This campaign is based out of the Timiro Kingdom and the Old Kingdom (and could lead to adventures in a number of other regions in the world). I've actually got a bit more to this, but it was becoming very specific to my own campaign world. What is presented here is a more basic version that should be easily implemented by anyone.
The countryside in the lowlands surrounding Forts Aberla and Pont have recently been the sites of increased attacks by Ogres, Orcs, and other non-humans. It is apparent that the tribes have become far more organized than previously thought and have perhaps even united themselves under a single leader who is now directing their usually random actions. Worse, they appear to be attacking without fear of reprisal and are steadily working their way deeper into Timiro. Still worse, the non-human slave labor throughout the Timiro Kingdom have taken this as a sign and have begun to rebel in some smaller communities (particularly the communities surrounding Forts Pont and Aberla).
The truth is that Nogrustru, the infamous Wolfen Shaman from the Northern Wilderness, has sought other challenges and usurped control of many of the non-human tribes of the Old Kingdom. He then began to slowly build his army and create undead forces to bolster the ranks. He now seeks nothing more than the complete subjugation of Timiro.
How the players ultimately come into this is, of course, up to the GM. Just to have a little fun, here's my method:
One or more of the players is traveling through the countryside when they're waylaid by a group the non-humans returning to their camp in the Aberla pass after razing several farms. If you haven't introduced the player group yet, this would be a good time (another of the player characters is passing by and hears the sound of steel ringing against steel is frequently a fun one). Now, at least one of the poor bandits should escape (otherwise, where's the fun) to try to report to their warlord. The force should fight to approximately 25-30% of their original force before retreating, just to allow for a decent number getting away (my group has always been very resourceful in making sure no one escapes, so it helps to have more than one to give them more targets and let at least one get away).
Here are a few other possibilities for introductions:
- The players are summoned by the local lord to investigate the recent razing of several farms in the area of the Aberla Pass. A courier from one of the forts or a farm arrived warning of orcs and ogres, but died before the healers could be brought.
- The players are enlisted (either as mercenaries or as soldiers in Timiro's army) at one of the forts. They've been assigned the task of investigating the plume of smoke on the horizon and protecting any farms if necessary (this one really works best if you have a fairly large group, 6+ players, to allow for a decent patrol size).
- Some of the players are monks at a local monastery (this would be great combined with the previous option) and have been dispatched to aid some of the farmers in the area. Note: See my accompanying information about monasteries and using Mystic China, martial arts, and Chi/Chi magic in Palladium Fantasy (it may prove useful).
The Aberla Pass
Well, it's obviously great if one of the bandits managed to escape. It gives something for the players to track. The entire width of the Aberla Pass is blocked by an encampment at its western end. The camp consists of a line of watch fires (large bonfires illuminating a twenty-five foot radius - dim, but usable light, especially for the non-human forces, to about fifty feet) spaced approximately thirty feet apart. The camp's sentries (mostly orcs and goblins) stand approximately twenty feet east of the watch fires (two sentries per watch fire). Lines of ogre and troll archers are concealed on both the north and south faces to aid the sentries (a path just west of the watch fires leads up to their current concealed positions). From there, the camp gets increasingly dense, with a number of animal-hide tents at its center. Each rank of the encampment consists of between 50 and 100 soldiers, cavalry, and/or archers, and the army is approximately 10 ranks deep, possibly more (difficult to tell at night and almost impossible to get close enough to see any detail during the day).
In addition to the orcs, goblins, trolls, ogres, kobolds, and hobgoblins, some types of undead (mummies, zombies, and skeletons, with some vampires mixed in for good measure) and a group of mysterious riders (9) concealed beneath dark robes and appearing in the camp only at night are also observed. Any psychic or Chi Magician (Wu Shih) in the group will feel the evil (negative Chi) radiating from the creatures. Psychic Sensitives will be hit the worst, plagued by nightmares for 1D4 weeks unless a successful save vs horror factor (15) is made. Even if a successful save is made, roll 1D4. The psychic sensitive will be plagued by nightmares for that period of time in days.
The players are going to need to get a good idea of the number and type of forces present in order to present the information to the Timiro Royal Family (a simple perception roll can be used to provide this kind of information to the players if they don't realize that). The first failed prowl roll will bring a single sentry investigating, the second one staying behind to raise an alarm, just in case. A second failed prowl roll (trying to keep from being seen after they realize the sentries are suspicious) will cause the second sentry to raise the alarm. The closest ranks of non-humans (mostly mercenary warrior equivalents, with a few units of cavalry/knights) will be raised and prepared within 5 minutes. For now, the players will have to deal with the nearest line of archers (possibly the second line as well) and the nearest three to five groups of sentries (depending on the number of players and their overall power level).
If the players manage to escape (they may have horses nearby), a group of orc cavalry will be sent after them (see Rifter #13 for a good example, though it's really only necessary to use the Knight OCC and change the mount from a horse to some other type of animal that would be willing to carry an orc rider). A second group of two to four flying creatures (undead - either vampires in bat form or some type of undead creature like a Yema) will also be dispatched to track the players to their point of origin should the cavalry fail.
The Return Trip
Whether this is to Fort Aberla, Pont, or the city of Credia (or some other city where they can find the local lord who hired them), the players will be harried all the way by orcish cavalry, the undead flyers, and other groups of the non-human bandits that are operating in the area striking at farms. Nogrustru will have gotten a message to the other units via magic pigeon or additional flyers (probably Yema or vampires) about the incident.
If the players are able to make it back to their fort without being captured or killed (Nogrustru will prefer capture so he can find out what the players know), they will need to report directly to their superior (be that the head of the monastic order, the captain of the guard, or the local lord).
- A monastery can raise a force of 35 monks and have them outfitted and prepared for battle in three days. A force of the Timiro Royal Army consisting of 40 foot soldiers, 20 longbowmen, and 20 cavalry can be raised in a week. The Royal Family is unwilling to commit a force any larger on the words of the monks without additional proof (eyewitness report) from one of the Royal Army's soldiers.
- Fort Aberla can raise and outfit a force of 12 Elven longbowmen, 32 cavalry, and 66 foot soldiers (half their forces) in one day. A force five times as strong can be raised in a week, though the Royal Army's commanders are a bit overconfident and will likely only commit an equal number of troops (double the previously listed numbers) to the effort believing the non-humans nothing more than barbarians, despite the reports provided by the player characters.
- Local lords (usually dukes or earls) will be able to raise a force of 20 knights and 30 foot soldiers (mostly peasant militiamen) in one day. To raise a force any stronger will require at least a week and the consent of the Timiro Royal Family. Again, the Royal Family is unwilling to commit a force any larger than 40 foot soldiers, 20 longbowmen, and 20 cavalry without an eyewitness report from a member of the Royal Timiro Army.
Eventually, Nogrustru will need to be defeated and his army dispersed. Here are a couple of scenarios that may take place (there's certainly other variations, but this should give you a good place to start).
Scenario 1: The players discover the existence of the prophecy and must either seek out the magical item or seek the person destined to lead an army of light. This is likely to take the player characters away from the Timiro Kingdom or, at the very least, to a completely different region of the Kingdom. While they are away, the Timiro Royal Army's troops will have been mobilized and moved to encampment at the east end of the Aberla Pass. Upon the character's return, the army has been forced back and are now at dug in at Fort Aberla. Troops are being reinforced by several ranks of Dwarven foot soldiers and cavalry from Fort Pont, but they will not reach Fort Aberla for three more days. Unknown to them, they are being flanked by Nogrustru's forces (50% orc, ogre, goblin, and troll foot soldiers, 25% flyers, 25% undead). Fort Aberla's walls are likely to be breached before the dwarves are able to reach Fort Aberla.
Scenario 2: The players decide to move early, striking at Nogrustru early in the campaign before the Black Riders have been dispatched to locate the item or person spoken of in the prophecy. Getting into the camp is likely to be a trick given that there are nearly 500 non-human soldiers. Even if it doesn't prove difficult, getting out certainly will be. Luckily, there are Royal Timiro soldiers and/or other monks (depending on the scenario) available to provide a distraction.
No matter which scenario occurs, there's just one problem: even if Nogrustru is killed, the Black Riders still exist and are given their orders from someone even more powerful than the Wolfen. If the player characters defeated the Black Riders in combat during one of the other sections of the campaign, they may have dissipated, but they are far from destroyed. See the section on the Black Riders for more information about them.
The aftermath of Nogrustru's defeat, again, will vary depending on the path the campaign has taken. The non-human army will view the shaman's defeat as a bad omen and begin to disperse back to the Old Kingdom, likely returning to their previous, factionized state -- inter-tribal squabbles and all. Eventually, however, Nogrustru's overlord will begin to gather otherworldly creatures at his citadel and the non-human monsters of the Old Kingdom at his outpost at the base of the mountains, slowly beginning the cycle again (though the shaman's overlord is far more dangerous than the shaman ever was).
The Darkness Grows
Some period of time after the defeat Nogrustru (this could be a few days or it could be weeks or even months), a new presence will make themselves known. Sometime following the shaman's defeat (anywhere from a week to a month after), the party will be the target of a group of assassins (be nice and let the characters attempt to notice their shadows with either a difficult perception roll or a roll against the Surveillance Systems skill). The assassins will wait until the player characters are inside a city where they are more likely to feel secure. This security, the assassins believe, will make the characters soft and less alert to the danger. If they are unable to strike inside a city (for one reason or another), they will strike late on a night of the new moon or after the moon has set.
The assassins all bear the same tattoo on their inner-right wrist: that of a cat's eye on the backdrop of a black hand. Three are armed with bows, the remainder with long swords and daggers (select a number of attackers that will challenge your player group).
After a few rounds (2+) of combat, a deepening blackness will begin appear a dozen yards down the street. From the darkness, a figure steps forth, seemingly from nothing, surrounded by several shadow beasts (there only to protect the figure should the characters attack).
I offer you this warning, he says. Abandon your quest for the weapon this night, or suffer a fate far worse than any death my assassins provide. He chuckles a bit seeing the bodies of any slain assassins lying on the street, while the remaining assassins continue to circle.
Should the player characters have already located a magical weapon which they believe is the prophesied one and say anything about it, then the man will laugh darkly, saying, that weapon holds no power over me. I shall continue to exist no matter how many times it has struck me down.
He says nothing more as the deep blackness again appears behind him and he steps into it (laughing all the way) and disappears. Should the characters attack, the shadow beasts and assassins will stand between the player characters and their attempted quarry, allowing him to escape.
In the event of the players' capture by Nogrustru's forces, they will be taken to a dungeon (actually an old Dwarven tomb which a group of Kobolds unearthed) and imprisoned there. The tomb is a rather dirty place and the occasional large spider (1 HP, 2 SDC, bite does 1D6 + poison [1D4 per melee for 4 melees unless successful save vs poison]) tends to find its way in. The only entry (at least that the players will be able to find) is the front door through which they were tossed. Centuries of dust and cobwebs cover the floor, ceiling, and walls. There are nine crypts contained within the tomb, each one holding a bare skeleton of a dwarf holding a disintegrating and useless weapon. Many of the skeletons appear to have been tampered with and are turned face down. This would be the result of a number of kobolds not very happy with the dwarves' role in their dwindling numbers and destroyed empire during the Elf-Dwarf War.
Twice a day the player characters are brought stale bread and minimal (1 cup) water. It is brought by a single, unarmed goblin, backed by a group of heavily armed and armored orcs (long spears and double mail) that remain outside the crypt at all times, no matter what happens. (GM Note: the double mail bears the insignia of The Royal Order of the Phoenix, a knightly order responsible for a great deal of front line defense at Fort Calda.) Even if the player characters take the goblin hostage or kill the goblin, the orcs will not enter the tomb (if killed, they'll just seal it back up and let the player characters deal with the smell for a couple days). This forces the characters to squeeze through the tomb entry and attack the guards one at a time.
After three days of this, the first of Nogrustru's interrogations will begin with the first player character (to be fair, you might select one at random, but he's likely to target members of the Royal Timiro Army first). His aim is only to learn what the player character knows, at least for the moment. If unwilling to divulge information, the player character will be tossed back into the tomb and the next will be brought out.
This continues until all characters have been questioned. Then he starts to get nasty. The players will first be starved (in an attempt to reduce their resistance), having only enough food and barely enough water for one brought once per day. This is done for a couple reasons. First, it will reduce their character's strength and stamina, and thus their resistance, to the up and coming torture sessions. Second, it is an effort to turn the players against one another by forcing them to compete for food and water.
The next interrogation session (he will continue in the same order as the previous round) involves some roughhousing on the part of Nogrustru's personal Troll bodyguard (read that as "beaten to within an inch of his/her life while being questioned"). After completing the rounds a second time, Nogrustru will stop feeding the imprisoned player characters altogether, slowly healing them up as he can (but never satiating them). Once they have all been healed, the third round of torture will begin.
The third (and final) interrogations will involve psychic and/or magic means. If necessary, Nogrustru will have his mages (mostly witches and warlocks) and mind mages use magic or psychic abilities to torture the player characters before resorting to simply ripping the information from their minds. Exactly what methods are used I leave to you.
Obviously, the one thing I haven't mentioned is escape. The characters will have to be resourceful and careful if they want to escape. Having a subterranean native that can tunnel among them (a gnome, dwarf, goblin, hob-goblin, or kobold) would help, though. If not, then the player characters are going to have to be really smart and careful about how they try to escape. They will need to use the right combination of brute force and cunning to get past the orc guards that ensure they don't leave when meals are brought and they'll need survival skills once they've escaped their cell, otherwise the wilderness of the Old Kingdom Mountains will claim them. I never believed in being too nice to the players, instead offering a challenge so they can be creative (you'd be amazed at some of the plans that have been devised).