Polders

On June 1, 2006, Posted by , In Campaign Workbook, With No Comments

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Rivendell. Ogier steddings. Shangri-La. Places of laughter and music where the old wisdom still lingers. Strongholds where the forces of light rally against the rising tide of darkness. Islands of tranquility where the brutish and the wicked dare not tread.

Polder, originally a Dutch word for patches of low-lying farmland painstakingly reclaimed from the sea, also enjoys a place in the lexicon of fantasy literature. Just as the dikes and embankments of the Netherlands hold back the restless waves, in stories these spots stand as bulwarks against the forces of evil. The heroes of these tales, or the characters in your campaign, must sometimes take refuge in polders, whether to plan their next move in the war against evil or simply to remind themselves why they fight and suffer.

All polders enjoy certain common characteristics. They are micro-realities, magically shielded from the hostile forces that surround them and where, in some ways, the normal rules of the world work differently. Something defends the borders of a polder—a guardian, a magical force, or perhaps some quirk of existence that moves it through space and time. Whatever the reason, those seeking to enter a polder must meet certain criteria, and if they fail to measure up they find it impossible, or at least quite risky, to cross its threshold.

AUNTIE’S COTTAGE

For heart-pounding moments the looming trees seemed to dance around Lidda, a stately minuet that whispered with menace and foreboding, Just as she thought to turn back, nervously searching for a vanished trail, the trees receded. Before her beckoned sunny, cheerful clearing ringing with the laughter of children at play. Swings and slides, a pond for splashing or skipping stones, and butterfly-laden fields thronged with children of all ages and races, At the center of the clearing stood a cottage, its walls of creamy, glistening chocolate and gables of moist, steaming honeybread alone beckoned her forth.

Throughout the world, when children become lost and separated from their parents, a magical force sometimes guides them to this polder ruled by “Auntie” (NG ogre mage). Most stay for only a few hours, until the magic that brought them finds a way to direct them safely back to their parents’ arms, carrying tales of a soon-forgotten dream about a magical cottage made of candy. Those seeking one of these lost children—or Auntie’s cottage directly by use of magic such as a find the path spell—must make a DC 20 Survival check to stumble upon one of these magical trails. Regardless of the original terrain, these trails soon lead into a dense forest. An adult creature walking on one of these trails must make a DC 16 Will save or flee in mindless terror until suddenly reappearing near where he first found the trail. Non-good creatures who succeed in their saving throw (or are immune to fear effects) must next battle two treants (66 hp each; Monster Manual 244) who attempt to drive them away. Those who overcome these obstacles soon find themselves at the edge of the clearing, free to enter the polder.

Greeted by hordes of children shrieking questions in every known language, they soon meet Auntie herself. Stooped, with thin glasses perched on the end of her nose, Auntie’s every word and deed makes her seems like a kindly grandmother, provided one overlooks the monstrous horns and jutting teeth.

Despite her appearance, Auntie fiercely resists any attempts to harm a child in her presence, caring as deeply for them as they do for her. The true magic of the polder lies in the cottage. Eating even a bite of the delicious, nourishing building grants all the benefits of a heal spell (caster level 15) to any living creature once each day. Furthermore, the cottage repairs damage to itself almost instantly, permitting multitudes to feast upon its walls and doors.

VALIANT HALL

The howling gale pummelled Regdar like a giant’s fist, sending him tumbling into the smothering banks of snow with each staggering gust. The chill swaddled him, offering a kind numbness, a respite from the still-recent pains of the battlefield. Despite the temptation to close his eyes, to let the snow cover him like goosedown, Regdar pressed on. He knew that to succumb to the snow’s promise was to succumb to death, and so he continued to put one foot in front of the other. Then, as if some conjurer had pulled back a curtain, the storm receded. In the calm before him stood a narrow, lowslung building made of crudely mortared stones, its many windows blazing with torches and peat fires. Pushing open the door, the mouth-watering scent of roasting meat greeted Regdar, followed closely by the sounds of boisterous laughter and shouts of welcome. The songs of myth speak of great heroes who disappeared from the battlefield only to return in the darkest hour to drive the forces of evil before them. These brave ones seldom, if ever, explain what happened to them during their time away. In truth, the powers that safeguard the world from evil delivered them from a moment of great danger, giving them a chance to recover in a polder known as Valiant Hall before returning to the fray.

Any good-aligned humanoid proficient with all martial weapons and heavy armor may attempt to enter Valiant Hall rather then make a stabilization check for which failure would result in his death. With a successful DC 30 level check his body disappears, delivered fully healed into the howling blizzard surrounding Valiant Hall.

Valiant Hall is a long and narrow building that always seems cramped but cozy, Its great central table, lined with two sturdy benches, groans under the weight ofan endless supply of plain but filling food and drink. At the head of this table sits the host, Argladrin (CG male human bard 20). At the foot of the table, an open space lined with flagstones is suitable for friendly bouts of wrestling or swordplay.

Anyone seeking to leave Valiant Hall must secure Argladrin’s permission first, and can count upon hundreds of other guests to thwart any attempts at coercion. Mercurial and capricious, with salt and pepper hair and eyes that sparkle with mischief, Argladrin never grants this permission until a hero spends at least one day per level within Valiant Hall. Often he makes strange demands or extorts odd promises in exchange for permission to leave. These tasks always end up subtly helping the supplicant in his goals, even if at the time they seem pointless. Once allowed to leave, a person appears ata spot near his home or friends. Any character attempting to leave by walking out into the snow quickly finds himself approaching the hall once more, regardless of which direction he travels. Spells like plane shift and gate function normally, allowing PCs to circumvent Argladrin’s influence. Recommended Reading: John Clute and John Grant, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (Orbit, 1999).

BY HAL MACLEAN
BY KYLE HUNTER