This adventure works for a standard party and was playtested on two groups of level 1 characters. It works especially well if there is a Scholar in the party with an official rank of some kind.
In this adventure, the players go to the region surrounding Ruo village to investigate the disappearance of a tax official who came to the town in the fall to collect revenue for the county magistrate but failed to return. They likely discover he met a terrible fate at the local brothel, the Four Seasons Teahouse, where he was devoured by the monstrous head of the proprietor's husband. If they discover the truth about the magistrate's death, they may try to destroy the head and confront the proprietor, a skilled powerful Ritual Master.
Thirty years ago, the Four Seasons was just an ordinary teahouse, operated by Chen Rushi and her husband Xu Yan. When Xu Yan decided to take a woman named Li Susu as his second wife, Chen Rushi initially agreed. But soon after her heart filled with powerful feelings of jealousy and rage. She also came to suspect Li Susu of seducing her husband with the goal of stealing their wealth. She sought the help of Jiang Yue, abbot of Wan Temple after hearing rumors he practiced black magic. At first he refused, but she knew he secretly desired her, and seduced him. The seduction worked and he created three magical objects to help Chen Rushi get revenge on both her husband and his new wife. He also began guiding her in the use of such magic.
The magic of Jiang Yue produced a special blade, a tea elixir and a flute. He gave these to Chen Rushi with instructions on how to use them. She used the blade to cut off the head of her husband, Xu Yan. The head continued to live and grow, but was not very intelligent and only had flickers of Xu Yan's personality (mostly his growing rage over what befell Li Susu). The head was placed in the granary and contained by talismans Chen Rushi learned to fabricate. Provided it was fed a human body every month or so, it would be satisfied and not try to escape. His body was rigid and slow but also continued to live and seemed to house his true personality. Any head sewn onto the neck of the body would function fine and, over the years, Chen Rushi collected an assortment of heads to fit onto her husband so he could perform his duties at the Teahouse and other functions.
The tea elixir, Chen Rushi gave to Li Susu who drank it. This made her eternally youthful but if she didn't drink it daily her body would start to rot away and die in hours. She then forced Li Susu to serve as a prostitute at the Teahouse, to punish her but also to punish her husband. She delighted in forcing her husband to watch Li Susu become the star of the teahouse, servicing clients regularly. Over the years the Teahouse has become one of the more renowned brothels in the prefecture.
Jiang Yue's brother, a scholar named Jiang Ye, heard he had broken his vows for a woman and came to persuade him to change his behavior. Jiang Yue struck his brother down in anger, killing him and causing a curse to fall on the temple. The monks turned into ghosts at night, but remained mortal men during the day. Jiang Yue became a Rotting Ritual Master. He dutifully buried his brother in a tomb just outside the Ruo Village, but this act did nothing to alter conditions at the temple.
Last fall, a tax official and poet named Gui Pu came to collect revenue from Ruo Village and the surrounding area. He stayed at the Brothel. That month the head of Xu Yan had not been fed as Chen Rushi had difficulty finding a suitable victim. It escaped from its granary and Gui Pu witnessed it from his chamber window at the teahouse, floating above the pond. Inspired, he wrote a poem on the wall then went to investigate and was devoured by the head.
Chen Rushi: Proprietor of The Four Seasons Teahouse. Cut off her husbands head (see Xu Yan) soon after he took Li Susu as his second wife. She then made Li Susu serve as a prostitute at the teahouse to punish them both and used a special elixir to keep her forever youthful.
Xu Yan: The decapitated proprietor of The Four Seasons Teahouse and the husband of Chen Rushi. His head continues to grow and feed in the granary behind the teahouse, while his body continues to manage daily tasks at the teahouse itself (using a variety of heads he has stored in his room, which he sews onto his neck)
Li Susu: A prostitute at the Four Seasons Teahouse who is eternally youthful but dependent on Chen Rushi for a daily elixir to survive. She is also the second wife of Xu Yan.
Jiang Yue: An abbot at Wan Temple.
The players are sent to investigate the disappearance of the tax official Gui Pu. If any member of the party is a Scholar who holds official rank, that character is an ideal person to be tasked with investigating Gui Pu's fate. As with all Strange Tales adventures this is a monster-of-the-week style one-shot that begins at the adventure site. So the rest of the party should have good reasons for traveling with the scholar if you go with this hook (as the scholar's retinue, as bodyguards, as hired help, etc). If there is no such character in the party, they could be here as investigators on their own following rumors of Gui Pu's disappearance or one or more of them could be relatives of Gui Pu. Strange Tales is all about not fretting so much over the hooks or the idea that "this is tonights adventure" and emphasizes player character freedom at the adventure site location itself (a sort of contained sandbox). So the important thing is to hash out with the players beforehand, why they would all be here together as a group, looking into Gui Pu's disappearance.
RUNNING THE ADVENTURE
Strange Tales is designed with one-shot adventures in mind. For this reason it is assumed play begins at the adventure site, but it assumes little else from that point on. Once the players begin investigating, let them do what they want, and just focus on running the monsters and NPCs as believable and living characters with goals of their own. The session doesn't have to build up to a particular set of events or climax. As long as the players sufficiently engage the adventure, that is enough (even if they end up just unearthing the giant head, and running away from it for their lives, that is enough for them to gain XP, particularly if they managed to solve the mystery). That said, how well they conduct their investigation could matter a great deal after the adventure if the characters are trying to advance through the ranks of the imperial bureaucracy.
This adventure assumes the players will be investigating the disappearance of Gui Pu and tracking down clues, then following any leads they find. They can do so by asking around town, going to the temple or the teahouse. Many clues are specifically mentioned in locations and being with specific NPCs, but keep in mind, these are just the very likely and obvious ways to obtain these clues. It is always possible the players think of a potential way to find information that isn't stated here clearly. For instance while it is possible to learn from two patrons at the Sweet Ox Wine Shop that Gui Pu went to the brothel after a night of drinking with them, it is also possible they told other people in town this as well (so while a clue like that is pinned to the Sweet Ox Wine Shop, it is entirely possible to pick it up elsewhere).
Don't pull punches. Characters can die in Strange Tales. But be fair in your adjudication of any combat and in any ruling you make. When death is on the table, it is that much more important to take individual rulings seriously.
While this adventure is structured around locations, it is very much intended to be character and NPC driven. The NPCs should react to the players in believable ways and try to advance their own interests over the course of the adventure. And while many of the NPCs are villains, they are not stupid. They can be reasoned with and negotiation is always a possibility.
This is a haunted Buddhist temple dedicated to Guanyin. The monks here and their abbot were cursed thirty years ago (see Backstory). At night the monks turn into ghosts but remain human during the day. The abbot, Jiang Yue is a rotting Ritual Master. The temple is still on good terms with Chen Rushi of the Four Seasons Teahouse, and Abbot Jiang Yue is still very much in love with her. Should players come here during the day, it looks like a normal temple. At night it becomes more dangerous as the monks have little control over their need to feed on human life. Jiang Yue, however is always in control of himself and always a Rotting Ritual Master (though he passes for human).
Jiang Yue is a Rotting Ritual Master. His face looks quite young and innocent, but his body is cobbled together from a variety of human parts. Though he looks human, both his arms were taken from female bodies, and this discrepancy in his appliance is discernible on a Detect TN 10 roll. Any involved medical inspection reveals his nature. Jiang Yue attempts to maintain the charade, and will even offer evening accommodations to visiting PCs. He will only seek to harm the party if they begin to pose a threat to Chen Rushi or if they learn too much about the temple's curse. Jiang Yue is gentle in his demeanor but there is a deep and powerful lust behind his eyes that can be gleaned by anyone using the character observation ability.
Jiang Yue is torn between his guilt for his crimes and his love and lust for Chen Rushi. He does not blame her for her evil deeds, but himself. He is only capable of seeing the good in Chen Rushi and loyally aids her as much as possible.
Jiang Yue has recently uncovered the Create and Control Ghosts ritual, but has yet to use it. He will use it on the party if he kills any of them (and the GM should feel free to keep such characters in the game as ghosts).
Defenses: Hardiness 3, Evade 4, Wits 8
Key Skills: Arm Strike: 0d10, Detect: 2d10, Speed: 0d10, Muscle: 0d10, Persuade: 2d10, Empathy: 2d10, Divination: 2d10, Alchemy: 2d10, Ritual: 3d10, Survival: 1d10, Religion: 3d10, Trade: 3d10
Max Wounds: 1
Immunities: Jiang Yue is only affected by magic. If killed by other means he remains motionless for 1 day and returns the following day.
Devour Heart: Every human heart he eats gives him an extra 1 Max Wound for 24 hours.
Fuse Flesh: He can take limbs and skin from living beings and fuse it to his flesh.
Rituals: Sword of Head Taking, Warding Talisman, Rotting Death, Create Talking and Walking Objects, Spiritual Defense, Filial Coin Trick, Find, Paper Talisman of Mimicry, Create and Control Ghost
Substances: Tea Elixir of Youth
MONK GHOSTS (8)
During the day, these are just normal monks who reside at the temple. At night they turn into Bitten Ghosts (STRANGE TALES OF SONGLING, 56) which look like pale and bloated corpses, arms hanging at their side. They feed on life energy by pinning down people who are sleeping and drawing the breath into their nostrils. These ghosts are oddly susceptible to bites from living people.
During the day they lose their immunities and if they are killed turn into a a pool of green goo.
Defenses: Hardiness 7, Evade 6, Wits 6
Key Skills: Life Drain: 3d10, Arm Strike: 2d10, Muscle, 4d10, Speed: 0d10
Max Wounds: 4
Max Wounds: 1 (human form)
Bite Vulnerability: They flee when bitten by people and take 2 extra wounds from such attacks
Weight of Many Corpses: On a successful Arm Strike roll they can pin a target down holding them in place to feed. It takes a Muscle TN 7 roll to lift the ghost off person's body or for the person to escape.
Life Drain: Roll 3d10 against Evade when the monk is close to the victim's mouth. On a Success the target loses 1 Hardiness (returns at rate of 1 per week).
Immunities: Only affected by magic weapons, rituals and Kung Fu Techniques. Vulnerable to human teeth. Each ghost is susceptible to a unique substance or thing. A given ghost is vulnerable to one of the following (based on their personal history): ginger, tea, silk cloth, erotic poetry, sugar, fecal matter, books, or bath water. If struck or first to ingest/endure any of these substances, the ghost takes 3 wounds.
Leadership: Elder Sai Guo
Exports: Sugar, Timber, Ceramic Goods (Ruo Porcelain)
Imports: Salt, Medicine, Clay
Ruo Village is a small village famed for its sugar and porcelain. The sugar cane is harvested, then turned into a juice or pulverized and processed into a powder. Oxen are used to break down the sugar cane (and so there are a large number of oxen in the village). Merchants come from great distance to obtain sugar materials here then ship it down river. The village is also known for its red tea, which it sells in brick form to grind as a powder. There are a few street vendors selling roasted chestnuts, candies, meats and more to both visiting merchants and locals. Two of note are Ouyang and Gu, who are a good source of information. See their entry in The Sweet Ox Wine Shop for details.
Elder Sai Guo: The village is led by Elder Sai Guo, who bears no relation to the Sai sisters at the Four Seasons Teahouse, however he helps Chen Rushi and in return she lets him use the brothel for free. He often helps Chen Rushi obtain bodies for her head to feed upon (usually criminals who have been detained and awaiting to be sent to the county or district magistrate for trial). A common saying here when someone dies is they 'went before the county or district magistrate'. Should the players investigate him and his residence they will find that the last record of him actually sending someone to appear before the district or county magistrate was two years ago.
He has six stalwart men to help enforce and manage the village:
STALWART MEN (6)
These men are only loyal to Elder Sai Guo because he pays them well and he looks the other way when they misbehave (which they often do).
Defenses: Hardiness 6, Evade 5, Wits 6
Skills: Arm Strike: 1d10 (1d10 Damage), Melee: 1d10, Detect: 0d10, Speed: 0d10, Muscle: 2d10
Max Wounds: 2
MADAME HAN'S HOUSE
This is the house of Madame Han, a poor widow, whose husband, Han Leng, disappeared three years ago. She is convinced it has something to do with the teahouse, as he spent many nights there the week that he died. She adores and trusts Elder Sai, but detests Chen Rushi. She only has a small bit of money but will offer it to the player characters if she learns they are investigating in the region to help solve the case of her missing husband. Her husband was indeed killed and his bones can be found inside the granary.
Proprietor: Long-Winded Buwei
Rooms: 20 Coins
Food: Braised Pork (12 coins), Dandan Noodles (8 coins), Baiju (5 coins)
This inn caters primarily to merchants, and is run by Long-Winded Buwei. The food here is exceptionally good and this is a reliable location for finding people with information. Players coming to the inn can easily chat with Long-Winded Buwei or Merchant Rong Mo, but these are just examples of the types of people they may meet here. The GM should feel free to use the inn as a place to obtain information found elsewhere in the adventure at different times (since many people are coming and going it makes sense that new rumors and information can be found here if the players return after an initial visit). Long-Winded Buwei often allows and participates in gambling games in the rear of the inn.
Long-Winded Buwei is tall and gossipy. He is handsome and in his early 40s, and has a wife named Xuan Ge and three children (Shali, Shanlin, and Shuxin). Buwei is especially fond of officials, often giving them free food, rooms and other preferential treatment. He has a small weakness for gambling but only allows himself to lose so much on the habit each month. He knows the following:
- Many locals have disappeared in the past several decades, often after being arrested by the elder
- Wan Temple is definitely haunted, he has heard many rumors about this from reliable people
- A ghost haunts the tomb of Jiang Ye, in the Vermillion Hills
- Ouyan and Gu (local street vendors who spend time at the Sweet Ox Wine Shop) were seen around town with Gui Pu when he came
- He doesn't know what became of Gui Pu
MERCHANT RONG MO
Sugar merchant Rong Mo has been here a month, spending most of his funds at the inn and the Four Seasons Teahouse. He is delaying returning to his family in the east because he knows this voyage was largely a wasted effort. He has a ship and a small crew but is here alone, drinking most days while he thinks of a way to salvage the trip. Because of his drinking he is rather confrontational, but may be willing to talk to anyone who can help him out of his current situation. He had an encounter with one of the monks last night and can share that. Here is what he knows:
- On his way back from the Four Seasons Teahouse last night, he was attacked by a ghost dressed like a monk. He ran for his life and managed to make it safely back to the village
- The Four Seasons Teahouse is a brothel. He has been there many times and always likes to see Li Susu when he has the money. This time he spent his time with Sai Xiaowan. He was here late fall as well and at that time he found the most wonderful poem written in one of the rooms (see AREA D of the FOUR SEASONS TEAHOUSE)
RUO SUGAR SHOP
Proprietor: Nie Zai
Goods: Sugar Cane (10 coins), Jars of Sugar Juice (20 Coins), Candied Fruit (1 coin each)
This shop sells an assortment of sugar goods and is run by Nie Zai, who is affable but always looking for a way to make money. He is happy to help the player characters purchase sugar goods, but will only be happy to give them the information below if they pay for the information or offer future business arrangements.
- If they ask about other possible disappearances, Nie Zai tells them that Madame Han's husband disappeared a number of years ago
- He knows the brothel used to be a teahouse and that the husband there tried to take another wife (soon after it became a brothel)
SWEET OX WINE SHOP
Proprietor: Bao Qin
Wines: Standard Baiju (5 coins per cup), Ruo Baiju (12 coins per cup), Moon Flower Baiju (15 coins per cup), Sweet Ox Wine (12 coins per cup)
Bao Qin claims to have many extraordinary alcohols for sale. He has an elaborate story and list of ingredients for each type, but discerning customers (Detect TN 10) will note all of his Baiju taste the same and his Sweet Ox Wine tastes like a simple rice based wine. He claims his moonflower Baiju is made from from rice fermented under moonlight (some evenings he claims to brew it using a night bloom that fell from from the moon). Most locals know the truth but enjoy his storytelling and don't care if all the wine is the same
Like the Ruo Inn, this is a location where the players can get information found elsewhere at the GM's discretion. However there are two regular patrons here, always together, named Ouyang and Gu who are a reliable source of useful clues.
OUYANG AND GU
Ouyang and Gu cook and sell skewered chicken from a cart they share together. They are good friends, though they frequently argue. Ouyang is tall and extremely skinny with a deep fondness for music and an incredible eye for detail (any Scholar Character who makes a Character Observation on him may learn he has untapped potential to be a scholar-official if he is provided with the means to study and take the exams). Gu is the stronger personality, considerably more short but athletic. He has a strong temper but is quick witted and good with money. When they are not selling skewers or exploring business opportunities with passing merchants they are here drinking together. Here is what they can tell the player characters:
- They drank last fall with Gui Pu at the Sweet Ox Wine Shop. He left that evening to go to the Four Seasons Teahouse, saying he would return to drink with them again the following night (they never saw him again after that)
- Ouyang's son, Bo, was at the Teahouse that night, saw Gui Pu, but left. On his way home he heard a scream. A loud, powerful scream that he believed was a ghost or demon
- If they really trust the player characters: Elder Sai sometimes 'cleans up' the village by "sending people to the district magistrate". If pressed they explain this means people think the Elder has trouble makers killed from time to time
- The woman who runs The Four Seasons is rumored to practice black magic
JIANG YE'S TOMB
This small stone tomb was erected for Jiang Ye by his bother, Jiang Yue. After Jiang Yue struck and killed Jiang Ye, he felt guilty and paid to have the tomb constructed (he hired workers on a passing merchant ship). Outside the tomb is the following inscription:
Dutiful Brother laid to rest by a hand disloyal
The stone door to the temple can be opened on a Muscle Roll TN 10. Otherwise opening it will take a fair amount of work. The cremated remains of Jiang Ye are housed in an urn and in an alcove. His belongings are placed in a larger alcove, and include a robe that contains the following letter:
Brother, please do not come. Now is not a convenient time. The temple is not safe.
THE FOUR SEASONS TEAHOUSE
While tea is served here, and is of excellent quality, this location is really a brothel. It is operated by Chen Rushi and her husband, Xu Yan. There are four prostitutes at the brothel but the most highly regarded among them Li Susu. Thirty years ago this was a normal teahouse, but when Xu Yan took Li Susu as a second wife, Chen Rushi's jealously built until she got revenge by using magic to cut off Xu Yan's head and forcing Li Susu to consume a tea elixir that made her ever-youthful but dependent on Chen Rushi (see Backstory). Xu Yan still tends to the teahouse, greeting customers and managing the cleaning and wait staff. He wears different heads that he has acquired through the years. His original decapitated head has become a monstrous thing housed in one of the granaries. Chen Rushi runs the teahouse and mostly does so to savor the suffering she causes her husband and Li Susu.
The teahouse is famous for its Ruo River tea, which is 5 coins per serving. The prostitutes will sing a song or provide entertainment such as conversation for 50 coins (and anything beyond that is negotiated in very oblique ways). There are rooms as well which can be rented for 100 coins a night. They also have a food menu but it is all by request (Chen Rushi prides herself on being able to serve any dish a customer should ask for). The prices scale according to the difficulty and challenge of each dish.
Clues can be learned here organically by interacting with the staff and the prostitutes of the teahouse. The GM should be familiar with the backstory and the character entries below to determine who is willing to talk about what. But if the players come to the teahouse and ask about the disappearance of Gui Pu, they will be told the following:
- He stayed one night in the fall (if pressed they can confirm it was room B)
- He spent time with Xiao Yuan that night before suddenly dismissing her
- He left in the morning and said he was going back to the village (this is a lie, and all at the teahouse know it is a lie---the staff all believe he mysteriously disappeared in the night. Chen Rushi knows he was devoured by the monstrous head by the pavilion
Be sure to allow Scholars with abilities like Character Observation to make good use of them. One thing players might pick up on is Xu Yan has slow and unusual manners. Truly observant players may notice his head is sewn on (see his entry for details).
1. Chen Rushi's Room
This is the room of Chen Rushi. It is kept neat with a bed, fine drawers and a large bronze mirror. She has a small compartment hidden in the wall (Detect TN 8). In here she keeps the Black Sabre she used to cut off her husbands head. This is also where she keeps the ingredients for her red tea elixir. She keeps a thimble-sized man, Magistrate Guan Sanli, in a terrarium garden made of crystal behind a screen in the chamber.
Black Sabre: This ferocious black sabre functions like a normal sword except it cuts off the target's head on a Total Success. In addition the head and the body, if not destroyed continue to survive in the same manner as Xu Yan (see backstory and Xu Yan entry).
Red Tea Elixir Ingredients: Red Ruo Tea Brick, garden angelica, nut grass and the ground up teeth of a human woman in her twenties. While the ingredients are here, only Chen Rushi and Jiang Yue know the special way to prepare them.
Crystal Garden of Guan Sanli
This is concealed behind a screen (no roll required if examining the room, but a TN 6 Detect if just glancing inside). It is made from a fine clear, crystal and has a miniature wooden house, with a pond, small bridge and diminutive garden. Inside is Magistrate Guan Sanli.
MAGISTRATE GUAN SANLI
He was once the prefect of Fen Prefecture (or Fenzhou) 24 years ago. Chen Rushi turned him into a thimble sized man while he still held office and brought him here to serve as her advisor. He has gained her trust over the years, playing a very careful game to orchestrate his eventual escape. However he has also developed a fondness for her, even a small bit of love. He will eagerly work with the party if they help him escape and promise not to harm Chen Rushi but help reform her instead. He knows all of the brothel's and Chen Rushi's secrets.
Defenses: Hardiness 1, Evade 2, Wits 7
Key Skills: Arm Strike: 0d10, Speed: 0d10, Muscle: 0d10, Detect: 0d10, Survival: 2d10, Talent: 3d10, Institutions: 3d10, Religion: 2d10, Classics: 3d10, History: 3d10, Places: 3d10
Max Wounds: 0
Easy-to-wound: He is easy to wound, and when hit by any attack, dies, without the need for a damage roll.
2. Li Susu's Room
This is the chamber of Li Susu. It is one of the most ornate chambers. Chen Rushi spares no expense for the presentation here.
3. Xu Yan's Room
This is Xu Yan's room. It is a typical bed chamber except there is a cabinet with 5 heads in it (he has six heads in total but is always wearing one of them). Each of these heads appears lifeless until worn. Xu Yan attaches them to his body by sewing them onto his neck. Because these are taken from individuals that Chen Rushi has murdered and fed to the head in the granary, Xu Yan and Chen Rushi often use the identities of the heads for deceptive purposes. See the Grim Possibility note below for an optional possibility of having Gui Pu's head be among those in the cabinet.
The heads he possesses are as follows:
Magistrate Hu Wen of Hongzhou: This head was taken ten years ago from a magistrate in Hangzhou.
Poet Yan Shu: This is a famous poet and imperial official's head, but no one yet knows that he has died (his death was recent so it is possible for Xu Yan to pretend to be Yan Shu if he desires). Yan Shu's poem, the Pearl Jade is his most famous work.
General Yang Wenguang: This is the head of General Wang Wenguang. It was taken last year, and while still notable, the general has yet achieve many of his greatest deeds. Unless his head is somehow restored to his body, or unless someone assumes his identity and performs those deeds, this will greatly influence the course of future events in the campaign world.
Merchant Mu Tian: This is the head of a reputable merchant from Kaifeng.
Farmer Han: This is the head of a simple sugarcane farmer from the local region. He was killed by Chen Rushi three years ago.
Huyan Mei: This is the head of a notorious criminal, a bandit, with a branding on his forehead denoting him as such.
4. Staff Quarters
This is a hall outside, drafty and made from inferior wood, where the kitchen, cleaning and waitstaff reside.
A. Basic Rooms
These are basic rooms, each 100 coins a night. They all share a connecting balcony however that can be used to watch the granaries. Xiao Yuan stays in one of these rooms each night.
B. Elite Suite
This chamber resembles area D, and it meant for elite clients. It costs 200 coins a night.
C. Sai Sisters Room
This is the room of the Sai Sisters (see their entries below). They keep the room neat and have a shelf with a number of books and instruments. There is also an ornate ceramic bottle containing a Bottled Fox here. They use the bottled fox to take possession of enemies of the teahouse (see STRANGE TALES OF SONGLING, 55).
D. Gui Pu's Room
This is the suite that Gui Pu stayed in, it costs 200 coins a night. It is luxurious, reserved for officials and wealthy clients. There is a window overlooking the pond and pavilion. It is here that Gui Pu saw the head roaming the area, dismissed Xiao Yuan, then climbed out the window to investigate. But before he did, he was so struck by the beauty of the moment, bizarre as it was, that he etched a poem on the wall (one Chen Rushi has not noticed) that is a play on a classic poem and reads:
The solitary head does not restHe roams about and calls, missing his loveNo one knows or remembers this vestigeIt lost its body to the confusions of pleasure
Anyone who is part of the imperial bureaucracy or is familiar with poetry can make a Talent or Institutions roll to identify this as a poem in the style of Gui Pu.
This is where Gui Pu was attacked by the head. There are faded blood stains discernible in the wood of the bridge leading up to the Pavilion on a Detect TN 7 roll. On a Medicine TN 7 roll it can be determined that the blood is from the fall and would have been abundant. On a Detect TN 9 roll, a rotting paper talisman can be seen wedged between the floor boards of the pavilion (this is a talisman that came from the granary the night the head escaped). Anyone specifically asking to look at these areas closely doesn't need to make a roll to get this information.
Grim Possibility (Gui Pu's Head): At the GM's discretion, Gui Pu's head could have survived the attack and been placed in possession of Xu Yan in area 3. This would allow Xu Yan to masquerade as Gui Pu (perhaps coming up with an elaborate excuse for his absence since the fall). Originally this was how I planned to do things in the adventure but didn't do so because it seemed like it would add too much complexity to the deception at the Teahouse. However, I think this can work if done right, so wanted to add a note about this possibility.
These are rice Granaries. F and G contain rice, while H contains the Head of Xu Yan. The door to H is extremely wide and layered in dozens of paper talismans that prevent the head from escaping (it can only exit the granary if all the talismans are removed). The granary (H) contains piles of bones from previous victims (including Madam Han's husband; see MADAME HAN in RUO VILLAGE).
THE HEAD OF XU YAN
Xu Yan's head is enormous, taller than a man and wider than four or five men standing side by side. It moves freely in the air like a fish in water. Its expression is locked in a rage. It seems to house all of the rage and anger of Xu Yan, accrued through the years of watching his beloved Li Susu serve man after man (the head is aware of what the body senses though they are two distinct entities at this point). It cannot speak, but it can scream, groan and talk in a garbled manner that resembles human speech. The head must feed on human bodies to survive, which Chen Rushi provides, and with each feeding it grows. Unless it is under the control of Chen Rushi, it will attack and eat anyone it can. It has nothing but hatred and contempt for humanity.
Defenses: Hardiness 8, Evade 6, Wits 2
Key Skills: Bite 1d10 (5d10 Damage), Speed: 2d10, Muscle: 5d10, Detect: 2d10
Max Wounds: 7
Immunities: Harmed only by magic weapons.
Chen Rushi's Flute: The head can be controlled by Chen Rushi's flute (on a successful Talent roll against Wits).
Bone Crunching Teeth: On a Total Success on its Bite Attack, the head breaks the brittle bones of humans with its chomping. This does normal damage plus it reduces Hardiness by 2 (which returns at a rate of 1 per month). Every 100 people it devours increases its size and its Max Wounds by 1.
Residents of the Teahouse
SAI XIAOWAN AND SAI XIANGJUN
These two feuding sisters are prostitutes at the Four Seasons. They fight bitterly, but care for one another's well-being. They are most famous for their talent in musical instruments. They can both play almost any instrument, with Xiaowan favoring the flute and Xiangjun favoring the pipa. Both detest Li Susu, and ingratiate themselves to Chen Rushi. They are in possession of a Bottled Fox which they use to help the teahouse against its enemies.
A prostitute at the teahouse, Xiao Yuan is known for her gentle and refined manners, as well as her singing talent and her skill in strategic games and puzzles. She is somewhat careless and naive. This often works to her favor with clients but makes her a source of frustration for the staff at the teahouse.
Li Susu is the star prostitute of the Four Seasons Teahouse. She is known for her poetry and her appreciation of good poetry. Li Susu is forced to serve here by Chen Rushi, who keeps her by threatening to withhold the daily tea. She always looks youthful because of the elixir (does not appear to be a day over 20) and without it she begins to die and rot away. She wishes to escape but fears Chen Rushi and knows she cannot outwit the woman. She still has feelings for Xu Yan though she dares not express them as that only infuriates Chen Rushi further. She is content to bide her time, hoping to find a way to make the tea elixir herself one day, then kill Chen Rushi if she is able. She would be the most willing of all the residents to work with the party, provided they have a very good plan and promise to help her achieve her goals.
Defenses: Hardiness 3, Evade 3, Wits 6
Key Skills: Arm Strike: 0d10, Muscle: 0d10, Speed: 1d10, Talent: 3d10, Persuade: 3d10, Empathy: 2d10, Classics: 2d10, History: 2d10
Max Wounds: 2
Chen Rushi is the proprietor of the Four Seasons Teahouse and a powerful ritual master who used her magic to enact a terrible revenge against her husband, Xu Yan, and his second wife, Li Susu (see backstory for details). She is pretty, with a round face, and in her mid-60s. She has a close friendship with Jiang Yue of Wan Temple, whose love of her she exploits (he was the one who originally taught her magic and bestowed the flute, sabre and tea elixir to her--he has since surpassed his abilities). Though Jiang Yue loves her, she finds him useful but annoying. She treats Xu Yan, or what remains of him, like a pet, not an equal or a husband. Xu Yan's head she also treats as a pet, but more as her trusted and loyal attack dog. Her only real friend is the diminutive Magistrate Guan Sanli (see AREA 1 of the Teahouse), whom she is beginning to have romantic affection towards.
Chen Rushi is sneaky and clever, capable of adapting to situations and primarily interested in her own welfare. She is also calm and diplomatic, but incredibly nosy and suspicious. When reminded of her husband and Li Susu, she quickly becomes furious as if it happened yesterday. She enjoys tormenting them both, but the truth is she is beginning to tire of the game she is playing and is starting to wonder if there isn't greater purpose to her life. She could go in one of two directions: seeking a more benevolent path or seeking a path to greater power. How the player characters interact with her, will greatly impact the course she chooses. If the player characters put pressure on her or if she suspects they know the truth, she may try to kill them by setting up an ambush (probably involving the head) but she might also try to bribe them or come to some other type of arrangement. If the player characters truly impress her and show mercy towards her (rather than a desire to simply kill her or bring her to justice) she may even be willing to change her ways and aid them in their pursuits of the supernatural. She feels fully justified in her actions and will respond very positively to anyone who acknowledges the pain she experienced.
Defenses: Hardiness 3, Evade 3, Wits 9
Key Skills: Arm Strike: 1d10, Muscle: 0d10, Athletics: 1d10, Speed: 1d10, Medicine: 2d10, Divination: 1d10, Alchemy: 3d10, Ritual: 3d10, Command: 2d10, Persuade: 3d10, Reasoning: 2d10, Creatures: 2d10, Talent: 1d10, Theft: 1d10, Institutions: 2d10, Places: 1d10
Max Wounds: 1
Level: 10 (Ritual Master)
Equipment: Chen Rushi's Flute, Red Tea Elixir Ingredients, Black Sabre
Substances: Red Tea Elixir, Shrinking Substance
Rituals: Talisman of Command, Talking Beast, Spirited Object, False Coins, Find, Love Magic, Crippling Illness, Demon and Spirit Powder, Forgetting Fog, Roasted Piglet Demon
Xu Yan is the husband of Chen Rushi, and technically the husband of Li Susu (though he dare not treat her as his wife for fear of Chen Rushi's anger). He has no head, and must wear other peoples heads in order to see, talk, etc. His head was cut off by Chen Rushi and placed in the granary. Now he is just a slow body. His personality remains intact, though it is more meek and cowed by Chen Rushi. He is slow. He attached one of six heads from his collection to his body by sewing it to his neck. The head functions normally except there is a lethargy to its expressions. Anyone looking at Xu Yan or interacting with him can notice this trait pretty quickly. He conceals the stitchings on his neck so seeing those requires physically pushing aside his robes.
Defenses: Hardiness 4, Evade 2, Wits 6
Key Skills: Arm Strike: 0d10, Muscle: 1d10, Speed: 0d10, Trade: 2d10, Persuade: 1d10, Survival: 3d10, Talent: 1d10, Places: 3d10, Instituions: 1d10
Max Wounds: 1
NEW SUBSTANCES AND RITUALS
CREATE AND CONTROL GHOSTS
For this to work the Ritual Master must first kill someone, then cremate their body and place the cremains in an urn. Casting the ritual turns the victim into a ghost of the caster's choice, and places the ghost under the caster's control so long as the remains are never properly laid to rest and in possession of the caster (anyone who steals the urn can take control of the ghost themselves). This can be performed on as many ghosts as the Ritual Master has Wits.
RED TEA ELIXIR
This bestows youth but at a price: it makes the drinker appear no older than 20, but if the drinker doesn't have a full serving each day, he or she will die over the course of 1d10 hours as their body ages then rots.