As I said on Friday, I’ve never written an adventure, before. This was a fun experiment, though I think I probably did too much work. The end result was about 10 pages long, and I haven’t yet formatted it, properly. If it doesn’t suck, I might put some energy into that. More on that, next time. For now, the (sort-of) five-room dungeon: The Tunder-House!
This is rough, at the moment, but it’s the beginning of my first adventure. The next post will be the body, but I thought it might be a good idea to split it up. No visuals, this time; I’m barely getting this one up on time, as it is.
Summerlands Adventure for 12-14th level characters.
Hundreds of years ago, a powerful tunder became frustrated with her inability to save more mortals from the depredations of the fey. No matter how often she reminded herself that she could only be in one place at a time, her conscience remained unsettled. No matter how many lives she saved, the only faces she could remember were those she failed to reach in time, those who had no tunder to defend them, and those faces haunted her dreams.
The tunder, whose true name is, of course, lost to history, gathered all of her magical knowledge and began collecting powerful rituals and magical items. These she secreted away in a cabin she had built for this purpose, and cabin powerfully warded against the fey. After many more years, and many magical rituals, her cabin become something far more: it became a traveling safe-house, and she was bound inside it.
For centuries, The Tunder-House appeared where it was most needed, where mortals were threatened by fey beyond their abilities to combat. It took them in and gave them an opportunity to heal, to rest, and even to relocate. Recently, however, something has gone wrong. Instead of saving mortals, the house has been taking them in and never releasing them. In some cases, mortals are dying. Though the tunder who build the house is long dead, her spirit still lives within, and its mission has changed: rather than seeking mortals to save, she seeks mortals who can continue the house’s mission, and let the Tunder-House rest.
Running the Adventure
The Tunder-House begins as a hunt, but the characters are the hunted. The fey do not take kindly to mortals trespassing on their lands, and in this case the characters should be overpowered. The weakest of fey, a sprite or a brownie, is more powerful than the average mortal, but by the time they reach level 12, characters have little to fear from most fey, at least individually. There are exceptions, however, and one has taken notice of the party: a tunche has decided to hunt the characters. Making the characters feel a sense of fear is important in the first part of the adventures. Player characters are not apt to run from a fight, but the tunche (at first, at least) is not interested in killing them: it wants to feed on their emotions. For it to feed, it needs to create powerful emotions, and terror is its favorite.
Once the house appears, the tone of the adventure changes. The house is small, a mere four rooms, but it is suffused with magic, and that magic has gone wrong. The adventurers will need to survive the challenges of the house, and the choices they make will impact how the house reacts to them. A blood-thirsty party may simply be equipped and sent on their way, while a more thoughtful group might be taken into the tunder’s confidence and tasked with collecting the components to fix the house (this is beyond the scope of this adventure, however). In any event, the house should give the characters the tools they need to combat the tunche and its allies, despite the difference in level. These boons may only be effective during the final battle, or only occasionally useful thereafter, but once the characters have slain a tunche, they will be known to all fey, and their names will become feared throughout the fey creatures of the Summerlands.
The order in which the character explore the room of the Tunder-House does not matter. There is no right way to approach the three areas: all three are tests, and all three must be completed before the house will do more than protect the characters from their attackers.
The Tunder-House is set in the northern woodlands of the Summerlands, although any deeply wooded area would be an appropriate setting. The Summerlands make an ideal location for the house, however, as the tunder and the fey have been fighting an ongoing, but often invisible, war for many thousands of years. The Summerlands fey are universally evil and predatory, embodying the more violent and malicious aspects of nature. From sprites to redcaps to tunche, these fey have one thing in common: they view mortals as prey.
The house itself in a magical location, unrooted in place (and possibly time). It goes where it is needed, and saves as many mortals as it can, but no magical ritual lasts forever, and the rituals that created the house are breaking down. It must either pass on its mantle or find caretakers who can repair its potent magics.
A tunder character will likely have heard stories of the house, although few tunder have ever seen it. After all, if a mortal or a town has a tunder to defend it, the house is unneeded. Aside from tunder legends, however, even the most ardent student of the fey is unlikely to have heard of it (DC 25 Intelligence (History) check), and then only rumors about a house that appears and disappears when it is needed, a house that fey despise.
Next time: The Adventure!
I’ve never been one to write adventures. When I run games, I either make things up as I go or used published modules. Lately, though, the first has gotten less satisfying, and the second less enjoyable. I want to build stories with my group, in my own world.
This means a couple of things. First, it means adventure seeds. I want to seed adventures for my players to choose from, and see what they’re interested in. ideally, I’d like to seed a few and see what sticks. If they’re enjoying a storyline, I can build a more detailed plot around it, but that plot can be tailored and dynamic. Second, it means building small, portable adventure locations. The “five-room dungeon” is a popular, flexible format (especially if “room” doesn’t just mean “a thing with walls” but “encounter space”). In the next couple of weeks, I’m going to experiment with some seeds and “five-room dungeons.
These seeds are intended for mid-to-high level parties, and take advantage of those characters’ abilities to deal with more powerful foes and larger forces, and to bring more powerful magic to bear on situations. They’re also opportunities to explore the politics and geography of three of the big locations in the Summerlands: Kryesor Madj, Dragon Tyr, and Twilight’s Eye.
- In the city-state of Kryesor Madj, one of the mightiest reven cities on the vast plains, it is election season. The two primary candidates could not be more different: one is a former general who favors reducing the military and directing the state’s resources inward. The other is a scion of a long line of Senators, drumming up public support by promising to regain territories on the border with neighboring city-states, crushing their enemies and driving them out of disputed lands. There is a third candidate who has little support, but revolutionary ideas. The candidates are spying on one another (often using outside agitators), and their supporters have engaged in a number of public brawls. Tension in Kryesor Madj is high, and its enemies are taking advantage of the turmoil. In addition to the usual spies, assassination attempts, and bards sowing dissent, a tribe of quaggoths has been employed to engineer a coup. Have the quaggoths really been hired by a neighbor, or is something more sinister driving their violence? Adventurers are sought by numerous interested parties: candidates, opponents, outside agitators, and townfolk caught in the crossfire. What mischief could an enterprising party get into, in Kryesor Madj, during election season?
- The great wildren moot at Dragon Tyr is coming, and wildren tribes are traveling through the north woods to the gathering site. It is a time of great joy, as friends from different tribes meet for the first time in years. Great trade will be done, territory will be divided, and banishments will be enacted. In the rivers along the roads into Dragon Tyr, however, nereids are gathering and working together to murder wildren travelers. Few wildren believe that the nereids exist, and fewer have the ability to combat them. The tunder in the region are too few in number to save enough wildren, and by the time more tunder arrive, the nereids will have done their work. Outside adventurers are called to combat the nereids, and, if possible, discover why the slaughter began. Why would so many nereids work together, outside of their usual hunting grounds? Have the wildren somehow offended the fey? Some survivors (and there are few) claim that the nereids lack shawls. Has some outside group manipulated the nereids? Perhaps a banished wildren tribe, looking to diminish support among their enemies, or a reven warlord looking to conquer territory in the northern woods? Whatever the reason, the nereids must be stopped, so that wildren can travel safely and the moot can continue.
- The massive lighthouse at Twilight’s Eye is a constant source of intrigue and adventure. The multi-racial city council appears peaceful, but the wildren, sea kin, and reven counselors are always scheming. Amid their usual politicking, the city is besieged on two fronts. From the west, a force of sahuagin is gathering. In between the usual raids and expected violence, however, a large group, consisting primarily of non-combatant sahuagin and children, has requested asylum. They are running from something, and they need a safe place to live. The sea kin reject the appeal, both the other people of the Eye are less certain. Adventurers are needed to investigate the sahuagin story. Is this a precursor to invasion, or is something far worse than the shark-kin coming from beneath the waves? Meanwhile, in the eastern districts, children have been disappearing from their beds, replaced by dolls made of hair, straw, teeth, and other worthless material. The dolls could have been made by children, who may be running away, or there may be something more sinister going on. If the kidnappings continue, the fragile peace of Twilight’s Eye will crumble. Can the children be returned safely? Is some hunger in the eastern forests waking?
Next time: A tunche, a five-room dungeon, and an ancient tunder.
Aarakocra of the Summerlands
In the Summerlands, strig and tyton aarakocra are considered separate races, although they are identical. In practice, tytons look shorter and rounder, while strigs tend towards lean, muscular frames. Tyton aarakocra maintain that this physical distinction is determined from birth, but it is just as likely to be a result of the vastly different social circumstances of the two.
A Race Divided
Tyton aarakocra rule over the strig with steel talons, and most strig are born and die in servitude. As the emisarries of the dragons, tyton are given the freedom to own lands in the mountains and to fly. Meanwhile, strig spend their lives toiling in underground mines, their wings clipped (often literally). Some strig, those who have their wings clipped and show particular willingness to collaborate, are allowed to work in fields or as herders. Whatever they do, strig aarakocra spend their days in manual labor, working for the benefit of the tyton and the dragons.
Freedom or Death
In the lowlands, free strig are rare, and tyton are always on some particular business for a dragon. Tyton never settle in the lowlands, wanting to be as close to the sky as possible, so strig who escape (or the few who are born free) tend to gravitate towards coastal cities or forests. Small strig communities exist in vast treetops of the northern forests. These free strig go to great lengths to hide themselves from both tyton and dragons, though most believe that it is only a matter of time before their former oppressors turn their eyes to the west and hunt them down. As a result, free strig tend to be both martial and paranoid, ready for a war that may not come in their lifetimes. Younger strig often push for rebellion, straining against their chains, literal and metaphorical. These strig either escape on their own, or are killed by their overseers in regular “cullings of the parliament.”
The Will of the Dragons
The dragons need mortal races to keep their lairs, to patrol their domains during their long slumbers, and to make sure that their laws are kept. Of all the races in the Summerlands, only tyton may risk waking a dragon without paying a terrible price. Likewise, just as harming a dragon incurs the wrath of the rest of their kind, tyton are to be considered the dragons’ claw in all things: to harm a tyton is to harm a dragon. (Whether this law comes from the dragons, or was added in translation by their tyton emissaries is impossible to say, and few are willing to test its validity.) Free strig are offered no such protection, however, and members of other races, the reven in particular, often take out their hostility towards the dragons on the only available targets. This fact only serves to make the free strig more insular and paranoid.
Strig and Tyton Names
Strig and tyton names are as different as the two bloodlines, themselves. Enslaved strig are given a name at birth, usually a single word in dragonic, signifying their connection to their tyton overlord, such as Cholk, Sesak, or Zerkax. These names are assigned irrespective of gender or parents’ wishes. Free strig choose names that sound pleasing in their mouths: Chara-kara-ka, Skree-ree-ax, and Whro-llo-llo. Tyton take names that they believe would please their dragon masters: Cicero the Beneficient, Penelope the Just, or Timon the Mad.
Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity increases by 2 and your Wisdom increases by 1
Age. Aarakocra learn to walk and glide within weeks of being hatched, and reach maturity by age 5. Their lifespans are shorter than humans, however, and few live longer than 40 years. Strig lifespands tend to be shorter, as a result of their backbreaking work, while tyton lifespans tend to be longer.
Alignment. Aarakocra raised in the Summerlands have traditionally been pushed towards lawful alignments by their place in the social hierarchy, but younger generations tend towards chaos as they chafe against their overlords. Strig rarely choose between good and evil, focusing instead on survival. Tyton are always evil, having cast their lot in the dragons long ago.
Size. Aarakocra are small and thin, typically no taller than five feet. Because of their lightweight bone structure and bodies built for flying, most weigh between 70 and 90 pounds. An aarakocra’s wings are, at a minimum, three times their height, and most have a wingspan of 15 feet. Your size is medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 25 feet.
Limited Flight. You have a fly speed of 20 feet. To use this speed, you can’t be wearing medium or heavy armor. If you have not landed at the end of any turn in which you use your fly speed, you must have descended at least one-quarter of the distance you traveled or you fall 40 feet, taking damage normally if you hit the ground. You must have enough space in which to fly. If you do not have space to stretch your wings and an additional 5 feet on either side, you may not use your flight ability.
Talons. You are proficient with your unarmed strikes, which deal 1d4 damage on a hit. Your unarmed strike damage is always considered both slashing and bludgeoning.
Keen Senses. During the nighttime (or planar conditions equivalent to dim light or darkness), you double your proficiency bonus on any skill check that involves sight.
Languages: You can speak, read and write Common, Aarakocra, and Draconic. Tyton art and music always serves to remind others of their connection to the dragons, and the two are always pictured or mentioned close to one another. Strig art and music is forbidden, and therefore hidden. In the mountains, strig art can be found on cave walls where tyton do not venture, and their songs can be heard whistling through the mines, all but indistinguishable from the wind, but neverending and sorrowful. Free strig make art and music with abandon, trying on a variety of styles and forms, adopting from other races, and experimenting with avant garde and dangerous forms.
When creating an aarakocra character from the Summerlands, you can use the following table of bonds to help flesh out your character. Use this table in addition to or in place of your background’s bond or a bond of your creation.
|1||I serve the dragons. However I feel about them, the tyton speak for the dragons, and we owe the dragons our existence. I serve them with distinction and await my reward.|
|2||I shall die free. I will never be in bondage again, and I will sacrifice anything to remain free. I would rather die on the wing that be chained, again.|
|3||I am the breaker of chains. Freeing myself was not enough. All of my people must be free, whatever that takes.|
|4||I shield my family. My clutch, whether or not they are related to me by birth, are of the utmost importance, to me. I will protect them from harm at all costs.|
|5||I bathe in blood. Freedom, joy, peace. There words are meaningless. There is only the blood of my oppressors, and my hands are only clean when they are covered in it.|
|6||I want none of this. All I desire is a small hole or patch of sky to call my own, away from chains and away from conflict. I have no interest in causes or revenge, only isolation and peace.|
Preprequisite: Aarakocra, must undergo the Ritual of Evolution
You have undergone the Ritual of Evolution. Using powerful magic, either on your own or under the aegis of a sponsor, you have become a master of the air. Your wingspan increases by 5 feet.
- Your fly speed is 35 feet
- You no longer need to land at the end of your turn.
- You can fly while wearing medium, but not heavy, armor.
- If you take the dash action towards the ground and end in a space adjacent to an opponent, you may make a single attack.
Hacking the Aarakocra
The final race in the Summerlands series, the aarakocra are something of an odd duck. An official version has been released, but it’s not widely popular. Author Rich Howard posted a different version on Tribality, with a dive attack and some restrictions of flight. I think that one is much, much better than the official version, but I still think it’s a little over-powered. This version is my blending of the two: it doesn’t get to “fly” until level 4 at the earliest, which puts off the most broken thing. I borrowed some mechanics from the work the Kobold Press and Legendary Games are doing on their races, which is fun. I’ve honestly been looking forward to writing up this race for a long while, because there are a number of good versions, and I wanted to try to create an elegant compromise that threaded the space in between them in a fun way.
The traditional aarakocra might swap out these abilities, representing more of a hawk than the owl-like aarakocra of the Summerlands:
Children of Aaqa
Keen Senses. During the daytime (or planar conditions equivalent to bright natural light), you double your proficiency bonus on any skill check that involves sight.
Languages. You can speak, read and write Common, Aarakocra, and Auran.
It might be fun to build other aarakocra: vulture-like creatures whose Keen Senses give a bonus on foraging checks, or a swan-like version with a swim speed, or a raven-like with a bonus to Stealth checks. Those are minor changes, but they can significantly impact the flavor of the race, I think.
Next time: After the triple-sized fey and a busy summer, I’m taking a week off before writing a couple of adventures in the Summerlands.
Building fey for the Summerlands has been a blast. Most of the antagonists are in a sort of binary opposition relationship with one or two races, but the fey are all over the place. Sure, the tunder are most likely to oppose them, and the fey respond with equal malice, but the fey are just as likely to prey on all races (more likely, because the other races lack the tunder’s build-in defenses against them). There are a lot of fey, between the editions of D&D, the legends in the world, and the possibilities of the imagination (like the lurker-in-light, a fey created especially for Pathfinder). I chose a few that I thought were interesting, that have varied abilities and environments, and the let me play with different mechanics.
Lurker-in-light – The lurker is a favorite of mine – a new fey that turns the nature of terror on its head, making safe places dangerous. Don’t fear the monster under the bed: fear the sunbeam on top of it.
Nereid – Another water fey, like the kelpie, the nereid is bound to fresh-water, a way for the sea to continue to haunt sea kin who have left the shore behind.
Quickling – The quicklings are the dark, terrible thing lurking in the alley. They are fast, brutal, and merciless.
Redcap: One of my favorite villainous fey, the redcap is the picture of sadism. Like the nereid, the kelpie, and the tooth fairy, they are one of the classic “fey with a keyed item” of legend.
Tooth fairy – The Pathfinder interpretation of the tooth fairy is wonderfully terrifying.
Tunche – A rare example of a fey whose origin isn’t European, the South American tunche is one of the most powerful creatures in the Summerlands that isn’t a dragon.
Summerlands Antagonists: The Fey
(This is the first part of my two-part look at the fey in the Summerlands.)
Everyone in the Summerlands worries about the dragons. Some concern themselves with dangers of the sea, while others focus on each other or on ancient enemies like the quaggoth. Few worry about the fey. Everyone knows they exist, of course, but at best they are a nuisance, the stuff of bedtime stories, or the butt of jokes. Except for the sea kin’s animosity with kelpies and selkies, few mortal races concern themselves with faeries, and few faeries bother mortal creatures.
This is not for lack of trying. Fey like the banshrae, the nereid, the tooth faeries and others try to feed on mortals’ emotions or lives, and are stopped only by the eternal vigilance of the tunder.
In the Summerlands, there are no “good fey.” At best, some fey, especially selkies, dryads, and nereids, may be neutral, and such a fey might bestow positive attention on a mortal, but fey are not mortal. They are not born as mortals are and do not die as they do. Their ways of thinking are alien to mortals, and such a fey might seem to fall in love with a mortal, only to disappear without warning to see what the mortal’s reaction might be. A fey who genuinely feels affection for a mortal is the most dangerous: if they identify that feeling, they might imprison the mortal in amber to keep it forever, or slay it to see what the loss feels like.
Fey are born from the land, springing into being when a tree takes root or a baby cuts its first tooth. They are created fully formed, with all the desires and drives they will ever have. The circumstances of a fey’s creation profoundly affect its life. A tooth faerie might look like a sprite, but the former is created from a baby’s cry and will spend its life stealing teeth and torturing infants. The latter are born of the tunderstorms that roll of the Endless Mountains, and bring the anger of the storm to bear on mortals they dislike.
Dryads are common anywhere there are trees. While not every tree has a dryad, it is said that a dryad lives within sight of every tree in every forest. They do not always oppose cutting trees down, particularly if is makes room for more to grow, but they dislike loggers on principle, and will interfere with their operations whenever possible. For this reason, veteran loggers always welcome tunder into their camps, whether or not they do any work.
Hags are less common, as most are powerful enough to attract the attention of adventurers, dragons, or both. Those hags who do survive, however, usually focus on destroying tunder. As soon as the hags turn their attention to other matters, the tunder gather together to strike them down.
Existing in the space between dragons and fey, faerie dragons are not protected by the laws of retribution that protect dragons from harm. They are too much like dragons for the fey to give them protection, however. As a result, they spend their lives in hiding, resenting both of their parent-races and the mortals who occasionally hunt them for sport.
Like faerie dragons, blink dogs are one of the few fey whose existence is well-known among mortals. Parents frighten their children into obedience with stories of enormous, vicious canines who can appear out of thin air, snatch a disobedient child, and be gone before anyone notices. Careless or foolhardy children of all races are referred to as “blink bait.”
Pixies and sprites look alike: both have wings, both are small, and both are invisible. Both delight in torturing mortals who offend them (such as by not leaving out food for nearby fey, whether or not the mortal know there are such fey), although sprites tend to be more violent in their retribution: pixies play cruel tricks, while sprites hound mortals to death.
Like selkies, satyrs are attracted to beautiful mortal men and women and frequently try to collect particularly attractive specimens. What a satyr with its prize depends on the fey, but it is rarely good for the mortal.
While blights, such as needle, twig, and vine, are plant creatures, they are the creations and weapons of the fey. A dryad angry about logging might not defend her grove herself, but rather send an army of blights to drive the loggers out.
Besides these common fey (and fey-associated creatures), there are many other fey in the Summerlands.
The sixth of my Summerlands races, for the (now long over) June RPG Blog Carnival, hosted by Tales of a DM, the tunder are a blending of gnomes and halfings into something that might be a little more interesting to play than either one is, on their own.
Once, many generations ago, the halflings and the gnomes of the Summerlands were distinct races, each close to nature in their own way. They held their dinners and told their jokes and were welcomed as unthreatening and harmless by the taller races. They called no land their own, but were at home everywhere. Out of sight of the other races, however, the gnomes and halflings fought a hidden war against predatory fey. Masked by their silly inventions and second breakfasts, the small folk acted as the first line of defense against the otherworldly predators that would hunt mortal races.
As this war raged, the two races become intertwined through magic, marriage, and blood. In time, gnomes and halflings ceased to be separate peoples and become the tunder. In this blending, however, they became darker and less jolly. Where halflings and gnomes were welcome distractions, the presence of a tunder often reminds mortals that there are things they can neither see nor control. Most mortals are not consciously aware of it, but they know that a tunder brings an ill wind, and the warm embraces that halflings and gnomes always received has long since turned cold.