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The subject of the Halloween-inspired October Blog Carnival being hosted by of Dice and Dragons is “Spooky Spots“. This post offers readers just such a “spooky spot” which required an encounter, which led to an ongoing subplot, which in turn required an explanation and finally, a resolution – but all that exists for no other reason than to justify the original spookiness of a cemetery that follows the PCs wherever they go…

Coming hard on the heels of the carnival hosted here, which was all about locations, I was surprised when an idea for a submission came to me right away – but maybe that was the result of already being in tune with the subject.

I had a bit of fun generating illustrations for this location. I ended up doing two completely different “fogs” over the base illustration. I’m including both, and the base image as well, with the article. Click on the thumbnails to open large-size (1775 x 2529 pixel) versions.

 
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Part 1: The outskirts of mystery

In deepening twilight, the characters find themselves approaching a small town or village, passing a cemetery at the edge of town. Unexpectedly, mist begins to deepen around them, a mist that carries the cloying perfume of decay. Sounds seem muffled and remote, and a chill runs up their spines.

The character with the sharpest eyes will be able to see the gates of the cemetery, made of wrought iron, and spelling out the name of the burial site as “The Remembrance Of The Disquiet”. A cleric or character who knows religion very well will recognize several of the tombstones as being consecrated to the God Of Vengeance.

If the PCs decide to enter the graveyard, the gates will squeak and groan alarmingly, and several fresh graves can be identified by the soft, freshly-turned earth. Examining the gravestones reveals the names of the characters. If the PCs open any of the graves, they will find them to be empty.

They will not be attacked, they come under no threat, and can leave the graveyard whenever they wish and resume their travel into the settlement. If they do so, the mist will follow and continue to increase in density until it is a full-blown fog.

When they enter the village inn, the bar will be unattended for a moment. The inn is full of customers behaving normally for the circumstances, and drinking whatever is usual for the locals. From behind the bar, a middle-aged man with an eye-patch and greasy black hair and beard appears. No matter what the characters ask for, (even if they ask for what other patrons are drinking) the barman will tell them he doesn’t have it; all he has is a very old bottle of low-quality spice Elven wine, which has probably turned to vinegar. None of the other patrons are aware of the barman, but the characters will not be aware of that yet. None of them will approach the bar even if their drink runs out. If one of the characters asks a local where they got their drink, they will be told “I got it from the bar” or “John sold it to me” or something meaningless and unhelpful along those lines.

When one of the characters finally give in and buy the bottle of old wine, the barman will retrieve it from behind the counter and hand it to the character. He will place the payment on the countertop and then bend down behind the counter again (or go out a door into another room, or down into the cellar, or whatever – he will simply leave in some fashion, leaving the payment on the counter. When the PCs open the bottle, they will find it contains nothing but dust.

A few minutes later, a different barman will emerge from another room, a cellar, or whatever, and complain of bad air or fumes that left his head swimming. This will be the subject of lots of good-natured humor by the other patrons. He will then notice that some new customers have entered while he was in a swoon and will ask what he can serve them. He will never have seen the bottle before and will not know who the other “barman” was – he’s the owner.

If the PCs ask about the cemetery, none of the locals will know about it, either. When they go outside, the fog will have lifted and the cemetery will be gone. Only the next morning will they have the chance to realize that the settlement they are in is hundreds of miles from the one they thought they were entering last evening, and days, weeks, months, or even years will have passed – or will yet to have passed. But the scene works better if they don’t, and suspicion grows only slowly.

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Part 2: Things in the mist

The next time the characters are approaching a settlement, or are in an urban setting at twilight, they will come across the same cemetery, the same barman, the same situation. It follows them no matter where they go or how they travel. The bottle of “ancient Elven wine” will be the exact same bottle as well – as can be determined by the characters scratching their initials into the glass or something similar. The Barman will also be the same person but will not recognize the PCs. The characters can even kill the barman; it makes no difference, he will be back, unharmed, next time.

They can do whatever they want to penetrate this mystery, but will find themselves no closer to a solution. This part can repeat as often as the GM likes, but it should be often enough that the PCs will go through the phases of uncertainty, curiosity, paranoia, anger, and acceptance. The GM should feel free to run any adventures they wish concurrently with these occasional encounters.

Each time that the characters experience this encounter, the GM should roll a d6 and add the result to previous results. If the resulting total is greater than twenty, something more happens (and the total is reduced by 20):

The fog will rise as usual at the cemetery, but the PCs will be attacked by zombie-movie versions of themselves, who blame the PCs for unsticking the zombie-version in time (not that they are capable of communicating this by speech, but the characters may be able to get the information in some other way). These undead are immune to every form of attack or damage-causing effect that the PCs can make. The GM should describe these failed attacks very carefully, with the undead never quite there at the right time to be struck by whatever is aimed at them. However, after being “missed” in this fashion 2-3 times each, they will simply vanish into the mist, leaving no trace other than the PCs wounds to show that they were ever there.

Part 3 – Preamble

When the encounter starts getting a bit old and predictable, and there has been at least one zombie attack (preferably several), it is time to resolve this encounter. There are at least four possible explanations, and each leads to a different encounter as resolution. Some also impose minor alterations to the preceding parts of this Ghost Story. Since this article is supposed to be about the spooky spot – a cemetery that haunts the PCs and follows them wherever they go – I won’t specify these in too much detail, leaving it to each individual GM to fill out any necessary details.

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Part 3 version I: The Causality Rift

This is the solution that I originally had in mind. But it might not be spooky enough, so I thought up the alternatives. Because it was there from the first, it is the most developed of the resolutions.

The characters will come across a castle or keep or tower (with a familiar-looking cemetery outside it). Inside, they will come under attack by a demented wizard/scientist of great power – wearing an eye-patch and with greasy black hair. He keeps getting his tenses mixed up (past, present and future) – changing even in the middle of a sentence, and he has a great deal of trouble keeping straight what he has done and what the characters have done. His purpose is to try and drive them away from his tower before it is too late, but since he is not altogether rational and the PCs are PCs, he won’t succeed. Sometimes, he will address the PCs as enemies, sometimes as the cause of all his problems, and sometimes as fellow victims.

Just as the PCs enter his inner chambers, one of his experiments will go out of control because he’s been busy fighting the PCs, opening a window between this world and a zombie-fied parallel world, where his counterpart has been conducting a similar experiment, and has been distracted at the critical moment by zombie versions of the PCs. What follows is a four-way fight which ends when the zombie versions fade away, but not before the Wizard/scientist is mortally wounded. His wounds will resist any and all types of healing.

He is also now somewhat more lucid, and explains that the uncontrolled opening of a doorway into another part of time has shattered continuity, mixing up times and eras. He knew this was going to happen because he was left unstuck in time but attacked the PCs hoping to drive them away before it was too late and what was going to happen did happen. Now, the characters have only one chance to set things right. He congratulates the PCs on their success in doing so, then asks them to volunteer to undertake the dangerous mission of mending the fractures in time that have been plaguing them. Since they are somewhat tired of the recurring encounter and the inconveniences it carries, and they are adventurers, they should agree. At which point the Wizard/scientist attaches them to a strange arcane/scientific device, and throws a switch, while assembling another complex spell/device. The latter will confine the effects of the causality breakdown to those who were in the vicinity of the original breakthrough, letting the rest of the world continue as normal, not even noticing; and the former will reach into the past lives of the characters and send those lives dancing wildly in time from fracture to fracture, each time repairing part of the damage, until eventually time will be healed and they will find themselves approaching his tower to start the sequence of past events over again.

All his life, the wizard/scientist has been ‘unstuck in time’ as a result of this encounter, which lay in his future. He became obsesses with time, and has dedicated his life to figuring out what has happened to him and how to restore his life to the normality taken for granted by most of the world, where event follows cause, and tomorrow is connected with yesterday with today in the middle.

Of course, the zombiefied versions of the PCs and of the wizard/scientist will also be affected and will have been drawn to those past encounters by all this, whether they like it or not. His past self in the zombiefied world will likely have a similar level of obsession with restoring his personal continuity, and will be able to determine that the real wizard/scientist and the PCs are the cause, or will be, or were – and hence he builds his device to cross the barrier between worlds and attacks everyone who was in the tower at the critical moment.

Having delivered his explanation for what he is having their past selves do, he then fades away to begin his own sojourn through the years, leaving the PCs to resume their lives, no longer plagued by the effects of being unstuck in time.

But there will be some lingering after-effects. For the rest of their lives, whenever they approach a settlement or are in an urban setting in the twilight hours, they can catch a glimpse of the cemetery out of the corner of their eyes. They have patched time (without knowing they were doing so) but the edges are still a little ragged and the seal is not watertight. Nor is the breach between worlds completely sealed; from time to time, a “superzombie” from the other world will slip through. And every now and then, they will meet a complete stranger who swears that they look familiar, but can’t quite place where he had met them before, or who thinks they look like the famous someone who once did something (that the PCs did in a previous adventure)…

Part 3 Verson II: The Orouberous Curse

This alternative will require the implementation of the revised subsystem for Curses that I described in May the camels of 1,000 fleas – wait, that’s not right: Improving Curses in 3.x, or similar.

A man was once cursed to spend his life wandering from time to time with no certainty in his life “for all eternity” after losing his temper and attacking someone else because they had kept the victim of the curse waiting. This gave him a form of immortality, but at a terrible price [subvariant - perhaps he wished for eternal life and was granted his request, but the Gods punished him for his hubris]. The man searched high and low for a cure for his condition, but no-one could solve it until he grew creative and desperate enough to invoke his own solution.

He cursed the curse forcing it to seek out innocent victims, ‘wandering’ from one to another, until a carrier came into contact with the original victim. This released him from the penalties of the curse, but he still didn’t get the eternal life that he wanted, because he lost the benefits, too. Shortly afterwards, he died of old age, something that used to terrify him but that he now embraced openly. The curse still wanders the world, passing from victim to victim (or multiple victims as in the case of the characters) until, by chance, one of them should happen to land in the right place and at the right time to encounter the original victim in those moments between his ‘cure’ and death from old age – at which point the carriers are released from the curse that has afflicted them (returning them to the time and place where they first fell victim to it) and the curse (and its immortality) returns to the original victim – until he can find someone else to foist it off onto.

In effect, only by ‘biting its own tail’ can the curse on the characters be lifted.

Resolution should take the form of someone figuring out what’s happening to the PCs, and sending them on a quest to find the original victim. This should probably happen fairly early on in Part 2. Part 3 then consists on them broaching the defenses the original victim has erected to prevent a carrier from reaching him, and returning the curse to its sender.

Part 3 Version III: The Lashing Out Of Abraxis

This alternative will require the implementation of the revised subsystem for Curses that I described in May the camels of 1,000 fleas – wait, that’s not right: Improving Curses in 3.x, or similar.

The graveyard contains the remains of Abraxis the barman, who was once betrayed and killed by someone of a particular class (or race). One or more of the characters is also of this particular class or race. The Barman blamed all members of that subpopulation for the betrayal – details should be structured by the GM accordingly, so that the ‘betrayal’ stems from a common characteristic of the race or class in question. He left a dying curse on any of that race (or class) who beheld his grave site to be “betrayed by time”, this being his revenge on those who betrayed him. In this variant, the only characters who should have “fresh graves” within the gravesite are those of the appropriate race/class. Only by finding another of “their kind” and dragging them to the graveyard to behold the cursed gravesite while it is still there (i.e. before the barman leaves) can the curse be lifted from the character – and inflicted on another. This might trigger some serious alignment problems, if you are using the standard alignment system and principles.

Resolution of this variant consists of the characters figuring out what is going on and why, by researching (as much as they are able) the names on the other gravestones in the graveyard, and the circumstances of their deaths. Because this information is so esoteric and localized, and will only be available in the appropriate time periods, this will not be easy. The PCs then have to (1) encounter the cemetery; (2) locate a new victim; and (3) conspire to get that victim to the graveyard before the cemetery fades away (about an hour, or when a PC buys the bottle of ‘ancient wine’). The wine is one of the big clues the PCs have to follow, enabling them to pinpoint the original location of the cemetery (eventually).

Part 3 Version IV: A Love That Will Never Die

The final variation runs like this: Buried in the graveyard are the remains of a girl, the daughter of the barman, who died tragically at her own hand after being spurned by the man she loved and killing her father, who had forbidden the marriage. That man just happens to look like one of the PCs (might even *BE* one of the PCs). Now the ghost follows her ‘lost love’, dragging her final resting place behind her. The act of doing so disrupts time; when time snaps back into place, it drags the PCs along with it, dumping them in a new temporal and physical location. It takes a while for the Ghost to find them again, but it will inevitably do so. The ‘ghost’ is even strong enough to reanimate the bodies of the PCs after their deaths and drag them through time as the Zombie PCs in a desperate attempt to be with the love of her life forever. Only by causing the ghost of the girl to manifest and agreeing to the wedding can her spirit be layed to rest, and that can only happen when the PCs convince or force the ghostly barman to give his blessing.

Once again, the key to the resolution of this variant is the acquisition of information, and once again the label on the bottle is the biggest clue. Once the requirements are understood, the PCs will have to convince the Barman – and that will require more than just a die roll. Then the “happy couple” can pledge their vows, releasing both ghosts to their final rest – and releasing the character from that wedding vow in the process.

If the campaign timing works out, you could start this plotline in a near-Halloween game session and finish it on a Valentine’s Day game session, for added symbolism.

Because it’s the spookiest, and at the same time, the most romantic and human, this is my favorite variation amongst the four. It appeals on multiple levels.

So, there you have it. One spooky spot, four different rationales to explain why it is spooky, and a recurring encounter that can be used as a campaign framework to connect spot with rationale. Have fun with this…

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