House of the Perishing Worm
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A single Hex…
The black sprawl of the woods is thrice haunted. One is older, predating men and iron and fire. It speaks in leaf-rustle, root-groan and animal snuffle. The next is those who would have tamed the forest, and in death are rejected by it.
And then there is the Perishing Worm. It is not known nor discussed.
Every peasant child knows that only the borders of the forest are for them. To go in deeper is to intrude on a domain bracketed with terror.
|1d8||Why would anyone come here?|
|1||An ancestral claim upon the Fort.|
|2||An addiction to the forbidden and the accursed.|
|3||Seeking a certain death to overcome - honours foolish price.|
|4||To be anointed with the blood of the undying.|
|5||Hunger for dominion beyond the reach of Kings.|
|6||A performative disregard for peasant customs.|
|7||A need to overcome understand the impossible.|
Before the trees lock formation, one can look up and see the stars. The shrubs are dense, and hide old stones, floors and hearths. Left to itself, the forest would cover these soft hills. Instead sheep wander atop the turf. Tending them, the villagers live in fear. They are afraid of taxes, wars, kings, monsters and the forest. They will try to aid travellers as best they can - by offering them quarter on the condition that the forest is not their objective. Those admitting such are pelted with sheep dung. Some of them have turned to banditry, demanding coin for passage. Killing them will sour the villagers.
Elmwell consists of 23 small stone huts with attendant buildings. Most hold a family of 1d4+4, all of whom engage in shepherding and sheep-related industries. Dogs are everywhere.
One of the outer huts is larger, and incorporates wood. It is saved for itinerant woodcutters. Most are criminals on the lam, looking to lie low. Few survive long enough to ask questions. After they disappear, the Forest spits out their axes. Each has seen many hands.
There are currently two woodcutters, Daniel and Daniel, who were previously river pirates. They fled whilst their erstwhile crew was captured. They can be hired as hirelings at half the normal rate - they are bored, and beginning to worry - they have found many disused boots in many different sizes inside their hut.
For each third of a day spent travelling the border regions, roll 1d6 and consult the following table.
|1-2||Unaccompanied sheep. They are dyed according to who owns them.|
|3||Shepherds of Elmwell, with their dogs and sheep. They are happy to talk.|
|4||1d6 Bandits with slings and knives. 30% chance they lived in the village - otherwise they have a hidden dilapidated stone hut with 2d6 copper coins and a rotten hare. Either way, their absence will be noted by someone.|
|5||Travelling merchants, taking the long way around the Forest. Far too heavily defended for local bandits to be an issue.|
|6||One of the last wolves of the area, bitter and cunning. It can throw it’s voice - a pack animal attempting a solitary hunt. Otherwise as a normal wolf.|
The ghosts of the forest are locked in bitter struggle with the spirits. Even in death, these men are not forgiven for the burning they brought, for their iron-bitted axes, for their snares and arrows. The Forest will hate them forever. Their forms commingle and warp over time, one slowly becoming the other. All that is left is are abominations - outside observers hard-pressed to determine allegiance. Both will look beyond their prejudices to recruit outside help. This section of the forest extends for a day of travel - as the crow flies. Root and branch conspire to confound travel or navigation. The main trail is known for breaking the ankles of horses.
Each dot represents 1/3 of a days travel, a check to see if the party are lost and an encounter check.
5 dots could be covered if travelling through day and night (3 in the day, 2 at night) albeit with double encounters rolled during the night, and exhaustion penalties for lack of sleep.
The larger, labelled bubbles are keyed sites. Use the key provided to determine what is at the location.
Groups of travellers have a 1-in-6 chance of getting lost when travelling through the forest - even the “main trail” is mess of disappearing paths, failed repairs and guess-work.
Lost groups have a 2-in-6 chance per 1/3 day of finding the trail and continuing along their way - otherwise, roll encounters normally as the trees press in closer, and the animal sounds shift and taunt and dance away.
For each dot passed, or hour spent in an area, roll once on the following table. Previously rolled results should be ignored or modified to ensure freshness.
- Those encounters marked with a * do not occur if the party has allied themselves to the Ghosts.
- Those marked # do not occur if the party has allied themselves to the Spirits.
|1-2||1d4 Villagers, extremely lost. They are incoherent with fear.|
|3-4||Gall Spirits, crawling down the trees, swollen heads lolling towards the party. #|
|5-6||The gentle sound of chimes - Glass Dancers are nearby, creeping closer over the branches. #|
|7-8||A broken, muted bleating, coming from the undergrowth. Others, closer, join it. Ivy Sheep, stalking you. #|
|9-10||The sound of tearing wood, hissing, rending. The work of a colony of Lodestone Badgers. *|
|11-12||Devastation amongst the undergrowth. The wake of a Broken Hawk. *|
|13-14||1d6 Bandits, desperate for guidance. Will do literally anything. Pursued by bees.|
|15-16||The smell of bitter honey, and a drone, so high-pitched as to be barely audible. The area is infested with Ghost Hive Servitors. *|
|17-18||The squeal of rusted metal in the undergrowth. Through leaves and branches, it can be glimpsed - corroded plate, coiled bramble pouring from the visor. As it moves, more Thorn Knights join it. #|
|19-20||Dead bird, hung by their entrails, adorn this shrub - vile ornaments. Close examination reveals a knotted, wooden face hidden amongst the branches. It has been watching you this entire time. The area is full of them - Shrubmen. *|
|21-22||The trees align and reveal an open, clear passage, running straight towards your objective. The trees forming the edges are in perfect rows. If this route is taken, the trees begin to press closer and closer - the way forward or back is hidden. Characters automatically become Lost. #|
|23-24||Snarling like dogs, a herd of deer. All have antlers, and the antlers are covered in strips of skin. The skin flutters in an invisible wind - and the Gorestrip Deer follow stiffly. Their eyes are wide with fear, or else slack with defeat. *|
|25-26||The site of spectral carnage - Thorn Knights grapple with Gorestrip deer. Shrubmen work in groups to brain Gall Spirits. The trees lean over, skewering Lodestone Badgers as they charge past.|
|27-28||Crows form a wall ahead of you. They resist your passage - attacking in groups to drive you back. They will not pursue you if you pass them, but watch silently. #|
|29-30||A small forest spring, the water seemingly fresh and pure. Any disturbance to the silt below reveals animal bones, at least a foot deep. The water kills slowly, days of burning nerves, full of fire.|
|31-32||Fat carrion toads claw at a dead deer. They croak noisily at you, mouths gore-stained.|
|33+||No encounter - the forest and the dead alike rest.|
The soil of the Forest has rejected their bodies, leaving the spirits unable to move on. They are at war with the forest, and have stolen the forms of animals and plants. They can imitate speech with their new-found forms, but it is a painful process - contortions of form and pangs of what has been lost. They want their bodies removed from the forest and buried in kinder earth. Those agreeing to do so are marked spiritually as Latecoming Psychopomps. The Spirits will despise you but those who bury their dead will respect you, even if they do not know why.
The bodies are at locations E, F & I. There are ~200 split between them.
Wings fold like a broken accordion.
Talons smashed and beak crooked.
But the making of a bird of prey is not in the weapons - it is in the eyes. Steel malice and cruelty. Beyond this wall of avian ego, some spark of the human dances - a soul denied rest.
They move in groups of 3d6, forming rough crescents, dragging themselves across and through the forest floor. They jostle and fight for the best positions before they all attack at once.
There is no limit on how many Broken Hawks may attack a single target.
Ghost Hive Servitors
Beekeepers know that a hive is all of one soul, open and generous if you show the right respects. As the hives perished, knocked down and rasped by foul animal tongues, these open and generous souls let their dying keepers in - and in death they have become a single being of spectral violence. Swarms of ghost-lights seek, stingers replaced with tiny splinters of glass - enough to cut victims to shreds.
Swarms are able to split into many smaller groups - the soul of a hive is used to dispersal.
The antlers of deer are living things, not simply inert protrusions of bone. The antlers of these deer have been infested - ever-wet strips of skin and flesh hang limply, but contain enough of the essential spirit to exert influence over their hosts. They are always at war - the deer moves jerkily, painfully when under orders.
Some have given up, and simply allow themselves to be dominated.
Appear in herds of 4d6.
Iron sprouts from them like a parasitic fungus. They are skewered through - in the violence, they learnt a taste for metal, and have not been able to forgo the addiction. As the metal accumulates, it resonates with the spirits of the dead resting so thick in the area. They learn to play the badgers like instruments, promising to reveal the location of more metal.
Appear in colonies of 2d10. Cause knife-wounds when running past or when attacking normally.
Beneath the voluminous strands of thin-branch and half-dead leaves, gnarled faces are disguised as vegetable matter. They wear the skin of the hated forest to better skulk, wait, and plan. They have nothing but time.
Appears in clusters of 4d6.
The Forest has grown fingers with which to throttle the Ghosts - and any intruders beside. They ape the form of the invader - the forest is not too proud to steal. All of them speak in the sigh of leaves, the creak of wood and the rustle of the undergrowth. One who swears to burn the Fort down might be allowed passage - marked with a sap-swollen leaf, worn as a badge. Such a symbol cannot be hidden from the Ghosts. They have no love of the Keep, but despise the Spirits.
The swollen galls of trees form the heads of these child-size spirits. They clamber down trunks and across branches, heads lolling towards interlopers, fresh-green wooden bodies barely able to support the weight.
Within the gall, caustic sap brews, waiting to be spilled when they throw themselves towards intruders.
Appear in pods of 2d6. Damage as acid vials.
Secret fires burn deep within the woods, great lungs of the arboreal realm feeding on the old, the fallen and the sick. Such fires form natural glass. The spite of the forest twists the glass, gives it a form - stolen from the subject of the forest’s ire. They are impossibly lithe, dancing between the branches. They are brittle, but difficult to harm.
They are sharp enough to cut through flesh.
Appear in troupes of 2d6.
Stolen from the villagers, minds full of roots, eyes swimming with sap, these sheep know only pain. Coiling through their woollen coats, ivy and bramble and poison flowers dripping their deadly payloads into wounds.
The sheep would scream in warning, but it’s lungs are colonised by mushrooms.
Appear in flocks of 3d4.
Wood is able to absorb all the works of humans given enough time. Within these ruined hauberks and plates, wood coils slowly - begrudgingly replacing growth with locomotion. Until the forest may rest safe again, they wait, looking like fallen warriors until the crucial moment. Then hands of buckthorn and nettle grip and crush throats.
Appear in troops of 1d4.
A - The Old Gate
The remains of the road are hard to spot - isolated, individual cobblestones mostly swallowed by the earth. Either side is marked with a miserable pile of stone, a fallen arch. Each pile is accompanied by a huge tree, uncharacteristically wide and tall for this depth of the forest - as if grown out of spite.
B - Coaching Inn
Mostly untouched by plants bar the disobedient ivy, a coaching inn stands by the road. It is dusty, but is more than usable as a seemingly safe location. All of the bedding and furniture remains, undamaged.
There are two floors - the ground floor is made up of the main taproom and a kitchen - both of which have reinforced external doors. There is an empty doorway between them. The taproom has 4 glassless windows with wooden shutters, 5 wooden tables and 12 wooden chairs. The kitchen has a tall stone chimney, and two glassless windows with wooden shutters.
The first floor has 5 rooms and a common room. The rooms have a single window with glass and wooden shutters, a bed and a wooden travel-chest. Within one of the chests, written in the dust are the words “The trees”. The common room has 4 windows with glass and wooden shutters.
Those camping here are attacked in the night by 2d6 Gall Spirits, 1d6 Glass Dancers, 2d4 Ivy Sheep and 1d4 Thorn Knights. They will use the Gall Spirits and Ivy Sheep to confine the party, allowing the Glass Dancers to enter through any un-barricaded windows. The Thorn Knights remain on the outside, ready to exploit any weakness in the defences.
C - Fallen Tower
A heap of rubble, heavily overgrown with nettles and brambles. Clearing the vegetation and stone (takes 20 minutes, risks injury & roll encounter) reveals a trapdoor. The trapdoor reveals a basement - inside of which are three bodies. They have not rotted. Their hand have been replaced with thick ropes of Green Slime. If opened during sunlight hours, the slime quivers and begins to grow upwards.
Green Slime: On contact, transforms flesh, wood or leather into more of itself in an agonising process. This particular colony only functions in sunlight.
D - Crater
Scores of trees have been flattened, all leaning away from a central point. All are heavily burnt, although moss now grows across the scorch-marks. Some, closer to the centre, are studded with metal shrapnel. The metal has no fixed colour - it shifts and dances like oil. It is still burning hot to the touch, and incredibly sharp - the cutting surface seemingly extending a half-inch out from the visible edge.
The crater is not made of earth but glass - reminiscent of slime, it lies upon the earth, violently green. Not the green of foliage, but of radiation and neon. At the centre of the crate, a hollow metal sphere, heavily damaged, split open around the middle. Heat shimmers above it - hot enough to turn water to steam instantly. The interior of the sphere is moist, and is always body-temperature.
E - Ambush Bodies
old bones lay foundations for bodies new, fresh, piled open mouths raw red ’round the outside a legion of nothings from treeline march
A mouldering pile of bones, picked clean by rodents and carrion birds, lay in the centre of the path. The trees press close as if eager spectators. The gaps between their trunks is wider than elsewhere in the forest - perfect to permit ambushers through. The bones are a trap - those disturbing them are set-upon by 1d6 Gall Spirits, 2d6 Glass Dancers, 2d6 Ivy Sheep and 2d8 Thorn Knights. They revel in the slaughter - more bones for the pile. From the invaders, the forest has learnt cruelty.
F - The Demesne
From the abrupt treeline, you can see it. The clear ground before the Keep, studded with the empty stone buildings, walls, ditches and roads. No vegetation grows beyond a visible point, the soil bare and dry. These buildings can be searched, but there is nothing. Not even rodents dwell here.
It crouches, surrounded by the desolation it calls dominion. Empty earth, drained of vitality, ends in stone walls, transported through a forest determined to stop traversal. The force of will required to demand this radiates from every stone - every element is an extension of the mind behind it, the suffering endured by those dedicated or coerced into a vision removed from reason.
It consists of an elevated gatehouse, a curtain wall with four towers and a keep. The portcullis is up, but the bridge has fallen down, requiring a clamber to enter via the gatehouse. If the fortress was manned, arrows would pour from the towers onto such attackers. Atop the gatehouse, mounts for the pouring of oil can be seen.
The courtyard is all stone and dead earth. A withered apple tree near one of the walls is surrounded by apples, shrunken by the heat but untouched by rot or by animals. The air is uncomfortably arid - characters can feel the insides of their nostrils begin to dry out.
Across the courtyard, thin at first but growing thicker, is a trail of glass droplets which have fallen and cooled. They lead towards the door to Ground Floor a.
Each of the towers has unlocked reinforced wooden doors which lock from the inside. Three floors are accessed by a spiral staircase - each floor has 2 shortbows, 40 arrows and a thick carpet of dust. The northwestern tower has a golden ring behind the door - seemingly dropped. It is worth 100sp.
It stands, anchored to the back wall. A set of stairs allow access to the first floor, or another door enters in the ground floor. The door on the ground floor appears to be bolted from the inside - only significant force would open it. A series of narrow windows with glass allow a glimpse room a on the First Floor.
a: Barrels and jars fill the space - all containing food, spices or drinks. Preserved items have not spoiled, although they are less palatable than they were. There is enough for a band of ten to eat well for a month in pickles and preserves. Perishable goods have no mould - they have dehydrated and shrivelled into tough, leathery scraps. A trail of solidified glass leads from the external exit towards the central door - leading to d.
b: Further storage - full of stale ale. Those drinking it become sick over the next 24 hours - ruined by the slow internal processes, unaided by the usual microbes.
c: Storage for sheets and linens.
d: A kitchen, pots and pans left scattered around a trail of solidified glass droplets. The spilled stew has hardened to a reddish crust, but has not rotted. The droplets lead towards e.
e: A thrown open trapdoor, pools of cooled glass around it. Spears and shields line the walls - all coated with dust. From the open trapdoor no sound emanates.
a: A long table fills the room. Upon it, uneaten meals, spilled wine. Dust lies upon it all, but no rot. The walls bear heraldic shields and stuffed animal heads. The heraldry depicts a horse rearing above a burning forest. The cutlery is all silver - gathering it all, it would be worth 150sp. Several of the chairs are knocked over. There is some blood near the external door - as if someone with an injury fell briefly. Following the blood, it originates from the stairs leading down a floor.
b: Dust coats an oversized bed set with silk sheets and furs (100sp). Illuminated books detailing astrological movements and readings fill a bookshelf (500sp, heretical). A chest at the foot of the bed bears a crest - a horse rearing above a burning forest. The chest itself is empty. Beneath the bed is a crossbow. It has been left armed, and as such the mechanism snaps after being used once.
c,d,h: Plain rooms, empty bar beds and small, low wooden tables. Dust coats everything.
e: Rumpled bedsheets beneath the dust - a travellers pack casually thrown the side. Spilling from it, fat red candles, a brass orb on the end of a copper rod and a collection of rodent bones in a velvet bag. An empty flagon sits atop a low table. Scum crusts at the bottom of it. It bears a crest - a horse rearing above a burning forest. A chest contains sturdy clothes which would not offend if worn in a court.
f: Piles of manuscripts detailing fighting schools and battles line the walls. Between them, 11 longswords with different weightings and styles. A bed, perfectly folded beneath dust. A chest contains many practical suits of clothing, suitable for wearing beneath armour, as well as a small dress.
g: Maps of the forest - all flawed and untruthful - arranged in neat piles. A bed with no distinguishing characteristics.
i: The door is locked. Beyond it, the dust and cobwebs are thick. Outdated, moth-eaten silk hangings fill and divide the space. Several folded sets of noble women’s clothes - all spoiled by time. A bed which still smells of death.
a: Below the trapdoor, a corpse - horribly burnt around the hands, feet and chest, with solidified glass in the wounds. They have not rotted at all. The corpse wears ruined chain-mail and a sword. A solid trail of molten glass leads towards b. The walls have old manuscripts, the text rendered illegible by time.
b: An interstitial space between rooms marked by a thick trail of solidified glass, leading from a to f.
c: Manacles line the walls. Several unlit braziers stand in the centre of the room. Dark stains mar the floors and walls.
d: The door is locked. Beyond it, astrological charts in rich, expensive inks. They point towards some celestial object falling at some point. A ledger tracks this object - and reports it fell.
e: Stacks of archery targets and several disassembled training dummies. Dust.
f: Half the floor is covered in set glass. Set within it are three corpses. Each has had their feet and lower legs burnt - the feet to stumps. Each has additional burns on the forearms, chest or back. They were all wearing chain-mail and swords. Above the chain-mail, a tabard has a horse rearing above a burning forest upon it.
g: This room is filled with set glass, the walls showing heat-deformation at where the glass lapped against the walls when in liquid form. Within the glass a human figure can be made out. Clambering over the glass, there is a hole leading downwards.
This entire floor has been coated in glass, forming a single cavernous chamber of flowing glassy surfaces. Within this coils a 15’ long worm, twitching vaguely, as if in slumber.
Any violent thought in the chamber (taken as the players discussing potential actions) awakens The Perishing Worm.
The Perishing Worm
Coils of impossible flesh splinter outwards radially as it awakens - like a butterfly of industrial metal waste unfurling, wings graffiti’d with the words that end the world. When awake, it radiates a field inimical to conventional life - anything spending more than 2 minutes within a half-mile of the worm die, all natural processes ceasing simultaneously.
It can be cut by normal weapons, although they are ruined after a single strike - the blood of the Perishing Worm destroys metal.
G - The Oldest Tree
Thicker than houses, an immense tree is surrounded by bare earth cloaked in deep shadow. The outer bark is like iron - careful use of a chisel could loose sections large enough to act as a shield.
Around the base of the tree, skulls are piled - long ago, sacrifices were made to keep the forest happy, and this tree was the altar. Each skull has a small wound at the back of the cranial vault.
The leaves would be valuable to witches, if any were near enough to recognise the tree for what it was.
H - Quiet Brook
Over mossy stone, water snakes. It is pure and fresh. There are no encounters here - the forest has forgotten this part of itself, and the Ghosts never learnt of it. They would no longer comprehend peace between the trees.
I - Rejected Burial
Even the soil rejects the bodies of the humans - and this is why their ghosts wage the long, losing war against the forest. Their swollen backs and limbs emerge from the earth, pushed upwards like pustules in skin. They are decomposing far slower than they should - the carrion animals of the forest are too afraid to touch them. Those laden down with corpses are sure to be harassed by the Spirits - double encounters until the bodies are disposed of.
J - Freedom Beckons
You can see the end to the trees ahead. Light cuts through the canopy in spears.