An Adventure Hook Written By: Dice Prophet
System: D&D 5th Edition or Pathfinder
Ideal Party Size: 4-5
Recommended Level: 1
Most adventurers choose to take up a life of travel, survival, and discovery. In this situation, the PCs were given no choice, and thrust into a life of violence at the behest of their rulers. The party is brought together by happenstance during a frantic retreat and must band together to survive.
Read the following flavor text to the PCs at the beginning of the scenario:
“You’ve been conscripted as a lowly foot-soldier for a war you barely understood. Your primary goal ever since you were whisked away from your peaceful former life is to survive. A few weeks of rigorous training passed like a blur as you became acquainted with your own battlefield abilities. And on your first day of true combat, you find yourself standing on the front lines and staring down the enigmatic enemy.
As instructed, you marched forward with weapons barred and clashed with your foe head-on. But no amount of training could have prepared you for the outcome. Within minutes, your commander is slain and the army around you is routed. You hear distant trumpets heralding retreat, and you flee as fast as possible away from the advancing enemy line. The battlefield is littered with the corpses of your allies, slowing your pace, but you trudge on, trampling over the dead.
You hear a violent crackling as a massive arc of white lighting streaks into a cluster of your fellow soldiers. A split-second later, a thunderous clap bellows out and a rain of blood-soaked earth coats your tattered uniform. The enemy continues its relentless assault upon the retreating army as the sounds of powerful evocation spells are punctuated by the screams of your fallen allies. After what felt like hours of hard sprinting, you arrive at the treeline that surrounded the open field. The forest is your best chance at evading your pursuers.”
The scenario begins with the party brought together as they are fleeing through the forest. Introductions are to be kept short, as all the party members are already on the same side, so their interests should align for the most part.
The following encounters can be used to represent the hazards they encounter during their escape attempt. This list includes wildlife as well as the enemy troops actively hunting down stragglers. If played intelligently, they can also cause the enemy to come into conflict with the local wildlife.
- Wildlife (these can be modified to fit any natural setting)
- Boar (MM pg. 319)
- Brown Bear (MM. 319)
- Swarm of Insects (MM pg. 338)
- Wolf (MM pg. 341)
- Enemy Troops (mix and match to form groups)
- [OPTIONAL MOUNTS] Warhorse (MM pg. 340)
- Scout (MM pg. 349)
- Thug (MM pg. 350)
The party members can also attempt the following checks to improve their odds of escaping direct conflict. If they fail, they trigger a combat encounter. For each success they advance to a new location and are one step closer to escaping entirely.
- Survival (Wisdom) vs. Investigation (Intelligence) to cover up their tracks
- Stealth (Dexterity) vs. Perception (Wisdom) to slip past patrols unnoticed
- Survival (Wisdom) to maintain their bearings as they travel
- Nature (Intelligence) to identify helpful plants, animals, and objects in their environment
- Opposed Athletics (Strength) checks to march faster than their hunters
The party can also encounter powerful allies that will assist them in their attempts to survive. These are higher-ranking officers and will act accordingly. They may also be previously injured from the aforementioned battle and subsequent retreat.
- Knight (MM pg. 347)
- Veteran (MM pg. 350)
As the party trudges through the forest, they are constantly being pursued by the enemy until they are captured or successfully escape. The retreat can take several days, depending on the outcomes of previously mentioned checks and encounters. Allow the scenario to unfold organically, and then bring it to a conclusion through the following options.
Surrender or Capture
If the party members willingly surrender or are defeated in combat, they are stabilized by their captors and brought to the enemy encampment in chains. From there, they have an opportunity to escape captivity, as well as learn more about their foes. Are the enemy as bloodthirsty and irredeemable as your superiors claimed? Why are the two sides even in conflict? This perilous situation is an excellent opportunity to unravel the mystery of the warring clans, and test where the PCs allegiances truly lie.
The players may successfully regroup with a sizable portion of the fleeing army. In that case, they are promoted to higher ranks and given more freedom among the army for their efforts. The plot can progress accordingly as the war rages on.
If the PCs are alone and successfully escape, they will be presumed killed in action. If they were accompanied by an NPC, consult the next section regarding “Desertion.” In the former case, since they were essentially nameless foot soldiers, they will be quickly forgotten. From then on, they can pursue whatever newfound ambitions they acquire. Will they become bandit lords? Will they simply retire as farmers? Or will they take the first ship off the continent? Whatever happens next is entirely up to the players.
Alternatively, the players can choose to desert. They were thrust into this war against their will anyways, so who can blame them? However, this may yield further consequences. If the players are accompanied by a Veteran or a Knight, they will have to convince their superior officer to desert as well. This can range from easy to impossible based on the specific NPC’s characteristics, which are at the DM’s discretion. Worse case scenario, they will have to either defeat or evade their temporary ally and will be branded as deserters and wanted fugitives by their own people.