Players of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games seem to always have at least a sliver of brain power devoted to thinking about the games we love. Art can inspire a character we play or the setting for an encounter. Dramatic relationships and interactions can inspire campaign plots and NPC motivations. And the world we see all around us can add clever details and verisimilitude to our settings. A recent tweet from Grand DM caught my eye and this installment of Real World Adventure Hooks for D&D comes directly from the image they shared.
D&D adventure hooks from real life
“The Cherub Apples of Barovia are in season and ripe for picking. According to legend, they cry and wither when Strahd or his minions are nearby.” — Grand DM on Twitter
It’s Halloween month and this spooky idea fits right in with the season. Curse of Strahd is a phenomenal D&D adventure, and players have enjoyed exploring the Domain of Dread for decades. Part of what makes the adventure so memorable is the pervasively creepy vibe in Barovia wherever you go. When I ran it, by the time the characters made their way to Old Bonegrinder, they’d already sampled the local dream pastries and were horrified to learn about the secret recipe.
What I like about Grand DM’s image is how a visual cue — even if there is nothing more to it — can become a D&D adventure hook. When you are sitting behind the DM screen, players tend to consider anything you say as relevant to the campaign. This is a useful thing to keep in mind. When you describe what characters see in a room for example, players likely act based on whatever details you provide. In particular, things outside what we earthly humans know usually draws more water.
In the case of using something like these cherub apples, the first thing I’d do is look at the adventurers in the party. Do any of them have proficiency in Nature or Survival? Depending on how you imagine cherub apples in your world, tool proficiences like brewer’s supplies, cook’s utensils, herbalism kit, poisoner’s kit or woodcarver’s tools might also be appropriate. Any of these characters might be apt to notice these unusual fruits. They could be out of place or completely alien to the natural world.
Under certain circumstances, cherub apples may begin to cry. At night the apples might manifest eyes and watch the characters as they move through an orchard or make camp beneath the boughs. Even if your adventure hook never goes beyond an unsettling moment, it’s still effective to set a mood or convey to the players the party is now in a strange place.
Speaking of orchards, in the Dungeons & Dragons Online MMO, the Orchard of the Macabre is an adventure zone tied to the Necropolis. This is a huge storyline revolving around the Black Abbot, a lich attempting to ascend to godhood. There’s a huge number of quests leading up to the confrontation, and they all take place in the Orchard, a darkly beautiful wildnerness area with distinctive pink trees. Describing the fruit of the trees like Grand DM’s cherub apples is another way to enhance the creepy tone in a setting like this. Even if they don’t do anything more than look weird and offput characters, adding little details like this aids immersion.
Sunless Citadel is one of my favorite D&D adventures, and apples are featured heavily there, too. The fruit of the Gulthias Tree is a major adventure hook, so you can take inspiration from the 5E version inside Tales from the Yawning Portal and tie your cherub apples to a villain, or an ancient curse, or a desecrated orchard or whatever you can think of pique characters’ interest and guide them into an adventure.
What about you? How would you include cherub apples in your game? Would they be simply for flavor or to help set a mood? Are they clues to a greater adventure? Does consuming one grant a boon or a bane? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!