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The Gromwell Key

by Jonathan Nolan

An AD&D Adventure for 2-4 Player Characters of Level 1-3

The Gromwell Key is a murder mystery, set in and around a mountain trading settlement called Whitemere. In its home campaign, Whitemere is located in the borderland between the Kingdoms of Darokin and Karameikos on Mystara, but is easily able to fitted into any campaign with snow-topped mountain terrain. Sometimes a low-powered wilderness setting is a great way for alternatives to Dungeon Hacks and tavern fights to be played out against an alternate set of environments and monster rosters. The added potential dangers of a wilderness, if not overdone against weak characters, can keep all the players on their toes and inspire them. The murder mystery itself is a mysterious murder, but one that aims to avoid some of the clichés of its parent literary genre. There are interesting suspects (and adventure threads everywhere), but the resolution of the mystery is somewhat prosaic, as befits the gritty life of the trade town of Whitemere.


After following the trade route as far as the snow-fed falls that make the Windrush River so treacherous at this time of year, you arrive in the settlement of Whitemere. Soon after your arrival a fierce blizzard blows into the settlement, closing the road for some time until the mountain weather is more clement.


[MAP of Whitemere]

Key to Whitemere Map

1 Hetman's compound - 50' x 20' longhall on 12' stilts, opposite a small cottage, stonewalled and sealed. The cottage belongs to adventurers not present at this time.

2 Shrine of Faerael, Immortal Patron of the High Country. Faerael, to judge by his statue, is a 20' golden humanoid elephant with four stout arms and a muscular trunk. His Shamaness servant, Ayelsha, is always nearby.

3 House of Tomokin the Factor, a trading post and stable for merchants and adventurers within the pale of Whitemere.

4 The Open Steading

5 The perpetually frozen swamp and duck pond from which the hamlet gets its name.

6 The Whitemere marble and alabaster mine. 20 Level 0 miners and a Level 1 Warrior human Mine Rowdy toil there, although during storms they shelter in the mine's camp and longhalls.

7 Jazak's Produce shop.

Whitemere is a circular hamlet surrounded by a series of palisades, punctuated by the unsealed trade road running from north to south through it. There are a dozen or so merchants of various nations in Whitemere, snowed in as are you until the current blizzard blows itself out. The people of Whitemere are human villagers guarded by a Dwarf warrior called Strundorg and a human Ranger called Felamur hired by the hamlet hetman to train any promising villagers in the arts of adventuring.

Further down the mountainside, Whitemere's terraced farmlands and the Whitemere Mine perch. Whitemere itself is now above the timberline of its mountain, although before certain paroxysms of divine wrath it was at a high altitude but one that allowed of sharecropping around the town itself. Now a long walk is the mandatory precursor to any farming activity undertaken by the townsfolk.


Whilst waiting out the storm, the adventurers are forced into relatively close contact with the merchants and townsfolk likewise waiting for a break in the weather. In particular, the characters listed in the meeting roster are in and around the Open Steading, the grog shop and billet where travellers rest in town. Only a short run across a laneway lies the home and establishment of the Factor, Tomokin.

The storm shows little sign of breaking any time soon, and eventually most of the travellers bed down for the evening with the killing cold wind outside keening and howling disturbingly.

Three travellers in particular attract the party's attention. Each of them has a speech to make, and the DM can exercise their own judgement in when and how each imparts their tale. The other travellers and villagers will gradually yield up the other stories and snippets of information in the Chaff Table.


"Hello, travellers! I am newcome to this town as are you, yes? 'Tis a naughty night to swim in yonder! The snow is pitiless and the cold lethal. Sit ye here by my side and we'll spin tales of yore until the dawn or the storm settles, whichever is first!"

The speaker is a medium height human male of dark skin, black silky hair and gaudy clothing. Pointed boots and a red turban mark him as a trader from the North.

"I am here to see about trading in furs, amber, marble, alabaster... Whatever this new community will sell me..! Ah, merchanting is a hard life, truly. Not only do I contend with my fellows of the Northern cities, but also the strait-laced men and women of the South, and the surly locals. Not all these yokels are grateful for the civilised advances my hard-won coin brings to them."

Gyortz is an agent of the Merchant Council to the North. Whitemere has attracted their attention because its trade is increasing. The settlement would be best acquired in a "police action", where their nationals were endangered by some local panic. The armies of the North have detachments ready to fly into Whitemere when the signal is given.


You see a tall and lithe woman, her grey hair and lined face reminders of her age, though her unbowed body is athletic. Chainmail chinks softly beneath her doublet and skirt.

"These little settlements, hostages to fate one and all... Creepy places some of them. Like that alien god that squats in the roadway, with that slip of a girl tending its needs. Here in some quiet corner of the world it has survived from an earlier age... A non-human age..."

Issandra is a retired adventurer. She retired before her career had really begun, finding enough excitement and danger, not to mention far more profit, trading and smuggling up and down the mountain chain and its settled valleys. She is a Southerner by birth and nationality but has no loyalty to any kingdom. Her loyalty is to profit.


A Wizard sits cradling a horn of mulled mead. His star-spotted blue robes and pointed cap mark him as a student of the Krakatos University, a continent away from here. "Have you seen that extraordinary pre-human deity out there? Its statue is magnificent isn't it? Surely inspired by a vision that young she-Shaman had one stormy night. Of course, all these creatures of the Planes derive their energy from a single source. If you have time I'll tell you of my faith sometime..."

There is something in his earnest faith and too-bright eyes that averts you from him and you do not linger in conversation with him.

Dolk Ermuwen is an initiate of a the Radiance Religion, worshipping a magical energy that he believes pervades everything and everyone. He is fascinated by the tales of the miracles of Faerael, all of which are false, not that he is to know that.

CHAFF TABLE to randomise from this table roll 1d12:

1 Whitemere owes its very existence to trade. It can't survive here without the good graces of both kingdoms - that to the North, and to the South.

2 It's a strange god they worship hereabouts - a monstrous elephant-like thing.

3 A group of adventurers own a good bit of property around here, living well from investing in the village's trade, and keeping a fortified cottage and vault near the Hetman's Hall.

4 March out into a storm and there'll be a bare dozen heartbeats of life left to the strongest of you...

5 Coins are not all that common here. Barter is usual, and coins tell you much of where the owner has been - and who they have dealt with.

6 The King of the South and the Council of Merchants of the North would both like to bring this lucrative but isolated mountain community under their banner directly.

7 There are those who'd dearly love to see Whitemere lose its trade. Old-timers and those who have secrets to keep - both kinds of men are hostile to the trade that is changing Whitemere forever.

8 There are strange things on the peaks of the mountains yonder. Ruins, great winged apes, white dragons and who knows what else.

9 Ganfalas the Wanderer lost the keys to his tower in the Whitemere swamp, before it froze forever. Back then the settlement was known as Tarnsmere, sister to the bailiwick of the Baron downriver.

10 Slavers ply their trade in the wild valleys of these mountains, far from any law or prying eyes, catching unsuspecting adventurers or the inhabitants of lonely assarts.

11 Jazak the Greengrocer is greedy for Northern coin. The silver pieces of the North always line his pockets, together with strange square coins of copper or brass, from further west perhaps ..?

12 Real and imagined injuries make some villagers hostile. They resent the airs and graces of the educated traders and wandering adventurers.

Not long after the last of the three tales is told to the party, and the DM judges enough

Chaff has also been revealed, Dolk Emuwen and Issandra both retire to their pallets. Gyortz goes to visit with the Factor, a fellow agent of the North, on the pretext of checking on his horses. A PC making their Wisdom check at -1 will remember that he had previously had his animals seen to at great length and that there is in fact no need to visit the stables.

Before anyone else can do anything, there is a shriek from outside the Open Steading, and all awaken. Those going outside to brave the cold see the fallen form of Gyortz, facedown in the snow; a patch of blood spreading from his head in the snow.


Gyortz has been killed by a member of the village community, a stranger to the travellers and merchants. The true identity of the murderer will not be as obvious as it should be, mainly because many players will follow the false clues given as "Chaff". The DM should allow for some obsessive and relentless questioning of NPCs, before gently reminding the players that they are not in town on any lawful warrant of investigation or arrest. There is no compulsion on anyone to answer them, or answer truly should they choose to explain themselves. The actual murderer is Vleynev, a farmer who has suffered indignities at the hands of merchants and who therefore blames the travellers and in particular the merchants for his ills. Tomokin forced Vleynev into a ditch as the Factor rode past a summer ago, since when Vleynev feels that his hip has never been the same. He blames Tomokin for his injury. Vleynev stayed out late drinking, wandered his village in the darkness seeking his home, and accidentally stumbled into the lane between the Open Steading and the Factor's hall. Seeing someone he believed to be Tomokin the Factor, he struck at him with his mattock, killing him. He mistook the dead man's identity because Gyortz borrowed Tomokin's cloak when he took his leave of his fellow Northern agent for the short trip back to his pallet. When Vleynev realised who he had killed he let out a drunken shriek of rage. But he is not too sorry for his actions - one dead trader is near as good as another.


There are three recommended ways to play out the solution of the murder. Each is set out below with its role-playing checklist:

Consulting Detectives

In this approach, the player characters talk to the leaders of the settlement, offer their services and have those services accepted, whether for reward or out of a desire to see justice done.

Steps that must be taken:

1. Talk to the Hetman, the Shamaness and the leading people of the community.

2. Win the trust of the community, through role-playing and/or Charisma checks.

3. Interview the travellers and the villagers.

4. The players should then supply first draft theories to the DM, and review the Chaff.

5. The DM should use Helpful NPCs as necessary.

6. Suspicious behaviour should mislead incautious players into rash actions.

7. The players should solve the mystery.

Amateur Sleuths

In this approach the player characters simply involve themselves in the mysterious death as adventurers are wont to do, poking their noses into other people's business. It may be that other campaign motivations emerge - the player characters might be Southerners seeking to eliminate a possible excuse for Northern intervention, or Northerners loyally trying to piece together what has happened to their countryman.

Steps that must be taken:

1. Interview the travellers and the villagers.

2. The players should then supply first draft theories to the DM, and review the Chaff.

3. The DM should use Helpful NPCs as necessary.

4. Suspicious behaviour should mislead incautious players into rash actions.

5. The Hetman and his Dwarf village guardian approach the player characters and strenuously ask them what they are up to. Any failure by the player characters to give a good enough account of any harassing actions leads to the locking up of the player characters until the end of the storm followed by their forcible ejection from town.

6. Win the trust of the community, through role-playing and/or Charisma checks.

7. The players should solve the mystery.

Law Enforcers

The final approach is reserved for those player characters and their allies who are already under some official writ, or who, by their background could become so. As agents of the Crown of the South or of the democracy of the North, they are official investigators charged to detect and report back either to the Baron of Tarnskeep (South) or the Marshall of the Southern Highreaches (North). This is the easiest way to introduce inexperienced players to a mystery adventure, as the powerful NPC allows the DM to be more directive in the running of the adventure.

Steps that must be taken:

1.a If the player characters have their lawful charge already, the DM informs them of their obligations to seek out the guilty party.

1.b If the player characters require it, a senior character of their faction or nationality amongst the travellers and merchants supplies them with the authority to investigate what has happened on behalf of their government and/or liege lord.

2. The players should then supply first draft theories to the DM, and review the Chaff.

3. The DM should use Helpful NPCs as necessary.

4. Suspicious behaviour should mislead incautious players into rash actions.

5. The Hetman and his Dwarf village guardian approach the player characters and strenuously ask them what they are up to. Any failure by the player characters to give a good enough account of any harassing actions leads to the locking up of the player characters until the end of the storm followed by their forcible ejection from town.

6. Win the trust of the community, through role-playing and/or Charisma checks.

7. The players should solve the mystery.


The resolution of the mysterious death is a question of getting a list of information together. Once this is done the Shamaness can ask a magical question of her god's idol and get a confirmation that the party is correct. She can only do this once per week and she doesn't want to waste this spell power unless it is virtually certain the suspect is guilty. On confirmation, the guilty man is locked up, to face trial in the homeland of the murder victim according to the realms' "international law". The list of clues and facts, giving corresponding information and where to get it from is below together with a list of helpful NPCs to assist clueless player characters.


Fact Clues to that fact
None of the travellers could have killed Gyortz by any normal means; all of the travellers were within sight of the party the whole time.
Gyortz was killed with a powerful blow to the head; Gyortz was not a small man, or a weak one;
There is a terrible fresh wound on his head at the back;
Gyortz was found facedown in the snow.
There was some hostility towards the traders; (see Chaff #7);
If the players carefully speak to local men and women, Vleynev's name will be mentioned, along with two false clues, one leading to Jazak the Greengrocer, and the other to the illegitimate son of a local miner, a boy of twelve named Grigor.
Gyortz was killed by a mattock or similar tool; A successful Proficiency check by a player character will show this. The proficiencies that would give this information could be First Aid, Medicine, Investigate, but also some unusual ones such as Farming to see the nature of the wound matches a tool, Brawling to see that a peasant implement did the deed, and so on.
Be creative.
A tiny flower of Creeping Gromwell is trapped in the folds of the cloak Gyortz wears; Gromwell grows in the terraced field tended by Vleynev, and nowhere else in the Whitemere region. It is on the cloak borrowed from Tomokin by the dead man, but Tomokin can tell the player characters that he never ventures into the peasant's fields and terraces - it is beneath him. Gyortz had no time to do so, so the murderer left the tiny blue flower behind from the time of the attack.


Name Description / Class
The Village Hetman Giorgus, a zero-level human, is a friendly man, desiring to preserve the independence of his fledgling community. This is especially so as the adventurers who own the stone cottage in his longhall's compound look to him to keep the piece in their adopted protectorate whilst they are away adventuring.
Jazak the Greengrocer Zero-level human male, proficient in Barter and Trade. Jazak knows all about Vleynev's history, although not his guilt. To get Jazak to talk will require either flattery or alcohol.
Ayelsha the Shamaness Ayelsha does not mix with the villagers much but she is able to offer healing to the player characters.
Tomokin the Factor A noted Northern merchant in the village, he will be keen to help find the murderer and ecstatic to discover it is a villager as it gives his government the first excuse to increase their involvement in the affairs of Whitemere.

When the time comes to confront or arrest Vleynev, he will be indoors at his own household, by the fire - cleaning and sharpening his mattock. Vleynev is more than a little psychotic, drunk or sober, and is unrepentant. If possible he will attempt to flee - into the teeth of the still-raging snowstorm. If escape is impossible he will sullenly await his fate, trying to escape en route to justice when the storm lifts and he is taken away by the Northern merchants.

Experience awards for The Gromwell Key should be
245 XP for good role-playing as detectives or "police"
140 XP for good alignment role-playing
- -120 XP for needless violence
376 XP per adventurer for solving the mystery
4 XP per point each Proficiency roll is made by, 4 XP minimum award for any successful check.


Ayelsha the Shamaness see above.
Jazak the Greengrocer see above.
Tomokin the Factor see above.
Typical Adult Villager 2 hit Level 0 character.
Typical Child Villager 1 hit Level 0 character.
Typical Trader as for brigand in Monstrous Manual
Village Dog cf Monstrous Manual - "War Dog".
Village Hetman see above.
Vleynev the murderer- a typical Level 0 peasant.