I just returned from a long weekend of celebrating my anniversary. For the last few years my wife and I have picked a state park lodge for our anniversary and spent the weekend hiking and poking around the area. It’s a nice chance to get away and relax.
This year our destination was Spring Mill State Park in Indiana. Among other features, Spring Mill has a fantastic pioneer village. They have around 16 structures dating back to the early 19th century that have all been restored to wonderful condition. There are several history interpreters on site who are knowledgeable and happy to talk at length on the village’s history, including a weaver who has been with the park over 20 years and a blacksmith who has been at the trade for fifty.
I had to laugh at myself. As I was walking through some of the homes I noticed that the walls must have voids behind them. Looking closer I noticed some walls of a different construction than the rest. I had succeeded in my Discover Recent Woodwork roll, but failed my Search for Secret Doors, as I didn’t see a way to access the voids. No doubt this is due to the restoration process.
After all, it was a large home two centuries old with a walled off room. What else could it possibly be?
The center piece of the village is an amazing three story grist mill. This impressive structure has three foot wide stone walls and a large mill that still functions. The mill is powered by a large fly-over water wheel that drives a maze of axles and gears, all made of wood, to turn the heavy mill stones. The mill is powered by water from a cave that feeds the stream flowing through the village. The stream is dammed and the water directed to the wheel by a long and impressive elevated sluice, with the flow controlled by a lever inside the mill. The whole thing still works and you can see it grind meal at the top of every hour. It is an impressive feat of engineering and I have never had the pleasure of seeing a structure like this in such outstanding condition.
The reasons why the village was founded on that spot and how the resources define its history struck a chord with my gamer-brain. It’s not something we always worry about when we’re setting up a map. Harbors and rivers make good locations, but moving inland we often don’t think about why a town is there. At Spring Mill the reasons are clear, right down to the name.
The heart of the village is the cave and the water that flows from it. It flows in abundance, allowing it to power the mill’s mechanisms. The flow is so strong that the villagers added a second, smaller wheel to power a small sawmill, which they attached to the grist mill. Except during the driest periods of the year the flow allows for both to run simultaneously. The cave keeps the water at a constant temperature, meaning that the water never freezes and the mills can work year round. The water is pure, a boon for the villagers, and proved to be good for distilling whiskey. This was a further draw when the village added a tavern and stagecoach stop. Spring Mill became a place where travelers could stop for lodging, clean water, food, and alcohol.
Everything in Spring Mill revolved around that water supply. It was a treasure worth more than gold.
Details like this do more than add verisimilitude to your game world, they provide foundations for your adventures. In the case of Spring Mill, the water is the life blood of the town. What happens when the water stops running?
Hobgoblins, Dam It:
The elders of the village approach the adventurers and ask for help. One week ago the water stopped flowing from the cave, bringing life in the town to a halt. A few men entered the cave expecting to find a cave in. They never returned. A larger group entered to search for them. That group also vanished.
The people are desperate and this situation is beyond their ability to handle. The mill has been prosperous, so they can offer a good reward, but unless the water begins flowing again the town will start to die.
Unknown to the villagers, a group of hobgoblins have entered the cave through other tunnels. They are well armed, organized, and well equipped. The hobgoblins have diverted the water so that it pours down a passage deep into the ground. They have set up a camp within the cave from which they manage the water flow. Patrols roam the caverns and traps are set up to deal with any incursions from the village. To save the village the adventurers will have to eliminate the hobgoblins, survive their traps, and destroy the dam. An astute party may realize that the hobgoblins’ attention is focused more on the abyss than the village.
Dwarven Jones Locker:
With the stream restored and the hobgoblins driven off the town seemed to be safe. However, their nightmare was only beginning.
The village was never the hobgoblins’ target. Unknown to the villagers, deep below the cavern that feeds their stream is a dwarven settlement; a temple and seminary for dwarven priests. The hobgoblin’s plan was to flood the settlement, then restore the water’s natural flow and plunder the dwarven treasure.
The first part of their plan was a success. The dwarves were caught unaware by the torrent of water that came crashing down into their town. The caves quickly filled with water, drowning many, and the hobgoblins kept the water flowing long enough to suffocate most survivors who had made it to air pockets. Any dwarves left alive would be weak from hunger and lack of air, making them easy pickings for the hobgoblin raiders.
However, they had underestimated the vengeful natures of the dwarven gods.
The slaughter of his followers angered the deity who placed a curse upon the town. The drowning victims have been empowered by divine wrath, rising up as undead warriors and climbing out of the deeps in search of those who had murdered them. A foe that has already been destroyed.
But the minds of the undead are cloudy and not open to reason. They know only a thirst for vengeance, and finding the upper caves empty some of them have emerged into the forest to follow the aqueduct down to the village.
Only a few will arrive on the first night, terrifying but quickly dispatched. Their bodies collapse into wet clay, their souls fleeing back to their watery graves beneath the mountain. There they will reform and spread the news of the human settlement. Each night more will come until the town is destroyed or a way is found to lay the dead to rest.