Upon entering the local tavern, the party notices that everyone looks strangely uncomfortable. Many have stopped touching their food entirely, instead glaring over with disgusted faces at a little gnome seated by himself at a corner table.
Of course, there’s nothing disgusting about the gnome himself: he’s dressed normally enough and seems to radiate a youthful cheerfulness despite his advanced age. The thing that everyone is most unsettled by is the strange book strapped to his back…
The barkeep asks the party if they could convince the gnome to put his frightening book away. “My patrons are losing their appetites, and it’s just bad for business,” he says. “I’d do it myself, but I don’t want to offend him. He’s something of a celebrity around these parts. Famous historian and all that.”
If the party approaches the gnome, they find him busily jotting down notes on a large map sprawled out across the table. He is so engrossed in his work that his mug of beer has scarcely been touched.
“Oh my,” the gnome gasps when the players indicate the disturbed bar patrons. He quickly unstraps the book and lays it down in front of him. “I honestly forgot I even had him back there.” With an apologetic smile, he turns to the other patrons and offers a friendly wave, “so sorry, everyone! I meant no harm by it.”
The gnome introduces himself to the party as Kenneth Barnes, a well-known documentarian and field researcher in the area (class-wise, he is a bard from the College of Lore). However, it should be noted that Kenneth is very modest about his award-winning books and travel guides. “I don’t do it for the fame or money,” he says, “I’m just trying to get people interested in their world and wanting to expand their horizons.”
“Of course, I couldn’t do it without my trusty assistant here, Mike.” he continues, gently patting the book on its eyelid. “See, Mike’s enchanted. Everything he sees and hears is recorded directly onto his pages. It makes taking memos while traversing tough terrain or conducting interviews with locals a breeze.”
Kenneth takes a moment to finally sip his mug of beer, smiling contentedly despite its flatness and lukewarm temperature.
“Although…” he presses on, wiping his mouth and turning his attention to the map before him. “This next project of mine is going to be quite the undertaking. Possibly my magnum opus. I’m not sure if you folks are busy at the moment, but I could certainly use a few extra hands. Things could get a bit dicey. Are you interested?”
Boom Town: A History
Kenneth shows the players his map and tells them all about an old mining town that has sat abandoned for almost a century. The original name of the town is lost, but it has been appropriately labeled “Boom Town.” Here are the details of its history…
- Long before the town’s founding, a meteor from space crashed into the desert (BOOM!), forming a massive crater.
- This meteor littered the ground with rare metals from space and helped split open the earth to reveal veins of valuable ore.
- BOOM! There’s a mad rush of people to set up camp and dig up whatever treasures could be found. The campsite eventually expanded into a sizable young town.
- The local economy was BOOMING and flush with cash from exporting rare metals from their newly-dug mines.
- But then, BOOM! A chain of accidental explosions went off deep in the mines, causing a cave-in and trapping hundreds of innocent miners.
- With the mines completely collapsed and the tragic loss of life, the town was promptly abandoned and left to nature.
“Or so the stories say,” Kenneth says, twirling his white beard in thought, “but I want to separate the fact from fiction. I want to dig deep into the buried mines of Boom Town and get the full story.”
If the party agrees to join him on his venture, Kenneth will instruct them to get some rest and meet him outside the tavern in the morning.
Striking Journalistic Gold
Kenneth is bright-eyed and excitedly awaiting the players outside a rented wagon. The trip into the dusty desert should be largely uneventful. Give the party a chance to work on something or to talk with Kenneth about his earlier publications as a documentarian. Mike, the book, will be strapped to Kenneth’s chest, his eye constantly rolling in its socket in an attempt to take in all the sights while travelling.
Once the party arrives at the edge of the crater, they look down and see the ruined remains of Boom Town. Various wooden mining structures and houses are left standing in surprisingly good shape, no doubt because the deep crater has protected the buildings from the harsh desert wind.
If the party searches any of the houses, they won’t find much except for abandoned furniture, clothing, and mining tools.
The main entrance to the mine is, as expected, completely caved in.
“Don’t worry, friends,” Kenneth says in his usual optimistic tone, “there are other tunnels we can use to descend below. If things ever get a little cramped down there, I have some scrolls of “Enlarge/Reduce” to help you squirm into tight places.”
Every now and then, during the otherwise uneventful descent, have players complete acrobatics checks to span chasms or navigate through tight corridors. These tunnels have been picked clean, so the party won’t find much in terms of ore.
Eventually, the party steps into an area where the ground feels unstable. Have them perform a dexterity saving throw or drop 30 feet, taking 3d6 bludgeoning damage upon impact. Those who made their saves can use ropes or find other creative methods to descend safely.
Looking around this new area, the party sees that they have arrived in what appears to be one of Boom Town’s major mining shafts. Minecarts filled with stone and rubble sit abandoned on broken tracks. Crates of supplies like lantern oil and long-rotten food rest stacked against the cave walls.
If the party tries to explore any of the above tunnels, they find the way blocked by fallen rock; the only exit seems to be the ledge that’s now 30 feet up.
Players can search the rubble. If they rolls high enough investigation checks, they can find some small chunks of gold or other ore. Additionally, they might find a concerning sight: the broken remains of eggs. A high nature check reveals that these are cave-dwelling Ankheg eggs.
Meanwhile, Kenneth excitedly spots the corpse of one of Boom Town’s miners; given its underground location, the body has remained remarkably well-preserved in death. Searching its tattered work clothes, the gnome discovers a small dusty journal, opens it, and begins to read, allowing Mike’s enormous eye to also absorb the contents of each handwritten page.
“I think we will start with this young man,” Kenneth says after a few minutes, closing the journal and gesturing down to the body. “Can one of you help me please?”
Whoever agrees to “help” Kenneth will be handed a rod that, when activated, extends to 10 feet. The gnome ties Mike to the end of it and instructs the player to stand at a distance, dangling Mike above him during the interview (like the DnD version of a “boom mic”). Kenneth then pulls up a small barrel so he can sit next to the corpse and casts “Speak with Dead.” Immediately, the corpse gasps and is reanimated.
This Q&A session should start with some basic questions:
- What brought you personally to Boom Town?
- How successful were you in your hunt for treasure?
- Did you have any family?
- What were your favorite parts of Boom Town life?
The final question is about the cave-in, asking the corpse if he knows who was responsible for accidentally setting off the explosives.
“It was no accident,” the corpse groans, “we had to. To protect those above. We had awakened…them.”
At this final moment, the corpse raises a bony arm and points over the player’s shoulder (whoever is holding the rod with Mike).
Have that player roll a dexterity saving throw as an Ankheg leaps from the shadows to make a bite attack.
Roll for initiative.
Depending on how challenging you want this battle to be, multiple Ankhegs can emerge from the dark recesses of the cavern. You can also add larval variants for smaller, weaker targets.
Note: If the party doesn’t have a means of ascending the 30 feet to exit the mine, you can use the Ankhegs’ entrance as a way to create newly burrowed tunnels (that can eventually be used by the party to exit the mine once combat is concluded).
After defeating the Ankhegs, Kenneth will be so excited.
“Did you get all that, Mike?” he asks the book, unstrapping him from his chest. Flipping through its pages, Kenneth smiles at the detailed sketches Mike made of the party fighting the Ankhegs. “Look at you folks!” he says, holding the book open for all to see, “you look so heroic here. Oh! Here’s an illustration of when [player used such and such move against the Ankheg].”
Despite the now clear and present danger, Kenneth insists that they interview one more corpse before exiting the mine. He casts “Speak with Dead” on a new miner and asks “are there any gold deposits still down here?”
The corpse nods, causing his head to snap off and land in his lap. His skeletal arm points to one of the stacks of barrels. Moving these heavy barrels aside reveals an opening to another small tunnel but, unlike the others, this one has a large vein of gold ore and yet has to be properly excavated.
“This is thrilling!” Kenneth exclaims. “I can’t wait to share these discoveries with the world. Not only the truth of Boom Town’s demise, but the truth that there is still so much treasure here! Who knows? My publication might even spark a revitalization of the community! A new boom for Boom Town!”
“Noooooo,” rasps the newly-severed corpse head, “you must not do that. Monsters. Heartbreak. Nothing good here. Tell no one. Let Boom Town rest in peace!”
At this point, the players are faced with two options depending on their moral alignment. What they choose determines the reward that they receive:
- Help Kenneth publish his findings. It’s important that people know the truth: both about the fate of the miners and the untapped potential of Boom Town. If the party chooses this option, they will receive a generous reward of gold from Kenneth as well as “special thanks” credit in his new publication, allowing for some advantage charisma checks in the future when talking with anyone who has read Kenneth’s book.
- Let sleeping Ankhegs lie. Boom Town has been abandoned for a hundred years, and it should stay abandoned. Kenneth will not like this idea, and a very high DC persuasion check will be necessary to convince him to “edit” his documentary to discourage people from visiting. You could also literally take Mike and throw the book down into some deep, unreachable chasm. If you go this route, the corpse will happily rasp “thank youuuuu” before reaching into his back pocket and offering the players a piece of silver meteorite. This metal can be used when forging/refining a weapon at a smithy, giving it a +1 to attack rolls and granting an additional 1d6 radiant damage.