Need help with horror / murder mystery 4e D&D game.

14 posts / 0 new
Last post
Hey guys, I was wondering if I could get a little help with a story I'm working on.

Next weekend, I'm running my first game with a new group; two of the players are fairly experienced with 4e, and the other 2 are completely new to it (they did play a fair amount of 3e, however).  The 1st level party consists of a Human Fighter (Brawler Style), A Kalashtar Cleric (Heavy emphasis on Perception and mind reading, with mostly non-damaging powers like Astral Seal), an Eladrin Rogue (Artful Dodger), and a Human Wizard (Staff-focused).

The story is set in a busy trading-hub called Strasa: a dreary, half-sunken city where it never stops raining.  The idea for the city itself comes from some posts I found here on the forums; I loved it, so I decided to run with the idea.  Essentially, Strasa rises up out of a lake; the current city was actually built upon the ruins of the original, which completely flooded out centuries ago.  A series of canals flow through the city, and many of the poor folk live in small houseboats, because they don't have enough money to build their homes up when the water rises every few generations.

The area surrounding the city is basically marshland, full of foul bullywugs, warlike tribes of lizardmen, crocodiles, and thieves of all shapes and sizes.

The players have already spoken to me about their characters being part of an adventuring party together.  They call themselves "The Raven Watch" (named for Strasa's specially-bred birds, known for their mastery of mimicry, that carry messages through the city), and I've furnished them with a building in a decent section of the city to use as a headquarters for the organization.  When the story begins, the PCs will already be fairly well-known throughout Strasa -something like local heroes- and they're well thought of and treated well in a local tavern called "The Brazen Foal".

It will be in this tavern that the story begins.

Basically, the PCs will hanging out, swapping stories, drinking, playing games, etc, because there's one hell of a storm raging outside.  It's nice and familiar in the Foal, which is well-known for its spiced bread and ales, which warm you up when it's nasty outside.  Hopefully, I'll be able to set that scene up really well, while at the same time, foreshadowing some grisly events.

At some point in time, a perceptive player (or players) will notice, as a crack of lightning streaks across the skies outside, that a shadowy figure is standing outside the tavern window, looking in.  It's supposed to be a real "corner of the eye" event, that's over the moment it happens.  As soon as the flash of lightning's gone, the figure is as well.

If the PCs try to investigate, they won't find anything (good move, or bad move?)  I'd like to play it off as something the player possibly imagined.  Once that's over with, I can continue engaging the players with games and stories and whatever else they're interested in.  Get them to lower their guard once again, before I hit them with something else creepy, you know?

I'm thinking maybe the wind blows the tavern door open or something.  Again, nothing too obvious; just something to make them wonder what the hell's going on.  In reality, it really is "just the wind" that blew the door open, but upstairs, where drunken patrons lie asleep in their rented beds, something awful really is about to happen:

Someone (or some thing - more on that later), has snuck in through the upstairs window, murdered a patron or two, and taken some grisly trophies.  I'd really like this to be something that just happens, rather than an event that the players can stop, because it's really the catalyst for the whole story that's about to unfold.

Downstairs, everyone's still having a great time, but the blood on the floor upstairs is pooling up, and beginning to drop through the floorboards.  At some point, drops of blood will fall down onto one of the players' cards, or plates, or foreheads, or whatever, and obviously, someone will go to investigate.

The story could go in several directions at this point, and this is where I'd like some advice.

As I mentioned before, some of the players are new to 4e, and I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce skill challenges in the form of a chase scene:  Maybe the PCs look out the window of the room, and see a figure hurriedly knock over a cart and rush down an alley, or maybe the killer tossed his victim out that window, and when the PCs look out, they see a figure standing over the body, who then takes off as soon as he notices the players.

Whichever way that goes, the person they see is not the killer; just some young thief who saw more than he was supposed to, and figures he's going to get blamed for the murder, so he takes off.  If the players chase after this guy, it'll be a skill challenge where the group hounds this guy down through narrow alleys and across rain-slick rooftops.  I'd like to maybe make this kid an Eladrin or an Elf, because they're sort of seen as second-class citizens in Strasa, and when the kid runs into the elvish district, I could probably throw a group of elvish thugs at the players for their first real Encounter.

Anyway, what do you guys think?

Where can this story go?

Let's plan some more murders -- the more distrubing, the better.

I'd like the murderer to be a human, although I'm open to some minor deviations.  Basically, I want to impress upon this group that this is a world very much like our own, where the villain isn't always some big obvious monster ... sometimes, it's just a dude who's got a few screws missing.  I want the villain to be disturbing, but not over-the-top.  Just, creepy, you know?

Maybe this guy takes the faces off his victims, and later on, he can assume their identities (basically, build him as a Changeling or something, rather than a Human, but he can only change into people that he's killed).  Or maybe he takes their fingers as trophies, or tongues, or something else he feels like he needs.  Hell, maybe he's building a flesh golem from specifically-chosen parts, and part of the story can be identifying what pieces this guy still needs, and idendifying and protecting possible targets.

I'm open to suggestions, here.  I'd love to know what you guys think.
"Hell, maybe he's building a flesh golem from specifically-chosen parts, and part of the story can be identifying what pieces this guy still needs, and idendifying and protecting possible targets."

If you take this route, it'll be a bit more than what you want of "some normal guy with a few screws missing". You're going to need a bit more of a history on the person themselves. That in turn can actually be more fruitful as you brainstorm and make some more links.

Another route is just have the killer as a hired hand who has been given a list, all of the victims are connected SOMEHOW. Hell, maybe retired adventurers (past identities kept slightly secret as they moved into normal day to day lives....until you delve a little deeper into history) who thought they'd slain an evil lich many many years ago.. and said lich has now returned! Means the party can now take up a mantle of their own.

Just two things that have immediately popped to mind =).
Still a bit stumped by all this "spoiler" lark? [spoil er] Message [/spoi ler] Just without the spaces!
I love the style of game you are preparing to run.  Nice!

Here's how I would handle the Thief.

The thief noticed a shadowy figure (the killer) leaving the upper floor of the inn.  So the thief decides to check it out out of combination of curiousity plus maybe an easy score.  Then of course when the PCs see him he runs off.  The chase could be an easy skill challenge so you can showcase this.  Have them indicate how they chase and use Perception, Streetwise, Athletics, Acrobatics rolls as appropropriate to see if they are making progress.  I would have the thief flee out a window or something.

Then if they succeed they find the thief who has joined up with some friends (thugs and low level rogues) and the party has a surprise round.  If they fail the chase they still encounter the thief and friends except now they are ambushed instead.  This battle could be a role play opportunity as the thief cries out his innocence.  His friends could be using non-lethal attacks desparate to protect their friend but at the same time not looking to get into a total blood fight unless the PCs make it one (some of them should recognize the party and be shouting things like "It's the Raven Watch!" That will pump up the PCs.

If they go with a non-lethal fight then the thief can provide clues based on what he saw (a distinctive cloak perhaps or the style of the killers weapon).  If they are brutal and/or insist on bringing him in - he will clam up and maybe escape later to try and solve things on his on becoming an interesting recurring NPC and potential ally or obstacle for the PCs investigation.

Maybe the thief turns up again at yet another crime scene... Smile

An alternate idea on the killer is that he has become possessed by a greater evil or has an artifact that simply is demanding an ever increasing body count from him to be sated - the "trophies" could be the killer's own twist.  Perhaps he's already been at it and as they investigate they learn of similar but isolated killings and can now see a clear escalation going on.  I'd consider using an artifact, like an evil dagger, uncovered from the deeps below the city and of course as it succeeds in bigger "kills" it is also getting stronger in ways which will help the killer slay even more.

Then you'd have a nice historical perspective - maybe (partially destroyed) old records of the earlier city recorded a similar string of events and they party might eventually learn that the evil dagger was locked away to protect everyone. 

Just some ideas....

At some point in time, a perceptive player (or players) will notice, as a crack of lightning streaks across the skies outside, that a shadowy figure is standing outside the tavern window, looking in.  It's supposed to be a real "corner of the eye" event, that's over the moment it happens.  As soon as the flash of lightning's gone, the figure is as well.

If the PCs try to investigate, they won't find anything (good move, or bad move?)  I'd like to play it off as something the player possibly imagined.  Once that's over with, I can continue engaging the players with games and stories and whatever else they're interested in.  Get them to lower their guard once again, before I hit them with something else creepy, you know?


Make sure you come up with some legitimate stuff for the corner of the eye event. Perhaps when they go to check it out, there is a building across the way that could have been the figure in the flash or something else. Also have an NPC sitting at their table heckle them for getting up to check, "it's just the rain, are you going to call my bet or what?" if they get up, the NPC attempts to cheat, which could make a good segue into the scene with the blood dripping from the ceiling. I'm picturing the Brawler grabbing the NPC by the collar and the party in a heated argument with him, when suddenly a drop of blood splats right on the NPCs forehead. Another line to throw at them is for the barkeep to yell at the investigating PC to shut the window, cuz he's letting all the rain in. 


I'm thinking maybe the wind blows the tavern door open or something.  Again, nothing too obvious; just something to make them wonder what the hell's going on.  In reality, it really is "just the wind" that blew the door open, but upstairs, where drunken patrons lie asleep in their rented beds, something awful really is about to happen:

Having the door blow open is a great way to keep them from up stairs. Perhaps have an NPC collapse just outside the door. Nothing is wrong with him, just got blown over into the muck from the rain. He'll thank the PCs and buy them a cheap drink. I'd use this if the cheating NPC doesn't develope well or you need another distraction. 



As I mentioned before, some of the players are new to 4e, and I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce skill challenges in the form of a chase scene:  Maybe the PCs look out the window of the room, and see a figure hurriedly knock over a cart and rush down an alley, or maybe the killer tossed his victim out that window, and when the PCs look out, they see a figure standing over the body, who then takes off as soon as he notices the players.

Whichever way that goes, the person they see is not the killer; just some young thief who saw more than he was supposed to, and figures he's going to get blamed for the murder, so he takes off.  If the players chase after this guy, it'll be a skill challenge where the group hounds this guy down through narrow alleys and across rain-slick rooftops.  I'd like to maybe make this kid an Eladrin or an Elf, because they're sort of seen as second-class citizens in Strasa, and when the kid runs into the elvish district, I could probably throw a group of elvish thugs at the players for their first real Encounter.

I like it. I don't know why the killer would throw someone out the window, even though that would be the coolest transition. I would also have the chase be predominantly across the rooftops, at least until the elf gets to the elvish district. Shaadow has good ideas about resolving this.



Anyway, what do you guys think?

Where can this story go?

Let's plan some more murders -- the more distrubing, the better.

I'd like the murderer to be a human, although I'm open to some minor deviations.  Basically, I want to impress upon this group that this is a world very much like our own, where the villain isn't always some big obvious monster ... sometimes, it's just a dude who's got a few screws missing.  I want the villain to be disturbing, but not over-the-top.  Just, creepy, you know?

Maybe this guy takes the faces off his victims, and later on, he can assume their identities (basically, build him as a Changeling or something, rather than a Human, but he can only change into people that he's killed).  Or maybe he takes their fingers as trophies, or tongues, or something else he feels like he needs.  Hell, maybe he's building a flesh golem from specifically-chosen parts, and part of the story can be identifying what pieces this guy still needs, and idendifying and protecting possible targets.

I'm open to suggestions, here.  I'd love to know what you guys think.

Here is my idea on the murderer: Warlock, probably Star themed for the connections to the Far Realms and abberations. His magic allows him to disguise himself as those who he has killed, as well as accomplish things beyond what a normal human might be able to do, like scale walls, fly, disappear into shadows and generally be a creep. 

When the players enter the upstairs room, they find all but one of the sleeping patrons appear to be executed brutally but efficiently, with a slit throat and a cloth jammed in their mouths to prevent screams. The last one however is hanging upside down from the rafters, thoroughly looted, completely drained of blood from a calculated slit on the neck with no blood pooled under him and his face is completely burned off with acid so that he's unrecognizable. Under investigation, the innkeep says that they all came, covered with heavy traveler's cloaks and asked for discreteness and privacy. This NPC is somehow important historically and connected to something dreadfully important. Some of the remaining bodies have holy symbols of a nearby temple dedicated to knowledge, though they don't appear to be clergy. 

Now you have a temple in the mix, that may or may not be at risk of infilitration. However, this could equally be a false lead. The targeted NPC may have other important connections.
Give your players awesome loot: Loot by Type
Also check what I added to the Strasa thread and see what you might be able to use from it. I'm probably going to have to steal your story hook, just because it's awesome.
Give your players awesome loot: Loot by Type
Cool stuff, good luck with the mood-setting! I would love to play in a game like that.

Here are some ideas for the killer:

He kills in order to gather fresh, healthy organs. He needs them to keep his daughter alive, who is on death's door because of a swamp fever that spread through the town a few months ago. The man discovered a dark ritual which allows him to keep his daughter alive at a cost: Jars filled with fresh organs must be kept at her bedside to do the work that her failing ones now find too taxing.

He actually had a reason to kill one of his victims, but the other was a mere distraction to throw the scent off his trail. He and one of the patrons had a major altercation recently, and he wanted the man dead. Unfortunately this altercation was so widely known that he knew any suspicion for the man's murder would instantly fall on him. Thus he killed his target and a random, unfortunate bystander and tried to make it seem as though a cult were responsible by tracing out some lines in a forgotten language in their blood at the scene. He found the lines in an old book he found lying around, and has no idea what it says. Bonus points: the lines that he ignorantly copied out actually were an incantation to summon a demon, and now it is loose and killing.

The killer is targeting a murderous thieves' guild and all its associates. Upon each murder he slashes open the victim's stomach and stuffs it full of wooden coins, a perversion of his culture's ancient mummification ritual for the honored dead. To those who know enough about that religion to recognize it, he is dooming their souls to wander forever in the afterlife because they have only cheap reproductions of the wealth that they would need to cross into the true afterlife. He believes that his quest is just, as he suffered some grievous misfortune at the hands of the guild in the past.

The murdered people were adventurers returned from looting a moldering ruin in the swamp. The killer is trying desperately to recover an item they stole from his tribe, without which they will be unable to placate their gods and will all surely perish (DM's choice as to whether this is a superstition). Unfortunately the adventurers sold the item to a local merchant, who is surely the killer's next target.

The killer is a woman who is desperately in love with a man of high station, with whom she has been carrying out an affair. The man is about to leave her, but she believes that she can force him to marry her if she were to become pregnant. Unfortunately, she is barren. Her scheming mother beleives that she can get pregnant with the help of "forbidden magics", and that by eating the beating hearts of her victims she can exchange a life for a life and become pregnant.

The murderer is deadly ill and beleives that he can achieve immortal life by becoming a vampire. He kills and consumes his victims' blood to try and achieve that transformation. Unfortunately, all he manages to accomplish is to make himself sick, and the authorities are puzzled by the discovery of copious amounts of vomited blood in the vicinity of each crime scene.

The killer is the child of a local nobleman. The noble is mad and believes that his child is a godling in mortal form, destined to rule the world. He is teaching the child to kill in order to prepare her mind for the bloody work in his future. The child herself is warped from her twisted upbringing, and believes her father's words. She kills with glee and a talent for magic and believes to the core of her soul that she cannot be stopped and is justified in doing anything she wants. Somehow her special insanity has granted her phenomenal command of certain forces of magic, allowing her to bend the rules of reality through concentration.

Just some random thoughts.

You might also introduce the murdered patrons to the PCs at the beginning of the session, only to have them wander unobtrusively upstairs as the night progresses. That way their murder will be more personal to them when it is discovered.

Hope you get something out of it! 
Cool stuff, good luck with the mood-setting! I would love to play in a game like that.

Here are some ideas for the killer:

He kills in order to gather fresh, healthy organs. He needs them to keep his daughter alive, who is on death's door because of a swamp fever that spread through the town a few months ago. The man discovered a dark ritual which allows him to keep his daughter alive at a cost: Jars filled with fresh organs must be kept at her bedside to do the work that her failing ones now find too taxing.

He actually had a reason to kill one of his victims, but the other was a mere distraction to throw the scent off his trail. He and one of the patrons had a major altercation recently, and he wanted the man dead. Unfortunately this altercation was so widely known that he knew any suspicion for the man's murder would instantly fall on him. Thus he killed his target and a random, unfortunate bystander and tried to make it seem as though a cult were responsible by tracing out some lines in a forgotten language in their blood at the scene. He found the lines in an old book he found lying around, and has no idea what it says. Bonus points: the lines that he ignorantly copied out actually were an incantation to summon a demon, and now it is loose and killing.

The killer is targeting a murderous thieves' guild and all its associates. Upon each murder he slashes open the victim's stomach and stuffs it full of wooden coins, a perversion of his culture's ancient mummification ritual for the honored dead. To those who know enough about that religion to recognize it, he is dooming their souls to wander forever in the afterlife because they have only cheap reproductions of the wealth that they would need to cross into the true afterlife. He believes that his quest is just, as he suffered some grievous misfortune at the hands of the guild in the past.

The murdered people were adventurers returned from looting a moldering ruin in the swamp. The killer is trying desperately to recover an item they stole from his tribe, without which they will be unable to placate their gods and will all surely perish (DM's choice as to whether this is a superstition). Unfortunately the adventurers sold the item to a local merchant, who is surely the killer's next target.

The killer is a woman who is desperately in love with a man of high station, with whom she has been carrying out an affair. The man is about to leave her, but she believes that she can force him to marry her if she were to become pregnant. Unfortunately, she is barren. Her scheming mother beleives that she can get pregnant with the help of "forbidden magics", and that by eating the beating hearts of her victims she can exchange a life for a life and become pregnant.

The murderer is deadly ill and beleives that he can achieve immortal life by becoming a vampire. He kills and consumes his victims' blood to try and achieve that transformation. Unfortunately, all he manages to accomplish is to make himself sick, and the authorities are puzzled by the discovery of copious amounts of vomited blood in the vicinity of each crime scene.

The killer is the child of a local nobleman. The noble is mad and believes that his child is a godling in mortal form, destined to rule the world. He is teaching the child to kill in order to prepare her mind for the bloody work in his future. The child herself is warped from her twisted upbringing, and believes her father's words. She kills with glee and a talent for magic and believes to the core of her soul that she cannot be stopped and is justified in doing anything she wants. Somehow her special insanity has granted her phenomenal command of certain forces of magic, allowing her to bend the rules of reality through concentration.

Just some random thoughts.

You might also introduce the murdered patrons to the PCs at the beginning of the session, only to have them wander unobtrusively upstairs as the night progresses. That way their murder will be more personal to them when it is discovered.

Hope you get something out of it! 

These are all awesome, and if you decided on a certain MO for the murderer you could use all of them at once as false leads. I would do my best to mix and match as many of these as possible to lead the PCs on a whole wild goose chase around the city. I think every murder should have at least one or two suspects like this, and then the real killer somehow is working behind the scenes.

I really want to play in this game too. Let us know how it goes Smile


Give your players awesome loot: Loot by Type
These 2 articles rather helped me clarify what I, the DM, need to do for intrigue and mystery-heavy adventures, and how to do it:
The 3 Clue Rule
Don't Prep Plots
Thanks so much for the input, guys.  I've really learned a lot from this, and I've taken it all on board.  I've decided that an ageless, immortal aboleth, called "The Abiding One", has wormed its way up from the sunless, flooded tunnels of the underdark's sea to the bottom of Old Lake Strasa.  Its very presence in the area perverts reality, and warps the minds of the weak-willed.  An unfortunate old fisherman by the name of Caddis has fallen completely under the aberation's twisted influence, luring unsuspecting victims to the water's edge, or grievously wounding and dragging them beneath the surface, to be consumed -body, soul, and memories- by the Abiding One.

Using its mastery of illusions and considerable psionic power, the aboleth is able to cover Caddis' tracks to a certain degree, but should his servant become compromised, the Abiding One would gladly eat the old man and re-live his terrifying exploits for centuries to come.

Caddis will be the primary villain of my first adventure, but the Abiding One probably won't even be recognized as the force behind him for many levels, making him a pretty decent Big Bad for later on.

What do you guys think?
It's really cool that you've put so much time and effort into coming up with a story like this.

I don't have much experience, but from the group I DM, I don't think they really care too much about the little details, I've tried making up cool stories before, and it just goes over their heads. That might just be my group though!

Perhaps if you make elements of the story key to completing certain quests or something, the plots might stick better in players heads, and they will appriciate your effort more :-)
Thanks so much for the input, guys.  I've really learned a lot from this, and I've taken it all on board.  I've decided that an ageless, immortal aboleth, called "The Abiding One", has wormed its way up from the sunless, flooded tunnels of the underdark's sea to the bottom of Old Lake Strasa.  Its very presence in the area perverts reality, and warps the minds of the weak-willed.  An unfortunate old fisherman by the name of Caddis has fallen completely under the aberation's twisted influence, luring unsuspecting victims to the water's edge, or grievously wounding and dragging them beneath the surface, to be consumed -body, soul, and memories- by the Abiding One.

Using its mastery of illusions and considerable psionic power, the aboleth is able to cover Caddis' tracks to a certain degree, but should his servant become compromised, the Abiding One would gladly eat the old man and re-live his terrifying exploits for centuries to come.

Caddis will be the primary villain of my first adventure, but the Abiding One probably won't even be recognized as the force behind him for many levels, making him a pretty decent Big Bad for later on.

What do you guys think?

I think it's awesome! The only thing that seems a little 'fishy' to me is that the Abiding One would encroach upon the town so readily, if he's using a thrall to do his dirty work. Since Caddis is a fisherman, and presumbably has a boat, why doesn't he do delivery service for his master.

Or better yet, since the cityof Strasa has limited space and has to import fuel, they have adopted something akin to a sea burial to dispose of bodies. Caddis is killing individuals in a ritualistic manner that traps the soul in the body after death, so that the Abiding One can feed on it when the body is dumped into Old Lake Strasa. This isn't to say that he doesn't also kidnap or lure unsuspecting live victims out into the deep corners of the lake for a fresh feeding. Having a special murder method will send the players scrambling to figure out what it means and provides a good clue for them to go off.

I might make Caddis target Ioun worshippers and other intellectuals, since they would provide a more satisfying snack to the Abiding One. Additionally he might start killing the Ferrymen that I wrote about in the Strasa thread, considering they are servants of Vecna and trade in secrets. That could lead to further intrigue, especially as the PCs discover more about the Ferrymen Institute and it's own dark connections. Of course if you've already got a conspiracy figured out, you should go ahead and use that!
Give your players awesome loot: Loot by Type
I originally wrote up some of the Abiding One's "goals", but I think it's better to just leave it sounding a little strange.  An Aboleth is an ageless entity that's born with the memories of those who come before it, and each of those aboleths gained a lifetime of memories every time they consumed a body; I think it's safe to say that the Abiding One has within it the memories of a thousand lifetimes or more.  It probably already knows everything there is to know about anything at all. 

It's intentions and goals must be truly nebulous, alien concepts that mortals cannot possibly comprehend.

That's what I like the most about it, I think.  Manipulating Caddis into doing its "dirty work" seems odd, but I don't think we're in a position to really question the tactics and motives of a creature like an aboleth -- for me, personally, I'd rather it seem a bit off.
I originally wrote up some of the Abiding One's "goals", but I think it's better to just leave it sounding a little strange.  An Aboleth is an ageless entity that's born with the memories of those who come before it, and each of those aboleths gained a lifetime of memories every time they consumed a body; I think it's safe to say that the Abiding One has within it the memories of a thousand lifetimes or more.  It probably already knows everything there is to know about anything at all. 

It's intentions and goals must be truly nebulous, alien concepts that mortals cannot possibly comprehend.

That's what I like the most about it, I think.  Manipulating Caddis into doing its "dirty work" seems odd, but I don't think we're in a position to really question the tactics and motives of a creature like an aboleth -- for me, personally, I'd rather it seem a bit off.


Awesome, let us know how it goes!
Give your players awesome loot: Loot by Type
Wow. This story seems so cool, I feel ashamed of myself going tl;dr from the start...
I have to do this sometime in my campaign... 
Get your Microsoft Word Monster Statistics Block Template here! My Campaign
Sign In to post comments