basiliv writes "In the hills west of the southern Vast Swamp lies a type of gnomish settlement that is rarely found in the Flanaess. It is a well-kept secret, and outsiders must be patient and honorable to gain the trust of these folk. Well defended and hidden, the community has much to offer a would-be conqueror.
When you throw sea elves into the mix, things start to get interesting...
(Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.)
Located in the hills west of the southern Vast Swamp, this type of gnomish settlement is rarely found in the Flanaess. It is a well-kept secret, and outsiders must be patient and honorable to gain the trust of these folk. Well defended and hidden, the community has much to offer a would-be conqueror.
The gnomish homes of Virdenhampf are fairly typical, though they tend to have more scenic views of the coast than is usual for these demihumans. It is in the mines of the area that the rare nature of this community is revealed. Descending forth from their burrows in all directions, the mines include many tunnels which extend beneath the waves of the Azure Sea. More importantly, the mines have reached a huge subterranean lake beneath the hills. How and why this has occurred is covered in more detail below.
Due to the extreme secrecy of the location, no outsiders are allowed the leave with knowledge of the gnomes. The community holds an unusually large number of wizards, and these arcane gnomes have developed a powerful, illusion-based variant of the forget spell to protect their privacy. The gnomes will capture intruders and subject them to multiple castings until the "guest" has been overcome by the magic.
If strangers are fortunate enough to engage in discussions with the noniz, they will find them helpful and courteous, but a bit distant. Trade is possible, though on a limited basis, and visitors do not feel pressed to leave. Indeed, the gnomes display an attitude of indifference toward their guests, which encourages most strangers to leave the community "of their own accord". The wily inhabitants know that a sense of urgency would only bring suspicion, and will always see to any needs their guests may have. Strangely, departing folk find that they cannot recall any details about the village, that it has left no real impression upon them, and that they have no idea where they found the community (details of this are left to the DM).
The only permanent inhabitant of a different race is a single high elf, Cobellas Lestrianne (N em F6/W4). While exploring southward from the Hollow Highlands, Cobellas came upon a group of gnomes engaged in a desperate combat against trolls. The elf's fire and acid-based spells were key to their victory, and the gnomes were generous with their appreciation. Badly wounded in the battle, the elf was nursed back to health by the clerics of the smaller folk. During his recuperation period, Cobellas learned to love the gnomes, and was entrusted with their secret. He is now just as committed to its secrecy as any gnomish miner, and he serves as interpreter and provides elven insights on defense (the gnomes are well versed in most procedures Cobellas suggests, but they allow the elf to feel superior).
A fairly atypical gnomish community, the village of Virdenhampf holds little excitement. The noniz raise goats on the fertile sides of the hills, but always keep their grazing facing seaward, to avoid the prying eyes of the denizens of the Vast Swamp. Small gardens are tended in fertile glens, and the gnomes do a bit of trading, but this is covered later.
The coast is shielded from detection through the liberal use of hallucinatory terrain and permanent illusion spells. Camouflaged tarps and other mundane methods are also used to give the illusion of a barren, uninhabited area.
Facing the water, the gnomes have found and expanded several ancient tunnels. The source of the tunnels remains unknown. They were certainly worked when the gnomes found them, though in a manner not familiar to them.
The rock of the area is of an unusually porous nature, making it easy to tunnel through. Strangely, water drains through it at the same rate as most stone, but water drainage can still present a problem when tunnels are so close to sea level. The gnomes have delved into the rock with vigor, and several flooded caverns have been circumnavigated by the industrious demihumans. Fortunately, the porous stone is easily tunneled through, and these folk have added chambers and side tunnels to suit their needs.
The tunnels leading toward the sea each end in large caverns, half-filled with sea water, with small auditoriums found in many of the chambers. These always face the sea, and the gnomes found that the ancient bench-like seats were carved to match their height. This was one of the first clues the folk had into the grand nature of their discovery.
These portals to the Azure were where the gnomes first encountered the sea elves. With cold relations at the onset, the two groups soon began to ignore one another, though each posted guards near the auditoriums in case of invasion. It was not until the Important Discovery (as it is now called) that the aquatic olve learned to respect and rely upon their land bound neighbors. The two groups now trade precious for precious, food for food, craft for craft. Were the Discovery never made, the two groups would still have benefited greatly from these trade relations, though it is most likely that they would never have taken place.
Eastward, the mines are fairly common noniz tunnels, with pitfalls and traps laid in dead-end corridors that all gnomes have learned to avoid. The rock actually becomes more porous as one heads toward the swamp, and the common belief is that further tunneling in that direction would be dangerous. This belief is not entirely due to the danger of cave-ins...
The Important Discovery
In their mad search for gemstones left in these raped hillsides, the gnomes broke through the wall of an ancient cavern. They were amazed to encounter the subterranean pech there, and were driven back before they could react. After regrouping, the gnomes returned. Their careful gestures of peace were understood, and the pech responded in a strange dialect which the gnomes had to assume was Svirfneblin. This gave them hope, for their deep gnome cousins had provided them with a means of communication, as well as an apparently favorable impression.
Trade began, and the gnomes were very patient and careful not to abuse the situation or offend their new allies. They felt they had been blessed by Segojan, for their knowledge of the pech indicated that such relations were nearly impossible, and they made every effort to make the most of the situation. They learned that this cavern connected with a portion of Underoerth, and the pech's knowledge of these environs could save many gnomish lives.
After several months, the pech revealed their discovery to their surface dwelling allies. After crossing through many narrow, natural tunnels, the gnomes were lead to an ancient city. Half buried in an underground lake, the city contained impossibly tall and delicate spires, crystal domes, and shell mosaics. The pech told the gnomes of the kuo-toans who had once inhabited the city, and that they had been consumed from within by an evil insanity. The pech have been careful to avoid the place, for fear of polluting their people with this curse.
Of course, the natural curiosity of the gnomes got the best of them, and they were soon carefully searching the ruins. What they found amazed them. The architecture had appeared familiar, though obscure, but it was not until the discovery of certain murals that the truth dawned upon them: this was once a sea elf city! How this huge community came to be underground was unimaginable, but the gnomes instantly realized the value of such a find. With the help of the pech, the gnomes sealed off all but the smallest and most easily defended passages leading to the city, and began exploring in earnest.
Due to the strained relations between them, the sea elves were not informed of the discovery until much later. Deep within a hidden chamber, the gnomes unearthed the fabled Trident of Sashelas. This powerful weapon was obviously a relic of the god of the sea elves, and the gnomes now understood their role in the scheme of things, and informed the aquatic olve of their findings. Amazed and enthusiastic, the sea elves were soon brought to visit the ruins.
The problem soon became apparent. The gnomes could not move the Trident, as it was somehow encased in a crystalline material which they could not penetrate. None of the three groups were familiar with the substance, and it was deeply embedded into the flooring of the chamber. Excavation since its discovery revealed that the substance extends, in one continuous body, beneath the entire chamber & beyond. Relations for the three groups have remained stable and mutually beneficial since that time.
What the gnomes get out of this
Clearly, the sea elves gain from this venture. The pech have stated they do not know the area, yet they already have powerful allies in the gnomes, and well as a huge variety of trade goods from the elves. But what do the gnomes get out of this? They are the ones pinned down here, unable to swim away, and ignorant enough to make a descent into the depths of the earth into a suicide mission. So why stay?
Simply put, these gnomes feel that they found the ruins, and the Trident, for a reason. Why did Segojan choose them to try to retrieve the relic? They don't know. They don't like the situation, but they trust in their gods enough to believe that they will prevail.
Beyond the feeling of being "called" to this site, the gnomes feel that they currently have no other place to go. They have grown quite fond of the pech, and relations with the aquatic olve have become downright friendly. To the west lies the sea, to the east the Vast Swamp, & to the south the deadly Tilvanot Peninsula.
While many other gnomes and dwarves live to the north, these gnomes moved to this region in hopes of escaping the constant skirmishes with the Great Kingdom, so returning would seem a huge step backward. While help from the demihumans to the north would seem logical, the gnomish and elven priests all agree that no outside groups should become involved; the danger of drawing the attention of a powerful force of evil to this site is much too great. This only encourages the feeling of station and calling which nearly every gnome in Virdenhampf embraces.
What treasures or rewards the gnomes hope to achieve through this endeavor is anyone's guess, but they appear very convinced that it is well worth the effort.
1) The gnomes cannot read the sea elf glyphs, and the elves cannot remain away from the sea for long enough to make the process anything but trying. The narrow and twisting nature of the paths leading to the city make the trek lengthy, especially for the much larger frames of the olve. The gnomes are using most of their manpower to try to unearth the crystal substance, so it will take quite some time to clear the tunnels they intentionally demolished so they can better accommodate the elves. Gnomish engineers are attempting to develop a contraption which will lengthen the time the aquatic elves are able to venture from the water, but things have not gone well so far.
2) The gnomes and pech live in constant fear of attack by subterranean denizens. The pech have indicated that they are fairly new to the area (where they could have come from, the gnomes can only guess), and are not familiar with the locals. Powerful (or numerous) groups would not be hindered for long by their efforts, and the vacuum left by the kuo-toans will surely be noticed soon enough.
3) The constant threat of discovery by overland explorers, seagoing vessels, or even aerial observation remains very real. This area has been isolated for quite some time, but the recent activities in South Province and the Scarlet Brotherhood may send explorers their way. It is also possible that pilgrims seeking solace from these two groups may stumble onto them. The current balance in the situation is very precarious, and an outside influence may easily spell the end of this operation.
4) The Vast Swamp is full of grung, bullywugs, lizardmen, and other gnome-hating foes. With the cult of Wastri based within the bog, the gnomes keep a constant, nervous vigil to the east.
Of course, the events below will vary from campaign to campaign, but here are some possible scenarios which may alter the current state of affairs listed above:
1) The sea elves of the area have recently fallen victim to a severe increase in sahuagin raids. This has made them extremely anxious to retrieve the Trident from the ruins, though no new breakthroughs in this have been made.
2) The Scarlet Brotherhood has recently increased their explorations from Spine Ridge. Generally the initial parties would be humanoids, but missing groups would need to be accounted for.
3) The cult of Wastri has become much more active of late. The Scarlet Brotherhood accessory sites the porous rock of the area as a possible drainage source for the Vast Swamp, possibly leading to a subterranean lake. Perhaps the cultists know some secret passages beneath the swamp which lead to the ruins...
4) The new activities of the remnants of the Great Kingdom could cause direct encroachments by their forces, or they could drive the good folk of the former Kingdom to explore, flee, or otherwise wind up in Virdenhampf.
5) Any number of possible Underoerth groups would have a very real possibility of discovering the ruins. While drow are heavily used in Greyhawk, Lolth may be particularly interested in this venture. Also, a vengeful group of kuo-toans would fit very nicely.
6) The pech are new to the area, but from where?
If the DM wishes pech to be creatures of Elemental Earth, then perhaps a vortex to the plane remains open, allowing visitation from any number of creatures (creatures who may not be pleased at finding that an oceanic relic has been unearthed (pardon the pun)). If the DM wishes the pech to be from the Prime Material Plane, then the possibilities are nearly endless. Did the pech arrive with the Rhennee? The beholders? The illithids? Perhaps they are more closely related to the Grivelings (from Vale of the Mage) than they would appear to be...
7) Any Outer Planar group (or any evil group in general) opposed to Deep Sashelas would work to prevent this relic from returning to the forces of good.
This has been left ambiguous on purpose, to allow for campaign variants. Many topics touched on here are only hinted at in other products. For example, while the Scarlet Brotherhood accessory indicates that a local link to Underoerth is suspected (I will detail this link in a future writeup), the DM may instead wish to limit these realms to the Hellfurnaces & the Cairns Hills. If this is the case, the ruins may be in a cavern completely enclosed, with the pech having arrived in an unknown fashion. The ruins may never have held kuo-toans (or any other beings) since the elves.
The Trident of Sashelas, the history, and future of the caverns and amphitheatre will be detailed at some point in the future, but that is part of a much bigger, long-term project and should not be expected soon.
Please feel free to change this to suit your campaign, but please do not repost this without permission.
Many thanks for ideas & inspiration to Sean Reynolds' Scarlet Brotherhood accessory. Also, thanks for the original idea to Roger Moore's "Gnomish Point of View" article in Dragon # 61.
Written by Jim Temple
Note: Gnomes, Sea Elves, Vast Swamp"