Clarksdale is a small sustenance community in the remote area where the mountains join the southern forest. They have little in the way of goods save what they make, as the gypsies do not pass through.
As with many small towns Clarksdale has its share of secrets. Almost the entirety of the population is dedicated to the worship of a long-dead god or the perversion of one alive only in their colony. The people of Clarksdale worship through "The Hunt". During the new moon a small number of non-practitioners are chosen. The victims are stripped, flogged until they trail blood, and released into the wilds for an hour before the chase begins. Once all have been recaptured the hunted are drained of their blood, which is given to the hunters to drink in the belief that fresh blood strengthens their god.
Whether or not a deity actually lays claim to their offerings, hunters share a peculiar telepathic bond wherein the movements of prey are shared. To the unaware, it seems as though gossip and news spread instantly. Those that are not "Hunters" and have families in town are laughed off as paranoid eccentrics, and kept separated.
The ritual permeates all aspects of life in Clarksdale. There are no elderly or sick, as the weak are turned into prey. No bodies have been buried in the graveyard in over a century, and the bones of humans litter the ground in the nearby forest where they were pinned down. Travellers that pass through are treated warmly, and are encouraged to stay for the upcoming celebration...
Clarksdale was founded a dozen generations ago by Desar Clarke, the favored huntsman of an Edowsan noble. Desar was renowned not only for his prowess in catching game, but his ability to track and hunt dangerous creatures and keep the holdings of the noble safe. Lending out his vassal's services made the noble quite well respected. Often lost to history is Desar's older half-sister Justine. Forbidden to partake in hunting due to her feminine nature, she focused her attentions on maneuvering through court. While the pair never particularly cared for each other there was nothing in the way of bad blood, but that was soon to change. The noble came to Desar and tasked him to hunt down the creature making a wreck of the gardens every few nights. Desar happily obliged, always delighting in the thrill of stalking and rush of the chase.
It was a moonless night, with such little light it was difficult to see. Shortly after the last light extinguished in the castle the creature crawled from the forest. Desar watched, with the patience known only to the hunter. The creature lay still, until a figure emerged from the castle. With her familiar gate and cloak Desar could make out the figure of his sister. As she made her way past the garden the creature quickly pounced upon her, the pair falling and tumbling into the flowerbed. With his tensed body Denser did not hesitate to save his sister - filling the monster's back with arrows he then rushed forward to give her aid.
Justine sat, bewildered, as her lover and the enemy of Desar's master watered the flora with his blood. The pair locked eyes, and Denser felt undying hatred. With all the poise of a court lady Justine rose and silently walked back indoors, tears staling the twinkle from the stars.
Desar had killed a man. He had killed his master's rival in his master's garden on his master's orders. No one would believe it an accident, his sister would not have that. He had nothing but to run.
Desar fled, pursued for many miles the hunter had become the prey. The moonless nights he cursed so many times had become his salvation. Eventually he reached the mountains, and could run no farther. Taking refuge in a budding hamlet he trained boys and girls alike in the art of the hunt. The final test for any pupil was to escape being hunted by their peers as a demonstration of true understanding, always under the new moon.
It was only a few years after Desar Clarke had passed on that his teachings began to twist and thin. A series of accidents killing those who would be initiated mingled with superstition and the whispers of an exiled deamon-worshipper resulted in the ritual known as the Hunt.
Wiping sweat from her brow this strongly built woman keeps her short-cut black hair bound in a handkerchief. Her hard expression and deliberate movements let you know this woman is not to be trifled with.
Eva Yew and her family moved to Clarksdale when she was a young child. While her parents were chosen as Prey she was too young to prove good sport, and was instead raised by the temple to replace the aging blacksmith. Her participation in the hunt and other town activities is merely lip service until she can claim vengeance, though she does share the telepathic bond. She sees each visitor as hope, but does not wish to tip her hand until she can be assured the destruction of the town.
Dark circles line this mans eyes. A gaunt face speaks of little rest or nourishment. Despite this he seems poised to react. He smells heavily of garlic and other herbs. His vacant gaze only moves to you once you are right before him.
Christian is one of the longest lived Prey in the town. He originally came with his two daughters, and five other families all of which he watched disappear over the years. While not sure of what is happening, he is convinced the town is full of evil. He looks upon everyone but travellers with suspicion and a slow-burning hatred, Max included. Like Eva, he has his own plans and is waiting for the right moment.
Blistering with acne this young boy works with a smile on his face and hum on his lips. The clothes underneath his apron are simple and clean but not worn.
Max is the orphan of Foster and Lizzy, a couple native to Clarksdale who had Max later in life and were shortly taken to the Hunt. Raised by the chapel priests Max is strongly devoted to the religion, and feels no loss in not having parents. The upcoming Hunt is the first he will be eligible to participate in, as he has finally come of age. Max works for Christian only so that the priesthood can keep a closer eye on 'the village crazy'. Max is good-natured and does not realize Christian's valid paranoia has reached a fever pitch.
With a boyish face and an impish grin this man looks like a cheeky teenager. His demeanor is relaxed and playful.
Jessie has no interest in caring for the shop, he is a womanizer whose trips to Grendel (a town which does not exist) consist of picking up barmaids and worming his way into the houses of young ladies, and leaving with their honor as well as any possessions he might be able to sell. His habits are well known around Clarksdale, but so long as he refrains from the conduct in town others are willing to turn a blind eye in favor of their only outside link. Jessie is a firm believer in the Hunt, and sees his actions as an extension of hunting.
Wearing plain flaxen robes this smiling woman practically bleeds happiness, but without overenthusiasm. She weaves a red ribbon through her fingers in place of a rosary, using it to tie back her long brown hair when not in use.
Allie is the orchestrator of the Hunt. It is her who selects the Prey, and performs the rights. By all rights she is a kind person, but ruthless when it comes to those who challenge tradition and her beliefs. She intends to have Christian killed at the next Hunt, and pair Eva with Jessie at the celebration to produce more children for the town and ensure Eva's loyalty.
Additional Ideas (1)
- Christian will not leave his vigil at the tavern as he waits for his daughters, so the PCs are sent to a grove he knows of to collect spices. A knowledgable character might realize that this spice (I used star anise as my model) has two varieties, one poisonous the other safe. They may find the remains of someone who was killed.
- Eva is in constant demand and cannot leave her forge unattended besides. She requests they search for a black liquid (I used naphtha as my model) which is flammable (for her forge) and used as a solvent (for her metalwork). The group will be offered a wide array of hunting knives setting out on their expidition, as no other weapons are made.
- Allie resides in the temple at the center of town, which is where the cemetary is. Only a quarter of the cemetary is occupied by bodies, and the remainder is an open area where the 'wedding' will be held. Clearing out the weeds and rats gives characters an opportunity to discover what is amiss with the cemetary.
- It's custom in the village for a boy to go into the forest and bring his lady a token to show his bravery for her. Jessie is less than physically inclined, so Allie will send them to the most dangerous portions of the forest when they start becoming suspicious and the new moon draws close.
The ultimate goal is that on the night of the new moon the players are being hunted by crazed villagers, and run to the village to find it in flames with half the population dying of poison thanks to them.