Today’s encounter is with a mad spire noble who abandoned the hive of his upbringing to seclude himself in a relatively small and sparsely populated estate in the colonial countryside of Vestitas Antiqua, to be alone with his perverse obsessions.
Summary: A spire noble by the name of Baranoth has the left hives of Vestitas Nova behind to make his estate here. Far from any rivals, he is free to tyrannize and terrify the serfs of his estate without any fear that anyone will sink a dagger into his back. The serfs chafe under their master, but are helpless, as his guards are well-paid, well-armed, and loyal.
Discovery: The estate is secluded within some low hills and woods. Faint tire tracks lead into the woods from outside from occasional supply runs. The estate is a fortress, surrounded by a high wall and guard towers, and sprawling out across the large acreage required for the farmland it takes to support the hundred or so people who live here. The guards refuse any entrance unless the characters can make a Challenging(+0) Influence check to command entry. The walls between the towers are not wide enough to be patrolled, which means blind spots in the towers can be exploited to scale the walls, which are sheer and can’t be scaled without assistance, but only five meters tall and thus well within the range of a grapnel and line or similar. Attempting to sneak over the wall without drawing notice of a nearby tower requires an opposed Stealth vs. Awareness check for each character attempting to do so. The check is Challenging(+0) to both sides at night, but in daylight the Stealth check is Very Hard(-30).
Exploration: Most of the estate is taken up by farmland. In the center is a cluster of buildings, most of which are the serf barracks. These are spartan places with no privacy at all, from other serfs or from the guards. The wooden boards that make them up are flimsy (when used as cover, they provide only AP2, even less than normal wooden cover) and paper thin, and the lock to the doors is held by Sergeant Mordicai, who locks the serfs into their barracks for the night and lets them out in the morning.
There is also a guard barracks in the estate’s center. This is better furnished, with the enlisted men staying two to a room and individual rooms for the sergeants and lieutenant. Lieutenant Azarach interacts little with the serfs, and mostly serves as the connection between the guards and the estate’s Lord Baranoth. Baranoth and Azarach are close friends, and Azarach also commands the respect of his men, particularly his sergeants, with whom he most often interacts. Sergeant Mordicai is in charge of the safety of the fields and managing the serfs, and has a double-size squad of twenty soldiers to see to it, Sergeant Quinten is in charge of manning the gate and towers with his squad of ten, and Sergeant Killian has a squad of ten elite soldiers in charge of guarding the manor house. Each of the three squads is split into two teams, a day team and a night team. Lieutenant Azarach and Sergeants Mordicai and Killian are awake with their day teams, but Sergeant Quinten is awake with his night team.
Also in the cluster of buildings at the center of the estate is a dog kennel. The dogs are kept half-starved and their primary purpose is to have serfs fed to them when Lord Baranoth or one of his inner circle feel that they’ve been impudent. Or in Baranoth’s case specifically, just if he thinks it would be fun to watch one of his spare serfs torn apart by wild dogs.
The manor house is full of devious traps designed by Lord Baranoth and his techpriest ally Gerralt. By default these traps are not active. Both Baranoth and Gerralt have a bracer with switches that remotely activate or deactivate any of the traps in the house. Generally speaking, Baranoth will activate traps in specific rooms to terrify or slaughter displeasing inhabitants of those rooms, while Gerralt usually only deactivates rooms with active traps when he needs to use or pass through that room and otherwise ignores them. Both Baranoth and Gerralt will arm all the traps in the manor should they be alerted to intruders within the estate.
The manor’s ground floor contains an entrance room with a mosaic on the floor of a bright sun in the center above a map of the Grey Harbour shoreline (roughly the same territory as covered by the hexcrawl). The sun is located above Grey Harbour, the half of the room on the entrance side is occupied almost entirely by ocean, and the other half by various landmarks, including one for the manor itself. The sun is a trap door. Anyone standing atop it when it is activated must make a Hard(-20) Dodge roll or else be dropped three meters into the center of the mirror labyrinth in the basement (taking 1d10+3 damage from the fall – a Challenging(+0) Acrobatics check can be used to reduce the effective distance by AG bonus as normal, and with AG bonus of 3 or more the falling damage is completely negated).
There is a similar trapdoor located beneath each of the beds in the servants’ quarters, also located on the ground floor, which dumps the occupant of the bed onto a steep slope, causing them to fall out of the bed (which does not have footboards) and into the western end of the mirror labyrinth. These trapdoors are inclined, but have a steep enough incline as to still inflict falling damage. However, Dodge checks to avoid the trapdoor have a +10 bonus due to the slope, and Acrobatic checks to reduce falling damage have a +30 bonus.
The kitchen’s doors can be locked airtight and the kitchen itself can be filled with high densities of choke gas. It takes a full round after the choke gas has begun entering the room for it to spread across the entire chamber to head height, and another full round to fill up the entire chamber such that it can’t be avoided by standing on tables or counters. Because the room is sealed, the choke gas will not disperse and will continue to inflict fatigue damage until the room is vented, likely killing those inside. The doors are metal, but not especially thick, and are only AP4, so properly armed characters should have little difficulty hacking their way out of the kitchen before succumbing to the gas. If the room is vented, it takes one round for the gas to return to head height and another round for the gas to be dispersed completely. If the room is breached, the gas takes the normal amount of time to disperse (although conscious characters can flee the kitchen early).
The dining room, also on the ground floor, has blades mounted in the table that can jut out to stab any guest except that sitting at the head of the table (presumably Lord Baranoth). The blade can attack anyone sitting or standing immediately adjacent to the table (although it is unlikely that a character will stand in exactly the right spot to be hit by the blades when not seated – they weren’t designed to hit anyone but dinner guests). There is no attack roll, either the target is in position to be attacked by a blade and can be attacked or they are too far away (or has shifted a chair so that it is between two blades) and cannot. Characters can still Parry at a -10 penalty (the blades are on a track and it is difficult to shove them off of it) or Dodge the attack at no penalty, although there is a -20 penalty to Dodge and Parry if they are seated (as though they were prone). This penalty for being seated stacks with the penalty for attempting to Parry. If struck, characters take 1d10 Rending damage. The target is always the torso if they were struck while seated, and is whichever leg is closest to the table based on facing if they were struck while standing next to the table. The dining room also contains a secret entrance to the eastern mirror labyrinth, which can be found with a Difficult(-10) Awareness check.
The mirror labyrinth in the basement is divided into five sections. On the far eastern side are the stairs leading up to the secret entrance in the dining room, which is obvious from this side and requires no check to discover. On the far western side is the manor dungeon. In between are the eastern, center, and western sections of the labyrinth. Whenever in one of these three center sections of the labyrinth, characters who wish to escape must make a Difficult(-10) Awareness check which must use the Intelligence characteristic. On a success, they can move either west or east. On a failure, roll 1d5 in secret. On a 1 or 2, the character moves west, on a 3, the character remains where they are, and on a 4-5 the character moves east. On a successful Awareness check to navigate the labyrinth, the character knows which section they’re in, but on an unsuccessful test they have no idea.
If multiple characters are traveling together and one or more of them fail their Awareness check but at least one other succeeds, those who’ve failed have a chance to make a second Difficult(-10) Awareness check to keep track of their group, which can use Perception as normal. If they fail this check as well, the mirrors have separated them from their group and they must roll a 1d5. Even if they end up in the same section of the labyrinth by pure happenstance, they will be separated from the group and will not know they are in the same section. Two characters who succeed on their Awareness checks to navigate the labyrinth and move to the same place as each other can find each other automatically.
The manor’s dungeon contains various cages and torture implements. At the far end is a cage with a chute at the top of it, which leads to the guest room on the second floor. The chute is three meters off the ground, and it requires a Very Hard(-30) Athletics check to brace yourself between the two sides of the chute rather than falling back down into the cage (there are no handholds in the chute to grab onto). For every meter past three the character jumps, they get a +10 bonus to catching the chute, up to +0. At -30, they can barely get their fingers in the chute. At +0, they’re entirely within the shoot and can use both arms and legs to brace themselves between the two sides. Once inside, it’s a Challenging(+0) Athletics test to climb the smooth, slippery, but slightly angled chute up to the guest room. The chute door doesn’t open from inside, but it’s thin wood, only AP2, so even a character’s fists will be able to smash through it soon enough.
The door to the dungeon is open by default, and if anybody enters it closes immediately behind them. Only Baranoth’s and Gerralt’s bracers can open it from either side. Gerralt rarely comes here, and Baranoth will wait until the victim within has been trapped for 24 hours to weaken them with thirst before entering to throw them in a cage or lock them in some cruel device, whereupon he will leave the door open when he leaves. The cages and devices in the room all require a Challenging(+0) Security check to unlock, but their keys to are kept on a rack in the dungeon itself, so rescues and escapes are primarily impeded by the auto-closing door. The door is made of solid AP16 stone, and when closed, it fits perfectly into the stone on the dungeon side of the door, requiring a Hard(-20) Awareness test to even be noticed. It also fits perfectly into the stone on the labyrinth side and the same test is required to notice the seams, although it will be immediately obvious that something’s up just because there’s a stone wall there instead of a mirror. But hey, maybe it’s just an unadorned dead end and Baranoth is just messing with those trying to navigate the maze.
The manor’s second floor contains a ballroom, a library, a sitting room, and guest rooms. The ballroom’s three chandeliers each contain a concealed turret. When inactive, the turrets require a Hard(-20) Awareness test to be noticed. When deployed, they are heavy stubbers that will target and fire upon anything that moves and isn’t within two meters of a control bracer or another turret. It’s pretty hard to miss them in this state.
The library appears to have only one row of stacks, but actually contains a second. The second can only be accessed by pulling out a certain, non-descript black book. It’s a Difficult(-10) Awareness test to notice the grooves in the floor where the bookcase spins. If the book is pulled out, the bookcase spins around and will not spin back into place, trapping characters in the aisle. The other bookcases are bolted into place and cannot be tipped over, and they go straight to the top so they cannot be climbed. They are only AP4, however, making them fairly easy to destroy. A control bracer can be used to return the bookcase back to its regular position (and return anyone trapped on the other side to the main library, provided they’re standing in the right spot).
The sitting room contains several large, stark steel chairs in front of the fireplace. The chairs have pillows placed upon them to make them more comfortable, but are made from ornate, blackened steel. Anyone who’s familiar with the rest of this madhouse will be entirely unsurprised to hear that the fireplace spits out gouts of flame to roast anyone sitting on the chairs. This is a heavy flamer attack whose cone will envelope anyone sitting in or standing near the chairs. The pillows will be burnt to ash and will have to be replaced.
Each bed in the guest room has no footboard and can be tilted forward into a trapdoor chute like those in the servants’ chamber. Each of the guest room chutes joins into a single chute as they pass through the western wall of the first floor, and this chute dumps anyone unfortunate to be caught in it into the holding cage of the manor’s dungeon down below.
The top floor of the manor contains Lord Baranoth’s master bedroom, his personal study, and the locked room where he keeps Sesselie and Eleantra. Sesselie is a common girl from the hive he fled, and the main reason he fled is because he knew his prefixation with her would draw contempt from his fellow spire nobles. Eleantra is the daughter born of their coupling, and is currently four years old. The door to this room is always locked, and the lock requires a Hard(-20) Security check to get past, although the door is only AP4 and is fairly easy to hack through. Lord Baranoth’s study contains a monitoring station that has extensive records of their room, as well as footage taken from a pict-recorder mounted on Sergeant Killian’s armour that records the two of them whenever they are allowed out with Killian as their chaperone, usually to the fields outside the manor. The only other times they are allowed out of the room is when Baranoth is with them, usually for dinner. Notes from Baranoth’s study make it clear that he is grooming Eleantra to replace Sesselie as the objection of his lust when she’s grown in about a decade.
Lord Baranoth’s master bedroom contains a bomb. The bomb is Blast(25), but its range is so prodigious that the damage taken varies depending on how close to ground zero you are. At 25 meters, the bomb deals 1d10+1 explosive damage with Penetration 1, with an additional 1d10+1 damage and 1 more point of Penetration for every 5 meters closer, up to 5d10+5 Penetration 5 when five meters or closer to the bomb. This bomb can only be detonated from Baranoth’s control bracer, and when it does, it will level the manor. Anyone on the second floor who survives the blast will take 1d10+3 falling damage, and anyone on the third will take 1d10+6. Those on the ground floor will take 1d10 as they’re blasted off their feet by the explosion, although a successful Acrobatics check to reduce falling damage will ignore all of the damage automatically, regardless of Agility bonus.
If anyone is wondering where Gerralt sleeps, he doesn’t.
Confrontation: Lord Baranoth has an aggressive personality. His Disposition begins at a frosty 25, and will be only 15 for anyone who enters the estate without his permission (probably by succeeding on an Influence check at the gate). Baranoth will attempt to persuade anyone here legitimately to leave as fast as possible. If the characters insist on staying the night, he tests Disposition automatically, and on a failure he will begin plotting to kill them. First he’ll try to dump from their guest room beds into his dungeon for safekeeping, and if that fails he’ll have Sergeant Killian’s night team on standby to gun them down while they’re unarmed and unarmoured, having just dodged the bed trap. If the night team is defeated, he’ll rouse Sergeant Killian and the day team, and call Sergeant Mordicai’s and Sergeant Quentin’s day teams in to assist, and if that looks like it’s going poorly, he’ll have Mordicai and Quentin’s night teams abandon their posts and join the fray. Anyone who hasn’t already earned Lord Baranoth’s ire but who discovers he’s keeping Sesselie imprisoned will immediately draw lethal hostility from him, although they may be able to talk their way out of it if they offer to keep the secret (including for purposes of blackmail) if they can succeed on a Disposition check.
Sergeant Mordicai is also aggressive, Sergeants Killian and Quentin and Lieutenant Azarach are all confident, and Tech Priest Gerralt is clever. All five of the inner circle have a starting Disposition of 35 towards outsiders, and everyone but Gerralt has an immediate -20 penalty to Disposition towards anyone who’s broken in. Disposition checks to convince any of the inner circle to assassinate or stage a coup against Lord Baranoth take a -20 penalty except Sergeant Quentin, who takes only a -10 so long as he’ll keep his job under the new regime, and Tech Priest Gerralt, who is +0 so long as he’s promised a steady supply of serfs to use as test subjects for the manor’s traps. He doesn’t care about the dungeon at all, he just wants to make sure the deathtraps are functional. Everyone already convinced to assist in the coup provides a +5 bonus to convincing others to join the coup, however a single failed Disposition test concerning the coup means the conspiracy will be ratted out to Lord Baranoth at soonest convenience (probably within fifteen minutes), which will prompt an immediate civil war.
There’s also just over two score total enemies here, they’re pretty split up and spread out, and they’re really light on heavy weapons, so they can reasonably be picked off in isolation or even just steamrolled with the help of a pair of chimeras full of PDF troopers from a town that owes the characters a favor.
Rewards: If Baranoth is blackmailed into submission, the party gains access to his forces, although pulling more than half of his guards away will require a Disposition check from him, and if failed he will attempt to kill them all over again.
If the characters throw a coup and replace him, his forces can be redeployed at-will. If the estate is left completely abandoned, the serfs and servants will only take one day to make some ladders and begin to flee. After 24 hours of a lack of guard, the estate will be halfway depopulated, and the rest will leave 1d5 days after that. If Baranoth is got rid of, the contents of his estate can be sold off, provided the characters can transport them to town, for 1d10 Influence to split between the party. The granary also has several thousand ration packs’ worth of food in it, enough to resupply a six-man team indefinitely (although even a relatively small army of 100 men would chew through it in about two months, and it only replenishes once a year at harvest time).
The library can be used for a +20 bonus to any Scholastic Lore (Chymistry), (Cryptology), (Heraldry), (Judgement), (Legend), (Numerology), (Occult), (Philosophy), and (Tactica Imperialis) checks. A specific book from the library can be taken along for travel. They’re hefty things that weigh two kilograms and grant a +10 bonus to a single one of these skills. Multiple books can be taken to gain bonuses to multiple subjects, but two books in the same subject do not provide a stacking bonus.