Wyrms of the North: Arauthator, Old White Death
Dragon Magazine #230
By Ed Greenwood with supplementary material provided by Eric L. Boyd
Through the efforts of the intrepid explorer Volothamp Geddarm (more widely known across Faerûn, perhaps, as "that serpent-spitting rogue Volo!"), an incomplete but nonetheless useful survey of currently active dragon rulers in the Sword Coast North region has been compiled, printed, and energetically sold in chapbook form on the streets of Waterdeep, Neverwinter, and Silverymoon. One copy fell into the hands of Elminster of Shadowdale, and after many a snort and head-shaking over it, he was persuaded to render it into English (repairing its execrable grammar along the way), append some D&D game-specific information, and remove certain statements ("to give the wyrmkin a fighting chance," the Old Mage was overheard to say) so as to arrive at the words you'll read hereafter. Adventurers take note: Volo's work didn't list all active dragons of the North, it lists only those who've risen to hold a territory known and respected by other dragons. Dracoliches and dead wyrms, however famous, were omitted. Otherwise, Volo would've been old indeed before his wagon-sized chapbook saw print -- and any issue of Dragon Magazine reprinting a respectable portion of it would fill a man-length bookshelf all by itself!
Alphabetically, the first great dragon of the present-day North is Arauthator, "the icy claws that wait at the cold end of the world."1 This old white dragon is famous for his great size and savagery. For almost a century he has defended his dominion against many ambitious dragons, slaughtering over a score of his own offspring in the process. "Old White Death," as the miners and foresters of the North know him, is clearly more intelligent than most white dragons. He uses traps and spells to hamper foes in battle and to strike intruding dragons from a superior position, rather than employing the more prevalent "rush-headlong-into-revenge-whatever-the-cost" behavior of his kind. Arauthator is larger than most white dragons but adept at silent gliding and stealthy movement. He has been known to cause rockfalls and even to tear up and drop boulders -- not just on the heads of intruding orcs or humans, but also to create barriers to seal up rothé and other large alpine beasts inside mountain valleys so that he can dine upon them at leisure.
Old White Death patrols his domain tirelessly, keeping careful watch over even the most minor changes. He adjusts his own habits to avoid both the traps of foes and the careless overfeeding that might lead to the disappearance of a species on which he likes to dine. In the process, he has smashed at least one community of frost giants (Bulindiful, a cavern-catacomb fortress set in the heart of Mount Halaragh, just west of the mines of Mirabar in the Spine of the World mountain range), and he has torn apart a mountain peak (Sardin's Sword, once a lookout over the upper Surbrin) to destroy the bugbear hold inside it.
Arauthator is far more cunning and patient than most white dragons. "The spark of revenge still kindles the fire that warms his heart to carry him on through the centuries," wrote the sage Amorthas of Ruathym,2 "but he lets it smolder under dampers of patience and cold calculation, where other whitewings [white dragons] would leap to the attack." No one knows why Arauthator is this way, but it's clear that the old dragon uses this patience to anticipate and prepare for attacks from rival dragons, rising orc hordes, and the remorhaz who roam the Endless Ice Sea. He also bides his time to develop new personal-warning spells that alert him of approaching dragons and magic items.
Arauthator is a skilled mimic and can speak the Common tongue well enough to pose as a lost miner or injured prospector. He has long practice in concealing himself under snow by flapping his wings as he burrows into drifts so as to lift the snow, which then falls over him again in a pristine blanket. Arauthator often dozes when sleeping in snow, but he never sleeps through the approach of danger (he can smell most beasts, including humans, for a mile or more downwind). He has mastered the patience needed to remain still for days on end, perched on a mountainside or lying in the snow of a bowl-shaped mountain valley. Prey and foes often don't notice him until far too late.
Old White Death holds his own survival as his highest goal, but he is far less lazy than most dragons in pursuing it. He regards the maintenance of his dominion as crucial to his own strength, though he has chosen not to strike at the creatures of Icewind Dale. This abstinence may be born of habit; the region was formerly part of the territory of the dragon known to humans as Icingdeath, and the two dragons came to an uneasy truce, ignoring each other and leaving each other's territories alone, rather than destroying each other in a battle for rule over the Reghed Glacier. Instead, Arauthator concentrates on carving ever-deeper tunnels into the Endless Ice Sea and the rock beneath, devouring all subterranean creatures he finds (chiefly gnomes), to unearth his own gem and mineral treasure, and protect his realm against attack from below by exterminating all possible attackers. These forays seem to attract remorhaz from the vast glacial areas that lie north of the Spine of the World, and Arauthator fights an ongoing battle against the iceworms, devouring all of the remorhaz he defeats. Northern giants and gnomes refer to these delvings as the Dragonholes and report that they consist of at least six separate tunnel complexes spread over a wide area north of the dragon's lair. Several observers have also mentioned that the dragon takes pleasure in slaying remorhaz, often hurling the monsters around like rag dolls before killing them, or folding his wings and wriggling across the ice to meet and fight them worm to worm.
Arauthator lairs in the Lonefang, a prow-shaped mountain that rises out of the Endless Ice Sea several hundred miles due north of Mithril Hall. Intrepid adventurers report that it can be seen on the horizon by those who reach the frigid, wind-clawed northern faces of the Spine of the World mountains. Although Arauthator's home is thought to have a subterranean back entrance through glacial rifts many miles to the northwest (near the row of rock pinnacles known as the Worldwyrm's Teeth), the mountain itself has only one visible entrance: a vast shaft that cuts into the descending northern slope from above and plunges down to a cavern filled by a frozen lake. Here Arauthator hurls most of his spells at intruders seeking to reach the network of caverns at the far end of the lake, where he dwells.
The lair proper is known to include a bonepit; a cavern crammed with chunks of metallic ores; a cluttered central feeding and working cave that is home to some captured magical items; and an ancient iron structure that Old White Death uses as a prison for humans and smaller creatures he intends to devour later. According to an escaped prisoner, his cage, a curious cylindrical enclosure divided into several internal chambers, looks very much like some of the gnomish craft built to sail the skies from crystal sphere to sphere.
A rising, trap-lined tunnel leads to a descending series of ice-walled storage caverns, each opening into the next in a frozen waterfall of gems that Arauthator occasionally rolls around in, purring in catlike bliss. Lying on his accustomed bed of diamonds in the last, lowest cavern, the dragon can look up through all of the hoard-caverns. He customarily reaches that bed by slithering down the river of gems, chuckling in contentment. A vertical shaft large enough to permit proper flight allows the old dragon fast ascent from the bottom of this cavern to a ledge overhanging the trap-lined approach tunnel. To soar up the entrance shaft and leave, Arauthator customarily takes wing from the ledge and glides down the tunnel and out over the frozen lake before beating his wings in a mighty rush. No servants serve Arauthator in his lair.
From the Lonefang, Arauthator holds sway over a dominion that stretches from the Cold Run in the west (although he doesn't feed on the inhabitants of Icewind Dale, he has several times slain dragons who tried to raid or settle there) to Mount Caumarath in the east (the huge peak at the northern end of the Ice Mountains, northwest of Citadel Adbar). The northern boundary of this dragon's domain is unknown to scholars and others, but the southern extent of Arauthator's rule is marked by the Spine of the World range as far east as the Fell Pass, where the boundary swings south and east in a great arc to take in all the land north of Mithril Hall and the Citadel of Many Arrows. All creatures in this vast, rocky wilderland (the headwaters of the River Surbrin) exist at Arauthator's pleasure, unless they keep to the Moonwood or the Coldwood, for the white dragon never hunts prey in the trees. With the rise of civilization centered at Silverymoon, the supremacy of Arauthator's rule over this more southerly area may soon be tested.
The Deeds of Arauthator
The favorite prey of Old White Death is full-grown frost giants (rarely available these days), followed closely by remorhaz and northern deer. Rothé and various bear species are next on the menu, and other dragons are also favored fare. Arauthator is less fond of the flesh of orcs, bugbears, and other goblinkin, but such creatures make up much of his staple diet; without the dragon's presence, the frequency and numbers of orc hordes sweeping down through the Sword Coast North would no doubt be much greater.
Arauthator is known to use an icemelt spell both in his glacial delvings and to transform frozen lakes into temporary watering holes. He is careful never to feed or drink in a pattern that foes could observe and exploit. The dragon usually makes one long patrol of a part of his domain every day, plus a shorter, similar foray. He usually feeds at least once a day, upon sighting suitable prey during the longer patrol. He may sleep atop a rocky height if tiring when far afield (once, boldly, atop Berun's Hill, in the territory of the green dragon Claugiyliamatar), but he prefers to sleep on his bed of gems in the Lonefang. On rare occasions he keeps to his lair for three days or more, perfecting a new spell.
Arauthator employs a wide array of detection and trap spells (most of the latter being cold-based) and wields spells effective against other dragons (such as wingbind3), and to enjoy freewheeling aerial clawing and raking battles rather than dodging among mountain peaks and sniping with his spells. Arauthator is famous for tearing apart the venerable red dragon Rathalylaug high above the rooftops of Neverwinter in the Year of the Grimoire (1324 DR), in a spectacular battle at sunset. The white dragon dove down to smash apart a tower in triumph. He happened to choose the tower of the sorceress Shareera, who was smashed amid the toppling stones, even as the blood of the dying Rathalylaug -- and his last, vain firetrail spell4 -- rained down on the city. Wizards also remember Arauthator for freezing the mage Phaurothlin of the Arcane Brotherhood5 solid, then shattering the helpless sorcerer against a mountainside. It seems that the haughty mage made the mistake of challenging the white dragon for ownership of a spellbook unearthed from the ice-covered grave of a Netherese wizard during mining north of Mirabar.
Arauthator has a dozen or more grimoires hidden in his lair and also works away patiently at mastering all the spells in them. He has obviously transcended the traditional spell-handling limitations of white dragons that keep their verbal-only adaptations to wizard spells of the first level -- but his personal limits are as yet unknown. Old White Death also impressed watching wizards at the MageFair held on the western verges of Var the Golden several decades ago, by the ease with which he shouldered the blue wyrm Eltagrathuuloor into the side of Mount Gundar (the source of the River Gundar). The blow was powerful enough to cause a rockfall that brought most of the top of that peak down on his rival, burying Eltagrathuuloor alive.
Arauthator regards the white dragon Arveiaturace as an acceptable mate when he feels inclined. He employs a sending spell to call her to his lair for dalliance, giving her gems from his hoard after each mating but firmly escorting her out of his domain to rear any hatchlings that may result on her own. In the past, he has mated with the gigantic white dragon Ghaulantatra, the "Old Mother Wyrm" worshiped by some orc tribes as a goddess. Arauthator exhibited no remorse when the beholder Thaluul destroyed Ghaulantatra and claimed her lair (somewhere in the mountains north of High Gap, between the Delimbiyr and the Fallen Lands).
Arauthator's love of a good fight has made him respected -- and avoided -- by other dragons. Only ambitious, overconfident younglings seek to defeat him, finding instead their own deaths. Arauthator makes no alliances and ignores the overtures of other dragons. He lusts after treasure of his own finding and magic of his own creation, and he can't be lured out of his domain by promises of gems or magic. The prospect of a good fight with another dragon always interests him, but he's too wise to leave the lands he knows so well just to do battle, since true foes always come to him eventually. He's too patient and calculating to be governed by hatreds, and he even seems to admire capable or wily foes. Old White Death has saluted adventuring bands he could easily have slain, after witnessing a clever ruse or bold stratagem on their part.
Arauthator seems especially busy these days developing new magics and seeking wizards' tombs within his domain to increase his personal magical might. He also seems wary of intrusions into his territory. Elminster is of the opinion that the old dragon may have witnessed the opening of a gate from another plane and been horrified at the realization of how easily unknown foes with powerful magic can penetrate his lair without warning.
It's likely Old White Death will die violently, but he's begun to seem ageless and certainly too wily to be slain easily by any rival dragon. It's rumored he's taken to hiring certain adventurers, via sendings, to retrieve the hoards of dragons he has slain, rather than leaving his domain to seize them himself. This seemingly prudent practice may offer a foe the chance to introduce harmful (perhaps explosive) magic into the treasure taken to Arauthator -- and certainly treacherous adventurers could use their mission to get closer to Old White Death than most humans could ever hope to do before launching an attack.
Arauthator: Male old white dragon Sor5*; CR 19; Huge dragon (cold); HD 24d12+120 5d4+20; hp 308; Init +4; Spd 60 ft., burrow 30 ft., swim 60 ft., fly 200 ft. (poor); AC 31 (touch 8, flat-footed 31); Atk +31 melee (2d8+9, bite) and +29 melee (2d6+4, 2 claws) and +29 melee (1d8+4, 2 wings) and +29 melee (1d8+13, tail slap) or +31 melee (1d8+13, crush); Face/Reach 10 ft. x 20 ft./10 ft.; SA Breath weapon (cold, 50-ft. cone, save DC 29), frightful presence, spell-like abilities; SQ Blindsight, cold subtype, damage reduction 10/+1, dragon traits, fog cloud, freezing fog, gust of wind, icewalking, immunities , keen senses, spell resistance 21; AL CE; SV Fort +19, Ref +14, Will +15; Str 29, Dex 10, Con 21, Int 16, Wis 13, Cha 15*.
*Arauthator has transcended the traditional spell-handling limitations of white dragons. He receives a +1 bonus to Charisma for his additional sorcerer levels.
**Arauthator is cleverer than most white dragons. He uses traps and spells to hamper foes in battle and to strike intruding dragons from a superior position, rather than employing the more prevalent "rush-headlong-into-revenge-whatever-the-cost" behavior of his kind.
Skills and Feats: Bluff +26, Concentration +34, Craft (gemcutting) +9, Craft (trapmaking***) +15, Diplomacy +4, Hide -1, Intimidate +4, Knowledge (arcana) +34, Listen +27, Move Silently +12, Search +27, Spellcraft +44, Spot +27, Alertness, Flyby Attack, Hover, Improved Initiative, Multiattack, Power Attack , Snatch, Wingover.
***Further detail on Craft (trapmaking) is found in Song and Silence.
Languages: Common, Draconic, Giant, Gnome.
Breath Weapon (Su): Arauthator can breathe a 50-foot cone of cold every 1d4 rounds; cold damage 8d6. A breath weapon attack allows a Reflex save for half damage with a DC of 29. He is immune to his own breath weapon unless otherwise noted.
Frightful Presence (Su): This ability takes effect automatically. It affects only opponents with fewer hit dice or levels than the creature has. The affected creature must make a successful Will save of 26 or become shaken. Success indicates that the target is immune to Arauthator's frightful presence for one day.
Spell-like Abilities (Sp): 3/day--gust of wind, fog cloud, wall of ice; 1/day--control weather; all as Sor8; save DC 12 + spell level.
Blindsight (Ex): Arauthator maneuvers and fights by using nonvisual senses (smell). Invisibility and darkness are irrelevant, though he still can't discern ethereal beings. (240 ft.). Arauthator usually does not need to make Spot or Listen checks to notice creatures within range of his blindsight ability.
Cold Subtype: Immune to cold damage; takes double damage from fire unless a saving throw for half damage is allowed, in which case it takes half damage on a success and double damage on a failure.
Dragon Traits: Immune to sleep and paralysis effects; darkvision 60 ft.; low-light vision.
Freezing Fog (Sp): This ability is similar to a solid fog spell but also causes a rime of slippery ice to form on any surface the fog touches, creating the effect of a grease spell. Arauthator is immune to the grease effect because of his icewalking ability.
Icewalking (Ex): This ability works like the spider climb spell, but the surfaces the dragon climbs must be icy. It is always in effect.
Keen Senses: Arauthator sees four times as well as a human in low-light conditions and twice as well in normal light.
Spells Known: (6/7/7/6/5/3; base DC = 12 + spell level): 0 -- arcane mark, detect magic, detect poison, mage hand, open/close, prestidigitation, ray of frost, read magic, resistance; 1st -- alarm, detect secret doors, identify, know protections, ventriloquism; 2nd -- detect thoughts, icemelt, invisibility, magic mouth; 3rd -- clairaudience/clairvoyance, fireball, water breathing; 4th -- frost vortex, wingbird; 5th -- sending.
Possessions: Countless flawed diamonds and various coins worth approximately 10,000 gp in total, 1 diamond worth approximately 5,000 gp, Blingdenstone warpick, rod of alertness (72,000 gp), half a dozen spellbooks (contents to be determined by the DM), and the remnants of a wrecked flying ship built by gnomes.
Old White Death commands a respectable roster of detection, entrapment, and combat spells, with many of them being variants of well-known wizard spells. He has also demonstrably developed magical means of triggering captured wands from afar, so that he can fire them at intruders in his lair without touching them directly. It must be stressed that human knowledge of Arauthator's magic is dangerously incomplete. Thanks to long and diligent observations by Felandaert the Farscrying of Candlekeep, however, we now have specifics of three of the dragon's spells:
Arauthator uses frost vortex both in combat and as a trap, leaving its waiting motes in tempting alcoves and blind passages in the walls of his lair. He uses icemelt primarily to dig tunnels through glacial ice in his search for treasure, but at least once used it to flood orcs out of subterranean tunnels by tapping a meltwater river under a glacier. (The spell temporarily prevented the exposed water from freezing.) Arauthator uses wingbind, a spell known to a small number of dragons, in freewheeling aerial clawing and raking battles with other dragons.
Ed Greenwood is the creator of the Forgotten Realms campaign, as well as the author of several bestselling fantasy novels. Many fans may recognize him more readily as Elminster the Sage.
1. As he was described by the sage Myrindas of Port Kir, in Dragons Ye Should Know (1354 DR). Dragon Magazine 230, page 37.
2. In Famous Legends (published in 1344 DR) and Lore of the North, Dragon Magazine 230, page 39.
3. Detailed in the accessory sourcebook FOR1 Draconomicon, page 76.
4. Ibid, page 75.
5. This band of evil wizards, based in Luskan, is described in Volo's Guide to the North, pages 121-125.