The Worldwalking Campaign
In the long-running “home” Realms campaign, the Knights of Myth Drannor PC adventuring band took their name (replacing the name they chose at their founding, the Swords of Eveningstar; though the original characters hailed from Espar, they first achieved success as treasure-seeking, freely-venue-choosing adventurers in the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar, and celebrated that by dubbing themselves the Swords of Eveningstar) after handing the lordship of Shadowdale to one of their junior members, Mourngrym, and deciding to devote themselves to dealing with the ruins of Myth Drannor.
When they’d arrived in Shadowdale, the forest-overgrown ruins of the City of Song had (as glimpsed in my novel Spellfire and more closely detailed in the Ruins of Myth Drannor boxed set) been infested with both devils and demons, thanks to opened gates through which these fiends could come, and (largely unsuccessful) attempts to plunder the ruins by Zhentarim and others that involved summonings of the one sort of lower-planar beings to deal with the other sort. The surviving elves of the Elven Court, by means of patrolling warbands led by Alok Silverspear and others, prevented most mortals from reaching the ruins, and most of the fiends from migrating far from them to imperil nearby Dales.
However, determined Zhentarim attacks, countered by the Swords of Eveningstar, that culminated in a wild battle in which the Swords managed to close one of the gates in an outlying westernmost glen of the ruined city, weakened the elves greatly and thinned the ranks of the marauding fiends—which meant that Sembian- and Hillsfar-sponsored plundering bands, and Zhentarim strike forces led by magelings determined to impress Manshoon and be rewarded for their prowess could and did penetrate to the ruins, and with gate after gate closed and fiends destroyed, a “gold rush” to plunder the ruins of Myth Drannor could begin.
The Knights, determined to prevent this (and stop the Zhentarim or anyone else from gaining mighty magic enough to despoil the nearby Dales), made common cause with the elves, and took up the cause of defending Myth Drannor.
This bought time enough for elves from Semberholme and elsewhere to return to Myth Drannor and hold it. In the process, the Knights earned the enmity of the Zhentarim and found Shadowdale under repeated attack—and also drifted into what I’d foreseen the next and higher-level stage of the campaign to be.
“Foreseen,” please note, not “planned and prepared.” The beauty of the “home” Realms campaign has been that my players have their characters fully roleplay frequent councils-of-war, wherein they discuss—in character—what they’re going to do next, so they choose the geographical locations and general direction (intrigue, monster-scouring, investigations of crime, diplomatic negotiations, mercantile dealings to gain funds or manipulate others, or whatever they desire) of play. As DM, I bring the world to life around them; I do not steer play into this or that pre-prepared encounter. The PCs have day jobs, personal interests galore, side subplots of their own running concurrently, individual and sometimes conflicting goals, and the players steer things. Which is one of the reasons (ardent, full-on “unembarrassed acting” roleplaying is another) I can never deliver the same experience as the “home” Realms campaign when guest-DMing at a convention. It’s shared, team storytelling, folks.
Yet that doesn’t mean I don’t prepare for play sessions, beforehand. I prepare all I can, in every direction, and still end up improvising most of it “on the fly,” as my players do the random and unexpected one more time. I don’t mind, because doing so has added huge amounts of colorful, non-static, relevant lore to the Realms, and because play is never, ever a matter of DM versus players, or of maneuvering PCs into a scenario I’ve prepared—it’s always as fun and creative a ride for me as it is for the players.
Yet I foresaw that encountering and experimenting with gates would bring the Knights into direct conflict with some shadowy cabals and power groups (relatively low-level local groups of Harpers; high-level Zhentarim bands; Cult of the Dragon cells; Red Wizard forces covertly sent forth by particular Zulkirs of Thay; secret alliances of beholders, illithids, illithliches (also known as “alhoon,” I created these beings for the D&D® game initially for the very purpose of being the “glue” of such villainous bands), and doppelgangers; Twisted Rune-level wizards’ cabals; and some still-shadowy secret societies that I’m keeping coy about because my players still haven’t sussed out all that much about them.
In short, using the wrong particular gates will bring unwitting users into conflict with one or more of these power groups who know about the gates and are trying to control use of them.
To take the example of the Zhentarim: they can cut their overland mercantile shipping costs between the Moonsea and the Sword Coast greatly, which was the root reason for banding together in the first place; the wizards, in particular, were tired of being penniless when they saw a way of becoming truly rich—wealthy enough not only to live like kings and fund their magical researches without limit, but to have coin to throw at others and so become political power players who could reshape the politics of Faerûn to their preferences. When the “home” Realms campaign began, the Zhents were trying to force a route through conquered and fallen Teshendale, war-torn and semi-conquered Daggerdale, Tilverton, and the northern trade-roads of Cormyr, across the Forest Kingdom and through Tunland to Darkhold and Scornubel and thence up and down the Sword Coast via the trade-roads. That brought them initial successes in corrupting Tilverton and Arabel, but military defeat after defeat in the vicinity of High Horn—so they later rerouted through the Stonelands (notably making use of Yellow Snake Pass, and putting the Storm Horns/Stormhorns between themselves and the Purple Dragons) to reach Llorkh and Loudwater and thence down the Delimbiyr valley to Secomber and Bargewright Inn and the trade-roads. Then the Zhents shortened their route and costs—as partially seen in Troy Denning’s novel The Parched Sea—by crossing Anauroch to reach the Sword Coast North just north of the Greycloak Hills and thence to Llorkh and beyond. However, being able to use gates such as the one that takes users at a stride from the Halls of the Beast-Tamers in Myth Drannor to the first level of Undermountain beneath Castle Ward in Waterdeep would greatly shorten their trips and save them huge costs—which translates into much larger profits (their dominance of trade-roads that bring forth the smelted metals and ores of the Moonsea mines, and delivers the food and supplies of the rest of the Realms to those frigid, monster-roamed lands, guarantee them cargoes of great value, if they can only monopolize the swiftest, cheapest trade-link between the Moonsea and the largest markets—the entire Sword Coast, and all the lands and city-states reached up and down it).
All of the other shadowy high-level power groups have their own reasons for wanting to control the gates, so they will all try to thwart and destroy (often using hired adventurers, mercenary warriors, and coerced monsters into fighting for them, so as to remain safer and more unseen in the background) any PCs who end up using the gates.
At the same time, I’ve worked as Dungeon Master® to make the gates seem mysterious, exciting, and useful, so PCs want to use them, and learn more about them, and uncover more gates so as to have swift and distance-spanning access to more and more locales within the Realms.
And my players, bless them, took about three seconds to hit upon the idea that they could make a lot of coin by acting as couriers to whisk gems, regalia (yes, royal crowns and signet rings and the like), contracts, treaties, magic items, rare and special medicines and magical components, and even people who had a good reason—such as personal survival!—for wanting to very swiftly be somewhere else that’s far away. The Knights made a lot of money very quickly, but very soon discovered just how much using gates with known locations and triggers made them juicy targets; it wasn’t long before they were approaching and bursting through gates in a combat formation, ready for battle.
They’re still doing so, but not for money, these days. Their interests have broadened, and they’ve decided it’s much safer to just guard against unforeseen foes appering through gates, and otherwise avoid them. Because the power groups vying for control of those gates are fighting with each other as viciously and as energetically as ever, many of them sponsored by greedy nobles and “wannabe nobles” of Sembia and Waterdeep.
And so the fun continues . . .
(Which is one of the reasons I resisted the urge to let slip the locations and methods of operating any gates of the Realms here. You do want to live to see the morrow, don’t you?)
Image borrowed from “http://forgottenrealms.wikia.com/wiki/Knights_of_Myth_Drannor” ©Wizards of the Coast