Race to the Ruins
5e compatible one-shot adventure for 3-6 players APL2 in the Anhult Wildlands Setting
The Red Lion Inn had a busy night! As the evening wound down, Vladar Umarov introduced himself. An academic from the South gathering artifacts, he spoke with each party member at length. He sang stories about some of his past discoveries- set to popular melodies.
Vlad came to study the ruins near the Inn. The Holtswain Academy, his sponsor, hordes artifacts. Sometimes selling them to wealthy nobles. "Their expert curations will surely make each find a great boon to society." When Vlad couldn't make the pitch soar, he switched gears. "A healthy hike through the forest and an afternoon studying old buildings. A little digging. That is all I need."
The conversation revealed that the ruins likely hold valuable artifacts. Another team from a competing city, Coral Gate, had shown up to acquire the artifacts as well. Vlad has been in this situation before and does not wish to return home empty-handed. His tone was straightforward. He was out to win. He wanted to know if the party could handle themselves if a tense situation arises. He offered a hefty 50gp payment to each party member to be an escort. He expects help gathering artifacts.
SynopsisSummary for DM
Knowledge Locked Away
Vlad has an internal conflict. He has become disheartened with stealing gathering artifacts. The items locked away, make his work meaningless. Vlad will ask the party their opinion on Etonia, the forest, and magic in the region. The party can help him retrieve artifacts, get paid, and he could provide one magic item as an extra reward. The party can also convince him to take his research to Etonia and keep all the artifacts. Neither the party nor the locals know of the entry points to the ruins that Vlad and Bartholomew uncover.
The team from Coral Gate is led by Bartholomew Racmine, a wizard gathering artifacts for dark magic. The party will find evidence of this along the way, including undead, missing relics, and traps. Revenge for every perceived slight motivates him. He expects to exert control over everyone for his purposes. Bartholomew recovered knowledge on summoning a massive undead entity. He will have his team keep the party busy while he exits. The evidence should make Vlad and the party concerned about something dark brewing. Optionally, leading to the next adventure to report the incident to Etonia or to a quest-giver in your own setting.
The guides Bartholomew has hired are locals. One is Zehra Spinerender and the other is Thom Fletcher. Zehra works as a guide and bodyguard for dignitaries that come to Etonia. Thom is an expert scribe often hired to write letters for travelers. He maintains a reputation of being trusted to keep information confidential. The pair lead the local thieves guild. They are suspicious of what Bartholomew is doing but keep their heads down to get the job done. They will fight against an aggressive party but may turn against Bartholomew otherwise. Bartholomew's assistant is Gim Wren. Smart and efficient, Gim, is an assassin brought along in case things need 'fixing.'
A connection between the Zug Heel and an ancient Elven civilization is unknown to the world. Several artifacts have writing in two languages showing a further connection. A character who knows one language can get a feel for the other with an Intelligence Skill Check. The Zug Heel artifacts Vlad came for are on the Repository level. Evidence of an internal divide and resistance shows up in poetry on Zug Heel artifacts. The Zug Heel built the Repository on top of an older Elven knowledge storage monolith. Few Elves are left in the world. There is no cultural memory of elven civilization. Bartholomew came for information in the monolith. Earth Elementals made some parts of the lower structure. Most races/lineages are openly welcomed in the region. Kobolds are viewed with suspicion. Goblins are hunted due to their recent raids.
If the party leaves the Red Lion Inn before dawn, they may arrive before the competing party. If the party leaves the next morning, they will be behind the entire time. They should see signs of the competing party when they enter the Repository. The party's speed will impact how much information Bartholomew recovers for future use.
The characters could be locals or travelers passing through on the way to Etonia. Locals could be indigenous people of the forest (any half-race, mostly half-orc), tradespeople, clergy from the Church, or magic initiates at the Library. Travelers could be people coming to Etonia for the Fish and Biscuit Rally, immigrating from the South, or as caravan guards/drivers.
All the characters were in the tavern and approached by Vlad. They agreed to help and meet with him after the evening settled. Use pre-session Warm Up Questions and a round of introductions reflect that. Discuss content players would want to avoid ahead of the session. Review safety tools at the beginning of the session. Split treasure evenly. Use the highest D20 roll among players that all want an item.