The Woe in Wealwood - Nathan Ross

edited July 23 in DesignFinder Chat

The Woe in Wealwood


Introduction

One by one, the people of Orrer’s Haining have begun to disappear while the local fey are driven to madness. As the PCs struggle to put the pieces together, they are forced to delve into the ancient Wealwood and discover the true reason for these disappearances. Finding the culprit, the PCs must confront a past tragedy if they are to prevent a doom encompassing the town and woods alike.

The Woe in Wealwood is a horror-tinged mystery for 4th-level characters, progressing to 5th-level by its conclusion.


Adventure Background

On the passing of his father, Andres Vilruk, last heir of the Vilruk line, returned to his ancestral home with his young wife to take up his duties to both the people and the Wealwood.

For several years they lived happily, deeply in love. They had a son, who they both cherished.

They were happy.

One year ago, Andres unknowingly woke a malicious fey entity within the wood. It stalked him, following him back to Wealwood Manor and in the dead of night, attacked. For two nights, Andres Vilruk drove back the creature but on the third, it overwhelmed him. It slew his wife and took his son.

Overwhelmed by grief and anger, Andres staggered about his home until, by chance, he found a diary. The diary was his ancestor’s. Within its pages, it described a hidden and protected ring of stones, deep within the Wealwood. It told of the power they possessed to bridge the gap between life and death and the terrible price that must be paid to do so. Grief-stricken but resolved, Lord Vilruk knew that he must seek these stones and bring back his family.

Whatever the cost.


Adventure Outline

Lord Vilruk has discovered an ancient stone circle within the Wealwood which, with human and fey sacrifices, can resurrect his wife. He has been abducting the townsfolk of Orrer’s Haining, ritually murdering them within the woods to create powerful haunts to drive out the guardians and fey that would stop him from reaching the circle. The use of the circle for such a foul ritual would irrevocably taint the surrounding land.

Key Characters

Lord Andres Vilruk (human ranger/spiritualist)

The last heir of the Vilruk line, Andres is haunted by the death of his family, uncaring that he inflicts this same pain upon the people of Orrer’s Haining in his efforts to bring them back.

Bors Hannov (human fighter)

An older, sad-eyed gentleman, Bors has been in service to the Vilruk family for most of his adult life and is devoted to the family. He assists Lord Vilruk in his plans and while he despairs at the loss of life, his loyalty is thus far unswayed.

Anika Fel (changeling witch)

Recruited by Lord Vilruk to assist in the ritual to resurrect his wife, Anika is enticed by the forbidden magic offered by Lord Vilruk. She has convinced him to capture several fey creatures so that she may vivisect and study them more closely.

Kosche, the Heart-shorn (new monster)

The fey entity that attacked Wealwood Manor one year ago. Kosche has hidden its heart within the skull of Lord Vilruk’s son, whose soul remains trapped alongside Kosche’s heart.

The heart-shorn are a new monster introduced in this module.

Heart-shorn are prideful fey creatures, gradually driven mad by their own desire for immortality.

By removing their heart and hiding it in the skull of one of their victims, a heart-shorn ensures that it cannot be slain. However, memories and aspects of its victim’s personality slowly bleed into the heart-shorn’s own mind, driving it mad.

Those who gain control of their heart may compel a heart-shorn to serve them.

Hooks

The PCs arrive at the town of Orrer’s Haining to take part in the winter solstice - invited by their friend Cerianna, a local druid or having heard of magical blessings bestowed during the celebrations.

Opening

A loud crack echoes through the inn as a small, hairy creature (a domovoi) appears on the bar. “Woe! Woe!” it cries, banging its oaken staff upon the bar. As the patrons step back, the domovoi begins throwing objects about the room using its telekinetic abilities before disappearing with a second crack.

Disappearances in Orrer’s Haining

In its wake, the PCs learn of a string of disappearances, the most recent of which is Cerianna and that several local fey spirits have also vanished or are behaving strangely.

The PCs have several avenues of investigation within the local area.

  • A nearby farmstead has been abandoned after the farmer’s son-in-law disappeared. An ovinnik is said to live within their mill. It is prickly and initially hostile towards the PCs. If they are able to gain its favor, the ovinnik tells them of sprites fleeing the Wealwood, driven out by a madness that now inhabits it. The PCs may be able to convince the ovinnik to use its divination ability to provide additional, though cryptic insight into the events in the town. If the PCs provoke the ovinnik, a conflict inside the mill filled with flour dust against a flame-wielding fey may have explosive results.

  • A local medium is able to contact the spirit of one of the missing townsfolk. The PCs must assist her in placating the spirit. Success reveals that the spirit is trapped somewhere within the Wealwood and raises grim questions regarding the other missing people.

  • A hedge witch, Anika, has been traveling the local area for the past several months, offering cures and charms. Recently, she has been selling grotesque fetishes resembling mummified sprites, claiming they will protect against the unruly fey. Several locals believe she may be behind the disappearances.

  • The PCs are advised to seek the counsel of the local lord, Andres Vilruk, before heading into the Wealwood. His servant and man-at-arms, Bors, offers to escort them to the manor. On the road, they are attacked by an emaciated fey creature, referring to itself as Kosche. Bors seems shaken by the encounter, as Kosche was the name of Lord Vilruk’s son. On arriving at the manor, Lord Vilruk is extremely interested in the fey creature and offers the PCs a reward if they can discover its lair.

Into the Wealwood

Investigations within the town lead the PCs into the Wealwood in search of answers. A number of encounters reveal the motives and stakes behind the disappearances.

  • The PCs encounter one of the haunts created by Vilruk and the fey driven mad by its presence.

  • A guardian of the stone circle has been displaced by the haunts. It offers the PCs information about the stone circle and a dire warning about what may happen if it is used improperly.

  • The PCs stumble upon a sleeping fey king, bound to slumber until the Vilruk bloodline is no more.

  • Encountering Kosche again, the PCs can trick it into revealing the location of his heart.

A Midnight Chase

Returning from the Wealwood, the PCs are woken on their first night back in the inn by the sound of Lord Vilruk as he kidnaps the innkeeper’s daughter. A chase through the town ensues, with Lord Vilruk escaping but not before the PCs are able to confirm his identity.

Wealwood Manor

In pursuit of Lord Vilruk, the PCs arrive at Wealwood Manor but find no sign of him. Exploring the manor, the PCs encounter several haunts and learn of the tragedy that occurred one year ago. They encounter Bors, who remained at the manor in order to delay the PCs. However, by revealing the consequences of Vilruk’s ritual, the PCs may be able to gain his aid.

Within the manor’s stables are several of the fey, caged in cold iron. Grateful to be rescued from Anika’s experiments, they tell the PCs that Vilruk headed into the wood, taking one of the captured dryads with him. They offer to lead the PCs to the stone circle.

Ritual at the Stones

A ring of massive stone monoliths seems to throb with a heavy energy.

As the PCs arrive, the ritual is already underway and Lord Vilruk stands ready to defend Anika. If the PCs have shared the location of Kosche’s heart with Lord Vilruk, he will have retrieved his son’s skull and will be assisted by the heart-shorn. Should the ritual succeed, the innkeeper’s daughter will be sacrificed and the soul of Lord Vilruk’s wife will possess the body of the captured dryad.


Conclusion

Provided they defeat Lord Vilruk, the adventure may end in several ways, not all of them a happily ever after. The death of Lord Vilruk or the success of the ritual spell a slow doom for the mortals settled around the Wealwood either from slow corruption or unbound fey. Should the PCs prevent the ritual and avoid killing Lord Vilruk, the spirits of his victims can be put to rest. By destroying the heart-shorn’s heart, a bittersweet scene occurs as the spirits of Lord Vilruk’s wife and son are reunited.


Comments

  • edited July 24

    Hi Nathan; congrats on getting to the final round of DesignFinder. I'm excited to check out your adventure pitch and see what we think.

    The Title: The juxtaposition of woe and weal makes sense, and it's got a strong focus on a location, which is typically one of the things to spotlight in the name. Even without knowing anything else, you can see there's some danger in a forest. I do think it may be overly alliterative: That's a tricky area to play around with, and I think this may be more tongue-twisty than we might hope for.

    The Plot: I think you've got a nice, straight-forward plot. Family has suffered a tragedy and the survivor is seeking a way to undo it, in this case with a ritual that demands his do evil acts, essentially. The PCs have to stop him. Nice and clear.

    The Details: I'm going to go through the adventure and give some running commentary as I go, things I like and things that may be problematic.

    * I like the summary of key characters here, and many of the choices you've made (though I do wish you had included levels, as that would have given us more insight into your thoughts). I like using newer rules, so the spiritualist is a nice touch, though I do wonder if whose spirit Andres is connected to (his wife's?).

    * I was a bit confused by Kosche at first, until I realized that's the name of this specific monster, while heart-shorn is the general name of the monster being introduced. I don't think I love that name -- it feels to me at least a little too much like Kostchtchie, though that may be just me. I'm also not sure its motivations make a ton of sense to me; immortality doesn't feel like something fey are motivated by that much. I think  maybe just having them be creepy creatures that hide their hearts in other folks would have been a better option, maybe something with a slight redcap feel to it. I think having the heart interred in the dead son's skull might also be crossing the line (it might not for some, but I could see it being an issue).

    * The hooks feel fine to me, though it's missing the comma after "a local druid," which is one of a few spots where I felt like another proofreading pass would have been helpful. I was more intrigued by the magical blessings, which unfortunately were never picked up on again.

    * Opening. On one hand this is nicely cinematic, but on the other, I'm not sure it's really going to draw PCs in. It's a fey acting oddly, so ... ? I think I'd rather have seen a festival introduction in which the PCs might be able to get a short-term blessing, but which also could have introduced some NPCs to make the players care about them. Perhaps one of them disappears before the final challenge (hopefully vs. a PC), and that prompts them to investigate (maybe while the now-unchallenged PC expected to be awarded the blessing by forfeit, he/she is told instead that they will get it, but must find out where the competitor is, as anyone who would simply take it by forfeit clearly isn't worthy; basically use that disappearance to get the investigation under way).

    * I love the fight with the fiery fey in the flour mill. I've lost track of the number of times PCs have wanted to use flour with fire to create a boom, and this would be really memorable, I think. Great encounter. (I do wish it had given the source for the ovinnik, and the domavoi before it, but it looks like you had no words to spare.) In general, I like that you've given several avenues for investigation, all of which seem interesting.

    * The Into the Wealwood section concerns me, as I'm not sure how much information the PCs will glean from it. Unfortunately, the pitch is really full and I think this area got skimped on a little. I'm not sure how the players would know they could trick Kosche, when I'm guessing they'll attack it immediately considering it attacked them earlier (and this is also relying on Kosche escaping the earlier attack, which could be an issue).

    * A Midnight Chase is unfortunately even more problematic. I'm not sure the PCs would feel the need to return to the town at all. I suspect many would head straight for the ring of stones. More importantly, this relies on a chase that the PCs need to lose. That's frustrating for the players, and if not done right, the whole adventure could end right there. We may never get to the last two sections of the adventure if the PCs have some way to not let him escape (hold person, perhaps?). (That said, I really do like that you included a chase mechanic, as that's a lesser-used ruleset, and I think a fun one.)

    * In the Ritual at the Stones, the son's skull comes up again, and here it's starting to be pretty gruesome for the father to be wielding it. It's also possibly got child sacrifice involved, which is an area some people think goes too far (it doesn't say how old the innkeeper's daughter is, so this might be irrelevant).

    * I kind of like that the solution is to NOT kill Andres and the grand reward is the mother and son's spirits getting to go off happily into the afterlife, but I'm not sure that would be satisfying for the PCs. I think they're going to be unsure what to do with Andres (he apparently murdered a handful of people at the very least, so is hardly fit to rule) and there doesn't seem to be any good options. If the area's taming is tied to his bloodline, they can't even really just lock him away forever, as it still sets the clock ticking for the area. Maybe that's intentional to allow more options for further adventures, but I don't know that it's the best choice for a standalone module.

     --

    Unfortunately, I think this adventure pitch has a few too many issues for me. While many of them can be cleaned up, I think a large section of the middle of the module (involving the first trip into the Wealwood and then the return to town and midnight chase) would have to be dramatically changed. Because of this, I do not recommend this be the inaugural DesignFinder contest winner.

     





  • Note for readers: I added links to the contestants' work in previous rounds in each of the pitches.

  • Hi Nathan, and welcome to the final round of DesignFinder! My comments will be briefer than Neil's and Jacob's and will hit the highlights and my overall recommendation.

    The title of your adventure is my favorite among the four pitches. I love its self-contradictory nature. The potential hooks are direct (I would suggest tying the blessings to a malady one of the PCs or a friendly NPC suffers). I like the multiple avenues of investigation you provide to get to the root of the mystery, and they suit different styles of play. The use of haunts makes sense in the context of the adventure (however, I would have liked a sample haunt or a general idea of how the haunts manifest). I definitely appreciate you acknowledging all the possible conclusions.

    Apart from the concerns noted above, I found a couple of places where the PCs have things happen to them or around them with no chance for them to intervene. The opening scene is cinematic, but players may not like sitting around while the domovoi does its thing. The chase scene would also frustrate players, but I see an easy fix by replacing Lord Vilruk with a lieutenant. If the PCs catch the lieutenant, they gain direct information about Vilruk. Otherwise, they gain a clue to the villain's identity.

    There are a few items that would need changes to make this work, so I do not recommend this be considered as the overall winner. However, this would be fun to develop, despite the extra work, should it win.
  • Nathan, this adventure really grabbed me. Perhaps it is the fey and horror theme woven with tragic loss and desperation. I absolutely love the title and the summary is fantastic. From a publisher standpoint those are strong features to help it sell well. I love a good mystery and think this sounds like a wonderful adventure. I like the investigations and actually wouldn't mind 1 or 2 more. I also like how the encounters are woven throughout the adventure. Personally I like seeing alternative mechanics like the chase scene being used. The complexity of the Vilruk really creates a great villain. I would like to know more about the initial fey and why it stalked him. Did Vilruk do something to the fey; why was it malicious; etc? The new monster might need to be smoothed out a bit but I think the concept is great. A variety of endings is always good to see in an adventure. For these reasons I feel your adventure is a close second for the win.  
  • Hey, Nathan! Welcome to Design Finder…the spiritual successor to RPG Superstar, a competition that’s always been near and dear to my heart. I haven’t been able to follow along with every round of the competition so far, so my feedback on your adventure proposal will be as succinct as I can make it (i.e., without a lot of looking back at what you did in prior rounds…though, I am aware the rules required you to reuse some elements of your other submissions). So, without any further ado, let’s get down to brass tax, shall we?

     

    The Woe in Wealwood

    Title: Nice…! My favorite title of the entire round. It’s got tones of old school classic D&D adventures…a healthy dose of alliteration (in a good way) and it doesn’t give away too much about the plot. Nevertheless, we know something bad’s going down. It’s in a forest. And the PCs need to do something about it.

     

    Villain: Hmmm. I’m afraid I didn’t take much inspiration (in villainous terms) from Lord Vilruk and his enablers. His backstory (brutal though it may be) felt a little contrived in the way you described it in your pitch. His happily ever after got ruined because he drew the attention of a malicious fey. After the loss of his wife and the abduction of his son, I’d imagine he’d either fall into a deep depression or a terrible rage. Instead, he finds his ancestor’s diary that just happens to promise a way of resurrecting the dead and that becomes his motivation to…murder other people? That’s a hard left turn into madness and your phrasing in the pitch just didn’t do it justice. So, in writer’s terms, what you normally want to evoke in your reader is a “willing suspension of disbelief” and instead, I came away feeling like I very much “disbelieved” the premise behind this story. As a result, I struggled to connect with the villain in any meaningful way in terms of his motivations…good or bad.

     

    Locale(s): Wow. You have a lot going on here in terms of different potential encounter locations. And typically, if you have an encounter that can result in combat (even if the chances are low), you kind of have to plan on having a map handy for the GM to run it if the players go the murder-hobo route. If you tried to do that for all these different locations throughout the town, forest, and Wealwood manor, I think you’d be hard pressed to deliver the goods in your limited map space for an 8K-12K word adventure. I’m also worried that the map for a “manor” would need to be suitably large enough in scale to make it feel like a noble estate.

     

    Plot: The plot is fairly story-like in how it plays out. For instance, I could literally see this as a short story in addition to an adventure. The opening scene with the domovoi declaring doom and gloom is upon the PCs is very literary, but maybe not as powerful at the gaming table, because it really doesn’t present the PCs with any sort of challenge. It’s a plot device rather than a true “encounter” in game terms, if that makes sense. Later on, things improve, though. The ovinnik divination opportunity to gather clues…the local medium trying to contact the spirit of a missing villager…a chance meeting with the hedge witch, Anika, prior to learning she’s one of Vilruk’s chief minions…and even the guided route through the Wealwood where they get a chance to interact with Bors, Vilruk’s man-at arms…those are all nice touches. They provide little NPC interactions that are truly meaningful to the plot, and you make sure they pay off as the adventure progresses. That’s very fine work. That said, there’s a lot of these little scenes, and each one of them is going to eat a lot of your word count…to the point that I fear you’ll have enough space to do the rest of the adventure justice when it comes to combat encounters, stat-blocks, and so on. Perhaps even more concerning, you’ve chosen to include a chase scene…and that’s one of the hardest things to pull off in adventure design. To do it really well, you have to have the room to do it justice. And, given everything else you have going on, I think you would really struggle to include it so it’s a memorable encounter. So, there’s both good design choices and some poor ones at play here.

     

     

    Minions: I thought you showed a tremendous amount of imagination here. You’ve clearly got an eye for characterization. There are a lot of different players on this stage. Many of them are quite unique, have their own reasons for being involved in Vulrik’s passion play, and they get different opportunities to be showcased…both as roleplay and combat encounters. That’s a nice touch and probably one of the strongest elements to your proposal. However, as I mentioned above, your word count is going to be your biggest challenge in trying to deliver on what you’ve promised about them in your pitch.

     

    Rewards: I didn’t see anything that felt super-inspired here. Maybe I missed it, but it didn’t seem like your adventure hook mentioned any particular reward for investigating this overall mystery. So, in effect, the PCs perform a good deed. They plunder the bodies of their victims and make off with whatever treasure they had. And that’s about it. For an adventure premise that involves a lot of fey influences, I felt like you had a big opportunity to introduce something truly magical that the PCs could claim during the course of the adventure, but nothing ever seemed to manifest around that idea in your proposal. So, if you do go on to win this, I’d recommend revisiting your magic item creativity and see if you can come up with something more inspiring.

     

    Recommendation: Okay, that’s all I’ve got for you. Generally, I like the potential in the overall premise of your adventure proposal. I just don’t think you have the room to pull it off. And, that's disappointing, because I would really love to see some of these NPC characterizations within the story you've put together. However, even then, I felt there were some missed opportunities in your proposal and it needed a touch more creativity in some areas. As such, I DO NOT RECOMMEND this adventure for consideration as the winning proposal for the final round, but I would encourage you to keep refining your skills. You’re on the cusp of making your mark in the industry, and this was a very big swing for the fences. Good luck in the voting!

  • Just want to thank all of the judges for all the time and feedback they've given throughout the competition. This has been a blast and I feel that I've learned a bunch over the course of it and would love to see it come back next year.
  • Congratulations Nathan! Well done!

    You've got at least one sale already in the bag — me!
  • Congratulations Nathan! I quite enjoyed your premise here. :)

  • Congratulations, Nathan!
  • Congrats! Looking forward to seeing this adventure ready for play.
  • Wow. Thank you.
  • Congrats Nathan!
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