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Night of the Strawmenby Stephen J. Smith
I'm not sure exactly why it feels so good to hear Håvard and Hugin refer to "Night of the Strawmen" as an official/canon Mystara adventure...but it feels good nonetheless. Thanks guys!
Håvard (as usual) is on the right track when he suggests using Karameikos or a Traladaran-dominated village just across the Darokin border as Steeplefall's setting. Here's a bit of history regarding the origins of "Night of the Straw Men":
I think I started writing the adventure 12-14 years back, using AD&D 2nd Edition rules and the Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure boxed set (which came out in 1994). Its setting was the Barony of Halag in Karameikos (formerly the Black Eagle Barony), after the fall of Baron Ludwig von Hendriks. I never came close to finishing the adventure, due mostly to the drying up of official Mystara products around that time and my own inability to choose the final bad guy who had given the scarecrow the orders to kill the priest (some things never change).
Anyhow, when WotC made a call for Side Trek submissions for Dungeon last summer, I sent in a proposal for a truncated version of "Straw Men," believing that the "snapshot moment" of a scarecrow attack during the Day of the Straw Men holiday made for an interesting and memorable encounter.
In my proposal, I said that the Side Trek would be set in Mystara unless I was expressly told otherwise; the editor told me to make it generic. At first, I tried to work around this little restriction by incorporating pieces of back-story/history into the Side Trek that would enable most Mystaraphiles to realise that "Straw Men" was set in post-Black Eagle Karameikos...but I found that those details cluttered the adventure and confused my playtesters (who know little or nothing about Karameikos or Mystara).
Reluctantly, I cut out all the pseudo-Mystara back-story...and found myself left with (what I believe is) a sweet and simple D&D scenario that any gamer can enjoy.
Besides...nowadays we have things like the Internet and the Mystara Message Board where I can post some suggestions for making "Night of the Straw Men" more Mystara-compatible.
If I'd expanded or "Mystarafied" the Side Trek, Steeplefall would be set in the Barony of Halag in Karameikos, after the fall of Baron von Hendriks. Yanov Letru would be a member of the Church of Traladara; the other church in the village would likely be a small temple of the Church of Karameikos or Church of Thyatis. The scarecrow's creator/master would likely be a surviving spellcasting minion of the Black Eagle's who's trying to re-establish a base of power in the Halag area.
If I decided to run the piece in Mystara during the 970-1000 AC time period, I'd lean towards making the scarecrow's master an associate or member of the Church of Karameikos/Thyatis who hopes to subjugate the Traladaran village by wiping out its spiritual centre.
Lastly, here are a couple of instances of Mystaran fluff/flavour that I cut out of "Straw Men;" the first (written years ago) is a Traladaran local explaining the holiday to the PCs:
"So, you're wonderin' 'bout the meanin' of all the li'l straw men, eh? Well, they're part of an ancient Traladaran custom that goes like this: you carry around your doll all day, whisperin' your sins from the past year to it. Then at nightfall, a huge bonfire's built an' the dolls are thrown on it, burnin' away all the sins, either cleansin' one's soul or makin' room for another year's worth of vices, dependin' 'pon your point of view.
"Celebration of the Day of the Straw Men was banned durin' the Black Eagle's reign. Can't imagine why the Baron would ban such a practice; you'd think he'd have plenty of sins to burn away! Maybe he was 'fraid of burnin' the whole town to the ground.... Anyhow, it came back with a vengeance in the sixth year of King Stefan's rule (AC 1011) when Fort Doom fell to the li'l folk--the halflings. That year the locals decided that some of the Black Eagle's past sins needed burnin' as well, so they tore down the gallows that used to stand in what's now the town market to build their bonfire. They also set fire to several barracks that once housed the Black Eagle's minions. So nowadays, the Traladarans of Halag celebrate the Day of the Straw Men with a bit more gusto than in other parts of the kingdom."
And the following is part of a Gather Information/Knowledge (local) check table that I cut from the D&D 3.5 version of "Straw Men:"
DC 10: Celebration of the Day of the Straw Men is a native (Traladaran) custom, not one imposed upon the people by their (Thyatian) conquerors.
DC 15: The holiday was mostly banned during the reign of the wicked baron (Baron Ludwig von Hendriks, the Black Eagle), who didn't like the idea of large groups of natives gathering and lighting bonfires. Most of the citizens still marked the day by carrying around their dolls and whispering their sins to them, but at day's end the dolls were burned in the fireplaces of each family's home.
DC 20: The deposed baron's underlings used to mock the holiday by hanging alleged criminals in the village square, stuffing the dead men's clothes with straw, and then burning the corpses in a makeshift bonfire--a brutal reminder of the price for the prisoners' "sins."
Well, I hope Mystara fans enjoy "Night of the Straw Men" and can make some use out of these additional notes.