Adventure Hook: Red Moon Rising

This is a rewrite of an old mini-adventure, retooled as a “hook” and expanded to be more open-ended, with brand-new supplementary content to flesh out the village of Hester, and more opportunities for adventure and exploration (PDF version here).


Each year, under the blood-red glow of the harvest moon, a horseman rides silent as a ghost through the misty, benighted forest. Where his head should be, there is none, and where his heart should be, there is only blackness. For the one night that the full autumnal moon hangs heavy in the dark sky, the Horseman brings hell to the small village of Hester.

This Halloween-themed hook/mini-adventure is ideal for dropping into an existing campaign as characters travel through a remote, sparsely populated area, or follow ancient trails through spirit-haunted woods. What will draw them to the village of Hester is up to you, the game master: An aged sign, barely clinging to the gnarled oak to which it was nailed so long ago; a shadowy figure, fleeing down the overgrown path leading to the village; or even becoming lost, and stumbling into the village quite by accident.

Background

The party arrives in the village of Hester just as the darkness falls and the red moon rises. It is silent as death, and home to but one place of lodging: The Reaper’s Inn. Finding the door locked, they may knock or turn to leave, though before they can move or make a sound, the door is flung opened, and the party is urged to enter by a harsh female voice. In the dim glow of a single flickering candle, Mary Freydin, keeper of the inn, explains all: There is a curse upon this village – a Headless monster who has plagued us for generations. When the red harvest moon hangs high in the night sky, he descends upon us, slaying all who oppose him, and stealing our daughters away into the night, never to be seen again!

During her tale, a rustling begins in the distance, as that of an endless field of wheat whispering in the blowing wind. As it grows nearer, Mary trembles, and the sound of shattering glass can be heard outside. His beasts… she will murmur breathlessly. They come!

Always preceding the Headless Horseman are his strawmen – a lifeless horde of scarecrow-like humanoids wielding pitchforks and wicked scythes, and bringing with them a thick and ominous fog. There are between 10-20 strawmen during the siege, all of whom attack mindlessly and without pause.


Strawman (T5; 1-2 HP; 1-in-5 chance of +1 attack bonus)

An unthinking, soulless golem of straw and clay, animated by dark magic for sinister purposes.


The Headless Horseman

When only 1d10 strawmen remain, frenzied galloping becomes audible in the distance, and the Headless Horseman will arrive in 1d5 turns, rushing into the village on his red-eyed, black horse. He will dash past the party, paying them no heed, and make for the center of town. Maddened, hysterical laughter splits the night air, and a scream of horror soon follows. Moments later, the Horseman reappears, still cackling wildly, and holding a young girl across his lap as he returns to whence he came: the black and foreboding Waymar Woods.


Headless Horseman (T9; +2 reflex; 12 HP)

Veiled all in black, from his leather riding boots to his billowing cloak, the Headless Horseman speaks with a commanding, disembodied voice. A ghostly entity of unbridled rage and hatred, the Horseman cannot be reasoned with or stayed: he can only kill or be killed.

Headless Horseman Abilities

Disarm – any time you roll a 10 during a melee attack, roll 1d10: if the result is 6 or higher, you disarm your opponent (in addition to inflicting damage or any other effects).

Raised by the sword – when facing an opponent also armed with a sword, you gain a +1 attack bonus.


The Waymar Woods

After the strawmen have been slain, several villagers bearing horses approach the party, pleading that they follow the Horseman and rescue the maiden.

Pursuing the Horseman is easy, even in the pitch-black gloom of the Waymar Woods. His trail is wide and well-cut, as though nothing will grow in his accursed tracks. It leads to the crumbling remains of a village, where the Horseman is waiting, unmounted from his fiendish steed, and the maiden missing.

The Horseman will attempt to dissuade the party from attacking, insisting that they have no business with him, and that his conflict is with the people of Hester alone. If they persist, he places his gloved fingers where his mouth should be, mimicking the living as he whistles sharply. As you wish, he will lament. The ground before him heaves and pitches, and a gnarled, fleshy hand erupts from the black soil. The hand claws blindly at the dirt, followed by another, until a corpulent, deformed beast drags itself free of its shallow grave. It screeches terribly, and rushes the party while the Horseman observes in silence.


Golem, flesh (T5; 5 HP, 2 PP)

A twisted aberration of coagulated blood, sinew, bone, and muscle, the flesh golem is a corporeal horror vaguely humanoid in appearance. Despite being un-living and possessing no memory, will, or spirit, the flesh golem is animated with a fiendish ferocity and attacks its enemies with uncommon aggression.

Flesh Golem Abilities

Rampage – if you suffer more than 3 points of damage in a single combat round, gain a +1 attack and damage bonus for 1d5 rounds; additionally, gain +2 temporary hit points. Cost: 2 power points.


If the party defeats the flesh golem, the Headless Horseman silently draws his rapier, narrow blade glimmering in the moonlight: I vowed with my final breath that I would not rest until the last Hester was slain. I mean to keep that promise. On guard!

He wields the blade with near-demonic mastery, attacking like lightning, his movements lithe, foot-work swift and ceaseless. Throughout the battle, he will offer to spare the party if they agree to leave and never return to Hester, reiterating that his quarrel lies not with them. Each time they refuse, he increases the ferocity of his attacks, and the fog that encircles the battle ground draws nearer.

After 1d10 combat rounds, a cloaked figure will arrive on horseback during the fight. Removing its hood, the figure reveals itself as a young woman, raven-black hair long and flowing. She will address the Horseman by name, stopping him cold in his tracks: Jon Carver! Cease this attack! Your conflict is not with them – it is with me.

The woman dismounts and approaches the Horseman, the fog shrinking from her confident stride: I will no longer stand by while the innocent fall to your blade. You have made your vow, now keep it! I, Brynne Hester, am the last of the Hester line. End it now, and free my people from your reign of terror.

The Horseman obliges, lunging forward to attack her, and he will do so heedlessly, ignoring any attempts the party may make to stop him, only defending himself from their attacks while single-mindedly attempting to slay Brynne (the Horseman suffers a -2 toughness penalty, as he is distracted).

Conclusion

The Horseman’s terror ends only when he or Brynne is slain. At that point, whichever outcome, he will breathe a great sigh of relief, a gust of cold air that rustles every dying leaf on every gnarled branch in the Waymar, and disappear, leaving only his black clothing behind.

If the party manages to slay the Horseman, Brynne Hester will thank them tearfully and explain: I have done what my father, and his father, and their fathers before them were unwilling to do – die so that others may live. But my bravery has been eclipsed by the courage of strangers. I am forever in your debt.

Additionally, Brynne may explain to the party why the Horseman vowed to end the line of Hester:

Many generations prior, the village of Hester – led by patriarch Isaac Hester – attacked the Horseman’s village, whose name has now been lost to time. Isaac accused its people of witchcraft, blaming them for years of failed crops, disease, and hardship. The men were beheaded, the women burned at the stake. The Horseman – Jon Carver – was the village leader, and the last to be put to death. With his dying breath, he cursed the Hesters, and swore his oath of destruction.

Just moments after the party speaks with Brynne, the patter of bare feet splits the silence. Dozens of young girls and women, rubbing their eyes and stumbling as though waking from a deep sleep, emerge from a nearby crumbling building, freed from the spell of the Horseman. Brynne gasps in disbelief, and eventually leads the maidens back to Hester, returning them to their families.

Supplementary Content

The Village of Hester

A medium-sized village of mostly single-story, rugged wooden buildings surrounded by dense old-growth forest, Hester has existed unchanged for centuries – the last remaining village of a cluster that was built some 600 years prior. Its population of about 500 subsist primarily on corn and wheat, supplemented by what little meat they can hunt from the surrounding forest. They trade infrequently with several villages located a three days’ ride north.

The people of Hester adhere to an old religion, the likes of which is preserved in only the most ancient parts of the world. They strongly distrust any form of magic, believing it be a power stolen from God, and thus belonging not to mortals. They eschew modernity in all its forms, refusing most technologies that simplify their labors. However, despite their austerity, they are a generally contented people, and treat others – even strangers – with more kindness than suspicion.

During the last harvest moon, a number of male villagers conspired to oppose the Headless Horseman, and took up arms against him in the Battle of the Red Moon. They were one and all slaughtered without mercy – man and boy alike. As a result, many of the families of Hester are without fathers or elder brothers, and many responsibilities have fallen to young boys.

Notable Places

If Hester is explored prior to the defeat of the Headless Horseman, villagers will be few in number, many of them in hiding, or unwilling to speak with strangers. If it is explored after his defeat, the characters will be received as heroes: merchants will offer their wares at steep discounts, and villagers will shower them with thanks and praise.

The Reaper’s Inn – as grim in aspect as it is in name, the Reaper’s Inn is among the few two-storied buildings in town, and its sturdy wooden exterior is almost black as coal with age. It boasts three rooms, and a small tavern serving basic ales and spirits, along with simple foods: several breads, root vegetable roasts, and offal pies.

Blacksmith – an unornamented building houses a sparse metalworking shop. The village blacksmith perished in last year’s battle, and his post has remained unfilled. The people of Hester, being independent and quite resourceful, have used the space to mend their own tools, but much of the equipment has gathered dust in the master’s absence. A perception check 6 will reveal several loose floorboards, under which a steep, narrow staircase leads into a small stonewalled room. Here is a modest armory, though most of the weapons are missing. Remaining are a handful of unremarkable melee weapons, and a fine set of chainmail (STATS).

Church of the Old Order – a modest square building bearing ancient cladding and several red stained-glass windows. The interior is meager, with simple wooden benches lined neatly before a small dais, upon which sits a lectern. Holes in the roof allow rays of light to pierce the dimness, and cracked plaster hangs from walls that bear detailed icons performing various tasks. Each of the icons’ faces has been obliterated. The priest welcomes all into the church, anointing them with gestures on their approach. If asked, he will explain that after the villagers stood against the Horseman, his strawmen swept into the church and vandalized it, defacing its icons and relics. However, he claims that despite their attempts, strawmen were unable to shatter the blood-red windows.

Notable People

Father Caldin the Older – the oldest man in Hester, Father Caldin has been the village’s spiritual leader for over four generations. Becoming widowed after he lost his wife to a plague some years ago, he is uncommonly dedicated to the Church, even for a man of his intense faith. This dedication has only increased after his son was slain during the Horseman’s sacking of the church last year. Since this loss, he has fasted and prayed almost ceaselessly. As a result, he is withered and sickly looking. He receives all visitors generously, nonetheless, and will know intimate details of the party’s feats, informing them that he has long prayed for their aid.

Mary Freydin – keeper of the town’s sole lodging, the Reaper’s Inn, Mary’s austere lifestyle has produced a strong and capable woman. Were it not for her faith and solemnity, she would never have been able to run the inn after her husband’s death in the Battle of the Blood Moon. She claims it was the Horseman himself who slew him, though how she ascertained that information in unclear. She is a talkative old woman, and keeps her straight, grey hair in a short style, framing in her pale face; like many of the older women in Hester, she often wears a black cloth over her head.

Wince Ruinn – having lost his father and two elder brothers in the Battle of the Red Moon, Wince cares for his mother and sister, both of whom lost their sight to a plague that struck the village some years ago. Despite these hardships, he retains his faith and optimism, and will reward the party with his father’s prayer necklace – a simple strand made of stone beads and adorned with a pendant of stone depicting a placid face with rays of light surrounding its head (grants a +1 save bonus to the wearer, and a +2 save bonus if the wearer is of the Old Order).

Adventure Hooks

Find the Old Order – in a city many days’ ride from Hester, the Old Order’s ancient vestry sits forgotten amid an urban sprawl of citadels and towers. Father Caldin asks that the party deliver to the Order news that his replacement is due. He will provide them with a map, gold for their journey and their troubles, and a stone sigil (grants +2 temporary hit points to all allies in a 20 foot radius) identifying them as friends of the faith.

Acolytes of the Horseman – Mary Freydin has long believed that a cult sprung up around the Horseman, occupying a makeshift dungeon beneath the ruins where the party encountered him. She is concerned that though the Horseman is gone, their troubles may not yet be over…

To Open Their Eyes – a traveling healer can restore sight, and though Wince desires it for his mother and sister, the treatment has always been too costly. He knows the location of an old troll hoard, however, in the forest nearby, and offers to accompany the party there in exchange for a cut.


This concludes Tiny d10: Red Moon Rising. This work is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

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