The king of a small island has found a way to ensure survival and prosperity of his beleaguered kingdom. Through supreme diplomatic efforts, he’s arranged for his daughter to marry the king of a much larger and stronger island that will protect his subject from their predatory neighbors. The preparations for a lavish wedding flotilla are underway and the whole island is rejoicing. However, there is a small problem: just one day shy of the wedding, the girl went to sleep and didn’t wake up. The king’s physicians found nothing wrong with her body and so the best shamans of the land were summoned to save her spirit.
Enter the PCs.
The following information can be learned from the physical world:
- Examination of the Princess will reveal that she is in perfect health.
- Journeying into her dreams will reveal a terrified little child cowering in the corner from a shadowy figure with a sword. The figure is mostly concealed in darkness, but when lightning strikes, an observant shaman will notice that it has a yellow beard and is dressed in a blue coat.
- Speaking with the elders will reveal that the only person with yellow beard they have ever seen was an outlander who was killed forty years ago when his party landed on the shore.
- Going to the monument for the slain foreigners will reveal a considerable thinning of the veil in that location, as if a spirit forced its way between the worlds time and again.
- Questioning anyone of the princess’ relative will reveal that she’s gone to bed quite morose and angry. They assume that the cause for her bad mood is the fact that she is engaged to a man older than her father and with a dozen children her age or older. This may cause the PCs to think that she’s done something to herself. However, this isn’t the case: The Princess a dutiful islander and wouldn’t dare to put her own dreams and ambitions ahead of those of her people. Furthermore, she told her friends that she was very excited about marrying a great king from another island. The man may not be young, but his courage and wisdom are the stuff of legends.
- Speaking to her friends will be more helpful. They will reveal she’d been seeing a terrible man with a yellow beard lately both in dreams and in reality. However, since no one else has seen the man, her fears were dismissed as a childish fancy.
The princess is possessed by the ghost of a sailor from a doomed expedition. He was killed on the beach almost forty years ago after a member of his crew foolishly attacked the islanders who came to greet the newcomers. His restless spirit wondered the land for decades, causing children to cry at night and adults to wake up covered in cold sweat. Finally, the king consulted a wise shaman who told him that a proper burial would appease the spirit. During the ceremony, the princess had placed a wreath on the monument erected to appease the restless dead. This act of genuine kindness created a one sided connection between the living girl and the dead sailor. For years, the spirit has protected the child from minor mishaps. However, when it learned that she was to be wed to another man and leave the island, he flew into a rage and trapped her in a tower of smoke and doubt.
The power of a shaman stems from his mana. Mana can be gained in three ways: violence, love and contact with lava.
Violence: killing a foe restores 1-3 mana, based on how hard the fight was.
Love: gestures of love restore 1-3 mana, based on how passionate they are.
Volcano: touch the lava. It hurts. Each wound restores 1 mana.
All shamans can cast the following spells. The number that follows each spell is its mana cost:
True Sight (3): understand the true form and function of a single object or person.
Attack Spirit (2): use a physical attack with one extra die to hurt a spirit.
Spirit Journey (3): enter a person’s dream or journey to the spirit world.
Control Weather (7): cause any natural phenomenon to occur within 1d6 rounds. This can be anything ranging from a light breeze to a moderate tsunami.
Conjure Animal (3): summon a single power animal to help you. In addition to providing physical help, the animal can also bestow one of its aspects on the shaman. For example: the eagle can grant great eyesight, the boar can grant superb sense of smell, the turtle can grant patience and wisdom and so forth. You may only have one power animal at a time.
Speak with Dead (3): Ask three yes-or-no questions of a corpse that still has a mouth and a larynx.
Speak with Spirits (2): Ask three yes-or-no questions of any animal, nature or elemental spirit. It is compelled to answer truthfully.
Cure Wounds (5): restore 1d6+1 wounds to a single injured creature.
Each shaman starts with ten mana and ten traits to be shared between body, mind, spirit, and one skill of their choice (1 min, 6 max). All tests are 1d6+trait+special skill-wound traits vs. DC of GM’s choice (usually 3-12). Each time a character is injured, he replaces one trait of their choice with a wound trait. A character with ten or more wound traits dies.
Attacks are opposed tests. A successful attack inflicts a number of wounds equal to the sum of the attacker’s roll after the defenders roll was distracted from it. To this number, the attack may add a weapon rating and the defender may subtract his armor rating. Shamans are usually armed with clubs (+2 dmg) or spears (-1 atk/ +3 dmg) and protected with wicker shields (+2 def).
In order to reach the spirit world where the princess is held by the sailor, the players must go on a journey through four intermediary worlds. Each world contains a gate to the next world that can only be unlocked by completing a quest. Since it can be very frustrating to get stuck facing the same riddle for ages, each world has a built in clue system GMs can use to help stuck players.
The World of Man
This is the physical plane. To leave it, a soul must leave its flesh behind and transcend into the spiritual. Any shaman can easily do this by casting Spirit Journey.
The World of Self Deception
This world looks exactly like ours, expect that all the works of Man are absent from it. People behave like mindless beasts. Animals can talk and think. Trees are the wisest of all beings. They are so wise, in fact, that the only words in their language a mortal can comprehend are “yes” and “no”. There are doors everywhere that lead to random spots on the island or nowhere at all. Water hurts like fire while flames are cool and refreshing. The Princess can be glimpsed often, but she is but an illusion. To solve this world, a shaman must jump into the crater of an active volcano.
Flavor: A boar and a gazelle are taking their morning constitutional on the beach. There is a door leading into a random spot in the jungle on the side of the boar. The boar is melodramatic and posh, feigning extreme outrage at the very mention of going through the door. The gazelle is a cynic who makes light of the situation. Both are urbane and sophisticated to the point of parody. If they are attacked, they call the whale who walks to the beach. The whale arrives in 1d6 rounds, brandishing a massive club and fully intent on murdering the PCs. There is nothing funny about that.
Reward: The first person to jump into the crater finds a key-shaped knife in their pocket as they emerge into the next world.
Clues: A tree can suggest the PCs to do something dangerous as surely it would be healthy for them in this world. A PC can notice that the illusionary princess smells of fire and brimstone.
The World of Fiery Wrath
This world appears like ours except that everything is on fire. The unbearable heat inflicts one wound on each PC who isn’t protected from the heat in some way. Dressed in fire and hate, a spirit that looks like the princess instantly attacks the party, intent to burn them to a crisp. She is insane with fury and pyromania and cannot be reasoned with. The only way to leave this world is to kill her and tear open her belly to reveal the gate to the next world. She can be defeated in a fight or instantly destroyed by cold or water effects (for example, calling a large wave or torrential rain to drench her).
Reward: A beautiful white pearl.
Clues: The PCs won’t have time to get bored since they don’t solve this world quickly, they will all die terribly in fire and hate.
Note: cutting open dead people might be a bit too dark for younger players. I suggest that instead of killing the Princess, the attacks of the players will cause her to become younger and younger until she disappears and a gate to the next world appears in her location instead.
Body 3 Mind 1 Spirit 3 Fighting 3
Special: breath fire for 1d6+1 damage once per 1d6+1 rounds
The World of Endless Haggling
This is an underground market where translucent spirits buy and sell everything one can imagine. There are water people who sell gorgeous seashells and pearls, men of fire who sell fierce weapons, women of colorful feathers who sell gorgeous dresses and delightful perfumes and so forth. Toward the end of the cavern, there is a heart-shaped door. A massive key hangs from a rope high above the market. It’s owner is a giant who’d gladly sell it for just three pearls. The PCs can either trade and run small errands until the can afford the key, or try to steal it. The giant is way too powerful for them to defeat with violence. However, he can be easily distracted by funny or exciting stories.
Flavor: Sea spirits are selling the souls of the drowned as slaves. They’d gladly exchange the soul of any player for one or more pearls (depending on how well the players haggle). Alternatively, they will agree to trade drowned slaves for items from the World of Man. These in turn can be traded for pearls vis-a-vis other spirits. A mother cat has an important appointment, but can’t go because there is no one to watch her kittens. If the PCs agree to watch after the mischievous bunch, they will be reward three balls of yarn that can be traded for at least one pearl.
Reward: A sheet of paper with strange signs on it. This is the death certificate of the sailor, a fact that can only be deduced by using True Sight. If the optional sorrow world is used, the PCs are given a small hammer instead.
Clues: Mention that the giant appears to constantly be distracted by every little thing that happens in the market. Have minor spirits and talking animals offer the PCs to perform small errands in return for paltry compensation.
The World of Perpetual Sorrow (Optional)
This world is nothing but a long and narrow tunnel without start or end. Sounds of bitter complains and self pity come from the walls. If the PCs try to speak with them, the walls respond by belittling and insulting the PCs. The spirits of this world can teach the PCs nothing. Speaking with them is purely a negative experience. To leave the room, the players must break one of the walls and just step into the next world.
Flavor: None. This place is as boring as it is depressing.
Reward: A sheet of paper with strange signs on it. This is the death certificate of the sailor, a fact that can only be deduced by using True Sight.
Note: If you’re running this adventure as a 90 minute challenge, only use this world if the PCs have solved all other world in less than an hour. While simple, it has the potential to consume a lot of time.
The Spirit Sanctum
A world of swirling mists, odd echoes and feeble light that serves to befuddle rather than illuminate. One thing is clear, however: a scruffy looking sailor with a cracked skull is holding the princess hostage. He can be reasoned or he can be killed. The result will be the same.
The sailor is miserable and belligerent, but not malicious. If the PCs patiently explain to him that he’s died decades ago and that now he’s tormenting the only person who showed him an iota of kindness, he will let the girl be and dissolve into the mists.
Flavor: This world is a massive ship sailing the sea. It’s crew consists of only one man: the spirit. The Princess is trying to let him know that she wants to go home, but he cannot understand her. No matter what she says or does, the spirit only hears what he wants to hear: words of admiration and encouragement. If any of the PCs cast True Sight on the spirit, it will realize how deeply mistaken it was and let the girl go, albeit with a deep sense of sorrow, loss and shame.
Reward: A rope that can be used to climb back to the World of Man without wasting mana. Also riches bestowed by the king, the adoration of the islanders, a place in the legends of the future and so forth and so forth…
I ran the adventure in an ancient hawaii setting, using the following names:
King: Ali’i Mainulani Naloiaehuokalani (Mani)
Princess: Luli’u Loloku Kamaka’eha (Lili)
Sailor: Guy Neville, killed along with Captain Cook