Chapter Two: Trebonshire Forest (1)
Whoa, we’ve finally made it well into the adventure, haven’t we? Thank the gods, now we can get some action underway!
First off, your characters will probably follow the road to Hoordan’s Crossing. That town is about forty miles away from Clearspring, so it would take the characters roughly two days to get there (at a leisurely pace).
Trebonshire Forest is a thick and dense woods, much like you would expect it to. The road to Hoordan’s Crossing is a simple dirt path, trampled by hundreds or thousands of people in the last couple of centuries. There is no pavement, only occasional marker stones which read the distance to the next place. (The marker stones are rectangular boulders, some of which have the markings chiseled in, on some simple chalk has been used – which probably has washed off mostly, and only the tiniest traces remain. The folks who travel along here generally know where they’re heading, so they don’t need any reminders.)
The road to Hoordan’s Crossing is the place where your party will meet the bandits who stole the bridal present from our courier, Nemchek. But that’s not the only thing that is going to occur: there are also the random encounters with beasts of the forests. And they don’t just have to be your average wolves or bears, there are a couple of special creatures on Gushémal which could cause quite a bit of damage (and excitement).
For that we will use a random encounter table right in the next section, so you can find out what happens to your party. The same table will also indicate when you should introduce the bandits. (If your rolls don’t work out, just say that about halfway to Hoordan’s Crossing, you’ll get to the bandits.)
So, there are two events in this chapter:
· The random encounters
· Encountering the bandits (which leads on into Chapter Three)
Trebonshire Forest isn’t a safe place. How could it be in such a relatively uncivilized area. There are plenty of creatures in the woods who are looking for their daily sustenance. Which certainly includes predators.
If you’ve read Ruins and Hopes, you will know about the ratpeople. Then there are clawvoles, grasstraps, and not to mention the regular beasts that prey on Earth’s creatures.
So, how do you handle the random encounters?
Do a percentage roll (two d10 dice, one for the single digits, one for the double digits) for each round, and follow the guide in the random encounter table below:
We’ll leave the description of wolves and bears to your own skills as a GM. After all, you don’t need any prior descriptions for these real-life creatures. Ratpeople, clawvoles, and grasstraps we will cover in the remainder of this section. The bandits will be taken care of in the following section; unfortunately, then you’ll have to do another roll.
They are a feral race, rather close to animals. Still, they have figured out how to use a cookpot (and are quite infamous for that trait of theirs) in which they stew all their prey before the feast for the tribe. Are they sapient? Somewhat, but not enough to fully qualify. It’s probably a prejudice on the part of the (acknowledged) sapient races of Gushémal. Nonetheless, ratpeople are considered more akin to chimpanzees than humans (or elves, or dwarves, or whatever).
Ratpeople communicate by grunts and signs (also by “squeaky howls”) and haven’t yet developed a true language. They don’t wear any clothes – further proof of the prejudice, as the Gushémal folks feel.
(They are commonly compared to orcs, with some reason. Orcs, however, are considered a sapient race, or at least closely bordering on intelligence, while ratpeople are clearly below it. For instance, if you look at the character of Vobul, you will see that his pacifistic streak extends to all the sapient creatures, but animals are for consumption. Vobul himself isn’t all too sure what to make of ratpeople – he mentions that they “taste awful”, so he’s tried to eat at least one of them. On the other hand, in the encounter described in Ruins and Hopes, he does his best to keep ratpeople unharmed. That uncertainty should run through your descriptions as well. There are behaviors which look intelligent, and some that seem more animal.)
Description and Statistics
Ratpeople are about five feet tall, walk upright. Covered by thick gray fur (which functions like leather armor, cf. Player’s Handbook Chapter 7.4. Armor), their upper body seems stunted compared to their legs.
They have powerful hindlegs, and their modes of transit are these two:
· “Walking”: The hindlegs are much too big in comparison to allow these creatures any kind of walk like ordinary people. Rather they shuffle along, half skipping (as children like to do), half walking. Their normal gait is somewhat akin to the way humans move in lesser gravity environments. As examples, watch old footage from the Apollo missions with astronauts on the moon.
· Jumping: Now this is where the ratpeople truly excel in. Propelled by their hindlegs, they can cover large distances (about 6 – 8 yards in an ordinary jump, up to 12 when they put a lot of effort into it). That is what they prefer to do, and when the tribe is travelling, there will be a bunch of ratpeople leaping through the forest.
Their arms are very short, compared to their entire body. Think of a Tyrannosaurus Rex to picture it. Nonetheless, they have claws (which function like daggers, cf. Player’s Handbook Chapter 7.3. Weapons) and although their reach is minimal, they can cut pretty well when they get close.
Far more dangerous are their snouts, ratlike in apperance (hence the name), with an elongated snout that features sharp fangs and two short tusks set along the snout. Each of the tusks functions like a dagger, with the fangs adding more damage to the attack. (A real dagger causes 1d10+1 damage, the snouts of a ratperson cause 2d10+2 damage.)
Ratpeople have two attacks per round, one for the arms and one for the snout.
Due to the low reach of their arms, that attack gets a modifier of –20 on the attack value. (Meaning that it’s a lot tougher to get through someone’s personal defenses that way.)
(Also see Game Master’s Guide Chapter 5.5. Ratpeople)
The fight ensues, by the general combat rules.
The number of ratpeople should be about 2 – 3 times as many as your party. That gives them a bit of a challenge, but not enough to be absolutely deadly.
Note that not all the ratpeople will attack right away. Some will try to knock one of the characters unconscious and drag him off, presumably towards the tribe’s cookpot.
Related to the voles of earth, clawvoles have grown quite a bit larger. They are some six feet long, four feet high and wide, with very large and powerful limbs that are equipped with shovel-like claws (hence the name). They build kennels below ground where they live, and from where they foray for prey.
Clawvoles are rather fast at tunneling through soft ground, and sometimes like to pursue their intended prey below the surface (keeping track by means of smell). Of course their actual speed differs greatly, depending on the kind of terrain they are covering. If there are plenty of rocks within the ground, they’ll have a much harder time to cover any distance; so you as the GM may decide relatively freely how fast they are exactly.
As a rule of thumb you should say that they can more or less keep up with their prey, if the ground is ordinary forest (or open land). They are a bit slower than, say, humans. So they can only get within striking distance if their prey (i.e. the party) stops for a while.
Unlike their earthly cousins (which are also present on Gushémal), they are carnivores. Commonly they prefer prey much smaller than themselves, like rabbits, but they also go for deers (and ratpeople). They generally don’t attack humans or other sapient species (with the exception of lone alreus and dwarves that they deem small enough), but can easily be provoked.
The creatures are known to be very stubborn, once they have taken up a fight and are liable to pursue their prey for days and not give up until either one is dead. (They get particularly nasty if the young ones of a mother beast are killed; then you won’t get rid of the clawvole at all. Wound it, it limps off into the forest – and three days later, it’ll be back.)
Clawvoles make guttural noises that sound as if the chirping of rodents was ramped three octaves lower.
Description and statistics
(Some of the description was taken care of above.)
They have a dark fur, ranging from black to a dark brown. It is very thick, with pieces of dirt always sticking to it. The fur does not include an attack penalty.
Clawvoles have eyes that are able to see, although they are rather shortsighted and rely on their sense of smell. Their nose pierces out from the head, much like you know from an ordinary vole, rendering their sharp teeth useless in combat.
Instead a clawvole relies on its limbs, which are equipped with sharp, one foot long claws. They swing them at their prey, try to kill it so they can safely consume it – without endangering the tender nose (clearly a weak spot of this creature)
The clawvole has one attack per round, using its claws. If they get through a character’s defenses, they cause 1d10+5 damage.
Its hindlegs can give the clawvole a good push, so it can leap up to 1 yard if launching from a hole in the ground, and 2 yards if launching from clean ground.
They cannot climb trees, so these are a potential refuge. (Unfortunately, the sharp claws can function as axes, too, so the clawvole might just as well decide to chop down the tree you’re sitting on.)
If an arm (or claw) is damaged, the animal will immediately withdraw. The arms are vital for the creature’s survival, after all. (This rule does not apply if the clawvole is protecting its young. Then it will fight to the death, no matter its own injuries.)
For Encounter Type 1, use one clawvole for every three characters in your party. If there are 4 or 5 characters to the party, roll a 1d10 whether an additional clawvole attacks. If the 1d10 is 5 or higher, then another clawvole is there. (The same goes if you have seven or eight characters in the party, but – then again – this adventure was designed for a maximum of 6 characters.)
For Encounter Type 2, the cubs stay in a radius of some 20 feet. Each is only about a foot long, but they can tear nasty gashes with their claws (1d10-5 damage). On the other hand, their fur is very smooth, warm and makes for a nice garment, perhaps a cap? Could fetch a nice price, if properly fashioned, perhaps some 5 gp.
(If this seems utterly cruel to you, then my answer is: You’re right. A noble character should do his best to get out of this mess – unfortunately, the clawvoles won’t let him. So, much like Koyson had to in Ruins and Hopes, you have little choice but killing the parents, or they’ll kill you. The cubs won’t survive long without their parents, so it’s rather merciful to kill them.
On the other hand, if your party chooses so, they can try to raise the cubs themselves. It’s gonna be a tough road ahead of them – particularly with the adventure they are following -, but it might pay off if your party had one or more loyal pet clawvoles along with them. Should that occur, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, and we’ll rack our brains to help you in that endeavor. It sounds like it could be a lot of fun – and a lot of hard work. But since that’s what role-playing is all about… heck, let’s get to it!)