The party enters a large forest clearing to find the historic city of Roostwood. Its buildings are the epitome of classic Elven architecture; each structure is ornately decorated, impressively tall, and seamlessly blended into the woodland backdrop. The streets are bustling with an assortment of forest-dwelling folk, such as elves, half-elves, and dryads, all responding warmly to the party and demonstrating hospitality. At the center of town is Roostwood’s most stunning feature: an ancient tree.
The tree is huge, its massive trunk supported by a web of thick and winding roots. Dangling from each of its three biggest branches is a straw doll, with a disturbingly realistic face, swaying gently in the wind. When the party asks a passerby about the bizarre dolls, the local explains to them the time-honored election tradition of Roostwood:
- Every spring, the city holds an election to decide on a new mayor
- To run for office, a resident hangs a straw effigy of themselves on one of the Great Tree’s branches
- Then, on the same fateful day each year, like clockwork, a flock of migrating birds flies through town and lands wearily on the branches of the Great Tree to rest for the night
- While they sleep, the birds are carefully and quietly counted by poll officials
- The title of mayor is awarded to whichever candidate attracted the most birds to roost
If the party criticizes this elaborate and ridiculous system, the local takes offense, stressing that this is tradition, laid out in the earliest drafts of the city ordinance from 300 years ago. The people of Roostwood have long lived in harmony with nature, and they put their trust in the spirits of the forest to choose who leads.
“Although, now that I think about it…” the local continues, squinting at one particular straw doll dancing in the breeze, “for the past century, the spirits of the forest have really been favoring one particular family: the LaTivs (pronounced “la-TEEVS”). Emmanuel Pugh LaTiv has just completed this 24th consecutive term as mayor.”
Asking about Emmanuel (“Manny”) Pugh LaTiv will reveal some details:
- He comes from a long line of wealthy LaTivs, a family that has made a fortune from either being career politicians in Roostwood or other more questionable activities involving the sale of illegal arms and poisons (allegedly)
- He lives on his family estate about a half-mile south of the city in a lavish country manor
- His governmental policies largely favor the other wealthy families of Roostwood, and he often ignores the needs of the masses
- He holds lavish parties (marketed as “Roostwood networking events”) that are entirely funded by taxpayer gold
- He has an advisor and druidic companion named Reginald Thorne III who, coincidentally, comes from another wealthy family
- Reginald is always at his side and frequently reminds the people that Mayor LaTiv has been divinely appointed by the spirit of the forest
Back in the old days, many residents, from all walks of life, vied for the position of mayor. However, in recent years, most wannabe leaders have given up in response to LaTiv’s endless string of victories. Most years now, in fact, he runs completely unopposed.
“There are still two others hoping for a shot this year though,” the local says, pointing to the other straw dolls. “Personally, I like both of them. One is a very sweet retired teacher; she wants to look after the youth of Roostwood and reform education. The other is a gentle farmer who feels that Roostwood’s bountiful harvests should be shared with all mouths equally. I guess we will see what happens tomorrow when the birds arrive.”
“The outcome will be the same as always,” says a nearby voice. From behind the Great Tree, a half-elf woman in her early 20’s carefully steps into view, minding the twisting roots at her feet as she approaches. “That is, it will be the same as always…unless we do something about it.”
The young woman introduces herself as Dawn Wildheart, leader of an activist group called the “New Leaf Brigade” (she demonstrates by noting the small leaf pin attached to her green beret. She tells the party that her organization is suspicious of Manny LaTiv and thinks that he has somehow rigged the system.
“Fortunately, I think we have an opportunity,” she says with an emboldened smile and a twinkle in her eyes. “Mayor Manny is hosting a little shin-dig tonight at his estate to celebrate his soon-to-be victory,” she rolls her eyes. “The arrogance of the guy, I know. Anyway, it’s very exclusive. I’ve scoped out the place; security is too tight for the New Leaf Brigade to sneak in undetected, and there’s no way that someone like me is getting a formal invite. You all, however, are outsiders, and he will certainly want to rub shoulders with you. If you can secure an invite and investigate a bit, you might be able to figure out exactly how Manny does it.”
Just at that moment, Mayor Manny Pugh LaTiv arrives to some (very) light fanfare, dressed in formal attire, and struts confidently down the street toward the Great Tree. His druidic manservant Reginald follows closely at his heels.
“Now’s your chance!” Dawn whispers, nodding to the advancing pair. Then, just as quickly as she appeared, the activist ducks back behind the Great Tree and vanishes.
If the party fails to initiate conversation, it won’t matter; LaTiv sees the unfamiliar faces and approaches them with a smile that’s a little too broad and a tone of warmth in his voice that sounds entirely disingenuous.
This conversation is important. To earn an invitation to his selective soiree, the players must inflate the mayor’s ego, shower him with praise, and appear as wealthy/important/powerful as possible to earn his respect. This will then be decided by a persuasion check or deception check depending on what’s been said. Unlike LaTiv, Reginald will not be as easy to read or impress; instead, he will simply watch quietly from behind his boss, studying the party carefully.
If successful, LaTiv will invite the party to celebrate his all-but-guaranteed victory tonight at his estate, handing them a formal invitation with a wax seal pressed with his family crest (if you really want to drive the point home, describe the LaTiv family crest as two weasels with golden crowns atop their heads).
A Premature Celebration
The manor is a buzz with many guests, all of them incredibly well-dressed and unapologetically dripping in wealth. They are also wearing feathery masquerade masks with bird beaks, no doubt as a symbolic nod to Roostwood’s election process. LaTiv will be schmoozing with others, but if he spots the players, he will insist on escorting them around, showing off his impressive collection of art and introducing you to everyone as “his wealthy foreign associates.”
If the party tries to spot Reginald, they won’t see him anywhere. Asking as to his whereabouts will be met with answers like “oh, he hates crowds” or “he’s sitting someplace quiet, praying that the forest gods make the right choice tomorrow.”
The manor is, as expected, lavishly decorated with gilded-framed mirrors, ornately carved statues of the rarest woods, and large painted portraits of important LaTiv patriarch and matriarchs.
Eventually, the party finds a staircase that descends into a dark cellar. This area is, of course, off limits, so the party needs to either cause a diversion or stealthily sneak downstairs. In the cellar are racks of fine wines, crates of art, and, more strangely, sacks upon sacks of birdseed. At the far end of the cellar is a locked door. The party can force this door open (strength check or lockpicking tools) or return upstairs and attempt to lift the key from Lativ’s pocket (sleight of hand check).
Once through the door, the party finds a room with tall metal cages. Inside each of these cages, hopping fitfully from branch to branch, are twenty or more birds. They chirp, coo, and squawk noisily as the players enter the room. Even more unsettling than the caged birds, duplicate straw dolls of LaTiv hang from the ceiling. With an insight check, the party can put two and two together, realizing that the LaTiv family has domesticated and trained the birds to land on the LaTiv doll’s branch of the Great Tree. With the estate conveniently located to the south, the mayor needs only to release the birds to fly north, and no one is the wiser that the “election” was rigged.”
The party can attempt to release the birds through one of a few small basement windows up near the cellar ceiling. However, trying to unlatch the cellar window, or attempting to retreat back up the stairs, will cause one of the birds to polymorph back into none other than LaTiv’s druidic advisor, Reginald Thorne III.
“You shouldn’t have come here,” he scolds, “We had a good, comfortable system going for decades now. I won’t stand idly by and let some nosy foreigners ruin that for us.”
Reginald is a stubborn opponent and cannot be talked out of combat. Having already used one of his animal forms to disguise himself as a bird, he still has one available animal form that he can Wild Shape into. He will likely choose a more frightening creature, like a dire wolf or tiger. Doing so will cause the birds in the room to panic. If the party had already opened the cages before triggering the battle, the flock of birds will be a tempest of feathers flapping chaotically around the room during the fight. As a result, vision is obstructed, and all ranged attacks are at disadvantage. Additionally, if anyone tries to grapple, they must roll a dexterity saving throw or else find themselves with a random bird clutched in their hand instead of their desired target.
If Reginald holds off on using his last animal form until he is near death, then he might try changing into a bird yet again and lose himself in the flurry of wing and feather, making it difficult for the party to find him.
Once the party has defeated the druid, they can either release the birds (thereby ruining LaTiv’s plans) or search the room to find Reginald’s journal, chronicling the training process in full and revealing the family’s trickery.
Players must escape the manor without rousing any suspicion. If they release the birds, some might fly up the stairs after them and end up flapping around the manor, confusing the guests and alerting LaTiv. Once safely outside though, the party hears Dawn whisper to them from behind a tree. She leads them through the trees and to a secret meeting grotto for the New Leaf Brigade. She thanks you for your help and promises to take the information from here.
Dawn of a New Day
The next morning, the townsfolk gather around the Great Tree to begin the election proceedings, but instead, Dawn Wildheart, accompanied by a city guardsman, informs them of a change of plans. Instead of relying on birds, which has allowed the corrupt LaTivs to game the system for generations, everyone will receive one vote and write that vote on a sheet of parchment.
Papers are passed out to each resident, but some look very concerned at the lack of birds in this democratic process. Rolling her eyes and sighing, Dawn shows the people of Roostwood how to fold up their ballot sheets into little paper cranes when they’re done; everyone looks relieved.
The outcome of the election for the two remaining candidates can be determined by two d100 rolls as votes are tallied. This won’t matter much as both non-LaTiv candidates are respectable and beloved in the community, but it will determine what happens to the now-seized LaTiv family estate: it will either be converted into a food kitchen for the hungry or a free public school.
As one final reward, Dawn will approach the party and give you a special item called the Arboreal Amulet. She has used this object to canvas the LaTiv estate, but now that she’s found justice, she no longer needs it.
Once per day, the wearer of this amulet can transform into a sentient tree for 1 hour.
While in tree form, the player looks and feels like a normal tree. Bark provides an AC of 16, and being rooted to the ground prevents the player from being shoved, knocked prone, or pushed by wind.
Additionally, if the wearer is in direct sunlight, the player can recover 2d8 hit points once per day.