Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Adventure 10 - A Ghost Story

Continuing the September of Short Adventures

A Ghost Story
A border march where the hill folk are in rebellion.  After many years of peace, the aging lord of the realm needs to go on campaign again to pacify the border march.  The army returns to the scene of a decades old crime.

The hill folk are always in rebellion; it's a theme that echoes through history; the civilized power of the lowlands has trouble exerting power over the independent folk that live in the wild hills.   It could be Charlemagne and the Saxons, the Picts and the Romans, the Welsh and the English… even Afghanistan and the US in the modern day.

The characters have the opportunity to go on the campaign.  If they're lower or mid-levels, perhaps they have the opportunity to hire on as irregulars and scouts; someone needs to head into the hills, find enemy encampments so the army can follow through with infantry.  Higher level characters might be champions or peers of the realm.

The aging lord has always avoided the border march; it was here, twenty years ago, where his young wife was murdered by the hill folk when she joined him on campaign.  A monument was built for her memory; the army camps in a river glade not far from the Queen's Rock (or whatever you call the monument in your game).

Unfortunately, the sprawling bivouac is visited by a nocturnal haunt, a spirit that steals into the camp at night and slays a soldier each evening; the bodies are found in the morning, contorted grimaces of fear on their face.  The camp is unsettled by the growing stories of "The Grey Lady".

20 years ago, the lord's wife was murdered, but it wasn't the hill folk.  The lord's own trusted advisor murdered the wife when he was escorting her to the front.  She rebuffed his advances and threatened to reveal his disloyalty to her husband; in a rage, her murdered her and dumped her body in the woods.  The advisor faked a hill folk attack and concocted a story of rape and abduction.  The hill folk were crushed, and the lord eventually erected a monument to his lost wife.

Where her body was planted in a shallow grave, a curse took root in the forest, and the blighted grove still stands a few miles from the camp, a cold and evil place.  The proximity of the betrayer has drawn the ghost forth, and each night it enters the camp, seeking out the lord's adviser and destroying any it encounters.
That's the situation; themes implicit here are standard ghost story fare:  old crimes from the past seeing the light of day once again; we can't change the past and no crime should go unpunished.  Will the group learn the story of the ghost and see that justice, delayed 20 years, is delivered?  To give the scenario a "Japanese horror" twist, the ghost might be implacable; delivering justice only releases its fetter to the grove, and now the ghost wanders the wider land, continuing to exact revenge on any it encounters.

While the characters are crossing the river into the wild hills scouting for hill folk war camps each day, fear escalates in the camp.  Eventually, the group might get involved into trying to intercept the nightly visitor.
It's also likely the group will learn the tragic story of the young queen and get a glimpse into the lord's tragic past - the story behind the monument is common knowledge.  It's a chance for foreshadowing, and perhaps revealing the advisor's discomfort and evasion around any mention of the dead queen.

This is a fluid scenario and I could see leaving it open ended to account for player actions - common spells might get to the root of the problem, find lost facts, ESP can read minds and hidden intentions, Detect Lie, and similar magics, until enough of the story is pieced together for a dramatic confrontation.

In the meantime, the prospects of a nightly visit from the ghost is quite terrible, particularly with the ghost's horrible gaze (which I'd consider supplementing with a death gaze attack similar to a hag or bodak).

Locale:  the border march, the queen's rock, the cursed grove
NPCs:  the lord, the wicked advisor
Monsters:  ghost of the queen - The Grey Lady
Artifacts:  the murder weapon - a dagger, lost in the river?

Here's a handy link to all the OSR blogs taking part in the challenge - 25 adventures in September:

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