torsdag 14 februari 2019

12 remnants of the Witch King's rule

1 Crucifixion Field. A hundred of old wooden crosses, some standing Ts, others like spokes of a wheel attached to trees, yet others leaning against another or lying crashed to the ground. Yellow bones and torn cloth covers the soil, or sit stuck like grisly trophies on the ash-gray frames.
2 The vanished host. The helmets and harnesses of a great host lie scattered here, as if the soldiers wearing them disappeared into thin air. Thin vines run across the rusty metal like capillaries, the scent of their dark flowers mingling with soot and iron. During storms, lightning strikes here with alarming frequency.
3 Feasting crows. Wicker baskets containing human remains hang from leafless trees.  Crows leap from the branches or sit on the ground, too fat to fly. A small band of goblins are here, ransacking the baskets for anything of value (2d6, 1HD, spears 1d6+poison: save or 1d6 for 1d6 rounds). A tiny silver ring lies in one of the baskets.
4 The Bone construct. A mile-long trail of debris and broken vegetation leads west, ending in a mass of charred bones and corroded copper vaguely resembling a toppled giant. The spirits that once held the construct together have nearly disspated, but their sighs echo like a low drone. Each night the abomination briefly animates again, crawling towards Ys under great agony.
5 Witch-King's Highway. A black road runs like a cruel scar through the land. Built with the relentless trample of iron boots and dread sorcery as its architects, the road cuts unflinching through razed villages and excavated hillsides for miles without a bend. Locals and wildlife both react to those traveling the road with instinctive fear, and prefer not to cross it.
6 Watch tower. A dark watch-tower, its door sealed with lead. If opened, a wind of decay rushes out with a scream (save vs magic or all equipment is dented). Inside is a golden trumpet, which can produce a similar gust if blown.
7 Village of condemned. Circling a crude cross of gray timber are eight wooden houses, built in haste and - it seems from their placement - animosity. The houses live pale ogrish men (4HD, hide, wrought iron spears 1d10, size +1d4) and their hounds (1HD, bite 1d6, close). All of them have faces covered in runes of the Witch-King, and their eyes are gorged out and their tongues cut. An itinerant monk, brother Amfred, is held hostage in hope that his prayers will absolve them of their curse, but their recurrent fits of rage suggest that it is far from done.
8 Sinking village. A small village, abandoned for years, sinking into the swamp. Five ragged women (2HD, bows 1d6, spears 1d8) are resting among the houses, while tracking down a knight golem than killed their husbands to visit their revenge.
9 Abandoned fishing village. Rotting shacks, slowly falling into the gray ocean. Torn nets like spider web between the houses, over a ground yellow with fish bones. In the decrepit houses 4d6 silver-haired children live, soldiers from the Witch King's army (as 1/2HD wolves). Monstrous from war they move like a pack of dogs, raiding and killing whatever they find for food.
10 A sentry. A thin figure, wearing a badly damaged suit of armor (3HD, maille+helm, rusted scimitar: 1d8, fast, demon: 2 actions). Its head is covered by maille and an iron helm, but the silhouette seems too featureless for a human. When it spots the PCs, it lifts a bronze horn in signal, but no sound emerges. All PCs must make a magic save; on a miss their head rings with haunting trumpet blasts as soon as no other sound is heard, making perception checks HARD and making good sleep impossible.
11 Howling soldiers. A pack of howling soldiers (2d6, 4HD, wrought iron over pale flesh, black maces 1d8 + concussion, size +1d4).
12 Knight golem. A rusting knight golem (8HD, plate+helm, giant scimitar: 1d12+bleeding: 1 fatigue/round, demonic: double actions). It moves on all four with animal grace, and reacts to human presence with predatory instincts. Killing it produces a strong blast (1d8, reach 5) but anyone who survives it gains +1d4 SPI. Within it is a thick golden ring (+2 to climbing and jumping checks), that fuels it through some sorcery.

tisdag 5 februari 2019

20 forest locations

Untamed wilderness is a staple in many campaigns, yet it is seldom present in encounters or hex keys. This became a problem in my home campaign, where the PCs kept running into people or things constructed by people an awful lot for being alone in the wilderness. So here are 20 locations that are just wilderness: no dead adventurers, no overgrown ruins, no elfin hunting parties - just things that could presumably be there regardless of civilization.

1. A suffocating blanket of spider web covers the land, with only the tallest firs piercing through it. Sounds become muffled and light dim, as countless broken threads fill the air.
2. Elk cemetery. The remains of a hundred elks that have come to die here, remarkably intact as if unmolested by scavengers
3. Hunting ground. Mangled remains of deer and beavers hang from the forking branches of old trees, their stench attracting flies and wasps in the millions.
4. A small pond, only a few feet across, where a large toad is being eaten alive by tadpoles.
5. The forest is silent here, and dead birds litter the ground.
6. For as far as the eye can see all trees stand dead, with lichens like cerements covering their gaunt frames.
7. A wild-fire must have raged here, for the pale birches are charred and broken and the damp ground black with soot. When the wind blows, burnt branches fall in clouds of ash silent save for the muffled thud at impact.
8. A large boulder lies fallen from the skies in the bog. Migrating birds flock around it; incapable of leaving its magnetism, they cackle in fear and confusion or turn to cannibalism as they starve.
9. Under the roots of this old alder lies countless broken skulls, as if the tree grew out of them.
10. Tumorous mushrooms cover the aspens here, draining their life. The air is thick with spores.
11. A dead Auroch. Birds are eating it clear to the bone, but the head remains intact and strangely life-like.
12. A giant wolf lies dead by a pond, apparently drowned. Banded leeches crawl over its body in a futile search for blood.
13. A dying elk lies by a wind-fell. Attacked and abandoned by a predator that took its hind-leg, it brays to its kin in panicked confusion.
14. The alder-trees are crawling with pale larvae that eat their leaves and spin silky cocoons from the naked branches.
15. Black vortices of swarming insects rise and fall over the bog. Anything yellow will attract thousands of them, laying eggs and stinging indiscriminately.
16. The trees stand skeletal under black cormorant nests on a ground made sterile by their droppings.
17. A sinewy vine is piercing the old trees here, slowly toppling them with its strangling grasp.
18. The corpse of a great wyrm, more than twenty paces long. Dead for long, its inherent toxicity have prevented it from being eaten and left it in a half-mummified state.
19. Animal mass-grave. In a crevice lies the bones of countless hares, squirrels and other small animals. All bones are split and the marrow removed, but there is no sign of tools.
20. The hundred-man oak. A gnarled tree, tall as a hundred men. A wyvern (HD7, L, bite 1d10+poison) lives among its branches, poisoning the proud tree with its saliva. Anyone touching the tree must save or be beset by hopelessness causing them to always act last.

tisdag 11 december 2018

Foot of the Bleeder - Handouts for a Guess-Who adventure

Here's a variant of the Guess-Who adventure, set in a medieval-ish period. The PCs are tasked with (or rather, may choose to engage with the task of) retrieving the seven relics of Bishop Severend.

Bishop Severend led the second conquest of the pagan-infested peninsula known as the Gauntland (previously Ettinmark, but I've come to hate how that looks in writing). His endeavors all but succeeded, but he was betrayed and defeated, and subsequently stabbed, drawn and quartered to death by Ygdrain, the chieftain of the wildmen. This defeat became the end of the second conquest, and the armies withdrew or were hounded down. In this turmoil, a group of knights still loyal to Severend managed to retrieve the severed parts of their fallen leader. Vowing to keep the remains out of the pagans' grasp, they split up and journeyed each in their own direction until divine inspiration or circumstance told them that they had found a place where the relics would be safe.

In this scenario, the player-characters learn that the one of the relics - the foot - is kept in an Apostate Shrine. The mystery is in which shrine the foot is kept, and since the events took place long time ago the investigation consists of finding information in letters and dusty tomes in old libraries. So in this sense it follows the blueprint of a Call of Cthulhu investigation, only set in a fantasy-medieval time. So the clues are in libraries, the libraries are spread out, and the adventure oscillates between traveling from one library to the other - encountering wandering monsters and robber knights and what have you - and piecing together the resultant clues. However, I also wanted there to be a fail-safe, in case the players don't feel like following this structure. Hence the Apostate Shrines, which represent distinct locations. I chose 20 as a high but not too-high number of shrines. This means that the players can brute-force the investigation by just traveling to all shrines and searching them. But it also means that each clue will be important on its own, because even if it just narrows down their search to half, it is still considerably fewer locations to travel to. So in this investigation, partial success is still very much a success.

I wrote the letters following Skerples' guidelines for medieval correspondence.

Handout 1a: A Letter from Terbaud, the Monk

To Bishop Imbrius from Terbaud, greetings  
You will be pleased to learn that my Inquiry into the whereabouts of the Holy Relics have already born fruit. Yesterday I visited with the monks of Souern, who hold a great library.  As you are well aware, accounts are unanimous in that the Knight Orcalx took off with the Foot following the dismemberment of Holy Severend, and hid it in a church. From my studies, I have come to believe that this was not a true Church, but instead one of the Apostate Shrines found in this land. Included in this letter, you will find a page copied from Methodius’ “Compiled list.” Orcalx was not a scholarly man, and the heterodoxy of these cults were not as widely known during his life as it is today. Yet, I now wonder about the proper course of action. Therefore, send me word of you wishes.
This handout starts the investigation, and since it is a letter it should be given to the player-characters by some central NPC (or found at their corpse). 

Handout 1b. Excerpt from “A Compiled List, detailing the Apostate Shrines of the Gauntland.”

At Ashwold, south of Tinslay, lies a shrine constructed by exiled Consolers. It is believed to be the oldest apostate shrine in the land. The shrine is dedicated to the Father, who this sect believes to be nothing like the true heavenly Lord.

The second oldest shrine is in Glander. It was built by a local lord using material of a cyclopean temple previously in that location and is dedicated to the Spirit.

A third shrine lies in Orvault, on a small island. The shrine was commissioned by a local lord to be built on top of a pagan cairn. The shrine is dedicated to the Father, and it is one of the oldest.

At Egwyn Fach lies a fourth shrine, erected by the people of that place with aid of the Devil shortly after the first conquest. The shrine is dedicated to the Mother.

The shrine of Alverdis was erected by members of the triclavists and is one of the oldest. The shrine is dedicated to the Father.

Nine miles east of King's road, at Loudreác, lies a shrine dedicated to the Mother. It was built by Consolers during the reign of queen Aelwydd.

At Langonne lies a shrine adorned by the occidental crosses of the Consolers. It is built on the place of old pagan worship, and was completed just before the beginning of the second conquest. The shrine is dedicated to the Spirit.

The Pyworth shrine, dedicated to the Mother, is similar in design to that in Thurdon but smaller and built on a place of pagan worship. Both shrines were constructed under the reign of queen Aelwydd.

The shrine in Soudan was built over the course of twenty years by pilgrims flocking around the hermit Canabaas, sometime between the first and second conquest under the reign of queen Aelwydd. The shrine is dedicated to the spirit, which the worshippers hold higher than the Father and the Son

At Derrill, by the Wallingwall channel, lies a small shrine. Scholars claim it was built by Consolers on a location previously used by the druids and it was completed in the early years of the second conquest. The shrine is dedicated to the Father.

The largest of the shrines is in Thurdon. Its construction indicates that the buliders were of bogomil persuasion, possibly Consolers, and its tower is seen for many miles. The shrine is dedicated to the Spirit.

In Witherral, off the path to Lewill on a site used for ritual fornication among the wildmen, lies a shrine dedicated to the Mother. Its origins are unknown but scholars date its construction as contemporary with that in Loudreác, even if other connections are debated.

The Camrose shrine was constructed by Consolers living there in secret, following the end of the second conquest. The shrine is dedicated to the Father.
The Spittal shrine, built by Consolers, was completed just a few years after the defeat of Severend that ended the second conquest. The shrine is dedicated to the Mother, and only women may enter into it.

The shrine at Derwen was built by Consolers under Marcher Lord Brewen. It is dedicated to the Mother.

At Row, deep in the Fellwood, lies a shrine built by triclavists. It was constructed during the reign of Macher Lords that followed after the second conquest, possibly Lord Gilmer. Having driven off the earlier inhabitants, builders ransacked their holy places and built a shrine dedicated to the Spirit in their place.

The shrine in Treillère was erected by a local community, reached by the gospel through the preachings of Guyon who was invited by Marcher Lord Gilmer. The shrine is dedicated to the Father, and is said to incorporate standing stones from an earlier construction in its foundation.

At Kerngrist, perched on the cliffs of Skarn, lies one of the most recent shrines. It was constructed by Consolers and is dedicated to the Spirit, but is otherwise unremarkable.

Despite being one of the newest, little is known about the shrine at Croix-an-Terray. No traces of the sect that built it have survived, but it sits on an old site of worship. The shrine is dedicated to the Father.

The last shrine built is at Quilliaut. It was built by triclavists and is dedicated to the Mother. The place is said to be haunted by the many men drowned in the nearby pond as part of pagan worship.

This handout is central, as it outlines the possible locations where the relic might be. It might be included with the handout 1a, or it might come separate. Since it is very long, I'd probably use a trick from playing Horror on the Orient Express: cut it in parts and say that the page was damaged. Then, the players will naturally piece it together, and while doing so they will also read it. You could also give them half the list (cut vertically) and say "it's damaged, but you might find a complete copy at Souern (where the monk found it)". This would also create more engagement with the handout.

Handout 2a: Terbaud’s 2nd letter

To Bishop Imbrius from Terbaud, greetings 
At your request, I have visited the shrines in Langonne, Egwyn Fach, Derrill, Thurdon. Witherral, Row, Derwen and Croix-an-Terray. I have also visited Camrose, of which nothing but rubble remains, and Ashwold where spiders in the million are born from the dirt. My travail has been substantial, and only the blessing of our heavenly Lord has kept me safe from the aggressions of the heathens that are everywhere reclaiming the land. Yesterday, we spotted one of the colossi of druidic worship. The guide I recruited was crushed to death before we could flee. I fear that I cannot press any further unless accompanied by a host of soldiers. Therefore, send me word of you wishes.

Handout 2b: Travel log of Terbaud the Monk

At the request of Bishop Imbrius, I have visited the shrines in Langonne, Egwyn Fach, Derrill, Thurdon. Witheral, Row, Derwen and Croix-an-Terray. I have also visited Camrose, of which nothing but rubble remains, and Ashwold where spiders in the million are born from the dirt. The travail has been substantial, and only the blessing of our heavenly Lord has kept me safe from the aggressions of the heathens that are everywhere reclaiming the land. Returning from Derwen, we spotted one of the colossi the Druids worship and many men were lost. But once again the Lord watched over me, and I was safe.
These are essentially the same handout. The letter can, realistically, only be in one place, whereas the travel log can exist in many copies. So version A is "if you go look in a specific place", and version B is "if you look in a plausible place". You can use just B if you want.

Handout 3: Travel log of Gillifrid the Nun

Their practices of the people in this land are strange, for they have not been reached by the true gospel and instead listed to the proselytisation of prophets drawing on hearsay or mixing fragments of the good book common superstition. But many of them are good people that would no doubt adopt the True Faith if they had the chance, and in Langonne, Egwyn Fach, Soudan, Pyworth, and Alverdis, but also in Camrose, Spittal and Treillère, I came upon the curious shrines they have erected. Here, I saw the great wealth stored in these shrines and witnessed many wonders, including the Foot of the Bleeder.

Handout 4: Excerpt from “The Chronicle of Sir Orcalx”

Of the glorious deeds of Sir Orcalx, the most remarkable is that he retrieved the Foot of Saint Severend, also known as the Bleeder, away from those who sought its destruction. Fearing that the Druids would seek him to rob him of this Prize, he rode for days on end until he came upon a small shrine. Not knowing what to do, he knelt there and asked the Mother for guidance. And the she answered his prayer and revealed an empty monstrance in her shrine. Relieved, he placed the relic there and turned back to face the enemies of his Lord.

Handout 5: Excerpt from “On the Recreant Knights”

Despite Sir Orcalx’s loyal service during the second crusade, his family was divested their peerage at the council of Meraux after his death. Among the many accusations leveraged against them was that their faith was wavering. As proof of this, it was argued that Orcalx had brought the Foot he was entrusted to the Consolers. This sect had just been outlawed, and the act violated the Papal Decree.

Handout 6: Excerpt from “Knights of the Gauntland”

Roland of Offrey, who met him, writes that Sir Orcalx spent many months after the end of the second conquest in a remote village, regaining his strength. The village had been a place of druidic worship, but the inhabitants had torn down their temple and built a shrine where it used to stand, and after this the druids never returned. The people of this village were so hospitable and pious, that Orcalx decided to leave the Foot of the Bleeder, which he was carrying with him, at this shrine as a token of the Authority’s power.
To increase the cost of the brute force solution, you'd probably want the shrines to be very far apart and much more distant than the nearest library. Also, consider having some powerful guardians - after all, they are abandoned sites of (heretical) worship.