The Black Monastery is an adventure in the classic style because it follows the design assumptions that were common in many publications and local campaigns during the early days of Dungeons and Dragons. In the classic era, the dungeon master was the final authority and was assumed to have complete control. Every event did not have to have a complete rationalization, formula or rules explanation. Mysterious phenomena, riddles and surprises were the norm. This module assumes that the dungeon master will take control and mold it to his campaign.
In a classic game, monsters might be stronger or weaker without having to figure out why. For unknown reasons, Flinds were the only creatures capable of wielding nunchaku. Qullan would die before revealing the special techniques for sharpening their broadswords. Piercers would wait most of their lives just to drop on adventurers and spend the next month crawling back up the wall after a miss. Skeletons always did 1d6 damage no matter what weapons they wielded. Rust monsters made sense. Orcs and gnolls would live next door to each other in dungeons that were essentially monster hotels and no one worried about why. In one of the classic modules by Judges Guild a single giant rat in a group of two dozen had 26 hit points because a typist made a mistake and that was okay – one of the rats was just really big.
Classic play usually assumed that monsters and player characters would follow standard archetypes. Magic-users always had white beards and pointy hats. Barbarians always wore rags and enormous fur boots. Paladins were noble and saintly. Fighters wore plate mail. Thieves climbed walls…a lot. Clerics were vaguely like Catholic priests gone bad, and they always chanted in Latin. All dwarves acted just like Gimli. All elves acted just like Legolas. Monsters were generally cheerful about their roles, including Norse berserkers who rated their own listing in the AD&D Monster Manual because they wandered around underground quite a bit, looking for player characters to fight.
In The Black Monastery, evil priests have left behind a large number of magical items and effects. They left poems and messages for intruders. They posted guardians that parade around chanting. They spawned ghostly effects that cannot be explained. Pictures are still hanging on walls. Dishes are rattling in the kitchen. Kobolds have decided a dungeon is a good place to roast a pig. Magic globes float in the air, waiting to explode. Statues perform strange, magical acts for no particular reason. Why? Who knows? All of that is okay. Explanations of these magical and monstrous events are provided from time to time, but they don’t really matter. The point is to have fun running about looting the place and trying to survive.
The Legend of the Black Monastery
Two centuries have passed since the terrible events associated with the hideous cult known as the Black Brotherhood. Only scholars and story-tellers remember now how the kingdom was nearly laid to waste and the Black Monastery rose to grandeur and fell into haunted ruins.
The Brothers first appeared as an order of benevolent priests and humble monks in black robes who followed a creed of kindness to the poor and service to the kingdom. Their rules called for humility and self denial. Other religious orders had no quarrel with their theology or their behavior. Their ranks grew as many commoners and nobles were drawn to the order by its good reputation.
The first headquarters for the order was a campsite, located in a forest near the edge of the realm. The Brothers said that their poverty and dedication to service allowed them no resources for more grand accommodations. Members of the Black Brotherhood built chapels in caves or constructed small temples on common land near villages. They said that these rustic shrines allowed them to be near the people they served. Services held by the Brothers at these locations attracted large numbers of common people, who supported the Black Brotherhood with alms.
Within 50 years of their first appearance, the Black Brotherhood had a number of larger temples and abbeys around the kingdom. Wealthy patrons endowed them with lands and buildings in order to buy favor and further the work of the Brothers. The lands they gained were slowly expanded as the order’s influence grew. Many merchants willed part of their fortunes to the Black Brotherhood, allowing the order to expand their work even further. The Brothers became bankers, loaning money and becoming partners in trade throughout the kingdom. Within 200 years of their founding, the order was wealthy and influential, with chapters throughout the kingdom and spreading into nearby realms.
With their order well-established, the Black Brotherhood received royal permission to build a grand monastery in the hill country north of the kingdom’s center. Their abbot, a cousin of the king, asked for the royal grant of a specific hilltop called the Hill of Mornay. This hill was already crowned by ancient ruins that the monks proposed to clear away. Because it was land not wanted for agriculture, the king was happy to grant the request. He even donated money to build the monastery and encouraged others to contribute. With funds from around the realm, the Brothers completed their new monastery within a decade. It was a grand, sprawling edifice built of black stone and called the Black Monastery.
From the very beginning, there were some who said that the Black Brotherhood was not what it seemed. There were always hints of corruption and moral lapses among the Brothers, but no more than any other religious order. There were some who told stories of greed, gluttony and depravity among the monks, but these tales did not weaken the order’s reputation during their early years. All of that changed with the construction of the Black Monastery.
Within two decades of the Black Monastery’s completion, locals began to speak of troubling events there. Sometimes, Brothers made strange demands. They began to cheat farmers of their crops. They loaned money at ruinous rates, taking the property of anyone who could not pay. They pressured or even threatened wealthy patrons, extorting money in larger and larger amounts. Everywhere, the Black Brotherhood grew stronger, prouder and more aggressive. And there was more…
People began to disappear. The farmers who worked the monastery lands reported that some people who went out at night, or who went off by themselves, did not return. It started with individuals…people without influential families…but soon the terror and loss spread to even to noble households. Some said that the people who disappeared had been taken into the Black Monastery, and the place slowly gained an evil reputation. Tenant farmers began moving away from the region, seeking safety at the loss of their fields.
Slowly, even the king began to sense that the night was full of new terrors. Across the kingdom, reports began to come in telling of hauntings and the depredations of monsters. Flocks of dead birds fell from clear skies, onto villages and city streets. Fish died by thousands in their streams. Citizens reported stillborn babies and monstrous births. Crops failed. Fields were full of stunted plants. Crimes of all types grew common as incidents of madness spread everywhere. Word spread that the center of these dark portents was the Black Monastery, where many said the brothers practiced necromancy and human sacrifice. It was feared that the Black Brotherhood no longer worshipped gods of light and had turned to the service of the Dark God.
These terrors came to a head when the Black Brotherhood dared to threaten the king himself. Realizing his peril, the king moved to dispossess and disband the Black Brother hood. He ordered their shrines, abbeys and lands seized. He had Brothers arrested for real and imagined crimes. He also ordered investigations into the Black Monastery and the order’s highest ranking members.
The Black Brotherhood did not go quietly. Conflict between the order and the crown broke into violence when the Brothers incited their followers to riot across the kingdom. There were disturbances everywhere, including several attempts to assassinate the king by blades and by dark sorcery. It became clear to everyone that the Black Brotherhood was far more than just another religious order. Once knives were drawn, the conflict grew into open war between the crown and the Brothers.
The Black Brotherhood had exceeded their grasp. Their followers were crushed in the streets by mounted knights. Brothers were rounded up and arrested. Many of them were executed. Armed supporters of the Black Brotherhood, backed by arcane and divine magic, were defeated and slaughtered. The Brothers were driven back to their final hilltop fortress – the Black Monastery. They were besieged by the king’s army, trapped and waiting for the king’s forces to break in and end the war.
The final assault on the Black Monastery ended in victory and disaster. The king’s army took the hilltop, driving the last of the black-robed monks into the monastery itself. The soldiers were met by more than just men. There were monsters and fiends defending the monastery. There was a terrible slaughter on both sides. In many places the dead rose up to fight again. The battle continued from afternoon into night, lit by flames and magical energy.
The Black Monastery was never actually taken. The king’s forces drove the last of their foul enemies back inside the monastery gates. Battering rams and war machines were hauled up the hill to crush their way inside. But before the king’s men could take the final stronghold, the Black Brotherhood immolated themselves in magical fire.
Green flames roared up from the monastery, engulfing many of the king’s men as well. As survivors watched, the Black Monastery burned away, stones, gates, towers and all. There was a lurid green flare that lit the countryside. There was a scream of torment from a thousand human voices. There was a roar of falling masonry and splitting wood. Smoke and dust obscured the hilltop. The Black Monastery collapsed in upon itself and disappeared. Only ashes drifted down where the great structure had stood. All that was left of the Black Monastery was its foundations and debris-choked dungeons cut into the stones beneath. The war was over. The Black Brotherhood was destroyed.
But the Black Monastery was not gone forever. Over nearly two centuries since its destruction, the Black Monastery has returned from time to time to haunt the Hill of Mornay. Impossible as it seems, there have been at least five incidents in which witnesses have reported finding the Hill of Mornay once again crowned with black walls and slate-roofed towers. In every case, the manifestation of this revenant of the Black Monastery has been accompanied by widespread reports of madness, crime and social unrest in the kingdom. Sometimes, the monastery has appeared only for a night. The last two times, the monastery reappeared atop the hill for as long as three months…each appearance longer than the first.
There are tales of adventurers daring to enter the Black Monastery. Some went to look for treasure. Others went to battle whatever evil still lived inside. There are stories of lucky and brave explorers who have survived the horrors, returning with riches from the fabled hordes of the Black Brotherhood. It is enough to drive men mad with greed – enough to lure more each time to dare to enter the Black Monastery."
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