[Dated March 2007, this letter was my...oh, I lose track how many times I tried to be published in Dungeon magazine. I still like this scenario, but don't have time to develop it.]
I am proposing to submit to your magazine “The Missing Villagers of Tiluvam,” a D&D adventure for four 3rd-level characters. It is an indoor and rural intrigue adventure of approximately 10,000 words. The villain is Castellan Gennadi (4th-level NE fighter), the ambitious garrison leader at the local castle, embittered about the lack of opportunities in a backwater fief. While the baron is away at court, Gennadi and the men loyal to him staged a mass abduction in their own village and used disguises and illusions to blame it on hobgoblins. Now it is surely only a matter of time until the baron is ready to send his garrison on a rewarding campaign, but first a band of adventurers enters the scene…
Play begins in the Kingdom of Nyrond, not far from the Flinty Hills (though set in the World of GREYHAWK campaign setting, it is easily adaptable to other campaigns). By whatever means the DM chooses, the PCs learn of a mass abduction in the Barony and Village of Tiluvam. The locals believe the responsible party must be a hobgoblin tribe that had raided the tiny barony several times in the last 20 years. The local reeve -- a simple man named Vivian Fletcher (5th-level LG fighter) -- recommends the PCs first approach the baron’s castle and ask for help.
The poor village has a poor castle – an obsolete, wooden motte-and-bailey castle. The first indication that something unusual is going on at the castle is when the guards at the gate ask all newcomers to pet a cat. This is just one of several odd rules in effect at the castle, all instigated by the castellan’s advisor, Rayner the Red Magician (5th-level CN wizard). Rayner is unhinged, the steward Arrigo (2nd-level LE expert) is an embezzler (and immediately suspicious that the PCs are onto him), and Castellan Gennadi is a warhawk getting ready for his campaign. Sir Roger Ruffino (5th-level N fighter) could tell them all he knows, but he is a fop who fancies himself a swashbuckler and will only trade information for duels. Depending on which soldiers the PCs speak to, they may see a fearful hesitance to speak from the 13 soldiers (1st- and 2nd-level LN fighters) loyal to the baron or sense outright lying from the 10 soldiers (same levels, LE Alignment) loyal to Gennadi. But if the PCs appear too suspicious, they may wind up arrested and held in the castle with the captive villagers (Gennadi has not decided what to do with them yet) until the reeve can free them.
If the PCs search for clues in the village, they will find it virtually impossible (DC 30) to track the abductors, as over a full week has passed. Certain divinations (like speak with animals) could lead the PCs toward the castle right away. Or, the PCs could be led that way by allies in the village in the persons of Lady Margaret Hippogriff (4th-level LG fighter) and Adept Cecily (2nd-level NG cleric of Atroa), who are both suspicious of the castellan.
If the PCs head out in search of hobgoblins, shepherds and hunters will warn them away from an old watchtower. Gennadi will point them there too, expecting them to never return. He knows about the leucrotta holed up in the watchtower. In the underground storerooms below the watchtower, the leucrotta kept a pair of gnomes cornered and will try to exchange them for its freedom if hard-pressed. The gnomes reward rescuers with a potion of healing (they were planning to ration) and reveal that the gnomes had already driven the hobgoblins out of this region a long time ago.
The PCs can end this open scenario in a variety of ways. The PCs could decide that the leucrotta was responsible (despite the lack of evidence) and feel the adventure is solved when the gnomes are freed. Gennadi is willing to encourage this belief if his hobgoblin scheme falls apart. The PCs could even go into the hills in search of more evidence of hobgoblin activity (they won’t, but gnome patrols can corroborate what the gnome prisoners said).
The PCs could guess the truth about the traitors in the castle. They could head to Rel Mord to alert the baron. Unless the PCs leave very quietly, the castellan will learn of or guess their intentions and follow in hot pursuit with the men loyal to him. Rayner will betray him and flee if pressed, leaving Gennadi and up to 10 soldiers to fight. If the battle is going against the PCs, one of their allies from earlier could catch up and aid them. Alternatively, the PCs might somehow trick Gennadi into leaving the castle with a smaller force and ambush them.
The PCs could decide to assault the castle themselves and free the captive villagers. A frontal assault, even on a small wooden castle, would still be the most dangerous option, but clever PCs could use a variety of stratagems to gain subtler entry into the castle (or some NPCs might suggest them). Ideally, the prisoners could be freed with a minimal loss of life and then the castellan’s scheme would be exposed and ruined.
If the PCs win the day, the baron will be grateful if traitors in his castle have been rooted out in his absence. He rewards the defeat of Gennadi with his magic items – a shield +1 and dagger +1, in lieu of cash, plus a spell scroll lifted from Rayner (or left behind, if he fled). There is a monetary reward of 100 gp for tipping him off about Arrigo and a 500 gp bounty for the leucrotta’s head.