The PCs are approached for help by a young woman named Cordelia, who believes her two evil sisters (Goneril and Regan) are planning to murder their elderly father. (Consider these names just working titles, of course!) Cordelia suspects they may also be planning to do her in, since she often takes her father's side in family arguments. Cordelia recently found vials of poison in their home and has also spied some seedy, cloaked men coming and going late at night. Could the two older sisters have hired an assassin?
A few days before Cordelia's visit, the PCs should hear about (or maybe witness) a big fight between two rich townswomen in the market place. Nobody quite knows what it was about, but it got physical, with Goneril being knocked down by Regan into a shallow pool of mud on the street. (In actuality, they were tussling over who would get to purchase a new silk scarf...)
Dad's name isn't Lear, by the way; it is Manannan of Montfort. In his day, he was a famous adventuring magic-user, but he has been retired for many years. He is quite ill these days, and is usually pushed around in a wooden wheelchair by one of his daughters. He is often grumpy and ill-tempered. His library is the envy of sages and wizards for miles around, but he turns away nearly everyone who comes to want to see it.
What's really going on: The daughters are petty and vindictive, but they're not trying to kill anyone. Manannan has begun putting into action a plan that he formulated years ago: To live forever, he will turn himself into a Lich. He finally collected the proper scrolls and mystical source-books to compose his Lichly phylactery. He also needs to collect all manner of vile substances, including arsenic, belladonna, and various monster venoms, to mix the "self-embalming" potion that he will drink when he is ready to make the transition. (See Len Lakofka's article "Blueprint for a Lich" from Dragon #26 and Best of the Dragon #2.)
The old man will tolerate some degree of investigation into this supposed poisoning plot (though he will actually tell the truth when he says that he will never believe any of his daughters would want to kill him). However, if the PCs start getting close to the truth, he will strike back.
Oh, but here's where my adventure-design prowess is giving out a bit. I feel there really needs to be some kind of additional structure to the adventure; maybe a chain of hints that reveals ever-more pieces of information that identify what Manannan is doing? Maybe a good map of the dungeon-like tunnels that he built underneath his stately home? Some other ideas include...
- The PCs may go on a red-herring chase for the antidote(s) to the poisons once they are identified. Might that bring them into contact with a strange underbelly of society -- not just assassins, but also Snape-like loner alchemists and airhead half-elf herbalists?
- If the PCs find the assassin who is supplying the poisons, he will have some kind of magical protection against the PCs trying to pry information out of him. (Not insurmountable, though...)
- Manannan's manservants are mild-mannered and slight of build, but they are actually good, agile fighters (low-STR but high-DEX) that protect his valuable library, run errands for him to his suppliers, and so on.
- Manannan has a magical clock that ticks to the beat of his living heart. He plans to disable it when he takes his final lich potion. However, if he dies prior to that time, the clock will stop and deliver instructions to his most faithful manservant for what to do next. A wannabe immortal always needs a Plan B!
- My original inspirations for Manannan were the vengeful fathers from (1) the classic Twilight Zone episode "The Masks," and (2) the story "Father's Day" from the original 1982 movie Creepshow. However, now I don't think he cares that much about his red-herring children, nor do I think he's as helpless and infirm as he seems. I'm now thinking he's got a bit of Lo Pan in him...
If Manannan of Montfort is killed by the PCs, they will find around his neck a chain with a most strange pendant: an ornate key that looks like it's carved out of bone, with a tiny painting of a pale green horse on it.