Black Water - Episode One: Eckersley Manor
By Duane Maxwell
Black Water is a short Forgotten Realms adventure for four 12th-level characters. The party may consist of any mix of classes. The adventure is a reasonable challenge for 10th- to 12th-level characters and may be set in any campaign world. In the Forgotten Realms setting, the adventure takes place on the western edge of the Marsh of Chelimber, but any marshy area with a small farming village nearby serves well as an appropriate setting.
Someone's been raiding livestock in Eckersley Manor. But this is nothing new. The villagers have been feuding with the people of a neighboring village to the north, Hunter's Landing, for nearly a generation. No one remembers clearly the original cause of the feud, but in the intervening time, both villages have heaped insult onto injury, and the resulting dispute serves as the major focal point of evening discussions in local watering holes in the two villages.
Recently, it seems one of the villages has decided to end the feud once and for all. In the past three weeks, the villagers seem to have stolen or killed more livestock than they did in the previous year. At least, that's what each of the villages think. Because of the feud, people of one village have almost no contact with those of the other, so they don't realize that one village suffers the same fate as the other. The raids between the two communities can account for some of these losses, but not all of them. Something else is at work here, but the villagers of both communities are too blinded by their hate to see that.
Things took a turn for the worse two days ago when Eckersley Manor villagers found a family living on an outlying farm murdered and horribly mutilated. Their corpses were hacked apart and strewn about inside the sagging shack they called home. The pigpen gate was open, and the pigs missing.
When word of this atrocity reached the village, the elders put their heads together and decided to punish Hunter's Landing and end the threat its inhabitants pose to decent people. When the characters arrive, they find an entire community getting ready for war.
Hooking the Characters
The easiest way to involve the characters is for them simply to be passing through the area. The villages are not on a major trade route, but the roads are serviceable. Perhaps the characters are on their way north to investigate troubles in the Nether Mountains. Or maybe they're on their way to Waterdeep to pass the winter. They could even be emissaries from Waterdeep or one of the northern cities to the elven kingdom of Evereska. Regardless of how they're drawn to the area, the characters find themselves in Eckersley Manor on a cool, rainy evening just as night begins to descend. The village doesn't look too promising, but it's probably at least marginally drier in its inn than sleeping out in the open.
Although the characters arrive in Eckersley Manor rather than Hunter's Landing, the description that follows could serve equally well for either. The principal difference between the two is the dilapidated manor house that gives Eckersley Manor its name.
Eckersley manor is damp -- everywhere. The entire village looks like it is about to collapse into a pile of rotted wood. If travelers were to pass by in a year or so, all they would see is a mound of mulch that looks as if a giant cypress tree had fallen and disintegrated. Mists from the nearby Marsh of Chelimber waft through the community, carrying with them the sickly sweet odor of fetid bog and honeysuckle. The track that leads from the north-south trail that eventually skirts the northern edges of the High Moor is little more than a strip of mud that deposits travelers at the front of the local watering hole, a dubious place inappropriately named the Sweetwater Inn. Besides the inn, there is a blacksmith and a wheelwright, a cooper, a brewer, and a dry goods store. Further down the track, a tannery and slaughterhouse share a yard. Surrounding the town are about a dozen visible small farms. Each of the farms has a combination of vegetable patches and livestock, mostly pigs and sheep, with a few scattered cows. On the other side of the north-south track, on slightly higher ground, are some larger farms with tilled fields.
As the characters approach the muddy little village, they see the farmers and craftsfolk of the area fingering weapons, examining them suspiciously, and looking to one another for assurance. The uncertain townsfolk look ready for a fight. Players trying to gauge the intentions of the villagers can make a Sense Motive check (DC 10) to realize that the villagers are scared, not truly hostile.