In which I detail the first adventure...
This is an adventure aimed at a party of around 4-5 1st level PCs. It is designed to be low on combat and features several opportunities for the party to collaborate and share their backstory (the pub is a perfect example). By the end of adventure the players should have received the 300 XP required to get to level 2 and be a bit less fragile ahead of the more demanding combat in upcoming adventures. It is also a perfect chance to set up some of the Doran settings and NPCs.
When describing NPCs I will add in italicised flavour text that will hopefully spark ideas on how to play the character. These are inspired by how characters and scenes have aspects in FATE.
The players start at the Company of the Dragon Headquarters having met there when they came to sign up as initiates. Give them some time to mingle/choose which seat they should sit in/explore the building's ground floor before the clerk, Yates, tells them it's time for the briefing. A small, mild-mannered human cleric walks up to start describing their mission almost as if he is giving a slightly confused sermon.* Be as flowery, vague or over the top as you like. It doesn't matter exactly what you say as he will be interrupted almost immediately by Galavar in his shining full plate bursting through the front doors.
Galavar will inform the group that they are needed on a much more urgent and important quest: "There's been a murder!". Allow him to appear to gloat this fact over the room as if it was all thanks to him that the PCs are being offered such an interesting quest. He will then wait impatiently for the players to gather their equipment and meet them outside. He will march his 'squad' of PCs to the scene of the crime. Their route will take them down the street through the bustling Pelor Plaza and over the southern bridge towards the Political District. Once over the river they veer northwest and head towards the edge of the Noble and Political Districts. Here on a fairly upper middle class street they approach a town house with City Guards outside. They will notice a tall, well-dressed human man (Mr Hayworth, see later in the adventure) and his dwarven cleric friend (Dr Wulfric) leaving the building as they approach. They will get into a carriage and leave.
Galavar will unceremoniously leave the party with the City Guard as he "has better things to do". The guardsmen are helpful and answer the party's questions readily. They will lead the party inside to the lounge (front room, right hand side of the house) and introduce them to the Inspector.
*Imagine the comedy stereotype of a C of E vicar.
The players now have the opportunity to investigate the house. The house has the following rooms:
- Main Hallway: Nice wallpaper and pictures show off that the owner was a person of means. Nothing else of note.
- Lounge: Right hand side, ground floor. A good sized, well appointed lounge. In here the party will meet a guard Sergeant, another City Guard and the Inspector. He is stumped by the case and is standing over the dead body. Clues:
- Tapestry torn to shreds.
- The body, face first in a pool of blood. Looks like the blow came from behind [DC 15 Perception/Investigation check to reveal the thin stab wound is likely caused by a rapier thrust from directly behind], he does not appear to have heard the blow was coming as he is not in a defensive position.
- Paw marks in the blood [DC 12 Knowledge Nature to reveal they belong to a cat].
- An important government document detailing a treaty between the Elves and Humans was stolen. It's release could have large diplomatic ramifications.
- Dining Room: Left hand side, ground floor. Nothing of note, the table is not set as the household was disrupted by the morning's discovery.
- Kitchen: Back of the house, ground floor. The kitchen has been under utilised this morning besides a hurried breakfast for some of the guests. The Maid is in here sobbing. Clues:
- [DC 15 Perception/Investigation] A few marks that could be bloody paw marks lead to the garden beyond.
- Master Bedroom: Right hand side, first floor. Both the Wife and the Friend are in here. There is a sumptuous four poster bed and the curtains are mostly closed as if in mourning. There are no clues besides those provided by the NPCs.
- Study: Left hand side, first floor. Clues:
- The bureau has many letters upon it. None of them are the lost letter.
- A small lockbox can be opened [DC 14 Dex check to pick the lock] to reveal a few sentimental notes from his wife but not the letter. [DC 12 Perception reveals dust on the box showing it hasn't been opened recently].
- Bathroom: Back of the house, first floor. Nothing of note.
- Garden: Outside the rear of the house: This is where the family cat has fled to.
The house has the following NPCs:
- The Inspector: wants to prove himself. Young but well respected Human inspector. He has worked out some of the key details but not enough to have a real lead. He has yet to calm down the wife upstairs and so has missed the main clue.
- Mr Mervyn Tacryn: deceased. A young noble who was up and coming as a governmental aide. He was tasked in secret by Lord Melworth to make an official copy of the treaty. He took it home to ensure it was safely kept.
- Angie: Maid, distraught. After seeing her master dead on the floor she is, naturally, very shocked. Her mistress, who is processing things in her own way, has not been particularly helpful and so poor Angie has been left to cope with the situation on her own. She looked up to her master and he "treated her well". Clues:
- Heard master come in at about half 9.
- He bashed about a bit making quite a rucus so was likely a little drunk.
- She heard Arthur talking to him. Heard Arthur leave just before 10 pm. Heard a sound downstairs at around 11 pm. Found body first thing in the morning.
- Mrs Elizabeth Tacryn: Wife, inconsolable. She found her husband dead when the maid called her down this morning. She immediately notified the City Guard and, shortly after, a close friend. She is angry more than upset as she is still processing the loss. Either a good bit of roleplay from the party or a DC 15 Persuasion check will start to calm her down. Clues:
- Her husband came in “late as usual” with that raucous friend of his.
- She knows nothing about document or its whereabouts.
- She feels her husband has been evasive recently (Suspects there might be an affair but there isn’t one).
- If asked about his late nights she mentions a pub he kept going to but not by name.
- Arthur Phelps: Friend, putting on a brave face. Another young noble and friend to both the Tacryns. He still has feelings for Elizabeth after a childhood dalliance but respects her decision to marry Mervyn. Clues:
- "Oh yes, saw him coming home from the bar. We were supposed to meet for cigars and drinks don't you know. We talked for a few minutes but he seemed worried about something and then asked me to leave. So I did."
- If asked what bar it was he will mention (looking a bit ashamed about it in front of Elizabeth) that it was The Horny Hare. This is a "seedy establishment" down by the docks.
- Cat: scared, haughty. A black cat with white paws that still show a few signs of dried blood. It is busily cleaning them in a corner of the garden when found. Clue:
- If the party find it and use Talk with Animals it says there was “Bad man with bad smell.”, “Not a usual visitor, stranger.” or words to that effect.
- Several members of the City Guard.
Detectives on the Case
Having searched the house the party should have eventually worked out they need to head down to The Horny Hare (in the Londe Docks area of the Doran map). This is a relatively run down pub that is frequented by sailors and dock workers in their off hours. Even at a relatively early time of day there will be a good number of sailors drinking in the pub. You can liberally add in rough NPCs with thick accents from various places in the world at this point if you want to extend the scene.
The pub has the following key NPCs:
Level 3 Rogue (Assasin), chaotic neutral
15 (leather armor)
24 (3d8 + 6)
Passive Perception 15
Acrobatics +4, Intimidation +4, Perception +5 (Expertise), Persuasion +4, Sleight of Hand +6 (Expertise), Stealth +4
Cunning Action, Assasinate
Common, Dwarven, Thieves Cant
3 (700 XP)
Token, Common clothes, Dungeoneer's pack, Thieves' tools, Caltrops, Poisoner's Kit, Disguise Kit. The stolen Treaty
221 gp, Engraved Silver Holy Symbol worth 80 gold.
3 Potions of Healing, +1 Rapier.
+7 to hit, 9 (1d8 + 5) piercing damage.
+5 to hit, 8 (1d6 + 4) piercing damage.
+7 to hit, 16 (1d8 + 5 + 2d6) piercing damage.
- Tony "Big Tone": Barman, can hold his own. As long as the party are either buying beer or offering him coin Tony is happy to answer questions about Mervyn. He won't discuss anything illegal in the bar or give away potentially salacious details without a DC 18 Intimidate check (and the party may have to deal with some of the patrons too if it gets this far). Clues:
- "Yeah, he was fairly regular here. Don’t think he could afford them fancier places."
- "He didn’t really fit in here though."
- "He got into rows over money or cards when he was drunk."
- If pressed further he will fob them off in the direction of Bruce who recently had a row with him.
- Bruce: Thug, quick to anger. Tougher looking even than Tony, you can't really believe that Mervyn would last long in a fight against him. Clues:
- "Yeah, I remember him. Small bloke with airs and graces. He owed me money again."
- If asked if anything seemed off about that night he says: "That guy over there was watching us really creepy like." He indicates towards Meilian.
- Meilian Lackman: Level 3 Human Rogue (Assasin), hedunnit. Dressed better than many of the pub patrons this guy is the actual criminal of the piece. He is clearly wearing leather armour and has penchant for black. A relatively easy [DC 12] Perception check notices the rapier scabbard at his hip. The party should probably suspect him. If they immediately try to grab him a brawl in the bar will allow him to escape. If he is questioned about the fight he was watching he says:
- "Yeah, that fancy guy was followed."
- "I didn't really see the guy."
These are both strictly true statements and he is being intentionally guarded. On a very good Insight check this could be detected but the idea is to make the characters suspicious enough to follow him without giving the game away entirely.
If the party leave Meilian alone he will slope off at an opportune time giving them a chance to tail him.
Casing the Joint
Meilian will eventually walk into a Water Treatment Plant situated along the river bank. In order to find out where he went the party will either need to convince the guard to let them in [DC 16 Persuasion or a good disguise] or break in using other methods.
The plant consists of a u-shaped building (imagine the building pictured) with two wings either side of a courtyard and a wrought iron fence across the front. It is two stories but the plan itself isn't particularly important. The important parts of the building are:
- Gate House: the guard sat there clearly knew Meilian and let him in. He will not let the party in unless they can persuade him or disguise themselves to get past him.
- Main Hall: The long side of the building is a two storey hall that contains various machines that pump and filter water. They are a mixture of Dwarven and Human craft and make a lot of noise with suitable bits hissing steam etc. (Doran is relatively advanced so imagine Steampunk/Victorian style here). There is a small room at the back of the hall that stores supplies, a gantry at the top storey with metalwork stairs that lead down to the lower portion. At either end there are doors leading to both wings. During the day this room will be full of labourers and workers, the players will need to be quick of tongue or quiet of feet to get past them.
- Foreman's Office: there are many offices in the left wing of the building. At the front of the building on the ground floor is the Foreman's Office that has a variety of desks that can be searched with a DC 12 Investigation check. Work manifests will list a variety of names including Karla Gennel and Meilian. The windows are closed but not locked allowing players to jimmy them open and sneak in if they have failed to get past the guard.
- Manager's Office: the Manager's Office is directly above the Foreman's Office. It contains further accounts that allow the players to cross reference names that were on the work manifests. A DC 13 Intelligence check will reveal that Karla Gennel is the architect of the sewer system below the building. A DC 15 check also reveals that Meilian is on the books as a "Collector". A DC 12 Investigation check will find the architectural drawings that are on several sheets of thin tracing paper and a DC 14 Intelligence check (or the suggestion of a quick thinking player) will reveal that the overlaid pages reveal a secret construction in part of the sewer system below. It is trivial for the players to realise that they can enter the sewer via the supply room in the main hall.
The party can figure out that Meilian is likely down in the sewers in a number of ways (most obviously the fact that he seems to have disappeared within the building and cannot be found). Once they are certain they are going down into the sewers it might behove them to warn the City Guard so as not to be caught trespassing. They can either enter the sewers through the supply room where the manhole cover is hidden under some heavy boxes [DC 14 Strength check to move] or use a copy of the plans to work out another entrance point†. Either way tracking Meilian through the sewers will be the same.
†Don't give them the option of a manhole cover too near the secret chamber.
The sewer is dark and dank and the party will first encounter 4 Swarms of Bats [MM p. 339, CR 1, 200 xp]. As the press on they will eventually discover a doorway that leads in the direction of the secret chamber. The doorway is hinted at on the map but the contents of the corridor are up to the players to discover. As they progress down the corridor the party will encounter the following:
- Falling Portcullis: [XGtE p. 114] The doorway to the corridor is a falling portcullis. This is likely to be a minor hindrance to the players. I would set the trigger a bit further into the corridor to encourage most of the party to be inside before it slams shut. It's really there to encourage the party to press on and also put them on high alert for traps.
- 4 Swarms of Bats: [MM p. 338, CR 1, 200 xp], optional. If you want to throw something more at the players a different swarm type can be useful here. If the party hasn't taken a rest up to now then it might be best to let them press on.
- Pit Trap: [XGtE p. 115] With only a DC 10 check to spot most parties should realise it is there and creep around the edge. That will probably mean they aren't paying attention just afterwards when...
- Concealed Crossbow Trap: [XGtE p. 114] slightly harder to spot than the pit trap and the party may forget to look for it right after the previous trap. Hopefully the party will have been forced to use some of their healing and abilities but still be pretty ready for the final encounter.
At the end of the corridor they see a dark room. Assuming the party has a means of casting light Meilian will be able to see them before they see him and shoot with his Shortbow from the darkness with sneak attack damage. Once they enter the room he flicks a lever causing a portcullis to crash down behind them and lock the party in with him. Roll initiative!
The room is circular and 60 ft in diameter. It is made of solid stone blocks and besides the closed portcullis the only way out is through a manhole cover in the ceiling (20 ft up). While Meilian technically provides a Deadly encounter the party should be able to deal enough damage as they can all focus on him making it a fair fight. After his initial bow shots at the party he is unlikely to be able to pull off sneak attack again.
Upon defeating Meilian the players will have time to loot his corpse and check the room. If the players alerted the City Guard to their plans then the manhole cover above them will open during this time and Mr Hayworth will slide down on a rope. Otherwise the guards and Hayworth will be in the vicintiy of the manhole cover when the party escape. This is time for a bit of exposition and wrap-up.
- As a standalone module: have Mr Hayworth put on his best Holmes impression and talk about how the good actions of the PCs have saved the city from some embarrassment. He, of course, would've been there in mere moments but isn't really into fighting‡. He will ask if he can take the treaty from the players and you can roleplay this back and forth quite interestingly if the players don't trust him (he did just show up). Either way the treaty will be returned either by Mr Hayworth or the party and they will be given their rewards.
- As part of an ongoing campaign: I intend to eventually write up all of these adventures my party are playing through. Do the same as above but also have Mr Hayworth reveal a small box with a seal on it. This seal, he will inform them, is a link to none other than his arch-nemesis Professor Marthorn. He will ask the party to keep their eyes peeled for any other symbols like this and report back to him.
- Lord Melworth at the Company: the treaty now safe, the party will be given a visit by none other than the illustrious Lord Melworth once they return to the Company of the Dragon. He will give the PCs their reward [200 gp each] personally as well as share some of Samuel Bonner's brandy or wine with them (Melworth paid for the things after all). Here you can expand on his character somewhat as the gracious benefactor of the Company.
The players are now level 2§ and so should have a few weeks downtime¶ before their next adventure.
‡The character build I've based Hayworth on is actually quite good at hand to hand combat but he'd rather not resort to it if he can get away from it. After all it is rather messy.
§XP for traps and roleplay is not explicitly written down, just put them to 300 XP each.
¶I like the rules in Xanathar's Guide and would recommend using them but this is up to your group.
- Several of the people in the house may rouse suspicions and lead to Insight checks. If the players roll well they will see the NPCs are telling the truth but you can roleplay sobbing or anger on their part to keep some of the tension during the investigation. Ultimately you want the players to realise the culprit is no longer there.
- The players may suspect Lord Melworth. Up to this point the only thing they know about him is he is a benefactor of the Company of the Dragon. If they still suspect him and try to find him he will initially be "too busy to see the likes of them". If they push harder and sneak into his offices or something there can be repercussions.
- This was inspired by listening to Stephen Fry's narration of the Sherlock Holmes novels with a few bits pulled from everywhere but with specific reference to The Adventure of the Naval Treaty. It should help setup Doran as a bit different to the standard D&D city as it is more like Victorian London in feel. It should also be a fairly easy way to get level 1 characters to level 2 without being killed (though it might get close in the final fight).
- There are 2 allusions to Holmesian character names in this adventure. Answers on a postcard!