This encounter is intended for four characters of 4th level
This week’s encounter is also pulled from my scrapped plans to have PCs explore Neverwinter’s “House of Knowledge,” one of the places of note mentioned in the wonderful Neverwinter Campaign Setting, released for 4th Edition. The plan was to have the party investigate an undercover cult headquarters and bust up some of their various schemes. Some of the overtones can be adapted to match many nefarious organizations, but I’ll allude to Neverwinter personalities, groups, and locations, for clarity’s sake.
NEVERWINTER SPOILER ALERT:
The former sanctuary of learning and literature turned refugee camp has been infiltrated by nefarious Ashmadai cultists. These minions of the evil Azmodeus are facilitating the possession of persons of high and low countenance all over Neverwinter. With their efforts, it might be impossible to know who is thinking for themselves, and who is a sleeper agent for the cult.
A major theme behind all of my House of Knowledge encounters was to explore how a dark cult could operate within a headquarters that was seemingly out in the open (though more aptly, “hidden in plain sight.”) Thus, it was often the case that what the players first saw was merely a banal veneer covering up dark deeds.
This encounter finds your party wandering into the impromptu infirmary within the House of Knowledge (Or any similar adventure site in which the enemy is operating under cover). Cultists, posing as members of a good-aligned priesthood, are offering aid to the sick, injured, and dying, among the multitudes of refugees and squatters. In truth, they are undergoing rituals of possession to allow their infernal allies to take up residence in the bodies of weakened mortals, before actually healing these hosts with the aid of the new spiritual parasite.
The action begins with the party finding the infirmary in working order – a seemingly worthy endeavor by well-meaning men of faith. But investigation will reveal the cracks in the façade, and if the cultists discover the PCs snooping too much, they may have a fight on their hands.
The Cultists: Two priests of Illmater; a human and half-elf named Robett and Taylon respectively, attend to the six (actually seven) severally injured refugees who are in this room. If pressed, they explain that they use a combination of clerical magic (they will not cast any spells in the presence of the PCs) and conventional healing to treat the wounded and the sick. Though they are cordial with the party, it is clear that they are quite busy attending to their patients – their faces are laced with sweat, their eyes marred by the dark circles that sleeplessness brings.
Religion DC 5: Illmater is a deity of compassion, healing, selflessness, and forgiveness
Religion DC 15: The symbol of Illmater that these priests wear is outdated – they use the rack rather than the more contemporary hands bound in red cord.
Religion DC 20: Some of the embellishments on the holy symbols they wear are out of place. Gilding on the design would be forbidden by mendicants of Illmater.
In truth, these two are Cultists of Azmodeus – and thus members of the Ashmadai cult. While it is true that they are tending to the wounds of their piteous charges, they do so at a measured rate, leaving the patient’s bodies in a weakened state. This makes them more susceptible to a magical ritual of possession which the “priests” have worked on them. When completed, a creature from the Abyss will take up residence in the victim’s mortal form. While the cultists will calmly endure the PCs presence for a time, if they get too nosey they will be asked to leave. If they become belligerent, the disguised priests call for help in the form of x4 Ashmadai Thugs from the rabble outside.
Obviously all this snooping could easily tip off the Ashmadai cultists. When the party first enters they will be quietly and politely questioned by one of the “priests” as to why they are there. He’ll believe any reasonable excuse. With a smile, both mengraciously decline offers to help the wounded, insisting that while busy, they have everything under control.
The priest/cultists are indeed busy tending to the wounded, and thus won’t be keeping their full attention on the PCs. Whenever a character attempts an action surreptitiously, make a WISDOM roll for one of the cultists with disadvantage, against a DEX (Stealth) roll for the PC. If the cultist succeeds, he looks up from his work long enough to spot the the snoop.
In Sheep’s Clothing
Once in control of a victim, the devil can call on the attacks, spells, and abilities listed in its stat block, even in the host’s physical form. In doing so, they shed some semblance of humanity, taking on glowing eyes, a flaming corona, and sharpened claws and fangs for a time. Because this is so obvious, most of the possessed will be very unlikely to join battle and risk revealing their true nature.
Patient 1: A halfling man, badly beaten with clearly discernible bootprints on his face. This poor beggar ran afoul of some drunken ruffians who went to far in their casual abuse. He has been completely possessed by the creature assaulting his mind.
Heal DC 15: The wounds on this halfling show a strange rate of healing that neither magic nor medicine can account for.
Heal DC 20: Even stranger, his scar tissue is of a reddish hue and smells faintly like a campfire.
Patient 2: Half chewed by rats and other vermin, this human street pauper spent any copper he could beg, borrow, or steal on an escape into a bottle. Exposure and the insistent hunger of vermin nearly cost him his life before he was found unconscious, not far from the House of Knowledge. The cultists have yet to begin possessing this man.
Heal DC 10: Perhaps the priests have not prioritized this man correctly…despite a few bandages he has some serious wounds still open and vulnerable to festering that have not yet been treated.
Patient 3: This lady of the evening stood up for her friend when the Mintarn Mercenaries charged with “protecting” the city attempted to drag the girl into lock-up on an imagined charge. The beating she received for her loyalty wasn’t as bad as the hypothermia she endured after being pitched into the river. She has been partially possessed.
Heal DC 15: That this woman has been submerged in frigid water for too long is plain. She does not, however, respond properly to your prodding and medical tests – her eyes lolling and incoherent moans coming from deep in her throat. Hypothermia wouldn’t account for the stupor she seems to be in.
Arcana/Religion/Nature DC 15: Not all of the poultices sitting on this bedside cabinet are medicinal, though you cannot place their use.
Arcana DC 20: One of the jars here contains embers from a funeral pyre – and a finger bone from a fresh corpse. This is a common reagent in dark rituals.
Patient 4: Maimed during fighting in one of the city’s countless skirmishes, this dwarf could find no work with both her hands damaged beyond use. Unable to earn a wage, she became destitute and without money, could not pay healers to treat her injuries. Thus she has come to the only place left her. This patient has been completely possessed by a fiend.
Heal DC 15: Maybe she’s asleep….her wounds aren’t so bad that she should be comatose.
Heal DC 20: There is a strange film on the stumps where her hands once were. Perhaps an infection after the priests amputated her rotting flesh?
Heal DC 25: Um…there are fingers growing back out of her stumps. That is not a thing that Cure spells can do.
Patient 5: With so many bones broken it’s a wonder this half-orc managed to drag himself all the way here. He was a scavenger; digging for loot amid the ash-choked ruins in the Blacklake District. Something must have gone wrong, likely a building collapse, and he barely escaped with his life. Whatever valuables he found were bartered for safe passage back here. The cultists have recently begun possessing this victim.
Heal DC 15: With such extensive injuries, so many bones shattered; and the apparent lack of emergency care he has received, it is surprising this half-orc survived so long
Heal DC 20: His eyes are strangely discolored and you cannot quite tell why that would be.
Arcana DC 20: Amid his occasional meaningless mumbles you catch a few snatches of a language that makes your skin crawl – He’s speaking Infernal.
Patient 6: This man bears the glowing azure marks of the Spellscarred. Whether he died of complications from that supernatural affliction or natural causes is hard to say. He’s still warm, and must have only expired a short time ago, probably going unnoticed by the overworked priests. They had not yet gotten around to trying to possess this victim, though he was to be an experiment in what happens when a devil’s spirit gains control of a spellscarred creature.
Heal DC 5: He’s dead.
Heal DC 10: These still glowing marks indicate that he is a victim of the strange supernatural storm known as the “Spellplague.”
To the Ashmadai’s benefit, they managed to acquire a gravely injured Red Wizard (Marked “R” on the map) who was at work spying on the city. Though ostensibly in service to Thay, the Ashmadai are secretly plotting against their masters, and possessing this agent would give them a leg up in their goals. The wizard is kept hidden behind a thick red curtain, and if pressed, the fake priests explain that he has a contagious disease, and that the PCs must stand back for their own safety.
The Red Wizard is bound to his cot and gagged, his wounds being tended to intermittently while the cultists work their vile magic. He is still conscious and if someone barges into his room, will thrash about, calling feebly for help through his bindings. Like all those of his order, this mage wears a robe of scarlet and black, has a shaved head, and is adorned in wicked looking tattoos (in his case, covering the neck and below his ears).
While evil, and certainly in league with some likely foes of the party, the necromancer, If rescued, will be genuinely grateful for the heroes intervention. Injured and out of spells, he is unable to put up a fight either in defense of himself or against the PCs. He will quickly bribe them with the 50 gp he had on his person (kept in a drawer near his bedside) if they allow him to go free.
x2 Cultist of Azmodeus (Storm Over Neverwinter pgs. 6-7)
x1 Ashmadai Thug (Storm Over Neverwinter pg. 5) – enters the battle from the hall outside
x1 Scorch Devil (Storm Over Neverwinter pg. 9) – One of the possessed patients. Enters the battle when he/she raises from the bed and begins to attack
To increase the difficulty of this encounter, consider add one additional Scorch or Fimbrul devil to the encounter per additional PC. In this case, the partially patients possessed patients finish their awful transformation as the conflict begins. To accommodate 3 players, remove one of the priests.