II. A Trail of Poison
The animals of Ossindrillon are slowly being poisoned. A local druid has found some of the poisoned creatures, but cannot find the source of the poison. Who would want to destroy this beautiful place and its magical inhabitants? Is the poison merely a natural occurrence or is this some foul ploy of the night hag?
A Trail of Poison is a Pathfinder RPG adventure designed for four 1st-level characters. The adventure takes place in the forest surrounding Mor Aldenn, the City of Mages. This small city could in reality be located in any setting where two rivers converge inside an ancient forest.
It would definitely be to the players advantage if they had at least a ranger or druid in the party, preferably trained in the survival skill, but its not absolutely necessarily to complete the adventure.
For 300 years, the city of Mor Aldenn have been at war with the night hag of the Spindlewood Marsh. She is a strong archenemy and with each defeat, the vicious night mistress has grown ever more hateful of the mages and their city. How the night hag has survived these countless wars, remains a mystery even to this day, but she seem to finally understand that to destroy the mages of Mor Aldenn, she must first weaken them.
After months of peace, the night hag finally shows her ugly face. A hag in her coven has discovered a long lost tower deep within the treacherous Spindlewood. At the heart of the forgotten tower, she has also found a powerful artifact that has the power to attract the animals of the forest. With this artifact, the night hag hopes to strike at the mages.
That the mages use the magic of the surrounding lands, is a well-known fact. They find magic, not only in the trees, plants, lakes, rivers and the earth, but also in the animals that make Ossindrillon their home. To strike at these animals would indeed pose a severe threat to the mages.
The forgotten tower lies by a shadowy lake; a lake of poisoned water. This poison eats away at the very soul of those who drink it. Now the night hag uses the artifact to call out to the magical beasts. She forces them to come to the shadow lake and drink its poison, and while most of the beasts die by the lake, some are strong enough to escape into the Spindlewood. But their fate is sealed, no one survives the poison, not even the fabled unicorn.
This adventure begins when a local druid contacts the PCs. He has found several dead animals in the forest north of Mor Aldenn and is absolutely certain that they died from a strong and unknown poison. The druid fears that more animals will die a horrible death and therefore asks the PCs to find the source of this poison. He is, of course, willing to pay them for their efforts.
Eventually, the PCs will leave Mor Aldenn and enter the northern forest. They may have marked some of the places where the druid found the poisoned animals. Each of these places would be a good place to start their search.
Once in the Spindlewood, several events will occur, leading the PCs on the trail of a dying unicorn. It has reached the gateway to one of the fabled forest sanctuaries, but is too weak to enter. The unicorn tells the PCs of the tower and the shadowy lake, but before it can tell them anything else, the party is ambushed by the minions of the night hag. One of the minions manage to escape the wrath of the PCs, and heads back to the tower where his dark mistress awaits.
At the tower, the night hag’s scheme will be revealed. A green hag has found a long forgotten tower, a poisoned shadow lake and a dark relic that calls out for animals to serve its mistress. More dead animals are found near the lake, but why…
Starting this adventure…
Before this adventure…
[Sidebar - If the PCs like to explore the surrounding lands outside Mor Aldenn, you might allow them to find one of the poisoned animals on their own. Then, when the local druid contacts the PCs, they will have an even greater investment and interest in the adventure.]
A local druid, Aldorinn of Redhill, contacts the PCs with bad news. He has found a dead blink dog no more than three miles to the north, in the outskirts of the Spindlewood, near the river. The blink dog was clearly poisoned, but Aldorinn has never before encountered such a vile poison. According to recent rumors, others have found poisoned animals as well, all in and around the Spindlewood.
Aldorinn fears that other animals of the forest will suffer the same death as the blink dog, in fact, the druid fears that some might already have, and therefore pleads the PCs for help. Aldorinn is not a wealthy man, but has some magic that might interest the party, if only they will find the source of the poison and possibly destroy it. If the PCs accept the proposal, Aldorinn will also give them two potions of healing (1d8+1).
The PCs might, at this point, want to seek out the local poisoner, Jordrick Runsen. Perhaps they suspect that he might be involved somehow, but a little investigation will reveal that the alchemist is not involved. This is the truth, but he might be able to help them, if only they can bring him some of the actual poison, or perhaps one of the dead animals.
Eventually the PCs will leave Mor Aldenn and enter the Spindlewood to the northwest. They can easily hire a boatman to ferry them across the river, or perhaps wait for the local ferry to arrive. Either way, it will cost them a few silvers.
Entering the Spindlewood
“In which the party learns that something is definitely wrong in the Spindlewood!”
The first animal that the PCs find is the poisoned blink dog near the river. It has been here for more than a day and is starting to rot, and not just because of the poison. That this was once a magical beast is now hard to see. A little investigation reveals that none of the other more common animals of the forest wish to go near it.
The sight that meets you as you come close to the river, is just as horrific as Aldorinn described it. The poisoned blink dog has rapidly decayed, leaving its grey bones exposed in a pool of thick purple goo. The stench is nauseating and hangs heavy in the air. It is no wonder that none of the other animals wish to go near the site.
Poison: The shadow poison is not as potent as it was when the blink dog first drank from the lake, but its still strong enough to kill small animals. However, the poison needs to be ingested to work properly. The mechanics are mentioned in case one of the PCs should try something as foolish as tasting the poison! But really, who in their right mind would do that…
Shadow Poison (weakened)
Level 5 poison; Save Fortitude DC 14
Frequency 1 round (4); Effect 1 con damage; Cure 1 save
Moving through the Spindlewood
Its important that the PCs get to explore the forest, which means that you probably want them out there a few days before they start to find something really interesting. Let them find a few other poisoned beasts, like an owlbear that has been dead for at least a week, a truly ghastly sight for any hardened adventurer.
The Spindlewood itself is a dark and unfriendly place, yet not an outright evil place. It is named after the many different spiders that make it their home, of course, but if you stay out of their way, they certainly stay out of yours. However, adventurers often find the thick webs annoying and difficult to move through.
The forest have been left alone for far too long, but hides within its countless spiderwebs, secrets and unbelievable treasures from ages past. Adventurers exploring the forest should find a few ruins of elven outposts, an old temple dedicated to some unknown god and perhaps other monuments and caves as well.
Roll for random encounters on the following table. You should roll once every 2 hours that the PCs move through the Spindlewood, or once every 4 hours, if they are resting.
Die Roll Result
01-50 No encounter
51-55 Travellers or fellow adventurers
56-58 1d4+1 small monstrous spiders
59-61 1d2+1 medium monstrous spiders
62-65 1d3 dire badgers
66-70 1d4 dire bats
71-73 Dire boar
74-80 Assassin vine
81-82 1d4+1 stirges
83-86 1d4+1 centaurs
87-88 Displacer beast
91-92 1d2 Ettercaps
93-95 1d6+3 kobolds
Random encounters: Not all these encounters should necessarily end in a huge fight to the death. Some of the encounters, like the travellers, centaur and pseudodragon encounters should be friendly encounters based around conversation, while some of the harder encounters might result in the beast fleeing, like the displacer beast and aranea encounters. However, dont underestimate a few fights before continuing towards the encounter with the dying unicorn, you want the PCs to gain a level before reaching the forgotten tower.
Event 1: The Ambush (EL 3)
The old ettercap, Xas’tallan, has sent a group of young and inexperienced ettercaps to patrol the outskirts of the Spindlewood. These ettercaps may be young, but they are gifted hunters and know how to set an ambush.
This event happens within the first hour of entering the Spindlewood.
Strange purple creatures bursts forth from the surrounding shadows. They have long spindly arms and lots of small eyes, but doesn’t seem to wield any weapons.
Setup: The ettercaps watch and wait for the right time to attack. Allow a Perception check DC 19 to avoid a surprise attack. They have learned to fight together and will all try to bring down the biggest threat first.
Ettercaps (3): hp 12 each, monster manual 106 (each is considered CR 2)
Developments: Ettercaps are basically cowards, which means, should two of the ettercaps die in the fight, the last one will definitely try to flee, bearing word to Xas’tallan about the outsiders.
Event 2: A Poisoned Beast (EL 3)
Not long ago, a displacer beast was lured to the shadow lake by the ancient artifact. The poison reacted a little bit different with this creature that seemed to go into a mad frenzy. The displacer beast succeeded in killing several of the night hag’s minions before escaping into the Spindlewood. Its very weak, but the poison hasn’t yet killed it. Instead it roams aimlessly in the dark forest, attacking anything in its path.
This event happens during the first day that the party spends in the forest.
A loud noise breaks the silence. Seconds later, the creature that made the sound is revealed -a displacer beast! Its movement seems erratic, without purpose and when the beast spots the group, it lunges forward. From the protruding bones and purple goo, you are absolutely certain that it was poisoned!
Setup: You can stage this fight at day or night, the important thing is that the PCs are not surprised by the displacer beast, in fact, they hear it long before it arrives. The beast is in a lot of pain and wish only to destroy those who cross its path. If the PCs wish, they can prepare an ambush.
Displacer Beast (1): 15 hp (its Constitution is currently 5); -2 penalty to attack, damage and saves; monster manual 66 (the displacer beast is considered CR 3)
Poison: The shadow poison courses through the veins of the displacer beast. This means that should anyone feel the temptation to drink some of the purple goo, they are basically ingesting a weakened version of the poison (see Chapter One: Entering the Spindlewood).
The adventure really starts when the PCs come across the trail of poison that will, hopefully, lead them to the dying unicorn. You, the GM, decide when they find the first tracks of poison, but from then on, they must use their skills and wits to follow the tracks.
Survival skill: Make sure to read up on this skill, which can be found on page 73 of the Pathfinder Beta Playtest. To follow the tracks left by the dying unicorn, one of the PCs must be trained in its use, but if none of them are, you should allow them to stumble upon the unicorn after spending 2 days in the Spindlewood. You could also let them meet Aldorinn, who has been tracking the unicorn himself. Of course, none of these options would give them the bonus xp for tracking down the unicorn.
To follow the tracks and find the dying unicorn, the PCs must succeed at three consecutive Survival checks DC 18. Every time they miss a roll, they must succeed at a Survival check DC 20, to find the tracks again. For each roll, the PCs spend an hour, either following the tracks or looking for the tracks.
The PCs should be awarded experience points as if they killed a CR 2 creature.
Event 3: The Dying Unicorn
While a unicorn is certainly a rare and unlike encounter in the rest of the world, its not an uncommon sight in ancient Ossindrillon. This particular unicorn heard the call from the artifact 4 days ago, but only answered it 2 days ago.
Normally unicorns are immune to poisons, but this particular shadow poison is far more potent than any other poison and even works a little bit different.
The tracks lead you to a small clearing in front of the largest whiteoak that any of you have ever seen before. There, in the shadow of the ancient oak, lies a unicorn. This creature was once beautiful beyond compare, but the strange poison has somehow affected it as well, leaving it dying in its forest home. As you approach, it raises its head in your direction, but its weak and can only move a little.
The unicorn has managed to reach the gateway to one of the fabled forest sanctuaries. The gateway is the ancient whiteoak, but it will only open when an old riddle is answered. The unicorn, of course, knows about the sanctuary, the gateway, the riddle and the answer, but does not have the strength to enter.
It understands that the PCs does not wish to harm it, but since they are not friends and allies, it will only tell them the riddle, not the answer, and only if they ask it. This secret may go unnoticed, but thats ok, it may be revealed at a later time. However, here is the riddle that must be answered;
”I am hidden in the earth,
cursed never to see the light
and yet, the water I drink give birth
so that my master can reach his might!”
The answer to this riddle, of course, is “the roots of the tree”. If the answer is spoken in sylvan in front of the ancient whiteoak, a stairwell reveals itself between its roots. The stairwell leads down into a world that is a part of Ossindrillon, and yet, is nothing like it. The gate closes 30 seconds after the first person has opened it. It will open from the other side whenever someone treads the stairs.
While the stairs appears to take the PCs deep into the ground, they actually exit above ground in a clearing filled with flowers in a myriad of colours. The sun follows a path all its own, as does the moon. A minute spend in the forest sanctuary may seem like an eternity. The PCs will encounter fey creatures who appear friendly, but may have secret motives of their own.