It’s likely that upon arriving in the small village of Leatherwood, the party will seek lodging for the night. The Cross Tree Inn is pretty much the only option in this sleepy, little town. It’s a warm and welcoming place but largely the same as any number of establishments that they’ve seen.
Should the party choose to dine or partake in a flagon of ale, they will find themselves seated within the great-room of the inn. From this vantage point, they will surely notice a curious figure hunched by the fire. At first it appears to be a man shrouded in shadow. However, closer inspection shows the man to have ebon skin, only common to the savages from the dark and mysterious jungles, to the south. The lines in his bald head and silvery beard show that the man is clearly of advanced years. Garbed in tattered, old robes, he wears any number of odd trinkets and jujus about his person.
The curious fellow is sitting and poking at the fire, when the party first notices him. However, by the time the PCs have had a moment to focus, he turns his gaze to them. With a subtle gesture, he beckons them closer and then begins to speak, in a soft and cracky voice.
“It was many years ago, when I first heard of the Narrs. I was new to this land and camped, not a day’s ride from here. My guide and I sat by the fire and shared a spot of tea. A night breeze blew through the trees, and his back stiffened as if a chill had run down his spine. Wrapping his blanket snugly about him, he sat a bit closer to the fire and shared his tale with me.”
“He was a native to this region, having only strayed away upon becoming a man himself. The legend goes that there is something odd about the forest around Leatherwood. As a boy, he had been warned not to stray too deep into the woods, which the villagers called ‘The Narrs’. Something there just wasn’t as it should be.”
“Some claimed that many years ago, a notorious highwayman had used the woods as his base of operations. As the story goes, one night he took a fancy to the beautiful daughter of a merchant, whose wagon he had stopped. The poor, old tradesman refused to leave his daughter behind and a fight ensued. Scared for her father’s life, the daughter tried to intervene but was killed in the process.”
“Fearing repercussions from nearby villages, the bandit proceeded to kill the merchant as well. He hid their bodies deep within the forest, where none would ever find them. It is said that their spirits haunt the forest to this day.”
“Others tell the tale of a maiden who was wronged by a young man, while walking through the Narrs. They claim that she was so distraught over the attack, that she hung herself out there, rather than returning to the village.”
“The tragedy of this was so great that it left a shadow upon the very land. It is as if the trees themselves were affected. Legend says, they stand silently watching those who pass, guarding the virtue of any young lasses. To this day, young lovers, are warned to steer clear of the woods, lest they suffer the wrath of the Narrs.”
“There are other tales as well, perhaps more than I could tell. Are they true, or just the stuff conjured up to frighten children? Truly, it’s not my place to say. Just know friends, there is something peculiar about that place. Be wary if you travel through the Narrs.”
The old man appears a touch winded by the time that he is finished with his story. If pressed, he will try to answer a few questions (though he really knows no more than he has said) but his main concern lies with getting himself to bed.
Whether there is any truth to the old man’s legends really lies with you. For my campaign, this is purely a red herring. That said, it is designed to give my “freshly minted” players an opportunity for a bit of role-playing. I want to fill their heads with the possibilities of what may be out there and get them accustomed to interacting with the townsfolk.
It is highly probably (80% chance) that any of the inhabitants of Leatherwood will immediately recognize any mention of “The Narrs”. Most will retell similar versions of the legend to those mentioned by the old man. However, if you should decide to let them uncover some different information, roll a d6 and consult the legends below.
- “Oh, it’s complete rubbish. Just tales that the old-timers use to scare small children.”
- “A number of young men have gone missing over the years. I think those, spirits of the woods took them.”
- “The trees of the Narrs watch you, as if they are alive. I’ve heard that they even move about, when no-one is looking.”
- “That highwayman was never heard from again, after the disappearance of the merchant and his daughter. If someone were to stumble upon his hideout, they would likely find his cache of ill-gotten goods.”
- “It’s not the trees that you need to be worrying about. There is some unspeakable creature living within that forest.”
- “You are not the first group to come asking about the Narrs. I recall some queer folk who passed through, a couple of years back. They were a curious lot. Not sure whatever became of them though. A lot of folks pass through here, on their travels.
The part of the forest known as “the Narrs” lies along the road, about 9 miles northwest of Leatherwood. There is no denying that it is a creepy place. Largely comprised of massive sycamores, it is easy to see how someone could easily dream up all sorts of terrible stories. With the slightest breeze, odd sounds can me made out, from deeper within the woods.
Should a party spend any amount of time exploring the area, they will turn up little of interest. I would suggest rolling a d20 (or whatever would be appropriate for your game system) occasionally, with no result. I would do this simply to keep the players wondering whether something terrible was about to happen. However, aside from the occasional sighting of small game animals, nothing of interest will be found.
Characters with any applicable type of nature or geography skills should easily be able to discern scientific reasons for the apparent “sinister” feel of the place (the taller trees are catching more wind, low elevation at the head of the valley limits the amount of sunlight, etc.).
For my purposes, I would like the players to get accustomed to the fact that sometimes people are just superstitious, and mundane things can be blown out of proportion. Despite being in a fantasy setting, there isn’t a dragon hiding around every corner. Even the slightest investigation should leave them feeling that the whole thing is likely a myth. Having moved on from this, I will prepare to drop them into the meat of our first adventure.