“There is a cycle to nature. All living things are born—we live, and we die, but that death has been a more common companion to us in recent years than in all of living memory. While we look at these deaths from the perspective of loss, there exist others who see it instead as an opportunity. For instance, consider that most peculiar scavenger, the crypt spider…”
—Professor Viktor Pendrake, Department of Extraordinary Zoology, Corvis University
Renowned expert in all matters of unusual beasts, there are few individuals who have seen as much of Immoren as Professor Viktor Pendrake—the High Chancellor of Corvis University’s Department of Extraordinary Zoology—and fewer still who survived the experience and chronicled the tale. His foundational work, the Monsternomicon, gives a detailed account of the many unusual encounters he has faced in his journeys across the Iron Kingdoms and beyond. To get the most out of these encounters, you will need a copy of Iron Kingdoms: Requiem and the Monsternomicon.
Wines, ales, and distilled liquor are commonplace throughout the Iron Kingdoms. From small independent producers to massive breweries on an industrial scale, the brewers of western Immoren produce vast quantities of varying qualities to be served in places as diverse as filthy roadside taverns to the banquet halls of royalty.
Wells & Larch’s is a renowned cidery in the Southern Midlunds of Cygnar. For generations, the brewery has produced some of the driest, crispest cider in the nation. Notoriously secretive, the brewery has carefully cultivated its orchards, yeast strains, and recipes within the walled compound of the isolated cidery.
Of course, things have changed since the Claiming. No shipments of the famous cider have passed beyond its gates in years. Fans of the drink have seen their reserves gradually dwindle over time, and any hope they have of getting a fresh supply seems like a foolish notion. The common assumption is that Wells & Larch’s did not survive the Claiming or its aftermath.
But true fans are not content to leave their precious drink in the past. The brewers of nearby King’s Vine have resolved to get their hands on the special ingredients and recipes thought to still linger within Wells & Larch’s walls.
This encounter is suitable for a party of 6th level characters.
Where Are the Bodies?
One of the first things the characters might notice when they enter the brewery’s complex is an absolute lack of any corpses. For adventuring companies that have explored other areas abandoned during the Claiming, this is particularly odd. Across the Iron Kingdoms, the bleached skeletons of the dead still lie in forgotten places, but there are none present in W&L.
The reason is simple: the people who died here became the larder for a colony of crypt spiders, which feast on the bodies and even the bones of the dead. Corpses the colony has not yet consumed have been pulled into a larder in the main building of the brewery.
There are numerous ways to get the characters involved in this encounter. Suggested options include:
- Rival brewers in King’s Vine would like to get their hands on the special ingredients and recipes from W&L in order to produce their own version of the cider. Rumors that they are looking for explorers willing to venture to the isolated cidery have spread throughout the Midlunds.
- An associate of one of the characters sent a message about an expedition into the old W&L compound. Despite several weeks passing, the character has not heard back from their associate, which is out of the ordinary.
- Someone claiming to be the heir to the Wells & Larch Cidery has come forward. This person claims they plan to revitalize the cidery and begin production again but first requires a bold team to go survey the complex to determine what can be salvaged from the old operation.
Raiders of the Lost Cider
If the adventuring company is looking to gather the components of W&L’s famous recipe, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Brewer’s Recipe. To properly reproduce the cider, the characters will need to find its original recipe. A character proficient with brewer’s tools knows that amounts, water temperature, and the types of stabilizing ingredients will have an impact on the final flavor.
Apples. To re-create the cider, the proper apples must be sourced. W&L was known for having an orchard onsite, but in order to produce it elsewhere, a source for the apples must be secured. A character proficient in Nature knows the apples cannot be planted from seed due to the extreme heterozygosity of the fruit—essentially, trees grown from seed can have vastly different qualities of fruit from the original. To grow the trees, a viable cutting must be taken.
Yeast. Anyone proficient with brewer’s supplies knows that the proper yeast makes all the difference in the final product. The alcohol tolerance, temperature range, and esters—flavors imparted by the yeast—all impact the final product.
The encounter begins when the characters arrive at the compound of the Wells & Larch Cidery. Read or paraphrase the following:
In the shadow of the Wyrmwall Mountains, the walled compound of the Wells & Larch Cidery stands out from the surrounding wilderness. Behind a stone wall, the decaying structures of the cidery have been bleached by the sun and washed out by years of neglect.
A 15-foot-high security wall topped with iron barbs surrounds the W&L Cidery and orchards. On the east face is an iron gate wide enough for two wagons to pass through.
Climbing the Wall. It is possible to scale the wall. Time and neglect have caused a few of the stones to fall out, providing occasional hand- and footholds. A character who wants to climb the wall must make a DC 12 Strength (Athletics) check. On a success, the character manages to scale the wall without incident. On a failure, the character still manages to climb over but in the process is snagged on the metal barbs, taking 1d4 slashing damage.
Unlocking the Gate. The iron gate and its lock are heavily rusted. A character can pick the lock with a successful DC 14 Dexterity check made with thieves’ tools.
Courtyard and Shipping
The cobbled courtyard of the cidery has seen better days. Saplings grow up from between the rounded stones of the courtyard. To the south of the gate, a simple structure provides shade for a trio of wagons. To the north, a small structure has the words Brewmaster’s Office painted in faded letters on the wall. The main structure of the brewery is across the courtyard to the west, with a vast orchard growing behind it.
Beyond the gate is a simple staging area for the shipping of product. An open-sided structure stands to the south side of the courtyard with a fleet of three wagons parked beneath. Three dozen barrels are stacked next to the wagons.
Barrels. The 36 barrels of cider have gone bad in the five years since the Claiming. A character proficient with brewer’s supplies can recognize the distinct scent of the cider having turned—a smell like lemon and banana skins—without a check.
Wagons. The wagons have been shielded from the worst of the elements under the shelter. However, they are still weatherworn.
Beyond its broken door, this small office is surprisingly spare. Aside from a small desk and chair near the wall, the only other furniture in it is a large, sturdy cabinet.
The brewmaster’s office is on the north side of the courtyard, opposite the wagons in the shipping area. It is a small, 10-by-20-foot single-room structure. In addition to a small desk and chair, it contains a large locked cabinet. The door to the office hangs open and sags on damaged hinges.
The Cabinet. A character can unlock the cabinet with a DC 12 Dexterity check made with thieves’ tools, and there is a key for it in the desk’s drawer.
Inside the cabinet are a full set of brewer’s supplies, three bottles of W&L’s Brewer’s Reserve worth 100 gp each to the right buyer, and several leatherbound folios. The folios contain the brewer’s notes on batches of cider going back over the past 60 years.
The Recipes. In addition to the folios of notes, there is an old, leatherbound book in the cabinet that contains the recipes of W&L going back to its founding and the first brew made by Wells and Larch themselves. If the characters want to recover the brewing instructions for W&L’s cider, the brewmaster’s notebook is in the cabinet.
The exact ingredients are Old Thurian Yeast T-02, and an equal mixture of Curtland Gold and Kaelburn apples. The recipe book describes which rows of the orchard contain the correct apples and notes the yeast is stored in the Yeast Lab in the main brewery.
Acre after acre of apple trees sprawl behind the main brewery building, filling the air with their sweet scent. The once tended rows of trees have begun to grow wild, covering the alleys between trees with scrub plants and weeds.
The twelve acres of apple trees behind the brewery have grown wild since the Claiming. A layer of fermenting apples covers the ground between the trees, filling the air with the sour-sweet scent of rotting fruit. The once-carefully pruned trees have grown into a wild tangle of branches. Abandoned tin pails and ladders are scattered through the orchard, the remnants of the harvesters who once worked here.
Taking a Cutting. If the characters want to recover the strain of apples used in W&L cider, they must take a cutting from the overgrown orchards. A character who wants to take a cutting must make a DC 10 Wisdom (Nature) check. On a success, the character secures a viable cutting of the tree.
The specific strains of apples used in the W&L signature ciders are outlined in the recipe book from the brewmaster’s office.
An Apple a Day. If you would like to challenge the players with an additional threat, you can include a witchwood in the orchard. This particular witchwood has grown to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the trees and takes issue with anyone who disturbs their chaotic perfection.
A flock of roosting birds takes to the air when you enter this vast, dimly lit space, flying out through windows high in the walls. Across the space, thick ropes of webbing create a veil over the various brass kettles, wooden barrels, and other apparatuses on the brewery floor.
The brewery is a large structure, 80 feet wide by 50 feet deep. The interior has three main areas: the brewing floor, cold storage, and the yeast lab. The ceilings are 30 feet high, and iron trusses above the brewing floor have become home to the crypt spider colony.
Strands of webbing hang from many surfaces in the brewery.
The largest area of the brewery, the brewing floor has several large fermentation vessels, an enormous mash tun and brew kettle, and storage areas for malt, apple presses, and a large steam boiler.
Adult Crypt Spiders. A pair of adult crypt spiders hides in the trusses over the main floor. They stay out of sight as best as they are able, moving silently overhead. The spiders are motivated to protect the spiderling swarms among the corpses and the egg sacks on the brewery floor.
Corpse Larder. The desiccated corpses of ten of the cidery’s workers are gathered in the northwest corner of the room. Two swarms of crypt spiderlings are infesting the pile of bodies, feeding on them. The swarms attack if the bodies are disturbed or if the adult crypt spiders are attacked.
Egg Sacks. The crypt spiders have laid dozens of egg sacs around the brewery. The sacks are still a few days from hatching—though you could have one or more of the sacs hatch as a new swarm of crypt spiderlings, if the characters need an extra challenge.
Treasure. The brewing equipment is worth as much as 500 gp if it can be hauled out of the building and brought to a buyer. There are also the indigestible remains of the bodies the crypt spiders have consumed: jewelry, coins, spectacles, and so forth. If the characters search the corpse larder, they find 150 gp worth of assorted coins and jewelry.
The cold storage room on the north side of the building is a dark, cool room passively cooled by being dug several feet below the earth.
Treasure. The chamber still contains 10 kegs of cider. Unlike the ones in the shipping area, they have been preserved by the passive cooling in this area over the years. There is a 25 percent chance per barrel that its contents have not been spoiled.
Looking like a combination between a small kitchen and an alchemist’s lab, this area is where the brewmaster tested and cultivated different strains of yeast. There are dozens of corked glass bottles here containing live specimens of the different strains, each marked with a faded handwritten label.
Harvesting the Yeast. A character with the brewmaster’s notebook or one who is proficient with brewer’s supplies can attempt a DC 12 Intelligence (Investigation) check to locate a healthy supply of the correct type of yeast.
Misadventures in Zymurgy. One of the vials contains an ill-advised experiment by the brewmaster into creating a hybrid of cavewort—a semi-animate fungus that grows in underground caverns—and his preferred yeast strains. A character who takes one of the yeast vials must make a DC 14 Wisdom (Nature) check. On a failed check, the character does not notice the cavewort hybrid straining against the sides of its glass prison. Ten seconds after a character interacts with one of the vials, the cavewort bursts free to spread in a 5-foot-square patch on the floor.
When a creature starts or enters within 5 feet of the mold, it must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw, taking 7 (2d6) acid damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. Cavewort is immune to acid and poison damage, but exposing it to fire damage instantly destroys it.
After dealing with the crypt spider infestation, the characters are free to explore the cidery.
If they have been sent to recover the W&L cider recipe and ingredients, the characters can claim each component they require and bring them back to a buyer. However, if the characters sell to a brewer, they might make foes of other brewers who covet the popular brew. Jealous brewers might want to get their hands on the recipe in order to replicate the brew, which could lead into a long campaign of industrial espionage between rival breweries—possibly escalating to the point of physical violence.
If the characters came to evaluate the cidery for reopening, they find that it requires significant maintenance, but nothing should prevent operations from resuming within a few months. If they return with this news, the W&L brand will begin flowing once again. Whoever decides to reopen the facility does not have the skill of the original brewmasters, though, and the quality will take a sharp decline. Before a year is done, the once-lauded cider will have a reputation as sour swill, and fans of the original will not be happy about the outcome—or with anyone they consider responsible.
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