I had the opportunity to run a Monster of the Week Holiday Special, so I mashed up megachurches, mind control, and murder. This one’s more of a mystery than a monster. Loosely inspired by the forgettable 1984 film Don’t Open Until Christmas and the unfortunately less forgettable general intolerance of the religious right heyooooo anyways here’s the adventure.
Content Warning: As briefly mentioned above, this mystery is based around conservative Christian extremism and includes several countdown segments involving random acts of violence. One of these is a mass shooter. Tailor to your players, check in often, and conduct safety discussions.
The Liber Vindictae, the Book of Vengeance, was the last tome Heinrich Kramer (author of the Malleus Maleficarum) wrote before his death. The curses within the book were used to persecute the innocent throughout history – the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, the Red Scare, and more. The evil grimoire has found its way into the Community Outreach Committee of the local megachurch and people are going to die.
I set my mystery in Albuquerque (don’t @ me, nobody in my group has been there so we were all on even footing) but it works in just about any city with big box stores, a mall, and a megachurch. A zoo or park or other vaguely educational field trip destination with a gift shop is a plus.
For my group, this mystery came about as a result of our Spell-slinger spending Luck and getting their wizard council involved in their business. They sent the hunters to investigate a missing magical tome. However you get your party involved, there’s two similar murders with similar victims that occur simultaneously, ruling out a single killer.
India Moffett, 62, buys a nativity figure of Mary from the local Walmart and kills Santa-themed bell-ringer Marlon Bustamante upon exiting the store, bludgeoning the man to death with his own bell. Minutes later, at Crossroads Mall, mall Santa Timothy Ober is killed by Eva Segarra, 38, with a manger she recently purchased from a mall Christmas store.
Witnesses say both suspects “went berserk” or some variation of that phrase, overpowering their victims through surprise and unchecked mindless aggression. Neither suspect remembers anything between seeing the Santa Claus costume and making their respective kills.
The Community Outreach Committee at Cavalry Chapel
Richard Chapman, the evangelical pastor at the megachurch Cavalry Chapel (I know the name refers to horses, it’s an intentional misspelling) acquired the Liber Vindictae and tasked his Community Outreach Committee members with some field tests before unleashing the full power of the book against secular symbols of Christmas and inclusive holiday celebrations throughout the city. Through blood sacrifice and dark magic, these members have planted cursed objects throughout the city to ensure the book’s powers are legitimate.
- Heather Keach
- Kevin and Sara Calvin
- Kelly Wilkerson
- Stanley and Karen Davenport
- Ken Judson
- Susan Jones
- Pastor Richard Chapman: He keeps the Liber Vindictae close by unless it is needed for rituals in the church sub-basement. He has been scanning its pages to a PDF in his free time, which is fortunately limited as the holiday season approaches.
None of the community members have any special powers. Pastor Chapman is not a wizard. They are normal people so confident in their righteousness that they are capable of justifying any atrocity as long as their way is forced on others. They are zealots.
The tome itself has no special protection other than whispering temptations to those primed to make use of it. See “When the Liber Vindictae Whispers To You”, below.
Hallmark store cashier Nevada Plummer, 22, killed by 78-year-old Trudy Fontaine. Witnesses say all Plummer said was “Happy holidays!” before Fontaine stabbed her in the throat with the pen she was checking out with. Trudy Fontaine’s bag contained a baby Jesus for her nativity. Kelly Wilkerson, COC member, works at the Hallmark and planted the figurine.
COC members Stanley and Karen Davenport plant a cursed nativity donkey in the gift shop at a local festival of lights. The object is bought by Herbert Jonas Ethridge, 47, who owns a concealed carry license and shoots seven people wearing secular scarves or sweaters before he is killed by responding officers.
Pastor Chapman and the Outreach Committee have seen enough. The Liber Vindictae works. It is time to engage the full power of Cavalry Chapel’s congregation, whether they consent to it or not. Ken Judson, Susan Jones, and Sara Calvin kidnap congregation members Jeffrey and Aria Grube as well as their 16-year-old daughter Shayline. Jeffrey is the distribution manager at the local Amazon warehouse and has been deemed a “false nonbeliever”. Their blood will power the impending ritual.
The Community Outreach Committee, led by Pastor Chapman, sacrifices the Grubes one by one on the sub-basement altar underneath Cavalry Chapel.
The committee members spend the day leading up to the Christmas Eve service carefully injecting the ritually-cursed blood samples into the ready-made communion cups.
Christmas Eve service; the tainted communion unleashes Cavalry Chapel’s congregation upon the city. A violent, mindless rage sweeps the streets, leaving behind confusion and despair at this perversion of the holidays. Pastor Chapman uploads the PDF of the Liber Vindictae to social media.
On the surface, it might seem difficult to link the murders and cursed objects back to the megachurch, and of course that’s what Chapman is counting on. However, there are plenty of ways for hunters to track him down that wouldn’t work for mundane police.
Each nativity object is scribed in blood with ritual symbols, usually concealed in areas of similar colors or scrawled on the bottom or back of the figurines. They obviously radiate magic, possibly a trail that could be followed back to Cavalry Chapel.
The suspects don’t need to all be Cavalry congregation members, but if it helps point the hunters to the right place it won’t hurt to have a witness mention they went to church with so-and-so.
There’s security camera footage of every purchase and every murder. Bystanders could post on social media. If the hunters gain unfettered access to recordings, they could run it back far enough to see the committee members planting the various cursed objects.
Magic can shortcut a lot of this mystery. That’s fine, and will probably save lives. There’s no particular defense against tracking the committee members or following a magical trail back to the megachurch.
Cavalry Chapel is a Maze. The auditorium is a great cavern with a balcony sweeping across the rear of the nave like a mountain range. Video production equipment haunts clean and vaguely pleasant storerooms on the upper floors. Classrooms and meeting spaces branch off of a labyrinth of corridors. Underneath, industrial-carpet-tiled floors, white-painted cinderblock walls, and builder-grade doors lead to offices, bathrooms, more storage, and finally the sub-basement. The sacrificial altar could be an ancient stone block, an ornately carved dais, or even a folding table according to your preference.
There are a handful of lightly-armed church security guards who watch the security cameras and patrol the building. They may not be in on Pastor Chapman’s scheme or they might be fanatical accomplices.
When You Handle a Cursed Object…
…Roll +Weird. On a 10+, you resist the curse and know what tried to get into your mind. On a 7-9, you understand the curse but have to Act Under Pressure to avoid attacking people associated with the celebration of secular Christmas. If you succumb, mark XP.
On a 6-, you have to Act Under Pressure like the 7-9 result but you also have -1 ongoing until you succumb. You do not mark XP if you do this, and you do not remember the attack should you succumb.
The curse/effect can be lifted from an individual with magic or by destroying the cursed focus.
When the Liber Vindictae Whispers To You…
…Roll +Weird. On a 10+ keep doin’ what you’re doin’. On a 7-9 you have to Act Under Pressure to harm the book. However, if you are willing to use the book to visit destruction on an enemy, real or imagined, the book will give you +1 to Use Big Magic. On a 6-, you get the +1 to Use Big Magic but you cannot harm the book and will stop others from harming the book.