Into the Bramblejade Part 1 - Banner preview

Into the Bramblejade, Part 1

The festivities have begun, opened by a clash between two champions of the Arena. But the loser did not rise back to their feet. The local healer rushed the fighter away to see to them as the crowds disperse. Now, without the means to heal whatever ails the champion, she seeks assistance. Fortunately, a particular group of adventurers have already proven themselves up to the task.

Now that we’ve introduced the adventure and covered just about everything in Greybanner, it’s time to push forth! This next step will see the party adventure out of Greybanner and into the Bramblejade forest. They must overcome the beasts and blight of the land in order to find a cure for the ailing champion. And this is only the start of the adventure!

Twisting Trail Battle Map
This chapter follows directly from the adventure’s introduction. Be sure to refer back to it and our other previous articles to understand what has led the characters to this point!

A Champion in Peril

After leaving the Arena after the opening bout, the characters have roughly an hour of free time in Greybanner. They can use this time to pursue whatever small errands they wish. Encourage them to sign up for the Arena competitions if they have not already, or have them meet another character such as Mayor Trivellan. Shortly after, or earlier if they have nothing they wish to do, a messenger finds them.

The messenger is Tristan Masters (LG human male commoner), a polite, bookish young man with tousled brown hair. Tristan is an assistant working under Marla Durand, who identifies the characters by their appearance and asking if they were the ones to aid Isaac Thornton. Once confirmed, he explains that Marla has stabilized the fallen Champion but urgently requires their help. Accompanying Tristan to the Infirmary has the party meet again with Marla, as well as a visiting Elias Gilderoy. Marla closes the door behind them before speaking.

The healers direct the group to the sleeping Champion, whose bed is behind drawn curtains. Read one of the following descriptions, based on whoever lost the opening bout:

If Arland Farrow lost…

In the bed and covered by blankets is a resting Arland Farrow. His imposing form seems shrunken now, the color drained from his skin, his eyes sunken, and even the black of his hair and beard appears faded. Though sleeping, he strains for breath.

If Esme Kal’barar lost…

In the bed and covered by blankets is a resting Esme Kal’barar. Her imposing form seems shrunken now, the green of her skin drained of much of its color, and her eyes sunken. Though sleeping, she strains for breath.

They seem peaceful, though their expression is pallid and sunken. Marla explains that their wounds have been treated but something else is afflicting them; something she could not identify. It was for this reason that she requested Gilderoy’s expertise. He maintains a concerned and contemplative demeanor as he tells the characters that the affliction is necromantic in nature and has drained the Champion of a portion of their strength. After further thought, Elias notes that the symptoms do resemble a magical illness he has heard of before. He peels one of the patient’s eyelids open, much to Marla’s frustration, to show that their eye is deeply bloodshot. If the characters do not immediately realize, you may wish to remind them of the similarly-afflicted bandits they faced on their journey into town.

Elias asks if the characters are familiar with the blight of the Bramblejade. They can make another DC 15 Intelligence (History) check to recall stories of it, or he will explain.

Animals within the deepest center of the forest occasionally exhibit an illness that sends them into violent frenzies and can even lead to almost vampiric abilities. It is one of the reasons why the Lumberyard must rotate its logging rather than expanding, and why no hunters travel too far into the area. These animals most often appear with death-like appearances and bleeding eyes. The blight has not been known to fade or improve after infection. Fortunately, it does not appear to be contagious and rather presents in creatures that are born or spend a great deal of time in the forest’s heart.

If the party mentions the bandits they fought the previous day, both Marla and Elias are visibly taken aback. They explain that the blight is rarely seen in people and especially not at the forest’s edge. It is possible that the bandits had attempted to travel deeper and brought it back with them, though they cannot be sure. The appearance of the blight in the fighter is particularly concerning. If a character noticed what happened in the conclusion of the bout and mentions it to the healers, they both appear confused and Elias ensures them that he will investigate. Either way, he advises the party not to mention the fighter’s illness around town so as to avoid panic and negative attention.

Unfortunately, if Elias is to develop an antidote, he requires a sample from the center of the blight. Specifically, he requests the purest sample possible: fluid from the egg of a creature born into the affliction. The only place to find this would be the Verdantguard Tower, where many believe the blight to have originated. Marla voices her objections to the suggestion but concedes that they have no other course of action. She adds that she requested the characters due to them helping Isaac, which demonstrated their character, ability, and trustworthiness. She also admits that their absence would not be as noticed as that of a Champion or other groups. Elias does not share the same trust and instead offers them 50 gp to fill three glass jars with the fluid.

If the characters accept the task, Elias directs them to head south-east from the Greybanner Lumberyard to find Verdantguard. He adds that it would be wise to let Gelbris Ivarrson know of their expedition, in case of an emergency. The trip is likely to take them a day to get there and back. He is also willing to answer any questions they have about the forest or tower. Finally, Elias notes that the larger the sample, the better, and that he would be glad to scrounge additional rewards if they can procure intact eggs. These rewards are most likely to be spare potions, as well as the possibility of trade with the mage.

Should the characters refuse for any reason, the mage and healer voice their disappointment. Elias then leaves to make the same offer to the Scorntusk Elite and Marla thanks the party for their time. This has little immediate effect outside of the party not going on the adventure, though it may come into play later.

If Isaac was unconscious when the party brought him to the Infirmary, he catches their attention as they leave. He is still weary but thanks them profusely. This includes offering them 5 gp each for saving him, with a further 5 gp each if they retrieved his cart, and 5 gp more if they also brought his horse (in total, the same as if he was healed and awoken when they found him).

With the party now needing to dedicate a day to their forest expedition, this is a good time to direct them to their Tournament calendar. They need to plan when to leave, fitting it between any of their fights. This can also introduce the option of postponing fights. They can do this by speaking to a teller within the Arena entrance. The timeslot of a fight can be swapped with another, though it must still be within the same round. They may do this freely, to begin with, though constant rescheduling may earn them the frustration of the teller and administration, even to the point of them telling the party to personally take it up with whomever they are trying to swap with.

For all of the locations and characters in and around Greybanner, refer back to our previous articles…

Lumberers in Lockdown

The party can set out as soon as they are ready. It takes them one hour to reach the Greybanner Lumberyard at a normal traveling pace along the road leading south-east of town. This road takes them through quiet and almost idyllic forest, eventually following the Fellgrata river to find the Lumberyard itself.

As they arrive and begin to realize something is amiss, read the following:

The road follows the river and eventually comes to a wide, stone bridge, over which is a circular clearing with one large building and multiple sheltered workstations. The area is abuzz with chatter. There are far more workers than you would expect, and they all sit and stand in groups in the clearing, none of them seeming to work. As you approach, you can make out frustrated grumbling from a number of the gatherings, and many eyes turn to inspect you.

The lumberers in the yard are tired and frustrated, even more so if the characters arrive in the afternoon or night, though they are not hostile to the party. Speaking to them or Gelbris Ivarrson in his office reveals that the yard is currently locked down due to the disappearance of two other workers, Harvey Lorrin and Quentin Wilsson. The pair was supposed to have returned when their shift ended over an hour ago but no one has seen them. As a standard precaution, no workers are currently permitted to leave until everyone is accounted for. If asked, the lumberers tell the party that they must speak to Gelbris if they wish to be allowed to enter the forest.

Conversation with Gelbris Ivarrson

If the characters enter the office to speak with Ivarrson, read the following:

The cabin opens to the same smell of dirt and sawdust as the yard outside. Inside is a room with a central table covered in maps of the area and what appear to be rosters, while shelving covers much of the walls. There is a single painting of a stone tower rising above the treeline, mountains in the background. Opposite it is the only other door, currently ajar and beyond which you can see a small office. Sounds of frantic annoyance shuffle within.

Gelbris is dealing with the stress of the current situation as well as the Grand Tournament, but will make himself presentable and invite the characters in. He will let them speak first and hear out their intentions. This will likely lead to him explaining that he cannot allow anyone to pass beyond the Lumberyard until the workers have returned and the possible danger has been identified. Gelbris can elaborate on the following points that exacerbate the situation:

  • The forest’s beasts have grown restless of late and have strayed closer to town. If blighted creatures are the reason for the pair’s absence, the monsters may also be close enough to threaten the road and other workers. He cannot risk his men leaving without at least knowing the risk.
  • Captain Ashbrand and his guard are preoccupied with the Tournament and festivities. They are unlikely to be able to spare enough forces for a search party, and doing so may take too long.
  • Gelbris would also prefer to avoid drawing attention to what he considers an embarrassing situation, especially during the current events and under scrutiny from Mariana Harkness.

If the characters themselves do not offer, Gelbris comments on the serendipity of their arrival. He points out that their intent to enter the Bramblejade and reach Verdantguard implies confidence in their own abilities. If this confidence is well-placed, they should be more than capable of finding Harvey and Quentin. Gelbris offers them 30 gp, in addition to letting them pass and giving directions to Verdantguard, for them to resolve the situation by finding and returning his workers.

Gelbris can answer any other questions the party might have. He takes them to the map table in the larger room, showing them the area that Harvey and Quentin were assigned to. It is a small zone to the north-east, found simply by following the path north and taking the third and final right turn. The characters should start there. Gelbris also makes certain to warn them of the blighted creatures’ abilities. Their minds are clouded and frenzied, and their bodies rapidly heal from wounds, much like the trolls of the nearby mountains. This regeneration will not bring them back from the dead but has swayed many fights against unwary hunters.

Once the characters are satisfied with their information and the conversation concludes, Gelbris walks them to the door and wishes them luck. Many of the workers will stare at them curiously and take not of them leaving.

If the party chooses not to speak with Gelbris, they can garner much of the same information from the workers outside. The lumberers are aware of where Harvey and Quentin were assigned and will mockingly express their frustration with the pair’s antics.

The party is able to bypass assisting the loggers if they wish. Make a note of this, as well as if they are seen by the gathered workers (passive perception 12), whether they choose to be stealthy or rely on their passive Dexterity (Stealth) scores. Not helping the loggers means that the pair is later injured in their escape. Being seen leaving without helping will also stain Gelbris’s opinion of the group, which may become important later. They will also have a harder time finding their way to the tower.
If the characters do this, skip the next encounter and move onto the ‘Journey to Verdantguard’ (coming in our next article!)

Locating the Lost Loggers

With Gelbris’s directions, the party will have no trouble making it to Harvey and Quentin’s work area. Read the following as they travel:

A wide dirt path cuts through the forest, while a gentle, cooling breeze rustles the canopy overhead. It brings the scent of clean air and plant life. The sound of the frustrated lumberyard quickly fades beneath the serenity, with only the chirps and chitters of small forest animals to punctuate your surroundings. Smaller paths occasionally branch from either side of where you walk. You can see where trees have been cleared around them, while others are in various stages of regrowth.

A character that has proficiency in Intelligence (Nature) is able to notice that the forest seems too verdant for one used for logging, even despite Greybanner’s rotation of its logging sites around the Lumberyard. They can ascertain that the trees have grown back much faster than they naturally would have anywhere, though the character is unlikely to know that this is because of the Bramblejade’s inherent magic.

Clues in the Clearing

The smaller side path takes you through forest that has not seen any logging and to a small clearing in the thick undergrowth. Towering trees encompass the area of no more than ten feet across, hemmed in by bushes and brambles. The atmosphere is calm and silent as you arrive.

The Forest Glade is just one of our versatile battle maps with room for customization. You can find it here and check our gallery for more!

This small area is where Harvey and Quentin were assigned. Their task was to record the regrowth of the forest and determine if this particular zone was ready for logging again. Unfortunately, they are nowhere to be found. The characters need to investigate to find clues of where they went and why, or else be forced to look around the nearby forest. There are two possible leads to be found in the clearing…

DC 13 Wisdom (Survivial) check…

There are a great deal of tracks within the clearing, both from your own and other’s footsteps. You do notice what appears to be a pair of tracks that lead northwards through the thicket, with signs that the shrubbery has been pushed aside and broken in places. You are confident that you could follow the heading, if not the tracks themselves.

The tracks are Harvey and Quentin’s, made when they left to travel deeper into the forest. While they will not tell the characters what the pair were doing, they will lead the party to them.

DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check…

The space is covered in clear signs of movement and activity, the clearing itself seeming to be a product of frequent trampling. Scanning the perimeter, you do spot a bush with its lowest branches raised off the ground. You bend down and reach your arm under, squeezing between the scratching leaves and twigs, and pull out a small leather satchel.
Opening the satchel, there is a worn, leather-bound book, an apple and a wrapped half of a sandwich, and another piece of parchment that is folded and tucked into the bottom of the bag.

The satchel is Quentin’s and is used for their assignment. The book inside is a logbook containing records of the forest’s regrowth in its logging areas, the most recent entry detailing that this zone is ready for use. Beside that is the rest of Quentin’s lunch and the folded parchment, the latter of which is a note written to the pair from an unknown third party. Written on the note is the following:

As I detailed in our initial agreement, any possible dangers of the forest were factored into the price of the syrup. The time for you to negotiate for more is long passed.
Your desire to travel any further than is necessary is entirely your own and I will not be extorted over additional risks that you now choose to take. Frankly, I find it to be both absurd and, more importantly, not my problem.
Avoid whatever beasts terrify you so, deliver my syrup, and you can relax happily and safely with the generous payment that was ALREADY AGREED UPON.

The note is not signed, though it does give the party their first indication of what Harvey and Quentin were up to.

Harvey and Quentin’s Secret Business

While the Grand Tournament represents a thunderous boom in Greybanner’s commerce, this influx of gold does not directly find its way to the workers of the Lumberyard and Mines. The many traders and imported goods can even mean a loss to those who get carried away in their spending. To compensate, workers are paid a generous bonus for any shifts during the festivities. But this does not satisfy everyone.

As a way to complement their already boosted income, Harvey Lorrin and Quentin Wilsson thought to subvert the Targe and Tankard. They planned to do so by secretly harvesting some of the local syrup used to make Bramblejade Mead. They would then circumvent the Targe’s monopoly on the product and its agreement with the Lumberyard by selling to a visiting merchant, with hopes to spark a continued relationship. Their actions would need to be silent, as discovery would cost them their jobs and even lead to an arrest by the guard. The trader in question, being savvier than the two fledgling entrepreneurs, knew that it could mean being blacklisted from trading in Greybanner. As such, the pair have met with the merchant only once to arrange the deal and did not exchange identities. They have since only communicated through notes. Their plan is to meet a final time outside of town and after the celebrations end to exchange the syrup.

The trader’s true identity is Karlen Chase (LE male dwarf noble). He is a well-connected and opportunistic merchant from the capital who appreciates luxuries and has a skill for alchemy. While Karlen operates within the lawful economic system, he cares little for notions of honor or fairness and will leap at any opportunity to come out on top. He is currently in Greybanner as a supplier of remedies and tonics.

Neither Harvey or Quentin know Karlen’s name, though they can describe him as a “rich and mean-looking bald dwarf with mutton chops,” among any other vague descriptors.

On the Trail

It is up to the characters to find where Harvey and Quentin have gone by using any clues they have found. Success on the previous Wisdom (Survival) check allows them to follow the pair’s tracks further north and quickly find them. The note likewise tells them that the workers were traveling ‘further than is necessary’. As there are other logging zones to the south, this must mean that they continued northwards. Without these clues, the party must decide on a heading or resort to searching the surrounding area.

Quentin and Harvey are roughly ten minutes of travel to the north. They were secretly gathering syrup when a pack of forest beasts appeared and the two fled up a tree. The beasts now wait below, angered by any noise or sharp movement. This means that the pair is unable to call out for help and the characters are unlikely to find them by hearing alone. If the party has nothing concrete to follow, ask them what they do and, importantly, which direction they head. Feel free to remind them of anything they are forgetting if they seem to be struggling with a decision.

As the party travels, have them note their marching order and any skill checks they wish to make in their search. Be sure to note these results, particularly their Wisdom (Perception) and Dexterity (Stealth) checks, and use their passive scores if the characters do not make active rolls. Heading north with a Wisdom (Perception) score of 13 or more allows the party to hear the snarls of the wolves stalking Harvey and Quentin. Do your best to also include any other applicable skill checks that the group may attempt. Provided that the skill makes sense to use and the character can justify it, it may reward the party with small clues or indications of what is happening. Some examples might be the following:

  • Intelligence (Nature). Unlike the walk to the clearing, this area lacks any birds or smaller creatures. A character can identify that this suggests that there is danger nearby.
  • Wisdom (Survival). Success on a later check sees a character notice multiple small animal tracks in the dirt. Inspecting them, they find that the prints all lead away from a location to their north.
  • Strength (Athletics). Climbing a tree gives a character advantage on a Wisdom (Perception) check to scan the nearby area. On a success, they see a single tree to the north that rustles with movement.

If the party heads south or west they will come to another logging area or the central path, respectively. If they travel close to where the pair are hiding but do not manage to find them, either by repeatedly failing or simply not attempting additional skill checks, they will come across other forest beasts. Roll a d10 on the Outer Forest column of the Bramblejade Random Encounters table to determine the nature of this encounter. Remember to make use of both sides’ Wisdom (Perception) and Dexterity (Stealth) scores to determine how the encounter begins.

Harvey and Quentin will hear the noise generated in this encounter. Knowing that help is nearby, they will take the risk of calling out and the party can easily follow their calls to them.

We have a number of maps and assets packs that you can use for forest encounters. These are just a few examples…

Wolves and Woodsmen

The party finds Harvey and Quentin stuck up a tree in a small clearing and surrounded by six wolves, two of which are blighted. Read the following as they arrive:

Pushing through the dense underbrush, you spot motion between the trees ahead. You creep closer to make out another small clearing that surrounds a central tree, with a total of six grey and brown, furred forms, also around its base. A cluster of small barrels is nestled amidst the roots. Two of the bestial forms, which you easily identify as wolves, pace agitatedly around the tree, their necks and legs twitching and spots of red in their fur. You watch one of them jolt in anger, leaping at the side of the tree and snapping its jaws at something above. The sound of a frightened gasp pulls your gaze up to see two men clutching to the tree’s upper limbs in fear of the beasts below.

Click to zoom in…

The non-blighted wolves are resting if the party found their way there without an encounter in the forest and with an average Dexterity (Stealth) score of over 13 (the wolves’ passive perception score). Resting wolves are surprised in the first round of combat. If the party did not, the wolves are awake and on guard. Make a Wisdom (Perception) check for the wolves to see if they detect the characters approaching. The two blighted wolves are distracted by their prey and will rely on their passive perception scores to notice the characters.

It is most likely up to the party to initiate combat. Once the battle has begun, the wolves will fight as a group and make use of their Pack Tactics, so the characters must act swiftly and carefully. The forest’s underbrush is difficult terrain, while a border of approximately ten feet around the central tree is clear. The characters may also make use of the trees around them, as well as any other clever use of the forest that they may think of.

Blighted wolves attack with no regard for their own wellbeing and continue until they are killed. Those without the blight may back off as others fall and they themselves are injured. Remember that the characters still receive experience points for defeating creatures that retreat without being killed.

Harvey and Quentin only speak and begin to descend once they are sure that the danger has passed.

Developments

Eliminating the danger allows the characters to speak with the pair, though they are still shaken from the ordeal. Harvey Lorrin (CN male human commoner) and Quentin Wilsson (CG male half-elf commoner) climb down the tree and awkwardly but gratefully thank the party for their rescue. They laugh in embarrassment as they explain the the wolves snuck up on them. Fortunately, neither of them were injured. They attempt to hurry their rescuers away without drawing attention to the barrels against the tree, in hopes that the characters are unaware of them and will not disrupt their operation. If the barrels are pointed out, Harvey and Quentin reluctantly explain what is happening and fill in any information the party does not have already. The two then beg the group not to mention it to Gelbris or the other workers.

The party is able to negotiate additional payment for saving the pair and agreeing to not expose them. Harvey and Quentin are set to receive 50 gp per barrel, of which they have four. They will offer the characters half of that (100 gp total) to stay quiet, though they are only able to deliver on the agreement once they are paid by Karlen, after the Tournament. If asked about Karlen specifically, they give the previously mentioned description of a “rich and mean-looking bald dwarf with mutton chops.” The two can also offer basic information on the area and the blight.

A character that inspects the blighted wolves can make a DC 15 Wisdom (Medicine) or Intelligence (Arcana) check to identify the blight as the same necromantic illness that afflicted the bandits they encountered previously. It also fits the description give by Elias Gilderoy.

The characters can easily escort Harvey and Quentin back to the Lumberyard without danger or issue. They return to semi-sarcastic cheers from the workers, who immediately begin to collect their things and either leave or return to work. Gelbris Ivarrson will emerge to pay the characters their 30 gp and answer any final questions before giving them permission to venture into the Bramblejade and wishing them luck. He will call to his workers to sit still until he knows it is safe and then invites Harvey and Quentin into his office with a stern glare.

Displays of their ability in front of townsfolk can also aid a character’s reputation. Lumberyard workers that see the party leave and then return with Harvey and Quentin may question the newcomers about what happened, teasing the missing pair in the process. Learning that they overcame a pack of wolves, some blighted, will impress the workers. These same workers are then more likely to bet on the characters’ bouts in the Arena, which can translate into the character receiving more gold for winning. Later, those workers can be encountered in a tavern, celebrating their shared winnings.
Small, positive consequences like this are a great way to tie Greybanner together and reward the party for their actions in an organic way.

Square Keep Hill Battle Map, Banner Preview
Check back soon for the next section, which has the players venture into the true heart of the Bramblejade and encounter its most dangerous denizens…

What’s Next

With Harvey and Quentin saved and the party ready to adventure further, the next step is to enter the Bramblejade proper. Our next section will continue on to Verdantguard, where the characters will encounter even more ferocious monsters and uncover disturbing truths about one of Greybanner’s founders. In the meantime, we’d love to hear what you think of the adventure so far! Leave a comment about anything you like or dislike, anything you’d change, or even ideas you have for how it might progress!

If you’d like to support the author in exchange for exclusive early access and other bonuses, consider visiting my Patreon. There is even the option of creating your own entrant in the Grand Tournament, who may come face to face with players looking to be named Champion.

Don’t let yourself be blighted by a lack of resources. Have a look through our gallery and other articles…

2 comments

  1. This content is excellent. I want to run this game for my friends really badly, and that’s thanks to your adroit combination of worldbuilding and storytelling.

  2. This site is a phenomenal resource for busy gamers like me!! Love the style of the maps and the writing!! Keep up the great work, gents!

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