Children had started disappearing from the frigid Borean city of Tollengard since the season’s first snowfall. By the turn of the new year, a total of 6 had gone missing. Each had vanished, seemingly without a trace.
In the beginning, this would simply occur overnight, with cribs being found empty in the light of the morning. However, as the winter wore on, the final pair were apparently snatched when their distraught mothers had simply turned their backs.
No direct ties could be found between the victims’ families and no apparent clues were left behind at the scenes of any of the abductions. There were no tracks nor signs of forced entry. The stricken families seemed to come from all walks of life.
The effect on the morale of the city was notable. Citizens of Tollengard were typically a stoic lot, who suffered through the long winters without complaint. However, the passions rose in even these long-suffering folk as they demanded answers as to what had happened to their children.
The lord mayor, Pavel Ivanov, was feeling the heat. People demanded answers; demanded that he act. Even with doubling the city watch, it was feared that citizens would riot or break down into mobs seeking vigilante justice.
Many speculated that a wood witch had taken up residence on the outskirts of the town and was luring the children away. Others claimed that some ghostly wolf would come and snap the children up in its terrible maw. The theories were numerous, and some made little sense. People simply wanted their children back; they wanted justice.
This was the state of things in Tollengard on one sunny winter morning, when things changed forever. Parishioners arrived at the Abbey of Ladina as they did daily. They came to beseech the goddess, patron of the city, for help in returning their children. On this day though, something was not right.
Normally the three monks who tended the church were up an around, welcoming citizens as they came to pray. However, no torches were lit, and no incense burned in the braziers. It was not like the pious brothers to shirk their duties. Clearly something was wrong.
Concerned citizens made their way downstairs to the rectory, to see if perhaps a member of the order had fallen ill. Accessing the monks’ living quarters via the northern staircase, they were greeted by a queer sight.
The foyer at the foot of the stairs was in a state of disarray. In numbers of spots the stone floor was cracked and broken, exposing the earth underneath. It looked as if some great plow had churned through the masonry itself, yet what could have caused this?
The floor of the mess hall to the east was flooded with murky water. This was found later to also be the case with the storeroom further to the south.
There was no sign of the brothers in the sleeping quarters. In fact, all three of their beds were still made. It appeared to the crowd investigating the rectory that all of their modest belongings were also in place.
Coming at last to the sanctuary in the westernmost room of the rectory, the citizens beheld a sight that will vex Tollengard for the rest of its days. The statue there of Ladina appeared to have been desecrated. Some type of viscous green liquid had been splattered about it.
Resting at the foot of the stature, a large stone sarcophagus lay partially open. All assembled knew that this was out of place here. The vessel was empty and obviously ancient, though none of the stone crafters in the city were able recognize its point of origin. On its lid was carved a macabre likeness of a human skeleton, lying under a thin shift.
As bizarre as all of these sights were, they paled in comparison to the final discovery of that chilly morning. For there, snuggled together on the floor of the abandoned rectory of Tollengard, were found the six missing children. All were in good health and appeared unmolested. Being of various ages, all too young to speak, there was no hope of receiving any answers from the babes.
Grateful parents recovered their sons and daughters. In the following days, townsfolk turned both the abbey and the rectory upside down, looking for something to explain the mysterious occurrences. Nothing else of note was ever found, and the missing monks of the Abbey of Ladina were never seen or heard from again.
Thank you so much for taking the time to stop and read this. I hope you find some spark here that you might find useful for a future game. Please drop me a note below if you have any thoughts or suggestions. Have a great week!
My basic D&D group has been continuing their adventures in my re-imagining of The Isle of Dread. Having spent their initial couple of sessions striking out from the village of Taranoa, the party opted to leave the relative safety of the peninsula and explore the island.
Following a successful hunt with the tribe’s Hawk Clan, party members heard legends of a great treasure hidden in one of the volcanic mountains to the west. The story claimed that an ancient race had lived on the mountain and worshipped a one-eyed god in a cavern temple. Aramjapur, as the deity was called, was said to be all-knowing. His followers prayed to a giant statue of the cyclops featuring an eye cut from an emerald that was the size of a human head.
Traveling cautiously, it took the party 4 days to make their way to the twin volcanos to the west. While they managed to avoid combat, the trip was not without incident.
Just before dusk on the first day, the party spied an allosaurus in the swampland to the north. This caused them to veer to the west and hug the coast.
In the afternoon of the 2nd day, the party stumbled across their first “pylon”. In my previous post I mentioned that I planned to borrow liberally from the old Land of the Lost television series for this adventure. Both this metallic obelisk-shaped booth and the strange tracks (Sleestak) that were found in the area were directly inspired by the show.
On the 3rd day, the party entered the broken lands surrounding the volcanos. A small river meandered between the twin mountains and the party took advantage to replenish their water supply. It took the better part of a day but the party found signs along the northern slope that matched descriptions provided to the by members of the Taranoa Hawk Clan.
Crossing the shallow waterway, the party confirmed that they were on the right track when they identified the crude handholds carved into the rock, leading up the side of the mountain. While hair-raising at times, this allowed even the party’s magic-user to ascend with relative ease.
Natural shelves in the rock were present along the way up, allowing for convenient resting areas during the climb. On the first of these the party discovered the desiccated corpse of what appeared to be a previous adventurer. This was of no great surprise, as the Taranoa had mentioned meeting other outsiders before. However, this did worry the party that perhaps the Eye of Aramjapur had already been claimed by others.
Outfitted in old chainmail, the corpse consisted of not much more than a skeleton. Nothing of value was found on the poor soul, though the party did uncover a sealed scroll case and a discarded short sword. Within the scroll case was a piece of parchment bearing instructions to “beware the children of Aramjapur.”
After encountering 3 resting shelves and covering about a 1000’ climb, the party arrived at a much larger shelf with some vegetation and a fairly obvious cave entrance (map location #1).
Occurring roughly three quarters of the way up the side of the mountain, this is a fairly large outcropping. A few trees seem to thrive up here and a pair of billitri bushes grow alongside a cave opening. Large cobwebs adorn the trees.
#2 Cave Entrance
Characters entering the caves here will notice that the air is quite warm from volcanic activity. One passage leads to the northwest, while another leads more due north. To the east, another passage leads back outdoors to a smaller mountain shelf, also covered with large cobwebs.
#3 Spider Lair
A good deal of debris is piled up in this room. It also serves as the lair for 3 giant spiders who have taken up residence along the side of the mountain. The spiders will attack as soon as the party enters the cave. Digging through the debris will yield a silver dagger and an old coin purse containing 50 gp.
The large cavern is the old temple to Aramjapur. The room is dimly lit from the lava pool, as well as a bit of sunlight coming in from both of the entrances to the east. Along the northern wall a 30’ tall bust of Aramjapur is ringed by the lava pool. True to the legend, the statue of the cyclops is adorned with a giant emerald eye. In the center of the room, a crude altar sits upon a raised pedestal. The room is otherwise empty, aside from rocks of various sizes and a number of patches of fungus growing about the room.
The lava pool radiates 5’ – 10’ out from the statue, depending on the location. Unless the party has the ability to fly, it appears that they will need to devise some way to safely cross the lava, if they wish to gain the emerald as a prize.
The party could gather sufficient debris from location #3 to build a makeshift ramp across the lava. However, this option would only be sturdy enough to support a character weighting 100 lbs. or less. The only other readily available option would be to cut down a tree outside of area #1 or #5. Assuming the party has a proper axe and goes this route, it will take them approximately 10 minutes to cut down a sufficient tree.
Whichever course of action the party chooses, it will be important to keep track of time. Any party members with applicable skills (or even any who specifically mention that they are looking) will notice numbers of dusty footprints coming and going from this central cavern. Roughly 15 minutes after the party first enters the cave (or earlier if they make a great deal of noise) the “Children of Aramjapur” will start coming to investigate (see location #6).
If a party member is able to access the statue, the Eye of Aramjapur may be pried loose in one round.
This tunnel leads out to another mountain shelf similar to the one to the south that the party entered from. The only thing of note out here are 3 stikricki bushes along the side of the cliff.
3 of the “Children of Aramjapur” lounge in the shade outside of these 3 cavern entrances. These protohumans descended from those who lived on the twin volcanoes for centuries. Standing at roughly 7′ tall, these brutes have a heavy brow and somewhat resemble a cross between a man and an ape. Lacking any verbal language, they will defend their home and the cave system to their death. For my game, I used a reskinned troglodyte stat block (minus the special abilities) but you do what works for you.
Once they detect the party, they will attack immediately and make a great deal of noise. Their grunts and shrieks will soon draw others, so the party will have to act quickly. The “children” will focus their attacks on any party member visibly attempting to acquire the Eye of Aramjapur or approach the statue.
How things play out from here is largely up to you. This encounter takes the place of the “Caves of the Rock Baboons” from the original adventure, which seemed rather bland. I created the Emerald Eye of Aramjapur to give things a bit more depth.
There were 15 rock baboons listed in the original adventure and they have similar stats to the troglodytes that I modeled my children of Aramjapur after. Therefore, I surmised that there could be a settlement of roughly 15 of them inhabiting this part of the mountain.
For my game I turned it into a bit of a moral conundrum for my players. The Children of Aramjapur are not evil beings but they will keep coming and defending their home. 4 rounds after the initial 3 attacked and were dispatched, I sent in another 3. The waves of attackers made it increasingly difficult for the party to cross the lava and secure the emerald. At that point one of my players started to question whether this was a noble cause, while another worried that a whole village of the brutes might appear in the next wave. Ultimately my party ended up beating a hasty retreat back down the side of the mountain, leaving the Eye of Aramjapur safely behind.
That is all for now. Thank you for stopping by. Please take a minute to say hello in the comments below. Have a great week!
Gather round the fire, you children of the jungle. Let it be known by you that the wilds of our homeland can be harsh indeed. Even our mighty heroes and wise elders are, at times, at the mercy of the land. You must learn that, in times of need, the jungle itself can provide for its people. Beware, however, for just as an incautious man may find himself in the belly of the tiger, so too can malady befall one who is careless with the bounty of the wilds.
-Bhagiro Hatti, Gowandian Scholar
I mentioned in a previous post that one of my groups will be revisiting The Isle of Dread.I spent some time over the holidays prepping for our January sessions and stumbled across some old articles that I had written for the Polyhedron Newsine. I wrote Weeds of Wonder for issue #108 in 1995, as part of the RPGA’s Living Jungle campaign. Since I am going to be dealing with a jungle setting, I decided to reprint it here.
Weeds of Wonder
Below is a partial list of some of the more useful plants to be found within the jungles of Malatra. There are, of course, many others awaiting discovery; some of these will have benign properties, while others will be harmful or even toxic.
Most intelligent inhabitants of Malatra should be aware that plants like these exist. Heroes with herbalism, survival, or other appropriate skills should be allowed a proficiency check to identify or locate these plants.
Part used: Whole Bush
Description: Found only in dry areas of the Rayanna Savannah, this gnarled, woody Bush appears dead even when flourishing. Actually, it is nothing more than a tangled ball of razor-sharp thorns. The Bush seems to serve no other purpose than to shelter small animals which often seek its cover on the otherwise open savannah.
Uses: After carefully harvesting the Bush and allowing it to dry in the sun (this normally takes two to five days, assuming that it is not the rainy season), the bush may be broken into many pieces. These pieces may then be efficiently used as caltrops. Any person with bare feet moving through an area containing stikricki bushes suffers one hit point of damage. In addition, he will have to make a successful save against paralyzation in order to keep moving through the caltrops. Two mature stikricki bushes will bear enough thorns to cover effectively a 10-foot square area.
Part Used: Root
Description: This distinctive plant has stems that vary in length from two to four feet. Broad leaves surround the plant, and its flowers are large and white with Violet centers. The root is sandy brown and very bitter to the taste. The tiki is found only in humid regions which receive a fair amount of sunlight.
Uses: For as far back as they can remember, the inhabitants of Malatra have been using the root of the tiki plant. Anyone versed in the knowledge of this plant can boil the roots in water to create a thick, pungent brew which will slow poison as does the second level priest spell slow poison. These benefits, however, are granted only if the person drinking the brew also gets complete bed rest.
Part Used: Juice from stem
Description: This is a fairly large plant, growing to nearly six feet in height. The leaves range in color from light green to yellow and are long and thin. The flowers are delicate and yellow, and the gualla produces clusters of golden berries. There is a common legend among various tribes that the Ancients brought gualla with them when they came to Malatra.
Uses: Within the stem of the gualla is a thick chartreuse liquid, the juice has a luminescent property which causes it to glow in the dark period objects or persons covered in gualla juice will glow with a faint green light which will be visible from up to 60 yards away in the dark period the juice will lose its luminescence approximately 12 hours after being exposed to the air, although it can be stored in an airtight container for months.
Part Used: Crushed leaves
Description: Magasorium is a short, stocky plant with thick, flat leaves. It is entirely green, except for black ribbing along its leaves. Magasorium grows abundantly throughout the Malatran jungle. However, since it grows close to the ground, often it can be hard to find.
Uses: Magasorium is an excellent repellent against the many insects of the jungle. For personal use, the leaves are crushed, and the juice is rubbed on the skin. This application will remain effective for approximately 4 hours (less if the recipient is engaged in strenuous activity). Some tribes also burn the plants in order to keep insects away from their villages.
Part Used: Crushed leaves
Description: Billitri is a fragrant, delicate looking plant with numerous slender leaves. It is commonly found on hills and on the sides of mountains. The stem is about 6 inches long and usually produces 3 flowers, which are lavender with golden centers in color.
Uses: The juice from the leaves of the billitri is so fragrant that its scent will remain for days with a person who has applied it to his skin. Many hunters of Malatra use crushed billitri leaves to mask their scent while stalking their prey. The fragrance is strong enough to mask their natural scent, rendering them difficult to detect by creatures that rely on their senses of smell. Some crafty heroes, when being chased by keen nosed predators have been known to lead the creatures through a patch of billitri. Even in its natural state, billitri’s fragrance is strong enough to deaden temporarily the sense of smell of a creature that gets too close to the plants. Although this is not a guaranteed method of throwing off prey, it has worked often enough to make it worth an attempt.
Part Used: Berries
Description: This is a short Bush with slender branches. It grows in dry soil, near the edges of the Rayanna Savannah. Its stems are covered with tiny, cactus-like thorns. The flowers are delicate and white with four petals. Those harvesting the berries of the biseechee bush must do so cautiously, for cobras often make their homes in the areas where these bushes are found.
Uses: The berries of the biseechee bush have incredible healing properties. Many of the Nubari believe these bushes to be gifts from the Ancients. Eating the berries will heal 1hp per berry, to a maximum of four hp over a 24-hour period. Unfortunately, these berries lose their special healing properties within a day, so heroes must seek them out whenever they need them.
Part Used: Berries
Description: This short bush looks very similar to the biseechee bush and the one is often mistaken for the other. A close inspection will show that manriki berries are a deeper shade of red and its flowers have only three petals. As with the biseechee, the manriki can be found on the outskirts of the savannah.
Uses: The berries of the manriki bush are extremely toxic to most humanoids. Though they taste sweet and pleasant at first, they quickly cause intense headaches, nausea, and dizziness. Anyone eating them will need to save against poison at +2. If the save fails, the victim will start to see spots shortly after ingestion. Within an hour, the victim will become blind. Any method of slowing or neutralizing poison will affect the onset of this blindness. The blindness will wear off on its own in 3-10 rounds. Blinded characters suffer a – 4 penalty to their attack rolls, and their opponents gain a + 4 to their attack rolls against them, for the duration of the blindness.
Part Used: Vines
Description: The manshooki is a towering tree found in the deepest recesses of the jungle. It closely resembles a massive willow tree, with hundreds of vines dangling down to the jungle floor. The limbs of the manshooki tree are more than strong enough to support humans. Many of the Malatran tribes build storage platforms on these trees high enough off the jungle floor to protect their provisions from prowling jungle animals.
Uses: The vines of full grown manshooki trees are extremely strong and vary in length from 20 to 130 feet. As they are even stronger than hemp, more limber, and narrower in diameter, many inhabitants of Malatra prefer them to ropes woven from hemp. Ultimately, the vines are not as durable, becoming dried out within 3-4 days after being removed from the tree, after which time they could break at any time.
The RPGA’s Living Jungle campaign was written for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition and was located within the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. Because of this, some of the proper names are specific to Toril. If you are using another campaign setting, such as Mystara or a homebrew, it should be easy enough to make the necessary changes.
While these were originally written for AD&D 2e, I think everything is tame enough that it should work with pretty much any old school or current system with minor tweaks. For instance, I do not believe slow poison existed in B/X or BECMI but I that would be easy to work around.
This week I am focusing on an individual encounter. Our basic D&D group was nearing the end of their second arc of adventures, and I put The Hall of Tentacles together to give them a challenging boss fight.
My villain was initially a lone spellcaster. This presented me with a challenge in terms of how to set up the fight and make it entertaining for my players. I wanted to avoid an anti-climactic fight, where the 5 party members simply rushed the antagonist and beat her into submission. On the other hand, if I built her strong enough to take a beating, my fear was that she would be too deadly.
I settled on using a bit of DM fiat and making up some special mechanics & creatures specifically for this fight. While my players are fairly new to the hobby, I wanted to keep them on their toes. Rather than pulling directly from the Rules Cyclopediaor Creature Catalog, I created some things of my own. If you are a stickler for RAW, this type of thing might not be for you. That said, my group was really engaged for the duration of the fight and at times you could cut the tension with a knife.
As always, I will keep this system agnostic and refrain from any specific stats. Instead, I’ll simply lay out what worked from me. Hopefully it will be useful to spark some ideas for your own games. From there it should be an easy matter of dialing things up or down to suit your needs.
A Kosantian witch named D’Sara Shahari has been the driving force behind a number of the party’s early adventures. Hoping to impress her patron, she has been on a streak of dastardly deeds. D’Sara has recently taken up residence in Rohrbach Castle, on the outskirts of the small village of Brindle.
Baron August Rohrbach has always dabbled in the dark arts. Never able to obtain any real power, he leapt at the chance to offer shelter to the witch and hopefully learn her ways. Unfortunately for the nobleman, he learned too late that D’Sara had no desire to take on a pupil but rather was interested in something sinister below the castle.
Over the past few weeks, the witch has effectively taken control of Rohrbach Castle. Most of the staff have run off and the baron has been reduced to being her mindless thrall. Gaining access to the laboratory in the catacombs under the keep, she summoned a tentacled horror from the murky waters below. Having kidnapped two young children from the nearby village, she plans to sacrifice the youths in a gesture to honor her patron.
The party tracked D’Sara to Brindle, where they learned of the missing children and gathered enough intel to believe that the witch was residing within the castle walls. After surveilling the structure, the party discovered a cave entrance along the riverbank.
Wading through ankle-deep water and catching occasional glances of something slithering on the periphery, the party made their way through the caverns below the castle. Finally coming to higher ground, they saw light coming from the passageway to the north. This ultimately lead them to location #13, the entrance to the laboratory cavern.
The Laboratory Cavern
This large room is well lit with torches around its circumference. Tables with various jars, bottles, and equipment will make it immediately clear to the party that this is some type of laboratory.
Already aware of the party’s presence, D’Sara will be waiting for them at the top of the stairs (location #14). Baron Rohrbach stands nearby (location #15) awaiting the bidding of his master.
Interspersed about the room are 12 pools, open to the water below. Each is circled with a bronze band featuring strange runes. The reflection of the torchlight on the water gives the cavern’s ceiling a queer look, as if it is undulating.
Suspended 10’ over the pool at location #3 is an iron cage holding Ulli & Greta Stoll (the children from the village). The cage is held by a rope that goes up to the ceiling and then over to the far wall (location #16) where it is tied off.
When the party enters the room, allow them a moment to take in their surroundings. Unless immediately rushed, D’Sara will deliver a villainous soliloquy and the children will call out for help. As soon as any of the party members start to close the distance to either the children or D’Sara, roll for initiative and the encounter will begin in earnest.
The crone has no intention of going toe to toe with a party of adventurers. She will hold her position and hurl spells at the do-gooders when they come within range. If things start to go poorly for her she will not be averse to the concept of turning and attempting to flee.
Baron August Rohrbach has been under the witch’s spell for weeks and is barely clinging to his humanity. Gaunt from lack of food, he could easily be mistaken for some type of undead. At this point he is really no more than an automaton mindlessly following orders. Dressed in his family’s ceremonial plate armor and carrying a longsword, the baron moves at 50% of the speed of a normal human.
His ensorcelled state will leave him immune to charm or fear effects. He should have fairly high HP but only dish out moderate damage. He will ignore ranged attacks but will immediately turn and engage anyone who enters into melee with him
With a word from his mistress at the start of the fight, Baron Rohrbach will shamble to location #16 and start hacking at the rope that holds the children’s cage over the pool. Unless interrupted by the party, he will succeed in cutting the rope in 3 rounds and the cage will splash into the pool below.
If the rope is cut and the cage hits the water, it will be fully submerged within 2 rounds. The combination of cage and children weigh a total of 190 lbs. The water under the cavern is shallow enough that the cage may be reached even if fully under water. The children will perish if they are underwater for more than 3 rounds.
If the evil witch, her mesmerized lackey, and the trapped children were not enough, the party will face one final peril. D’Sara chose this location because she wanted to make a sacrifice honoring her patron. She knew of an unspeakable horror residing in the river that runs alongside the castle. This tentacled monstrosity is lurking and waiting for an opportunity to strike.
I never had any intention of having my group face some giant beastie here. However this served to build the tension while also making the encounter more interesting. At the top of every round, roll a d12. A hideous pink tentacle will then burst out or the corresponding pool. The tentacles have a reach of 5’ from their point of origin and will attack the closest party member that they can reach.
Play with the tentacle mechanics as you see fit, based on the level and capabilities of your party. For my group, I kept things easy and avoided bogging things down. I had a hit indicate that a tentacle had grabbed the party member. A grabbed party member would suffer 1d4 points of damage from being constricted each round that they were grabbed. They could not move and made attacks with a -1 penalty. Grabbed party members are freed either through destroying the tenacle (I made this relatively easy, giving each tentacle only 4 HP) or after making a successful “Open Doors” check.
The tentacled creature itself will never make a full appearance. Once D’Sara has been dealt with or fled, the tenacles will retreat into the murky depths.
This yielded a fun encounter for our group. I realize it is a bit unorthodox, but it gives you a number of variables to tune as needed in order to challenge your party. The abilities for D’Sara & Baron Rohrbach are obviously wide open for you to play with. The tentacles themselves could easily be tweaked by adding greater frequency, longer reach, or more damage.
I purposely strayed from known creatures and tried to focus on mechanics that would make for an exciting evening around the table. Thinking back to Robert E. Howard or HP Lovecraft stories, I always enjoyed how the abilities and origins of magic users or eldritch horrors were left very vague. While it may be blasphemy to some, I think it avoids a lot of meta gaming on the player side to keep them on their toes a bit and show them something that they have not seen before. Let me know what you think and thank you for stopping by.