Cool Stuff in the Wrong Direction – Overland

Picture Unrelated
Picture Unrelated

Players are genetically predisposed to being dicks. It’s a fact. Their left nostril doesn’t detect odorant molecules the way a good and proper human’s does. It smells unpreparedness. If you’ve prepared interesting material to the North, East, and South, then the players will go West. Because they’re dicks.

Fortunately, you’re the kind of referee who prepares for their own unpreparedness.

  1. The party encounters an act of banditry in progress. Everyone is occupied, so the players have a 4-in-6 chance of remaining unseen. In the chaos, both the bandits and their victims will assume the players are hostile unless they make their intentions crystal clear.

    The victims are emissaries from the noble house of Burnon. The house is in dire financial condition and have made a loathsome deal with the wizard Kelissax. Kelissax needs to sacrifice a child of noble blood for his spell research. The house of Burnon has a 6 year old, 4th-in-line heir that they really don’t need. The child is traveling by carriage, and knows nothing of his coming fate.

    The bandits, meanwhile, are in the employ of Arogoth the Cutthroat, who is known to be a loyal servant to Kelissax. The wizard, as it turns out, isn’t quite as wealthy as he suggested to the desperate Burnon matriarch. He can’t afford the child’s cost, so he’s hoping to steal the boy away for free. The Burnons can hardly mount a spirited search for his kidnappers. To do so would require them to answer awkward questions about what the boy was doing so far from home.

  2. A hamlet called Telsborough with no more than 120 residents. It’s a welcoming town, moderately reknowned in the area for its excellent food and hospitable citizens. There’s no proper inn, but several families in town have formed a “hosting committee,” and will happily put up travelers in their homes. They hope, someday, to attract a trade road to come through their town.

    Unfortunately, after 2 months of marriage, a young man named Albert has decided that it’s the perfect time to murder his young wife Felicity. Selling off her meager dowry after she’s gone will allow him to afford a silversmithing apprenticeship in the city.

    His plan is simple: Tell the ever-so-trusting felicity to meet him “where they first kissed,” which happens to be a narrow path between two homes just off the main road. Knowing Felicity, when she sees strangers come by on the main road, she’ll call a few of them over to show them her fine needlework. If they’ll just swing by the house later, she’d be happy to sell a few garments for the travelers to bring to any ladies in their life.

    Albert will watch from hiding. Once the meeting takes place, he’ll pop out, stab poor Felicity until her eyes go cold, then wait for the body to be found. He assumes people will naturally assume the strangers are responsible. It’s not the most clever plan, but Albert is hardly the most clever man.

  3. A large mound of dirt breaks the surface, with a hole at the top large enough for two humans to climb down abreast. The tunnel is buttressed with the bones of large animals. Things live here. Bulky, furred, not-quite-men with swollen tongues hanging to their chests.

    For the layout of the barrow, use a childhood home as a kind of mental map. The rooms are chambers, the doors and hallways are corridors, any stairs are holes in the floor or ceiling. Each of the creatures who live here correspond to one of the people who lived in that home with you. Their personalities are twisted and cruel versions of those people, even if those people were already a little twisted and cruel to start with.

    In the chamber that corresponds to your kitchen, there is a mass grave filled with headless human bodies, covered by a burlap tarp. Most of the heads are stored in primitive ice chest. The rest are strewn across the ground, cracked open, brains sucked out.

    In what was your bathroom are a dozen fawns of the barrow’s horrid habitants. Mewling and suckling at a tank of fluids that have been juiced from human brains. In what was your living room there is a fat candle of yellow wax as tall as a man’s belly. If its flame ever goes out, the not-quite-men believe they will be forsaken by their dirty, hateful god.

    Any exits from your home aside from the main entrance are instead hidden doors. There’s a 2 in 6 chance they lead to a small cache of treasures, otherwise it is a hidden escape tunnel that lets out under a rock 3 miles from the main entrance.

    In the place where you slept, there is a trio of elderly captives. Delicacies for these creatures. Their brains are being saved to be eaten fresh. Two of these are an old peasant couple on the road to visit their daughter the next town over. One is Sir Wulhurst, a venerable knight of 112 years. Any PCs who grew up within 100 miles of here will have heard of his exploits. Most people assume he’s dead. It’s understandable, given that he rarely leaves his keep in these final decades of his life, but the assumption still irks him.

  4. The players encounter a wall with a matte painting of countryside on it. Turns out there literally isn’t anything in this direction. Just a matte painting, and a low-level psychic suggestion that before now had always prevented anyone from walking this way.

    It won’t take much searching for the players to discover a sliding steel door in the matte painting, which can be pried open with a crowbar. Within are space aliens. Bald blue skinned humanoids with six fingered hands and bulbous red fish-eyes on either side of a narrow head. They’re running around in a mild panic, as a fire just destroyed their psychic emitter a moment ago. A panic that will only increase when they see the players–members of a truly brutal and savage race.

    These alien’s technology isn’t so much “advanced,” as it is “different” from our modern day technology. For example, the smallest computer they’ve managed to develop weighs 100lb, but they’ve discovered the means of producing psychic emissions. Likewise, they’ve never figured out rocket science, or even basic flight. But they do know how to teleport themselves to any world with a magnetic core strong enough to serve as a beacon.

  5. The players encounter a lighthouse on top of a hill, but nowhere near any body of water. The structure is simplistic, but effective and competently assembled. It is maintained by a woman named Josephene, who claims that God told her to build it. That the world will soon be flooded once again, and that the light will guide people to her when the floodwaters come. When they arrive, she will give them the word of God’s new covenant. She’s not willing to share God’s new covenant yet, but welcomes any potential faithful to stay with her and tend the lighthouse until the hour arrives.

    Josephene is not crazy. She’s the victim of a megalomaniacal fly who feasted on the mind of a dead prophet as a maggot. Gifted with long life and knowledge of the future, the creature has learned to buzz its wings in a way that humans are able to interpret as speech. Buzzing accurate predictions in a person’s ear is liable to convince just about anyone that they’re receiving messages from some unseen deity. And in point of fact, the area will be affected by massive flooding early this coming spring. If left alone, a cult will form that venerates flies as sacred creatures. The presence of an active “voice of god” in people’s ears will cause it to grow quickly, rivaling other major religions in the region.

  6. A small copse of trees, perhaps 500’ in diameter, with a guard tower rising from the center. The foliage is dense, and within 30’ the party will have lost sight of the forest’s edge. Which is a problem, because for anyone who cannot see the world outside of the copse, this forest is infinitely large.

    The players can search all they wish, but they will not find the guard tower until they attempt to leave the forest, after which they will encounter it after moving 100’. Outside the tower are a few dozen graves, and a set of digging tools. Within is a group of eight people, emaciated and hungry. Anyone who becomes lost in the forest is invited to join their little community. As they have no food and no way of escaping the forest, the primary purpose of the group is to bury the dead, welcome any newcomers, and eventually die themselves.

    Though your players may find any number of solutions, the most obvious is to simply climb along the tops of the trees. They’re dense enough that it should be a simple thing to do, and since you can see the world outside the copse, it’s no more than 250’ to freedom.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

3 thoughts on “Cool Stuff in the Wrong Direction – Overland”

  1. This makes me happy. Leaving aside the issue of whether all players are predisposed to dickishness–I like to think we’re all just ornery you’re-not-the-boss-of-me types–I enjoy random strangeness. When you quest to the goblin cave, find a cave, find goblins, and kill them… well, it was a mission and you got what it said on the tin.

    I prefer my players get what is very much not written on the side of the tin.

    People remember when they went into the wood to chase goblins, but rather found themselves stuck on an infinite trail, forever searching until one guy gets the thought to climb a tree and look around. They don’t remember when they went in, killed X hit dice of interchangeable monster-units, and left.

    I also love random tables. That is, not random wandering monsters–bleah, what does that do other than provide a meaningless combat–but random moments that have enough of the uncanny that normal player curiosity will expand into a whole evening. And sometimes, when your brilliant ideas of what’s north, south, and east collapse into the goatshow of ‘nah, we’re headed west,’ an impromptu spark is all that’s needed. Pigheaded player clue-seeking provides the rest.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I was hoping this would be well received enough to make it a recurring feature on the blog, and it seems like it has been.

      I’m actually a pretty big fan of wandering monster tables. I think they’re a great tool, but the problem is that a lot of GMs forget to do anything other than check for a monster, and randomly determine what kind of monster appears.

      More properly they should also determine distance and surprise. Maybe the adventurers can sneak past the creature, or kill it with a carefully laid trap or a devastating sneak attack. If the players aren’t present a hostile posture, they forget to roll reaction. Perhaps the monster isn’t hostile at all, perhaps it’s neutral, or even friendly.

      Random monster encounters should never be meaningless combat. They should be three dimensional challenges, with limitless resolutions. And when they’re over, maybe the players are walking away from a new friend, rather than a dead body.

      1. I agree that they are a good tool, properly used. Like you, I’m not a fan of “here’s a random fight.” Rather, I see two good uses.

        If the PCs are underground/dungeoneering, wandering monsters are great at moving the party along. They help prevent the dreaded 15-minute-adventuring-day by taking away the PC’s ability to fight only on their terms (at least without clever planning, which the players should be rewarded for). They also, counterintuitively, speed up dungeoneering by countering the player impulse to spend far too long searching every crack for treasure and traps.

        If the PCs are traveling overland, wandering monsters provide good hooks for further player-directed exploration, and make for a good session when the PCs go off the rails, as it were. It’s pretty easy to add some sort of oddness to any wandering monsters, because PCs are great at picking up anything that might lead to further adventure. Even something like, eh, each monsters all wears the same blue sash; the PCs will go ‘huh?’ and may well investigate.

        Moreover, we definitely agree that PCs should have the opportunity to take action other than drawing the sword. Parlay, bypass, ambush. But the GM has to be able to make it as reasonably profitable (in treasure, or interestingness) to do these things as it is to jump in and attack.

Comments are closed.