Gamers are of mixed opinions on pre-packaged modules; some love them for the ease they present in running a game, and some feel confined. Following is the outline of an adventure that hopefully strikes the midpoint: it provides enough detail for seeds of helpful stories, but eschews the maps, encounters, and rules that limit the game to one system or style of play.
Out of Hell is an adventure that draws on the concept of the Mournstones (read more here and here), and is appropriate for PCs who are capable of taking on epic stories (such as entering and returning from Hell).
In kingdoms torn by ethnic conflict and years of bloody warfare, there is a prophecy of the One who will unite the kingdoms and bring an era of peace and justice. While scholars and theologians on both sides of the issue have cast interpretations of this prophecy that describe the One as a conquering hero that will end the menace of their enemy, the truth is that the One is Sophia, a princess of mixed heritage involving two ancient royal bloodlines. The One has devoted her life to a new way forward.
The time is nigh for this chosen One to step forward and unite the kingdoms–indeed, many false messiahs have risen to claim this role, and their cults now dot the countryside, adding further complication to the strife. The time has indeed come for the One.
The only problem is that her consciousness is imprisoned in Hell, and a demon is in possession of her body on Earth.
It’s your job to fix that.
Once the PCs have agreed to take on this adventure (using whatever hooks are appropriate for your campaign), they must make the long journey to the underworld, guided by a magic compass. They are told of the tomb of an ancient warlock which opens up to the underground River of Life and Death, and of the boatman who will ferry them to the gates of Hell.
Once they figure out how to open the gates, the PCs will battle with steel and wits to fight past hordes of demons and damned souls thrown like fodder at them. The compass points to the location of the One; however, the most direct route is not always the easiest. Players will have to choose between a direct route and intense physical confrontation, or indirect routes littered with overwhelming physical obstacles and diabolical traps.
The One’s consciousness is trapped in the body of a foreign warlord who was cast into Hell hundreds of years ago for his crimes against the two kingdoms. The players must rescue her from her tormenters and guide her back from whence they came. While she is grateful for rescue, and will provide whatever aid and comfort she can afford for the PCs’ wounds, she will not engage in direct combat, and will indeed try to talk the PCs out of it, insisting that there must be a more redeeming way forward.
Along the way, they will learn from Sophia that she was sent to Hell by a warlock named Brander who used a cruel device called a mournstone to trap her mind in the body of a damned soul. The same stone allowed the demon to take possession of her body.
After negotiating a return trip from the Boatman, the party re-enters the tomb of the Warlock, only to find that the tomb was but a temporary resting place. Brander, the same warlock who trapped Sophia, used the tomb to protect his body while his mind served the demon to pay a different debt. Once the demon became aware that Sophia was free, the demon freed Brander and set its own course for the tomb.
The adventure will conclude with the confrontation of both Brander and the demon occupying Sophia’s physical body. The demon cannot engage in direct physical combat, for Sophia’s commitment to nonviolence binds her body to this standard as long as her mind remains committed.
This conflict may end with Sophia’s body slain, and her consciousness forever trapped in the body of the damned warlord. The challenge of introducing the messiah to the two kingdoms has just become several degrees more complex. Alternatively, the players may realize that slaying the body of the warlord (now firmly outside of Hell) will allow Sophia’s mind to return to her body.
Boatloads of Hellions
Be sure to scatter lots of demons through the adventure, as well as damned souls who fight for the demons in hopes of avoiding punishment, winning favor, or meeting a more gentle eternal oblivion. Ever wanted to use a Balor? Throw one in here. Also, this is a prime opportunity for bringing back memorable old enemies the PCs have disposed of.
The Boatman (Return Trip)
Exiting Hell is harder than entering it; the boatman will not simply ferry the party back. He wants to negotiate his own freedom by demanding that another serves as the Boatman. The party may opt to liberate another soul from Hell to serve in this role. Alternatively, while accepting this responsibility voluntarily binds the volunteer to the boat, Sophia will use her magic (which can be used on the other side of the river) to free the PC of this charge. The gates of Hell are effectively closed if this happens; you can expect that many will seek revenge against the party in this case. Lastly, the players may fight the Boatman on the “hell side” of the river; if they vanquish him and steer the boat themselves, whoever is steering the boat is doomed to fill that role, and Sophia will not use her magic to free them.
The Warlock Brander and the Demon
Brander is a powerful warlock of his own, and is set on the party’s destruction to win favor with his patron demon. He will not attack Sophia (in the warlord’s body), for he knows that slaying that body will free Sophia’s consciousness to return to her physical body. The players may read his motive and choose to perform this act.
Meanwhile, the demon will strive to take self-destructive actions, hoping the players will squander tactics to keep Sophia’s body safe. If the warlord’s body still lives once Brander is sufficiently weakened, the demon will command Brander to destroy Sophia’s body. This frees the demon to take possession of Brander’s body, and the PCs must now confront the demon-strengthened version of the warlock, while Sophia adjusts to life in her new body.