I like Melvin's twist - occasionally the entire boat is taken as an offering :)
And yes, there is something in the water - perhaps a dragon or similar beastly. It would have sorcerous powers so it would occasionally gift good luck on the donors.
Lots of plot hooks can come from that - a jealous nearby town might try to end the local town's luck by any number of ruses - perhaps poisoning the lake, sending warriors to kill the benefactor, dropping trapped gifts to enrage the beast, etc.
Even nobels could get jealous and seek to know the truth, and perhaps capture the beast.
I expect the purpose of this encounter is to teach the lesson of learning about places you are going to go, as in most circumstances freeing the victims is the 'correct' behavior. Given the lead in is the PC's have been led off the beaten path, this is not likely to have happened, so the PC's either will have done something normally immoral (leave em to hang), or they will be led into a possibly lethal encounter with a tribe over cultural differences.
I'd expect _some_ type of foreshadowing to hint at the correct behavior.
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I like the idea of rallying a village to help defend it. In the TV mini-series, Pillars of the Earth (and novel, though never read it.), there is a battle of the correct scale for PCS' - the attackers are about 20 men at arms and knights attacking a small town. A small number of 'PCs' help rally the defense with a nice small scale battle.
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This is an excellent starting point - I already have some thoughts to flesh this out somewhat.
1. The ring dates far back, and was used to lend fact to a legend that 'even the very beasts flocked to the King's standard..'
2. The ring does not provide simple control as described, but causes the ring-wearer to become the pack leader. This is two-edged, for the pack leader can lead the pack, and they will follow - perhaps accepting some verbal orders through the power of the ring. Second, should the new leader show signs of weakness, up-and-comers (or the old leader) may attempt to regain control. I'd personally make it as follows:
Upon donning the ring, the bearer assumes a greater and greater resembles to wolves as the pack is summoned to the bearer. The wolves will travel at their best speed to reach the wearer, intruding into civilized regions if need be. If that pack is destroyed, then another and another will be so drawn until at least one wolf survives to greet the bearer.
The pack, upon arrival, may accept the new bearer automatically if 'strong', otherwise the current pack leader will challenge the wearer by attacking him. The other wolves will not intervene unless attacked. Should the bearer fail, the pack will tear him to shreds.
Once the bearer is the pack leader, he can shift between wolf-man and pure wolf forms, the latter needed to take advantage of the wolves faster movement. Human form cannot be resumed without removing the ring.
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Removing the ring could either be hazardous or safe at the GM's discretion.