Defeat a Hag

This adventure is designed for your favorite fantasy role playing game, to be inserted into an ongoing campaign, and can be completed in a single session. It consists of a scenario that takes place over time, but should be conducted in a single game session. It will work best with players who are interested in mechanics and roleplaying, maximizing both of those aspects of your favorite game.

Designer Notes:

This is designed to be squeezed into your existing campaign with reasonably heroic characters.  Straight up evil characters might be interesting, but the overall flow of the scenario would change and introduce potential bargains with the hags. The writing doesn’t describe all of those possibilities. 

Originally, it was inserted into a campaign with time travel, defending royals who could not defend themselves, doing heroic things to save the entire world, and was designed for high level PCs. None of these are required, and it has been stripped of any statistics which make it depend on a given system. You could likely adapt it to any campaign, or run it as a one shot, using any system you like.

It is appropriate for use in the Fall season, and is system agnostic.

The primary themes are horror and isolation and overcoming adversity, perhaps through combat.

The player characters will be on a mission to find a McGuffin. Any will work. A person or thing may be the goal. They won’t find it, until the very end.

It was originally designed and run using 80’s fantasy BX RPG rules, however it can easily be adapted to your favorite version or game. This was originally playtested using loose and short rules, a very basic/expert class and level based game. 

With a like minded game master, ANY system will work.

The Themes

The adventure shall be run in a manner such that roleplaying offers the greatest rewards, rather than combat, although combat is a part. It may start with a battle and end with one, as you wish; horror remains the major consideration. The gamemaster must run the single session with the following things in mind, in rough order of importance:

Fright – do things to scare your players. Including jump scares. Pound the table. Keep the lighting low. Use increasing detail in descriptions where horrific things matter. Run encounters with no initiative won by players. They do things, and go second, not first. Run infrequent battle encounters where stats matter. But, monsters do high damage amounts when stats do matter. They should fear the outcome of those critical encounters BOTH system wise as well as from a roleplaying standpoint. This satisfies all sorts of players.

Revulsion – describe the things as disgusting. Rotten, grotesque, vile. Use all of your senses and imagine the very worst things you can. Smell is especially important. Always describe the smell. Horrific things smell bad. Describe all of  those. Don’t over use it, but when you do use it everyone should be disgusted. 

Isolation – The party will be alone, without assistance. They must feel alone, and trapped. No one can help. No help will come. They must make it through themselves.

Urgency – If this task is not done the consequences are dire. They may die, or perhaps their overarcing quest will fail. 

Make sure all player characters have previously selected the languages that they know as conversation is important. 

Setting

The adventure was originally conceived as a fantasy story, thus was located in a fantasy village. 

It could just as easily take place on a space station, in the modern day, in a jungle, or anywhere else you could imagine. The further you stray from the old medieval fantasy village the more you will need to reskin, or reimagine things, but the overall scenario will still function. 

From here on, it’s described as a fantasy story. There is a short section at the end describing possible alternate settings so that you may fit this into your campaign. 

Backstory

A covey of hags is influencing a small village, claiming territorial rights over the area, and occasionally wreaking havoc, as hags do.

Martin is a local man. He has made a pact with the hags to be the most important man in the town, this costs him a sacrifice of one townsperson per week. He’s done this the preceding ten weeks, plus he’s fed a giant. When the PCs arrive it is the 10th week, and the last debt to pay, is Martin’s own child. Deals with hags…

As you may suspect, Martin isn’t all that smart. He’s the most important man in the town, for sure, as he digs graves. He’s the only gravedigger. Everyone relies on him. They always have, but he doesn’t appreciate it. Soon, he’ll be the most important man in the town, when everyone else is dead. 

The hags killed and ate the village monk, and took his place. They curse and disease the town’s children. Once sick enough, the children are taken to the (hag) monk, and while a good show is put on, the kids eventually die of their illness. Actually, the hags take the children, and replace the body with a dessicated kobold, (or Appliacian person, or sci-fi commando, or anything,) which is then buried in place of the child. Not only are the villagers not given much of an opportunity to inspect the bodies, but the replacement bodies are in such a rapid state of decomposition, that it’d be tough to tell. Plus, Martin, the undertaker, is in on the deal.

Martin does not know that Harl the Monk has been replaced by a hag.

The McGuffin

Originally, the point of this adventure was for the PCs to find and “recover” the prince, to accompany him to his destination. As you will see later, they cannot. 

As the prince journeyed through the territory occupied by hags, the hags noticed. Using their spells, wily ways, and agents, they lured the prince into a trap, and captured him. Exactly what that is is irrelevant and never revealed.  The hags killed the remaining members of the prince’s caravan, except two, who are still hiding in the woods near the village. Those two, described later, do not know exactly what is going on.

The hags are now positioning themselves to impersonate the prince, but first, they will kill the remaining villagers and destroy the village, and cover up the entire affair. Eventually, they’ll be the prince, unless the party stops them. 

The Curse

The Hags place a curse on those in the town, and possibly on the player characters. It could affect them in just about any way you like. Originally, it prevented magical healing and gave a -2 on saving throws. Everyone in the area is affected by it, though, the townsfolk really do not often need to save, and magical healing isn’t readily available here. 

NPCS

Statistics for the relevant NPCs should be gathered by the gamemaster prior to the start of the game, based on your selected system, and include:

Normal humans of various sorts.

A Priest or holy man with supernatural powers.

A Giant or Seriously Big Brute, originally, a Hill Giant. 

The Prince, or other important government official, a background could be useful, although stats are not needed, as he’s been eaten. Mostly.

…And the Hags. It should be three, or just one, if you prefer. But three is best, since they normally conspire in threes.

As a guide for gathering stats, generally, the players should be able to kill the normal humans without issue, whenever they want. (they shouldn’t want to…) They should be an even match for the priest. The giant should be a reasonable challenge for them in combat, the GM making it obvious they cannot win. The final monsters, the Hags, can be defeated any way you prefer, through combat (recommended for your favorite fantasy games) or through roleplaying, which is the primary alternative. If fighting is preferred this should be a tough battle.

Hags

These are witches of the worst kind. They can curse. They can cause disease. They hate people, except for food. They are taking over the town. Magical powers, evil looks, and they can impersonate people. 

The conclusion is a confrontation with the Hags. In a fantasy battle the Hags fight furiously, and will be one of the hardest fights the PCs have ever faced. Keeping in spirit with the themes described above, some of them should fall. 

The Prince

Half eaten royalty. 

Farble Greely

A drunk. Locked in the stocks when the PCs arrive. The PCs can free him, or not. Regardless, he can be a source of direction if the PCs seem to have no focus. If they are sharp however, use this fella as a distraction or a red herring. 

Martin Skinford 

Gravedigger. Already largely an important fella, he’s felt unappreciated. He’s made a pact with the Hags to be important. He knew what he was doing. But he’s screwed far worse than he could have imagined, the pact was one sided, and he was not on the winning side. He’s desperate, but also afraid of crossing the Hags. At the start, his child is stricken with the Hag’s disease and curse. 

Harl The Monk

This guy was a monk who ran the town’s church. Now, he’s one of the Hags.

Hill Giant

An agent of the hags. A big brutish agent. If the PCs choose battle, this is a tough fight. 

Road Monster

This is your wandering monster. It can be used during a lull. Originally, this was a group of owl bears. 

Timeline 

Prior to the PCs arrival, stuff happened. The Hag activity in the area followed this rough timeline, though most of it is never directly revealed, thus, can be freely altered. 

  • Day minus 60 – Hags move into the area
  • Day minus 31 – Martin makes a Pact with Hags.
  • Day minus 30 – Hags curse the town with “magical disease” and curse. People start to become sick, slowly dying. Harl helps some of the people, but not all. All the while, Martin is digging the graves.
  • Day minus 20 – The giants show up. Agents of the Hags, they demand food. The villagers say no, and several are killed and eaten. The rest of the villagers agree to provide the giants with the best food every time they show up. 
  • Day minus 15 – the Hags kill Harl and take his place. Townspeople continue to die, children especially. 
  • Day minus 2 – The Prince arrives in the village, Farble Greely insults the Prince and is put into stocks. He’s living in the stocks for a few days, at least until the PCs see him.
  • Day minus 1 – The Prince is taken prisoner by the Hags. Is then eaten. Along with all of his men, but two, who escape to the woods.
  • Day 1 – morning – PCs arrive in the time zone.

Encounters

This section describes all of the encounters PCs can or could  have, leading to the conclusion of the scenario. 

Day 1:

  • The Road
  • The Village – Farble Greely
  • The Church & Martin’s Child
  • Ejection from town and speaking with the two men
  • Camping at night

Day 2:

  • The Hill giant comes to collect food
  • Storms
  • Leading villagers Away
  • Encountering the Hags.

The Road

The path makes its way through dense woods. The woods are not easily passable by the party.

Originally, a battle encounter was inserted on the road to the village, to warm up the PCs, and get them into a fight prior to a bunch of roleplaying scenes. Priming them with a fight can sate the average murder hobo enough so that they are willing to roleplay for a few hours before finishing battle with the hags. 

It could easily be a description of the road, an encounter with something else relevant to your campaign, or nothing. 

The Village

As the party rides along the path they cross a hamlet. An ivy-covered barn, fenced in fields, and a well which marks the center of this village are the first things they see. It’s barely more than a handful of meager wooden houses. But, past the largest barn, on the other side of the field, is a small church. 

Around the village are fields, farmed. Beyond that, closely, are dense woods. 

As they approach, the few villagers that were outside gather their things and go inside, locking doors behind them. Windows are shuttered. All except the man locked in the stocks a few yards from the well. 

The sun is low in the sky and the buildings cast long shadows on the dirt.

At first, the villagers will not respond to knocks on their doors. When pressed, they will plead, and then beg for the party to continue on the road. They beg them not to stop or stay  in the village. 

Strangely, the fields are already harvested, but the village stores are low. There are few farm animals, just a couple skinny goats and a few sheep. The well is dry.

Farble Greely. In the stocks for “liberating the holy libations” from the church. He is still drunk. There is a sign above his head that reads “FARBLE GREELY IS A THEEF!” He’ll shout: “The goats are going mad… must be the royalty rode through. Does anyone have a drink??” 

During the first and second days in the village, it’s suggested you slowly ramp up the horror. Some events to occur may include:

  • A goat goes crazy and kills a villager. Magic cannot help either of them.
  • A boy starts having seizures and coughs up a dead bird.
  • Large barn is struck with lightning, catches fire, and trapped villagers and animals need rescue.
  • Vines and thorny plants grow fast, before your eyes, and tangle up things.

The Church

No adventure is complete without some boxed text. Read aloud:

Like the other buildings in this town, this one, too, is meager. Built from wood. The door is open.
Peering in, you see rows of pews, on either side of a central isle. At the center of the far wall is low dais, upon which sits the typical church altar. Upon the altar a few candles flicker. There is an empty wooden bowl, it’s edges worn by many hands. Presumably, passed to collect the tithe.  
Behind that, there is a closed wooden door leading to what could not be more than a very small room. The sanctuary looks kept up, a used broom in the corner tells you dust and dirt from the outside are not welcomed here. 

In the back room is Harl, the monk who runs this church. (but is now a hag, in disguise.) Harl will chat with them, revealing nothing, and misdirecting them as is possible. 

During the discussion Martin Skinford will come in, with his wife, and three children. All of them look thin and unwell, but one in particular is very sick. Along with them, townsfolk gather in the sanctuary,  and even more outside.

If the PCs try to help with healing spells or abilities, the child will die. Martin’s wife will not be understanding, blaming them for the premature death and convincing the townspeople to shun the party and eject them from the town. 

Martin however, knows this is the price for his bargain and will give the PCs a hag eye for trying to help.

Hag Eye

Perhaps this is a magical item of some power. It should convey scrying powers, at least, and perhaps more. It should seem like a benefit, but maybe it is not one. Perhaps it allows the Hags to easily find the party, perhaps it gives them the ability to know what the group is doing, perhaps they delude themselves into believing it does something, but it does nothing. 

The Two Men

Two men from the Prince’s original caravan escaped.

They have been hiding out in the woods within sight of the town. They know the Prince was taken by a group of Ogres. They do not know to where. One of the men was knocked out, the other is seriously wounded, and needs help but neither man will suggest or allow healing magic. They’ll tell how the caravan’s cleric killed a man by healing him during the fight with the ogres. 

What they don’t know is that healing works outside the village, and where they are now is at a safe distance.

They’ll make the party tell them everything they know.

If the party mentions Harl by name or by description, the two will lead the party to a fresh grave in the woods that night that they say contains the real Harl. When they dig it up, it’s empty. 

They’ll try to keep the PCs watching the village and get them interested in figuring out where the Prince is. Rescuing him is their primary motivation.

The Woods

The party may have to camp outside the town. The nearby stream, the only water source, is blighted. They may not discover the blight until after their horses succumb. 

Preventing Early Escape

During the second day, things get especially stange. If the party tries an early escape from the village or the surrounding woods, keep them nearby. The two men will convince them, the Hag’s agents — a bunch of ogres will attack, villagers will spot their camp, and ask for help.

The Hill Giants Come for Food

In the morning of the next day, at dawn, giants come to collect food from the villagers. These are agents of the Hags, but have been harassing the villagers for a few weeks. The villagers provide animals, harvested crops, and barrels of ale and water for the giants.

The Storm

Soon after, a nasty storm hits the village. It starts slowly, but steadily increases in intensity until it’s obvious even human buildings cannot protect people from the destruction it brings. Martin takes the lead here, since he’s got some relationship with the PCs already. 

The Villagers Demand Escape

Villagers demand that the party take them to the nearby caves to be safe from the storm. Harl The Monk (still a Hag) will go with them. 

Leaving is bad. Little by little the remaining villagers die, or vanish as they trek through the woods.  

During the flight, Martin will fess up, telling the PCs of his pact. He will give them directions to the Hag hideout. The Harl Hag will not reveal itself, but Martin will be found dead, eviscerated, sometime later.  

The Hag’s agents can attack during this phase of the scenario, if needed, to fill up some time or otherwise increase tension. The Hags have giants, trolls, and ogres at their disposal. 

Hag Home Base

The woods will be tough to navigate, and may include traps. Finding the Hag’s hideout should not be easy. The Hag’s agents can attack here, as well, to deter the party. 

The Hut

Ahead of you there is a clearing. You can spot it through the dense woods and thick brush. At the center of this clearing rests a large hut on stilt legs. The hut is made of rough cut stone, logs, and has a thatched roof. A wide ladder leads from the ground to a door, fifteen feet off the ground.

The ladder is trapped with a poison trap. — Use whatever poison you like. This should not be deadly, but instead inflict some sort of effect debilitating the party members who are affected. 

The door itself is also trapped. It is spring loaded, and will open if anyone touches it, knocking them off the platform to the ground for some damage.

Inside the hut is an extradimensional space. 

You enter through the doorway and peer into the eerie darkness that pervades this place. It somehow seems thicker than ordinary darkness. A winding stone staircase descends beyond the limit of your light. 

Trolls attack while they climb down the stairs. The trolls are magically able to walk along the walls in any orientation and they regenerate, so they will try to grapple the party and jump off the wall to the cave floor. If they succeed, the victim takes considerable damage, while the trolls slowly regenerate. 

You are approaching the bottom of the stairs. There are fires and torches below. The smell of rotten flesh and wood smoke fill your nose. And another smell, more disgusting, but one you cannot place. 
Through the flickering light you see an expansive cave  with a rough floor and stone platforms of various heights and sizes. Paths and steps wind up and down among the platforms at odd angles. The tops of the platforms aren’t quite flat. Comparing their crooked and indefinite slants to one another is dizzying as you approach the bottom you grab the walls as you continue to descend.
Each of the platforms holds shelves, chests or piled up occult curiosities. On a few of the platforms, there are bubbling cauldrons, with fire beneath them. On others, cages, with sickly and dying humans of various shapes and ages.
In the dead center of the room is a large cauldron. Behind it, stirring a long handle, is a wretched old woman. You’re uncertain of her size, the geometry of the room seems to play tricks on your eyes. She seems at least eight feet tall. Her skin is wrinkled and covered with pocks and warts. Her hair is jet black and her eyes gleam a pallid yellow.
Without turning her head away from her stir, “I see you’ve killed my lot of minions, eh? Come down here, where I can get a better look at you. Go ahead. I won’t… bite.” her teeth gleaming black in the firelight.

Here, the party should discuss recent events and probably fight at least one Hag, plus perhaps some agents of that Hag. 

If the Harl Hag is still with the group, and it should be, it will remain as Harl for as long as possible, throwing a monkey wrench into their plans, thwarting their efforts to win the fight. Eventually, though, it may join the battle commanding agents of its own. 

The remaining Hag is in a cage, pretending to be grievously wounded, as the Prince. 

If they remain disguised, the Harl and Prince Hags will attempt to infiltrate the party, and sow horror into future sessions. 

Reward the party with treasure and experience after the encounter with the Hag is resolved. 

Alternate settings:

Hard Sci-fi – Scientists are terrifying a space station. Imagine the back story with ferocious unexplained bug-monsters, with no supernatural effects, but rather a combination of the scientists and bug-monsters preying on the children in concert.

Super Heroes – An arch nemesis (magical or mutant, doesn’t matter) has occupied the top floor of a private school where the superheroes’ children attend classes. Condense the timeline to hours instead of days. 

Space Wars – Dark Side force using villains in place of hags. A Crashed PC spacecraft. Otherwise as written. 

Galaxy Trek – Hags are members of a previously discovered innocuous race that is totally not suspect. Everything is probably the Romulans’ fault, up until the very end when the red-shirts all die. 

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