The adventurers have roved into a beautiful, misty land, composed of deep green valleys between craggy, dark mountains, furred with black pines. While traveling in this land, which lies beyond the borders of Imperial law, they notice that many villages are singularly depopulated; fields are overgrown or lie fallow, and the leather door-flaps of the dusty, abandoned houses are painted with conspicuous black X’s.
After several days of traveling through this lovely (though chilly) country, they come to a village in which there are still people. As they walk towards the village, field-slaves and farmers with intricate arm tattooes glare at them from the fields, and children run ahead into the settlement to tell of their coming. Ordered at arrowpoint to remain beyond the village fence, they are made to wait where they are until a priest arrives, and, looking them up and down, pronounces them "clean".
They are given the comfort of fresh milk and bread, and one of the hetmen of the village fields apologizes for their lack of hospitality.
"There has been a plague," he explains. "Perhaps you have seen the empty places. We have lost many here too, but mostly slaves. We had to be sure you didn’t have it."
When pressed for further details, the farmer wards off discussion, but superstitiously glances in the direction of the black peaks to the west, mentioning only that "the pestilence comes of the old duke".
Later in the evening, the priest comes to the heroes, and explains in confidence, though their Gods are not his own, the true source of the plague.
"In the west, on the mountain, there is the castle of the old duke, Gruu Volod, who once ruled this land. He was a wicked sorceror and he made strange pacts and did not die when he was supposed to. But in the time of my grandfathers some men of the villages went to the duke’s castle and fought many horrors and hung the duke upon a lance. But a few months ago, we saw a great light go up in the forest, as it used to in the old days when they said the duke would feast with the god of the deep woods. And then the sickness came to the land."
The priest tugs his beard and seems ill at ease even to speak of these matters.
"I fear that the duke’s magic did not die when he died, for sorcerors are tricksters and demons, and I fear that that magic is bringing the curse upon this land. You have not the plague, and you are all fine warriors by the look of you, strangers in this land…"
What the priest wants is for the heroes to go to the castle of the old duke, to investigate, and if possible, to cleanse it of whatever evil has been awakened and has sent the pestilence down upon the land. The priest has spoken with the hetmen of the various fields and gathered a fine prize with which to reward the heroes- a sum of gold coins and a valuable barrel of salt from the white caves in the eastern peaks. In addition, the priest says that there is sure to be treasure in the duke’s castle (though it is perhaps wiser not to take hold of the treasures of a cursed sorceror).
Deciding that the profit is worth the gamble (and perhaps boasting that they have dealt with such matters before), the heroes strike forth from the village, out on an old path through the fields along the stream.
Entering the forest by dusk, they stride through the low, clinging mist, ascending the slopes and hogbacks of the deep wood. They are troubled by strange suggestions of motion in their peripheral vision, and sometimes it seems almost that figures seem visible away among the dark trunks. Nearer than they would like, they hear the mournful howls of wolves.
But sooner than expected, they arrive at the path through the woods which leads out onto the cliffside with the forested peak above it, where the black ruins of the Castle of Gruu Volod perch, like a monumental vulture. Columns, buttresses and veins of crumbling masonry cling to the cliff, hanging over the black trees below. There are no lights and no sounds but for the wind whistling through the desolate arcades of the fortress.
Room One: Entrance And Guardian
Having crossed over and entered the walls of the fort under the ancient portcullis, which has rusted into place half-deployed, the heroes ascend the old stone stairs, now crumbling and pocked with clumbs of grass, and come to the doors of the castle. All around them, the black walls rise up to the columned level of the arcade. On these walls in ancient, faded paint have been figured strange mystical diagrams; a pentagram in flaking red is over the arch of the main gate which they came through. A single tower, studded with weathered but gruesome and surreal gargoyles, rears into the black sky above. There is no moon tonight.
The old doors at the top of the steps, slightly ajar, are worked with enigmatic designs of men offering obeisance to gods of an iconography unfamiliar to the heroes. They open with a squeal of rust which seems frighteningly loud in the heavy silence of the courtyard, revealing darkness within.
The heroes step into the chamber, which is lit faintly by upper windows, the glass panes caked with dust. They stand in an old, pillared welcoming room, with the square pit of a decrepit washing-pool, long dry (though furred with moss) in the center. Standing watch over this room in an alcove in the wall, there is a finely-worked life-size statue of a house-god, a nude woman with the head of a goat; but something about the icon makes the heroes uneasy. As the echoes of the doors’ opening die down, silence once again reigns in this still kingdom of the dead.
Then, without warning, the still atmosphere is shattered by the sudden attack upon the heroes of skeletal form sheathed in papery mummified skin, clad in a long robe of filthy, tattered grey rags. Gliding out of a dark doorway at them with unholy speed, the bone figure unleashes a terrifying, insane shriek as it swings a rusty sword. The being’s parchment skin unravels and flaps in strips, and a stream of thick black ichor pours from its hanging jaw, splashing over its rags and onto the floor (this ichor is obviously dangerous, but should the heroes come in contact with it, any open wounds that they might have will become terribly septic).
As they heroes do battle with the levitating corpus, a reverberant voice arises, seemingly from the walls and floor. "Turn back! Turn back now and never return here, or be cursed!"
When the heroes defeat the undead horror, its corpse collapses to the stone floor in a crumbling heap, a pathetic human husk. Deprived of unlife, the mummified body is as light and insubstantial as a pile of dead leaves and falls into pieces at a touch, as if in whatever time this person lived, its body was completely enervated, all vitality sapped from it, leaving only a shell.
Room Two: Puzzle Or Roleplaying Challenge
Room Three: Trick Or Setback
Room Four: Climax Or Big Battle
Room Five: Reward, Revelation, Or Plot Twist