Closer My God Unto Thee
System: d20 Dungeons and Dragons
Requirements: 4-6 PCs of levels 3-5
A killer is stalking the streets, and yet it is who it doesn't kill that has the town in uproar. There is more than mere insanity at play, and unless answers are found soon the entire city might dissolve into chaos. But answers rely on truth, and truth is such a subjective term, especially when priests get involved. A Dungeons & Dragons (3rdEd) game from Warpcon XI
This game focuses around religious issues. Not real life religious issues mind you (not going near that one with a barge pole), but in game religious issues. There are five characters in this game, and four of them are of a religious persuasion - 3 priests and a paladin. That said, there are no repeated religions. They all follow different beliefs. The fifth character is one who normally doesn’t have much time for religion, but now doesn’t have much of a choice. She has become something of an avatar for a god. Bummer.
The most obvious point in this game though is the spate of murders which have been rocking the city. That is your starting point, and it will remain the main focus of the game. Let’s start at the beginning. There are a couple of matters of importance.
Most of the scenario takes place in the city of Mirex. Mirex is a vast sprawling metropolis by the standards of the time. It holds approximately 300 000 citizens, which is quite considerable. It is also a pointedly not nice place. Not nice at all. The city is as corrupt as they come and is ruled by a council (sometimes referred to as the ‘City Fathers’) who care not one whit what is happening in the lower city as long as it doesn’t affect them. The city is built over 3 hills. In general, higher ground also equates to a higher standard of living, with the lowest of the low living in the dips. Mirex is the most important city in the region. While many of the cities are autonomous, and much of the surrounding countryside is ruled by nobility of sorts, Mirex is very definitely the city all political figures look to first.
There are a few different races living in Mirex. Humans are by far the dominant race, with only small pockets from the other races. Dwarves and halflings make up the majority of such communities. Elves generally have very little truck with the city, preferring to live in their own settlements and avoiding what they see as the evils of man. Every so often they send a delegation to the city to keep an eye on developments. The last such delegation was about 30 years ago. They were not pleased at all with what they saw and have not been back since.
The City Guard is usually ineffective at best. They concern themselves mostly with breaking up drunken brawls and any other such disturbances of the peace. Theft is commonplace and very rarely punished. Murders are usually ignored as they are often politically motivated and it is best not to interfere in such matters.
Many religions have representation within the city. Entire pantheons may be found lining a street. The relationship between Church and State is a tenuous one. The Churches wield very little power as the City Fathers care very little for matters of religion and morality, and with such a vast array of faiths, no one temple represents enough of the populace to pose a threat. That said, the Council is aware that religion very often keeps the masses placated. Certain temples have amassed quite a deal of favour with the secular rulership of the country by preaching acceptance and obedience to the common folk of the city. Other temples (and indeed, individual members of some of these obliging temples) refuse to abuse their power in such way. Whatever the case, the Council fears to be seen as taking an aggressive stance towards any temple, lest the populace take exception.
Certain temples (especially that of Suan) are known for educating the young nobles both of the city and of the surrounding countryside. This practice is common both in the city itself and in the surrounding countryside. This is a good example of how many of the faiths have had to adapt to survive. Technically, Suan is a God of illumination. His Priests are supposed to actively help people learn the path of good deeds. Instead they have reduced themselves to merely educating in the case of the clergy. To do more would be politically inadvisable. While most of the clergy know what the true meaning of illumination as represented by Suan is, very few dare to actively proclaim it. Increasingly, their numbers have been made up of actual young nobles who have very little faith, but a lot of political clout.
The characters should hopefully take issue with one another. They have been requested to work together for a number of reasons, but are unlikely to get along very well. There are too many different beliefs represented.
Nyar - Nyar is a half-elven woman. She was born of a member of the last delegation who fell in love with a human and didn’t leave the city with the others. Unfortunately, she died bringing Nyar into the world. Nyar’s father died about 9 years later, leaving Nyar to fend for herself. Nyar became a mercenary and later a member of the City Guard. She is also one of the most recent victims of the murderer who stalks the city, except that in her case, murder was not the end result. She has been displaying some strange abilities since then.
Julian - Julian is a Priest of the Three Gods of Death. Despite this, he is actually a very nice person. Scrupulously polite, he nonetheless tends to unnerve people. His main concern is not that people have been dying, but that too many have been dying. It flies in the face of his Gods to send so many to the next life in such a callous manner. It is not up to mankind to decide who should live and who should die.
Geoffrey - Geoffrey is one of the few remaining Paladins. A noble’s son, he was educated by the Priests of Suan, and took the true teachings to heart. Realising that he was a threat to the power structure, his family took steps to have him ‘banished’ to Mirex. He has been frothing at the mouth ever since for a chance to take some action. This is his first chance to do so.
Eachtra - Eachtra is a priest of Redemption and Retribution. As such, his multi-classed nature does not represent separate areas of endeavour, but is instead indicative of his actual duties. His duties are taking a toll on him, as he is required to judge who deserves a second chance at life. He is an exceptionally talented man-hunter.
Athru - Eachtra’s twin brother and a priest of wind. Like Eachtra, he is not a true multi-class. Athru is very much a wild card in this group, as his religion requires him to be flighty and impartial. He actually has strong moral values, but may not act on them.
Of late a spree of murders has rocked the poorer parts of the city. Whilst in normal times, the Council would pay very little attention to occurrences in the undercity, recent events are too important for them to overlook. The citizenry are outraged and given much more provocation might revolt should the Council not be seen to be taking an interest.
Things became a little bit more complicated when Nyar was attacked. The attacks bore all the marks of the other incidents, but she was left alive. Speculation cropped up all over the city as soon as details became known. Was the killer elven (everyone knows of her heritage, and she is something of an urban legend because of it)? Was the killer in league with the City Guards and so stopped when he realised who she was? Theories ran riot, with each less sensical than the last. The Council needed to take action. The situation was made more urgent by the powers she was showing. If word of them got out there would be riots.
Considering that the populace might not be too far off with their theory about elven heritage the City Fathers reopened negotiations with the elves for the first time in almost 3 decades and requested help. They also sought help from the Temple of Death and (reluctantly) allowed
Geoffrey to take a hand in affairs.
So what would be the actual motivation for the murderer then? Well, that’s a little bit tricky. The killings are all religiously motivated. It might though be more accurate to say that the act of killing is religiously motivated, but not the specific murders. The victims are chosen pretty much at random. It is the fact that murders occur that is important.
The author of the murders is also a priest, or to be more accurate a priestess. The being doing to murders is not a natural creature. Rather is has been summoned by the priestess to stalk the streets of Mirex.
The priestess in question is Nyar’s mother. She had always been a priestess of the elven god of evolution. When she met Nyar’s father (Kaleb), she renounced her vows to live with him in the city, despite her hatred for it. When she died in childbirth, a darker aspect of her God visited her. She could go on to the next life and never know what would happen to her child, or she could stay on and serve her God. In return, she would be allowed to watch over her child from a distance. Naya chose the former. Over the years, she watched her child grow from the shadows. She shed bitter tears of remorse when her husband finally died and looked on in admiration as her child picked up the pieces of her life and carried on. Then finally after years of waiting and menial preparation her God informed her of her task.
Evidently, her distaste for the city was shared by her God. Indeed, her God saw it as a blight on the face of the earth. A seedbed of evil and corruption, it had stagnated and was dragging the world backwards. Rather than the races sharing their knowledge to build a bright future, Mirex drove them apart and stifled the spirit, leading only to decay. The city must be destroyed.
Evidently Naya would lack the power to perform such a task, and the God itself would need to generate vast amounts of power to do so. Further it would need champions. The first task needed to generate power was the hunt. Through the streets of Mirex, a creature summoned by Naya hunted down citizens of the city. As those who had grown weak by living in the city fell before the creature, Naya’s God grew in power. However, it was clear that before long these activities would draw the attention of the authorities and it was necessary to start gathering champions. The first of these would be one who embodied the fusion of elf and human - Nyar. She was tested by the creature, chased through the streets of the city and, as Naya had known she would, showed impressive vitality. So instead of being killed, she was infused with part of the God’s spirit. This has led to the summoning of more elves to help investigate the murders, and the God hopes to recruit as many of the group as possible.
Note - inevitably, the question of whether Eachtra and Athru knew anything of Nyar’s mother will come up. They didn’t. Elves who leave to live amongst humans are rarely talked about.
Scene 1 - What the hell do we do now?
Ah finally we have dispensed with background and you can start the game. So where do we start then? Start off with Nyar, Julian and Geoffrey in a room together, awaiting the arrival of the two elvish clerics. They are actually in a room in Nyar’s guardhouse (near the city gates and not in a very nice area). Their writ is simple and should be explained to them - they have to get to the bottom of the murders and there are two elves on their way to help them. After that just let them go. Hopefully, they should enjoy a nice bit of social awkwardness as they sound each other out. As that is happening, turn your attention to the elves. The elves are just arriving in the city. Feel free to describe how foul the air smell and how generally miserable the place looks. The city is surrounded by 20 ft walls but there is a foulberg outside the walls filled by the poorest of souls living in abject misery. Inside the walls isn’t much better. They should be attracting no end of stares from the local citizenry as they don’t normally see elves.
Either as they reach the gates, or a while after they enter the city (up to you; probably depends on whether or not the humans are bored, but don’t leave it too long), they will be approached by an officious looking dignitary whose job it is to direct them to the guardhouse (let’s call him Rodney). Rodney will make no attempt to hide his contempt for the elves, and will show them towards the guardhouse. All this time it will be evident how uncomfortable he is in the lesser parts of town. He will want to get them to the guard house ASAP and then leave.
Right, the elves make their entrance (and Athru will probably want to make it count). The two groups look at each other and go ummmm. Well they have a couple of different options open to them now.
Option 1 - the bodies
The body of the most recent victim (killed last night near the dwarfish district) is still awaiting final rites. Why is this important? Well because Julian is capable of talking to the dead. Take note of the strictures of the spell. He can ask a maximum of four or five questions and has to ask them quickly. The body is in it’s home. It was a young father of about 13 years of age. His wife and children survive him. Their home is on the lower slopes of the eastern most hill - a moderately respectable place to live as it shows a definite start on climbing out of poverty. The relevant names her are Tomas (the dead guy), Maria (his wife) and Sukie (their 5 year old child). Tomas is laid out in the parlour on the table. There are one or two neighbours in providing comfort for the young widow. She is obviously highly distraught.
How the players handle this situation is up to them. If they are thinking, they will request that everybody leave before they cast any spells (a corpse starting to talk is more than a little bit unsettling). If they don’t there will be quite a scene when Tomas’ lips start moving. Bear In mind that Sukie is only five and won’t quite understand what is wrong with her father in the first place. Tact is very much called for.
Questioning Maria will reveal that Tomas was on his way home from work. He works as a clerk in the local tannery (like I said, they are only starting to climb out of poverty), and was often one of the last to leave. His body was found about 5 minutes away from their house. That’s about as much as they can get out of her before she needs to excuse herself.
As for the corpse itself, it can relate the above plus the following. The person who chased him was dressed all in black, and had a cloak covering his face. He moved incredibly fast, but never seemed to be exerting any effort. It chased him for about a minute, before cornering him in an alleyway where it stabbed him repeatedly. Anything else will be garbled and riddled (as per spell description).
Julian also has another granted spell, called Dying Light. This allows him to see, but not hear the last minute of a deceased’s life from their point of view. If used on Tomas, it will give him the vision of running into an alley. Everything looks very shaky (fatigue) and the viewer is moving at speed. What is seen is mostly alley walls, and how those alley walls look while flying through air. A few furtive glances of the killer may be possible (black cloak moving very fast). The last thing seen will be a knife slashing down. Just as he finishes up, Julian will be convinced that he hears a voice saying “stay out of it Priest”.
Option 2 - The scene of the most recent attack.
Being something of a tracker, Eachtra will be able to make quite a bit out from the scene of the most recent attack. As they enter the alleyway however Nyar will be overcome by a sudden brief vision. This should be handled in the following way. Describe to the others how she suddenly staggers and almost falls. While the others are dealing with this, hand Nyar the piece of paper with the first vision on it (at the back of this scenario). Give her a stated amount of time to read it and then take it off her.
Once they have dealt with that in whatever way they wish, allow them to take a look at the area where the last murder took place. There is quite a lot of filth in the alleyway, so Eachtra should be able to read the tracks reasonably easily. What he will find is that a lone man (Tomas) ran into this alleyway. He was obviously in a panic, because he was bouncing off the walls as he went. There was then signs of him being thrown from wall to wall by someone with quite a lot of strength (unless he jumped off walls), before finally he was stabbed repeatedly. There is quite a lot of blood on the walls still (dried). There is however no sign of Tomas’ assailant in the tracks. It is as if he was never there.
There is one other thing to be found her that is of importance. It would probably make sense to ask for some rolls to see who it is notices it. On the wall above where the body was, there is a symbol (about 3 inches tall) etched into the wall. It is in an obscure elvish dialect. If the elvish characters thing hard about it, they may recognise it as a symbol for ascension.
Option 3 - Nyar’s attack
The characters have far more information available regarding Nyar’s attack (mainly because she was there). It is spread out over a far larger area. In this case there is evidence of one half of a battle. Nyar’s tracks in places show signs of her struggling, but there is no sign of her opponent. Eventually, there is sign of her being dragged unconscious over towards a wall, and then her leaving. If they look, they can once again find the ascension symbol on the wall.
Option 4 - talking to the council
God only knows why they would want to do this. Going to see the Council is an exercise in futility. Firstly, it will take a long time to get an appointment. There will be a few hours of fruitless sitting around in ante-chambers, while other people are ushered in ahead of them (mostly merchants of some kind). When they are finally allowed in (or they finally force their way in), they will be given very little satisfaction from the men in charge. The council is led by Lord Matthew, a man of approximately 50 years. While the Council may be quite disparate over many matters, they are smart enough to always present an united front to any outsiders. Hence most of the talking will be done by Matthew. The man is oily in the extreme. He also has very little time for the group. If he is talking to the elves he will churn off vague platitudes, welcoming the first of their kind to visit the city for decades and so on. In general though, there is no help to be had from the Council. And shouldn’t they be out looking for the killer anyway?
Option 5 - research
If your players happen to think they are playing Cthulhu, they may wish to research the elvish symbol of ascension. Good luck. There is damn all to be found in human libraries about elvish religion. There are large libraries available in some of the temples. It does give them a chance to talk to disparate priests. Rather than me detailing priests of 20 different religions, I’m going to have to ask you to improvise her. Read the section on temples. Some will be receptive, some won’t. Some will wish to discuss theology with the elves, some will dismiss elvish religion as rubbish. Some will be proper priests whereas others will be corrupt.
Option 6 - ummm?
Accursed players just come up with something else huh? You’re on your own. Improvise. It’s a big city. The size of the city should always be borne in mind. It allows you to waste a lot of time, bringing about nightfall whenever you want.
Scene 2 - another one dies
At whatever stage feels appropriate to you (preferable after dark though) Nyar has another vision. This one is far more violent and she shakes visibly during it. She will seem almost to be thrown around during it. Give her the second vision and take it away again as soon as she has read it.
Soon after she recovers from her vision, they will be informed by a messenger sent by the council that another murder has been perpetrated. A wealthy noble named Lord Cyril has been found by his stable-hands torn to shreds in his own stable. Investigation of the scene will show very similar signs to the previous murder scenes. The tracks are somewhat harder to follow, as a feeding trough was turned over during the struggle, and much of the evidence was obliterated. This time the sigil is etched into the post of the stalls. The horses are all very visibly spooked. Should Athru attempt to communicate with them (Speak with Animals spell), he will get a very garbled account from them of a dark thing which wasn’t there killing the human thing.
So to sum up then, what they should know so far is that something vaguely supernatural is killing people and that it has something to do with the elvish symbol of ascension. Doesn’t really sound like much does it? All the more reason for them to get chewed out. Lord Matthew is about to arrive on the scene (killing waifs is one thing, but an attack on nobles?). He will be very snide and will demand results immediately. This should especially grate on the players if they went to see him earlier. Of course, he still won’t offer any more resources.
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