Why do the cultists drag the treasure thousands of miles north, only to fly it back south only a hop, skip, and a jump from Greenrest?
A logical question, and the answer is pretty clear. The cult is collecting lots of treasure from lots of places, and don't want their plan to be discovered. Better to send the treasure far away from where Tiamat is being summoned and transport it, rather than risk everyone tracking down the central populated area everyone is sending the treasure.
A castle, even one 15 miles into a swamp, that cuts off 700 miles from the trip is too good to pass up.
Another feature of the castle noted in the adventure is that the location of several non-player characters isn't noted. This isn't an oversight, but rather a concession to the fact that the interior of the castle is a dynamic place, and people should be moving around through the castle in response to player actions.
Elf Nazi is a great idea. I mean, Dralmorrer Borngray, member of Eldreth Valuuthra. (Which are elven nazi's). I imagine the best way of handling him, would for him to be just the nicest guy, who really doesn't mind the lesser races, and treats them favorably as cute pets, who all, eventually, must be put down. The encounter with the most henious and repulsive member of the cult should be the one that's the most friendly and nauseating.
Pharblex Spattergoo is a great name! I've always run bullywugs as the most chaotic, repulsive, evil creatures in the world. Everything that isn't a bullywug is to be appeased if more powerful, otherwise tortured, raped, and eaten, not always in that order. Having the cultists share some of Dralmorrer's disgust, makes for an even more interesting dynamic, perhaps having some of the players fighting with the cultists somewhere in the castle.
This also sets up the interesting dynamic where the players have to perhaps tolerate enormity because of the superior numbers of the bullywugs. If they are casually committing some great evil, and there's fifty of them, what will the heroes do?
Finally, there's the lizard folk that have been enslaved by the bullywugs, after Pharblex killed Suncaller, their leader. They also are conflicted, in that they worship the dragon (though not the cult) and are clearly not human. Although easily (relatively) made allies, the alien primitiveness of the lizard folk should be played up. Sometimes they will attack each other for status, or perhaps meet some need instead of engaging in the current task. They might react aggressively or unpredictably to benign actions, and even if allied, might not care if another lizard-man gets himself killed. They also might be hyper-religious and mildly schizophrenic, hearing voices of their god, in the absence of Voaraghamanthar telling them what to do. Snapjaw as their representative should be more human.
Azbara Jos is an interesting encounter before open warfare starts. His intense interest and the unlikeliness of players to actually answer his questions make for a tense encounter. This is really a great opportunity to play up the stereotype of renegade Red Wizards and drop some background lore on the players during conversation.
As far as the dragon(s) Voaraghamanthar and Waervaerendor go, they've lived through the last four editions of Dungeons & Dragons. There's no reason these twins should be killed now. They are capital-P Powerful. Even well-equipped high level parties in Rise of Tiamat, should find two ancient, spellcasting, psionic, twin dragons decked out in powerful magic items and with an army of lizard-folk and dragon-dogs a titanic struggle.
Squaring off against the Cult
This section describes the behavior and actions of the principals involved. I only note this to say it's good. It places the power in the hands of the DM. It explains what people do and why. It describes a variety of things that happen that don't dissolve into combat. If you've read many adventures in Dungeon Magazine, this is a good example of better.
Outside the Castle
There is little of interest here in the actual description. I think the key thing I would do, is have some outside interactions among the bullywugs and lizard folk outside the castle. A sample of ideas is below. There's always the classic trope of portraying the local relationships as the characters enter the castle, but some more interesting options are below.
- Bullywugs are dragging of someone in cultist robes who is screaming "I'm a cultist! Let me go you stupid beasts!" in terrified fear.
- A lizard-man and a bullywug are about to fight!
- A strangely dressed merchant with a small cart sits at the north of the Bullywug camp, and has some strange magical items for sale
- A portal hangs open in the air, and a giant finger reaches through into the bullywug camp, where they are falling all over themselves to worship the intrusion.
- The camp is under assault from some of the dead that inhabit the mere of dead men. Bullywugs, cultists and lizard men are allied in driving them off.
- The lizard men are performing a ceremony to appease Voaraghamanthar in the open.
Inside Castle Naerytar
So, first the bad. The interior maps are muddy, are labeled with alphabetical numbers, with the floor number in front, and the maps aren't aligned the same way (North on the level 2 map is towards the top, whereas on the level 1 map it's right.) This is intended to be mitigated by the letters matching up, but they don't, sadly.
Secondly, the method used to describe the castle is poor. It's described as a site based adventure, but what it really is, is a background for the players to enact a plan against. The excessive verbiage isn't the worst it's ever been in a module, but it is very unlikely the players will be exploring it room by room (although that's a possibility). The map is ok. It makes sense. But it's not clear at a glance for a DM running it, what types of hazards are nearby for players moving quickly through the complex during a running battle.
My plan, is that I am going to print out digital copies of the maps, Then I'm gong to mark the relevant areas for me. I'm going to take the Tact-tiles I own, and draw out the interior spaces in the castle ahead of time, and use shorthand on my physical map to note the hazards and occupants. I'll also likely design a single sheet, listing all the inhabitants of the castle, so I can track the delicious murder as it occurs.
Then, I'll verbally describe the castle and their movements through it, till open conflict breaks out, and then run the rest as a mobile running battle throughout the castle.
Various notes and observations about the interior:
- Most of the treasure is kind of uninteresting and seems to be presented in a 'work for work's sake' manner—why give different value for all the gems, if the gems are all just generic gems? But the fact that Pharblex has the latest in womens fashions in his inner chamber sets up a pretty entertaining encounter.
- What are the characters doing here? There isn't a quest at this point, so it's interesting from their perspective. Certainly locating where the treasure is going is probably the main possibility, but thats going to be accomplished by default if they survive. So they have a lot of options. Free as many Tiamat/dragon worshiping lizard men as possible? Try to chase down Rezmir or Azbar to keep them from escaping? Loot the place?
- It's likely they won't get much treasure, since the sooner they follow through the gate the better.
- I'm happy to see that the farseer of Illusk is still here and works in the same manner as it does in the earlier material.
- I'm fairly ok with the utilitarian nature of the castle. After all, it's simply the site that the characters will have a conflict in, but the underneath of the castle is a little plain. I'm going to play up the weirdness of the statues and such.
I'm going to have the cultists be White Dragon Cultists (The Pale Eye of Tiamat)
- Use the Cultist Generator
- Bullywugs are just the cessation of the universe manifest
- The lizard folk are empty shells, who seek a core to wrap themselves around.
- Nothing in the universe cares for any other thing.
- We shall bring Tiamat rest so she may dream the world to come!
- Dralmorrer seeks to kill all things but himself, when his own destruction is the purest kind.
- We believe in nothing!
- This isn't fair! Why are you doing this?
The White Dragon cultists have several specialized troops inside the castle. First are the white women, who have their skin stretched down to cover everything but their mouths, and they have no hair. Their bite is powerful and drains levels.
They have several albino lizard-men they have converted. These lizard men have had their insides shelled out and are filled with a white paste. When they take melee damage, the person gets splattered with this paste, doing 1 point of damage a round. It can be scraped off by using your action. The damage is cumulative. By taking 1d6 points of damage, they can voluntarily vomit this material out onto a target, doing a continuous 1d8 points of damage every round on the albinos turn. They are mindless. Nothing living remains.
They carry bags of white serpents. Treat these each as a single swarm of poisonous snakes that the cultists throw as a ranged weapon. They have a ridiculous number of these bags.