Who Can Stand Against the Son of the Dragon?
The Wyrmsmoke Mountains shook with the thunder of ten thousand screaming hobgoblin soldiers. From the phalanx emerged a single champion. One by one the tribes fell silent as the warlord rose up, blue scales gleaming along his shoulders, horns swept back from his head. A hundred bright yellow banners stood beneath him, each marked with a great red hand. He stood upon a precipice and raised his arms. “I am Azarr Kul, Son of the Dragon!” the warlord bellowed.
“Hear me! Tomorrow we march to war!”
Red Hand of Doom is a DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® adventure designed to take characters from the 6th level to the 12th level. Confronted with the relentless advance of Azurr Kul’s horde, the characters must undertake vital missions to influence the outcome of the war. Can they shatter the armies of the enemy, or will Azarr Kul’s dreams rain destruction upon the human lands?
Red Hand of Doom (2006), by Richard Baker and James Jacobs, is a super-adventure for D&D 3E. It was published in February 2006.
Continuing the Super Adventures. D&D adventures from Wizards of the Coast were shockingly rare during the 3E era (2000-2008). That's because they expected d20 licensees to focus on adventure publication, taking the brunt of one of the least profitable sorts of RPG publication.
Super-adventures from Wizards that were larger and more important were even rarer. Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil (2001) and City of the Spider Queen (2002) were the only two in the early 3E era, then Wizards almost totally abandoned adventures for three years, with the exception of some Eberron modules. Red Hand of Doom thus marked a big return for Wizards. It would be followed by several other Wizards adventures in the final 3E years, most of them in the "Expedition" series (2006-2007).
To qualify Red Hand of Doom as a super-adventure, designers Baker and Jacobs made sure it was both "huge" and "epic". Though it's not a full-fledged adventure path, it should support 6 months of play.
Origins. Red Hand of Doom was written as a classic adventure that could be used in any setting. To make the adventure classic, Baker and Jacobs focused on one of best-known races of old: goblinoids, with plenty of class levels to make them dangerous foes. To make the adventure generic, they created a new locale, the Elsir Vale, that could be placed in any setting.
Sources. Baker based the plot of Red Hand of Doom on something he'd seen in many fantasy novels, but that was less common in D&D adventures: "the Army of Evil … trying to conquer everything." He didn't muddy that concept with dungeon delves or macguffins — instead wanting to focus on the armies themselves and the sort of challenges that they presented. It was an adventure style that hadn't been seen much since the "Bloodstone Pass" adventure series (1985-1988).
Jacobs notes a few more disparate influences: the Return of the King movie (2003), World of Warcraft (2003), and a Chris Thomasson adventure called "Foundation of Flame", which appeared in Dungeon #113 (August 2004).
Hail to the Designers Notes! The biggest innovation in Red Hand of Doom is the inclusion of about a dozen designers' notes. These boxed notes talk about the philosophies and expectations behind some of the encounters. Wizards had never done anything of the sort before.
The Miniatures Connection. Some of the figures in the War Drums release (2006) for D&D Miniatures (2003-2010) were purposefully drawn from this adventure.
Introducing the Elsir Vale. The Elsir Vale was a large and new locale that included several towns and the nearby wilderness. It became even more notable when Wizards returned to the setting in their "Scales of War" adventure path, which ran from Dungeon #156 (July 2008) to Dungeon #175 (February 2010). The new story for 4E was set 10 years after Red Hand of Doom.
When reintroducing the setting for Scales of War, Wizards described it like this:
"Bastions of civilization populate a dark, menacing world — islands of order and reason exist in a land otherwise overrun by dark cults, vile monsters, creatures from the dark edges of the imagination, and worse."
The Scales of War adventure path then went on to visit areas like the Astral Sea, the Elemental Chaos, and the Shadowfell, matching the cosmology of D&D 4E (2008-2012). When players combined the new description of the Elsir Vale, its cosmology, and perhaps even the fact that's it was a Vale, they came to the conclusion that the Elsir Vale was part of the same Points of Light world that also contained 4E's Nentir Vale.
Wizards never confirmed this, and you can't actually find Elsir Vale on the (very large scale) Points of Light map found in Conquest of Nerath (2011). However, "Garaitha's Anvil" in Dungeon #167 (June 2009) contained a reference to an adventure locale being "a rebuilt ruin of Nerath", which is strongly suggestive that the connection is genuine. If so, Red Hand of Doom marked the first appearance of the default setting for 4E, two years before that edition of the game appeared!
Expanding the Realms (and Elsewhere). Red Hand of Doom also contains some short suggestions for where to place the Elsir Vale in Eberron, the Forgotten Realms, and Greyhawk. Many people found the connection to the Realms particularly strong because the Elsir Vale fits very cleanly into the Realms near Shaar. (In fact, Shaar would be the Endless Plains on the Red Hand of Doom map). Wizards even canonized this connection by referencing the events of Red Hand of Dawn in Monster Manual IV (2006) which notes that "Rumors have surfaced of hobgoblins and spawn massing around the Rathgaunt Hills in the southern Shaar."
About the Creators. Baker was an old hand at D&D, who'd been working on the line since 1992. In 2006, he also contributed to another book that foreshadowed D&D 4E: Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords (2006). Jacobs had strong experience with adventures thanks to his work on the "Shackled City" (2003-2004) and "Age of Worms" (2005-2006) adventure paths. He had also contributed to several Wizards sourcebooks, but this was his first Wizards adventure.
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.