Monday, March 4, 2013

March Theme: Campaign Seeds, Abandoned Campaigns, and Campaigns that Never Were

Starting today and then sporadically throughout March I plan to stick a variety of oddities in the blog....weird campaign premises that I worked up and used once, or not at all, over the last few decades. I have quite a few like this, many of which maybe served for only a few sessions of gaming before being abandoned, others which have never even seen the light of day....until now!

Some of this is just because they're interesting and someone might find a nugget of inspiration within. Other are just....well, I like to put them in a sort of internet amber here, preserved forever more in a place other than my HDD. For example....take Dark Masques, below. Technically I did provide a bit of a write-up on this one for an old issue of TSS when I tried reviving it a few years ago, but otherwise the entire premise of Dark Masques served as the outline for a weekend-long campaign in Portland which I ran for some long time friends and co-gamers, using D&D 3.5 modified by the awesome Darkness & Dread 3PP sourcebook from Fantasy Flight. you go. If I were to run this today, I'd use BRP or the "All for One" sourcebook for Savage Worlds:

Campaign: Dark Masques Act I

Time Period: 1580 Europe
Location: Tarrascon, in Provence, France

Background: The town that killed the legendary Tarasque, Tarrascon has long celebrated the victory over this dragoness of evil. The Cathedral of Tarrascon, with the holy shrine and tomb of the savior Saint Martha, is an attractive spot for holy pilgrims to visit.

   The Tarasque was allegedly killed (in the tale) three centuries earlier, in 1280 or thereabouts. In fact, the Tarasque was not specifically killed, but instead banished by the holy miracles of Saint Martha. It has remained a spectral presence in the region ever since, especially the swamps near Tarrascon, which may be haunted by the devil himself. 

   Indeed, the Tarasque is a dimensional being, and entity of the outer darkness, which seeks the worship of mortals to aid in its escape. To breach the veil of reality, it must draw humans in to its worship, and recently, this has begun with the arrival of a warlock named Francios Callot, a man who learned hermetic and black magic from the Tabula Smaragdina. He later met a basque witch named Efrida, who was a true black magician and acolyte of  the Tarasque. She lured him through favors and promises of power in to studying the whispers of her outer goddess through drug-induced slumber and astral dreams.

Adventure Opening: The PCs are all brought in to play via their connection to one man: a patrician and scholar of Marseilles named Sir Stephan Launet. Launet has an extensive collection of texts, dating back centuries, as well as a fascination for the exotic. He regularly funds foreign expeditions to Africa and the New World to recover unique artifacts for his collections. But most recently, his most unusual acquisition came from neighboring Tarrascon, when hunters uncovered what appeared to be the remains of a fabulous creature, one which bore a terrifying similarity to local tales of the Tarasque. Though it appears not unlike the decomposed flesh of a body, it is something like a skin, shed, as if by a reptile. The skin is hard, scaled, and bone-like. It shows evidence of a six-legged beast, with traces of a coarse hair.

   (GM Note: The Tarasque does not truly “shed,” but instead possesses and polymorphs a host creature in to it’s desired form on being summoned. When the summoning ends, it leaves the desiccated corpse, drained and mutated, behind.)

   Launet has contacted his likeliest allies on this matter, to investigate. He will candidly admit that he paid his two best hunters, a Spanish man named Navarre and a Fenchman named Golan to seek out the origin of this creature, but he received news a week ago that they were found killed and dismembered in the swamps outside of Tarrascon. When he sent for the bodies, they had gone missing. He begs the PCs to investigate, and explains that he fears that the old legends may be resurfacing. He arms the PCs with the Reliquary of St. Martha, last to defeat the Tarrasque. The Reliquary contains a few grains of the saint’s hair in a vial of holy water. (Provides Protection from Evil to the bearer). He also tells them that the blessed vial of holy water she used to subdue the beast is on display in the Cathedral named in her honor.

Summary of Events:
  1. Fracois Callot and Efrida have formed their local cult, and with a local man named Rene Dubois, a grave robber and necromancer, they have begun the process of permanently reawakening the Tarasque.
  2. When the PCs arrive, the graveyards of the Cathedral of St. Martha will have recently been vandalized; someone dug up dozens of graves, including the alleged site where the . The scandal is causing panic in the streets, and a mob is assembling to find the culprits. The bishop of the cathedral, Bishop Lothaire, fears the vandals seek to desecrate the tomb of Martha, and looks to hire protection for the cathedral. He does not admit it, but knows that the key to the hidden catacombs was stolen some time ago, though the entrance iis undisturbed. No one has entered the catacombs in two centuries; they were sealed away and hidden behind stone in the church basement, after a rash of mysterious deaths in and around the cathedral one summer.
  3. The basement was compromised, but not like expected; one of the violated grave diggings penetrated a catacomb tunnel. The necromancer and grave robber Dubois has awakened the ghouls trapped within, and uses them now to do his bidding: find the corpse remains of the Tarasque’s last true body, which were scattered by the peasants in the swamplands. Meanwhile, he also seeks a way to get in to Saint Martha’s tomb, that he might shatter her holy water vial and steal her corpse, or at least her skull, as a means of performing a ritual to immunize the Tarasque against counter summonings.
  4. Within Tarascon, the people are fearful, as omens are afoot that evil is once more loosed upon the town. The anniversary celebration of the Tarasque’s death is a month away, and people suspect that the beast might seek to return to life for revenge. A man named Richard Cuviere, a prominent local merchant and old soldier, has started a mob on a witch-hunt, and has suggested that the daughter of Lord Savagni, Murielle, is really a witch. The noble and his men have protected her so far, but soon he will have no choice but to accept the will of the mob.
  5. Hidden in the swamplands lies an old castle, called Castille et la bete, the Castle of the beast, long uninhabited and regarded as haunted. This castle is the location of  the coven’s operations, and is guarded by a fiendish werewolf summoned by the cabal to protect them. It is here that the pieces of the Tarasque are being brought, festering globules of semi-sentient ectoplasm, to allow for the resurrection of the beast on the mortal plane. It is also here that sacrifices have been offered to bring the Tarasque to the mortal plane, that it may possess the sacrificed victims and walk for an evening among men (shedding the body by daylight). Each summoning has allowed the coven to augur a portion of the ritual spell necessary to bring forth the Tarasque, as well as imbue each member with a dark pact.
  6. The PCs have the following possible goals: prove the innocence of Murielle, the baron’s daughter. Prevent (or restore) the defilement of Saint Martha’s tomb. Seal the catacombs and/or sanctify it by destroying the ghouls within. Uncover the plot of the coven and the location of the summonings, castile et la bete, and prevent the resurrection of the Tarasque.


Richard Cuviere

Veteran level 5; HP 38, Att +6 longsword (1d8+4), AC 16 (breastplate) Lawful Neutral, CR 5
   The merchant and leader of the witch hunt, seeking to cast down Murielle as the source of evil. His ire towards Murielle secretly stems from the fact that he once coveted her, but she spurned him. Murielle has been carrying on an affair with his brother, Alain Cuviere.

Murivelle Savagni

Aristocrat level 3, Medium level 1; HP 15, AC 13, Neutral Good.
   Murielle does, in fact, has a gift of second sight, but she is very secretive about it. She is a flirt, and as yet unmarried (she is 19), but currently has a quiet romance going with Alain Cuviere, who is a married man and esteemed land owner of Tarascon. Her father is the Lord of the Town.

Francois Callot Wizard 5, Chaotic Evil 

Efrida the Witch  Sorcerer 6, Chaotic Neutral 

Rene Dubois  Necromancer 5, Neutral Evil 

The Werewolf of the castle of the beast

   A terrifying beast, originally a soldier names Treville, who was bitten by a lycanthrope while campaigning as a mercenary in Germany. He fled to his homeland when the changes began, and eventually los touch with his humanity and became a hermit in the swamps. He has occasionally argued philosophy with the Devil of the Swamp, and he reluctantly deals with the coven, for Efrida has promised him a cure to his malady in exchange for his services. He could be a potential ally, if treated right.

Ghouls of the Catacombs (restless dead of the original coven that tried to summon the Tarrasque –successfully- three centuries ago, and were then entombed for their sins in the catacombs by a vengeful mob)

The possessing manifestations of the Tarasque

   Each manifestation is terrifying, and otherwise invulnerable to most attacks. Assume they are medium-sized versions of the usual Tarasque. However, holy water is especially repellent, and does 3d6 damage for 1d6 rounds on contact. If the beast is swayed by a holy man with a tether to St. Martha (it fails a Will Save of DC = to holy man’s level + 10 + Cha mod) then it will follow hypnotically.

The Devil of the Swamp

   The mysterious being that has given the swamps its reputation. What is it? None really know….but it appears as a dark, sometimes thorny being, occasionally as a maddened hermit, and under the dark of the new moon, as something incalculably horrifying. It can never leave the swamp, however.

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