The political situation
This particular festival is about to be spiced up by the attendance of several visitors from out of town. None of them are here by accident. These visitors are:
Lord Raus of Kasshert. His vassal, Davis Houndsgor is hosting the competition. By turning up he intends to emphasise his status as ruler, and keep an eye on the proceedings. He has also heard that the festival might be attended by:
Lord Sorghall of Sillith. The island of Sillith is a small but strategic one between Anaria and Ostragya. The Ostragyans have still not forgotten that the Samadrians conquered Anaria, which used to be part of their kingdom - and using foul sorcery, which makes it rankle all the more. Worse, Sillith has recently fallen into the clutches of the Samadrian Lord Sorghall, not by war but by inheritance. This has inflamed passions among the Ostragyans. Sorghall is here ostensibly to greet his new neighbours, but many suspect him of eyeing the Ostragyan lands enviously. They're right. Sorghall intends to win the festival with his champion to show he's not to be trifled with, and perhaps weaken any divine protection the town may have.
Lord Solanthos Ironpike of Klinthe. Like Sillith, Klinthe is a small island coveted by its two larger neighbours. Klinthe is part of Ostragya, but the lords of Klinthe have often behaved as though they were associates, not vassals and in the past they have allied with Talarg. Lord Solanthos, from one of the ruling Klinthan clans, has turned up to demonstrate his puissance by having a man from his own clan win - and again, having a Klinthan as champion might attract the favour of the goddess, which can't hurt.
Despite their "friendly" veneer, none of these nobles like each other and their retinues of armigers are all too happy to embarrass their rivals, though fighting has been forbidden. Of course if a question of honour arises, fights might happpen anyway...
The Gherent Subplot
Various murders attributable to the Gherent are mentioned within the text of this adventure.
The Gherent is a magical creature "gifted" to a Samdrian sorceror by his patron. In it's normal form, it is a smoke-like human shape, but it can possess a human, by pouring into his body through the mouth and nose. This ability makes it a useful servant but also a potential liability: the possession gradually eats away at the host body, eventually killing it - the transformation can be prevented by eating human flesh from another source and the Gherent lusts for flesh always. Some time ago, this particular Gherent left the sorceror it had been given to &endash; much to his relief &endash; and allowed its lust for murder free rein &endash; so much so, that it needed to leave Sillith to escape discovery. Taking the form of a sailor, it arrived on the ship with the Samadrian armigers, but the effort of refraining from killing while on the ship almost drove it wild - and also ravaged the host's body. It fled as soon as the ship touched land and confronted and possessed Jarst Daro&endash; a stranger who had just arrived for the festival, and then, on some dark whim, registered for the contest. However, the excitement and stress of the contest has triggered its bloodlust and it will kill again and again.
With detective work, and the magical assistance of auguries, the priestesses or the Houndsgor authorities have a 20% chance after the first murder, 40% chance after the second, and 60% after the third (if it occurs, depending on character actions), to realize who is responsible for the crimes. Even if Jarst is revealed as the criminal, they will not take action against him until after the contest, keeping a close eye on him in the meantime. Pulling one of the contestants out mid-contest is thought to augur dreadful consequences for the harvest ritual. If it looks like he is a sure winner, some may argue for immediate action, since the ritual will end in disaster in any case. If aware of his actions and hopeful that he will not win the contest, a majority of the authorities propose to wait until after completion of the Ladies' Choice event when the overall winner announced - they may even look the other way regarding help to another contestant, if it means Jarst is defeated. Then Jarst will be detained and confined with as little fanfare as possible, and held until after the harvest festival for Sir Davis' justice. Okalla Wayblue, a local female hero and cultist of the Forest Man, is known for punishing (castrating and/or killing) males that kill or rape helpless women and she relentlessly hunts the murderer after the first killing. Ironically, the priestesses may ask the characters to keep the murderer alive and Okalla away from him until the Festival's conclusion. This will be the case only if the Priestesses are certain that Jarst is not going to win the contest for the Harvest Bride.
Last of all, if Jarst/the Gherent is discovered, he will flee. If the players have gained some trust from the authorities they may be tasked (and suitably rewarded) for tracking him down and finishing the Gherent off. This will require skill, however: it is a slippery opponent and will certainly change bodies t o evade pursuit, if it can.
The Assassination subplot
Barharach of Terregor is an ardent hater of heretics and in his view all Samadrians are heretics. Despite his outward appearance, Sir Barharach is unusually devious. He came intending to attend the festival but when he heard that Sorghall had arrived at the Houndsgor Festival, he knew it was his destiny to kill the new lord of Sillith. Although no-one knows it, he has been banished from Terregor by his clan for a drunken killing. He has lost the respect of his clan and been forced to leave his home&endash;and he feels he has nothing left to lose. Sir Barharach should be played as a completely open individual who befriends one or more characters as the contests unfold. His character should be presented as a refreshing change to the arrogant politicking of many other Festival notables. He is here (apparently) simply to have fun and to notch up a few points for the honor of Terregor. He will perform enthusiastically and well in the Shield Push contests. One way of making friends with a character is for Sir Barharach to get them roundly drunk at his own expense. (He wishes to drown his sorrows in good company.) As the crowds mill about after the Pain Test, Sir Barharach realises that he will probably never have a better chance to act. He approaches the character with whom he has made the best connection, and hands over a string of beautifully-crafted beads. "These were a gift," he states gruffly. "It would be a shame if they were broken." If the character makes a successful PER roll they will notice that Sir Barharach has a large knife concealed beneath his jerkin. He then turns and strides through the crowd, shouldering people aside. His manner should be enough to alert the character that something is odd, even if the dagger went unnoticed. Sir Barharach heads directly for Sorghall, who is currently unattended by his bodyguard. They stand some meters away, exchanging glares with a group of Klithan warriors. This could pose quite a problem for the character, who has only seconds to act. Should he save the Samadrian Lord and/or Sir Barharach from their probable respective deaths by murder and execution? Or should he stand aside and let fate act out its purpose? At present, the pressing throng would obscure most activity, but the crowds are beginning to thin. Stopping Sir Barharach involves physically tackling a ferocious warrior, or a speedy and inventive use of magic. It may also involve a well crafted 'on the spot' explanation for what is going on.
If the character does not act, a lightly built young lady will save Sorghall. Springing from the crowd with a lightning high-kick, she plants her boot heel on the warrior's temple, sending him sprawling. The woman's cloak drops over the fallen knife and she scoops both up at speed. As Sir Barharach staggers to his feet and the crowd gathers eagerly to see what the commotion is about, the woman laughs loudly. "Got you that time you slow old fart," she shouts merrily. The woman leads the still dazed Sir Barharach away to the nearest supply of ale. Suspicious guards move to intercept, but are curtly ordered to 'stand fast' by Sorghall. Regardless of his score, Sir Barharach leaves town that night. The woman is of course the Grey Fox, the infamous Ostrgyan adventureress. She acts in order to prevent any incident that might increase the risk of war in Houndsgor, as she has 'business' interests here.
The Black Hand subplot
Included among the retinue of the Lord of Sillith are several Samadrian sorcerors, who are members of the cult of the Lord of Smoke - a samadrian heretic subcult of the Sage. The cult is popularly known as "the Black Hand" because of a lethal spell of that name. They have come to Ostragya since the leader of their group has a service to perform for their patron. Seeking to avoid drawing attention to themselves, they offered their services to Lord Sorghall of Sillith, reckoning that they will simply be a few more Samadrians among many as part of his retinue. They have arranged to leave his service after the festival and travel to Vezay - a village in the hills - after the festival, at which point they hope to blend in with the various travllers leaving the festival and thus avoid the notice of any members of the Church Militant.
Unknown to them they have *already* attracted the notice of a member of the church militant, the warrior Kyris. He saw the arrival of Lord Sorghall's ship and recognized two of the cult members from previous encounters, although they did not see him. Since then he has been shadowing them. Harach, the leader of the Black Hand cultists has the feeling he is being followed, but has not yet spotted Kyris. Kyris however, has learned that the cult members intend to travel to a village near the Bald Man of Lossach - a mountain inland, though to his frustration, he was unable to find out why, nor have the cultists mentioned the name of the village in his hearing.
The charactes should run across the Black Hand cultists during the course of the festival. There are several possibilities:
- One of the characters mistakenly identifies a cult member as the person seen leaving the town with the third murder victim (if that event occurs). If so he will testify to his innocence under the "verify" spell and his fellows will back him up. If this happens he is likely to resent the player for trying to frame him.
- A character attempting to steal a stormapple might encounter a cult member on the same mission for Sorghall.
- A cult member might run into one of the characters as he is attempting to perform a minor service for his patron - "spill a drink on the first man you meet on entering a tavern". After spilling the drink, he will of course be very apologetic and offer to pay for cleaning or similar services: but if the Character makes a PER roll, he feels almost certain the man spilled the drink on him on purpose...
- A cultist is among the Samadrians trying to spike the beer for the Intelligence contest.
- The players notice Kyris trying to spy on the cultists. If they make any sign of having noticed him he vanishes into the crowd.
On the day after the festival, Kyris is shadowing the cultists as they prepare to leave and is finally spotted by Harach. They confront him and in the ensuing fight, Kyris is killed. The characters should witness this scene, as it leads on into Adventure 2.