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A Mysterious Box

by Mark Clark

The characters find a small wooden box, roughly twelve inches wide, eight inches deep, and four inches high. The wood is a dark stained oak, plain and without carving, with functional brass hinges and a small release button on the front. It opens easily once the button is pushed.

The inside of the box is lined with green velvet. There a number of items in custom-built compartments in the bottom, and on the inside of the lid there is a printed label that reads as follows:

"This box contains the items considered necessary, for the protection of persons who travel to certain little known countries in Eastern Europe, where the populace are plagued with a particular manifestation of evil known as Vampires. Professor Ernst Blomberg respectfully requests that the purchaser of this kit, carefully studies his book in order, should evil manifestations become apparent, he is equipped to deal with them efficiently. Professor Blomberg wishes to announce his grateful thanks to that well known gunmaker of Liege, Nicholas Plomdeur whose help in the compiling of the special items, the silver bullets etc. has been most efficient.

A close examination of the box will reveal that all of the listed items are included. In addition, there is a small magnifying glass, the lens about two inches across. All items are in fitted compartments and fit exactly - they are clearly the ones the box was made for.

The pistol is a single shot cap-and-ball pocket pistol. The design is typical of a weapon from the second quarter of the 19th century. It is very well made, with engraved scrollwork on the barrel, silver inlay on the finely finished walnut stock, and a silver trigger and triggerguard. Along with the pistol, the box also contains a silver powder can, a brass and wood ramrod, and an iron bullet mould. There are also two silver bullets, both engraved with a crucifix.

The crucifix is of ivory, and is very plain - the one unusual detail is that the long arm comes to a very sharp point. The powdered garlic is in a small glass vial with a silver screw top. The wooden stake is very plain, but nicely smooth and very sharp at one end.

The serum is the most mysterious part of the kit - it is a murky liquid with little bits of solid in suspension. There are three small glass vials of it, again with silver screw tops.

There is no other writing anywhere on the items in the case, and there is no book or paper associated with the box.

The box is a puzzle. If it is a hoax, it is a very expensive one - it would cost at least £100 to duplicate (late 19th century prices). If it is real, it presents a series of puzzles - who is Professorr Ernst Blomberg? Does his book exist, and what does it contain? Who is the gunmaker Plomdeur, and did he make the pistol, or just obtain it for Blomberg? Are there really vampires in "certain little known countries of Eastern Europe"?

Needless to say, the box can be the starting point for a series of adventures. Perhaps a friend of the PCs dies mysteriously, and the box is found among his things. Perhaps the players stumble across it in the course of their investigations, or perhaps it arrives in the Post one day with no return address. At the gamemaster's option, there may be additional written material hidden in the box beneath the green velvet - a map, a letter, or something in code. As to who Professor Blomberg really is - that's up to you...

Important Note

This box is entirely real. I saw it in 1992 on exhibit at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, USA. The printed text is in English and is exactly as reprinted above, including the punctuation - I was so struck with the box I copied the words down on a spare scrap of paper. The curators there date it to between 1825 and 1850, mostly on the basis of the pistol. They know nothing else about it, and neither do I. However, if I was planning a trip to the Balkens, I wouldn't mind having it along...

Posted Monday, 04-May-2009 19:53:46 EDT

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