Race to the Ruins

Written by George Sanders

Introduction

5e compatible one-shot adventure for 3-6 players APL2 in the Anhult Wildlands Setting

As the Innkeeper returned from the second floor, another group entered the Inn. Vlad thought to himself, "Blast, It's Bartholomew and three others from Coral Gate. Recovery of artifacts from the ruins just got more complicated. I'm going to need some help." He considered his options later that evening while sitting by the fireplace in the common room of the Red Lion Inn.

 

Background

Table by the windows in an old Inn. A candle, pitcher, and food fill the table, waiting for guests.
Red Lion Inn by iStockPhoto.com/vac1

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.

   

Synopsis

Summary 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.

 
Competing Party

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.'

 
Lore

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.

 
Time Challenge

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.

 

Adventure Hooks

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.

PLAYERS STOP HERE PLEASE

 
Ruins by the Inn
 

 

Chapter 1 - Inns and Ruins

hour

Evening Meeting

The party pushes tables together in the common room. A young woman named Dee provided Vlad with a rough map to the ruins. He lays it out and tosses a bag of coins on the table. "It's half payment up front." He points on the map. "I want to look at the remains of these three buildings. I would like to get there as soon as possible. Dee can take us in the morning, but it looks like a 2 hour walk due North will get us there."
View Notes

If the party haggles, Vlad will offer an artifact recovered or 25gp extra. He will ask twice if the party can leave in the night. This increases the chance of getting lost but could save time. If they leave right away have them do a Group Survival Check. Failure of 5 or more adds 1 level of Exhaustion.

 

If the competing party gets ahead, describe signs of recent digging. If the player party reaches the surface ruins first, they get a Story Award: Delayed the Undead at the end. The other party will go around them to get into the ruins at a different location and not leave signs until the random encounters in Chapter 2.

 

If the party waits, run the Optional Inn Encounters. They will not need a survival check in the morning but will be behind the other party. They gain 5 temporary HP from the breakfast with mushrooms Dee brought. Dee does not accompany them into the ruins unless the party size is small.

 

Surface Ruins

Towering trees, moss, and ferns crowd around a series of mounds. Any previous excavation filled with dirt long ago from the rains. Vlad directs the party to split into three groups to clear vegetation and investigate three mounds.
  View Notes

Use Strength, Investigation, History, or Performance Skill Checks to dig and find relics . Include all players. Any player that fails a check or is not engaging, Vlad starts a conversation about their background and what they think about Etonia. He is curious how inclusive to immigrants the city has been and if regular houses have access to magic like the Inn. Use several rounds of skill checks, insert Optional Ruins Encounters between rounds.

Hidden Ruins

After a thorough investigation Vlad has narrowed down the effort to one mound. With foundations exposed, the party digs. Shovels hit something hard with a clang! It is a metal door buried nearly 5 feet down. Vlad exclaims, "Now we can begin the real research!"

Development

View Notes

Vlad knew the surface level ruins were not the target. He had information that a larger structure would be underneath. If the party won't enter with him, give them options that keep the story moving. For Example, they could spot the competing party in the distance, working on another entrance. If they follow the competing party bring the party in by the arched door in Chapter 2. Vlad rushes down the hall to the Repository rooms instead of through the arch.

Chapter 2 - Raiding the Repository

2 hours

Repository

Finely fit stone bricks kept the space free of most moisture and decay. Sconces spaced along the wall are easily lit by the party, the oil still functional after so many years. Vlad remarks, "This should be the Repository. We need to investigate each room."
View Notes

Read map and room descriptions as players explore. Vlad will instruct party members to do rubbings of inscriptions and collect artifacts. Be mindful of players with different language backgrounds (Elvish, Orcish, and Earth Elemental could be relevant). Use History and Investigation checks to find Trinkets and Lore but also Perception plus Performance. Vlad should engage at least one character at this time, sharing that he is disappointed the world won't be able to know more about this discovery. Include Optional Repository Encounters as the party explores.

Trapped and Sapped

An archway, at the far end, covered in runes leads to a staircase down. To the left a hallway leads to a series of small rooms. Vlad is intent on studying the runes and encourages the party to check the last hallway on their own. In the first small room is a set of manacles dangling from the ceiling and more from the floor. On the floor a dark ash coats a wide irregular shape around the manacles. A faint sniffle is heard further down the hall.
View Notes

In the last cell is a fey spirit, a cabbit named Kibber. It will use it's Charm Ability to try to convince the party to free it, if they don't try first. It was searching for a friend when it was captured by the competing party. Its friend is a nature spirit, it knows her just as "friend". Her name is Lavani. The cabbit does not know where she is. It knew her long ago. She worked at a library and would tell it stories.

The competing party used the cabbit to power this facility and open the archway going down. The cabbit is a chef and offers to come along with the party. It will set up a pot and fire, that it conjures out of the air. This can count as a short rest. Anyone that eats the meal gets 5 Temp HP but also suffers an effect from the Fey Magic Table. The cabbit is using fey spell scrolls as recipes.

Development

Vlad is amazed at his translation, "These runes are old but recently used. They are elven and pre-date the Zug Heal Repository! This is the find of the millennia! Come, come." Vlad descends the staircase, rushing ahead of the party.
View Notes

If the party does not continue with him, they encounter the competing party outside for the final battle. If there is more than an hour left, when the party surfaces they find a door has been uncovered. Use the encounter in Chp 3 Scene 2 to open the door. If they enter they are teleported to the final battle underground. If they don't enter, they will spot the competing party returning to the Inn. They do not have to fight the competing party but can gather information on what they are doing.

Chapter 3 - Necropolis

hour

Unwelcome Discovery

Lightning crackles down a long hallway as the party leaves the stairway. The light from the arching bolts reveals a wall lined with skulls. The lightning doesn't arch over the hall but follows the line of skulls on each wall. A wider room at the edge of everyone's sight opens at the end of the hallway.
View Notes

Any character that touches the skulls gets an electric shock (2d8+1 Damage) anyone within 5 feet also receives the shock (1d8+1). If everyone proceeds carefully, no saving throw is needed. However, if anyone has a polearm or heavy armor they will need to make a DEX saving throw to avoid the arcs as they walk down the hall.

Detect Magic, Arcana, or Investigation reveals that the structure generates magical force. History or Nature uncovers the essence in the bones is being tapped. A successful check could reveal 10 skulls are missing. This construction is recent compared to the hallway.

Puzzles and Bridges

The hallway opens into a regal room. 30ft tall arched ceilings and marble floors gleam in conjured light filtered through stained glass. In the far wall, a 10ft tall arched door with leaded glass panes reveals a bridge to a monolith. The walls are covered with images of immortals and elementals. The floor in front of the door is filled by a round world mosaic.
View Notes

This door speaks Elvish or Orcish. It will speak kindly but always talking down on the party as lessor beings. It does not have any knowledge of events outside of this room. It can share that the competing party has already entered. When the door is approached, players that understand it hear, "Even gentle minds are permitted to tour the magnificent monolith held within my doors but you must show some ability to learn or it is not safe to let you enter."

 

An inscription around the top of the world reads, "The door cannot open until the Spring begins anew." In a box at the bottom of the world there is a poem inscribed.

World in disorder,
Settled seasons are the key,
Cold, hot, wet or dry.

A closer Investigation at the world reveals it is simply an image of 4 different seasons. There is a round pressure plate hidden in each season. Weight needs applied in the order of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. The plates do not move if the order is wrong and resets after errors. Players don't need to roll if they work out the puzzle.

Blast Bartholomew

Three people help Bartholomew pack a large crate on the far side of the bridge. Bartholomew is extracting something from the wall of the monolith behind him. Skeletons ring the platform.
View Notes

Bartholomew will not stay to fight. He opens a portal the first round, levitates the crate through in the 2nd round, then steps in for the 3rd round. He can cast shield to block attacks. The skeletons lumber across the bridge. The assassin attacks with a crossbow. Use the local guides (Zehra and Thom) to interfere with the assassin if he causes too much trouble for the party. On the 4th round the assassin will step through the portal unless the party can take him down first. If he has the upper hand he will stay to finish off the party. Dee will recover their bodies and they wake in the Inn to complete the ending.

 

Development

View Notes

The local guides accompanied Bartholomew to other ruins and had started to get suspicious of his plans. They won't go through the portal unless the party is actively fighting them. They will ask the party to report Bartholomew to Ranon in Etonia. She is a well-respected member of the Etonia Council. The guides need to lay low and ask not to be mentioned.

Vlad falls to his knees by the portal. "If I had more resources I could figure out what he took." He chips away a sigil of the teleportation circle to prevent Bartholomew's return. If the local guides were dispatched, Vlad can present the two ending options.

Epilogue

View Endings

Ending 1 - All About Business
Party does not alert Etonia, they can spend the time to gain knowledge from the monolith. Each player can add one skill proficiency (or an expertise if they add to a proficient skill). Each character can keep one magic item. The adventure concludes with the party returning to the Red Lion Inn and continuing on their way.

Ending 2 - Another Path
Party agrees to alert Etonia, they gain a Story Award: Thieves Guild Favor. They keep magic items and Trinkets. The adventure concludes with Vlad escorted to Etonia for a meeting with Ranon.


Articles under Race to the Ruins



Cover image: Forest During the Daytime by Tim Mossholder

Comments

Please Login in order to comment!
19 Apr, 2022 23:34

This is really well done!!

Here is my River Challenge Darkwater River! Come vist my world Pangorio for exciting tales, world lore, and RPG adventures ! Hypnosium is my new world I will be trying to fill for Summer Camp ... perhaps even sooner if the muse sttrikes.
Sage George Sanders
George Sanders
26 Apr, 2022 12:27

Thanks! I got some experience over the past year. Plus, I know more of the World Anvil layout tricks now. Glad you enjoyed the adventure!

Lutra lived in the Unilynn until its end, then her son Ardelis brought her to Etonia. She knows the story behind their home, The One River.
1 May, 2022 20:09

I really enjoyed reading this! Great work. It was fun to read all the paths and imagine how it would work with a group of players! :)

*TimeBender*
Sage George Sanders
George Sanders
3 May, 2022 06:30

I'm catching up on messages! I am glad reading it was enjoyable. It was hard to stay under 3000 words and make it, what I thought was, a readable story too. I'm excited how the livestream play went as well.

Lutra lived in the Unilynn until its end, then her son Ardelis brought her to Etonia. She knows the story behind their home, The One River.
3 May, 2022 18:08

I can imagine it was really difficult to keep it under 3000 words! It was really fun to read though. I think you did a great job!

*TimeBender*
Powered by World Anvil