The PCs find themselves approaching Lichenbridge Inn, on a particularly damp evening; the air is thick and humid and pregnant with rain. Wafting from inside the old stone building is the aroma of smoked eels infused with thyme and other swamp herbs. A swollen Moon is rising like a bubble of oil on the horizon.
Leaving their mounts in the wet, dripping stables, with a pair of pale, sullen-eyed stableboys, the PCs are ushered inside the inn, by a cigar-chomping, small, round, and rubbery fellow with an incredibly wide grin. Introducing himself as Semyon Jesk, proprietor and owner, he points at a chalk-board, upon which is scribbled the nightly menu. Smoked eels, sour-ale, bread soup, and fried mudworms. Other travelers, not keen on chatter or merryment are inside the moldy taproom as well. A waifish, big-eyed girl of indeterminate age is serving tankards and eyeing the guests. Outside a gentle drizzle ushers in the night, and a legion of frogs begin their nightly, croaking chorus
An establishment fording a stream with ambitions at being a river, Lichenbridge Inn has stood for nearly two hundred and fifty years here in the hinterlands, ever since the Half-Century War raged in these now nearly-abandoned lands, run by the family Jesk, minor landholders, millers and care-takers of the bridge, the nearby grist-mill and the inn itself.
The bridge (once named Steel-Pass Bridge) served as a river-crossing for countless soldiers, but toward the end of the war, was destroyed, and now centuries later is a mere stone post-bellum remnant; twin moss-covered arches on either side of the brownflow, fated ne’er to meet again.
Nowadays, the bridge and the inn are both nearly forgotten, the former a crumbling ruin, but the latter still open and functioning. Few folk travel these marshy lands on their way south anymore, most preferring the well-trod roads east of nameless river. The once fast-flowing waterway, is drying up, and now resembles a slovenly black-brown flow instead, its muddy, reed-filled banks, treacherous to the traveler. The Jesk family, once fecund, has dried up, or moved away over the years as well. Only Semyon Jesk remains and his mute sister Agathae, their incestuous twin-brood, a scant few servants, and their family legacy, the Lichenbridge Inn.
Semyon and Agathae are Were-Toads, the last scions of a centuries-old familial curse, descendants of such luminaries as the famously rotund Bufo Jesk, the lady Drusilla Jesk, who added the miller vocation to her family’s pursuits, and Herbolt Jesk, who it was said could swallow a man whole in one gulp, though this last of course, was said only between fellow Jesks, and never amidst outsiders.
For as long as the Jesk family has owned this plot of land, they have managed to keep the secrets of their inherited afliction from all others through the generations. Semyon Jesk and his mute sister are no different. No one yet suspects that the brother and sister inn-keepers are actually stone-cold killers, who are not above devouring the occasional guest(s).
Semyon Jesk, Proprietor of Lichenbridge Inn, Were-toad
Semyon Jesk is the proprietor of Lichenbridge inn and its environs. Keeper of the Broken Bridge, and inattentive owner of the nearly rotted grist-mill, Semyon is an odious man, but one adept at deception, well-versed in hiding both his were-curse and his intentions. Bulbous of body but spindly of limb, Semyons tallow-skin, resembles melting wax. Possessing beady, coal-black eyes, a collar of neck-fat and tiny teeth arranged inside of an abnormally wide mouth, Semyon saving grace is his predilection for blandishment and exaggerated adulation, whenever faced with strangers. In this way he attempts to ingratiate himself with his guests, playing the role of the shameless flatterer.
Semyon moves surprisingly fast considering his peculiar, rounded torso and near-skeletal limbs. He has a predilection for small baubles and his attention can be held unwaveringly with most shiny objects, his beady, black eyes boring holes almost involuntarily at said objects, even if polite decorum forbids him from staring. Likewise he has a weakness for pungent rolled tobacco, and often chews on week-old cigars, savoring the juices, long after he is done smoking them.
Agathae Jesk, mute sister of Semyon, Were-toad
Agathae Jesk is a mute, perpetually sad and lugubrious young woman, said to be of a certain temperament even while in the womb. Thinning hair the color of wilting straw, with a wide, crooked grin, and unattractive eyes, which seem ill-fit for their sockets, Agathae does not a beauty strike. Pasty-skinned and languid, she seems both harmless and revolting at once. Though like Semyon she prefers killing in toad or hybrid form, she wields a curved magical dagger as well, which causes wounds to bleed profusely and excessively. On rare occasion, she will coat the dagger with toad-venom, which she hand-milks from the highly posionous Miter-Toads of the bogs.
Tad and Poul Jesk
The unfortunate, incestuous sons of Semyon and Agathae Jesk, pimply and fat, who handle all the odd work around the inn, stables and gristmill. Agathae is only mildly interested in her offspring. Semyon for his part mostly ignores the young lads, having no interest in rearing his ill-begotten sons, anymore than Agathae does. When not working,Tad and Poul are usually off in the deep bog, frollicking in toad form. They are stupid young men, with no redeeming traits.
The Jesks purchased the dilapidated Graymilken Mill a century ago. Since that time the actual gristmill operation has been largely ignored by the disinterested Jesks, and the building is now used for the storage of decomposing corpses by Semyon and Agathae.
Occasionally, the odious pair hides their victims in the many hidden priest-holes, covered in toad-slime or salt for pickling. Both Lichenbridge Inn and the gristmill have countless "Priest-Holes" littered through its rotted stone walls. Semyon and Agathae use these passages to spy on, stalk and ambush their prey. These priest-holes were installed a century ago, before the Jesks purchased the mill, when monks and priests fleeing the One True Faiths inquisition, temporarily took refuge in the inn and gristmill. The Jesks of that time, Ligush and his wife Ziegismunda, at first harbored the pagans, allowing them stay inside the very walls for coin, but eventually betrayed them, collecting a sizable reward from the Church as well.
The cellar leads to the Jesks private quarters. The room smells both musty and musky. Buried in the earth beneath the floorboards is the Jesks strongbox, double bolted and trapped with several sets of poisoned needles. Inside the lockbox are one hundred antiquated gold coins, nearly solid gold, worth thrice as much on the market regular gold coins. In addition, twelve grass-green, peridots, each the size of a robins egg are encased in what looks like a modern egg-carton of hardened clay. Though semi-precious, they are of considerable worth due to their brilliant color and exquisite craftsmanship. These peridots are heirlooms passed on from Jesk to Jesk. A single magical, leather boot, useless without its long-lost twin, lies crumpled at the bottom of the box. Inside the boot are more goodies.
1-2 magical cigars (Random roll on Magic Cigar Challenge scroll)
1-2 magical buttons (Random roll on Button’s Magic Buttons scroll)
1 The Bachta-Toad Amulet (Jesk has no idea what this is, and no clue as to why he cannot even pick it up. Yet another inherited bauble.)
1 Egg Cup of Summoning (Agathae’s prized possession)
Finally, at the bottom of the lockbox, lies Semyons prized possession, his Whiteblade, a weapon he once stole from a passing traveler.
Toads in the Night
Besides the PCs, there are other guests present this night, a rare confluence of travelers in these lonely bog-lands. The roster of inn guests is up to the GM. The key is to present the guests as suspicious and unsavory, and the Innkeeper and his poor, mute sister as being beyond reproach.
By morning there will be one or two fewer guests, if Semyon and Agathae have their way. They will carefully select victims based on feasibility and perceived weaknesses. They prefer physically smaller victims and those that sleep one to a room. Sneaking through the walls and hidey-holes, the were-toads, sometimes in human form, while other times in hybrid humanoid-toad form, depending on their mood and plan of attack, surprise the sleeping victim and kill quickly, soon after dragging the body to the gristmill for disposal and feasting. Tad and Poul obey their motherand father unerringly, and have garnered a liking for humanoid flesh over the years as well. In all, four were-toads acting in deadly unison, inside the confines of their own inn, their ‘home environment’, should present a challenging and potentially deadly encounter for PCs, wherein they can either be the ones attacked by the Jesks in the night, or the investigators sorting out the gruesome crimes the next day.
Reagrdless, by noon or so of the next day, anyone killed by the were-toads the previous night will be completely digested by acid and gone forever.
If successful in murder, the following morning the remaining guests, the PCs among them, will have a mystery on their hands. Besides being a great actor, Semyon Jesk will help as best he can with the investigation, shocked that such deviltry would go on in his inn, suggesting among other things, that the victims are probably far away by now in the bog, having either left of their accord or lured by some sinister force.
Semyon wears a Toe-Ring of Lies, an item which prevents any magical truth-seeking or scrying from working upon his person. Agathae for her part is mute, and appears highly incapable of anything more than serving ale and staring. What the Jesk siblings have going for them most of all however is the fact the family has survived unmolested by authorities or vigilantes all these many years, due to their remote location, rarely if ever visited by anyone other than adventures, refugees, and occasional monks on pilgrimage.
*Somewhere in the muck beneath the broken arch of Lichenbridge, the remains of a troll can be found. His shriveled flesh and bones are perfectly preserved by the particular stew of tannins, peat, and bog chemicals so prevalent in these lands. This fellow seems to have starved here years ago, though neither Semyon nor Agathae are familiar with the tale. If Speak with Dead is cast, the troll will claim to know the location of a wondrous treasure hoard, but will brazenly announce that he will only agree to reveal its whereabouts if raised from the dead! Someday when they have such power and the inclination, perhaps they will come back to the troll beneath the bridge, and bargain some more.
*Halflings, gnomes, and even some underfed dwarves can be swallowed whole by Semyon in his hybrid form, though not by Agathae for she is physically smaller than her brother. The acidic digestive juices of both were-toads however, are potent enough to liquefy flesh after only a few hours of being covered in their stomach-slime.
*Though the out-of-the-way inn’s current income is nearly non-existent, since it is rarely visited by travelers anymore, the Jesks have buried many coffers of coin in the countryside over the years, and Semyon and Agathae know where these coin-hoards are buried.
*Behind an ale-cask in the cellar, is a trapdoor, a priest-hole, which leads into a damp, earthen tunnel, winding its way east and south underground for many miles, until at last coming to an impossibly wide grotto and an underground lake of great size, somewhere beneath the hapless village of Awanggis.