The Proper Count - Episode One: The Sea Serpent
By Eric Haddock
The Proper Count is a short adventure for four 7th-level characters. The party may consist of any mix of classes, but since the events here are sequential with no built-in breaks for recuperation, a cleric may be very useful. This scenario should prove a reasonable challenge for characters from 6th to 8th level. The adventure is set on the eastern coast of the Greyhawk campaign setting, but you could place it in almost any area where coastal fishing villages abound. Print out the map from the January Map-A-Week archive (the "Lighthouse" map).
Two coastal fishing villages, Rolling Rocks and Hurmstown, have maintained a friendly rivalry for several decades now. Every year, an impartial judge tallies the annual catches for each town and awards the trophy -- a 2-foot-long trident made of silver -- to the one with the higher total. The winning village keeps the trident for most of the following year, then surrenders it to the judge two weeks before the next award ceremony. The same trophy has been in use since the tradition began.
Throughout the years, the count has always been entrusted to the same individual: Perri Ultharn, the gnome lighthouse keeper who lives on a nearby island. No one in either village commands the same degree of trust and respect as he does, and neither village has ever considered asking for a replacement. Perri has always taken the task seriously, maintaining careful records of the fish caught in each village on a daily basis. At the last moon of the year, he spends two weeks checking through his records and totaling the figures to determine the new winner. Once he is satisfied with the results, Perri presents the trident to the winning village in a special ceremony. Each village then holds a public gala -- the winners celebrate their victory, and the losers simply take advantage of the chance to make merry.
This year, however, there is a problem: Perri has not been seen for a week. Worse still, a large serpent has been sighted lurking in the waters near the lighthouse, where the gnome lives alone. The villagers fear that the serpent attacked Perri while he was in his longboat running errands -- or perhaps it even reached up from the sea and dragged him right out of his lighthouse.
Neither village has advanced anyone brave enough to take a boat into the serpent-infested waters. Nevertheless, all the villagers agree that someone must visit the lighthouse and discover Perri's fate. As concerned as they are about the competition, they are even more concerned about Perri.
Hooking the Characters
Any time the characters are traveling along a coastline, they have an opportunity to visit either Rolling Rocks or Hurmstown. The fate of Perri is the only thing the villagers want to talk about, so anyone who so much as passes though either settlement surely will hear of the matter. Still, the PCs may need further encouragement to become involved. Here are some hooks the DM can use to get the characters interested.
- Perri is far more than a simple lighthouse keeper, though the villagers are not aware of this. Outside immediate area, the gnome is known as Golgor Gilliam -- an alchemist who has developed a few key innovations in his field. Perri has thus far kept his alchemical knowledge secret from the villagers for reasons of his own, which could lead into another adventure of the DM's design. In any case, the PCs might be after one of Gilliam's secrets for themselves, or someone might have hired them to find it. A sage they consulted in their research referred them to "a gnome who lives in a lighthouse," and directed them to this area.
- Word of a serpent molesting fishing villages has spread quickly. Whether or not Perri's name is on everyone's lips, the words "killer serpent" certainly are, especially in the nearby ports and coastal towns. Naturally, the magnitude of the serpent's exploits has increased with distance from the two villages. In some outlying areas, the mysterious marauder has become a giant kraken that swallowed a lighthouse with a family of ten inside it. Giant monsters usually attract adventurers, but if that alone doesn't do it, a merchant from one of these towns might hire the PCs to get fish production going again. Alternatively, a sage or wizard who has heard the stories about the serpent and wants to secure its eye for a spell might employ the PCs to find and slay the beast.
- The two villages supply a nearby larger town, which happens to be the PCs' current base, with fish. The supply of fish has recently dried up because the fisherfolk of Rolling Rock and Hurmstown are afraid to take to the water, and the townsfolk here want it restored. One of the local merchants or town officials hires the adventurers to investigate and resolve the problem.
- Perri is known far and wide as an alchemist who undertakes simple work for passing adventurers. The PCs have need of such a person to identify a mysterious potion or perform some other routine service.
Rolling Rock and Hurmstown
Once the PCs decide to visit the fishing villages, it is up to the DM to decide which one they enter first. Each has about 500 people and a gp limit of 200.
The DM may stage the encounter in which the PCs learn about Perri, the yearly contest, and the serpent as desired. The villagers are open, honest, and willing to divulge whatever they know. This includes the following:
- The last time anyone saw Perri was seven days ago. He usually makes a trip into one village or the other every day or so to get the fish counts and run errands.
- A villager or sailor has noticed that the light in the lighthouse has been on even during the day for the past week.
- The serpent has been seen several times by frustrated villagers gazing out into the water, but no villager has dared to venture out far enough to get a good look at it. It is not, however, as large as tales in other towns have painted it.
- The mayors of both villages want to accompany the PCs out to the lighthouse. Each is concerned for Perri, as well as for the trophy and the outcome of the competition. The villagers do not recognize the name Golgor Gilliam, nor do they know anything about an alchemist, gnomish or otherwise, in these parts.
Encounter 1: Going to the Lighthouse
Once the PCs are interested in investigating the lighthouse, the DM should let them arrange for transportation to the island as desired. Unless any of them are experienced sailors, their best bet would be to hire a villager to take them there by boat. A magical trap Perri has placed upon the lighthouse makes it difficult for anyone to reach it via magical flight (see The Cliffhanger, below).
As the characters approach the island, read or paraphrase the following text:
As you approach the tiny island, you can see why sailors would be nervous about coming out to visit Perri -- even without the threat of a sea monster. The water is choppy, and the waves are up to 3 feet high. The wind gusts erratically, making any boat trip a treacherous one.
The lighthouse is clearly visible and its light is on, though it seems to twinkle and blink more than it ought to. The island is little more than rocks sticking up out of the ocean, and lighthouse sits atop a very small outcropping that has barely enough surface to support it. Most lighthouses have an adjoining house for the lighthouse keeper, but there is not enough room for that here. A spindly dock juts from a rocky inlet on the tiny island, but no boat is tied there at present.
If the PCs have enlisted a villager to take them to the island, no skill check is required for navigating the choppy waters. If they have taken out a boat by themselves, navigating it to the lighthouse requires a successful Profession (sailor) skill check (DC 15). Failure means the boat overturns and dumps the PCs into the cold water about 250 feet from the island. In this case, each character must make a successful Swim check (DC 15, with a -1 penalty for each 5 lbs. of gear carried) to swim one-quarter normal speed as a move-equivalent action, or one-half normal speed as a full-round action. Any character who fails a Swim check by less than 5 makes no progress that round. Failure by 5 or more means the character begins to drown (see Dungeon Master's Guide, page 85, for drowning rules). A new check is required each round.
Any PC who tries to approach the lighthouse via magical flight quickly discovers the secret of the twinkling light (see The Cliffhanger, below). Any PC who falls victim to this effect also lands in the water.
If someone falls in the water, the "sea serpent" believed to have swallowed Perri attacks immediately. (Otherwise, this attack occurs when the boat comes within 200 feet of the island, or at the DM's discretion.) In fact, however, there are two creatures rather than one, and they are not serpents at all, but tojanidas -- intelligent but hungry beings native to the elemental plane of water. It was the clawed appendage protruding from the upper body of each creature that the villagers mistook for the head of a serpent.
Adult tojanida (2): hp 55, 45; see Monster Manual page 177.
The two tojanidas came through a gate deep in the ocean floor some years ago. Pleased with the environment, they have been living there ever since. The scent of their favorite delicacy, green octopus, is what has drawn them here now. In fact, there are no such creatures in the area -- the smell is the result of a failed alchemical experiment that Perri performed recently. Nevertheless, the tojanidas believe their quarry is here, and they intend to remain in the area until they find the elusive octopus nest. At that point, they will fight one another for possession of it. They are perfectly happy, however, to eat PCs while waiting for their desired food.
PCs in the water have a -1 circumstance penalty on all their attacks. If the tojanidas attack characters in the boat, it capsizes if there is no villager piloting it; otherwise it stays afloat throughout the battle.
If the characters get the upper hand in this fight, the tojanidas flee far enough to watch the area, taking cover in some underwater rock formations. There they nurse their wounds and wait for the PCs to leave so they can resume their search.
Should the PCs manage to speak with the tojanidas in Aquan, the two creatures deny having eaten, or even seen, the lighthouse keeper. However, they make no promises regarding the fate of any potential food that comes their way from either the island or the mainland.
As the PCs get closer to the lighthouse, they may discover something unusual about its beam: It is a dispel magic ray. The main mirror in the lighthouse is slowly turning, but additional mirrors in the light room reflect parts of the main ray in various directions. (This is the source of the twinkles noted earlier.) The rays cover the vertical distance from the water's surface to the top of the lighthouse and the horizontal distance from 10 feet beyond its base to 200 feet out in all directions. As soon as a PC comes within 200 feet of the structure, he or she is struck by one of the dispelling rays. Thereafter, as long as the group stays within range, a ray strikes a randomly determined character once per round until the party reaches the island.
Trap: dispel magic ray (acts as a targeted dispel magic of 10th-level effectiveness). Affects one random creature within 200 feet of the lighthouse every round.
The origin of this strange ray is known only to Perri, and the characters have yet to discover his fate. . . .
About the Author
Eric Haddock is a former Assistant Editor for Dragon magazine.Through his various campaigns, he has developed a loyal following of players and an exceptional talent for surprise endings.