The Dust of 300,000 Bones
You open the doors to a crypt that has been shut for over a century. The stench of decay is long gone but the air is heavy, musty and weighted with an uneasiness you have never before felt... It is almost as if the mausoleum itself is aware of your intrusion... Or, perhaps, something still yet stirs within...
The Town of Braden Hill
- Town Info: Braden Hill is a small town with a population of about 400. It sits atop a small hill at the foothills of the Anderwall Mountains. It is sparse of much vegetation apart from a few weeds, thistles, and conifer trees. There is very little soil in the area good for farming, thus most of the vegetables grown in the town are of the hardier varieties such as cabbage, carrots, beets, garlic and pumpkins. Most of what is grown is grown within the walls of the town itself in small, home-side gardens. There is a small garrison of about 40 soldiers that man the wooden palisade around the town. The town itself is large enough to hold much more than twice the number of its population and as such, over half of the buildings in the town have fallen into disrepair and are now abandoned with the exception of mice, birds, rats and creeping things.
- The Cemetery: The base of the hill outside the town is littered with an enormous graveyard. There are large mausoleums close to the base of the hill along with crumbling, yet, very ornate tombstones. Going further away from the town the tombstones become less and less ornate and start to look like roughly hewed stone until reaching the furthest areas of the cemetery in which large, uncut rocks and boulders have been dropped into place that are simply adorned with a name and nothing more. A few of the stones don't even have names. Oddly enough, on the extreme outskirts of the graveyard, one can see the occasional tombstone with an ornate likeness (though, not as aged) as the stones near the base of the hill.
- History: Braden Hill was once a large town with a population of nearly 2,000. It was a thriving town and a trade stop for travelers going around the Aderwall Mountains. The people had always been the hardier type as the region demanded, but they grew accustomed to the luxuries that came in trade from beyond their borders. Luxuries such as dried fish, silk, jewelry and fine metal table-ware to name a few. They in return traded mainly in quality furs and leather. But about 118 years ago, Braden Hill was struck with plague. The origin of the plague is uncertain. What is certain is that the plague claimed the lives of about 70% of the town over the course of 6 years. 1407 victims to be exact. The other certainty is that the plague somehow got its origins within the town walls itself as seemingly none of the other nearby towns experienced it. Traders stopped coming and to this day haven't returned in any significant numbers. Those that tried to leave the town sick never made it to their destination thus preventing the spread of the infection. The town is still slowly recovering from this catastrophic set-back. To this day, the historic events of this plague still torment this town as in most cases anyone who becomes severely ill within the town is cast out beyond the walls (infants and elderly included).
- The Tomb of Braden Hill: There is one mausoleum that stands out among the others due to its sheer size and ornateness. It was once used as the burial place for the lords of Braden Hill and their families. Its construction was complete about 150 years before the plague. But during the plague, it took on a new purpose. As the townsfolk were dying rapidly, tombs were needed at a faster and faster rate (this explains the layout of the cemetery). One individual by the name of Wayland Blackmoor (the high priest at the time) suggested using the great tomb as a mass grave. The town agreed and during the third year of the plague they began making modifications to the crypt. Rather than adding more passages and corridors, Wayland suggested digging a massive pit in the entry chamber and then putting a wooden floor over it with 5 rectangular holes in the floor with which 5 bottomless coffins would be placed over. They still had their formal burial ceremonies after its completion. The difference, however, would be that the body dropped into one of the caskets would then fall down into the open pit below. It was effectively a 'tasteful' mass grave. Wayland Blackmoor, apparently gravely distraught after the witness of so many deaths, left the town along with others shortly after the plague ended.
Your players could stumble upon this town anyway you want. They could be near the mountains and see a lighted town on a hilltop that looks inviting enough as having a warm place to sleep or replenish supplies. Upon entering the area they will notice the strange, eerie cemetery and see that most of the town is in ruins and uninhabited.
- Should they enter the town, speaking with any of the locals they will discover travelers are rare. They may even witness the guards taking a sick child out of the city.
- If wandering past the cemetery, they could find a few sick people (merely simple fevers) huddled together in an area within the graveyard around a fire trying to keep warm. These could be children or elderly or a combination of both. With perhaps one of the very young or very old already deceased and the remaining outcasts are having a burial ceremony.
- Inside the town, a local citizen or guard brings up ghost sightings around the walls at night. Pessimists will dismiss this as 'plague-ridden' outcasts trying to get back in. Others will say it is the dead rising from the graves.
- A priest and his entourage that went to make a formal cleansing to rid the area of restless spirits never returned and the town wants someone to investigate.
All of these theories and plot hooks should ultimately point to the Tomb of Braden Hill being the area where most of the sightings have been seen. Or if the players are investigating the cemetery, make special note of the great tomb and how there is something amiss with its door: IE: an unexplained dark rune on the outside which glows in moonlight or the appearance of recent foot-traffic in and out.
What's Really Going On
The high priest, Wayland Blackmoor, began to dabble in dark magic and alchemy shortly before the outbreak of the plague. He himself is responsible for engineering the plague that nearly destroyed the entire town. He was secretly studying alchemy and necromancy within the Tomb of Braden Hill. Some of the other priests and caretakers had bunks (but not permanent residence) within the tomb as they would occasionally spend the night there after long ceremonial rights or, as in caretakers, during their shifts. One caretaker, Phillip Trentus (deceased now) kept a journal in his now abandoned house in town. If searched, his journal will have his daily records including a few things he didn't particularly care for doing such as going down into the mass grave via ladder and retrieving a body to bring to the grand altar towards the rear of the catacomb for Wayland so he could perform a personal 'proper' ceremony for the body. He also will make mention in his journal how at first he also had to take the body back to the mass grave after the ceremony, but later, Wayland more often than not would say he wanted to personally take the body back himself. But Phillip never actually witnessed Wayland doing so.
Wayland Blackmoor now resides within the Tomb of Braden Hill. For nearly a century he has been perfecting the arts of necromancy and secretly raising many undead servants. Though he himself is not yet a lich, his expertise in alchemy has prolonged his life in unnatural ways. He is decrepid, thin and feeble to the naked eye. But make no mistake, Wayland Blackmoor is now a powerful sorcerer and commands a great knowledge of dark magic. He also has many powerful potions and a host of undead servants at his bidding.
Other Possible Quests
- End the Terror: The current high priest of the town, Phinneas the Black, could be portrayed as a mad-man, refusing to listen to reason and ordering the banishment of anyone who comes down with a mere sniffle. His reasoning will point to an ancient ledger written by a previous high priest by the name of Wayland Blackmoor who describes the horrors of the plague and the immediate banishment of anyone that seems ill, lest another plague overtake the town.
- Help My Child: A new mother begs the adventurers to obtain a cure for her sick child. She obviously seems terrified and wants this done as soon as possible, before the guards, or worse, the priests find out and cast her child out beyond the walls.
The plague: Perhaps it wasn't just an accident. Perhaps Blackmoor moved to this town because it was near a rumored magical artifact that he discovered through his research. He spent years as the High Priest to give him easy access to bodies to continue his necromantic studies while giving him access to the town and excuses to travel broadly...to visit hovels but really in search of the magic. Then....he found it. Perhaps a dungeon, perhaps protected hidden fortress, whatever, but it takes violence to retrieve it.
So begins the plague. A means to supply him an undead army to retrieve the artifact. He didn't want to deplete the town but the artifact was well protected. His arts have improved so the outcasts are now used as living sacrifices and then undead as he continues to try and gain power and stays in order to reach his goal. He is soooo close now!
Create Undead in D&D requires one 150 gp black onyx stone for each corpse, among other things. Other RPG systems also typically require spell components. Perhaps the players are lured into Braden Hill after fulilling a request to obtain black onyx stones for a buyer, who turns out to be connected to the necromantic goings-on in the tomb.
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? Responses (4)-4
Fun idea for a location and some baddies!
I feel like if I asked 5 Why's you could get much deeper into some different reasons for all this happening. I think there is more to dig out of this great idea. We are hitting wave tops and rumors with this post but I still don't think we really know what is going on in this town. It is still a mystery and gives a nice background for others to explore what they think might be happening.
So I added one of my ideas.
I really dig the intro lines!
My primary sentiment is that it is a good setup. Plot is more or less exactly what one would expect. I like the detail of Phillip Trentus' journal as a means for the players getting more insight into what is going on.
> Rather than adding more passages and corridors, Wayland suggested digging a massive pit in the entry chamber and then putting a wooden floor over it with 5 rectangular holes in the floor with which 5 bottomless coffins would be placed over.
After reading this I image a big pit filled with bodies, over which is a floor. If you walk into the tomb you see a wooden floor and five coffins. Said coffins are like bags of holding in that they are bottomless?
**edit** After reading the next post I see the caskets are missing their bottoms, and are thus holes into the bottomless pit. Gotcha :)
Excellent plot - lots of stuff to work with here!