Wyrms of the North: Voaraghamanthar, "the Black Death"

Dragon Magazine #257
By Ed Greenwood with supplementary material provided by Sean K Reynolds

In the heart of the Mere of Dead Men, the vast saltwater swamp that lies along the Sword Coast between Leilon and Waterdeep, dwells the savage black dragon Voaraghamanthar, the "Black Death." This wyrm is said to have strange powers and avoids other dragons who intrude into the swamp or claim it as part of their domain. Most tales say the Black Death can burst from beneath long-placid swamp waters, read and reason intelligently, and be in two places at once.

This latter power is due to the true nature of this dragon: "Voaraghamanthar" is, in fact, two identical twin, adult male, black dragons who pose as one dragon in their dealings with both intruders and allies, the latter of which includes a Cult of the Dragon cell based in Leilon. Their actual names are Voaraghamanthar and Waervaerendor (who impishly styles himself "the Rapacious Raider"), but they address each other by the short-names "Weszlum" and "Wulzour," respectively, when they speak at all. The twins share an empathic link and work together with unshakable loyalty.

Faerûn, however, knows of only one deadly, legendary Wyrm of the Mere: a flitting black ghost of claws and jaws that strikes out of nowhere. The black swamp waters hide the dragons and the rotting bodies of victims they wait to dine upon -- or keep prisoner, helpless in the cold muck, for fell purposes.

The Mere of Dead Men

Twisted trees, vines, and thick vegetation cloak the mist-shrouded surface of the cold saltwater swamp. Its air is foul with rotting stenches, and its water is black and opaque. Visibility, given fogs and rolling topography, is rarely more than half a mile.

For flightless creatures, travel in the Mere is slow and dangerous. Its dark waters are deep enough to permit a flat-bottomed skiff to pass, but many small islands rise from the swamp islands tangled with strange vegetation. The overgrown bones of long-fallen creatures lie everywhere. Quicksand is rare but mud all too common. Given the thick growth and frequent need to wade (and flounder), skiff-borne travelers can cover about eight miles in 10 hours.

The Mere of Dead Men is known for its monstrous denizens. Travelers on the High Road skirting its eastern verges often travel for three days and nights without stopping, to avoid camping within reach of "dark, wet, clutching things raiding out of the swamp." Bobbing will-o'-wisps are common night sights from the road. Sword Coast lore speaks vividly of floating islands moving in the Mere, lizardfolk commanded by liches, a pennaggolan of monstrous size, drowned ships swarming with sea zombies, gigantic darktentacles, yuan-ti slavers, temples to inhuman gods, giant leeches with bullywug riders, a huge will-o'-wisp that pulses with dark energy, and many other horrors.

Monsters proven (by adventurers' kills) to dwell in the Mere include aballins, behirs, bullywugs, flying fangs (see Races of Faerûn), giant frogs and toads, gibbering mouthers, giant leeches, hydras, lizardfolk, meazels, monitor lizards, nyths, scrags (aquatic trolls), shambling mounds, snakes, and will-o'-wisps.

The taint of the dead god Myrkul's power in recent history animated many of the dead drowned beneath the western Mere, creating a profusion of strange undead and many sorts of ghouls, skeletons, and zombies now found in groups wandering the swamp and the lands around, attacking everyone they encounter.

Mere History

In the Year of the Shattered Scepter (614 DR), orc hordes attacked the realm of Phalorm and defeated its armies. A year later, the orcs besieged a rallied remnant of Phloem's defenders at Iniarv's Tower, onetime abode of the long-vanished Mage Royal of Uthtower. The battle disturbed and enraged Iniarv (who'd become a lich and retreated into the tower's crypts).

Iniarv hurled mighty spells against his arousers, but the seemingly endless orcs soon invaded long-sheltered Uthtower. A desperate King Uth VII beseeched the lich to honor his ancient alliance with Uthtower and destroy the invading orcs. With cruel humor, Iniarv honored the request by unleashing titanic spells that caused the ocean to rise and inundate the land, drowning humans and orcs alike. When the waters receded, a sprawling saltwater mere lay in place of hitherto verdant realms. (Recent scholars believe the Curse of Iniarv was a powerful wish that magically bound the eastern border of the Mere to the High Road -- ensuring its expansion whenever the road is rerouted.)

The few human (and human-ally) survivors fled. The orcs retreated to the Sword Mountains, where centuries later their descendants founded the realm of Uruth Ukrypt. Phalorm soon collapsed when the elves of Ardeep withdrew from it, to be replaced in the Year of the Ensorceled Kings (616 DR) by Delimbiyran, the Kingdom of Man.

Over the centuries, the Mere of Dead Men grew ever larger, inundating all land between the sea and the High Road no matter how far the road was moved inland. Attempts to resettle the former Uthtower uplands were thwarted by the greedy waters of the Mere time and again. Former routes of the High Road are marked by such flooded sites as Castle Naerytar, Holk House, Mornhaven Towers, and Wolfhill House.

From its creation, the Mere harbored all manner of monsters, both living and undead -- captured beasts and monstrous experiments released by Iniarv among them -- and so was largely avoided by civilized beings. The first dragon to settle in the Mere was Chardansearavitriol, "Ebondeath" to the Fair Folk, an old male black dragon who seized the crumbling ruins of the Uthtower and its catacombs as his lair in the Year of the Lone Lark (631 DR).

Over the centuries, Chardansearavitriol ruled the Mere, preying primarily on Sword Mountain orcs. In the Year of the Spouting Fish (922 DR), he vanished, giving rise to tales that he'd died, relocated, or withdrawn into seclusion in the heart of the swamp.

The dragon had actually heeded the entreaties of Strongor Bonebag, a charismatic Priest of Myrkul with ties to the Cult of the Dragon, and been transformed into a dracolich. The Cult cell headed by Strongor had its own interpretations of the teachings of Myrkul and Sammaster; Strongor blended the tenets of both into a dark creed that venerated the Sacred Ones as divine servants of the Lord of Bones, who would one day undergo apotheosis. There would come a time, Strongor preached, when Myrkul would absorb all Toril into his realm. On that day, the gods of the living would be swept away by the claws of the rightful gods: an ascending pantheon of dracolich powers.

To serve the faithful during the long years until Myrkul's triumph, the Uthtower (Chardansearavitriol's lair, almost sixty miles west of Iniarv's Tower) was transformed into the Mausoleum of the Ebondeath, a great temple of stone and scoured bone wherein the Ebondeath Sect could dwell while venerating their god-to-be.

Strongor's sudden death less than a decade later ended his efforts to extend the sect across the North, but his followers held to his teachings. Ebondeath, who cared more for gaining personal power than for Strongor's vision, was slavishly served by the cultists (each of whom, upon death, was transformed into an undead servitor by his fellows). Chardansearavitriol's isolation from wider Faerûn was deepened by the emergence of the orc realm of Uruth Ukrypt circa 930 DR and the subsequent collapse of trade along the High Road. (The end of the dragon's raiding had allowed the orc population to soar and the followers of Uruth to establish their own kingdom.)

Over time, Ebondeath became mere legend. When Uruth Ukrypt fell in the Year of Crimson Magics (1026 DR), his name and deeds were largely forgotten. For nearly two centuries Chardansearavitriol slumbered in the heart of the Mere, venerated by his cult, rousing himself only to defend his domain against intruders. This drowsy existence ended abruptly in the Year of the Dragon Altar (1202 DR).

The power of Myrkul, the Lord of Bones, waxes when the Eye of Myrkul appears in the night sky. This rare celestial event involves the passage of a new moon through a certain ring of seven stars otherwise associated with an old symbol of Mystra. Under the Eye's baleful glare, Chardansearavitriol's body collapsed into a heap of bones and drifting dust atop the altar of Myrkul. (Ebondeath survived as a spirit tethered to his physical remains and might linger in that same state today.)

The remaining cultists hailed Ebondeath's sudden transformation as the long-heralded second stage of divine ascension Strongor had foretold. Worshipers of Myrkul flocked to the temple at the heart of the Mere, and the Ebondeath Sect grew strong, awaiting the night when once again the Eye of Myrkul would grace the sky. Over the years, Sect members prepared for the next stage of Chardansearavitriol's ascension, in accordance with a series of visions unveiled to their highest ranking priests by the Lord of Bones. In particular, the cultists worked to create rings of Myrkul, unholy items the Reaper said would be needed in years to come.

However, the Sect collapsed when Myrkul perished in the Time of Troubles, and the Mausoleum sank into the swamp. Fleeing Myrkulites yielded their lives -- and magic rings -- to the monsters of the Mere.

Upon Myrkul's death, the god's avatar exploded high above the Sea of Swords. Much of his might rained down on the waters to slowly collect on the sea floor, and the god's essence survives in the Crown of Horns, but a small fraction of the god's power coalesced atop the waves. This floating patch of bone dust drifted north, and -- perhaps by chance, perhaps by dark design -- recently entered the Mere, where Myrkul's fading power animated a leaderless legion of undead from the countless fallen bodies that lie unburied beneath the dark waters. These "risen dead" displaced many swamp monsters, who've taken to raiding the lands around. Some of the "risen" are Myrkulites who fled the sinking Mausoleum, and many of the rings of Myrkul they bore have passed into the possession of others.

Those others included the leaders of the Dragon Cult cell in Leilon, who remembered legends about the Mausoleum. They commanded their agents to search for the sunken temple and its dracolich and induced Voaraghamanthar (a black dragon whose settlement in the Mere had greatly worried the cultists but who fortunately seemed approachable) to assist in the search.

Voaraghamanthar gave his aid in exchange for the promise of much treasure and many magic items, including the Twinned Crown of Yarlith (a magic crown created by Iniarv in 191 DR and recently discovered by Cult members exploring flooded Mere ruins), which was given to the dragon to seal the bargain.

The Black Brothers

Unknown to the Cult, Voaraghamanthar has an identical twin, Waervaerendor. The brothers have long pretended to be a single being (using only Voaraghamanthar's name in "public"), since this deception provides them with a powerful weapon against foes who think they face but a single dragon.

The Black Brothers were born in a large clutch of eggs in the Mhair jungles. Draconic twins are rare indeed (one typically kills the other in the egg before hatching), but Voaraghamanthar and Waervaerendor share an empathic link that bonds them into an unshakable team. Together the hatchling twins slew their siblings and fled before their parents could in turn destroy them. After many years of lurking in swamps and moors throughout Faerûn, the Brothers found a "home" they deemed fitting and took the Mere of Dead Men as their domain.

The twins were attracted by its isolation (far from traditional black dragon haunts, making lair challengers fewer) and its legends of lost magic and treasure: the hoard of Chardansearavitriol and the treasuries of flooded Uthtower and other realms. Writings about treasures lost in the Mere found in tombs they plundered described the Twin Crowns of Myrmoran, reputed to have enhanced the empathic bond between the fraternal monarchs of Uthtower and Yarlith and afforded them magical powers. The Brothers saw no reason such powers shouldn't benefit them.

The twins have long striven to increase their power by acquiring magic, specifically spells leading to a means of creating loyal, formidable servitor creatures to serve them as warriors, guardians, and drudges.

Like most dragons beyond youth, thoughts of their own deaths weigh ever more heavily on the brothers, and they've begun -- earlier in life than many wyrms -- to seek immortality energetically. They share the fear that the death of one of them might render the other insane through their empathic link.

Both brothers see undeath (dracolichdom) as a fool's road, doomed to fall shy of immortality and unworthy of consideration. Nevertheless, when approached by the Dragon Cult, they forged an alliance in hopes of gaining lore amid the details of dracolichdom that might provide a means of prolonging their lives and preserving their (living, vigorous) bodies. Cultists are also "useful tools" to spy and work for the twins outside the Mere. They still pretend to be tempted by dracolichdom but are completely insincere about the alliance (and suspect the followers of the Scaly Way are no more true).

On their own, the brothers unearthed a collection of dark sermons probably written by Strongor Bonebag. Reading these sermons (which they've kept secret from the Cult), they've come to believe Chardansearavitriol underwent a process different from that which the Cult uses to create most dracoliches. They also believe the Twinned Crown of Uthtower, second of the Twin Crowns of Myrmoran, still lies in the Uthtower. Once each brother wears a crown, they presume, they'll command great powers not evident while they have only the Yarlith coronet. Seeking to win both the second crown and Ebondeath's bones without damaging their Cult alliance, the Brothers hope to sway adventurers entering the Mere into securing both for them. Waervaerendor destroyed a Helmite base in ruined Iniarv's Tower and took captives; the brothers intend to bargain their lives for the things they want retrieved -- before the Dragon Cult recovers these treasures. The dragon, calling himself Voaraghamanthar, keeps the Cult's interest and his brother's existence secret from adventurers he bargains with.

Encountering the Wyrm of the Mere

The Black Brothers see most creatures as food or annoyances to be dealt with efficiently. The exceptions are dragons and heroes (whom they view as "tools too useful to be destroyed out of hand"). The brothers lurk underwater when other dragons are near -- not out of fear but to conceal the fact that they are twins, and because they have utterly no interest in disputes with other dragons . . . unless they try to settle in the Mere.

If heroes approach, Voaraghamanthar typically withdraws, alerting his brother. Waervaerendor habitually shadows and observes them, remaining hidden thanks to his ring of invisibility. Against large groups or formidable foes, Waervaerendor might also employ dust of disappearance for an opportunity to observe the intruders thoroughly, seeking magic and hidden weapons and abilities.

Once future minions or meals are assessed, Waervaerendor reveals himself in a manner that terrifies and heightens his negotiating advantage. The dragon has a flair for cruel dramatics. If he knows intruders have previously triggered an Iniarv's unseen voice in the ruins of Iniarv's Tower, he positions himself behind them and softly asks (mimicking the lich's voice), "Now where did I hide that dragon?" Alternatively, he might circle adventurers on muddy ground, creating footprints that appear "out of thin air."

Once he has made his presence known, Waervaerendor tries to negotiate a deal for the heroes' services. Depending on their reactions, he might or might not become visible, calling himself by his brother's name to sow confusion. Though not easily provoked, Waervaerendor realistically fakes emotional reactions to enhance his negotiating position. The Wyrm of the Mere is ever alert for treachery, fully expecting others to act as he would and preparing accordingly. He is malicious, conniving, and unscrupulous; he employs any tactic that gives him an advantage. Voaraghamanthar's disposition is similar, and he is always close enough to render aid when needed.

If negotiations completely fail to gain him an edge, Waervaerendor fights without hesitation, but -- after demonstrating the folly of fighting him -- tries to resume negotiations. If adventurers don't attack but refuse any deal, the dragon observes aloud that those who do not serve him are simply prey, then proceeds to treat them accordingly until they are defeated or offer to negotiate.

The brothers' objectives are to induce adventurers to find and retrieve treasures: magic items and books of magic outside the Mere; valuables submerged in the swamp (magic of the flooded, fallen kingdoms in particular); and what the Mausoleum holds -- the bones of Chardansearavitriol and Ebondeath's hoard. The dragons avoid explaining why they want these things. If pressed for guarantees, Waervaerendor gives his word as bond and acts insulted if more is desired. (If pressed, he'll swear an oath to do as agreed or forfeit his entire hoard to Task, the draconic power of greed and selfishness -- but he will expect the adventurers to swear similar behavior -- binding oaths invoking their own gods.)

The brothers typically bury creatures slain for food and battle captives in the underwater mud at the heart of the Mere, far from prying eyes. The former are left to rot (for such is the favorite fare of black dragons); the latter are stored for use as decoys and bargaining tools. Captives are stripped of magic, armor, and weapons; they are bound, forced to ingest air spores (a magic item which grants 2d4 days of breathable air regardless of the surrounding environment), and buried in the muck.

Black Claws Up Close

Both wyrms are experienced in battle, prefer to study opponents beforehand, and like to begin a fray with a clawing, biting pounce, thereafter breathing as often as possible, kicking and tail-slapping as opportunities arise. Each flees if brought to fewer than half hit points. If the other brother is close, either twin tries to entice foes into reach of his sibling's breath weapon.

The brothers prefer aquatic combat to aerial or dry-land fighting and are well versed in drowning foes by beating opponents down into the mire or using grappling to pin opponents under the water. Both dragons are also comfortable fighting perched on stony heights, employing spider climb when needed.

When battling another wyrm in the skies, either brother employs his breath weapon to damage a foe's wings, then draws the enemy into the nearest swamp or open water. In water, the brothers use wing buffets to drive huge sprays of (preferably previously corrupted) water at foes. Waervaerendor wears a ring of invisibility and a ring of mind shielding. In a small pouch strapped to his left rear leg he carries three packets of dust of disappearance, six doses of air spores, and a portable hole (used to ferry treasure and prisoners). Voaraghamanthar wears the Twinned Crown of Yarlith. On his left front claw, he wears a ring of wizardry (1st-level spells). On his right front claw is a ring of fire resistance (major). He habitually casts shield before combat and uses confusion to draw foes from cover.

The brothers resent intrusions into their affairs or domain. When they let self-control slip, they fight with unbridled fury. Cunning and amoral, they're never needlessly cruel or destructive. They've little interest in displays of power or acquiring territory, considering discretion the better part of valor and their lives more important than victory.

Waervaerendor is more outgoing, preferring to acquire information face-to-face, while Voaraghamanthar prefers to study and deduce from dusty tomes and ancient ruins. Waervaerendor relishes the hunt more than his twin and is more apt to tackle difficult quarry for the challenge. Both brothers are practiced actors, can read and reason, and thirst for magical knowledge.

Voaraghamanthar and Waervaerendor: Male adult black dragons sorcerer 9; CR 20; Large dragon (water); HD 19d12+76 plus 9d4+36; hp 257; Init +4; Spd 60 ft., swim 60 ft., fly 150 ft. (poor); AC 27, touch 9, flat-footed 27; Base Atk +19; Grp +29; Atk +28 melee (2d6+6, bite); Full Atk +28 melee (2d6+6, bite) and +26 melee (1d8+3, 2 claws) and +26 melee (1d6+3, 2 wings) and +26 melee (1d8+9, tail slap); Space/Reach 10 ft./5 ft. (10 ft. with bite); SA breath weapon (80-ft. cone of acid), frightful presence, spell-like abilities, spells; SQ blindsight 60 ft., corrupt water, damage reduction 5/magic, darkvision 120 ft., immunities (acid, paralysis, sleep), keen senses, low-light vision, spell resistance 18, water breathing; AL CE; SV Fort +19, Ref +15, Will +20; Str 23, Dex 11, Con 19, Int 15, Wis 13, Cha 17.

Skills and Feats: Bluff +15, Concentration +21, Diplomacy +19, Hide +20, Intimidate +17, Knowledge (arcana) +17, Listen +23, Move Silently +24, Search +24, Sense Motive +19, Sleight of Hand +4, Spellcraft +16, Spot +23, Swim +14; Combat Casting, Extend Spell, Flyby Attack, Improved Initiative, Iron Will, Multiattack, Power Attack, Silent Spell, Spell Penetration, Stealthy.

Breath Weapon (Su): Once every 1d4 rounds, Voaraghamanthar and Waervaerendor can breathe an 80-foot line of acid. Each creature in the area takes 12d4 points of acid damage (Reflex DC 23 half).

Frightful Presence (Ex): Whenever Voaraghamanthar or Waervaerendor attacks, charges, or flies overhead, each creature in a 180-foot radius that has 18 or fewer HD must make a DC 22 Will save. Failure indicates that the creature is panicked for 4d6 rounds (if it has 4 or fewer HD) or shaken for 4d6 rounds (if it has 5 or more HD).

Spell-Like Abilities: 3/day -- darkness. Caster level 12th.

Spells: Voaraghamanthar and Waervaerendor can cast spells as 12th-level sorcerers.

Blindsense (Ex): Voaraghamanthar and Waervaerendor can pinpoint creatures within a distance of 60 feet. Opponents they can't actually see still have total concealment against them.

Corrupt Water (Sp): Once per day, Voaraghamanthar and Waervaerendor can stagnate 10 cubic feet of water within 180 feet, making it become still, foul, and unable to support animal life. The ability spoils liquids containing water. Magic items (such as potions) and items in a creature's possession must succeed on a DC 22 Will save or become fouled. This ability is the equivalent of a 1st-level spell.

Keen Senses (Ex): Voaraghamanthar and Waervaerendor can see four times as well as a human in shadowy illumination and twice as well in normal light. They also have darkvision to a range of 120 feet.

Telepathy (Ex): The dragons can communicate with each other within 100 feet using telepathy. In addition, they are constantly aware of each other's emotional state through a limited empathic form of this telepathy, which works as long as they are on the same plane. They've developed enough control to convey simple prearranged messages (such as danger, food, treasure, yes, no, come, and stay away) by mental "flavor" of these empathic messages.

Water Breathing (Ex): Voaraghamanthar and Waervaerendor can breathe underwater indefinitely and can freely use their breath weapons, spells, and other abilities while submerged.

Sorcerer Spells Known (6/13/7/7/6/5/3; save DC 13 + spell level): 0 -- dancing lights, daze, detect magic, electric jolt (Magic of Faerûn), flare, ghost sound, ray of frost, read magic, touch of fatigue; 1st -- charm person, ice dagger (Magic of Faerûn), shield, summon undead I (Magic of Faerûn), true strike; 2nd -- Aganazzar's scorcher (FRCS), daze monster, death armor (Faerûn), eagle's splendor, spider climb; 3rd -- dispel magic, fireball, summon undead III (Magic of Faerûn), vampiric touch; 4th -- backlash (Magic of Faerûn), confusion, wall of ice; 5th -- shadow hand (Magic of Faerûn), summon undead V (Magic of Faerûn); 6th -- fire spiders (Magic of Faerûn).

Skills: Hide, Move Silently, and Swim are considered class skills for black dragons. Voaraghamanthar and Waervaerendor can move through water at swim speed without making Swim checks; they have a +8 racial bonus on any Swim check to perform some special action or avoid a hazard (included), and they always can choose to take 10 on a Swim check, even if distracted or endangered, and can use the run action while swimming in a straight line.

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.

Realm's Personalities