Sunday, June 12, 2011

Locations: Crossroads

I went down to the crossroads
fell down on my knees
I went down to the crossroads
fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above  "Have mercy now
save poor Bobby if you please ."
                                                       -  Crossroad Blues by Robert Johnson

I've always found the folklore surrounding crossroads fascinating.  Some say it's a symbol of a choice between good and evil, others describe it as the intersection of the physical and spiritual.  And of course one of my favorites is a story where the man went to the crossroads to sell his soul so he could learn how to play guitar.  In mythology you have the Greek goddess Hecate ruling over the crossroads.  And its no coincidence that she was also the goddess of the night.  All that's great and good, but how can we make this simple location something a little more interesting besides a choice in which direction to go?

One of the old customs was to execute and/or bury criminals and suicides at the crossroads.  This was done so that when the restless spirits that were not permitted to be buried in consecrated ground would not know which way to go to get back to town, thus eliminating that chance of revenge.  Teutonic knights constructed altars and performed human sacrifices at the crossroads.  There is also a good chance that gallows would be constructed there to execute the criminals. 

Some cultures believe if you want to acquire a certain skill one needs to visit the crossroads a number of times at certain times then you will meet the devil/spirit and he will give you a skill.  In game there might be some evil spirit living there to make deal with those who show they are serious.  The spirit will not just grant skills to someone who would waste the skill, when the spirit claim the soul they want a greater soul.  Someone who will become more than the skill he was given therefore there is a profit for the spirit.

This is just a small taste of what a simple location can become, a rich environment for your game.  Here is an impromptu random encounter table.  No details are given for creatures or people.  Just a little atmosphere text that can be crunched up by the GM if he or she so chooses.

Random Encounters at the Crossroads
  1. Three bodies hang from a large barren tree just beyond the crossroads.  The temperature drops and it begins to rain.  When the players near the tree lightning flashes and the tree is gone as the thunder rumbles above.
  2. A man sits on a rock just off the crossroad chewing on a piece of grass.  He nods and smiles.  Sun beats down and he sips from a clay jar at his side.  "Time for drinking. "  He says not looking at the players.  He's watches the road, "It'll be coming soon enough.  No time for drinking then. "  If asked he will chuckle.  "If you stick around, you'll find out. "  If the players take a sip from his jar they must make a save vs. poison.  On a failed save the player will see steam rising from one of the roads and flames will flare out from the ground.
  3. A tree trunk is decorated as a crude altar.  The one side is covered with candles, wax coats most of the bark.  A couple of baskets to the side are stained with blood and covered with flies.  Twenty-two shriveled hearts with two more on the way.  If the players wait around long enough they will meet Walter, a large, but simple man.  He's got a man thrown over his shoulder, arms and legs tied.  A large skinning knife in his hand.  "I got one left after this one and I won't be a bother to anyone.  I got to do this before the night comes in. "  Walter won't explain.  His home is nearby, which is no mare than a lean to.  He's got a woman unconscious tied to the tree.  All around Walter's home ropes lay at the base of trees where he kept the others.
  4. Two poles are pounded into the ground in the center of the crossroads.  A string of skulls hangs off of one pole, while another string lies on the ground.  If the players come through at night they will see one of the skulls as a dim green glow coming from inside.  The first player who touches it will hear a voice in his head.  The green glow will vanish to the other players.  "What do you want? "  The spirit will know where to find it or learn it.  If the player rejects the question the spirit will leave.  If the player makes a deal with the spirit is will bind with the player's.  
  5. A woman runs across the road screaming about demons and love.  Her eyes are wide and wild.  If the players stop her they will see her ears have been cauterized shut.  The longer the players restrain her the more hysterical she will become.  From the distance the players hear  the sound of a  sustained musical note.  Animals run in panic from the music.  Images of lost love ones, friends and enemies start appearing.  Some look like they remembered them, some look torn and tortured.
  6. The fog lies low and thick.  The ground wet and slow.  The players smell sulfur in the breeze.  An empty gallows sits off a ways, looking too new, too well built for a place like this.  A place of neither here nor there.  Up ahead smoke drifts into the air and smell of sulfur grows stronger. 
  7. A man dressed in fine dark leathers paces the crossroads, he hums as he walks.  When he sees the players approach he shakes his head.  "It ain't time.  I'll see you when you're ready.  I'll be here. "  A horse charges out of no where, the man bounds into the saddle and rides off.  
  8. A large old oak tree stands guard at the crossroads.  Something moves in the breeze that's nailed to the trunk.  Skin.  Someone's skin hangs by a nail.  No one and nothing else around.  

Additional Note: Paul over at Quickly, Quietly, Carefully has added another bit of legend to the crossroads.


  1. Taking a walk on the horror side - I like it!

  2. Hi,

    I love Your crossroads encounters. Can I translate them and put on my site in Polish?
    My site is place for free adventure ideas (also NPCs, items and places).

    What do U think?

  3. Great stuffs. The crossroads is indeed an evocative place with a lot of mythic ties: Hecate, Satan and guitar stringing, Papa Legba...

    I bet you could meet a Sleestak there, too, it's eyes eeriely reflecting the moonlight. ;)

  4. Beedo > Oh yeah. I love the creepy.

    btz > Absolutely.

  5. Trey > ha, Crossroads at the Lost City starring Sammy the Sleestak with Robert Johnson doing the soundtrack.

  6. My Petty Gods submission was Whisper Will, Petty Gods of the Crossroads.

    Hopefully when James M publishes soon, you will think I have done this topic well.

  7. Nice to see some darker stuff at the crossroads. Like it a lot.

  8. Nice work. I always feel like we could use more folkloric touches in our games.

  9. Great stuff Tim. Hecate, I knew about, but all the rest was completely new to me. I think I'll need to work in that bit about burying restless spirits at the crossroads so they won't seek revenge into my game. Thanks!

  10. One time I went down to the crossroads and saw Ralph Machio, er, Macchhio, oh forget it. I saw the Karate Kid in a guitar battle with Steve Vai.

    Great post, though. I didn't know about the suicides being buried there. Intriguing...

  11. This is some great stuff. I really like the creepy vibe. #3 is my favorite I think.

  12. @Tim and Trey: I'd do that movie, for sure. I'm not afraid of no crossroads. No sir.