This is another Vestitas hex encounter, part of the Vestitas hexcrawl in which a frontier long infested by Chaos cults is receiving a fresh new wave of loyal, pious immigrants to bring the light of the Emperor fully to the region. This particular encounter is not far from Brandt’s Landing, a town that sits right on the border between areas nominally compliant with Cardinal Romanus’ crusade and places that reject Imperial authority outright, whether forsaking the Emperor for darker powers or their own independence.
Summary: A small farming village in the frontier territory between Brandt’s Landing and Grey Harbour is supposedly cursed since three years ago when the last mayor, his wife, and their newborn daughter were killed by the ghost of their older daughter, who the Lord and Lady Mayor had arranged to have killed in a “riding accident” to get rid of a troublesome heir too familiar with the common people for their comfort. Their former house now contains a ritual room that can be used to contact the departed spirit of the murdered daughter, whose unburied bones were stashed in the floorboards of her former bedroom. When contact is made with the ghost, she soon becomes furious at her unjust death and will begin killing everyone in the manor. The ghost is not laid to rest until her bones are interred in her family crypt.
Hook: The village has a large and dilapidated manor in the middle of it. When asked about it, the citizens all say that it’s cursed. They don’t offer any details immediately, but if pressed for the specifics of the curse, they will explain that everyone who lives in that house is eventually slain by some mysterious plague, from the lords to the servants.
Exploration: The manor itself is presently unoccupied, awaiting a noble brave enough to take up a post that so regularly induces death. There is nothing living in the manor except the occasional mouse, and there is no danger in initial exploration. A Psyniscience check at Challenging(+0) difficulty confirms that there is definitely something psyker-y going on here, and will guide the psyker in question towards whichever is closer of the ritual room in the basement, the torture room also in the basement, or the daughter’s bedroom upstairs. The ritual room has a faded pentagram drawn on the floor surrounded by runes. A Very Hard(-30) Awareness test will find the outline of the pentagram, and a Difficult(-10) Psyniscience test will allow the pentagram and its runes to be sensed.
The daughter’s bedroom has a few floorboards that are a bit loose. These can be detected with a Hard(-20) Awareness check while searching the room. It’s a Challenging(+0) Awareness test to find the daughter’s diary hidden in the false bottom of an end table. She’s written about her closeness to and relationship with one of the farmers who lives in the hinterlands, as well as her general affection for the common people and experiments with obscura, all of which her parents condemn. She also writes about her fears for her safety when her mother gives birth to a new heir. The last entry is a barely coherent recollection of the farm boy being discovered and tortured to death in the family’s hidden dungeon, and the daughter’s plans to use the secret knowledge given her by the local townsfolk to bring him back.
If the players want to investigate the townsfolk, their disposition starts out at 45 if they appear as common people and 25 if they appear to be any kind of Imperium official. You can use any personality for a random townsperson. Everyone in town knows that Old Maggie knows charms and enchantments, and if the players succeed on their disposition check when asking where the dead daughter (or just someone in general) might get their hands on some spooky voodoo around here, the townsfolk will relay the information. Old Maggie herself has a clever personality and a starting disposition of only 35, or all the way down to 15 if the players appear to be Imperium officials. However, if the players have come to her by winning the trust of a townsperson (as opposed to, say, intimidating her location out of them or using Psyniscience to track her) and that townsperson provides an introduction, they get a +20 bonus to her starting disposition. If the players ask about the forbidden lore she gave to dead daughter and pass their disposition check, Old Maggie will sketch for them the symbol that summons back the dead. Using it in the manor will call up the ghosts. She warns that the dead rarely appreciate it.
The torture room’s implements are in disrepair. The spikes of the iron chair are rusted and stuck in place, the rack creaks and sticks in place when you attempt to turn the wheel to stretch, the whips are frayed and ill-kept. The bones of the farm boy are arranged around an altar that contains a record of the punishments carried out here. They’re mostly against petty criminals for things like theft and fraud. The last one was punished for “corruption” and was placed in the iron maiden with a brazier of hot coals below, then had freezing cold water poured over him. The water then fell off his body onto the hot coals below, causing boiling hot steam to cook him. More water was poured on until he was dead. Anyone with Psyniscience trained must immediately attempt a Challenging(+0) test when they enter, and if they succeed they can hear the screams of the farm boy as he’s tortured to death. This will draw the ghost of the murdered daughter towards the one who made the successful Psyniscience test and gives a +20 bonus to the Psyniscience tests made in her bedroom or the ritual room.
In the family crypt out back a Very Hard(-30) Awareness check will reveal that the stiffness of the daughter’s alleged niche indicates it has probably never been opened, not even to inter her corpse. Forcing the niche open with a Challenging(+0) Athletics check reveals that it is indeed empty. The death date is also five years ago, not three (no roll is required to notice this – just describe that the death date is given as five years ago when describing the tomb and if the players have good enough memory, they’ll recall that the rumors that led them here described the curse beginning with the daughter’s death three years ago). The Lord and Lady Mayor had the death date inscribed as the day that she lost her virginity to the farm boy.
The ghost of the daughter wants to be summoned, and if the players begin to stall she will start to appear out the corner of their eyes or in reflections in mirrors or otherwise in subtle ways (without the ritual she cannot manifest fully) and point them towards any clues they haven’t yet found. If they’ve found all the clues, or have been to every clue room (the bedroom, the torture room, the ritual room) without finding the right clues or figuring it out, she will start to leave messages carved into walls or on fogged up mirrors or windows for them, messages like “complete the ritual” and “come find me” and ultimately a copy of the ritual pentagram carved into the wall so that all they have to do is read it. This is lore from the common people, so it’s written in Low Gothic and everything.
Confrontation: Once the pentagram is drawn and the ghost is summoned and fully visible, she will actively attempt to lead players to first her lovers bones, then her own, and then guide them to the family crypt where the two of them can be interred together. If the players hesitate or can’t figure out what to do for longer than a few minutes, the ghost will become despondent and vengeful and attack. She cannot be harmed by physical attacks except those made by a blessed or daemonic weapon, and she can only be harmed by the psyker powers of psychic shriek, crush, shockwave, vortex of doom, cleansing flame, holocaust, dark flame, and infernal gaze. All other offensive psyker powers either generate a physical effect to do their damage (sunburst) or rely on manipulating the physical body of the foe (haemorrhage). The ghost becomes pacified towards the players if they inter her and her lovers’ bones in the family crypt, but is otherwise impossible to talk reason into.
The daughter’s ghost is summoned by default, but the farm boy’s scarred visage can be summoned up if the pentagram is drawn in the torture room. He is driven mad by his torture and will only reach out from the bars of his iron maiden shrieking until the ghost of the daughter comes to release him. For this reason, the daughter’s ghost will lead the players towards the torture chamber even if they’ve already recovered the farm boy’s bones.
After either the farm boy’s or the daughter’s bones are interred in the crypt (or preferably both), the ghosts of the parents emerge to make known their displeasure and begin to fight with their daughter and her lover, who now manifests as a proper ghost if he hasn’t already to seek revenge on his murderers. At this stage, one pair of ghosts must be destroyed and the other laid to rest by either putting both the daughter and her lover’s bones in the crypt or taking both of them out. The two pairs will fight with one another, so if the players do not have any psychic firepower, they can just wait for one side or another to win and then pacify the victors. The ghosts on either side will ignore the players until the players pick a side. It’s also possible to win by destroying all four ghosts (you monster).
Rewards: The inscription of the pentagram can be reused to summon ghosts in any location that has had someone die when they really would rather not have done so, which is most places where people have died. Usually they want to be laid to rest and will, like the daughter’s ghost, react extremely poorly if ignored. This means that if you draw such a pentagram on, say, the site of a recent battle, you can expect to be slaughtered by a horde of angry ghosts each trying to tug you in a different direction to lay them to rest first, all but perhaps one or two becoming hostile. Ghosts don’t care a whole lot for the world of the living and will only occasionally care about solving their own murder or divulging the location of the family fortune, and sometimes they may become hostile if you do not immediately, say, annex the Faruvian Borderland in the name of his heir.
This is not to say that being able to summon a ghost is never helpful. They may be hostile towards their murderer and if your goal is to finish their life’s work they will serve as an incorporeal (though also mercurial) ally, however ghosts are not minions nor are they regular allies with ghostly super powers. They do not answer questions (though occasionally they will react positively or negatively to inquiries directly related to what needs be done to lay them to rest), they will not stray far from the site of their death, they will not respond to orders.
Also, few alien souls can be summoned in this way, nor can the souls of the servants of Chaos (those are already spoken for). Eldar work very hard to make sure their souls aren’t just lying around for Slaanesh to claim, orks have a weird gestalt soul which means they rarely leave a soul behind to summon and when they do it’s a collective avatar of Gork and/or Mork that manifests as something on the order of an Avatar of Khaine or a Greater Daemon, necrons and Tyranids have no soul to speak of, and tau have souls, but they’re so weak that they manifest as formless, incoherent wisps rather than as proper ghosts.
No one wants to be Lord Mayor of this town because it’s cursed, and until they tell someone, the players are the only ones who know the curse is broken. This means that if the players have any highborn friends or contacts whose position is currently less than that of a Lord Mayor (including any player who themselves has the highborn background or can forge the credentials for one), they can be installed as Lord Mayor of the town and the Imperium is weak and disorganized enough in the area that they’ll just roll with it so long as the self-appointed Lord Mayor is highborn. The town can pretty much run itself after several years of not having a Lord Mayor at all (or having one for like five weeks before he’s murdered), so a highborn player who declares themselves Lord Mayor of the town doesn’t have to actually stick around and rule it.
If you become Lord Mayor you gain 1d10 Influence, and if you’re personally associated with the Lord Mayor you gain 1d5. This means if a party member becomes the Lord Mayor, the rest of the party all gain 1d5, if a friendly NPC is installed, every party member gets 1d5, but if a specific contact of one player in particular is installed, only that player gets 1d5. Either way, the town is generally helpful from now on, and all players get a +10 bonus to Influence checks made for goods or services from the town, and can reduce their Influence by 2 to automatically succeed on an Influence check for any goods or services the town can provide by using a favor from their friend and/or puppet the Lord Mayor to levy the town. The town can provide anything that’s common or cheaper, any solid projectile weapon or service that’s average or cheaper, any medical care, low-tech weapon, or basic armour that’s scarce or cheaper, and as long as drugs continue to flow freely through Brandt’s Landing, any drugs or consumables that are rare or cheaper. Goods and services less available than these just don’t exist at all in the town, and no amount of levying or intimidation will change that.
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