Tuesday, September 27, 2011

SoSA the 23rd: The Tontine Revealed

This is post 23 out of 25 in the Cygnus Series of a September of Short Adventures.

Finally, we learn that several of the NPCs trotted out in earlier SoSA episodes were among a group of evil plotters who made a secret pact long ago:
  • Frederick of Montfort (from SoSA the 2nd), the magic-user who held onto poor Athena the Succubus for a bit too long, carried a key made of carved bone on his person. This key had an image of a white horse on it.
  • Humble Pymander (from SoSA the 10th), the charlatan who taught feaux-clerical powers and was actually a high-level thief, carried a similar key with a black horse on it.
  • Manannan of Montfort (from SoSA the 21st), another magic-user who dreamed of becoming a Lich, carried a similar key with a pale green horse on it.
  • There's one more key... can you guess the color of its fourth horse?
These guys were all members of a high-level adventuring party who were legendary in their day. In addition to the above three, there was a human fighter, Atlas the Audacious, a female cleric, Sophia of the Lights, and a grim, but very lawful good paladin named Theodoric.

All but Theodoric were lawful neutral or pure neutral in alignment. Despite that fact, they ended up doing enough good deeds to garner a positive reputation in their home town of Montfort. But that phase of their lives seemed to come to an end when they discovered a powerful artifact in the caverns beneath a far-away castle: they found the fabled Teeth of Dahlver-Nar!

Ignore new-school descriptions of these powerful relics... they're not a heterogeneous collection of human and monster teeth like some say; in reality they come from just a single source: Dahlver-Nar himself, a powerful arch-cleric of a strange Manichean sect, who lived centuries ago in Eastern Europe. When he died, the Manichean god MALKA RABA DE-IKARA (the Great King of Glory) hallowed his body and energized each tiny bit with arcane powers. Due to incessant wars and invasions, his followers weren't able to embalm or otherwise preserve the body, so much was lost. After a hundred years of occupation and desecration by foreigners, all that was left in his hidden crypt were those 32 eerily perfect teeth.

Anyway, fast-forward to about 20 years ago. The Montfort adventuring party found the Teeth and began experimenting with them. The paladin Theodoric was killed -- slowly and painfully -- when the major malevolent effect of Body Rot kicked in. Without that good influence, the party began drifting toward evil. The cleric Sophia tried to resist, and she told others from her church about the Teeth. She, and the rest of the church, were all murdered by the others.

The remaining four were at a stalemate: they each wanted the absolute power of these relics, but they also wanted to not be killed by their compatriots. So they swore a grim oath... once a decade they would gather to try out one new tooth (per person), and eventually the last one alive would inherit all of the remaining ones. They're all such high-level adventurers that they all believe themselves safe from the others, but it's been a complex, multi-decadal game of chess....

The four plotters decided to convert Sophia's little church into the front for an underground hiding place for the Teeth. This place is a trap-filled, pimped-out lair, and the only way in is to use their four Tontine Keys in tandem. Frederick's key displayed the white horse of conquest, Pymander's had the black horse of famine, Manannan's had the pale/green horse of death, and Atlas' had the blood-red horse of war. All four of them went on to achieve some amazing things with the power of the Teeth that they placed into their own mouths.

How do the PCs become involved?

If the above SoSA adventures are played out, our modern-day PCs probably found one or two of the keys, and maybe learned that both Frederick and Manannan came from the same obscure town. If either (a) two or more of Frederick, Pymander, and Manannan have been killed by the PCs, or (b) the PCs have begun to inquire around about the origin of the keys, then Atlas the Audacious will begin to plot to track and kill them. In addition to being a high-level fighter, Atlas is also a powerful trainer of vicious animals and some types of monster. Rather than attack the PCs himself, he will send his beasties after them. (Here's the chance to use many of the weirder monsters lacking in Gygaxian naturalism. If these creatures have been held captive by this eclectic trainer, one needn't worry about their ecology or diet!) See the Beastmaster NPC in Dragon #119 for some additional flavor.

There should be ample clues around for the PCs to learn about this formerly famous adventuring party -- as well as info about the church founded by one of their number long ago. Sophia's church in Montfort is now run by the son of the party's last loyal retainer. He receives a monthly salary from a source unknown to him (actually the Tontine's trust) to maintain the church and keep it guarded in perpetuity.

The dungeon under the church:

A dangerous place. Go wild with traps and non-biological monsters. If there was ever a place to use a Trapper or a Mimic, it's here! :-)  Once the PCs reach the final room that contains the Teeth, there is a curse on the door: upon touching it, the curse teleports the most useful item (magic or otherwise) held by the person into the super-strong vault hidden elsewhere in the dungeon. (Locate Object or Augury spells will of course be useful here...)

The room itself contains a major fake-out: there's a central podium with a small golden box on it, and there's a decayed corpse on the floor that looks like it died trying to grab the box. The box radiates magic, and it contains some old rotten teeth, but they're not the real ones. The true Teeth of Dahlver-Nar are inside the skull of the splayed corpse.

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