Cliffhangers Adventures

The Light of Despair
Episode Three: Spectre in the Present
By Robert Wiese

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

Cliffhanger Features

The one constant throughout all of the episodes is the weather. Additionally, there are some constants throughout the lighthouse episode, which are included below.

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

Conditions Inside the Lighthouse: Unless otherwise noted, the rooms have a layer of dust, and the air is free of any scents of humanoid habitation (no cooking orders linger, for example).

Doors Inside the Lighthouse: Most of the doors (exceptions are noted) are sturdy wood doors with a weathered look to them. Roll percentile dice at each door to see if it sticks (25% chance to stick).

Wooden Doors: 1 in. thick; hardness 5; hp 10; AC 5; Break DC 18.

Light: Most rooms contain a rounded window that allows in daylight. If the room description states that the room has no window, it is pitch black when the door is closed. Rooms with doors to the outside can allow in daylight when the door is open.

Adventure Background

The characters found a dying man in the road, who had a key to an abandoned lighthouse. He was a descendent of smugglers that used the lighthouse for illicit activities, and he was going to claim their abandoned treasure. On the way there, other descendants attacked him; they wanted the key. They reached the cliffs and climbed down, and had to fight a manticore along the way. Then they crossed the shallow reef bed and now stand at the entrance, ready to brave whatever drove the smugglers away.

Spectre in the Present (EL 6)

The lighthouse door has not been used in a hundred years, and it stands swollen shut due to the humidity. Opening it requires a Strength check DC 23 (strong wooden door). It is not locked. Unless the characters climb the side of the lighthouse to the lookout loft, this is the only way in. Climbing the lighthouse requires a Climb check DC 25 (it is not perfectly smooth), and this action attracts the attention of the ghost (see below).

As the characters wander the lighthouse, they draw the attention of Ferrina, the ghost. She meets them on the ground floor, and summons a severe storm with her single remaining wand of control weather (see below). This takes 20 minutes to manifest, but the weather gets progressively worse throughout that time. The effects take the form of torrential rains, high winds (about 45 mph), and/or lightning and thunder (review the spell control weather on page 188 of the Player's Handbook) based on what season it is. The storm lasts for 35 hours unless Ferrina abates it sooner, and it covers an area with a radius of two miles centered on the lighthouse. Have lightning strike close to the lighthouse. The storm should heighten the mood and provide some obstacles, not become a weapon with which to kill the characters.

Ferrina never speaks to the characters. She was so horror-stricken by her death and return as a ghost that she simply does not speak. After she summons her storm, she uses telekinesis to throw things at them (1d4 or 1d2 damage, depending on the size of the object). Then she manifests with a fearful visage for a split second, appearing as a young girl drowned and dripping with water but with her face contorted with hate and terror. Then she disappears instantly and flies straight up to the light for a minute or two, letting the intruders, as she sees them, leave. You could use a false Will save here and there to terrify the players, if you want. If the group stays, she remains invisible and watches them curiously. Not many have stayed beyond the first set of actions she usually takes.

As the characters explore the lighthouse, Ferrina tries to scare them away unless they appear friendly and make overtures of peace toward her or act in a generally honorable manner. If she decides that they are not evil smugglers, she then uses her powers to help them understand what happened, but in ways that are scary or startling, but not harmful. For example, if she wants them to see an object lying on a dresser, she could hurl it at their feet rather than just levitate it. Her own appearance and expression does not change even if she decides to "help" the characters. See Tactics for further actions that she takes to get them to understand her story.

Lighthouse Rooms

All rooms have not been used in one hundred years, and they show it in the layer of dust and the general run-down appearance. The smugglers, the last occupants, were not neat, so there is a clutter of items scattered around each room.

15. Storage: The smugglers stored their loot in here. It served as a storage room for the lighthouse as well, and the PCs can find lighthouse equipment as well as treasure here. This room is locked, and the key they acquired in the first episode is required to open it from either side. The treasure is left for you to determine, but it should be mostly coins, jewelry, and art, and should total about 3,200 gp worth. There is a ledger of the ships that were salvaged, and what was acquired, in this room. The ledger shows when the smugglers sold things as well. The last entry lists a merchant vessel called the Dimming Sun, with no entry for the loot. This is the ship that Ferrina's family was traveling on.

14. Room of the Journal: The small room beyond this door was used to store maps and documents pertaining to lighthouse operations. There are several old books, some journals of the keepers. The last journal entry is normal ("all's well") and is dated 102 years ago.

13. Common Room: The characters enter the common room first as it's the one with the doors to the outside. Somone did repair work here on the large table in the center of the room. Four chairs, with one broken, sit around the table.

12. Kitchen: The lighthouse kitchen is small but functional, with a fire pit that vents through a pipe into the ceiling and out the window shown for this level on the elevation drawing. The pans are well used. The sparse food remains are long molded and now unidentifiable. Some knives and other utensils are scattered around.

11. Dining Room: The keepers seldom used the dining room, but the smugglers used it to count and log loot. The large table and eight chairs are in very good shape considering the environment.

10. Bunkroom: The room beyond the door served as a bunkroom for additional keepers or as a place for guests to sleep. The lighthouse occasionally took on additional workers in bad storm seasons, and harbor officials visited occasionally. Six beds are in bunk arrangement, with six chests.

9. Lavatory: A lavatory of sorts, this room contains a large bucket, a basin, and a pitcher. The bucket has dried stains inside; it was used as a toilet, and it has not been emptied in a long time. This room has no window.

8. Visiting Room: The visiting room has five comfortable chairs set against the wall, and a small table is lying on its side about where the number is on the map. A bookcase stands against the outside wall, but the books are lying on the floor in a moldering heap. Those that are salvageable contain material of general interest, and all books are at least one hundred years old. They are not valuable.

7. Bath Room: The bath room boasted a bath tub of metal, which is quite rusted. Anyone stepping in the tub will break out part of the wall. A rack for towels stands to one side, but it is empty.

6. Large Bedroom: The bedroom contains a four-poster bed with rotted curtains and a moldy straw mattress. A dresser stands to one side, and a table with a mirror sits on the opposite side of the bed. A few pieces of clothing remain; they have been attacked by moths and are now very useless. The head of the smugglers used this room too, and there is a map of the reefs is on the dresser. It is not very detailed, but it's accurate for what it shows. (This was the keeper's bedroom, but it'd take magic of some sort to determine this.)

5. Barrel Room: Nine barrels, three of them containing lamp oil, stand in a grouping in this room. Player characters can find lens parts and implements to start fires if they look. Two beds have been set in the corners (where smugglers slept). Under one of the beds is a skeleton (non-animate) -- the remains of one of the smugglers. When Ferrina first appeared, he hid here and refused to come out.

4. Bad Bathroom: This room was converted into a second toilet room, but it was hardly ever used because the bucket was seldom emptied, and the smugglers did not like the smell. They did use it to wash and shave. There is a mirror set above a basin, and a pitcher lies broken on the floor.

3. Small Bedroom: This is where the assistant keeper slept, when there was one. The lighthouse usually had two keepers, but just before the smugglers came, the assistant left and was not replaced. The party sees a small canopied bed, a dresser, a mirror, and a table. One of the smugglers slept here, and his clothing is scattered around the room like it was tossed in a windstorm.

2. Bunkroom: The smugglers converted this bunkroom into additional sleeping space. Five bunk beds and ten chests line the outside wall. Some rotted cloth and old personal effects are in the chest, but it's nothing really exciting.

1. Light: The light is an inventive combination of a bright flame and a large mirror array. The keepers would burn oil in a bowl, and mirrors above would reflect the light back and forth until it was very bright. Then it would be reflected at the main lens and out into the night. The light is still functional, though one of the mirrors cracked in a storm about 53 years ago. The outer walkway is open to the outside.

The Ghost

Ferrina: Female human Ari4/Adp1; CR 6; Medium-size undead (incorporeal); HD 4d12 plus 1d12; hp 32; Init +2; Spd 30 ft., fly 30 ft. (perfect); AC 14 (touch 14, flat-footed 12); Atk +5 melee touch (1d4, corrupting touch); SA Corrupting touch, frightful moan; SQ Incorporeal subtype, manifestation, rejuvenation, telekinesis, turn resistance +4, undead traits; AL LN; SV Fort +1, Ref +5, Will +7; Str 11, Dex 14, Con -, Int 12, Wis 9, Cha 15.

Skills and Feats: Diplomacy +7, Hide +10, Innuendo +6, Knowledge (arcana) +5, Knowledge (nobility and royalty) +5, Listen +16, Perform +5, Read Lips +5, Search +9, Sense Motive +6, Spot +16; Alertness, Iron Will, Lightning Reflexes.

Corrupting Touch (Su): A successful hit with this attack deals 1d4 points of damage to a living target. Ferrina can use this attack only when manifested.

Frightful Moan (Su): Ferrina can moan as a standard action. All living creatures within a 30-foot spread must succeed at a Will save (DC 14) or become panicked for 2d4 rounds. This is a sonic, necromantic, mind-affecting, fear effect. A creature that successfully saves against the moan cannot be affected by Ferrina's moan for one day.

Incorporeal Subtype: Can be harmed only by other incorporeal creatures, +1 or better magic weapons, spells, spell-like abilities, or supernatural abilities; immune to all nonmagical attack forms; 50% chance to ignore any damage from a corporeal source (except for force effects, such as magic missiles, and attacks made with ghost touch weapons); can pass through solid objects (bot not force effects) at will; attacks ignore natural armor, armor, and shields (though deflection bonuses and force effects work normally); moves silently (cannot be heard with Listen checks unless desired).

Manifestation (Su): Ferrina can become visible but remains incorporeal. However, she can strike with her incorporeal touch attack in manifested form. When manifested, she remains on the Ethereal Plane but can be attacked by creatures on both the Material and the Ethereal Planes. In this form, her spells (except touch spells) work normally against targets on both planes.

Rejuvenation (Su): If Ferrina is "destroyed," her spirit reforms itself in 2d4 days with a successful caster level check (1d20+5) against DC 16. Ferrina can be put to final rest by taking her remains and those of her family to their final destination.

Telekinesis (Su): Ferrina can use telekinesis once per round as a free action, as cast by a 12-HD sorcerer.

Turn Resistance (Ex): Ferrina is less easily affected by clerics or paladins. When resolving a turn, rebuke, command, or bolster attempt, the creature receives a bonus of +9.

Undead Traits: Immune to poision, sleep, paralysis, stunning, disease, death, effects, necromantic effects, mind-influencing effects, and any effect requiring a Fortitude save unless it also works on objects; not subject to critical hits, subdual damage, ability damage, ability drain, or energy drain; cannot heal damage if there is no Intelligence score, (though fast healing and regeneration work normally); negative energy heals; not at risk of death from massive damage, but destroyed at 0 hit points or less; darkvision 60 ft.; cannot be raised; resurrection works only if creature is willing.

Adept Spells Prepared: (3; base DC = 9 + spell level): 0—light (3).

Possessions: Wand of control weather, pencil sketches of family and ship in a sketchbook.

Wand of Control Weather: The wand of control weather contains only 5 more charges of the control weather spell. It was one of two that Ferrina's mother had created and carried with them on the ship. Ferrina had been looking at them in secret just before the ship ran aground. (She had been fascinated by the shifting cloud carvings on each wand and loved to watch them, and she often went off by herself to look at the wands.) The wand was created from wood and is traced with delicate carvings of clouds. When held, the clouds shift, and occasional flashes of lightning within the carvings make the wand glow silver for a few seconds. When not held, the wand's carvings remain static. The market value is 50,000 gp.

Tactics: Ferrina tries to communicate with the PCs if they do even one honorable or good thing while she watches them. If they don't do something specific but merely search for stuff, she continues to watch. Should she see them do one dishonorable or evil thing, she'll start attacking, and the chances that the PCs kill her off instead of trying to understand her become very high in this latter circumstance.

Ferrina will first show the PCs a sketchbook of pictures that she had also carried with her during those last fateful minutes of life. The sketches are a bit runny with water streaks, but mostly understandable. Ferrina had a steady hand at drawing, so the pictures should evoke some sympathy with the PCs. If not, they should provide clues at the very least. Here are some of the pictures that Ferrina points out specifically:

A. Mother at the Mirror: Ferrina drew a picture of her mother (though the PCs don't necessarily know that right off) brushing her hair at the mirror. The PCs can see the back of her head in the foreground, and they see the mother's face in the mirror. There is a resemblance to Ferrina, though the mother's gaze is relaxed and thoughtful instead of evocative of fear.

B. Father Leans Against Mast: A man with some of the same features as Ferrina (her father, though the PCs don't necessarily know that right off) stands leaning against a mast. He is holding a book and reading it. There is a sailor in the background moving across the deck.

C. Calm Skies: Ferrina drew a sunset or sunrise with part of the ship framing it. This image has some color to it since Ferrina wanted to catch some of the hues.

D. Brother and Sister: An early adolescent boy with features exactly like Ferrina's sits holding a candle, and a younger girl with some features similar to Ferrina plays with a doll on the floor. There's a rat peeking into the picture on the right. They were probably in a ship cabin.

The other pictures are quick sketches of parts of a ship and some of the sailors, including one sketch from a distance that has the words Dimming Sun featured. She probably drew this latter sketch as she was waiting to board the ship.


The characters have a problem. To claim the treasure, or the lighthouse, or both, they must lay the ghostly child to rest forever. But this path lies underwater, and other dangers await them there.


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