Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Terrinoth #5 - Death in the Wood

Campaign Diary

After a fitful night in the caves, our party emerged the next day and made their way back to Fort Rodric. There, they recounted their tale to the fort's sergeant, who decided that perhaps more regular patrols of the hills were necessary.

(Click here for PC profiles)

Over dinner, the party regaled the soldiers with exaggerated tales of their valour, and even Orglath found himself welcomed at their tables.

The next day the party started their journey to the Gardens of Tarn, an ancient woodlands from where the people of the Barony of Otrin gather rare medicinal herbs, and where the felling of a tree is punishable by death. On the third day of their journey they sought shelter from the autumn rain at the village of Woodside. They enter the only inn in the village to find that the vogt (reeve) of the village is holding a meeting there. Our heroes were given a table in a corner of the common room as the meeting went on.

It soon became clear that the reason for the meeting was called over a series of deaths and disappearances: a week before, the girl Lenora failed to return after she had gone gathering herbs in the woods. Three days afterwards, a swineherd was found dead inside the woods, with several large gashes across his body. The next day, a forester sent to investigate these events was also found dead, and he bore the same type of wounds on his body too. When yet another forester failed to return from his patrol in the woods, Manfrie, the captain of the foresters, petitioned that no one be allowed into the woods until further instructions could be sought from the Baron. The swineherds protested - pannage season had just begun, and if the pigs were not allowed to be fattened on acorns and beechnut before winter arrived, the whole village could face starvation later in the season.

As the argument got heated, Entana volunteered the party's help in solving the mystery. This sudden interruption was not welcomed by the villagers, some of whom started accusing Orglath the dragon hybrid as a potential suspect. Before the situation could get out of hand, Sir Heisen, the vogt, ordered the foresters to take Orglath into custody, ruled in favour of Manfrie, and dismissed the villagers.

As the foresters and villagers left the inn, Sir Heisen invited the remaining three members of the party to his table by the fireplace. The party once again pitched their services to him, and this time, without the interference of the villagers, he accepted.

Our party then decided to do some investigation around the village. As they stepped out of the inn, they were approached by a Wilhem, who was betrothed to Lenora. Young Wilhem begged them to help find his love, and when Strigor the Orc asked what he would offer in return for their help, presented to them his life savings of 50 silver pieces. Even as Strigor reached out to take the coins, Gio the Gnome stepped in and declared that they would not take his money if he would sing songs of their heroic deeds instead. A grateful Wilhem agreed, and acted as their guide around the village.

The  party then went to the foresters' barracks to gather more information, but was given the cold shoulder by Manfrie and his men. With not much else to be done for the night, they visited Mama Clay, the local wise woman, and purchased some home-made healing potions from her.

The next day, a villager led the party to the forest trail under the cover of the pre-dawn darkness. They followed the winding path until they reached the place off the track where the dead swineherd's body had been found. As daylight grew, they saw that the trees and undergrowth around the place had taken on a sickly appearance. They trekked further deeper into the blighted woods, until they came upon two wolves scavenging a body on the forest floor. The hair and skin of the animals had fallen off in places, revealing their raw flesh and even bones underneath. The rabid wolves attacked the party, and after a short fight were cut down.

The body on the forest ground turned out to be that of the missing forester, but the wounds he bore on his body did not match those that could be caused by wolves. After a brief rest, our party decided to venture deeper into the forest to see if they could find the cause of the strange state of the forest and wolves.

After some time, they crested a ridge to find a solitary green tree standing amidst the withered trees in the vale below. At the base of the tree was a shape... The party moved closer to the tree, and saw that it was the body of a young woman. Unlike the others, she bore only a single wound on her body - her throat was slit by a sharp blade. As Strigor moved to retrieve her, three of the withered trees uprooted themselves from the ground and started to attack the party with their branches. Strigor ran towards the green tree; vines erupted from the ground and entwined around his ankles, but he pulled free. As he grabbed the body of the woman, the green tree swung one of its branches at him. Strigor ducked the blow, turned around, and yelled "Run!".

Then followed a running battle, as our heroes tried to keep the distance between themselves and the pursuing plants while Entana loosed Fire Bolt after Fire Bolt at them - alas! the recent rain meant that his spell had little effect on the soaked trunks of the trees. But eventually they cut down the withered tree, and it looked that they would at last flee the green tree, when from before them an arrow struck Strigor.

A solitary figure stood before them. It was Manfrie.

"I told you to leave this well alone, but you would not. Now you will all die here!", he spat as he nocked another arrow.

Strigor launched himself at the forester, while Entana struggled with the walking tree. Gio? Gio cowered behind a tree as melee raged.

But our hero soon gained the upper hand. Entana's spells wore the walking tree down, and it at last stopped moving, its trunk now smoking, and Manfrie was down on his knees, bleeding out. With the last ounces of his strength, the forester dragged himself to Leonra's body, and with his dying breath said: Sorry, my love. I had not meant for things to turn out this way... but if I can't have you, no one will."

With the excitement of battle over, our party realised the gravity of the situation: they had killed an agent of the Baron, and had no witness in their favour. The option of running away and become outlaws was briefly discussed, but eventually the decided to return to Woodside to face the music.

The trio emerged from the woods bearing Lenora's body, and soon the whole village had gather round them. They told their story to Sir Heisen, who at first found their tale of sickened wolves, walking trees, and accusations against Manfrie difficult to believe. But as the villagers and foresters corroborated on their story with their accounts of Manfrie's failed courting of Lenora, and Mama Clay told her lore about the legend of evil trees that awakened when fed with the blood of innocents, he was convinced.

Orglath was returned to the party, and the four were given a reward for their help. The party spent another night at Woodside, and in the morning started their journey back to Tamalir.


Prepping and Running the Game

The basis of this scenario was "Death in the Wood", available on Dungeon Master Guild (spoilers ahead!).

When the players chose to explore the Gardens of Tarn, I looked for a forest-based adventure module to use. Now forest-based adventures can be rather typical, featuring either elves, the fey, hags, or other woodland creatures from the Monster Manual.

"Death in the Wood" was a little different from the usual forest-based adventure as, at its heart, it is more of a murder mystery. The original story had a jealous logger kill another logger, and the NPC who sought the PCs' help was a woman.

Mama Clay was an improvised NPC - I should have known that mention of herbs would prompt the players to seek out healing potions. Her name and persona were based on that of an NPC in a Dragon Warriors scenario I ran for my family earlier this year. I think I will use her again in my other campaigns.

I liked how Gio's player gallantly refused his money, but instead asked that he sing their tales instead. I imagine that after this, heartbroken Wilhem will leave Woodside and become a traveling minstrel, and perhaps become an NPC that the A Team and B team will meet again.

Anyway, as logging was forbidden in the Gardens of Tarn, I had to change that part of the story. This lead to some reading on the use of medieval forests, and in particular about pannage and its importance to the livelihood of villages. Use of the medieval forest was strictly regulated, and in many cases the rights were leased to certain vassals, who would police this. This led to me creating a conflict between the foresters and the swineherds, and of course adding Manfrie's personal motivations for keeping people out of the woods into the mix.

This was again a very linear 2-encounter "dungeon". The fight with the blights turned out to be more difficult for the party than I had expected, but once they opened up the distance between themselves and the Vine Blight it was game over for the bad guy. Fortunately I had taken a tip from Jim Murphy to attack PCs between battles before they had a chance to rest, and planned for Manfrie to trail and attack the PCs when it became obvious that they had found his secret. Wounded, pursued on one side by walking tree and facing a fresh opponent on the other, the players feared a TPK.

My favourite moment of the session was when the players paused after the battle to discuss what they were going to do now that they had murdered a "federal agent". Medieval fantasy RPGs can oftentimes have a rather blase attitude towards the killing of humans, and this was something I wanted to avoid for this campaign.

I had planned for the scenario to be short as I wanted to play the "downtime" activities after the party returned to Tamalir. I used one of the B Team characters as an NPC whom they interacted with, with the result that their (the A Team's) adventures now form the seed for the B Team. I will write more about this in the next report. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Stephen Holmes said...

It sounds like a great game.
Enough depth to force some decisions on the players, but simple enough that it would not drag on with indecision.

I really enjoyed your design notes following the report.
They drew me to a second reading of the story, and illustrated how an authentic background can really balance the elements (Monsters, players, civilans, lords, magic) of an adventure.