Been looking for a rules system that would be easy to use for a play-by-post game; many years later, enter ICRPG. Really excited about it and the ideas have started to flow. This is the first adventure I’ve ever created for any system and hope you guys like it. Haven’t play tested it yet so it might still be raw. Let me know what you think as I’m sure there’s plenty of room for improvement. I haven’t created stats for the monsters yet but I can add that later.
The adventure takes place in a time when the common horror monsters of today were first born. A time when vampires visited in the night, large dogs were werewolves, and the deformed were birthed from devils. Garlic and crosses are weapons to defend the innocent and most everything in the world was unknown. The setting is a small village struggling to survive in an unlucky location with the players taking on roles that the village needs to survive. There are no heroes and very little hope here.
It’s up to the players to hunt down a witch that has cursed the village crops, bring back her blood, and save the village from starvation. They will likely fail, or at least believe this is the case. Think medieval Cthulhu.
This is meant to be a one shot, entry adventure to teach the ICRPG CORE system on a basic level.
Hardersfield is the type of village you find when going somewhere else; a wide spot in the trail; a place where only locals know its name. The town jest is that the founding farmer settled here only because his wagon broke and the oxen couldn’t pull any harder. The ground is full of stones, barely useable, and growing anything here is … well, it’s hard. Most years the village struggles to survive and a good year is when everyone has enough for at least 1 meal every day, even if it is just straw soup. It’s a wonder that anyone has settled here at all.
Mayhap it’s a case where a person sees someone else steading in a spot and thinks there must be something to it, so they stop as well. Where two people are, there’s certainly a reason, so others stop also. Besides, that trail going somewhere else is rather long, and this is as good of a spot to rest as any. Whatever the reason, Hardersfield came to exist and slowly grew into not much at all; but it’s home.
And it’s been a very bad year.
The growing season started well; the ground seemed to give a little easier, more sprouts broke the surface, and the young crops looked rather good overall. Then midseason, crops withered on the vine, plants died by the fieldfull, even things already picked shriveled in their baskets overnight. It was clear that something had happened and it likely wasn’t a natural event. Prayers were said, chicken bones consulted, and sacrifices burned in an effort to divine the reason for the loss. Though the reason remained a mystery, new seeds were planted in the hopes of having enough food for the winter. These new crops struggled to grow, drinking water like a desert but not maturing or producing buds.
One afternoon, a traveling wise man stopped in the village for a rest. Upon hearing of the troubles, he offered to find a solution … for a price. The village gathered everything of value to give to the wise man who then spent the night scrutinizing the stars. In the morning, he stood in the road, arms wide and slowly spinning in a circle while he waited for a crowd to gather. When enough people had come to hear, he stopped and said, “I know what you must do.”
“Your village has been cursed by a witch! A POWERFUL witch. These grounds have been hexed, the plants poisoned, your very lives are in DANGER! You must find her and deal with her. Only her blood may remove the witchery you are under.” So saying, he took the gifts of the village and wandered down the trail to somewhere else. While people mingled in small groups discussing what the wise man had said, those of the village that styled themselves its “leaders” huddled together in an animated discussion. Then, a decision was reached.
“People”, the tallest among them called out. “People, listen!” He waved his arms to signal the village to gather round once again. “We know the witch that the wise man spoke of. She lives deep within the Dimforest wood, and though we leaders have always kept peace with her, one of you must have slighted her in some way and so it is to you that this burden must fall. We will hold a lottery to select the persons who will take on this task and free our village from starvation.” And so it was.
The lottery has chosen you. You stand at the edge of a desiccated field, looking into the familiar woods with a handfull of meager supplies. Somewhere in those trees the Dimforest begins, and somewhere in that dark place lives your goal. Anything of value that could be sold was taken by the traveling man, so the crops are the villages only hope for avoiding the slow death of starvation. It is up to you to slay the witch and return her blood to be sprinkled on the fields. Do not fail.
The characters can be anyone from a small and poor village; dirt farmers, the keeper of a two room inn, the local blacksmith with no anvil but uses the large rock outside his hut instead, etc. Magical characters could be hermits, natural healers, or maybe a sage that came to study the area from parts unknown. Other than a hero/adventurer type, there is no wrong answer. Ignore the starting equipment and class sections of the rules, but bio-forms still apply. Characters will start with a small bundle of food, a little water, torch, and a single item from their profession that could be used as a weapon (hoe, shovel, hammer, staff, etc). It’s assumed that characters will also have an assortment of odds and ends in their pockets such as something to light a torch or other generic items. Spells will either be WIS Power: Healing Touch or INT Spell: Arcane Missile as described in the Core rules (other spells can be substituted at GM discretion).
Village (afternoon) – 3 events (during day) – Huntsman (evening) – 2 events (morning) – Island (afternoon) – Witch (later afternoon)
A. The Village
Leaving the village should be a fearful thing. Stress the point that the players are leaving the safety of their home for some unknown time with only a vague sense of where they’re headed (towards the setting sun). All the villagers will be watching them leave though none will wave or cheer them on since they all hope the characters will return but know they likely won’t. Players will have an hour before reaching the Dimforest wood so now’s the time for them to make any final adjustments to their character, ask questions, or have their character do something on the way before play really begins.
3 Events (Target 10)
The characters will have entered and been walking in the Dimforest for a short period of time now. The trees will feel like they’ve closed in, the sky is darker, maybe some of the trees are covered in webs … play up the spooky woods imagery. Roll a die or choose 3 of the events below for the characters to encounter as they travel through the day. The characters will have left the village after lunch, so there’s a little time between events for any actions they want to take. These events are to show how the check/attempt/effort system works.
- Tree with markings. Something has been carved into the trunk of this dead tree. The runes, however, are leaking red sap that has smeared a bit and the rough bark also adds to the difficulty in reading them. It will take an INT attempt and 1 heart of effort to translate them. The markings will translate as a warning of some sort, “Turn back now”, “Death lies ahead”, that sort of thing. Anyone helping translate the runes will end up with their finger tips stained red from the sap.
- Rickety bridge over a river. The characters have found the edge of a chasm with a raging river far below. It’s too far across to jump and there’s no way down, but there once was a rope bridge across it. Unfortunately most of the bridge has fallen into the river below and only a single upper and lower rope remain. It can be crossed but it’s going to be iffy. Make a DEX check to cross safely or lose 1 item into the chasm. Make the player decide what they lose; it hurts more.
- Huge pile of bones. In the middle of a small clearing sits a 8’ tall pile of bones. There can be seen no reason for the bones to be here and all are picked clean. The bones can be cleared with a bit of time and a CON attempt for 1 heart of effort to see what lies beneath. Make something up or roll on the Shabby Loot table from the Core book.
- Crazed child. Sitting at the base of the tree is a child, hugging their legs and looking wildly about; their clothes are torn and their hair is a mess. The child will not see the characters even if spoken to. If the child is touched, it will stare at the character with wide eyes and scream “Run and hide! It comes! It comes! Run and hide!” A successful CHA check will allow the child to calm for a moment and whisper “She isn’t real. Magic is fake” before going back to looking around wildly and ignoring the characters. The child will not move away from the tree, and if forced, will scream and try to escape. If somehow brought along anyway, the child will constantly bellow and cry and try to escape at every opportunity. If the child makes it to the Huntsman, they will be killed or flee during the event.
- Sacked hamlet. Before reaching the hamlet, characters can smell smoke. Nestled among the trees are three huts, freshly burned and collapsed in a heap of stone and timber. None of the surrounding trees appear the slightest bit scorched, nor does the ground except around each hut. A glint of something shiney can be seen underneath one collapsed wall. Characters can make a STR check to shift the debris. Underneath is the charred and flattened body of a child. In their hand is a broken toy mirror.
- Fey tea party. Before characters find this clearing they can hear high pitched laughter like a birds twitter. Inside the clearing is a heavy wood table arrayed with a cloth and several dishes and drinks in rough wooden vessels. Eight chairs sit around the table and four of them are occupied by corpses; some look beaten, others burned. All have had bright colors painted on their eyes and lips with scraps of colored cloth thrown over them like fools at some abhorrent feast. A WIS attempt and 1 heart of effort will allow the characters to discern which food and drink is safe.
B. The Huntsman (Target 11)
As evening falls and with the witch’s lair nowhere in sight, the characters will probably want to rest for the night. Allow them to take an action if they want, and they’ll also need to eat and drink. Any person not able to eat and drink will suffer a -2 to rolls for this event. A character may share their portion with another but both will have a -1 to rolls tonight; give the giver a hero token for their charity. Once players have eaten and taken an action if desired, they will hear noises around them and wolves will appear from between the trees (players +1). The last wolf is much larger than the rest but will hang back and watch the action (or kill the crazed child if here). If players did not make a campfire or light their torch, any rolls will be HARD for them.
If the large wolf is attacked at any point it will transform into a bear. If three wolves are killed, the remaining wolves will flee into the darkness on their turn with the large wolf/bear transforming into a shadow man as he fades into the black. TIMER dice will allow the large wolf/bear to howl/roar and cause the characters to take a -1 to their next roll. If the fight is going badly, the TIMER dice can indicate when the wolves flee.
A WIS check can show a character some edible Bright Eye berries. If consumed, the berries will protect the character from the enchantment the witch has placed over the area for a few hours. The trees will look normal, the darkness brightens from the moonlight, and the wolves will show their true forms as dogs with the largest as a man in hide clothing. This character will not suffer from any negative effects to their rolls including the howl/roar. There are enough berries for two people.
If the huntsman is able to flee and is somehow followed, the characters will be led to a hidden cave entrance that allows them to skip the next two sections and go straight to D. The underground area is a maze of natural tunnels and caverns with many dead ends that will take several hours to navigate. Describe the darkness, noises, cold drafts, and the feeling of being hopelessly lost until the characters are finally able to locate the exit and come out near the witch’s hut.
Roll or choose 2 events from the remaining list above for the characters to encounter as they continue the trek through the Dimforest wood. Yes, 1 event will remain unencountered.
C. The Island (Target 12)
By the afternoon, the characters will reach the banks of a large lake with an island visible a good distance away. Let them puzzle over this for a moment but when they begin to make a start for the island all hell breaks loose. The island will suddenly glide off into the distance as gigantic storm clouds rush forward with a savage violence. The characters are pelted with pouring rain and surounded by lightening of strange colors. The booming thunder will make communication difficult and any checks will be HARD. Any effects from Bright Eye berries will have worn off by now, and besides, what is happening is real.
Then, above the roar of the storm, players can hear a gigantic CRACK and the ground trembles. An acient, gnarled tree begins to grow in size; its branches twisting and breaking into a new shape. Mighty limbs weave into arms that push against the ground while roots combine into muscled legs that step out of the mud. Branches continue to break and weave into place, untill finally, a monstrous form towers above the characters. A bolt of lightening lands nearby highlighting the details of this wooden juggernaught!
A Timer die indicates when another bolt of lightening will strike. Allow the characters to chose a number and assign one to the juggernaught as well. Roll the die to see who gets hit by lightening for MAGIC damage. Unassigned numbers are misses. Lightening strikes might set the juggernaught on fire, that’s up to you. Does it do extra damage to the juggernaught, add extra damage to its attack, or do nothing at all?
A WIS check will show some mushrooms that can be used for healing (see Moldy Buns on the Ancient Loot Table). Characters won’t want to eat more than 1.
If defeated, the juggernaught will fall to the ground with a thundering crash at the edge of the lake as the storm recedes. The characters can see the island back in its place and may even use the fallen juggernaught as a raft to reach it. Or maybe they’d like to swim. Who knows what’s in that water.
D. The Witch
The witch’s hut sits on a nicely sized island, not small but also not gigantic. There’s a small beach with a wooden dock and rowboat, trees go right up to the beach, and somewhere in the middle is a hut that can be glimpsed in the spaces between. There are also several large boulder and rock clusters scattered around the island; one of which hides a cave entrance. There are plenty of things for the characters to hide behind if they want to be sneaky though the witch already knows they’re there. Smoke lazily drifts out of the chimney and no lights can be seen through the sooty windows. The previous storm has relocated itself to surround the island though it has dimished to a steady rain.
The witch has used up a lot of her magical energy by this point and will rely heavily on illusions, but she still has some actual magic up her sleeves to fight with. If the fight takes place inside the hut, it will be much larger inside than what it should be, allowing for plenty of fighting room. The witch will be cooking in the fireplace and the atmosphere inside the hut is dark and smokey with a few candles placed around for miniscule light. Once confronted, the witch will scream causing the candles to shoot gouts of flame into the rafters while the storm whips into a frenzy and rips the roof right off the hut! This is all an illusion. Any illusions can be negated with the Bright Eye berries (if the characters didn’t use them the night before) or by remembering the words of the crazed child (if encountered). The witch will use illusions to make the character’s rolls DIFFICULT while using other spells for fighting, and any character that hasn’t eaten will still have negative modifiers to their rolls. She might make the characters think an arm has turned to glass that starts to break and shatter when moved, or maybe a leg looks like it’s been turned to stone. She’s using wild magic here so anything goes. Get creative with the illusions!
The TIMER die will indicate when the Huntsman shows up to help the witch, but he’ll be in his true human form since the witch is too busy to illusion him. If the Huntsman was previously killed, the witch will look towards the door in a panic and then curse at the characters. Roll a new timer die for the witch to flee. She can escape through the tunnel (she knows right where it is).
A WIS check will discover a human shaped talisman hangin on a wall (or a tree limb if the fight is outside). Striking the talisman does additional MAGIC damage to the witch in addition to WEAPON damage.
This is the final fight and the players should really feel in jeapordy for their characters. Play it up but don’t seek their death. If the witch is defeated, the storm will instantly vanish and the characters will need to find a container to bring the witches blood back to the village. She won’t look nearly as fearsome in death, and might even look like she could be the grandmother of a woman in the village. Characters can use the rowboat at the dock to return to the lake edge.
The deed is done! With a withering cry, the world was rid of the witch’s presence. Now her tiny hut crookedly sits upon a mostly bare island. The Dimforest wood looks like a new place on your trip home. The sun shines bright, the traveling is easy, and the trees look normal; you even catch sight of an animal or two through the day. That evening, nothing disturbs your rest and you sleep well.
You reach Hardersfield village on the following day. As you emerge from the trees, one person after another stops to stare while the village “leaders” look downright surprised. A murmur begins to spread through the houses as you head for the crops. The ground greedily drinks the blood you spill into each field. You wait for a reaction but nothing unusual happens, nor does there seem to be any effect many days later. Eventually though, the crops do grow again and there’s enough for a small harvest right before winter.
As the year moves on, some villagers treat you like heros and others avoid you. Though some might have been a bit hungry, no one starved that winter.
Things To Consider
Why do the village leaders know the witch?
Did she even curse the crops?
Why does she look like a relative of a villager?
Was the lottery rigged?
Food should be yucky stuff (pallid mushrooms dripping black goo, partly eaten animals torn to pieces, etc). Healing items should be natural and bitter.
As I said in the beginning, this could be considered a medieval Cthulhu adventure, so using a fear mechanic would be appropriate. There is a SANITY system in the “Beneath The Door” section of the CORE book. You could also come up with a system of your own or modify the one I use below.
When characters encounter something very surprising or horrorrific they take a hit to their nerves. Things such as almost falling off the rope bridge, uncovering the crushed child in the sacked hamlet, the desecrated bodies at the fey party, or the wolf transforming into a bear, etc, would cause the characters to take a hit to their nerves. When a character is able to rest and reflect on the events, their nerve level will drop by 1/2 rounded up (resting after the Hunstman fight, rafting to the island or using the tunnels) but only when relatively safe (so the hour between the random events wouldn’t work since the characters could be jumped at any moment).
- You’re ok. That was weird but you’re unhurt. No penalty
- You’ve got the jitters. Your hands are shakey. -1 to any non-combat rolls
- Now you’re jumpy and hearing things too. -2 to any non-combat rolls
- Fear is your new friend. You’re constantly looking over your shoulder and flat out scared. -1 to all rolls
- Fear is your lover and has wrapped you in its embrace. One step away from full panic. -2 to all rolls
- Man on the run! Flee and hide for 1d4 rounds
Might not be a great system but it’s quick, simple, and I came up with it in a few minutes. Plus players can use a d6 to keep track of how scared they are.