Demons - Chapter 1
© 2009 - Randal Snyder
This is an introduction to the creatures known as Skinless Horrors which have infested the area around the city of Ren. However, it can easily be relocated to any setting that is more appropriate.
As evening approaches a strange dust begins to cloud the sky. At first it is thought to be a sand storm that occasionally blows from the deserts of the Broken Lands to the west.
You may run this adventure in any major city that maintains an aristocracy similar to the medieval lordship/nobility. For our purposes, the city is Ren in the Thorin Mountains to the north of the Freedlends. See the map here.
Somewhere in the caves of Ren an ancient device from the God Wars was activated. This device has the power to open rifts into other dimensions and was once used to transport armies and supplies for the God Wars. However, the device is underpowered and not functioning properly and was only able to open three of five portals needed to create the Nexus. Had all five portals been open, the entire city of Ren would have been transported to another dimension.
As it was, the device opened three rifts to the dimension of the Skinless Horrors, allies to the gods of Heaven and agents of Lloron during the God Wars. To the people of Ren, these creatures will be known as demons.
As the cooking fires are filling the air with smoke, a yellowish dust begins to settle among the trees and chokes out the remaining sunlight. The dust sticks to everything covering it in a fine silt that makes it look like some sort of sick yellow alien landscape.
While peculiar, many of the locals are familiar with dust storms from the deserts. However, this dust is different. There were no heavy gusts that usually precedes a dust storm nor were there huge storm clouds that accompany the sand storms. Instead it just began to appear, slowly at first and then growing in intensity like a fog. Also, the dust does not stick to anything that is wet. It appears that water repulses it somehow.
The locals will comment on how strange it is, but think nothing of it until near sundown. By then, the dust has grown so thick that vision is limited to only two to three meters. Lanterns and torches glow and can be seen from afar, but give little aid to the user.
That is when the reports of demons in the fog begin. At first, the claims are dismissed as superstition, overactive imaginations, or outright lies. Most of those claiming to have seen the creatures tell the same story however - demons without eyes or flesh rushing out of the fog and snatching people.
Characters within the city will only hear rumors as the Skinless Horrors will not attempt to approach a large population. They will stay out in the woods and surprise passing villagers. Eventually, the group will be approached by a stunned group of travelers with scratches, deep cuts, and one even missing a finger. They tell the tale: "we heard rumors of demons entering homes and running off with children. And when we heard the screams from our neighbors, Thomas... Thomas went out... We could hear his voice yelling to us as they came for him and they came for us. We ran. We ran so hard. They have no eyes! No skin!"
The victims will point the characters in the direction of Stone Farm, where they had fled. Away from the children, one of the adults will relay, "They were harvesting... gutting the people like a hunt, collecting their innards."
Along the way to Stone Farm, the group will be attacked by twice as many Skinless Horrors as there are members in the group. These are common creatures described below. So far, the creatures have not encountered anyone of substantial threat and will approach with overconfidence, relying on their appearance to terrify the group. Once one or two of their group has been taken out, the rest will flee.
Stone Farm is about one mile from the main city walls and is so named for a large boulder that sits in the middle of the corn field. Closer observation reveals that the stone appears to be the fist of a statue long buried and heavily weather worn. Atop the boulder is a shimmering black portal from which the yellow dust bellows. In the corn field are one dozen Skinless Horrors standing guard around the stone.
Emanating from the portal is a shrill sound like fingernails on chalk boards that drones stronger and weaker as the portal grows and shrinks. This sound will draw the group closer to it and into the trap.
The twelve guards will attack from all directions using the dust and fog to cover their numbers and movement and will try to use stealth to attack characters from behind.
Should someone enter the portal, they will see a barren cave of stone pillars and between them an arch of rotting tissue. The portal that they step through is the only one with what looks to be fresh tissue that pulses with life. Not far from the entrance is a large mound of flesh-like material that serves as the portal's power source. The Skinless Horrors have collected their victims and used their organs to create the device, thus keeping the portal open.
The power source is quite fragile and will only take 10 points of damage before it stops working and closes the portal. Likewise, the arch could be damaged. However, unless the characters are clever, they will be trapped in this dimension as the portal will close within one Phase of the power source or arch being damaged.
The power source is guarded by a Skinless Lord, an evolved version of the Skinless Horrors. If the characters should enter, the Lord will attack using flesh magic. Skinless Lords must manifest their magic through organic material such as skin, organs, etc. They can create any magic effect with the flesh, but the flesh acts as the conductor.
If the power source is destroyed and the characters escape, then all three portals close. Characters that are trapped on the home world of the Horrors will be surrounded and their organs harvested.
The Skinless Horrors were caught by surprise by the opening of the portal and hurried to gather enough flesh to build the power supply. Over one hundred Skinless Horrors entered the world through the three portals and will continue to cause havoc over the next months. Had they been prepared for the portal's opening, an army would have invaded with beasts and horrors unspeakable.
As a result, the Skinless Horrors will be collecting victims in order to build a new portal to their home dimension. They will also require flesh in order to reproduce. With enough food, about two adult humans, and a month of time, a Skinless Horrors can create a clone of its self. If their numbers dwindle, they will work feverishly to collect meat of all types in order to replenish their numbers.
Closing the portal is the primary goal of the mission, but this also introduces a new threat to the world. If the group makes it known what they did, they will gain a point of Reputation. Likewise, if they captured a Skinless Horror, the local scholars will want to have it for research. Such a specimen is worth hundreds of silver to groups such as the Seekers, local security, and even black market traders. It is possible that a traveling freak show would pay handsomely for such an attraction.