|Artist: Guido Kuip|
The Hunting LodgeThis is the destination of the teleportation circle at the bottom of Castle Naerytar. The characters will not know where in The Realms (or even if they are in the realms) when they exit. They will however notice the much colder clime and the architectural features of the lodge.
There's also a big tonal shift here. The characters just finished with a huge running battle and chaos as they are trying to corner Rezmir, only to follow him through a portal to find a strange lodge in the center of a quiet wood.
Outside the LodgeThe players are going to encounter Trepsin the Troll, a four armed Baphomet worshiper. They have him caring about combat and mayhem, and have him as a throwaway villain outside the keep. It's more entertaining based on his description, if he's intelligent, and threatening. They have dialog for him as "What you want?" I think having him say things like, "I know you probably don't like fighting, but I do. Theres a sound that pulling an arm off a body makes that's nice. I like that sound more than I like you." "I'm sure if we met under different circumstances, we might be friends. But I think I'm going to have to eat parts of you while you and your friends watch. You'd be surprised how much of someone you can eat before they die. I'm going to try to set a new record."
It's also important to note the way this encounter is set up. If they do nothing, they are attacked by trolls and drakes, and then pursued by Trepsin and drakes. If they investigate the kennel, he asks them for the sign, which the players are almost certainly going to know. So it's possible all the encounters with Trepsin could be non-violent. In that case, his ruminations on torture, demonology, and suffering could be the stuff of legend in your campaign.
Note that there are several ways to enter the lodge, including going through the roof, which is the lair of some Preytons. It's not marked on a map, but is in fact, entry 22 of the upper floor of the lodge.
Area 12 isn't marked on the map. I assume it's in the upper northeast corner.
Other than that, the bottom floor of the lodge is an excellently designed encounter. There's hidden treasure, an eclectic collection of prisoners, servants who will leave the party alone or can be talked to, empty rooms, and some entertaining trick rooms. I'm likely going to run the lower lodge interior as written.
Lodge Upper Floor
There are a variety of rooms on the upper floor, but the main focus is on the encounter with Talis the White. She gets perhaps more characterization than any other non-player character in the adventure She even has an entry on the villians page on the Wizards of the Coast website.
Even so, her traits of, "knows a lot about white dragons" and "speaks reverently about dragons" are both obvious and dull.
So, I'm going to make her (. . . randomly determines some personality traits from On the Non-Player Character. . .) groveling and stern. I think that this is a super interesting combination. Her sternness comes off as confidence, and the fact that she grovels when she speaks can come off as either sarcastic or sincere, leading to some confusion and interest on the parts of the players. It can not only be the way she talks to everyone, but makes it very clear why she didn't get the mask, and instead why it was given to the dwarf.
Note that this fight starts with the characters all taking 4d6+2d8 hit points of ice and bludging damage (save for half) along with making all the terrain difficult, and immediately draws every fighting person into the room. Also the two 60 hit point Veterans will cause problems if your casters can't disable them, because Talis, being a cleric, can heal them. I'm also pretty sure Kusphia is supposed to be a dragonwing not a dragonclaw
Also, a sincere nod to the quality of the treasure on the upper floor. Everything from the wand to the tapestries is well designed.
Skipping the Lodge
Finally, we need to talk about skipping the lodge. Your players are going to skip the lodge. Or good players will want to. This is the most interesting part of this chapter! It's a test, right?
What will happen, is that they will chase Rezmir through the portal. And then they will look for tracks. This is a DC 23 Wisdom (Survival) check. As an aside, where did they get the number 23? I think it's a general guideline that all difficulties are multiples of five. Whether it's 20, 23, or 25, someone is likely to be proficient in it. At worst, you are looking at a +5 bonus to the check with advantage. It's at advantage because the whole party will be looking for tracks, so they aid another, granting advantage to the high roller. Or, conversely, you can let everyone roll increasing the chances even further.
It's super likely when they discover the tracks, that they just follow the tracks. This is known as staying on task and staying focused. This leads them straight to the next chapter and is accounted for in the module itself. That is the smart thing to do.
Except in this case, it's not. The party loses out on a possible ally, experience, treasure, and information about the cult that could make chapter 8 much more easy. But in order to do so, they have to say "We're going to let Rezmir wait, we'll explore this random building first." Conversely, it could be looked at as a reward for failing the search check, or perhaps to those players who are just at the table to explore whatever is in front of them, instead of actually trying to succeed at the mission. It rewards unfocused play.
Now of course, you could clue them in that the Hunting Lodge is Chapter 7 and that they should explore it. Or, you could as a genuine choice, which is much more interesting.
It's explicit in the text to create some way for the characters to know to travel to Parnast if they enter the lodge in scorched earth mode.