Adventure Prompt: Part 2 of The Crystal Dust Road – The Disappearing Caravans

I’ve written this adventure prompt to continue the adventure I started in this post. I am using the Dungeon World system, but you could adapt this for any system.


Your party has traveled to a well-known trade stop on the Crystal Dust Road, Stone Fort,  where the merchant’s guild is offering a big reward for solving the mystery of disappearing caravans. Have your party introduce themselves. Then ask why each party member wants to solve the mystery (or just win the reward), how (or if) they know the other party members and why they are working together.

Suggested Bonds:

_________ and I have collected many a bounty together before, but I still don’t trust them.

I’ve heard rumor of _________’s investigative skills, I hope to learn from them.

_______ is just in it for the money, I will show them there is more to life.

_________ seems like a greenhorn, they better not get in my way.

Once you’ve settled all that, read the following outloud:

Wagons heavily laden with valuable crystal dust rumble along the cobbled streets. Now and then a small puff of dust escapes, contributing to the build-up of dust which gives the whole town a  faint glimmer. The wagon drivers shout at pedestrians to get out of the way, who in turn shout back to get out of their way. Merchants hawk their goods from wooden stands, their buckets brimming with all magical necessities such as siren feathers, newt eyes, and mermaid scales. In stone buildings painted in dizzying patterns, richly-robed merchant sell the more valuable items the discerning wizard requires. 

A Reward poster lies on the small café table in front of you.  Even though you’ve been sitting for only a few minutes, the crystal dust is already scratching your throat and eyes. The poster reads:

“REWARD: Ten Wagons of Crystal Dust or its Equivalent in Coin to Whomever Can Solve the Problem of the Disappearing Caravans. Inquire with the Merchant’s Guild for More Information.”

The next section includes some light descriptions of the town and the people the PCs might encounter. Let your PCs explore, and don’t be afraid to  let them go ‘off-script’

Around the Town of Stone Fort

Population: 15,000

Geographical size: Roughly 3 mile square

Economy: Trade Center

This a mid-sized to large town. Any common items can be bought, and a few rarer items.

People to Encounter:

The outdoor stands: The merchants at this level do not belong to the guild and hence do not know much beyond the fact caravans have been disappearing and there is an award.

Suggested Names: Gligee Potionbrewer, Pan Hawker, Selma Hexenhammer

The wagons: Most wagon drivers are too busy to talk to the PCs and will ignore them. However, there is one caravan in town which is getting ready to leave and will allow the PCs to travel with them.

Suggested Names: Gruf Oxmaster, Ruby Whip

NPC: Kari Undergem, the wagon master. While she is not a merchant, and therefore not in a guild, a guild member has  hired her caravan. She has heard rumors that the caravans are not lost, but taken, their occupants murdered or enslaved. She is nervous about the trip, and willing to let the PCs accompany her caravan.

The indoor shops: Almost all indoor merchants are part of the guild and can give the PCs a bit more detail on the caravans. They know disappearance started happening  6 months ago, and are almost always along a one mile stretch of road. The Guild sent scouts to the area, but so far whenever scouts watch, no caravans are attacked. The scouts also searched the surrounding area, but found no signs of activity.

Suggested Names: Hittie Gold, Clavyo Richmound, Xan Coinbags

Any other townsperson: For the most part, anyone else the PCs talk to knows very little information. Multiple rumors abound about what is happening to the caravans.

Suggested Names: Timur Drop, Gamzee Brave, Rosewater Smiles

The Merchant’s Guild: This location is easily found by asking any towns person or by walking into the biggest, shiniest building with the engraved sign “The Merchant’s Guild.” If the PCs enter this building read the following out load:

The words “Merchant’s Guild” are chiseled above an immense open doorway. A mosaic caravan scene surrounds the doors. As you walk in, the caravan imagery continues, bringing wares to a mosaic marketplace which covers the entire back wall. The masterpiece dwarfs a simple wood desk where a gnome sits cleaning out his ears with a stick.

NPC: Rydarcargemurlite (Rydar for short): A male gnome with the tendency to forget what he’s talking about. He knows the following about the missing caravans, but besides being forgetful, he’s tired of explaining it to every kid who thinks they can win the reward:

  • The caravans are often found intact, but the caravan members gone.
  • Bodies are rarely recovered, when found, they are brutally torn apart and partially eaten.
  • Large caravans are never attacked, but small trinkets are often missing.
  • Caves riddle the cliffs where the caravan has disappeared.
  • There is a massive and ancient graveyard near to where the caravans disappear.

Continue the story in Part 3

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Adventure Fronts: The Crystal Dust Road

This is a short adventure outline using the front system from Dungeon World. If you have are not familiar with Dungeon World’s front system, you can read about it here. Basically, this is a road-map for the GM of what will happen if the PCs do nothing. It also provides a quick reference for the adventure’s main villains, their motivations, and their goals. You can use this outline to run a Dungeon World adventure or as a guide to create an adventure for any system. These fronts are part of the adventure I started in this post.

Introduction

In the middle of the desert stands the surprisingly large town of Stone Fort. Surprising, that is, unless you know that Stone Fort also sits on the cross roads of the Crystal Dust Trade route. Recently, caravans have started to mysteriously disappear nearby. The Merchant’s Guild has put out a substantial reward for anyone who can discover what is happening to them.

Estimated Runtime: 1-2 sessions of 3-4 hours.

Front: Stone Fort

Description: Crystal Dust, the flour of magic, needed by almost every magic-user, grew best far in the North. Mithril steel, the strongest and lightest of all steels, formed in the mountains of the South. Naturally, a trade route developed between the two, carrying valuable Dust to the South and steel to the North.

The Merchant’s Guild controls most of the Crystal Dust trade. The members receive the first pick of the goods, own the best shops in trade towns, and set the price for the Dust. But the Guild is not content being just the biggest game in town, it wants to be the only. To that the end, the Guild, plans to extend its control to the caravans which carry the Dust along the route.

For years, Rydar has worked in the Merchant Guild main office as its head secretary. The lengths the Guild has gone to maintain its tight control over the Crystal Dust trade has disgusted him. So, on the side, he has begun to experiment to find something that will replace crystal dust.

Main Caste:

  • Agatha Confeller. The Merchant Guild Captain
  • Rydarcargemurlite (Rydar for short). A gnome inventor and current, disgruntled employee for the Merchant Guild.

Danger: The Merchant Guild (ambitious organization)

Impulse: To monopolize the crystal dust trade

  1. Caravan and competitors leaders identified
  2. Competitors stopped from traveling the road.
  3. All buyers of crystal dust forced into compliance with the Guild

Impending Doom: Usurpation. The Merchant’s Guild is now the only way to get crystal dust.

Danger: New! Magic (arcane enemy)

Impulse: To supplant crystal dust market with his own invention.

  1. Rydar, an enterprising gnome, begins looking for a way to make crystal dust obsolete.
  2. Rydar gathers a team.
  3. The team invents/discovers a way to make crystal dust obsolete.
  4. The team begins distributing their method and/or new product.
  5. The team organizes its own guild.

Impending Doom: Impoverishment. The entire Crystal Dust Road economy is shot.

Front: The Forgotten Graveyard

Description: See this post.

Main Caste:

  • Ergithia, an ancient gargoyle in the shape of a veiled woman, she stalks graveyards, kills for fun, and collects morbid tokens from her victims.
  • Tribley: One of the captured goblins and an amateur alchemist.

Danger: Ergithia (arcane enemy)

Impulse: To delight in cruelty, to increase her collection

  1. Desires a new addition to her collection.
  2. Builds her army
  3. Marches to find the addition
  4. Finds and obtains the addition.
  5. Harnesses the power of her new collection and army

Impending Doom: Tyranny. Ergithia takes over Stone Fort and enslaves the city.

Danger: The Imprisoned Goblins (hordes)

Impulse: To survive by any means necessary, to fulfill their own hedonistic desires.

  1. The goblins choose a leader
  2. The leader organizes a mutiny against Ergithia
  3. The goblins mutiny and attempt to kill (or at least escape) the Ergithia.

Impending Doom: Anarchy. If the goblins can free themselves, they plunder and pillage anything they can

Stakes:

  1. Who will be the goblin leader?
  2. What does Ergithia desire?
  3. How does the merchant guild control the competitors?
  4. Why is crystal dust so important?
  5. What has the gnome invented?
  6. Who is on Rydar’s team?

Continue the story in Part 2

Three Inns/Taverns and One Coffee house

Coffeehouse – Small – Urban

Stacks of tobacco and coffee crates line the perimeter of a small corner store. A few patrons stand around outside, chomping on their pipes and staring at the passing pedestrians. Inside, the smell of coffee permeates everything. Rows of long tables and benches sit under white-washed walls.

Luxury Inn or Tavern – Large – Urban

Elaborate scenes from local lore fill the walls and ceilings of this grand tavern. Balconies line the open atrium, which is topped with a colorful stained glass skylight. Most impressive is the gigantic keg dominating the center of the tavern. From its spout, beer pours into a huge pool. An immense rack houses mugs for any patrons who wish to partake.

Road Stop Inn or Tavern – Small – Rural

From afar, the place looks abandoned with its rotting fence and crumbling walls. A closer inspection reveals the inn is open. A former room with two of its walls missing is now an outdoor patio. Food smells waft from inside and a small, but freshly painted, sign reads “Open.”

Seedy Inn or Tavern – Small – Urban
One could easily miss this small tavern tucked away in a side alley. Boards cover half the windows and graffiti coats every surface. Luckily, someone had the foresight to put the tavern’s name on a carved wooden board, so it could be read even through multiple layers of graffiti.

Prompt for a One-Shot Adventure: The Gargoyle Ergithia

Below is a short prompt to help you think of a short adventure (or maybe part of a longer campaign). It can be used in in any system. I am also writing a more complete adventure using the Dungeon World system that will use this prompt. Enjoy!

The Gargoyle Ergithia stalked cemeteries  for centuries, devouring unsuspecting mourners.  Like all gargoyles, over the years,  her form slowly adapted to blend into her new surroundings. It turned from a winged demon to a weathered statue of a beautiful veiled woman. Sometimes she would lay on a crypt like a bereaved lover. Other times she would sit in front of a gravestone, looking heavenward with her hands clasped in prayer. She’d delight in assuming these positions until moss covered her and locals couldn’t remember the statue not existing. Then she would wait until a particularly big  or particularly sad funeral (children’s deaths being her favorite) and massacre everyone. But after these satisfying blood baths, she would be forced to move on to a new graveyard or fall prey to village mobs. Each person she killed, she would take some small trinket from them (the more personal, the better) and add it to the growing collection that she kept in first graveyard she ever stalked.

One year when she returned to the site, she found a group of goblins had taken up residence. Enraged, she killed a few before deciding to use them to her advantage. Under threats of death, she played a cruel game with them. Each night, they had to either lure someone nearby for her to kill or bring her “something pretty.”

Four Towns

Box-text descriptions of four towns.

Town – Small – Rural

Amidst flat pastures and fields stands a small town surrounded by a slumping wall of dried logs.  A small drawbridge extends across a foul-smelling moat to the town’s only entrance.  Poorly-constructed wooden houses line the moat’s inner bank, serving as a kind of interior wall. Clothing lines drape from the houses to the outer wall.  Now and then a resident leans out a window and dumps the contents of a chamber pot into the stagnant water.

Town  – Recent Catastrophe (fire)

Black smoke still hangs in the air, but the fire has reduced most houses to smoldering ruins. Towns people rush to free survivors from the debris.  White cloths cover the dead, while the injured lie on stretchers, in too much pain to move. Some scream, while others mutter to themselves. One of the still-standing buildings sways with a horrible wrenching sound. People shout as the whole building crashes to the ground, burying whatever lay beneath it.

Town – Urban – Nautical

Giant mangrove trees anchor themselves in the brine along the coast. Their roots rise up high enough in the air to allow ships to pass underneath, and then plunge down deep into the muddy waters. Upon the land created by the tangled root system shacks cling. The middle-class’s dwellings lines the roots themselves, and in the upper branches, the well-to-do’s homes perch like over-sized bird nests.

Town – Industrial

Noxious fumes pollute the air around the town with a hazy smog. A merry stream skips toward the town from the surrounding meadow, only to be imprisoned by stone once inside. Workers dump the waste products from their various trades into the water, turning it into a sludgy stew. Most people wear cloths over their mouths to guard against directly inhaling the poisons, but many simply take the risk and wear nothing.