The plot shall open with a hiring. Jacob Latris, whose name should be a surprise, comes to meet the party with a job offer in the country of Merthia, which is important as Merthian law dictates that the summoning of demons is legal. You see, he needs information on the Burning Cult, located near here (feel free to have the PCs hear the rumors about them listed below before this, if they've done any adventuring in the area recently), and who else but the conquering heroes to get it?
Jacob Latris, during this meeting, comes off as slightly insane (he can hide the true depths of his madness for civilized social occasions), and very mysterious and deadly. Feel free to reveal the fact that he summons demons. Another thing of importance is that the PCs should also get to know the fact that money is no object to him, and though he will try to keep the reward for doing this deed down, the PCs can easily bargain him up. He is not a skilled haggler.
The basic job description: gather up all the information and secrets of the following three targets: the Burning Cult, the Protector, and Rilthus (the Cult's high priest). Information can be told to Jacob Latris through use of a small box; written information placed in the box will be picked up by one of Jacob's demons and given to its master. This is done each night.
Here is a list of information through rumors and gossip that the PCs may/can learn on their way to the Forest of Fire (naturally, use the twin virtues of scarcity and exaggeration if you feel the need to add more when using this quest). Note that in general, the rumors go in order from the ones that might be heard far away from the cult, and those living next to the Forest of Fire.
- "the Burning Cult? Oh, they live a good jog south o' here. Wouldn't want to mess wit their business. See, a coupla years ago, the high n' mighty gov'ment of ours decides that they don't want no cult doing their job, ye ken? Thinks it might encourage revolt. So's they send an army to go show this cult what what. The army never emerged from the Forest of Fire. Well, except for a coupla soldiers, screaming of burning gods and hearts. Driven starkers, all of them."
- "The cult may 'ave some odd practices, but I personally would rather have them as ruler than the king. I've seen what he does to his citizens, the kind of protection he offers, and it ain't pretty. His army, ya see, was pursuing Hagrus the Horrible, a powerful bandit, and though the army didn't directly kill anyone, they laughed as they emptied and razed the town's granary. Many of us starved to death that winter. You can still see the ashes over yonder."
- "The only things I know about that cult is that they offer protection to towns in their area from the constant threat of bandits. Hell, I should sign up; they might protect me from nosy mercenaries when all I'm doing is shoveling s*** from horse stalls so's my family doesn't starve to death. You get my point?"
- "The Cult? Yeah, we know about them. See, there was this bandit tribe on the horizon, loaded down with goods from some other poor town. They was about to raid, but then this bolt of fire shot into the heavens, and we saw the Protector, the Cult's god. It tore into them bandits like an axe through paper, shootin' off fire and crushin' men with its bare, wooden fists. It left after they were all dead, stompin' off to wherever it dwells in-between killing people, but I have to say, when we left to go, you know, bury the bodies, the remnants were just the... worst things I've e'er seen."
- "Okay, fine, I was a bandit, you happy? Ya caught me. But I ain't one now. Now, I be just an ordin'ry farmer." "Oh, you want to know about the Burning Cult? Well, this one time my bandit group decides to go raid some town under the cult's protection. I thought it was a mistake, cause I believed the rumors, so I deserted. Ha. All my desertion got me was this stump, cause when the cult ambushed us, I was ready ta bolt. And when two of the cult came to get me, they chopped off my leg, but I managed to drag meself into a hidin' spot. They never did find me."
- "The Burning Cult protects us. We shall not betray them, outsider. So get your nosy a** out o' my tavern, else we got ourselves a lil' problem."
From the day after being hired by Jacob Latris to the day of the climax (see below), a variable amount of time is allotted, depending on the travel choices the PCs make. Jacob Latris can, if you so choose, press upon the PCs to hurry, as he wants the information quickly, and might add a 'speed bonus' (the entire reward granted at the end of the mission will probably be invalidated, so don't worry about potentially promising huge rewards). The information to be gathered list below is sorted based on how many days after the day they were hired, so getting to the cult quickly will probably improve the PCs chances of success.
Jacob Latris can easily be convinced to foot the travel expenses, which might improve the speed of arrival. Listed below are potential options for travel, and how fast it should take to get to the town immediately outside the Forest of Fear.
The Forest is 48 miles away from the place where Jacob Latris will approach you. Towns and villages are placed periodically along the road, with potential for interruptions along the way. Perhaps showing the PCs, if they haven't all ready, how f***ed up Merthia is, with bandits running rampant, the government having lots of corruption, and armies treating people like dirt, so as to clear up any potential questions about the climax the players may have, but this isn't necessary. Note that it should be difficult/adverse for PCs to infiltrate the Cult by the second morning, and to do so will require some sacrifices on their part. Also note that the PCs should probably be in the cult by the end of the fourth day, or they'll miss the Sacrifice and creation of the Protector.
There are two main ways that I can easily see for getting the information needed: spying and infiltrating. Of course, the two are similar in many ways, and as such I will differentiate between the two with the former being using stealth and eavesdropping to gather information, the latter using disguises and espionage.
Spying will involve making it past the Forest of Fear, a difficult task in its own right, as well as into the castle that the cult is living in and into a position to observe sacrifices at a circle of stones (The Circle of Culthus). The first of these is difficult as the Cult has patrols around the forest edge, as well as numerous traps and sensors scattered within its depths. They have the home field advantage; they have prepared for assault, and are willing to fight to the death to protect it. Still, the sneaking around should not be too hard- they're mostly prepared for bandits to attack, and they know that if a bandit does come, then they'll probably get advanced warning through towns being raided. The castle's defenses are similar. It lacks a moat, and unless they are aware of intruders or its night, the portcullis will be open.
Infiltrating the cult is the easier of the two. Disguises aren't even necessary; all the PCs need to do is wander in, announce their presence, and pledge themselves to the cult. Though there are some background checks, it should be relatively easy to make it past their inspection, as they don't probe too deeply. The cult doesn't truly believe that anyone would have either the audacity or desire to infiltrate them, so that approach is not guarded against.
Information about the Cult's general practices should be easy to gather. Secrets, however, will be tough. Below is a list of information that can be gathered and how it can be gathered.
|Number||Information||How Info is Gathered||Time||Place|
|1.||Protector works through use of a demon||
Technical drawings of summoning circle around Circle of Culthus with notes in margins; overhearing Rilthus discussing drawing new circle with second-in-command
||Third day, evening||Rilthus' quarters|
|2.||New Protector is wanted||Asking/listening to cult members||First to third day||Anywhere|
|3.||Rilthus planning attack on Merthia City||Listening to Rilthus discussing plans with second-in-command||Second day, noon||Rilthus' quarters|
|4.||Rilthus attack on Merthia City||Rilthus gives a speech to the gathered congregation on the evils of the government and how they are causing this danger, and why they are attacking it the next day.||Fifth day, evening, same times as 5. and 6.||Circle of Culthus|
|5.||Transportation of Protector to Merthia City for attack||Listening to second-in-command as he uses magic to temporarily change Protector into small, ten-inch tall model wooden statue.||Fifth day, evening, same time as 4. and 6.||Second-in-command's quarters|
|6.||Cult's cart being used for attack||Rilthus' general informing stablehands that cart cannot be used for wood transport, as Rilthus needs it tomorrow.||Fifth day, evening, same time as 4. and 5.||
|7.||Rilthus has left with half dozen cult soldiers and cart this morning||Asking anyone||Sixth day, noon||Anywhere|
In case the Information table did not make things clear, here is a list of all the things that are happening in this plot.
|First||Jacob Latris hires party in the evening|
|Second||Traveling or arrival (maybe infiltrating the cult)|
|Third||Arrival/infiltrating the cult (if not all ready done)|
|Fourth||Sacrifice of bandit prisoner, and thus creation of the Protector|
|Fifth||Rilthus makes anti-government speech, explaining why/how he's attacking Merthia City|
The plot can end a variety of ways. If the PCs are able to get all the information necessary, they might realize Rilthus' plot and manage to sabotage it ahead of time. That is, if they want to stop it; Jacob, if informed of the plot, will order the PCs to stop Rilthus' plans as he wants possession of the demon inside the Protector- at no point should he or the PCs be able to learn Carcer's name, or else Jacob Latris would not have the vested interest he would, as he would need the demon's name to find out how to summon it.
Still, the plot is designed so that getting all the information necessary to sabotage Rilthus' plot ahead of time would be unlikely, as that would require three "sneaky" PCs to get each aspect of the plan unless they happen to get there early enough Information 2. Though this should be possible, the most likely course of action would be the climax described below or, if the PCs are too late, failure (which involves taking out a giant wooden statue shooting fireballs and crushing buildings, so it might not be too bad).
Once the PCs discover that Rilthus has left with his six dozen cult members with the cart, then they are forced with the moral quandary of whether or not to stop Rilthus. The government is evil and corrupt, maybe this is the right move. Still, there is an awful lot of innocent civilians in Merthia City. They may or may not make a move against Rilthus now, but the probable course of action would be saving the city, as they are the conquering heroes; it'd be quite the blemish on their reputations if someone found out they let a city burn.
There will be, oddly enough, enough horses left for each of the PCs, with the addition of two horses- these later two are key, as they will serve as mounts for Jacob Latris and his demon follower, Satellus. More on this later.
Horses can easily catch up with Rilthus, as he's driving a heavy cart and not expecting pursuit. The greater problem is stopping Rilthus. His six cult members include is second-in-command, who is a wizard, as well as two archers and three swordsmen, two of which have their own horses. The archers and the second-in-command will use the cart as cover as they fire at the PCs, while one of the swordsmen guards the cart and the other two go for a more direct assault. To make matters worse, Rilthus, though he will mostly be engaged with driving the cart, has two other demons, besides Carcer, under his control, which he will also use to defend the cart. The small wooden model of the Protector, which can be expanded with the proper magical command to become 20 feet tall (double the original size) is attached to a necklace around Rilthus' neck.
Once this combat is under way, though not so long that anyone has had much chance to be incapacitated, Jacob Latris will show up, riding the two last steeds. Combats tend to slow down horse speed, which allowed him to catch up. That, and magic.
Jacob Latris has Satellus, a very powerful demon, with him, who will be riding the last horse, as well as a variety of lesser demons. He wants the protector, to find out Carcer's name so he can study the demon, as he believes that a demon with as much motivation for revenge as Carcer does may be the key to what he's searching for (see the sub detailing him). As such, this mounted combat turns into a three way combat, with each side trying to kill the other.
To make matters worse, there is a time limit in play. As soon as the combat reaches Merthia city, even its walls will be unable to stop the Protector; Rilthus will unleash his god outside the gates and watch it tear through them.
I will let the GM decide how strong each side should be. This is the final battle of the scenario, however, so it should be tough and memorable. Jacob Latris will also survive, as he knows when to cut his losses and retread
This scenario should end with three option, depending on who wins.
If Rilthus wins, then Merthia City is facing a 20 foot tall wooden statue that can hurl fireballs. As cities are flammable, or at least the bits with the innocent paupers care about, this is, to say the least, an interesting encounter. Taking out the Protector, especially the double sized version the Protector is now, should be impossible for the PCs. Good thing they have the Merthian army stationed in Merthia city for aid, which should make this impossible scenario possible (with the deaths of lots of soldiers). At the end of this version, you can choose to make Jacob Latris a recurring villain for the PCs, as well as have the general of the Merthian army as a friend, or a contact. Carcer will probably end up killed in this one, which means Jacob Latris will have lost any chance of using it.
If Jacob wins, then Merthia City is spared an attack by the Protector, and the PCs get nothing besides memories and a potential recurring villain, if this latest avenue of Jacob Latris' research (studying Carcer) fails. Of course, Jacob Latris may choose to still give the PCs the reward promised as a sort of "F*** you, losers!" Still, this is unlikely as he will probably be too absorbed in his research too care.
If the PCs win, then they win. They get the statue, the recurring enemy of Jacob Latris, as well as the gratitude of the Merthians without the loss of lots of buildings and soldiers. The Merthian general, who can either be that one uncorrupt, decent guy in the whole mess or a potential corrupted, evil, plans-to-betray-the-PCs-eventually guy, will become even better buddies with the PCs, and will become either an ally or a friend. The King of Merthia as well may offer some kind of reward, monetary of otherwise, for the PCs for protecting his city.