The Cormyrean Marshes - Part Two: Monsters
All the marshland dwellers, whether intelligent or animal, are part of a vast and complex biological community. Some do not understand or care what role they play there - by which I mean the Tun Bandits, trolls, bullywugs, and some others. These have an entirely disastrous effect on the swamplands, threatening the fragile community they depend on. Others, such as the gentle Marsh Drovers, love and respect the swamplands. These folk have proven benevolent or helpful, and are a fully integrated part of the marshes' intricate web of life. Some of the more important, interesting, or dangerous of the swamps' inhabitants I describe in some detail below.
The Black Dragons
The most powerful inhabitant of the Tun Marshes is an old female dragon known as Skurge. In conversations with my Drover friends and others, I learned much of the dragon and her habits. However, my most useful informant turned out to be one of Thaalim Torchtower's own minions. (I will devote an entire later section to detailing my knowledge of "King" Torchtower and his Tun bandits.)
Three weeks had passed since my adventure escaping the bandits in the Tun Marshes, which is another story I will recount fully in a later essay. My companions of that time - the Cormyrean merchant Thaldo and his daughter, Rysilla - had seen enough adventure for a while, and so they set out for Eagle Peak with an escort of Farsea hunters. The journey was uneventful, but when the hunters returned, they encountered a lone traveler, a Tun Bandit named Skola, who claimed to have been exiled from the marshes when she rejected Thaalim Torchtower's romantic overtures.
While suspicious of Skola's motives (she could easily have been a spy), the hunters took her to Greenroot, but blindfolded her while they did so to keep her from learning any secret routes through the swamps. After she arrived, I interviewed her and, through the application of various techniques both magical and intuitive, proved to my own satisfaction that she was telling the truth, and had genuinely rejected Torchtower and his bandit kingdom. Skola and I were to become good friends over the intervening weeks, and I soon learned much of the bandits' history and, more important, of the dragon Skurge and her relationship with them.
The Dragon and the Bandits
Skurge is the unquestioned mistress of the marshes, and could easily have exterminated the bandits long ago. Before Torchtower's arrival and unification of the bandits, she never considered them to be much of a threat. Once the human warrior began to forge the disparate bandit tribes into a single force, Skurge began to consider destroying the human upstarts, but the wily Torchtower stole a march on the old dragon, gaining the upper hand.
Unbeknownst to Skurge, Torchtower and his bandits had discovered the location of one of her secret lairs in the swamp. While she was away raiding in western Cormyr, a small team of bandits entered the lair and made off with one of Skurge's eggs, which was then placed in temporal stasis by one of Torchtower's wizards. (Needless to say, I was quite alarmed at the thought of such a spell being available to Torchtower's wizards, until Skola reassured me that the spell had been cast from a scroll, and not by a high-level magician.)
When she returned, Skurge was furious but could do little. Torchtower held her precious egg hostage, and she was eventually convinced that an alliance between her and the bandits would be advantageous. Since that time, Skurge and Torchtower have cooperated well, if not entirely willingly. The bandits have kept the egg safe, but have not returned it.
Skurge and the Swamp
Very little is known about the biology of black dragons, a decidedly dangerous species. My interviews with Skola gave me considerable insight into the secret lives of Skurge and her offspring - and by extrapolation, something of her kin. Of the many known species of dragon, black dragons are generally thought to be the weakest. Those who encounter the cunning and dangerous Skurge are likely to dispute this conclusion - that is, if they survive that long.
Skurge is a very old dragon, over 900 years at the very least, and she is quite powerful. Nevertheless, her impact on the Tun Marshes has been minimal, because she is intelligent enough not to despoil the territory where she lives. As dragons grow older, their need for sleep increases. Due to her age, Skurge spends perhaps two-thirds of her time sleeping. A dragon's great mass also causes extreme strain on its joints and vertebral structure, making larger creatures move more slowly and painfully than young specimens. Needless to say, the chronic pain that plagues older dragons does not improve their tempers one iota.
Like most black dragons, Skurge is a petty, cruel, and aggressive creature - all the more so due to her advanced age and array of skeletal problems. In her case, these unpleasant qualities are tempered by high intelligence and a surprisingly patient nature. She has several lairs and ambushes hidden throughout the swamp. Many of these hideaways are submerged deep beneath the water, hollowed out after years of labor and with the use of her extensive repertoire of wizard spells. It was only a turn of bad luck that resulted in Thaalim Torchtower's discovery of the brood-cavern.
Although she is old, Skurge is still fertile, breeding and laying a single egg every decade or so. Her mate's identity is unknown, but Skola claims that he lives in the jungles of Chult, many leagues distant. This information is consistent with many theories purporting to describe the nature of dragons. life cycles. Specifically, these theories propose that, as a result of dragons' needs for vast hunting territories, the creatures must travel long distances from their lairs to mate.
During my reading and research, I found an account by a Tethyrian mariner describing a pair of black dragons engaged in a graceful courtship flight high over the Shining Sea, roughly midway between Cormyr and Chult. I suggest that these two dragons were Skurge and her unknown male consort, but this cannot be positively confirmed.
Skurge lays only a single egg at a time, and keeps it beneath the swamp in a magically-heated cave known as a brood-cavern. Incubation time is considerable - 12 to 18 months. During this time, Skurge spends most of her time with the egg, emerging only to hunt. It was during such a hunt, of course, that Thaalim Torchtower's bandits stole one of Skurge's eggs, but this sort of opportunity is very rare.
The possession of an egg is perhaps the only real leverage that might be used against a dragon. Despite their evil nature, black dragons are instinctively protective of their eggs, and they will do virtually anything to keep them safe. Moreover, even if the egg should be safely returned, the thief or thieves are still not out of the woods. Only one who was naive in the extreme would believe himself secure after such an act - and a black dragon's vengeance is a terrible thing to behold. For all these reasons, and because Thaalim Torchtower is anything but naive, it is unlikely that "King" Torchtower will be anywhere in the vicinity on the day he arranges for one of his minions to return Skurge's egg. if indeed that day should ever come.
Besides her mutual defense pact with the bandits, Skurge maintains a bodyguard drawn from a large tribe of lizard men, who worship her as an emissary of their god, Semuanya. They are quite loyal to her, and since the abduction of Skurge's egg, serve as guards for her various lairs. I will recount more about the lizard men and their society in pages to come.
At least two of Skurge's progeny live in the Vast Swamp. Relatively young, the pair hunts mostly within the swamp itself, but has begun to raid into neighboring Cormyrean territory. Several adventuring companies have ventured into the Vast with the intention of robbing or slaying the two dragons. Given the other dangers found in the swamp, few of these companies have emerged unscathed, and many have never been heard from again.
Dragons' appetites are legendary and prodigious, but tend to wane somewhat as the creatures grow older. Skurge now emerges only every one to three months to feed. When she does, however, she causes serious damage in the regions where she hunts. When young, it is said that Skurge accumulated a massive hoard of treasure, which is hidden deep beneath the swamp. Like her physical appetite, however, Skurge's desire for riches seems to have declined as she grew older, as well, and she rarely carries treasure home with her anymore.
Skurge's favorite hunting grounds are the lands between Proskur and Eversult to the south, the farmlands of Cormyr to the east, and the Goblin Marches to the north. She varies her raiding habits to avoid drawing too much attention to herself - some Cormyreans (or Cormytes, as the king would have it) are unaware that the several "dragons" that have plagued their farmlands over the centuries are actually a single creature. Skurge herself has perpetuated these stories, often attacking while disguised as a red, green, or even.out of spite.a gold or silver dragon.
Skurge and Her Offspring
The undisputed queen of the swamp is the black dragon Skurge. She is a very old dragon - perhaps as much as 1,000 years. The centuries have sharpened her wits and made her a very crafty creature, who prefers to leave combat to her subordinates such as the lizard men of the Marshes of Tun. Better yet, she will simply remain so well hidden that her enemies cannot find her. She has not survived this long by being stupid, and is quite willing to abandon a fight that is going against her.
Skurge : Mature Adult Black Dragon
Three time per day: darkness (100-foot radius);
Once per day: corrupt water (100 cubic feet), plant growth, summon insects
Tyra and Despayr: Juvenile Black Dragon
Three time per day: darkness (40-foot radius)
The other major threat to the Marsh Drovers comes from the batrachian humanoids known as bullywugs. Several tribes of these disagreeable creatures live in the Farsea and, I am told, in the Vast Swamp as well, but I have been unable to confirm this. While the undead are only an intermittent threat, endangering the Marsh Drovers once or twice in a generation, the bullywugs are a constant enemy, and continuously vie with the humans for control of the region.
Culture and Society
Farsea bullywugs are good-sized, averaging over six feet in height. They are broad-bodied, their skins a rich emerald green, mottled with olive and gray. Although they are relatively intelligent, they do not live in permanent settlements, nor do they produce permanent artifacts. Bullywug warriors will sometimes wear armor, or wield swords and weapons captured from the Drovers, or salvaged from the swamp. However, most rely on their natural weapons, their natural camouflage, and their special hop when in combat.
Bullywugs travel in tribal groups of up to 50 individuals. These groups are organized along totalitarian lines, with absolute authority vested in a male chieftain and his subleaders. A bullywug chieftain treats his subjects like possessions, making use of their labor, freely killing and even eating followers when they do not instantly follow his wishes.
Long-term bonding among bullywugs is unknown. A female lays a clutch of up to 200 eggs once per year, and the tribe keeps watch over their breeding pond until the young bullywugs emerge. Resembling large tadpoles, bullywug spawn are entirely nonintelligent, feeding upon insects, small amphibians, and each other until they have developed sufficiently to emerge from the breeding pond, usually six to eight weeks after hatching. Thereafter, a bullywug is entirely on its own, forced to defend itself against its larger fellows. With luck and strength, it may eventually grow into a full-fledged adult, although fewer than one in a hundred bullywug hatchlings survives to adulthood.
The bullywugs. impact on their immediate environment is indeed dire. Indiscriminate in their hunting practices, they have been known to strip acres of swampland bare of life, leaving behind a muddy morass. Fortunately, they do not poison the land permanently in the same manner as undead, and life usually returns to despoiled regions within a year or two. Many different tribes of bullywugs inhabit the Farsea. They generally stay out of each other's way, and do not fight one another. Conversely, they are only too happy to seek out and hunt humans, whom they see as rivals and enemies.
Normally respectful of life in the swamp, the Drovers periodically organize campaigns against the bullywugs, especially when their populations grow too large and the frog-people actually begin attacking Drover villages. Battles with the bullywugs are fierce, but the amphibians are not very intelligent and have little stomach for extended combat. After inflicting a few casualties on their attackers, they melt away into the swamp.
I observed bullywug raids on several occasions while staying in the Farsea marshes, and was even the victim of one myself. This particular incident provided me with an interesting bit of information regarding bullywugs. biology.
Having been notified of the arrival of a shipment of precious Chauntean ale, I, along with a pair of acolytes, ventured to the edge of the swamp, where a nervous merchant handed over the casks. We loaded the casks onto a raft and set back toward Greenroot.
Approximately an hour into the swamp, a warning croak sounded from nearby, and instantly the water was alive with bloated amphibian bodies clambering onto our raft, attempting to overturn us. Joined by my acolytes, Tayth and Sayla, I called upon Chauntea and cast spells sufficient to distract our attackers, allowing us to scramble out of the boat and swim for firm ground.
Once we had gained solid ground, I turned and prepared to help my acolytes drive off the bullywugs, only to observe a curious thing. Having dislodged us from our vessel, and seeing what powers we had at our command, the bullywugs did not choose to pursue. Instead they contented themselves with swarming all over the boat, inspecting the casks and probing them with their soft, suction-cup-tipped fingers. At length, one discovered the tap and turned the handle, unleashing a flood of amber liquid. My heart sank, for the loss of good ale is nearly as tragic as the loss of a brave warrior. And this ale was consecrated to Mother Chauntea!
Elminster's notes: Typical halfling attitude, wouldn't you say?
We watched in horrified fascination as the bullywugs fell upon the liquid, gulping down huge mouthfuls. They seemed to have completely forgotten us, and now descended into what can only be described as a drinking frenzy, swallowing huge quantities of our blessed ale, and spilling even more. For several minutes the revel continued, and then an even stranger thing happened. One of the first bullywugs to reach the raft and drink the ale fell to the floor of the raft and began convulsing, almost comically. In a few moments, all the bullywugs had been seized by the same contractions, some falling into the boat, others slipping overboard to splash helplessly in the water.
We watched in silence, too amazed to speak. Within five minutes, all motion had ceased, and our attackers lay still in the boat, or floating in the water. Cautiously, we returned to the boat and inspected the bullywugs. To my surprise, several were dead, and the remainder were in a deep stupor, showing every sign of a deep coma. Once more thanking Chauntea, we flung the corpses and unconscious bodies out of our raft and continued on to Greenroot.
Later experimentation showed an interesting fact.the thick-headed bullywugs were irresistibly drawn to human liquor, but having drunk the stuff, they slipped into unconsciousness or death, depending on the quantity consumed. The village elders of Greenroot thanked Chauntea and me profusely for providing them with a potent new weapon against the bullywugs.
From that day forward, each Marsh Drover village was equipped with a cask of ale, to be opened in the event of a bullywug attack. I have since heard that the tactic has worked, and large-scale assaults by the frog-people have declined considerably.
These solitary, amphibious, and highly intelligent predators have been encountered in both the Tun and Vast swamps. Lurking beneath the surface of the water, they emerge, a frightening mass of eye-studded tentacles, to seize prey and drag it to its doom. These creatures are perhaps the most dangerous predator in the swamp. Fortunately for the region's inhabitants, they are also very rare. A single darktentacles can eliminate all the fish and birds in a region within a matter of weeks, after which it necessarily moves on.
Once the swamps. inhabitants are aware of a darktentacles in the region, it is scrupulously avoided. Even direct confrontation with the beast is avoided, since it almost invariably results in high casualties. The bandits of Tun have, on occasion, gone after a darktentacles, well reinforced with magic, weapons, and armor, hoping to sell the creature's body to a wizard in need of the components for wall of force and similar spells. These expeditions meet with, at best, mixed success, causing "King" Torchtower to grow more reluctant to mount new ones.
Several informants suggested to me that the number of darktentacles in the swamps appears to be increasing - possibly due to some lingering aftereffects of the Time of Troubles. Unfortunately, I was unable to observe one of the darktentacles at close range, so most of my information comes secondhand.
Several areas of the swamp are known to harbor mouthers. These amoeboid creatures are covered with rudimentary eyes and mouths, and they typically attack their prey from ambush. More frighteningly, they can camouflage themselves as solid ground to trap the unwary. The bandits often try to herd enemies or attackers into the regions of the swamp where the creatures are known to live.and let the mouthers do the dirty work for them. These foul creatures, rare at best, actually seem to have established a breeding population in the Marshes of Tun. Exactly how or why they have done so is not known. My informant Skola claimed that Skurge the black dragon helped to create and perpetuate the things, but she had no proof of this.
The dark reaches of the Vast Swamp harbor a colony of these repulsive creatures, whose evil has clearly influenced and been influenced by the wickedness that festers there.
While I have not personally dealt with these diabolical creatures, I am indebted to my friend Aerilaya, an elven priestess whose experiences in the Vast Swamp form the basis for much of the information in this document. The following account is heavily based upon facts provided by her.
Hive in the Swamp
Diabolic creatures resembling disembodied brains with biting beaks and ten thick tentacles, the grell live in communal hivelike groups, favoring ruins, swamps, and wilderness areas far from the prying eyes of humans.
Grell are divided by a strict hierarchy, with the powerful patriarchs at the top and common workers at the bottom. The caste known as philosophers mediates between the two and is often found in command of raiding parties of workers. Possessed of an evil and arrogant outlook, the grell of the Vast Swamp are hated and feared by the region's other inhabitants. At least four hives, with a total of perhaps sixty individuals, occupy the swamp, preying on other swamp denizens, intelligent and otherwise. Lizard men and hobgoblins are especially favored prey.
Each grell hive is controlled by an absolute ruler known as a patriarch. Larger, stronger, and far more intelligent than ordinary grell, the patriarchs of the Vast Swamp have many unusual powers, which make them particularly dangerous. In addition to their well-known ability to paralyze their opponents, Vast patriarchs are known to have substantial psionic abilities. Aerilaya told me of one encounter in which she witnessed a grell patriarch's psionic abilities.
"With the sceptre I had liberated from the hobgoblin chieftain safely tucked into my belt, I made my way through the misty reaches of the Vast Swamp. I hoped that Queen Amlaruil's gratitude for my service would be considerable, for the sceptre had once been the property of a lord of Myth Drannor, and it was my intention to return it to its rightful owners, the elves of Evermeet.
"Of course, nothing ever goes as smoothly as one might hope, and my escape from the swamp was punctuated by encounters with several of its denizens. Less than a day's journey from the swamp's edge and safety, however, I stumbled upon one of the most fearsome beasts I had yet encountered.
"As I cautiously made my way through a bare stand of black oak trees, a nightmarish creature hovered into view nearby. I had dealt with grell before, but nothing could have prepared me for my first sight of a patriarch.like a normal grell but larger, more powerful, with heavy, muscular tentacles and a tangible aura of menace surrounding it.
"What a patriarch was doing on its own, far from its hive, I can.t say. What I can say is that it wanted the sceptre I carried. It did not speak, but in my mind I felt a deep and malevolent desire, as well as a complete lack of pity or mercy.
"Not surprisingly, I fled. The thing gave chase, moving effortlessly through the trees, over the black water, in close pursuit. When it became apparent that I couldn't escape, I turned, drawing my weapon and facing the approaching horror.
"To my surprise, it did not move to attack, instead hovering silently, ten feet away. Then I felt a terrible, aching pressure deep inside my head, a compulsion to walk forward and hand the sceptre to the hovering grell. A corner of my consciousness resisted, and I was able to overcome the compulsion.
"The grell was without expression, but waves of rage washed over me, and a burning, white-hot pain filled me - the thing was trying to slay me with the force of its mind alone. I fell to my knees, my weapon falling to the ground. Desperate to defend myself, my hand closed on the scepter at my belt.
"Instantly, the pressure vanished, and a silvery beam of energy lanced from the scepter to strike the grell. With a shriek, it too fell into the brackish swamp water and there it lay, writhing.
"Needless to say, I used the opportunity to escape from the thing. Whether it was hurt, wounded, or dying, I cannot say. I was later to learn that the scepter had the ability to reflect magical and psionic assaults back on an attacker, an ability for which I was extremely grateful."
The grell of the Vast Swamp do not profess to any religion, but instead revere a powerful being which they call the Imperator. This creature, said to dwell beneath the surface of the swamp itself, is a grell of gigantic size, with dozens of tentacles and nearly unbelievable psionic abilities.
Whether the Imperator is actually a unique godlike being or simply a very powerful grell is not known. The grell themselves appear to believe that an Imperator is of sufficient stature and ability to unite all grell and lead them in a great war of conquest. They also claim that, under the command of an Imperator, they have actually conquered entire worlds.
Several hobgoblin legends tell of a gigantic, evil, and highly intelligent grell that supposedly dwells in caves beneath the swamp. These are clearly inspired by tales of the Imperator, but whether they are true or not is a matter of conjecture.
Grell Patriarchs of the Vast Swamp
Vast Swamp grell patriarchs are similar to normal grell patriarchs, save that they have considerable psionic abilities, as follows:
Psionics Summary: (Ed. 2)
Attack/Defense: PsC, PB, MT/MScore: =Int
Vast Swamp patriarchs always know the following powers, and there is a 15% chance that they will have one more science and two more devotions in the psychokinetic discipline.
- Clairsentience: Devotions: Clairaudience, Clairvoyance
- Psychokinesis: Sciences: Detonate, Project Force,
- Telekinesis: Devotions: Ballistic Attack, Soften
- Telepathy: Sciences: Domination, Mindlink, Mindwipe;
- Devotions: Contact, Awe, ESP
Several tribes of these objectionable humanoids inhabit the Vast Swamp. They are even more violent and xenophobic than most hobgoblins, attacking all outsiders who venture into their territory and engaging in ferocious wars with each other. Many have enslaved some of the primitive goblins and kobolds that dwell in the swamps, making them servants and battle-fodder.
The hobgoblins of the Vast may prove especially dangerous to Cormyr due to their unusual religious beliefs. The tribes claim that their constant warfare is intended to unite them under the banner of a single leader, and they will then emerge from the swamps in a holy war against the surrounding human lands. The hobgoblins claim that the evil god Cyric himself will lead them in their crusade, and that no human force can stand against them. It is further claimed that, when Cyric arrives to lead the united tribes, he will bring with him a weapon of such might that entire armies will flee at its sight, and castle walls will crumble at its touch.
These legendary creatures inhabit distant wilderness areas, and so are rarely seen by civilized races. This is probably for the best, for hydrae are as deadly as they are bizarre. My informant Skola told me of the hydrae of the Tun Marshes. I have also heard reports of hydrae dwelling in the dark depths of the Vast Swamp, presenting yet another hazard to travelers and adventurers in the region.
The Nature of Hydrae
There are several types of hydrae known. The common hydra resembles a large, brownish dragon, whose scaly neck sprouts anywhere from five to twelve heads. The common hydra is the type most often encountered in the Tun and the Vast. Apart from its multiple heads, it has no special abilities.
Less common are the pyrohydra, which breathes fire like a dragon, and the feared lernaean hydra, which actually regenerates any heads separated from its main body. The ice-breathing cryohydra is unknown in the area of Cormyr, which is probably for the best.
As reports indicate that common hydrae can give birth to any of the other types of hydrae, I am of the opinion that the pyro-, cryo- and lernaean hydrae are normal (if rare) variations of the common hydra.
The habits and biologies of the various types of hydrae are similar. They are solitary, semi-intelligent predators that prefer swamps and subterranean lairs. Their multiple heads enable hydrae to hunt efficiently, feeding on a wide variety of swamp species, including birds, snakes, deer, and the occasional orc, human, or other sentient species. Pyrohydrae use their flaming breath to kill prey before consuming it. Some hydrae are said to have a special taste for elf-flesh, but the Tun hydrae do not seem to behave in this manner.
Hydrae are relatively slow, but are well adapted to movement in marshy regions such as the Tun and Vast swamps. Their large size prevents bogs or ponds from causing difficulty, and they can move slowly even in relatively deep water, always keeping at least one head near the surface. More than one adventurer has been surprised when the apparent single-headed creature cruising along a lake suddenly erupts into a monstrosity with nine or ten heads.
Mating and Family
As noted, hydrae are solitary creatures. In the mid to late spring, however, pairs of hydrae come together to mate. Hydra courtship behavior is spectacular, loud, and sometimes very dangerous. Male and female dance about each other in a ponderous ballet, their heads snapping and biting at each other. After a time, the two hydrae are completely enmeshed, heads tangled together. The courtship dance continues even so, with the two great bodies rolling together, splashing through the water, smashing trees, and even crushing those creatures luckless enough to be in the way.
If the pair survives this grueling process (and some do not), mating occurs, after which the female lays a clutch of up to six eggs. At this point, the male departs, and can be a deadly hazard to the young hydrae - with a fine lack of paternal devotion, he may view them as food. Usually, only one hatchling in a dozen survives to adulthood.
Hunting the Hydra
While they are efficient and dangerous predators, hydrae are not immune to predation themselves. Although Skurge the black dragon does not hunt her own territory very often, when she does, she prefers hydrae as prey.
The bandits of Tun and the humanoids of the Vast Swamp all fear hydrae, having too-frequent concourse with the creatures. The bandits, however, have developed several successful strategies for dealing with the beasts. Once again, my information is based on tales related by the former bandit, Skola.
Terrifying though they are, hydrae are not very intelligent. While they resemble dragons in terms of appearance, temperament, and abilities, they lack their reptilian cousins. malign and cunning intellect. Most of the strategies employed by the bandits against the hydrae take advantage of this fact.
A popular ruse is to bait a hydra with a favored food item.a cow, goat, or even an intelligent creature such as an elf or human, usually in the form of an unfortunate captive staked out and bound for the hydra's pleasure. The victim is set out for the hydra in an area suitable for an ambush or trap - a wooded area, a patch of solid ground where pits could be dug, a rocky outcropping, etc.
Pit traps and deadfalls are set along likely approach routes. A hungry hydra will often blunder directly into a stake-lined pit and be impaled, or be crushed beneath tons of boulders set to fall from a rocky prominence. Such prominences are rare in the Tun, and all are well mapped-out and identified by the bandits for just such occasions.
Should these contingencies fail, the hydra will usually simply advance on its helpless prey and proceed to dine. At this point, the bandits employ more direct measures, including assault by armored warriors, magical spells, and attack by archers armed with specially-treated arrows.
A few renegade priests and herbalists have joined the Tun Bandits, bringing with them considerable expertise in the area of poisons and soporifics. Several plant species in the swamp are effective against hydrae, including a nondescript gray plant known as burrwort. This substance, pounded to a paste and reduced to a fine powder over a fire, creates a powerful sedative that is especially potent against hydrae.
The bandits use arrows treated with burrwort against the hydra, but unfortunately the substance is only effective if it actually penetrates the mighty creature's flesh; arrows stopped by the beast's scales have no effect at all. This means that only the strongest bows, shot from relatively close range, or at a vulnerable spot on the hydra, such as its eyes or - more frighteningly - directly into its open maw, can hope to penetrate and thereby sedate the creature. Once struck by a burrwort-treated arrow, a hydra lapses into a soporific state within a few seconds, and is fully asleep within a minute. At this point, the bandits may dispatch the beast at their leisure.
Trade in burrwort and the by-products of the slain hydra is one of the bandits' few legitimate business enterprises. Many organs of the hydra are used by wizards in the preparation of magical spells and potions, while its hide and scales may be converted into armor and some types of clothing. "King" Torchtower himself owns a pair of hydra-hide boots, supposedly made from one of the monsters that he claims to have slain himself. Many bandits fight in armor crafted from the glossy black scales of a hydra.
Interestingly enough, hydra flesh is relatively tasty and nutritious.the bandits claim that it tastes like chicken, although I was unable to confirm this. A single hydra can feed a bandit community for days or weeks. Preserved hydra flesh has become something of a delicacy in western Cormyr, but few there suspect where the meat comes from, or the identity of its hunters.
The Lizard Men
Normally shunned or reviled by the ordinary humans of Faerûn, lizard men abound in the swamps and marshes of the region, and present some fascinating biological and cultural aspects. My experience with the lizard men of the Tun was quite enlightening, and went far to expose my own prejudices.
Earlier in this narrative I mentioned, briefly, that I had occasion to flee from the Tun Bandits, accompanied by the Cormyrean merchant Thaldo Sar, and his daughter, Rysilla. While making good our escape, we had the misfortune to be seen by a pair of trolls, who sensed easy prey and gave chase. Although rumor has it that trolls are quite fond of halfling, my short legs are not made for running, as you well know. With my two human companions exhausted and weary beyond belief, I was certain that we would all end our days in a troll's stewpot.
Desperately, I called upon Chauntea, asking her assistance and preparing a spell, hoping to at least throw our pursuers off the trail. As I turned to unleash my goddess's might against the trolls, however, I was shocked to see one of them stumble, and splash to the marshy ground, a thick-shafted spear projecting from its green, warty chest. In an instant, a dozen more shafts whirled through the air, with many of them striking our pursuers.
Trolls' regenerative powers are, indeed, potent, but in the face of such a furious attack, even they can lose heart and see the possibility of a messy death. In the dim recesses of their minds, even as more missiles rained down upon them, they realized that the prospect of a halfling-feast was not worth the risk, and they instantly fled the scene.
When I looked to see the identity of our saviors, I half-expected to see some of Torchtower's bandits driving the trolls away from potentially valuable captives. What I saw was more astonishing and, to me, even more terrifying. A war party of nearly 20 scaled, powerful creatures, sporting heavily muscled tails, clawed hands, and large vicious jaws, stood before us. Lizard men they were, arrayed in a most barbaric fashion: in feathers, stone fetishes, bone ornaments, and similar items. They held slings and the thick-shafted spears I had seen flung upon the trolls. The spears, as I inspected them in the full moonlight, seemed to be great works of primitive art, painstakingly carved with pictographs, painted and hung with feathers and other ornaments.
Despite my fascination with the weapons, I realized we had escaped from one danger, and were now confronted with another. As one of the creatures strode forward, I heard Rysilla gasp in horror, and I felt a sinking sensation deep in my stomach. To my astonishment, the lead lizard man could speak a crude form of the common tongue, and informed us that if we were enemies of the bandits, he could help us.
Like many in the Realms, I have heard fearsome stories about lizard men and their dietary habits, so it was with reservations that I agreed. The lizard man, whose name turned out was Ssahh, escorted us to his village, and provided a guide to get us out of the swamp. Thus began a brief, but extremely enlightening visit to a lizard man settlement, which showed me many fascinating things that were subsequently elaborated upon by my friend Skola, the Tun refugee who came to live with us in the Farsea.
Culture and Society
Many popular assumptions regarding lizard men are, indeed, true. They are semi-aquatic tribal creatures with a relatively primitive material culture. While widely thought of as evil and predatory, many tribes maintain good relations with neighboring human and demihuman communities.
The lizard men of the Tun turned out to be a relatively civilized group, living on patches of high ground in huts constructed of thatch, vines, and piled stone. Skola informed me that their villages have populations of between 20 and 50. Some are under the leadership of lizard kings, advanced lizard men possessed of high intelligence and powerful combat abilities. Unlike lizard men in other regions, the lizard kings of Tun do not demand weekly sacrifice from their followers, and do not appear to be of an evil disposition. The lizard men themselves believe that their lizard kings are created by the relatively benevolent god Semuanya, rather than the evil demigod Sess'innek, whom they openly revile.
As I guessed from Ssahh, there is great antipathy between the lizard men and the Tun Bandits. Although the two groups occasionally have serious clashes, usually they are content to raid or ambush their foes to keep them off guard. A tactic especially favored by the lizard men is to lurk beneath shallow water on either side of a road, then rise up to attack enemies from all sides at once.
Raiding parties of lizard men number from two to a dozen individuals, each armed with clubs, stone knives, or the carved, flint-headed spears that I found unique to the Tun tribes. They do not go out of their way to hunt humans and demihumans, but they will not hesitate to feast on captured bandits.
The conflict between the two groups has, fortunately for the lizard men, not resulted in widespread loss of life, for they are not a terribly fecund race. They do not form lasting bonds, with mated pairs remaining together through the spring when the female lays a clutch of up to six eggs. The pair takes turns guarding the buried clutch until the young ones hatch. Usually only one in three eggs hatches successfully, causing the lizard men's population to grow quite slowly.
When not in conflict with the Tun Bandits, the lizard men pursue lives as hunters and gatherers, with individual communities generally leaving each other alone, and only clashing occasionally over prime hunting grounds. Preferred prey includes wild mammals such as pigs, as well as lizards and frogs. Warriors and hunters may gain great status by hunting the dreaded hydra or the hideous gibbering mouther, both of which are considered to be great threats. Weapons and crude armor are fashioned from hydra bones, scales, teeth, and such.
Conflicts also erupt with the various bands of trolls who frequent the marshes, as evidenced by the furious attack our rescuers unleashed upon our pursuers. While they show a deep hatred for the Tun Bandits, whom they believe have usurped their hunting grounds and are damaging their beloved swamp, the lizard men have little hostility toward casual travelers, and will even help them if they are obviously enemies of the bandits. Obviously, my friends and I were beneficiaries of this attitude.
One tribe of Tun lizard men serves as the bodyguards of Skurge, the black dragon. Since the theft of her precious egg, they guard her lairs with fanatical devotion. Due to the outrage which Torchtower's ruffians committed against Skurge, whom the lizard men believe is a personal emissary of Semuanya, their hatred for the bandits is especially intense, but they do not act on it out of fear for Skurge's egg.
Lizard Men of the Vast Swamp
The lizard men of the Vast Swamp are considerably less civilized than their Tun cousins, and conform to the popular view of the creatures. These savage beasts live in nomadic tribal groups of a dozen or so, and do not build permanent shelters. The malign influence of the Vast seems to have seriously affected the marsh's lizard men, making them virtually psychotic, attacking any outsider who ventures near them, and pursuing human, elven, and halfling prey with single-minded intensity. They do not worship Semuanya, but instead venerate a group of evil nature spirits and fiends, including the tanar'ri lord Sess'innek, who seeks to corrupt the lizard men, and transform them into a truly evil race. Lizard man shamans conduct savage rituals utilizing bizarre altars and religious icons crafted from the bones of sacrificial victims and swamp creatures.
Several lizard kings have been reported in the Vast, and these are even more evil and sadistic than is usual for their kind. True creations of Sess'innek, these kings demand sacrifice of intelligent beings such as humans or elves, but have been known to slay and feed upon their own followers.
The Marsh Drovers
The human inhabitants of the Farsea Marshes are little known and rarely seen. Scholarly writings regarding the Marsh Drovers consist primarily of statements that the marshes are inhabited by a race of barbaric humans, and nothing more.
As I wrote in my opening, upon entering the Farsea Marshes, my horse and I were sucked into a mud pit, and I despaired for our lives before we were both rescued by a pair of Marsh Drovers. After extricating us from the foul trap and making certain that we were alive and well, the two Drovers actually seemed amused by the entire incident.
When I identified myself, naturally stating my relationship with my goddess, both grew solemn, bowed their heads and begged my forgiveness for their laughter. I was quite astonished, and informed them that there was no need to beg my pardon. Quite to the contrary, I apologized for inconveniencing them so. In the course of our mutual apologies, I was surprised to learn that the Marsh Drovers were, in fact, worshipers of a pantheon of nature deities, including our own Great Mother Chauntea. At present they lacked a real priest, and so were twice as pleased to find me here. In turn, I uttered a brief prayer of thanks, along with a joyful realization that, clearly, Mother Chauntea had intended that I minister to these gentle people all along.
I humbly asked to be shown to their village. We tied up the Drovers. boat and led my pony toward the settlement, passing along a maze of solid causeways, which my companions knew in intimate detail. I was welcomed into the vast, floating Drover village, and fêted with great rejoicing. Many of the humans there had never seen a halfling before and were quite surprised at my appearance. Nonetheless, the entire settlement seemed delighted and thankful that I had appeared. In my heart and soul, I felt a deep sense of happiness and satisfaction, and I realized that I had at last found a home.
The Drovers are a race of humans, apparently occupying the region after an ancient disaster shattered the region's previous civilization. I theorize that the Drovers once inhabited the region known today as the Goblin Marches, but that the area's changing climate and pressure from the orc and goblin kingdoms drove them into the marshes, where they make their home today.
Physically, the Drovers are short for humans (men average 5'2", women average 4'10") and are darkcomplected with black hair and deep brown eyes. They wear bright-colored clothing made from natural fibers, all of which are harvested from the Farsea Marshes and surrounding lands.
These are a happy people, at peace with their land, fond of music, dancing, and singing. They do not drink to excess, although their liquors, made from the fermented juice of various berries and fruits, are tasty and potent as I learned on several occasions. While their own liquor is excellent, they have developed a fondness for imported beverages, and our own Chauntean ale proved a favorite.
The Drovers live in small villages of up to 100 inhabitants. These villages are located on solid islands in the marsh, or are built on wooden stilts, or on occasion, floating platforms. Houses are constructed of thatch or light lumber, but are quite sturdy and cozy, remaining relatively cool in the heat of summer, and retaining heat in the depths of winter.
Travel between villages is accomplished on rafts, flat-bottomed pole-barges, or footgear known as marsh-shoes, which allow their wearers to actually walk (slowly and carefully) on the water's surface.
Most Drover villages are led by a council of elders, mostly older women and a few men who reach decisions by consensus, and whose wisdom is respected by all. A few of these maintain some clerical or druidic abilities, and low-level divine magic is not unknown. True priests, such as myself, are comparatively rare, so my presence was taken as a gift from the gods themselves.
Drover culture is an interesting combination of matriarchal rule and strict division of labor. Women are generally considered heads of households, and govern villages with advice from the males, but only men are allowed to hunt and tend village herds. (Of the nature of their "cattle," I devote an entire entry, following.) Should an enemy threaten the entire Drover community, however, women and children are expected to help defend their homes.
Upon consultation with the elders of the village of Greenroot, I was allowed to start construction of a temple. I billeted with one of my rescuers, a Drover named Dillik, his wife, and two children. My horse was allowed to roam free on a nearby island, watched over by youngsters from the village.
The most amazing aspect of Marsh Drover life was revealed to me the morning after my arrival. As the sun rose and Greenroot awakened, I said my morning prayers and began to brew a pot of tea. As I did so, one of the village elders, a small woman named Rokera, approached and asked me if I would be so kind as to bless the village's herd. Imagining that the Drovers raised cattle of some sort, I readily agreed, and followed her to a large enclosure near the center of the village.
There I noted several massive creatures lolling about in deep mud, their backs arched like islands. As I watched, a snaky neck emerged from the muck, topped by a hideous head that I can compare only to the ugliest tusk-boar I had ever seen. Soon, a second creature's head appeared, then lowered down to tenderly nuzzle Rokera, who responded with words of affection.
I stared for a moment, then realization came crashing down. These were catoblepas, creatures that could normally kill with a glance! Here they were, rolling about in the mud like domestic pigs, and showing puppyish affection to a woman whom they would normally kill, instantly and mercilessly!
I made some incoherent noises, and finally choked out words of astonishment.
Rokera looked at me mildly. "Oh, we've domesticated them. They don't use their death-gaze on us - we're part of their herd. I thought you knew."
I replied that I didn't, and after several more moments of astonishment, intoned a ritual blessing over the Drovers' deadly herd.
Over subsequent weeks and months, I learned much more of the Drovers and their relationship with the catoblepas. The more I learned, the more amazed I grew.
The domesticated catoblepas have been bred by the Drovers for many generations. They have not lost their deadly gaze power, but seem capable of using it voluntarily, and will not do so against the humans who herd them. It is as if the humans have been adopted into the catoblepas herd, for the death gaze is used against the orcs, trolls, and bullywugs who sometimes trouble the Drovers.
Herding behavior is unknown among wild catoblepas, but the Drovers have managed to breed out this instinct for solitude. Their villages maintain herds of up to 20 of the great beasts. This concentration of catoblepas has affected the swamps in several areas, driving out native plant and animal species, but so far the damage has been minimal.
As a domestic animal, the catoblepas has proved to be highly successful. Its meat and milk are tasty and nutritious. The milk, in fact, is made into several products, including butter and cheese. This cheese, marketed in the Realms as "Death Cheese," has attained some notoriety through Aurora's Whole Realms Catalogue. While some of the cheese is, as rumored, made from milk collected by adventurers, much of it is actually purchased from the Marsh Drovers in the marketplace of Eagle Peak.
Other items, such as the eyes, heart, and brain of the catoblepas, are used by wizards in the production of spell components, and sold in settlements such as Eagle Peak and Proskur.
Domesticated Catoblepas: The catoblepas kept by the Marsh Drovers as herd animals are somewhat different from those found outside the Farsea Marshes. They are encountered in groups of 2-20; their AC is 17, and they have 5d8+25 HP. In addition, domesticated catoblepas will use their death gaze ability only if attacked.
Faith and Magic
As I discovered, the Drovers worship a pantheon of gods, both familiar and unfamiliar, including Eldath of the Singing Waters, Lathander Morninglord, Mielikki of the Forests, and of course, our own Mother Chauntea. Several other minor deities exist. Some are well-known deities masquerading under different names - an evil being known as Bale in Drover legend is clearly descended from the now-dead deity Bhaal. Other deities, such as Bright Nydra, goddess of the winter moon, are apparently unique to Marsh Drover culture.
Low-level druidic magic is known among the Drovers, but clerical magic of higher than second level is very rare. My own modest abilities were considered nothing short of miraculous, even by those Drovers who themselves practiced magic. Cantrips and minor spellcasting are also used sometimes, but true wizardry is unknown in the Farseas. A few minor enchanted items are also used, but these are usually obtained outside the marshes, or dredged up from the swamp itself, where the water has covered the remains of earlier civilizations.
These small, malevolent creatures are apparently common in the Vast Swamp but are unknown, fortunately, in the Tun and Farsea Marshes. Meazels are solitary creatures, living in rude shelters deep within the swamp, emerging to hunt and feed upon the orc, goblin, and kobold bands that live in the Vast.
While their numbers are too small to have any real impact on the ecology of the Vast Swamp, meazels have taken on an important role in orc, kobold, and goblin mythology. Due to their solitary nature, secretive ways, and dietary habits, meazels are considered supernatural spirits who snatch away humanoids and devour them. Solitary orcs and goblins often carry numerous charms and fetishes to ward off meazels, while kobolds have been known to take sacrificial victims from their own tribes and leave them, bound hand and foot, to appease the wicked meazels. Needless to say, the meazels are only too happy to accept such gifts, which do little to dissuade them from stalking kobolds.
As my human companions and I discovered, the Tun Marshes are home to several small bands of trolls, ranging in size from two to six individuals. Although individual trolls are quite powerful, their total population is too small to represent a real threat to the lizard men or the Tun Bandits. Even so, both lizard men and bandits actively hunt trolls, with the express purpose of keeping the numbers of trolls small.
Tun trolls are larger, but also appear to be less intelligent than those found elsewhere in Faerûn. The varied vegetation in the Tun seems to have affected the trolls. coloration - such exotic complexions as blue, black, and gray are known, although the predominant skin tone is still a sickly green. Some individuals are a mottled combination of several colors; the trolls consider these to be touched by the gods, and often make them tribal leaders or shamans.
A small number of trolls also exist in the Farsea, sometimes going so far as to raid Drover villages. They are only too vulnerable to attack by catoblepas, however, and the humans use their herds to defend against such raids. As a consequence, troll raids are rare, and the troll population in the Farsea is low.
The Tun Bandits
Unlike the gentle Marsh Drovers, the bandits of the Tun Marshes proved to be less than receptive to Chauntea's message of peace and understanding. Ignoring the pleas of my Drover friends to avoid the region, I was determined to follow my mission and minister to all the inhabitants of the valley. I left my floating thatch temple in the capable hands of Tayth, my newly-appointed human acolyte, mounted my pony, and rode south.
As I have previously discussed, the Tun marshes are similar to the Farseas, save that their climate is somewhat milder. It was a bright and pleasant spring day as I approached the marshes, and I was greeted by flocks of brightly-colored songbirds and was fortunate enough to glimpse a lordly stag bounding out of a nearby thicket.
My first view of the marsh's humans was less savory, however. A raiding party of Tun Bandits was just returning to the swamp as I approached. Keeping the Drovers' warnings in mind, I was careful to hide myself as they passed. It was well that I did. They were a grim lot, clad in dirty black leather and rusty armor, their features disfigured by ugly scars, tattoos, and eye patches. Both men and women were represented in the raiding party, all similarly gruesome-looking, all shouting and singing drunkenly. They were laden with sacks and chests, and pulled a crude wagon filled with booty. In the wagon, I was horrified to see the tattered, dispirited figures of two humans - a man and a woman, both bound in chains.
As the bandit party disappeared into the swamp, still singing and chanting, I found myself in a dreadful dilemma. Clearly, my original intent to minister to these humans had been foolish - they were as likely to gut me or sell me into slavery as look at me. But were there other humans in the swamp, perhaps enemies of the bandits? Would they be any more receptive to my mission, and would I be able to help them in any conflict with the grim humans I had just seen? And what of the captives?
At length, I decided that Chauntea was with me, and that I was honor-bound to enter the bandits' lair and determine whether I could do anything for the unfortunate prisoners. I tied up my pony, and set off into the marshes.
While I know my duty to the Great Mother, I am neither a wilderness scout nor a great warrior. It was not long before I blundered into one of the bandits' many pit-traps. After several hours of fruitless escape attempts, I was soon found by a party of bandits every bit as ugly and dangerous-looking as the first. My limbs bound, I was taken to the bandits' camp. Once there, I was taken before the humans. leader, a warrior named Thaalim Torchtower. He was a surprisingly handsome man. From the look of his armor and heraldry, I surmised that he had once belonged to the Cormyrean Purple Dragons. With a harsh laugh, he ordered me thrown into a guarded pen with the bandits' other captives.
In the miserable confines of the pen, I made the acquaintance of my fellow captives, a pair I was to share harrowing times with. The man was a merchant from Cormyr, named Thaldo Sar, and the woman was his daughter, Rysilla. Like me, they were to be ransomed, but if Thaldo's business partners were at all slow paying the ransom the bandits demanded, they were to be sold into slavery. I knew my order was not a wealthy one, and I despaired ever being a free man again.
I passed the time by discussing the society and nature of our captors with Thaldo and Rysilla, who seemed to know quite a bit about them, owing to their frequent trips through the region. The bandits are indeed a desperate and dangerous group. Though most are humans, there are several goblins, orcs, and half-orcs among them. All are outlaws, escapees from prison, or fugitives from Cormyrean justice. These are not the noble outlaws of legend.indeed, anyone seeking refuge with the Tun Bandits must prove his or her willingness to commit the most violent and despicable of crimes before even being considered for membership. Those who show any hesitation are slain, driven out, or sold into slavery, thus assuring that all members of the bandit kingdom are among the most ruthless, violent, and antisocial individuals imaginable.
Once, the bandits consisted of several tribes of a few dozen members. Then came Thaalim Torchtower, a renegade Cormyrean soldier condemned to death for killing one of his fellows. He united the tribes into what is now commonly called a bandit kingdom with a population of over 1000. Torchtower rules with savage efficiency, surrounded by a bodyguard of human, half-human, and humanoid warriors who are completely loyal to him. Two renegade sorcerers also serve Torchtower - a man named Thylash (apparently from Thay), and a half-elf woman named Khyssaria. They assist him in battle and work tirelessly rooting out plots against him.
Bandit raiding parties set out regularly for the Storm Horns caravan routes, using information supplied by Torchtower's spies in Eagle Peak. The bandits have grown prosperous from their stolen booty, and have forced the caravans to increase the number of their guards and other defenses. King Azoun IV and his Purple Dragons have finally turned their attention to the bandits. depredations, but thus far the Tun Marshes. inaccessibility has prevented them from taking any decisive military action.
The Bandits and the Swamp
The bandits' unification has had a highly detrimental effect on the swamp and its environment, for their camps are invariably filthy places that produce much waste, smoke, and noise, frightening off many species and killing many plants. Trees are felled for shelter and woodfires, animals hunted and slaughtered wholesale, ponds drained and streams dammed with little concern for the effects on the marsh. Near the center of the swamp (apparently with help from the black dragon, Skurge), Torchtower and his followers have begun construction of a fortress with materials quarried from the Storm Horns or stolen from passing caravans. Much earth and stone have been transferred to this location, causing much disruption throughout the marsh. If the fortress is ever completed, it could prove a major threat to Cormyrean authority.
The dragon Skurge presents an interesting enigma. Thaldo and Rysilla were fully aware of the beast's existence, and openly wondered why the dragon allowed (and possibly even encouraged) the bandits to stay in the marshes. An apparent alliance of convenience has sprung up between these two evil forces' an alliance that may yet cause considerable grief to King Azoun.
From my companions. tale, it became clear that the Tun Marshes were undergoing a crisis of serious proportions. The bandits. presence has driven many animals from the marshes, and caused serious harm to its delicate web of life. As the sun sank and gloom descended over the swamp, I watched the bandits' revelry - singing, dancing, drinking, quarreling, and fighting.and wondered what the future held.
As evening faded into night and darkness enveloped us, the bandits. celebration degenerated into chaos and finally exhausted sleep. Even our guards lay in drunken stupors, and I realized that we now had a chance to escape.
Although my foolish, misspent youth is now far behind me, I do retain some skills from my old life. Taking a fine wire stiffener from Lady Rysilla's collar, I made myself busy with the brass lock that secured our pen. The lock was old and primitive, and in a few moments I had sprung it. I led the two humans from the encampment, now full of the sounds and bodies of somnolent humans.
Our flight through the swamp was a terror. We encountered several of the swamp's horrific denizens, and only escaped the fate of ending up in a troll's cookpot by a fortuitous encounter with the swamp's resident lizard men. Of course, I have recounted that adventure elsewhere, and (rather than repeat myself) I encourage any reader to see that entry for more details on the incident and on the lizard men.
It was days later that we finally reached the safety of the Farseas and the welcome aid of my friends the Drovers. Exhausted, hungry, thirsty, and on the verge of collapse, we were escorted back to Greenroot, leaving the sad, embattled Tun Marshes behind. I realized that the evil in that swamp could not be ignored by Cormyr forever, and that conflict there may be inevitable.
Legend tells of ancient twin civilizations that once occupied the lands known today as the Tun and Farsea Marshes. For some reason (which varies depending upon who's telling the story), the two lands were cursed and sank into the earth. The truth of these legends is open to conjecture.and I reserve my theorizing on this for a subsequent section. Nevertheless, the periodic appearance of ruins, treasures, and - more significantly - various species of undead, lend some credence to the notion that something ancient lies beneath the two swamps.
The appearance of undead in the Farsea and Tun is cause for great concern among both the Marsh Drovers and Torchtower's bandits. Relatively weak undead creatures such as skeletons and zombies appear with regularity, but in small numbers. These are hunted down and destroyed individually by bands of hunters or warriors. Larger infestations, or the appearance of more powerful undead, often lead to the mobilization of dozens or hundreds of warriors, and the use of spellcasters and highly-treasured enchanted weapons.
Several different undead species appear out of the western marshes. I recount what I have learned about the most common ones below.
These are the type of undead most often disgorged by the swamps of Tun and Farsea. In most cases, only a single individual rises to the surface to drag itself out into the open air, covered in swamp muck, dirt, and moss. Such an individual is truly a frightening sight, but it is easily disposed of, for skeletons freed in this manner generally do little save wander aimlessly about, rarely if ever actually attacking anyone. These skeletons are sometimes clad in the remnants of clothing or rusting armor.
When larger numbers of skeletons emerge from the depths, however, the danger is far greater. On occasion, dozens or even hundreds of skeletons may rise up from the swamp with murderous intent. Bands of skeletons roam the swamp, killing any living thing they encounter. Entire villages or encampments have been overwhelmed in this manner. In the face of such horrors, the Drovers and bandits both send out large numbers of fighters, hunters, and spellcasters to find and destroy the marauders. Such battles are invariably violent and deadly, with quarter neither asked nor given.
Needless to say, such incursions are rare, but they inflict serious damage upon the swamps and their inhabitants. Large stretches of the marshes are scoured clean of life - animals are slain, trees uprooted, plants killed, water fouled, and so on. Some sections of the Tun Marshes are virtually sterile as a result of undead incursion, and the Drovers claim that it can take decades for a region to recover fully.
These creatures, more recently dead than skeletons, are rarer than their fleshless "cousins." Whether as solitary individuals or members of large groups, zombies sometimes rise from the swamps, behaving similarly to the skeletons already described. In a particularly horrifying twist, those marsh warriors slain in battles with other undead have been known to rise up themselves as zombies, sometimes shambling with apparent malice into their own villages to trouble their former friends and family, who are left with the distasteful task of dispatching them.
No one knows from where these horrific, evil beings come. All that the Marsh Drovers know is that they periodically appear to trouble their communities, seeking to absorb the life energies of living humans.
Wraiths do not seem to bother with animals as prey, and so have little effect on the overall ecology of the Farsea. Like all undead, they are immune to the death gaze of the Drovers' catoblepas herds, and therefore they represent an uncommonly serious threat to the human communities where the creatures appear. Wraiths' life-draining abilities can cause a considerable loss of life before the Drovers can mobilize adequately to defend themselves.
Some of the Drovers claim that the presence of wraiths proves that there are burial grounds or other ceremonial sites deep below the marshes. Others feel that the wraiths are endemic to the entire region, and are simply attracted to the marshes due to the presence of humans.
Regardless of their origin, wraiths always prove difficult to eliminate, especially given their resistance to normal weapons. The Drovers rely heavily on their small store of enchanted weapons, which are always brought out when a wraith must be dealt with. Not surprisingly, the Drovers have a great interest in obtaining silver weapons.
As the Farsea Marshes are troubled by wraiths, so the Tun Marshes are haunted by these solitary creatures, the wights. As with wraiths, the presence of wights is taken as evidence that the Tun was once the site of burial mounds, graveyards, or mausoleums. This theory has been confirmed, so my friend Skola confided, by reports of wights clawing their way out of overgrown mounds deep inside the swamp.
Fortunately for the bandits, wights are solitary creatures, and never plague the swamps in large numbers as do skeletons and zombies. Able to drain and feed on the life energies of their victims, wights are dangerous creatures, and the bandits are grateful that they appear only one at a time.
Like the Drovers, the bandits are forced to use enchanted or silver weapons against wights. The bandits have an advantage over the Drovers, however, in the person of their spellcasters and renegade priests, who can use their abilities to defeat wights when they appear.
By far the rarest of undead species in the marshes is the lich. So far, only one such creature has ever appeared, and that in the Farsea Marshes. As my acolyte, Tayth, told the story, this single creature was more than enough, and almost proved to be the Drovers' doom. The highlights of his account I have copied here below.
"It was on a day much like this, nearly ten years ago, that it all began. I was still a child then, but I saw the terrible events with my own eyes, and I saw how they affected my father, my family, and my people.
"A foraging party under the huntress Althea returned one evening, reporting that a cluster of previously unknown ruins had risen from the swamp nearby. As these sites often contain treasure, weapons, and other valuable items, preparations were made to explore the ruins. My father, Rehar, was to lead the party.
"A day passed and the party did not return. Some began to worry, especially my mother. Near sunset, a commotion erupted at the edge of the village, and we hurried to investigate.
"A single raft approached the shore, poled along by a solitary figure. As he grew near in the gathering twilight, I saw that it was my father, and rushed forward with a cry. He was clearly wounded and at the limit of his strength. In the bottom of the boat, coated with mud and slime, was a scabbarded broad sword, which my father clutched to him as he stumbled ashore.
"A tumult of questions greeted him. What had happened? Where were the others? What had he found? Had he been ambushed? What was the sword? My father's only response was to fall to his knees, gasping a few incoherent words.
"'We awakened it,' he said. 'It killed Syvo. It's coming here. The sword... It fears the sword...' Then he collapsed, insensate.
"Even before we could recover from the shock of my father's arrival and collapse, a fearsome sound echoed through the village - a bubbling, agitated sound, emanating from the shallows around our island. In horror, we watched as dozens of animated skeletons, hung with marsh weeds, glistening with mud and slime, emerged from the water. I heard my mother scream.
"But the greatest horror was yet to come. An eerie blue glow appeared from beneath the water, and slowly rose to the surface. It was like a corpse-light, or will-o-wisp... a sick, unclean color that nauseated me simply by its appearance. Like a long-sunken bubble of marsh gas, the source of the glow emerged from the water, and the people gathered on the shore drew back as one, gasping with fear.
"It had once been human, but now it was a twisted shell, a rotted amalgam of bones, slimy flesh, tendons, and hair. Twin green flames flickered in its empty sockets, gazing at us with tangible malice. Clad in a long robe which had once been red and gold, it wore a silver circlet on its bony brow. A single green gem glittered and winked from the circlet, the only item on the entire creature which was not coated with slime or mud. It rose above the water, floating freely in the air.
"A rotted arm rose, stabbing a bony finger at my father, who still lay unconscious on the shore. A deep, crackling voice issued from its throat.
"'I am Nyrax, Lord of the Eight Thrones. Return what you have stolen,' it rasped, 'and your deaths will be quick and painless. Otherwise, be assured your fate will be less pleasant.'
"For an instant, no one moved. Endless tales of horror filled my mind, telling of such creatures that rose up from their burial grounds to plague the living. In my heart, I knew that the creature would not spare us, no matter what we did.
"Suddenly, my father's words echoed in my mind. 'It fears the sword.'
"Without further thought, as if my very limbs were driven by the strength of Lathander Morninglord himself, I sprang forward, seizing the scabbarded blade.
"The thing saw me, and drew back with what might be called fear. 'No, boy!' it shrieked. 'You don't know what you're doing!'
"I did not reply, but pulled the weapon from its scabbard. It shone with a white light that virtually blinded me, and I felt myself dragged out into the shallows toward the necrous horror that floated before us.
"'Stop!' the thing screamed. 'Spare me! I will serve you! I will be your slave! Please.'
"I did not heed the monster's pleas, but swung the sword, cutting effortlessly through its robes, its rotted skin, its brittle bones, shattering the Lord of the Eight Thrones into a thousand pieces.
"I do not recall much past that. My fellow villagers told me that, with Nyrax's destruction, the skeletons collapsed and sank back into the swamp. My father, upon his recovery, praised me to the skies. Since then many tales have been told and retold of my confrontation with the lich-king.
"But, my brother, I am no hero. I was inspired by the strength of the Morninglord, and by our mother Chauntea, and did only their bidding. Nyrax, Lord of the Eight Thrones, is slain now, but the sword remains in my keeping, should any creature like him ever again rise from swamps to threaten our lives and freedom."
Undead in the Vast Swamp
Along with its other horrors, the Vast Swamp harbors huge numbers of undead. All known types of undead have been encountered here, including mummies (normally found in more arid regions) and revenants. Many claim that a lich or group of liches is behind the insidious evil in the Vast Swamp. Some tales tell of a large complex of ruins near the center of the swamp, inhabited by numerous skeletons and zombies, as well as one or more liches clad in tattered black garments and armed with a variety of ancient and exotic weapons.
- The Journal of Brother Twick
- Part One: The Cormyrean Marshes
- Part Two: Monsters
- Part Three: Rumors and Legends