Portals of the Moonsea
By Skip Williams
The Northkeep portal stands at one end of a vault located below the bottom of the Moonsea, under the ruins of Northkeep. The vault was once part of the dungeons and catacombs of Northkeep, the oldest human settlement in the Moonsea region.
When Northkeep was destroyed in DR 400, most of these subterranean works collapsed and flooded, and the city above them fell into the Moonsea. The wreckage of the city's larger buildings still form a jumbled underwater landscape on the Moonsea floor. Some of these ruins can be seen from the surface of the Moonsea today. Several bell towers remain intact, and the shifting currents of the Moonsea occasionally stir these submerged bells and set them ringing. Northkeep's watery grave has become known as the Bell in the Deep.
Some of the deeper portions of the Northkeep dungeons survived the collapse. The jumbled and flooded wreckage of Northkeep's upper dungeons lies below the ruins on the seabed, and below that is an unknown number of other remnants of the deep dungeons, still intact and dry. A few passages still connect these areas to air-filled ruins on the Moonsea floor.
The vault is one of these surviving deep dungeon areas. The complex includes the vault and a series of ancient tombs. The complex isn't very inviting to living visitors. Though air filled, the atmosphere in the place is barely breathable. The complex has been unventilated for centuries, and the air still carries traces of dust and acrid smoke from the fall of Northkeep. To make matters worse, the complex serves as a repository for dozens of corpses at any given time, and these make the air even fouler. Even in summer, the temperature hovers near freezing, and the humidity makes the place seem even colder. The chill inflicts cold damage each hour, as noted in the Cold Dangers section in Chapter 3 in the Dungeon Master's Guide. Because of the humidity, Fortitude saves against the cold suffer a -2 circumstance penalty. The depleted air in the complex poses even more danger, and living visitors suffer slow suffocation (see Other Dangers section Chapter 3 in the Dungeon Master's Guide).
The rulers of Northkeep used the portal to send spies, diplomats, and few favored merchants to far-flung locations around the Moonsea. The two-way portal leads to matching portals in Zhentil Keep, Phlan, and Mulmaster. Users bound to any of these locations must activate the portal with the correct key, and such travel is possible only once each hour. The key is any coin minted in Northkeep, and it must be held against the forehead with one hand. The user also must specify a destination by saying east (Mulmaster), west (Zhentil Keep), or north (Phlan), and the name of the destination must be spoken in Damaran. Failure to use the correct key or name a destination originally sent the user into a holding cell; however, this cell has since collapsed. Today, someone using the portal incorrectly causes the portal to malfunction (see Table 2-2 in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting).
The lich Akempus, who now calls the complex containing the portal home, was once a citizen of Northkeep. Akempus betrayed Northkeep to its enemies in return for the title and privileges of overlord of the city. Akempus's allies however, double-crossed him, destroying the city instead of merely conquering it, though they kept the letter of their word to Akempus. They left him the undisputed master of the city though it became entombed in an airless crypt deep below the ground. Akempus survived by becoming a lich (a plan he already had set into motion before the city's fall). Until recently, Akempus has been content to "rule" over his limited domain, sitting alone in the frigid darkness, with a few undead servants to attend him, and thinking himself every inch the lord of the city. A short time, ago, however, the vampire Podel, a denizen of Zhentil Keep, discovered the portal and survived his meeting with the depraved Akempus by flattering the lich. Now Akempus is convinced he is destined to rule the entire Moonsea and busies himself creating a legion of undead, mostly zombies and morghs, with which to conquer the Moonsea. He has begun by offering undead work gangs to various greedy employers all round the Moonsea area. A typical gang consists of a mohrg and a few zombies under its control. For now, the undead Akempus has supplied obey their owners, but they remain loyal only to Akempus.
Akempus: Male human lich Clr 5/Nec 9/True Necromancer 4; CR 20; Medium-size undead; HD 5d12 plus 9d12 plus 4d12; hp 123; Init +6; Spd 30 ft.; AC 23, touch 14, flat-footed 21; Atk +11 melee (1d8+5, touch); or +13/+8 melee (1d6+5, +2 unholy quarterstaff); SA damaging touch, fear aura, paralyzing touch, rebuke undead 10/day (as 9th-level cleric), cast any Necromancy spell as an 18th-level character, zone of desecration; SQ create undead, DR 15/+1, immunities (cold, electricity, mind-affecting effects, polymorphing), turn resistance +4, undead traits; AL NE; SV Fort +10, Ref +11, Will +18; Str 14, Dex 15, Con --, Int 22, Wis 19, Cha 16.
Skills and Feats: Craft (alchemy) +15, Appraise +9, Bluff +6, Concentration +17, Craft (leatherworking) +14, Diplomacy +11, Hide +10, Intimidate +6, Knowledge (arcana) +14, Knowledge (history) +15, Knowledge (nobility and royalty) +15, Knowledge (religion) +14, Knowledge (the planes) +15, Knowledge (undead) +15, Listen +15, Move Silently +23, Search +14, Sense Motive +12, Spellcraft +23, Spot +15; Combat Reflexes, Craft Wondrous Item, Dodge, Extend Spell, Extra Turning, Forge Ring, Improved Initiative, Lightning Reflexes, Quicken Spell, Scribe Scroll, Spell Focus (Necromancy), Spell Penetration.
Damaging Touch (Su): Akempus deals 1d8+5 points of negative energy damage (Will DC 22 half) with each successful melee touch attack.
Fear Aura (Su): Any creature with less than 5 HD within a 60-foot emanation of Akempus that looks at him must succeed at a Will save (DC 22) or be affected as though by a fear spell (caster level 18th).
Paralyzing Touch (Su): Any living creature that Akempus touches must succeed at a Fortitude save (DC 22) or be permanently paralyzed. Remove paralysis or any spell that can remove a curse can free the victim (see the bestow curse spell description). The effect cannot be dispelled. Anyone paralyzed by Akempus seems dead, though a successful Spot check (DC 20) or Heal check (DC 15) reveals that the victim is still alive. This power works in conjunction with Akempus's damaging touch (see above).
Zone of Desecration (Su): An aura of desecration effect (as the spell) continuously surrounds Akempus in a 20-foot emanation.
Create Undead (Sp): Once per day Akempus can use create undead (caster level 18th).
Undead Traits: Akempus is immune to mind-affecting effects, poison, sleep, paralysis, stunning, disease, death effects, necromantic effects, and any effect that requires a Fortitude save unless it also works on objects. He is not subject to critical hits, subdual damage, ability damage, ability drain, energy drain, or death from massive damage. Akempus cannot be raised, and resurrection works only if he is willing. He also has darkvision (60-foot range).
Cleric Spells Prepared (5/4+1/3+1/2+1; save DC 14 + spell level.): 0 -- detect magic (2), inflict minor wounds (3); 1st -- bane, command, inflict light wounds (2), detect undead*; 2nd -- desecrate*, inflict moderate wounds, shatter, silence; 3rd -- animate dead*, blindness/deafness, invisibility purge.
*Domain spell. Deity: Velsharoon. Domains: Death (death touch 1/day), Undeath (Extra Turning as a bonus feat).
Wizard Spells Prepared (5/7/7/6/6/5/4/2; save DC 16 + spell level, or 18 + spell level for Necromancy spells; Prohibited school: Illusion): 0 -- arcane mark, dancing lights, mage hand, prestidigitation, ray of frost; 1st -- chill touch¹, magic missile (2), negative energy ray¹² (2), shield, true strike; 2nd -- Aganazzar's scorcher3, false life¹², detect thoughts, glitterdust, knock, see invisibility, spectral hand¹; 3rd -- fly, haste (2), negative energy burst¹² (2), vampiric touch¹; 4th -- contagion¹, dimension door, enervation¹, negative energy wave¹, scrying, thunderlance3; 5th -- animate dead¹, feeblemind, fire shield (extended), spiritwall¹², telekinesis; 6th -- acid fog, circle of death¹, greater dispelling, Grimwald's greymantle1,3; 7th -- finger of death¹, prismatic spray.
Spellbook: 0 -- arcane mark, dancing lights, daze, detect magic, detect poison, disrupt undead, flare, light, mage hand, mending, open/close, prestidigitation, ray of frost, read magic, resistance; 1st -- burning hands, cause fear, chill touch, detect secret doors, detect undead, expeditious retreat, magic missile, negative energy ray¹², ray of enfeeblement¹, shield, sleep, true strike; 2nd -- Aganazzar's scorcher3, arcane lock, darkness, detect thoughts, false life¹², fog cloud, ghoul touch¹, glitterdust, knock, obscure object, see invisibility, spectral hand¹; 3rd -- clairaudience/clairvoyance, dispel magic, fly, halt undead¹, haste, negative energy burst¹², stinking cloud, tongues, vampiric touch¹; 4th -- contagion¹, detect scrying, dimension door, dominate person, enervation¹, fire shield, negative energy wave¹², scrying, thunderlance3, wall of ice; 5th -- animate dead¹, contact other plane, feeblemind, magic jar¹, spiritwall¹², telekinesis, teleport; 6th -- acid fog, circle of death¹, globe of invulnerability, greater dispelling, Grimwald's greymantle1,3, legend lore; 7th -- control undead¹, finger of death¹, prismatic spray.
Possessions: +2 unholy quarterstaff, bracers of armor +4, ring of protection +2, cloak of resistance +2, scroll of ice storm, 2 potions of intelligence, ring of invisibility, scroll of solid fog, scroll of spell turning, boots of elvenkind, pearl of power (1st-level spell), pearl of power (2nd-level spell), pearl of power (3rd-level spell) wand of magic missile (9th-level caster, 28 charges).
1. Necromancy spell.
Akempus is quite a handful all by himself, and he has plenty of undead minions (mostly zombies, mohrgs, and vampire spawn) to call upon if attacked. Fortunately, he usually busies himself with plans for conquest or with manufacturing new undead (usually zombies or mohrgs). Casual visitors to the vault might encounter the guard Akempus sets over the portal only (Akempus usually casts a desecrate spell on the vault containing the portal each day).
Mohrg: hp 91.
Nightwing: hp 110.
Vampire Spawn: hp 26.
Wraith: hp 32.
Zombie: hp 16.
(EL 11) Average party level 10 (four 10th-level characters): 2 mohrgs, 4 vampire spawn, 12 human (Medium-size) zombies.
(EL 13) Average party level 12 (four 12th-level characters): 3 mohrgs, 4 vampire spawn, 4 wraiths, 12 human (Medium-size) zombies.
(EL 15) Average party level 14 (four 14th-level characters): 3 mohrgs, 1 nightwing, 12 human (Medium-size) zombies.
How to Incorporate the Northkeep Portal Into Your Champaign
- Gold coins and tradebars bearing the seal of long-ruined Northkeep have begun to circulate in the Moonsea area, prompting rumors of a great treasure to be found in the chilly water around the Bell in the Deep. It is well known that underwater lights are occasionally seen around there, and now it seems those lights are from successful treasure hunters scavenging on the lake bottom.
- The player characters are invited to join a treasure hunting expedition to the ruins of Northkeep.
- Ships plying the waters of the Moonsea have begun steering clear of the Bell in the Deep, especially at night, when, it is said, strange sounds beckon sailors to leap overboard and drown themselves.