Mystery: Butcher in the Backwoods
There’s a reason everyone everyone goes to bed so early out in the country.
The party has come to the small village of Tolthurt, perhaps because they were traveling through the region with a caravan, or because their quest takes them to a dungeon in the nearby wilderness. After getting out of the rain and arranging lodging for the night ( Tolthurt is so small that it’s inn is more of a common room the party is welcome to lay their bedrolls out on), the party meets with Ralson Rollick, an over-the-hill bard who boasts a cheery attitude and a love of the minstrel's trade despite never making it big. While they swap stories about their travels, Ralson takes a shine to the party, and hints he might’ve learned something that’ll be of interest to them, which he’ll tell them about once he’s sobered up in the morning.
When the party awakes, they discover a crowd of villagers clustered around a body laying in the road. Half submerged in mud and blood, the victim has been heavily mauled, but is very clearly Ralson, robbed along with his life of his instruments, packs, and his purse. Tolhurt’s Mayor insists that no one be allowed to leave until the killers are caught, as clearly Ralson was set upon by a group of attackers, which puts the party and their traveling companions as the primary suspects.
Though regarded with suspicion, the publican at the commonroom insists she saw the party there all night, and on her word they’re allowed to attempt to prove their innocence. Asking the villagers about Ralson’s activities reveal he was in town for a few days claiming to need to rest from a long time on the road, while examining his body reveals it wasn’t blades he was savaged by, but claws and teeth. Clearly something more than petty banditry is going on here, which the party will obviously discover on the second night when their wagon and mounts mysteriously go missing, preventing them from easily leaving town.
Setup: Raimus Rollick wasn’t just a minstrel, but an agent of the duke’s court, sent to investigate strange goings on in Tolthurt by his liege's request. Through stealthy observation he discovered that ancestral enemies of the Duke’s family had survived a clash between their clans, and settled in Tolthurt to bide their time and lick their wounds.
Said enemies (The Ibrerynne) happened to be a family of werewolves, who in the intervening generations have expanded themselves into a pack, swaying key individuals such as the mayor with the promise of predatory power, while threatening others (like the stablemaster) with savage violence should their secret ever leak. The Iberynne family themselves live near constantly in wolf form, dwelling in a tumbeldown ruin that they’ve made into their new “estate” and stewing in their decades long thoughts of revenge. Raimus found one of their noble seals in the mayor’s office (the Ibrerynne had been reaching out to old allies and needed someone to handle their mail), and put it, a coded letter to the duke, and his emblem of safe travel in the party’s bag before he was killed by the Ibrerynne following him.
The mayor, having not yet received his marching orders from his half-feral masters, didn’t know who’d killed the minstrel or why, but knew he needed to defer blame. A good number of Tolthurt’s inhabitants don’t know anything about the werewolves in the forest, and his job was to keep it that way. For their part, the Iberynne are finding the seal at any cost, and are cutting off hope of escape from the village one avenue at a time, will the party realize it before it’s too late?
As they are, the party can’t fight the Iberynne pack at full strength, lacking access to silvered weapons and potentially facing upwards of thirty shapeshifters should their full force be summoned. Their only hope is to flee before the noose closes completely around them, hoping to evade their pursuers through the wilderness, potentially losing them by traveling downriver by raft or losing them in a sudden highland storm.
It’s possible that one of the party may fall in the defense of their friends, or stay behind to draw their pursuers off. Should this character die, offer the player a devil’s bargain, a chance to continue playing the fallen character at some great cost. Should they accept, detail in a side story how they are taken captive by Ibrerynne and tortured by being inflicted with the curse and made to endure bouts of feral hunger and bloodthirsty madness. Some weeks later, they will escape captivity, cured, traumatized, but more aware of the Ibrerynne’s plans. In the interim, have them play another agent of the duke, a rider who meets the party looking for Raimus and can explain to them the significance of the emblem. Use these stats to represent the curse itself, with these effects for the aftermath of the change.
Once the party is back in civilization, they’ll discover the seal, the letter, and the emblem of safe passage, though it may take a canny individual to crack the code or realize that such emblems are only given out by the duke himself. The letter details the threat now revealed in the forests outside Tolthurt and urges the duke into action, and can earn the party great reward (and protection) if presented to him.
If the duke moves against the Ibrerynne, or the party starts blabbing about werewolves to anyone who’ll listen, they’ll find their enemies gone and their ruinous estate deserted. The Ibrerynne have spies in the surrounding villages, loyal to them either by pack bond, or by threats to their families. Just to twist the knife, they’ll massacre a few of the villagers that’ve earned their ire (such as the Publican), leaving them as a bloody present for the duke to find.
Should the party not realize the importance of what Raimus left with them, they can expect a visitation by a werewolf assassin some time in their future, eager to root through their packs and silence them for what they’ve seen.
The duke will be much aggrieved by the death of Raimus Rollick, as the man had served him since his youth as council and confidant, as acting as his eyes and ears to keep the duchy safe. By returning his emblem to the duke, the party has proven themselves worthy of this legacy, and the Duke will offer to accept them into his service. Should the party accept his offer of patronage, he will call them his “Rollickers” to honor the old bard, a name they may come to be known by as heroes.
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