Adventure Design: Robber’s Bridge (Part III)

Pont Valentré

Thanks to everyone who chimed in with their thoughts on the submissions for the Robber’s Bridge adventure. Everyone contributed some great stuff! I would encourage everyone to recycle some of those ideas for your own adventures.

I’ve taken everyone’s feedback, incorporated some of my own editorial discretion, and brought it all together. There’s still time to change things, of course, so please share any feedback or ideas inspired by the content below. Let’s take the next steps in pulling this adventure together!

If you need to catch up:

Who Inhabited the adventure location originally? Who made it? Where was it? What happened to it?

The Jotnar Bridge is a marvel of a lost age, made by a forgotten people with knowledge of engineering far in excess of any humans in the north today. Some scholars who consider themselves experts in such things say it was created by the Ylfarings1See The First People, Middarmark, page 6. Others say it was the work of bergrisar2Mountain giants; see Of Trolls and Men, Middarmark, page 84 hailing from the Nidfjoll Mountains3See The Nidfjoll, Middarmark, page 19 to the west. The stony bones of a giant lay half in the icy waters of the Vimur River and half on the northern bank, the crown of its skull forming an island in the river beneath the bridge.

The graceful stone bridge once spanned the Vimur River, connecting the land of Vanskrdal with Vargstrond4See Vanskrdal and Vargstrond, Middarmark, page 23 and enabling trade between the two jarldoms. That ended 19 years ago, when Jarl Grima of Vargstrond, great uncle of the present jarl, Una the Cat5See Una the Cat, Jarl of Vargstrond, Middarmark, page 23, paid a band of mercenary dwarven sappers to slight the central span rather than allow the Gott Host to spill into Vargstrond. Survivors of the conquest of Vanskrdal still speak bitterly of the bridge’s destruction, which trapped many of the newly conquered people on the northern side of the river where they were forced into serfdom by the conquering Gotts.

What do the characters want to recover at the adventure location? Why would the PCs go there?

Bandits have occupied the northern tower of the slighted bridge and have been raiding the Gottmark (formerly Vanskrdal). They recently attacked the nearby Gott village of Saxatoft while its lord was away. They plundered and burned the manor and stole a precious gold buckle that is part of the Saxaling Clan’s regalia. The theft has damaged the Saxaling ættir, and the clan is desperate to get the artifact back.

A Viking Age buckle discovered in Ågård, Denmark

The bandits are using a chamber in the northern bridge tower as a vault to store their ill-gotten treasure.

Why has the adventure location not been plundered already?

Anything of value was taken when the bridge was slighted, or by looters who came along later. But the bandits have recently been filling the vault with their stolen treasure. The original builders created a hidden chamber below the waterline that serves as a prison for a murderous water spirit but holds a fortune in semi-precious stone.

Who or what inhabits the adventure location now?

Ostensibly the current occupants are Bjorning raiders. In fact, they are ‘gestir,’ agents sent by Jarl Una the Cat to harry her enemies north of the river and provide information about the Gotts’ preparation for war. The gestir consist of a handful of Bjorning warriors, a cleric from Jernkloster and possibly even a Bjorning magician.

Unknown to all, there is a secret passage beneath the waterline of the tower that leads to a hidden chamber within the giant’s skull. The bridge’s original builders trapped a nykr6A shape shifting water spirit within. The spirit once lured those who sought to cross the river to their deaths by drowning. The magic of the giant skull chamber has turned the spirit to stone in the form of an exquisite, life-sized lapis lazuli stallion. Anyone that enters the chamber will slowly begin to calcify into lapis lazuli themselves. Removing the stallion from its pedestal will break the enchantment upon the spirit.

It’s possible that the nykr can employ some of its enchanting music, even trapped in stone as it is.

Next Steps

Feel free to suggest changes or build upon what I’ve described above. But it’s also time to move forward. If anyone wants to take a stab at sketching a map of the northern tower, be my guest!

In the meantime, I have a couple of new questions for you.

How have the inhabitants altered the location to serve their needs?

Have the bandits made any changes? Have they dug new tunnels or installed hidden doors? Have they implemented any new defenses or a way of escaping to the southern side of the river if they are assaulted in force?

What traps or terrain features make navigating the adventure location difficult?

I’ve suggested a secret passage below the waterline that leads to a secret chamber in the giant skull. Is that passage flooded? Is there some other challenge to that passage? Have the bandits installed traps? Is there some trick to approaching the tower?

Please jump in with your thoughts. Start thinking about other problems and obstacles this adventure might present.

Start the discussion at

Historical Comment Archive

6 thoughts on “Adventure Design: Robber’s Bridge (Part III)

  1. “What traps or terrain features make navigating the adventure location difficult?”

    Not a “trap” per se, but I had an idea for a possible twist for when the adventurers try and access the secret passage. The idea of the captive nykr immediately made me wonder what’s moved into the river since the nykr has gone missing:

    After years of the nykr’s absence, those souls that it lured to watery graves with its enchanting melodies have grown restless and long for the nykr’s song to soothe them back to slumber. They are cursed to not be able to leave their river tomb, but will grab at anyone they find within the water, moaning horrifying atonal dirges to try and get their victim to restart the song.

  2. Very cool. This is great!

    A) What traps or terrain features make navigating the adventure location difficult?

    – Boiling Oil Tripwire trap above the stairs and main entrance.

    – A magical rune ward on the treasure vault.

    – A covered-up Pit trap. Thin stone, like shale, cover up a pit that falls into the river or into the lower levels.

    B) How have the inhabitants altered the location to serve their needs?

    A shrine to the Lords of Valor and Terror. The Bjorning cleric and wizard have affixed an idol of their Lords to the fireplace mantel of the top-most room in the tower. They have built up this elaborate ceremonial chamber. It would be where the buckle is kept hidden (separate from the other loot). The irony would be this idol is very valuable and could serve to turn the tables or provide an additional bargaining chip for cut-throat hobo parties.

    C) Other Thoughts

    One of my favorite parts is: “rather than allow the Gott Host to spill into Vargstrond.” There’s a lot of rich background to mine in just that little bit there.

    So, I’ve run a lot of the rescue the ættir adventures. However, I’ve never had the regalia come from the Gott tribe, and it is interesting for me to think about. It is not a problem or concern – just more of my own realization. It really depends upon the party’s position (tribe, alignment, history, etc) with the politics and their opinion on the expansion of the Gottmark. Perhaps the GM could present the appropriate hook 1) If sympathetic or neutral toward the Gott: rescue and return the buckle; or 2) If hostile toward the Gott expansion: destroy it; 3) And then, obviously, there is always just the take-it-all type of angle.

    In my campaigns, alignment is an important indicator of support toward the High Queen and Bjorning rule. If the character leans toward Law, then they support the status quo and ruling tribe. If Chaos, they support the rebellions in the south and west to take back land or possibly even depose the queen.

    Another thought is what if the nykr is not trapped. What if, through its shapeshifting powers, is actually running the show with the Bjornings. The nykr enchanted and entranced the raiders with his music, and they are doing its bidding perhaps. Or another idea, and perhaps better yet, maybe the raiders know about it but have not contacted it yet. They are digging it out and trying to get to it (this could explain why they are distracted when the party enters). They have heard its haunting music and want a favor for freeing it. The Bjorning raider cleric believes that if they can offer a sacrifice to it, they can learn its power and its songs – which might give them more motivation to stick around the tower.

    • Thanks for the extensive response! Lots of cool ideas!

      Re: The weird head twist wrt the regalia belonging to a Gott clan, I admit that was intentional. The Gotts are the conquerors and occupiers here. But so are the Bjornings (albeit they’ve been here for several hundred years). My personal feeling is that it can lead to a really great experience if the players start questioning who is in the right and who is in the wrong in these situations.

      Your take on alignment in the Middarmark makes a lot of sense … from a Bjorning point of view. Not so much if you’re a Græling.

      If your group leans toward the Gotts, they’ll likely see the raiders as the enemy. If they lean toward the Bjornings, they could very well see the raiders as friends and allies.

      Groups that lean more toward the Skyrnir or Grælings might skew differently. Grælings could potentialyl view either group as enemies or allies, or see both as evil conquerors. The Skyrnir have reason to distrust Bjornings, Gotts and Grælings, though the Gotts have been particularly heinous to the Skyrnir due to perceived competition for grazing between the Skyrnir reindeer herds and the Gott horse herds.

      Finally, groups that favor dwarves, elves or halflings might not have any skin in the game at all.

      This is the beauty and challenge of leveraging a setting in an adventure. From a blank slate, it’s easy to look at our setup and decide who the good guys and bad guys are and what the “heroic” path through the adventure might be. Once you start blending the setting’s politics with actual PCs with backgrounds, the scenario becomes a lot more complex.

      So that’s our challenge given this setup (and the meat of a future post once we nail down the details in the post above). Players have to be able to tackle the adventure in a straightforward manner: Defeat the bandits, get the regalia, return it to the aggrieved clan (or keep it for themselves/sell it). But we also need to provide support for groups that make very different choices. What if the group decides to make common cause with the raiders?

  3. Pingback: Adventure Design: Robber’s Bridge (Part IV) | Torchbearer

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