Last week, I wrote about NPCs I’ve added to the village of Skogenby to help bring it to life. This week we’ll use those NPCs and some material already in The Dread Crypt of Skogenby to update the adventure as Haathor-Vash’s plans take shape.
Note: The rest of this post will contain spoilers for the adventure.
The idea here is to create the feeling of a dynamic world that changes around the PCs. Some of those changes will be in reaction to the players’ actions, but the rest will be the result of antagonists and other NPCs advancing their agendas.
As a GM, this should be a relatively straightforward process: Between adventures, take stock of what your various important characters are up to (including PCs’ family, friends, mentors and enemies) and determine whether they’ve advanced their agendas or not. If they have advanced their agendas, note the consequences. That’s it. Simple, right? Let’s take a look at Skogenby.
What We Know
To start, let’s review what we know:
- The villagers of Skogenby unwittingly disturbed an ancient tomb, awakening an angry spirit named Haathor-Vash. The spirit possessed Jora, granddaughter of the village gydja.
- The need to recover her stolen grave goods drives Haathor-Vash. She also wants vengeance on anyone connected with the theft, though recovery takes precedence over vengeance, at least at first. Initially, the spirit wore Jora’s body and searched the village for its stolen arm ring at night. It killed anyone it encountered along the way.
- The village has appealed to their lord, Lady Gry, to protect them, but she’s away. They’ve turned to the adventurers in desperation.
- Vigdis, gydja of the village, was prepared to perform a blood sacrifice to appease the disturbed spirit but hoped to find another way before that became necessary.
- Hakemunn Grim, the wealthiest landowner in the village, wanted the tomb sealed, abandoning Jora to her fate. He was working to convince other villagers to follow his lead.
- Johanna, Vigdis’s daughter and apprentice, was determined to get her daughter Jora back. She was working herself up to poison Hakemunn Grim before he could gather enough support for his plan to seal the tomb with Jora inside.
- The dwarf bandit Beronin and his band of outlaws are preying on people in the vicinity of Skogenby. They heard rumors of the newly found crypt and intended to investigate.
- Sigismund and his brother Baugi secretly moved some property markers several months ago, allowing the village to lay claim to land that actually belongs to Greve Jermod. They were counting on Lady Gry’s inattention to steal from Greve Jermod in her name and secure more land for themselves.
- Halvor, captain of Greve Jermod’s wardens, and his people were hunting Beronin and his bandits. While in the area he also planned to check the new fields cleared by the village, as they were quite close to the greve’s forest preserve.
Those were the various threads that were in play at the start of the adventure.
Before we dig in too deep, I should note that it’s only worth doing all this evolution prep if your players already had some information about the adventure already. Unless your players previously had some information about Skogenby’s tribulations, it’s not worth going through the work to change up the situation. Just start at the beginning.
In my case, the players had heard the following rumor, but decided to ignore it in favor of another adventure:
Some folk in Skogenby, the next village over, uncovered a strange barrow while clearing a field recently. They think some evil spirit has come out of it, and they’ve asked for Lady Gry’s help, but she’s away. Supposedly there’s a lot of treasure in the tomb.
Let’s go through the nine things we know and think about how they might have changed while the PCs were focused on other things. These are my answers; yours might go in a completely different direction. That’s good!
The Dead Have Risen
We can take items 1 and 2 together and assume the situation did not resolve itself without outside intervention. Haathor-Vash has not recovered her treasure and has continued to kill people. It’s fair to say that as the situation has continued, she has gotten more disturbed and vengeful. I think she’s also growing more powerful as she comes into her own, empowering the recently deceased to rise as undead themselves.
Haathor-Vash’s iinitial minions were the undead remnants of her servitors (the Tomb Guardians, Skeletal Honor Guards and Corpse Candles). The ones that have bodies are dressed in strange, ancient clothing and armor, nothing like what the people of today wear. But now more dead have begun to rise in Skogenby. Those slain personally by Haathor-Vash have become ghouls. Anyone slain by the ghouls has risen as a zombie. The ghouls and the zombies now roam the countryside in and around Skogenby. Their corpses are fresh (and still fleshed for the most part) and their clothing is contemporary.
Essentially, it’s as if you rolled a ‘disaster’ result on the Town Events table for Skogenby. The village is still there and some people have barricaded themselves inside their homes, but the village no longer functions as a town with respect to the Torchbearer rules. Some brave souls will have to drive out the undead scourge before Skogenby can be used as a town again.
Sadly, Jora was already in rough shape at the original beginning of the adventure because Haathor-Vash had not been letting her eat, drink or sleep. She will have died of neglect by this point and risen as a ghoul.
Getting to the crypt itself is now harder. Ghouls and zombies infest the countryside and are a great option for twists. Camps on this side of the Hrada River should now be considered dangerous.
Maybe There’s an Upside?
With regard to item 3, Lady Gry is still not available. But we’ll put some pressure on her: Many of the surviving people of Skogenby have fled to Asktoft1More about Asktoft here, the nearby location of Lady Gry’s manor, for refuge.
That’s going to put a huge strain on the people of Asktoft, but we can save those consequences for another evolution down the road. For now, the effects will mostly be cosmetic — lots of terrified and hungry people on the streets of Asktoft. Eventually, the undead scourge could have a cascading effect on the entire region, but we want to take that slowly. Let the players get accustomed to the new circumstances before tightening the screws.
All of this is terrible for the people of Skogenby and the people of Asktoft. At the same time, it might actually present an opportunity for the PCs. The more Lady Gry’s personal wealth and comfort are affected by the undead horde, the more she will appreciate any ne’er-do-wells and scoundrels that help her. If the PCs play their cards right, there’s now an opportunity to win Lady Gry’s patronage when she returns, or at least her friendship.
There Will Be Blood?
Item 4 is Vigdis. It’s safe to assume that she has accepted that she’s out of options. She’s ready to try a blood sacrifice to appease Haathor-Vash’s anger. Of course, any of the surviving people that were there when Jora entered the crypt are long since scattered.
For better or worse, Vigdis is now convinced that the only way to stop the undead scourge is to gather up those who were present when Jora first violated the crypt and sacrifice them to Haathor-Vash. To up the creepiness factor, I think there’s a tree in the center of the village where Vigdis regularly performed animal sacrifices on the village’s behalf. The sacrifices were hung from the tree’s branches and left to rot. The necrotic energies that now suffuse the village have animated the carcasses. This would mostly just be for color.
I don’t think Vigdis would have fled the village. Instead, she’s surrounded her hut with wards and can provide a safe haven for the PCs to camp in Skogenby if they manage to make common cause with her. If the PCs camp in Vigdis’s hut, don’t roll for camp events. It’s a safe camp. In addition, Vigdis can feed the party and can help with Alchemist and Healer tests. However, if a test is failed in camp, the following twist is now on the table: Undead break through the wards and assault the hut.
A Matter of Justice
We can take items 5 and 6 together. Johanna would have attempted to poison Hakemunn Grim but failed to kill him, at least immediately. He is terribly sick as a result of the poison. He and his family have fled to Asktoft and are now staying in the inn there. Johanna was reluctantly caught by the other villagers (Hakemunn Grim is an abrasive man at the best of times) and locked in a root cellar, where she was to be held until Lady Gry could try her. When most people fled Skogenby they forgot about her and left her there. She’s still alive, but in a bad way.
Rescuing Johanna would certainly win Vigdis’s favor, but Hakemunn Grim is also desperate to get a hold of her in the hopes he can force her to reveal the antidote to the poison that is slowly and painfully killing him. He could attempt to recruit adventurers who visit the tavern or inn in Asktoft.
A Thief in the Night
As for item 7, Beronin had initially planned to loot the crypt after he heard about it. He and his crew attempted to do so but he was possessed by Haathor-Vash as a replacement for Jora. His bandits were either killed or cowed.
As Beronin, Haathor-Vash is using the surviving bandits as living agents, sending them out to gather information about the world that she has awoken in. This mostly serves as fodder for a later evolution, but there’s potential to still use living bandits as antagonists for the PCs. The PCs might even encounter some in or near the crypt itself as they return to Haathor-Vash’s throne room occasionally to receive their orders. Some bandits may also be having pangs of conscience about working with undead things. They could be possible allies for the PCs if approached carefully.
Did I Do That?
Sigismund also fled to Asktoft, where he was hoping to get Lady Gry’s aid. He’s most concerned about his own skin, but he knows that Jermod’s wardens are in the area. He can’t let knowledge of his crime get out, especially now that an ancient undead menace has arisen as a result.
Sigismund would very much appreciate it if some enterprising souls could ensure that the wardens were all slain (by undead, right?) before they could leave Skogenby’s environs. He’d certainly reward anyone who could help him in that way. He’ll cagily approach the PCs if they visit the tavern in Asktoft.
In the Line of Duty
Finally, Halvor is determined to catch Beronin and his band. He doesn’t care about Skogenby’s fate—that’s Lady Gry’s problem—but he does care about any impact to the greve’s lands and holdings. He’ll make common cause with the PCs to put Beronin down and end the threat to the greve’s holdings. He’ll promise to put in a good word with the greve if the PCs can help him.
He’ll also reward them directly with treasure if they can provide evidence that the property markers were moved. He’ll use any such evidence against Lady Gry, even though Sigismund was responsible.
So that’s how I would evolve Skogenby. What about you? What would you do differently? Do you have other techniques you use to make your campaign feel like a living, breathing world?