Part One: A Beginning at the River's End
"Your names have been heard throughout my kingdom. You have faced many great challenges. But now I ask this of you, and I feel it will be the greatest challenge you will face: search the Craggy Peaks for my explorer, Katrin Borea. I sent her to find a way through the Craggy Peaks. But now she has gone missing. I need you to go look for her. I will outfit you with cold-weather gear for the journey, if you choose to do this. You will also receive (fill in suitable PC reward here)." King Reicard said to the group before him.
Riversend is a kingdom whose most prominent feature (for the purpose of this plot) is the mountains that form its western border: the Craggy Peaks. These mountains are what the PCs are about to be sent into. They are cold, inhospitable, and should be considered very dangerous. The other major feature that the PCs will encounter in Riversend is the city of Redbanks, which is the capitol of Riversend.
If the PCs choose to accept King Reicard's offer, then he will allow them to stayin guest rooms at the palace. He will tell them that cold weather gear will be tailored and made for them, and that in the week it will take to do that, they are free to do as they wish. During this week, the PCs should probably remain in Redbanks or in the outlying areas.
There are many sources of information in Redbanks that might provide information the PCs could use.
The Nobles know mainly court gossip, and if the PCs aren't too rude, will be happy to discuss Katrin Borea and all the scandalous rumors associated with her. The noblewomen will be happy to tell the PCs of the suspected- but unconfirmed- love affair the king has with Katrin Borea. Katrin has supposedly been seen by the noblewomen's husband's cousin's friend coming out of the King's chambers late at night. They will seem to think that the fact that Reicard is sending the PCs to the Craggy Peaks confirms this. The noblemen know that Reicard wants more land, and has been expanding his military. They also know that the countries that are next to Riversend are stronger militarily than Riversend.
Reicard's advisor is a shifty fellow named Othavin. Othavin, if asked about Katrin Borea, will hurriedly change the subject after simply saying that Katrin is just another subject. He will walk away if pressed about Katrin. It should be obvious that he knows more about her, and doesn't want to talk about it. But what he will tell the PCs is that Riversend has an old enemy, to the north, named Pila, which is has a very strong military, and could easily crush Riversend, if they had enough food to make the trek. Pila lacks good farmland.
The commoners don't know much about the intrigue of kings and nobles, but they do know some solid information about the Craggy Peaks. They can tell the PCs information about the geography of the mountains, tales of old explorers who went there, and such. Some may have heard some indistinct tale of some treasure in the Craggy Peaks. They, if asked about Pila, will also have heard rumors about a group of soldiers that are very skilled (like the American Navy Seals, or the British SAS), who are intensely dedicated to Pila, and have a tattoo of an eagle holding a javelin in its claws on their shoulder. They are called the Swords of Pila (SOP)
Part Two: Farmlands and Intrigue
The horses the King had gotten for the group trotted past yet another farm. Bored out if his mind, the group's leader gazed across the plains, and scanned the horizon. Craggy Peaks to the west, some random house to the south, road to the east, and the glint of steel in the wheat to the north. All is in order. He was about to start a conversation with their guide when he realized what that glint of steel probably was. His head swiveled back north. And had enough time to duck before the arrow whistled over his head. With a roar, a group of armor-wearing men charged the group, swords held high, and lips yelling battle-cries.
When the cold-weather clothing is finished, the king will let the PCs borrow one of his horses each. He will also hire them a guide, who knows nothing important (besides petty geographical details about the Craggy Peaks- too a lesser degree than the commoners of Redbanks).
The journey will be uneventful (or is it? Feel free to spice up the journey with some random encounters with monsters) until one particular stretch of road (forest or plains? I leave that up to you), past the halfway point of the trip . This is where a group of brigands attack the party.
There are about 15 bandits in total that attack. Ten have swords and light armor. Five have bows, daggers, and no armor. The bandits should be a moderate-to-light difficulty for the PCs- kill-able but the PCs won't come out without a scratch. A 16th bandit can be seen if the PCs look around carefully- this bandit is to spread the word of this groups defeat. On their shoulders is an eagle with a javelin in its claws. If the PCs found out about the SOP (Swords of Pila) from the commoners of Redbanks, then they will not know what the symbol means. Any "bandits" captured will have to be tortured to reveal information. It should be difficult to capture them. They are willing to commit suicide rather than be captured.
The "bandits" know that they are SOP. They also know that they are simply a blocking force, meant to keep any forces that Reicard sent away, or at least delayed. They also know that another group of SOP were sent to stop Katrin Borea from the mission that Reicard sent them on. They also have heard rumors about some spy that has found some piece of information from Pila. What that information is the "bandits" don't know.
Part Three: An Introduction to Hypothermia
The forlorn group trudged through the snows. These mountains were an inhospitable land- they could easily understand why the explorers the commoners had told them about usually were never seen again. Another flurry of snow fell, and landed on the furs that they had wrapped themselves up with. They trudged through the wilderness and entered a grove of trees. The evergreens blocked the snow, but if the group jarred a branch too badly, a large heap would fall on them, which could be worse than the falling snows outside the trees.
A javelin whistled through the air and embedded itself in the tree next to them. The leader of the group cursed under his breath and gazed behind him. Those accursed SOP had gained significant ground. A pair of javelins flew at them, but hit trees. The leader of the group gave the order. Though tired, they would have to make a stand against this third group. At least these trees would mean they wouldn't be able to get them with their javelins.
The next interesting bits happen in the Craggy Peaks. Wild and untamed, the Craggy Peaks lack roads, paths, warmth (well... we'll get to that in a bit), and kindness. Staying warm will be an issue if the PCs somehow lost their cold-weather gear. Their are three main dangers in these mountains: natural, magic, and SOP.
Natural hazards are just that- natural hazards. These include altitude sickness, rockfalls, avalanches, wind (as windspeed doubles, force quadruples), lightning, and the cold of the area. Also included in Natural Hazards is monsters. Yeti, mountain lions (or larger mountain lions), etc, are all fair game to spice things up.
Magical dangers include the high-magic environment. The cause for this is explained further on. Such dangers might include will-o-wisps, hallucinations, and possibility holes (see the possibility of your group getting slaughtered by SOP, or a yeti, etc.).
The third is the SOP. They have a base somewhere in these mountains and will know that the PCs are in the mountains (from either the 16th bandit of Part Two, or patrols). Have small groups scour the mountains and try to kill the PCs. Keep them to a hindrance- light threats. If the PCs are strong enough, have the SOP send messengers back to base that track the PCs progress, leading to bigger strikes and ambushes. If the SOP are interrogated and tortured (which would be a perfect time to have another SOP attack), they will know that they were trying to find Katrin Borea, and take something she had discovered. What that thing is is something only their commanding officers know.
The king will also provide the group with a special device that will allow the party to follow Katrin's trail. It will follow a zig-zaging path through the mountains, usually sticking to easy terrain.
Part Four: Out of the Cold
Following Katrins path through the mountains, the group, massaging life into numbed limbs, laid eyes on a crevice in the rock cliff. The trail led directly into the crevice. The group's smallest person slipped into it. After a moment, the group could hear the person's jubilant cries. The rest squeezed through, and saw a wonderland of warmth.
Inside a large cave, a hidden jungle was growing.
Katrin's trail will lead directly to a crevice that will look like a crack in the rock. The only thing of note about it is that he travels downward for about ten feet in a diagonal slope, and then goes back up (which is how the cold of the outside doesn't get in). This crevice (no difficulty getting through there, unless you want to make it difficult) is a jungle. The cave is large, and has numerous hot springs. The ceiling of the cave is completely closed off, but sunlight still manages to come through, as if the cave's ceiling was a huge window made of opaque rock. Weather, night, and other such events will block out or hamper sunlight.
There are several things in this cave worth noting.
1. Hot Springs: the hot springs themselves are an almost constant source of steam. The heat of the water is around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or 37.5 degrees Celsius. They are the major sources of heat for the cave, and is the reason for the high heat of the cavern. An orange algae-like substance can be seen growing on the surface of the water. This algae should not be anything like anything the PCs have encountered before.
2. The Oak Tree: a giant oak-like tree towers above the rest of the trees. Unique in both its species and its size, the tree is an object constantly view-able and an object of great hopes. It is, in fact, a red herring. The only special things the Tree is is in its appearance. The only possible use (besides firewood) for it is as a landmark.
3. Animal Life: plentiful. There is a large amount of animals in this cave, and each one is a new species similar to one that is common around the outside world (aka, Pila and Riversend, and whatever other countries you have around the Craggy Peaks). The only thing of interest is that their is a lack of predators. There are no predators in this cave. Katrin Borea (who we'll get to in a moment) is the first organism that can and would kill an animal to enter this cave. As such, the animals will, without fear, walk in front of the PCs and continue on with their merry way without fear. Think of the Galápagos Islands.
The Main Action:
Katrin's trail winds through the jungle randomly. It is hard to predict where she goes. The path leads at first to the giant oak tree, but after that point takes a winding tour throughout the cave. The players should encounter several hot springs if they chose to follow the trail.
Katrin's trail leads to a clearing. The ground, instead of being covered in grass, has a thick carpet of moss. A hand will be visible sticking out of it. Upon close examination, a couple of bones, picked clean, can be visible. The hand belongs to the (still-alive) Katrin Borea. The moss has swallowed her. She needs to be pulled out. The moss itself can and will swallow anybody that touches it. Any living organism that touches it will slide into its maw, and go far deeper in then they should. Think of it as stepping into an alternated reality that doesn't let go- something like quicksand that's made of a fungus. The moss won't eat inedible things, so metal shields or flat rocks could be used as stepping stones, or a sword could be used to lift it off the ground and clear a way. The best way would probably be to use a rope and pull her out- the moss will let her, or anybody get stuck, get pulled sideways.
Katrin will be thankful that she got rescued. She will have not much memories of being among the moss, but her memories of the time before that are as acute as ever. What she will tell the PCs, if asked, is that she had been exploring the Craggy Peaks, looking for a pass through them. This is a lie. The real reason for her being in the Craggy Peaks will be put further down. The lie will be hard to detect. She will also tell the PCs that the SOP, for some reason, has been trying to find her and has followed her here, which is truth.
Katrin will push to leave the cave and report back in to the King. She might say that the SOP have made things too dangerous to explore longer.
The SOP will attack and capture Katrin after they leave the cave. A small group of them will make off with Katrin, while the rest (just enough to delay the PCs so that the ones with Katrin can get away) engage with PCs.
Part Five: Saving Explorer Katrin
The SOP camp was a collection of tents dotting the snow like crumbs on white table cloth. A couple of rough watchtowers stood at the fringes of the tents, made of a couple of logs lashed together. Patrols wandered the fringes of the tents, given away by the torches that, by necessity, they carried. A warm glow issued from the watchtowers.
The group began preparations for their assault. The plan? Sneak in, grab Katrin, and sneak out. Fighting would have to be a last resort. They could not possibly kill so many of the SOP.
Katrin's trail (which can still be followed using the device Reicard gave the PCs) leads the PCs to the the SOP's camp. The camp is composed primarily of tents, but the SOP have manged to erect a couple of watchtowers in their time here. Each watchtower is a rough thing, standing at around ten feet. The logs are no more then felled and de-branched trees lashed together with rope. A rope ladder connects the top with the bottom, and it can be rolled up in case of emergencies. Each watchtower is manned around the clock, with four torch-carrying SOP. Also guarding the camp is several patrols wandering the perimeter. Each patrol is composed of a dozen men. Most of the patrols will stay near the camp, but you can have some patrolling farther away.
In addition to this is the groups out in the snows looking for the PCs. They may, when they return to camp, bump into the PCs, or have followed them. These groups, if they haven't been following, should not be much of a threat.
Katrin should be held somewhere near the center of the camp. Sneaking past all the guards should be hard, especially with winter gear and snow. The PCs should be captured at some point within the camp. If they are not (or have some clever plan), have group of SOP capture them afterwards.
The leader of the SOP is a man called Commander Sperrius. He uses spears in combat. He will have a spear that he uses as a walking stick and weapon in his hand that is custom made for him. The bottom of the wooden shaft is bound metal, and can be used like a club. He will also have two javelins on hand.
When the PCs are captured, they will be brought before Commander Sperrius. And Sperrius will explain to them a couple of things that he finds annoying, and what happens when Sperrius is annoyed. He will tell the PCs all about how the effort the SOP had gone to to protect Pila against foreign invaders for years. He will talk about one notable foreign invader- Riversend- which just would not stop trying. He will discuss how Pila, with its lack of good farmland, has found it difficult to feed large-scale armies, and only survives because of its strategic position and extensive military training and technology. He will explain how Pila had, to augment their military, had found a hint of some great power hidden in this section of the Craggy Peaks- and how a spy had ran away with that hint. He will inform the PCs of the identity of that spy- Katrin Borea.
Katrin will then try to put things into perspective. At least, a perspective beneficial to her (and Riversend). She will explain how if Pila had that tecnology, they would eventually try to use it to take more land, and better farmland. And they would try to make a connection to the ocean, for trade purposes. And the logical attack that would fulfill both these objectives would be to take Riversend. Riversend has a river, which stems from the Craggy Peaks. This river improves trade, and makes the Riversend lands so bountiful. Pila may only use the technology for protection at first, but they would grow greedy soon enough.
Sperrius will explain how it doesn't matter what will happen now. What does matter is Sperrius's spear, and how it will cut the PCs into neat and orderly one inch cubes if they don't do what he wants.
What Sperrius wants is information. Most notable among the information he wants is the location of the treasure. The place that Katrin Birea had found and had beaten Sperrius to. In short, he wants the cave that the PCs have found. He will require them to lead him to it. If they refuse, well, he's serious about the cutting them into one inch cubes thing. He will even get out a ruler.
Part Six: A Cave, a Treasure, and a Diary
Returning to the cave was easier than finding it in the first place. After all, getting to it the group had to find through seemingly endless groups of SOP and the occasionally yeti. But now all they had to worry about is running away, and the dozen javelins that would pierce their hides if they choose to do so. The SOP were even taking care of stay monsters. The group's leader looked over at the six men fighting a pack of wolves with poison tails. He did not envy them.
Finally, the group and the SOP arrived at the crevice. Three SOP pushed through, and then a group member, and then two more SOP, and then another group member, until they all were through.
"Well?" said the leader of the group. "What you see is what you get. If there is a treasure in these mountains, then neither us nor Katrin Borea has found it."
When the PCs (Katrin Borea will be taken, too) reach the crevice, Sperrius will do his best to make it so that the PCs cannot escape. He will put a small guard first, then put some PCs through. He will be less worried about them escaping through the crevice then outside.
Anyway, assuming that the PCs are forced into the cave with Sperrius and the SOP, the PCs find themselves in the cave with the SOP.
The SOP will explore the cave with the PCs in tow. When they find nothing, Sperrius will double check a piece of paper. He will also try to get the PCs help in solving it. The paper is an excerpt from a diary. It reads:
June 7, 47 PTE
We have finally manged to leave the Craggy Peaks. Our home, which we lived in for so long, is to our backs now. We headed straight down the mountain and now gaze upon this new land. The flatness of it all reminds me of our home. At least, our old home. We must now settle this new land. Thrinar says that we should head north east. So that is where we will probably head next, though none of use have ever entered this land and know it not.
We can hear some strange noise rhythmically sounding, almost like music, but louder and harder. Something like a ba-bam, ba-bam, ba-bam. We believe its a sign of civilization, perhaps some sort of ritual for their religion (I must not dismiss other culture's religions as barbaric, for we are going to be dependent on them for at least a little while), which is why we are going northwest.
Most of us think that this noise is a good thing. But I am afraid. It sounds too... war-like, I suppose, to be a sign of peace. I guess it could be to scare away spirits or something, but my instinct is telling me to run. And so I will talk of our old home, so that if future generations read my diary, they will know of the power we have left behind.
Our old home is a place of wonder. We lived in warmth and comfort while elsewhere in the mountains frigid winds reigned supreme. Whatever we wanted was within reach. Our farms were plentiful thanks to the power that was stored within the cave. What that power is I will not reveal in my diary. But I will say this: the reason we stayed in the cave in the first place was the heat. We were attracted to the heat like moths to a flame. And from there we experimented with a facet of the biodiversity, and we grew fat with the profits. The greatest thing in our home is the thing that stands out the most.
The power is the orange algae in the hot springs. It can only grow in 100 degree Farenheit (37.5 degrees Celsius) height, and only in water. It is possible to grow some in vats if kept at that temperature constantly, but this is expensive- with finding out how to keep it at that temperature until the algae is ready being the most expensive bit, especially with medieval technology. The algae photosynthesizes, so feeding it will not be a problem. If a country does get the algae, they will probably eventually put it in a greenhouse. It takes about three months for the algae to reach a point for its full properties to be used.
The algae, when put into the a farm's fields like manure, acts like a super-fertilizer. It fights weeds, blocks parasites reduces disease*, and on top of all that, helps growth of the crop.
*some diseases can effect the crop, but to a much lesser degree than before.
Part Seven: Time to Escape- Prison Break!
The leader gave the signal. Instantly the group sprang into action. They swung around and showed the unaware SOP just what they thought of the hospitality they had received with a spectacular rendition of the old "A punch and a kick and the wiener trick."*
"Run!" yelled the leader, and the group raced toward the crevice and potential freedom, with the SOP not on their knees groaning in pain hard on their heels.
*a little girl, maybe 9-10, told this to my brother. It is just... perfect.
The PCs now only have to leave to end the quest. There are two main ways this can be done: the nice way, and the violent way. The nice way is figuring out what exactly is the treasure/power and telling Sperrius it. The violent way is attacking the SOP and running.
To ruin the chances of such a getaway, Sperrius has two SOP on the jungle side of the crevice, and another two on the mountain side. He also has the SOP forces inside the cave with him- enough to challenge the PCs when they aren't bound and weaponless. Sperrius has left the PCs stuff back in his camp. All the PCs have now is their cold-weather clothing and whatever they got past inspection.
The SOP, on the other hand, have standard-issue swords and javelins, as well as a coat of light armor and cold-weather gear. They also have the numbers advantage- maybe double the number of PCs, not counting the guards by the crevice.
All in all, escape by violence should be difficult, but possible. Getting away from the SOP should be a moderate challenge- but the following fight to get out of the cavern should be much more difficult. Sperrius will try to kill the PCs after this point, and will lock-down the cavern as well as patrols within.
Once the PCs are out of the cavern, they are home free. All they have to do is elude the SOP until they manage to reach the base of the Craggy Peaks. From there, they can meet up with Riversend, and return Katrin to King Reicard, and get their reward. They can also sell the secret of the power to Riversend (who will know about the location of the power from Katrin, but not what it is). Pila will continue trying to figure out what the power is, and Riversend will start a clandestine war to try to get a hold of the power. Neither side will make much headway in figuring out what the power is with all the violence.
The PCs will have a difficult time getting back to the cave to get some algae to test their theory and sell it to farmers and nations. Do not make it too easy, naturally.
On a side note, the PCs may choose, instead of simply fleeing the mountain after escaping the cave, to return to the SOP camp to grab their stuff. The camp is on high alert, and will be even harder to sneak into than before.
An Overview of the Action in Bullets
I will do this soon. Right now I just want it out of my "In work" folder.