Constant vigilance is life’s price within occupied Krakovar. Here, even wildlife is suspect, any bird or rabbit a potential spy for the vampiric conquerors of this once sovereign principality. And her lean, northern daylight hours are no guarantee against the predatory aristocracy controlling this dismal, fog-drenched region.
Encounter 1: Through the Neck
Recommended Levels: 11–13
PCs currently follow one of the clandestine trade routes, surreptitiously blazed across northern Krakovar by powerful salt interests in Salzbach, Steinhafen, and Jozht. Nicknamed the “Neck,” this 44-mile salt-run stretches from Dornig’s northern frontier to Jozht and cuts a fragmented trail of backroads, footpaths, and smuggler’s hideouts.
Perhaps adventurers are scouting out new waypoints and safehouses in vampire territory, mapping out the latest overland salt-run to the Wolfmark. Or do they courier shipment schedules or drop-point information from arms dealers in Hirschberg or Tomierau to Krakovar resistance fighters? In any case, PCs find themselves warily traversing damp, rolling moorlands, following the hilly glacial moraine marking the Siarka Swamp’s northwestern fringe.
PCs may (justifiably) grow preoccupied with evening’s approach and closing proximity to more populous, militarized zones. As characters descend into yet another fog-damp gulley, allow DC 17 Wisdom (Survival) checks to detect recent activity. Successful PCs can’t be surprised when an instant later the ground erupts around them. Violent explosions of wet turf and gravel burst upward, each ejecting a howling, snarling confusion of muddy steel, claws, and bristling fur.
Characters must succeed at DC 17 Dexterity (Acrobatics)—or if mounted, Wisdom (Animal Handling) checks—to avoid 8 (1d10 + 3) bludgeoning damage and being knocked prone (dismounted).
Steadying yourself, you squint through the dwindling hail of peat and gravel to make out your attackers. Dwarves. Dwarves on giant badgers? You hear battle cries: “Burn in Baldur’s light!” and “Parasites, Ninkash rebukes thee!” Suddenly facing an onslaught of pony-sized predators and their wild-eyed, mud-smeared riders, you brace for impact of spear and fang.
You are instead splattered with thick, dark beer.
As combat initiates, allow DC 15 Intelligence (Religion) checks to recognize the clerical—“holy-water”—beer splashing and dwarven attempts to “turn” PCs.
Developments. The ambushers are four Ironcrag war-badgers (see Warlock #12)—each carrying two dwarf riders—and four dwarf mercenaries (use wolf reaver dwarf, see Tome of Beasts), two clerics of the brew, and two graveslayer dwarves (see Creature Codex).
The dwarf clerics and graveslayers utilize round one for beer splashing and turn undead attempts against PCs; others attack normally. During round 3 (GM’s discretion), passed-out dwarf lookouts—two dwarven ringmages (see Tome of Beasts)—are roused. If any dwarves or badgers are slain, they attack, spellcasting from above. Otherwise, they wade into combat, hoping to intervene and establish order.
PCs can attempt to cease hostilities during round 2 with three successful DC 16 Charisma (Persuasion) checks made by PCs (collectively) in a single round. If dwarf PCs are present or if the ring-mages have (benevolently) arrived, these rolls have advantage. If calmer heads prevail, see Encounter 2: Developments (paragraph three).
Encounter 2: Honey, I’m…
Combat or no, fate intervenes. An unsettling sound is heard and then another, yelping howls, approaching fast. Suddenly, two bearfolk crest the nearby hillock at a run. Brandishing weapons, whooping, and roaring dwarven profanities, they charge the PCs!
You see the towering bulk of one and then two heavily armed bearfolk cresting the rise, roaring and waving weapons while charging downhill at you. Drawing nearer, you see mixed expressions of bestial rage and concern. Then you spot them, the flying shapes: dark, apple-sized spheroids, darting at and around the bearfolk, pursuing them relentlessly. You see more flying over the hilltop and then more, scores of them swarming in vengeful pursuit.
Developments. The first “bees” reach PCs and dwarves well ahead of the charging bearfolk. A DC 15 Intelligence (Nature) check identifies them as giant bumble bees, dubbed “Tomierran bumbledogs” by the dwarves of the Wolfmark for their aggressive “doggedness.” Use eight greater death butterfly swarms (see Tome of Beasts) in three waves: two swarms arrive one round before the bearfolk reach PCs, three arrive with the bearfolk, and three arrive two rounds after.
If hostilities persist, the arrival of this common foe should unite the parties. If after ten rounds the bumbledog swarms aren’t driven off, cooling temperatures and fading daylight disperse them. Once things calm, parlay is possible. Give PCs and NPCs a moment to breathe, make apologies and introductions and learn the following:
The blood-and-honey-grimed bearfolk are Gunvldyr (use war priest, Creature Codex) and her hulking brother Adelbert, a bearfolk chieftain (see Creature Codex). The ursine siblings are Bjornrike huscarls and leaders of this ragtag mercenary company, a mix of dwarven reavers, cantonal mercenaries, and professional adventurers. They’re currently under hire to “special military interests” in Johzt and tasked with (volunteered for) ambushing a particular Morgau envoy.
With their company positioned and dug in before mid-morning, the bearfolk took time to double-back, to investigate promising “bee-sign” passed by earlier. They unwisely left the boisterous company alone with two clerics of the brew and roughly 12 hours to kill.
Buried for hours, bored, anxious, and with no message from “topside” indicating friend-or-foe, the now-more-than-half-drunk ambush team, relying on badger tremorsense, sprung their trap.
The instant the teller ends the tale, a red-fletched crossbow bolt neatly pierces her throat.
Encounter 3: Cattle Drive
You turn to see four ebon-clad knights on silent, skeletal warhorses charging from the mists, two lower lances.
Developments. Sometime during round 2 (GM’s discretion), a second party crests the fog-shrouded hilltop. The envoy that the bearfolk’s band lay in wait for has arrived. The voyra (baronet) Masha Spahn and her escort Radomir are two (shroud-eater) vampire patricians (see Creature Codex) riding shadhavar (see Tome of Beasts). Masha Spahn gains the variant vampire warlock’s (see Tome of Beasts) Innate Spellcasting ability.
Clinking behind them, a chain-line of collared and shackled dwarves stumble. The cattle drive’s whipmaster is the prisoners’ former-commander-turned-(corrupted) dwarf graveslayer, their battlefield betrayer. The bearfolk company’s eagerness for this assignment now becomes plain.
Radomir and the corrupted graveslayer attack. Masha remains with her “livestock,” spellcasting from range while evocatively proffering all manner of political, material, and vampiric enticements to PCs. Once two vampires fall, Masha flees west toward Heiderbirg.
The fate of heroes vanquished by Masha Spahn’s entourage is too gruesome to detail here and is left to GM creativity.
PCs overcoming the undead entourage (or joining them) will find themselves with new allies, enemies, and options. What of Gunvldyr’s (or Masha’s) invitation to join forces? What about PC’s prior commitments, and what was so important about those bees that bearfolk would potentially compromise a mission? And lest anyone forget, it’s now well past sunset, and they’re thirty miles deep into vampire country and accompanied by thirteen half-starved POWs.
Encounters have consequences. Every slain bandit has friends who will want revenge, and every devil banished back to the Eleven Hells reports its failure to its dark lord. What happens when the PCs’ daring deeds come back to bite them?
These encounter chains are more than just random conflicts. Each event flows organically into the next, sometimes without giving PCs the chance to catch their collective breath. Each link in the chain subsequently ups the stakes and the complexities of an encounter, thereby giving characters a sense of… out of the frying pan, into the fire!