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.
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 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. . . .
Episode Two: Boiling Over
By Eric Haddock
In the previous installment, the PCs learned about the mysterious disappearance of Perri, a reclusive gnome who lives in a lighthouse. The local villagers feared that the sea serpent they had seen lately in the waters near the shore might have eaten him. On their way to the lighthouse, the PCs encountered this "sea serpent," which turned out to be a pair of tojanidas in pursuit of their favorite food. With that threat neutralized, the PCs are now in a position to investigate the lighthouse and find out why a dispel magic ray issues from its giant mirror.
The lighthouse is well maintained and looks like it even has a fresh coat of paint. (In fact it does, as Perri paints it just prior to the celebration every year.) The structure consists of four levels connected by a central spiral staircase. The exterior walls are stone, but the interior walls, floors, and ceilings (all 7 feet high) are made of wood. Unless otherwise noted, the doors within the lighthouse are made of stout wood (hardness 5, 20hp, DC 23 to break open). The lighthouse is lit throughout with continual flame torches.
Entering the Lighthouse
Once they reach the island, the PCs can tie up their boat at the spindly dock and clamber up the narrow path through the rocks to the entrance -- a door that opens onto Area 13. Since the map numbers the rooms from the top down, but the PCs are likely to explore the lighthouse from the bottom up, the descriptions of the rooms are presented in reverse order.
Perri uses this room to store both food and supplies for maintaining the lighthouse. Several buckets lined with dried white paint are stacked along one wall -- more evidence that he has recently painted the exterior of the building. The most valuable item in this chamber is a 2-foot-diameter concave mirror made of highly polished silver, which is worth 10,000 gp. This item is securely packed in a small, unlabeled shipping crate. Any PC who makes a successful Search check (DC 20) discovers the crate containing the mirror.
This chamber is where Perri stores his all-weather gear, including the jacket and boots he always puts on before setting out in his boat. All of his gear is still here, implying that Perri either has not left his lighthouse, or has done so without putting on the proper clothes.
This room is a well appointed waiting area furnished with plush chairs and nice wooden tables, as well as an ornate coal stove for heat. The room is quite cold, as the stove is not lit. On one of the tables are various unused smoking tools, including cigar cutters and the like.
Perri receives all his visitors in this chamber. Either or both of the village mayors, if present, inform the PCs that this is where Perri accepts the silver trident each year prior to beginning the count. As the gnome has always been reclusive and somewhat mysterious, he has never invited villagers into any other room in the lighthouse.
In this small dining room stands a cabinet filled with fine china, plus four chairs and a small, but very nice table.
In one of the drawers of the china cabinet is a set of silverware worth 15 gp. This silver is an heirloom passed down through Perri's family for generations. If Perri survives the adventure and discovers any of it missing, he assumes that the PCs have taken it and refuses to have any future dealings with them unless they can prove otherwise. Returning the silver after the fact does not alter his attitude.
Two ovens dominate this large room, which is obviously the kitchen. Over a firepit in the center of the room hangs a large iron kettle supported by a wrought-iron tripod. Though there is no fire in the pit now, something dark and yellow apparently boiled over from the kettle recently, because a mass of thick goo hangs over the kettle's lip. After a moment, you realize that despite the lack of a fire, the boilover is still going on -- the yellow goo is pouring out of the cold kettle and onto the floor.
The "boilover" is actually an ochre jelly that is oozing out of the kettle it now calls home to attack the party.
Ochre jelly: hp 66; see Monster Manual page 145.
Once the PCs defeat the ochre jelly, they can examine the chamber. At the bottom of the kettle is a signet ring that any villager present recognizes as Perri's. Any character who specifically looks in the kettle finds it automatically; otherwise it can be found with a successful Search check (DC 10) of the area.
The ring is a valued personal possession of Perri's, and as such it grants a +8 bonus on Scry checks for anyone who attempts to find the gnome with a scrying spell. On a successful attempt, the sensor reveals only pitch darkness and the sound of breathing. If the caster also employs darkvision, he or she can see that Perri is alive and unharmed, but confined in a very close, dark space. A few additional minutes of scrying reveal that he's hiding in what seems to be a large trunk and looks very afraid. He doesn't have any weapons with him and the trunk is otherwise empty.
Episode Three: Clues
By Eric Haddock
In the previous installments, the PCs learned about the mysterious disappearance of Perri, a reclusive gnome who lives in a lighthouse. The local villagers feared that the sea serpent they had seen lately in the waters near the shore might have eaten him. On their way to the lighthouse, the PCs encountered this "sea serpent," which turned out to be a pair of tojanidas in pursuit of their favorite food. After defeating the creatures, the PCs entered Perri's home, a lighthouse that emits a strange dispelling ray. There they battled an ochre jelly and discovered a clue to Perri's whereabouts. In this episode, the PCs continue to explore the lighthouse, hoping to rescue Perri from whatever it is that threatens him.
Tables piled high with stacks of ledgers dominate this room. Hugging the outer wall are curved bookcases filled to capacity with books and ledgers.
This is Perri's record room, where he conducts the official fish counts for the annual judging. Any villagers who have come here with the PCs are very interested in finding this year's ledger. A successful Search check (DC 15) is required to locate the correct book.
The ledger reveals that the count is not yet complete, and that the two villages were roughly equivalent in fish production at the point where Perri left off. If members of both villages are present, they immediately begin arguing about which village is winning. If the PCs leave them alone here, the dispute escalates from words to blows. The DM should determine randomly which villager is victorious in a fistfight, should the PCs fail to intervene.
Perri keeps the trident trophy here, in an unlocked glass cabinet trimmed with fine wood. The trident is 2 feet long and made of silver, with ornamentation that resembles waves. It is worth 5,000 gp on the open market, though its reputation and significance would make selling it in this area extremely difficult.
The room also contains the records of all previous competitions and the fish counts for each. Any character wishing to examine the records carefully may attempt a Search check (DC 15) to discover two interesting facts. One is that Hurmstown has won the trident more often than Rolling Rocks; the other is that the overall catches in both villages have been decreasing over the past few years. (The DM is free to decide the reason for the decline in fish population and use it as a hook for future adventures.)
One of Perri's hobbies is carpentry, and he has built most of the furniture in the lighthouse himself. This room is his workshop, where he stores his woodworking tools and supplies as well as his unfinished projects, which include tables, chairs, cabinets, and curved bookshelves. All of these items are small enough to be used effectively by a gnome. A successful Craft (carpentry) skill check (DC 10) reveals that Perri works only in very expensive woods and has masterwork tools. The items he's built are likewise of high quality.
A successful Search check (DC 15) reveals a book under a pile of discarded wood scraps. This volume is a treatise on building wooden siege engines. A quick perusal of the notes Perri has scribbled in the margins reveals that he must have been trying to figure out a method of defending his lighthouse from siege engines. This is a curious notion, since no siege engine the PCs have ever heard of has enough range to threaten the lighthouse from the shore, and no one knows of a siege engine that can be mounted on a boat.
A second successful Search check (DC 20) reveals a hand crossbow, apparently discarded, in the northeast corner of the room. It is loaded with a bolt tipped with poison -- the result of one of Perri's early experiments as an alchemist. The mixture is functionally equivalent to sassone leaf residue (contact poison DC 16, initial damage 2d12 hp, secondary damage 1d6 Con). Though this weapon is an unusual one for a gnome to own, Perri purchased it with the intention of using it as part of an elaborate trap for this room. Eventually, however, he decided against that and forgot about the whole idea. The hand crossbow is the only actual weapon in the lighthouse, but Perri didn't have time to get to it before the events that resulted in his disappearance.
On a small table in the center of this room stands a wooden scale model of Perri's lighthouse, complete with the small bit of land upon which it rests. A tiny longboat is tied to the dock outside it. Around the model are a dozen or so maps, all spread out.
The maps depict the Duchy of Urnst. In addition to major geographic features, they detail the locations of the duchy's various natural resources and the wildlife, including monsters, near each resource. The notes that Perri has scribbled on the maps indicate that he was planning a trip to secure all manner of woods and ores from the duchy. The documents are not dated, so there is no indication of whether this was a trip he was planning to take in the future, or one that he took years ago. A successful Knowledge (local) check (DC 20) shows that some of the maps are quite old and incorrect in spots, while others are brand new and very accurate.
This room is another of Perri's libraries, complete with curved wooden shelves along the outer wall. The books here cover many topics, but one common theme among them is the history of the land that is now called the Duchy of Urnst. These volumes contain considerable detail about the area's history, and some even advance theories on how it was first settled by intelligent beings thousands of years ago.
The room's other furnishings consist of a single chair and a table stacked with books and notes about political figures of the kingdom.
A successful Search check (DC 20) of the books and notes on the table reveals that Perri was very interested in a sorcerer named Silas Enger -- a human who served as a war mage during some of the duchy's many battles. Detailed perusal of Perri's notes makes it clear that the gnome was trying not only to trace the origins of this Silas, but also to determine his ultimate fate. Not one of the books or documents here makes any mention of his death. . . .
Episode Four: Final Reflections
By Eric Haddock
In the previous installments, the PCs learned about the mysterious disappearance of Perri, a reclusive gnome who lives in a lighthouse. On their way to the lighthouse, they encountered the "sea serpent" the villagers had seen, which turned out to be a pair of tojanidas in pursuit of their favorite food. After defeating the creatures, the PCs entered Perri's home, a lighthouse that emits a strange dispelling ray. There they battled an ochre jelly and discovered a clue to Perri's whereabouts. Further investigation revealed that Perri was researching a powerful mage, though the reason remained a mystery. In this installment, the PCs find Perri and discover whether the ancient war mage Silas Enger is actually dead.
A terrible smell greets you as you open the door to this area. Only alchemy could generate such foul odors, and the array of glass tubes, containers, and small, controlled fires in the chamber attests that this alchemical lab is quite active.
This is Perri's alchemical lab. In this room he concocts his elixers and identifies potions for passing adventurers. A successful Search check (DC 15) reveals five magic potions: fire breath, heroism, lesser restoration, reduce and sneaking. Any character whose Search check result is 20 or better also finds a broken beaker labeled "Danger! Ooze! Do Not Break!"
Even to those skilled in alchemy or the magic arts, it is unclear what Perri was working on when he last left the lab.
Whatever was in this room has been smashed beyond recognition. Bits of wood, glass, and stone are scattered throughout the chamber.
A successful Search check (DC 20) reveals footprints through the rubble. A character with the Track feat can follow these prints with a successful Wilderness Lore check (DC 22). They lead to Area 3.
Six large iron chests hug the curved outer wall of this chamber. A seventh chest stands in the center of the room. Hunched over it, manipulating the lock, is a hooded man with leathery, white wings protruding from tailored holes in a large gray cloak. He has smooth, cream-colored skin, bare feet, and a strange, almost peachlike odor about him. At your intrusion, he stops what he was doing and turns to face you.
The man is the lost sorcerer Silas Enger, now dreadfully transformed into a half-fiend/half-medusa. Years ago, as an up-and-coming power in the Duchy of Urnst, the young human decided to make a bid for rulership. Deciding that he needed extra personal might to pull it off, he made a secret pact with a devil for support. But he was betrayed, and the devil took his due, laying upon Silas a dreadful curse that transformed him into his current form and stripped him of his sorcerer abilities. Upon learning of Perri's investigations, he came to the lighthouse to find out why the gnome was so interested in him and whether, as an exceptionally talented alchemist, he might be able to help Silas regain his sorcerer abilities.
Perri saw Silas flying toward the lighthouse and, having no means to escape, cast dispel magic into the light room, hoping to deter or delay the monster's approach. Then he hid in one of the chests in this chamber.
Silas had tracked Perri here and was about to open the chest when the PCs arrived. Not wanting to let anything jeopardize his capture of Perri, Silas attacked them immediately.
Silas Enger, Half-Fiend/Half-Medusa: CR 10; Medium-size Outsider; HD 7d8+14; hp 50; Init +4; Spd 30 ft., fly 30 ft. (average); AC 18 (touch 14, flat-footed 14); Atk +9 melee (1d4+2, 2 claws) and +4 melee (1d6+1, bite) and +6 melee (1d4+1 and poison, snakes); or +11/+6 ranged (1d6/x3, shortbow); SA petrifying gaze, poison, spell-like abilities; SQ darkvision 60 ft., acid, cold, electricity, and fire resistance 20, poison immunity; AL LE; SV Fort +4, Ref +9, Will +6; Str 14, Dex 19, Con 14, Int 16, Wis 13, Cha 17.
Skills: Bluff +13, Diplomacy +11, Disguise +13, Intimidate +5, Knowledge (local) +8, Listen +6, Move Silently +13, Sense Motive +6, Spot +11. Feats: Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Weapon Finesse (snakes).
SA -- Petrifying gaze (Su): turn to stone permanently, 30 feet, Fortitude save (DC 16).
SA -- Poison (Ex): from snakes, Fortitude save (DC 15), initial damage 1d6 temporary Strength, secondary damage 2d6 temporary Strength.
SA -- Spell-like Abilities: 3/day -- darkness, poison, 1/day -- desecrate, unholy blight (both as 7th-level cleric).
Possessions: Cloak of minor displacement (specially fitted to allow wing function), ring of counterspells (hold monster), ring of evasion, shortbow, 10 arrows.
Tactics: Silas tries to turn as many PCs as he can to stone before joining melee, and he uses his gaze attack during battle as well. If he fails to turn half the PCs into stone and sustains more than 35 points of damage, he attempts to flee.
The Chests: The chest that Silas was trying to open is the one that contains Perri. The other six chests contain coins and gems worth 30,000 gp collectively. Each is locked with a sturdy iron lock (pick DC 20; hardness 15, 25 hp).
The main feature of this area is a stairway leading up to the mirrors of the lighthouse (Area 1).
Atop the lighthouse is a fantastic array of mirrors and large crystal lenses. A 2-foot-diameter silver mirror with a continual flame torch at its center dominates the array. Another magical aura visibly crisscrosses the array and is reflected in seemingly random directions as the assembly slowly turns. This aura becomes invisible outside the glass case of the lighthouse.
The lighthouse uses a magical silver mirror to project its continual flame light, as well as the dispel magic ray that affected the PCs on their way to the lighthouse. Using his alchemical expertise, Perri has coated the mirrors with a material capable of catching, reflecting, and projecting specific magical energy -- in this case, dispel magic and light effects. He has made the development of this material his life's work, but thus far, light and dispel magic are the only two spells for which Perri has perfected a coating.
The Proper Count
Once Perri is safe, he dismantles his light room assembly and uses the silver mirror he has packed away (in Area 15) instead, believing that the magical array was what attracted Silas in the first place. Then he completes the count and awards the trident to the appropriate village (DM's choice). Regardless of which one wins, both villages treat the PCs as honored guests from now on. The two mayors invite the characters to return for next year's competition, which promises to be as every bit as exciting as this year's.
Continuing the Adventure
There are a number of areas the DM can exploit for future adventures.
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.