Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Let's Rock The Star Cairns and other Misadventures (Part 1)

I'm getting ready to run a new adventure for my group and I've decided that I'd like to run something I've never heard of before. I started off looking for something from the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons line of modules, but most everything in there I had either heard of or my players have played before. So I moved into second edition and ran across the Lost Tombs series of adventures which begin with The Star Cairns (TSR 9579), continue through Crypt of Lyzandred the Mad (TSR 9580), and conclude with The Doomgrinder (TSR 9581).  This group of modules builds on material found in From the Ashes (TSR 1064).  In From the Ashes author Carl Sargent describes The Star Cairns as follows:
The four cairns . . . are 400 to 500 years old. Each is the burial site of a Suloise wizard.

Although they are termed cairns, each burial site is a complex dungeon in itself. The four sites shown have all been plundered, although by no means completely; interdicted chambers, myriad secret doors, and traps have kept some secrets from tomb robbers in the succeeding centuries. Sympathetic magic attracts monsters to the area (50% more likely for an encounter within six miles of each cairn). The dungeons are known to hold undead, oozes and jellies, and even derro in one instance.

Fiends are said to stalk the dungeons, seeking clues to the whereabouts of the reputed fifth cairn that would complete a star pattern if located. The fifth Star Cairn has never been found; old legends tell that a magical teleporting system would operate between the sites, and beyond, if the last cairn were discovered and a control system therein activated (Sargent, pg. 36)
This original vision for the Cairns created a complex series of discovered, and largely explored, dungeons with a fifth dungeon awaiting discovery. While this provided Dungeon Masters and Players with a potent area to adventure little specific information was provided in From the Ashes. For more we would have to wait until The Star Cairns would be published six years later in 1998.

The use of Suloise wizards would provide a fertile framework for The Star Cairns as it would provide +SeanK Reynolds with a place to start as we would find in the background information:
In 167 CY [Common Year], a copy of the Tome of the Scarlet Sign was delivered to Murtaree, a court wizard of the Malachite Throne of the Great Kingdom. The tome was a treasure of the fallen Suloise Empire, and the wonders of that lost realm struck a chord within th dark heart of the Suel-born wizard. The man was fascinated by the tales and information about his ancestors, and was especially intrigued by the depth of hatred his people felt for their enemies, the Bakluni. The tales of ancient and terrible feuds kindled in him the fires of hatred, and he resolved to bring back to life the ancient war and destroy the Baklunish people. Counsulting his peers - other wizards of Suel heritage, working as advisers to various members of the Aerdi court - he found that there were others who felt similarly, and he easily talked them into joining his personal crusade. 

Seeking a quiet place where he and his cohorts could study and grow strong enough for such a venture, he was lucky enough to find two great veins of magic rock in the western arm of the Abbor-Alz. These veins enhanced different sorts of magic in ways that suited his purposes, and so the wizard hired dwarves and men to dig out lairs in these places, first breaking ground in 169 CY. When the hidden tunnels were completed, Murtaree cast a great forget spell on the workers to preserve the secret of their location. There were five locations in all - arranged on the crossing ley-lines like an enormous victory-rune (its apex in the lower Abbor Alz and its nadir in the Bright Desert), which the mage though was most appropriate. The ambitious magic-users got to work creating items and spells of great power to use against their racial enemy. 

Although Murtaree died in 174 CY when his transformation into a lich failed, his first students continued to work, teaching their ideals to new students. Great works were made in these dungeons. More importantly a powerful destructive artifact of unknown origin was kept here for safekeeping, divided into three pieces, each stored in a different cairn for greater security. 

A great ball of fire appeared over the Oljatt Sea in 198 CY, passed over the southern Great Kingdom, and vanished beyond the Sea of Gearnat . . . Selvor the Younger, an Aerdi astronomer, extrapolated its path back to its celestial origin and declared the fireball to be an omen of "wealth, strife, and a living death." This pronouncement caused a panic in Rauxes and throughout the Great Kingdom, where it was interpreted to mean the end of the world. The subsequent incidents and unrest foreshortened the Age of Great Sorrow to come, in 213 CY. 

Unknown to the people of the Great Kingdom, the shooting star struck the ground in eastern Abbor-Alz. The impact was felt several hundred miles away in Murtaree's southernmost site, momentarily distracting the attention of the mages working there. Mysteriously, the site vanished a few seconds later -- with it, three well-known wizards of the Great Kingdom. Even worse, one of the pieces of the ancient weapon had been stored in the lost site. The remaining wizards abandoned for a time their plans of Bakluni destruction to deal with the troubles in the east, and fled the laboratories, some taking the time to activate magical and mundane defense to protect their research. 

Eventually, the wizards who knew the true purpose of the dungeons were scattered to the winds or dead; the items found inside sparked their own legends, leading people to believe that he ruins were merely burial sites for great mages. They came to be called the Star Cairns, after the star-shaped entrances, and the belief that they were mausoleums. Monsters and other undesirables began using the cairns as lairs, the great plans of the Suel wizards forgotten . . . (Reynolds, pg. 2)

Carl Sargent placed the creation of the Cairns between four and five hundred years before the events described in From the Ashes. Sean Reynolds followed this time scale by placing the ground breaking for the Cairns in 169 CY and having the events of the module occuring after Rary committed his treachery in 584 CY, 415 years later. So our time scales are incredibly consistent which isn't that surprising considering that Reynolds had the services of +Erik Mona.

The Bright Lands Map from Wizards of the Coast
This map of the Bright Desert shows us the area where the Cairns are going to be located according to the description we've just read. Yet the map included in The Star Cairns actually has all of the Cairns located in the northwestern portion of the Abbor Alz, south of the Greyhawk Plains. I far prefer having the Cairns spread out across the Abbor Alz and the Bright Desert so that's what I'm going to be doing in my home campaign.

Lingering Questions 

What caused the fireball to crash down on the Cairns in 198 CY? Were the three great wizards of the Great Kingdom a part of that action or were they actually the victims of that attack as it's currently presented?

Why have monsters find the Cairns instead of having them populated by the Wizards? Wouldn't it make more sense for those wizards to have found protectors for their most powerful artifacts? Or were they run off too quickly (only 29 years after ground was broken)?

Wrapping Up

There's a lot I don't know yet and I'm already starting to change things so that it fits more in line with the sort of adventure I'd like to have my players enjoy. There's no doubt that Rary's forces will play a minor part in this adventure; but in my mind, at this time, they're going to be playing a major part. I want to have stealth missions, rival explorations by Rary's adventurers, and close calls with the Traitor himself. I want there to be a race to the finish with my players catching their breaths as they hope against hope that they beat Rary to the last Cairn. 

See you with the next part.

Works Cited

Reynolds, Sean K. "The Star Cairns." TSR, Inc. 1998: 2

Sargent, Carl. "Greyhawk Adventures Campaign Book." TSR, Inc. 1992: 36


  1. A really interesting read I had never heard of them either so thanks for unearthing them.

    1. I'm working my way through each of them over the course of April so be sure to come back by for more.

  2. Very cool, hadn't heard of these either. Sounds like fun, I wish I was playing in your game!

  3. I've ran my players through part of "The Star Cairns" and all of "The Crypt of Lyzandred the Mad" way back in the day. Didn't get around to running "The Doomgrinder." Each of the 5 Star Cairns are good dungeons--and Reynolds offers suggestions on replayability. "The Crypt of Lyzandred the Mad" is the most complicated of the bunch to run--but there are some cool (and hilarious) encounters in there--but I won't ruin them for you.

    Great stuff. I definitely look forward to reading your take on them.

  4. Given their "true" purpose and history, placing the Star Cairns where you plan to also gives even greater reason for Rary to have established his Empire where he did.

    Could your Players run afoul of him and Robilar?

    Only time will tell . . . I suppose.



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Closing Comments.

Due to the influx of spam comments on Dyvers I am closing the comments. I'm not currently doing anything with this blog, but I don'...