Overview – Page I (PE)
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 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 suspected of 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 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 rewards 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 in which the journey starts is rather open and urban, a crossroads of bustling activity. It may be a port city stopover 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 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 the 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 possibly variable or in 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.