Dragons of Winter Night
The journey, Tobart says, will take slightly more than one week. (This is true.)
Tobart is evasive about his first mate, but if forced, he finally admits that Stonecrop is a golem. He says, “I bought it from the elves.”
Tobart claims to be from a distant land to the north. He travels in a ship that sails the sky; “I bought it from the elves,” he says. In the last port he vis- ited, he heard of a titanic monster, the Ravager, capable of devouring whole cities. The monster dwells on a floating island, and he has learned the island is drifting toward this very city!
Tobart says nothing about spelljam- ming at this point, since it might scare off possible recruits. He claims that the journey, to “distant lands,” should take a few days (a blatant lie). He acknowl- edges that the Ravager is dangerous, but he can fight it with “special weap- ons, whose nature I have sworn to keep secret for now” (another fabrication).
If the PCs ask strange questions, To- bart improvises, always maintaining the appearance of altruism. To this end, Tobart has cast a delude spell on himself, in case the characters cast know alignment on him. Though cast- ing this is ordinarily quite rude, Tobart encourages it, “to prove my good in- tentions.” The spell shows his align- ment to be lawful neutral; the same as the crew member Ralgir, the poly- morphed wolf.
Tobart, a genius, can act kindly for the duration of this conversation, de- spite his alignment of neutral evil.
Shazogrox is a beholder, born to the Greshtharx nation. During his youth, through some genetic flaw or perver- sion, Shazogrox grew dissatisfied with the beholders’ senseless, perpetual race wars. Why not unite the beholders and conquer all the spheres’ lesser races?
Outspoken in his beliefs, Shazogrox tried to gather support for a united be- holder nation. Unfortunately, the rival beholder Hive Mothers, taking a dim view of these “subversive activities,” cap- tured Shazogrox and made an example of him. They put out his central eye and banished him from Greshtharx space.
Maimed and alone, the outcast drifted in Wildspace. But as fate would have it, a passing Arcane probe sensed Shazo- grox’s plight and transported the wounded beholder to the probe’s creator.
For unknown reasons, the Arcane tended the monster’s wounds and nursed him back to health. The Arcane told Shazogrox that the loss of his eye made it possible for him to learn
magic. The beholder, yearning for re- venge, readily accepted the offer. The Arcane asked nothing in return. Per- haps the mysterious alien was satisfied with the knowledge the experiment of- fered.
An able student, Shazogrox became an accomplished wizard within a few decades. Ail the while, he searched the rare tomes in his master’s library for a means of vengeance against the Gresh- tharx nation. Eventually, he found a reference to the Hive. Armed with what little information he could extract from his master, the beholder mage headed in search of the Hive.
After further decades of exploration, Shazogrox discovered the ruined home sphere of the Sazaur. In the ru- ins, Shazogrox unearthed ancient manuscripts that described the Queen’s Eyes and the Ravager that had been created to empower them. The sorcerous beholder ascertained that the Queen’s Eyes could not yet be a true artifact. But they could control the Ravager, a potent weapon.
The Sazaur records showed him the Hive’s simple course. After years of plotting, Shazogrox was finally ready to put his plan into action.
Aware of the special protections against beholders that had been placed on the Hive, the outcast decided to find a crew who could enter the asteroid. Shazogrox returned to his Arcane mas- ter to obtain a spelljamming ship and special equipment. Now, in the guise of Jon Tobart, he hopes to trick the PCs into achieving his goals: the Queen’s Eye, the Ravager, and total conquest of the beholder race!
Shazogrox becomes Tobart by cast- ing a polymorph self spell, so he can maintain human form only for about two hours at a time.
Tobart is a large man, nearly six and one-half feet tall, with ruddy skin and long, dark hair held back in a single braid closed with a brass ring. His broad face is deeply lined and framed by a rough beard that has been hacked down to a managable shape. He wears a chain shirt over a heavy leather jerkin, soft leather leggings tucked into high boots, and a red half cloak. From his broad belt hang a broadsword and a brass horn.
The only inhuman feature of Tobart’s appearance involves his eyes. They change color when the beholder mage casts any spell. In the early stages of the adventure, this subtle change usu- ally occurs offstage, and PCs may not notice it.
To all appearances, Tobart is a very serious man of solitary nature, well- meaning and honorable despite his grim demeanor. He uses these traits to explain the frequent absences required by the polymorph spell.
Shazogrox is aware that Tobart’s gloomy personality and periodic disap- pearances provoke suspicion. He has constructed a cover story to explain these antisocial traits. If necessary, To- bart takes one or more of the PCs “into his confidence.” He tells the sad (but fictitious) story of his curse: He is a were-bear, doomed to live a double life as man and beast.
If the PCs require a demonstration, he can fake the transformation into a bear using his polymorph spell already in ef- fect, since polymorph self allows unlim- ited changes throughout its duration.
Tobart/Shazogrox is not clear- headed, even when compared to his fellow racist beholders. Intellectually, he knows the principles of leadership. Yet the genetic hatred and intolerance of beholders run deep.
The beholder happily welcomes ser- vants or allies in his cause, such as the PCs. But inevitably, some slight inci- dent, such as a disagreement over sail- ing technique or a question about an order leads Tobart to view the new- found ally as “not sound” or even “dis- loyal.”
The relationship worsens steadily from there, and ultimately, Tobart pun- ishes the malefactor, refuses to speak to him, or even banishes him. This often-repeated cycle proceeds for the PCs as the adventure gets underway. It should reach a climax in Chapter 3, just as the Hive and the rival beholder scout ship are sighted. The resulting battle aborts whatever punishment To- bart was about to inflict on the unfortu- nate PCs.
When Tobart was preparing to re- cruit the PCs, he decided to manufac- ture a false “crew” to run the ship and allay his new recruits’ suspicions. But he was unwilling to employ anyone he could not trust completely.
The beholder mage landed on the PCs’ homeworld before the adventure began and cast polymorph other on several dozen animals it found. Some died in the process; most remained an- imalistic; but 20 transformed entirely,
becoming humans in all respects ex- cept for a few “minor” quirks.
Tobart told these new humans that he had rescued them from a wizard who had transformed them into ani- mals. Killing this evil mage had broken the spell, allowing them to “regain their rightful forms.” When he asked them to join his crew, the former beasts agreed out of gratitude. Tobart’s crew is understandably loyal, but most are confused about why they cannot re- member their past lives.
The captain has taught the animals their shipboard duties and the basics of weapon use. However, Tobart himself has only learned the use of weapons re- cently. He has not had time to learn missile weapons, a serious problem in Wildspace. He hopes the PC recruits can remedy this obvious deficiency.
When any crew member is slain, it reverts to its original form. Detect magic cast on any crew member reveals strong alteration magic. A suc- cessful dispel magic against Shazo- grox’s 7th-level polymorph removes the enchantment and turns the subject back into a (confused) animal.
Here are a few important crew mem- bers among the 20 that crew the Sky- runner. Create others as necessary, basing their appearances and person- alities on other common animals.