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. At the beginning of each month (or the end), we outline the hooks that DMs can sprinkle into a campaign weeks before an adventure is released. You DMs will get a taste of what's coming up and some rumors to spread around the inn. 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.
Head in the Clouds
"Head in the Clouds" is a short adventure for characters of levels 7 to 9. It can take place anywhere you wish, from the Chaos Scar to a homebrew setting. It's equally suitable for an original campaign, Forgotten Realms, Eberron, or Dark Sun—anyplace, really, where a floating citadel resembling a giant, stone head wouldn't seem terribly out of place. (In fact, the fortress's resemblance to a giant head has little impact on the adventure. What's important is that it floats, and it's drifting out of control. If it suits your campaign better, switch the head to a cube, globe, cylinder, roper, owlbear head, or whatever strikes your fancy. Perhaps it's the head of a slain and turned-to-stone primordial!)
The adventure begins when the characters notice something ominous in the sky. It's just a speck at first, but eventually it draws close enough that they can recognize it as something that doesn't belong in the sky. Depending on how much lead time you have and how much mystery you want to build around it, this might take a few hours, a few days, or even a week or more. Allowing the characters to see the head as nothing more than a smudge against the distant clouds for several days should spark their curiosity.
Once the head drifts close enough (or the characters travel to it), characters are hailed from the citadel with a plea for help. The head is drifting toward a not-too-distant cliff (a few miles away but well within view) where some sort of ritual is taking place, and it seems to be the ritual which is drawing the head inexorably onward.
What Anyone Can Learn
Very little reliable info can be gained until the characters are near enough to the head to converse with its occupant, and at that point, the adventure itself is underway. That moment can have ample anticipation, however.
When the distant object is first spotted, there will be no reliable information on it but plenty of conjecture. If the characters are in a town or settlement of any size, this will be the number one topic of conversation. Once the citadel's shape becomes recognizable, the suppositions will only increase. Some people will hail it as a sign from the gods, others as a sign from devils; some will consider it a good omen, others a sure signal that the apocalypse is near. Those who favor more mundane explanations probably assume that it's the home of flying raiders coming to attack and loot the village. All sorts of plans and proposals will be put forward ranging from scattering and hiding in the hills to imploring the spirits of the sky for intercession to organizing a scouting/diplomatic party to get a closer look. If the latter happens, the characters should be included in (or at least invited to join) the official contingent sent to investigate the intruder. If the characters are the ones to make this suggestion, so much the better.
You can time things so that characters reach the vicinity of the stone head while it is still too high in the sky for its occupant to communicate with people on the ground. If that's the case, be sure that the characters are aware that the head is descending, albeit slowly, so that they are encouraged to keep pace with it for however many hours or days it will take before the head dips within hollering range and eventually grounds itself.
There's one more important rumor to seed into the campaign, regardless of which hook or introduction you use. Since the head was sighted, minotaurs have been spotted where they aren't usually seen, or seen in greater numbers than usual. These minotaurs keep their distance and seem furtive and secretive.
(If you aren't placing this adventure in Nentir Vale or near the Chaos Scar, change the place and character names below to something more suitable for your campaign.)
Rumors: Someone in the town or the tavern may recall a story of a wizard who lives in a floating citadel rumored to look just like this. They may or may not recall his name (Bolios the Elementalist) or anything else about him. Who pays attention to such wild tales, anyway?
Reward: If someone recalls the name of Bolios, you can add that a nobleman is offering a reward of 200 gp for the capture and return of Bolios and 1,000 gp for the safe return of a stolen book describing the Elemental Chaos titled Azael’s Elemental Travels. For even more effect, news of the theft and the reward can be something that the characters themselves heard in the last town they passed through, but they had no leads on the thief's location until now. In the Nentir Vale, the most likely people to offer such a reward are Armos Kamroth or Nimozaran the Green of Fallcrest. In Restwell Keep, it would likely be Citirian or Benwick.
(Characters can earn a 350 XP quest reward for capturing Bolios and returning him to the nobleman. Unfortunately, Bolios tossed the book into a swamp—unless you'd rather he didn't. He explains that “It was nonsense! Azael clearly knew nothing of the Elemental Chaos.”)
I Know That Face: The stone face may be familiar to one of the characters, someone in the town, or everyone as a depiction of a primordial, a dead deity, an ancient king, or some other important figure. It might be familiar from Nerathi ruins and statuary, temple carvings, ancient coins, the mysterious symbol of an organization whose roots are now forgotten, embossing on the armor of a hated foe, or a doodle on the edge of a treasure map that the characters thought was a fake.
(Characters earn a 350 XP quest reward for getting the full history of the head from Bolios.)
Arcana or Religion can be substituted for History in the first two checks if one of those would be more appropriate, based on who or what you decide the head represents.
DC 16 History: If you decide that the face represents an important historical or mythical figure from your campaign's past, then the character recognizes it as familiar but can't identify it specifically.
DC 24 History: The character recognizes the face and knows what deity, king, or other entity it represents.
DC 24 Perception: The character realizes while the head is still far away that it is slowly descending. In order to make this check, the character must view the head at least twice, and those two viewings must be far enough apart for the head's descent to be noticeable. That might mean a few hours if the head is approaching relatively quickly (will arrive in under 24 hours) or a day or more if the head is drifting in slowly (will arrive in several days). Once the head draws close, its descent can be noted with a DC 16 check. Eventually it will become obvious to everyone, of course.
DC 16 Streetwise: Any rumor you care to insert. Most will be false. Some examples would be, "This thing appears every 20 years, and every town it passes over burns to the ground with no survivors;" or "It's the herald of Sehanine (or the Raven Queen, or Bahamut, or Asmodeus);" or "It's an arcane weapon of ancient Bael Turath (or Cyre, or from the Green Age);" or "I've heard Eastern bards sing of it, and they all say it's packed to the eye sockets with gems and gold from those who've tried to claim it." Be sure to have a few such rumors handy when players seek them out. Otherwise, it may be obvious that you're making something up on the spot.
Description of the Floating Head
Once characters get close enough, they see a massive, floating head that is about 100 feet tall from its chin to its top and 80 feet wide (slightly larger than George Washington’s head on Mount Rushmore, or roughly five times the size of the head of the Statue of Liberty). In addition to this, the head wears a “crown”—a fortified dwarven tower of two levels, each about 15 feet tall. The face's mouth, eyes, and nostrils are openings to the interior.
The face is bearded and appears angry. Because of the stylized representation, it might depict a human, dwarf, halfling, giant, or goliath. With a freer, more artistic interpretation, it could be imagined to be a member of almost any humanoid race, or even some godlike or primordial being.
Lord of the White Field
"Lord of the White Field" is an adventure for characters of levels 6 to 8. It should provide about 15,000 XP—enough experience to raise five characters from level 6 to 7 or from level 7 to 8. It can be placed in any campaign simply by changing the names of a few towns and/or NPCs.
This adventure has a straightforward setup that requires little in the way of preparation. The town of Hampstead suddenly goes quiet, and relatives and merchants in a nearby town want to know why they've received no communication (in the form of merchandise or returning agents) for several weeks. The best way to lay the groundwork for this is to have the characters pass through Hampstead at some point during their travels, and the more recently, the better. By the time the characters return, the town will be in ruins, but they will have some idea of the layout and perhaps know a few NPCs whom they can rescue (or kill, as the case may be).
Alternatively, characters could simply stumble into the adventure by discovering a ravaged campsite or by being ambushed by ghouls.