GMs' Overview

A circus visits the area offering all the usual attractions (troubadours, acrobats, wild animal shows, freak shows, etc) and a good time is had by all.

Meanwhile a strange creature, a large cat-like beast with a thick shaggy mane and long trailing tentacles, is seen skulking through the woods. This is actually an old and slightly arthritic lion that escaped from the circus (the 'tentacles' are the ropes used to tie him up, still attached to a leather collar around his neck).

Where the PCs come in

The presence of such a beast falls clearly under the purview of Sgt Goodwin of the village militia who, amongst other things, is responsible for assessing any potential threat and taking any action that might seem appropriate. However, his entire militia force (such as it is) is currently fully occupied policing the circus so he simply does not have the men to spare. Consequently he will offer a reward for anybody who can track the creature down and take whatever steps are needed to remove the threat.

Johan's Big Cat Circus

Johan Basmol owns and manages a travelling circus, which passes through most of the villages in the Duchy of Salona. Johan himself runs fairly standard lion-taming act.

Johan Basmol, the Lion King - human male - lion taming: excellent, showmanship: very good, business acumen: very good

Johan adopted the title Lion King because he thinks it sounds 'right' but has no idea just how appropriate it really is. He has an innate understanding of felines (a leftover genetic trait from a long forgotten were-cat ancestry), which he uses to direct and control a group of big cats (lions, tigers, leopards, etc) for the entertainment of the crowd.

The Side Shows

The other attractions are all semi-independent acts hired on to fill out the programme. Each have their tent, caravan, or other enclosure, which they entice people to enter (for a small fee) to view their show or play their game. Some of the games are even fair.

A few suggestions are given here - feel free to add anything else you think might be amusing:

Wrestling Arena - run by 'Killer' Clyde, a giant of a man who challenges all comers to wrestle him - surprisingly this is actually honest (Clyde is a very good wrestler)

The Beast-man - a minotaur from Beast Valley - chained up 'for the safety of population', but the chains have no locks - continually growls and roars at the customers

Archery Range - this contest is fixed (the arrows are slightly bent, just enough that their trajectory is unpredictable) - must use his crossbows (light strings) and arrows (clay tips and ever-so-slightly crocked shafts) 'for safety reasons'

Gypsy Fortune Teller - run by Madam Zsa-zsa (human female, excellent acting skill, quite young but uses stage makeup to appear old and venerable) - gazes into a 'crystal ball' (large glass paperweight) to discern the future - has no real power but puts on a good show

Freak Show - half a dozen actors dressed up as fantastical creatures (mermaids, snake men, bearded ladies, etc)

Dancing Dogs - four poodles with pink-dyed fur shaved in the traditional manner - trained to perform a number of acrobatic tricks

Ring the Bell - strike a lever with a mallet to knock a metal ball up a 20' column to hit the bell - this is fixed (has a foot-operated damper that slows the ball)

Fire Eater - gulps and spits an alcohol mixture and ignites it with an ordinary torch

Hawk the Mad Story-teller - regales people with tales of the terrible monsters that roam the Twilight Forest - these may or may not be true at the GMs discretion

The Beast of Cragley Forest

Some strange, and truly disturbing tracks, have been found near the forest edge around the hamlet of Cragley. They show great cat-like paw prints as big as a dinner plate and thin snake-like drag marks as long as a spear. The local trackers have never seen their like and do not know what to make of them.

Some of the villagers ventured into the forest to track the creature down. They never found its' lair but they did get a glimpse of a large cat-like beast with thick shaggy hair on its head and long trailing tentacles growing out of its neck. None of them have the slightest idea what the strange beast could be but Cpl Rudegar of the village militia (who hunted Chaos horrors in the Twilight Forest in his youth) speculates freely on the subject, and his theories are doing little to calm the villagers' already somewhat frayed nerves. {{Roleplaying Note: Let your imagination run wild - Rudegar certainly is.}}

In reality the beast is actually an old and slightly arthritic lion, named Clarence, who escaped from the circus when one of his keepers left him untied for a few moments (the 'tentacles' are actually the ropes used to tie him up, still attached to a thick leather collar). Clarence has spent most of his life in captivity (and pretty pampered captivity at that) so, although he looks quite fearsome, he doesn't know how to hunt (somebody always brings dinner to him) and his combat skills are simply abysmal (he has never had to fight for anything).

Clarence - escaped lion - old, tame, and slightly arthritic - poor combat & hunting skills

Johan will not readily admit that he has lost a lion, partially because he thinks (correctly as it happens) that this might be bad for business, but mostly because he is somewhat embarrassed by the whole affair. If the PCs make this obvious connection he will be extremely evasive on the subject, although he will not outright lie about it (well probably not).

Strangers in the Woods

Despite appearances to the contrary, Johan has not been negligent of his responsibility in this matter and has taken steps to recapture the escaped lion before it does any real harm. To this end he has sent a small group of suitably equipped lion keepers into the forest (discreetly of course) with very strict orders: 'bring Clarence back, and don't make any fuss about it'.

Unfortunately the keepers are just that - keepers. They are not trackers and, while they know quite a lot about how to look after big cats in captivity, they know absolutely nothing about how to capture them in the wild.

Leader - combat: poor, tracking: poor - pole lasso, mini crossbow (no damage, shoots darts tipped with sleep drug)

Keepers - combat: poor, tracking: poor - pole lasso or net

They will bumble around the forest scaring the wildlife, setting traps that wouldn't fool a retarded rock, and generally getting in everybody's way. If spotted they will attempt to hide (very ineffectually) because they have been told to keep their activities secret. If captured (a definite possibility) they will be extremely tight-lipped about their activities, unless of course they are threatened with violence (they're not being paid anywhere near enough to take that kind of abuse).

Note that whatever else happens the keepers will NOT recapture Clarence (yes, they are that inept.)

Catching the Beast

If the PCs make a determined effect to find the beast they should eventually track poor Clarence to his lair, a nice shady little clearing in the middle of a large hawthorn bush where he has made himself quite comfortable. At this point even the most cursory examination will identify Clarence for what he actually is - an overgrown pussycat, really only dangerous to the local rabbit population (and then only on a good day).

If attacked Clarence will either try to escape or, if cornered, defend himself. Note that despite being almost completely tame he is still potentially quite deadly. A rake from one of his claws could easily disembowel a man and his bite could certainly tear a man's throat out. He just isn't very good at this. In a real fight (as opposed to the play fighting he is trained to do in the ring) he simply doesn't know what to do.

If the PCs think of it (and they should if they've worked out what he is) the easiest, and by far the safest, way to capture Clarence is to feed him. Since nobody as fed him for some time (probably two or three days by now) he is quite hungry - and he is used to people feeding him. If offered food he will happily take it. All the PCs need do then is pick up one of the ropes still attached to his collar and he will meekly follow them back to the circus (or anywhere else they choose to take him for that matter).

Wrapping Up

If the PCs have either killed Clarence or removed him from the forest, and can prove that they have done this, Sgt Goodwin will pay them the offered reward. Also the local lord, Baron Morgan, has by now heard of the beast. Suitably impressed with the PCs' effects to resolve the situation he will proclaim them minor heroes and add his own thanks. He offers no monetary reward (after all the PCs have already been paid) but the PCs now have a favourable reputation with the local nobility, which is never a bad thing.

If the PCs killed Clarence, Johan will be furious with them. However, since he did not report the lion's escape in the first place, he has no legal grounds for pursuing them. He won't like it, but he will just have to take the loss.

On the other hand, if the PCs capture Clarence and returned him to the circus Johan will reward them, at least to the level offered by Sgt Goodwin and probably higher, on condition that they 'refrain from mentioning this little incident'. {{Note that clever PCs might well be able to claim two rewards for the same job here - this is perfectly OK if they are smart enough to pull it off}}

If the PCs captured Clarence and brought him back to Sgt Goodwin the situation gets a little more complicated. In this case the baron takes a liking to the unfortunate beast and, since nobody seems to own him (well nobody has claimed to have lost a lion), promptly claims him. Clarence is now destined for a life of pampered luxury at the baron's castle.

The legal footing for this action is dubious at best, but the baron (being somewhat brighter than he looks) is trying to make a fairly subtle point here. He has of course made the obvious connection with the circus and wants to make it perfectly clear that he will not tolerate the release, even accidentally, of dangerous wild beasts into the countryside.

Johan will of course be outraged and what he sees, with some justification, as a totally arbitrary ruling. Unfortunately for him, his failure to report the lion's escape places him in an equally dubious legal position. Furthermore, the baron is the legal authority in the area and any higher court would most like just rubber-stamp his decision.

One last thing: if the PCs harmed, or worse yet killed, any of the keepers trying to recapture Clarence (refer to 'Strangers in the Woods' above) they will find themselves in big trouble. They might well have been acting somewhat suspiciously but they were not actually doing anything illegal. They did not start a fight with the PCs, or anybody else for that matter, and in fact tried to avoid a conflict of any kind. Furthermore they weren't even armed. However you look at it, the PCs had absolutely no right beating them up. As GM you should feel free to impose whatever penalties you think appropriate - they deserve it.

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