Hindsight - Episode One: The Worms Turn
By Owen K.C. Stephens
"Hindsight" is a short adventure for four 15th-level characters that takes place in a lightly inhabited, mountainous region. The adventure has connections to the drow and an underground network of caves, making it particularly appropriate for the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, but is easily placed on almost any D&D world.
It should go without saying that the following information is intended for Dungeon Masters -- if you'll be playing "Hindsight," read no further!
Adventure Background: The Horror of Havenfast
The mountain town of Havenfast has suffered a great deal recently. A few months ago a monster killed a number of local miners. The sorcerer Zareph, self-proclaimed "sorcerer of Havenfast," hired a band of adventurers to deal with whatever had slaughtered the men, and the group reported the successful defeat of some sort of mage beholder, the likely culprit. A few weeks later, after the adventurers were long gone, new problems arose: The dire bears and dire wolves native to the mountains began feeding in the more populated hills near Havenfast. A pair of purple worms appeared, eating livestock and attacking caravans. The townsfolk near panic, and though everyone turns to him, Zareph doesn't know what to do about it.
What no one realizes is that the mage beholder the adventuring band claims to have destroyed was (and still is) in fact a beholder ghost.
If the horror ever had a name, it has forgotten it. The beholder had been destroyed in its home, a cavern in the mountainside, decades earlier while fighting a party of drow. The dark elves broke into the creature's home from tunnels below, seeking some magic item the beholder had taken. After killing the beholder, the drow discovered what they wanted and left the cave, never to return. The beholder was a particularly territorial creature and was so enraged by the invasion that its ghostly spirit refused to leave this world, staying behind to guard what had been the monster's home in life. However, as long as the cave has been undisturbed and sealed from the outside, the ghost inside has made no effort to travel beyond it.
This changed when local prospectors, seeking access to the rich gold veins found sporadically throughout the mountain, broke into the beholder's chamber from the outside. This shocked and angered the spirit of the beholder, which killed many of the miners. This led directly to Zareph's employment of the adventurers who claimed they destroyed the creature.
In truth the ghost beholder threat cannot be ended until its cave is once again closed to the outside world. A few weeks after the adventures left town, the ghost recovered from their attack. Still enraged over the invasion of its home, the ghost ventured out from its lair, killing or driving away nearly every living thing on, in or around the mountain. This drove the dire animals that dwelt there down into the lowland hills, where they began to make trouble for people near Havenfast. The lack of prey forced subterranean purple worms away from their natural environment in the caves below the mountain, causing them to attack any large group of living creatures in search of food -- especially herds of animals and large caravans. In time, the ghost beholder itself will reach the town, which it will no doubt feel compelled to destroy.
When the heroes enter the lands near Havenfast, they find a community in desperate straits.
Hooking the Characters
The easiest way to get player characters involved in the adventure is for them to simply pass through the area and witness a pair of purple worms attack a small caravan. For a little more personal motivation with PCs who are well-known heroes, members of an arcane society, or clerics of a prominent local god, send them a message from Zareph asking for their help. If the characters have connections with other bands of adventurers, the party that thought they had destroyed the ghost beholder could be allies of the PCs -- this gives Zareph or the earlier party themselves the chance to ask the heroes to look into claims of the monster's reappearance.
If you decide to give the PCs previous knowledge of the ghost beholder, it could spoil some of the surprise factor, so choose carefully how to bring the party into the action and how much information to give them beforehand.
On a cool autumn morning, as the characters travel the road either towards Havenfast or past it, they see a caravan coming towards them. This is small group of three wagons, each pulled by two horses and four mules. The town of Havenfast itself is visible in the distance, a collection of small wooden buildings and a single tall stone tower in the center of town. Beyond that a majestic mountain rises from the morning mist, looming over everything within miles.
The first sign of trouble is the snort of the lead caravan horse, followed quickly by other animals balking and refusing to move any further. A Listen check (DC 20) allows a character to realize the ground is rumbling very slightly, as if an extremely light earthquake were occurring. A truly remarkable Listen check (DC 35) allows a character to realize the sound is coming from deep beneath the earth and is moving quickly toward the caravan.
Two rounds after the first horse balks, a purple worm bursts out of the ground and attacks one of the lead wagon's mules. A round later, a second worm shoots from the earth and attacks another caravan animal attached to the second wagon (roll 1d4 to determine which mule is attacked on the first wagon, and 1d6 to determine which animal is targeted on the second wagon). These creatures have been driven from their natural habitat, and the lack of their natural food sources has left them in a ravenous frenzy. They are easily capable of swallowing all the mules whole, and remain even after that to eat chunks of whatever creatures are left. If any characters attack them, the worms fight to the death rather than leave their newfound food supply.
Assuming the characters manage to save the caravan, its owner, the merchant Aielle Dell, thanks them and offers what little money she has as a reward. She tells the characters of the terrible troubles plaguing the lands around Havenfast, and confesses that she left before selling most of her wares out of fear of losing her goods to dire wolves or some other creature prowling the lowland hills.
While the characters are speaking to Aielle a voice appears in one of the character's heads (via a sending spell). The voice intones, "I am Zareph, sorcerer of Havenfast. Great danger surrounds you all. Come to my tower, and we shall speak of tremendous troubles and risky rewards."