View Full Version : Old School Three Hags and a Banshee - OSR super adventure/mini campaign

2016-08-22, 04:48 PM
This is a concept for an OSR campaign covering level 1 to 4 and sticking relatively close to Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons. It's at the same time a first attempt of writing an actual game things for my Ancient Lands setting.
I am planning to run this as an online campaign next winter, refine it, get some other groups to playtest it, refine it again, and then actually release it.

This is the same idea I have already talked about in another thread that started as gathering ideas for how to do a big adventure as I had in mind but then ended up mostly being about my ideas for backstory and so on. This thread is meant specifically for the development of that idea into an actual publishable adventure.

The Ancient Lands setting I've been working on for five years or so and which I used in my last three campaigns has it's own creatures with minimal overlap with the D&D Monster Manuals and it's not medieval European either. More like a Bronze Age version of 30s sci-fi Mars or Venus. Or Morrowind. But all the highly praised OSR adventures and settings of the last few years were set in worlds very different from classic D&D country (Vornheim, Red and Pleasant Land, Yoon-Suin, Qelong) and so I feel confident that this won't be an obstacle, but rather an asset.
That being said, the creatures mentioned in the title do not have the stats for either hags or banshees from AD&D or BASIC, but are very much incarnation of these archetypes.

The story so far
The Ancient Lands are a region on a forest world that has a long history of small civilizations appearing and then vanishing again after a couple of centuries with barely any trace. There are probably far more ruins than inhabited settlements and many of them can still be explored if someone rediscovers their location. Mortal humanoids have risen from primitive savagery only a thousand years ago. The civilizations that preceded them were the works of various fey people. The fey are still around but scattered throughout the vast wilderness instead of gathering in large numbers in cities and castles, as it has been their way for most of their own history.

500 years or so ago, four fey witches where exiled from the old castle inhabited by their band and retreated to a smaller abandoned keep on the edge of the large valley. They decided to create a powerful guardian that would drive their kin from the castle so they could rule the valley themselves. But they couldn't complete the guardian with their own magic power and eventually one of them was murdered by the other three who took her heart to give it to the guardian. In the fight their keep was burned down but the three managed to flee with the heart. They completed the guardian, drove their kin from the valley, and over time turned into hags. After having murdered their fourth companion none of them were trusting the others and each of them retreated to their own lairs instead of reclaiming the castle. The guardian was created by all three and they share their control over it, and without them coming to an agreement what to command it to do next it kept guardian the valleys against any intruders. While the fourth witch had been killed, her heart taken, and her body burned with the keep,it was not the end of her and she still haunts the ruin as a ghost, seeking revenge against the hags.

A hundred years ago wood elves settling along a nearby river build a new village not far from the valley of the hags. With the village growing over time their hunters went deeper into the surrounding forests and a few weeks ago were discovered by the guardian. Using its powers, it commanded the beasts of the forest to kill the hunters and attack the outlying farms close to the valley. The leader of the valley send a message to his chief in the town further down the river that he is in need of warriors to go hunt the monsters that come from the north and destroy their lairs. Both elven clansmen and wandering mercenaries are heading up the river for fame and riches.

The campaign concept
The map consists of the river with the village and farms and the forests to the north where the hags are living. The instruction to the players are easy: Go to the village and do something about the monster attacks. Aside from a willingness to explore the valley and and ending the threat the motivations of the characters and their methods to deal with the situation are up to the players. Whether they are there to help or get the reward doesn't matter. The situation in the village is an opportunity for adventurers, not a plot. The players will determine with their actions who will become an ally or an enemy and decide themselves who they want to help or oppose.
The setting of the adventure consists of two primary parts. The river with the village and the farms works as one spread out town that is under attack from the outside but at the same time is experiencing unrest on the inside, with different groups being interested in getting the PCs on their side to help them establishing order and improving protection against the beasts. While it may not look like one, the valley is effectively a megadungeon. It has the forest as the central hub area with ten ruins and caves branching off from it. Each of these sections has it's own inhabitants and only a few of them will start out as outright enemies of the players. Once the dangerous wild animals are overcome, these inhabitants can provide information about the source of the main threat, provide aid in fighting it, and possibly become allies.

Experience Points
The plan is that a group of six PCs will start at 1st level and reach at least 4th level by the end and might just make it to 5th if they do absolutely everything. 5th level fighters require 16,000 XP each, which means 96,000 XP for six of them, so I am going with 100,000 XP the party can potentially make. That's twice as much as it will take to reach 4th level, so even when a lot of it is missed or there's more PCs or dead characters get replaced by new 1st level ones, there is a pretty high certainty that the party will be mostly 4th level towards the end.
Only 10,000 of these XP can be gained through defeating enemies. Another 60,000 XP can be gained from finding treasure in the ruins or getting it as rewards from NPCs. The remaining 30,000 XP come from discoveries. 15,000 from finding unique sources of magical power and another 15,000 from figuring out what they do and how the players can use them. XP for defeating enemies are rarely worth the risk that comes with them. But poking around for hidden stuff really pays off.

I think 4 sessions per character level is always a good guideline, which translates to 12 to 16 sessions for this campaign. The nine smaller dungeons will be intended to fill one session each and the big one two or three. If it works as intended, this should make it work well for a campaign with irregular and changing players where each dungeon exploration works as its own adventure with some greater context for the regular players.

The players will start on their way to the village. In the village there will be many NPCs who can give them information about the area, tell them what people might be important, show them sites where the monsters have attacked, and give them directions to a handful of places that are rumored to have strange things going on. While following some of these clues they will meet more NPCs and find more clues that eventually should let them identify the guardian as being in command of the beasts and being controlled by the hags.
The hags and the guardian are each very dangerous for a 3rd level party. Fortunately the hags hate and distrust each other and none of them can control the guardian against the will of the others. Taking them on one by one is more doable, but there are also many ways the players can discover that will let them negate some of their dangerous powers or weaken them before a fight. Of course none of these methods are free and the players will need to get the help of various NPCs to get them.
In theory the players will be able to hunt down every single of these magical aids and make the fights against the hags pretty easy. So I decided to go with a soft time pressure. The enemy will not get stronger over time if the players don't hurry. That would make spending time on searching better weapons pointless. Instead the attacks will continue and NPCs keep dying. If they take too long there won't be much village left to save. But if the players feel they need more preparation it won't make the task harder for them.

Interesting Interactions
This is not going to be a straight dungeon crawl. Many of the NPCs have their own motivations that can make things more complicated but also benefit the party.

The Wind Hag
One of the three hags doesn't see the village as the greatest threat. Instead her main goal is to get rid of the other two hags. And she is even willing to make an offer to the players. If they kill the other two hags she will order the guardian away from the village and let the villagers hunt in the valley as long as they stay away from her mountain lair on the other side. But she also insists on keeping the guardian.

The Ghost
The ghost of the fourth witch wants revenge against the other three and is willing to help the PCs to destroy them. But even more she wants her heart back so she can reincarnate herself in a new body. This requires destroying the guardian first and then letting an evil witch loose on the valley.

The Village Leader
The leader of the village is an evil bastard. He's awful, but he doesn't have anything to do with the hags and wants them gone just as everyone else. He's a bit of a red herring and potentially an annoying obstacle who is getting in the way of the party. But he's an evil bastard who used to work as a mercenary and assumes that the PCs are as well unless they start to side with his enemies in the village.

Another Party
The village leader has called for warriors from everywhere and some of those who answered are a group of his old friends. They are also looking for the guardian and plan to destroy it, but they have very little concern about what else gets wreckd in the process. They are pretty much bandits protected by the village leader and hated by everyone at the river. And they are not happy about the idea of someone else getting the bounty.

The village elders
Most of the other elders of the village hate the leader and want him and his cronies gone. Some believe that his managing of the situation is making things only worse and look for an opportunity to get rid of him. And the party might be that opportunity. Unfortunately, the old leader is actually much better than them at keeping the village protected. It's not like the players should regret removing him if they do, but they might wish they had waited for a later moment with that.

There are three druids living in the forest at the edge of the valley. The guardian leaves them alone and they can provide a lot of information on clues the players might bring to them. They can also make amulets that protect against the charm ability of the hags but the players will have to get ingredients first.

Gnome camp
A group of gnomes is doing some mining in a camp not far from the village. They can make iron blades thst will deal double damage against the hags and the guardian but only if the party dealt with the monsters in the cave.

There's a group of goliath hunters in a far corner of the map who are exploring the region and who had a run in with the mercenary friends of the village leader. They assume the party is more of their kind and can either become enemies or allies depending on how the players handle it.

I want to go with a total of 10 dungeons. Not all will be necessary to explore to destroy the guardian and defeat the hags, but I think all of them should have a few useful items and some kind of prominent magic feature that the players might use in creative ways. Most won't be big and I aim for them to be completely done in a single session.

Wind Lair
The first hag lives in a cave under a big dead tree on a mountain on the far side of the valley. Her servants are four crow lords, who are humanoid crows who fight like berserkers and can turn into swarms of crows to fly. They like to make hit and run attacks, mostly at night.

Swamp Lair
The second hag lives in the swamp in the center of the valley.

Forest Lair
The third hag lives in a large system of seemingly empty tunnels haunted by shadows. (Though I admit that I have no good idea yet how to make it fun an it might be switched for something else.)

Burned Keep
This is where the four witches used to live after they were exiled. It's now haunted by the ghost and goes somewhat Silent Hill by filling with flames and smoke when being explored.

Ruined Castle
The castle where the fey band used to live is now completely abandoned. It's by far the largest of the dungeons and has a very central position at the edge of the swamp. There's a lot of treasure to be found there as the hags had no use for it after the guardian killed most of the inhabitants.

Gnome Cave
A large cave where some gnomes would like to mine, but giant insects are nesting deeper down.

Anicent Elven Tomb
A cave that was used by wild elves to bury their leaders centuries ago. Has some talismans to protect against spirits. Maybe the druids can make a magic weapon from the skull of an ancient shaman? (Though I'd like to keep undead reserved as special enemies in places of powerful demon magic. Not totally sure what else to put in a regular tomb.)

Flooded Pit
This ruin near the village is completely underground. There is only a large square hole in the ground with stairs leading down along the walls. Passages branch off to the sides but only the first three levels are accessible as the rest is flooded with water.
The Swamp Lair has magic to breath underwater and if the players remember it they can come back to explore the lower levels which have some really good stuff.


That's pretty much what I have so far. Currently I am still thinking about the investigation phase that will get the players to learn about the hags.
The backstory with the banished witches will probably be available only through getting the ghost to talk. Part of it might be gained from allying with the hag in the Wind Lair, but otherwise it will be simply three hags with a weird golem that guards their territory. Exploring thematically linked dungeons to further a goal should be the real meat of the adventure.