by Mike Shea on 14 September 2015
This is a short adventure summary intended to give DMs the skeleton for a one-shot adventure based loosely on the story of Seven Samurai.
This adventure skeleton has loose summaries of events, locations, and characters. It contains many blanks for DMs to fill with their own ideas, hooks from the backgrounds of the PCs, or the improvisations of the players at the table. Due to the powerful villains in this adventure it is intended for high level groups, in particular level 15 PCs in the 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons.
The setting is flexible but was originally intended for the Shadowfell or another dark gothic land. Change the details to suit the environment you want to place it in.
If time is short, focus on this summary. Keep it handy during your game to remember the bolded names of NPCs, story seeds, and important locations.
As the game begins, read or summarize the following.
The yellow dots of lantern-light flickering in the blackness of night reveal a small village to the south. A howling wind blows up a storm of black dust to the north and a deep rumble vibrates through the cracked mud underfoot. Over a hill stumbles a young girl holding a strange three-horned goat in her arms. Her skin is ashen and her eyes wide, filled with panic and fear. Behind her the storm opens up revealing a half-dozen riders in sharp black armor riding on black smoking horses with flaming hooves.
Should the party delay, read or summarize the following.
The girl cowers as they surround her. One of the riders speaks, its voice like broken glass scraping on stone. "You know the rules, girl. You stepped into the battlefield and now your life is ours." The rider turns to you, beholding you with sunken black pits where eyes should be. "This is no business of yours. Begone."
The attackers are members of the Shadow Riders who ride from the Dread Tree. The girl, Jayce, lost her goat, Schmeeple who wandered off and had entered the forbidden battlegrounds surrounding the Dread Tree. Jayce's parents are ill and the goat is life to their small family. When she had recovered the goat, she found the riders, wights on nightmares, bearing down on her.
Assuming the PCs intervene and defeat the wights on nightmares, Jayce leads them back to the village of Scarsong.
A number of dilapidated houses line a single twisted path through this small village. A two-story ruin seems to be the largest building in the town, though it is clearly now abandoned. Eyes peer out from shuttered windows and lights are extinguished in the blackness of night. A great sinkhole sits in the middle of the town, a white mist obscuring it's depths. The sinkhole has swallowed two buildings and a third hangs precariously on its edge. Large wooden support beams seem to be the only barrier between the building's foundation and total ruin.
Though once prosperous, Scarsong is but a shadow of it's former self. There are no inns, no taverns, and no stores. The survival of the town is mostly from goat herding and and small farms on the outskirts of the town. There are roughly 250 people living in and around Scarsong. A century earlier silver miners of the town discovered a tomb buried under the ground, tens of thousands of years old. When they broke into it, a darkness washed out from the tomb and every ten years since, the riders have come.
Elder Regilar: The town's current elder. He cares deeply for the people of the town but it is at a loss on how to stop the scourge. He can be convinced that an attack against the Shadow Riders may work and wishes to see no child killed again after witnessing two previous attacks. Elder Regilar resides at a large home that serves as the town's hall when discussing the matters of the village.
Vicar Avalon: Priest of the goddess of death, Vicar Avalon's entire life is built to help people ease on into the afterlife. He sees the decimation of Scarsong as a violence that should not be and is the most willing to make an attempt to stop it. Failure, he believes, will bring a faster death than simply waiting to be destroyed every ten years. Vicar Avalon resides in a small residence with an outdoor temple of ancient stone and a featureless stone visage of the goddess of death.
Speaker Isreth: The Speaker for the god of penitence, Isreth believes that it is their duty to suffer under the blade of the Shadow Riders. Isreth came to the town after hearing of the decimation and has built a small following of villagers who believe that the culling is a sacred act. Isreth is most likely to oppose an attempt to stop the Shadow Riders.
The riders come on the night of the blood moon every ten years and are due to come again in two nights time. They sweep into the town and murder one out of every ten villagers including men, women, and children. They seem to come knowing exactly who they are going to kill. Some say they even have a list, hundreds of years old, that contains the names of current day villagers. How this can be remains a mystery.
Three dozen wights on nightmares along with their leaders, a death knight named General Thrynn and a lich named Arman Krys and his shadow dragon mount make up the Shadow Riders. Once commanders of an army that spread terror across the land, in their undeath these commanders continue the scourge they invoked in life—the Decimation. Bound to the atrocities they committed in life, the Shadow Riders continue it in the afterlife.
If the Shadow Riders sweep into town randomly choose one of the town's NPCs noteworthy to the PCs to be one of the potential victims of the attack.
In the center of the town lies a deep sinkhole in the earth. It formed nearly a century earlier when the prosperous miners dug too deep and the mines collapsed into an underground necropolis called Fellcourt built by a civilization long washed away under the desert. When the PCs discover the necropolis read or summarize the following.
The abandoned silver mining tunnels end in a large cracked wall clearly built by intelligent hands. The age of the surrounding rock reveals the structure to be thousands of years old. The crack opens into a large chamber with vaulted ceilings held up by sharp black iron pillars. A white mist flows through statues of armored heroes surrounding a stepped dais supporting a large stone crypt.
The spirits of the restless dead wail throughout this necropolis, their screams and cold touches killing any who enter it. The monuments of black iron and obsidian represent a militant society of ruthless kings and queens.
Within the necropolis the PCs might face specters, banshees, and terrible necrotic traps. Inside the crypt the PCs might uncover the necklace of Arman Kris, the lich's phylactery. Destroying it sends Kris and Thrynn into a rampage, swearing to murder every person in the town. He begins their dark ride as soon as the red sun sets.
When the PCs visit the Dread Tree ten miles from Scarsong, read or summarize the following.
A grinning skull lays half buried in black mud. Other bones litter this ancient wartorn battlefield. Dried runoffs look like huge veins flowing from the dread tree atop a solitary hill in the center of the battlefield. the center of the land. It's creaks can be heard above the howling wind swirling around the battlefield and its dead branches swirl like claws tearing at the sky above. At the base of the tree a large cleft opens into a cavern beneath the dead hill.
Any who step into the battlefield find the dead rising to meet them, clawing for fresh blood so they might once again taste life. The opening of the tree is surrounded by the terrible magical traps of Arman Kris.
Within the tunnels below is a chamber containing the restless nightmares who fill much of the tunnel with black smoke. Deeper tunnels lead to large chambers where Kris and Thrynn sit on thrones of black dragon bone while their riders kneel in front of them. Kris's twisted laboratory resides in another well-protected chamber containing horrifying experiments and dark knowledge.
Depending on how your game runs, you may find use for other locations. Feel free to drop these locations into your adventure however they fit. If your players decide to defend the town of Scarsong, they might have the opportunity to use these locations to help in that defense.
The Howling Wastes
Wind flows through the dust of these hills sounding like the wails of the damned.
Location features: Howling winds; hills of illusions; storms of ash.
The Tar Pits
Thick oily mud bubbles up hot from these wide pits.
Location features: Flammable; ancient fossels; sticky.
A narrow hazardous trail leads down into a ravine that looks like the cut of a cyclopean axe blade.
Location features: High waterfall; hazardous mining trail; decrept mine entrance.
The smell of dust and decay flows through these narrow mines.
Location features: Mining rails; bottomless gorge; volatile dust.
Dust carries with it the bleating sounds of underfed goats in these dusty farmsteads.
Location features: Goat herds; dry barns; rickety farmhouses.
The PCs might flow through this adventure in many ways. They might stumble into the town two nights before the coming of the Shadow Riders or they might run into the young girl, Jayce, who begs them to save their town.
The PCs might explore the sinkhole in search of further information about the riders. They might attempt to defend the town itself when the riders come. They might take the fight straight to the Dread Tree and face Thrynn and Kris directly.
Defending Scarsong from the onslaught of attackers is a likely climax for the adventure. Give players the time to come up with interesting ways to defend the town based on the features of various locations. The attack itself isn't balanced so a party of five or six can easily handle it. There might be three dozen wights on three dozen nightmares roaring in on the town. Give players enough information so they know they will have to be creative in defending the town.
Give players the freedom to choose their course through this adventure. They might even choose to let the town succumb to its fate and move on. Such a decision may weight on their conscious for the rest of their days.
Whatever they choose, this is their story. Let it unfold and enjoy the results.