Every adventure begins with a subtle or not-so-subtle hook—that carrot or stick which motivates the characters to risk their lives for gold, glory, or the greater good. Some hooks are instantaneous and unavoidable. When a dragon drops from the sky into a screaming dive straight toward you, the adventure is on whether you like it or not. Most adventures, though, benefit from having some groundwork laid before the main structure gets built. Clues need to be sprinkled in the characters' paths, rumors whispered in their ears, unsigned notes left in their saddlebags, or magic relics of unknown origin discovered in a forgotten tomb or delivered to their rooms in the dead of night. These types of hooks are most effective when players have time to wonder about them for a few game sessions before their meaning becomes clear.
That's the purpose of this article. It presents the hooks and rumors you can sprinkle around the inn weeks before launching characters into an adventure. If you inadvertently insert a few leads into the game which never pan out, you've still made the world feel like a bigger place than your dining room table.
The Legacy of Baelard
"The Legacy of Baelard" is an adventure for characters of levels 10 to 12. Because the action is almost entirely underground, it can be used in any campaign, including the Chaos Scar. The setting for "The Legacy of Baelard" is the catacombs beneath the ruined Library of Highforest.
Generations ago (or centuries, depending on the campaign), the Library of Highforest was a small center for learning operated by scholars and a few priests of Ioun. Being invited to study or teach at this remote, isolated institute was the honor of a lifetime, and being interred in the catacombs beneath the library was the reward for a life devoted to knowledge.
Tragically, a scholar named Ulferth fell under the influence of a demon that served Kyuss. In his madness, Ulferth drew a horde of nightmare creatures up from the depths beneath the catacombs. Spawn of Kyuss overran the library, and no one escaped to tell the world what happened there.
One of the scholars—Baelard the Defender—survived much longer than the others. He recorded what he knew about the horrors trapped in the catacombs and left clues concerning how they might be defeated. Those clues will be invaluable to the characters.
In a Points of Light campaign, the library itself is lost and forgotten. Other than a handful of historians, no one even remembers that it existed. The location was remote even at the library's height. Now, the ruins probably lie well outside the limited extent of civilization.
In a campaign with more established civilizations, such as Faerun or Eberron, the location should still be remote. It's more likely that a group of sages will be searching for the library in those settings, because it's less likely that it would have been entirely lost to history.
Characters can be drawn into this adventure in a number of ways.
Trouble in the Area: Vrocks have taken up residence in the ruins, and they are an obvious source of trouble that could draw adventurers to the area. The demons might prey on woodsmen working in the nearby forest or traders traveling on nearby roads. The spawn of Kyuss are another possibility. If they have forced their way out of the crypts through a secondary exit, then they might also be working their evil against anyone in the surrounding territory. Characters could be approached directly by nonplayer characters who are seeking help against the monsters, or they could encounter rumors of the trouble that have spread outside the affected area.
Hired Investigators: The Library of Highforest has been entirely forgotten by most people, but a handful of sages might still be interested in its fate. Any of these could hire sturdy adventurers to follow up on leads garnered from crumbling manuscripts or divination rituals. Such patrons might not be entirely trustworthy. Followers of Kyuss have at least as much interest in relocating the library as anyone else.
Visions: Baelard the Defender is frozen in eternal stasis beneath the library, but his spirit might still be active in some limited way. In that case, when the characters' travels bring them into the vicinity of the ruined library, Baelard reaches out to them in the form of visions in which he reveals cryptic clues about the library. These clues could be visions of the tower as it once stood, insights of lost lore with hints that more can be found nearby, or scenes of the spawn of Kyuss killing the scholars of the library, without indicating how long ago these events happened.
Accidental Discovery: Adventurers could simply stumble upon the ruins during one of their journeys through a remote forest. They might also spot the vrocks circling in the distance, or be attacked by them, and follow the demons to their lair in the ruins.
The Devil's Due
"The Devil's Due" is an adventure for characters of levels 17 to 19. It is suitable for any campaign in which the characters are likely to visit the Astral Sea and make a trip aboard an astral ship.
The captain of the astral ship Gleaming Endeavor is not an evil man. In fact, Graf Aubren prides himself on always making his deliveries of precious goods across the Astral Sea without damage or loss. Over the years, his reputation as an honest and scrupulous captain has brought him cargos of immense value and importance from many influential denizens of the planes above. Thus it came as no surprise when he was approached by a smooth-voiced devil representing a client "who would prefer to remain nameless" to transport goods of great rarity and value to a point across the Astral Sea.
Captain Aubren had never lost a cargo, and he had no intention of losing one now. With visions of wealth beyond imagining and a plan in mind, Captain Graf Aubren signed his deal with the devil.
Now he needs to reinforce his crew with experienced adventurers for one final voyage. While they might cost the captain a considerable sum of money and probably won't even be necessary, the captain can afford the extra protection, considering the wealth he will gain at the end of this journey.
Player characters need to be gotten aboard Captain Aubren's vessel, Gleaming Endeavor. The simplest way to do this is to let Captain Aubren hire them as guards, as noted in the first hook. Another is to give the characters a reason to cross the Astral Sea that is unrelated to this adventure, such as a pre-existing major quest. Any astral voyage carries the possibility of a run-in with raiders, but if the process of booking passage is downplayed correctly, the players shouldn't anticipate anything more than the usual amount of risk.
Rumors of Raiding: Rumors have begun circulating that astral vessels are falling prey to Quom raiders who seem to be searching for something in particular. When the time comes for Gleaming Endeavor to depart, Captain Aubren approaches the characters with an offer of employment as shipboard security. He explains that he is concerned about the raiders, but he is chiefly focused on safeguarding his cargo.
Seeking Passage: If the characters need to book passage on a ship for their own reasons, present players with a choice of several generic astral ships currently in port. You are the best judge of what approach is most likely to attract the characters. Some players will automatically sense a trap and shy away from "the most honest and reputable captain we know." Here are a few ways to steer players toward a particular ship.
Gleaming Endeavor might be the only ship headed in their direction. Others would either cost considerably more (a "rerouting surcharge") or take considerably longer (because they intend to make other stops first).
- If characters ask around the dockside businesses, they will get better reports on Captain Aubren than on any of the other captains. For example:
- "Captain Glyvrick is a fine astral sailor, no doubt about it. Captain Jace, he might charge you a bit less, but his ship's old and not as fast as he'll want you to believe. Captain Aubren is as reliable as they come. Were it my money, and all other things being equal, I'd sail with Captain Aubren, but Glyvrick is a fine second choice, too."
- "If that's where you're headed, then the Endeavor's your vessel. Captain Aubren has been through that space before, and you want an experienced hand at the helm if you're going to cross that stretch of sea."
- "See that big fella there in the corner, the one with the scars? That's Captain Jace's first mate. He's killed three crewmen on his last three voyages. 'Mutineers', says him. Just sailors who expected to be treated fairly, says I."
- If characters are having a difficult time making up their minds, port authorities could seize one of the top contenders for nonpayment of fees or for smuggling, leaving just Gleaming Endeavor as the top choice.
Hitching a Ride: If characters are low on funds (unlikely at this level, but possible), Aubren may be the only captain willing to let them work for their passage. They're bound for dangerous space, and he can always use more armed crew.
Disposing of Wealth: On the heels of their last adventure, see that the characters come into possession of an item that has great value but only to one, specific collector. Conversely, this item might be so valuable that everyone wants it but no one in their current location can afford to buy it. When the characters look for a way to transport their property to a buyer, they can end up with Captain Aubren for exactly the same reason that his devilish client sought him out—because he has a reputation for delivering high-value goods safely.