Twisting Trail Battle Map

Secrets of the Arena: Introduction

The roads to Greybanner, usually quiet and empty, now see assorted carts spread across their length. The Greybanner Grand Tournament approaches and word of it draws fighters from the surrounding regions. They flock along the small roads, passing farms and forest to find the town and its central structure. But there are those that would take advantage of this influx of travelers. Bandits seek to prey upon the merchant carts. One of these carts is accompanied by an eclectic mix of hired adventurers, who seek to make a handful of gold by escorting the trader. They are prepared for the attack, as their cart comes to a fallen tree, but not for the many adventures that will follow.

With everything in and around Greybanner covered, it’s time we move on to the actual adventure! This entry will dive into the first steps of using Greybanner for our ‘Secrets of the Arena’ adventure. First, we will explain some ways to introduce your players to the town and adventure, whether they be a new party, coming hot off of a previous outing, or even for individual new characters appearing after the unfortunate death of a previous party member. We will also include additions to the town’s history, filling it with secrets and stories that only the DM will know (for now, that is). This will create a basis for our adventure. Both you and your players will be ready to dive into Greybanner’s adventures and the Grand Tournament!

Be sure to refer to our previous entries covering the town of Greybanner. It all starts with ‘Greybanner, Part 1: The History and People‘.

Overview

Secrets of the Arena‘ is an adventure set in and around the town of Greybanner during its Grand Tournament. It begins with players acting as an escort for a friendly trader, Anton Ducasse, traveling towards the town. They are set upon by a group of bandits who appear to be in a raging haze; the first sign of what is to come. Another victim of the bandits, Isaac Thornton, joins the group in reaching Greybanner. These characters lead the adventurers into town and introduce them to the Targe and Tankard Inn and Marla Durand, the town’s healer. Anton will then bring the group to watch one of the Arena’s first bouts. As it concludes, they will witness the life magically drain from the loser. Marla will see to the fighter’s injuries, requesting the adventurers’ aid in locating medicine.

The second part will see the characters searching for a reagent that Greybanner’s mage requires for brewing the needed medicine, including a journey to the Verdantguard Tower. They will encounter the blighted creatures of the Bramblejade, venturing into the infested crypt beneath the tower. Alongside their alchemical goal, the group will also discover notes and journals. These will begin to explain both the blight and Greybanner’s hidden past, as well as the link between them.

Returning to town, the adventurers are then given several leads to follow, with the choice of how to proceed. This includes ways to make gold, as well as multiple smaller adventurers that each reward gold, items, and information for players to continue uncovering the town’s secrets. Silvercrown miners need kobolds removed from their tunnels. Captain Ashbrand has suspicions about the Ironwind Mercenaries. Mayor Albert Trivellan is looking for someone to enter the haunted MacHale Estate. The adventurers’ activity will eventually catch the attention of Elias Gilderoy, who seeks to enlist their help in putting an end to Greybanner’s darkest traditions through a dangerous gamble.

During this time, the Greybanner Arena’s Grand Tournament will be underway. Adventurers are able to watch fights, bet on fighters, and even participate. Separate rounds are held for groups to earn gold and renown. The Grand Tournament itself sees individual fighters face each other in bouts over the course of two and a half weeks, culminating in a final duel to decide who will next hold the title of ‘Champion of Greybanner’. Several more days of celebrations follow after.

As the Grand Tournament’s end approaches, and with the help of Elias Gilderoy, the characters will discover the secret machinations of the town council and their dungeons beneath the Arena. They will be aided by the allies and friends they have made in opposing both the council and the Ironwind Mercenaries, working to end the tradition of sacrifice once and for all. Doing so will require them to sabotage the ritual prior to the Tournament’s final duel. They must banish the demon, then face it once and for all in its home plane. If they succeed, Greybanner may just see a future without the stain of its secret, evil history.

The final adventure will include a multitude of battle maps. Many will come from our existing gallery but others will be exclusive to the handbook…

Adventure Hook

You are free to let players decide on their own reasons for coming to Greybanner during the Grand Tournament, or you can use the following adventure hooks. Be sure to include fitting goals and motivations for being in Greybanner, as well as for interacting with the residents and adventures. Characters will be coming from other cities and towns, which will vary depending on your own world (an example is included in the opening encounter, below).

If a character joins the adventure after Anton’s arrival in Greybanner, as the result of an additional player or a previous character death, the new character can use one of the examples under ‘Drawn by the Grand Tournament‘. You may wish to give them additional gold and information to better integrate them into the progressing adventure.

An Armed Escort. Anton Ducasse (NG male human commoner) is a charismatic trader of various herbs, tonics, and remedies, who is excited by the opportunities of the Greybanner Grand Tournament. His exotic merchandise made him paranoid about thieves and highwaymen on his travel to Greybanner, so he hired the characters as protection in a town to the south-west. They will be paid 10 gp each once he and his cart are safely escorted to town. Ducasse will also pay for their stay in the Greybanner Bunkhouse for the duration of the Tournament. The characters may have taken the job for the money, or have their own reasons for traveling to Greybanner.

Drawn by the Grand Tournament. Greybanner Arena’s Grand Tournament brings visitors from far and wide. For adventurers, this is mostly to participate in the many fights. They seek to prove themselves, earn a name, and make a tidy sum of gold doing it. But there are others who come seeking work around the festivities. They may be merchants themselves, simple spectators, healers, or even gamblers and grifters. These travelers are most likely to stay in the Greybanner Bunkhouse. Their particular activity will have earned them up to 6 gp in the 2 days they have been in town (depending on what they are doing). They will also have overheard one of the rumors in the Bunkhouse (roll to determine which rumor). Honest work will have earned them a degree of favor with their chosen employer.

In addition to these hooks, encourage your players to give their characters personal motivations for coming to Greybanner. These should relate to their backstory and the character’s goals and aspirations. They can then pursue these goals during their downtime in town, which helps give them a path when others may not be visible. It also helps to give players control and personal investment in their story. Ideally, you can then also have their goals tie into the larger adventure in some way.

A great way to help your players connect with the character they are making is with custom tokens. You can let them choose one or design their own. We have three hand-make packs of hero tokens, as well as a customizable Token Editor

The Secret History of Greybanner

There are two reasons we separate this side of the history from that in Part 1. The first is to accommodate the use of Greybanner without the adventure itself. ‘Secrets of the Arena‘ is rooted in the hidden traditions of the Greybanner council, which players can discover and potentially stop. If you wish to use Greybanner and the Arena on their own, you can do so by leaving this layer of the history out. The second reason is to divide the common knowledge from what is secret. Our original description of Greybanner’s history is what is widely known by its informed residents. Players can easily discover it by asking around town. Conversely, the secret details are known only by those that are directly involved: current and previous council members, and the MacHale family.

A Forgotten Battle

The truth of Greybanner is rooted at the very core of the town, deep beneath the Arena. What is known of the pre-founding factions and their disputes is largely correct, with the three forces regularly coming to blows. Reavers would clash with druids over the land at the mountains’ feet, and attack any travelers that strayed near. The Bramblejade druids would retaliate, while also attacking farmers and hunters that stepped into the forest or sought to plunder the land of resources. These attacks, as well as those of bandits and gnolls, led to the arrival of the Gallows’ Sons Mercenaries. The soldiers protected the area’s settlements, amplifying the existing three-way conflict.

This history diverges from recordings sometime prior to the leaders’ summit. Repeated bloodshed in a place of old, deep-seated magic had created a tension point between the planes. It was focused at the intersection of territories, where the planar veil grew thin. Over time, a distant voice was able to whisper through. It infected minds on each side of the conflict, having them conspire to prolong the violence and undermine any attempts at peace. The disparate cult took to calling themselves the ‘Eyes of Blood’.

The constant skirmishes were a distraction beneath which the voice eventually summoned its followers. They answered its calls, amassing at the intersection. There, they performed a profane ritual powered by the lingering essence of death in the area that they had worked so hard to cultivate. The cult finally met their master face-to-face. It came in the form of a demon, horned and burning, born from the shadows cast by fire: Harazai. The demon fought its way into the Material plane, rending and scorching the landscape with a horde of cultists and lesser demons.

This was the reason for the summit. Faced with the consequences of their wars and without hope for reinforcements, the three enemies banded together. Combined efforts from soldiers, Reavers, and druids were enough to drive the creatures back, with the eventual founders leading the charge. They carved through imps and hunted the cultists responsible. But they could not destroy the central demon; not with its ability to reconstitute and return. They grew desperate, eventually seeing only one option remaining that would require a betrayal of those under them and a perversion of what they valued most. Already at their limits, a final gambit was planned to bind the demon.

Vincent MacHale and Gorim Steinsson led a costly assault. It was bloody and fruitless, and most of their men fell to the fiends, just as their leaders knew they would. The battle left a field of blood and death. Alessia wielded the same dark ritual that summoned Harazai, but twisted the energy of the Bramblejade against the demon. Roots of ancient trees dragged it beneath the earth and drained its strength. It was not killed or banished but remained enervated and bound. The last of the lesser demons were extinguished, unable to return without their commander. As long as the ritual remained active, the demon would remain sealed.

Hidden Traditions

The battle came at many costs. Each side was reduced to a fraction of its former numbers, though their shared experience catalyzed them as what would become Greybanner. Bands of Reavers hunted any remaining traces cultists until even the knowledge of them faded. The founders were left with the burden of their actions, as well as the necessity of maintaining the demon’s bindings. Doing so would require continuous sacrifice. It was for this reason, first and foremost, that they created the Arena. Disputes and competitions were conducted within its walls, erected above the demon’s prison. Defeated fighters donate blood and a portion of their life to feed the bindings below without ever realizing.

Ruined Keep Battle Map, Forest Glade Preview
Verdantguard Tower features prominently in one of the adventure’s first journeys beyond Greybanner. The tower is based on our own Ruined Keep battle map, which you can find here.

None could know of this, of course. The ritual needed to hold and willing sacrifices were not an available commodity. Years of maintaining this lie took a toll on the leaders. A final, desperate way out then came in the form of pressure from surrounding lordships. This led to the Duel of the Founders. Gorim and Alessia fell, free of what they had done. But this too came at a cost, with Alessia carrying her own corruption from the binding ritual. It poisoned the forest she once loved, emanating from the Verdantguard Tower and her tomb beneath it. With Gorim gone, the Reavers dissolved and the Titan’s Spine was lost to giants. MacHale withdrew from the town and people, his descendants eventually establishing the council to continue the duty of rulership and sacrifices.

To this day, the MacHale family and Greybanner council remain the only ones privy to the truth. It weighs heavily on all sides. The MacHale family has relocated entirely to dissociate from the tradition. Council members frequently crumble under the pressure and guilt, resigning or simply leaving. Of the current council, Mayor Albert Trivellan is the only member not aware of the Arena’s underbelly. His colleagues keep him in the dark to make use of Albert as an unburdened ‘face’ for the council, perhaps also with an underlying fear of Albert exposing them were he to find out. The others each have their own opinions and roles, which they largely keep to themselves.

Much of this stress is exaggerated as the Grand Tournament approaches. Even with constant fuel, the ritual of the demon’s bonds lasts for only ten years. It must be recast every decade. The council uses the Grand Tournament as a form of cover and fuel, draining small amounts of life from each fighter during their bouts and completing the ritual beneath the final fight. As this event approaches and the demon’s prison weakens, small amounts of its power escape. These energies manifest similar to the Bramblejade’s blight, poisoning the minds and bodies of certain people. Fortunately for the council, this is infrequent enough to hide. Greybanner residents also seem resistant, possibly owing to continuous exposure. Unknown, drunk, and revelrous visitors make for easy scapegoats.

Current Tensions

As always, there are those that keep secrets within their secrets. Only a handful of the Eyes of Blood managed to escape the counterattack, but those that did felt an ignited determination. They passed on their vile traditions in secret, hoping to one day return. Several of them have succeeded in doing so: Mariana Harkness, Elijah Carlisle, and Valasar the Boreal. Harkness’s control of the Silvercrown Mining Company grants her a place on the council and the freedom to act as she pleases. She now seeks to sabotage the sealing ritual and release Harazai, with her accomplices acting as her ears and hands. Not even her colleagues on the council know her true intentions.

In stark opposition, the MacHale family’s current patriarch, Alistair MacHale, seeks to end the traditions. Elias Gilderoy has been sent to Greybanner as an agent of the MacHales. His goal is to investigate the ritual and find a way to be permanently rid of Harazai’s presence. He does not answer to the council, a fact that has earned him their ire and constant attention. The mage is unable to act under the council’s watchful eye. With the deadline of the Tournament approaching, Gilderoy hopes to find adventurers that may be able to act on his behalf and help him in his goal.

A Frightening Welcome

The adventure begins along the southern road to Greybanner. The player characters are escorting Anton Ducasse and his cart north along the edge of the Bramblejade forest, having already traveled for two days from Kinbrook, another town along the main road to the south (or your world’s equivalent). Their journey will take them another day of travel. As they are drawing close to Greybanner, they spot a disturbance on the road: a fallen tree, with signs of a struggle and a broken cart.

Begin by reading the entry below, making any necessary changes to fit your characters and world:

As word of the Greybanner Grand Tournament, a once in a decade event, spread through the region, you all found yourselves in Kinbrook. You each had your own reasons for being in the town, and it was there that you all met Anton Ducasse, an excitable and friendly traveling salesman of remedies and reagents. He was bound for the Tournament and seeking protection for the journey north. Seeing individuals fit for the task, he approached each of you in turn and offered ten gold pieces and accommodation for the duration of the Tournament. Whether from the offer of pay, his regaled stories of the Tournament festivities, or another, more personal reason, you all accepted.
The journey has seen you travel east from Kinbrook for a day, before taking a smaller road north for another day. You’ve come across no danger, hearing only the distant calls of plains beasts and those in the forest that densely covers the road’s right side. Several camps have been visible, all seemingly of others headed for Greybanner. While you’ve stayed alert, most of the time has been spent listening to Anton’s stories of his life and conversing with each other.

Before continuing, give your players some time to talk and quickly cover anything that may have happened during the previous days of travel. This might include the following:

  • Introducing and describing their characters, as well as anything that the others may have noticed about them during this time.
  • Conversations that may have occurred, between the players and with Anton, including questions they may have asked. Try to let these conversations continue naturally to simulate days of travel and for players to settle into their characters.
  • Anything else the characters do along the road. This can include anything that requires a skill check or helps establish the characters’ habits.
  • Finally, you may also ask for the group’s marching order and for the characters to make Wisdom (Perception) checks. Anton’s cart has room for one person to sit alongside him. He will also ask that at least one person leads in front of the two horses and another follows behind the cart. Players can otherwise dictate how they wish to travel.
We have an entire Carts, Carriages, and Wagons pack that you can find here. It’s perfect for both Anton’s wagon and those of other traders in Greybanner.

Anton Ducasse’s Cart

The cart is an enclosed, two-horse wagon with a seat at the front for the driver. It is made of strong wood and filled with Anton’s merchandise and traveling supplies, arranged in crates and containers. Additional sacks, as well as the group’s tents and bedrolls, are affixed to the roof. One side of the carriage has many latches and hinges that allow it to transform into a small storefront, once its contents are unloaded.

Blighted Bandits

Once your players are finished with their conversations and have settled, you can continue into the first encounter. Start by reading the following, before giving your players control.

The third day of travel finds you continuing along the forest’s edge, a wall of trees on one side and plains of rocky hills and outcroppings to your west. You follow the path as it curves around the trees, where a disturbance on the road ahead catches your eye. A tree lies across the road, blocking the path as a barricade between the woods and a small hill on the opposite side. A path of broken foliage leads a short way into the forest beside the tree. Anton notices it too, and nervously turns to you for instructions.

Anton will stop the cart approximately 90 ft. from the roadblock and allow the characters to lead. The tree has fallen from the edge of the forest and blocks the full width of the road, reaching the rocky slope of the hill opposite it. Beside it is a short path of trampled and broken bushes leading 30 ft. into the forest to a small, ransacked cart. A total of three bandits lurk nearby; two hiding near in the bushes near the damaged cart and one in the leaves of the fallen tree. Their leader, a scout, is hiding prone on the hill.

The bandits’ leader will have seen and heard the group’s cart approaching and hid. Roll Dexterity (Stealth) for him (with his +6 modifier) and the bandits as the characters arrive, using their Wisdom (Perception) checks made earlier to see if they notice anything or if the bandits surprise them. The bandits are using the foliage as cover and waiting for their leader’s signal to attack.

The scout will engage once the characters are close, ideally waiting for them to approach the broken cart. He will whistle to signal the rest to attack as part of his first turn, while attacking with his longbow. The two in the nearby bushes will then engage with their scimitars, moving to cut the characters off from Anton. The third will emerge and threaten the trader to not move, attacking Anton’s two draft horses if necessary.

The bandits are affected by Harazai’s blighting curse that creeps out from beneath the Arena and fills the Bramblejade. It racks their bodies and fills their minds with rage. This leads them to fight without regard for their own lives or those of their allies. They will fight to the death and struggle to form words. During the fight, the characters will also get a better look at the bandits and their condition.

Read the following at the start of the second round of combat, or when one of the bandits next attacks in melee range:

As the men prepare to continue their attack, something about them catches your eye. Their bodies seem strained and emaciated and their limbs twitch randomly. Meeting one of their gazes, you see painfully bloodshot eyes stare almost through you, unfocused and disconnected, blinking only to fight the drops of blood that leak out. He adjusts his grip on his weapon, gnashing his teeth and fighting for steady breath.

Developments

Once the bandits are defeated, the characters have time to investigate them and the area. Anton is anxious to continue, requesting one of them help him lead the wagon around the hill.

Bandits. Characters can check over the bandits’ bodies and attempt to diagnose them, making a DC 20 Wisdom (Medicine) or Intelligence (Arcana) check. On a success, they are able to discern that the bandits were cursed with a necromantic illness. Characters can also make a DC 15 Intelligence (History) check to recall stories of a blight within the Bramblejade. It is rumored to send animals rabid with effects similar to those of the bandits, though usually worse.

Broken Cart. The ransacked cart is stopped against a tree, its horse having fled over the hill. Against the same tree is Isaac Thornton (LG male halfling commoner), the cart’s owner, unconscious and with a crossbow bolt sticking out of his side. Anton will prompt the characters to help him, applying a salve to stabilize his wounds if no one else can, before pulling him onto the group’s wagon. Anton will mention that Greybanner has a healer and that they should take the man there.

If the characters are able to heal Isaac, he slowly awakens and thanks them, and Anton offers him a seat on his wagon. Isaac will express his desire to visit the healer. He will offer to pay the characters 5 gp each once they reach the town, for their help.

Isaac’s horse stands in the field beyond the hill. Its owner can lead it back, or a character can make a DC 13 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check. On a success, they are able to hitch Isaac’s cart to it and escort it to Greybanner. If Isaac is conscious, he will offer the characters a further 10 gp each to do so.

In the event that the players are defeated in the ambush, the bandits will knock them unconscious and rob them and Anton, destroying much of his stock. The characters will awaken to find the bandits gone, Isaac having succumbed to his wound, and Anton’s wagon damaged. The trader will honor his deal with the characters but is unlikely to remain friendly with them after reaching Greybanner.

Treasure

In addition to their equipment, the bandits’ leader carries a pouch of stolen gold, containing 10 gp and 50 sp. The bandit archer hiding in the tree also has a bag of caltrops. Isaac will pay the characters 5 gp each upon reaching Marla’s Infirmary once he awakens, and 10 gp each more if his cart was also brought to Greybanner.

Arrival in Greybanner

The characters will arrive in Greybanner shortly before sunset. As they approach and then enter the town, read the following:

The path curves once more, leading you around another set of trees to come face to face with the lights and sounds of Greybanner. Some distance ahead, the road connects to a wider, paved road that leads between the southern-most buildings. This main street is bustling with crowded faces and storefronts, illuminated by the combined glow of lanterns and the setting sun. It continues into the center of town to find the base of the central Arena. It is a coliseum-like monolith of grey stone and banners that looms over the town surrounding it. More buildings circle around it, out of sight. From within the town, already rife with festivities, you can make out the sounds of excited movement. A gentle wind rolls past, carrying the welcome smells of warm food and chimney smoke.
Anton exhales a relieved sigh. “Here we are! Now, why don’t we get our friend some assistance and see about our accommodation.”
Basic Building Assets - Preview
Our recent Basic Building Assets are the perfect tool for anyone creating multiple, ordinary buildings. The Infirmary, Targe, and Bunkhouse can all come from just one donwload, right here.

Anton will lead the group through the middle of the Challenger’s Square and then around the Arena’s eastern side and to Marla’s Infirmary. If Isaac is with them, Anton asks the characters to take him into the Infirmary and tie his horse and cart outside, if they were recovered. Anton then leaves to make their arrangements, encouraging the characters to meet him in the neighboring inn. Marla welcomes them in, ushering Isaac to a bed and seeing to his wounds. She is able to tend to them, though he needs rest, and she thanks the characters for helping him.

If Isaac is conscious, he pays the characters for their assistance (5 gp each, and 10 gp each more if his cart was recovered). If he is not, he will later ask Marla to deliver the reward and his thanks to the characters the next morning, in the Bunkhouse.

The characters can then meet Anton at the nearby Targe and Tankard. He buys them a hearty meal of the Targe’s signature dish and Bramblejade mead. Over dinner, he pays them each their 10 gp, explains that they each have a bed paid for in the Bunkhouse, and adds that he will treat them to seats for tomorrow’s opening bout in the Arena, at midday. Otherwise, they are free to their own devices. Anton asks about what brought them to the town and Tournament and what their intentions are. This conversation will continue until the characters decide to retire for the night.

Awarding Experience Points

Defeating the bandits, aiding Isaac, and escorting Anton to Greybanner marks the first milestone in the adventure’s story. When the group has been paid and rests for the night, award each character 100 XP.

First Day in Town

The characters are free to spend the next day moving around and exploring the town as they wish. Remind them that Anton has bought them tickets to watch a fight at midday. Otherwise, allow them to pursue their own interests. There are many locations in town for them to visit, depending on their personal goals and interests. The core adventure will continue with the aforementioned fight, but these several hours of freedom are available for the characters to independently establish themselves and spend some of the gold they have earned. If the group splits up, have them take turns with their interactions and pursuits to ensure no one feels left out or bored.

Some of the most likely destinations for the characters are the following:

Weller’s General Goods and the Cornerforge Quartermasters. The local General Goods store and Quartermasters are the first stops for anyone looking for weapons, armor, or adventuring gear. They are ideal places for characters to quickly and easily outfit themselves and purchase supplies.

Challenger’s Market. For anyone seeking more exotic merchandise, there is the Challenger’s Market. Unlike local stores, the Market is populated by stalls and merchants who traveled to Greybanner for the Tournament. They come from neighboring regions and bring items that could never normally be found in town. The characters can find a wider range of stock, though the eclectic variety and bellowed advertisements can make perusing the Markets confusing.

Greybanner Arena. The entrance to the Greybanner Arena is open to anyone looking to purchase tickets, sign up, or learn about the Arena’s history and Tournament proceedings. Characters can inquire about the festivities or fill out paperwork to enroll in fights, either individually or as a group. Signing up for the Grand Tournament is sure to create a buzz in the crowd.

Personal Business. The characters may also seek to progress their own personal agenda within Greybanner. This is a good time for them to begin doing so, to gain a foothold before being swept up in the adventure’s larger plot.

At this point, you will need to refer to our ‘Greybanner, Part 2: Locations in Town‘. Anton has already shown the characters to several locations in town, but they now have control of their movements. Try to make yourself familiar with the places and people you think they might visit and the activities they might seek.

If your characters are unsure of where to go or what to do, you can also point them towards townsfolk that they can interact with. Talking with locals can help them gain information on Greybanner and places to visit, and may help them find something to pursue. At the very least, speaking with other characters can help build a rapport that may help them later.

Some townsfolk the characters may want to speak with may include:

Anton Ducasse. Success in their task of escorting Anton to Greybanner will have earned the characters his appreciation and friendship. While he is not local to the town, Anton has visited before and is knowledgeable of its festivities and traders. He can easily direct the characters to locations in town or offer up ideas on how to enjoy the Tournament celebrations. Charismatic characters are even able to assist in advertising his wares to the other fighters (as detailed under the Challenger’s Market).

Elijah and Pierce Carlisle. The proprietors of the Targe and Tankard and Greybanner Bunkhouse, respectively, are the closest sources of local information to where the characters are staying. The elder Elijah, like many innkeepers and bartenders, has a wealth of knowledge covering Greybanner’s history and public traditions. His son has a penchant for rumors and hearsay, and will openly speculate with anyone who strikes up a conversation.

Mayor Albert Trivellan. Anyone new to the Challenger’s Square is sure to run into Greybanner’s mayor and his excited greetings. He is quick to see that all newcomers are enjoying the town and events, and will happily point them to any of the local businesses. Albert will also advertise the coming Tournament, encouraging the characters to buy tickets or even sign up.

Keep in mind the other faces that the characters might stumble across or notice in town. Exploring the Markets will likely lead to a welcome from the Mayor. Characters visiting the Cornerforge will speak with Harrison Dell but may also see or hear Eva Cinderbrow in her workshop. These characters do not need to be interacted with or even named yet, to avoid overloading your players. Small clues to their existence are simply a good way to organically introduce new faces to expand on later and may excite players over the people they will eventually meet.

The Opening Bout

As midday arrives, almost all of Greybanner will make their way to the Arena to witness the Tournament’s commencement. Stalls and businesses will temporarily close and characters will be prompted to find Anton. They are free to ignore the invitation and continue moving around town, though this may draw questions from guards and later Anton himself.

Read the following when the characters make their way to the Challenger’s Square:

As crowds of excited townsfolk funnel through the Arena’s towering entryway, the voice of Anton catches your ear, hailing you to join him in line. You shuffle through an ocean to faces to stand with him. He smiles joyfully, muttering about the last Tournament and ending with, “Pay attention to this fight. The opening bout is between the two previous Champions; real warriors with lifetimes of experience!” The line is slow, edging forward barely a step every minute, but giving you ample time to observe the towering hall around you.

You can use the time that the characters are in line and finding their seats to introduce the option of betting, let them interact with each other or random townspeople, or to allow them to interact with the environment. The former two can be done through the people standing and sitting around them. They may be discussing rumors or expectations for the fight, which the characters will overhear. The intention is to give your players small openings between your descriptions, to act on what you are describing. This helps to keep their attention and firmly immerse them in their character’s perspective, maintaining their agency and the adventure’s pace. A long span of uninterrupted description will only tire them and cause details to be lost.

Once they are ready to continue, read the following:

The line gradually creeps forward until it is your turn to enter. Anton presents your tickets to a guard, who then lets your group continue forward, where a set of wide, stone steps ascends to hallways leading to either side. You follow it along, flanked on either side by the speculative whispers of who will win today’s fight and who shows promise for the coming Tournament. You pass a number of staired exits, eventually coming to yours. The sun blinds you as you step out and adjust to the brightness, looking out over the mighty Arena. Anton leads you to what he describes as, “The best seats in the house.”
You sit down on the wooden stands of the Greybanner Arena. The circular structure seems even larger from within, reducing the crowd to a swarm of ants that crawl across its seating. They bring the same buzz as in the Square outside, humming with anticipation and the scent of festival food. The tiers of seating climb the Arena’s thick stone bricks, reaching an outer wall that cuts off any view of the town beyond. Shades of grey canvas, the same as the external banners, provide protection from the warm sun and highlight the sand of the fighting pit in a natural spotlight. Through a gap between them, you can make out the raised spectator box, presumably for council members and any visiting dignitaries they seek to impress.
You sit, watching the final preparations being completed and waiting for the Arena to fill.
The opening bout (and… all of the others) takes place in the Greybanner Arena. As always, we have a map for that, right here! We will also be covering how to run and decorate your own arena in the next few articles…

The characters must wait again as the Arena fills. This is another opportunity for them to look around and talk. Anton will advise against leaving their seats, but there is much to see from their position. The Greybanner council, Emory Ashbrand, and Valasar the Boreal are visible in their raised seating box and Yvette Esterland is finalizing her opening speech by the edge of the Arena. Other Tournament fighters will also be taking their seats, possibly attracting attention from those around them. The characters can also make a DC 20 Wisdom (Perception) check to identify those in the opposite waiting area, ready to enter the Arena. On a success, they spot Marla Durand, Elias Gilderoy, and Esme Kal’barar, though they may not recognize the latter two.

As the last of the audience takes their seats and Yvette steps into the center of the Arena, read the following:

The woman at the Arena’s edge steps forward, confidently striding across the sand. She wears pristine leathers below an ocean blue showman’s coat, blonde hair braided tightly. One hand raises, waving to the now-cheering audience. Her coat flares out as she spins and skips to the Arena’s center. In response, the crowd’s cheers reach thunderous cries of elation. They gradually calm and she begins to speak, her own voice magically projecting throughout the coliseum.
“Thank you, thank you! It is an honor to stand before you to commence the oldest, most sacred, and most entertaining of Greybanner’s traditions: The Greybanner Grand Tournament!” The applause uproariously returns, the announcer soaking them in before continuing.
“Like many of you, this is my first Grand Tournament. And, like even more of you, I just want to get to the fight! So let’s have a round of applause for your town council and all their work, and another for today’s fighters!” She takes several steps back, giving a sweeping motion to the side as the gate opens and a fighter steps forth.
“Our previous Champion, Esme Kal’barar, master swordswoman and commander of the Scorntusk Mercenaries!” A half-orc woman emerges from one gate in battle-worn half-plate, flourishing two scimitars before the eager crowd.
“And the Champion before her, the ‘Silver Ghost’ himself, Arland Farrow!” A man with greying black hair and beard walks from the opposite gate, covered in plate armor. He extends one hand to his side, silvery mist producing a greatsword in his grasp and eliciting an explosion of cheers.
The two fighters meet, shaking hands and smiling as the announcer continues.
“This fight between our two previous Champions marks the commencement of our festivities. Let them be examples to everyone looking to fight in the coming days, and everyone seeking to stand alongside them as this Tournament’s Champion. Now, I think it’s time that I stop talking and let them show you why they hold their titles! So, without further delay, I officially declare this decade’s Greybanner Grand Tournament… begin!”
In an immediate reaction, the fighters charge each other.

The two seasoned fighers will then begin their combat, fighting until the other yields.

To determine the victor, simply roll a d20 for each fighter’s attacks per ’round’. Be sure to give each round a short description depending on what happens, to create an organic, believable back-and-forth within the fight. Keep any characters that bet on the fight on their toes, wondering who will win. And remember, the fight is to yield, not to the death. Whoever rolls highest each round is the one to land an attack. The first fighter to land five successful attacks will win, with the other yielding.

Both fighters are equally matched, with different strengths and weaknesses. Consider the following in your description of their fight:

Esme Kal’barar. The half-orc woman uses a focus on aggressive speed. She wears lighter armor and wields two scimitars to maximize the number of attacks she can deal out. Keeping close to and maneuvering around her opponent allows her to apply pressure to them, to then exploit any panicked openings. Her innate endurance also allows her to outlast opponents.

Arland Farrow. The male human is older but wields a lifetime of experience. This lack of youth is supplemented by sheer strength and durability, plate armor, and a handful of spells. Arland wields a greatsword in slow but powerful attacks that split the sand and stone beneath. Each swing is damaging but risky. Fortunately, both misty step and thunderwave allow him to create distance from an aggressive opponent, reposition, or counterattack.

Developments

The loser of the fight will fall to their knees and yield. The Arena’s underlying ritual then takes effect and secretly, magically drains them. As this happens, ask the characters to make a combined Wisdom (Perception) check to determine what they see.

Read the following entries up to their result (e.g. if they rolled a 17, read the first and second entry, but not the third) and fill in the blanks with the name of the fighter who lost:

Lower than 15. The crowd’s cheers are deafening, many tossing coins towards the bowing victor. The announcer joins them again in celebration. Energy is coursing through the Arena and its occupants, igniting the festivities that will populate the coming days. You feel a spark of excitement within you. But your attention falls on _____, still kneeling in the sand. There is red on the ground below him/her; only small drops, not enough to be fatal, yet he/she does not rise.
15-19. On closer inspection, you can see him/her heaving, struggling for breath. The color has faded from what small amount of skin you can see, and his/her expression appears gaunt and shocked.
20 or greater. You focus more, leaning forward from your seat in curiosity. You initially assume what you see to be a trick of the light or heat from the sand, but a few seconds of watching confirms it to be real. Darkened shimmers fall from _____ in waves through the air and into the sand, seeming to pull him/her down each time. He/she struggles to hold himself/herself up against them. With each pull, his/her expression grows more exaggerated.

Finally, read the following:

Few others seem to be paying attention. Then, beneath the cheers of semi-drunken celebration, _____ collapses. You hear others in the crowd begin to take notice, many brushing it off as exhaustion as they rise to leave. Anton motions for you to do the same. As he ushers you back towards the stairs to exit, you glance again to see Marla, the town healer, rushing to the fallen fighter. Two uniformed guards join her, carrying _____ away with worried looks to those around. Where he/she had been laying, the speckles of blood in the sand have vanished.

The characters will then leave the Arena, pushed along by the teeming crowds of celebrants. Anton will express that now is the best time for him to begin advertising to Tournament fighters and rushes back to his cart at the Targe and Tankard. The characters are free to act as they wish. Not long after, Marla will request them at the Infirmary, provided they have not gone there themselves.

The next leg of the adventure will see the characters venturing deep into the Bramblejade in an attempt to cure the fallen fighter. But first, we need to cover the Arena…

What’s Next

That should be everything you need to get your players into the town of Greybanner, and well on their way towards future adventures. Refer to our previous sections to see all the places they can go and people they can meet in and around town. Our next entries will focus on the central Greybanner Arena. They will cover both the Arena itself and the Grand Tournament, with a full roster of fighters! Until then, feel free to comment below. We always love to hear your feedback, anything you’ve liked or want to see, or even just stories of similar adventures!

As always, you can support my writing via my Patreon. Your support allows me to continue creating, and also gives you exclusive bonuses. You even have the opportunity to have your own character included as a top-tier entrant in the Tournament!

Allow me to also introduce you to our gallery of other maps, articles, and handbooks…

One comment

  1. Super excited for more of this! Especially info on the blighted enemies, they look really intriguing. Good work!

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