Once upon a time, in the sleepy Jutan village of Heiking So, a brilliant but eccentric young enchanter yearned for fame and fortune. Taiwoo Kin, Heiking’s only magical inhabitant, greatly disliked the meaningless chores brought him by the peasants - fixing mangled ploughs, bewitching household objects and warding off bad luck - but he had no idea of the manner by which he would gain renown.
Despite an untimely death, Kin is best known in historical records as the inventor of the Grasping Claw, the clever, stretching claw - and the gruesome manner of his passing is still told around the winter fireplaces of many Jutan peasant folk.
Kin first conceived the idea many years ago after an unsettling nightmare, in which he was chased across a massive bridge over nothingness by a million severed hands. Remembering how the hands scuttled disconcertingly up the vertical supports of the bridge, Kin borrowed a scrap monkey paw from the local butcher and set to work making it move.
It took a good deal of study, many more monkey paws, and several months of surprising and often disturbing experimentation, but in time Kin was satisfied with his new construct. To prevent it from escaping, the enchanter secured it to a long leash of cord, and went about his business with a renewed enthusiasm.
The next day’s awakening brought Kin an alarming surprise: upon opening his eyes, the first thing he saw was his grotesque new pet clinging to the ceiling above his bedding and slowly scratching away at the plaster.
Angry after his shock, Kin grabbed the claw’s dangling rope and attempted to pull it from its perch, only to find that it refused to budge, no matter how hard he tugged.
Sitting down to think on his predicament, Kin’s ever-wandering mind hit upon a new use for this construct: a sort of intelligent grappling hook, able to clamber to spots difficult to go and secure itself there.
Eventually, the restless hand came down of its own accord and scuttled over to the table where Kin was hastily recording his new idea, and the enchanter was able to catch it in a packing crate for more experimentation.
A few weeks later, Kin was satisfied with his advancements: the hand was now capable of magical hearing and sight, and basic thought. After extensive tests of the new creature’s abilities, he made ready to reveal his marvelous invention to the public.
Sadly, Kin’s end came too soon for the spectacular unveiling he hoped for. An unforeseen side effect of the Tae Nijong’s intelligence was an unwanted range of emotions, which proved catastrophic in the end. Kin, falsely assuming the hand was incapable of memory or feeling, kept it locked in the crate for hours on end, and periodically threw it against walls to train it to grab hold of them. Needless to say, this fostered a deep resentment within the construct’s rudimentary brain, and eventually it got its revenge.
The hand bided its time, waiting for the perfect moment to attack. Finally such a moment came, on the eve of its long-awaited revelation of the local Magistrate, who had agreed to see this marvelous invention Kin was being so secretive about. The enchanter, flushed with success, had imbibed a great quantity of celebratory rice spirits, and was slumped over his work, clearly unconscious. In his reveling, Kin had forgotten to secure the heavy deadbolt on the thing’s crate, and it escaped into the night - but not before giving Kin its final, fatal farewell.
The next morning, impatient to see Kin’s incredible secret, the magistrate pounded uselessly on the enchanter’s beautiful door, finally going around and peering through the open study window - to receive the worst shock of his career. Lying prostrate on the floor, his documents and scrolls strewn beneath him, was Kin - clearly dead, with gruesome marks around his neck that suggested strangulation by something of disturbingly inhuman origin.
And thus did Taiwoo Kin receive the fame he had always hoped for.
Passing through the village, or planning on staying the night there, the PCs are approached by the magistrate, a pudgy, opulent fellow, clearly terrified. He babbles endlessly about something to do with a terrible murder, and keeps repeating the phrase, "Choked to death, choked to death!"
When calmed down enough, he begins to tell the story from his point of view: Taiwoo Kin, the local enchanter, was found strangled to death in his study. Kin had intended to reveal the secret of an amazing new invention later that day, but the magistrate has no idea of its nature, and attests that nothing in the enchanter’s overturned study looked remotely like a mysterious new invention.
The PCs should be led subtly to suspect sabotage by some outside villain, and should be encouraged to search the enchanter’s dwelling themselves. Inside, they will find Kin’s fresh corpse - still untouched by the terrified townspeople, who are inexperienced in dealing with murders - with the strange marks on his throat, which look decidedly inhuman. There is no sign of forced entry or exit - the culprit appears to have vanished without a trace.
A cursory check of Kin’s diary and records will tell the PCs everything they want to know about his invention - EXCEPT the fact that it is alive. Kin seems to have taken that for granted, and while there are numerous references to the hand clinging to objects and places throughout the house, there should be no actual written proof that the thing can move about of its own accord. The PCs should be led to think it was stolen by an enemy of Kin, and if they haven’t already, should return to the magistrate to get more information on the enchanter himself.
Upon entering the magistrate’s dwelling - a fancy, Oriental one-level affair with lots of red-painted wood beams and cleverly decorated rice-paper panels. The magistrate is found pacing around in his waiting room, visibly disconcerted with the whole fiasco. He admits he’s hardly experienced in such matters - the last murder in the area was fifty-two years ago, and it turned out to be a suicide in the end.
When questioned about Kin, he replies that the enchanter was a very highly esteemed man about the village, despite his little quirks, like spending days on end in his house without accepting visitors, and often going about his work with a certain half-heartedness.
Oddly, the magistrate can think of no one who would even think of harbouring a grudge against the man, who was considered a fine member of the community. However, the nearest house to Kin’s is that of the butcher’s, considered by most to be an odd fellow. Perhaps he heard something in the night… The magistrate suggests they investigate, and tells them to report back if they find anything worth relating.
The butcher’s house should be the strangest shack the PCs have ever seen (or at least, have seen in a while). A ramshackle, tumbledown floor is practically caving into the rooms, and almost every rice-paper panel is riddled with scratches and spattered with little flecks of dried blood.
They find the butcher in his storeroom, calmly gutting a monkey and tossing the scrap haphazardly over his shoulder. When the PCs introduce themselves (assuming they do), he responds with a barely concealed disgust. If they ask why he’s chopping up monkeys: the people around here regard the silver-paw monkey as a delicacy, and with the forest so close… he shrugs. Easy pickings.
If the PCs are nervous about all the blood and property damage, he just laughs. "Sometimes they do not wish to die very much, hm?" he says with a manic glint in his eye, and goes back to his cleaning.
When questioned about the night before, he shrugs again. Turns out he doesn’t even know Kin is dead - when this comes up, he doesn’t seem to put out. The secretive fool deserved what he got, for borrowing so many severed monkey paws and still only giving little knowing winks and annoying smiles when questioned about his motives. "My right hand I will cut off and give to you if he has not been meddling in the black arts." Monkey’s paw is a well-known ingredient in a potion whispered about after dark, a potion said to be able to speak the foul tongue of animals… But of course, the apothecary would know more about that sort of thing, he says briskly, and no more information is forthcoming.
However, as the PCs exit the room, a sudden gust of wind blows through a rent in the outside rice screen - even larger than the usual ones - and knocks a precariously balanced candle into a bucket of monkey blood. Cursing, the butcher fishes around with bare hands in the blood to retrieve the candle, and remembers another piece of news while doing so. The rent in the screen was caused by a particularly violent monkey making its escape - and it happened just last night, at about the same time that Kin was strangled!
With this new information, the PCs should consult the apothecary on the matter of the potion - a red herring, of course, but they don’t know that. The apothecary’s house, compared to the butcher’s, is pure tidiness. Potions are arranged on shelves with meticulous care, and the apothecary himself should be prim and proper, rather slight and given to long lectures on the properties of any subject.
If asked about the potion, he replies that it’s thought to be just a myth. In truth, it IS just a myth, but the PCs should have enough street smarts by now to simply assume that all myths are real. Aside from monkey paws, he has no idea what might go into such a concoction, but its clear he’s unhappy talking about such beautiful creatures being butchered so wantonly. "Such perfect beasts, and so intelligent, too…"
If questioned further about the monkeys’ intelligence, he explains that it’s thought they are almost as clever as humans, and are very good at logical thinking, as well as being very protective of their kin…
The conversation continues in this vein until the PCs are almost certain that the culprit behind the attacks is in fact the monkey that escaped in the night. They should return to the magistrate in high spirits, convinced they’ve solved the mystery.
This time, they find the magistrate huddled under his bedsheets and shaking like a leaf. He’s not just in shock from the murder, though: he keeps hearing odd scuttling noises around the house!
When informed about the monkey murderer, he seems slightly relieved, but he urges them to search for more clues, like an explanation as to why there was no sign of entry or exit from Kin’s house after the deed…
The PCs leave the magistrate looking around fitfully. Any servants they approach are generally mystified by the whole affair, but when they proceed to exit the house, a chilling yell echoes from the magistrate’s bedchambers, ending abruptly in a gasping and scraping sound.
Rushing back to the magistrate, they find him stone dead, still under his bedsheets, with an expression of pure disbelieving horror upon his features - and the same hand marks on his chubby neck. This time, there isn’t even a mess - the culprit has seemingly vanished without a trace, without even an obvious escape route.
The PCs search should come to no avail - unless they decide to look under the bed. If they don’t then they should be stopped from leaving by the sudden scratching sounds coming from under the magistrate’s ornate bedframe.
The disembodied hand is, of course, lying in wait under the bed. This part should be dramatic. If one of the characters decides to look under the bed, the hand will spring at their face, attempting to strangle them like its other two victims. If they attempt some other tactic, the hand should claw its way right through the bed - and the corpse of the magistrate - and leap out from the covers. A vicious battle ensues, as the hand will not back down until it strangles all the PCs or is completely destroyed.
Once the hand is dispatched, the adventurers can explain the cause of the murders to the horrified servants, who may or may not have seen the whole fight. The superstitious villagers should have no trouble believing the tale, especially when confronted with the hand as evidence.
It’s up to the GM how the adventure is wrapped up. Maybe the villagers thank the PCs by electing one of them as new magistrate, or maybe they return to Kin’s house and find materials for a new, personal Tae Nijong.
Useful for more of a short, one or two-session side-quest than a full-length adventure.