By Jeff Quick
In Surthay, the northernmost tharch of Thay, a tower of Red Wizards hunches near the Surmarsh. The wizards wait in their tower for the next attack on their berserker Rashemen neighbors. In between attacks, however, the wizards have long periods of downtime, which they usually spend experimenting.
Of course, these experiments frequently turn out badly, and the Red Wizards need some place to dispose of their failures and broken toys. Fortunately, for several years, they have known of a nearby portal that fits the bill. The portal's origins date back to the lizardfolk occupants of Thay before human occupation. Its original intent probably had something to do with lizardfolk ruins out in the Surmarsh, and one or more portals might lead from there to this one, perhaps as part of a circuit of portals among ancient, lost lizardfolk sites.
The command words to activate the portal are, "Open the comforting darkness," spoken in Draconic. When the portal is active, only darkness can be seen through its yawning rectangle.
As the wizards accumulate rubbish, they store it in a wagon outside the tower. When the wizards want to empty the wagon, they summon some weak creature (usually a formian worker) and order it to "accompany" the garbage through the portal. One of the wizards has to be on hand to speak the command words. This chore is often the penalty for various friendly bets around the tower. The wizards themselves have no idea what's on the other side, and they do not care. The summoned creatures are of little consequence, and their garbage problem is conveniently solved.
The wizards' definition of trash is suitably broad. In addition to the alchemical and experimental wastes (which are sometimes toxic), they also have regular human and food wastes that result from everyday living, and every so often the waste of excess adventurers or Rashemi snoops. Everything the wizards deem as trash goes through the portal once every few days or so.
Once the garbage and its escort travel through the portal, they appear in an underground grotto underneath Thay about a mile from a drow city. As might be expected, otyughs have found this wondrous pile of festering refuse and taken up residence. The summoned garbage escort sometimes has to fight the otyughs for the remaining minutes of its tenure on the Material Plane (an extra ignominy on top of being called to take out the trash).
On the Other End
A pile of semimagic refuse in the resource-scarce Underdark is not a trifle. However, otyughs are a serious inconvenience for trash divers. The nearby drow are understandably curious about how the otyughs live so well, and spies have been dispatched on several occasions to watch the garbage and find out where it's coming from.
The spies have seized and questioned a few of the formian workers that have come through the portal. Formian workers can't talk and aren't very smart, so the drow have to extract information directly via mind-affecting spells. The best they've surmised is that some surface wizards near a swamp frequently want to send "smelly things" through the "magic hole."
The drow deduced that this is the work of Thay. However, the uselessness of most things that appear has convinced them that it isn't an attack or a threat to their city. Further, since the otyughs are quite useful, the drow have begun to dump their own garbage here, attracting even more of the trash monsters to the area.
By now, six otyughs live well in the garbage. The magic castoffs from the wizards have begun to affect a change on them, though. The otyughs occasionally turn invisible. This doesn't bother the otyughs, but it's been a rude surprise to the drow spies who scour the garbage for accidental treasures thrown away by the wizards.
Otyughs (6): hp 33 each; 20% chance each is invisible; see Monster Manual.
One priestess in particular, Harzren Tyll'Lynzet (CE female drow Clr3 of Lolth), keeps a steady eye on the portal. Harzren is low in the hierarchy of her noble house, so she looks for every opportunity to gain power and surprise over her sisters and cousins. She has noticed the change in the otyughs, and after careful analysis of what her spies bring her, she thinks she knows which Red Wizards are doing the dumping. She doesn't know what she'll do with this information, but it could be useful in case the wizards ever dump anyone through the portal who wants revenge.
How to Incorporate the Garbage Disposal Into Your Champaign
- The characters are approached by the agent of someone (a red wizard) who needs a bit of a retrieval job performed for him. He has an agent send the PCs through the portal after a specific item that was inadvertently sent through it. Will the PCs defeat or avoid the otyughs? Do they find the item?
- The PCs are asked to look into the location of a portal. The agent they're working with doesn't know for certain where it is, but she thinks she has a good idea. A decent reward is involved in the expedition. Do the PCs take the job, and what do they find out?