Sometimes, just when one mystery is solved, another one is revealed. Such is the case with some recent business in the riverside settlement known as The Crossing. In the course of exposing a Voodoo practitioner who was posing as a preacher and using the Night Terrors power to put the fear of God into locals so that they'd join his congregation, a traveling group of entertainers also discovered a curiously encoded message. In trying to decipher its meaning, they're about to find themselves caught up in a much bigger plot.
If the PCs can decode the cipher—which is based on the text of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet—then they can follow where it leads, to the northeast end of Cat Island in Mississippi. En route they are pursued by thieves who wish to steal the cipher for themselves, and thus to claim the treasure. If they reach their destination, then they can find the next clue, a puzzle box that contains a map depicting the Canary Islands. That leads to Prospero's Island, where they can find a cave that holds a grimoire which once belonged to that wizard.
For the Gun Master
Gareth Hildebrand, the man who died of fright resulting from a nightmare inflicted by the false Reverend Bouchard, is a retired U.S. Marshal for the state of Mississippi, part of a special branch—tasked with investigating supernatural activity—known as the Black Stars. During his service he found a mysterious coded message, one that he always meant to investigate once he'd finished other business. Sadly, his retirement was cut short after he settled at The Crossing, for he fell victim to a nightmare inflicted by Edmond Bouchard.
What Hildebrand never learned is that the note leads to an item buried on Cat Island, a small sandy isle off the coast of Mississippi. It, in turn, was brought there by a British agent who ran afoul of American privateers during the War of 1812, and who thus was forced to hide it—but only after writing the cipher so that he could find it again. A cylinder with a rotating lock mechanism, it holds a map that shows the location of Prospero's Island. Known to many as the setting of William Shakespeare's play The Tempest, it in fact is a real place, and one where a powerful sorcerer met his end. Even now, certain items that belonged to the wizard can still be found there.
Of course, the PCs are not the only individuals who are interested in this story. A shadowy occult organization known as the Cabal learned about Hildebrand's discovery, and sent Edmond Bouchard to win Hildebrand's acquiescence. His magically created nightmares proved too powerful, however, and let to the Marshal's death. Even so, more agents of the Cabal are coming to continue those efforts.
Involving the Heroes
This adventure assumes that the PCs participated in the events of the scenario “Truth or Consequences” and thus found the cipher amid the possessions of the late Mr. Hildebrand. If that is not the case, then the GM might need to devise some other means of involving them in this plot, such as by having them involve the grandson of the deceased while traveling aboard a steamboat on the Mississippi River (see below for more details).
Scene 1—The Cipher
Refer to the image above for a copy of the ciphered message; more copies are included in the Appendix as handouts for the players. The markings at the top of it refer to a line from Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet:
“From for the fatal loins of these two foes,
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life.”
The sets of numbers, then, refer to acts, scenes, lines and words in the text; when combined, they form the location of the hidden item.
“North east end – high tide mark – the cat.”
That, then, refers to a small barrier island off the coast of Mississippi, one known as Cat Island. That is where the cylinder lies buried; a general Knowledge or Boating check reveals its location.
Next of Kin
While the PCs are deciphering this message, a newcomer approaches them. This is Gareth Hildebrand III, the grandson of the deceased. He has been sent by his father, Gareth, Jr., to investigate the old man's death. As such, he is quite intrigued by any details he learns of the cipher, and asks the PCs to help him continue investigating its secrets. He can even add that it is a matter of importance for the U.S. Marshal Service, and they might earn a reward for aiding him.
Alternately, if the PCs did not participate in the events of “Truth or Consequences,” then the younger Gareth can provide the GM a means of drawing them into this business; he happens to be traveling aboard the same steamboat as they, when agents of the Cabal attack him in the middle of the night (see below for details).
Refer to the following article to find deck plans and descriptions for the steamboat on which the PCs make their voyage.
Gareth Hildebrand III, US Marshal Recruit (Novice)
New recruits to the U.S. Marshal Service tend to be well-rounded individuals, jacks of all trades but masters of none—but ones who can quickly learn what they need to know in the field to do their jobs, investigating crimes and bringing wrongdoers to justice.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d6, Investigation d6, Knowledge d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Riding d6, Shooting d6, Streetwise d6
Charisma: --, Pace: 6”, Parry: 5, Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Code of Honor
Gear: Suit, pocket watch, gun belt, Stetson hat, badge, folding knife (Damage Str + d4, -2 to be noticed), Colt Peacemaker (Range 12/24/48, Damage 2d6+1, RoF 1).
Of course, Hildebrand is not the only person interested in this business; the Cabal sends its own agents to recover the ciphered message.
Cabal Mercenary (Novice): Refer to the supplement The Cabal for stats.
Thief (Novice): Refer to the supplement The Cabal for stats.
Occultist (Seasoned): Refer to the supplement The Cabal for stats.
For their part, the Cabal agents try to recover the cipher without violence, if possible—but are quite prepared to use it if needed. Ultimately there goal is to acquire it and then leave the PCs stranded, so that they can continue to pursue the cipher's secrets without interruption.
Scene 2—Buried Treasure
When they reach Cat Island, the PCs find that it is little more than a glorified sandbar with some scant vegetation and a few freshwater ponds. Indeed, one of those, close to the northeast end of the island, is home to a hungry alligator. It lies in wait until its prey is close, and then rushes out to attack.
Alligator: Refer to page 180 of the Savage Worlds Adventure Edition for stats.
As expected, buried in the sand at the high-tide mark on that end of the island is a canister, engraved with the image of a knight and battle and built with rotating, numbered dials that operate like a lock.
The key to this puzzle is the figure depicted in the engraving—St. George, the Dragon Slayer—and his connection to William Shakespeare. In this case, the feast day of St. George on the Catholic calendar is the very same on which Shakespeare is believed to have born and died: April 23rd. For that reason, setting the dials to the combination 0-4-2-3 opens the canister. Inside it, then, is a map (see Appendix to find a copy for the players). It depicts a claw-shaped landmass, with the following inscription:
“Inside the Pillars of Hercules,
Between the Major and the Minor lies Prospero's Island.
Follow the serpent's track to his lair.”
This clue makes a number of references, as detailed below; the skills listed in parentheses are those that let the PCs recognize these details.
- Prospero is the main character in Shakespeare's play The Tempest, a wizard and the Duke of Milan who was marooned on a desert island by his usurping brother, but who uses his magic to achieve justice (Common Knowledge).
- The words Major and Minor refer to islands in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Spain, Majorca and Minorca (Boating).
If they want to learn more, then, the PCs need to book passage across the Atlantic Ocean, something they can do in the nearby city of Gulfport, Mississippi. Captain Edward Danielson commands a steamship and is about to set off on a trans-oceanic journey.
Should it be necessary, the GM can find deck plans, descriptions and stats for a steamship at the following link.
The voyage across the ocean can be uneventful, but it does provide a good chance for the GM to add some Interludes, as detailed on page 130 of the SWADE core rulebook.
Scene 3—The Island
Once they reach the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea—passing through the fabled Pillars of Hercules, formed by the Rock of Gibraltar and the northern coastline of Africa—it's a short voyage to the Balearic Islands. There, between Majorca and Minorca, they find a small body of land shaped like a claw, with a natural harbor in which to drop anchor (Area A). From there, a stream (Area B) leads into the island's interior; this is the “serpent” to which the map refers, since the stream winds like the body of a snake.
As they arrive, the PCs might notice the creatures who are swimming in the bay. These are vodyanoi, fey creatures who live in the water. They are intrigued by the newcomers, and can tell some of the island's history, as long as the PCs are friendly toward them.
Vodyanoi: Refer to the supplement “Fey Creatures” for stats.
From the bay, the river—the “serpent”—leads into the island's interior. During this trek the PCs can encounter two more of they fey who inhabit the island, the sylphs who flit through the air and a dryad who is bonded with one of the trees. These creatures wish to know who the PCs are, why they have come to the island, and what they intend to do here. The sylphs flit around them, scoping out the situation and then reporting to the dryad, Amalthea. Eventually she decides to confront them.
Sylphs: Refer to the supplement “Fey Creatures” for stats.
Dryad: Refer to the supplement “Fey Creatures” for stats.
Refer to the blog post linked below to find stats for the fey creatures who occupy this island.
Deep in the island's interior, along the bank of the stream, is the cavern that served as Prospero's cell. It is a cave behind a small waterfall, as detailed on the maps below. At one turn the river tumbles down a sharp cascade, creating a broad pool. The resulting waterfall covers the entrance to a cave that served as Prospero's cell. It takes a Climb check to reach the cave entrance from the shore of the pool.
Behind the waterfall—which a Notice check reveals—is a broad cave (1) that splits into two separate sections. One formerly held foodstuffs and sleeping billets for the castaways (2), while the other (3) is where Prospero conducted his magical studies. That, indeed, is where the PCs can find the magical items that he left behind. Refer to the Appendix to find more information about those items.
The First Confrontation
Once the PCs have reached the cell and discovered its contents, the fey creatures who inhabit this island decide to confront them. They know that the magical items left behind in Prospero's cell grant power over them, and thus wish to know how the PCs intend to use them. For that reason, the dryad Amalthea approaches them, asking what they intend to do with the magical items that they have found. She and her fellow fey creatures are probably not powerful enough to stop the PCs directly, but they can make life much more difficult for them. Whatever the case, they also report the arrival of another party—more agents of the Cabal, aboard the sailing ship Unfathomable.
Upon arrival, the Cabal agents drop anchor in the bay and then send out two groups in longboats, one to take control of the steamship and the other to go in search of the PCs. Each group consists of one seasoned occultist, one novice thief, and two novice mercenaries.
Should the PCs manage to board the Unfathomable, they find that it has a raised sterncastle (1) from which the ship is steered, along with an open main deck (2). Beneath the sterncastle are two cabins for passengers (3 and 4) along with the captain's own cabin (5). The lower deck is divided into two separate areas, the crew's quarters (6) and the cargo hold (7). The remaining crew consists of four novice mercenaries and a veteran occultist.
To find stats for the two craft involved in this adventure, refer to the supplement that is linked below.
Occultist (Veteran): Refer to the supplement The Cabal for stats.
Unless they want to split their party, the PCs probably need to deal with the two groups one at a time. The first has come ashore to find them, while the second is boarding the steamship, so the PCs would need to go to them. In either case, they might be aided by some of the fey creatures who inhabit the island, if they have won their respect; alternately, they could force the fey to help by using Prospero's spells. Battling the first group involves a fight on the river or in the jungle; attacking the other requires the PCs to storm the ship(s) themselves. If at any point the Cabal agents feel they're overwhelmed by the PCs (at the GM's discretion), they attempt to flee.
As long as they are victorious, the PCs win control of a valuable magical treasure. They also gain a glimpse of a much larger conflict, one involving the shadowy agents of the Cabal. This can have important implications for them in the future—but that is an adventure for another time.
Detailed below are just a few of the possibilities for additional business in which the PCs can become entangled.
- The agents of the Cabal are not easily denied what they want, and continue their attempts to claim the prize from the PCs—or, if need be, to eliminate them once and for all.
- Among the possessions left behind by the enigmatic Prospero is a clue to some business that the witch Sycorax had back in Algiers, related to why she was banished from that city.
Detailed below are the three items that can be found in Prospero's cell.
- Prospero's Cloak is woven with special materials and embroidered with magical symbols; it provides benefits similar to the Arcane Resistance edge, except that the penalty inflicted on enemy powers is only -1. That can be combined with the actual edge, but only lasts so long as the character in question is wearing the cloak.
- Prospero's Staff is made crafted from oakwood engraved with magical symbols and inlaid with precious metals; it enhances the powers used by characters trying to influence fey creatures, increasing the relevant skill check by +1.
- Prospero's Book is a grimoire that can help readers learn the following powers: Arcane Protection, Deflection, Detect/Conceal Arcana, Dispel, Elemental Manipulation, Protection, Puppet. At the GM's discretion, this tome could allow characters for whom those powers aren't normally available (per their arcane backgrounds) to learn them.