En route to Hodam, the five adventurers who braved the Tomb of the Holy Gnollish Kings-- Filliam, Tralamin, Jarmangle, Robyn, and Feer-- meet up with their friend, the human wizard Irving. While the quintet had tried but failed to save the life of the mysterious civilized gnoll, Irving was far more successful in tracking down Kylia and retrieving the gold she had stolen from the others. Thus reunited, the six heroes press on towards "the wretched cesspool of Hodam", renown for its drinking, gambling, violence, and whores.
But as they approach the once-bustling frontier town, they meet a red-nosed dwarf with a sad story to tell: temperance has come to Hodam. The Distaff Temperance Society-- a group of moralistic widows and spinsters-- has won the brewery in a card game and then shut it down. The prostitutes have been disappearing at an alarming rate, and the tieflings, once tolerated, are evicted without a second thought. The dwarf announces his intention to press on to Firepalm, but then decides to head to the city of Justice when Irving informs him that the Firepalm Dwarfs have been driven insane by the Firepalm Ore in their blood.
Jarmangle, with the help of the others, covers up his red tiefling skin and horns with a mask and some toweling. Thus disguised, they head into the town.
The People of Hodam
Our heroes soon make the acquaintance of Danald, formerly the owner of the brewery. It was his disapproving aunt, Matilda, who founded the Distaff Temperance Society. Ironically, she passed away just before the Society finally wrenched the brewery from him in a game with a card-shark called Lord Jasen. The legitimate gambling has been shut down, but a secret game is still held by the Society, which they use to keep the city in a perpetual state of poverty-- and thus ensuring that no one can question their power.
It seems a little silly to our heroes-- in a lawless town like Hodam, why doesn't someone just take the brewery back by force? But the residents are hesitant, says Danald; the Society is a bunch of old ladies, after all, and even the worst of scoundrels has to draw the line somewhere. Something might happen soon, though, if things don't get better.
They meet one of the society matrons and her gnollish slave. She sees nothing wrong with the Society's "good works", proclaiming that "pure blood is healthy blood"; she's convinced that the town's economy will bounce back, that somehow, there will be honest and civilized work to be found in this wilderness. Her slave seethes not-too-secretly with rage. Across the street from the brewery is what he refers to as sacred ground-- a scene of a great battle between a gnollish prince and a great evil. The evil's body was interred in the ground, turning the large mound of dirt and rock blood-red; the evil's spirit was sucked into the prince's blade.
And what were the humans of Hodam using the Blood Circle for? For boxing matches to the death, and other debaucheries. The humans, he says, are always meddling in things they can't even begin to understand.
Across the street, they see a procession of Society members running a female tiefling out of town. Jarmangle recognizes it as the tiefling with whom he flirted and crossed swords with at the burial site of the Gnollish Holy Dead. The disguised Jarmangle leaves the group, following the procession.
The group, meanwhile, meets a former prostitute, Melany, who is concerned about the disappearance of the other girls. An atypical whore, Melany is well-read and seems well-versed in economics, proceeding to lecture our heroes about the dangers of basing an economy around ale, sex, and gambling.
Jarmangle catches up to the procession and convinces the Society matrons to let him escort "this filthy tiefling" out of town, as she might be dangerous. The Society is duly charmed by this masked stranger and gives custody of the tiefling, Tyne, over to him.
Once on the outskirts of town, Tyne recognizes Jarmangle, who flirts with her incessantly. Tyne is not impressed, but doesn't give him the cold shoulder, either.
Tyne explains that when the tieflings were booted out of town, she was permitted to remain, so long as she performed missions for Lord Jasen. One of those missions-- the most important-- was to retrieve the sword of the Gnollish King of War, the very sword that was now in Jarmangle's possession. Because she failed, she was now persona non grata.
Jarmangle seems exquisitely single-minded, hand-waving all that off as he makes yet another lame pass at his fellow tiefling. Tyne hints that she might be amenable to his advances if he can get revenge for her and kill Lord Jasen. Without missing a beat, Jarmangle agrees and asks where he can find Jasen; Tyne doesn't know. Somewhere in town. He only comes out during the secret card game, and only when the house is losing. Tyne leaves, and Jarmangle rushes off to rejoin the others.
Finding the card game
Jarmangle suggests that they enter the card game, win back the brewery, and then kill Lord Jasen. Irving is all well-and-good with the first two, but blanches at the last: just kill him, without provocation?
In trying to find the card game, they make the mistake of approaching a priggish Eladrin called Ofscar. Jarmangle casually insults him by referring to him as an "elf"; Ofscar challenges him to a duel by slapping him with his glove. Jarmangle, in turn, steals the glove, further inciting Ofscar, who now threatens to "turn them in" for attempting to find the card game.
The elven bard Robyn, perhaps a little tired of this flighty Eladrin, knocks him over and steals his coin pouch, containing some 500 gold coins. Irving is shocked at the behaviour of his traveling companions but says nothing about it.
Jarmangle is about to temporarily paralyze Ofscar with some magical stones he acquired from Tyne, but Tralamin has a better idea. He helps his fellow Eladrin off the dusty earth, and ascertains that Ofscar shares his thirst for knowledge and awareness. Tralamin gives Ofscar a powerful ritual scroll that's intended to impart absolute knowledge of one topic. Said scroll will leave him in a trance for hours; if the question is too cosmic for his brain to comprehend, he might be driven insane. Tralamin, of course, doesn't tell him that, but instead advises him to ask the biggest question he can.
Irving, again, is quite appalled when he learns the true possible consequences of Tralamin's actions. And while Robyn is now considerably richer, they've no clue as to how to get in on the card game.
That's when they meet Darface, a dwarf suffering from severe developmental disabilities. Darface, it turns out, knows exactly how to get into the game-- which building to go into, what words to say, and what the answer will mean. Others might dismiss him as a simpleton, but Irving listens intently to his words and deciphers their meaning.
The Pawn Shop
Before they take part in the game, however, they decide to stop at the pawn shop just outside of town, where Jarmangle hopes to replace his grappling hook, among other things. The pawnbroker is pleased to see them; everyone's been selling/pawning these days, but no one's been buying because no one has had money. In bartering with the pawnbroker, Jarmangle offers him one of the paralyzing stones, inadvertently encasing the broker in a statue-like layer of rock. With some chiding from Irving, Jarmangle gives the unaware broker the rest of the promised payment.
The game our six heroes enter isn't really about the cards, but about bluffing. Through their combined efforts, they quickly drive the dealer to bankruptcy. That's when the Society summons Lord Jasen.
Jasen is a very sickly but elegant looking human who ups the ante aggressively and seems particularly focused on the disguised Jarmangle, making veiled references to something in his possession. Jasen's fabled luck, however, seems to have run out, as Filliam and Tralamin are surprisingly adept at the game. In a desperate gamble, Jasen puts the brewery on the table, hoping to chide Jarmangle into gambling the sword. Instead, Jarmangle folds.
So focused was Jasen on Jarmangle, however, that he quite forgot Tralamin, who wins the brewery and a sizable amount of gold. Enraged, Jasen grabs Robyn and demands that both the brewery deed and the gnollish sword be "returned" to him.
"Or else," he says, curling back his lip to reveal his sharp canines, "I'll open her pretty throat!"
The Vampire and the Daywalker
Lord Jasen is a vampire-- even when looking quite ill, he's still more than a match for our fledgling heroes. He has, however, overplayed his hand; the Society members are horrified to discover that the handsome gentlemen is a member of the undead. His support in Hodam is gone, and he knows he'll be hunted down by its enraged citizens. Jasen, terrified, bites Robyn-- draining her dry in but a few scant moments-- and turns to mist, escaping into the night.
Using the Peacebringer mace that she took from the Gnollish Queen of Peace, Feer saves Robyn from the brink of death. She is, however, still feverish and unconscious. Tyne appears and leads the group to one of the whorehouses where they can hold up for the night.
As they watch over the ailing Robyn, they begin to piece things together. Jarmangle is incensed that Tyne put them up against a vampire, but she claims that she had no idea of his true nature. That must be why he wanted to get rid of all the tieflings, though, she says; there's a legend that the oldest vampires couldn't handle the "impure" blood of tieflings. Remember the slogan of the Society-- "pure blood is healthy blood"-- they realize that perhaps the same could be said of blood containing high amounts of alcohol. Perhaps Jasen tried to feed on someone with such an elevated level of alcohol and the resulting toxic shock is what resulted in his current haggard and sickly appearance. Irving realizes that in order to be one of those oldest of vampires, Jasen must be the ancient evil that the gnollish slave spoke of, and that the sword Jarmangle holds must contain Jasen's spirit and power.
Come the morning, Tyne has left and Robyn awakes but discovers that she has changed; the interaction of the vampire's bite and the holy Peacebringer mace has transformed her into a living "half-vampire" daywalker, a dhampyr.
The Fearless Vampire Killers
When the six adventurers walk out onto the street, they find it a scene of drunken debauchery. The entire town, realizing that Jasen is a vampire and, like the visiting heroes, realizing that the alcohol is toxic, decided to break into the brewery as a kind of protection. The group considers leaving things be, but Irving convinces them that slaying the vampire is the best course of action. Jarmangle agrees, and all six down a frosty one before setting to work trying to find Jasen's lair.
It doesn't prove a difficult task; the Hodam graveyard, colourfully called the Corpse-dump, has caved in, revealing a tunnel leading towards the Blood Circle. Our heroes venture into the tunnel before coming face to face with a magical sentry. This Eye of Alarm guards the entrance to Jasen's lair.
Irving creates an illusion of mist, making it easier for Jarmangle to sneak to the door, unnoticed. Jarmangle takes note of a host of undead horrors: former whores turned into vampire spawn, animated skeletons, the rotting corpses of two large dogs, and a wight dressed in the garb of a Society member. And then, at the far end of the chamber, there sits the accursed coffin.
Desiring to catch the undead by surprise, the six rack their brains for a way to thwart the Eye of Alarm. Filliam suggests that Irving create an illusion, a sort of miniature magical "drawing" of the tunnel that can be conjured directly in front of the eye. Irving does so, and it works!
Aunt Matilda, the Deathlock Wight
The battle that follows is fierce and hard-fought; Irving and Jarmangle both come close to death's door. But through valiant effort, cunning strategy, and the powerful fireball magic at Irving's disposal, the living proves victorious. Once Matilda-- the now-undead founder of the Distaff Temperance Society-- falls, the other undead crumble to useless dust.
Tralamin creates a wooden stake from his quarter-staff; Feer opens the coffin with a mighty pull; Robyn drives the stake directly into the groggy vampire's heart. Carefully, our heroes take the dazed, pathetic vampire out of its coffin and carry its corpse up the tunnel. Exposing it to sunlight causes it to burst into flames. Even as they watch it burn, they all know that if they should meet a vampire lord again, they will not achieve victory quite so easily.
Filliam, now a much richer man, bids his friends good-bye so that he might return to the wondrous house where they tried to save the mysterious civilized gnoll. The remaining five elect to stay in Hodam for the time being, with Tralamin especially pleased to be the new owner of its brewery.