The characters are servants working in the lightless kitchens of the Castle, lorded over by a tyrannical Chef called Filmor Mawthse. Sent into the cellars on various errands they discover a crevice in a pile of rubble by a collapsing wall. It seems to lead to a larger space behind. When Mawthse comes searching for them to find why they've been so long, he gets angry and beats one of them. Assuming the PCs don't just stand there and let him do it there'll be a little altercation. In this scuffle, Mawthse is killed: either purposefully with some cutlery or accidentally by slipping on the wet floor and cracking his head open. Fearing suspicion, the PCs will probably flee into the caverns through the crevice.
The caverns extend a long way beneath the foundations of the castle, undermining its structural strength (in a very real sense). In this underworld they find out a terrible secret of the castle: it's collapsing. The stone pillars which hold it up are crumbling beneath its weight and the caverns are starting to buckle. Not only is it dangerous to be underneath, but a sense of conscience (or desire for reward) will probably make the characters want to warn the people inside the castle. This is difficult as they are murder suspects.
Suddenly, in the darkness, they hear voices. It's two guards. The dungeons of the castle extend far below it and they intersect with the caverns in a number of places, though they are separated by heavy iron gates to prevent prisoners escaping into the caverns. The guards are discussing a murder. But by the sound of it, it's a different one...
'She was found in 'er bedroom, sheets covered in blood so I 'eard.'
'Arh. I 'eard that too. And word is 'es still on the run.'
'Probably in these very caverns.'
'Don't bear to think of do'm it?'
'Come orn, let's get away from 'ere. It give'm me the creepes.'
The iron gate is unyielding, impassable. But now the characters are in an interesting situation. There's another, more likely candidate for the murder of the Chef who can take the blame away from them. Unfortunately they're trapped in a cave system where he might be on the run...
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? Responses (8)-10
Interesting plot, it spins the generic murder mystery with two pieces of outside danger, the other actual murderer, and the deteriorating status of the castle.
It could be made even more interesting if the murderer already knows about the deterioration of the castle, and was willing to damage the remaining supports to thwart the PC's, regardless of what happened to the inhabitants of the castle. For a bigger twist, it might be someone like a young noble, or respected member of community.
On the other hand, I would think that there would be warning signs of the castle's poor condition. The floor of the greathall, or another large room might be bowling in towards the center of the room as the weight of the floor increases without support. Other areas might be subsiding, or cracking as the structure settles.
This is more of a mini-campaign than a single scenario. Characters need to be made for this kind of campaign, after all most people don't roll up/ create servant characters on a regular basis.
The one thing that would be critical to the success of this scenario is to run the characters through their lives as servants for a while. Sure it would be a soap opera, but it would give them a sense of connection to the characters in the castle above (hence a reason to risk themselves for them) and a bigger connection to the world around them. Then, after a session or three of this fantasy 'Upstairs, Downstairs', throw them into this scenario.
Now that would be a good game.
That's more or less how I'd envisaged it, Moon. It would start with them living and working in the kitchen, becoming disgruntled about their employers, maybe attempting escape up through the castle itself and encountering some understanding member of the aristocracy who'd try and help them (someone they'd want to warn about the castle collapsing later) before being caught and punished with extra labour. Then they'd suddenly find themselves in this situation with the opportunity to escape, but with the dilemma of wanting to go back and warn people.
Scrasamax, that's a very good point. I thought perhaps that instead of _visible_ deterioration there might be _audible_ deterioration: maybe an uncanny wailing or groaning sound that sometimes echoes through the corridors of the castle due to the subterranean stresses. That could then be interpreted as the caverns being haunted by a banshee or something. Maybe there'd be the occasional unexplained tremor too.
An interesting start. (Please don't forget to include the idea at the right place: http://www.strolen.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=508 )
An additional motive might be that their relatives also work in the Castle (maybe even for several generations), so they are a fixed part of this lifestyle, possibly afraid of outside. ;)
You know, conversely to MoonHunter I think it actually might work as a fast start (pick the players carefully though). The Game Master could even create the characters beforehand, and let the players choose.
This is a great campaign starter: Once the obvious tasks are handled, someone has to go down and find all the supports, etc. And who will _have_ to go down, you ask? I thought so.
Of course, there will be monsters, secrets of noble men you weren't supposed to find, secret places and (*sigh*) traps.
An excellent training camp for new adventurers. And one day, when you get famous and wealthy, will you admit to your humble beginnings?
I'd completely forgotten about that thread...
When coming up with this idea I'd also conceived another reason why they might be afraid to go outside, but in the interests of not complicating things, I didn't mention it. In my original idea, the castle was built a century ago for rich nobles who wanted to avoid a plague prophesied by an extremely wise prophet. They closed themselves inside with no windows and locked doors to keep the plague out, and they decided to stay put for two centuries until the plague had dissipated and all traces were gone. Obviously no-one would really like to leave the castle.
Of course the twist was that when the nobles had locked themselves up, the prophet said to the rest of the population: 'Now we are rid of these rich tyrants, let us rule ourselves as we see fit,' and a new era of equality and prosperity was ushered in.
I did this with my group some time ago. The players went away from the campaign we were in and wandered randomly in a wood. Then this popped up in my mind. It's such a good, simple, basic and easy to use idea that I remembered it entirely.
The plot went terrific. We had a splendid time and the castle eventually came tumbling down.
That last comment from Sax really transforms this significantly and makes it quite useful.