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An adventure for introducing characters to the ESPER universe

Introduction[]

The following is a basic adventure for introducing characters to the ESPER game world. Beginning characters will NOT have any knowledge of ESPER, which is usually the best way to get them started. The GM should review every character prior to play to make sure that each of them has some outstanding quality that would be interesting in some way to ESPER, but choose one of them who seems as though they have what would be considered the most endearing qualities. This could be magick, psi, leadership or combat abilities, or whatever would make ESPER most drawn to that character.

The Lead Investigator, as we'll call him from this point out, should receive a letter in the mail from a distraught aunt. In the letter, she writes:

"Dear (name of Lead Investigator),

I know we haven't spoken in some time, but I felt the need to reach out to you. You may not know, but my daughter Jenna, who is a little bit older than you, has a ten-year old son named Dennis Richards. I thought I recalled something about some special skill or knowledge you might have. I don't remember what it was, but something like that just made me remember you as soon as I heard of the tragedy that struck just last week.

Dennis has gone missing from school.

He went last Tuesday, and was seen in class up until lunchtime, but no one recalls seeing him after that. Please, I don't know exactly why you popped into my head, but I feel very strongly that you can help. Please come to my daughter's house at 32114 Vine Ave, Ransom, Virginia as soon as possible. She will not know who you are, but I will tell her to expect you.

Love and Hope,

Aunt Judith."

If anyone in the party cares to try to investigate the letter, they would find through a Good or better magickal detection that there are traces of a Glamoury on the letter. What that glamour is cannot be detected, as it destroys itself immediately upon being discovered. The truth, which should remain unknown to the characters until the end of the adventure, is that the letter is from ESPER, and there is no family tie between the lead investigator and Jenna Richards. No one will be able to find any trace of Jenna Richards or a town called Ransom anywhere in Virginia, but if one puts the information into a GPS or online map service the address is shown at the corner of Route 666 and the freeway, north of an empty field that is about the size of a small town.

The other investigators have been sent cryptic messages that read as follows:

"Needs Help? Please? I am dies. Please it, no. Hurts. My nameame is Dennnnnnnis."

This is written in blood on one side of a piece of paper torn from a yellow legal pad. The other side, printed in small, pristine block handwriting is the name of the Lead Investigator, followed by "Meet at the place where Route 666 meets the Freeway near Ransom, VA. Check your bank account." Any attempt at Psychometry on the cards indicates that they didn't actually exist until they arrived in the character's mailbox. They are magick, but no origin can be detected.

The entire party will find that their bank accounts have an infinity symbol that appears whenever they try to check their balance. They will be able to buy anything with their cards, but ESPER agents are keeping tabs, and if they purchase a bunch of superfluous junk they don't need and/or have not joined in the investigation within 24 hours, they will find their accounts completely empty and the items they purchased repossessed.

Meeting[]

The group will undoubtedly meet at the corner of Route 666 and the freeway, as they were instructed. If they do not, the GM will need to find some more motivational means of getting them to join the investigation.

When they do finally meet, it will probably be at the store they will find there. It is a small convenience store with a large, bright yellow plastic brontosaurus out front. It looks a little run-down, and the sign is rusted to the point of being illegible. They have regular items that one might find at a convenience store and four gas pumps.

The gas station attendant will be very friendly and helpful. If asked about the toen of Ransom, he explains that it isn't on any maps, and shows an example from the maps he carries in his store. Due to a law made in 1910 the town and all its inhabitants are prohibited from any national listing. The reason for this is unknown even to the attendant. If the party shows him a satellite image of the area, he points out that you can "kinda" see where the town is, including dirt roads and land divisions, and the party will notice that the satellite image gets muddy the closer it gets, so if there is a town there it may just be difficult to see.

The attendant is also aware of Dennis and his mother, as the town of Ransom is small and everyone knows everyone there. Jenna is a single mother working at a local diner to make ends meet for her and her son. Dennis, ten years old, is a bright young boy and the best student at his school, although he is a little different and gets picked on quite a bit. He knows nothing about Montega Manor except that it doesn't exist... it was burned down "around ten years ago."

Before Going Into Town[]

The GM should understand that everyone in town who is not a member of the party or an ESPER agent is a physically manifested ghost. Because of the terrible dimensional shifts due to Montega Manor, those who died never really died, they just "persisted," and thus they are aware of the date and will not still think it is the same time as when they died. They are not actually aware of their deaths, or the deaths of anyone else in town. If asked about this, anyone in town will say that no one has died for a very long time... longer than they can remember. If incontrivertible evidence is discovered that someone has died, that person will (if they are of no further value to the storyline) just stop existing, and no one else will notice that they are missing. For a couple like the O'Briens, one may simply say that they aren't sure where the other went, but they haven't seen them for a while.

He should also know that there is a ruin of a powerful haunted house, Montega Manor, in the forest on the northeast corner of town. It is very deep in the woods, not on any trail, and if the characters do not know it exists they absolutely will not be able to find it. When they do, it will just be an empty ruin barely distinguishable as a house. More on this later.

Into the Town[]

Ransom is laid out in a figure-8 pattern, with most of its houses and businesses laid out on the main streets. Vine is the southernmost east-to-west street. Cable is the central east-to-west street, and Wellspring is the northernmost east-to west street. Main street runs north-to-south on the west side of town, and Lakeview runs north-to-south on the east side. The entrance, where the convenience store is, is in the northwest corner, and there is an exit in the southeast corner across a covered bridge.

The party will find a strong desire not to cross the covered bridge. At first, the GM should just drop subtle hints, like "That leads out of town, and there's no real reason for you to leave town right now." If the party decides they want to cross anyway, each of the party members who want to corss should make a Willpower roll, with a -3 penalty. Those who fail this roll will feel the need to argue with anyone who succeeds and still wants to cross. The roll may only be retried every four hours. Magickal testing will find that there is not an enchantment on the bridge, but the bridge itself is somehow magickal. The truth is that the bridge isn't real... it only exists when it needs to. It is essentially a ghost.

If anyone does try to cross the bridge, which the GM should make very difficult for the characters to attempt, they will find that the bridge, which looks only about fifty feet long from the outside, seems to stretch on forever on the inside. Characters who continually try to cross will find that the bridge does indeed stretch on indefinitely, and it takes as much time to get back as it took to walk that far in the first place. What's on the other side seems just to be a green field.

There is another road that goes northeast out of town into a thick wooded area. If the party tries to go this way, they will come to a small grove that offers a dirt parking area and signs advertising a hiking trail that looks overgrown. It's not until they know what they are looking for that this road will become a viable option.

Cable and Wellspring are residential neighborhoods, with about 40 nice-looking houses on each. Vine is also a residential area, but it's a little more rural and the houses look run down, their yards unkempt, and some with broken windows. There are only about ten houses total on this road on both sides of the street, and the ones on the southern side have larger properties. Jenna and Dennis' house is on the north side of the road, about right in the middle of the street.

Lakeview is a rough dirt road that does, in fact, look over a lake (the one that the covered bridge crosses). There are several farms and mills there, and a large graveyard on the northwest side between Cable and Wellspring. If the characters go into the graveyard, they will see it is very large, poorly-kept, and most of the grass is dying. Any NPC that lives in the town will have their names found in the gravestones there, although there are only names and no dates as part of the epitaphs. Because the graveyard is so large, it will be difficult and time consuming to find any name there. If a name of a character is found there, and that character's absence won't destroy the storyline, the GM may wish to take that person out of the story entirely, as though they never existed. If a person is with the party when their name is found, that person will disappear the next time absolutely no one is paying attention to them.

Main Street, the street that leads northwest out of town, is a commercial area lined with businesses. The party should be able to find anything there that one might find in a small town in the 1940's, such as hardware stores, a butcher shop, a bookstore, a barber, etc.. There are a few places that will be of particular interest, as follows:

The Blue-Eyed Witch[]

This is a store where the lady in the front shop, a beautiful woman in her late 50's named Miranda, sells incense, candles, and decorations. She secretly has an occult store in the back, and she will only let people in whom she feels she can trust. She is very intuitive, however, and so the party will most likely be permitted in if they are really trustworthy.

Miranda is aware of the situation. She has a 9 year old daughter, Sabrina, that goes to school with Dennis. She has had a crush on him for a while, which her mother had tried to nurture since Dennis is a good and intelligent boy. However, he is frequently bullied for being smart and different, and he had become mean and distant in just the past two weeks leading up to his disappearance. Miranda also may confide that Jenna has come to see her to try to help find her boy. She sadly can only see darkness.

Through Sabrina, Miranda has also heard that there are others who have gone missing, but can't name them, and until Dennis' disappearance she had never heard anything about the others. If asked about Montega Manor, Miranda will simply tell the party that she doesn't want to talk about it because of the darkness surrounding that place.

Miranda may not be too well-informed about what's going on, but she will be glad to help when it comes to magick or using her Intuitive abilities. She is an auric reader and usually knows who to trust.

Lucky's Pub[]

A bar with one person only ever in it, the pub's owner, Brian "Lucky" Delaney. He's very helpful, although he doesn't know much about the situation. He will do anything to help the party without seeming too obvious and without outright solving problems for the party. The reason for this is that Lucky is a member of ESPER, and the son of famed ESPER agent Eddie Delaney. He is set to be the party's contact in town, although he will not inform them about anything involving ESPER until after the party has succeeded in their mission. The entrance to the Ransom, VA office of ESPER HQ is in Lucky's wine cellar. Lucky will also not say anything about Montega Manor until he feels he absolutely has to.

Bed and Breakfast[]

This is the obvious choice for the team to stay in while they are in Ransom, as it is the only hotel in town. It is run by Michelle and Connor O'Brien, an elderly couple who are very kind and helpful. They will trust the party implicitly unless there is some member of the party with a Disadvantage that causes them to think otherwise. They will even be willing to waive payment if they find out the party is there to help find Dennis ("Oooh, Connor, these boys must be from the FBI!"). They will do their best to make sure the party is comfortable and provided for.

Connor isn't much help. When talked to about any of the strange goings-on in Ransom, he will become distant and mutter about "different times." Michelle, on the other hand, has a bit of useful information.

Michelle knows Jenna and Dennis, having taught school before retiring with Connor to open the B&B. Connor was her student in Kindergarten, and she says even then he was a bit of a loner and extremely intelligent. She knows that he has been severely bullied lately, and even heard that he had been cut by a bully in woodshop class. Much more than that, she does not know. She will tell the characters where to find things in town and might have a good idea who to talk to if they want information on a certain topic.

The B&B will not be pleasant at night for the characters.

Each night that passes, the characters will get worse and worse paranormal activity happening in their room. On the first night, there will be knocks and footsteps coming from upstairs (although there is no upstairs, and no one is in the attic). If the characters attempt to investigate the attic, they will find evidence of rats... not nearly big enough to cause the knocking sounds they heard. Magickal tests will reveal the presence of the supernatural.

On the second night, have the characters make a Faith roll. Anyone who succeeds (or in the event of an all-around failure, whoever has the highest Faith score) will see a pale face with protruding eyes and no nose or lips and rows of sharp teeth peering in at them from the third-story window. It will only last for a second, and then it speeds away. No trace will be able to be found of it except by magick, in which case it is revealed it is not a human being, or an animal. The creature is actually a Ghoul, and the party will most likely encounter more of them in the future.

On the nights following, if there are any more, the party will encounter worse and worse conditions. Whereas on one night the window may open by itself, on a following night the window may shatter inward at the party. Each night, the situation should get scarier and more drastic until the end. Michelle and Connor have no idea what's going on, and a full investigation will reveal no physical traces ever left by the ghouls tracking the party.

The School[]

Edward J. Riggs School is a full school that takes children from Kindergarten all the way through 12th grade. It will be Friday after school when the party most likely arrives, and so the school will be closed until Monday. If, on what should be Monday, the party attempts to go to the school, they will find it closed still, and no one will know for sure quite why. Parents of children will say "The school just called this morning and said classes were cancelled due to several teachers calling out sick." This will continue every day.

There will be people at the school from time to time. Random children will always be at the schoolyard, and the GM is free to make these children up. He can distribute the information they have among them as he sees fit, but for the most part, this is what the children will know:

  • No one likes Dennis. He's weird and a dork. He's very different from everyone else. Some kids who are not bullies themselves might be inclined to tell you that he's been becoming mean in the past two weeks. Although he's always been nice, even to the bullies, he has been treating people badly and even getting violent lately.
  • There is a very small chance that one of the kids will have seen Dennis' eyes change color, or watched him balance a pencil perfectly on his fingertip and then take his finger away and have it balance in midair.
  • Some kids, especially kids Dennis' age and older, will report an older teenager who goes around showing people magic tricks, like how to change your appearance or make things levitate. Some will say (although if they are in a group there might be an argument) that he has a gunshot wound in his head which he lets the kids look into, through which you can see right out the back of his head. He keeps this disguised with a red bandana. There is a very rare chance that someone will remember what he calls himself: Eric. When asked, no one in town will know an Eric by that description.
  • Some kids will report that there is a place in the woods they like to go hang out at. They will say it's haunted, although not everyone will agree. It's just a rectangle made out of stones, and there is no house there, although some kids will claim to have seen it. No one can really give good directions, although anyone who's ever been there will say there's a clear path that leads to it (there isn't). Some will say the older teenage boy showed them the way. Some might even say that he takes kids out there all the time.
  • Dennis was last seen by some of the school kids at lunchtime on Thursday, October 19th, hanging out with the older teenage boy. He was not seen again after that.

Jenna's House[]

The first time the party goes to Jenna's house, she will be wary but willing to talk at least to the party leader. She may take some goading, but she will most likely tell the party everything she knows unless they do something to blow their relationship with her.

  • Her son is brilliant. He was reading at a ninth grade level in Kindergarten and has devoured books on every subject ever since.
  • She has never found anything in her son's room that she would be suspicious of, although last week there seemed to be a spot of blood on his pants. If the party asks to see it, she says that she couldn't clean it, and it was fairly obvious, so she threw the pants away.
  • Dennis used to be very loving, but he has been very distant for about the past month. He used to tell his mother everything, but she says he barely spoke to her over this past month or two.
  • He went missing last Thursday, October the 19th. The party arrives in town on Friday the 27th. Hallowe'en will be in 4 days from the party's arrival.
  • He went to school that morning, and was seen in class until lunch time. After lunch time, no one that Jenna spoke with saw him again.
  • Jenna knows about Montega Manor... everyone who grew up in Ransom knows about it. It burned down ten years ago. Its ruins are supposedly somewhere in the forest, off a trail that's hard to find because of how overgrown it is. The stories go that the owner went crazy and killed his family and later himself. The house became haunted, and someone went up there and burned it down out of fear. Not many people know too much more than that.

If the party asks to see Dennis' room, Jenna will lead them upstairs. His room is painted light blue with brown trim, and there are some items of furniture that obviously belong to a young boy. There doesn't seem to be anything in the room. However:

  • Magick detection shows that magick has definitely been used in the room, although so long ago that the trail is cold now. On a Good or better roll, the party member will be able to divine that the last use of magick from this room occurred on Wednesday the 18th.
  • Psychic abilities will show any of the following: sadness, anger, vengeance, and other negative emotions beating out love and patience. Dennis using a Ouija board made out of construction paper. Dennis looking into his mother's small compact mirror over his shoulder into the larger mirror over the dresser and talking to someone with a shadowed face. Dennis cutting his own thumb and drinking the blood. Dennis being found in the woods completely drained of blood. Dennis' funeral. If the party attempts to find any traces of blood, a thorough search will turn up smudges that have been cleaned off of the mirror. If magick or psychic powers are used, it is possible that the party will see the blood used to draw a sigil over the mirror which may be identified as a summoning circle.
  • If the door to the room gets closed, or if someone stands or looks behind the door, they will find a simple drawing in red crayon of a symbol resembling an upside-down cross with hooks on the bottom and sides. Any attempt to figure out what it means, including bringing it to Miranda, will turn up that it is a Cross of Confusion. It has several meanings, but in this case, the meaning is clear. The inverted cross indicates an opposition to religion, and the hooks indicate pain and suffering. The hook on the bottom makes the cross appear to be a question mark, and it is indeed asking a question: If God is good, then why is this child going to die? Any attempt to figure out when the next occult holiday is will be met with an overwhelming "Hallowe'en is a few days away."

If the party returns to Jenna's house, they will find it abandoned with a note on the door that reads "Thank you for trying to find my son. I can't stay here. There are terrible things happening. I'm scared. I had to leave. Please tell the police if you find Dennis. They will know how to get a hold of me. -Jenna." If the party attempts to enter the house in any way, they will be attacked by Ghouls. If the party attempts to enter during the day, the Ghouls will hide inside the shadows of the house. At night, however, they will burst through the windows and challenge the players in the open. The GM should choose an appropriate number of them based on the strength of the party. One and a half per character in the party, rounded down, might be a good challenge.

After the battle, if the characters enter the house, they will find it has been torn apart, and there is fresh blood all over the bed in the master bedroom. Attempts to trace it indicate that it belongs to Jenna.

If the party realizes that Dennis has been using his blood for magick (or are on the right track to figuring this out), then Dennis may start sending them messages. These will just be short pleas for help with bad spelling and strange grammar that will appear in blood written on paper or on glass surfaces. After a few moments it will disappear, and if the party tries to match the handwriting to the bloody notes they received before the mission started, they will find it a match. The notes will become more frequent and more desperate the closer it comes to Halowe'en and the closer they get to finding Dennis.

End Part One[]

Once the party has come this far, there is not much else to do but go look for Montega Manor. Most people in town will know where the manor is... follow the road northeast out of town into the woods, stop at the parking area and look for the trail with the "Do Not Enter" sign, and follow it to the house. The trail is overgrown, however, and the house is nothing but some rocks around a foundation. This is what almost everyone will say.

The party has until midnight on the 31st to find Dennis before he is sacrificed. If he is sacrificed, the last thing the party will see will be the house being engulfed in flames before a giant demonic creature escapes the foundation and destroys everything in sight, including Ransom and the party. The GM shouldn't let this get to that point, and should do his best to push the party onward. They should have tried to visit the house by the third night. If not, have a person they encounter (or one of the bloody messages from Dennis) spur them on. 

Nothing will happen if the party hasn't gotten enough information. They should have encountered almost everything from the last section before trying to make it to the house. They should have at least visited Jenna once and at least one night should have passed. They absolutely MUST HAVE met Lucky, and if they show no interest in going into his bar, introduce them some other way early on. This is very important, as Lucky is the ESPER contact for them in this area. If they are not ready, the trail will be overgrown and they will never find the house.

Once the party is ready, however...

The Road to Montega Manor[]

The road leads on for quite a while to the northeast through the woods. Anyone with a map and basic map reading abilities will be able to tell you that it should be running straight through the middle of another town by a certain point. The party can try to figure out what's going on, but it will require some pretty good rolls for them to figure out that there are dimensional shifts going on. Miranda may be able to help with that.

The party won't be able to make it without a car. If they brought their own, they can use that, or someone from the town sympathetic to their cause (Lucky, or Connor. Miranda doesn't have a car). Otherwise, they will simply walk forever. When they realize they aren't getting anywhere, they will get back to town within only five minutes of turning around no matter how long they've been walking.

With a car, the party will drive for some time, but this time let them know that they feel they are actually getting somewhere. After about a half hour of driving, they will get near the place where the parking turnout can be found. However, before they get there, have them make sound-based focus rolls. If any of them make a Good or better roll, they will hear a buzzing sound which will prepare them for what happens next.

Out of nowhere, the car flips. The party will get trapped inside, and may get some minor injuries, but try to give them a break at this point, because things are about to get a lot tougher on them.

A very large Swarm has attacked the car. It is large enough to lift the car, but only barely. If the party stays inside the car to guage the situation, two things will happen. First, the Swarm will fly straight into the car several times, pushing it violently around the street although not enough to hurt anyone inside. Second, after a minute or so someone should start to notice the scent of spilling gasoline.

It may be very difficult to fight the Swarm, and the party may want to just make a run for it. They could possibly use the gasoline to their advantage, however. If they aren't careful, the car will explode ten minutes after they first realize it's leaking gas.

The Swarm will pursue them through the forest, but the GM should keep them from having to engage directly in battle with it unless they foolishly attack it head on. When they reach the parking turnoff, the path to Montega Manor will be clear and wide open, as though it never was overgrown before.

Montega Manor[]

It will take an hour to follow the trail and reach the house. Thus, the party absolutely must make it to this point by about 10 PM on October 31st or all is lost. If they are running late and stop on the trail to care for injuries, the GM must do his best to spur them onward. Tell them they feel an overwhelming urge to keep going, and if that doesn't work, they may even get another bloody message from Dennis that appears right in midair this time.

The Swarm will only pursue them for a half hour, or until it manages to catch one of the party members. It will fight until the character is either dead or retreats. After that point it will continue to scan for the party by flying over the trees, but it won't find them. This is only to keep them afraid and on their toes.

When the party reaches the clearing where the house is located, they will find it pitch black. Even flashlights won't pierce the darkness. Any tests on this will reveal it is not magickal, but due to the dimensional shifts occurring here. Montega Manor exists in an alternate dimension, and only ever physically appears at 3AM every night, until 3:01. This is not important for this particular adventure, and the GM should do his best not to let the party into the real house at all cost. Anyone who does go into the house when it appears at 3:00 will disappear with the house at 3:01, and will never be seen or heard from again (except maybe in quick flashes whenever the others look in a mirror!).

Once the party enters the solid darkness, they will find that they can see inside of it, but they can't see anything outside of it. Their flashlights will only illuminate exactly what they are pointing at... there is absolutely no ambient light in the darkness.

The party can make its way to the foundation of the house, which is surrounded by rubble and burned grass and trees. There is a stairway which goes down, and anyone who stares carefully enough at it will realize that the darkness is slowly seeping out of it.

Into The Belly of the Beast[]

Going downstairs will reveal a huge basement area, hollowed out except for the support beams. On the far end, there is some faint red glowing. The party can attempt to divine what it is, and will feel a dreadful demonic power emanating from that area. 

Dennis can be found at the far end, bound and gagged in a chair in front of the back wall, which bears a large symbol. Anyone who successfully attempts to figure out what the sigil is (they would need a Fair success or better to have any chance of doing so) will find that it is the seal of the horror Agranar.

As they approach, an eighteen year old boy will step out of the shadows and tell them they can't interfere. Any attempt to fight him will lead to him unleashing two Ghouls and running away.

At this point, the goal of the party is either to save Dennis, or at least stop his sacrifice from taking place at exactly midnight on October 31st.

Endgame[]

Once the party escapes from the basement, they will be surrounded by Ghouls. They can prepare for the worst, but just as the fight begins ESPER agents will sweep in and fight them off. If Dennis is with the party, an ESPER agent will rush in and carry him away before the party has time to respond. The darkness subsides, and the party may, if the teenage boy escaped, see ESPER agents carrying him away in handcuffs with a bag over his head.  

Lucky will approach and debrief the party. He will not mention ESPER by name, but he will tell them that their performance has been recognized and they should keep their eyes open for future invitations. He will then lead them out of the woods. This time, it seems more open and less terrifying, and they may notice lots of dead bugs everywhere if they look hard enough. Lucky will lead them back to the road. The wreckage of the car will be gone, and another car, a black sedan with no plates, will be waiting to take them home.

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