Adventure Design: Robber’s Bridge (Part IV)

Robber’s Bridge Concept Map by D. Koch

Check out this amazing concept map from Mordite Press developer D. Koch! This is really starting to come together!

If you’re new to this series, we’re collaboratively developing a short Torchbearer adventure.

If you need to catch up:

In our last installment, we nailed down some details about our adventure location, what treasures might draw the PCs to the location, why that treasure hasn’t been plundered yet and who currently inhabits the adventure location. Check Part III for the details.

I also asked you to supply your thoughts on how the current inhabitants have altered the location and what traps or terrain features could give the PCs trouble. There were only a few responses, but they were great. We’re going to go over them next week. If you have additional ideas, there’s still time, so don’t hesitate to share your thoughts below.

The Scale of the Map

Before we get to that, though, I want to consider the map for a bit. Looking at the image of the bridge itself, a few things leap out to me.

First, I think I want the break in the bridge between the Gate House and the Middle Tower to be a bit larger — enough to make it clear that the break makes the bridge useless. It may be that we just need to give the reader a sense of scale. If that’s the case, we don’t need to change the image at all, we just need to add a scale to the key. What do you think?

Second, I’m thinking about the ruined Toll Gate in the south. D. Koch elected to make that tower ruins so we could focus on just one tower and keep the adventure area smaller. I’m 100 percent on board with the intent, but there are some kinks, setting history-wise, that we need to work out.

A Little Middarmark History

Just to get you oriented: Vanskrdal (now known as the Gottmark following the Gott conquest) is to the north1See Vanskrdal, Middarmark, page 23. It owes allegiance to Otkell, warchief of the Gotts2See Otkell, Warchief of the Gott Host, Middarmark, page 30. The Bjorning jarldom of Vargstrond3See Vargstrond, Middarmark, page 23 is to the south of the bridge. It is ruled by Jarl Una the Cat4See Una the Cat, Jarl of Vargstrond, Middarmark, page 23, who owes allegiance to the Bjorning High Queen Astrid5See Astrid Yngesdottir, High Queen of the Middarmark, Middarmark, page 13.

Otkell and the Bjornings are technically at war, but for the past 20 years or so it has been a quiet affair — mostly skirmishes and raids, not the clash of armies. This, by the way, is why the Bjorning raiders have occupied the tower at our adventure location. They’re harassing the Gotts and causing trouble.

Also, we should figure out how the Bjorning raiders are crossing to the northern side to conduct their raids. Do they have a boat or raft nearby? Have they created some sort of structure that allows them to cross the gap, but which could be easily destroyed? What do you think? How do the raiders navigate this problem?

Why Is the Southern Tollgate in Ruins?

Back to the southern Tollgate. So here’s the thing: The bridge was broken by dwarven mercenaries 20 years ago during the initial Gott invasion. They did it to prevent the Gott cavalry from flooding across the bridge into Vargstrond and continuing the invasion. It was one of the major factors in halting immediate hostilities.

It makes sense to me that the Gatehouse at the northern end of the bridge was ruined in the assault. However! The fighting wouldn’t have reached the Tollgate at the southern end of the bridge. That means the Tollgate couldn’t have been destroyed in that war.

That doesn’t mean the Tollgate can’t be in ruins! We’ve already established that the Bjornings don’t have the engineering knowledge required to repair a structure like this. So, the question becomes: What happened in the past that led to the destruction of the Tollgate? Why didn’t it affect the Middle Tower?

We can use this to establish something new in the setting that the players can discover while adventuring here. Maybe it was destroyed by Ofnir the Black Wyrm6See Ofnir’s Lair, Middarmark, page 32; one of the depredations that led Bjornar the Grim to confront the dragon7See The Death of Bjornar the Grim, Middarmark, page 7? Maybe another monster entirely? Or maybe it was the result of some conflict between the Sakki and the Grælings? Or between the Sakki and the Skyrnir? A natural disaster? What do you think it was and what cool thing might the players discover or learn here? What evidence and effects of the event would someone see? It could lead to another adventure entirely.

Also, did the Bjornings erect some sort of wooden structure there in its place? Is it still there? Has it rotted away? What does that mean for reaching the Middle Tower from the southern end of the bridge?

The Secret Bit

Finally, somewhere in the Middle Tower we need some sort of secret or hidden entrance that grants access to the lower part of the tower and the underwater passage to the Nykr’s prison. What does that look like? How is it hidden? How does it work?

Do you have any other thoughts on the map? Any changes or additions you would make? For instance, I think at the bridge level the tower needs a passageway with a portcullis on either side and a ceiling covered in murder holes. I think that also means we need a stairway on the outside of the southern side of the Middle Tower that provides access from the bridge to the first floor of the tower. Comment below!

2 thoughts on “Adventure Design: Robber’s Bridge (Part IV)

  1. Why is the tollgate in ruins?

    Can we connect it to the Bjornings and the Nykr somehow? There could be clues that the tower fell recently (the raiders are still clearing away the debris, townsfolk along the road talking about the tower falling). All of this could have happened within the last few months, but it had something to do with the Bjornings and the Nykr. Perhaps there was a group of Bjornings that came out here first, but they mysteriously disappeared. This second group of raiders is continuing the mission against the Gott and also trying to discover what happened to the other group (thinking them killed by the Gotts). This would play off the theme of “power.”

    On the other hand, I do like the idea of the Black Wyrm. I can imagine it swooping down and pushing on the tower with its hind legs. This would connect the theme of history repeating itself (the conquerors become the conquered).

    What is the state of the tollgate now?

    THe Bjornings have cleared away enough of the debris to salvage the lower gatehouse of the southern hightower. They have a makeshift roof of tied-together blankets that keeps the snow off of the supplies inside the room. They use it for extra storage and non-essential items.

  2. “Also, we should figure out how the Bjorning raiders are crossing to the northern side to conduct their raids. Do they have a boat or raft nearby? Have they created some sort of structure that allows them to cross the gap, but which could be easily destroyed?”

    The Bjornings have created a crude rope bridge to cross the gap caused by the ruined bridge that serves as a secondary defense mechanism of sorts. A detail known to the Bjornings, the bridge can hold no more than two men at a time, or little more than one man with a full pack. To help with the burden of more successful raids, the bandits have installed a net on a secondary rope line above the bridge, which can be pulled to either side of the bridge with pulleys hooked to the wooden pillars the rope is bolted to. The line is able to hold significantly more weight than the bridge itself.

    The bridge is firmly staked on the northern side of the gap, but on the opposite end is only knotted to a wooden beam at two points to allow for quick collapse in case of emergencies. Easily missed is a smaller, thinner cord attached to the last board on the southern side of the bridge that serves as a means to pull the bridge back up after it has been disconnected rather than having to rebuild the bridge from scratch. This has lead to many a Bjorning to return from a raid on the northern bank only to find themselves offering trinkets or an extra turn fetching firewood to a watchman who has disconnected the bridge on the other side.

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