When we reach the forge of spells in Wave Echo Cave it’s far from the legendary MacGuffin that the players have been led to expect. Instead, we get a “small brazier in which an eerie green flame dances and crackles” 1. Apparently, the power of this brazier/forge has “waned over the years, to the extent that it can no longer be harnessed to permanently enchant magic items”2.
The underwhelming nature of the forge is likely an attempt to “nerf” it so the party doesn’t have access to a potentially never-ending stream of magic weapons. To me, however, this greatly reduces the campaign’s stakes. As the adventure is written, the consequences of Nezznar seizing control of the Forge of Spells is negligible. Of course, the PCs don’t know that the forge has diminished in power until they get there, but when they finally do it’s anticlimactic to say the least.
This post will offer some ideas for fleshing out the Forge of Spells. First, we’ll explore reasons for why Wave Echo Cave has magical power in the first place. Then, we’ll go over some ways the wizards of the Phandelver Pact managed to harness the magic of the Cave and build the forge. Finally, we’ll discuss how we can make the forge more powerful and consequential without breaking the game.
Why Does Wave Echo Cave Have Magical Power?
In order to add depth to the story you want to tell, It would be helpful to come up with some plausible reasons why Wave Echo Cave happens to have magical power. The most common origins of magical power are:
- Influence by gods or other powerful beings
- Influence of a bordering plane of existence
Oftentimes these two are intertwined. If, for example, a place was a gateway to a different world or plane of existence, it could mean that some powerful entity came to the material plane from that other place. This is very common in cosmic horror, where horrific and powerful beings like Cthulhu have arrived from some other unfathomable realm.
Influence by Gods or Other Powerful Beings
In both fantasy and mythology, places can gain magical power because of the influence of some powerful being, whether it be a god, demigod, demon, angel, archfey or primordial. Sometimes the magic comes from an aura that the entity itself happens to give off simply because it happens to live there. Other times a place’s magic power may come from a religion or cult who venerates some being by building temples, shrines or conducting many rituals or human sacrifices there. In these cases it doesn’t matter if the being had ever lived in the place. The magic comes from the rituals themselves.
A place could also be the site of some significant historical event that happens to involve powerful beings. One example would be a cataclysmic battle between gods in the long forgotten past. Crater Lake, for example, was thought by the Klamath people to be the result of a great battle between Liao the god of the underworld and Skell the God of Sky. Maybe a similar battle happened in Wave Echo Cave, and the corpse of the dead god still emanates chaotic magic throughout the cave even in death.
While there are many possibilities, I like the idea of Wave Echo cave being the home to a powerful being. The wizards of the Phandelver Pact manage to imprison it with their magic. Ever since, it has lashed out against its bindings and has continued to do for centuries. The forge has managed to siphon the magical power from this imprisoned being, greatly weakening it. There may be a cult out there that still venerates this entity and vows to set it free. Imagine how vengeful this spirit would be when their bonds are finally broken 😨!
Influence of a bordering plane of existence
“Thin” places are locations where the borders between dimensions are, as the name suggests, unusually thin. Because of this, the ambient magical energy in the place is especially strong and chaotic. In addition, this energy tends to evoke environmental effects that are characteristic of whatever plane Wave Echo Cave happens to be on the border of.
For me there are two planes which come to mind that would be a good fit for Wave Echo Cave: the the Shadowfell and the Elemental Plane of Water.
Influence from the Shadowfell
The Shadowfell is a plane of existence devoid of all light and emotion. It’s a place where there is no sun or stars in the sky and where the undead and cosmic horrors shamble about in the darkness. This influence from the Shadowfell would explain the undead who have arisen throughout Wave Echo Cave, not to mention its gloomy atmosphere.
To emphasize the tie between Wave Echo Cave and the Shadowfell you can include monsters that happen to be native to the Shadowfell like the Darkmantle, Meazels or Skulks.
Some Shadowfell monsters like the Bodak, Balhannoth, Cloaker, Nightwalker or most of the Sorrowsworn will be too formidable for a level 4 party to handle without some alterations. It makes sense, however, that since these creatures are not on their home plane they may be weakened. You can use a Monster Scaling Tool to make them a little weaker for your party.
In addition to having denizens from the Shadowfell creeping in, you could add the following environmental effects:
- Everything appears drained of color
- Party members feel drained of all positive emotion, leaving only fear, dread, and sadness.
- Light sources only illuminate to half their normal radius
- Barely audible whispers of the dead can be heard by those who are more perceptive than others
Influence from the Elemental Plane of Water
The Booming Cavern (Area #16) could potentially be a portal to the Elemental Plane of Water. In most editions of D&D the Elemental Plane of Water is an endless expanse of ocean with no surface and no floor. While there is no sun, the water has its own luminescence, and is generally temperate. Nearly every sea creature (except for those that need to air to survive like dolphins, seals and whales) can also be found in the plane of water. Water elementals are common, as are Aboleth, Marids and Kraken.
Should your version of Wave Echo Cave have a connection to the plane of water, you can add the following environmental effects:
- All sources of water, including water from water skins glow on their own accord.
- When party members approach a body of water, the water from their water skins struggle to get out. Should they uncork the water skins, tiny water elementals jump out to join the pool.
- The Dark Pool (Area #10) is connected to the elemental plane of water, and there is a tunnel that leads to an endless expanse of ocean near the bottom.
- Everything is damp, even the insides of the PC’s packs. Because of the dampness all fire damage is reduced by 1d4 hp.
Harnessing the Magic of Wave Echo Cave
Although not a perfect analogy, the harnessing of magical power seems to hold a lot in common with harnessing electrical power.
Here are some examples:
- Coal: The ambient magic has solidified and can be mined much like ore. It has to consumed or “burned” in some way in order to properly harness the magic contained within. Chardalyn stones are a canonical example of such “magic ore”.
- Uranium: Similar to coal in that it can be mined, but deposits are much rarer and require a process that only the most skilled alchemists and wizards can unlock. The process of unlocking the magic can be very dangerous in unskilled hands and the consumption of the magic creates a toxic “magical waste” as a byproduct that has detrimental effects like luring the undead or perhaps even causing the decay of one’s soul to those in proximity.
- Hydroelectric: Mages have built a massive dam covered in runes which prevents the influence from a bordering plane from encroaching upon the material plane. In addition to preventing the magic from the Shadowfell or the Elemental Plane of Water from entering the material plane, the mages learned that they could concentrate and divert this powerful magic to power the Forge of Spells.
- Solar: The ambient magic requires special technology to harness. Mages need to create arrays of crystals which can absorb the ambient magic in the air and then be directed via conduits to the forge of spells for the creation of magical items.
- Geothermal: There are dangerous pockets of chaotic magic deep within the earth that could be harnessed upon an eruption.
- Wind: Crystal nodes or magic circles have been set up throughout wave echo cave to absorb especially violent surges of magical energy. These surges could coincide with each boom echoing through the caverns.
- Hamster Wheel: An enslaved spirit could be compelled to provide energy through forced labor of some sort. Every time the spirit tries using its magic to break its bonds, the magic actually gets absorbed and sent to the forge.
Making the Forge of Spells more Important
It’s rather anticlimactic for the Black Spider to have been scouring the Sword Coast in search of the Forge of Spells only to find that it’s but a pale green flame in a brazier that only temporarily makes weapons magical. While it makes sense mechanically to not have a potentially endless source of magic weapons, especially with just a level 5 party, we shouldn’t nerf the Forge of Spells at the cost of making it less important.
Below are some ideas for making the Forge of Spells as impressive and important as it should be, as well as mentioning some limiting factors so as not to break the game.
Possible properties for the Forge of Spells might be:
The ability to repair legendary magic items
Because of the incredibly concentrated magic energy harnessed by the Forge of Spells it’s one of the few places where one can fix broken magic items. Perhaps Nezznar has one of these in his possession and needs the forge of spells to get this item to work again.
The limiting factor for this ability is built-in. Unless the party has a broken legendary magic item in their possession, the forge is not of any use to them.
It makes magical item manufacture possible, or perhaps even cheaper
While the DMG provides a handy chart on page 129 on the time and money involved in creating magic items, it doesn’t specify the necessary skills or equipment needed to craft such magic items. It could be that the Forge of Spells is precisely what’s needed to unlock item creation. If you let some downtime pass between the end of the Phandelver adventure and the next campaign, PCs could forgo some of the gold rewards from the mines in exchange for some of the new weapons or items the forge could be creating.
You could even make the gp cost for magic items a little cheaper to make the forge feel special, although you probably wouldn’t want to reduce the time taken to craft the magic items.
Although this seems very powerful, this would probably have negligible balance issues since PCs would only be able to create a few uncommon items or a single rare item for the time you give them before the start of their next adventure. This ability would only be overpowered if you allowed your PCs to start up a magic weapons business over the next few years without having any enemy try to wrest control of the coveted forge from them. I don’t think many GMs would let that happen.
The forge can fuel powerful spells and rituals
If the Forge of Spells concentrates the ambient magical power of Wave Echo Cave and if that magic hasn’t been tapped into for centuries, the Forge could now possess monumental magic power capable of fueling magic spells of an epic level.
Although this also seems like a potentially game breaking property, it’s likely that only mages with specific expertise like the Black Spider would be able to tap into this energy. The party wouldn’t know what to do with it.
Consequences of the Forge of Spells Discovery
After your players complete the Lost Mines adventure, the Rockseekers will have a controlling share of the mine. 10 percent of the mine profits are to be shared with the party and the rest would go to the Rockseekers and those who may have invested in the Rockseeker’s venture. A reasonable amount of profit might be 400-600 gp per month and might require some rolls on the part of the players to determine how profitable the mines actually are for them.
However, just because the Rockseeker Brothers have a rightful claim over the forge doesn’t mean that they’ll be able to maintain that claim. There are plenty of powerful forces on the Sword Coast who would stop at nothing for the kind of wealth that the mines and the forge would bring.
Here are some potential developments you can add into your game after the party completes the Lost Mines Campaign:
- Halia buys up all the debts of Gundren in Neverwinter and then forces him to sell a controlling share of the mines so that he won’t go to debtor’s prison.
- Dagult Neverember takes control of the mine in the interest of “regional security” so that he can supply the Lord’s Alliance with spellforged weapons.
- Dragon Cultists or some other baddies decide to attack Phandalin and claim the wealth of the mines for themselves.
The forge of spells would be highly coveted and it may not stay in the hands of the players or their allies for very long…
What forge of spells ideas have you used in your campaign? Feel free to share them in the comments!
For more articles like this, check out the Lost Mines of Phandelver Guide!