Neverwinter: The Year of Deep Water Drifting
This abbey was founded several decades before the Spellplague by a retired member of the Company of Crazed Venturers. Starting as a single farm known as Helm’s Stead, it grew over the years, with its main buildings fortified in 1353 DR against bandit and monster attacks.
It became a thriving and self-sufficient farming and religious community of over 700 members who grew their own food, herded livestock, and diligently patrolled a small section of the Neverwinter Wood. However, that all change with the coming of the Spellplague and the death of Helm.
The monks and clerics eventually disbanded many joining other religious orders. Without their protection, the other members of community also gradually left.
Over a year ago, Zhent spies from Darkhold scouted out the ruins – without wearing anything that would identify them as Zhents – and gradually Zhent soldiers, mages and strifeleaders of Cyric arrived as well as dwarven stonemasons charged with refortifying the central monastery which, typically of something built by Helmites, already resembled a fortified keep. (Besides their normal forces, the Zhents also brought several foulwing mounts and groundling assassins.)
The Zhents are not acting with any haste. Their leader, Harrow Bloodshoulder, is from a long line of Amnite Cyricist clerics although Harrow himself is some form of rare undead (a flameharrow, aka an eye of fear and flame). There is rumoured to be a masked mage of some power who is the true leader of these Zhents but he (or she) is even more circumspect about revealing himself (or herself).
So far the Zhents have proven themselves to be good neighbours of Neverwinter, no doubt to ensure that a punitive force from Waterdeep doesn’t arrive and simply wipe them out (or, at least, attempt to wipe them out). Zhent mercenaries are sometimes hired by Lord Neverember to deal with pirates and their utter ruthlessness can be terribly effective. They also keep the High Road clear of bandits between Neverwinter and to a point roughly halfway between the Jewel of the North and the ruins of Leilon.
Other than the different backstory, Reavers of Harkenwold from the DM’s Kit provides a model for an adventure involving the Zhents of Helm’s Hold.
Bloodshoulder has discovered much in the ruined Helmite library about locations in the Mere of Dead Men (qv) – particularly the Mausoleum of Ebondeath (qv) – and also about the celestial phenomenon known as the Eye of Myrkul. He wants to learn more about tapping into Myrkul’s power but otherwise his goal is to take over Neverwinter. Also, the Thayans are already posing a threat to the Zhents of Darkhold so learning more about them – and especially their Dread Rings – is another Zhent goal that Bloodshoulder has been charged with.
The soldiers’ field commander is Tarl Hornsong (tactical warlord) known for his patience and mastery of strategy, tactics and lanceboard. He is a descendant of noted soldiers of the realm of Uthtower and was chosen for this mission in part because his blood may serve a useful purpose in the Mausoleum of Ebondeath.