Monday, December 12, 2011

Mysteries of Bone Hill

Some light has been made about the absence of any sort of secret on Bone Hill, despite the title of the module.  Indeed, there is no one up there actively trying to conceal anything worth note--such as is the case with the smugglers in the U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh--but there are certainly some rather strange goings on that, if not secrets, at least qualify as mysteries. Let's have a look at what's going on up on that remote precipice.

Unlike the description of the town of Restenford and its inhabitants, the castle at Bone Hill is actually provided a fair amount of history.  Not in the traditional manner of a keyed block of text mind you, but, rather, the information is doled out piecemeal in the room to room descriptions.  It's a much more intriguing method of exposition in my opinion, and really this is the genius of this module.  From a variety of sources, we can piece together this chronology of the Bone Hill edifice:
  1. Men and elves defeat evil humanoids in the area and build a castle to protect the lands against future pests.  The throne room of said castle is adorned with a fresco illustrating these events.
  2. Generations later, the lord of the castle falls prey to his own powerlust and unleashes the degradations of tyranny on the goodlings in the vicinity.  In league with an unknown necromancer, he sets himself up as a wraith to rule over his castle after his mortal form has expired.
  3. With the rise of the wraithlord, the castle is abandoned by the living and, over many centuries of neglect, falls into a cursed ruin.
  4. A powerful and benevolent wizard attempts to cleanse the ruins of their evil presence, but is defeated and his soul is imprisoned in his own corporeal remains for the next several centuries.
  5. Long after any of these story lines have fallen from local memory, a band of bugbears led by an evil magic user takes up residence in the castle.
  6. Your adventuring party wanders onto the scene.

Tidy enough, right?  Except it ignores the archaeological evidence regarding the Battle of Bone Hill.  Forensic investigation of the castle grounds reveals that there has been a battle between elves, men and bugbears (and at least one hill giant) in the recent past.  Evidence suggests that the elves and men were defending the castle against the humanoids and that the humanoids were well organized, using catapults and a siege tower to aid their conquest.  Also, judging by the radius of scorched earth in 2 areas around the castle, at least one 8th level magic user was on hand to cast fireballs into the action. [Edit: You're probably scratching your head about this one.  For some reason, at the time that I wrote this piece, I had gotten it in my head that the diameter of fireball is 1"/level of spell caster.  It's not.  As you already know, it's a static 40' radius sphere regardless of caster level.]  As Telvar--the resident overlord of the bugbears--is only a magician (6th level MU), and seeing as one of the fireballs was clearly used to destroy the siege tower before it reached the castle walls, it is apparent that the 8th level MU was probably defending the castle, not attacking it.  But it still conceivable that Telvar's tyrannical presence might have provided the disciplinary impetus that cajoled the usually slovenly bugbears into such a sustained, disciplined assault.  If so, then it can be assumed that the attack probably happened within the lifespan of a human.

As the skeletal remains of several of the combatants are still intact on the castle grounds, we know that the battle could not have taken place too long ago.  Likewise, the blast area of the fireball is still identifiable as such--it hasn't been washed away by the erosive forces of wind or precipitation or covered up with new vegetation--and the siege equipment likewise has not deteriorated beyond recognition.  Based on the prevalence of deciduous trees in the area (see Dweomer Forest) it is reasonable to assume that the climate of Lendore is fairly wet with warm--if not hot--and humid summers to aid in the decomposition of uncured wood that would have been used to build these siege engines.  So even if Telvar was not a party to this battle, it must have happened within the last few decades; long, long, long after the place had fallen into ruin. 

Therefore it can be assumed that at some point after the place had fallen into ruin it must have been re-occupied by elves and men, who then, somewhat recently, fell to an invasion of Bugbears.  Here's where the great mystery of Bone Hill arises.  If indeed the place was recently inhabited by a coalition of elves and men, why didn't they clear out the undead that haunt the dungeons?  Why didn't they free the tortured wizard? And wouldn't someone in Restenford be aware of such activity going on in the domain?  Sure, the yokels on the street might be ignorant of a castle of elves on a hill 30 miles away, but surely Pelltar or the Baron would have caught wind of such events.  Wouldn't the elves and men have sent an envoy to Restenford requesting aid against the siege of bugbears?
One more quirk in the chronology involves the small family of Spectators--a new species of Beholder-like critters created for this module--that inhabit a room in the dungeon.  We know from their write up that a spectator is "a guardian of places and treasures" and that they will guard said locale or item for a period of time "up to 101 years."  Summoning a Spectator requires at least 3 eyes of a real beholder and a Monster Summoning V spell, a 7th level spell, so we're talking about a 14th or higher level MU. Again, Telvar is clearly not our man, so who is the mage who wandered down to the dungeons and summoned not one but two spectators--who, incidentally, have had a child during their tour of duty--to protect a Libram of Gainful Conjuration; an item useful only to neutral Magic users?  Now tell me that is not a freakin' mystery.


scottsz said...

Nice work!

Brendan said...

Hey, I just discovered this blog. Love it. I first read Bone Hill late last year and blogged about it here:

L1 The Secret of Bone Hill

And here:

Bone Hill & Saving Throws

Timrod said...

Hey Brendan welcome aboard. And thanks for the links; always good to see another view of Restenford.

bombasticus said...

This is one of those rare modules where Chekhov's gun stays chained to the wall, so to speak: if the tortured mage had summoned the spectators "centuries ago" they'd already be out for good behavior. And so we have at least two full mages historically active below Bone Hill. It's a strange place.

At around the same time the spectators were summoned "almost a century before" -- give or take, I don't know how fast they breed in the prime material -- there was that thief living under the abandoned guard post. His place is full of undead now too. Coincidence?