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Below is the adventure scenario "The Brides of Ashton Ketch", which won the Expert Dungeon Master Competition #8, Craft a Plotline, on the old Wizards board.
I've ported it here, for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it could be a germ for an actual module. And that is the purpose of this sub-forum, after all.
The Brides of Ashton Ketchby JTR
The Tease: Marriage is not to be entered into lightly, and nowhere is that more true than boucolic Derbyshire. For with each passing season, a passion is stoked, a vow is broke, and the wages of sin is death. For a curse holds this land, that those who betray their solemn words shall find themselves presented unto the veangeful spirit of a cuckolded man for a final accounting. Now it is that spring has come once again to Derbyshire, and weddings are at hand. Among the maids betrothed is young Constance Galloway, but will her passionate nature be her undoing as family enemies seek to lead her astray?
And can the adventurers save this town and break the curse, before another blushing bride is wed to the feathery fury of Ashton Ketch?
An Interwoven Adventure Scenario of Mystery and Excitement for 3-5 Characters of Levels 1-3
The Brides of Ashton Ketch consist of a number of scenarios that occur before, during, and after the wedding of Constance Galloway to Emerson Long. Constance's wedding is one more occasion for the Radford family to quarrel with the Galloways, and as they have often done before, the Radfords hope to use the Curse of Ashton Ketch to strike at their rivals. Should they succeed in causing Constance to be unfaithful, she will be offered as a bride to Ashton Ketch, a small roc that dwells in the region. The adventure has three primary phases: the lead up to the wedding, during which the party can aid one or more of the feuding families or a neutral party; the rescue of constance or defeat of the roc; and the solution to the curse that grips Derbyshire.
The Legend of Ashton Ketch
Once upon a time, back when the Lyceum was open and tutored the aspiring bankers and treasurers of the land, Thomas Ashton Ketch was a prodigious, exemplar student. Upon graduation he took as his wife the Lady Ottoline, haughty daughter of the wealthy Radford family. Lady Ottoline could not control her wilding ways and cuckolded the young financier. Thomas sent her away in divorce and vowed to find a woman worthy of his vows.
Many brides did he subsequently take, some from Derbyshire, some from far away lands, but none were able to prove themselves worthy of the hand of Thomas Ashton Ketch. Nor were they all as lucky as unfaithful Ottoline, for in his despair Thomas murdered many of the offending brides. When his spree claim the life of a well-loved local girl, Rebecca DeLong, the town could turn a blind eye no more.
Ketch barely escaped to the skirts of the town, and the torch bearing mob was left to hang nothing but his empty howls that for those who violated oath and vow, custom or contract an accounting would occur.
As the years passed, the Old School fell on hard times and was closed, but life returned to a normal rhythm. Then one fine spring day, a young maiden by the name of Jennie Ethan was set to be wed, but the ceremony was interupted by a terrible cry from above. A great eagle descending and scattered the wedding party. The fiendish fowl proclaimed that he was Ashton Ketch and claimed Jennie as his bride. For days before she had dallied, and was thus undone. And in his wake, Ashton Ketch left word that all who were unfaithful were due his bride.
And when the townsfolk of Ithel Town - as Derbyshire was called in that day - refused to heed the claims of Ashton Ketch, calamity fell. Cows gave no milk, houses collapsed, and women birthed no babes. Thus it was discovered that another woman - Sarabeth Hest - had broken her marriage vows and taken up with a field hand. Angered and shamed, her husband dragged Sarebeth out to the vale and tied her to the horse post. As he turned to return home, Ashton Ketch flew down from on high and claimed another bride. And the power of the curse was stayed.
Thus it is to this day, that those who are unfaithful to the vows they take, shall be made a new bride to Ashton at the steed whip stake.
The Truth about Ashton Ketch
The Radford family was irate over the dissolution of Ottoline's marriage, and they took out their frustration ruining the reputation and financial solvency of the Lyceum Arithmeticum. They also endeavored to ruin Thomas personally and hired lotharios to seduce his subsequent betroths, enticing them to theft or deceit, or even sending harlots to gain his trust.
Thus it was that cruelty of the Radfords drove Thomas mad. Determined that he should be able to find a way to determine the integrity of a person, he found means to take an accounting. As the the days played on, he was constantly watching as the beads of abacus moved to record the deeds and misdeeds of those around him. When Thomas married Rebecca, the Radford conspiracy brought the matter to a bloody head.
When Thomas escaped the mob, the power of the abacus gave life to his final curse against the town. And it took root in the abandoned confines of the Lyceum. Now everyone who has ever lived in Derbyshire has a magic abacus dedicated to them, tracking their deeds until they die.
The roc called Ashton Ketch in truth had little to do with the man for whom it was named. Shortly after Thomas was run out of town, the accountant was waylaid by local humanoid bandits. His discarded corpse was taken by the wondering roc for food, and his clothing and effects became part of the bird's nest. On the eventful encounter when the roc crashed the wedding of Jennie Ethan, the writings of Thomas were left behind like so much bird dander or litter. The story of it speaking were a later embellishment as the townsfolk pieced together the nature of the curse. The Brides of Ashton Ketch have provided enough of a periodic meal that the roc continues to return to the area.
While the legend of Ashton Ketch may be wrong with regards to the roc, there is a curse upon the town. Whenever anyone violates a vow - be it marital, contractual or other oath - the abacuses of the Lyceum record the offense. The value of a given offense varies with the deed, but infidelity is the most significant. It should be noted that the curse operates under a retro-active rule, such that deeds done prior to an oath are still charged against the oath without open acceptance by the offended party at the time of oath taking. The people of Derbyshire are unware of this catch.
For game play purposes, the Curse affects the region by increasing all DC by +1 per recordable incident (up to the DM) and +5 per infidelity. Further, for every +5 to the DC, combat rolls suffer a -1. The party is affected by this as well so long as they reside within the town or its environs. At the start of the adventure the penalty is +4. The referee should feel free to add additional effects of the curse (such as prohibiting child birth).
When an offender perishes, the curse effect from that person's misdeeds is removed from the tally.
The Radfords and the Galloways
Following the expulsion of Thomas Ashton Ketch and the acknowledgement of the curse, the Galloways moved into town and become one of its prominent families, much to the jealousy of the Radford clan. The Galloways eventually bought out the last of the Ithel heirs in various township business and changed the name. Matters took a grave turn when Abigail Radford, last grand-niece of the Spinster Ottoline, ignored the commands of her parents - who now forsook all oaths - and eloped with Jerome Galloway. The young couple strived for a good start and built a home, but the old familiar tragedy reared once more, or so they thought.
For you see, Abigail's sister Evelyn had also fancied the strapping Galloway, and she framed her sister - including secretly taking and breaking an oath of her own to produce the curse. Evelyn's plan went awry, however, as Jerome did not offer up Abigail for Ashton Ketch, as was the custom, but instead took matters into his own hands. The Radfords convinced the town that it Jerome had been the unfaithful one, and young man was hung at the horse post before he was claimed by the roc. Evylen left Derbyshire, but the state of the curse remained for another twenty years, when the wicked sister was herself murdered.
Two generations later, the Radfords and Galloways are still locked in an unspoken war with one another.
The Riddle (Offered at the end when confronted with the Celestial Abacus)
What is the cost of betrayal true, an oath born of kinship, from within the womb. An oath taken falsely, to accuse without claim, to sunder a marriage with misery and pain? The answer is the marker values on Abigail's abacus in the Old School.
The answer may also be derived from the grave ledgers and abacuses of the deceased, including Evylen. Additional clues may be placed in worker's songs (such as during the wedding preparations, children rhymes in the street (ex. "Little Fanny Mae, and little Freddie Mac, he took her to the cleaners, and she gave him forty whacks"), funerary dirges and sermons ("Too little do we count the deeds of men, for to sacrifice for a friend is worth ten pieces of gold, a stranger three-fold") , and wedding passages ("Let none divide what has now been joined, two houses of love, a hundred apiece to grow as one", i.e. adultery is worth 200 points on the abacus.)
The Town: Derbyshire is a standard small town. Notable buildings including: the general-store which runs the catering operations for weddings, the Lyceum Arithmeticum or Old School where mathematics, accounting, and banking were taught, the horse whip post where brides (and grooms) of Ashton Ketch are tied, the wedding field, and the abandoned home of Abigail Radford and Jerome Galloway.
When the party first arrives in town, Constance Galloway is set to be married to the eligible bachelor Lord Emerson Long. The party may choose one or more of the following paths: A (traditional combat, treasure hunt), B (role playing and intrigue), C (traditional combat with some role playing), and D (role playing and skill challenges).
The Adventure Scenarios
A. Six Pence None The Wiser
The Galloway family's dowery was intercepted by raiders (paid off by the Radfords) on the outskirts of the town. They need the party to recover the gifts or the wedding is off. The cave system where the raiders hide out is the same one where Thomas Ashton Ketch met his end. Some of his effects, including a bag of prized abacus beads (graduation rewards from the Lyceum) can be found in the cave.
B. Dangerous Liasons
The Radfords have convinced the handsome Aaron Bailwick to woo Constance before the wedding. Aaron needs the party's help in catching Constance's eye before she marries a man she could not truly love. The young woman is easily infatuated, and should the party be able to bring the two youngsters together, the common tragedy will undoubtably play out.
C. Devil with the Blue Dress On
While the wedding season is underway, a new arrival to the town has just purchased the old Radford-Galloway Manor. Unfortunately, vermin and other undesirables have made their home in the abandoned house, and the new owner is hiring pest control. Unknown to everyone, however, is that the tormented soul of Abigail still haunts this house, as does the spite of her sister Evelyn. In the course of this adventure, they can learn much of the old feud between the families as well as the curse of Ashton Ketch.
D. Four Weddings and Funeral
The general store is swamped with work, with multiple weddings, including Constance's, occuring over a quick succession of days. The store also has funeral duties, and with everything all a'tizzy, the owners need some extra assistance. From digging graves, to baking food, and to delivering cakes along a busy street, it is a challenge unlike any other. While engaged in skill based work, the party can learn much of the back story of the town and pick up a number of informational ditties that play into the riddle of the abacus. they may also note the grave ledger logs, that indicate what people had done in their lives before death.
E. The Wedding Crashers (From A,B, or C)
The wedding of Constance has arrived, and the Radfords have done what they can to ruin it. If the party was successful in B, or if they did not pursue it, then the curse of Ashton Ketch while activate when the couple takes their marriage vows. The party can be faced with multiple dilemmas - stopping the wedding before it happens, stopping the Radfords from interrupting an otherwise valid ceremony, handling the aftermath of a post-oath revelation including an overhead appearance of the roc. If the party kept Constance away from Aaron, then one of the other maids' wedding will invite down the curse.
F. Between a Roc and A Hard Place
Constance (or another bride-apparent) is charged with infidelity and tied to the horse post for Ashton Ketch to retrieve here. The Galloways, and possibly Lord Emerson, are besides themselves with grief. They beg the party to rescue their daughter and end the curse by killing the roc, but even otherwise good townsfolk will not look favorably upon the continuation of the curse and will try to stop the party. Defeating the roc will not vanquish the roc, but there in the nest of the roc, the party will find the broken abacus of Thomas Ketch.
G. Back to School Again
The characters return to the town with the curse still in place. The townsfolk point them to the Old School. Inside its halls, the characters will encounter all manner of magical objects and foes. The most wonderous of all is the hall of records, and the magical abacuses that float about recording the deeds of all within the town of Derbyshire. One of the abacuses is that of Abigail Radford. Abigail's abacus has too many beads upon it - the excess is the cost of Evelyn's betrayal of her innocent sister. Finally, at the center of the Hall is a presence and a giant glowing abacus, notable also for the fact that many of its beads are missing. The Celestial Abacus is the embodiment of Thomas Ashton Ketch's curse, which will not be lifted until a final Accounting has been done. If the characters restore the abacus to working order with the beads found in Scenario A, the Celestial Abacus will speak the riddle. The party may freely leave to consult with the townfolks on matters, but the curse will not be lifted until the Celestial Abacus accounts for the false accusations against Abigail.
Title: The Brides of Ashton Ketch
Levels: 3-5 characters of levels 1-3
5. Roc: the creature to which all betrayers are offered as sacrificial brides
4. Riddle: the solution to the accounting problem on the Celestial Abbacus, with clues found in the Lyceum, the Wedding Passage, the Workers Song, and the Funerary Dirge
7. Wedding: The wedding ceremony of Constance Galloway to Emerson Long; multiple wedding planning activities; the weddings to Ashton Ketch
8. Abbacus: the broken abbacus of the roc's nest; the abbacus beads of the cave; the abbacuses of the Lyceum Arithmeticum; the Celestial Abbacus
9. Unfaithful spouse: Ottoline Radford, Constance Galloway, Jennie Ethan, Rebecca DeLong
10. Feuding Families: The Radfords and the Galloways