster's few surviving apprentices and the only one not to succumb to 'dungeon madness.' She escaped for a while, but came back and was ultimately destroyed by Halaster and/or one of his apprentices/monsters/traps? Became a living fire spell after hiding one of the last Horned Rings.

Trobriand ("The Metal Mage")
Another of the few remaining apprentices of Halaster. He was able to escape Undermountain before completely feeling the full maddening effect that long-term exposure to Undermountain apparently causes. He is still quite evil and power-hungry, though; and he still makes frequent but brief trips under the mountain for various purposes.
One of his goals is to purchase or otherwise acquire the Yawning Portal from Durnan, so he can rebuild Halaster's tower and reign as the most powerful wizard in Waterdeep.
He is an expert at building and enchanting metal constructs.

Durnan "the Wanderer" is an ex-barbarian adventurer from the Savage North. With his adventuring partner Mirt "the Merciless," he was one of the first to venture below Halaster's tower into Undermountain and return alive and laden with riches.
He tore down the abandoned wizard's tower and built The Yawning Portal inn in its place.
(Mirt used his new wealth to start a moneylending and pawn-broker business in the city.)
Both now retired from adventuring, they vicariously enjoy the exploits of the next generation of dungeon delvers.

Ellithral the Golden
A regular performing bard at The Yawning Portal, Ellithral loves gossip and hearing tales of adventure from those who brave Undermountain's depths. He was charmed by Errya to send adventurers down to buy maps and other items.

A perpetually drunken dwarf who lives in Skullport as proprietor of that town's favorite distillery.
He is secretly the heir to the Melairkyn crown and hates the drow who conquered his ancestors' stronghold.

Factions / Power Groups

The lords of the city
Waterdeep has only one official "open" lord: Piergeron the Paladinson, who acts as commander in chief of the City Guard, settles disputes between nobles and merchant guilds, and makes judgments on cases appealed from the lower Magister courts.
There are many secret "masked" lords, however, who meet in council to advise Piergeron on important decisions and decide on new legislation or whether to modify older laws.
Since very few citizens know who the masked lords are, they can live and work among the people of Waterdeep, watching the goings on at 'street level,' hearing rumors, and passing along information about possible wrong-doing to the City Watch.

The Watchful Order
Full title: The Watchful Order of Magists and Protectors. This consortium of powerful wizards, sorcerers, and clerics from many of the city's most influential temples acts as both an official 'Mages Guild' and official headquarters of magical defense for the city.
They help make sure that any other spellcasters in the city don't do anything too crazy or destructive, and they offer tutoring services and other resources, such as magic item creation laboratories for rent or spell books to borrow for reasonable fees.
If a threat is too big or too weird for the City Watch (police) or the City Guard (army) to handle, the Magists and Protectors are called upon to pool their magical resources to keep the city safe.

Halaster's Heirs / Arcanists' Academy
"Halaster's Heirs" is the nickname adopted by a new generation of ambitious spellcasters who want to obtain the magical knowledge and power of Halaster's former apprentices.
Two of "The Seven" - Trobriand and Arcturia - are active in teaching and encouraging these young 'Arcanists;' though, it is unclear what their motivations for doing so are.
The 'Heirs' have set up a base of operations called The Arcanists' Academy on the first (Dungeon) level of Undermountain, where they can learn and practice dangerous magic outside the jurisdiction of the Watchful Order.
Trobriand occasionally visits to offer encouragement and even to teach a few lessons in magic. Arcturia, however, stays deep below in her own demesne, only taking on the most capable and interesting students as apprentices.

Sundered dwarves (descendants of clan Melairkyn)
With Undermountain no longer under the control of the Mad Mage, some dwarves are coming to Waterdeep, hoping

Thunder Brothers (dwarf twins commanded by Dumathoin and Moradin to take back Melairbode)

The Grinning Skulls (orc tribe)
A tribe of orcs hired by (and paid well in food and weapons) Hlethvagi for kidnapping and smuggling.

Church of Loviatar / Hlethvagi / House Anteos
Hlethvagi is a noble of House Anteos and a priest of Loviatoar, the Goddess of Pain. He fronts as a legitimate small-time merchant, but mostly deals in slaves and smuggled/stolen goods.
He has a temple in Undermountain where kidnapped slaves are brought to provide entertainment at torture parties.

The Company of the Violet Wyrm
An adventuring group from Cormyr who came seeking a magic portal to Dragon Mountain.

The Rescue Rangers
Led by the elven bard Zanzi Tarnruth and her dwarven lieutenant, Hernan Brighthorn, RR take on 2-4 other adventurers to go on rescue/recovery quests.

The Unseen

Goblinoid Tribes (goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears)

The Red Sashes (vigilante group)

The Twisted Rune

- House Tanor-Thal
- Malakuth Manor / The Dark Dagger
- Promenade of the Dark Maiden / The Chosen of Eilistraee

Mercenary Companies


The Call

Spellplague and Sundering

The Seventimes


The Runestone of Gett

Yeldoon / Yeldoon’s Medallion

The Horned Ring

The Sword and Crown of Whitehelm

The Black Helm

The Crown Adamant


Soul Shards

The Weave

Spelljammer Ships
Few in the Realms know of these inter-sphere vehicles. At least 3 are in the Waterdeep/Undermountain region.

Teleport Portals
Undermountain contains many portals or "gates" that can teleport people, monsters, items to other locations in UM or elsewhere in the Realms.
Majority were put in place by Halaster, and combined with his Teleport Cage, they are the only magical ways in and out.