A Rendezvous on High Hill, the first Unquiet Lands adventure
by, 08-05-2011 at 07:39 AM (1110 Views)
My idea, at least to start with, is to record some treasure, monster, NPC, or other detail from each of my completed adventures in The Unquiet Lands setting. I don't want to give away anything that's still part of the action, so any NPCs will either be deceased or otherwise out of the picture, for example. I also don't want to go over anything I've previously covered in the sub-forum, so please look there for general background information.
I believe that, while some advice is more generally helpful than others, every game master has their own way of doing things, and success is usually determined by how much those individual talents mesh with any particular group of players. Therefore, instead of condensing any experience I have into advice, what I will do here is chronicle my efforts, and discuss what worked and didn't work for me personally. If someone derives inspiration from that, and their experience is made better for it, that would be very gratifying.
I've previously talked in other places about how The Unquiet Lands was originally a generic "Points of Light"-style campaign, intentionally based on the examples from the 4th edition Dungeon Master's Guide, that has since mutated into something different, so I won't go over that again. Instead, I'd like to share something from before that change reached its present state.
It is well-known, at least to my players, that the pbp game Acqua Alta is the first adventure set in The Unquiet Lands on the Pen and Paper Games forum, and that it is still ongoing. What might surprise a few people is that Acqua Alta isn't the first Unquiet Lands adventure that I wrote or ran, even though I often refer to it as my "first" around here for the sake of convenience.
The first adventure, actually set before the setting had a name, was run offline as a face-to-face game with a number of people from the gaming group I regularly associate with. It represented a number of firsts and lasts. Besides being the first Unquiet Lands adventure, it was the first time I ran 4th edition; the first time I used geomorphic map tiles; and the first time I used counters and "power cards" in any roleplaying game. It was also the last time I ran an offline rpg. I should note that this wasn't because the adventure wasn't successful: based on the feedback I received and my own personal feeling, it went quite well. It's simply that I've decided to devote my offline time to non-rpg pursuits, such as mahjong, and I've found, contrary to some, that online gaming suits me particularly well.
The adventure was set in the northern reaches of the "Realm of Erathis," which is, I'm afraid, the most generically-named country in all of The Unquiet Lands. As an accurate description of the ecclesiastical monarchy that it is, I've left it in place. It happens to be the same country that the Order of the Green Lion calls home, though their base of operations is far to the southwest, on the plains of Shenothom.
What follows is a basic summary of the beginning of the adventure, culled from my notes at the time. I removed the mechanics and statistics for now. I might publish them later, but they take up a bit of space and this post is already a little lengthy, especially after I added some commentary. I believe I'll spend the first few blog posts putting out this adventure in installments.
All of you are inhabitants or recently arrived in the village of Whitethorn. On the northwestern border of The Realm, this highland village remains on the map by virtue of the local whitethorn brandy it produces. The winters here are harsh and snowy. Often food and supplies run low before spring. The first trade caravan to arrive after the days begin to lengthen is a welcome sight.
That caravan was spotted late this afternoon, and trundled into the village center as the sunlight began to fade. The master of the caravan, a woman named Rassus Caw, made an exception to her usual rule, and allowed your group to purchase supplies ahead of tomorrow's crush. After conducting business, she ushers all of you into the public room of The Hound, the village's one drinking establishment, and buys cups of gluwein for everyone. After quaffing half of hers, she begins to speak.
"That mound you can easily see from this village, the one you folks call High Hill: I've heard that a band of elves makes their home in the Deep Woods, some two leagues west to it. If it's true, I'd like to trade with them, but I don't want to make the trip for naught. I'll be holding the market here for two days. If you can bring word as to whether or not it's worth my time to moot with the Deep Woods elves at High Hill, I have a full pouch of silver to share with the lot of you."
At this point, I had two minor quests assigned. The first was to find the elves of the Deep Woods. The second, dependent on success of the first, was to return to Rassus and let her know whether they were willing to trade or not. Both had time limits based on how long Rassus would be in town.
After that were a number of notes based on the time of year (early spring) accounting for sunrise, sunset, and how fast the party could move across the local terrain. I was probably thinking of that old Tolkienquest book, Night of the Nazgul, when I penned this in.
First Encounter: leaving town
Across the river that runs along the northern side of the village is an ancient stone bridge, still solid and sturdy, having been built by the dwarfs. It is 80' long and 15' wide, and bordered by a low, stone wall, about three feet high. It runs about twenty feet above the river below, which is flowing fast and cold with the melting snow.
A low, stone building rests on the near bank, next to the bridge. It is about 20' by 30' and has a single wooden door, reinforced with rusting iron. An open peephole is set in the door. On the far side of the bridge is a rude, wooden building. Smoke issues from the chimney of the stone building, and a hole in the rough of the wooden building.
An elderly man opens the door as the party approaches and steps out. He looks like he's in his fifties. His beard is scraggly and gray, as is what hair remains on his balding head. He squints at the group.
"There's a toll to set foot on this bridge. It's the lord's toll per head. Let's see," he says, scanning each member of the party in turn, "For you lot, that would be ten true silver a head."
If the party protests, the man merely asks, "Are you going to pay or are you going to go?"
If they threaten him or make to cross the bridge, he shrugs and sulks back into the room.
In any case, once the party is halfway across the bridge, the man reemerges along with a younger, female companion, both now armed with spears. A second, younger man comes out of the door, better-dressed than the others, with a sword sheathed at his side. At the far side of the bridge, four more people step out of the wooden building, similarly armed, and with one carrying a knocked bow. He rests his spear on his shoulders and leers at you.
"Now that you're on the bridge, I'll tell you there's a toll to set foot -off- of it! That toll'd be all your money and goods. Just drop 'em where you are, and then come forward one at a time."
This was my first 4e D&D combat encounter! My notes veered in and out of descriptions I wanted to give to my players and information for my own benefit. In the end, I used the dimensions to set up the geomorphic tiles, and copied the parts I wanted to tell the players onto index cards as talking points.
The players may well have took these people for greedy thugs, and that wouldn't have been off the mark, but their motivation was a little bit deeper. If Rassus Caw couldn't trade with the elves, she'd be forced to make her profit in Whitethorn, giving the local inhabitants more leverage. Maybe if they'd explained this patiently to the party...but like I said earlier, they were basically greedy thugs.
I did set up a skill challenge that would allow talkative PCs to uncover these NPCs' motivations. I'm not sure what I think of that, now. There were also some easy Streetwise Checks to recognize who these attackers were.
Depending on how the situation was resolved, I had some notes about how the village squire would deal with them. That turned out to be unnecessary.
After the Bridge
Along either side of the road stand the trees of the Deep Woods, some dark, shaggy pines, and others bare and leafless. Ahead of you, the High Hill rises up, a mottled brown and white in color.
Event: 5 miles down the road.
A howl is heard from the east, echoing in the air. A moment later, there's an answering howl to the west.
Reaching High Hill
As you approach the hill, you notice that it is bare of trees. The slopes are covered in long, matted, brown grass. Some sort of stone building or wall is visible at the very top. Once you reach the hill's base, you see that a carved path of white stone stairs, looking like they were built by the same hands that made the road, leads to the top of the hill, if you were interested in going there.
The adventure climaxes at High Hill, but that's not the party's destination at the moment. For now, all they know is that it serves as a convenient landmark for entering the Deep Woods. However, knowing that they'll get there sooner or later means I had it conveniently mapped out if they decided to explore it right at this point.
Next Post: finding the elves.