Domain of the Month
Another month, another domain! The land where the noise in the night is numerous tiny gnawing teeth...
Third edition: RL3E / RLPH, Gaz 3, LotB
Novels: Scholar of Decay, Tales of Ravenloft (Nocturne)
Other selected interesting source: Dragon # 264 (The Cult of Simon Audaire), Lonesome Rd website (Ricoba)
Part of the Core.
Darklord: Jacqueline Renier
ScS of the Fraternity
It’s a buyers market for real estate, with so many abandoned manors in Richemulot. In fact, houses are open to just about anyone who chooses to move in. But what happens when the old owners leave something behind?
Some of the nouveau rich have moved into an old crumbling manor on the edge of the city. They have moved into a temporary quarters in a tower, while servants refurbish the house. There are strange scratching noises that come from the walls, but the Richemoulese are used to hearing rats. While expanding the wine cellar, the workmen knock down what appeared to be an extraneous wall, and find a chamber beyond. There they find a maze of halls and chambers, which might once have been a dungeon. Inside they find a grizzly discovery - a pile of bones. The remains are humanoid, though grossly disfigured. Some parts appear child-like, while others are grossly enlarged - especially the left hand, which is weighed with claw-like digits more than a foot in length. The bones were found beneath what appeared to be a trap door in the ceiling (which was concealed by fake floor boards in the floor above). Throughout the halls and chambers of the prison are numerous messages, carved in huge letters into the solid stone: "Please let me out" Soon after the discovery, the disturbances begin. Animals become panicked without reason, mysterious accidents occur, food and other objects are found shredded. At first the family believed it to be rats, but then they found the writing... inside their own rooms. The family is under siege from the mysterious spirit, and with each night the haunting becomes more violent. Though the family publicly disavows any rumours of ghosts - instead blaming rats and villainous labourers, in private, they are seeking help.
The Uncle is a very influential Wererat aristocrat & criminal guildmaster. He controls the family, a criminal organization of wererats.
The family is composed of:
The Family members are after luxurious lives among the humans and power in the human Richemulot society. They are more distant from their sewer-delving kin. Many wererats don't like them because they become haughty and superiors. The Family members use theft to acquire what they want, secrets, bribes and blackmail to gain influence and assassination when it suits them.
The Uncle has built a large spy network of relatives-in-law and has placed many Nephews and cousins in key positions. He is a cunning manipulator and strategist of the battles of the court. His true power is that he knows much. He is very wealthy and can pay dearly for secrets and feared enough for spies to not betray him or the Family.
On the other hand, all Nephews and cousins are accomplished rogues (At least 3rd level rogues, usually have 1-2 levels or aristocrat or expert).
The uncle: male Wererat aristocrat 2/rogue 7/wiz 3
Hooks: - The powerful PCs come to town. The Uncle learns of their exploits and tries to find a dark secret in their past or even create one so that he can later manipulate them. He tries to trick and manipulate the PCs to go against someone powerful or unwittingly commit a crime without their knowledge.
The cities of Richemulot all straddle the Musarde. To understand these places one must understand the great artery of the Western Core.
For the wererats the ultimate avenue of attack is up out of, and of retreat is down beneath, the dark, torpid waters of the river. No human is safe at night in Richemulot within reach of the Musarde and the river seems to do its best to hold as much of the population as possible close at hand.
Strictly speaking the water is not even safe for the wererats, especially a lone wererat, although no effort is spared by them to hunt down and destroy a menace once it has been identified. Marauding creatures typically do not last very long. But subtler, cunning creatures, with a determination and a capacity to evade identification, endure. Noteworthy among these latter are a sea hag and a sea zombie in Pont-a-Museau, a freshwater troll shaman and a trapper (which on foggy nights is often joined by a will o'wisp) in St. Ronges, and a serial killer wererat with a ring of water breathing in Montigny. The Musarde in Richemulot is also home to a bogeyman called the Pied Piper who lures with his music young wererat offspring who are too trusting of others into his grasps to be drowned. And very infrequently there are attacks by an intelligent undead corrupt water elemental (see below) that roams the length of the river, riding both the high tides that swell through the Musarde Delta and the run off of spring and of prodigious storms.
The three cities have river pilots that must be taken upon each vessel that would ply the urban waterways, supposedly for its own safety. In addition to the coin won by charging for this service, these pilots are a chief defence of Richemulot against rivals and enemies. The docks and shipping in Richemulot are dominated by wererats and those willing to pay to be left alone by them. This latter courtesy is never extended to other lycanthropes or to shapechangers generally however. They are set upon and murdered to their last at the first convenient occasion. The dominance of the werewolf captains of Verbrek up river ends well before the Richemulot frontier and indeed Borca is host to a usually cold but sometimes hot war between lycanthropes. The wererat captains seek to dominate the trade downriver but are somewhat constrained by Falkovnia and are increasingly challenged in the lower Musarde by seawolf captains. Human captains alone, if they can afford the bribes and taxes, may sail from the Sea of Sorrows to Karina in relative safety so far as politics goes. Evidently such is not the case for demi-humans with Falkovnia blocking the way below Richemulot. And needless to say ships passing out of Falkovnia are closely inspected as a matter of military security
The bog below St Ronges has an especially foul reputation, first for the grounding of ships in the shallow, shifting water beside it and second for will o'wisps, to say nothing of more mundane dangers such as leaches. Ironically, where river pilots would be most useful, navigating the uncertain waters between the three cities with the menacing bogs close at hand, their services are not obligatory and are usually prohibitively expensive. Organised attacks by humans or wererats are rare so long as a boat remains in open water. A stuck or beached craft is quite another matter and is likely to draw fell attention by night at the very least. There are few wrecked hulls that attest to this however, as bandit leaders by night are likely to name themselves captains by day, at least once necessary repairs are made. Other notable dangers are vampiric mists and even a crimson death.
It should be stressed that a lycanthropic presence upon the docks and upon the river is not something that is discussed. There are individuals and families that must be paid and people unwilling to do this typically disappear or even more disturbingly end up working for those they previously scorned. And when there is an undisguised attack by wererats it is calculated to leave no witnesses free to recount the matter.
A minor but especially unsavoury business, chiefly in Pont-a-Museau, but occasionally reaching into St Ronges or even Mortigny, is the kidnapping of demi-humans who are sold into slavery and shipped to Falkovnia. The trade does not enjoy official sanction but little real effort is made to eradicate it as the wererats involved make the necessary payments to their brothers. Direct involvement by Falkovnians is also kept to an absolute minimum. Efforts by Falkovnian agents themselves to repatriate the living property of Vlad Drakov, or at least to kill notable escapees, have had a marked tendancy to end badly in very public failure. Indeed the two things that no captain wants to be caught smuggling are Falkovnian agents and weapons from or to Falkovnia.
The Musarde and its tributaries are home to unusual dangers. Three of these, which may be ill met together or separately, are detailed below. The first, Old Bones, is a unique undead created in the Il-Aluk disaster and obsessed with the collection of bones. The second, Restless Ivory, is a spawn of Old Bones but may also arise spontaneously in the right conditions and possesses a wealth of unlikely, odd and disturbing facts, knowledge and lore. The third, Old Bone’s Skeletons, are, when free-willed, tragic spawns of Old Bones that would gladly welcome assistance in the destruction of their creator.
Corrupted Water Necromental
Old Bones is typically identified as hundreds of ivory white bones carried along on the surface by a current and clinking together like wind chimes. Of the bones it may be noticed (DC 15 Intelligence check) that not a few are broken and that many hold together to form partial or even whole members. The ivory mass when spread out (400 square feet) provides improved cover (+10 Hide) and when packed closely provides total cover to the 2d4 skeletons that typically lurk beneath it. Though the undead elemental is not in fact bound to the bones it carries with it, it values greatly its collection and may command those members that were animated through its energy drain attack.
The story of Old Bones begins in the sewers of Il-Aluk where a water elemental, with a curious habit of collecting bones, was imprisoned by Azalin Rex. The wave of negative energy that reduced the capital of Darkon to the City of the Slain on the winter solstice of 750, transformed the creature, already twisted by its entry into the Demiplane of Dread (see Corrupted Elemental Template in New Monsters by John W Mangrum), into an intelligent variant of a necromental and, directly or indirectly, set it free. In the near decade since Old Bones has put into practice its philosophy of leaving no bone behind.
The Musarde and its tributaries are the haunt of Old Bones. The entity never ventures more than 180 feet on to land or into the Sea of Sorrows and is circumscribed in the tributaries by water falls or rapidly dwindling water volume. Rarely is it to be found in the Vulchar River and never near Darkon or in caves or sewers. The passions of the entity are fresh bones, strong eddies, whirlpools, swelling or surging waters and the storms that promise these. Spring lures Old Bones upriver and often into the tributaries, rushing water whetting its appetite for fresh bones. The stillness of winter induces near torpor, it being roused from its repose in the Musarde Delta chiefly by the high tides of the full and new moons, the surges of sea borne storms, and its appetite. At other times Old Bones chases after hints of gathering storms and in its haste may ignore prey not directly in its path. When fine weather is promised in all directions the entity broods in the Musarde Delta or in the eddies or whirlpools at river confluences, and is prone to attack whatever ventures by.
Human constructions impeding the flow of water such as locks, dams, mills, or even large crafts in shallow channels, risk the ire of Old Bones. Any individual within 10 feet of the water’s edge or surface is a very tempting target. Any individual within 40 feet of shore, especially if alone, is a tempting target. But any individual beyond 180 feet is safe. A boat whose occupants are out of sight and that is drifting or even sailing is likely to be ignored. Whereas a craft loaded with revelers heading for carnival in Karina or a paddle-wheeler awash with light and passengers is begging for fell attention. Swimmers and those wading in water are irresistible targets. When the Musarde or a tributary bursts its banks, Old Bones revels in the slaughter of individuals who have suddenly found themselves knee deep, or worse, in water.
The many depredations of Old Bones, most recently during flooding in Kartakass, have not been traced back to a unique source. Rather they have nourished and spawned disparate rumours and tales. The exception to this rule is in Lamordia, where the destruction of shipping in the Musarde Delta has yielded more serious questions than speculative answers, and in Richemulot, where two significant attacks upon Montigny and one minor attack upon Pont-au-Museau were widely witnessed as the cover of night is no proof against the spying eyes of rats and their more intelligent kin. The most widely circulated account in Richemulot holds that the phenomenon, which was dubbed Old Bones by a Mordentish survivor, surges violently into businesses and homes during the hour of peak flooding, that it consists of bones from Borcan peasants dumped into the Musarde for want of money for burial, that the restless spirits form and reform their bones into skeletons that avenge themselves upon the living, that the mere sight of the vengeance breaks the will and unhinges the mind, and that the attack is not so much thrown back as survived, for salvation comes with the receding of the flood or the arrival of the dawn. Certain individuals well versed in the teachings of Ezra, among them church fathers in Levkarest, connect the phenomenon to a prophesised Time of Unparalleled Darkness and shutter. A wandering and probably mad priest of the Morninglord hunts the phenomenon, proclaiming it to be the work of Count Strahd von Zarovich XI. The patrons of the Truite ivre in Montigny and the rabble of that city generally accuse a Kartakan skald dressed in black of calling the doom into existence as retribution for some terrible loss unjustly suffered.
The undead elemental has no fear of attacking in broad day light but pursues large scale efforts under the cover of fog, mist, or darkness. The entity knows when to leave a fight and will abandon its bones to save itself. It does not distinguish between classes and consequently has no preferred targets in a fight, save for any one perceived to be attempting to command it. It has never had sufficient reason to answer any attempt to communicate with it. Mercy is alien to Old Bones. It does, however, have a taste for the macabre and arguably a perverse sense of humour. When in a playful mood the entity may have a newly animated skeleton make a public display of tearing its own flesh from its bones, ending with its smiling lips. (DC 15 Horror check).
In its proper person the undead elemental is formidable. In addition, the skeletons animated by its energy drain give it both reach and means of creating diversions and striking from behind on land. Finally, the remains of those skeletons when collected and integrated into an animated swarm of bone can be even deadlier.
Against a lone individual within 15 feet of water, the undead elemental leaves its bones a short distance up river and attempts to surge up from the water either (with surprise) in a charge or (without surprise) past the target to initiate from behind a Bull Rush intended to drive the victim into the water. Against two or more individuals within 15 feet of the shore, it leaves its bones a short distance up river and attempts either (with surprise) a charge or (without surprise) a full attack divided among its opposition. Confronted with a lone individual within 40 feet of the shore, it leaves its bones a short distance up river and attempts a charge. If opposition is not quickly overwhelmed it may as a free action audibly command in Aquan (Intelligence check DC 25 to recognise the sound, which is vaguely reminiscent of whale song, as meaningful) its skeletons to quit the water and to rush to its assistance from the side or to attack from behind. The swarm, once it has drifted into place, may be likewise ordered to drag itself up out of the water and attack. The swarm is likely to cast Obscuring Mist in the round prior to entering combat. Old Bones will strike at an individual up to 180 feet from the shore if there is cover for the skeletons to get behind the target and to initiate the attack.
A lone individual in the water will be charged by the entity with its bones in tow, permitting the skeletons and the animated swarm of bone to attack too. Before unleashing its vortex attack against multiple individuals in the water, Old Bones will bring its swarm of animated bone to bear against one or more targets, attack with its Haunting Sound, do the same with its skeletons, again attack with its Haunting Sound, and make at least one successful energy drain attack.
Old Bones will put itself and its bones in the path of a targeted boat or ship and begin its assault with its Haunting Sound. Thereafter crafts up to forty-five feet in length may be capsized. Against larger ships the entity will hurl itself and its bones aboard, will leave the skeletons and the swarm of animated bone to their vile work, and will return to the water to attack the hull or to drive the craft onto waiting rocks. In forlorn sections of the Musarde, especially in foggy conditions, and against the largest ships, a far subtler campaign may be waged. The paddle-wheel will be ‘accidentally’ broken with the assistance of a log, and then the craft will be brought to a halt mid-river on a ‘sand bar.’ With the coming of night any lone individuals setting foot on deck vanish as do any lifeboats. This will be followed by lightning raids by the skeletons against small and vulnerable groups of targets. Next the skeletons will be sent to launch a major diversion as the hull is breeched from below. Finally the skeletons, the swarm of animated bones and the undead elemental will be waiting as the rising water forces everyone onto the decks. Light sources will be extinguished, Obscuring Mist summoned, and the Haunting Sound attack employed to make the most of the moment.
When mopping up opposition Old Bones attempts energy drain attacks so as to create new undead under its control. The skeletons and the swarm of animated bones may be ordered to attempt a grapple to this same ultimate end and for the sheer wrongness of it (DC 15 Horror check).
A restless ivory is generally encountered as hundreds of ivory white humanoid bones either floating lifelessly on water or lying motionlessly on ground. The mass may be spread out (400 square feet) but is typically packed closely (100 square feet). Of the bones it may be noticed (DC 15 Intelligence check) that many hold together to form partial or even whole members. Without warning the bones can snap into a riving mass capable of not only grappling targets but of drowning them in as little as knee deep water. Victims of the entity are stripped clean of their flesh.
A restless ivory is an intelligent undead swarm of animated bone with a hatred of humanoid life and a wealth of dark secrets.
When certain catalysts are present bones with trace amounts of residual life and of negative energy animate spontaneously as a restless ivory. Should the presence of a powerful undead creature be the decisive factor the swarm is subject to its commands. When separated from its master for six hours or when arising in the absence of such a being, animated bone swarms become free-willed. They desire to destroy what brought them into existence, but as this is rarely possible or evident, they generally turn to the annihilation of humanoid life. Exceptionally, a dark goal may be adopted from the past life of a constituent member. Typically restless ivories understand many languages (perhaps even secret or dead) depending upon the backgrounds of their constituent bones. They are incapable of audible communication, but they can physically gesture or even write if given good reason to do so.
From specimen to specimen powers differ significantly. Each restless ivory begins with the feats Misted Ability (sometimes replaced with Jack of All Trades), Misted Memory, Scent of the Grave (sometimes replaced with Misted Memory), and Improved Grapple and with a minimum of one rank in Heal, Hide, Listen, Move Silently, Spot, and Survival, 6 additional skill points to be assigned immediately, and 9 extra skill points to be assigned at apt moments. Feats and Skills connected with Misted Memory and Misted Ability manifest themselves as revealed latencies of the entity’s bones. Feats especially worthy of consideration are Mist Courting and Redhead. Other potentially interesting feats include: Ability Focus (Resist Turning), Alertness, Dabbler, Darkness Within, Godless, Indomitable, Jack of All Trades, Lunatic, Reincarnated, Second Sight, Self-Sufficient, Sharp Eyes, Skill Focus, Stealthy, Sworn Enemy, Temporal Fugue, Track, University Education, and Unseen. Any ancestral requirements are met by presuming a bone of the relevant line is present. A restless ivory with influence or control over animals through the Animal Handling skill or spells granted by the Redhead feat will not have the Scent of the Grave feat. Powers are typically used creatively to achieve as many of the following ends as possible: hide, distract, lure, defend, and attack.
A restless ivory is a repository of unlikely, odd, and disturbing facts, knowledge and lore thanks to memories attached to its bones and to its memory swapping attack. The entity has the equivalent of Bardic Knowledge. Extracting useful information from a restless ivory, even if it is willing, is not easy however. The most promising means, a Speak with dead spell, affords some clarity, but with a +4 penalty to the requisite Madness check. Half of any information gained should be mistaken or mixed up in some important detail as a consequence of the entity’s limited intelligence.
Restless Ivories are poor swimmers, but the shallows suit them well, and, to the extent that they are known, they are associated with rivers. In particular they have only been found in or near the Arden and its tributaries, the Vulchar below Il-Aluk, and the lower reaches of the Musarde and its delta. Rumours from time to time place them further up the Musarde too. Their appearance is often tied to swollen waters resulting from a great storm or exceptional spring run off. It is speculated in Mordant that they arise when a cemetery is swept away. The Falkovnian military deems them to be a recent invention of Azalin Rex intended to spy and harass. Lamordians in the Musarde Delta encounter them occasionally but rare is the individual who survives and whose macabre tale is believed.
Restless ivories have a great preference for locations facilitating surprising against a target, hindering the escape of that target, aiding in the quiet dispatch of the target through drowning, and affording protection from fire. Shallows, marshes, swamps, bogs, and mud holes are all promising locations. Although restless ivories have the patience of the dead, they will try to draw victims to them and will move on to other locations if no victims are forthcoming. Ideally the entity snaps to life all around a target, tears into it, grapples it, pins it, and drowns it, all within a few rounds. When a victim escapes or when an attack is witnessed, the restless ivory departs, a river current being the perfect means of quietly slipping away.
Old Bone's Skeletons
The bones of Old Bone’s skeletons are never covered by clothing, are picked clean of all flesh within days of their creation, and are generally a near gleaming ivory white, although mud camouflage may be applied when attempting to remain unseen on land. Attacks are made not with weapons but rather with claws.
Old Bone’s Skeletons are notable for the lingering intelligence that in theory makes them dangerous but that in practice makes them tragic.
These skeletons are created as a consequence of the energy drain attack of Old Bones and they answer to its audible commands. When separated from the undead elemental for six hours, they become free-willed. Thereafter they accept gladly any offered assistance in avenging themselves upon their creator, but they do not have plans or strategies of their own to offer. Careful questioning might reveal something useful however. No deed is too black for them to contemplate or to accept to this end.
They understand Aquan, Darkonese, and any languages they knew in life. They cannot speak but can write for the most part. Freed of their creator, they spend their time out of sight, near the shore or just beneath the surface of the Musarde, always watching for the return of their nemesis. An air of tragedy hangs about them. They are usually not long for this world. And their freedom to begin with is a rare gift.
The five skeletons under Old Bone’s command can be deemed to have passed out of its control and be placed anywhere along the Musarde and its tributaries. The plight of these individuals and of those who preceded them has gone unnoticed save for in a little known song titled The Watchers by a band of bards from Mordant (see the Morts-qui-dancent in the Book of Sacrifices, p. 73) who began touring the Core for as long as anyone living can remember.
When under the command of Old Bone’s, the actions of these skeletons are under its strict control. When free-willed, they do not seek out the living. They do, however, defend themselves if attacked and fight intelligently, if minimally so, as a group. If they do not feel seriously threatened, they may grapple rather than kill, disarming opponents before slipping away beneath the waters of the Musarde.
Sister, Sister, Oh so fair...
Jacqueline contracts a disease that weakens her, but doesn't kill her. Louise, eager to grab the reigns, tries to wrest control of the domain from her sister. Unfortunately, Louise doesn't reckon on Jacqueline's political clout, so settles for being her sister's proxy.
As Jacqueline's condition worsens, Louise takes it on herself to play nursemaid. Rather than help her sister, she uses the situation to torture her psychologically.
After leaving the remains of on of Jacqueline's trained rat-spies for a meal, Jacqueline decides enough is enough. Using her mist form, she steals away from Chateau Delanuit each night, trying to find a cure.
One night she discovers that a rare root found in Borca is the answer. Fortunately, she discovers this information the very night that she hears a group of adventurers are in town...
A mysterious noblewoman, newly arrived from the Mists and set up in [some domain other than Richemulot] enlists the PC's because she is beset by spies, thieves and gossips at all angles. The conspiracy is powerful but its aims are not clear; they don't want to destroy her, but seem more directed at thwarting "plots" that the woman isn't actually planning.
Digging deeper reveals the twisted truth: the woman is Louise Renier, but she's suffering from a variation of amnesia called "dissociative fugue," wherein a person moves to a new place, creates a new life and completely forgets their old one. Louise is sincerely confused about what's going on, but her sister isn't buying it. The agents that Jackie's sent to harass her sister are jumping at shadows, seeing dire plots and plans where none exist--after all, there's got to be some good reason for Louise to enact such a risky deception!
Meanwhile, Jacqueline's phobias are crushing her, and her "solution" is only making things worse: she's taken to impersonating her sister so often that no one knows that Louise has fled. This has exposed some of Louise's network, but Jackie is quickly spiraling into such paranoid madness that she's in no position to take any real advantage from what she's learning. If Louise does not return soon, the people of Richemulot will discover how mad their ruler is, and the result could be a cascade of scheming and backstabbing and manipulating on par with a civil war.
Of course, if Louise is cured and returns, most of her local contacts will have been exposed, and while she rebuilds them she'll probably have to rely on foreign agents from her foster country. Either way, Richemulot may never be the same again.
Oh, and the reason Louise went mad? She can't remember. That's the problem with dissociative disorders, you know. But maybe she'll get an upper hand on her sister again if she uses her new magical device that allows her to read her Jackie's thoughts. She only had it for a day or so before she disappeared, and she doesn't recall using it before she left....
The Flood of 758
The adventurers are in a seedy dive named the Truite ivre in Montigny early one beautiful midsummer evening when a black clad skald (see the Black Skald in Van Ritchen’s Guide to the Mists, p. 14) makes his entrance and the locals begin making their exit, with the staff and barkeep soon slipping out the backdoor.
Undeterred, the skald, manifestly among the greatest of Kartakass, plays on, his repertoire being at once powerful, gripping, and tragic.
Mean while pandemonium begins to sweep the poorest streets as the rabble of the city are convinced that their doom is at hand. When this fact is brought to the attention of the mist cursed skald he will be pleased beyond measure, for at last one of his warnings of impending disaster has been heeded. His previous two cryptic warnings in this very venue in the springs of 751 and 755 of flood waters and the evil (see new monsters above) that they bear were not understood.
Sadly, the rabble are a fatalistic lot and are never heeded themselves, so few are doing anything so practical as fleeing the city and none has succeeded in raising the general alarm.
It is up to the adventurers - with the assistance of a mad priest of the Morninglord who recognizes the hand of Count Strahd von Zarovich XI and apocalyptic followers of Ezra who recognise the Time of Unparalleled Darkness - to unravel what the appearance of the Black Skald forebodes, to carry that news to the authorities, and to defend the city. The ‘association’ of the adventurers in the eyes of the rabble with the Black Skald complicates enormously the task.
Should the adventurers fail to act, the threat is coming to their door in any case.
Campaign Journal - "The Becoming Plague"
The campaign was based on the dread possibility "The Becoming Plague". I attempted to keep it as canon as possible, and most of the NPCs are canon. The story, however, was designed to be as loose as possible. I created an overall story arc, and a few plot hooks, and pretty much let the players do whatever they wished. All players started the campaign at fifth level, and finished at seventh level.
In time, all the party members come know each other, and all are now currently trusted friends of Javier Renier.
Javier Renier discovers that a new strain of lycanthropy is being developed, and believes Louise Renier to be the mastermind. He needs to warn Jacqueline about her sister's plot, but is unable to (Legacy of Blood). Fearing for the safety of his family, now that he has uncovered this plot, he sends them, along with some of his most trusted soliders, to Darkon. Next, he writes and seals letters to his next most-trusted group of allies in the city, asking them to meet with him on a certain date, at a certain time, at a certain tavern.
Each member of the party, except for Leon and Renee', receive the letters from Javier and meet at the tavern (which is owned by Sylvian). The letters specifically stated that other letters had been sent to the other members of the party, and that no one else was to be present at this meeting. The party wonders why Leon and Renee' haven't shown up. Not to mention, Javier hasn't shown up either, and he's never late. After a lengthy wait, a barmaid brings over a round of ale and note that she was asked to give them. The party, believing the note to be from Javier and the ale to be a gesture of apology for being late or unable to make the meeting, opens it.
The note says,
Now believing Javier Renier to be dead, the party is now concerned for Leon and Renee'. They leave the tavern and head out into the night, planning to get their things and locate their two missing friends. Once their equipment has been gathered from their respective homes, they find their friends Leon and Renee' and fill them in on the situation. As a group, they head to Renee's house to retrieve his equipment, while Leon travels to his own home. It is agreed that they will all flee the city and Leon will catch up with them later. Leon returns home to find his house broken into, yet left undisturbed. The only evidence of a break-in is a stain outside of his water closet. Leon grabs his gear and sets off to track the party.
The party makes it very clear and public that they are leaving the city for a wine festival in Mordent. They then travel across the Silent Fields to Sylvian's secluded manor, where they can decide their next course of action. They arrive at the manor early the next morning where they are shortly joined by Leon. Everyone in the group is obviously shaken by the news that their friend and employer, Javier Renier, is dead. However, it is decided that since they haven't seen his body, they can't confirm or deny his alleged fate. They also realise that it might be a better idea to hide in public, rather than wait to be killed in seclusion. Everyone rests at the manor for the day and returns to Pont-a-Museau later that evening. Meanwhile, those responsible for Javier's alleged death have watched their note succeed wonderfully. At first, they did not know all the identities of those Javier was working with, even after intercepting the letters addressed to Leon and Renee'. They had decided to deliver their threat and watch who ran.
After returning to Pont-a-Museau, the party decides to do some detective work. However, they are unable to confirm or deny Javier's death. Sylvian decides to go to a popular local tavern called The Black Rat, and receives a message:
Sylvian relays this information to the rest of the party and, after long deliberation, they decide to meet Javier. However, the only one who will make contact with him will be Sylvian. The rest will hide themselves near the isolated corner in Pont-a-Museau where Javier has requested they meet.
Later that evening, after the rest of the party has hidden themselves, Sylvian feigns drunkeness and stumbles to the corner. Ahead of him, he sees Javier and what appears to be a hardened mercenary waiting for him. Sylvian approaches them and Javier greets him warmly, but with sobering news. He tells Sylvian of the coming plague, reveals that he has allied himself with one of the local wererat clans who oppose it, and asks for his assistance. Sylvian agrees and signals the rest of the party who come out of hiding, to Javier's delight.
Javier insists that the surface of the city is not safe, and asks Sylvian and his friends to follow him and his guardian into the sewers where they will be safe in his ally's warren. The party agrees, and they decend into the depths. Upon entering the sewers, Javier instructs the party to follow him while the mercenary keeps watch from the rear of the group. The party agrees. They travel a few feet before the party realises that it is too dark to continue further and a few members light torches. Javier continues walking.
Later, still in the sewers, Javier signals everyone to stop and extinguish their lights. Ahead in the darkness, a lone figure can been heard approaching. Javier and the mercenary both sniff the air, and draw their weapons. After a brief battle in the darkness, the party re-lights their torches to see Javier and the mercenary standing over the corpse of a dead wererat. Javier explains that it is just a sentry from a rival clan and continues moving. Later, the party arrives at the wererats' warren. It is a rather large sewer chamber covered with straw and filth, and several large tables and a multitude of wererats are present. Several wererats are guarding something in the corner. Javier asks them politely to sit down so that he may explain what's going on. The party does as he asks, and Javier asks them a few questions - What do they know about the plague? Have they told anyone else? His memory is a little foggy, and he asks them what he has already told them so that he might continue his explaination where he left off.
Previous to this encounter, Javier has mentioned nothing of a plague. The party realises this. Shortly afterward, they hear Javier's voice ask from the corner, "Sylvian, is that you?!" The wererats move away from the corner to reveal a bloody and beaten Javier Renier and draw their weapons. His ruse destroyed, the pretender allows his illusion to drop, revealing a staff-wielding, filth-covered rat. The mercenary draws his swords and the party begins to fight for their lives.
Vastly outnumbered, the party is not fairing well. The Gentleman Bandit and his comrade William have been separated in the middle of the battle, and the two bards Leon and Renee' are also in separate corners of the warren. It is all Renee' can to do keep himself and The Gentleman Bandit alive with what little healing magic he has. Leon, however, remembers that Javier is an excellent fighter, and tumbles away from his attackers so that he might heal the wounded Javier. That done, Javier stumbles to his feet and says, "Leon, give me your sword." Leon tosses his rapier to Javier, and the tide of the battle turns.
With Javier's help, the party manages to defeat the mercenary and his wererat companions. However, the pretender manages to escape near the end of the battle. Everyone is severely wounded, and both bards are exhausted from their spell-casting. Everyone kills the fallen wererats that are still living and decides to find a way out of the sewers. After hours of trekking through filth and grime, the party decides it is time to take a rest. During their break, Javier explains that he was poisoned and ambushed on his way to meet them two nights ago. He also tells them what he knows of the plague that Louise is masterminding and asks for their help to get a message to Jacqueline, should they reach the surface alive. Luckily for the group, they come across and subdue another wandering wererat sentry and force it to lead them to an exit. They emerge, exhausted and wounded, several yards away from the city near the Musarde river. They knock the wererat unconscious and return to Pont-a-Museau.
Upon returning to the city, Sylvian remembers that tonight is Jacqueline's bi-monthly ball. The party decides that it could be a good opportunity to gather some information. Only Sylvian, Renee' and Leon have invitations to the ball. The other party members will have to go as their guests. Unfortunately, everyone is still injured from their battle in the sewers, and no one smells very pleasant, either. It is almost sundown, so the party will have to rush to get ready for the ball. They also will not have slept for more than a day. Luckily for them, Javier has some restorative potions available at his manor and invites his rescuers to join him for dinner after they have gotten cleaned up and changed. Sylvian decides to accompany Javier to his manor because he has a plan.
After much discussion, Javier and Sylvian arrive at the following conclusion: Since Sylvian and the rest of the party had spread rumors about Javier's death before entering the sewers, it is now more likely that any word of his death will be believed. Javier is also the only one to have information about the plague, other than those directly involved in its creation. If Javier is believed to be dead, then it might take some of the heat off of the party and allow them a better chance at stopping it. Additionally, it might also make it easier for him or another member of the group to deliver a message to Jacqueline about her sister's plotting.
That decided, they come up with the following plan: They are going to fake Javier's death. To do this, they are going to go to one of the more uninhabited parts of the city and try to find one of the countless numbers of murdered people or bandits that have strayed away from the general populace. Once done, they will dress the body in Javier's clothing that he wore in the sewers, place a few notable possessions on the body that could be identified as Javier's (signet ring, etc.) and with the help of Leon's disguising skills, mangle it beyond recognition. That done, Sylvian will give his hat of disguise (allows the wearer to use the disguise spell at will...one minor magical item was rolled randomly, per person, before the campaign) to Javier so he may attend the ball without being recognised.
While the rest of the group attends the ball, Sylvian (who was left slightly wounded from the sewers) will call for the guards and inform them that he and Javier had been attacked and that Javier was killed. He will generally make a big scene and try to use this to stir up some commotion in the city. Once that is done, Sylvian will clean up, attend the ball, and deliver a message to Jacqueline from Javier - informing her that he is, in fact, alive.
For those that are unaware, cranium rats are a particularly nasty type of rat that tends to come in packs. Individually, a cranium rat is not much more of a threat than an ordinary rat. However, as the cranium rats come together, their minds connect, establishing a collective that becomes more intelligent as more rats join it. As even a small pack, cranium rats have enough intelligence to cast powerful spells and psionic abilities (memories of dealing with cranium rats throwing Ball Lightning around come to mind). In large throngs, they become more than a match for most mortals. Anyone who has played Planescape: Torment will remember Many-As-One, a hugely powerful collective mind of hundreds, maybe thousands of cranium rats. The game doesn't really let you fight Many-As-One. You can, but you can never actually defeat it.
Now, as far as Nathan's aware during our discussion, cranium rats don't actually exist in Ravenloft (though after thinking about it, a domain run secretly by cranium rats could be fun!). However, assuming they did exist, and happened to get into Richemulot, how would they interact with Jackie? Intelligent rats, let alone spellcasting seems to be a pretty unprecedented matter in her domain, so could she actually control creatures that can collectively develop very powerful minds?
Nathan and I were thinking that she can't exert her influence on a pre-existing collective, but she could seize individual rats and maintain control over small collectives that form after she takes control. However, as the cranium rats get more and more powerful, she has to start making Wisdom checks against their Wisdom to maintain control -- After all, a large enough cranium rat collective develops an extremely powerful mind.
What do you think? And what could be the implications of dealing with cranium rats in Jackie's domain?
I love the cranium rat concept ever since I first ran across the buggers in Planescape and after my chat with Nathan, this is something I thought of, too. Many-As-One itself wouldn't have much place in Ravenloft proper, but if it could somehow develop a way to influence things in Ravenloft, it could make a foil.
Alternatively, a smaller, though still powerful cranium rat collective mind could be introduced to Richemulot as a foil for control over ratkind. Some creature that challenges the idea that Jacqueline should be able to control rats and wants that power for itself -- or at the very least, believes Jacqueline should be subordinate to the collective mind. Remember, Many-as-One had many wererat servants and slaves under its control, so there is a certain arrogance a hive of cranium rats might universally assume if the pack's intelligence surprasses humanity (as is the case with Many-as-One). That arrogance could lead to the hive seeing itself as better, more powerful, and more deserving than Jacqueline and thus a better fit for control of Richemulot's rats. And it could well be magically and mentally more powerful, though in the political sphere, such a hive would have to work from the underground (literally!) through agents and thralls.
I think even for Jacqueline, an alliance with a collective would be tenuous at best, largely because of the likely arrogance I mentioned above. The hive certainly wouldn't acknowledge her as a master unless her supernatural influence could force them to do so (and it would be kind of boring, imo, if she could), but they might sense either the kinship or a mutual benefit to be gained from an alliance.
I do agree, though. Cranium rats are one of the more frightening (and extremely interesting!) nasties that a body can encounter in Sigil. Small wonder there're folks that regularly give bounties for cranium rat tails.
Bluetspur rats sound interesting (the illithids keep pets!), though I am personally more fond of the idea that they came out of a lab experiment. Everyone knows mad scientists keep rats in their labs for testing things. Except Walter Bishop -- he keeps a cow. But anyhow, some scientist ended up making cranium rats by accident in his lab, the rats' minds banded together and killed the scientist, then the hive escaped into the world at large. Once out there, they could do all sorts of things.
Thanks for posting the links to the stats. I'd had the impression there were also stats in some WotC book (Fiend Folio, I had thought) but when I looked for the buggers, I couldn't find them. Would the fact that they're magical beasts instead of vermin have anything to do with Jackie's powers? I admit to knowing rather little about her abilities other than "I control rats!"
That has the potential to make life very, very difficult for Jackie if she doesn't learn how to keep them under control before they can get a big enough collective to toss her off. That could be what really sets off some conflict between her and the rats. The collective becomes incensed at the fact that a "lesser mind" took control of its members for any length of time and begins working to try and undermine and defeat Jackie.
What's the current verdict on darklords' ability to influence (non-dread) familiars? If Jackie can control an outlander wizard's rat familiar -- also a magical beast -- then cranium rats shouldn't be immune to her influence on that basis, alone.
As I mentioned before, large hives like Many-as-One keep wererats as "retainers." Suppose a hive in Richemulot got ahold of a Renier wererat? Could that turn things on their heads a little bit?
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