The Orchard contains encounters of level 2-8
A grove of hoary old fruit trees encircles a dilapidated old manor house like a moth-eaten blanket. Holes in the house's roof and walls suggest that it has been abandoned for decades or longer. Yet, a curl of smoke from one intact chimney announces that someone is in residence. Squatters, perhaps?
Background for the DM
The orchard sprawls over more than 200 acres. It is all that remains of the great estate belonging to the noble Montmorency family. The woods and fields around the orchard still belong to the family, but few people are left to work them. At one time, the orchard and fields were rich, but a prolonged drought followed by a war or other disaster drove off most of the common folk who worked the land. The family and a few stalwart retainers kept working the orchard, but they found themselves eating all of their produce (or giving it away to starving travelers) and the family was soon reduced to poverty.
Over the years, the family has just barely held onto its property. A sprawling manor house stands amid the cherry, apple, and plum trees, but it has fallen into disrepair and only a single wing remains habitable.
Today, only two Montmorency heirs remain. Tanya, an adopted daughter who was found abandoned on the manor's doorstep, works to revive the orchard and surrounding farmland. Leonor was born to the last count of Montmorency, Nikolos, and a local woman a few years after Tanya's adoption. The situation has left the title to the estate in doubt, because one heir is not a blood relative and the other is illegitimate. In fact, Nikolos left behind a will affirming that both women are his acknowledged heirs. The will makes Tanya sole owner of the estate until such a time as she judges Leonor responsible enough to claim her share. When Tanya thinks Leonor is ready, she is to get half the estate. Tanya knows about the will (but see the setup hook below for possible adjustments), but she has decided not to tell her sister about it. Tanya has no desire to cheat Leonor out of her due, but she's fairly certain her sister is not responsible enough to manage her inheritance.
Unless the player characters have a taste for fruit, they're not likely to visit the orchard unless they're lost or overly inquisitive. Here are a few things that might pique their interest.
These tales are outlandish but have some basis in fact. The pixies and giant owls that dwell outside the orchard provide the basis for most of the tales -- many travelers and trespassers have endured some very bad frights in the area. The pixies' illusion powers are mostly to blame, but an attack from the giant owl on a dark night can be pretty scary when you don't know what you're facing. Leonor, too, has sometimes frightened or attacked people near the orchard, as the mood strikes her.
Tanya has indeed created a new cherry variety (see Visiting the Orchard). Perhaps she would be willing to sell a few of her trees, or perhaps she does not wish to part with them, at the DM's option. Another option is that saplings aren't available yet. In this case, Tanya does her best to explain the situation to the PCs, but the DM could choose to have the PCs' employer be suspicious of her story so the truth won't make any difference.
The heir could be an imposter, but another heir who has been unjustly denied a share of the estate could also exist. Nikolos' will is genuine, however, and the best a third heir could do is claim an equal share from Tanya and Leonor. Tanya may retain her right to withhold the third share if the DM chooses. If so, the newly discovered heir is not likely to take that sitting down, and he or she might try to force Tanya's hand. The PCs will be faced with choosing sides (or perhaps simply withdrawing from the whole tangled affair).
About Tanya and Leonor
Today, Tanya labors to rehabilitate the orchard and the rest of the estate. She and a few family retainers are carefully pruning, thinning, and replanting the orchard. She has found her considerable knowledge of agriculture and forestry unequal to the task and she has begun druidical studies. During the winter months, Tanya goes adventuring. She places the money she earns back into the estate.
Meanwhile, Leonor has become an accomplished thief who uses the estate as a place to lie low when her exploits have gotten her into trouble. Leonor is happy to let her sister keep the estate running. She is unaware of the true extent of the property or exactly what it is worth. She assumes (correctly) that the family has accumulated considerable debt over the years and hopes to earn enough adventuring to save the place from inevitable foreclosure.
In fact, Tanya is just barely staying ahead of the creditors, thanks to some careful negotiations and brilliant management of what assets she commands.
Tanya uses entangle or soften earth and stone to trap foes and make them more prone to see reason. If pressed, she uses produce flame to attack enemy spellcasters or heavily armored foes. She relies on Ebert to protect her. If a fight goes badly, she climbs aboard Ebert and tries to escape. (Ebert is not a riding horse, but he'll gladly carry Tanya out of danger.) If she has time, Tanya casts a summon nature's ally spell to help cover her retreat. If Leonor also in involved in the fight, Tanya won't withdraw unless she can persuade her sister to go, too.
When a battle begins, Leonor is equally likely to attempt to distract her foes, then hide (see the Hide skill description), or feint and sneak attack (see the Bluff skill description). If she has any allies in a fight, she'll use her Tumble skill to get into position to flank a foe and make a sneak attack. Leonor isn't prone to taking risks unless there's wealth or excitement to be gained, but she won't let her sister, Tanya, come to harm if she can help it.
Visiting the Orchard
A group who decides to prowl around the estate can find a few noteworthy places.
Manor House (EL 6-8)
As noted earlier, this sprawling pile is mostly a ruin. Tanya and her "family" live in one wing on the ground floor. They have a kitchen, a living area, and a few chambers for storage and sleeping.
Creatures: Tanya has a handful of laborers and servants to help her with the orchard. Most of these people are very old or very young and none can help in a fight. Tanya herself can prove a formidable combatant, especially with Ebert at her side.
Like any careful country farmer, Tanya keeps a few dogs for protection. These could be guard dogs or riding dogs, or both at the DM's option. From time to time, Leonor comes for a visit.
Dogs (6-9): hp 6 each; see Monster Manual, page 271.
Riding Dogs (2-3): hp 13 each; see Monster Manual, page 272.
Tactics: The dogs attack as a pack. The whole group picks out a likely target and converges. When possible, some dogs slip to the flanks once battle is joined. The tactics Tanya and Leonor use are described earlier.
This building looks decrepit, but Tanya keeps it in good repair. Inside, Tanya stores the fruits of the orchard: some fresh, some dried. Tanya also has a few draft animals (including Ebert), a wagon for taking goods to market, and a few pigs and chickens.
Inner Orchard and Gardens
Tanya has brought most of the property within about 50 yards of the house under proper cultivation. The area includes thriving fruit trees (including a variety of sour cherry that she has created herself through careful cross-pollination), vegetable gardens, and nursery plots where saplings grow.
Outer Orchard (EL 2-5)
The orchard beyond the well-tended band around the house is tangled and overgrown from long neglect. Tanya has allowed several squatters to move in here. Possible residents include the following:
Black Bears (1-2): hp 19 each; see Monster Manual, page 269.
Tactics: An abundance of wild and half-wild fruit has drawn these creatures. Tanya has conversed with them via speak with animals several times. The bears are grumpy toward most creatures other than Tanya herself, but they don't tend to attack unless surprised or harassed.
Giant Owls (3-5): hp 26 each; see Monster Manual, page 205.
Tactics: This company of giant owls lives and hunts among the taller trees in the woods on the estate. They're smart enough to distinguish casual visitors from raiders or attackers. They might attack creatures they regard as hostile, or they might simply send a messenger to warn Tanya of the intrusion.
Pixies (6-11): hp 3 each; see Monster Manual, page 236.
Tactics: The pixies frolic throughout the estate. They usually stick to the wilder areas, but they sometimes visit the house to play pranks on Tanya's servants or the receive treats of fruit and home cooking. They'll bedevil any intelligent creatures they meet. They usually refrain from lethal attacks, but quickly turn deadly if attacked with deadly force.
About the Authors
Skip Williams keeps busy with freelance projects for several different game companies and was the Sage of Dragon Magazine for 18 years. Skip is a co-designer of the D&D 3rd Edition game and the chief architect of the Monster Manual. When not devising swift and cruel deaths for player characters, Skip putters in his kitchen or garden (rabbits and deer are not Skip's friends) or works on repairing and improving the century-old farmhouse that he shares with his wife, Penny, and a growing menagerie of pets.
Penny Williams joined the roleplaying game industry as Game Questions Expert for TSR, Inc. in the 1980s. Since then, she has served as RPGA Network Coordinator, PolyhedronNewszine editor, and Senior Editor and Coordinating Editor for the RPG R&D Department at Wizards of the Coast, Inc. Now a busy freelancer, Penny edits for several game companies and runs the online playtesting program for Wizards products. When not enhancing the cruelty of the deaths PCs will suffer at the hands of designers, Penny puts up jam, works jigsaw puzzles, and tutors students in math and science.
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