One of my friends from high school got really into DnD last year and insisted that he run a campaign with three of our friends. After a bit of convincing, we all finally got together and set up level 1 characters and our DM explained that he was going to run through Lost Mines of Phandelver for our first four levels and then we would expand into the real campaign.
My character was your standard run-of-the-mill paladin, but I had one major request, I wanted him to be a Christian crusader from our world. Mostly, I thought this would just be a funny inside joke that we would slowly forget about as the campaign went on, but my DM had other plans.
The first four sessions were normal and we completed the mines of phandelver, but on our way back we ran into a bit of an issue. After settling in to a night at a tavern, a few rangers asked for our assistance tracking down a bounty and we could really use the gold at that point so we agreed. At night, we checked out the cave the rangers had scoped out and what we found set the mood for the rest of the next few sessions.
In the back of this cave stood a woman behind an altar whose face was half covered in this horrific yellow plague and as we watched, she stretched out her hand to one of her minions and as she touched his face, the plague seemed to travel down her arm and take hold on his face. This was enough motivation for us, so we ran in and started swinging. The battle itself wasn't too hard, but by the time we finished, a few of them had bitten two of us and infected us with this plague. We looked around the altar and find a piece of paper that reads R:6 1-2 and I turn to the DM, "you mean like from Revelations?We take our trophies and head back to the tavern, but when we get there somebody in the tavern notices the plague markings on us and the whole place evacuates in a hurry.
The cool-headed tavern owner explained to us that the plague was famous for decimating the village nearby, but that there was a doctor there who might be able to help us get treated, so we took the hint and agreed to head there after a night's rest. We wake up the next morning, but before we can do anything the DM turns to me and the other person who got bit,
"Roll a d6 for me"
We were a little confused, but we did it and told him the results
"Okay, you lose a point in your intelligence score and you lose a point of constitution"
If we were worried before, we were starting to freak out a bit now.
We rush over to this village and as we approach the DM describes the scene.
"You see an impressively large villlage, everything seems well built and like it can handle a lot of people, but as your eyes scan the skyline they fall on a large walled off section on the outskirts of the village with a bunch of tents."
We head in and start looking through the streets which were pretty empty (though we didn't think much of that) until we finally run into somebody who tells us that the walled off area is the quarantine area for the couple dozen people suffering from the plague and that the village doctor (known around town as M'lady because the way she carried herself seemed to suggest high standing) would likely be found around there. Without too much delay, the party decided it would be best to head right to the quarantine area where we ran into M'lady within a few minutes.
She immediately recognized that I was afflicted, because apparently when you lose intelligence or wisdom, it shows as a slight dullness in the eyes. The party took this as a slight dig at my low intelligence build for my paladin and chuckled before moving on. M'lady suggested that me and our rogue stay in the quarantine area to start treatment since they had plenty of open tents for us and the wizard and druid were free to roam the town if they wanted. The wizard and druid offered to assist with researching a cure for the plague and M'lady happily agreed and gave them directions to her house so they could meet back up once she was finished with her responsibilities in the quarantine area.
This was our first time in anything even close to an actual city, so the wizard and druid went around to some of the stores that were still open and got very drunk in a tavern while they waited to go back to M'lady's house at the end of the day. Meanwhile, the rogue and I started talking to some of the other patients, because we couldn't shake the feeling that something was off. We were given three options; a kid, a pregnant woman, or an older man, so we spoke to the woman, got as much information as we could and left it there for the night.
The wizard and druid finished up their night of partying and went to M'lady's house where they very clumsily tried to assist in her research. Seeing how drunk they were, she offered them her couch to crash on for the night and then they could revisit this the next night. After settling in for the night, the druid was shaken out of his trance by a noise coming from the basement. Our DM had switched the background music to something ominous, so we were all on edge. The druid turned into a small stealthy creature and crept down the stairs. Once he got about halfway down, he saw M'lady standing over an operating table with the older man from quarantine earlier, she was reassuring him when the druid saw a white larval creature with multiple human-like faces, one of which seemed to be singing as the others hungrily approached. As the DM started to describe the cracking of bones, the druid turned around, but as he did, forgot what he was doing and went back to trance and that's where the session ended.
At this point, we were all incredibly freaked out and immediately went online and found materials about false hydras, which only deepened our dread as we tried to figure out how we would address the problem next session.
The next time we got together, the druid and wizard woke up to the smell of breakfast and M'lady set up a full spread for them to help them recover from the night of partying. She let them know that she was off to start seeing to her patients and that they were welcome to accompany her, which they did so they could meet back up with the rest of the party. On the way over, we started to take more notice of the DM's descriptions of the village, they were all roughly the same, but now when he mentioned the empty streets of the village and the "couple dozen patients" in quarantine, the full implications started to set in right away.
After regrouping, the party decided to ask M'lady a few more questions about the plague to see where they could go from here. After a few easy questions, the rogue asked her why the quarantine was so large despite there being only a couple dozen patients. Suddenly, her eyes glazed over and she struggled to come up with an answer, getting visibly flustered.
*Insight check* *nat 20*
DM: she seems to be trying to tell the truth, but isn't able to remember it and that bothers her.
Party: Has anybody died from the plague?
M'lady: *visibly more frustrated* of course not, the whole village would be in an uproar
Party: Do you have any notes about this?
She says yes and we all agree it would be best if we accompany her (infected included since they were in treatment and unlikely to infect anyone else)
She brings us down to the basement and the other players and I are holding our breaths in anticipation of running back into the false hydra, but the room is empty except for the operating table, some tools, and some canvas tarp covering the walls. M'lady goes to her notes and starts reading through them, becoming visibly unhinged as she does so. Before we can think to ask a question, she jumps up and starts ripping down the tarp from the wall to reveal small tally marks lining the entire surface. Seeing this, she collapses to the floor and starts sobbing, I reach out to comfort her and find out what's going on when an inhuman screams fills the air and both myself and the rogue fall unconscious. At the sound of the scream, M'lady jumps up frantically and runs out of the room and the DM turns to all of us.
"I just want to stop for a second to remind you that there were only 5 people in the quarantine when you arrived in town."
We started to panic. After getting me and the rogue to wake up, the wizard takes up her notes and starts to read:
Day 1: I've run into what seems to be a new form of disease, my wife, Gwen, stopped by at work today and showed me what looks to be a yellow, honey-comb rash spreading around her neck. I'm starting this journal to take down notes so we can quickly get to the bottom of this and work out a treatment quickly.
Day 2: Three people came in today with the same rash and I've begun to worry about how fast it might be able to spread. I've sent a message to the mayor to work out a quarantine system so we can control this before it gets out of hand.
Day 5: My office couldn't fit all of the newly infected patients today. I saw 20 new patients today, but I know there were much more that were turned away
Day 10: Keeping track of the number of infected has become useless at this stage. Each time we get a new count, more have come in with the telltale rash associated, people have begun to panic. Many refuse to leave their houses and some of the sick have been forced into shared houses to prevent their contact with those who have not yet been exposed
Day 15: Our first patient died today. When word got out, it only took about an hour before I started smelling the smoke and hearing shouts. The mayor is trying to direct people to the finishing of the quarantine, but its impossible to stop a riot with reason.
Day 20: The riots have not stopped for days, people are being killed and burned in the streets for a single cough or sneeze. The quarantine zone is almost complete, but I pray that it's large enough to contain this
Day 30: The quarantine zone is complete and we're almost through with getting everyone moved in. As of today, it seems that half of our citizens have been affected to varying degrees The quarantine zone was built to hold 800 people, but we'll have to figure out how to house the 1,200 we currently have here. Gwen's condition has worsened. She seems feverish and keeps asking "where is your horse? Where is Mischief?" repeatedly. I've isolated her from the other patients to keep them from worrying that the same symptoms may be coming to them.
Day 60: Tensions have been rising in quarantine. Villagers on the other side of the wall patrol with bows in hand poised to attack, meanwhile, our food supplies dwindle on this side. I think the village hopes to starve out the infected to protect the rest of them.
Day 61: A young boy was shot trying to cross quarantine last night. The riots have broken out again. Please, whatever gods are watching, grant me something to ease this tension.
Day 62: My prayers might have been answered. Gwen found a small creature in her tent that she insisted belongs to me. It's strange though, I can't seem to think of it unless I'm looking right at it. If I can figure out how to use this to make people forget about the boy from last night, I might be able to calm down the village.
Day 63:I discovered how to make people forget and may the gods never forgive me for it.
Here the journal seems to skip a few pages and resumes a bit later
Day 90: Supplies are limited, but we are making due. The thousand patients we started with in the quarantine were more than we expected, but hopefully we can make this work
Day 120: The quarantine is bustling and people are starting to settle in. Thank God we got our estimates right and there were only 800 infected
And so it went for a year with numbers slowly dwindling, but without any recognition of what was going on except for one passage halfway through scribbled erratically
Day 250: If I cannot remember my sins, then these walls will at least know their number
and one final entry
Day 350: Gwen ran away today. I talked to the other few dozen patients, but they hadn't seen her leave. I'm going to put out a bounty to get her returned, but I'm worried. She was very unstable before leaving and prone to lashing out violently. I'm just hoping she doesn't get herself in danger.
we all rushed to the quarantine zone and as we walked through the gate we saw the false hydra. Bone white, in the shape of a horse, but with three human heads, and hands instead of hooves the hydra stood in front of M'lady who was kneeling and still sobbing in front of it. She slowly turns around and says, "I remember everything now… I'm so sorry" and mounts the false hydra as a sickly yellow carapace grows around her.
"My true name is Malady and this is my steed, Mischief" a white bow appears in her hand as the carapace joins in what looks like a crown above her head "I did the only thing I could to keep this village safe, but if there is a god, I doubt that will be enough for him. Come, and deliver justice unto me"
Feeling very conflicted at this point, we took her down. It was a brutal battle and we just barely made it through, but I got in the final blow and knocked off her head with one final smite, but as I did, the death of the false hydra reverberated through the village. Over a thousand screams filled the air as an entire village became aware of their missing families and the genocide that they were happily living alongside for the past year. The party didn't waste any time and got out of there pretty quickly after that and as we walked away from the village, screams slowly quieting behind us, we couldn't help thinking about how much worse the next three horsemen were going to be if this was where we started.