Hellgate Keep-a name that once make the boldest of heroes shudder in fear-was long ago known as the fair citadel of Ascalhorn, a have for elves and humans. Then a demonic horde of baatezu and tanar'ri destroyed all remnants of real civilization and turned it into a den of malevolence. Today, the citadel lies ruined. The Mistmaster and the Harpers destroyed the keep and ended its centuries-long reign of evil in the autumn of the Year of the Gauntlet (1369 DR)?or so they believed.
With the coming of the following spring, many scavengers streamed to the Upvale to uncover treasures and artifacts long hidden by the tanar'ri of Hellgate Keep. They went forth assuming they could find easy plunder. They were wrong.
Preare to meet a new race of creatures spawned both of Faerun and the Lower Planes. Uncover the corruption of an elven house that was ancient before Myth Drannor ever rose. Find out what survived the havoc visited upon the Keep, and who or what leads the survivors to a new lair. All this and more awaits amid the depths of ruined Hellgate Keep!
This stand-alone 32-page adventure is set within the northern wilderness of the Realms. It easily fits within an existing Forgotten Realms campaign, though it can be incorporated into any other AD&D campaign world with minor modifications.
Hellgate Keep (1998), by Steven E. Schend, is a Dungeon Crawl for the Forgotten Realms. It was published in February 1998.
About the Title. In the '90s TSR was actively avoiding words like "hell" and "demon", so it's somewhat surprising to see hell in the title of this adventure. But the name "Hellgate Keep" had come straight from Ed Greenwood, way back in 1987, so perhaps TSR felt like they shouldn't change it.
Because "Hellgate Keep" was published by Wizards of the Coast, it's easy to attribute the change to the new ownership … but the adventure had been on TSR's last schedule, just before they went out of business. So, perhaps they were already loosening up on their bowdlerization in those final days.
With that said, it would be Wizards who pushed even harder against the moral minority's censorious complaints. Later in the year, they'd published "A Paladin in Hell", which was entirely their creation. Then in D&D 3e (2000) days, they'd reconsider the bowdlerizations of the early '90s — keeping some of the changed names but expunging others.
Origins (I): The Realms Adventures. In 1997, TSR planned to publish four unrelated adventures for the Realms, the first time in three years that they'd broken away from their schedule of yearly adventure trilogies. "Hellgate Keep" was the third of those four adventures, running a little bit behind because of the fall of TSR (and the rise of Wizards of the Coast). It's very in line with "Castle Spulzeer" (1997), another of those adventures, as they both detail legendary delves in the Realms.
Origins (II): The Dungeon Crawl Adventures. "Hellgate Keep" is the fourth Dungeon Crawl adventure, following the pattern set by the three "Undermountain" adventures (1996) of a few years earlier. That theoretically meant that it was a short standalone adventure that could be easily adapted to any setting and was intended for medium levels. However, "Hellgate Keep" is perhaps a bit less standalone than the other Dungeon Crawls, as it includes quite a bit of history of the Keep, all tightly interwoven with the history of The North in the Realms.
Adventure Tropes. Hellgate Keep provides considerable background on the eponymous dungeon as well as a few reasons to enter it. However once you get to the back of the book, it's a pretty standard dungeon crawl, varied only by the extensive details on surface structures and sewers. With that said, there's a real attempt to create an ecology, detailing who is here and why.
Exploring the Realms. Hellgate Keep obviously focuses on the eponymous dungeon in The North, detailing its ruins and catacombs alike. The extensive history of the castle goes far beyond just a dungeon crawl, turning this adventure into a real sourcebook.
Surprisingly, Hellgate Keep isn't one of the original crawls found in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (1987). The first mention actually came several months later, in FR1: "Waterdeep and the North", which describes how it was once the elven city Ascalhorn before it fell to evil. Slightly more information on this "ghoul-hold" appeared in FR5: "The Savage Frontier" (1988) then Volo's Guide to the North (1993). Notably, the Hellgate described in those books was ruled by evil, but it was not yet a ruined city!
Hellgate's fall came about due to the ever-advancing metaplot of the Realms. It was revealed in The North: Guide to the Savage Frontier (1996), which detailed the destruction of the Keep in 1369 DR. That's the state of the locale a year later, when Hellgate Keep is set.
Artifacts of Note. The destruction of Hellgate Keep is thanks to a Realms artifact called the Gatekeeper's Crystal. This powerful magic item debuted in The North, then enjoyed a comprehensive description in Volo's Guide to All Things Magical (1996); more details appear here.
Monsters of Note. Tanar'ri (demons) are rife in Hellgate Keep. It's one of the most demon-centric adventures set in the Realms.
The adventure also introduces a few sorts of tieflings.
- The tanarukk are tiefling-orcs who make their first appearance here.
- The members of House Dlardrageth are demon-elf crossbreeds. The three characters that appear here are called cambions (suggesting they're more than half demon). Their descendants would appear in later books, where they're called fey'ri or demonfey; these are true tiefling-elfs, meaning they're less than half demon.
The tanarukk haven't been that popular, though they appear in a few 3e monster books. The fey'ri have received much more attention. They were detailed at greater length in Cloak & Dagger (2000) and have also appeared in multiple novels. Some of the cambions feature in War of the Spider Queen (2002-2005) while the House is also notable in The Last Mithal trilogy (2004-2006).
About the Creators. Steven Schend was the author of the last trilogy of Forgotten Realms adventures, on Undermountain (1996). He would also be one of the authors of Cloak & Dagger (2000), which is presumably why the story of the fey'ri continues there.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.