Traditionally, doctors are expected to work by the Hippocratic Oath, that can be summarized in a single phrase: “First do no harm.” For the most part, even in the difficult conditions of the American frontier, they manage to do so. There's an exception to this, however, in the little town of Smith's Crossing, a practitioner who aids his wife in gaining unholy influence over local inhabitants. Even worse, he and his wife are about to use that influence to unlock an even more powerful, more wicked force.
This adventure begins when the PCs are contacted by Mama Celeste, a mamba. She asks for their help dealing with a cholera epidemic that has broken out around Smith's Crossing and Fort Arneson. In town they find evidence that the epidemic is deliberate, because someone has been tainting the supplies sold to the locals. Further investigation reveals that Mordechai and Angelica Smith are involved, that they are planning some sort of massive ritual, and that they've headed off to Fort Arneson in order to enact their wicked plot.
For the Gun Master
The Smiths' objective is to summon and bind a crossroads demon to their service, and thus gain access to the Winding Way. To that end they are going to stage a massacre, harnessing the magical potency of tremendous bloodshed. They've also prepared poppets of various prominent locals to ensure that the soldiers from the fort do their part. In fact, the couple arranged an outbreak of cholera so that the doctor could gain blood samples from his unwitting patients, which his wife then used in creating the wicked magical items.
At least a few local residents have come to suspect this plot, however—especially Big Jean and Mama Celeste. Indeed, she has been using her Divination power to learn more about the situation in Smith's Crossing, and has concluded that she needs the PCs' help in identifying, and thus preventing, the approaching calamity.
Involving the Heroes
This adventure begins for the PCs when they receive a call for help, in the form of a note delivered by a big old crow. The bird is, in fact, possessed by the spirit of Little Raven, a native boy who ran afoul of the Smiths and whom they murdered. This bird shows up wherever the PCs happen to be spending time after their previous business and squawks for their attention, at which point they can untie the little piece of paper tied to its leg. That missive reads:
There is trouble in Smith's Crossing; please come as quickly as you are able.
While that isn't a lot of information, hopefully it is enough to spur the heroes into action and send them back to the little riverside town. They might be able to obtain more details by asking the crow the right questions, but only if they can be answered by a yes or a no.
For a map and area descriptions of the town in which this adventure takes place, check out this PDF.
Scene 1—Evil Tidings
Just what the PCs find when they arrive in town depends on how they make their approach. As such, this first scene is divided by location.
A good place to start learning about the situation in Smith's Crossing is at the cabin occupied by Mama Celeste and Papa Jean. After all, she's the one who summoned them. After welcoming the PCs, the couple serves bowls of stew from a pot on the fire and then opens the discussion; they can provide the following details.
- The epidemic—they heard Dr. Smith say it's cholera—started about a month ago. It has affected a number of townsfolk, along with people from nearby farms and even soldiers from the fort.
- If pressed, they can go into greater detail about who's been affected; the list includes a couple of laborers and numerous local farmers. She doesn't mention it, but the PCs might notice that nobody from the saloon, the Smiths' household, or Godfrey Werner, has been infected.
- Just this week, Dr. Smith and his wife headed for nearby Fort Arneson to help the infected soldiers there.
- In order to help keep order during the epidemic, Lt. Danforth Jeffreys has come from the fort with a squad of soldiers in order “to keep the peace.”
- Finally, Celeste used her Divination power to find a means of curtailing the epidemic, and believes that the PCs are somehow part of that solution.
The GM should, of course, add to this information about any developments based on the history that the PCs have in town, too. For example, if they participated in the events of the scenario “Restless Spirits,” then the PCs might see wanted posters depicting themselves posted around town.
The Long Arm of the Law
Sooner or later the PCs probably want to venture into town. When they do, they notice right away the aforementioned soldiers; there are two posted at the warehouse, and two more at the Smith's house. Should they ask, the PCs can confirm that the soldiers are commanded by Lt. Danforth Jeffreys, who is currently staying at the Smiths' house.
Infantry Soldier, Private (Novice)
This fresh-faced recent recruit has yet to experience the trials of combat.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d4, Fighting d6, Notice d6, Riding d4, Shooting d6, Survival d4
Charisma: --, Pace: 6”, Parry: 5, Toughness: 5
Gear: Uniform, Winchester '76 rifle (Range 24/48/96, Damage 2d8, RoF 1), bayonet (Damage 1d6+1d6; Parry +1, Reach 1, 2 hands).
The PCs should be able to find a warm welcome at the saloon, where Elizabeth Grey runs the place. What is more, she can provide an important clue regarding the cholera outbreak, but they need to fish it out of her through conversation. Neither she nor any of her serving girls has been infected; if asked, she mentions that buys her liquor directly from visiting riverboats, rather than going through Godfrey Werner. While that might seem like a small detail, it should point the PCs' suspicions in the right direction.
By the time the PCs visit this location, if they haven't already had a run-in with the soldiers, then this is a good place for it to happen. Four of them, recently having finished their daily duties, come in looking to cut loose a bit. They are full of questions about the PCs and their business in town, having been warned that “outsiders might show up, looking to make trouble.” They received their orders from Lt. Jeffreys, who in turn was instructed by Dr. Smith and Captain Arneson. The PCs could handle this through some use of Persuasion, with the usual modifiers applied for good or bad reasoning and/or roleplaying.
Unlike his brother and sister-in-law, Rev. Smith is still in town. He believes that the cholera outbreak is the result of religious impiety among the people, and that sobriety and prayer are needed to remove its scourge. He is completely unaware of the real plot, and supports his family members unquestioningly, but can become a valuable ally if shown enough evidence to convince him of the truth behind this situation.
Scene 2—Bad Business
Once they do decide to investigate the warehouse, the PCs first face the task of dealing with the guards. They have, of course, a number of options for doing so. Trickery is one; they could concoct some kind of story for why they need access to it. This should be a daunting task, since the guards have been given clear instructions not to let anyone inside it; as such, treat the guards as uncooperative for the Persuasion test. Success with a raise can change that to friendly, in which case they let the PCs into the warehouse; a normal success only changes it to neutral, in which case some kind of bribe might be needed to convince them. Failure, on the other hand, reduces their attitudes to hostile, at which point they sound the alarm.
Stealth is another possibility, albeit a difficult one. The two guards are posted between the two sets of double doors in the front of the building, so the side door could be an option; in that case, the PCs should make Lockpicking and Stealth checks, with the second of those opposed by the soldiers' Notice efforts. Success with both grants them access to the bookkeeper's office, where he is likely to be working during the daytime, and from there to the main part of the building. The PCs might even pair this activity with some kind of distraction, a situation likely to require considerable adjudication on the part of the GM.
Finally, force is a third option, but one that can bring quick consequences. While the PCs could just attack the guards, such action is likely to be noticed and thus lead to an alarm being raised. Even so, they could still move quickly enough to gain access and find evidence justifying their actions, although more use of Persuasion is probably needed to convince the soldiers that such aggression was justified by the circumstances.
The warehouse contains a number of items that can shed some light on the nature of the Smiths' plot; each of these requires a Notice check to discover, with a raise on the check letting characters discover two items. At the GM's discretion, failed checks can eat up time and thus let the powers that be respond to the PCs' actions. A botched check could also cause exposure to the liquid tainted with cholera, as detailed above.
- Two tun water barrels have corpses in them; they are victims who died from cholera and were put into the water. The bodies have had parts cut off of them.
- There are also a few smaller casks of watered-down rum; closer inspection reveals that the aforementioned missing body parts have been put into them.
- A few flour kegs have also been tampered with; they have been filled with gunpowder and nails, to serve as crude bombs.
- Finally, there's a ledger of recent transactions in the bookkeeper's office. Among other details, it confirms that shipments of flour and rum have been sent out to Fort Arneson.
Treat this disease as “long-term chronic, majorly debilitating” as per the rules from page 87 in the core rulebook. It is characterized by severe diarrhea, which in turn leads to dehydration and, possibly, death.
Scene 3—No Rest for the Weary
Armed with the evidence from the warehouse, the PCs should have their next target clearly in mind—a visit to the Smiths' house. In addition to housing Lieut. Jeffreys and the other soldiers, it holds a major secret in the basement. A Notice check lets characters recognize that something is unusual with the wall by the bottom of the stairs on the building's main level; a second such effort reveals a keyhole hidden behind a framed embroidery on the wall. Since Angelica Smith has the key, a Lockpicking effort or suitably destructive force is likely needed to unlock the secret door there. Steps, then, lead down into the basement.
Of course, Lieut. Jeffreys—or any other soldiers who are present—are full of questions about the PCs' activities, and must be mollified by the use of Persuasion or incapacitated by force before they let them proceed in their investigation.
Before they can explore the place, the PCs must deal with the imp that Angelica has left behind to guard the place. Refer to the Appendix to find stats for it. This creature first uses its invisibility power while trying to sow havoc among the PC, such as by stealing valuable items, triggering weapons and the like. If it has a chance to flee, then it uses its shape change power, especially to take the shape of a bird. Finally, if cornered—and especially if the PCs show that they possess magical means by which to harm it—the imp uses its bolt power to fight back against its attackers. Most importantly, however, it tries to escape so that it can head for Fort Arneson and inform its mistress of how her plot has been discovered.
Stats for this creature come from page 16 of the Fantasy Bestiary Toolkit, a supplement written by Paul “Wiggy” Wade-Williams; it is available for download. There are two modifications, however; they have immunity to normal weapons without a weakness to cold iron, but weaknesses to holy symbols and holy water.
The two broad tables here contain the other clues that hint at the Smiths' plot, including the following things.
- On one table there is a stack of pages, a translation of the Clavicula Salmonis. Although it is copied in English, characters must still make a general Knowledge check at a -2 penalty, or a Knowledge (occult) check at no penalty, to recognize that it deals with rituals for summoning creatures from beyond this world.
- The other table holds scraps of fabric, especially pieces cut from a bolt of blue cloth, along with bits of straw and empty medicine vials. A Healing check can confirm that the vials formerly contained blood, while a Knowledge (occult) check reveals that the materials could be used to create the items known as poppets.
- If any of the PCs have been treated by Dr. Smith—and thus have given his wife to make a poppet for them—then a Notice check locates a scrap of material that can be used to identify that character's peril.
- Finally, if the PCs can capture the imp, then they might be able to coerce it into revealing lots of information about its mistress's plans.
While this scenario introduces more questions than answers, it should lay out for the PCs their next course of action; they need to act quickly to foil a wicked ritual that will soon take place at Fort Arneson.