Here we are, two thirds of the way through Thunderspire Labyrinth, and the module's Big Evil has yet to show himself. It's a sad state of affairs - so sad I've barely posted for a week (or at least that's my excuse).
It's time for that to change, though. When players return to the Seven-Pillared Hall after trouncing the Duergar, they learn that they've finally got someone's attention. That someone is Paldemar, master villain of Thunderspire, and he steals a page from Kalarel's book in order to set one of the lamest traps in the history of archvillainy.
I've spoken a little about Paldemar before. He's a Mage of Saruun - one of only two still residing in the Labyrinth - and he's gone rogue. He's dropped out of contact with his colleague Orontor and retired to a hidden structure called the Tower of Mysteries, where he's begun to dabble in the forbidden worship of Vecna, god of secrets and undeath.
Paldemar's plan is pretty straightforward mad sorceror stuff. He plans, firstly, to seize control of the Labyrinth. That's kind of a strange goal, seeing as the Labyrinth isn't exactly a palace of wealth and luxury. For the most part, if Paldemar wants to rule over crumbling minotaur ruins and spiderwebbed tunnels he's welcome to it. Of course, in typical villainous style he won't be content with Thunderspire, and plans to extend his domination to "surrounding lands".
The key to Paldemar's plan are the Bronze Warders. The Warders are giant bronze statues of minotaurs, presumably constructed by the original inhabitants of Saruun Khel and now left scattered throughout Thunderspire's tunnels and chambers. Each Warder is bound to a control amulet; when someone who possesses the right amulet speaks a certain set of mystic words, they become the master of the Warder and can command it to come to life and serve their bidding.
The Mages of Saruun, during their early explorations of the Labyrinth, uncovered several of the control amulets and used their magic to ferret out the control words for them (each amulet requires different words). The Warders now serve as the Mages' elite enforcers, called upon whenever the Mages need a show of overpowering force to keep the rabble in its place.
Paldemar's plan involves the creation of an "infernal machine" which will override the command amulets and bind every Warder everywhere in the Labyrinth to his will. With an army of giant bronze soldiers at his command he aims to wrest the Seven-Pillared Hall from his fellow Mages and rule the area with an iron fist. In a loose attempt to tie Thunderspire in with its eventual sequel, Paldemar's long term goals also include attempting to unlock the power of a vaguely-described "Pyramid of Shadows".
So what does Paldemar have to do with Hobgoblins and Duergar? Really, nothing. The module states that Paldemar has been urging the Bloodreavers on to "new heights of depravity" in an attempt to "sow the seeds of confusion and unrest" within the Labyrinth but exactly how this helps him is unclear. Certainly depravity seems to be business as usual in the Labyrinth. The same Mages who didn't blink at the Duergar running a slave-trading ring out of the Seven-Pillared Hall are unlikely to be worried by a handful of goblinoids getting up to mischief in an old minotaur temple. As for the Duergar, Paldemar doesn't seem to have any connection to them whatsoever.
In any case, despite the fact that the PCs have no dispute with Paldemar, haven't impacted on Paldemar's plans and indeed may not have even heard of Paldemar, Thunderspire's resident Mad Mage eventually decides that they constitute a threat to his plans and forms a half-baked plan to send them to an early grave.
The plan has more in common with a Saturday-morning cartoon than with the genius-level intellect that Paldemar supposedly represents. A kobold named Charrak delivers an unsigned letter to the players offering them some vague and mysterious assistance and asking for a meeting in an out-of-the-way cavern.
It's so obviously a trap that it's more than a little insulting. Paldemar could have at least made the effort to suggest a location that didn't scream "ambush" so loudly, or used a messenger that wasn't of a race famous for its evil and treachery. Plot-wise, it's important that players attend the ambush in order to learn more about Paldemar, so really at this point the module is relying entirely on the players' morbid curiosity to get them turning up for Paldemar's ham-fisted treachery.
Mechanically speaking, the encounter is an introduction to the Bronze Warders. Players who arrive at the meeting site get ambushed by one of the giant metal statues, along with a pair of tieflings who bombard the PCs with ranged attacks from a set of high ledges.
The battle teaches players the key attributes of the Warders - namely, that they have a lot of hit points, they resist damage, and they can knock enemies prone just by moving through their space. Taking one down is an epic process, and the Warders easily win their place as Thunderspire's most powerful and iconic enemies.
The Warder will eventually die, though, and once players mop up the tieflings they'll be treated to the roleplaying cliche of a damning note on their attackers' corpses. The note reveals Paldemar as the instigator of the attack, and goes on to suggest that Paldemar is in league with a group of gnolls who are even now engaged in nefarious business at a part of the Labryinth known as the "Well of Demons". Paldemar, always helpful, provides a map.
Horrifyingly generic ambush aside, the introduction of Paldemar marks the beginning of the "good part" of Thunderspire Labyrinth, so after a quick look tomorrow at the results of the last Eleven Foot Poll we'll get started on the Well and the memorable set-pieces it's home to.
 Paldemar may not be introduced until late in the module, but that doesn't mean his plan must be a similar slow-starter. Show off the Bronze Warders early; let the players see Orontor using one to break up a fight, and then highlight more of these giant metal hulks tucked away throughout the Labyrinth - at the entrance to the Chamber of Eyes, for example, or gathering dust in a Duergar storeroom. Paldemar's intention to activate all the Warders should feel epic, and the more of them you've shown off, and the more locations you'e shown them in, the more effective that's going to be when players learn about it - and possibly see it happen.