Something a bit out of the ordinary this week - a Dragon Warriors scenario, not of the carefully crafted sort you might expect to find in a book, but the rough-n-ready notes I actually use to plan out an evening's adventure.
I should explain that the scenario has none of the character development or backstory you will have seen in previously published Dragon Warriors adventures by me and Oliver. The reason for this is, like I said, that it was not originally written for publication, but simply as a set of notes for us to run a game. The story elements you would normally see in a published scenario – the player-characters’ rivals, the unexpected reversals, the plot twists – would therefore have been improvised based on events in the ongoing campaign. The simple business of a group of players (our players, anyway) travelling from Ferromaine to Emphidor is quite enough to generate plot threads from which to weave several evenings’ gaming, and there is rarely any need to fall back on the written adventure, which is usually only there as a safety net if inspiration and improvisation should falter.
As you will see, this is almost a "dungeon" adventure - at least as it appears on paper. In the actual execution, the dungeony bit would have occupied only the last half hour, if that. I’m presenting the notes here pretty much as originally written to give you an idea of what I might prepare for a game. The jokey headings, for example, are for mnemonic purposes when I’m running the session and do not reflect the tone of the adventure. I never use “send-up" humour, though there is always plenty of in-character humour.
THE HONEY TRAP
The scenario requires some pretext for the characters to fetch a shipment of goods from upcountry in either Emphidor or Analika. If they are acquainted with Melano Fiorensca of Ferromaine (from the “Mungoda Gold” scenario) then he could have engaged them to do this.
The characters are to deliver a payment of 25,000 Florins to Father Armend Kalari, patriarch of the monastery of St Meropi, which is a five-day trek up into the heavily wooded Kaldare Hills from the small town of Akshir in Emphidor. The monks are to provide them in return with fifty jars of vechel, a special honey liqueur flavoured by the blossoms of the upland forests.
Lost in the woods
A day or two after leaving Akshir, they may notice that their guide, a middle-aged trapper called Kandoni Agarni who runs errands for Father Armend, seems increasingly uncertain about which way to go. At last he admits that he doesn't recognise the path they're on, but "we just have to keep on east".
Frightened of disappointing the patriarch, to whom he is devoted, Kandoni will not readily admit how inexplicable his uncertainty is – he makes this journey several times a year, after all, and is an experience tracker. If pressed, he will come up with excuses: “I had too much to drink last time I came this way”, “the usual route is flooded, so I took a different path” and so on.
Passing through forested hills, they see a young woman walking along the lane ahead of them. They see her long black hair, which hangs to her slim hips, swaying gently in the splashes of golden sun between the branches. She is strolling along, not hurrying at all, but takes no notice if they call to her.
They are in for a shock if they catch up to her. Despite her comely body, her face is that of an old lady. Her eyes are bloodshot and she looks listlessly ahead like a sleepwalker.
Village of sleepwalkers
The woman leads them to a village. Everyone here is the same: youthful in body, but with haggard faces. They loll around in the sun or else wander aimlessly around the village. The characters cannot get anything from them.
Kandoni is now getting quite agitated, as he realizes that he has not only led the patriarch’s guests astray, he may even have led them into serious danger. He recommends returning to Akshir.
On a hill overlooking the village, they spy the overgrown tower of an old ruined palace, its stonework glinting in the afternoon sun.
The ruined palace
Investigating, they make their way up a shaded path until they pass between two cracked stone gate-posts into a courtyard full of long grass. Creepers cascade over the toppled blocks of the wall. On the other side of the courtyard they see the twisting roots and limbs of a tree which has grown right around the entrance of the building, enclosing it like bindings around a gaping wound.
A figure emerges from under the foliage of the tree: a thickset man with short greying hair. He waves his arms in greeting.
The man gives his name as Endu Pocoli, a treasure hunter (though he uses the term historian) originally from Analika. He has spent almost a year in these ruins searching for the tomb of Prince Gali, a local ruler some six hundred years ago whose palace this once was.
By now it is getting on for sunset. Endu ushers them inside and sets out bowls of honey by the gateposts. If asked about this, he says it is for "the wild creatures". Astute characters (Psychic Talent roll) may notice that he is quite nervous about getting this ritual completed before nightfall.
They sit around Endu’s campfire, inside the ruined shell of the palace, and he explains that he has been a treasure hunter (the true description of his job comes out as the wine flows) since leaving the Selentine navy. A fortune-teller told him that this was the year he would make his fortune. Since he had bought a treasure map from a stall-holder in Teleos, Endu decided that fate was on his side. "But now the year is almost up," he bemoans, "and I have explored the underground rivers beneath these ruins again and again. It is a maze! How could one ever hope to find the route to where the prince lies buried with his treasure? Poor Endu! To think I would end my days sculling in the foul mud instead of hauling the canvas at sea, where I was happy."
Suddenly he looks up, eyes narrowing, the wine dribbling from his mouth as he listens in fear. From outside, they hear a ghastly slobbering coming from by the gateposts.
Intrepid characters who investigate will discover a number of disembodied heads, fifteen in all, moving in long eerie bounds like bouncing balloons. They are tittering horribly as they lap at the honey.
The heads cannot (or will not) enter the palace, but they will attack anyone who ventures into the courtyard. The grass is so long that it obscures vision (-1 to all the characters’ dice rolls), but this doesn't seem to bother the heads one bit.
DISEMBODIED HEADS (15)
Bite (d10, 3)
Armour Factor 2 (7 vs nonmagical weapons)
MAGICAL DEFENCE 16
Movement: flying – 25m
Health Points 7
When a head bites, it then latches on to chew its victim. This has two effects. First, the victim loses 1HP every round regardless of armour (the head finds a weak link to gnaw at). Second, each head inflicts increasing encumbrance: the first causes -1 off ATTACK, DEFENCE and EVASION; the second causes -2; the third -4, etc. (Totals are: one head = -1, two heads = -3, three heads = -7, four heads = -15.) When EVASION reaches 0 you cannot move.
Another way to deal with the heads would be to go down to the village and destroy their bodies. If the bodies are not destroyed, the heads will regenerate all damage within an hour and will then pursue.
(A player who has read the Dragon Warriors rulebooks may well say, "Oh, those must be some subspecies of death's-head." But of course, a statement like that is entirely meaningless in the world of Legend.)
A tale of long ago
Endu explains how the heads come three nights a month, at the time of the full moon.
"I heard the tale off a woodcutter," he says. "Apparently, long ago, there were rebels against Prince Gali in these hills. They caused a great deal of trouble for him, ambushing his supplies as they went through the woods, and always retreating into the undergrowth when his soldiers were sent out. But finally he caught the rebels by a ruse and had them brought to within sight of his palace, and there he had them buried in the ground up to their necks, so that sun and rain beat down upon their unprotected heads. Finally they died – some by thirst or starvation, others by exposure, others gnawed by wild animals – forced to face the palace of the hated despot until the end. Afterwards the heads were cut off and cast into an open grave outside of the palace gates. But there is one more thing to relate. A serving girl of Gali's court had crept out on the first night, it is said, while Gali and his warriors celebrated their triumph; and she took a bowl of honey for each of the rebels. So it is that one can appease the heads by setting out bowls of honey at the palace gates."
Part 2 on Wednesday.