Ah, the humble temperate plain. Rolling grassland dotted by the occasional small wood, grassy gnoll or dramatic bluff, picturesque lonely tower or ruin and the winding furrows of a hilltop thorpe. And of course, a well-maintained highway so your players know where to go! Which, all too often they aren't charged for the pleasure of using.... but anyway. What is the charm of this sort of Middle Lattitudes, Middle Time Period, Middle-of-the-road fantasy land? Why do we keep coming back to it? Admittedly one reason is pure practicality--it's simpler to place a quest in temperate climes than someplace the Players will have to guard against sunstroke or freezing to death. As well, we've all seen posters advertising the French countryside so we can picture easily what sort of place we should be imagining, have a basic understanding/set of core assumptions as to what's there (e.g., every village has its tavern, every farming community answers to some feudal overlord who probably lives in a keep, life moves to the rhythm of the seasons, etc.). But is that it?
For me there's somethng intangibly compelling about ordinariness. That is in stark contrast to a lot of the DIY-D&D blogs which I read for inspiration and so linked here. Setting writeups should pass over the familiar and get to the "good stuff" (i.e, what you're reading for), goes one chain of reasoning. After all, if a place is ordinary and familiar then you shouldn't need any help creating it, right? (wrong. I don't listen to a lot of D&D podcasts but when I do, almost always the worst part is the DM totally dropping the ball on the simple stuff--giving a voice to the tavernkeeper or mayor, making the ordinary human town feel like a place that's actually lived in by people going about their lives, etc.--but more on that later, maybe).
By contrast I'm a little obsessed with mundanities like holidays, false folklore, scribal quibbling over minor points of history, what's on the table in this or that season. I'm obviously trying to achieve something here or I wouldn't keep coming back to it. I mean partly to me as a writer it's a challenge--can you make Generic D&Dsville feel so vital, so lived-in and living, your players won't even care that they've seen this movie before? But moving beyond whether or not your rolling green countryside DESERVES a writeup I think my intrigue is with that sense of hominess some writers instill in their fantasyscape. Like, in Narnia, things are strange but nothing's really weird. Turns out when beavers can talk they talk just like ordinary salt-of-the-earth Midlands types and live in cozy cottages with coatracks and hearth. Instead of feeling decadent and dangerous, things feel a little playful like in Alice's Adventures (have I ever mentioned how much grimdark takes on Wonderland annoy me? They annoy me so much. Wonderland should be fun). Does this kind of thing have a name? (other than Epic Pooh, I guess). Like, "Cozy Fantasy," maybe?
REQUIREMENTS OF THE COZY FANTASY
-Strong authorial voice like your grandpa is reading you a story. Do this as DM, remark frequently if a house is nice or dirty, if a guard is sleeping on duty call him a waister or scrub, offer an opinion on the behavior of your NPCs (preferably from a stuffy and slightly priggish perspective 'cuz that's funny).
-Spotlight totally ordinary shit. What kind of lunch did your players pack on their journey? What's the tavern's fare and how is it prepared (WITH NINE HERBS AND SPICES!?) Is the market dusty, redolent of cow poop but also perfume? Remark how sleeping on a threadbare bedroll on the hard ground pains but the forest smells sweet; the mountain spring carries a tang of copper; the squire always holds court from the saddle because he's embarrassed about that limp he's had since a horse kicked him years ago. Be judgy, have a voice--the narrator is what makes Cozy Fantasy.
-The human is present even in the inhuman. H.P. Lovecraft did not give a shit if any of his fucked-up mutant villagers had a crush on the local taverngirl or how they felt about eating fish all the time but this stuff is important in Cozy Fantasy. In Cozy Fantasy the orc guards will bitch to each other about how they're underpaid and sick of salt beef.
-Most characters are good, or good-hearted if rough around the edges, or just mischievous/greedy or at least too weird to be malevolent. Actual maliciousness is rare, mainly the property of the story's villain.
-There can be scary freaky shit (the Barrow Downs, The Doldrums, that fucked up trash lady in Labyrinth) but it's not as powerful as forces that are at least benign (the King pardons the Queen of Hearts' prisoners, Tom Bombadil shows up at the last minute, Aslan)---not that those forces will always rescue you (that'd be a shitty game) but they're there.
-Things happen for a reason. There can't just be a freaky ghost haunting the moors, he needs a backstory and a cause for his haunting (he can be an asshole though).
-Situations are often funny, maybe a little lame. Like, a giant bandit who just wants horses (good eatin'), a sphinx who's riddles are pathetically easy, a knight who told his varlet to fetch his enchanted sword of giant's bane and is brought a large greatsword he can't use ("I thought sire wanted the giant-sword?"). The absurd is never overlooked even in the midst of the uncanny.
None of this is getting to the heart of the matter but ah well, you probably know what I'm talking about anyway. So, Cozy Fantasy is definitely a thing. But what's the appeal? Most players don't want to feel like they're in a children's adventure, they want to impale an orc, hear his death squeal, scoop the loot and back home to wenches for another kind of impaling. Everybody wants to be Conan (or Cugel?) only weirdos would want to play Frodo*. I dunno, this post was supposed to just be an encounter/rumors table before I ruined it with this bloviating (I hope you took my advice and skipped this part but if not it's not too late!) about whatever.
*Yes there is a character class called The Alice and it is exactly that and it owns, and yes I'm setting up a strawman shut up.
My ideal idea is to have an area that's basically got this tone and make it the starting, central area of the campaign. So your tour bus STARTS in familiar, slightly cozy Medievalalia And Folktale Land, and then you level up a bit and go over the hill and there's the Quivering Flesh Pits of Xor. Unlike scripted fiction, which damn well better know its tone and stick to it, RPGs can and will cycle from Mallory-esque chivalrous adventure to gritty war movie to Cosmic Horror to slapstick comedy and back again and that's a feature, not a bug (one of the things I dislike about Dungeonworld-style story games is it militantly enforces one genre, one set of expectations, unless everybody can agree on a set of appropriate story-tropes the whole thing falls apart). I love the idea of reflecting that FANTASY KITCHEN SINK approach in one world very literally--like one country's all Dragonlance High Fantasy and the next one over's built for Ravenloft Gothic Romance while Game of Thrones' political soap opera is going on up north and there's some Lovecraftian nihilist interdimensional horror sniffing at the corners if you go looking for it and there's a samurai country where the combat rules are literally different and then there's that Gonzo Island with all the random tables nobody likes to think about because It's Too Silly...* Some will argue this is what Paizo goes for with Golarion and it's why Golarion is such an inchoate, tone-deaf mess of a setting, but I'd argue a bigger reason is most of Paizo's writers Aren't Very Good (sorry guys).
* This goes without saying but if your players don't want to play along with the "local genre," like say they just bring a mercenary army to Dracula's castle and lay siege, do it their way. This is no longer Gothic Horror, it's a war movie featuring Dracula. Dig it.
-------END NAVELGAZING, PLEASE READ FROM HERE----
So right. Here's essentially a temperate Midlands-esque feudal starting area for your players to begin their adventure. How does one roll 1d24? Utilize Random.org or some other number generator if you like.
NOTES: Probably start rolling for encounters when PCs have left the starting town at least six miles out, more probably 10 to 12. I like a base 15% chance of random encounter per hour traveled in an average 8-hour traveling day and every four hours while the party is stationary/resting. If you roll a stationary encounter (like the knight holding a pas d'armes) while the party is stationary, place the encounter further down the road or think of something like the knight's page rides up to the PCs' camp bearing his challenge.
Page references are 3.5. Leveled NPCs are Pathfinder. DEAL WITH IT.
1.) Hound Archon (MM pp.16) Came to the Material Plane to answer a widow's prayer. On his way to a dungeon to retrieve a fallen Paladin's remains. Will invite good characters to join him, sniffs and snarls at evil characters but doesn't start a fight.
2.) Spectral Rider (MMV, pp. 160) Bound to remain in a blasted heath with a great dead oak tree at its center. Appears by night, challenges any warriors by blasting his hunting horn. Charges worthy foes who enter the heath, ignores knaves. His bones and battered armor (with a little repair, functional half-plate) are buried beneath the tree.
3.) Pack of 1d3+1 ghouls (MM pp.119) Haunt a desecrated, abandoned [word for moderately-sized stone house of worship suitable for your setting]. The roof of the place is just visible from the road behind a copse. By night the ghouls gnaw on the old bones in the overgrown cemetery. Those who pass the building by day feel a strange, sinister urge to enter. Beneath the vaulted apse inside is a +1 mace with a treasure map to a distant dungeon wrapped around it.
4.) Grove of 1d4+3 dryads (MM pp. 90), being harassed by a satyr (MM pp. 219) and 1d6+2 faun friends. The satyr's jaunty piping can be heard from well away. The Dryads will ask the PCs to remove these cads. By way of reward they may warn of 1d2 other encounters on this list, or offer a kiss, but they have nothing else.
5.) Glaistig (MMIII pp. 60) sitting atop a grassy hillock by the road. Her skirt conceals her bestial legs so long as she moves carefully and doesn't run. She plays a flute beautifully. It's been a while since she fed but she's not fool enough to attack an armed band. She will try to lure one of the PCs away to her lair, a clear pool in the center of a copse of trees. If her entreaties don't succeed she will let the party pass, then tail them up to one day away from her lair and try to pick one off if given a chance.
6.) A tinker and peddler, riding an old nag with a second horse carrying his goods (pickles and jams, pots and pans, pieces of cloth, tools). Wants conversation, may joint PCs for a while if they're willing to chat (even if going opposite way; he's not in a hurry). He knows 1d6 rumors and knows this country like the back of his hand--he can tell of 1d3+2 other encounters on this list.
7.) A pompous knight (LE human cockatrice order cavalier 3), his longsuffering squire (TN sword-bearer squire fighter 1), and two grooms/servants are encamped beside the road. The knight is holding a pas d'armes, an open challenge against any who cross his place on the path. He will challenge the strongest-looking warrior of the PCs to best of three tilts of the lance or (if the PCs have no combat-ready mounts) a melee to three blows. If the knight wins he will expect 150 gp or all the defeated character's war-gear. If the knight is bested, he will give a purse of 300 gp.
8.) Large Grass-Spider (hunter type, MM pp 288, +8 stealth in grassy fields, speed 40'). From a distance its thorax resembles a tussock of grass or mossy boulder. Once prey comes within 40' it springs up and attacks.
9.) Boggle of 1d3 Dire Weasels (MM pp.65), known locally as Bloodsuckers, now occupying a large burrow beneath a treestump close to the road. Will not waste effort on mounted prey, understand that characters not clad in metal are better targets than those that are. Will attempt to snatch a person and kill them quickly with blood drain, then drag the body back to their burrow. Will retreat if wounded. The burrow once belonged to a family of brownies and still has bookshelves built into the wall (almost all the books now shredded), a ruined writing desk (strongbox in drawer holds small repair tools, gems worth 12, 20 and 30 gp) and a shredded bed.
10.) Terror of 1d2+2 bloodhawks (FF pp. 23) pecking chunks out of a dead mule. Bloodhawks are unnatural, ultra-aggressive animals that attack and kill far more than they need to eat. They will attack if the PCs approach within 120'. Their morale is fierce.
|The humble bloodhawk. CR 1/3 but these things are ASSHOLES.|
The dead mule belonged to a merchant and has a pack saddle with two bags. In one, a strongbox holds 1d100 x10 sp, 1d100 gp, four 5-yard bolts of fine silk, jasper worth 20 gp and 2 onyx worth 12 gp, and a bottle of rare wine worth 35 gp. The other saddlebag holds oats/hay.
11.) Drove of 1d8+2 almirajes, known locally as Hornhares or just Horns. The small group is spread across the road sunning themselves on the pavement or munching on grass by the road's embankment. They will not be aggressive except for the drove's bull, who will attack if the PCs approach to 30 feet. If the party doesn't want a hard fight, they will have to go around! The horns are worth 50 gp on the market (meaning 25 gp goes to you).
12.) Herd animals: 1. Horses; 2. Elk; 3. Sheep; 4. Cattle. Sheep and cattle herds have a 50% chance of belonging to some nearby hamlet. With all wild herds there is a 10% chance the bull/herd leader is a dire animal (Dire Horse and Dire Elk MMII pp 75; Dire Ram; for a Dire Bull I suggest stat as Dire Elk with a 2d8 gore on charge).
13.) Robber Knight (hum Warr 4 mounted on light warhorse) and three routiers (human Warr 1s, leather & crossbow). They will demand PCs drop weapons & turn over any goods, start shooting at 160' as knight charges. Their camp is in a nearby wood, occupied by two more crossbowmen (not in armor at that moment) and a groom (halfling commoner 1). In the knight's tent is a chest holding 2d100x10 sp, 1d100 gp, three suits of fine clothes worth 35 gp e., 75 gp in jewelry, silvered oxhorn chased with cameos of dead minstrels worth 30 gp, and a silver dagger with gold-plated handle worth 122 gp). Additionally there is a fine velvet-covered riding saddle worth 24 gp and a case of four bottles good wine (10 gp e.) In the camp also are extra weapons, camping gear and a month's food supply.
Sitting on such a big haul is making the callow knight nervous. He knocked over a merchant wagon last month and got lucky beyond his wildest dreams, but people tend to notice that scale of robbery. He has tried to get in touch with the Thieves' Guild to pawn off the treasure but they have made no move, feeling the goods are too hot just now. He is considering burying the treasure and letting it sit but doesn't trust five men and a halfling to hold their tongues long enough.
14.) Wandering sage (half-elf exp 3), a grammar/history tutor currently looking for patronage. Will answer any impromptu questions for standard fee, traveling on foot. Will brag that he knows this region as well as any historian, may be tricked into giving away important dungeon lore if ego played on. He has a whole pigskin to hold water and a wineskin; in his pack besides travel gear/rations is a fine schoolman's robe, a book on elvish grammar (+2 linguistics elvish/draconic), a chronicle of the realm (+4 kn. history/nobility this region only), and a bestiary (+2 kn. nature/dungeoneering identify monsters; book is full of misinformation like Beholders are a kind of living fungus ball, Behirs live in wells, beaver lodges hold treasure hoards, etc.)
15.) Caravan - three wagons: one supply and two hold merchandise (wool, silk, wine). Merchant (Exp 5) and teamster driving lead wagon, his wife & teamster driving second, his son and teamster driving third. Four grooms/porters walk beside with two mules carrying staves of water. Eight guards: two mounted lancers (Warr 4, on unarmored light warhorse) and six crossbowmen (Warr 2).
Merchant will hail PCs, ask for news/rumor down the road and ostentatiously toss a 20 gp ruby in payment if PCs give anything useful (the wife glares disapprovingly). If made friendly, the merchant knows 1d2 useful rumors and can warn of 1d3 other encounters on this list. He will mention that his caravan lost a mule earlier and ask if the PCs have seen it (but he will not mention what it carried).
16.) NPC adventuring party, all lvl 1d4. Probably accompanied by 1d4 linkboys/porters/grooms with 1d2 pack-beasts. 1d3 the party is 1) good 2) neutral 3) evil. They are on their way to a dungeon and will be secretive about this. They may offer to swap news but whatever the PCs tell them, they know nothing useful (like so many adventurers they are totally uninterested in the country round them!)
Roll 1d100 4x - 1-40: fighter | 41-50: halfling rogue | 51-60: human rogue | 61-70: elf magus | 71-80: dwarf gunslinger | 81-90: wizard | 91-100: cleric. Good/neutral clerics may be willing to give small assistance thru their orisons such as purifying spoiled rations or a quick healing spell.
17.) Band of 2d20 pilgrims led by a lvl 3 blind oracle. They tramp along singing hymns wearily. One man bears a wooden pole topped with a little religious diorama inside a houselike box. 1/5 of the pilgrims will be warriors (lvl 1d3), the rest common people, with pack beasts & gear as appropriate for a group their size. 50% chance they will know 1d3 rumors / warn of 1d3 encounters if PCs inquire. Their destination is 1) the abandoned house of worship, 2) the dryad grove, 3) someplace else (dungeon perhaps). If the PCs do more than merely give a hello to the pilgrimage, they will be invited to join. The oracle will say a dream told him to gather the pilgrimage and go to the destination. If the PCs succeed a DC 18 diplo check he will admit he does not know what will happen when they arrive.
If the PCs come back this way, they may hear of the pilgrimage's fate: 1) if they went to the abandoned [house of worship] they were attacked by ghouls and only 1d10 escaped (the oracle met his end there and arose as a ghast, now leading the pack). 2) if the grove, the pilgrims joined the dryads in their happy games and enjoyed a span of peace and meditation. They happily dispersed but the Oracle stayed behind, now joined to one of the Dryads as husband.
18.) Abrogar, TN lvl 1 human Magus. He is a mercenary on his way to seek employment in the Baron's castle, but he will be open if the PCs make an offer (standard fee for a lvl 1 henchman, but Abrogar is already equipped---travel supplies, mailshirt, scimitar and shortbow, and a concealed CLW potion he will withhold for himself). Abrogar knows 1d6 other encounters in the area and 1d4 rumors, but unless hired he will only trade information tit for tat.
|Able to fight, identify magic items and provide arcane learning, Abrogar would be a useful addition to any party.|
19.) A band of elves numbering 2d6, 1/4 of them warriors lvl 1d3. The rest are musicians. Their leader is a lvl 5 Bard named Nyfaél. The elves have light horses but are walking along, singing and playing lutes, mandolins, a theorbo and (this is the warriors) shakers and tambours. If the party has at least one attractive member with charisma over 12 the elves will invite them to a shady copse for wine and dancing. If the PCs are game and make pleasant companions (that means armor OFF) the most attractive will find Nyfaél an amorous free spirit. Following a tryst Nyfaél will give the PC a silver dragon cameo on a chain (worth 75 gp) to remember her by. She is not going to alter her travel plans for the PC's sake but will be friendly if their paths ever cross again (unless her token was sold off!) The elves know many rumors but, more interestingly, know of many far-flung places (perhaps up to three dungeon hooks provided, or this could be a way to introduce some exotic corner of your larger setting).
20.) A large flying predator has espied the party (1d4): 1. Dire Hawk (MMII pp. 76). 2. Manticore (MM pp. 179) 3. Wyvern (MM pp. 259) 4. Chimera (MM pp 34). The monster has only just moved into this territory and was scouting the nearby hills for a suitable roost. The dire hawk will attempt to scoop up and drop an unarmored humanoid target; the rest will target a pack animal or mount if one is available, a random person otherwise.
|Dire hawks look so damn cool|
21.) A hippogriff (MM pp. 152) in a decorated leather saddle and bit and bridle paces around listlessly on the grass by the highway. It is skittish but will allow anyone with Wild Empathy to approach and calmly allow itself to be ridden with a successful Handle Animal (DC 10). A few hundred yards away, if the PCs search, they will find in a bush the mangled body of a dwarf in (now damaged) splint armor with long warhammer (reach weapon) and pack of supplies. His stumpy legs could not save him from his steed's wild turns. Yes, the party's Ranger might get a flying mount at level 1. Should make the game interesting.
22.) Bracer and Burner. As they travel the PCs come to a place where a river cuts across the highway (if that is not appropriate, perhaps a stone-lined irrigation ditch siphoning water from an underground reservoir to a nearby field). A quaint little raised bridge of paved stone (ramps for animals) crosses over this obstacle. Flanking the entrance to the wagon's-width bridge are a Force Golem (MMV pp 68) and Magmacore Golem (MMV pp 70), named Bracer and Burner respectively.
Bracer and Burner hail the PCs in booming, upbeat voices. They sound a bit like that giant commie-hating robot from Fallout III or like they're always saying "Danger, Will Robinson!" They perform Power Rangers-esque posing and hand-flipping as they posture. If the PCs are noticeably armed, Bracer and Burner will challenge them to "a friendly battle." If the PCs repeatedly refuse, Bracer and Burner will try to prod them into agreeing with light force pushes and annoying heatwaves ("SURELY PROUD WARRIORS CANNOT IGNORE A CHALLENGE"). They are essentially children who want to play, but they don't fully appreciate how fragile flesh and bone are yet. Nonetheless if battle is joined, Bracer will keep his force blasts down to nonlethal damage only and Burner will limit his pyrotechnics to cutting off retreat/forcing the PCs to bunch up where Bracer can hit them all.
If struck enough times that Burner risks entering his meltdown mode they will respectfully submit and let the PCs pass. If the PCs try earnestly killing them the golem brothers will be shocked and a little hurt ("GO AND SPOIL A NICE BATTLE WITH MURDER, WILL YOU?"). If they batter the PCs to the point where one falls unconscious they will call a halt and declare themselves the winners, saying encouraging things like "GOOD JOB! YOU MADE A VALIANT EFFORT!" "IMPRESSIVE--FEW HAVE TAKEN SUCH PUNISHMENT!"
Bracer and Burner are the "children" of a powerful golem-maker who lives in a tower six miles away from the bridge, where they like to wait and challenge tough-looking passerby. Locals know if you just ignore them they'll leave you alone. They love their maker but also want to roam in the wide world. It is just possible (Diplo DC 24) the PCs might get sway them to come along on a dungeon delve in search of adventure (DC 15 if they beat B&B in a sporting fight), but they would be unpredictable companions to say the least.
23). A mounted inquisitor (lvl 5, LN) and retinue with covered wagon (1d4+2 lvl 1d4 warriors + 2 clerks with record/caselaw books, chaplain, teamster and 2 porters). If the PCs don't look suitably pious, the Inquisitor will be suspicious and unfriendly. He has heard rumors of a suspected heretic with alleged powers of prophecy leading a stray flock of the faithful somewhere in the area (this is the Oracle and his pilgrimage). He is not hunting the pilgrimage leader per se (actually he is on his way to the nearest mid-sized town to to hold assize) but will follow any leads the players provide (he will demand they tell him what they know, if they have seen the alleged heretic). He is not looking for a fight but he will not put up with disrespect to himself or the faith. He dislikes Paladins.
24) As the PCs travel down the road they hear an enormous snoring from within a shady copse of trees. The remains of two hooped barrels, completely smashed, are strewn across the road. Riding up parallel to an opening in the copse, the PCs behold a 14-foot tall Hill Giant (MM pp 123) lying on his side, smacking lips in drunken sleep, formidable treetrunk-club tucked under an arm. Pinned beneath one of the giant's massive hands is a struggling halfling in blacked leather armor. He has been trying to wriggle silently out from under the giant's left hand, on which is a massive golden ring. The instant he sees the PCs the Halfling tries to wave them over to (hopefully in silence) lift the heavy fingers off him.
The Halfling is a lvl 1 NE Rogue. The Hill Giant is currently in possession of a magical ring (ring of glammer maybe?) The Halfling heard rumors of a Giant waylaying travelers for their horseflesh and shiny objects on this road, and that the Giant wore an ornately scrolled golden ring on his finger. He set out with two barrels of ale as an offering to the Giant and made friends, intending to snatch the ring while the brute was laid out in drunken stupor. The plan almost worked, but then the Giant had to go and affectionately rest a hand on his "new friend" as he settled down. If the PCs successfully aid the Halfling, he will make a "shh" gesture and then try to slip the ring off the giant's finger without waking him--and because he's level 1, he'll probably fail. If the PCs awaken the Giant trying to free the Halfling, the Giant will reflexively close his fingers on the Halfling and toss him further back into the copse, probably killing him.
If the Giant awakens, he will still be drunk: -4 Dex, -2 atk/skills, and likely to stumble if he tries to run, this lasts 2d10 rounds. He will attack wildly. The Halfling will take any fracas as the time to run, whether he has the ring or no. If the PCs manage to bring the Giant near to death he will beg for mercy and say he has much treasure ("I been taking Mans horses for food and all shiny things, I dont know why knights never come make me stop"), the kind he knows Mans like, back in his cave in the neaby hills. If the PCs agree to let him take them to his cave he will try ambushing them again there. In his cave is d1000x3 cp, d100x3 sp, 1d10x100 gp, 2d10 gems worth 3d4 to 2d4 x10 gp, a battered suit of half-plate and several steel weapons, plus numerous belt buckles, spurs, plates, candlesticks, a few hand mirrors--any metal object that can shine if polished. He understands that's what humans trade in and piled up all this stuff as insurance.
If both the Halfling and the ring are still there when the Giant is dealt with, the Halfling will make the case that it's mostly thanks to him the ring was obtained by anyone so really he should have it. He has nothing of value to offer (just armor, a dagger, and a half-eaten sandwich now smooshed in its parcel). If the PCs refuse to give him the ring or demand he turn it over, he will not try to overcome them by main force but may trail them and wait for an opportunity to steal it back. It is possible the PCs could convince him to become a henchman if they talk of some great treasure they hope to find, but The Halfling is of bad character and will shirk danger and steal from the group given half a chance.
Credit (and thanks!) to Stahlherzog, the author of this encounter which I here adapted.
ADVENTURE HOOKS/RUMORS/ETC. FOR TEMP. PLAINS NEWBIE SCRUB ZONE
See also this list of adventure ideas I wrote, some of which are pretty good (esp. no. 5. Do no. 5).
Rumors Related to These Encounters1. Everybody in town is nervous. Word is that a Lord Inquisitor is on his way to hold assize over the community. Everybody agrees that Inquisitors are necessary, of course, but they do have a way of turning neighbor against neighbor. Just getting called into one's court, even if all charges are cleared, can ruin your life.
2. Have you ever heard this one? "The Ballad of Ceryse and Blaise?" It's not a well-known canción, but it's locally famous and really good, ask the next jongleur you see about it. It's about a famous murder that happened near here, 70 years ago. Back then there was this knight, see, Blaise, and he loved this girl Ceryse, but she was the daughter of the Mayor [of our town] and betrothed to the son of this Baron... so Blaise challenged her betrothed to a fight to the death in the [Religious Structure] of St. Ancibel---there used to be a little sheep town there but it dried up and became waste. Nobody knows quite where the old [Religious Structure] is now.... right, so, Blaise won the duel but because he spilled blood on holy ground he was cursed... he wasted away from some illness and died, and on the order of the Baron he was buried somewhere in the wilderness.... but his hate lived on, and sometimes at night you can hear him blasting his horn in challenge! They say he won't rest until the son of his persecutor--I think that means our Baron now--comes and faces him. [If at any point the PCs lose interest in this story, have the teller lose track and leave off with "oh well, it's just a local legend..."]
2a. There's a desecrated and abandoned [House of Worship] somewhere in the wilderness, and the village around it was cleared and turned into a wood.
2b. On the road you might hear something like a horn at night. That's just the local ghost, never mind him!
3. The Baron has been trying to hire more warriors and put out a call all over the country. I've seen some odd characters walking along the roads and even flying in the skies! No really, a knight on a winged horse! It did look a little odd.... it was either a very big horse or a very small rider...
4. I wonder if the Baron is gearing up to finally do something about Old Lloyd.... he's a famous wizard who built a tower a few leagues from here, you can see it on clear days. Old Lloyd doesn't do anything, he just builds fancy contraptions and sells them all over the world, but he's richer than the Baron I bet... and the Baron hates that he won't even pay the land tax...
5. You're going on the road? Be careful! The Mayor wouldn't like my saying so but the trade road's been really dangerous lately. They say a giant's lurking in a wood near the route! Yeah, like two ogres on top of each other an actual giant! What does a giant even do with peoples' gold? He usually lets people go and just eats their animals at least.... I don't know, why do we even have a Baron? Everybody keeps asking when those good-for-nothing knights of his are going to do something! Pfah I'm a citizen of the town, I can say what I like...
6. If you listen to these locals they'll have you thinking the woods teem with beautiful fairy women... haha, wishful thinking if you ask me. My cousin for instance's a herdsman and he swears you can hear "fairy pipes" in the forest, and I tell him.... you're out there for ten hours a day, sometimes overnight on a bald hill... It'd be crazy if you DIDN'T hear things, right? Makes you wonder though... why are fairy men always these short little goblin-faced characters and then fairy women are these tall beautiful types? Maybe that's why they're always trying to seduce mortal-folks hey, haha.
~Not related to Encounters Necessarily~
7. You know those little roadside shrines they always put up every six miles or so? The ones with little bowls or slots you can put in donations and get a blessing, yeah? Some rekless knave has been stealing out of 'em! I know! It's a total outrage against religion! I knew our local bandits were bad but not this bad...
7a) Actually, you want to know what I think? I think it's a scam. How would you even get into one of those shrines without breaking it up? The coins are deposited in wooden strong boxes through a slot and only the [Dean/Rector/Monsignor] has the key! So I think it's a scam.... like, defrauding itself? Only you didn't hear it from me.
7b) It's probably the Baron. You know he hates [the Bishop/Dean/Monsignor]. Funny that they're cousins, but I bet the Churchman always felt like he got the worse end of that deal...
8. You know what it all is. It's politics, politics. The routiers---highwaymen you know---actually answer to the Baron. They're his little "extra tax" he uses to put the squeeze on our town's trade when he feels we haven't been properly... enthusiastic about paying duties and tithes, yeah? And then we've got the Thieves' Guild.... Thieves' Guild that's a laugh! They answer to the Mayor and the [Bishop/Dean/Whatever] in our town right, and they're our little counter-insurance policy. No really, what do you think a Thieves' Guild does primarily? They get goods in and out through the city gates on the sly, of course. Duty-Free! And who profits from that? Well no, not short term, but let me explain, if you made all trading untaxed....... [launch into appropriately medievalized conception of laissez faire economics until players revolt]
9) Did you know some people who want to see the future get themselves bit by a cockatrice on purpose? It's true! They just hold out their hand and let the nasty little blighter peck it, and there they are with a sign around their neck saying "wake me up in 100 years..." wishful thinking, hah.
10) [old Scottish groundskeeper] People get confused and call everything fairies, but that's just a gloss on what they don't know. You know you've got your spirits of the woodlands right, like Dryads and Satyrs---well, they're sort of like, spirits of the land personified, right? But then you've got your nasty ones, which are properly called fough which just means "hateful bastard" and they're not from around here get it---someplace deep underground I think...
~Adventures in the Newb Zone~
1. Ogres have taken over a two-story brewery a couple miles from town! Besiege/storm the place, save the much-valued brewmaster and make the louts pay for ruining the Mayday batch! Cue highly strategic brawl with 1d4 staggering-drunk, barrel-throwing ogres prone to vomiting when hit.
-----> Twist: This definitely needs no twist.
2. A lone Dire Wolf has been terrorizing the flocks. Stalk the elusive bastard to his lair or, less stupidly, lay a trap for him in a barn or something. Burning down one hay-barn should be a small price to pay to end this threat.
-----> Twist: None, except that the wolf is old, tough and not as easy to lure into an obvious trap as you might hope.
3. Giant ants have been seen near the edge of the farmers' fields. You know what giant ants mean, right? Somewhere nearby there's probably a large reservoir of underground water! Here's a dowsing rod, go, go, go! No you don't have to wipe out the hive, the Baron's men will do that, we just need you to find water. Should be totally safe.
-----> Twist: The giant ant colony is near a dungeon entrance, obv.
4. A false peddler has been traveling the land selling supposed magic potions, claiming to be licensed by the Wizards' Guild [if there is no Wizards' Guild or equivalent body in your setting, this is just part of the ruse!] For the most part the fake potions have been harmless, but a few people have fallen ill. Unfortunately he seems to be skilled in disguise [or there's... multiple false peddlers?] Sniff the bastard out (perhaps pose as a band of foolish adventurers looking for potions on the cheap...) and bring him in to the authorities (alternatively he can die while fleeing arrest and you'll save the authorities some trouble).
-----------> Twist: There are multiple false peddlers and most of them are well-meaning dupes. Their magic potions are supplied from "a magic spring" guarded by "an actual wizard" (maybe a doppelganger? a wererat? one of these guys?) and the spring is, of course, in the nearest dungeon the players wanted to go to anyway. It really is enchanted (that's how the dupes are convinced), but if bottled the magic leaves the water in 1d4 hours. The fake wizard's been allowing the would-be sellers to make a profit while charging them for his bottled magic water in a classic ponzi scheme. If you want, messing with the water could also lead to an invasion of enraged thirsty giant ants.