This is a quest in the style of those cheesy “Choose Your Own Adventure” books you would pick up at library book sales. I’ve laid out a pretty specific storyline, but there are plenty of places where you can pick up and take off on a tangent of your own. Note that the specific names of religions, gods, and months can be changed as one wishes. I simply avoided generic titles (X God, Y Cleric) to give some more flavor to the story. Also note that this could easily become a single-player campaign, simply by taking off some s’s from “clerics”. Lastly, the plot is “fluid” - that is, nothing is set in stone. For example, if the PCs make X choice, the ranger is evil, and if the PCs make Y choice, the ranger is good. All the information depends on the choices of the characters. That being said, let’s dive in.
The clerics had stopped in the dirtclod town of Sarente to rest, recoup, and pick up some new horses before journeying to Barynthor, the central city of the kingdom. A few days into their stay, a young courier delivered a message to the innkeeper.
“To ye hands of the horns - Bishop Sevir has need of your prescence.”
Tracking down the name led to the central hall of worship, a small timberframe building in the center of town, its mantle engraved with the ten horns of Baran. Upon entering the dim, incense-filled hall, the old man near the speaking stand stood up and introduced himself as the Bishop. It appeared that in the past month, a fire in the undercellar had revealed a priceless relic stored under the floorboards, a finger of St. Sarin. Sealed in a blackened iron box, it appeared to have been buried over a century ago by the previous bishop, when the house of Baran had stood many stories above the town. Upon discovery, word was sent to the high house of Baran, to whose magistrate replied,
“The finger falls to the hand of barring trespass, on the eve of summer’s eye.”
In the words of the house of Baran, this translates to, “Transport the Relic to the tower guard at the high house of Baran, on 21 Skyfires (the summer solestice)”.
Seeing the horns of Baran upon the shields of the clerics, the Bishop has asked them to transport the relic to the High House of Baran, in Barynthor itself. Upon agreement, the clerics must agree to swear upon the oathstone that they are indeed hands of Baryn, and that should they themselves harm the relic, or deliberately put the the relic in the path of harm, that they should be marked for death in the holy fires of the House.
Now - what could go wrong?
Additional Ideas (3)
En route to the city, while traveling on a backroad, the party is ambushed by some lightly armored trackers. Although they might manage to kill a horse or two, and wound members of the party, they should be fairly easy to kill.
However, after the party has finished licking their wounds, they find to their dismay that they had killed their own men, hands of Baran under false orders. Searching the bodies will reveal a note from a "Bishop Artemi", instructing the trackers to retrieve a stolen relic from a party of false clerics, whose description matches closely that of your own party.
Now what? There is no way to find out how far this treachery goes. Whether Artemi himself was behind this, or if he was simply a pawn being pulled along by a higher power is unknown. The obvious choice would be to continue to Barynthor, and explain the events to the high hand himself. A simple solution, if it were not for the fact that the next town they rest in is home to Bishop Artemi himself.
Should the party choose not to investigate, for any reason, skip past this next paragraph.
Upon confronting Artemi, he will plead innocence of conspiracy. He does admit to signing the note, but insists that he recieved word from a traveling ranger, and gave the orders to the trackers to be on the lookout for any such occurances. He does not sound very convincing. The band now has a choice - execute Artemi for crimes against the House, trust him and let the matter rest, or bring him along to the House to settle matters there. If he is executed, move right on to the next paragraph. If they choose to let matters rest, the quest will end when they transport the relic to the High House, who will send out men to investigate Bishop Artemi. However, if they choose to bring him along, Artemi will wait until the character's backs are turned, and attempt to assassinate them. Being a feeble old man, not in any way a fighter, his attempt will fail horribly, and he will end up drinking Elderthorn juice, committing suicide before the clerics can end up subduing him. If this occurs, skip to the last paragraph.
So - if the characters chose not to investigate, or to execute the Bishop, a few days later, they will come across a party of armored characters carrying a heavily bound chest, matching the description Artemi gave in the note. Oops. Turns out the old man was right, and it was the trackers who made an honest mistake. If the characters manage to kill the group, or at least recover the relic, then with a good amount of pleading, they can convince the High House that they made an honest mistake with Artemi, and that two relics outweighs a dead Bishop. However, should the group get away... How will this look? The characters have killed a Bishop of the House, and allowed a relic to escape. Looks like it's time for the holy fires. If after a long time the characters still cannot catch the group, the relic will appear weeks later in an exotic market marked as a rare alchemical ingredient. If the PCs have the gold to purchase it or the skills to steal it, they're back on track. If they still can't get their hands on that relic, then suffice to say they'll get a few visits from swords of the House, but nothing that won't end after a few months.
Finally, back to the last choice. There are obviously dark forces at work here. Someone is pulling strings in the House, weakening it by turning it against itself. It is now time to introduce Plot #2 - The Relic is Fake
Note - If you arrived here from plot #1, after reading the first paragraph, move on to the seventh paragraph.
Unbeknownst to the party, the relic is actually a skilled forgery, created by agents of a rival House, planted in the cellars of the House of Baran in Sarente, and "uncovered" in an arson. Agents placed in the Parish of Bishop Sevir were enought to convince him of his authenticity, and as soon as the party left to transport it, notes were sent to Bishop Artemis to send rangers to attack the party. Why? To create controversy while weakening the ranks and morale of House Baran. For members to find out that some of its best clerics (the characters) have not only been killed, but killed as traitors, would be a great blow to the House.
Many things could happen in this case. If one of the party discovers it's a fake, the characters could travel back to Sarente and confront Bishop Sevir. He would of course claim innnocence, and would sound sincere enough. If pressed hard enough, he could point to three members of his temple that he feels have been acting odd of late. Two are simply in love with each other, and have been hiding their affair from the temple - these would be the first two the characters encounter. If they choose to press further, the third man will flee from them upon questioning. Should they capture him, he would not talk for anything short of torture. If the PCs are willing to torture, he will reveal that agents of the House of Zultoch, a house of the Fallen Ones, was behind it. He will not reveal who lead it, or the location of the House or its members, but he does scream out the name "Artemi". Should the PCs either not find the man, not catch him when he runs, or not resort to torture, if they go back to Bishop Sevir, he will admit that he believes agents of Zultoch are behind it, and that he suspects a nearby Bishop Artemi, but has no proof. In this case, as well as the one of torture, skip ahead to paragraph four.
If the characters do not discover it is a fake, the curators of the High House of Baran sure will, and the PCs will be under some hard questioning when they deliver it. They will be sent back to Sarente to question Sevir, after which they will go through the same steps as they would had they turned back, albeit with a lead to the house of Zultoch as a head start.
In both cases, they should have a lead to Artemi. When they come to his town, he will also deny conspiracy or treachery, but will sound unconvincing. He will not reveal anything to the characters unless they choose to torture him, but should they make that decision, the daughter of Artemi will enter from the back door of the temple and run to him. The characters are now presented with a dilemma. Do they take a man from his daughter and torture him to death, though they are of a House of Light, or do they have mercy upon him, perhaps allowing a traitor to go free?
If they choose to have mercy on him, skip to the next paragraph. If they choose to take him, then after much torture, he will reveal the location of an underground meeting house of Zultoch, seconds before he wilts and dies. He states that to enter, one only has to lift the king. Should the characters then question townspeople about the fate of his daughter, they will be met with puzzled looks. It appears that Artemi never had a daughter. It seems the Lord of Madness can reach deeper into the minds of the good than many would think. The characters can now move on to the House of Zultoch, so skip ahead to the third scroll.
If the characters choose to have mercy on Artemi, he will wait until their backs are turned, and attempt to assassinate them. Being a feeble old man, not in any way a fighter, his attempt will fail horribly, and he will end up drinking Elderthorn juice, committing suicide before the clerics can end up subduing him (same as in Plot #1). The characters will also notice the daughter has somehow disappeared in the scuffle. Or did she even exist?
With Artemi gone, the only lead they have is found in his cloak pocket, a scrap of paper with the word "Seven Broken Tails" on it. Asking townsfolk about it will have no response, although some might find the name familiar, and mention that to the characters. If they ask around long enough, a poor vagrant from the streets will approach them. He mutters incoherently, but in between his ramblings, the words "Follow us" and "Broken Sevens" will appear again and again. Should the characters choose to follow him, he will give the following monolouge -
"Seven tails and broken three. Over up and down the third. Lift a king, map and see. Overlook the rock of tails. See tails and broken three. King in three and king in third. Mother of tails sees He the King."
The only lead the characters have is to visit the local mapmmaker, who will give them a map of the surrounding lands. What would stand out is seven small creeks running around the town in a fan formation. The three on the right are all curved at richt angles, and all creeks join together as one many miles down. A ledge overlooks the creeks, and a hill stands to the right of the last creek. Should they travel to the ledge, they will see the three "broken rivers" and the hill to the right of the third. If they travel near the hill, they will notice a pile of stones, one with a rough, worn and barely visible carving of the emblem of the lord of madness. This is the King of Mad Men, and by lifting him, one enters the cavern of the House of Zultoch. If the characters tortured Artemi, they will already have the location, and will only have to puzzle out what "lifing the king" means to enter.
The caverns of Zultoch are a frightening maze of dripping tunnels and strangely lit caverns, adorned with gruesome "decorations" (mutilated faces stretched over wood frames, fingers nailed to walls, dark writings carved into human flesh, etc.) and maddening patterns of stone carvings. Flickering candles create deep shadows, and echoes abound down the stone halls in disorienting patterns. The caverns are strangely deserted, although it seems as if activity has been recent. After several hours, they will stumble across a tattered, blood-stained map of the tunnels, left by a previous explorer. Little do they know that this map was made by the mad vagrant, before the agents of Zultoch broke his mind. Using the map will lead them out of the maze and into a much more organized yet still quite "decorated" area.
After a few minutes of silence, they will find themselves explosively ambushed by men of Zultoch. They are magi and clerics, clothed in tattered robes of red and black, and wearing grotesque masks. They will appear out of side tunnels and strike quickly, only to disappear just as quickly, leaving only echoes and shadows behind. They work spells that addle the mind and confuse the senses, inciting fear and panic. Characters may find themselves struggling to hold onto their own minds, and will often imagine creatures in the shadows out of the corners of their eyes. It is less a trial of combat skill than it is of mental fortitude. If they can manage to survive the caverns without breaking, they will eventually be led to the central hall, a medium-sized cavern of wet hewn stone, where they will find pages of manuals, notes, plans and messages from the house of Zultoch. A door can be seen near the far end of the cavern, and daylight can be seen peeking through its cracks. At the same time, the characters hear the scrabbling of feet and swishing of robes behind them, as the men of Zultoch approach.
If the characters flee, they can escape out of the door and block it easily enough from the outside. Should they choose to stay and fight, they will be able to physically hold the door, but will have to realize that they cannot witstand the onslaught of mind-altering spells for much longer, and will have to flee.
In either case, they can then return to the High House of Baran with their stolen information, and recieve a hearty reward in rank. House Baran will then send several legions into the area to purge the caverns, unless the characters want to go back in and get revenge, albeit with thirty soldiers at their backs.
Still, rank and respect is fine, but it doesn't cut down enemies. As a reward, the characters can choose from the following items, or all of them, if there are a lot of characters in the group -
Orb of Baran's Mind-Stealer - A deep blue orb, as big around as a man's hand, and swirling with white star-light. When held tightly and squeezed, it effectively shields one's mind from the surroundings, while still allowing one to control the body. One cannot hear, but can see perfectly, and feels although one is floating. One cannot feel fear, nervousness, or any emotions at the time; instead, one thinks in a straight line, thinking only of what one needs to do, and how to do it. Any spells altering the mind or consciousness do not affect one. The effect lasts for however long the DM wants it to.
Gem of Mindblight - A milky white stone, carved into a faceted gem shape. When grasped and pointed towards something, it flares into white radience, illuminating all surroundings to the user and causing all illusions to vanish. The invisible will become visible, and anything that does not exist will cease to appear. Anyone not using the gem will see no difference in his or her surroundings.
Shieldstone of Avantar - This is a round, steel cap resembling the central caps of shields. It can be affixed to wooden and metal shields with some metalsmithing. Inside the cap is a round, magically charged disk of an unknown metal. When the shield is held, any magical effects that would alter the mind or senses can be blocked, at which point they are scattered in random directions in weaker peices. These "spell-pieces" not only are weaker versions of the spell cast, but are variations as well. For instance, if someone cast a spell that would have their victim see a tentacled monsted appear before them, if they should be hit by a piece reflected by the shield, they might see a scaled rat float upon the ceiling, or a transparent unicorn - use your imagination. Just make sure no friends are standing in front of you.
Phew - that's all! Pat your characters on the back, and head down to the nearest tavern.