Guard, can you please ask our guide to mark the perimeter of the swamp for us? We really need to catalog the number of dwellings here and it would be helpful if he could do that instead of just sitting around all day.
Location Background Deep within the Misty Forest lies the flooded remains of an unknown civilization. This swamp is more than just the marshy overflow of a river, it is home to some of the strangest phenomenon known to Marathis’ Cradle. From its perpetual fog that may, or may not, conceal some form of gaseous undead to the infamous will’o’wisp swarms, every visitor has a tale to tell, and every local has a warning to give. Known as The Misty Ruins, these stone reminders of the long forgotten seem to be the only thing able to withstand The Shallows. As the water in the area rises and drains away with the weather and the seasons, the true expanse of the ruins is all but impossible to map out. Many locations can be found with a foot or so of wall intact, allowing you to see the actual layout of a home, but much of the buildings are buried feet deep in muck. The vast majority of these are out in the water, anywhere from 10 inches to 10 feet deep in water, mud, and ooze. Additionally, thousands of years have allowed the ruins to be overgrown by the same imposing trees as the rest of the are, making it difficult to see very even when the fog is thin. Most of the wildlife is small and scurrying in nature, but there are a number of larger beasts roaming around that just might be interested in the presence of humanoids. While the location can be reached to in just a few days from Berry Bustle, taking an entire team of academics and their gear makes the trip substantially longer.
Quest Background It would take years with a dozen teams, to be able to fully map out the full scope of the Misty Ruins. Nobody with that kind of money has that much interest in the area, and all those with that much interest have very little grant money left over. But, somebody had an interest in sending in a party to find evidence that a larger scale expedition was warranted. And that somebody did have enough money to make it happen. They put together a team of 6 academics, all with field work expertise. They also hired a team (the PCs) to double as their protectors (should anything go bad) and assistants (should they need another set of hands). The PCs are to get them there and back safely, with the help of a guide that was also hired by the interested party. It is a good thing they didn’t skimp on the guide’s bill, right? The expectation was 10 days to the site, a month at the site, and 10 days out. The guide was paid for the first half of the trip and was to be paid the remainder upon return to Berry Bustle.
As soon as the group arrived at their destination, however, the academics stopped treating the guide as a trusted advisor and began using them as just another grad student. After being commanded like a common dog, the guide grumbled and muttered something about curses and monsters before setting off on the given task. Come dinner time, they didn’t return. Unconcerned with their absence, the dig team has tasked the PCs with finishing those chores, in addition to their own, all while keeping them protected and assisting them as needed. The PCs can’t be certain that the guide just wandered off to avoid being mistreated or if something actually happened to them, but to avoid breaching their contract they must do as they say and investigate on the side. Not sure they can lead the group back to civilization without a guide, the PCs need to resolve this situation or find another way home.
Quest Giver This quest expects the PCs to be self starters. After passing along the request to have the guide mark the boundaries, the guide goes missing. Not in the usual “disappeared in the water but here’s my boots next to croc tracks” kind of way. They have one month to either discover the whereabouts of the guide, or figure out how to lead the group back through the fog themselves at the end of the trip. Additionally, they need to deal with any other situations, incidents or discoveries that arise. Each of these items can be done in whichever order the GM likes, but keep in mind that they PCs are supposed to be here for a month so spreading them out, or making them last days, will help fill the timeline.
- Incident. The guide doesn’t return for dinner on the first night. While it looks like the guide wandered off and doesn’t return.
- Discovery. The contents of the guide’s pack is strange. All the items required for camping over night are missing, but rations and canteen and other things used throughout the day are still there. A simple search implies that the items left behind have never been used before, and were likely bought just before leaving on this trip. A thorough search reveals that the equipment left behind was supplied by the group and not purchased/owned by the guide.
- Situation. With the loss of the guide, the PCs now need to add search and rescue to their daily tasks if they are going to be able to safely return home following the schedule outlined in their contract. While they may be able to find their way home, doing so on their tight schedule will be difficult at best.
- Incident. The team demands that the PCs track the guide. Angry about the audacity to leave them there, they insist on sending one of them to supervise.
- Discovery. The direction in which the guide disappeared leads to swamp covered ruins that require careful navigation. Following tracks in that area lead to what appears to be a struggle at the waters edge. A simple search of the region implies that the guide may have been eating by a crocodile or other swamp predator. A thorough search reveals that there were multiple creatures in the area, but also the guide may have departed via canoe.
- Situation. The “supervisor” injures themselves and blames the PCs for it. Tensions mount.
- Incident. The food stores are targeted in the night, regardless of precautions. If they are not protected in any way, velociraptors smell them and enter camp. If they are buried, then crocs dig them out. If hung from a tree, a giant snake (or two) gets them. The culprits should be encountered during the heist and strong enough that they are scared off instead of outright defeated.
- Discovery. A simple investigation implies that the aggressor came from, and returned to, the same direction the guide’s tracks led. A thorough search of the area shows that there seems to be some sort of game trail leading to the water in that same location.
- Situation. With the loss of their food supplies, the PCs now must forage or hunt for food if they are to stay the entire month and get paid per their contract. This will add tension to the trip as they are now splitting their focus further between protection, assistance, search and rescue, and provision gathering.
- Incident. Some of the excavation supplies and tools go missing. This angers the dig team and ensures that the PCs must spend more time helping them instead of performing other duties.
- Discovery. Missing supplies and tools are found in some ruins in the direction that the guide went missing.
- Situation. There appears to be somebody else in the swamp trying to beat the dig team to some specific artifact. Not only does this irritate them, but it makes them begin to argue with each other and even with the PCs. Paranoia sets in.
Quest Progress Using the above pattern of Incident, Discovery, and Situation, the PCs should continue to be put into a bind with tracking down the guide and finishing their contractual obligations to keep the dig team safe. The sheer number of things they can encounter in the swamp are limited only by your imagination, especially a place as infused with mystery and fantasy as this. At some point, they should get lost in the fog for a day or more. If for no other reason than to remind them just how far away they are from civilization and just how quickly you can become isolated. If they continue to investigate the waters, they should encounter amphibious threats, but perhaps they also discover a flooded basement that seems to have been recently excavated (just to add to the mystery). They should find minor evidence that the guide is still alive, along with more missing equipment. It should be vague enough that the academics turn on each other, using the PCs as mediators. Perhaps they even turn on the PCs if mediation goes poorly. It might even be fun if the PCs begin to suspect one another.
Quest Resolution The intended outcome of this scenario is as follows. One of the academics of the dig team is secretly the individual funding this expedition, which serves a dual purpose. The core premise of the trip is legit, to catalog enough information to warrant further grants. What nobody else knows, is that there is a secret agenda to study the effects of isolation and stress in this region’s “magic fog”. The guide is alive and well, following secret instructions given by the funding party. The PCs should ultimately realize that the animals are all under the control of the guide, but then they must decide if he is doing nefarious deeds or not. The alternate dig sight is a sham to raise the paranoia of the test subjects, but it ends up actually finding something significant when they are investigating it as a group. Assuming the PCs don’t kill the guide or secret patron without hearing their stories, they have no problems leaving the forest according to their outlined schedule and receive their contracted pay. If they keep their cool and go above and beyond, they receive a bonus.
I know I left this very open ended, but I wanted to set the scene and provide a framework much more than I wanted to write out this particular story. Horror should be customized to be done right. Let me know what you think! Please continue to join us at our Discord server https://discord.gg/Rt79BAj.