~ Day 1 ~
It is a wet and miserable day as the explorers set out from Burthen across the vast, forlorn plain. A grey sky glowers overhead. Black clouds advance piteously from the south, harried by the furious winds. The autumnal chill clutches greedily at the travellers' very bones as they plod along, bent almost double against the heartless gale. None of them speak; only the doleful whispers of the wind in the grass give any voice to their small, human frailty. Somewhere in the distance a raven cries, or a solitary wolf howls out its loneliness, or some shit like that.
"I despise pathetic fallacies," grumbles Fridoline at last.
"It is the purple patches that I cannot abide," responds Aurélius.
They meet nary a [randomly encountered] soul upon their journey, which, by nightfall, has taken them to a great stone circle. Randeep goes on ahead to treat with the scarlet-robed cultists who hold the sanctuary [Willpower save succeeds], and secures the party lodgings for the night. The cultists invite their guests to join them in worshipping the Great Rakshasa, but they protest fatigue from the journey, and are left alone without further prodding.
[As before, the third visit to the Order of Liberation will require the PCs to make WIL saves to avoid corruption (which will probably take the form of mutations adapted from Gamma World / Metamorphosis Alpha / Mutant Future). But the stone circle also counts as civilisation; PCs can take a Long Rest here, which automatically counts as the third visit. The cultists are generally helpful and will sell minor supplies from their stores, though won't have much in the way of weapons or armour. Simple food and lodging are provided free of charge.
Q: Do the cult know of the temple in the swamp? 50/50 (4+): O3 C6 - No.]
~ Day 2 ~
The next morning the travellers are treated to a simple meal of fried mushrooms and black pudding. They ask their hosts about the missing explorers, and a rumour spreads throughout the circle. One of the brothers does remember them, and comes to give his account. "Oh yes, they did come this way. A lovely group of people, and what an encyclopaedic knowledge of poetry the giant had! They were looking for a way to the coast, but were chased off by the thugs working for that awful priestess in her fortress. They set out into the swamp some five weeks ago. I'm afraid that's the last we saw of them. I do hope they are well. If you find them, give them my warmest regards, and tell them we will always have a place for them here when they need respite from the chaos of the Deep Country -- as we shall always have one for you."
The explorers take their leave of the cult, and are soon slogging through the swamp, looking for any possible sign of their quarry.
[Since GM-me knows full well where the first party are, but player-me must have no idea, I will roll 1d6 to determine which way they proceed from each hex.
If the roll would put them back in a hex they've already explored, the party leader (Randeep at the moment) gets to make a WIL save to avoid them back-tracking. A guide (NPC Expert hireling) would obviate the need for such rolls. Come to think of it, they should probably be making WIL saves not to get lost in the swamp in the first place -- a rule I will wait to impose until they stop moving in random directions.]
After a few hours sloshing through the swamp, the explorers see a figure coming towards them out of the haze. It soon resolves into an old, long-bearded man carrying an axe and firewood. His eyes gleam with an unnatural intensity, but his manner and words are rustic and simple.
"Who are you lot?" he asks.
"We are sent from Burthen to find a lost expedition," replies Randeep.
[She made her WIL save to avoid conflict, so it's time to turn to UNE for the NPC conversation--
NPC Relationship: distrustful
Conversation Mood: cautious
scheming - agenda - power
As he was Scheming, I decided he was not about to reveal his Agenda to get Power, so instead...]
"I ain't seen no expedition," says the old man. "You sure they came this way?"
"We know only that they came into the swamp."
"If you help me carry my wood home, I'll help you find your expedition."
"How could we refuse?"
Each of the explorers take a portion of the old man's wood, and he leads them off through the mire to his hovel, whereat he collects all the wood again and makes to carry it inside. But wait! There is one explorer who finds her load lighter than when she set out; the hermit has stolen Fridoline's Red-oil Stave! [she rolls a WIL save: 1d20=2, success]
"Hey!" cries Fridoline, "that man has stolen my arcanum! Give it back, you wretch!"
"Never!" replies the hermit, and he turns the wondrous stave upon them, spewing slippery red oil on the ground before them [PCs lost initiative].
STR 8, DEX 13, WIL 11, 10 HP
axe (1d6), hypnotic voice, aura of harmlessness
driven to steal arcana
Randeep, Aurélius, and Fridoline draw their pistols and fire upon the hermit, but the old man seems tougher than a mere mortal. Two of the bullets strike him in the torso, and one grazes his shoulder. All three wounds begin leaking a viscous, yellow fluid. Yet he seems unfazed, perhaps even more defiant as he unlimbers his axe. [The shots did 1d6 damage each: 3+1+3; He still has 3hp remaining].
Randeep and Fridoline draw their knives and advance on the hermit. Aurélius must content himself with using the butt of his pistol like a club, but as he is turning it round he loses his footing in the red oil, and falls face-first in to the oily muck [Randeep and Fridoline made their DEX saves to cross the oil]. The hermit is ready for his attackers, and takes a swing at Fridoline. She can feel the breeze from the axe blade as it whistles right past her nose, but aside from a momentary shock and a skipped heartbeat, she is unscathed [1 damage leaves her with 1hp]. Randeep and Fridoline pounce on the hermit as he is recovering from the swing, stabbing him repeatedly in gut with their long knives. He shrieks out a few syllables in a tongue older than mankind as he falls [4+5 damage takes out his remaining 3hp and reduces his STR to 2; d20=8 critical damage]. Fridoline stands over the unconscious hermit and plucks her stave triumphantly from his fingers. She buries her knife up to the hilt in his back. As the hermit expires, his body dissolves into a rancid puddle of filth.
[Q: Does he have any treasure? Likely (3+): O1 C7 - No.]
The explorers search the hermit's rude hut, but they find nothing but pile upon pile of sticks. He seems to have had nothing of value save his axe, which Fridoline gives over to Aurélius, saying, "Here. You might find this a more suitable weapon in close quarters. Provided you get that far next time!"
They set out again through the muck.
~ Day 3 ~
The explorers continue their divagation through the fens. At one point they fear that they are walking in circles, but Randeep steers them back to the proper course.
After a long march, the swamp resolves into the great mushroom forest. And in the distance, nestled on a hill amongst the towering fungi, a stout fortress is visible. The explorers approach with some caution, but in the hopes of hearing news of their quarry, or at least securing dry lodgings for the night.
[On the morning of day 3, 1d6=6; the first move was NW. Then 1d6=2, which would have put them back in the hex where they encountered the hermit, but Randeep made a WIL save. So re-rolling, 1d6=6 - into the mushroom forest hex, where the feature roll was 1d30=19: castle/keep/stronghold. Of course the PCs want to explore it, so I made a few rolls.
Q: Who owns the keep? d30=fighter; d30=count
Q: Is a patrol sent out? 50/50: O3 C5 - No.
Q: Is the gate guarded? Very Likely (2+): O1 C2 - No, and...
Q: Can PCs find anyone about? unknown 1d6=3(likely): O5 C3 - Yes, but... all clustered in one place.
Q: Where are they? (the d30 Sandbox companion's chart NPCH: Noble Household Officers makes a good random castle location generator, so 1d30=) in the kitchen
Q: What are they doing? Violate / Allies
I have a good picture (or three) to go along with all this, but I daren't reveal the awful truth until the PCs have discovered it! Besides, they're still standing outside at this point, so back to the adventure...]
The castle is a stout fortress in good repair, and occupying an easily defensible position on a sort of hillock. The drawbridge is down over the limpid moat, which bubbles slowly and exudes a strong smell of acetone. The portcullis is raised, but no guards are to be seen at the gate, nor does any patrol issue forth to challenge the approaching party.
They cross the threshold cautiously, but not a soul is to be found in the courtyard. Aurélius shouts 'halloo!' but a hollow echo is the only response. And yet, certain signs of habitation are all about them. Here a half-drunk cup of tea cools atop a barrel. There a fresh loaf sits, with but a single bite taken from it. Someone's pants are drying on a line in an upstairs window.
They cross the courtyard into the great hall with some trepidation. The hall itself is dark and empty, but a lively hubbub emanates from a door at its back.
[Luck roll: 1d6=1 (most unfavourable)]
As they are walking towards it, the door suddenly opens and a servant emerges. [1d6=]She stops short when she sees strangers -- and armed ones, no less -- in the hall.
NPC Relationship: distrustful
Conversation Mood: neutral
friendly - support - allies]
"Ecastor!" cries she in alarm. "Who are you?"
"Be not afraid," says Randeep, hastily putting away her pistol. "We are searching the land for a lost expedition, and happened upon this castle. We would impose upon your lord's hospitality, if we may."
"Of... of course."
"When may we meet the ruler of this place?"
[Q: When? (1d4) 1 now, 2 at dinner, 3 tomorrow, 4 never; 3=tomorrow]
"The Count is out hunting in the forest. He shall probably not be back before late. Come, let me show you to the guest chambers. I'll ring for one of the below stairs maids to quarter your servants."
"Servants!" shrieks Wanda. "Well, I never!"
"We run a proper house here. Count yourself lucky you won't be shown to the stables!"
"Excuse me, miss," says Randeep, "but I fear you misunderstand the composition of our group. These are not our servants, rather our comrades-in-arms. Junior expeditionary members, if you will." [WIL save succeeds]
The reluctant maid rings her bell anyways, and shouts some orders at her underlings before turning back to the guests. "I have ordered rooms prepared for you all in the guests' wing, as befits your stations. We dress for dinner here, and you will find adequate clothing in the wardrobes. Also, I've taken the liberty of ordering a bath drawn for each of you in your chambers. Don't take this the wrong way, good ladies and noble sirs, but you do have the air of the swamp about you. You will be summoned to the dining hall in due course."
The explorers are eager to see their quarter, and in truth relish the prospect of a warm bath after their trek.
[So at this point I decided to draw a random picture to set the next scene and determine what (most likely horrible) event was to befall the party. I've got a bunch of pictures that look like them in a folder, and I ended up with the one following. A few moments examination produced the situation below described.]
As each emerges from their bath into their sumptuously appointed chamber, they are struck by a horrible revelation: all their equipment has been stolen as they bathed. Each dresses hurriedly, and they rush to their companions' rooms with the news. But one door of the six remains closed, and though they knock upon it furiously, no answer is forthcoming. Where is Severin?
Then it is that Aurélius remembers seeing a pile of papers on the dressing table in his room that had not been there when he was shown in. They rush back to examine the ominous stack. Aurélius snatches them off the table and unfolds them. The words thereon are written in large, ungainly characters, not in ink but in blood, and there can be little doubt of whose. Aurélius reads the gory missive aloud:
Sorry, chaps, but I've gone and gotten myself captured. And damn it if I haven't already lost a digit to prove that my gaolers are in earnest about the threats they shall most certainly be making on my person should you refuse their demands. As this severed finger makes but a poor quill, I shall close this letter and let them explain all to you when you see them at dinner.