Plot seed: The House of Refuge


Advice


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This is a plot seed for low to midlevel PCs. It is unashamedly stolen from The Librarians, because it's a cool idea. Hat tip to John Rogers.

* * * * *

The PCs are travelling through a forest or similar wilderness area. It's raining. Suddenly they hear the sound of distant shouts or screams! Investigating, they quickly encounter a young woman staggering through the underbrush. She is disheveled, covered in blood, and almost incoherent with terror.

"That... that thing! It has my friends! Oh, gods, they're still in there!" [breaks down sobbing]

Upon examination: she is well but not expensively dressed, and shows signs of elven blood. (She is, in fact, a half-elf.) Although her clothes have been slashed by what look like claws, her injuries are minor -- there's a lot of blood, but most of it is not hers. A simple Diplomacy check will calm her down enough to get her story.

She and her friends were a group of young people who dreamed of becoming bold adventurers. One day, they encountered an empty house in the woods and decided to explore it. Adventurers in training, right? And this seemed harmless enough... Alas, they had hardly entered the house when horrible, terrifying things began to happen. They tried to leave, but doors locked, windows suddenly looked out on vast terrifying otherplanar landscapes... and then the Bad Man came. One by one, they were taken. Except for the Last Girl: she remembered that she carried a magical scroll, a spell that opened doors. She's had just a little magical training (she wants to go to the Academae someday), so never dared try it before, but... it worked! She escaped!

But her friends are still in there.

(Additional wrinkle: she may mention in passing that they're from [city] in [country]. However, the PCs are traveling through [other country], and [city] is hundreds of miles away from here! If this is pointed out, the Last Girl will become a bit hysterical for a while. "We -- we can't be in Varisia! That's a /foreign country/!")

Okay, so the PCs investigate the house. Right off, this place looks creepy as hell; it's an ancient house, with a design from a couple of centuries ago, but the walls are cracked and stained, the yard is choked with weeds, strange fungi grow out of the woodwork, and so forth. Possibly some oversized moths are flapping slowly around... season to taste. Rain (you remember it was raining?) streams off the roof as thunder rumbles ominously overhead.

Above the door are wooden letters spelling out the words "R E F U G E". Give the PCs a moderately difficult Knowledge (history or local) check. If someone succeeds, they get

Quote:


The Legend of the House of Refuge

Centuries ago, a kindly wizard built a house to be a refuge for those in need. The poor, the hungry, the desperate, those fleeing from war or persecution... they would find the house magically appearing across their path. Once they stepped inside, all their needs would be attended to; it was warm and safe and food, drink and clothing would magically appear. The House of Refuge could move somehow from place to place, arriving wherever it was needed.

But then one day, the House went bad. Nobody knows why, but it changed. Now it wanders the world, luring victims inside, and then slowly and horribly killing them.

So now what? Well, greed and curiosity should nudge the PCs inside. If not, Last Girl will begin weeping: "My friends are still in there! Oh, can't you please help them? You're adventurers... isn't that what you do?" If the PCs still hesitate, she'll rummage through her pack and pull out a scroll -- "This is all I have. Take it! Just, please, help them!" The scroll should be a random first or second level spell. The goal here is not so much to bribe the PCs as to emphasize Last Girl's pathetic desperation.

Into the House:

Once the PCs go inside, stuff starts to happen. Things fly through the air and just miss them. Doors open or close when they're not looking. There are horrible disturbing visions. Words like GET OUT and DEATH appear in blood on the walls. Animated objects attack them, then fall to the ground. And they can hear something moving around upstairs...

Last Girl clearly does not want to go back in the house, but she doesn't want to be alone either. So she'll go in with PCs. At some point a muffled shriek will be heard from another room; Last Girl will yell, "That's my friend! John, are you all right?" and will run through a door. If the PCs follow, there will of course be something dangerous and horrible on the other side. In fact, Last Girl will show a positive talent for wandering off stupidly by herself. If not followed, she'll disappear, leaving only a pool of blood and a torn item of clothing.

Efforts to escape the house will be fruitless; opening the door reveals a formless grey void, or worse. In fact the House is its own demiplane, and can move from place to place or world to world. And it doesn't want the PCs to leave...

What's actually going on here:

The House of Refuge never changed; it's still a good place. Unfortunately, it's been taken over by a very bad person. Some years back, a very wicked young woman made a pact with the Abyss. She gained the services of a powerful demon... but in return, she had to murder an innocent at least once per month. This worked great for a while, but finally justice caught up with her. She fled, with the forces of good right behind her... and encountered the House of Refuge.

The poor House foolishly let her in, and since then everything has gone to Hell. The House is something like a construct; it's programmed to respond to need. And she *needs* to kill people -- if she doesn't, she dies and the demon takes her soul to the Abyss. That's a very powerful need! So the hapless House, thanks to a glitch in its programming, has been turned into a mobile base of operations for a Chaotic Evil serial killer and her demonic sidekick. The panicked, hapless Last Girl is, in fact, the BBEG.

Last Girl:

I see Last Girl as a sorceress with a level of rogue, but season to taste -- if you think something else will work better, go for it. I'd put her three levels ahead of the APL, plus the rogue level. So if you have a party of 3rd level PCs, she's a Rog 1 / Sor 6. If your party is bigger than the standard four, or the players are very experienced, add another level of sorceror or two levels of rogue. Her Bluff should be sky-high -- rakshasa bloodline is good here -- and she should have lots of illusion and misdirection spells, along with something to conceal her alignment. She'll probably have Still Spell and Silent Spell too. She's cocky and overconfident -- this is all a fun game for her. But part of the game is to stay concealed until the last possible moment, so she will make every effort to do that. If she fails a Bluff check, or the PCs become suspicious otherwise, her first trick will be to burst into hysterical tears and then faint.

As for the demon companion, at APL 1 or 2 it's a quasit. At higher levels it can be a babau, a shadow demon (recommended!) or a vrock. Add PC levels and/or templates to adjust, but you want a CR that's APL +3 or so. The demon is the sub-boss; the PCs should not confront the demon and the Last Girl at the same time.

Inside the House:

The PCs should be encouraged to think "haunted house, inhabited by a monster / magical serial killer". In fact there are three things going on here. First, the House of Refuge is trying to warn the PCs. Unfortunately it's not designed for talking, so it's limited to cryptic messages in blood and the like. It locks the PCs in and plane-shifts because it senses that they are powerful adventurers, and is hoping they will prove Last Girl's undoing. It will try to warn them if it can, but its programming won't allow it to attack Last Girl directly.

Second, there are restless spirits of Last Girl's previous victims. These can be anything from minor haunts up to seriously dangerous undead. The House reluctantly protects Last Girl from them, but they can be very threatening to the PCs.

Third, of course, there's Last Girl and her demon pal. Last Girl will try to lure or maneuver PCs into danger, softening them up; the demon will strike from the shadows and then retreat, using hit and run tactics. The demon's nature should not be immediately obvious; it should wear a dark hooded robe, cloak itself in shadow, make use of illusions, or otherwise take care to disguise what it really is.

For most of the session, Last Girl and the demon will be toying with the PCs. Only once the demon is revealed and defeated will Last Girl realize that there's a serious problem here, pull the gloves off and start striking to kill.

Environmental issues:

All light in the house is reduced a step -- normal darkness acts like no-darkvision magical darkness, low light requires darkvision to see, and so forth.

Oddly, the House does not radiate evil. (Clue!) Attempts to smash walls or doors will work, but the House will "heal" the damage within a minute as soon as the PCs backs are turned.

And, a big one: healing spells don't work here. (It's a side effect of the House's extraplanar nature.) At your discretion, a paladin's Lay on Hands and healing potions might still function -- but normal healing, nope, you got nothin'. If these seems too much, you could allow healing to be impeded instead -- but keep in mind that this is an excellent way to crank up the tension. PCs suddenly get a *lot* more cautious when they can't just be healed...

Wrapping it up:

If the PCs manage to kill Last Girl, they win! A search will now reveal a cupboard full of treasure, taken from Last Girl's previous victims. The House quickly recovers, becoming a normal looking small house surrounded by a lovely garden. It rewards the PCs with hot baths and a Hero's Feast and then drops them off wherever is most convenient for them. The House is now an ally of the PCs, and may show up again some day when they are in particularly desperate need.

If you really want to get wacky, you can basically turn the PC party into Doctor Who: the House lets them stay as long as they like, and it can take them anywhere in the multiverse! However, it does have a strong attraction to places where people are in danger, in trouble, or in need...

Troubleshooting:

PCs can be super paranoid. They may quite reasonably be suspicious of Last Girl! And there's tremendous variation among parties. Some will charge right in, others will *never* go in there. Some will throw the Girl in a sack -- hell, some will torture and kill her -- but others will close ranks to protect her. It really depends.

You need to know what button to push to get them to enter the house. Saving innocent people? Getting treasure? Fighting something new? Maybe have the Girl announce, with trembling lip, that if they won't go in... *she* will save her friends. She saw someone cast the Protecting from Evil spell, once, so she's pretty sure she can do it.

And of course, consider hinting at treasure. Don't be obvious about it! Hint. Like, "It was a mess inside, and smelled bad, but there didn't seem to be anything dangerous... until we got to the room with the books. I told Bob, I told him not to touch anything, but..." Nothing gets PCs interested like creepy powerful magic books.

Some specific potential problems:

-- "The PCs aggressively interrogate the Girl!" -- she breaks down crying. (Remember, her Bluff should be high high high.) If they see through her Bluff, or attack her, she flees. Consider having her pre-buff a bit -- Expeditious Retreat is good -- if you think your PCs might go this route.

-- "The PCs attack the Girl!" -- if your PCs are murderhobos, maybe don't even bother with this scenario. It works best with good-aligned characters, obviously, though neutral characters may also be vulnerable to sympathy or greed.

-- "The PCs set fire to the House!" -- guys it's raining really hard. But if they're determined to damage the House from the outside, then the Girl darts inside and the House just teleports away: skip to "They Won't Bite", below.

-- "The PCs throw the Girl in a sack!" -- if your PCs are really that level of crazy paranoid, then skip this scenario entirely. You might, however, consider a scenario where they encounter a hysterical injured girl who actually is running from a monster... and who is also the child of a powerful, influential and extremely thin-skinned local nobleman. "You threw my daughter in a *what*?" Season to taste.

Nope, they just won't bite:

If the PCs ABSOLUTELY refuse to take the bait... then, okay, they don't. Any paladin in the party should be very ashamed, but a party of standard PC murderhobos can probably shrug and move on.

Don't punish them for this! In fact, quite the opposite. A few sessions later, the PCs encounter an adventurer who tells a horrible story: he's the last survivor of a party who met a desperate young woman in the woods. The rest of them followed her inside the house, but he stayed outside to keep watch. He heard them screaming... and then he heard the Girl's voice. Laughing. Laughing.

And then a few sessions after *that*, have the PCs travelling along, when suddenly Last Girl runs out into the path in front of them, screaming, "Help! My friends!" And then she looks at the PCs, says, "Oh, crap." And turns around and runs back to the House and in the door.

You won't have the advantage of surprise with that one, but you can still have a rousing adventure through the House, culminating in a fun boss fight with the Girl and her demon pal. Never waste a hook, amirite?

Phew. Thoughts?

Doug M


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Nice. I especially like the "Troubleshooting" and "Nope, they just won't bite" sections. It is amazing how paranoid some players are.


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Love the Librarians! Wish they hadn't ended the show. I think you did a pretty good job converting it. Perhaps you could include the part where the House teleports players into the doll house occasionally, or would that be too problematic?


This is wonderful. Refer to my previous comment today.

The only hole is that it still feels really, really obvious that the girl is the BBEG, or if your party is both savagely genre oblivious and naive they may grow attached to Helpless Girl in a way that may make for a good twist but not a good time.

I don't quite know how to deflect the primary conceit of this adventure except perhaps to introduce the fakeout villain early and really tailor it to your group?

I'm still worried the lynchpin of the scenario is desperately shakey, which is too bad.


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I love it!

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