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This is by far the worst chapter in the book, in terms of how badly written and organized it is. It is not clear, and all the things that go down in Gracklstugh are so many, and there are so many quests that it is easy to get lost in a circle of possible options and missions that seem to go nowhere.
This will be a long article so grab a cup of coffee or tea.
Table of contents
- Getting to Gracklstugh
- General info of the city and duergar
- The plot
- Power figures of the city
- Plot flowchart and suggestions
- The Whorlstone Tunnels
- End and consequences
Getting to Gracklstugh is not particularly difficult, if PC’s follow along the Darklake borders they will find the city. There are two ways to get inside the city, the frontal approach through one of the main gates, which will unchain the entrance encounter with corrupt Gorglak. Or the sneaky approach, infiltrating the city by water. Buppido will recommend this if he is with the party (page 59). Take into account possible difficulties traveling by water. (Darklake Chapter)
Arriving at the front gates causes Gorglak to appear and insinuate that he will arrest them unless they bribe him with something for his weapon collection. If the PC’s carry Dawnbringer openly, he will ask for that and nothing else. If the bribe is accepted he doesn’t accept the item but instructs them to deliver it to Werz Saltbaron in the Docks. If the negotiation goes south or the PC’s ruin it by talking to openly about it instead of following the innuendo, Gorglak orders their arrest. If arrested they will be brought before Errde Blackskull, Captain of the Stoneguard. If the PC’s resist the arrest (which they probably will do, as they won’t want to be prisoners gain) a fiery battle starts. After the massacre at the gate the PC’s might be wondering what to do, right then the gates open to Errde Blackskull leading a platoon of stoneguards. She already suspects corruption by the guys at the gates and offers to escort them to Overlake Hold (police station), if the PC’s don’t want to go then she forcefully arrests them, although she seems friendlier than Gorglak. (BTW It is possible for Gorglak to die here, but if he is losing, he will use invisibility and try to escape)
Gracklstugh is a very busy and unfriendly place for travelers. For starters, slavery is a thing here too, so it is a real danger to be captured and put in a cage again. Actually if words get out that the PC’s are escaped slaves, that puts a price tag on their heads. Slavers might want to re-possess them either to sell or to sell back to the drow. The forges of the city never stop and hammering and heat can be perceived from any part of the settlement. Duergar are very grim, austere and methodical; corruption is very rare among them. Crime within the city is very scarce, due to the fact that the guards can go invisible, and any duergar in sight can be considered instant reinforcements. They love to see law enforced and their laws are harsh and fast. Anyone caught stealing can be put to death by any duergar on the spot, no trial necessary.
Gracklstugh is divided. There is a huge power struggle between the Keepers of the Flame, Themberchaud, the Gray Ghosts and the crown (Deepking Horgar Steelshadow). It is this struggle that shapes the city in its current state. The Derro faction is represented by the Council of Savants who secretly sponsors the Gray Ghosts. The Gray Ghosts employ derro and duergar outcasts (Calassabrak, ala Samurai Ronin). There is a guild of artisans (Council of Lairds, page 54) and a merchant council which can be ignored without harm.
Due to the amount of pollution in the cave that hosts Gracklstugh, newcomers will be susceptible to Grackle-lung, a form of cough disease that might become dangerous in itself. (page 54) Don’t forget to keep track of it.
Just like with other chapters of this guide, I recommend to read through the Random Encounters (page 51) and choose which you will use and when. I find it gives the city a more organic feel when you don’t have to stop the game for random rolls that might come up with un-optimal encounters. While the PC’s travel around the city, whether free or escorted (arrested) let them breathe the harshfulness of the city:
- The unending hammering
- Slaves being transported or mistreated
- Duergar watching them with grim looks
- Derro hiding in the shadows or being mistreated by duergar
- Themberchaud flying around the city
- Patrols of duergar on steeders (mountable spiders page 231)
- Guards appearing or disappearing suddenly (they have invisibility page 227)
- A giant walking through the streets, duergar moving out of his path.
Some of the things in this list are actually random encounters from the book. Or can be adapted easily. The goal is to convey that being in this city might be just as dangerous as being out there in the underdark depths. Just a different kind of dangerous. If you are successful, then the players will want to get out of gracklstugh as soon as possible but they won’t be able to, unless they go down the plot line of the city.
Things can happen in very different ways in Gracklstugh, but predictably the PC’s objective will be to leave the city. An order has to be given at the gates to let them go, and the only people who would do that are: Errde Blackskull if they help her. Gartokkar if they help him. Themberchaud if they help him. In addition, the PC’s could find themselves working for one of them even if they don’t want to, following an arrest.
- Errde Blackskull.- She is the captain of the stoneguard. The PC’s will be brought to her if they are arrested inside the city. Or if a battle happens at the gates. She could easily dispose of them and sell them to the slavers, but she has ulterior motives. She suspects corruption in the city and needs outsiders to investigate, she can no longer trust her men. Her men have also been tailing a derro called Droki, who is very elusive. She thinks he is working the Council of Savants, but doesn’t know that he also works for the Gray Ghosts. If they help her she will let them go.
- Gartokkar Xundorn.- He is the Keeper of the flame, his faction are a group of psionic clerics whose job is to “control” Themberchaud, thus helping King Horgar keep the city under control. They control and appease the dragon using psionics. When the time is right, the keepers are also in charge of disposing of the dragon and raising a new one. This has happened many times before; there’s even the remains of past dragons in their guard house. They had a red dragon egg but it was stolen by the Gray Ghosts. Gartokkar knows that the derro Droki is a Gray Ghost messenger and supplier. He orders the PC’s to tail him, recover the egg, and bring back proof of the magic the Gray Ghosts are using. If they are successful he can let them go.
- Themberchaud.- This pampered dragon has just recently become curious and interested in the city, its politics and the different power figures in it. Due to his nature, he considers himself to be above all, but day after day he grows more aware that it’s really not him controlling the city. When meeting the PC’s, he recruits them as spies. He is already suspicious of Gartokkar, so he orders them to report to him the same they report to Gartokkar. Themberchaud is a wildcard and can react in different ways. He is pampered and more like a spoiled child. If he knows about the egg he gets furious and will order its destruction.
- King Horgar Steelshadow V.- The king is very absent in the adventure, there is no lead as to how the PC’s might end up in an audience with him. His consort Shal is actually a Succubus poisoning his mind (ala wormtongue). At the end in the extras section, there is an optional plot where and audience with the king is important.
- The stone giants.- They giants are friends with the Steelshadow family. They usually don’t step into the city’s issues, prefering to meditate and commune with the stones.
This is where the chapter suffers more, the quests are in disorder, they are in different parts of the chapter, and there is no suggestion as to what should happen first. This next chart is just a recommendation of how things can go down, it follows all the plot points and is presented in an easy to understand way. Of course things can happen differently depending on the players, but more often than not, this flowchart will be the way to go. The escape from the city is not included in the chart as that is covered in the next section of this guide. Some places of importance inside the Whorlstone Tunnels are mentioned in the chart. Quests are marked with red color.
- Note.- I left one quest out of this guide, Ylsa’s Deal (page 61), this quest has no conclusion. She is tracking surface currency, Pliinki has a golden coin (page 81), it says that it appeared “miraculously”, however it’s never mentioned where it came from, or any other coin from the surface.
Whether they go through the front gates or sneak in by the Docks, the gears set into motion when they are arrested. Alternatively, it could happen that they are not arrested but they show their skills with the rampaging giant. Errde will be impressed and ask them to help, or the Flame Keepers.
By the way, they can be hired by both Errde, Gartokkar and Themberchaud at the same time, no conflict there. The mission is: to track and tail Droki, who is the only verified contact of the Gray Ghosts. This will bring them to West Cleft District which is a nice name for “Derro Guetto”. I recommend that scores of derro try to stop the PC’s from infiltrating their turf. Lots of them know that there is an access to the tunnels and that the Gray Ghosts have a footing there. It’s also convenient that lots of derro lose their lives at this moment, for one of my suggested endings for Gracklstugh.
The whorlstone tunnels is the biggest dungeon this books has to offer, it might probably take players two or maybe 3 sessions to get out. The effects of Grackle-lung can be cured. There is no pollution down there.
Once in the tunnels it’s up to the DM to determine when it is best to catch Droki. He has boots of speed and should be difficult to catch, don’t forget he has advantage vs magic. In the tunnels the PC’s will also find Narrak, an important cultist leader of the Gray Ghosts who is guilty of cursing the giants with demonic energy. This is a deadly encounter.
In the north eastern corner of the tunnels they will find the room with the obelisk and the egg. Pliinki is guarding it, as well as an Spectator. Because of the terrain levels, this battle has the potential of being really hard too. Depending on the level of the party I would recommend to add 3-6 duergar archers, taking advantage of the terrain. The obelisk is a mysterious artifact which has no explanation or information about it. It is incomplete, its nature is impossible to define. Nevertheless, with its incomplete power, it can teleport the PC’s outside Gracklstugh.
What’s next are just my personal suggestions for the consequences of PC’s actions in Gracklstugh. One topic that is not mentioned in the book is that, IF the PC’s entered the city after a battle at the city gates, most probably some duergar lost their lives. The PC’s are sooner or later recruited by Errde Blackskull, and given badges to show their allegiance. This fact doesn’t sit well with the duergar community, even less these days that some of them or going mad. Captain Blackskull is going out of her way to find answers and help the city, but in doing so, she has angered the community. The duergar would better like the PC’s to be sentenced to death or slavery, instead they walk freely with badges of honor. PC’s should see this tension when they interact with duergar. Duergar will help them because they have official badges and they respect the law, but they don’t have to like it.
Later on when the PC’s infiltrate the derro guetto, some derro will die to, trying to stop them from finding the tunnels’ entrance. Derro are mad by nature, but this time, they are resenting the duergar sourly, for sending outsiders into their land to kill them. While the PC’s are down in the Whorlstone Tunnels, the derro assemble and march into Gracklstugh on a full throttle riot. The clash of both factions leaves a huge scar on the city. Duergar eventually force the derro back to their place but the conflict scars the duergar cohesion. People talk about the captain of the guard, who not only let some unknown adventures kill duergar guards, but also sent them into derro territory to kick the hornet’s nest. Just before a revolution ensues, King Horgar orders the arrest of Errde Blackskull. She has a trial the same day, she’s found guilty and is condemned to decapitation in the town square.
All this happens while the PC’s are down the tunnels. When they return to the city, either exiting the tunnels, or by a main gate if they teleported out; they are arrested again. PC’s might brag their badges but it is no use. This arrest was ordered by the King himself. If they have the dragon egg, it is confiscated too. PC’s are escorted to the Hold of the Deepking, in the way to the castle, they pass by the town square just in time to see Errde beheaded. The audience with the King is just a formality, he is controlled by Shal the succubus (page 82) and will order their public death the next morning. If the PC’s detect the fiend controlling the King, they will have one shot at fixing the situation. If they don’t or fail, they are put in cells to await their deaths. This turns the adventure into a prison break, the most likely objective is to get out and get to Themberchaud, who might help them in exchange of the egg’s information or whereabouts. If they hid the egg and can give it to him, the dragon destroys it in a tantrum. After that he goes on a killing spree against Gartokkar and the King, depending on what ideas the PC’s fed him. If they don’t have the egg, Themberchaud will still interrogate Gartokkar, he eventually tells the truth. Either way, the dragon lets the PC’s abandon the city, or simply, no one stops them while Themberchaud is ripping the city apart.
This conclusion for Gracklstugh is meant to serve as an inspiration. Things can happen in many different ways and should be adjusted by the DM accordingly.
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