Plot Idea: Barrow Tree

Note: If you are in my gaming group (Ron, Brian, Ely, or Ray!) do not read this. Not for your eyes! Secrets revealed!

This is a sub-plot in my ongoing campaign, originally it was just my "slice" of the SG pie, but now that I'm main SG I am folding it into the overall plot, but that's another story. Wondering what everyone thinks, and if you like it feel free to use any ideas.

The players are aware of an isolated, wooded hill that is home to a very old pagan graveyard, still tended by a warped family I've named the Barrow family. It is essentially a pocket of paganism left alone by the rest of the world so far (in the saga we're on the edge of the Black Forest and it is very close as well). The Barrows essentially accept the remains of the few pagans that cling to the old ways, and they also take the remains of executed criminals and other non-Christians (gypsies and Jews who aren't claimed by kin, etc.). The hill actually has a number of separate graveyards on it, used at various times throughout history and closed when they get full, but that's of only secondary importance.

The top of the hill is a horseshoe-shaped ridge with a wide grassy meadow enclosed in the arms of the high ground. There are three concentric rings of old barrows: the outermost ring is 13 barrows, the middle ring is 7, and the innermost ring is 3. In the center of that is a massive, unusually warped tree that appears to be numerous different species of tree all growing together. All over the bark of this tree appear numerous "faces".

What the players don't know yet is that this is the remains of an old battle between Romans and Germanic tribes. A group of 4 Mercurian wizards with an army escort were taking a powerful written spell into the Black Forest to a garrison, as the Romans were fighting one of many heated rebellions at the time and the Mercurians stationed there needed a "last ditch" spell in case they were overrun. Instead, this group was ambushed and a running battle took place over several days, until the Romans made their way to this hilltop, there to make their last stand. At the time the ridge was completely circular, but a Roman spell blasted a section of it away (along with hundreds of Germans) leaving it in its present, horseshoe shape. More bitter fighting, and finally the Mercurians used the spell in their possession, more of a curse, really, as it transformed them into very powerful, but terrible revenants, except for the spellcasting "leader" who became a lich.

This nearly spelled doom for the Germans, but nine of their greatest sorcerors put their very souls into a potent spell that transformed all of them into a massive, magical tree and trapped the lich in a tomb of living wood and earth and magic. The three other revenants were overcome and they are buried in the 3 inner barrows, with magical rune-wards carved into their tomb seals. The ring of 7 barrows are the tombs of the 7 Germanic wizards who died sealing them in, and the outer ring are the 13 greatest heroes of the battle. The entire burial ground is essentially a spirit powered warding system, with the spirits of the 13 heroes and the 7 wizards providing the power that contains the 3 revenants and feeds magic energy to the Guardian Tree.

In my story a graverobber opens one of the 3 revenants' tombs, freeing it, and now it is working to free its evil master from the Guardian Tree. I am running this is a regio into the spirit-world; one magus already went into it via a fortunate twilight experience and actually talked to the Guardian Tree, but they still don't know the full story yet. What do you think?

I thi k it is cool. I also think that the german wizards sound about AMAZING and I would love to see that kind of Wizard communions playable :slight_smile: Extra powerful spirit masters with a version of Wiz. Communion? Sounds about right here :slight_smile: The curse of the romans and blasting half the hill to pieces is not what I would call "usual Mercurian magic", but it is last, desperate-looking spell enough for me.

The story is solid. What you have not talked about AT ALL is who the hell are the family that take care of the site. Are they descendants of the romans? Of the germans? Of the 2 remaining wizards that did not die there? This family has potential, so having them be mystically important for the site, and not only grave caretakers would be better and cool in itself. Maybe they still know how to take care of the lich in a last ditch defence if it is released or something. Even if it implies an important sacrifice. Like sacrificing a 5 virgin maidens or something gruesome (and difficult) to add an extra level of power to the guardian tree.

I think you have one number that you have not used (5) that you need to include into the story. The rest are all Prime numbers, and the 5 is lacking there :slight_smile: Also, would a released lich be able to teach the magi the secrets of the Cult of Mercury? Will they risk it? Using this as a potential (red herring) idea might entrice your players.


Great idea, keep it running.

Oh thats an EVIL twist. Well done! :mrgreen:

That sounds really, really good. It has the historical ties, the mythic feel, the entire thing is coherent.
Is it to be the main focus of the entire saga? Or a long running plot? I mean, how, when and what can the PC magi win (or lose)? And how will this affect the saga from there.

Such a place of mystery and myth can lead to a lot of fine stories, and give the magi a sense of purpose and inspire them to projects and politicking - if a rival covenant suddenly lais claim to the site etc.
I've used something a little bit like that before. The site eventuelly had its original conflict resolved, but new ones kept popping up.

I should do something like this in one of my sagas. It is, however, set in the middle of Constantinople, and I think I need to move some distance beyond this, to get a really mythic place. The covenant does have a chapter house though, on a small island off the coast of modern-day Izmit, Turkey.
I'll just need to find something to interest most or all the magi...a very varied bunch!

Read The Black Company, by Glen Cook. It is a GREAT read, and the first 3 books should REALLY remind you of something.

Thanks, I'm happy you like it. We've never given the Mercurians any specific powers or types of spells in our sagas, other than the canonical fact they were communal rituals, preferring to keep the distant past murky and mysterious. And it gives SG's more freedom to work on these "forgotten lore" type stories by having their powers poorly defined.

Thanks for your opinion. Yes, the Barrow family is a bit of a mystery (to the players, anyway), but I'll tell you. Essentially they are the last holdovers in this region, descendants of Germanic wizards. IMS there are/were a number of different tribes that came together to fight this battle, and each had distinct magical traditions. One of them, whom I call the Gastwyr, were responsible for the magic that contained the dead spirits--others were responsible for transforming everyone into a conjoined tree. The Barrows are descendants of a group of wizards who cleaned up the battlefield, placing the heroes and other wizards in their barrows, scribing the magic runes that binds their spirits in this architecture, and now they maintain these wards as their primary purpose. If they die then the runes get worn away and filled with moss, eventually fade and then the spirits are released. So they are very important to the site. Interesting you mention sacrifices, because that is exactly how the tree is maintained. Every year on the winter solstice the family sacrifices an animal (must be a strong, healthy one, like a bull or an ox) and places select pieces in the nine mouths on the tree. When they return on the spring equinox the bones are removed from the mouths, which have turned into Rego vis, which is then used as an ingredient in the magic brew they use to paint over the barrow runes every year. So the whole thing is one giant feedback loop.

Never thought of that, the prime numbers and all. 3, 7, 9, and 13 are all "mystical" numbers in lore, which is why I selected them. But you're right. 5 maidens, huh? Hmmmm. I like it.

Yes, I believe so. Will they risk it? Depends on the magus. One for sure will not, but our resident Tytalus just might be tempted. I like the way you think.


Not the main focus, not yet. Originally it was a side plot as our main SG had a long-term plot elsewhere and my story was just to give him a break every now and then. Now he's quit main SG duties and I have the whole thing. I was thinking of weaving them together, but maybe not now. The magi can win or lose by a couple of methods: 1) the lich can break out, either by help from his revenants (remember, one is now loose and just last session he attacked our covenant with a horde of zombies he'd risen, that was our Halloween story!) or by neglect from the Barrows (like the church might lose patience with these old pagan holdouts), or 2) the players can get curious and do some research...we're not far from Durenmar, and IMS they can have old letters in their archives from the Mercurian days pointing to the nature of what lies beneath the tree. I have another "plot helper" at large as well, a 2000 year-old Persian sorceror-assassin who wanted the spell and originally hired some of our grogs to open the revenant's tomb to get it. He's still out there, trying to get magi to cast it on him (our Tytalus sent him to his parens last year, so shortly that will boomerang on him!).

Where do you think I got the idea from? I never said it was a wholly original story. My lich, Devronius I call him, is basically The Dominator, powered down a bit but still quite nasty. That's my second favorite fantasy series of all time, BTW, just behind A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin.