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Known World Adventure Path Outline

by Christopher Richard Davies


If I ever get my Dungeon Fantasy game going again, I may use this as a campaign. It starts up in the Heldannic Freeholds, where I've relocated both B1 and B2, inspired by Return to the Keep on the Borderlands.


Chaos and Order, and how it can be both very easy and very hard to tell the difference between them. The PCs will naturally want to be heroes like the ones that they've heard about. What are they going to do when they find out that those heroes were, in some cases, not very good people? Will they follow in their footsteps, or try to find another path? What are they willing to do in order to achieve power and influence?

The idea of the Known World. The PCs start right on the edge of the Known World, but their journeys will take them all across it. And inevitably, they will go beyond what is known, into the unknown. By their actions, then, the Known World becomes larger. Does this make it better or worse? Exploration has consequences, some of which they cannot predict or control; what will those consequences be?

B1 In Search of the Unknown

Certain conventions must be followed. The PCs, all looking to begin a career as wandering adventurers, meet in a tavern. An old man comes up to them with the story of Rogahn and Zelligar and their hidden fortress, to which, as it happens, he alone has the map. He gives it to them, because he senses something of destiny attending them.

(Or rather, because this particular Immortal has been told to do so by his superior, who views them as a useful bunch of idiots.)

And so they set out, making their way to the hidden fortress, intent on killing the disgusting humanoids and other monsters who've taken up residence there and taking their stuff. Hurrah for the adventure!

Only some things don't quite turn out the way they expect. To the orcs who live here, this is not some temporary camp. It is their home, bought and paid for in the blood of generations of their ancestors who were enslaved by the two great heroes, who were not kind masters. If the PCs investigate, they will find all sorts of evidence that Rogahn and Zelligar were not ambiguously evil -- they were clearly and utterly evil, and yet they created a legend that has survived all these years. They may even find, among the few papers left behind, a certain name that will mean nothing to them, now, but which they will encounter again. "Hosadus."

What will their reaction be to all of this? Do they tell the tale of what they found? Will anyone believe them if they do? Or will they keep silent, and if so, what lesson will they take from all of this?

B2 The Keep on the Borderlands

Famous (or perhaps notorious) for their expedition to Quasqueton, the PCs are asked by the Castellan of the Keep to investigate bandit activity coming from the nearby Cave of Chaos. His own men are busy girding themselves for battle against some hill giants who live nearby. This seems to be a fairly straightforward job with no real moral complexity, which after the last one probably comes as something of a relief.

And then, while scouring the Caves, the PCs find the cult leader's diary, which describes his discoveries.

The Keep is ancient. It has stood there for centuries, and none know who built it. And for all that time, there has been, nearby, a Cave of Chaos. The Keep is on the borderlands between order and anarchy; indeed, it defines that border. As long as the Keep stands, there will be dwellers in the Cave to menace it. As long as there is a Cave, there will be a need for defenders from the Keep. These opposing bastions of Law and Chaos are locked in a battle that can never be won by either side.

The rantings of a madman? Perhaps. Certainly the Castellan will dismiss them as such, if he learns of them. But the other folk of the keep will confirm that no matter what steps are taken, the Caves end up repopulated in a few years time. Once, they were even taken over by a group of deserters from the Keep itself! And no, no one knows how the Keep came to be built ...

Do the PCs react to this notion of a war that can never be won with despair? Or with joy, for the thought that they will always have someone to fight? And what has this never-ending conflict done to the surrounding area?

B3 The Palace of the Silver Princess

The deeds of the PCs, for good or ill, have not gone unnoticed by higher powers. (Indeed, they were in some cases prompted by them.) But now that covert observation becomes more overt, as the Immortal Thendara (in her mortal form as a powerful elven wizard) appears to them as they travel through the wilderness, seeking their service for a task. Should they accept, whether for the joy of adventure or the promised reward, they are transported miles to the south, to the isolated lands atop the plateau west of Glantri.

There they must quest through the ruins of the palace of Princess Argenta, to find the artifact known variously as "My Lady's Heart" and "The Eye of Arik". They must match wits with the cruel cleric Catharandamus, their first direct encounter with an emissary of the Master of Hule. Yet he is not the true danger this time around, but rather the artifact, which holds the souls of Princess Argenta and her dragon-riding suitor.

If the PCs gain the artifact, evading protections that make even the wily Catharandamus cautious, they will then be faced with a choice. They can give it to Thendara when she appears before them, in which case she will destroy it and the souls contained within it -- the loss of a faithful servant and her swain being acceptable when compared to the damage done to the designs of a rival Immortal -- or they may keep it and become corrupted by it. Thendara will lay all this out for them in unmistakable terms.

As they are absorbing the callous behavior of Thendara, she will teleport them to where they belong. As they regain their senses and discover that they have arrived in another place far from their point of origin, it may occur to them that they are perhaps not done with their service to the Immortals after all ...

B4 The Lost City

The PCs find themselves in Ylaruam, surrounded by people whose language they (probably) do not speak. After some confusion, they encounter someone who does, a caravan master named Surma Lamshar, who sympathizes with their predicament. If they want to find their way home, he tells them that the best way to do so is to accompany his caravan as it wends its way west to Selenica, then take the trade road south to Specularum, where they can hire passage on a ship heading north to Freiburg.

(He is lying. The best way to do so would be to head east to one of the coastal towns and hire passage there. But he hasn't survived as long as he has in business without recognizing capable adventurers, and he'd be a fool to pass up an opportunity to have them working for him.)

The adventurers join the caravan and start the journey, but on almost the first day, a storm blows up and separates them from the rest of their company, and allows them to discover the Lost City of Cyndicea, and explore it. Of course, they are probably not able to delve too deeply into the city's mysteries, but the purpose is to introduce them to Cyndicea and the problems it embodies.

With supplies looted from the Cyndiceans, the PCs are able to eventually catch up to the caravan, and arrive safely in Selenica ... just as a local carnival begins, with masked revelry filling the streets. Just like in Cyndicea then. Just like in Cyndicea now. They've left behind the lost city, and come to one that isn't lost ... and nothing has changed.

They have just visited the oldest surviving civilization on the continent -- a cluster of depraved, drug-addled hoodlums in thrall to a beast. Is this the fate of all civlization? What does that imply about the world the PCs are (nominally) trying to protect? Are they only assuring that the end, when it comes, will allow the party to continue for some?

B6 The Veiled Society

After leaving Selenica (and possibly running into some foreshadowing by glimpsing rather unusual elves in a forest that the road passes through on its way south) the PCs travel to Specularum, where, in the process of trying to hire passage on a ship bound for the northlands, they end up involved in the schemes of criminal organizations.

Here, in one of the youngest cities in this part of the continent, as in the much older city of Selenica, the PCs find corruption and brutality every bit as dangerous to their well-being as the monsters they have encountered in the wilderness. The deranged populace of Cyndicea has the excuse of being in thrall to a terrible monster; what excuse do the thieves and murderers of the Veiled Society have?

And yet the PCs must be discouraged from viewing this as simply a form of chaos. Make it clear that the Veiled Society has its own codes and standards of behavior, and that if anything, those who violate them are just as harshly punished by their superiors as they would be by the enforcers of the Duke's Law. It's too simple to view crime and vice as a form of chaos undermining an orderly society. They are produced by one, and even if the PCs succeed in destroying those who wear the veils, their rackets will quickly be taken over by other criminals within days or weeks.

In the process, though, among the effects of one of the Society's leaders, the PCs find a strange map and the journal of one Captain Rory Barbarosa ...

X1 The Isle of Dread

The discovery of Rory Barbarossa's treasure map should inspire the PCs to start investigating the possibility of an expedition to the uncharted island described therein. Unfortunately, for a while, their hopes will be dashed. No reputable ship's captain will risk the voyage, and no disreputable ship's captains routinely make port in Specularum. Ideas about buying and crewing their own ship are somewhat problematic, since their past adventures haven't been nearly so lucrative as to permit that. Nor will any local merchants view a group of foreign adventurers as a good investment.

However, there are other alternatives. A traveller from the Principalities of Glantri, one Laran, will eventually contact them and offer them the following arrangement on behalf of his master. He will purchase the ship and provide funds for the crew, and turn title of the ship over to the PCs after they deliver the pearl mentioned in the journal to his master. Since a ship is worth far more than the PCs could ever make for selling the pearl themselves, and they can then use it to sail back to the Freeholds, the arrangements should sound very appealing.

At least, until they arrive at the Isle of Dread, and discover that if anything, Barbarossa's journal underplayed its dangers. Everything there -- yes, even the herbivorous creatures, which just won't eat them; yes, even the plantlife, which cannot necessarily say the same thing -- is trying to kill them. Only in the villages of Tanaroa and Mantru can they find safe and peaceful rest, and both of them have many social challenges that could easily result in the PCs being barred from these safe havens. And all this is just prelude to the horror they will discover on the island at the center of the Isle.

Until now, the adventures have focused on the dangers and perils of civilization. With this one, we move onto the dangers and perils of wilderness, which is what civilization, with all of its pitfalls, is created to escape. The danger is greater, and any illusions about its honesty should be shattered by the first time they encounter something that appears harmless and yet proves to be a threat once they drop their guard.

X2 Castle Amber

Having successfully acquired the great pearl of legend, the PCs return to Specularum, only to be told that they are expected to deliver it in person to Laran's master, Prince Jherek of Glantri. So they set out for this land of mountains and wizards, hoping to avoid any difficulties on their way. Unfortunately, this is not to be, and they are drawn into the spectral Castle Amber. The only way that they can escape is to find and free Etienne D'Amberville, which will require them to travel to another world completely.

This is the PCs first real encounter with genuinely powerful magic. Having faced the dangers of the civilized world and the natural world, they now face perils of a truly supernatural sort. The rules by which they think magic ought to work flow like melted butter on a hot day, and nothing is truly reliable as they contend with angels and demons and far stranger things.

Furthermore, the deeds of the PCs have immediate consequences. Once they have succeeded, Castle Amber and its inhabitants do not immediately age out of existence. They have returned to modern-day Glantri, for good and ill, and their presence will have a dramatic impact on events here in the years to come.

In particular, Prince Jherek, when they finally meet him, is not well pleased that their actions have made the already complicated structure of alliances in Glantri that much more complicated by returning the Ambers. He keeps the agreement that he made with them, but tells them that they would be well-advised to quit Glantri at once.

(Before you ask, I'm not skipping X3; I'm saving it for later, when it makes sense for the PCs to be in Vestland.)

X4 Master of the Desert Nomads

The PCs leave Glantri and travel south into Darokin, hearing as they do about raids by desert nomads on the republic's western frontier. But unless they're out and out heroes, they're not likey to take an interest in such rumors. All they'll want to do is head south to where their ship is waiting and then sail back home.

Unfortunately, while the republic grants many rights to its populace, the right of refusing to be impressed into military service is not one of them. Oh, you're a foreigner? Why then you have even fewer rights! In any event, they end up in the reserves, marching into the more settled parts of the Great Waste. And it is there that the call to adventure finds them yet again, in the form of one Father Guillaume, who gives them a quest to travel to the Temple of Death and 'do what must be done.'

Once again, the PCs should feel as though their destiny is not in their own hands, that greater powers than theirs are employing them. This sense of powerlessness is juxtaposed with a sense of tremendous freedom as they make their way across the Great Waste, unguided and unaided.

But not unwatched, for the Master is observing their progress with interest. From time to time, he may even intervene to aid the adventurers, because he finds the challenge they pose to be fascinating ...

X5 Temple of Death

And so the PCs make their way through the Black Mountains and into the mysterious land of Hule, another part of the world where they do not know the language and are going to need to keep a low profile. They may be expecting a typical Evil Empire, where the powerful do whatever they want and the common folk hope to avoid their attentions.

They're in for a few surprises. Hule isn't so Chaotic a place after all. Instead, it's almost dizzyingly Lawful, with a body of written law that attempts to cover every conceivable situation, and which spells out the expected duties and privileges of every social class in plain language. The punishments for transgressing against these laws are harsh, but no harsher than those of the PCs homeland -- and unlike those lands, it is all but unknown for bribery to play a role in the enforcement of those laws.

At least, that's how it will seem on the surface. But go a little deeper, and things start to seem less rosy. The laws are almost entirely prescriptive, limiting actions except at certain specific times and places, which are rigidly described. Make even the slightest mistake, and you've become a criminal. And to err, of course, is human ... and the laws of Hule do not care for humanity. And the laws are so complex that it is impossible for anyone to remember them all, and so if the enforcers of the law say that you've broken them, how can you possibly prove your innocence?

Hule is either so Lawful that it seems Chaotic, or so Chaotic that it seems Lawful.

Eventually, possibly with the help of some local allies, the PCs will make their way to the temple of Greatrealm, and come to blows with the Master. At this point, he will not bother to try and subvert them to his will. Instead he expects them to provide a moderately diverting challenge he can defeat. Hopefully, they prove to be more than he can handle.

They kill him, or rather, they kill his current body, and his mind awakens in his original, much more ancient form. Cursing, he begins to take steps to create a new host body for his mind and soul, knowing that this will prevent him from taking immediate vengeance and slow his plans of invasion, since he has no trusted lieutenant.

But the PCs do not have their way completely, since the way back to their homeland is blocked, as extremely capable enemy patrols are seeking them in a country roused to fury by the apparent murder of their dear leader. And so they must flee in a direction they didn't anticipate -- not back to the east, but to the south ...

X6 Quagmire, X9 The Savage Coast, and Tortles of the Purple Sage

By now, the players (not the PCs) are probably quite fed up with being railroaded all over te place. And so we come to the sandbox portion of our campaign, where they can go anywhere, get involved with all manner of personal quests and investigations ... as long as they don't try to go home.

Just how vast a world can be is being brought home to the PCs, as they travel through regions where only sages might have heard of their homeland. And they don't want to attract too much attention, for there are sure to be agents of Hule searching for the "assassins" of the Master.

Eventually, though, they will make enough money and become powerful enough to be able to go back. However, they should end up having to take the land route home, and arrive in Akesoli ... just a few short days before it all goes to hell.