“The Wheel” is the collective term for a loose confederation of dipshit villages within the unclaimed territories; the name comes from the fact that any one village is roughly a day’s journey by horse-drawn wagon from the next (a unit of distance colloquially referred to as one wheel).
Roll 1d10 to determine which town you’re about to enter:
- Bell Throne
- Broken Pillar
- Candle Keep
- Crow Glen
- Pale Waters
- Sand Eye
- Shine Brook
- Two Kings
- Wilting Wood
All of the towns in the Wheel have pretty much the same things to offer travelers passing through – a general store, a smith, maybe a public house or a barber-surgeon. There most definitely won’t be magic-users or demi-humans, and the townsfolk will be awfully suspicious of anyone consorting with either (like people coming from, or headed to, Hexhaven). After all:
Of course, there’s one weird thing in each town that separates them from the others (roll 1d20):
- One of the townsfolk owns a talking goat that recites verses that may or not be prophetic.
- Any woman who gives birth in town will have identical twins.
- A partially ruined monolith stands in the center of town. It’s made of a stone not native to the area and has strange glyphs carved into its sides.
- The town’s quaint, rustic religion requires periodic human sacrifices.
- The town’s quaint, rustic religion has been co-opted by a monster living in the woods outside of town.
- Weird artifacts are routinely dug out of the ground in and around town.
- Nobody in the village is over the age of (1d4x10)+10.
- A capricious magic-user is running a protection racket on the entire town. The bizarre demands are annoying, but there hasn’t been famine or bandit raid since it started, so… it’s working?
- The town is completely opposed to the use of currency and operates on a strict barter system. Townsfolk will be insulted if offered money of any denomination for goods or services.
- The whole town consists of one very large, interconnected building.
- Somehow, the town gained possession of a relic of historical or religious importance. The townsfolk’s livelihood is entirely dependent on visiting pilgrims.
- Everyone in town is relentlessly, obnoxiously cheerful, but everything – their food, their clothing, their music – is just bland and awful.
- All of the town’s agricultural products and craft works are derived from insects.
- The town is actually a collection of houseboats that separate during the day and join together every night.
- Every building in town is elevated at least 10 feet off the ground; high social status is displayed by having even taller stilts on one’s house.
- There’s a plot of land just outside of town that reanimates the dead – the town uses zombies as a form of unpaid labor.
- The townsfolk are actually from a technologically advanced parallel dimension who are attempting to live a more “simple” agrarian lifestyle, but keep a cache of gadgets hidden in town.
- An ancient pact requires the town to regularly give tribute to a nearby demi-human community – a dramatic re-enactment of the demi-humans saving the town from certain destruction.
- A secret society, made up of the most prominent people in town, terrorizes the rest of the townsfolk.
- All disputes, civil and legal alike, are settled through trial by combat.
Deep in unclaimed territory, Hexhaven attacts all manner of fortune-seekers, misfits, and general malcontents from more civilized lands.
- “Wee” Garmyr Dingwell: Soft-spoken giant (over 7-feet tall, 18 Strength) with an easy-going disposition. He’d be terrific in a fight except he hates violence – refuses to carry a weapon, but will use his tools to defend himself. (Fighter)
- “Black” Bartram Mordir – An absolute bastard. Never fights fair and will always look for the easiest solution. Has knives concealed all over his person and they all have names. (Specialist)
- Tibio “Boarface” Parsus – A slovenly, hirsute barrel of a man. Fancies himself a gourmand and an aesthete but has terrible taste in everything (food, booze, music, you name it). Has double HP, but consumes twice as many rations per day. (Fighter)
- Twila “Shy Violet” Dogskin – Once a socialite, now a semi-feral witch-woman devoted to cthonic goddess. Knowledgeable about survival and herbology (Bushcraft 3-in-6); could still pass as an aristocrat if she took a bath. (Magic-user)
- “Slow” Yoris Cranclay – An extremely competent polymath (rolls all skill checks with advantage), but also a perfectionist – takes her twice as long as normal to perform any skill. Any attempt to rush her will force a morale check. (Specialist)
- Angus “Goose” Geechan – A bespectacled outdoorsman who is a crack shot with firearms… so long as he’s wearing his glasses. (Whenever he suffers damage from an attack or spell effect, there’s a 4-in-6 chance that they’ll be knocked off his face.) (Specialist)
- “Dandy” Dolphus Garwulf – Well-dressed, well-coiffed, defrocked priest (Getting dirty forces a morale check; if it’s really bad – like being submerged in mud or drenched in blood, roll with disadvantage). Will balk at manual labor or menial tasks. (Magic-user)
- “Bad” Gaz Wickham – A pint-sized hellion who fights with a weapon in each hand; she will draw steel at the slightest provocation. Rolls initiative with advantage, but the party suffers disadvantage on reaction rolls. (Fighter)
- “Mad” Jack Ludovico – A smarmy-looking fellow with one blue eye and one green eye. A card-sharp and charlatan (Sleight of Hand 3-in-6), he’s actually a spell-casting prodigy but is only interested in making money. (Magic-user)
- Makuza “the Last-Born” – Claims to be the only surviving member of an august and learned family of magi; becomes very tight-lipped when asked what happened to the rest. Dour, pessimistic, and obsessed with legacy and destiny. Jealously guards the knowledge of the unique spell hell’s wind. (Magic-user)
- Mihali “Mink” Tawno – A wiry, weasely-looking guy, always studying martial arts manuals. Has a +1 bonus to attack and AC when fighting unarmed and has advantage on Grappling checks, but doesn’t wear armor or carry a ranged weapon. (Fighter)
- “Uncle” Evrit Lumpley – A ruddy-faced, gray-bearded bag of wind. Has a story or opinion for every occasion; will attempt to interject himself into any negotiation or conversation. There’s a 1-in-6 chance that his rambling recollection with be useful to the situation at hand. (Specialist)
“Forest King,” by Andrey Shishkin
Literacy isn’t addressed much in D&D; I think across most additions the default assumption is that PCs could read and write at least one language. The outlier is 3rd Edition, where barbarians were explicitly illiterate until they multi-classed into something else. (Anecdotally, the issue of literacy has only come up one time as DM – when a player flatly stated that her character couldn’t read because she was raised by wolves. I said yes, of course.)
Apart from magic-users and their spellbooks, books aren’t typically important to other characters unless the book in question is some kind of maguffin. But unless the printing press exists in your gameworld, books are probably hand-crafted objects potentially worth a lot of gold (and possibly XP).
Books can also be an easy way to give characters a boost: maybe consulting a botanical guide gives a character advantage on a skill check to determine whether these berries they found are edible, maybe consulting an astrological manual can give a character a bonus to a particular action under a particular set of circumstances… if the stars are right, of course. (Jeff Rients recently posted a fantastic way to incorporate astrology into your game.) Yes, there are canonical examples of special books granting mechanical effects, like the manual of health that straight up gives the reader a permanent stat boost. But I find that incredibly cheesy.
“Human fighter/poet,” by Ben Hatke
Here are some books that more martially-inclined characters might be interested in lugging around on adventures (and also gives them something to do during downtime):
- A Most Dangerous Dance, by Moncenzo Lunaldi. A seminal work on dueling and sword-fighting written and illustrated by a true master. By studying the text and practicing for at least one hour a day, a character can wield a rapier as if they had proficiency in that weapon. A character that already has proficiency in the rapier instead gains a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls when wielding such a weapon. A fighter that studies the text and practices for an hour each day also gains a +1 bonus to their Armor Class while wielding a rapier. Additionally, a fighter can use the text to teach others how to use a rapier, granting proficiency to any character that practices alongside them.
- To Weave a Web of Steel, by Haldemar Grunyuf. Grunyuf claimed this work is not his own, but a translation of teachings he received from a member of race of subterranean elves. The book is part training manual, part “memoir,” recounting Grunyuf’s tutelage in an esoteric style of fighting while living in a cave with one of these elves. The man was obviously a lunatic, but the instructions are sound. A character that studies the text and practices for at least one hour every day can wield a weapon in each hand, allowing for another attack during their turn in combat. A target that is struck by the character with at least two attacks in the same round is rendered immobile until the end of the character’s next turn. The exercises described in the book are physically demanding: a character must have at least a score of 13 in both Strength and Dexterity to gain the benefit of this text.
- War-Songs of the B’Diemi, by Carlam and Timinee Tonwyn. The Tonwyns were married scholars who spent several years living with and studying the ways of the nomadic B’Diemi. This book is a collection of translated chants that B’Diemi warriors sing before and during combat. A character can learn to sing one of the songs by rolling under their Intelligence score on a 1d20. They can memorize a total number of songs equal to one-half their Intelligence score (rounded down). Characters and retainers within 30 feet of the singer that can hear and understand them gain a +2 bonus to one of a variety rolls (attack, damage, saving throw, initiative, etc.) depending on the song. While singing, the character cannot perform any other action or ability that requires the use of their voice (like cast a spell) and engaging in strenuous activity (like attacking) requires them to roll under their Constitution score on a 1d20 to continue singing. The benefit ends immediately if the singing stops or a character moves out of ear shot.