Thought I'd poll the Harniacs for some good ideas about a murder mystery scenario I want to run for my group. Sorry for the EXTREMELY long post, but if you're interested in throwing down some ideas, I'd love to hear them.
Here's the pertinent details:
-PC's are: a knight on pilgrimage, an in-cognito Peleahn Shek-Pvar on a mission from Save Knor as a "condition" for a miracle, a yeoman trapper, and a Laranian Ashesa on the Telur-Vakum (the Ritual of Labor he must complete before being ordained as a priest). They're all from Chybisa, and they all serve the same lord.
-I'm using the abbey in Dead of Winter as a template, and basically stealing the layout and NPC's, as well as appropriating St Aedan (my pc's will never get anywhere near Kanday, so I'm not worried about consistency issues).
- They are going to Ashwood Abbey (my creation) in western Kaldor. It's isolated (deep in the Kath forest), and populated by a group of ascetic monks from an esoteric branch of the Order of the Spear of Shattered Sorrow. The Abbey was built on a site where a Laranian knight and a Save-Knorrian scholar were investigating and defiling an underground Agrikan temple (the temple was thought to be one of the Agrikan "888 corners of the world"), although the exisitence of the Agrikan temple is not common knowledge. The two were attacked and killed by Agrikan knights who performed the ultimate sacriledge (as far as Laranians are concerned) and burned the bodies. Several weeks later, Laranian pilgrims, on a vision from the goddess, attended the site, recovered the ashes, and built a shrine on the site. This went on to later develop into Ashwood Abbey.
-The ashes of St Aedan (the Laranian knight who died there) are on display in an urn in the Chapel, and are considered the most holy of relics. His shield is also there, in a reliquary. However, what the monks don't know is that the ashes of the Save-Knorrian are intermingled with the Saint's, as they were burned by the Agrikans together (the Scholar features not at all in Laranian religious theology, history or iconography).
-Our PC Shek Pvar has been intructed by Save Knor through a vision to go to the Abbey and retrieve the ashes of the Save Knorrian scholar (a S-K Saint called Andrusias) from the urn, and return them to the temple in Thay. How he is supposed to do this, including separating the ashes of one saint from another, is unknown (to me too...can't WAIT to see what they come up with).
-Our PC Knight knows about the Shek Pvar's mission, and because the SP prayed to Save Knorr to save the knight himself, the knight feels responsible to help him retrieve the ashes - even though it might skirt heretical territory. The knight is faithful to Larani, but not a fanatic.
-The knight is only on pilgrimage in order to avoid an assault charge against his father in Burzyn (long story, but basically he is going on holy pilgrimage instead of facing charges; if he completes the pilgrimage, the charges will be dropped).
-Our PC Shek Pvar ALSO has another purpose, vaguely known to the knight and yeoman: he has been instructed by their Chybisan lord's chamberlain to "acquire" any holy relics from the Abbey (which is known for its abundant reliquary and troves of artefacts) for use of their lord in an upcoming campaign against the local Pagaelin. The chamberlain feels that weilding an important Laranian relic of some sort (say, the shield of Saint Aedan...?) would show the local Chybisan nobility that the goddess was on this lord's side (again, long story, but it involves this lord trying to justify his personal war with the Pagaelin against King Verlid's decree that they are not to be antagonized. If he could claim that Larani herself is backing his crusade against them, how could the King condemn the action?).
-The PC Ashesa (normally an NPC, but a friend is in from out of town and will be playing the character while he's here) looks up to the knight as a local hero, and his Labor of Virtue is all about accompanying the knight on his long, dangerous pilgrimage into Kaldor. He knows nothing about acquiring either the ashes of St Andrusias for Save-Knorr, or the acquiring of said Laranian relics for the chamberlain.
-The PC yeoman is a trusted ally and friend of both the knight and the SP; he will go along with pretty much anything they decide
Ok, that's the setup for the party. Whew. Now, onto the mystery at Ashwood Abbey.
Here's what I have so far. What I want is a very "Name of the Rose" feeling from this. I have changed most of the females from "Dead of Winter" into males, just to preserve to feel of that film/book.
When the pc's get there, they notice that the local serfs (of which there are very few) are very skittish. They discover in the abbey's stables a mule, whose brand is of the Guild of Arcane Lore.
Here's what's happened:
-Some days ago, a member of the Guild of Arcane Lore, and priest of Save Knorr (Haliki Aemon Crossinger), on a Labor of Reverence, arrived at the abbey on a mission to investigate the ashes (our PC SP wasn't the only one Save Knorr gave his vision to, it seems). The Haliki very insistently spoke with the Suloran at the abbey, who was mortified at the idea of interfering with the holy remains of St Aedan (and who also privately suspected this "priest" of Save-Knorr was perhaps an agent of darker powers, sent to tempt the priests into despoiling the holy ashes). He kept his composure, though, and told the Haliki that he would speak with the abbott about it on the morrow. The Haliki was put up in the temple for the night, in the quarters of the absent Obasaran.
-That night, Suloran Vontar tells his young assistant, Ashesa Kordus, to sneak into the hospital and procure some Wylorafina plants from the herb stores. Kordus, knowing nothing of Herblore and too naiive to ask, does this - but unbeknownst to him, is observed by Miralael, the hospital's assistant physician, who doesn't interfere in time to either stop him or identify the thief.
-Kordus delivers the plants to Vontar, who skulks off to the guest house, and in the kitchen, spends most of the night preparing a strong dose of Goodheart potion (a heart stimulant that can kill in large doses). Handling the potion causes Vontar's hands to be stained blood-red. He covers them with thick black gloves.
-Next morning, Kordus (not knowing the contents of the vial he has been givien by the Suloran) secretly puts a few drops of the Goodheart into the Haliki's breakfast sweetwine. The Haliki starts to feel uncomfortable, and begs to take his leave and return to his room. This is observed by all the monks. When he returns to his quarters, the Haliki suffers a massive fatal coronary heart attack. His body is discovered some time later, with spreading red stains around his mouth (a side-effect of a Goodheart overdose).
-Later, Miralael the hospital assistant, goes to the chapel to pray for guidance. There she encounters (and surprises) the Suloran, who is praying in front of the Ashes. Miraleal tells the Suloran that she saw someone break in to the hospital last night, and she fears the Haliki's death may be connected. She is going to talk to the Abbott, but first she came here to pray, and to seek the "Mark of Aedan" - a special ritual in which a senior priest administers a pinch of the Ashes to the recipient, by smudging their forehead ("Let St Aedan's memory be both in your mind..."), and then a smudge on the tongue (".... and in your flesh").
-Vontar, desperate to stop her from voicing her suspicions to the Abbott, prays with her, kneeling in front of the urn - and while her eyes are shut tight in prayer, he pours the vial into the Urn. He then gives her the Mark of Aedan and advises her to wait until nightfall to speak to the Abbott, as he will be in deep meditation until then.
-Miralael collapses on the way back to the hospital, a red stain spreading around her lips and tongue. She is discovered, alive but semi-conscious, by Natan the swineherd, who takes her back to the hospital, where she dies a few hours later of a massive heart attack - but not before whispering her suspicions to Natan.
-Kordus, realizing he may have killed the Haliki with the potion, goes to Vontar that afternoon, weeping and guilt-ridden. His own hands are stained red from handling the liquid, and he feels that Larani has stained his hands with the blood of his victim for his grievous sin. The Suloran knows that Kordus could ruin everything, so he brings the Ashesa to the chapel to comfort him, and bless him with the Mark of Aedan... then tells him to return to his cell and pray for forgiveness.
-The monks in the Abbey begin to feel a growing unease...first the visiting Haliki, and now the physician's assistant? And both with red stains on their lips and tongues? And why was there a priest of Save-Knorr here anyway? What could it mean? The monks begin to suspect something foul is stalking them, and Vontar, at the evening service that night (where Kordus is mysteriously absent...), openly suggests that Larani has killed these obvious blasphemers. The Haliki, he tells them, came to defile the holy ashes, and Larani, hearing his blasphemy and his words, smote him down. Is not red the color and symbol of the Terrible Lady in her wrath? And the physicians assistant, he tells them, came to him that very day in the chapel, corrupted by the Haliki's blasphemy and doubting the origin of the Holy Ashes. Now she too has reaped the rewards of her heresy! The Lady is angry with our lack of faith! We must beg her forgiveness, and never again allow anyone to question, examine, or in any way doubt or defile the Holy Ashes!
-To hide the evidnece of his crimes, that night on his ritual nightwatch of the Chapel the Suloran switches the poisoned ashes in the Urn with simple wood ash. (A cloaked figure is seen by Nerovens the ostler gathering ashes from a firepit outside the stables. He thinks nothing of it, assuming it is an acolyte performing some kind of duty for the temple.) He takes the pouch of poisoned ashes into the old Agrikan temple, under the Abbey (NOTE: I have made the Morgathian ruins from "Dead of Winter" an Agrikan temple, as I said above; only the Suloran is aware of its exact location and entrance). He is seen that night (as a cloaked figure in black, struggling against the stormy night) by Oben the Brewmaster lurking around the old garden rockery, and then suddenly vanishing (of all the Abbey's residents, only the Council of Five know about the old Agrikan Temple - and only Vontar knows is secret entrance).
-The next morning, Kordus is found dead of a heart attack...only he has red stained hands as well as lips and tongue (as he had been handling the Goodheart potion). The monks are filled with fear. Someone suggests that Larani has cursed this place... another that she has abandoned it altogether. Catlin the Librarian suggests that the blood red hands of Kordus suggest the bloodied claw of the Devil (Agrik), and that the Tyrant of the Foul Chamber is making his return! This complicates things for Suloran Vontar, as all he wanted was to to protect the Holy Ashes, and now the monks are starting to believe that the Abbey's halls are being stalked by the Devil himself...
My real issue is I need to find a decent motive for further killings going on at the Abbey. I want to monks to feel that the goddess has abandoned them, or that the place has become cursed. I want the abbott to beg help from the pcs (a Laranian knight on pilgrimage is a perfect "sign" from the goddess that she has sent help). I want it to be the old Suloran who is ultimately responsible. I want him to be somehow using the ashes as the murder weapon, which of course complicates the pc's mission. But I need to have a reason for the Suloran to keep killing off members of his own monastery. In "Name of the Rose", it was because he was threatened by the young monks reading the forbidden works of Aristotle; here, I think it is because some other monks get suspicious, and things spiral out of control as the Suloran tries to cover up his crimes - by murdering those getting too close to the truth, and then convincing the monks that it is punishment from Larani. So what I need is a murder or two to happen when the pc's arrive - and probably, an attempt on their lives as well, in such a way that implicates someone other than the Suloran.
Clues/leads so far:
-Vontar's black gloves. He claims to be sufferring from arthritis, and the warmth of the gloves relieve his discomfort. Of course, they mask his blood-red hands.
-The bodies of the victims. They have all been buried in the graveyard, but if somehow they could be examined, it is possible that that remnants of Wylorafina extract will be discovered - or even Goodheart itself, if the Herblore/Alchemy rolls are passed well enough.
-The Urn. There are wood ashes in it - obvious to anyone with Survival. Why? And where are the real ashes? Who had access to the chapel? Only those priests on ritual Nightwatch, a Matakea and an Ashesa. The night the ashes were switched it was Suloran Vontar and Ashesa Raku, a 15-year old acolyte sent to the Abbey to serve as penance for a life of petty theft.
-Natan the Swineherd. What cryptic, half-delerious clues did Miralael whisper to him in her final moments?
-Nerovens the ostler. He saw a figure gathered wood ashes outside the stable.
-Oben the Brewmaster, who saw a figure vanish near the rockery during the storm.
-The normally empty Guest House, and the kitchen in which Vontar created the potion. There must be evidence of his alchemy there, as he would have had to clean it up in a hurry.
What are the holes in this little plot, and how can the PC's uncover the truth (not to mention get their hands on the ashes and separate the Laranian's from the Save-Knorrian's...?)