Hello, Jake here!
This ended up becoming way bigger than I thought, and I ran out of time to finish the post by the end of May. I will post part two later as another blog post with the next steps of the questlines, a quick map, and the stat blocks. Sorry about that, hope you enjoy!
What is this?
This document for DMs takes a look at The Single Step, an inn with an unusual history and an uncanny capacity for attracting strange rumors, legends and stories. It describes the Single Step, its history, some of the patrons and employees through a number of scenes. It also provides some prompts and a few quest hooks along the way. I’ve left the conclusions to these quests open-ended, as this is just meant to get you going, but I have provided some suggestions at the end for possible conclusions.
Situated on a crossroads just before the end of the Northern Kingdom, the Single Step is an inn of some renown. It is the last stop before entering the Inbetween, the long and often hazardous stretch of wilderness one must cross to reach the other Kingdoms. Travelers, traders, pilgrims, hunters, messengers and all kinds stop here for rest, food and supplies before beginning their expeditions. Many a journey begins at the Single Step, but recently whispered rumors have it that just as many journeys meet an untimely end at the Single Step…
The Single Step is in a cold, snowy forest. It is a rustic building, like a mountain cabin. Wood and stone, fur and animal hide, simple, quaint, and charming.
(DC 5 History)The inn’s current proprietor is Pyretaneis, a fire elemental bound to the material plane. The summoning ritual that brought Pyretaneis here was botched, killing the summoner before the ritual could be completed. He is stuck in a sort of limbo, unable to return to the elemental plane of fire, but unable to travel far from the original site of the ritual. Many have tried and failed to free the entity, who offers a substantial reward for the one who discovers a way to break him loose.
(DC 10 History)Pyretaneis was found by a merchant named Saul Stout, who had been separated from his caravan and lost in the frozen woods. He was saved by Pyretaneis’s warmth, and the two became fast friends. Saul returned and used his wealth to build the Single Step around Pyretaneis, providing safety, comfort, company and a purpose to the permanently bound elemental.
(DC 15 History)In his later years, at the height of the Single Step’s prosperity, Saul left the day to day operation of the inn to Pyretaneis and his employees, and instead spent most of his time researching summoning and planar magic, hoping to find a way to free his partner. He became one of the leading experts on the subject, but unfortunately never completed his goal. One morning, Saul was found dead in his study, his body covered in terrible burns. It is unknown exactly what happened, but there are plenty of rumors: everything from a simple accident, to sabotage from a rival, to even whispered suggestions that Pyretaneis somehow betrayed the man. Pyretaneis had the entrance to Saul’s study, in the basement below the Single Step, locked and barred. When petitioned by local universities and scholars hoping to access Saul’s writings and studies on the arcane, Pyretaneis refused, claiming the study is too dangerous and must remain sealed.
The Single Step can fairly easily be placed anywhere during a long journey, when the party is tired and looking for a hot meal, a drink, and a warm bed. If you want to give a specific reason for them to be there to encourage some exploration, try one of these hooks:
- Borinael, a student majoring in conjuration at the nearby university, relates the story of the bound elemental Pyretaneis. He wants to write his thesis on the subject, and hires the party to travel to the Single Step to interview Pyretaneis and find out more about his situation.
- Kilmil, a local sheriff, says that one of her patrols in the area swears they were attacked by “an undead abomination like hell given form, like hate given claws and fury given teeth.”
- Holfo Mews is an Investigator for the Crown, and has received reports of unsafe working conditions at The Single Step. Holfo is unable to travel currently due to a broken leg and has asked the party to go in his stead.
In their time at the Single Step, the party may encounter some of these quest hooks:
- Discovering the truth behind the death of founder Saul Stout
- Discovering a way to free the trapped elemental Pyretaneis
- Encountering the Waning Howl, a group of poachers using necromancy to reanimate their prey
- Discovering the nature of the relationship between the Waning Howl and the Single Step
- Uncovering the history of injuries and disappearances among Single Step staff.
(1) The Approach
It is a quiet night, save for the crunching of snow and pine needles beneath your feet as you trudge along the path through the forest. A clear, starry sky and gibbous moon guide your footsteps and glint off the freshly fallen snow.
Soon, in the distance, you hear the muffled sounds of merriment, see a light through the trees, and smell the aroma of roasting meat, signaling you are close to your destination: the Single Step.
The large wood and stone structure is sturdily built, though light seeping through cracks in the slats and a roof groaning under the weight of the snow betray a lack of maintenance in recent years. You can see shadows of people of all shapes and sizes through the cloudy windows, and sounds of clinking glasses and raucous laughter can be heard.
Near the entrance, a covered cart sits in the snow. You see a mess of footprints and a trail of bright red blood in the snow leading from the cart to the side of the building. Clearly somebody was in a hurry. A towering woman clad in grimy iron stands in front of the cart. You can see a hammer at her waist, and a helm grasped in her gauntleted hand. Her hair is matted and unwashed and her skin looks jaundiced and unhealthy.
The woman is Kathal, a member of the Waning Howl, a group of mercenaries and brigands with a less than stellar reputation. A DC 10 Perception check spots the black-stained teeth indicative of membership in the group. A DC 10 History or Religion check recalls that the Waning Howl has earned their poor reputation through the combination of two bad habits: poaching and necromancy.
If the party approaches Kathal, or stares too long, they are targeted with a withering “Can I help you?”, in a deeply impatient and sarcastic voice through painted black teeth.
If the party inquires further, she raises a hand and interrupts:
“Oh that? Bandits, can you believe it? These parts used to be safe you know, but nowadays you can’t travel without an escort. It’s sad really. You better be careful, you never know what kind of trouble you might get into…” As if to drive the implied threat home, she places a hand casually at her waist beside her hammer, and you see the wood shaft is stained a deep red.
Kathal will block the party from approaching the cart, or from cutting around to the back entrance of the inn. She has very little patience for the party, but won’t get aggressive unless they try to push past her. If the party manages to get close enough to the cart to get a good look, they see the inside of the cart contains fragments of a shattered wood crate. The floor and inside walls of the cart are gouged with deep, monstrous bite marks.
(3) The Hearth
You enter the tavern and a magical force quickly closes the door behind you, keeping out the cold. You receive a few glances from some of the twenty or so people in the room as you begin to brush the snow off your cloak and remove your gloves. The large open room is designed with a simple look that is practical but attractive in a rustic way, with a few exotic trophy animals mounted to the walls. On the side wall is the bar, behind which a strikingly handsome elf chats with a patron, and on the far walls a set of stairs leading to the upper levels, but in the center of the room lies the Single Step’s best known attraction, the Hearth.
The most comfortable looking chairs in the room are gathered around a large circular brick fire pit, where most of the patrons huddle and chat. Inside the pit an intense and brilliantly red blaze burns. Despite the intensity of the flame the temperature remains comfortably warm as you approach. You pull up an empty chair and collapse into it, glad to be off your feet after the long trip. When you get near, the flames begin to whirl and form a rough set of humanoid features that meet your eye, and a voice comes from within.
“Hello! Haven’t seen you ‘round before, welcome to my establishment!”
This is Pyretaneis, the bound fire elemental and proprietor of the Single Step. Pyretaneis is friendly and welcoming, but won’t entertain the party for long before returning to chat with the regulars gathered around the hearth.
Pyretaneis will avoid questions about his former partner, Saul, saying that it is a painful topic of discussion for him. Likewise, he will shut down questions about Saul’s study beneath the inn, reiterating that the study was sealed for the safety of the inn’s patrons.
If the party asks about setting him free, he will say that many have tried and failed, but he is hopeful somebody will solve the arcane riddle. Normally, destroying the summoning circle would be the key to unbinding a summoned elemental, but he and the circle were disconnected when the summoning failed mid-ritual. The creator of the spell would be able to dismiss him, but the summoner perished during the spell. Attempts at magic such as banishment have failed, as the elemental seems to be stuck in between the material and his plane of origin, not fully subject to the effects of either.
|1||Carvel Marm, an angry food critic dissatisfied with the quality of the food and service.|
|2||Shishk Wallace, a stand up comedian nervously second guessing his choice to come to open mic night.|
|3||Marabelle Friss, an ornithologist looking for somebody to escort them into the forest before the end of the Yellow Clawed Warbler’s mating season.|
|4||Brighton Seft, an embarrassed adventurer who was badly wounded on their previous journey, resting and recuperating in the inn.|
|5||Skipper Trent, an eager recruiter for the regional army seeking out new recruits.|
|6||Fern Quist, a competent explorer with a moose animal companion, whittling small animal statues at the bar.|
You approach the bar and note the staggering selection of drinks on the back wall. A number of rare imports from around the realms catch your eye, drinks that would be either taxed into oblivion or simply confiscated if brought within the influence of the Crown. Your eyes settle on a large glass jar full of cloudy brown liquid. A shadowy shape floats in the center of the container. It’s hard to make out, but it looks like a scrap of rough leather. A sign hanging around the jar reads: “Feeling Adventurous? Ask us about Mimic Mead! Win a commemorative coin!”
The bartender excuses himself from a conversation with a chatty patron and smiles at you. Uncharacteristically muscular and broad for an elf, you imagine he’s quite capable of dealing with any drunks or miscreants that might darken the Single Step’s door. His face is chiseled and symmetrical, with fair and smooth porcelain skin and slicked back blonde hair.
“Welcome, what can I get for you?”
|A room for the night||“You’ll be staying in the Phoenix room tonight”||8sp|
|Pork Chops||Filling, but bland.||3sp|
|Grilled Griffin Breast||A DC 15 Nature check identifies the meal as a mix of chicken and horse meat.||5sp|
|Fairyberry Wine||Made with a touch of fairy magic. Succeed on a DC 15 Fortitude save to gain advantage on your next saving throw against a magical effect before your next rest.||25gp|
|Ashbarley Scotch||Supposedly made from tough barley harvested on the elemental plane of fire. Succeed on a DC 15 Fortitude save to gain resistance to cold damage and weather effects until your next rest.||25gp|
|Mimc Mead||Read below.||50gp|
“Mimic Mead. That’s mummified mimic flesh in there. Tastes god awful but gets you a special kind of drunk, like you’ve never been drunk before, like your brain’s been turned inside out. If you’re leaving first thing tomorrow, I should point out it also gives you a special kind of hangover, like you’ve never been hungover before.”
“Want to try one? If you finish the whole thing in one sitting, you get a commemorative coin.”
One must succeed on a DC20 Fortitude save to finish drinking the Mimic Mead. On a success, you are refunded your 50gp and receive the Mimic Mead Commemorative Coin, see appendix.
On the stage, a woman is performing a raucous tune, singing and plucking the strings of her lute. People laugh and shout rowdily as the lyrics make a rather rude assumption about how the Supreme Pontiff spends his personal time. The woman wears a boisterous red leather jerkin, festooned with spangles, ribbons and charms. A bright, pristine white feathered hat completes the ensemble, in sharp contrast to her dark hair and complexion. She has a soft, round face with bright blue eyes. Her short stature is evident as she dances across the stage. Gnomish ancestry, perhaps.
“…and if these words should happen to offend (heaven forfend): well, don’t blame me, I just heard it from a friend.” The crowd erupts in jocular shouting as the bard finishes her inflammatory song. She hops down from the stage, and makes her way to a table and waves down a passing server for a couple drinks.
Tillie is a traveling bard hailing from a distant kingdom. She is very outgoing and affable, and is eager to swap jokes and stories. If not approached, she will try to get the attention of the party, commenting that they look like a fellow traveler, and offering a round of drinks in exchange for their tales. As the night goes on, the stories get bigger, bolder, and more drunken.
Tillie will challenge the party to an exchange of stories and tales while she keeps the drinks coming. To keep her interest, each tale must be more exciting and more epic than the one before. To do this, players must either succeed on increasingly difficult Performance checks, or outdrink her through increasingly difficult Fortitude saves. You can of course also simply let them roleplay their tales and arbitrate yourself. Tillie will reward the players based on their performance. They receive each reward for each round they succeed.
|1||The time she led the King’s Guard on a goose chase throughout the city, concluding with her dressed as a judge hiding in a barrel of fish.||5||During their next rest, each PC heals an additional 1d6.|
|2||The time she convinced a two-headed ogre to let her pass by convincing it she was their conscience.||10|
|3||The time she challenged a rival to a race around the world in 80 days on the back of a Roc.||15||Each PC gains a 1d8 Bardic Inspiration die, usable before their next rest.|
|4||The time she fought three – wait, no it was four barbed devils on top of a cart being pulled by a nightmare.||20|
|5||See below||25||Each PC receives a potion of Enhance Ability|
If the PCs succeed on the last check, read the below:
She begins wistfully telling you about an old acquaintance, a woman with a beautiful voice, before suddenly pausing mid sentence and staring into the middle distance for a short while. “Well.. that’s a story for another time, I think. Looks like you win! Why don’t you take these potions, so you can go on even more grand adventures!”
When the conversation concludes, Tillie jumps down from the chair. “Try the griffon breast, it’s delicious. Thanks for the stories, friend. You gave me some new material for my next song. See ya around.” She walks away with a casual wave over her shoulder, and stumbles up the stairs to the rooms above the tavern.
As you near the kitchen door, you hear a pained shout from within. Through a crack, you can see two figures standing just inside of the kitchen’s back door.
One is a rotund man with impressively bushy sideburns and buzzed black hair. He wears a long white apron with a variety of cooking implements attached to a belt around his waist. He holds a small fabric pouch, and a wooden crate sits at his feet.
The other leans weakly against the doorframe, cradling a broken arm supported by a makeshift splint. A blood stained bandage wraps around their shaved head, covering the right eye, and a thin layer of snow has collected on their dark green greatcoat and furred hood. Their teeth are gritted in an expression of pain and painted deep black.
They share a few hushed words, but you can’t make them out over the din of the tavern. The man passes the pouch to the injured figure, who glances inside before nodding, raising their hood and heading back into the snowy wilderness.
The cook closes the door, sighs heavily, then picks up the crate, carrying it to a pantry and setting it down. You can’t be sure, but you swear you see the crate shake and bounce before the pantry door closes. The cook suddenly turns around, looking like he’s just remembered something. He runs over to the brick oven and pulls out a slightly blackened griffon breast.
(7) Trophy Wall
Pairs of fear-struck eyes stare down at you from the mounted heads of exotic beasts, stuffed and attached to the wall. The wilderness of the Inbetween harbors a startling array of strange and dangerous monsters, and you imagine the trophies would have fetched a high price for the hunters brave and skilled enough to have claimed them. One of the beasts in particular grabs your attention. An angular reptilian head with large bull-like horns, mouth open to reveal row after row of razor sharp teeth. The bulldrake is well known for the strange effects it’s blood has when imbibed by humans. It induces powerful delusions of grandeur and feelings of immortality, numbing pain and pumping the body full of adrenaline. A useful tool for warriors looking for an edge, but has led to many overconfident fighter’s death.
In the center of the display is a large painting of a tall, thin man, well dressed with meticulously groomed grey hair, as if each strand was set in place individually. He has a wide and charming smile, revealing deep laugh lines on either side of the mouth. He wears a large amulet, tied around the neck with a long silver chain that prominently displays a glowing arcane glyph. A bronze plaque in the frame of the painting reads “Saul Stout, Who Warmed my Heart.”
A DC 10 investigation reveals the finer details of the painting. From a certain angle, the man’s face looks tired, with visible wrinkles and bags under his eyes. Other than the amulet, he also wears a ring on one finger that has a different glowing glyph, but this one is mostly covered from view by his other hand absently fiddling with the ring. What at first glance might have been passed off as flickering torchlight, closer inspection reveals the glyphs on the amulet and ring emanate their own subtle light.
To identify the hidden glyph on the ring, make an Arcana check
- 20+: The PC can identify exactly what glyph is on the ring
- 15+ The PC can narrow it down to 1d4+1 options
- <15: The PC will require a long rest of research to narrow it down to 1d4+1 options.
The footsteps of your heavy boots echo in the stone stairwell until you reach the landing of the cellar. For the most part, you see mostly uninteresting crates, barrels of food, ale and supplies. Standing in front of a table and three large barrels overflowing with potatoes is a slightly pudgy boy with a shock of wild black hair and flushed cheeks. He holds a paring knife in one hand and has numerous small scars on his fingers. He gives you a polite but rushed acknowledgement and bids you watch your step, pointing at the ever growing pile of potato skins on the floor, and a hastily cleaned ale spill near the barrels
The slight pudgy boy is Alber, an employee of the inn. He is young and a bit dim, but friendly and helpful. He points the party in the direction of the restrooms down the hall, and apologizes for the mess. He explains that his coworker didn’t turn up today, so he’s been working double duty. If questioned, Alber explains that he and his colleague Panard live in the attached employee rooms, but when he woke up this morning Panard was nowhere to be seen. “It wouldn’t be the first time Panard played hooky”, the boy shrugs, with a small “what can you do”, before returning to work.
Also in this room is the door to Saul’s Study.
On the far end of the cellar, visible just through some empty shelves, is a very conspicuous door. It is made of heavy iron with a reinforced frame, secured with black chains and a large lock.
Closer investigation reveals a small flickering light from the gap below the door, and that the stone floor of the threshold looks scorched and burnt. Additionally, there are two faintly glowing magic circles on the door, one empty, and one bearing an arcane sigil. A DC 10 arcana or investigation check confirms it is the same glyph visible on Saul’s amulet in the painting in (7). Afterwards, read the below:
While investigating the strange door, you get a sudden chill. For a moment, it looks like the flames in the torches on the walls briefly heighten and dance before settling. You get the distinct, uncomfortable sensation of somebody watching you intently. The feeling continues to intensify.
Pyretaneis has detected the presence of the party near Saul’s study. He is watching them from the torches in the room. If they make any attempt to breach the door or interact with the magic circles, he will teleport to the room and demand they leave the premises.
Approaching the door without alerting Pyretaneis requires either a DC20 Stealth check, or for Pyretaneis to be suitably distracted elsewhere in the inn. Opening the door requires a DC18 Dexterity check with thieve’s tools, as well as drawing the second sigil. The correct sigil can be identified from the painting of Saul in (7).
You reach the upper level, a long hallway with a dozen wooden doors and a single lantern hanging from the ceiling, barely providing enough light to see the far end, where the hallway turns and heads to your right towards another row of rooms. Each door is painted with a unique monstrous beast – a hydra, a catoblepas, a manticore, and so on. You check the wooden tag tied to the key you were given earlier, and see it’s decorated with a highly detailed painting of a phoenix.
As you walk through the hall looking for your room you hear soft singing coming from around the corner. It is a gentle, soothing voice, no words but just comforting sounds like a lullaby. You follow the voice and discover it’s coming from an open room – your room.
Inside the simple but comfortable looking quarters are two people – a young man and woman, both dressed in servant’s frocks. The man is turning down the warm fur blankets on the bed. Not-quite hidden by his shoulder length hair is a large concave cavity on the ochre flesh of the side of his head, as if crushed by some tremendous force. His faded green eyes seem glazed and unfocused, looking past you as you enter the room.
The woman jumps slightly at your entrance and looks to you, stopping her song and nearly tripping over her mop bucket. Her vibrant, braided red hair comes down to her shoulders and her otherwise pink arms and neck are mottled with dark discolorations.
“Ah, I’m sorry master” she says, in a quiet, shaky voice. “We’re just finishing your room, It’ll only be a moment.”
The man and woman are Corso and Lola, cleaning staff at the inn. Corso stays silent, responding only with brief grunts or single words when spoken to. When he finishes a task, he remains mostly motionless until the woman assigns him a new job, leading him with a tender touch on the arm. The woman, Lola, is awkward and nervous, avoiding the party’s eye. As they finish cleaning, she begins to sing her song again, though more quietly, under her breath.
In the night, any party members that meet one of the following conditions will receive a dream in their sleep.
- Passed an investigation or arcana check relating to the painting of Saul Stout at the Trophy Wall (7), or at the door to his study in the Cellar (8). Read the following:
Suddenly, it’s hot. Very hot. You open your eyes and see a roiling ocean of liquid flame, it’s brilliance nearly blinding. The ground beneath you is ash and charcoal, and geysers of smoke erupt around you. Smoke fills your lungs and you cough and hack, stumbling away from the geysers. Your eyes water and your sight goes blurry as you collapse to the blasted earth.
A few moments pass, the tremendous heat threatening to overwhelm you, black and red seeping into the corners of your vision, when you suddenly feel a cool wind play through your hair and across your back. You look up and see a bluish haze, coalescing into a transparent human shape. It’s form is bleary, like a mirage, but it slowly solidifies and you begin to recognize the features. It is Saul Stout. He reaches out his hand and you grasp at it, and instantaneously you bolt awake, back in your room in the Single Step.
Your skin is warm to the touch, and your sweat evaporates and steams away. The flame on the candle by your bed dances for a moment.
- If they didn’t pass their investigation or arcana checks, or haven’t learned about Saul, the dream is as above except the figure stays as a blue, bleary mirage.
- Failed a drinking fortitude save: Same as above, except instead of Saul Stout, a human-sized, frosty glass of ice-cold beer comes to their rescue.
Part 2: Coming Soon!
- Quest conclusions
- NPC stat blocks
- Item stats