Embracing Bower Monastery & Skinfin Grotto - Nicholas Hite

The cliffside Embracing Bower monastery overlooks the ocean near the sleepy hamlet of Roston, where the resident monks revere an obscure but benevolent nature deity. Recently a rash of disappearances has struck the town, and some townsfolk have begun to cast a leery eye at the reclusive monks.

The monastery is bright and open. Bare earthen floors invite soft mosses to grow amid the square stone pillars of a great henge in the worship hall. During daylight hours villagers visit seeking solace and tranquility, but few notice the tiny flaws in the iconography that hint that the holy site is not what it seems.

Beneath the facade of a welcoming sanctuary, the monks are actually cultists of the Scaled Eye, and are obsessed with returning humanity to its primordial beginnings beneath the waves.

A trapped door hidden behind the carving of the sacred tree leads down into the caverns below the monastery where the cultists hold the captives they have taken from the local town. Under the direction of the faux-abbot, a disgraced chirurgeon named Norbert Easeman, they mutilate their captive villagers, cracking and spreading their feet into grotesque fins, and sewing shark gills into their necks in order to prepare them to “return” to a life in the depths. The experiments are typically fatal, and the waters teem with aggressive oceanic scavengers, drawn by the cult’s discarded failures.

The underground caverns boast a secret dock, allowing the Scaled Eye to feed their constant need for alchemical unguents and elixirs unseen by the townsfolk, a luxurious library containing grimoires on aquatic aberrations, and a surgical laboratory for their unnatural experiments.

The caverns are connected with slick, slimy walkways, rickety makeshift bridges, and for the most intrepid adventurers, a swim through the airless tunnels in the icy depths.

Comments

  • This adventure location is an ostensibly benevolent monastery with a dreadful secret. Adventurers who visit the site may notice the subtle imperfections in the iconography to recognize something is amiss. I’m having a little trouble reconciling how the villagers would be suspicious of the monks since the monastery is essentially open to them, so I think a more discussion about the monk’s secretive/reclusive nature would have been helpful. I noticed you had quite a few words left to work with, so you could have indicated threats (other than the monks) PCs could face (weresharks, were-eels, or specific aquatic aberrations). However, you added several hazards inherent to the underground caverns. A GM could easily throw complications at the PCs for the slimy walkways or the bridges that could fall apart with enough weight on them.

    The map displays all the monastery’s elements as well as the massive underground lair. You peppered the map with elements appropriate to the various areas within it. I believe a cartographer could follow this map with few issues. My only concern was how the monastery’s two floors fit together. The dimensions aren’t clear, since you’ve got a sacred tree with no specified height. A side-view would have helped, but I realize you only have so much space.

    Your writing is evocative. The description of the villagers’ fate is gruesome (but not squicky, so I appreciate the restraint). I didn’t notice any glaring grammatical errors, and you kept this free of passive voice. I felt Norbert Easeman was too bland of a name, but I can also see that working to put the characters off guard.

    Overall, this adventure location has a lot going for it. While I don’t buy the villagers’ suspicion toward the monks, adventurers would conceivably figure out the monks’ involvement in the disappearances, and the description provides clues to help them do so. This works as a secret lair for a strange cult devoted to an antediluvian deity or ideal. I would recommend this advance to the next round.

    I’m only one voice among many, though, and the voters may see something different, or have different criteria they use to make their determinations. Good luck in the voting!

  • edited June 26

    This monastery with a dark secret certainly seems like a fertile ground for an adventure, likely starting as a mystery before turning into an effort to clean out the horrid cultists. I think the concept is simple but effective, but I do have some quibbles with how it's presented. The introduction tells us "the resident monks revere an obscure but benevolent nature deity," but that's simply not true based on everything else in the write-up. When information is presented in this sort of look from above format that's intended for a publisher to decide whether he/she wants to go forward with something, it should be straight-forward.  It can certainly set up mysteries and rumors (allowing the eventual GM some leeway to make the location his/her own), but the definitive information that's presented should be what actually *is*. Similarly, it describes the monks as reclusive, which doesn't quite feel like it gibes with the villagers coming in. Along those lines, it indicates that at least some of the villagers note the flaws in the iconography, but wouldn't they tell the others? I like the idea of that element (the flawed iconography), though it makes me think less of the monks/cultists that they can't constrain themselves to keep their perversions to the secret areas. I think there is a better way to hint at this false face of the cultists but it can be tricky to leave clues that are obvious enough that players will pick up on them without breaking their suspension of disbelief/neutering the antagonists. I do really like the cultist's evil plan, which is gruesome without being too gross.

    The map has elements I really like, but it also confuses me, I'm afraid. I can't tell which floor of the monastery is which, though I think the one to the lower end of the map is meant to be the first floor, with the entrance to the whole complex being into the room with the henge. It's a little tricky to tell what's what in the subterranean caverns too -- I think making sure the blue is more visible would have helped, but I'd also have filled in areas that are solid rock (I think the shapes where "library" and "submerged chests" are written are both meant to be areas PCs can't enter). I also misinterpreted "open water" to indicate areas that are open to the sky, but I think it actually means there is space between the surface of the water and the top of the cavern; if I'm wrong about that, I can't quite tell how the overall cave system works. I do like that there are some options for the players here and they could go about exploring all of this cave system in a couple different ways, though I think there could possibly be a few more (I know it's tough; the map has three areas, which eats up space). There was some extra room at the bottom though to expand the caverns a little more; the surgical theater seems like it would likely have at least one encounter there, but as drawn it's really too small to have a fight (or perhaps to do surgery when you consider there isn't a full 5 feet to the south of the operating table).

    All in all, I think this location has some potential and I like some of the ideas in the map, but some of its flaws concern me. I'm afraid I'm on the fence for this entry.

  • Congratulations, Nicholas. Putting yourself out there to compete in anything is hard, and designing RPGs is hard. Particularly designing adventure settings or locations. You have to be able to suggest some ideas about personalities, plots, terrain, and more, and have GMs chomping at the bit to add your location to their regular game. Let's see how you did!

    I believe in positive feedback and honest criticism that should make you better at every part of this gig. So to start positively, I want to say that you have creeped me the heck out! The quiet monastery/farm/church house with a dark secret is a popular trope, so when you bring it you have to be able to set a mood. If I'm too afraid of finding half-converted human fish bodies with shark gills and diametric eyes to notice it's a "cult of bad guys doing bad things for insane reasons", then you've done your job.

    I love this map. It's pretty easy to follow and I, too, am one of those guys who hand draws maps for adventures. You've added enough detail fora good cartographer to make art, and you haven't cluttered the map with colors or full sentences to get around word counts. The map could use a little better labeling, though. To you, who dsigned the whole thing, it's clear the map is top floor, bottom floor, and tunnels. To me...it takes a bit of looking at to determine the floors.

    Some criticism: the overall prose needs better oganization. You can do better than telling me the monastery is a front for a cult in one isolated sentence. When did this cult take over? What do they mean "primordial beginnings beneath the waves"? Surely not evolution, as fantasy worlds have gods and their own creation conventions for intelligent races. So..is this a cult of Dagon? or do they believe all life originated from a plane of water? A few details about the cult's beliefs set the tone and allow me to manufacture other encounters. Does the cult have other branches? Why is there only now a "rash of disappearances"?

    In a write up where you're offering 'there are other monsters attracted by the cult's discarded failures', just highlight some of the creatures you intend. Is there an aboleth perverting the monks? just sharks? lacedons risen from among the refused corpses?

    All in all, this location is scary and fun. It might need a little work but I enjoyed it. Good luck!

  • I wanted to read and comment every entry before I gave a thumb' up or down recommendation. I am supporting FOUR entries to advance from this round based on map, adventure potential, and quality prose. And I can't recommend this one to advance based on my comments above. I'm gonna cheat and say it almost made the cut, though.
  • Thanks very much for the feedback!
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