Episode Two: A Building Feud
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. In the first episode, the heroes approached the wary citizens of Eckersley Manor, noting the ready weapons and hostile looks of the townsfolk.
The Muddy Trail
When the characters come down the muddy trail that connects with the road, they find not a sleepy little hamlet, but a community astir with preparations for a fight. Some people are trying to erect a palisade wall, while others are piling up spears and other assorted weapons suitable to a small farming community. A red-faced man in the blacksmith's shop, sweat pouring off of him, is pumping furiously at a sharpening wheel while another man is sharpening a dagger. A small pile of knives and daggers lies at the second man's feet, and another pile, newly sharpened, sit on a workbench nearby.
When the characters arrive, several people give them hard stares, nervously fingering weapons as they do. A tall, slender man in his early thirties with a scar running down his left cheek onto his neck approaches the party, pleasantly asking them if there's something he can do for them. He introduces himself as Dengram Olmaris (neutral male human Rog 3, Bluff +8), the owner of the Sweetwater Inn and more or less mayor of the village.
Dengram is initially indifferent to the PCs. Characters who make a Diplomacy check (DC 15) can adjust this attitude to friendly. (See page 149 of the Dungeon Master's Guide for more information on NPC attitudes.)
Once the characters explain that they're looking for a place to spend the night, Dengram tells them that he's booked up. If the characters' diplomatic efforts are successful, he will make some room for them. Of course, a dry place to sleep is hard to find right now, so it may cost a bit extra. If the characters are obviously armed as wandering adventurers or sellswords, he eyes them speculatively and offers them an alternative: If they help the villagers of Eckersley Manor mete out justice to the murderers from Hunter's Landing who killed Goodman Flint and his wife and son, he'll house them, feed them, and liquor them up free of charge, and he'll see what he can do about getting them a discount on any goods and services they might need before setting off on their way again.
The characters may very well ask exactly what happened. If they do, they'll be met with a chorus of indignant stories about the evil of the scum that inhabit Hunter's Landing, people who would kill an entire family and then mutilate the corpses. Olmaris gets them to quiet down so he can explain what happened. He tells them of the feud that has lasted for nearly a generation between the two villages, citing examples of the wrongs done them at the hands of Hunter's Landing. Recently, however, they have gone too far. In the last few weeks, they have stepped up raids on Eckersley Manor, carrying off livestock, sabotaging wagons, and so on. But last night, they went so far as to break into Goodman Flint's home, kill him, his wife, and his son, and then mutilate the corpses, strewing body parts around their small farmstead like so much refuse. So it's time the people of Eckersley Manor ended the dispute once and for all.
What's Going On
As veteran adventurers, the heroes might sense that they're not getting all the truth from Olmaris. In his defense, it's not that he's deliberately lying; rather, he and the villagers just witnessed a terrible atrocity, and they're not thinking straight at the moment. Most of them are convinced that Hunter's Landing is behind the recent raids and the murder of the farm family. They have found tracks leading back to Hunters Landing.
Of course, there are also half-truths here. Rumors have floated into the village that Hunter's Landing has suffered similar raids. Although the Eckersley Manor folk have already engaged in some reprisals of their own, the rumors persist of livestock just butchered out of hand and left to rot. But the villagers swear they did not kill any of the livestock. What they could not capture they drove off. To a farmer, it is a waste of good meat simply to slay livestock out of hand. A week ago, some of their own animals were slaughtered as well. Some of the villagers claim that Hunter's Landing folk are destroying their own livestock and making it look like Eckersley Manor villagers are doing it. These folk claim that the loss of the herds of sheep and cows may prompt the merchant costers to step in and take action against Eckersley Manor. Wiser heads suspect that a gang of bandits has set up in the area or that some of the lizardfolk are raiding out of the Chelimber. But no one has ever found tracks leading into or out of the Marsh, so the Hunter's Landing theory currently holds sway. Dengram Olmaris does not believe for a moment that Hunter's Landing is responsible for all the livestock slayings, but he sees an opportunity to channel the villagers' rage against Hunter's Landing and seize the fisheries near that village, enriching both Eckersley Manor and himself at the same time. So he has chosen to remain silent about his doubts, not mentioning his fears that something more dangerous is at work here. When the adventurers arrive in Eckersley Manor, it is as if they are the answer to his prayers. Characters who are suspicious of Dengram's description can make a Sense Motive check (opposed by Olmaris's Bluff check) to realize that the innkeeper knows more than he's letting on.
The heroes can try to dig up some info from the villagers. This is actually more difficult than it might seem, for the villagers are currently whipped up into a bit of a frenzy. Initially, they won't accept the notion that someone other than the people of Hunter's Landing might be responsible for what is going on. If a hero makes a successful Gather Information check (DC 20), he can find out that they have been raided like this in the past, but never on this scale. Usually just a few animals, usually sheep, went missing. One villager, Rand the blacksmith, says that the recent spate of attacks began after a trio of hunters ransacked a sod house about three miles into the swamp. Only one of the hunters made it back to the village, burbling something about a troll who carried two axes and cut the other two down in the blink of an eye. The man was too badly injured for the herb healers to do much for him, so there wasn't anything else from the man. So far, the blacksmith says, no one else seems to want to believe that the two events might be related, so fired up are they to blame the folk of Hunter's Landing. So instead of checking things out, they get ready to kill their neighbors.
The heroes might wish to investigate this other possibility (assuming they're at all interested in the events here). However, the people of Eckersley Manor are planning to attack their enemies in Hunter's Landing tonight. Convincing the other villagers that they should hold off attacking the other village until someone checks out this other possibility is difficult. Heroes must succeed at a Diplomacy check (DC 22 ) to do so. If the heroes do this successfully, Olmaris will agree to wait until tomorrow night to attack Hunter's Landing. With a bit of grumbling, the other villagers follow his lead.
Another villager, a woman named Selka who knows the near part of the Marsh from a decade or so of experience as a hunter, says she knows of the place the other hunters claimed to discover. Almost due southeast of the village is a small island in the Marsh. The far side of the island has a small landing on it, beyond which is a sod house. She says a very large creature lives there (or at least used to), but she doesn't think it's a troll. She didn't see any axes, either; it was sharpening a spear point.