The neighbor kid, Billy, was the first to spot the body. He'd been playing by the river's edge that morning. When the bloated corpse got caught up in an eddy, he pulled it onto the bank by its dull red hair before running up and down the street yelling about how he'd caught himself a real witch in the river and that the priest needed to come exorcise it right away.
Priest in tow, the townsfolk gathered about the body, speculating on who it might be and what might have happened. Bloating and damage from the river had battered the corpse beyond recognition and noone recognized the tattered blue robe.
The sheriff arrived shortly before noon and examined the body. The only thing he discovered was a jade pendant on a silver chain wrapped tightly about the poor woman's right hand and wrist, deeply embedded in the puffy flesh and incapable of being removed at the scene.
These events occur in a small town shortly before the PCs arrive. Due to the bad timing, the locals are highly suspicious. The sheriff will make a point of questioning them. Helpful/good-aligned or curious players may decide to investigate on their own. Other players can be motivated by harassment by the locals or threatened by incarceration. If necessary, have one of them locked up "on suspicion" or with flaky evidence (this is a cliche small town after all) to keep them from leaving. The point is to motivate the players to find the real murderer while surrounded by a hostile populace.
Notes for the Initial Investigation
The PCs should have to work hard for this information. They are considered suspects and they are certainly not trusted by the locals. The longer the investigation takes, the more likely the sheriff will find a reason to lock them all up or that the town will form into a mob to take care of "the threat." This is more likely to happen if the PCs attempt to leave town.
The jade pendant has Chinese characters engraved upon it, roughly translating to "Eternal city under the sea." It also has a minor enchantment, if the PCs are able to tell such things. Of course, obtaining or viewing the pendant will not be easy.
Due to the extensive battering the corpse received on its journey and the lack of decent equipment, the local coroner is unable to determine the cause of death.
There is a Taoist temple to the north, up in the hills. The river flows past the temple before meandering down to the town, so it is entirely possible that the body originated there.
A few days previous, a couple of local hunters overheard a fight in the woods towards the north. They did not get close enough to witness what was going on but it did sound like there were quite a few combatants involved.
The Taoist temple is a small compound up in the hills near the river. The immediate area around the temple is clear and grassy. Beyond that are forest and more hills. There were originally 6 priests in residence, although 2 of those have been killed.
Following the river to the temple is not difficult for anyone with minimal skill in woodcraft. The trip is peaceful and uneventful.
The first thing the PCs see is a small shrine at the edge of the clearing, near the river, that has been uprooted and smashed. The ground next to it has been dug up (in a deep hole 7' long and 5' wide.) The bodies of the 2 murdered priests are nearby.
If the PCs observe the area they will eventually see a group of a dozen or more men armed with sabers and spears camped outside the temple proper. Entering the clearing will immediately draw their attention.
The men camped outside the temple are all members of a Long Fist Kung Fu school. They are laying siege in an attempt to steal a scroll held by members of a Hung Gar Kung Fu school. The two groups are at an impasse as the Long Fist practitioners cannot defeat their rivals in the confined spaces of the temple while the Hung Gar pratitioners with their shorter butterfly swords are at a disadvantage in the wide open space outside the temple. The initial clash between these two groups was overheard by the hunters from town.
The 4 remaining Taoist priests are tied up inside the compound, unable to interfere. They would be very grateful if the PCs rescue them.
Both rival groups will see the PCs as a further threat and will attempt to drive them away, or kill them if necessary. It is up to the players to figure out a way to break the impasse. Neither side is willing to negotiate. If the bandits outside can be run off (meaning at least half are killed or they are tricked into doing so) the ones inside will attempt to escape with the scroll.
Once the priests have been rescued they will tell the PCs a part of their story (omitting a few facts the priests prefer to keep hidden):
An ancient and revered member of their order had been buried next to the disturbed shrine. When the first group of bandits (the Long Fist practitioners) showed up, they desecrated the shrine and began digging up the body. When 2 of the priests tried to intervene, they were murdered. The rest ran and hid in the inner temple.
No sooner had the body been dug up when the second group of bandits came on the scene and immediately began fighting with the first. In the scuffle, the body ended up in the river and the Hung Gar practitioners were forced to retreat to the temple. Once inside, they stole a sacred scroll and bound the priests but were unable to leave with their prize.
The priests beg the PCs for help in returning the body of their revered elder and the scroll. (Side note: the body did not appear to be that of an elderly individual; rather it was that of a woman in her late 20s. Still, they will claim that the body in the morgue is the same one that was dug up by the bandits.)
Back In Town
If they managed to escape, the Hung Gar practitioners will head downriver in search of the corpse and will do all in their power to retrieve the necklace. The PCs should have an opportunity to get the scroll back from them. It is an old thing, yellowed from age and tattered from use. There are several long lines of Chinese handwritten upon it. If the PCs attempt to translate it or have it translated, they will only get a bunch of random words that make no sense.
Between the raiding bandits and the word of the Taoist priests, the PCs should be able to clear their names.
About this time, a man will wander into town with no memory of who he is or why he is there. Have a concerned local bring him by the sheriff's office while the PCs are present and the priests are trying to collect the body. The man will fall into a heap at the site of the corpse, crying hysterically about his lost love. He will know nothing about the woman except that he is certain she was very important to him and that he felt drawn to her. He also feels a connection with the pendant. If questioned, the priests will claim no knowledge of this man.
At some point, the PCs should see the necklace and the scroll together at the same time. Perhaps this happens when they help the priests retrieve their property. Maybe the PCs "liberate" them (I'm so sorry, someone must have made off with them....) When that happens the two items begin to glow and the words on the scroll begin to reorganize themselves. If the two items are separated, the glow vanishes and the words again become jumbled.
Following the Scroll
The PCs are free to do as they wish at this point. Hopefully their interest has been piqued and they will seek out the city of their own volition. The mysterious man will beg anyone he meets to help him figure out why the woman and the pendant seem so important to him. He hopes that doing so will help free his memory.
When properly arranged, the words on the scroll can be translated into directions to a city under the ocean. The instructions are not simple and are very flowery in nature. Doing a proper translation will require someone fluent in Chinese idioms and ancient mythology. The GM is encouraged to mislead the players through ambiguous wording and vague symbolism. Even with directions, finding the location of the city should not be an easy task.
If worn, the pendant will allow the bearer and anyone in physical contact to breathe and move freely underwater. Being a modern setting, it is also possible to make the journey using regular SCUBA gear.
If he has accompanied the PCs, the amnesiac will be unable to continue. He is terrified of the water.
The city itself is of an ancient design, fairly well preserved despite the amount of fish and other sea life that have taken up residence. Feel free to give the players areas to explore and provide them with any number of random undersea encounters.
The main encounter occurs in the old Palace. In the main audience chamber is a once-lavish throne. Upon it sits the spectral image of a young and beautiful redheaded woman. Her form is chained to the throne by very solid silver links. Her eyes are pure white with neither iris nor pupil. She wails telepathically to all within visible range about the loss of her true love. She rages against the treacherous general who imprisoned her and sank the city out of jealousy.
The woman will promise the PCs enormous wealth if they will release her spirit by cutting the chains and letting her know where her body rests. There are numerous chests of precious metals, works of art, and precious stones hidden away. She will gladly reveal their location if the PCs agree to her terms.
Releasing the woman would be a colossal mistake. While she is obliged to keep her promise of wealth (it is part of the curse) she wishes to take out her millennia of rage upon the entire world. She is able to resurrect and heal herself upon merging with her old body. She is a powerful sorceress and will immediately begin amassing a powerful army to threaten the world. She will also seek to resurrect her long lost love so that their love can be eternal.
The amnesiac man is her long lost love. He was himself imprisoned until he was released when her body was dug up. She will be able to restore his memory if she meets him in the flesh. If the PCs chose to leave the woman imprisoned, now that he about the city he will find someone else to release her.
- I could have expanded this in quite a number of areas and provided more concrete details, specific encounters, and extra information. But being lazy, I didn't. If anyone feels inspired, feel free to add some ideas below.
- This sub was built from scratch off of a series of random words, mostly compliments of Muro. Blame him if it isn't any good :P