Approximate time to read: 5 minutes.
A brief adventure designed for a group of 0 Experience characters (see The Symbaroum Funnel for more thoughts on using characters with no or little Experience).
The adventure can easily be run as an event from long past – back in old Alberetor – or more recent history, in the outback of rural Ambria or near the northern edges of corrupt Alberetor.
On the Road
While traveling along the road − perhaps from a trip to the local market, returning from – or searching for – work or moving between inns as nomadic entertainers − the characters come level with a man struggling under the weight of a wooden wheel. He explains that he had an accident, his cart got damage and he walked to the last settlement to retrieve a wheel to mend his transport. He’s a rangy chap by the name of Cereno; a tinker by trade, selling goods from settlement to settlement. He has long brown hair, gray eyes, and sharp cheekbones. He appears old – [Discreet] and looking long and hard at his features, if he isn’t old then he’s showing serious signs of fatigue and sleep-deprivation.
Use the Cult Follower stats (p211) for Cereno, swapping the score for Strong and Cunning, giving him a Pain Threshold of 4. Instead of a mask he has a cart, with some trade goods, a week’s worth of provisions, and a strongbox containing coin (8o, 6s, 2t), a bottle of cheap, strong spirits and whatever else you might care for him to carry. Cereno also carries a knife; he has a sword in one of the sacks on the slope below.
The strongbox has a trap with spring-loaded metal teeth. A character needs to roll a [Strong−3] test to disarm the trap and open the box – or suffer a tearing wound that delivers 1D6 damage.
Ask if anyone offers to take the load for a while – in which case he accepts with relief, rubbing at his sore shoulder. He briefly explains his situation and the problem with the wheel but comes across as overwhelmed and worn down. Despite his build, he seems smaller with every leaden step.
Does anyone engage him in conversation? Then, he speaks with a slight accent [Cunning] that suggests he’s from the south of Alberetor originally, but he’s a long way from home.
As the group travels, the road rises and takes a snaking route along the side of a low valley. Off to the left, a stream runs along the bottom, silvery and fast flowing. A spattering of rocks and fat, rounded bushes litter the valley floor. When within half a kilometer of the cart, the character can appreciate Cereno’s situation – the cart stood precariously on the edge of the trail leaning hard to the left, clearly missing a wheel. A horse stands close to the cart clipping the short grass close to the trail. A couple of sacks lie on the ground – [Vigilant] and a couple more sacks and a box lie halfway down the slope of the valley, which has become steeper and more pronounced as they characters traveled.
Cereno goes pale and starts running toward the cart.
What do the players do?
Ask them and count down from THREE to ZERO.
All the players can answer, first come first served. If someone answers then the others pause, carry on with the countdown from wherever you left off!
If they move forward to assist Cereno, [Vigilant−1] they spot movement, coming from the left and behind them, up the slope.
If they state that they stay back and refuse to assist Cereno, [Vigilant+1] they see [number equal to players−1] wild dogs come up the slope from the left, heading toward the tinker. In this instance, anyone with a bow has time to nock an arrow and fire off one shot.
If they fail to offer any decisions and actions, they can take only Free Actions for the first round of combat.
For the wild dogs, use the Jakaar stats from The Promised Land (p252).
The wild dogs appear fearless and attack all human targets, ignoring the horse. Indeed, anyone asking / checking will see that the horse has been unharmed in the time Cereno has been away and only moves away, to a safe distance, when combat starts against the dogs.
Anyone who failed to react can defend themselves but, otherwise, they will not get a chance to prepare anything or attack.
Run through two rounds of combat, including the round where the dogs might have a free attack against the unprepared. One dog will attack Cereno leaving (at least) one character free to act without challenge.
At the end of the second round, Cereno tumbles down the hill, smashing into the side of the box and coming to rest next to one of the sacks. He will have lost his footing either from the attack by the dog or simply having panicked too close to the edge.
A character would need to make a Quick or Strong test at −2 to reach Cereno’s body without falling. A fall will cause 1 Toughness damage and leave the character prone.
At Quick 10 (last to act if anyone else has Quick 10) in the third round, a Dragoul (p230) breaks free from the shattered box and moves down the hill toward the prone form of Cereno.
Note: The Dragoul is physically weak and retains only Iron Fist (novice) and Toughness 10. However, the creature possesses a Trait called Dominate Beast (III). Virtually identical to Bend Will (p132), it serves only as a means to control Beasts and compel them by tapping into animal drives, rather than specific orders. Here the Dragoul has urged the dogs to attack the group through ravenous hunger but it couldn’t have them complete a complex task, like protecting a door or stealing an artifact.
Taking account of the changes in the Symbaroum Errata update, the correct Weapon stats of this Dragoul are Sword damage 5 (normally 7, due to Iron Fist at Adept level) and no Shield Bash.
In the fourth round, the Dragoul will attack Cereno, delivering 5 damage (due to Advantage and after Armor reduction).
In the fifth round, the Dragoul will kill Cereno – and if attacked at long range will bend to bite, and consume, a chunk of meat – so as to heal 2 points of Toughness.
Thereafter, the Dragoul will move up to the road and join the attack against the characters.
If the characters can defeat the Dragoul, the wild dogs become less certain and once reduced to half their numbers need to test against Resolute or flee the fight.
After the battle, the characters will find Cereno has died – whether from blood loss, a wound to the head or having a Dragoul tear a chunk from his throat. Inspecting beneath the weathered clothes on the tinker’s corpse will reveal several thick, suppurating wounds on his torso and arms. Aside from the possessions already mentioned, a search of the cart will find a map scrawled on a scrap of parchment tucked between two slats of wood.
Inspection of the sacks will find corn in one and potato in the other. The shattered box contains loose earth [Medicus/Cunning] which appears to have been mixed with human blood.
- Where was Cereno going – and who knew about his movements?
- Why was he carrying an active specimen of the dead?
- Was Cereno attacked by the creature – or did he suffer his wounds retrieving it from somewhere else?
- Where does the map lead? Was it the source of the dead, the destination or somewhere else?
- What do the characters do with the bodies of the Dragoul and the tinker? (And what might happen if they do nothing?)
- Is anyone waiting for Cereno and what will they do when he doesn’t arrive? Will the characters become a target – as suspects, undesired witnesses or potential competition?
- What do the characters tell their friends, families or just the folk in the next village? If they don’t say anything, what suspicions might they raise when the cart and bodies come to the attention of others?