A Monster for Every Season: Summer 2
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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    ElfWarriorGuy

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    Default Culde Crossing: A Piece of Bottom-Up Worldbuilding

    I'm attempting an exercise in bottom-up worldbuilding; creating a small locale as the focal point for a story, and extrapolating a wider world from that. To that end, Culde Crossing; a village in an ancient/early-medieval type society. The lords of Ivy Court, the House of Frenga, hold this land in vassalage to some broader aristocratic structure that I haven't worked out. Sorry that the image quality isn't the best.

    Spoiler: The Map
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    Spoiler: Reading the Map
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    I've refrained from limiting myself to an absolute scale, but imagine that this area is about 4.5 miles from north to south tip, or about the distance you could walk in an hour and a half.

    The dotted black lines, in addition to denoting the boundaries of the fief, also divide the land by use; pastures, farmland, forest, marshland, etc. The color of green denotes land ownership:

    Pale green land is Freehold; land held either in common by the village, or by individual peasant families, though still subject to the legal jurisdiction of the manor court.

    Land in medium green (including the many strips of farmland) belongs directly to the Lord of Ivy Court, worked by a combination of his own household bondsmen and the village peasants via ancestral sharecropping agreements or rents.

    Land in dark green is in some way reserved for sacred use, see the bit about local religion below.


    Mount Gwithra is the dwelling place of the eponymous wild god, the graveyard is for the use of the chthonic god Black Gadah, the corpse-eater. The Visitor's Grove is meant to function like an all-purposes guest-residence for any divine beings that should happen to be passing through the area. On the shores of Battle Lake are two shrines. One is to venerate Tutingen, the legendary founder-hero of this region; the other is to ward away Annip, the great serpent-god that Tutingen fought and banished on the lakeshore.

    Several deities who are more widely worshipped find cult here, even if they do not have land dedicated to them: Carthia, the goddess of bridges and crossroads, is a natural patroness of a village located near both. Though Runin's gales are a terror to the northern coast-dwellers, this far south his rains are just enough to water the autumn plantings. Likewise Lyb, the goddess of the river to which the Culdestream is tributary, is propitiated for the good of the spring planting.

    I've made a few decisions regarding setting as a consequence of designing this map. Firstly, population size is fairly small per unit of land, since fairly primitive farming technologies will support only so many people. My own estimation is that this village houses roughly 500 people (in households averaging 10 people), another few dozen or so (fishermen, huntsmen, shepherds) dwell in more remote places in the fief, and about 50 people constitute the lord's own household (immediate family, free retainers, and bondsmen.) Of the peasants themselves, a few families own large tracts of the farmland, and a few own no land at all, but most families own somewhere between 10-15 acres.

    The lords of Culde Crossing, seated in the Ivy Court, are the House of Frenga, though they are newly come into the fief. Their traditional holdings are to the east; Frenga VI, patriarch of the house, married Gairne (the daughter of the previous lord of Culde Crossing) after the death of his first wife. Gairne, not Frenga, is actually ruler of these lands in her own name by inheritance from her father, though as Frenga's wife she is a member of his household and socially subordinate to him. Thus, when Frenga dies, she will retain rulership of the fief, which she will transmit to her children, while Frenga's larger holdings in the east will go to his son by his first wife.

    Second thing I've decided is that this civilization has not yet produced horses of a sufficient size and temperament to field true cavalry; thus the warrior aristocracy's primary military activity is as chariotry, hence the chariot track near the Court road. The lord of Ivy Court boasts eighteen chariot soldiers to his retinue, including his adult sons and fosterlings, meaning he can field six chariots with driver, bowman, and heavily-armored fighter. (Again, ancient-to-dark-ages technology, so "heavily armored" means mail, helmet, and shield.) The village peasants also owe a duty of military service, providing a certain number of troops based on land held. A typical levy for this fief (for conducting raids or joining a larger royally-commanded army) would be 80 men, but the entire adult male population can be called up in the event of invasion or other such crisis.

    If you have questions, critique, or want to spitball some contributions, I'd love to hear them.
    Last edited by Catullus64; 2021-08-16 at 09:22 PM.
    The desire to appear clever often impedes actually being so.

    What makes the vanity of others offensive is the fact that it wounds our own.

    Quarrels don't last long if the fault is only on one side.

    Nothing is given so generously as advice.

    We hardly ever find anyone of good sense, except those who agree with us.

    -Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: Culde Crossing: A Piece of Bottom-Up Worldbuilding

    The Mushroom Eaters

    With the spring planting, giant grasshoppers emerged. The juvenile hoppers were under a foot long and couldn't fly. The farmers killed them on sight, but there were always more.

    Grasshoppers eat. A lot. They have grown to be about five feet long, and are becomming aggressive towards livestock and their handlers. The spring planting is likely to be ruined, and as spring comes to a close it is beginning to look like the summer planting will face similar issues.

    As a last hope before the peasants fire their fields, adventurers have been called in.

    Bounty!
    1 copper per grasshopper head.
    A reward of 500 gold is offered for whoever finds the source of and eliminates the pestillence.
    See Aldermun Hailee for details.

    Aldermun Hailee is a stern, thin older woman with fine white hair coiled over her head in an apparent attempt to conceal the fact that it is thinning. She is the local apothecary, midwife, and barber.

    "What details do you need? Kill the hoppers. If you can make them go away, when I am satisfied they are gone I will introduce you to His Lordship for your reward.
    Food and drink are at the inn, as are rooms. If you can't afford rooms, bed down between the fence and the road, and if you harass any of the locals His Lordship will send his men at arms.
    Any questions?"

    The hoppers are 1HD medium-sized on average though there are plenty of non-combatant small ones and an occasional 2 HD large, flying grasshopper.
    Clearing a field one day will only result in a field full of grazing hoppers the next.

    Clue: in the infested fields before the dew dries, tiny brown mushrooms can be found. A successful herbalism check will only let the PC know that the type is unknown. The apothecary will find it interesting, but will not know the mushroom either.

    If the PCs spend the night watching a field they will see 2-12 tiny hoppers emerge from the ground. If they have attempted to remain concealed there is a 1 in 6 chance they will also see 2-6 youths, some naked, and some wearing what appear to be gauzy gowns. The youths will emerge from the woods and frolic, sloshhng pitchers of liquid as they play. Near dawn they will pick handsfull of the tiny fungi and return to the woods.

    A clue for the obtuse:
    Mrs. Maglinty's milk cow becomes 15 feet tall! The talk of the village leads almost everyone to drop in on the widow who is trying to figure out how to milk it while it eats a haystack. In the ruins of the milking shed the manger is still filled with fodder, and it appears that some of the shrooms got mixed into the feed. After about six hours the cow returns to normal, and aside from fatigue, appears no worse for the wear.

    Experimental eating? (Are you nuts?)
    As can be expected, eating the shrooms will quadruple the eater's height. Experimenting, (animals will not ingest the mushroom willingly,) indicates that smaller subjects get a larger boost, so 12 foot tall chickens, (watch out! They are aggressive omnivores!)

    Chase the frolicking youths:
    Of course the frolicking youths are not from the village. They don't look like the locals, whose farm-tanned skin is unlike the milky white skin and golden hair of the frolickers. In fact, the locals will laugh at the 'joke' if the frolickers are discribed.
    Chasing or following the trail of the frolickers will lead the party into the nearby woods. When the sun rises the frolickers will seem to disappear.
    If one or more is captured, it will be seen that what appeared to be gauzy gowns on the females is actually wings that resemble damselfly wings. Both sexes will be docile, and agree with everything, and smile and wink a lot. And when the sun rises they will appear to vanish.
    Careful watchers will observe that they simply shrunk to about six inches.

    What?
    They are adolescent pixies, and their mushrooms are for fun, not malice. They will try to surrender before being killed, and try to flee rather than fight.
    Their human-sized cauldron is filled each morning with spring water and mushrooms, and each night on their frolicks they slosh it around so new mushrooms will grow.
    The giant grasshoppers are the result of the larvae eating the mushroom roots, and the adult hoppers stay large because they like the flavor. Keep them away from the shrooms for a day and they will revert to normal.

    Okay, the reward:
    The villagers won't believe this tale if the PCs allow the pixies to go with their promise to not plant their shrooms in the farmers' fields. At least one pixie has to stay to confess, (and demonstrate, if the village hasn't seen the cow.)

    His Lordship will accept the story if, after two weeks, the infestation is over. Farmers will be warned to eradicate the mushrooms if things start getting big again.

    If all of the pixies survive, as the last one is freed, a male will offer each PC a dried mushroom that will mimic the Enlarge spell, and a female will offer each a dried flower which will mimic the Aid spell.

    Finally, if the confessing pixie was befriended and treated with dignity, she will offer to stay on as henchman to the friend and if she earns exp, she will level up as the same class as her mentor.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    ElfWarriorGuy

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    Default Re: Culde Crossing: A Piece of Bottom-Up Worldbuilding

    First a note to Brian333 for the excellent starting quest. It really captures the tone of what I'm going for, though I may swap out the names and some of the supernatural beings in places to fit my own aesthetics. It's also good because it not only introduces key characters in the village, but ultimately provides access to the local lord, and thus is an in for characters to become involved in the political/aristocratic sphere. Here's what I'm thinking:

    As mentioned before, Frenga VI is not technically the lord of this land. Rather, it belongs to his wife, Gairne, sole surviving child of the previous lord. Gairne and Frenga have four children, the oldest of which, named Alnic for his maternal grandfather, is not quite fourteen. Frenga has an adult son (also named Frenga, who we'll call Frenga the Good) from his first marriage. Frenga the Good does not live here, but on his father's larger and richer estates to the east around Giantsbridge where he grew up.

    Frenga VI is sick and on his deathbed. When he dies, his lands in the east and their seat at Giantsbridge will all go to Frenga the Good. Although legally, Gairne will retain her lordship over Culde Crossing, the usual custom dictates that she will appoint a male relative as guardian over her estate. The likely candidates are either her uncle Gairnon, who served in the role before she married Frenga, and Frenga the Good, her stepson.

    When Frenga dies, however, there is a twist. His marriage to Gairne was loving and respectful, and even though he possessed familial authority over her, he allowed her to have the management of her lawful fief; she has grown accustomed to rule, and is now quite skilled at it. As such, when her husband dies, she names no guardian, but resolves to rule Culde Crossing alone (somethin she is within her legal rights to do, but pushes against social expectation). Her uncle, who is old and trusts her, is unconcerned by this.

    Frenga the Good is not so philosophical. He thinks quite well of himself: he is lord over a great estate, a proven soldier, descended from a great house on his father's side, and is a relative of the king via his deceased mother. He views his guardianship over his stepmother's estate as right and natural, and her refusal as nothing short of a personal affront. Incensed by this, his scheming begins ere his father's corpse is cold. He begins to call upon other nearby nobles, friends of both households, and arranges for an audience with the king. He is taking the temperature, assessing how others will react if he should move against his stepmother. And he is steadily assuring himself that if he attacks his stepmother, wins, and forces her to name him guardian over her estate, the other lords, and possibly even the king, will look the other way, being wary of sole female rule. Once he is in that position, he can not only extract revenue from Culde Crossing's rich tolls and farmland, but also have control over Gairne's heirs (though he tells himself, now, that of course he will not harm his step-siblings).

    Gairne suspects that her stepson is laying plots. When she hears of the strangers who solved the mystery of the giant hoppers, she sees potential minions. She decides that since they are strangers, they will make better spies than her own household, who might be recognized. She therefore summons them to the Ivy Court, and offers them a generous sum to infiltrate Frenga's court at Giantsbridge. Since Giantsbridge is a prosperous town, people come and go frequently, even from the court. She wishes them to report to her about comings and goings, who Frenga meets with, and (if possible) what conversations there are in his chambers. The money she offers them is to help cover the expenses of the infiltration, with more promised if they bring her useful information. Of course she has the strangers swear a dire oath upon the altar of Gwithra, which will bring horrid curses down upon them should they betray her.
    Last edited by Catullus64; 2021-08-19 at 11:24 AM.
    The desire to appear clever often impedes actually being so.

    What makes the vanity of others offensive is the fact that it wounds our own.

    Quarrels don't last long if the fault is only on one side.

    Nothing is given so generously as advice.

    We hardly ever find anyone of good sense, except those who agree with us.

    -Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: Culde Crossing: A Piece of Bottom-Up Worldbuilding

    The One-Eyed Smith

    Not long after the onset of His Lordship's illness a new smith arrived in The Crossing. He called himself Unien (yoo-NIGH-yen) the Unlucky. He wears a leather patch on his left eye, his right eye is blue, and his hair is brown. He shaves, but his five o'clock shadow is black, except for his brown moustache.

    When asked about his eye he tells one of at least twenty improbable yarns.
    He had a wizard make a spell to keep an eye on his cheating wife.
    He plucked it out when a demon possed it and made him look at bad things.
    He was in the Battle of the Three Fields, (thirty years ago, so he'd have been about five,) where he almost dodged a javelin.
    He doesn't even try to pretend he is telling the truth about it.

    His arrival was fortunate because the young smith got a good job in Giantsbridge just a few weeks before, and the elder Smith was having a hard time keeping up. Unien turns out to be a good smith, is friendly, and makes darts and metal figurines for the local children. He can also be counted on to spot anyone for an ale in the evening.

    Mrs. Walerson is the wife of the local booklender and school teacher. She has a reputation for infidelity, and was last seen in the company of Unien two nights ago.

    Mr. Walerson insists that she came home intoxicated and they had a (verbal) fight, which ended with him throwing her out. He claims she said she was going back to Unien's apartment behind the smithy.

    The neighbors admit to hearing the fight, but it was very late and they weren't paying attention to yet another Walerson row.

    Unien insists the woman never got to his apartment after the fight. He only reluctantly admits that she was there before. He contacts the PCs and begs them to find her and clear his name.

    "She's not dead! At least, if she is, I didn't do it! That twit of a husband might have killed her out of jealousy, or, who knows? She might be out on the road now, putting miles between her and that bookworm.
    Find her! Prove it was him that did it before they hang me!"

    The players must investigate and find either the wife or her body. They will need proof of who killed her if she is dead. A satisfactory conclusion, (a live victim or a hanging,) will convince His Lordship that the PCs are the ones to help with his problem in Giantsbridge.

    What happened:
    The wife returned to the smithy where her lover slept. She was readying herself to get back in bed with him when she noticed that his eyepatch had slipped, and that he had no eye injury. He woke then and when his eyes opened she saw that he had heterochromia. The patch concealed his green eye.

    There is one person in the realm with this condition: one of His Lordship's heir's loyal companions, Delthar.

    Sir Delthar is famous for his wits and his narrow escapes, and as a loyal companion he would only be here under orders.

    His leige sent him to keep an eye on the village and to asses what would have to be done to quickly assume power when His Lordship finally dies. Revealing his presence would imply his purpose and implicate his leige. He killed Mrs. Walerson to keep the secret of his mission.

    The victim was rendered unconcious with a fireplace poker that was afterwards cleaned. Two or three strands of the victim's hair is on the fireplace mantle.

    The victim was then transported to the back of the school and buried in a shallow grave beneath the woodpile. The blanket that was used to conbeal her and the shovel that dug her grave were tossed in the unused tool shed of the teacher.

    The teacher is not in the physical condition to carry a body, nor to move and restack a woodpile and dig a grave. Inspecting his hands one cannot find splinters, blisters, or cracked nails. An empty potion bottle may have contained a Strength potion, or as he claims, a syrup for his hay fever.

    If things are looking bad for the smith he will offer all of the masterwork weapons in his inventory as a bribe so the PCs will notice the evidence against the bookworm and ignore the evidence against him.

    When a hanging date is set the smith will either break out of jail or break the school teacher out. The smith will do all he can to remain in the village, but if he must flee he simply goes back to Giantsbridge and resumes his old life.
    Last edited by brian 333; 2021-08-19 at 06:50 PM.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    ElfWarriorGuy

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    Default Re: Culde Crossing: A Piece of Bottom-Up Worldbuilding

    More good stuff. Only thing I would iron out (and this doesn't seem too important to what you've got going on) is the occupation of the man whose wife is killed. This is very much a society where literacy is at a premium, and a rural village like this wouldn't have much call for its own school.
    The desire to appear clever often impedes actually being so.

    What makes the vanity of others offensive is the fact that it wounds our own.

    Quarrels don't last long if the fault is only on one side.

    Nothing is given so generously as advice.

    We hardly ever find anyone of good sense, except those who agree with us.

    -Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: Culde Crossing: A Piece of Bottom-Up Worldbuilding

    Quote Originally Posted by Catullus64 View Post
    More good stuff. Only thing I would iron out (and this doesn't seem too important to what you've got going on) is the occupation of the man whose wife is killed. This is very much a society where literacy is at a premium, and a rural village like this wouldn't have much call for its own school.
    Perhaps the village scribe? He writes, and reads, important things for the villagers, like contracts and such. (Thom agrees to hatch out 25 biddies for Jeth in the spring in exchange for new thatch on his cottage before the frost.)

    The villagers don't understand why he is obsessed with books.

    Villager at the inn: "Why, he must have a whole wall of his cot lined with them! At least thirty! That's more reading than a man can do in a lifetime!"

    Tavern wench: "Too bad none of them books tell him how to keep his wife happy!"

    In a town he would be a notary and he would be licensed by the local leadership. In a small village he would be paid in eggs and produce. He might receive a stipend from the lord to maintain his services for the village. This might come from a teaching position for the children in the manor or from tallying the annual harvest.

    In any case, I envisioned him in a low-pay, low-status job that does not require physical labor.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: Culde Crossing: A Piece of Bottom-Up Worldbuilding

    Old Galf

    A tall, thin, black male with a shaved head and face. His clothing is fringed, home made buckskin. His boots are of boar hide and likewise home made. His walking stick is taller than he is and it has a curve: the observant will realize it is an unstrung bow. A quiver of arrows hangs at his left hip, mostly fletched with black feathers. On his right hip is a handaxe with a stone head and just forward of that is a wooden handle sticking out of a belt sheath. He also wears a backpack which matches the rest of his gear, but which is less than half full.

    He comes into the village for a few hours every three months or so to trade furs and hides for salt and flour. He doesn't speak unless spoken to. When he does he speaks in a deep bass.

    He never smiles, but is polite and friendly. He never laughs. The villagers all know him, but anyone asking about him quickly realizes the villagers know nothing about him.

    "Old Galf, yes, he's been around since I was a kid. I'm 35, so he must be 70 at least."

    "He lives in a cabin over in Thornberry Hollow, they say. I've never been there."

    "He talks to animals. Some folk say he used to be a bear that a wizard turned into a man."

    He trades animal hides in the general store and he places a clay pot of honey on the bar for an ale before he heads back into the woods.

    He doesn't live in Thornberry Hollow, and his 'cabin' is a 12 foot round dugout with a sod roof supported by the roots of a hollow tree, which he uses for his chimney. He has very few possessions and owns nothing of metal.

    He has lived in the region for almost 80 years, but appears to be no older than fifty.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: Culde Crossing: A Piece of Bottom-Up Worldbuilding

    The Great Fortress of La'esa

    A perfectly circular mesa of red stone block stands at the center of a circular plain. The outer ring of the plain is made of local bedrock which is broken into many gargantuan slabs which appear to have once been vertical, but all have since been pushed inward and lie broken or tilted and slope away from the center.

    This nearly perfect circular ring is 4 miles from the central mesa and it is broken in many places, with many gullies and washes at the level of the inner plain creating level paths and roads through the ring of hills that form the perimeter of the plain.

    Trees and shrubs line the foot of the nearly 80 foot escarpment so that the plain, which is actually a little higher than the surrounding terrain, appears to be a sunken bowl. Hundreds of small caves and abandoned obsidian mines line the inside of the escarpment, and a few small ponds can be found in the shadow of the ring.

    The central tower is a little more than three miles around at its base and about 600 feet tall. Its top appears flat from below, but it is a 1 square mile pine forest with an extremely cold and deep lake in the center of a ring of gentle hills.

    The sides of the mesa are heavily weathered, and a conical spill pile sits at its base concealing the bottom 150 feet of the tower.

    Legends say that in ancient times giants or gods built the fortress, but the war that destroyed its outer walls is now long forgotten.

    An ancient empire which ruled the region claimed that their chief god dwelt there and the site was the center of their empire. When the barbarian hordes destroyed the empire, their last emperor, La'esa the Great, (known as The Butcher to the barbarian hordes,) moved his remaining population and armies there and waged a terrible war against the barbarians.

    Some say his campaigns of wholesale slaughter and acts of cruelty on a grand scale were too much for even the gods of the empire, for after twenty years of successful battles which resulted in an ever shrinking population and consequent loss of territory, his last army retreated to the fortress after razing former empire towns now owned by barbarians. The fortress was abandoned, with nothing taken. Prepared meals rotted on the table or in cooking pots, quarters were clean and neat, and livestock grazed in their fields and pens.

    When the last army surrendered they were disarmed, branded on the face, and left to live as they wished in the fortress. Within the year the fortress was vacant, but through desertion rather than mystical causes.

    The site is cursed, they say. Over the ages since, bandits and warlords have attempted to use the fortress, but they never last more than a year or two before they are wiped out. Retreating armies have tried to defend the fortress, but there are too many ways in and they seldom last longer than a few weeks. Civilians have tried to cultivate the fertile plains, only to move away after a failed harvest or two.

    Wildlife has no trouble there, nor do the La'esa goats, rumored to be descended from the last herd of the empire. Their distinct spiral horns discourage predation and their nimble feet allow them to browse on the nearly vertical walls of giant red blocks.

    Emperor La'esa is remembered primarily as an example to young military officers about the perils of winning battles which have no military objectives.
    Last edited by brian 333; 2021-08-21 at 11:08 AM.

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