An Adventure Hook Written By: Dice Prophet
Type: Horror, Mystery
System: Pathfinder or D&D 5e
Ideal Party Size: 4-5
Recommended Levels: 3-5
This adventure is an occult whodunnit, but centered around a horrific and often unexplored culprit from southeast asian folklore: the penanggalan! The PCs enter a fog-laden city in the midst of a macabre murder mystery, and are tasked with uncovering the identity of the true killer and bringing them to justice before they strike again!
Oh yes, there will be blood…
The penanggalan is the Malaysian variant to the vampire mythos. These sinister undead take the form of a ordinary female humanoid during the day, but at night they transform into a grotesque abomination; their heads and internal organs detach from their bodies, and this disgusting mass of levitating viscera stalks the night, thirsting for blood. Most of them are adept spellcasters, for it takes great effort, tremendous magical affinity, and a profound willingness to commit evil to become a penanggalan. For a template on how to build this monster, consult the Pathfinder Bestiary #3 pg. 216-217 or this link.
The true identity of the penanggalan is a human witch named Miranda, who was the first “victim.” Her distant family owned a farmstead and ran a pickling company inside the city. She uses the guise of her death to slip unnoticed in the night, preying on the unwary.
For the past several weeks, people have been found eviscerated by some unknown beast and drained of most of their blood. These grisly events always occurred at night, when the streets were at their quietest and least occupied. The victims have seemingly no connection with one another, and no credible witnesses have come forth since the killings began.
- The first victim was a woman whose head was torn off inside her home. Her sister Alenya was present during the “murder,” and was left in a bloodstained and hysterical state.
- The second corpse was found in a gutter with its throat shredded to the bone.
- The third body was discovered in a wine cellar, and had been disemboweled.
- Authorities discovered the fourth body after hearing the sounds of a struggle inside an alleyway. The town watch pursued the culprit, but were unable to clearly see or apprehend them. The killer had left a trail of blood as they fled. This body was the least damaged, with only two puncture marks on the neck from where the blood had been drained.
These ghastly murders have deeply disturbed the townsfolk, leading to great turmoil among the city’s residents. They have begun questioning the ability of the local authorities, as well as calling for the capture and summary execution of the culprit. But as the days passed on and the bodies piled up, the public outcry rose to a boil, and now they are deeply mistrustful of outsiders and some are outright hostile.
The townsfolk are a constant presence throughout the adventure, as they are deeply afraid and quick to anger. They may interfere with the investigation through acts ranging from attempted vigilante justice to full-scale riots, should the situation escalate.
Sheriff Kida is a no-nonsense knight who believes in order and due process. She commands the utmost respect and discipline from the soldiers under her command, and has very little patience for fools or slackers. She rarely smiles and has nothing but disdain for superstitions. Due to her cold and calculated nature, she has been oblivious to the magical nature of the threat, a fact that the penanggalan has been happily exploiting. Her primary concern is keeping the townsfolk under control as she conducts her investigation.
Alenya is Miranda’s sister and was a first-hand witness to the dark ritual which left her horribly traumatized. Presently, she is despondent and of little help to the ensuing investigation, unless the PCs can help her recuperate from her mental breakdown. Her family is entirely unaware of their other daughter’s malevolent new form, and are in mourning for Miranda’s “death.”
The following set of NPCs can be expanded with more potential leads, distant connections, or red herrings, at the GM’s discretion. For instance, several other travelers could be passing through the town, as adventurers are oft to do. If any of them possess a vampiric heritage or affliction, they may be accused of performing the deeds. Spellcasters classes are also deeply mistrusted, given the ritualistic nature of the slayings. Perhaps a literal witch hunt begins, and innocent wizards and sorcerers are being targeted by mob justice.
Every 2d4 days, a new murder takes place. Each time, more clues concerning the nature of the creature are revealed, but the populace’s disposition also worsens. If the PCs are knowledgeable or savvy enough, they may even intercept a feeding before it takes place, and encounter the creature directly.
Helpful and specific clues can be acquired through deduction or the appropriate checks (varies with system).
- All the bodies were found in varying stages of mutilation, but they have one thing in common: two fang marks at the neck. The first body is the only exception, and has no bite marks.
- Exhuming the first corpse will reveal that it has been whisked away.
- During the day, Miranda discretely wanders the streets in a disguise to avoid detection. This allows her to locate new targets, assess the state of the city, and spy on her enemies with ease.
- There are a variety of rituals that require the consumption of bodily fluids.
- Certain monsters are capable of hiding their undead nature from detection. In the case of the penanggalan, it is indistinguishable as undead when in humanoid form, even through magical means.
- No footprints have ever been found at the murder sites. This is due to the penanggalan’s innate ability to levitate coupled with its obvious lack of feet.
- The only physical clues left behind by the killer are the trails of blood that seemingly vanish after a distance. These bloodstains carry a faint scent of vinegar.
- After feeding, a penanggalan needs vinegar in order to resume humanoid form. The creature must soak in a vat of the liquid for at least 1 hour in order to be reduced in size enough to fit back inside its vessel.
- Miranda and Alenya’s family owns a pickling company, which would provide the penanggalan with a suitable source of vinegar without drawing suspicion. Her “corpse” is stored there whenever she assumes her vampiric form to seek prey.