Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Monster Overhaul Test Drive: Kidnapper's Keep

With the collapse of the City of Tontes, the Marble Cliffs have become anarchic. Petty lordlings reassert their authority, controlling the surrounding landscape from fortified keeps. An entreprenurial gang of thieves operating out of a stolen castle run a kidnapping and ransom business, grabbing anyone who looks important and imprisoning them in the dungeons beneath the fortress.

The land between the rainforest and the mountains. Steep ledges and hanging gardens, treacherous trails and temples carved into rock faces. The biggest city in the region was Tontes, gateway to the highlands. Misuse of Cave Elf energy crystals recovered from the Salt Pan caused an accident that crushed half the city in an avalanche and sent the other half tumbling down the Tontes cataracts into the jungle lowlands.

The Hornachos Estate sits on a ridge overlooking a valley with a river irrigating numerous orchards, planted right up the terraced slopes of the mountain. The Hidalgo de Hornachos bought a license from the Grain Cult to grow alligator pears, a luxury fruit that exploded in popularity soon after he established his orchard. His estate is as far upriver as you can get and still grow anything, giving him a huge advantage in the endless competition for scarce water resources.

de Hornachos was the first victim of the kidnapping scheme, overwhelmed by the assault of the BEGGARMEN and imprisoned in his own CASTLE alongside his family. He almost died when his corporate secretary wouldn't pay the ransom, sensing an opportunity for an on-the-spot coup. The Beggarmen did him a solid and kidnapped the secretary's son, forcing her to negotiate for his freedom as well as her child's. The ransom was eventually paid, but between that and financial losses from the city's collapse de Hornachos is in no position to reclaim his lands. 

The Sharecroppers who work the farms in the valley are a mix of human, dispossessed Elf and Orc Peasants. The Beggarmen won them over with threats and bribery, sharing wealth from the kidnap scheme in exchange for acting as their eyes and ears outside the fortress. If adventurers infiltrate their farms, they act cruelly oppressed by the bandits and proffer hints about the fortress. These are bogus and designed to lure adventurers into a trap. The sharecroppers have no rights tfco the land they work and don't expect to live here in the long run, they don't fear legal trouble or burning their former boss. The exception is tavern keeper Ophelia in the little farm village where the people congregate. She owns her own business and can't just pack up and leave if faced with consequences for collaboration. At least the Beggars pay for everything they drink.

Above the village are the forested slopes leading up to Castle Hornachos. There are a few goat paths and one road carved out of the mountainside, along with the river cascading down a series of cataphracts to the town below. These woods are protected by two Beggarmen PATROLS, joined by ANGIBAAL at night. Pit and bear traps promise broken legs to unwary adventurers. If the Beggars spot a tough group of adventurers they fall back to the castle and set an ambush with the defenders.

The Beggarmen are criminals, a mix of gangsters from the ruined city and cangaceiros from the rural areas. There are 33 lumpen hoodlums and 5 leaders in the gang. They communicate among each other using a criminal argot that Chaotic characters can sort-of follow, studded with expressions from the local dialect.

A Beggarman patrol has 2D4 Level 1 Fighters, a Thief of Level D4, and 2D4 1/2 HD Giant Rats. These trained Monstrous Vermin serve two purposes: detecting sneaky infiltrators and soaking up incoming Sleep spells with their combined hit dice. The rats shrieking or suddenly going quiet draw the immediate attention of their attached patrol. There's nothing magical about the rodents or the Beggars' control over them, just care and training.

The Beggars carry longbows and daggers the size of short swords. They wear no armor, letting them move freely and hide in rough terrain where heavily encumbered troops struggle to pursue them. A squad carries a handful of special gadgets.
  • Poison arrows, reservoir tips loaded with paralytic Drider venom.
  • "Staves of Holding" made from the severed, still-unliving claws of Ghouls.
  • Spiderwebs packed in oiled leather bottles, discharged by squeezing an attached set of bellows.
The Beggars attack from ambush, fleeing evenly matched engagements where they don't have the element of surprise. They communicate with a library of animal calls, signaling the presence of intruders to the rest of the gang before initiating battle or falling back. They open fights with their disabling gadgets and target casters first. Immobilized victims get tied up and gagged once the fighting dies down, and are only finished off if the Beggars have to retreat fast (leaving traps all the way).

Pete the Level 9 Thief is boss of the Beggarmen. An experienced adventurer, he outfitted his gang with countermeasures against typical low level dirty tricks. Piet is a jolly villain and a master of bluff and deception, keeping his threats plausible but scary. He lies constantly but if he strikes a deal he only violates it if he knows there won't be consequences. He has no special weapon but wears Boots of Elvenkind and a mesh armor (as chain +2 but no impediment to stealth) generously donated by Bucha. He wears jewels under his clothes worth 1,100 SP, along with the key to the cells in the DUNGEON.
Angibaal the Level 3 Half-Elf Adventurer was recruited by the Beggars after they caught her trying to rob the castle. She always memorizes Sleep and backs it up with a set of Tanglefoot Bolas. Combined with her darkvision this makes her the ideal leader for night patrols in the estate around the Castle. Her rough body is tattooed with murder-scenes that she loves to show off. She carries 500 SP in gold jewelry, painted to look like copper, along with a key to the cage in the foyer at 5.

Bucha is a Drider, like a Centaur but with a spider instead of a horse. Transformed by the displeasure of The Decapitator, she was supposed to throw herself into battle and die feeding the fanged spider Goddess' insatiable appetite for skulls. With the Beggarmen she leads a life of utter luxury, endlessly milked for paralytic venom and immobilizing webs by handsome men. She doesn't go on kidnapping jobs because she's lazy and the gang doesn't want to risk her.


Omer the Level 4 Cleric worships Logic, a God of careful calculation derived from the Dwarven engineering God The Doubter. Godly power gives him a bonus casting of Hold Person or Silence every day, but only if he preregisters which one, when and how he'll use it. He is a good planner but a poor improviser, depending on his fellow bandits to bail him out when his schemes go awry. He wears an ornate chain stolen from a College of Wands professor, worth 500 SP if returned to the university.

Grady the Manticore serves as transportation, muscle, and punishment for misbehaving prisoners. His wings let him quickly deposit kidnappers in hard-to-reach locations and exfiltrate incapacitated victims. His sharp teeth and natural sadism come into play when someone gets caught trying to escape. He knows how to remove a limb slowly but nonfatally, carefully chewing around the most important arteries. He's no slouch in a fight, weighing in when the rest of the gang can't handle a threat.

The Beggarmen kidnap people and hold them for ransom in the Castle Hornachos, taking advantage of the collapse of centralized authority in the Marble Cliffs. They raid the surrounding haciendas and hillforts, kidnapping rich people and tossing them in the dungeons until their families pay up. They opportunistically capture and ransom adventurers who try to rescue the captives.

A planned kidnapping begins with reconnaissance to assess the target's defenses and work out their routine. The Beggars mix surveillance with bribery, paying retainers and servants generously for information. The kidnappers take a patrol or two, plus Grady and either Omer or Angibaal. The idea is to immobilize the target, get them loaded aboard the Manticore and fly away fast. Targets immune to Poison AND Paralysis are ignored unless capturing them would be extremely lucrative, then the Beggars attack with spider silk nets to entangle them.

The Beggars can handle low level assaults on their fortress by the retinues of petty lords, inexperienced adventurers or lone wolves. Against a tougher force they threaten the hostages while plotting their escape with the money.

Castle Hornachos has a twelve foot wall around a central courtyard. It has two towers that are three stories tall, one on the northeast side and one on the south side. The front entrance has a portcullis and a heavy set of doors. The few windows are large enough for a human to fit through, only a Halfling or Gnome could fit through the arrow loops.

The brush has been cleared away from the castle exterior to leave a clear field of view, except for a handful of bushes that provide a couple good infiltration routes. They are festooned with traps, spikes buried in the earth beneath them.

Down the rock face about twenty five feet, out of sight of the battlements, is a secret entrance. It leads to the passage at 19.

Like a saloon or butcher shop, the floors of the castle are scattered with sawdust. The walls are caked with ash poured out of the windows. This gives away sneaky or invisible infiltrators.

There are four PATROLS worth of Beggars in the castle along with BUCHA, a 75% chance of PIET, GRADY, OMER and ANGIBAAL (25% for her at night). If the alarm is raised they converge on the intruders, leaving a Patrol in reserve to guard the treasure. If they sound the alarm the two additional Patrols in the countryside converge on the castle.
1: The outer portcullis of the gatehouse is kept open, the heavy inner doors are barred from the inside. Anyone entering is exposed to weapons fire from the rooms to the left in right and from the Portcullis room at 9. There are a Patrol's worth of hoodlums here, split between the adjacent rooms and the Portcullis. Beggars entering must give a password. They have a separate password that means "I have been captured, act like you're opening the door and then ambush my captors".

Nets dropped from 9 hit everyone in this room. A favored tactic is to drop the outer portcullis and trap intruders inside.

The east room has a hatch leading up to 9.

2: This pantry is mostly empty after the Beggars ate all the Hidalgo's treats. All that's left are alligator pears and dried corn. Meat is taken directly to the kitchen at 3 for preparation.

The solvent which dissolves the glue at 15 is in an old pot on the shelf. Only examination in good light shows that it has recently been disturbed.

3: This two-room kitchen is used by Piet to prepare meals for the gang. He loves cooking and is here at breakfast lunch and dinner 75% of the time preparing meals for the gang. The midnight meal for the night watch is prepared by a random goon. Food is mostly meat taken from the jungle, seasoned with salt and vinegar and served alongside alligator pears and crispy corn wafers. The shelves hold 255 SP in flavoring spices.
The Beggarmen test their food by feeding samples to the rats before they eat, insurance against poisoning the communal meal.

4: This courtyard is open to attacks from the battlements at 11, where a Patrol of goons stand watch, and PIET if he's on the roof at 16. On nice days there's a Patrol of goons here playing boule and drinking in the sun. In bad weather or at night they're in the Foyer at 5. 
The space between the towers of the fortress is strung with spiderweb, difficult to see but strong and sticky enough to snare aerial attackers.

The stairs next to the gatehouse lead down into the cellar at 17. One of the stairs is a piece of gray cloth covering a barbed metal spike where the stone used to be. The heavy door at the bottom is not locked but is belled from the inside.

A well in the center provides fresh water.

5: The Foyer, which doubled as a guest room for visitors to the keep. In bad weather or at night a Patrol of Beggars is here, in nice weather they're outside at 4. Either way there's also a cage holding a naked man.
The naked guy begs sneaky visitors for help. He's the son of a financier from Brickmountain, come to oversee his mother's investment in the great Tontes elevator.

In reality the man is the Beggarman Ruterford, a Level 1 Fighter locked in the cage to ridicule him for getting drunk and forgetting the password. His advice lures adventurers into a trap in the guise of finding treasure or keys to the cage. If it doesn't look like they're buying it he yells for help.

6: These two rooms were the servants' quarters.

The northern room is a nest of Giant Rats, filled with 3D6 of the beasts. The Beggars feed them generously to stop them from nibbling on things or running off to find food while on patrol. There's an emerald worth 150 SP in their pile of furniture, visible from the entrance, placed by the Beggars to lure intruders into upsetting the rats.

The southern room is OMER's study and bedroom. The door has a big piece of wood glued to it that makes a scraping sound when it opens. If Omer is in the castle then there's a 50% chance he's here. His chamber holds 650 SP in ambergris and other magical reagents, plus a Scroll of Darkness and a cursed Ring of Protection -2. Omer's yellow-green candles give off a smell that causes the rats to quietly avoid his chamber.

7: A chapel to O Sun, God of honorable combat. The image of the Sun has been halfway painted over to make an image of Great Moon, Goddess of tricks and dirty fighting. The Beggars place treasure on the altar, stealing and replacing items to honor her memory. Roll once for Treasure Type V to populate the pile. There's usually a small trap mixed in with the loot, like a caltrop coated in a poison that makes the victim sweat.
8: The armory has been partially looted. The weapon racks still bristle with a few spears, bills and hooked pole weapons. One of the polearms shines in the dark: the de Hornachos ancestral +1 Halberd. This weapon is trapped, grabbing it causes the entire rack to fall over on the wielder with a crash.

The closet on the northwest side holds clothing taken from the Hidalgo's family and his guards. The Beggars use it for disguise schemes and to clothe prisoners they capture naked.

9: This room controls the portcullis in the gatehouse at 1There are a Patrol's worth of goons here, split between this room and the rooms flanking the Gatehouse on the floor below. A floor hatch allows quick access to the room east of the gatehouse.

10: This Great Hall has been ransacked for treasure. The only thing not stripped off the walls is the Talos head. It belonged to a big bronze monster the ancestral Hidalgo de Hornachos slew and is too heavy for the Beggars to cart around. It's worth 1,000 SP but good luck carrying it.

At breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight there are a Patrols worth of Beggars here, along with the gang's leaders if they're in the keep.

The exterior door is trapped with a spring loaded spike coated with a powerful muscle relaxant, which juts out if the door is opened furtively or kicked. A smooth, confident opening evades the trap.
11: A Patrol's worth of Beggars guard these battlements, twelve feet above the courtyard below. The walkways extend from 10 to 12 and around from 12 to 9, but not from 9 to 10.

The walls just outside the battlements are strung with spider silk from Bucha, hung with little metal chimes. Getting caught in the webbing rings the chimes and entangles the climber. Entangled victims are peppered with poisoned arrows to stun them and hauled up using greased hooks on the end of poles.

12: This room was used by the Hidalgo's retainers but is now home to the Beggarmen. The ones in here gamble, fletch arrows and drink aguardiente and schnapps.

A Patrol's worth of goons is split between this room and room 16 up above. They have knives on their person but it take them a round to grab the rest of their weapons. If Omer is in the castle there's a 50% chance he's also here laying wagers.
13: The Great Chamber, where the Lord and Lady Hornachos took meals privately. The tables have been shoved against one wall to make a snug woodpile for BUCHA the Drider. 50% chance she's being milked by a pair of solicitous Beggars, making loud and distracting sounds as they extract her webs and venom. Otherwise she's asleep in her pile. If she spots intruders she webs and then envenomates them, but won't pursue enemies out of the room.
Bucha's furniture pile holds a Wand of Create Oil and a pair of Silk Gloves worth 75 SP.
14: The Master Bedroom, now home to the leader of the Beggars. If PIET is in the fort then he's here 50% of the time (unless he's preparing food), sleeping or writing ransom notes.

In the cabinet he keeps 704 SP in coins, a carven jade fascinum worth 100 SP, and seven bottles of aguardiente worth 50 SP each that he doles out to the Beggars. They're trapped with a needle coated in lethal poison.

15: The door to this bedroom is connected to a strand of web that alerts BUCHA in room 13 if opened. The Beggars' treasure HOARD is here, laid out on the bed. 

The metal objects in the pile are coated with a clear liquid that sticks to skin (living or leather). Anyone picking up the treasure will rapidly become a clattering superglue accident. The solvent to dissolve the glue is in the pantry at 2.

16: These barracks were home to the Hidalgo's personal retinue, and are now home to the Beggarmen.

Patrol's worth of goons is split between this room and room 12 down below. They have knives on their person but it take them a round to grab the rest of their weapons. 

A ladder and hatch allows access to the sloped roof above the room. The hatch is spring loaded, if the exterior handle is grabbed without depressing the hinge with a foot it swings open and knocks the victim off the roof.

If PIET is in the fort then he's on the roof 50% of the time (unless he's preparing food). 

17: The castle undercroft, formerly used for storage. 75% chance GRADY the Manticore is here, lurking in the dark or arguing with the captives in one of the cells. 
If he hears someone coming through the secret entrance at 19 Grady puts on a fake chain and rattles it, a signal to the other Beggars that intruders are using the passage. He pretends to be a captive and begs the intruders for help. When they enter the chamber he yanks the rope that slams the door behind them.

18: The wine bottles have been removed from this locked cellar, and its use converted to a dungeon. The CAPTIVES Grandee Mo’nthrawl and Lana Salazar are kept here. PIET has the key.

19: This secret passage is filled with enough water that it's difficult to move without audibly sloshing. The door is barred from the inside but it's easy to open by slipping an object through the slats to lift the obstruction.

There's a heavy wooden portcullis flush against the ceiling, with a cloth covering it so it looks like the native stone in bad light. When the rope in the corner of 17 is pulled it swings down and blocks the passage out.

20: A heavy wooden hatch reinforced with metal bars leads down to a pit formerly used to store ice, now home to a Ghoul. The undead beast is missing its hands, chopped off by the Beggars to make paralyzing weapons, and thus cannot burrow out of the pit. The Beggars feed it offal and bones, and when its hands grow back they trick it into reaching out of the hatch and cut them off again. 

At the bottom of the pit are 209 SP in lost change and a Ring of Light the monster can't use.

21: The CAPTIVES Dr Castula Prattler and Legate Gravecarp are chained in this locked room. PIET has the key.

The Beggars' treasure hoard consists of 9,230 SP in assorted coin, plus
  • 1,800 SP in Goblin silver paid by the wife of a clueless Paladin.
  • 1,500 SP in grotesque and erotic pottery from the Hidalgo de Chaco.
  • A 2,000 SP clay nameplate encrusted with gems, belonged to the Hierophant of the River Tontes.
  • 1,300 SP of intagliated jewels from the Monarchy showing victory over Cave Elves.
  • A 1,200 SP bronze and gold clock that tells the hours of the watch (not currently wound).
There's also a pile of items taken from the current crop of hostages.
  • Lana Salazar's giant longbow (3D6 damage but requires 18 STR to operate), giant arrows and false teeth with secret compartments (all the drugs and poisons have been removed by the Beggars).
  • Four of Mo'nthrawl's scrimshawed bones, a mix of traditional Gnoll carving and modern runes. Such a bone can sub for any magical reagent.
  • Castula's Cane of Confusion, functions like a wand with six charges remaining.
  • Legate Hedgewalloper's Adamant Brigandine (AC as plate, weight as leather) and Badge of Office (wearer may use once per day to Control Dwarf).

Otherworld Miniatures

The dungeons currently hold...
  • Adventurer Lana Salazar, greatbow archer. Her false teeth held numerous tools, drugs and poisons, prompting the Beggarmen to remove them. She is toothless, dribbly and hateful without her dentures. The rest of her party were scattered in the collapse of the city. It's a coin toss whether they'd pay the ransom, attempt a jailbreak or abandon her.
  • Legate Gravecarp the Dwarven Knight, sole survivor of the nascent fortress JAMGIRDLED on the edge of the nightmare wastes. Since the fall of the colony the Legate has searched for a noble and pointless death in service of a worth cause. He killed a Beggarman in an escape attempt and the Manticore chewed off his hand as punishment.
  • Grandee Mo’nthrawl, Gnoll Merchant from Tontes. A wealthy bone-trader who made a killing combining traditional Gnoll scrimshaw with contemporary rune magic. Her family lost a lot of money in the crash and might not be able to pay the ransom demand. She laughs to disguise her fear of the Beggars cutting her.
  • Dr Castula Prattler, androgynous anatomy professor and Wizard from the University of Tontes. Studies diseases of the mind. Snappy dresser and scandalous rake/vamp even while bound and gagged. The Beggars are looking for any former lovers who survived the collapse and are willing/able to pay the ransom.
Mages are gagged and manacled, if they try to cast when the gag is removed for food/water the Beggars cut out their tongues. Rogues are politely warned not to pick any locks, and if caught doing so are given to the Manticore to have their hands chewed off.

The players are here...
  • To rescue a captive.
  • To deliver a ransom.
  • To join the Beggarmen.
  • To steal the Beggarmen's treasure.
  • To lead a force and reclaim the castle.
  • To take the castle for themselves.
  • Because they got captured.

Sfar, Trondheim and Gaultier

This adventure is based on the first story in the English language version of Dungeon: Early Years Volume 3. I used some NPCs from the Monster Overhaul to populate it. The castle's defenses are based on Mundane Security in a Magical Land and some additional discussion in the SA OSR thread.

The maps are pieces cut out of Caplynn Castle by Ashlerb. I wanted to use a pre-existing castle floorplan to save time, and because this dungeon is an existing structure repurposed by new owners.

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