The Ruins of Castle Daggerdale
By Erskine Fincher
Author's Note: There is no official information that I can find that describes the layout of Castle Daggerdale. All I know from official sources is that 1) it is located in the mountains; 2) it is mostly intact but has been "gutted by fire;" 3) it has an extensive underground basement; and 4) there are secret tunnels leading from the basements. What follows is my attempt to combine that scant information with my own imagination to create something that DMs can use for their Daggerdale campaigns. If you cannot use it as written, please alter it in whatever way you see fit to make it useable in your game. You may post the maps to a website for your players to view, but please do not repost them for any other purpose without asking first. Thanks, and enjoy!
Castle Daggerdale was once the seat of power of the Morn family, the hereditary rulers of Daggerdale. It was taken by Malyk when he conquered the Dale in 1336 DR. The castle was gutted by fire when Randal Morn slew Malyk in 1353 DR. It fell into ruin, and was uninhabited from that time forward. During his rebellion against the Zhentarim, Randal often used the castle as a base camp.
The castle is located on a ridge that divides the valley of the upper Ashaba from the valley of the Cold Rush. It sits atop a promontory that rises five hundred feet above the ridge itself, and provides the castle with a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. From the south, the ridge slopes steeply upwards to the top of this point, and then drops abrubtly down a steep cliff. The ridge is heavily wooded. The area in the immediate area of the castle was once cleared to provide a clear field of fire from the castle walls, but it has become overgrown in the years that the castle has sat uninhabited. A clear difference can be seen, however, where the older growth of the surrounding forests stops, and the newer saplings and heavy underbrush begin.
An old wagon track leads to the castle from the Tethyamar Trail to the west, crosses the Cold Rush, and winds up the steep sides of the ridge in a series of switchbacks. It crosses the top of the ridge at the castle, and continues down the other side veering in a southeasterly direction. Eventually, it comes to the Ashaba River at a place where the river passes through a deep ravine before being joined by the Cold Rush. A stone bridge used to span the Ashaba at this point, but it was destroyed by the Zhentarim during their long war with Randal Morn. Crossing the river here is very dangerous now. On the east bank of the Ashaba is a trail that leads south into Shadowdale, and north into the Dagger Hills. The best way to get to Shadowdale from the castle now is to continue east on an old horse trail that crosses the Ashaba at a shallow ford higher up in the hills.
The outer walls of the castle are shaped like a pentagon, pointing south, with a tower at four of the corners, and a gatehouse at the southern point. The wall is fifteen feet high with a five-foot parapet broken into battlements, and the towers are thirty feet high. Although damaged in places, their exteriors are essentially intact. The wooden floors inside the towers have suffered dry rot, though, and some have broken through. There is a deep cut in front of the gatehouse spanned by a drawbridge whose heavy timbers are also beginning to rot.
The outbuildings on the castle grounds were all heavily damaged by fire, and are now little more than foundations covered with rotting wood and stone shingles. There was a garrison, a smithy, stables, and a few other works sheds. It would take a great deal of work to put them back in order. There is, however, plenty of timber for the job in the surrounding area.
The keep was the most heavily damaged of the stone structures. The five-foot thick outer walls are mostly intact, but support timbers inside the building were burned. The second floor, which is made of wood, is broken through and sagging in many places. There are no doors left inside the keep, except those down in the basements. The only partition walls left are the stone supporting walls. The wooden walls were burned up in the fire.
Four stone staircases lead up to the second floor. From there, spiral staircases continue up to the towers on top of the keep. A trap door in the southwest room opens to reveal a set of stairs that lead down into the basements. There are four large fireplaces on each floor that vent through flues built into the walls.
None of the furniture is left, and much of the wooden rubble has been used for firewood by visiting Freedom Riders over the years. Other than that, Randal has made no effort to clear the castle. The future was too uncertain and he had too much to do to worry about restoring the family manor. Now that he has expelled the Zhentarim from Dagger Falls, he has thought about restoring the castle as a frontier guard. The depopulation of the countryside, though, has made Dagger Falls the population center of the dale, and the logical place from which to rule.
The four towers are in surprisingly good condition, as is the roof. Each tower has arrow slits on the two sides facing away from the keep, and arched doorways giving access to the roof. From the roof, four stairways lead upwards, one to the top of each tower. Standing atop one of the towers on a clear day, a keen-eyed sentry can just make out the Tower of Ashaba about 35 miles to the southeast in Shadowdale.
The basements are in relatively good shape, having been protected from fire damage by the stone floor of the keep. There are two levels, each one reached by a narrow stone staircase. There are many storage rooms down here, and they once held sufficient supplies to withstand a yearlong siege, such as wine, smoked and salted meats, tubers, grain, and cheeses. Those supplies were long ago removed, and the storage rooms are emptied save for a few busted hogsheads.
They have more than once sheltered Randal and his men during foul weather, or at times when they were being closely hunted by the Zhentarim. No refuge would be safe without a back door, an emergency escape route. Randal is provided with one via a trapdoor on the lower level. It gives access to a long stairwell that winds down far beneath the earth, and exits near the base of the cliff behind the castle. A hidden trail runs through the forest along the bottom of the cliff. One may turn west and follow it to a place where it joins the wagon track leading down to the Tethyamar Trail, or east to join up with the horse trail that takes one to the ford of the upper Ashaba.
Rumor has it that the basements contain treasure that hidden behind walled off sections of the underground complex. If true, one would think that Randal would have found the treasure a long time ago. Either the rumor is unfounded, or the treasure is concealed more cleverly than suggested. Legally, any treasure found in the castle would certainly belong to the rightful owner of the castle. While he would no doubt be amenable to a reward for finding the lost treasure, the Lord of Daggerdale would not take kindly to burglars. "Expert treasure hunters" should consider themselves warned.
- The Cold Rush is an non-canon creation of the Northern Journeys Project Group. It can be seen on the NJ Daggerdale map between the Tethyamar Trail and the Dagger Hills. It was created in order to explain a discrepancy between the map in the Dalelands supplement, and the maps of Daggerdale that appear in other products. On the map in the FRCS and the one in VGttD, the Ashaba flows out of the Dagger Hills. On the Dalelands map, however, it flows along the Tethyamar Trail, and around the base of the Dagger Hills into Shadowdale. To resolve the discrepancy, the authors of the Daggerdale Expansion hypothesized a tributary stream that follows the latter path while the main branch of the Ashaba flows down from the hills. The Dalelands map is notoriously inaccurate, but in this one instance, at least, it provided a rationale for adding something useful to the Daggerdale description.
- This road is not shown on the NJ Daggerdale map. Its existence was suggested to me by Candlekeep member Afet bin Tuzani in a conversation on the forums. It makes more sense that the road east from the castle would lead towards Shadowdale rather than deeper into the Dagger Hills.