Media vita in morte sumus
“What do I utter? what conceive? did breath
Of demon howl it in a blasphemy?
Or was it mine own voice, informed, dilated
By the seven confluent Spirits? — Speak — answer me!”
-From The Seraphim by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
“It is rare for a powerful witch to receive a burial upon death. Most witches ultimately die in the working of their wild and dangerous magicks. Thus no body suitable for burial is left. But there have been tales of fabled witchmothers whose funeral rites served as a final act of sorcery. A culmination of their life’s work. Such graves are strange and terrible places. A witchtomb is to be avoided at all costs. The lure of strange and powerful magic must be ignored for the preservation of one’s soul.”
-From Witches: Fact and Fable by Gulfrey Shaw, Witchfinder of Rosechurch
In the setting assumed but unenforced by this adventure, witches are considered “evil” by much of society and witchfinders hunt them. Witches are not inherently bad. Like all people, they are capable of both good and evil. Their activities often disrupt the order of “civilization”, leading those in power to view them as evil. They sometimes gain power through pacts with otherworldy entities who may or may not be evil as well. While it is of course up to you and your table, I generally depict witchfinders as fearful, power hungry, or brainwashed and witches as devotees of secret knowledge and freedom.
The concept of witchfinders and witch hunting has been displayed in fiction many times. But it is based on real tragic history. It is conservatively estimated that at least 40,000 people, mostly women were murdered between 1450 and 1750 in Europe’s misogynistic witch hunts. And witch-hunts continue today in other parts of the world. This module is meant to be played in a fantasy game for fun, but there is potential to offend or harm if real world tragedy is taken lightly or thrust upon players unexpectedly. Always talk to your players about potential troubling content and consider how you want to handle or not handle it.
For three centuries a witch inhabited this forest. When she felt death approaching she performed a funerary ritual. Burying herself in a tomb where she took on a new form: a red tree whose roots slowly spread through the forest she loved. Now the forest is a feared place where people disappear, shadows whisper, and blackbirds sing low dirges in the moonlight.
People do not travel through the forest anymore. Children are forbidden to play near it. Woodcutters abandoned it after the new church rotted as soon as it was constructed. As the witch desired, her beloved forest is mostly left alone.
Hearing reports of the cursed woods, the witchfinder’s guild sent a novice, Lestam Carbuncle, to solve the problem. Carbuncle camps by his wagon at the forest edge, too scared to go on. He offers adventurers 500gp and his silver witchfinder brooch to destroy the witch for him. He directs them to the tombstone but doesn’t have any other information. He fled before investigating further.
People transformed by witch milk into strange creatures that serve and protect witches. They are often actual children, abandoned or lost, who are taken in by the witch. A witch child does not age and if returned to original form they will be the same age as when they were transformed and have no memory of it.
Appearance: Blue skin, white eyes, dog like snouts, large fangs, black claws, manes of black hair down their backs. They cannot speak but understand basic language. They communicate with guttural howls and usually walk on all fours.
It flows in the red roots that are found in every room of Witchtomb, it is how she feeds her children. If a player drinks witch milk they must make a constitution save to avoid transforming. If they become a witch child, have the player make a new character. Witch children serve and protect the witch and her tomb. This would likely be at odds with the player’s autonomy. If the spell is broken the player can regain control of the character.
New characters can be adventurers who happened upon the tomb, luckless knaves who fell through a magic mirror into room 5, or they can awaken at the Tea Party with no memory of how they got there. It’s up to you and the players.
Roll a d12 or choose on this table if you need an encounter for an empty room or if the players dawdle for too long in one place.
In a patch of black roses is a 6 foot tall blank tombstone carved from obsidian and polished to the point of being reflective. On top is a fat unlit candle. Streams of dried wax stretch down the sides and back of the stone. When the candle is lit, the face of the stone opens to reveal a tunnel of dirt and rock descending into the earth. Thick red roots form arches every few yards, supporting the tunnel. It the roots are cut, witch milk drips from them.
A small cavern with sweet steamy air. A large split trunk table with stumps and stones for chairs. Various odd creatures sit at the table, with cups of hot black tea. Tulspetch, a green spikey demon, brews a cauldron of tea. A stack of chipped mismatched teacups is balanced next to him. There is enough tea left for 3 cups. A cup of the bitter tea heals 1 hp and after each sip the drinker hears sad gentle harp music for five minutes. Tulspetch gives the tea freely but mentions that a song or tale is the customary payment. Tulspetch needs more violet cave flowers to brew more tea. In exchange for a 10 flowers he’ll brew a bottle with 6 servings of special demon tea that turns the drinker into a swarm of wasps for 5 minutes.
A black cat with small human hands. It sips its tea and purrs if petted.
Garol, a moss-bearded gnome with mushrooms growing on the side of his head, pours whiskey into his tea. He’s lost a locket he stole from a nearby village. It contained a portrait of a circus strongman.
Hilsoot, a goblin with no fingers on her left hand. “Keep your fingers away from mushroom mouths! In fact, don’t touch them at all!”
Chewy Evangelo, a skinny man in a black suit. “My father, a reverend, came to cleanse this place of evil. In a dream, his spirit told me he died and asked me to recover the family bible he carried. I am afraid to go further.”
Boswell, a toddler sized bat, laps up tea. “I should be out hunting like the others, but I’m scared of flying. I need blood berries, for courage. They grow on the witch’s corpse. Bring me some and I’ll teach you the Bat Song! Sing it and any bats that hear it will come to your aid.”
Vincoli, a living wooden doll in ratty school clothes. “I was a real boy until, on a dare, I peed on the witch’s grave. Now I am a freak, not welcome among people. I prefer it this way.”
Giant mushrooms with wrinkled old women’s faces. The faces of other witches the dead witch knew in life. Some are faces of still living witches from the surrounding area who are only suspected of witchcraft. The faces look like they are asleep. If touched, a mushroom will wake and scream. All near must make a wisdom save or faint for 1d4 turns and a wandering monster should be rolled. They keep screaming until fed something, then they’ll return to sleep. If cut down they contain one of the following items. Four violet cave flowers can be harvested in this room but must be picked carefully to avoid waking the mushrooms.
A twisted mass of red roots grows through the ceiling. Five witch children gather around it, gnawing on the root ends, suckling milk from them. A pile of dirty clothing serves as a communal bed. A pair of ragged leather boots next to the bed belonged to the witch and give the wearer the ability to walk on water or any slippery surface securely. In one corner bones of visitors are stacked to form an altar. On the altar is a vase with 5 violet cave flowers, a black conical hat, and a leather bound bible with Evangelo embossed in gold on the spine.
A tall oval mirror is held up by red vines. A ring of 13 violet cave flowers grows around it. Close inspection reveals grooves in the glass that spread out from the top and meet again at the bottom. At the top, a small funnel is built into the frame so any liquid poured in will flow down the grooves. A removable silver cup in the bottom of the frame is positioned to catch any liquid that travels down the mirror. When liquids are poured down the mirror it can be used for scrying or as a portal.
Hiding behind the mirror is a moss covered skeleton. It whispers, trying to sound as if its voice is coming from the mirror. “Leave your gold at my feet and I will show you your future!” It will snatch any gold and try to escape to room 7. It’s wearing a golden locket with a portrait of a circus strongman inside.
|Milk||portal exit out of the tombstone entrance above ground|
|Tea||an infernal creature passes thru the mirror, a hell hound, imp, red anaconda, or pig devil|
|One’s Own Blood||A smirking doppelganger reflection stares out|
|Another’s Blood||A smirking doppelganger reflection steps out and tries to replace the pourer|
|Water||See tomorrow’s sky|
|Salt Water||See a strange ocean teeming with glowing cephalopods|
|Urine||See a lost item’s location|
|Wine||See an asteroid with a silver coffin on it hurtling through space|
A red tree with a vaguely human. Its knotted trunk suggests a wrinkled face. The arms extend into branches with black poisonous leaves and red blood berries. When eaten, the berries make the eater immune to fear for 5 minutes. Grasped in the finger like twigs of the highest branch is the witch’s spell book. Four witch children sit in the branches. They will protect the tree at all costs. The legs extend into thick red roots that go into the ground and spread throughout the Witchtomb. An ax is lodged deep into the trunk, partially grown over as if it’s been there for years. It can be pulled out with great effort, causing the tree to shudder as if pained. The ax head is bleached white from witch milk. It does +1 damage against summoned creatures and magical armor.
If the tree is destroyed the witchtomb will shake and collapse within the next hour and all witch children will revert to their original forms, mostly children lost over the past century. They will have no memory of their time as witch children.
Mostly written in her personal undecipherable language, only readable with her eyes, which are buried deep inside the tree trunk.
Readable portions include recipes for digestive soups, names of stars, and two rituals:
A complicated hour long dance that causes two full moons to rise the next night. A frog skin mask and fur cap must be worn.
Break one of your own bones. Walk backward up a treeless hill, pour a cup of tea. Grey John will drink it. Never look at him. Describe a building. The cup will fall and shatter. The building will collapse in 3 days.
The moss covered skeleton who hides behind the mirror in room 5 is a cursed thief who was caught stealing from the witch long ago. It can’t remember who it was in life and is consumed with kleptomania. It hides all of its stolen items here.
The room appears empty but a false wall of moss cuts it in half. Behind the moss wall are the following items: