Friday, August 8, 2014

The Charcoal Burners and Other Outlaws

The task thought of as most unpleasant and unclean in all the Middle Ages was undeniably charcoal burning. Charfolk were a people unto themselves, and they often lived in the woods and dells in much the same state as outlaws. This brings me to another point about outlaws: they were the equivalent of the homeless population of today, rather than generic bandits. Bandits, being a specific type of outlaw, were usually former military men who'd fought in campaigns, perhaps as levied peasants or even as knights of this or that lord.

Outlaws, however, established societies that tended to reject the town life that prevailed in the rest of Europe. Robin Hood's Merry Men are a good example of outlaw folk—not necessarily inimical, but simply living out of the normal sphere of public justice and decency. There were entire communities as well as small individual families (or even just individuals!) living outside the fabric of medieval society. So the next time you roll up some outlaws or bandits, consider...

The Unique Forest Encounter Table
1. A family (1d4+1 members) of outlaws chasing a boar through the underbrush for dinner.
2. Three drunken charmen tending a massive buried fire for making charcoal that is threatening to get out of control.
3. A gruesome grove of bandits, all hanged high from the branches of ash and oak trees. 1-in-4 chance there are ghouls prowling the site, gnawing at their dangling feet.
4. A small colony of wood-dwelling lepers, unkindly disposed towards travelers.
5. A little community of forest gnomes who want nothing more than to trade stories and share beer.
6. A defrocked priest or priestess dwelling in a cave nearby a little stream and a garden.
7. Two halflings who are selling fake treasure maps for a pair of silver pieces. Most of them lead to various lethal obstacles, such as trackless mires or dangerous pits.
8. A young level 1 bard playing an instrument or singing. If the PCs bother him (or her) they'll be in for tales about their idiocy and misdeeds to be spreading in their wake.
9. A young person who appears to be a level 1 bard, but is in actuality a leprechaun or pixie waiting to play a nasty prank on the next travelers he spots.
10. A spring where a number of outlaw families (1d12+1) are washing their clothes. If it's winter, they are also breaking the scum of ice and drawing water.
11. Four mercenaries who've decided to turn their hand to filching rather than fighting. They are of levels 1d4-1 (though the third might be 1d4+1 if he's a good leader). They wear mail and carry long killing axes and knives. If the PCs look dangerous they may instead choose to offer a game of dice or stories.
12. Three women of various ages cutting down their children or husbands from hanging ropes.
13. A knight, his squire, and 2d4 militia folk in leather armor flushing a number (1d6+2 families) of outlaws out of the forest with loud shouts and stout wooden rods.
14. Dungburners (1d4) and their families (a wife or husband and 1d8-1 children) tending to several large dung fires for creating charcoal.
15. A wandering master mason and his smith companion alongside three pilgrims.
16. Three young outlaws in a running sling battle with a platoon of goblins combing the forest for them.
17. A lord hunting with his party (1d4 other lords, each with their own knights, handmaids, beaters, etc.) riding through the forest.
18. Two outlaws leading a train of stolen pigs from the nearest town into the wild.
19. A furnished cave who's outlaw occupants are currently gone.
20. A black magician who's been forced to live in the wild by the local townsfolk. He (or she!) may be willing to trade stories or magic for food and information.
21. A community of heretics worshipping at an open air altar.
22. A small battlefield being picked over by outlaws for coins, daggers, and rings.
23. A falconer out in the wild looking for nests.
24. A caravan of 1d6+1 wagons (each with 1d4 crossbowmen and 1d6 guards) under attack by a number of bandits (2d6 per wagon) who are making good use of trees and bows.
25. A graveyard for the forest folk with wooden or roughly hewn stone markers.
26. A gathering of hastily abandoned woodsmen's tools by a half-cut tree.
27. Five woodsmen hauling away logs for their lord.
28. A small hunting party shouting at poachers who they've discovered have downed one of the local stags.
29. A stag. 10% chance this is actually a white hart, and shooting it (and killing it) will grant the offending PC either a curse (roll twice on every saving throw or skill check and take the lowest roll, unless remove curse is cast) or a wish. (DM's discretion)
30. A faerie noble set up in a tent in a mede in the forest.
31. Six wood elves dancing through the trees and leaving silken ties behind them, strung up on the boughs. If they see any cut wood amongst the PCs they will be enraged and possibly attack. Deadwood is fine.
32. A rock gnome sitting alone on a stone, memorizing a particularly long epic saga.
33. Eight dwarves returning from a lead mine with their haul. Not keen to talk or let PCs know what's in their wagons.
34. Eight dwarves returning from a secret vault with 10,000gp in their wagon. Not keen to talk or let the PCs see their haul.
35. A shepherd desperately trying to keep up with his flock as they trundle through the undergrowth.
36. Several unsavory men steaming wood in a rush-filled trench covered with sod.
37. An herbalist wandering amongst the forest, looking for specific plants.
38. A small family exercising their copice rights, cutting wood for repairs on their home.
39. A young maid who's run off with a brave outlaw lad.
40. A young lad who's run off with a brave outlaw lass.
41. A patch of delicious forest mushrooms.
42. A patch of extremely deadly forest mushrooms.
43. 2d6 bandits charging tolls for crossing a river, perchance squatting on a bridge which they've blocked with a barricade.
44. A dwarven smith who lives by himself in the wood and may be willing to make weapons or armor for the PCs.
45. The font of a natural sulfur spring bubbling up out of a mossy rock.
46. A man wanted by the assizes or the local lord for murder, hiding out in a makeshift home in the wood.
47. The home of a local cunning woman who knows how to make simple abortifacients as well as healing salves. She may also have the ability (at the DMs discretion) of casting spells as a level 1-5 wizard or priest.
48. A halfling family living in a hill-side house who are having trouble fighting off wolves.
49. A halfling family living in a hill-side house who are feigning having trouble fighting off goblins but who actually kill travelers and take their belongings.
50. Eight halfling swineherds tending their flocks in the underbrush.
51. A secretive halfling village full of friendly folk who will be eager to offer their aid, beer, strawberries, or whatever else they have available.
52. Several young women running water through buckets of ash to make ammonia.
53. A number of dangerous looking fellows stoking clay smelters for melting bog iron.
54. A group of local villagers beating the yearly bounds.
55. Some brickmakers by a riverside baking clay bricks in a kiln.
56. Lead miners constructing a hand-made tower of wood and white charcoal (very dry oak made in a separate furnace) in order to melt down a lump of lead ore.
57. A bog of drowned dead, killed by some mysterious magic. They may be ghouls waiting to grab passing PCs at the DM's discretion.
58. A deadfall that has the appearance of a bandit trap but which is actually a goblin or bugbear trick. There are a number of trees nearly chopped all the way through and ready to drop. The PCs are highly likely to be attacked by the bugbears or goblins if they appear to be easy bait. Otherwise, they'll be permitted to pass.
59. A knight on a religious vigil, determined to protect the sacred fingerbone he's been given. He is level 5 and assumes anyone (including PCs) is attempting to get near him for the purpose of stealing the relic.
60. A rancid sack of barley that's been cast aside some time in the past few months. It's filled with mice, and picking it up will expose the PC to 1d8 mouse bites which, themselves, cause no damage, but must be cleaned or they will become infected.
61. A priory of hermits living in separate cells and worshipping some obscure god.
62. Nine bandits living high on the hog, laughing and eating, some quite drunk. They have just raided a monastery, and have a haul of silver holy icons and books totaling a value of some 1d10x200 gold pieces.
63. A mysterious bonfire being tended by some 40 people in a strange religious ceremony. Holly is being added to the fire every so often, and much dancing and consumption of wine is going on apace.
64. An old druid clearing brambles from the road.
65. An abandoned wagon off to the side of the road or track with a broken axel. There is a 10% chance it contains some kinds of goods left within it.
66. An old chapel in the woods, dedicated to some beneficent god but currently untended. As it is still consecrated, it would make a good place to rest for good-aligned PCs.
67. A wedding ceremony between two nobles of the nearby area performed by a priest (or priestess) of the harvest in an open glade.
68. An angry dao, doomed to wander the world disguised as a farmer until he grants three wishes, fuming on the side of the road. He has 1d3 wishes left. He may only grant one wish per group, and the fewer he has to grant the more he'll want to grant them. However, any PC can piss him off to the point where he'd rather stymie them than grant the wish—of course, he may also attempt to pervert it for his own amusement.
69. A vile privy demon that follows the PCs around and waits until they're relieving themselves to throw curses and other nasty magic.
70. A priest proselytizing to a group of outlaws in a field.
71. A mad wandering philosopher, with many gems of wisdom to impart and long-winded speeches to deliver. He is being followed by three gnomish scribes; one is more or less ambivalent to the philosopher, while the other two take up complimentary and antagonistic viewpoints, variously.
72. A bacchanal composed of formerly well-ordered townsfolk now driven to sacred stupor on wine. They may attack the PCs if the spirits urge them.
73. 1d6 folks squatting around a lime kiln that's slowly burning the remains of a giant (turned to stone with age) into lime ash.
74. A gravedigger and his apprentice, en route to a new town for reasons both mysterious and unknown to the PCs.
75. Several cotters, full drunk from working on a harvest field recently.
76. An elvish market beneath a hall of towering ash and beech trees where all manner of strange (and sometimes intangible) goods are being sold.
77. Three gnomish laborers looking for work on the road.
78. A miller who has been driven out of his village for cheating the farmers. He will rant and rail, and eventually may ask the PCs for their help getting retribution.
79. A small outlaw camp being attended to by wandering cobblers and tinkers. They may repair the pots and shoes of the PCs for a small fee.
80. A silver-tongued nun who has decided to live in the wild to be free of the temptations of the world.
81. A heterochromatic man who can smell gems and gold naturally. He is wanted in several counties, but will accompany the PCs if he thinks they can protect him.
82. A family severely afflicted with dysentery—they are on the verge of death, lying by the roadside in the brush. No one will help them.
83. A family who are on the verge of starving. Desperate, they may attack the PCs even if they think they can't get food.
84. A traveling band of forest dwelling pain-worshippers. They flagellate themselves and groan in pleasure as they send their devotions to their lord. They will be led by a level 1d4+1 priest of their faith as well as 2d6 level 1 acolytes (all fighters with no armor and staves or clubs). The flagellants themselves fight as level 0 bandits if trouble should arise.
85. Merry men and their anarchist leader, who may hold up the PCs if they look wealthy enough. Everyone in the band is at least level 1d4+1, while their cocksure headman is level 2d4+1.
86. A camp of non-hostile goblin outlaws who will be willing to (grudgingly) share food or stories with the PCs. Look out though, because if they think they can get away with murder, they will.
87. A platoon of hobgoblin knights with their minotaur lizards. They will converse and eat with the PCs, but will not share rations willingly.
88. A mercenary company that's been without pay for months. They have taken to banditry, but will not hold up well-armed foes like the PCs. They may enlist the PCs to help extract their pay from their former employers.
89. A bandit ambush conducted by 3d10 former peasant leveemen, broken by the hard road of fighting for their lord, and now with nothing left to lose.
90. An old one-eyed man who whispers useless wisdoms.
91. A lone ogre who, for whatever strange reason, appears to enjoy assisting travelers. Gives good, concise, and clear directions and has a cauldron of stew back at his camp if anyone wants to share. Doesn't even eat human meat! (Probably)
92. A cluster of kobold scavengers (2d8) picking over the murdered remains of an outlaw camp and chewing on the ends of bones, ripped untimely from the fallen.
93. A leering magician teaching his impish familiar new tricks on a stump.
94. A devil itching to have a contest with some mortal in exchange for their soul.
95. A blind seer who lives in a cave, but can divine much of the future.
96. A cavern which actually leads to the underworld.
97. A massive enraged boar, several times the size of a man, which has become a maneater and will almost immediately become enraged and dangerous.
98. 2d6 swineherds from the nearby village feeding their pigs acorns. One of the pigs has been possessed by a devil and can speak, which is making all the lads and lasses uneasy. They will probably ask the PCs for help.
99. A lover's tree, carved with the names of all those who trysted beneath it. If the PCs sit under its boughs for any length of time, they can hear the whispers of true love lost spoken by all those who have died there.
100. An outlaw camp made within and around the bleached bones of a dead dragon.