Unearthing the Past - Episode One: The Search
by Jesse Decker
"Unearthing the Past" is a four-part Cliffhangers adventure for 3 to 5 1st-level characters. Characters who survive the adventure should advance to second level. DMs can easily modify the adventure to accommodate higher level characters by increasing the number of foes in each encounter. Many of the villians are humanoids, so another good way to adjust the Encounter Levels within the adventure is to substitute more powerful humanoids in each encounter.
This adventure takes place around the village of Travensburg. The town has had a rough winter, and although the promise of spring seems just around the corner, the town has had to purchase food from a nearby village. The area feels peaceful, but the winter has driven a few small bands of humanoids to search for food outside their normal territory. To protect the valuable shipment of supplies, four guards were sent to escort the wagon. Now the shipment of food is overdue.
The village needs the shipment of food. The characters can become involved if one of them is beholden to a prominent villager for a past favor. Perhaps they seek the modest reward offered for return the food, or simply see this quest as an act of goodwill.
Travensburg (village): conventional?noble ruler; neutral good; 200 gp limit; 5,000 gp assets; 500 population; Isolated (95% human, 3% halfling, 1% half-elf, 1% other races)
Authority Figures: Alexi Traven (ruling noble), male human, fighter level 6
Important Characters: Duncam Rolwit (head priest), male human priest of Pelor, level 5; Audsun Meller (miller and merchant), male human expert, level 6
Meeting the Locals
As the adventure opens, the party encounters Alexi Traven (male, human, Ftr6). Depending on the hook used to bring the group into the adventure, Traven might have posted a reward, the party could owe him a favor, or he may have simply sought out the party in the local tavern.
When Traven joins the scene, read or paraphrase the following aloud to the players:
A man stands before you, looking worried and impatient. He introduces himself quickly as Alexi Traven, the lord of the town, and gets down to business. "We've got a missing shipment of food," he says. "Two boys went out to meet the wagon this morning, and no one has returned. I'm busy here until the morning, and I need someone to go check on that wagon. The village needs the food -- scraping up the money for it was no easy chore."
At the Wagon (Encounter Level 2)
The wagon lies surprisingly close to town. Just over 5 miles down the road, the party comes upon the wagon and its attackers.
As you crest a small hill, the fate of the food wagon is revealed. Below you, two figures bundled against the cold struggle to lead a resistant horse off the road. Two orcs are standing guard; one of them watch the wranglers with apparent amusement. The snow-covered ground is stained red in places, and a half-dozen bodies lie in the snow.
Seeking to gather supplies to maintain their exploration of a nearby dwarven ruin, two brothers in the service of Wee Jas, the god of magic, have ambushed the wagon and plan to make off with the food. The brothers, Marsem and Aldin Trember, are in charge of the humanoid workforce the servants of Wee Jas employ to turn the nearby ruin into a hidden base of operations. While the exploration and preparation of the dwarven complex is going well, the place is larger than the brothers anticipated, and they need more supplies to feed their surly employees.
While Aldin keeps things moving at the ruin, Marsem has left with some of the orcs to capture supplies. With the help of his orc companions, Marsem has already dispatched the guards sent with the wagon and the two boys sent to meet it. He has just begun to calm the frightened draft horse still attached to the wagon and is about to head for the new base. The groups get their first chance to spot each other when they are 3d6 x 10 ft. apart. An individual must succeed at a DC 20 Spot check to see the other group. (This Spot check is unopposed, as it takes place before either party has any idea of the other's presence.)
If the party attempts to approach silently, the PCs must make Move Silently checks opposed by the orcs' Listen checks (the orc watching the horse wrangling suffers a ?2 penalty to his check). If the party does not attempt to approach silently, or if they roll lower than the orcs, one or both of the orcs standing watch near the wagon hears them. The orcs cry out a guttural alarm to the others and make a Spot check opposed by Hide checks from the party.
At that point, the orcs move to attack, while Marsem hangs back, casting shield in preparation. Once combat is joined, he casts true strike, then attacks the next round with his crossbow.
Orc (2): CR 2; SZ Medium-sized humanoid (6 ft., 6 in. tall), HD 1d8; hp 4, 5; Init +0; Spd 20 ft.; AC 14 (+4 scale mail); Atk +3 melee (1d12+3/crit x3, greataxe); SQ ?1 penalty to attack rolls in sunlight; AL CE; SV Fort +2, Ref +0, Wil ?1; Str 15, Dex 10, Con 11, Int 9, Wis 8, Cha 8.
Skills and Feats: Listen +4, Spot +3; Alertness
Special Qualities: Orcs suffer a ?1 penalty to attack rolls in bright sunlight or within the radius of a daylight spell.
Possessions: Each orc has scale mail, a greataxe, and a pouch containing 20 sp
Marsem Trember, male human Sor1: CR2; Medium-size humanoid (6 ft., 1 in. tall); HD 1d4 +2; hp 5; Init +3 (Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 15 (+2 armor +3 Dex); Atks +1 melee (1d4+1/crit 19?20, dagger) or ranged +3 (1d8, +1 within 30 ft./crit x3, crossbow); AL NE; SV Fort +4, Ref +3, Wil +2; Str 13, Dex 16, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 11, Cha 15. Spell failure: 10%.
Skills and Feats: Listen +2, Spellcraft +4, Concentration +6; Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot
Possessions: Leather Armor, light crossbow 10 bolts, dagger, cold weather gear, pouch containing 15 gp, pouch of spell components.
Spells Known (5/4): 0--detect magic, mage hand, read magic, light, 1st--true strike, shield
When the fight is over, the party can search the area. A DC 5 Search check reveals the bodies are those of the four guards and the two teenage boys sent to meet the wagon. In addition, the bodies of two other orcs lie amid the carnage. If any of the PCs return to Travensburg with the news of the wagon, a group of villagers will come back with them to claim the food wagon and deal with the bodies of the slain.
A DC 10 Search check in the area reveals a large group of tracks coming from the west. These are the tracks made by Trember and the orcs as they prepared to ambush the wagon. The tracks -- easy to follow, once discovered -- lead three-and-a-half miles into the wilderness, back to the ruin that the Trembers are exploring.
The tracks end at the entrance to a shallow cave. The area around the cave mouth looks heavily trafficked, showing several different sizes of boot print. As the party members approach the cave and take a cursory look around, each one may make a DC 10 Spot check to notice movement inside the cave's mouth.