Aria is a system-neutral adventure setting geared towards adventurers just starting their career. Do you need some early adventuring hooks? This article is designed to help you with that.
Aria provides almost everything that a newly-formed party would need, save for magical expertise. Recovering treasures from Old Aria can make for a simple wilderness exploration adventure, while the Ancient General’s Keep is an excellent place to put hooks for adventures further afield.
Aria is a small town built on a rocky ridge jutting out of the side of a valley. A deep river runs near it, providing it with water. Farms dominate the low-laying area near the river, and some workshops and houses have been built in less fertile parts of the flood plain.
The community relocated here about 30 years ago after their previous settlement, up river, was destroyed by flooding. At first, they built exclusively on the ridge, but as more people joined the community and the lessons of the past were buried under the sediment of time, they began to build in the floodplain again.
Places of Interest
The Sanctuary of Restoration
The Sanctuary is a wooden building up on the ridge, on the western side of the complex. Inside is a series of pews and a raised platform with a podium, used for sermons and for healing rituals. A trap door behind the podium leads to a dug out area underneath it, where various clerical implements are stored.
Outsiders are expected to pay for services, and this subsidizes whatever healing the locals need.
Father Morthel Mulackey, cleric. Father Mulackey is a broad-shouldered man with tan skin and brown hair. Mulackey is a compassionate man, and between prayer and his expertise in binding wounds, he can heal almost any wound. He speaks with a noticeable stutter, when not praying.
In the lower part of Aria sits a garden of strange, exotic plants. Deep greens intermingle with vibrant purples and oranges. Beside these plants sits a wooden building with multiple chimneys. If you need a potion brewed, a herb identified or incense made, Mulligan’s Herbarium has what you need.
Johnny Mulligan, Jr., alchemist. Mr. Mulligan is a short man with a large nose. He’s roughly 20 years old, but he’s already starting to go bald. His remaining hair has a purplish tint, thanks to the herbal remedies he’s been using to restore his hair. He speaks in short, simple sentences, and does not start talking until he’s entirely sure of what he’s going to say.
Near the river sits an anvil, a furnace and a rack of tools under a rough wooden roof. This is Murray’s Forge, the town’s main source for tools, horseshoes and animal medicine. Carson, the current owner, mostly makes horse equipment, but he does have a few axes and a single sword for sale. The sword is not particularly impressive.
Murray’s Sword: This short sword was sold to Carson by an adventurer some time ago. It came in heavily damaged, with the blade broken in half. Carson has done his best to repair it, but any adventurer with a bit of experience with sword-fighting will notice the weld in the blade, which is very likely to break again in combat. The sword has a V-shaped guard and a pig leather grip.
Carson Murray, smith. Carson is a muscular, broad-shouldered man with tanned skin. In the mornings he is clean shaven, but by the early afternoon his stubble is quite prominent. He is in his early 20s and, when not discussing business, will flirt with just about anybody.
Carter Murray, elder smith. Carter is a 50-something, broad-shouldered man whose hands and arms are covered in small burn scars. He has no interest in or knowledge of weaponsmithing, but can repair armor if necessary. He whistles slightly whenever he says something with an S. Obviously, Carter is Carson’s father, and has passed the family business on to him.
The Dozen Cats Inn
The Dozen Cats Inn is a two-story wooden building on the ridge and home to six cats. Most people traveling through the area spend a night here, but rarely more than that. The beds are hard and the building gets fairly cold in the winter. The food is tolerable at the best of times.
An enterprising party could probably turn this place around, or at least live in the rooms and turn the main floor into a functional restaurant.
The menu is written in chalk on a piece of blackened wood. It reads as follows:
it is clear that “meat” has been erased and rewritten several times. The faint remnants of the words “STEW 7SP” occupy the space between Meat and Ale. None of it is worth the price.
Six cats currently roam the premises: Basil, Cayenne, Saffron, Caraway, Dill and Cinnamon.
Pearl Matthews, proprietor. Pearl owns the Dozen Cats Inn. Pearl is not very good at running the business, and not very good at taking criticism. If any of the party complain about the accommodations, she’ll throw the whole group out.
Mayor Jaysah McMullen, direct descendant of Benajah. Mayor McMullen is a middle-aged man with black hair and tan skin. His great-great-great grandfather was Benajah McMullen, a legendary general who allegedly had a hidden fortress in the region. A family heirloom, Benajah’s sword, was left in Old Aria when the town was abandoned.
Eunice Mannesworth, pig keeper. Eunice runs a pig farm on the western edge of town. She’s in her 50s, has pale skin with visible veins, and her hair is curly and grey. She has a morbid sense of humor, and jokes about feeding people who annoy her to her pigs. At least, people think she’s joking. Recently, several of her pigs have disappeared, which has made these “jokes” even more uncomfortably frequent.
Alexander Marve, old woodworker. Old Alex is a tall, dark-skinned man who walks with a crutch. His left leg is missing below the knee. He used to live in a cabin out in the woods, but moved into town after severely damaging his leg while logging. He doesn’t like to talk about the accident, but he has no particular attachment to the old cabin, and would be willing to give it to some adventurers if they did something good for the townsfolk.
The Woodsman’s Hut
This small cabin sits deep in the woods. It has a fireplace for warmth and a hearth for cooking, and a set of storm doors outside leads to a damp basement. Some furniture and firewood remains from Old Alex’s days, but nothing of real value is here. The doors have no locks, but the front door can be secured from the inside with a drop bar.
It’s not much, but it could easily house a small group of ne’er-do-wells.
The Ancient General’s Keep
A hundred or so years ago, a great war was fought between the Mortal Kingdoms and the Courts of Faerie. One of the great leaders of the mortal side was Benajah McMullen. From an old stone keep deep in the wilderness, he concocted the grand strategies that led to the forces of Faerie being pushed out of these lands.
Now, the keep has new inhabitants: A small group of orcs, separated from their raiding party, have settled into the exterior and foyer. They have not been able to get past the heavy stone doors leading to the inner part of the keep.
The orcs are hoping to pass the time until the next raiding season in peace, and then reunite with their comrades. If questioned, they will claim to be simple fishermen, shipwrecked in a storm and now wandering as the wind takes them.
Vagn Busk, priest of Zazotz. Vagn was raised on the shadow of a perpetually smoking volcano. He is surprisingly optimistic, and believes that his time will come when it comes, regardless of what he does. Every night, he attempts to regale his companions with the legends of Zazotz and his kin, but he has long run out of new stories.
Torkild Lorenzen, hunter. Torkild is a muscular orc who is highly skilled with a longbow. She has long red hair, which is kept in a braid. She wears a necklace of shark’s teeth.
Grethe Elden, raider. Grethe is a broad shouldered orc woman who carries three throwing axes strapped to her chest. She came to this land to loot and pillage, and she has stowed a substantial amount of gold and stolen goods in a hollowed out tree trunk nearby.
The areas of the Keep are as follows:
20 feet or so from the main entrance, a large fire put has been dug into the ground. Flat rocks surround it, and a few log benches have been set up nearby.
The entry hall of the keep has been taken over by the orcs. Simple furniture made out of wood fills the room, turning it into something like a barrack. A pair of heavy double doors at the back of the foyer have some tool marks at the seam, but have not been opened. A crowbar is propped up against the door.
Once you get past the heavy stone doors, there is a 40 foot hallway. On the left and right, close to the foyer doors, are simple wooden doors. The left leads to the War Room and the right to Benajah’s own quarters. At the far end of the hall is another simple door, which leads to the Wizard’s Lair.
The War Room
At the center of the War Room is a humongous wooden table, wholly taken up by a map of the continent. Red and blue blocks litter the map, representing the forces of the Faerie and Mortality, respectively. A small cluster of green blocks sits on the northern coast, perhaps representing orcish forces aligned to neither side.
Several sites across the map have special symbols drawn on them. These are other adventuring sites for the party to investigate later, so exactly what’s here isn’t important right now. That’s why there’s just symbols, no names.
This map is old and out of date in several ways, but the most noticeable is that Aria is in its old location, and a lake that no longer exists is shown upriver from it.
The Wizard’s Lair
This room is secured with a heavy, locked metal door. When the door is opened for the first time, anybody standing within 15 feet of it is effectively maced by the contaminated, acrid air from inside the room. They will begin coughing and their eyes will water. This continues for about 30 seconds, until the air disperses.
One wall of the room is lined with barrels and sacks, each of which once contained a spell component of some kind. Now they only hold dirt. Various notes are glued to the walls and other surfaces. They are all unreadable, due to a combination of wizard shorthand and extraordinarily messy handwriting.
Two stacks of books hold up a piece of wood that appears to be a desk. This desk has a glass beaker of clear liquid on it. Green crystals float on the surface and sky-blue sediment rests on the bottom. The label on it reads “HEALTH POTION? Leave until [a date 100 years before the party finds it]”
At the far corner of the room is a prison cell, which holds the skeleton of a devil chained to the wall, and a mirror with an ornate frame hung on the bars directly opposite it.
Upriver from Aria, behind a dam of debris and rock, sits Old Aria. 20 years ago, an wet spring caused the river to flood, swamping Old Aria. Now, most of the town is under water, leaving only the Sanctuary and the roofs of various buildings above water. Debris and sediment from up river fills the area that used to be the town. Stalks of wild wheat have sprouted wherever there is enough soil above the water to support them, descended from the field that once fed this town.
Wild boar live here, swimming through the water and sleeping on the buildings’ roofs. They are viciously territorial. Carp can be found in the water as well.
A statue of Benajah McMullen stands in the central square. He is depicted carrying his sword in one hand and pointing forward with the other, as if directing troops into battle. During the most flooded times of year, only the head is visible above water.
Mulligan’s Herbarium: The old Herbarium is a wooden building overgrown with mosses and plants in eye-searing shades of orange, purple and blue. The entire exterior is covered in plant life, but the interior is fairly clear. On the second floor, some books and family heirlooms remain untouched by the floodwaters. Some of the alchemical herbs have hybridized into strange, new lifeforms.
The Sanctuary of Restoration: Sitting on a hill above the town, the Sanctuary was only mildly damaged in the initial flooding. Since then, the hill has been slowly eroded by the yearly floods, and the building is in danger of falling off the hill. Inside, the reliquary beneath the stage is mostly intact.
The cemetery that once lay beside the Sanctuary has been severely disturbed by the flooding, and many bones now litter the area.
Once a lake full of carp, this area is now a dry basin overgrown with wild grasses and clover, and the early saplings of a forest. Wildlife walks down its gentle sides to graze and drink from the river that runs through its center. Mosquito hounds can often be found here.
At one side of the lake is a waterfall. It used to be taller, but substantial rainfall led to large pieces breaking off and tumbling downriver, dropping the level of the lake and flooding everything downstream.
|1: An orc (Torkild Lorenzen) carrying a dead deer over her shoulders. She has very little interest in fighting, and will pretend to be the only orc in this area if confronted.|
|2: Mosquito hounds. 1d6 ugly, needle faced dog-things run out of the bush towards the party. They cannot be bribed with meat, as they can only feed from living creatures.|
|3: Starving man Ryan Kerris and his dog, Willard. He speaks haltingly and his dog is clearly malnourished. If offered food, he’ll spend time with the party, telling tales of adventure. They do not appear to be true. When night falls, he will pretend to get ready to leave with his dog, before trying to murder the party.|
|4: Wolves. A single wolf can be seen through the foliage, watching the party with its yellow eyes. Upon being noticed, it scurries away.|
|5: A man with his hands cuffed behind his back stumbles out of the bush and into the party. He’s covered in scratches and he looks like he has been severely beaten. His name is Kit Thompson, and he has a bounty on his head for theft. The bounty hunter Jonah Stone had captured him, and is now chasing him through the woods. Sure, Kit is a thief, but is Jonah’s harsh treatment of him justified?|
|6. A bear cub, playing with a pine cone in a clearing. If any member of the party approaches, a bear will charge out of the woods and attack them in defense of the cub.|
The portrayal of Old Aria’s flooded state was heavily inspired by footage of the 2021 Pacific Northwest floods, specifically footage from the area around Hope and Merritt in British Columbia.
The orcs mentioned in this article are based on the culture portrayed in The Northern Orcs of Beruvik. They can easily be swapped out for human viking raiders, or whatever else fits your setting.
Let me know below if you’re interested in more of these “starting zone” type of articles!
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Former esports wannabe, current TTRPG streamer and TTRPG creator interviewer. I like science fiction and I have a soft spot for licensed tabletop RPGs. You can find all the campaigns I’m in and interviews I’ve done over on YouTube.
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