Pilgrimage Escort (5e Quest)
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The players are sitting about in a pub in a small city or town. There is a slight festivity ongoing due to a pilgrimage taking place. Religious pilgrims from another land, an island nation, just landed and are briefly resting before they resume their journey to their next stop, which is a temple of sorts. The public is aware of this as the pilgrimage occurs every ten years or so and the pilgrims go about the same route, from one place of worship to the next. However, a pilgrim bursts in suddenly, looking quite frazzled and breathless. The sybil which travels with them has received an ominous portent. They now require the protection of willing adventurers to guide them to their next destination, being the temple of the local deity just outside the outskirts of town. The local monsters are in heat of the season as of now and it will be a precarious journey.
In a small alternative scenario, the sybil may not have predicted an omen, but instead fallen deathly ill or suddenly passed. The balm of sybils is known to drive hostile creatures and keep them at bay, thus guaranteeing the pilgrim's safety for the most part and requiring minimal assistance. Without her balm, they must now inquire for help from willing adventurers.
Once the players accept, they will be told to meet the pilgrims at the town gate at dawn, where they will set off. There are possibly many NPCs who will also have volunteered for the excursion. Overnight, the players have a possibility of overhearing a dastardly plot to foil the pilgrimage altogether and make away with the maidens among the pilgrims. This may occur under behind the pub maybe or on the other side of a thin wall in the local inn. The conversation takes place in Undercommon and the speakers are not able to be identified due to their black concealing cloaks. If the players make any move against them, they will detect it and flee, easily evading the players. This event is optional.
At the rendezvous point, the pilgrims thank and promise a blessing for the participants who will aid their religious journey. They set off for the local sacred place and are almost immediately besieged by monsters. These should not be of high CR but of a moderate swarm size. After the battle, the pilgrims remark how odd it is that monsters strike so close to the town. One discovers a bottle of chthonic balm implanted in her bag, which is known to attract monsters and evils of superstition. Almost immediately, she will be ostracized from the rest of the pilgrims for being suspect in trying to sabotage the pilgrimage. It is up to the players whether they wish to assist her and either quell suspicion or do nothing and allow the suspect to eventually be convicted by the group and either killed or bound until the law may judge her.
The pilgrimage will continue on regardless of the decision the players make in the situation, as these are very devout pilgrims who are not keen on breaking a tradition of their ancestors. The travelers will eventually reach some sort of booby-trapped area, be it a bridge, river, or stone cliff, up to the DMs design. This event will cost NPC lives if not just players, though this is up to the DM also. The impact will have the pilgrimage halt for rest, possibly overnight. Overnight, the players hear an iteration of the conspiring voices to ruin the pilgrimage. If the players opt to confront these voices, they will only encounter one of the speakers, who should be moderately powerful enough to be an appropriate challenge to the player party. This enemy should have a backup plan to commit suicide should they fall to the players.
The pilgrimage will continue the next day regardless of the events overnight. It becomes clearer the pilgrimage is under siege and tensions are high. There can be suspicions that anyone in the group can be a saboteur. The goal is in sight as the sacred place of worship approaches in view. Around this time, a moderate amount of the volunteers will suddenly stand against the remainder of the travelers. These NPCs should not be any of the pilgrims and should be adventurers themselves. They will then attack and try to slaughter everyone. In the chaos, the mastermind of the whole charade is revealed. It can be a simply evil demon, a minor deity acolyte who resents the pilgrims' patron gods, or anything the DM can think of that neatly connects to their intention for wanting this excursion foiled.
The rest goes on as a happy ending if the players win. The pilgrimage completes their journey and the players are given religious favor as well as whatever other accolades the DM wishes to grace them with.
The DM may wish to float rumors of reward to the players depending on their liking. When the pilgrims first plea for help, NPCs may jabber about their own intentions to join loudly. Perhaps a knight wishes to simply help damsels in distress. Maybe someone just wants to help in exchange for a kiss or a possible monetary reward. There may even be talk of the patron deity blessings or procurement of some holy relic as a reward.
The town which the journey starts in is rather open and urban, a crossroads of bustling activity. It may be a port city stop over for the pilgrims. It is also reasonably safe and situated a few days from the destination of the pilgrimage.
The actual journey of the pilgrimage takes place over open areas like roads or tunnels rather than holed up dungeons. Perhaps the pilgrim's trail goes into a cave by a waterfall or they have a resting point set up at the edge of a lush woodland. The destination can be seen peeking over the horizon as the quest progresses, though this is optional. The settings are very flexible for DM choice and can thus host a myriad of creature mobs for the picking and killing.
The end of the journey is the sacred place of worship. It may be a cave or a temple or a church, anything that fits the bill for whatever deity the DM can dream up. It should be a reprieve for the players after their long and arduous journey. It may be near a town.
Step or Location
The first location of battle is just after the group leaves town. It is up to the DM exactly what kind of terrain they wish to have. If it is a forest, enemies may lurk and strike from afar, hidden by trees. If it is a mountain trail, enemies may push stones down or camouflage along the terrain to strike. This kind of scene remains relatively constant throughout the quest even if the scenery changes, as the pilgrim trail is very one-track minded. Further scenes of battle are in possibly variable or the same environment. The DM is free to add extra padding for stages to stretch the trek.
The initial town the party is in holds little secrets, save that small optional cut-scene with the conspirators. If so desired, the town can have secrets from other quests unrelated to this one. Along the trail, the enemies can be hidden or have traps set for the players. Initially, the players may be able to find the chthonic balm before it is discovered by others and possibly resolve that plot point earlier if they perhaps do a search of everyone's things. When the pilgrimage sets up camp, players may receive a small halfway token of appreciation from the pilgrims, perhaps a trinket or minor healing item. If the players wish, they may find the foodstuffs and expensive ceremonial clothing and items the pilgrims carry by sneaking around camp.
The inhabitants of the starting town can be a mix of races, depending on the whole campaign setting. Most importantly are the characters at the pub and the pilgrims who accompany the players. These NPCs engage in conversation over the pilgrimage, history and local goings. They continue to do so on the quest trail. There should be a head of the pilgrims as well as some chattier, more memorable adventurers like a gossip person or a very obvious suspicious red herring. Some of these adventurers will become the enemy later.
On the trail, the wilderness the players traverse should have some wildlife to liven up the scene, though this is very optional. The monsters encountered on the trail should be somewhat native to the area, but are, according to quest lore, not usually attacking so close to civilization. These creatures should be moderately intelligent to pose a threat but not too powerful to kill everyone. They can vary as a DM may choose to design the quest but usually attack in some sort of swarm, like goblins or skeletons.
In the town, we have the pilgrims and NPCs who are adventurers as well as any other miscellaneous characters for flavor that are injected. Pilgrims are no different from commoners in stats. Adventurers can be built by DM fancy, so things like an assassin, berserker or cleric in the excursion are all fair game. Keep in mind, DM, that a good portion of these characters will become enemies and so should be scaled accordingly so as to not wipe everyone out once they capitulate.
The creatures encountered on the trail should come in swarms, though one large enemy is not off limits. goblins or undead monsters are good bets. If desired, mindless fiends can be written in but do be careful not to play with CRs beyond that of your player's capabilities. Creatures capable of setting traps and attacking from a distance are very good to use here. Remember, this was an orchestrated event so monsters that are prone to spilling the beans are viable. Equally possible are summoned or controlled creatures set on destroying the pilgrimage.
The player can alter the mood of the quest throughout based on how active they are on certain cues. They may heighten suspicions if they overhear the conspiracy and tell others of the plot to ruin the journey. If they do nothing to quell the paranoia that amounts from the discovery of the balm, the suspect is apt to be killed and thus undermining the morale of the group. This is further emphasized in how suspicion may overtake even the players as the trail gets more treacherous. If players are generally very passive and nonchalant, they may be subjects of suspicion or snobbery. The players should actively try to be defending the fragile pilgrims lest they fail their job or look undeserving of the end reward. Also, if the players take part in heightening the tensions and paranoia, that may hinder the pilgrim trail to take more breaks and so prolong the journey. Players can also interact with NPCs to possibly discover some of their resentments toward the pilgrims or scratch the surface of some dark secret, particularly those who may hint at their future betrayal. If the player succeeds in interacting with the person well enough, they may be dissuaded from becoming a true enemy later on.
The players get the most goodies by seeing the adventure to the end and successfully escorting the pilgrims. Of course, they are free to search the bodies of the fallen. Among the bodies of the conspirators in particular should be some explanation of their intentions, perhaps a letter. There shouldn't be too much special things to find from the mobs corpses. If you desire some sort of distraction, the nest of the goblins can be planted somewhere, filled with some small stash of arrows and some coins. This can, however, be a decoy to lure adventurers attention whilst some enemies attack the pilgrims. At the end, the pilgrims may bestow the players with rewards for their troubles, granted most of the escortees made it in one piece.
At the end of the journey, you will probably have finished escorting the pilgrims to their destination. By this point, they convene at the place of worship with some of the keepers of the sacred grounds and procure some item that will substitute for the sibyl's balm and the pilgrims will be inclined to release the players from their service. They will give rewards, depending on the DM, along with a religious favor of their denomination. If the intentions of the conspirators were not revealed, the pilgrims may wonder but not dwell so much. They may ask the players to stay the night or offer to have them rest for no charge in a nearby town or some resting quarters with food and drink. Afterwards, the players are free to leave and continue on with the campaign.
This is a transcript of everything to be awarded the players, and the conditions attached to those rewards, at the end of the adventure. Think of it as a sort of checklist to make sure everything was covered.
The following awards are highly fungible and up to how the DM wishes to design the journey. The enemies listed can be modded or altered as desired since they are just suggestions. Noncombat awards can be added but generally should follow some outline resembling below. The amount of xp awarded and CRs can be changed to suit player levels though the default here is for level one players.
- Combat Awards
|Name of Foe||XP per foe|
|giant wasp||100 each|
|NPC Adventurers||Generally no higher than CR 3 (700 xp each)|
- Non-Combat Awards
|Task or Accomplishment||XP per Character|
|Discovered the balm early||150|
|Successfully defused the situation with the first suspect||300|
|Finding and defusing the conspirators early||700|
The minimum total award for each character participating in this adventure is 1500 experience points.
There is no maximum total award points. The DM generally does not want this quest to get too big but they can fluctuate anywhere from 2000 to 4000 points for level 1.
The characters receive the following treasure, divided up amongst the party. Characters should attempt to divide treasure evenly whenever possible. Gold piece values listed for sellable gear are calculated at their selling price, not their purchase price.
Consumable magic items should be divided up however the group sees fit. If more than one character is interested in a specific consumable magic item, the DM can determine who gets it randomly should the group be unable to decide.
Permanent magic items are divided up according to a system. See the sidebar if the adventure awards permanent magic items.
- Treasure Awards
|Item Name||Sale Value|
|Potion of Healing||50 gp each|
|Rations||5 sp each|
|Arrows||5 cp each|
|Pilgrim's Gift||DM-fiat, no more than 300 gp worth|
If the players tick off the pilgrims whom they are supposed to protect and allow them to be harmed or killed along the quest, the pilgrims may curse them with the actual wrath of their god. The deity and its effects are up to the DM but it can range from bad luck, inescapable disaster or even detriments to mechanics, like penalties. this also happens if the players are perceived to be undermining the pilgrimage, for example, by stealing, and can reduce reward at the very least. If the pilgrimage fails but the characters survive, they will have gained some religious notoriety and possibly be scorned upon by the religious communities associated.
The NPC adventurers with the players also have chances of turning against the player as tensions build throughout the travel. Some may capitulate to become enemies during the trek just to murder them. If the players do not peacefully resolve the initial witch hunt against the woman with the balm, the entire party may be held accountable for her death, if it happens, upon conclusion. Additionally, any of the distrust built throughout between the members of the traveling group may erupt at the climax or conclusion, resulting in possible infamy, wanted posters and the like. This is also a high profile event so when the players decide to help the pilgrims, this is known to the town and possibly any guilds in it. So if anything goes wrong, the player's actions will not go entirely unheeded.
Upon completion of this quest, you gain renown among the religious followings that are associated in this pilgrimage. The religious bodies may welcome you to their places of worship or nurse you if needed. If the conspirator is of a religious nature, you gain enmity from their following respectively and can become a wanted target. Since this is a high profile event, you will be given so notice among other possible guilds connected in the starting town.
Each character receives 3 downtime days at the conclusion of this adventure.