Guards are needed to protect three ox-drawn wagons travelling East through the Saltmoore marshlands. The destination is the fishing community at White Rock Headland. This adventure is designed for 1st Level Player Characters.
A raised roadway strikes out across the swamp allowing commerce to pass but the route is always dangerous and muddy. Unfortunately, only 10 relatively inexperienced caravan guards can be found in town plus the experienced Captain Barbarossa. A recent caravan heading West, in the opposite direction, stripped the local barracks of available protectors.
Captain Barbarossa is willing to pay the PCs three gold pieces each way on this journey to help make up the numbers.
Captain Barbarossa (1) 6th level Fighter
AC: 0 HD: 6 hp: 58 THACO: 12 Attacks: 3/2 Damage: 2d4+6/2d8+5
Equipment: Bastard Sword +2 (Blueflame), Platemail +1, Mace, Silver Dagger, Holy
Symbol, Healing Potions (2). Proficiencies: Bastard Sword Specialisation.
Str 15 Dex 16 Con 16 Int 12 Wis 14 Cha 14
Caravan Guards (10) 1st level Fighters
AC: 6 (or AC:5 in shield wall) HD: 1 hp: 8 THACO: 20 Attacks: 1 Damage 1d6/1d8 or 1d4/1d4
Equipment: Spear, Shield (round), Ringmail, Light Crossbows (10 bolts each), Holy Symbols, torches, garlic, oil (2 each), Silver Daggers (1 total).
The three wagons for the journey are pulled by 2 oxen each and there is 1 merchant + 2 laborers riding upon each of them or walking beside.
Merchants & laborers (9) 0-Level Humans
AC: 8 HD: 1 Hp: 7 THACO: 20 Attacks: 3/2 (short bows) Damage: 1d6
Equipment: Short bows (30 arrows each), Short Sword, Leather Armour, Holy Symbols, torches, garlic, oil (4 each), Silver Daggers (3 total), Healing Potions (2).
AC: 7 HD: 4 Hp: 36 THACO: 17 Attacks: 1 Damage: 1d4 (trample, head butt)
Two wagons carry firewood and wooden barrels full of wheat grain, while the lead wagon carries bolts of hemp cloth, some cotton cloth, iron, copper and lead ingots, plus baskets of apples. These are traded for smoked fish (in barrels that had grain) and bales of high grade wool.
The trip to White Rock takes 3 days. No horses can be used because the muddy state of the roadway results in frequent slips. During the journey no torches or camp fires are lit because they can be seen for miles around the marshlands. The wagons are stopped just before nightfall, and the oxen unhitched, to avoid running into any unseen night time ambushes. The raised roadway is 15 feet wide on average. The DM is advised to establish an exact marching order and overnight watch routine to help adjudicate the outcome of the various battles.
The Outward Journey.
DAY 1: No Encounters.
You see a scattering of bent trees among many reeds and pond scum that covers the low lying water on either side of the road. In patches there are taller groves of trees upon isolated pockets of raised ground. The air smells of rotting plant matter but it is not overpowering.
NIGHT 1: Large Bat Attack!
Large Bats (12)
AC: 6 (flying + penalties to attackers who cannot see in the dark)
AC: 8 (landed on victim)
HD: 1 Hp: 5
Tactics: These bats randomly attack the wagon train in the dead of night. When a bat successfully strikes an opponent it lands upon them and keeps biting viciously - otherwise they keep flying around. Bats reduced to half their hit points fly off.
Four bats (4) will strike at the oxen, four (4) at the guards on watch, two (2) at sleeping guards or merchants, and two (2) at the PCs .
If an ox is bitten there is an 80% chance the beast will become startled and rush forward into anyone in its way (doing 1d4 damage) or into the swamp water (20% chance) where there is a 50% chance it will become stuck before a merchant or laborer can stop it. If a bat on the ox is not attacked after 2 rounds and reduced to less than half its hit points the ox will roll (either on the road or in the swamp) doing 2d6 hp damage on a successful "attack" roll to both the bat and anyone adjacent to the beast. Pulling an ox out of the swamp takes 1d10 hours.
The result of this battle, if not fully played out by the DM, is one (1) unlucky guard being reduced to less than 0 hit points from 2 bats attacking him (he is incapacitated for the rest of the journey) while 5 other members are reduced by 1d4 hit points.
Note: If it takes more than 6 hours to remove a stuck ox the party is attacked by 3 Stirges at day break.
HD: 1+1 Hp: 8
Damage: 1d3 + automatic 1d4 per round until 12 hp are taken or the Stirge is reduced to 0 hp. Attacks against an attached Stirge that miss must be re-rolled vs the victim's AC.
Two (2) Stirges attack the stuck ox while the other two (2) attack random individuals helping to remove the beast (not necessarily the PCs). The PCs and Capt Barbarossa can make a difficult (-4) passive perception check (av Int/Wis) to detect the Stirges as the fly in from the swamp and raise the alarm whilst having 1 round to act themselves.
DAY 2: Orc Attack at Dusk!
At dusk, as the visibility drops and the oxen are unhitched, you see see movement about 200 to 300 yards down the track. Captain Barbarossa shouts to his regular guards, "Form a line 20 feet from the wagons." Turning to the PCs, catch any that try to cut through the swamp to flank us, also, if any of us fall or get injured, plug the gaps and tend to the wounded."
The Orcs: It takes 3 combat rounds (around 20-30 seconds) for the Orcs, in lines of eight (8), who all charge, to hit the line. The orcs will throw their spears (24 if still all ok) when at 40 yards - this occurs in their last round of movement, (in the third round of combat with -2 medium range penalty to hit) before melee initiative is rolled. Only eight (8) orcs can attack the guards' spear wall at any one time because the roadway at this point is only slightly over 20 foot across.
10 Orcs from the rear move into the swamp and take 1 round to go around the flanks and are met by the PCs, the armed Merchants (5), and laborers - at the start of their next round. During their movement the Orcs throw their hand axes at whoever is in range but 4 archers standing on the lead wagon can fire twice each (1 round of action) at these flanking Orcs. If three or more Orcs are killed in the swamp the flankers retreat.
Successful flanking Orcs begin their combat rounds on the edge of the swamp water, not on the roadway, and PCs and NPCs gain a combined +2 bonus to hit for their higher elevation and the slightly off balance nature of the Orcs.
The Guards: They all fire their light crossbows when the orcs get to within 120 yards (-2 range penalty in the second round) and again at 60 yards (no penalty) in the third round, before picking up their spears and shields. All the guards can attack with their spears in the line with Captain Barbarossa given space to swing in the middle. Because of the shield wall the guards have a +1 bonus to their AC. Guards that drop to less than half their hit points shift out of the line. PCs can take the lost positions or else the line becomes thinner.
The Merchants and Laborers: Four (4) climb the lead wagon and use their shortbows to fire on the Orcs at rate of 3/2 shots per round. They begin firing at their maximum range (-5 to hit) and then at medium (-2) and short range. They have a +1 bonus to hit because of their elevated position. Once the battle is joined the archers here use their bows to guard against any flanking and can fire two shots as Orcs move around the shield wall or through part of the swamp. The other 2 merchants and 3 laborers at as a reserve force and advance as a group on any flanking Orcs. They expect the PCs to do the same if flankers come from both sides.
Orc Leader (1)
HD: 2 Hp: 17
THACO: 18 (Str 17)
Damage: 1d8+2 (two handed grip + Str)
Equipment: Battle Axe (two handed grip), Banded Platemail, dagger, 4cp/10sp/4ep.
HD: 1 Hp: 7
Damage: 1d6 spear, 1d6+1 (sword), 1d6 throwing axe.
Equipment: Falchion sword, throwing axe, throwing spear (Javelin), Brigandine Armour, 73cp/50sp/10gp/2ep/1pp total.
NIGHT 2: No Encounters. All quiet.
DAY 3: Troll Ambush!
The encounter occurs halfway through the third day. This creature waits under the swamp water, breathing through a hollow log until the wagons approach and then springs up out of the water directly in front of the first wagon attacking all guarding warriors. If seriously threatened the troll jumps into the swamp and takes off. Detecting this ambush should be extremely difficult, -4 penalty on passive perception checks to those scouting ahead, and -8 for those close to the wagons. Those passing their checks hear a faint breathing noise.
HD: 6+6 hp: 48
Special Defense: Regeneration 3hp per round.
Tactics: Captain Barbarossa jumps in front of this creature at the first opportunity in order to protect the guards. It is likely that a number of casualties will be sustained in this encounter.
Arrival at White Rock.
At the end of the third day, as dusk approaches, you see that the plant life of the marshlands has thinned out to become a vast muddy tidal flat. Looming in the distance at the end of the roadway is a huge pointed, and very green, rocky headland. The side facing the swamp slopes gently and you see there is a huge log palisade cutting off the headland from the swamp. Smoke rises from a number of dwellings that frequent the landscape.
As you get near, the roadway becomes firm and you see that large rocks and gravel have been used to shore it up. Upon the palisade (that rises 20 feet) you see a number of guards. If Captain Barbarossa still lives he calls out to one of those guards, otherwise one of the surviving Merchants does so. "Olaf, is that you ? It's Barbarossa, I've come with wood and other tradeables. Open the gates!"
Moving the wagons uphill into the White Rock settlement you see it consists of many round houses that are partially cut into the ground. There are numerous sheep dotting the hillside, and around the village are other farm animals, such as chickens, a few cows and pigs. Smoke rises from a number of chimneys as people go about their daily chores.
Looking downwards you see a stone pathway leading to a rocky cove. Pulled up on the gravel you see 2 longships and an assortment of smaller fishing boats. Nets hang from wooden frames that are anchored onto the rocky cliff side.
Eventually the party comes to a large square stone building, with a solid tiled roof that is the barracks hall. Here the party is met by the leader of the community, Chieftain Alrik Gunnarsen.
Alrik Gunnarsen (1) 12th Level Fighter (Northman/Viking)
AC: 2 (dex 16, ring protection +4, single weapon style specialisation)
HD: 9+9 hp: 89 THACO: 9 (3 with str 17, weapon master, magical blade) Attacks: 2/1
Damage: 1d8+7 +1d12 (str 17, weapon master, magical blade - Sword of Thunderbolts)
Sword of Thunderbolts is a mighty +3 weapon that inflicts 1d12 points of electrical damage every time it hits. The weapon completely protects its user from electrical attacks and half damage from cold. It also protects the possessor from the elements, whether heat or cold. The weapon can also call lightning as the priest spell once a week and can detect enemies within 60 feet. It is semi intelligent and communicates via empathy.
[The DM can flesh out the story from this point onwards until the return journey. The wagon goods are traded for bales of high grade wool and dried fish that have been packed into wooden barrels.]
There are no encounters until the middle of the second night when 2 large bats attack random members of the night watch:
Large Bats (2)
AC: 6 (flying + penalties to attackers who cannot see in the dark)
AC: 8 (landed on victim)
HD: 1 Hp: 7
Tactics: These bats randomly attack the wagon train in the dead of night. When a bat successfully strikes an opponent it lands upon them and keeps viciously biting - otherwise they keep flying around. Bats reduced to half their hit points fly off.
At the end of the journey the PCs are paid 6 gold pieces each for their trouble. Captain Barbarossa (or a merchant) explains that usually larger wagon trains (6-10 wagons) make the trip through the swamp. This expedition was organised to supply urgently needed firewood. The next trip will most assuredly be larger and with more guards - after they return from the west. The PCs also receive 200xp each for completing the adventure.
Note: The DM should try to get a handle on the Orc encounter before running the battle. The DM might invent names for the 3 merchants making the journey. The attacks on this caravan were exceptional and such dangers are not usually encountered.
Ideas for an expanded campaign.
There are secrets at White Rock. Carved into the headland are hidden catacombs and burial crypts. Some areas underground are sealed off. Why they were sealed off is up to the DM to determine. Alrik Gunnarsen is also more than just a Chieftain, he is one of the great heroes of the North but was exiled due to a 'political falling out' with the reigning King of the Northlands. Other individuals at White Rock are ex-Adventurer types, incognito, allied with Chieftain Gunnarsen.