This is a continuation of the preceding post, Wine for Idleberry Part I. In this adventure, the party is hired and sent north by Lord Ramsus of Idleberry, a minor fiefdom. Their quest is to retrieve any casks of Kellitesian Wine that might be in the ruins of an ancient fort that lies in the Skywhite Mountain Pass. Part I detailed Oak Hill, a town on the way, as well as the surrounding moors. This part II will detail the ruins of Skywhite Pass.
Adventure: Wine for Idleberry, Part II
This adventure, as mentioned before, isn’t meant to be taken linearly or sequentially. The tasks or quests that the characters may come across in Oak Hill aren’t needed to be completed in any sort of order, or at all, and they might even choose to push on to these ruins instead of going after the goblins. This may have consequences, however. If they DID defeat the goblins and help the townspeople, consider having the mayor send along a couple of guardsmen with them, or perhaps giving them horses and supplies to help against the cold.
If they had not cleared the goblin encampment, it is suggested that after the PCs return from the fort, that you have them stumble onto a large force (20ish) of goblins raiding the town, as Cousac had feared would happen.
For now, let’s focus on the ruins.
To Skywhite Pass
The way to Skywhite Pass is a direct route north from Oak Hill for about a day. The road turns into more of a trail with some ancient rubbled road patches. It also goes uphill slowly, and eventually curves into the smaller mountain formations right after the foothills of the Skywhite Mountains.
As the trail ascends, it gets colder, and the closer the party will get to the mountains the more likely they will encounter snow. By the time they are well into the mountains, the ground is covered in it, and the wind howls chillingly. Adventurers unprepared for the cold might find life a little difficult, though how simulationist you get about this is up to you.
The fort ruins are scattered across a wide gorge that the pass dips down into between the mountains. There are no trees here, and the snow is very thick on the ground, and the wind picks it up and scatters it, possibly causing snow blinding scenarios. As the players approach the ruins, you might call for a perception sort of check, and if they make it (or you could simply tell them), they will notice that the ground under the snow is oddly rocky.
If they check under the snow, they will find that rather than rocks and stones, scattered across the ground under the snow are thousands upon thousands of bones and skulls, remnants of the horrendous battle that had given this place it’s evil reputation.
The Ruins Exterior
Approaching Skywhite Pass from the south, the first part of the ruins the PCs will encounter will be the toppled walls. Almost nothing remains in place for these beyond foundational stones, and the rest are scattered about or broken, making them easily passable. Beyond the walls is the large courtyard, and here the bone piles increase. From here they will be able to see two towers that are still standing along the north wall, the half-ruined main keep, and a smaller pillared building that sits slightly above on an elevation to the west.
The stones of the ruins are dark gray, and many large blocks are simply laying about. The courtyard is very wide, and the snow flurries will blind the players from getting a very good look at much beyond a dozen feet or so. Particularly keen sensed individuals will begin to notice, once crossing the threshold of the fort wall foundations, the sound of hoofs upon stone (or bone).
The Wight Guardian
Out of the swirling snow a dark shape might be seen, a figure upon a horse, with a long lance.
This figure is a wight upon an undead horse. His helm and harness are ancient in make, and in the middle of the breastplate is a great hole where he was smote. His eyes burn bright blue from within the darkness of the helm. If he spots the players, he will charge.
This encounter should be fairly hard, as the wight was a powerful knight in life. Consider allowing his charge attack to deal full damage if he hits with the lance, especially if the target wasn’t moving, as a couched lance can be devastating. He also wields a sword, and will switch to that if the lance lands a hit and is broken. In the interests of keeping this system (and game) neutral, I won’t put any stats anywhere in this adventure, so it’s up to you to fill in those gaps based on the level and attitude of your players.
One thing you should get across thematically for this encounter is how quiet everything is. Beyond the howl of wind and snow, the wight makes no noise beyond the clash of steel on steel or the pounding of hooves. The noise of the wind in fact may drown some of sounds of the battle out, and remember the perception problem of the characters not being able to see much beyond vague shapes beyond a dozen feet.
The players may in fact try to flee to one of the buildings. He will follow, but if they make it inside he will stop pursuing. If the fight seems to be too easy, consider having a party of skeletons rising up from the snow in the middle of the battle for a good dramatic opportunity.
If defeated, the undead knight’s only treasure is what he wears. All of it may be sold to Selene at the Wooden Ladle for a good price, as it is antique, but she will decry the state of the breastplate. None of it is magical (unless you deem it appropriate).
After the undead knight is defeated, if the PCs leave a building to go to another one, they will be set upon by a party of skeleton warriors rising up from beneath the snow. They all wield very ancient equipment, but it is crude and in bad condition.
The smaller pillared building that sits to the west is a temple, though to an ancient pantheon. The characters might not recognize it as such immediately without an adequate lore check.
It sits on a sort of slight elevation, with a curving path leading to it, giving it the appearance of being set apart from the rest of the fort, perhaps as a way to separate the sacredness of the temple from the martial mundanity of the fort and it’s soldiers.
The temple structure itself is somewhat untouched beyond the dust of ages and snow flitting in from outside. It is a simple rectangular chamber with one large entryway in the front. In the middle of the chamber is a raised dais upon which sits an altar. Beside the altar lies an ancient skeleton, only partially preserved by the conditions of the mountain pass. The altar is emblazoned with the emblem of the ancient sun god of Hertos; a spiral symbol with curved lines coming off of the outer part of the shape. Investigating the altar, however, will reveal a very obvious bloodstain across it. The skeleton may explain the bloodstain, but such a stain would surely not survive the ages.
The stain itself is uncleanable, if the PCs even think to try. That may tip them off early about it’s properties. Indeed, the bloodstain and the skeleton together are the first clues to why the fort remains haunted by the wandering souls of ancient warriors.
The skeleton, if searched, will have a silver medallion with the same sun symbol upon it. There is nothing else of interest in the temple.
When leaving the temple for the first time, when they go outside the scene will be strange. The fort will look as if it were rebuilt! All of the rubble will be gone, and a gathering of people (not skeletons) will be seen far away. They can hear a man screaming, hysterically, though the crowd blocks the view of the PCs. If the PCs approach they will hear a scream, and then a loud chopping sound, like an axe going through meat and hitting wood, and the scene will vanish, the fort returning to it’s normal state.
The largest structure is the keep. It’s a simple building, not like the elaborate keeps of the modern era. Still, it is impressive for standing solidly despite obvious damage on it’s outside. It has one entrance, and the back of the keep is built into the side of the mountain. The door itself has been smashed to pieces long ago, and the entrance waits like a yawning mouth.
The keep structure is made up of three first level areas and one second level area. Inside the area the wind can be heard howling at all times, and snow flitters into the window openings.
The largest area is the main hall. The hall is long, and the middle is taken up by a long wooden table that has caved in. All over the floor are the smashed remains of chairs and furniture, and bones. The entryway is a small foyer area leading into the greater hall. At the back of the hall sits a raised platform upon which sits a huge stone and wood chair, which is empty.
In some of the chairs still intact sit skeletons, in the armor of ancient warriors. They sit as puppets with the strings unattached. As soon as the threshold from the foyer area is crossed, however, something is triggered and the hall is filled with the bright blaze of fire. Suddenly all of the tables and chairs are intact, and the characters see that the table is filled with food and drink. In the chairs are warriors and soldiers, feasting and drinking, or laughing and being rowdy with their compatriots. They seem very much alive, and speaking in a the strange ancient tongue of Hertos. They seem completely oblivious of the characters.
The large chair in the back of the room is now occupied by a large armored man, seemingly a knight. He sits silently, brooding, and almost looks to be watching the characters. This is not the same knight as the one in the courtyard.
If the PCs attempt to touch any of the warriors, or the food and items on the table, or attempt to leave the room through any of the other entrances, the illusion will break and the room will darken to it’s ruined state. Then, with the clattering of bones, the skeletons will animate and set upon them. The throne will be empty again, however.
There are around a dozen skeletons, in ancient gear of ruinous state.
If after defeating the skeletons the PCs search the room, they will find on the table various ancient coinage of silver. 1d100 +10 worth, in fact. If they check up by the throne, they will find a small chest behind it that is locked with an outside lock, which is very rusty and easily broken. Inside the small chest is a scroll, written in the ancient tongue. It can be translated by a loremaster or scholar pretty easily, as the ancient language is only a few steps away from modern common. If no one is learned in lore, however, they may have to bring it back to town later. Selene, being a learned merchant of ancient antiquity, can translate it. Any which way, it says the following:
The knight has been buried, with tomb warded. His crime will be remain in our memory for eternity. Send word of aid you may need in your new command. Jelkyria has mobilized, and yours will be the anvil upon which that hammer strikes. As per your last missive: tt is strange that such an attack would come at such a tragic time. How could they have known?
At the bottom is a signet symbol of a spiral sun, the signature of some priest from the bygone era.
The tomb mentioned in the note is the old barrow in the moors to the south near Oak Hill, and your players may make that connection. You might hint at that yourself if you wish.
To the right of the great hall, through a doorway in the middle of the wall, is the kitchen area. This place, like the great hall, is ruined and broken. Stone ovens are smashed and tables are upturned and trash is everywhere, as well as skeletons.
Upon stepping into the room, again light blazes and an illusion takes hold. This time they see servants in simple tunics preparing food. Behind them they can again hear the sounds of feasting. This time they will hear the servants speaking, and strangely it is in the common tongue, though it is almost as if two voices are speaking at once, and the ancient language slips between the words.
The servant is speaking to another one, and is talking about a murder. He mentions that a knight, the captain of the fort, fell into a fit of madness and slew the priest in the middle of the sun temple, his blood splattering across the altar. The murder threw the fort into an uproar, and the knight was apprehended without resistance and executed. The new captain is on his way, he also says, because it is said that the men of the north are gathering in numbers to swell through the mountains in a great raid.
Another servant will come down from the stairs, mentioning that he heard the knight claimed to be bewitched, but that no one believed him.
After the conversation, or if it is interrupted by the players, the illusion will break and the kitchen will again become dark and ruined. The floor is covered in debris, but if they search well enough, they will find a trapdoor. Opening it will lead to a small cellar, maybe 10 feet in length and width. Inside the cellar they will find a cask of untouched wine, and many broken ones. They will also find five dusty bottles of wine. All of it is Kellitesian. There is nothing else of importance in this area.
To the left of the great hall, again through a doorway in the middle of the wall, is a barracks. Here furniture debris is everywhere, as well as the scattered bones of the centuries old dead. In the northernmost part of this room is a corner stone stairway, leading upward.
If you wish, you may have a few of the skeletons come together and attack, but that is up to whether you feel it is narratively appropriate.
Searching the room will gain the party 1d100 + 10 more of the ancient coinage, as well as a square chest inside which sit four potions of healing, dusted over with age, but still usable.
The Captain’s Hall
Up the stairwell in the barracks is the captain’s room, and it seems less ruined. The bed is still intact, though the mattress is rotted away. There is a large table with a shriveled husk of a map on it.
Like before, however, crossing into the room will trigger an illusion.
This time the large knight who had been sitting on the chair in the first illusion will be sitting on his bed, though fully armored, as a large fire roars in the fireplace across the room. The wind is no longer howling. And, just on the edge of perception, the PCs can hear a strange undulated cry. As they listen more, they will begin to understand that it is a chant, coming from far away, carried on the winds of magic into the room. The face of the man, a handsome face with an aquiline nose, is completely blank. Any magic users in the party can sense a strange darkness hovering around the eyes.
The illusion will dissolve slowly after this, rather than breaking immediately. Note that it will not break even if the PCs try to interact with it.
As it dissolves however, the figure on the bed will remain. This time it is a large grotesque person, with skin shriveled against exposed skull. The eyes flame bluish, and the man will stand, and face the PCs. Upon his back is strapped a very large sword. He will not, however, attack the players. He will make a strange noise, as if sad or distraught, and will sit again upon the bed, holding his head between his hands. He cannot speak.
If, however, the PCs have the priest’s medallion he will remain standing and extend his hand, almost expectant. The PCs might have to do some trial and error here. If they hand it to him, he will go to his knee, in a position of supplication and prayer. His shoulders will start to heave as well, as if he were sobbing.
At this point, the sounds of battle can be heard behind the wailing of the wind. The knight will stiffen, and then run down the stairs and out of the room.
If at any point the PCs try to attack him, he will defend himself and try to escape outside, and the sounds of battle will be heard then as well. Hopefully the PCs won’t do that.
The Battle of the Dead
After the knight leaves his room, the courtyard will explode in activity. The sound of battle will overtake the wailing wind, and the din of steel clashing on steel and the cries of fallen soldiers will fill the air. The once silent place has become a furious battle.
When the PCs come outside, they will see thousands of skeletons fighting each other among the ruins. Some might be recognized to be wearing different armor, but for the most part it is difficult to tell who is friend and who is foe. The knight himself will be among the melee, slaying foes left and right.
At this point a group of the skeletons (presumably of the Jelkyria variety) will turn and attack the PCs, probably around a dozen of them. You should treat this as a smaller melee within a large battle, and if you are using mass battle rules you could instead have the PCs fighting with the Herostian skeletons against the north invasion force.
After these are defeated the knight will call to the PCs, pointing behind a line of skeletons to a robed skeletal figure, wielding a large black staff, throwing magics into the melee. He will then turn and charge, though the skeletons in the line will come to meet him. He will engage with them until the PCs join him. If the PCs are reticent, let them know that the other skeletons seem to be ignoring them, and have a couple of the skeletons in the guard line shoot arrows at them.
For this battle, consider the knight to be around level 3 in D&D, and the magic user to be around level 4 or 5. Adjust as you need to, but make sure that the knight won’t cut through the line easily, and make the magic user formidable.
These seven or so skeletons should be slightly better armed and armored, and the magic using skeleton will use ranged support against the PCs. The magic using skeleton will attempt to flee if the PCs make a move towards her, but not beyond the north wall of the fort, and she will stop there as if there were an invisible barrier.
The knight will attempt to engage the magic user as soon as possible, but will stop to slay any skeleton that attacks him. It would be best to have the knight join the PCs when they break through the line. This should be the most difficult battle, so try to draw it out. If the knight falls, have him go to a knee rather than simply dying, until the PCs win.
After the magic user is slain, all of the skeletons will fall into pieces like broken twigs, and the knight will take a knee if not already on it. He will lower his head, lay his sword in front of him, and fall onto his side, and crumble into dust and bones. The place will once again be silent beyond the sound of wind and snow.
The sword, however, is intact, and is a +1 Greatsword (or equivalent for your system). If no one can use it, it can be sold to Selene for a high value.
Completing the battle will free the fort from its curse, and the dead will no longer rise in Skywhite pass. The stain on the altar to the sun god will disappear. The implications this has for your game could be broad and deep. It could open up new lands to the north, unexplored for centuries until now. It could revive trade in Oak Hill, boosting its economy. Such consequences might delight Lord Ramsus even more than wine (though just barely). The implications, of course, are up to you and your world.
Note that the PCs do not have to do any of this; they could simply choose to leave with the wine. Doing so, however, will ensure that the battle of the dead will continue on indefinitely, making the place even more deadly and of more evil repute.
You could end the adventure here, or have them return to Oak Hill. You do not have to play out their whole return journey to Lord Ramsus and just flash forward to dole out rewards and speak about how the area will change now for the town and for Idleberry as a whole.
So I went into this adventure hoping to do something that could be approached in a broader way than my usual stuff. The reason for this is simply because as I’ve looked into adventure design on the internet, I’ve become intrigued with some new ideas. Being able to present a sort of sandbox with triggers within it that the PCs can react to, or not, excites me creatively. Did I succeed in making something like that, however? I have no idea. It’s a start, at least, and I had a lot of fun doing it.
I actually started the foundation for this adventure using the 3×5 notecard method that SlyFlourish lines out in his book The Lazy Dungeon Master. It’s a simple method of creating a seed and npcs to interact with the PCs, while trying to not do a definite plot. I enjoyed it as a foundation, but I love world building too much to not expand on it. I think it helped me, however, not waste my time on elements that could be hand waved or probably ignored in actual play. I avoided boxed-text for a similar reason, as I feel as if though I might use it in my games, it might be better to leave pre-written dialogue and description up to the DM so that he might fit it to the tone and feel of his game, if he uses it at all.
I’m actually going to be taking this approach to redo Hollypond Vale sometime in the future, turning it into a more true sort of sandbox with a main ‘quest’ that can be approached from different angles and different ways. Essentially, as The Alexandrian (thanks to Tad Davis for pointing me this way) advises, rather than making a plot, I’ll make a situation or event, detail it in the adventure, and perhaps detail out some different consequences for the most likely ways the PCs will react, but try to leave it open to allow the DM and PCs to play in it rather than play through it. The motivations of the NPCs and the events that happen as consequences for actions and reactions should be enough to allow for the plot to develop at the table rather than right here on my computer screen.
I still feel as if Idleberry has a more structured plot than I intended, but it will probably require practice to sort of break down the way that I usually do these things.
Anyway, what did you think? Does this seem like something you would use? Criticism is both welcome and wanted.