Cliffhangers Adventures
The Light of Despair - Episode One: Spectres of the Past
By Robert Wiese

The Light of Despair is a short adventure for four 5th-level characters. The adventure takes the characters from the high plateau of a semi-seaside community down a steep cliff and to a haunted lighthouse long disused. It is an acceptable challenge for characters of levels 4-6. It is not adaptable to lower-level characters due to the creatures involved, and higher-level characters would find it far too easy. It uses the Lighthouse map from the January 2001 Map-a-Week feature.

Cliffhanger Features

The one constant throughout all of the episodes is the weather.

Weather: The DM should consider having one of two things happen during the story when it comes to weather: drizzle or sun. Using the sun makes the storms that the ghost calls forth even more impressive. However, setting a more horror-oriented mood with a gray day full of drizzle and a hint of chill to the air might be even more effective. Gauge it by how your players normally react to situations with their characters. You could even start with a sunny, brisk day and transition it into more gloomy, threatening weather as the PCs approach the lighthouse. Just keep in mind that the ghost has her own ways with the weather!

Adventure Background

The country of Oceanside rests atop a plateau some 300 feet above the sea. Steep cliffs drop off from the countryside to the sea; there are no beaches. Access to the sea is accomplished through the neighboring nations. Oceanside therefore has no sea trade of its own, as it has no natural harbors. At the foot of the cliffs, jagged reef beds prevent ships from approaching. Oceanside built a lighthouse at the base of the cliffs, on a small spur at the seaside of the reef beds, to warn ships away from the dangerous reefs, which extend almost a mile from the cliffs. Many a ship had been lost on the reefs before the lighthouse was built.

Just about one hundred years ago, a band of smugglers took over the lighthouse and killed the old keeper. The smugglers put one of their own in his place and used the lighthouse to signal their comrades. They also doused the light on bad nights when ships laden with particularly valuable cargoes sailed past, causing the ships to flounder on the reefs and sink. The smugglers then salvaged what they could. This went on for some time, until they made a fatal mistake. The smugglers believed that the final ship that passed them carried a rich load of gold, but in fact it conveyed a family and its possessions. The family was journeying to the neighboring country when their ship sailed too close to the cliffs, floundered on the reefs, and broke apart. The daughter of the house, Ferrina, a bright young girl of nine years, was sleeping when the ship wrecked, and she awoke to the terror of drowning. This experience caused her to return as a ghost.

When she became a ghost, she flew to the lighthouse, as it was the closest building. There, she terrorized the smugglers and drove them away, realizing that if the light had been lit her family would have been safe. The smugglers fled, and most died in the terrible storms that she brought down on them. A very few escaped, and one of them carried the key to the vault where the smugglers had stored their salvaged loot. The lighthouse quickly gained a reputation for being haunted, and any ship that approached found itself buffeted by storms and dashed to destruction of the reef.

Now, a hundred years later, one of the descendents of the smugglers has returned to the lighthouse to claim the treasure. The adventurers encounter him dying on the road, and they may find themselves swept into the adventure.

Character Hooks

The characters could have several reasons for being in the area:

  • One of them could include a tale or song that the party's bard hears that involves a ghostly lighthouse haunted by a banshee or a storm goddess. This particular song could strike a chord with the bard, even going so far as to haunt his or her dreams until the bard seeks out the source of the tale.

  • The heroes could also be asked by local authorities to investigate the local lore of the lighthouse and find out why it has been abandoned.

  • The nearest town may need a boost to its trade and could ask the PCs to figure out the reason why the lighthouse is shunned. (Of course, the heroes are armed with some local lore regarding storms before they head on out.)

  • Finally, the characters could be a victim of the storms that come up suddenly as they near the coastline where the lighthouse stands.

Spectres of the Past (EL 6)

The adventurers begin on the road, traveling through Oceanside for whatever reason you have given them previously in the campaign. They come across this scene:

You see ahead of you some equipment strewn across the road. It looks like something threw everything around, but from this distance it is hard to make out details.

When they get closer, go ahead and roll initiative for the NPC and the PCs. You can present the rest and then go into rounds after you've read it:

In the midst of the strewn traveling gear you see a body. It appears to be a male, probably human, with light brown hair, but as it is on its face you cannot tell for sure. A gaping wound in his back and the strewn and destroyed equipment tell you that he was attacked on the road, possibly robbed, and left for dead. Whether he is dead or not, you cannot tell.

This is Killis, a grandson of one of the smugglers. He is just about dead, but not quite. Three others attacked him and tore his equipment and clothing apart looking for the key to the lighthouse vault, but they did not find it. They are not far away, though.

When the characters approach Killis, he groans slightly. He is at -9 hit points and will die unless he stabilizes by himself on his initiative or is healed in some manner before he makes his stabilization roll., and he spends that whole time coughing and choking. He is coughing because when he was attacked, he swallowed the key to the lighthouse when the attackers were not looking. That is why they did not find it. If a character turns him over, he points toward the lighthouse (which the PCs can't actually see) and groans again before expiring.

Killis: Male War1; CR 1/2; Medium-size humanoid (Human); HD 1d8+3; hp 7* (-9); Init +2; Spd 30 ft.; AC 14 (touch 12, flat-footed 12); Atk +1 melee (1d6/19-20, short sword); AL NG; SV Fort +5, Ref +2, Will +0; Str 11, Dex 14, Con 16, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 17.

Skills and Feats: Climb +1, Handle Animal +5, Intimidate +5, Jump +1, Listen +2, Ride (horse) +4, Spot +2, Swim +2; Alertness, Run.

Possessions: Padded armor, buckler, short sword, key.

*Killis normally has up to 7 hp. At this point in time, he has only -9.

Examining his body, the PCs find that he was choking on a pewter key -- one of very old design. The rest of his gear, normal stuff for a traveler who also used to be a guard, is torn apart. Pouches are slashed beyond use, his backpack is shredded, and his clothing and armor is ripped at the seams. Someone was looking for something.

To get more information, the characters have to use speak with dead spells if he has expired. Either dead or alive, they can learn the following:

  • He is Killis, and he was traveling to the old abandoned lighthouse at the base of the cliffs.

  • He is the descendant of some people who used the lighthouse to store riches, and he has the only key to the vault.

  • He thought he was the only surviving descendant.

  • He does not know the full story of the smugglers and the ghost, so he cannot relate it. He can only say that his ancestors stopped using the lighthouse suddenly, because something came from the sea and killed most of them.

  • Killis is at the end of his luck, and hoped that the treasure from the lighthouse would make him rich (or at least no longer destitute). If asked what he did before he decided to come out here, he says nothing more than that he was once a guard.

Hopefully, the characters take the hint and go to the lighthouse. Should Killis have survived the encounter, he wishes to go along and offers part of his "inheritance" if they accept him. Keep in mind that the addition of Killis to the group can affect the PCs rewards.

Though they do not know it, the group is about two hours' walk from the cliffs, and the road they are on has a branch that runs along the cliffs. (If Killis is alive, he can mention the latter bit of information.) The cliffs are very scenic, and people like to go look at them (or down them). About an hour later, they run into the three ruffians who attacked Killis. Read the following if Killis isn't with the group:

Your walk on this road is interrupted as a woman steps from the brush and blocks your path. "Hold up, strangers. I know you saw a man lying in the road a ways back. He had something that belongs to me, and I want it. Just hand it over, and I won't have to hurt you." She looks very tough and is probably well able to make good on her threat via the greataxe she carries.


f the PCs have Killis with them, read this aloud instead:

Your walk on this road is interrupted as a woman steps from the brush and blocks your path. "Hold up, strangers. That man you have there has something that belongs to me, and I want it. Just hand it over, and I won't have to hurt you." She looks directly at Killis. "Again," she enunciates clearly. She looks very tough and is probably well able to make good on her threat via the greataxe she carries.

This is Marna, and she wants the key. If the characters play dumb, she comes out and say so. If they refuse, she raises her greataxe and looks menacing. That is the signal for her comrades to attack from ambush. See Tactics for more information on how the battle begins, and please note the potions that have been consumed just prior to the combat. If they attempt to talk to her or use any social-based or magical-based actions to get her to back down or calm her, allow them to do so. The second Marna suspects something on the part of the PCs (and she is quite hostile), she raises her greataxe.

Marna: Marna: Female human Ftr3; CR 3; Medium-size humanoid; HD 3d10+6; hp 22; Init +5; Spd 20 ft.; AC 17 (touch 11, flat-footed 16); Atk +7 melee (1d12+3/x3, masterwork greataxe); AL CN; SV Fort +5, Ref +2, Will +2; Str 15, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 8, Wis 12, Cha 10.

Skills and Feats: Jump +2, Ride (horse) +5, Swim +6; Cleave, Combat Reflexes, Improved Initiative, Power Attack, Weapon Focus (greataxe).

Temporary Effects: Just prior to this encounter, Marna consumed her potion of bull's strength. While that is in effect, the following changes apply: Atk +9 melee (1d12+6/x3, masterwork greataxe); Str 19; Jump +4, Swim +8.

Possessions: +1 chainmail, masterwork greataxe, potion of cure moderate wounds, *potion of bull's strength (consumed before the encounter starts).

Kurann: Male half-elf Rog3; CR 3; Medium-size humanoid (elf); HD 3d6; hp 10; Init +3; Spd 30 ft.; AC 16 (touch 13, flat-footed 16); Atk +6 melee (1d6/19-20, masterwork short sword); or +5 ranged (1d6/x3, shortbow); SA Sneak attack +2d6; SQ Evasion, half-elf traits, traps, uncanny dodge (Dex bonus to AC); AL CE; SV Fort +0, Ref +6, Will +2; Str 10, Dex 17, Con 8, Int 14, Wis 13, Cha 12.

Skills and Feats: Balance +5, Bluff +3, Climb +6, Escape Artist +9, Hide +19, Jump +2, Listen +8, Move Silently +9, Read Lips +8, Search +9, Sense Motive +5, Spot +8, Tumble +9, Toughness, Weapon Finesse (short sword).

Sneak Attack: If Kurann's target would be denied his Dexterity bonus to AC (whether he actually has a bonus or not), or when he flanks his target, the rogue's attack deals +2d6 points of extra damage. If the attack scores a critical hit, this extra damage is not multiplied. Ranged attacks can count as sneak attacks only if the target is within 30 feet. With a sap or an unarmed strike, Kurann can make a sneak attack that deals subdual damage instead of normal damage. He cannot use a weapon that deals normal damage to deal subdual damage with a sneak attack. Kurann can sneak attack only living creatures with discernable anatomies. Any creature that is immune to critical hits is not vulnerable to sneak attacks. Kurann must be able to see the target well enough to pick out a vital spot and must be able to reach a vital spot.He cannot sneak attack while striking a creature with concealment or striking the limbs of a creature whose vitals are beyond reach.

Evasion (Ex): If exposed to any effect that normally allows Kurann to attempt a Reflex saving throw for half damage, he takes no damage with a successful saving throw.

Half-Elf Traits: Immune to magic sleep spells and effects; +2 racial bonus to Will saves against enchantment spells or effects; low-light vision (can see twice as far as a human in low-light conditions); +1 racial bonus to Listen, Spot, and Search checks (already figured into the statistics given above).

Traps: Kurann can use the Search skill to locate traps when the task has a DC higher than 20. Finding a nonmagical trap has a DC of at least 20, higher if it is well hidden. Finding a magic trap has a DC of 25 + the level of the spell used to create it. Kurann can use the Disable Device skill to disarm magic traps. Disabling a magic trop generally has a DC of 25 + the level of the spell used to create it. If Kurann beats a trap's DC by 10 or more with a Disable Device check, he can generally study a trap, figure out how it works, and bypass it (with his party) without disarming it.

Temporary Effects: Just prior to this encounter, Kurann consumed his potion of cat's grace. While that is in effect, the following changes apply: AC 18 (touch 15, flat-footed 18); Atk +8 melee (1d6/19-20, masterwork short sword); or +7 ranged (1d6/x3, shortbow); SV Ref +8; Dex 20; Balance +7, Escape Artist +11, Hide +21, Move Silently +11, Tumble +11.

Possessions:+1 leather armor, masterwork short sword, shortbow, cloak of elvenkind, potion of cure moderate wounds, potion of cat's grace* (consumed before start of encounter).

Lorden: human Sor3; CR 3; Medium-size humanoid; HD 3d4+3; hp 10; Init +2; Spd 30 ft.; AC 12 (touch 12, flat-footed 10); Atk +0 melee (1d6-1, quarterstaff); or +3 ranged (1d8/19-20, light crossbow); AL CE; SV Fort +2, Ref +3, Will +3; Str 8, Dex 14, Con 12, Int 13, Wis 10, Cha 15.

Skills and Feats: Concentration +7, Craft (bowmaking) +5, Knowledge (arcana) +5, Move Silently +5, Spellcraft +5; Combat Casting, Dodge, Spell Focus (Evocation).

Sorcerer Spells Known (6/6; base DC = 12 + spell level or 14 + spell level for evocation spells): 0?daze, detect magic, light, mage hand, ray of frost; 1st?expeditious retreat, magic missile, shield.

Temporary Effects: Just prior to this encounter, Lorden cast expeditious retreat and shield, and consumed his potion of invisibility and potion of sneaking. While these are in effect, the following changes apply: Spd 60 ft.; AC 19 (touch 12, flat-footed 17); SQ Invisibility; AL CE; SV Fort +2, Ref +3, Will +3; Str 8, Dex 14, Con 12, Int 13, Wis 10, Cha 15; Move Silently +15; Sorcerer Spells Known (6/4).

Possessions: Quarterstaff, light crossbow, 10 bolts, wand of magic missiles (50 charges), wand of summon monster I (50 charges), potion of cure moderate wounds, potion of invisibility* (consumed before encounter starts), potion of sneaking* (consumed before the start of the encounter).

Tactics: When Marna's companions attack, she closes to melee. When possible, she will work with Kurann to flank a PC, even if that is not the PC she is fighting. Note her enhanced abilities from consuming potions.

Kurann, the rogue, is hiding in the brush to Marna's right, about 25 feet from the PCs and a little behind. Characters looking at the brush during the confrontation can make Spot checks against. Kurann's Hide skill to see him before he attacks. When he attacks, he fires arrows before Marna closes, and he moves into melee when she does. He tries to position himself so that he can flank PCs. Note his enhanced abilities due to potions.

Lorden, the sorcerer, is invisible and on Marna's left, about 20 feet from the PCs and directly abreast of them. He begins with wands, first summoning a monster using summon monster I as Marna speaks (so it appears when the combat begins). Then he fires magic missiles from his other wand and summons another monster should his first one die. Once the PCs close with him, he uses the wands and casts spells as the situation warrants. He casts defensively if needed.

Once these three are defeated, the PCs can question them (or question their corpses if they have speak with dead spells available). They can learn the following:

  • These three descended from some smugglers that used the lighthouse below the cliffs as a base.

  • Something happened, and a monster came from the sea and drove away the smugglers. Most were killed, but a few escaped. They were to meet up on the shore, but the one with the key to the vaults did not show up. The survivors assumed he was killed.

  • Just last year, small pieces of information led the descendents to believe that the smuggler bearing the key survived, and had descendents of his own.

  • Marna and Kurann had just tracked Killis when he left for the lighthouse. They followed, ambushed him on the road, and searched him but did not find the key.

  • They saw the PCs leaving the area where Killis' body was left, and thought that they might have found the key.


The PCs reach the cliffs. Far below, they can see the lighthouse. The day is calm, and a little overcast. The scene is peaceful. But what dangers could lurk in the lighthouse below?

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