“You walk down the muddy street. The mud is tinted a dark crimson and isn’t wetted with water but with blood. The walls of Jerusalem were breached yesterday evening and the slaughter commenced. Like men possessed by the devil himself the crusaders including yourselves fell upon the inhabitants of the city in an insane fury unheard of in your years of combat.”
“Bodies of not only Saracen defenders but civilian residents, Jews and even a few Christians fell before the holy invaders. Men, woman, children… none were spared the horrors. The bloody mud reached the tops of your boots and some places were even deeper. Flies swarm but even they are overwhelmed by the sheer number of corpses. The smells of the dead are almost unbearable in the tightly confined city streets. The sounds of the slaughter still echo down the alleys and roads as the crusaders vent their wrath on the inhabitants of the city. The few paved streets ran with the blood of the city or pooled in dips. A trio of cavalry ride by you, just as muddy and filthy as you, tossing a small body in the air between them like it’s a game as they ride off down the street.”
“Only now, your insane bloodlust sated, has the red of fury lifted from your eyes and you started thinking logically again and are slammed with guilt. You realize what you have done over the last 36 hours and can’t come up with a logical reason why as you trudge through the muddy streets. The heat is almost unbearable and you have little water left in your water skins.”
“You see the body of a fellow crusader ahead lying on the ground. He lies face down but his chain halburk has decorative links of brass in stripes along the bottom of the aventail. The bits of blue tunic mark him as a man of your country under Lord Robert the Second.”
Any paladin or cleric is numbed and guilt ridden by his/her unexplainable actions since the night before. A paladin is left as a simple warrior with no special abilities over a fighter and a cleric can only use healing spells for the time being.
If PCs check the body on an easy wisdom check they find it belongs to a familiar Baron Joris Iselmere of France. A difficult perception check notes a small incision in the back of his neck between where his helm and his chain shirt cover. Made by a small dagger. A Int check reveals this was most likely a murder not a battle wound. A passive perception check reveals a trail leading from the body.
“Tracking through the mud leads to yet another alleyway. Following the muddy track leads to another crusader several hundred yards away. The Baron’s squire. Similar injury if they look. All of the buildings in this brick canyon are shut tightly, doors closed, windows shuttered. Every now and then you see a set of eyes through the narrow shutters watching you in fear.”
If PCs search either body they find typical weapons of minor nobility and 30gp in coins and another few minor pieces of jewelry(20gp). Both carry battered shortswords, tattered chainmail, and barely usable axes.
“You have drifted away from the screams and cries for now. Aside from the civilians fearfully watching you between slats of their shuttered windows, you almost feel like you are alone in the city but for the bodies lying almost haphazard everywhere. You have almost gotten used to stepping over and occasionally on them when there was no other choice. Flies continue to buzz around you as eventually you get to what was once a bazaar. All the tents are ripped up, carts and tables destroyed. The plaza is paved and blood runs in rivulets down the hill.”
“Oddly at one end of the plaza is something that doesn’t look like it belongs. A brightly multicolored covered wagon lays on its side, wheels broken, brightly dressed former occupants lying dead on the brick paved street beside it and the corpses of the horses that drew it are dead in their traces. Nothing looks right about it. It’s a very large wagon and looks like nothing you have seen in Europe or the Holy Land. How did it even get here with the narrow streets?”
The women and men are deeply tanned dressed in tight fitting pants with sturdy shoes with loose fitting blouses and bandannas on their heads. The PCs will spot simple daggers as weapons and various tools. Before they get a chance to investigate further they hear.
Easy Perception test.
“Et suam piissimam misericordium indulgeat tibi Dominus quid quid per visum, Amen.” You hear from a nearby narrow road.
“Following the voice you reach a small courtyard which is little more than the intersection of four streets, blood stains the roadway, fresh blood still bright red. In a doorway off the road you see a man kneeling over the bodies over two others. All are dressed in the armor of crusaders from the west and it’s the kneeling man whose voice you heard. His tabard is covered in mud to the point of being unreadable, and his hauberk is as battle scarred as your own. He could be mistaken for any other soldier of the church except you heard him give last rites and anoint the forehead of the fallen in oil. “
“Across the alley come several Saracen soldiers(one for each PC +1) armed with either axes or swords. They aren’t moving right though, almost mechanically, their heads seeming to wobble randomly on rubbery necks, teeth clacking together. The priest hasn’t seen them yet.”
Fight it out. They fight silently until they are hit and they start laughing and giggling. Have one lose a hand in the fight and show no effect. Level 1 fighters in chain. 5hp. No bonuses. The priest will join in as well.
“I thank god for delivering you to me in my time of need, good sir knights.” The priest says. You hear a cackle and several more people step from doorways and side roads. Several are Saracens but two are fellow crusaders like yourself and one is a town’s person with blood running down his head from a cut over his forehead. All are armed with various weapons. They are all giggling now or talking nonsense to themselves as they pick up speed towards you in a funny stride that makes them appear to not have full control.
“My sons, I think discretion is the better part of valor here and we should run. There are more than enough dead pilgrims for God to sort through right now.”
If they do.
“You quickly outpace and lose that mob by running down side passages in this warren of alleys and roads but are lost yourself. You stop to rest a moment as the priest seems a little out of breath. “Gentlefolk, now that my former companions are lost, I hope that God has delivered you to me to assist. My work is incomplete. We must find the source of this unnatural plague before it claims the lives and souls of any more of our brothers if not the entire city. Something has awakened. It is why God put me here and had me survive when so many others have not. An whether this be, madness fever, or witchcraft, who better to stand against it that servants of God such as we? Would you accompany me on this most urgent quest in the name of the Holy Church?”
-“I am trying to get a chapel near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. If you would please escort me. I can probably put an end to this evil madness that seems to have infected the city.”
PCs will probably go, emphasize the good will of the church and the fact he invoked the Church’s name which at this period pretty much means God said so, do it or be damned for eternity.
The priest directs them through the maze of the city. Have several more encounters with the madmen. No more than one or two at a time, varies between Saracens, crusaders, or towns people.
“He seems to have some idea where he is leading you as you pass other pilgrims fighting Saracens and peasantry alike in bloody slaughters but this at least appears to be normal events and nothing unnatural. It is testament to how inured the last few hours of bloodshed and battle have made you that these ‘normal’ scenes do not even phase you as you hurry by.”
Have another fight. The enemy get a surprise round as the lead PC makes a dex check to avoid a timed swing by an axe. Three more bad guys consisting of the Saracen axe man, a helmless unseeing crusader and a Saracen woman in chain mail with a spear.
“The scenes of madness as you move through the city are starting to really wear on you. You see a mother holding her child, both with bloody eye sockets from putting out their own eyes. At one point you see a young Saracen civilian couple sitting on steps to a house slicing off strips of flesh and happily feeding it to a dog sitting at their feet. You pass a nun suffocating from having her mouth and nose sewn shut, she holds the needle and thread tight in her hands. A Genoese crossbowman stands in the road giggling while throwing a fellow’s head up and down in the air oblivious to everything around him. You start to hear voices in your head, your mother speaking inappropriate things, people you may have done misdeeds to in the past, someone who died you feel guilty for, asking why you left them (but had nothing to do with). People you have killed over the years pleading for their lives. You drop to your knees crying and mumbling<make a wisdom check who cares what they roll, they fail>and the good Father slaps you on the backs of your heads “Have faith in god my sons, Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death….” Ever onward you push into the deeper districts of Jerusalem. The now paved roads are slick with blood to the point it pools and runs in the gutters and actually makes footing difficult. You are starting to miss the sucking mud of the lower city.”
Another fight with two more. One is missing his hand and fights like it was nothing.
“Finally you reach a larger road. At the top you almost drop to your knees again. Golgotha and the Ruins of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. You see a variety of Crusaders there kneeling towards the wall. The end of your crusade is in sight after years of travel and fighting half way around the world. “I wish to go there and pray too my sons, but that is not our time yet. We go there!” He points towards some nicer homes. “That is our destination.”
-Give a second for PCs to ask .
“That is because you are not meant to see, no one was and no one has. Some hundred paces from us lies that house. It is a normal house, maybe a little larger than the others. Before the Caliph Al-Hakim-bi Amr Allah destroyed it the Church of the Holy Sepulchre cast its shadow across this house precisely at dawn. It is there we will find what we seek. Come come quickly now!”
He runs to the front of the building and you feel an even greater pressure in your head. Around your vision is black.
Three more loons come around the corner, 2 of them armored Saracen and the last an Italian bowman judging by the arrows in the quiver on his back but now using a short sword. They stiffly charge into you. As they reach the area near the door if they haven’t been cut down they stiffly halt and just loosely hold their weapons while giggling with their eyes rolling back in their heads.
Then instead, you see your father and your mother standing in front of you he says, “Why did you abandon your family? You left us to die!” They attack you. Passing a save vs illusion makes them vanish but only the child of each parent can see each one and their attacks while having no bonus still cause illusionary damage.
Roll for an insanity check.
When you snap out of it the loonies are lying on the ground having some sort of seizure. If they ask, the priest is nowhere to be seen, the door is closed. Roll a wisdom check. You don’t remember seeing any injuries on the priest’s dead companions if they haven’t come to this conclusion already. On a low roll you think there might have been more blade wounds on their necks if they were rolled over.
The door collapses after a few hits.
“Inside is a well furnished but obviously not used in a while home. A fine layer of dust sits on everything. Tracks lead into the bedroom and suddenly stop.”
If PCs think to look they find a false floor. Wisdom if they don’t look. Cobweb covered spiral stone stairs lead down into the darkness.
If they suggest it then its easy to come up with a light source. From candles in the rooms to makeshift torches are available
-“Lining the walls of the stairs are alcoves where cobweb covered skeletal corpses stand silent sentinel clutching ancient spears and Roman scutum shields in withered hands. From beneath their corroded and brittle helms their skulls leer at the passing PCs, smiling at them with incomplete jaws. On one you see a large centipede disappear into the eye socket of a skull. At another point the lead PC looks at one and sees their own face on the face of the skull but the image returns to normal when they look again. The circular stairs go down perhaps thirty feet ending in a wide long hallway. A lone candle is suspended in the air from the ceiling every twenty feet or so leaving the edges of the hall in darkness. The shells of beetles crunch under foot, large spiders run from your light, and other things too big to be insects but too many legs to be rats are just visible in the shadows retreating when the light nears, hundreds of multi-facetted reflections from their eyes watch you pass.”
If PCs push it allow them to fight the equivalent of large centipedes, no real clue what they are however.
-“The air is cool, but very still and stuffy and smells of rot. At the end of the hall are two large doors, made of a wood so dark and polished it appears to go on forever. Large iron buttresses run across the doors both vertically and horizontally giving the appearance of a cross standing before infinity.”
Door is not locked but screeches open loudly but easily. The room beyond is a massive amphitheater sloped down to a raised dais in the back. A large black cross looking like similar wood to the doors hangs on the wall behind the altar. On the gently sloping floor lie old musty insect eaten pillows for kneeling. On the raised dais, next to the altar you see Father Lambrect sitting crosslegged on the floor, looking down at something hidden in his lap. “I am impressed, good sirs. You show greater strength of will than I gave you credit for. Certainly, better than my former companions”
The voices silent for the trek through the tunnels beneath the city have begun whispering in your heads again. You aren’t sure what they are saying but they are there speaking to you none-the-less. Enticing you to follow Father Lambrect’s example and sit”.
PCs must make another paralyzation save or they stand there. If a PC passes he can slap another PC to get them to their senses.
“On the wall behind the fallen priest, the giant crucifix stands covered in Greek lettering and thick cobwebs is constructed of the same dark wood of the door. A small lamp on the floor beside him provides the only light in the massive hall.”
You hear him mumbling to himself as he goes back to his book. Moving to his position will take several rounds and take relatively easy dex checks to avoid tripping.
-“If many more men had to die or go mad for me to acquire this then it would still be worth it.”
-“More valuable than any treasure this is. I hold the future of the Holy Catholic Church in my hands. Those fools are too blind to see it!”
As the PCs reach the steps up to the dais and alter.
“The priest stands quickly sweeping his arms and robes grandly revealing what he has in his arms. Fragments of cobwebs or possibly even smoke fall from the object seeming to disappear in the darkness. In his hands is an ancient, black leather-bound tome filled with yellowed pages. His eyes have gone unfocused and not even looking at you. “These are the surviving pages of the Laginate Grimore. Most of the many works, secreted here by the Romans are worthless, curios at best. But this!” He almost shouts in maniacal glee,
“I have sought a work of this power for years! So much has been lost: to history, to fate, to the short sightedness of our own mother church! But oh what remains! It speaks of many wonders, the Grimoire! The future, read in the stars, and of secrets of the past, revealed in bones. It speaks of the dead and the truths they whisper to those that will hear them.”
The priest’s eyes grow even wider, a froth of saliva on his lips, “It speaks of the nature of dreams, of visions, of sights unseen!”
The PCs are off balance now, The room seems blurry as if it is vibrating and you have drank far too much wine. You hear a roar from the tunnel entrance as if hundreds of voices are yelling and screaming in madness. A strange mist also seems to be flowing into the room.
-If PCs try to attack the priest they miss, trip, and hit the floor. He suddenly seems to be several feet away, still staring into nothingness. He isn’t where you think he is.
“It speaks of spirits bound by words of power, screaming silently in places of prayer.” Your heads are pounding now both in pain, confusion, and hundreds of voices yelling at you. “It speaks of the spirits of the wild, that guide the birds, and the beasts, and the fish in the sea, and all things not man.” You suddenly seem frozen in place. Insects skitter into the feeble light in a sheet crawling up your legs and into the cracks of your armor, biting any skin found. You find you cannot even try and slap them off
“It speaks of the spirits that drive men mad, that possess them to partake in abominable acts! It speaks of the spirits, and the hollow and hungry places in which they dwell!”
The lantern spits its smoke, almost snakelike turning back on itself to wrap around the grimoire in Lambrecht’s hands. The priest seems to gain a measure of attention back and looks down at the book and raises his arms, the mist following slowly behind like moss on a tree. He leans over and picks up his mace and turns to you. “Is it not fascinating? The Grimiore has lain here for a millennia with no harm to anyone. We awakened the spirits of the book with our coming, sent them forth to wreak madness. Perhaps it savors the taste of blood, or the taste of faith.”
He looks at you suddenly with lucidity, “You haven’t much faith left do you? But you have plenty of blood.” The mists float across you, they seem to be icy cold and burning at your soul.”
Make a paralyzation save to break the hold and roll initiative. If it is passed PCs fight as normal, if failed the PC is held in thrall until the priest hits them with his mace. If PCs both pass and get initiative ahead of the priest the first hit knocks the priest off the dais and turns the lantern over igniting the dry carpeting in a rapidly spreading sheet of flame.
All fighting is done at a -2 due to blurriness, the smoke and a growing mist.
Lambrect is a level 2 cleric with a mace and chainmail armor and a partial helm.
Once Lambrecht is defeated, he falls to the floor into the mist. At the door almost invisible in the mist and choking smoke you see the loonies warily entering the room laughing and chuckling to themselves. Your last sight of them is them spreading out along the walls. Although the cavernous room was almost black before, the mist seems to have lit the room like you are in the daylight in a fog bank.
Players get 50xp per looney 200 for Lambrect.
If PCs try and get to the body of Lambrecht or the Grimiore through the thick mist,
they notice the ground under their feet seems softer. Also for the first time in two years of fighting in these arid Holy Lands, you feel moisture in the air without it being oppressively humid. The un-natural mist starts to clear. Instead of the laughs and giggles of the loonies, you hear seagulls and surf. The air is cool and moist and smells of brine and old seaweed and your boots feel as if they are sinking in the wet sand.
Waves wash up almost to your feet. The surf is dark and foreboding. Thunder rumbles and the sky appears ready to open up in a thunderstorm, the likes of which you haven’t seen since you were home in Europe. If any player is English then it reminds them of coastal Normandy.
-As an exercise, this is pretty much how I write out adventures in the shorthand. Granted I rarely have near as much narration and never this much railroading, although my group doesnt seem to mind it as much as others I am noticing. Prior to this I offered the them choice of what I had ready, a free form sand box weird campaign or story driven serious campaign and unanimously they picked this one.