Part of the goal of the Keep on the Plaplands was to create a semi-sandbox game, much like the original Keep on the Borderlands adventure. You've got this place out on the edge of nowhere that is full of NPCs (both helpful and otherwise) and various places to explore and different ways to get mangled. So while there's many different critters, places and characters there isn't much of an overarching plot so far. Here's where I change that up a bit. The following plot is of course entirely optional and can simply be ignored by the GM, or perhaps it simply is going on in the background but the PCs themselves never quite get involved. Mainly these events are meant to give the PCs some interesting "dungeons" to explore and a reason why the normally peaceful and placid plaplands (heh, alliteration is fun) have become more dangerous of late.
The Recent Troubles
Normally most people find life out on the plains peaceful and dull (which says something about people when you consider it's a place where just about anything can fall from the sky at any time). However, lately things have been more troublesome. The local goblin clans, who normally engage in petty theft and occasional banditry, have been downright vicious and have begun assaulting scavengers and travelers out on the plains. Larger predators are becoming more common and more vicious...in fact several dangerous creatures have been reported that have never been seen out on the plains before...not just your standard evolutionary oddities but true monsters!
It just hasn't been safe which has led to more and more of the scavenger tribes retreating to the Keep to wait out whatever is riling up the wildlife which in turn leads to overcrowding and lack of money which leads to a general sense of tension and anger among the inhabitants of the Keep. Rumors begin flying about curses, bad luck and general nastiness while out on the plains itself those scavengers brave enough to try their luck face dangers much greater than ever before.
These events all started at some point before the PCs arrive on the scene. Exactly how long it's been going on will be up to the GM and will set the mood for the adventure. If it's been only a week or two then likely most of the Keep-folk just see the worries as a temporary thing and are happy to kick back and wait for it to blow over. If it's been several months though then people should be desperate and on edge...thievery in the keep may become common along with a general sense of fear and even hopelessness. However long it's been there is a single source for the problem...
Malice is a unique and bizarre element (table #666), a metal normally found only in tiny deposits in the mountains of Arrgarnarr and even there it is incredibly rare and valuable. When refined Malice is a light, shiny metal with a purplish sheen and an odd "greasy" feel. However, the metal is so rare that it is almost never kept pure, it can be alloyed seamlessly with most other metals and is often used in the construction of weapons, crowns and jewelry (rings especially). Objects made with Malice are not automatically stronger or better (although they are often enchanted) but they do have one important property...they actively attract and enhance dark thoughts and feelings. Thus the lords of Arrgarnarr will forge as many Malice-laced objects as they are able, sending them out into the world to corrupt kings and taint heroes with their darkness.
Unfortunately a chunk of raw, pure Malice has fallen from the skies above the Plaplands. This 3 pound lump (more than the mines of Arrganarr produce in a decade) of concentrated evil has caused all kinds of chaos. The chunk of Malice was first recovered by goblins who stumbled across it out on the plains just South of the Thicket. The sparks of petty evil and cruelty in their hearts immediately caught flame and they made ready to bring the Malice back to their warrens where its influence would surely turn these minor pests into a rapacious swarm that would soon threaten not only the Keep but possibly all human lands!
...if it weren't for the fact that a hobling scavenger clan noticed the goblins celebrating their find and decided to liberate it from them (after all stealing from goblins hardly counts does it?). The hoblings ambushed the goblins and made off with their prize. This was not the end however, several goblins survived the attack and managed to make their way back to their clans with stories of how the filthy hoblings stole their "beloved" treasure.
The hoblings who stole the Malice, a close-knit clan called the Gabbins and the largest united group of scavengers on the plains, fell quickly under its influence. Before they had a chance to trade or sell the wicked metal they became obsessed with it and in a matter of days they changed from a simple scavenger tribe into a full-blown evil cult! Rather than return to the Keep and risk having their new idol stolen they went to the one place on the plains that no one goes unless they can help it...the Heap. Using their natural hobling aptitude for burrowing the clan quick dug several tunnels under the Heap and opened up a few natural caverns along the way. And thus were the Chaotic Caverns created (see below).
As mentioned, there's no reason that the Hoblings and their blossoming cult have to have a major impact on the Keep and the players. They may grow or fade in power without anyone the wiser and everything would be just fine. However, if you do want to get the players involved then here's a few suggestions.
- Goblin Attack: When the PCs first arrive at the Keep they are assaulted by a band of goblins (2 more goblins than there are PCs) if they have a hobling party member (if they don't then perhaps they were traveling with a hobling merchant they met on the road). The goblins try their best to attack any hoblings, shouting accusations of theft, until they are killed or driven off. If that isn't enough to raise the party's interest then guards at the keep are liable to comment on how unusual it is to see truly hostile goblins, especially this close to the Keep itself.
- The Elven Hobo: This is not the first time that Malice has fallen on the plains...but the only living inhabitant old enough to remember those dark days is the Elven Hobo. Perhaps he recognizes the signs that it has happened again (although whether or not he's sane enough to care or to pass that information along is another thing altogether).
- Gwynne: The leader of the Keep's soldiers is a great source for easy plot hooks. If the PCs prove themselves useful or competent she may ask them to look for scavenger tribes who have gone missing. The long absence of any members of the Gabbins clan hasn't gone unnoticed and the corrupted hoblings have killed a few other scavengers who strayed too close to their new home.
- Hoblings in Priest's Clothing: Trying to gather intelligence and supplies a few Gabbins cultists have slipped into the Keep in the guise of a kindly priest and his assistants. Perhaps they notice that the PCs are a potentially powerful source for good and they hope to lure them into the wilderness where they can be easily ambushed and disposed of. Or perhaps they notice that the PCs are gullible, greedy schlubs who could easily be tricked out into the wilderness and captured for human sacrifices.
- Refugee From Evil: Although the Malice has thoroughly corrupted most of the Gabbins clan there's always the chance that there might be one or two holdouts who manage to maintain their morality and who are seeking help to release their brethren from the Malice's taint.
- For Hire: Normally scavenger tribes are proud of their independence and ability to survive out on the plains. But with the increased danger some may be willing to hire outside help to keep them safe while they scour the plains for valuable loot. It shouldn't take long for the PCs to realize that this is unusual for them and (after fighting off an unusual attack or two) they may realize that this concern is justified.
Dungeons of the Plaplands
The wide-open Plains of Plap hardly seems to place for dungeon delving but there are a few suitable sites scattered here and there. Long before the Keep was established a series of extensive tunnels were dug beneath the plains to allow the scavengers to easily travel far and wide without the risk of garbage falling on their heads. Unfortunately most of these tunnels were notoriously unstable (the occasional heavy impacts from above didn't help) and were eventually abandoned and the folk of the plains simply learned to deal with the hazards of their profession in other ways. While most of the tunnel network has collapsed some segments have survived or were linked to other, natural caverns.
The Forgotten Tunnels
The largest surviving segment of tunnels runs under the plains around the keep and are collectively known as the Forgotten Tunnels. The tunnels could have entrances just about anywhere. At least one is beneath the old watchtower and another can be found within the Thicket. Other possibilities might be hidden entrances in or near the Keep (perhaps the old dungeons in the basement) or near the Elven Hobo's tree. There are no maps for the Forgotten Tunnels, instead they're presented as a set of possible encounters or places of interest.
The most prominent inhabitant of the Forgotten Tunnels is a large goblin tribe known as the Pale Fish clan. The Pale Fish goblins live mostly in the tunnels that run under the plains between the Keep and the Thicket but they can be found poking about nearly everywhere. Most goblins that you might run into on the surface or in the tunnels are the more experienced and skilled hunters/scavengers/bandits (use the Qualities provided in the QMR book), typically armed with random tools or weapons and wearing patchwork armor of pots, pans, books, bedpans, etc. The Pale Fish's central lair is home to several dozen non-combatant goblins (craftsgoblins, cooks, accountants, etc) who should be treated as Good [+2] Minions.
The Pale Fish goblins are led by a particularly cunning goblin, Mayor Mullog.
Good [+2] Small, Good [+2] Vicious, Good [+2] Intelligent, Expert [+4] Sneaky, Expert [+4] Liar.
Poor [-2] Small, Poor [-2] Ugly, Poor [-2] Cowardly
Goblins can usually be found in groups of 4-9 wandering the tunnels for food or sneaking up to the surface to check for valuable sky-fall (or for other scavengers that they could easily steal from. The lair of the Pale Fish tribe has at least a dozen of the more skilled "warrior" goblins and at least twice that number in non-combatants. This means any attempt to simply assault the goblins in their homes will be quite dangerous. Fortunately the Pale Fish are quite cowardly and will rarely fight their opponents to the death unless they can help it and they may even be willing to talk to intruders...except for hoblings...the recent theft of Malice from the goblins still has not been forgiven.
Away from the falling debris above a whole ecosystem of monsters has sprung up underground. Most will shy away from the noise and light of explorers but occasionally you'll run into something dangerous and hungry. When you feel the PCs have drawn unwanted attention (or things are going slow) then roll 1d6 and check out the table below. Information on most of these critters can be found in the Bewildering Beasts book.
- 1d6 Dread Rats (50%) or a Good [+2] Swarm of regular rats (50%).
- A pack of goblins.
- A mildew monster
- Headless Cave Ogre (see below)
- Floating Fungus
Headless Cave Ogre
Everyone knows that if a creature lives long enough underground they'll eventually discard useless attributes like eyes. Unfortunately Cave Ogres never really understood evolution and went a bit too far. These pale, ugly giants have no head on their shoulders at all, their necks just end in a gnashing maw. Despite their blindness (and deafness) these ogres still manage to hunt by a combination of vibrations and heat sensitivity.
Good [+2] Large, Expert [+4] Strong, Good [+2] Tough, Good [+2] Fierce, Expert [+4] Darksense, Good [+2] Shocking Appearance, Poor [-2] Large, Poor [-2] Dumb, Poor [-2] Blind and Deaf
The original purpose of the tunnels was to provide shelter for scavengers so it stands to reason that explorers might come across the remnants of their old underground shelters. To see what can be found in one of these decaying store-rooms roll a d6:
- Average  Junk. A slow-burn prop, quasi-valuable second-hand goods.
- A wandering monster.
- An old journal. Perhaps it has directions to some scavenger's treasure cache...perhaps it's worthless.
- A Good [+2] One-Shot prop. Perhaps a piece of jewelry or a small decorated statuette.
- Nothing at all.
- Jackpot! Either an Average  Magical prop or a Good [+2] Treasure (a slow burn prop).
And the rest...
The rest of the Forgotten Tunnels is left as an exercise for any GM who wishes to flesh them out more. There's plenty of room for just about anything you'd care to throw at your players.
The Chaotic Caverns
The Heap is perhaps the largest, un-warded magical landfill in all of Ludor. A small hill made from piles of broken and cursed magical items stacked atop one another. All that nasty magic seeped into the ground and tainted the local wildlife. Everyone knows you don't want to eat anything you've caught near the Heap and the segments of the Forgotten Tunnels that run beneath the Heap are full of magic-spawned mutants. And all of this was before a group of crazed halfling cultists with a chunk of pure Malice moved in.
EDIT: Forgot the map again! Here we go. Click for a larger version of course.
EDIT: Forgot the map again! Here we go. Click for a larger version of course.
A) Out On the Heap
The Gabbins clan has grown increasingly paranoid since they stole the Malice and there are always devoted hobling cultists on the lookout for interlopers who might be after their new relic. At least 3 hoblings hang about the Heap, out of sight, and they'll attempt to deal with any intruders. Their exact tactics will depend on the nature of anyone they see. If they see lone travelers or a harmless looking group the hoblings will probably try and drive them off (see below) or simply attack them. More dangerous-looking individuals will have to be dealt with more carefully. Usually one of the hoblings will approach them, warning them that there are dangerous creatures or objects about the Heap and that they should leave immediately. If this doesn't work then they'll likely try and gather reinforcements and attempt to organize an ambush.
These qualities represent an "average" cultist.
Good [+2] Hobling, Good [+2] Evil, Good [+2] Savage Fanaticism, Good [+2] Sneaky and Deceitful, Expert [+4] Fearless, Good [+2] Good Shot. Poor [-2] Hobling, Poor [-2] Evil.
Gear: The hoblings have merely average gear of little value. They fight with simple weapons like knives or clubs and generally carry slings as well. Many of them have begun crafting crude, animalistic masks of fur and bone that they use to frighten off travelers or during religious ceremonies.
B) Antechamber of DOOM
This was the first burrow dug by the hoblings before they connected with the older caverns and Forgotten Tunnels. Now it serves as a place where hoblings on watch can hide and rest. It has little more than a few pads for sitting and dirty dishware scattered about. In one corner is a collection of hobling sized weapons (knives, clubs and slings, of little value). There's usually at least two "backup" cultists on duty here. They'll immediately attack any intruders while attempting to alert the rest of the clan for help.
C) The Meeting Cave
This large natural cavern has been cleaned up and expanded by the Gabbins to form a crude amphitheater. It is bowl shaped with several descending "levels" that have been decorated with grotesque works of modern art cobbled together from accursed objects taken from the Heap above. It is used as a general meeting area for the cultists. During such meetings it is full of at least two dozen hobling cultists but otherwise it is usually empty.
- The pit: the center of the chamber features a deep pit covered by a wooden grate. The cult sometimes uses the pit as a method of human sacrifice or punishment...for at the bottom lies a truly horrible creature. Falling down the pit is an Master [TN 13] Hazard (attempting to climb the walls is a Good [TN 9] Challenge) and at the bottom lies a round cave filled with ankle-deep water and a Fleshy Cube. The bottom of the pit may contain a passage to other parts of the Forgotten Tunnels.
- Fleshy Cube: The Cube is a 10 cubic foot mass of living flesh. It lacks any obvious sensory organs, mouths or appendages. It is simply a featureless mass of hairy, greasy skin. The creature moves slowly across the ground and mostly "fights" by disabling its foes with its awful stench and then crawling over fallen prey to crush and absorb them.
- Good [+2] Large, Good [+2] Darksense, Good [+2] Damage Resistance, Expert [+4] Shocking Appearance, Expert [+4] Choking Body Odor, Good [+2] Arcane Resistance (mental effects). Poor [-2] Large, Poor [-2] Intelligence, Poor [-2] Slow-Moving.
- Choking Body Odor: Anyone near the Cube is subject to an attack due to the creature's terrible stench. This inflicts Failure Ranks.
The cavern contains three exits (other than the Pit) leading to areas D, E and F. The tunnel leading to area E is sealed with a barricade made from wood and rocks. The barricade is crude and can be cleared with a bit of time and effort.
D) Cultist's Quarters
This cavern has been renovated to serve as a sleeping and living chamber for the bulk of the cultists. Unless there's a meeting going on most of the cultists will be out trying to procure supplies or keeping watch but the rest (5-10) will be here. The chamber is mostly full of junk but a careful search will reveal some valuables: a collection of loose change (a Good [+2] Pile of Coins) and a couple of valuable items:
- Good [+2] Potion of Lead. This thick black potion is unusually heavy and if it is consumed then the drinker's body transforms into living lead for a scene. This grants an upshift to resist injury and to attacks made with the drinker's heavy, metallic fists. However this makes the drinker extremely heavy, downshifting any rolls made to move quickly or quietly.
- Good [+2] Gold Bracelet. This is a simple bracelet of gold strands imbedded with a few semi-precious stones. It is a one-shot "wealth" type prop.
- Average  Bag of Cats. This simple sack seems to contain a small, soft lump at the bottom. However, nothing will come out if the sack if it is turned inside out or upended. In order to activate it the owner must reach in and feel around till they find something soft and fuzzy. Pulling it out will produce a perfectly normal housecat (treat it as an Average  Minion). This can be done 1d6+1 times before the bag needs 24 hours to recharge. Cats produced will remain indefinitely. The cats are tame and domesticated but the user has no special control over them.
E) Beast Lair
This part of the Chaotic Caverns has been sealed off by the hobling cultists. This cave is the lair of a deadly monster: a Displacing Beast. There are several other tunnels that lead from this cave to other parts of the Forgotten Tunnels or the surface but the beast serves as an effective deterrent for any explorers who might try and enter the Chaotic Caverns from this direction.
- Displacing Beast: This monster resembles a large octopoid creature (although it has 12 tentacles) with the head of a savage great cat. The beast's crushing tentacles and savage fangs are only part of what makes these creatures deadly. They possess an unusual magical ability...anyone or anything struck by one of the monster's two larger tentacles will be magically teleported to a nearby location. The Beast usually uses this to disarm attackers or teleport prey into dangerous locations (or simply straight up, causing them to fall).
- Good [+2] Predator, Expert [+4] Leaping, Good [+2] Rubbery Hide, Good [+2] Rapid Scuttling, Good [+2] Darksense, Expert [+4] Powerful Tentacles, Good [+2] Fangs. Good [+] Displacement*
- Displacement: The Displacing Beast may teleport characters touched by their tentacles. Range is based on the Quality Rank.
The Beast's lair is full of the remains of past prey. The only object of interest is a battered sword decorated with gold and gems. When trying to use the sword as the weapon treat it as Poor [-2], but the decorations give it a value of Expert [+4] for trade.
F) The Shrine
The passage to this chamber has a trap which the Hoblings will arm if they believe that they're under attack or when most of them are away from their lair. The trap consists of a several small cages in the ceiling full of Crimson Death Bears, a species of poisonous, fuzzy caterpillar. Those who think to search for a trap can find the tripwire trigger with a Good [TN 9] Challenge. If the trap is triggered it dumps caterpillars on anyone near the tripwire, an Expert [TN 11] Hazard. Those injured by the caterpillars suffer Damage Ranks due to the venom and their skin becomes puffy and red, inflicting a temporary Weakness of Poor [-2] Painful Swelling (impairing things like appearance and flexibility.
The shrine itself is relatively new. The Gabbin's cult has been cobbled together over the course of a few days from half-remembered myths and quasi-apocalyptic dreams inspired by the Malice's corruption. This chamber holds the cult's half-finished tome of evil (a rambling work full of contradictory edicts and crossed out segments). During ceremonial events the Malice is held here but otherwise it is in the possession of the cult leader. Holy objects like the cult's tome, sacrificial knives and goblets and so on (Average  Silverware) are left on a crude stone altar with a gruesome stone statue leering above. The statue is actually a gargoyle, tamed by the cult leader, who will attack should the objects it guard be disturbed. Otherwise it will happily stay completely still (if left undisturbed) or converse in dull, monotone detail (if anyone thinks to address it). See the Bewildering Beast book for gargoyle stats.
G) Grin's Chamber
Although the insidious effects of this much raw Malice have dramatically corrupted the entire Gabbins clan there are those who are affected much more than other. The hobling called "Grin" is an excellent example. Grin walks around in tattered leather armor festooned with wicked-looking knives and stained with the blood of her victims. Her nickname comes from her habit of grinding her teeth down to points and the disturbing slasher smile she wears at all times. Delighted by Grin's obvious psychosis the cult leader has enlisted her as a bodyguard. Since Grin doesn't play well with others she's been given her own chamber near her master.
- Grin: Good [+2] Hobling, Good [+2] Evil, Expert [+4] Scary Little Lady, Expert [+4] Knife Fighting, Good [+2] Snake-Like Reflexes, Good [+2] Fanatic Loyalty, Good [+2] Sneaking About, Poor [-2] Crazy, Poor [-2] Hobling, Poor [-2] Evil
- Props: Grin has an impressive collection of knives, but one in particular is special: It's a small machette with the words "The Defoliator" engraved on the blade. The knife is treated as Average  normally but if used against plants treat it as an Expert [+4] prop. Grin also has a Good [+2] Potion of Might, granting a temporary upshift to all strength-based rolls.
H) Gordo's Chamber
This final chamber is the home of the leader of the Gabbins clan, Gordo Gabbins, and the founder of the hobling's cult. Gordo isn't entirely sure what the new religion's dogma is but he's sure he'll figure it out soon. Until then he and his followers are happy to engage in generalized evil and mayhem. The hobling is thoroughly under the spell of Malice and he is so obsessed that he will never willingly let it leave his sight. He's so completely corrupted that he has already gained the favor of one of Azanut's lesser servant dieties: Yofofof. This chamber, better furnished than most others, is where Gordo sleeps, eats and discusses plans with his cronies (or thin air). Gordo has +4 Favor with Yofofof due to recent sacrificial offerings.
- Gordo Gabbins: Good [+2] Hobling, Good [+2] Evil, Expert [+4] Commanding Presence, Good [+2] Ordination: Yofofof, Good [+2] Summon Horrible Thing*, Average  Clouding Minds*, Good [+2] Unholy Warrior, Poor [-2] Hobling, Poor [-2] Evil, Poor [-2] Not Too Clever
- Summon Horrible Thing: This miracle allows the caster to call upon a Horrible Thing from the Plane That's Full of Horrible Things. This can involve a simple attack (a tentacle lashes out from a shadow to strike) or by Overcasting Gordo can summon a Lesser Horrible Thing (see below).
- Props: Gordo keeps the Malice, a roughly spherical lump of metal, bound to a stick to form an ugly sort of scepter. This is a Good [+2] Crude Mace that also gives an upshift to his evil miracles. He also has a Good [+2] Wand of Lightning (a plot point item) and an Expert [+4] Potion of Healing. In a chest under his bed he keeps an Expert [+4] Pile of Loot (slow burn).
- Lesser Horrible Thing: Expert [+4] Evil, Master [+6] Shocking Appearance, Good [+2] Strong, Good [+2] Damage Resistance (except lightning), Poor [-2] Evil