Lost Mines to the Apocalypse
About the valley
The rise of Elemental Evil in Faerun begins in the Dessarin Valley, a lightly settled region of caravan towns, isolated homesteads, and uninhabited wilderness just a weeks journey from Waterdeep. Nothing of note to the wider world has happened here for hundreds of years. The frontier long ago receded farther northward, leaving behind a quiet backwater littered with ruins. These days, the Dessarin Valley has little in common with the popular conception of the Savage Frontier. Winters are hard here, but the hordes of orcs and other hungry monsters are a long way off from these parts.
If the Dessarin Valley isn’t quite as wild and lawless as it once was, it’s still lightly settled territory that serves as a route to distant lands. Residents in places such as Red Larch or Triboar boast that their humble settlements are “the Gateway to the North.” Through these lands pass hundreds of caravans and keelboats each year, linking the great ports of Waterdeep and Neverwinter with places such as Everlund, Mirabar, or Silverymoon. The steady caravan traffic breathes life into the towns of this area, supporting businesses in the settlements along the Long Road. Inns cater to travelers anxious to sleep safely within sturdy walls and enjoy good food by a warm fire instead of camping by the side of the road.
In addition to catering to caravans and travelers heading to or from the far North, the Dessarin Valley is a breadbasket for the hungry populations of Waterdeep and Neverwinter. The farms and pastures of the area produce grain, livestock, poultry, apples, and hops, then ship them downriver (or drive them down the Long Road) to the coast. Few people become rich from farming, but farmers in the region do well for themselves provided the weather cooperates. (That’s one reason why the unusual weather lately has been a concern.)
Most people who live in the Dessarin Valley have no idea of its long history. Old-timers nodding sagely by the hearths of the local taprooms sometimes observe, “These lands, they have old bones.” Most locals have no idea of how right they are.
While some truly ancient ruins in this area go back to the days of the first great elf kingdoms, none of these figure into the story of this adventure. The earliest realm that does is the shield dwarf kingdom of Besilmer, which was founded nearly six thousand years ago in -4420 DR. Its existence is so far back in the mists of history that only a handful of non-dwarf sages have even heard of it. Most people of the Dessarin Valley don’t know Besilmer at all, but they are familiar with two of its works: the engineering marvel known as the Stone Bridge (described later in this chapter) and the crumbling ruins known as the Halls of the Hunting Axe.
The realm of Besilmer was something rare: a dwarven kingdom built on the surface, with its strength measured in fields and pastures. It prospered for a time but was plagued by trolls and giants. The dwarves were obliged to build a stronghold underground, carving out the fortress-city of Tyar-Besil a century after Besilmers founding. Unfortunately for the dwarves, the realm collapsed after its king and founder died in battle. Most of the surviving dwarves sought safer lands. The dwarven city beneath the Sumber Hills was abandoned by -4160 DR and then forgotten.
Tyar-Besil slumbered in darkness for many long centuries, occasionally discovered and occupied by monsters or ambitious miners, only to be abandoned again. It came to light again in 893 DR, when a group of adventurers who called themselves the Knights of the Silver Horn discovered the ruins. Over the next six years they returned again and again, eventually founding strongholds of their own to safeguard the hidden entrances to the sprawling dungeon.
The knights had some success in clearing small domains in the wild Sumber Hills, but only a few years later the powerful orc realm of Uruth Ukrypt arose nearby, and the Dessarin Valley became a battlefield. Trouble followed on trouble: the Orcfastings War, the First and Second Trollwars, and finally a series of vicious drow raids. By the year 942 DR, human settlements in the Dessarin Valley had been all but wiped out, and the Knights of the Silver Horn were no more. Their strongholds crumbled into ruin and became known in later years as the Haunted Keeps. Eventually, no one remembered who built them or why.
The current wave of settlement in and around the Dessarin Valley began after 1000 DR, coinciding with Waterdeeps growth from a warlords stronghold into a major city. The first small outposts that would grow into places such as Red Larch and Triboar were carved out of a wild and untamed land. People resettling the Dessarin Valley found the remains of “kingdoms of old” scattered here and there throughout the area.