Vicious Venues04/16/2004

Hillside Farm

The old farmhouse looks abandoned, but a hard-working couple lives there. Is the house and its residents what it seems, or is it something more?

Background for the DM

The farm lies about a half-day's ride from a town (population 1,000 to 5,000). The area has seen better days. Perhaps a war or other disaster has depopulated the countryside, or perhaps a local industry has collapsed -- mines might have played out, or trade routes could have shifted. There might be a hamlet or thorp fairly close to the farm, but overall the land is fairly empty. Abandoned farms dot the area. Most feature tumbledown buildings (usually just a house or a hut and perhaps a small barn or shed), crumbling stone walls, and overgrown fields.

A handful of folks with a pioneering spirit have moved into the area recently and taken over the deserted farms. For the past couple of years, they have been slowly putting the abandoned fields back into production. It's a hard task. The hills and dells in the vicinity are home to all manner of dangerous creatures, including goblins, wolves, lycanthropes, undead, ankhegs, and displacer beasts. There are even rumors of a dragon in the neighborhood.

Among the recent arrivals are Jerald and Ouida, a pair of semi-retired adventurers who have opted for the simple country life. The couple has laid claim to a farm with a two-story house, a barn, a weed-choked pond, and many acres of hilly, rocky land covered with spindly trees. The house and barn have the requisite deteriorated stone walls. The place still looks abandoned. Jerald and Ouida have patched the roof and repaired a few shutters, but they haven't made too many cosmetic repairs. A few chickens and pigs root around in the weed-strewn barnyard, and several cats peer out from gaps in the barn walls. A passer-by might smell woodsmoke from the kitchen fire on days when the wind is right. A close look reveals vegetable gardens and a few rows of grain growing among the native grasses.

Jerald is a druid, and he is determined to run his farm according to nature's scheme. He has planted wild grapes and berries along the farm's crumbling stone walls and around the edges of the fields and pastures. He grows some grain, but he mixes it in with native grasses. In addition to his chickens and pigs, Jerald also keeps many hives of bees, including a few giant bees.

Jerald and Ouida grow their own food. They also make wine and mead for sale in town. Ouida has woven some good linen cloth from the flax Jerald grows, and Jerald also makes himself useful to his neighbors, sharing his healing magic and skill and offering advice on farming in nature's image. His ability to heal sick or injured animals and people is undeniable, so the neighbors are beginning to listen to Jerald's unorthodox ideas. Jerald doesn't charge anything for his services, but he and Ouida receive a steady supply of gifts (usually in the form of food) from grateful neighbors.

Ouida (pronounced WEE da) is a child of the aristocracy who fled the intrigues of family and court for the adventuring life. Before long, she found the hardships and dangers of adventuring just as irksome as life at court had been, and she resolved to spend some time building something of real value. She's not entirely sure she approves of Jerald's methods, but she is convinced that the couple will someday own a large and productive farm and that their success will attract other settlers to reclaim all the land in the region.

The Setup

The PCs might find the farm while traveling cross-country -- perhaps when they try to take a shortcut and get lost. The PCs also might come looking for the farm after hearing a rumor about the area. They might hear any of the following tales in the neighboring towns.

  • Keep your wits about you when you go into the hills. The settlers up there are friendly enough, and they are always hungry for news from the wide world. Some settlers, though, aren't what they seem. There's plenty of bandits that are just squatting in the old abandoned farms, and some of them are shapeshifters. There's a whole herd of skin-changing swine up in those hills, and they'd just as soon kill you as look at you.

    This warning is partly true; there are wereboars in the area. Some of the locals, however, think Jerald and Ouida are wereboars. Jerald can, in fact, turn into a boar with wild shape, and his boar companion, Rowaan, is no ordinary swine thanks to his link with Jerald.

  • Not so long ago, this whole area was rich farmland, and many yeoman farmers made tidy sums selling their crops and beasts. There was gold in the hills, too, and lots of folks who owned their own land became even richer. Some of the old farms around here have caches of treasure buried under the houses or barns. Lots of the so-called settlers are really just treasure hunters who dig around their land while pretending to farm. There's one weird couple that tends giant bees and keeps some swine up on a hillside, but they haven't done a lick of work on their property or planted any crops. They have money all right. Folks say there's plenty more up around their farm, all free for the taking if you can get off the hill while those two aren't watching.

    The unusual prosperity Jerald and Ouida enjoy, coupled with their farm's run-down appearance, gave rise to this rumor. The couple's neighbors scoff at any suggestion that Jerald and Ouida work for their living, though they confess that they're a pair of odd ducks full of strange ideas and refined book learning.

    It's also possible that the rumor contains a hint of truth. There might be ancient treasures buried in the hills, though perhaps not right on Jerald's and Ouida's hillside farm.

  • The overgrown fields and thickets up in the hills hide all manner of ancient things. Some of these ancient things lie quietly, and some are restless, especially after sundown. Many crypts and small graveyards dot the slopes, all obscured now by mats of creeping vines and stands of sickly trees. The graves and crypts once belonged to prosperous families who owned land in the area; now they're dens full of the unquiet dead.

    The countryside around the farm indeed features dozens of crypts and graveyards where the former residents buried their dead. Tales of undead haunting these places might be true, or they might simply be local legends. If true, the hills and byways around the farm could be extra hazardous at night.

Visiting the Farm

The following is appropriate for a visit to the farm on a spring or summer day, or a day in early autumn.

The dirt road winds through rolling, wooded hills, seemingly leading upward much more than down. In a hollow on the flanks of the hill ahead stands a tumbledown house, two stories high, with ivy-covered stone walls and a roof of mossy slates. Peeling green shutters flank the windows. A veritable thicket of bushes and tall grass surrounds the house, and a crumbling stone wall encloses it all. A small barn with wattle and daub walls and a rotting thatch roof stands near the house. Fairly open fields with tall grass, clover, wildflowers, and a few bands of wheat surround the whole place, with trees beyond that. Sweet perfume fills the air, along with a sepulchral thrum that rises and falls. A squadron of bees the size of ponies seems to patrol the place. Also, a mixed group of poultry (ducks, geese, and a few chickens) and swine nose through the thicket around the house. It's hard to tell exactly how many animals there are.

It's nearly impossible to approach the house without alerting the animals, who can both see and smell the PCs approaching.

Creatures (EL 8): Jerald and Ouida keep a herd of swine (fourteen sows and piglets, three boars), a collection of poultry (four geese, eighteen ducks, and nine chickens), and eight cats. In addition, the Jerald has Rowaan, his boar animal companion, and Ouida has Yasmine, her cat familiar. A celestial horse named Malachy also shares the farm at the moment. Malachy came to the Material Plane some time ago in the company of a few angels and decided to stay awhile. The stallion enjoys the farm's semi-wild beauty and makes himself useful helping Jerald and Ouida keep less friendly visitors at bay.

Jerald: Male human druid 5; CR 5; Medium humanoid; HD 5d8+5; hp 27; Init +2; Spd 20 ft.; AC 19, touch 12, flat-footed 17; Base Atk +3; Grp +3; Atk +4 melee (1d6/18-20, masterwork scimitar) or +6 ranged (1d6, sling with masterwork sling bullet); Full Atk +4 melee (1d6/18-20, masterwork scimitar) or +6 ranged (1d6, sling with masterwork sling bullet); SQ animal companion (Rowaan), nature sense, resist nature's lure, trackless step, wild shape (Small or Medium animal 1/day), woodland stride; AL NG; SV Fort +5, Ref +3, Will +7; Str 10, Dex 14, Con 13, Int 14, Wis 16, Cha 10.

Skills and Feats: Concentration +8, Handle Animal +7, Heal +12, Knowledge (nature) +11, Profession (brewer) +8, Profession (farmer) +11, Profession (herbalist) +8, Ride +4, Spellcraft +7, Survival +10; Dodge, Natural Spell, Scribe Scroll.

Animal Companion: Jerald has a boar named Rowaan as his animal companion. He gains the following benefits from it.

Link (Ex): Jerald can handle Rowaan 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): Jerald may have any spell he casts upon himself also affect Rowaan if desired. Rowaan 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 Rowaan if he moves more than 5 feet away and does not affect him again even if he returns before the duration expires. Jerald may also cast a spell with a target of "You" on Rowaan (as a touch range spell) instead of on himself. Jerald and Rowaan can even share spells that do not normally affect creatures of the animal type.

Nature Sense (Ex): Jerald gains a +2 bonus on Knowledge (nature) and Survival checks (included in the numbers given above).

Resist Nature's Lure (Ex): Starting at 4th level, a druid gains a +4 bonus on saving throws against the spell-like abilities of fey.

Trackless Step (Ex): Jerald leaves no trail in natural surroundings and cannot be tracked. He may choose to leave a trail if so desired.

Wild Shape (Su): Once per day, Jerald can assume the form of any animal of Small or Medium size. This ability functions like the polymorph spell, except as noted here. The effect lasts for 5 hours, or until Jerald changes back. Changing form (to animal or back) is a standard action and doesn't provoke an attack of opportunity. The form chosen must be that of an animal Jerald is familiar with. Jerald loses his ability to speak while in animal form because he is limited to the sounds that a normal, untrained animal can make, but he can communicate normally with other animals of the same general grouping as his new form.

Woodland Stride (Ex): Jerald may move through natural thorns, briars, overgrown areas, and similar terrain at his normal speed and without suffering damage or other impairment. However, thorns, briars, and overgrown areas that are magically manipulated to impede motion still affect him.

Druid Spells Prepared (5/4/3/2; save DC 13 + spell level): 0 -- cure minor wounds, guidance, mending (2), virtue; 1st -- calm animals, cure light wounds, endure elements, speak with animals; 2nd -- barkskin, flame blade, summon swarm; 3rd -- call lightning, cure moderate wounds.

Possessions: +1 hide armor, +1 heavy wooden shield, masterwork scimitar, sling, 10 masterwork sling bullets, wand of chill metal (16 charges), scroll of delay poison.

Rowaan: Male boar companion; CR --; Medium animal; HD 3d8+12; hp 25; Init +0; Spd 40 ft.; AC 16, touch 10, flat-footed 16; Base Atk +2; Grp +4; Atk +4 melee (1d8+3, gore); Full Atk +4 melee (1d8+3, gore); SA ferocity; SQ link, low-light vision, scent, share spells, tricks (attack, come, defend, down, guard, seek, stay); AL N; SV Fort +6, Ref +3, Will +2; Str 15, Dex 10, Con 17, Int 2, Wis 13, Cha 4.

Skills and Feats: Listen +7, Spot +5; Alertness, Toughness.

Ferocity (Ex): Rowaan is such a tenacious combatant that he continues to fight without penalty even while disabled or dying.

Link (Ex): Jerald can handle Rowaan 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 made regarding Rowaan.

Share Spells (Ex): Spells cast by Jerald can also affect Rowaan if the latter is within 5 feet for the whole duration of the spell. Additionally, Jerald may cast a spell with a target of "You" on Rowaan (as a touch range spell) instead of on himself. Jerald and Rowaan may share spells even if the spells normally do not affect animals.

Ouida: Female half-elf aristocrat 1/rogue 2/wizard 3; CR 6; Medium humanoid; HD 1d8+1 plus 2d6+2 plus 3d4+3; hp 24; Init +6; Spd 30 ft.; AC 14, touch 13, flat-footed 12; Base Atk +2; Grp +1; Atk +1 melee (1d6-1, quarterstaff) or +4 ranged (1d8/19-20, light crossbow); Full Atk +1 melee (1d6-1, quarterstaff) or +4 ranged (1d8/19-20, light crossbow); SA sneak attack +1d6; SQ cat familiar (Yasmine), evasion, familiar benefits, half-elf traits, trapfinding; AL NG; SV Fort +2, Ref +6, Will +6; Str 8, Dex 14, Con 13, Int 16, Wis 12, Cha 10.

Skills and Feats: Appraise +3 (+5 for weaving), Bluff +4, Concentration +6, Craft (weaving) +8, Diplomacy +6, Disable Device +8, Gather Information +6, Handle Animal +2, Listen +8, Move Silently +8, Open Lock +5, Perform (sing) +4, Ride +4, Search +8, Sense Motive +5, Sleight of Hand +5, Spellcraft +8, Spot +8, Tumble +6; Alertness, Dodge, Improved Initiative, Investigator, Scribe Scroll.

Evasion (Ex): If exposed to any effect that normally allows a character to attempt a Reflex saving throw for half damage, Ouida takes no damage with a successful saving throw.

Familiar Benefits: Ouida has a cat familiar named Yasmine. She gains a +3 bonus on Move Silently checks and the benefit of the Alertness feat whenever Yasmine is within 5 feet of her. She also gains the following benefits from her familiar.

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

Share Spells: Ouida may have any spell she casts on herself also affect Yasmine if the latter is within 5 feet at the time of casting. She may also cast a spell with a target of "You" on Yasmine.

Deliver Touch Spells: Yasmine can deliver touch spells for Ouida.

Half-Elf Traits: Ouida is immune to magic sleep spells and effects. She has a +2 racial bonus on saves against enchantment spells or effects, a +1 racial bonus on Listen, Spot, and Search checks, and a +2 bonus on Diplomacy and Gather Information checks (already figured into the statistics given above).

Trapfinding: Ouida can use the Search skill to find traps with Search DCs higher than 20.

Wizard Spells Prepared (4/3/2; save DC 13 + spell level): 0 -- daze, detect magic, light, mage hand; 1st -- animate rope, charm person, shield; 2nd -- cat's grace, scorching ray.

Spellbook: 0 -- acid splash, arcane mark, dancing lights, daze, detect magic, detect poison, disrupt undead, flare, ghost sound, light, mage hand, mending, message, open/close, prestidigitation, ray of frost, read magic, resistance, touch of fatigue; 1st -- animate rope, charm person, grease, magic missile, shield, true strike; 2nd -- blur, cat's grace, scorching ray, see invisibility.

Possessions: Bracers of armor +1, ring of protection +1, quarterstaff, light crossbow, 10 bolts, wand of Melf's acid arrow (12 charges), wand of magic missile (caster level 3rd, 15 charges), scroll of rope trick, scroll of dispel magic, 2 potions of cure light wounds.

Yasmine: Female cat familiar; CR --; Tiny magical beast; HD 1/2 d8; hp 12; Init +2; Spd 30 ft.; AC 16, touch 14, flat-footed 14; Base Atk +2; Grp -10; Atk +6 melee (1d2-4, claw); Full Atk +6 melee (1d2-4, 2 claws) and +1 melee (1d3-4, bite); Space/Reach 2-1/2 ft./0 ft.; SQ improved evasion, low-light vision, scent; AL NG; SV Fort +2, Ref +6, Will +6; Str 3, Dex 15, Con 10, Int 7, Wis 12, Cha 7.

Skills and Feats: Balance +10, Bluff +2, Climb +6, Concentration +5, Craft (weaving) +3, Diplomacy +2, Gather Information +0, Hide +14, Jump +10, Listen +5, Move Silently +9, Perform (sing) +2, Ride +4, Search +0, Sense Motive +5, Spot +5; Weapon Finesse.

Improved Evasion (Ex): When subjected to an attack that normally allows a Reflex save for half damage, Yasmine takes no damage on a successful save and half damage on a failure.

Malachy: Male celestial heavy warhorse; CR 4; Large magical beast (extraplanar); HD 4d8+12; hp 30; Init +1; Spd 50 ft.; AC 14, touch 10, flat-footed 13; Base Atk +3; Grp +11; Atk +6 melee (1d6+4, hoof); Full Atk +6 melee (1d6+4, 2 hoofs) and +1 melee (1d4+2, bite); Space/Reach 10 ft./5 ft.; SA smite evil; SQ damage reduction 5/magic, darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, resistances (acid 5, cold 5, electricity 5), scent, spell resistance 9; AL NG; SV Fort +7, Ref +5, Will +2; Str 18, Dex 13, Con 17, Int 3, Wis 13, Cha 6.

Skills and Feats: Hide -3, Listen +5, Spot +4; Endurance, Run.

Smite Evil (Su): Once per day, Malachy can make a normal melee attack to deal 4 points of extra damage against an evil foe.

Boars (3): hp 25 each, see Monster Manual, page 270.

Cats (8-12): hp 2 each, see Monster Manual, page 270.

Tactics: Travelers are pretty rare along the road where the farm stands, and a group of armed and armored player characters makes quite a splash. Jerald and Ouida aren't particularly aggressive or resentful of trespassers, but they pay attention to what's going on in their vicinity and they make a point of greeting all passersby, more or less as follows.

A middle-aged man and woman emerge from the barn. "Welcome, strangers," says the man, proffering the hand that isn't holding a pitchfork. "My name's Jerald, and this here's my wife Ouida."

"Not often we have visitors in these parts," says Ouida, offering a hand in greeting while clutching a fold of her brown skirt with the other to keep the eggs it contains from falling out. Gets right lonely sometimes. Would you all like to come in for some tea? Won't take but a minute."

"Watch out for the bees now," says Jerald. "They're a mite sensitive about any place where they got a nest -- which is just about everyplace."

"Shoulda seen him when we first moved in," chuckles Ouida. "Stumbled into a nest and by the time they were done with him, he was swelled up like a balloon."

If the characters accept the invitation, the two lead them into a huge farm kitchen and offer them seats at an old oak table that looks as if it has seen better days. Tea is offered as soon as Ouida can get the kettle heated, and she also puts out a loaf of homemade bread, several containers of homemade jam, a large honeycomb, and a platter of shredded, cooked pork.

Whether the PCs are inside or outside, the couple tries to get them to talk further. "You folks passing through on your way someplace?" asks Jerald. "We don't get out much anymore. Too busy taking care of this place and helping out the neighbors. I tell you, the land can support you right well if you take care of it right. You can't just plant the same thing in the same spot every year -- you'll get bugs and wear out the land. That's probably why folks abandoned this land before, 'cause they were so dead set on raising big crops of the same stuff all the time that they wore it out. That's not nature's way. Nature likes variety."

"Oh look, there goes Felton," says Ouida, as a cart drawn by a single horse rattles by. Ouida and Jerald wave to the driver, who waves back. "Wonder where he's going this time of day?"

"Probably just wanted to get a look at the newcomers," says Jerald with a smile. "Like I said, we don't get many visitors hereabouts. Probably thinks you're gonna dig up his fields looking for treasure. Lost his whole crop last year to treasure hunters. And all they found was an old plow, a ring of rusty keys, and an iron bathtub. Some others tried it this spring, but Felton set his goat on 'em. They lit outta here like they was being chased by the hounds of hell, shouting about demons. It was dark and all, and I guess Felton's goat can look pretty scary at night. But I sure hope you all aren't here to bother honest folk."

If a fight breaks out, Malachy and Rowaan are quick to join the fray, even without being asked. Jerald stands his ground and casts entangle defensively. He relies on Malachy and Rowaan to protect him. Ouida drops back to cast shield. Once that's done, Ouida uses scorching ray or Melf's acid arrow on the foe. Jerald uses call lightning early in the fight, and then uses chill metal. If the spell assault doesn't seem to work well, Ouida casts blur, then tries to maneuver to make a few sneak attacks. Jerald may try flame blade, or he may assume boar form and attempt a few gore attacks.

Further Adventures

Assuming a fight doesn't break out, Jerald and Ouida are happy to show the PCs around the place.

The house has three rooms on the ground floor: the kitchen, a sitting room with a few sticks of old furniture, and a pantry stuffed with plain food. The upper floor has a big bedchamber with a comfortable, but worn bed.

The house is built on a steep slope, and it has a ground-level exit. The cellar has two chambers: a root cellar and an old box stall that now serves as a storage area for whole grain and a hand mill for making flour. Several cats occupy the stall.

The barn, like the house, sits on a slope and has a cellar with a ground-level exit. The upper level holds hay and a dilapidated wagon that the former owners left behind. The lower level has a box stall where Malachy lives and storage for fodder and grain. Numerous cats prowl in and around the barn.

To date, Jerald and Ouida haven't found any buried treasure, discovered any dens of undead, or had any raids by marauding lycanthropes. On the other hand, the couple has never gone looking for such things. They're happy to allow the PCs a chance to poke around the property a little bit. They insist on a small share (10-20%) of anything the PCs discover.

The sprawling farm has several hundred acres of wooded hills interspersed with meadows where fields and pastures once stood. The property includes a small graveyard with two crypts. This burial ground is long abandoned and completely invisible under at least a century's worth of trees and weeds. The place might just have a few resident undead (who've been lying quiet until the PCs come along).

The property also has a few dry caves, one of which might just hold a cache of treasure. (Perhaps the ghost of the bandit that hid the treasure guards it, or perhaps some wandering creature has laid claim to it.)

Careless PCs might fall afoul of the farm's giant bees (much to Jerald and Ouida's chagrin). The PCs might also discover a monster or two that is new to the neighborhood.

The Farm as a Darker Place

Perhaps the rumors about lycanthropes in the hills are really true. Jerald and Ouida might be a pair of wereboars posing as eccentric farmers. In such a case, Malachy might be a fiendish horse.

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 gets 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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