Petals and Thorns is an adventure I designed as a demonstration of my ability to someone looking into starting a professional GMing service. It wasn’t the first time I GM’d for money at all, but it is the first time I got a decent amount of money for it. I’ve since expanded that original adventure to a full six adventure arc and am currently investigating running it professionally on roll20. A lot of my creative energy has gone to that the past two or three weeks, and in the interests of having something to feed the blog, here are some of the summaries for various threats. Mild early-game spoilers for Petals and Thorns below the break, and I am hoping to stream the campaign at some point in the next few months, although I don’t yet have concrete plans to do so, so anyone’s guess if anything will come of it.
I hesitate to include the goblinoids in this, mostly because part of their premise is that hobgoblins and bugbears are recent creations of a rogue wizard. I don’t generally like to put my players in the position of pretending not to be familiar with a staple like the hobgoblin or bugbear. I am considering having the fruits of his experiment be based around a more obscure or entirely original goblin variant, with the hobs and bugbears being just goblinoids he recruited to his cause the same as he did the goblins, but that would require me to rebalance his forces around the presence of the new goblinoid variant and I’m not sure I want to bother.
The Vlatla Clan have been conducting experiments on how to expand the pool of undead they can command simultaneously for some time. They’ve long known how to keep large amounts of undead animated in an area of concentrated necromantic power like the catacomb, but these undead go feral almost immediately after leaving these locuses of power behind, limiting the Vlatla Clan’s ability to project force. Their experiments have recently born fruit, as they’re able to use the power of the catacomb to drastically enhance their control limit by passing it through undead lieutenants. Early experiments even suggest that they can stack this trick at least twice, maybe even three times, with lieutenants answers to captains answering to commanders answering to an actual Vlatla. Unfortunately, if one of the lieutenants is destroyed, all the undead under their command immediately go feral.
Worse than that manageable drawback, however, is that as of the second week of the game, the Vlatlas have lost control of their lieutenants and they don’t know why. The problem originated in the southeast chamber of the catacomb, and they suspect it’s due to spider infiltration. They posted a thrall with a few skeleton minions to keep the spiders out of the catacomb, but apparently one of them has slipped through and disturbed the resting place of Dame Callai, and her undead rage has apparently spread throughout the catacomb.
The Vlatla Clan have deanimated most of their minions and placed thralls under the command of various Vlatlas to prevent the restless dead from spreading any further, but if they make a push, they fear the restless dead might slip past and spread their post-mortem fury to the densely packed dead of the central chamber or the ossuary. The Vlatlas would risk losing control of the entire catacomb.
The Order of the Bear
A collection of over four score knights and several hundred men at arms primarily responsible for the defense of the Eastern Frontier, the Order of the Bear were already stretched thin by the goblins ever-chafing against the occupying forces of Vintaria, and as time wore on found themselves regularly in contact with the Great Forest’s elven minority as well. Once welcomed as the best friend a human or halfling could ask for in strange woods, ever since the war with the elven kingdom across the mountains the Vintarian elves have been the target of growing prejudice, blamed for the war that led to the growing lawlessness of the Eastern Frontier. Eventually, many of the elves began to take up arms, hoping to overthrow the rule of Vintaria over the Great Forest and declare themselves independent or even seek vassalage under the elven kingdom in the west. When the Clans of Tiamat noticed the constant low-grade war caused by these twin rebellions, they, too, begin to send raiding parties to test the strength of the northern defenses – though these are officially denounced as bandits by the Five Mothers.
In addition to the growing military threats, the Knights of the Bear found themselves cut off from food supplies as Vintaria struggled to pay war reparations to the elves as their end of the treaty. Given a choice between only two of feeding her heartlands, placating the elves, and feeding her troops in the east, Queen Catherine had elected not to feed her troops in the east. The Eastern Frontier was relatively laxly taxed as part of a plan to quiet the rebellions of the region, the underdeveloped area being relatively poor in any case, and the plan even worked for a time, but the undersupplied Knights of the Bear eventually took it upon themselves to begin implementing a tax of their own on the locals. The Eastern Frontier is far more dangerous than it is profitable, and it is not able to supply an army as large as the Bear on its own. The avarice of the Bears thus never ended, which further stoked the fires of rebellion as peasants faced with starvation began to turn to the rebels for food, rebels who knew how to secrete their stashes of food where the Bears did not know to look.
Already stretched thin, the breaking point for the Order of the Bear came when elven rebels discovered the slumbering vermin hive in the Great Forest and successfully awakened and seized control of the spiders there. The elves fled from the hive to the Ramshorn wilderness, and the Bear ignored them for the time and concentrated on the vast tide of vermin spilling forth from the hive to consume the Great Forest. In a bloody stand, the Bears successfully killed the attacking vermin, every one of which fought to the death. Scouts into the hive confirmed that it was still moderately populated. The Bears had taken such massive casualties in the fight, however, that there could be no hope of storming it to finish them off. The Bear remnants moved into the Ramshorn wilderness to pursue the elves, but soon gave up the chase (the elf situation sorted itself out when they lost control of their spiders and were devoured) and instead settled into the wilderness to recover their strength. Having lost all their most courageous knights in the battle against the Hive (if not in the years of grinding attrition before), the Knights of the Bear adopted a policy of “taxation” that amounted more than ever to outright banditry, with only a handful of their members maintaining even the thinnest veneer of upholding any kind of law.
The sahuagin have come to the river splitting Ramshorn from the Great Forest in order to keep an eye on both the primary Vermin Hive in the Forest and the spider offshoots that have taken root in the Ramshorn wilderness, taking up residence in a temple to the Seven flooded along with its outbuildings when the river changed course. Vermin (giant ants and spiders and the like) were created in the primordial age of the world, before the time of the elves, used to prosecute ancient wars that now only the most ancient creatures can remember. The sahuagin are one of the few civilizations to remember their original purpose and that they can rapidly adapt themselves to new environments – like underwater, for example – if they run out of food in a biome.
The goblins at Ramshorn are refugees from the Great Forest who fled here with Sir Dagai. Sir Dagai, a rogue wizard of the Third Eye, has promised to grant the goblins strength enough to stand up to the knights of Vintaria and reclaim their homeland east of the river. Sir Dagai has used his enchanting powers to retain the goblins’ loyalty despite the…unfortunate results of some of his earlier experiments. Sir Dagai is a clever manipulator and has used the goblins’ own desire to believe in their independence and self-determination against them. When his charm effects wear off, he convinces them that they were never charmed at all, but followed him because they believe in his vision of a better, stronger goblin-kind. When the goblins decide not to immediately flee or rebel, as much because it is easier not to as because they are convinced, it is easier for them to convince themselves that they remain because they really do believe in Sir Dagai’s vision, and not because they were too scared to fight or flee in the moment.
The second phase of Sir Dagai’s indoctrination was more sinister still, asking his goblins to participate directly in his brutal experiments as he sought the perfect formula. They’ve come this far, haven’t they, having fled their homes and taken up arms against Vintaria, are they really going to throw it all away just because Sir Dagai has begun to take desperate measures for these desperate times? Once the goblins have participated in his more horrific experiments, Sir Dagai can hold this over their head as well. All the terrible things they’ve done to one another, it has to be worth something in the end, doesn’t it? Those who did try to flee or resist were accused of collaborating with the Vintarians and hunted down. With the most rebellious dead and those left behind complicit in their deaths, Sir Dagai’s control was cemented.
The control Sir Dagai now exercises over his goblinoid minions is no longer founded on charm magic nor even on the promise of a better future for goblinkind, though the success of his experiments have certainly made the latter far more compelling than when he was just a transmuter with a silver tongue. The goblins are loyal to Sir Dagai because they have already done horrible things for him.
Sir Dagai’s two successful creations are the hobgoblin and the bugbear. The hobgoblins are disciplined and focused soldiers, and the bugbears cunning ambush predators. Each was once a goblin, and have been selected from amongst the most loyal of Sir Dagai’s followers for promotion.