A Conan RPG adventure for 2nd-3rd level characters
By David L. Nelson
This adventure takes place in Ostmark, which is a border region on the far eastern edge of Hyperborea, where that nation borders the Turanian-dominated Northern Desert. The area is in a constant state of war due to Turanian slave raids and a long-standing feud between the local Hyperborean noble houses: the House of Steiner (masters of Castle Red Axe), and the House of Hothur (masters of Castle Death Sword). The villages in the area are Redburg and Hillburg, both in the fertile hills of the west. Both are set on defensible hills and are surrounded by strong walls of rough stone. Redburg swears allegience to the Steiner House, Hillburg to the Hothur. A bone of contention is the third village, Marchburg. Marchburg currently pays tribute to both houses, but each house is greedy for taking the whole tribute rather than just half. As a result both houses are keen to put an end to the raids by Turanian slavers, and to make sure that their particular house gets the credit for doing so, to sway the loyalty and gratitude of the Marchburgers. The retainers of both houses have been known to kill each other on occasion, but the leaders of the houses know that open war would bring the wrath of the king down upon them.
The band of raiders currently plaguing the mark is using a pass through the hills that the locals shun with superstitious horror. There is a deserted castle beside the road which is said to be haunted by the ghost of a sorcerer who once lived there, the truth is somewhat worse than that. The sorcerer unlocked an ancient evil from beneath the bowels of the castle, a band of subhuman snake-like creatures who have devolved from a band of Acheronian wizards of the past age.
The players will be a band of sell-swords or cutthroats who have wandered north out of Zamora, Brythunia or Turan in search or work, loot or escape from powerful enemies. Mischance has had them on the eastern side of the Kezankian and Graaskal ranges, until they spot a pass in the low foothills. Any Hyperborean player character will be sure that this pass will lead into Hyperborea.
Encounter One: A Frozen Crust of Purple Gore
The players begin on the top of a snow-covered hillock, with a 30-foot drop onto shattered pine stumps behind them and a crowd of angry raiders in front of them. Assign 4+1d4 hit points of damage to each player character. Tell them that all of their horses are dead. Go through their character sheets. If they have more than one two-handed weapon, strike off all the others. If they have any other gear that cannot be easily carried, strike that off too. Then randomly strike off 1-2 pieces of gear from anyone who seems to have a lot of gear.
At some point, explain to them the following. As you proceeded through the pass, you were encountered by a large party of raiders, apparently leaving Hyperborea, loaded down with loot. With a rousing cry of “get ‘em!” You joined battle with them before realizing just how large their force was. Your mounts were slain in a barrage of arrow fire from the whole column, and you were all driven back by their charge. Their leader, a hawk-faced Turanian, ordered one of his squads to hold you off as he wheeled the column back to the west toward Hyperborea.
Climbing down the bask side of the hillock will lead to safety, but the DC is 30 (25 for steep hill +5 for slippery). Falling down the hillock (or leaping down) inflicts 3d6 damage and save Reflex DC 20 or break a limb.
The opponents are 2nd level Turanian soldiers, Hyrkanian nomads, and Hyperborean barbarians. There should be somewhere between 1 and 2 raiders for each player characters in the fight, adjust as necessary based on party abilities. The raiders will be dismounted at the bottom of the hillock, half with melee weapons and shields, and the other half standing behind them with bows. They will hold position and rain arrows on the party until the party charges down the hill, when the bowmen will join in melee. Each raider has a Turanian Desert Horse, but roll Animal Handling check DC 15 (or Profession (Herdsman)) to catch one. Catch an additional 1 for every two points scored above 15. If the party continues west, go to Encounter 2, if they go in another direction, you are on your own.
Encounter Two: Marchburg
After passing through the rest of the hill pass, the players will spot another battlefield, where a score of Hyperboreans lay dead and stripped on the field. If they check the bodies, one of the Hyperboreans will croak out the words “Bloodstone of Bori” and “I am Fritz…” before he dies. If the party decides to follow the raiders immediately, go to Encounter Eight.
If they continue west, eventually, they’ll reach the town of Marchburg, a fortified trade center for the eastern marches. Marchburg is surrounded by a rough-hewn stone wall, 12 feet thick and 20 feet high. It isn’t pretty to look at, looking more like a rock pile than an elegant city or castle from Shem or Aquilonia. Nevertheless, it seems more than robust and powerful. Guards in scale corselets and horned helmets will issue a challenge from atop the gate structure. But, they will quickly let the players pass, once they explain from where they have come.
Inside there is a jumble of wooden shacks, log cabins and stone-pile inns and houses. They should quickly be able to find a rooming house (1sp per day for room and food), there are many that cater to the reindeer herders, and rest up for a day or two to recover from any wounds they may have received.
Each day each character may make a Gather Info check DC12, each success reveals one of the following pieces of information (tailor to the questions being asked):
· Fritz had a brother named Helmut
· There are two factions in the region: the Steiners and Hothur.
· There is an abandoned castle somewhere nearby, inhabited by the ghost of an evil wizard; it is death to go there
· There is a second pass through the hills, but it is cursed, fire won’t burn there, no fire at all (an understatement).
· The House of Hothur is invincible in battle due to a gem called the Bloodstone of Bori. (The invincible part is false).
· One of the two noble houses must be aiding the raiders (false)
· The king is angry with both houses due to their feuding
· Thane Heinrich Hothur of Castle Death Sword is a dandy (true) and wants to sell out the country to the Brythunians
· Thane Wulfing Steiner is little more than an Aesir savage (partially true) and plans to join the raiders to set up his own kingdom (false).
Encounter Three: Helmut the White
At one point, one of more characters will be confronted by Helmut the White, a tall ox-like Hyperborean axe-man with a snow-white hair and beard and a red hot temper. He will be backed up by enough Hyperborean soldiers to even the number of players present. He will accuse the players of being “among the dirty slavers who killed my brother Fritz in the pass this week.” A raging fight should break out, after which a tavern-keeper will tell them that they’ve killed one of the men of Thane Wulfing of the House of Steiner who hold Castle Red Axe. The party’s only hope is to flee to the protection of Thane Heinrich, of House Hothur, down in Castle Death Sword.
If the party is in reasonably good shape, make them fight their way out of the gates against a squad of Steiner soldiers. If they’re too beat up, then let them get away quietly, or arrange for them to sneak around such a posse.
At this point the characters have several options. First, go to Castle Death Sword and ask for help (Encounter 5). Second, go to one the villages up the road (Encounter 5). Third, go camping (Encounter 5). Fourth, attempt to destroy Castle Red Axe and all its men (Encounter 6),
Encounter Four: Lord of Death Sword
Castle Death Sword looks similar to Marchburg, a rough-hewn pile of stone. But its corners are adorned by 4 great towers, and there is a large square keep in its center. There are herds of stunted cattle and reindeer around the castle, guarded by grim-faced herdsmen. The gate is securely closed and the warders will prevent entrance until the players say that they are on the run from the Steiners. Once this is known, after a short delay, the party will be invited into the castle to meet the lord.
Thane Heinrich is more cultured than most of the rest of the castle inhabitants who are dressed in undyed wool and furs. He wears a fine linen doublet of Aquilonian style. While his men have long, unkempt bears, his is short and neatly trimmed. He greets them in the great hall of the keep and makes themfeel welcome. He introduces his daughter Olga, who is of course young and beautiful. He will offer them some rooms in the castle and food and drink for a few days, if the players need to rest from wounds. At some point after they’ve settled in, the Thane will explain that he is under severe pressure from both his rivals of Castle Red Axe and the desert raiders. The raiders wiped out his last patrol in the pass and this has sapped his strength. (The lately departed Fritz was among the slain, while Fritz was a Hothur man, his brother Helmut works for the Steiners). He believes that the Raiders are working with Thane Wulfing Steiner of Castle Red Axe to undermine him.
Once the players are in condition to adventure, Helmut will ask them to talk. He will give them each 100sp, no strings attached. He will offer a greater reward of 500sp each plus any treasure they gather if they can track down the raiders and expose Thane Wulfing as a traitor. He says Wulfing must be a traitor, because the raiders are always on relatively fresh horses and so he must be allowing the raiders to come through the pass when his own men are on station there. There are only two passes, one of which is the one the players came through which he and Steiner take turns guarding, and the other is haunted and no one has gone through it for 20 years. (Don’t forget to remind the players that these raider scum killed their horses and busted them up a bit).
Of course, at some point, the daughter Olga will make a passionate appeal in private to one of the players that they should help her father lest that beast Wulfing drive them from their home and lands. She will add some crucial information. One of her father’s soldiers, Fritz the Miller’s son, had stolen a prize piece of treasure from her father, namely the Blood-Stone of Bori, which is worth a small fortune. He was assigned to the pass guard and was killed by the raiders. Her father does not yet know that the gemstone is gone, and Olga herself is desperate to recover it before he does. She proposes to accompany the party in recovering it from the raiders. She offers to lend them riding horses if she can join them. She hasn’t told the whole story. She was in love with Fritz and gave him the stone because she believed the legend that said that anyone who carried it in battle would be invincible, and she did not want Fritz to be killed.
If the players decide to confront Thane Wulfing, go to Encounter 6. If the Players try to track the raider band directly, go to Encounter 8. If they do anything else, go to Encounter 5.
Encounter Five: Farting Around
The players can attempt to fart around in the wilds awhile. Refer to the encounter tables in the separate Ostmark Geography document for the details. If they try to go to Hillburg, they will be reported to Thane Heinrich and soon will be hustled along to Castle Death Sword (go to Encounter 4). If they try to stay in Redburg, they will be reported to Thane Wulfing and a heavy squad of Steiner men will attempt to kill them (make it big enough to make the PC’s flee or die), go to Encounter Seven if players defeated, go to Encounter 4 otherwise.
Encounter Six: Brave the Red Axe
Castle Red Axe is made up of a single rough-hewn keep on top of artificial mound. The area at the bottom of the mound is surrounded by a strong wooden palisade fence that encloses various wooden outbuildings. In the middle of this outer court is the Steiner Fighting Pit, where prisoners and glory-hounds fight to the death for the amusement of the crowd. The whole castle is home to about 100 footmen, 10 knights and about 100 non-combatants of various stripes. Usually count on 5 of the knights and 20 of the footmen to be absent on patrol. Wulfing Steiner, the rest of the knights, and 30 of the footmen are usually locked in the keep, with the other footmen milling around the outbuildings.
Assaulting the Keep would be suicide. The gate to the keep will resist any attempt to open it short of a stout battering ram or foul sorcery. Once past the gate, there is an inner room with a second gate. Anyone entering the inner room is liable to murderous assault from arbalests and boiling oil from overhead murder holes.
If the players decide to sneak into the Keep, it may be possible to use stealth to avoid the guards of the outer court and sneak into the keep, or to scale the keep (it is 50 feet tall) and enter through the trapdoor on the roof’s fighting platform. If they enter the keep unnoticed, then the best they can hope for is to catch Wulfing Steiner unarmed with 2-3 servants and 3 armed guards in his bed chamber.
If they seek to parlay with Thane Wulfing, he will talk to them in his hall, surrounded by his men. Wulfing is tall with a bright blond beard and hair, he wears a brown bear skin wrapped around his shoulders at all times, and yells a lot. He will demand blood-price for Helmut and any of his other men that have been slain (at least 100sp per head) and also demand a good explanation for what happened to the raiders. If the players tell the truth and he believes them, he will end his hostility. He will venture that the raiders must have gone south and hooked up with that traitorous Thane Heinrich. Since there are only two passes through the hills, and the players kept the raiders from using the one, and the other is haunted and no one has gone through it for twenty years. If the players give Thane Heinrich any crap at all, he will hurl hordes of men at them and they will likely end up in Encounter 7
At this point, if Olga is present, things might get pretty ugly. Olga will stand for no accusations toward her father, and if (when!) Wulfing recognizes her, he will be sore tempted to seize her for ransom and throw the party into his dungeon. If Thane Wulfing finds out that the Bloodstone of Bori is in the hands of the raiders, he will immediately throw the party into the dungeon and run off after them himself, risking any danger.
Encounter Seven: Dungeons of Red Axe
If the players ever are ‘left for dead” and not recovered (due to partners fleeing or total party kill etc) due to a fight with the Steiner faction, they will awaken in the dungeon of Castle Red Axe. They are all stripped to their loincloths.
To break the chains by shear force: each character has one chance to break his chains by Strength. This is a Strength Check, DC22 (no taking 20).
To use Escape Artist: DC 25 to slip the chains, this will be a trained-only check, and only one attempt per person is allowed (no taking 20).
To Pick Locks: DC 20, -2 penalty to roll due to lack of tools. May retry as long as you miss only by 4 or less. No taking 20.
Trick the Guards: guards are standard Hyperborean guards, You can attempt Bluff, Intimidate or Sorcery against them to get them to get within reach for an attack etc., but there will be a –6 circumstance penalty against you for being foreign prisoners doomed to death or slavery.
The Door: if the players are freed from their chains, the door will be comparatively easy to get open (DC 15 by any method used).
Destiny: if the players are unable to get their chains open, someone will have to spend a Fate Point, at which time a woman named Ingrid (an Aesir slave woman with bitter contempt for the Steiners will get the keys and slip them into the cell.
Escape: once free from the slave pen, the players will be met by Ingrid (who will introduce herself at this point if she was not needed for “destiny” above. She will say that if the players take her with them she can show them where there is a postern gate defended by a single guard. She can provide them with a single poniard. They must overpower the guard and rush off into the night. To continue the adventure it would be best if they went to Castle Death Sword, where Thane Heinrich will partially re-equip them (no swords, bows (other than Hunting bow) or metal armor).
Encounter Eight: The Trail of the Raiders
The trail of the raider band can be followed in the snow. Anyone with Track feat may make a Survival Check DC 20 to follow the band from the pass northward. They seem to follow the western line of the hills directly north all the way to the supposedly haunted pass, and then to turn into the pass. At some point the players will run into a group of armed reindeer herders who will say that it is death to enter the northern pass. Especially at night, since fire won’t burn there, no fire at all. If the players enter the pass, go to encounter 9. If they try to fart around, go to the geography document.
Encounter Nine: The Deserted Castle
Of course the raiders are not in league with either Hyperborean noble. Instead, they have found that if they ride the road through the pass starting in the morning they emerge safely on the other side before nightfall. They then camp in the pinewoods very close by and ride raiding the next morning. This past time, however, their raid went overlong and they decided to force the southern pass to avoid any danger in the northern pass. When the players appeared, the leader decided that he might be trapped and decided to return back to the northern pass after all. The Raider Leader, decided that maybe the supposed “haunting” was just old wives’ tales, and entered the pass in mid afternoon. When night fell, he was still in the pass, and his men were exhausted. They decided to spend the night in the deserted castle. Of course, the horrible denizens from beneath the castle destroyed them all.
If the players search the edge of the pass they will see that the tracks go onward deep into the pass. If they set out into the pass, a storm of wind and snow will rise up (of course) making them lose their way, until they see the deserted castle ahead. Require them to make Listen Checks (DC18), those who succeed will think they hear the sounds of drinking and laughing raiders. All the players will see some light, perhaps campfires (really hell-born witch fire) from the keep of the deserted fort.
Once inside the castle, they will see the mutilated bodies of some of the raiders. But then it will be too late. Then the creatures who live beneath the Castle will appear to wreck havoc on the party. If they camp in pass at night, the story will be little different. A rock will roll away and the creatures will appear at any point in the pass they choose to stay. The will come in very large numbers, outnumbering the player characters at least 4 to 1 (5 or 6 to 1 might be better).
Fire will not burn in the pass at all. The only light will be an eerie phosphorescent witch-fire that glows here and there. The players will not be able to get a good look at the attackers at any point, until the sun rises. The creatures will never voluntarily appear in sunlight. The total lack of illumination in the pass and the tunnels (if the players follow them into the tunnels) gives the players a 25% concealment miss chance to hit.
The creatures themselves are descended from a band of Acheronian sorcerers and their servants, who settled in these hills when their homeland was destroyed by the Hyborians. They moved underground, and slowly became more and more snakelike, and less and less human as the centuries passed. Now they have long, snout like faces, pointed heads and poisoned fangs. They are hairless and have mottled snake-like skin. They have begun to develop tails, and their limbs are growing shorter and weaker as they learn to crawl on their bellies through tunnels. They have a pitiless hate for all humans and so kill all who enter the pass by night. They hate anyone of Hyborian blood most of all.
Characters who swoon from Terror of the Unknown, or who are paralyzed by a poison bite, will be quickly carried off by 2-3 creatures each to an underground chamber at the end of a long tunnel. There is a large gray stone, stained brown with blood, in the chamber. Any captured player will be eventually sacrificed here, barring rescue, or the use of a fate point to recover from the poison or the swooning, and thence cutting one’s way free through an appropriate number of creatures.
Aftermath: if the party survives till daylight, they will be able to search the bodies of the raiders to find over 5000sp worth of goods and treasure. In addition they will find the Bloodstone of Bori. If Wulfing Steiner chased after the raiders, he will be dead with his men here too. The players will realuize that there is no way to destroy all the creatures, and should leave the area before even worse horrors are unleashed. (My campaign only: the single survivor of the raiders is an old Shemite nomad who will recognize Grimjob, call him over and say that the Prophetess of Shushan is not dead! He saw her alive after the battle in a Nipprite slave pen. He will then of course cough up blood and die.)