Princes of the Apocalypse
Dessarin Valley and Red Larch
The rise of Elemental Evil in Faerun begins in the Dessarin Valley, a lightly settled region of caravan towns, isolated homesteads, and uninhabited wilderness just a week’s journey from Waterdeep. Nothing of note to the wider world has happened here for hundreds of years. The frontier long ago receded farther northward, leaving behind a quiet backwater littered with ruins. These days, the Dessarin Valley has little in common with the popular conception of the Savage Frontier. Winters are hard here, but the hordes of orcs and other hungry monsters are a long way off from these parts.
If the Dessarin Valley isn’t quite as wild and lawless as it once was, it’s still lightly settled territory that serves as a route to distant lands. Residents in places such as Red Larch or Triboar boast that their humble settlements are “the Gateway to the North.” Through these lands pass hundreds of caravans and keelboats each year, linking the great ports of Waterdeep and Neverwinter with places such as Everlund, Mirabar, or Silverymoon. The steady caravan traffic breathes life into the towns of this area, supporting businesses in the settlements along the Long Road. Inns cater to travelers anxious to sleep safely within sturdy walls and enjoy good food by a warm fire instead of camping by the side of the road.
In addition to catering to caravans and travelers heading to or from the far North, the Dessarin Valley is a breadbasket for the hungry populations of Waterdeep and Neverwinter. The farms and pastures of the area produce grain, livestock, poultry, apples, and hops, then ship them downriver (or drive them down the Long Road) to the coast. Few people become rich from farming, but farmers in the region do well for themselves provided the weather cooperates. (That’s one reason why the unusual weather lately has been a concern.)
H i s t o r y
Most people who live in the Dessarin Valley have no idea of its long history. Old-timers nodding sagely by the hearths of the local taprooms sometimes observe, “These lands, they have old bones.” Most locals have no idea of how right they are. While some truly ancient ruins in this area go back to the days of the first great elf kingdoms, none of these figure into the story of this adventure. The earliest realm that does is the shield dwarf kingdom of Besilmer, which was founded nearly six thousand years ago in -4420 DR. Its existence is so far back in the mists of history that only a handful of non-dwarf sages have even heard of it. Most people of the Dessarin Valley don’t know Besilmer at all, but they are familiar with two of its works: the engineering marvel known as the Stone Bridge and the crumbling ruins known as the Halls of the Hunting Axe.
The realm of Besilmer was something rare: a dwarven kingdom built on the surface, with its strength measured in fields and pastures. It prospered for a time but was plagued by trolls and giants. The dwarves were obliged to build a stronghold underground, carving out the fortress-city of Tyar-Besil a century after Besilmer’s founding. Unfortunately for the dwarves, the realm collapsed after its king and founder died in battle. Most of the surviving dwarves sought safer lands. The dwarven city beneath the Sumber Hills was abandoned by -4160 DR and then forgotten.
Tyar-Besil slumbered in darkness for many long centuries, occasionally discovered and occupied by monsters or ambitious miners, only to be abandoned again. It came to light again in 893 DR, when a group of adventurers who called themselves the Knights of the Silver Horn discovered the ruins. Over the next six years they returned again and again, eventually founding strongholds of their own to safeguard the hidden entrances to the sprawling dungeon.
The knights had some success in clearing small domains in the wild Sumber Hills, but only a few years later the powerful orc realm of Uruth Ukrypt arose nearby, and the Dessarin Valley became a battlefield. Trouble followed on trouble: the Orcfastings War, the First and Second Trollwars, and finally a series of vicious drow raids. By the year 942 DR, human settlements in the Dessarin Valley had been all but wiped out, and the Knights of the Silver Horn were no more. Their strongholds crumbled into ruin and became known in later years as the Haunted Keeps. Eventually, no one remembered who built them or why.
The current wave of settlement in and around the Dessarin Valley began after 1000 DR, coinciding with Waterdeep’s growth from a warlord’s stronghold into a major city. The first small outposts that would grow into places such as Red Larch and Triboar were carved out of a wild and untamed land. People resettling the Dessarin Valley found the remains of “kingdoms of old” scattered here and there throughout the area.
C u r r e n t E v e n t s
Minor issues are nothing unusual in the Dessarin Valley. Bands of savage humanoids from the Sword Mountains or the Evermoors occasionally raid here. Human barbarians known as the Uthgardt roam these lands, and the more aggressive tribes can be very dangerous. Bandits sometimes gather in the lonelier parts of the vale to waylay caravans traveling the Long Road or the Kheldell Path. Every now and then reckless or unlucky adventurers manage to stir up some ancient curse in the ruins scattered around the area. Constables of valley settlements are usually up to the task of restoring the peace.
Six months ago, an insidious new threat began to grow in the area, unsuspected by the locals or any passing adventurers. Dreams and visions drew four elemental prophets, one by one, to secret hideaways. Each prophet began to gather like-minded followers. Strangers trickled into the Dessarin Valley in ones or twos. Some were already cultists of Elemental Evil, eager to build a place where they could openly practice their vile rites. Others were brutal thugs, power-hungry dabblers in forbidden magic, or fanatics lured by the call of evil. At first the cultists valued secrecy above all else, but as their numbers grew and they established their strongholds, they turned their attention to expanding their hold on the Dessarin Valley.
The presence of so many malefactors has caused a spate of banditry, kidnappings, murders, and raids. The cultists have also upset the weather in the region. All of these occurrences continue to worsen over the course of the adventure unless brave adventurers locate and clean out the four elemental cults in the Temple of Elemental Evil.
R e d L a r c h
Red Larch has been an important stop on the Long Road for two centuries now. Named for a distinctive stand of red larch trees that were cut down when the hamlet was founded, Red Larch became a settlement in the first place thanks to a drinkable spring that fed a sizable pond ideal for watering horses, oxen, and pack mules. An east-west trail meets the Long Road at the pond, running west to the logging community of Kheldell and east to Bargewright Inn and eventually Secomber. Another trail leads to quarries in the Sumber Hills and to ruins of stone keeps long ago left to monsters and outlaws (the Haunted Keeps).
In recent years, new quarries have been opened on the northwestern edge of town. So far these have yielded up great slabs of marble much prized in Waterdeep for facing large new buildings and repairing older edifices. Red Larch is also a center for stonecutters quarrying slate on the fringes of the Sumber Hills. While Red Larch remains prosperous, dark omens are appearing. The heart of the Sumber Hills has become far more dangerous, with monsters lurking seemingly everywhere (no one goes into the hills berrypicking or hare-hunting these days, though Red Larcher children traditionally did so daily in summer and fall). Banditry is on the rise, and the weather seems to be
getting more severe and more unpredictable. Several Red Larcher shepherds have seen strange figures watching them from distant hillsides in the wild fields east of town where they have traditionally grazed their flocks. Quarry workers used to cut by torchlight
when orders were backing up but do so no longer, shunning the pits by night. They are spooked by rumors of dark-robed figures in stone masks lurking in the darkness beyond the torchlight. The townsfolk fear that dangerous times are at hand, but no one seems to know what to do about it.