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The Daemon with the Saddened Countenanceby Ville Lähde
This adventure was originally published in the Finnish RPG magazine Claymore, issue 1/93 (the first issue). It was written explicitly for Mystara, for the area opened up by the official adventure X11: Saga of the Shadowlord, more specifically the borderlands between western Wendar, Adri Varma plateau, and the Great Northern Wildlands. It was written for a period when Wendar had a much lower population, and the western areas of the nation were scarcely populated. Also while writing this adventure I had some working assumptions: Wendar has a mixed population of elves and humans, the latter being of mixed stock of northern tribes and Thyatian settlers. Thus the close connection, actually an alliance between Thyatis and Wendar that is mentioned at the beginning of X11. During the time of this adventure the alliance has just been made, Gylharen the half-elf is already the ruler of the land, and several programs of borderland settlement have begun.
Background information I
At the urging of Gylharen and the Emperor of Thyatis, a group of a few hundred settlers left for the western Wendar and the Wildlands to find fertile lands. The group consisted of both Wendarian and Thyatian humans.
After passing the scarcely populated western dominions of Wendar they reached the southern borders of the Wildlands. The prairie spreading before them seemed promising, and they didn't meet with any serious threats, only scattered tribes of kobolds.
One night they saw a start shoot down from the heavens. The ground shook, and a huge ball of fire was seen further out in the plain. At the urging of their clerics the settlers set out to find the fallen star, and after a relatively small trek they found it, and with it something else: a perfect place to settle. A swift river run close, and nearby forests would provide them with wood. The eldest of their priests investigated the black lump of "starstuff" they had found, and decided that it was a sign from their patron Asterius. They founded a small village to that spot and called it Luminius, or Starlight of the Wendarians. The Star of Asterius would lie at the centre of their marketplace, always surrounded with offerings, as befits the Patron of Merchants and travellers.
But very soon the village got into trouble, as people began to suffer from terrible nightmares, and bloodcurdling howls broke the silence of the nights. Shepherds told that their flocks had gone mad with fear without any discernible reason. The highest-ranking priest pleaded to Asterius for guidance, but the patron remained silent.
The next night terror struck Luminius. The village guardsmen were attacked by a being of shadows, one that awoke chilling fears from their very own being. All of the residents awoke from their sleep, screaming and crying.
It took days before their faces gained back the colour of life, and before their hands stopped trembling. But a couple of nights later the being of shadows attacked again, spreading terror. Even the exorcisms of the priest couldn't banish it, instead the priest himself fainted, with a look of utter horror on his face. In the midst of the turmoil caused by its attack, the being of shadow once again receded back into the darkness.
Luminius waited for the next attack.
At this stage the PCs are supposed to enter the village.
Background information II
Although the settlers did find an ideal location for their village by following the fallen star, the lump of starstone that they found would be also their blight. The starstone, most of it magnetic iron, twisted due to a twist of freak luck or fate into a peculiar shape. Its twisted aura (or whatever) opened a rift between dimensions, straight into the Dimension of Nightmares. A being of Nightmares slipped into the world. As some learned scholars know, such beings can perceive our plane of existence, the three/four dimensions, only partially. But instead of that they can fully perceive the fourth/fifth, of which we can only see glimpses in our dreams, nightmares and delusions.
To the people of Luminius this being was a living nightmare, terror incarnate. But whatever the villagers may think, it is not a bloodthirsty daemon. Very much like its own homeworld would be pure nightmare to us, is the world of humans an ocean of terror to it. Its "attacks" were actually movements of a bewildered and scared creature, who was trying to return home. After recuperating from the early shock the being tried to return to its world through the dimensional rift. But a legion of alien creatures had now camped around the portal to its home. Twice it tried to force its way through them to the portal, but the mere presence of these "nightmarish beings", the villagers, was too much. Now it is gathering courage for a new attempt.
However, the being is not aware of one thing: the rift is no longer open.
In addition to the settlers, the fall of the Star was also noticed by a renegade wizard who lives in "the Rainbow Cavern" on the northern foothills of the Varma-Varma plateau, where a river called Fengela plummets to unknown underground caverns. [I have a map of the general area and of Luminius, but since I don't own a scanner, you'll have to settle for descriptions.] He sent his servants to fetch the fallen star, but when they arrived the settlers had already camped around the "ground zero". So the wizard decided to settle for cutting a fragment of the stone during one night. When the stone was broken, the peculiar aura was disturbed, and the rift was closed.
The Area of the Adventure: The Borderlands and the Northern Wildlands
The Northern Wildlands are relatively unknown. Despite some lone hunters, trappers, prospectors and travelling merchants very few people of the Known World have ever gone there. According to these travellers, those of them who returned, the prairies spread out beyond the horizon, for countless miles, towards the Far North. According to rumours the fertile Borean plains are beyond the prairies. To the north the wildlands follow the western arm of the Mengul mountains, beyond which lies the enigmatic land of Denagoth. To the west the Wildlands spread northward from the foothills of the Adri-Varma plateau. [Note: Looking at some fan-made maps it seems that at its northern parts the Adri Varma plateau slopes down to the level of the Northern Wildlands and connects with them. In this case when I'm referring to the Northern Wildlands, I mean mostly the lands north and northwest of the Western Wendarian Borderlands. It should also be mentioned that I'm using the X11 module map, which is very different from other maps, like the one on Thibault's page, which I assume has been revised to suit the design of many other maps (?).] In the southern parts of the Wildlands, the area closest to Wendar, live some kobolds, wilder elves and a hunter-gatherer people who call themselves Boreans. Little else is known.
What follows is some redrawing of the Wendarian borderlands, but not very radical. In the area between the north-eastern tip of Adri Varma and the Mengul Range, are some fecund forests. A river called Fengela (a Borean name, "Grabber") runs from north-east to south-west. It is fed by two smaller rivers which start in the foothills of the Mengul Range, and meet about halfway towards Adri-Varma. The southern of these rivers is called Fertilius ("Fecund") by the residents of Luminius. The village lies on the shores of Fertilius, perhaps 10 miles north of the meeting point of the rivers. The springs of Fertilius are in a large area of hills. The Northern river is called Isenlaf, a Borean name meaning something like "Iron Soup". It originates in a swamp further to the north. Along its course it passes a large elven forest. The waters of the river are bitter and smell bad for a long time, a they have gathered taste from the swamp.
It is said that some lizardmen inhabit the northern swamp. [Note: IMC I placed the Kingdom of Ghyr from the module "Quest for the Heartstone" around the swamp just mentioned.]
THE HILLS are a home of two kobold tribes that are constantly fighting each other: Grump-Plak (Yellow Tooth) and Wuf-Rak (Tough Dogs). The river Fertilius, called Krah-Kruh (Strifewater) by the kobolds, is their traditional borderline, as it runs through the hills.
THE ELVEN FOREST hides a small tribe of wilder elves, unknown even to the elves of Wendar and Sage Bensarian. They are reclusive, xenophobic, and their customs and language are a lot different from their Wendarian and Denagothian cousins. It is very possible that they descend from a group of refugees that fled the Glantrian cataclysm in 1700 BC.
THE RAINBOW CAVERN as mentioned before, a renegade Glantrian wizard lives in these caves on the northern foothills of the Adri-Varma plateau, where Fengela plummets to underground caverns. On the mouth of the cavern a rainbow is always visible.
As was mentioned, some Boreans live in this area. They are descendants of the Oltec tribes that came from the far north. Their ancestors left the cooling north after the axis-shift to look for fertile lands beyond the barren prairies of Northern Brun. Their culture resembles that of Celts.
They live by hunting, fishing from the rivers, goat herding, and raiding the elves and other peoples. They know how to use iron, but use it very little, since the only place one can get it from are the dangerous slopes of Mengul. Many miners fall prey to lizardmen, elves, orcs or kobolds. The Boreans have had very little contact with the settlers.
THE VILLAGE of Luminius and its surroundings
Luminius lies, as mentioned before, on the shores of the river Fertilius. A few miles south of the village is a forest of long pines, where village lumberjacks work. To the north the villagers have travelled as far as the river Isenlaf. They have adopted the name from a few Borean trappers and hunters they have met and traded with. No major contact with elves or kobolds has taken place. The villagers live on hunting, timber craft, fishing on the river, farming and herding sheep and horses.
30% settlers of Thyatian origin (T), 55% Wendarian humans (W), the rest mixed. There are no elves or halflings, and only three dwarves. Most of the residences are centred in the village itself, except the Lendril (W) farm, where 15 people live. The daemon hasn't bothered the farmers.
General features of the village:
The river Fertilius cuts through the village, which is connected by a wooden bridge. The northern banks of the river are lined with fishermen's huts, the southern banks are predominated by lumberjacks' huts. The main "road" runs from northwest-north to southeast-south, crossing the bridge (Fertilius runs from northeast-east to southwest-west), and it is called "Wendarway" south of the river and "Shepherdwalk" north of the river.
There are various streets/alleys that turn from the main road or cross it. On the northern side of the village, the first cross-street is "Fist street", since it passes the fishermen's huts. To northeast it runs to the Lenril farm. Otherwise on both sides of the "Shepherdwalk" there are farmers' houses. As is easy to deduce from this and the name of the road, farmlands and shepherds are mainly to the north.
When one walks south along the Wendarway from the bridge, the first turn to the right is "Logger alley", on both sides of which are the lumberjacks', loggers' and lumber crafters' houses. Next comes the crossing of two streets at the central clearing. To the right is "Crafter street", along which one can find the houses of Chief Logger, Carpenter, Blacksmith, Cartmaker, Shoemaker, Tailor, Ropecrafter and Barrelmaker.
Around the central clearing (the Stone of Asterius lies in the middle) there are the Mage's Tower, Governor's House, Temple and Village Hall. To the left is "Trade street", along which one can find the Inn, Grocer, Stables, Pub, General Store and Weaponmaster.
After that the next alley is to the right, an it is called "Well alley", since it ends at a public well (there is another well on the north side). Along the alley are three houses: Netweaver, Candlemaker and Moneylender. Then on the right side of "Wendarway" is the Guardsmens' house. The next alley is to the left, and it is "Apprentice alley". Around is an area of scattered hut and houses belonging to servants, apprentices, hired hands and labourers.
The temple of Asterius
The temple is led by a Thyatian cleric Porius (cleric 3, Wis 14, Cha 13) He is 45 years old, dislikes combat and uses a lot of anecdotes and metaphors in his speech. He has two helpers, 1st level novices Benar (W) and Julius (T). Treasures: 10 Potions of healing, a SCROLL of Cure Disease, Cure Blindness and Cure Serious Wounds, Statue of Asterius (100 gp), 10 vials of holy water.
The leader of the settlers is Grafoula Penhaligon (T). (Fighter 4, Str 15, Con 13, Cha 16, chain mail, 2-handed sword +1) he is 30 years old, has long hair and moustache, talks a lot and loud, and is extremely stubborn.
His wife is called Helena, and his two boys are Julian (Fighter 1) and Brutus (Normal Man). Treasures: 3 rings (a´ 30 gp), 2 war horses, a painting of Thyatis City, silverware (50 gp) and 1500 Wendarian gp (the village treasury).
This is not actually a tower, but a two-storied round house. The mage Damon (W) isn't a skilled one, but in the frontier he is a respected and valued man. (Mage level 2, Int 14, Dx 8) He is 22 years old, shy and thin.
In his book he has Read Magic, Read Languages, Ventriloquism and Floating Disc. He knows the Wendarian legends and the local herbal lore expertly.
Treasure: 30 gp, silver dagger, dagger +1
The festivities, meetings and other events of the village are held here. The house is tended by a deaf old man Naru (W).
The Stone of Asterius
In the middle of the central clearing is the stone that fell from heavens. It is made of pitch black metal that feels slick and oily to touch. The pit that the starfall created has been filled, so any stranger could think that this is just an odd piece of stone. If one searches the stone very very carefully, it can be noticed that a small piece has been chipped off.
The Guardsmen's house
The village has 10 armed guards (Fighter 3, STR 13, CON 13, chain mail, shield, sword, short bow). Three of them are Thyatians, six are Wendarian, and one is a Darokinian mercenary called Jean Rocheford. There is a small armoury in here, sufficient to arm 40-50 villagers if needed.
The blacksmith is a dwarf, with two dwarven apprentices. The Grocer is an Ylari called Ish-Jaillah. There are no other "foreigners". Once a month a caravan arrives from Wendar with finer metals, cloths, spices and finer tools. Prices are very high, of course, since the villagers aren't able to manufacture these things themselves, and they are still largely unaware of the iron of the Mengul range.
- "The Bag-Heldann" is a wandering trinket merchant who travels around Wendar and the Wildlands. He sells pretty but pretty useless jewels, scarfs etc. For a few pints he will also sell news. He wears a fur vest and a leather cap, giggles and chews tobacco. It is hard to guess his age.
- "Halfara" (Steadfast Ranger) is the only Borean who has more dealings with the villagers. He knows the area very well, but won't reveal any information on his own people or the elves. He is not interested in money, but good cloth, jewellery, traps and metal spear-tips interest him. He usually works as a guide or hunter. (Thief 4, DEX 16, leather armour, long bow, spear)
In its home dimension the daemon was your ordinary resident, minding his/her own business. It's family was actually left beyond the dimensional borders, so it is very unhappy and cries all the time. It resembles a partly translucent humanoid, whose features and proportions are wholly distorted. Its voice, which to humans sounds like a howl, can be heard from various pitch at once, from various directions. At times it is muffled, at times even too sharp.
The immediate surroundings of the daemon, air and soil, is distorted to the distance of one meter, as if the laws of geometry had changed all of a sudden. This is a way of protection that the being has to shield itself from the horrors of this dimension. In the diameter of 5 meters it causes inexplicable horror in all living beings (remember, it too feels this dread). One needs a saving throw -4 against paralysation to resist the urge to run away. The daemon's saving throw for these purposes is 16.
Physical damage can be inflicted on the being with only higher magic, that is 6th level or higher, and then only with certain spells (DM's call). The clerical spell DISPEL EVIL is an exception to this. It can also be harmed via the Ethereal Plane. Also, if one shoots an arrow and succeeds in hitting AC0, the being is scared of the strange vibes of the object and must make a saving throw. Melee attacks are useless, unless a +3 or higher weapon is used - they just cause the assailant and the being to make saving throws against fear.
Some lower level spells are useful, however. KNOW ALIGNMENT tells the cleric that the being doesn't belong to any "class" whatsoever. REMOVE FEAR can drive the being away (saving throw -1), but CAUSE FEAR can shield it from the horrors of this world momentarily. SPEAK WITH DEAD makes communication possible, but distorted meanings are likely.
DETECT INVISIBILITY shows the "daemon" a little clearer, and then the saddened countenance and the endless tears can be seen. An INVISIBILITY spell cast on the being doesn't make it invisible, but helps it to perceive this world clearer. Inside the 3rd level spell INVISIBILITY 10 feet the being and someone of this world can encounter each other a little easier (+2 to save). ESP spell reveals crying and moaning at first, but like SPEAK WITH DEAD, can be used as a tool in communication later.
Elves have a 1/6 chance of detecting the cry in midst of the distorted moaning (thieves also), and may catch a glimpse of the tears (1/6). In a deep sleep or trance a contact with the being is most likely, but the difference in sentience, lifeworld and central concepts makes communication hard.
In its own world the being is called "Gumhenel". It believes that the dreadful beings of this world are tormenting it and trying to stop it from reaching home. It's real body is human-like, although "stretched" and coloured black-white (like the Ying & Yang circle).
Note: This adventure is not meant to centre on battle, and it has been written for low-level characters. So killing Gumhenel isn't the goal anyway, but revealing it's true character and the urge to get home. The above mentioned spell aids are just suggestions, the DM can very well develop new ones. And remember, drawing pictograms can also be a form of communication, although those drawn by the being will be distorted.
THE BEGINNING OF THE ADVENTURE
The adventurers may get involved in the events in many ways. Perhaps they are guardsmen of a caravan that is transporting goods to Luminius. A Wendarian or Thyatian noble might hire them to help the settlers in taming the wild country. Or perhaps they have reached the borderlands in their other adventures (helping the local elves, settling Wendarian-Glantrian logging disputes in the southern mountains, hunting the monsters of the Mengul range...) and hear of the settlers' plight. In any case they arrive in the village after the second visit of "the daemon".
The Governor greets the PCs gratefully, as the settlers aren't used to encountering supernatural phenomena. He is perplexed and is willing to give them full authority to solve the problem. They can live free of charge in the Inn until the problem is solved. The governor asks the PCs to guard the village at nights, as until now the daemon hasn't been seen in daylight. (This is only natural: since the villagers are more active during the day, Gumhenel doesn't dare to approach the village. Otherwise sunlight doesn't pose any problems to it.)
The PCs learn of the brief history of the village and the details of the trouble this far. The guardsmen, who are still a bit rattled, give them a sketchy description of the daemon. The cleric is convinced that it is a daemon sent by the god Thanatos, who doesn't want "civilisation and order" to spread any wider in the Known World. It is clear that the Governor is amused by such ideas and thinks that this is just some previously unknown breed of Monsters. The mage, shy as he is, won't comment at this stage: "Well, I'm not worthy to guess about such matters, I only dry and ground some herbs, and know only a few petty spells..."
If the PCs talk with the villagers, they get varied but also irrelevant answers. However, if they are diligent, they notice that the daemon attacked from the west both times and restricted itself to the western part of the village.
During the first night nothing of consequence happens. In the evening a few drunken loggers come to talk to the PCs and offer them drinks, though. They are anxious to have some "men's talk" with the armed and dangerous strangers: "The daemon is sure to pee in its pants now! If you need some help, just give a holler and me and the lads are sure to come with our axes." (Of course they won't do that in a tight spot.)
This day is fairly uneventful. The PCs should be resting anyway for their nightly guard duty. They can get acquainted with the village and the services it has to offer. Ish-Jaillah and his quaint way of doing business (lots of coffee and haggling) is a novelty at least.
During the night the daemon makes another attempt to penetrate the village. It arrives via the Well alley and tries to reach the Rock of Asterius. It depends of the PCs how fast they can drive it away. If the daemon manages to reach the stone, the priest and his novices arrive, sprinkling holy water and uttering chants of exorcism. In the end the daemon will flee the village - if it did reach the stone, it should know that the gateway is closed. The PCs may learn more about it, especially its attempts to reach the Stone of Asterius. The most important thing is how they performed during the night. If they seemed to drive away the daemon, they are hailed as heroes. If the priest did it, they have much less authority in the future.
In the morning, just before they are retiring to rest for the next night, the PCs have a visitor. A fisherman's wife brings her mentally retarded child Alia to them. During the breakfast Alia had carved a picture on the tabletop, resembling the daemon somewhat. She is not very approachable, but some information may be weened from her. Threats and loud voices will cause her to close up, but if the PCs manage to make her happy with tricks, petty magic (illusions), singing, treats etc, she will say "Kummel want home". If more effort is made, she might point to the central clearing. It is of course possible that the PCs will disregard the girl's words, in which case the mage may point out that "the simple ones often have shortcuts to truth".
If the daemon managed to reach the Stone of Asterius last night, it won't make another attempt this night. If it didn't it will "attack" the village again, even more desperate than before. This battle should finally prove that the PCs are unable to hurt the being and that it wants to reach the Stone. Depending on their magical capabilities and creativity they might also find out something else. Unless they manage to make contact with Gumhenel, this attack ends when it flees the village.
If the last night was uneventful, the Governor comes to greet the PCs. He assumes that the last "defeat" has depressed the monster, and that it won't come again. It is up to the PCs whether they want to bask in glory (that is, if they "drove away" the daemon), or to correct this faulty assumption. But if the daemon attacked last night, the Governor's reactions depend on the results of the 2nd night attack. If the PCs were "heroes", he is discontent - it is obvious that their efforts haven't affected the beast. If the priest was seen to be successful, the Governor is just generally unhappy - it is obvious that nobody can drive it away for good.
When the PCs are sleeping, Gumhenel tries to contact them. The connection made with Alia wasn't clearly enough. (But only if it has found out that the rift is closed! Otherwise it will continue the nightly raids until it reaches the Stone.) The PC with the highest WISDOM score has a strange dream. The dreamer sees Gumhenel walking in a mist, but now without the distortions. It is crying and howling the words of an unknown language. In the mist phantoms of similar beings can be seen (mate and children), but every time Gumhenel seems to reach them, they fade away. The last vision the dreamer has is a black stone, which is pulsing with an inner light.
Upon awakening the PC notices that she/he is crying.
The next task is to establish a contact with Gumhenel. This might take long, depending on their luck, creativity and resources. If they try to call it "Kummel", Gumhenel will recognise the name. As mentioned, the symbolic system of Gumhenel and humans is close enough to make using pictograms one possible venue of communication. However, the pictures drawn by Gumhenel will be distorted, so any pictures drawn for it must be intentionally distorted as well.
But things are not that simple. If the PCs try to explain the villagers that the daemon is quite benevolent and just wants to go home, they will think this is rubbish. The mage would be one ally here, but this requires breaking his shy shell. Especially the priest will forbid such an abomination to touch "the holy stone". Solving this problem may even require violence.
And if Gumhenel is allowed to try and go home, it won't of course succeed. If the priest, mage or the Governor search the Stone, they can notice that one piece has been chipped away. Yippee.
TO THE RAINBOW CAVERN
At this point everyone should be pretty desperate. A village meeting is held at the Hall, and everyone who is anybody is there. (Note: Unless the PCs used violence to get Gumhenel access to the Stone. In that case they are pretty much alone.) The villagers throw fruitless accusations at each other for defiling the Stone. The dwarven smiths, mage and Ish-Jaillah are the most favoured suspects. House searches of their premises are called for. Ish-Jaillah will object to this strongly, since he doesn't want anyone to find his stash of narcotics. In any case, the piece of the Stone isn't found.
Now things get a bit harder, since there were no obvious witnesses to the theft. The DM must decide her/himself how to give the PCs hints about the renegade wizard. One possibility is Halfara, whose people may have learned about the wizard and fear him. Stories tell that living shadows devour anyone approaching the cave. Maybe mage Damon has heard rumours of a Glantrian wizard who had to flee his country after certain scandals. If the DM wishes, the renegade wizard might also have a spy in the village, from whom the location of the cave may be obtained. The local kobolds could also provide not only information but also an interesting side-track to the adventure.
Halfara could guide the PCs up to the river Fengela. Encounters with suspicious and even belligerent Boreans are possible at this stage. Halfara isn't liked either, since he has mingled with the strangers.
The rainbow cavern is a large naturally formed cave. The renegade wizard, who uses the name Prism Mage, has left it pretty much untouched. One can enter the cave via a narrow path that runs under a thundering waterfall. There it meets a tunnel opening. The tunnel runs 10 meters underground. Halfway through the tunnel the mage has left one or more LIVING CRYSTAL STATUES as guards. One of them has been employed with speech ability - it will inquire the visitors' business and names and relay them to its master.
The mage is a 6th level Magic-User, who has an extensive collection of spells and following items: POTION OF INVISIBILITY, WAND OF FEAR (6 charges, command word "Merde" - it was made by an d'Ambreville). In addition to this he is aided by two SHADOWS, which he has used to scare the locals. The shadows lurk in translucent stalagmites and rush forward if the mage is attacked.
The are a lot of stalactites and stalagmites in the cave. The floor is covered with nice rugs and carpets. In a small alcove the mage has a laboratory. All equipment has been made of crystal. On the lab table lies the piece of the Stone of Asterius. Other stuff: A small bookshelf with books on carving and working crystal, books on animation and construction.
There are many ways of getting the stone back, from direct attack (note: the mage should be a dangerous, even lethal opponent) to theft and buying. The PCs can also convince the mage that he'll get the splinter back after Gumhenel has returned home. The priests of Asterius might have a problem with this, however.
If all goes well, the PCs get the piece of the Stone. Gumhenel can return home, as the rift to another dimension reopens. For a while the PCs are able to see to "the other side", where Gumhenel's family greets it. Finally the PCs are able to see the true form of the creature. Gumhenel signals them to remove the piece of the Stone again so the rift won't snatch any more of his people.
The villagers reward the PCs with a suitable sum depending on the campaign policy of the DM, for example by a good warhorse and a couple of hundred gp's. A party is held in their honour, and the Bagged Heldann arrives too. In the spur of the moment he sings "the Ballad of the Daemon with a Saddened Countenance". Of course things can very well end differently. What if the PCs join the Prism mage, who is interested in using the dimensional rift? In any case, the Wildlands offer great possibilities for future adventures.
Good travels, and may your encounters with demons be sweet ones.