Dev Diary: Thunderholme
Legendary Halls of the Realms
In Update 21 DDO travels to some famous locations in and around Cormyr. We take you to the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar, which began as a classic 2nd Edition pen-and-paper module. Now it's a massive DDO adventure, complete with commentary by Ed Greenwood himself.
We also visit another set of legendary halls in this update. Deep beneath the Thunder Peaks lies the ruined city of Thunderholme. These ruins have also long been an established part of Realms lore - some of the DDO devs encountered Thunderholme in their pen-and-paper campaigns years before we began work on the DDO version. This was our chance to bring a classic Dungeons and Dragons adventuring environment to life as an adventure area.
The Fall of Thunderholme
Thunderholme was a rich, thriving dwarven city, carved from the stone beneath the Thunder Peaks east of Cormyr. One day the dwarves expanded their underground home too far, earning the enmity of Aurgloroasa, an ancient shadow dragon who lived deep beneath the mountains. Aurgloroasa conceived a plan to punish the insolent dwarves for intruding into her realm.
Aurgloroasa whispered to Dagan, Thunderholm's regent, corrupting his soul over a period of many years. She persuaded Dagan to build a great temple in Thunderholme. The people of Thunderholme thought this temple would be dedicated to Dumathoin, the god of mining. Yet at the opening ceremony, Dagan summoned Aurgloroasa instead. The shadow dragon slew the city's inhabitants - including Dagan - and claimed Thunderholme as her own.
Many years later, Aurgloroasa still reigns supreme in Thunderholme. To consolidate her power, she raised the slain dwarves to be her skeletal servants. She formed an alliance with a mated pair of red dragons. She also had herself transformed into a dracolich, gaining countless fanatical followers from the Cult of the Dragon in nearby Sembia. Now she spends her days planning to expand her power even further - and her plans have recently taken a disturbing, unexpected turn.
Making a Mountain Ruin
A vast underground ruin teeming with undead, dragons, and even an undead dragon. You can't get more Dungeons and Dragons than that!
One thing we wanted for our version of Thunderholme was the classic dungeon crawl experience of exploring dusty, ruined underground halls. So our expert Turbine art team created a new dwarven dungeon set specifically for this update.
(This is the same set of art assets used in the Haunted Halls - which, as a trivia note, is quite correct according to Forgotten Realms lore. The bandit lord responsible for constructing the Haunted Halls used dwarf craftsmen to build them.)
The opening section of Thunderholme establishes the dungeon crawl atmosphere, with creepy corridors, traps in unexpected places, and lots of skeletons. It's the perfect sort of place to celebrate D&D's 40th birthday. (Rogues take note, there's also a locked chest to find in the opening section.)
While the classic dungeon crawl forms the heart of Thunderholme, we knew we wanted to vary things up as well. Level designer Enosity worked with our art director to create several environmental variations. So in addition to creepy corridors, there's a vast, open marketplace, a fiery forge (where you can upgrade some of your loot), an Underdark section with a mushroom forest, and even a snowy area ... something of a trick to pull off, considering the adventure area is entirely underground!
Originally we planned on ten floors with ten different themes. In the end we condensed it down to ten themes but only seven floors. Even so, it's probably the largest indoor adventure area in DDO.
To go with our variety of environments we also wanted a variety of monsters. Some were obvious choices, like salamanders and the new magma brutes for the blistering hot forge section. And given Thunderholme's story, skeletal dwarves were a must-have. So we made new dwarf skeleton monsters, complete with configurable facial hair. Monster expert No_Dice created new behaviors for the deadliest of these undead, the skeletal battleragers. These fearsome berserkers will charge you at great speed, then inflict grievous bodily harm with their bare hands and spiked armor.
Another new monster created for this pack is the helmed horror, a classic Forgotten Realms creature. These powerful animated constructs have several tricks up their armored sleeves. For one thing, they can fly. For another, they have elemental greatswords (per the 4th Edition Monster Manual) that gives their attacks an extra kick. There's another little old-school quirk about helmed horrors that I'll leave the wizards to figure out.
Human enemies lurk in Thunderholme as well. The Netherese and some of their associated monster friends make appearances. We also encounter the Cult of the Dragon for the first time in DDO; their emissary has some special tricks of her own.
And then there are the rares. I'll leave them as surprises for you to discover. But I will say that one of the rares is an old friend that I knew had to be in there as soon as I found out we were doing helmed horrors.
Thunderholme also introduces a new puzzle type. You may have noticed that we haven't done any new floor puzzles in the Forgotten Realms. That's because we wanted to introduce a new puzzle type just for the Realms - the mirror-and-beam puzzles that you'll first encounter in Thunderholme. The ones in the adventure area are meant as an introduction to the system, so have fun experimenting with them. Just don't stand in the beams!
As much as we put into the Thunderholme adventure area, it's really a kind of an appetizer. The main courses are two brand-new raids, both of which involve dragons. One raid pits you against not one but two red dragons in an intense all-out battle. The other has you taking on Aurgloroasa herself. You need to destroy the dracolich's phylactery, but she's cunningly concealed it. You'll need to explore her temple and bypass her cunning defenses before you can defeat her. The Thunderholme adventure area supports both normal groups and raid groups, so you can take your party of 12 through the landscape before startng the raid.
You'll be able to explore Thunderholme shortly, just as soon as we finish cramming new features in (just yesterday, for example, we added destructible pillars to the Aurgloroasa raid.) When we're done with that, we set sail once again for Three Barrel Cove, for an epic pirate adventure.