The characters are given the task of transporting a flask of highly volatile liquid a long distance. The flask cannot be shaken too much or it will explode. The adventure involves stormy sea-voyages, bumpy cart rides through densely populated towns and horseback combat. In short there are many opportunities for it to break and explode.
King Addas loves charades, and has a troupe of mimes in his harem. To ensure that they can never cheat he has had their tongues cut out, which is why they always look so miserable and never open their mouths (the stump of a tongue is not a pleasant sight).
On route from Geli to Nekrass the characters meet a peasant boy on the road. He's wandering in the direction from which they've just come. If this seems a little bit incongruous, they may wish to ask him a few questions. He's perfectly willing to talk: he's called Lamish and he's run away because he knows he is the heir to the throne of Geli and his parents didn't believe him. How far is his home? About five weeks walk from here. How much has he eaten? Nothing. Has he drunk? Only from the filthy roadside ditches. In short, it's a wonder he is still alive. And yet he seems perfectly healthy.
Is he a thief, waiting for travellers to trick? Is he lying because there's something more sinister under all of this? Is he telling the truth? And anyway, what should the characters do? Do you take him to Geli? Do you try to find his parents? Or leave him to make his own way?
In Azur, the streets are crowded, and the PCs' poor grasp of Azuran makes it hard for them to find out why. Still, they shoulder their way through the crowds, trying to get to the house of the renowned wizard they seek, when suddenly they realise they are standing very much alone. The crowds have ceased their talking and their gazes are fixed on the PCs. The imperiously clothed man standing before them smiles and speaks in Azuran: "Ah! Volunteers! And so eager too!"
There are more ways than one to encounter a dragon. With a low level group it's obviously not feasible to meet one in its lair and fight it. But standing on a bleak moorland, utterly exposed and vulnerable, it can be a chilling experience to see something flying far far overhead. Something that could just be an eagle, but you never know...
A little way up the narrow valley, before they reach the woods, the PCs notice the squat, tumbledown buildings by the riverside. They are hardly big enough for a human to stand in, and the complex cogs and shafts that occupy the central cavity of one of the buildings are perplexing. What were these buildings? And how safe are they to explore?
Alternatively a desolate place is the perfect setting for a derelict chapel or croft. There needn't be any actual physical encounter involved, but it adds atmosphere to a place to see its dead history. For instance, in the Outer Hebrides there are whole deserted villages which were razed to the ground by the English during the Clearances. Such stories give a setting authenticity and character.
Magical forests are never a good place to sleep, especially seeing as much of the population is nocturnal. Firewood taken from the wrong tree can turn against its collectors, and a strangling onslaught of angry twigs and branches can be surprisingly severe and difficult to disentangle yourself from. Fires themselves attract enemies, and not only malevolent predators. Giant moths and gloomwings are tempted by the heat and light, but are often misunderstood.
The PCs are setting up camp at the end of their first day of walking through the Esh-Inel Mountains, when they hear in the distance a low rumbling, like thunder. It grows progressively louder until it echoes off the mountainous bowls around them, then dies away again. At its worst the ground starts trembling. It happens every day at this time, and it is the noise of the Great Carts on the dwarfish underways returning home after a day mining, laden with many tons of ore.
In a crowded marketplace, a man is standing on a soapbox, orating. Some of the crowd are cheering, some hissing, some standing around saying "I can't hear a bl**dy word he's saying". It's a hustings for an election. The PCs can either leave, or stay and listen. If they do the latter, then they can vote too, and they might get quite involved in the cheering. Depending on who wins they might get quite involved in the post-election brawl too...
There are numerous possibilities with this encounter: the PCs might end up talking to one of the nervous candidates before their speech, and offer encouragement and support. Of course this candidate may well turn out to be someone with outspokenly unorthodox views, and the crowd don't take kindly to s/his supporters. Or maybe the seemingly innocuous candidate turns out to be a complete racist, and the PCs wander off embarrassedly, pretending they weren't talking to this person five minutes ago.
A fragment of letter drifts down to the street. You catch it, and unfold the charred edges.
"...know I will always lov..
..at never dies. It is th...
..f my passion that b...
...nd it cannot be ext..
....n heaven or....n hel..
....ill be by you...ide an...
...... yours foreve.........
... Mendates ........
Looking up from the fragmented text you glance around at the rooftops. There. A minute snowfall of scraps of letters is cascading from the chimney of a half-timbered house nearby.
The characters are wandering through the bustling crowds of Lasopolis. A street conjuror is performing a simple summoning spell, something for the kiddies. A bit of odious purple powder in the fire, an incantation and out pops a saak-lizard or a muhmentarsh, writhing from the flaming brazier. But the conjuror has only a poor grasp of the arcane magical tongue. A few stuttered syllables could lead to Other Things coming through the brazier and giving the crowd more entertainment than they had paid for...
Asclepius' flies are similar in size to the ordinary housefly, but they are white, with crimson eyes (ugly little creatures). Unlike most flies, however, they are not diseased, in fact their remarkable immune system contains agents which tackle even human illnesses. This is the source of their white colouring also. The standard technique for capturing them, to use their juices, is to tempt one onto the palm of one's hand and then to quickly wring your palms, then rub the mush onto the afflicted area. This is not for the squeamish, but has definite healing possibilities.
Swordbiters are parasites. They are long, thin and silver, and digest metal, somewhat like rust monsters, but smaller and more insidious. They resemble stick insects, but when they cling to metal they are very well camouflaged, and one can be biting your sword for a week before you notice it. They cannot be removed by hand, as they are very strong, but if the blade is inserted into fire they will leap off to escape the flames. Sometimes, old treasure hoards are infested with them, and the first glimpse you get of the "glittering" weapons is a pile of rusted swords encrusted with these thin silvery insects.
An insignficant little species, the candlebug (or waxmoth) is a persistent bane for mages and merchants alike. Each the size of a small digit, these little scarabs thrive on wax and burrow up inside candles, ruining them. Sometimes a late-night worker will hear a crack and a sizzle as his candle expires, only to find the half-burned remains of a waxmoth squirming around on his desk. This is very annoying in worlds where candles are expensive...
What a narrow street! The bowed windows of the upper floors encroach on the view of the bowed windows opposite, making it all very dark and shady down here in your carriage. You feel it slow down and stop, and there are raised voices outside. Craning your neck out of the door you see a smug cartsman ahead, whose cart is blocking just enough of the narrow street to make your passage impossible. He appears to be waiting for you to move, but your driver is hurling abuse at him and your horses are getting restless...
The Nomin gypsies have a fiddling competition every year, known as the Danse de Velose. Beaters hit out the rhythm on taut drums and the competitors start to play, slowly at first. Youngsters can compete, but are soon pulled away by worried mothers, before the competition becomes too dangerous. After two hours the haunting tune has become dazzlingly fast. You can resign at any time, but the moment you make a mistake you receive an arrow through the neck. Strings may snap, but the players must play on. The whole affair never lasts much longer than three hours, and the last fiddler playing is crowned king of the gypsies.
"...the city was built on many levels, linked by stone bridges. But with the improvements in diet and corresponding increase in stature and strength of the populace, these bridges became too low, and the people would hit their heads. The bridges were eventually done away with in 1764, but the scars on the walls where they once jutted out remain, and in Low Bridge Street there is still one extant bridge, measuring about 6' high." - Chronicler Rasill, Mondopedia, Vol II (The Lands of Hyellia)
"...the Ilthian mountains. A craggie masse of rock rysing from the Ilth'n plaines. The waters whych springe from it are ful of godeness and fortyfie those who drynk them [+1 STR]. Alas the vyle beasts resydent in these hills also bathe in these waters, and in the doing gain great strength. Foes mortallie wounded have bene known to flee, onlie to return, revytalised houres later..." - Chronicler Eamusil, Mondopedia, Vol XV (The Lands of Sylmen)
The extra-planar citadel of Ansern is named after its mage-founder. Ansern discovered the means to traverse the planar gulfs and created the citadel as a haven for his disciples in the art of planar-exploration. The disciples of Ansern continue his work and explore the countless worlds opened up to them by the work of the mage. They are cataloguing everything they discover in preparation for the greatest volume ever written: the Mondopedia, a book detailing many of the worlds. But the countlessness of the planes means that their book will never be finished.
I know basilisks are immune to the gaze of other basilisks, but imagine if they weren't. Like the panda they would become ecologically unviable and endangered...
There are two large stones on the thinly wooded hillside above Tiringan. It is said that two basilisks surprised each other many years ago and fell in love at first sight. They also turned to stone at first sight. A local legend of star-crossed lizards: very moving.
The PCs are walking along the road, when suddenly a bunch of bandits attacks. The player's dismiss it has just a random encounter, when they find an ornate ring on the leader, obviously out of place with the seemingly poor bandits, who could only afford cheap leather and weapons. This ring has a symbol on it, which, if researched, sets the PCs on a quest. And from then on, the players don't look at random encounters the same way...