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.
"Scarblade" is an adventure for characters of 7th to 9th level. It takes place in the Chaos Scar or in any densely forested area in your campaign setting.
In "Scarblade," characters discover a gladiatorial pit that is associated with an enticing magical artifact known as the Scarblade. The Proving Pit and the Scarblade are both self-aware to a limited extent. Though they share a location and methodology, they want separate things. Fantastic tales or psychic lures draw a group of adventurers to the brutal Proving Pit. There they must battle local denizens and the pit’s champion, the ghost of Morrn Bladeclaw. If victorious, the adventurers come away with the Scarblade, a powerful artifact.
Getting the Characters Involved
At some point during one of their explorations into the Chaos Scar, or while discussing the lore of the Chaos Scar at Restwell Keep or at the Crossroads trading post, the adventurers learn of the dreaded and violent Proving Pit. It should be a fairly well known legend, although concrete, reliable information will be hard to come by.
Select one or more of the following adventure hooks and adapt it to your campaign.
- The adventurers hear local tales of the Scarblade from bards, discover the long-lost diary of a dead adventurer, or stumble onto the information through their own research or scrying. Provide them with a general description of the sword and the Proving Pit. The source might also relate some of Morrn Bladeclaw’s history.
- The Scarblade wants to escape from the pit, and it sometimes calls out psychically to an adventurer it feels is capable of freeing it and wielding it, even if only temporarily.
- The Proving Pit itself psychically calls to one or more of the most powerful player characters with promises of power and glory for those who are victorious. Characters might experience visions of themselves defeating their companions, or using the mighty Scarblade to defeat their longtime foes.
- The adventurers enter the valley of the proving pit, either intentionally or because it happens to be in their path, and find it difficult to escape. Once there, they encounter the Scarblade.
- The adventurers become embroiled in a dispute with a local inhabitant who demands that they go to the Proving Pit to resolve the situation. This nonplayer character will almost certainly withhold some details about the pit, or will himself be misinformed about its real nature.
Any of the following elements can be seeded into rumors for the purpose of drawing the characters toward the Proving Pit. Note that not all of this information is accurate.
- Morrn Bladeclaw was a barbarian warrior known for his cruelty and ambition. He steadily advanced in status in his clan until he claimed the right to become its champion by defeating the wielder of the powerful artifact known as Scarblade. One of Bladeclaw’s tribal enemies eventually killed him but was unable to wrest Scarblade from the dead man’s hands. Now the corpse of Morrn Bladeclaw fights anyone who will face him, with Scarblade as the prize for the victor.
- The Proving Pit is used by the denizens of the Chaos Scar to settle disputes between themselves or to test themselves against other fighters of many races and species. A splinter of the meteorite that created the Chaos Scar lies hundreds of feet below the surface of the pit, giving the pit itself a malevolent cunning. No one who enters the pit has ever managed to leave it; either they die facing Morrn Bladeclaw, or they kill him, take Scarblade, and instantly assume Bladeclaw’s curse. In fact, dozens of warriors have possessed the blade over the years, but none have carried it out of the Proving Pit.
- Morrn Bladeclaw came to the Proving Pit intending to win Scarblade, and he did. Now, the blade makes him invincible and immortal. He could leave anytime he wanted to, but he enjoys the killing too much.
- After capturing Scarblade from a frost giant, Morrn was assassinated by a wizard of great power who sought the mighty artifact. With his final breath, Morrn Bladeclaw cursed the wizard to forever fight anyone who came to claim the blade.
- The Scarblade is encased in a translucent crystal spire above a gladiatorial pit. Anyone who defeats the pit’s champion can claim it.
"Killing Ground" is an adventure for characters of 11th to 13th level.
Sinister forces have seized a secluded forest demesne in the Feywild. Reflecting the brutal will of those forces, the wilderness warped into a sentient shifting maze. Its relentless, crawling expansion is fueled by an insatiable hunger for prey. Enchanting song drifts from the maze’s shadowed ways, luring all who hear it to their doom. The heroes soon find themselves trapped and hunted for sport in the maze’s twisting paths.
Ancient conduits of arcane power cover the natural world and the Feywild like an eldritch web. Civilizations feel compelled to build along these ley lines, often erecting their most sacred sites where the subtle paths intersect to form magical fonts of unfathomable strength. In the Feywild, these intersections create fey demesnes, places where the very environment attunes itself to the strongest denizen’s disposition.
One such demesne exists in the heart of a lush, lonely wood, tucked away from the ageless eyes of the eladrin and the endless ambitions of the fomorian tyrants. Three great cities built by three different civilizations rose and fell here during the past millennia. Eventually, a firbolg clan came to the ruins in search of wild game. The demesne transformed to suit the needs of the Master of the Wild Hunt. Vegetation swallowed the forgotten ruins, wildlife bred in abundance, and many seasons passed in relative harmony.
Months ago, the demesne experienced its first worldfall in centuries. While the forest overlapped the mortal realm, minotaur initiates of the abominable Blood League discovered it. Craving the beating hearts of woodland fey, the minotaurs rode worldfall back to the Feywild and rampaged through the region. While stalking a dusk unicorn, they stumbled upon a towering gemstone monolith at the intersection of the demesne’s ley lines. The cabalists ritually slaughtered the unicorn at the base of the spire. At the height of the sacrifice, fey maidens appeared in a swell of haunting song—manifestations of the demesne’s newly born hunger. In response to their enchanting melody, the ruin-speckled wilderness warped into a vast, living maze.
Now firbolg survivors are trapped in their own territory, where they are hunted by the minotaurs. Worldfall is common, allowing the deadly maze to threaten both the Feywild and the mortal realm. Through day and night, siren song lures countless creatures to their deaths within the Blood League’s killing ground.
Getting the Characters Involved
Worldfall brings the killing ground to the mortal realm from dusk until dawn. Heroes in the mortal world who are at the proper location can witness a spectacular union of the planes when the sun’s rays fade. They might also encounter the maze while in the Feywild, or they may hear of it in the mortal realm and cast a ritual to reach the demesne from either plane.
- Rumor spreads of nightly worldfall in the wilderness several days outside of town. A faint but beguiling song drifts from deep within the forest. It grows louder and more enchanting each night, but none who search for the enticing song ever return. The longer the heroes remain in town, the more they hear villagers and farmland refugees lamenting the loss of loved ones who followed the lilting voices into the forest.
- While resting one evening in or near a forest, the heroes hear the distant echo of singing maidens. The song returns each night, no matter where they characters are, as long as they stay in the same general area. Eventually, the heroes camp in a spot where they witness the bizarre sight of a worldfall. They see paths winding into crumbling ruins that are blanketed with thick vegetation. The singing originates from within.