The Outlaws of Atwood Forest
Welcome to the first in a new line of supplements detailing the world in which the Dead Sea Almanac is written. Like the Almanac, these supplements are designed to fit into an existing campaign world, but for the purposes of canon they occur in the Shining Empire of the Sun, a continent-spanning age-old civilization that is slowly fading from a long-lived golden age, and for the most part radiate outward from Westport, where the Almanac is headquartered.
As you become more familiar with the Almanac and the world in which it exists, you should find yourself having an easier and easier time knowing what to integrate and what to drop, but for starters you can assume that Westport is any seaside town in your campaign, preferably one on a coast facing foreign continents.
The World of Westport
Westport is situated on the coast of the Western Sea, a body of water which forms the border of knowledge for most denizens of the Empire. The eponymous Dead Sea once existed to its east, but has long since evaporated to leave the Dead Sea Salt Mines and Saline Harbor, the best natural refuge for ships for nearly a hundred miles up or down the coast. For this reason, Westport is the empire's second-most important port of trade with the nations to the west.
The nations to the west lie beyond a spit of land called Newfoundland, in a region where only trade routes are charted from the perspective of the empire's maps. They serve as foreign locales of mystery and legend, much like the real-world Orient did for European explorers during the heyday of sailing vessels. Atlantis lies about halfway between, but that's a topic for another supplement.
The Capital Road
From Westport, a road runs north-east to the town of Eastbrook, a smaller community surrounded by woods - the very same Atwood Forest that harbors today's adventurous circumstances. The town is still large enough to support a sheriff and a minor duke known to be a just ruler subservient to the iron rule of the crown. From there, the road runs due east, then curves to run south-east to the capital once it clears the Dragon Peaks. The reason for the detour is obvious to residents of the empire: the Dragon Peaks are home to both dragons and barbarians, and neither is to be sought out by honest tradesmen and merchants.
Atwood forest itself is a sizeable expanse of wooded, hilly terrain featuring a rich clay soil that holds water after rain and produces mud that makes it impossible for horses to pass anywhere except for well-worn roads; even on the roads, ox-carts and carriages tend to come apart and jam themselves up while passing through the forest. This makes it a fine place to have an outlaw band from, and the plentiful game and proximity to Eastbrook only add to the appeal.
The Outlaws of Atwood
Unlike most outlaws, the Jolly Good Fellows are dedicated to the good of the area's people. They disrupt agents of the empire, such as tax collectors and inquisitors, who might otherwise harshly oppress the people, and their current primary goal is the mass escape of slaves from the Dead Sea Salt Mines a few miles west of Eastbrook. The current owner of the salt mines, Robert Marston, is a harsh and profiteering slave-master who doesn't care about the deaths of workers or the unethical slave trade he supports, so long as his bottom line is good. He's up for election against the current Mayor of Westport, Roger Edsford I, and is hugely unpopular to win, but unbenownst to many he has been engaging in a massive voter intimidation effort. The Mayor's son, Roger Edsford the II, is aware of the activity and has been working actively to fight against it in his role as the Jolly Grinsman, the leader of the local outlaws. If such news were to get out, it could spell disaster for the mayor's campaign, but thus far the Jolly Good Fellows have evaded all capture.
Roger Edsford II
The Jolly Grinsman himself is an expert bowman and quick with a throwing knife. He makes short work of most of the nobles who pass through, as well as their guards, but kills only when absolutely necessary. Overwhelmingly, he shoots to wound, and his men are more likely to use intimidation and disarmament to get their way than open force. Raised in a good house by a caring father, Edsford has no real trauma in his backstory; he's just an ardent believer in justice and sees the people of Eastbrook being oppressed by an unjust sherriff.
Originally given a biography in the Dead Sea Almanac, Rachel's motivations remain the same: she is eluding the capture of a man who wants to force her into marriage. Quick with the rapier she carries and the sling she uses alternately to knock people out and hunt small game, Rachel rarely brings her bow into play but is an expert marksman when she does. She's initially a little skeptical of the heroes and likely to distrust them, but deeds of derring-do and self-sacrifice will quickly win her over.
A Long Lineage
Vinaigre didn't start associating with the outlaws when she ran away; secretly, she's been part of them since Edsford founded the group, and she serves as his very capable second-in-command. The two of them have agreed that what Marston is doing is unacceptable, and they seek to ruin him by releasing slaves from his mines - an action which will reveal him for who he truly is when the horrible condition of the slaves is exposed to the public. Both are also strong believers in freedom, and feel it is the right thing to do.
The Jolly Good Fellows
Following in the footsteps of their energetic leaders, the Fellows are notorious for their good manners and jovial nature while committing crimes - gentlemen criminals, if you will. They're a ragtag band of archers and swordsmen who are at home in the forest as much as they are at ease with what they're doing. Most are peasants, but a few - like Edsford himself - come from well-to-do families. All of them are united by a common belief in justice and disrespect for the crown's poorly-wielded authority.
A student of magic from a young age, Elecia Edsford has been following her brother around for most of her life. The two are very close, and while he is slated to succeed his father as a prominent politician when the time comes, she is allowed to explore other options, such as the magical potential she now finds brimming in her veins. She's not affiliated with the outlaws, per se, but she does know of their existence and that her two best friends are leading them. With a little bit of persuasion on the part of Edsford or the PCs, she could probably be convinced to help out in this adventure.
The characters in this section are intended to be against the heroes in the course of this adventure, though some of them will be more so than others. If the heroes decide to hunt the outlaws instead of raiding Marston's salt mines, they may instead be allies for a time, until it becomes convenient not to be.
The Sherriff of Eastbrook
Our main villain is a corrupt sherriff, dispatched by the crown to increase tax revenue in the struggling city of Eastbrook. Hard times recently have resulted in reduced harvests, but the crown believes taxes should remain the same. The sherriff is here to see that they do, and to take a little for himself besides. He always dresses in the finest plate steel - polished brightly, of course - and lets his signature red-and-gold cape flutter in the wind while riding on his high horse. In all ways, he pretends himself the paladin come to rid the land of its troubles - corruption, disloyalty to the crown, and an inability to provide the proper taxes. He almost never gets his hands dirty personally, but he has no qualms about ordering his enforcers to drag poor families pleading to the dungeon or taking the bread right out of infants mouths.
The Duke of Eastbrook
The Duke of Eastbrook is not per se a villain; in fact, he may be an ally to the heroes in secret. Obligated to prove his loyalty to the crown or face imprisonment, he has agreed to offer the appointed sherriff his full support, though he steals away to offer gold and food to peasants when he can, depleting his own coffers. To pay their tax himself directly would be openly suggestive that the crown has asked to much, and if caught he faces jail and humiliation. Nevertheless, he cares for his people, and will do whatever is best for them - even if that means executing the heroes to keep the crown from punishing his citizens.
A powerful slave owner and in clear cahoots with the sherriff, this disreputable villain is responsible for a number of crimes against humanity. He buys slaves from the lands beyond the capital and puts them to work in dark, cold, and dangerous conditions in his mines, where on average some four or five die each week of the several hundred he makes sleep there. He claims the conditions are as safe as they can be, though most in the city of Eastbrook and its neighboring Westport know him for the villain that he is.
Recently, Marston announced that he would run for mayor, a position uncontested since the elder Edsford came into office thirty years ago. Believing that mayorship will give him the power to oppress the entire populace by raising taxes, Marston has run on an essentially non-existent platform of "continued prosperity" while accusing his opponent of being "too soft" and "disloyal to the crown". He makes up for his failing numbers in the polls by seeking out those who would vote against him - most everyone, at that - and intimidating them into changing their votes. With the election coming up this Tuesday, the outlaws have decided they must strike now or never if they wish to protect the people of both cities.
The tale takes place mostly outside of Westport, beginning with the heroes' entry into Atwood forest, where they are set upon by outlaws. The outlaws initially distrust them, but evidence of good will might win them over. It then moves to the salt mines of the Dead Sea Salt Company, before progressing through (possible) encounters with the Sherriff of Eastbrook and the Duke's men. Most of the tale will be centered around Eastbrook and the mines, so a description of each makes sense.
The town of Eastbrook is situated on a small river that flows through Atwood forest and eventually wends its way through farmland to exit in Saline Harbor. The river is only about twenty feet wide, and three or four deep - not enough for ships of trade, but decent for polecraft and smaller boats to carry merchandise upriver from the important port to the communities along its banks. The few miles around Eastbrook are cleared as arable land, but it's also encroached upon by dense forest, where hunting and trapping are common practice. The Duke of Eastbrook technically owns most of the land, but he doesn't begrudge the peasants the occasional deer or any of the small game. His philosophy is that happy, well-fed peasants make for a happy, well-fed duke, and he's not far off. His people love him, and it's only the recent arrival of the sherriff that has really tossed things up. Times in Eastbrook have been lean lately, and the sherriff's focus on new taxes is hurting the populace, which he exploits to rile the duke in hopes of one day taking his position.
The Salt Mines
The Dead Sea Salt Mines, owned by Robert Marston, are a wretched and evil place. The source of most of the salt in the western half of the empire and the riches found by trading it to the west, the salt mines sit north-west of Eastbrook and are a major source of revenue for the area. All of this comes at a cost, however - the backs of the slaves on which it is built. Marston is a cruel and careless owner, whose hands-off approach to the mines and reputation for cruelty precede him everywhere he goes. He's notorious for the callous disregard he places on the lives of his workers - especially the slaves who form the brunt of his workforce. The cruel overseers he hires are feared by all who serve him, and many of them associate with and pay off the sherriff's men to keep the duke unaware of the injustices they perpetrate.
The mines themselves are mostly aboveground, where the salt deposits from the ancient Dead Sea are still to be found quite near the surface. Large shafts show pilot mines for other minerals, such as the oil shale the area is famous for and the rare gems such as Bornzite which adorn the city's caves and cavern systems. It's rumored some of the mines even go as far as the sea, although no one's ever ventured quite that far. Most of Marston's men are cowards, and they stay as close to the surface as they can while still extracting enough rare minerals to please him. The majority of slaves aren't even in the tunnels - they're engaged in surface-level mining of the salt.
The Jolly Good Fellows have a plan to cripple Marston: they will raid his slave camps while the overseers sleep and only a few key guards stand watch. Then, they will escort the slaves out through a secret tunnel in the mines discovered by an old friend and smuggle them to Westport by way of boat, where a ship will be waiting to take them south along the coast to Sariland, a land where slavery is disallowed. From there, the slaves will be free to disperse as they see fit, with the Fellows providing 20GP to each for travelling expenses based on their recent string of high-profile robberies.
Assaulting the Camp
Edsford has twenty men at his disposal, and knows that thirty-two guard the camp he intends to raid. Fortunately, his men are better trained and equivalently armed, and have far more fighting spirit. Equally fortunately, he knows that once the slaves settle down for the night the watch will be reduced to a skeleton crew of eight men, with the rest taking shifts as it progresses. He also knows there hasn't been any trouble at the salt mines in a long time, and the guards are beginning to grow complacent. The assault, if they can manage to do it quickly and quietly, should be relatively easy to pull off and result in a minimum of innocent casualties.
Unbeknownst to the planners of the raid, their arrival will coincide with the vicious beating of a slave by one of Marston's lieutenants, a man who is hoping to make an example by the name of Darren Craw. This vicious slave trader is responsible for procuring most of Marston's new flesh, and he isn't afraid to make sure the old flesh runs out quickly so he stays employed. This particular slave tried to run off, and Craw is going to kill him for it. Whether or not the heroes intervene is up to them, but in a traditional Dungeons & Dragons campaign, the dungeon master should feel free to have Rachel Vinaigre dive right in, resulting in a combat that would be suicidal if the PCs weren't present.
The combat is between the Jolly Good Fellows and player characters on one side, and Marston's men on the other. The Fellows are led by Edsford and Vinaigre, who are heroic characters roughly on par with the players. They consist of seventeen men besides - one couldn't make it at the last minute - and are up against a force of thirty-two soldiers-for-hire, of whom fifteen are currently not prepared for combat. A further eight serve as lookouts, and the remaining five, led by Darren Craw, are currently beating a slave to death in the middle of the camp. The area is filled with mining tools and construction supplies, and the slaves who might otherwise assist are shackled to each other and in poor health. It's a tougher fight than the Fellows were expecting, but they won't back down from it, and the slaves may even decide to help, though it could get several of them killed.
Leaving Witnesses Alive
The Jolly Good Fellows aren't willing to kill anyone in cold blood, but the problem of witnesses does present a real risk for Roger Edsford, whose activities are certainly unsanctioned by the crown. If he is mentioned by name in an investigation of the night's events, with multiple corroborating witnesses, he could be forced into permanent exile from civilization as a member of his outlaw band, unable to return to the city he calls home. The heroes should probably talk this out with him, at which point he may tell them it's well worth it. If they can come up with a clever plan to ensure the silence of any surviving henchmen, so much the better.
Descending the Mines
Once the players and their allies take care of the fight up top, they'll continue with the plan, descending deeper into the mines and attempting to get the slaves out through a tunnel that leads to the sea. A boat is waiting for them there, but the slaves are moving slowly, weak from fatigue and starvation, and if anyone escaped during the battle above - a likely scenario, given that many of Marston's men are cowards - then a party of the duke's men could be hot on their tail. The outlaws have almost certainly suffered at least some losses in the battle, and may be weakened enough from it to succumb to the dozen-or-so men the duke's lieutenant brings after them.
The Duke's Men
The duke's men are loyal to him, rather than Marston or the sherriff, but they nonetheless consider the Jolly Good Fellows to be dangerous outlaws. While not initially out to kill the party or their allies, they are out to apprehend them and stop a crime in progress, and unlike Marston's mercenaries these men are proper soldiers-at-arms, equipped with reasonable armor and well-maintained weaponry that they know how to use. They're not quite heroic characters in their own right, but two or three should be able to give a PC trouble. It will require wit or skill to get away from them - or, if the PCs play their cards right - a very good persuasion roll that convinces them Marston is the villain in this situation. In the event that happens, their leader, a man named Rupus Shellwater, will have no qualms about turning on the mercenaries who brought him here and slitting their throats so they can't reveal his act of treachery to the sherriff or to Marston. He'll then report in secret to the duke, who will thank him for a job well done and deflect the heat as best he can.
No Love Lost: The Duke and Marston
The duke does not care for the sherriff or his associates, especially Robert Marston, whom he considers dangerous and distasteful. He has instructed his men to make appearances of cooperation, but to secretly oppose the men that he considers villains in every way they can without appearing too overt. Shellwater is an honest man but a ruthless commander, and will do what he feels is best for the safety of the people he protects. He's only here at all because he believes the outlaws are genuinely dangerous to the people of the realm, and classes them as villains just as much as he does Marston and the sherriff. If he can be convinced otherwise, he'll probably show his colors as an ally.
There is a boat waiting to take the slaves to Westport, where they will be given safe passage to Sariland on the RSE Tempest, a ship owned and operated by the somewhat duplicitous Captain Malfavus, who has offered for an exorbitant sum not to reveal his role in the plan or the cargo he is carrying, and to keep his mouth shut. Unfortunately for the heroes, he intends to betray them, as we'll see in the next section.
Encounter at the Docks
The boat, being small, can only take the slaves originally, and must come back for the Jolly Good Fellows and the player characters. When they finally arrive at Westport, they find everyone who went on the first boat held up at swordpoint by Robert Marston and his men, who have shown up in force to reclaim his stolen property and expose Edsford for who he truly is, which will ruin his father's chances in the election and destroy the morale of the populace under their new leadership. Marston gloats and rubs it in a little, but the player characters get a chance to get the drop on him with the unexpected arrival of Captain Clarke, who heard about Malfavus' treachery in a tavern where he spoke about it in a drunken stupor. She and eight of her lieutenants are here, and each is a heroic character. Their arrival catches the villains by surprise and initiates combat on the dock that spills up onto the ship as they attempt to claim it from Malfavus' men and pirate it to safety with the slaves onboard. At some point during the fight, she fires her pistol into Marston's shoulder, wounding him and knocking him to the ground. The players have a few brief moments as the townsfolk gather to prepare their story or flee the scene, and then the Captain of the Guard arrives, demanding an explanation.
Dealing with Marston
In the aftermath of the fight, Malfavus is dead, but Marston has survived, albeit wounded and incapable of fighting back if the heroes should decide to finish him. He swears his vengeance, and gloats that the election will still be his given his enemy's treachery and the fact that people are now seeing who the Jolly Good Fellows are. Although he doesn't realize it, popular sentiment is on the side of the outlaws, as most of them are recognized as fellow hardworking and honest townsfolk, including the very popular son of the mayor, who thankfully hasn't made it out of bed yet. The wretched living conditions of the slaves and the fact that some of them are long-lost individuals from Westport who disappeared in foreign wars tilt things further against him, and he may end up in jail or executed at the hands of the player characters. The Captain of the Guard is initially inclined to arrest everyone, but Marston leaves a sick taste in his mouth, so he'll abide by what the people and the players decide, even letting Clarke go free despite her wanted status for piracy. No one will say anything against them in the following investigation, so for now, their status with the empire is safe.
At the end of the adventure, Edsford must face his father, who is terrified for his son's willingness to do something that could get him executed. Elecia steps in on his behalf, and though the elder Edsford is scandalized, he eventually agrees not to reveal his son's involvement to the crown. He turns a blind eye to the act of letting a pirate go free and stonewalls the sherriff's and duke's men if they inquire about what happened. He asks his son to discontinue his activities in the forest, but accepts that he likely won't listen, and writes a letter to the duke asking for a private meeting to discuss the activity of outlaws in the area. The duke, for his part, is glad to see Marston dead or jailed and rubs it in a bit in front of the sherriff the next time the PCs see him. Slaves who belonged to Westport stay with their families, whilst others are already sailing away with Captain Clarke to make their way home. Clarke thanks the heroes for their help - and for the ship - and happily sails her way out of the harbor before she can be stopped. If the heroes' names got back to the Sherriff of Eastbrook, they may have made an enemy of him; likewise, they've probably made an ally of the Duke. The election goes against Marston no matter how things happened, and the mayor finishes up the adventure with an inauguration speech that indirectly thanks the heroes. There's no gold or treasure at the end of this one - just a sense that allies and enemies have been made, and that good has been done. The heroes henceforth have the favor of the town, and can expect to stay and shop at decently discounted rates for the remainder of their time there, and any time that they return.
The outlaws will return in future supplements, although not for a while. In the meantime, expect to see Captain Clarke in future adventures, and don't be afraid to give the heroes a couple run-ins with the Sherriff of Eastbrook or a mission for its duke, who now considers them an ally in his covert opposition to the crown. More about that will be upcoming in the Dead Sea Almanac and other products, including a detailed description of why the crown has become so hostile to the citizens and what can be done about it. Those sorts of adventures are farther down the road, and will shape kingdoms rather than just municipalities.
The Atlantis Syndrome
Next week's adventure will deal with the unique disease that has been plaguing the newly discovered city of Atlantis, and will feature both Captain Clarke and her associate, Doctor Angela Straiting. That adventure, like this one, launches off a series of events that will culminate multiple adventures later. Until then, have a good one, and always remember - keep it crispy.
Your game master, as always,