Last week we looked at the origin of the two songs that I’ll be tackling for this particular adventure arc. This week, we’ll be getting down into the nitty gritty of the adventure hook.
When I look at these stories, high fantasy is really the first choice that speaks to me. And so we’re going to progress based on that assumption.
Over the years, several sizable communities have grown around a large bay on one of the coast lines. The bay is very well populated with all manner of sea life. It is also shallow enough around the coastline that it is easily fished, but deep enough out further from the shore to be dangerous for those fishermen who are not prepared. The waters are under the protection of a particularly powerful elemental spirit who goes by the name of Sedna in the common tongue. Years ago, she made an agreement with the founders of the first towns that in exchange for being allowed to fish her lands, she would occasionally take back, claiming some of the villagers for her kingdom. Years went by and the agreement lasted. The towns grew and prospered because of the bounty of food that was provided for them. And they didn’t ask questions of the spirit when a fishing boat never came back. They mourned their dead and moved on. Over the years, the agreement turned into legend. And legend faded into obscurity. In time, very few people knew of Sedna or of the agreement. But still, stories persisted of the sea being haunted and the occasional sighting of a skeleton or bloated, decomposing figure standing on the coastline in the dead of night watching the villages was reported by more than one local. Through all of this the towns continued to grow. Inspired by their success, more and more towns were founded around the coastline. More and more of the sealife was taken by the increasing population and the waters started to become polluted with the trash from the growing towns.
And Sedna grew angry.
She was angry at being forgotten. Angry at having people she had made no agreement with hunt her land. Angry at these people for destroying her kingdom with their trash.
She decided it was time to take action and remind them of her power. And so she sent several of the villagers she had taken over the years into the towns and villages. She gifted them the ability to appear as human in the light of day, but her power only stretched so far as there was light. Her sons and daughters would show their true selves under the light of the moon. She gifted them with the power to bewitch the hearts and minds of the townsfolk, compelling them into the sea, where Sedna could claim them for herself.
Enter the players. Their hook into the adventure should include them hearing about mass disappearances from the various towns and villages around the bay. Several of the smaller towns have in fact had their entire populations completely vanish in a matter of days. People are panicking and the local lord wants answers. Or maybe one of the PCs is from one of the fishing towns and still has family there and chose to visit home at a very inopportune time. Maybe they are contacted by another elemental spirit who is afraid that Sedna is going too far with her vengeance and wants the PCs to stop her.
Regardless of how, the main thrust of the first adventure is getting the PCs into the villages where they can investigate. Any number of encounters can happen on the way to or in the empty villages – wandering monsters, bandits and other looters or wild animals. But a pivotal encounter inside the village should be several carrion beasts, drawn to the location by the animated corpses that Sedna has sent into the villages, and a clue that something isn’t right as there are no bodies to actually attract the creatures.
In the larger villages, there are still people present, but they only seem to be half aware of what they are doing. They move about as if in a daze. All except for a single individual, a rather comely looking woman who can be seen wandering the streets during the day, interacting with the villagers and retreating indoors as the sun goes down. In the larger towns, there are plenty more options for encounters as the PCs try to figure out what is going on with the villagers, eventually culminating with the PCs witnessing and/or trying to stop several of the villagers as they make their death march into the sea. They should have several of the reanimated corpses to contend with as they try to stop the PCs from interfering with Sedna’s plan (and possibly explaining the presence of the carrion creatures in the empty villages).
The other thrust of exploring the still populated cities is investigating the woman that is wandering around the town. The villagers don’t know anything about her other than that she claims to be from the village. But no one in town recognizes her. In fact, she was originally from the village years and years ago at the beginning of the agreement, and is one of the oldest and most powerful of Sedna’s servants – The Skeleton Woman. She was actually the first victim, sacrificed by her father to Sedna to seal the agreement. Within a day, she was staying in the mayor’s manor, and she seems to be having some effect on the residents she talks to. Every day there seems to be “less” of them, until one day they simply vanish. If the PCs have already witnessed the mind-controlled villagers walking into the sea, they can start to put two and two together. If things are really dragging, or the PCs are having an easy time of things, you can ratchet up the drama and tension by having the woman approach the PCs during the day and try to turn her powers against them.
Filter in details about Sedna throughout the adventure as the PCs run their investigation. Maybe a particularly elderly woman mentions the agreement that was made a long time ago, or perhaps they run across the name in a book on local lore in the temple. Fingering her as the main cause behind all of this should be your goal in this.
Regardless, a final showdown is going to happen with the Skeleton Woman, ideally somewhere she can utilize her full powers and call in allies, especially if her identity is uncovered. Maybe the PCs destroy her. Maybe she escapes. Maybe she triumphs but for whatever reason spares the PCs. Whatever the outcome of the battle, she is only the next rung in a ladder that is growing longer. Maybe the villagers can still be saved. Regardless, Sedna needs to be stopped.
I’ll be back next week to give you some game stats for The Skeleton Woman and some of her allies as well as give you my system recommendations and ways to alter this particular adventure for other settings. Until then, remember to heed the call to adventure, wherever you may hear it.