With the missing workers rescued from their own mischief gone awry, the heart of the Bramblejade now beckons to the party. Their quarry lies somewhere within the central tower. It is time for them to set out on their first true adventure as a group, braving the blight in hopes of curing the Champion’s ailment. But they know not what they travel to face. Verdantguard is not as abandoned as they may believe and the creatures inside are not accommodating of visitors.
Continuing on from Part 1, it is time for the party to venture into the Bramblejade proper. They will need to find their way using what information they have in addition to their own skills. The adventurers must brave the forest, find their way to Verdantguard, and face the twisted creatures within. Doing so will not only allow them to cure the fallen fighter but may also grant them long lost knowledge of the blight, Greybanner, and its bloody past.
Journey to Verdantguard
With permission to pass from Gelbris Ivarrson, the party can now set off for Verdantguard. Another of the Lumberyard’s paths can take them eastwards through a recently cut section of forest. As the logging sites end, the thick forest immediately takes over and the characters must proceed without a path. Read the following as they begin their journey through the forest:
The logging site of cut stumps and cleared shrubbery gives way to the forest in a wall of thick foliage that surrounds it. Crossing the threshold immediately places you in the midst of dense overgrowth, pushing through bushes that cover a tangle of roots across already uneven ground. The tight canopy allows only threads of light to hang from the treetops. Below, a cooling breeze rustles through the daunting terrain, carrying the calming scents and sounds of the forest.
The journey to Verdantguard is difficult and disorienting and requires the party to make a series of skill checks in addition to giving their marching order and any Wisdom (Perception) or Dexterity (Stealth) checks they choose to make. The characters decide the skills they use, taking turns to give explanations for how they intend to help with navigation or traversal. These skill checks will follow the following rules:
Checks required. The party knows the tower is to the south-east and is unlikely to become lost, though they may be delayed. They will make a total of five skill checks on the way to Verdantguard; two checks in the outer forest, two more in the inner Bramblejade, and one within the blighted heart. Each skill check determines their success and travel pace for the hour of travel that follows.
Skill Check DC. The DC of each skill check varies depending on how applicable and helpful it is to the situation. A creative and well-thought-out skill has a DC of 11; basic but logical use of a skill has a DC of 13; if it is unlikely but still possible that the skill would help, the DC is 15. Succeeding on a check with a particular skill increases the DC for repeated uses of the same skill by 2. Make the characters aware of this without mentioning specific numbers. The DC of a skill check also increases by 2 within the inner Bramblejade and blighted heart.
Environmental changes. Conditions worsen as the party travels deeper into the forest. The canopy of the inner Bramblejade and beyond blocks sunlight, reducing the area to dim light. This will affect certain skill checks made in the area. The tumultuous ground of the blighted heart is difficult terrain, which is already factored into the party’s travel time but also affects them during encounters.
Results of failures. Failure on a skill check costs the party half an hour of travel time. Every second failure sees them encounter some kind of danger within the forest. Roll on the appropriate column of the Bramblejade Random Encounters table, using a d10 within the outer forest or a d20 in the inner Bramblejade and blighted heart, and remembering to roll to determine whether each creature is blighted. If there is a ranger in the party whose Natural Explorer feature favors forests, they do not suffer the loss of time on a failed skill check.
Using skill checks to drive navigation, travel, and traversal is a common and effective way to inject player involvement. It keeps your players in the mindset of their characters and avoids the problem of ‘fast traveling’ through what is meant to be hazardous terrain. Your party also gets to utilize and show off their skills while still needing to think creatively about how they might help. If this section begins to drag on, feel free to assist new players by suggesting skills or uses, or by removing the penalty for repeating a particular skill if it has been some time since its last use.
It is a five-hour journey south-east to Verdantguard, without the additional delays of failed skill checks. Depending on the time of day that the party left and how long their navigation takes, this may require them to camp for a night within the forest. During the night, roll to check for an encounter as described for the Bramblejade Forest.
The forest grows noticeably denser and overgrown as the party crosses into the inner Bramblejade. When the party has made their second skill check and reaches the inner Bramblejade, read the following:
Continuing on, the forest around you begins to grow denser and more chaotic. The earth is broken, squeezed, and split by roots that fight each other for space. The air is silent and motionless, entirely bereft of any sign of life and pierced only the sounds of your own footfalls. Every breath is stained by rancid moisture. It seems to drift from patches of grey moss that hang on trees and drains them of their color. The landscape appears almost frozen in an unsettling, diseased stasis.
The party’s fourth skill check will bring them into the Bramblejade’s blighted heart, where the trees again grow denser and the air quieter, and many colors seem to fade to grey.
Webs. The ettercaps within Verdantguard have strung webs throughout the forest in the tower’s vicinity. If a character succeeds on a DC 20 Wisdom (Perception) check within the blighted heart, they notice many of the thread-like strands glistening between trees above them. Characters may also notice similar threads beneath the fallen leaves on the ground with a DC 20 Intelligence (Investigation) or Wisdom (Survival) check of the forest floor. All of the webs run in roughly the same direction. These threads are identifiable as webs with a DC 13 Intelligence (Nature) check, though they are much larger than a regular spider’s. The webs act like tripwires and extensions of both the ettercaps’ and their giant wolf spiders’ Web Sense ability. If the party chooses to make a Wisdom (Survival) check to follow the webs as one of their navigation checks, they can do so with advantage.
The webs in the forest extend the creatures’ Web Sense throughout their territory, alerting them to any approaching danger or challenger. If the party’s Dexterity (Stealth) score within the blighted heart is below 10, the giant wolf spiders within Verdantguard are aware of the characters’ approach and likewise alert the ettercaps. If it is 10 or higher, the creatures will not have noticed them and will be unaware when the characters arrive at the tower.
Verdantguard, the Blighted Tower
Finding their way through the forest brings the party to the base of the Verdantguard Tower. Read the following as they arrive at the clearing:
Cutting and pressing through the dense growth, you spot a wide clearing up ahead. The trees part into an immediately open space that rises into a grassy hill. Moving closer, you notice that the plants near the border seem to lean and bow outwards, away from the center. A single glance into the clearing shows you why.
A square, stone tower rises some sixty feet from the peak of the hill, casting an imposing shadow down and into the forest. The structure appears old, vines creeping up its base and a piece of its top corner having broken and fallen in pieces to the earth below. At its bottom, a short set of stone steps on its south side leads to a doorway filled with broken stones and rubble. Small window openings mark its sides, all likewise blocked with debris.
The clearing around the tower is as still and silent as the forest, not even a single blade of grass swaying or leaf rustling, though the acrid stench grows stronger in the frozen air.
Verdantguard tower is a five-story structure of thick stone. It is 50 feet across on either side and 85 feet tall from the base of the walls to the top of those bordering the rooftop. It was once home to the Verdantguard druids, the followers of Alessia the Thorn, who unfortunately succumbed to the forest’s blight in the days of its advent. Vincent MacHale, another of Greybanner’s founders and its first lord, traveled to the tower some decades later. He spent his last days tending to it as a final display of affection for Alessia, with whom he had once shared a romantic bond. The tower has remained abandoned for the generations since Vincent’s death, shown by the damage and disarray of the structure, though there are signs of its most recent and current residents, a nest of blighted ettercaps.
The tower’s main entrance, a doorway up a 5-foot set of steps, is filled with rubble gathered from within the room beyond. Its various windows are similarly sealed, their webs connecting to those strung throughout the inner forest that gather and feed into the openings. A section of the tower’s north-eastern corner has fallen and planted in the grass. The hole left in the rooftop is the only visible entry point. Owing to these factors, as well as the general danger of the surrounding forest, the tower’s interior has remained eerily untouched over the years. Even the ettercaps enter and leave through secret tunnels due to an enchanted door blocking off their home in the crypt. Many of the belongings and records of Alessia, her druids, and Vincent can still be found inside, in the very same places they were left.
Sealed doorway. The ettercaps living in the cryp beneath the tower have sealed the main entrance by stacking rubble and reinforcing it with their own webs. This rubble was taken from the tower’s collapsing stone, as well as the wood of furniture within the ground floor. The pile in the doorway is 3 feet thick at the top and 5 feet thick at the bottom, with no opening to see through. The density of the stones and the strength of the webbing prevent them from being removed from the outside.
A character that succeeds on a DC 13 Wisdom (Perception) check or Intelligence (Investigation) check of the doorway discovers light reflecting off of silken threads that fill the gaps between the rocks. They are thicker than those in the forest, adhesive to the touch, and also burn the skin of anyone that touches them directly. The threads also seem to be most dense on the other side of the rubble. The party may deduce that this is because they have been applied from the inside. A character can make the same DC 13 Intelligence (Nature) check as in the blighted heart to identify that the threads are webs that resemble a spider’s, though they are far larger and are coated in a corrosive substance.
Faded blue tiles form a triangular roof in the center, surrounded by a square of stone walkway and crenelated walls. The south-eastern corner rises a level higher to a lookout platform, below which is a broken doorway to spiraling stairs. The north-eastern corner has crumbled away. Bricks and other debris are strewn across the surface, some having fallen inside and others littering the grass far below. The air up here smells clearer, though your skin prickles with an anxious chill.
With the main entrance sealed, the rooftop and the open corner of the top floor are the only clear way into the tower. The party must find their own way up the tower’s side, which is 85 feet high from the ground to the rooftop’s crenelated walls. Fortunately, the primary structure of the tower remains strong and without risk of collapsing further.
Rubble. Broken pieces of the tower’s corner are scattered across the rooftop and the grass below. These are due to the ettercaps having created the opening while sealing the doorway to restrict entry to the tower above their nest. A character can make a DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check to discover marks on some of the stones where they have been corroded by acid and scratched at by rough, serrated tools or claws.
The Verdantguard Tower is comprised of four levels, connected by a spiraling staircase in its corner. The tower’s stone walls remain strong against its age, though much of the wood inside has rotted and collapsed. Its windows and lower levels show evidence of its insectoid residents, while a final set of stairs lead down into the underground crypt where the creatures have made their home.
Ceilings. Each level of the tower is 15 feet tall except for the upper garden, which is made up of two levels and is therefore 30 feet tall.
Windows and light. The tower’s windows are blocked with debris and webs, preventing sunlight from entering. The rooms are all dark except for the garden sanctum, where the broken ceiling allows for bright light during the day. A character can clear a window’s webs by tearing them away with a DC 12 Strength check or by destroying them (AC 10; 5 hit points; vulnerability to fire damage; immunity to bludgeoning, poison, and psychic damage). Doing so fills the room with dim light except for where walls block the light coming in.
Rubble. Much of the tower is damaged and some areas have collapsed. Areas of fallen stone and broken furniture are difficult terrain.
Vincent MacHale. One of the founders and first lord of Greybanner spent the last days of his life in the tower. Vincent MacHale’s spirit remains in faint apparitions that repeat the actions of his final day and may lead the characters in finding additional secrets. These images appear randomly and simultaneously, and each one repeats shortly after it ends. A character notices the spirit by succeeding on a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check, or by any method that would reveal magic or undead, such as the detect magic spell. A character that has seen Vincent once is then able to notice his reappearance and does not need to repeat the check.
The spirit appears as a blurred disturbance in the air, like a figure of dust swept along in a breeze that slightly chills the area around it. Its face is indistinct and it wears loose-fitting robes and does not acknowledge or respond to the party in any way. A character that sees the spirit can make a DC 15 Wisdom (Insight) check to notice that its movements appear labored, suggesting that the person was either old or weakened in some way. The actions it takes and the written records in the tower should reveal to the characters that it is the spirit of Vincent.
Verdantguard Tower Battle Maps
Verdantguard Tower is based on the Ruined Keep battle map, and David Wilson has kindly shared his specially-made map edit and monster token with us!
You are welcome to download and use use these in your personal game. Each floor is 12×12 and 70 DPI, and you need only drag-and-drop them into your VTT of choice.
You can also find the base map below:
Ruined KeepPWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00
The room is tall and open, with a level of wooden walkways running its perimeter half-way up. Below them is a rampantly overgrown garden of vibrant, sweet-smelling flowers and shrubs that have spilled out from their pots long ago. The largest of them is a tree that coats the ceiling in its cramped sprawl of branches. Amidst these branches, hanging from the ceiling, are web-strung pods of varying sizes. Some are torn open, filling the air with the stench of decay, while others strain under the weight of whatever is held within.
This room acted as a garden and sanctum for Allesia’s druids to carry out their rituals. The plants not only created a space for meditation and closeness to nature but also yielded many of the reagents and components required by the druids’ spells. With the druids gone but their magic remaining, the plants have grown out of control. They are sustained entirely by the residual magic and the sunlight pouring in from the hole in the roof. The central tree was specifically enchanted by Alessia to hold a chest in its regenerating roots. Shards of broken clay litter the ground around where the pots once stood.
The height of the room also provides space for the giant wolf spiders to store and devour their food. Four web-encased bodies hang from the center of the ceiling, among the empty remains of others. All of them are Small or Medium-sized. If a character destroys or opens one of the pods, they find a forest beast within, decaying from the spider’s venom.
At least two of the giant spiders are in the room, either feeding or waiting to ambush the party (see the ‘Developments’ section).
Vincent’s spirit. Flashes of the spirit fade between performing different chores. One appears to water several of the plants, while another rests its hand against the tree and lowers its head towards where the chest is hidden. A third sits in the center of the room and meditates.
Root-bound chest. A 6-foot-long, 1-foot-wide wooden chest is hidden within the roots of the tree. A character can discover it with a DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check of the room or by following the gaze of one of the images of Vincent. The chest is not locked but the roots of the tree are clasped tightly around it, preventing it from being moved or opened.
The tree’s enchantment causes it to regrow when damaged. The chest is bound by four roots (AC 10; 15 hit points; vulnerability to slashing damage) that each recover 5 hit points at the end of every turn if a character attempts to cut them off of the chest. If a creature hits the roots with a melee weapon attack, they must succeed on a DC 10 Strength check to pull the weapon free as the wood closes around it. On a failure, the root heals around the weapon, and the DC increases to 12 for further attempts to pull it free.
The chest contains several of Alessia’s belongings and a note (see the ‘Treasure’ section). The characters may gain access to the chest’s contents through their actions in the lower levels of the tower. If they burn Alessia’s skeleton in the crypt’s central coffin, the roots of the tree move aside, leaving the chest visible and easily accessible. Speaking the passphrase, ‘from the earth and to the earth again‘, will also cause the roots to recede. If the characters destroy the chest, they can recover the charm and letter, but the staff is too large to pull out of the roots.
If the party’s Dexterity (Stealth) score within the Bramblejade’s blighted heart was below 10, the spiders have felt their approach through their Web Sense ability. Three giant wolf spiders are hiding in the branches of the tree and amidst their food pods. Make Dexterity (Stealth) checks for the spiders, which are waiting to ambush the characters.
If the spiders did not sense the characters, two of them are currently eating from one of the sacs on the floor of this room. The third is in the living area on the ground floor, tending to their eggs.
Within the root-bound chest is the Staff of the Thorn, a letter written by Alessia the Thorn, and a small druidic charm.
Staff of the Thorn
Staff, uncommon (requires attunement)
A straight wooden staff with a spiralling channel carved into it. In the channel is a verdant green vine that splits and hardens into a three-pronged helix at the staff’s head, each prong covered in sharp thorns.
This staff can be wielded as a quarterstaff.
Additionally, while holding the staff, you have advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks to hide in bushes, vines, or similar plant growth, as the plants around you move to cover your location.
Wondrous item, common
A bracelet formed of the interwoven stems of plants and with three small charms hanging from it, each representing one of Greybanner’s founders. One is a roughly cut red gem and another is a large thorn, still a vibrant green. The third is an insignia of thin metal, roughly depicting a gallows framed within a diamond shape.
The bracelet can be used as a druidic focus or a holy symbol. When used this way in the casting of a spell, the bracelet grows small, colorful flowers along its outside. The flowers remain for 24 hours before receding back into the bracelet.
Alessia’s letter. A loose page of parchment, still legible thanks to the chest’s protection. The text consists of two entries. They are in different languages, though both appear to be written by the same hand. The first is written in Druidic and reads the following:
Tomorrow, I go to my rest. Our duel will, at last, mean a reprieve from the shame that has poisoned us for these years. Yet, this relief is again poisoned by anxiety. The choices we made, and those that our successors must continue to make, have filled me with a deep rot. I know not whether it is simply my own guilt, or perhaps a punishment for the part I played, or a final curse from the Eyes or their master. All I know is that it is growing, eating me away from the inside. I do not believe that it will die with me. But it must remain hidden. As much as I want to scream and cry for help from those around me, I know that I cannot. They would surely ask the cause, and revealing what we have done would only serve to undo it, making our sacrifices worthless. So I will take this pain to my grave and die with my guilt unspoken. I need only to endure another day.
I suppose this page must also be hidden, like so much else.
The second part of the text is written in Common. It reads the following:
There is little more I can say but that I am sorry. In my fear, I thought to perform one final ritual, using knowledge we learned from the Eyes. It seemed of little consequence next to what we have done. But it revealed to me secrets of what is to come.
I know that you will win the duel tomorrow and that Gorim and I will fall. I know that you will be alone and that you will continue to try for all your years to rectify our actions and the darkness that will come from my death. And I know that you will fail. There is nothing I can say to abate the guilt I feel for leaving you alone, made worse by the selfish relief I feel for being able to rest. So I write this in hopes that I am wrong. I hope that you can find the courage to move on, forget, or forgive us all, and live a life free of the shame that corrupts me. I hope that you can find happiness and peace. Selfishly, I hope you can one day forgive me for leaving you in this way. And finally, I hope I have the courage to give this to you.
May we meet again in whatever lies beyond.
From the earth and to the earth again.
– Alessia, your Rose.
As Verdantguard was populated by druids, their records and journals were written in the Druidic language. This means that the party may not be able to read them immediately if they do not have their own druid or another way to translate the text. Don’t be afraid to remind them that they can seek help from other characters, such as Elias Gilderoy, who may be able to translate it for them.
Thick dust fills your lungs and coats the aged and broken remnants of furniture. In the corner opposite the stairs is a bed, with a small meditation area of now-dead flowers and herbs to its side. Across from the bed is a workstation of alchemy jars and alembics atop wooden cabinets. The floor creaks where it has given way under one side of the station, leaving what remains on a precarious slope that leads to a hole where it meets the wall.
This room was Alessia’s private quarters. She spent more and more time here as she grew more reclusive, setting aside a private meditation area and her own alchemy station. Vincent shied away from the room during his stay, as he found it uncomfortable to step foot in Alessia’s private chamber after her passing. The room has sustained damage over time, with part of the floor breaking away.
Vincent’s spirit. The spirit appears again. It sits on the bed for a moment, slowly looking to the rest of the room. It then rises and begins to walk away as it fades again.
Broken stairs. The stairs leading further down are blocked by rubble that is bound in the same webbing as the tower’s main entrance. Characters can make the same checks (as in the ‘Exterior’ section) to notice and identify the webs.
Alchemy station. Alessia’s alchemy station still holds many jars, vials, and notes. The notes are written in Druidic and consist of different formulae and recordings of their results, all of which either failed or only succeeded temporarily. A character can make a DC 12 Wisdom (Perception) check to compare the notes’ handwriting with other writings in the tower. On a success, they find that they are not in fact Alessia’s but rather written by Yestis, one of the last remaining druids. A character that is proficient with alchemist’s supplies can make a DC 12 Intelligence (Alchemist’s supplies) check to identify that they were attempts to purify plants, beasts, and even people of a magical sickness. The workstation also contains a number of still usable implements and potions (see the ‘Treasure’ section).
The hole beneath the cabinets is 5 feet by 10 feet, running along the base of the wall and blocked by the cabinets themselves. A character can make a DC 17 Strength check to move the cabinets away from the wall and free a space large enough for Medium creatures to squeeze through. If they roll a 20 or higher, the space freed is large enough for them to not have to squeeze. However, if they roll a 10 or lower, the shifting weight causes a portion of the floor to collapse (see the ‘Developments’ section), dropping the alchemy station to the floor below.
If an attempt to move the alchemy station fails badly enough, or if the floor in a 5-foot radius around the cabinets (AC 10; 5 hit points) is reduced to 0 hit points, the rotting floorboards collapse. The weight of the alchemy station breaks through the floor below, shattering against the stone floor of the ground level. Creatures within 5 feet of the cabinets when they fall must succeed on a DC 10 Dexterity saving throw or fall through as well, taking 2d6 bludgeoning damage and landing prone amongst the rubble. The damage caused by the falling cabinets will also cause a number of spider eggs to burst and release swarms of insects (spiders) (see the ‘Developments’ section of the ‘Living Area and Entryway’).
A character that falls through without the cabinets falling is unlikely to break the floor below and instead takes only 1d6 bludgeoning damage and lands prone in the Druids’ Quarters. The floorboards that they land on take the same damage and break if they are reduced to 0 hit points. The character can repeat the saving throw to not fall through again. If multiple characters fall within 5 feet of each other, the floorboards below them take the sum of the bludgeoning damage that the characters take, making them far more likely to break as well.
These scenarios are only examples and not the only way for the floor beneath the alchemy station to break. Characters being reckless or putting a great deal of weight on the nearby floorboards may have the same or similar result. You will need to use your own judgment in deciding what happens. Feel free to also warn the characters by having the floorboards creak and crack before they would collapse. Likewise, you should also account for the characters thinking cleverly when moving the alchemy station or lowering themselves down. Their actions could reduce the DC of a particular check or saving throw or give them advantage on making it.
The bottles and vials in Alessia’s alchemy station have almost all been broken or had their contents dry out. A character can make a DC 12 Intelligence (Investigation) check to find 1d4 glass jars and 2d6 vials still intact, though dusty, as well as 2 tonics of greengrowth.
Tonic of Greengrowth
A clear oil is stained with a vibrant green that concentrates around a dozen small seeds.
This tonic has enough liquid for 6 uses. As an action, you can pour out 1 use to duplicate the effect of the mending cantrip on any plant life or wood that is living or that has been cut down within the last 24 hours.
Alternatively, as an action, you can pour out all of the remaining liquid on the ground or throw the tonic up to 30 feet. If the tonic has at least 4 uses remaining, it splashes in a 20-foot square, duplicating the effects of the entangle spell for 1 hour. If the tonic has 3 or fewer uses remaining, the square’s sides are a number of feet equal to the number of uses x 5 and the plants do not restrain creatures and are not difficult terrain.
A character that is proficient in the use of alchemist’s supplies can spend several minutes amassing enough equipment from Alessia’s workstation to create a makeshift set of alchemist’s supplies. The supplies are still full of dust and many of the vials contain dried traces of other experiments. The equipment must be thoroughly cleaned before it can be used.
Three rooms are attached to a central hallway, though many of the walls separating them have broken or collapsed in some way. Their floorboards are even more damaged, with frequent holes and visible areas of rot and other deterioration, as well as overgrowing plantlife that has either crept in or sprung from plants within the rooms. Above them are webs that grow thicker as they descend the walls into the floor below. From the furniture you can make out, these rooms seem to have once been bedrooms.
The rooms on the tower’s second level were the private sleeping quarters for the other Verdantguard druids that lived there. They were slowly abandoned as the druids left or fell. These rooms now show the greatest level of disrepair, having been damaged by rubble falling from above as well as having wood taken by the resident ettercaps and used to barricade the tower’s doors and stairs. Within the different rooms are signs of the druids’ final activities and attempts to combat or save themselves from the blight. The webs of the tower’s giant wolf spiders are also prevalent here, spreading from their nest on the level below. A character that inspects these webs finds that they are not the same acid-coated threads as in the forest and blocking the main entrance and windows.
Deteriorating floors. The wooden floors of the second level have sustained the most damage. Large areas have fallen away and those that remain are weak, and characters can hear the floorboards creaking and occasionally snapping as they move. If a character moves more than half of their total speed in a turn while on the weak floorboards, roll a d20. On an 11 or higher, nothing happens. On a 10 or lower, the wood breaks under them and the character must succeed on a DC 10 Dexterity saving throw or fall through, taking 1d6 bludgeoning damage and landing prone in a room below. Their fall also wakes a number of spider eggs attached to the underside of the floor (see the ‘Developments’ section of the ‘Living Area and Entryway’).
A character can also make a DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check to find that many of the floorboards have not only rotted and broken, but show signs of acidic burning and the use of serrated tools. These marks match those on the rubble on the tower’s rooftop.
Hallway. A short hallway connects the rooms and the stairs. There is a 5-foot wide, 10-foot long hole in the floor between the doors to the north-western and southern rooms. The door to the north-eastern room is closed and has three wooden boards nailed across it, blocking the doorway. These boards can be broken (AC 10; 5 hit points each), or pulled away with a DC 14 Strength check. A character with a crowbar has advantage on this check.
Zombie. Yestis, one of the Verdantguard druids, was turned into a blighted zombie and chained and sealed within the north-eastern room. If it hears the characters (passive perception 8), it will awaken and begin moving. The characters will hear the sound of the chains clattering and scraping against a wooden floor. A character that succeeds on a DC 13 Wisdom (Perception) check can also make out a dull, labored moaning. If the zombie does not hear them, it will remain awake but dormant until it can see a character.
A flood of flora has consumed a bed in the room’s corner, with only the edge of its frame poking through. There is a small chest at its foot. The opposite wall has a large hole in it, with an even larger gap where the floor has fallen away at the base of the same wall.
The room below Alessia’s alchemy station was home to Eamon, another of the last druids to remain in Verdantguard. He stayed to record the progression of the blight and attempt to stop it, ultimately failing as he felt himself growing victim to it. When the blight began taking over his mind and depriving him of his faculties, the druid resigned himself to death. His friend, now the zombie in the adjacent room, carried out the deed. Several of Eamon’s final recordings are written in a book in the southern room.
A great deal of foliage has since grown over the druid’s body, on the bed against the northern wall. A DC 13 Intelligence (Investigation) check reveals small shards of bone amidst a pile of ash beneath the plants on the bed, which itself is burnt and broken in the center. The stone wall behind the plants is stained black by smoke. If a character rolls a 17 or higher on the check, they also discern that the contained damage and almost complete destruction of the body indicate that the fire was intense and magically controlled. A DC 15 Wisdom (Medicine) check of the ash and bones reveals similar information.
The wooden wall connecting to the southern room has a hole that is 1 foot wide and 2 feet high, allowing a Medium creature to squeeze through. However, the floor beneath it has crumbled away in a 10-foot square. The door to the room is closed.
Treasure. At the foot of the bed is a chest containing 18 cp in loose coins among the rotten remains of clothing. All other personal effects seem to have been removed.
The outer wall is coated in vines and leaves that creep down through gaps in the floor. Beside the door is a bookshelf, with a desk pressed into the room’s corner beside it. But the smell of rot draws your eyes to the center of the room, where there is a lumbering humanoid in sundered robes and with pale, rotten flesh, collared by a chain that connects to the far wall.
This room was used by one of the Verdantguard druids to perform multiple rituals and experiments in an effort to stop the blight. Yestis, the druid in question, had been infected and became crazed, growing more desperate as it progressed. The room still contains evidence of many of his attempts. Unlike his compatriot found in the north-western room, Yestis decided to continue trying until his mind decayed entirely, going so far as to chain himself to the wall in his final days. He eventually died, though the blight maintains his body as a blighted zombie. Vincent was unable to destroy the zombie during his time in the tower and chose instead to bar the door and allow it to remain dormant.
Barred doorway. The room’s door is barricaded from the outside with three wooden planks nailed to the door and its frame. These boards can be broken (AC 10; 5 hit points each), or removed with a DC 14 Strength check. A character inside the room must succeed on the same check to first pull the door open.
Chained zombie. The reanimated druid will awaken upon hearing the party nearby (passive perception 8) or when it sees them enter the room. The blighted zombie is chained to the north-eastern corner of the room by a 10-foot chain that wraps around its neck. It will attempt to attack any living creature it can see or hear. If the zombie cannot reach a creature to attack on a turn, it will instead make a DC 18 Strength check to break free from the old chains. A DC 12 Wisdom (Medicine) or Intelligence (Investigation) check can identify several shortsword wounds in the zombie’s chest; the results of Vincent MacHale’s attempts to kill it.
Ritual circles. While the room’s floor is coated in dust, the footfalls of either the zombie or the characters themselves will expose carvings in the floorboards. A character can notice them with a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) or Intelligence (Investigation) check. The carvings appear to be runic text arranged in circles, with various other lines and shapes connecting them. Any character with proficiency in Arcana or with the Ritual Casting class feature can identify them as components of a ritually cast spell. A character can then make a DC 12 Intelligence (Arcana) check to discern that the markings comprise multiple different spells, from multiple different schools of magic. If a character succeeds on this check by 5 or more or is able to cast one of the following spells, they can identify the spells detect poison and disease, purify food and drink, and augury.
Treasure. The bookshelf beside the door contains a number of books and scrolls, almost all of which are aged or damaged beyond recognition. A character that spends time searching the bookshelf can find a scroll of lesser restoration. There is also a leather pouch on the desk, atop several more pages of rotted parchment, containing a collection of carved wooden sticks. Each stick is 4 inches long and marked with druidic text along its edge. Together, they function as the material component of the augury spell (“specially marked sticks worth 25 gp”).
The side of the room furthest from the door is badly damaged, with much of the floor having fallen away. Otherwise, the room is largely barren, with only a bed, desk, and chair. On the desk is a closed, leather-bound book, blanketed in dust.
The southern room was home to other druids before their departures or deaths. More importantly, it was where Vincent stayed upon coming to Verdantguard, as he couldn’t stand sleeping in Alessia’s room. He carried very few personal effects with him, spending his last few days tending to the tower in what few ways he could and reading what the druids had discovered about the blight. What remains of his belongings can be found on the desk, as well as on his body in the tower’s crypt. Vincent had also attempted and failed to destroy the zombie in the nearby room. On his final day, he used the druid’s journal to record his thoughts before making his way into the crypt.
Vincent’s spirit. Vincent’s spirit appears in the southern room, visible either through a hole in the room’s northern wall or through the open doorway. The apparition walks into the room, pays a delayed glance to the skeleton on the bed, and then sits at the writing desk. It stays and writes in a spectral book, fading and reappearing to indicate passing time. He then shuts the book he is writing in and gets up as he fades away, leaving the desk, chair, and closed book in the same position as they were in the apparition.
Treasure. The room contains the remnants of Vincent’s time in the tower. A backpack is resting against the desk, containing an old, dusty set of traveler’s clothes and with a basic shortsword in a sheath tied to the pack’s side. Beneath the folded clothing is a leather coin purse containing 12 gp and 8 sp.
The book on the desk is a journal, originally kept by the druid whose body was burned in the north-western room, and later used by Vincent to record his final messages. All of the druid’s entries are written in Druidic and begin with their return to Verdantguard after the Duel of the Founders and Alessia’s subsequent burial. Extensive portions of the text have faded beyond legibility, though sparse passages do remain, each separated by multiple pages of lost text. A character that spends time reading the book can piece together the following important passages:
An unease has filled the tower since her passing. We strive to continue her work, of course, but we do so with creeping anxiety that has persisted since our return. I find it strange, as we were all aware of the circumstances and what might occur. She prepared us and we were confident that we could continue, and yet this feeling only grows. There are moments, when I meditate, that I am sure that this consternation is not within me, but rather in the air I breathe and the earth I walk. Perhaps this feeling is simply an ironic symptom of my paranoia? Regardless, we must all remain vigilant.
The progression of this blight is fascinating. It bleeds out like a drop of ink in water, spreading from the Thorn’s body and into the plants and earth of the forest. And, like ink, our efforts to remove it or purify her tomb have been almost laughably fruitless.
Perhaps even more unnerving is the effect that this corruption seems to have on the forest’s animals. They hunt wildly and beyond the scope of their regular behavior, lashing out even at us…
… Yestis made a journey to town yesterday. Their hunters have noticed similar changes, boasting with stories of rabid wolves whose bodies mend before your very eyes. He said they seemed excited. But they do not wake with the same aching bones and stinging eyes that we do.
Do we tell them? Must we admit that it comes from the Thorn and that we have no answer as to why? Did she even know? I fail to understand why…
… Our questions do nothing to calm the haze in our minds. There is talk of others leaving…
The druid’s final entry is still legible, though the handwriting devolves into strained scribbles. It reads the following:
I am struggling to remain composed through my fear, even as Yestis shows the courage to look far beyond our own magic. He tries to remain resolute for the both of us. But every time he forces a comforting platitude I can only see the failure in his eyes. Perhaps his next attempt should include not lying to me like a parent would their fool child.
No. These words are not mine. I was not like this. It’s doing this to us, like it did the others, and there is nothing we can do. The only option left is the fire. It worked on Brel and it will work for me, but I must do it before my mind leaves me. I will not go as the others did. I choose the flames over the death of a raving beast. I will ask Yestis for his help tomorrow morning, before another inevitable failure can sour his mood.
There is an entry added below the druid’s, written in Druidic but in a different handwriting. It reads the following:
Eamon, I miss you. I will keep trying.
Vincent MacHale’s writing is in Common and was added many years after the druid’s, when he ventured to the tower after returning to Verdantguard. It reads the following:
To my dear Alessia.
It has been some time since you left. I would like to believe that I have used my years well, and in ways that would make you proud, though I must admit that they have yielded diminishing success. You were correct in fearing that our shame would never leave. Even my lordship, wealth, and family could not dull the pain of guilt. I could see it in the way my son, Christof, would look at me. He saw an old man burdened by secrets and delusions. But it was he who encouraged me to leave and continue trying, and assured me that he could make up for my absence. I will always be proud of him.
I discovered a great many things in my travels, but it meant little in the end. My family scarcely recognized me upon my return. Christof had passed and his son knew me only as the grandfather who left when he was but a child. They would not listen to what I had learned or the answers I had found, instead choosing to distance themselves from it all. I can hardly blame them. And so my knowledge will stay there, locked away in a room to which I hold the only key.
I am afraid that my old bones and lack of understanding of your magic have prevented me from being able to put your final acolyte to rest. He does sound almost peaceful at times, and it would seem cruel for me to continue trying. The thought that you suffered the same blight sickens me, but knowing that you are its source? Well, I must first apologize that I sought to disobey your traditions and burn what remains of your body, and then apologize again for being too weak to open your tomb to do so. It took me long enough to simply open the doorway. ‘From the earth and to the earth again’. You said it often enough that I should have realized sooner.
But that is not why I return here; I did not come to beg for pity over my life, but rather to make something of its end. I have done what I can to tend to the tower. You would surely hate my choices for the flowers and scold me for being too organized. Strangely, the thought of that brings me comfort. It feels almost like memories of a future we sacrificed all those years ago.
I think I am ready to rest now.
I go to the earth again, to meet you, my Rose.
– Vincent MacHale
And if someone finds their way to this tower and intrudes upon a dying man’s words, then please, I ask that you do what I could not: put an end to our stories.
Living Area and Entryway
Built of the tower’s stone foundation, the ground floor appears to have once been an eating and meeting area, with the remnants of a cooking area against the far wall. Most other furniture has been shattered, overgrown in plants, or covered in thick webs. Even the wall to the entryway is broken, the rubble instead piled and secured in the doorway. Many of these surfaces are stained with splatters of dried, dark muck that stinks of decay. And above, attached to the ceiling and squelching and writhing with internal movement, is a colony of clustered, webbed egg sacs.
Never designed to entertain guests, the ground floor of Verdantguard acted as a general living area for its druids. It held a kitchen, dining table, and what small amount of food storage they required. Most of these have been destroyed and used in the ettercaps’ barricading of the main entrance and stairway, aided by webs that cover most of the room’s interior. The same ettercaps have allowed giant wolf spiders to lay their eggs on the ceiling of the room. These act like guard dogs for the ettercaps, who then feed on the giant spiders once they have grown. The blood of some of these spiders is splattered across the floor and walls. A character can recognize that it is not human blood with a DC 13 Wisdom (Medicine) check, and identify it as insect blood with a DC 15 Intelligence (Nature) check. Rolling a 20 or higher on the latter check reveals it to be spider blood.
Vincent’s spirit. Images of Vincent appear again within the living area. One will descend from the stairs, stop momentarily, and then fade as it makes for the opposite end of the room. The image reappears again at the stairs leading to the crypt. If a character follows this second apparition, they see it stop in front of the crypt’s sealed door, wait for several seconds, and then continue through.
Webs. Much of the room’s surfaces are covered by webs that also string between the walls, floor, and ceiling. The whole level is difficult terrain. A creature that falls prone or that is otherwise forcibly moved onto a surface covered in the webs must succeed on a DC 10 Strength saving throw or be restrained by the webs. As an action, a restrained creature can make a DC 10 Strength check to tear themself free. The webbing can also be attacked and destroyed (AC 10; 5 hit points; vulnerability to fire damage; immunity to bludgeoning, poison, and psychic damage).
Blocked entrance. The rubble used to block the tower’s main entrance (see the ‘Blocked doorway’ section of the ‘Exterior’) is clearly visible from within the room. Pieces of stone wall and wooden flooring and furniture are piled in a 5-foot heap that tapers to 3 feet at its top. Webs cover this side of the rubble, attaching the debris to itself and anchoring it to the doorframe and floor. A character can pull the webbed rubble free by succeeding on a DC 12 Strength check, taking 5 minutes to clear enough space for a Medium creature to squeeze through, or half as much time if they succeed on the check by 5 or more. The character takes 1 acid damage for every minute spent doing this without the use of a tool, as the web’s acid burns their hands. If the web is removed first, the character cannot fail the check and does not take any acid damage.
Spider eggs. Sacs of giant wolf spiders’ eggs cover the room’s remaining ceiling, slowly pulsating with the movement of the hatchlings inside. These eggs, arranged in 5-foot-square clusters, can be destroyed (AC 10; 5 hit points; vulnerability to fire damage; immunity to poison and psychic damage), releasing a swarm of insects (spiders) per cluster. If an attack reduces an egg cluster to 0 hit points, any excess damage carries over to the swarm inside. An egg cluster directly above a character may also hatch if the character creates enough noise to anger the swarm (passive perception 8), such as shouting, casting a spell that deals thunder damage, or badly failing a skill check.
When a cluster hatches, roll 1d4 for each cluster within 5 feet of the one that hatched. On a 1, that cluster also hatches on initiative count 20 (losing initiative ties) of the next round. This occurs once and does not repeat unless more eggs are damaged or disturbed.
Door to the crypt. Stone steps lead down to the tower’s crypt. They end at a landing that is blocked by an arched stone door. The door is framed by roots that branch inwards across its surface, preventing it from being moved. In its center are two lines of words, inscribed into the stone in Druidic and with space below for a third line. They read the following:
We stood with beast and man
Wardens, protectors, providers
To enter, a character must say the third line, ‘from the earth and to the earth again‘, within 10 feet of the closed door. The line can be found in Alessia or Vincent’s writings in the rooms above and can be spoken in any language. Once it has been said, the roots recede from the door’s surface and the stone splits down the middle to allow it to open. It will remain open for 1 minute and can be opened again by speaking the same line from the other side.
The unstable floors in both Alessia’s room and the druids’ quarters present a chance for the characters to fall through and land in the living area. If the character’s fall collapses a part of the ground floor’s ceiling, the egg clusters in that space will rupture and release a swarm of insects (spiders), which takes damage equal to the falling damage that the character took. Adjacent egg clusters may then also hatch (see the ‘Spider eggs’ section).
All clues point into Verdantguard’s crypt, where the party will find the tomb of one of Greybanner’s founders, a nest of blighted ettercaps, and this adventure’s climax. But do they have what they need to succeed? The third and final section of ‘Into the Bramblejade’ will cover this final area, as well as the characters’ return to Greybanner and some of the developments that follow. Until then, be sure to refer back to Part 1 and our many other entries, and leave any comments or feedback you might have below!
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