Episode Three: Dangerous Waters
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 and second episode, the party met the inhabitants of Eckersley Manor, a small town on the edge of a marsh. Talking to the villagers, the party learned that recent raids on the village might be the work of some swamp predator. Hearing conflicting reports about what sort of predator might be lurking in the swamps, the PCs continue their short investigation in this third episode and then head into the swamp.
What's Really Going On
The hunters who invaded the sod house (see Episode 2) encountered its owner: an ogre named Krain. The ogre tore two of them to pieces, injured the third, and let him crawl back to where he came from as a message for the other villagers. Krain was angry, and he meant to make them pay for violating his home and trying to steal from him. Unfortunately for the villagers on the western edge of the Marsh, Krain is no ordinary ogre. He is the spawn of an ogre and some fiendish creature of the lower planes. He chose to make his home in the Marsh mostly to be left alone. He is a mercenary who has made numerous enemies over the years. Jis home in the Marsh serves as a refuge where he can find a bit of peace. He lives near enough a secondary trade route that he can maintain contact from time to time with various agents. Every so often, he is gone for months at a time, serving in some army somewhere. Although his outlook and ways are evil, he is willing to live in relative peace here in the Marsh. After making an example of a few lizardfolk intruders a few years ago, other creatures in the Marsh have not bothered him. The villagers at the edge of the Marsh didn't disturb him much either after he scared a few of them off.
With the invasion of his home, however, his patience has come to an end. He is aware of the enmity between the two villages, so he set about getting them to kill one another off. He began raiding outlying farms, capturing or killing livestock, destroying equipment, and so on. In each attack, he was careful to leave some evidence of other people's involvement. He doesn't know very many details about either of the two villages, so he made most of these signs simple: tracks leading back to one of the two villages, one community's livestock found in the possession of the other community, and so on. As he himself leaves no tracks, it was easy to hide his involvement.
Eventually, however, someone discovered him. On a moonless night, he raided the farm of Goodman Flint. Flint's boy woke up and shouted out a warning before Krain could slip away. If the villagers thought there was some sort of creature stirring up trouble for them, they'd arm themselves for a hunt or try to convince some other authority to bring in professional bounty hunters. He didn't want to have to deal with those who would eventually come, so he made a split-second decision to silence the family. He killed all three within the space of a few heartbeats, and made it look like the villagers of Hunter's Landing butchered them.
The reaction of the folk of Eckersley Manor meant that his ruse succeeded. With the happenstance arrival of the heroes, however, that may change. Krain is only aware that the heroes have arrived later in the night that they arrive. He comes to see if Eckersley Manor has attacked Hunter's Landing yet, and he spots the heroes' horses in the corral. He retreats to the Marsh to prepare a few defenses should they be bounty hunters or others who might come after him. Then he waits, choosing to fight on his ground rather than theirs.
The Marsh of Chelimber is a low area fed by the runoff of surrounding mountains. It is the site of a small kingdom from around the time of Waterdeep's early days, but since then has been home mostly to lizardfolk and other reptilian creatures. Most of it is water, although there are many islands dotting the Marsh. Willows and other water-loving trees abound in the area, and there is abundant undergrowth, mostly vines, creepers, and so on. Along the edges of the Marsh there are trails through the undergrowth, but to navigate them successfully requires a local guide. The swamp trails have many dead ends and switchbacks, and it is easy to get lost in the maze of vegetation. Most people traveling through the Marsh do so by flat-bottomed boat.
The Marsh teems with life. There are all sorts of creatures native to such terrain, as well as some unnatural creatures. A few of the central and eastern islands contain ruins of the all-but-forgotten kingdom of ages past, but most of the Marsh has remained unchanged over the centuries. Most of the animals in the Marsh avoid contact with humans and other intruders. Other creatures, however, are aggressively territorial. Dungeon Masters who wish to use this adventure as a springboard for further exploration in the Marsh should consult the Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual for ideas on what other interesting encounters the heroes might experience in the area.
Krain is especially adept at crafting natural traps, and he has built some in the general area of his home. Many of these are for trapping animals for food; others are for killing his enemies. The DM should place several of these in the heroes' way as they close in on Krain.
The Dungeon Master should consult the following list to determine what sort of traps the heroes might encounter (see page 115 of the Dungeon Master's Guide for descriptions):
The DM need not use all of these, and she might choose to use one more than once. The problem for the heroes is that they need to keep up with Krain, but they're on his ground. He lures them into these traps as many times as they fall for it, trying always to remain one step ahead of them.
Because of the terrain, there is only one pit trap: a 10-foot-deep pit with about three feet of water in it. When a hero triggers the trap, he falls down a slippery short incline that dumps him feet-first into the pit. Beneath the water are sharpened stakes that are designed to momentarily slow the victim. Treat these as caltrops (see the description of these on page 107 of the Player's Handbook). Also in the water are two water snakes (Snake, Medium-Size Viper; see pages 200 and 202 of the Monster Manual for information). Startled by the victim's fall into the pit, they attack repeatedly. They are unable to get out of the pit, so they bite out of fear. The sides of the pit are slick, muddy clay. Climbing out requires a Climb check (DC 20: adequate handholds, slippery). If the victim avoided damage from the sharpened stakes, he may climb at half his normal movement rate as a full-round action, enabling him to get out of the pit in a single round (see the description of the Climb skill on pages 64-65 of the Player's Handbook). If the caltrops hidden in the water injured the victim, his base movement rate is halved. Of course, other heroes can assist the victim's escape by lowering a rope, for example.
Covered Pit Trap: CR 2; Reflex save (DC 20) avoids; 10 ft. deep (1d6, fall), +0 melee (1d2 caltrops for 1 point of damage each and slowing effect); Search (DC 20); Disable Device (20).
Once the PCs get past the pit trap, they can see the small, slumping hut that they've come to find. A Spot check (DC 20) reveals something moving inside.