Vicious Venues
The Alabaster Bottle
By Skip and Penny Williams

The Alabaster Bottle contains an encounter of level 6-10 and is suitable for use with any D&D campaign.

A brightly painted storefront with a sign that resembles a big perfume bottle looks like any other small business. Still, not everyone who goes in and out seems like the type to buy perfume. Perhaps the sweet scent of perfume masks something insidious.

Background for the DM

Hillal Sweetflower, a halfling, founded the Alabaster Bottle about ten years ago. Hillal is sixty-two years old, and he spent more than thirty years as a modestly successful adventurer. When no promising heroic escapade was at hand, Hillal became a pickpocket and occasionally a cat burglar. He never became rich or famous, but he also never got killed or caught. As the years rolled by, Hillal felt his reflexes getting slower and he also noticed various aches and pains accumulating. He realized he couldn't keep living by his wits and decided to retire in comfort.

Hillal started looking for any clues that might lead him to a fortune, and his efforts eventually paid off. He and a few companions found and looted a hidden vault stuffed with rare jewels, statues, incense, and perfumes. Hillal was thrilled with his newfound wealth and inspired by the sheer value of the incense and perfume. He took his share and used part of it to become an apprentice perfume maker. While learning to concoct scents, he discovered that he also had a talent for alchemy.

After working for a time as a merchant trading in exotic oils, resins, and fragrant woods used in perfume and incense, Hillal opened the Alabaster Bottle. After a few years in the business, Hillal brought in two young relatives to help him in the shop. Hillal serves as a mentor to the youngsters as they pursue their own careers as explorers and rascals. He hopes having access to his advice and also some income from legitimate jobs will keep them from putting themselves in danger (by turning to crime) as he once did.

Today, Hillal sells a few alchemical items useful to adventurers in addition to incense and perfumes. He makes many of his wares, but purchases and resells most of what he offers.

The Setup

The Alabaster Bottle fits best into a big city where the residents can afford luxury goods. The shop also might be located in a smaller community where trade routes cross or at one end of a key mountain pass. Hillal likes security, so if he's located in a smaller community, there's likely to be a fortress or other military installation in the area. Alternatively, Hillal might be located someplace where wandering halflings congregate from time to time. The PCs might encounter Hillal while shopping for alchemical items, or something else might steer them Hillal's way:

  • One or more of the items from Hillal's big score are part of a bigger item (perhaps a magic item or even an artifact). The PCs might obtain a few of the other pieces and subsequently find clues that lead them to Hillal. Someone also might hire the PCs to track down all the pieces.

Hillal sold his share of the loot a long time ago; however, he might remember who bought it.

  • An infamous halfling brigand is on the run after a botched job and the PCs are hired to track down the miscreant. Hillal might be suspected of harboring the fugitive or of fencing stolen goods for the criminal. In fact, some may suspect him of being the brigand.

Hillal still gets around (see Visiting the Alabaster Bottle), but he's not connected with any criminal activities. He is, however, well connected with the local halfling community and might have useful information for the PCs.

  • Hillal hasn't entirely given up his taste for seeking lost treasures. He has developed some information about a hidden cache of treasure guarded by many traps and creatures. Hillal approaches the PCs about going after this treasure.

Hillal might decide to come out of retirement for this venture, but he's more likely to insist that his young relatives come along to gain experience. These characters probably will need considerable protection during the venture.

  • Hillal needs help making or receiving a delivery.

Hillal might own a share in a caravan that needs guards, or he might need couriers to carry a letter or package. In either case, the cargo is valuable enough to draw attention from thieves. It might also be rare enough to serve as a rare component that an evil spellcaster would like to steal or something that a dragon or other ferocious monster would like to eat.

Visiting the Alabaster Bottle (EL 6-10)

Hillal opens for business midmorning for six days a week and he closes up sometime after dusk. He doesn't keep precise hours. If he and his assistants feel like sleeping in, opening might be delayed an hour or two, and if Hillal has a particularly challenging project to tend -- or finds himself involved in an enjoyable conversation with a customer -- the Alabaster Bottle might remain open far into the night. Early customers who don't want to wait for Hillal to rise can summon the staff with a hand bell kept near the door, though Hillal has been known to lock up the bell when he doesn't care to get up early.

Hillal hasn't quite lost his halfling wanderlust, and occasionally he literally packs up half the shop and takes it on the road to attend some distant fair or market.

First-time visitors are sure to notice the shop's sign (see below). A step through the door reveals a business that reflects its owner's quirks:

A three-dimensional sign that looks like a perfume bottle with an egg-shaped base and a graceful neck marks this small business. The blue-white bottle stands in contrast to the low, wooden building behind it. The place sports bright red and yellow paint and a round door flanked by round windows. A niche to the right of the door holds a sizeable brass hand bell attached to the building with a short length of chain.

A long look through a window or a step through the door reveals more:

The storefront is merely a wall, perhaps half again as tall as a human. A grassy courtyard lies beyond the door. To the left stands a low-slung wagon painted in the same red and yellow as the storefront. A single building closes off the other two sides of the courtyard. The wing behind the courtyard is two stories high, with a row of round windows on the second floor.

An open wing stands opposite the wagon. A short flight of wooden steps leads a foot or two above the level of the courtyard to a plank walk backed by rows of shelves crammed with myriad little bottles and other sundry objects. A broad eave shelters the walk and shelves. The wall behind the shelves sports a row of round windows and a rectangular door, split so that the top can be opened separately from the bottom.

Hillal uses the wagon for his trips to distant locales. It is fitted with panels and an awning on one side to allow Hillal to use it as a sales stall with living quarters behind.

The building contains the following areas:

Main Wing: The main wing stands opposite the wagon's parking spot. It consists of the open air sales area described above and a rear storage area and workshop.

The bottles on the shelves in the sales area contain mostly perfumes. Each is fitted with a glass stopper with a long glass rod attached. A customer can withdraw the stopper to take a sample of the merchandise. The bottles are intended for sampling only. When someone wishes to purchase a scent, a staff member must take it from a locked compartment under the shelves. Hillal also stores scented oils and various kinds of incense on the shelves. These can be purchased right off the shelf.

Hillal sells all of the alchemical items listed in the Player's Handbook, plus other alchemical items that might be available in your campaign (such as those from the Arms and Equipment Guide). Most of these items are dangerous, and Hillal keeps them locked in the back. The staff sells these items to patrons who ask for them.

The workshop has a bench crammed with alchemical gear and storage bins for raw materials. Finished alchemical items are kept in a locked cabinet. Hillal or whatever staff member is currently in charge has the keys to the back room and the compartments under the shelves.

Rear Wing: The wing behind the courtyard contains living quarters for Hillal and his assistants. The three halflings live on the upper floor. The lower floor is a stable and kennel. This wing has exits that open onto an alley behind the shop, and a connecting door leads to the workshop behind the sales area.

Creatures: Hillal, his nephew Brammon, his niece Elysia, or all three are on duty during business hours. When the shop is closed, Hillal usually is home alone while the youngsters pursue their own interests. Hillal also keeps three riding dogs for security. When the shop is open, the dogs usually lie out of sight under the sales area. When the shop is closed, the dogs are either in the kennel or upstairs with the halflings. Hillal also has three war ponies.

Riding Dogs (3): hp 13 each; MM 272.

The dogs are trained for guarding (see the Handle Animal skill description).

War Ponies (3): hp 13 each; MM 277.

The ponies are trained for combat riding (see the Handle Animal skill description). When Hillal needs animals to pull his wagon, he buys or trades for additional animals.

Hillal Sweetflower CR 9

Male halfling rogue 7/expert 3
CGSmall humanoid
Init +4; Senses Listen +10, Spot +8
Languages Common, Elven, Goblin, Halfling

AC 19, touch 15, flat-footed 19; Dodge, uncanny dodge
hp 38 (10 HD)
Resist evasion
Fort +4, Ref +11, Will +6 (+8 against fear)

Speed 30 ft. (6 squares)
Melee+1 rapier +13/+8 (1d4+1/19-20) or
Ranged mwk light crossbow +13 (1d6/19-20)
Base Atk +7; Grp +2
Atk Options Combat Expertise, sneak attack +4d6
Combat Gear tanglefoot bag, 2 potions ofcure light wounds

Abilities Str 8, Dex 18, Con 11, Int 16, Wis 11, Cha 10
SQ trap sense +2, trapfinding
Feats Combat Expertise, Dodge, Nimble Fingers, Weapon Finesse
Skills Appraise +13 (+15 alchemical items and perfumes), Balance +11, Bluff +10, Climb +6, Craft (alchemy) +10, Craft (perfume making) +9, Diplomacy +2, Disable Device +13, Escape Artist +12, Gather Information +7, Handle Animal +7, Hide +16, Intimidate +2, Jump +8, Listen +10, Move Silently +14, Open Lock +14, Ride +6, Search +11, Sleight of Hand +14, Spot +8, Tumble +12
Possessions combat gear plus +1 rapier, masterwork light crossbow, mithral chain shirt, 10 bolts, bag of holding (type 1), boots of striding and springing,+2 gloves of Dexterity, 2 gold and jade rings (40 gp each), 14 gp


Brammon Overdale CR 4

Male halfling rogue 3/fighter 1
CG Small humanoid
Init +4; Senses Listen +10, Spot +8
Languages Common, Elven, Halfling

AC 21, touch 15, flat-footed 17; Dodge
hp 23 (4 HD)
Resist evasion
Fort +5, Ref +8, Will +4 (+6 against fear)

Speed 20 ft. (4 squares)
Melee mwk bastard sword +5 (1d8/19-20) or
Ranged mwk shortbow +9 (1d4/x3)
Base Atk +3; Grp -1
Atk Options sneak attack +2d6
Combat Gear tanglefoot bag, 2 potions ofcure light wounds, potion of displacement, potion ofinvisibility

Abilities Str 10, Dex 18, Con 13, Int 12, Wis 10, Cha 10
SQ trap sense +1, trapfinding
Feats Dodge, Exotic Weapon Proficiency (bastard sword)[B], Iron Will
Skills Balance +5, Climb +7, Disable Device +7, Handle Animal +3, Hide +13, Jump -3, Listen +8, Move Silently +11, Open Lock +10, Search +7, Spot +6, Tumble +9
Possessions combat gear plus masterwork bastard sword, masterwork shortbow, +1 chain shirt, masterwork buckler, 20 arrows, 2 sunrods, silver and bloodstone brooch (10 gp), 4 gp


Elysia Sweetflower CR 4

Male halfling rogue 2/cleric 2
CG Small humanoid
Init +3; Senses Listen +9, Spot +2
Languages Common, Elven, Halfling

AC 20, touch 14, flat-footed 17; Dodge
hp 19 (4 HD)
Resist evasion
Fort +4, Ref +7, Will +6 (+8 against fear)

Speed 20 ft. (4 squares)
Melee mwk heavy mace +4 (1d6) or
Ranged mwk shortbow +7 (1d4/x3)
Base Atk +2; Grp -2
Atk Options Point Blank Shot, sneak attack +1d6
Special Actions turn undead 3/day (+0, 2d6+2, 2nd)
Combat Gear smokestick, tanglefoot bag, thunderstone, oil of magic weapon, potion of cure light wounds, potion of cure moderate wounds, potion of invisibility, potion of owl's wisdom
Cleric Spells Prepared (CL 2nd):
1st -- bless, cause fear (DC 13), divine favor, entropic shield[D]
D: Domain spell. Deity: Olidammara. Domains: Luck, Trickery

Abilities Str 10, Dex 17, Con 10, Int 12, Wis 14, Cha 10
SQ luck 1/day, trapfinding
Feats Dodge, Point Blank Shot
Skills Bluff +5, Climb +6, Concentration +6, Decipher Script +6, Diplomacy +4, Disguise +5 (+7 acting in character), Hide +11, Intimidate +2, Jump -5, Listen +9, Move Silently +9, Search +6, Sense Motive +7
Possessions combat gear plus masterwork heavy mace, masterwork shortbow, +1 chain shirt, masterwork buckler, 20 arrows, 2 sunrods, antitoxin, 3 tindertwigs, silver holy symbol, 9 gp

Tactics: Hillal and his young relatives play the role of affable merchants when in the shop. If trouble arises, they try to diffuse things as best they can. They'll fight, however, to protect themselves and their wares. In a battle, they call the dogs and take the fight to the enemy. They use the dogs to flank opponents and bring their sneak attack abilities into play. Hillal and Brammon use their tumbling skills to keep their distance from dangerous foes.

Elysia begins a battle defensively by casting cause fear on an opposing fighter. After that she casts divine favor on herself or bless on herself and her allies before trying to make a sneak attack.

About the Authors

Skip Williams keeps busy with freelance projects for several different game companies and was the Sage of Dragon Magazine for 18 years. 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 (rabbits and deer are not Skip's friends) or works on repairing and improving the century-old farmhouse that he shares with his wife, Penny, and a growing menagerie of pets.

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.


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