Wyrms of the North: Saryndalaghlothtor, "Lady Gemcloak"
Dragon Magazine #254
By Ed Greenwood with supplementary material provided by Sean K Reynolds
The dwarves dubbed the moody but essentially gentle dragon "Lady Gemcloak" for her glittering appearance . . .
Until the night of the dragon duel, many citizens of Mirabar, longtime mining capital of the Sword Coast North, were unaware that they'd acquired a dragon protector. It was a still, damp evening in spring (of the Year of the Tankard, 1370 DR). The proprietors of the Watchful Axe alehouse were just about to harness their mules to the "round-and-rounds" that turned the blades of large fans that cooled patrons of their rooftop beer garden, when a golden glow appeared in the air overhead. It rapidly became a line of fire, "as if a scimitar was carving an arc out of the sky, and letting fire beyond spill through," as one watcher put it.
The line became a rift -- an opening in the air -- and widened until it was as large across "as the length of the largest ships calling at Luskan to carry away the wares of Mirabar." Out of this fiery mouth flew a red dragon: an individual not seen before in the North, sages believe. None can agree on where it flew from or by what means it opened such a large portal in the sky (though the opinions most often muttered concerned the "crazed Cult of the Dragon mages" and "dabbling Red Wizards"), but all agree that it was large, sleek, and hungry.
As the rift that had brought it closed like a purposeful eyelid, the red dragon clapped its wings, reared upright in triumph, and swooped down on the city like a playful child. Roaring and banking over the tiled rooftops to slap tiles and slates alike into ruin with its tail, it laid waste to a dozen homes before the frantic booming of a bell was heard from the Crags just southwest of the city (specifically, from the bald height known as Crostar's Vigil). Moments later, another dragon erupted into the air from somewhere behind that sentinel pinnacle, "glittering like a shower of gold" in the sunset, and plunged down upon the red wyrm, taking it completely by surprise and pouncing on it with such fury that the red dragon was driven onto the flag spires of no less than six residences and transfixed.
The red freed itself with frantic thrashings, but not until after the newcomer, a crystal dragon, had bitten and torn viciously and enthusiastically at its underbelly. Dragon blood fell smoking into the streets as the red wyrm rose heavily into the air, flapping its wings in grim and obvious pain, and tried to fly away east up the Mirar.
The crystal wyrm pounced again, demonstrating its agility to the watching citizenry by folding its wings and dropping like a stone to avoid a sudden gout of fire and a furious midair charge, then buzzed around the red dragon as a small bird harries a crow out of its territory, biting and raking until its foe turned away. The crystal dragon darted after it, striking again and again, until the red dragon, trailing ribbons of blood, fled at last out to sea.
The crystal dragon followed, presumably to watch and prevent the red dragon's return, until its exhausted foe plunged into the waves and drowned. That red wyrm has been seen no more in Mirabar.
Speculation in the city as to the identity and whereabouts of the crystal dragon was intense, and normally shunned prospectors and miners were gifted with copious drinkables and questioned about the mysterious wyrm. The story that emerged, once corroborations had been made and the more obvious fancies discarded, is thus: The crystal dragon Saryndalaghlothtor was now lairing in the Crags just southwest of Mirabar, so close as to overlook the city. Her recent arrival was connected to the cessation of goblin raids on outlying steads and caravan encampments in the vicinity.
This unaccustomed peace befell shortly after overeager goblin mining caused an entire shoulder of mountainside to collapse into an underlying cavern (no doubt crushing scores of goblins in the process), and popular belief in Mirabar was that the "lurking goblins of the Crags" (long the bane of local dwarves) had well-nigh exterminated themselves. The truth was less tidy, but as dramatic: The collapse created a huge cave mouth in the side of one of the Crags, laying open a vast cavern that had hitherto been the center of the gem mine inhabited by the Kreeth goblin tribe.
That cavern led into a string of large caves, from which many mining tunnels ran outwards into soft, damp rock pockmarked by many geodelike natural chambers lined with gem crystals. For years the goblins had tunneled steadily onwards and outwards, mining abundant gems of many sorts; rubies and beljurils were among their most numerous yields. The spawn of Kreeth tunneled slyly into the cellars of Mirabar, too, and made many night forays into the city, in disguise, whispering into the ears of the most desperate and impoverished humans. After many unsuccessful attempts to subvert citizens, the goblins reached secret agreements with some of the more impoverished Mirabarran gem-traders (in particular, the once-proud but now poor human families of Gulathkond and Jammaer), supplying them with gems brought directly into their cellars. In return, the humans paid the goblins handsomely in food, weapons, furs, leatherwork, and mining tools, covering their activities with false words of new alliances with prospectors working out of the Ten Towns.
Freed from the need to undertake dangerous hunts for food on the surface and in the Underdark, the Kreeth goblins flourished, striking against any dwarves or human prospectors of Mirabar unwise enough to investigate the Crags too closely. Tales of their savagery and traps spread around the city, and few folk felt moved to investigate matters personally. "Breakneck" pits -- deep, narrow clefts equipped with sharpened stone spurs and covered with old tarpaulins concealed under handfuls of gravel, and held up with rotting saplings -- were commonplace Kreeth work, and they still stud the heights of the Crags within sight of the city, awaiting the unwary.
The appearance of the cave changed all that. It occurred at a time of year when many young, displaced, or simply restless dragons wandered the vast wilderlands of the North, hoping that the legends of the mighty wyrms who claim them as domains were overblown or out-of-date, and that new territories could be carved out of the seemingly endless forested hills and crags.
One such wanderer, an adult crystal she-dragon, found the raw, new scar in the rock almost at the gates of Mirabar and boldly dove down into the dazed remnants of the goblins, whom she slaughtered at will. They were too few and too terrified to strike at her from their small side tunnels as Saryndalaghlothtor roamed the larger caves, devouring exposed gem deposits and thinking she'd found some sort of crystal dragons' paradise. It had been a long and storm-wracked flight from the wastes of northern Raurin, but the ordeal, it seemed, had been worth it.
The arrival of the dragon had gone unnoticed in Mirabar, but the rumbling collapse that preceded it by a day or so had not. Many Mirabarran dwarves thought it imperative that the tumult be investigated, but the known menace of the goblins made necessary the whelming of a warband; eager younglings were sternly prevented from "just hiking up for a look" by their elders.
In the end, the armed dwarven force reached the cave at about the same time that the surviving goblins began to dart out of the smallest crawl-tunnels, where the dragon could not go, and strike at her in vicious counterattacks. A few dwarves swung their axes and charged the dragon, seeking glory, but their elders wrestled them down with the harsh command, "Goblins first!"
The battle that followed was a long and bloody rout of dodging and chasing through the riven Kreeth mine, but in the end the last of the goblins were driven out or slain, and the dwarves warily approached the crystal dragon. One of the boldest, Haelbaran Stormshoulder, bade his fellows give him some time for parley, and then strode out and shared a dream with the wyrm: If she'd grant the Mirabarran dwarves permission to mine freely in her lair, defend it against intruders, and even to dwell in certain of its reaches, they'd feed her all the gems and metals she desired.
The dragon considered Stormshoulder's words, then accepted the bargain with calm language. Not quite believing their good fortune, and knowing that many Mirabarrans would be rather less accepting of a dragon dwelling nigh their gates, the dwarves elected to keep word of the deal as quiet as possible. Many told relatives in the city, but it's likely that not a single human heard of it. Humans, in particular, regard Mithral Hall as a foe endangering their traditional prosperity; it's likely they'd be even more furious with a dwarven hold right next door. So in the city, the returning Mirabarran dwarves gave out the grim news that the Crags held no new mine, but only "goblin despoil and devastation" that would take years to cleanse, and was best avoided. Mirabar heard and believed, and the House of the Axe was founded.
The dwarves dubbed the moody but essentially gentle dragon "Lady Gemcloak" for her glittering appearance, and later "The Axemother," as they came to see her as the "mother" under whose protection they could found a new city or tribe. She seemed happy to eat flawed and shattered gems and low-grade, leaden metal ores and rust scraps, and she and the dwarves soon came to trust each other. Word is spreading among dwarves across the North (and as far south as Waterdeep and Daggerford) of "a new hold" where dwarves of no famous clan or lineage can win a place among fellows in prosperity and ever- growing power. If the swelling ranks of dwarves dwelling all around her bothers Lady Gemcloak, she gives no sign of it.
The only thing that does seem to irk her is her feeble magic. When unaided by magic items, she can cast only a handful of low-powered spells without aid, though she has quite a roster of such spells to choose among. Dwarves who've talked long with her (in particular, Tarltus Ulforge, and his sister Shaelee) say that one of the things that caused Saryndalaghlothtor to roam the north in the first place was the legend of Argaut's Brain.
Briefly put, this recurring belief holds that anyone who finds and eats the brain of this long-dead (but magically preserved) archwizard gains his mastery of magic. Elminster confirms that this legend was born of wild apprentices' tales and given strength by an even more fanciful ballad; as far as he knows, the resting place of Argaut is lost, and he was no better preserved than most men who die suddenly. Moreover, the central belief, he insists, is false.
Volo also believes the tale is wishful thinking. Some secret writings happened to briefly fall into his hands at a recent nobles' revel in Waterdeep: a report of experiments carried out by certain members of the Arcane Brotherhood. Their conclusions indicate that devouring dead mages' brains leads sometimes to illness or even insanity and sometimes transfers confused memories (scenes of places, people, or even events), but never coherent information or lore.
Just how seriously Saryndalaghlothtor searched for Argaut's brain, or believed the tale, the dwarves know not . . . and Lady Gemcloak isn't telling.
She is one of the crystal dragons who can communicate with any intelligent creature -- and, according to the dwarves, she is in no hurry to roam again or to acquire a mate. Saryndalaghlothtor considers a very small area (Mirabar and a modest stretch of the Crags) her domain, but she defends it fiercely. Other dragons, predators of all sorts -- including greedy humans -- and anyone the House of the Axe dwarves don't want around are considered unwanted intruders and dealt with accordingly. Lady Gemcloak is vicious in battle and enjoys maiming and spectacularly slaying foes. (Dismemberments and crushings are favorite tactics.)
As is the way of dwarves, the inhabitants of the House of the Axe have named the larger caverns, strategic passageways, and waymoots of the ever-expanding gem mine. Most of these names they keep secret from outsiders, but Volo learned that Saryndalaghlothtor can traverse at least six linked caverns. The westernmost (and innermost) the dwarves call "Home-hold," and it serves as their meeting place and staging/work area. Moving eastward, one comes to "Wyrmslumber" (where the Axemother likes to curl up and sleep on a bed of gems; it is the largest of all the caverns, but it has an eastern opening that is a tight squeeze for Saryndalaghlothtor and would halt the passage of any larger dragon), "Theller's Anvil" (though Theller and his anvil are now elsewhere, in smaller caves to the west), "Blackrun," "Eldock's Rest," and "The Maw," where the cave mouth created by overzealous goblin mining looks east out of the shoulder of Bryn Crag.
The dwarves have left undisturbed the various goblin pit traps on the surface slopes around the lair. In addition, they added a few of their own, including "roll-boulder" deadfalls on high ledges all around the Maw (a succession of large rocks that can be rolled off a ledge to plunge down on intruders below) and "rockfalls" (stone slab ceilings on the major passages leading away from the Maw -- including the Slither, the main route used by Saryndalaghlothtor -- that can be winched aside to allow tons of loose rock above them to fall and block the way).
An underground spring feeds pools in the southwesternmost reaches of the mine, and the dwarves are thought to cache many of the best gems to the northwest. Although the House dwarves have fewer elders and "old rank" families than established dwarven realms, a few "Dwarves of the Ring" hold absolute authority. Prominent among the more active and warlike are Corthold Flamehand and his sister Ieilhalla; strong among the more stay-at-home and artistic are the master forgers Theller and Auldrymbrei. They seldom bark commands unless the House is at war, but dwarves who disobey or ignore them are expelled from the House. The Ring has kept iron control over the release of gems, keeping prices high and reducing the chance that some greedy human force or other -- the Arcane Brotherhood of Luskan, for example -- might learn how rich the House is and decide to seize it for their own. For the same reason, the Ring absolutely forbids visitors to penetrate the House beyond the Maw or to take up residence in the mine.
The dwarven accommodations are located in smaller outlying tunnels, mainly to the north (where anyone tunneling or skulking in from Mirabar is noticed), and they are always guarded by way-sentries equipped with alarm gongs and warhorns. Many sentry posts are equipped with small rockfall devices that the sentries can trigger to bar the way they guard and prevent invasions.
The Maw opens to the surface on the eastern face of Bryn Crag, which stands just west of the Long Road, shielded from the view of travelers by Old Man Crag (so named for its resemblance to the weathered face of a giant buried in the earth up to his neck, staring endlessly east across the road at Barlaerl's Crag). From this point, Saryndalaghlothtor roams the water-meadows of the River Mirar north over the city as far as the eye can see (about six miles), as well as a sweep of the Crags from Tannath's Tor in the southwest to Ammirar's Blade to the northeast (a length of some nine miles and forty or so pinnacles and peaks ).
The Axemother cares little about human or dwarven activity in her domain that doesn't actually involve invading her lair with raised weapons and threatening words, but she reacts to any dragon or goblin incursion by bursting from her lair in all-out attack. She loves to pounce, but she isn't as reckless as she seems, and she can seldom be duped into plunging into a waiting trap or a situation where she can be cornered by a prepared and alert foe.
The Doings of Saryndalaghlothtor
Lady Gemcloak, like all of her kind, enjoys dining on metallic ores and gems of all sorts, but she indulges in occasional "blood meals" of goblins, wyverns, or other creatures who challenge her. She hunts the skies over Mirabar and down the Mirar valley and does not hesitate to pursue foes out to sea or over the Evermoors. The Mirar is her favorite watering-hole, though she often drinks from meltwater pools high in the Crags or the many small lakes that lie in the bogs to the north of the Mirar.
Saryndalaghlothtor spends a typical day dozing on her bed of gems chatting with dwarves (who bring her news of doings in Mirabar and the wider Sword Coast North, and who focus on traders passing through her domain in particular). She'll take to the air for a short "wingstretch and sniff the wind" flight (often at twilight or in concealing mists or rain) once every day or two if she can, and she takes an active interest in the development of the mine and her dwarven "children."
Saryndalaghlothtor: Female adult crystal dragon wizard 1; CR 14; Huge dragon (air); HD 20d12+100, 1d4+5; hp 237; Init +2; Spd 40 ft., burrow 5 ft., swim 40 ft., fly 150 ft. (poor); AC 29, touch 10, flat-footed 27; Base Attack +20; Grp +34; Atk +24 melee (2d8+6, bite); Full Atk +24 melee (2d8+6, bite) and +22 melee (2d6+3, 2 claws) and +22 melee (1d8+3, 2 wings) and +22 melee (2d6+9, tail slap); Space/Reach 15 ft./10 ft. (15 ft. with bite); SA breath weapon (50-ft. cone of brilliant light), crush 2d8+9, frightful presence, psionics; SQ blindsense 60 ft., damage reduction 10/magic, darkvision 120 ft., fire resistance 15, immunities (cold, paralysis, sleep), keen senses, low-light vision, planar travel; AL CN; SV Fort +17, Ref +16, Will +15; Str 23, Dex 14, Con 21, Int 16, Wis 17, Cha 17.
Skills and Feats: Bluff +14, Concentration +29, Diplomacy +28, Escape Artist +17, Hide -6, Intimidate +5, Knowledge (arcana) +11, Knowledge (North local) +8, Knowledge (psionics) +25, Listen +26, Psicraft+13, Sleight of Hand+6, Spellcraft +9, Spot +26, Swim +29; Combat Casting, Combat Reflexes, Flyby Attack, Hover, Lightning Reflexes, Multiattack , Power Attack, Scribe Scroll, Wingover.
Breath Weapon (Su): Once every 1d4 rounds, Saryndalaghlothtor can breathe a 50-foot cone of brilliant light. Each creature in the area takes 12d6 points of damage and is blinded for 1d4 rounds. A successful DC 25 Reflex save halves the damage and negates the blinding effect.
Crush (Ex): When flying or jumping, Saryndalaghlothtor can land on Small or smaller opponents as a standard action, using her whole body to crush them. A crush attack affects as many creatures as can fit in the 15-ft.-by-15-ft. area under her body. Each creature in the affected area must succeed on a Reflex save (DC 25) or be pinned, automatically taking bludgeoning damage during the next round unless Saryndalaghlothtor moves off of it. If she chooses to maintain the pin, treat it as a normal grapple attack. Pinned opponents take damage from the crush each round if they don't escape.
Frightful Presence (Ex): When Saryndalaghlothtor attacks, charges, or flies overhead, each creature within a 360-foot radius that has 19 or fewer HD must attempt a DC 23 Will save. On a failure, it becomes panicked for 4d6 rounds if it has 4 or fewer HD or shaken for 4d6 rounds if it has 5 or more HD. Success renders the creature immune to Saryndalaghlothtor's frightful presence for 24 hours.
Psionics (Sp): 3/day -- charm person (DC 1d20 + 4). Manifester level 5th. Saryndalaghlothtor manifests powers and gains additional attack and defense modes as if she were a psion with Telepathy as her primary discipline.
Blindsense (Ex): Saryndalaghlothtor can pinpoint creatures within a distance of 60 feet. Opponents she can't actually see still have total concealment against her.
Keen Senses (Ex): Saryndalaghlothtor sees four times as well as a human in shadowy illumination and twice as well in normal light. She also has darkvision to a range of 120 feet.
Planar Travel (Su): Saryndalaghlothtor has the innate ability to pass instantly between the Material Plane and the Inner Planes.
Psionic Powers (4/3/2; 15th-level psion; telepathy primary discipline; 19 power points): 0 -- burst, detect psionics, far hand, missive** (DC 1d20+3); 1st -- empathy** (DC 1d20+4), grease (DC 1d20+4), lesser mindlink**; 2nd -- brain lock** (DC 1d20+5), detect thoughts** (DC 1d20+5).
Attack/Defense Modes (Sp): At will -- ego whip, id insinuation, mind thrust, psychic crush/empty mind, intellect fortress, mental barrier, thought shield, tower of iron will.
Wizard Spells Prepared (3/2; save DC 13 + spell level): 0 -- detect magic, disrupt undead, read magic; 1st -- forcewave (Magic of Faerūn), know protections (Magic of Faerūn).
Spellbook: Saryndalaghlothtor has the following spells, as well as other rare spells of 1st and higher levels. 0 -- acid splash, arcane mark, dancing lights, daze, detect magic, detect poison, disrupt undead, electric jolt (Magic of Faerūn), flare, ghost sound, Horizikaul's cough (Magic of Faerūn), light, message, open/close, prestidigitation, ray of frost, read magic, 1st -- alarm, animate rope, burning hands, cause fear, charm person, color spray, comprehend languages, detect undead, disguise self, endure elements, erase, expeditious retreat, forcewave, grease, hold portal, hypnotism, Kaupaer's skittish nerves, know protections, mage armor, magic missile, obscuring mist, protection from chaos, protection from evil, protection from good, protection from law, Shelgarn's persistent blade, shield, shocking grasp, silent image, sleep, spirit worm, summon monster I, true strike, unseen servant, ventriloquism.
Among Lady Gemcloak's store of written spells are many beyond her mastery and a huge array of 1st-level spells. Most are old spells that are rarely found these days. She commands only a modest hoard but is known to possess a rare and powerful item, described hereafter, which she keeps well hidden, knowing she can't herself use its full effects but that they could be used against her to devastating effect.
Helm of Supreme Wizardry: This ornate, fluted "sallet"-style helm is of steel plated with a silver alloy and alters to fit the head of any creature donning it.
A helm of supreme wizardry allows any being already able to cast wizard spells who wears it to temporarily cast two additional spells of spell levels 6-9 (8 spells per day total). These are treated as bonus spell slots (as if from a very high Intelligence) and therefore can be used only by those already capable of casting spells of those levels (though such a caster can still use the slots to prepare lower-level or metamagicked spells). Casting a spell from one of these bonus slots deals 1d6+1 points of damage to the wearer (which can be healed normally or through magic); the caster takes the damage the instant she completes the spell. If the helm is removed, any bonus spells prepared with it are immediately lost.
The helm has several drawbacks. First, if all of the extra spells prepared with the helm are not cast within 12 hours of their preparation, it causes the wearer to lose all prepared wizard spells at the end of that period (affecting the bonus spells from the helm and any other wizard spells the wearer had prepared normally). The spell slots for those lost spells are considered cast (the wearer must rest again to use the spell slots). Note that only the bonus spell slots used by the wearer need to be expended to prevent this from happening. For example, a 12th-level wizard with the helm has access only to spell slots of 6th-level and lower. She can use only the two bonus 6th-level spell slots from the helm, and if she casts both of those within 12 hours of preparing them then this drawback is not triggered. (In other words, she is not penalized for not being able to use the 7th- and higher-level bonus spell slots granted by the helm.)
The second drawback is if the helm is ever used (not merely worn, but actually used to prepare spells in its bonus slots) by the same wearer twice in a tenday, it deals 1 point of permanent Intelligence drain upon the wearer, and the attempt to use the extra slots fails.
The third drawback is if the helm is ever used twice in the same 30-day period by the same wearer to prepare spells of the same school, the preparation succeeds but the wearer immediately suffers 1 point of permanent Intelligence drain and permanently loses 1 hit point. Despite this great price, as long as it is worn, the helm allows the wearer to cast these bonus spells, even if the Intelligence loss means the wearer could not normally cast spells of that level any more.
For example, if the wearer uses the helm to prepare antimagic field and chain lightning, then twenty-eight days later uses the helm to prepare greater dispel magic (the same school as antimagic field), the wearer would incur those losses. If she persisted in her folly and used the helm to prepare Bigby's forceful hand (the same school as chain lightning) she would suffer the losses again. If her Intelligence was originally 16, she'd be reduced to Intelligence 14, normally not enough to cast greater dispel magic or Bigby's forceful hand, but the power of the helm allows her to still cast those spells (but not any other spells of that level prepared normally).
Strong transmutation; CL 20; Weight 3 lb.
Lady Gemcloak is likely to receive severe battle-testings at the hands of greedy adventurers (sponsored by Mirabarran mining families or the Arcane Brotherhood of Luskan, if by no one else), and might also be a magnet for dwarves desiring to join a "new" hold (free of old feuds and bitter clan memories) and goblins desiring revenge . . . and where goblins rush in, orcs usually follow.
Saryndalaghlothtor might swiftly perish if she rejects offers of alliances and aid from the Dragon Queen or other friendly wyrms (for instance, the reclusive Thalagyrt -- whom we'll look at next month -- possesses a spell, gemfire, that the Axemother would find very useful), dwarven adventuring bands, and the like -- for news of the whereabouts and gem-rich properties of her lair is certain to reach unfriendly draconic ears eventually. . . .
About the Authors
Ed Greenwood claims that he can, and often does, speak to folk who don't have silver hair, magic swords, and spells up their sleeves that can sear -- or remake -- worlds. He just prefers his more memorable tavern encounters all over the Realms to what generally confronts him in the here-and-now.
Sean K Reynolds is a vegetarian who long ago ate four one-pound hamburgers in one afternoon. He would like to thank Steven Domkowski for his help in acquiring the original Dragon Magazine text for this article.