I’ve been going over many of my dusty old notes from years past. Within I found notes on a game I played nearly two decades ago. Contained therein were several simple notes on a battle scenario. It was small, only four PCs and five opponents. At the top of the page was written "Battle of the Black Pass in Crystal Spire Mountains".
This particular battle has, over the years, has become a (severely embellished) legend in my campaigns. Stories are told in many an inn or tavern of "The Great Battle of Crystal Spire". Variations include armies of hundreds fighting for land rights, opposing religious orders battling over a holy relic, orcs and men fighting for access to a buried city and many others.
I am sure some of you, sitting around the table with the gamers you’ve played with for years, loose yourselves reminiscing about past adventures. As with all great adventures, the details become more and more outlandish and unbelievable as time goes by and the telling is done more and more. But where is the grain of truth?
Nearly all of us have been told since childhood different fables and lore, intended to teach us life lessons. Stories like "Daedalus and Icarus" and "Seven Wise Masters". One has to wonder here as well…
Every neighborhood has that one house where no one goes. Either its haunted, an old witch lives there or a mad killer moved in when he was released from prison. Not only do we avoid the house, but we spread this story to others believing it to be true. "Where did these stories come from?"
This scroll is set to answer some of these questions in our campaigns and adventures.
All the stories here should have three simple elements:
1. The fable or myth
2. The truth hidden within it
3. A simple plot hook that could lead players to "the grain of truth".
These can be simple "red-herring" type stories, leading to a completely mundane and logical conclusion, or it can lead to a much more sinister explanation and grand adventure!
A simple challenge, but a challenge nonetheless.
(This is designed to add flavor to games, so be as original as possible)
Simple format is best here…
Additional Ideas (2)
“Ye be stayin’ away from tha’ caves now, ye wee scamps! Don’ wanna be haulin’ yer bones te the pits, an’ consolin’ yer poor dear mums. Ye remember what I told ye ‘bout the cave of Darthil? An’ what one it tis? Thought not. Sit down, ye need remindin’…”
Darthil was a farmer near here many years ago. He was an honest man, worked hard every day. Till he started dabbling in forbidden arts, that is.
His land, although good for planting, didn’t seem to grow much of anything in large amounts. His crops grew in patches; here and there over all of his acres save for the two on the south of the property. Not for lack of trying by any means, things just grew strange. He had priests and sages come to see him, and even petitioned the local Lord for help! One winter night a man came to call, dressed in dark robes and carrying a long crooked staff. No one ever saw him outside of Darthil’s house, just the shadows of the two of them talking through the covered window. Darthil had been seen on an occasion heading home late at night from the direction of the pits carrying large sacks. The stranger stayed till just after spring planting.
That year Darthil had crops growing on his entire property! Every foot was covered in green plants and crawling vines! There isn’t a soul in town that believes that the dark-robed man wasn’t a wizard of some kind, but that’s another matter entirely…
For seven years Darthil grew richer from the crops, every year the plants grew higher and larger. He was rarely seen in town, but he kept us all well fed with his spending and charity. He’s the one who started the harvest festival we celebrate today…
So seven years passed, and all seemed well in our little town.
Come the next spring there was an omen of ill fortune. Darthil’s lands were bare!
The ground was completely barren, not even a slight sprig was growing. Darthil’s house was empty, save for a letter stuck in the door.
“The Gods once smiled on me, but now I am doomed! I hope the mistakes I have made you will not, for pain and suffering will follow you to your end, as they will me.”
Now soon after the planting season something strange began to happen. Children began to disappear, every one of them by the caves. We found a few of them, or what was left at least. Gnawed bones and torn clothes were all that was ever left, piled up at the mouth of a cave. People started hearing moans coming from the caves at night, and strange lights too. One man, poor old Jalmans, saw a dark cloaked man with a twisted staff come out of the cave on a full mooned night, dragging something behind him! In the morning we found more bones…and with them a book about planting and growing. It belonged to Darthil, his name was in the cover! Now we knew evil magics when we saw them. The wizard must have made a deal with Darthil; His lands would grow for seven years, but in trade his soul would be given to the wizard! And we all know what wizards do to people! He still lives up there, Darthil does, the wizard gave him a long life. He also gave him a hunger most foul! Now he must eat man-flesh to live…children being his favorite.
Darthil’s lands, though appearing good for planting, were in fact not. The dark cloaked man was indeed a wizard and an alchemist too. He sent Darthil nightly to “the pits”, an ancient burial place the locals still use, to get dirt to mix with his own soil. The rich dirt from the pits gave the needed nutrients to grow in his fields.
Darthil being a good and honest man hated doing this. It slowly gnawed at him, bringing nightmares and eventually insanity. He left town due to his own grief and remorse. The wizard was just traveling through the area and needed a place to stay and rest. Darthil offered him lodging and food for the whole winter if he could share a bit of wisdom and help him grow crops on his land. Just after spring planting he continued his journey and never returned to the town.
As for the howling and strange lights, these are the result of overactive imaginations and drunken nights walking home. The sighting of the wizard is still unconfirmed, as the man seeing him was a known drunkard and teller of tales.
The bones at the cave entrance are true. They are indeed the bones of children along with some other childlike race (kobolds, Halflings or a subterranean race’s children fit well here). The cave is home to a family of large grizzly bears, and they are not fond of intruders. The “cave” is part of a natural tunnel system through the hills and the bears prefer to catch salmon in the river on the other side. Because they spend more time in other parts of the hills, tracks would go unnoticed for the most part. This could account for the howling sounds, when the wind blows through the caves or the cubs are playing.
1. The PCs pass through the small town and are paid (mostly in supplies and food) to help rid the town of the evil in the cave. Recently there have been several children gone missing, but no one will go to the cave to see if there are fresh bones outside of it.
2. Traveling along through the area, the PCs meet a hysterical woman out searching for her children. They have been missing for two days and the only people she has seen told her “Dathil must have got them” and told her the story. She is now rightfully in hysterics and offer the PCs whatever she has for the return of her children.
3. The PCs find notices hung throughout the area. The local Lord is offering a hefty reward to anyone who will clear the cave out of this evil and return with proof of the deed done. (This will get complicated. The Lord believes the story of Darthil wholeheartedly. Any attempt to sway him to believe otherwise will be ignored, or dealt with as heresy.)
4. The story of the Cave of Darthil has been around for many years. Adventurers have gone to the cave never to be heard from again. There are rumors that many of them had magical items and weapons with them as well as spell books (this is untrue). There is now a treasure waiting for those brave (or foolish) enough to face Darthil and claim it!
Some PCs that I GMed were only short-lived, but a few survived many adventures, and become heroes in their own right. One of them grew from Freddy, the guy for odd jobs you don't want to risk people you like, into Frederick the Brave, or Frederick Dragonslayer, a true hero and leader of men (well, so speak the legends at least). As the player wanted to move on some day, we have had one more very pleasant session: the one where we created the character's death. Spinning a few other legends (blah-blah, defeated armies, blah :) ), it was clear to us the hero could only go out with a bang. And so it was to be...
"He was sixty summers old, when fate called him into adventure the last time. No longer a young man, there was still strength in his arm, but wisdom was written upon his brow. And he had much to be proud of - a city founded in his name, new lands claimed from the wilds, and wealth recovered from the ruins of the old kingdom.
Then the news came, of a dragon unlike any other. It is not unknown for these winged terrors to descend unpon the mortals, eat men as cattle with the same delight, and take a few precious trinkets, after bringing whole cities and lands to ruin. But a new dragon has arrived, and began snatching people away. Villages he burned, and towns he looted, eating his full, but always he took some people with him, living.
So dark and strange was this news, that Frederick immediately set upon the road, though his family and friends begged him otherwise. But he decided to organize a host, that would oppose the dragon, and slay him if possible, and perhaps learn the fate of the people taken. The last of his intentions has certainly come true. A small village he rested upon his route, was ambushed by the very dragon. He resisted as he could, but was overpowered, and taken.
Such a great outrage has this caused, that a veritable army has quickly gathered in the lands, to slay the beast, and free any survivors. And they tracked it to a mountain, that shook and trembled of something terrible happening in it. But this soon subsided, as a half of it collapsed.
When the rubble cleared, a few survivors were found, people snatched away by the dragon, confused, wounded, and poisoned by the stench that spread from the mountain. The last of them, close to death, born witness to the terrible events:
Two dragons there were, that have bandied together, for them looting and killing was not enough. Instead would they be worshipped as gods, and to this end have they gathered the people. They put them to heavy work, and kept under their claws, making them pray to these new 'gods'. Those who would disobey were punished, most of them eaten. But Frederik the Brave, old and wounded now, would not yield to threats or displays of power, and amused the dragons with his honorable behavior, who kept him as a pet until they get hungry again.
A single dragon is a terrible beast, who the greatest heroes rarely had the luck slaying. But two dragons together... heroes or entire armies could not defeat them, least of all an old man. But Frederick had still his wits around him. And so he talked to the monstrous pair, carefully complimenting them, voicing doubts and raising questions, which the two could not answer. For there is one weakness dragons have in their impenetrable armour of scales: greed!
And so he has provoked a great fight among the two colosses, who battled fiercely for their loot, and destroyed much of their own cave. Finally, both wearied, the mountain weakened, Frederick has crept to the massive column, that last held the lair's ceiling intact... and he pushed it, with all his might, and collapsed the roof on all them.
That was the end of the hero, though few ever achieved such a victory."
In a few of the early adventures of the hero, which are not known anymore, he helped a dragon, who promised him help later.
Facing the only evil dragon of the story, he called upon his friend's help, and the two battled as is recorded. Sadly, the ally perished, the stronger one merely wounded, Frederick sacrificed himself, and the rest is history.
Evidence may be found on his body, where is still a carefully preserved dragon's scale (or even a diary); and hints could be deduced from older records.
1. This story was the final ackonowledgment for dragonkind, that humans are not to be allied with. Not only have two of them died, but their role has been misrepresented, both marked as evil, and their clumsy killer celebrated as a hero.
Should anyone ever seek a dragon's help, he would need to know the truth before even attempting to parley, as dragons are very sensitive about the whole affair.
2. As dragonbone is a valued resource with many uses, finding the location would prove priceless. Pity the original finders have kept the place a secret.
3. And don't forget the hero's legendary sword, that is still hidden somewhere, buried under tons of earth and rock.
In all cases, the truth may come to the light of day. The question is: what to do with it?