by Marcus L. Rowland
Copyright © 1999, portions Copyright © 1991-98
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This is a collection of melodramatic adventure outlines. To avoid lengthy descriptions some characters are based on personalities appearing in the other adventures in this collection. Their background does not necessarily include the events of other adventures. Think of them as archetypical Heroes, Villains, etc., and replace them with characters more appropriate to your campaign if necessary.
The Scottish Play
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Referees may want to print out a few copies of the script of The Vampire before running this adventure, and add a few subplots involving theatrical personalities and rivalries to keep the actors busy between performances.
The adventurers are actors, touring Scotland in the 1850s. Their repertoire includes several melodramas, most notably revivals of Frankenstein and The Vampire. After their final performance they are approached by a man called Mackay, agent for the current Lord Marsden, who offers them a lucrative fee to perform their repertoire on the island of Mull.
The actors are surprised to learn that there really is a Lord Marsden; needless to say his name is not Ruthven, it's McPhee. Fawcett explains that his lordship is elderly and suffers from serious seasickness so rarely travels, but likes the theatre; every summer he tries to arrange for a theatrical troupe to visit the island and perform a few plays for its several thousand inhabitants. This time he's heard of the revival of The Vampire; he's read it and always wanted to see it performed in its "natural setting", so has asked Fawcett to invite the troupe. They are to stay in his castle for two weeks, and perform each of their plays three times, in a marquee outside the castle, to give as many islanders as possible a chance to attend at least one performance. The money offered is good, and the actors have no firm commitments after their current performance.
The actors (who like all actors must be intensely superstitious) should be encouraged to believe that this is going to lead to a supernatural confrontation; they're wrong. Lord Marsden is exactly as advertised, an elderly gentleman with an interest in the theatre. Unfortunately he is also an insomniac who often suffers from irregular sleep patterns, and at this time of year the sun barely sets for four hours on Mull. Actors encountering him at odd hours of the night (what little there is of it) or learning that he has gone to bed during the day may get the idea that he is a creature of darkness. He is also strictly teetotal ("I never drink... wine"), although he has no problems with providing beer, wine, and whisky for his guests.
On the second day one of the NPC female members of the cast starts to look a little pale, feels weak and nauseous, and notices a puncture mark on her throat; she has been a little careless with her personal life and is now suffering from morning sickness, the mark comes from a bedbug. If she tries wearing a crucifix in bed she'll get more marks on her throat, by rolling onto it...
Like the adventurers, many of the locals are superstitious; legends of
kelpies, bogies, and (of course) vampires seethe in their collective
subconscious, and bringing a supernatural play with a local setting to their
island isn't a good idea. The first performance is received in unusual silence;
after the second the actors start to hear strange rumours about his lordship,
mixed in with smatterings of vampire lore from other stories; isn't it odd that
he never leaves the
Needless to say there are plenty of people around who can add a more balanced view, most notably the local doctor who has known Marsden most of his life, and will recognise pregnancy and bed bug bites as soon as he sees them. But if the actors try to handle this themselves without seeking any form of expert help, and let themselves become swayed by superstition, they may deserve the trouble they're going to get...
At the third performance the crowd suddenly turns on Marsden, denouncing him as a vampire or a demon, and start to throw stones and rotten vegetables. There are only four policemen on the island, and two are part of the mob, the others are nowhere to be seen. As Lord Marsden goes down to a well-aimed half brick his only chance for survival is for the actors to use their theatrical skills to calm the mob and get things under control. Of course it's entirely possible that they may also believe he is a vampire, and join in the attack.
If Marsden is killed the hysteria slowly fades, and the islanders look for someone to blame. Needless to say the actors are convenient scapegoats. They will be arrested and charged with incitement to riot; if they can't convince the visiting magistrate of their innocence they'll be sent to trial, and probably receive a sentence of several years imprisonment. If Marsden is saved he'll give the adventurers his thanks and a hundred pound bonus, to be shared amongst all the cast; it's a year or more of wages for the average actor, and even a share is not to be sniffed at. He'll also recommend them to his friends, as strange a collection of rich Scots eccentrics as anyone could hope to find, which may lead to some further performances in other odd areas.
A good resource for this adventure is the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by Charles Mackay, a Victorian account of odd popular movements which is generally in print from various "classic" reprint companies such as Wordsworth.
Who Wants To Live Forever?
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Egypt, 18__. Archaeologist Lord Gordon Kincaid-Speller and his daughter
Lady Maureen are excavating the tomb of
If the sacrifice isn't pure she will be killed anyway, but
As far as
Naturally Fox will escape, and his love for Lady Maureen will somehow protect her. The Lens shatters (possibly as a result of being shot by Fox, Aunt Rose, or Lord Gordon), or Fox takes Maureen's place and the lens takes the remaining life force from Arkoff and pumps it into Fox instead, healing the hideous injuries he has suffered in escaping from captivity. Arkoff ages rapidly and dies, his body crumbling to dust and blowing away on an eerie breeze.
Several months later, a jackal with strangely glowing gold eyes digs towards a tomb where another Lens is concealed...
This adventure draws on obvious sources, most notably the films She, The Mummy and Doctor Phibes Rises Again. Given the time needed for a human to reach maturity any sequel will probably be set at least 15-20 years later and involve the next generation.
The Two Hostages
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The Carpathian Alps, 18__. A group of Britons holidaying in the mountains are puzzled when their coachman drives off without them, leaving them miles from the nearest village with night closing in. They are forced to shelter in a half-ruined castle. They are Sir Thomas Fox and his wife Lady Maureen, and their friends the Penrose twins, plus the dogs Muffin and Tommy, both of whom are restless inside the castle. As night closes in they build a fire and start to tell ghost stories, tales of vampires, werewolves, and other creatures of the night. Eventually they fall asleep.
A few minutes later a hidden trap door opens in the floor, and a guttural voice says "Goot, I thought der verdamned drug would never vork. Get der women, und leave der note for der men. Und stop those verdamned dogs barking..."
When the men wake, they find a short note (which may seem familiar if this follows the events of Adventure 3; the government in question teaches its agents how to write threatening letters as part of their English course). It reads
WE HAVE THE WOMEN. IF YOU WISH TO SEE THEM AGAIN YOU MUST SECURE THE RELEASE OF OTTO KRONFELDT AND EDWARD DEITRICH, WHO ARE CURRENTLY INCARCERATED IN LOAMPORT PRISON, AND GET THEM OUT OF BRITAIN.
IF YOU CO-OPERATE THE WOMEN WILL NOT BE HARMED. FAIL, OR DISOBEY THESE INSTRUCTIONS IN ANY WAY, AND YOU WILL NEVER KNOW THEIR FATE.
YOU HAVE TWO WEEKS.
The dogs reveal the trap door; once open, the men find a trail of footsteps leading through tunnels to a large clearing outside the castle. As they look around they notice the grey bulk of an airship, already a mile or more away and rapidly vanishing into the distance.
Meanwhile Lady Maureen and Gloria Penrose wake in a comfortable cabin aboard an airship; naturally the door is locked, and weapons and anything that might be used to start a fire or make an escape have been removed, but neither has been injured. Once the airship is well on its way the Captain comes down to explain the situation, and to promise that the women will not be harmed "Unless, of course, ve are disappointed." In a few hours they will be a "pleasant enough cell", and will be kept there until it is time for their release, or for "other steps" to be taken....
The men have two weeks to get to Britain (which will take at least four days) and arrange the release or escape of two criminals. Make it clear that they are being watched; any watchers who are caught know nothing of the women's whereabouts, but do know that they will be "punished" if the men disobey their instructions.
The women have two weeks to find a way to escape, and get word to their menfolk in time to prevent the success of this evil scheme. Naturally some of the guards may be susceptible to feminine charms, but of course no Romantic Lead would dream of stepping beyond the bounds of decency....
This works well as a race against time, possibly with the players split into two groups in different rooms. Can the women escape in time to stop the men? Will the men release the prisoners in time to save the women? And do their captors intend to keep their word...?
Races against time were a very popular subject in 19th and early 20th century melodramatic fiction; examples are now difficult to find, but The Thames Valley Catastrophe in FF5, in which the hero tries to outrun a volcanic eruption on a bicycle, is a useful variant.
The Clockwork Queen
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The adventurers are invited to the offices of the Anglo-American Sago Trading Association, headquarters of the Secret Service, and another meeting with Colonel S____.
"Yesterday customs at Dover opened a shipment that we believe was destined for Fenians. Most of the crates contained arms, from Germany and France and America, but there were two exceptions." He gestures, and one of his minions opens the door. Standing there is Queen Victoria. She raises one hand in a gentle wave and glides forward, her feet invisible under her voluminous skirt, almost as though she were on wheels.
As everyone stands she continues forward, ignoring the adventurers and the colonel, stopping as her skirt hits the Colonel's chair with a soft thump, and stops there, gently waving; a whirring noise can be heard, and it is suddenly obvious that she is some sort of clockwork mannequin, with a waxwork face!
"There were two of these, each built to take a large charge of nitroglycerine, with a timer and an ingenious detonation mechanism. If the charge was fitted this one would have destroyed the building when it hit my chair. One was this replica of the Queen, the other a copy of the Princess of Wales.
"You might think that nobody could be fooled, but in a crowded place where Her Majesty was expected, some sort of public function perhaps, this could be catastrophic. Our worry is that there may already be more in the country, perhaps like these, possibly disguised as other public figures. We need to find out where they come from, and where they were going..."
A Villain with a strange sense of humour plans the perfect crime. The crates were deliberately betrayed to the Customs officials, to be sure that the authorities will respond to any sighting; there are already another thirty-four automata in Britain, all of them replicas of the Queen. In a few days henchmen will start to plant them in public places, set to explode on a timer or when touched, and let panic grow until any sighting of one causes an immediate evacuation of the surrounding area. Then several will be released in the City of London, along with dozens of inert dummies, and the Villain and his henchman will take the place of a Royal Engineers explosives team assigned to defuse them; their goal is to force the evacuation of the Bank of England and use demolition charges to crack the vaults, while the exploding automata drown out the noise, then escape via tram tunnels, sewers, and the underground river Fleet.
Meanwhile the adventurers trace the automata from a factory in Paris to a criminal workshop in Marseilles where the bomb mechanisms were added, then to Britain and the discovery that they are in criminal hands. Needless to say agents of the Villain are closing down these routes and killing anyone who knows too much about their operations.
Useful sources for the investigation phase of the adventure are The Avengers and Department S TV series, and any police procedural novel. Once the plan is exposed there are many obvious film sources for plot twists, involving daring chases through half-flooded tunnels or along the roofs of trams. Yipee-ki-yay, you cad....
The Servant Problem
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Aubrey House, 19__. With little Tim now at Eton and Roderic Pellew confined to an asylum things appear to be relatively quiet, but below stairs feelings are running high. Potter the butler is shortly to marry Sugden the cook, and everyone should be preparing for the wedding, but someone has stolen the engagement ring. It's the latest in a series of thefts of small valuables from the servants' rooms, and everyone suspects that another servant is behind it. Nanny Scoggins (now working as Norma Pellew's secretary in the absence of Tim) has decided to play detectives; her main suspects are Professor Pellew's new secretary Mr. Jones, the housemaids, and the Professor's valet Gupta. Naturally the other servants have their own suspects, not least Nanny Scoggins, and several have their own agendas; Jones is spying on the Professor's radium experiments for one of his scientific rivals, both housemaids are at daggers drawn over one of the village lads and Gupta is contemplating a career as a cricket professional but doesn't want to hand in his notice until he's sure he has a lucrative contract; meanwhile he's being secretive about all the letters he's writing.
As the flood of accusations and suspicion is at its height a new problem arises; one of the village girls arrives with her child and claims that Potter is the father; she wants him to pay for his upkeep. In fact she is lying; the father is the same village lad the maids are arguing about.
Jones has some scientific knowledge, and Mendel's work on genetics has just been rediscovered, everyone with any interest in the field is talking about them. Both Potter and the girl have blue eyes, and the child's are brown; he can't possibly be the father. But Jones wants Potter to help him steal the Radium Ray before he will explain how Potter can prove his innocence.
The discovery of the real thief, a magpie, brings matters to a climax; its hoard contains a letter from Jones to his real employer, and a locket with a photograph of the village girl with the child's real father. Jones and the girl are unmasked, the maids bury their differences, and the wedding draws a happy end to the drama.
With minor changes (Jones becomes an NPC laboratory assistant and Gupta is still working for Roderic) this outline can be used as a subplot for the second adventure, The Wages Of Sin. The adventure must be set in the 1900s, since Mendel's work languished in obscurity throughout the nineteenth century. However, it's possible that Professor Pellew may have ideas about the inheritance of eye colour in advance of his time if an earlier setting is preferred. Find reasons to keep D.C. Fox out of the investigation, it's more fun if Nanny Scoggins sets the pace.
Upstairs Downstairs, The Duchess of Duke Street, and other dramas with a "below stairs" element are useful sources for this scenario.
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Loamford, 18__. An angry crowd gathers outside the factory of Penrose Chains Ltd., watching as a bailiff, guarded by three policemen, chains the factory gates shut. Looking out of the window of the Penrose family's nearby home Gladys Penrose watches the scene then turns to her father.
"How could you do it, Daddy? All those poor men forced out of work, all our customers disappointed?"
"You know how much we had to spend on advertising when Baxters tried to take us over, lass. I had to get the money back somehow. It seemed too good to be true...."
"Why didn't you ask me first, Daddy? You know I'm good with figures. It was too good to be true..."
A year ago Harold Penrose mortgaged his factory to buy shares in the Loamshire and District Railway, a new line that was to link Loamford to Bristol and Birmingham. Shares rose as construction began - then six weeks ago the company's tunnel under the River Loam collapsed, and the value of the shares dropped to a few pence in the pound when it was discovered that the tunnel wasn't insured, and its bank accounts are empty. Eventually someone will probably buy the company at a bargain price, build a bridge to replace the tunnel, and earn a handsome profit. But the original investors have lost most of their money. One of the investors was the Midland and Loamshire bank, which has been forced to foreclose on mortgages to stay in business. Or so Gladys believes....
In fact the managing director of the Midland and Loamshire Bank is Jebediah Smith; the managing director of the Loanshire District Railway, now conspicuous by his absence, is Jasper Smythe - his real name is Smith, and he is Jebediah's brother, currently lying low in Jebediah's house. From the beginning the company has been a fraud, the railway built with the cheapest possible materials to a fraction of the necessary strength; embankments that will collapse with the first heavy rain, rails made of substandard steel, timbers riddled with rot. The tunnel collapsed within days of the last construction frames being removed, and it's a miracle it held up as long as it did. Jasper and Jebediah have salted away hundreds of thousands of pounds, but still Jebediah isn't satisfied; he's called in all the bank's mortgages, and intends to sell all of the properties then loot the bank, with both brothers escaping to a life of luxury in the South of France.
While Gladys is suspicious about the railway she has no idea of the bank's involvement, but she'll naturally ask a few friends to help her investigate the collapse of the railway company. If the adventurers unmask Smith before it's too late the foreclosure will be void; Smith's involvement in the railway fraud broke British banking law, which means that all subsequent contracts signed by him, including the mortgage, are invalid. Once the factory is actually sold it will take months to unravel the mess, by which time the business could be ruined.
Meanwhile Jasper should learn that Gladys and her friends are prying into the affairs of the company, and decide to take steps to stop her. He still has keys to the railway construction sites, and there are plenty of places there where an ...ahem... accident could happen. Why, the poor girl might even be accidentally be run over by one of shunting engines used to move material around the line. Nyah ha ha ha ha! He can hire dozens of henchmen for coppers; with so many factories closed, and the railway out of business, it's a buyers market. They probably can't be trusted to deal with Gladys, but beating up a few snoopers should be well within their capabilities.
The adventurers need to unravel the finances, rescue Gladys, arrest Smythe, uncover his connection to Smith, and call in Scotland Yard and government bank inspectors before it's too late, while dealing with a few dozen inexplicably hostile and very muscular workmen. Nothing to it, really...
Note: The legal "background" outlined above is very dubious indeed, but invalid mortgages and crooked bankers were a staple of melodrama, and unmasking them was often the climax of the plot.
Fate is the Hunter
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This needs a little advanced preparation. Run at least one adventure in which the characters have to bodyguard someone, preferably using excessive amounts of firepower to get the job done. Later, introduce an NPC medium or psychic into your campaign, and make the character likeable enough that the adventurers will care about her fate.
One day she contacts the adventurers and tells them of a recurring dream; she is being chased down an endless corridor, by something dark and indescribable (which she cannot describe or remember clearly when awake) that gets closer each night. Within days, by the end of the week, it will catch up. She is convinced that this is a premonition of death, and nothing the adventurers say will change her mind. And she is terrified.
Encourage the adventurers to check her health (and find that there is nothing wrong), and discover that she has several enemies, criminals who have been arrested as a result of her using her powers to locate missing property and bodies. The murderers have mostly been executed, of course, but one was never caught and another is due to be hanged at the end of the week. Some of the other criminals have completed their sentences.
It's likely that the adventurers will prepare some sort of defence, typically involving an inner room containing the medium and at least one armed guard, with more guards outside watching all the approaches. On the fatal day the medium is sure that it will happen within hours, gradually narrowing it down to "another hour or two..." "half an hour..." "ten minutes..." "It's coming now"
As the last words are spoken the outer guards see a dark form appear in the distance (or in the room if there are no windows) and move towards the medium's chamber. It's impossible to see more than a black blur, a shapeless something that passes through doors and barricades as though they are not there.
It's probable that the adventurers will start firing; whether or not they do, the shape moves into the room with the medium and hangs in mid-air. She seems to be in shock, unable to take her eyes off the mysterious intruder. Anyone looking at it feels an abhorrent dark force, a black chilling void that seems to suck in light and heat. It's likely that someone will fire a gun or use some other weapon to attack it; whatever is used, it somehow ricochets or shatters, and the medium is killed. For example, if a sword is used she is hit by the follow-through after the blade passes through the black cloud unimpeded. If they somehow avoid all attacks she dies of fear, literally frightened to death, but if possible the precautions used to prevent her death should cause it.
As she collapses, the cloud momentarily takes on a humanoid form; the Angel of Death cutting her soul from her body and drawing her into its dark wings. It starts to fade to transparency, but as it vanishes all of the adventurers have an odd idea that they've heard a voice saying "later...."
How the adventurers explain this afterwards, especially if they accidentally killed the medium, is another problem. Probably she foresaw enough to leave a letter clearing the adventurers of responsibility for her death.
There are things people shouldn't know. Sometimes what lies ahead is one of them.....
There are numerous stories on this theme, the most famous generally known as Appointment in Sammara; see Terry Pratchett's The Light Fantastic for a more humorous version.
Didn't You Kill My Father?
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Cornwall, 19__. Timothy Pellew, a foundling, is now aged 25 and about to become a Hero. He has finally learned the truth about his birth; on her deathbed Avril Baxter, whom he had always regarded as an aunt, confessed that she is his mother. Unfortunately she has also named his father; Commander Rufus Brown, a cashiered naval officer who was killed during the Channel Tunnel robbery of 188_.
There are still many unanswered questions about the robbery, but one thing is clear; someone, probably a member of the gang, betrayed the rest, and all were betrayed in turn by the arch-fiend responsible for planning the theft, a man called Leon Arkoff.
Now Timothy has sworn to find all of those responsible for the crime and bring them to justice, if they are still alive. He has no intention of limiting himself to legal methods, so he dare not involve the police. Instead he will recruit a team of college friends, sportsmen like "Tiger" Penrose the international cyclist and daredevil pilot, "Nipper" Kronfeldt the boxer, scientists like good old "Brainy" Kincaid-Speller, and the rest of the gang. Together they will avenge his father's death and go on to right wrongs wherever they might be found....
This can be a one-off adventure in which things go horribly wrong ("Nyah-hah-ha-ha-hah"), or the start of a campaign in which Arkoff will simply be the first of a long line of Villains to face defeat at the hands of the masked adventurer and his gallant friends. Useful sources include Sapper's Bulldog Drummond and sequels, various incarnations of Batman and The Shadow, and above all Doc Savage and the Fu Manchu novels. Kim Newman's story Pitbull Brittan (in his collection Famous Monsters and the anthology Temps) is a good parody of the genre, while The Original Doctor Shade, also by Newman, is a more serious look at the less desirable aspects of this type of character.