The old mansion with the swaybacked roof sits brooding on its hilltop, half hidden by the blighted remains of an orchard. Are the eerie lights and strange sounds coming from within a mere local tale told to frighten children and gullible travelers, or does something sinister lurk within the mansion's decaying walls?
Background for the DM
This mansion was once a manor house owned by Kincep family. The Kinceps were an old and respected noble family, though not one of any great political import. Though fairly wealthy, the Kinceps always lived simply and enjoyed few luxuries while always avoiding anything ostentatious. The family home was large, but very practical and well hidden behind an encircling orchard. It was a point of pride among the Kinceps that each generation made its way in life mostly on its own, starting out with a small inheritance and earning a living through business, adventuring, or public service. In more recent years, a series of misfortunes and disasters all but wiped out the youngest generation of Kinceps, and many believed that the family had fallen into poverty, then died out. In fact, the sole heir, Jaccobux Kincep, had traveled to foreign lands as an adventurer and mercenary, becoming quite rich in the process. In time, Jaccobux returned to his family home, which had already fallen into disrepair, and settled down to retire with his extensive collection of books. Almost at once, Jaccobux became a scholarly hermit, poring over books day and night, and barely eating and seldom sleeping. Old age eventually overcame him one afternoon as he sat reading in his favorite armchair, but Jaccobux didn't notice. He simply kept right on reading and taking copious notes. Jaccobux had become a ghost.
The old Kincep mansion is best located on a hilltop at the edge of a village or town, but it also might exist on the outskirts of a city. No matter what the location, having a graveyard nearby should make the place seem even more sinister.
The PCs might simply stumble on the house while traveling or exploring. They also might hear a few local tales about strange doings at the place, such as the following:
- Wolves gather in the orchard on moonless nights, howling at the ghostly blue lights that show behind the crooked shutters in an upstairs room. The wolves linger until just before dawn, then fade away like ghosts before sunrise.
- Many visitors have stopped by the house over the years. Some were beggars seeking shelter, some were fugitives from the law, and some were thrill seekers. The survivors report that the whole house seems alive. The tattered furnishings move (but only when one is not looking), doors open and close by themselves, lanterns light spontaneously (and go out just as quickly), and the whole place creaks and groans as though it was about to collapse. Meanwhile shadowy figures lurk in dark corners and heavy footsteps -- accompanied by rattling chains -- can be heard on the upper floors. No one who has tried to stay through the night or ascend to the upper floors has ever been seen alive again.
- The spirit of Jaccobux Kincep haunts the house. The last of the ancient Kincep family, Jaccobux died in a foreign land, and he has returned to his ancestral home, where he endlessly laments the loss of his life and the decline of his family fortunes. Only the discovery of a true Kincep heir can lay the spirit to rest.
- Only days after old Jaccobux died, thieves broke into the house. They were looking for anything valuable, but they were mostly interested in looting the family silver from the kitchen and in searching the house for Jaccobux's earthly wealth. (Jaccobux was reputed to be a wealthy man, despite his family's decline.) Everything went well for the thieves until they reached the library on the top floor. There, the very books attacked, crushing and smothering the invaders. It is said that the spirits of the thieves are now doomed to guard the very treasures they once sought to loot.
- The house isn't haunted at all. It is the headquarters for a group of particularly vicious kidnappers and assassins acting under the direction of a fiendish leader who delights in their acts of violence.
It's up to you to decide which, if any, of these rumors are true (perhaps they all are). See the following sections for ways to use these rumors as adventure hooks.
Jaccobux Kincep is bound to the vast library he accumulated during his life. After his death, he has continued to collect books, relying on both his ghost powers and the small cadre of minions he has gathered to acquire the books he craves. Jaccobux might prove a harmless -- if eccentric -- old spirit, a dangerous undead menace, or even a valuable ally, depending on how you would like to use him in your campaign. If you decide to use him as a villain, you might want to reduce his sorcerer levels somewhat. As presented here, Jaccobux is a formidable opponent and is quite capable of defeating all but the most powerful adventurers.
In life, Jaccobux was a sorcerer and a professional adventurer who specialized in stealth and quick kills. Depending on how you choose to use him, Jaccobux's career might have involved various noble causes (spying on evil tyrants, performing daring rescues, and serving as an unobtrusive bodyguard), truly despicable acts (assassinating targets, framing innocent people, and ferreting out revolutionaries and freedom fighters), or something in between (raiding dungeon, doing battlefield reconnaissance, and being a general spellcaster for hire). As noted earlier, Jaccobux developed a thirst for knowledge in his old age and became a prodigious collector of books. He read avidly right up until the moment of his death, and his deep regret that he had died when he had so many books left to read provided the link to the mortal world that made him a ghost.
Jaccobux's current statistics are as follows:
Jaccobux Kincep: Male human unique ghost Sorcerer 12/Expert 5; CR 19; Medium undead (incorporeal, human); HD 12d12 plus 5d12; hp 110; Init +2; Spd 30 ft.; AC 21, touch 19, flat-footed 19; Base Atk +9; Grp --; Atk --; Full Atk --;SA manifestation; SQ animate objects, darkvision 60 ft., ghostly lights, incorporeal traits, inhabit object, rejuvenation, turn resistance +4, undead traits; AL N; SV Fort +5, Ref +7, Will +13; Str --, Dex 14, Con --, Int 14, Wis 12, Cha 24.
Skills and Feats: Appraise +4, (+6 books), Concentration +27, Craft (bookbinding) +7, Decipher Script +9, Hide +14, Knowledge (arcana) +6, Knowledge (architecture and engineering) +6, Knowledge (geography) +7, Knowledge (history) +6, Knowledge (nature) +6, Knowledge (nobility and royalty) +6, Knowledge (religion) +6, Knowledge (the planes) +6, Listen +15, Move Silently +6, Search +14, Spellcraft +12, Spot +15; Alertness, Dodge, Empower Spell, Greater Spell Focus (Illusion), Greater Spell Penetration, Spell Focus (Illusion), Spell Penetration.
Manifestation (Su): Jaccobux dwells on the Ethereal Plane, and as an ethereal creature, he cannot affect or be affected by anything in the material world. When he manifests, he partly enters the Material Plane and becomes visible but incorporeal there. When manifested, he remains partially on the Ethereal Plane, where he is it not incorporeal. At that point, he can be attacked by opponents on either the Material or Ethereal Planes. His incorporeality helps protect it from foes on the Material Plane, but not against foes on the Ethereal Plane. When Jaccobux is not manifested and is on the Ethereal Plane, his spells cannot affect targets on the Material Plane, but they work normally against ethereal targets. When he manifests, his spells continue to affect ethereal targets and can affect targets on the Material Plane normally unless the spells rely on touch. While Jaccobux is manifested, his touch spells don't work on material targets. Jaccobux has two home planes, the Material and the Ethereal, and he is not considered extraplanar when on either plane.
Animate Objects (Su): Jaccobux can use this power at will as a standard action that does not provoke an attack of opportunity. The power functions as an animate objects spell (caster level 17th), except that Jaccobux cannot have more objects animated at once than his Charisma modifier (7). After Jaccobux uses this power, he must wait 1d4 rounds before using it again.
Ghostly Lights (Sp): Jaccobux can use dancing lights or light at will (caster level 17th).
Incorporeal Traits: Jaccobux is harmed only by other incorporeal creatures, magic weapons, spells, spell-like abilities, and supernatural abilities. He has a 50% chance to ignore any damage from a corporeal source, except for force effects or attacks made with ghost touch weapons. He can pass through solid objects, but not force effects, at will. His attacks ignore natural armor, armor, and shields, but deflection bonuses and force effects work normally against them. Jaccobux always moves silently and cannot be heard with Listen checks if he doesn't wish to be.
Inhabit Object (Su): At will as a full-round action that does not provoke an attack of opportunity, Jaccobux can merge his ghostly body with any single object of up to Huge size and animate it indefinitely. If the object is destroyed while he's inside, Jaccobux is destroyed as well, though his rejuvenation power is likely to bring him back. Jaccobux can leave the object as a move action. While inhabiting an object, Jaccobux retains his senses (including any divination spells he's currently using and his darkvision), but cannot speak or cast spells. This power is otherwise similar to the animate objects spell (caster level 17th).
Rejuvenation (Su): When Jaccobux would otherwise be destroyed he returns to his old haunts in 2d4 days with a successful level check (1d20 + 17) against DC 16. To prevent Jaccobux from rejuvenating and lay him to rest, all his books must be found and destroyed. There are literally thousands of books in Jaccobux's mansion -- not just in the library, but stuffed into every nook and cranny. Finding all of them could take a very long time.
Turn Resistance (Ex): Jaccobux is treated as a 21-HD undead for the purpose of turn, rebuke, command, or bolster attempts.
Undead Traits: Jaccobux is immune to mind-affecting effects, poison, sleep effects, paralysis, stunning, disease, death effects, and any effect that requires a Fortitude save unless it also works on objects or is harmless. He is not subject to critical hits, nonlethal damage, ability damage to its physical ability scores, ability drain, energy drain, fatigue, exhaustion, or death from massive damage. He cannot be raised, and resurrection works only if it is willing. Darkvision 60 ft.
Sorcerer Spells Known (6/8/8/8/7/6/4; save DC 17 + spell level, or 19 + spell level for Illusion spells): 0 -- arcane mark, dancing lights, daze, detect magic, ghost sound, light, mage hand, prestidigitation, read magic; 1st -- detect secret doors, disguise self, expeditious retreat, magic missile, shield; 2nd -- darkvision, detect thoughts, ghoul touch, locate object, see invisibility; 3rd -- displacement, hold person, sepia snake sigil, suggestion; 4th -- dimension door, greater invisibility, phantasmal killer; 5th -- magic jar, shadow evocation; 6th -- disintegrate.
Ethereal Plane: The following changes to the above statistics are in effect against opponents on the Ethereal Plane: Spd 30 ft.; AC 17, touch 14, flat-footed 15; Base Atk +9; Grp +8; Atk +8/+3 melee (1d8-1/x3, shortspear) or +12 ranged (1d8/19-20, masterwork light crossbow); Str 8.
Possessions: Bracers of defense +2, ring of protection +2, amulet of natural armor +1, ring of mind shielding, lesser metamagic rod (Quicken Spell), spear, masterwork light crossbow. These possessions are merely ethereal copies of the ghost's real equipment, which is stored in the mansion's library.
Tactics: Jaccobux spends most of his time endlessly reading his books. As a matter of habit, he animates the book he wishes to read, causing it to shuffle its way to his favorite armchair and to turn its own pages as Jaccobux pores over its contents.
Jaccobux is fiercely protective of his books and is likely to attack anyone entering the mansion unless he recognizes the visitor as a fellow bibliophile. The most reliable way for a visitor to get on Jaccobux's good side is to offer him a new book for his collection.
Jaccobux prefers to scare off intruders whenever he can. To this end, he keeps two sets of heavy manacles animated and has them constantly thump and rattle in the upper floors. When he becomes aware of an intrusion, he usually becomes ethereal and stalks the intruders. He uses his animate objects ability to make the place seem to come alive around the interlopers, and he may resort to suggestion or magic jar spells to force the invaders out. As an experienced sorcerer, he is well aware that opposing spellcasters might see him, and he makes good use of Hide checks to avoid being detected with see invisibility spells. If discovered, Jaccobux attacks with disintegrate or shadow evocation spells along with quickened magic missiles or hold person spells. He also uses his animate objects ability to create reinforcements. If attacked on the Ethereal Plane, he uses his inhabit objects ability to escape from his attackers and possibly to attack their comrades on the Material Plane.
See the section on the Library for more information.
Exploring the House
The house and the hilltop where it stands have a few noteworthy areas.
The orchard has gone wild and largely fallen to successive waves of blight.
A veritable thicket of gnarled old fruit trees has grown up here. There doesn't seem to be a straight or healthy trunk or branch in the bunch. A thick mat of fallen leaves, broken branches, and rotting fruit cover the ground underfoot, leaving only a few tufts of scraggly weeds growing here and there.
A search through the orchard reveals a couple of old, tumbledown sheds that hold rusty gardening tools. One shed also has a broken-down cider press and a few barrels of cider, now hopelessly spoiled. Another shed houses a basin with a natural spring that still provides good water, despite being mostly choked with debris from the orchard. A Knowledge (nature) or Profession (farmer) check (DC 10) reveals that all the trees are diseased, but holding their own. A second check (DC 15) reveals that the trees have not been properly tended for several decades at least.
Creatures (EL 1, 3, or 7): Local rumors about the place being a gathering ground for wolves might be just an exaggeration (perhaps small packs of feral dogs gather here from time to time), or perhaps not. Characters traipsing around under the trees might flush out a few tenants:
Feral Dogs (3): hp 6 each; see dog, Monster Manual, page 271.
Tactics: The dogs come here to shelter under the trees and drink from the spring. They occasionally try to harass the cats in the main house (see the sections on the stables and the foyer), but usually without much success. If you decide the dogs are hungry, they might attack the PCs. One dog tries to head straight for an unarmored character while the other two try to circle around behind.
Wolves (2, or 8-16): hp 13 each; see Monster Manual, page 283.
Tactics: The wolves might be part of a rogue pack that occasionally uses the orchard as a jumping off place for raids into the nearby town, or they may be sent to keep an eye on the place by a local vampire, who might prove to be allied with Jaccobux or possibly locked in a deadly struggle with the ghostly scholar. In the former case, Jaccobux might rely on the vampire as a source for new books. In return, Jaccobux guards one of the vampire's spare coffins. In the latter case, Jaccobux might serve as an advisor or mentor for a group of vampire hunters that have recently made one unsuccessful attack on the vampire and are now holed up in the mansion, licking their wounds and planning their next move.
In either case, the wolves aren't likely to let the PCs pass through in peace, and they fight with an unnatural cunning. If only a pair of wolves is present, they lie in wait for the party and try to flank the most powerful looking character, hoping to trip that person. If they succeed, one wolf turns to attack an unarmored character while the other tries to keep the fallen character from rising.
If a whole pack of wolves is present, they use similar tactics, but they attack the front and rear of the party simultaneously, trying to flank and trip the more powerful combatants and moving on to softer targets if they make someone fall.
The Main Entrance
This area once sported a curving drive surrounded by a small formal garden. Now the orchard grows right up to the eaves of the house. A few badly scarred statues are all that remains of the garden.
A search of the debris here (DC 20) reveals a few bits of broken statuary and possibly a small amount of treasure (level 3, 4, 5, or 7 as appropriate for the encounter EL). This treasure is left over from intruders that the area's guardians have defeated.
Creatures (EL 3, 4, 5, or 7): Characters exploring near the entrance or trying to enter the mansion rouse animated objects Jaccobux has left to guard the place.
Animated Small Statues (2): hp 15 each; see Monster Manual, page 13.
Animated Medium Statues (2): hp 31 each; see Monster Manual, page 13.
Animated Large Statues (2): hp 52 each; see Monster Manual, page 14.
Animated Huge Trees (2): hp 84 each; see Monster Manual, page 14.
Tactics: The objects attack anyone who approaches without an open book (one book serves as a safe pass for up to four characters). The statues are from the garden. The trees are old, dead trees taken from the orchard and moved here under their own power.
A fight here alerts Jaccobux and any guests he might have.
One wing of the mansion served as a stable and carriage house. The place holds mounds of straw and hay now mostly rotted away into compost as well as a few broken down carriages.
A door here gives access to the main house.
Creatures (EL 3 or 5): Many feral cats that hiss and spit at any intruders call the stable home.
Cats (8 to 24): hp 2; see Monster Manual, page 270.
Tactics: Though unfriendly, the cats aren't likely to attack unless attacked first. Still, a mass attack from a horde of clawing, biting, yowling cats might be just the thing to underscore the mansion's macabre atmosphere. If they decide to fight, the cats are likely to ambush the PCs with their superb Hide skills: They lie in wait until someone comes within reach. (As Tiny creatures, the cats have 0 reach, so they can attack only foes in their own squares.) The cats attack in groups of no fewer than four. Treat the cluttered stables as an area of tall grass, which increases the cats' Hide scores to +18. The stable's thick walls dampen most noise from a fight with the cats, though if the PCs do something foolish, such as set the place alight with a fireball or even open the door to the main house, while the fight is in progress, Jaccobux and any guests hear the commotion.
Animated Carriage: hp 84; see Monster Manual, page 14.
Tactics: Jaccobux has selected one of the less dilapidated carriages to serve as a guardian. It attacks the moment anyone approaches the door to the main house or begins poking around in the stables too much.
The animated carriage makes considerable noise as it crashes around the stables, and this racket alerts Jaccobux.
Formal Garden and Crypt
This area behind the main house once had extensive flower gardens and a hedge maze. Weeds and encroaching trees from the orchard have erased all but the faintest traces of the flower garden. A Search check (DC 15) reveals the remains of brick garden paths and a few climbing roses growing among the undergrowth. The hedge maze remains intact but is badly overgrown.
The family crypt lies at one end of the hedge maze, all but concealed under a mound of ivy, rosebushes, and trees. The crypt's stone door is well and truly stuck. It no longer opens, but determined characters could bash through it. The building is fairly low, and it would be easier to punch a hole through the roof and climb inside through it.
Crypt Roof: 2 in. thick; hardness 5; hp 60; break DC 28.
Stone Door: 6 in. thick; hardness 8; hp 90; break DC 32.
Creatures (EL 3. 5, 9, or 11): Everyone interred in the Kincep crypt rests in peace; however, Jaccobux may have attracted a few fellow undead to share his abode, either as servants, or just as unwanted squatters.
Ghouls (4 or 12): hp 13 each; see Monster Manual, page 119.
Ghasts (2): hp 29 each; see Monster Manual, page 119.
Tactics: The pair of ghasts might be present with or without the ghouls, or there may simply be a few ghouls here. In either case, these creatures have tunneled their way into the crypt from the garden. They try to pick off lone characters wandering in the hedge maze, but they mount a massed attack if anyone tries to break into the crypt. They're not really very protective of the crypt, but they do find it a great opportunity to ambush intruders who are concentrating on breaking and entering.
Spectres (2 or 4): hp 45 each; see Monster Manual, page 232.
Tactics: The spectres use the same tactics as the ghouls, though they have no need of tunnels. They tend to lunge out at characters from inside hedges or trees, where they gain the benefit of cover. During the day, they remain in the hedge maze or near the crypt, where overhanging foliage shields them from the sun.
Entrance Hall and Foyer
All the ground-floor entrances to the house open onto this area, which features about a dozen suits of rusty armor, the main staircase, shelves crammed with knickknacks and thick with cobwebs, and many feral cats. Anyone walking in here not only finds a swarm of snarling cats (see the stable entry), but also hears chains rattling overhead (see the section on Jaccobux).
Creatures (EL 3, 7, 8, 18): In addition to the resident cats (Jaccobux tolerates the cats because they eat mice and rats, which Jaccobux fears might otherwise chew up his books), some of the suits of armor might actually be animated, and Jaccobux himself might make an appearance here if he knows intruders are on the property.
Cats (8 to 24): hp 2; see Monster Manual, page 270.
Tactics: See the stables section.
Animated Suits of Armor (Medium animate objects, 4-10): hp 31 each; see Monster Manual, page 13.
Tactics: Jaccobux might animate these ahead of time if the party defeats his animated guardians outside, or he may enter the room under a greater invisibility spell and set them in motion while the PCs explore the place.
Jaccobux: hp 102; see the About Jaccobux section.
Tactics: As noted in the About Jaccobux section, Jaccobux first tries to scare intruders away from the mansion. If a pitched battle develops here, he sends waves of animated armor at the party, then uses magic jar and suggestion spells to persuade the group to leave.
This area contained several suites of rooms for the family. It's mostly empty today, though the rooms contain reasonably good furniture covered with drop cloths. (Jaccobux never bothered to reopen this floor when he took up residence.) If Jaccobux has any living guests, they are housed comfortably here in one or two of the suites.
This also is the area where Jaccobux has his animated manacles do their thumping and rattling.
This room is the heart of the house. Before his death, Jaccobux gutted the whole third floor and crammed it with bookshelves that reach from floor to ceiling. He arranged the shelves into a seemingly random maze that serves to keep the books organized by subject and title. At the center of this book-lined labyrinth is Jaccobux's private study, which features a false skylight (several everburning torches provide steady light), a fireplace (unused since Jaccobux died), a desk, reading table, several trunks, and an armchair in which Jaccobux's desiccated body still lies. The trunks are mostly empty, though one contains Jaccobux's magic items and the other has adventuring gear. Jaccobux also has about 10,000 gp worth of coins and gems spread out among the trunks and concealed under a false bottom inside. It takes a Search check (DC 20) to find the false bottom.
If you decide that Jaccobux is in league with a local vampire, the creature's coffin is here, concealed behind a bookcase. It takes a Search check (DC 20) to find the coffin.
Creature (EL 18): If the PCs come here, Jaccobux meets (or confronts them) here. If attacked, he defends himself as best he can.
Negotiations: If the PCs approach Jaccobux peacefully with the requisite peace offering of one book per four characters, he eagerly asks if he may see it. If the character holding it agrees, Jaccobux animates the book, which flies out of the character's grasp and opens for him to browse. While scanning the book, he mumbles to himself, entranced with its contents, no matter what they are. He is not as distracted as he appears, however, and responds normally to any attempted attacks. After a few moments, the book shelves itself with his other tomes.
If the PCs do not appear likely to threaten his library or anyone under his protection, the ghost is willing to talk with them at length (which is the only way Jaccobux has ever talked). Breaking into his monologue to direct the conversation is difficult, since Jaccobux is accustomed to talking mostly to himself. A typical "conversation" with Jaccobux might go something like this.
"So few people bother to read these days. The wisdom within the pages of these books far exceeds what any single person knows -- though I must modestly say that I come close. There is nothing like a good read to transport one to another time or place -- like the burning desert with the armies of the great general Phraxus, or the high seas with the famous Captain Mordeaux. Ah, what a grasp of military tactics those beings had! Do you know that no one has yet devised an effective counter for Phraxus's double-claw maneuver? You see, you take a third of your army and place it like so, taking advantage of hilly terrain, and another third here -- of course, he had a river to work with -- then the enemy comes in like this. . . ."
Jaccobux is quite happy to continue in this mode, on this topic or any other, as long as he is allowed to talk. He doesn't notice if the characters are bored, or even that they are there, once he gets going on a topic of interest to him.
Jaccobux can provide the characters with detailed information on a wide variety of subjects, in the manner of a sage. Retrieving such information from him requires either listening to his lecture (during which he regularly wanders off the topic) for at least 4 hours, or gaining his permission to peruse his library with a successful Diplomacy check. Should a volume disappear from his library, Jaccobux knows it just as a dragon would know that a single piece of jewelry had disappeared from his lair, and he is just as bent on getting it back.
Tactics: If a fight breaks out here, Jaccobux ceases trying to scare away the PCs and tries to kill them instead. He avoids using his shadow evocation spells in here, instead relying on disintegrate and phantasmal killer. (It's quite possible that the subject of the phantasmal killer spell might mistake the deadly phantasm for just another undead denizen of the mansion.) If Jaccobux decides to use his inhabit object power in here, the desk or the reading table is his best bet; they're both Large objects.
About the Authors
Skip Williams keeps busy with freelance projects for several different game companies and has been the Sage of Dragon Magazine since 1986. Skip is a co-designer of the D&D 3rd Edition game and the chief architect of the Monster Manual. When not devising swift and cruel deaths for player characters, Skip putters in his kitchen or garden (his borscht get rave reviews).
Penny Williams joined the roleplaying game industry as Game Questions Expert for TSR, Inc. in the 1980s. Since then, she has served as RPGA Network Coordinator, PolyhedronNewszine editor, and Senior Editor and Coordinating Editor for the RPG R&D Department at Wizards of the Coast, Inc. Now a busy freelancer, Penny edits for several game companies and runs the online playtesting program for Wizards products. When not enhancing the cruelty of the deaths PCs will suffer at the hands of designers, Penny puts up jam, works jigsaw puzzles, and tutors students in math and science.