Hello again, Randal here for more world building with Groundbreaking. I noticed that while I have provided a number of possible antagonists for various scenarios within our domain, none of them are outright bad. They all exist in the area to provide more texture to the region by way of possible encounters, it is up to the players and GM to decide if those encounters end well or poorly. Today, let’s take a look at a clear cut villain that we can keep on stand-by as a boogey man, random encounter, simple quest fodder, or for more in depth encounters of various levels.
The Setup. The region’s location and natural borders creates a fair amount of isolation from the rest of the world. Even though each of the 5 major locales are distinct and have separate traditions, the entire population shares many things from simple spice preferences to the legends they tell their children at night. One such tradition is the telling of stories to children about various animal, fey, or lycan masks that haunt the region looking for children that misbehave. The tale originated during the time of war with the fey, as a sort of propaganda, and has continued ever since as both a form of boogey man as well as camp horror stories. The stories have changed over the years, mostly at the whim of the teller trying to prove a point to a specific child or simply to spice it up, but the basics are the same. A child is punished for misbehaving and decides to sneak out of the their home and play in the forest. They find a mask hanging from a tree that talks to them, offering them power over their parents. They are basically good kids so they decline and run away, but it follows them, always ahead on a tree as the child rushes home. The endings vary, but usually they find the mask on their bed or in their closet, at which point it animates and puts itself on them and they change forms and go wreak havoc, only to wake up the next day covered in evidence of their crimes with no mask to prove their innocence.
The Masks. Perhaps due to the proximity of the ley lines, perhaps due to the pervasive fey influence, maybe decades of group think and belief, or possibly just the creation of an evil wizard … but the masks have begun to take a life of their own. It started with a full moon festival in Lakeside Proper a decade ago, in which a bunch of children were attacked by a peer wearing a mask with the purpose of scaring them into leaving him alone. He was tired of being bullied, and so he intended to scare them, but they laughed and attacked again … until the mask came alive and transformed him. Adults nearby heard the commotion and arrived to see what they described as a werewolf attacking the children, only to discover who he was after they killed it and he reverted to the child wearing the mask. The mask was lost during the aftermath of the incident, thought to have fallen into the lake and never seen again. A year later, during another full moon festival, a group of a dozen kids were seen wandering the streets, all wearing similar masks, harassing other children and stealing from street vendors. As the night wore on, and their escapades multiplied, the local sheriff gathered some other adults together to stop the children before they became out of control, but it was too late. When cornered, they were all rabid with malice, forcing a local witch to cast sleep on them to contain them. As the spell took effect, the children all howled in rage, each shifting into the form of the creature who’s mask they wore, and they tore off into the village attacking all those in sight. Unable to contain them with magic, they were forced to use physical violence to stop the children, killing 3 of them in the process … but not before they maimed and killed almost a dozen other people. The masks were burned that night, and that particular festival has never been held again, as well as a law put into place enacting a curfew for sundown for that night.
The Banditry. While the festival is no more, the stories are still told to keep unruly children in line. Recently, a rash of roadside banditry has begun to gain notoriety. The bandits all wear masks that match the stories and histories of the full moon festivals, and only attack on full moons. At first it was a single bandit stopping poor farmers traveling with their crops, demanding completely bizarre forms of payment such as “an heirloom with a lock of hair” or “a fake coin made of copper.” As the crimes weren’t deadly, and the farmers were left with their crops, they were mostly just thankful for their lives and only complained to or warned people in their local communities to be on the lookout. It wasn’t until the first nobleman was stopped that the crimes reached the eyes and ears of a larger audience. Unamused at the audacity to stop his carriage and demand an heirloom as toll, the nobleman was struck down by what his driver described as a werebear that dragged his body off into the woods nearby as the horses ran away with the carriage and rider on board. The next incident to be reported included two mask wearing bandits. After a second person declined to pay up, this time a hunter returning with pelts to sell, she too went missing and a third bandit appeared. Shortly after, sightings of single masked bandits were reported to the north, east, and south, but as the months have passed, those bandits have become accompanied by other victims that have gone missing.
The Fallout. As the tales become more widespread, they also become darker and darker. Authorities worry that the change in tone of the stories are causing the crimes to get worse, as the bandits are enjoying their fame. Others, notably diviners and witches, worry that the strange specificity of the trinkets stolen are evidence that these crimes are building up to something far worse than the random thefts and murders that they appear to be. Claims that the masks are just superstition and legend have allowed most people to assume that those that died were taken and eaten by beasts and not converted to banditry, while a growing minority believes that necromancy is behind it all. Thus far, divinations seem to fail as nobody that survived an encounter got a look at more than the masks and divinations of the various masks all show the same thing … a single mask, hanging on a tree in the forest. So completely unremarkable is the scene, that teleportation cannot be used to travel there. As the fifth anniversary of the first masked robbery approaches, villagers from around the basin are slowly starting to panic.
GM Note. The idea here is to provide a long term evil that cannot be easily pinpointed, and thus, not easily eradicated. This can simply be a camp fire story told while passing through the region, or it can be the background for NPCs asking for help. It can form the basis for a simple side quest (escort this physician during a full moon), it can be the back drop of a horror themed quest (find the missing child in the swamp during a full moon), or it can be as far reaching as trying to determine the connection between the trinkets as a way to find a motive. Also, it could be used to provide a string of bad guys that grow in power until you finally find the source of the evil and vanquish it for good. Either way, it is intended to fill the role you need for your game, be it unredeemable evil or a wayward child that festered hatred after growing up abused by peers.