Practicing the art and skill of building worlds.

Averald: A Fantasy Sandbox, part 5

The following was originally posted on my old blog on October 10, 2011. I have since commandeered that blog for private use, and have decided to move my campaign development ramblings over here. They are presented here in their entirety, though they may be reformatted to be easier to see on this blog’s color scheme. Thanks for reading!

In part 4, we took our list of encounters and made some brief outlines for adventures. In this part, we’re going to take one of them and turn it into a full adventure.

Step 6:
Take your outline and expand it into a full adventure. Jot down a goal, a hook, obstacles, a climax, and a reward, then lay down your adventure step by step, making a note of any NPCs, monsters, or special items you need to create and anywhere that the adventure can branch according to choices the PCs make. Rinse and repeat for as many adventures as you want.

Each adventure needs several things:

  • Goal: What is the end goal for this quest? (Defeat the evil hydra? Protect the duke? Rescue the princess? Escape the minotaur’s labyrinth? Find the buried treasure? Deliver a letter to the king?)
  • Hook: While it’s possible for the PCs to just wander into the middle of one of the encounters on the map, it’s much more likely that you’re going to have to lure them there. The hook is how you do that. What makes the PCs want to get involved? At its simplest, the hook is how the PCs learn that there is an adventure to be had.
  • Obstacles: If it was as easy as walking up and taking the treasure, it wouldn’t be any fun, would it? What do the PCs have to get past to achieve the Goal? If you put together an outline in the previous step, you probably already have an idea of what these will be.
  • Climax: The goal is almost at hand, the obstacles have been beaten, only one more thing stands in the way…. The climax is what the rest of the adventure builds to. The point at which the PCs win or lose.
  • Reward: What are the PCs going to get for completing this adventure? Fortune? Fame? Experience? A warm, fuzzy feeling in their hearts? You’ve got to give them something, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be money and items.

6A: Brainstorm

On this section of the map here, I have a road through the forest (called the Hollowwood) with some villages along it, and inside the forest I have a nest of giant spiders, a poison glade, and an abandoned, ruined, tower. The spiders’ territory includes the road through those woods, so lets say the villages there are being bothered by them. But towns being attacked by monsters is a little boring, right? So lets come up with something a little more interesting…. What if the spiders aren’t attacking the towns… what if they’re kidnapping people in the night? What if the villagers don’t know that it’s spiders at all? People disappearing in the middle of the night could easily look like something even more sinister. Vampires, evil spirits, and dark magic are all good scapegoats. Maybe there’s even a nearby wizard to blame it on…. After a bit of brainstorming, I’ve got my plot.

6b: Essentials

  • Goal: Discover the reason behind the disappearances of several young women in the villages along Hollow Road, and put a stop to it.
  • Hook: The ruler of the region wants these disappearances to stop, and is offering a reward to anyone who can solve the problem.
  • Obstacles:
    • There is some debate on what is causing the disappearances — the PCs will have to investigate for themselves.
    • The forest, infested with giant spiders, is out of control and dangerous.
    • Once they have found the ruined tower, the PCs will have to figure out how to get to it. They can…
      • …go straight through the spiders’ lair, and take the underground tunnels.
      • …go around the lair, through a poisonous glade, and climb the rocky cliff.
      • …go the long way around, through the forest and hills and risk getting lost.
  • Climax: When they get into the tower, the PCs will reach the Spider Queen, a highly intelligent — and quite mad — giant spider who is controlling all the others and forcing them to bring her victims from the villages.
  • Reward: The favor of a local ruler, some loot.

6C: Adventure

The Bloody Countess

  1. The PCs hear rumors of disappearances along the Hollow Road. The ruler of the region, Count Alevor of Lorhaven, is offering a reward (up to the GM) to anyone who can solve this problem.
  2. If the PCs investigate, they can learn several things:
    • The villagers that are being taken are almost exclusively young women.
    • Many of the families (those that can afford it) are offering rewards to anyone who can find the girls.
    • Scratching sounds were heard in the houses of the girls that were abducted, as if something with claws was wandering around outside — or even inside — the house. (It was the sound of the giant spiders climbing on the walls of the house.)
    • No footprints were found anywhere. The villager who gives the PCs this knowledge will speculate that whatever kidnapped the girl must have been able to fly. (This is false — the spiders just did not leave any footprints that were recognizable as such.)
    • One girl was taken while meeting her sweetheart in secret late one night. The young man should have seen everything, however he can not remember a thing from that night. He has been sick in bed since it happened, and has strange bite marks on his neck. (He was bitten by one of the spiders. He will eventually recover.)
    • Strands of spider silk were found in the room of a girl who was abducted. A villager saw a huge spider web when he went hunting in the forest recently. He had heard rumors of giant spiders attacking hunters deep in the forest, but has never heard of them going anywhere near the villages.
    • All of the villages on the Hollow Road have been affected except for Fellwick. The NPC who gives the PCs this knowledge may also have heard rumors of a dark wizard living in that area. (This may lead to the PCs chasing after the sorcerer of Fellwick Forest, but he is just a red herring.)
    • If the PCs spend a night in one of the villages, looking for whatever is taking the girls, they may see or be attacked by spiders, which flee into the forest. If the party has a young female character, she may be kidnapped by the spiders.
  3. One way or another, the PCs will eventually have to make their way through the forest, which has several dangers.
    • Groups of spiders wander the forest, trying to keep out intruders. The PCs could come across a small scouting party that attacks on sight.
    • The forest is home to a few other types of monsters, though most of them have been pushed out by the spiders recently. The PCs may encounter an animal or monster that has been injured by, is fighting off, or is being driven off by the spiders.
    • One of the kidnapped girls, Winbri Toravest, has attempted to escape from the spiders. She is being chased by a large group of spiders. If saved, she can offer information about the spiders and their lair. Her father, Arsam Toravest, is a merchant who will reward the PCs for any information regarding her.
    • The PCs will eventually come upon a huge cavern in the ground filled with spiders — mostly small ones that will flee at the sight of them. Skeletons wrapped in spider silk are all over the cave. From the mouth of the cave, the PCs can also see a ruined tower in the distance, looming above the forest on a rocky hilltop. Attempting to go around the spider pit toward the tower will take the PCs through…
    • …A glade between the hills filled with a light mist. The PCs will encounter no spiders here, but will find dead ones curled up on the forest floor. The PCs will begin to feel light-headed after a little wandering in the  misty glade. The PCs will notice huge flowers blooming here, and if they examine them, they will find spiders stuck to the insides of the flowers, partially digested. After some time in the glade, PCs must resist a poison that causes paralysis.
  4. The tunnels in the spider pit will lead all the way to a ruined tower. This is a pretty linear dungeon-crawl, with mostly giant spiders in the PCs’ way.
    • If the group decided to bypass the tunnels and go around to the tower’s door (either by walking the long way through the forest, or by going through the poison glade and climbing up the rocky hill), they will find it barricaded shut — bulging outward ever so slightly from where things inside the tower have been crammed up against it.
    • A clever party might still be able to find ways around this by climbing the tower walls and going in through a large hole near the top of the tower.
  5. The plot will culminate in a battle with the Spider Queen and her minions. Upon getting inside the tower, the group will find it covered in bloody spiderwebs. An absolutely massive spider sits at the back of the tower, being served by several other spiders. If the PCs do not immediately attack, she will not be hostile, but rather, curious. She will ask if the PCs think she is beautiful, and will ask for lessons in “the art” from any mages in the group. If she is asked, she will say that she has been taking girls from the villages because she believes their blood keeps her young. If the PCs attack, call her ugly, or refuse her requests, she will order her minions to attack. When half of them fall, she will attack herself. When in danger, she will attempt to flee through the hole in the top of the tower and into the depths of the forest. If she is attacked while on the outside of the tower, she may fall into the poisonous glade, where she will be rendered immobile by the toxic mist.

6D: Details


Count Alevor of Lorhaven

  • The count is a stylish, haughty young man in his early twenties, who inherited the title of Count when his father died some time ago. He is accompanied by his viscount, Wrivyn.
  • The Count is widely considered to be a self-absorbed good-for-nothing, but he seems to have a genuine interest in this case.
  • If the PCs are sufficiently important, Count Alevor may deign to speak to them himself about the matter, in which case he will tell the PCs everything he knows — that all the kidnappings have been of young girls, that they all have happened at night with no witnesses, and the names of the villages that have had the most abductions. Otherwise, the PCs will be turned away and told to come back when they’ve sorted the matter out.

Viscount Wrivyn of Lorhaven

  • The viscount is a stately, grey-haired man in his late fifties. He does most of work involved in running the region, and is generally exasperated by the inexperienced Count’s antics.
  • The viscount, usually working, is still vastly more approachable than the Count. If the PCs seek him out, he might be convinced to spare a moment to tell them what they know about the disappearances — that is, the same things the Count knows. He will also warn the PCs not to stray into Fellwick Forest, a little ways north of Hollow Road — that it is a place of dark magic.

Arsam Toravest

  • This merchant is a chubby, well-dressed man in his early forties. He is a good-natured fellow, but currently very distraught.
  • He is on his way from Lorhaven to Fellwick, and is currently staying in one of the villages on Hollow Road. His daughter was taken several nights ago, and he will not leave until he has found out what happened to her. He will pay for any information that could help him find his daughter.
  • The PCs can earn his favor by saving Winbri Toravest from the spiders in the Hollowwood.

Winbri Toravest

  • She is rather pretty, in her late teens, and well-dressed compared to the village girls.
  • She is the daughter of the merchant, Arsam Toravest. She is a brave girl who will try to escape from the spiders if given the chance.
  • She can be found in the Hollowwood on the way to the spiders’ lair, or otherwise in the prison chamber inside the lair.
  • If the PCs try to rescue her or the other girls, she will attempt to help them.


Giant Spiders

  • These spiders come in two varieties: smaller males which will attack with a paralyzing poison, and the larger females which will try to trap their victims with webs and carry them off.

The Spider Queen

  • The Queen is a massive spider, taller than a human. She has dressed herself in the tatters of a velvet curtain and wears a little crown made of sticks tied together with spiderweb.
  • The Queen rules her subjects with a mix of superior intelligence and subtle magic.
  • The Queen is mad. She is having human girls brought to her because she believes that drinking their blood will give her magic and immortality.
  • Unless the PCs push her berserk button, the Queen will always attempt to persuade or charm rather than fight. Humans do not visit her often, other than her victims, and she will want to use the PCs to her advantage, especially if any of them are magic users.
  • Flattery will get the PCs a long way with the Queen. However, if at any point they call her ugly, she immediately order her servants to attack.


The Spider Pit

  • This is the spiders’ main nest, a hole in the ground with lots of tunnels and rooms to explore. Important areas of the Pit will be examined when we discuss dungeon maps later.
  • Near the end of the tunnels is the prison chamber, which contains the few village girls that the Queen has not yet killed.
  • The tunnels end in a small tunnel into the basement of the ruined tower.

The Spider Queen’s Tower

  • This is the home of the spider Queen, which consists of:
  • A basement, which is connected to the Spider Pit.
  • The main tower (most of the floors have been knocked out or destroyed.) This is where the PCs will meet the Queen.
  • The top floor, which serves as the Queen’s personal room. If the PCs can find a way to get to it, they will find the Queen’s meager treasures here, including her book of spells.

As you can see, I tried to incorporate not only the spiders, but also the poisonous glade, the ruined tower, and the villages nearby. I left a hook to another adventure in Fellwick, assuming the PCs haven’t already found their way there, and I put in a little side quest involving the merchant and his daughter. I might mention that I tend more toward dark fantasy/horror sorts of ideas than the usual high fantasy elves-and-dwarves-and-fireballs sorts of things, so make of that what you will. The Spider Queen is inspired by the legend of Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian countess who supposedly bathed in the blood of young women to retain her youth and beauty.


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