Vicious Venues04/18/2003

Castle Green

Nothing of this ancient castle remains except for a few scattered stones and the faint outlines of the curtain wall and moat. Still, the place has its secrets.

Background for the DM

Castle Green was once the site of an impressive fortification. Centuries ago, an invading army wrecked the castle, and the passing years have worn away nearly every stone, leaving only a great swath of flat, green sward. Only low, rounded mounds of turf show where the walls once lay. Uneven furrows in the grass follow the lines of the old moat.

The castle ruins could lie nearly anywhere, but a location within a day's march of a town is best. The ground level of any castle map could serve to depict the site. No walls still stand, but the foundations are still there, leaving a faint outline on the green.

The green can be just what it appears to be -- a pleasant open space with soft grass and cool breezes -- or it might prove a slightly more dramatic place than it appears at first glance.

The Setup

The PCs might stumble on the site while traveling. They also might hear a few local tales about strange doings at the ruins, such as the following:

  • Ghostly watchmen patrol the castle walls during the dark of the moon. No one knows why the ghosts still walk. Some say they are guards doomed to atone for their failure to defend the castle. Others speak of ghostly revels that take place on the green in the midnight darkness while the watchmen stand guard and kill anyone who intrudes.

  • Invaders who overthrew the castle in ages past sowed the area with salt, so that naught grows on the green now except poisonous weeds. From time to time, foul beasts from beyond nature come to graze on the green, and it is death to behold them.

  • A hidden door somewhere in the ruins leads to a chamber full of treasure, but the treasure bears a deadly curse, and none who have so much as looked upon it have lived to tell the tale or spend so much as a copper of their ill-gotten lucre.

  • Faeries dance on the green during moonlit summer nights.

It's up to you to decide which, if any, of these rumors are true (perhaps they all are). See the following sections for ways to use these rumors as adventure hooks.

Exploring the Green

Though mostly just flat, open space, the green has a few features worth investigating, as noted in the boxed text below, and in the sections that follow:

Verdant grass covers this vast meadow. The land is fairly flat, except for some long, low mounds fronted by shallow ditches. A few brambles and low bushes grow in clumps here and there. A few sections of the area also seem strewn with ancient rubble.

Local rumors about the place being covered in poisonous weeds are false; the rumor started when someone noted that no trees grow on the site. Grazing animals and the occasional late summer wildfire keep the green open and grassy. In more civilized areas, shepherds might keep flocks of sheep and goats on the green.

The Moat

The castle's former moat is now just a shallow ditch of varying width and depth enclosing about a third of the site. Here and there, one can find remnants of stone retaining walls that once lined the moat's banks, and a few heavy stones from the castle walls lie embedded in the soft, slightly soggy moat bottom. There are several small ponds, fringed with cattails, where groundwater has seeped into the moat. These ponds teem with frogs, insects, and other small animals except in very cold or very dry weather.

A persistent search of the moat bottom (DC 25) reveals bits and pieces of humanoid skeletons (the remains of invaders or castle defenders), which are old and brittle, but not otherwise remarkable or dangerous.

Creatures (EL 2, 3, 4, or 5): Characters exploring the moat may also flush out one or two larger tenants: a cete of badgers or dire badgers, or even an ankheg.

Badgers (3): hp 6 each; see Monster Manual.

Ankheg (1 or 2): hp 25 each; see Monster Manual.

Dire Badgers (4): hp 25 each; see Monster Manual.

Tactics: The badgers or dire badgers don't try to make a meal of the PCs, but they resent intrusions and snarl at PCs from their burrows before coming out to attack; they charge if they can.

The ankhegs simply attack anything that comes within reach.

The Walls

As noted earlier, the castle's walls have been reduced to low mounds covered with turf. These mounds are about a foot high and about 20 feet thick. Digging into the side of a mound quickly uncovers massive blocks of fitted stone. These formed the base of the castle's outer walls. The original wall has inner and outer layers of stone filled with dirt rubble. In the years after the castle's fall, locals carted off most of the stone from the walls to use for their own buildings, dumping the rubble into the moat and filling it up. Digging into the top of a mound reveals a tightly packed mass of gravel, clay, and some larger rocks and stone chips.

Creatures (EL 7 or 9): Local tales of ghostly watchmen patrolling the walls in the dark of the night might be just tales, or they might be true. In the latter case, PCs who visit the green at night could encounter a pair of wraiths or spectres haunting the walls.

Wraiths (2): hp 32 each; see Monster Manual.

Spectres (2): hp 45 each; see Monster Manual.

Stone Circle and Sinkhole

This area marks the site of the castle's main keep. The stone foundations are a little higher here (about 4 feet high), and some mossy stones stick up out of the turf. The keep walls are otherwise like the caster walls, except that they are solid stone all the way through and only about 10 feet thick.

A funnel-shaped depression nearly 40 feet deep fills the area inside the foundations. This was once part of the castle dungeons, but now it's just a hole in the ground, with grass-covered sides and a marshy area at the bottom. The sloping sides are steep, but not quite steep enough to require a Climb check when walking on them.

Traps (EL 6): A spring that once supplied the castle with water still flows, but it has become buried under several feet of dirt and debris over the centuries, making the bottom of the depression marshy. The marsh contains a deadly patch of quicksand.

Quicksand: CR 6; no damage; Reflex DC 20 avoids; Search DC 25.

Notes: A character who falls into quicksand can remain afloat with a Swim check (DC 15) but cannot escape the quicksand by swimming. Escape requires two consecutive Escape Artist or Strength checks (DC 20); each check requires a full-round action. Two consecutive failed checks mean the character sinks below the surface, where the character must hold his breath or begin drowning. A character below the surface must make two consecutive Escape Artist or Swim checks (DC 20) to regain the surface. Each round spent in quicksand after the first adds +1 to the DC of checks made to remain afloat, escape, or regain the surface. A character on solid ground can toss a rope to a companion stuck in quicksand and haul him out with a Strength check (DC 20). The quicksand is about 15 feet deep.

Creatures (EL 5, 6, or 7): A swamp-loving creature might lurk in the marshy area and make occasional forays out onto the green to hunt or graze. It is these forays that give rise to local rumors about foul beasts from beyond nature grazing on the green.

Basilisk: hp 45; see Monster Manual.

Catoblepas: CR 6; Huge aberration; HD 6d8+30; hp 57; Init +1; Spd 30 ft.; AC 19, touch 9, flat-footed 18; Atk +10 melee (1d6+12 and stun, tail slam) or +3 ranged touch (death ray); Face/Reach 10 ft. x 20 ft./10 ft.; SA death ray, stun; SQ darkvision 60 ft., scent; AL N; SV Fort +7, Ref +3, Will +6; Str 26, Dex 13, Con 21, Int 2, Wis 13, Cha 8.

Skills and Feats: Hide -7, Jump +10, Listen +3, Spot +3, Wilderness Lore +3.

Death ray (Su): A thin, green ray springs from the catoblepas' bloodshot eyes, causing any living creature it strikes to die. The ray can reach up to 160 ft. with no range increment. A creature that makes a successful Fortitude save (DC 18) is only partially affected. It takes 5d6 points of damage instead of dying. Only the first creature or object struck can be affected (that is, the ray affects only one target per use). Once the catoblepas uses this power, it must wait 1d4 rounds before using it again.

Stun (Ex): When a catoblepas strikes a living target with its tail, the target must make a Fortitude save (DC 18). If the target succeeds, it takes only the normal damage. If the target fails, it is stunned for 1 round in addition to taking damage normally. A stunned character can't act and loses any Dexterity bonus to Armor Class. Attackers get a +2 bonus on attack rolls against a stunned opponent.

Chuul: hp 93; see Monster Manual.

Bramble Patch

A pile of rubble overgrown with a thicket of thorny vines lies at one corner of the green. Every autumn, these vines are thick with blackberries.

This pile of rubble was once the castle's rear gate. It contained a secret door the defenders could use to make sallies against a besieging army. The door is still there, though it is hidden behind layers of moss and blackberry vines. To get at the door, one must first tear away the vines. If local tales are true, the door leads to a treasure chamber (see Secret Chamber); if not, the door merely opens onto a collapsed passageway.

Mass of Blackberry Vines: 12 in. thick; hardness 5; hp 60; AC 5; break DC 28.

Secret Door: 6 in. thick; hardness 8; hp 90; AC 5; break DC 32; Search DC 25.

Creatures (EL 3 or 6): The vine-covered area would make an ideal lair for an assassin vine or shambling mound. The presence of either creature would be enough to scare commoners away from the area.

Assassin Vine: hp 30; see Monster Manual.

Shambling Mound: hp 60; see Monster Manual.

Tactics: Either creature hunts by ambushing visitors to the area. They usually wait until someone begins poking around the secret door or combing through the vines, then attack. The preferred target is a lone creature or someone separated from her companions by a few feet.

Secret Chamber

If local tales of a hidden treasure under the green are true, the treasure chamber can be reached through the secret door in the bramble patch. The door opens onto a narrow passages and squirms its way deep under the green, finally ending in a large, dank chamber where the loot is stored in a few old, but very sturdy chests.

Creatures (EL 5 or 7): Local tales that speak of treasure here also speak of a curse. The "curse" has a fairly mundane basis -- unseen treasure guardians. A pair of phantom fungi, or perhaps an invisible stalker, might lurk in the chamber. The fungi are here naturally. The invisible stalker guards the chamber as part of an ancient bargain struck with the castle's original owners.

Phantom Fungi (2): hp 15 each; see Monster Manual.

Invisible Stalker: hp 52; see Monster Manual.

Tactics: The phantom fungi tend to attack by lurking near the chamber entrance and pouncing on the last character who enters. The invisible stalker uses similar tactics, but it singles out characters that seem to see it for special attention.

Treasure: A level 5 to 7 treasure of triple size lies in the chamber. As noted above, the treasure is held in chests (at least three, but possibly more if appropriate).

Treasure Chests: 2 in. thick; hardness 5; hp 20 each; AC 5; break DC 25; Open Lock DC 25.

Castle Courtyard

The former castle courtyard looks just like the rest of the green, except that an old flagstone remains visible in the turf here and there.

Creatures (EL 6 or 7): Local tales say faeries dance on the green during moonlit summer nights. It may be just a bard's tale, or maybe not. If the latter, the moonlight revels consist of a nymph or dryad (from a nearby forest or copse), a grig fiddler, and a pair of pixies.

Dryad: hp 7; see Monster Manual.

Grig: hp 2; see Monster Manual.

Pixies (2): hp 3; see Monster Manual.

Nymph: hp 10; see Monster Manual.

Tactics: These creatures are merely interested in dancing and having some fun. They'll gladly allow polite folk to join them for awhile. They know the green and the area around it fairly well but don't wish to talk until they're ready to take a break from dancing, which might take an hour or two.

If approached in a nonthreatening way, the dancers wave to newcomers and continue dancing until the fiddler takes a break. Then the pixies, who are visible, fly over toward the newcomers.

"Are you dangerous?" inquires one of the little winged beings. "We're supposed to stay away from big people 'cause they're dangerous. But you don't look very dangerous."

"No," agrees the other, studying you carefully. "Not dangerous. Just a little clunky."

"Ask them to dance with us," calls the comely woman in a musical tone.

The tiny fiddler with cricket legs bends over his bow, applying a substance to it. "Them?" says the fiddler. "Everyone knows big people have no rhythm."

"That's right, Ashma," rebukes the woman. "You mustn't embarrass them."

The little winged people look at you again. "Is that true? Big people can't dance?"

If the characters protest that they can dance, the fey ask them to join in the fairy dance for the next set. Otherwise they merely allow them to watch. If the PCs do join the dance, the grig begins with a stately, formal tune meant for court dancing, then gradually speeds up the tempo to test the PCs' ability. By the time the dance is over, he is playing at a phenomenal rate that only a hasted character could keep up with.

If the PCs are good sports and do their best to join in, the fey are pleased, and their attitude becomes helpful. They invite the PCs to join them again on the next full moon.

If attacked, the fey defend themselves as best they can. The pixies return to invisibility and loose arrows from the air while the other creatures try to back away and use their various magical powers. If hard pressed, the faeries might try to lead their opponents to the lair of another monster living on the green.

About the Authors

Skip Williams keeps busy with freelance projects for several different game companies and has been the Sage of Dragon Magazine since 1986. Skip is a co-designer of the D&D 3rd Edition game and the chief architect of the Monster Manual. When not devising swift and cruel deaths for player characters, Skip putters in his kitchen or garden (his borscht get rave reviews).

Penny Williams joined the roleplaying game industry as Game Questions Expert for TSR, Inc. in the 1980s. Since then, she has served as RPGA Network Coordinator, PolyhedronNewszine editor, and Senior Editor and Coordinating Editor for the RPG R&D Department at Wizards of the Coast, Inc. Now a busy freelancer, Penny edits for several game companies and runs the online playtesting program for Wizards products. When not enhancing the cruelty of the deaths PCs will suffer at the hands of designers, Penny puts up jam, works jigsaw puzzles, and tutors students in math and science.

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