International Tabletop Day is this Saturday! Celebrate by running a game of Dungeons and Dragons 5e for friends and/or strangers. Don’t have a one shot adventure at the ready? STEAL THIS ONE.
This adventure is built for around 4 characters at level 4. I designed it so you can easily tweak the difficulty if you have more players. If you have 3 players, you could bump the player’s levels up to 5 to keep it from being too much of a challenge. Or tweak it on the fly if you dare.
This is totally free for you! I hope you enjoy it, and I hope it impresses someone at a game company so they’re hire me. I’m currently looking for a job designing board games and/or RPGs, so if you got any connections, I love you forever if you share.
ENJOY!!!!!!!!!! And happy Tabletop Day!
It you want a PDF of this adventure, get it here: Distant Screams – A DnD 5e Adventure by Jesse Galena
–This D&D 5e adventure was written and designed by Jesse Galena, and it is free for anyone to use. I am seeking employment as a developer for board games and RPGs. If you have any connections and you don’t think my work is trash, please pass it along or contact me. You can contact me on Twitter: @RexiconJesse, Reddit: u/RexiconJesse, or email: jessegalena[at]gmail.com.
For loads more RPG material, check out Steal My Idea on my website: https://rexiconjesse.wordpress.com/
Thank you, enjoy, and happy International Tabletop Day–
Vesaele is a small village surrounded by mostly by farmlands with a dense forest to the northeast. Originally, there was nothing but empty plans and a few forests for six days travel. When someone blazed a trail through it to connect two distant roads, Thorna Vesaele, a women with five failed business ventures in the surrounding cities, decided to make her own place rather than carve out a small piece of a city everyone else had already claimed. She spent her remaining money to buy supplies, hauled them to the center of the new road, and built a comfortable but modest inn. With three days travel to a major road on either side, she quickly found weary travelers would pay extra coin for a few simple luxuries. She built a bathhouse, lining the walls with bottles of exotic oils and soaps.
Her inn became a hidden treasure. No longer was the long road a desolate trek. To gain a more constant stream of income, she offered portions of the land around her inn to new farmers looking for large amounts of cheap land. To service the farmers, she built a blacksmith forge, a storage facility, a tavern, and a town hall. Soon, the surrounding area was overtaken by large farms, all of the farmers using her village as their hub to the outside world.
The village became known as Vesaele, for she had built and owned every building in the village center. After five years, she sold each building to the person operating it, took her money, and retired. Now the village is owned by the community itself, and their first act was to construct a church for locals. Since the beliefs of those passing through varied wildly, they build a church with many faiths in mind, displaying images for the most common religions while leaving space open for others.
Now approximately two hundred people occupy the village and surrounding farms. Most spend the majority of their time tending their farms, but Ironfoot’s Lead Belly, the local tavern, sees a fair collection of them every night.
- To save time, the party can travel the connecting road that Vesaele is built on.
- The party hears about Vesaele needing assistance with a minor but disruptive problem (the screaming).
- The party is pursuing an NPC who has a connection to a cult. Their pursuit leads them to Vesaele.
- The party is pursuing an NPC. Anyone traveling the road Vesaele is on has almost certainly stopped there.
A small, peaceful village rests on the edge of a dense forest. When arriving at the small village for the night, the whole party can feel the mood shift. The grass seems on the verge of being unkempt. The townsfolk move slow, their eyes heavy and their steps weary. The party eye newcomers with tired concern, worried but not possessing enough energy to do anything about it.
If the party gets close enough to talk to any of the villagers, they can attempt a check to gain more insight.
A DC 15 medicine check reveals that the people are suffering from fatigue.
A DC 20 medicine check reveals that the people appear to be suffering from sleep deprivation.
A map of the village
- The village store and warehouse. It’s closer to a glorified barn than a shop. It’s not even fancy enough to have a name.
- The village tavern: Ironfoot’s Lead Belly. The hardy country folk that are regulars don’t take kindly to watered down the drinks. It’s a modest wooden building with a few tables, a long bar, and a lifetime’s worth of stories.
- Marram’s home. It is a small, modest home. She spends most of her time in the stables or the inn.
- The Blacksmith. He has normal items (weapons, armor, equipment, and tools) but also possesses a few rare items. His willingness to sell them depends on the party’s helpfulness. The only guaranteed way to purchase them is by gaining Marram’s favor.
- The village’s inn. The building is sturdy, made of stone and mortar. A wooden sign swings above the door. It reads The Good Night Mare. Carved images of horses running in a field sit below the words on the sign. The fenced area behind the inn is for rambunctious mounts and animal companions that need borders but aren’t ready to go into the stable.
- The stable for the inn. Anyone staying at the inn can house their animals here.
- The bathhouse, part of the inn. It contains four in-ground tubs, 10ft by 10 ft wide. Hot water bubbles from them, slightly murky from the salt and minerals. An assortment of oils and soaps line the walls on iron shelves. The price for using the luxurious facility is one gold.
- The village church. The people in the village, those in the farmlands around it, and travelers coming through often have differing faiths. The interior of the church is made up of small displays, each one dedicated to a different god. They even have a few blank ones, allowing guests to bring their own items and turn it into a proper shrine during their time there. The outside has a gazebo and a few shrines for druids and other nature worshiping groups.
- Marram’s stable for her racing horses. She has six horses at this time.
- The town hall. Maps of the area, crop rotations, property deeds, and any important documents are stored here.
The other villagers’ homes are off the map, often close to their farms.
The Good Night Mare
A human woman named Marram owns the village’s inn: The Good Night Mare. Marram has a broad, barrel chest and thick arms. A life of tending to and breeding horses keeps her well-built. Her piercing blue eyes and stunning smile often put even the weariest travelers who enter her inn at ease. Her long brown hair sweeps back in wide, loose braids.
Attached to the east side of the inn is a large barn with a huge fenced in area behind it. Marram and her partner breed racing horses, all of them solid black. They’re excellent at short distance running but are not bred for long bouts of travel. The inn is a side project for her, mostly there to keep a small amount of money coming in between horse sales.
When Marram interacts with the party, she tries her best to hide her fatigue from them. Her jovial tone and boisterous gestures are sometimes delayed due to her lack of sleep.
Marram also makes a passing joke about how there are no refunds if they don’t get a good night sleep.
If asked about why everyone is acting strange, Marram will pretend to not know what they mean. Marram is not one who instantly trusts strangers, but she is also not a good liar.
A DC 13 insight check reveals that she’s showing signs of holding back information. If a player calls her out on her bluff, she will pretend to not know what they mean, giving up no actual information.
A DC 20 persuasion check will soften Marrams defenses. She’ll open up a bit.
Marram if the party convinces her to open up: something strange has been happening in the forest. Something that’s been keeping us all up at night. My friend Trest saw them approaching and was planning on talking to you about it, seeing if you can help. I was going to try and talk her out of it, but maybe she’s right. We can’t take many more sleepless nights.
While settling in at The Good Night Mare, a young gnome named Trest approaches the party. She wears unique leather armor she made herself with a longbow strapped to her back, which appears to be sized for a medium-sized creature. Her sun-kissed skin, lean body, and dirty fingernails show off her outdoorsy lifestyle. Her skin is a dark, mocha color, she keeps her hair shaved short, and her gestures are quick and enthusiastic. Seeing her bright brown eyes, it’s obvious she’s slept far more than the other villagers.
Good evening, and pardon me. My name is Trest, and if you’re interested, I have a proposition for you.
A few nights past, we heard some screaming out in the forest. Human, or at least humanoid. No one was missing, so we thought it was some lost travelers, maybe a wild animal attacked them. But the screaming continued for an hour, no animal toys with its food for that long.
Morning came, and we went searching. Couldn’t find a thing. Next night, another bout of screaming. Lasts an hour or two. Everyone is worried, keeping them all up at night.
I know these woods well, but I ain’t a fighter. If we find whatever is making those people scream, not much I can do. But you all seem… capable of handling yourselves if we find something unsavory.
How about it? You all seem like the type who enjoy an adventure.
While Trest is a good hunter and tracker, she does not have combat experience. She has the stats of a bandit (MM p. 343) Most people in the village are not confident enough to venture out and face the possible danger, and those who have the skill only act as guards, not hunters. They protect the village if anything comes to their borders, nothing further.
Trest offers two possible rewards if they can find out and deal with whatever is causing the noises.
The first is a sum of gold for their aid (400-800 gp depending on level, party size, and the DMs discretion).
The second offer comes in the form of favors. Trest is a hunter, providing the village with nearly all of the game meat they use. Given her role within the community, she has connections with nearly every person in the village and can procure useful information for the party. Marram has connections with other breeders around the lands, which means she knows where to find trained exotic mounts to purchase. The blacksmith is willing to sell a few choice magical items not normally found in shops (suggestions available, but it is ultimately the DMs decision what he sells). The local church can seek divine intervention with their gods to aid with some information they are lacking. Other offers are available from those within the village if the players need something specific or story related.
If they do an exceptional job, you could also reward them the favors, a deeper discount on goods, and a smaller cut of the gold.
Marram has six horses in her barn. Her horses could help the party get into and out of the woods far more swiftly, and she is willing to help with certain conditions. She wants the screaming person found, but she cannot risk her livelihood. She will allow the party to use her horses, though they must pay full price for each horse before the take them. If the horses come back without any harm, she will return the full amount. If the horse is hurt, she will take 50% of the money. If the horse is hurt bad enough that she suspects it will never perform as well as it could have, if it’s dead, or if it doesn’t return at all, she will keep the full amount.
The price for one of her horses is three times more than a standard riding horse (Approximately 225 gp).
A DC 30 persuasion check will make her lower the price. The lowest Marram will go is twice the price of a normal riding horse (Approximately 150 gp).
A DC 15 charisma check that convinces Marriam they personally know buyers for her horses that will pay top coin will also make her lower her prices.
A DC 30 deception will convince her they know people who will pay top coin for her horses, even if they do not.
Marram will refund them for the night’s rest if they can find the source of the screaming and stop it.
Finding the Source of the Screams that Night
Ominous red clouds begin overtaking the sky as the sun falls into darkness. When the sun retreats beyond the horizon, the moon and the stars are nowhere to be seen. A truly black wilderness waits beyond the lanterns of the village.
If Trest is leading them, there is no chance for the party to get lost. Despite the pitch-black night and unmarked forest all around them, Trest knows how to navigate this place. She’s been hunting in these parts since she was a child.
While traveling through the forest, wild beasts may be on the hunt. Depending on where this village is located, one of these hunting packs will work.
3-4 worgs (Monster Manual p. 341)
2-3 Deinonychus (Volo’s Guide to Monsters p. 139)
6-7 giant Centipedes (MM p. 323)
After an hour’s travel, a person’s scream pierces the night. The scream sounds as though they are coming from an adult male. The man will scream for several minutes and then stop for several minutes. Then he will start again, the same pattern repeating.
There is never any pleading, never any tangible words in any of his cries. It’s always noises or gibberish.
As Trest leads them closer to the screaming, she points out a small amount of smoke rising in the distance. In the blackness of the starless night, it is nearly impossible to spot.
If the party is trying to find the source of the screaming without Trest, it will be more difficult.
A DC 18 survival check will lead them to the source.
A DC 25 survival check will allow them to spot the smoke rising from the hill into the blackened sky.
Either by Trest or their own skill, the party finds the mouth of a cave on the edge of a large hill. Even from the entrance, it is obvious the cave goes underground more than it does into the hill. Once there, it is obvious the screams are coming from inside. However, once they realize this, the screams stop.
A DC 20 survival check reveals old tracks from wagon wheels and horses in the dirt around the mouth of the cave. The tracks appear deep, suggesting that the carts were heavily loaded. If anyone went on foot into the cave, the ground has forgotten their imprint.
Inside the Cave
The blackness of the cave is oppressive, but an odd warmth wafts from inside. Along with it is the faint smell of smoke… and burning flesh.
The cave is a small collection of uneven tunnels and open rooms. The tunnels are hundreds of years old and long abandoned after the resources they were mining proved to be far less than plentiful.
- The entrance to the cave is ten feet wide, easy to walk through, but more difficult to maneuver horses and a cart. From the entrance, the cave is completely dark and leads toward at a harsh slope. The party can smell smoke and burning flesh coming from inside.
- The first split in the cave. The western path (heading toward 3), does not decline much further into the ground. From around the bend, a small amount of flickering light illuminates the darkness. The eastern path (heading toward 4) in the cave continues to descend further underground and offers no light.
- A trap door leads from the hall below to the area above. The door can be accessed from either side, but it takes an investigation check of 15 to find it. It’s a 15-foot drop from the trap door to the floor below it. The trap door is close to the cave wall, giving climbers a way to get up to it. The fall damage can be avoided by anyone who takes an action to hang on the edge of the trap door and drop down.
- As the party moves further through the cave toward 3 (the trap door), the light grows brighter, the smell of smoke is more obvious, and they start feeling warmer.
Around the final bend, they see the full gathering. A pillar of fire fills the hole leading to the lower tunnel. Before the bonfire, a man hangs on from his arms on an X-shaped cross made of wood. He as only a loincloth to cover him. He is silhouetted by the bonfire, however, anyone with proficiency in perception can see the strung-up man has fresh cuts and burns on his body. His head is down, and he appears to be unconscious, though still breathing.
- The cult member’s campsite. Sleeping bags, two large cauldrons for cooking, and sacks of personal effects lay scattered around the area. Sacks and crates of spices, dried food, and food requiring cooking, sit ten feet from the cauldrons.
- Two carts made to be drawn by horses. One is empty. The other is half-full, containing five kegs. Four kegs contain water while the fifth contains strong alcohol.
- A small table stands four feet above the ground. Crates of medical supplies sit around the room.
A DC 10 Medicine check reveals that this room has been used recently. By the used supplies, it appears they were treating cuts and burns. There are enough supplies to make seven healer’s kits. There are also four potions of healing (2d4 +2 healing).
8 & 9. Secret doors leading out of the cave. A DC 18 investigation check reveals the doors.
The Cultists and the Strung-Up Man
Between the strung-up man and just before the trap door, a crowd of people stand in small groups, staring at him. Each of them wears a hooded cloak with wide sleeves.
The ceiling of the cave is twenty feet high. Stalagmites rise from the ground, offering minor obstacles but not enough to be cover for size medium or larger creatures. Size small creatures can use them as 1/2 cover. Several small holes in the ceiling allow the smoke from the fire to escape.
There are 13 people in this part of the cave: 10 cultists (Monster Manual P. 345), two cult fanatics (MM P. 345) and the strung-up man. The 10 cultists each have a scimitar, a hand crossbow (Player’s Guide P. 149), and 10 bolts within their cloaks. They get +3 to hit with the crossbow, and the crossbow deals 1d6 damage.
6 of the cultists and the two cult fanatics engage in ritualistic chanting. The words “let us be one” repeated over and over in a tongue not normally used in this region (elvish if the DM is certain what language would be uncommon where they start this adventure). The other four cultists walk around freely, systematically checking on the strung-up man, the fire, and the chanting cultists as they walk in wide circles around the room.
A DC 15 perception check reveals that 10 of the people (all of whom are cultists (MM p. 345)) have hair so long it falls out of the front of their hoods and hangs down to their waists.
The Cultists’ Plan
The cultists have been engaging in a ritual of initiation for several nights. Each night, one member volunteers to be strung-up, cut, and burned throughout most of the night. They volunteer because they must learn how to deal with great pain. Being cut and burned is preparing them for a greater ritual they wish to take in the future.
The unconscious, strung-up man is a cultist as well. He will remain unconscious until he is given time, smelling salts, or something severe to wake him. 5 of the other cultists have wounds similar to his, though they are covered by their clothing. While the strung-up man should not be part of this encounter, he has the stats of the cult fanatic (MM p. 345).
The cultists and the cultist fanatics have a passive perception of 10. They are aware of the noise they are making and have a plan if someone is noticed in the cave. The cultist who spotted the intruders will begin to chant “A place of unheard devotion. Take us. A place of unheard devotion. Take us.”
At that point, the four roaming cultists will split into two groups of two, one group going to the front entrance and one group to the back. Once they pass the chanting cultists, they will draw their swords.
If the party is noticed as they enter the cave, the four roaming cultists will already be away from the main group. Two hide at the trapdoor (#3 on the map), and the two others search on foot.
If the party is discovered, the cultists will attack. 5 of the cultists will draw their hand crossbows and fire at the party. However, they do not stand still. Their long hair flutters to life. It reaches out and pulls them toward and up the walls of the cave. They can climb across the walls and ceiling of the cave at their normal movement speed. The remaining cultists and the two cultist fanatics will engage in melee battle.
If 4 cultists die in the fight, the 2 cultists closest to the strung-up man will disengage and try to free him. When 8 cult members die in total, they will retreat toward the secret exits. If they have not freed the strung-up man yet, they will leave him.
The cultist main strategies for attack are:
Bottleneck the part in a narrow part of the cave with melee fighters while ranged attackers attack.
Engage them but send 4-5 people to go around the cave and flank the party.
Encircle the party and close in around them, using their superior numbers to pressure them into a tight group.
The cult is not interested in taking prisoners. They will, however, be merciful if they completely dominate the fight and there are only one or two party members conscious. They will take the party’s gear and valuables then leave, leaving the party tied up in the cave.
The Strung-Up Man: Curtis Stonesmith
If the cultists escape with the strung-up man, then he will rejoin the cultists, and only an observant party member will notice that he is with the cult returns later.
If the cultists do not escape with the strung-up man or if the party manages to rescue him, he has the potential to do several different things.
Left on his own, the strung-up man will wake on his own in an hour.
He has the stats of a cult fanatic (MM p. 345).
He’s a twenty-year-old human from a farm village far from here. He has pale skin and nearly white hair. He’s sturdy with thick arms and legs and a modest gut. He is humble and unsure of himself, usually directing the conversation to others when it turns toward him. He speaks with a soft voice.
Curtis will hide his involvement with the cult. He will say he is a simple farmhand and the cult kidnapped him when they passed by his family’s farm. He does not know why they took him. They kept him mostly unconscious through spells until he was placed on the cross and tortured.
With a +4 to deception, he may not fool everyone in the party, and some may determine that he is not being fully truthful. He also has +4 to persuasion, which may help him either convince others that he is telling the truth or that he is not telling them everything for personal reasons. Regardless of who believes him, he will keep his involvement with the cult a secret.
The truth is that he willingly left his farm and joined the cult in order to get away from his horrid family and the life he had on the farm. Life with a cult seemed better. They taught him some magic and he was on his way to becoming a more faithful member, which includes the ritual he was undertaking when the party found him.
He does not have a great attachment to the cult, it was simply far better than staying where he was. He is not fully devoted to them.
After the party rescues Curtis from the cave, depending on what the party tells Curtis, one of four things can happen before the final fight against the cult.
If convinced the cult left him, Curtis will fight alongside the PCs when cult attacks, never revealing he was with the cult.
If given the chance and believes they rescued him, Curtis will escape in the night to find and rejoin the cult.
If Curtis thinks the cult has arrived to rescue him, he will turn on the PCs when the cult attacks.
If he is uncertain, he will play up how wounded he is and sit the final fight out, siding with the victors. When the fight is almost over, he will perform one action that shows he was on “their side,” thought that side will be whoever pretty much had already won the fight.
Returning to the Village
If Trest is still alive, she can lead them back to the village without incident.
A DC 15 survival check is required to return to the village if they do not have Trest.
If you did not have them encounter wild beasts when they were traveling to the cult, they could encounter those beasts on the way back, assuming they are not too injured to put up a fight.
Upon returning, most of the village will be asleep, since the screaming has stopped.
The next day, Trest, Marram, and the rest of the village will demand the party stay another night and celebrate with them. The village pools their resources and spends most of the day creating a massive makeshift party. Barrels of wine, slow-smoked meat, and a band will all be set up and ready by the early evening. Until then, the party can rest (long or short). Also, depending on which payment method they chose, they can collect their gold, learn where to buy exotic mounts, or buy strange magical goods from the blacksmith.
That evening, the entire village engages in the festivities.
The Cult Attacks the Village
During the party, the cult approaches. The volume of the party means anyone rolling for perception to hear the cult coming rolls with disadvantage.
The cult approaches in two groups: one coming from the north and one coming from the east. Each group has a fifteen-foot long cart pulled by two horses. Each cart has one cult fanatic and two cultists (MM P. 345) and a priest (MM p. 348). The two cult fanatics all have Shield of Faith cast on themselves.
Each group uses the same tactic: they move alongside the wagon, and the wagon offers each of them 1/2 cover. They advance toward the center of the village moving fifteen feet per round. One cultist guides the horse, one cultist fires a hand crossbow, and the cult fanatic and priest cast spells. When not engaging with an enemy, each of them can throw a fire vial onto a nearby building to try and burn them down.
The cultists have an unexpected surprise. While they used their hair to climb while in the cave, this time they do something different with their hair. When a player approaches a cultist, their hair will snap out, it’s end wrapped around the hilt of their sword. Their hair has a reach of 10 ft, and it uses the same bonus to attack with their scimitar as if they were using their hands. Attacking with their hair is a bonus action. They still have their hands free to guide the horses or use their crossbow (though using a crossbow in melee range has normal penalties).
The people of the village are not nearly as powerful as the party, and by this point, are quite intoxicated. They will try and put out the fires, attack the group the party doesn’t attack, or a combination of both. They are open to orders from the party that do not sound completely foolish to them.
If villagers attacked one of the cultist’s attacking parties alone, the villiager’s success is determined by rolling 1d4 for each round the party does not aid them.
Results and outcome:
1-8: The villagers successfully hold off the cultists on their own. No buildings are damaged. No villagers have died.
9-12: The villagers keeping the cultists from advancing much. While some of the buildings are damaged by fire, they can be fixed. and 1d4 villagers died.
13-17: The villagers are struggling to keep the cultists from advancing. Several buildings are badly damaged and 1d4 more villagers die.
18-22: The villagers cannot stop the cultists. The first building the cultists encountered is engulfed in flames and destroyed. 2d4 more villagers die.
23-27: The villagers cannot stop the cultists. The first two buildings the cultists pass are engulfed in flames and destroyed. 4d4 more villagers die.
28+: The villagers are overrun. Any villagers left are either severely wounded or fleeing. The first two buildings are destroyed and the rest of the buildings in their path are burning. The cult is now in the center of town and moving to flank the party.
After the Attack
If the party and people of the village defeat or repel the cultists, the villagers will survey the damage and death. The less death and damage, the more willing the villagers will be with continuing to help the party. If the damage is too severe, they will go back on paying the party for their services. If the villagers already paid them, they will beg for some of the money back.
Marram will not go back on her word, and she will respect every concession made before the attack, even if her home or businesses were destroyed. If Marram died in the final attack, no one can fulfill her promises.
If the players knew about the blacksmith’s magical goods, he will still sell them to the party.
If the party successfully fights off the cultists without minimal damage or death, then the villagers will continue to celebrate. They will name a holiday after the party, and celebrate the defeating the cultist every year with drink and song.