The Magic Tree


The best of the web – magical, mythical and majestical! Fantasy and Mythic websites and materials/downloads. Roleplaying, Tabletop and Esoteric Games.

Dragon Roots

Researchers have long noticed the universality of dragon lore, and many have tried to explain why this monster is so common in world mythology. Both a Munich geology professor and American astronomer Carl Sagan have suggested that an ancient memory—carried in genes inherited from our mammalian ancestors—is responsible for an inborn fear of large reptiles. Prehistoric memories of dinosaurs seep from our subconscious into our impressions of the world, according to this theory, and turn old nightmares into legend.

These fears may have been confirmed in people’s minds whenever they accidentally uncovered fossilized dinosaur skeletons, seemingly real proof that such creatures existed. Some ancient saurians still live, however. The Komodo dragon, a lizard named after the Indonesian island where Westerners first learned of it in 1912, is the living creature that most closely resembles a traditional dragon. These carnivorous monsters may grow to more than 12 feet in length, and can eat large mammals such as goats. They are related to a fairly recently extinct Australian monitor lizard that could reach three times that length. Although they don’t breathe fire or fly, Komodo dragons still present a very formidable appearance and might easily provoke terror-stricken witness reports of dragons if encountered unexpectedly.

Author Peter Costello believes that human craft may have played a role equal to that of nature in reinforcing the idea of dragons. From the early to late Middle Ages, he says in The Magic Zoo, the custom of using giant, fluttering windsock dragons as battlefield banners spread from Asia to Europe. Each banner held a flaming torch to present the daunting illusion of a flying, fire-breathing dragon, and may have helped turn the tide of many medieval battles. At night, in the heat of battle, the billowing figures may have appeared real, and those who lived to tell the tale probably swore they battled dragons.

Steal This Hook - Threads That Connect

by Robert Wiese

You've come up with a fantastic, even epic, adventure site and a long quest that should keep your player characters occupied for months. Or, you've picked up Scepter Tower of Spellgard, for example, and can't wait to run it. But does all your hard work have to go for only the one adventure? Not at all! The world and all things are interconnected somehow, so you can use the information in your epic background or setting to drive side adventures or future adventures. You can even introduce your epic adventure through a side adventure that features story elements from the main epic.
This month's hooks are all geared toward the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, newly updated for 4th edition just a few months ago. And they all link somehow with, or into, the recently released Forgotten Realms adventure Scepter Tower of Spellgard. They are easy to adapt to your campaign world, though, as is Scepter Tower of Spellgard.

Looking for more information on the 4th Edition Forgotten Realms? Bruce Cordell’s Plague of Spells has just come out, along with a sample chapter, interview with the author, and even a campaign workbook article on Starmantle available online.

The Smoking Cave

Forgotten Realms
The road to Spellgard passes between the Graypeak Mountains and the Weathercote Wood. From the road, the Graypeaks are some distance away (more than a couple miles, but not more than 4 miles). Even at that distance, however, something strange can be seen at night high up in the mountains. Reports come from different sources of a glowing green smoke or mist that rises from the mountains in the evening. Here are a number of ways you can introduce the green smoke:
  • Travelers coming to Spellgard tell stories at the Monastery of the Precipice in which they saw some glowing green smoke or mist in the mountains while they camped. They speculated that some wizard was doing experiments in a remote fortress, but the glowing smoke was so far away that they decided not to investigate.
  • Equally, traders in taverns just about anywhere in the region could relate stories of glowing green smoke and being chased away from a cave by fierce magic and monstrous creatures such as young green dragons, wyverns, carnage demons, or whatever else you want to introduce into the adventure.
  • The PCs could see the glowing smoke themselves as they travel to or from Spellgard. It comes out only at night and is quite bright against the darkness.
  • A seeker is told by Lady Saharel that the answer she seeks is in the cavern of the green fog, which is supposedly nearby. This seeker begins asking others at the monastery and in seeker camps if they know of a cave with green fog. Either someone does, or she can attempt to hire the PCs to help her look. The seeker could also be encountered in a town some distance from Spellgard, having not found anyone at the site to help her.
Story Elements
Select or generate story elements from this table, or make up your own.
1-20: The smoke is caused by a wizard who has built an underground fortress in the Graypeak Mountains. He wants privacy for some dastardly experiments on animals and demons. The cave is an air hole for the fortress, and the smoke is just escaping from his experimental chamber. An air shaft at the end of the cave grows too narrow for anyone to pass through it, but another entrance is somewhere on the same mountain.
21-40: The cave is a side exit for a green dragon's lair. The glowing mist is the visible form of several living breaths that this dragon has created. Like bats, they go out at night to prey on creatures, and they return in the morning when they are not so visible in the dawn light.
When it comes to powerful liches, January’s Open Grave offers a number of new options, including the baelnorn (eladrin), thicket dryad, void, alhoon, and demiliches. Here’s one of the demiliches powers, a standard, at-will ranged attack:
Drain Soul
Ranged 5; does not provoke opportunity attacks; +25 vs. Fortitude; the target is dazed and restrained (save ends both). First Failed Saving Throw: The target is instead stunned and restrained (save ends both). Second Failed Saving Throw: The target dies, and its soul is trapped in one of the demilich’s soul gems until the demilich is destroyed; see also consume soul and the “Fate of Drained Souls” sidebar (page 201).
41-60: The green mist is part of a warding system designed to protect the lair of a powerful lich. The glowing fog is supposed to keep people from coming too close, since they won't know what is causing it. It has worked so far.
61-80: The glowing mist is an acidic elemental creature that has been trapped in the cave. It has recently figured out how to leave the cave itself, but it cannot go more than a few hundred feet from the cave mouth. It has been going out nightly, hoping to attract some creature that can help it escape its bonds permanently. It is bound to a magic circle that could be part of a wizard's lab or an old demonic base of operations.
81-100: Beyond the glowing mist is a small dungeon formed by ruins from an ancient time, perhaps ancient Netheril. Netherese settled the area, and one of them could have made a private lair in the mountain. The lair is now full of guardians, traps, and maybe treasure.

How'd They Get So Good?

Forgotten Realms
The PCs are at the Monastery of the Precipice in the ruins of Spellgard, or perhaps at a camp on the road that they are sharing with the dwarven trading caravan heading toward Spellgard. Thurr Gargengrim, the caravan master, has taken a liking to them and imparts this bit of news in the course of conversation.

"Yes, the Gargengrim clan has been profiting from the Monastery of the Precipice's whiskey for close to twenty years now, and that relationship is as strong as ever. It's at home where the danger threatens. In the past weeks, ogres from the surrounding mountains have been raiding our work parties and outposts. They always do, of course, but they've suddenly gotten a lot better at it. For years we've been chasing off disorganized bands of the creatures, but now they're the ones doing the chasing. Our mineral production is down, and with it our ability to trade. Whenever we send scouting groups into the mountains after them, the scouts don't return or they don't find anything. It's a problem, and one that seems beyond our clan's ability to handle. I keep up the trade with the monastery, and sell the whiskey for them, but it might all be for naught soon enough."
Hopefully the PCs are interested in looking into the strange goings-on with the ogres.
Possible Motivations
Select or generate possible motivations from this table, or make up your own.
01-35: Thurr is telling the truth, and though he doesn't expect the PCs to help, he'd sure like some offers from someone. He tells this news a lot, casting his net wide so that he can catch an interested fish or two.
36-65: Thurr is telling the truth, but he received word of a prophecy (some dwarves met with Lady Saharel) that said to look for their solution from the PCs (you get to add the appropriate descriptive if needed). Thurr has identified the PCs as those spoken of in the prophecy and is crafting his words carefully to get them interested without overtly telling them about the prophecy. He is afraid of ruining it somehow and having his people suffer because he handled the information incorrectly.
66-100: Thurr is telling part of the truth. There are ogres, but they are not nearly as dangerous as he makes them out to be. His people would just like them eliminated, and they don't have the stomach to massacre the ogres themselves. They'd rather dupe someone else into doing the dirty work.
Story Elements
Select or generate story elements from this table, or make up your own.
01-25: A group of ogres in the mountains surrounding the Gargengrim dwarf clan has recently come under the control of a hag who wants to force her authority on the dwarves in the region.
26-50: A band of orcs has settled in the same lands as the dwarf clan and wants to drive out the dwarves. They are using the ogres to do the dirty work. Combined with the third motive above, this could make an interesting adventure once the "tools" figure out what is really going on.
51-75: A dead dwarf is sprawled in a clearing at the edge of the mountains. The clearing was her campsite, and she was murdered. She had discovered a new cache of gold or valuable minerals in the mountains and was killed to protect the secret of the location. This might be because the ogres and their masters want the wealth, or perhaps it was just to keep more dwarves from having reasons to come into the mountains.
76-100: Monsters much worse than the ogres are at the leader's beck and call, or at least available through alliances and payment deals. These monsters become problems for the PCs once they get into the mountains.

A Little Digging

Forgotten Realms
Far from Spellgard, or perhaps in the Monastery of the Precipice itself, the adventurers end up in a cozy chat with a certain traveler. Or, perhaps they overhear the traveler talking with a friend in the bar. Whichever way it happens, the conversation is the same.
In the text below, the traveler didn't hear anything from a "cousin," so feel free to substitute someone else in the boxed text (and see "Possible Motivations" below) if you wish.
Read the following aloud:
"That travelers' aid monastery at Spellgard -- they call it the Monastery of the Precipice. Though, whether it's actually on a precipice I don't know. Anyway, I hear tell that it's sitting on top of some powerful artifact. That's right, an artifact, and from the days before the Spellplague too. Now that I have your interest . . ." The talker takes another drink of beer and continues. "What was I saying? Oh, the artifact, yeah. Well, the story is that some adventurer was confronted by the Lady of Saharelgard and he then gave up his adventurin' and built the monastery. But why? Just to make it easy on travelers? Not likely, I tell ya.
"My cousin told me he went to this Spellgard and saw the ghost there, and she told him that some artifact was buried underneath the monastery. Something called the Chaos Diamond, supposedly with the powers of the elemental chaos itself. My cousin was afraid to go find it, or even to think about it, and killed himself shortly after, poor soul. But I find it mighty interestin' myself, though I don't know quite how to get the thing without some help."
If he's with the PCs, he asks if they're interested in an artifact.
Possible Motivations
Select or generate possible motivations from this table, or make up your own.
01-20: The traveler is the "cousin" of whom he spoke. He made a pilgrimage to Spellgard to find a powerful artifact that was close. He wants help to begin ruling the world (or his small part of it, or even just knock off a rival -- choose a power level for the artifact that suits your campaign).
21-40: The traveler met the "cousin" who told him about the artifact, and then killed the "cousin" off so that he would be the only living person to know of it. Now he realizes he needs a bit of help getting it.
41-60: The traveler is a harmless person who hears a lot of stories and evokes confidences from people easily. The "cousin," who is really unknown to him, related the story one night a few weeks ago in a tavern much like the one where the PCs hear the story.
61-80: The "cousin" is the traveler's sister/brother/parent, and the "cousin" has been put under magical compulsion to find this artifact. The traveler is worried and really wants to hire the PCs to find and protect his relative on the quest, or break the compulsion that drives the relative.
81-100: The traveler is the disguised supernatural agent of a deity (good or evil) who wants or needs the artifact but cannot reach it.
Story Elements
Select or generate story elements from this table, or make up your own.
01-20: The Monastery of the Precipice was built on some older ruins from the time of ancient Netheril, which predate even Spellgard. Lady Saharel knew that this artifact would be dangerous for the world, and she acted to conceal it before anyone asked her about it (or related topics).
21-40: The artifact, called the Chaos Diamond, harnesses the elemental chaos of nature and existence and uses it to transform one thing into another, on a large scale. It has been all but forgotten, until the "cousin" in the story asked about the artifact.
41-60: The artifact is actually a primordial that yearns for release so that it can destroy something (or everything -- pick something useful for your campaign). Lady Saharel knows this and has been trying to keep the artifact secret and buried, but the artifact forced her to tell someone. Lady Saharel has more information to help the PCs reach and contain or destroy the artifact, but they must meet her through the method described in Scepter Tower of Spellgard.
61-80: The artifact does not want to be carried/used by just anyone, and it must test those who seek it. It can transform the very walls of its prison into defenders, so the PCs could face pretty much anything. It likes to make challenges very difficult but able to be overcome, since it does want to find someone it feels is worthy to carry it.
81-100: Getting to the artifact is a bit of a trick, since it is located in ruins beneath the Monastery of the Precipice and there are no convenient passages. The PCs have to find where to dig and do a lot of manual labor just to reach a way into the prison.

About the Author

Robert Wiese has been playing D&D since 1978 after he watched a game played in the car on the way home from a Boy Scouts meeting. He was fascinated, and delved into this strange world of dragons and magic and sourcebooks. Years later, he was hired to edit tournaments for the RPGA Network, and from there progressed to running the network after his boss was assassinated in the great Christmas purge of 1996. Times were tough, but he persevered and brought the RPGA into a shining new era. Eventually he met a girl who liked to play D&D too, and he left Renton for the warmth and casinos of Reno, Nevada. Now, he works in the Pharmacology department of UNR studying mouse foot muscles and the effects of RF emissions on same. He spends as much time as possible with his wife Rhonda, son Owen, and newborn daughter Rebecca.

Steal This Hook - Threats of Legendary Evil

by Robert Wiese

The wilderness is a known place of danger, and usually that danger comes in great numbers. However, sometimes numbers are not needed, as the rush of air or the crackling of twigs can come from only a single dangerous threat. One monster in the wilds can be as much danger as many, and can be equally hard to root out…. or it could be very easy to find but not as easy to be rid of. With the upcoming release of D&D Minis Legendary Evils—and some new minis in your collection—you might add some single creature fun into your campaign with the following hooks.

Answer Me These Questions Three

To the right, the mountains rise toward the sky. You have been following them for days now, as your destination is at the other end of the range. Periodically, roads branch towards the mountains, and from one of these you see a group of puzzled and somewhat battered travelers come toward you.
“Don’t go this way, travelers. If you must traverse the mountains, find another pass. A sphinx guards the way ahead, and we failed its challenge."
Story Elements
Select or generate story elements from this table.
1. The travelers are adventurers (but of lower level than the PCs) who were going into the next valley looking for a great treasure that is rumored to be buried in a crypt in that valley. They could not answer the sphinx’s riddle and it would not let them pass, so they were forced to retreat.
2. You might have these travelers give the riddle to the PCs so they have a head start at solving it, although (as you wish) the sphinx could ask a different riddle of every traveler it encounters.
3. The sphinx is in league with a green dragon that lives in the valley. They are trying to remove the great treasure that they discovered. While the dragon removes it, the sphinx delays or deters travelers. The dragon could double-cross the sphinx, or not.
4. The sphinx doesn’t know about a treasure. It does know that something with a great curse was buried in that valley years ago, and the sphinx is tasked with keeping people away from it. If you want, you could have this be a descendant of the original sphinx, still with the same task. In this case, the evil was buried in the valley centuries ago, perhaps during a past war that collapsed the kingdom that once was here.
5. For monsters you can use a sphinx (MM1) or a sphinx of mystery (MM2). You could also use a creature that acts like a sphinx (gives riddles) but has very different powers and may not look like a sphinx at all, such as the rimefire griffon, minotaur thug, or scarecrow stalker.
6. A human from one of the towns in the region made friends with the sphinx years ago, and has a secret phrase to bypass the sphinx’s danger. The human is trying to gain a great treasure or harness a great evil in the small valley beyond the sphinx.

Bad Dog!

The PCs are in town late at night, somewhere near a tavern and close to the outskirts of the town or city. As they are walking along, or rescuing someone from a mugging, or mugging someone, they see a drunk man wander aimlessly toward them. At least, he initially appears drunk. He is also covered in scratches, some of them bleeding. He seems disoriented and doesn’t even know he’s been injured. If asked, he says that he saw a dog, a two-legged dog, but doesn’t remember anything else.
Story Elements
Select or generate story elements from this table.
1. The man was attacked by a two-legged dog-like creature, such as a werewolf (MM) or a barghest (MM2). He did not fight off the creature; in fact he did not fight at all. The creature was tearing into him when it was called off or distracted by something, or heard the watch patrol coming and fled.
2. The creature, whatever it is, haunts the outskirts of the town or city and picks off lone stragglers. It could take them for food, or it could be working with a cult and taking them for sacrifice.
3. The creature is cursed, and to remove the curse it has to bathe in the blood of certain types of people. All of the victims have fit this profile. The drunk man would have sufficed; the creature was desperate due to ritual timing.
4. The creature is actually a large canine, like a dire wolf or even a worg. Its master has a vendetta against certain people in the city, and is killing these people or their relatives (for inspiration, you might consider watching the film Brotherhood of the Wolf). There is a definite pattern to the murders. The drunk man was mistaken for someone else, or he could be part of the master's plan after all.
5. The creature is actually a possessing spirit that transforms its hosts into two-legged canines. When it attacks someone, it transfers to the new host and the old one dies. The spirit is looking for someone in town, and uses the knowledge of the new host to choose a target. However, it is a fairly random process as the spirit looks for its true target.
6. There are several creatures in an alliance, but only one comes out at time to disguise their numbers. They have a lair outside of town and are hunting in the town in the same way that hunters go to the wild to kill creatures for food.

Predator on the Loose

The PCs are traveling down the road in a sparsely populated area near some farmland. Everything has been very ordinary until they pass a mound of pig manure just off the road. As they get close, the mound moves and a man sticks his head up from it. “Is it gone?” he asks you breathlessly.
The man is Stavin, a farmhand from the nearest farm to this location. He says that he was working in the fields when he heard an awful screechy roar. Then he saw it – a huge, bloated blue creature with long claws extending from the back of its hands. He ran for it and it started after him. Luckily for Stavin, he passed the pig sty while fleeing and the monster was sidetracked by easier prey. He doesn’t know how long ago that was; he’s been hiding here inside the mound the whole time. He might even have fallen asleep. The farm is about half a mile away, and he’ll take the PCs there if they want.
There is some comedic value to this scene, so if your players like comedy have Stavin's big dog stick its head out of the mound too.
Story Elements
Select or generate story elements from this table.
1. The creature that Stavin saw is a talon slaad (and templated as a slaad spawner (MM2 pg. 185).
2. The slaad was summoned by a wizard to its ferocity and ability to produce slaad spawns. The wizard is trying to harvest them and train them to be guard beasts. This one escaped and has been looking for food ever since.
3. This is not the first farm to be attacked. Slaads desire a lot of food (and mayhem). The PCs can find other farms with dead animals or even dead farmers. The trail of destruction should lead back to the creature’s makeshift lair, or the wizard that summon it.
4. The slaad may not have escaped from the wizard, but was intentionally released to spread its slaad spawns across the farmlands knowing what they would do. The wizard wants the farmers gone.
5. There is more than one of these creatures. In fact, there’s a whole nest of them now that several spawn have already been created. More of them are marauding around the region, and they all have to be stopped.

About the Author

Robert Wiese has been playing D&D since 1978 after he watched a game played in the car on the way home from a Boy Scouts meeting. He was fascinated, and delved into this strange world of dragons and magic and sourcebooks. Years later, he was hired to edit tournaments for the RPGA Network, and from there progressed to running the network after his boss was assassinated in the great Christmas purge of 1996. Times were tough, but he persevered and brought the RPGA into a shining new era. Eventually he met a girl who liked to play D&D too, and he left Renton for the warmth and casinos of Reno, Nevada. Now, he works in the Pharmacology department of UNR studying mouse foot muscles and the effects of RF emissions on same. He spends as much time as possible with his wife Rhonda, son Owen, and newborn daughter Rebecca.