Wyrms of the North Hoondarrh, "Red Rage"
Dragon Magazine #241
By Ed Greenwood with supplementary material provided by Sean K Reynolds
Most folk who dwell up and down the Sword Coast have heard of the Red Rage of Mintarn. That may make the venerable red dragon Hoondarrh one of the most famous wyrms in history though most folk think he's no more than a fancy tale concocted to scare children.
Yet the Sleeping Wyrm of Skadaurak is very much alive. Few villages may be torn apart under his talons these days, and fewer ships burnt to ashes, as the rich and satisfied Hoondarrh begins his second Long Sleep, but his relative absence from the scene doesn't make him dead or a mere legend.
The confusion surrounding Hoondarrh is due largely to his connections with two other famous dragons: Skadaurak, whom he slew to gain his present lair; and Angkarasce the Lost, whose hoard Hoondarrh seized. (Angkarasce was a white dragon whose sorcery and wealth were unmatched in the early days of human settlement of the Sword Coast, and who wore a cloak of splendid legends because of it. He is long dead, consumed by his own sorceries as he sought to enspell himself into immortality.)
Some say Hoondarrh is Skadaurak, or his son; others believe that something is on the isle where Hoondarrh lairs that makes dragons sleep and then awaken revitalized and in new bodies -- and that the Red Rage of Mintarn is really Angkarasce the Mighty in a younger body of a different breed, but with the same fell old wisdom and sorcery.
Growing as confused as the bards and sages of the North? The best way to learn the truth (something Volo never did) is to follow the known life of Hoondarrh down the years. With Elminster's aid, we can trace the career of a dragon whose toll of slain adventurers still rises with each passing decade.
Hoondarrh was born somewhere in the eastern Sword Coast North in the late summer of the Year of Scorching Suns (460 DR). The first hatchling of a brood whose parents quarreled, leaving one dead and the other sorely wounded, Hoondarrh was always large, vigorous, and aggressive. He slew and devoured his fellow hatchlings, and soon he grew bold enough to challenge his remaining parent.
Hoondarrh lost that fight but escaped with his life, fleeing westward into the chaos of chill mists, icebergs, and desolate islands that cloak the northernmost Sword Coast. There he devoured many creatures, growing in size, cunning, and strength, until a fateful night in the Year of Fire and Frost (600 DR), when he swooped down on a human expedition struggling in the snows to find a pass through the Spine of the World and devoured the lot of them. On the body of one expedition member, the wizard Tharilim of Calimport, was a magic gem: an emerald as big as a human fist, the Ongild (named for the Halruaan wizard who had crafted it). This gem has the powers of a ring of regeneration, and it empowers anyone bearing it to use four particular spells once per day at caster level 18 (Elminster believes they are delayed blast fireball, prismatic spray, reverse gravity, and spell turning). The Ongild is still lodged somewhere in Hoondarrh's innards, walled away in a canker, and he can call on its powers even today. At the time, the Ongild's powers both astonished the dragon and gave him fresh confidence. After experimenting with his new-found magical might (slaying at least one young dragon in the process), he set forth to challenge his surviving parent.
He won the battle this time and found himself owner of a small hoard in a crumbling mountain cave -- just as an orc horde boiled down out of the north. Hoondarrh swooped into their midst, slaying and devouring at will. At first he simply lost himself in the exultation of killing, but then he undertook either to obliterate the horde or to lessen it so that no orcs reached his newly won lair. He succeeded in the latter goal, but his repeated attacks attracted the notice of another wyrm, Naroun the Great White Ghost, who is a legend among orcs for his habit of gliding along very low above the snows, snatching up prey with his talons as he came upon them. Naroun attacked the intruder, and the white wyrm and the red cartwheeled across the sky for two days before the Great White Ghost died in a collision with a mountain peak, and the bloody, sorely wounded Hoondarrh could collapse on a nearby ridge to heal.
He lay there for days, twitching feebly, as the Ongild did its work -- only to be rudely interrupted one morning when the ridge slid out from under him in an avalanche that carried him down into a cramped bowl valley and laid bare one side of a long-buried cavern crammed with sparkling gems and heaps of ancient coins. The bones of a dead dragon were stretched out atop all this wealth, and Hoondarrh thrust them aside to claim the pile as his own bed.
From magic items among the hoard, as he lay there healing, Hoondarrh learned the bones were those of the legendary Angkarasce the Lost. Many of the magic items buried under the resting Hoondarrh were metal orbs that stored spells, and from them the red dragon gleaned a roster of spells he could cast to augment the four spells of the Ongild.
Hoondarrh realized he had at a single stroke become richer than most dragons had ever become and that the cavern, raked by the howling storm winds of winter, was no longer a suitable lair. He had to find or make a better home -- a place to keep safe his new-found hoard.
Elminster believes that gaining this truly awesome hoard early on kept Hoondarrh largely free of the gnawing hunger for wealth that dominates most red dragons, replacing it instead with a desire for security.
It is known that when the red dragon was healed, he brought down the roof of the cavern to bury the hoard once more. Then he set forth on a long and bloody exploration of the Sword Coast North. For years he flew far and wide, battling dragons wherever he found them, but not bothering to pursue those who hid or fled. He was searching for the right lair, learning all the while who dwelt where in this vast land of snows and mountains and endless forests.
The growing settlements of men fascinated Hoondarrh. After destroying a few with almost casual ease, he discovered that lying hidden and watching the deeds of men (with the aid of a long-range arcane eye spell gleaned from one of his orbs) was far greater entertainment -- and alerted him to when herds of livestock would be driven north into his waiting jaws.
From this time spent lying on mountaintops overlooking Waterdeep and other human cities came Hoondarrh's love of pranks, bold deceptions, and treachery among humans and humanoids. Occasionally he grew restless or hungry, and erupted from his rests into wild flights of slaughter and devouring, usually ranging up and down the islands off the Sword Coast from the Moonshaes to the Nelanther. The big, brawling red dragon became a familiar sight in coastal skies -- a sight that evoked terror.
Often Hoondarrh wheeled above ships of cowering men bellowing with sky-shaking laughter at their terrified antics and sparing them, but when he became enraged, he'd attack the strongest castles with his talons and spells, bringing mighty fortresses crashing down into ruin.
Thankfully, Hoondarrh usually flew inland when hungry. In his explorations, Hoondarrh had discovered the great fun of flying low over the Shaar with jaws agape to scoop up wild horses and other roaming herd beasts by the ton. Orc hordes occasionally provided him with more local gluttony, but the red dragon hunted the coast itself for food less and less often.
What Hoondarrh was still seeking, as the centuries passed, was a lair. He found it one spring day in the Year of the Singing Arrows (884 DR), when the great red wyrm Skadaurak awakened from a Long Sleep in his cavern on the island that bore his name (the northernmost of the two islands northwest of Mintarn).
Skadaurak had been sleeping for almost 1,000 years, employing Saldrinur's Slow Gem, a Halruaan magic item that plunges its wearer into temporal stasis of a set duration (usually two or four centuries, though the user may set any time). Such a sleep may be interrupted by any number of preselected alarm conditions. Its maker, Saldrinar of the Seven Spells, used it to live far beyond his normal span, to a time in which safe and secure alternatives to lichdom had been mastered and escaped into one of them. (Elminster will say no more of this, beyond the curt advice: "Even diligent readers should always be chasing some secrets.")
By use of this magic jewel, Skadaurak also sought to live on until magic to rival that of Netheril rose again among the ambitious, creative, everstriving human wizards, and he might find a sorcerer who'd give him immortality in return for the magic he'd amassed. During his extended slumbers, the Red Terror of Mintarn had become a legend of the dim past, with most folk believing him long dead if they remembered him at all.
They were not far wrong. When he dug his way out of his mountainside cavern and shook out stiff, long-unused wings to fly inland to find food, Skadaurak found instead an old red dragon of unusual size and vigor plunging down out of the sky at him.
He flapped hastily aloft -- straight into spell after rending spell, followed by the teeth and talons of Hoondarrh himself. The younger red dragon tore apart his sleepy rival and descended without delay to examine the newly-revealed lair.
It seemed perfect, and it even came furnished with a respectable hoard; much smaller than that of Angkarasce, but even more rich in magic. Hoondarrh explored it and soon found the Slow Gem. Since acquiring the fabled hoard of the Lost Dragon, Hoondarrh had been too rich to care about mere wealth, but here was something that made him hungry again. To live forever. . . .
First he needed to make this lair as secure as any lair could be. He set to work enlarging it and ferrying his wealth hence, and so he spent two solid years before being attacked by adventurers.
Their fate was no grander than to be a quick meal, but their attempt reminded Hoondarrh that the grasping little annoyances known as humans were perhaps his deadliest foes. He set about delving out caverns all around his true lair and flying far afield in search of wizards and artisans, employing spells to spy such folk out and communicate with them from a safe distance.
On the island north of Mintarn, several "false lairs" came into being: newly-dug caves baited with excess treasure and well furnished with traps installed by the mages and dwarven stonecutters Hoondarrh had hired. These artisans were given free rein in developing fiendish waiting deaths for human-sized intruders.
A special team of mages were even paid their own weights in gems to acquire some of the beasts known as deepspawn, and so arrange the rearing of these strange monsters that they spat forth rothé, horses, and cattle. The 'spawn were installed in caves on the neighboring island to furnish Hoondarrh with everyday food.
When he was satisfied that the defenses of his lair were strong (a conclusion reached after two unsuccessful pirate raids and a stealthy dragon attack that ended in bloody disaster for the mercury dragon attempting it), the Red Rage sent away the last of his artisans. Sealing his cavern with boulders and spells, Hoondarrh fared forth across Faerûn, spending a leisurely two seasons hunting down and devouring all of his former employees he could find, to keep his secrets as safe as possible. He'd forgotten that humans could write things down and so pass trouble on down the years.
One winter day in the Year of the Empty Hand (896 DR), the folk of Mintarn were startled by the thunderous arrival of a huge red dragon in the meadows above their harbor. Desperate to protect their meager livestock, they tremblingly took up arms -- but they were astonished when the dragon let it be known he'd come to bargain: If they paid him a gold piece per inhabitant per year, he'd let them all live, and even protect them against pirates.
They accepted -- as the elders muttered, what else could they do? -- and received another surprise when the dragon told the crew of the first tribute ship to stop by his other isle on their way home and take for their own not more than two cows each.
Sages have debated the motives behind the unusual kindness of Hoondarrh for years, but according to Elminster, the Red Rage dealt with the folk of Mintarn as he did solely to gain a reputation. As he happily raided coastal shipping and lands, the folk of Mintarn told all whom they traded with of his vast wealth and trap-guarded lair . . . and the greedy adventurers started to come.
Such visitors provide Hoondarrh with entertainment and magic. He enjoys watching intruders get maimed in his traps before he devours them, and he also likes to gather magic items of any sort -- from gathering belts of feather fall to rods of lordly might -- and gains a fairly steady flow of such baubles from the adventurers he has lured into his waiting claws. Only Hoondarrh knows the ways around all of the traps on his island and the traps that in turn guard those ways around.
In the meantime, he undertakes decade-long sleeps, using the jewel wrought by Saldrinar. Between slumbers, he entertains himself by watching from afar the activities of humans (in particular, in the city of Waterdeep). He rewards humans and others whose jests, pranks, treacheries and intrigues amuse him by paying them handsomely -- though he'll hunt anyone who dares to steal from him clear around Toril if need be. Always he seeks word of wizards working on magic concerned with eternal life or enhanced longevity.
Though the Red Rage suspects the elves of Evermeet and the human mages of Halruaa and Thay have progressed in such studies beyond all others, he fears to approach lands bristling with powerful, well-organized mages, and thus far only tries to pry into goings-on in those places by hiring spies.
Ambitious adventurers are advised that Hoondarrh the Mighty pays well, but he has a habit of devouring agents who fail him, irritate him, or who he thinks are learning too much about him or his lair. They are further warned that his isle boasts a collection of traps unsurpassed in all Faerûn, and has claimed the lives of even powerful mages who prudently sought only to escape it soon after their arrival.
Now a venerable wyrm of increasingly lengthy sleeps and lessening energy, Hoondarrh dreams of a mate and offspring and becomes increasingly impatient for the achievement of immortality, for he dare not allow himself intimacy until he is secure in its everlasting protection.
A fighter of almost unmatched experience and cunning, the Red Rage of Mintarn is known to have defeated foes as formidable as a quartet of beholders who sought his treasure and tried to trick him into a prepared killing-ground with news of immortality spells they were willing to trade.
Hoondarrh also possesses a knowledge of the lay of the land of western Faerûn (as seen from the air) matched by no other living being and is said to be an increasingly accomplished caster of the many spells he has inherited from his various hoards, knowing how to combine magic to devastating effect.
The Red Rage maintains at least two sleeping-caverns stocked with food-producing deepspawn and treasure -- one on a remote island near the Icepeak, and another somewhere inland in the mountains of the Sword Coast North. His main lair on the isle of Skadaurak, however, is a vast complex of subterranean rooms -- in fact, a recently-built "dungeon." It has no less than three shafts where a large red dragon can fly in and out with wings spread; one of them turns back to angle almost straight up into a mountain peak, and there ends in the main treasure cavern.
The rest of the island is honeycombed with trap-filled false lairs. Some of these are even home to a few bold brigands, whom Hoondarrh suffers to live because they amuse him with their furtive diggings, and they have learned not to dare any open assault on his main caverns. From time to time he snatches one up and dumps the man in Baldur's Gate or Waterdeep or Athkatla, to babble tales of the vast and rich lair that sprawls through the very heart of the isle of Skadaurak, and so lure more adventurers hence.
Though Hoondarrh is not known to possess any sentient servants, his lair seems alive with golems and gargoylelike automatons of various sorts -- and even with captive monsters that are kept ravenously hungry.
From his lair, Hoondarrh roams Faerûn more or less at will, avoiding magic-strong realms such as Evermeet, Thay, and Halruaa. He also largely avoids combat with other dragons, though he'll humble or cripple a persistent foe. If pressed, he'll try to "flee" out over the Sea of Swords and trick his foe into diving at him before using a wingbind spell so they'll plunge helplessly under the waves and drown.
He enjoys roaming the backlands and the Shaar, chasing down food, but his domain is the coastal islands up and down the Sword Coast. He delights in toying with ships south of Mintarn, and only his Long Sleeps have kept humans from abandoning water travel in the region.
The Deeds of Hoondarrh
The favorite prey of Hoondarrh is a creature who has tried to cheat or outwit him. He is contemptuous of most good-aligned dragons and delights in surprising wyrms of all sorts with the strength and variety of his own magic. If he's not sleeping at the heart of his lair, Hoondarrh spends most days scrying events in western Faerûn -- and so is almost never surprised by events or intruders.
Currently Hoondarrh has his eye on certain ambitious rising mages in Tethyr and among the noble families of Waterdeep. Surely some of them will agree to develop spells to keep a dragon young and vigorous for extra years, in return for financial sponsorship and timely magical aid -- if only he can trust any of them and find a way to make that trust binding.
Over the last four decades, the Red Rage has thrice sent illusions that he can speak through, in the shapes of attractive humans, to meet with selected individuals of rising magical power. In such guise he always purports to represent this or that fictitious dragon and requests that the mage develop specific draconic-assistance spells (a magic to swiftly heal torn wings or to regenerate scales) in return for wealth and his protection or at least spell-hurling aid. Hoondarrh feels that anything so blunt as a revelation of his goal of immortality can wait until he's addressing a trusted ally with whom he's worked successfully for a decade or more.
One prospect rejected the offer with a frantic whirlwind of fearful and angry spells. Another, obviously but shyly smitten with the attractive agent, cited overwhelming present pressures of work and oppressive local politics, requesting that he be contacted later. Subsequent overtures yielded a variety of excuses, but never a definite acceptance or refusal. Eventually Hoondarrh allowed himself a snarl, then moved on.
The third wizard, Elquaern Hunabar (of the noble Hunabars of Waterdeep) accepted the offer and set to work. Three spells were duly produced, but the Red Rage detected a flaw in one spell and suspected that the others also contained deficiencies -- small, covert weaknesses. He requested a face-to-face meeting of dragon and mage. Several times the offer was politely accepted, but then delays were always requested. Hoondarrh made thoughtful preparations for the long-awaited encounter . . . preparations he suspected were more than matched in thoughtfulness by his counterpart.
The meeting finally occurred in the Caraww, a large but shallow cavern in the rising hillsides just west of Rassalantar. The gaping-mouthed cave had long been known as a haunt of bears and the occasional leucrotta, but no one had suspected that a dragon made its lair there. When Elquaern left his bodyguard and grimly scrambled up a bracken-cloaked slope into the Caraww, a seemingly solid side wall of the cavern faded away like smoke to reveal a mound of loose coins and the head of a green dragon peering around it. More of Elquaern's patron, who introduced herself as Galarrdratha, became visible as the sorcerer stepped forward. All pleasantries ceased abruptly when the dragon calmly asked Elquaern what treacheries he intended, citing the suspicious details of his spells -- details that a dragon could not help but notice seemed intended to give an informed human some measure of control over any wyrm casting them.
The proud young Hunabar wasted no breath on a reply but activated a spell that cloaked him in multiple defensive spells, then let fly at Galarrdratha with two magic rods. Their fury caused the illusory wyrm no damage, accomplishing little more than sending stone shards slashing about the cavern, but Elquaern's defenses saved him from any harm, so the watching Hoondarrh used a spell of his own to bring down the ceiling of the Caraww. No more has been heard since of Galarrdratha the green dragon, or of Elquaern Hunabar, but the much-enlarged Caraww is sometimes used by shepherds seeking shelter for their flocks against driving storms. Hoondarrh's discreet inquiries continue . . . as does his use of aliases.
Very few dragons have attained immortality, but if no one slays the Red Rage of Mintarn in the next 30 years or so (and he practically goads sorcerers and adventurers to do so), he stands a good chance of becoming some sort of ghost dragon. He's only a few spells away from putting such a disembodied essence into control of a dragonlike mechanical construct or zombie dragon body . . . but he is proceeding cautiously for fear that the Cult of the Dragon will learn of his state and swoop in at a crucial moment to seize control over him.
Hoondarrh: Male great wyrm red dragon; CR 20; Colossal dragon (fire); HD 40d12+440; hp 700; Init +4; Spd 40 ft., fly 200 ft. (clumsy); AC 41, touch 2, flat-footed 41; Atk +50 melee (4d8+19, bite) and +45 melee (4d6+9, 2 claws) and +45 melee (2d8+9, 2 wings) and +45 melee (4d6+28, tail slap); Face/Reach 40 ft. by 80 ft./15 ft.; SA breath weapon (70-foot cone of fire), crush 4d8+28, frightful presence, spell-like abilities, spells, tail sweep 2d8+28; SQ blindsight 360 ft., DR 20/+3, fire subtype, immunities, keen senses, regeneration (as ring of regeneration), SR 32; AL CE; SV Fort +35, Ref +24, Will +30; Str 49, Dex ), SR 32; AL CE; SV Fort +35, Ref +24, Will +30; Str 49, Dex 10, Con 33, Int 26, Wis 27, Cha 26.
Skills and Feats: Appraise +48, Bluff +51, Climb +29, Concentration +54, Diplomacy +57, Escape Artist +15, Gather Information +23, Heal +13, Hide -6, Intimidate +17, Jump +59, Knowledge (arcana) +42, Knowledge (Sword Coast local) +23, Knowledge (Waterdeep local) +13, Listen +51, Scry +51, Search +51, Sense Motive +28, Spellcraft +48, Spot +51, Swim +24, Wilderness Lore +13; Cleave, Expertise, Great Fortitude, Hover, Improved Initiative, Lightning Reflexes, Power Attack, Quicken Spell, Snatch, Spell Penetration, Widen Spell.
Breath Weapon (Su): Hoondarrh can breathe a 70-foot cone of fire that deals 24d10 points of fire damage (Reflex DC 41 half). Once he has used his breath weapon, he must wait 1d4 rounds before doing so again.
Crush: When flying or jumping, Hoondarrh can land on Huge or smaller opponents as a standard action, using his whole body to crush them. A crush attack affects as many creatures as can fit under Hoondarrh's body. Each potentially affected creature must make a Reflex save (DC 41) or be pinned, automatically taking 4d8+28 points of bludgeoning damage that round and every round thereafter that Hoondarrh maintains the pin (treat his attempts to maintain the pin as normal grapple attacks; grapple bonus +75).
Frightful Presence (Su): This ability takes effect automatically when Hoondarrh attacks, charges, or flies overhead. It affects only opponents with 39 or fewer Hit Dice or levels within a radius of 360 feet. Each affected creature must make a successful Will save (DC 38) to resist the effect. On a failure, a creature with 5 or more Hit Dice or levels becomes shaken for 4d6 rounds, and a creature with 4 or fewer Hit Dice or levels becomes panicked for 4d6 rounds. Success indicates that the target is immune to Hoondarrh's frightful presence for one day.
Spell-Like Abilities: 12/day -- locate object; 3/day -- suggestion; 1/day -- delayed blast fireball, find the path, discern location, prismatic spray, reverse gravity, spell turning. Caster level 19th; save DC 18 + spell level.
Spells: Hoondarrh casts spells as a 19th-level sorcerer.
Tail Sweep: Hoondarrh can sweep with his tail as a standard action. The sweep affects a half circle with a diameter of 40 feet, centered on his rear. Every Large or smaller creature within the swept area takes 2d8+28 points of bludgeoning damage (Reflex DC 41 half).
Blindsight (Ex): Hoondarrh can ascertain creatures by nonvisual means (mostly hearing and scent, but also by noticing vibration and other environmental clues) to a range of 360 feet. Invisibility and darkness are irrelevant, though the creature still can't discern ethereal beings. He usually does not need to make Spot or Listen checks to notice creatures within range of his blindsight ability.
Fire Subtype: Hoondarrh is immune to fire damage, but he takes double damage from cold unless a saving throw for half damage is allowed, in which case he takes half damage on a success and double damage on a failure.
Immunities: Hoondarrh is immune to fire, sleep, and paralysis effects.
Keen Senses (Ex): Hoondarrh has darkvision (1,200-foot range) and low-light vision (can see four times as far as a human in low-light conditions and twice as far in normal light).
Regeneration: Hoondarrh's gem allows him to heal damage as though he had a ring of regeneration.
Sorcerer Spells Known* (6/8/8/8/8/7/7/7/7/4; save DC 18 + spell level): 0 -- arcane mark, dancing lights, detect magic, ghost sound, mage hand, mending, open/close, prestidigitation, read magic; 1st -- change self, charm person, expeditious retreat, silent image, true strike; 2nd -- darkvision, detect thoughts, fog cloud, invisibility, summon swarm; 3rd -- dispel magic, fireball, vampiric touch, wingbind; 4th -- arcane eye, charm monster, scrying, stoneskin; 5th -- Rary's telepathic bond, sending, stone shape, wall of stone; 6th -- mass suggestion, programmed image, project image; 7th -- finger of death, reverse gravity, spell turning; 8th -- Bigby's clenched fist, discern location, horrid wilting; 9th -- foresight, power word kill.
* Because of his magic items, Hoondarrh knows at least two more spells of levels 1-6. Those spells are unknown.
The Red Rage of Mintarn commands a vast arsenal of spells gained from his hoards, and over a score of portable magic items his spells can trigger, to give him magic well beyond the spell levels a venerable red dragon can normally attain.
One spell he often uses is a widened fireball (which he calls a "mirror fireball"), or a quickened fireball, casting them to hedge an enemy in between the spread and his own breath weapon.
About the Author
Ed Greenwood is a Canadian writer who tries not to be Volo or even Azoun, but who doesn't mind being Elminster.