Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Return to Thedas: Dwarrowdeep [Spoilers for my players]

(image source)

A few months ago I started thinking about continuing the Dragon Age campaign which was the first campaign I GM'd when I started our weekly sessions. 

Well, in the months since I have decided to go ahead with that, and have bought a copy of Dwarrowdeep as the template for the campaign.

The basis of the campaign is that Rolf Khundar (a PC in our first campaign), heir to the throne of Khundara Thaig lost to the darkspawn almost a thousand years ago, had discovered the gate to the lost thaig, and had petitioned the Assembly to help him recover the thaig. When the Assembly voted to deny his request, he denounced the Assembly, and declared that he will recover the thaig without the aid of the Assembly, but with the help of any dwarf, man, or elf who will join his quest, promising them a place in his new kingdom.

While his move was condemned by many of the dwarven nobles, many casteless dwarves decided to throw their lot in with him, hoping to escape the caste system in Orzammar. As his party of exiles traveled south, overland, news spread, and many Surface dwarves and adventurers joined him.

The band was granted the use of a small area of land near the discovered gate by the Arl of Redcliffe, where Rolf built a great hall and began gathering supplies and more men to stage his mission. Eventually they were able to drive out the darkspawn in the halls of the South Gate, and retake the area. Their success cost them many lives, but drew even more adventurers to Khundara Thaig. Now, with their stores filled with supplies bought by the riches they have recovered and newly harvested grain and preserved meat, they begin their campaign to retake the rest of the thaig.

The idea of dwarves retaking an underground kingdom from evil humanoids isn't a new or uncommon one - in fact, I learned from one of my players that Return to Moria is going to be released in 2023 - but the politics of Thedas makes the situation a little more complicated and therefore interesting.

The recovery of a dwarven thaig will have major economic and political consequences to several major players in Ferelden.

Firstly, there is the issue of its relationship with Orzammar. The High King and the Assembly have chosen not to back the mission, but once Khundara Thaig is restored, their pride will not allow the existence of an independent dwarven realm, and they will no doubt demand homage and allegiance. Adding to this is the fact that Prince Bhelen, son of the reigning High King and a contender to the throne, is secretly sympathetic to Rolf's cause, believing that expansion, trade with the surface, and granting more rights to the casteless is the only way to save the declining dwarven race. If Bhelen can secure Khundara Thaig's allegiance by giving aid to Rolf (secretly), it will no doubt help in his bid for the throne. At the same time, the king's Second and also contender to the throne, Lord Harrowmont, is a traditionalist who has the support of the majority of the nobles, and someone who has reasons to want the mission to fail. No doubt both men are keeping a close eye on the success of the thaig, and will intervene when they feel they need to.

Then there are the local Fereldens, to whom the land nominally belong to. Rolf was granted small plot of land to build his great hall on, with no rights to build fortifications, due to the aid he rendered the Arl of Redcliffe during the darkspawn incursion during our first campaign. While it was convenient to the Fereldens to have a friendly armed force guarding a known gate to the Deep Roads, the presence of a new dwarven kingdom at one's doorstep is another matter altogether. If the thaig thrives, then the silver made from taxing the trade of goods to and from it will make the Arl more powerful. But if the thaig fails, then having so many armed and dangerous men with no money and no prospects is just a disaster waiting to happen.

Among these desperate men are apostate mages, who have fled persecution in Ferelden to seek a new home in a dwarven kingdom. While the land outside nominally belongs to Ferelden, their authority has not traditionally extended into lost dwarven kingdoms. If the thaig thrives and draws more apostate mages to its ranks, then is only a matter of time before the Chantry can no longer turn a blind eye to the existence of so many apostate mages in the realm of Ferelden.

Finally, there are the Avvars, who deem the mountain realm their own. While relationship between the Avvars and the Dwarves have always been cordial, the success of the thaig will no doubt draw more and more lowlanders to the region, creating more opportunities for tension and conflict.

On top of all these is the issue of lyrium, the mineral that possess magical properties. Currently, Orzammar has a monopoly on the lyrium trade, with the Chantry being the sole legitimate buyer. If and when lyrium is discovered and mined in Khundara Thaig (spoiler alert: it will be), this will cause a disruption in the market that will have major consequences.

I assume the lyrium trade to be a major source of income for Orzammar, so any competitor in the market will be a major threat to the kingdom. Orzammar will either have to gain control over the supply of lyrium from Khundara, or else shut it down.

For the Chantry, the source of lyrium outside of their control also poses an existential threat: the Chantry relies on lyrium to train and control its military arm the Templars. While most templars are loyal to the Chantry, the risk of losing control over their warriors is one the Chantry may decide they cannot afford. This puts the Ferelden Chantry in a difficult position: how can they make a deal with Khundara Thaig to control the supply of the lyrium when the latter are openly sheltering apostate mages?

As you can see, there are multiple factions which the players will have to interact with on top of the business of exploring the thaig and killing darkspawn.

Fortunately for me, Dragon Age RPG actually has rules for organisations, which I think I will use to adjudicate some of the interactions.

As for the actual dungeon-crawling, I am not yet certain how I will run that. I do know for sure that I will not run the dungeon "as is" (something which I think is actually impossible to do). That will require more thought and will be the topic of another post.

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