Vicious Venues09/21/2003

Woodland Cottage

Background for the DM

The cottage is home to Erhine, a graybeard with a nose for exotic herbs and esoteric knowledge. In his secluded cottage, Erhine studies old tomes and maintains a far-flung network of contacts that spans the world and the planes beyond. Messengers come and go frequently, and visitors with new facts to impart often stay a week or two. There's no telling whom or what Erhine may be entertaining on any given day. Consequently, his cottage has acquired a reputation as a house of horrors. The old man makes ends meet by selling rare herbs and by serving as a sage and teacher. He's a stern taskmaster when it comes to learning, so much so that some of his less eager students readily agree that the little cottage is a dreadful place.

Currently, Erhine has a pair of reluctant students: Arietisa and Procyonai bint Hamalik. Arietisa and Procyonai are djinn, daughters of a djinni sheik of Erhine's long acquaintance. The sisters find Erhine's cottage cramped (a reasonable complaint for creatures of their size), and hopelessly rustic (a less reasonable gripe from a pair of creatures who have perhaps become spoiled and lazy). They think Erhine is a boring old fuddy-duddy (true, from their points of view).

The Setup

The cottage is deliberately isolated, so the PCs aren't likely to stumble across it by accident unless they get lost in the woods. The characters might be directed here, however, if they discover some old or unusual item that sages find difficult to identify or appraise. They also might be hired to deliver a message to Erhine. Parents of means could hire the PCs to escort one of their children to the cottage to receive an education, or perhaps to track down a runaway student.

Despite the cottage's remote location, woodcutters, hunters, elves, and other sylvan creatures have had ample opportunity to observe the place over the years, and Erhine's bizarre dealings and eccentric ways have given rise to many rumors and tall tales. Anyone who seeks information about Erhine or his dwelling might hear any of the following tales.

  • The one who calls himself Erhine is a truly wicked being who traffics in blood and souls, especially those of the young and innocent. It is not clear exactly what kind of creature this Erhine really is, but lone travelers would be well advised to steer clear of his dwelling. Erhine lives in a cottage that seems normal enough, but it's bigger on the inside than on the outside, and it holds untold horrors.

  • Erhine is a crazy old coot, but he's actually harmless. He spends too much time with plants and animals, and he'll talk your ears off if you give him the slightest encouragement. He's a friend to the creatures of the forest, however, and anyone who does him wrong doesn't stand much chance of ever leaving the area alive.

  • Erhine's cottage is actually an extradimensional crossroads, and Erhine is some sort of toll keeper and planar tour guide. You can go just about anywhere right from his front parlor.

It's up to you to decide which, if any, of these rumors are true. Most of the following sections assume that the more ominous rumors are either untrue or exaggerated.

A First Look at the Cottage

From the outside, Erhine's cottage looks like a spacious dwelling (which it is). The text below assumes that the time of year is early autumn. Adjust it as needed to reflect the time of year in your own campaign.

The forest opens a bit here to form a glade sheltered by massive oak trees. A rambling cottage stands under the oaks. Its main section features very tall gables and lower wings on either side. The thatched roofs look oddly pale and shiny, as though covered with hoarfrost. Slim crystalline forms dangle from the eaves, looking like tiny icicles. That's odd, because the day seems comfortably warm.

The cottage has half-timbered walls, with shutters and a front door painted bright green. Though the windows are at a height appropriate for creatures of about human size, the front door looks massive. It's easily tall and wide enough to allow an ogre to enter without squeezing or stooping.

A thick hedge with a gate of wrought iron surrounds the cottage. The view through the gate shows neatly trimmed gardens filled with flowers, herbs, and vegetables.

The "frost" on the thatched roof is literally cake frosting. Yesterday, Erhine grew impatient with his two students and decided to give them a short break from schoolwork, suggesting they might like some fresh air. The sisters were happy with the change of pace, until they learned what Erhine had in mind. He ordered them to repair a few minor leaks in the cottage roof. Inwardly fuming, the djinn asked if they would be allowed to use their magical powers on the job. Erhine readily agreed and told his students they had the day for the job. If they finished early, they could have the rest of the day to themselves. Erhine expected the djinn to use their ability to create vegetable matter to fashion some new thatch, but instead, the sisters conjured up a big bucket of sugary frosting and slathered that all over the roof. The deed done, the sisters used their plane shift abilities to return to their father's court, explaining that they had the day off.

In the warmth of the day, the frosting has slumped and flowed, forming the "icicles" the PCs saw from afar.

Erhine, who has immersed himself in some research, has yet to notice the prank. He'll be none too pleased with the sisters when he discovers how they repaired the roof. A quick sending spell will bring back the sisters, probably with dad in tow.

When the PCs get closer, the true condition of the roof becomes more apparent.

There's a sweet scent coming from cottage, but the smell is too cloying to be pleasant. A thick cloud of flying insects hovers over the cottage roof. Thousands of buzzing wings combine to create a throbbing drone.

The gate in the hedge is unlocked, and the PCs can walk right up to the cottage. It's fairly easy to reach up to the cottage's eaves and get a sample of the roof's sticky covering.

Inside the Cottage

The main section of the cottage consists of a single room that is open to the rafters, which are high overhead. Erhine had the room built this way to accommodate visitors bigger than himself. The room has a simple décor consisting of a stone floor, a big fireplace, and walls lined with overstuffed bookshelves. A long table, a pair of padded benches, and a pair of high divans that large visitors can use as armchairs constitute the room's primary furnishings. Erhine uses this room for instructing students and entertaining guests.

The cottage's two wings are built to human scale. One contains a kitchen, storage space, and a stable. The other wing houses a library, workshop, and study.

Creatures (EL 14 or 15): Erhine lives in the cottage with his wolf animal companion, Sirus, and his raven familiar, Miatrix. At any given time, Erhine has one or two students or visitors (Arietisa and Procyonai are currently students).

Erhine: Male human Druid 2/Wizard 7/Loremaster 5; CR 14; Medium humanoid; HD 2d8+2 plus 7d4+7 plus 5d4+5; hp 53; Init +1; Spd 30 ft.; AC 17, touch 14, flat-footed 16; Base Atk +6; Grp +5; Atk +6 melee (1d6-1, masterwork quarterstaff) or +8 ranged (1d6-1, sling with masterwork sling bullet); Full Atk +6/+1 melee (1d6-1, masterwork quarterstaff) or +8/+3 ranged (1d6-1, sling with masterwork sling bullet); SQ animal companion (Sirus), bonus language (Auran), familiar benefits, lore 9, loremaster secrets (inner strength, instant mastery [Appraise], newfound arcana), nature sense, raven familiar (Miatrix), wild empathy +2, woodland stride; AL N; SV Fort +9, Ref +6, Will +18; Str 8, Dex 12, Con 13, Int 19, Wis 14, Cha 8.

Skills and Feats: Appraise +14, Concentration +17, Diplomacy +8, Gather Information +1, Handle Animal +4, Heal +6, Knowledge (arcana) +10, Knowledge (architecture and engineering) +10, Knowledge (dungeoneering) +10, Knowledge (geography) +10, Knowledge (history) +10, Knowledge (local) +10, Knowledge (nature) +21, Knowledge (nobility and royalty) +10, Knowledge (the planes) +14, Listen +4, Profession (herbalist) +7, Ride +3, Search +6, Spellcraft +23, Spot +9, Survival +7; Alertness, Brew Potion, Extend Spell, Forge Ring, Heighten Spell, Investigator, Scribe Scroll, Skill Focus (Knowledge [nature]), Spell Penetration.

Animal Companion: Erhine has a wolf named Sirus as his animal companion. He gains the following benefits from it.

Link (Ex): Erhine can handle Sirus as a free action or push him as a move action. He gains a +4 bonus on all wild empathy checks and Handle Animal checks regarding him.

Share Spells (Ex): Erhine may have any spell he casts upon himself also affect Sirus if desired. Sirus must be within 5 feet of him at the time of casting to receive this benefit. If the spell has a duration other than instantaneous, it stops affecting Sirus if he moves more than 5 feet away and does not affect him again even if he returns before the duration expires. Erhine may also cast a spell with a target of "You" on Sirus (as a touch range spell) instead of on himself. Erhine and Sirus can even share spells that do not normally affect creatures of the animal type.

Familiar Benefits: Erhine has a raven familiar named Miatrix. He gains the benefits of the Alertness feat when she is within arm's reach. He also gains the following benefits.

Empathic Link (Su): Erhine can communicate telepathically with Miatrix at a distance of up to 1 mile. He has the same connection to an item or a place that Miatrix does.

Share Spells: Erhine can have any spell he casts on himself also affect his familiar if the latter is within arm's reach at the time. He can also cast a spell with a target of "You" on Miatrix.

Touch: Miatrix can deliver touch spells for Erhine.

Lore: Erhine can make a check with a +9 bonus to know legends and information regarding various topics.

Loremaster Secrets: Erhine has chosen the secrets inner strength, instant mastery (Appraise), and newfound arcana.

Nature Sense: Erhine can identify plants and animals (their species and special traits) with perfect accuracy. He can determine whether water is safe to drink or dangerous.

Wild Empathy (Ex): Erhine can make a wild empathy check to improve the attitude of an animal in the same way that a Diplomacy check can improve the attitude of a sentient being. He rolls 1d20+2, or 1d20-2 if attempting to influence a magical beast with an Intelligence score of 1 or 2.

Woodland Stride: Erhine may move through natural thorns, briars, overgrown areas, and similar terrain at her normal speed and without suffering damage or other impairment. However, thorns, briars, and overgrown areas that are enchanted or magically manipulated to impede motion still affect her.

Druid Spells Prepared (4/3; save DC 12 + spell level): 0 -- cure minor wounds (2), mending, read magic; 1st -- faerie fire, magic fang, shillelagh.

Wizard Spells Prepared (4/6/5/5/4/3/2; save DC 14 + spell level): 0 -- detect magic (2), light, mage hand; 1st -- cause fear, expeditious retreat, magic missile, shield (2), unseen servant; 2nd -- detect thoughts, glitterdust (2), locate object, see invisibility; 3rd -- blink, dispel magic, heightened color spray, summon monster III (2); 4th -- fear, fire shield, heightened Tasha's hideous laughter (2); 5th -- feeblemind, magic jar, Mordenkainen's faithful hound; 6th -- repulsion, summon monster VI.

Spellbook: 0 -- acid splash, arcane mark, dancing lights, daze, detect magic, detect poison, disrupt undead, flare, ghost sound, light, mage hand, mending, open/close, prestidigitation, ray of frost, read magic, resistance, touch of fatigue; 1st -- cause fear, color spray, comprehend languages, detect secret doors, detect undead, expeditious retreat, identify, magic missile, message, shield, unseen servant; 2nd -- detect thoughts, glitterdust, locate object, see invisibility, Tasha's hideous laughter; 3rd -- blink, clairaudience/clairvoyance, dispel magic, summon monster III, tongues; 4th -- arcane eye, dimensional anchor, fear, fire shield, lesser geas; 5th -- feeblemind, magic jar, Mordenkainen's faithful hound, sending; 6th -- analyze dweomer, legend lore, repulsion, summon monster VI.

Possessions: Amulet of natural armor +1, bracers of armor +2, ring of protection +3, cloak of resistance +2, Erhine's ring of sending, masterwork quarterstaff, sling, pouch with 10 masterwork sling bullets, potion of cure moderate wounds, wand of magic missile (caster level 10th, maximized, 31 charges).

Sirus: Male wolf companion; CR --; Medium animal; HD 2d8+4; hp 13; Init +2; Spd 50 ft.; AC 14, touch 12, flat-footed 12; Base Atk +1; Grp +2; Atk +3 melee (1d6+1, bite); Full Atk +3 melee (1d6+1, bite); SA trip; SQ low-light vision, scent; AL N; SV Fort +5, Ref +5, Will +1; Str 13, Dex 15, Con 15, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 6.

Skills and Feats: Listen +3, Move Silently +3, Spot +3, Survival +1 *; Track, Weapon Focus (bite).

Trip (Ex): When Sirus hits with a bite attack, he can attempt to trip his opponent (+1 check modifier) as a free action without making a touch attack or provoking an attack of opportunity. If the attempt fails, the opponent cannot react to trip Sirus.

Tricks: Attack, come, defend, down, fetch, guard, heel, track.

Miatrix: Female raven familiar; CR --; Tiny magical beast; HD 1/4 d8 (effective 14d8); hp 26; Init +2; Spd 10 ft., fly 40 ft. (average); AC 18, touch 14, flat-footed 16; Base Atk +6; Grp -7; Atk +10 melee (1d2-5, claws); Full Atk +10 melee (1d2-5, claws); Space/Reach 2-1/2 ft./0 ft.; SQ improved evasion, low-light vision, speak Common, speak with birds, speak with master; AL N; SV Fort +6, Ref +5, Will +14; Str 1, Dex 15, Con 10, Int 9, Wis 14, Cha 6.

Skills and Feats: Appraise +2, Concentration +16, Diplomacy +5, Heal +4, Hide +10, Listen +3, Spot +7, Survival +7; Weapon Finesse (claws).

Improved Evasion (Ex): When subjected to an attack that normally allows a Reflex saving throw for half damage, Miatrix takes no damage if she makes a successful saving throw and half damage even if the saving throw fails.

Speak Common (Ex): Miatrix can speak Common.

Speak with Birds (Ex): Miatrix can communicate with birds. Such communication is limited by the intelligence of the conversing creatures.

Speak with Master (Ex): Miatrix and Erhine can communicate verbally as if they were using a common language. Other creatures do not understand the communication without magical help.

Arietisa and Procyonai and Their Dad: Female and male noble djinn: hp 65 each; see Monster Manual, page 114.

Tactics: Erhine would rather chat than fight. He can make conversation with just about any being. He's always hungry for information, and he can ask an endless stream of questions. Unfortunately, he can't resist the urge to interrupt when someone else is talking, so telling him anything can prove difficult.

If the PCs make their presence known by knocking at the door, shouting, or just poking around the cottage, Erhine greets them cheerily, though his mood quickly sours when he discovers what has happened to his roof.

"Drat those girls!" he cries, gazing at the sticky-sweet mess on top of his cottage. "Give them a simple task, and what do you get? Frosting! 'Fix the roof,' I said. I should have remembered how precise you have to be when you talk their kind. They'll do anything to crock your request." He pauses a moment to gather a fingerful of the frosting and taste it experimentally. "Not bad, but they could at least have made it chocolate," he says. "I'll fix their wagons, never fear."

Erhine quickly excuses himself and fires off a sending to the Plane of Air. Arietisa and Procyonai return in a few minutes.

If threatened, Erhine tries to flee, and he uses his spells and magic items to discourage pursuit. He usually begins with color spray or fear spell. If necessary, he uses Sirus and Miatrix to block or delay his foes. He uses a sending to call the Plane of Air for help at the first opportunity. His allies there quickly send a force of eight djinn to help out. Half of any djinn called to fight on Erhine's behalf make use of their whirlwind abilities, while the other half move in for melee attacks.

Development: If the PCs part amicably with Erhine, the loremaster adds them to his network of informants. Erhine periodically contacts them via sending spells to learn what they're up to. In return, Erhine provides the PCs with information from time to time. He is well informed about what's happing in the world and in the surrounding planes. He also has extensive historical knowledge. Whenever doubt or lack of knowledge impedes the PCs, Erhine might help.

Should the PCs attack or kill Erhine, they'll find that a remarkable wide array of beings -- of all types and alignments -- miss the old coot and are willing to visit a little retribution on the party. Arietisa and Procyonai's father, Hamalik, is chief among the beings looking to punish the PCs.

The Cottage as a Darker Place

Erhine's Ring of Sending: Erhine forged this ring for his own use. With it, he can use a sending spell three times a day.

Moderate evocation; CL 9th; Forge Ring, sending; Price 48,600.

It's always possible that some of the darker rumors about Erhine are true. Perhaps he's only playing the role of the eccentric scholar. In such a case, Erhine probably has more spells that prove useful in combat, and he may also have one or two bodyguards. He might have a stone golem or a couple of vrocks to provide some muscle.

Also, Erhine and his two "students" could be a covey of hags.

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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