Wyrms of the North: Palarandusk, "The Unseen Protector"

Dragon Magazine #252
By Ed Greenwood with supplementary material provided by Eric L. Boyd

Nestled in a high, narrow valley between three of the westernmost peaks of the Sword Mountains, not far from the High Road southeast of Leilon, is Ieirithymbul, a little-known village of gnomes. The peaks are known locally as Mount Stemhelm (the tallest, to the north), Mount Ardabad (on the east), and Mount Pheldaer (to the west). The valley and the stream that flows through it (only to vanish into a sinkhole, Braeder's Pit, a few miles to the south) are both known as Felrenden.

Folk in Leilon know the names of the peaks and that there are gnomes "somewhere in the mountains, and it's not wise to make trouble with them," but most of them couldn't tell you whether Felrenden is the name of their king, their realm, or just the gnome trading band that, save in the depths of winter, comes into Leilon about once a month.

Ardabad, Braeder, and Pheldaer were all heroes of the Ieirithyn gnomes in their days, but the formerly energetic and aggressive gnome presence in the Sword Mountains has declined to what one village elder called "a shameful, sleepy shadow." Despite the rich Felrenden iron and copper lodes, and a huge seam of coal near the Pit, it's likely that this mining village (that can today muster, at most, some 400 adult gnomes) might long ago have vanished altogether under the fangs and blades of passing predators or rival miners had it not been for its "Unseen Protector."

Few folk except the savage Forgebar dwarves (a 60- or 70-strong family of aggressive and well-armed hill dwarves who swiftly slay those who disagree with them and dwell in caves cut into the slopes of Mount Galardrym, a little more than ten miles east of Felrenden) know or suspect that the Unseen Protector of Ieirithymbul is a dragon. Most minstrels and sages believe it's a local guardian spirit. Some cleave to the alternative view that the Protector is the invisible "send-forth" of a gnome wizard who's learned how to travel out of his body in a flying, ghostlike form that can hear, see, speak, and cast spells. All of them ridicule any suggestion that the invisible spellcaster that routs anyone foolish enough to attack Ieirithymbul openly has anything to do with dragons.

The Forgebar dwarves know better. Thrice their attacks on Ieirithymbul have led to the near-extermination of the dwarves involved, under the spells and rending claws of a fierce gold dragon whose scales are cracked and pale with age, and who weeps when he must slay -- but slays nonetheless, without hesitation or mercy. Volo recorded this as a clever disguise or magical image assumed by a spellcaster desiring to keep foes at a distance, but Elminster confirmed Palarandusk's true nature.

Palarandusk spends almost all of his time these days as a soundlessly levitating, semisolid, invisible entity who can watch, listen, speak, and move about, but who cannot launch physical or magical attacks in this form. In like manner, the invisible Palarandusk retains the spells, movement rate, hit points, and strength of his solid form -- that of a male gold great wyrm whose eyes are bright and alert, but whose jaws are white with age, and whose scales are pale and cracked from long use and failing vitality. The Unseen Protector regards the gnomes of his chosen village as his children. He spends most of his time drifting along, watching over them. He's attracted to family quarrels, feasts, and other occasions when the normally taciturn gnomes speak freely and at length about their views, feelings, or aims, but otherwise tends to escort gnomes who are on the borders of Felrenden (sheep-herding, gathering edible meadow flowers, prospecting, or mining) or traveling out of the valley to trade. He's swift to act when an Ieirithyn gnome is threatened, but he is wise enough to value eavesdropping on enemy councils above making a show of materializing to strike first at arriving danger, or retaliating swiftly against a foe of the gnomes.

Palarandusk's unique nature leaves him neither desiring nor needing much food; he absorbs moisture (and allows wastes to wash away, as desired) when rains fall or by lying in the icy waters of the Felrenden, and he devours mountain rock, mine tailings, or foes of the Ieirithyn when -- a rare thing -- hunger seizes him.

Orc raids, the misbehavior of visiting adventurers, and monster maraudings along the Coast Road near Leilon make Palarandusk act. Although he primarily defends the Felrenden, he does watch over Ieirithyn trading parties on their way to Leilon or trademoots along the High Road.

The Unseen Protector is wary of adventurers hunting rare dragon trophies or unusual body remnants that can be sold to spellcasters and alchemists, so he is loathe to appear or otherwise reveal his presence unless he deems it necessary. A few wizards know of his existence and have come to Ieirithymbul to trade spells. Unless they bring magic that can make him live on in strength and power, however, Palarandusk is uninterested in long discussions. One spellcaster from Neverwinter did provide him with a spell that successfully drained a magical rod to empower Palarandusk's activities, but the dragon completely drained the item long ago; unless visitors bring him fresh magical rods of particular sorts, he can make no further use of that magic.

Palarandusk never wastes time arguing with or warning intruders; he lurks and watches until action is necessary -- and then materializes and strikes. The Unseen Protector wields spells far beyond the norm for ancient gold dragons and is seldom seen by humans, few of whom will readily discern (or believe) what he has become.

A truly ancient gold he-dragon (mature when Netheril was young), Palarandusk has prolonged his existence beyond the natural death and decay of his body through powerful magic of his own devising. Now the spells that maintain his magically-knit form are failing, and he dares materialize for only a few minutes each day -- usually showing himself for only a few seconds, to proffer something, snatch something, or attack.

The rest of the time, Palarandusk exists as an invisible entity whose "attacks" against any victim cause brief nausea but incur no actual harm -- except to the Protector himself, whose semisolid form suffers damage from this interaction. In his invisible, semisolid form, Palarandusk does not age, the spells that keep him whole do not deteriorate, and he suffers no harm from the elements.

In solid form, Palarandusk has all the powers and properties of a gold great wyrm. He employs many spells forgotten today (learned mainly from the tomes of spellcasters who died in the fall of Netheril and the years of strife and confusion that followed). Palarandusk chafes in his "shadow existence" and dreams of becoming a widely respected power in the Sword Coast North once more.

The Sun Dragon

Palarandusk is first mentioned in a nameless, fragmentary book whose pages are burnished sheets of electrum stamped with characters unintelligible to the sages of today without benefits of magic to divine their meanings. In the days before Netheril was founded, Palarandusk dwelt somewhere along the Sword Coast and hunted such prey as wyverns from what is now Luskan to where Waterdeep was later founded.

Enslaved -- or forced into servitude to avoid a worse fate -- by the sorcerer Mileirigath in the early days of Netheril, Palarandusk spent centuries toiling in obedient obscurity, his longevity and eventually his nature and abilities altered by many spells cast on him by his master and Mileirigath's apprentices. When that realm of increasingly decadent splendor fell, he seized what magic (spellbooks in particular) he could from the ruins and the clutches of plundering illithids and other fell foes, and set about using his augmented magical abilities in freedom for the first time.

Palarandusk has also collected philosophical human writings and has spoken with a few elves and dwarves about their own views of the world, with the aim of forming a personal code. He has collected some monetary treasures, which he hid in several high, remote mountain caves and rifts for his own later use. Sleeping on a bed of treasure and continuously coveting more wealth has no allure for Palarandusk, but he does enjoy beauty, such as that captured in the occasional statue or even painting, which might be found propped up in clefts and beneath sheltered overhangs here and there around the Felrenden today. He sees the value of coinage as rare and precious things for bargaining with humans, elves, and dwarves, or even purchasing magic or aid outright.

Palarandusk lives by his own laws, which he alters rarely, and then only after much internal debate and reflection. He believes that any dragon has a duty to live in harmony with the land, devouring prey only as needful, despoiling things only when ruination can't be avoided, and protecting its domain against damage from such things as floods, fires, and invasions. In Neverwinter, the exploits of Palarandusk (under the name of the "Sun Dragon") are legendary; he protected the city several times from orc hordes and invasions from the northern Moonshaes, and he was seen as the benevolent protector of the city -- a heroic icon to whom some humans even prayed.

The passing years robbed the Sun Dragon of his strength and suppleness, and young dragons arrived to challenge him for his domain with the frequency of vultures circling a stricken beast. With no fitting, trusted successor as defender of Neverwinter in sight, Palarandusk dared not stand his ground and go down fighting, for that proud gesture would leave his chosen home undefended. He had to hide and devote his time to learning enough magic to survive -- and learning it fast.

Therefore the Sun Dragon was seen less and less in Neverwinter. He had already slipped into legend by the time the Arcane Brotherhood arose in Luskan, and fear of their recognizing his magical nature and using spells to enslave him drove Palarandusk to "disappear."

Adopting human form, Palarandusk used some of his treasure to purchase a half-ruined mansion in the countryside not far south and east of Neverwinter, shut himself up in it, and set to work learning all the arcane spells he could. He was still there, decades later, when a band of adventurers who were either extremely fortunate in their choice of spells, or who'd been sent to destroy him by someone who knew his true nature, blasted the house to flaming embers around his ears. The attack came without warning, and it destroyed almost all of the aging gold dragon's spellbooks. Palarandusk escaped destruction by frantic use of his spells -- but not before his body had been so ravaged by magic that it was held together only by a web-work of shattered magical power. Whelming all of his magic to save himself, the Sun Dragon rebuilt his own frame, forming the substanceless body of the slowly crumbling Unseen Protector he is today.

Palarandusk then decided that his lessened abilities made him unfit for his self-assigned post of defender of Neverwinter. The city in which he was now more of a shining legend than a memory now boasted half a dozen wizards of accomplishment and several resident bands of adventurers; it had decidedly less need for a draconic protector. Yet the gold wyrm was a restless wanderer as he toured much of the Sword Coast North, finding old friends and foes gone, and the land much changed from the untouched wilderlands of his youth.

At length Palarandusk decided his unease was because protecting the folk and the land of some small corner of Faerûn was now part of his nature; he could not be content except as a guardian. His sense of whimsy and gentle good nature grew with this realization, as he searched for a new "small corner" to call his own.

He wanted to live somewhere close to a center of vibrant activity, yet in a locale remote and unknown. He wanted to protect essentially honest folk given more to hard work and living with the land than, say, perfecting sorcery and dreaming of ruling other places. Human spellcasters were out, and the gnomes of Ieirithymbul -- almost unknown and yet relatively close to bustling Waterdeep -- were in. Palarandusk used magic to draw several gnome elders out on their own, one after another, to reveal himself to them, offering to defend them if they'd accept his presence. One by one, awed and touched, they agreed, and the long career of the Unseen Protector of Ieirithymbul began.

Down the years since, the body of the aging gold dragon has continued to deteriorate, despite several magical augmentations Palarandusk purchased or traded other spells for. He destroyed one orc horde before it could properly form, frustrating the plans of the cunning orc chieftain Rauragh, whose prize scheme was to bring orc bands through the subterranean ways of the Underdark to assemble in the Sword Mountains, and from there swoop down on Waterdeep, moving by night until the walls could be stormed by surprise. He has also slain several human wizards (including Radiglar "the Worm-tamer" of the Cult of the Dragon) and shattered an adventuring band, Koroaver's Raiders, who sought to establish a mining stronghold that could ally itself with the Zhentarim and give the Dark Network a defensible trading base on the doorstep of Waterdeep.

Already an expert in the flows and consequences of magic, able to predict with fair accuracy the result of two or even more spells clashing on the same target or in the same space, the Unseen Protector has recently learned a surprising amount about current trade alliances and practices along the High Road, whilst lurking undetected in Leilon or on the route the gnomes use between there and Felrenden. He's always alert for news of doings elsewhere in the North that might warn him of orc hordes, displaced war survivors, or migrating monsters possibly soon to be seen in the Sword Mountains.

Palarandusk spends his days in diligent guardianship and contemplating ways in which his body can be magically strengthened. He avoids other dragons whenever possible, and the noted draconic expert Velsaert of Baldur's Gate is unaware of Palarandusk, although he has recorded several "unconfirmed rumors with a shared subject: invisible wyrm melting into visibility and attacking" in the vicinity of Leilon.

The key to Palarandusk's character is his light humor and thorough and sympathetic understanding of human nature, operating through a firm personal code. If paladins learned about him, they could learn much from him. He defends the Ieirithyn gnomes like a bold and benevolent grandfather, never thinking of his own safety, never employing traps or ruses, and never sleeping. In fact, he has no need to sleep, though Elminster believes that the hastening deterioration of the dragon's body is directly related to Palarandusk's ceaseless activity; other wyrms of advanced age seem to spend almost all of their time asleep.

Palarandusk's Lair

The Unseen Protector has no true lair. He keeps things of beauty in several remote clefts and overhangs (for their own protection against the elements, not security) around and about Felrenden, and he has treasure stashed (usually under boulders he placed there) in various rock clefts in the Sword Mountains and in the southernmost Crags, north of Neverwinter. He has no need of personal warmth or shelter and finds the idea of prepared traps abhorrent. Snatching up mountainside boulders to hurl down at a foe during battle is fine, because there's no premeditation in such deeds unless the boulders have been deliberately collected and placed there beforehand.

Palarandusk's Domain

The Unseen Protector rarely leaves Felrenden and a narrow strip of territory linking it to Leilon along the High Road but considers that he has every right to go where he chooses, given the urge or necessity. Other dragons may have their domains and defend them fiercely, but he was here before them all, and (he thinks) will probably outlive most of them. He has no desire to offend a wyrm whose domain he's traversing, but if attacked, he'll defend himself -- and unless the dragon is of good alignment (and thus, merely misguided), the Protector will seek to slay or maim his attacker. Over-aggressive wyrms give all dragons a bad name, endangering all dragonkind . . . and so should be eliminated.

The Deeds of Palarandusk

Palarandusk spends a typical day drifting from one gnome to another like an anxious but silent invisible sheepdog, trying to maintain an overall, ongoing picture of the whereabouts and doings of all the Ieirithyn gnomes. At the same time, he tries to watch out for creatures of all sorts approaching the Felrenden. Given the prevalence of spellcasters able to magically transform themselves these days, even lone birds can't be ignored.

Palarandusk is not known to have ever mated (though his early days are a mystery to historians and might well have included pairings), and he isn't known to particularly welcome the presence or friendship of other dragons. He worked amicably with other wyrms while in service, in Netheril, but seems never to have sought out other wyrms. A true and contented loner, the Unseen Protector maintains no current alliances.

Palarandusk: Male gold great wyrm dragon sorcerer 9; CR 36; Colossal dragon (fire); HD 41d12+287 plus 9d4+63; hp 638; Init +4; Spd 60 ft., swim 60 ft., fly 250 ft. (clumsy); AC 42, touch 2, flat-footed 42; Base Atk +41 (+45 with epic bonus); Grp +74 (+78 with epic bonus); Atk +55 melee (4d8+17/19-20, bite); Full Atk +55 melee (4d8+17/19-20, bite) and +50 melee (4d6+8/19-20, 2 claws) and +49 melee (2d8+8, 2 wings) and +49 melee (4d6+25, tail slap); Space/Reach 30 ft./20 ft. (30 ft. with bite) ft.; SA breath weapons (70-ft. cone of fire, 70-ft. cone of weakening gas), crush 4d8+25, frightful presence, spectral touch, spell-like abilities, tail sweep 2d8+25; SQ alternate form, blindsense 60 ft., damage reduction 20/magic, darkvision 120 ft., detect gems, fire subtype, immunities (fire, paralysis, sleep), keen senses, low-light vision, luck bonus, semi-incorporeal form, spell resistance 33, vulnerability to cold, water breathing; AL LG; SV Fort +34, Ref +27, Will +40; Str 45, Dex 10, Con 25, Int 32, Wis 33, Cha 32.

Skills and Feats: Bluff +61, Concentration +60, Diplomacy +56, Disguise +41, Escape Artist +30, Gather Information +31, Handle Animal +31, Heal +31, Hide +5, Intimidate +61, Jump +27, Knowledge (arcana) +63, Knowledge (history) +51, Knowledge (local -- the North) +55, Knowledge (nature) +55, Listen +56, Ride +2, Search +55, Sense Motive +55, Spellcraft +47, Spot +55, Swim +46, Use Magic Device +41; Cleave, Combat Casting, Greater Spell Penetration, Hover, Improved Critical (bite), Improved Critical (claw), Improved Initiative, Improved Spell Capacity, Iron Will, Power Attack, Snatch, Spell Knowledge (x2), Spell Penetration, Weapon Focus (bite), Weapon Focus (claw), Wingover.

Breath Weapons (Su): 70-ft. cone, 24d10 fire, Reflex DC 37; 70-ft. cone, 12 points Str damage, Reflex DC 37.

Frightful Presence (Ex): 360-ft.-radius, HD 40 or fewer, Will DC 41 negates.

Spectral Touch (Su): When Palarandusk is in his semi-incorporeal form and attacks a creature with a bite, claw, or other natural attack, the target creature takes no damage but is nauseated for 1 round (creatures immune to critical hits are immune to this attack). This attack is harmful to the dragon as well, and he is affected in the same way as if he had squeezed himself through a space too small for his Colossal body (4d4 hit points of damage, maximum hit points are reduced by 1).

Spell-Like Abilities: 3/day -- bless; 1/day -- foresight (DC 30), geas/quest (DC 27), sunburst (DC 29). Caster level 28th.

Tail Sweep (Ex): 40-ft.-radius half-circle; 2d8+25 points of damage, Reflex DC 37 half.

Alternate Form (Su): 3/day -- as polymorph, except only Medium or smaller animal or humanoid forms, and no hit points regained for change.

Detect Gems (Sp): 3/day -- as detect magic, except that it finds only gems. Caster level 28th.

Keen Senses (Ex): Darkvision 120 ft.; sees four times as well a human in shadowy illumination and twice as well in normal light.

Luck Bonus (Sp): 1/day -- as for a stone of good luck, but all good creatures in 120-ft. radius for 1d3+36 hours. Caster level 28th.

Semi-Incorporeal Form (Su): The dragon can assume an invisible and semisolid form (or change from this form to his normal, solid form) as a standard action. This form is less solid than a material creature but more material than an incorporeal one; attacks against him are treated as if he is an incorporeal creature except the incorporeal miss chance is only 25% instead of 50%. While in this form he cannot make physical attacks on material creatures (but see Spectral Touch, below), nor can he carry objects or creatures unless he had swallowed them while in his normal form (in which case they transform when he does). While semi-incorporeal he cannot use his breath weapons or cast spells on other objects or creatures, but can still use spells and spell-like abilities that affect only him. He may interact with incorporeal creatures or ghost touch items as if he were incorporeal. His natural armor bonus becomes a deflection bonus and he has no Strength score. Because he is not truly incorporeal, he cannot pass through solid objects, though he can squeeze through spaces small enough to keep out a Colossal creature but not a Gargantuan one; doing so deals 4d4 hit points of damage to the dragon (incorporeal miss chance does not apply), and his maximum hit points are permanently reduced by 1 point.

Water Breathing (Ex): Can breathe underwater indefinitely and can freely use breath weapon, spells, and other abilities underwater.

Sorcerer Spells Known (6/9/9/9/8/8/8/8/7/7/1; save DC 21 + spell level; caster level 28th): 0 -- arcane mark, dancing lights, detect magic, ghost sound, light, mage hand, mending, open/close, read magic; 1st -- cure light wounds, disguise self, mage armor, protection from evil, true strike; 2nd -- detect thoughts, eagle's splendor, Gedlee's electric loop, hand of divinity, invisibility; 3rd -- dispel magic, gaseous form, tongues, whipstrike (see below); 4th -- cure critical wounds, freedom of movement, holy smite, order's wrath; 5th -- Mestil's acid sheath, monstrous regeneration , prying eyes, transmute rock to mud; 6th -- chain lightning, summon monster VI, true seeing; 7th -- fortunate fate, holy word, summon monster VII; 8th -- iron body**, maze, moment of prescience, unknown*; 9th -- dominate monster**, prismatic sphere, summon monster IX**, time stop, undeath's eternal foe**, unknown*.

* These spells are believed to be two unique spells that maintain the dragon's failing body.

**Extra spells known gained from taking the Spell Knowledge feat twice (two spells each).

Palarandusk's Magic

Elminster gleaned details of only one of the Unseen Protector's spells -- a battle magic that Palarandusk uses sparingly, deeming it "unfair" to use it when he faces only a single foe, but useful in defending gnomes from one foe whilst he's occupied with others - Whipstrike

Palarandusk's Fate

Although the Unseen Protector could well be overwhelmed if the Felrenden ever became vitally important to the Arcane Brotherhood, another cabal of evil mages, or any alliance of three or more dragons, it seems more likely he'll soldier on in obscurity for several more centuries before his body finally falls apart. Whether his magic will enable him to continue on as a disembodied sentience or not is unknown -- but Elminster warns that, if it does, the Protector (deprived of any means of defending anything, and fated only to watch) could well go insane and might then pose either a menace to all . . . or be merely a powerless, unseen shadow.

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.

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