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"Stuffed heads and lethal weddings"

by Ville Lšhde

This adventure was originally published in the Finnish RPG magazine ďClaymoreĒ in 1994. Even though it is the fourth part of the series, it can be easily moved around, as it has no thematic links to the others. It has also quite a loose structure, which requires that the GM be adaptive and creative when running the scenario. There are so many possibilities for the PCs to act anyway.

SETTING

Unlike the previous two scenarios, this one does not involve a large number of actors or cause widespread turmoil. It is closer to a small play of passion or a detective story. The events revolve around the Huntersí Guild, a fairly new guild, which has a very different structure from the regular craft guilds. Rather than a guild it is actually an administrative body that regulates the use of ducal forests by allocating hunting permits and overseeing that the hunting quotas are not exceeded. It was formed by the Duke 20 years ago in order to make the exploitation of forests more effective and to keep game populations steady. In guild politics it is neutral, so factional politics do not affect this adventure (ref: Giampaolo Agostaís article).

All forests around Specularum belong either to the Duke or to wealthy landowners (landed nobles). Some of them are reserved for the personal use of the nobility, like the Dukeís Park, but the rest of them are supervised by the guild and its subsidiary, the Rangers, which has strong links to the Elvenguard. These areas are divided into forest areas, each controlled by a Guild master who is allowed to hold hunting tests, grant licenses, buy the catch and sell it to merchants and craftsmen from his Guild Lodge. So in these forests, hunters licensed by Guild masters are allowed to hunt, but everything they catch must be sold through their respective guild masters. They must also wear the coat of arms of their master.

Black market trading is punished harshly: the perpetrator looses all hunting privileges and his gear, and must pay a hefty sum as compensation for the guild. Game meat and furs are luxuries, so the sums may well turn the person into an Indentured. The Master and license system is the primary way that the Guild controls hunting, but it also has an experiences cadre of Rangers who patrol the forests and report to the Central Master of the guild. The Rangers watch over the lesser masters so they donít exceed their quotas.

The hunting license allows each hunter to hunt a certain number of beasts of certain species a year, and all of the catch must be notified to the master. The master then reports the bulk amount that his hunters have hunted to the Guild council. Thus they have to keep careful records of 1) the licensed quotas, 2) all the stuff that they have bought and 3) all the stuff they are sold. These records are cross-checked at least once a year, but sometimes surprise checks are made. The Masters of course make their living by taking a standard cut from each transaction. Their Lodges send a percentage of the money to the Central Guild, which again pays the Duke (and the local noble) for the use of the forests. It is a comfortable living for an individual Master, but it is very hard to get rich. Still, even though it is said that a small bribe can go a long way towards getting a license, the reputation of the guild is clean. There has been very little corruption and few transgressions. It may be that the Masters squeeze their hunters a bit too hard (which of course reflects in their loyalty), but this is not regulated that much, as they have no guild rights like regular journeymen. There are so many prospective hunters around that the hunters rarely complain.

In the forests further away from Specularum the guild has no influence, and many independent hunters and trappers make their living there, selling the meat and fur either to merchants or to local residents. Their biggest problem is the crown bailiffs who dislike mobile craftsmen, who are harder to tax. Some larger cities also have similar institutions, but they differ according to the local noble. Smaller settlements usually reserve hunting for the nobles alone. So the poorer people rarely see any game on the table.

The most common animals that are hunted in the areas controlled by the Specularum Guild are deer, moose, rabbit, squirrel, boar, fox and various bird species. Wolves and bears are very rare in the vicinity of Specularum. Most of the good meat, fur and hides go to the richer families or craftsmen or businessmen who refine them into fine meals or clothing et cetera. Bones are sold to people who make fertiliser, for example. Offal and poor quality meat is usually eaten by the Hunters themselves or bartered to their neighbours Ė this is technically illegal, but nobody cares.

Poaching by non-licensed hunters is naturally forbidden and it is punished severely, but it doesn't stop some starving peasants or city labourers from trying. After all, Robin Hood's career started like that...

BACKGROUND

Hunter Master Boris is a greedy man, and he thinks he deserves more than he is getting squeezed out of his hunters, so he has started a poaching and black market operation. By forging documents and cooking the books he manages to sell illegally hunted catch and keep all the money. To this end, his trusted follower Volodnja has hired a couple of peasants from the Marilenev Estate to help him. Disguised as licensed hunters they prowl the forests at night. The process is simple: The peasants hunt, Volodnja gets the catch in secret forest meetings and transfers it to the Hunting Lodge stores, stamping them with a fake guild seal. Boris forges the paperwork, unbeknownst to his secretary, and sells the catch to a select group of customers. They have no idea that the meat, skins, furs and bones are hot, with the exception of one customer (see later). Boris gets the furs, the hides, the skins, the best meat and the heads of large animals, and the peasants get the rest to feed their families. This is a tidy arrangement: Boris does not have to pay anything, as the meat is very valuable to the peasants (and they can sell some of it in secret), and he gets very valuable luxury items.

Note: Boris didnít have the guts to forge the coat of arms of another hunter, so the poachers are operating under his banner, so to speak, and using only his forests. This was most likely a wise move, as he does not have to worry about anybody noticing them. He trusts Volodnja, a cruel man, to keep the licensed hunters in control and away from the poachers.

Borisís customers are mainly leatherworkers, furriers, and cooks of fancy taverns or noble households Ė due to his operation he can also deliver according to order much better than any other master. The heads of large beasts he reserves to his friend Julian the Taxidermist. Julianís craft isn't exactly what you would call a booming industry. If someone orders a stuffed boar's head, he must get it soon. So Julian sends requests to Boris, who sends Volodnja on the job. Julian pays Boris well, which does help to maintain their friendship. But it actually is a true friendship and is not easily broken.

Another guildmaster, Vlad, suspects that Boris is up to something, but he cannot prove anything yet. He only knows that for a couple of years Boris has been spending a little more than he should be earning, but he has no proof of any wrongdoing. He also sees this as an opportunity to gain more influence in the guild and expand his allotment. He wants to blackmail Boris into supporting his claim, even acceding to giving away some territory at the next Guild Council meeting. Vlad asks his right hand man Poros to find some ďadventurersĒ and hire them to investigate Borisís affairs. Poros is not aware of Vladís plans, and would not approve. But right now he believes that Vlad wants to find evidence in order to indict Boris.

Vlad has also other matters in his mind, so he is prepared to leave the investigators to work pretty independently, as long as they report to him and only him (not Poros). Vlad is getting married. By a trick of fate he has fallen in love with the daughter of Julian the Taxidermist, Mira. The union has been pre-arranger a couple of years ago, long before Boris's operation started, and Julian is very happy indeed. (And of course he has no idea at all that Vlad suspects foul play by Boris. Neither is Boris aware of Vladís suspicions.) The wedding will take place in a week in Vlad's house. Vlad contacts the Church of Traladara and asks for a priest Ė and a goblet of sanctified wedding wine...

PLOT POSSIBILITIES

At the beginning of the scenario the PCs are hired by Poros. His instructions are clear: they are to find proof that Boris is up to no good, but they should not let Boris know that he is being watched. Once they find out something conclusive, they are to come to Vlad immediately, but they should not disturb him with trivialities (wedding arrangements are taking all his time). If the PCs are inquisitive, they can easily learn about the coming wedding. They may also want to inquire about Huntersí Guild policies from the Guild Hall or from the Merchantsí Guild (especially later on, if/when they try to figure out ways in which Boris might be skimming the profits).

Borisís Lodge is located outside city walls, a few miles north of the Tradersí Corridor. It includes the residence/office where Boris, his servants, Volodnja and his secretary Vres live, a butchery, a storehouse, stables and a shooting range for holding hunting license trials. It is up to the PCs to devise ways to learn more. They may try to gain hunting licenses, infiltrate the servant staff, spy upon the house or any number of other things.

A lot depends on whether Boris and Volodnja learn about the surveillance. Boris will not hesitate to threaten the PCs, but he is not likely to use lethal force willingly. Volodnja has no such scruples and will kill an interloper without a second though, and not even tell about it to Boris, if it is not necessary.

If the PCs manage to get evidence for Vlad, be will try to blackmail Boris, which will surely get a response. Boris may demand that Julian threatens to break off the wedding if Vlad wonít back off. The thing is however that Julian has a lot at stake (the dowry and the happiness of his beloved daughter), so his loyalties are unsure, especially if he becomes anxious about the investigation. Boris can promise him a bigger share of the profits. Much of course depends on whether the PCs have learned about Julianís role in the events Ė and whether they have mentioned this to Vlad. In the latter case Vlad might get there first and promise Julian that his part in all this will remain a secret. Then again, Boris might threaten to take Julian with him.

Mira is totally unaware of his father's shady dealings, although she has noticed the increased influx of funds to the Taxidermist's shop. If Mira finds out that she is being used as a pawn, she will be outraged and rebellious. She is a young woman of strong character, fiery temper and sharp mind. If Julian tries to call of the wedding, Mira is very likely to elope and seek sanctuary with his husband to be. A more dramatic possibility is that Boris orders Volodnja to kidnap Mira and use her as a hostage to blackmail Vlad or force Julian back in line.

Depending on how things go and how the situation escalates, Boris may become desperate and try to assassinate Vlad (if for example the adventurers have rescued Mira from his clutches). He sends Volodnja to poison the wedding wine. If Julian and Boris are still friends, a dose of antidote will be slipped in Mira's breakfast, otherwise she is in danger too. Thus the wedding will still go on, and Vlad's estate will be transferred to Mira, that is her father, after his death. It is also possible that Volodnja poisons the wine as a final act of revenge if Boris is indicted.

Poros is a wild card. He is a law-abiding person and will not remain loyal to Vlad if he learns about his plans to blackmail Boris. He can alert the Guild Rangers and escalate the situation. Another possibility for GMs who like high-fantasy flavour: Boris's operation is taking a toll on the people of the forest. The forest folk near Specularum have hard time as it is, but this is too much. Perhaps the fey folk or an old druid decides to intervene... and Poros is a follower of the old cults.

Happy hunting. And keep your heads on your shoulders, so they don't end up on somebody's wall...

CAST

* Boris, F5, neutral, 36 years old.
Pockmarked face and raven-black hair. He is a strong and impressive man but by no means a charming one. He makes people obey him by sheer intimidation. Julian is actually his only real friend. Boris loves meat, especially spiced kidney, heart and liver. He despises the bureaucrats of the Guild and trusts only Volodnja.
General skills: Hunting, Bargaining, Intimidation, Forgery, Administration
- Boris's symbol is a yellow crossbow bolt in a green circle.

* Volodnja, T7, chaotic, 25 years old
Narrow face, high and pointed cheekbones, sharp jaw. Always unclean, with a bad shave and tangled and dirty hair. Volodnja is more a criminal thug than a hunter. He has a chequered past: smuggling, extortion, gambling, even contract killing. If the PCs use their street contacts, they can learn that Volodnja left the city long ago after some trouble. He never openly moves about within the city walls. Volodnja steals from Boris but is very unlikely to betray him in any other way. He will jump ship however, if it seems that Boris will be caught. He has a nasty, violent and vindictive temper. (If Volodnja survives, you can have him resurface later, for example as Davinosís assassin in the next part of the series.)
General skills: Poisons, Streetwise, Torture, Hunting, Disguise

* Vlad, F5, neutral, 30 years old
Brown hair and moustache, tall and lean, very clean, always dresses in dark green. He is a much nicer man than he would like to admit. Even though he is capable of using blackmail to increase his own wealth, he would never hurt the guild itself, and he wouldn't break the Duke's laws the way Boris does. He treats his hunters very well, and he would be a tender and loving husband. He just likes money a little bit too much.
General skills: Trapping, Hunting, Tracking, Leadership, Administration

* Poros, F4, lawful, 23 years old
Slim, vigorous, long blond hair always tied to a topknot. He is a Guild Hunter to the core. He respects the hunting quotas and other regulations even more than his beloved master. Vlad knows this and keeps his own shady plans to himself. Otherwise Poros is very reliable. Poros hopes to be the godfather of the first child of Vlad and Mira. He isn't a follower of the Church of Traladara: he worships the spirits of the woods and the "totem" of the Deer. This was taught to him by an old druid who lived in his childhood village near Threshold. Poros knows very well that he is a rarity in a large city.
General skills: Bargaining, Hunting, Tracking, Stealth

* Julian the Taxidermist, NM, neutral, 45 years old
Slightly overweight, shuffles his feet, beams with pride when Mira is around. He is the archetypal craftsman who is extremely proud of the quality of his work. He took part in the criminal operation only to ensure a safe future for Mira and himself, and mostly out of friendship. Now he would actually like to leave the whole thing, even though he still thinks Boris is his friend. He is a shy, timid, man, who speaks with a hushed voice.
General skills: Skinning, Embalming, Taxidermy, Cooking (also the books)

* Bodom, Butcher of Borisís Lodge, NM, neutral, 40 years
A hulk of a man who is extremely skilful with a cleaver. Any good hunter who brings untainted game to him and appreciates his work can gain his friendship. Bodom senses that something is wrong, but by default he thinks it is not his business.
General skills: Butcher, Storytelling, Awareness, Cooking

* Vres, Borisís secretary, NM, 39 years
A meticulous worker and the consummate administrator, he keeps Borisís records, but unfortunately he is not very good at his work, as he suspects nothing. Vres is the NPC who will cause problems for any infiltrating PCs by making advances on female PCs, keeping an eye on newcomers et cetera.