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Wildfire Dangers
Steal This Hook
by Robert Wiese

The wilderness is a vast and dangerous place, with isolated points of civilization here and there. The wilderness does not just harbor monsters and evil humanoids, though. It is also the realm of “Mother Nature” by whatever name she is worshiped, and nature can be dangerous in and of itself (especially when combined with evil monsters). This month, use these hooks that involve wilderness fires.

These hooks are again set in the Nentir Vale, but DMs can move them to similar areas in the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, or another campaign world.

Fiery Witchlights

Quest Rewards
As these events take place along the road from Fallcrest to Winterhaven, investigating them might connect with a larger adventure your players are currently on, or might simply be a side quest unto itself. Either way, you should set a Minor Quest XP appropriate to the party’s level.

Travel along the roadway from Fallcrest to Winterhaven is easy, since the road is well maintained and little used. Even in these days of rising trade, the roads are clear much of the time. Thus, it isn’t unusual for the eyes of travelers to wander the countryside, looking for anything interesting, as they make their way northwest. Eventually, in the case of the PCs, curiosity is rewarded when they see what looks to be a body in the grass a few hundred yards off the road to the south (you might, for example, ask them to make a Perception check). It’s hard to make out initially, and it could be chalked up to an overactive imagination, but investigating the scene could potentially alleviate the boredom. Read the following if the PCs investigate:

Upon closer look, you see that recent wagon tracks lead in the same direction from the road where you are. It looks like three to five wagons left the road here and wended southward through the grasses.

If they look around some more, read the following:

At the site, you find that what you saw was indeed a body, and it’s not the only one. You see twelve corpses lying mostly hidden in the grasses, and signs of a big fight as well. The bodies are all human and they look like monsters tore them apart. The wagon tracks continue southward, along with the tracks of several clawed creatures of the two-legged and four-legged variety.

You could ask for a second Perception check to determine if the PCs find something of interest:

It seems that everything has been picked clean, but a careful search reveals several small golden objects.

Story Elements

Select or generate story elements from this table, or make up your own.

  • A caravan of treasure was taken out of the dungeons of Gardmore Abbey and southward, where it was stolen by creatures from the Witchlight Fens and the wagons taken into the fens. This happened about three days ago. Thus, the wagons reached the fens yesterday.

    Note: Because this story basis involves treasure from the old paladin stash at Gardmore Abbey, this is a good opportunity to slip into your campaign something truly rare and cool in the way of treasure. Pick something from your campaign setting’s past that might not be available in current times.


  • The attack happened as described, but the attackers were actually humans or some humanoid race magically disguised as swamp creatures. The tracks lead to the ruins of wagons, and the treasure is gone. There might be boot tracks away from the site -- the attackers’ only slip-up that provides a window of opportunity for the adventurers.

Complications: Fire Hazards!

If you want to introduce a little environmental hazard to your players, you might consider the following complications:

  • The Witchlight Fens, normally a swampy mess, are dry this time of year because of low rainfall and high winds. It could be very easy to start them burning.
  • If you want to have the PCs deal with a large wildfire, you can have them be involved in starting it if they use fires at their camp. Have the camp attacked by creatures at night when the fire is bright, and in the confusion somehow have it spread to the nearby brush and become established before the PCs can put it out. The burning fens should add some urgency to the treasure hunt, or perhaps the PCs choose to ignore the possible treasure and put all their effort into stopping the larger fire.

Speak with Dead

What might the PCs learn by talking with the corpses (if they have the means)? You might include the following information:

  • Talking to the dead at the attack site reveals that a horde (or so it seemed to the person they talk to) of swamp creatures, including some plants, attacked the caravan as soon as it left the road. They can also learn the origin of the treasure and that it was destined for the southern lands. The mercenaries who recovered it planned to load the treasure on barges on the Nentir River near the fens, and avoid the road and unwanted attention to their newfound wealth.
  • The attack site is a kind of trap to lead unwary adventurers into the fens. The corpses at the attack site don’t say much of anything useful, but the tracks lead into the swamp as described. There might even be real treasure wagons to set the stage for the ambush, with a layer of real treasure and a lot of worthless items to provide volume.

The Burning Past

Ashes continue to fall for the fifth day in a row. The massive fire in the west remains uncontrolled, and the winds of summer carry the ashes all across the Nentir Vale. Before the PCs left, stories of the fire, mostly speculation, spread through Fallcrest like, well, a forest fire. The PCs are now approaching the ruins of the evil shrine called the Temple of the Yellow Skulls, and though they are sure they are traveling toward the fire, some of them might worry about whether they can complete their exploration and find some loot before the fire reaches them.

As the PCs reach the Ogrefist Hills, though, they see an unexpected sight.

Read the following:

Approaching you from the northwest are a number of flaming skeletons. They move in a chaotic manner and throw orbs of fire all around them. Then they see you.

Story Elements

Select or generate story elements from this table, or make up your own.

01-25: The blazing skeletons are elf undead from one of these fortresses, and they were awakened by dark magic when the fire that ravages the western edge of the vale exposed the ancient elven fortress. The ones the PCs encounter can be tracked back to the fortress, but much of the land along the route is ablaze. So is the land surrounding the fortress, though the undead that come out of it don’t seem fazed by the flames.

26-50: The blazing skeletons are some members of a huge horde of the creatures. Drow wizards created them deep in the Underdark out of elf and drow bodies. They then made their way up through the Temple of the Yellow Skulls as an advance force to soften up the residents of the vale before drow came in earnest. They are responsible for the fire.

51-80: The blazing skeletons are being commanded by an evil priest or wizard who can be talked to and even negotiated with. He knows a lot about what is going on, but is not in charge himself.

81-00: The blazing skeletons are actually normal skeletons with fire elementals riding inside them. The elementals are bound to the skeletons and direct them. The bound pair is the creations of Bloodspear orc warlocks who are trying to take over the whole western edge of the Nentir Vale. Their base is in the southern Stonemarch.

History Check

If the PCs want to learn something more of the history of this region, a successful History check could reveal the following:

  • In the days before Nerath, the Harken Forest extended farther north into the Nentir Vale. On the west it covered the Ogrefist Hills, surrounded what is now called the Gardbury Downs, and reached the Stonemarch. Elves from the Harken Forest lived throughout the region, and they built fortresses as enemies began to be more prevalent and dangerous. Most of these fortresses fell or were left in disrepair when the elves fled the region.

Ongoing Hazard

If you choose to set the fire in the midst of an ongoing adventure, you might wish to incorporate it as an ongoing danger:

  • The fire itself should not be ignored. Whatever the cause of it, the fire spreads at a steady pace eastward as the adventure progresses. If the PCs don’t do anything to stop it, large parts of the Nentir Vale are burned.

Firestarters

The road from Winterhaven is as deserted as usual; the PCs have seen no travelers in the last three hours since they left the town. Off in the distance, rolling plains spotted with copses of trees greet their eyes. The only disturbance to this very pastoral scene is a small cloud of black smoke building to the northwest across the plains.

As the PCs make their way toward the source of the rising smoke, they can see that it is expanding, whatever it is. After an hour of travel, they see the fires spreading through the brush at the foot of the Cairngorm Peaks. Illuminated by the flames, they can also see a number of orc figures moving about -- they appear to be fanning flames or starting new fires. The black cloud covers the area now.

Story Elements

Select or generate story elements from this table, or make up your own.

01-30: A renegade group of Bloodspear orcs wants to conquer the northwestern part of the Nentir Vale. To do this, they plan to start wildfires that sweep eastward and drive out (or destroy) the predominantly human settlements in the vale.

31-55: The fire-starting orcs have been enslaved by creatures from the Elemental Chaos who seek to spread destruction. Alternatively, the orcs actually are fiery creatures (perhaps orc scions of flame) instead of slaves.

56-90: The orcs are actually trying to put out the fires, not start them. Some other force is trying to burn out the local orcs, perhaps even evil humans from Winterhaven. The orcs, even though they are evil, need the PCs’ help or they will be forced to flee the area.

91-00: For powerful heroes, the source of the fires could ultimately be a red dragon that lives at the top of the Cairngorm Mountains.

Complications

If the players become involved in helping control the fires, you might also include any of the following complications:

  • The wildfires are impossible to fight effectively because civilization is so diffuse in the region. Thus, when the people start to see them they panic. The local leaders know that the source must be found and the orcs (or whoever is behind them) stopped; in the meantime, frenzied locals in the area add to the confusion.
  • To complicate matters, it is summer and very windy, so fires spread quickly. Unfortunately, the wind direction can be unpredictable, so the fires might spread back into the Bloodspear lands.
  • The wilds around the Cairngorms are home to numerous dangerous monsters. These monsters are driven eastward by the fires and become a danger to the human lands in addition to the fire.

About the Author

Robert Wiese has been playing D&D since 1978 after he watched a game played in the car on the way home from a Boy Scouts meeting. He was fascinated, and delved into this strange world of dragons and magic and sourcebooks. Years later, he was hired to edit tournaments for the RPGA Network, and from there progressed to running the network after his boss was assassinated in the great Christmas purge of 1996. Times were tough, but he persevered and brought the RPGA into a shining new era. Eventually he met a girl who liked to play D&D too, and he left Renton for the warmth and casinos of Reno, Nevada. Now, he works in the Pharmacology department of UNR studying mouse foot muscles and the effects of RF emissions on same. He spends as much time as possible with his wife Rhonda, son Owen, and newborn daughter Rebecca.
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