I cannot seem to get villages out of my head this week. Hommlet has a of hold on me, not that it's a bad thing mind you. Villages are fun, magical little bastions of boredom and blandness, except that more often than not there is some terrifying secret buried just below the surface that could figuratively-or sometimes literally-tear the community asunder. These are the villages that are interesting. The ones with panache!
These secrets need not all be sinister, but sometimes shame can keep lips closed and heads turned. In a place as small as a village, everyone knows each other, but do they really? What skeletons dwell in the closet of some of the most trusted pillars of their community? What lengths will these "simple folk" go to in order to ensure that the dangerous secret they keep stays buried?
Today I offer you up 5 seemingly unassuming villages hiding a dark secret. These are system neutral, so you can place them just about anywhere in any campaign setting. They are nice places to visit, but you probably don't want to live there...
1. Stay Out Of The Basement: This lovely little village is quaint. Too quaint. It stinks of quaintness. The houses are nicely built, the inn is clean, the fields are well tilled, and the people are happy and healthy. Very healthy. It would be hard to distinguish this village from any other if it were not for the giant sore thumb that is the big stone temple to (insert good-aligned God here). The temple, which is beautifully constructed, stands near the center of the village, and every man, woman, and child in the village is a devout follower of the aforementioned God.
It is said by the townsfolk that some 15 years ago the village was beset upon by a terrible plague. Many people died, and it was thought that everyone would perish amid the pestilence. Then an angel appeared and healed the villagers. They say that the angel bestowed its divine ability to heal the sick upon the local priest, and he has been able to work such miracles ever since. An inspiring story to be sure, but the truth is a tad more unsettling.
The Dark Secret: That angel that descended from the heavens to heal the sick... yeah, it never left. The townsfolk, in a desperate bid to save their own lives, made a deal with a traveling necromancer. The mage gave them the knowledge of how to call the angel, as well as how to ensnare it and bind it. In return for this dark knowledge the necromancer made a request; when the angel was bound, the mage would take the wings. The townsfolk reluctantly agreed and called forth the divine creature.
Once it landed, the townsfolk lunged upon it, binding it with newly-forged magic chains. The necromancer coaxed the villagers to drag the screaming angel to the basement of their only church. There, the foul mage drew several arcane circles that would keep the angel trapped for all time. Suspended from the chains and unable to defend itself, the necromancer gleefully cut the wings of the suffering outsider and went on their way. Before departing completely, the mage took the local priest aside and told them how to draw the divine essence out of the angel. With this power, the priest would be able to heal any wound and cure any illness. The necromancer failed to mention that it was through their own machinations that the plague in the town began in the first place.
For nearly two decades, that angel has remained hidden in the dark basement of the church. In that time, a new temple has been built over it, with access below hidden from anyone outside the village. It is a good thing that kind necromancer taught the priest how to siphon divine power from the angel because the God of which the temple was dedicated has forsaken the people of this village for their reprehensible act.
2. Dead Meat: This one-horse village isn't anything terribly special. The inn has four rooms, the general store looks like someone's living room, and the dusty roads are rutted and uneven. There are really only two things that stand out from this easily forgettable little Thorpe; the nicest places in town are the butcher's and the immaculately manicured and maintained cemetery on the edge of town.
The villagers don't say much aside from the occasional nod hello, or the other typical pleasantries one pays to folk just passing through. They all look happy, healthy, and well fed. Very well fed. Some are even borderline obease, despite the fact that there is only an orchard, one farm, and no sheep or cattle herds nearby.
The Dark Secret: About a hundred years ago a drought ran through the town, killing all the crops and livestock. The famine killed many people, and the rampant dust storms made travel without getting lost almost impossible. The people of the village were trapped, slowly starving to death, praying for rain. Without a ready food source, the people committed the unthinkable. They began to consume their dead. They soon discovered they had taken a liking to the taste of humanoid flesh. In a way, their fallen family members were able-in death-to keep the others alive. When the next season's rains came, it was those who consumed their loved ones that were there to greet them.
It suddenly seemed strange to them to bury their kin in the cemetery on the edge of town and waste all of that good meat. Over the next century, the villagers readily ate their dead, setting markers in the cemetery to keep outsiders who wouldn't understand from nosing about.
The residents were encouraged to produce large families with several offspring. In times of great trouble when food was scarce, the community would turn to eating the elderly, before turning to the lame, weak, and young as the last resort. This treatment is not just reserved for residents of the village, though. Anyone who dies within the limits of town is considered fair game. This has prompted some, on occasion, to kill travelers to stock their smoke house. And may the Gods help anyone who attacks the town, or attempts to rob folk along the road.
"Soylent Green anyone?"
3. Children Of The Corn: There are an awful lot of children in this village. They are everywhere. Playing on the roads, helping out in the shops, and even at the inn. They seem to outnumber the adults two to one. The adults don't seem to mind, though. They dote over the children, and cannot help but tell every traveler how blessed they are. Strangely, though, there don't seem to be any young men or women. The oldest children seem to be 12 years of age, and the youngest adult is in their late twenties.
The Dark Secret: In typical Stephen King fashion, the kids are running the show. Some ten years ago a few children were playing in the fields near the village. One child fell into what appeared to be an old, buried temple. In that temple, the child managed to awaken a long slumbering demonic entity. The entity possessed the child, consuming their soul in the process. No free from its prison it walked the world again, but in its weakened state, it could not pose the threat it once did. It required souls; the souls of children. Alas, there were not enough in the village, but the demon had a plan. It slowly corrupted each child in the community, promising them a world where the adults did their bidding instead of the other way around. Where they would be the ones in charge. With the simple seed planted, the demon twisted their minds. In the night, the children gathered every weapon in the village while their parents slept, killing any who woke to witness the theft. The most battle-hardened and proficient fighters had their throats slit while they slept. In the morning, the adults awoke to find their children quite literally holding them hostage.
Those that resisted were murdered quickly. The demon in the child's body made it known who controlled the village now. Any adult who dared to defy the demon was to be killed. It didn't take long for the villagers to comply. No one was allowed to leave the village, or contact the outside world. Adults were to continue their usual activities, supplying food for the children. Any travelers that passed through were not to be tipped off about what was happening in town. Those that said anything were killed, along with the travelers. Folks passing through with children were special. The adults were to distract them while the village children lead the new found "friends" to the demonic entity. Once indoctrinated, they were to kill the adults traveling with them, and were assimilated into the town. And who kept a close watch on all the adults to make sure they never stepped out of line? Their own kids.
When children reached the age of 13, they were to be sacrificed to the demonic entity. With each new birthday, the demon grows in power, and soon it will reach its former might.
"The corniest village around!"
4. A Wolf Among Us: An average village by all accounts, its architecture and layout seem in tune with many other villages. The villagers themselves are plentiful, if not bit tired. One strange feature is that despite several stables, there isn't a single horse in sight. Not even working the fields. They don't seem very responsive to outsiders, regarding them with a sense of worry. There is an inn, but the innkeeper insists that there are no vacancies. He gladly points them in the direction to a town a full day away but insists if they leave before late afternoon they should be able to make it before the moon is too high in the sky.
The Dark Secret: A werewolf found its way into the village, and an unfortunate resident soon contracted the curse as well. When bodies began turning up, the villagers demanded justice, hanging anyone they suspected of being the wolf. The now pair of lycanthropes were very smart, and managed to lay blame on innocent people, or folk they thought suspected them of lycanthropy. The two set out to infect other. Before long a pack roamed the town on full moons, and the villagers were mere sheep awaiting the slaughter. The village's horses were all killed and eaten by the werewolves, as was anyone attempting to flee the town. Every ounce of silver also suddenly disappeared from homes and shops.
Now the residents spend their days in a constant state of paranoia, never knowing who the wolves may be, and spend moonlit nights barricaded in their homes, wondering if this is the night they die, or worse; become the next chosen of the beast.
"Don't let the turnover rate intimidate you. Miller's Hollow is a great place to live."
5. The Village That Should Not Be: This village shouldn't even be where it is. The location is so remote it is a wonder that people live here at all. What's more is that there isn't a road anywhere near by, and by best account, the closest one is a day away. Te buildings look like ramshackle huts, cobbled together. An open-air smithy and a large wooden structure bearing seemingly religious symbols are the few typical accouterments of a normal village. There are no shops or inns. Not even a tavern There are no streets, either, but rather well-worn paths that traverse the distance between shacks. Each "home" has some manner of livestock fenced in adjacent to it, be it hogs or chickens.
Trees are adorned with various bones hanging from rope, swinging in the breeze (some of which are definitely humanoid)
The air is thick with the scent of mud, blood, woodsmoke and rot, but there don't appear to be any people.
The Dark Secret: This village is home to a community of misshapen, somewhat savage, inbred isolationists. All tools and structures are of simple design. The villagers represent a deeply religious community. They revere a good God or Goddess, they have twisted the religion in such a way as they can use it as justification to carry out unspeakably horrible acts of brutality, murder, and worse. The "people" spend several hours a day in church services, mutilating their own bodies, believing pain to be the truest expression of life and service in the name of their deity.
They do not suffer outsiders, and will hunt them down and brutally murder them, using their bodies for meat, tools, or macabre decoration. Time spent in this remote location has made them prodigious hunters and trackers, making escape difficult, if not impossible. Years of inbreeding have made them psychotic and inhumanly strong, with gruesome deformities like vestigial limbs and half-alive vestigial twins jutting from their malformed bodies in strange ways.
They are a people who cannot be bargained or reasoned with. They are religious zealots that revel in pain as much as they do their insatiable bloodlust.
"This time, YOU are the Baby Ruth."
And there you are, five villages that hold a dark secret. Some, very dark. Lift these for your home campaigns and your players are sure to look at you in a new light. Sure, that light may be that of a raving psychopath with a strange preoccupation for sacrilegious imagery, cannibalism, and paranoia. But I feel that that is a good image to convey to them. After all, you never know what the next village might bring.
Perhaps it's best to just stick with the cities,
+Ed The Bard
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