Red Moon Rising
Each year, under the blood-red glow of the harvest moon, a horseman rides silent as a ghost through the misty, benighted forest. Where his head should be, there is none, and where his heart should be, there is only blackness. For the one night that the full autumnal moon hangs heavy in the dark sky, the horseman brings hell to the small village of Hester – and so he has done for countless generations.
The party arrives in the village of Hester just as the darkness falls and the red moon rises. It is silent as death, and they wander the empty streets until locating the Reaper’s Inn, where they will seek room and board. Finding the door locked, they may knock or turn to leave, though before they can move or make a sound, the door is flung opened, and the party is ushered inside by a harsh female voice. In the dim glow of a single flickering candle, the innkeep – Mary Freydin – explains all.
“There is a curse upon this village – a headless monster who has plagued us for generations. When the red harvest moon hangs in the night sky, he descends upon us, slaying all who oppose him, and stealing our daughters away into the night, never to be seen again!”
During her tale, a rustling begins in the distance, as that of an endless field of wheat whispering in the blowing wind. As it grows nearer, Mary trembles, and the sound of shattering glass can be heard outside. “His beasts,” she murmurs breathlessly. “They have come!”
Always preceding the headless horseman are his strawmen – a lifeless horde of scarecrow-like humanoids wielding pitchforks and wicked scythes, and bringing with them a thick and ominous fog. There are between 15-20 strawmen during the siege, all of whom attack mindlessly and without pause.
- Strawman (T5; 1-2 HP) – An unthinking, soulless golem of straw and clay, animated by dark magic for typically sinister purposes. There is a 1-in-5 chance that a strawman has a +1 attack bonus.
The Headless Horseman
When only 1d10 strawmen remain, frenzied galloping becomes audible in the distance, and the headless horseman will arrive in 1d5 turns, rushing into the village on his red-eyed, black horse. He will dash past the party, paying them no mind, and make for the center of town. Maddened, hysterical laughter splits the night air, and a scream of horror soon follows. Moments later, the horseman reappears, still cackling wildly, and holding a young girl across his lap as he returns to whence he came: the black and foreboding Waymar Woods.
- Headless horseman (T10; +2 reflex; 12 HP) – Veiled all in black, from his leather riding boots to his billowing cloak, the headless horseman speaks with a commanding, disembodied voice. A ghostly entity of unbridled rage and hatred, the horseman cannot be reasoned with or stayed: he can only kill or be killed. The headless horseman has the following abilities:
- Disarm – any time you roll a 10 during a melee attack, roll 1d10: if the result is 6 or higher, you disarm your opponent (in addition to inflicting damage or any other effects).
- Raised by the sword – when facing an opponent also armed with a sword, you gain a +1 attack bonus.
The Waymar Woods
After the strawmen have been slain, several villagers bearing horses approach the party, pleading that they follow the horseman and rescue the maiden.
Pursuing the horseman is easy, even in the pitch-black gloom of the Waymar Woods. His trail is wide and well-cut, as though nothing will grow in his accursed tracks. It leads to the crumbling remains of a village, where the horseman is waiting, unmounted from his fiendish steed, and the maiden missing.
The horseman will attempt to dissuade the party from attacking, insisting that they have no business with him, and that his conflict is with the people of Hester alone. If they persist, he places his gloved fingers where his mouth should be, mimicking the living as he whistles sharply. “As you wish,” he laments. The ground before him heaves and pitches, and a gnarled, fleshy hand erupts from the black soil. The hand claws blindly at the dirt, followed by another, until a corpulent, deformed beast drags itself free of its shallow grave. It screeches terribly, and rushes the party while the horseman observes in silence.
- Flesh golem (T5; 15 HP) – An aberration of flesh and sinew, contorted bone and exposed muscle, the flesh golem is vaguely human – or at least, once was. Now, it serves its creator’s will, and attacks with single-minded ferocity. The flesh golem has the following ability:
- Rampage – if you suffer more than 3 points of damage in a single combat round, you gain a +1 attack and +1 damage bonus, and +2 hit points (you may only rampage once per combat encounter or at the cost of 2 power points).
If the party defeat the flesh golem, the headless horseman silently draws his rapier, narrow blade glimmering in the moonlight, and says, “I vowed with my final breath that I would not rest until the last Hester was slain. I mean to keep that promise. On guard!”
He wields the blade with near-demonic mastery, attacking like lightning, his movements lithe, his footwork swift and ceaseless. Throughout the battle, he will offer to spare the party if they agree to leave and never return to Hester, reiterating that his quarrel lies not with them. Each time they refuse, he increases the ferocity of his attacks, and the fog that encircles the battle ground draws nearer.
The Sacrifice (Optional)
If the party is at risk of being slain by the headless horseman, or if the game master sees fit, a cloaked figure will arrive on horseback during the fight. Removing its hood, the figure reveals itself as a young woman, raven-black hair long and flowing. She will address the horseman by name, stopping him cold in his tracks: “Jon – Jon Carver! Cease this attack! Your conflict is not with them – it is with me.”
The woman dismounts and approaches the party, the fog shrinking from her confident stride. “I will no longer stand by while the innocent fall to your blade, Jon. You have made your vow, now keep it! I, Brynne Hester, am the last of the Hester line. End it now, and free my people from your reign of terror.”
Despite Brynne’s efforts, the party may wish to continue the fight – in that event, the horseman will focus only on Brynne, defending himself from their attacks while single-mindedly attempting to slay her (the horseman suffers a -2 toughness penalty, as he is distracted).
The horseman’s terror ends only when he or Brynne is slain. At that point, he will breathe a great sigh of relief, a gust of cold air that rustles every dying leaf on every gnarled branch in the Waymar, and disappear, leaving only his clothing behind.
If the party manages to slay the horseman, Brynne Hester will thank them tearfully, saying, “I have done what my father, and his father, and their fathers before them were unwilling to do – die so that others may live. But my bravery has been eclipsed by the courage of strangers. I am forever in your debt.”
As the group turns to leave, they hear the soft patter of bare feet. Dozens of young girls and women, rubbing their eyes and stumbling as though waking from a deep sleep, emerge from a nearby crumbling building, freed from the spell of the horseman. Brynne gasps in disbelief, and together, she and the party will lead the maidens back to Hester and return them to their families.
Optionally, Brynne may explain to the party why the horseman vowed to end the line of Hester:
Many generations prior, the village of Hester – led by patriarch Isaac Hester – attacked the horseman’s village, whose name has now been lost to time. He accused its people of witchcraft, blaming them for years of failed crops, disease, and hardship. The men were beheaded, the women burned at the stake. The horseman – Jon Carver – was the village patriarch, and the last to be put to death. With his dying breath, he cursed the Hesters, and swore his oath of destruction.