The Ghost Court – 9,405 words
The explanation put forth by the nobles for the end of the noble line of House Aerlon claims the entire line died when their home,Castle Morningstone, became infected with plague. While this tale is not debated in public, the common folk whisper about betrayals, murder, and vengeful ghosts now walking the hallways of Castle Morningstone unaware they are no longer among the living. When the players investigate the castle, they become involved in the intrigues of a court long dead; intrigues that must be unraveled if the heroes hope to escape the castle alive.
The Ghost Court is an adventure for 5 characters of 4th level. The adventure has a heavy focus on social skill challenges so skills like Diplomacy, Insight, and Intimidate are particularly useful but no specific classes are required. In addition Arcana is extremely useful. The players can try to fight their way through the adventure, but will likely be unable to do so and achieve many of the adventure's goals. The adventure happens over the course of one night so the players will not be able to recharge their daily powers within the scope of the adventure.
The adventure begins when the players go to investigate the ancestral home of the noble House Aerlon, Castle Morningstone. Once the players begin investigating the castle it quickly becomes apparent the publicly accepted stories of the castle being abandoned due to plague are untrue. Instead the inhabitants of the castle were killed in a necromantic ritual that has left the spirits of the deceased stuck in the castle, forever holding a court of the dead until the ritual is ended by the destruction of the wizard who began it, Lord Oleph Aerlon. Unfortunately for the players once they enter the castle they become part of the ritual and cannot leave until court is adjourned. The players must navigate the politics of the court to find out who betrayed the inhabitants of the castle without drawing the ire of the ghosts.
It is important to realize the undead in Castle Morningstone do not understand they are dead. They are under an enchantment that actively works to keep them believing they are alive and will see the actions of the players through that lens. The undead will act like people, not the mindless killing machines the players may be used to. If destroyed the spirits will reform a short time later (generally an hour) unless the ritual holding them is ended, so the spirits will even write off attacks against them as being misunderstandings since they're all okay a short time later. This gives the players a few chances to learn that violence will not solve their problems in the castle without being punished too harshly. If the players insist on fighting on more than two occasions the ghosts will turn against them.
Some of the creatures in this adventure have templates they do not normally qualify for because they are not humanoids. This requirement is waved for this adventure since the undead do not realize they are dead and hence act more like their living humanoid selves rather than the mindlessly destructive undead most adventurers are used to.
Leaving the Castle
Once the players enter the castle they become part of the necrotic ritual that is slowly consuming the spirits trapped inside the castle. The players will take one point of necrotic damage each hour afterwards and are wracked by terrible dreams should they try to rest, making extended rests impossible. This damage continues if they leave the castle and and will only stop once the ritual is thwarted.
Getting the Players Involved
- The players are hired by Lord Jonah Aerlon, a distant cousin of the nobles who once lived in Castle Morningstone. His family suffered for the loss of the castle and he now is interested in reclaiming his family's ancestral seat. To that end he has hired the players to explore the ruins of the castle and remove any possible threats that have taken up residence. Lord Aerlon expects them to have to remove some bandits or large vermin, having no clue as to the true nature of the current inhabitants of Castle Morningstone. He offers the players 500 gp for this task.
- One of the players finds out they are a distant relation to House Aerlon and are told by the executor of the will of the previous Lord Aerlon of Castle Morningstone. If the player can clear out the castle they have legal claim to it, but if such claim is not laid in the next two months the land will be confiscated by the local baron due to negligence. To claim the land the player must stay in the castle for at least a fortnight straight according to local laws.
- While about town the players head the ravings of a merchant named Qurous Still who had the misfortune to take shelter in Castle Morningstone during a storm. When night fell an army of spirits appeared and attacked, or at least that's what he says. In fact the guards attacked the ghosts in a panic.. Qurous fled for his life, but all of his guards were killed in the effort and he lost his caravan. He is now reduced to begging in the streets and seems to be slowly dying of some illness contracted in the castle (actually the effects of the necromantic ritual on those who leave the castle), but will reward anyone who recovers his wagons (which now rest in the courtyard of Castle Morningstone) with 500 gp in cash or trade goods.
Castle Morningstone was built in a better age around a magical artifact called the Morningstone that was said to be a raw piece of the primordial essence from which the world was formed. This stone was said to have all manner of magical powers over the years, most of which having to do with control over reality. As time passed the stagnant reality of the world crept in and the Morningstone grew weaker, the current state of the inhabitants of Castle Morningstone being the last magic it will create.
House Aerlon held Morningstone since its construction up until its abandonment, ruling the surrounding territory with a fair hand and developing quite the reputation for being a family of wizards. Unfortunately they also developed a reputation for madness; while the Morningstone blessed the family with powers arcane, it also cursed them with insanity and more than a few members of House Aerlon met their end gibbering incoherently. This came to its peak at the feast celebrating the ascension of the new Lord of Castle Morningstone, Oleph Aerlon, who was succeeding his ancient father to the title. Unbeknown to the visiting family members, nobles, and merchants, Oleph Aerlon had the madness of his family in spades and set up the whole celebration as part of an elaborate necromantic ritual to harvest the spirits of the attendees for his efforts to become a lich. Luckily for those at the party Oleph's completely mad sister Taelin discovered his plan, but due to her insanity no one believed her ramblings about death and doom. So Taelin acted on her own and disturbed Oleph's preparations; she wasn't able to stop the ritual but she was able to stall it in the middle by replacing several ritual components with mundane items of similar appearance. The result was all those present were killed, but instead of being instantly bent to Oleph's power they were trapped in the castle to be slowly consumed over many years. The spirits have been getting weaker, more insane, and more desperate ever since and are nearing the end of their existence if the players do not save them. If the spirits are consumed Oleph will arise as a lich to terrify the countryside.
If the players wish to do research on Castle Morningstone they should make a History check.
DC 15: Castle Morningstone is the ancestral seat of House Aerlon, a noble house that has been all but wiped out since the castle was abandoned decades ago due to plague. The colors of House Aerlon were blue and gold.
DC 20: House Aerlon was known for producing wizards of vast power, but an unusually high number of them went insane. It was said madness ran in the family. The symbol of House Aerlon was a sunburst sometimes depicted over an open book.
DC 25: While the official story for House Aerlon's fall is plague many, whisper the family was somehow cursed, hence their madness. This curse now traps their spirits in the castle to act out the last days of their lives.
DC 30: Castle Morningstone was so named for a fragment of primal reality the castle was built on. This fragment allowed the wizards of the castle to achieve great magical feats, but at the cost of their own sanity. This story has attracted many adventurers to the Castle to attempt to recover the fragment but none have ever returned.
Read or paraphrase the following to begin the adventure:
Ahead Castle Morningstone looms in the evening light, a gray monolithic structure now overgrown with ivy and moss. It's stout walls and towers are cracked and collapsing but the core structure remains. Fragments of banners bend and weave in the light wind. No noise comes from within save the occasional slamming of a door or shutter in the wind. It seems completely empty.
Castle Morningstone may be falling apart, but its walls are still standing and its moat is still full. The only way directly through these defenses is the gatehouse. The road to the castle leads directly to the drawbridge that stands before the gatehouse. From here the players can begin planning how they want to enter the building.
Read or paraphrase the following:
The outer wall of Castle Morningstone castle is cracked in many places but still stands for the most part. Towers remain at each corner but most of their upper battlements have collapsed. The moat surrounding it is as much bog as moat, but it still presents on obstacle to getting in the castle. The only path over the moat is a single crumbling drawbridge which leads to the only means through the wall, the main gatehouse.
The moat surrounding Castle Morningstone is twenty feet across and is a mixture of deep water and mud. It can be crossed without a skill check but counts as difficult terrain. The wall is thirty feet tall but is badly cracked and uneven, making it a simple skill challenge to climb requiring Athletics (DC 15). The wall is ten feet wide.
On top of the wall there are five patrols of three phantom warriors (Monster Manual, page 116) walking the battlements. A patrol completes a circuit of the walls every thirty rounds, meaning that a patrol walks by any given point on the wall every ten rounds. Anyone encountered on the wall will be challenged and taken into custody, by force if necessary. Players caught climbing the wall will be treated suspiciously by the inhabitants of the castle who know how they entered since people of quality would never stoop to such means. Any sounds of struggle will draw the other guards on the wall to the fight within five rounds and the spirits from the barracks and the courtyard, including the Captain, within ten rounds if the fight continues. The phantom warriors will immediately stop attacking if the players surrender and will escort them to the courtyard.
Read or paraphrase the following to the players:
The gatehouse was once a formidable structure, but now it is overrun with moss and its towers are teetering piles of stone. The drawbridge appears to still be functional, but the inner door of the gatehouse has rotted away to little more than a few scraps of wood attached to the skeletal remains of the iron bindings that held the door together. There are murder holes in the walls and ceiling, making it obvious that any armed force that tried to take the castle in its heyday would have had a very rough time.
There are rooms on either side of the main hall of the gatehouse, but they can only be entered from the courtyard side of the structure. These rooms contain the remains of the equipment that would be needed to fight off a siege including bows, arrows, pots for boiling oil, and caltrops. With a Perception check (DC 10) and ten minutes of effort the players can find fifty arrows, a five quarts of oil, or a bow that remain useful. Also the crank used to raise and lower the drawbridge are contained in the western room, a process that requires five rounds to complete, during which time the draw bridge counts as difficult terrain. Once the players enter the Keep the drawbridge closes and will not open again until morning.
As soon as the players enter the gatehouse four phantom warriors appear on the interior side and hail the players, asking them their names and business in Castle Morningstone. These guards will assume the players are guests for the party so as long as the players do not blatantly contradict this or start a fight they can get through with a simple skill challenge using Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate (DC 15). Assuming the players do succeed in talking the phantom warriors into allowing them entrance they will be escorted by two phantom warriors to see the Captain. If the players start a fight the fifteen phantom warriors from the walls will join the fight starting on the third round at a rate of three per round. If the fight is still going on after eight rounds the Captain and the phantom warriors from the courtyard and the barracks join in. Once the players are defeated they are brought before the Captain.
Read or paraphrase the following to the players:
The courtyard of Castle Morningstone is filled with debris with the interior of the structure having suffered the passage of time as badly as the exterior. Two wooden buildings remain standing, one on each side of the gatehouse, while the majority of the courtyard is taken up by the keep at the center of the castle. The keep is a three story structure made of crumbling stone and largely covered in ivy. A rotting banner, a star burst on a blue and yellow field, hangs limp on the high central tower. The keep's main door is closed, though the rickety, rotted door looks ready to fall apart. In front of the keep is a fountain that looks now like little more than a pile of wet stones. A handful of ghostly shapes stand around it, one of which wears ghostly plate mail and a flowing phantasmal cloak.
From the courtyard the players can access the gatehouse, stables, barracks, or the keep. There is little of interest in the courtyard, though if the players were hired by the merchant Qurous Still to recover his goods his wagons are in the courtyard. Standing around the remains of the old fountain are four phantom warriors and a phantom battle champion (Monster Manual page 116 with the Battle Champion template from Dungeon Masters guide page 176), which is the spirit of the Captain of the castle guard in life. All the phantom warriors in the castle listen to his commands and their loyalty to him is so strong they will follow his orders over those of the nobles of House Aerlon, mainly since House Aerlon is full of lunatics who say all manner of strange things.
The Captain is concerned with the overall security of Castle Morningstone and the party tonight is not making his job any easier with with all the people coming and going. The Captain will treat any players who are brought to him with respect because he assumes they are people of quality here for the meeting, though he will be far less trusting of those caught climbing over the wall or causing a ruckus. If the player characters are extremely apologetic for starting a fight, the Captain will let them go to the party but will insist they surrender any obvious weapons while inside the keep. If they still manage to cause trouble he will insist on a guard of four phantom warriors accompanying them at all times, while a further violent incident will result in them being thrown in the dungeon. If the player characters manage to stretch out their violent act over at least four hours the Captain will forget their previous transgressions and will go so far as to return their weapons to them if they have been taken. If the Captain is presented with proof of Lord Aerlon's misdeeds he will return the players' weapons, but will not assist them himself, finding it impossible to work against Lord Aerlon due to the ritual.
The Captain is willing to talk to characters about events in the castle, especially if there are any player characters who the Captain can see as fellow soldiers. With a simple skill challenge using Diplomacy or Bluff (DC 15; +5 bonus to player characters of martial classes) the Captain will tell the players the following.
1 The history of the Castle and that the party this evening is to celebrate the ascension of Lord Oleph Aerlon to the title of Lord Aerlon.
2 The history of madness that runs in House Aerlon
3 A basic list of the residents of the castle.
4 Taelin, little sister to Lord Oleph Aerlon, was trying to tell him something the other day about Oleph having something bad planned for the party, but she's crazy so he didn't pay it any mind.
If the players get two or more failures the Captain will send them on their way, saying he has no more time to waste talking with visitors.
As the players approach the stables read or paraphrase the following to the players:
The stables of Castle Morningstone are little more than a wooden skeleton waiting for a stiff wind or a good snow for an excuse to fall down. Nothing remains of the horses that once called this place home. A slight scrambling sound comes from inside.
This structure is ready to fall down and is a threat to anyone who walks inside. The entire building is effectively a Rockslide trap (Dungeon Master's Guide, page 86) the size of the entire building that cannot be detected using Nature. The building will collapse if any combat takes place inside it more than one person takes a move action inside during a single turn without succeeding at an Athletics or Dungeoneering skill check (DC 15).
Inside is a bandit named Marcus Touree (Human Bandit, Monster Manual page 162) who has been hiding out in the Castle for a few days and is near death because of it. He has been unable to leave and has been surviving off the remaining water that flows out of the fountain. He is now out of food and has begun the slow process of starving to death in addition to the effects the ritual are having on him. He has little idea what is going on inside the keep, his fear of the spirits make him keep his distance from them. He does well know that once inside you are doomed by some sort of illness or plague which is now killing him, but he has no idea how to remove it. He is willing to help the players in exchange for food, but has little interest in getting closer to the spirits or going in the keep. Also he will betray the players at the soonest opportunity if he thinks he can actually escape the castle.
Read this aloud or paraphrase to the players:
Made of a mixture of stone and wood, this structure's stone components remain mostly intact while the wood portions are rotted and obviously structurally unsound. Inside are the remains of chests and beds, most which contain corpses, some of which are wrapped in sheets. Several ghostly shapes move about the room and appear to be doing the sorts of menial, every day tasks that are done by the living.
The barracks are still used by the spirits of the castle guard who spend their off-duty time here doing the same things they did in life; gambling, cleaning, and cooking. There are six phantom warriors here normally. They will politely ignore the players characters unless the player characters make a nuisance of themselves or have become known troublemakers in the castle. If the player characters cause trouble elsewhere these soldiers will likely be called to help subdue them.
If the player characters think to approach these spirits as soldiers, possibly engaging them in gambling or such, they can get gossip about the nobles of House Aerlon. With a simple skill challenge using Diplomacy or Bluff (DC 15) they can learn the following:
1 Lord Oleph Aerlon has called the party going on in the keep to celebrate his becoming the next Lord Aerlon.
2 The new Lord Aerlon's sister Taelin has had to be restrained in the dungeon to prevent her from disturbing the guests.
3 The names of the various guests at the party in the keep, but the soldiers don't know much about them aside from their general reputation.
If the players get more than two failures the soldiers will return to their duties in the hopes of avoiding the ire of the Captain.
Read aloud or paraphrase the following for the players:
The keep at the center of Morningstone keep is a three story structure with a taller central tower, though it looks like most of the third story and the tower have now collapsed. The main door of the keep is a stout wooden door with iron bars that is mostly intact but has some signs of rot. It stands open, revealing a large hall inside illuminated by some sort of odd blue-white light. More spirits can be seen moving about inside. A crest of a sunburst over a book is carved into the wall above the door.
The keep of Castle Morningstone was once the entirety of the castle, but over the centuries the outer wall was built up around the keep. In its later days the keep served as the home to the nobles and upper servants of House Aerlon while the guards and stable hands stayed in the barracks in the yard. The keep was once three stories tall with a tower reaching up a further two stories, but now the third story has collapsed and the upper levels of the tower stand in ruin. The main door, leading to the yard and the fountain, is the main entrance to the Keep and it opens on the Main Hall. A hidden postern door is located on the opposite side of the Keep and opens into the Servant's Quarters, but finding it from the outside requires a Perception check (DC 25). The exterior walls of the keep can be climbed with some difficulty with a simple skill challenge using Athletics (DC 20), allowing the players to access the ruined third floor and the hole in the ceiling that leads to the Noble's Quarters. Anyone climbing the keep must also succeed in a Stealth check (DC 15) to avoid being seen by the guards, who will challenge and attack if the climber does not immediately climb back down. The keep can be entered through the ruined third level by crawling into the rafters of the Main Hall or the roof of the Noble Quarters.
2-2: Main Hall
Read or paraphrase the following aloud to the players:
The hall before you looks to the main room of the keep, stretching almost the entirety of the Keep and reaching up into the collapsed third floor. It's high ceiling is arched and well decorated with sculptures and intricate stonework, though some of these are chipped and worn by time. The walls are covered with a mixture of rotting tapestries and ragged banners. There are pairs of doors on both of the long sides of the hall. The floor of the hall is filled with long tables, all of which are filled with bone and filth covered plates, the remains of some great feast. Around the tables are chairs and benches, nearly all of which contain skeletons in the remains of the clothes they died in. Most still are sitting at dinner, while a few appear to have been knocked to the floor by whatever event ended their lives. At the head of the room stands a wood and silver throne on a raised dais, obviously the chair of the noble lord who once presided over this castle. It is conspicuously empty.
While it is obvious many died in this room. It seems they were not content in death and remain at feast. Ghostly figures flit about the room eating and serving a feast that appears to have gone on for quite some time.
This room was the center of social activity and rule for House Aerlon, and it is now the grave of most of the guests that were slain by Lord Aerlon's ritual. Their spirits remain at feast, unknowing of the terrible fate that has befallen them. Two of the phantom warriors (Monster Manual, page 116) in the room are posted around the next to the door to the keep and are the spirits of the guards who were on duty in the hall during the feast, while the other two phantom warriors are the spirits of the servants. The phantom warriors with class templates are the spirits of the various lesser members of the House Aerlon household and visitors here for the celebration. They all are here to eat and socialize and will readily talk with anyone who carries themselves as a person of quality, while boorish or rude behavior will result in the spirits ignoring the troublemaker. Any fighting in the Main Hall will result in the phantom warriors assaulting the offending visitors with the Captain and the phantom warriors from the yard joining three rounds later.
The spirits will talk to the players about the events that have led up to their current state even if they do not realize they are dead. It will take a great deal of work to convince them of their true state.
Speaking to each of the spirits is a separate skill challenge, each success getting the players a bit of information. If the players get two or more failures with a spirit that spirit has determined them to be people of low quality and thus to be ignored unless the players can come up with a compelling argument to counter this. If the players think to talk to the guard or servant spirits and make a Diplomacy or Intimidate check (DC 15) they can get an idea of what skills can be applied against what spirit.
Brother Arkelius Scyre (Phantom Warrior Cleric): The cleric of a god of healing who served House Aerlon's spiritual needs, he spent most of his time trying to heal the mind of Taelin Aerlon or giving advice on magical theory to Lord Aerlon. Brother Scyre is a bookish sort who has seen little outside of the abbey where he was trained and Castle Morningstone. He is well versed in the theories of divine magic, elemental planes, and alchemy. His social skills are not the best and in life his scholarly lifestyle had made him a rather portly fellow, but his genial good nature overcomes these and he is well liked wherever he goes. If the players search Brother Scyre's corpse they can find his +2 symbol of hope. The players can use Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate against Brother Scyre (DC 15), though other players can assist using Heal or Religion (DC 15) by discussing his faith and treatments for Taelin, adding a +2 bonus to the next main skill challenge roll. Characters with divine classes get a +5 bonus to skill checks against Brother Scyre.
1 He has served House Aerlon for several years and has done just about all he can to try and assist Taelin, but to little avail.
2 He has put forth the theory that it is the presence of the Morningstone that causes the hereditary madness in House Aerlon, but so far Lord Aerlon has not accepted this idea (at least publicly).
3 Brother Scyre knows that Lord Aerlon has his sister confined to the dungeon for the duration of the celebration but honestly is not certain why. She has said something to Brother Scyre beforehand about her brother being up to something in the library, but he wrote it off as her madness.
4 In recent days Brother Scyre has come to doubt the sanity of Lord Aerlon, catching him talking to himself and inflicting injuries on himself several times. Brother Scyre had planned to talk to his lord about this after the celebration, not realizing that would be too late.
Portia Crowsdottir (Phantom Warrior Fighter): Seneschal of Castle Morningstone, it was her responsibility to make sure the day to day operations of the castle were properly executed. Her nature is severe and hard, making her unpopular with those who work for her but her efficiency cannot be denied. At the celebration she does little besides eat mechanically and silently catalog what servants are performing up to her requirements. If the players search Portia's corpse they find her +2 vicious longsword. The players can use Bluff or Diplomacy against Portia (DC 15), but Intimidate checks are more difficult (DC 20). Characters with martial classes get a +5 bonus to skill challenges against Portia.
1 Portia is a former military commander who had served with the Captain years back but was forced to find a new profession after losing her sword arm fighting off an orc invasion. She runs the household of Castle Morningstone like a military unit, having little time for excuses or debate.
2 Portia knows that Lord Aerlon ordered many things purchased for the celebration, some of which have nothing to do with a party. He ordered a great deal of ritual components.
3 She recalls the list of ritual components from memory. Anyone she tells this list to can make an Arcana check (DC 20) to recognize the components would only be useful in some manner of necrotic ritual.
Lady Ori Jallon (Phantom Warrior Rogue): Ward of House Aerlon, she is from the distant noble house of Jallon. Of similar age to Taelin Aerlon, the two have been fast friends since Lady Jallon's arrival. Players can use Bluff, or Diplomacy against Lady Jallon (DC 15); Intimidate is a bit easier (DC 10) but if it produces a single failure she will warn the guards she is being threatened. This will result in the players getting a talking to, possibly resulting in their weapons being confiscated if they have already caused problems, and Lady Jallon will no longer speak to them. Players can use History (DC 10) to recall information about house Jallon, making her feel more comfortable and granting a +2 bonus to the next roll in the main skill challenge.
1 Despite Taelin's madness the two get along well and Lady Jallon is the only person in the castle who does not patronize or fear Taelin, instead just seeing here as a teenage girl in need of a friend.
2 Lady Jallon the fact that Lord Aerlon sent Taelin to the dungeons to be a terrible turn of events and she pines for her friend.
3 She is more than willing to try to affect an escape if the players are willing to help her. If the players agree to this she will lead them to the dungeon and help them release Taelin.
4 Taelin told her that Lord Aerlon had a lot more planned than just a party on that fateful night, but she doesn't know what. Lord Aerlon is still up in the library as far as she knows.
Lord Justice Kreyer Tanle (Phantom Warrior Paladin): An old adventuring comrade of Lord Aerlon, Lord Justice Tanle retired to act as the judge of the nearby duchy of Kriegsgard. The players can use Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate against Lord Justice Tanle, but failing a single Bluff or Intimidate check will turn him against them and will no longer speak to them. Also players can use History (DC 20) to recall some of Lord Justice Tanle's deeds, adding a +2 bonus to the next main skill challenge check against him.
1 He has many good memories of his years working side by side with Lord Aerlon rooting out evil and living the life of an adventurer.
2 The two split when Lord Aerlon insisted in keeping a collection of necromantic tomes taken by the two from the lair of Hurghtar the Bloated, a necromancer of some repute who once troubled the region. Lord Justice Tanle believed the books would just lead to more evil, but Lord Aerlon thought he could learn from them.
3 This decision split the two and they never spoke again until Lord Aerlon invited Lord Justice Tanle to this celebration. Lord Justice Tanle took this invitation as a sign of reconciliation, and not as the long term revenge that Lord Aerlon intended it as.
Donner Pennington (Phantom Warrior Rogue): A merchant prince who was the lead purveyor of books, magical items, and ritual components in the region, House Aerlon has long been his best customer. A large, jovial sort, Pennington believes he is everyone's friend and that everyone needs his services, even if they don't know it yet. The players can use Bluff, Diplomacy, Insight, or Intimidate against Pennington. Players can also use Arcana (DC 15) to talk shop with him, granting a +2 bonus on the next main skill challenge check against him.
1 Pennington brought many ritual components, books, etc purchased by Lord Aerlon for his rituals to the castle and is more than willing to brag about the great lengths he had to go to do so. In the process of fulfilling Lord Aerlon's needs he traveled to distant lands over scorched deserts and roiling seas, taking over three years to collect everything Lord Aerlon directed.
2 Pennington is more than willing to list the more difficult to find and valuable items, which a player can identify as being useful in necromantic rituals with an Arcana check (DC 20). Pennington makes no excuses for the types of goods he has provided, believing he who pays can have whatever enough if he pays enough.
2 The hardest item to find was a crown known as the Crown of Mokorus Bale, which Pennington knows as a magic artifact of some power. Any player who hears this name can make an Arcana check (DC 25) to recognize Mokorus Bael as the name of a lich who was destroyed centuries ago and who was said to curse any who wore his crown to become a lich as well. It's location has been lost for centuries, but now apparently Lord Aerlon has it.
Mikhal Shadetree (Phantom Warrior Wizard): A eladrin wizard of no small skill, he has helped Lord Aerlon studies of the Morningstone for the last decade. An arrogant sort convinced of his own infallibility and intellect, he patronizes anyone else who thinks they know something of magic as if he were talking to children. If the players search Mikhal's corpse they find his +1 staff of storms. Only threats of direct violence or serious public embarrassment can bring him down off his self built pedestal. The players can use Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate against him (DC 15), though Intimidate checks use DC 10.
1 Outside of Lord Aerlon, Mikhal is the most knowledgeable person about the history and powers of the Morningstone, even if it is only a shadow of its former self now. He has come to the castle several times to carry our rituals here due to the effect of the Morningstone on rituals performed nearby.
2 He does not know what Lord Aerlon has planned this evening, but he does know over the last year Lord Aerlon has gotten more inconsistent and moody, turning down all Mikhal's requests to use the Morningstone.
3 Mikhal took the invitation to this celebration as something of an attempt to apologize for this behavior, but unknown to him it was instead given so Lord Aerlon could eliminate the only other person who knows the secrets of the Morningstone.
Read or paraphrase the following to the players:
The doors from the main hall open up to a large kitchen that seems capable of feeding dozens with little effort. Large ovens are built into the stone walls and huge copper pots dominate the center of the room, but now they have tarnished to a sickly green color. Knives, cleavers, and other cooking tools lay about as if dropped in the middle of being used and a few piles of bones rest on platters where they were once well prepared meals. A single door in the floor looks to lead to a cellar of some sort.
This room was once the kitchen for Castle Morningstone, but now it is the home of two spirits bound in anger. These spirits were cooks in life and they were slain by Lord Aerlon's ritual, but not harvested due to Lord Aerlon's low opinion of servants. Instead they were to become the first of his undead army and they died while in the midst of a seething rage after Portia Crowsdottir forced them to remake several meals for the guests after the first round did not meet her expectations. As a result of Lord Aerlon's efforts and their rage in death they are not the non-hostile spirits most of the others in the castle are. Instead they are now trap haunts (Monster Manual, page 116) that will leap out of the cauldrons and ovens as soon as the players come close, taking out their undying rage on the players. These spirits will not reform until the next evening if destroyed.
The door in the floor leads to the Dungeon.
2-4: Servants Quarters
Read or paraphrase the following aloud to the players:
These small cells are little larger than the beds they contain and likely once served as the homes of the castle's servants. The hallway that connects them is bare save a single tapestry long faded and stairs leading to the second level of the keep. The doors to the cells are are rickety looking, some rotten while others are cracked and falling apart. They all stand slightly ajar.
These small rooms once housed the servants of the castle and those that were not actively working the feast were here remaining out of sight of the guests. Lord Aerlon's low opinion of the servants carried over into his ritual and those in this wing were not targeted to be harvested like others in the castle; instead they were to become the first servants of his new undead kingdom. To that end they were animated as skeletons (10 decrepit skeletons and 3 skeletons, Monster Manual page 234) by the ritual and will exit from their rooms and attack anyone who makes any significant noise in the hallway. If the players wish to destroy the skeletons they can do so in a skill challenge, destroying one skeleton for each successful Stealth check (DC 20), though if two or more skill checks are failed the skeletons awake and attack.
There is a postern door in one of the servant chambers that allows access to the outside. It is easily visible from the inside.
If the players search the servant's quarters they can find 10 gp in various small coinage.
2-5: Nobles Quarters
Read or paraphrase the following aloud to the players.
This hallway was once sumptuously decorated with tapestries and paintings, but these are now little more than rags and rotting frames. Five of doors stand open around the edges of this hallway, each leading to a spacious chamber dominated by a large bed, dressers, and other furniture of the wealthy. Bits and pieces of corpses can be seen in some rooms, all of which are dressed in the remains of what look to be servant's clothes. Closed doors lead to the west at each end of the hallway.
The five rooms off this hallway served as chambers for Portia Crowsdottir, the Captain, Lady Jallon, and other visiting people of import. When the ritual occurred they were all at the party, leaving a few servants in their rooms tidying up. Lord Aerlon consumed these servants in his ritual as well, turning them into specters (Monster Manual, page 244) to be his spies and agents in his new army of undead. They still remain in these rooms invisible but close to any intruders until someone tries to enter the doors to the west, at which point they strike. Any player who enters this room may make a Perception check (DC 20) to note there is something else present in the room. Once the specters attack they will work to separate the characters, going invisible or through walls when cornered. They will pursue the characters to the Library or Treasury, but not downstairs. There is also a hole in the ceiling of one of the chambers, allowing it to be accessed from the roof of the keep.
If the players search these rooms they find 450 gp in various jewelry, gems, perfume, and other object d'art, but their combined weight is 30 pounds.
Read or paraphrase the following aloud to the players.
This hallway ends at a stout metal door with a lock easily the size of a small child. The door looks to be made of solid steel, making any attempts to destroy it difficult at best.
This door guards the keep's treasury and is hooked up to a pendulum scythe trap (Dungeon Master's Guide, page 88). It requires a skill challenge to open using Thievery (DC 20), requiring three successes. Other characters can make Dungeoneering checks (DC 15) to try and assist by trying to take parts of the door apart, granting a +2 bonus to the next Thievery skill challenge check. Each time the skill check is failed the pendulum scythe trap attacks everyone in the corridor. The control panel is in the treasury so the trap cannot be deactivated using it without opening the door, but it may be jammed with a Thievery check (DC 25).
If the players try to break down the door they may do so, but each round it is attacked the pendulum scythes attack everyone in the corridor. The door has AC 4, Reflex 4, Fortitude 12, is immune to poison damage, and has 40 hit points. Also there is a key to the Treasury in the Library on the corpse of Lord Aerlon.
Once the players get through the door read or paraphrase the following.
This solid stone room seems to be the most intact in the castle thus far. It's walls are lined with nearly ordered shelves, though most of them are empty, giving the impression this room was once used to store far more than it does now. Most of the shelves are lined with an odd assortment of animals skulls, strange powders, papers, and bottles. A few sacks are cast about the floor from which the glint of metal can be seen. At the center of the room is a circular stone table, upon which rests an exquisitely detailed glass bottle. The bottle rests in a small depression and great care seems to have been taken to make it stable. A slightly glow comes from the bottle.
This room served as the treasury for Castle Morningstone, once guarding the wealth of House Aerlon but now serving to protect Lord Aerlon's rarer ritual components and phylactery to be. Lord Aerlon had the only key to this room so only he knew how far the wealth of House Aerlon had fallen. A search of the room will turn up 100 gp in ritual components and 180 gp in coin. The papers are mainly deeds and patents of nobility for the family, having little value aside from legal concerns.
The phylactery was to be the receptacle of Lord Aerlon's spirit when he ascended to lichdom, but thanks to Taelin's interference it contains only a portion of his essence along with the spirits of those trapped in the castle with him. If Lord Aerlon's undead form is destroyed he will reform at the phylactery the next evening, but if the phylactery is destroyed neither he or any other spirits will reform. The phylactery can be destroyed as easily as striking it or throwing it on the floor, but doing so will release a wave of necrotic energy in a close burst 5, +8 vs. Willpower that inflicts 2d6+8 necrotic damage. After the phylactery is destroyed any spirit in the castle that is destroyed will not reform. It's destruction will also alert Lord Aerlon to the players, who will send any surviving skeletons from the Servant's Quarters and any surviving specters from the Noble's Quarters to destroy the players. He will also know the players are coming.
If the players got the list of the components used in Lord Aerlon's ritual from the ghosts of the visitors and the players have the Ritual Magic feat they can concoct a counter ritual from the papers and components in this room. This requires a simple skill challenge using Arcana (DC 20) requiring three successes. If the players roll two or more failures they have consumed the components in the room and the counter ritual cannot be completed. If the counter ritual is successful the undead in the Library suffer a -2 penalty to all defenses due to their weakened state.
Read or paraphrase the following aloud to the players.
This room was once a well stocked library but time and water have taken their toll. A number of holes in the ceiling have turned many of the books to paper mush or rotting husks. The desks and chairs in the room have faired somewhat better, having been pushed to one side of the room that did not spring leaks. A dull gray stone stands on a waist high pedestal against one wall, its edges blurred and hard to see. The floor at the center of the room has been covered in paint, candles, and blood from two corpses lying nearby. The corpses have their torsos torn apart and their organs have been strewn about the room. A third corpse kneels at the very center of the room dressed in faded robes and grasping a wicked looking knife to its own chest, looking to have killed itself.
This library is where Lord Aerlon preformed his ritual, killing two of his servants in the process to begin the ritual. The final stage, his death, was supposed to result in his body rising up as a lich, but instead he is trapped as a spirit like the others in the castle until their spirits are totally consumed. Lord Aerlon's spirit remains here as a wraith (Mad Wraith Star Pact Warlock, Monster Manual page 266 and Dungeon Master's Guide page 183) seething with hatred at his betrayal, but still possessing his faculties. When the players enter he will try and approach them peacefully and convince them to complete his ritual, which would require getting additional ritual components from the treasury and finishing the ritual, which would require an Arcana check (DC 25) and six hours effort. If the players agree to this Lord Aerlon will let them have the treasury key which is on his corpse, but if they betray him he will attack them as soon as they return to the library. If the players go through with helping Lord Aerlon he will become a lich and immediately attack the players so they can be added to his new army of the dead.
Assuming the players refuse Lord Aerlon's offer he will attack them, though if Taelin is with the players he will attack her first since she betrayed him. The wraiths of the slain servants will also attack, hiding beforehand in the rafters of the room before striking.
If the players destroy Lord Aerlon he will reform at the phylactery on the next night if it is not destroyed. If the players have destroyed both Lord Aerlon and the phylactery he is permanently destroyed, the players are freed from the curse, and the spirits of the castle can rest.
The stone on the pedestal is the Morningstone. It only has the most basic magical energies now and does little more than warp light near it, creating a constant blur effect around its edges. Given time the energies of the Morningstone could recover, but that would take decades. For now it is little more than a curio of the creation of the world.
If the players search the library they find little of interest aside from the key to the treasury, a variety of books on magical history, local flora and fauna, history, and the ritual dagger (which is worth 100 gp due to the workmanship though only merchants with a taste for the macabre would purchase such a thing) and the Crown of Mokorus Bael. The crown is not magical, but is could be worth up to 1,000 gp to those interested in arcane history or undeath.
Read or paraphrase the following aloud to the players.
A slight blue glow suffuses this dank and otherwise pitch black room. The stone walls are damp and moss covers much of them. Bar lined cells ring the walls of this room, but most of them have now been filled with boxes, kegs, and other supplies, making it clear few prisoners were kept in this castle. Only one cell remains empty of supplies, holding a crude cot with a curled up skeleton on it. In the center of the room sits another corpse at a rotting wood table, a handful of cards splayed out before him in some form of solitaire. Two spirits are in the room, one in armor sitting dutifully at the table playing cards and another smaller spirit, looking much like a young girl, sits crying softly on the cot.
The dungeon saw little use in the last few decades of House Aerlon's rule, becoming more of a larder and wine cellar than a dungeon. While Lord Aerlon knew that if he kept any of his more interesting creations here they would cause panic among the servants, so he kept them in the Treasury instead. Taelin was the first inhabitant of these cells in decades.
The guard is a phantom warrior and he has been assigned to see to Taelin's needs for the duration of the celebration. He feels badly for her and is trying to tune out her crying by playing cards, so it will not take much for the players to convince him to let them rescue Taelin. A Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate check (DC 20) will do the trick. If the players assault the guard Taelin will not react because she is the only person in the castle who knows she is dead. If the players can convince the guard to let her go or defeat the guard she will leave the cell, but she is mentally incapable of doing unless the guard is dealt with so despite her insubstantial body.
Taelin (phantom warrior fey pact warlock) is truly mad due to the influence of the Morningstone, but her madness gives her the ability to see her current existence for what it is. She knows she is dead and that no one else realizes this. She knows what her brother has done and that both he and his phylactery must be destroyed to end the ritual. The problem is her brain is just not working right, even in death, so she talks in riddles, metaphors, and stories. For example she may refer to her brother as the Sun of Knowledge, since the Aerlon family crest is a sunburst over a book. She calls the other spirits in the castle the Blind since they cannot see their true state. Taelin has little concept of linear time or causal relationships, and has no idea how long she has been dead. If the players cannot puzzle out what she's saying they can try to make an Insight check (DC 20) to get an idea of what she's talking about for a given topic. If the players attack Taelin she will beg them to stop, and if destroyed she will not reform until the next night.
If the players search the supplies in the dungeon they find a wide array of spoiled foods, rotted clothes, rusted nails, and similar mundane supplies used to maintain a castle household, though few are usable. With a Perception check (DC 20) they can find a selection of fine wines that can be salvaged that can be sold for 350 gp, but weigh 50 pounds. With a Perception check (DC 25) the players find a cache of three potions of healing hidden in a crate.
Once the phylactery and Lord Aerlon are destroyed the ritual is ended and the spirits disappear from Castle Morningstone, reaching their rest at last. If the DM wishes the spirits may thank the players before they leave, passing on their possessions in the Main Hall if the players have not already found them. At this point the players can leave to collect whatever reward has been promised them free of the curse. The bandit Marcus Touree will flee as soon as he thinks he is able, but if the players deliver him to the local magistrate they will receive a 100 gp reward for their effort. Marcus is hung for banditry a a short time later.
- The various guests of House Aerlon have families that may be curious what happened to their ancestors. The players can deliver word of the final days of those trapped in the castle to their families, likely earning favor with powerful political entities in the region.
- The Crown of Mokorus Bael may not be obviously magical, but that won't stop all manner of necromancers from attempting to possess it. According to legend with the right ritual its power can be released, granting immense power to the wearer. As long as the players possess the crown they will be targets, but just getting rid of it means it will likely end up in the wrong hands. Their own only hope is to find a means to destroy it utterly, exiling its power beyond the reach of mortals.
- Castle Morningstone may now be up for grabs with the elimination of the curse and the players may be able to lay a claim if no members of House Aerlon step forward. Making such a claim is likely to take a lot of political maneuvering and favor trading, but if the players are successful they gain a respectable base of operations.
- The Morningstone's power is not so dead and begins to affect the land around Castle Morningstone. Unless it is returned to the realm of chaos it came from it could destabilize the reality of the world, causing untold damage in the process.