A large (country-sized) point of darkness for you all:
The Wounded Lands
While some areas have been scarred or rendered desolate and lifeless by magical warfare, the vast stretch of land now known as the Wounded Lands have suffered a far stranger fate than most. The magical fallout in this area has permanently warped reality, and now the Wounded Lands have a singular and unpleasent property: Anything from this area will bleed when wounded. Anything.
It can be extremely unsettling when biting into a freshly-picked apple fills your mouth with hot, salty blood. Chopping down trees, digging in the soil, breaking stone with a pickaxe - any damage inflicted on the fabric of the Wounded Lands will produce a seeping wound, which will scab over and eventually heal, leaving a scar-like pattern in its place. Magically sharpened weapons can even cut the air itself and make it bleed, so if not kept sheathed will constantly flow red.
The Wounded Lands are barely inhabited, since crops grown there are inedible to all but the strongest-stomached people (and certainly not to cattle or other farm animals), and any holes dug in the ground - mine-shafts or house foundations, for example - will quickly flood, clot, and impossibly heal over before work can be completed. Most water supplies are undrinkable, as the rivers constantly wash away the scabs that form on their banks and open up fresh, seeping wounds. Those who do live in this place are mostly drawn by the magical potential, either to study it or to make use of it.
Although digging new mines and tunnels is all but impossible, ones which existed before the lands changed are sure to still remain, although they may be long-lost. Who knows what could be found in such ancient places?
The liquid in question is very similar to blood, although not exactly like it - it cannot give sustenance to anything, even blood-drinking creatures. But it looks, tastes and smells exactly like blood, clots like blood, and - worst of all - attracts mosquitos and other such unpleasantries. Since even walking on soft ground in the Wounded Lands will quickly coat your boots in thick, slowly-clotting blood, travellers are sure to be plagued by swarms of biting, stinging insects.
Possibly the most unpleasent feature of the Wounded Lands is the result of burying a corpse there - the rotting flesh of the cadaver infects the "wound" in the ground, and it heals imperfectly, the ground swelling up like a massive abcess. Eventually, the discoloured earth above the blister splits open, and amidst a tidal wave of pus, the reanimated corpse crawls out - wracked with magical mutations, muscles swollen to hideous proportions, bones now studded with blade-like spikes that punch through the skin from beneath. These undead are utterly mindless, and are a danger to anyone they encounter.
Plot hooks involving the Wounded Lands:
For the avaricious:
There are no end of tales of treasure lost in the Wounded Lands, particularly since treasure or lost vaults buried in the area before the catastrophe are now so hard to dig up. It's even rumoured that the artefact that caused the catastrophe in the first place is out there somewhere, the focus of the corruption. For those who want knowledge and power, the Wounded Lands ability to heal damage done to them would be incredibly useful if it could be replicated - there are no end of barons who would pay good money for self-repairing castles or armour that heals itself.
For the virtuous:
The Wounded Lands' ability to restore corpses to ghastly, malformed unlife is a potent attracting force for evildoers who seek to raise an army. Although none have yet worked out how to control the horrors, sooner or later one might succeed - and even before then, they are killing innocents to acquire corpses on which to experiment, and the rampaging monsters cause more carnage and death. They must be stopped!
For the curious:
There are many unanswered questions about the Wounded Lands. What caused the devastation in the first place? A mere magical catastrophe is unlikely to have caused such a specific effect, rather than simply blasting an enormous crater in the landscape. An artefact could be responsible, but how has it gone unfound for so long, and why would it not have been documented beforehand? Perhaps the power of a God or Primordial is responsible, or perhaps some other mighty being set out to create such a perverted landscape. One of the more persistant rumours is that the Wounded Lands contain a permanent portal to an outer plane of some kind, but nobody knows which one. People have suggested that only the taint of the the Abyss could have created somewhere so vile, but others have pointed out that the Abyss rarely has restorative power, and the land's ability to heal itself is utterly at odds with the mindlessly destructive nature of the Abyss. Just what caused the Wounded Lands to be the way they are - and can such power be harnessed for good? And what of the hideous resurrection ability of the Wounded Lands? What causes that, and could it be used to restore true life rather than horrible undeath?
The Wounded Lands would fit right in to 4e Forgotten Realms, as they're the kind of thing that could easily be created by a particularly nasty bit of the Spellplague. If none of the adventure hooks above are suitable, the Wounded Lands makes an excellent base of operations for a recurring villain - perhaps a mage who tries to harness their strange power, or a Vampire Lord who loves the idea of an entire country that bleeds (even if the blood won't sustain him, it's still stylish as hell). In terms of game tier, the Wounded Lands can be used at any level of play.
In game terms, the Wounded Lands can provide plenty of unusual terrain or hazards. Just as a simple example, any burst or blast powers are likely to create temporary areas of difficult terrain as the scorched ground becomes slick with blood, which then clots and scabs over. Furthermore, being covered in blood - as player characters are sure to end up - can attract predators who hunt by scent, and is unlikely to cause a good impression on anyone they meet. Characters finding a large cluster of swollen, ready-to-erupt graves might either blunder unknowingly into the danger, or succeed on a History/Arcana check to remember or work out that each mound of earth is likely to hold a gestating undead.
Another Point of Light for your use - or rather, two inextricably linked points.
Ataram and Kharovsk, the Twin Cities of Riftstride
Cities grow for a reason. Maybe a mining town over a rich seam of minerals, or a citadel at a defensible location, or a port-city at a natural harbour. Ataram and Kharvosk have grown around the two ends of a natural portal linking the two locations across thousands of miles, and without the portal, neither city could exist: Ataram sprawls in the centre of a vast and trackless desert, dry as dust and hot as hell, without an oasis for miles. Kharovsk is situated in a chill polar tundra, too cold for normal human habitation.
But clever use of the portal has allowed the cities to survive - Hot desert air is blown through from Ataram to Kharovsk, where it heats houses and melts ice to cold, fresh water, which can be piped back through to sustain Ataram's people and irrigate their farms - and then the crops can be sent back to Kharovsk to help feed the people. Likewise, the merchants can trade goods between the two cities easily - and since both cities exist with no other civilisation for miles around, trade routes have grown to pass through them, allowing travellers a welcome rest-stop and a chance to reprovision.
Although inanimate matter can pass through the portal easily, living things cannot without a substantial expenditure of magical energy. The mages of the two cities can provide this service for a suitable price, but since most cannot afford to make regular journeys, the people of the two cities remain mutually dependant but isolated from each other. Still, the governments of the two cities rarely make laws or decisions without consulting each other, and the Emir of Ataram and the Boyar of Kharovsk meet regularly to discuss such things.
Riftstride, as the cities are known collectively, acts as a hub of trade and a popular place for adventurers to visit. The permanent portal can shorten transcontinental journeys dramatically (for the right price), and a large Magicians' guild has grown in both cities to study the portal and take advantage of it.
Adventure hooks in Riftstride:
The obvious threat:
In the frozen wastes north of Kharovsk, a great army is gathering to attack the Twin Cities. Ordinarily, no-one would dare, since the wizards of the Riftstride guild would be perfectly capable of opening the portal to supply magically-summoned reinforcements, war machines, and weapons from Ataram, and Kharovsk's walls are high and sturdy. But the attackers have been cunning - Doppelganger mercenaries infiltrated the cities weeks ago, and sabotaged the portals by redirecting them to the Nine Hells, where a second group of hired mercenaries - this time a band of devils - wait to intercept travellers. Ataram cannot even confirm for sure that Kharovsk is under attack: people and messages sent through the portal do not return, so they only know that something has gone horribly wrong. Worse still, one of the Emir's Viziers has been assassinated and replaced with a Doppelganger, who is doing everything he can to delay the sending of proper reinforcements. Meanwhile, the Boyar of Kharovsk is panicking - without reinforcements from Ataram, he cannot win an open conflict, and with the food supplies from the portal cut off, his city will never withstand a prolonged siege. One of his trusted advisors suggests surrender - but unknown to him, this is another Doppelganger agent.
The only hope for Riftstride is an adventuring party - small enough to travel through the portal as a group, but skilled enough to take down the waiting devils on the other side, and with the magical expertise to reconnect the portals and restore communications. But even with that done, the doppelgangers need to be rooted out, and then there's a battle to be won!
(Note: Depending on which city the PCs arrive in first, and what would better suit your campaign, it can instead be the Ataram that comes under attack and Kharovsk trying to send aid. The attacking army is deliberately left non-specific.)
The hidden threat:
A dispute breaks out between the merchant guilds of Riftstride. The Kharovsk guild claim that a potent magic artefact purchased from Ataram was a forgery, while the Ataram guild claim that they verified the item's authenticity before sending it through the portal, and that the merchants of Kharovsk are slandering their good reputation.
The truth is far more worrying. A renegade wizard has found a way to intercept things sent through the portal, and has been taking the opportunity to steal small items from the packages traded back and forth by the guild. Un-noticed up until now thanks to only taking trivial things (which were blamed on mundane thieves, accounting errors, or minor merchat duplicity), the artefact was too much to resist. Once he recieved word that it was to be sent through the portal, he hastily crafted a fake, and swapped the two in transit.
This goes beyond mere theft, though. If one person can find a back-door into the portal system, surely other people might exploit it? A truly evil - rather than just greedy - wizard could poison Ataram's water supply, or the food being sent to Kharovsk. A well-prepared assassin could take the opportunity to eliminate the Emir or the Boyar on their way between cities. With enough magical power, a small group of deadly monsters could be unleashed into the heart of one of the cities, inside the defensive walls where they could cause the most carnage.
The threat from within:
The portal has a critical flaw. It's touched by the influence of the Far Realm, which in turn influences anyone who travels through it. Although this effect is too small to notice for those who only travel through once or twice, frequent portal-goers will eventually suffer the effects of repeated exposure to the Far Realm.
The people who use the portal most of all are the Emir of Ataram and the Boyar of Kharovsk - they need to meet in person to discuss the running of the two cities, and the only way to do so is to travel via the portal. Since Far Realm influence makes people highly sensitive to the alignment of the stars, and Ataram and Kharovsk are in different parts of the world with different constellations in the sky at any one time, the Boyar and the Emir are slowly going mad in subtly different ways. As highly intelligent people who consider each other equals, each has noticed the gradually developing insanity of the other - and each, driven paranoid by the Far Realm's power is making secret and diabolical plans in case their counterpart needs to be removed. The Boyar of Kharovsk, convinced that all of Ataram's populace must be suffering from the same madness as the Emir, intends to poison the water supply and wipe out the entirety of the desert city should the Emir go completely mad. The Emir, on the other hand, feels a deep but misguided compassion for his friend and ally and is determined to cure him by any means necessary - in this case, he has managed to contact one of the powerful Fae, a Coure of Mischief and Strife, confident that the creature's understanding of the human mind is what he needs to cure the Boyar of his insanity.
(Note: As above, the cities can be swapped around for this adventure if you prefer)
The Twin Cities work best fairly early in the game where long overland journeys are still a major obstacle to character parties, and the portal can be a real point of interest. If intending to use Riftstride at Epic tier, place the two cities on different planes altogether, or in two far-flung parts of the Elemental Chaos.
The Coure of Mischief and Strife mentioned in "the threat from within" can, of course, be replaced by any suitable creature of appropriate level. An Illithid would do nicely, providing one of Riftstride's cities has the means to contact such a creature.
These large ruins with numerous runes across them are a complete mystery. A few people are camped outside of it, dragonborn, tieflings, humans all want whats inside claiming them their heritage of their ancient empires, meanwhile there are dwarves and halfling treasure-hunters who want the valuable stuff inside for themselves, while scholars, wizards and historians try to learn what they can about to them to see if they gain any knowledge from the past.
However, none of these groups can go inside, some forces are keeping them out. These forces are optional; they could be ancient golems that are somehow activated because they touched the wrong thing, the dead rising from their grave, some wild animals who have moved in there, or a tribe of ogres or trolls- or maybe some shady organization has got there first and is looting the ruins. Whatever the forces put there, the adventurers will have to get rid of them for any interested parties wanting to go inside.
I purposefully made it so that which NPC the players can have as a plot hook can be decided by themselves having multiple guys to choose from, as well as the DM being able to decide which enemies they face.
Over an unbelievably deep chasm sits a seemingly floating tower descending as deep into the chasm as it towers over the earth the only access point is about halfway along this ancient and marvelous marble bridge. The true power that is held in the tower is a complete mystery and many have died trying to solve it.
This is an open ended adventure site that can be completed by the DM I just had thought for the history of this adventure site that i was wanting to use in forgotten realms the Magic node functions smiler to an earth node. I hope people like it :P
DC 15: A half-elf wizard known as Tiaque Yadeth discovered a arcane node that held ancient magic that had been forgotten. He was intrigued by the ancient power that was hidden in this chasm and set up a research post, and began a study of the magic that was held in the depths.
As the years went by Tiaque found out more an more about the magic potential the site held. The research post attracted many of the magically inclined and curious sages. They worked long and hard and learned the heart of the node and erected a tower that was set astride the chasm and constructed as deep as it was tall.
DC 20: The sight became a secret school of the arcane arts teaching any that was willing to learn. The Professors of the school became corrupt and Tiaque himself fell into the darkness that had overwhelmed the school. For years the school was teaching dark wizards and an evil side of magic and tainting the magic that flowed through it.
DC 30: Tiaque set up his study and his laboratory deep in the lowest levels of the tower, which was conveniently in the heart of the magical node. He hid the entrance with the same magic that was bound the the node and flowing trough the tower. This is where he hid all his magical discoveries both good and evil. To protect his secrets he set many magical and mundane traps in the lower levels of the tower and forbid anyone entrance.
Kawa: A vampire family rules this City-State with an iron fist. They have banned everything arcane, and the people are done with this a tyrannical rule.
The names of almost everything was done with a random generator!
This is a description of the main city of Kawa and three of the surrounding villages ruled by Kawa.
Kawa: Population 22000, primarily human, some other civilized races. The city sits on the southern banks of a great river, spanned by many bridges. On the other side of the city are the Adamant Mountains, known for their rich deposits of adamantite. It is governed by a tyrannical human vampire warlord, Dini Lavenon, though his evil vampire family rules the small villages surrounding the city. There is a corrupt ban on the practice of arcane magic, though there is an underground school for wizards operating on the outskirts of the city. Slavers thrive in the city, selling slaves from around the world to passing caravans and the Lavenon family. There is a grand marketplace in the center of the city, which is overlooked by the towering palace of the Lavenon family. Travelling Merchants from all over the world have come to sell their merchandise to the citizens of Kawa. The city is on the brink of rebellion against the overlord.
DC 15: The Lavenon family came to power when Dini and his siblings overthrew the previous dynasty by assassinating the entire family.
DC 20: Dini Lavenon is an ancient vampire, aging almost 500 years. He used to be a general in the Kawan military.
DC 25: The members of the Lavenon family are devoted worshipers of Tiamat, the evil god of wealth and greed. There is a legend that Tiamat herself ordered Dini to overthrow the Gronan dynasty.
DC 20: There is an underground school of the arcane arts devoted to overthrowing the Lavenon family. They will accept support, and they are known to repay favors very lavishly.
DC 25: The rebellion is led by a half-elf warlock named Pelo Harg and a human wizard name Torn Mark. Pelo runs an inn in one of the surrounding villages. Torn Mark owns a large mining corporation. They are also supporters and co-founders of the underground arcane school.
Matsuka: Population 760, primarily human, some other civilized races. The village is a tangle of alleys and row buildings. It is governed by Dini Lavenon’s sister, Sute Lavenon. Matsuka is a small mining village located right next to the Adamant Mountains. It is known for the craftsmanship of its smiths. There is a small market on the southern end of the village. The market is an open plaza surrounded by buildings. One of these buildings is the Rogue’s Inn, a prestigious inn run by a gregarious half-elf named Pelo Harg. The governor’s house is located on the northern end of the village. In between is the large residential area, which is ruled by a large estate, owned by Torn Mark, the founder of the village’s largest mining corporation.
DC 20: Matsuka is the center of the rebellion against the Levanon dynasty.
Nohima: Population 640, mostly human, some elf and half-elf. The tree village sits on an island in the middle of a lake in the foothills of the Adamant Mountains. It is ruled by Acham Levanon, Dini Levanon’s son. The city is known for its animal hide-based economy, living off the game in the dense forests surrounding the lake. They hunt common game such as deer and bear, and sometimes even young black dragons in the mountain caverns. There are several inns in the village, but the highlight is the Inn of the Mountains. The inn is owned by an elf name Elemuel Rostin.
DC 25: Elemuel Rostin is a high-ranking military leader of the rebellion. He is actually a shaman dedicated to the preservation of the lake and the surrounding forests.
Idoriokyo: Population 590, mixed human and half-orc. A major road runs through the center of the village. It is the only village that sits on the other side of the Great River. It is governed by Yiadon Levanon, Dini Levanon’s brother. The village was attacked by monsters recently, and many buildings are empty or in ruins. It is recovering from the attack, yet its fishing economy is thriving. Yiadon is one the only member of the Levanon family that is not evil. He holds sympathy for his citizens. He is also a powerful member in the rebellion. He hopes to contribute to the rebellion with his wisdom. Idoriokyo is the newest village under the influence of Kawa.
Secret Knowledge: Yiadon is a wizard, but he has hidden that from his family in fear of punishment.
Kharovsk would ideally be situated on the Para-elemental plane of Ice (between the Plane of Water and the Plane of Air, in 3.5 cosmology). In this setting, it's not a city built on top of the ice sheet - it's built into a network of tunnels and caverns, deep under the ice. The whole place is lit by an eerie blue-white glow as light filters through the vast glacial expanse surrounding the city. Some places are low, narrow, winding tunnels, with doorways on either side leading into networks of rooms rather than stand-alone buildings. Others are more like conventional towns, built on the floor of a huge cavern. Off the commonly-used paved roads, the floor is a rough ice-sheet, with enough friction to grip and walk comfortably - until it gets wet, or warm enough to melt. When the city needs to grow, new tunnels and caverns are carved out by massive heated drilling machines, powered by mighty magics.
Ataram would, of course, be well-suited to the Elemental Plane of Fire, but I think that's a little obvious (and besides, it steps on the toes of the City of Brass). Instead, you could place it in the machine-plane of Mechanus, situated directly over a fifty-mile-wide heat vent from some unearthly engine. Or on Phlegethos in the Nine Hells, where the sand is crushed bone and the only rain that falls is of hot ash and cinders. Or in the Outlands, far away from Sigil and the great spire, far away from any trade route or any land anyone cares about, far away from such comforts as the occasional drop of rain or a moment's respite from the searing, callous glare of the white sun that hangs motionless in the sky.
(Wow, I'd totally forgotten about this thread until I was emailed about your post, RoboKomodo. Thanks for the reminder! I must actually write up Pinion and the other places I've thought up since.)
Pinion started small. A mad wizard's dwelling, a black iron castle in the shape of a neat cube, walls made of complex overlapping plates that would twist, grind, and shift to expose ranks of baleful cannon or a dark opening to the keep's gloomy metal halls. Populated only by the mage and a small army of Iron Golems that acted as his servants and private army, Pinion was sinister and impregnable, but little threat to anyone who did not seek it out - the wizard kept to himself, not seeking company, wrapped up in his research until the day he died. And if only it had ended there, the world would be a far better place.
The golems did not die with their master. They were driven - perhaps by the dead wizard's last command, perhaps by some sentience that he had managed to grant to the unliving things - to endure, to build, to strengthen the structure of Pinion, to make it larger, more complex, more mechanical, more and more like a living thing. They marched in their dozens to the nearest down and smashed it to splinters, and carried off every last scrap of metal they could find, back to the great black cube, whose walls slid aside to let them enter. And they built. And come morning, it was a fraction larger, and a little more complex, and with one more golem to guard it.
They have been building for hundreds of years. Pinion is the size of a city. Ugly, forbidding rectilinear blocks of iron and steel, without ornamentation. On hidden gears and wheels they move, grinding past one another, the whole city of iron rearranging itself slowly, with a hideous noise of metal on metal. Pinion moves. The whole city crawls, slowly, across the landscape like some titanic slug. Ranks of cannon and spinning blades line its outer walls; catapults, lightning spires, and steam-powered gatling guns cover its upper surface, and hundreds of golems trudge tirelessly through the iron city's corridors and chambers.
This is not a place fit for human habitation. Rain that falls on Pinion is channeled and drained swiftly away into the churning mud beneath the city, for the golems do not need it. Nothing grows here. Nothing lives here. Any living thing that finds its way into Pinion is found and crushed to pulp by the golems, for they guard their great machine well. They do not seek out lives to end: the iron fotress crushes cities under its treads not out of hate, but simply so that the golems can acquire more building materials. And so Pinion grows larger, and the golems add another soulless warrior to their ranks.
If a particularly stealthy adventurer invaded Pinion, they would find a perplexing place. There are no torches, no windows, for the golems do not need light to see. Rooms and buildings shift arrangement slowly, according to some vast and complex pattern. Corridors convert themselves into slopes, then stairways, then vertical elevator shafts. Smaller rooms move about on rails inside larger ones. Vast cathedral-like chambers serve as factories for the creation of more and more golems, or weapons, or vital components. As the interloper draws closer to the centre of the living machine, the noise grows louder - the older parts of Pinion are rusted and decayed, and the sound of metal grinding against metal becomes intolerable. The original structure is still there, at Pinion's hideous heart, and somewhere within it is the withered corpse of the wizard who made this place his home and - ultimately - his mausoleum.
Plot hooks involving Pinion:
For the avaricious:
Pinion began life as a wizard's workshop, and anyone capable of building something like this must have had some cool toys lying about, right? And if that's not enough, well, it's been marauding around the countryside for hundreds of years, crushed dozens of towns and cities under its tread, including a rather nice palace, and left nothing behind. No buildings. No treasuries. No enormous piles of precious gold and jewels, which therefore must still be in there.
For the virtuous:
Pinion is, normally, little threat to mortal life. The golems won't actively try to destroy you unless you attack them, try to keep something metal away from them, or try to enter the city. If Pinion is heading for your home city, you'll have plenty of warning - you can see it coming from miles away - and you'll have plenty of time to evacuate. Nobody likes to flee their homes, but it's better than being crushed to unrecognisable red paste beneath a million tonnes of iron.
But this time things are different. The Yellow Skull Fever struck the city two months ago, and though the death toll was low, a full third of the population were infected at some point. Recovery from Yellow Skull Fever is slow. It takes lots of sleep and bed rest, and no exposure to the cold. If the people of this city flee, thousands of them will die. The only alternative is to make Pinion stop or change course.
For the curious:
This should not be possible. Golems are mindless automata, which follow their master's commands unthinkingly. They can't learn. They can't extrapolate a command like "guard me forever" into "turn my home into a giant mobile fortress and crush cities to powder for more iron". They can't innovate, and couldn't build something like Pinion unless someone had already drawn up the plans for it in intricate detail. And they sure as hell can't work the magic needed to build more golems.
And yet, Pinion exists. Their master can't possibly still be alive - humans don't live that long, and he had no access to life-extending magic. So, who or what is driving Pinion's continued growth? There's only one way to find out...
Your average Heroic-tier adventuring party will, faced with something like Pinion, decide to give it a wide berth until they're higher level. And they'll be right. There's no way you can make something like this feel like a fair challenge before level 8, and that's pushing it. Pinion is very definitely a paragon and up level adventure. It can work nicely at Epic level too, if you simply transplant it into another plane and have it go raiding for something more exotic than scrap iron.
Gameplay wise, Pinion offers plenty of opportunities. Rooms that shift and rearrange themselves make for excellent combat scenes. The corridors can be protected by just about any trap your devious mind can conjure up. Between encounters, Pinion is a deeply hostile place - there's no food, no water, it's too noisy to get a good night's sleep, and anywhere you choose to make camp is at risk of being crushed by a cube of iron the size of a city block any moment. The golems don't need time to sleep, air to breathe, or light to see by - they will pursue you wherever you might go, at all times of the day or night, and they know the city's layout perfectly.
Smart PCs will realise quite quickly that the golems don't attack unless provoked, and if you don't look like an invading army you can actually get quite close to Pinion without being at risk. Approaching from the air is suicide, however - the lightning spires and gatling guns will shred anything less tough than an Ancient Dragon. The correct way in is to get into it's path and wait patiently until it's about to crush you, then dodge between the churning treads and find a way up from below.
Next: Titansfort, a city built into the corpse of a warrior-giant crafted from the elements by an arrogant god. Because this thread needs more epic-tier stuff.
When the smith-god of the Dwarves sought to destroy the world-spanning nation of Avandhar, he built a titan to do his work for him. Never one to start small, he began with twin mountains. From these he wrought the giant's legs, that it might stand as fast as the mountains, lay as much weight upon the earth with each step, be as sure-footed as the hills themselves. He took desert sand for its skin, ever-shifting, able to repair any wound or hide any weakness in minutes. Its bones were black iron stolen from the roots of the world, its teeth were the swords and spear-tips of an army. He tamed a hurricane to be its breath. He pulled a skein of mist from the sea-coast to weave a cloak for the giant, to hide it from mortal sight as it drew near. He cracked a volcano in two and pulled out its molten heart to beat in the chest of his creation, its chthonic rhythm driving the march of ten thousand golems of molten rock through its cavernous veins. Into its muscles he wove the strength of the seas, that eat away at impregnable cliffs and crush them down to powder, and from the sky he called down lightning to flash through its brain. When he came to arm his creation, he caught the Jokulhaups - a cascade of water and ice and steam and mud and fire, that can wipe cities off the face of the world and leave nothing but a scar in the earth - in the palm of his hand, and wrought its destructive power into a sword, and poisoned it with every plague that had ever been. When he saw that his giant needed an eye, he reached up and plucked a star out of the night sky, leaving a hideous black void where the sting of the Scorpion constellation had been. And when he realised that his giant drew breath without purpose, that it saw without understanding, that it moved without life, he sent his faithful servant to sneak into the Garden of Life's Origin, and carry away a seedling of original Life. This he set upon a ring, and set the ring upon his giant's finger, and it had life and understanding and purpose, and knew that its purpose was to be the death of a nation.
The gates of the smith-god's forge swung open, and the giant stooped to step out. It marched on Avandhar, and their city-walls crumbled at its tread. It marched, and their legions were pulverised beneath the edge of that terrible howling sword, and those who fled sickened and died. It marched, and their army of zeppelins and dragons were cast aside by its breath. It marched, and where their magic and heroes and war-machines scratched its skin, beasts of molten stone stepped forth from the wound and struck a deadly blow in retaliation, and slunk back into the giant's flesh before the wound healed over. Their magic faltered, their war-machines fell silent, their armies retreated, and the giant strode towards the capital, the palace, and the still-defiant queen.
Avandhar's mages were not yet beaten, though. In their desperation, they cast about for any weapon that might bring down the gods' giant. They found it, in a book charred by fire, bound shut with iron chains, and stamped with HERESY in bold letters. They studied the rituals within, and found a weapon that could bring down the giant. With a hangman's noose, and a bloodstained knife, and two locks of hair from a killer and his victim, and with blood and salt and a chant without words, they called up from the pitch-black labyrinth below the world a thing that should not be.
It is not recorded what the Thing from the labyrinth demanded in payment for the death of the giant. Some things are best left forgotten. None of the mages would speak of what was done in that chamber, and all of the records have been erased. But a cloud of grey and black boiled up from the palace's cellars and flowed like oil across the city, and all it touched were gripped for a brief moment with uncontrollable fear, a fear of the unknown, of the things that lurk in dark places and never ought to see the light of day. It moved as if blown by a terrible gale across the plains, and it touched the feet of the giant and surged into its skin, and a moment later the slow beat of that volcanic heart simply stopped, and the giant fell.
Though Avandhar's legions were broken and many of its cities toppled, the body of the giant held great power. From its corpse they built a new capital, a citadel with foundations as strong as the mountains, braced by iron from the roots of the world, with buildings formed of solid sand that repaired at once any harm they suffered, and walls tipped by countless blood-thirsty spear points. From the giant's chest, the king carried forth a great stone, glowing red and warm to the touch, with which he commanded ten thousand golems of molten rock. His mages retrieved a golden device like an oversized cloak-clasp, forever shrouded in clouds and fog; and a blueish-white crystal that crackled with caged lightning; and a grey-swirled sphere that commanded the winds themselves; and a green jade staff that could exert the force of the waves; and a tiny gem that shone like a star; and a ring of green wood set with a tiny seed; and an unseen and unwholesome thing that they carried away under armed guard in the dead of night. But where the giant's sword fell was useless land, charred and blackened and washed away by mud, and infected with a thousand plagues.
Though Avandhar is long-gone and the Titan's Relics scattered far and wide, Titansfort still endures. The proud inhabitants claim to trace their lineage back to the great kings of Avandhar, and boast that no army on the Plane could challenge them. They may be right - Titansfort's defences have only been strengthened over the years. If ever there was a mortal city that could withstand any invading army, this is it.
The obvious threat:
From the top of the citadel's tallest tower, the fallen sword of the great titan can be seen in the distance, stuck point-first into the ground and surrounded by a great crater of blasted, ruined land. Nothing grows there. The earth is thick, sucking mud, in which great fissures vent scalding-hot steam. The earth and water are tainted with supernaturally potent disease, able to bring a strong man to his knees in an hour. Nobody goes there, and nobody has any reason to.
But it's growing. Slowly, the mud-slick ground creeping outwards at a snail's pace, but surely. Nobody knows why, or how to stop it. Eventually, though, it will engulf Titansfort and reduce it to a ghost town.
The hidden threat:
The Arch-Devil Mephistopheles, Prince of Hellfire and Duke of the Eighth, has a great many vices. He's famed for it. He cultures vice. He takes a sick kind of pride in his evil, his corruption, his depth of iniquity. But of all his sins, the greatest is called Envy. It is said that Mephistopheles has such jealousy in his mind that it stained his eyes green where once they were red. And the chief object of Mephistopheles' envy is the one Devil superiour to him: Asmodeus, Duke of the Ninth, whose influence extends like black tentacles over the whole of the Nine Hells of Baator from his fortress Malsheem. Mephistopheles envies his power, his reputation, his disciples, his wealth, and his lair.
It is this last that is relevant here. Malsheem is a keep unrivalled in all the planes - except, of course, for Titansfort. Mephistopheles wishes to go one better than Asmodeus, and become the ruler of Titansfort. Knowing perfectly well that he cannot conquer it in war without bringing the whole of his diabolical armies to the Prime (and leaving his position in Baator distinctly precarious), he intends to claim the citadel by subterfuge. The walls are impregnable - but the mortals are weak and power-hungry, and Mephistopheles is nothing if not a master manipulator. He has spent centuries insinuating his own agents into positions of power, and unless his trickery is revealed, when the elected ruler of Titansfort is slain, his replacement is certain to be Mephistopheles' pawn.
And, should the conspiracy be revealed, he has a back-up plan. The Titan was a living thing, once, and it had a true name. Mephistopheles has learned that name, and plans to use it to summon the Titan's body - citadel and all - into Baator, there to beseige and conquer it.
The threat from within:
Within the great palace atop Titansfort, there are many passageways leading deep into the body of the giant. One, a well-kept secret, winds its way down through the gigantic corpse down into the vast, hollow chamber that was once the giant's heart. The heartstone was taken long ago, but this place still pulses with magical power. The only person who ever comes down here is the High Mage of the city - it is a good place from which to scry on the rest of the city, and he finds the gentle thrum of long-since-stilled magic to be oddly comforting.
This time, the wall bears a message, in meter-high runes that seem to have grown from the very rock.
Torog is a foul god and a god of foul things. His children are the scuttling vermin of the earth, the worms that gnaw at the root, the beetles that crawl from bloated cadavers. Every oubliette and prison is holy ground to him. Imprisonment is a sacrament to him, torture a vile communion; every gaol-warden and torturer his beloved servants. And yet, without the King that Crawls, the Lord of the Oubliette, the Conquerer Worm, the world would be a darker place. Torog imprisons. It is in his nature - he cannot release his wards, for no matter how they beg or what they might offer him, he loves them in his own twisted way, loves that they are held fast in his own black vaults, dependant utterly on him for what food and sanitation they receive, that without his care they would wither and die in their own filth. Torog imprisons things far worse than himself. Demons as mighty as gods, that once sought to plunge the world into eternal pain and chaos. Devils that commanded countless armies, that if left unchained would rule all of the worlds and the spaces between them. Things from the Far Realm, that corrupted everything they touched and everything they beheld. All of these abominations, locked away forever, screaming without end in the darkness of Torog's cells.
Each temple of Torog contains a wonder, a thing sacred to the King that Crawls. A bottomless pit, a chasm that plunges away deeper than the deepest ocean trenches, deeper than the lowest reaches of the Underdark, deeper than the world is wide, deeper than the Celestial Mountain is high. It is a terrible thing, to stand on the edge of that pit and look down, to know that you are staring into an eternity of darkness, and that if you fell, you would die not from hitting the bottom, but from thirst or starvation.
To Sir Marcus Avonstock the Bold, Knight Errant and Hero of the Realm, it seemed like an excellent way to dispose of a cursed sword. He'd found it on a battlefield, clutched in the withered hand of one leader's corpse and plunged into the chest of his counterpart. The blade was broad and tapered, elegantly made, and it shone like something angel-wrought, with a small eye-shaped hole near the hilt. An odd feature of a sword, but he thought nothing of it until he happened to glance though it, and saw only death and horror on the other side. Through the eye of that blade, every fair mortal was shown as a walking corpse, rot and ruin supplanting strength and beauty. Every building seemed a derelict ruin, every work of art a foul and debased thing. Even the sun looked dark and red, a hateful orb in the sky.
Sir Marcus was, happily, an intelligent man and took the time to make inquiries as to the provenance of his newly acquired sword. What he heard chilled him to the bone. This weapon dated back to the dying days of glorious Avandhar, when the Titan's corpse had been stripped down for parts. Amongst the wonderous items - the Titan's Heart that commanded an army of ten thousand magma golems, the Titan's Eye that saw though every guise - was found a power that had never been meant as a part of the Titan. The smith-god had given it strength, and breath, and life, but it was the Thing from the Labyrinth that had given it death. The last of the artefacts, the Titan's Death, was carried away to the Mages' keep and forged into a sword, in the hope it might make a potent weapon. And it did, but it was too hungry for death. There is no goodness in its purpose, no use it can be put to that it will not pervert. It delights in bringing death and destruction, in defiling that which is pure, in scarring what is beautiful. It seethes with rot and ruin, and it cleaves to the grip of the cruel, the callous, those as monstrous as the thing that killed the Titan. Should it find itself in the hands of the righteous, though, it will corrupt them - and those it cannot corrupt, it will kill.
By the time Sir Marcus learned of this, it was, he knew, too late for him. He could not cast the blade away. And so he journeyed to a foul place, a temple that squatted in a tyrant's city like a toad in a stone, and with the baleful blade in hand he slaughtered all in his path. And in the temple to Torog, with the blood of the priests soaking his robes and glistening on the sword's steel, he stood on the lip of the bottomless pit, and whispered a prayer to a god he despised, and cast himself in.
Torog is a foul god and a god of foul things, and loathes nothing so much as freedom, and it is in his nature to imprison. His divine will closed about the thing like the body of a great coiling worm, and clutched it tight, and drew it down, down into the endless screaming dark. But the Titan's Death endures, at the bottom of a bottomless pit, its entropic stain seeping out into the world, drawing people towards it to seek its power. They all die, of course, but the Titan's Death does not care. The great city around the Bleak Temple is empty and forsaken. A hundred thousand corpses fall, slowly, down into the pit, rotting as they fall. And Torog laughs, as his worms and maggots devour their putrefying flesh. Beneath it all, a blade that shines like the glory of angels is still held fast by the death-grip of a corpse that has not rotted at all, for even the maggots die in that blade's glow.
Plot hooks involving the Bleak Temple:
For the avaricious:
Abandoned city. Do I need to say more? Those who cast themselves into the bottomless pit didn't stop to pack their valuables. The place must be FULL of gold. Especially the palace - the tyrant who once ruled here was infamous for confiscating wealth from the populace and hoarding it. Hopefully, if you can endure the pull of the Titan's Death for long enough to find the treasury, you'll simply be able to carry off whatever you like without any resistance. After all, who would be living in such a place?
And this would be a fantastic plan, if someone hadn't already thought of it about ten years ago, and if that someone hadn't been an immortal Dracolich who now makes her lair in the throne-room of the abandoned palace, waited upon by undead servants, occasionally making an idle study of the Bleak Temple and its terrible pit, wondering if the Titan's Death might one day be retrieved and put to use.
For the virtuous:
Although destroying the Titan's Death is beyond even the power of the gods, it can be sealed away. The bottomless pit is a good start - but the influence of the Titan's Death pervades out. If the pit could be somehow sealed, cut off from the world and left to drift in the Astral Sea, a great blight could be removed from the earth, and a city could be reclaimed. It won't be easy - the Titan's Death is horribly dangerous to approach, and Torog will not take kindly to unbelievers entering his temple and working magic to despoil the sacred pit.
For the curious:
Torog is widely reviled, an evil being whose works - it is said - beget nothing but evil. Under the watchful eye of the sun-god Pelor, a great crusade assembles to strike at Torog's blackened heart, raze his temples, slay his avatars, and hopefully scour the King that Crawls from the face of the earth. However, the Titan's Death is well-contained in his grasp, the Lord of the Oubliette acting as the perfect custodian for a thing that can and would bring about the fall of other gods. Torog has other wards too, terrible things that would wreak untold havoc if released - as they would be if he fell. The warriors of Pelor think they are doing good - but they may be about to unleash countless horrors upon the world, should they succeed.
The matter must be investigated more closely. Is Torog ultimately a force for good in the world, despite his malign nature? Can the nightmares he imprisoned maybe be kept locked away even without the Conqueror Worm's watchful gaze? If not, what can be done to convince Pelor's Crusade that they are about to make a terrible mistake?