The first we hear of the Thayan red wizard Hamun Kost’s activity is through Daran Edermath, a member of the Order of the Gauntlet who has retired from his adventuring life in favor of making cider in Phandalin. Apparently there has been some “undead chasing away prospectors” near Old Owl Well and he wants the party to investigate it. According to the module, “Daran knows that the that the ruins are an old watchtower of an ancient magic empire known as Netheril, and he worries that dangerous magic might be dormant there.”1
Plot Hook: Sister Gaerele is Missing!
When I ran through Lost Mines as a player, our DM never mentioned the Old Owl Well quest to us, even though we met Daran Edermath, and after I had read the module, I can see why. First off, Phandalin is beset by the more urgent problem of the Redbrand Menace. Second, all the Daran offers the party in terms of a quest hook is “rumors of undead” and “ancient magical ruins”. While the mention of magical ruins might be enough for adventurers hungry for magical items, for most parties it doesn’t seem more compelling than the main storyline.
If Sister Gaerele, the devout cleric and friend of Edermath (I assume so since they’re neighbors) went missing while looking into the activity at Old Owl Well, however, then we have a whole new level of urgency. In both runs I did of Phandelver the party took a vote to decide whether to go after Gaerele or the Redbrands first.
Here’s a link to the article about the Sister Gaerele plot hook: http://cros.land/2019/09/old-owl-well-agatha-plot-hook-sister-gaerele-is-missing/. Since this hook is intertwined with the Agatha the Banshee quest given by Sister Gaerele, I created a separate article for it.
TL;DR for the above article:
- Sister Gaerele’s Harper superiors are worried about Hamun Kost’s activity in the region
- Sister Gaerele goes to investigate and Hamun Kost gets the drop on her
- The party can pursue several clues to determine that she had went to Old Owl Well (clues provided in above article)
How Would Hamun Kost Deal With Sister Gaerele?
To me, Hamun Kost’s main motivation is the completion of his research and Sister Gaerele is an impediment to it. He’s trying to keep a low profile and he knows that he can’t just let her go. However, he’s not saturday morning cartoon villain evil either, so he’s keeping her tied up until he can decide what to do with. Most likely he will let her go after his research is done. He may even return to Thay after he gets what he wants from the Well.
Hamun Kost’s Quests
When the party visits Kost, they’ll likely confront him about Gaerele (both my parties did). Should the party kill off the orcs of Wyvern Tor or successfully parley with Agatha on Kost’s behalf, he’ll let Gaerele go free. He may want some assurances from the party that they won’t interrupt with his research after he lets Gaerele go, so a few persuasion checks may be involved.
Vanquishing the Orcs of Wyvern Tor
This seems like a pretty straightforward quest for the party. Since orcs have occupied Old Owl Well many times over the ages, it makes sense that the Orcs of Wyvern Tor have used Old Owl Well as a temporary outpost with plans of reclaiming the glory of the 600 strong orc tribe that made the Well their home over 100 years ago. It’s clear that they would consider Old Owl Well their territory, and perhaps have already made some incursions. I will be exploring the Orcs of Wyvern Tor in a future article, but this should be a good starting point.
Questions for Agatha the Banshee
Although I had originally thought Hamun Kost’s question about who built the tower at Old Owl Well was a useless trivia question, I realized the answer could prove a of great value to a scholar like Hamun Kost. Hamun Kost knows that Old Owl Well was a Netherese outpost, but knowing just who built it could lead to more clues about the place. If Hamun Kost knew the builder of the well, he could focus his studies to just one or two books in the 15 volume history of Netheril he carries around with him.
However, this might not be as interesting as other possible questions. Hamun Kost may, for example, have uncovered one of the entrances to the complex already, but needs to know the answer to a riddle to open it. So the question might be something like: “What is the motto of the Netherese family [insert family name here]?” This may give the party a small hint that there is something more to Old Owl Well than they think. Not only that, but should they revisit the Well later, they would know the password which opens the doors to whatever lies beneath the Well.
It’s also possible that Hamun Kost may want to know the location of an important magical item. Depending on how you play him, he could be arrogant and unwise enough to give this question to the party. This might be even more likely if they earn his trust.
Hamun Kost’s Backstory and Motivation
Since Old Owl Well happens to be an outpost from the massively powerful ancient magical empire of Netheril and because the Red Wizards of Thay are a Nation ruled by power hungry evil wizards who happen to use the undead as slaves, it’s not hard to deduce that Hamun Kost is after magical power himself, either in the form of long-buried magical items or long-forgotten magical knowledge. It’s not clear, however, if Hamun Kost is after something specific or after magic power in general. This is where the DM’s creativity can come into play.
Hamun Kost, the Rebel
In Tyranny of Dragons, there’s a splinter group that seeks to ally itself with the Cult of the Dragon, summon the god Tiamat, and with Tiamat’s aid overthrow Szass Tam, the current lich ruler of Thay. It makes sense that Hamun Kost would be allied with this group in search of powerful artifacts that may aid the Cult in its goals.
However, this splinter group doesn’t necessarily have to be allied with the Cult of the Dragon. Indeed you can easily replace the Cult of the Dragon with any other nefarious group that happens to be the focus of whatever campaign you choose to run after Lost Mines. To me, this opportunity feels too delicious to pass up. In some future session, characters could potentially travel to Thay to meet with the lich Szass Tam’s inner circle and forge an uneasy alliance against this mutual threat some time down the road.
Hamun Kost, the Arrogant Buffoon
I find it amusing that Hamun Kost chose to travel alone to Old Owl Well and decided to keep his rather ostentatious red wizard garb, especially in a land that would treat red wizards with suspicion. Not only that, but he sets up a bright vermillion tent in the middle of nowhere and raises a whole bunch of zombies to do excavation work. For someone who wants to keep a low profile, he’s not doing a great job.
To me, this can be easily explained both by the arrogance of the red wizards (they believe they can go where they please without hiding) as well as the fact that Hamun Kost is oblivious to anything not pertaining to his beloved research–very much like an absent minded professor. Hamun Kost will likely be preoccupied and want to get the adventurers out of his hair as soon as possible.
What is Hamun Kost Looking For?
According to Forgotten Realms lore, it turns out that beneath Old Owl Well there was a vault full of chardalyn, priceless gems that could hold spells indefinitely. These gems could be used for epic spells that the Netherese had been known to cast:
The Netherese could:
- Make a volcano
- Uproot a mountain and make it float for an indefinite time
- Turn everyone in sight to dust and gain a year of life for each person killed.
- Create a massive cloud of poison over a battlefield or city and essentially killing most people in it.
- Create a magic spaceship and travel to other planets.
These epic 10th level spells can no longer be cast because reasons. However, learning the secrets behind these spells could lead to creation of new 9th level spells with similar though lesser effects. Furthermore, there may be a magical item or chardalyn left behind with a single charge of one of these spells left in them. If a Hamun Kost and his allies got their hands on this item, Faerûn is going to have a bad time.
Since chardalyn seem to be an essential component for these epic spells it follows that a powerful arcanist may have wanted to set up a secret stronghold where there happen to be large amounts of these gems. This is a prime opportunity for to insert a dungeon. In fact I plan on creating a dungeon for my players, so stay tuned!
What Does Hamun Kost Know?
Old Owl Well has a long history of being occupied by various powers, so if Hamun Kost is after magical power, he has to be in possession of some knowledge about this place that others who came searching for it did not have. Perhaps when players enter Kost’s tent they see a large stack of books written in Thayan on the history of Netheril. Somewhere in this mountain of books Hamun Kost found mention of an underground complex in the form of an ancient vault (or laboratory or temple or library etc) and thus he has sent his zombies digging in search of it.
Since this underground complex was built by a mega-powerful magic empire, it may make sense for the party to revisit the area beneath Old Owl Well when they reach a higher level. If left alone, I imagine that Hamun Kost would spend several more weeks digging until he found the entrance to the the complex beneath the Well. Eventually, he would be chased away by the magical construct guardians the Netherese left behind. Perhaps later, Hamun Kost would manage to recruit some adventurers, fellow Red Wizards or evil allies like the Cultists in Tyranny of Dragons (or your minions of choice) to aid him with further excavation of the vault. The party would catch wind of this through various clues, and revisit the well.
Old Owl Well History (Cliffs Notes Version)
The ideas above have taken some liberties with Forgotten Realms lore and history, so I thought it might be good to provide a cliffs notes version of the actual history of Old Owl Well so that DMs can get a little more background.
Who Built The Well?
Old Owl Well is an old outpost built by the Netherese, an ancient civilization so advanced in their command of magic that they could, as mentioned above, literally uproot a mountain and make it float in mid air. The Netherese drilled a hole five miles deep as well as a complicating piping system so that the well in the courtyard supplies fresh water to this day.
Why Was Old Owl Well Built?
The Netherese built the well under the direction of a mysterious Sarrukh (powerful ancient lizard race) named Arthindol. Arthindol was a shapeshifter, lich, and powerful mage who took the form of a human and as far as I can tell, the Netherese didn’t know about Arthindol’s true form. Arthindol had been dubbed the “Terraseer” for his ability to see events happening everywhere in the world. Ostensibly, Arthindol set up the well and watchtower to spy on some nearby elves and to supply trade in the area.
A Vault of Magic Gems
This appears to be a cover story, however. What the Terraseer was really after was an ancient vault left over by a Sarrukh empire that was ancient even when Netheril existed. This vault was filled with valuable chardalyn gems which had the ability to store magic spells. Arthindol wasn’t the only one after these gems, as the area had been protected by over 3000 owlbears that evil deepspawn had created. Eventually, the Netherese slaughtered the owlbears and the deepspawn. The gems (probably not all of them) were secured and from then on the outpost became known as Old Owl Well in honor of the dead owlbears.
Personally, I don’t find the Sarrukh or deepspawn very compelling, so instead of a Sarrukh vault, I like the idea that there’s a natural deposit of chardalyn under the well. That way the story is more focused on the Netherese and their arcanists and is not muddied by details about the Sarrukh.
What Happened to the Well After the Fall of Netheril?
Because the well was an endless source of fresh water, and because there wasn’t another reliable water source in miles, various powers have vied for possession of the well over the ages after Netheril fell. The last power to occupy the well were soldiers of Neverwinter. My guess is that after Neverwinter was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Hotenow, nobody was around to pay the soldiers and they disbanded, leaving the ruins unoccupied except for the occasional roving band of orcs that made camp there.
If we’re going to be true to the lore of the Well, the description of a crumbling watchtower with a courtyard could use a little more work. There should be evidence of the many civilizations who had made this place their outpost. The Well, could, for example be surrounded by crumbling stone wall of various architectural styles. The latest defenses by the Neverwinter soldiers, perhaps some hastily set up stockades, still remain in fragments, and since orcs (perhaps the orcs of Wyvern Tor?) have made camp here in the past, perhaps there are crude shrines left behind to the God Gruumsh as well as graffiti of the Wyvern Tor orcs on the stone walls.
- Battle Maps of Old Owl Well and Wyvern Tor by Venatus Maps
- Lutes and Dice Video on Hamun Kost
- My Realms Blog Post on Old Well
- History of Netheril Videos by Jorphdan:
- Red Wizards of Thay, Video by Jorphdan
- History of the Forgotten Realms – Terraseer
- Forgotten Realms Wiki Pages: