This quest is designed to advance the campaign’s main story; it’s not a prerequisite, as other areas could lead to the Elemental’s Grotto. Gressfall’s disturbed graves are a good example of an alternative. While an examination of a sinkhole isn’t required, it would probably be a good idea to mention their existence. This will at least allude to something strange occurring on a large scale. That might be done as a narrative introduction to the game, or through conversations with the locals – Bill lost 13 sheep in his grazing fields, elves have reported trees falling over in the woods, et cetera.
While in a tavern or inn, Ife Grevodye (female half-elf) will make an appearance, bellowing that she needs some able hands for a short geology expedition. She is curt and humourless. Many sinkholes have appeared over the last couple of months, and Ife’s team have been tasked with determining the cause. Meet them in the Downy Fern by the town entrance, tomorrow morning at seven o’clock sharp!
The Downy Fern is a well-maintained inn, with a roaring fire and surprisingly large volume of patrons devouring their breakfast. Ife sits impatiently tapping her foot, whilst the rest of her team converse around a table. They introduce themselves as Stedrun Caskwalker (dwarf), Jarid Mason, and Adril Waterflay; Adril is an alchemist, and carries an impressively compact case of curious vials.
Ife complains about waiting, then leads the group to the stables across the road. Riding down to Palmer’s Mere to receive fresh horses, the party proceeds along the eastern road before heading north. The location has no bearing on the events, and I made it about half a day’s ride.
The players dismount by a concave expanse, at least 20 metres across and three deep at the nadir. The geology team get to work taking samples, but nothing seems to be out of the ordinary above ground. Hairline cracks radiate out as Jarid strikes rock with a pick, DC20 Perception/DC15 Geography to notice or anticipate the danger. On a success, it’s a DC12 Agility/DC10 Acrobatics check if they want to try and pull him out of the way.
If Jarid wasn’t spared when the ground gave way, have him disappear in to the darkness. If someone tried and failed, consider rolling 1d4 damage and have them accompany him on the way down. Excluding a tunnel leading off to the side, the cavernous void is featureless. Should Jarid be alone, an anguished scream will be heard as his life comes to an abrupt end; otherwise, anyone down below will witness a giant tunnel rat emerge from its burrow.
Despite being saddened by events (if Jarid perished), Ife and Stedrun want to check out the cavern. They note that this seems to have been an unusually large deposit of Herlic Clay, which is not uncommon in the area. Herlic Clay is heavily impregnated with an exceptionally conductive metallic compound, Bannacite – highly sought after by thaumaturgical crafters.
Following the tunnel leads to a network of channels, eventually leading to the Elemental’s Grotto.