Scenario/Campaign Setting: THE WORLD TREE

by Alexander Wallis

More sacred than Gods and Goddesses is the embodiment of nature itself: The World Tree. This tree is the physical manifestation of nature and the Animus Mundi or spirit of the World. Its location is unknown except by a few sprites who act as Priestesses to the Tree.

Eons ago a cosmic world-devouring evil from a place understood only as ‘The Black Galaxy’, came to the world and attempted to destroy the World Tree. By doing so it would subsequently be able to harvest the souls of all living things and satisfy its vampiric great hunger. Hence it sent a herald into the world to locate the World Tree by means of an arcane compass that would seek out its location. This herald made pacts and associations with various power groups to help it in its quest. In return for their protection it offered them the chance to survive the coming apocalypse.

However, the herald and his allies were eventually destroyed by a group of ancient heroes and the compass fell into the hands of a wise and righteous order.

In this campaign the players are heroes who are entrusted with the compass when signs and portents reveal that another herald of the Black Galaxy has been sent to find the World Tree. Even the guardians of the compass do not know the whereabouts of the Tree, but the compass will help the heroes to find it, hopefully before the herald does, so that they can defend it. The Guardians of the Compass will not tell the heroes that the compass is of Black Galaxy design, but be given the impression that it is simply a magical item.

This ‘on the move’ campaign can serve as a backdrop to for other adventures and encounters that the heroes will have en route. They will have to contend with major champions of evil, native to their world, who have determined to help the herald in his quest.

What they do not know is that the compass is innately evil–characters in the story who are slain after prolonged exposure to the compass awaken a few days later as a ‘dark’ version of themselves and attempt to thwart the adventurers.

A good major subplot is to have cannibal tribes venturing from their homelands to attack cities (the animals they fed on have been stricken with disease by the Herald. He knows this will stir up them up to causing a huge distraction for heroes and armies to contend with, while he continues with his mission).

Although some evil powers seek to assist the herald in return for reward, others may decide they would rather not have the world ‘harvested’. The heroes can have a healthy mixture of alignments and races in this campaign and may receive help from unexpected sources or old enemies.

Here are some suggested World Tree campaign adventures to get you started:

Adventure One

The heroes are summoned by a High Elf council who are the Guardians of the Compass. They are entrusted with the compass and warned of the threat to the World Tree that threatens all creation. The compass will always point in the direction of the World Tree. They set off on their journey and on the first night they have an encounter with the Black Galaxy Herald himself (make him unbeatable at this stage). He should be terrifying and will wound but hopefully not kill any adventurer who tries to fight him. He simply attempts at this stage to divert the heroes from their mission by offering them the opportunity to join him. He will be eloquent and promise them they will survive the coming cataclysm if they assist him. This encounter can end with the party running away, the Herald disappearing or the party being overwhelmed and defeated (assuming they don’t take him up on his offer). The idea of this encounter is to create great fear about the Herald and his power.

Adventure Two

En route the heroes are contacted by Nefaria, one of the tiny sprites that administers to the World Tree. Play up her awkward character and superiority complex. She tells the heroes they will need the help of a long dead warrior woman named Ash to assist them in their quest. Ash was the greatest warrior that ever lived and was the protector of this world in ancient times (think of Xena). If they can find Ash’s remains then Nefaria can resurrect her. This can readily be a hook for a dungeon crawl that you may have on your shelf, replacing the dungeon’s treasure with Ash’s remains.

Adventure Three

The heroes arrive at a city that is under attack by cannibal hordes from the North. Although the city guards will gladly admit adventurers into the city, they won’t let anyone leave who might be able to help them in this time of need. The characters can get involved in defending the city, try to escape or proactively try to destroy the cannibal warlord and end the war.

Adventure Four

The party come to a forest that exists in perpetual darkness both day and night. This is the home of Malefic, Goddess of Darkness who is an ally of the Black Galaxy Herald. She lives here with a clan of vampires quickened by her necromantic powers and a dark Archangel who protects her. The vampires will hunt any travellers through the forest for sport.

Adventure Five

One evening the party come across a group of sacred stones where servants of the Herald are attempting to summon a ‘great destroyer’ from the Black Galaxy into this world. The party must attempt to thwart the ritual, or else be hunted by this creature of incredible power.

Adventure Six

The party arrive at a less hostile forest, founded by an Elf tribe. These Elves know of the mission to find the World Tree and will replenish the party with supplies and healing. Any heroes who go to the tavern/inn will meet an impressive looking Elf of indeterminable age, who sits in the corner smoking his pipe (in Strider fashion). This is Mercurial, the last surviving member of the original quest to save the World Tree (think of FFVII’s Sephiroth for imagery). Mercurial will take an interest in the party and will give his magical sword (something of reasonable power in your campaign) to the adventurer who most impresses him with their commitment to the quest. Later the party will be invited to participate in a ritual celebration that involves all the Elves in the community. This can involve singing, drinking, games of chance and competitions of skill with the bow and the sword. During the festivities the male character with the highest charisma will be approached by a young female Elf named Angel who will show tempered romantic interest. She will also express a determination to join the heroes on their quest. However, unknown to the heroes Angel is the daughter of Mercurial, over whom he is extremely protective. This situation can play out in a number of ways, with a variety of outcomes.

Adventure Seven

On the road the party encounter Hansel, a travelling bard looking for great adventures upon which to base his new ballads. If the party share some of their exploits he compose a quick ditty on the spot (if you are feeling up to it), or the adventurers may later hear a ballad about them performed elsewhere but attributed to Hansel. He also explains that a few days ago he was performing for the entertainment of children at an orphanage nearby. He might sing a few lines about the plight of orphaned children. Two days later the party reach this orphanage, but get an impression of great evil emanating from the structure. Ferocious undead hounds patrol the surrounding gardens and will attack anyone who tries to enter. Inside the orphanage itself is a scene of awful devastation. The children are no-where to be seen and all the adult staff have been slaughtered. However, in the cellar beneath the orphanage the innocent blood of the children has been used to create an insane blood-veined plant. Each branch of the plant has a child’s head growing from it. This is the work of Magnus, a powerful necromancer who has learned of the Black Galaxy Herald and is attempting to make direct contact with the Black Galaxy masters through the medium of this plant. He may ask a single question to each head, which will reply with one answer in the grotesque voice of a Black Galaxy master. When the party arrive Magnus is still at work questioning the heads and trying to negotiate with the Black Galaxy masters for personal gain. He is accompanied by a protégé wizard and a small but elite group of veteran mercenary fighters. They will attack any intruders on sight. If Magnus and his party defeat the adventurers they will take the compass and seek to find the World Tree themselves, to please the Black Galaxy masters. If his men are defeated Magnus will teleport out and continue to plague the heroes in further adventures. In either instance this should be a tough battle against intimidating opponents. If it looks like the entire party is going to die, it might be a good time for Mercurial to turn up if he is looking for his daughter.

Adventure Eight

This is an adventure you can run if the party were successful in resurrecting Ash (see adventure two) and have been enjoying her help either on a permanent or ad hoc basis. Forces sympathetic to the Black Galaxy have discovered Ash’s resurrection and are concerned that she will tip the balance against them. Therefore they determine to raid a deadly tomb that holds the bones of Vlad Mak Morn, a comparative champion of evil. They hope to raise him from death/imprisonment and set him against Ash in the hope that he may be able to defeat her. The party get wind of this scheme and a dungeon crawl ensues where they must race the cultists to the bones of Vlad Mak Morn.

Adventure Nine

Travelling through mountainous terrain the party encounter a small encampment of busy warriors. These have a great presence of competence, valour and skill. Each of them wears an identical token with a mysterious symbol engraved therein. They welcome the party and invite them to eat and drink with them while they set up tents and polish their battle-chipped swords. They are all male with the exception of their leader ‘Fay’ a beautiful golden haired elf warrior whose armour and weapons are the of most uniquely splendid and magnificent workmanship. This impressive band introduce themselves as members of an elite warrior clan known as the Grey Company. They have heard about the incursions of the Cannibal Tribes and have also gained intelligence that the Cannibal warlord intends to push the remainder of his armies through this valley to launch a major attack upon the civilised cities. The Grey Company has determined that they will fight to death to prevent the Cannibals from advancing beyond this point. Fay invites the adventurers to win a place in the halls of legend by participating in this epic battle where few will stand against many. In fact the party must advance through this mountain pass to continue their journey and hence their best chance of survival will be to stand and fight with the Grey Company. However it is better for them to be inspired by the charisma and camaraderie of the Grey Company champions. Players who lose their characters in this battle can readily replace them with Grey Company NPCs of equivalent experience who might survive. The Cannibal Horde attack in waves through the mist, sometimes accompanied by ogres or other creatures. In terms of running mass battles it is easier only to ‘roll-play’ the PC’s melee activity and simply make statements about how their NPC Grey Company comrades are faring. Regardless of relative party size, the Grey Company warriors will battle two thirds of the opponents in each wave, leaving the heroes to fight the remaining third. In the forth wave of attack the Cannibal Warlord will appear mounted on a great beast. When he is defeated the Cannibals will retreat.

Adventure Ten

By now (hopefully!) at least a few of the original player characters should have died and will have risen from death three days later due to the corrupting power of the compass. The three-day gap conveniently provides time for the party to move on from a location without realising that their former comrade has returned from the dead. The risen characters are now a ‘dark’ version of themselves, retaining all skills and personality traits (except alignment) that they had in life and gaining one level of experience. These undead anti-heroes will now scheme to destroy the party in a manner suiting their personality, character class and level of cunning. They may act in unison or independently. An interesting encounter can begin by the party glimpsing someone they thought to be dead. (Authors note – by this point in my campaign three players had lost their original characters and ironically three more died soon after without me having to lift a dice during a very heated debate among the heroes!)

Suggested NPCs

Nefaria (Lawful/Evil) – A sprite that works for the World Tree. Although cute at times Nefaria has a very warlike nature and doesn’t like he authority being questioned. She will encourage the party to use violence to solve most problems and will demand that enemies are pursued ruthlessly and destroyed.

Horough (Neutral/Good) – An counterbalance to Nefaria, he is the ghost of one of the original ancient heroes that defeated the first Black Galaxy herald. Horough is a Priest (or Crusader) with a wise and peaceful nature and will appear at times to offer advice and encouragement.

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Copyright 2002 by
Alexander Wallis. Revised: October 10, 2002. v.1.2