Tecal (Fantasy RPG scenario)

Summary

The island of Tecal, cursed as it is, has been infested by undead for centuries, and almost every living thing has been twisted, distorted by that same energy. It’s divided into 4 zones. Each zone has a different environment and set of encounters that relate to the central theme. The plot supports the theme by making it a story about human arrogance and sacrifice.

It’s full of dangers, living and dead, active and passive, including cursed objects and haunts. Tecal’s history is an infected wound on the island that refuses to heal. New arrivals seem intent on making the trauma worse.

Intent on reigniting a battery of arcane power in the caldera of a volcano, a scholar-turned-villain is sacrificing the souls of as many people as he can drag there. The island is reacting, awakening from its slumber, bringing old secrets back to the surface. In the meantime, unlucky adventurers, armed with little more than a rusty dagger and their wits wash onto one of Tecal’s seemingly pristine beaches.

Theme

The theme for this campaign is jungle horror. This is Heart Of Darkness style, with eldritch elements thrown in, making for an oppressive, suspenseful adventure.

The island is essentially the corpse of an unbridled evil empire, though there are places where that evil manifests as mischief rather than just brutality.

Table of Contents

Background

When the Thassilonian empire shattered after Earthfall, when the skies were darkened and the runelords fell, the provenance of the runewells scattered around the world was erased from history. The runewell of Tecal, an island in the middle of the Inner Sea, re-emerged seemingly on its own accord. On the margins of history, a small but powerful sea-going empire seized the trade routes at the heart of the world.

They were greedy, prideful, much like the runelords that preceded them by millennia, and they flaunted a shadow of the same great power. With their magic, they ravaged fleets, took slaves, and crushed those who would oppose them. They were not interested in conquest, surprisingly. The tecalese were content with taking what they wanted and vanishing with the next tide.

After two centuries of tormenting the Inner Sea, however, they vanished. Their ships became a frightful legend. Their wealth, for a time, was the obsession of treasure-hunters, but any who seemed to find a kernel of truth and chased it down never returned with proof of their success.

The story of Tecal faded, half-forgotten, even if there are still those who, from time to time, pick up the thread. The truth that they would find, if they could, is that Tecal’s empire was snuffed out in one night. Their arrogance and greet got the better of them. They had relied on a runewell to grant them power beyond that of mortals. Powered by sin, attuned to pride, the runewell required sacrifice, human souls, to replenish it.

Locations

The City of Ash and Cinder

The ruins of the palatial city on the eastern side of the island in particular is filled with cinder-corpses, calcified zombies, and burning skeletons, whose bones glow like embers beneath a layer of carbonized flesh and soot. They wander through the ruins that are partially submerged beneath the now-cooled lava. The long piers run reach out from the docks, with the burnt husks of ships still moored there. The stage of the amphitheater still stands, though without an audience. Relics, both wondrous and terrible, wait to be discovered there.

The Mangrove Forest

There’s a mangrove growing on the western side of the island. There, the animals have mutated into more malevolent forms. The dark water among the roots of the trees is full of creatures that could be driven to a feeding frenzy. Lost in those roots there a strange intruder, a fairly new ship, no more than a couple of decades old, with one of the lamps that led Tecal’s ships home safely lying on the floor. Her name is still legible on her bow — “The Lofty Pig”.

The McGuffin mentioned above is the lamp that allows ships to travel to and from Tecal.

The Jungle

At one point or another, Tecal must have been filled with villas, some of them may have been working farms, others would’ve been pleasure farms and vineyards. All of that has been overrun by a particularly ferocious tropical growth. Trees that may have taken centuries to grow mature in less than a decade. All of them, however, are twisted in some in some way. The fauna is no different.

The Villa of the Alchemist

In that wilderness, there’s a villa that has managed to survive the unrelenting march of vegetation. That small yet luxurious home belonged to a powerful alchemist and sorcerer, Enricht Kouhn. Believing himself a trickster, his home is protected by magic that is equal parts brutal and playful.

 It’s not quite large, just a couple of buildings: 

  1. A 2-story pleasure home. There is a fountain in its courtyard, overgrown with moss, which has been dry for years. The Thassilonian construction is obvious, and the fountain bears the symbols of the nation’s runelords. The sigil of the Runelord of Pride is the one featured most prominently. There is a wine cellar that has been taken as a lair by a large cat creature. A secret passageway activated by a uncapping a stone vial on a mantlepiece leads to the apothecary’s laboratory. 
  2. A “servant’s quarters” that amounts to little more than a shack next to the stables. The well that feeds the fountain is behind the shack. There is still water in the well, of course, but there is also a collapsed skeleton right next to the well. The skeleton is pouring something into the well. The rusted remains of a kitchen knife are sticking out from between the skeleton’s ribs.

The Survivor’s Village

Lost in the jungle, and after centuries of isolation, a cluster of small villages populated by the survivors of the night that Tecal fell. Paranoid and reclusive, the villagers are just as likely to attack strangers as to shun them. Now, though, the larger village that sits at the joining of two rivers is burning. The column of smoke visible from miles away, for anyone who manages to climb over the jungle’s natural canopy at least.

The Road

Spidering all over the island, the old roads still stand. The unnatural flagstones were shaped by artisans using spells that reshaped the rock. This is particularly heinous to dwarves. They could see, due to stonecunning, that the rock was never carved or worked with tools. It is akin to see a living animal with its bones reshaped and fused by artificial means; horrific in its own way.

The road is marked by milestones as well which, much like the flagstones, are unnatural. They guide travelers along with runes on them that glow when activated. There are places where the jungle has managed to defeat the road, but it still mostly stands.

There is one spot where the road and the jungle have both yielded to another force. The road has been ruined by an explosion. The trees around the scorchmark were knocked down or ripped to rough stumps low to the ground. The burnt remains of a carriage are in the middle of the apparent blast. This is the site of a dangerous haunt.

The Runewell

The tunnels lare clad in lava, with corpses and other detritus fused into the walls. Clearing the way down to the dormant runewell was the first task the mercenaries had for their newly acquired slaves, before they became sacrifices. At this depth, an underground temple comprised of several interconnected halls offers the only viable access to the runewell in its pool of molten lava.

The surviving mercenaries, desperate and expecting to be saved by Tolome, the wizard awakening the runewell, have barricaded themselves in the westernmost chamber of the underground chambers next to the runewell itself. They’ve fought off several assaults by frenzied undead, and are low in resources and patience. Captain Aninelle leads them in that last stand. 

The spirits of those sorcerers haunt the tunnels. Those who realized what they had done took their own lives. Some became Allips and haunt the Grand Hall where the lava first broke through.

On the eastern side of the complex, the spirit of one of the priests haunts the chamber leading to the tunnels that emerge on the city’s side. He’s a CR 5 haunt casting Suffocation (DC 17). Fresh corpses of mercenaries are strewn about the floor.

There is a fourth chamber on the southern side containing a dormant portal. With a Tecal lamp, the portal can be opened for 1 round as a 1-way passage to an unknown location.

Plot

Introduction

As the players arrive to the island their lifeboat is destroyed, smashed to pieces by an obsidian spike that thrusts up underneath them. Other shipwrecks still hang impaled like grizzly trophies around the island. The island radiates a constant aura of evil.

Another set of visitors, carrying one of Tecal’s lamps that allows ships to reach the harbor unharmed, has recently arrived as well: a mercenary company “Morel’s Rebels”, led by Captain Anniela Spichett, and Tolome Heightknown, a powerful wizard and the preeminent authority on the history of Tecal.

These strangers have come to reactivate the runewell, a task that requires human sacrifice. Having lost their supply of fresh bodies after their plan to tie together another ship to their own (full of shanghai’d or unwitting volunteers) they’re scouring the island for anyone else they could use as kindling. Descendants of the survivor’s of Tecal’s demise offer them precisely what they need.

The party in this case arrived to Tecal from the South and found the villa of the Alchemist, along with the cup. The next morning, earthquakes begin to rumble periodically. The party can intuit that an eruption may be brewing.

Choices

Depending on how the party navigates the island, different encounters could happen:

  • Following the river Northward will lead them to the village of the descendants of the survivors of Tecal.
  • Heading West will take them to the mangrove and the resting place of the pirate ship “The Lofty Pig”.
  • Heading East will take them to the ruins of the city of Tecal, and all the dangers that implies.

Upon arriving at the survivor’s village, they will confront a small detachment of the mercenary company holding the villagers hostage. A confrontation naturally occurs. During that confrontation, Aratoah, the chieftain of the village, comes out of the jungle to assist the party. After combat, if the party presents itself as not immediately hostile towards her, Aratoah explains the situation. When the mercenaries arrived, they raided the village, took the children hostage, and demanded that the able-bodied assist them in pillaging the ruins of the city. The villagers had no choice but to agree.

The villagers didn’t realize that they were going to be sacrificed to reignite the runewell in the volcano instead. Aratoah asks the party, who are obviously able to confront the mercenaries, to help her rescue her village’s children.

If the party decides to help Aratoah rescue the children of her village, she will accompany them (Shaman template NPC). She will tell them that the Tolome must be performing the ritual in the caldera of the volcano, where the dormant runewell lies. In order to reach the caldera, however, they will need one of the tecalese lamps. She gives them the choice: West to where the last known outsiders (pirates) came to Tecal and died, or East to where the mercenaries have their ships, along with the lamp that allowed them to get there in the first place.

Final confrontation

After retrieving the lamp from either place, Aratoah leads the party through the jungle, up the steep mountainside to one of the secret entrances to the caldera through tunnels carved from the Western side, allowing them to avoid most of the dangers in the city.

The journey towards the volcano coincides with its increased activity. Earthquakes begin to rip the island in two, spewing globs of lava like boulders into the air. The ghosts of Tecal are sent into a frenzy, especially in the city, where they are reminded of the trauma that led to their demise. They kill the living there, and attack the mercenaries’ ships.

Regardless of which path they used to get there, the party must confront Captain Aniella and the remains of her company, and then Tolome as he’s performing the ritual to sacrifice the children. The tunnels leading to the runewell are still standing, despite the increasingly violent quakes, but they won’t last long.

Characters

Chieftan Aratoah

Half-orc Shaman CR5

Description

A mature half-orc woman, with a red-earthern color to her skin and severe features. She is about six feet tall, somewhat heavy-set, and dressed in a long robe of pattern-dyed woven grass. Around her neck she has several talismans, some of them fashioned from animal skulls, while others are stylized masks with various emotions depicted on each of them. She has a flint sickle and more than a few pouches and herbs hanging from her belt.

Motivations

For Aratoah, nothing is more important than protecting her people, and she is convinced that the only way to do so is to get them off the island. Her visions and her shaman discipline make her slow to anger or rash actions, but she is relentless in the pursuit of her goal. Whatever sacrifice must be made to ensure the survival of her tribe isn’t only allowed, it’s necessary.

Background

She received the title of chieftain from her father. He was the descendant of the slave leader that rebelled in the wake of the disaster that destroyed the kingdom of Tecal, a full-blooded orc. The small tribe that emerged from that rebellion was a melting pot of servants, pleasure slaves and field-workers, no more than a hundred all told.

Aratoah carries the burden of that legacy heavily. Her affinity to shamanistic magic, which is part of her heritage, was celebrated and nurtured, but with it came visions of a dark future. Her visions foretold that another eruption would sink the island, along with anyone still on it.

However, her tribe refused to do anything about it. They were isolated and distrustful of the few foreigners that came to their island — the fear that the masters would return was passed from parent to child. Given how pirates were the only visitors, that distrust was borne out in repeated cautionary tales. When the sorcerer and his mercenaries arrived, the stories of kidnapped youths and stolen treasure became her living nightmare.

The fact that the intruders also managed to convince her tribe about how her visions were true by awakening the volcano didn’t offer any comfort.

Tolomei

Bloodfire Sorcerer (CR7)

Description

A man in his mid-thirties, made severe and prematurely gaunt by a life spent out of favor. His yellowed skin has been made darker recently, aging him even further. He is dressed in the robes of a scholar, but they’re bound by leather straps to make it travel-worthy and, like him, worn by the journey. His beard has become unkempt and his hair, full, but decidedly straw-like, is tightly wound into a bun at the top of his head.

Motivations

Nothing will stand in Tolomei’s way. He will accept nothing less than full control over the runewell that he will reignite himself. He is out of patience, out of empathy, and feeding on the anger that somehow churns the island’s very air. No price is too high, and if his goals are set out of his reach, he will be consumed by anger.

Background

Tolomei was always regarded as someone of talent, of drive, but with poor circumstances and little patience. He inherited the search for Tecal from his tutor, who was in fact a much lesser scholar than Tolomei. He was ready to abandon the search himself when his tutor died, but the discovery of the lamp spurned him on. It was, after all, a chance at legitimacy.

Years passed without progress, with either benign apathy from Tolomei’s peers or outright disdain. He had no support, no means to travel to the places where Tecal was rumored to have been. Increasingly desperate, but without the proper social graces, Tolomei, in a moment of passion, murdered one of his critics. Suddenly, he found himself unbound by social mores.

Leaving a trail of robbery, fraud and bloodshed, he acquired enough money to hire a mercenary company of good discipline but equally ill-repute. Together, they plotted a course throughout Golarion’s seas. A few months later, and after a decade of effort, Tolomei saw the shores of Tecal.

His plan is simple: Claim its power. Use it to prove his worth, and shatter the people who mocked him, and everyone else.

Items

Cup of the Alchemist

CR 3 Magical item

An unassuming chalice with runes carved subtly into its surface, bears a considerable fraction of his power and intellect, bordering on true sentience. Players who drink from the cup must make an arcana check (DC 12) to receive the effects of a random beneficial potion. They must also make a will save (DC 15) or immediately fall under the cup’s influence and imitate this performance by Luciano Rosso, singing the song with as close an operatic voice as possible with magically conjured (minor illusion) musical accompaniment. The players are also allowed to ask a question, and the echo of the alchemist’s essence could deem whether or not to reply (at GM’s discretion). Usable once per day.

The Nobleman’s Medallion

CR 5 Haunt

A gold medallion bearing the mark of one of Tecal’s noble families, along with a red gem in the middle. As soon as any living thing comes close, a child made out of flame springs from the ruins of the wagon, and charges the intruder. The child explodes on impact for a substantial amount of damage (3d6, does half on reflex DC 15) Disturbing the medallion breaks the effect, but anyone who touches the medallion must make a DC 18 will save, or go into a catatonic state for 5 minutes as they experience the last few moments in this world of a Tecalese noble and their son.

On the night that Tecal fell, they were traveling on the road. A mob of slaves surrounded them, and the noble decided that killing himself and his child was better than the indignity of being murdered by righteously angry slaves. The burning child is the ghost of his son.

The Lamp of Tecal

Minor Artifact

A shard of Tecal’s power, imprisoned in a crystal that has been set into a harness, similar to a lamp. There are less than five of these artifacts throughout the world. The lamps are usually dormant until they’re close to the island.

Then, tapping into the runewell that birthed them, the lamps allow one ship safe passage through Tecal’s magical defenses. Ships without a lamp are impaled by obsidian spikes the moment they less than a mile from the shores of Tecal.

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