Ancient Scroll’s Secret Room: A Pair of City Seeds

The City. It appears in many games… It soaks into the alleyways and market squares. It creeps between the walls of tenement houses. It lies in the shadows of narrow passageways. And it can become a part of any city in any fantasy world, no matter what rules system you prefer.

If you’re hunting for interesting ideas for places, here are two suggestions you can use in your own games and adventures.

A Stairway to Heaven

Joe Orman's Photo Pages - Felicity, California

Some time ago one of the city’s districts burned to the ground. Now it is a home for beggars and the poor. It is also a gathering place for various kinds of artists, loafers, and decadent nobles. Their favorite place is the Stairway to Heaven – a construction that survived the fires. The crumbling, spiral staircase dominates the nearby landscape, reaching the fourth floor. The rest of the slender tower turned to dust, but the Stairway endured, now leading to nowhere.

It is said that this place attracts suicides, that with each step of the Stairway it gets harder and harder to turn back, and when you finally reach the top, all that remains is to jump.

At the bottom of the tower, poets and bards gather on the first steps of the staircase. It is also a place for prostitutes and drunk nobility. Somewhat higher is the level for those who love unhappily and for the mad, while even higher climb those already indifferent and to whom surrender might mean peace. At the end of the stairs resides an old hermit – his home lies at the edge of life and death. He’s the last companion of the suicidal. He knows that with each death a new step leading to heaven appears.

Story Ideas

  • An aspiring young nobleman starts spending his time in the bad company of rakes and artists, then later commits suicide by jumping from the Stairway to Heaven. The Heroes, who are leading the investigation, quickly arrive at the place where they are told that the wretched dead man had a long talk with the Hermit before his jump. Perhaps he can unravel the riddle of the nobleman’s death.

    To talk to him, though, one would have to convince him to come down or go to see him at the top. Is it possible to come back?

    In truth, the death of the young nobleman wasn’t an accident. He was manipulated by a sect obsessed with building a way to the stars. After all, each victim means another step higher. The city is facing a wave of suicides, and the stairs grow taller day by day…

The Tree of Knowledge

By one of the city gates, near a curve in the wall in a small marketplace stands an old withered tree. Each morning stall holders from neighboring lands gather around it. Peeping birds and cats sit on the branches, searching for something tasty to eat. Later the square gets empty and only from time to time can you hear the cries and curses of drivers and horse riders who have to evade the tree growing in the middle of their way.

Halloween Large Dead Tree by CGBug @

The city’s elders remember that the tree used to be a place where people would often leave various messages for one another. Travelers able to read could find letters from old acquaintances, who also visited the town. It was also a common thing to nail to the tree things like wanted notices or job offers. No traveler could miss this place.

During one war, however, traitors were hung on the tree instead. And when lightning struck the tree, the bodies burned like lanterns. The Tree died that night. For some time it was used as an information stand, but soon people began to speak of evil things connected with the tree. The legend says that after the war, whoever left a letter on the tree was supposed to die on the road and any offers taken proved extremely unlucky for the takers. Thus the Tree quickly lost its function and later became the center of the marketplace.

When the dusk approaches, the place becomes quiet and still. Hardly anybody walks through here at such an hour. One can ride out of the marketplace by one of the roads leading along the walls or walk down a small stairway leading deep into the city – into a labyrinth of streets and passages. There’s also an old wicket between the city walls and a chapel dedicated to one of the gods. Nobody uses this narrow, shadowy and overgrown path anymore. However, if one walks around the chapel and enters the square through the wicket it shall turn out that in the night the tree still works as a place for exchanging information. Now, however it is visited by spirits of the dead who want to leave a last message – a farewell, a tip about their death or an errand for someone who would want to complete a spirit’s unfinished task. A few enlightened still send adventurers to the square – through the gateway – to work for the restless dead.

Story Ideas

  • Should any of the heroes die within the city walls, let him visit the tree along the other restless guests from the underworld walking through the streets. He or she will be able to leave a letter for the living – one short letter before passing away. What does the letter contain?
  • The Heroes arrive at the city and confront their enemy, whom they manage to defeat and kill. The last thing that this person does after his demise, but still in this world, is leaving a note with false accusations at the Tree of Knowledge.

    During the Heroes stay in the city a certain young noblewoman is cruelly murdered. The good girl left this world without a need for vengeance. But now a falsified letter waits at the Tree, in which the noblewoman accuses the Heroes of a terrible crime. What’s more, they get hired to investigate her death, and when they get to know the mystery of the Tree, they go to the place and find the names of the supposed murderers – which are their own names.

    Unfortunately they aren’t the only ones who visited the Tree of Knowledge recently. Someone already set out on a search, a search for vengeance…

AUTHOR: Bart, Creative Collective Lans Macabre. For more city adventure ideas check out Fantasy Guide: Mysterious City’s Corners by Library of Ancient Scroll.


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