This is a pair of short encounters for use with Basic Dungeons & Dragons although it can be used with other editions and game systems without much extra work. The scenario is designed for a small group or starting characters of 1st level as they travel along the King’s Road towards the great walled city of Drakenghast. These events could take place after the events of The Brigands of King’s Road, or be used as a stand-alone scenario. This encounter works best if the PCs are not yet in possession of magic weapons.
The adventurers have been walking along the hot and dusty King’s Road for the better part of the day. The sun blazes overhead in a hazy cloudless sky. There hasn’t been any rain for weeks, and the plants in the fields and meadows they pass are scorched and yellowed. The few tufts of grass poking up between the cobblestones are dry and crunch underfoot. Crickets and cicadas chirp and buzz from the long grass and thickets of trees that dot the sides of the road. In the distance, the characters can see a small homestead set back from the King’s Road down an overgrown pathway.
The Abandoned Farm
As the travelers draw closer they can see the small ramshackle house looks abandoned and the property is overgrown with tangled weeds and thorns. Like everywhere else the plants are scorched from the summer heat in shades of yellow and brown. The windows of the small building are broken and the door hangs awkwardly on broken hinges.
There is a dead tree in front of the house, it’s barren grey branches the resting place for a flock of large black crows. They shout down with raspy calls if anyone approaches the property, and take flight before anyone should get too close. They circle overhead and land on the sagging roof of the house to continue cawing at anyone below.
It’s not uncommon to find an empty house in these lands. What had once been prosperous farmland has suffered many years of drought and failed crops. Many farmers decided to leave the toil and strife of the dusty fields in hopes of better luck for their families in the city. Some others were drafted into the King’s army and marched south to the borderlands. Brigands, plague, and wild beasts also did their parts to make this a land where only the hardiest of settlers would stay.
If the adventurers leave the King’s Road to investigate the deserted homestead they find that most things of value were taken long ago. Here and there they can find a few bits of pottery, broken farming tools, or perhaps a lone bucket that no longer holds water. The crows call down noisily at anyone trespassing in the yard or venturing inside the building, making any attempts at stealth impossible.
If Tavarius is with the adventurers he will stay on the King’s Road with his pushcart of apples and not investigate the farmhouse with the rest of the characters. He will watch them nervously as they walk down the path as he crunches on one of his blighted apples.
Behind the house is a small cemetery with 3 gravestones. This part of the property is dry and dusty, with few plants growing. Anyone approaching the stones feels a sense of stillness. Even the incessant calls of the crows seem quieter while standing near the graves. The earth is dry and cracked and suggests that these burials have not been disturbed in a long time. A Cleric or Magic-User casting Detect Magic here will reveal that this is consecrated ground.
Inside the single room farmhouse, the adventurers find it has been long abandoned. Few items remain although there are a number of broken plates on the floor, and a dirty straw mattress still lies atop a broken wooden bedframe. A wooden scabbard still hangs above the hearth, although the sword it once held is long gone. The back wall, across from the front door, is covered in a large patch of sickly yellow fungus. Near the fungus are a half dozen dusty glass jars containing some sort of liquid.
Staying in the building is very dangerous for characters, for they risk poisoning from the spores. Should anyone investigate the wall too closely or touch the mold it sprays out a cloud of spores that fills the inside of the building. Any character inside when this happens must make a saving throw against Death Rays or choke to death within 6 rounds. The Yellow Mold can be destroyed with flames, but doing so will set the entire building on fire.
Five of the glass jars contain old fruit jellies and preserves. They are long past the point of being edible and anyone tasting them must make a saving throw against Poison or become ill for 12 hours and move at 1/2 speed. The sixth jar is bright orange in colour and contains a healing elixir that will restore 2-7 (1d6+1) lost hit points. Drinking the entire jar will also cure one character poisoned by the spores from the Yellow Mold.
Once the adventurers continue their journey towards Drakenghast the sound of crows soon fades into the distance. The road begins to rise as the land becomes rougher and more hilly. There are fewer thickets of trees here, replaced with ravines and outcroppings of rock.
As the adventurers reach the crest of the next hill they see a rickety wooden gallows poking up into the hazy sky like a crooked finger. Hanging from the gallows is a rusted iron cage holding an ominous black shape crumpled at the bottom. The cage creaks as it turns slowly in the hot summer wind.
Locking criminals in a gibbet, a hanging cage, and leaving them to die by thirst, starvation or exposure is a common punishment in these lands. However, with imminent war looming to the South it is now most common for those convicted of desertion or treason. Other types of criminals often find themselves conscripted into the King’s armies and sent to await battle in the borderlands. The hanging dead and dying are a grim reminder to anyone traveling the road what the punishment for breaking the King’s law is.
The Gibbet stands 10 feet to the side of the road where it dips down between two rocky hills. It would be difficult and slow going to leave the road and detour around this area forcing travelers to walk past the caged criminal as they continue on their journey. Should a character other than a Thief decide to try leaving the road to stay as far from the gallows as possible they must make roll under their Dexterity score on a d20 or take a tumble down the rocky hillside and sustain 1-2 hit points of damage.
Anyone who approaches can see more clearly that it is a body slumped over in the cage. The eyes are sunken and hollow and the skin turned to dark leather, pulling back to expose ivory white teeth. The blackened and tattered clothing are badly decayed, but it might be the tunic of a soldier. Anyone wary of the body and casting Detect Evil will find that this is indeed an undead creature. It lies motionless for the time being unless it or the sword below is disturbed.
Directly beneath the hanging cage is a sword sticking out of the ground. It looks weathered but solidly built, and anyone approaching to get a closer look thinks it might be the sword of an army officer. It may have been dropped from the figure in the cage when they died, although criminals are not normally allowed to keep their weapons. Perhaps there are different rules for the King’s officers?
If Tavarius is with the characters he will say that it’s bad luck to go near a hanging cage and stays as far away as he can. If any of the characters approach he’ll take a drink from his cider flask and mutter under his breath about wishing he was home eating apple pie.
If the players want to retrieve the sword they’ll need to stand directly beneath the swaying metal cage and try to pull the blade from the rocky ground. Minor magic tricks or attempting to drag it towards them by throwing a rope will not work — the sword is firmly stuck. A character standing below the creaking cage can make a check (as they would to open a stuck door) to pull the sword free.
The sword is finely made, but not magical. If sold it is worth 3 times the normal amount. The markings denote an officer in the King’s army and possession by civilians may attract the attention of any soldiers encountered.
Regardless if they try to retrieve the sword or walk past the gibbet, a black crow will flap down and land on the gallows. It calls loudly down at the characters and each round more crows arrive. On the third round, the gallows makes an ominous creaking. On the fifth round, the flock of crows is enough extra weight to cause splintering of wood as the gallows tips forward and the metal cage comes crashing to the ground. Any character still attempting to remove the sword from the ground must save vs paralysis to leap out of the way in time. If they fail they take 2d6 damage and pinned beneath the smashed wood and metal. Each round they can make a check (as they would to open a stuck door) to free themselves from under the cage. A companion can also attempt to free them by making the same check.
When the cage crashes to the ground it breaks apart as the hinges fall off the door. For one round nothing else happens, but the following round the players will look on in horror as a gaunt and leathery figure rises from the wreckage, its sunken eyes sightless eyes seem to stare through the characters with a hateful intensity. The PCs can have a free round to attack the creature if they wish, or can instead use that time to flee.
The Thing (AC 8, HD 2, hp 9 MV 120’ (40'), #AT 1, D 1-6, Save F1, ML 12, AL Chaotic) will retrieve the sword from the ground if it has not already been taken and then seeks to attack and kill any Human, Demi-Human or Humanoid it can see. If the sword is not available it will take a heavy iron bar from the wrecked cage instead. The creature does not speak or make any other sound, save for the creak of its leathery limbs and footsteps on the cobblestone.
Any round in which The Thing takes 6 points of damage it will fall to the ground, apparently defeated. However the next round the creature will rise back to its feet as it can only be harmed by attacks with magic or magical weapons. While the Thing resembles a Zombie it is treated as a Wraith if a Cleric attempts to Turn Undead.
The creature is fast but does not run. Instead, it keeps moving relentlessly at a brisk pace towards its intended victim. Unless heavily encumbered or wearing heavy armor the adventurers should be able to run away from it, but it won’t stop its pursuit and can sense which direction the creature it is targeting has gone. As the PCs tire from running and slow to catch their breath they will see the Thing in the distance continuing to stride towards them.
If Tavarius is with the group he will be slowed down by pushing (or dragging) his apple cart. He won’t abandon it to run unless a player tells him to and succeeds on a check by rolling under their Charisma score on a d20. He will then run screaming wildly and shouting that “I’ll get you for this! I’ll get you!” He will keep running until the first character stops then sob pitifully about his lost apple cart.
Since the Thing is unable to be defeated with normal weapons the players will need to think of other methods of dealing with it.
If the adventuring party has more than one Magic-User it might be possible for them to have enough spells to stop it, but only if they roll very well. If you are running this scenario for other game system this is where you may need to adjust the creature so that it is not too easily defeated if the system allows the characters more access to magic spells.
One solution would be to lead the Thing back towards the abandoned homestead and the consecrated cemetery. If it steps across the boundary while pursuing one of the characters it will collapse to the ground. It will not reanimate as long as it remains within that area. It will then be up to the players to decide whether to bury it or leave it there and hope for the best.
Another strategy would be to press on to Drakenghast and hope they meet someone along the way that has some way of dealing with the Thing. If the group chooses this option have them make a check by rolling under their Constitution score on a d20. If they fail they grow tired and have to choose another strategy as they can’t run further and before long see that the Thing is drawing closer…
If the Thing is defeated, whether through magic, containment, or being led to consecrated ground the party gains 50xp. Lawful characters gain 10xp if Tavarius is with the group and concludes this scenario alive with his apple cart intact.