The Beast of Zarechka – Part 3

This week I’m going to get to the bottom of things and expose the beast who has been terrorizing the village of Zarechka. With all of that aside I will wrap up by providing a number of suggestions and unanswered questions to hopefully spur ideas that you can use in your own games. For those of you who are just finding me, here are links to Part 1 & Part 2 respectively.

Up to this point the party’s investigations will point them toward the ruins of Kelthura. The remains of this ancient city are nestled at the foot of the mountains to the northeast. Little is known of the peoples who once lived there, though local legends claim that they were practitioners of dark magic. The ruins themselves are largely shunned by the locals and have gradually been swallowed up by the marsh over the years.

For the GM

It’s for good reason that all signs point toward the ruins of Kelthura. Unknown to the rest of the villagers, the young seamstress Anya Ivanova would sometimes visit the marshy area to gather mushrooms and enjoy the solitude. Six weeks ago, on a day when the foraging was particularly fruitful, she ventured deep enough into the marsh to actually come face to face with some of the Kelthurian structures that still stand.

Something compelled the young woman to continue exploring until she came to a crumbling wall covered with crude paintings. The scene on the wall seemed to portray a wizard dealing with what seemed to be a creature that was part man but yet part beast. She was inexplicably fascinated with the paintings and followed them until the came to a pedestal upon which rested a large ruby. Mesmerized by the beauty of the jewel, Anya snatched up the gemstone and took it back to her modest home.

There was no way for the young seamstress to know what calamity this simple act would unleash. You see, ages ago, the city of Kelthura was home to practitioners of dark magic. One such magic user had summoned into the world a terrible creature, bent on carnage. The wizard had bound the beast to his will and used it to put an end to his enemies. However, when the creature became too much too control, the thaumaturge performed a ritual that placed the beast in stasis, as long as the ruby was undisturbed. Removing the ruby had ended that and deep within the marsh, an unspeakable evil awoke.

While Anya arrived safely home to her cottage that day, the beast had been awakened. From that day forward its unsatiable hunger drove it to venture out from the ruins in order to feed.

Through the first couple of attacks, she remained completely unaware that the creature preying on villagers had anything to do with the ruins. However, on the terrible day that she finally came face to face with beast, she immediately recalled the crude paintings on the walls in Kelthura. With her dying act she attempted to scrawl out a message to warn whoever might find her body.

The Beast of Zarechka

I wanted the creature terrorizing Zarechka to be something different altogether. When I first sat down to write this I was picturing a werewolf as being the culprit. From there I went to a barghest and even something as simple as a giant wolf. Instead, I settled on a custom creature that combines wolf and humanoid features. As I often do in my home games, I wanted to maintain an air of mystery that would make the adventure more engaging and memorable.  

Since my posts are designed to simply provide little plot hooks and ideas for my readers, I’ll leave to true nature of the beast up to you. I suggest that you try to keep your players on their toes. Our players are frequently well-versed all of the different monsters in the published game books. The meta knowledge can really detract from what should be a chilling encounter.

The Beast of Zarechka. Artwork © 2015 Dean Spencer, used with permission. All rights reserved.

The Beast of Zarechka is a terrifying creature that appears to be a hybrid of a wolf and a human. Standing 9 feet tall on its hind legs, the creature weighs nearly 400 pounds. Having olive colored skin, a well-muscled physique is visible from a frontal view.  However, its back is covered from head to toe in jet black fur.

The monster has pointed ears and a mouth full of sharp, bestial teeth. Glowing red eyes seem to pierce through anyone who looks into them. Its hands are large and possess long, sharp claws, capable of tearing through flesh with ease. The creature’s legs are powerful and built like those of a great wolf. It moves with a grace and agility that belies its size and can seamlessly switch between sprinting on all fours and standing on two legs to fight or intimidate its prey.

Having spent an age in the ruins of Kelthura, the beast is still bound to the location. Whether this is due to some magical means or simply from a sense of familiarity, I will leave up to you. It ventures out to feed, ranging far enough to locate suitable prey but always returns to the ruins once sated. As such, it is likely that it will be in the marsh surrounding the ruins that the party will ultimately encounter the beast.

The Marsh

The villagers in Zarechka will gladly provide detailed directions to the marsh. As the party makes their way through the dense undergrowth, anyone with tracking or survival skills will pick up a trail. If the party investigated Dimitri Kozlov’s Farm, they would recognize these as being the same tracks. With the hind feet of a great wolf and occasional impressions of large, clawed human hands, they are indeed unique.

The ground beneath the party’s feet will gradually soften and the tracks will be easier to follow as they approach the marsh and the ruins of Kelthura. A broken stone bridge leads out into the stagnant water. Only a foot deep at the bank, the tracks clearly show that the beast passed through this way recently.

On the opposite bank, roughly 70’ away, the party will be able to make out some man-made structures. While crumbling and overgrown, these are the first signs of the ruins of Kelthura. If any of the party members set foot into the water, a piercing howl will ring out from across the way. Venturing forward, the party will find that the water is only 2’ deep, even at its deepest. Unfortunately, the water depth is not the problem. The same telltale mud that helped to direct the party here in the first place is also quite a hindrance. Consider this to be difficult terrain and movement speed will be halved.

After spending 1 full round in the water, characters will start to sink in the mud. At this point, to move through the mud, each party member must make a Strength check or Athletics check (whichever is higher). The DC will start at 12 for the lighter areas on the map and increase to 15 for the darker, more treacherous areas. If a party member fails this check, they become mired in the mud. They are restrained and unable to move until they are freed. A mired party member can be assisted by another party member who is not mired. The assisting character must use their action to make a successful Strength check or Athletics check against the same DC. If successful, they can pull their ally free from the mud.

As the party struggles through the treacherous mud, a chilling silence settles over the marsh. It’s at that point that the beast will attack. With a bestial howl, the beast rises from beneath the remnants of the bridge, on the small patch of dry land ahead.

As a lair action, I allow the beast to move through the water and mud while ignoring the penalties faced by the characters. In this manner I maintain some of the terror of the situation. Let’s face it, in real life (or even a movie) an encounter like this would be scary business. However, often in TTRPGs, the party can feel like a group of superheroes and a single foe is hardly intimidating. I opted for this as a way to ratchet up the tension. It allows this primal creature to move gracefully and attack where it will have the greatest impact. As with deciding upon the nature of the beast itself, choose its abilities based on what will best fit your game.

The Outcome

Assuming the party defeats the beast, they will surely want to return to Zarechka to claim their reward from mayor Russoff. However, there are quite a few other twists and turns that you could build on from here.

  • The ruins of Kelthura themselves could certainly be expanded upon. What mysteries and treasures lie deeper within the ruins? Certainly, the grateful people of Zarechka would be more that happy to allow the party to use the village as their base of operations for further exploration.
  • Will the party ever fi the ruby that Anya Ivanova discovered? If so, will they be able to puzzle out that the beast had been held in stasis for years? Are there other being held in a similar state?
  • While it didn’t come into play for this adventure, one of the rumors mentioned that old man Igor believed the attacks were the result of a curse brought upon the village by a witch who had been banished years ago. Is she still out there and will all of the recent commotion bring her around?

Closing Thoughts

This one got away from me a bit. My intention has always been to focus on “bite-sized” source material and I don’t think a 3-parter fits well within that framework.

Depending on the system that you are running, this will require some work on your part (particularly in terms of the nature of the beast and the mechanics of the marsh battle). That said, please understand that I’m merely trying to provide snippets of ideas for you to build on. Remember, everything can be tailored to fit your party’s power level and preferences. Feel free to adapt and modify everything to suit your game and create an exciting and memorable encounter. Take what you want and leave the rest.

I appreciate you taking the time to stop by. If you’ve found any of this useful, please drop a note in the comments and if you’d like to see some of my other creations, I’ve listed them here. Thanks and have a great week!

4 thoughts on “The Beast of Zarechka – Part 3

  1. Thanks for this brilliant finale to your story arc. I especially like using the mud as Difficult Terrain (and as a trap) to allow the Beast to carry out hit-and-run attacks.

    I also had a thought with respect to the ruby Anya Ivanova discovered. What if the beast regenerates within the Ruins of Kelthura after it is seemingly destroyed? Maybe it reappears in the location where the ruby was found? Perhaps the ruby is the only way to bind it again so the PCs will have to find it?

    This adventure has lots of good plot threads you could easily expand on. I love it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you very much. As presented, the finale feels a bit linear but I had to keep reminding myself that I’m not so much writing adventures as simply trying to provide building blocks for GMs to add to.

      I like your idea about the ruby and agree that there’s plenty of room there for someone to take it and run.

      Thanks you for stopping by. Have a great week!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The Beast of Zarechka – Part 2 | Talaraska

  3. Pingback: The Beast of Zarechka – Part 1 | Talaraska

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