Vicious Venues
The Yellow Lanterns
By Skip and Penny Williams

The Yellow Lanterns is suitable for levels 5-9 and can be used with any D&D campaign.

Even adventurers need to eat, but most player characters don't maintain their own kitchens, and nobody likes to eat trail rations all the time. The next time your group starts feeling hunger pangs, consider a visit to the Yellow Lanterns, a hole-in-the-wall eatery that features some exotic dishes and an unexpectedly exotic staff as well.

Background for the DM

A semi-retired adventurer, Xuemun, and her two daughters, Qiaolian and Liqiu, run the Yellow Lanterns, named for the array of yellow paper lanterns that Xuemun has strung along the front window. Such accoutrements are very popular in her homeland.

The Yellow Lanterns is best described as a cafe or restaurant, but to the proprietors, it's merely the family business. The women prepare hot meals and beverages throughout the day. They also buy baked goods and produce daily for resale to their customers.

Xuemun's homeland is very far away, and the food she grew up with uses many fiery spices, plus noodles and unusual vegetables, but very little meat. To her neighbors, Xuemun's native dishes seem exotic -- if not downright bizarre. Xuemun is wise enough, however, to cook what her customers like to eat, so she mostly serves familiar local dishes. Still, she prepares food she likes for herself, her daughters, and a few of her more adventurous customers. Xuemun is slowly building up a clientele that favors her native mode of cooking.

Xuemun wasn't always a cook. She is a tiefling who was born, and soon orphaned, in the slums within a vast city located on a long-distance trade route (her world's equivalent of Earth's Silk Road). When Xuemun was still just a slip of a girl, a horde of barbarians swept into her city on horseback and leveled the place. One rider was taken with Xuemun and her feral self-reliance. The horseman informally adopted her and raised her as his own. By the time she reached adolescence Xuemun was an accomplished rider and a seasoned fighter. Thanks to her darkvision, she proved adept at leading night raids against cities, towns, and merchant caravans. She often posed as a merchant or pilgrim herself, infiltrating a caravan or settlement and laying the groundwork for a raid.

Late one year, Xuemun infiltrated a caravan that became snowbound after an unexpected blizzard. Xuemun's raiders were lost in the storm and froze to death. She survived by truly joining the caravan, whose experienced and compassionate leader held everyone together and kept the whole group warm and adequately fed. When the ordeal was over, Xuemun came to believe that her personal success need not depend on another person's failure and that people who know how to work together are stronger than loners. She still values her personal freedom and harbors an acute distrust for most forms of authority, but she has vowed to live her life without harming anyone else if she can help it.

Xuemun spent several years working as a caravan guard and guide before taking up adventuring full time. Eventually, she met another tiefling who become her companion and lover. Between adventures the couple had two daughters. Shortly after the youngest, Liqiu, was born, Xuemun's beau abandoned the family. He had never quite understood Xuemun's philosophy of making her way without making waves, and he always felt that Xuemun's sense of personal responsibility was just plain silly.

When she found herself on her own with two daughters to support, Xuemun decided it was time to settle into a situation that was fairly safe and stable. Her time on the caravan trail taught her that while cooks aren't always respected, people generally don't get angry with the person who feeds them, especially when the food is tasty. Xuemun traveled far from home -- putting many leagues between her and any old enemies she might have overlooked.

Xuemun and her Daughters

Xuemun looks a great deal like a wild elf. She has olive skin, midnight black hair, and large, almond-shaped green eyes. She also has thick bristles, much like a hedgehog's, running from the back of her head down her spine. She has a short, bristly tail above her rump and batlike ears covered with fine fur. By wearing a loose dress and keeping her hair very long, Xuemun keeps these fiendish attributes hidden.

Xuemun's oldest daughter, Qiaolian, shares her mother's dark hair and skin. Instead of bristles and a short tail, she has leathery plates down her neck and spine, which she keeps concealed under her clothing. Her ears are like an elf's, but thinner and longer.

Qiaolian is just old enough to remember her father's departure and the long journey with the remainder of her family to their new home. She has thrived in the new locale. She has a natural sense of mischief that has gotten her in trouble with the local constables once or twice, but it has also won her many friends among the common folk. Though Qiaolian is an accomplished pickpocket and lock picker, she shies away from crime, though she's not above fleecing the occasional boor or slumming noble dandy.

When not working at the Yellow Lanterns, Qiaolian goes adventuring with a few like-minded folks.

Liqiu, the youngest daughter, has skin and hair a shade lighter than her mother's, but she has her mother's eyes and ears. Her spine is smooth, but she has only four very long toes on each foot. When Liqiu wears shoes and covers her ears with her hair, she looks pretty much like a wild elf.

Liqiu doesn't remember her father or any home other than the Yellow Lanterns. She has a mild obsession with her fiendish heritage and has used her knowledge of planar matters as a springboard into a career as a warlock. Like her mother and sister, she goes her own way without harming others if she can help it. Like her sister, she splits her time between the Yellow Lanterns and adventuring.

The Setup

The Yellow Lanterns is best placed in a working-class neighborhood in a large, cosmopolitan city, but it could be located in almost any community. If located in a fairly small settlement, the Yellow Lanterns should be a little off the beaten track, perhaps in an alley or on a quiet street where craftspeople ply their trades.

Player characters might locate the Yellow Lanterns when looking for an inexpensive place for a meal or when trying to purchase a rare herb. The staff at the Yellow Lanterns does more than stand behind the counter, however, and their activities might leave tendrils that attract or ensnare player characters:

  • A series of daring cat burglaries has occurred in the homes of nobles and wealthy merchants. The burglars have shown great skill in climbing walls, bypassing locks, wards, traps, and guards, and fleeing with small amounts of highly valuable items, such as jewels, portable artwork, or magic items.

    The authorities have pieced together descriptions of several of the burglars (taken from various witnesses who saw or claim to have seen them) and have offered a reward for their capture. One of the descriptions matches Qiaolian, at least as far as height, weight, age, gender, and apparent race.

    If the PCs take up this challenge, their investigations eventually lead them to the Yellow Lanterns. The PCs might quickly surmise that the staff is hiding something, and they are -- Xuemun and her daughters take some pains to conceal their true race, and they might have other things to hide as well (see the other suggestions in this section).

    Qiaolian might be innocent, or she might be connected with some or all the burglaries. In the latter case, Qiaolian most likely has targeted a few particularly loathsome people who have abused, short-changed, or outright swindled common folk and has taken it upon herself to give some of their ill-gotten gains back to the victims. Perhaps a few less altruistic thieves have copied her or possibly set out to frame her.

  • A rash of disappearances has plagued the area near the Yellow Lanterns. The victims all seem to be newcomers with no connections to any long-term resident in the area. This fact has given rise to fears that the missing people are being kidnapped for some sinister purpose.

    If the PCs investigate, they can easily discover that several newcomers have briefly appeared on the streets in the district where the Yellow Lanterns lies, and have been seen frequenting the Yellow Lanterns before vanishing.

    Xuemun and her daughters have become part of an underground railroad that helps slaves (and perhaps political prisoners) escape servitude. When fugitives arrive, Xuemun finds them minor jobs for a few days or weeks until she can move them along. The fugitives are supposed to be posing as itinerant workers, pilgrims, or travelers down on their luck. Unfortunately, not all the escapees Xuemun has helped are good at lying low, and her neighbors have noticed their departures (even if they can't recall when the newcomers first arrived). If confronted, Xuemun admits that she "suspected" that some of those she has helped were indeed escaped slaves, but that she figured that was none of her business. She'll admit to nothing except to help find jobs for a few potential customers. The slaves' owners, however, aren't likely to accept that and might target Xuemun -- and possibly the PCs, too -- if the escape ring isn't broken and the current group of escapees rounded up.

  • A few very rare or unusual gems have recently surfaced in the community where the Yellow Lanterns stands. A collector or spellcaster wants the PCs to track down their source.

    Xuemun might be the source of the gems. Perhaps they were part of the spoils from an adventure long ago and Xuemun had to sell them to meet an unanticipated expense. Or perhaps Xuemun's estranged mate has reappeared, offering them as gifts -- which Xuemun promptly sold for ready cash. Xuemun may or may not have access to more gems. It's possible that Xuemun is not the source of the gems, but knows something about where they can be purchased. In any case, rivals of the PCs' employer will do all they can to keep the group from obtaining any gems.

  • Some precious item from Xuemun's homeland (or its environs) has come into vogue and is in high demand. Counterfeits abound, and black marketers are making a killing selling the item without paying any of the taxes legally due on it. The PCs are hired to break the smuggling ring.

    Xuemun might be a suspected smuggler, or the authorities might direct the PCs to her as a possible expert on the item's manufacture, transport, and ultimate source. The item itself might be a simple luxury, such as silk, an important medicine, such as quinine, or even a dangerous drug. Xuemun has no sympathy for tax collectors, but she is concerned about the plight of honest merchants trying to stay on the correct side of the law and for common folk subjected to something they cannot handle. She might help or hinder the PCs in their investigations as her conscience dictates. In any case, the smugglers are no angels and use deadly force to defeat the PCs.

Visiting the Yellow Lanterns (EL 5-9)

The following text depicts the Yellow Lanterns on a typical business day. The place doesn't look much different at night, except that the lanterns that give the place its name flood the scene with amber-colored light.

The narrow, winding street has well-worn, but fairly clean cobbles. The cramped, stone storefronts on either side look similarly tired, but perhaps a little better maintained. One little storefront stands out. It has a wooden door painted bright red and a big window made of dozens of small diamond-shaped panes. A multitude of small paper lanterns, each as bright as a fresh daisy, hang all around the window like a fringe. A red awning protects the window and the lanterns from the worst of the elements, but even the slightest breeze makes the lanterns jump and dance.

The thick glass in the window doesn't give a clear view of what's going on inside, but the place's function is clear if the PCs enter.

The stone floors and walls in the room beyond the door give the place a slight chill. Nevertheless, the tantalizing scent of exotic spices and the more familiar smells of soup and stew simmering on a hearth welcome the visitor like a friendly hug. Many paper lanterns like those outside hang from the ceiling, bathing the place in a warm glow.

Rows of tables and chairs stand under the window and run back many paces to a counter with an open wall behind it. An array of ladles and iron pots hangs in the opening. Beyond the curtain of cooking implements, a wood-fired stove covered with pans of sizzling food is visible.

The Yellow Lantern opens before dawn each day, ready to serve breakfast to the workers in the neighborhood. Xuemun and her daughters also serve lunch, dinner, and a late supper. They close only when the last customers take their leave well after dark.

If the PCs enter, Liqiu greets them as follows.

A slim young girl with long, sleek, brown hair, honey-colored skin, and almond-shaped eyes approaches. "You want table?" she says with a smile, gesturing to an empty table nearby. "We have the best food here. Stew, roast meat, or you like something more special?"

If any PCs indicate an interest in "something special," she offers to bring them a sampling of dishes from her mother's native land. If the PCs agree, she disappears into the back room and returns with a tray containing many tiny dishes, each with a small amount of some exotic (and often spicy) food.

"Li hwo boar with fried noodles, wild chicken with tangin sauce, and cockatrice nest soup with wild celery. And a few others for you to try. Enjoy!"

If the three tieflings have any pressing concerns and feel that the aid of adventurers would be beneficial, they include a cryptic note inside a folded cookie that they serve the party for dessert. The message indicates that they should come to some dark, mysterious location at midnight if they're interested in acquiring lots of treasure.

Creatures

As noted earlier, Xuemun and her daughters run the Yellow Lanterns. Most days, Xuemun cooks and one of her daughters serves. When one or more of the family is away on business or an adventure, one family member cooks and an employee serves. Most of the employees are Qiaolian's friends and are low-level rogues (use the rogue statistics from Chapter 4 in the Dungeon Master's Guide). Some of them might not be averse to relieving customers of a few coins through their Sleight of Hand skills.

It is not unusual to find all three members of the family at work, especially during the Yellow Lanterns' busiest hours.

Xuemun CR 8
Female tiefling barbarian 6/expert 3
CGMedium outsider (native)
Init +3; Senses darkvision 60 feet; Listen +15, Spot +3
Languages Common, Elven, Infernal

AC 21, touch 14, flat-footed 21; Dodge, Mobility, improved uncanny dodge
(+3 Dex, +6 armor, +1 deflection, +1 natural)
hp 58 (9 HD)
Resist cold 5, electricity 5, and fire 5
Fort +7, Ref +6, Will +6

Speed 40 ft. (8 squares)
Melee+1 greatsword +12/+7 (2d6+5) or
Ranged mwk composite longbow +12/+7 (1d8+2/x3)
Base Atk +8; Grp +11
Atk Options Blind-Fight, rage 2/day
Combat Gear 5 +1 arrows of wounding,potion ofcure moderate wounds, 2 potions of cure light wounds,potion of displacement, potion of haste, tanglefoot bag, thunderstone
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 9th):
1/day -- darkness

Abilities Str 17, Dex 16, Con 13, Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 8
SQ trap sense +2
Feats Alertness, Blind-Fight, Dodge, Mobility
Skills Bluff +4, Climb +12, Hide +8, Intimidate +8, Listen +15, Move Silently +6, Profession (cook) +7, Ride +12, Sense Motive +4, Spot +3, Survival +10
Possessions combat gear plus +2 mithral chain shirt, amulet of natural armor +1, ring of protection +1,+1 greatsword, masterwork composite longbow (+2),20 arrows, silver an onyx choker (110 gp), 24 gp

Trap Sense (Ex) Xuemun gains a +2 bonus on Reflex saves and Armor Class against any attacks or effects from traps.
Rage (Ex) Twice per day, Xuemun can enter a state of fierce rage that lasts for 6 rounds. The effects of rage are summarized below. At the end of her rage, Xuemun is fatigued for the duration of the encounter.
Improved Uncanny Dodge (Ex) Xuemun retains her Dexterity bonus to Armor Class even when flat-footed or targeted by an unseen foe (she still loses her Dexterity bonus if paralyzed or otherwise immobile). Xuemun cannot be flanked and can only be sneak attacked by a character who has at least 10 levels of rogue.

When rage, Xuemun has the following changed statistics:

hp increase by 18
AC 19, touch 12, flat-footed 19
Fort +9, Will +8
Melee +1 greatsword +14/+9 (2d6+7)
Grp +13
Abilities Str 21, Con 17
Skills Climb +14

Qiaolian CR 6
Female tiefling rogue 6
CG Medium outsider (native)
Init +4; Senses darkvision 60 feet; Listen +8, Spot +8
Languages Common, Draconic, Elven, Goblin, Infernal

AC 21, touch 15, flat-footed 21; uncanny dodge
(+4 Dex, +4 armor, +2 shield, +1 deflection)
hp 26 (6 HD)
Resist cold 5, electricity 5, and fire 5, evasion
Fort +3, Ref +9, Will +2

Speed 30 ft. (6 squares)
Melee+1 rapier +9 (1d6+2) or
Ranged mwk shortbow +9 (1d6/x3)
Base Atk +4; Grp +5
Atk Options Combat Expertise, sneak attack +3d6
Combat Gear 2 potions of cure light wounds, tanglefoot bag

Abilities Str 12, Dex 18, Con 13, Int 16, Wis 10, Cha 10
SQ trap sense +2, trapfinding
Feats Combat Expertise, Improved Feint, Weapon Finesse
Skills Balance +6, Bluff +11, Diplomacy +4, Disable Device +12, Hide +14, Intimidate +2, Jump +3, Listen +8, Move Silently +12, Open Lock +13, Profession (cook) +7, Search +12, Sense Motive +6, Sleight of Hand+15, Spot +8, Tumble +13
Possessions combat gear plus +1 studded leather armor, +1 buckler, ring of protection +1, +1 rapier, masterwork shortbow, 20 arrows, 10 gp

Evasion (Ex) If Qiaolian is exposed to any effect that normally allows her to attempt a Reflex saving throw for half damage, she takes no damage with a successful saving throw.
Trap Sense (Ex) Qiaolian gains a +2 bonus on Reflex saves and Armor Class against any attacks or effects from traps.
Uncanny Dodge (Ex) Qiaolian retains her Dexterity bonus to Armor Class even when flat-footed or targeted by an unseen foe (she still loses her Dexterity bonus if paralyzed or otherwise immobile).

Liqiu CR 5
Female tiefling warlock 5
CG Medium outsider (native)
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 feet; Listen +1, Spot +1
Languages Common, Elven, Infernal

AC 16, touch 13, flat-footed 13; Dodge
(+3 Dex, +3 armor)
hp 22 (5 HD); DR 1/cold iron
Resist cold 5, electricity 5, and fire 5
Fort +2, Ref +4, Will +5

Speed 30 ft. (6 squares)
Melee mwk heavy mace +4 (1d8)
Ranged heavy crossbow +6 (1d10)
Base Atk +3; Grp +3
Atk Options Point Blank Shot
Special Actionseldritch blast 3d6
Combat Gear 3 potions of cure light wounds, potion of haste, potion of shield of faith, tanglefoot bag, thunderstone
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 5th):
At will -- detect magic
Invocations Known (CL 5th):
Least (at will) -- see the unseen, sickening blast (DC 15), spiderwalk

Abilities Str 10, Dex 16, Con 13, Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 16
SQ deceive item
Feats Dodge, Point Blank Shot
Skills Bluff +5, Concentration +7, Diplomacy +5, Hide +5, Knowledge (the planes) +7, Profession (cook) +4, Sense Motive +7, Use Magic Device +6
Possessions combat gear plus masterwork studded leather, masterwork heavy mace, heavy crossbow, 10 bolts, cloak of Charisma +2

Deceive Item (Ex) Liqiu can take 10 when using the Use Magic Device skill even if rushed or distracted.

Tactics : Xuemun and her daughters are always ready for a fight, though they'd prefer to avoid combat if possible. They wear their light armor under their clothing and keep their weapons concealed on their bodies or stashed out of sight under a counter or inside a pot.

Each family member has her own approach to combat, as suits her abilities.

Xuemun prefers direct combat. She singles out the most dangerous-looking foe and closes to melee range, hoping to send the survivors packing once she has defeated the opposition's champion. She uses her speed and her Mobility feat to take the fight to her chosen target. If she can't defeat that opponent quickly, she uses her darkness power to conceal herself, then rages. The darkness effect also gives her foes concealment, but Xuemun counts on her Blind-Fight feat to give her an edge. If Qiaolian is present in the fight, Xuemun skips the darkness effect and uses her potion ofdisplacement instead. If a foe seems particularly tough, she uses her potion ofhaste before raging.

Qiaolian prefers to fight from behind cover when she can. The cafe's counter or an overturned table can serve nicely as some added protection. When fighting alone, she uses her Improved Feint feat to help her make sneak attacks. When she has an ally for support, she uses her Tumble skill to get into flanking position for sneak attacks. She might use her tanglefoot bag to immobilize a dangerous foe and her Combat Expertise feat for some extra Armor Class.

Liqiu tries to stay out of melee reach if she can. Her spiderwalk invocation is useful for that, since it allows her to walk up the Yellow Lantern's walls as if using the spider climb spell. Once in position, she uses her eldritch blast, sometimes altered with her sickening blast invocation (Fortitude save or become sickened for 1 round) to defeat foes. If successfully counterattacked, she uses her darkness power for concealment and protection against further attacks (but not if Qiaolian is part of the fight). If she has trouble hitting foes concealed in a darkness effect, she uses her see the unseen invocation (which combines the effects of a see invisibility spell with the power to see though darkness).

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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