Darkness looms over the quiet village of Zarechka and rumors of a fearsome beast spread through the countryside. For weeks now, the villagers have lived in terror as a malevolent creature strikes without warning, leaving behind only death and destruction in its wake.
The mayor has put out a call for brave adventurers to come forth and hunt down the beast. But as the party begins their investigation, they soon discover that there may be more to this mystery than meets the eye. Will they uncover the truth behind the terror, or fall prey to the same fate as those who came before them?
This week I’m back with another plot-hook to get your creative juice flowing. As always, I’ll try to keep this as system agnostic as possible. Rather than provide a complete adventure, I’ll set the stage and let you fill in the blanks in the manner that would best suit your table. This week’s will be a three-parter. I’ll set the stage today and then follow up with the rest.
Zarechka is a small village nestled at the foot of a range of forested hills, in a remote corner of Borea. The village is situated near a small river, which provides water for the villagers’ crops and animals.
Houses in the village are made of wood and stone, with thatched roofs and small gardens. The villagers are mostly farmers and craftsmen, and they lead simple lives, working hard to make a living in the rugged wilderness that surrounds them.
Despite its peaceful and welcoming appearance, Zarechka has been terrorized by a series of brutal assaults over the past month. The attacks have been gruesome and concentrated on those outside of the village, including farmers, travelers, and livestock. The villagers have heard haunting howls and strange noises emanating from the nearby forest at night and are certain that a savage beast is responsible.
The village’s mayor, Jacob Russoff, has grown desperate for a solution and has turned to the party for help. Upon arriving in Zarechka, they will feel the palpable tension and fear that grips the village. Folk look at them with a mixture of hope and desperation, praying that they are the ones who will put an end to the reign of terror that has befallen their town.
I’ve included a basic map for the village of Zarechka. Feel free to use it or simply swap in a village from your existing campaign. In terms of the availability of good and services, keep in mind that Zarechka is located in a remote area, so characters will not have access to everything that they might expect to find in a large city.
The attacks started nearly a month ago with the brutal killing of a farmer named Dimitri Kozlov, who lived in a remote cabin near the edge of the forest. Since then, there have been similar attacks with livestock being taken and people being killed. Villagers have also heard haunting howls and strange noises emanating from the forest at night. Despite their efforts to defend themselves, the attacks have become more frequent in recent weeks, and the villagers are now living in constant fear.
The party will surely want to ask the mayor for any information that he can provide regarding the attacks. It is also likely that they will spend some time gathering information from the villagers. Anyone within the village or outlying area will be able to also tell the party will be able to tell the party about the other two victims.
The second victim was a shepherd named Lawrence Talbot, who was found dead in the early morning hours by his fellow shepherds. A young woman named Anya Ivanova was the third. She was a local seamstress who was found dead in the woods, after venturing out to forage for herbs and mushrooms.
Below are a number additional rumors that the party is likely to uncover. (A “T” will indicate that there is at least some truth to the rumor while an “F” will indicate that it is entirely false.)
- (T) The mayor’s daughter claims to have seen the creature in the forest while she was out picking berries. Valentyna Russoff actually did catch a glimpse of the creature in broad daylight and should be able to provide a basic description. She would also be able to direct the party to the location of the berry patch.
- (F) Old man Igor believes the attacks are the result of a curse brought upon the village by a witch who was banished many years ago.
- (T) A group of outsiders passing through town claim to have killed the beast and are looking for a reward for their services. This group arrived in the village last week, with the carcass of a large wolf. They demanded a reward for slaying “the beast”. However, the mayor did not believe that their claim was true and refused to pay. The group left the village, clearly upset and vowing their revenge for having been wronged.
- (T) A farmer named Alexei saw the beast dragging off one of his cows in the middle of the night. Alexi’s farm is not far from where Valentyna Russoff saw the beast. Unfortunately, he saw it at night and from the back, so while he can describe it, his description would be similar to that of a great bear.
- (F) A visiting scholar from the city believes the attacks are the result of a rogue experiment conducted by a mad scientist who lives in the area.
- (T) A blacksmith named Mikhail claims to have found large, clawed footprints near the scene of one of the attacks. Mikhail made a bronze cast of the tracks, and they seem to resemble those of an incredibly large wolf.
- (F) A young woman named Katerina believes the attacks are the result of a vengeful spirit seeking revenge for an old injustice.
- (F) A hunter named Sergei claims to have seen the beast with his own eyes while he was out tracking a bear. If asked, he will provide the description of an owlbear.
- (F) A traveling merchant believes the attacks are the result of a group of bandits who are using the cover of the beast to mask their activities.
- (T) A farmer named Vlad claims to have heard the beast howling in the woods at night, and the howls were unlike anything he had ever heard before. Vlad is well-acquainted with the sound of wolves, and he can assure the party that this was no wolf.
These rumors are a little homage to B2 The Keep on the Borderlands and something that I come back to in many of my adventures. Use them at your discretion and according to what need from the adventure. If you’re tight on time and just using this as a one-shot, you might eliminate the false rumors altogether. On the other hand, if you’re needing to kill time while you work on other parts of your campaign, some red herrings might keep your party tied up for a while.
I’m going to be fleshing out some of the areas that the party is likely to want to explore. I will not be adding information for any of the false leads that they may receive from the villagers. That bit I’ll leave up to you. For instance, there was a witch who was banished years ago, and a mad scientist does reside in the area. However, since neither of them has anything to do with the beast of Zarechka, I will not be discussing them here.
After having had a chance to speak with mayor Russoff and other villagers, there are 4 main locations that the party is likely to want to investigate. I’ve marked these as #1- #4 on the local area map and will describe them.
Location #1 Dimitri Kozlov’s Farm
Dimitri’s farm lies just over a mile north of Zarechka. Arriving on the scene, the party will find that the fields have not been tended to in quite some time and the animals have already been removed by other villagers.
The farmer was taken from inside his cabin, which sits at the edge of the forest. The door has been shattered and the splintered wood around the latch suggests that whatever broke in was large and powerful. The door is slightly ajar, creaking back and forth in the breeze.
The cabin is in a state of disarray, with furniture overturned and personal belongings strewn about. Blood stains the walls and floor, and scattered furniture indicates that something grisly occurred here. There is no body or any form of substantial remains, aside from the splatters of blood. Villagers will be able to confirm that the scene remains exactly as it was originally found.
A keen eye will notice reddish mud or clay tracks on the floor. Rangers or characters with appropriate nature skills will recognize these as resembling those of a great wolf, but only for the hind feet. They will also note that they have not seen this reddish mud anywhere else in the area. As they inspect the scene further, they will also spot large human handprints alongside the wolf tracks. Something terrible has happened here.
As this was the first attack and occurred nearly a month ago, tracking the beast outside of the cabin will be fruitless. The key clues here will be the types of tracks, as well as the reddish mud. Once they are back in Zarechka, the villagers may be able to provide some insight into the mud. I will cover that in part 2.
Location # 2 Lawrence Talbot’s Shepherd Post
This field, situated at the foot of a gentle slope, can be found about two miles north of the village. The grass here is lush and green, and the occasional wildflower can be seen swaying in the breeze. The air is filled with the gentle sound of bleating sheep and the rustling of leaves in the wind.
It is in this idyllic setting that Lawrence Talbot tended his flock before his grisly demise. Though his remains have long since been removed, the rocks at the foot of the hills still bear stains of his blood. A sense of unease lingers in the air, as if some dark force still haunts this peaceful field.
Other shepherds in the area will be able to point the party to where Lawrence’s remains were found. Aside from the blood on the rocks, nothing else is immediately evident. However, a thorough search of the area will turn up a broken leather thong on which rests a pendant engraved with a strange rune. Villagers back in Zarechka may be able to shed some light on the nature of the rune but I will cover that in part 2 next week.
I truly appreciate you taking the time to stop by. If you are enjoying yourself, I encourage you to please say hello in the comments below. Part 2 has already been posted and you may find it here. Part 3 has also now been posted and you may find it here.
I’ve dropped a few Easter eggs into this one and I took inspiration for this adventure from the story of the Beast of Gévaudan. If you’d rather listen to something than read, I’d suggest checking out the Stuff You Missed In History Class episode.
Finally, if you’d just like to see more of my maps with plot hooks, you may find them here. That’s all for now. Have a great week and good gaming!