View Full Version : DM Help Mystery Adventure - A town with a dark secret

2014-08-09, 08:36 AM
There was an adventure in Dungeon 10 years ago, called Mellorn Hospitality, which has a cool premise, but is still written to pretty much follow a preset order of encounters. I want to take this premise and make it into something bigger and make the most of the potential.

Near an elven village, a portal opens every 7 years in a cave, from which monsters emerge to hunt for humanoid victims to drag back to their otherworldly realm. After any attempts to destroy the monsters, keep the portal from opening, or sealing the caves had failed, the elders of the village came up with an alternative solution. They would host a big market every year during the time when the portal opens, to provide plenty of alternative victims while they hole up in their houses during night. Since six out of seven years nobody gets taken, none of the outsiders have discovered the pattern yet.

In the original adventure the PCs are guarding a merchant who gets taken, they follow his trail, find the gate, and discover a convenient way to end the thread. If they figure out that the elves know about it, they say they are deeply sorry, and that's about it. I think there's much more room to make much more of the basic idea.

Two things come already to mind:
Since the market is only a decoy and bait to lure large numbers of traveling merchants, the elves don't need to make an actual profit from it. In fact, they could even accept making a considerable loss, as the main goal is to make the merchants come back every year. The leaders of the conspiracy might buy goods the village doesn't really need, just to make sure the merchants make a good profit. However, it would be crucial that nobody notices the manipulations and gets suspicious.
The other thing would be, that the conspirators would like if someone tries to seal the portal for good without risking their own people. At the same time,they wouldn't want anyone to know that the market is a trap to basically catch human sacrifices to appease monsters. So once the PCs are starting to ask too much questions, at least some conspirators would try to get them to leave or killed.

Pretty much everone of the adult villagers knows that monsters come from the cave and capture some of the merchants. Not all of them like it, but they won't reveal the crimes of their leaders to outsiders, which would have terrible consequences for the village. Some might be willing to stay silent only up to a certain point, but refuse to comply when more extreme things are demanded of them.

I would like to make this into something for at least two or even three sessions, with at least one possible way to seal the portal for good, though it could be a quite tough one. Any ideas?

2014-08-09, 10:06 AM
1. I feel like a fair would work better then a market since it would attract more people and it would be easier to subsidize a fair as opposed to a market ("so you people are buying 200 carpets again this year? I don`t wanna sound ungrateful but that`s odd.")

2.I would play up the differences between the villagers; while one might be paranoid and start making murder plans as soon as the PCs find their first clue others might aid them secretly or openly.Maybe sketch out a village council or something with opposing factions.

3.Add some red herrings and/or side quests. Maybe the village mage is into necromancy or something.

4.As for the closing part: the obvious solution would be to go through the portal and kill whatever is on the other side.
If you don`t want to go that route maybe some final sacrifice type deal?Like all the village elders?!

2014-08-09, 10:55 AM
I am assuming that much of the trade will be between merchants and people coming from neighboring villages. But it's unlikely that lots of merchanta would all come to an otherwise unremarkable and remote village, when there are far better places to trade. So the elves are manipulating sales to make sure everyone is making a good profit and be back again next year.
What they need to do is to inflate demand, and that means that they pretty much have to throw away anything that was bought at surplus. If they give it to the villagers for free, there will be less demand, and if they try to resell it, they are just competing with the merchants they want to attract. So there have to be some secret warehouses where all that stuff is hidden. It would be easiest to keep it secret with goods that already need regular replacement. But also a wide range of different goods, to not make any single merchant suspicious.
The PCs could overhear someone buying something on which the village has almost completely run out of supply, but when they later find a bunch of dusty crates full with the same thing, it should make them suspicious. Pottery and cloth would probably be good examples.

I really like the idea of sacrificing an elder or something like that. As outsiders the PCs could be willing to make some sacrifices which the village council considers worse than sacrificing strangers. The PCs could create a situation where the descision is taken away from the council, and it also explains why none of the locals have done it before. An important clue might even come from a villager who o longer wants to support the conspiracy.

To add more personal incentive for the PC, I think one of the merchant teams will be relatives of one of the PCs. The players would probably feel more commited to solving the crisis if they don't think it's worth the risk for some stranger they protect only for money.
And as another twist, one of the missing visitors would be the leader of a group of mercenary guards. His second in command doesn't take it well at all and becomes a new threat to the village, which the PCs might want to stop. Or possibly join if they think the elves are up to something.

the OOD
2014-08-16, 08:06 PM
I'll just leave the greatest investigative adventure design advice I have ever seen (http://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/1118/roleplaying-games/three-clue-rule) here.

read it. learn it. love it. praise it. worship it. bow before it. it wakes. worship it. bow before your lord and master. caress it. WORSHIP YOUR LORD AND MASTER. ia! ia! Cthulhu f'thgan! know it. love it. bow and grovel as the master approaches. PH'NGLUI MGLW'NAFH CTHULHU R'LYEH WGAH'NAGL FHTAGN!

2014-08-17, 01:01 AM
A thing that puzzles me: Why do the monsters do that? I mean, would you enter a presumably strange to you and therefore likely dangerous plane and kidnap beings from there every single time, without good reason?

2014-08-18, 10:46 AM
A thing that puzzles me: Why do the monsters do that? I mean, would you enter a presumably strange to you and therefore likely dangerous plane and kidnap beings from there every single time, without good reason?

Because the universe said "You are a Monster" and has etched onto their statblocks the words "Always Chaotic Evil".

More seriously, humanoids might have some traits which are desirable for the monsters' magic, alchemy, or medicine. Or they might be part of a delicacy, so the monsters hunt them down and prepare them to be eaten as part of some monster-aristocrat's feast.

2014-08-22, 12:08 AM
What are the monsters? Fiends, fey, undead, aberrations?

If there's one monster who just does all of this every year, then catching it and killing it would be the best plan. Maybe it's an illithid taking slaves. A lich might take experiment victims. or a ghost might possess people to re-enact her death. Or fey take what they consider to be their due. It could be that someone ages ago made a pact with a devil and this is the sacrifice they agreed to. Or perhaps they're being taken to the Plane of Shadow (maybe by shadow genies from the Tome of Magic). All of these would have different ways to close the portal.